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Charles L. Fontenay.

Rebels of the Red Planet online

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"I wish I had been able to find more heatguns at Ultra Vires," said Dark
to Old Beard. "Only three, besides our four, are spreading them out
pretty thin."

"At least the Jellies made the break into the corridor, and we've
managed to discourage the Toughs below from following them up for a
while," said Old Beard. The bodies of a dozen Toughs at the foot of the
ramp behind them attested to the rear guard battle they had fought. That
was what had held them up so long. "If we can hold the corridor and keep
the Masters bottled up, your friends outside should be able to turn the
tide."

"It will take them a while to break in," said Dark. "But I've already
contacted Cheng telepathically and told him to move in."

They emerged into the corridor, into a scene of tremendous confusion.
All they could see in both directions were Jellies, milling about and
chattering. The mass seemed to be drifting gradually toward the left,
while from the right came shrieks of agony.

"This way," said Dark, turning to the left. "We have to get Maya out of
here before we can do anything else."

Forcing their way through the Jellies, they came to a door. Dark tried
it. It was locked. He burned the lock off and pushed it open.

Maya was standing back against the wall on the other side of the room,
alarmed at the noise in the corridor, frightened at the opening of the
door. As Dark and Old Beard came in, and she recognized Dark, she ran
across the room to meet them, joy transforming her face.

She threw herself into Dark's arms.

"Oh, Dark!" she cried. "I knew you'd come!"

He enfolded her in his arms and kissed her. Then he turned back to Old
Beard, his arm around Maya's shoulders.

"Old Beard, this is Maya Cara Nome," said Dark. "Maya, this is my
father, the real Dark Kensington."

"The older Dark Kensington," corrected Old Beard. "I am very happy to
meet you, Maya. My son, you have chosen a beautiful woman."

Happy and Shadow had followed the other two into the room and were
standing against the door, holding it closed.

"Maya, we're going to have to try to hold the corridor until the Phoenix
gets here," said Dark. "I want you to go with Shadow and Happy down to
the vats. You get into a marsuit, and they'll take you to one of the
entrance buildings. I'll tell Cheng to pick you up in one of the
groundcars, and then Happy and Shadow can come back here to help us."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," said Maya flatly. "You need them up here
now, and I won't leave you. I'm going to stay here and help you. After
all, I can handle a heatgun better than any of these Jellies."

"But, Maya, I want to know that you're safe."

"I don't want to be safe until you are. Please let me stay, Dark."

"All right," Dark surrendered. "Shadow, give her your heatgun."

The five of them left the room together.

They emerged into a scene of incredible carnage. The Jellies, with only
three heatguns which they were inept at using, had been no match for the
Masters. Almost all of the Jellies were lying dead on the floor of the
corridor, and the remaining few were backed up at the end of the hall to
their right.

Three of the men were advancing toward these last Jellies. The other
two, returning to the conference room, already had passed Maya's door
and were picking their way back among the scorched, twitching bodies of
the Jellies. Dark and the others were between these two retreating
forces of Masters.

"We'll have to try to save those Jellies," decided Dark at once. "Happy,
you and Shadow move back up the corridor and hold the line in case those
other two turn back to attack our rear. The rest of us will tackle the
three to the right."

They split up and moved off. But they were too late. Dark, Maya and Old
Beard had advanced hastily no more than ten feet when the last of the
Jellies at the end of the corridor collapsed under the combined beams of
three heatguns. Immediately, the door beyond the dead Jellies opened and
three more Masters emerged. They joined the first three, and were given
the heatguns taken from the vanquished Jellies.

Dark stopped and held up his hand, halting the advance of his little
group.

"We're too badly outnumbered now," he said. "Let's collect Happy and
Shadow and get back down to the vats, where we can hide until the
Phoenix break in."

The Masters had seen them now, and started to move up the corridor
toward them in a group, but were still ten or fifteen feet out of
heatgun range. Dark was not surprised to see that one of the group was
Nuwell.

Dark and Maya turned back toward the entrance toward the underground
vats, but stopped as Old Beard emitted a growl of recognition.

One of the three men who had emerged from the room was skinny, goateed
Goat Hennessey, and he was coming forward now in the forefront of the
group, a heatgun in his hand.

"Dark, you and Maya go on without me," said Old Beard very quietly. "I
have a score to settle."

Dark turned back, his mouth open to protest, but Old Beard had already
started swiftly down the corridor toward the oncoming group.

"Wait!" cried Dark, and started to run after him. But, in his haste,
Dark tripped over the corpse of a Jelly and fell sprawling. In the
moments it took Dark to scramble to his feet and recover his dropped
heatgun from the floor, the drama ahead of him flashed like lightning to
its conclusion.

Old Beard ran down the corridor toward the group of Masters, leaping
lightly over the bodies of Jellies in his path, his gray hair streaming
out behind him.

"Goat Hennessey!" he thundered, his voice reverberating from the walls
of the corridor. "You betrayed me and killed my wife! Now the time has
come for you to pay for your crimes!"

The Masters stopped in their tracks, frozen at the sight of this figure
of retribution charging down on them. In their forefront, Goat stood
staring, open-mouthed, not comprehending until the full impact of Old
Beard's words broke upon him. Then, recognition dawning, he squawled in
amazement and fear:

"Dark Kensington!"

With that cry, Goat turned in terror to escape. But Dark was now within
range, and the intense beam of his downward-chopping heatgun caught Goat
at the base of the skull and swept all the way down his back. Goat
Hennessey plunged forward to the floor, dead, his spine burned away.

Even as Goat fell, his companions emerged from their paralysis. The
beams of five heatguns focussed on Old Beard, and he died in a burst of
flame that flared from wall to wall of the narrow corridor.

Appalled at his father's sudden death, Dark almost leaped after him, to
attack the five survivors single-handed. But Maya grasped his arm.

"No, Dark!" she urged. "Please don't!"

Realizing on the instant that to die now would only leave Maya at the
mercy of the Masters and Nuwell, Dark turned back. He and Maya ran for
the door to the ramp leading underground, Dark calling to Happy and
Shadow to join them.

But Happy, and presumably the invisible Shadow, were well up the
corridor and they, too, were under attack now. The two Masters who had
been heading for the conference room had turned back and were now in
range of Happy, their heatguns blasting.

Happy had remained true to Dark's charge to hold the line against any
attack from the rear. Frightened but staunch, he was standing his
ground, waving his own heat beam at the approaching pair of Masters.

But Happy was too unfamiliar with the weapon and too nervous to hit
either of his targets. The beams of both Masters found him at the same
time, and, with a woeful shriek that was cut off in a choking gurgle,
the unfortunate Jelly collapsed to a smoking heap on the floor, quivered
once and lay still.

Apparently from out of nowhere, the unarmed Shadow descended like a
thunderbolt on one of Happy's killers. The surprised Master went
sprawling, his heatgun flying from his hand.

Shadow might have vanquished the other, too, except that this startled
individual, waving his heat beam wildly in an attempt to catch the
elusive, vanishing and reappearing figure, scored a lucky hit. There was
a tremendous flare of flame, and the extraordinary form of Shadow
appeared for the last time, a charred, flat body lying on the floor of
the corridor like the shadow for which he had been named.

The whole tragedy ran its course in less than a minute. In that time,
Dark and Maya reached the entrance to the ramp, ducked into it and ran
down the incline to the sheltering dimness of the labyrinthine vats.




18


Moments later, the two groups of Masters converged at the gate, two from
one direction and five from the other.

"After them!" commanded Placer. "But stay together. We'll have to try to
hunt them down in the vats, and maybe the Toughs can help us, but we
don't want to get separated so they can pick us off one by one."

"Wait, Placer, there's something you ought to know," said one of the two
Masters who had come from the direction of the conference room. "Greyde
called out a few minutes ago to tell us he had word from Vidonati in the
control room. Those groundcars that were hanging around had attacked
one of the entrance buildings."

"Space!" growled Placer. "There must be a conspiracy involved here
somewhere. We'd better stay up here, then."

He pulled the lever beside the gate to the ramp, and it rumbled down and
crashed into place.

"At least, those two are trapped below," he said with satisfaction. "We
can hunt them down at our leisure when we've repelled this attack from
outside. If we can take them alive, I'm of a mind to make them pay well
for their responsibility in our losing all our experimental Jellies."

The seven of them went on to the conference room, picking their way
among the bodies of the Jellies. Placer took over the intercom from
Greyde.

"Vidonati, this is Placer," he said. "What's the situation?"

"The groundcars attacked the south building," replied Vidonati. "They
moved in and concentrated all three car beams on the airlock and burned
it through. I counted nine men in marsuits who left the groundcars and
went into the building. Of course, as soon as they started blasting the
airlocks, I closed the emergency barrier to block off the downward
ramp."

"Obviously, since we still have air in the place," commented Placer
dryly. "You'd better call Mars City and get them to send help."

"I've already done that," said Vidonati. "A jet squadron's on its way."

"Good," said Placer. "They can be here in about five hours, and it will
take those rebels, or whoever they are, two or three times that long to
burn through one of the emergency barriers, even if they blast an
opening and bring their groundcars into the building to bring the
groundcars' big guns on it."

"Should I stick it out here, or seal all the barriers and come below?"
asked Vidonati. The control room was in the north building.

"Stay up there so you can report on what they're doing, unless they
start to move toward that building," instructed Placer. "If they do,
seal the other emergency barriers at once and come below. We can switch
to the emergency radio down here to keep in touch with the task force
from Mars City, and just wait it out underground until they clean up
these rebels."

"Good enough," agreed Vidonati. "I won't take any chances."

In the vats below, Dark and Maya made their way to Old Beard's hideout,
their heatguns ready, keeping a sharp lookout for Toughs. They reached
it without incident.

Dark looked sadly around the little recess beneath the tangled
vegetation, where Old Beard had concealed himself successfully so long
from both Toughs and Masters. He had hoped that this reunion with his
father would mean many years of companionship between them, once they
were free of the Canfell Hydroponic Farm and had found a haven in the
Icaria Desert.

But he knew that Old Beard had died in an act that had great meaning to
him, a savage revenge that had wiped out the bitter memory of the loss
of his wife and had repaid him for twenty-five long years of exile. Old
Beard had died nobly.

Dark picked up one of the smaller marsuits.

"We don't know what's going to happen above, and we can't help much by
staying inside, now that we can't hold that corridor and bottle them up
in a room until Cheng and the Phoenix break in," said Dark. "We'd best
get up to one of the exit buildings, get out through the airlock and get
picked up by one of the groundcars. I don't need a marsuit, but you can
put that on as soon as we get above in the building."

"Have you been in telepathic touch with Cheng?" asked Maya.

"Yes. They've already broken into the south building. That's the one I
came through when I left for Ultra Vires and when I came back. But the
Masters let down a heavy emergency barrier on the ramp when they
attacked the airlock, and we wouldn't be able to get through that.
There's a ramp near here that Old Beard told me opens onto the north
building. We'll go there, and I'll send a call to Cheng to move over
and meet us there."

Dark sent out a call to Cheng and received an acknowledgement. He and
Maya started for the ramp, unaware that the building which was their
goal housed the farm's control room, and the watching Vidonati.

Above, a few moments later, Vidonati called Placer on the intercom.

"Placer, they've come back to the groundcars and turned them in this
direction," said Vidonati. "I'm going to let down the barriers on the
ramps from the east and west buildings, sabotage the controls so they
can't raise them again, and come on down. I'll lower the barrier to this
building from inside, as soon as I get past it on the ramp."

"All right," said Placer. "We'll start getting the emergency radio in
operation down here. Do a good job, but do it fast, and don't get caught
up there by the rebels blasting the airlock."

"I won't," promised Vidonati. "It'll only take me a few minutes, and I
can be down the ramp before they can focus their beams on the airlock."

In the lead groundcar, as the three of them wheeled around and headed
slowly for the north building, Cheng turned to one of his companions
with a frown.

"I've been trying to get through telepathically to Dark, but I can't
reach him," said Cheng. "He didn't give any instructions for getting
into the building, but they seem to have locked these airlocks by remote
control so they can't be operated. We'll have to blast this one as we
did the other one, because I don't imagine Dark will be able to open it
from inside. He seemed in rather a hurry to be picked up."

Dark and Maya hurried up the ramp toward the north building. Dark had
been concentrating too heavily on finding his way through the vats to
receive Cheng's telepathic call.

They passed the barred gate that opened into the corridors of the upper
level, and a few moments later reached the top of the ramp and the gate
to the north building. Dark had been prepared to open this by
telekinesis but, to his surprise, it was already open.

They passed through it and emerged into the north building.

Dark had never seen one of the ground-level buildings in daylight, as
both times he had passed through the south building it had been night.
He looked around the place curiously as they entered.

It was about fifty feet square, bare except for the low, hard bunks on
which the Toughs slept at night. On three sides of it were windows, now
closed with heavy steel shutters. The airlock was across the room,
opposite the ramp entrance. The fourth wall was blank, and apparently
shut off a room at the end, because there was a closed door in the
center of it.

They moved out into the room, and Dark said:

"Slip into your marsuit, and we'll go out the airlock. I told Cheng to
bring the groundcars over this way, and they ought to be ready to pick
us up by the time we get out."

"I don't see why we didn't stay down in the vats until the Phoenix break
in," said Maya. "We were well hidden down there, and there might have
been some way we could have helped the Phoenix from inside."

"Primarily because I'm not sure now that the Phoenix can break in,"
answered Dark. "I didn't know about that heavy emergency barrier the
Masters let down on the south ramp, and I was surprised and relieved to
find they hadn't dropped one on this ramp, too. If they had, we'd have
been trapped below. If they have those barriers on all four ramps, the
Phoenix can't stay around long enough to burn through them, because the
Masters have probably already called for help from Mars City."

Maya had laid her marshelmet down on one of the bunks, and was pulling
the marsuit on over her tunic and trousers.

The door at the other end of the room opened, and a man emerged, a
heatgun in his hand.

Vidonati stopped in his tracks, startled, at the sight of Dark and Maya.
Dark grunted in surprise, and reached for his heatgun.

Even as Dark freed his weapon, Vidonati fired. The beam missed them,
melting away the top of Maya's marshelmet and setting the bunk aflame.
Then, as the beam of Dark's gun swung toward him, Vidonati ducked
precipitately back into the control room.

"He got your marshelmet!" exclaimed Dark. "We're going to have to go in
and flush him out of there, and just hope there's another marsuit in
there, before we can open the airlock."

Heatgun in hand, Dark started for the door of the control room, Maya at
his heels.

It was then that the Phoenix, the three groundcars drawn up with their
heavy guns focused, blasted the airlock of the north building. In
seconds, the airlock was burned through.

There was no emergency barrier down on this ramp. The heavy,
Earth-pressured air of the north building whistled out into the desert.
As from a punctured balloon, the pressured atmosphere of the entire
Canfell Hydroponic Farm rushed after it, roaring up the ramp, in a
moment stripping the vats, the upper level and the north building.

Caught in the tornadic blast, Dark could only cling to a bolted-down cot
with one hand, and hold onto Maya around the waist with the other. As
the pressure dropped precipitately and oxygen no longer touched his
lungs, he could actually feel his alternate metabolism shifting into
gear, he could feel his breathing stop and the glow of solar energy
begin to spread through his body.

As the wind faded and died, Dark released Maya and rose exultantly to
his feet. Down below, he knew, Nuwell and the Masters were gasping out
their lives in the thin air, like beached fish. Their recent attacker,
Vidonati, lay half out of the door of the control room, his hands
clutching convulsively at the floor.

"That's not the way I'd planned it, but it's just as good!" Dark
exclaimed. "We've taken the farm!"

Then he remembered. Maya had no marshelmet!

Appalled, struck to the heart, he turned in his tracks.

Maya was standing behind him, calmly trying to rearrange her raven hair,
tangled by the raging rush of wind.

"What's the matter?" she asked quietly, becoming aware of Dark's intent
gaze.

"Maya! You don't have a helmet on! Are you breathing?"

She was silent for a moment, apparently examining herself.

"Why, no, I don't believe I am," she replied, just as calmly.

"How can you ...? Wait a minute!"

Dark sent his mind into the invisible. His probing thoughts fled over
desert and lowland, seeking. They found the Martian, Qril, and he
recognized that Qril responded immediately.

_Qril, how is it that Maya is able to live in the Martian atmosphere
without breathing?_ asked Dark telepathically.

_She is as you_, replied Qril. _When she was a child, living among the
Martians, we altered her physiological and genetic structure so that
she, also, is able to utilize solar energy and exist without oxygen_.

_Why didn't you tell me this before, at Ultra Vires?_ demanded Dark.

_You did not ask_, replied Qril, and the mental contact faded out.

Dark turned to Maya, his face alight.

"Darling," he said, "our children will need no embryonic alterations.
They will be born as we are, able to live under Martian conditions. And
never again will either of us ever have to wear a marsuit!"

He felt the questing touch of Cheng's mind.

Cheng: _Are you there, Dark?_

Dark: _Here._

Cheng: _Are you all right?_

Dark: _We're both fine! We're coming out. Then we'll take off at once
for the Icaria Desert, before the Mars City task force gets here._

He and Maya walked hand in hand through the blasted airlock. The three
groundcars were there, waiting.

The two of them stood for a moment, before getting aboard the
groundcars, and looked out together across the red desert toward the
sinking sun.

Death? Desolation? No, not for them. This was life, and free, bleak
beauty, for them and for their children.

The future of Mars was theirs.







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Online LibraryCharles L. FontenayRebels of the Red Planet → online text (page 11 of 11)