Chapter VI.

31 Mar

When everyone had finished eating, the group piled into the locomobile along with Otus Kelik. At the edge of the town, they all climbed out of the vehicle and started up the path on a hill leading to the site of the ruins of the long ago burned mansion. The old home of the Xartic industrialist was their goal. Soon they reached the summit below which they could see all of Amethyst.

Five decades of neglect and weather had left only bare, unadorned brick walls. No roof remained. No windows or furniture were visible. An aura of brutality and arson still hung over the location. Fire had erased all signs of previous life here. It was a place of death.

Otus led the three visitors around the mansion and the wild vegetation surrounding it. He pointed to where the various rooms of the building had once been, revealing what he knew about each of them.

“The owners lived quite well, but they were known to take care of their workers in dire need. In their own time, they sponsored a community hospital. But it was closed down after the Cataclysm, when the new people grabbed control of the mine. Everything then changed. The old way of life disappeared and was gone.”

Dey boldly expressed his opinion for all to hear. “This great family must have had the goodwill of the people of Amethyst. Why did no one protect or rescue them from being destroyed? Was the town made up of cowards?”

“They were Xarti who loved all of us,” admitted Kelik. “They were completely unlike what the attackers from Corundum claimed them to be. What happened to this family was wrong and our parents allowed it to occur. We must live with their guilt, but no one has ever been able to explain why our people were passive in that time of criminal evil.” His voice seemed to slip out of control at the end, as if overwhelmed by what he could never understand about the matter.

Veta, lagging behind the three men, saw something near the outer wall of the ruined building. She stooped down and picked up a small object off the bare soil.

“What did you find there?” called out Bato, turning around and noticing that she was carefully examining the object held in one hand.

“Some kind of medallion, I think,” she answered, studying it on both sides. Puzzled by the find, Veta handed it to the husky miners’ agent. He rubbed it with two fingers of his right hand, then rolled away the small brown clumps of dirt and mud on the thin circular disk. Bato, also puzzled like her, handed it to Kelik, who recognized what it was at once.

“This is a commemorative coin specially minted by the mine-owners to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the start of their first shaft at the Amethyst site,” said tall Otus. “That must have been quite a joyful occasion. These medallions were given to the employees who had worked the longest time. I know that because my father was given one exactly like this. It was passed along to me as a precious family keepsake. I still have it at home. It is like a family heirloom to us.”

“It is amazing that this one was here in the mud and the ashes,” remarked Bato with wonder.

Veta seemed puzzled. “What are we going to do with it?” she asked no one in particular, but all three of her companions simultaneously.

“Unless our brother here wishes to have a second one, why not keep it as a momentum of Amethyst, Veta?” suggested Dey in a dreamy tone. “In the future, these medallions may turn out to be of great historic interest, when objective study is focused upon the years of the Cataclysm.”

The lithe young woman looked at Kelik to find out what he thought.

“Yes,” he agreed, nodding his head. “That is a good idea, Miss. Take the medallion with you as a reminder of what you saw up here at the mansion ruins. It will remind you of what happened to the family that once lived within these walls and then came to a horrible end. That affects how we are in Amethyst even today. It is still with us.”

For a moment, all four of them remained silent.

“Let’s go back down,” proposed Bato Mentin. “We must get back on the road to Corundum.”

Veta slipped the medallion into her coat pocket as the group started back to the locomobile.

Beyond Amethyst, the mountain ridges became higher and more rugged. The winding road grew steeper. For a considerable time no one spoke about what they had witnessed at the mansion site. Finally, it was Veta who expressed what was on her mind.

“How tragic was the fate of all those people!” she erupted, surprising the other two in the vehicle. “Both the Xartic mine-owners and the miners suffered severely. And to what purpose? I cannot understand such cruelty. That was a very evil time.” She paused, then went on in anger. “None of it has been explained to us in our schools. Only the excuses of the Extirpators have been presented, as if the victims were responsible for all that they suffered. But the truth about what happened in places like Amethyst has never been mentioned or analyzed at all.”

After a short. uneasy silence, Bato gave his judgment on the matter.

“You will find that those who decimated and banished the Xarti often had selfish, ulterior motives. They took over many mines and exploited the miners worse than the original owners ever did. You will find that it was the Cataclysm of fifty years ago that created the dictatorial system that we still live under in this country.

“Most of our present social and economic ills originated in that terrible time.”

Veta suddenly turned to Dey on her left. “That is why you are here, isn’t it? You are after the facts about the ejection of the Xartic minority from Landia, the truth beyond the claims in the official, governmental version.”

“That’s right,” confessed the journalist, his gray eyes darkening. “When such satanic crimes are committed, even half a century does not erase the truth or absolve the guilt of those who carried out the deeds. The savagery of those days of murder must be preserved in records that our Continent will never lose, so that the memory remains forever with us.”

All at once, Veta remembered Captain Brek Kont and how he had come to her office at the Department of Information. What if he were ever to learn of what she was saying in this locomobile? A cold shiver slid down her back at the thought.

“What you propose to do is highly dangerous,” she warned Dey. “Take care that these sentiments of yours do not reach the agents of the Clandestine Service. They are always on the lookout for critics of the accepted version of history. The penalties for probing into such matters are very heavy ones.”

Mention of the clandestines brought a chill into the loco as they drove toward the town of Corundum.

Captain Brek Kont decided to report to his uncle, his supervising colonel, before he boarded the restored passenger train line into the mountains.

He found a public phone line in the railroad station and dialed Jant Kont back in Chalcedony.

“I have been frustrated by this tracker train strike, Uncle,” Brek reported. “The foreign writer and his guide disappeared. But my agents asked many questions all about and they learned that the pair succeeded in convincing someone with a loco to drive them into the countryside. They must now be on their way toward Corundum and Plumbago. So, my plan is to proceed and locate them. I aim to stay on their trail, sir.”

“Yes, that must be your course. We have great fear of an overall general strike that will close all the mines. The Director and I both share deep worries about where such an event could lead. We have to consider all the possible options and alternatives that may arise very soon.

“Keep a watch on this potentially dangerous writer, Brek. He could be a Xart or some kind of pro-Xart agent. Continue with your important mission.”

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