Read CHAPTER 5 of Rebels of the Red Planet , free online book, by Charles Louis Fontenay, on ReadCentral.com.

Maya Cara Nome looked from her furnished room through cracked shutters at the building across the street.

A barber college.  The building at 49 Sage Avenue, Mars City, was a barber college.

That surprised her.  She didn’t know exactly what she had expected:  a hospital, perhaps, or even a kindergarten.  But a barber college!

But the source of the information she had received that 49 Sage Avenue was the address she sought was unimpeachable.  She had ferreted it out, after a long time and through devious ways, and she was sure she could trust it.

“The Childress Barber College” read the neatly lettered sign above the door.  Maya’s landlady, moon-faced Mrs. Chan, had pointed out Oxvane Childress to her as he left the building one day:  a big man, comfortably stomached, with a heavy brown beard which, even at that distance, she could see was shot with gray.

As innocent as you please.  Childress came out and went in, the students went in and came out.  Still, it was the address she had been given.

Maya had to gain entrance to the building.  She could learn nothing watching it from outside.  She was established here as a tourist from Earth; besides, the position and activities of women were prescribed rigidly by Martian colonial convention, and women did not study to become barbers on Mars.

She would have to have help.  She, thought at once of Nuwell, and as immediately rejected him.

“Maya, I don’t see why you insist on working alone,” he had complained.  “I can set the whole machinery of government in motion to help you, whenever you need it.”

“Primarily because you’re well known and your activities are observed,” she had answered.  “Your whole government machinery hasn’t been effective in tracking down the rebel headquarters yet, and it’s reasonable to assume that the rebels have a fairly effective intelligence network.  My job is to find that headquarters, and if I were seen very often with you or tried to utilize your government machinery, they’d have me pinpointed pretty soon.”

She left the window, filled a tiny basin with precious water, shrugged out of her negligee and sponged her small, perfect body.  She donned form-fitting tunic, briefs and short skirt, pulled on knee-length socks and laced up Martian walking shoes.  She spent some time preparing her hair and face.

Then she left the room and the house and walked uptown.  The walk was about a kilometer, along sidewalks bordered by cubical, functional houses and trim lawns of terrestrial grass and small trees.  Above the city, its dome was opalescent in the morning sun.

The small houses gave way to larger business buildings, also cubical, and the lawns dwindled and vanished.  Farther down, the buildings were even larger and the streets were wider and busier; but she was not going into the heart of Mars City.

She turned into an office building, and studied the directory in the lobby.  The offices were those of doctors and lawyers.  On the directory she found “Charlworth Scion, Attorney-at-Law, Room 207.”

There was no elevator.  Maya walked up the stairs and down a corridor, finding a door that had nothing on it but the number.  She turned the knob and went in.

The small outer office was uninhabited.  It was carpeted and desked, with two straight chairs against a wall, for clients.  Through a door, she could see part of the inner office, cluttered and stacked with papers and books.

She stood there, hesitating.  The outer door clicked shut behind her.  At the sound, a gray-haired, preoccupied man with spectacles and stooped shoulders peered from the inner office.

“Oh!” he said.  “I’m sorry, my secretary went to lunch a bit early today.  Can I help you, Miss?”

“I’m looking for Mr. Scion,” she said.

“I’m Charlworth Scion.”

“Terra outshines the Sun,” said Maya.

Scion’s eyes were suddenly wary behind the spectacles.

“Well, well,” he murmured.  “Come in, please.”

She went into the cluttered inner office, and Scion closed and locked the door.

“And you are ...?” said Scion behind his desk, his pale hands fumbling aimlessly with papers.

“Maya Cara Nome,” she said.

Scion found a paper and scanned it.  He apparently found her name there.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” he admitted.  “Our information was that you would be working entirely alone.”

“I am,” said Maya.  “Or I was.  I was told not to contact you unless I had to, Mr. Scion, but it seems I’m going to need some help.”

Scion inclined his head, but said nothing.

“As you may or may not know, my specific assignment is to locate the nerve center of rebellious activity,” said Maya.  “It seems that the rebels have an intelligence network about as effective as the government’s, and it was felt that a woman tourist from Earth might be successful where any unusual probing by local agents might arouse suspicion.”

“That’s true,” conceded Scion.  “I doubt that they’re really sure of the identity of more than a few of our agents, but sometimes I think they have a card file on every person on Mars.  We have to be very careful that movements of our agents are consistent with their pretended occupations.”

“I have a reliable tip that their nerve center is the Childress Barber College here,” she said.  “I can’t find out anything, though, unless I get into the building over a period of time.  As a woman, I can’t very well apply to study barbering.”

“No,” said Scion.  “I see your problem.”

He turned to a filing cabinet, unlocked it and searched through it, whistling tunelessly.  He found a folder, pulled it out and studied it.

“If it is, they’ve certainly kept it well covered,” he said.  “There’s not a mark of suspicion entered against the Childress Barber College.  But here’s a possibility for getting you in.  The barber college employs one secretary, female.  Now, if you could take her place....”

Maya smiled.

“I might as well apply as a barber student,” she said.  “You propose to remove a trusted member of their own group from their midst and replace her with a complete unknown?”

“We don’t know that she’s a rebel,” answered Scion.  “If she isn’t, she can be lured away to another job at a much better salary.  If she is, and can’t be lured ... well, there are other methods.  The Mars City Employment Agency is operated by one of our agents, and you’ll be the only secretary available when the barber college asks for a woman to fill her place.

“Believe me, Miss Cara Nome, as easy as it is for a woman to get married on Mars, it is difficult to find women to do any sort of business work.  It won’t seem at all strange that you’re the only one available.”

“The only trouble is that I’m known in the neighborhood as a tourist from Earth,” objected Maya.

“Well,” said Scion, “things have been more expensive than you planned for on Mars.  You’ve run short of money.  You have to work for a while to pay living expenses here until the next ship leaves for Earth.”

“My account at the bank?”

“It will vanish quietly from the records,” said Scion with a smile.  “The bank is a government institution.”

“Very well,” said Maya, taking her purse from his desk.  “Let me know when I’m to apply.”

“You won’t hear from me again,” said Scion, shaking his head.  “The employment agency will notify you to appear at the barber college for an interview.”

Maya knew of Scion only as her emergency contact on Mars.  She did not know what position he held in that underground network of terrestrial agents which was largely unknown even to Nuwell Eli, the government prosecutor.  But, whatever his position, he got things done in a hurry.

Within two weeks, Maya was typing up applications, examination reports and supply orders in the Childress Barber College, joking and flirting with barber students between classes, and naively declaiming to her ostensible employer, phlegmatic Oxvane Childress, how lucky it was for her that she was able to get a job right across the street from her rooming house.

“The work’s easy,” rumbled Childress, explaining her tasks to her.  “Any time you want to take a coffee break with any of the young men, or go uptown shopping, go ahead, as long as the work gets done.  Just one thing:  you have to stay up here in the front of the building, and don’t ever go back in the classrooms.  The instructors are mighty strict about that, and that’s one rule I won’t stand to be violated.”

This significant restriction convinced Maya she was on the right track.  But she needed to move cautiously, if she was not to arouse immediate suspicion.  So she adhered strictly to her rôle for nearly a month, keeping her eyes open.

If it was a rebel operation, it was almost perfectly disguised.  Childress performed the duties of the administrative head of a barber college, and nothing more.  The students, about fifty of them, went in and out at regular school hours, and she became casually acquainted with a good many of them.  The half-dozen instructors, whom she also came to know, were less regular in their movements, but she could detect nothing suspicious about them.

“We cut the hair of Mars,” was the college’s motto, and she learned that it was the larger of only two barber colleges on the planet.  Apparently, it actually did supply graduate barbers to all the dome cities.  It took in customers for the students to practice on, and, although many of them were strangers, some of them were prominent Mars City citizens whom she knew by sight.

There was no question about it:  partially, at least, it was a legitimate barber college, whatever other activities it might mask.  The only thing noticeably unusual on the surface was that it was extremely selective in its approval of students who applied for courses in barbering.  She discerned that through her processing of the applications.

If she was going to find out anything definite, she would have to get into the forbidden rear portion of the building.  But obviously there were legitimate classrooms there, in addition to the activities she suspected, and if she were caught nosing around the classrooms she would be discharged at once for violation of the rules, without finding out what she sought.  She would have to hit it right the first time.

Biding her time and watching, she was able to learn, almost intuitively, from the movements of students, customers and instructors, that the classrooms in which barbering was actually taught were all concentrated on the western side of the building.  If there were any more sinister activities, they occurred on the opposite side.  Having determined this, she planned her course of action.

Near the end of her first month at work, she chose her time one day when Childress was downtown, leaving her alone in the business office.  The afternoon classes were in full swing.

Taking along a filled-out order form as an excuse, Maya walked quickly down the corridor that stretched across the front of the building.  Carefully and quietly, she pushed open the door at the extreme end of the corridor a little surprised, as a matter of fact, to find it unlocked.

She was in another corridor, that struck straight back to the rear of the building.

She hesitated.  There were doors spaced all along both sides of this corridor.  Did she dare attempt to open one, on the chance that the room behind it was unoccupied?

Then she saw that one door, a little way down, stood half open.  Quietly she walked down the hall, not quite to the door, but near enough to it to be able to see a large area of the room behind it.

There were people in there.  In the part she was able to see, there were half a dozen students seated, and one of the instructors standing among them.  Fortunately, their backs were to her.

Whatever they were studying, it was not barbering.  There was an occasional murmur of voices, but she could not make out the words.

Then she saw!  On the table at the front of the room, which the students faced, there was a big barber’s basin.

As she watched, the basin slowly raised off the table and moved upward a few inches.  No one was near it, but it floated there, quivering and tilting a little, in the air.  And then, from it, slowly, the water itself came up in a weird fountain, moved completely free of the basin and hung above it in the air, gradually assuming the form of a globe.

Telekinesis!  This was a class in telekinesis!  The students were concentrating on the basin and water, and lifting them into the air by the power of their minds.

This was indeed the heart of the rebel movement.  She had found what she sought.

“Aren’t you where you shouldn’t be, young lady?” asked a calm masculine voice behind her.

Shocked, terrified, she whirled.  A tall, handsome, dark-haired man she had never seen before was standing there, observing her quizzically.  His pale eyes seemed to look through her and beyond her.

She forced herself to casual composure.

“I don’t believe I’ve met you,” she said.  “Are you one of the instructors?”

“I’m Dark Kensington, one of the supervisors,” he replied.  “And you’re Miss Cara Nome, the secretary, who shouldn’t be back here.”

Had he noticed that she saw the telekinetic action?  She glanced back at the classroom.  The basin was now comfortably ensconced back on the table, full of water.

“I had this order, which I thought was of an emergency nature,” she said, offering it to him.  “Mr. Childress wasn’t in, and I thought I’d better find one of the instructors so it could be approved and go out right away.”

Dark took it and glanced at it.

“I doubt that its emergency nature is as grave as you may have thought,” he said soberly.  “However, Mr. Childress would be better qualified to judge that.  You understand that I shall have to report this infraction of the rules to him.”

Suddenly, Maya was overwhelmed by an utterly terrifying sensation.  It seemed that these pale-blue eyes were looking into her mind, searching, seeking to determine her thoughts and her true intention.

Instinctively, not knowing how she did it, she veiled her thoughts with a psychic barrier.  And, instinctively, she recognized that he detected the barrier and could not penetrate it.

Telepathy?  Why not, if they were experimenting successfully with telekinesis?

“I’m sorry,” she murmured hurriedly, and brushed past him.  He did not try to detain her.

She hurried back to the office.  She hurried, but as she hurried down first the one corridor and then the other, she discovered that her steps were slowing involuntarily.  A powerful force seemed to be detaining her, attempting to draw her back.

Frightened but curious, she attempted to analyze this force even as she struggled against it.  She could not be sure it was disturbing, either way, but she could not be sure whether it was a telepathic thing or merely the magnetic force of this man’s powerful masculine personality that pulled at her.

In a state of mental turmoil, she reached the office.  Childress was not yet back.

Should she wait for him?

Then, as suddenly as she had sensed Dark Kensington’s telepathic probing, she sensed something else.  Somewhere in the back of the building, he was talking to another man she had not seen before, and within ten minutes Dark Kensington would be in this office.  And the prospect she faced was far more serious than mere discharge for infringement of company rules.

She had to get in touch with Nuwell at once.  She recognized that if she could get out of this building and across the street to her rooming house, she would be safe for a little while.  She could telephone Nuwell from there.

Grabbing her purse, she hastened out of the office.