Fire shot into the night sky like the desert dunes had pulled an enormous trigger.
Away from the orange stained horizon, Jack Lightning and Wendell Caine rode hard toward Ascension. At their heels no less than a dozen gunmen pursued, their horses galloping as much to get away from the towering inferno as to bring the lawmen down.
“What the hell was that?” Jack Lighting called over the rain of hooves pounding the dirt.
“Explosion,” Caine replied.
“Explosion of what?”
It was five minutes to Ascension and Marshals Lightning and Caine had a head start but while The Lightning Marshal’s mount, Thunder could keep up this pace until they reached the town, the grizzly bear that Caine sat astride wasn’t built for speed.
But then they weren’t trying to reach Ascension.
Booming from the outskirts, their partner, Marshal Hans Octavius Wilhem, stoked the boiler of his transport, the steam gushing out of in furious clouds as he and Pinkerton Detective James Lovelace sped toward the fire. The steam tank, Wilhem’s vehicle and invention, dragged both of its trailers skipping along the dirt, one of them sporting a long-barrelled cannon with an even longer harpoon at its side. A weapon of singular purpose:
Bring down the airship of Samuel Spokey Sampson.
The bandits, also in Spokey’s employ, were closing on the furry mount and it’s equally hairy rider, guns drawn and hammers cocked. This wasn’t quite according to the plan, chasing down the lawmen who, they were assured, would be off their mounts and out of luck when they arrived at the Cartwright Cottage. Instead they were trying to catch up to the infamous Jack Lightning and her savage companion: What any outlaw in the west would avoid.
Still, at least they outnumbered them fifteen to two, and once they had the range of that gambolling bear, the odds would get better.
Then they noticed that the lead horse no longer had a rider!
Synapses fired at the alarm in the same amount of time for the Lightning Marshal to loose two bolts, shooting from Thunder’s flank and out of sight from any sharpshooters amongst the bandits. Her aim, even clutching to the side of her horse was unerring as each shot slammed into one of the bandit’s mounts, the voltage sending it into a spasmodic kicking frenzy that, in one shot, claimed another bandit who fell under the lashing hooves. The other buzzed past another three horses’ flared nostrils, pulling them up sharply as their riders fought to get them under control and stay in the saddle.
Upright once more, Jack’s sharp gaze saw that the bandits had fallen back, out of range of her guns but also out of range of Caine. But they hadn’t given up yet. With muted shouts, the bandits split up, riding hard to present less of a group target and more to outflank the lawmen. This was not over yet.
And then, with a piercing whistle, reinforcements pistoned down the dune.
The German Marshal took it all in: the bandits, his friends and the ranges of each. The light machine gun Wilhem had mounted to his armour retracted and with a whirr and a clunk, it was replaced by his Wave Mortar. Sighting a clump of three bandits, Wilhem’s armour deployed hydraulic pistons into designed slots on the floor to anchor him into place before it let fly with a FOOWOOSH!
Dust and dirt fountained into the sky just ahead of the riders, raining debris down on the spooked mounts and their equally spooked riders, but harming neither.
And then there came another piercing whistle.
Another group of bandits rode in from the west, much closer to the Wilhem’s vessel. They were ten in number but they had brought something with them. It was old, but it still moved and, in likelihood, could still shoot.
A tank from the Civil War.
Still locked to the floor, Wilhem turned to Lovelace stared agog at the reinforced reinforcements.
The shell sped down.
Lovelace snapped an arm out to the control panel.
And the half-train tore off an instant before they were pelted with rocks from the latest explosion that pockmarked the desert, just where they had been.
Lovelace’s hand stayed firm on the big red button that triggered the rockets underneath the vehicle, trusting in German craftsmanship to keep him anchored in the cabin. Wilhem, secured to the floor, engaged a crank wheel and rotated his footing to orient himself with the pursuing tank.
Jack Lighting glanced at the battlefield.Anywhere between two dozen to thirty bandits filled the area to the south and to the west and riding toward Wilhem would just put her in range of the tank and the other horsemen. But the bandits behind her, while mitigating the risk of a group target had also meant that someone quick enough could pick them off one at a time.
The Lightning Marshal pulled hard on the reigns, taking Thunder in a tight wheeling turn and put them both into a charging course toward one of the flanking outlaws. Best to leave the tank to Wilhem, she thought.
Wendell Caine disagreed.
Smokey’s powerful strides sent him and the Mountain Marshal on a direct course for the tank. He still had a ways to go to catch up to it, but he figured Wilhem could keep it busy until he arrived to take it off his hands.
Wilhem had bigger plans than just keeping it busy. The tank was powerful, somewhat quick and packed a wallop, but it was a relic. Wilhem, on the other hand, had thought of bigger things and while it was true that his vehicle sported no weaponry whatsoever, the German Marshal had found the inclusion of guns to be a wasted effort when he himself was a weapons platform.
Lining up the Wave Mortar was going to prove a challenge though. The weapon was meant to be fired from a stable position and while he was, in effect, stapled to the iron floor of the vehicle, it was rocketing across rough Arizona desert, bouncing from ditch to dune. Add to that the speed of their pursuers and it was a shot that was nigh impossible but a Lightning to make.
Wilhem wasn’t a Lightning but all one ever needed in a crisis was a cool head and calculus.
The half train blasted along at 90 miles per hour.
The pursuing tank trundled at 45 miles per hour.
The distance between them was 240 yards and gaining.
The range of the Wave Mortar was a good thousand yards.
Two hundred and sixty yards flashed by and at that moment, Wilhem hit the trigger.
The Wave Mortar launched its shell in booming yet graceful ark as the enemy tank crested another dune. At the apex of its trundling descent, advanced weaponry collided with the relic to a catastrophic explosion.
Debris shot out across the dusty ground, kicking it up and mixing it with an acrid black smoke that billowed out and swallowed the charging Wendell Caine and Smokey as they continued headlong toward the tank.
Lovelace nervously removed his eyes from the control panel and the rapidly approaching horizon to glance at Wilhem.
“Zhat vent better zhan expected…”
The clouds were swept away to reveal the tank dead in its tracks, its armoured hull shredded away and three very confused, and fortunate bandits, alive inside.
Fortunate for a moment.
Wendell Caine leapt off Smokey and landed atop one of the bandits, his arms reaching out for one as he drove his knuckles into another. Dragging the last bandit toward him, the outlaw was introduced to The Mountain Marshal’s forehead with an echoing crack, fell pole-axed.
Caine, like Wilhem, kept a cool head too, though he did use it knock others out cold.
Galloping toward one of the isolated bandits, Jac Lightning, with weapons drawn, sent a bolt dead-centre into his chest, the shock travelling down the horse who reared up and kicked its rider off before he could tumble out of the saddle. At the same time, one of the Lightning Marshal’s legs kicked out over Thunder’s head, placing her side-saddle in the closest instance she’d come to riding like a lady. In this case, the practicality of aiming at the rider behind her left propriety standing at the gate. Her other weapon in hand, another sizzling crackle sounded and another bandit fell.
Another dozen bandits were closing on the Lightning Marshal though and as good as the legend of the Lightning was, it would be even more impressive if she survived. Thunder stayed at full gallop as Jac’s legs kicked again, spinning in the saddle with both hands filled with the Lightning Coil Throwers. The moment she found the stirrups, Thunder pulled a hard right and she set her eyes upon the next outlaw urging his horse and himself to his doom.
The Civil War tank was dead, its pilots knocked out, but there remained the outlaws who were only now catching up to the smoking husk with Wendell Caine still inside. Hurling himself over the jagged metal, he landed and charged the approaching posse, hurling himself right and left as the bullets flew past him.
But some weren’t aimed at him.
Smokey, gambolling after his master wasn’t deterred as dust spat in front of him, but even the 10 foot grizzly bear came to a roaring stop as lead stung his flank. The Mountain Marshal froze in his tracks, head whipping toward his longest companion and oldest friend.
“Smokey! Cover!” he cried as he ran back toward his bear.
Smokey turned and limped his way to the remains of the tank, joined a moment later as Wendell Caine skidded next to him. The bullet was in there alright, but it was not too deep and was a small calibre besides. Smokey let out a rumbling growl.
“Good thinkin’,” Caine said as he cracked his knuckles. “Let them come to us.”
The rockets now spent, Hans Octavius Wilhem disengaged the spurs and stomped back to the control panel. Lovelace managed to unclench his hands and let the Marshal take over.
“Time we headed back, I’d say,” Lovelace said, his keen eyesight taking in the numbers of the outlaws.
“Coming about!” Wilhem called out and the half-train made its turn toward the carnage.
Bullets spat every which way but into Jac Lightning as she spun, twisted and leapt from side to side, her acrobatic riding lost to the approaching outlaws as blue lightning left spots in their eyes and their companions twitching in the dirt. At the exploded tank, Caine hurled himself at the bandits who circled the remains, tackling both horse and rider and not caring a jot about either. Smokey roared and while more bullets flew at him, panic overrode the outlaws’ aim and each swat of his claws left riders clinging both to their horses and their innards. Wilhem’s half-train powered toward the battle, steam billowing out behind him.
There came another piercing whistle.
Both Wilhem and Lovelace looked up.
And both saw, high above them, the underside of an airship moments before an explosion, sent a rain of dirt over them.
Spokey Sampson had arrived.
To be concluded in Part 2
Posted by Wordmobi