Chapter VIII.

1 Apr

Dey decided to express his judgment on the lawyer he had met.

“That fellow is a hotheaded fanatic,” he declared as the loco sped along. “He appears to be determined to have his way, regardless of who must suffer for it. He is a reckless little man.”

Bato, his gray eyes on the mirror, nodded in silence. “The Founder is aware of Taval’s penchant for extreme measures. Several times, the attorney has imperiled the plans of the Central Crew. For him, what we are doing for the miners is a daring adventure. It is as if he wishes to prove how much nerve he has. His character is not at all like that of a typical Landian miner. It makes no sense to our workers to gamble with the lives of other people. They oppose all adventurism.”

“You made mention of a meeting of the M.O. leaders,” said Dey, probing for the power profile and contours of the movement. “Do you foresee much support for the position Mr. Renda is taking?”

Biting his lip, Mentin thought for a moment.

“There are twelve of us who make up the Central Crew. On almost all questions, the Founder can rely on an overwhelmingly secure majority. Taval is easily outvoted if he raises his voice in opposition. Only two members of our leadership ever give him any support, and that is only occasionally. That is the way it has gone so far.”

Veta posed a question to Bato. “Do the miners themselves accept any of his ideas for action?”

“Only a small number, supposedly the most militant. Of the twelve of us who make up the Crew, ten have experience working in the mines. Only Taval Renda and the Founder are exceptions, although Dr. Slyn is a mineral geologist by training.”

Dey Skull thought he heard a bell ring that no one else did.

“Dr. Slyn, you said?” he asked.

“His given name is Garen. Without him, there would be no organized miners’ movement. It was he who traveled from mine to mine recruiting local cadres. He is the one who inspired and energized the dormant mine workers to form one, overall organization that spread everywhere in Landia. That was his very difficult contribution.

“Slyn, though an older man today, is still an inspiring public orator who can arouse the miners. His words are mesmerizing.”

The journalist said no more, because he needed time to think and consider.

His secret personal mission in Landia was to find any surviving traces of his mother’s family. He had made her that final promise as she lay on her deathbed. He was to go to that country to hunt for signs of what had happened to her relatives, a small group of moderately wealthy people. What had their fate been back in the time of terror and violence? Had any of them managed to survive? Was it too late to find out what their fate happened to be? he wondered.

Dey already knew which of the Skulls had escaped abroad and which had succumbed to the Extirpators during the years of the Cataclysm.

But what of the Slyns, the family of his mother?

He realized that he would have to study the genealogy of the geologist who was at the helm of the Miners Organization, the individual called the Founder by all the members, this Dr. Slyn.

How could any of these complications have been foreseen by him when he decided to come to Landia?

Dey gazed out at the darkening piney landscape. A slow drizzle was falling, throwing a filmy curtain in front of the mountains. Night was quickly drawing near, yet the three were still far from their destination of Plumbago. They faced longer travel on the road.

Were they going to drive through the gathering storm till they reached that mining center? Dey sensed that Meltin’s intention was to continue driving onward, non-stop. Dusk began to melt into rainy night. Splashing sounds arose from the whirling tires of the locomobile. The man driving was determined to reach the city with all possible speed that night. The vehicle hurtled into the blackness ahead.

Dey kept thinking. Could this Garen Slyn be of a different family line from his own, but with the same name? That was a possibility, but a remote one at best. It did not seem credible to him.

However improbable it might have once seemed, it had to be the Founder of the Miners Organization who had to serve as his primary source on the fate of the Slyn relatives in the Cataclysm. He had vowed to his mother that he would go to Landia and find answers to the questions that troubled her until her death. That had become his duty.

Had any of the Slyns been identified and persecuted as Xarti?

Dey started to formulate how he might address the geologist and uncover the truth, when a popping explosion jolted him back to the present moment.

The loco swerved toward the right edge of the road, onto the gravel shoulder as the driver pressed down on the floor brake.

“A blowout!” cried Bato as they ground to a stop alongside the conifer forest.

For several seconds after the vehicle halted, no one said anything.

Sheets of water fell with torrential force on all sides, rattling on the polymica roof of the loco.

“We will have to wait until this let’s up a little,” drily said the driver. “It may take some time to repair the tire and get started once more.”

All of them understood they would be late arriving in Plumbago.

By the time the rain cleared enough for the bad tire to be replaced, several hours had been lost. A change in plans became necessary. Bato explained that they would have to make a stopover before proceeding on to their ultimate destination. “There is a miners’ hostel in the town of Rutile. That will be a good place to rest tonight. We will be safe and comfortable there.”

Veta, remembering that she was a tour guide, described the district to Dey as the loco entered it.

“The main export from the area is titanium ore. In fact, the name of the most common source for the metal is the golden red mineral called rutile. It was only discovered here about twenty years ago. The town was renamed in honor of that find.”

“What was it called before that?” inquired Dey with curiosity.

She searched her memory and then answered. “I believe it was the village of Agate. The community has multiplied many times over as new workers have migrated here.”

The old toponym revived a buried memory in the back of Dey’s mind. He had heard mention of Agate, perhaps from his mother, long before. It had some sort of unconscious connection or meaning.

What of importance had happened there? he asked himself, trying to recall.

The miners’ hostel was located on the northern rim of Rutile, not far from the titanium ore fields. By the time the loco reached the three-storey structure, the rain storm had ended. The travelers asked to see the manager of the establishment.

“All the above ground rooms are occupied,” the latter informed them. “But there are spare quarters in the basement that your group can use. You will find them adequate, I believe.”

After they settled into the extra rooms below, the three travelers climbed upstairs for a late cold meal in the hostel’s cafeteria. As they finished eating, Bato recalled something he knew would be of interest to Dey Skull.

“This building has a unique history. Fifty years ago, at the time of the Cataclysm, the town of Agate was much smaller. The spot we are at was distant from inhabited areas. The government of that day constructed this as a summer youth hostel, where young people could spend their vacations constructively. They came here from many parts of the Minerals and met each other. But then occurred the infection of anti-Xarti hatred. That ideology succeeded in contaminating a large portion of the youth. Fanatics seized full control here, for a brief time.”

Dey’s gray eyes expanded. “Extirpators?” he asked.

“The youngest were the cruelest,” whispered the miners’ agent. “For decades, there have been rumors about what went on within these walls. Torture of men, the abuse of women. It was a place of pain for the victims and shame for the perpetrators. Word of what had happened could not be fully suppressed. There were witnesses who had seen gruesome things go on in this place of pain, atrocities, and death. The knowledge could not be destroyed, despite all the attempts to accomplish that. There was a deep mystery about this location and the events tied to it.”

Veta interrupted him. “There was similar anarchy all through Landia at that time.”

Bato turned to her, his craggy face in a frown. “If there was disorder, it was organized, planned, and encouraged by the most powerful forces in the land. All the violence was directed at one group. Every institution became a weapon against those people who were targeted. To destroy them became the national mission during that mad period. It was an organized, planned program of extermination.”

“But it had to be only a minority who took part in the worst actions,” protested the woman from the Department of Information. “Surely you do not mean to imply that the entire Landian nation took part in those atrocities.”

Mentin stared at her, indignation on his rocky face. “That was half a century ago, making it easy to rationalize what happened with clever explanations. We tend to blame the activists who killed and tortured. But who opposed them at the time? Or publicly criticized the Extirpators who carried out so many massacres? No, there is no way to overlook the passive approval that reigned then. And it did not result only out of fear. There was far more than only that involved.

“There existed a general, mass hatred exploited by the extremists. It enabled them to carry out their destruction and expulsion with total impunity.”

Veta glanced at Dey, then returned to Bato with her dark eyes lowered.

“Perhaps I lack complete comprehension of the subject,” she softly murmured. “Remember, I have read only the official version. That is all that is given to us in our schools. Nothing else is allowed in the government’s wire media, either.”

Bato made a bitter grimace. “As with the miners’ cause today, one must see beyond the lies that surround us on every side.” He stared at her until an idea occurred to him. “Let us go downstairs. There is a section of the basement you have to see. Both of you will be astounded at what you shall witness. It has to be experienced to be believed.”

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