Chapter XVIII.

9 Apr

Garen Slyn pointed to a light, two-wheeled vehicle shaped like a box.

“Do you remember what that one is called?” he asked Bato Mentin. “An old-fashioned carromata. That’s what it is. These were common all over the Mineral Mountains in the days before locos. They were quite popular with the mining population in times past. Then they became obsolete and were replaced.”

The two men continued through the salvage yard, examining the discarded, derelict carriers. A long, open coach with several rows of seats was a charabanc, identified once again by the Founder. They came upon an early locomobile, a landaulet owned by some local worthy in the past. Its collapsible roof was now a broken ruin. There were signs that the vehicle had not moved in many decades. Its splendor had died long ago.

“How did that hansom cab get to Celestite?” asked Bato. “I have always thought of it as an urban carrier, seen only in cities like Chalcedony and Plumbago.”

There was no answer to his question.

A two-wheeled open jaunting car had its seats back-to-back lengthwise.

The ruins of a phaeton that had weathered years of the elements lay atop a large pile.

A magnificent victoria with a calash top over the rear seat displayed the glory of past days in this mining locality. A plain buckboard that must have once evinced speed stood with only three of its old wheels. Beside it was a fancy one-horse cariole, followed by a century-old pleasure chaise that deserved to be placed on display in a museum. Last of all came a tiny, two-wheeled dogcart with seats back-to-back.

On the other side, opposite these horse vehicles, was a drosky with an open carriage and long saddle bench for passengers. Alongside was an imported gig with painted animal figures on it. A hackney cab appeared to have seen a lot of duty on the rough roads of its day.

The owner of the junk yard spotted the two curious intruders from the tiny cottage he lived in adjacent to the vehicles. He started out of the house, but stopped on his front porch. A long truck-wagon had stopped on the roadway in front of his property.

The two men inspecting the cars, cabs, and coaches also noticed the large carrier.

A tall man with a square face and gray eyes jumped down from the back storage compartment.

“We’ve found you!” yelled out Dey Skull with exuberant expression. “Quick, get aboard. We must get out of this place before it’s too late.”

The Founder and Bato hurried to the street, stopping where the journalist had leaped down from the truck bed of the wagon. A brown tarpaulin hung down over the rear of the boxlike vehicle.

“Quick, climb aboard,” called out Dey with vehemence. “Beryl is inside, in the front area of the truck. I’ll explain to you what happened to us.”

As soon as the surprised leaders of the miners were inside, the writer gave a hand signal to Jasper, who was watching from the front of the running board. The old miner waved back, then got back into the cab beside his son-in-law.

Dey lifted himself onto the back bed of the vehicle just as it started to roll forward. In the thick shadows of the empty truck, he could make out his two fellow travelers sitting on both sides of Beryl. Already she had started to narrate their adventure in the Pyrope Bar and the story of how Jasper had rescued them.

Once beyond Celestite, the driver poured on the mini-battery power.

The passengers in back braced themselves in sitting positions against the front wall of the wagon. Dey described what he and Beryl had done. The Founder had less to report. “Bato and I searched about for any possible means of fleeing the village,” he explained, his face expressionless. “All that we accomplished was the inspection of the antiques in the salvage yard. They drew and captured our curiosity.”

“It is a good thing you two found us so easily,” sighed Bato. “Who can say what might have been our fate had we stayed around back there.”

“We had to take Jasper on trust,” added Beryl in a lowered tone. “But he proved to be a man who kept his word, a true miner.”

“A genuine miner,” slowly pronounced the Founder. A grin of contentment crossed his mouth. “Now, on to Glucinium.”

Glucinium! thought Dey to himself.

The name rang like a bell inside his brain, for it was the birthplace of his father. The town of his paternal ancestors, where they had lived and worked for innumerable generations. The source of the beryllium ore exported to the rest of the countries of the great Continent. At one time, Glucinium had been a busy, bustling boomtown. Then had come the Cataclysm and the decline that followed it.

Now no trace of the Xartic colony remained there, he had been told many times before his coming to Landia. Everyone had undergone expulsion or elimination. All signs of what had once been there were gone, erased, and destroyed. No more Xarti remained in Glucinium, none whatever.

But still, the writer harbored secret hopes. Perhaps he would succeed in discovering some overlooked memory of the past that once was. An inadvertent relic that might tell him about his father and his people. Something forgotten and overlooked. It might be small and long forgotten.

Here was a matter worth looking forward to in Glucinium.

The cargo carrier became profoundly still. Only the sound of the road surface below remained audible. Dey glanced over at the Founder, quietly resting.

Did Garen Slyn know anything about his lost relatives? he asked himself.

Perhaps the near future would reveal what their fate had been in the years of the Cataclysm.

In a few minutes the truck’s interior became pitch dark. The sound of quiet snoring was picked up by Dey. Was it Garen or Bato who had fallen asleep first? A second sawing sound joined the first one, providing a tonal counterpoint to it. In a couple of seconds, a strange harmonic pattern seemed to present itself to the tired ears of the journalistic investigator.

But then a third, higher pitched snore was heard, obviously being made by sleeping Beryl.

Dey smiled to himself in the dark interior of the large carrier.

Tomorrow was going to be a busy day and it was best to get all the rest he could while that was still possible. That seemed the most rational path to take. It made sense.

Anticipations of Glucinium were his last conscious thoughts before sleep locked his eyes shut.

Brek Kont succeeded in reaching his uncle in the capital over wireline from his hotel room in Plumbago.

“The situation here is a critical one,” reported the nephew. “The army commanders have taken over all local and regional public authority. They issue orders to everyone.

“I have learned from our agents here that the foreigner I was following has joined up with the so-called Founder of the miners’ conspiracy in that leader’s escape during the mass demonstration and meeting that the military broke up. The journalist fled Plumago with him, proving he came to Landia with evil intent in mind.

“Army units, as well as the Clandestine Service, are searching for Skull and the Founder. They reported that a sighting occurred in a village named Celestite. The fugitives are in all probability headed for the city of Glucinium. I myself will soon be headed there in hope of making the final capture, sir.”

The Colonel spoke to Brek Kont in a slow, heavy tone.

“Your brother, the Director, and I are deeply troubled with the course that things are taking. There is the threat of a genuine revolution developing from how the miners over all of Landia will react. And already our civilian government is giving way to complete military dominance and primacy.

“The Clandestine Service depends on its field officers and agents as never before. Capturing the head of the Miners Organization will have a decisive influence on the final result, Brek.”

“I will fulfill my duty, sir,” promised the Captain before closing his wire-phone.

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