Corporal Mike Riorden was the Ontos Commander, although everyone called him Rio, like the city because his roots were from somewhere down in South America. The Ontos crew loved the Ontos, and I was almost certain their love had little to do with the machine’s armor or its armament. They got to ride wherever the thing was going, and they always had a place out of the rain to clean up, dry out and hang together. Rio, and two privates named Panda and Sentry comprised the whole crew. Panda drove, Sentry loaded the 106mm recoilless rifles, mounted three to a side on the exterior, and Rio was the gunner. In spite of my hesitation at how the crew might react to my rather suicidal ‘straight through the heart’ plan, they took to it like ducks to water. Panda, a strange gangly kid from Kentucky, who chewed tobacco or whatever else he could get a hold of, (I suspected the Betel Nut but said nothing), was also the mechanic because the smallish but dependable GM six-cylinder engine required constant attendance. It ate oil, spark plugs and for some reason, air filters, all the time.
“It’s supposed to hit thirty miles an hour,” Rio said, “but if Panda takes the rev-limiter off, empties the thing out, and pulls the guns and ammo, he says it’ll hit forty or even a bit more. Can this piece of the bridge across the river handle ten tons, and is what’s left of the thing flat enough to make the run?”
I didn’t know the answers to Rio’s questions, so I avoided dealing with them until we had enough daylight so I could tell anything for certain. The Ontos might do forty miles-an-hour, as he said, but it was anything but a dragster, and its run-up approach across the bridge would be short. What speed it could manage in that short distance before it plunged off into the raging water was anybody’s guess. The Starlight Scope could tell me a lot before the light of day came on, but the resolution, what with the wind-blown rain, would not be great enough to commit lives to a project that might be doomed from the start. It was still too dark to see much of anything from where we were positioned by the idling machine. The Ontos had to have its engine running to be able to either power and therefore turn its turret or move its tracks to face whatever threat might arise.