Read CHAPTER 13 of Rebels of the Red Planet , free online book, by Charles Louis Fontenay, on ReadCentral.com.

Brute Hennessey plodded westward through the Xanthe Desert, naked, wearing no marsuit, his head bare to the thin, oxygen-poor Martian air.  The two small moons shone in the star-spangled sky above the lone figure, casting fantastic shadows on the sands.

But this was not the stupid, shambling Brute Hennessey of a few months past.  He walked surely and proudly, and the light of intelligence shone in his eyes.

He called himself, now, Dark Kensington.

Dark’s muscular body had not regained, quite, the firmness and tone it had had before he was shot down at Solis Lacus, but he had recovered greatly from the bloated flabbiness of a few days ago.  Most of that had been water in his tissues, and resumption of normal physical activity had wrung it out in short order.

As he plodded through the Martian night toward Ultra Vires, Dark was remembering, with something of awe, that emotional explosion within him that had occurred on his first sight of Goat Hennessey at the Canfell Hydroponic Farm.  It was this sudden, overwhelming recognition that had wrung from his lips the cry:  “Father!

In that moment, memory had returned with terrible impact and he had been overwhelmed by the re-experience of those moments when he had stood before the man he admired and loved as his father and had seen the bitter realization of rejection by that man written with the point of a knife.

Now he remembered it all.  He remembered his childhood at Ultra Vires, he remembered Adam and their experiences together, he remembered their treks through the desert at Goat Hennessey’s command, he remembered his slaying of Adam and his acceptance of death at Goat’s hands.  He remembered that he, Dark Kensington, was Brute Hennessey, somehow brought to life once before in the Icaria Desert even as he had himself regained life a second time in the vats of the Canfell Hydroponic Farm.

So Goat Hennessey was his father, apparently.  And Old Beard, the real Dark Kensington, vowed vengeance on Goat.  Dark was able to view this with equanimity.  He no longer felt any admiration or affection for Goat, whatever relationship might exist between them.

But, since he was Brute Hennessey and thus not old enough to be the real Dark Kensington, how and why had he acquired the memories of Dark Kensington?  That question remained unanswered.

Phobos was setting for the first time that night when Dark reached the great hulk of Ultra Vires, manipulated one of the airlocks and entered its dark corridors.  There was no light, and a test of the light switch proved that the electrical system was no longer operating.  But Dark knew every inch of this place from early childhood.  He felt his way through the pitch darkness to Goat Hennessey’s old bedroom.

Probing about in the darkness, he discovered that Goat’s bed was still supplied with mattress and crumpled blankets.  This surprised him somewhat, as any item of cloth on Mars had to be imported from Earth and was far too valuable to abandon.  But, apparently, these things had been left temporarily in Goat’s abandonment of Ultra Vires and would be picked up by truck later.

Deriving a certain humorous satisfaction from taking over the master’s chamber, Dark curled up on Goat’s bed and went to sleep.

He awoke the next morning with the glare of the desert sunlight reflected into the room.  He arose, stretched and yawned.  The room was a mess.  Goat had left the bed clothing intact, but he had turned everything else upside down in packing his personal effects to leave the place.

There was still water in the reservoir, and Ultra Vires’ plumbing system was still in operation.  Dark bathed.  He felt ruefully at the thick stubble of beard that had overgrown his face in the past few days, but Goat had left no shaving equipment behind.

Dark made his way down to the big kitchen.  There were supplies of canned food there, and he found utensils and ate.  He was hungry, but not ravenous, and this surprised him a little, because he had had no food since he started out afoot from the Canfell Hydroponic Farm, four nights ago.  But he was no hungrier than he would normally be after a night’s sleep.

As he ate, his eye fell on dishes stacked beside the sink.  He was startled to notice that water still sparkled on them.

He arose and checked them.  Yes, they were still wet.

There were remnants of fresh food in the garbage can.

People, here?  Camping out?  Or, more likely, someone passing through the desert who had taken shelter here for the night?  But he thought he would have heard the roar of a groundcar leaving.

Thoughtfully, Dark finished his breakfast.  It occurred to him that perhaps some members of the Phoenix had taken refuge here after fleeing Mars City.  But most of them did not even know of the existence of Ultra Vires, much less its location.

At any rate, there was no reason to assume that anyone who happened to be here would be unfriendly to him, in case they met by chance.  He saw no reason to worry about it.

Finishing breakfast, Dark went down to the storeroom and picked out three marsuits, for Old Beard, Happy and Shadow.  There was a large-sized suit there that he thought might accommodate Happy’s bulk, but he wondered how Shadow, with his flat build, was going to manage one.

Nakedness felt quite natural to Dark, especially since he remembered his identity as Brute, but it occurred to him that it would look peculiar to anyone he might meet before leaving Ultra Vires or, for that matter, on his way back to the Canfell Hydroponic Farm.  So he donned a marsuit himself, leaving off the helmet.

Carrying the other three marsuits, he went down the corridor to the motor pool.

Dark remembered that Goat had always kept four groundcars on hand.  There were three here now, all in advanced stages of dismantlement.

At one of them, a small figure in black tunic and loose trousers was bending over, head and arms plunged into the bowels of the engine.

Dark hesitated.  He had found his intruder, perhaps a traveler who had run into engine trouble in the desert and had fortuitously been near enough to take shelter here while making repairs.  But, again, there was no reason to anticipate unfriendliness.

Carrying his marsuits, Dark walked up to the groundcar, overhearing a muffled bit of profanity as he approached.  The unfortunate mechanic evidently heard his footsteps, because he was greeted with: 

“I wish to Phobos you’d stay down here and try to help me, instead of spending all your time snooping around this deserted shack!”

The voice was muffled, but it was definitely feminine and definitely irritated.  Dark grinned and replied drolly: 

“I’m sorry, but this is the first time you’ve asked me to help you.”

With an audible gasp, the woman disentangled herself, in dangerous haste, from the groundcar engine and faced Dark.

They stared at each other, in mutual shocked recognition.

There was Dark Kensington, bearded, his arms full of marsuits, and there was Maya Cara Nome, sleeves rolled up, her lovely face streaked with grease.

Dark’s jaw dropped.  Maya’s lips formed a round, astonished O.

Then, with a squeal, she hurled herself on him, throwing her arms around his neck.  Dark staggered back, overwhelmed by marsuits, an abundance of wriggling femininity and a babble of happy and-completely unintelligible words gushed against his bearded cheek.

He managed to disentangle himself by the dual process of dropping the marsuits and holding Maya forcibly at arm’s length.  She gazed up into his face, her own awed and radiant, and was able to reduce her own words to connected sentences.

“You’re not here,” she said positively.  “You can’t be here.  You’re dead.  I saw you killed.  You must be one of the ghosts of Ultra Vires.”

She wriggled free and threw her arms around his neck again, announcing happily, “But you’re a solid, comfortable ghost, and I love you!”

Again, Dark managed to get her at arm’s length and looked down seriously into her face.

“Did I hear you correctly?” he asked soberly.  “Did you say you love me?”

“I did.  And I mean it.  Oh, Dark, how I mean it!”

He pulled her to him.  He kissed her gravely.  Then he held her close in his arms, while she rested her head contentedly against his shoulder.

“What,” he asked at last, “are you doing here, tinkering with a groundcar?”

“Nuwell and I were on our way to Mars City by helicopter, when it failed and crashed,” she explained.  “This was the only place near enough for us to make it afoot, and the marsuit radios don’t have the range to call for help.  We’ve been here more than two weeks now, trying to repair these groundcars.”

She looked at the machine she had been working on and shook her head ruefully.

“I don’t think any of them can be fixed,” she said.  “Nuwell, it turns out, doesn’t know a damn thing about machinery, but I was taught a good deal about mechanics when I was trained as a terrestrial agent.  Even with three groundcars to supply parts, there are some things missing that I don’t think I can jury-rig substitutes for.”

She turned back to Dark.

“But you’re dead!” she exclaimed.  “I know you are, because we carried your body with us to the Canfell Hydroponic Farm.  How in space can you be here, alive and kissing, when you made such a beautiful corpse?”

Dark explained the circumstances to her; how he had awakened in the vat, how he had been able to breathe underwater, how the sight of Goat Hennessey had revived in him the memory of his identity as Brute, how he had been able to walk across the desert without a marsuit.

“If you’re Brute Hennessey, I know why you aren’t dead,” she said when he had finished.  “We fell in with a party of Martians on our way here, and they told me about certain embryonic changes they made on you and Adam before Goat kidnapped your mothers and brought them to Ultra Vires.  Qril he’s the Martian I talked to said that these alterations not only permit you to live in a free Martian environment, but give you extraordinary regenerative powers.”

“They must be extraordinary, if they permit me to come to life again after being stabbed in the heart and having my belly burned out with a heatgun,” observed Dark.

“That’s because your tissues aren’t dependent on oxygen-carbon combustion,” explained Maya.  “According to Qril, when oxygen is no longer available to you, your cells utilize direct solar energy.  That would prevent your tissues from dying while the damaged area of your body is under repair.”

She looked at him in sudden awed realization.

“It would seem, darling, that you’re virtually indestructible!” she said.

Dark laughed.

“Perhaps so,” he said.  “But I don’t hanker to experiment along those lines any more than necessary.  Dying is a very unpleasant experience, even if I do come to life again.”

“Oh, Dark,” said Maya, remembering.  “I’d like for Qril to see you, and maybe he’ll give us some more information.  They came back here three days ago and, for some reason, have just been hanging around outside, under the walls.  Let me get on a marsuit, and I’ll take you to him.”

“Here, put on one of these,” suggested Dark, picking up the one he had selected for Old Beard.

Maya wriggled into it.  The Martians, she said, were on the other side of Ultra Vires, so they left the motor pool and walked down one of the long corridors together, Maya clinging to Dark’s arm with one hand and carrying her marshelmet under her other arm.

They were halfway across the big building when Nuwell Eli appeared around a corner about thirty feet ahead of them.  He stopped, staring, at the sight of Maya’s companion.

“Maya,” he began, as they neared him.  “Who ...?”

Then he recognized Dark.

With a terrified yelp, Nuwell turned and raced back down the side corridor at top speed.  They heard the clack-clack of his heels on the stone floor, fading in the distance.

Dark and Maya stopped and looked at each other.

“It must have been quite a shock to him, too, to see you risen from the dead,” she said.  “I don’t believe he’s as happy to see you as I was, Dark.”

“No, his joy seemed considerably mitigated,” replied Dark gravely.  “But, Maya, this raises a rather serious question which hadn’t occurred to me before, in the happiness of our reunion.”

“What’s that, darling?”

“You’re a terrestrial agent and, as such, you put me under arrest.  It’s true, you tried to free me later.  But didn’t you tell me that night that you were engaged to marry this man, Nuwell Eli?”

“Yes,” she admitted in a small voice.  “But ”

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman before,” continued Dark, still in the same grave tone.  “But you and he were going back to Mars City together, and, for some reason, it occurs to me that you and he planned to be married as soon as you could get there.”

Maya was somewhat stunned at this evidence of mind reading.

“That’s true,” she said in a very small voice.

“Now,” said Dark, “you tell me that you love me.  You must admit that the question raised by this is rather serious.  Does this declaration of love which, I assure you, is reciprocated completely imply a radical change in your past course of action?  Or, since you’re still a terrestrial agent, can I expect to be arrested again as a preliminary to your joining Mr. Eli in the holy state of matrimony?”

Maya looked up into his face, and burst out laughing.

“I may have put it jokingly,” protested Dark, a little taken aback, “but I’m serious, Maya.”

“I know you are!” she giggled.  “That’s what makes it so funny.  Answering you in the same vein, Mr. Kensington, I don’t intend to put you in double jeopardy!”

Dark raised his eyebrows quizzically.

“I arrested you and you were killed resisting arrest,” she explained mischievously.  “I’ve discharged that duty as a terrestrial agent, so I don’t think I’m either required or entitled to arrest you again.  And as for the other, well, I am a little sorry for Nuwell, but I do love you, and I won’t marry Nuwell, since you’re alive.  But I can’t marry you, Dark.”

Dark was stunned at this.

“Why not, Maya?  You mean, because you’re a terrestrial agent?”

“No, it isn’t that.  I’m planning to resign as an agent, as soon as I get back to Mars City, and that wouldn’t stop me, anyway.  The reason I can’t marry you is simply that you haven’t asked me.”

Dark laughed, a rollicking, relieved laugh, and swept her into his arms.

“Maya, darling, I ask you now!” he exclaimed.  “Will you marry me?”

“Yes, Dark,” she answered demurely.

She leaned back in the circle of his arms and looked up into his face, seriously.

“Whither thou goest, I will go,” she said, very quietly.  “If you’re a rebel, Dark, I’ll be a rebel, too.  I want to be with you, and help you in whatever you do.”