Chapter 14 – The Long Walk Back
Not knowing which direction to head now as the sun was blinding him and the wind whipping the sand in his face Frankie set off in hope.
“I won’t be able to stand this much longer,” he thought. His throat was dry and lips cracked and brittle with constant sand blasting.
Walking in a line and staggering as he went, each dune looked the same as the sand took its toll on his strength. Every step demanding more energy than Frankie could gather but the will power to deliver Jeff’s message was strong enough to drive him on.
With the sun casting eerie shadows, Frankie thought he saw Sand Demons at almost every dune now, “They’re not real!” He kept telling himself, “It’s just an illusion.”
After what appeared to be hours walking and getting nowhere, the only thing Frankie had achieved was to fall down a lot of dunes and scrape the skin off his face to the point that he had to take the mask he had devised to protect his face off, even the softness of the glove inners was too rough for him now. “I must keep going; if I give in I’ve let Jeff down!” this became his mantra as he slowly dragged his body up one last dune. Looking over the top all he could see was endless dunes and no sign of the base.
Frankie sat down and held his head in his hands as he wept. Through his sobs he cried “I’m sorry Jeff. I did what I could but it wasn’t enough.”
Although he had seen and heard a lot in his years with The Word; what happened next spooked Frank. Through the wind and sand he heard Jeff’s voice calling to him “Something will turn up, Frankie, of that I’m sure.”
“Great!” thought Frankie “now I know I am dead, I could have sworn I heard Jeff.”
“You did. Over the years, you have saved my life on many occasions and now it’s my turn, Frankie. Just don’t give up hope.”
“That would be easier to do, if I could see the storm dying but it seems to be building up again and I have nothing to protect myself and I’m so tired, I feel that if I slide down one more dune I will stay there.”
Looking out across the endless dunes and not knowing what to do, Frankie took stock of the meaning of the message he was carrying back. Who did Jeff mean? The obvious candidate was Stevenarc, but that is the problem as an intelligent lady surely she wouldn’t have made it that easy? Okay, James’s signals had led them into a trap and cost Jeff his life but it couldn’t have been him; could it?
“This is all conjecture,” he thought “I have no proof.”
Stumbling up the dune ahead, his legs hardly able to hold his weight Frankie tripped and rolled down the other side “Shit” he yelled, as his head hit something hard on the sand “that’s it. I have to lie and rest I’m imagining there are things in the sand now.”
Back at the base, Adria was still feeling the after-effects of her close encounters at the gates when the handsome figure of Stephano strode into the ward. His cloak of gold embossed with black swishing behind him, making him appear as a romantic pirate. An image he aided by not shaving so his beard was long and ragged add to this the darker skin of a man used to months in the desert and you have the man who many would follow to hell and back.
“Hello Adria,” he said with a voice that sounded like waves crashing on a distant shore, yet as soft as a butterfly in flight “I hope you are feeling better now?”
“I am thank you; I have you and the Riders to thank for my rescue but what about the others?” Adria replied.
“As soon as we got back and had fed and rested the raydrians we sent two searchers out but they failed to locate anything other than an old Exrollo about five mile from the city, I am sorry.”
“At least that means one of them got out though.”
Looking at the joy building up at the news in Adria’s eyes, Stephano said “I hate to dampen your hopes but he’s been out there for hours and the storm isn’t letting up, unless he’s sheltered there won’t be more than bones to find one this dies down and until then we are grounded.”
“I realise that, but I have to keep up hope. It was something Jeff said that rang an alarm with me, just before Padraig rescued us. He said ‘We had a fire fight, there was a massive explosion and yet there is no rush to see what’s going on’ at the time I was too busy trying to stay alive but laying here, I got to think about it and it hit me, he was hinting it had been a set-up.”
“Yes, we had been tracking the person you knew as Marcian...”
Before the sentence could be ended Adria cut in “You said knew, as in the past tense!”
“Yes, as soon as he heard we were inbound with you, he made his break for freedom. He’s always just escaped capture but this time his luck finally ran out. He took a vehicle and dashed out into the whirler, we have no idea of the direction he took? Or how far he got? And we can’t afford the time and me to go look for the rat, let the desert be his burial ground.”
Frankie lay on the sands feeling the bump on his head. He looked around half dazed and with eyes riddled with tears from the wind and sands, what he saw was the last thing he wanted to see as he lay there “NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO” he screamed at the top of his voice “all that walking and all the strain and I’m back here.”
He walked away from the Exrollo, at about a hundred paces he turned and said to himself “I’m sorry friend, this is the end for us!” he fired two rounds into the hull and saw the fumes ignite, first into a bluish plume then a green fiery blaze. After that he dug a small foxhole trench and stuck his rifle on top with his helmet and tags “If my body is found, at least they will know whose bones they are,” he said as he crossed himself and went to sleep.