Chapter 7- The mystery of the signal
“Did you get the wavelength of the signal, Adria?” Freddy called to his friend.
“No, it was too faint and moved around too much for a fix. When we get back to base we can see if James picked it up and can help us locate it.” Adria replied.
As the friends were talking the other two bikes came across the desert and stopped by the skimmer, first to dismount was Frankie “Did you get that call just now?”
Freddy repiled “Yes. We were wondering where it came from.”
Dismounting from his bike Jeff said “There was something weird about the signal. I can't say what it was but it didn't sound like the normal strength to me.”
Holding his helmet in is hand as he walked over to the upturned skimmer Frankie said “I got that feeling too, Jeff. Almost as if we were getting a bounce back from somewhere. You don't think...,” Frankies words tailed off as they all knew what he was thinking but dared not admit their worst fears.
“No. I'm sure the Scorchers don't have any radio equipment to track us.” Padraig commented “I've met lots of people on my travels and we all agree that their sensory devices are triggered by the mines. It does still leave the question of who was calling?”
Jeff added “And from where? I hope James can clear it up for us. For now we have to get you all back to base before the sun comes up and The Game resume the searching. How are you feeling Padriag?”
Slowly easing his body into place Padraig replied “The wires contacts may need to be fixed and the dials are shot but we can manage, thanks.”
“Can you drive back or do you want one of us to?” asked Freddy.
“I'll be okay, thanks, Freddy.”
Linking together Adria, Jeff and Frankie chained the skimmer to their bikes and slowly eased it onto its tracks as Padraig tried to turn the motor over. Each click of the servo meant less energy next time but he had to keep trying. With the extra weight-even with full tanks the bikes would not be able to get them back. Just as he was about to give in, the engine turned over.
“I got contact” he yelled as the bikes jolted with the release of weight, “ can you guys take Alanov and Freddy back? I think we have a ruptured fuel pipe too!”
Adria replied “Sure, we're okay for that but what about you? The Game wil be here soon and you are alone and defenceless, Padraig.”
Padriag called to the riders “You get going, this old dog ain't done yet. I can outfox that lot.”
“I just don't want you to do anything stupid, my friend.” Jeff replied.
“Don't worry, Jeff. I'll be on your tail-you get the others back.”
The bikers took the chains off the skimmer and rolled them back onto their machines, everybody looking at Padraig and hoping he would be all right. The roll over had caused a lot of pain that was easy to see as he tried his best to give the skimmer his thoughts. The skimmer was badly damaged and shared in Padraig's pain through its macro-circuitry linking driver and vehicle.
The weird combination of man and machine had helped The Word out of many tight situations but was this one too many?
The group could tell that Padraig was having trouble connecting to the skimmer, Adria asked him “Padraig- are you sure you don't want one of to stay with you?”
Slowly bowing his head and looking at his old skimmer, he realised this could be its last trip he replied “Thanks but no thanks, we can make it. “ Then he muttered “come on girl, just for old times sake.”
Then as if by divine intervention, the enginge roared into action and Padriag and his skimmer followed the bikes back to their base. The ride back was slow and painful, every once in a while one of the group looked back and could see Padraig in pain as he coaxed every last drop of energy into the skimmer's thought link-up to keep her going.
The sun's light glinted golden on the dunes around them but the main concern was Padriag as the group entered the base, he was clearly fighting the urge to pass out. The skimmer almost hit the walls twice as he winced through pain and lost consciousness for a few seconds.
Adria killed her engine and ran to the emergency door leading to the hospital “Quick we need the medic for Padraig, he's lost too much fluid and needs an emergency transfusion,” she called to anybody who could hear her frantic plea for help.
The junior medical officer grabbed his bag and ran to the skimmer. Seeing the situation he said “We'll have to take him in and stabilise him first, Adria.”
“Okay doc, you do what you can. We have to see James about an important matter.”
Closing the door behind her, Adria dashed up the staira to the control room. Before she had a chance to ask James, he said “I know what you're going to say. I did pick the signal up and I was trying to follow the signal pattern but the trail goes nowhere that I can find. But there are many discrepencies with the signal.”
Walking across the room Jeff said “Such as?”
“Firstly, there is the problem of the quivering in the feed.”
Adria commented “We got that too-what does it mean?”
James explained “It means that the signal was sent on the long channel frequency. What we got was bounced off a receiver tower.”
Frankie joined in as he said “That would mean whoever sent it was sending it to a particular tower and we just got lucky with the feed.”
“Exactly, Frankie,”James replied then he continued “not just that, the wavelength was wrong. To my knowledge, there is nobody using that signal band now and it hasn't been used for about fifteen years.”
Adria asked “You said it hasn't been used. So, it was before.”
James looked at the group and said “Offficially it was never active but unofficially it was for a quick rescue call.”
“Who by?” asked Freddy as he approached the group.
“That's the question-nobody ever knew, Freddy,” James replied “as I said it was never officially active.”
“Until now!” Adria said.
While the group were talking, the radio blipped and clicked on again “Calling on 501-ICQ- INO. Repeat calling on 501-ICQ-INO.”
“What do you make of it, James?” Adria said.
“ICQ is the radio call for “I seek you” beyond that I am lost and you know my radio knowledge is vast.”
While they were thinking about the signal a reply came in “501- we need a two day delay on that, the men are on a search and won't be back.”
The caller replied “This is 501- I don't have time-INO!”
Frankie commented “Whoever 501 is, is in desperate trouble-can't we do something?”
James thought for a minute and replied “I can try to piggy-back the signal to boost our reception. But don't hold your breath, remember it's a bounce feed from a tower. The nearest tower I know about is at Echo Ridge and that has been out of use since the start of the fighting. It was one of the first targets the Game hit, knock that out and each group became isolated.”
“Echo Ridge-can't we get over there?” Alanov asked.
“Not a chance!” Freddy replied.
Looking puzzled Alanov asked “Why not?”
James replied “I heard that the ground is so rocky, the skimmer tracks will get shredded. The roads are mined so even bikes can't get through unless you are a member and know the paths.”
Adria asked “Who's at Echo Ridge then?”
Jeff replied to her question “As far as we know, there is nobody out there. The towers were never repaired as people couldn't get near them.”
Freddy turned to look out of the window, far away in the glowing light he could just see the ridge, then he said the questions they all were waiting to ask, “In that case who is 501? And why were they calling there?”