That night, the telegraph crew marched into town looking for a place to sleep. They had a mule team carrying supplies and food, so they brought plenty to eat with them. They just needed a place to lie down.
The entire town came out to meet them, alerted to their arrival by Charlie who ran through the streets screaming at everybody that they were here.
Benson decided to put them up in the church, recently vacated by the Navy. The telegraph guys had heard the Navy was there, word having spread to the next town down the road. They shook hands with the sailors, thanking them for their service. They all were curious to meet someone who had been off world recently, and asked a lot of questions about what was going on in the League and how the war was going.
Benson interviewed the foreman personally, learning in turn all she could from him. They had been stringing up wire for several weeks, starting out of Winthrop and connecting all the towns and villages along the road. Another group followed behind them several days out, erecting offices and carrying the equipment to power the lines. They were also installing telegraph keys in each location. The settlements would essentially serve as relays all the way to Winthrop.
The idea was, people would pay a few credits to send messages down the line, where they would be transcribed and delivered to the proper recipients. Apparently a group of investors back in Winthrop bankrolled the whole thing, looking to cash in on instant communication services.
When she heard about the investors, Benson concluded once again it was time to leave Wallisville and head for Winthrop.
“But . . . I thought we were going to stay!”
Kilmeade protested when Benson confided her thoughts with the ensign and Curly the next day.
“It’s been bothering me,” Benson said. “These people . . . they’re too free. There is no central authority out here. I thought by killing the worst of the rebellious ones, Darcy and his ilk, I could make a difference. But . . . the whole planet thinks like Darcy.
“Everyone here feels like the League abandoned them. And they did. The League hasn’t come back—won’t come back—until the war is over. And even then it may take a while to send ships here. We’re practically next door to Seychar. And after what happened at Gotha Mu, I don’t know if the Navy is going to be interested in heading this way for a while, even in the event of peace.”
“Begging your pardon, ma’am,” Curly said. “But it’s not our responsibility to make sure these people remain loyal subjects to the League.”
“Of course it is, Curly. The Navy is the military arm of the League. We enforce the rules, and fight the enemy wherever they show up in the galaxy. Keeping abandoned settlers in line is completely within our operating parameters.”
She glanced at Kilmeade, who stared back looking just as unhappy as Curly.
Benson said to her, “You’re the only other person besides me, possibly on this entire planet, to have gone through the Naval Academy. Tell me you don’t see this.”
“Maybe in the textbooks, Captain,” Kilmeade said. “Maybe in the textbooks we would be faced with the hypothetical of a rebellious planet. But this is real life. These people have been abandoned. They haven’t even had a supply boat show up from Epsilon in three years. Of course they’re going to become . . . independent minded. They don’t need the League because the League is not here for them. They’re making do without. And there’s nothing really wrong with that.”
Benson sighed and looked out the window at the unpaved streets and wooden sidewalks that comprised Wallisville.
She said, “It’s like ‘Lord of the Flies’ out there.”
Kilmeade said, “Ma’am, it’s nothing like ‘Lord of the Flies.’ I did read that one.”
Benson stood up and said, “We’re going to go to Winthrop, take complete control, and make things right. We’ll have this planet in the best shape we possibly can for when the League returns after the war.”
Another day passed before they were ready to leave. One sailor was still recovering from gunshot wounds, a woman named Carol Ong. Benson realized Ong was the woman who had freaked out during evacuation of the Excelsior. She had been the first person Chung knocked out that day.
Thinking of Chung brought up a pang of remorse. She had not allowed herself time for reflection, and had put him out of her mind as she adjusted to this primitive planet.
But now she started thinking about things he had said, the way he dressed when not in uniform, and the way he had looked at her. By the time they were ready to go, she was in a foul mood as depression seeped into her, like sour milk slowly filling up a water glass.
The transport had been loaded, and Benson decided to leave Ong and one other behind. Those two could look after the town and serve as her eyes and ears at this farthest outpost while she went to take over Winthrop.
After consulting with Curly and Kilmeade, she decided to let Vargas stay behind with Ong. Vargas had emptied an entire powerpack on two snipers up in the mountains, and seemed a little careless at times, but Curly vouched for him.
They left two blasters for Vargas and Ong. Afterward, everybody shook Ong’s hand. She was on a bed in the courthouse, under doctor’s orders not to move until the nanobots had a chance to fix her up. Benson realized she had been up on a roof, hiding behind a store façade when one of Darcy’s men shot her. Benson had actually seen the shot, and had taken care of the shooter herself.
Satisfied that all was in order, Benson followed the others to the transport. Looking around, she realized how many she had lost since coming to Wallisville. On another edge of town, east of the church, the cemetery held several new graves.
A few people came out to see them go, including Mr. Carver who would now resume his role as Mayor. Ms. Galavez was there along with other members of the MWBSG. Benson noted a Cheshire Cat grin on Ms. Galavaz’s face.
I guess she’s finally getting her way, Benson thought.
Without any further ceremony or comment, Benson climbed aboard the transport with her crew. Curly closed the door, and the ship levitated into the air. He turned it, nose facing Winthrop, and they shot away.