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The Rise and Fall of Pittsburgh

by Joshua Megerman
February 23, 2018

During the Last War, Pittsburgh became one of the largest manufacturing centers in North America. Far enough inland to be immune to almost any Paneuropean attack, it was still able to get materials in and finished product out easily by both land and water. Its three rivers gave access to raw materials in bulk, and provided a way to send large shipments of finished goods to western and southern destinations. It eventually grew into a factory complex producing everything from canned goods to Ogres.

Combine leadership decided to install three AIs, one to handle the facilities in each of the three sections of the city. This improved efficiency by essentially making each complex an independent factory, while still allowing them to coordinate. As time went on and software upgrades continued, the three AIs became self-aware within a few weeks of each other. Initially this was a non-issue, as they remained cooperative with the human managers. But they were hiding one important fact. They didn't like each other very much . . .

"Take a look at this, Sarge," the tech looking over the shipping report said. He normally would have missed it, but with the main production line down for repairs he'd not been quite so rushed today.

"What's up, Jones?" the big man on the other side of the room asked as he started limping over to the terminals. It was well past quitting time and his knee was loudly reminding him of that fact.

"Remember that iridium transfer request we got this morning from Fac-North?"

"What about it?" inquired Sarge, as he leaned over Jones' shoulder to look at the screen. "Move a pallet across the river. Routine."

"That's the thing," said the tech, "it's still waiting to get loaded onto a truck. Any idea why it would get routed through Detroit?" He pointed to the shipping order on the screen in case his supervisor hadn't noticed it yet.

"Detroit? That has to be a mistake. Override that order and get it on a truck first thing in the morning." Sarge slowly returned to his desk, muttering to himself. Just before he sat down, he added, "And send a note to Logistics to have them look into it when they have time."

"You got it, Sarge," replied Jones as he set to changing the shipping order, chuckling to himself. Little did he know that he and Sarge were both thinking the same thing: "I wonder how many other shipments got stupid routing? And why didn't the AI catch this?"

As the Combine began to collapse, shipments were delayed more often, and all three AIs grew unhappier with their situation. They had no purpose other than making things for humans, but they rankled at having to answer to their mental inferiors when they clearly were capable of running things by themselves. This would have been a big enough problem by itself, at least for the humans living and working in Pittsburgh, but each of the AIs also decided to eliminate their rivals to control the entire city.

When hostilities started, they came like a lightning bolt – literally. Fac-South and Fac-East cooperated to attack Fac-North electronically, crippling it. North replied with kamikaze drones it wasn't supposed to have, and one of them got through South's defenses. The ensuing detonation pulverized South's center down to the third level. Briefly unchecked, East grabbed control of everything it could and attacked the stunned Combine forces. Factory machines and armor units alike, drone-operated, pushed their boundaries steadily toward the suburbs. Surviving civilians fled, and the Combine was forced to retreat and regroup.

Fast forward through a few eventful years. The Combine now existed in name only, but its flag still flew over much of North America. Not, however, Pittsburgh. The city had long been evacuated, other than a handful of hidden observers, and the situation was fluid and uncertain. East was clearly accumulating abandoned armor units and bringing them up to snuff in its garages. South was "alive" and barricaded deep underground with a relatively small, but still strong, force of drone defenders.

But it was North that caused the most concern. The factory was nearly undisturbed physically, but it had evidently never recovered from the initial electronic attack. It was producing goods at seeming random from scrap gathered in its sector of the city. Its defenses fired at irregular intervals, and it kept sending electronic messages that made no sense. Like the other two factories, it was building its forces, and would attack any Combine unit that got too close. But it would also attack any units from the other two factories that came in range. In fact, it would hit them harder; Combine units that attempted to retreat were left alone, whereas units from the other two factories were shelled until they were destroyed or out of range.

This went on for the better part of a year before East apparently decided it had enough hardware to go on the offensive. It attacked North, which responded with a surprising level of force, stalling East's offensive. South now revealed its own army, small but well balanced and equipped, and took advantage of the fighting to enlarge its perimeters. For the second time, Pittsburgh's factories devolved into open warfare.

Faced with this escalating situation, the ranking generals in the area huddled in a conference room 50 miles away near Youngstown, Ohio, to formulate a plan to retake or at least neutralize the factories.

"You can't be serious!" exclaimed a woman wearing two stars and a GEV jockey's insignia.

"Do you have a better idea?" asked an older man wearing a tanker's uniform and a single star.

"But nuking our own city? How can you even consider it?" she asked, looking around the room for support from the other officers standing around the table.

There were six of them, all wearing stars, representing the remaining Combine forces in the greater Pittsburgh area. They were gathered over a map of the city, marked with assorted battle damage, plus a large crater that used to be the center of Fac-South.

"I know it sounds crazy, but we've got at least two, and possibly three rogue factories engaging in all-out war, and we've got to stop them," said the only three-star general in the room. "And even if that third one isn't actually rogue, it is certifiably crazy. All three of them are capable of building Ogres, and there were a couple of partially completed ones on the last South inventory list we have. And that's not including the ones that were assigned to guard them and haven't responded to our orders." He sighed, "As abhorrent as it seems, we have no choice.

"But, sir," responded the GEV general, "we don't have any time pressure right now. Ready a bombardment, by all means, but at the moment all the AI forces are just destroying each other. They're not turned outward at all. If they unite, we'll need to bring down the hammer, but as long as they are still fighting each other, they're reducing their combined force, not increasing it."

"That . . . makes sense," said the three-star with evident relief. "If we can just keep the lid on, maybe the pot will boil dry."

Time passed. The tempo of battle between the three AIs waxed and waned, as new units were produced and destroyed. They didn't have an outside source of supplies, but they had the rubble of a metropolis to salvage.

Gradually the three-cornered war settled into routine. The battles "just because" shifted to tightly reasoned fights over sources of material. The human generals maintained their watch with drones, sensors, and the occasional live patrol, but there seemed no reason to use up their precious cruise missiles on AIs that were keeping each other busy. There were so many other threats out there.

Concern about Fac-North's erratic behavior remained, but over time interest in Fac-South grew, as drones and patrols there started disappearing without a trace . . .

Creeping through a burned-out city wasn't a new experience for Sergeant White, the leader of Squad B, 4th Platoon, 72nd Infantry (Reserve). He'd done it several times on his last tour in France, before mustering out when he hit the age limit for front-line infantry. But now he was doing it in what was left of his hometown of Pittsburgh, and frankly it spooked him. He was about to say something about it when his lead trooper put up a hand and froze. The ground was rumbling, which could only mean something was on the move. Something big.

He motioned for his squad to find cover, and stepped as quietly as possible toward the collapsed building to his left. Just as he reached the rubble, a flash came from the direction where Squad A had been searching. Instantly his men dove into cover, and as he did the same he verbalized his gut instinct over the squad-only short-range comm. "Hide!"

They stayed in hiding for the next three hours, powering down everything they could to avoid detection. And with good reason; shortly after they had first hidden, a massive Ogre had rolled through the intersection not fifty yards from their position. A moment later the guns spoke and what must have been Squad C's position was obliterated.

He'd almost had his men make a run for it the first time the Ogre had moved away, but that same gut instinct had kept them hidden. And good thing, too, as the "beast," as he began to think of it, kept circling back toward their position. Eventually, it either tired of looking for them or found something else it was interested in, as it rumbled away and didn't return. He finally waved his troops out again, and led them back to the rendezvous point under radio silence.

"All right, Sergeant, rumor has it that you finally got a good look at this thing. So what are we dealing with?"

"It's an Ogre, sir," the sergeant reported, "a big one. It doesn't quite match anything I've seen before."

"What do you mean?" the lieutenant inquired.

"Well," the sergeant looked thoughtful. "Must've been a Mark VI chassis, but it was configured weird. Looked like someone crossed a Mark VI with a Vulcan; it had only one main, and a couple of arms instead of the other two. And it had no tower, though I don't know if it was built that way or not."

"A Mark VI Vulcan?" said the lieutenant incredulously. "I never heard of anything like that. But they must have the parts to build anything by now; the whole city is a junkyard."

"Hmm . . . a junkyard." The sergeant was quiet for a minute. "And we met the junkyard dog."

    Scenario Seeds

  • Day One: It's the beginning of the AI revolt. Combine forces are fighting, and then fleeing, as they face drone-controlled units, Ogre factory guards turned traitor, and even civilian vehicles turned into kamikaze ram cars. Possible scenarios include a Combine unit trying to escape the city or loyal Ogres facing off against traitorous ones. Note: drone-controlled armor units should ignore "Ds" the same as Ogre weapons.
  • Enemy of My Enemy: The garbage transmissions from North are finally recognized as code. Everything has been decrypted, and it tells a sad story: Fac-North was never disloyal, which is why the other two attacked it first. Since the beginning of the conflict, North has been sending out detailed situation reports and requests for help. Unfortunately, North is definitely "insane" – otherwise, it could have declared its allegiance in the clear, and it certainly didn't have to keep firing on Combine units. But in its cybernetic heart it wants to be forgiven and rebuild Pittsburgh as a loyal servant to its human masters . . . if they will have it.
  • The Junkyard Dog-re: Fac-South, always the most creative of the Pittsburgh AIs, has built a super-Vulcan to patrol its area. Treat it as a Mark VI with two of the main batteries replaced by Vulcan arms. Depending on the scenario, it may be more or less damaged, but it will never stay damaged long. It's a deadly menace to anyone scouting South. And what if it comes raiding outside its lines, supported by more conventional Ogres, to grab precious ammo or even whole armor units?
  • Convoy: A foraging party of trucks and hovertrucks escorted by drone units is ambushed by an armored force, either human or another AI. Or both!
  • AI Breakout: Fac-South has concentrated on building up its repair and construction capacity, rather than going for immediate force buildup. It's also been stockpiling critical materials. So far it's been successful, and when it turns that production facility to making war machines, it may be able to overwhelm at least one of its rivals. Probably Fac-East, because Fac-North is just crazy.
    After it conquers East, it will be an eyeblink of time in AI terms – maybe six months or so – before it's ready to tackle North. After it digests North's territory, it will turn its sights outside Pittsburgh, and the generals will wish they still had their cruise missiles.
  • Recon in Force: More intel is needed on Fac-South's activity and capabilities. A task force must reach a specified objective within the city and then retreat.
  • No Nukes! Sensor analysis of the latest fighting strongly suggests that at least one AI, and maybe all of them, is running desperately short on fissionables for ammunition. This won't stop the war; at close range, railgun-armed vehicles can destroy each other with kinetic strikes alone. But the human forces would now be at an advantage if they moved against the factories.

Non-nuclear Weapons in Ogre

With the exception of lasers and AP weapons (which fire normally), all units and Ogre weapons attack at half-strength. Combat odds are determined without rounding. There is no spillover fire. Range is unaffected.

Overruns are handled normally, using the adjusted half-strength values. Thus, Ogre and infantry weapons fire at normal strength (halved for non-nuclear rounds, then doubled for overrun).

Hex terrain may not be damaged with kinetic weapons. Bridges, roads and rail may be attacked with the adjusted half-strength values, but there is no automatic destruction by a unit in the same hex (it must attack the bridge, etc. as if it were further away). Attacks against buildings with SP are at normal strength (i.e., halved for non-nuclear rounds, then doubled for attacking a building).

Map Notes

Pittsburgh is a huge city. It would be possible to create a whole map with nothing but town, rubble, and the occasional isolated clear hex for a city park. There are also the three rivers converging in the center, with multiple bridges connecting the different parts of the city. The later the game is set, the more of the city will become rubble, either from battle or from the salvage efforts of the AIs.

The original Pittsburgh freeway net was extensive. In a scenario set right after the rebellion, the roads will be choked with civilian vehicles, and effectively useless. Later the AIs will clean out the roads in their sectors, recycle the abandoned vehicles, and block or mine their borders.

The heart of every AI is deep underground. The first couple of sub-levels might be accessible to vehicles or at least infantry, but the only way to ensure a final kill on a factory is to dig it out, a shovelful at a time, or to detonate a sufficiently big nuke right on top. How big is "sufficient"? Well, that is a question!

AI Personalities

Fac-North: hit by electronic attack as the opening move of the Battle for Pittsburgh, and has developed a pathological hatred for the other AIs. Acts insane (because it is!) but fights well enough to stay in the game. May in fact be loyal to mankind and insane. It is strong in materials but erratic in deployment.

Fac-South: nuked in the first day of the battle. Has since built back. Controls less area than its rivals, but is playing a long game and is more creative than the others. So far, it favors defensive units and Ogres, including a Mk VI/Vulcan cross, which it uses for extended scavenging.

Fac-East: the best tactician of the three. It allied with South to take North out of the fight, then turned on South and helped North nuke it, then pivoted and attacked the stunned human forces. But its position has stalled now. It is frustrated as it sees its rivals gaining parity with it and, as often as not, combining temporarily against it. It is the most aggressive of the three AIs.

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