Chapter IXX.

10 Apr

Veta trembled the moment she heard rapping on her door, anticipating who it probably was.

Upon opening it, she felt a strange relief. Captain Brok Kont had a dangerous aura about him, one of excitement in pursuit of an enemy.

“Get ready to leave in five minutes,” he announced without fanfare. “Your companion has been spotted in the village of Celestite. He was with the fugitive chief of the miners. That pretty well proves that he is a seditious subversive. The Clandestine Service was correct in its suspicion of this foreigner.

“But now our objective must be his capture and summary imprisonment, along with that of his confederates from the Miners Organization.”

The young woman gasped for breath a few seconds.

“Perhaps he is only an involuntary prisoner of theirs,” she argued in a weak voice. “One could never foresee what strong hold they have over him.”

Kont sneered sardonically.

“Do not dream up alibis or excuses,” he countered. “It has been firmly established that Mr. Skull is a willing cooperator with troublemaking agitators. He has never shown any signs of wishing to leave them.”

Veta made no reply to that. “Excuse me, it won’t take me long to pack my things. Where shall you and I be going?”

“Southward, over the Mineral Mountains in a gyroplane. Our destination will be Glucinium, the town that Dey Skull and his friends seem to be heading for.”

At a rest stop beside a mountain brook, Dey had the opportunity to listen to Jasper describe his experiences in the miners’ movement.

“The Clandestines were already spying on us. They tried to infiltrate agents into our ranks, but we were able to root them out before they could cause damage. Yet danger was always present for us. Once, I was called in for grilling and interrogation. It was terrible. Hours and hours with bright lamp sacs focused upon me. The same questions, over and over. I see no difference between such pressure and actual physical torture. It was merciless and never stopped.

“But I was able to stand up to them, like other miners did. We revealed nothing at all to those horrible vermin.”

All at once, the old man’s eyes darkened. His face grew grim and fallen.

“A dear friend of mine died of a heart attack following a long session with the Clandestines. I have never forgiven them for what they did to him.”

Dey sensed that the ex-miner was about to shed tears for his old comrade.

“I loved him so much that it has affected my whole life,” continued Jasper, wiping first one, then the other eye. “We were such truly devoted friends that most people thought us strange. The tie between us was an unbreakable one. When he died, still young, the joy of living left me. It has never come back again. Can you understand what I am saying?”

He looked at Dey with eyes begging for confirmation.

“Yes,” replied the traveler, “I believe that I do, Jasper.”

The latter walked back to the cab of the carrier, not looking back at the writer.

Dey smiled to himself. How easy it was to be open with a stranger, to pour out the essence of one’s experience to a person one would never see again.

Glucinium, the Queen of the South, was the center of a wide field of metal ores.

Cassiterite, a rich source of tin, provided a profitable export to foreign smelters. Nickel ores came from deposits of apple green garnierite and emerald-green zaratite. Rare, but most valuable was yellow greenockite, from which cadmium could be refined. On all sides of the city lay rich mines and excavations, but no facilities for processing. The ores were shipped out for overseas factories, since Landia had never developed the technology or plants for anything beyond the mining operations themselves.

Beryllium was a steel-gray metal that, before the Cataclysm, held the promise of transforming the entire economy of the country. Hard, but extremely light in weight, it might have replaced the aluminum imported to Landia from abroad. Beryllium’s price was falling each year, until the metal became competitive with aluminum, zinc, and copper. Combined in alloys, the miraculous metal possessed high resistance to corrosion and was very ductile. Its lightness compared with that of magnesium. Engines and motors made of beryllium were beginning to be produced in Glucinium by the first years of the Cataclysmic period. Paradoxically, two Xartic brothers were the chief developers of the new machines.

All of that ended in the course of the persecution and exiling of the minority population. A domestic smelting industry never arose, leaving Landia down to the present only an exporter of beryl ore. Other nations took the lead in producing the industrial metal and finding applications for it. Ironically, beryllium engines and appliances were shipped to Glucinium from elsewhere on the Continent. Rods, sheets, and bars came to the town on rail trackers, to a place whose name meant the very same metal.

Foot patrols of military troopers monitored the streets of Glucinium. All activities of the M.O. had been forced underground since the crackdown in Plumbago. The town was under a state of emergency and nightly curfew, enforced by the army of Landia.

Soon after evenfall, the truck-wagon from Celestite came to a stop at an abandoned warehouse at the southern end of Glucinium. Jasper returned to tell the four passengers that they had arrived at the secret center of miner activity in the region.

Once the group was out on the street, they said farewell to the old white-haired man, then proceeded into the darkened storage building. The first room was empty and without light. Bato guided the others forward, toward the faint outline of a door. Around its edges there radiated a visible glow, giving the group a beacon by which to orient themselves.

The four reached the door and Mentin knocked on it.

A large, imposing figure soon stood in the brightly illuminated opening. “What is it?” asked the miner. “Who are you people?”

The Founder took a step forward and identified himself.

“Come right in,” called out the dumbfounded guard. “Our chief will want to speak with you at once.”

First there was a complete miners’ supper at a long eating table.

Dey and Beryl sat there together by themselves after Garen Slyn and Bato Mentin went to the other end of the enormous building for consultation with the district leadership of the Miners Organization.

“It is too bad that you won’t have any opportunity to see much in Glucinium,” said the Founder’s secretary to Dey. “We will have to continue on to our final destination in the morning. There is still a considerable distance for us to travel.”

He looked into her face with a sharp focus. “My hope was to carry out a research project here in Glucinium.”

She gave him a quizzical look. “Research?”

“The genealogy of my father’s family,” he explained. “Their historic roots are here in Glucinium. I do not know whether there are any relatives of mine remaining in this city. There has been no contact whatever for decades. They may be dead or gone by now. I know nothing, but have hope of finding some trace of them. I fear that the effort may turn out to be all in vain.”

Dey gazed downward, at the fiddlewood surface of the table top.

The woman with the flaxen hair made a suggestion to him. “Why don’t we obtain a telewire directory and see if there is anyone with your last name still around in the community?”

She rose from the long bench she sat on and made her way to the section of the warehouse used as an office.

Dey had to wait less than a minute for the return of Beryl Sehr.

“There are no Skulls remaining in Glucinium,” she informed him in a tone of defeat. “Sorry about that, but there is no one with your surname. Sorry.”

When Beryl was seated again across from him, her brown eyes looked sharply into his face. “Fifty years ago, the Xarti were expelled from our country,” she slowly said, as if posing an unvoiced question with that simple statement.

The situation compelled Dey to go beyond what he had first intended.

“Yes,” he admitted. “My father’s family belonged to that persecuted minority. That makes me one of the members of that hated ethnic group, I suppose. At least by blood, though I know very little of their traditions or culture.”

“And you are here in Landia to hunt for traces of surviving relatives?” asked Beryl with delicacy.

He nodded his head. “If I am able to find anyone, it will be like a link to the past for me. My own personal past. That is what I am after.”

“You plan to write about the Cataclysm that removed the Xarti from Landia?”

“That is my ultimate purpose, to tell everyone what happened to my people through the experiences of a relative who lived through what actually happened here in this country.”

“There would be great difficulty finding any such person, should he or she exist.”

Dey decided to reveal a deep secret to Beryl, unable to foresee the consequences of doing that.

“My mother’s family had its roots in the southern end of the Mineral Mountains,” he said in a muffled whisper. “Their surname is the same as that of the Founder, Slyn.”

She appeared to be thunderstruck by this.

“That could mean…” she stuttered.

There was no need for Beryl to complete her sentence.

“I have not said a single word to him,” continued Dey. “It is not a subject easy to approach. Our present situation does not permit me to bring it up with him.”

“Yes, you were right to keep silent.”

“It will be best, I think, to wait until we reach our destination,” concluded Dey with a deep sigh.

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