The following morning Taggert paid his hotel bill, ate scrambled eggs and biscuits for breakfast, then walked outside and tossed his suitcase up to the driver who strapped it down on top of the coach. The horses were lined up in the opposite direction, ready for the first leg of the long trek back to Winthrop.
He looked both ways down the street, wondering if Kilmeade would make good on her word. Soon, he saw her leaving city hall carrying luggage of her own. A skinny man of Asian descent followed her. He also carried luggage.
They arrived at the coach and tossed their stuff up.
Kilmeade said, “Taggert, Kang. Kang, Taggert.”
“You’re an engineer, I hope?” Taggert said.
“Why does everybody always assume the Asian guy is an engineer? The reason there are so many crewmembers on a spaceship is there are a variety of jobs to fill.” Kang said.
“Sorry. What do you do? Or, what did you do onboard the Excelsior?”
Taggert recalled Kang’s name from the Governor’s pardon. He wondered if Kang had shot anybody. Details about the massacre at the crew’s hideout were still sketchy.
“I was a weapons system technician.”
Privately, Taggert thought that sounded a lot like an engineer, but he decided it would be a good time to keep his opinion to himself.
Over the next several days, the trio made their way back to Winthrop. On the one hand, Taggert looked forward to when the railroad would be completed out to Wallisville. Trips like this could be covered in a couple days, if there weren’t any stops. Even stopping at every little town would be a faster round trip than going one way on the stagecoach.
If the makeshift power dongle the science guys were rigging up had been completed, he could have flown out to Wallisville and back presuming they could find someone able and willing to fly it. That would have been nice.
But like many others on Halcyon, Taggert quickly grew tired of the “what if” game. They were playing the cards they had been dealt, and things were getting better on all technology fronts. Time would see them through. For now, they would continue to make do with solutions they came up with on their own.
He smiled at the headline he read in one of the town paper’s editorial pages, extoling the virtues of their present state. It read, “A Luddite’s Paradise.”
Going without modern technology is all fine and dandy, he thought. Until the League returns with modern weaponry. Then we’re at a distinct disadvantage.
As for the Governor, the experience with the Excelsior’s crew had been an eye-opener for Seldom. And she was convinced that whatever her past sins, Kilmeade could be counted on to help do the right thing now.
Taggert sighed, hoping again that the Governor’s plan was a good one.
One thing about going without access to the quantum matrix: trips like this were long and arduous. Passengers brought along printed books or read newspapers. They also talked a lot.
Taggert found himself getting to know young Kilmeade. He got her to open up about her experiences at the Naval Academy on Epsilon, then she shared some of the battles in which Excelsior and Captain Benson had been involved.
Despite having shot her former Captain in the head, Kilmeade still carried many fond memories and a lot of respect for the woman. Taggert could understand that. There were many conflicting emotions running through Kilmeade. Taggert had some himself. He was a retired police officer from the League, but he no longer wanted to have anything to do with the League.
For her part, Kilmeade had an opportunity to work through those tangled feelings by talking it out with a willing listener. Everyone else in the coach listened, too, but thankfully kept their opinions to themselves.
At long last they passed through Elliot, the last stop before Winthrop. Out in the countryside, Taggert pointed out the rebuilt railroad bridge as they passed it on the road.
“That’s the one you guys blew up. The tracks are complete to Elliot. The first train should run any day now.”
“You know if you can recharge the transport, having a train is pointless,” Kang said.
Taggert shook his head. “No, not really. One transport is not going to be able to handle all the people and goods we need to move. Plus, I’m told recharging it with our current technology will be really slow. But, it will make it easier for the Governor to fly around and visit places, though. She’ll probably only use it in emergencies.”
“If her office is ever in need of money,” Kilmeade said, “I’m sure she could hire it out for limo service.”
At long last, the stage pulled into Winthrop. The train station was complete now, and Taggert brought them inside to look around. There on the tracks were two brand new steam engines, black metal gleaming with giant smokestacks. They were hooked up to passenger and cargo cars painted red and green.
Kilmeade had never seen a locomotive before, and she marveled at the size of the metal monsters.
“And it runs on steam? How does that work?”
Kang fancied himself something of an antique railroad expert, so he launched into a lecture on steam dynamics.
“The coal heats up the water in the boiler, which is transformed into steam. The steam is funneled into a sort of turbine system, which moves the engine, which turns the wheels. They had to go back and find plans for something they could build. I bet there’s a lot of little details in those old blueprints. Did you know the old trains had a mechanism to sprinkle sand on the tracks in front of the wheels when it starts moving? That’s to prevent them from sliding when starting from a standstill . . .”
Kilmeade quickly lost interest and walked away while he continued speaking.
Taggert checked them into a hotel near the Administration Building, explaining they would be staying on the governor's dime since they were performing a service at her request. They agreed to meet in Seldom’s office the following morning at 08:00.
Seldom shook their hands warmly the next day, and they all sat down together.
The Governor had hardly changed, Kilmeade thought. And, though she evidently trusted them, Kilmeade noticed they were checked for weapons before entering while Taggert and another bodyguard in the room remained armed.
But, Kilmeade could not deny this was a sensible precaution. Were their roles reversed, she would have taken the same measures.
Seldom started the conversation and said, “Our people were able to develop a proper interface to recharge modern power packs with our rudimentary electrical service. It’s slow and cumbersome, I am told, but it works. We now have the transport from your ship fully recharged, as of two days ago.”
“So, you want us to go up there and turn on the quantum matrix?” Kilmeade said.
“Yes. Your knowledge of military communications systems surpasses anyone else we can find down here. Plus, we presume you can handle getting the transport into orbit.
“As for who to talk to once it’s operational. . . we’re faced with something of a quandry. If we initiate contact with the League, we don’t think they would respond anyway. There’s a war going on, after all, and if they wanted to come out here they already would have.”
“So . . . the Republic, then?”
“Maybe. Although, there are some in my cabinet who vehemently oppose that idea, too. We are fairly close to Seychar, but the Republic has never shown much interest in us. Of course, if they knew we had gold maybe they’d sing a different tune. Although, I understand Gotha Mu in the Seychar system is almost entirely made up of gold ore.”
Kilmeade shrugged. She said, “Then who? There’s not much left without those two.”
Seldom smiled and said, “I have developed a proposition for our planet to align with Lute.”
Her statement was met with stunned silence.
Finally, Kang said, “You realize they’re pirates, right?”
“I know there are pirates on Lute. However, the planet itself is an independent representative democracy, with its own set of laws. There are only a handful of independent planets, but Lute alone has developed its own AI. It has managed to maintain its independence in no small part thanks to the pirates, who operate private warships. That, along with their planetary defenses, discourage attacks.
“If we can enter into an alliance with Lute, I believe they would protect us when the day comes that the League returns.”
“Are you . . . absolutely sure about this?” Kilmeade said.
“It’s been debated extensively. We took a vote and while there is still some disagreement, overall the prospects of not having any friends when the dust settles is far less appealing than the alternative. My argument won the day.”
Kilmeade and Kang shared a glance.
Kilmeade said, “Okay. We’ll go up there and turn on the comlink for you. What you do with it afterward is up to you.”