After taking on the junked truck's mortar and floating platform, Jonnie's flatbed putters along until it bursts out of the jungle and onto the savanna, where they can see the Psychlo convoy three miles ahead, nearing a ravine in some mountain foothills. That's the ambush spot. They're up against fifty enemy vehicles, mostly transports overloaded with supplies, but five are tanks, including a Basher "Bash Our Way to Glory" tank. So you know it's serious.
Jonnie's strategy is to hide one flying mortar battery behind a knoll on the south side of the canyon. The mortar in the advance party he sent earlier will cause an avalanche to cut off the convoy once it's in the canyon, then the mortar Jonnie just deployed will seal in the back, at which point Jonnie will try to convince the bloodthirsty aliens to surrender. This is explained to a Russian soldier, and then repeated again in Jonnie's thoughts a paragraph later, I guess to make sure we can grasp this dazzlingly complex tactical maneuver.
So the first mortar goes off with a "BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!", a sound effect I've never associated with light artillery, and the ambush is on. As Jonnie watches from his command post, the other floating platform now hovering a thousand feet above the forest edge, things immediately go wrong. The three tanks bringing up the rear hadn't made it into the canyon before the avalanche, and turn to make a run for it.
So Jonnie maneuvers his own platform to fire his mortar at the trees along the jungle road. And this stops the floating, nigh-invulnerable tanks packing explosive shells right in their non-existant tracks. I mean, it's improvised walls of solid wood! Instead of shooting or ramming through the barriers of glorified kindling, the tanks take potshots at Jonnie's platform, but Dunneldeen in his plane swoops out of the sky to start strafing the tanks.
But then the trapped convoy tightens its formation, and the three tanks, "mindful of their duty to protect it," rush back into the canyon, apparently independently of the fact that they're under aerial attack. There they join one of the other tanks in attempting to nose up a hill so they can fire on the ambush party - despite being godlike pieces of alien armor, Basher tanks are unable to elevate their guns very far.
The humans oblige them by firing the other mortar to start the final avalanche, sealing the Psychlos in right and proper. To add insult to injury, a mortar lands underneath one tank and manages to flip it over, which begs the question of why the humans never tried shelling the enemy directly.
Jonnie drew a deep breath. He was just about to tell Dunneldeen to open up on a bullhorn and demand surrender and was reaching for his belt mine radio to do so, when their fortunes reversed.
Oooh, cliffhanger ending!
Let's review the actions of those three tanks, because they really are quite baffling. They're assigned to protect a convoy. While said convoy navigates a canyon, it's ambushed and a rockfall blocks off the trail ahead. So the tanks turn tail and flee towards the jungle, dense terrain they can't navigate save for a miserable dirt road. Then some trees get knocked across the road, so the tanks spread out on the plains and uselessly try to hit a floating platform a thousand feet above them. Then they're attacked by a plane, which they pretty much ignore. Then they suddenly remember they're on escort duty and rush back into the canyon, where they are sealed in by another rockfall.
I'm reminded of some humorous AI bugs you can exploit in a few of my favorite games, where you can lock the computer's units into running back and forth ineffectually as it tries to come up with a response to your actions. Guess Hubbard really was ahead of his time.
Back to Chapter Four