Benson ordered Curly to move the transport to the other side of town and park it behind the church. She sought out and received permission from both the Methodist and Baptist ministers to keep housing her people in the church, at least temporarily. Both men seemed happy to give the idea their blessing. The building was only used on Sunday mornings, and occasionally on Wednesday nights. With access to the large building, the crew could finally leave the cramped quarters of the transport.
The Captain decided the town indeed seemed to hold a very strong independent streak. While not overtly rebellious, to a person they all seemed quite sure of themselves. While many were not happy to see the Navy here, most understood that the Excelsior’s crew was stranded. Therefore, they were considered guests and treated as such.
The Methodist Women’s Bible Study Group organized dinners for the crew, and started bringing over breakfast, lunch and supper to the church. Benson immediately protested, saying she had some remaining food supplies on the transport. She was waved aside by Betty Galavez, the self-proclaimed matriarch of Wallisville and chairwoman of the MWBSG.
Betty had dark brown skin, due in part to strong Hispanic blood and due in part to spending most of her days tending to her garden. She also had tight white coiffed hair assiduously maintained by weekly appointments in the town’s beauty salon. She was in her late-60s, and a widow. Her husband had died in an accident, falling off a horse.
But the Good Lord placed her here for a reason, she informed the Captain. Several reasons, actually. One of those was to inform the Mayor of all his mistakes, which were plainly evident to Betty if not to anyone else. Another reason was to chair the MWBSG and make sure things were taken care of at the church, even if it was a building they had to share with those pesky Baptists.
And another reason God had no doubt placed Ms. Betty Galavez here on Halcyon in this day and age was to make sure this poor woman’s crew was well-fed instead of eating packaged emergency rations from their little spacecraft.
Benson gave up and let the Methodist women take turns preparing meals for her people. The food was actually pretty good. She made private inquiries to Mayor Carver, who assured her that while technology may be lacking in Wallisville, food was one thing they had in abundance. A mere additional two dozen mouths to feed was nothing.
“What are you all doing out here, anyway?” she asked the Mayor one day after lunch.
Carver had stopped in to check on them, a habit he evidently was forming. This was now their third day in the village. The Captain took the opportunity to pump him for information.
Carver looked surprised at the question, but he quickly shifted into a sort of tour guide role. He was proud of their little town out in the middle of nowhere on a virgin planet.
“Initially, the plans were to harness the river and their falls, the ones you saw when flying over the mountains, and build a power plant. We actually have the turbines, they came in on one of the last supply ships before the war started. But . . . we don’t have any wires. They were scheduled for a future shipment. So the turbines are sitting in a warehouse in Winthrop somewhere collecting dust.”
The Captain nodded. She said, “Winthrop is the capital, right?”
“Well, I guess you could say that. It is the biggest city. Heck, it’s the only real city. There’s just Winthrop and a handful of towns like this one scattered along the road out to here. We’re end of the line, so to speak.”
“Winthrop has your spaceport, then.”
He nodded. “That is correct. They still might have some powerpacks charged up for emergencies, too. I don’t know if they’ve figured out a way to recharge them yet. I heard something about some coal powered power plants the Governor was trying to build.
“Meanwhile, they’ve figured out how to harness wind and water, basic stuff that humans have been using for millennia. So, they got a nice sawmill and they do some blacksmithing. Plenty for all the buildings that have gone up. We’ve built houses and carts with tools like shovels and hammers.
“We’re doing okay on Halcyon. I figure we mine enough copper, we’ll get around to making our own wires, too. Then our home-grown technology will really take off on this planet.”
“So, Wallisville is a sort of company town? It was built for the purpose of building the power plant?"
“Correct. And that project is on hold long term, until we can figure out the wires. Long distance, high-tensile electric wires. Until then, Winthrop gets by without us.”
“So, why are you all still out here? What’s the point? Why not go back to civilization, or the next best thing, in Winthrop?”
Carver raised his eyebrows in surprise. “You didn’t know? There’s gold hereabouts. The mountains is practically crawling with it.”
He grinned at her and said, “That’s one of the big reasons why Darcy and his boys don’t want the League to show up and start interfering with things. No, we was all set to build the power station for Winthrop out here. The town is situated ideally. These newfangled designs don’t impede the water flow much. They just use the river’s current to generate electricity. But the stronger the current, the better. In front of the falls is best, of course. Strongest river current for a thousand kilometers from Winthrop is right near here. But with no high-tensile wires to run the electricity back to the city, there’s no point.
“We was going to pack up and go back when somebody saw something yellow in the water. And the gold rush was on. The town doubled in size. People ride in on the stagecoach, yes we got those too. Or they come here on their own horses and strike out for the mountains searching for gold. I suspect you all first landed too close to Bill Darcy’s new stake. He was likely worried that the League was going to come in, claim it all for the Tetrarch, and shut down the independent operators.”
Benson sank in her seat and covered her face with her hand.
“Gold. That’s what led to the start of this war. That’s what led to the Navy going back to the Seychar system. We called it ‘Operation Golden Return.’”
Carver looked at her and tilted his head, like a puppy. He said, “That what got your ship?”
“Partly. The Republic developed a super weapon that took out an entire fleet. We got the tail end of it, but StarCen was able to port us away before the ship was completely destroyed. Halcyon was the nearest habitable planet. Unfortunately, a private warship working for the Republic got here about the same time. We couldn’t defend ourselves.”
Carver nodded sympathetically. He said, “We don’t get any news at all from the outside. All we know is there’s a war going on. Sounds like the League is getting the worst of it.”
“They are at the moment,” Benson said in a glum tone.
“Well, look. Why don’t you get over to Winthrop? That may be the best place to wait for rescue. Surely any ships that come here, when they get here, will go there first.”
“How far is it?”
“About 600 kilometers.”
“That’s, uh . . . quite a ways.”
“Oh, it’s not too bad. If you don’t think your transport has the power for it, a stagecoach runs every few weeks. Of course, not all of you can fit in one stage. It holds, uh, eight people I think. Maybe you could squeeze more on if some rode on top. They’re mostly empty on the way back to Winthrop. Once folks get out here they tend to get the gold bug and stay.”