Solar Storm 14

“Why didn’t we hear about this sooner?”

“The telegraph line is down, ma’am. Evidently it’s out between here and Elliot, the first station.”

“This is terrible. How long will it take to build another bridge?”

“This one took a month, ma’am. The crew can hurry, but . . . you don’t want to hurry bridges too much, you know? The engineer in charge has the plans, though. We can reconstruct it. He’ll likely want to set new supports since the old ones suffered burns and explosions.”

Governor Seldom felt the anger surge in her chest, along with another acidic emotion . . . helplessness.

She tamped down the feelings and looked up at the railroad consultant standing in her office.

“Very well. Do what you can to expedite things. I will authorize a security detail for the railroad, though. I don’t want this happening again. Those sailors from the Excelsior are almost certainly the ones behind this. I’m going to offer a reward for their capture. Maybe we’ll get some help rooting them out.”

“Yes, ma’am. The railroad appreciates any assistance your office can offer in this matter.”

With that, the man turned and left pulling shut the door behind him.

Seldom sighed and steepled her fingers in front of her face.

She said, “Oh, Captain Benson. What are we going to do about you, girl?”

-+-

“And then it was like . . . Boom! And she tumbled down!”

The sailors around the campfire laughed as Vargas retold the story of blowing the bridge, with much animation and embellishment.

Vargas still had plenty of credits from picking up gold nuggets outside of Wallisville. He had gone into Elliot recently and bought enough food to last them a while. No one in the small party had ever eaten food cooked over a campfire, but they quickly figured it out.

“It’s get better each time you tell it,” Kilmeade said with a smile, chewing down a sausage link. They had discovered sausages kept a while without refrigeration, and were not half bad after heating them in a cast iron skillet over an open flame.

“The ensign was the true hero in this story. I salute you, Ensign Kilmeade, for your acrobatic prowess in scaling the heights of that wooden monstrosity and planting the explosives that took her down!”

A round of applause went up from the sailors.

Kilmeade smiled and said, “It was teamwork. We all did a good job.”

Benson leaned back and took a sip of tea. Tea was another commodity recently purchased with Vargas’s and Ong’s credits. She looked around at her crew, or what was left of her crew, and smiled as they wrapped up supper. Now that Curly had rejoined them, he brought their numbers back up to 14.

Most of her crew had been lost in battle. Then, more had died fighting miners in and around Wallisville. Now she was down to 14, including herself. She had 14 people to change and influence this world for the League.

This world, Halcyon, had tasted independence. The minute the League left, distracted by the war, the colonists formed their own government. Did they do the right thing and appoint a leader for the League to govern? No. They formed a representative democracy, electing leaders. And in remote places, like Wallisville, they pretty much governed themselves, preferring to be left alone.

It was too much, and Benson felt determined to do something about it. If it were not for the fact that Seldom was prepared for her, immediately arresting Benson and her crew when they finally made it to Winthrop, Benson might have been able to set things right on this planet immediately. But at least Vargas and Ong were able to spring them from jail. Now Benson led the fight from the sidelines instead of directly at the center of power in Winthrop.

If only she could rally other loyalists like Kev Stanton to their cause. Benson dreamed of a widespread rebellion where those who loved the League would rise up and overthrow this abomination of representative government.

Could the people just not see all the flaws in a constitutional republic? What happens when someone bad gets elected? Did they ever stop and think about that before writing a constitution?

People are too stupid to govern themselves, Benson thought. They need leaders, leaders who are trained and appointed. Sailors did not vote in the Navy for their leaders. Officers went to the Academy and learned how to lead, then were placed in charge of starships. There were no elections. The people born and bred to rule took care of things.

That was how government was supposed to work. Not this . . . freedom to choose leaders foolishness.

Her mind drifted back to the conversation as Curly was talking, recounting his tale of cutting the telegraph wires.

“It’s a vulnerability. I mean they have klicks and klicks of wire. They can’t guard it all. I just waited until nobody was coming in either direction, climbed up and cut it. It’s a good thing they don’t have AI sensors, or satellites or anything. This is like the Old West, we can camp out here in the wilderness and go completely undetected. We can also sneak around and blow things up.”

“It’s great!” Vargas said. “This should really slow their progress.”

“It’s not enough.”

All conversation stopped as everyone focused on the Captain.

She looked up in surprise, seeing all faces turned toward her. Evidently she had said that out loud.

“It’s not enough,” she repeated. “We can slow down their progress, but they still have the wrong type of government in place. These people are empowered . . . they feel empowered. And if they can decide who their leaders are now, do you think they’ll just roll over when the League finishes fighting and returns?

“What do you think will happen when the First Fleet, or any of the other fleets show up? And what do you think the Admiral of that fleet is going to say to us about how we comported ourselves while we were here?

“We are here now, and we need to be doing more. We need to end this . . . this experiment in self-governance before it has a chance to take hold.”

An uncomfortable silence settled around the campfire and nobody said anything for a moment.

Finally, Kilmeade cleared her throat. She said, “How do you propose doing that, ma’am?”

Benson raised an eyebrow while staring thoughtfully at the fire. She said, “We need to start by going back into Winthrop and killing Governor Seldom.”

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