Chapter XXV.

15 Apr

Taval Renda and his cohorts occupied the front and inner portion of the caboose. The Founder’s party found seats along the outer wall, opposite the group that had entered first. An air of social coldness was evident all through the car.

The narrow-gauge tracker started to move forward, running on imported hydrazine fuel oil. Upward it climbed, the angle of ascent growing steeper and steeper. The train of empty ore cars progressed ever slower, until it seemed to be inching on at a crawl.

Within the crew wagon that was last, no one was willing to say a single word. One group averted its eyes from the other, as if afraid to start a quarrel. The radical zealots who followed Renda seemed oblivious of the presence of the Founder of the miners’ movement.

Veta, with Dey beside her, gazed out the little window to her right.

“How starkly barren it looks up here,” she whispered lowly, turning her face toward him.

The writer, smiling as if he had not a care, peered past her at the mountain landscape of rocky surfaces. There were no trees at these heights, he noted. Nothing was green, only the various shades of mineral gray of the naked Cordillera.

The mountain was a rich load at this high altitude, holding the solid magnetic metal from which Dysprosium derived it name.

Veta swiveled about in order to observe the panorama in all its majesty. She stared with hypnotized interest at the vertical walls and the angled planes of bare stone. It was a spellbinding perspective.

Before anyone aboard realized it, the tracker train had reached the entrance of the central mine shaft. The forward engine came to a sudden stop, allowing the passengers in the rear caboose to climb out first, followed by the group led by Renda.

A party made up of Central Crew members stood beside the rails, waiting to welcome the Founder and those traveling with him.

Dey and Veta glanced at each other, then followed the group moving into the bowels of the mine, where their new quarters were waiting for them.

An entire complex of rooms and facilities was available, unknown to the wealthy owners of the magnetic mine who never came here to inspect, but lived in faraway Chalcedony in luxury and comfort.

In effect, the miners ran and ruled Dysprosium. As long as the ore was excavated and transported to its destination, no one asked questions or visited the site. The mine functioned almost as if it were a machine. The Clandestine Service had no idea what went on at this extreme altitude and did not appear to care.

It took several minutes for the newcomers to adjust to the air and pressure in the first underground chamber they entered. The group went on into a huge cavern of enormous dimensions, holding a great space that towered up to its jagged ceiling.

Bright lighting produced by gas sacs suffused the interior of the primary shaft, providing the visibility needed for careful, accurate work of various kinds.

Separate rooms waited for each of the new arrivals. Garen Slyn was embarrassed by the size of the one assigned him. It was larger than what he was used to.

“Are all the members of the Central Crew here, then?” the Founder asked the miners who were escorting them.

“Yes, everyone is now present with your arrival,” grinned a local leader.

Dey and Veta were taken to rooms facing each other across a middle corridor.

Before closing their doors and moving inside, the pair managed to whisper to each other.

“There are certain matters we have to discuss, just the two of us,” he said to her in a low voice. “There is trouble brewing between the Founder and Taval Renda. It will cause some kind of explosion before too long. You can feel it, can’t you?”

She nodded that she did.

“We will have to be watchful and do what we can for the sake of Garen Slyn,” said the journalist, frowning with heavy thoughts. “He is the only one who can provide the miners with wise leadership in this time of serious trouble. They would be lost without him.”

Each of them disappeared into opposite rooms across from each other.

Beryl Sehr rapped lightly on the leatherwood door.

In a second, a pair of green eyes looked out through the narrow opening made from inside.

“Come in,” snapped her lover with anger. “Be quiet about it,” he added.

She entered, closing the door behind her, then looked at the man who was barely an inch taller than she was.

The pair exchanged searching looks. It was Beryl who decided to speak first.

“What are you going to do?” she asked in an almost inaudible voice.

Taval Renda gave her a smile of reassurance.

“Nothing that will harm the Founder of our movement, my dear,” he whispered, moving closer. “What I have learned from you has to be kept confidential, believe me. But I have decided that it would be wrong to keep that important information from the decision-makers of the Central Crew. They are certainly competent and discrete enough to know how to handle the terrible fact of a Xart at our helm.”

“But what do you propose that they do about the matter, my dear?” There was a hint of anxiety in her words and voice. Had she brought about a shadow of personal trouble to the man who had befriended and protected her like a father when she had been on her own and all alone?

“I swear that no harm will come to Garen Slyn,” he promised the young woman with the curly flaxen hair. “But the leadership of the Miners Organization must be made aware of what has been kept from them up to now. That is a necessity under the present circumstances. Had the truth been known before the present crisis began, there might not have been a general strike such as that which occurred. The series of events could have been totally different. Who can say for sure?”

Beryl peered into his enlarged eyes of green and saw a convincing force in them.

Yes, she told herself, he sways my mind the way that he has from the beginning. These were her thoughts as the adept deceiver bent forward and kissed her on the cheek with passion.

The pair shared a rapid embrace, then she hurried back to her own room.

Beryl sensed that she was under the powerful influence of Taval Renda.

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