The Line of Fire “We’re excited to have you for the test today, Colonel Messe.” The colonel glanced down at the stout, ruddy-faced Major Giardino for only a moment before looking back into his binoculars. “The feeling is mutual, Major,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to seeing the new reconnaissance mech. It should be quite useful in Bosnia.” “We had partisan suppression in mind during the design phase,” Giardino explained. “But it should be suited for most infantry-support roles. Heavy machine gun, 47 mm cannon, and enough armor to withstand most small arms fire.” Messe examined the prototype through his binoculars. Two thin legs, each terminating in a set of clawed feet, stood gleaming in the midday sun. Atop them sat an oblong cockpit, like that of an airplane, with the aforementioned machine gun and cannon protruding from the front. The whole thing seemed ready to tip over from a gentle breeze, let alone artillery fire. “I’ll admit I’ve had my reservations about this design, Major,” Messe spoke. “But hopefully this test will show you and your team have-” “ATTENTION, THE RANGE IS NOW HOT. I REPEAT, THE RANGE IS NOW HOT. COMMENCING ARMOR PENETRATION TEST.” “Took them long enough,” Giardino grumbled as he took his seat and wiped his brow. Two soldiers walked across the field, carrying a squat infantry support gun. A third trailed behind, holding a case of shells. The trio set up their weapon behind a wall of sandbags, taking aim at the prototype. Messe, Giardino, and the other officers observing the test fell silent. “FIRING DETAIL, COMMENCE FIRING.” One of the soldiers loaded a shell into the gun. After a few tense moments, all three turned away as the gun spoke. BANG! The shell whizzed its way across the testing range, bouncing against the prototype before exploding in mid-air. All eyes stared intently at the cloud of smoke now billowing across the testing range. In a few moments, the smoke cleared, and the prototype stood tall, with only a single dent in its once-immaculate armor plating. The crowd arose from their seats to deliver a round of applause. “What did I tell you, sir?” Major Giardino smiled as Colonel Messe put down his binoculars. “Damn impressive armor! Those partisans won’t stand a chance. Now, a few other members of the design team are on their way to the officer’s longue for a drink. Would you care to join us, sir?” But Colonel Messe said nothing. Instead, he took a few steps onto the test range, staring intently at the still-smoking prototype. Then he turned back to Giardino and asked, “Shouldn’t we take a closer look?” Giardino’s face turned a shade vaguely resembling pale. “Er-ah-no,” he interjected, grabbing Messe by the arm. “We must mind the safety precautions, sir.” “Safety precautions?” the colonel asked, cocking an eyebrow. “You see, the fire team goes out there first, and no one else is allowed near the vehicle for the next hour. With any test involving a live round, there’s always a freak chance that something might detonate after the fact. Now, about that drink-” But Messe stepped forward again, this time toward the trio of soldiers removing the gun from the testing range. “Is that the weapon that was used in the test just now?” “Yes, sir”, the soldier replied. “May I see it?” “Of course, sir.” The soldiers laid down the gun as Messe knelt down to examine it. His expression shifted from curiosity to incredulity. “This is a 37/10 F. Model 1915!” he exclaimed. “It’s an Austrian gun from the Great War, we captured them by the boatloads! Why, I crewed one of these on Mount Grappa!” “It’s a one-pound gun, sir,” Giardino interrupted as he dabbed the sweat from his forehead. “Just the sort of equipment the partisans in Bosnia would have access to. It’s-” “It’s one pound of horse crap, that’s what it is!” Messe shouted over him. “Even the Austrians knew how bad it was, that’s probably why they let us capture so many!” He jabbed a finger right into Giardino’s chest. “Small wonder it couldn’t pierce your prototype!” “I’d hardly call something like that ‘horse crap’, sir,” Giardino objected, pointing back toward the mech. “If the prototype can stand up to that, it can-” “Stand up?”, Messe balked. “Stand up to what? Some glorified spitball from Austria? Now, it was my understanding that only the most up-to-date arms would be used in these tests.” Giardino nodded, the sweat now dripping from his brow onto his shirt. “Yes, and the 37/10 is one of the most up-to-date anti-armor weapons we have, so…” Messe glared back at him. “Look,” Giardino, explained, “the 37/10 is a smaller caliber than some of the anti-armor weapons, say, the Commonwealth is using. But that smaller diameter means a smaller explosion, and on a hull like that it means less shrapnel. We’re interested in conducting ballistic tests with ammunition of varying diameters, to determine the exact threshold of the prototype's armor. And so far, it’s stood against everything we’ve thrown at it.” For a few seconds, Messe seemed ready to wring Giardino’s neck. Then a smile crept across his face. “Well then,” he said, “my apologies. You’re right, I’m new to the project, and clearly there are a few things I’ve missed out on…” “Perfectly understandable, sir. Now-” “…so I think it’s best if you just let me have a look at the test reports.” Giardino’s blood ran cold. “The test reports, sir?” “The test reports,” Messe nodded. “Just send me the data and I’ll look it over myself.” “B-but we’ve got over a year of test results on this model alone, sir!”, the Major spluttered. “We’ve got a schedule to maintain!” “And let’s keep to it!”, the Colonel replied. “With any luck we’ll have this thing deployed to Bosnia within the next year. What do you say, Major?” “But sir, I-” “Thank you, Major,” Messe grinned as he shook Giardino’s limp, clammy hand. “I always knew I could count on you!” And with that, Colonel Messe turned on his heels and walked toward the officer’s lounge as Major Giardino slumped back into his seat.