Chapter 15 - Codename
When Tang Can and Zhang Fei returned to the campsite, speared fish in tow, Shen Yu and Mazha were still collecting firewood. After hearing Tang Can call for them, they both quickly returned with their burdens. The smell of roasting fish soon wafted through the air.
Their campsite was located in the valley and was surrounded on all sides by the mountains. People often said that the sunsets in these areas were very picturesque. Unfortunately, the peaks of the mountains blocked the view, so Shen Yu was not able to see it. Although there was not a cloud in the sky, she heard thunder rumbling. Looking up, she noticed that she could clearly see the stars twinkling in the night sky. Frightened, she wondered what was going on. The ground suddenly started shaking.
“What the f*ck are they doing?!” hollered Mazha.
Seeing that she was confused, Tang Can explained to her that the noise she was hearing was from people detonating the ground to mine gold. Because the sound of the explosions were echoing down the valley, it sounded like thunder by the time it reached them. Aftershocks from the detonations caused the ground to vibrate.
Judging from the direction of the noise, the activity was not from Old Mr. Yun’s mining camp. “Is this the work of the army’s gold miners?” she asked Tang Can.
Tang Can shook his head adamantly. “No! They’re using soil explosives at night. It must be people who are mining without proper authorization. No legit mining crew would do something this risky at night.”
“Soil explosives?” asked Shen Yu, perplexed by the unfamiliar term.
“Another name for homemade explosives,” explained Mazha. “They use fertilizer containing ammonium nitrate and mix it with manure and some kerosene. The blast radius is quite impressive with these homemade explosives.”
Shen Yu quickly lost interest in his explanation. She wasn’t interested in how they made the explosives. What she wanted to know was why there were people doing this at night. It sounded dangerous. Weren’t they scared?
Mazha continued on the topic fervently. “They’re setting charges in the rock bed to get to the gold deposits below. Gold is often found between the cracks of the Earth’s crust. By detonating explosives, they can bring up gold mixed with dirt and then use that to pan for gold. Since they are illegally mining gold, they can’t bring in the heavy equipment that other miners use so they have to rely on explosives. Generally they find a spot by a riverbank and dig a crater about one meter wide and five to six meters long. Then they usually spread some canvas at the bottom and pile on some layers of rock to make a terrace, similar to the ones made for farming.”
He rambled on, clearly excited by this topic. Irritated, Zhang Fei elbowed him hard, hinting at him to stop talking. Seeing that his commanding officer was listening with interest, Mazha ignored his fellow soldier’s disdain and continued talking.
“After layering the rocks, they’ll put the dirt containing gold sand onto the top terrace and wash it with water from the river. The heavier particles will settle between the cracks of the rock and they’ll collect the leftover silt every couple of days. They’ll wash it again and finally use a gold pan to sort the gold dust from the rest of the dirt,” he paused at this point, likely realizing that Shen Yu didn’t have any experience with gold panning.
“Ah, you’ve probably never seen gold pans before,” said Mazha. “They’re the three-sided wicker baskets you saw earlier. Anyway, after you separate most of the impurities from the gold dust, you need to dry them with a hot metal pan over a fire. When it’s dry, you can blow on the baskets gently and the dirt will fly away. What’s the left behind is gold!”
Tang Can continued the conversation from where Mazha left off. “Other than illegal gold mining, these mountains contain other dangers. A lot of people want the mined gold, so they’ll use the cover of the night to try to steal it. After stealing, there are some who try to hide in the mountains but get lost. The dead are left behind and the wounded are not taken care of by these people. These bandits are all bad people. That’s the reason why the miners back at the camp are so suspicious of strangers, and they usually kill those they don’t recognize at night. The corpses are then thrown away into the mountains, they’re a dime a dozen!”
After warning the group he then focused on Shen Yu. “So you need to remember that if you ever lose your way, do not ask the miners for help. Other than the army miners, the rest of them will treat you like an outsider. Will you remember that?”
Shen Yu felt cold sweat running down her body and nodded her head timidly. “I got it. It sounds like we’re spending a good amount of time in these mountains?”
“Indeed,” replied Tang Can.
She immediately saw an opening to get some more information. “I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it looks like Old Mr. Yun had no intentions of cooperating with us. I have a feeling that he doesn’t want to be interviewed, so I’m kinda at a loss at what to do here. Furthermore, since you say that this area is so dangerous, I’d probably be a deadweight in this group. I’m my parents’ only daughter and I need to stay alive for them. How about you send me home tomorrow? How does that sound?”
Tang Can reacted immediately. “Not going to work!”
After being silent throughout the whole conversation, Zhang Fei suddenly cursed at Shen Yu, mocking her for being a coward.
Shen Yu pretended not to hear her and smiled brightly at Tang Can. “Why not? Don’t forget, the office wanted me to come with you guys to interview people in Old Longtan. But right now we’re in the Hunan province, so I’m not sure why I’m here. I’m not like you army people, my career is very important to me. If I don’t work, I’ll starve to death!”
Mazha interjected. “We’re at the right place. This is Old Longtan!”
Shen Yu could feel her temper rising. Did everyone think she was a foolish idiot? She sneered and replied sharply, “Stop trying to trick me!”
Tang Can laughed. “No one’s trying to trick you, we are actually at Old Longtan! It’s just not called by that name by the locals around here. Your Uncle Li actually gave the name to this place way back then. He said that the river on the map looked like a moving dragon.”
Shen Yu was not entirely convinced by his explanation. But since he mentioned her Uncle Li, she might as well play along. “So, what you’re saying is, Uncle Li was looking for gold in this area? In this Old Longtan?”
The young officer replied affirmatively, “This exact place!”
Hold on. Didn’t mom say “Isn’t Old Longtan in the south?” earlier? Shen Yu remembered how her mother tried to avoid answering Tang Can’s follow up questions. What was going on?
Shen Yu slowly inhaled a breath, concealing her movements from the group to avoid alerting them to her mental distress. She knew her parents had many secrets. However, she had very little interest in trying to uncover them, despite her naturally curious nature. All she could remember was her mother crying tearfully to her father during their fight.
Those people are already at our doorstep, if you make a fuss now, wouldn’t they find out everything? If they figure out exactly what happened all of those years ago, who knows what they’ll do to us?
None of that sounded like good news. She would rather not know the full details! Some secrets were better kept hidden.
However, she still wanted to know Tang Can’s true motives. Tang Can and his soldiers were outsiders, and she didn’t want to be tricked by them! She needed to take this chance and find out what exactly was going on! I can’t let them just brush me off this time.
Ignorant to her racing thoughts, Tang Can continued, “Old Longtan encompasses this entire mountainous region. It was also the codename for the gold mine found that year.”
Codename of a gold mine?
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