“King of All Mars,” he said. I had no idea the Resistance was a monarchy. It seemed somewhat antique, but I was not about to argue with the people who held my life in their hands.
“You have been brought as collateral. It is not in our repertoire to do away with innocents, but we will do what we must to retain a certain measure of discretion.”
I said nothing, though my eyes were wide. I was taken aback by his tone, his title, his strange manner of introduction. Finally, I managed an indignant word.
“Discretion?” I said, and received a swat to the back of my head.
“You will speak when spoken to!” The woman yelled, and Rigel looked at her. She was quiet instantly.
“And you will not harm our prisoners, Brigette,” he said. I heard her step away.
Brigette. I wondered at the name. I had expected something more… Violent.
“I apologize for my commander’s rudeness,” Rigel said. “She is a brilliant tactician, but somewhat lacking in courtesy.” I almost heard her blush behind me.
“So,” he said, leaning toward us. “Why are you here?”
I looked at Jim, but he kept his face down, his eyes focused on the floor. The blood was crusted on his forehead and down his neck, dark brown like the dirt on our knees, and I knew I looked no better. I opened my mouth.
“Why are we here?” I tried to keep my voice from becoming too incredulous. “Why don’t you tell me? So far we’ve been exploded, dragged through the dirt, tied up, and beaten. And these are the first words spoken to us in all that time?” I shook my head, and winced at the pain that throbbed there still.
“Why are we here. What right do you have to bring us here?”
There was a hush in the building, and I realized I had yelled. All eyes were staring at me, doubtless waiting for Rigel to give the order for our destruction.
They were not indulged.
A grin danced across Rigel’s face, just a shadow, but I caught it. “I suppose you have a point,” he said. “And I suppose,” he continued, “you are here due to bad luck. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. My men and women do as I say, but I cannot control the circumstances of their achieving my goals. I tasked them with requisitioning a rover, as the machines are vital for crossing the wastes in numbers. You just happened to be in the one they found.
“No, you were taken unfairly. But Brigette acted according to your own best interests. It was take you, or kill you.”
“Kill us? Why?”
“We can’t have people reporting our positions, or our numbers, can we? It would prove a detriment to the Resistance.”
My shoulders slumped, and I sighed. It was odd, coming from Hesperia, and suspecting none of the violence that happened in out of the way places. It did not seem plausible, and yet, there I was.
And all the while my mind was spinning with the information I was learning. I had a private audience with the leader of the Martian Resistance! My story would fly to every device with access to the Star. My byline would be a household name. I had only to not meet my end before I could escape.
Oblivious to my dreams of fortune, Rigel continued his diatribe.
“Information about our organization leaking to the masses is unacceptable.” His eyes slid from mine to Jim’s.
“And that is why,” Rigel said, stepping closer, “desertion is most unacceptable.”
He planted his foot on Jim’s chest, and heaved. Jim went over with a cry, landing in a sprawl. Rigel stood over him. The playful glint in his eyes was replaced with a murderous glare.
“So, Jim,” he said, his voice suddenly icy. “Thought you’d come back?” Rigel aimed a kick at Jim’s ribs, but connected with his arm instead.
“Thought you’d see how things were coming along?” He kicked again, and this time his boot found its target. Jim groaned.
“I didn’t—” Jim tried to speak, but Rigel kicked him and the air was taken from his lungs.
“Sorry? I didn’t quite catch that.”
Jim inhaled, but Rigel hit him hard. Jim curled into a ball, shaking.
I felt frozen. I knew I should do something, something to help the man I was friendly with, but I was rooted to the floor. My eyes were wide and my blood felt cold. I had seen violence before; everyone has. But to be in such close proximity to it, to be in it—
Rigel kicked Jim again, then stood. He brushed hair from his eyes, and spoke to Brigette while looking at me.
“Take them to a holding cell,” he said. “This one might know nothing, or be lying, but Lyndon here might’ve made an accomplice. I’ll decide what to do with them in the morning.”
We were dragged. Our feet skidded through the dirt, and though I tried to stand Brigette made sure we were kept in a subordinate position. Jim moved very little. I could see great pain on his brow, though he made no sound.
Brigette tossed us into a dark room and a strong door was shut behind us. There was a slit window near the ceiling, letting in some small amount of light. I went over to Jim.
“Are you—” and here I did not know what else to say—“are you okay?”
Jim pushed himself against the wall of the room. The metal was cool to the touch, and he bent his forehead to it.
“Sure,” he said, trying a lopsided grin. “Nothing I haven’t had before.”
I sat on my heels, and pulled at the rope that still bound my wrists. It did not give.
“Sure,” he said again. It was odd to be talking of trivialities, but I felt it better than dwelling on the injuries.
He looked at me. “Rigel,” I said. He nodded.
“I’m all for self-governance, but his methods leave something to be desired.” He winced as he bent and felt his wounds. “Killing people isn’t the way to do it.”
“I had no idea all this was going on,” I said, and I meant it. There were whispers of a revolt, of some minor riots, but nothing so organized. Nothing so vicious.
“No one does. The politicians keep it quiet, as much as they can, and it’s easier to ignore it. It doesn’t directly affect most people, even though the end result will. Once the Resistance is strong enough…”
His voice trailed to an end, but he found it again before I could speak. “They don’t have the weapons, you see. That’s why they stole the rover. They’re not strong enough. But when they are, when they’re ready—it’ll be war.”