Read CHAPTER 8 of Rebels of the Red Planet , free online book, by Charles Louis Fontenay, on ReadCentral.com.

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 rôle 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.

“Have a maid move my things from my third-floor room to a room on the top floor,” she ordered.  “We’ll wait here until it’s done.”

When the maid brought Maya the key to the new room, she and Dark took the elevator to it.  As soon as they were inside, she locked the door behind them.

“I’m going into the bathroom to change clothes,” she said precisely.  “The window to this room is six floors above a stone courtyard and I don’t think you can jump that far without being killed, even on Mars.  Since these windows don’t open, I’ll hear you if you break it to get out, and I can burn you long before you can climb down the face of the wall.”

The lighter-gun in her hand, she went into the bathroom and closed the door behind her.

She had just stripped off the evening gown when she heard the bathroom door lock from the outside.  A moment later, there was the crashing sound of breaking glass.

Calmly, Maya burned off the lock of the bathroom door with the little heatgun.  She pushed it open and went out into the room in her underwear.  Dark was in the process of gingerly climbing through the broken window.

“It’s a long fall, Dark,” she said.

He looked back over his shoulder.  He smiled ruefully, and came back into the room.

“Well, it was worth a try,” he said philosophically.

He surveyed her with frankly admiring eyes and added: 

“And it was worth failing, for the view.”

She turned pink.  But, without taking her eyes off him, she reached back into the bathroom, got the tunic and trousers she had laid out, and slipped them on.

“I think it would be better if we go down and sit in the middle of the lobby,” she said, unlocking the door to the room.  “That way, you’ll have farther to run if you try to get away.”

They went down and found comfortable seats.  They sat there, talking, to all casual appearance two of the chateau’s guests.  Gradually, the conversation moved back to its earlier informal and friendly terms.

How long they sat chatting, Maya did not know, for she was wrapped up in her enjoyment of the things Dark said and his attitude toward life.  But after a time she realized that no more guests were sitting in the lobby or moving through it.  They were the only ones there, except for Gren, sitting morosely behind the registration desk.

“Just how do you propose to get any sleep and watch me at the same time?” asked Dark.

“I don’t,” she answered, smiling.  “If you can stay awake for two nights, so can I.”

“You forget, young lady,” he retorted.  “I don’t have to.”

With that, he stretched out unceremoniously on the sofa on which he had been sitting, clasped his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.  Within a very short time, he was obviously and genuinely sound asleep.

Maya sat and watched him, piqued and a little nonplussed.  She could hardly afford to go to sleep, too.  Her only course was to stay awake, to sit there and watch him sleeping comfortably and soundly.  It was not a pleasant prospect, for two nights.

She sat, heavy-eyed, and racked her brain for some solution, and silently cursed Gren for refusing to give her the help she needed.  Dark slept on, and a faint smile touched his lips.  Then Maya found herself thinking pleasantly over the things they had talked about during the long evening, and admiring this man and liking him....

She woke up.

With a start, she woke up, realizing that she had been asleep.  She was not sitting in the chair any more, but curled up comfortably on a sofa, her head pillowed like a child’s against against what?

Against Dark’s chest!  He was awake, sitting up, smiling down at her, and she was cradled in the curve of his arm.  And the little lighter-gun was no longer in her hand.

She did not react violently to the sudden realization.  She sighed, almost happily, and murmured to him: 

“So you win, after all.  I think I’m glad, Dark.  Now you can go, if you want to.”

He shook his head.

“I’m glad you feel that way about it, Maya, but I’m afraid it’s too late.  I really shouldn’t have stayed around to serve as your pillow till you awoke.”

There was something in his face that caused her to sit up suddenly.

Two uniformed men stood there in the lobby before them, relaxed but watchful, regulation heatguns dangling from their hands.  As she sat up, one of them touched his cap and spoke to her: 

“We’re police officers from Ophir, Miss Cara Nome.  Mr. Eli called from Mars City and directed us to drive over here and help you guard the prisoner until his arrival.”

She rose angrily.

“I didn’t ask for your help, so you may go,” she said, aware of Dark’s surprised gaze on her.  “I made a mistake in identification.”

The policeman who had spoken shook his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said.  “We’re acting on Mr. Eli’s orders, not yours.  We’ll have to hold Mr. Kensington until Mr. Eli arrives.”

She glared at them.  The one who had spoken was big and burly and efficient-looking.  The other was sallow and silent, with a deadly cast to his thin face.

Then she saw her lighter-gun, lying on the lobby floor beside the chair in which she had gone to sleep.

She bent down, casually, and picked it up.  She straightened, the little instrument ready in her hand.

“This is not a cigaret lighter, but a heatgun,” she said flatly.  “I’m in charge here, and I say Mr. Kensington is to be permitted to go free.  If any effort is made to stop him, I’ll burn you down.”

Both police heatguns swung up in short arcs and trained on her.  The burly policeman spoke gently.

“I’m sorry, Miss Cara Nome, but we’re under orders from Mr. Eli, and we intend to follow them,” he said.  “I’d hate to see you injured, but if you blast either of us the other one will burn off your hand.”

“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.