Curly guided the transport down, and they seemed to grow progressively larger to the crowd watching below. Once above the town by 30 meters, or 100 feet, he slowly moved off toward the edge closest to the mountains, where the incoming trail developed into Main Street.
He settled the craft down in an open field.
Benson said, “Ensign, take five others. Arm yourselves. The rest of you stay in here. Curly, if we are overpowered, you are to take off without us.”
The look on Curly’s face voiced his silent disapproval of this order. But out loud he said, “Aye, Captain.”
Benson walked back to the armory panel and palmed it open. She took a handgun and strapped it to her belt. Kilmeade followed suit, then nodded at three men and two women who stood up to volunteer. They all grabbed rifles.
The Captain said, “Keep those things pointed up unless there’s trouble. I don’t want any accidental shootings. Now, we can’t automatically assume they’re hostile just because we got shot at last time we set down. But at the same time, let’s take no chances. Keep your guard up. Everyone try not to get distracted and keep your eyes open.”
The six sailors nodded at her, a few saying, “Aye, aye, Captain.”
The door to the transport slid open and the ramp came out. Benson walked out followed by six armed League Navy sailors. When they were all on the ground, the Captain turned and nodded back at Curly. He shut the door again, frowning as he did so.
Benson turned and watched as a large crowd of people rushed toward them from the town.
She said, “Careful, everybody. Remember, guns up. But if you see someone aiming a musket at us, don’t hesitate.”
The little boy who spotted them led the crowd, running full tilt. As he neared, Benson decided he must be about 10 years old. He looked to have the typical broad ethnic mix so many people had after humans migrated to the stars, with light brown skin and dark brown hair.
He also had a huge smile on his face and was obviously very excited.
“This must be quite a day for him,” Kilmeade said, beside her.
Benson nodded. She said, “He saw us first, after all. We’re his discovery. I’m more worried how the adults will perceive us.”
The people rushing behind the running boy were, in general, not smiling. They carried looks of concern or wore neutral expressions. That alarmed Benson.
“After three years of no Navy ships, you would think everyone would be a little happier to see us.”
Kilmeade said, “Maybe they’re just in shock.”
“Ha. No, they are definitely not happy to see us. Look at their expressions.”
“It’s true nobody is smiling. That’s strange.”
At last the mass of people made it to the spot in the field the transport had landed. They stopped running and looked over the craft, the Captain and her crew.
Benson noticed everyone’s eyes lingering on the blasters. Several people gulped, but no one said anything for a moment.
Finally the little boy spoke up. He said, “You’re here! Have you come to take over the planet?”
An older man with thinning hair and an aquiline nose stepped out of the crowd.
He said, “Be quiet, Charlie.”
He turned to Benson and said, “My name is Denton Carver. I’m the mayor of Wallisville.”
Carver gestured behind him to the buildings, indicating the name of the settlement.
Then he stopped talking and just looked at Benson expectantly.
“I am Captain May Benson of the Star League Ship Excelsior.”
She paused, uncertain how much more to say. Would it be prudent to let these people know the Excelsior had been shot down? Or would it be better to hold that nugget close to her chest?
Carver nodded, evidently coming to a conclusion of his own.
He said, “Have you come to assert League rule on Halcyon?”
Everyone, Benson decided, seemed to be holding their breath. They all stared back at her silently, waiting for her to say something. She shared a quick glance with Ensign Kilmeade, eyes wide at this question.
Benson took a deep breath herself. Honesty definitely seems like the best policy in this situation, she thought.
“No, not at this time.”
Carver immediately looked relieved. He turned and waved back at someone in the line of buildings behind them.
Benson squinted at the direction he was waving, toward the first building on the edge of town. Someone seemed to be on top of it . . .
Kilmeade said, “Gunman! On the rooftop!”
They saw a flash of light, followed quickly by the sound of gunshot.
Benson heard the whiz of the bullet as it passed by her ear before it bounced off the transport.
Carver yelled, “Don’t shoot! I said don’t shoot!”
Everyone in the crowd now waved their hands back at the building.
The sailors aimed their guns at the town. One of them flipped up a holographic scope mounted on his rifle.
He said, “Three men, all with long guns pointed at us, Captain.”
Benson nodded. She said, “Take them out.”
Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop! Thoop!
Five rifles shot almost simultaneously, sending a hail of blaster bolts toward the distant rooftop. Wooden planks on the building exploded and a body fell to the ground while two more flew backward.
“Keep a scope on the town,” Benson said. “Watch out for threats. The rest of you cover the crowd here.”
Four of the sailors turned their rifles on the crowd. Everyone instantly stepped back, worried looks on their faces.
The mayor glanced down. He said, “Charlie? Charlie!”
Benson looked and noticed the boy crouching on the ground, holding his stomach. A small pool of blood stained the grass.
Kilmeade said, “The ricochet got him!”