Jim no longer drove. We sat in the back with our hands tied, and a quiet man with long dark hair held the controls.
Jim was alive, of course, though in rough shape. He smiled at me, and I saw the pain in his eyes. I smiled back. My head still throbbed from its rough connection with the terminal, but the pain had become shallow.
I did not know, then, who had taken control of the rover and our lives. They spoke only to each other, and then in low voices. They cast glances at us, inquisitive, but aside from tying our wrists they did not interact with us.
One was a small man with round, close-set eyes. His eyes looked strange to me; not in proportion with the rest of his face, they stick out in my memory even now. He was continually accosted for his decisions by a tall, well-muscled woman with a thick mane of hair. She appeared to be the leader, and was not afraid to give meaningless orders to her underlings in a bored, authoritarian tone. The driver with the long hair remained quiet, staring out at the wasteland ahead of him.
“Where are we going?” I asked, after tiring of sitting in the rover. The woman looked back at me, eyes running across my frame, and ignored me. She grunted, but that might have just been to clear her throat before speaking to the driver. I surmised the small man was new, while the woman was the leader, and the driver her trusted subordinate.
“Where do you think they’re taking us?” I asked Jim. His eyes fluttered open, and he spoke in a whisper.
“The wasteland,” he said, looking from me to the darkness beyond the glass-substitute window. “The Resistance.”
My eyebrows raised of their own accord. “The Resistance is in the habit of assaulting and stealing rovers?”
“They’re in the habit of taking what they can get.”
“Quiet,” the woman said from the front of the craft. Her eyes were cold and glaring. I shut my mouth, as did Jim.
Soon, however, I couldn’t help it. I needed to talk. Maybe it was the fear, or my way of coping with it.
“Has this ever happened to you before?”
“Not exactly,” Jim replied, eyes darting to the woman before continuing. “I’ve seen the Resistance here and there, but they haven’t done anything. This is brave of them.”
“Brave? Striking a rover in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night?”
“Brave. If they were caught by the Colonists, they’d be killed.”
“Of course,” Jim said, looking at me as if I were from another planet, which I was. “They have no patience for interference with their regime, and the wasteland doesn’t exactly have law.”
He resettled himself, grimacing as his joints moved. “They kill them, or at least sell them off to one of the mining colonies, —”
“Which is the same thing,” I finished. I flexed my wrists against the rope. “Still, I wouldn’t say the attack was particularly brave.”
Jim sniffed. “I suppose n—”
“I said quiet.” The woman stood over at us and shouted. “If I hear one more word, I will be forced to intervene. We don’t need prisoners talking.”
“Why are we—” like an idiot, I spoke.
The woman told the truth. She struck me with the back of her hand, the blow landing on the left side of my face. It hurt. Her knuckles were like iron.
“Stop talking,” she said, and moved back to shout at her companion. We stopped talking.
I drifted in and out of consciousness for the rest of the trip. I knew that with the potential for a concussion I should do my best to remain awake, but I was exhausted. My body hurt, and sleep took the pain away for some moments.
After what seemed like days I felt the rover rolling to a stop. The Sun was nearly touching the horizon, and the sky was a dark gray rather than deep black. I looked out the window and saw the same brown wasteland, as if we hadn’t moved. But there were people.
All kinds of people. Every shape, size, and colour of person one could think of—though all wore the same uniform. It was a reddish brown, a buttoned shirt and pants coupled with a dark belt. They wore tall boots. I supposed they were expeditionary clothes, perfect for sabotaging innocent rover crews in the wasteland.
Our kidnappers got up, grabbing what possessions they had and hustling us out the rover hatch. I grew angry.
What were they doing with us? What gave them the right to abuse us, take us away without our permission, and lead us about, tied with ropes, like so much cattle? It was demeaning, infuriating, and unfair. I was close to yelling, to resisting, but my jaw still hurt from the large woman’s blow. I kept my mouth shut, though only just.
We were led toward a low building, and others stopped to look at us as we passed. They were tired, haggard, and dusty, but they wore defiant expressions. I did not want to think about what any of them would do to me if I tried to run.
The building was wide and squat and had no windows or lights. It was dim inside, and the walls were the same dull gray of the alloyed huts in Galle. A moveable base, I thought, distracted for a moment. So they won’t be found, or they won’t be trapped if they are.
Shapes shifted against the walls. They were other members of the Resistance, and I felt their eyes on me. I had so many questions brewing in my gut, and no way to ask them. If I opened my mouth, even to whisper to Jim, who seemed to know much more about our situation than I, I would be beaten. And why for? Were they worried I would spill their secrets to the masses? They did not even know who I was! And, I did not know where I was.
If I managed to escape, where could I go? If I somehow got away from the camp, they would surely find me, imprison me, and kill me for my effort. No, there was nothing to be done, other than keep silent and do as I was told.
We stopped in front of a dais, upon which a tall table stood. It was strewn with maps and charts, and reminded me of a similar table in MacKenzie’s hut. I wondered how she was. It seemed ages since I had seen her, and I felt a pang of regret as I remembered our sour split.
At the desk stood a man. He was tall and slim and dark, probing at the papers in front of him with long fingers. A terminal glowed beside him, illuminating a sharp, furrowed brow, and hawk-like nose. His mouth was turned down in concentration.
The woman, the one who led us and the one who beat me, cleared her throat politely. The sound was strange, coming from someone so gruff and dangerous.
The man looked up at us. His eyes met mine, and the world fell away. They were entrancing, holding my gaze like a magnet, and were dark and hard. I felt my gut quail, but managed to keep a straight face.
There was a blow to the back of my legs. It was surprising, rather than painful, and I fell hard to my knees. Jim fell beside me.
The dark man came around the table, walking slow. His steps were loud in the low building. The heels of his boots clacked on the metal floor. He had a large wine-coloured mark stretching across his neck and onto the lower-left portion of his face. I tried not to stare at it.
He stepped off the dais and stood before us. I looked up at him, and felt the cold gaze rake into my brain once more.
He spoke. His tone was velvet, and serpentine.
“I am Rigel,” he said, “King of All Mars.”