“There it is. The roughest, toughest, wildest vehicle testing course ever built!” Captain Grey beamed with delight and anticipation as he looked over the inhospitable terrain.
“And we’re the pair who got saddled with the job of taking a Rhino through it. Can’t wait…” Captain Indigo said with a sigh.
“Och c’mon now, John! Are ye tellin’ me ye aren’t looking forward to this? Not even a wee bit?” Grey’s eyes were practically sparkling with glee.
“That’s pretty much what I’m telling you, Iain. You got me figured, buddy. The Rhino has proven itself time and again in active combat, I don’t see why it needs to be subjected to even more tests.”
“Because there’s always room for improvement, lad!”
“Whatever you say, Grandpa.” replied Indigo sceptically.
Captain Grey made a face of mock offence and then grinned. As the oldest Spectrum Captain by a slim margin, he was used to his colleagues making such remarks and always took them with good humour.
He strolled up to the waiting Rhino Tactical Response Unit waiting at the start of the course. The gull-wing hatch opened outwards and Grey sat down on the control chair, which rapidly swung back inside the vehicle and spun to face forward.
Indigo took his position in the other chair and they were ready to begin.
With a roar of its powerful engine, Grey sent the Rhino charging towards the first obstacle – a reinforced concrete barricade.
As the speeding vehicle approached it, Indigo pressed a control switch. Instantly, a sturdy hydraulic ram was deployed in front of the Rhino. The ram struck the barricade and powered straight through, sending chunks of debris and concrete powder everywhere.
“Not a bad start!” Grey said.
“The river crossing’s up next.” Indigo commented, studying the course checklist on the monitor in front of him.
The river was fast flowing and deep. The torrent of water was churning so fiercely it was almost solid white.
Grey slowed the Rhino and engaged maximum traction on all wheels. Then he eased it down the bank and into the rushing water. The water crept up the sides until it almost flowed over the roof.
Even inside the hermetically sealed vehicle, both men could feel the raw power of the surging river outside.
Then the Rhino began to slide sideways, edging off course.
“Engaging compensators.” said Indigo, pulling a lever on the control rest beside him.
With a determined whine of building power, a fresh burst of energy surged through the Rhino and it forced itself back on course for the other side.
“That’s it, easy does it…” Grey spoke more to the Rhino than to himself.
Then they were out of the water and up onto the course once more.
“You beauty!” Grey said delightedly, patting his arm rest, “Knew you could handle it no problem! What’s next?”
Indigo consulted the course chart and replied, “Simulated combat against computer-controlled opposition.”
“Ah, now we’re gettin’ to the good bit!”
Grey drove the Rhino through a narrow tree-lined straight and then emerged into an open area not unlike a large quarry pit.
Indigo checked his instruments, “Got two contacts coming in from the west. Heavy choppers by the looks of them.”
“S.I.G.” Grey turned the vehicle to face the approaching craft, “Prime star-shells and stand by missiles.”
“S.I.G, star-shells primed and missiles ready.”
On their monitor screens they could see the ugly dark-green shapes of the huge helicopters getting closer.
Grey stamped his foot down on the accelerator and a second later he saw that the first helicopter had fired a missile.
“Incoming missile – deploy star-shells!”
Indigo’s waiting hand stabbed the countermeasures control.
A burst of brilliant blue fireballs shot from the rear of the Rhino and soared high into the air.
The enemy missile, which had been heading straight for the Rhino, suddenly veered off course and impacted the star-shell screen.
The explosion was terrific and the blast hurled the Rhino off course and into one of the rock walls at the edge of the training area.
“What the devil was that?!” exclaimed Grey. The former good humour was now gone from his voice, “That was far too powerful for a training missile!”
Indigo flicked the transmit switch on the comms system and spoke urgently, “Rhino to test range control. Spectrum Is Red. Your missile power is set too high, please acknowledge.”
There was no reply.
“They’re firing again!” Grey shouted.
Indigo looked at the screen in horror, “Call me crazy, Iain, but I don’t think this is a training exercise anymore!”
TO BE CONTINUED…