Chapter XXVII.

17 Apr

Three miners allied with Renda came to Mentin’s door. One of them knocked. The burly resident rose from the bed he was laying on and strode over to the door and opened it.

One of the men outside, speaking for the group, informed Bato that a special session of the Central Crew was about to meet. They were there to accompany him to the conference room where the meeting was going to be held.

“I will tell the Founder and go there with him,” said the large man inside the room. “The three of you can return and report that I am on my way.”

The spokesman for the miners had to think fast.

“That is not necessary, Brother Mantin. Everything has been arranged. Our orders are to accompany you to the place of assembly. Another escort team is to take our Founder to the location.”

“Very well,” muttered Bato, his mind already full of questions about what was happening. He went into the corridor, following the leader of his guards.

Down a long, wide hallway moved the small party, stopping at a large door of black devilwood.

“Go in,” commanded the senior miner. “They are waiting for you in there.”

The room was a spacious oval, well-lit from the radiant, glistening crystal ceiling. Circular rows of seats about a focal pit held the members of the Central Crew, all but one. It was the founder of the miners’ movement who was absent.

As he headed for an unoccupied seat, Bato made out a familiar figure on a chair in the pit. It was his recent acquaintance, Dey Skull. The writer’s eyes followed him as he walked to one of the chairs and sat down. He is trying to signal danger to me, decided Mentin in a few seconds. That has to be the meaning of the expression on his face.

What has happened? wondered Bato. Why isn’t Garen Slyn, the Founder, present? And why is the journalist from abroad here with the others?

The room seemed to hold an ominous, deadly silence within it. No one made any movement that might result in sound of any sort. Some important event was immanent, it appeared. What it might turn out to be, Bato Mentin could not guess, not yet.

All at once, one of the members seated in the circle rose to his feet. All eyes turned on Taval Renda as he addressed the assembled leadership of the Miners Organization.

“Dear companions, an urgent matter has arisen that demands our immediate attention without a moment of delay. Dealing with the subject cannot be postponed without courting a catastrophe. The future of our miners’ movement is at stake, because we are in immanent danger of losing the support of the public in Landia.

“There is a previously unsuspected fraud that none of us knew of until very recently. Perhaps only one of us in the leadership was cognizant of it, the particular individual involved.

“What is going to be discussed momentarily involves our president, the Founder of the Miners Organization. I call upon all of you to maintain a prudent silence about what is now going to be said here. Our task will be to correct a mistake we have all been involved in. That is not at all easy to accomplish. But it must at once be done. Listen with patience to what I shall now tell you.

“The stranger present in this room is a person from abroad who has come to the Mineral Mountains to locate lost family relatives. What makes him of interest to us is that he is of Xartic descent and that his purpose is to investigate his blood relationship to Garen Slyn.”

A deep, general sighing was audible all about the circle of leaders.

All of a sudden, one of them sprang to his feet.

“This is preposterous!” shouted Bato Mentin, his craggy face scarlet with rage. “Why are you plotting against the Founder?”

“Sit down, hothead,” ordered Renda sternly. He turned abruptly to Dey Skull. “Tell us what you know about Garen Slyn’s ethnic background. Why is it that you count the man a relative of yours? We must know the truth.”

The writer rose slowly to his feet and slowly began to speak.

“Members of the Central Crew, let me tell you the truth about what I know.

“This evening I was taken to a secret room to talk with Mr. Renda. He proposed that if I should relate to you a story that would incriminate your Founder as a fraud and prevaricator, he would pay me handsomely for that service. The sum of 100,000 isopyres was promised as my reward for such a service. I was to unmask Mr. Slyn as a secret Xart, lying for decades about his minority ancestry.

“But my conscience does not permit me to take part in such a deception, nor to profit from it. Therefore, I renounce all the lies that were meant to come from my lips. I accuse Taval Renda of conspiracy to overthrow the leadership of your movement through libelous lies concerning the Founder.”

Dey looked accusingly at his green-eyed opponent.

Before anyone else could do anything, Bato Mentin jumped from his chair and rushed into the focal pit, taking hold of the right hand of the recalcitrant, disobedient witness.

“Come with me,” he whispered under his breath. “We must tell Garen at once what his enemies are attempting to do to him.”

The pair made a swift exit from the room before anyone had a chance to stop them.

The Founder did not respond to knocking at his door. There was something clearly wrong, both men outside recognized at once.

A door opened further down the corridor. Beryl Sehr peered out from her room. She waved to the two men to approach nearer.

“Where is Garen?” asked Bato as the petite young woman emerged into the bright light from out of her dark room.

She glanced first at Dey, then answered the big bruin.

“He went out walking a while ago,” she said hesitantly. “I saw him pass by when I happened to open my door a small crack.”

“Where was he going?” inquired Bato with excitement in his voice. “Do you know what his destination was?”

She shook her head no.

“Did you talk to Taval Renda about…about me?” angrily asked Dey.

Her only reply was a slow, solemn nod.

“I’m very sorry,” she apologized with embarrassment. “It was not my intention…”

The sound of an opening door interrupted the three of them. Dey turned around in time to catch Veta stepping out of her room and moving toward the group in the hallway.

“Who is there?” she asked with unconcealed consternation.

Before anyone could answer her, the sound of heavy footsteps echoed from a far distance, growing louder by the second.

Bato seized charge of the perilous situation at this moment of peak tension.

“We must get away from here, all of us,” he starkly declared. “Follow me. I am quite familiar with the layout of the mine shafts.”

Dey and Veta began to follow him away from the approaching noise of moving feet.

“T plan to stay here and delay them as long as possible,” announced Beryl Sehr in a distressed voice. “Get away at once into the interior of the mine. Good luck to all of you.”

The two men and Veta Vermilion hurried off, rounding a corner a second before a party of miners arrived from the other side.

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