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Charles L. Fontenay.

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"No, Maya!" exclaimed Dark, getting to his feet. "Don't! There's no
point in your getting hurt for my sake."

She ignored him.

"Drop those heatguns, both of you, or I blast!" she snapped, almost
hysterically.

Then Dark hurled himself bodily at the two men.

The thin-faced man swung his heatgun around to meet Dark's charge. Maya
twisted the lighter-gun toward him, and at the same moment the burly
policeman threw himself against her. Her heat beam singed the thin-faced
one's shoulder, then she collapsed under the impact of the other's body.

As she fell, she saw the almost invisible beam of the thin-faced
policeman's heatgun strike Dark directly in the stomach, burning away
the cloth, burning a great gaping hole in his abdomen. Dark slid to the
floor, writhing, gasping, clutching his stomach.

Her lighter-gun knocked from her hand, Maya struggled, half-dazed, to
her feet. The burly policeman had swung his own gun on the prostrate
Dark, but the other one, grimacing with the pain of his wounded
shoulder, stopped him.

"Let him be," he said. "I like to watch them die."

With a wail, Maya dropped to Dark's side. She cradled his head against
her breast and sobbed as he died in her arms.




9


From the time she saw Dark Kensington die until Nuwell's arrival at the
Chateau Nectaris a day later, Maya remained in her room, half in shock,
half in an agony of sorrow and remorse.

She was so exhausted by her ordeal that she did sleep, but it was
fitfully and without genuine rest. She had her meals sent up to her
room, and ate automatically, not tasting the food.

Rationally, she could in no way blame herself for Dark's death, but that
did not prevent her feeling strongly that her insistence on tracking
down the fugitives from the Childress Barber College had made her,
directly, his slayer. Her feeling of distress was much deeper and more
personal than normal regret at having brought about the death of a
friendly enemy while in pursuit of her duty.

Maya realized that in those few hours she had been with Dark and talked
to him, something had taken root and flowered that had changed her whole
outlook on existence. She did not want to call it love; she was a very
practical young woman and did not believe in love on such short notice.
But, in examining her feelings, she was at a loss as to what else to
call it.

She had felt a powerful attraction to this man, a tremendous admiration
and liking for him, a feeling of _belonging_ in his presence. She had
sensed his strength. It had appalled her when she had had to oppose
herself to him in keeping him captive, but in other circumstances she
felt it was the sort of strength she could depend on. Willingly, she
thought now, she, could have dispensed with everything else in her life,
and followed Dark Kensington wherever he chose to wander, a fugitive,
among the deserts and lowlands.

And Nuwell? Her feeling for him had not changed. She was still attracted
to him and she still admired him. But the admiration she had felt for
his sharp, sardonic handling of his opponents in a court of law seemed a
little shallow and a little immature in comparison to the sudden onrush
of what she sensed about Dark.

Since her early teens, she had been an eager enemy of those rebels whom
she conceived to be disrupting the orderly settlement of Mars, and her
desire to contribute to the defeat of those rebels had been a
disciplining, integrating force in her personality. Yet, in only a few
short hours of quiet talk, Dark had cut the foundation from that force
and dissipated it.

If only she had not delayed, if only she had made up her mind decisively
to what she felt now ... Dark need not have died, she could have freed
him, and together they could have left Solis Lacus. With him, she would
have fought as hard for the rebel cause as, in the past, she had fought
against it.

But now it was too late. And, moping tearfully in her room, she found
that she didn't care any more, one way or another, about the struggle
between Marscorp and the rebels.

By the time Nuwell arrived from Mars City, she had regained control over
her feelings. When he telephoned her in her room, she went down to the
lobby to meet him, pale but composed.

She had a strange feeling as she came out into the big lobby, arching up
above its balconies, a feeling as though she had been away in a distant
land for a very long time and was just returning to the world she had
known all her life. In this returning, she looked upon things with new
ideas, and they did not appear the same as before.

This was the same spacious lobby across which she had walked to register
when she came to Solis Lacus from Mars City a few days ago. It was the
same lobby in which, looking down from the balcony, she had seen Dark
Kensington arriving. It was the same lobby in which she had sat with
Dark and talked for so long. But it seemed a strange place, a different
place, one that looked like the lobby she remembered but in which she
had never walked before.

Nuwell was standing across the lobby with the two police officers from
Ophir, beside a long wooden box that rested on the floor next to the
registration counter. Behind the counter, Quelman Gren, the manager of
Chateau Nectaris, was sorting the day's mail.

Nuwell saw her, detached himself from the others and came across the
lobby to meet her. As he approached, she experienced the same feeling
toward him that she had felt toward the lobby: he was like someone she
had known, but a different person.

There was a worried frown on Nuwell's face, and he managed to get
something of disapproval in his greeting kiss.

"It's lucky I called Ophir and had those men sent over here," were his
first words. "If they hadn't gotten here when they did, that rebel might
have killed you and escaped. I told you, Maya, not to try to handle a
situation like that."

"It was very astute of you to send them over," answered Maya dryly. "I
should have thought of it myself."

"That's exactly why you shouldn't try to handle such things alone," said
Nuwell, apparently somewhat mollified.

Maya looked into his face, a handsome, youthful face bearing a slightly
peeved expression, and she thought two things: she thought of the long
and intensive training she had undergone as a terrestrial agent, and she
contemplated just how effectively Nuwell might have handled Dark's
capture, had Nuwell been in her place.

"Come on, Maya, let's clear this up, so we can get out of here and get
back to Mars City," said Nuwell, and led her across the lobby to the two
policemen and the wooden box.

The two men from Ophir greeted her with a certain embarrassment, and
seemed relieved when she smiled wanly at them.

"These men have told me how the rebel had turned the tables and gained
the advantage of you before their arrival," said Nuwell. "They say that
before he was killed, he confessed to them that he was Dark Kensington,
one of the major rebel leaders who escaped from the Childress Barber
College. I believe that coincides with your identification of him,
doesn't it?"

"Yes," answered Maya in a low voice. "He was Dark Kensington. I saw him
once at the college, and he identified himself to me then as a
supervisor."

She did not feel called on to say anything more, and to tell Nuwell what
Dark himself had told her about the rebellion and his part in it.

"Very good," said Nuwell with satisfaction. "We've captured the Chief,
the peculiar-looking individual who escaped by driving his copter
through the city dome. All the indications are that he and Kensington
were the two top figures in the rebellion. I think all that's needed now
is for you to identify the body positively as Kensington, Maya."

He indicated the wooden box, which lay, lidless, on the floor.
Reluctantly, Maya stepped up to it, and looked down into it.

The pain which distorted Dark's face when he lay writhing from the
heatgun blast was gone from his features. They were calm and peaceful in
death.

Maya gazed down at his face wistfully, sorrowfully, then turned away.

"Well?" asked Nuwell impatiently.

"Yes," she murmured. "That's Dark Kensington."

"Very good," said Nuwell, and turned to the two men. "We'll take the
body to the hydroponic farm for the vats," he said. "There'll be others
after the trials and executions of the rebels we've captured."

"Do you have to do that?" protested Maya. "Why can't you give the man a
decent burial out here in the lowland?"

"Don't interfere in matters which are none of your affair," replied
Nuwell brusquely. "Bodies of criminals are always sent to the vats.
They're constantly short of bodies, as it is, and we can't very well
send them corpses of law-abiding citizens."

He turned away. As Maya accompanied him across the corridor, the two men
from Ophir began nailing the lid on the wooden box that contained Dark
Kensington's remains.

At the elevator, Nuwell said:

"Get your things packed as soon as you can. I want to go back to Mars
City right away by copter. I have some things I want to talk to you
about, very seriously, but they can wait until we're airborne."

"Why by copter?" asked Maya. "Groundcar is faster."

For the first time, Nuwell's face broke into a genuine smile, and his
ordinary charming self shone through.

"Because," he replied drolly, "I've just made that trip by groundcar,
and every bone in my body aches. It may be slower, but I want to go back
by air, where there aren't as many bumps!"

Maya was able to laugh at this. She went up to her room.

It did not take her long to pack, and to dress in a tunic and trousers
for travel. When she came back down to the lobby, Nuwell was waiting,
and they took a groundcar from the chateau to the dome airlock.

The three government agents who had come with Nuwell from Mars City had
the helicopter ready for them on the flat lowland just beyond the
airlock. As the groundcar emerged onto the sage-covered plain, the men
were helping the two policemen from Ophir unload the box containing Dark
Kensington's remains from another groundcar and load it into the baggage
bay of the copter.

Nuwell and Maya slipped into their marsuits, secured the helmets and
climbed out of the groundcar. Nuwell gave his men some final
instructions to follow before returning to Mars City by groundcar. Then
he and Maya went aboard the copter.

They strapped themselves in the seats. Nuwell sealed the copter door,
and released oxygen from the tanks into the interior. When the dials
showed the air to be breathable, he and Maya removed their helmets,
Nuwell started the motor and the craft lifted slowly and smoothly into
the air above the Solis Lacus Lowland.

Nuwell headed the copter northwestward. As soon as they were well on
course, he turned to Maya with a stern expression on his face.

"There's one thing I can't understand at all," he said severely. "What
madness possessed you to resist those men I sent over from Ophir, and
attempt to help Kensington escape?"

She looked at him steadily without replying.

What should she answer? Could she say, "I discovered that I had fallen
in love with Dark Kensington. I found that his reasons for the rebellion
made sense to me, and that you and the government and Marscorp are
wrong"?

What would Nuwell's reaction be if she told this truth?

But it could do no good to say that. It could do the rebels no good,
because now they were scattered and defeated. It could do Dark no good,
because he was dead. She did not think she would suffer personally from
such a revelation, but it could only hurt Nuwell, who loved her.

So, at last, she said:

"Nuwell, I'd rather not talk about that. I didn't succeed, so can we
forget it?"

"I think it's best that we do," agreed Nuwell. "The only thing I can
think is that you were slightly hysterical over Kensington's having
gained the upper hand, after the strain of guarding him for so long, and
your action was an unconscious expression of resentment at their having
to take over his custody where you had failed. But we might have learned
a great deal through questioning the man at length, and that action of
yours made it necessary for them to kill him."

Nuwell could not know how deeply those words struck her. She turned her
face away from him, and the tears came to her eyes.

"At any rate," went on Nuwell, unaware, "I think this demonstrates that
these espionage activities have been far too much of a strain for you,
and I think it's time you stopped. We have one of the two major leaders
captured and the other one dead, and I don't think they're going to give
us much more trouble even if we don't locate all the fugitives. So I
want you to give up this idea of wandering around from city to city,
helping identify rebels."

"I think you're right," she agreed in a choked voice. She had no more
interest now, certainly, in tracking down rebels.

"And," continued Nuwell, even more firmly, "marry me when we get back to
Mars City."

Well, why not? Nuwell loved her. What else was there for her?

"Yes, I'll do that, too," she said. "As soon as we get back, I'll make
out my report, and send my resignation with it back on the first ship to
Earth. Then I'll marry you, Nuwell."

His face was radiant and triumphant as he turned to her. He put his arm
around her shoulders, drew her to him and kissed her.

The helicopter flew northwestward. Passing over the Solis Lacus Lowland,
it crossed the Thaumasia Desert and the Tithonius Lacus Lowland, and
whirred above the Desert of Candor. Ahead of it, after a time, there
rose on the horizon the white stone forms of a distant group of
buildings.

Nuwell dropped the helicopter lower. He angled it down, and in a short
time landed it on the desert near one of the four buildings of the
Canfell Hydroponic Farm.

As he and Maya donned their marshelmets, a group of marsuited men
emerged from the building's airlock and came across the sand toward
them.

Maya stared curiously out the copter window. She had heard of this
government experimental station, but had not visited it before.

"This is another reason I wanted to take a copter," explained Nuwell,
releasing the air from the copter's interior. "There aren't any roads to
this place, and I didn't want to drive a groundcar across the desert to
bring Kensington's body here."

They emerged from the copter as the group from the building approached.
Nuwell greeted the five of them and introduced them to Maya. Four of
them were strangers to her, but the fifth she remembered: Goat
Hennessey, white-bearded and watery-eyed.

"How are you adjusting to your new work here, Dr. Hennessey?" Nuwell
asked him.

"Very well," answered Goat in his cracked voice. "They're using a
different approach from mine, but I find it extremely interesting."

Remembering Goat's earlier experiments at Ultra Vires, it occurred to
Maya to be grateful that Dark had not fallen alive into the hands of
these people at the Canfell Hydroponic Farm.

Their entire stop lasted only a few minutes. Nuwell refused an
invitation to remain overnight, explaining that he was anxious to get on
to Mars City. The others unloaded Dark's coffin and moved with it back
toward the building. Nuwell and Maya climbed back into the copter, and
shortly they were airborne again and the buildings of the Canfell
Hydroponic Farm were receding behind and below them.

Nuwell guided the copter almost straight westward now. It passed over
Candor and buzzed out over the broad Xanthe Desert.

And here trouble developed. Without warning, the engine coughed and
stopped. Nuwell worked frantically at the controls, to no avail. As the
big blades slowed in their rotation, the copter sank, slowly at first,
then ever more swiftly, to the surface of the desert. They donned
marshelmets hurriedly.

It struck with a terrific crash, which would have hurled them through
the windows had they not been strapped down. The entire body of the
copter crumpled in on itself, and it came to rest, a collapsed wreck,
with the two of them sitting in its midst, miraculously uninjured.

There was no question of trying to start the engines or fly the machine.
It was a total wreck. Nuwell tried the radio without success.

"What in space went wrong with the thing?" he demanded angrily. "I know
it wasn't short of fuel. There's nothing left for us to do but walk, I'm
afraid, Maya."

"Back to the hydroponic farm?"

"No, we've come too far. By my chart, we're not far from Ultra Vires. I
think we'd better try to make it for the night, and if Goat left his
radio equipment in working order we'll call for help. If not, the only
thing I know to do is to head for Ophir."

Ultra Vires - Maya remembered it with a shudder. The grim, black bastion
in the desert where Goat Hennessey had worked with grotesque, twisted
caricatures of humans.

They fumbled about the wreck to find the minimum emergency supplies they
thought they would need, and started westward on foot.




10


Happy Thurbelow finished sweeping the long barracks and leaned wearily
on his broom. That is, he didn't lean on it, or it would have collapsed
him to the floor, but he made the gesture. Why, he wondered, didn't the
Masters make the Toughs sweep their own barracks? Perhaps the Toughs
couldn't be made, or perhaps the Masters did it just from an excess of
cruelty.

Happy's monstrously bloated body sagged, and his skin felt dangerously
dry and tight. Happy was so adipose that his hands engulfed the broom
handle like a toothpick; under the transparent skin, his flesh was clear
and translucent, and there could be seen the tiny red lines of the
branching veins. Happy was like a jellyfish, in huge human form.

"Shadow!" he called in a high, grating voice. "I'm going below."

Shadow appeared disconcertingly, ten feet away. Dark-skinned Shadow
looked at him silently with white-rimmed eyes. Then Shadow turned and
disappeared, as only Shadow could.

Hanging up the broom, Happy waddled to the iron-barred gate that
prevented entrance to a downward-plunging ramp. He pressed a button
beside it and waited.

He looked out the window beside the gate. The sands of the Desert of
Candor stretched orange and bleak under the bronze sky. Somewhere out
there to the south, across those sands, under that sky, lay the shining
dome of Ophir.

The window would be easily broken, and it was large enough for even
Happy's bulky body to pass through. But the oxygen-scant air of Mars
would sear his lungs to quick death without a helmet; and even if it
would not, Happy's skin would dry and crack in a few hours of that
outside air, and he would die in slower agony.

"What is the purpose of your call?" asked an impersonal voice from the
loudspeaker beside the barred gate.

"I have finished my task, Master," said Happy, puffing a little. "I seek
your grace to go below."

The loudspeaker said no more, but after a moment the gate stirred and
lifted into the ceiling. Happy went through it gratefully, and waddled
down the gently sloping ramp. The gate descended behind him.

Happy did not know whether Shadow had come through the open gate with
him, but it didn't matter. Shadow could slip easily through the bars
when he wished.

At the foot of the ramp was a vast, low cavern, stretching out of sight
in all directions. It was dim, shading into the darkness of distance.
Its floor was water, flat water, subdivided into large rectangular vats.
In most of the vats vegetation grew in various stages, greening under
the ultraviolet rays that radiated from the low roof. Between the vats
ran straight, narrow walkways of packed earth.

Happy waddled along one of the walkways until he found an empty vat. He
lowered himself over its edge and sank happily into the still, cool
water, like a hippopotamus submerging. He immersed himself completely,
then lay back in the water, with only his face floating barely above the
surface.

Shadow appeared, apparently out of nowhere, and sat down on the edge of
the vat, letting his flat legs dangle into the water.

"Nothing like it," proclaimed Happy, splashing a little. "Nothing on
Mars like it. You ought to come on in, Shadow. As flat as you are, you
ought to float on the surface without any trouble at all."

Shadow nodded silently, but made no move.

"I don't see why the Toughs can't take care of their own barracks,"
complained Happy, returning to the subject closest to his displeasure.
"You reckon the Toughs are actually the rebels, and the Masters can't
make them do anything?"

Shadow shook his head, but whether in negation or disclaimer of
knowledge, Happy could not interpret.

Happy flinched, and shifted in the vat.

"There's still part of a skeleton in here," he announced. "I thought
this was an empty one."

Moving, he flinched again. With purpose, he aroused himself and ploughed
to the edge of the vat.

"I've got to find another vat," he said. "I can't take a nap if I'm
going to get punched in the fanny with bones every five minutes."

He heaved himself over the edge onto the walkway with difficulty, and
got slowly to his feet. Shadow lifted his feet out of the vat, stood up
and vanished.

Happy knew how Shadow was able to disappear so suddenly, and it did not
disturb him. Seen directly from front or rear, Shadow had the dimensions
of a normal, black-skinned man. But Shadow was flat, no thicker than
half an inch. When Shadow turned sidewise, he vanished to the sight.

Occasionally, Happy wondered how Shadow happened to be, and why he was
here in the caverns, but it was not the sort of thing to bother his mind
for very long.

Happy moved along the walkways, peering into the vats which appeared to
be empty. He assumed Shadow was following him; Shadow always did.

Around corners, he came upon blubbery creatures like himself, tending
the plants. They nodded greeting at him, and Happy nodded back.

His search was discouraging. All the vats not filled with plants seemed
to have corpses in them, in varying stages of decomposition.

Around one corner, Happy came upon a Tough, lounging in the walkway. The
Tough was a compact, muscular youth, with bullet head, sullen eyes and
hard mouth. He looked as though he lounged with hands in pockets, but,
like Happy and all the others, he was naked, so that was just an
impression.

Happy stopped. He and his soft kind avoided the Toughs when they could.
The Tough looked at him with disinterested eyes, then looked away.

Happy was uncertain what to do or say. His impulse was to turn and go
back, but he did not quite dare.

"Are you a rebel, Tough?" he burbled the first thing in his mind, for
lack of something else to say.

The Tough looked at him contemptuously. Then, suddenly, the Tough's hard
eyes flared with savage excitement and he moved swiftly on Happy. As he
began to turn in panic, Happy saw from the corner of his eye another
Tough racing around the corner of the walkway to come upon him from
behind.

The Tough in front of him reached him and began pummeling him viciously
with his fists, the hard fists sinking like painful hammers deep into
Happy's flesh with every blow. Happy bleated in fright and distress,
trying ineffectually to ward off his attacker.

Then, out of nowhere, Shadow flashed in like a lightning bolt on the
other Tough as he had almost reached Happy. There was a brief, squalling
tangle and the Tough pitched headlong into a plant-choked vat.

Shadow vanished and reappeared, intermittently, like a flashing light.
The first Tough, seeing what had happened to his cohort, ceased
pummeling Happy abruptly and took to his heels. He vanished around a
corner.

The vanquished Tough climbed out of the vat, sputtering and cursing, and
fled in the other direction.

"Oh, my! Oh, my!" exclaimed Happy to the now-invisible Shadow. "What
wicked creatures!"

Sore and shaken, he moved on down the walkway, his search now
intensified by the need for wetness to soothe his injured flesh.

He came upon a vat without vegetation and, at first joyous glance,
thought it empty. Then, disappointment, a comparatively fresh body
floated in it, just under the surface.

It was the body of a man. Naked, it was smooth and plump with the water
that had seeped into its tissues, and it was a uniform dead-white all
over, like the belly of a fish. The face and lips were monochrome white,
the hair was bleached, and when it opened its eyes, they were so
colorless that the action was almost unnoticeable.

Realizing, Happy was paralyzed with shock.

The dead creature's eyes moved from side to side, then stopped, fixing
on Happy. Its chest began to rise and fall slowly, with


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Online LibraryCharles L. FontenayRebels of the Red Planet → online text (page 6 of 11)