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Ryan nodded. "Right, brother, a sign. A sign that his labor here on earth was
done, his race run. God has called him to heaven to work for& " Again he
hesitated, looking at the expectant faces all around him.
"To work for the blessed second coming of Jesus the savior."
Ryan pointed at the speaker. "You got it. The biggest and best ace on the
line, sister. That's what he's been called for. He told me all this himself.
In the middle of the night."
"And hanged himself without a farewell to any of us?"
"No, he told me to pass on this message, as his unworthy& messenger."
The oldest woman was on her knees again, hands clasped. "And he has brought,
as need arise, no soiled or tainted sacrifice."
"Right," Ryan agreed.
"What should we do, brother?" asked a younger man with a dreadful nervous tic
that made his head tremble on his narrow shoulders.
"Elder Bluffield told me that you shouldn't mourn for him. That he has gone& "
A
phrase he'd heard from Doc Tanner came to him. "Gone to a far, far better
place than he has ever known and done a far, far better thing than he'd ever
done before."
"Oh, bless him and keep him safe in the bosom of Abraham."
Ryan looked at the man who'd spoken, wondering who this "Abraham" was, who'd
suddenly appeared in their prayers.
"Should we seek a sign, outlander?" called the oldest of the women, looking up
from the floor at him.
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"A sign?"
"A raven with an ear of corn in its beak?" someone suggested.
"A flood of fire that passes by but scorcheth us not," another offered.
"The mighty rushing wind that brings honey and locusts to feed us in the
wilderness?" said the youngest woman nervously.
Ryan closed his eye for a moment. "No, he didn't say anything about that sort
of a sign. Just to remember him and keep your mouths closed when the sec men
come in here."
"Oh, we will, we will," they chorused enthusiastically.
"Shouldn't we take him down?" Kate whispered to Ryan as the followers of the
dead leader began to return to their own bunks.
"No. Hard enough getting the old bastard strung up there in the first place."
Chapter Thirty-One
It passed off without any trouble at all. When they were called out into the
bitter grayness of the dawn, one of the older men in the shift reported to the
sentry that one of their number had topped himself during the night.
"Drag it out" was the sec guard's response, not even bothered enough to go
into the hut and investigate the corpse.
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The rest of them lined up for their bowl of gruel and hunk of bread, all
shivering in the icy wind that came howling down the canyon.
"Be a relief to get into the mines out of this cold," said Ryan.
ZIMYANIN STOOD on the balcony of his main control hut, looking through the
smeared glass at the straggling lines of workers as they filed off toward
their respective areas of the mine.
He held the reports in his hand of the deaths during the night. There had been
only three, one of which could have been natural causes. One was stabbed with
a concealed knife and the third was a suicide.
"Work Unit Twenty-five," he said to the charge sec man who stood uneasily by
the door. "That is the one that came together from the Middle West?"
"Believe so, Major-Commissar."
"A religious community, was it not? And you think the man dead was their
leader?"
"Believe so, Major-Commissar."
The Russian turned from the window, his deep-set eyes boring into the guard.
"There is something happening here and you don't know what it is, do you?"
"Happening, Major-Commissar?"
"I can feel it in my bones. There is some rat boring away behind the
wainscoting and I need the services of a rodent control operative."
"Lot of rats in the mines, Major-Commissar."
Zimyanin took a slow, deep breath. "Rats everywhere. I think that we will have
a
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