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Chapter 26

The dump site was in a grassy valley three or four kilometers from the temple site, an unexceptional place with a handful of trees, a narrow yet surprisingly gentle river, and two or three barren hills poking through the scrub weed. It was only as Lisa guided them to one of the latter that Tirrell could see it was in actuality an immense pile of broken stone.

"They dug all this stuff out of that mountain?" Tonio asked, eyeing the rocks with obvious amazement.

"This isn't half of what they've actually mined," Tirrell told him. "Loose rock always looks bigger than the hole it came out of." Sliding his backpack onto the ground, the detective found a relatively flat slab at the edge of the pile and unfolded the small-scale survey map he'd obtained from the Plat City police. "They've probably been quietly hauling the stuff away, most likely during weekdays when all the kids are at work. Probably leaving this much here on purpose so no one'll realize any of it's missing."

Fiddling with one of the smaller stones, Tonio flew over to land at his side. "You figured out where we are?"

"I think so." Tirrell was actually somewhat more certain than that, having followed their course on the map all the way from Plat City. "We're on the southern edge of the De Sable Plateau, next to the main branch of the Rashoni River. Flows generally south, then goes southwest down the far side of the mountains and off my map."

"Is that why the water's moving so slowly?" Lisa asked. "Because we're on a flat area?"

"Basically. The size and number of tributaries and the channel dimensions are important, too, but you basically can't have anything this slow in mountains except on a plateau."

"Makes it nice and easy to anchor their boat while they load up, doesn't it?" Tonio commented. He teeked his stone hard into the side of the heap, causing a minor rock slide. "Well, what are we waiting for? Let's head on down and find him."

Tirrell was already folding up his map when something in his righthand's voiceoverconfidence?made him pause. Let's head on down and find him. It was a perfectly reasonable and obvious statement... but this was Martel they were dealing with, and Martel had stayed free this long precisely because he worked hard at avoiding the obvious. Still, shipping the ore via water was the simplest and cheapest method available. Why bother teeking the stuff to the riverside if all he wanted was to leave a false clue before carting it away overland again?

Unless...

Unfolding the map again, Tirrell studied it closely. Yes... yes; it was possible. And right or wrong, it wouldn't take long to check out.

"Stan?" Tonio asked impatiently. "We going or not?"

"We're going," the detective answered slowly. "But we're going to start by heading upstream. The current's slow enough that even a heavy boat shouldn't have any trouble fighting it, at least for a few kilometers."

"You think he's set up a refinery way up here in the mountains?" Lisa asked, looking puzzled. Wouldn't that have been the hard way to do it?"

"No, to both questions," Tirrell told her, taking one last look at the map before folding it to show only the region immediately upriver of them. "What I'm thinking might be crazy, or it might be brilliantand I won't know which until we check it out on the actual terrain."

"Well, let's do it then," Tonio said. "Don't worry, Lisa," he added to the other preteen. "He gets these brilliant hunches all the time. You just have to learn to put up with them."

Tirrell smiled, and a small tight place in his stomach relaxed for the first time in hours. The resurgence of Tonio's sense of humor was a good sign, an indication that the righthand was finally catching up with the emotional shocks and stresses that had been pummeling him all day. To capture Martel at the cost of damage to Tonio's personality was not a trade he would've liked having to make. "So skip the noise and give me a lift," he said, scooping up his backpack with one hand and holding out the other. "You can explain to Lisa on the way that my hunches usually come out right."

They found it a bare kilometer uprivernot the refinery, but the clue that Tirrell, despite his outward confidence, had only half expected to find.

"What are they?" Lisa asked as they hovered over the grooves cut into the narrow band of moist ground separating the riverbank from the harder rock beyond.

"Tread marks," Tirrell told her. "Almost certainly those of a heavy amphibious vehicle."

"This doesn't make any sense," Tonio complained, squinting in the direction the tread marks pointed. "There's nothing but rock over there. No trees, no possibility of a decent cavehow's he going to hide a refinery out in the open?"

"Let's go see, shall we?" Tirrell said.

"But they'll see us," Lisa objected, looking around nervously.

"Don't worry; Martel's still kilometers away," Tirrell assured her. "Let's goyou'll understand in about a hundred meters."

The two preteens exchanged glances. Then Tonio shrugged and they were airborne again, flying low. The ground swelled up into a low rise, and they topped it to find

Another river.

"Are you going to tell us," Tonio demanded as they landed, "that Martel carts his rocks up one river and across dry land just to ship 'em down another river? Why?"

"I am indeed," Tirrell nodded. "And the why is twofold: first, because this rivera tributary of the Nordau, according to the mapwinds up going down the other side of the mountains, which means that at the cost of relatively little trouble he's managed to point any pursuers in exactly the wrong direction. And secondly"

"Stan!" Lisa exclaimed suddenly. "There's an old metal refinery where the river leaves the mountains!"

Tirrell nodded. "Right. It hasn't been used in probably twenty years or morenot since the mines southeast of Plat City were played outbut it wouldn't take much to get one of the crushers and a cyanidation tank or two back in operation. I'll lay ten to one odds that's where he's holding Jarvis."

"Yeahwith thirty or forty kids to help him," Tonio muttered.

"No, he doesn't have nearly that many," Tirrell told him. "Remember back to the cabin. Even though he left the temple site with fifteen kids and picked up reinforcements on the way, he hit us with only eight or nineand recall that Weylin wasn't among them. I suspect that those eight or nine have been trusted with the full story of what Martel's planning with Jarvis and are cooperating less on blind faith than on the more tangible promise of sharing in whatever wealth and power Martel hopes to get. Kids like Weylin who have even a scrap of faith left in them would have done fine at beating the woods for Jarvis, but Martel would have had to cut them out of anything past that. They're probably still hunting through the woods east of Rand right now."

"But Weylin was willing to attack a policeman for him," Lisa pointed out. "He had to be pretty loyal to do that."

"Breaking laws in the name of religion and seeing your leader break them are two very different things; and that's an even stronger indication that Martel's not taking any chances at all with his group. So he's probably only got those same eight or nine kids with him. The other side of that, of course, is that trying to talk them into mutinying would be essentially useless. We're just going to have to hit them hard and fast, without any call for surrender to alert them."

"That doesn't sound very... pleasant," Lisa said hesitantly.

"It probably won't be," Tirrell acknowledged. "But with luck you won't have to be there. We're going to head down to the refinery first of all and try to confirm that Martel's there. If we can, Tonio and I will put the place under surveillance while you sneak away and whistle us up some backup forces, Probably from Nordau; it'll be faster than going back to Plat City." He glanced up at the midafternoon sun, already perilously close to the highest mountain peaks. "And we'd better get movingI want to get things rolling as soon as possible."

Becausehe didn't addif the reinforcements didn't arrive before dark, he and Tonio might just wind up taking on the whole place by themselves.

And that definitely didn't sound very pleasant.

"You'll have to excuse the accommodations, Doctor," Martel said with exaggerated politeness as the two adults walked toward the middle of the huge, high-ceilinged room, leaving the small group of preteens to close the door behind them. "But I'm afraid We really weren't set up for visitors here."

Jarvis passed up the scathing reply that came to mind and instead took a good look around. The room was indeed huge, taking up probably an entire third of the building, and was, in addition, stiflingly hot. Thick-paned, wire-reinforced windows covered three of the four walls, presenting a somewhat dust-filtered view of the mountains to the south and east and the river flowing by the building to the west. The floor space was dominated by what appeared to be a furnace and two large tanks, each liberally wrapped up in catwalks, conveyors, control and power lines, and tens of meters of heavy pipe. Other catwalks and stairways crossed to what appeared to be a glass-walled control room stuck above the windows on the south wall. Other smaller pieces of equipment were laid out in a seemingly random pattern, connected to each other and the tanks by more piping. A handful of troughs cut into the concrete flooremergency drainswere covered with gratings which, flush as they were against the floor, fortunately presented no additional hazard to travel. Jarvis mentally fixed the locations of everything as best he could and looked back at Martel. "What is this place, anyway?" he asked, though he was pretty sure he knew.

"Oh, sort of a business sideline of mine," the other said airily. "AxelI want four of your boys outside to watch for company," he called, his voice echoing in the huge space. "One on each side of the building."

Axel seemed to stare at Martel an unusually long time before nodding and turning back to the other eight kids hovering near him. Inaudible words were exchanged, and four boys detached themselves from the group and disappeared back out the door. The other four dispersed to the windows, which they proceeded to unlatch and teek open. Watching their curious glances around the room, Jarvis concluded that it was their first visit to the refinery, which meant they weren't any more familiar with the layout than he was. Offhand, he couldn't think of any way that could help him.

Axel flew over and settled down beside Jarvis and Martel. "Now what?" he asked with more than a little truculence. "We can't stay here very longwe're not that far from the temple site, and that's the first place the police will look."

"We'll be safe enough, at least until dark," Martel said. "At that point we can fly over the mountains to a secluded place I know of."

"And then what? Back at the cabin he said it would take years to figure out if his stuff even worked. You going to sit out there and eat conetree pods that whole time?"

"We won't have any trouble with supplies." Martel was gazing thoughtfully at his preteen aide. "I can keep my business contacts in Rand and elsewhere, and in the next room is the means to finance any purchases we'll need to make through them. We'll be perfectly comfortable out there, I assure you."

"Glad to hear it. And who exactly are you going to find to experiment on?"

"I thought we'd adopt Dr. Jarvis's method, seeing as how it's already worked so well. You and your preteens will simply kidnap some four- or five-year-olds, we'll use whatever trickery the doctor used to keep them from panicking, and that will be that."

"You sure he's going to help us, huh?"

Martel glanced at Jarvis; his frown deepened as he returned it to Axel. "He'll mix up the drugs for us, under the threat of very painful consequences if they don't work."

Jarvis snorted. "You're going to chain me to my bed for ten years, are you? That should be interesting."

"Actually, I have something more sophisticated in mind," Martel said, his eyes still on Axel. "If there are no further questions"

"There are," the preteen interrupted. "I want to know who these business friends of yours are, where your hideout is, and how you intend to force anything out of him. We're in as deep as you are, Omega, and it's time we got in on more of the planning."

For a long moment Martel simply gazed at the boy... and when he finally spoke his words were edged with steel splinters. "You're a slow learner, Axel; did you know that? A slow learner and a glutton for head punches. I told you once today already that you weren't practiced enough at thinking to take over that job from meand so you've naturally decided you want to take over that and everything else."

"No, I didn't mean" Axel began, his insistent manner evaporating abruptly.

"Just how far do you think you'd get?" Martel cut him off brusquely. "Even if I was stupid enough to answer all your questions, how many would you forget to ask until you'd disposed of me? How would you go about recruiting new kids when you all hit Transition in a year or so, for instance? Hm? What would you do to persuade the doctor to cooperate if he suddenly decided to be stubborn? How would you even know what chemicals he was using, since you can't even read the damn labels? He could sprinkle poison in your soup and you'd never know it."

Axel threw a glance in Jarvis's direction and swallowed visibly. "I... All right." He took a deep breath. "All right, then; but if we can't do without you, you can't do without us, either."

"Who ever suggested I intended to?" Martel asked. "You have the strength, I have the knowledge and brains. The arrangement's worked well for Tigris for two hundred years; there's no reason it should fall apart now, is there?"

"But what about Transition?" the boy blurted.

"What about it?" Martel countered smoothly. "I'll need people I can train to act as priests among the kids once we get things going again. The message of Truth isn't dead, you know, just reorganizing. I suspect we're soon going to have more power on this planet than anyone since the Lost Generation."

Axel nodded, his eyes shining, and Jarvis could practically see the boy's embryonic thoughts of rebellion vanish under the weight of Martel's dazzling promises. "He's lying, you know," the scientist spoke up, wishing now he hadn't waited so long to do so. But he still might not be too late. "He doesn't need any priests to share his power. Once you lose your teekay, he'll get rid of you without a second thought."

If the words sank in at all, they did so without leaving a trace. Axel gave him a cool look and turned back to Martel. "What should we do next?" he asked.

"Go and check on the lookouts; make sure they're well concealed," the other said promptly, his businesslike manner stating the matter was closed. "Then go through the door over there and check on how much packaged food we've got. In the room next to that there should be some small boxescount the sealed ones and let me know how many there are."

"Right." He turned toward Jarvis. "What about him?"

"I'll watch him. Just make sure one of your kids is always in the room with us."

"Okay." Axel flew across the room and vanished through the outside door.

"I hope that'll dissuade you from further attempts to turn my kids against me," Martel said, facing Jarvis. "They have the loyalty of extreme self-interest: greed plus the knowledge that I'm the only one who can protect them from the police."

"Must be an interesting form of greed, given you don't even know what my project is," Jarvis retorted. "Or is it your stockpile of gold they're interested in?"

Martel's smile vanished. "How did you know about the gold?" he demanded, his voice deadly. "Did Tirrell tell you?"

"Don't be silly." Jarvis waved at a collection of flat plastic bottles on the floor next to one of the huge tanks, bottles whose big NaCN markings were clearly visible. "What else would you be doing in an old refinery with sodium cyanide? Especially when you're packing the result in small boxes. What'd you do, kill some mine owner near here and steal his ore?"

"As it happens, I came upon it honestly," the other said. "Not that it matters. And as to the details of your project, that can wait until you're ready to tell me all about it. I already know it involves the Transition point and is something you're rather desperate to keep secret. There are limited possibilities, and all of them would be of great value to me." He shook his head. "I must say, though, that you don't at all fit the stereotypical image of the brilliant scientist, who is supposed to be both blind and helpless outside his specialty. You're fast, sharp, and not afraid to take risks. It's been a long time since I've had to deal with someone like you."

"I'm delighted to hear it," Jarvis said. "Especially since you're going to be doing it for at least eight years. Unless you want to gamble I'll give you the right formula the first time, of course."

Martel's smile made a tentative reappearance. "No, I don't really expect such cooperation. But I don't intend to have you breathing down my neck that whole time, either."

"What're you going to dotie me to a tree with a supply of sandwiches?"

"Something like that. I'm going to have you put yourself into hibernation."

Jarvis felt his jaw drop. "You what?"

"You heard me." Martel was back on balance now. "Your hibernation work with Kelby Somerset has been well publicized. We'll set you up with a capsule hidden underground, perhaps, with enough oxygen to keep you alive at your reduced metabolic rate.

It took Jarvis a moment to find his voice. "And if I give myself the wrong drugs?"

"Then you've committed suicide," Omega shrugged. "But then, that option will always be open to you. Fortunatelyfor meyou're not the suicidal type." He glanced around as a breeze drifted through the sluggish air. The kids, Jarvis saw, had finished with the windows and were standing in a loose group studying the furnace. "I'd better go give my kids something to do," Martel said, pointing Jarvis to a spot along the south wall, well away from both the cyanide bottles and any of the room's doors. "Why don't you go sit down over there. I'll get you some paper and you can start making a list of the drugs and equipment you'll be needing. There's no sense in wasting time, now, is there?"

"None at all," Jarvis agreed. It was, after all, just after three in the afternoon, with perhaps four hours until complete darkness. He had just that much time to find a way to escape.

It took Tirrell and his companions less than half an hour to reach the ridge just upriver of the old refinery; the three-hundred-meter trip from there to the detective's chosen observation point took nearly as long. Tirrell himself was used to such slow advances, but both preteens were visibly fidgeting by the time he ordered a halt.

"Now what?" Lisa asked as they settled to the ground between a bush and a stand of tall grass.

"Keep your voice down," Tirrell whispered, slipping off his backpack and squinting down the gentle slope ahead. The south wall of the refinery was about half a kilometer ahead, just visible through a narrow gap in the underbrush. Rummaging briefly through the pack, he pulled out a pair of lightweight binoculars, a headset, and a small microphone attached to a coil of slender wire. "Ready, Tonio?" he asked, plugging the end of the wire into the headset and setting the coil and mike onto his lap.

Tonio nodded and raised the binoculars to his eyes; and with the barest whisper of disturbed grass the mike headed smoothly down the slope. Tirrell watched it go, trying simultaneously to protect the coil of wire from snags and also watch for signs of a sentry. It would have been nice to use a cordless model, but they couldn't take the chance that Martel might have the equipment available to detect its broadcast. Still, as long as the wire didn't break or alert the lookout by suddenly yanking out a swath of grass they should be all right.

The microphone, its motion alone keeping it visible, was almost to the refinery wall. "Looks like the windows are slanted open a bit," Tirrell murmured to Tonio as he slipped on the headset. "Ease the mike through the bottom of the crack and let it sort of edge inside."

"Right."

A moment later it was done. Flipping his on switch, Tirrell cautiously turned up the volume... and within five seconds knew he'd guessed right. "We got 'em," he announced tightly. "Martel's there, and at least a couple of the kids... and they just referred to Jarvis." He slid the headset half off and turned to Lisa. "Okay, Lisa, it's up to you now. Get that note I gave you to the Nordau police; with luck, Plat City'll have their squad ready to move by now. Be sure to take it very slow until you're over the ridge, then keep low until you're well away from the area."

"Okay." Taking a deep breath, she set off uphill, flying bare centimeters off the ground. Within a minute she was lost to view among the undergrowth.

"She'll be okay," Tirrell assured his righthand as the latter continued to gaze after her. "Give me a hand unloading the rest of this stuff, will you?"

It took only a minute to empty the backpack and lay its contents in neat rows in front of them. "What are these things?" Tonio asked, fingering one of the three gogglelike devices.

"They're gas masks," Tirrell told him. "They're to protect us against the stuff in these." He tapped one of the half dozen squat black cylinders. "It's called tear gasacts sort of like concentrated onions in your eyes."

"Never heard of it," the preteen said, looking rather apprehensively at the cylinders. "I suppose it's supposed to keep kids from using teekay?"

"Or at least to limit it drastically. The stuff's hardly ever used anymore, but it was one of the few weapons that worked against the Lost Generation, and it's a law that every police department has to keep at least a little of it on hand."

Tonio nodded thoughtfully. "Stan... you guys don't really trust us, do you? Us kids, I mean."

"Well..." Tirrell shrugged uncomfortably. "I suppose there's some distrust," he conceded, putting as good a face on it as he could. Certainly most adult tension was below the conscious level, where it hardly qualified as true distrust. "After all, with teekay, kids are a lot stronger physically than adults. You probably felt the same way toward the preteens when you were a Six or Seven. Hm?"

"Not really. I mean, if they picked on us too much the Senior would make them get back in line."

"True enoughbut I'm sure you realize now that without the preteens' cooperation the Senior has no real power at all. The kids themselves have to enforce his rules; you see?"

"Huh! You know, I never thought about it like that."

"That's because the hive is set up to keep you from doing so. When you're little the preteens enforce the Senior's orders; and by the time you're a preteen yourself you're so used to obeying the Senior you do so automatically."

Tonio sat quietly for a long minute. "Huh," he said again, softly. "So if most of the preteens at a hive decided to disobey some order, that would be it. The Senior wouldn't be able to stop them."

"No. He'd have to call in the police... and the result could be pretty bad." Tirrell shook his head. "When you get to school and start learning Tigrin history, you'll realize just how much destruction and chaos the Lost Generation caused. For nearly six years they held absolute power on the planet, and if it hadn't been for the unexpected loss of teekay at Transition the generations growing up behind them would have been just as lawless and just as ignorant... and we might well have lost every scrap of science and learning we ever brought to Tigris. If adults distrust kids, I suppose it's because the knowledge of what almost happened is still pretty fresh."

Tonio actually shuddered. "And Jarvis's drug," he said, "would take away Transition. Wouldn't it?"

Tirrell turned to look at the refinery, his mouth suddenly dry. Somehow, he'd never looked at it quite that way before. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "It would."


Chapter 25 | A Coming Of Age | Chapter 27



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