Rebels of the Red Planet
Chapter 8

Public Domain

The waiter unplugged the telephone and lifted it from their table.

“We’re ready to order now,” Maya said to him. “And please ask Mr. Gren to come in here.”

A few moments after the waiter left, the manager came to their table. Quelman Gren was dark and thin-faced, with sleek, oily hair.

“When I told you I was here in an official capacity for the government, Mr. Gren, you said you would co-operate with me in every way possible,” said Maya.

“Yes, Miss Cara Nome, I have made every effort to do so,” replied Gren. “Is there some way I can help you now?”

“Yes, there is,” she said. “This man is my prisoner, and I’m going to have to keep him in custody here for two days and a half, until help arrives from Mars City. I’d like for you to arm a couple of dependable men with heatguns and assign them to help me guard him.”

Gren shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Miss Cara Nome, but none of the employees of the Chateau Nectaris was employed for that sort of work, and I’m not going to ask them to do it. What you should have is police help.”

“As you know very well, there are no police nearer than Ophir,” she said in an exasperated tone. “Surely, you have some semi-official officers employed in the chateau in case of trouble among the guests.”

“I have a house detective, but his duties are to intervene only when some crime has been committed against a guest or against the chateau. You told me that you were seeking political rebels, and I assume that that is your charge against Mr. Kensington. My house detective has no authority to act in such cases, and I do not intend to get the chateau mixed up in these affairs.

“I’ve co-operated with you to the extent of giving you information you wanted, Miss Cara Nome, and I’ll continue to co-operate insofar as I am not asked to do something I have no authority to do. It occurs to me that if you came here seeking rebels, you should have come equipped to handle them if you found them.”

“It occurs to me that you act very much as though you were in sympathy with the rebel cause,” retorted Maya angrily.

“My sympathies are not the government’s affair, as long as I take no illegal actions,” said Gren. “Good evening, Miss Cara Nome.”

Maya gazed after him furiously as he left the dining room. Dark, sitting completely relaxed, smiled pleasantly at her.

“Please be assured,” he said, “that I’m going to try to avoid injuring you in any way when I escape your custody.”

“I’m not worried, because you aren’t going to escape,” she said. “But I appreciate the thought. You seem to be a very mild-mannered person, for...”

She stopped.

“For a rebel?” he finished for her. “I really don’t know what sort of indoctrination you must have had, Maya--if I may call you Maya, and there’s no point in being formal under the circumstances. The students at the barber college were all rebels, and the reports I received were that you got along nicely with most of them.”

“Yes, I did. I don’t suppose it should surprise me to find that rebels are human beings, too.”

“Merely a matter of a difference in orientation. And a question for you to consider is, which orientation actually is correct?”

Maya did not like the direction the conversation was taking. She was relieved by the appearance of the waiter with their meals of thick, steaming steaks, with all the necessary trimmings.

“It will be a long time before we can be served anything like this by teleportation,” she said, laughing. “But, Mr. Kensington--”

“Dark, if you don’t mind.”

“Very well. Dark, you say that you drove here from Mars City. How did you avoid the copter patrols that were out trying to intercept the escaping rebels?”

“As a matter of fact, I didn’t, and that’s a very peculiar thing,” he said thoughtfully. “One of them got me just outside Mars City and blasted the dome of my groundcar.”

“I noticed you were wearing a marsuit when you registered here, and Gren said you were having the dome repaired.”

“That’s what’s peculiar about it. I wasn’t wearing the marsuit when the copter broke my dome. I didn’t have any protection at all. The groundcar went off the road and overturned. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but it was evidently long enough for the copter to look me over, decide I was dead, and move on out of sight. What I can’t understand is why I didn’t asphyxiate.”

“You mean that you were protected by no oxygen equipment at all?”

“None. I returned to consciousness and I was lying there with the dome broken wide open and my face bare to the Martian air. I got into my marsuit right away, of course, but that took a few minutes in addition to the time I was unconscious. And I didn’t feel restricted by the lack of air. I wasn’t even breathing. And I felt that I didn’t need to!”

“That is peculiar,” she said meditatively. “Tell me, do you know a man named Goat Hennessey?”

“You’re the second person who’s asked me that recently,” said Dark. “I knew him well, many years ago, but I haven’t seen him in years. Why do you ask?”

“Because the only case I’ve heard about of any human being able to live without oxygen in the Martian atmosphere involved some genetic experiments of Goat Hennessey, before the government made him stop them and destroy the creatures he’d been experimenting with.”

Dark laughed.

“I can assure you I’m not one of Goat’s genetic experiments,” he said. “Goat and I were colleagues in this rebel movement twenty-five years ago, before I was hit by a period of amnesia that I’ve just come out of.”

She stared at him.

“A twenty-five year period of amnesia? Impossible! You’re not more than twenty-five years old,” she said positively.

“If what people tell me is correct, I’m nearer sixty,” said Dark. “Terrestrial years, of course.”

“Of course. But I don’t believe it.”

Dark shrugged, and cut another bite of steak. He seemed to be enjoying his meal quite as much as though he were not her prisoner and she his captor--as, indeed, she was, too.

They chatted pleasantly throughout the meal and Maya found, somewhat to her surprise, that she was talking about herself a great deal to this pale-eyed man. She told him of her childhood on Mars, among the Martians, and of going to Earth to live with her uncle, a World Senator who had had close and profitable connections with Marscorp.

She went on to tell of her decision to become an agent of the terrestrial government, despite her uncle’s objections but as a result of his often-expressed enthusiasm for the government’s role in developing the planetary colonies; and of her assignment to Mars to ferret out a rebel headquarters which had eluded the best efforts of the Martian government. She even told him how she had met Nuwell and fallen in love with him.

Some time after the meal’s conclusion, she suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.

“What’s the matter?” asked Dark.

“I just realized that you’re my prisoner,” she answered, smiling at him. “Frankly, I’m not sure what to do with you. We can’t just sit here in the dining room all night.”

“Why not go out and sit on the terrace?” he suggested. “They say that Solis Lacus is a beautiful sight when Phobos is up and moving.”

“And a shadowed terrace is a very convenient place from which to attempt an escape,” she countered.

“Look,” he said, “there’s no point in making the evening more difficult than it is. I very definitely intend to get away from you and get out of here during the next two days if I can, but I’m enjoying this conversation. If I promise that I won’t attempt an escape in the next two hours, are you willing to go up on the terrace for a while?”

She studied his face carefully. It was a handsome, earnest face, full of strength, full of wisdom, with a touch of weariness.

“All right,” she said at last. “But I warn you that if my trust is misplaced and you do attempt to escape, I’ll burn you down without compunction.”

They went up together, quite as casually as might any two guests relaxing at the resort, and found chairs in the semi-darkness overlooking the moonlit lowland.

Deimos hung near the zenith, a tiny globe of light, virtually stationary. Phobos, larger and brighter, was not long risen, and it moved swiftly and smoothly across the sky, like the cold searchlight of some giant aircraft. Touched and transformed by the shifting shadows, Maya and Dark sat and chatted like old friends.

Dark talked now, and he told her of his past life, of his coming to Mars, of his joining the rebel movement upon realizing how the government was holding back man’s progress toward Martian self-sufficiency. He spoke soberly, with intense conviction, and Maya, listening, began to realize that there was another side to this conflict than the one she had been taught.

She began to waver and to wonder, for the grave voice of this man was like a deep music she had never heard before but seemed to remember from some time before there was hearing, a music that touched the depths of her being.

Then his arm slid around her waist and he drew her gently toward him. For an instant, she responded, turning her face upward.

And, on that instant, she remembered.

With a lightning twist, she was free, and on her feet before him. She stepped back, and the lighter-gun was in her hand.

“I thought you said I could trust you,” she said coldly. “Evidently, I was foolish to do so.”

He looked up at her, and there was nothing but surprise on his face. Then, slowly, he smiled at her.

“It depends on your interpretation of the word,” he said. “I was merely attempting to kiss you, my dear.”

She let her hand sag, feeling rather foolish.

“Well, don’t,” she said, her sharpness covering her confusion. “We aren’t lovers, Mr. Kensington.”

“No,” he said, quite seriously. “And I find that I rather regret that we aren’t.”

She stood looking at him, fighting off a sneaking regret of her own that he hadn’t succeeded in his intention.

“I think this moonlight has had an unfortunate effect on us both,” she said. “We’d better go inside. Besides, if I’m to keep watch over you all night, I want to get into something more practical than an evening gown.”

Without protest, Dark preceded her inside. They went to the manager’s office, and Maya issued instructions to Gren.

 
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