Chapter XXIII.

7 May

Chak Dara obtained a vague, general picture of the events transpiring in the district around the experimental forest run by his friend, Resh. His information was vague, imprecise, and late in arrival.

He visited a number of friends and sympathizers in Tochian City, mostly reformist journalists and political activists of a variety of types. He publicized the great crisis currently taking place in the backwoods rain forest of Tochsylvania and the terrible catastrophe about to happen to the aborigine Vazeans living their tribal lives in the manner of their ancestors.

The emotion behind his warnings grew ever sharper and deeper.

Chak decided to assemble a public meeting on the native crisis and himself address those attending the event. He arranged the spontaneous event overnight and was surprised to find scores of interested individuals attending. The topic was one that deeply concerned the Tochian citizens conscious of the perilous state of the society that they dwelled in. Worry and unease characterized the prevailing mood of the brightest minds in the capital.

How was this crisis going to end? asked everyone who had serious thoughts and concerns.

He himself called the meeting to order and spoke to it in a voice of excitement and alarm.

“Desperation is growing and anger increasing out there in the primitive rain forest of our country. In the one district that we are all familiar with, the planter militia has organized itself into a dangerous aggressive force aiming at destroying and uprooting the Vazean tribers who carry out the physical labor on farms and plantations owned by outsiders. Matters are rapidly heading toward a critical and bloody climax which can easily end in death and massacre. Can the civilized citizens of Tochsylvania take timely action to prevent a tragic holocaust? The outcome may soon depend upon those of us here in the capital city. We may perhaps end up with unintended blood on our indifferent hands.

“The responsibility to do what we can in order to prevent colossal tragedy falls upon each and every individual who was born with a conscience.

“We must quickly mobilize ourselves for the purpose of awakening public opinion against the threatening slaughter of our native tribers. The people of this city must become aware of what is happening and their own potential guilt should matters out there end up in mass slaughter of the native triber population.

“It is now the duty of the intellectual and educated currents of this land to stand up and resist the hatred that has seized hold of a large fraction of our planter population. We must defend the right and oppose what is immoral and evil. Our descendants shall not forgive us if we remain idle at this time, and if violent warfare breaks out in the rain forests.

“That is the duty and the destiny of every one of us who has gathered together here today: to do what we know is right.”

Chak was stunned by the outburst of emotional cheering that broke out among the hearers he had aroused with his fiery words.

His fiery words had given birth to an enlivened desire to aid the Vazeans threatened with catastrophe.

The militia posse had halted at the boundary of the experimental reserve.

“Shall we go back, Master?” Khaph asked Mem Samekh.

The latter had a ready reply.

“No,” he told the overseer. “Let me think for a moment.”

That was all it took for the planter to reach a definite decision.

He turned to his lieutenants and spoke in a loud, powerful tone to them.

“They think the station can protect them, but these savages are wrong. I know where they are hiding. The forest of this reserve shall be a death trap for all the tribers of the district. We must allow none of them to flee and inform the outside world about the coming battle that will solve our worker problem once and for all. This is a show-down that is about to occur.

“We must be bold, fast, and merciless in our retribution on them.”

Dozens of faces gaped at him. What did the militia leader mean when he said that? How far did he intend to have them go in this conflict?

“Forests can burn,” bellowed Samekh. “We have a slight wind out of the north to help us. It should be quite easy to ignite the trees, the leaves, and the low vegetation. That is the strategy we will use to corner all the savages. Our primary weapon of war shall be the simple element called fire.”

His followers gazed at him with overpowering wonder.

“I mean to incinerate all of them,” shouted the crazed planter, forgetting even his sister in his boiling frenzy.

Within twenty minutes, tanks of hydrazine fuel had been brought up to the boundary fence of the station’s reserve.

Mem had already selected the locations where the first fires were to be set.

Nearby heartwoods, greenhearts, and purplehearts soon blazed up.

In a short while, over a dozen separate fires were spreading southward over the station border. A massive inferno was rising and spreading in all directions.

Andirobas, moras, balsas, and virolas received flame from the initial zone of combustion. Onward spread the fires, toward the imported giants, the specially photosynthesized species of ekki, ogea, ayan, agba, okan, and gaboon.

All of these transplanted species brought from elsewhere burned quickly, spreading their flames wider and wider through the experimental forest.

From top to bottom, the towering experimental trees caught sparks.

It was not long before the trekkers themselves saw them.

The entire caravan halted in its tracks and gazed backwards, stupefied by the strange, nightmarish sight. Why was an inferno following them? It became evident that all of them were threatened with death. The fire was meant to bring death to all the tribers who were in flight.

The militia had succeeded in uncovering their sanctuary. They meant to destroy them by burning it to ashes.

Rambatan and Yod came back to the middle of the trekker line and addressed the people congregating there. The old man was the first to speak.

“The planters know that we came in this direction and intend to destroy us within the forest reserve. Their plan is to burn us alive. They mean to destroy us like a pack of fleeing rats. There will not be an iota of mercy for any of us.”

“What can we do, Datto?” shouted someone.

“They plan to surround the whole station and keep us within the path of the fire,” answered Rambutan. He then turned to the dacoit leader. “If we head toward the river, they will surely try to cut us off with fires from that side, too. We have to decide quickly, or else be trapped within a circle of fire from which no one will escape.”

Yod Teth began to think aloud. “If only there was a way to fight the fire. But these flames will be merciless, there can be no doubt about that at all.”

He looked to his side, where Resh Zayeth stood between Lea and Thav.

The dendrologist suddenly seemed to take an upward leap into the air.

“There is one chance,” he proclaimed in a ghostly voice. His yellow eyes darted about from tree to tree, as if he was looking for something there.

Resh finally turned to Rambatan.

“I will need about ten of the strongest, fastest men to help me. It may fail, but that is all we have left. An attempt at action must be made immediately.”

The datto  pointed to Yod. “You will be in charge of carrying out what he wants done. Obey whatever he may want done by you. That is your present duty.”

What did the dendrologist have in mind for them to accomplish? In the desperate circumstances they were in, no one took the initiative to ask him the details of what he planned to carry out. Thought and analysis would have to occur after action was taken and his commands carried out.

There was no rest for the fleeing caravan. Lea and Thav trudged on in its rearguard, forgetting their powerful exhaustion. Through zones of afara, sapile, and utile trees, on they proceeded. As they entered a small clearing, a booming sound came from somewhere behind them. The long line of walkers stopped and turned around. They looked up in surprise and awe.

A second, then a third explosion followed, soon becoming a continued barrage.

“Look,” called out Thav, lifting her hand and pointing into the yellow-green sky from where the noise was originating.

Tall trunks of ekki and ogea were catapulting upward into the air, then fell rapidly down onto the forest ground.

“The giants are blowing up!,” shouted one excited triber. “The trees have turned into bombs. They are acting as if they were being shot out of pieces of field artillery.”

“The forest is trying to reach the sky,” yelled another. “It wants to escape the fire by fleeing up above the ground. But it can’t, so the giant trees fall back into the burning forest after they themselves explode.”

But there was something more, for the trees were bursting with loud noises, as if each of them was a battlefield explosive or bomb.

Each second another deafening sound occurred in one or another sector of the forest reserve.

Debris and splinters fell down upon the ground from above in the areas involved. The area had all the aspects of a genuine battlefield in the midst of warfare.

A rain of broken wood descended. It continued without stop, on and on.

Lea turned to Thav. “Resh is causing this,” she calmly told her.

“How can that be?” asked her companion.

“That we have to try to find out. We must figure out where he us at this moment.”

Lea took the hand of her Tochian friend.

“Let’s go back and see what it is that our side is doing. I am certain it will be safe for us among the exploding giant trees.”

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