Some men took away the bodies of the miners while the crew watched over things, weapons drawn.

For her part, Benson withdrew to inside the church, heading for the room she had taken over. She closed the door, the old-fashioned kind on hinges, and leaned against it with her back as if to prevent someone from breaking in.

Finally, in private, she let her emotions break.


She wiped away the tears, now freely flowing down her face.

“They are still in the League, whether they want to be or not.”

An hour later, she felt better. She would never experience guilt for shooting the men. They were murderers, and they had a fair trial, which was more than her dead crewmembers had. But she had to let the tears, the rage and frustration, go uncorked. Once it was out of her system, she could resume her public face.

There were times when being a Captain was hard, she mused, and many of the things she had to do were unpleasant.

They don’t exactly teach you how to take over a town on an abandoned frontier planet at the Academy, she thought with a wry grin. But that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

She walked out of the room and noted the two sailors on either side of her door. Both had weapons drawn and stood at attention. She nodded. Kilmeade must have ordered them to stand guard.

Kilmeade met her when she walked into the sanctuary.

“Any problems this last hour, Ensign?”

“No, ma’am. A few dirty looks aimed our way, that’s about it.”

“Good. Gather four people to accompany us. Make sure they’re armed. You and I are going to town and giving the Mayor a visit.”

A few minutes later the party set out. Benson realized she had never explored Wallisville, not that there was much to look at. She headed for the wooden sidewalk on the left side of the street.

On the way, Kilmeade said, “We keep talking about Mr. Darcy, and I can’t get my mind off Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. I’ve seen the holo starring Brin Bolling as Darcy three times.”

Benson nodded, “Fitzwilliam Darcy, yes. Completely different from our Bill Darcy, I must say. I think the book, featuring the original Mr. Darcy, is far better than the Brin Bolling version in the holo.”

She smiled at Kilmeade. The ensign’s ears grew red.

Kilmeade said, “I, uh . . . never read the book.”

“Ah, you’re missing out,” Benson said. “I’m a big Jane Austen fan.”

People gave the group of sailors a wide berth, many going so far as to cross the street to stay away from them. Everyone eyed their blasters warily, now that their effectiveness had been so recently demonstrated.

Benson ignored the looks. She glanced casually to the other side of the street and noted the store rooftops. Snipers crossed her mind.

“I doubt there’s anybody up there, but keep an eye out.”

She heard everyone say, “Yes ma’am,” behind her.

Soon they came to the town center. Here the only stone building sat off by itself, back from the street. One iron-barred window indicated this was the jail. Above another door a crude sign painted in white read, “City Hall.”

Benson said, “Two of you stay outside and keep an eye out. The rest of you accompany me.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She walked in without knocking. Carver stood talking with three other people including Betty Galavez, who was apparently leading the conversation. She gave Benson and the sailors a look of shock mixed with outrage.

Benson smiled at the older woman and said, “Talking about me?”

Galavez took a deep breath and looked ready to unload on the Captain, something she had apparently been doing with the Mayor.

Benson interrupted her with a dismissive gesture.

“We can discuss your concerns at a later time, Betty. I need to speak with Mr. Carver in private for a moment.”

Betty and her companions stared in outraged silence for a moment, mouths gaping. When they did not move fast enough, Benson coughed in her fist.

She said, “Ensign Kilmeade, show these ladies to the door.”

When Galavez realized she would be forced to leave, she said, “Don’t bother!”

She tromped to the door, quickly followed by the other two ladies. Benson watched them go with a bemused smile.

Carver looked as if he had bitten into a sour apple. As the proverbial saying indicated, he realized he had jumped from the flames to the frying pan.

He said, “How may I help you, Captain?”

“You can start by vacating your office. I’m moving in.”

The blood in his face drained.

Benson thought, surely he expected this? Evidently not.

She said, “Secondly, you can assist me in finding someplace else for my crew to sleep. I don’t think it’s right to stay in the church. We’ll be moving the transport to the space behind these buildings, and we can sleep some in here and maybe the jail while it’s unoccupied. But eventually we’ll be wanting places of our own. Are there any vacant houses that you know of?”

“Uh . . . well . . . one of the men you executed had a house . . .”

“Any wife, children, or family?”

“No, no. He was single and, uh, recently bought it.”

“Good. We’ll take it. Please show it to me.”

As a matter of convenience, things could not be much better, Benson thought. The house in question was on the same block as the jail and City Hall. The front door was unlocked, and Benson made a cursory inspection. It was relatively small, about 140 square meters or 1,500 square feet, and sparsely furnished. But it would house several sailors.

When the Mayor trudged away, Benson said, “The men will house here. Have Curly park the transport in the backyard where we can use it for overflow. The women will stay in City Hall.”

Everyone nodded. This seemed reasonable.

“Our next order of business is to obtain food.”

Before she could discuss the issue of feeding the crew, she got a call on the neural net.

She touched her implant and said, “Yes, Curly?”

“Captain, we’ve spotted a big cloud of dust coming down the road from the mountains. Scopes show it’s a bunch of riders. They’re all armed and look mad as heck. I think this might be our elusive Mr. Darcy.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Back at the church, they could see the approaching riders heading into town. Their horses came at a full gallop, kicking up dust on the road.

Kilmeade said, “They’re not even trying it hide it.”

Benson nodded. “Subtlety didn’t work, so now they’re trying the direct approach.”

The Captain turned and addressed the sailors behind her, all watching the road.

“Curly, take Vargas to the transport and you two go straight up, fast as you can. With any luck they won’t see you. Stay in touch on the neural net, you’ll be our ace in the hole.

“The rest of you, find positions of cover. If it’s a firefight they want, it’s a firefight they’ll get.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Benson turned to look back toward the road and watched as the cloud grew closer.


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