The four men with the Governor pulled out pistols. They looked crude, with flintlock firing mechanisms, and they were no doubt muzzle-loaded. But Benson had no doubt they were deadly, especially at this close range.
“Captain . . .”
Curly pointed to her right. She saw a sniper come out from cover on another rooftop, aiming a rifle at them. Those she knew from experience were deadly, even at a distance.
Kilmeade said, “Ma’am . . .”
She pointed at another building, where three more snipers aimed at them. Looking around, Benson could see several more.
“You have us at a disadvantage,” Benson said, turning to address the Governor.
Seldom smiled, but did not show her teeth.
She said, “Please hold your hands up and do not reach for any weapons. My people will take you downstairs to a holding center.”
All the sailors looked at Benson, waiting for her lead. She glanced again at the rifles and pistols aimed at her people.
She frowned, but said, “Follow their orders.”
Slowly, her crew raised their hands.
The rooms looked secure. Each had four bunks, a toilet and a sink.
“Jail cells,” Kilmeade said when she walked into the one assigned to her and Benson.
Benson nodded, turning to watch as the hinged door was shut behind them, and locked.
“Why didn’t you fight, Captain? Some of us could have made it back into the transport, which is bulletproof.”
Benson looked at the younger woman and noted the fire behind her eyes. She nodded, agreeing with the ensign’s statement. The transport was indeed bulletproof.
“How many would have died scrambling back inside?”
“Some of us were armed. Curly had a blaster.”
“He would have been shot immediately. Say you took out the four men with pistols, and the Governor even. They had snipers all around us. If any in our crew would have survived, it would have been very few. We’ve lost too many, Ensign Kilmeade. I don’t want to throw the lives of my remaining people away if I don’t have to.”
Kilmeade’s shoulders slumped, and a little of the fire went out behind her eyes.
Benson smiled at her, crow’s feet crinkling in the older woman’s face.
“Cheer up, Kilmeade. We should still be able to influence this place. Maybe we can’t take it over as easily as I thought. But give us some time.”
“And if they kill us? Execute us for some reason? Or just leave us locked up forever?”
Benson shrugged. She said, “Eventually, the Navy will send a ship. Patience. We will get things straightened out soon enough.”
Our roles have reversed, Benson thought. She was holding back when I wanted to take this place over.
She smiled at the thought then sat down on a bunk, desperately wishing for access to the quantum matrix.
Later that day, somebody brought food. The ladies could not see, but they heard the guard in the hall outside the door. There would be no opportunity to jump the woman who dropped off two trays for them. Nor would there be an opportunity to go for the guard, either.
Benson thanked the woman for the food. She smiled and said someone would return and retrieve their trays in an hour.
Kilmeade looked at the wooden bowls and spoons with displeasure, but both ladies agreed the soup was good. Some kind of bean? And chunks of meat they could not identify, but Benson thought it must be a local fish.
“Probably from that big lake,” she said. “I bet they source a lot of protein out of it.”
Another couple of hours passed and they heard a knock at the door. They heard keys rattle and it opened. Seldom stuck her head inside.
“Come with me.”
Benson and Kilmeade followed her out in the hall. The four guards accompanied the Governor again, and as they walked two went before them and two brought up the rear. No one held guns out, but Benson noted they carried their pistols in leather holsters.
They came to a set of stairs and headed down three floors, then walked out into a much larger corridor.
They walked past a receptionist, a young woman who looked to be of Hispanic descent if Benson guessed correctly. The receptionist stared openly at her and Kilmeade, clearly astonished to see the blue Navy uniforms.
Seldom pushed open a large polished wooden door. Three of the guards stayed outside and one accompanied the women into the office.
Benson found herself in a large airy space, with thick carpets and gleaming wooden walls. A huge desk dominated the side opposite the door, and a large window covered most of one wall. There was more than enough room for a leather couch, several seats, and an elegant marble-topped coffee table.
“Have a seat,” Seldom said.
Kilmeade followed Benson’s lead and they both sat down on the sofa.
Seldom took one of the chairs. The guard positioned himself in a corner of the room. He remained standing and crossed his arms, watching. And listening, Benson thought. She filed away the observation for later.
Seldom said, “I thought it would be courteous to inform you why I am having you detained.”
Benson smiled and lifted her eyebrows. She relaxed, sinking back in the sofa. Kilmeade remained hunched forward, eyes glued to the Governor.
Seldom said, “I know that several days ago you moved to take over the town of Wallisville, our outermost settlement. Tell me about that.”
Benson said, “It’s a lawless outpost. People running wild. I lost almost half my crew in ambushes and firefights. I declared the Navy in control under ad coelom.”
Seldom nodded. She said, “Our judiciary has looked into it. We believe your grounds for the declaration are shaky at best. I’m no lawyer, but from the way our counselors explained it to me, ad coelom usually refers to virgin territory. Wallisville was under an existing form of governmental entity.”
Benson smiled, with a glint, just a glint, of irritation and disdain in her eyes.
Keeping her voice neutral, she said, “Obviously I disagree.”
Seldom nodded again, as if expecting nothing less.
She said, “My advisors surmised, and I agreed with them, that you would try something similar here in Winthrop. When you left to come this way, word was sent via our telegraph network and we made preparations.”
She stared back at the Captain, ignoring the dangerous look in Benson’s eyes which seemed to be growing stronger by the moment.
Seldom stood and walked to the window. She looked out at the neighboring buildings and, in the distance, at the smokestacks still billowing thick black clouds.
“You see, Captain, we have formed a government for our planet. In the absence of the League, which has abandoned us, we formed our own. We had access to an entire Wikipedia’s worth of knowledge, even without StarCen here to guide us. And after looking at all the many forms of government we could use, we chose the one best suited for a small, recently colonized planet with no connections to the outside galaxy.”
She turned from the window and locked eyes with Benson.
She said, “We formed a simple constitutional republic. Oh, it’s not as fancy as the classical ones from Old Earth. We’re small, and we didn’t need much. But, we have representatives from each town, and several here in Winthrop. We have a judiciary, such as it is. Right now, that’s comprised of three judges. And, we have an executive branch. Me. I won our first election.”
Benson said nothing. She quirked her brows up slightly, in a sort of amused acknowledgment.
“As the duly elected Governor of this planet, I could not allow you to assert a faulty claim of ad coelom on us. Thus, I took the steps necessary to protect our homeland. And that is why you are being detained.”
“I see,” Benson said. “And when the Navy arrives to pick us up, which I assure you they most certainly will, what will you do then?”
Seldom smiled at her, but with a trace of sadness in her eyes.
She said, “You expect there to be a large force assembling, perhaps with Marines, leading to my arrest? You think I’ll face a tribunal and the iron heel of the Navy will crush our fledgling republic?
“I don’t think it’ll happen. We have earned the right to govern ourselves, Captain. The League abandoned us and we did what we had to do.
“We will remain an independent planet, much like Petra Roe or even Lute. Self-governing, with no need of outside interference from either major system. That’s the way we want it, and we’ll do fine.”
Seldom smiled again, but this time without any sadness.
She said, “Our fledgling republic will thrive, Captain. Without the League. And certainly without the Navy.”
Benson’s face reddened. All the anger and righteous indignation she had kept under the surface bubbled up.
She said, “You think the League will simply allow you to become a . . . a republic? Where the leaders are decided by elections? You think we will simply stand by and allow you to decide for yourselves who is in charge?
“I have spent the last three years of my life fighting the Planetary Republic. People who are close to me, members of my own crew, gave their lives fighting the Republic! I lost my ship to those bastards! There is no way the Navy will allow this . . . this travesty to continue. This is a political abomination!”
Seldom said, “I realize that if a fleet were to appear in orbit, and send down a bunch of Marines, we could very well fall, at least for now. Your people would kill us, and overcome us, and butcher the most outspoken.”
Seldom turned away, and looked out the window again.
She said, “But you can never completely take away the taste of freedom once it’s been savored. We have lived . . . we are living it.”
Seldom took a deep breath, held, it, then let it out slowly.
She said, “And we will never, willingly, yield to the tyranny of the Tetrarchy. Never again. Halcyon will always remain free, Captain. Even if you occupy us for a hundred years. We’ve tasted freedom. And we’re not going back.”