Bus Ride Fantasy

Skyrim FanFiction, Skyrim Erotica, and More

Revolution in the Desert

The stranger came into Bisbee at midnight. He was riding an exhausted Appaloosa that died ten seconds after being tethered to the front of the hotel. The man ignored his mount’s demise. He unclipped his canvas pack from the sweat-lathered corpse, slung it over one shoulder, and walked inside. Richard saw all of this from his table in the back corner of the room. He knew the stranger had come for him.

The man wore a tan, double-breasted leather jacket that was sun bleached and crusted from the hard Arizona sun. It was the type of coat the cavalry used during the Great War. Black hair dropped from beneath his wide-brimmed hat in a mess of greasy curls. He had a Schofield no. 3 revolver strapped high on his hip, the way soldiers wear them. Richard could tell he’d used the gun on men before. There was something about the way a killer carried himself, tight in the shoulders and loose in the fingers, ready for anything.

Without setting his bag down, which was full of something large and heavy, the stranger went to the bar, demolished four shots of whiskey, and crossed the room to Richard’s table.

“Are you the man with the steam buggy?” His accent betrayed his ragged clothing and sun-baked skin. He was from the north.

Richard wanted to pretend he wasn’t that man, because the stranger in front of him smelled like whiskey and death. He would bring trouble, men like him always do. But Richard made his living shuttling dangerous men across the Arizona desert. High prices and no questions, that was his business model. And business had been slow the past few months.

“I am,” Richard said, taking a sip from his own glass of whiskey. “Name’s Richard Barkman.”

The stranger dropped his bag with a heavy thud on the cheap wooden floor of the saloon and took the empty chair across from Richard. He pulled a map from an inner pocket on his jacket and spread it across the table, weighing down either end with Richard’s whiskey glass and bottle.

The map was a custom drawing of southeast Arizona, complete with all the rail lines and known Apache encampments from Tucson to Mexico. Richard had never seen anything like it. It must have cost a pretty penny.

“Can you get me to this point,” the man jabbed his finger into a rail track outside Tucson, “by ten o’clock tomorrow morning?”

Richard took a minute to consider the distance. It looked to be a little over one hundred miles, and through rough desert terrain. It would have been a two day ride by horse with a good chance of both horse and rider winding up dead, or with the rider scalped by Apache and the horse stolen. In Richard’s steam buggy the journey would only take a few hours. No risk of an Apache ambush, either. The buggy was the fastest moving vehicle within six hundred miles. Horse, train, or otherwise. An airship could outrun him, but they didn’t frequent Bisbee.

“If we leave at dawn and drive at full-tilt, we should make it there by ten, long as the buggy doesn’t break down,” Richard said, scratching his beard as he talked, trying to seem unsure. He did not want the man in his buggy.

“I need a yes or a no.”

“There’s no way to be sure about something like this.”

“Will five thousand dollars make you sure?” The man said it so casually that Richard did not take him seriously.

“For five grand, I can get you from here to San Francisco by ten o’clock,” Richard said, pulling back from the table and taking another pull from his whiskey. The map curled over without the weight, and the man quickly tucked it away.

“Good,” he said, standing up. He pulled a wad of cash from his jacket and dropped it on the table. It was more money than Richard had ever seen at one time. He glanced around to make sure nobody was watching and found the dim saloon empty except for the bartender, who was turned the other way and rinsing glasses.

“That’s two thousand.  You get the other three when we get to that spot on the tracks. Tell no one where we’re going, or the deal is off and I’ll kill you. Wake up the mechanic in this town and use some of that money to make sure the buggy is ready. We leave at dawn.” The man spoke clearly and methodically, as if death threats were a regular part of conversation. He picked up his bag and turned to leave.

“What’s your name?” Richard asked, trying to hide the fear in his voice. The man stopped but did not turn around.

“Call me Jackson,” he said.

***

Lord Reginald Cornbriar despised trains. They were loud, dirty, and filled with commoners. Even in this one, which had been cleared out for his journey, he could smell the traces of their cheap coats and sweating bodies. The first class car was a disgrace. His lunch had been more or less inedible, tea time nonexistent, and the glass of champagne he’d ordered for dinner was one-quarter charcoal soot.

As the night thickened beyond his side window, Cornbriar considered the past few weeks. The Orient had been a disaster. What should have been a simple pick-up had turned into an all out bloodbath in the streets of Beijing. Who would have thought the Chinamen would put up such a fight over something they barely understood? Of course, greed was a powerful motivator, Cornbriar understood that better than most.

The steam ship across the Pacific was no better than the massacre in Beijing. Cornbriar’s ship had been victim constant attacks by the Chinese navy, one of which forced him to actually use to item he’d been sent to retrieve—five Chinese cruisers left stranded on the Pacific, their steam engines mashed into metallic balls. The Queen would not be happy when she heard about that little detail. They were floating evidence of the power England now held. Perhaps there would be some way to leave it out of his report.

Once they arrived in San Francisco, Cornbriar had been immediately shuffled on to the train of which he was presently a passenger. He wondered why the Colonies hadn’t bothered to send an airship for him. He’d have been in New York by now, and that much closer to England, instead of careening through the middle of the god-forsaken desert. Of course, the train was packed full of his majesty’s royal bodyguards, all of them armed to the teeth, but they would hardly have been necessary if he’d been able to simply fly over the danger in the first place.

Did the Colonies not know the value of what he carried? Probably not, Cornbriar decided, settling himself back into his cushioned seat. Because if they did know, they would have definitely sent an airship to make sure there wasn’t any trouble. They’re all peasants, Cornbriar thought, suited for farming and internal bickering, not clandestine operations and intrigue.

****

Richard’s buggy broke around eight in the morning, just as the sun was becoming an issue. They’d been making good time until a blown O-ring caused one of the pistons to stick, overheating the engine in a matter of minutes.

At first, Jackson waited in the passenger seat without saying anything as Richard attempted to repair the problem. After Richard’s struggle dragged on for a few minutes, Jackson stepped out of the buggy, deftly drew his Schofield from its holster, and pointed it at Richard’s face.

“You have one more minute to get this buggy running again,” Jackson said, using the same tone with which he might ask someone to pass the butter at dinner.

Richard panicked for a moment, but did not allow it to get the better of him. Men had pointed guns at him before, and he had learned that losing composure never helped the situation. He took a deep breath, focused, and managed to fit the new O-ring into place. They both got back into the buggy and continued in silence, but Richard noticed that Jackson had not re-holstered his pistol. It was still in his hand, cocked and pointed at Richard’s belly. He realized that if the man was prepared to shoot him in the middle of the desert over a blown O-ring, he was probably prepared to shoot him over anything.

Five thousand dollars being one of them.

As Richard brought the buggy back up to full speed, expertly shifting gears and dodging rock outcroppings, he tried to think of ways out of the mess he’d gotten himself into. He figured he could try crashing the buggy, and hope to come out on top—maybe, with some luck, killing Jackson in the process—but then he’d be stuck in the middle of the desert with a wrecked buggy. He might not be killed by Jackson and his Schofield, but he would certainly wind up dead, either by Apache or the rays of the sun. His only chance was to take Jackson to the train tracks and look for a chance to escape in the buggy when they got there.

Jackson checked his map periodically, and must have realized they were making good time and would arrive at the tracks ahead of schedule because he seemed to relax, although he kept his gun drawn.

“How’d you come to own such a rare machine?” Jackson asked.

Richard was taken off guard.  Jackson had, up to that point, shown no interest in anything except arriving at the train tracks on time. Richard generally kept the origins of his buggy a secret, but figured if there was a time for honesty, this was it.

“My father was a steam engineer for the Southern Colonies. He designed turbines and generators mostly, but built this prototype dune-buggy as a side-project. The wheels and shock absorbers were the hardest part. Normal wheels would sink or melt in these conditions.”

“How come he isn’t the one driving it?”

“He was killed in the fire bombings of Memphis, at the end of the Great War.”

Jackson didn’t respond for a few seconds, taking some time to scan the golden and disant horizon to his right. “A lot of people died in those bombings,” he said finally. “The Northern Colonies killed an entire company of their own men when they saw the Southy soldiers breaking through the lines. In retrospect it was a decision that probably won the war, but I remember feeling otherwise at the time.”

“You were at the Memphis firebombing?”

“I was,” Jackson said, but didn’t elaborate. “Anyway, if you’re father died in Memphis, how’d you end up in Bisbee?”

“The buggy was designed for desert transportation. My father figured they could be used to move supplies from Texas up to the front lines, if it came to that. The buggy wasn’t much use in the Tennessee Mountains. I came out here after the Unification, figured I could make a buck or two shuttling people to California who didn’t want to use the trains. Still plenty of folks that don’t like the Northern Government telling them what they can and can’t do.”

“Outlaws, you mean.”

“You tell me,” Richard responded. “Most of them dress like you.”

Richard wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Jackson smile.

***

Cornbriar awoke from a nightmare covered in sweat and crunched into side of the train. He dreamed he’d been captured in Beijing and taken to an underground torture chamber to be tested on like a guinea pig.

“Bloody hell,” he murmured. The bodyguard standing in the aisle looked down on him with manufactured concern. These men were soldiers, unaccustomed to waiting on the upper classes.

“May I get you anything, your Lordship?” he asked. There were five bodyguards in his car alone, dozens more spread throughout the train, which had been emptied of civilians for the journey. They all dressed in the same dark overcoat, bowler hat, and cheap suit—each of them carrying a Winchester rifle and pair of Peacemaker pistols. Fools, Cornbriar thought. It was just like England to outfit their men with the latest and the best of an antiquated type of weapon. He would change all of that. Steam armaments were the future. If they only knew how their pitiful weapons compared to the device he carried.

“Just some tea, if you can find a decent cup in this wretched metal tube,” Cornbriar responded without looking at the guard, who grunted in acknowledgement and disappeared down the aisle, moving towards the dining car.

After the guard was gone, Cornbriar sat up in his seat and smoothed his pants and jacket. He wondered where they were. Although, if he knew the name it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. His geographical knowledge of the colonies was mediocre at best. Plus they were always fighting wars between each other; wars of annexation and then wars of unification. The Great War seemed to have settled them down for a while, but Cornbriar knew that wouldn’t last long. The division between them was ingrained in the bones of their history like syphilis.

North versus South. Who honestly gave a damn? Their bickering allowed England to continue exerting control upon them, however. That was something.

As he waited for his tea, Cornbriar reached into his pocket and idly fingered the device he’d retrieved from China. Of course, they’d made a big show of keeping a safe in the rear car under close guard and heavy lock, all smoke and mirrors, though. Not even the guards knew the actual cargo was the size of a pocket watch and in his pocket.

So much power in so small an item. Truly remarkable, he thought. The world was going to change, and the catalyst was in the palm of his hand. In two months, he’d be able to replicate the device a hundred times over. Europe would fall beneath England’s power within months.

***

Jackson saw they had arrived first, and motioned with his left hand to ease back on the throttle.

“Pull behind that outcropping,” he said.

Richard obeyed, guiding the buggy to the base of a large rock protruding from the earth then turning off the engine. The pistons continued to tick and sputter as steam rose lightly from the rear exhaust tubes. Jackson stepped out of the buggy, showing no signs of stiffness from the long drive, and checked his watch.

“Ten minutes,” he said to himself. He moved to the rear of the buggy and pulled his pack from the luggage compartment. Richard hadn’t asked what was in the bag—another part of his business model—so he looked on with interested as Jackson opened it.

Jackson knelt down and unclipped the multiple straps of the bag with expert efficiency; it was clearly a process he’d completed many times before. When the clips had been undone, he shucked the canvas down and Richard finally got a look at what was inside.

A massive steam cannon.

Richard had heard of them before, his father had tinkered with the idea for years. This one had a large-bore barrel with the stock built into the bottom so that the canon could be held on top of a man’s shoulder.

Jackson laid the canon down on the canvas sack and pulled out several steel-mesh tubes and a set of tools. He used the tools to attach the tubes to sockets located on either end of the long barrel.

“I need you to remove the steam-cache from your buggy and bring it to me,” Jackson said, already on his feet and moving to the top of the outcropping.

Richard nodded and went back to the buggy. Realizing this may be his last chance to escape, he casually positioned himself next to the driver’s seat, pretending to begin removing the steam-cache, and then looked up at Jackson.

He was looking down on him from the outcropping, the massive gun in one hand, pointed to the sky, and the Schofield no. 3 pointed at Richard.

“What are you waiting for?” Jackson asked.

Defeated, Richard unhooked the steam-cache, rendering the buggy immobile until it was reattached and synchronized with the engine, a process that took two full minutes. He wasn’t going anywhere unless Jackson allowed it.

He brought the steam-cache to the top of the rock and passed it to Jackson, who set it down into a nook and attached both tubes to the ports meant for his buggy’s engine. Richard looked out over the basin in front of him and saw the train tracks about a hundred yards away from their position. In the distance, the wisp of an approaching train’s exhaust puffed steadily into the sky.

Jackson finished attaching all of the tubes, and then opened the steam-cache ports, the dials on the side of the canon jumped to attention.

“I thought you were trying to hop a train to San Francisco.”

“You thought wrong,” Jackson said, eyes on the train as it got closer.

Jackson squatted low to the ground and hoisted the steam cannon over his right shoulder. With a flick of his thumb, a sight popped out of the cannon’s side, aligning perfectly with Jackson’s cold blue eye.

“I know that you think I’m going to kill you,” Jackson said, pulling the cannon off his shoulder again and making some minor adjustments with the sight. “But I have no interest in your life, or keeping that five thousand dollars. Once I’m done with your steam-cache you can use it to drive back to that gutter you came from.”

Richard had no intention of returning to Bisbee ever again. Five thousand dollars would buy him permanent residence in San Francisco. He was leaving the desert behind. “I’d like to believe you, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t,” Richard said.

Jackson pulled the cannon back onto his shoulder.

“I will,” he said.

The train drew closer and began making a lazy turn to the east through the open desert, revealing its right side to Richard and Jackson. The silver sides of the cars shimmered gracefully in the sun like a metal snake.

“It was beautiful, you know.” Jackson said as the train churned towards them.

“What was?”

“The firebombing of Memphis. I was moving out of a ravine when it started. The concussions sounded like some tormented god being unleashed upon the world. I climbed up to a ridge and watched the city being destroyed a few miles away. Fire was everywhere. It was just…everywhere.”

The train straightened out on the flat desert earth. It would pass parallel to their position—an easy target by any standards.

“Why are you doing this? What’s on that train?” Richard asked, realizing that Jackson was probably the most dangerous man he’d ever met.

“Knowing the reason wouldn’t make it any better. Reasons don’t change what you call a thing. Memphis was a massacre. This is robbery.”

“Not everything is that simple. You said yourself that Memphis won the war.”

“Massacres end wars as good as they start them. Doesn’t change their name.”

When the head car was almost even with their position, Richard watched Jackson’s muscles tense and heard him take in a heavy breath. For an instant, it seemed like the train’s methodical churning was the only sound for miles.

Jackson fired the steam-canon and sent a massive wave of energy blasting along the open plain. Two jets of sand burst high into the air in the wake of the shot, which landed dead-center in the locomotive. The car was flung from the rails and turned on its side as if it had been punted by a giant. The front of the second car popped off the rails too, digging into the sand and lumbering into a horizontal spin. Within a few dozen yards, all the cars had crumpled to a stop. Steam and sand rose skyward, enveloping the scene of destruction in a yellow mist.

Jackson dropped the steam cannon and was on his feet moving towards the train before Richard had a chance to react. He walked quickly but deliberately, his Schofield drawn and aimed towards the wreckage.

“Better get working on that steam-cache,” he called without turning around. “The rest of your money is in the buggy.”

Richard looked from the cannon to Jackson’s back, which was disappearing into the rising mist. He did not move.

Up ahead, Richard could just barely make out small black figures emerging from the twisted car, they scattered like ants reacting to a large but unknown danger. Jackson’s coat blended into the blowing sand like a jaguar’s hide in the night, and he was in pistol range before they spotted him. He fired six rounds in quick succession, throwing a man to the ground with each shot. Richard had never seen a man shoot like that.

The men who hadn’t been shot dead were slow reacting to the gunfire. They were still dazed and disoriented from the crash, some of them panicked and fired aimlessly into the rising wall of sand. Jackson reloaded his pistol and moved towards the third car, fast and low to the ground.

Coming to his senses, Richard unhooked the steam cache from the cannon and clambered down the side of the outcropping to his buggy. As he worked on the reattachment, gunfire filled the air behind him. The reports of the men’s Colts and Winchesters sounded like pop guns shot by children compared with Jackson’s booming and merciless Schofield.

****

Lord Cornbriar had lost consciousness when the blast derailed the train. He awoke with his face on the floor, watching the black boots of a bodyguard squirming through a broken window to his left. Three others stood over him in a circle, all facing different direction, their rifles upright and steady.

“What’s happened?” Cornbriar demanded of the group above him. “Have we hit something?”

Before any of the guards could answer, six shots rang out, the sound echoing through the train’s small metal cabin.

“More like something’s hit us,” said one guard, cocking his rifle and chambering a round. “Stay down, my Lord. You’ll be protected inside here. We’ve got all the angles covered.”

The cabin’s walls echoed with the sounds of gunfire. Cordite filled the air. Cornbriar could tell that whoever was attacking them, they were winning, and he began once again to finger the metal object in his pocket, as he had on the open ocean. The gunfire moved down the train, towards one of the rear cars.

“They’re going for the safe. That car’s filled with ten armed men. They’ll get ‘em,” one guard said, his voice not nearly as confident as his words.

The gunfire picked up again, this time the sound clearly muffled by another car. Cornbriar could hear screaming and other noises of terror. He unclipped the metal slide along the device, placing his finger on the button.

A bodyguard burst through the connecting door, emptying his revolver before the door closed fully behind him. He scrambled to his feet and retreated back towards Cornbriar and his three guards, making a mess of reloading his pistol.

“He moves too fast,” the guard said, breathless. “Can’t get a clear shot.”

“It’s just one man?” Cornbriar asked.

“He’s killed them all. Christ, the entire car of men. Once his gun was empty he finished the rest of them with a bowie knife the size of an axe—” The man was interrupted by the Schofield’s report, booming in groups of two.

“He’s coming this way,” the frightened guard said. “Steady lads, steady. He’ll try to bum-rush us. Spread your fire out, he moves like a goddamned lion.”

All four men trained their rifles on the car door. The gunfire had stopped and they could hear the hiss of steam being released from the cracked locomotive behind them. To hell with this, Cornbriar said to himself. He pulled the device from his pocket, closed his eyes, and tried to squeeze down.

A bullet from the Schofield tore through his hand before he had the chance, blowing his thumb and the object down the back of the train. Cornbriar looked at his ruined hand in horror as the men above him fell almost in unison. Their fingers falling lifelessly away from their triggers, eyes still open.

Jackson dropped from the roof-hatch behind the guards. The metal heels of his boots clicked against the floor as he moved to the device’s resting place. He reached down casually, grabbed it, and stowed it in his breast pocket.

“Hello, Reginald,” Jackson said, reloading his pistol and moving towards the kneeling man. Instinctively, Cornbriar began to retreat in the opposite direction. Jackson raised his pistol to halt him. “Don’t let your dignity get away with everything else.”

“Who are you?” Cornbriar asked, trying to compose himself.

“Don’t you recognize me? It hasn’t been that long.” Jackson said, lifting his hat and allowing a beam of sun to catch his features. Cornbriar’s eyes widened as he recognized the man before him. An old killer from an old world.

“Waylon Jackson. I should have known you’d have a hand in this. What’re they paying you for such a reckless slaughter? Whatever it is, it’s not enough. You’ve no idea what that piece of metal is capable of.” Reginald thought a bribe might be in order.

Jackson smiled and removed the object from his pocket, weighing it gently in his hand.

“Of course I do.”

Jackson leaned down over Cornbriar. “I’m going to let you live, but not out of mercy or pity. You will survive this because you still have a purpose to serve in this affair. I want you to go back to your Queen as an empty-handed failure. Tell her that the Colonies are her pawns no longer. We are free. If she wants to contest that matter, she can trek her army across the ocean and we can have a fight.” He looked down at the object. “In the meantime, I’ll hold on to this.”

Standing up straight again, Jackson holstered his pistol. “Of course, I need to make sure I’ve got the real thing,” he said, smirking. “What’s the size of the epicenter? Larger than this car, I hope.”

Cornbriar just nodded, realizing what was about to happen.

Jackson pressed down on the button, keeping his eyes on Cornbriar. The object vibrated rapidly in his hand and then released a shockwave of energy, rattling the sides of the train and expanding out across the desert.

Richard Barkman was almost a mile away from the train when the shockwave overran him and imploded his steam engine.

***

The captain of the Northern Colony’s airship, Graydon Steele, watched the shockwave spreading across the desert through his telescoping lens. Two miles above ground and safely out of range to the west, Graydon could only admire the power and terror rolling along the sand below. The train’s steam engine imploded and then released a geyser of boiling water thirty feet into the air when the pressures became too great. Every car except the second became twisted and deformed by an invisible force. Jackson had described the event to him beforehand, but the reality was profoundly more striking. It was a power only gods were supposed to wield.

As planned, Graydon ordered the ship lowered to the wreckage after the explosion had cleared. From the deck, he could see that the ground was littered with bodies. A man emerged from one of the front cars that had been twisted off the rails, and Graydon quickly indentified him as Waylon Jackson. There were not many men who could walk through a scene of destruction with such cold-hearted confidence.

One of the deckhands lowered the rope ladder and Jackson pulled himself aboard. Graydon walked over and embraced his old friend.

“Everything went according to plan?” he asked.

“I’ve left Cornbriar in the car. As long as he’s smart enough to bring some water with him, he’ll be able to follow the tracks into Tucson. We’ll be across into Illinois before he has a chance to alert anyone.”

“And…the device?”

Jackson showed him the object briefly, and then returned it to his pocket.

“How long before it can be activated again?” Graydon asked.

“To be used to full effect, thirty minutes.”

“We could destroy the entire British Armada in an afternoon,” Graydon said, feeling a rush of excitement in his stomach.

Jackson nodded and moved towards the side railing. Graydon flipped his hand, signaling for the deck hands to pull up the ladder and rise to cruising altitude. In the distance, Jackson could see Richard and his buggy, immobilized and sad. He stopped a passing deckhand.

“When we pass over that man in the distance, parachute an extra steam cache down to him.”

“Yes sir, certainly sir,” the deckhand said, eager to obey but not understanding the purpose of the order.

As the airship passed by overhead, Jackson gave a casual salute to the man below.

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2 comments on “Revolution in the Desert

  1. Carlos Murrain
    March 15, 2013

    This was as good as all your other stories, as expected from such a talented author I suppose, lol. Please continue to keep writing, and thank you for letting us read your literature.

    • Fargoth
      March 15, 2013

      Thank you! That was one of the first things that I wrote!

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This entry was posted on October 1, 2012 by in Steampunk.

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