The Molecular Casino Part II.

4 Oct

I.

Vinod Devar ushered the two travelers from Siliquo City into his mezzanine office and seated them beside the panoramic window looking down on the slots and game machines of the casino’s ground floor.

The owner addressed a question to the bio-electronic scientist first of all.

“Have you ever been to my place of business before, Dr. Jha?” he inquired with a humorous expression imprinted on his face.

“No,” she replied shortly. “I never had the opportunity to see the Ezero Casino until now, when it will become the center demonstrating the practical operation of an important step in technical evolution and progress, namely a useable form of Biocomputing and information storage.”

Sekar then spoke up. “We both thank you for sending that crew of your office assistants from the forth floor to meet us at the track train station. That made easy the transport of our six new DNA units here to the casino building. I was told that they were taken directly up to where we will be running a large number of tests of their planned operations in expansion of the already existing wave operations.” He turned his head to Bijan and smiled at her. “I can take you all over the casino on the platforms so you can form a clear idea of what it contains and what its activities consist of.”

“When you have completed such a tour, return here to my office,” muttered Vinod in a lowered voice. “I will order a luncheon we can enjoy as we talk over what we plan to do in the days ahead.”

It was on the third storey, where fevered games of baccarat had attracted a crowd of on-lookers about a table where high-stake betting was in progress, that Bijan saw a person she had reason not to anticipate being present there.

“Nitan!” she cried out with surprise as her brother caught sight of her and gaped in astonishment.

It was Bijan who moves forward into the ring of game-observers, Sekar immediately at her side and trying to make sense of what she was saying and doing.

It was only when she stood in front of him did she identify the short, slight stranger to her companion.

“This is my baby brother, Nitan, and I have never had occasion to mention him to you, Sekar,” she managed to explain who the man in the crowd around the game of baccarat happened to be.

“This is the head of Hyperchip, the company I work for now,” Bijan informed her surprised sibling. “We arrived in Ezero City only a little while ago, and we are here in the Ezero Casino because we have a computer project in progress for the benefit of the operations inside these walls.

“But I am so excited to see you, especially under these circumstances, dear Nitan.

“I had the idea, from what you were telling me, that you are attempting to avoid all playing and all temptations to gamble.”

The brother extended his two arms and gave his sister a light, partial embrace.

“You heard me correctly, Bijan,” he assured her. “I have not made a single bet today, and do not intend to. This is a kind of testing of myself, I guess. Can I come in here and watch what goes on without being tempted or enticed into taking part?

“It has been a complete success, my dear one. I can resist my old addiction. For I can now confess to myself that I was a genuine gambling addict.

“But from now on, all I will permit myself to do is watch the games going on and stay out of them.

“At this very moment, I am proving that I have freed myself of the mania from which I long suffered.

“I no longer am enslaved to gambling, as I was for such a long period of time.”

For several moments, no one said anything. The only noise audible was that from the baccarat table.

Nitan gave Bijan the name and location of the hotel where he was staying in Ezero City, excused himself, and aliped away from there, toward the roulette games at the other side of the hall.

Sekar stared at her in wonder and confusion.

“I never had any reason to mention my brother and his gambling problem,” she declared in a near whisper. “It looks to me though, that he has succeeded in finding a cure to what was ailing and torturing him and his life.”

“Let’s take a platform up to the fourth floor,” proposed Sekar, intentionally changing the subject.

II.

Vinod Devar appeared open and candid to his two guests who had arrived at his casino with an innovative form of information storage and rapid programming operations. At lunch in the leisurely portion of his executive office, he displayed the dimensions of what he was foreseeing to do with their innovative system of DNA bio-computers.

“I want to make our entire planet of Siliquo into one unified field of betting and game-playing, open to everyone and anyone who possesses a wave-unit of any sort. The nearest and the farthest individuals will become as able to take part in our transactions as any customer who is physically present here in this building of mine.

“Yes, I will continue to run this place as a tourist attraction and a home den for those dedicated to taking part in actual games and visible bets. But the millions of men and women in all parts of this planet will have similar opportunity to participate in the activities that we specialize on here at Ezero Lake.

“That is what I see myself as: a provider of the risk and chance that I have long known that most of our species likes, enjoys, and has an instinctive need for.

“I am what the economists and the investment bankers of Siliquo City refer to as a manager of risk. People come to me seeking organized, systematized risk that avoids the life dangers of the wild forest and the jungle.

“I provide civilized suspense and measured gambles that furnish people thrills and excitement, but permits them to leave and escape should that become necessary.

“My casino is a safe environment in which to let oneself take the road of adventure without the mortal danger of war or personal physical combat.

“When I think about what I provide for the general public of our planet, I am always reminded for the old Siliquian saying that holds that all of life is a risk-taking gamble. From morning to midnight and beyond, all of us are making bets that determine the course of our lives. Good fortune or bad luck, success or failure, happiness or tragedy Fulfillment or disappointment: all these scores and outcomes are matters of chance, of never-ending taking of risks and chances.

“Only the dead never make any more bets on either the present or the future. But the living exist in a permanent casino that they know as their lives.

Vinod smiled archly. “If it wasn’t me, someone else would be nourishing the subconscious drives that press against the boundaries and limits of conventional life in society.”

Bijan spent the afternoon with Sekar in studying and redesigning the computer system of the Ezero Casino in terms of replacements with their new DNA apparatuses.

After a late dinner at their hotel, Bijan proposed that they attempt to find and visit her brother.

“He has a lot to tell me about his present life,” she revealed. “Nitin informed me on the wave-phone that he has joined a group of former addicts of gambling who have organized themselves in order to help other players free themselves from the infection that has attacked and conquered them.

“I am absolutely certain that he wishes to tell me about what how ideas and feelings have changed so deeply.”

“Let’s go out and find his rooms, then.” responded the president of Hyperchip.

The sky, losing the last of its daytime light, became a deepening blue. But the surface of Lake Ezero continued to maintain the shine and glow of earlier hours prior to dusk.

It was easy to the pair hunting for the flat rented by Nitan to locate the place. Both of them shared a sense of sudden surprise.

“I thought he would be here at home,” mumbled Bijan in a low, hollow tone, looking away toward the lake waters.

“We will have to look for him tomorrow, then,” resolved Sekar. “He must be out doing something.”

Rahul Kaul was the center of attention for the now enlarged group that had started to call itself the Rigorists.

He addressed his followers with deeply-rooted passion and enthusiasm.

“Only an ex-gambler knows what the fascination of the big chance is, because he or she has gone through direct experience of the magical insanity of living at maximum hazard in the games that can overpower the individual’s will and soul, while also conquering the conscious mind.

“It is very difficult for one to acknowledge, but the gambler must first of all recognize the foolishness of falling victim to the fallacies and lies the player comes to accept and believe in.

“The gambling addict continues to have faith in the idea of being destined by fate to turn out an eventual big winner. The longest possible series of losses is seen as only the prelude to finally proving oneself a champion winner. The addicts cannot understand that winning or losing are random events, each one unconnected and separate from all the other tries and bets.

“To gamblers, nothing in their lives is at random or undetermined. In the long run, they trust, the odds will turn out to benefit them.”

He stopped a moment to look about, surveying those he had recruited to the cause of Rigorism.

“We must admit the fact the gambling provided us a mysterious thrill we could find nowhere else in life.

“All of us, to one degree or another, experienced a sense of the uncanny in what we were engaged in.

“We were chasing our losses, hoping to redeem ourselves through making up for our unending defeats.

“But when I realized that gambling had made an idiotic fool, a supine puppet who had lost his free will, I became the mortal enemy of all that had captivated and enslaved me.

“It became my moral duty to liberate my fellow brothers and sisters from the trap that they were imprisoned in.

“I saw myself as the destined steward and rescuer of fallen gamblers. Others deserved to be able to enjoy the new freedom that I now possess. My decision was to organize a group of former gamblers to battle against the temptations of the casinos and their infernal games.

“There can be no concessions or going back for us. Our goal is to uproot and destroy the gambling dens and centers of our planet. There can be no compromise with such hellish evil. We must fight to the limit, till we end what once held us in its grasp. A war to the very end, that alone will be satisfactory and adequate for us.”

He looked about his nearly enchanted audience. “Tonight, we have come together to chart the direct actions that we intend to carry out right here in Siliquo City.” The leader’s voice halted a moment as his eyes roamed about the group of almost hypnotized listeners. “Our immediate task is going to be the formation of an assault group formed by those of us with developed computer programming skills, training, and experience.

“Our most important goal in the days immediately ahead will be to build ourselves a means of hacking our way into the complex computer systems of the Ezero Casino up on its fourth storey. We will then be able to spoil and sabotage
both the internal gambling and that going on over the interweb with the rest of our planet.”

All the Rigorists present listened spellbound to the plan presented to them by their founder and organizer.

III.

Bijan wave-phoned her brother early the following morning and informed him that she had attempted to locate him at his apartment the previous evening.

Nitin gave her an abbreviated, condensed explanation of why he had not been at home.

“If you had called me before you came, I would have told you that I had an important engagement I had to attend to and could not avoid,” he speedily declared. “It was a sort of sympathy group of former gambling addicts that I had promised to be present at. We listened to a speaker for a long time, and it was late when I got back at my place.

“It’s too bad that we missed each other, Bijan. But there will be many opportunities for the two of us to get together and talk, and I intend to be there when you visit me in the future.

“How long will you be here in Ezero City? may I ask”

“My work will be finishing up fairly soon,” she told him. “Probably it will be in another day or two that me and my employer will be returning to Siliquo City.”

“We will certainly get together before that happens, dear sister.”

Tarun Nait surprised both Sekar and Bijan with the openness and lack of inhibition he showed as he sat talking with them in his office on the top floor of the Ezero Casino.

The green eyes of the computer center coordinator seemed to glow with brightly shining fervor and self-assurance as the skinny programmer discussed what he planned to do with the DNA modules they had delivered to him.

“Mr. Devar has assigned the task of engineering a program using the multiplied capabilities that we will soon enjoy that will open an expanded market for our games over the interweb, expanding our reach over all of Silibe quo through new marketing strategies. We shall become something like a mobile phone casino, stretching everywhere by means of electronic microwaves.

“It will be easy, using DNA computer power, to locate potential players through the social media and networks that individuals make use of every day. We will program to find the maximum number of external web links through new thematic platforms and link exchanges that we ourselves create here in our casino. I have worked out a detailed plan for the e-mail marketing of our pitch.

“People will be able to play their favorite games by loading their chosen website via mobile browser or by downloading one of our specialized apps. They will be able to play and gamble while on the go, commuting to work, waiting in line, or taking a lunch break. I intend to make all the Ezero Casino websites, apps, and games particularly optimized for all portable devices. All a player will need is a stable interweb connection.

“The new DNA chips should permit growing speed and increased processing power to us. We will be able to offer a greater quantity and higher quality of gambling games.

“There shall be quick access and prompt servicing for players everywhere on Siliquo. I have devised methods for maintaining the loyalty of our external customers. Their ties to the casino must be strong and permanent. I aim for long-term relationships and firm retention of business. Every day will see new bounties and promotions sent over the waves of the webnet. Veteran players will be allowed to exchange the points and extra game bonuses they receive for actual money payoffs.

“I will make statistic studies with the DNA system networks we will have in order to locate popular trends among those we come into touch with. Then, we will make game changes and create new promotions to avail ourselves of what we have learned about the thoughts and emotions of the gambling public on our planet.”

His voice fell to nearly a whisper. “The players rarely understand the difference between their own game odds and the casino’s house odds. My goal is to lift our house odds and increase the unseen house edge that few are even conscious of. This will become increasingly possible through what we learn about the gambling public, using the multiplied power of the DNA system that you are providing us.

“I believe that it will be possible to program a greater number of dedicated, full-time gamblers who never tire or quit.”

Bijan suddenly interrupted him with a sharp question.

“Are you considering a growing population of addicted players?”

“That is certain to be one of the results of the computers that your company builds for us,” he muttered archly.

Neither Sekar nor Bijan said a word about what they had just heard about the importance of player addiction in the plans for the future of the Ezero Casino.

The pair made their way in close to silence out of the building and out to the shoreline promenade along the edge of Lake Ezero.

Bijan pointed to a vacant silicon bench on the beach and the two of them sat down there and rested without speaking for a considerable length of time.

He was guessing what her thoughts might include, and she was thinking and imagining what was occupying his mind.

“It is a cruel way to keep gamblers involved and continuing to play,” Bijan at last said to him.

Sekar turned his head so that he viewed her in profile. “Yes, that is the truth. Instead of attempting to avoid or remedy that serious condition of pathological behavior, Tarun Nait plans to increase and spread that kind of sickness and malady.

“I have to ask myself whether the owner, Mr. Devar, is willing to back and sponsor such a secret, underhanded program both in his casino and also over the waves of the Interweb.”

Bijan turned to face him, so that he caught sight of the teardrops forming around the edges of her cerulean eyes.

“My brother, Nitin, is one of the fortunate ones who has discovered a path out of the hellish condition of addiction,” she hesitantly muttered in a heavy, troubled tone.

The two gazed directly into each other’s face, both of them focusing on the eyes and searching for some meaningful sign of a way forward.

“I think we shall have to have this out with Vinod Devor at some point,” decided Sekar. “Perhaps after we return from Siliquo City with the second, larger load of DNA devices to be installed at the casino.”

Bijan nodded her head but did not make any verbal statement of agreement with him.

IV.

Late that afternoon, the sister of Nitin Jha contacted him over wave-phone.

“I tried to find you at your flat yesterday evening, my dear, but you were not there. I was accompanied by my employer, the head of Hyperchip, Sekar Airan.”

“My group held an important meeting last night,” replied Nitin. “It was very late when I finally returned to my apartment. I am sorry that we missed meeting each other, Bijan.”

“I wanted to tell you that we two will be returning to Siliquo City early tomorrow morning. There is a lot of important work awaiting me there. But I hope to be back here in about a week or so, and it will be possible for us to get together and talk a long while then.

“Is that alright with you?”

Their trip back to Siliquo City was quiet and thoughtful for both travelers as their track train hurried to the large capital city where their company had its headquarters,

Bijan, near the end of their journey, began to express the oppressive worry that continually weighed on her.

“My brother claims that he has saved himself from his long addiction. But everyone recognizes the fact that a former addict to a mania as strong as that of the dedicated, hypnotized gambler is always in danger of falling or sliding back into the former condition of enslavement. No one can ever claim to be forever cured of such an insidious habit. Backsliding occurs in numerous cases, and this is a frequent outcome for the addicted gambler.

“Isn’t that the truth, Sekar?”

The latter creased his forehead with the heaviness of the thoughts he was considering.

“I have been considering what our discovery of the secret plan mentioned as a possible misuse of the DNA computer by Tarun Nait. It is an immoral scheme to capture many more gambling addicts than have ever existed before. My sad conclusion has to be that Mr. Nait is a nefarious individual who has influenced his employer, Vinod Devar, to go along with a secret conspiracy to produce crowds of exploitable addicts, individuals who are turned into something like gambling robots who cannot easily escape their addiction.”

“What can you and I do about the damage that will hang over so many across our entire planet?

“Are we going to break our contract with the Ezero Casino and withdraw the DNA system from evil misuse?”

Sekar, for a moment, looked out the tracker window at fields of wheat and timothy. Then he turned his head and looked directly into the eyes of Bijan.

“When we return, we must make an attempt to convince Vinod to fire Tarun Nait from his position and institute a program to discourage and prevent addiction. That is what I feel my duty happens to be. What do you think and say?”

Bijan nodded her head several times. “If luck is with us, we will succeed in cleaning up the Ezero Casino as we install the new computer system there.”

Rahul Kaul selected a group of four Rigorists to assist him in the attack upon the computer systems of the Ezero Casino. These were persons who possessed knowledge and experience that pertained to this specific area of electronics. One of them happened to be Nitin Jha.

The movement leader met with these chosen helpers at his own flat to explain what he had in mind.

“I believe that as a group we will be able to override the anti-hacking programs built into the casino systems. It has occurred to me that there a simple gate into the fifth floor center, and it is open to us even with very basic, inexpensive equipment. The feat can be accomplished with success by focusing our attention and efforts on the wave transmission and reception apparatus that connects the casino to the planet-wide webnet.”

Those sitting about a large round table stared at Rahul, waiting to learn the key he seemed to be hinting at.

“I have purchased an advanced vulnerability scanner that can locate the weak spots in the wave apparatuses being used by this casino. This electronic weapon will exploit the vulnerabilities it discovers in the anti-hacking defenses that are there. It is certain to be smarter and more agile than any malware operations set up on their side.

“Since there are new component structures being introduced at the present time, that will make our intervention through the wave lines even more effective and superior. There has not been enough time for the adjustment of the previous defenses to have been updated and improved.” He grinned with malice. “We shall hit the internal systems throughout the Ezero Casino through its weakest section, its ties into the overall web-net.

“The reason that I have selected and invited this group to carry out the electronic assault is because each of you has specific skills that will be of special use in winning access to the interior computer systems of the Ezero Casino. From your records and experiences, I have decided that Nitin Jha should be the one who designs, coordinates, and fulfills the technical portions of our project.”

He gazed directly at Nitin, as if asking him to say something about what had just been assigned to him.

“I was fortunate to have taken university courses on electrowave trandmission and reception. Later, I worked for a short time at a combined audio and video station and became acquainted with the instruments, apparatuses. and devices utilized at both ends of broadcasting of signals.

“As a result of all this, I trust that I can be of use in making choices and decisions connected with our goal of bringing ruin to the largest and most important casino on our planet, the one owned by Vinod Devar.”

“We shall be depending upon our friend Nitin to make the purchases of the complicated equipment that we will need,” announced the leader.

The meeting came to a rapid end in just a minute or two.

V.

Both Bijan and Sekar had a week busy with working responsibilities that occupied their mental attention completely.

The president of Hyperchip found himself in her laboratory office to find out how her activities were progressing.

She smiled with visible satisfaction, seated at the small desk at which she operated the lab.

“Things are moving ahead at a very satisfactory speed,” she informed him. “How are the shipments to the Ezero Casino doing? Did we transmit the computer units that have been ordered for there?”

“Yes,” he nodded to her. “It has been difficult, but every promise has been placed on track train and delivered to them on time.

“We can all be proud of having fulfilled the orders on a prompt basis, Bijan.” He thought a moment or two. “We have earned a rest, all of us after such a hectically busy week. Why don’t you and I have a dinner together somewhere? We certainly deserve it after all that we have accomplished.

“What do you think, Bijan?”

“Yes,” was her simple, brief reply.

“You choose the restaurant, then,” he told her with satisfaction on his face. “Whatever will please you the most, that will be our choice of where to be going this evening.”

In two hour’s time, the pair were sitting at a booth in a downtown Siliquo City avian house, his order being for canary while hers for roasted humming bird.

As their meals approached endings, Sekar began to speak to the research director.

“Have you heard anything from your brother and how he is doing? Is he still staying in Ezero City?”

The researcher smiled. “Yes, he remains by the lake, and he claims to have cured himself of his gambling addiction. In a way, both he and I received a blessing and a curse from our parents before they passed on. Large personal accounts were established as an inheritance for both of us. I used mine for my scientific education, but his endowment allowed Nitin to become a playboy of sorts, then a sports gambler, and finally an addict.

“He did not at all need to win a fortune, for our parents left him completely independent and wealthy.”

The pair went back to finishing their plates of bird-based food.

“I have always seen myself as an innovation developer more than an industrial investor,” declared Sekar with relish.

“My main thrill and enjoyment comes from helping to spur the creation of ever new technology and presenting it to our planet as a practical solution to the questions and problems that our society faces.

“I am absolutely certain that once we have proven the superiority of Biocomputing based on DNA chips, scores of industries and business areas will perceive the advantage of adopting and utilizing what we offer.”

“You have displayed marvelous foresight and ingenuity in deciding to back and finance the research that led to the DNA microprocessor,” opined Bijan, sending her employer a shining smile.

“The only thing I did was to merge two companies and make use of the breakthroughs that you yourself accomplished in the lab. I was the one who connected the scientific area with the practical, business sector. And that happened to be done with the help of the Ezero Casino acting as the first sponsoring customer.”

“You are the one who took the initial risk, though,” she muttered.

He grinned at her. “Mr. Vinod Devar has also assumed some of the hazard involved,” he added.

It was early the next morning, as the sky above Lake Ezero was changing from dawn yellow to morning light blue, that Tarun Nait met with his top computer technicians in his fifth floor office of the sopronic casino building.

He made an important announcement to the group standing around the silicon desk at which he was comfortable seated.

“I have the proud pleasure to inform all of you that this is the day when our computer operations turn predominantly DNA based. Gradually, we have converted the various interconnected systems to the new kind of nano-processor, and today we move over the 50% line and become mostly DNA-based.

“This should give a colossal impetus to our electro-wave potentials. The casino operations by interweb will now have fantastically increased capacities. More signals can come in from individual bettors and from gambling parlors all over the planet. The speed of business and communication can reach record velocity. The possibility for growth of all parameters has now become unlimited.

“But we cannot afford to waste our time in idle celebration of self-congratulation.

“I called all of you here to announce that our expectations of both income and profitability have to rise as well. We have to keep up with the bright prospects that now become visible and conceivable for us.”

Tarun grinned with sly glee and unconcealed avarice. “So, let’s all get back to work and make a mountain of money for the Ezero Casino this most happy day!”

VI.

Nitin Jha went over the final plans for the electrowave invasion set for midnight. He and his two assistants sat across a circular pine table from the founder of the Rigorists.

“I believe that we will carry out the attack at exactly the time most favorable for our success,” said Rahul Kaul at the conclusion of the intense final consideration of the technical features of the nihilistic project. “I have made all the arrangements for having available the hearse-like camion for our project. It will be limited to just the two of us, you and I, Nitin. Our two comrades will be inside the Ezero Casino itself, so that they will be able to provide us an accurate report on the dimensions of the results within the five stories of that center of gambling activities.

“All of our group, including those not directly present or involved in the attack, will assemble here in my apartment three hours past the start of our hacking, an hour before midnight.

“Is everything clear? Does anyone have any questions?”

It was Nitin who decided to bring up a sensitive subject.

“Can we succeed in avoiding the attention of the casino guards or the Siliquo City police?” he inquired, looking Rahul directly in the eye.

The leader at once gave an answer that he had put together a long time before this night of attack.

“There are no guarantees of safety in ventures such as ours,” he asserted with confidence. “We are like warriors of old, in eras long past. Because of the high nature of the goal of our cause, every one of us is already willing to make sacrifices for the sake of what he believes is right.

“I believe that conditions favor our enterprise, if only because such an electrical assault over the waves we shall be creating and transmitting into the top storey of the Ezero Casino is thoroughly unexpected.

“We shall be bringing ruin to that place of evil out of the dark night of Lake Ezero. No one is ready for this. The factor of surprise favors us. It will provide protection and security to the Rigorists and what they aim to accomplish.”

Neither Nitin nor the other two said anything on the subject of surviving the project ahead of them.

The preparatory meeting soon came to an end, each participant leaving to rest up for the time of danger that they faced on the following night.

Driving the long, black limousine-like truck, Rahul parked the vehicle on the Lake Ezero beach road, a short distance from the edge or the water and within sight of the sapronic sides of the Ezero Casino.

Rahul, sitting in the driver’s seat in front, talked as if to himself.

In the rear section of the truck, Nitin picked up what was being said by the leader, although most of his mind and attention was centered on adjusting and modulating the electro-wave hacking transmitters he was in charge of.

“Perhaps these acts of ours tonight are absolutely illegal, I know in my heart that what we are engaged in is completely justified. I have no question or doubt whatever of that.

“We, the Rigorists, realize that gambling is a horrible plague upon those who become habituated players. They surrender their wills and minds to owners of places like the Ezero Casino.

“Our electro-wave assault tonight is an act of righteous justice. We will be saving others from the malady from which we ourselves suffered.

“We are in the right in our action, for we will bring rightful punishment to the criminal casino that has enslaved so many defenseless victims.

“Yes, we Rigorists are turning to direct, destructive action. But isn’t such a drastic initiative justifiable when the target is pure, unmitigated evil, such as the Ezero Casino?

For me, there is no comparable evil anywhere on the planet of Siliquo.”

Nitin did not make a response, since his thoughts were centered and concentrated on the wave settings and calibrations he was busy with on the hacking transmitters around him in the rear of the long camion.

Electro-waves of various, selected frequencies and strength began to be emitted from the concealed transmission devices within the camion. These were projected into the portion of the wave spectrum being used by the wireless channels of the Ezero Casino. All of a sudden, these illegal signals started to affect and interfere with the customary links that connected the players scattered over the entire planet with the gambling hub in Ethe zero City.

In many locations, individuals and small groups using wave receivers and transmitters felt the immediate loss of contact with the central station of the casino.

Every communication was either garbled, distorted, or destroyed by sudden catastrophic intervention from out of the night.

No outside user taking part in wave-based gambling had any idea what it might be breaking the previous linkage.

Confusion and anger arouse on all sides, in every direction.

On the camion, Nitin made an unending series of adjustments he had planned for ahead of time.

Beyond the fifth floor computer-wave links center of the casino, the lower stories of the building began to suffer the effects of the hacking attack from outside in the night.

Videx games occurring on wall screens on the fourth storey went blank, empty of the spectacles that players had been hypnotically watching and betting on.

On the third floor, dealers and croupiers found their personal units no longer in operation. They lost all contact with the casino computer system that projected wave-transmitted information into their eye lenses or finger-ring receivers.

Central management of betting became impossible for the house in roulette or baccarat.

This betting and bidding chaos flowed downward, affecting the second storey of the casino with its frenetic disorder.

The house dealers in all the games such as poker, blackjack, euchre, and cow-pie became victims of mental dissolution. Signals received in their electro-wave eye lenses and hand receivers led them to make disastrously failing decisions. Their games fell immediately out of overall computer control and management.

Finally, the slot machines and electronic games of the ground floor of the Ezero Casino went literally mad and wild. All central systemization and control evaporated in a moment.

A panic resembling instantaneous insanity seized holder of all the players on all the floors, the old and the young, the poor and the wealthy, tourists visiting on a lark as well as addicts with years of sad experience at this and other Siliquoan casinos.

What am I doing in here? What is happening with the games, the bets, and the verdicts of Fate?

Players and employees, guards and croupiers, high-rollers and penny-pinchers realized that they had to escape the bedlam that was now taking over.

A large crowd of the excited, the frightened, the terrorized, and the puzzled formed about the main entrance.

The computer and electronic technicians had long since abandoned their posts and work on the top fifth floor.

One of these, a specialist in setting gambling prizes as a profiler of player types, thought of calling the owner of the Ezero Casino and telling him that his business enterprise was crumbling to pieces by the second.

Vinod Devar, about to go to bed, ran out of his luxury suite and leaped into his sports amaxa.

At almost the same moment as he arrived at his emptied-out sapronic casino structure, the hacker truck left the location it had been occupying the last several hours.

Both Rahul Kaul and Nitin Jha silently realized that their efforts that night had been extremely successful.

They had brought what they hoped would be economic death to the Ezero Casino and the one who owned it.

VII.

Vinod Devar was torn to mental shreds by what he saw and heard when he arrived at the front entrance of his bio-spronic building. The first individual who approached him and spoke happened to be the computer coordinator, Tarun Nait, who appeared to be less excited or unraveled than the crowd milling about in an anarchic bedlam.

“It is a disaster of colossal dimensions and proportions,” said the technical director in a clear, strong voice.
“The catastrophe started on the fifth floor, where our systems suddenly ground to a stop and went haywire, allow me to say. Then this initial chaotic storm descended to the fourth, and on downward to all of our stories, and last of all to the ground level of the casino.

“Communications over the wave=net ended at once, becoming gibberish without sense, meaning, or logic. Every storey of our casino building has been thoroughly damaged and harmed. Dealers, croupiers, and technical employees were left in isolation, without wave contact that was usable.

“No one can now bet or gamble, win or lose. The players and our staff have been compelled to abandon the interior of our Ezero Casino. We are forced into temporary shutdown until we can find the cause of this collapse and deal with it.”

“What could be the cause of such trouble, Tarun?” demanded Vinod with emotion in his voice and in his chestnut eyes.
“Is it something that we can identify and remedy? How are we going to restore our interrupted operations now?”

Tarun seemed to bite his lower lip. “I have had a suspicion rise in my mind in the last few minutes, as I came out of the casino and waited out here before venturing to go back inside and start inspecting and investigating.

“A single idea has, for now, begun to dominate my thinking about what as just happened here tonight.”

“Tell me what you believe may have caused such damage and malfunction,” commanded the owner.

“This may have a direct connection to the introduction of the new DNA micro-processing systems into what we already had in operation here. I have not yet proven this suspicion, but I find it a very compelling and credible explanation of why such a disaster occurred.” His green eyes stared directly into the face of his employer.

The latter fell into concentrated thought for several seconds.

“We shall have to close up the casino building for tonight,” decided Vinod. “Tomorrow we will inspect and examine everything, and try to find out whether your suspicion is correct, Tarun.”

Rahul, Nitin, and the two Rigorists who had been inside the casino as witnesses and observers lifted all the hacking equipment out of the rented camion and carried it into the back of the leader’s apartment. The two hackers listened to the pair of watchers describe the chaotic panic on the floors of the sapronic building. Both Rahul and Nittin received these reports with quiet satisfaction.

“Our victory is now complete,” grinned the leader after hearing what the pair had experienced at the scene of event. “We must now wait to see whether the owner closes his casino to restore and repair the operations of the place. The best outcome for me, and I venture to say for all of us, would be to see the place shut down and abandon its gambling activities.

“That would be perfect for us, but I doubt whether it could ever end up that way.”

“What should we, then, hope, pray, and work for in coming days?” asked Mitin with unhidden curiosity.

Rahul smiled like an old but intelligent cat. “I think we had better wait to find out what Mr. Vinod Devar is going to do in the near future. Then, we will be able to decide what our duty consists of.”

As soon as Bijan learned of the raid over wave-net news early the next morning, she at once phoned her brother in Ezero City to find out his reaction to the enigmatic, inexplicable event that seemed to have no discernible cause.

“Good morning, Nitan. I just saw and heard what happened to the Ezero Casino. The news channel could not give any meaning or reason for anything like this. The whole place has been shut down until some kind of conclusion and determination can be reached.

“How are you feeling today, my dear? What do you think may have caused this spectacular closing down of that gambling center?

“As you well know, my company and I myself have been busy in revamping and rearranging the computing systems that this casino utilizes every day in its normal operation.”

For a brief moment, Nitan was uncertain what it was best for him to say to his sister.

“I know next to nothing, Bijan. It is a mystery to me, as it appears to be to you and everybody else. There is nothing beyond what you heard and saw on the wave-net news. I’m very sorry that I am unable to throw any light on the matter for you.

“Do not worry about me, because I feel better now that I have quit all gambling. My resistance to my old urges in that area has grown stronger and stronger. I will never go back to my old addiction, never.
c
“I will keep you posted if I learn more about what happened. Good-bye for now, dear sister.”

Vinod made a careful, exacting tour of all five floors of his casino in the company of Tarun Nait.

The latter provided a detailed technical explanation of what he thought had occurred the previous night.

“I did not sleep at all, because I was seeking the answer to how this catastrophe began and grew to such incredible dimensions,” declared the computer director as the two of them sat facing each other in the owner’s executive office.

“Can you pinpoint what caused the breakdown and paralysis of our electronic systems?” asked Vinod with desperation in his voice and in his eyes.

Tarun stared at his employer with self-confident solidity on his face and in his blue-gray eyes.

“I have examined all our systems and concentrated on what most probably happened in the nano-processors that run our many computer arrays. My mind was compelled by what I found to think deeply about these new DNA units that we recently introduced into nearly all our systems, both for operations here in the building and outward through the wave-net. There was, for me, only one reasonable conclusion that could be reached.” He paused for a moment. “The cause of the electronic disorder that was suffered last night had to lie with the DNA units that were brought in and connected. There is no logical alternative explanation.

“That is the best and most credible explanation that I can produce at this time.”

The owner and the technical director allowed time to flow by on its own. Gazing at each other, both men were consumed with thoughtful calculations.

Finally, it was Tarun Nait who presented a solution to the difficult quandary that they faced.

“I am acquainted with a number of computer industry managers in Siliquo City, and I have reason to think that they have their own projects to construct useful, practical bio-computers.

“If I made an informal visit among such companies, I am certain that I could locate a partner firm able and willing to provide us with a substitute for the DNA units that have only given us loss and failure.

“I could leave Ezero City for the capital at once, sir.”

Vinod decided almost in an instant. “Yes,” he asserted. “That is a brilliant idea. I will tell HYperchip that we are cancelling our agreement with them on the DNA processors. We need something better and safer, that is clear to me.”

VIII.

Sekar sensed both his mind and his body’s nervous system shaken by the notice that came to him from a lawyer in Ezero City.

“This is to inform you the Mr. Vinod Devar has availed himself of the final article of his contract with the Hyperchip Corporation to cancel all orders and contracts for special DNA micro=processors and their installation at the recreational facility owned and operated by him, the Ezero Casino. No additional payments shall be made to the Hyperchip Corporation since there are no additional amounts owed by Mr. Devar.

“With this wave communication, all contractual ties or obligations with your company are herewith ended and abrogated.

“Best Wishes, Attorney for Vinod Devar and the Ezero Casino.”

Sekar sat for a time, mentally digesting what he had read and learned. He decided to inform his researcher immediately, heading for her lab office.

What course lay ahead for himself and Hyperchip?

Perhaps she could suggest or propose an answer to this dilemma.

Early that evening, Rahul Kaul summoned the entire contingent of his ex-gambler movement to a meeting at his apartment. By this time, the public electronic and wave media had made the crisis at the Ezero Casino the most important topic of conversation not only in the region, but throughout the planet of Siliquo.

Every member was curious to learn what the leader had in mind in terms of further initiatives against their enemy, the gambling institutions and businesses that created ever-new addiction and victimization.

Rahul seemed in an unusually excited and exhilarated spirit as he began to welcome his comrades with words of confidence and encouragement.

“What can I say? All of you have heard and seen the news of last night’s attack. As I said earlier, this is only the first assault on our monster enemy. There will be an attempt to revive and restore the Ezero Casino. But we shall be fully prepared for this. There will surely have to be another attack, perhaps sooner than anyone can now foresee.

“But the Rigorist movement will be stronger and more of a danger to Mr. Kaul and his associates. If necessary, we will be more destructive, with multiplied force and capacities. Our group shall not rest or stand by idly. No, we will prepare ourselves for greater, more spectacular accomplishments.

“I predict deeper destruction in our future invasions of the evil den of our enemy. We have only begun to raze our foe and his hellish establishment!”

Tarun Nait boarded the night tracker train from Ezero City to Siliquo City a little before midnight.

He would be in the capital before dawn, and then begin his search and hunt for a replacement for the DNA micro-processor experiment that had ended in ruin at the casino he worked for.

The technical director could not sleep in his passenger’s sofa chair. In fact, he had no wish to.

His mind was busy with plans for surveying the research situation among the competing computer companies and laboratories in the capital of the planet.

Tarun had most of his tracker car to himself. Only a few sleeping figures road along about him.

He smiled at his thought of what he was aiming to accomplish tomorrow.

There was a particular friend of his he had to see first of all.

He would agree to be his guide into the tangled computer industry scene, Tarun was certain.

Together, the two of them would figure out the best route for them to locate a substitute for the DNA chip.

What might it turn out to be?

This night was too early for him or anyone else to know that.

Tarun was sure that he was going to return to the Ezero Casino with what he wanted, an invention that would permit him to replace Vinod Divar as the master of the gambling center on the lake.

The Molecular Casino Part I.

13 Sep

I.

Sekar Airan had never had reason to visit Lake Ezero ever before. But he journeyed to the resort city on a track train car packed with happy tourists looking ahead with the joy of expectancy to their vacation days on the bright sunny shores and the famous attractions of their destination.

Only I among the males aboard am wearing a dark business suit, said Sekar to himself with a knowing smile.

All of a sudden, a young traveler in a leisure sports outfit, sitting opposite him, blurted out a question aroused by his seriously-attired neighbor.

“Are you planning to play a lot at the Ezero Casino?” inquired the merry-looking vacationer.

Sekar eyed the curious stranger with a blank look in his own gray eyes.

“No,” he curtly replied. “I will be in Lake Ezero on important business for my company.”

He looked out the window at the green landscape of meadow and pine trees. “I think the track train will arrive there in just a couple of minutes.”

The young man fell silent and looked away, realizing that the other did not wish to say any more to him.

The slender, lissome figure in a pale yellow seersucker outfit climbed out of a beach jitney and headed for the entrance of the Ezero Casino, a famed saprobic structure built in the style termed as biomorphic architecture.

Sekar, before walking into the main entrance, stopped to look a few moments at the gigantic casino contained under a shell of saprobiontic microorganisms. He could make out the fiberglass screens underlying the outer plants and fungi.

As he made his way forward and entered the main vestibule of the working casino, he realized how dependent this gambling institution had long been upon frontier advances in new technology and scientific breakthroughs.

Sekar went up to an information booth and asked a security guard how to find the executive offices, specifically that of the director-owner of the casino, Mr. Vinod Devar.

The uniformed woman gave him a smile. “Do you happen to be Mr. Airan from Hyerchip, sir?” she asked him.

“Yes, I have an appointment to come to his office as soon as I arrive at Ezero City, whatever the precise hour of the day it might happen to be.

“I have already been to my reserved rooms in the Casino Peninsula Hotel, and took a cab here immediately.”

“Please follow me, Mr. Airan. I have received orders to guide you at once to the main mezzanine offices, where our Director is and waiting to greet and speak with you.

“Welcome to Ezero City and its premier casino, sir,” she beamed as she moved from behind the counter and led the visitor toward the back wall and its bank of people-moving platforms.

The office of the owner on the mezzanine between the ground and the second floor was huge and brilliant, shining with polished wall and furniture of aluminum, magnesium, and cobalt.

Vinod Devar, leading his guest from the entrance to a corner overlooking the first floor electronic game and slot machine section through a one-way glass, asked him to be seated on a sofa, then himself sat down on a favorite easy chair only a few feet away.

“How was your trip from Mecho City?” began the proprietor of the establishment. “I hope it was pleasant for you, and I wish you to have a pleasant stay with us here in Ezero City.”

Sekar studied the square, stony face of the beefy, ponderous owner for a short while, then spoke to him.

“I cannot complain about my trip here, not at all,” he muttered. “The wish to hear what you intend to propose to my company, The Hyperchip Corporation, occupies my mind every minute, every second.

“My expectation is that you have something of enormous importance to relate to me.”

Sekar waited expectantly to learn what it was that had brought him here to the Ezero Casino.

“I know that you have been impressed by how scientifically advanced this casino of mine is. My dream has, from the beginning, to make Lake Ezero and my enterprise the most up-to-date and progressive gaming center on our planet of Siliquo. This has meant continuous improvement and unending investment in what will increase the productivity of the business.

“I can declare, without boasting about the fact, that Ezero City would not be what it is today without the attraction centered on my famed casino institution. Everyone knows and has heard of its games, everywhere. And beyond that, I have been the champion and the pioneer in the field of electronic games over cables and electromagnetic signal frequencies.

“How does this casino building affect you as a first-time visitor? It is a wonder unmatched anywhere else. I had it specifically planned and designed for the particular climate conditions here on Lake Ezero.”

“It is a marvel of technology and bio-engineering,” replied the other. “The amazing shell, due to its natural features and properties, can adjust itself immediately to weather and seasonal changes in the hot, tropical climate of the zone in which Lake Ezero is located.

“This structure reveals how much scientific innovation and discovery can add to all fields of business and living when put into practical application.

“That is what I can say that my company, Hyperchip, is dedicated to: the utilization of laboratory breakthroughs to real, everyday use and exploitation.” He paused for several seconds, then went forward again. “That is what inspired me to accept your kind invitation to come here and see the Ezero Casino. I believe that our researchers and developers can do a lot for advancing your level of technical applications.”

Vinob grinned at what he was hearing from the guest.

“First of all, I believe that you must see with your own eyes how we operate here. I myself shall act as your guide on a tour of the five levels of the casino.”

He saw that Sekar was brimming over with a flooding curiosity.

II.

Vinod Devor first led Sekar to the main entrance of the casino and pointed out the two surfaces forming the shell of the gigantic building.

“These skins, the inner and the outer ones, make instant adjustments to conditions of the environment outdoors,” declared the owner with supreme pride in his voice. “Micro-umbrellas in the membrane automatically open and close in order to prevent excessive sunlight and cool the interior of the building.

“There are photoelectric cells in the outer shell that collect and even store power that we use to reduce the amount of electricity that must be brought in from outside sources.

“Specially cultivated saprobiants in the polystyrene layer of the exo-facade are saprophytic microorganisms that could be called fungi of an exotic kind. They cool and air-condition the entire casino, making it comfortable for the large crowds of gamblers who congregate here all day and all night,” smiled the man who ran the establishment.

“Let’s look at the hundreds of slots and electronic games on the ground floor,” he proposed. “Then, we can ride a platform up to the other four stories.”

The two took a walk around the brightly lit, crowded lowest floor of the casino, packed with frenzied men and women attempting to beat the rotating wheels and electrons of scores of devices that seemed never to be inactive or at rest. Next, Vinod took his special visitor to have a look at the quieter second storey, a place of tables where card games were in progress. Poker and blackjack were most popular and frequent, although less popular and known card games were the focus of skilled, experienced players.

Smiling with pleasure, Vinod reeled off the names of several of the more obscure games going on around the fringe of the better-known games in play.

“We have special tables with hearts, rummy, euchre, canasta, spades, whist, and even with crazy eights. If someone is a perfectionist fan of old games, I can set up tables for faro, pinochle, pitch, rook, and red dog. Have you ever heard of any of these kinds of card playing? I myself love the old-fashioned, obsolete ones like bezique and cribbage.

“Cards go back a long way of many centuries in planetary and interplanetary history, my friend.”

Vinod then led his guest to the platform and the pair ascended to the third floor, where the sounds of spinning roulette wheels shot across the specious playing hall.

Sekar noticed a wide area of tables with scores of round tables with silent, focused gamblers and dealers seated about them as if in profound contemplation.

The owner explained what they were doing. “Those are baccarat games going on over on that side,” gtinned Vimod. “The bankers working for me at each table are the best anywhere on Siliquo planet, I can say with absolute confidence.”

As soon as they reached the fourth floor of the casino, Sekar was startled by the rows of wide electronic screens shining from one end of the hall to the other. He and his guide halted while the latter explained what went on at this level.

“Here we have displays of actual sports events going on all over Siliquo, as well as many times more electronic, imagined sports games and competitions. Our patrons are able to make bets on both real, actual sports as well as fictional ones that they can become a active participant of.

“You can see for yourself how excited and enthusiastic these many players become in this gigantic gambling arena.”

Back to the platform the two stepped, ascending to the top storey, the fifth one.

“This floor is the electronic-technical center of the entire enterprise,” explained the owner. “Our cable lines extend to Siliquo City and out to the entire planet. But just as central and vital are the electromagnetic connections that we utilize over radio frequencies. We can directly receive wagers from players at any location anywhere on Siliquo who possess a personal transmitter unit of any sort.

“But this computer center is also connected by electro-wave to every dealer, croupier, gaming machine, and floor manager on all floors of the building. By eye-lens apparatus or finger-ring, our employers are under systematic control, monitoring, and management. They receive instantaneous advice, information, and cyber commands.

“But the truth is that my casino earns more income and profit over wire and air wave than it does from actual visitors or tourists who walk in through the door.”

“I find all that you have shown me amazing and interesting,” smiled Sekar. “You have built a magnificently successful business here on Lake Ezero.”

Vinod appeared to make a grimace that resembled a frown. “I want to talk to you about my plans for future development of the casino,” he announced. “Let’s go back to my office and discuss what it is that I have in mind that you can be a part of, my friend.”

The pair seated themselves on sofas looking out over Lake Ezero through a long, panoramic window.

Vinod offered to make his guest a cocktail, but Sekar begged off the offer.

“I follow a strict private health program that excludes all popular beverages and drinks,” said the latter with a friendly smile and a sincere tone of voice. “My hope is never to deviate from its rules and requirements.”

The owner of the casino gave a short, understanding laugh. “Let me get down to the reason that I invited you to come here. You saw for yourself how extensive I have made our electronic communication and reckoning center up on the fifth floor. My plans are to build and advance in those activities in coming years. That shall be my main focus of investment. But you saw how crowded that storey of the casino has already become. That means that complexity will multiply without an upper limit. The only conceivable solution is the process of condensation that the experts call miniaturization. Smaller and smaller computer units, with tinier and tinier micro-processing chips and basic units.

“Isn’t that the coming course of your industry? I can imagine that your company will also take the road of smaller, more potent and useable computer chips.

“I have read articles and heard talk about the approaching kind of units that will be neither hardware nor software, but is already termed as wetware. It will be based on very small biological units.

“Is your company, Hyperchips, active in that sort of laboratory research? Do you have prospective programs in developing future bio-computers that can be used in industry and business?”

A few seconds of silence followed, as Sekar formulated what he was going to say and Vinod studied his face for some sign or indication of what might be about to be said in reply to his question.

“You will be interested to learn that I possess a strong, profound interest in the state of new biological components
as the most promising way forward. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the present dependence we now have with metallic and chemical microprocessors like the ones made of silicon-titanium foam. There is research progressing in many laboratories, including those of Hyperchips.

“There is a further matter that I have to inform you about. My firm is close to completing a merger contract with a much smaller company that has specialized in biological research. All of their personnel will soon, within days, be working under my management and control. The plan I have in mind is to improve their research methods and controls so that successful results come about much sooner and oftener. I have great hopes about what I can do with this company that is now called Biocomp.”

Vinod grinned with enthusiasm. “I think that we can form a contractual arrangement by which the Ezero Casino receives priority in making use of any such biological wetware that your company develops in the days to come.”

He extended his right hand to Sekar, who took it with surprise and firmly shook it.

Nitin was a player completely fascinated by roulette on the third floor of the Ezero Casino.

He was so hypnotized by the spinning wheel at particular tables that the young man failed to notice the game observer watching his every bet.

It was only when the short, thin gambler ran out of funds and had to cease that evening’s betting that the stranger approached the loser.

“I’ve watched you at the table there tonight,” announced the tall figure who stood before Nitin and blocked his direct, rapid withdrawal from the area devoted to roulette. “Let me offer you a drink at the wall bar as a sort of compensation for the losses I saw you suffer this evening. We can talk over how you have been playing and the strategy that you appeared to be following. I think I could give some very useful advice based on my own experience and the knowledge I have acquired through my own record of losses.”

The stranger gave a wide, pleasant smile to Nitin, who nodded his head to indicate that he accepted the unexpected invitation to have something to drink.

It took only seconds for the two of them to order high-balls and introduce themselves to the other.

Vinod took command of their conversation as the bartender fixed and served their order.

“I saw how seriously you take choosing your numbers and placing your wagers on them,” began the grinning watcher=observer of what the other had been trying to accomplish. “It was easy for me to see that you had a worked-out system of selecting and making each bet of yours.

“At first, it seemed to me that you were following what is often termed a Martingdale strategy. That is one of the oldest and most common way to try to defeat the casino’s own house advantage. It means doubling your next wager whenever you have a loss, and cutting the next bet in half when you having a winning number on the roulette wheel.

“That’s how it first appeared, but it became evident that you were increasing individual bets by more of one-half sometimes, and decreasing them irregularly when losses occurred.

“I had to conclude that you have memorized a series of formulas that form a pyramid system of measuring out your betting amounts. At times this leads to sudden jumps upward or downward, but with unrepeated variations in how much you put at risk with the wheel.

“Have I made an accurate guess about your style as a roulette players?”

The amazed, astounded Nitin searched for words to express how surprised this stranger was making him.

“I must tell you that I find your observations exceedingly perceptive and most intelligent. One would never expect to come across such sharp analysis of what one’s general gambling plan consists of.

“Yes, I have tried to apply formulas set down in books about roulette by experts on the game, some of them croupiers with decades of experience at casino tables.

“But tonight was a gigantic disappointment for me. It appears that the simple formulas that I set to memory did not help me at all. My past experiences have consisted of loss and defeat, over and over.

“Tonight changed nothing for me, because I ended as a started, a disappointed loser at this game.”

“Have you tried other kinds of gambling here at the Ezero Casino?” inquired Rahul.

Nitin frowned with sadness. “Yes, I have tried myself out at the craps tables, at baccarat, and even at cow-pie poker. These have formed an unbroken parade of loss and defeat for me, yet I continue as if nothing has happened to me.

“Why I go on and on, to new forms of gambling, I do not know. It is all a mystery to me, the one who is suffering this way.”

He looked into the dark face and shady eyes of Rahul as if he might find an answer of some kind there.

“You are the same kind of gambling addict as I myself used to be,” muttered Nitin’s new acquaintance.

The pair finished their high-balls then left the casino, each going his own way to where he was staying.

III.

Once back home in Siliquo City, Sekar went to his office in the headquarters of Hyperchip, a tall, mirror-like building of glassy silicon sheets. His first task was managing and overseeing his firm’s merger with Biocomp, a much smaller outfit specializing in the research search for living forms and organisms with micro-processing capacities and potentials.

Accountants, managers, officials, and technicians from the smaller unit either quit and retired as others were absorbed into the structure of the organization now enlarged with the merged biological unit.

Only several days after his return from Ezero Lake, Sekar Airan scheduled a meeting in his executive office with the person who had served as director of laboratory research at Biocomp, Dr. Bijan Jha. The latter was a short, petite, thirty-year old with several scientific degrees and a reputation as a knowledgeable, experienced research leader who enjoyed a number of breakthrough successes during her professional career at the merged Biocomp.

Sekar greeted the scientist with both biological and electronic education and professional experience, somewhat surprised by her youthful looks and attractiveness. He asked her to take the chair facing his own executive desk.

His first question concerned her plans for continuing projects she had started at her previous post at Biocomp.

Bijan Jha appeared to have a rehearsed reply prepared before coming to this interview session.

“Simple common sense tells us that metallic substances and compounds based on silicon have reached the end of the road of effective miniaturization and cannot be made very much more effective as microprocessors. We have to proceed into what is termed nano-processing, at a lower and smaller dimension of operation.

“Where can science now look for answers to the needs of society?

“It is now plain to me and those working under my direction that we must turn to biological answers and solutions. And that is precisely what I and my associates were doing at Biocomp, when the form was an independent enterprise.”

She paused a moment, staring at Sekar and trying to measure how her words were affecting him and his thinking.

“What are the specific topics and areas in which you have greatest interest, Dr. Jha?” he inquired.

She drew a long, deep breath of air. “We have seen a lot of laboratory success with proteins and DNA,” Bijan informed her new superior manager. “There appears to be great potential in data storage and logic operations using these component elements of living organisms like we ourselves are. The promise is one of faster and more complicated operation permitting us to advance into genuine quantum computing.

“Every human being who has ever lived possesses both DNA and protein in his or her body, in about every single cell. These do not have to be created anew.”

Sekar sensed how solid was her confidence in this area of bioelectronics that she was engaged in and dedicated to.

“What specific kinds of research have you been engaged with at Biocomp?” he asked with curiosity on his face and in his voice.

She beamed brightly. “We have tried out several bio-resources, but I have concluded that our greatest progress, so far, has been with the application and testing of DNA-based computer chips. This has been the most effective of nano-processors that my staff and I have experimented with.

“There has been surprising success in creating a DNA variety of computer, I can tell you from our results.”

“You are convinced that DNA has the best chance we have to achieve a nano-computer at the molecular level, then?”

“Indeed,” she assured him. “In a single drop of DNA there exist billions of molecules that can be used. Wr have estimated that such a microprocessor will have the ability to carry out simultaneously an enormous number of individual calculations. But beyond that, there will be a new situation never seen or experienced before.

“A DNA computer will be able to expand through growth and even make copies of itself. It does not have set limits.

“The four genetic substances that are the key components of DNA will provide a much more complex coding system than what exists and is utilized on our planet today. This will result in an astronomical multiplication of the potential powers of such a biological device. It will be multi-dimensional, not merely binary.”

“How large with the new apparatus have to be?” questioned Sekar, as if apprehensive about possible problems involved in the practical use of such an invention.

“It can be many times smaller than those with silicon chips in use today,” smiled the researcher. “I have calculated that over a million different operations could be carried out at exactly the same moment of time.

“Although certain laboratories and groups of scientists have worked with plans for quantum computers with molecular chips made of silicon or special metals like germanium or titanium, the bio-computer based on DNA promises to outperform its more conventional rivals.

“I believe that DNA will come to be used predominantly because it has superior characteristics and properties.”

Sekar hesitated a moment, then asked her the final question he had prepared himself to give her.

“What immediate steps are you planning to take in the bio-laboratory we are now equipping for you, Dr. Jha?”

Her cerulean eyes started to grow hazy. “I want to construct the smallest possible DNA molecular tiles that I can, then test and experiment with them to learn what they can act as components of.”

Both of them fell silent for a brief spell, until Bijan rose, excused herself, and exited from the office.

IV.

“I was born and grew up in Siliquo City,” muttered Nitin. “Both my parents passed away there. The only close relative I still have is my sister. She is younger than me and works as a scientist for a computer firm. Her special fields and both electronics and biology. I have no idea at all what kind of work she may be involved in, because we rarely communicate with each other, except on important planetary holidays.”

Rahul, sitting across from him in a back booth of a beverage garden attached to an eatery adjacent to the Ezero Casino, studied the young face of the one who had become the focus of his personal attention since becoming acquainted with him.

“I was a lot like you only a short while ago,” averred the older man. “My gambling had absorbed all my waking time and the full attention of my mind. Nothing else in life mattered to me any more, only making bets and gambling.

“Do not become angry at me for saying this, but you have become a casino addict, exactly like I once did.”

Nitin gazed at his new acquaintance with uneasiness and irritation in his cloudy blue-gray eyes. “I don’t understand what you are talking about,” he grumbled in a sad, low tone. “I know what I am doing and my playing goes on because I am a good player with a lot of skill and experience. Everything I do at the roulette tables is thought-out and planned ahead of time. It isn’t any wild passion or impulse that moves me. No, I think out every move that I take. For me, the bets that I make follow a rational logic that I know and obey everyday, every time I walk into the casino.

“I know what I am doing, my friend. One big victory is certain to come my way and make up for all the temporary losses I have had to suffer on my way to that final destination that lies ahead for me.”

With conscious intent, Rahul presented his companion a look of warm friendship, sympathy, and understanding.

“I believed in my destiny the very same way, and it took me years to see that such a self-image is general and common among the players in all the casinos of our planet. Is there any gambler, has there ever been any, who does not foresee a great success coming, sooner or later? Does anyone who makes bets think that losses will never come to an end, that everything will come out right some lucky day?

“I was in the same situation that you are now in, Nitin. My hope in future winning did not weaken until the end. But the truth hit me like a bolt of lightening from out of the sky. All at once, realization of the previously hidden truth struck my mind.

“I saw that I had been a self-confident fool. My blindness had been total, just like your own at this moment. But I know that you can rescue yourself from the darkness that engulfs you today.” Rahul lowered his voice to a cautious near-whisper. “Others who have conquered their gambling addiction have joined me in forming a special group dedicated to liberating players still held prisoners to the gambling madness that has captured their minds.”

Nitin gave a jolt of surprise. “Group? You are part of a group of some kind?” he inquired with visible emotion.

Rahul answered with a widening grin. “Every one of our members had to recognize the fallacy of logic that had taken command of their thinking. We label it the gambler’s fallacy that makes one believe that a grand success is immanent and is coming ever nearer to actualization.

“The truth is different from what dominates the expectations of a dedicated, addicted gambler. In reality, the odds of a particular event occurring remain always the same. A series of losses, whether long or short, does not make a victorious gambling success more probable or expectable. There is no connection between what has already happened and what is about to come about.

“The frequency of past events like lost bets has no effect on the odds of coming results.

“But an addicted gambler is hypnotized by the fallacy that past failures are credible signs of approaching gains.”

Both of them were silent a short while, until Nitin began to rise to leave.

“I have to think about what you are saying,” he mumbled as if to himself.

“We can continue our discussion tomorrow,” smiled the other.

Since the death of their parents, Bijan had assumed the informal role of guardian of her older brother.

She tried to keep herself informed of where he was and the character of his activities.

Nitin was the recipient of numerous wave calls to his portable body-receiver from his little sister, the biological-electronic research scientist.

Bijan checked up on his location and circumstances early the next morning, as he was about to leave his hotel room for the Ezero Casino and his projected playing there the rest of the newly dawning day.

“Hello, Nitin. How are you? How are things going there? How do you like everything there at Lake Ezero?”

“I feel fine, and it is easy for me to stay busy and occupied here. The casino where I am spending my time is exciting and highly colorful. Things are always jumping and hopping. You can always expect surprises of all sorts. The tourists who you see and compete with are interesting people.

“There is never a dull moment at the Ezero, and I have a feeling that my luck is about to turn the way that I want it to. And the time is about right, or nearly right for the big win I am certain to see soon.

“Maybe you don’t fully agree with what I think and do, dear Bijan, but I am certain that I can reverse my last ill luck in this new, different environment. Deep down, I feel this in my bones.

:Better days lie ahead for me, I just know it in all the cells of my brain and my body. But how are you doing there in Siliquo City? How do you like the folks at Hyperchip? Are they easy to work with?

“I hope whoever your boss may be realizes that you are a scientific genius and hold the future of their company in your hands, my dear.

“They had better treat you right or else I’ll rush back to the city and hand out some rough and tough punishment that they will not at all enjoy.” He gave a genuine laugh over their wave connection.

Bijan brought their conversation back to the practical level.

“I am very satisfied with the wide range allowed me by the head of this company,” she explained. “The president seems a dedicated innovator who will aid me in what I think I can achieve in constructing a successful bio-computer that proves superior to the older silicon and metallic types.”

Nitin again audibly laughed. “I know you have it in you, and I predict that I will soon have a sharp, radical reversal of my spate of bad luck at the playing tables. I feel it in my bones.

“Keep in touch when you have the time, dear Bijan.” With that, he cut off the link to the person he was closest to.

V.

Sekar had his company driver transport him in his president’s electro-limousine to the bio-laboratory that was brought under the wing of Hyperchip by the latter’s absorption of Biocomp. He hopes that he could learn more about the plans of Dr. Bijan Jha for constructing advanced DNA nano-processors superior to the metallic one still dominating contemporary industry, business, and popular use.

He found his own way through the research center’s main building to the working office of the lab chief.

Bijan, wearing a white laboratory fatigue outfit, greeted her visitor and asked him to sit down and then began to address him in a spirited, upbeat tone of voice.

“We are continuing with the DNA we already had in progress, and our results have been surprising and outstanding. I think we will be completely justified in expanding with new investments in equipment, materials, and personnel time.”

“That is good to hear,” responded Sekar. “How soon do you believe we might have a bio-computer that can enter into practical, everyday use, though?”

“That is hard to predict or estimate, because no one has had any experience with DNA tiles until now. Let me explain what has been constructed in this lab.

“We know how to combine strands of DNA and tie them together in tiles less than a billionth of a meter on one side. These nanoscopic structures will have the ability to recognize other, exterior strands of DNA. Our goal is to have DNA constructions that can store data and carry out different types of mathematical operations.

“These tile structures will be able to build even greater and more complex combinations by themselves.

“We have given such tiles coated edges that can recognize and come together with others that are similar. They can match up with others, like dominoes and create very complex patterns of numerous tiles, using specific rules of combination.

“It will be like an abacus of DNA tiles, containing perhaps several trillion component parts.”

“What you describe is amazing,” interjected Sekar. “It astounds me.”

Bijar, gratified upon hearing this, continued with growing self-confidence in her favorite, beloved project.

“My statisticians estimate that such a system of nano-processors could operate a million times faster than a traditional silicon-chip computer. Such speed will result from the massive superstructure of tiles, a sort of origami of DNA.

“Our entire planet will have to reorganize itself in all fields and areas in order to adjust to such astronomic capability and capacity.”

The pair gazed at each other as if in a rhapsody that they realized that both of them at that moment shared equally.

“Do not spare time or resources,” advised Sekar. “We have to work with total dedication to make this come true.”

She smiled with this assurance from the president of Hyperchip. “You can depend on me and my staff,” she promised with all her mind and heart.

Sekar left for headquarters elated as if in a glorious, euphoric dream.

“Our group will be meeting in my apartment late this evening,” announced Rahul in the front lobby of the Ezero Casino. “Can you come there around midnight, Nitin? I can guarantee that you can pick up a lot of valuable advice from those who will be there. Besides you and I, there will be only three others present.”

Nitin replied with a nod. “Yes, I can be there. I will have a chance to relax with others and learn something from their experiences in the casino.”

The lake was completely dark with a solemn stillness to it as he made his way to where Rahul lived.

The latter opened the door and ushered him in, introducing the three comrades of his already there.

This foursome has been waiting and perhaps preparing themselves for me to arrive here, the visitor told himself as he took the empty chair left in the circle that Rahul and the others had earlier formed.

The host asked a tall, weighty older man named Rjum to describe his life experience as a fanatical gambler.

He spoke in a deep, precise, and well-controlled voice.

“I know from painful experience the hellish torture that afflicts an individual who happens to fall into unending, habitual gambling. It becomes a need stronger than either nutrition or sex. Itm will never lessen on its own, it only grows and expands, like some unlimited instinctive drive.

“My interest was in sport betting, mainly horse and dog racing featured on the casino screens. Winning is going to come, I convinced myself. It is on its way, only a matter of time. I walked into the trap there for any gambler. Little by little, step by step, it caught and embraced me. Without seeing it, I became slave to one, single idea. Play on and on, play without ever ceasing. I sold all I owned and borrowed more and more. Victory is sure to arrive and enable me to pay my debts and free myself of all economic burdens.

“I sacrificed everything else to this passion that consumed me: my wife and family, my job and my profession, my friends, relatives and all other personal interests I have ever had. I did not dare quit when I was down, because there was always some degree of hope left, if I only managed to play the sports and horses a littlr bit longer.

“There was always a strange thrill for me in watching the screens to find out how I came out. My emotions experienced a sense of high thrill, even in losing on a large scale. I find it hard to explain even to myself. I grew happy with the smallest of infrequent winnings. Tomorrow was going to be different. Losing only boosted my confidence in future winning. Long losing streaks only made me more addicted to what I was engaged in at the Ezero Casino.”

Rjum halted several seconds, as if preparing himself for a momentous redirection of what he was describing.

“Then, I happened to meet Rahul Kaul and the members of the Rigorist Association. From total despair about my gambling and how it was ruining and destroying my life, I awakened with an inspired, enlightened understanding.

“I had been an idiotic fool, a victim of the casino and my self-induced addiction. Gambling was a disease that I suffered, and the cure from it lay in my own hands.

“The gambler’s fallacy of making up for giant losses by wins just moments ahead became logically clear to me. I recognized the illusion I had played under. The odds remain always the same, and they favor only the House itself.”

“Thank you for your honest candor, Rjum,” murmured Rahul. “We can now listen to Sanxe and how he came into the ranks of Rigorism.”

The short, stout middle-aged bald man spoke as if reciting a memorized oration of some sort.

“As a growing boy, I learned to throw dice in competition with my playmates. I learned to call these toys my bones, ivories, tombstones, shakers, and craps. I was practiced and well-experienced, so that when I first came to the Ezero Casino I turned at once to the games of craps. I believed I possessed special skills that I could use to win, for a saw myself as a craftsman with the dice.

“The playing hall was temptation itself, itself sensational and lurid with colored lighting. Everything on all sides looked sparkling and ablaze, glittering with extraordinary glamor. I guess the place was designed to be alluring and the players at ease.

“But like all the other craps-throwers, I never got ahead, just fell further and further behind. I failed to foresee that neither skill nor sheer luck could reverse the unfavorable odds I faced from beginning to the finish.

“I at first believed myself predestined and foreordained by fate to eventual enormous gains. I did not at all realize that craps, like all the casino traps, provided only fortuitous, accidental, arbitrary outcomes that were completely random in nature. There was nothing I could possibly do to change this situation.

“At last, I happened to come upon other gambling addicts who educated me about what the truth was.

“My friends helped me release I had to free myself from my dice-connected mania. They have guided me out of the morass I had wandered into. Instead of remaining a victim, I turned myself a rescuer of fellow prisoners of the infection of mad gambling.”

The final confessional presentation came from a small, frail man in his twenties who was introduced as Otank.

“I grew up in a little farming village north of Siliquo City. It was there that, at an early age, I picked up my knowledge of old rural card games such as brag, cinch, seven-up, old sledge, and all fours. I became very good as a player because of my memory’s amazing ability to keep accurate tabs on the movement of all the cards in the deck during one of these old-time kind of games.

“I decided to visit the casinos in the various regions. There were more losses and failures that gains for me, but I kept traveling and journeying from place to place on the road. Years of this kind of activity brought me to Ezero Lake and the special gambling center here, the Ezero Casino.

“It was the game of baccarat that drew and hypnotized me. I thought that my skillful card-counting could guarantee my coming out ahead as a positive winner. But it did not at all turn out that way. Not at all.

“Losses after losses destroyed my initial confidence. My card-counting expectations became a strategic failure and I was loser again and again, with few, rare, and very small winning hands and bets.

“The game of baccarat was a center of high-rollers, betting hundreds and thousands of monetas at a single time, on A particular card being dealt. It was a personal shock as my personal disaster became a financial collapse for me.

“I came to realize that the bankers who distributed my cards to me were evil sharpsters out for themselves and the Ezero Casino. They were quick with their experienced hands and consciously gave me bad, losing hands. The odds were cleverly manipulated against all of us who played this unfair, corrupted game. There was no way that I or anyone else at the tables could come away ahead of their initial condition. All of our resources were doomed to be lost to the banker and the casino.

“But then I was fortunate to meet Rahul and his circle of ex-addicts, and they helped me find an enlightened salvation for myself. I freed myself of baccarat and have not played the game again. I stay away from active betting of any sort. The reason for this is my acceptance of the Rigorist credo.

“Today, I go forward as a recruiter of addicted gamblers. My goal is to liberate them, the same way that my friends succeeded in rescuing me from the hold of mental addiction.”

Rahul then took up the initiative and exposed the central secret of his movement.

“We save ourselves by finding and converting other addicts. By helping them escape the trap of gambling addiction, we strengthen and consolidate our own freedom from the evil burden that weighs you down, Nitin.

“You are welcomed to join with us and make our organization wider and larger than it now happens to be.”

After a short period of rest and silence, the meeting dispersed, Nitin leaving with a new determination and decision within his mind.

I now know what direction I have to take, he realized.

Early tomorrow morning, I must call my sister and Bijaninform her how I plan to change my way of living.

VI.

The day orb rose over Lake Ezero, flooding the city and the main casino with nearly blinding yellow rays.

Nitin spoke into his wave unit as he looked out at the placid water from a steel bench near his hotel.

“Good morning, Bijan. How are things with you? The lake is lovely and moving at this early hour. How is everything there in Silquo City? How do you like your changed working position, with the merger of the companies?

“I have some news to tell you that I think will be quite welcome for you to hear.

“The time for me to cease gambling has arrived. I cannot continue the way I was, on and on, always a loser, never a genuine winner. The moment for me to decide arrived, and I stepped away from what I had been caught in for so long.
This can be attributed to acquaintances I happen to make, for I now have become a member of a ring of others similar to me.

“We have all been addicts, prisoners of the mania to gamble and to continue betting on and on, as if forever.

“But they taught me the secret of escaping and fleeing from this kind of sickness I suffered from.

“I intend never to return as a player in any casino game. The way out is not difficult at all. What will be needed is that I go out and convert other addicts who are still gambling to join our group and do the same as we do, meet new players and teach they the simple, logical, and wise principles that we belief in and live by.

“What do you think of what I am up to, Bijan? It is as if I experienced a miraculous, radical transformation.”

His sister laughed with sudden, euphoric joy. “I am delighted by this news you just told. It sounds like you have found new friends who can do a lot if good for you. This could be exactly the solution needed to provide an opportunity for your recovery from your ludomania. Yes, that is the technical term for the condition you have sunken into. It was a mad obsession with acting as a participant in games of chance that captured and afflicted you. The spell that haunted your mind is lifting up and departing. I believe I see evidence of such an event in how you happen to be talking to me at this moment, Nitan.”

“I shall make you proud of me, dear sister.” He paused. “if only mother and father were here to see what the two of us about to achieve and attain. I hope that your research work is progressing well under the new corporate body you are now working for.”

“Yes, the president of Hyperchip is providing me strong aid and support in building the type of bio-computer that I belief has the highest chance of practical success when finally perfected. The prospects are bright and hopeful.”

The pair wished each other success and good luck in the particular endeavors each of them was now involved with.

They said farewell, closed off their units, and went about their individual agendas.

Vinod Devar usually summoned important casino employees to his office near the ground. The one individual whom he considered worthy of a personal, face-to-face visit by himself was the director of computer gaming and electronic communication up on the fourth floor of the sapronic building.

The owner found Tarun Nait busy supervising a small crew of repair specialists busy making corrections on several important memory depositories temporarily out of operation and being worked on.

The gaunt, lanky tall man with gingery hair had the title of Coordinator of Computing and Wave Communication for all sections of the Ezero Casino. His educational background was in statistics, electronics, and applied psychology. Hr saw himself as the pivotal center where these three fields met as practical tools and instruments of the gambling complex he served.

“Good morning, sir,” he greeted his employer, gazing at him with sharp, focused green eyes. “Did you read over the reports that I sent down to your office late yesterday? There was some encouraging news in those figures and charts that I put together. The total number of our on-web member-subscribers has shot up a lot in recent days and weeks.

“It was of interest to me that the greatest growth has been in high-income suburban districts and farming communities. Gamblers exist in all regions and social strata, I myself have long held. Now there is positive proof of that claim, and that is spelled out in my report to you.”

Vinod gave a smile of satisfaction. “Yes, that was very heartening to read. And in terms of status, I was glad to see that so many university graduates are turning on on-web gambling over radio waves. I, too, have agreed with your idea of drawing the well-off and the educated into our over-the-air sasino. That is where future inflow of betting lies, because those levels of Soliquo have the money to expend on what we offer them.

“The poorer classes of players we already have in giant amounts. Our ranks of the well=off and prosperous must now be attracted to our types of games.

“I believe that you and I agree on that direction as our most favorable opportunity, Tarun,” nodded the casino owner.

The coordinator made a feline grin. “I believe that our future expansion will also depend on reconstructing our computing and communication systems. That is why so much rests on how good the new system based on organic DNA works out in practice. The new Hyperchip nano-processors must fulfill the promises that the company in Siliquo City has made to you. Unless we can miniaturize our operations at fully exponential rates and speeds, it will all have been in vane.

“Everything we can achieve in the days ahead rests on the foundation of our next generation of equipment. That is the truth that I face every day, every hour, every minute and second.”

The face of Vinod suddenly seemed to harden into a rock of solid ice. “Mr. Airan sent an inter-web message this morning. He will be arriving here tomorrow, along with the DNA computer research director, with a tiny working model of the new device to show me. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes.”

The owner excused himself, turned and headed for the platform descending from this top storey of the Ezero Casino that he was planning to renovate and expand.

Sekar and Bijan occupied a private compartment on the track train taking them to Ezero City. They sat opposite each other at a large side window providing a view of truck farms and fruit orchards in the rural territory between Siliquo City and their destination.

“What do you think this Mr. Vinod Devar will think of the six micro-units we are bringing with us to be tried out and tested through practical use at his casino? Is he a person who can see and objectivrly evaluate something as new and innovative as the DNA-equipped vio-computers we are bringing with us?

“How do you expect this demonstration of ours to go?”

Sekan, aiming at lifting her confidence and sense of security, gave a short laugh of encouragement.

“You worry too much about what might or might not happen,” he muttered in a low tone. “It will be the bio-computers that do the convincing, not me and mot you.

“The man has a sharp vision and a resourceful mind. He will quickly become conscious of the magnificent prospects for the future growth and development of his casino business. I have heard from him that he is searching for new ways of expanding the scope of his on-web gambling transactions. What better means can he use in that particular field than the DNA nano-processors that Hyperchip can provide him.

“I am certain he will be able to foresee the advantages that DNA can possibly offer to his casino’s expansion and exploitation of the electro-waves.

“Just as Hyperchip is a fearless pioneer in scientific advance, the company must explore new fields where our products can be used and applied. That is why I am optimistic about our new tied into the area of popular, completely legal casino gambling. Organizations like the Lake Ezero Casino have a ceying need for better, more efficient computing and data storage and manipulation. I am confident that we can provide that for Mr. Devar and his organization in the form of the DNA bio-nano-processor.

“I find this project at Lake Ezero most fascinating and promising in every possible way,” he stated with evident emotion.

.

Tolxi of the Border Zone Part V.

14 Jun

I.

The mind of Azo grew excited as he carefully examined the line of hand weapons with his eyes of unquenched curiosity. He had never seen so many firing arms before.

His eyes surveyed and roamed over a rich variety of shotguns, pistols, carbines, revolvers, flamethrowers, grenade launchers, and honey badgers, until his mind was spinning with impressions and emotions.

Yino provided him a brief, general description of how it was planned to make practical use of these firearms in possible conflict with the police or the army.

“These arms can only be utilized with effect by small, capable teams in swift, unexpected attacks on small locations or institutions. The attacks will have to be well-timed, well-planned, and skillfully coordinated throughout both countries. There can be no arousal of official suspicion before the events occur. This will have to be a carefully predesigned operation in all areas and locales. Nothing can be left to chance, for mistakes can be the path to ruin for the mass Tolx rebellion that we are preparing ourselves for.”

Azo at that moment remembered the character of this plan to turn to armed action: it remained an unauthorized program never either known to or approved by the Chief Committee itself.

“I believe that none of that can begin until it receives full approval from our leaders. How can any of us deny the truth of such ratification and empowerment? There is no way to proceed to action without full permission to go on. That is how I understand the matter, Yino.”

The latter surprised him with an unexpected, slightly out-of-place peal of sharp, loud laughter.

“What do you suppose that I brought you here, over the international border, for, my dear Azo?” slowly asked the overweight one. “Just to display for you the kinds of weapons that I am having distributed to our local units within the Tolx communities closest to the boundary line?

“My purpose in bringing you over has been to convince and convert you into agreement and cooperation with the plan for preparation of our direct action toward immediate takeover of the entire border zone.

“In one rapid swoop, our fighters will be able to surprise and conquer the existing order of power and authority. In one single day, our nation shall attain its complete liberation!?

“That is why I seek you to vote along with my side within the Chief Committee when I myself explain the secret plan and propose that a majority accept and adopt it immediately, on the spot.

“You will form one of those who vote approval for the armed rebellion, which will have already started all along the Sponsia-Bumgia borderline. There will, in reality, be no possible alternative to instant approval of what our units are accomplishing in Sinoria and on this side, in Bumagia.

“Actual reality and the accomplished facts will compel the members to agree to what has already begun with the approval of our members located nearest the border, on both sides and in both countries.”

Azo and Yino stared at each other awhile, both of them nearly unconscious of the passing of many silent moments of nervous thought in the mind of the other individual opposite him.

“I must consider all angles, all the possibilities, both the positive and negative ones, Yino,” declared Azo with difficulty. How was the fat schemer going to react to such words of hesitation and indecision from himself? Was he going to cause anger and enmity that would result in some form of violent reaction?

Am I putting myself in danger of some kind of actual physical attack by Yino or his henchmen standing about outside in the open?

Instead of confrontation, though, the reaction was the exact opposite.

“Come, Come, my friend. I have no intention whatever of ever attempting to pressure you in any way. I want you to think and consider, figure and estimate, as long as you feel is necessary.

“There remains time for you to reach a decision, because all the preparations needed are not yet complete and ended. Our forces still have a distance to go before a final decision of committee approval must be won.

“I am a patient man, Azo,” added the smiling organizer of uprising. “I am certain that, at the moment of decision, you shall be voting approval for what our membership has started here on the border.”

Yino accompanied his visitor back to the border. The two of them watched as a flock of red goats with attached small arms moved through the tunnel over to the Sponsian side. Herding dogs of several breeds and varied sizes patrolled and guided this mass animal movement.

All of a sudden, the herder Gavu appeared out of the tunnel and stepped over to where Azo stood watching the last of the flock of goats disappear from view.

“I shall be the one who takes you back across,” announced the spare, lanky Tolx.

“So long, for now,” murmured Yino in a quiet, subdued tone. “I believe that both of us will very soon be summoned for a special, emergency meeting of the Chief Committee, and the fateful historical decision will then have to be made by us.

“There will be no escape or refusal to choose for any single one of us who is there,” asserted the rebellion planner.

Without another word, Azo turned away from him and began to follow Gavu downward into the crossing tunnel.

II.

It was no surprise to Azo that Sevu Keft, his guide about the Tolx movement’s local units in the Sinoria, knew the secret plans and preparations for the coming border rebellion.

“We have readied ourselves for future action by holding exercises in empty areas where no one else can see us,” he explained. “Mr. Maja has been sending us useful small arms carried cross-border by the goat flocks. Of course, I took it for granted that you were involved and knowledgeable about this initiative. That was only logical and natural, of course.

“No one could have ever imagined that you were totally ignorant about what was going on here. Why would the Chief Committee not inform you of all the details of the enterprise, since you had been sent to Sinoria as a speaker?”

Azo smiled but said nothing.

“It would be best if you did not refer to the plan for armed seizure of the border with Bumgia,” said Sevu in a near whisper. “There is always a risk that someone who comes to hear you may in reality be a government secret agent sent to spy on our movement and what we are up to. One can never be sure, so it is wise to keep the plan confined only to those directly involved in it.”

“Yes,” Azo nodded. “I agree with you that is the best course for us to take.”

For the next five evenings, the speaker from the Chief Committee addressed small groups of members and sympathizers at various sites across the border zone called Sinonia.

Azo fell into a set pattern of main points to cover. His presentation became almost a ritual as he surveyed his audiences for their reactions to his words. At each assembly, he noticed a visible atmosphere of hopeful fervor, as if his listeners were waiting for some imminent event that was drawing closer and closer at an accelerating speed.

This intangible emotional wave is there, though unspoken and internal to each Tolx present to hear me.

He felt his own confidence rising as he caught this unhidden mood rising throughout Sinonia. Yet not a word mentioned what it was inspiring this shared, common feeling of approaching triumph for the cause they all held in common.

Before he realized it, the day arrived when Joso Jost arrived in his engine-car to drive him back to the farm he had left.

One of the first things that he asked his driver on their journey concerned the two other Josts on the farm, Milu and his daughter, Hito.

“They are fine, they are both busy and healthy,” Joso assured the passenger he was bringing back to the his two relatives.

Azo wondered when it would be best for him to begin to inquire about how those already there on the farm were preparing for what was coming in connection with the borderline revolt and attempted seizure.

But as he greeted Milu and Hito, he could find no opportune, appropriate moment at which to bring up such a difficult topic for both the two of them and also himself.

“Yes,” he told the three Josts as he sat down for dinner with them. “I found an encouraging, elevated spirit among the Tolxi of Sinoria. Everywhere I went, the people had hopeful, positive attitudes to them. Their mood was one that I found quite easy to catch. Their brave character infected my own thoughts and emotions more than I ever suspected it would.

“The members along the border with Bumgia are ready to cope with anything that might happen in the days ahead.”

Milu frowned, surprising Azo with what he then said.

“I have been told by close friends and allied that Mr. Yino Maja has decided to take an initiative that he believes will place him at the center of attention, that will make him the dominant personality with our Chief Committee and the entire Tolx movement, as well. What this might be, no one can do more than guess.

“This man has always been eager to be the only decisive force inside our organization, overwhelming everyone who might mount any opposition to his power and his will. His desire to be in complete command is insatiable.”

How should he react to what he had just heard enunciated by Milu? Azo decided that he had to show his friend that he understood and agreed with the candid warning coming from the man who had been acting as his host.

“I myself, from the moment that I met him here at the Chief Committee meeting, have held a bad, negative impression of this fellow. He is one who always wants to take charge of everything around him, to set the rules and standards for everyone else.

“That loathsome trait of his was evident to me and all the others present at our last session with all the others, it appears to be a salient feature of his corrupted character,” stated Azo, looking from the father to the daughter seated to his side.

Looking Hito directly in the face, he could see how profoundly she had been affected by the words that he and her father had exchanged between themselves. The impression he felt was that she wished to give her opinion on the matter being discussed, but was prevented from doing so by the presence and influence of Milu, her parent.

A sudden impulse that overpowered his judgment compelled Azo to address her individually, separately.

“What do you say, Hito?” he unexpectedly inquired of her. “Is there a dangerous factor present within our committee in the person of this ambitious, self-willed actor, Yino Maja? What is your opinion on the subject of this man?”

She started to speak in a voice that seemed to be that of an entirely different individual, not even that of a young woman such as she was.

“I have never liked this person, from the first time I saw and heard him speak,” she declared slowly, but sharply and assertively. “There are such persons who give off and transmit very bad vibrations about themselves. Perhaps I am too imaginative about this, but I have unlimited fear of this Yino Maja and the evil he is capable of committing in the name of his pretended nationalist feelings.

“I take him for a skillful, talented pretender who is acting out a role that will probably turn out to be disastrous for the Tolx cause.

“How do I know such things? Take it as the result of the intuition I inherited from my two parents.”

For a brief moment, Hito glanced to the side, at the face of her father.

He, all of a sudden, posed a significant question to Azo, as if almost pretending to ignore what his daughter had just voiced to them at the table.

“What do you recommend be done about this pernicious person who threatens to poison and infect our national movement and our organization with his mendacity and trickery? How can those who dislike him and his ideas cope with such evil, selfish intent?”

Azo lowered his head in deep thought for several moments, then raised it up again with a decision made in a single instant of time.

“There is a certain matter that I have to reveal to you. It is certainly going to be an enormous shock and surprise, but both of you are capable of handling all its implications for you and the movement.” He paused and drew a long, deep breath, then went on. “Yino Maja is planning and preparing an armed rebellion on the Sponsia-Bumgia border, with the goal of setting up an apparently liberated Tolx zone around which the entire nation can gather and organize itself. I myself came upon Yino as a smuggler of small weapons to be distributed among the units of the Tolx movement on both sides of the boundary. A solid zone of land in both countries is to be captured and occupied, using these weapons that are being transported in both directions across the demarked boundary line.

“Is this one mad lunatics fantastic dream of power and glory? Perhaps. I might say it probably is so. But it is something that Yino will attempt to win approval for from the Chief Committee at its coming session here on this farm in one day.

“This dangerous escapade of an ambitious adventurer must not be allowed to endanger all the Tolx people have built and created over generations. It could lead to final disaster for all of you,” argued Azo with fervor and spirit.

It was Hito who spoke next, presenting a pointed question to both her father and the young man she was in love with.

“If this scheme of his will end in catastrophic disaster for all of us, then it may be wisest to attempt to avert the planned uprising along the border.

“Is it still possible, though? What if Yino somehow succeeds in winning a majority supporting him when the Chief Committee meets tomorrow right here on our farm?”

No answer to this came immediately, for both her listeners were then thrown into complex, difficult contemplation of the dilemma that they would have to face the next day.

It was her father, Milu, who finally chose a way forward for them.

“Let us have the patience to hold the meeting and try to block and veto what Yino will probably attempt to win approval for.

“If we can keep a large enough number of votes with us, then that should stop the schemer from actually starting a conflict on the border.”

“But what if he ignores being outvoted, father, and despite his formal loss continues with the planned rebellion?” argued his daughter. “He is not in character and temper a person who always goes by the rules that apply.”

Milu looked into her turquoise eyes. “But we are followers of rules, Hito. We have to do this the right way, despite what we know and fear about this opponent of ours.”

Neither of the other two said anything more.

Milu rose from the table and silently made his way out of the kitchen.

III.

The members of the Chief Committee gathered the following morning at the Jost farm, arriving one-by-one in a variety of different sorts and brands of engine-cars. The last individual to arrive happened to be Yino Maja, the one who was the organizer of a revolutionary initiative that would, if successful, overturn the existing life of the Iolx people in both Bumgia and Sponsia.

The leaders of the movement assembled in the same large room that they had used the previous time here.

Azo, entering along with Milu Jost, sat down to the right of the host, who was qualified to preside over the meeting as the senior member of this executive body of the Tolx liberation organization.

Milu called the session to order and directed the member acting as recording secretary to read his notes of the previous meeting at this site.

Once this was swiftly completed, he inquired whether anyone had any urgent, important matters to present to them at this time. His dusky eyes were focused across the table to the gigantic figure sitting exactly across from him.

“Yes, I have something I wish to present to the Chief Committee,” loudly growled Yino Maya, all at once rising out of his chair and glaring at Milu Jost. His voice rose in scale and force as he plowed into what soon sounded like a prepared, rehearsed oration.

“We, the Tolxi, have for too long a time been passive victims of prejudice, oppression, and hatred on the part of our neighbors, the Sponsians and the Bumagians. Although we work and study as hard as anyone else, we lag behind others in average income, education, and recognition. Our achievements have never been acknowledged. We are neglected and ignored by the governments of the two countries within which we are at present located. But our movement is not an idle bystander. At this very moment the first step toward our salvation and liberation is occurring on the boundary line that separates the two halves of our Tolxian motherland.”

An audible sighing and gasping could be heard on all sides of the large room holding the Chief Committee.

Yino paused only a second or two, then proceeded to explain what he was talking to them about.

“That has always been the aim of the Tolx movement since its inception: to win the complete freedom of all of our people from domination by others and their governments. We have waited and waited, and now we have the right to say that the time has come to take for ourselves all that we deserve and have rights to. Yes, our birthright as Tolxi is to decide our own fate and rule ourselves as a fully free people.

“I call upon each and every member of this committee to give its approval, its unanimous support and aid, to the uprising that, at this hour, is starting to seize control of the entire border between Sponsia and Bumgia.

“There is no other alternative, for the revolt and the takeover have begun. We must accept and adopt it as our own. The rebels are expecting our protective assistance and sanctity at this moment. We dare not deny our affirmation of the dangerous actions now in progress on the borderline.”

=

Two figures, one short and the other extremely tall, walked along together at an early morning hour, as the sun rose above the ridge of a hill adjacent to the border fence and its stone markers.

Sevu, though the smaller man, clearly dominated and held a sort of formal authority over his companion, Gavu the herder of red goats.

The former began to talk to the latter when they reached their destination, the ridge that looked down on the small border-crossing station that had been assigned to them to take and occupy.

“The others will soon be arriving here, according to the plan from Mr. Maja of the Chief Committee,” whispered Sevu in a quiet, serious tone. “They will all be bearing either revolvers or rifles, according to the commands that I transmitted to them.

“With eight of us attacking as a coordinated unit, the two Sponsian border guards on this side, and the two Bumgian ones over on the opposite side should be taken into our custody in a short length of time. It should be finished quickly, both here and across the border, where the second team, the one based in Bumgia, will be making the attack planned for that station over on that side.

“We will win control over both ends of the crossover site with our small arms. The element of surprise which we will enjoy should provide us a giant advantage and guarantee victory to the Tolx movement.

“By the end of the day, dozens of similar seizures of the border from one end to the other will grant our side a decisive, indisputable success.

“Both governments, overwhelmed and clearly outmaneuvered and defeated, will have no alternative to immediate negotiation with out Chief Committee. The losing sides shall have to accede to the demands for freedom and autonomy that our leadership presents to them. That is all they will be able to do, give up and give in.”

Gavu then expressed how he felt. “I have waited for a day like this all my life. So did my father, and before him my grandfather. What we are about to carry out will change the history of our people, the Tolxi.”

All of a sudden, Sevu noticed something moving noiselessly along the narrow, unpaved road that led to the border station on the Sponsian side. “Look over there, a large, heavy vehicle is rushing in the direction of the station,” he excitedly announced.

Almost immediately, Gavu pointed his right arm over to what was Bumgia. “It looks like a large military camion is coming this way from the opposite direction.” He turned his face toward Sevu. “What’s going on down there? Can you tell what’s happening, Sevo?

“This is not what any of us expected to happen, is it?”

As soon as the rebellion creator was finished, it was the presiding officer of the committee who started to speak, not allowing anyone else to give a reaction to what had just been presented to them.

“I feel a deep responsibility to express what I think concerning this drastically radical argument for immediate revolutionary attack that we have listened to from one of our members.

“It is no secret that most of us were not prepared to hear such words today. But I am obliged to remove myself from the number of the surprised and astounded. Because there was an early description of this scheme of an uprising on the border that I recently came to know. I shall not present the details of how this plan was revealed to me, for that is really of no importance at all. You only need know that what we had given to us was in no way a novel set of ideas in my own case.

“But I am able to report that the introduction was shocking, scandalous, and disconcerting to me in every conceivable way.

“I felt revulsion that first time, and even greater antimony to this scheme here in this room.

“Let me tell you what I think after considerable thought and consideration: this idea of a border revolt and occupation is ridiculous and fraudulent. It can never give our people victory, but it certainly bring enormous pain, loss, and suffering to every single Tolx.

“The firepower of the two armies of our countries, our two police systems, and the many private guards in Sponsia and Bumagia would surely put down any insurgency we might mount ourselves.

“The odds against us would certainly be astronomical, close to infinite.”

All the eyes of his listeners in the room stared and concentrated on the owner of the farm where they were meeting.

After a few moments of internal thought and meditation, Milu voiced his final argument.

“If we are to remain true to the values and principles of our Tolx nation, we must reject such a doomed adventure and the ruin it would bring to all that we hold dear in our hearts.”

Overwhelmed by the well-controlled eloquence that had come from the older leader, only a single member of the committee dared say a word at that particular moment.

“I propose that we bring this subject to a vote at this time,” gruffly announced Yino Maja.

IV.

Throughout the areas in proximity to the international fenced boundary between Bumgia and Sponsia, similar events and outcomes were coming about.

Small squads of Tolxian farmers, herders, and villagers set out toward local border crossing stations or police offices, in both countries, on both sides of the demarcation line.

These would-be raiders and occupiers carried their guns, revolvers, pistols, and rifles in a fearless, public manner. They shared the desire to be seen by their fellow Tolxi and to inspire them to support and assist the burgeoning national uprising based on ages-old indignation and resentments.

None of the members of this small army of rebels, though, realized that their actions were under continual scrutiny by officers of the state, both the military and civilian branches.

At moments judged to be appropriate, the lid was lowered down upon this rising insurgency at varied border sites.

The Tolxian forces were allowed to surface and group themselves, then advance forward in an aggressive mood toward the stations they intended to take over, where the government’s personnel was to be captured and disarmed as quickly as possible.

But the imagined scenarios did not unfold as scripted beforehand.

The enemy is forewarned and ready to meet us! realized the commanders and participants in all of the local units of the scattered revolutionary army.

Police and military men and women, well-armed and enjoying prior training, rushed forth from unsuspected hiding places to surround, surprise, and arrest every one of the would-be takers of the physical border.

Farmers, shepherds, village residents, both the young and the old, both males and females, were led away as dumbfounded prisoners of these employees of the two governments.

Their drama of battle was brief and shortened by nearly automatic, disastrous defeat.

At a distance, the allies and associates of Yino Maja learned by land phone and shortwave radio signal of the rapid-fire collapse of their plans for the invasion and capture of the barrier system at the border that divided the Tolx nation in two.

How can a vote on the border scheme be won by its opponents? Azo kept asking himself during the presentation of positions, first by Milu Jost, then by Yino Maja himself.

He had silently listened till the moment when the latter ended by calling for an immediate vote on what he proposed as a blueprint for armed victory at the borderline itself.

Deciding that the final opportunity to express what he knew and what he thought had arrived, Azo sprang to his feet, startling everyone on all sides of the long table at which the Chief Committee sat.

“Friends and comrades, I must say something to you before we vote and decide what our policy toward armed insurrection is to be.

“Let me describe to you my recent experience there on the actual border as a touring speaker has been, and what I learned while so engaged.

“First of all, I have to confess to you that I knew of the program described to us by Yino Maja days ago, because of my direct contact with goat-herders involved in preparing for the attacks that would initiate the revolt up=and-down the entire borderline.

“None of this has been a secret to me. I myself witnessed how fervent, how dedicated the local Tolxi villagers and country people were to this dreamlike vision that Yino and his associates brought before them.

“Could this be the magic trick, the ingenious strategic miracle that was meant to liberate them from ages of oppression?

“An unforeseen, unimaginable attack on the thin strip separating Sponsia from Bimgia? Was that how it was meant to be done?”

At that moment, Azo was distracted from what he was saying by the noise of the rushing motion of the opening of the door into the room.

It was Joso Jost who entered into the opened doorway, with excitement written over his face and in his slate-colored eyes.

He began to speak rapidly, in almost a babbling manner.

“Radio broadcasts report that an uprising among Tolxi up there along the border, on both sides, began in the early hours this morning. The government claims that it was forewarned and prepared, and that all of the insurgents have been defeated and taken in custody.

“The news now is that the rebellion was a complete fiasco, that there was total defeat of the squads and teams of local Tolxi taking part in the attempt to take command of the line up there.

“People with small arms have been arrested, many surrendering on their own after observing the depth of the collapse of our side in this disaster.

“It is being reported that there may soon be a general suppression of Tolxian national, organizations and societies, including the one that we happen to belong to ourselves.”

Joso. his forehead covered with sweat, began to tremble with anxious emotions.

“What does this mean?” he asked in a loud shout. “What is going to be done to all of us?”

All the radio and video broadcasting stations in both Bumgia and Sponsia had their special announcers recite the same joint proclamation ratified and issued by the top governmental executives of both countries.

“We have the solemn responsibility to inform all citizens and inhabitants of our neighboring lands that although a violent rising of subversive elements occurred early this morning at numerous stations and locations along our mutual, shared boundary line, this treacherous attempt at armed insurrection and violent coup ended in total defeat for the traitorous malcontents and glorious, honorable victory for the cooperating combined forces of law and order in both Sponsia and Bumgia.

“The miscreants who attacked or were planning and on the verge of armed assault on the protected, defended border have been captured and are at the present time in armed, guarded detention.

“The danger to general and individual wellbeing and safety has been contained and can be said to be gone.

“The police authorities of both our countries are searching for and hunting down all collaborators, partners, associates, and supporters of the criminal actors in this tragic, misguided assault on legitimate government and authority.

“All such barbarian elements will be found, captured, and then meted out fitting punishment.”

The highest executive authorities of both Bumgia and Sponsia jointly signed and authorized this general announcement to the public everywhere within their two territories.

V.

Yino Maja was first to rise and depart from the meeting room, fleeing at an uncharacteristic for him run to his engine-car and driving assistant waiting there.

His allies on the Chief Committee soon followed his example.

Then those oriented toward Milu Jost and Azo Tvot, members who agreed with those two and were dubious about the program of direct action drawn up by Yino, excused themselves one-by-one and made their way out of the house to the vehicles that had brought them to the ruinous, discordant session that had abruptly ended.

When he was finally alone at the table with Milu, Azo turned to him with a horrified expression hanging all over his face.

“What will happen now?” he inquired with desperation in his voice. “Is this going to be the ruinous end of the Tolx movement and the values it stands for, or should have protected in this current trouble we have experienced?”

Milu thought for a short time before giving a reply to the recently recruited Azo.

“I think it may take us awhile, but we shall certainly recover and build ourselves up again. The Tolxi will need someone to champion and represent them. They will forgive us for the mistakes made in this border incident.

“We are still needed by our nation and I have a measure of hope for a sort of rebirth of our movement, my friend.”

The two smiled at each other, each of them holding back the sadness and depression caused by their situation at that moment.

Going out the back door of the farmhouse for some fresh air he knew that he badly needed, Azo unexpectedly came upon Hito returning from having fed the chickens nested in the coop site near the large barn.

She must have heard the details of what transpired inside and at the border from her father, he quickly reasoned.

I must attempt to console and fortify her as best I can, Azo commanded himself.

The two halted a small distance from each other, looking squarely into the face of the other.

How should I begin? thought the member of the Chief Committee. What words of comfort can I produce for Hito?

It was she who first said something.

“I have to confess something, Azo. I beg you never to reveal this to my father. It would be too heavy and difficult for him to accept or understand.”

She paused and looked him in the eye.

“It was I who called the police and warned them that the rebellion was imminent on the border. I did it at night, when I was the only one in the house not asleep. What else could I do to prevent a larger, deeper disaster?

“I did not know whether they would believe me, so I mentioned names and gave what details I had heard and picked up from you and my father.

“Someone had to act, and I was the one person who would not be suspected.

“Will you keep my action, whether good or some kind of evil transgression, to yourself? Will you protect my father from ever finding out the truth?”

He stepped forward, nodding his head yes over and over.

Before Hilo realized what was happening to her, she realized that he had taken her in an intimate, passion-filled embrace.

She sensed a safety concerning her secret as an informer to the authorities.

A man who would never betray her in any way was the one holding her in his arms.

The End

Tolxi of the Border Zone Part IV.

10 Jun

I.

Azo and his guide returned to the latter’s tiny old cottage in total exhaustion, equally affected by what had occurred at the school. Both sat down in the kitchen and Sevu heated a pot of highland berry tea to help restore their equilibrium and sense of wellbeing.

As both men sipped hot liquid from traditional Tolxian ceramic cups, the local resident started to explain and clear up what had happened in from of them.

“I did not expect anything like that,” he soothingly murmured. “The indignation among our people has risen like a fever and burst and boiled over. You saw for yourself how angry they are. What happened to Igu Noxol may have acted as the final incendiary element. There was a mental and emotional explosion in front of you today, but I believe the same kind of reaction is possible anywhere within Sinoria. I might even say anywhere the Tolxi may live, in either Sponsia or Bumgia.

“You witnessed the thoughts and the feelings of any and all Toxti, regardless of where they make their home.”

Azo hesitated and waited before speaking, making certain he knew precisely what he wished to say to his partner in this agitation tour of his.

“There can be no doubt in my mind, and I venture to claim neither in yours, that the men and women who were at the school today are fully committed and dedicated to the cause that our movement represents. They are unlimited in their patriotic fervor and allegiance. Both their minds and their souls are oriented toward the ethnic nation that they belong to.” He paused to draw a long, deep breath. “Their very lives are expendable for the goals they all share. There is no sacrifice that any of them would be unwilling to make for what they believe in.”

Sevu’s coffee-colored eyes appeared to flame forth with a shining passion. “I think our inhabitants here in the Sinoria are a very special breed of Tolxi. That may stem from our geographical position adjacent to the Sponsia-Bumgia boundary line.

“Do not overlook or minimize the direct influence that the international border has upon their practices and attitudes. I believe that this factor explains a lot about the attitude that both you and I witnessed today among my neighbors and fellow Tolxi.”

“How do you think my speech and the words I used affected the reactions of my audience today?” inquired the man from the Chief Committee. “Did I incite the force of their response in any way?”

Sevu gave him a warm, disarming grin. “I believe that they were, within themselves and their thoughts, prepared to become fired up, both as individuals and as a crowd group. You merely provided the occasion and the circumstances for a result that was foreordained. The reactions to you were inevitable.”

Azo frowned with personal embarrassment as if he had been humiliated by what had happened. “I hope that I can have a more positive and rational effect the next time I talk to a group of local people,” he softly muttered.

“I will try to take you into a different kind of situation, my friend. Have you ever heard of those individuals here in Sinoria referred to as the ‘coverts’ or the ‘runners’? Do you have any idea what they are engaged in?”

The visitor looked confused and at a loss. “No, not at all. Those terms that you are using are new and unfamiliar to me in connection with this border zone of yours.”

“Coverts and runners are the smugglers who operate in gangs that transport goods across the boundary, from Bumgia into Sponsia, or the other way, vice versa.

“The police and the law in both countries consider them illegal criminals who carry cargos without permission or inspection, and especially without paying any taxes whatever. These coverts are carriers and cargoers. Among themselves, they tend to call each other ‘hawks’.”

That is most interesting,” reacted Azo. “But why do you believe I ought to meet such characters? Are they members or potential members of our movement? Are they sympathetic to the Tolx cause?”

Sevu peered at his guest as of making a secretive evaluation of him. “I will take you to meet an interesting goat-herding friend of mine, but that will have to be done tomorrow morning. We are both tired after our strenuous activities and both need to rest up.”

II.

The two men left the cottage as the dawning sol revealed its bright orange-red disc in the direction of the border with Bumgia. Sevu began to give his plan for the day as he led Azo along a narrow footpath that took them toward the ascending orb of blinding light.

“We are going to a position which a number of covert gangs use as a holding-resting location after carrying out a transfer of cargo from the other side over to Sponsia. I am certain that we will be able to find persons of interest to us there with their goat flocks. You will be able to observe for yourself how simple goat-herders can function as artful, wily smugglers of goods across the international line.”

As he followed the steps of Sevu with the energetic vigor demanded for that task, Azo considered and reconsidered what he had just learned from his guide over the rocky hills.

“I imagine these herders of goats have to overcome enormous difficulties in order to convey property of different varieties across a border that is fenced and periodically watched over by armed guards.

“I would have to think that they are crafty, resourceful operators who must overcome enormous hazards and a constant chance of being apprehended and arrested by official border patrols on both sides.”

Unexpectedly, Sevu broke out with several sharp sounds of unsuccessfully suppressed laughter.

“You are going to meet an astoundingly intelligent covert who has the high reputation of being a proven master smuggler. Whatever it is that a customer wants or orders, Gavu can obtain and transport it over into this country. And he has shown himself a crafty, skillful supplier and transporter in both directions across the border.”

The Pair continued climbing and descending, climbing and descending, into the hilly highland along the borderline.

The large herd of half a hundred or so goats was busy grazing in a swale beneath a high ridge pointing into the sky.

A lanky, soaring man dressed in scraggy herder’s clothing approached the two advancing up the narrow path.

“Greetings, Gavu,,” shouted Sevu in a roaring tone. “How are you? I have brought the person sent us by the Chief Committee, and I wish to introduce you to him.” He proceeded to present and name each of the men to each other.

Gavu beamed a shining, brilliant smile at the stranger whom he stared at with unconcealed curiosity.

“What do you think of my herd of goats?” said their owner. “They are descendants of our traditional breed called the special, unique Tolxian variety. You can identify them by their peculiarly horns, twisted toward the outside in a strange way.

“I obtain a good amount of both milk and meat from these champions of mine. Look at their long ears and very small faces. No one can confuse them with any other breed of goats in either Sponsia or Bumgia.

“And my animals are valuable for their rich red skin hairs that city artisans make into thick wool cloth or shoe leather. These darlings of mine bring a lot of money to me when I succeed in finding a buyer for them.”

Azo extended his right hand and taking hold of the one belonging to the goat-owner, gave it a vigorous, lengthy shaking.

“I have to tell you, Gavu, that our friend was sent to us by the Chief Committee, the highest executive body within the Tolx national movement,” explained Sevu. “He has come to us on a mission of supreme, overwhelming importance concerning the future course that we will be taking as a people.

“But I must and I will allow him to describe and outline what our future as Tolxi is going to include and contain,” declared the short local leader with a smile of positive promise.

Gavu then invited Azo to take a walk with him upwards on the steep hill. “I can show you the goats that I own and the ones I tend for neighbors, giving you an idea of what highlanders like me are involved in every day up here on the pastures and grasslands of Sinoria,” loudly claimed the herder.

While Sevu stayed talking with a knot of other shepherds, Azo followed the lead of the one called Gavu to a higher elevation of the hill, where a congregated group of reddish-haired goats was busy grazing on the verdant grass.

“I can imagine how great is the interest of the main leaders on the Chief Committee in our cross-border activities,” suddenly, unexpectedly asserted the herder Gavu, without preamble or introduction of any sort.

The disconcerted visitor had the presence of mind to give his agreement to this, nodding his head with vigor and murmuring softly “Yes, you are right about that. Your mind is very quick and perceptive, my good fellow.”

Azo looked directly into the weathered face of Gavu, waiting to find out what he might be hinting at.

“Over many generations, we who live and work with the special red goats of Sinoria have developed a particular breed of herding dog to guard, lead, and take charge over our large flocks. You and others from outside our region have probably never seen of heard of the canine variety that we employ as our headers and our heelers. This assistant to the herder helps by fetching, backing, and guiding the goats that make up a herd. A team of such dogs is bale to act as a kind of living fence and prevent the loss or injury of any member of a flock.

“But there are certain complicated services that only our goat dogs can perform, and these have to do with objectives that would be impossible or extremely difficult without a well-controlled and managed herding of our goat flocks.” Gavo seemed to form a light smile. “But I can see that the Chief Committee is fully aware of the unseen deeds that we perform for them on the borderline…”

All at once, Gavu stopped, his eyes peering over the shoulder of Azo at something approaching from below them.

“Here comes Sevu up the hill,” announced the goat-herder, almost as if giving a warning to his companion.

The thread of unforeseen explanation by this man is now broken, Azo at once realized.

When will I be able to learn more about what he is hinting at and getting to? the visitor wondered to himself.

As he neared the two persons above him on the hill, Sevu called out to them.

“There is a good sized group of goat-herders gathered down there, and they are waiting to hear words from the representative of the Chief Committee who has come such a distance to speak to them,” shouted the one who had scheduled and arranged this assembly of herders. “If you are ready, we can begin.”

Azo, followed by Gavu, began to make his way downhill.

“I am glad to be here in Sinoeia, a region that reflects the character of the ethnic creature known to itself and others as the Tolxi. If they happen to be a people of the border, than the people whom you represent are a great example of this quality of living on a frontier. In other words, border inhabitants like you are the most Tolxian of all Tolxi. For the physical international frontier divides and separates Tolxi from other Tolxi more sharply and cruelly here than about anywhere else.

“But do not despair. A renewal in the lives of Tolxi everywhere is going to be realized. It is coming closer to realization than ever before in history. For the Tolxian movement for independence and self-determination is on the verge of realizing what earlier might have been considered impossible.

“Never before have the Tolxi been so organized and so united. The goals of this nation, divided by the Sponsia-Bumgia border, are clearly conscious in the minds of thousands and thousands.

“The Tolxi wait expectantly for the gaining of their freedom and self-governing. They know it is coming, and it is inevitable. Who can defeat or halt such a movement of a people welded together by history, language, and culture?

“I have come among you here today to inform and remind you that the Tolxi movement will stand and fight for you with all its might, energy, and resources. You, every one of you, can place you trust and hopes in our Tolxi national organization and its Chief Committee. We pledge ourselves to never fail or deceive you in any way whatsoever.

“The fight continues on. You must stand with us, for we shall forever stand with you, our beloved comrades!”

A hearty cheer and handclapping broke out with genuine, spontaneous fervor. Its force was a surprise to the speaker as Azo held out his hand to shake those of the herder audience of about a dozen who had been his listeners.

The enthusiasm of those who had heard his words infected him with its raw, primal emotion. He sensed a new form of success for the very first time. His hand was seized again and again, until it was exhausted from the flood of sympathy and acceptance flowing to him from the congregated goat-herders.

Sevu came forward and whispered to Azo.

“You were most impressive, I tell you. But now we have to leave and make the return to my cottage, because it takes considerable time to walk there from right here.”

Azo shook the hands of two more of the herders, then excused himself and departed in the company of his guide and host.

III.

The two walkers returned to the cottage of Sevu exhausted from their physical and mental exertions that day.

The host boiled a pot of wild herb tea before they both retired for the night.

Azo decided to use the few minutes left him while his guide remained awake to present him a question concerning what had been provoked in his mind by the statements that the herder called Gavu had uttered to him.

“I remain puzzled about how it is ever done,” enigmatically muttered the visitor sent by the Chief Committee.

He waited expectantly to see what reply the other would provide him.

“I don’t understand,” said the puzzled Sevu. “How is what done?”

The man standing opposite him grinned a little. “The ones engaged in smuggling. I had the impression today that some of the herders who were there at the meeting are active participants in that sort of business. There was a hint of it in the words that I heard in conversation with the one named Gavu. But I did not inquire for exact details and nothing specific was presented to me by him or anyone else.

“So, I came back here curious about it, but without any reliable knowledge at all.”

A long pause followed in which Sevu attempted to determine what he dared to say to this member of the Chief Committee who had come on assignment from the top level of the Tilox movement.

“It is not an insolvable riddle to figure out how goat-herders succeed in moving important items of value across the actual physical border between the two adjacent geographic countries. They have a clever, ingenious means of transport right in front of them every morning.” He gazed at the face and eyes of Azo as if waiting for a reaction he could anticipate was about to occur. “The herding and healing dogs have been trained to lead the red coats with objects tied around them to the exact destination they are meant to take them to. It is all accomplished by utilizing those wonderfully capable goat-dogs. It is as simple as that, my friend.”

Having confessed this recondite secret, Servu smiled as if liberated from the weigh of a very heavy matter of considerable significance.

Azo stepped away, realizing that he had to think out what he had just heard from the short, thin Tolx who had taken him into his home cottage.

“What have I come across?” he asked himself innumerable times. “Am I misinterpreting or overemphasizing the small number of words that I heard the goat-herder Gavu pronounce in his short exchange with me up in the highland?”

It became difficult for him to find any sleep that night, despite being so exhausted from his physical exertion in the trek with Sevu.

Azo onlylost consciousness after coming to a decision to return to the pastures he had visited and ask some important questions of the goat-owner he had met and had a brief conversation with.

=

“I think I should take the day off and rest a bit,” he said to his host during their early breakfast a little after dawn. “It would be nice for me just to take a walk around this immediate vicinity. It causes me to find restful restoration by just wandering around a little and letting my mind wind down some,” he mentioned with a conciliatory smile on his face.

“That sounds like a good idea,” responded Sevu. “I will have a lot to do here around the cottage, weeding my gardens and feeding my goats and my chickens.”

Once his morning gruel was finished, Azo excused himself and headed for the pathway that went by the cottage.

Retracing his earlier steps when he had been accompanied by Sevu, the walker progressed upward and forward with growing self-confidence, as well as belief that he had made a wise and promising decision to try to find the herder who had impressed him with the few words he had pronounced the day before.

He found himself taking note of and identifying grasses and plants he had not focused upon the first time.

Could he learn anything of possible value from finding and talking with the interesting person named Gavu?

But first of all, I have to locate him, he told himself with unconscious irony. I must be in contact with him if I mean to pose any sort of question to this character of mystery.

The mind of the one looking for a specific goat-herder grew nearly unconscious of the passage of minutes, then entire hours. His thoughts wandered to themes and subjects that had travelled along with himself to Sinoria.

I am more convinced than I ever was before that I was right to join and become a member of the Tolxi movement for independence and self-determination. But was I in reality prepared and capable of taking on the heavy, important responsibility of recruitment onto the Chief Committee? Have I taken on more than I can competently handle?

What am I attempting to accomplish here in the vicinity of the international border?

Am I chasing some kind of cloudy aim personal to only myself? Azo speculated as he climbed a steep grade to the upper heights overlooking a grassy pasture.

All of a sudden, he spied a small flock of red goats, and then their herder. He realized immediately that this was not the one that he sought, Gavu, who was spare and lanky. This man appeared to be the exact opposite, short and weighty.

But he might be able to provide some directions on where and how to reach the herder he was after.

Azo approached the fat herder with caution, uncertain how this stranger might decide to interact with him.

“Good morning, my good man. How are you today? The weather conditions look quite favorable and promising to me, but who can tell? There are many changes that can occur to upset the expectations of everyone.

“But allow me to ask you for directions that could be of enormous benefit to me.

“Let me explain. I am trying to locate and contact a particular goat-owner and herder whom I met yesterday, while a meeting was in progress among a group of Tolx herders interested in certain national questions and problems.

“The name of this specific individual whom I seek to find is Gavu. Do you know the man? Can you tell me where he might be found at the present moment?

“It may be of importance to him that he and I have the opportunity to speak to each other.”

Azo gazed at the herder, only a few feet away from him, with a humble, beseeching expression on his face.

The heavyset one answered in a dry, rasping tone. “I think that Gavu is a couple of hills closer to the border barrier. He was taking his goats in that direction while I was moving my flock the opposite way, to get to this verdant pasture land. We exchanged greetings as we passed by each other.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” grinned Azo as he turned away and proceeded over that hill, in the direction indicated by this goatherd tenderer.

I am heading the right way now, he said to himself with greater confidence. Closer, with each step, to the border with Bumgia. It seemed to him that with each step forward he noticed a certain quality of emptiness, as if he was entering a kind of no-mans-land of some sort.

IV.

The border fence was old and decrepit, showing its age and disrepair.

Azo gazed at it from a distant point on a high, overhanging ridge that gave a view downward to the demarcated physical boundary between Sponsia and Bumgia. He stood still looking at it, but suddenly caught sight of a moving object that startled him.

A small red goat appeared to climb out of some tunnel that jutted out from underneath the metal border fence.

Within just a few seconds, a second such animal, smaller than the first one, appeared.

As the pair of red goats moved forward away from the border fence, a third companion followed them.

All at once, Azo saw three, then four, such red animals.

“Hello, my friend. What are you doing here this morning?” said a voice from behind his back.

Azo spun himself about, enabling him to see who it was addressing him.

Tall, slender Gavu peered at him with a self-confident smile and a glow on his face.

“Good morning, my good man,” began the border explorer. “I have made a trek up to the demarcation line that forms the international boundary because I possess enormous curiosity about its condition and how it looks. When I was commissioned by the Chief Committee to visit Sinoria and give speeches and talk with the movement’s members, I became quite determined to see and examine the physical border on my own, for myself, so to speak.

“Because I have nothing scheduled for me today, I decided to come up for a close-up view of what divides the territory of Sponsia from that of its neighbor, Bumgia.

“But it was a great surprise to me to see a parade of red goats under and through the metal barrier fence.

“This is totally surprising and unforeseen to me, and I have no explanation for such a strange sight.”

He looked directly at the herder, waiting for him to give him some sort of explanation.

Davu seemed to look away to one side, avoiding the direct gaze of Azo.

“It is quite simple,” muttered the herder. “If you carefully examine one of these creatures, you will find a number of strong cloth bands attached around their bodies.

“In other words, the goats are acting as carriers in an operation that the police authorities would have to define as a kind of illegal smuggling across the borders of our two countries,” asserted Gavu with an outlaw’s uninhibited pride.

“Smugglinng!” said Azo in sudden, instant surprise, before he could control or rephrase his words. “Are you yourself the one in command of and directing this crossing of the demarcated boundary line?”

“Do not be alarmed or troubled by what you now are seeing, friend,” soothingly declared the goat-owner. “This is not new. It did not begin yesterday. Smuggling has been a second, hidden profession of flock-herders in Sinoria for countless generations, as far back as our family memories extend into our past.

“You must certainly know of this concealed activity, as one of the members of the Chief Committee of the Tolx independence movement. Have you never heard of what we do as transporters across the international border?”

“I am a new member,” weakly said Azo in an unsteady voice. “There has been no occasion for me to become informed about the matter, I am afraid.”

The herder took a step closer, till he stood only a foot or so away from the young man who had surprised him by his appearance beside the old, outmoded border fence.

“This line between the two lands has always had the character of being artificial and easily crossed by those with the correct knowledge and experience,” related Gavu in a matter-of-fact tone. “But we who live along the border have never bandied about or advertised what goes on when no one is watching.”

Looking to the right, then the left, Azo now saw a small herd of the red goats, taking note of the brown belts that many of the animals revealed attached to the middle of their bodies. He could make out both little and large packets held in place by the belts worn by several of the goats congregated in the tunnel extending from the border line.

“Yes,” continued Gavu, “the goats wearing the belts are carrying valuable items from over in Bumgia, to us on this side of the line. This kind of trade did not begin yesterday. It has been going on from the days of our earliest Tolx ancestors, I have been told by those who know.”

The two stared at each other a brief time, each of them trying to size up the other.

Gavu suddenly asked a question. “Surely, you must have been sent here to Sinoria with some mission connected with the shipments of arms to the bands that we are forming?

“Tell me, do you think that the Chief Committee is ready to send out the signal for the border to be seized and occupied in the near future? Will it happen in a few weeks, or a couple of months? What do you know? What are you authorized to tell me and my comrades?”

His facial expression was an anxiously pleading one, eager for information that Azo was not able to provide him.

“You and I must find a place where we can converse in safety and in isolation,” declared the one still shaken by the discovery he had just stumbled upon. “Do you have a shelter or cottage of your own where the two of us can sit down, rest, and have ourselves a lot of important talk?”

The flock of red goats was driven forward into a hillside pasture by a team of three large, muscular dogs.

Azo watched with interest as Gavu controlled the group movement through nonverbal signals to these herding assistants of his.

Once the animals were settled and grazing, the herd-owner turned to the visitor and told him to accompany him to a nearby shed situated a small distance from the border fence.

The pair sat down on awkwardly constructed benches across from each other.

“There is much that you and I have to discuss,” muttered Gavu. “I have to know exactly what the Chief Committee expects of me and my neighbors when the day of attack finally arrives for us here on the border.”

Azo studied the wrinkled, weathered face of the border inhabitant with steadfast attention as if hunting for a solution to the mystery and enigma presented by almost everything this fellow was saying to him.

“A lot of my personal ignorance of certain matters connected to activities along and across the boundary may be due to the recent nature of my elevation to the Chief Committee,” speculated the newcomer to Sinoria. “There could have been no reason or purpose in informing me of certain subjects like this. They are best kept secret, some may have decided. As a result, I may have had no good reason to know about such a sensitive operation as what you happen to be accomplishing with your red goat herd.”

“I am by no means alone in this endeavor across the borderline,” argued Gavu. “There are dozens of other herd-owners like me who are engaged in the smuggling of a variety of arms into the Sinoria sector of Sponsia. There are many like me, I can tell you with absolute certainty.

“And, of course, there exist a large contingent of other Tolx goat-herders over on the Bumgian side of the border.

“We receive visits from the main organizers of weapon shipments notifying us of the time and place of each individual crossover transfer. Everything occurs in a coordinated, systematic, planned schedule. A lot of skilled brains spend time and effort in guaranteeing the success of all our operations in the smuggling we carry out.”

“There are members of our movement over in Bumgia who are an important, integral part of this kind of enterprise, then?” concluded Azo.

Gavu seemed to give out a chuckle. “The top planner and coordinator is a member of the Chief Committee and you must surely be acquainted with the man.

“His name is Yino Maja, and he is a virtual physical giant.”

The mind of Azo Tvot seemed to go blank for several seconds. He swallowed hard, then gasped for breath. His head seemed to be swimming and whirling about for a short time.

Did I hear him correctly? Am I only imagining what I think he said? Am I suddenly drowning in a flood of dreamy illusion? How can I deny what my ears reported to my inner thinking only moments ago?

Azo found himself unable to make further inquiry on what he thought he had just learned and uncovered.

He smiled and held his tongue passive and quiet, until he could figure out what this discovery might mean for the movement and for him individually.

V.

How to find out the scope and the intentions that another member of the Chief Committee had in this unusual project of his? Was he acting with the knowledge of others on the head body, or was he involved in some sort of rogue operation outside the official organization of the Tolz independence movement?

Yino Maja had made a negative impression on him during the meeting at the Jost farm.

Was he a dangerous hothead with extremely violent motives, goals, and ideas?

Azo decided to return the next day to the pasture that Davu used for his own flock of goats. He had to learn the connections that existed across the border and the importance of the role in this matter played by the giant leader from Bumgia named Yino Maja.

“We have several more days before our next meeting with people who live in Sinoria,” the visitor said to his host the following morning. He smiled convincingly at Sevu, explaining what he was aiming to do the rest of the day. “I want to make myself familiar with this border territory by exploring it on my own. That will make it a lot easier to talk to our movement’s members and connect them to our organization and its plans for the future.”

Azo left the cottage, stepping forth into the bright light from the sky soon after dawn. He was up and out on his own quite early, as he planned to be. His immediate goal was to relocate the goat-herder named Gavu so as to try to question him as carefully and subtly as possible.

He grinned, but was unable to conceive of any idea why he should be doing so.

Was he being tempted by the imagined prospect of learning from the herder he meant to talk to once more.

What was there that Gavu might reveal to him about an unknown something deep within the Tolx movement for national freedom?

It was easy to find the goat-herder in the same border area where he had been the day before.

Azo noticed instantly that there was something going on starkly different from what he had witnessed before. The red goats were not proceeding forth out of the sub-boundary tunnel, but were slowly entering it in the opposite direction. The process observed by him yesterday was this morning in reverse direction.

What did this unexpected situation mean? he wondered as he looked around for the lanky herder who would have an explanatory answer.

All at once, the long, slender body of Gavu emerged from the part of the tunnel closest to the boundary fence.

The flock was no longer visible to Azo, having in all probability disappeared over onto the country of Bumgia.

It now appeared that Gavu, with the help of his team of herding dogs, had succeeded in transporting his flock to the other side, the neighboring land to Sponsia.

Present circumstances presented him a perfect opportunity to press more information out of the goat-owner, realized Azo as he strode forward to greet the man.

“Good morning, Gavu. How are you doing? It looks to me like we are going to have a beautiful day to enjoy today. But where is your flock of goats? I thought I saw some of them heading toward where the order with Bumgia runs.”

The herder did not reply until he stopped only a yard or so away from his visitor. “How are you, my friend? I did not expect to see you again so quickly. Are you exploring and viewing our international boundary again? Or are you interested in participating yourself in my over-the-border smuggling business?” said the goat-man with a short laugh.

Azo at once decided it would be best for him not to give a direct answer to this, but to divert the other into another matter as quickly as possible.

“I am completely astounded by how, from one day to the next, the direction that your red goats take can be reversed. The flock that had been bringing items and materials out of Bumgia into Sponsia, is this morning making its way back into the land of Bumgia.

“Do the animals carry on them a cargo from this country into the neighboring one? Is that was is going on this morning?

“I am totally amazed at the versatility and flexibility of what can be accomplished by herders such as you. It is magical. I think it is incredible.”

He stared at the border inhabitant with enthusiastic emotion and an eager expression. Was he going to gain more of the truth from him?

Gavu, taking a step closer, began to make the kind of revelations that his new companion was longing for.

“You do not understand at all, my good pal. If trade and traffic can be brought one way, it can also take the same road backwards, in full reverse. That is what is happening this morning, contrasted to what you saw me engaged in just yesterday.

“But this morning I am not transporting arms, weapons, or ammunition of any kind over the border into Bumgia. Not at all, for I am today going back to a kind of commerce that I learned from both my father and my grandfather, and that they, I am sure, learned from their own Tolxi ancestors.

“What today’s operation with the goats consists of is old-fashioned conveyance of precious jewelry and women’s cosmetics made by Tolxi specialists here in Sponsia over, or rather under, the border into Bumgia. No custom duties whatever are paid by me or anyone else. The final transaction will be free of taxes or interference by anyone. It promises to be very profitable to me as its manager and organizer.”

A gleeful grin seemed to grow and expand around the thin lips of Gavu the goat-herder.

“I do not understand why it is that someone with you on the Chief Committee has not thought of telling you what the plans are for using small arms here along the border. Whatever it might have been, you obviously know nothing at all about the aims and the intent of these weapons happens to be.

“I have sent a message to a person in charge of my end of the program and its activities. That has been the area of my contribution to our national movement. I have been in charge of moving specific combat items in both directions with the aim of arming and equipping the local units of the Tolx movement.

“If you wish to find out the precise details of the project I have been recruited into, you must inquire elsewhere, that is plain.

“So, in order to assist you in satisfying your avid curiosity, I have sent a secret message to my superior here in Sinoeia. There should be a reply coming back to me very soon, I trust. Then, I shall be fully authorized to reveal to you all that I know about this grand adventure of ours on the borderline.”

Azo suddenly became anxious. “But why can’t you describe the general outline of why this particular kind of smuggling is going on. That would be of enormous benefit to me. Just the direction in which all this action by you and others is going.

“I am guessing, or making the supposition that the program of smuggling of arms is aimed at organizing a rebellion or revolt, an uprising of sorts along the Sponsia-Bumgia border.
the
“Am I right in that kind of speculation?”

The questioner waited in silence for a considerable time. He could see that the herder was having major difficulty in deciding how to answer him. It could turn out to be a serious mistake if he revealed too much of what he himself knew about the possible future use of whatever was now said here on the borderline.

“It will take me at least until tomorrow to contact someone over in Bumgia and receive instructions on what I am to tell you about this particular project.

“So, I must ask you to be patient and wait till tomorrow morning. I will use an electronic transmitter that I keep in my personal cabin. As soon as I am told that I have permission to go on, I promise to do so and give you a description of what I know about this matter.

“Is that clear to you?”

Azo made a wry face. “Yes,” he nodded. “I agree to wait until tomorrow morning and return to this spot for answers.”

Without another word, he turned and walked away the way he had come.

VI.

“We have two more days until the group in a neighboring part of the order zone is ready for your appearance in front of them,” Sevu told his cottage guest as soon as the two of them were finished with his breakfast on the following period of early dawn.

“I will be more than ready for them,” responded Azo across the table from him.

He would soon be seeing Gavu once again, he told himself. What would the goat-herder have available to give him? How would he himself react to whatever he learned at that moment?

There was a lot on his mind as the visitor left the cottage and stepped into the growing, brightening light of early morning. It felt like it took him less time to reach the spot of the border breach this time.

Stopping to look about, he searched for a sign of Gavu and his goats.

An electric shock seemed to strike Azo with shattering intensity the moment he caught sight of an unforeseen situation.

There were two human shapes standing together at the start of the decline into the border tunnel.

One of them he recognized at once as the one he expected to see, Gavu the herder.

The second person was recognizable within seconds, causing a virtual mental explosion in the brain of Azo.

Are my eyes suddenly liars seeing a false, imagined form? Can what they tell me be the truth?

Is the member of the Chief Committee actually present? Why did Yino Maja make an unforeseeable journey to confront another member of that executive body of the Tolx movement.

The fat giant from Bumgia suddenly began to speak as it took several steps toward the speechless Azo.

“Although you stumbled upon the actions going on along the Sponsia-Bumgia border, this is not really a secret project in essence. The general concept has always been an important ingredient in our Tolxian liberation ideology, from its very beginning. It has always been a matter of time: how advanced must the starting, early preparations go forward and become advanced before the Chief Committee discusses and authorizes our movement’s entering into the warlike state of full rebellion? Before the first act of a popular insurrection can be enacted by our members, before actual physical conflict breaks out in the cities, villages, and countryside of our Tolx territories, we shall have to consult, deliberate, decide, and transmit detailed plans and orders to all of our local units in both countries.

“So, my friend, you can understand why you, our newest and least experienced member, were not given the information that still had to be confirmed and validated by leading actors such as me.”

Yino transmitted a self-confident, condescending grin to the junior member of the committee that both of them were members of.

Azo searched for words that might express his emotions without saying anything hostile or insulting to the fat man he had just minutes before come across at this crossover portion of the borderline.

“I must find out much more,” began the still bewildered and disoriented newcomer to Sinoria. “You have to help me understand how this plan for actual revolt is going to be organized and then managed and carried out.

“What you have said so far has created a hundred of questions for me that I cannot at all answer for myself from what I already know.

“There are loads and loads of things that I have to learn, master, and think out. This will not at all be easy or smooth for me. Rather than that, all of this is going to cause me a mountain of difficulty.”

Yino took a few moments to consider what was his best course to take in dealing with the problem posed for him in the discovery just made by the newest member of the Chief Committee.

“I tell you what I will do for you, my dear comrade,” he began. “We must be patient and take sufficient time to understand and analyze the practical situation our movement and our people face. It is our responsibility to make all the necessary preparations for taking in hand direct action to obtain national freedom and self-determination. There can be no other imaginable alternative to what is now being done in the border zone, both here in Sinoria and within Bumgia.”

The heavy man halted a moment. He seemed to study the face of Azo as if trying to guess or estimate what the reaction might turn out to be to what he was on the verge of proposing.

“Can you join me across the border? I could show you what we have accomplished in our material preparations for the anticipated day or final reckoning with the two governments that oppress our beloved Tolxi people.

“I guarantee that you will find what you see and hear over there most enlightening and encouraging for the future of our liberation movement.”

“But I am obligated to make visits hereabouts, as well as give addresses to small groups of local residents within Sinoria. Their are a number of individuals who are awaiting my return within the days ahead.”

Yino smiled with self-confidence. “If you can inform your closest assistants rapidly today, I shall be back at this spot tomorrow morning at this time. There will be no obstacle to having you come with me in order to inform yourself of how advanced our program has already advanced and attained toward its goal.

“Will you be here tomorrow, my good man?”

“I will try, but that is not a question on which I can give you a firm promise, for I must win release from other, personal obligations. That is what I owe to those who are working with me here.”

“That you are justified in considering and providing for,” asserted the stout leader from Bumgia. “I can see that you are a person with a very strong moral spine. Indeed, you are a unique character, yes you are.”

With that, Yino turned around and retreated back through the border tunnel.

Azo did not disclose the entire story of what he had been drawn into at the smugglers’ tunnel. He did not describe what he had learned about preparations for an armed rebellion by the Tolxi.

My own knowledge, at this precise moment, is severely limited.

Sevu had no objections to the temporary suspension of Azo’s speaking tour. “Yes, it could be quite helpful to you in your future activities to go over into Bumgia and see for yourself what our brothers and sisters in that other country are engaged with. It will provide you a wider, richer prospective on how our Tolxi cope with problems of rule by outsiders.”

Azo thanked him and then began to prepare for the adventure that awaited him when he met and proceeded on with Yino Maja.

VII.

The morning sky was clouded and darker than on the previous day, so that the mood of the one walking alone toward the crossover location was somewhat apprehensive. What might lie ahead for him on the other side of the frontier?

Gavu and Yino were standing facing each other, conversing about something that drew all their attention, so that it took a couple of seconds to realize that a third person was approaching them.

It was the goat-herder who noticed the advent of the person they were both expecting.

“It is good to see you,” called out Yino in a merry tone. “Are you ready to jump across into Bumgia, my friend?”

Asa did not speak until he was standing in front of the two others.

“I am eager to jump over and start on whatever there is to see and hear about what you spoke to me about yesterday,” said the newly arrived individual. He turned to Gavu with a question. “How is everything going for you with your goats?” he inquired.

“Quite well, I can say. But I am so happy that you shall be entering into Bumgia and seeing how life proceeds on in that country among our Tolxi. You will learn a great deal about how our people on that side cope with the forces that surround them. It will make it easier for you to both act and make decisions. It will benefit you a lot.”

“Let us get going at once,” proposed Yino. “There is much for you to see and for me to explain over on the other side.”

Aso at once fell in line behind the other member of the Chief Committee, waving a small farewell to Gavu the herder as he disappeared into the cross-border tunnel following his new guide.

This side of the international border is in many ways unlike what I saw and experienced back there in Sinonia, the walker told himself as he followed Yino in total silence.

He could see in the distance what appeared to be thick, leafy forests. There was more than traditional pasturing going on here in Bumgia, even among its Tolx population.
huddled

There was a flock of red goats visible, but they were huddled together within a wooden fence that surrounded them on all four sides.

All at once, Yino stopped moving forward and spun himself about, facing Azo directly in the face and compelling him to halt his own advance.

“What is it?” murmured the surprised, disconcerted follower.

“I should tell you what my immediate plans are,” noted the man in front. “You will soon come with me into a goat shelter where my assistants are placing packets of small arms into bands that we plan to bind our next company of goats with. They will be guided by a tram of herding dogs across into Sponsia, where these weapons will then be distributed among units of our members in Sinonia.

“Already, a sizable quantity has been delivered to Tolxi who are prepared and trained to make full use of them when the signal comes that rebellion has started. Our civilian forces will be able to cope with the local police, plus with any reinforcements that the government sends into the border area.

“Our movement have an easy time seizes possession of the entire boundary zone between Bumgia and Sponsia. No one in authority will ever of conceived or dreamed of such an unusual, unprecedented strategy. We shall enjoy the advantage of a surprise attack, an assault as if out of the blue.” The fat man grinned as if he were contemplating a tasty delicacy. “And we shall then hold the upper hand over our enemies. They will have to satisfy our demand for freedom and autonomy.”

Azo was too overwhelmed to say anything in reply to this.

I must wait and find out how this scheme will affect me and my own obligations to the Tolx people and those individuals I have come to know.

Tolxi of the Border Zone Part III.

28 May

I.

The explosion occurred, but not at the right time or according to plan.

Igu Noxol, the originator of the idea, stood next to the tank full of hydrazine, the common, everyday fuel of road and street vehicles of all kinds in Sponsia City. He was the first and primary victim making a sacrifice to the symbol of Tolxian rebellion for the goal of independence and autonomy.

Joso and Azo, only several span away from the flaming, disintegrating tank of liquid fire, received serious, painful burns, but survived, unlike their Leader, who suffered instantaneous death within the tunnel excavated with so much difficult, heavy labor.

Azo rushed forward to the falling figure of Igu Noxol, engulfed in yellowy torrid flames. What could he do? Doom had caught and was rapidly destroying the mortal form of the man who had first conceived of the bombing of the National Bank. But an event had now happened to make that end impossible.

The explosion, a premature surprise, struck and killed the one who first thought it up.

Azo stood petrified, his body for the time being paralyzed in front of the incinerating, burning torso of the Leader of the movement to free the Tolx from outside, foreign rule.

He could not think of any action that might save the expiring life of Igu.

The fire had swiftly swallowed all of his material existence. Fire spread to all portions of the body, bringing the blackened white ashes down onto the tunnel’s rocky, uneven floor.

Azo was compelled to watch in terror-filled awe the fall and crumbling of the one who had planned this strange operation.

Suddenly the air was filled with screams and shouts coming out of the throat and the mouth of Joso. This caused Azo to turn himself around so he could look directly at the one who had been an active member of this bombing squad along with himself and the perished Leader of the Tolx movement.

“My hands are burned and scalded!” screeched the terrified comrade. “I am suffering unbearable pain over my entire body, and I need immediate medical help and something to give me relief from what I just underwent with the bomb.”

Azo hurried over to where Joso lay prone on the tunnel floor, kneeling down to examine the burn wounds of the fallen one. He could see the signs of trauma on the broad face and swollen green eyes of the one who had been assisting him in this dangerous enterprise. Here in front of him was sprawled the first and only victim of the explosive charge they had planned to aim at the National Bank.

Lifting the head of Joso, Azo saw the evidence of wounding injury in cuts and abrasions, as well as black powder markings from the exploded chemicals meant for the project’s target.

All at once, a voice spoke to Azo from behind him.

“This is disastrous!” shouted Tasu Nemo, who had arrived in the tunnel from his shop. “I think we have lost our Leader and that he is no longer breathing.”

Azo peered at him, his arms still holding the semi-conscious Joso.

“What do we do now for the health and safety of our fallen associate here?” he asked with an undertone of desperation. “He has been seriously hurt and shaken by the explosion. I can foresee that he needs medical aid in order to regain his equilibrium.

“Someone with professional experience should examine and evaluate the extent he has been hurt, both physically and mentally. That’s what I think.”

Tasu considered for a brief moment, then took control of the situation they faced.

“First of all, we have to carry him back to the shop,” he declared with certainty in his voice. “Once he is safely there, we can decide on our next step with him.”

Azo placed his arms under the legs of Joso, while the heavier Tasu grabbled his body under the shoulders. Both lifted the torso and began to haul it back through the tunnel, into the basement of the cacao shop.

Taking command of the operation in progress, Tasu decided they would place their subject on a low, empty table that had once served upstairs in the kitchen but had been replaced and no longer had any practical use.

“We must let him rest and recover some strength here,” decided the shop manager. “After a short while, I think we can use his engine-car to get him to a hospital for any emergency aid he may still need at that point.”

“Yes, that makes sense to me,” noted Azo.

Working together, the pair raised up the injured one and transported him back to the cacao shop, and from there out to the vehicle belonging to Joso.

II.

In the emergency treatment center of the Sponsia City’s main hospital, the nurses and specialists attended to and made analytic tests of the new patient.

For a time, Azo and Tasu watched and listened to what was going on in and around the polymer cocoon into which Joso had at once been fitted and placed.

“It will be a considerate while before we can be sure concerning the physical condition of this patient,” said the supervising technical chief to the two who had brought him to their large unit. “As soon as we can diagnose the problems and conditions, I will be able to give you an accurate, trustworthy report, as well as prescribe the details of how this man will be given treatment. But we have to be cautious and careful at this early stage.”

Tasu proposed to Azo that the two of them walk over to a beverage shop across from the hospital and rest and talk there.

The place was almost completely empty at this very early hour, as soon as the two had ordered fruit-juice coolers, Tasu proposed they sit by themselves at a small circular table far in the rear and discuss the situation they now faces.

The cacao-shop owner began to speak as soon as they were comfortable seated, leaving his companion the task of being mostly a passive listener.

“It is tragic what happened to our Leader, and I have sent out an order to one of our action squads here in the capital to go down into the tunnel from my store and remove the remains of Igu Noxol as soon as possible.

“When we finally return there, we will see that our Leader’s body will have been removed and is no longer present where we last saw it.”

“Did you tell them what to do with what is left of him?” sadly asked Azo.

The other made a grimace. “There is an unidentified, secret location where his body can be buried, for the time being.”

Both men picked up his cacao cup and began to sip the thick, dark liquid.

Tasu set down his drink and started to voice his inner thoughts.

“It’s hard to know how our movement is going to adjust to the unexpected loss of its central figure, the man whom everyone has come to call the Leader.

“All our members will be shaken and at a loss as to what might now befall us without his wise, effective guidance. Everyone will be thrown into deep despair by his untimely loss.”

“Will the Directing Committee soon meet to choose his successor?” inquired Azo with patent emotion in his voice.

“I expect to receive a magnetophone message from the border zone sometime later today,” Tasu informed him. “Nothing like this has been experienced on our time, so it will be a difficult situation for all of us to cope with.”

“What do plan to accomplish here in Sponsia City?” asked Azo.

“There will be a small service and the presence of several comrades when his body is buried as an unidentified unknown individual. I plan to invite the contingent of our members who at the present time reside here in the capital.”

“You have been in this city a considerable time, then?” said Azo with evident curiosity.

Tasu suddenly seemed to take on a distant, abstracted attitude.

“My parents moved to the capital only a few months after I was born, so as a result of that I have no personal memories of the Tolx border region. There is, though, a considerable group of our people who grew up in this city.

“I have served for several years as the active coordinator of our scattered brothers and sisters and their main activities.

“That has not at all been an easy thing to do becauseI of the special conditions and circumstances under which we live.”

“What do you think will now happen with our bombing enterprise?” ventured Azo to ask. “Do you see us continuing with a renewed effort? I would imagine that we would first want to know for sure what was the nature of the error that someone made. Without having uncovered the cause of this catastrophic interruption, it is difficult to foresee us as being secure about a second attempt.

“What will the movement choose as its future course in this regard?”

Tasu surprised his questioner by the deep frown that appeared on his face and the shadow that darkened his green-colored eyes.

“It will be difficult to come to any clear, solid judgment or decision on what you are asking me, my friend,” he muttered as if with reluctance. “Such questions were more manageable when our movement had its wise, single leader. Now we become the same as guideless orphans. We are the same as a child who loses its father at a very early age, when the parent is most important and vital to its successful growth and formation.

“I can tell you this: it was listening to and meeting the Leader, Igu Noxol, that made me an inspired young member of the movement I have become a part of. From him I acquired the ideas that have led me forward to my present position. Although I went into business and eventually opened up my cacao shop, my participation in Tolx political life owes everything to what I heard and learned from the mouth of Igu Noxol. He served as my educator and mentor in all of my activity in our organization. Without his influence upon me, I might have remained ignorant and unenlightened.

“He made me what I am today, Azo.”

The latter started to look upon Tasu in a totally new light. Could this operator of a cacao shop become the primary center of the Tolx movement for autonomy and self-determination? he wondered. If that was to happen in the days to come, the new Leader would need a trustworthy assistant at his side, one who could be depended on for wise tactical and strategic advice.

Azo smiled at Tasu, but did not reveal to him the ambitious roles that he foresaw for both of them in the future course of the movement they were a part of.

“Let’s go back and see what they are doing for Joso in the emergency unit of the hospital,” proposed once the pair had finished drinking their cups of cacao.

At the burial of Igu Noxol in a large cemetery overlooking the capital from a nearby, high hill, it was Tasu Memo who stepped forward and volunteered to give the final words of eulogy to the lost Leader.

“None of his friends and comrades shall ever forget Igu Noxol,” he began in a solemn, resounding tone. “He was the ideological creator of our Tolx movement. He was the one who first inspired and organized what we have today, a national network of likeminded, cooperating brothers and sisters.

“It is his example and teaching that impels us forward toward our goal of autonomy and self-determination. He it was who raised our minds to full consciousness of who we are and what our destiny must be.

“There remains a lot we must do. Let us continue our struggle onward, to total victory, in the name of our departed but beloved Leader, the magnificent Igu Noxol.”

Tasu, finished and looking about at the small group present with him, was surprised at the cheers, shouts, and hand-clapping that followed his words of farewell.

III.

It took over a week before Joso Jost was well enough to leave the hospital and return to the flat that Azo had been taking care of in his absence.

By that time, word had come to Tasu by a magnetophone call that a meeting of the Head Committee of the Tolx movement was scheduled to hold a session to take care of the problems caused by the loss of the Leader, the departed Igu Noxol.

Tasu made a visit to the flat and informed both Joso and Azo of this approaching event and what he thought its meaning was.

“Without spelling it out in specific words, there will have to be a selection of a primary executive leader to take the place previously held by Igu Noxol. Without saying that directly, that is what I believe the assembly was called for at this particular date. And it will be held close to the border, in proximity to Bumgia, so that spokesmen from our Tolx zone in that country can be present, have their voices heard, and vote to select a new, overall Leader.

“That is how I interpret the unexpected voice message that I received today.”

“Will you be going there to represent the members in Sponsia City?” inquired JOso. “As our chief here, you qualify for a voice and a vote in the Head Committee, that is clear to me.”

“Yes, my intention is to be present there, because I believe that our leadership has the responsibility of answering many most important questions about our future plans and activities, as well as selecting the person who must take over the general direction of the movement as soon as possible.”

Tasu was silent a moment or two, considering how to announce an important decision he had made.

“Since I myself do not have a vehicle of my own, as well as lack a driver’s license, I must ask you, Joso, to transport me to the farm of Milu Yost, where the Head Committee is going to assemble.” He turned his face and eyes from Joso to Azo. “And I wish you to come along to the home of Joso’s uncle so that you can serve as my assistant and informal secretary.

“Is such an arrangement agreeable to both of you, then?”

Joso voiced his acceptance, and then Azo did the same.

“Good!” remarked Tasu in a mood of happy hopefulness. “I think we three will help get things back in order after the tragic loss of our late Leader.”

Tasu sat in the back of the gas-car, behind Joso at the wheel and Azo beside him.

As they rushed toward their destination, the cacao shop owner spoke as if speaking to ears outside the vehicle, waiting for him on the farm of Milu Jost.

“The course of our people’s history is almost at its climax. Either we win a colossal victory of freedom and opportunity in the days immediately ahead, or else we must accept that our destiny will turn out to be complete assimilation and our final end as an existing demographic factor.

“I see no possible alternatives to these two possible futures for the Tolxi.”

Azo did not even attempt to conceal his astonishment at what he had just heard said by the weighty man sitting behind him in the moving engine-car.

“That is an extremely sharp contrast of opposite roads ahead that you draw for the people of the border zone, Tasu,” declared the fellow-passenger in a cool, matter-of-fact tone. “You seem to believe that no middle ground whatsoever exists between the Tolxi and the majority groups in Sponsia and Bumgia.

“Are the prospects so dire and desperate for this movement and what thoughts it stands for and represents?”

For several uneasy moments, no answer to this came from the shopkeeper, because he was engaged in complicated, difficult considerations he had not dealt with till now.

All three of the men in the engine-car were pondering the question of the future course of the movement they were a part of.

Hito Jost and her father welcomed the trio to the farm house, assigning areas to serve as their personal quarters in the days ahead.

Milu spoke with emotion and spirit about the meeting of local officers scheduled to be held on his property soon. “I am overwhelmed by the trust and confidence that our dear movement is willing to place in me. My aim will be to do everything I can for the convenience and the safety of those who will be coming here from both Sponsia and Bumgia.

“It will be a great responsibility placed on my shoulders, but I know that I can manage it well and efficiently. My daughter, Hito, will be at my side, assisting me with her skills and knowledge. The two of us will do all we can for the successful completion of this meeting. It will be our way of making our contribution to Tolx final victory.”

“Thank you so much, Brother Milu,” replied Tasu with feeling in his voice.

No one else appeared to notice that Hito was sending a warm, intimate smile to Azo, and that he was reciprocating in kind.

Tasu conferred in private with Milu Jost in the field behind the latter’s house as his daughter, Joso, and Azo finished cleaning up the kitchen and the dinner utensils after the enlarged group finished eating their midday meal.

“What do you think is going to happen next?” asked the Tolx farmer. “Is the decision to be that we continue with direct action with bomb explosives?”

He stared at Tasu, standing opposite him, waiting with patience for an answer to what was coming for the movement that had recently lost its founder and leading figure.

“I cannot predict with any exactness what road will be chosen now, after the catastrophe that just occurred in Sponsia City,” slowly said the shopkeeper. “But I am forming a plan of my own in the back of my mind, and I feel that it will soon become my responsibility to propose, explain, and ask others to give it their support.”

Milu suddenly grew highly excited and attentive. ‘What are you thinking our movement should be doing? Is it something new?”

All at once, the visitor broke out in an unexpected, enigmatic grin. “My thinking remains in a kind of mist or fog, as if it has not solidified or taken specific form yet.

“But I am attempting to see everything in our environment, all the forces that will determine the future of our people here in the border zone.

“I am moving toward the concept of all-out revolt, of complete physical rebellion. That us the direction in which I seem to be veering. But what final decisions I will be making, I cannot yet say.

“But by the time that our Chief Committee assembles in a few days, I trust I will have formulated a definite project that can guide our Tolx movement.

“You will be one of the first to find out what I propose that our people do in the days ahead.”

Azo kept looking out for an opportunity to speak with Hito alone, with no one else around or able to overhear what they might be saying to each other. And the daughter of the Tolx farmer was on the lookout for those same circumstances, the chance for an undisturbed, not-noticed meeting with the young man who had returned to their farm from the tragic event that had occurred in the capital.

The right conditions offered themselves with the supper meal at the time of evening dusk.

Azo offered to help her take out the kitchen slops and garbage for disposal in a deep hole that her father had dug behind the low-set coops where their chickens were settling down for a night of sleepy rest.

She was the one who expressed curiosity about the coming conflicts and possible battles of the Tolx liberation movement.

“Do you think that the Chief Committee with turn to additional, magnified explosive violence, Azo?” she inquired with a soft trembling in her voice. “Is the level of direct, aggressive action about to rise sharply, in reaction to what happened to Igu Noxol in Sponsia City?”

Azo, surprised and almost astounded at how vigorous her mind was operating, took several seconds to formulate what he considered to be a clear, simple answer to what she had just asked him.

“I cannot tell you what will happen when that meeting occurs here on this farm, because I actually do not have sufficient knowledge of the persons who will be attending. Remember, I am a very recent recruit into the Tolx liberation movement. The Chief Committee members are, in large part, absolute strangers to me, as I myself am to them.

“There is no way that I can possibly predict what decisions might be made by the group at the head of everything. All I can tell you is that I plan to keep my ears and my mind open so that I can absorb what each individual says or argues. I can promise to inform you about what I may learn or pick up. You can depend on me to relate to you my general and also impressions of the meeting and the participants.”

He stared into her face as she smiled and reacted to his statement.

IV.

The loss of the Leader of the Tolx movement, Igu Noxol, had reduced the Chief Committee to six remaining members.

Milu Jost was the one chosen to preside, elected by unanimous decision by voice vote.

The first order of business once they were assembled and operating in accepted order was to choose a replacement for The empty seat caused by the catastrophic disaster that had happened in Sponsia City.

It was Tasu Nemo who made a surprising, unforeseeable nomination to the highest, governing organ of the underground organization.

“I propose that the folklore scholar Azo Tvot be elevated to our committee,” pronounced the shop-owner in a heavy, solemn voice. “He has proven his faith and loyalty in our goals as a movement. His participation in the attempt we made in the capital is solid proof of his value to what we fight for.

“I myself can attest to the sharpness and power of his agile mind. He has through his own actions demonstrated his allegiance to our aims and our sacred national principles.

“No other possible candidate could present such an important, worthy addition to our Chief Committee as this individual who has met every test we have given to him. He is present in the kitchen of this farm house, waiting there along with the Jost family, to learn what decisions have been reached by this leading body of the Tolx independence, self-determination movement that we have dedicated our lives to.”

The silence that followed this speaker lasted barely several seconds.

A loud voice of critical opposition suddenly arose from the opposite side of the meeting table.

“What you are proposing, Tasu, makes no sense to me,” countered a gigantically fat figure. All the other members focused their sight on this impressive person who had come to this meeting from across the border, from the part of Tolxian territory that was part of Bumgia, ruled by the government of that country.

The other three members of the supreme directing body listened to the fiery arguments raised before them by the well-known activist named Yino Maja.

“This man proposed for elevation to membership in this committee is not even a Tolx by birth, by family, or by blood,” angrily asserted the large figure from Bumgia. “How can we justify accepting such an alien character to our most sacred ranks of authority? How can we allow anyone as different from us as this personality make life-and-death decisions for our movement, its members, and the Tolx people in general?

“I find this nomination to be outlandish and unreasonable,” announced Yino in a roaring voice full of negative emotion. “If you agree with me, you too shall reject it as unacceptable, dear comrades.”

An uneasy, fragile silence reigned for only a few moments, broken by Milu Jost, sitting beside Tasu Nemo.

“One thing I can say with full confidence, since I have been acquainted with Azo Tvot longer than anyone else on this Chief Committee of ours. My opinion should be of worth to the question of bringing this young man into our top leadership organ. So, I beg all of you to listen to my evaluation of Azo.

“Yes, I am willing to place supreme confidence in him, for I know how dedicated he has become to our goals and our values.

“He was not born a Tolx, that is the truth. But he is a greater national patriot than the bulk of our fellow Tolxi. I have watched and witnessed his actions and his statements, and I can swear to you that he is trustworthy and genuine in his loyalty to our movement.

“Azo is more a genuine Tolx than the average person born into our nation.

“I ask all of you to join with me in accepting him into our Chief Committee. He will prove himself a fitting replacement for our lost Leader, the departed Igu Noxol.”

No one had any other nomination to present to the group, so Milu announced that a vote by show of hands was in order.

Looking about the table. it was evident that Azo Tvot had the support of four members of the Chief Committee.

Only Yino Maja and another person from Bumgia who sat beside the weighty giant failed to raise a hand in sopprt of the nomination.

Milu announced the result with a broad smile. “It therefore appears that our new member with be Azo Tvot. Does anyone wish to be the one to inform him of this and also invite the man to join us in our business and discussions?”

Tasu, rising out of his chair, told them that he volunteered to go and invite their new committee member to come and take part in the new duties being transferred to him.

This task took little time to carry out.

Somewhat stunned and disoriented by the news conveyed to him, Azo found himself following the short, pudgy Tasu into the parlor chamber where the meeting resumed after the short interlude of informing and recruiting the one who was to take the seventh spot on the body.

While Tasu had been absent fetching the newest member, Milu had risen and gone over to the opposite side of the parlor in order to take a plain wooden chair and carry it back to the side where he had been sitting next to the cacao-shop owner from Sponsia City.

When Azo returned led by Tasu, a vacant seat was available for him beside the man who had until now acted as his host.

“Sit down here, next to me,” warmly smiled Milu.

The confused, newly recruited member saw at once that his chair would put him between Tasu and Milu, both of them friends upon whom he was certain he could depend for instruction and advice.

I will surely need their assistance, Azo told himself.

Tasu took up the task of introducing the seventh member of the Chief Committee to the others with whom he was not familiar.

Azo received welcoming words and good wishes from all of the others at the table, except for one person.

This was the fat giant named by Milu as Yino Maja from Bumgia.

The research scholar in Tolxian folklore made a mental note that this large individual was patently hostile and uncivil toward him.

All at once, one of the committee members from Bumgia who was sitting next to Yino Maja spoke up, attempting to direct the group to the important decisions that they were there to make for the movement.

“I think we ought to get to discussing what direction we are going to take in the period immediately ahead,” he declared in a loud, sonorous voice. “Are we to continue on the road we have started from and that brought us to the failure of the bombing venture we were engaged in.

“Do we try to bomb and destroy a new target, or are we obliged to find some new means of winning our national autonomy?

“We cannot proceed further until we settle upon a new, better plan of action for the Tolx movement.”

The next voice heard was that of Tasu Nemo, his brow creased and wrinkled with the thoughts that weighed on him after what had happened in Sponsia City.

“As we all recognize, we have suffered a serious failure, in which we lost our founder and helmsman, There is no doubt in my mind that this must now be a period of re-orientation and correction for us. We must take the time and make the effort to discover what went wrong in our expectations and projections.

“Were we initially overly optimistic about the prospects? Did we obtain enough information about the situation in Sponsia City? Should we work out new, different plans with the odds more favorable to winning victory?

“I believe it will be impossible for us to proceed onward until we determine how we can answer such strategic and tactical questions for ourselves.”

As soon as Tasu stopped talking, Yino Maja seized the initiative, beginning to outline the main points of his own program preferences.

“Yes, it will be necessary to be honest about acknowledging the errors embedded in our older, previous program of action. We will have to give up the mirage that we can win our goals through direct actions such as bombing raids on individual targets. Bombings are difficult projects to carry out, and they involve a tremendously high risk of negative, self-destructive reversals. We have to stop placing our hopes for Tolx liberation on such a weak, unpredictable factor. Explosions are risky and unproductive, as recent experience proves to us.

“What I wish to propose to this Chief Committee is that we immediately abandon the concept of direct acts of violent sabotage and bombing of specific targets.

“Instead, I recommend that our movement adopt a policy of preparation for a revolt of our Tolx population in both Bumagia and Sponsia. That must be our single aim: a general uprising, a popular rebellion of the Tolxi in both our countries.

“We must stockpile many sorts of firearms and weapons, and maintain well-hidden caches of a variety of arms that have use in street fighting and the seizure of common public sites and institutions.

“Our only remaining hope is in a people’s revolution that seizes the means to guarantee autonomy and self-determination for all the Tolxi in both of our countries.

“In the immediate time period ahead, we must give up all dreams or actions of a violent, anarchistic nature. We must wait, arm, and prepare for the right revolutionary moment.

“It will come, though neither I nor anyone else can be perfectly certain of its exact date or its timing.”

Once Yino finished his argument, no one appeared too eager to dispute with him in a direct, positive manner.

Milu decided to clear a pathway out of the deadlock affecting the Chief Committee.

“I think we would all like more time to work on the concept of a national uprising or rebellion. That is a major step. There is no other that can be so decisive and monumental for us as a people. What I am calling for is a temporary pause, a sort of timeout for deep thought and careful consideration. Yes, that is what we need at all levels of our movement at the present time.”

Azo, noticing that Tasu seemed about to speak on the matter, decided it was his own responsibility to try to avoid further polarization and confrontation within the executive group he had been brought into only moments before.

“I totally agree with that sentiment,” he unexpectedly asserted, surprising everyone else at the table with his active involvement with such a central matter of importance. “Everything depends upon making a flawless, appropriate decision on this subject of taking up arms in genuine revolt. We must be absolutely certain of the wisdom of the course we choose to take.

“A little more time and thoughtful planning can make the difference in terms of our ultimate success.”

Azo glanced for a second at the face of Tasu Nemo, sitting beside him. He could see the red hot anger boiling within the thoughts and emotions of the man from Sponsia City.

“Yes, we can afford to take a little more time in order to organize and lay out the plans for a popular rebellion by the Tolx nation,” conceded Yino from across the table. “But some decision will become necessary, I would calculate in a matter of several weeks from now.

“We shall have to assemble again to take the final decision to go forward to armed insurrection of some sort and begin to work out how we will carry it out in some detail.”

“That sounds good to me!” opined Milu with a forced grin on his face.

Tasu, still fuming within himself, made no comment whatever.

A member of the committee from Bumgia proposed that the meeting be adjourned and this was accepted without verbal opposition from anyone.

V.

The morning following the contentious meeting, Yino Maja left the farm house where he and his two allies from Bumgia left in the gas-car they had come there in. This left Tasu Nemo, Milu Jost, and Azo Tvot eating breakfast with two other members of the Chief Committee, along with Joso Jost and his cousin Hito.

Tasu had an important announcement to give the group.

“Last night, once the committee had adjourned and we had dispersed, I had the opportunity to have a private talk with the fiery hothead, Yino Maja from Bumgia. We had a few words between the two of us and I was able to convince him to delay, for a short time, on the purchasing and stockpiling of deadly weapons of all kinds. This delay was to run until the Chief Committee met and voted to prepare for a turn to direct, outright revolution.

“In the meantime, I agree that all our units and branches, in both countries, was to arouse and agitate among the Tolx population in all regions and areas. I promised that our most impressive speakers were going to be sent to every city, town, village, hamlet and locale.

“Here in Sponsia, we are obligated to carry out complete tours aimed at inspiring and motivating every possible member and supporter. Every particular community was to make all its Tolxi ready and well-prepared for the day of general revolt and uprising. All our men and women were to be prepared for fast, instant mobilization and assignment. Nothing was to be allowed to happen haphazardly or by mere chance.”

Azo, all of a sudden concerned with worried thoughts about his personal position as not a native Tolx, decided to bring up what bothered him about what he had just heard outlined by Tasu Nemo.

“I can understand why this decision to send agitators into areas of the borderland has been reached, but I can also foresee certain delicate problems that may arise for a person such as me,” he slowly confessed. “On my part, the greatest problem may be one of simple, credible statement and explanation. My listeners might have doubts about me and what I am trying to tell them, because of my individual ethnic dissimilarity from themselves. In other words, would they trust an outsider, a foreign personality, to tell them the truth?

“You can comprehend my fears of finding myself unable to persuade and convince them of my own allegiance to the movement and the cause of Tolx self-determination and national independence and freedom.

“Am I exaggerating the difficulties, the problems I might be forced to face out there in the field on my own?”

Azo looked at Tasu, then at Milu, waiting for either one of them to give him some kind of answer.

It was Milu who replied first.

“It may be that you fear something that is mostly a product of your imagination, my friend. You shall be making your tour along the border with the backing and endorsement of the entire Chief Committee. I will be recommending you to our local village and rural units. Tasu, I am certain, will be doing the same for you. Such approvals will mean a great deal to leaders and followers in the borderland.” The farmer smiled. “As you may have guessed by now, many of our members are engaged in the business and profession of over-the-border smuggling, from Bumgia into Sponsia, and vice-versa.

“They are a special type of persons, able to judge someone’s character instantly, immediately, as soon as they meet up with some stranger from elsewhere.

“These border residents will know and accept you for what you are, their honest, honorable comrade. One who shares their aims, dreams, and values.”

All of a sudden, Tasu interrupted to speak. “We have decided that you should visit the farming and pasturing villages and hamlets in the Sinoria area, as its inhabitants call it, along with everybody else.

“I assure you, Aso, you will find it a congenial place in which to communicate with the rebels and insurgents located within that zone of the borderland.”

The young man who had first arrived as a research scholar found himself unable to add anything more to what he had already said, so he fell silent and took his leave of the two.

Azo consulted a couple of the geographic and geological books and hand-guides owned by Tanu and his daughter. It was the latter whom he talked with about what he was reading about the borderland Sinoria and its inhabitants.

The pair sat by themselves in the kitchen after everyone else had finished breakfast and departed.

“What do you think, Azo?” she asked him in almost a low whisper. “Are you ready to face the people who keep the farms and shepherd the flocks there in the Sinoria region?”

He grinned at her with visible signs of self-confidence. “I believe I will be able to handle whomever I have to deal with in this specific sector of the border area,” he stated in a cool manner. “I may not be too familiar with such types of people, but I think I can learn to adjust to them quickly and effectively. Why shouldn’t I?”

All at once, a look of instant alarm crossed the face and turquoise eyes of Hito.

“There can be unfriendly reactions to an outsider like you,” she seemed to shudder. “Remember, many of the individuals who live in the Sinoria are professional smugglers. That means that they can be very rough characters, hard to deal with or to win trust from.

“You must be cautious and careful in what you may say or do in contact with this unusual population.”

The two remained silent for a short time, gazing at each other without embarrassment or inhibition of any sort.

Finally, Hito said “Excuse me, but I have a number of tasks I must complete and only a limited amount of time available.”
laurel
With that, she left the room, Azo following her with his eyes as if in a waking dream.

=

Close to the unmarked, unguarded borderline spread thick, solid-looking walls of unbroken forest.

If a person attempted to list and describe the varied species of trees in the region of Sinoria, this would have to include birch, whitebeam, aspen, paper mulberry, laurel, willow, hawthorn, white ash, maidenhair, beech, elm poplar, red oak, red maple, sweetgum, blackwood, chestnut, silk tree, yellowwood, pig nut, ironwood, mulga, hop tree, wing nut, winter jasmine, bladder nut, blackwood, osier, musclewood, silverbells, catalpa, and foxglove.

Tolxi in the Sinoria were cultivators of small fields in valleys and the lower reaches of hills. Their main crops tended to be barley, oats, rice, maize, millet, and buckwheat. Many farmers continued the old Tolx custom og growing varieties of sorghum edible to humans, as well as other types useful as animal forage and fodder. Local cultivators produced a sorghum used in making a syrup which they transported and sold beyond their home region.

Small herds of abaza, maradi, and verata goats were raised and pastured on the heights of the steepest hills in this border territory. Unmarried males specialized in overseeing and guarding these valuable animals for the numerous Tolx families that bred and marketed them to traveling merchants who came to the Sinoria to find and purchase such wares.

Azo was deeply astounded at the picturesque beauty he discovered upon first entering this hilly terrain in the gas-car driven and owned by Joso Jost.He

“This is a wondrously fascinating area!” he told the cadaverous young man at the wheel of the vehicle. “I can’t wait to meet some of the people who make their homes here.”

“That will be very soon,” announced the driven. “It is not too far to the farm of Sevu Keft, who acts as the local chief of our movement’s members in the Sinoria. He is the person who will be in charge of taking you around the region so that you can speak to small groups of active and passive supporters of our goals of independence and self-determination.

“I have only met this character once myself, but he impressed me as well-informed and quite able in many ways.”

“He sounds like just the one I will need aiding and advising me,” said Azo, drawing a deep breath. He looked ahead to what could not yet be accurately foreseen or predicted.

Sevu Keft, emerging from his tiny orange-brick cottage, was a short, thin scarecrow figure with carrot hair and coffee-colored eyes.

Joso introduced Azo to him and immediately started to walk back and make apologies. “You must pardon me for departing so rapidly, but I have other tasks to perform in this zone so close to the border, and I have to get to them as soon as possible, at once if I can. Best wishes to both of you. I know that your endeavors hereabouts will be of great benefit to our Tolx movement in every sense and way.”

With that said, Joso climbed back into his gas-car and rolled off the way he had come to the cottage of Sevu Keft.

The little Tolx turned and spoke to his newly arrived guest. “Let’s go inside ainoriand have ourselves a bit to eat,” he murmured. “And we can become acquainted with each other. I believe I can contribute a lot to your success on the tour you want to make of our Sinoria, all along the border with Bumgia.”

The two moved toward the dilapidated building, Sevu leading the way and opening the wooden door for his visitor to step in ahead of him.

“Sit down, please,” proposed the resident, himself moving to the plain wooden table and sitting down where he had been eating before exiting the place. When both of them were seated and gazing in each other’s face, Sevu started to deal with the reason for the presence of this particular stranger.

“Are you ready for the circuit tour I have mapped out for you up and down Sinoria?

Azo involuntarily grimaced. “As ready as I will ever be, I guess. My hope is that there are no serious problems in this enterprise of ours, and that I find myself able to communicate clearly and convincing with the Tolx in this border area.

“You may not have been informed of this fact, but I myself do not happen to be descended from parents or ancestors of your specific ethnic grouping, the Tolx.”

“That is not at all of any importance or significance,” asserted the other. “It means nothing at all, as long as you are loyal to our movement and dedicated to fighting for our national cause.

“I take it that you would not have been dispatched here by the Chief Committee unless they held absolute trust in you, in your value to us and your personal integrity.”

“My honor and self-respect are at play in this mission assigned me,” said Azo in almost an audible whisper. “I hope to prove my own value to both the Tolx movement and to myself as well.”

For a number of seconds, the two of them studied each other in the face, in the eyes.

It was Sevo who broke the silence in the cottage with an unexpected question that his visitor was not prepared to answer or handle at that exact moment.

“Are you willing to kill another person in the name of our precious Tolxian goal of independence and freedom? What I mean is this: do you have anything within your mind or your conscience that could prevent you from the use of violent means, anything like a gun or a knife, or any other possible weapon that might be available to you?”

Upon hearing such an inquiry, Azo suddenly felt a shudder or trembling somewhere inside himself, but not at any particular, precise physical location.

“I don’t know for certain,” the shaken guest replied. “Perhaps I would not show even the slightest hesitation or reluctance to kill for the cause I have come to have total belief and faith in. ho

“I can say this: I would hope that there was nothing inside my own personality or thinking that might prevent me from using a deadly weapon or fatal means. But who anywhere can promise absolute action such as that? Who is the individual who knows himself or herself to that ultimate degree? Who has the ability to guarantee exactly how they would meet such a radically drastic situation?

“At this moment, even if I pledged myself to slaying one of our movement’s enemies, could I do so with not a particle of doubt in my mind? Could anyone in our Tolx movement be that credible to self or to others?”

Azo was surprised when he looked across the table and discovered that Sevu’s eyes and face had turned away from him and that he was focusing beyond his visitor on something distant or faraway. In other words, he had grown abstracted while listening to what the stranger had been saying to him.

“That’s enough on that,” suddenly muttered the host. “You are right, no one anywhere is perfectly predictable to themselves or to others.

“I should never have asked you such an unanswerable question, because even I could not have given a truthful reply if you or anyone else in the movement had posed such a matter to me.

“It is the specific situation and their unique circumstances that in actuality determine what any person will or will not, can or cannot, carry out or accomplish. Who can say? Who can predict even concerning oneself?

“I would never dare to do so, even about my own future possible behavior.”

Sevu surprised Azo with an unanticipated smile. “I tell you what, let’s have some goat’s cheese I recently made from my own little herd. You are sure to like it, I guarantee.”

VI.

Azo quickly became familiar with the reclusive little man who had been assigned to act as his guide and supervising assistant for the mission of agitation and education in the border zone.

Sevu had set up a palette-like bed for him in the front room of his cottage, while he took to using the back kitchen as his personal chamber for rest and sleep.will

Both men rose at the hour of dawn the following morning. The goatherd owner announced what his plans were for the coming day.

“I have made arrangements for an assembly of members and sympathizers or our Tolz autonomy movement for this particular district we are now in,” grinned Sevu. “Why not begin a work project at home? I tell myself. Or as near home as you can arrange it?”

“It sounds good, I can’t wait to get started,” said Azo with enthusiasm in his voice.

“We will have to get to the schoolhouse on foot,” declared the other. “Your work here in Sinoria will be containing a large amount of walking to this place or others.”

“I am willing and able to take the hardest, most demanding of trails or pathways to reach persons dedicated to the cause that we all should believe in,” boasted the folklore scholar, looking forward to meeting and speaking to people who dwelled close to the physical border between Sponsia and Bumgia.

Up and down, up and down spiraled the dirt road the pair followed to the tiny, three-room schoolhouse.

Azo was surprised to discover that there was a sizeable group of both males and females waiting for him and his accompanying guide and associate.

Although Sevu attempted to introduce him to each member of the local group numbering around twenty or so, there was too much happening for the visitor to remember the names of those who had come to heat him address them.

Azo found himself led by his host and companion to the teacher’s desk in the front of the classroom. A lectern had been placed for his own use directly adjacent to this piece of dark coffeewood furniture.

I have not prepared nor brought any notes whatever to this public presentation I am expected to make, the visitor reminded himself. Whatever speech he happened to make here today would have to be perfectly extemporaneous.

The audience took to the old-fashioned, simple student desk-seats and fell quiet in expectation of what they were about to witness before them.

Sevu stood behind the teacher’s desk as Azo positioned himself at the lectern next to it.

“As we were informed by the Chief Committee,” began Sevo Keft in the local Tolx dialect, “a specially appointed spokesman of the movement executive center has been delegated to come and address us on the present, gravely difficult situation in the borderland zone that we live in.

“I will say no more but will introduce our speaker for today, the well-educated, knowledgeable, and informed member of the Chief Committee, Azo Tvot.”

A wave of applause from the listeners-to-be startled the young man giving such an address for the first time in his life.

Azo surveyed the crowd from one side to the other, taking up a little time before deciding how to begin.

“I am so happy to be here among members of our movement whose lives and lived so near the international boundary, so close to what is defined as a closed barrier between two different countries. But you as well as I know what the true reality happens to be: Tolx have lived for countless generations on this side, as well as over on the side which is called the territory of Bumgia.

“The Tolx are not only separated and divided from each other, but they are deprived of any measure of self-rule or self-determination. Some are treated as citizens of Sponsia, while others who may be their distant cousins are considered to be part of the population of Bumgia.

“Can such a splintered nation ever be happy or content with its tragic fate?

“It is our movement, started and organized by Igu Noxol, which resurrected the dream of a reborn land for the Tolx. But we all know now that he did not live to see his goal realized. The loss we all experienced can never be forgotten by any of us. But our minds and our hearts must not abandon what he bestowed upon our movement and the Tolx nation.

“I have been sent here to the border zone of Sinoria to proclaim to all of you that our crusading conflict for self-determination must and will continue. Our preparations for self-government must not halt in any way.

“The fight ahead for us will be stubborn and difficult, but every one of us must be ready to make the necessary sacrifices that will be demanded…”

All at once, Azo found his words interrupted by spontaneous, elemental, unplanned and unprepared shouts that began in the back of the schoolroom, but them snowballed into louder, more vociferous yelling from voices in the front close to himself.

Person after person stood up from the school-desks and called out their emotional, unconscious feelings about the movement and its cause.

“Tolxian independence!” “Self-rule!” “Autonomy!” “We have to fight for our freedom!” “A revolution by and for the Tolx!” “We have to arm ourselves with enough weapons to win!? “Death to the oppressors of our nation!”

Azo was astounded at what he was experiencing. This was not the kind of outcome he had anticipated.

As he looked from side to side, he saw the furious, livid faces of angry, resentful partisans.

I have not till now witnessed such wild, beastlike feelings among any Tolx anywhere. Not on a border farm or back in Sponsia City. Neither in this country or at the national festival over in Bumgia.

I appear to have struck a raw nerve, without intending or foreseeing this kind of effect on my listeners.

Was it what I said, the words that I happened to use here today?

No, most probably I just ignited by chance the drives and emotions already alive within these rural residents of Sinoria.

Can all Tolxi, everywhere on both sides of the border, be aroused to such a pitch of primal anger, Azo asked himself with a degree of inner trepidation and dread.

At that moment, Sevu seized control of the maddening situation and made an effort to call the meeting back to order.

“I must report to you that our visitor from the Chief Committee is tired from his travel to us and his strenuous trek along with me to this school.

“My promise to you is that I shall bring him back with me in the days to come. He will answer your questions about the preparations being planned by the leaders of our movement, and what specific steps will soon be taken here and everywhere else in order to progress forward toward our Tolxian aims and goals.

“So, we both ask that you excuse us for now, today. I promise you that I will see to it that all of you have the opportunity to hear and ask questions of our beloved comrade, Azo Tvot.”

In seconds, Sevu succeeded in guiding the surprised speaker out of the classroom and out of the school building. Both men were too disoriented to say even a single word as they jogged back to the cottage they had come from.

Tolxi of the Border Zone Part II.

22 Apr

I.

The gas-bus carrying the Tolxi returning to their homes and farms echoed with songs and happy memories of the annual border market-fair.

Milu Jost sat in the rear of the vehicle between his daughter on one side and Azo on the other.

Hito and the ethnographer tended to remain silent, listening to the older man provide his own explanation of why his people survived in such miserable conditions, both as individuals and as a population group.

“We, the Tolxi, have always been on the verge of assimilation into a larger nation, such as the two nations that surround us and have absorbed many of our own members.

“It was impossible for our ancestors to attain the state of self-determination by organizing a government of our own. Instead of that, our people and territory came to be divided between Sponsia and Bumgia by an international boundary. Both these nations proved to be enemies of our Tolx identity and culture. Our continued survival as a nation was seen as an obstacle to their plans, ambitions, and national values. It is no great wonder or a surprise that both neighbors have striven to absorb, assimilate, and re-characterize the Tolx living under their authority.

“We were denied any degree of autonomy or self-determination. Schools in Sponsia worked to make us into Sponsian, while those in Bumgia had the goal of converting us into Bumgians. As a result, our native population has been in decline for several generations, as thousands of Tolx have been changed into something new and different. Our language and our inherited folkways have less acceptance or us than in the past. Down to the present day, we have been forced by the two governments to turn away from what our predecessors had and made use of.

“Is it surprising that there are individuals who join together to attempt the rebirth of the self-conscious identity and traditional ways of life of the Tolx people?”

It was Hito who asked her father a question about a relative from Bumgia whom she had seen at the market-fair. “Is my cousin Joso still involved with this cause of the forgotten and trampled rights of the Tolx nation?”

Milu turned his dark eyes on his daughter and gave her a paternal smile of love. “My nephew is a deeply dedicated individual. His heart is in the right place and he has strong loyalties to our people on both sides of the border.”

“How did this fellow come to live over in Bumgia?” inquired Azo, suddenly very curious about this particular relative of the Josts that he was familiar with.

The father turned to him and answered his question. “It was the employment situation for young Tolxi over here in Sponsia that drove Joso to immigrate to the other side of our national, regional territory. His training was in the field of forestry. He studied the subject of tree treatment and preservation in the capital, at Sponsia National University.

“But it is near to impossible for a young Toxt to win a government post here in this country, so Joso was compelled to move across into Bumgia, where he found a job in a private forest preserve owned by a wealthy Toxt who happens to be a strong, dedicated nationalistic leader of our people over there.”

“There are persons dedicated to uplifting the Tolxi across the border in Bumgia, as well as over here in Sponsia, I would have to conclude,” thoughtfully declared Azo. “I met your nephew at the fair, but did not have an opportunity to talk with him or get to know the fellow.”

“You would have found him an interesting individual to know,” muttered the uncle of Joso Jost. But all at once the latter began to raise his voice in a heated manner. “He is the best leader our Tolxi have ever had,” he asserted with strength and vigor.

Igu Noxol lived in a simple timber cabin without decorations or symbols of his considerable family fortune anywhere on or about it. A simple, frugal level of life was, to him, proof of the depth and sincerity of his dedication to the cause he was pledged to serve and give his all for.

He himself refused to wear a business suit or any formal clothing at any time, for any kind of occasion.

“I aim to be a good, loyal Tolx and nothing beyond that,” he had told others in his movement innumerable times.

It was his grandfather who had conceived of and started to implement the concept of a privately-owned expanding forest producing specially designed and bred pine trees that the majority of Bumgians had an enormous, nearly infinite, demand for when their national patriotic and religious holidays and celebrations approached on the yearly calendar.

This proved to be an incredibly profitable initiative. Igu’s father had expanded the family business into a respected major enterprise, then passed it on to his only son. He had also shaped him into becoming a fanatical Tolx nationalist. With unlimited resources in his hands, Igu rose to become the hub of a newly born revival, restoration movement the stretched over into Sponsia.

Igu chose the clever and spirited Joso Jost to act as his direct, subordinate agent. The young man from Sponsia had proven himself an intelligent, subtly able and flexible manager of pine tree projects on the vast Noxol Company forest holdings.

Now he was in the position of being the chief actor in his employer’s grand project of producing revolutionary political and social change.

Igu summoned his close assistant to meet and plan with him for direct, physical actions that would draw and focus the attention of government authorities and the civil population in the two countries. Tolxi, Bumgians, and Sponsians would all be affected by the scale of violence that the mind of the forest-magnate had in mind to engineer and carry out.

The pair sat around the owner’s desk in the partially lit personal office of Igu.

Josi looked astounded by what the movement’s leader had just revealed to him.

“Explosions in the capitals of both Sponsia and Bumgia? And occurring simultaneously, as if perfectly timed by some unseen magician?

“It takes my breath away, sir, with the enormous dimensions of such a coordinated attack upon the forces oppressing the Tolxi on both sides of the line.

“I do not think that anyone has ever imagined such a two-pronged attack on our national enemies possible. If it succeeded, the effects would stir up the unconscious forces that have long lain sleeping throughout both neighboring countries.

“You see the double bombing as a way to immediate victory for our side?”

Igu smiled with sardonic sarcasm. “It would be the unexpectedness of the two blows at the same time that could provide us a magic opening, a short cut toward our goal of national autonomy for the Tolxi living everywhere.

“That is my innermost hope, Joso. You must help me plan the moves we are to make, the detailed preparations that lie ahead.”

The younger man grinned. “If it looks possible for you, sir, I will join in and do whatever I am able to.”

“That is what I wanted to hear from you!” asserted Igu Noxol with force and vigor.

II.

“We want to stay with us, Azo,” the herbalist told his guest. “I see you as my future successor in this busy practice of mine. You have learned a great deal of our medical tradition from me, and have proven that you possess the capacity of mind and character to advance all the way to complete mastery.

“I have come to know you and believe that the two of us can work together in unity and harmony. Both Hito and I both believe that you are the most appropriate and qualified person whom we can select to become my professional assistant in the practice I have built up over the years.

“Will you accept? Are you willing to change your occupation and become my partner in herbal therapy and ethno-medicine?”

“Yes, of course I would,” he replied. “I am most thankful to you for this magnificent opportunity. I bless you for what you have proposed I do.”

Azo drove the borrowed vehicle he had been using back to Sponsia City with the intention of returning it to the owner, Dr. Kotu Pom.

“I will forever be grateful for your generous assistance,” he told the physician at his home, once he had arrived in the capital. “I will be making an important change in my life, because I will be entering a new, different profession. As a folklore researcher, I have come across a field of knowledge that captivates my intellectual interest. Ethno-medicine now is my central life interest. I began as an investigator of folk medicine among the Tolxi, and I have become all but a practicing herbal healer within that rich cultural tradition.

“My plan is to write my dissertation on the subject, obtain my university degree, and then begin to work as the assistant and partner of Milu Jost, just as if I too were a Tolx.”

Kotu started to chuckle at what he had just been told.

“I find this amazing. Who would ever have thought such a development possible? I certainly did not foresee any such result of what you became engaged in out there among these Tolzi. You have today astounded me, Azo.”

The latter suddenly turned a little dreamy. “I know, because I too am astounded by what is happening to me. How much I have changed since I first went out to the borderland to begin my study of this variety of folk medicine.

“Perhaps all important junctures in our lives are like that: unpredictable, unforeseeable, and deeply disturbing to accepted ideas and plans.

“That certainly appears to be the central pattern in my own life.”

He and Dr. Pom exchanged understanding looks.

“Thank you for driving back the gas-car,” muttered Kotu in a sympathetic tone.

“I plan to return to the Jost farm by gas-bus,” announced Azo. “That will be early tomorrow morning, so I will stay in some hotel here tonight.”

“Since you shall be in Sponsia City all that time, I feel obligated to see to your entertainment and feeding. Will you allow me to take you out to dinner somewhere this evening, my friend.”

“Thank you, that sounds most inviting and enjoyable. I will be going back with very good memories of this capital city, then.”

The two of them set up their schedule for later that day.

“I have chosen to take you to one of my favorite restaurants in the city,” announced Kotu when he met with Azo late that afternoon, the pair leaving the physicians office at the end of his day of treating patients.

He took the man about to become a natural therapist to the most popular Tolx eatery in the Sponsian capital, which immediately caused surprise in Azo.

“I never suspected that you had a taste for regional cuisine, my friend,” noted the latter as the two entered the downtown “the Tolx Table”.

The doctor grinned with self-satisfaction. “I enjoy and prize good taste and cooking, regardless of its source or origin.”

Entering and finding a vacant table for two near the kitchen door, the pair soon found their orders taken by a waiter in a dark brown Tolx folk uniform.

Kotu recommended the pigs-in-a-blanket dinner plate with the pine forest salad.

Azo nodded his complete agreement and the waiter withdrew to deliver their order to the unseen cooks behind the kitchen door.

The pair at the little table fell silent for a few seconds, this short pause broken by a voice sounding from a short distance away saying a greeting out of the blue.

“Hello, how are you? It is a happy surprise to me to see you here in Sponsia City. It is very fortunate to see you in this place where I just came in to eat.

“How is my uncle, and how is my cousin, Hito?” inquired the lanky young man whom Azo instantly recognized as the Joso Jost he had been introduced to at the border fair.

Azo sensed an immediate mysterious riddle in front of himself. What was this forest worker from Bumgia doing in the capital of Sponsia?

Realizing that he had to say something and take the initiative, he found it possible to turn to making introductions between his companion and this relative of the Josts he was going to be living with in the days ahead.

Azo named Joso to Kotu Pom, then the latter to the scrawny Toxt from Bumgia.

“Can I sit here and share your table with you two?” unexpectedly inquired Joso.

“Certainly,” replied the physician before Azo could himself give an affirmative answer to the new diner.

As soon as the new customer was seated at an unoccupied chair at their table, their waiter reappeared and asked the newcomer for his personal order.

“I think that I’ll have one of your delicious shepherd pies containing spring lamb, like what the Tolx animal herders once feasted upon.” He turned to Azo as the waiter in black turned about and walked away.

“We don’t see many of the Tolx sheep-growers around anywhere today, do we?” the nephew of Milu Jost asked the stranger he had met at the border fair.

“Life among people of a nation scattered in different countries is apt to become disorganized and hectic,” opined Azo. “But I am compelled, in my own mind, to admire the majority of Tolxi who continue to abide by and cling to the folkways, customs, and values of their ancestors and earlier generations.

“The persistence and the hardiness of their characters has profoundly impressed me as I studied the popular medicinal treatments and the herbal remedies of the Tolxi who practice natural healing.”

Joso was about to say something about Azo’s laudatory expression, but at that moment their waiter appeared with the three plates of dinner food his customers had ordered.

Concentrated, energetic, and busy eating ensued for a short time, interrupted when Joso asked Azo a question that appeared of some sort of importance.

“Tell me, how long are you staying in Sponsia City? Are you planning to leave soon for the border area and my uncle’s farm holding?”

Azo gazed across the table and the food dishes at the forest-worker.

“I intend to leave the capital on a gas-bus sometime tomorrow morning,” replied the student of ethno-medicine. “Your uncle has agreed to have me work with him as his assistant, a sort of apprentice.”

Joso sensed something akin to a brainstorm in the back of his head. He suddenly spoke in a spirited manner to Azo.

“I have a proposal to make for your convenience and comfort, my good man. My departure from Sponsia City is set for about dawn tomorrow. There are a small number of chores that I must still complete, but then I will be leaving for the border zone. In other words, I shall be stopping to see and visit with my uncle and his daughter.

“If you wish, I can take you with me as my only passenger. It will be much more comfortable for you that riding on a public vehicle, I can safely guarantee.

“You will have someone you know to talk with during the ride, and likewise so will I.

“What so you say? It will cost you nothing but the time involved in the journey, and we will both have something to do that will prevent boredom or monotony.”

Azo decided as he listened to the other explain the offer to him.

“Yes,” he nodded in agreement. “I will be thankful for your generosity.”

Azo foresaw a possible opportunity to learn more about both Milu and Hito Jost, and how any greater knowledge about the two could be of benefit to him in future days.

III.

Azo had said goodbye to his host, Dr. Kotu Pom, and was waiting for his promised ride on the sidewalk as the sun began its rise into the sky.

The large gas-car arrived in only a few minutes, Joso waving at him from the open window to the left of the driver’s seat.

The young man climbed out once he had parked at the side of the street. “Good morning, my good man,” said Joso with a laugh. “Are you ready for the long ride to my uncle’s farmhouse? We should be arriving there by late afternoon, I think. Let’s load up your things and then get on the road to the border.”

Together, the two men carried the ethnographer’s suitcases and bags to the rear trunk compartment of the vehicle. As they placed the luggage into the large storage area there, Azo noticed there was already some kind of metal mechanism laying inside it near the extreme inner end.

Joso instantly provided his passenger an explanation. “I have purchased some equipment that I want to take to my uncle’s place and make use of it there. I can explain more about it on our journey, as we travel the country highways.”

Once they had stored the possessions of Azo, the pair climbed into the front of the hydrazine-fueled gas-car and began their one-day trip to Tolz territory.

As they left the center of Sponsia City with its congested streets and buildings, then traversed the suburbs on narrow highways, Azo realized that the driver beside him was a persistent, uninhibited talker who was going to continue without self-conscious limits of any sort.

He decided to gaze at the increasingly forested landscape as he found himself in the role of a hearer by circumstance of confinement to a limited space.

“We Tolxi have been under cultural attack from the beginning, it seems to me.

“When our two neighbors won their independence from the previous foreign empire, we were divided up between them, because that was what the Sponsians and the Bumgians agreed to between themselves, never asking us what we might want to become. Never learning whether we, the Tolxi, might prefer to be self=governing and independent. They have, since then, never permitted our people to choose our own destiny, to decide for ourselves what we might want to do or to be.

“They both set up their own schools on our land and compelled us to lose our own language and adopt only theirs.”

By now, Azo understood that this man thought that he was a Tolx. It was also clear that it would be unwise to disabuse him of this error he was making. Best to leave explanations for future presentation to this spirited young nationalist.

“I myself was a subject of Sponsian attempts at indoctrination and assimilation in a rural school of our district. Like all other Tolx students, I suffered the humiliation of the degradation of my countrymen and women. It was terribly painful.

“Once I was of age, I decided to migrate over the border into Bumgia. And what did I find there? All the power of their government, the social and economic power of the dominant ethnic group was arrayed against me and my fellow Tolxi. It was exactly the same situation as what I suffered from in Sponsia.

“I found it extremely difficult to find jobs, over and over again. Bumgian employers maltreated and exploited me without mercy, without limit. But then I found a Tolx who owned a private pine forest and he took me under his wing, so to speak.

“My good fortune was that I came to work as a woodsman for the leader of the newly born Tolx movement, Igu Noxol.

“I started to read in his library, listened to him when he spoke at private, secret meetings, and joined the new organization that he was setting up in both Bumgia and Sponsia.

“That is why today I claim to be a faithful believer and activist in the ranks of the Tolxist underground!”

Joso went on revealing what he thought and felt about his participation in the campaign for his people’s independence and self-determination.

“We are going to be the winners this time, because we will be united and willing to turn to force.”

“Force?” reacted the passenger in astonishment.

“I have some equipment in the back trunk that my uncle and I are going to make use of in order to punish our national enemies for what they have made the Tolxi suffer, in both Sponsia and Bumgia.”

Neither spoke for a brief time, both of them deep in personal thoughts.

When they again started to talk, they both stayed away from the subject of violence or explosives.

Azo thought and worried about what Joso had revealed to him for days after the pair arrived at the farm of Milu Jost.

When will Joso find out I am not a Tolx? he asked himself and wondered without pause or end.

In the meantime, he and the one who had driven him here occupied two empty rooms in the rear of the house that now held sleeping cots and chests of drawers.

Azo had his fearful, concerned thoughts vanish when he had his first opportunity for a completely private exchange with Hito when she entered the bedroom that had been assigned him. He happened to be busy storing his private possessions in the closet attached to this roomy, comfortable chamber.

“Hito, how are you? What have you been doing today? I am glad to be back, because this particular location is now going to ne my new home.

“I am eager, therefore, to get myself familiar with this particular room, because it will be my base for sleep and rest in the foreseeable future,” he told her, beaming with a radiant smile.

“I hope that you find things well-arranged here,” she softly said. “I took the time to see to the many details involved in setting up all the things you may need and should be using on your stay with us.”

The two stared at each other, as if neither could think of what should be said to the other next.

“Will your cousin, Joso, be working on the farm, perhaps tending to the forested portions of it?” inquired Azo, suddenly recalling the problem that might arise connected to the one who had driven him from Scopia City.

Hito suddenly seemed to frown as she answered him. “My father has not made a final decision as to the chores and responsibilities he means to assign Joso. The reason may have to be that my cousin will continue to act and work on behalf of his previous employer over in Bumgia, Mr. Igu Noxol.

“At least that is as far as I have been told about the subject by my father.

“I therefore have concluded that what Joso may be doing still remains to be decided and determined. Does that make sense?”

Azo found himself replying with a short laugh that ended in a chuckle.

As Hito turned about and walked out of the his new room, he felt a sense of mystery and confusion in his mind.

IV.

Joso took possession of a small storage shack a distance from the house and adjacent to a thickly wooded hill. He was busy there early each morning, and only returned to the residence for his evening supper. Whatever he was doing, surmised Azo, took up every available minute of the day. He preferred to take a pail of snacks along with him rather than return to eat with the others around the hour of noon.

What sort of explosive materials is this Tolx interested in collecting and combining? wondered the newly recruited herbal healer.

Every spring day, Azo spent precious hours questioning and listening to the experienced naturalist who acted as his teacher and mentor.

“We know a lot of the secret remedies that were deposited about our forests before humans came to this region,” Milu once philosophized as the pair sat talking in the older man’s office-library. “But it is both wise and logical to suppose that the surrounding environment of plant life also contains a multitude of secret medicines and cures that remain for others who will come after us to find and make practical use of.

“We can be certain, every person in our helping profession, that there is a great deal more for people like us to discover and learn.”

Both of them thought his own private thoughts for a short silent period.

“We will be having a very special visitor to this house in two or three days,” announced Milu. “Igu Noxol, the Tolx leader, is going to come over from Bumgia on a tour of his supporters and associates in this section of the border zone.”

It took a time after he left the office for Azo to realize the magnitude and implications of what had just been revealed to him by the senior herbalist.

Joso had deep worries as soon as he learned by chance that Azo Tvot did not happen to be a Tolx.

It was in conversation with Milu one evening in the latter’s office that this embarrassing fact slipped out of the mouth of the older man.

“I had no way of knowing that he is not one of us,” frowned Joso, his voice possessing a trace of apprehension in it. “It was a serious mistake on my part not to ask him what his family background might happen to be.

“I am afraid that I was too open with him on our trip back here from Sponsia City. It was a mistake that I made naively, innocently perhaps. But there was too much talk about our future plans on my part. There was no way for me to be aware of the possible danger in talking so freely with this new assistant of yours, Uncle Milu.

“I am deeply sorry about this.”

Milu surprised his nephew with a smile. “It will turn out unlike what you fear, I assure you. Azo Tvot is, of course, a Sponsian, but he has revealed to me his strong sympathies with our suffering people. There will be no danger posed on his side, for I intend to recruit him into becoming an active participant in our movement and its political direct actions. In the days ahead of us, I am completely certain that he will take part as a valuable and useful comrade and cooperator.

“I sincerely believe that all of us shall be able to place trust in Azo, my faithful partner in herbal therapy.”

Milu looked his nephew in the eye with genuine confidence in his dusky eyes.

Axo, feeling the increasing heat of spring as he continued the cataloging he had begun at the request of Milu in the plant storage shed a short distance from the rear of the farm house, decided he had done enough for one day and went outside as dusk fell over the hills of the border region.

As he neared the residence building, he caught sight of an almost unnoticeable figure sitting in a homemade lawn chair close to the back wall. It was Hito, taking in the final daytime scene of the sky and the darkening forest.

“What are you doing out here?” he said as he approached. “Are you enjoying the last of the solar rays we can see for today?”

Azo laughed a bit as he stepped over to where she was seated. She turned her head so as to see him more closely and directly.

“I was thinking about how it must be at this hour in other places outside the zone of the border, where the Tolxi do not dwell and no one thinks about or considers us at all.

“I can’t tell whether that situation may be better than remaining around here, where I am not surrounded by strangers who do not take any account of me whatever.

“Maybe the best thing, though, is to be disregarded and ignored. That might be safer and less troublesome, after all.”

Her voice, all of a sudden, turned abruptly silent, as if her thoughts had dried up and halted.

Sensing a need to continue their exchange with some kind of reassurance and sympathy for the odd, unusual emotions that appeared to have seized hold of her, Azo decided to tell her of his own similar feelings.

“I know what you are describing to me, Hito. My own reactions to the crowded population of Sponsia City was exactly identical to what you just conveyed to me. But being here in the border zone and living on this farm has had a marvelous effect on my mind and mental reactions.

“How can I explain or identify this emotion to you? I don’t rightly know, but as soon as I heard what you are feeling, I recognized what you were saying to me.

“It was just as if you were reading my mind and what is in it, Hito.”

The two silently exchanged searching, fearlessly intimate looks for several exciting moments.

“Let’s go in for supper,” she told him in a voice that did not sound like her own.

V.

Since Joso owned and drove a gas-car, Milu decided to dispatch him to the border to pick up and bring to the farm their movement’s leader, Igu Noxol.

“He will be here in order to plan and supervise the first major attack on our Sponsian oppressors,” his uncle explained to the one assigned this task. “There will be important, historic results from what we are about to carry out for our people.”

Joso waited at the closest border crossing less than half an hour before the vaunted Leader appeared, climbing out of a vehicle that looked like a typical hydrazine-fueled farm vehicle. The latter took only a minute or so to show his identity documents to the border guards, who quickly permitted him to walk past the road barriers into Sponsia.

As soon as the traveler saw and recognized Joso, he grinned and gave the young man a friendly wave with his right hand.

The pair came together and the Leader embraced and hugged his dedicated follower.

Joso and Igu moved back to the former’s gas-car and climbed into it. Soon they were barreling speedily away from the border.

The new passenger asked his driver a question at the heart of the enterprise for which he had crossed over into Sponsia.

“Do you have the explosive ingredients that we will need in order to carry out the initial attack?”

Joso turned his head so as to look at the older man. “Yes, I bought them in Sponsia City and transported them to my uncle’s farm. They are ready and available for use as our main combat weapon, sir.”

“Good, very good,” opined the chief of the underground movement.

No more was said on the composition of the projected explosive compound until the pair arrived at the farm of Milu Jost and conferred with him about the plans for violent direct action.

The Tolx Leader was assigned to the prime bedroom that Milu ordinarily occupied, while the senior herbalist now used the attic level in which family relics were stored, where a moveable cot had been placed for him by Joso and Azo carrying it upstairs together.

Once the newcomer was comfortable in his assigned chamber, he informed Milu that he wished to have a planning session at once. “Your nephew, Joso, will have an important role to play in what is coming, and must be present in order to have a clear, retailed idea of what duties he will be expected to carry out in this crucial project.”

Milu at that moment conceived of something that might be of importance. “You have met my new partner who is assisting me with my herbal remedies for patients who come to me. Although he is a Sponsian by birth, he has come to accept our beliefs and aspirations as Tolxi.

“What if I invite him to take part in our conversations on the bombing enterprise that lies ahead for us? I think that I know my assistant well, and that he can be trusted with knowledge of what we plan to carry out and accomplish.

“He knows Sponsia City quite well, having been born and grown up there.

“I believe that Azo Tvot would be of enormous value in the plan we undertake and deserves the confidence we would be showing in his character and integrity.”

Igu did not have to consider this proposal more than a moment or two. “Yes, having him involved could be useful to our success, I agree,” said the Leader of the movement with a nod of his head.

At the circular kitchen table, early that same evening, sat the Leader. Milu was on his right and Joso to his right. Azo, anxious and excited, watched and listened from a chair he had moved a few feet away from the table, opposite Igu Noxol and eyeing him intensely as he outlined his plans.

“I am surprised at the number of options we have to choose from in terms of specific explosives and combinations of available alternatives,” began the Leader of the Tolx cause.

“The simplest of all is a common fuel like hydrazine and a cheap oxidizer such as nitric acid. But I concluded that we needed a more controllable way of causing explosion and inflammation than that. So I reviewed all of the technical literature on incendiary materials and mechanisms that I could get hold of at my forest preserve and compared the main features and aspects of the most practical and available chemical materials that we might use.

“A pairing of potassium chlorate with red phosphorus to create an immediate explosive reaction within a timed device appeared too complicated and sophisticated. Also, the ingredients are too expensive and hard to buy. Trying to obtain large quantities of these two might leave a trail that the Sponsian authorities could easily trace to our organization, as well.

“Similar handicaps occurred when I examined a combination of potassium permanganate with glyceral as its hypergolic partner. These were too costly to get our hands on and too rare and unusual items not to be noticed by suppliers and police investigators later on.

“So, I decided to turn to materials in common use in the manufacture of farming fertilizers, that are in use throughout Sponsia, in most agricultural areas. The two ingredients of the explosion would be ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, each stored in a separate container and only meeting together at the exact moment chosen by us for the grand explosion.

“What do you say to that decision I made?” the Leader asked the others who were present.

Milu was first to reply to his question. “Yes, that is what will place our movement on the stage of history. Such a spectacular initiative on our part, though, has to be well-directed and possess a carefully chosen target of this bomb that we will create and take to Sponsia City.

“Where shall the explosion occur within the capital? It has to be the building of an institution that clearly symbolizes the oppression our nation has suffered under for so long a time.

“Can you tell us what the location of our action is going to be, sir?”

Three pairs of eyes fastened upon the Leader, waiting for him to give the answer the others were curious to learn.

“The heart of this economy’s life, the National Bank of Sponsia. Its main center and office, the nucleus of finance and the monetary system we exist under. It is a target that no one in the police or the government bureaucracy can possibly foresee as being bombed. There shall be no sort of robbery or holdup whatsoever connected to the project. And if the explosion is timed so as to happen in the dead of night, there will be an absolute minimum of loss of life.”

“There could be some night guards,” suggested Joso. “But not more than a very small number of them, perhaps two or three at most, I would imagine.”

“We will try to pick the right time of night and lessen casualties as much as we find it possible,” added the Leader. “Whatever the number turns out to be, the problem should not prevent our taking hold of and carrying out such a demonstration of the awful power that the Tolx people are capable of unleashing upon its enemies.”

“When will the action actually occur?” asked Milu. “What is the intended date for doing it?”

“As soon as the device in question is prepared and assembled here on this farm,” replied Igu Noxol. “That remains to be completely finished and perfected.”

In a short while, the plotters’ conference was adjourned by the Leader.

No one appeared to notice that Azo had himself not uttered a single word.

VI.

Late in the afternoon, Hito had left the farm, walking the short distance to the house of her closest neighbor. Milu had informed his daughter earlier in the day that there was to be an important discussion on sensitive plans for future actions in the name of the movement. She herself had volunteered to visit a young woman who was her closest friend, living with her family on the adjacent farm.

Milu was thankful to her for allowing the group to meet with the Leader with no one else anywhere nearby.

Azo assigned himself the task of accompanying Hito in the nighttime walk back to the Jost farmhouse.

As the two of them began their return home, she suddenly posed a question to him in the dark illuminated by faint starlight from the midnight sky.

“How did the meeting go, Azo? Are you about to become an active participant in the kind of activities that are being envisioned and planned?”

For several seconds, her companion had to ponder the question of how to provide her some kind of answer acceptable to both of them.

“I have not yet been assigned any specific, definite task, but that may turn out only a matter of time,” he managed to say to her. “This business is all new to me. I will have to learn a lot about what in particular I will be expected to accomplish for the Tolxian independence movement. There will have to be much preparation before concrete attacks and actions occur.”

All of a sudden, Hito stopped in her tracks an, turned to gaze directly at Azo, who immediately halted his steppes forward and centered his eyes on her.

“What are you getting at?” he bluntly inquired. “Do you wish to give me some sort of warning about what I may find myself involved in?”

“My words to you were not meant to frighten you in any way,” she coolly said in an emotionless tone. “I only wish that you make your decisions and act in a rational, logical manner when it comes to taking part in the Tolx campaign to win self-determination and independence.”

“That is precisely my intention, Hito. I aim to be cautious and thoughtful in everything and anything asked of me. That is the only way for me to achieve any sort of success whatsoever.”

She suddenly broke out in a smile. “I hope you can keep to such wise impulses, my good friend.”

She turned and began walking again, and he did the same.

The schedule for the act of protest and terror was presented to Milu, Joso, and Azo by the Leader early the next morning as the four men finished their breakfast in the kitchen. Hito was outdoors, feeding the chickens kept in a small wooden coop.

“It is our good fortune that we have located a Tolxian businessman close to the central bank we have decided to make our target.

“This man is a deep sympathizer to our cause and indicates that he is willing to volunteer the use of his premises for the purpose of the attack that we have in mind. His name is Tasu Nemo, and he is the proprietor of a popular cocoa shop that stands exactly opposite the National Bank of Sponsia.

“I have looked over the street map of this area and figured out that if we use small excavating equipment, we could tunnel under the surface of the beton street and transport our explosives directly under the bank within one or two weeks, depending on how many diggers are involved and how intensely they carry out the required physical labor that will prove necessary.”

Milu presented a question. “That must be a very busy street during the day. What is the danger of the diggers being detected? And how is the resulting soil and dirt to be hidden or disposed of?”

The reply to this was offered by Igu himself.

“Yes, we shall have to be watchful and careful at every hour, at every single moment while this project is being carried out.

“The plan is to have several of our members who are residents of Sponsia City serve as guards and scouts around the sites of both the bank and the cocoa shop. They will act as the eyes of the explosive team, warning them should any kind of threat whatever appears.

“We will have to do the work of excavating the tunnel and placing the explosive device as quickly as it remains safe to do so. Our hope must be that no one notices what is going on underneath the street or inside the cocoa shop that will be our home base.

“I intend to be present in direct command of the activities of each and every member of our attack unit.

“If we leave this farm at dawn tomorrow morning, the initial digging will have started before the fall of night tomorrow evening.”

The grizzly business of the conspirators finished, the meeting ended and the participants separated, each of them going to bed, sleep, and rest.

VII.

Joso drove his gas-car on the highway to the capital. Azo sat to his right, while the Leader was located on the back seat of the hydrazine-fueled vehicle.

Not much conversation occurred between the three men. It happened to be Igu Noxol who had most on his mind that he felt obligated to express.

“We will have the opportunity to draw the full attention of the Sponsian population to the injuries they have for countless ages afflicted our own nation with. Our oppressors cannot continue to ignore what they have committed toward their victims.

“It will take the coming unprecedented bombing incident that can make our enemies finally conscious of the truth concerning the state of Tolx conditions.

“I predict that the government of Sponsia will be compelled to sit down and negotiate with us. That is going to become inevitable sooner than anyone today can foresee. It is inevitable, is it not?”

Neither Joso at the wheel nor Azo sitting beside him felt a need to say anything in addition to what the Leader had just pronounced for them.

Tasu Nemo was a short. pudgy bachelor in his late thirties. His bulging green eyes and thinning butterscotch hair differentiated him from his multitude of daily Sponsian patrons who appreciated the tasty, only mildly sweetened theobroma he served them, a combination found in no other similar establishment in the capital.

This popular, richly talented and highly successful proprietor enjoyed giving new customers a standard short lecture he had put together to explain the nature of the varieties of cacao he brewed and presented for the passing market and his ever-expanding clientele.

“I have, by long experimentation, invented secret recipes for the most attractive and best tasting kinds of cacao beans. If you study the menu I have written, you will see mention of chuao, acumare, criollo, porcolare, mocambo, cupaacu, acnollado, and amelonado.

“These have different properties that produce a wide choice of possible tastes. As a result, my patrons need never become bored or dissatisfied with what I offer to them. There is always the possibility of trying sorts of cacao not yet ordered here. The new and unfamiliar can be an adventure that brings back customers willing to explore tastes as yet unfamiliar to them. For instance, I am at the present time offering completely innovative new combinations of older forms of theobroma, known to many as the food of the gods.

“Are you ready to take a sip of what I just made this morning? It is a mixture of three different varieties of cacao with a teaspoon of old-fashioned theobroma produced in the border region by its native Tolxi.

“I predict this new drink with succeed in winning the hearts of many, many of my Sponsia City patrons.”

Tasu, always in a seemingly happy, satisfied mood, was skilled in concealing his extremely fiery Tolxian patriotism. He had from earliest childhood had strong, close connections with the national movement of the regional people from whom he was descended.

In the capital city, he was a close friend and associate of the local leadership among the Tolxi migrants who had moved there, usually for business and economic aims and purposes.

As soon as he received informal word of the need for fearless volunteers for a hazardous underground project meant to shake the ruling governmental system of Sponsia, the operator of the cacao shop proposed to the leaders he knew that he and his shop be involved in what was planned for this purpose.

He was accepted and informed that the national Leader, Igu Noxol, would soon arrive to take command of the basement floor of his establishment. Ther would have to be a tunnel constructed underneath the street, to the opposite side where the National Bank of Sponsia had its home office.

Once Igu arrived with Joso and Azo, they were heartily greeted and welcomed by the maker of the prized varieties of cacao.

The trio of activists were at once taken into the storage chambers below ground and street level.

“This is just what we can make good use of!” at once decided the Leader.

Tasu had arranged for three cots, a refrigerating unit, and a food plate to be brought and set up for use by the crew of three that would now be occupying and making use of the basement of the cacao shop.

The gas-car of Joso was driven off and stored for the time-being in a suburban garage by a member of the local unit of the Tolx movement.

In the middle of the first night of their occupation of the basement, the Leader and his two associates received three complex drilling mechanisms with which they could begin their excavation plans.

“It is time for us to begin digging our tunnel across to the Sponsian National Bank, the financial nucleus of our mortal enemies,” proclaimed Igu in a solemn, coldly authoritative tone. “Let us get to work and find out how far we can penetrate under the street tonight,” he fold Azo and Joso, stepping to one of the low, heavy digging units and taking personal command of it.

The two other went to the remaining pair of mechanisms and started to turn on the separate battery-powered motors of each of them.

In less than a minute, the threesome had started loosening and removing the rocklike undersoil beneath the betonic surface of the avenue directly above them.

Night after night, the tunnel grew longer. The three conspirators took turns at the head point of penetration. The material carried away was placed into large sacks that Tasu Nemo had had the foresight to provide for the enterprise they were all involved in.

During the hours of daylight, when the excavators would be taking a few hours off for sleep and rest, other members of the Tolx Movement came down to remove and carry away a large sack full of the soil, dirt, and stone that had once occupied the space that was slowly turning into a subterranean tunnel.

“We have reached the bank’s lower basement wall!” announced Igu Noxol in the late hours of the final operational phase. “Our tunnel is now finished, because we are in position to deliver the giant cache of explosive to its intended target.

“That must be done before dawn or the opening for business of this bank,” explained the Leader. “That is necessary in order to avoid excessive bloodshed, injury, or casualties among the innocent.

“I must inform Tasu Neno immediately that everything is ready for the reception and assembling of the prepared explosive charges.

“We will be going into action before we know or become conscious of the scope of what we will have accomplished. Our mortal enemies are soon going to witness what we Tolxi are capable of!”

Tolxi of the Border Zone Part I.

29 Mar

I.

Azo Tvot was a field ethnographer with a reputation among professionals in the area of anthropology in several countries of the Continent. Therefore, his request for permission to study the native culture on the eastern border of Sponsia was accepted and confirmed affirmatively at once by the government officials of that land.

The lank, handsome-looking social scientist arrived immediately in the capital of Sponsia City and picked up his authorizing documents at the Ministry of the Interior, then headed by passenger train for the border zone on the border with the country neighboring to the east, Bumgia.

Azo felt himself very fortunate to having been permitted to being allowed to make a direct, personal study of the ethnography of this intermediate zone, for generations an area of dispute and political contention, claimed by both of the independent, self-governing nation-states.

From his train window, the ethnographer watched the level plain of Sponsia turn into rolling hills, then into the wooded mountains of the eastern region next to the highlands of the border zone.

He marveled at the thick piney covering of the home of the intermediate Tolxi population, those with a subculture neither purely Sponsian nor thoroughly Bumgian, but containing aspects of both national groups, along with numerous original, separate characteristics of its own.

Azo gazed at many Tolxian persons in native clothing traditional in this border zone extending across the boundary into neighboring Bumgia. The men had white or yellow pants, red shirts or vest jackets, and black skull caps. The majority of the females wore dresses of a rainbow of colors.

The train, heading for destinations within the Bumgian section of the Tolx zone, stopped when it reached the last station within Sponsia, the small town of Brondi.

Azo rose to leave, taking hold of the two large travel cases he carried with him. He hoped that he would at once find the person who had by mail agreed to act as his guide and advisor, Dr. Kotu Pom.

This Tolx physician had volunteered to aid him in forming local Tolx contacts and investigating the zone’s popular medical traditions and subcultural remedies. Azo had no idea at all what this person of importance to him looked like until someone spoke to him as the traveler climbed down onto the ground with his suitcases.

“Professor Tvot,” said a small man in a city business suit of black serge. “Let me help carry your luggage. May I introduce my self to you. I am Dr. Kotu Pom, and I have my medical office here in Brondi, though a great amount of my time must be spent treating Tolx villagers up in the heights. It will be my pleasure to aid you in the research project that you described and outlines to me in our correspondence. I share your deep interest and fascination with the traditional, popular medicine of our Tolx country folk.”

The stranger’s small, round face had a reddish tan to it. His large greenish eyes glowed with an inner sharpness of mind and spirit. He gave Azo Tvot a warm, disarming smile, fully acknowledging that the ethnographer was in no way a Tolx like him, but a member of the Sponsian majority of the land called Sponsia.

Azo let the physician take one of his luggage cases and followed him through the small red brick rail station of Brondi to the ranger gas-car of the local medico.

Once the two cases were secure in the trunk, the pair climbed into the front seat and left the station as the train started up again and made for the border and the portion of the Tolx Zone over in Bumgia.

As Kotu Pom drove his guest to the cottage where he lived a distance from Brondi, he told Azo about what his plans were.

“I will soon be involved in a wide tour of the mountain communities near the international boundary, and it will be possible to take you along with me so that you can talk with some of the country Tolxi who live out in the high elevations of our region.

“You will be able to witness for yourself how uniquely original these people are in their language dialect and traditional folkways. It is the truth that no scholar has ever made a complete, scientifically based study of our Tolx regional culture.

“I am especially happy that you wrote me of your specific interest in the folk medicine that the Tolxi continue to apply and believe in.

“That part of our culture will certainly disappear in the next several generations. Unless it is studied and recorded, we will probably lose all memory that it even existed.

“That is why I am myself so eager and excited about aiding you in this present project that you wish to carry out. So, whatever you need, just ask me and I will make an attempt to assist you in any way that I can.”

Azo made a sudden glance to his left, at the profile of the doctor who was driving the gas-car.

Looking forward to the winding mountain road, Kotu glowed with an ecstatic, elevated facial grin.

II.

Tired from his long railroad travel, Azo went to sleep in the extra bedroom that Dr. Kotu Pom kept available in the rear of his small stucco cottage. He did not tell his guest that he often used it for treating fatally ill patients during the last week of their lives.

The following morning, the host greeted his waking visitor with a breakfast of Tolx oatcakes he brought into the bedroom on a wooden tray.

“I noted how tired you were yesterday afternoon and that you needed a long period of continual sleep in order to overcome the exhaustion you were suffering.

“How is it that you feel this morning? Have you recovered your complete strength and consciousness? I decided to prepare and bring you an old-fashioned mountain breakfast in the Tolx tradition, my good man.”

As the researcher who remained in bed ate from the tray brought him, he listened to what his host had in mind for the rest of that day.

“I have for some time considered the question where it might be best for us to start your investigation of what I might term our ethno-medicine. The decision I was compelled to make was that a popular healer who depends upon local herbs, grasses, and plant life would be the optimum choice.

“And it so happens that I have developed a strong friendship with a person schooled in traditional medicines and remedies. I am in a position to predict that my friend would readily agree to answer your questions and inform you about the basic principles that guide those like himself among the Tolxi.”

“That sounds very promising and tempting to me,” returned the ethnographer.

“Good,” smiled Kotu. “I will be stopping in two small villages this morning, then I intend to take you where Milu Jost lives with his daughter. He is a very private and reclusive person who only sees people when they visit him for relief from illness or pain of various sorts.”

Azo went on to finish his breakfast as quickly as he was able, his thoughts on the amazing wonders he expected to be witnessing that morning and afternoon.

Milu Jost combined working his very small farm with raising a limited herd of sheep. The cottage in which he lived with his daughter Hito was quite distant from any of his rural neighbors. The border with Bumgia, unmarked and unguarded, lay only a short way down the road on which Dr. Kotu Pom slowly, cautiously drove his vehicle. “We are almost there,” he informed the Sponsian scholar there to carry out field research.

Parent and child had been waiting on an old pinewood bench placed at the side of the unpaved road. Both of them rose to their feet upon catching sight of the arrival of the expected pair.

The two sitting and watching came forward, both of them waving greetings with both their hands.

Kotu drove off the road and parked the gas-car in an empty location. The two men climbed out, Azo stepped around the vehicle, then the physician started to introduce his guest to the Josts.

The traveler saw in Milu a large husky, beefy middle-aged man with dusky skin and eyes. He smiled with warm self-confidence and emotional balance, realized Azo.

Hito turned out to be a slim, reedy woman in her twenties. Raven hair and turquoise eyes fixed his gaze on her magnetically attractive murky face.

As Azo gave the lovely young daughter a warm, confident grin, her father spoke to the two newcomers.

“It is always a pleasure to have trustworthy visitors come,” he said with a typical Tolx drawl to his voice. “Ever since we were informed that you were going to bring a person deeply interested in folk medicine, both of us have been excited in seeing and meeting such an individual.

“My daughter has been getting things ready in our cottage all this morning, from before dawn. We are going to be tasting the shepherd’s tea that she learned to brew from her late, departed mother, may her soul find peace up in paradise.”

Milu Jost turned and set his shadowy eyes on Azo. “Our home is small and humble, like that of most of the Tolx people. But you shall find it cozy and welcoming to strangers, as do all the sick and suffering who come here to me for relief and treatment of what ails them.

“Follow me into the walls that Hito and I live in, please.”

III.

The front parlor of the low-ceilinged structure was the largest room in it.

Azo noticed a small bookshelf containing what appeared to be very old, perhaps ancient manuals and guides to wild plants, herbs, and grasses. This was the small but complete professional library of the local expert on natural medicine and therapy. His personal memory, collected over decades of practice, served Milu even more, surmised the visiting ethnographer.

The father occupied the stuffed chair that was obviously from where he practiced his craft for his Tolx customers and patients. While Hito withdrew back into the kitchen to obtain the boiling herbal tea for the three men, Azo and Kotu took plainwood chairs opposite the man they had come to talk with.

“It was good to hear that someone not himself a Tolx wishes to learn how I use plants, leaves, and seeds found on our hills and mountains in the treatment of pain, sickness, and disease. But where should I begin? There is so much to tell and cover for you. So many years of learning what works for what. I have had to acquire the skill of looking for signs by which I am able to determine and diagnose what may be bothering or torturing a certain person who has come to me seeking help.

“Where is it best for me to begin? I have thought about that question the last several nights, and as a result my sleep has been difficult and reduced somewhat from its regular rhythm.

“Would you like me to reveal to you what remedies I use most often with those who come here?”

“Yes, that holds a lot of interest for me, sir,” replied Azo, nodding his head.

At that precise moment, Hito entered from the kitchen, holding a wooden tray with three cups and a small pot on it.

Milu Jost continued talking as his daughter offered each visitor a large porcelain cup and filled it with shepherd’s containing mallow leaves.

“I learned from both my father and my grandfather the specific benefits and powers of a multitude of different grasses, flowers, roots, berries, and wildly growing plants that are available to us in this borderland region,” continued Milu, signaling with a nod of his head to his daughter that she should take her customary seat next to his and listen to what he was telling their guests.

Kotu took a large sip from his cup of shepherd’s tea and asked the herbalist a question.

“There is such a large number of different plant species in these mountains!” he said with unconcealed excitement. “I believe it to be amazing that you recognize and apply so many in your treatment of the ills of those who come to you with their pain and sickness.” He gazed at the older man with admiration and respect.

The herbal specialist smiled at the physician, then turned his eyes on the stranger and started to speak directly to him.

“The Deity that created our universe and ourselves thought ahead and provided remedies that have the power to cure and restore us. These are found throughout the plant life of nature. And they are uncommonly present here in the borderland of the Tolxi.

“We who find and make use of these herbs and grasses, berries and roots, must always be thankful for these beneficial gifts that can bring health and comfort.

“But it is not possible to learn about the character of these plants in one single day. Therefore, I have decided to offer you my help in the days and weeks that lie ahead. You are invited to visit us here every day for as long as it takes you to acquire what you have come for.

“Are you willing to take the time to allow me to teach you what I can?”

“Certainly, yes, I am willing to do as you recommend, sir,” murmured Azo with overflowing emotion.

Kotu intervened. “If you are able to drive my gas-car, you can use it to drive here and then return to my home,” he said to Azo. “I have a small second vehicle that I can use on my rounds of patients. It serves as my emergency back-up, in case of extreme necessity.”

“Good,” nodded Milu Jost. “That is settled, then.” He smiled at the researcher. “You shall now become my student and disciple in herbal medicine.”

For a time on their return to the home of Dr. Pon, neither he nor his passenger spoke. Both of them were mentally reviewing what they had just experienced with the herbalist and his daughter.

As their journey neared its end, Azo began to talk in a quiet voice.

“I was deeply impressed by Milu Jost,” he confessed, almost as if mainly to himself. “It is hard for me to remember any such person whom I have come across under any circumstances or conditions. That is the absolute truth.

“My hopes for success have soared extremely high as I think about what has now become possible.

“Listening to him speak about herbs has taken away my breath. His promising words have ignited my imagination like never before.”

Kotu made no reply to him until he had almost reached his house.

“Milu is capable of enticing his patients into depending upon himself and the remedies that he provides and furnishes. The man is a potent spellbinder and can entrance persons seeking what they believe he promises them.

“I advise you to be fully conscious and wide awake about all that he tells you.”

“I believe that I can handle both him and myself, my friend,” muttered Azo.

IV.

The ethnographer drove to the cottage of the herbal master on a daily schedule. He came with empty notebooks in which he recorded what he heard from the mouth of Milu Jost.

Both major and minor illnesses, the chronic and temporary complaints were covered in this seemingly endless survey that went on between the two.

Mullein for asthma and whooping cough, valerian and coriander for insomnia, feverfew for migraine, goldenseal for diarrhea, motherwort for nervous heart conditions, agrimony for jaundice and skin conditions, on and on grew the list recorded by Azo.

He learned how the experienced herbalist applied basil, hawthorn, wild thyme, yarrow, centaury, goosegrass, hyssop, horse tail, speedwell, licorice root, black mustard, senna, blue gentian, milk vetch, juniper, and eyebright.

Milu explained the secrets of using linden bark tea as a tranquilizer from anxiety, and rose tea to clean the kidneys and the urinary track.

“Elderberry tea helps against throat colds and flu. And hollyhock tea against bronchitis,” declared the veteran herbalist.

The two men interrupted their morning and afternoon tasks with a luncheon prepared for them by Hito, eating together with her at the round table in the cottage’s small kitchen.

Milu excused himself and told his guest that there was an important task awaiting him outside with the small herd of sheep and lambs he cared for.

“I have to go to my upper pasture and inspect how my precious dear ones are feeling and behaving this sunny day,” he announced with a chuckle, rising from the eating table and heading for the rear door of his cottage.

Azo took the final bite of the Tolx pancakes he had been busy with, then turned his attention to Hito, seated opposite him across the table.

“You must have absorbed and picked up a lot of knowledge of herbal plants from just being about here, overhearing so much that your father and his patients say to each other when they converse,” he told her, as if attempting to avoid any awkward silence between the two of them.

She replied without looking directly in his direction. “My father often has my assistance in making certain distils and preparations. So, I have come to know a lot about how to compound and formulate certain of his preferred, recommended remedies. There are many combinations that I am experienced in putting together when he orders them for the people who ask for our help with their sicknesses and ailments.”

“Your father does much good for his neighbors and fellow citizens,” declared Azo, watching her face as she focused her turquoise eyes upon him.

Hito seemed to hesitate and stay silent in thought for several moments. The ethnographer decided that he had to say something to restore the continuity of their conversation to a degree of regularity of pattern.

“I can imagine your becoming a herbalist yourself at some future date, Hito,” he managed to enunciate with a measure of pleasure and grace.

All at once, the young woman shot up from her chair. With rapid steps, she moved toward the sink connected to a spring beneath the cottage.

“I know of only a very few women who have been wise and knowledgeable about natural cures and remedies,” she coldly said. “It would be extremely difficult for me to be accepted as one of them by our Tolxi. One would have to be an extraordinary female to qualify for such a difficult, heavy responsibility. I do not know whether I would measure up to such high demands as exist in my father’s profession.”

At that exact moment, Milu entered through the rear door, having completed his inspection of his sheep and lambs in the upper field of his holding.

It was two days later that Milu invited his visitor to accompany him in a stroll up the mountainside to his upper pasture.

“It is a most pleasant day, I feel,” grinned the teacher. “There are certain things that I think are best said to you outdoors, in the midst of the benevolent Nature that you are finding so much about from me.”

The pair went out into the cloudless spring day, enjoying the measured, reasonable warm weather that happened to prevail.

Milu showed him where his small herd was eating grass and sunning itself.

“Today, I have decided that you are ready to hear and learn about we Tolxi call the magical characteristics of certain special herbs, my friend.”

Azo looked into the older man’s dark face, to a large degree perplexed by the words he was hearing.

“There are magical herbs?” he inquired, unable to conceal either his confusion or his curiosity.

Milu pointed to a large, flat-surfaced rock nearby. “Let us sit down and rest,” he proposed. “I will explain to you what I am talking about.”

Once the two of them were settled opposite each other, Azo listened carefully to the explanation the other gave him.

“Angelica is a special plant because of its abundant secret power. It is able to break the hold of an evil spell someone has managed to cast upon an unfortunate victim. It can also shield a person from the consequences of a spell thrown out upon someone by a witch or spell-caster.

“I have saved many of my patients from the evil results of such hostile, inimical spells created by people who hate, despise, or envy them.”

Unable to think of what he should say about any of this, Azo stayed mum and attentive. What is Milu trying to do to me with such an unusual, weird claim? he wondered.

The herbalist continued his jarring discourse.

“Another magical substance is what we Tolxi call by the name of razkov. The word for this plant in the Sponsian botanical literature is mandragora, and it is sometimes shortened to simply mandrake.

“This special herb is capable of breaking evil spells and warding off the effects of an evil eye projected upon a victim’s own eyes by a demonic individual full of hatred, loathing, or jealousy.

“Razkov is able to do so much in protecting those for whom I prepare and provide my special compound of this mandragora by producing deep sleep and therapeutic dreams for those patients I treat with it.

“They all report that its effects upon their minds and health is miraculous in all aspects. It is a strong, overpowering medicinal herb, but it always succeeds in accomplishing what I intend it to do for those suffering from evil outside influences.”

At last, Azo was able to say something. “What you are telling me sounds incredible!” he murmured in a hesitating tone.

Milu smiled and his dark eyes took on a shiny glow as if from inside somewhere.

“That is only the beginning, my lad. I can also speak to you of vervein, and its capacity in strengthening he mind and guarding it against malicious wishes and hurtful emotions cast upon it by personal, unidentifiable foes who hate one. This creates an invisible wall that defends a person from demons and devils of all sorts.

“Our Tolx traditions allow us to protect the young and our future generations from evil forces yet unknown to our Sponsian and Bumgian neighbors on both sides of our territory.”

Azo felt himself smiling. Was he being made to accept such odd beliefs? Did his informant wish to convert him into a system of superstition known to only a few who were Tolxi?

“Let us return to the cottage,” calmly said Milu to the confused researcher. “This will take you a lot of time to absorb and digest. We must be patient, both of us.”

Azo did his best to conceal the effect upon himself of what had been revealed to him concerning supposedly magical herbs with characteristics beyond the ordinary the plants that he had read about and that were familiar to him.

How did the old therapist come to place trust and belief in such unnatural potentialities? Had his mind become intoxicated by years of working in this area of Tolxi treatment and healing?

He recalled what he had concluded years before about human thought and behavior. In order to convince others of an idea that might at first glance seem preposterous to them, a person must first of all influence and attract his or her own mind to that new, unfamiliar, and often unwelcome proposition.

The first step or phase of shaping the thoughts of another individual is to restructure and revise one’s own ideas about that particular subject.

Then, one can attempt to lead on the mind of others with the sureness and confidence that will surely be necessary to win another’s agreement.

V.

Milu had a new, unexpected announcement for the researcher on the following morning.

“I have something important to tell you this morning,” he began. “I am certain it will delight you with all that it promises when I explain it to you.

“We are one week away from the Annual Border Market that has for several generations been held right on the boundary line between Sponsia and Bumgia. The location happens to be just a few miles away from this cottage, right here in Tolx territory.

“I take Hito with me every year to enjoy the spring fair that is held at the very same time. But now I will be able to take someone else in addition, which will be you, my good friend.

“So, I am now inviting you to accompany the two of us,” he beamed at Azo. “I believe that you have earned yourself such a holiday after all the hard work you have completed in writing down all the information I have provided you concerning our Tolxi natural medicines.

“What do you say, then, to this proposal that I make to you?”

The younger man realized he had no alternative but to agree and accept.

“Of course, I am most curious to see and experience this Border Market that approaches on the calendar. Yes, it sounds like an interesting event to go to and enjoy. Yes, I am sure that I will learn a lot about many aspects of this region by being present there,” he said with expectation on his face.

Hito, several steps away from the two males, added her voice to their conversation.

“I know you will find it worthwhile and interesting for you, Azo,”she sweetly declared with a lilt in her voice.

When he returned to the home of Dr. Pom late that afternoon, Azo felt an urgency to inform him immediately about the plan to have him accompany the Josts to the market fair soon to be held on the border line.

Kotu gave an ambiguous grimace as soon as he heard this news.

“I do not doubt that you will find it an exciting and exhilarating occasion, Azo. There will be buyers and sellers present from both sides of the border. You will observe how closely similar the Tolxi from Bumgia are to the ones you have met and got to know over here in Sponsia.

“There will occur a lot of serious, vigorous haggling, arguing, and bidding that will go on, as it happens every year during the three or four days during which the small-scale commerce goes on there.

“And there will also be much celebrating, dancing, and music-making in progress in the time of assembling what is both a market and a fair.” All of a sudden, Kotu made a worried frown. “If I were you, I would not even try to bargain with any of the peddlers or flea-merchants who are sure to be present in droves. They are tough, hardhearted customers to deal with. Stay away from any of these wanderers from the Tolx countryside, regardless of which side of the border they may operate in.”

Azo, shaken a bit upon hearing these words, immediately changed the subject of their conversation.

“I have heard something that may have disturbing consequences for my further work here. Let me explain what this troublesome matter happens to be.

“Milu Jost has named and described for me certain special herbs that he terms as magical in their essence. They have the potential capacity to protect human beings from demonic spells and curses, as well as evil forces like the evil eye.

“Listening to such claims from this herbalist that you yourself referred me to, I am in a quandary as to whether and how to proceed with my work.

“Should I continue forward to investigate and make a record concerning such fantastically different and powerful herbal properties?

“I have thought and thought about this unexpected question and how to handle it in terms of my field research.

“Should I include the magical herbs with the ordinary, strictly medical type?

“What do you think I should do about this unforeseen, unanticipated element that has suddenly arisen in front of me?”

The two of them exchanged questioning stares.

Kotu spoke in a slow, serious tone. “It will be up to you, Azo,” he asserted. “I doubt that anyone else, certainly not I, can make such an important decision for you.

“You are an ethnographer and trained in the requirements and rules of what anthropology allows and does not.

“I can only advise you to obey your own conscience and the code of your own investigator’s craft.

“You know better than me what is required or allowed in such circumstances, Azo.”

The latter realized he was going to be free to decide on his own what course was best for him to take.

Suddenly Kotu frowned. “There is one detail about the market fair I am certain no one has told you of, but that you deserve to know about.”

“And what would that be?”

“There is always a large gang of smugglers present, and they come there from both sides. Tolxi in Sponsia and those over in Bumgia participate in that illegal business. At the fair, all of them have a golden opportunity to meet, talk, and agree to deals they will carry out with each other in the year of time that follows.

“It is a specially busy period for these traders who have transactions and exchanges across the existing boundary. They take full advantage of the relaxed atmosphere of Tolxi from the two countries assembling, enjoying the holiday conditions, and buying and selling among themselves.”

“What you are telling me is surprisingly new,” stated Azo. “I have never heard a word about anything like that.”

“Milu or his daughter have not mentioned such a thing to you?”

“No, not at all,” confessed the researcher. “But thank you for mentioning this. I intend to keep my eyes wide open at the border market and fair.”

VI.

Milu arranged for himself and his two companions to ride to the great event as passengers on a gas-bus chartered to transport local Tolxi to the grounds beside the boundary line where the crowds were beginning to gather together.

Azo at once noticed the joyful, exhilarated feelings that were seizing control of everyone who was present and a part of the numerous activities in progress.

Small bands and individual musicians made Tolx melodies and rhythms available to all who could hear them. Rural drinks of cider and fruit beer were furnished to thirsty drinkers at favorable prices. Small stalls sold cloth or wooden products that families had created in the year since the last annual market fair.

Tolx young men were involved in games of quoits, skittles, basketball, kickball, dodge ball, bowling, duck pond, darts, horseshoes, egg-rolling, and croquet. A large audience was witnessing an arm-wrestling match, while numbers of viewers were attracted to tugs-of-war, three-legged races, rope-ladder climbing, weight-guessers, and balloon-tossing.

Milu excused himself from Azo and his daughter, telling them that “I always have conversations about crops, prices, and weather predictions with old friends of mine who come here from over the border,” he said to the two.

“Hito knows what the most interesting aspects of this fair tend to be,” he informed Azo. “She will serve you as an excellent guide to everything that is going on. I assure you that you will find many delightful attractions on all sides, throughout the fair grounds.”

Both of them smiling, the pair left Milu to his private business and stepped forward into the flow of the growing, ever-moving crowd of Tolxi.

_

“Would you like something cool to drink, Hito?” asked her companion. “Or perhaps some kind of snack to eat? There are a number of tempting refreshment stands up and down this main fairway. What would you recommend that both of us would enjoy having?”

“How about a small spinach pie? I think that is something that everybody who attends this fair likes to munch on. And we could have some malted root cider to go with it. I believe that is a combination that would please you a lot,” she said with a melodic lilt in her voice.

Azo led the way to a stand on one side where a number of people were standing with paper plates and containers in their hands, eating and drinking the contents.

All of a sudden, a loud male voice called out, attracting their immediate attention.

“Hito! It is so good to see you came to the border fair. How are you, and how have you been? How is your father? I haven’t seen him yet, but I can be sure that if you are attending, so is he. I am overjoyed to have caught sight of you in this gigantic crowd. There is going to be a record number of Tolxi coming here this year, I predict. Everyone feels the excitement of historical traditions like this border fair and market. It is a joy and an honor to be a part of such an assembly of the Tolx people, I truly believe.”

The person accosting and addressing her was a lank, scrawny young man of about the same age as Hito, noticed Azo. There was a fragile, threadlike quality to his physical appearance. He was almost cadaverous in his lack of weight. Slate eyes went with his charcoal black eyes.

Hito turned her turquoise eyes on Azo and identified who was speaking to her.

“This is my distant cousin, Joso Jost. He now lives over the border in Bumgia, where he moved only two or three years ago.” She turned and looked at her relative, introducing who was accompanying her.

“This is Azo Tvot, a Sponsian student of anthropology who specializes in Tolx folklore and ethnology. He is staying with father and me in our home cottage because he wants to find out all he can about folk medicine as practiced by those devoted to it among the Tolx. Father is assisting and supervising his work in the area of ethno-medicine.”

Suddenly, the one identified as Joso beamed with emotion. “That is a subject that all of us, the Tolxi, deserve to be proud of. We should justifiably boast of the cures, medicines, and remedies that our herbalists have discovered and developed over centuries of practice. Nature has been most generous to us, for we have never forsaken our ties to the land and the innumerable natural compounds found in the plant life of our borderline territories.

“I know that you shall find a rich variety of treatments and herbal remedies that can be of benefit to your entire nation, as they have done good to us.”

Azo exchanged trusting smiles with the stranger who was related to Hito.

Joso turned his head and spoke to her. “Excuse me, but I have to be with a group from my area in Bumgia. We are going to have a joint meeting about the publication of travel books and literature concerning all of Tolxia. After all, we happen to be one, single people and nation, don’t we?”

With that, the spare young man turned and hurried off to his appointment with others.

Azo looked at Hito, and she grinned at him. “Joso has been a dedicated Tolx from an early age. His father and his brothers taught and affected him a lot. It looks as if he has developed into a devout nationalist. That should make my father happy to learn.”

“You consider your father to be a nationalist?”

“Of course, Azo,” she declared, no longer grinning. “He has succeeded in making me into one too. You may eventually find yourself sharing the views and opinions of most of the Tolxi, the longer you stay with us.”

She broke out in a sharp, overflowing peal of laughter, compelling her companion to do the same.

VII.

At the end of the fairgrounds facing the Sponsia-Bumgia border stood a small canvas tent in which seven men sat talking around a folding card table. One of them happened to be Milu Jost. Like those around him, he was listening with all the attentive capability in his brain to a speaker who preferred to be standing while addressing the four who occupied picnic chairs made of aluminum.

“I can report to you that our networks on both sides of the boundary line are growing and spreading. This has been difficult to achieve with success in both of our countries, but with patient persistence we have spread out message to more and more Tolxi, and our earliest adherents have won new converts and believers to the cause we represent. To the government authorities and their agents and informers in both Bumgia and Sponsia, we are still an undetected, invisible apparition that perhaps had a modicum of existence way back in the past, but no presence in today’s reality. That is good for us, so let us leave it remain that way. As long as we are unknown, we will be able to avoid the dangers of surveillance or investigation of any sort.

“But we cannot be satisfied with only passive opposition to what has been done to the homeland of the Tolxi. Both countries every year spend enormous amounts on the schools that seek to erase our consciousness and self-identity as a separate, different, unique nation. What both the Sponsians and the Bumagians are pursuing is the amalgamation of our individual, family, and national lives into the alloy that will permit them to dominate and absorb all of us. That necessarily means our final end as an independent ethnic, cultural entity. That is their final plan, and it destines our people to extinction of our free life and self-consciousness. Our fate will be, then, to die out.”

The speaker looked around the table, confirming his impression that he had mesmerized the minds of his companions with the rhythms and cadences of his quiet but spellbinding words and phrases, rehearsed and utilized in many places to various groups of Tolxi located on both sides of the border.

All of a sudden, one of his listeners raised his right arm abruptly and posed an unexpected question.

“There appears to be a tragic end to everything precious to us unless we act to avert total catastrophe,” slowly declared Milu Jost. “But no one has indicated or decided what path is available to us for preservation and salvation. We have talked and talked. All of my life I have heard others speak of moving forward through positive action originating out of ourselves and no one else.

“I have listened to you with rising fervor within myself, and I am certain that my brothers who are present here can say the very same. And I know that I speak their thoughts when I say to you: tell us what to do. Reveal to us the specific actions we must join together in order to save the Tolx nation from the chaos of death.

“Teach us how we are to enter the great battle for continued existence as a living, breathing group with a culture and way of life of its own, separate from those who happen to neighbor us on both sides.”

Suddenly embarrassed by his unusual boldness, Milu stopped talking and sat down.

For a while, silence dominated those in the tent.

The dusky eyes of Milu fastened upon the still standing figure known as Igu Noxol, the underground leader, agitator, and organizer of secret Tolx cells and networks.

Without saying a word, the silver-haired man with eyes like black onyx dominated all the other males who were present in the tent.

He was a strong, sturdy figure, but also robust and sprightly, even when standing upright. There was an unlimited mercurial quality about this man, all the others there realized and recognized.

The voice that spoke from the throat of this Tolx leader and prophet was the one familiar to those listening to him around the table, but it seemed to Milu and his comrades to be sounding as if he was pronouncing words that belonged to another personality outside and beyond himself.

“We must become ready to carry forth any action at all that is demanded or required by the conditions that surface before us. Nothing the is possible for us to do deserves to be excluded, omitted, or forbidden under the circumstances that are rapidly approaching.”

The onyx eyes of Igu Noxol suddenly looked hollow and focused far away.

“I believe that we must prepare to shock and astound our enemies, the government forces of both Bumgia and Sponsia with a rising spiral of attacks upon wire and aerial communications. The objective will be to make every public authority in both countries fearful of the harm possible from the minds and hands of the guardian warriors dedicated to the future happiness and well-being of members of our Tolx homeland, in both its devided portions.”

Igu looked about the table, staring at each of the others in turn.

His dark eyes focused upon Milu, sitting beside his nephew Joso, as he uttered a prediction. “There shall be important missions for each one of us to attempt and complete. The risks and dangers may turn out to be extremely high, yet we will dare to save our beloved nation of Tolxi.

“After the close of this border fair, I plan to visit each one of you and present detailed instructions on what our people and our cause expects you to accomplish.”

As soon as the leader finished what he had to tell them, the meeting ended and the quickly disbanded, each individual going off his own way.

VIII.

Azo and Hito explored the main fair strand first of all, then entered each of the side walkways in order. There was much for them to watch and view throughout the length of each of these branches. Both of them came to realize how greatly the other was enjoying the wide range of differing attractions offered the attending Tolx public at this enormous assembly of visitors.

All of a sudden, as the pair reached close to the end of the walkway they were passing down, Hito noticed a sign that attracted her attention at once.

“Look down there at the end of the line, Azo!” she said to him, pointing with her right hand. There was a painted sign above a small tent-like cabin that identified what went on inside the place. It read “Cardomancer Makes Divinations”.

“What does it mean?” asked her confused companion.

“There are adepts among the Tolx who are able to read the future of individuals using special decks of unusual, arcane cards with archetypal symbols and figures printed on them. Such cards have developed over countless generations among our nation. The specially trained and gifted reader of the cards uses an unexplainable kind of intuition in analyzing a person’s character and forecasting the direction of his or her fate in life.

“I know that it sounds and appears as superstition to outsiders, but even today I believe that most Tolxi accept cardomancy as a unique, valid form of knowledge still of use and value to us.”

“Do you have any trust or belief in anything as strange as this practice, Hito?” asked the ethnographer. Both of them had stopped and he looked directly into her turquoise eyes, now shining with inner emotions.

She looked partially away as she told him the truth. “Yes, I confess that I do. Even my father does, as well,” she added.

Azo broke into an uncalculated, unplanned smile. “I am fully willing to go in and find out what this cardomancer can predict about my future. Are you also going to under undergo such an adventure with Tolx cards?”

“Certainly,” she chirped to him. “Let’s go in and see if the reader is busy or not.”

Hito leading the way, the pair quickly approached the door to the small compartment dedicated to the deciphering of roadmaps to future life.

A knock on the door was enough to bring about its opening by an aged female with white hair and a densely wrinkled face.

“Are you here for a reading of character-mapping cards? If so, I am free at this time and can do what you desire. Is it going to be a double task for me, for both of you? I can give you a discounted price, with a reduction of half of my ordinary, customary fee.”

The old woman gazed intently at Hito, then looked past her and spoke to Azo.

“Are the two of you related in some way? I like to take care of married couples, and even unmarried lovebirds who are curious about what they will be to each other in days to come. I can perform wonderful readings for those who enjoy close, intimate relations of various degrees of seriousness.”

It was Hito who answered the cardomancer. “No, we are merely acquainted with each other and came here to the market fair together with my father.”

“I am someone doing work together with her father,” added Azo in explanation. “I myself do not happen to be a Tolx, but my companion and her father are part of that nation and are familiar with its culture and traditions.”

The reader looked at him for a moment, then moved back and made way for the two of them. “Come in, come in, both of you are welcome to hear what I am able to read in my cards for you. I guarantee it will be interesting and of value.”

It took only a few seconds for the new customers to make their way into the shadowy compartment where the fate of persons was foretold by the woman who immediately identified herself as Azo and Hito sat down at chairs on one side of a small square table.

“My name is Sada,” said the cartoreader. “That is sufficient for the two of you to know for our purposes here at this time.”

She circled around the little table and sat down opposite the young couple.

Sada began to present a lecture she had over many decades to those coming to her for assurance about their futures.

“This craft centered on these all-knowing cards has been with the Tolxi for as long as they have dwelled in this region of ours. Let me now show you and describe the pictured images on the faces of the thirty-two cards in the deck that we have inherited from our ancestors.”

The old woman picked up a card deck lying on the table and went through it, naming the sixteen figures pictured on the various surface faces.

The Fool, the Emperor, the Hanged Man, the Magician, the Hermit, Death, the Star, the World, the Priestess, the Lover, the Wheel of Fortune, the Moon, the Empress, the Devil, the Sun, and the Doctor were the entities depicted in the forms seen by Hito and Azo as Sada presented them to be viewed by the pair.

“Who wishes to pick one of the cards, hold it for a short time, then give it to me for my intuitive interpretation and predictions?”

Azo turned to Hito and murmured to her that “I think it should be you.”

It took only a single moment for the young Tolx to make a choice. It was the card with the image of a young, Cupid-like figure on it that she pointed to.

“This one,” Hito informed both Sada and Azo. “I wish to learn what future of love and happiness may come about for me someday.”

The old woman gave that card to her and told her “hold it in your hands and gave at it for a short while, until you believe that you can remember the image of the mythical personality whose body and face is visible.”

Hito took the card and, holding it up at eyes level, stared at it with nervous concentration and force of mind. Only after at least a half minute or so of contemplating the figure she saw on it did the young visitor hand it back to the cardmancer called Sada.

The latter then addressed her words to Azo.

“It is now your turn to choose an archetypal personality figure out of all those available in this deck of mine,” she told him. “Take your time, if you need to.”

Azo surveyed all the pictured images on the cards that Sada laid out, face-up, on the table top in front of him.

He looked, examined, and thought over each one of them. What should he do? Which one would be best to pick out? he considered.

Finally, he announced what he had decided as the optimal one for him.

“The Doctor,” he declared. “That appears to be the most suitable for me.”

Sada took the card he handed to her and set it down next to the one she had received from Hito with the picture of the mythological love creature.

She then picked up this latter card and held it up in front of her eyes, close to her wrinkled face, and began to observe and contemplate it. Her shadowy eyes dilated as she stared at it without any visible motion of any sort.

Neither Hito nor Azo seemed to dare looking at each other, but both watched and listened for any sign or word from the old cardmancer who appeared to have fallen into a deep trance of some sort.

Both of these visiting subjects lost all sense of the passing of seconds and then minutes.

In a single instant, Sada seemed to enliven with words given out by a newly strengthened voice in her. Her suddenly blazing eyes focused first upon Hito, who listened with absolutely concentrated attention.

“You shall not have to wait a long time, my dear one, in order to uncover the person destined to be the partner of your heart, the mate of your inner mind.

“That will be a man with whom you are already acquainted, but one who has not yet identified himself as the love being of your life. But this will happen when the power of enlightenment strikes him. At a certain point yet to come, the self-chosen one will reveal himself and beg that you become his. And you will then realize what you are obliged to confess to him in return. As he has been waiting to find his destiny, so too have you. He and you will in one moment discover the true identity, he of you and you of him. And neither of you shall ever possess any doubts whatever of the correctness and truth of what each has stumbled upon and unearthed in the other.”

The turquoise eyes of Hito by now had a distant, walled-off, thorough look. She had received an oracular message from the old woman named Sada, one that she instinctively comprehended, as if a hidden, unconscious connection had just been made.

Almost without realizing what she was doing, her face turned a few degrees so that her male companion fell into her cone of vision.

But it was Sada who then drew the mind of Azo with the words that she addressed specifically to him, for she revealed what his card revealed to her concerning his coming road of life.

“Do not despair concerning what will happen to you in days to come, for the Doctor pictured on your card is the image of your future self. All your study and concentration upon the medicine of the people of this land will result in your awakening to a brilliant career as a healer of patients hereabouts, among the Tolxi who reside on this soil, in these forests and on these mountains.

“I can assure you that thousands and thousands of the pained, sick, and ailing will find their salvation and consolation at your hands. You will be a grand master of all the regional herbs, roots, flowers, and fruit that are native to where we all live. Many will owe you their deepest gratitude for the deeds and sacrifices that you will carry out for their health and wellbeing.”

Finishing her reading of his chosen card, Sada looked down at the deck of cards in front of her and rushed down to practical business, providing the two customers with their money bill for her arcane services.

“Since I offered both of you a half-price discount, I will be receiving a total of seven lira for what I have done for the two of you.

“We have now finished and you are free to pay me and go your way,” she said with a semi-humorous drawl in her voice.

Azo, quickly standing up, reached for his wallet and counted out seven pieces of tree-bark money and handed them over to the sitting card-reader.

He turned his head to Hito and said in a whisper “let us go out and look for your father.”

IX.

Milu Jost sat at a refreshment stand with his nephew sitting to his right. Both of them were drinking their third large paper-cup of iced anise tea.

The uncle began to speak in a guarded murmur, in a private kind of code.

“Have you personally talked with the Primary Leader?”

Joso turned his head and lowered it closer to his relative.

“Indeed, I did so about an hour and a half ago. Just the two of us, alone in the neighboring pine grove, without no one anywhere close by us.”

“Did you receive any guidance on what will be expected of you soon?”

“Yes, and it shook me because of what my mission is going to be.”

Milu thought for a moment or two, then dared to speculate on what he had just learned from his nephew.

“You were told to prepare yourself for action, then?”

Joso blanched with an emotion with a component of fear within it.

“I cannot give you details, sir. That would not be practical or make any sense. But I picked up a notion that he plans to deal with both communications and transportation.

“Beyond that, I should not say too much more to you, Uncle Milu.”

The latter turned thoughtful and asked no more. He intuitively was able to figure out what Primary Leader Igla Noxol had in the back of his mind.