Rebels of the Red Planet
Chapter 12

Public Domain

The two Dark Kensingtons and Happy Thurbelow walked along one of the pathways between the vats, Happy trailing a bit behind. Somewhere near them, they knew, Shadow accompanied them.

The place was dim, with the moist dimness of a swamp. The source of the light that filtered through the faint mist and seemed to permeate the air was not discernible, and the roof of this underground world was lost in the darkness above them. The placid surface of the water gleamed vaguely in the vats they passed, and the pale-green tangle of vegetation rose above and around them, sometimes drooping over the paths like skinny arms that sought to detain them.

“What I don’t understand,” said Dark the younger, “is that our memories coincide exactly, up to a point which you say is a time twenty-five years ago. My memories are just as genuine as you say yours are; they aren’t something someone told me, but real memories of things that happened to me, things I felt and did. If they’re both genuine sets of memories, how can it be explained? Are we the same person, who was somehow split into two distinct individuals?”

“I can only guess at the explanation, but I have a theory,” answered Old Beard. “You are much younger than I am. I would estimate that you’re twenty-five years younger than I am. My memories are consecutive and complete: I remember not only the earlier things you say you remember, but the events of these past twenty-five years, without a break. You say you suffered a period of amnesia, and your next consecutive memory is of being with Martians in the Icaria Desert.”

“That would appear to give you an advantage in claiming to be the real Dark Kensington,” agreed Dark with a smile. “But, if you are, who am I? How is it that I remember being Dark Kensington?”

“It’s entirely possible that, for some reason, my earlier memories were grafted onto you as your own,” replied Old Beard. “I don’t know how this would be done, perhaps through very deep and extensive hypnosis. The Martians, as well as we can tell anything about them at all, are experts in such mental fields, a relic of the ancient science they’re legended to have had when their civilizations covered Mars.

“I worked with Martians very closely for long periods during the early days of the rebellion--the Phoenix, as you say they call it now--and they may very well have recorded my memory pattern through some means I don’t know anything about and for reasons I can’t imagine.”

“That sounds reasonable,” conceded Dark. “But that still leaves unanswered the questions: Who am I, and what’s happened to my memories of the past twenty-five years?”

“I’m afraid I can’t answer that,” replied Old Beard.

In the dimness ahead of them, they discerned a group of nude Toughs approaching, swaggering down the path. They turned aside and found a recess in the vegetation in which they could wait until the Toughs passed and went on their way. The Toughs were aggressive, and insensately brutal, and a meeting with them could only mean trouble.

“Happy’s explained the situation here, as well as he could, but I’m afraid it wasn’t a very adequate explanation,” said Dark as they huddled in the shadowed recess. “Could you tell me more about it, and explain how you happen to be here?”

“Happy is very intelligent, for a Jelly, but none of the Jellies are exceptionally bright,” answered Old Beard, with a touch of affection in his voice. “I’ll outline it to you as briefly as I can.

“As your memories--or transplanted memories--indicate, I was one of a group of Martian colonists who joined forces to work at what, at first, appeared to be a theoretical and fantastic project: the development of the ability to live under natural Martian conditions, without dependence on the regular importation of extremely expensive imports from Earth. As you know, this project very shortly began to lose its fantastic qualities and appear to be definitely within the realm of possible realization.

“Because of the differing background and orientation of those of us who attempted this project, two approaches were adopted. One, based on advancing terrestrial research into the field of extrasensory perception, was aimed at developing telepathic and telekinetic powers so that food, oxygen, machinery and other essentials could be teleported directly from Earth into the martian domes without dependence on the spacelines. The other, based on more orthodox science, was aimed at genetic development of a human type that could live without these importations, on native Martian food and in the Martian atmosphere.

“As you know, the government banned these experiments and we retreated into the desert to carry them on despite the ban. From what you tell me of the extent of your memories, what you do not know is the reason behind the ban, which we discovered--or, at least, I did--only after we had been betrayed and the government had raided and broken up our experimental colony.

“The spacelines, as one might have guessed, were responsible. They saw that the success of the experiments would destroy their lucrative business. These spacelines, led by the Mars Corporation, which later absorbed the others and gained a monopoly, brought political pressure to bear and got the project banned.

“I had heard reports that a great many of my colleagues escaped and formed a rebel organization that carried on the work secretly and illegally, but I was never able to learn details of it until you came and told me of the activities in which you have been engaged. You see, I haven’t been out of these caves in a quarter of a century.”

Shadow appeared at the recess to report to them that the Toughs had passed on. How he did it, Dark was unable to determine surely, for he could hear no words spoken. Either Shadow communicated by subtle gestures or by tones beyond Dark’s powers of hearing, but both Old Beard and Happy seemed to understand him readily.

“How do you happen to be here, Old Beard?” asked Dark as they left the recess and resumed their progress down the walkways.

“I was captured when the government broke up the experimental groups,” answered Old Beard. “I was the leader of the section of the experiments dealing with extrasensory perception, and, instead of executing me at once, they tried to persuade me to continue this work for the government along specific lines and under supervision. I refused, because I knew that anything I helped them develop would not be used for the benefit of the Martian colonists, but for greater profits for the spacelines.

“At last I was able to escape into these underground caverns where they grow food plants hydroponically and sell them to supplement the produce of the dome farms and the gardens in the dome cities. These caverns are extensive and, with the friendship and help of the Jellies, I’ve evaded discovery for twenty-five years.”

“Just who and what are the Jellies?” asked Dark. “I haven’t been able to get a very satisfactory answer to that question from Happy.”

“They’re human experimental animals,” answered Old Beard. “The terrestrial food plants grown hydroponically and sold in the dome cities actually are a supplemental sideline to the real purpose of this place. Marscorp is conducting its own experiments here, with a crew of expert geneticists.

“What Marscorp is trying to do is to breed native Martian plants, that will grow in the open lowlands without expensive oxygenation and irrigation, that are not poisonous to humans and can be used for food. At the same time, they’re approaching the problem from the other side, and the Jellies are men and women whose glandular structure has been altered in an effort to make their physiology more receptive to native Martian vegetation. If they succeed, of course, Marscorp has just as complete a monopoly over such a food supply as it does over imports from Earth, but at considerably less expense.”

“And the Toughs?”

“They’re human experimental animals, too, based on a different type of glandular alteration. They’re neither as docile nor as intelligent as the Jellies, so they can’t be used for slave labour as the Jellies can. About the only way they’re ever used is as occasional goon squads to terrorize the Jellies and keep them in line.”

“You’ve been here twenty-five years and have never been able to escape?” asked Dark incredulously.

“This place isn’t guarded,” replied Old Beard, with a wry smile. “They don’t have to guard it. All they have to guard are the supply room where the marsuits are kept and the motor pool of groundcars. This place is in the middle of the Desert of Candor, and no one can live in the Martian desert without oxygen.”

They came now to one of the walls of the underground cavern, and Old Beard led them suddenly into a fissure that was well concealed from the walkways by a tangled screen of vegetation. They stumbled along a narrow passageway for a few feet, and emerged into a rude shaft, around the walls of which a roughly-chiseled and steep stairway led upward into pitch darkness. Here Old Beard halted.

“When I told you there’s no way of escape here, it was not that I haven’t tried many times,” he said to Dark.

 
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