Read CHAPTER 9 of Rebels of the Red Planet , free online book, by Charles Louis Fontenay, on ReadCentral.com.

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.