Chapter XXII.

12 Apr

Dey Skull had a night unlike any he had ever thought possible.

He recalled what he had uncovered about the treatment of Xartic prisoners back in the days of the Cataclysm. Hours of ceaseless questioning. Bright painful lighting. Not a moment of rest. And behind the screen, the threat of physical violence. When was the expected torture to start? the writer asked himself again and again.

Dey realized it was merely a matter of time before the Clandestine Service began with the “pain treatments” devised five decades before.

The same methods of pressure would certainly be applied to the Founder and his colleagues, for they were held by the same captors as was he.

Minute followed minute, till they flowed into hours.

Interrogators took turns, each of them presenting a list of questions to their subject. Over and over, the process repeated itself in a circular pattern.

One agent was tall and thin, another fat and short. Interchangeable, his tormenters fit a common profile. Identical training and similar practice and experience had erased individual character in those who grilled the prisoner.

Dey studied each one for some slight sign of human sympathy, but found none.

Several times he started to doze off, but a loud grating noise roused him awake before he was able to have any rest. The questions kept coming, unending and merciless.

His torturers used a loud, irritating buzzer to keep him conscious if he came near to sleep.

What inhuman mechanisms might they apply to him in the future? he asked himself.

He lost track of how many interrogators and how many questions he had faced when the finish arrived suddenly, without warning of any sort.

“Back to your cell,” said the guard who took him out of the examination room, into the corridor, back to his chamber of incarceration.

As the door closed, Dey could hear the policeman curse at him.

“You and your friends haven’t seen anything yet. Soon the Clandestines will be taking your Founder and his gang to a special camp they keep high in the cordillera.”

Veta was ready with her traveling bag when a soft knock sounded at her door. She opened it to find two muscular men in miners’ coats of brownish green.

“Come with us quickly,” commanded one of them. “It is too dangerous to use the public lifter. We have climbed up here to the top floor, and you will have to go down with us on foot. Until the dawn of the daystar, the three of us will have to wait below in the kitchen.”

“And then a carrier arrives to take us away?” she asked, seeking solid confirmation of what Taval Renda had promised her he would arrange to get her away.

“Yes, that is the plan,” said the miner, nodding his head.

One of the men carried her bag as the three trudged down the back stairs floor by floor.

In the kitchen, preparations for the coming day were in progress. The cook who had remained there overnight prepared some boiled eggs for them. Gradually, the day team of cooks arrived. The hotel was coming to life again, as was all of Glucinium.

“The delivery wagon is at the back door,” finally said the sleepless, exhausted head cook.

Veta and her miner escorts rose from the table they were using, nodded goodbye, and went out into the pinkish yellow of dawn. A long loco carrier was waiting in the rear alley for them. The miners helped their charge climb into the rear passenger cabin, then scrambled in themselves.

As the sky brightened into morning, they sped away from the central section of Glucinium.

Dey awakened from his short, interrupted sleep. Someone was shining a flasher light into his eyes. The brilliant rays threw the intruder into the colorless shadows.

“Get up,” barked one of the police guards. “It’s time for you to be moving.”

The prisoner jumped out of his cot, onto his feet. A hand reached out and drew him forward, another gave him a strong push toward the open door of the cell.

Two plainclothesmen standing in the corridor took over responsibility, guiding the writer toward the far end, past a series of open cells where his colleagues had been held.

The three entered a lifter that lowered them to the ground level. No one spoke until they reached the covered garage of Glucinium police headquarters.

“Get into the locovan,” ordered one of the Clandestine agents.

Dey climbed in the rear door of the long vehicle, spying all three of his fellow prisoners. The Founder and Beryl Sehr were seated on one side of the parallel seats, Bato Mentin across from the two of them.

“Come in and sit with us,” said Garen Slyn in a clear, reassuring voice.

Dey did exactly that, taking the space next to Mentin.

The two plainclothesmen climbed in, occupying the two ends of the long wall of seats.

The van began to move out of the garage, into a downtown street drenched with bright yellow light. They were in the heart of Glucinium. The town was once again in motion, despite the state of martial law in effect. It was slowly coming to life.

Dey turned to Bato on his left side.

“One of our guardians told me that our detention will be up in the heights of the cordillera,” he softly muttered. “It sounded quite threatening to me.”

From the opposite side of the loco, the Founder spoke under his breath.

“That is where the Clandestine Service takes people it wishes to…” He hesitated for an instant, then continued “…hurt in secret.”

The van rode on, out of Glucinium. Its course was continuously upward, into the High Minerals. The air up there was rarer and much harder to breathe. There were difficulties ahead, all of the prisoners understood.

As they traversed individual mountains, the Founder recalled what each place-name meant. The hamlet of Jarosite got its name from the ocher yellow crystals of that mineral, once mined there.

A deserted settlement on a high cliff had a sign that read Dichroite.

“Do you know what dichroism is in mineralogy, Dey?” asked Slyn.

“It sounds as if it refers to having two colors, I’d say.”

The leader gave him an affirmative nod. “Dichroite is a silicate of aluminum, iron, and magnesium. That is quite a combination. It appears to possess a multitude of shades of blue that are constantly changing, all at the same time. In the past, the mineral was in great demand for export abroad. People loved to have it for its decorative qualities. But over the years, styles and tastes tend to change radically. The result is that the mineral market undergoes total turnover every so often. The rule is one of sudden, unexpected transformations. Change prevails, not stability. That seems to be a general principle in almost everything. It is one of the main rules of life, I would say.”

As the road led higher, the settlements became rarer and further apart.

Eclogite was named for its bright green pyroxenic rock.

Finally, the locovan reached the mountain top with a sign identifying it as Hydrargyrum Park. “In the past, mercury was obtained up here from the ground,” explained the Founder. “Its name means liquid silver. That was what the ancient Xarti of this region called mercury.”

Dey Skull felt a twitch, but quickly pulled himself together. His gaze fell upon Beryl Sehr, sitting opposite him. She was staring at him with a silent curiosity.

All at once, he realized the depth of his impression upon her emotions and senses.

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