Sunday, May 1, 2016

Rough Riders On Mars! - Chapter 9 – Explanations And Excuses

Chapter 9 – Explanations And Excuses

With the help of Professor Edgren, I hired some laborers to perform the onerous task of burying the Martian dead. I asked Professor Boas to talk with the laborers in order to discern, if possible, where our attackers came from. Then Professor Edgren, a detachment of five armed men, and I went to the Mayor’s office.

The atmosphere in town was decidedly different than my first visit. It was quiet and devoid of people in the open. However, we could feel their eyes watching our every step. My escort were getting nervous as the abnormal situation was unsettling to them. I paused for a moment to talk with my men.
“Men”, I said, “ From our discussions, I am given to understand that the general population harbor us no ill will, so we needn’t fear anything from them. I would venture a guess that they are afraid that we will take vengeance upon them for the attack of this morning. Let us carry on to our destination and try not to look intimidating. However, remain vigilant. The mercenaries may not be as pensive as the civilians.”

With that, we continued on to the Mayor’s office. The civilians remained out of sight and we encountered no soldiers along the way. As we rounded the corner to the office of the Mayor, two guards were at the door. I ordered the detachment to stand ready and keep watch. I also told them that if attacked, they were to force their way into the office and we would determine our best course of action. With that the Professor and I turned to enter. The guards immediately opened the door and allowed us to enter.

We signed in, as required, and were escorted back to the Mayor’s office. We walked into the office but Reytik was not there. This irked me to a degree, but I would not let Reytik know that. A few minutes later he came into the room. He paused, trying to read the tenor of our visit. He quickly concluded that trying to pretend he did not know what had happened would be ill-advised.

He started, “I understand that your post was attacked this morning, most regrettable. I hope your men
acquitted themselves valiantly.”

I replied, “We took care of the situation satisfactorily, but I am sure you already knew the outcome of our engagement.”

“Well, yes. I had heard that you had repelled an assault upon your station, though I do not know the details of your losses.” Reytik said.

“Our losses were inconsequential.” I replied. “What I came here to find out is, who was it that attacked us.”

“I am afraid I do not have an answer to that question, other than I know that it was not Ceraunian soldiers involved in the altercation.” He said.

“So I guessed.” I said. “But I am sure you have some idea as to who these assailants were and who might have been controlling them.”

Reytick replied, “I suppose I could venture a few guesses, however, I am hesitant to do so for fear of indicting the wrong party.”

“I assure you that before we exact any retribution, we will be absolutely sure that we have the offending parties.” I said.

“Right. Well, let us sit down and I will attempt to make some sense of this unfortunate situation.” Reytik said.

We took our chairs while Reytik talked with one of his men for a few moments. Professor Edgren and I exchanged glances at this. Reytik then joined us around his desk.

“I took the opportunity of ordering us some refreshments, I hope you do not mind.” He said.
“Thank you.” I replied. “Now, let’s get down to business, if you please.”

“Very well. I will start by giving you a bit of history of our little bit of Mars.” Reytik said. “Ceraunius is situated in a mineral rich area of the region. We have profited greatly from the mining and sale of these minerals.  This did not ingratiate us with our neighbors. They were jealous of our wealth.”

“Which cities?” I asked.

“Isidis, Trinythios, Alba, and Cophen. Isidis is probably the most hostile towards us. There has been a long running feud between our two cities. It has been an on and off affair, recently it has been quiet. I do not know what might have started things up again.” Reytik said. “Trinythios and Cophen are the least troublesome. The isolationist tendencies of Cophen keeps them from causing problems, while our trade with Trinthios keeps things of relatively civil terms. Alba is interesting. They are one of the most advanced cities in the region, yet they have not attempted anything militarily against any of their neighbors. Even when it appears that they are being grossly overcharged for their purchases, they seem to just take it in stride.”

“So, you suspect Isidis might have instigated the attack, based on past experiences?” I asked.

“So far, they are the only city that has shown a proclivity for violence.” He said. “though there could be suspects closer to home.”

“Such as?” I inquired.

“For example, the smaller towns or the desert tribes in the region.” Reytik replied. “The desert tribes are always wary of strangers. As for the towns, recently they have been complaining about the government. Perhaps they are fearful that your presence here is the prelude to some sort of military suppression against them.”

“Very well,” I said, “we will look into each of these avenues of investigation. I have one other question for you, Mr. Reytik.”

“I will be happy to give you an answer, if it is within my power.” He said.

“How do you distinguish one man from another? I am not referring to the men of your own city, mind. What I mean is, is there some regional variation in dress, manner, or physiology that distinguishes a Ceraunian from a man of Isidis or Alba?” I asked.

‘Oh yes,” Reytik replied, “certain cities favor particular colors, for example. Albians, for instance, prefer to dress in shades of blue. Nitrians tend to walk with their left thumb hooked into their belt. The variations are numerous and can be subtle, though the observant can easily determine a person’s home city or region.”

“Then, perhaps you could come out to our post and identify some of our prisoners so that we might discover the party responsible for the attack?” I asked.

“I would like nothing better, but I am very busy here conducting investigations of my own as to the perpetrators of this incident.” Reytik said. “this is taking up most of my resources and I must remain here to coordinate the efforts of all my investagators.”

“I see.” I replied. “Still, surely you will be sending one or more of your investigators to the scene of the action to look for clues?”

“Oh, yes, quite so.” He replied. “Someone will be coming around to comb the area.”

“Very well,” I said as I rose to leave, “I suppose that that is the most we can ask for. Mr. Reytik, rest assured that we will find the party or parties responsible for this assault on our station. When we do discover who these people are, we will take steps to assure that no such incidents occur in the future.”
“Is that a threat, Mr. Roosevelt?” Reytik asked. 

“No Mr. Reytik,” I said “I am just informing you of our intentions. I do not threaten,  bluster, or brag. I speak softly but carry a big stick. If one doesn’t work, I will not hesitate to use the other. Now, Mr. Reytik, we will let you get on with your work while we get on with ours. Good day, sir.”

With that, the Professor and I rose and left. I had expected little else from the Mayor. Reytik appeared nonplussed by our visit. I imagined that he was baffled by our demeanor during our visit. I suspect he was expecting some sort of tirade or ranting diatribe. Our calm disposition threw him off of his plan and he was unsure how to proceed with our interview. Of course, he attempted to shift our suspicions away from the controlling faction of Ceraunius, as I had expected. My colleagues suggested Isidis as the probable foil to the Ceraunians, so that was it was not a surprise he mentioned them. His mention of the rural villages in the area I found interesting. It meant that the secret societies were becoming a problem. It also meant that he was going to try to get us to alleviate this problem for him.
As we walked out, I found our men in a posture of readiness. I went up to the sergeant Langston and asked about the situation out here.

“I’m not sure, sir.” He said. “I’ve been seein’  folks movin’ around, tryin’ to stay outa sight.”

“Could they be the civilians?” I pondered. “They were very skittish when we came in.”

“Could be, I reckon.” Langston said. “Don’t know. I’ll feel better once we get back to the fort, though.”

“We all will. Let’s go” I said.

We made our way back towards our base. The civilians were behaving in a similar manner as when we came into town. After we had progressed a few blocks from the Mayor’s office, I stopped. I turned to Professor Edgren.

“Are there any restaurants here?” I asked.    

“Why, yes. There is a very good place just a few block farther up the road.” He said. “Why?”
“I missed breakfast this morning and I am famished.” I said. “I thought we could get a meal and reassure the civilians that we mean them no harm.”

“That is an excellent idea Mr. Roosevelt. Shall we proceed?” he said.

With that, we headed on up the street.