Three days had passed since the Great Wallisville Shootout. That was what the town’s newspaper called it. The Wallisville Times-Picayune was run by a fellow named Edward Epsilon-Watson. He put it out once a week on four pages, using an old paper printer and a pocket computer he brought with him when he emigrated to Halcyon. The paper came by stagecoach from Winthrop. Watson zealously guarded the powerpack everything ran on, turning the components on only long enough to run off some copies each week. Even so, he had a stockpile of cartridges so he could continue printing the newspaper for years this way.
Details of the crew’s victory over the miners blanketed the front page of this week’s edition. Benson read through the stories with a grim smile. The Wallisville Times-Picayune was a one-man outfit, and it showed in the writing. The articles followed the same breathless style, and though they were unattributed, with no bylines, everyone knew Ed wrote every word.
The remainder of the paper covered legal claims, the sites of various gold stakes, and miscellaneous town news. This week the news included word of impending nuptials involving a miner and one of Wallisville’s newest residents, a young lady who arrived by stagecoach three weeks ago to take a position as teacher in the little one-room schoolhouse.
A complete schedule listing the upcoming activities of the Methodist Women’s Bible Study Group was included on page 3, with a notification that anyone interested in more details should contact Ms. Betty Galavaz directly. This page had some advertising, which presumably went to help pay for the paper imported from Winthrop. The local general store had an ad, as did the barber and the undertaker.
The undertaker’s ad read, “You plug ’em, we plant ’em!” This, evidently, was a nod to an ancient American newspaper cartoon strip set in the Wild West, but the Captain did not catch the reference and could not see the humor in it, even after Mayor Carver tried to explain it to her.
The back page was devoted to classified ads and personal notices, which anybody could buy for three credits each.
Benson at first ignored the newspaper, finding it a quaint throwback to simpler times, nothing more. However, walking around town she noticed practically everyone was reading it the day it came out. She saw the little four page newspaper (it was really one big sheet of paper, folded in half and printed on both sides) everywhere she went, people reading away. Ed Watson’s words were consumed by all.
So, she bought a copy for herself and read about her crew’s exploits. Ed had mentioned the move by Benson to essentially take over the town, and he reported Mayor Carver’s guarded opinions on the matter. Most of the others he interviewed expressed enthusiasm that some vestige of civilization had at last arrived in the form of the League Navy. Or at least, surviving crew from a ship in the League Navy.
She made a mental note to meet with Watson about the paper. His ability to spread information and shape opinions was dangerous. Like a gun, it could be used both ways, either for or against her. She wanted to make sure Watson’s weapon, the press, would be used for her.
After being shot by Bill Darcy, Benson made it a point to be seen on the streets of Wallisville often. In fact, she took a walk around the entire town twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. She thought the extra visibility would help in governing the people. She was exercising her authority over them, and she wanted to be visible.
Also, it showed she was unafraid. She would not be a reclusive ruler, hiding in an office and refusing to go outside for fear of getting shot again. She held her head high as a Captain in the Navy should, and met the eyes of all who approached her.
She also carried a blaster on her side every time she stepped outside. The unspoken message it sent was clear, too. “Don’t mess with the Navy. If you do, you’ll die.”
The fact that the crew had used up most of their guns’ energy packs in “The Great Wallisville Shootout,” was something not mentioned to the townsfolk. Let them continue to consider the crew invulnerable, she told Curly and the rest of her people. But, don’t waste limited resources. She had no desire to get into any more shootouts.
Quietly, Benson directed her crew to gather the primitive muzzle-loading rifles belonging to Darcy’s men and store them in the house they occupied, City Hall, and the jail. They also collected gunpowder and Minni balls. When the day came that they ran out of energy packs for their guns, the Captain wanted to be prepared with whatever weaponry this world had to offer.
By the third day, today, people seemed less nervous when she approached. She took this as a good sign, walking down the wooden sidewalks. The Times-Picayune was old news, now, and she noticed a copy fluttering in the wind down the unpaved street.
Charlie Struthers ran into town, trampling over the old paper. He diverted course when he saw the Captain and headed straight toward her.
Benson kept a corner of her heart reserved for Charlie, who had been the first to spot their transport, and had been shot by a ricocheted bullet from Darcy’s men. She was particularly glad they had been able to save the young boy.
“Ms. Benson! Cap’n Benson! The graph line men is comin’!”
“Slow down, Charlie,” she said with a laugh. “Who’s coming?”
“The graph line men! They’s putting up the line not ten klicks outta town!”
In due course, Benson figured out that Charlie meant “telegraph line.” Carver nodded when she mentioned it to him later that day.
He said, “We heard somebody in Winthrop developed a working telegraph. It’s a pretty good idea for simple technology. If you can fashion copper wire, you can put it up on poles for klicks and klicks. Less complex than a telephone. It’s dirt simple. Just wind up a crank and send pulses of electricity down the line. Morse Code. Easier to handle than voice, though I suspect that’s comin’ next. They’ve been trying to connect the outlying towns and villages, stitching us all together with a line back to the big city. This should speed up communications quite a bit.”
“Next thing you know,” Benson said, “They’ll put tracks down and send a train out here.”
Carver nodded. He said, “Steam engines are fairly simple. They’ll need a good ironworks to develop the tracks, and a source of gravel to help lay down the bed. And of course a steam shovel to clear everything. It’ll take time, but give us a few years and we’ll be doing good. We’ll have all the best of the 19th century!”
“Or, you could just wait for the war to end and get the current technology that everyone else has.”
Carver grinned. “We get bored waitin’, ma’am.”
Benson walked to the edge of town and squinted, shielding her face from the sun with the palm of her hand. Kilometers away, she could make out movement as the telegraph crew worked on planting poles in the ground beside the road. They looked like tiny dots, but they would be here soon. Then the town would have a direct line of communication back to Winthrop, without modern neural nets or access to the quantum matrix. Or even modern energy packs. They would have long distance electronic communication they developed on their own.
She thought, it would be a simple means of communication. Primitive, but effective. Old Earth had been covered with telegraph lines in the 19th century. They progressed into phone lines, then Internet lines as time marched on. Would this world follow the same lines of development? Everyone knew the technology already, there would be no need to re-invent the wheel. All you needed were a few people who were smart enough to know how to make the wheel.
Once they had electricity down and their manufacturing processes perfected, there would be no stopping them. They could exploit the planet’s natural resources and live quite comfortably all by themselves, cut off from the rest of the galaxy.
“These people are too independent,” she said to herself out loud.
“If they don’t need the League now, they’re not going to want us when we return after the war.”
And that, she thought, would surely lead to trouble.