After their ordeal in the desert the people, and indeed the cows, of the Lazy S cattle drive are pleased to reach the vicinity of the Confederate base at Roswell on the Pecos river, offering a ready supply of water and their first chance in weeks to stop moving. Abby gets the herd situated in a shallow box canyon near the river while Sutter heads off to see about selling his herd to the Confederate base or to the Dixie Rails railroad. The posse make the acquaintance of one Erasmus Fisk, a scientist with some kind of weird device (is it a sound gun? It looks like it might be handy in a fight, or extremely dangerous to the user and his allies, or both). Fisk’s looking for work to fund continued mad sciencery, as well as the chance to test his messing-with-things-best-left-unmeddled-with device in the field, and our heroes are happy to take on another hand to share their dangerous task, even if it looks like just being for another day or so until the cows are sold. Memories of the zombies are still fresh, and there’s no knowing whether Bayou Vermilion and Black Dog are still trailing the cattle drive and looking for a bit of revenge.
The Lazy S crew enjoy the luxury of an entire night and day without incident, but late on the second night there’s a rumbling as of thunder on the horizon, followed by a flash that seems like it might be a lightning strike. The rumbling continues, however, and the flash on the horizon turns into a steady glow that rises into the sky, and heads in the general direction of the herd, climbing all the while. The cattle are spooked, start to calm a little as the object climbs into the clouds, and then become extremely restless indeed as the object plummets out of the sky jetting flame and smoke and hurtles to the ground about a mile from camp. Luke Canton needs his experienced cowboys to settle the herd and prevent a full-blown stampede, so sends the posse to investigate the whatever-the-hell-that-was crash site.
The crash site isn’t hard to find, as the flaming object has ignited a number of small fires, and our party soon find the wreckage of a rocket pack – and the wreckage of its pilot, a man wearing confederate greys. Our heroes note bullet holes in the jetpack, suggesting it has been shot down by gunfire. Searching the body they find a roll of notes from Deseret, the Mormon territory (which is some ways from here, making its banknotes an unusual thing for a Confederate trooper to be carrying) and some sort of intricate technical drawing, which Fisk thinks may be plans for a ghost-rock-powered automaton. Old Ben’s sharp eyes and suspicious mind find some puzzling details: while the pilot’s jacket is Confederate issue, there appears to be a bullet hole in it which doesn’t have a matching hole in the wearer. And surely those trousers aren’t military issue, but civilian ones dyed to look like confederate uniform pants?
Fisk is keen to drag the jetpack back to camp (because jetpack!), while Ely is concerned that the local authorities won’t look kindly on the removal of military technology from a crash site. While the spirited discussion is taking place the party are surprised by a patrol of Confederate soldiers, and Eli’s attempt to explain their presence is immediately cut short by the command to open fire. It appears this officer is the shoot first, shoot a bit more, and then don’t ask any questions later type.
A short but incredibly vicious gunfight ensues and the Confederate patrol is killed to the last man, but not before an inspired or lucky shot takes Erasmus Fisk dead centre in his forehead, spraying his brains and all his weird sciencey knowledge over the charred furrow left by the crashing jetpack. Fisk is dead before his knees even start to buckle, and there’s nothing the posse can do to save him.
A further spirited discussion ensues, as Old Ben Blanco is now strangely determined to haul the crashed, unflyable, wreckage of the jetpack back to camp. Perhaps he is being haunted by the spirit of Erasmus Fisk, whispering the urge to do some science into his ear. Perhaps he thinks he might get a few dollars scrap value which he can then spend on whiskey. Who can fathom the twisted, labyrinthine, byways of Old Ben’s mind?
Eventually Ben is talked out of this plan by repeated usage of words like “incriminating evidence” and “no!”, and then becomes even more fixated on taking the pilot’s bullet-holed, crash-damaged, and possibly partially fake anyway, Confederate uniform. It seems simpler to let him have his way on this one.
The following morning, as Sutter rides up escorted by grim-faced Confederates who proceed to ransack the camp looking for evidence of involvement in the incident, the uniform proves considerably easier to hide than the jetpack would have, to the relief of the posse.
Even without any proof of involvement however, Sutter is definitely under a cloud in Roswell. The Confederates and the Dixie Rails are no longer interested in buying from him, and it’s made clear that the Lazy S should get out of Roswell in a hurry.