Blue Patagonia

30 Aug

Juan Fenton mistakenly thought the Los Antiguos Peace Conference would be the most important story of his journalistic career. Events intervened and upset this expectation of the Argentine reporter.

Twenty-five years of tension were to end with the treaty-signing ceremony as the presidents of Chile and Argentina shook hands beside the shore of Lago Buenos Aires, near the border between the neighboring countries.

An army of reporters described the events over their magnetos, sending off copy and visuals to central offices in Santiago and Buenos Aires.

Juan returned in a press carro to the Hotel Argentino, carrying his tiny receiver-transmitter. As he crossed the crowded lobby, a voice from the front desk called out to him.

“Message for you, Senor Fenton.”

He stopped, turned around, and headed for the waiting clerk. The latter pointed to a telefono booth beside the long desk.

Juan entered the cubicle, put his magneto on the small shelf, and picked up the receiver, putting it against his right ear.

“Yes?” he asked.

“This is the Patagonian bureau chief, Senor Cruz. Am I speaking to Fenton?”

“Indeed,” replied the reporter.

“We received your magneto coverage. Very good. But something else has come up that we wish you would look into. It may not have much importance, but at least you can check it out.”

“What is it?”

“A missing lazero scientist there in Los Antiguos.”

“An agronomist?”

“No, a photonic physicist at an experimental farm on the outskirts of the town you are in. His name is Adolfo Matta. The place is called Chacma El Porvenir. You should go there to see the man’s daughter. He disappeared a week ago without a sign. The police have no clue what might have happened to the man.”

“I’ll go immediately,” said the weary reporter.

“Good,” said the editor. “I doubt there is much to this, but at least have a look. Tell us if there is any story there.”

Juan was delighted to learn from the desk clerk that the experimental farm was within walking distance of the main street of town. Leaving his magneto in his room, he went outside and started for his destination.

He spotted a stationary aerostat high above the fruit orchards on both sides of the country road beyond the end of Los Antiguos. A faint bluish light shone from the sky platform. It flowed outward in all directions.

Juan stopped a moment to gaze up at the aerostat. Those blue rays have transformed Patagonia, he mused. No longer is our climate cool and arid. Photonic science has transformed the cone of this continent into an incredibly productive food-producer. Specialized agriculture has replaced the sheep estancia of old. The miracle is due to the projectors of parallelized, enhanced lazaro light up on the aerostats and blimpos.

The reporter started to walk once more. He had only a skimpy knowledge of photonic agronomy and how it was carried out. This visit would provide him an opportunity to explore a light-engineered chacra for the first time.

The man in white who met him on the porch of the one-storey choza was tall and heavy, with sad dark eyes and a dour expression.

“Can I help you?” he brusquely asked the stranger.

“I am Juan Fenton of “La Prensa”.”

The big man looked at the reporter blankly. “You are here about Dr. Matta?”

“That is correct,” said Juan with a smile.

The one in the white suit introduced himself. “I am the owner of this experimental chacra. The name of it is Chacra of the Future. I am Alvaro Lopez.”

As the two shook hands, Juan saw a female come forth from the front door. Lopez followed the journalist’s eyes till both males were gazing at a small young woman with reddish brown hair. She stood in the open doorway in a lime green dress, her curious large eyes focused on the man she could not recognize.

“This is Carmen Matta, daughter of my chief physicist,” said the chacra-owner. “This is Senor Fenton,” he told the young female. “He is here about your father.”

Juan studied her without timidity. He could read concern and worry on her fair, regular face. She studied him back in silence a short while.

“Let’s go inside and talk,” finally proposed Lopez.

Carmen stepped inside so that the visitor could enter.

The trio sat at a long, dark mahogany table, the men at opposite ends. The young woman was in the middle, nearer Lopez than Fenton.

A short, heavy female with a red apron on served them carbonada, a beef stew that contained sweet potatoes, maize, squash, rice, apples, and peaches.

No one said anything until the meal was over and the servant brought them drinks, mate tea for the men and peach and milk licquado for Carmen.

The owner of the farm drew a deep breath and started to open up to Juan.

“The Lopez family has been on this land for four generations. Our fruit orchards are in the first rank of this district. In fact, in all of Santa Cruz province there is no one who stands ahead of me in quality and productivity. Even before the introduction of lazero ray cultivation, this chacra was renowned for its apples, pears, peaches, plums, and cherries. You have heard of the Los Antiquos Cherry Festival, Senor Fenton? It is held in the town every year in January. Without exception, the food from this farm is always judged among the finest in the province.

“When the photonic revolution came to Argentine agriculture thirty-five years ago, my father was one of the pioneers here in Patagonia. He saw the changes that the new light brought to the lowlands of the Atlantic coast. The old sheep ranches today grow wheat, barley, maize, and even the ancient quinoa of the Andes. Here in Los Antiquos, close to lakes and mountains, we are able to grow spectacular strawberries and raspberries that are shipped to and prized in Buenos Aires.”

He paused in order to measure the effect of his words on his guest.

“When I inherited these holdings, I vowed never to let any other chacra to outdistance me. Increased production has become my mania, I confess. My land produces light-treated crops of grapes, avocado, watermelon, pomegranate, papaya, mango, pepino, and guava. My crops become more varied and exotic every year, because I invest and plow back all my profit into research and experimentation. Agronomists from all parts of Argentina visit this chacra to learn the newest lazero technology.”

His voice suddenly turned soft and muffled. “Do you know why the Chileans were compelled to sign this peace treaty with us? Because they are far behind Argentine agricultural science. Their photonic physics is not in the same advanced league as ours. They must cooperate and imitate us. The end of over a quarter century of military tension is a sign that that they are too far behind to catch up on their own. Hostility has become impractical and unproductive for Chile. Circumstances force them to sue for peace.”

“I was present to cover the signing by the two presidents,” interjected Juan.

“Yes, I surmised as much. And now you plan to look into the absence of Dr. Adolfo Matta.” Alvaro Lopez turned to the silent daughter. “You explain what happened, Carmen,” he told her with cold authority in his voice.

She looked at Juan with a strange glow in her hazel-colored eyes.

“My father has never been one to do the unexpected. His life ran on routine like a clock. He had many projects going on at the same time and kept each one in its proper place. He maintained a full, rigid schedule of work.

“So, his going away without a word to me or anyone else was a shock. I don’t know what to make of it. No note, no message was left. He left everything suspended.” She frowned and began to stutter. “I felt as if he were abducted, so I contacted the police in Los Antiguos. There efforts to find him have been totally unsuccessful, so far.”

“Did your father have any enemies?”

“No.” Carmen looked away from him. “Not that I know of.”

No one spoke for several uneasy moments.

“Let me show you about the chakra, Senor Fenton,” proposed the owner. “You will see for yourself what we do here.”

Lopez drove the reporter between the rows of trees in a two-seater, parking outside a long, Quonset building that resembled a warehouse.

The carro came to a stop and the two men climbed out.

“This is where Dr. Matta carried out his lazero tests,” explained Lopez. I don’t understand the fine details, but he was calibrating the photonic intensity from the blimpo projectors to the needs of the trees and plants.”

The two men stopped and looked up at the aerostat for several seconds.

“The strength and frequency of the light waves are controlled from consoles in the ground station.” He pointed to the corrugated aluminum structure.

Juan followed his guide inside, where half a dozen technical workers were busy at separate desks. No one looked up at the visitors.

The men at work turned dials and checked monitor screens, wrote down numbers and made calculations on magnetopads.

“We have sensors in the trees and vines that continuously transmit data here,” smiled Lopez. “The technicians can customize the lazero rays for each sector of an orchard. Temperature levels can be set and maintained. There is just the right amount of light for each kind of fruit.”

The two started to leave, when a white-coated technician jumped out of his seat and approached them. His face was red with excitement.

“Senor Lopez, the mandarin oranges have been ruined again!” he shouted. “This happens again and again. We go past some invisible line. The oranges boil and desiccate before anyone notices it.”

The owner of the chakra gave him a severe look.

“We must continue till we have it right, Pedro,” he grumbled. “There is no reason to give up now.”

“If only Dr. Matta were here to direct us,” whined the technician. “Where is he, Senor Lopez?”

“I don’t know, but continue as he would have had you do.”

“Will he be back soon?” persisted Pedro.

“Let us hope so,” solemnly replied Lopez. He led the reporter out of the station.

The carro stopped in front of the adobe cottage as the sun of a November spring set behind the Andrean peaks over in Chile.

“Are you of English ancestry, my friend?” asked Lopez.

“No,” said Fenton. “My forefathers were Welsh immigrants in the lower Chubut valley. Gaiman is the oldest town in the province. All that remains there today are a few Welsh teahouses for tourists. Germans and English followed us to Patagonia. Most of the Welsh have moved westward, into higher areas.”

“I have seen your chapels and heard the singing clubs,” noted Lopez. “But today we are all Argentinians, wherever our ancestors may have come from.”

Both of them caught sight of Carmen as she appeared on the porch. “I found something,” she called out. “Perhaps it is important.”

The men climbed out of the carro, both of them brimming with curiosity.

Carmen read the contents of a letter she had discovered to Lopez and Fenton.

Dear Dr. Matta,

I am happy to inform you that the Supreme Court of Chile has decided the inheritance claims by Argentine citizens must be honored as legally valid. This means that property rights that have been suspended for many years are once more in force. The remains of the Matta estate have been finally disposed of by our courts. As you know, the Ministry of Justice has been administrator of the Matta properties in Magallanes province for over a generation. The estate of your great-grandfather will now become yours. Because of the recent change in the relations between our two countries, there is no longer a prohibition of inheritance by a citizen of Argentina.

Since the frontiers have once more been opened after so many years, it will now be possible for you to come to Punta Arenas to claim what is yours. That should occur immediately, so that the necessary documents can be signed and notarized on Chilean soil, as is necessary.

Your presence in Punta Arenas is vital in the immediate future. Any delay will complicate the transfer of extensive property to your name. I beg you to inform me when you ill arrive here in Chile. Time is of the essence in this matter, I assure you.

Sincerely yours, Attorney Ernesto Lanin

Punta Arenas, Chile.

Carmen set the letter down on the dining-room table and looked first at Alvaro Lopez, then at Juan Fenton.

“What does this mean?” she asked. “Is my father in Chile?”

The journalist posed a question. “Do you and your father have Chilean ancestors, Carmen?” he asked the frightened daughter.

She nodded yes. “There were two branches of the Matta family. When they migrated from Europe in the early 19th century, one brother settled in Argentine Patagonia and the other found work across the Andes, in the region later annexed by Chile. There was never communication or contact between the two sets of relatives. Each went its own way, independently and separately.”

“Those in Chile grew very wealthy, it appears,” blandly noted Juan.

The hazel eyes of Carmen grew cloudy and distant. “My father once told me, when I was a child, that his distant relatives held extensive sheep ranches in southern Patagonia. I took it as a fable. Over the years, I forgot about the story. Today, it may be necessary for me to go there to find out what has happened.”

“How can you do that?” countered Lopez. “Travel into Chile is still highly restricted, Carmen.”

A shadow seemed to fall over her face and eyes. “Father is in some kind of trouble, or I would have heard from him. Why did he leave without telling me why?”

“Perhaps he wished to surprise you with a windfall fortune,” suggested Lopez. “He may have wanted to complete everything first.”

All of a sudden, Carmen turned anxiously to Juan Fenton. “Can you help me get to Punta Arenas?” she pleaded. “I must go there at once and find this lawyer.”

The reporter replied with no hesitation. “I can get you a Chilean visa through my newspaper’s central office in Buenos Aires. It could take only days.”

“I need your assistance,” stuttered the distraught daughter. “Would you accompany me there, Senor Fenton?”

“Of course,” he softly replied.

Lopez then made a proposal. “Why don’t you stay out here till the documents are ready? There is an extra bedroom you can use.”

Arrangements were quickly agreed upon. Lopez that evening drove Juan to town to fetch his luggage and magneto.

Carmen was at the dining-room table pouring over road maps when the two returned.

“We will have to go down the Atlantic coast to Rio Gallegos, then cut across into Chile near Tierra del Fuego, then come north to Punta Arenas. It must be this round-about route that we take.”

Juan studied the route on the map. “Alvaro wants us to use his high-powered magnetic carro. It was built for all kinds of road surfaces.”

Carmen studied the roads they would be taking as Juan explained why they were so undeveloped. “The Chileans have no modern highway from the center of their country to Punta Arenas. They depend a lot on air travel southward. Years ago, before the wars, they even used the Argentine road system to get to their far south. They would cross over from Chile Chico to our Los Antiguos in order to proceed on to their own sector of Patagonia. The result was that they had to cross the Andes two times.”

“Chilean and Argentine Patagonia have historically been connected to each other,” declared Carmen. “As in my own family history.”

Juan and Carmen took an afternoon walk of the distant fuit groves of the chakra. She pointed out the rich variety of produce under lazero rays from an aerostat high above them.

“My father believes that engineered light is the solution to world hunger. He says that even our neighbor, Chile, is a generation behind our own progress in the field. That is why he came here to work for Alvaro, to help develop better light for our planet. His dream is to tailor lazeros to specific climates and soil conditions.”

“He sounds like quite a man,” said her walking companion.

The two of them continued until they reached the furthest boundary of the chacra. The air was warm and still. Carmen stopped and pointed to the blimpo overhead in the blazing blue sky. “The lazero projectors change their frequencies as the sun rises or falls. Now, in the afternoon, the intensity of the rays falls back to what it was early in the morning.”

As they walked along in silence, his eyes kept lifting upward. Was he imagining what he thought was happening? Were the lazero beams growing bluer with every passing second of time?

All at once, the two of them halted and turned to each other.

The ground, the citrus trees and their leaves, and the sky itself had an eerie cast of blue to them.

The hazel eyes of Carmen became greenish blue emeralds. Her face seemed pale and bloodless.

What was happening on the high aerostat? both of them wondered. The blueness increased. It became thicker and darker. It flooded out every other color in the spectrum. The landscape was now monochromatic.

Blue, blue, and blue everywhere. Nothing else on the ground or in the sky. A single-hued world surrounded them from all sides.

He and she were now tightly holding a hand of the other.

Then, suddenly, a reversal set in. The blue light began to fade. Other colors reappeared.

Juan breathed easier. Carmen removed her hand from his.

“It’s over,” she said. “The lazero experiment is winding down. Let’s go home.”

Both of them were shivering with shock.

Pedro came to the cottage soon after the walkers returned. He informed them that there had been an accidental bluing in the projectors in the air. Once he left, Juan turned to Carmen with a question.

“This has happened before?”

She nodded yes. “It can happen when an experiment goes over a certain limit. The frequencies and intensities cross a point where the lazero rays are transformed into something new and different.”

“What could that be?” asked Juan.

Carmen frowned. “Father is uncertain what this total bluing might mean.”

Over a late supper, the two discussed the bluing event with Lopez, back from his activities in the city.

“It is inexplicable,” opined the farmer. “For Dr. Matta, the bluing is a scientific mystery. There is no rational explanation for the phenomenon.”

Carmen turned to Juan. “My father was spending a lot of time on the problem. The bluing troubled him greatly. It should not have been happening. It contradicted the established theory of lazero light.”

“Very strange,” mused Juan aloud.

“It is a new reality, never experienced by anyone before.” she muttered.”The world becomes unicolored when total bluing is reached. No one knows what it could mean for the future.”

Juan and Carmen watched the late news on his magneto that evening. An announcer’s voice provided a descriptive narrative.

“The military delegation from the Chilean General Staff arrived this afternoon by avion at Buenos Aires Aeroparque. They were welcomed by the top officers of the armed services of Argentina, as well as the Minister of Defense. The visitors will be making a tour of half a dozen military installations across the country. In the near future, a similar delegation from Argentina will be touring Chilean bases as a sign of the new era of warming relations between the two nations.”

A tape of a train locomotive slowly moving forward appeared on the magneto.

“Early today, the first ferrocarril in many years left Argentina for the Salto-Baquedano rail crossing to Chile, in the northwest. It is carrying magnetic equipment and Patagonian produce. Many businesses in both countries now have plans for direct trade links over the Andes.

“The Chilean Ministry of Tourism has promised to make entry easier for visitors from Argentina. The national parks in Chilean Patagonia are making arrangements for guided tours for Argentine citizens, who for many years have not been able to see the Torros del Paine or Glacier Moreno.”

Juan turned toward Carmen. “We shall see for ourselves whether we are welcome across the border,” he told her.

Next morning, the two visas arrived by special postal delivery.

By one o’clock, the pair of travelers were on their way to the main north-south highway. The road gradually descended into flat country covered with grain. A series of blimpos was visible in the afternoon sky. Faint bluish shafts of light fell from them.

“What was Patagonia like before the lazero light, Juan?” she asked him.

“Many writers called it desolate and empty. Patagonia was considered changeless and useless until photonic agronomy arrived. This was a gaunt land, a nowhere. All that is different now, Carmen.

“An Englishman named Hudson called this a land in which all passion, even between men and women, was abolished. Patagonia was a place for a perfect death, according to him.”

“How horrible!” she shivered.

“All thought and feeling leaves a mind that desolate Patagonia has captured.”

Carmen turned her head to look at fields of wheat and barley. “I hope it never losses its lazero rays and returns to that,” she whispered.

When they reached the ocean port of Rio Gallegos, Juan found a magnetic road station where he recharged the engine globes.

Sleepy and stiff, Carmen climbed out to stretch and walk about a bit.

She stared at the empty blackness of the Patagonian night plain. Juan stood beside her, looking toward the west.

“We are making good time. Our journey will end soon.”

She whirled about and faced him. “It is a great effort and sacrifice you are making. My father and I will always be in your debt, Juan.”

“I was present and available to help,” he said coolly. “It’s part of my professional duty as a hunter for the truth.”

“You are a generous soul, Juan,” she beamed. “There is nothing ordinary about what you are doing for my father and me.”

“Let’s get going again,” he said with a lump in his throat.

Within minutes, they were speeding toward Chilean Patagonia.

Sunrise occurred behind the speeding carro, flooding the granite peaks with sharp yellow rays.

They were in the upland zone of the South American cone.

Only once did the carro pass the abandoned residence of what had been a sheep estancia.

Carmen kept her eyes fixed in the road ahead, looking for a sign that they had passed into Chile.

Out of nowhere, a small border cabin appeared on the right shoulder. “Stop” read a large international sign on its roof.

“These are the Argentine guards,” said Juan as he applied the brakes. As they came to a halt, a soldier in sky-blue uniform came out of the building and approached them.

“Your passports and visas, please,” chirped the unusually merry border guard. It took him only seconds to examine and stamp their documents.

The smiling youth snapped a salute after returning their papers.

“Proceed on to the entry post down the road,” he instructed them.

Juan drove the carro slowly forward about fifty meters, toward a larger structure on the opposite side of the road.

“Welcome to Chile” read a recently placed banner over a door. Two men in dark brown uniforms came out and approached the vehicle.

“Please come into the border station, Senor and Senorita. Bring your entry documents with you, too.”

Juan looked at Carmen and nodded. The two climbed out and followed the guard into the stucco building. They entered a large office with several desks. Two men in civilian suits walked over toward the travelers.

“Please place your passports and visas on the desk,” said a tall, skinny man with colorless eyes.

Apprehensively, Juan and Carmen did as they were told.

There was something going on here that had not been foreseen, realized both of them.

The lanky civilian picked up each passport and read the names, then dropped them on the desk. He gave the other man a tiny nod, then turned to the Argentines. His words felt like a bolt from the sky.

“I have the duty of informing you that as of this moment both of you are under arrest. Do not protest or attempt to resist. Under the laws of Chile, you are considered captured national enemies.”

Shocked and stunned, neither prisoner could utter a word.

“You are in the custody of Charmas. Have you heard of us?”

Juan gaped in surprise. “Chilean Army Intelligence,” he said with a moan.

The tall man turned to Carmen, who was shaking with fear.

“You will soon see your father, Senorita. He is well, and at work elsewhere in our country.” The Charmas agent smiled evilly at her.

From outside the building there was the sound of rotating propeller blades.

“An aviocopter has been sent to take you to General Lanin,” sneered the agent. “He has been waiting anxiously for your safe arrival.”

If either captive had taken a look at the scene below, they would have seen a panorama of snow-topped mountains and glacial ice on lake surfaces. The pristine, pure white would have hypnotized them had they not been too preoccupied to glance downward.

Juan had been holding Carmen by the hand since they had boarded the aviocopter at the border. Neither of them dared any verbal communication in the presence of the military intelligence officers. Yet each knew the questions in the other’s mind.

How did Charmas know that they were entering Chile?

What did their being in custody have to do with the disappearance of Dr. Adolfo Matta? And what did the Chleans plan to do with them?

Juan felt the pressure of her squeezing hand. The noise of the propeller droned on and on.

All of a sudden, the craft began to lose altitude.

“We will now be landing at the volcano,” said the pilot to no one in particular.

The landing pad was a circular area on the outer rim of the high cone that walled in the clean white lava rock.

As soon as the blades stopped rotating, their escorts took Carmen and Juan from the aviocopter to a low, windowless shed.

The four entered a bare, featureless room with aluminum floor, ceiling, and walls. Only when downward movement began did the prisoners realize they were in an elevator slowly descending into the volcano.

A second after the motion ended, the wall on one side opened.

“Move out,” commanded one of the agents.

A long corridor stretched ahead. The prisoners began stepping forward, their guards behind them.

Workshops, concluded Juan from the noises he could hear. This is a place of technical construction of some sort. But why is it located in the heart of a volcano?”

“Stop,” said one of the men as they neared a final door at the head of the corridor. “When that door opens, you too will go inside and have a meeting with General Lanin.”

The wait lasted only seconds. A short, slight man with a glassy bald head stood in the open doorway. “Come in,” he gruffly told the startled Argentines. One of the Charmas agents closed the door from the outside once the prisoners had entered.

“Sit down, please,” mumbled the General, in a glowing egg-yoke yellow uniform.

Carmen and Juan took the two hard wooden chairs in front of Lanin’s desk as the little man moved behind it and sat down.

The captor turned his piercingly hard eyes of blue on Carmen.

“Your father is well, Senorita,” he quietly began. “He cannot be here to greet you because he is busy working at the present time.”

The two prisoners waited for an explanation.

“I know how worried you must be, not knowing anything until now.” He eyed Carmen intensely. “But it was impossible for Dr. Matta to reveal his connection to us, even to you, his daughter.”

Juan, sensing his companion’s confusion, decided to risk the anger of the general. “Why did you people kidnap him?” he demanded with force.

Lanin stared at the reporter with controlled contempt.

“Adolfo Matta came here voluntarily.” The blue eyes turned sharply on Carmen. “For many years, your father has cooperated with Charmas. He has been one of our best operatives inside Argentina. But now he is here because there is a need for his special knowledge.”

Carmen asked him a question. “When can I see him?” she anxiously said.

Lanin rose slowly to his feet. “As soon as he is free to see you, Senorita.” He pressed a button on the top of his desk. “But now, you must be shown to the quarters that have been readied for you and your companion.”

The two bedrooms led into a common sitting room where the captives came together once they were alone.

For about a minute, Carmen wept in silence. “What he said about my father is not true,” she defiantly asserted. “His principles would not allow him to aid the enemies of Argentina.”

Juan, peering into her hazel eyes, frowned. “I don’t understand the motive for what General Lanin and Charmas have done to him. In what way could your father be of aid to the Chilean intelligence service?”

Carmen bit her lip but said nothing.

“We must attempt to find him and learn what his situation is. Then, we can try to escape from this volcano.”

There was a knock at the door. Both of them turned that way and Juan said “Yes?”

A familiar voice said “Let me in.”

The journalist moved quickly to open the door.

Both he and Carmen stared in disbelief at who entered, then closed the door.

Alvaro Lopez began to speak to them in a low whisper.

“I don’t know whether you are being listened to or not, but I had to take this chance.” He turned to face Carmen. “Your father is in good condition, under the circumstances. His job is nearly completed.”

Job?” shot back the daughter.

The chakra owner moved nearer both of them.

“It is too technical to explain briefly,” he told them. “I must get back at once. Forgive me.”

“Can I see my father?” begged Carmen Matta.

“If I am able to arrange it, my dear.”

With that, Lopez retreated to the door, opened it, and let himself out into the corridor.

A guard brought them two trays of warm food to eat.

When he returned to pick up what was left, he had an announcement for them.

“The General is coming to see you in a short while. He wishes to visit with you.”

The Argentines glanced at each other in surprise.

“Perhaps he will tell us more this time,” Juan softly suggested.

Carmen frowned ominously.

Their wait did not last long. A rap on the door told them that they were about to see Lanin again.

Juan went to the door and opened it.

“Good evening,” said the bald man as he entered. His appearance was new and different, consisting of white pants and a colorfully painted sport shirt.

He looked better in his egg uniform, thought Carmen.

As Lanin stepped in, he gave her a deep bow.

“I hope that this is comfortable for you,” he purred. “How was the food I had brought to you?”

“There was nothing wrong with it,” replied Juan in a sarcastic tone. “After all, we are involuntary captives of Charmas. It would do us no good to complain about little things like food. At least we are being fed something.”

Lanin’s facial muscles twitched with anger. “Why do you suppose we built this installation on Vulcan Hudson?”

“I would guess it has to do with your military plans.” Juan scratched his jaw as if making a calculation. “Let me think. If this is Vulcan Hudson, as you claim, then we are very near the border and Los Antiguos. In fact, you can probably view the Chacra El Parvenir of Alvaro Lopez from here, can’t you?”

He gave the general a teasing look full of disdain and mockery.

Somehow, this unplanned gambit succeeded in unhinging General Lanin.

“Follow me,” sneered the latter. “I will show you what we can accomplish from Vulcan Hudson.”

Out of the quarters and into the corridor, the pair followed him. At the end of the hall, Lanin stopped and pressed a button set into the wall.

Instantly, metal began to roll upward into the ceiling, revealing an ansensor compartment.

Lanin motioned for the two to step into the elevator, then he followed them.

Finding a side panel of controls, he closed the door and started the lift moving upward.

At least we will see more specific detail than when the copter landed, sighed Juan.

The sun was about to disappear into the Pacific as the doors opened. In the shadowy light from the west, General Lanin led his two prisoners to the edge of the volcano cone facing the dark blue sky of Argentina to the east. What appeared to be six long tubes projected over the outer rim of Volcan Hudson.

Lanin stopped and turned toward the pair. “These are lazero lamps,” he grinned triumphantly. “They are the secret of future victory when we move forward.”

Juan suddenly comprehended what all this business was about.

“You intend to invade Argentina under cover of the bluing effect?”

Once he asked this question, Carmen also understood the purpose of the activities at the volcano site. She suddenly placed one hand on Juan’s right arm, just above the elbow.

Lanin gave an ugly smirk before explaining more.

“I would call the coming attack the Chilean response to generations of Argentine aggression and abuse.” His flaming eyes turned upon Carmen. “Your father’s knowledge of lazero light is the key to what we are about to accomplish, Senorita Matta. It is the miraculous bluing that will allow us to occupy strategic territory on the other side of the border.”

“Father will never agree to aid you in any way!” shouted the young woman. “What you are saying is a dirty lie meant to mislead us into doing your bidding.”

Lanin took time to cool down his temper before speaking again.

“What can I do to convince you that I am telling the truth?” he asked.

“Let me see my father,” defiantly shot back the daughter. “He will prove which of us is right and which is wrong.”

The prisoners sat in their sitting room, impatiently waiting.

“You think something has happened to Senor Lopez?” finally asked Juan.

“I don’t know,” muttered Carmen. “He has always kept his word.” Her voice seemed to dry up. “Do you believe it was he who tricked my father into the hands of General Lanin?”

Juan groped for an answer. “We must not jump to a conclusion without concrete proof,” he stammered in confusion. “There could be another explanation for his being here that we know nothing of.”

Her hazel eyes brightened and gleamed. “What are you thinking of?” she asked haltingly.

“It is possible that both Alvaro and your father are acting for Argentina, each in his own way. The one was willing to work here, the other across the border. Did your father somehow convince Lopez to change sides? Does that make any sense, Carmen?”

She thought a long time before responding.

“But what if Senor Lopez is a longtime secret operative for Charmas?” She paused a moment. “And what if he is trying to trap my father into revealing what he knows about the bluing method? He could have promised him to help us escape in return for the information that General Lanin wants. Is that a possibility?”

Jaun took a deep breath. “We must be patient and hope to learn which explanation is true.”

Minutes flowed into hours, yet no one came to their quarters.

The pair gazed at each other until each had to look aside out of self-consciousness.

“Perhaps Alvaro is not coming,” the journalist finally said. “The only result may be that we lose a night of sleep.”

As soon as he finished saying that, a noise from the door proved him wrong. Someone was unlocking the magnetic device that imprisoned them.

Juan rose silently and moved near the entrance as the door slowly opened.

The head of the chakra-owner became visible as he swung the door enough for him to step into the room.

As soon as he was inside and the door once more closed, Lopez began to look about. “It took me a long time to obtain a carro,” panted the farmer. “But now everything is set for your exit from Vulcan Hudson.”

Excited and energized, Carmen jumped to her feet. “My father?” she whispered in desperation. “What will become of him?”

“I have good news for you,” Alvaro told her serenely. “He is in the carro at the base of the volcano, waiting for you and Senor Fenton.”

“You succeeded in getting him out of here?” asked Juan abruptly.

The answer from their rescuer was a nod.

“Try to keep quiet as you follow me through the corridor,” he commanded them. “I have discovered a way out that avoids all the guard posts. It will take us a considerable time to climb down one of the back paths to the bottom.”

Juan and Carmen glanced at each other for a second, then watched as their guide reopened the door and scanned the corridor.

“No one is about,” he whispered back. “Follow me quickly.”

The night was cool and soundless on the top of Vulcan Hudson.

Lopez led the way to the west rim of the summit, where he pointed to the path they were about to descend. Downward hurried the fleeing threesome, toward the dark pine forest below.

Is Adolfo Matta really waiting for us at the base? the reporter asked himself. Or is this a devious trick devised by General Lanin to destroy all of us?

The sky began to lighten in the east, a harbinger of approaching dawn.

By the time the three walkers reached the trees far below, the illumination was great enough to allow them to make out a carro on an unpaved forest road.

All of a sudden, Alvaro Lopez stopped in his tracks. “I must go back, but you are to get away to Chico Chile. From there, it is down the road to Argentina. There are numerous taxi-drivers who will transport you for a reasonable price.”

Lopez reached into his pocket and removed a bundle of Chilean microcurrency, handing it to Juan. Then, without further words he disappeared the way they had come.

The remaining pair hurried to the carro, where a short figure sat in the rear.

“Father!” cried Carmen the instant she recognized who it was.

As Juan drove toward Chile Chico, Adolf Matta and his daughter held hands in the rear seat as the physicist told them what he had experienced.

“I could never explain it to you, Carmen. I was sent to Chacra El Porvenir by Argentine Military Intelligence. My assignment was to assist their agent, Alvaro Lopez, who had succeeded in passing himself off to Charmas and General Lanin as a disaffected, disloyal malcontent.

“Our mission was to entice the Chileans with the promise of the military application of lazero lighting. The bluing effect was the bait that attracted them. I agreed to pretend to be a kidnapped victim. It is too bad that you found the letter that was used to make it look as if I had crossed the border out of a financial interest in family properties. Once it was discovered at the chakra, the two of you could not be prevented from entering Chile to try to rescue me.

“Alvaro, then, had to come over here as well. To keep his cover until we were finished, he had to reveal that you were on your way here to Lanin. That is why you two were arrested at the border the way you were.”

Carmen interrupted him. “Why has he now returned to Vulcan Hudson, father?”

“There is one last part of our espionage assignment, my dear,” he gently whispered. Suddenly, he turned his head and gazed out through the back window of the carro. “It will begin shortly, I believe.”

A thunderous explosion forced Juan to apply the brakes. A second roaring sound followed.

All three looked back at the volcano, no longer inert.

In the early morning sunlight, molten lava oozed from the big cracks of the summit.

More claps of thunder came. Hot substance overflowed the ridges in seconds.

“It is a success,” grinned Dr. Matta. “My projections were correct. Intense bluing will have geothermal effects.”

“The volcano has been given new life?” asked his daughter.

“That’s correct. Alvaro helped me aim the lazero tubes into the old lava cracks. We have caught and destroyed General Lanin in his mountain nest.”

They watched spellbound as the blazing liquid engulfed the top of Vulcan Hudson.

“We had better hurry to Chile Chico,” advised Adolfo Matta.

From the porch of the cottage, the pair watched the continuing eruption of the volcano in the neighboring country.

“I can see the bluish haze over the summit,” remarked Carmen. “The lazero rays are still radiating downward into the cone.”

Juan tenderly stroked her small hand.

“We must conclude that Alvaro will not be able to escape.”

“He sacrificed himself for Argentina,” said Carmen, drawing her hand away.

“The magneto reports that rock and ash are spewing as far as Chile Chico,” the journalist told her.

“At least, there will be no war now,” sighed the young woman. “General Lanin is gone for good. He cannot exploit the bluing effect.”

All at once, the door opened and Adolfo Matta rushed out.

“He’s safe!” called out the scientist with joy. “Alvaro was able to make his way to Los Antiguos in a refugee truck. He will be here soon.”

“As a live hero!” added Carmen, grinning. She turned to Juan. “We have saved the peace between Chile and Argentina.”

“Patagonia will survive and thrive,” laughed the reporter.


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