Chapter XIII.

5 Apr

Spodumene took its name from the huge prismatic crystals found in the ground about the town. Eighty years in the past, geologists discovered white crystals of lithium oxide in the soil. Xartic investors soon established a resort famed for its healthful lithia water. A small plant was set up to bottle the flow from local springs. Tourists began to visit each summer from all parts of Landia. The largest, finest of the spas catered to wealthy Xarti families. It became the center of a leisured, fashionable style of vacationing for the business and professional classes of that ethnic background. Men wore round straw hats, women carried parasols in the bright light of the Spodumene summer. It was a place of carefree happiness.

But then came the Cataclysm. All the tourists, not just Xarti, stopped arriving. Happiness left the place for good. Attempts were made to return to mining as the central local activity, without success. Memory of the joyful past drowned in a flood of fear, hatred, and feelings of guilt. The small town became a ghost of what it had once been. A vacuum, silent and invisible, touched everything. The happiness of the past was over and gone.

“I know a doctor here who treats injured miners,” announced Bato Mentin, driving the locomobile that carried the wounded Founder. He was at the head of the small convey fleeing the scene of the shooting. The vehicles turned into a narrow dead-end street behind what had once been the great spa.

The two locos halted in front of a modest house from a bygone time, its style of architecture long out of date. The men in the second car, including Dey Skull, rushed up to take the Founder out of the back seat of the first vehicle. They carried him across a small lawn to what a sign identified as a medical office.

Beryl Sehr walked alongside the four carriers, her face showing extreme anxiety.

Garen Slyn was carried into the building and quickly placed on an examination table where the doctor removed his shirt and appraised the seriousness of the bullet wound. A nurse brought in antiseptic instruments and dressings to use on the barely conscious leader of the miners.

“I must remove the bullet in his chest at once,” darkly muttered the medico. “It would help if everyone except for my nurse left this room at once.”

Dey led the overwhelmed aide of the Founder, Beryl Sehr, into the waiting room in the front of the house. She sat down to rest and collect herself as best she could.

As Bato Mentin emerged out of the inner chamber, Dey asked him what the doctor may have told him about the degree of danger that the Founder was in.

“Very bad,” moaned the activist, his craggy face brick-red. He puffed for breath with stress and excitement. “The bullet hit him close to the heart and is in deep. It will take a lot of skill to remove the projectile. The risks involved in such an operation are extremely high, I was told.”

Beryl burst out in a storm of weeping. As she stifled her sobs, she looked up at the two men.

“Who will direct the movement if Garen is incapacitated?” she asked both of them. “How will our many operations proceed?”

Bato decided it best to ignore her question.

“I have to find out what the situation is in the mines,” he said breathlessly. “The state of emergency is exactly what the owners have wanted from the beginning. They are now free to do as they wish with their workers. Their power is now unquestioned and absolute. Our miners will be degraded into mere slaves if this goes on. We must get into contact with our people in Plumbago and be informed on the severity of the new military rule in the Minerals.”

He stepped over to the office reception desk and picked up a telephone receiver.

Dey, biting his lip, sat down. There would be no private interview with Garen Slyn for him today, he sadly acknowledged.

What would this state of emergency and martial law mean for the Miners Organization and its strike actions? he wondered.

It was clear to Dey that everything depended upon the Founder. He was the one who had created the mass movement. Without him, the miners could lose a sense of direction. He was the hub of everything.

The idea of Taval Renda leading the miners of Landia sent a cold shiver down his back. Ultimate radicalism would pose a dangerous threat to all that had been achieved so far. It would present intolerable risks.

Dey understood that future victory depended on the recovery of Garen Slyn. His death might lead to death for all that the Founder believed in. It would be a tragic finish of what he stood for.

Suddenly the journalist realized that he had become a part of something he had never planned to join. From being a writer, he had evolved into an active insurgent fighting on the side of the miners.

His life was now completely changed from what it used to be.

Veta Vermilion decided she should go downstairs to the hotel restaurant for noonday lunch. But as the lifter door opened at her floor, she saw Captain Kont walk out, a smile much like a sneer on his face. The door behind him slid shut.

“Good day,” he said to her. “I have some news for you about our friend. Would you like to hear what it is?”

She said nothing as he turned and pushed the button for the elevator car to return. She said not a word until they descended to the lobby and found chairs there.

Is he maliciously toying with me, not saying what he knows about Dey Skull? she asked herself.

What a cruel sadist this little man is, she bitterly mused. Years of activity in the C.S. has done this to the pipsqueak.

Only after they were both seated did he reveal what he had been alluding to in a teasing manner.

“There has been a momentous break in events. The city and its mines have been taken over and placed under direct military law and power. Civilian government has been suspended. The government has banned and outlawed the Miners Organization. This is a historic development, no question about it. Things will never be the same again.

“But what is important for you and me is something else, in addition. Our friend, Mr. Skull, has become involved with the labor agitators.”

“What do you mean?” demanded Veta, her anxiety unfeigned and unconcealed.

“The Clandestine Service had plainclothes monitors present at a rally of miners where the chief of the troublemakers spoke. The subject we have under surveillance was observed there, a member of the party around the ringleader they call the Founder.”

“That can’t be so!” objected the young woman, a little overdramatically.

Kont did not see through her pretended surprise.

“There was some violence there. Dey Skull left the scene with the man the miners call their Founder. The whole bunch of agitators fled in locomobiles, out into the countryside, taking your traveling companion with them.”

“He told me that he wanted to talk to the labor leader. But I had no reason to take his relations to this Founder that seriously, none at all. That’s why I made no mention of the matter to you, sir. It didn’t seem important at the time, or I would have told you about it.”

She gave him a weak, forced smile.

The C.S. agent jumped ahead into the future. “When this foreigner returns to the hotel, I want you to tell me as soon as possible. Use the wirephone in your room. I have made arrangements with the hotel operator for immediate connection to my receiver. Someone will be there at all times should you have anything to report to me.”

“I understand,” whispered the worried tour guide, her voice rough and dry. “I understand,” she added for his benefit.

Where are you, Dey? she asked herself as if possessing a telepathic gift of communication.

What has happened to you? Are you safe from the Clandestines? How are we going to meet together again?


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