Chapter XX.

10 Apr

A full night’s sleep refreshed the strength of all four travelers.

They ate breakfast together, making plans for the last leg of their journey.

“I have talked with several members of the local leadership,” said Bato Mentin. “Although all roads southward are under constant surveillance, there are highland ridges with semi-paved pathways that can be used by locos. They are rough and hazardous, so that great caution is necessary. But we have no alternative routes and have to use these.”

“When can we start?” inquired the Founder.

“Immediately, I believe. A fielder-type locomobile can be provided to us.” The brawny giant grinned. “I have had experience driving such terrain cars. They are both tough and powerful vehicles.”

As the meal drew to an end, a local activist approached, informing them that the loco was waiting outside in the alley behind the warehouse. After goodbyes were exchanged with the district leaders, the four fugitives made their way outside through a delivery door. Bright light flowed down from the morning daystar. The weather promised to be clear and pleasant.

The six-wheeled fielder was painted leaf green. Its body was a thick silicon shell. Gigantic tires of soft gomma protruded from the front, middle, and rear axles.

Bato had just opened the driver’s door when a loud voice rent the air like a flash of lightning.

“Stand still where you are and do not move,” it coldly demanded. “Anyone who attempts to escape will be instantly bolted with an electric charge.”

Dey and his companions turned around to see who was there.

They were surrounded by uniformed police and Clandestine Service plainclothes agents, all of them holding electrical weapons pointed at the four about to climb into the fielder.

What was going to happen to them now? each prisoner wondered.

– –

Their captors transported the four by loco to the blue cyanite building that was the district police headquarters. Each of them was placed in a separate cell. The first person to undergo interrogation was the Founder. The others understood that he would reveal nothing to the questioners and that they had to do the same. No one was to reveal anything, including personal names.

Dey was surprised to be the second person taken out for grilling by the Clandestine Service captors. The small room contained a large lancewood table. Only one man sat at it.

After sitting down, Dey studied the short, bald man in civilian suit of cerulean blue. Where had he seen this chilling figure before? What was there so familiar about him? pondered the writer.

He was certain that he had crossed paths with this individual somewhere.

“Let me identify myself for you,” began the green-eyed interrogator. “I am Captain Kont of the Clandestine Service. There is no question about who you are, Mr. Skull. It is a serious offense that you have committed, becoming involved with subversives of the miners’ movement. Our summary courts will not be lenient with anyone like you, that’s for sure.”

The two, alone in the examining room, stared searchingly at each other a moment.

“It was clear to me what your purpose was in traveling to our country,” continued Kont. “Tell me this: what is it that draws you into the conspiracy of Garen Slyn? What do you have to gain from his agitation of our miners in the Mineral Mountains?”

The prisoner acted as if he had heard nothing, his gray eyes remaining still. Not a muscle moved anywhere in his body, not a nerve fired off a signal. His facial expression was frozen in place.

“I believe that you do not realize the peril facing you, Mr. Skull,” continued the other. “Our laws permit summary sentences in cases of seditious activity. The government has possessed these powers since the days of the Cataclysm fifty years ago. In emergencies such as the present condition, we can judge, punish, and even execute without recourse to the ordinary civilian courts.

“Do you understand what that means?”

Dey made not the slightest response, forcing the Captain to change tactics.

“I have been watching you since you set foot in Landia. From the start, my suspicions have been high. That is why I recruited Miss Vermilion to make periodic reports on what you were up to.”

Dey felt a solid lump in his throat.

“She accompanied me from Plumbago,” the agent of the Clandestine Service whispered. “Would you like to speak with her? She will say the same thing as I am telling you: there is no alternative to cooperation.

“We must know exactly what the plans of the Founder are. What will he have the Miners Organization do in the days to come?”

The writer rapidly considered his options.

A subconscious voice told him that Kont was lying about Veta. There had to be a reasonable explanation for what had happened to bring her to Glucinium.

Dey made a sudden decision.

“I need to talk with her at once. Let me see the woman. I must have contact with her.”

The Captain gave a start. “What do you have to say to the government worker?” His eyes narrowed as he asked his prisoner this question.

No reply came from Dey. His face became as expressionless as mineral rock.

“This session is over,” announced Kont, rising energetically to his feet. He quickly disappeared without another word.

Veta, dear Veta, precious Veta, assure me that you are not my betrayer.

From the tiny, circular window of his cell, Skull could see the setting of the daystar into the jagged ridge above Glucinium.

Veta, Veta, Veta, confirm that I was not a fool to trust you the way that I did.

All at once, Dey realized how much she knew about him that had never been revealed to anyone else he knew.

He shook his head from side to side. Why had it not been clearly evident to him at that very moment when Kont had told him that Veta had been reporting on him to the secret police? She had not told Kont anything that she had learned. That was why the Captain was grilling him for what she had not uncovered on her own. She had protected him with her silence.

Of course, he had never told her his true purpose for traveling to the Minerals. She did not know about the mystery of his ancestry. And there had not been any sign that Kont had any suspicion about the genealogical motive for his coming. That factor remained invisible to the authorities.

Certainly, if the questioner had known he was a Xart, that would have been used as a lever to force him to confess to more.

No, there was no evidence of any such knowledge on the part of Mr. Kont, the clandestine officer.

Veta had kept anything he had told her secret. She was not a willing spy, nor a deceitful person.

Dey breathed with a relaxing ease as night descended over the boney cordillera of the Mineral Mountains.

He felt the glow of new hope radiating through him.

The travel guide assigned him by the government was the key to rescue and escape. He had to place his trust in Veta to regain his liberty.

Suddenly, the door to his cell swung open with a clang.

“Come along with me,” ordered a police guard. “There is a woman here to see you.”

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