In the aftermath of two wars, fought within its borders and waged through destructive steam-powered engines, America was propositioned with the grand notion of placing a man on the moon.
The man with the plan was Samuel Colt. The means was the gigantic launcher dubbed The Colt Apollo.
Sensing an opportunity to overthrow Colt’s reputation in the field of gunsmithing, William Henry Baker and Leroy Smith, proprietors of the Ithaca Rifle Company, made the same offer with the promise of succeeding where the elderly, and likely senile, Colt would fail.
Congress turned it into a contest. The first of the two companies to successfully accomplish lunar travel would receive government funding for installations of space guns across America.
Competition has often descended into acts of sabotage by both companies and, with each project nearing completion, required a group of lawmen that would ensure business was conducted fairly and that the assets of each gunsmith would be protected from threats foreign and domestic.
The group of lawmen was veteran marshal, scholar and inventor– Hans Octavius Wilhem; the barely civilised scourge of lawlessness– Wendell Caine, and prodigy of the most dangerous family of gunslingers in the west– Jacqueline Lightning.
The marshals make their home in the small frontier town of Ascension, nestled between the testing grounds of both gunsmithing companies, and have proven themselves a deterrant to lawlessnes and a body concerned only with fairness and justice.
(Their previous adventures can be found under the tag ‘colt apollo’ in the journal)
Their tale continues…
Ascension was gifted with a time of peace over the next fortnight. A peace that was only disturbed by the sounds of hammers banging on nails or, at the marshal’s office, the sound of a repeating nail gun, as the office and local bordello, Etheric Delights, were being repaired or upgraded.
Etheric Delights, being the scene of an attempt on Samuel Colt’s life as well as a shootout between the marshals and agents of elusive crime-boss ‘Spokey’ Sampson, had suffered from a room being exploded and, feeling responsible for the damage, Colt had asked for volunteers from the Space Gun project to assist. There was no shortage of able-bodied men willing to help.
The Sheriff’s office had been a small affair, housing only one lawman before the marshals came to Ascension. The Iron Marshal, Hans Octavius Wilhem, had been drawing up plans for extensions and upgrades suitable to their needs. As a result, the office now had a second floor with a third being scaffolded to house Wilhem’s laboratory equipment and workshop. A number of extra cells had been built, two of them being reinforced to contain mechanically enhanced outlaws. Mountain Marshal, Wendell Caine, manhandled the stout lengths of timber into place while Wilhem explained the notion of a ‘nail gun’ to the Lightning Marshal, Jack Lightning.
“It iz designed to hammer in ze nails more effeciently,” the German-born lawman explained as Jack explored the gun dubiously. “Ze idea is to attach the board to ze scaffold.”
Jack Lightning, having grasped the basics and, having been shown her target, turned her lethal skills with weapons to the plank held in place by Caine. A cacophony split the peace of Ascension with a resounding salvo that saw the board affixed with nothing less than 20 nails, many of them between splayed fingers of Wendell Caine.
“…Yes, yes, but it only needs to be shot here,” the Iron Marshal indicated where the plank met the scaffold, his other hand massaging his brow to soothe the emerging headache. “Und here, und zhere.”
“Ah,” was all Jack said and while she might have ventured more her neck hairs raised like an arched cat. A lifetime of training and reflex made a nailgun as effective as the Lightning Coil Throwers at her hips and she spun, letting fly another fussilade of roofing nails into the mechanical arm of an cowardly snake trying to get drop on her from behind. The arm, fashioned from brass and a collection of cogs and gears, was designed with nothing more complex than the purpose of drawing a gun as fast as its springs and hydraulics allowed, as well as pulling the trigger just as quickly. A rudimentary bio-mechanical addition, though expensive, was nonethless reduced to a sparking ruined lump to the surprise of the outlaw attached to it.
Caine, still in possession of one of the planks, slammed it and the outlaw back against a freshly nailed wall of the marshal’s office. Pinned and powerless, Jack was only interested in one question.
“I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’,” the response muffled by the length of pine over his face.
The wall creaked a little as Caine leant against the board, keeping the outlaw’s skull firmly trapped between the wood. “Hey Jack?” The Mountain Marshal called, “You gonna be nailing this board anytime soon?”
“I’ll tell you everything!” came the panicked shout, his flesh and blood hand waving frantically as if hoping to blindly catch the salvo of nails. Jack Lightning and Octavius Wilhem stepped closer to hear him. Caine kept up the pressure.
“Ain’t nothin’ personal,” the outlaw started and his predicament was a blessing only in that he couldn’t see the dread gaze of the Lightning Marshal. “Spokey Sampson has put out a bounty. The man who kills you, gets Winsom’s job!”
“Und did you zee zhis “Spokey” Sampson?” Wilhem asked, still uncertain if such a figure had even existed.
“…Ah, no, Marshal. Sir.” came the reply from behind the plank. “But the word’s out and they’re a lot of people that want to be in Wilhem’s boots.
“Not right now they don’t,” Jack replied and as her words punched through the plank, Caine could feel a slight tremble beneath it.
Having been provided a volunteer to try out the newly constructed cells, the marshals detained the outlaw and continued their work.
The days turned to weeks as construction continued. There were no new volunteers for Winsom’s position and word of his death had carried the message to the visiting workers of Colt and Ithaca come Pay Day– these were lawmen with whom you did not fuck. As such, policing Ascension had become a quiet affair.
Not content to take his meals away from the office at Etheric Delights and, not willing to subject himself to night after night Jack’s special, and only, recipe of bacon and beans, Wilhem had managed to employ a housekeeper named Bethany Cartwright. An aging woman who had journeyed out with her sons when they sought employment at Camps Colt and Ithaca, she was only too happy to maintain the office and prepare the meals, if only to afford her some company during the day. She ws also, to Wilhem’s delight, not wholly proficient but knowledgable regarding the tools of steamcraft and cog-wrangling.
“Mister Cartwright, rest his soul, did like to talk about his work,” she answered after sorting out the Iron Marshal’s vast collection of wrenches.
The week of peace became two and it seemed like the marshals had done a good job of keeping order in both the town and the camps. But an ill wind was blowing it and it bore a newcomer to Ascension by way of the luxury airship ‘Chancellor’.
TO BE CONTINUED