Ong and Vargas found a hotel near the stagecoach station and checked in. They were not dressed in their Navy uniforms. Ong had cautioned Vargas that they would be quickly arrested if they were identified, just as the crew had been. He agreed, and dutifully packed his uniform along with hers in their luggage before they leaving Wallisville.
Vargas worried that spies might indicate they were coming in on the stage. Maybe it would be better to get off at a village before Winthrop and ride in on horses? He had thrown that idea out before departing. Ong said they would probably be okay. If the Governor wanted to arrest them, Ong reasoned, she had plenty of time to send someone while they were in Wallisville. The fact she did not indicated they had likely been overlooked.
Vargas half expected the police to be waiting for them when they got off the stage, but they checked into the hotel without any problems. He gave a fake name when signing in, just to be safe. Fortunately there was no AI keeping an eye on things. A person could pretend to be whoever they wanted out here, he thought. Such freedom!
That night at supper they struck up a conversation with the couple at the table next to them about the crew of the Excelsior. It was still relatively fresh news, and being new arrivals their inquiries did not seem out of place. They discovered the crew was still being held in the Administration Building.
After retiring to their room, they discussed how to reach the Captain and everyone else. As usual, Ong was the one to come up with an idea.
She said, “Let’s get jobs there.”
The following morning they approached a kiosk in the Administration Building. This one was manned by a real person rather than an android. Ong said she was from Dennison, her husband had recently passed away, and she came to Winthrop looking for work. Vargas presented himself as a disgruntled miner, unable to find a decent claim near Wallisville. He was giving up on hunting for gold for a while. Somehow, he did not find that story very plausible. Personally, he very much wished to continue hunting for gold. But, the lady behind the desk bought both their stories.
They were offered janitorial positions on the spot. If bots had been sent with the settlers to Halcyon, they were either inoperable or being used in far more important roles than menial labor. Consequently, there was a chronic shortage of maids, janitors, street sweepers, and other people for such labor-intensive jobs.
Vargas found himself working in the basement, but before lunch Ong made her way up to the holding floor and scoped things out. She found a long hall with many cell doors. Four cells were occupied. There were, of course, no electronics in the building. The doors were locked by keys. That was all she needed to know.
The couple spent another three days discussing what to do. There were only twelve crew left besides Vargas and Ong. The twelve were all dressed in Navy blue and stood out like sore thumbs. Even if they were to escape, they would immediately attract attention.
Curiously, there were no guards stationed in the hallway. She discovered there used to be, when the crew was first detained, but now a guard merely checked in on the prisoners a few times a day. No one stood in the hall all the time. Evidently they had other things to do.
Meanwhile, Ong took pains to not be seen by the crew in case they accidentally gave her away. She carefully cleaned the hall’s floor but stayed clear of the doors if someone came to open them. She noted when the crew had meals, and when the cafeteria staff came back to pick up dishes and silverware.
Besides the uniform problem, a bigger one revolved around the fact they had nowhere to go. Where would they bring the Captain and the crew if they did spring them from jail? Bringing them back to the hotel was out of the question.
This time Vargas came up with the solution. In talking with one of the other janitors, he discovered the man to be a League loyalist. This guy, whose name was Kev Stanton, vehemently railed against the Governor during their lunch breaks.
Vargas decided to take a risk and he let Stanton in on their plans. He confided that he was part of the Excelsior’s crew, and he was here to help spring Captain Benson and the others. Vargas did not mention Ong, in case something should happen to him. He did not want to risk her, especially since he had not had the chance to run this idea by her.
But Kev Stanton really was a League loyalist. He enthusiastically agreed to help. He knew where the janitor outfits were stored in the basement, and they had a lot of overalls that could cover the Navy uniforms. He also knew about a vacant warehouse his cousin owned. Together, he and Vargas came up with a plan. Ong decided it sounded feasible when Vargas told her about it.
The next day, almost two weeks after they learned about Benson’s capture, Ong opened the door to the Captain’s cell with a stolen key. Benson’s eyes grew wide at the sight of her. Kilmeade audibly gasped. Ong put a finger to her lips and tossed brown overalls to the women.
“Put these on and I’ll be back in a minute.”
She repeated the procedure in the other rooms. All twelve crewmembers met in the hall a short while later. They met Vargas at the stairwell, everyone dressed in brown overalls. He took the lead going downstairs while Ong followed at the rear. Together, all 14 crewmembers went to the basement, passing a handful of other people going up without comment.
From the basement they took a back exit with stairs leading up and walked across the street, this time led by Stanton. From there, they entered another building’s basement. Stanton led them up the stairs inside the building, then they walked through a mostly empty lobby to the other side where everybody exited to another street shielded from view of the Administration Building. No one looking out a window would see them.
Here, Stanton’s cousin waited for them with a covered wagon that had benches inside. It seated twenty. Everybody filed in and the two-horse team slowly clopped down the street toward the warehouse district, keeping the crew safely out of sight as it made its way through the streets.
Kilmeade sat by the Captain.
She said, “What are we going to do now, ma’am?”
“There’s not much we can do, I’m afraid. They have our blasters and our transport. It might be best to lie low until the Navy gets here.”
They clopped on in silence for a while. In the seat behind them, Curly leaned forward.
He said, “Begging your pardon ma’am, but there is something we can do.”
“What’s that, Curly?”
He gave her a wicked grin.