Richtersveld National Park
Midway along the Orange River
Namibia, South Africa
"I'm still not sure what we're supposed to be doing out here", muttered
[SK] John as he climbed out of the sleek black Covert Orbital Personnel
Insertion Module, COPIM according to official literature, re-nicknamed
COFFIN according to SK's StormTrooper infantry who normally used them,
usually amidst loud guffaws and sidelong "you'd be nuts to volunteer" looks.
During the long, bumpy drop down from Low Earth Orbit from one of the multitude
of troop transports that belonged to the StormKeepers Fleet, John had been
full of burning questions about this particular, strange-sounding mission.
But radio silence, necessitated by StormAldur Tsoron's personal orders,
as well as the fiery atmospheric re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, had
cut off all possibility of asking questions enroute.
Opening a recessed panel embedded in the side of his own module, still
warm from the tremendous friction of ripping through the thick layers
of air, [SK] Ramrod glanced intently at the readouts before replying.
The single-use force shields had held adequately for the trip. Punching
a few buttons on the console, Ramrod set the self-destruct sequence,
which in five minutes' time would use the remaining energies left
in the personnel module to melt itself down, together with some help
from specialised disassembler nanotech 'bots, leaving no traces of their
approach to be found.
"Well, we're on a covert operation, right? Our orders are straightforward,
more or less. Yours are even simpler - just cover me while we get in, and then
we get the heck out of here", said Ramrod, armor-encased fingers clicking on a
few more of the over-sized buttons, deploying a rectangular package from the
underside of the re-entry vehicle.
Taking the package under his arm, Ramrod looked over at John, clad in
the same drab-gray StormTrooper Powered Armor that he was, with a
short-stocked STLAR-7 laser assault rifle strapped to his right thigh section,
a row of PEC-18 energy clips on the left and a slim, contoured backpack behind.
The weapons were fairly standard-issue for a modern high-tech soldier, the
Standard Trooper Laser Assault Rifle version 7, also known as the Stella-7 after its
initials, and the Personal Energy Clip which held the energy for 1800 laser bolts,
which at 30 pulsed, vari-frequency shots per second allowed for one full minute of
In contrast to standard-issue armor, however, there were no visible markings
or letterings of any kind on either of the StormKeepers' suits. To an ordinary
observer, they could have come from any of the major squads who had
the resources to afford powered suits for their troops.
"Guess I'll learn on the way huh... well, you're the boss, lead on", John
performed a similar procedure on his end, and took another package from
his own vehicle.
Ramrod started to sprint the kilometer and a half to the designated waypoint,
the glowing route projected onto his faceplate by miniature holo-projectors
which comprised the Helmet-Mounted Display. Following closely, at a
power-augmented pace of some forty-seven kilometers an hour, John trailed behind,
the pair stopping at an abandoned-looking outpost which guarded the mouth of
a darkened tunnel that sloped down a gentle incline, seemingly into the depths
of the earth.
At this point, the two armor-suited figures activated their low-light display
mode, with the entire array of both active and passive sensors embedded into
their high-tech helmets displaying a variety of information, the better to
make up for the loss of visible sight in the dark interior of the railway
tunnel. Wireframe representations revealed the dimensions of the tunnel, while
ghostly blues revealed the coolness of the inner surfaces. Silver lines
demarcated the magnetic-levitation lines, to the junction where they
joined the main maglev railway three hundred meters away.
The maglev railway was a vital pipeline carrying workers, supplies and equipment
to the famed Orange IV diamond mines in the Namibian region of the Southern
African continent. Every morning on working days, trainloads of magnetically-levitated
carriages would leave Town Kubus, carrying miners for the 76-km ride to the
mines. During the daytime, a different set of carriages would be carrying
raw ores back to the town for processing, sifting through the hundreds of tons
of soil and extracting the precious stones from the rich deposits washed down
from the Kimberly diamond-bearing areas by the Orange River millions of
Carefully, the StormKeepers put down the packages they had been carrying onto
the rails. Sensing the magnetic fields embedded in the rails, the rectangular
platforms activated, lifting themselves up to knee level. Steering columns
levered themselves up, with hand grips swinging out gracefully from the sides
of the columns. Leaping on to the maglev pseudo-carriages, Ramrod and John
twisted the handlebars, accelerating themselves to a hundred kilometers
"Gee.. this is fun", whispered John over the comm-link. "I wonder..."
"Sshh..." Ramrod cautioned, "be on the lookout for..."
The proximity warning that screeched in their helmets and threatened to deafen
the two would-be 'Troopers gave them barely two seconds of time left in which
to click the undeploy buttons on their individual maglev platforms and fling
themselves on their stomachs to the deck, before a multi-ton, ore-laden
carriage careened past them, another wagonload of raw materials headed to
Kubus for processing. The bottom of the train had missed their backpacks by
mere centimeters. Intense magnetic fields played havoc with their Powered Armor's
systems, heavily-shielded though they were, for more than a few seconds after
the train passed by. Bluish-white lightning played itself around the exterior
of the suits and promptly disappeared into the darkness, as sudden as it had
Propping himself slowly into a sitting position, John took a long while to
regain his composure before remarking ruefully to his partner, "Darn, I
think we're both too old for this stuff..." Chuckling softly, Ramrod patted John
on the back, "Come on, we'll have to carry on, we still have halfway more to go.
Be careful, okay, buddy... take it easy, no sweat. All systems okay? Good,
then, let's get to it."
The remainder of the journey was accomplished without further incident. Arriving
at the end of the line at a large, dimly-lit underground cavern, Ramrod and John
flicked on their armor's nanotech camouflage films, merging further into the
shadows of the walls. They moved slowly, passing by dozens of workers busily
loading the next consignment of materials onto an open carriage of yet another
maglev train, hovering in the air, which bounced slightly as loads of
diamond-bearing rock were heaped onto it.
Presently, Ramrod and John arrived at a freshly-dug tunnel. The signs of recent
digging were lying on the ground - pieces of broken drill bits, various litter
strewn around, and of course, the huge, three-meter-tall deep-tunnelling machine
lying at the far corner.
Disengaging his backpack, Ramrod got down to work, fishing out a handheld
portable laser drill of his own and began lasing at a spot outlined by his
helmet's displays, from precise global X/Y/Z co-ordinates handed to him
by Tsoron himself.
John looked around nervously, fingering his laser rifle, detached from his
thigh and unholstered now, covering Ramrod as planned, while the latter
calmly finished his business, extracting a roughly circular sphere of
rock from the hole he had dug, and putting it into his backpack.
Next, Ramrod took out another piece of rock which he had apparently been
carrying all along in his backpack, and shoved it back into the crevice.
Setting the drill to another mode of operation, Ramrod fused the crack
closed, smoothening it over with a few final blasts. Putting back his
tools, Ramrod re-attached the backpack to his armored suit.
[SK] John couldn't contain himself any further. "Just what the heck are we doing
skulking around here? I'm not at all into all this, this... cloak-and-dagger
stuff, you know."
"It is only honorable that we put back something of value in return for what we
have taken. It is our way, and the 'Aldur's wishes. Now we have gotten what we
have been... entrusted with. Let us return", Ramrod was uncharacteristically
cryptic today. John wondered if Ramrod's hour-long personal briefing with the
Leader of the StormKeepers back at Headquarters had made him that way. Perhaps
it was an earth-shaking revelation about the job they were doing today.
After a brief check to ensure that they had taken all their personal belongings
with them, John and Ramrod stole past the busy workers at the still-stationary
train again, re-deployed their hovering platforms and whizzed back to their
It looked like it was going to be a cakewalk, but it turned out that whilst
emerging from the side-tunnel, they bumped right into a roving patrol, a
rag-tag bunch of mercenaries really, hired by the De Beers Corporation which
owned the large majority of diamond mines in the area. The patrol was a recent
security measure against pro-green environmentalists, or rather, activists, which
had been sabotaging maglev operations in the past six months, charging that De Beers
had been destroying entire patches of prime cultivatable land in its mining forays
into the rich alluvial region of the Orange River.
The ensuing fire-fight that followed was decidedly one-sided, although the
StormKeepers were hampered by the fact that they really did not wish to have
anyone killed. A bunch of twenty-five green-fatigued 'Mercs, with obsolete
projectile-based sub-machine guns was no match for two Power-Armored StormKeepers
firing deadly state-of-the-art rapid-fire laser assault rifles, calmly taking the
hail of bullets that bounced like raindrops off their suits while aiming carefully
and decisively to shoot to injure, and not to kill. 'Mercs dropped like stones,
clutching busted shoulders, or hobbing away on kneecaps shot out from under them.
The whine of aircraft engines, and an even deadlier stream of 30-mm autocannon
shells fell from the sky which ripped the surrounding vegetation into shreds,
scared the rest of the 'Mercs away, screaming as they left as best as they
could, not wanting in the least to argue with a trio of StratoStar air/space
fighters which had appeared without warning in the skies above them.
Ramrod was positively ecstatic with joy. He waved enthusiastically, "[SK] Huh? !!!
You've come just at the right time!! Alright!! Yes!! And thanks for bringing the ride,
John was mightily impressed. [SK] Huh? had slave-controlled two StratoStar fighters
to his own, and was even now remote-operating both of them to settle down to
a soft landing on the ground, opening their canopies as they did so. It took a
lot of co-ordination to fly a single jet fighter, let alone three at a time. He
was also suprised, and glad that Huh? had been thoughtful enough to rip out
the standard seats and install bulkier ones suited for pilots decked out
in full Powered Armor suits. Taking the controls, John lifted the air/space
fighter into the evening air, and together with Ramrod and Huh? engaged full
'burners, skimming the ground on the next phase of the journey - the return
back to StormKeepers Headquarters.
Taking the differing time zones into account, [SK] John figured that they
should be able to get back in time for dinner...