PART 5- Where is Stevenarc?
Freddy was the first to take action "Padraig, did you see the small wisps of dust just after the shot was fired?" he asked tentatively. Knowing what it meant to the group, if he got the answer he suspected was coming.
Padraig turned to him and said "Yes! This isn't looking good now, even without Kabel's weight we are cutting it too fine on the petrol. If I have to hit the gas hard, we could end up stranded out here."
Still wondering what was going on Alanov spoke "Can somebody please explain what is happening. I am lost, WHO are these sand demons? And what does the question Freddy asked mean?"
With a resigned look Freddy said “I guess we owe you an explanation, you may as well know now. If we don't make it back to base, there's no loss and if we do. You know what we are truly up against out here.”
“Isn't the Game the enemy?” Alanov asked looking puzzled.
“Only part of the situation, as I said there are things out here that even they wont take on.” Padraig replied. “Freddy, you tell him while I try to get us out of the sands, at this time they are moving quicker than I thought.”
“Okay, Padraig. Step by step, here we go, Alanaov. Sand demons are a para military group, nobody knows their allegiances. People say that they have known and will attack at will, they've hit us and the Game Lords and nobody can track them.”
Waiting for this to sink in Freddy asked Padraig “How close will it be IF we do make it back?”
Looking at the dials Padraig replied “You don't want to know, believe me. Let me just say Kabel's death may have been our salvation!”
“That close!” Freddy said looking frightened for the first time in the trip.
Alanov had been taking it all in and said “Don't you have a spare can in the back?”
Almost laughing at the idea Freddy said “Alanov, we have to steal our gas out here. There are no stations for miles. The last time, we nearly didn't get back. Somebody saw us and we had to make a run for it. Now the Game Lords have randomised patrols and nobody can predict where or when they will be out.”
Looking sheepish Alanov said “Sorry, I guess I was in the cities too long.”
Padraig replied “No harm, you need to know what it's like here.”
Freddy, when you asked about the wisps. I got the impression you thought there was more than Sand Demons there.”
“Yes. I didn't want to get the answer but I had to confirm what I thought I saw with Padraig.”
Padraig turned slightly and said “Scorchers, these creatures don't have weapons. Living here they have mutated to fight with what they have found from wrecks. My last encounter almost cost me my life. If it hadn't been for Kabel and this cadre, I wouldn't be here. Remind me to show you what they did, I must warn you it isn't pretty and could turn your stomach.”
“What are they like?” Alanov asked.
“Nobody knows, everybody who has encountered them has a different description.” Freddy replied.
Padraig commented “The ones I met were like giant people with huge mandible claws, some had a double claw, others had a split double with spikes on the edges. All I know is if I come across them again, I would rather kill myself than be captured.”
Freddy added “If it is them, they have a base nearby. They never stray far from home.”
The drive back grew distictly quiet as all eyes and ears were watching and listening for signs of activity. Only the sands moved but that was enough to keep you on edge. Any shift in the dunes could reveal a hollow or worse. Any glimpse of light could be a barrel or the sun glinting off a claw.
They had been travelling on a set return route when Freddy patted Padraig on the shouder “Over to the left, in the far distance.”
In the distance they could see the towers that Jericho had mentioned and how desolate the landscape was around the area.
With a quick glance Padraig replied “I guess Jericho made it back. I wonder if they'll get in contact after Kabel's offer.”
“From what I gather, this Jericho is the man we need to expand the network. I remember in the early days, the Game tried to trace his signals but he jumped frequencies so much it became hopeless.” Freddy commented.
After what seemed an eternity of silence. Padraig's voxcaller bleeped “Skimmer, this is base. Come in!”
“Base this is skimmer, we are homebound and low. We need an emergency fuel stop!”
“Wilko, you have the authority. Kabel will see to it when you get back.”
“Negative on that, James. Kabel has been killed!”
“Good Lord, Padraig! Was it the demons?”
“We're not sure. Freddy and I saw some sand movements just after she died.”
“Most likely. Authority will have to be with Stevearc now, James.”
“We have a problem there, Padraig!”
“She went AWOL about an hour ago, just walked out, no word of farewell.”
Alanov who had heard it all asked “Isn't there a set command structure?”
Freddy replied “No, we each have our special areas and we just intertwine to run as smoothly as we can. Kabel was the leader as she was an organiser, Stevenarc would have been next as she had the knowledge of supply routes.”
Padraig said “We met a guy called Jericho and he told us to tell you the codeword is Franklin and you still owe him four beers.”
“Good grief!” James replied. “So, rumours were lies then.”
“What do you mean, James?” Freddy asked.
“About a month ago, there was a report that he had been captured and his cadre destoyed. Any members not killd in the raid were reported to have turned to the Game, in exchange for their lives.I almost believed it.”
“Why,almost?” Padraig asked.
“It was sent on a secret band known only to a few select members of our group. No more than four or five people know of its existence and we only use it for dire emergencies.”
“Do you think somebody sold you out?”
“Not a chance.”
“Why not?” Alanov asked.
“About a month after we seperated. I picked up a rogue signal on the frequency, I sent back a clear out code and all contact links were destroyed, that I know. I heard the signal code eating the memory banks. This was just a freak call.”
“This Jericho, is a good man then.” Padraig asked.
“The best, my friend. If he gets back in touch we have a great ally.”
“Okay, James. We're almost in sight of the base now, see you soon.”
“Wilko, we'll have to have a talk to find our new head.”
In the middle of the conversation James heard a sharp crack resounding
“Skimmer, come in!” Skimmer one, come in!”