Chapter XII.

4 Apr

The loco had crossed the border of the city as the Founder gave Dey some of his most intimate thoughts about the situation in Landia.

“Our miners are a special type of people with characteristics all their own. Many who do not know this call the diggers stolid and dull. They seem to be taciturn, suspicious of all strangers. Life flows through old, settled channels for people like them. Traditions are extremely important and meaningful in their limited, local world of existence. They possess a rich treasury of mining songs. Their speech is a unique argot that separates them from everyone else in Landia. It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend what they mean to say.

“Take note of their omission of non-essential words and frequent use of abbreviations, These clipped patterns of speech often sound like some secret language, known only to the diggers themselves. But it is only their way of leaving out the unimportant, of concentrating on a core idea. That is the style the miners use. They are only interested in what they believe is important, nothing else.

“What I am saying to you is that the miner may seem slow, but he usually ends up with clarity in his thought. It is impossible to fool him for too long. The miner has a sharp mind with clear thoughts.”

Dey Skull allowed these words of the Founder to sink in as the locomobile neared the neodymium mine where the rally was scheduled.

Workers from a dozen sites where rare earth metals were excavated had congregated in an open field. Miners of cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, samarium, illinium, and lanthanum mingled with those involved in obtaining holmium, erbium, thulium, niobium, lutecium, yttrium, and ytterbium. The crowd grew quickly into thousands, each individual aware that the Founder was going to give a report to them on the current situation with the companies and the government. With all the number present, an expectant hush prevailed.

Dey stood with Bato Mentin and Beryl Sehr in back of a raised platform used for the storing of mine machinery. The speech by Garen Slyn, the Founder, was to be made from the front of it, facing the sea of miners. The white-haired leader was going over a sheet of notes for the last time. He glanced back at Bato, a signal that he was ready to begin.

Mentin stepped forward to make a short introduction.

“Brothers and sisters,” his voice boomed, “I present to you our beloved Founder.”

A deafening cheer went up as the speaker stepped to the front of the platform. Bato retreated to where Sehr and the journalist were standing.

Slyn raised his right arm in greeting, also indicating that there was no time to waste.

“Brothers and sisters, I am gratified to be here so that I can tell you about the current course of our struggle. Thank you from my heart for your warm welcome. Such enthusiasm and spirit is the guarantee that our cause will win final victory. Despite today’s difficulties, we shall gain our goals. No one must ever doubt our triumph. That shall come about in time.

“I am here to report to you that our opponents are as obstinate as ever. They only talk to us in order to refuse any negotiations over our demands. Their attitude is still condescending toward all miners. Never are we, your agents, treated with proper respect. We have persisted with patience, but to no avail so far. Your employers are clearly not interested in any serious exchange of ideas, nor any alleviation of the conditions of your labor. These exploiters enjoy the full support of the government and all of its security forces…”

A commotion on the fringe of his attentive audience made Slyn stop in order to find out what was causing it.

At the rear of the platform, Dey and his two companions also looked in the direction of the loud noise. What was distracting the miners over there?

All at once, a loud shout gave a name to the intruding factor.

“Military troopers!” cried out one husky voice. Another repeated this, then a third did likewise. No one seemed to know what was going to happen next.

Clashing sounds came from the edges of the now confused crowd. Impending disaster hung over the perilous situation. What was the purpose behind this official governmental action? How far were those in command of the troopers planning to go? Was there going to be any bloodshed this morning that had begun so optimistically?

All of a sudden, small groups of miners started to run off in flight.

The Founder, still at the head of the platform, raised both arms into the air, as if trying to prevent panic from erupting among his followers.

It was then that the first firearm went off, a single shot that sounded close to the platform, thought Dey. He watched as Garen Slyn raised his hands to his chest. Two more bullets whizzed by and then the leader fell to his knees.

Bato Mentin hurried toward the front of the platform, several activists of the M.O. behind him. The group lifted the body of Slyn, carrying him to the rear as quickly as they could.

Meantime, the crowd was running off, away from those firing their weapons. Danger threatened those who did not succeed in escaping.

Dey joined the small group taking the Founder out of the way of the attackers, helping to place him on a make-shift stretcher of cardboard. Had he been wounded, or was his circumstance even worse?

Bato Mentin appeared to be in charge, giving commands to his colleagues saving the Founder.

“Let’s take him to a loco,” he called out. “We have to get him to a surgery at once.”

The rescuers carried the body to the nearest locomobile, where it was carefully maneuvered into the back seat.

Beryl Sehr, her face pale white, placed a hand on Dey’s forearm.

“Let’s get into the second locomobile and follow,” she hastily muttered. “A friendly surgeon has to be located to treat him at once.

Where were they to take the wounded, bleeding Founder?

Bato, in the lead loco, had to decide in seconds where to go. His choice could mean life or death for the white-haired man in the back seat.

All at once, a miner rushed forward. “State of emergency!” he shouted wildly. “The government has proclaimed that Plumbago is under military law. They have banned all meetings. Worker activities and organizations are suspended. Local officials are no longer in power in the city.”

Thinking fast, Mentin turned to the driver at the controls of the loco.

“Can you take a back road into the countryside?”

“Yes, I know a way. But what will be our destination, sir?”

The answer occurred to the burly ex-miner in a second.

“Spodumene,” he replied. “It is ten miles to the north, a little more if we take a roundabout route. The other vehicle will follow us. We have to get the Founder there as soon as possible. That is our only chance of saving him.”

Bato went around to the other side and climbed into the locomobile.

The two road cars went speeding off in seconds. The life of the Founder was at stake.

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