Before we set off we tried to raise Miriam Base but without success. Sylvie took over the driving this morning and I’m glad she did- we made good time covering maybe 80 km before a dust storm forced us to hole up for several hours. As we were driving Vincent was fiddling the Comms trying to raise Miryam- without success but he did discover something odd which he picked up for a few minutes: a simple signal transmitting what we finally worked out was an old Morse Code SOS; unfortunately he was unable to work out direction before the signal faded, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t coming from the direction of Miryam.
As we waited out the dust storm Maria decided to climb partly up the bluff we were sheltering behind. As the storm cleared she was able to see the glare of the domes at Miryam maybe 40 km to the north. She also spotted something really strange-two dust trails heading abruptly for the base and then stopping. We had no idea what could have caused it. The SOS was also discussed, and we mooted the possibility of Derik being marooned somewhere, and possibly rigging a transponder to send out a continuous distress signal.
Laura picked up the final stretch covering the final 50 or 60 km just before dusk; we are parked not far from Miryam base now and are having a discussion. We are parked behind a bluff situated only 1-2 km from the base.
Maria and Vincent crawled up the slope and with her binoculars she has spotted two people stood outside the Hanger Bay, which is a bit odd when you consider that the total staffing of Miryam is only 4 people. There is also a bundle situated on the floor a few meters in front of them, of man-size or larger.
Sylvie apparently knows the Raider Gangs who operate within the vicinity of Black Rock, and her comment is that an out-of-the-place facility like this is just not worth their effort or attention- there is just too much physical effort involved in getting to and from here. Much easier to lurk near the Golden Road, hijack a truck and then sell the cargo and truck back via a go-between.
Vincent has also now picked up the SOS signal again, and this time has put a transect on Sylvie’s map which passes through a weather monitoring station situated about 30km to the north-east.
So now we’re eating an early supper and deciding what we should do: it’ll be dark soon and we need to make sense of this whole business. I’m sure nothing could possibly go wrong.
Vincent said what everyone else was thinking: “What’s to discuss? SOS has been the International distress signal since I don’t know when- even Pirates answer it. We should head to the weather station.”
I looked at Sylvie, as our best driver and resident Mars expert; she shrugged “There is one hour of daylight left: thirty clicks I could make in maybe two hours with a bit of luck, so that’s only one hour driving in the dark. As we’ll be homing on a signal I’ll chance it if you will.”
So it was. We packed up quickly and drove off, Sylvie keeping behind the dunes and out of site of Miryam base. She made good time, and just before sundown Maria, who had been scanning ahead out of the hatch called to stop. She jumped out and looked at the ground. “Tracks. 2 Q Bikes and 2 buggies, like they use on the bigger mining sites. Not protected vehicles so they need to operate close to a base. They‘ve headed up and down here several times over the last few days.”
Sylvie explained that some of the bigger rovers carry Q Bikes as scout vehicles, and bike sand racing is a sport among some of the wilder elements outside Mariner City boundaries. Either way it set us thinking, and we thought that some sort of gang Activity maybe was involved, but for the life of us we couldn’t figure out Why, in this isolated location.
In fact Sylvie made the journey in just less than 90 minutes, and it wasn’t long after sundown that the canyon opened out and we could see the lights on top of a stubby tower nestled into the side of a Redstone Butte. Maria switched her fancy binoculars onto Darksight and saw a shape up on a cliff over to our right, situated maybe a kilometre from the Weather Station but maybe with a good view of it. ‘Lookout’ was everyone’s thought.
The best explanation we could come up with was this: for whatever reason a Gang had attacked Miryam base. Someone had escaped to this weather station and altered the transponder to transmit an SOS. Meanwhile some of the Gangs vehicles harassed the weather station and left a lookout to keep an eye on them. It was the best we could come up with.
Sylvie drove around the tower to the left in a wide semicircle: if the lookout didn’t have Night capability we might just get away with it; after we’d spotted the tracks she had been driving with lights off and the Light Intensifier view anyway, which was ok at typical Rover speeds, which are not much above running. It seemed to go without incident and she parked behind the weather station. Nestled into the cliff.
Maria, Vincent and myself crept forward, and round the base of the tower to its ground level entrance. A Rover was parked outside, which had seemingly taken some heavy bullet impacts. Conveniently the position of the vehicle would immediately screen the door itself from the lookout we had spotted.
I tried the intercom and tried to explain that we were friends. The response wasn’t good: a voice I recognised as Derik’s (I’d seen him about the LFC offices a few times in the three months that my ship purchase deal had been dragging on) told me to ‘Fuck off Miles you turncoat bastard’, which sounded a bit odd in his nasal monotone voice. No joy there then.
Plan B: Vincent called Laura, and between them they opened the electronic lock and bypassed the access codes without triggering the security programme: where they learned to do that I don’t know. Vincent and I snuck in, followed by Maria. Derik hadn’t noticed us and we surprised him trying to move around the surviving security cameras-to see us I suppose. With two guns pointing at him he saw reason.
‘I suppose you are the official rescue team then’ he smirked. ‘I am so glad someone received my signal.’ Derik was a tallish saturnine man dressed all in black-a good indication of severe character defects in my experience. A young woman called Denise was called down from the roof-a base technician ; she is a year out student on a placement at Miryam apparently-lucky her.
Their story was as we supposed. Derik was using Miryam as a temporary base to check several facilities, mostly remote, in the area, including this one. Shortly after they arrived they were bottled in by two buggies and bikes, one with a machine gun mounted on the back. Their own vehicle was damaged and is currently inoperable. Various lewd suggestions had been made to Denise and himself, and the attackers appeared to know their names. Derik shot one of them with his long rifle, and they pulled off a bit. Probably wisely, Derik decided that it wasn’t a good idea to put themselves at the mercy of the Gangers, and they have secured the tower (which has a lot of supplies), and sent out the SOS we had picked up. With its upper floor and some corridors built into the rock, the tower makes a reasonable fortress-unless you are good at bypassing electronic security systems- which fortunately the attackers weren’t presumably.
Sylvie frowned as Derik was describing his experiences. “It doesn’t make sense all this. Raider Gangs, despite what you might see on the Vid Movies, are usually pretty temporary affairs. What you usually get are a few pissed off miners-who work under crap conditions for lousy pay under often corrupt managers- making a deal and supplying inside information to some of the local scavengers or ‘neer-do-wells. They then hijack a truck, ransom or sell it through a go-between, split the proceeds and then keep a low profile or vanish till the two week investigation is over. They operate near mining settlements along the Golden Road- not out here in the wilderness. This just doesn’t fit the Raider Ecology.’
Either way, we needed to get out of there. Presumably the buggies would be back in daylight, which meant we had to leave at once, night-driving or no: another stint for Sylvie. There were also three other staff possibly being held at Miryam- though Denise volunteered that she thinks that one of them-Miles-was in league with the raiders, as he had tried to convince them to surrender-or else-before the radio contact with Miryam was suddenly lost.
Sylvie drove though the night, taking much longer this time. It was 2am before we positioned the vehicle behind some dunes near Miryam. As she fell asleep I agreed to take watch till dawn-with the dreams I keep having it’s not as if I look forward to sleeping anymore.