Three sailors dead. That’s all Kilmeade could think about as the surviving miners struggled to carry their bodies out.

All the sailors had been hit by lead musket balls. Who knew old technology could be so deadly? There was no saving them.

The fourth in her group she thought was uninjured had a shoulder wound. Kilmeade stopped the bleeding, injected him with nanobots, and he was fine. He helped her cover the three miners who lured them into the trap, and carry the dead crew’s blasters.

Five miners were dead. They were the ones waiting in the cavern for her, foolishly hiding behind piles of loose rocks that did nothing to prevent blaster bolts from coming through. Kilmeade had emptied a cartridge firing into the room, and no one came out of the barrage alive.

Now she forced the survivors to carry her people. They grunted, trudging uphill toward the entrance. She kept a wary eye on their back in case somebody tried to jump them from behind.

Meanwhile she secretly hoped the struggling miners carrying the bodies would give her an excuse to shoot them.

At last, daylight came through the cave opening as they neared the end of their trek. Kilmeade made everybody stop and she tried her implant.

“Curly, do you copy?”

“There you are! Hey, we’ve had a problem out here. Yoo is dead. He was shot by snipers. Me and Vargas took them out, though.”


Curly could hear the sarcasm in her reply.

He said, “How are you guys?”

“We were ambushed. Killed three of us, wounded one. I’m okay. We left five bodies down there. The three who brought us in are bringing our guys back out. We’ll come up in a minute. Have the door open for us and take us away as soon as we’re onboard.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

She pointed with the blaster and said, “Go on.”

The miners continued trudging forward, each holding a dead sailor in a fireman’s carry.

Vargas stood at the door with his gun ready, wearing a proud smile. The slope above them was peppered with blaster fire, and two bodies were blown apart up there. It had been inefficient, Curly would say later, but ultimately unloading a full cartridge on the mountainside had been effective. And that’s what counted.

Vargas’s expression fell when he saw the dead sailors carried out of the cave.

Kilmeade gestured to the miners with her gun again. She said, “Get onboard.”

They scurried onto the transport. Kilmeade and the other sailor picked up Yoo’s body. They glanced up nervously at the ground above them.

When they got onboard, Kilmeade nodded at Curly and he closed the door then pulled up on the stick. They shot into the air and he pointed them back toward Wallisville.

Kilmeade sat down in a chair as the craft raced toward town. She felt miserable, but tried not to show it.

This had been her first major assignment off a ship. Granted, it was an unusual set of circumstances, and Marines were better prepared for terrestrial tasks like this. But Navy officers were trained for command. And she blew it. Five sailors shot. Four casualties. There was no wounded miner in need of medical attention. It had all been a ruse just to get them away and kill them. Darcy’s men probably wanted their weapons and transport, too.

She should have seen it, Kilmeade thought, filled with self-recrimination. She should have anticipated the ambush better. Maybe she should have insisted the three men bring the body out to her. Maybe she should have only sent one sailor down with them instead of a large group. Something. Anything.

She closed her eyes, determined to wrest control of her emotions. She would probably face reprisals for this. Maybe even a dishonorable discharge. What would she say at her tribunal? That is wasn’t her fault? That doesn’t fly in the Navy. Everything that happens is the responsibility of the officer in charge. She was the officer in charge. And she blew it. She let her people down.

She could see the town growing larger in the holoscreen. Nobody said a word on the transport. The smell of blood from the corpses pervaded the cramped space, even though they were not near the little vessel’s capacity. Death had a way of filling up the room available to it.

Curly circled the church once, then settled down in the space behind it, as before. When he opened the door, Captain Benson was already coming around to greet them.

Kilmeade came out to meet her, looking grim. Benson raised her eyebrows.

Kilmeade said, “It was a trap. They killed four.”

Both women watched as the miners came out carrying a body each. Curly and Vargas exited with Yoo’s body.

The expression on Benson’s face did not change, but her skin grew dark red.

She said, “What did these three have to do with it?”

“They led us into it, ma’am. I’m sorry I failed you. I take full responsibility for what happened.”

Carver ran up, one hand on his hat to hold it on.

He said, “What happened?”

Benson turned to him and said, “These men led my people into an ambush. They are guilty of being accessories to murder. Do you have a jail? We need to have a trial.”

Carver looked confused as he glanced at the faces of the men holding the bodies of the sailors.

“We do have a lockup. It’s a stone building in the middle of town. But . . . I don’t know how we’re going to have a trial. There ain’t no judge anywhere around here, Captain. We just kinda take care of things on our own.”

Benson pressed her lips together in frustration. She glanced back at Kilmeade and wished the ensign had simply shot these men. No, she thought. That wasn’t right. Kilmeade had done the right thing.

“Alright. We’re not leaving right now. These men need to go into the lockup. Call the town to assemble at the church, whoever is here. They will get a proper trial.”

As the prisoners walked off with Curly and Vargas keeping guns on them and Carver leading the way, Kilmeade walked up beside the Captain.

In a much lower voice that only Kilmeade could hear, Benson said, “Then we’ll kill them.”


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