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Charles L. Fontenay.

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Two students appeared, gave their names to Fancher in an undertone, and
sauntered out the back door of the building.

"What's the status now?" asked the Chief.

"They were nineteen and twenty," answered Fancher precisely. "They're
part of Group C, which is going to Hesperidum. Group A goes to Regina,
Group B to Charax, Group D to Nuba and Group E to Ismenius."

"None to Solis?" asked Childress in surprise.

"No, sir, nor to Phoenicis, either," answered Fancher. "They're both so
far, and Solis is a resort, where they might be easier to detect. We're
using both public transport and private groundcars. All of them so far
have reported safely through the flower shop, except these last two, so
the government evidently hasn't thrown a ring around the building yet."

"And I don't think they will, either," growled Childress. "I tell you,
it's all unnecessary."

"Are things going smoothly here?" asked the Chief.

"Yes, sir," replied Fancher. "The last five men scheduled to leave are
taking care of any customers who come in, and the rest of them are
packing supplies into the trucks. As soon as I get word from the flower
shop that the last pair has cleared, I give another pair the word to
leave."

"It seems to be moving along well," said the Chief, and he turned his
green eyes upon Childress. "Is the business office manned?"

"Why - why, there's no one there right now," said Childress, taken aback.

"I think it would look extremely peculiar to any investigator if you
weren't there, frantically trying to locate a new secretary," said the
Chief quietly.

Childress left, in confusion. The Chief turned to Dark.

"I think Fancher's handling this very well without my help," he said.
"You know where your groundcar is, if we all have to make a run for
it?"

"Yes," answered Dark. "We won't be going together?"

"No," replied the Chief, and his lips twisted in a faint smile. "I have
my own method of exit, which should give them other things to think
about."

He left, moving with quick, short steps. Dark stayed for a few moments
more, then he too went back into the building to help with packing.

The Lowland Flower Shop, on the other side of Mars City, near the west
airlock, was the clearance point for the evacuees. The flower shop was
operated by a Phoenix agent, and each pair that left the barber college
passed through there before leaving the city to let those behind know
that they had not been stopped by government men. Other Phoenix agents
watched the heliport and bus station for any evidence that the
government was trying to block these routes out of Mars City.

The evacuation moved steadily, and it began to appear that Childress was
right. Singly, the first two of the five trucks moved out, and all of
the ESP instructors and thirty-two of the students had reported back
safe clearance from the flower shop, when....

Dark was moving a stack of charts from one of the classrooms to the
basement when bells all over the building set up a tremendous clangor.
Immediately the quiet evacuation dissolved into an uproar, with men
running and shouting and the bell ringing incessantly.

Dark knew what had happened. Childress, in the front office, had seen
government agents approaching, or perhaps they had actually entered the
building. He had pressed the alarm bell, then sought to delay them with
the righteous indignation suitable to the administrative head of a
barber college which is invaded by government officials.

The bells stopped suddenly, and the scattered shouting sounded strange
and thin in the comparative silence. Then the piping voice of the Chief
came over the loudspeakers spread throughout the building.

"Attention!" said the Chief. "We are temporarily safe. The alarm
automatically sealed all doors to the building behind the front
corridor.

"Kensington, please come to my office. The rest of you, tie up the
customers still here and leave them unharmed, and then leave the
building by the emergency exits. Scatter, and make your way by whatever
private transportation methods you can to the rendezvous assigned to
your respective group. Do not use public transportation, because
Marscorp will undoubtedly be checking public transport now."

Dark set the charts down on the stairs and made his way back to the
Chief's office. The Chief was sitting, tiny behind his big desk, his
face as serene as ever. He was puffing casually on one of the long
Hadriacum cigars.

Dark laughed.

"You don't have another of those cigars, do you?" he asked.

For the first time since he had been here, Dark saw the Chief's mouth
break into a full, broad smile.

"I think so," said the Chief, an undertone of delight bubbling in his
voice. He reached into the desk and pulled one out. Dark accepted it
gravely, and lit it.

"The last two evacuees haven't reported to the flower shop, and they're
overdue," said the Chief, his face getting serious. "Childress hasn't
reported back here by telephone, either, so the Marscorp gang probably
had already entered the building before he detected them and sounded the
alarm."

"What about Childress?" asked Dark. "What will happen to him?"

"He'll take the rap," answered the Chief. "His defense will be that if
there were any Phoenix activities going on here he didn't know about it.
He was just running a barber college in good faith. I don't think they
can prove otherwise."

"Do we have any idea what our situation is?" asked Dark.

"A very accurate idea. We have observers posted in the two houses at the
ends of our emergency exits, and they've been reporting to Fancher, in
the next room, by telephone. There's a force of about a hundred Mars
City policemen and plain-clothes agents in the streets all around the
building. They saw a squad go into the front, but evidently they didn't
have enough warning to let Childress know in time."

"Will the doors hold?"

The Chief's mouth quirked.

"They'll need demolition equipment to break them down," he said. "All
these have are heatguns and tear gas. One of the observers farther
downtown said he saw a tank heading this way, but if they don't already
know there are innocent customers in here, Childress will tell them."

"Then everybody gets away but Childress?"

"We hope. They're not going to ignore these surrounding houses,
especially with men drifting out of them and moving away. That's why I
want to stress the importance of one thing to you, Kensington: you're
too important for us to lose at this juncture, with your knowledge of
the original work done. That house at the end of your exit will have a
dozen or so of our men in it, waiting to drift away one by one, but you
can't afford to worry about them. I want you to get in that groundcar,
alone, and take off like Phobos rising."

"You're going out the other emergency exit?"

"That's none of your business. But, as a matter of fact, no. If you want
to see something that will throw consternation into this Marscorp
outfit, watch the roof of this building. Now, get moving, Kensington,
and good luck. Fancher and I will be leaving as soon as he gets all the
records packed."

The Chief held out his tiny hand, and Dark shook hands with him. Then
Dark left, went down into the basement and entered an underground door
in its eastern wall. He had to crawl through the tunnel driven through
the sand under the street.

He emerged in the basement of a house across the street, which
ostensibly was owned by Manfall Kingron, a retired space engineer. He
went upstairs.

About half the personnel of the barber college who had not been caught
by the alarm were roaming the rooms of the small house, drifting singly
out the back door at ten-minute intervals.

Dark went to the front window and looked across the street at the barber
college.

The street was full of men carrying heat pistols, moving restlessly,
facing the barber college. Some of them were in police uniform. Squads
of them moved about on the college grounds, and a few were in the yards
of houses on this side of the street.

Dark watched the roof.

As he did so, from its center a helicopter rose into the air, hovering
over the building, moving upward slowly.

So that was the Chief's escape method. He had smuggled a helicopter into
the domed city itself! But how was he to get out of the city in it?

The appearance of the copter threw the men outside into confused
excitement. They ran about, aiming their short-range heat beams futilely
up at the rising copter.

A military tank, undoubtedly the one the Chief had been told about, spun
around the corner. It stopped, and its guns swung upward toward the
copter. But they remained silent. Heavy heat beams or artillery could
puncture the city's protecting dome.

The copter went straight up, gathering speed. Up, and up, and it did not
stop!

It hit the plastic dome near its zenith. It tilted and staggered. It
ripped through the dome and vanished.

Immediately, sirens began to wail throughout the city. Doors clanged
shut automatically everywhere. Lights and warning signs flashed at every
street corner, advising citizens to run for the nearest airtight
shelter.

The dome was punctured!

Emergency crews would be up within minutes to repair the break, and very
little of the city's air would hiss away. But, in the meantime, every
activity in Mars City was snarled by the necessity to seek shelter. The
Chief had, indeed, created a situation of consternation in which it
would be easier for the Phoenix men to elude their enemies.

The armed men of the government forces were already running for the
houses in this area. Some of them were headed for the house from which
Dark watched.

The Phoenix men were donning marsuits. They would admit the refugees,
after requiring them to lay down their arms, and then leave the house in
their marsuits.

Dark grinned happily, and walked quickly through the house to the
attached garage. He climbed into the groundcar, started the engine, and
opened the garage door by the remote control mechanism on the dashboard.

Accelerating at full power, Dark drove the groundcar out of the garage
and spun into the street. The men afoot, seeking entrance to the houses,
paid no attention. The tank began to turn ponderously in his direction,
but by the time it was in a position to bring its guns to bear, Dark's
groundcar had reached the corner and raced around it into the broad
thoroughfare leading to Mars City's east airlock.

The airlock was only a dozen blocks away. The Chief's theory had been
that the government, depending on surprise in its move to surround the
Childress Barber College, would not attempt the complicated task of
checking all traffic passing through the airlock until it was realized
that some of the Phoenix men had escaped from the trap at the college.

Dark reached the airlock in minutes. The Chief's theory proved correct.
There were no police at the airlock, and the maintenance employee
stationed there did not even look up as Dark's approach activated the
inner door.

He drove the groundcar into the airlock. The inner door closed behind
him. The outer door opened, and Dark drove out onto the highway that
struck straight across the Syrtis Major Lowland toward the Aeria Desert
and Edom. It was as simple as that.

About ten miles out was the circular bypass highway that surrounded Mars
City, and Dark proposed to turn right on that, for his destination was
Hesperidum. The highway he was on would take him eastward, and
Hesperidum was about 8,000 kilometers southwest of Mars City - a little
better than two-days' drive at groundcar speed on the straight, flat
highways.

Dark reached over and set the groundcar's radio dial on the frequency
which had been agreed on for emergency Phoenix broadcasts during this
operation. If government monitors caught the broadcasts and jammed them,
there were alternate channels chosen. With only about two dozen radio
stations on all Mars, plus the official aircraft and groundcar band,
there was plenty of free room in the air.

There was nothing on the Phoenix frequency now but a little disconsolate
static.

The country through which he drove here was uninhabited lowland. The
human life on Mars, agricultural, industrial and commercial, was
concentrated under the domes of the cities. Except for a few tiny
individual domes at the edge of Mars City, there were no human
structures close to it except the airport and the spaceport, and these
were west and north of the city, respectively.

The highway struck straight and lonely through a faintly rippling sea of
gray-green canal sage, spotted occasionally with the tall trunk of a
canal cactus, rising above it. Later he would see infrequent dome farms,
but he could expect no more than two or three score of these in the
entire long drive to Hesperidum.

Dark slowed and entered the cloverleaf that took him onto the bypass
expressway. Even as he did so, the radio crackled and the thin voice of
the Chief sounded over the groundcar loudspeaker.

"Attention, Phoenix," said the Chief intensely. "Attention, Phoenix.
Emergency instructions. We have monitored reports that the government is
checking airlocks at all cities. Repeat: the government is checking
airlocks at all cities.

"Some Phoenix have been captured attempting to leave Mars City.
Instructions: those in Mars City do not attempt to leave but find
shelter with Phoenix friends. Those beyond dome without credentials, go
to assigned emergency rendezvous spots _outside_ dome cities. Repeat
instructions: those...."

Swearing under his breath, Dark pulled the groundcar to a stop beside
the highway. It was so simple! They should have foreseen that the
government would take such a step as soon as it was realized that the
Phoenix men were leaving Mars City. He himself evidently had gotten
through the airlock just in time.

But he had been assigned no outside rendezvous! Whether it was an
oversight or not, he did not know, but the only place he had been
instructed to go was Hesperidum. The only Phoenix contact he knew was
the South Ausonia Art Shop in Hesperidum; and now he could not enter the
city without being captured.

He had only one alternative: the Martians, in the Icaria Desert, halfway
around Mars. They would remember him and shelter him, and he was sure he
could find the spot.

He looked at his fuel gauge. The tank was full. It would not take him
quite there, but he could chance refueling at Solis Lacus, some 20,000
kilometers from Mars City. He could take the highway, turning out into
the desert to go around Edom, Aram and Ophir.

He put the groundcar in drive again, and made a U-turn in the highway.
He entered the cloverleaf and was halfway through it when he saw the
copter.

It was a red-and-white government copter, and it was descending at a
shallow angle toward him from the direction of Mars City. Dark switched
his radio to the official channel.

" ... await check. Repeat: groundcar in cloverleaf, stop at once and
await check."

Dark braked the groundcar to a stop. As soon as the copter grounded, he
could accelerate and escape.

But the copter did not ground. It hovered, directly over him. Then Dark
realized it was awaiting a patrol car from Mars City to check and take
him in custody if necessary.

Immediately, he put the groundcar in drive and whipped out of the
cloverleaf under full acceleration. If he could only achieve top speed,
350 kilometers-an-hour, the copter couldn't match it.

But the copter was on his tail at once as he swerved out of the tight
curve. Its guns spat fire.

There was a terrific impact, and the groundcar dome shattered above him.
Unprotected, he felt the air explode from the groundcar, from his
lungs. Oxygenless death poured in through the broken dome.

It all happened in an instant. Even as the dome shattered under the
copter's shell and Dark recognized the imminence of death, the groundcar
twisted out of control and careened from the highway. He felt it
spinning over and over, and then blackness closed in around him.




7


Maya had never seen Nuwell in such a state of sustained rage.

He strode back and forth in the private dining room of the Syrtis Major
Club, near the western edge of Mars City, slapping his fist into his
hand. His face usually was engaging and boyish, the wave of his dark
hair setting it off handsomely, but now it was flushed like that of a
petulant child and the lock of hair hung down over his forehead. Maya,
the only other person in the room, sat quietly and watched him pace.

"They had plenty of time and all the information they needed," stormed
Nuwell, "and yet they didn't get a single one of the key men! Most of
the rebels slipped out easily, right under their noses!"

Maya watched him detachedly. This was the man she had promised to marry,
and, as she had once or twice before, she was undergoing pangs of doubt.
After all, she had known Nuwell Eli only during the few months she had
been on Mars.

She had fallen in love with him for his charm, his intelligence, his
good-humored gentleness, but she did not like this display of temper. It
was not a controlled anger, but had something of the irrational in it.

"Childress was captured," she reminded him.

"Childress! A figurehead! He says he didn't know about the rebel
activities going on in the college, and he's so stupid I may not be able
to make a case against him."

Maya recognized that this element, the success of his prosecution, was a
very important factor to Nuwell.

"Are the twelve I identified the only ones captured?" asked Maya.

"Yes. Twelve captured, seven killed, and every one of them small fry.
The leaders undoubtedly got away in that copter. We blockaded the
airlocks fast, so most of the others are probably still in the city, but
we don't have any idea where to look for them."

"I may be able to help in that, when I get back from my swing around the
other cities," said Maya.

"I don't want you to go on that jaunt, Maya!" exclaimed Nuwell, swinging
around to face her with fierce emphasis. "You said when you had found
the headquarters, you'd resign the service and marry me. Now you want to
go all over Mars looking for rebels!"

"Nuwell, I can identify almost all of those who were at the barber
college," Maya remonstrated. "They've picked up some men at the airlocks
and others on the roads at several cities, and even Martian law won't
permit you to uproot those people and send them to Mars City just on
suspicion. They can't be sent here for me to identify: I'll have to go
there."

"We can work out some charges to get them extradited to Mars City,"
snapped Nuwell angrily. "I don't want you to go, Maya. I want you to
stay here and marry me, immediately."

"Aren't you being a little dictatorial, Nuwell?" she suggested coolly.

The warning implied in her remoteness seemed to trigger a polarized
reaction in Nuwell. The furious dark eyes melted suddenly, the stubborn
anger of the face altered on the instant to a sentimental, wistful smile
of appeal.

"Don't be angry, Maya," he pleaded, half-ruefully, half-humorously.
"It's just that I love you so much. It's just that I'm impatient for you
to be my wife."

Changeability is attributed to the feminine, but Maya was not able to
shift her mood as facilely as her fiance.

"If I'm worth marrying, I'm worth waiting for a little longer," she
said, with an edge to her voice. She was angry at Nuwell for acting so
like a spoiled child. "I'm going to see this job finished. I'm leaving
for Solis Lacus on the jetliner tonight."

"Solis Lacus!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "Why, Maya, that's halfway
around Mars!"

"That's exactly why the rebels might be more likely to go there. In
spite of the patrols, you know they haven't picked up all of the rebels
who escaped Mars City by groundcar. Any of them who headed for Solis
Lacus will be arriving there within the next two or three days. Then
I'll make a swing around and spend as much time as necessary at each of
the dome cities before coming back here."

The angry, stubborn expression swept across Nuwell's face again.

"Maya, I won't - " he began.

But at that moment, their guests began arriving. As the judge of Mars
City's superior court and his wife entered the room, Nuwell cut himself
off sharp and turned to greet them. His face cleared instantly, his lips
curved into a delighted smile and he welcomed them with such natural,
innocent charm that one would have thought he was incapable of frowning.

The presence of the guests seemed to intoxicate him with good-humor, and
when he had to leave in the midst of the party to drive Maya to the
airport he did not resume his argument. He merely kissed her good-bye
tenderly before she boarded the plane and begged her with melting eyes
to hurry back because he would be lonely every moment she was away.

So it was that Maya stretched in a reclining chair on the sundeck of the
Chateau Nectaris the next afternoon and permitted herself to be
disgusted with the entire planet Mars.

Maya's small, perfect body was kept minimally modest by one of those
scanty Martian sunsuits. A huge straw hat, woven of dried canal sage,
hid her beautiful face.

A disappointing resort area for an Earthwoman, this Solis Lacus Lowland.
No swimming, no boating, no skiing. No water and no snow. Just a vast
expanse of salty ground, blanketed with gray-green canal sage and dotted
with the plastic domes of the resort chateaus. Nothing to do but hike
in a marsuit or sun oneself under a dome.

She had chosen the Chateau Nectaris because it was the largest of the
resort spots, and therefore the most likely one to be chosen by men who
sought to hide out for a while. She had contacted the managers of all
the resort chateaus and all had agreed to let her know of the arrival of
any new guests.

There had been three of them during the morning, two arriving by
groundcar and one by copter, at three different chateaus. She had driven
to each one and circumspectly inspected the new guest, but none had been
anyone she recognized from the Childress Barber College.

In a way, she wished she had yielded to Nuwell's importunities. There
was much more of interest to do in Mars City. And Nuwell _was_ charming
and intelligent and rather dashing, and she did love him, and she did
want to marry him. But....

But she was right in wanting to help identify those rebels who had been
captured before she considered her task finished. And perhaps Nuwell had
been right in his implied disagreement with her idea of coming first to
Solis Lacus, so far from Mars City. Logically, would it not be harder to
lose oneself in a fashionable resort area than in a good-sized city? But
something within her had urged her to come here first. It was a hunch,
and she intended to play it.

With a sigh, Maya pushed the hat off her face and stared with exotically
slanted black eyes at the shining blur of the dome hundreds of feet
above her. She sat up, hugging her knees with her arms.

A score of other guests were sunning themselves here also. At her
movement, the unmarried men turned their eyes on her frankly; the
married ones did so furtively, to be promptly yanked back to attention
by their wives.

Maya's onyx eyes surveyed this dullness aloofly, then lifted over the
nearby parapet and across the sparse terrestrial lawn which would grow
only under the dome. The far cliffs of the Thaumasia Foelix Desert
loomed darkly, distorted through the dome's sides.

The dome's airlock opened to admit a groundcar. She watched it,
interestedly, as it scurried like a huge, glassy bug along the curving
road and disappeared under the parapet in front of the chateau. Mail
from Mars City, perhaps, or supplies. Maybe even a new guest.

Something struck her, now that the groundcar was no longer in sight. It
had been a little too far away to discern its details clearly, but there
was something strange about the appearance of that groundcar. A glassy
bug, but not entirely sleek and shiny. Rather like a bug that had come
out second best in an argument with another bug.

Maya arose, purposefully. She stretched lithely, to the delight of the
assembled viewers, and padded gracefully toward the chateau's
second-floor entrance, trailing the huge hat in one hand.

She walked lightly along the balcony over the lobby, toward her room. As
she turned its corner, passing the grand stairway, she could see the
chateau entrance and the registration desk.

The groundcar had brought a new guest. He was signing the registration
book, a tall, broad-shouldered man in a marsuit, holding his marshelmet


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