Read CHAPTER 17 of Rebels of the Red Planet , free online book, by Charles Louis Fontenay, on ReadCentral.com.

Behind the locked door of the conference room, one of the Masters passed out heatguns to Nuwell, Placer and the other four.

“If we use these on them at half intensity, I think we can calm them down without killing any of them,” said Placer.  “We’ll probably have more trouble beating down the Toughs and keeping them from killing all the Jellies than we will subduing the Jellies in the first place.”

“I hope we warned the three at the other end of the hall in time,” said one of the others.  “There hasn’t been any word from them.”

Placer flicked a switch on the intercom system.

“Touchstone, are you men safe?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” replied a voice on the other end.  “We locked ourselves in, because there aren’t any heatguns we can get to from here.  The Jellies haven’t gotten this far down yet.  They seem to be cowed by the Toughs at the door to Miss Cara Nome’s room, and the Toughs are strutting around getting themselves in the mood for an attack.  We’ve been watching them through the window.”

“Good,” said Placer.  “Between the Toughs at that end and our heatguns at this end, we ought to be able to force them back below without much trouble.  Are we ready to move out?”

A different voice came in over the intercom, the voice of the tenth Master, who was on duty in the farm’s control room.

“Placer, the screens show three groundcars moving up from the south,” he said.  “I’ve tried to contact them by radio, but they don’t answer.”

“We haven’t been notified to expect any government visitors,” said Placer.  “It may be a convoy of travelers off-course in the desert, or it could be a wandering party of escaped rebels.  Warn them away.”

“Yes, sir.”

Touchstone’s voice came in from the other end of the hall.

“The Toughs are attacking, Placer.  Space, it’s awful!  Those poor Jellies can’t stand up to the Toughs.”

Suddenly his voice changed, and became shrill with excitement.

“Placer!  One of those Jellies has a heatgun!  Two of the Toughs were just burned down, and the others are falling back down the hall.  The Jellies are coming on, and I can see the gun in the hand of one of them.”

“Great space!” muttered Placer.  “All right, Touchstone.  Hold tight and keep that door locked.  We’ll get to you.”

He turned to the others.

“We’ve got to move out now,” he said.  “Use full intensity and shoot to kill.  We’ll have to burn our way through those Jellies and get to the other end of the hall.”

Leaving one of the Masters at the intercom in the control room, the other six went out into the corridor, heatguns ready.  The foremost Jellies had advanced almost to the door, and now that they had spread out along the corridor, they were not packed so closely together.

The six men advanced steadily, leveling their guns.  They fired, intense, almost invisible beams stabbing into the group of Jellies.

Jellies shrieked in pain, several of them collapsing to the floor with smoking flesh.  The others turned in panic and began to crowd back down the corridor, the beams stabbing at them and picking them off one by one.

Then, from amid the Jellies, a beam struck forth, and one of the Masters went down, his face burned away.  Placer burned down the Jelly holding the heatgun, and the five survivors moved grimly on.

On the ramp ahead, Dark and Old Beard approached the open gate to the corridor, Happy and Shadow following them.

“I wish I had been able to find more heatguns at Ultra Vires,” said Dark to Old Beard.  “Only three, besides our four, are spreading them out pretty thin.”

“At least the Jellies made the break into the corridor, and we’ve managed to discourage the Toughs below from following them up for a while,” said Old Beard.  The bodies of a dozen Toughs at the foot of the ramp behind them attested to the rear guard battle they had fought.  That was what had held them up so long.  “If we can hold the corridor and keep the Masters bottled up, your friends outside should be able to turn the tide.”

“It will take them a while to break in,” said Dark.  “But I’ve already contacted Cheng telepathically and told him to move in.”

They emerged into the corridor, into a scene of tremendous confusion.  All they could see in both directions were Jellies, milling about and chattering.  The mass seemed to be drifting gradually toward the left, while from the right came shrieks of agony.

“This way,” said Dark, turning to the left.  “We have to get Maya out of here before we can do anything else.”

Forcing their way through the Jellies, they came to a door.  Dark tried it.  It was locked.  He burned the lock off and pushed it open.

Maya was standing back against the wall on the other side of the room, alarmed at the noise in the corridor, frightened at the opening of the door.  As Dark and Old Beard came in, and she recognized Dark, she ran across the room to meet them, joy transforming her face.

She threw herself into Dark’s arms.

“Oh, Dark!” she cried.  “I knew you’d come!”

He enfolded her in his arms and kissed her.  Then he turned back to Old Beard, his arm around Maya’s shoulders.

“Old Beard, this is Maya Cara Nome,” said Dark.  “Maya, this is my father, the real Dark Kensington.”

“The older Dark Kensington,” corrected Old Beard.  “I am very happy to meet you, Maya.  My son, you have chosen a beautiful woman.”

Happy and Shadow had followed the other two into the room and were standing against the door, holding it closed.

“Maya, we’re going to have to try to hold the corridor until the Phoenix gets here,” said Dark.  “I want you to go with Shadow and Happy down to the vats.  You get into a marsuit, and they’ll take you to one of the entrance buildings.  I’ll tell Cheng to pick you up in one of the groundcars, and then Happy and Shadow can come back here to help us.”

“I’ll do nothing of the sort,” said Maya flatly.  “You need them up here now, and I won’t leave you.  I’m going to stay here and help you.  After all, I can handle a heatgun better than any of these Jellies.”

“But, Maya, I want to know that you’re safe.”

“I don’t want to be safe until you are.  Please let me stay, Dark.”

“All right,” Dark surrendered.  “Shadow, give her your heatgun.”

The five of them left the room together.

They emerged into a scene of incredible carnage.  The Jellies, with only three heatguns which they were inept at using, had been no match for the Masters.  Almost all of the Jellies were lying dead on the floor of the corridor, and the remaining few were backed up at the end of the hall to their right.

Three of the men were advancing toward these last Jellies.  The other two, returning to the conference room, already had passed Maya’s door and were picking their way back among the scorched, twitching bodies of the Jellies.  Dark and the others were between these two retreating forces of Masters.

“We’ll have to try to save those Jellies,” decided Dark at once.  “Happy, you and Shadow move back up the corridor and hold the line in case those other two turn back to attack our rear.  The rest of us will tackle the three to the right.”

They split up and moved off.  But they were too late.  Dark, Maya and Old Beard had advanced hastily no more than ten feet when the last of the Jellies at the end of the corridor collapsed under the combined beams of three heatguns.  Immediately, the door beyond the dead Jellies opened and three more Masters emerged.  They joined the first three, and were given the heatguns taken from the vanquished Jellies.

Dark stopped and held up his hand, halting the advance of his little group.

“We’re too badly outnumbered now,” he said.  “Let’s collect Happy and Shadow and get back down to the vats, where we can hide until the Phoenix break in.”

The Masters had seen them now, and started to move up the corridor toward them in a group, but were still ten or fifteen feet out of heatgun range.  Dark was not surprised to see that one of the group was Nuwell.

Dark and Maya turned back toward the entrance toward the underground vats, but stopped as Old Beard emitted a growl of recognition.

One of the three men who had emerged from the room was skinny, goateed Goat Hennessey, and he was coming forward now in the forefront of the group, a heatgun in his hand.

“Dark, you and Maya go on without me,” said Old Beard very quietly.  “I have a score to settle.”

Dark turned back, his mouth open to protest, but Old Beard had already started swiftly down the corridor toward the oncoming group.

“Wait!” cried Dark, and started to run after him.  But, in his haste, Dark tripped over the corpse of a Jelly and fell sprawling.  In the moments it took Dark to scramble to his feet and recover his dropped heatgun from the floor, the drama ahead of him flashed like lightning to its conclusion.

Old Beard ran down the corridor toward the group of Masters, leaping lightly over the bodies of Jellies in his path, his gray hair streaming out behind him.

“Goat Hennessey!” he thundered, his voice reverberating from the walls of the corridor.  “You betrayed me and killed my wife!  Now the time has come for you to pay for your crimes!”

The Masters stopped in their tracks, frozen at the sight of this figure of retribution charging down on them.  In their forefront, Goat stood staring, open-mouthed, not comprehending until the full impact of Old Beard’s words broke upon him.  Then, recognition dawning, he squawled in amazement and fear: 

“Dark Kensington!”

With that cry, Goat turned in terror to escape.  But Dark was now within range, and the intense beam of his downward-chopping heatgun caught Goat at the base of the skull and swept all the way down his back.  Goat Hennessey plunged forward to the floor, dead, his spine burned away.

Even as Goat fell, his companions emerged from their paralysis.  The beams of five heatguns focussed on Old Beard, and he died in a burst of flame that flared from wall to wall of the narrow corridor.

Appalled at his father’s sudden death, Dark almost leaped after him, to attack the five survivors single-handed.  But Maya grasped his arm.

“No, Dark!” she urged.  “Please don’t!”

Realizing on the instant that to die now would only leave Maya at the mercy of the Masters and Nuwell, Dark turned back.  He and Maya ran for the door to the ramp leading underground, Dark calling to Happy and Shadow to join them.

But Happy, and presumably the invisible Shadow, were well up the corridor and they, too, were under attack now.  The two Masters who had been heading for the conference room had turned back and were now in range of Happy, their heatguns blasting.

Happy had remained true to Dark’s charge to hold the line against any attack from the rear.  Frightened but staunch, he was standing his ground, waving his own heat beam at the approaching pair of Masters.

But Happy was too unfamiliar with the weapon and too nervous to hit either of his targets.  The beams of both Masters found him at the same time, and, with a woeful shriek that was cut off in a choking gurgle, the unfortunate Jelly collapsed to a smoking heap on the floor, quivered once and lay still.

Apparently from out of nowhere, the unarmed Shadow descended like a thunderbolt on one of Happy’s killers.  The surprised Master went sprawling, his heatgun flying from his hand.

Shadow might have vanquished the other, too, except that this startled individual, waving his heat beam wildly in an attempt to catch the elusive, vanishing and reappearing figure, scored a lucky hit.  There was a tremendous flare of flame, and the extraordinary form of Shadow appeared for the last time, a charred, flat body lying on the floor of the corridor like the shadow for which he had been named.

The whole tragedy ran its course in less than a minute.  In that time, Dark and Maya reached the entrance to the ramp, ducked into it and ran down the incline to the sheltering dimness of the labyrinthine vats.