Blood Drive

Chapter One - the journey begins
Sutter's desperate for hands, and these guys will have to do

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Early Spring, in southwest Texas. The very small town of Sutter’s Flats – one general store, one saloon, and a whole lot of nothin’ else. It’s close to the Mexican border, about 100 west of San Antonio, and close to, but not actually on, the Bayou Vermilion railroad. A small group of travellers, having seen the sights of Sutter’s Flats (it took all of two minutes) are sitting in the Lonely Crow tavern wondering what to do with themselves when they’re approached by a leathery old cowboy-looking fella:

“Howdy! My name’s Bill Sutter. I know most everyone hereabouts and I didn’t recognize you, so I wanted to say “Welcome to Sutter’s Flats.” Just to clear things up, the town’s named after my daddy. He was the first settler in this area, but that’s as far as my connection goes.
Aw, Hell. I ain’t no good at small talk. I’m lookin’ for some extra hands. I’m gettin’ ready to pull up stakes. Bayou Vermilion has got a stranglehold on the cattle trade ’round these parts, due to being the only railroad within hundreds of miles, and calling the prices they offer “highway robbery” is an insult to bandits. That bein’ the case, I’m gonna take my herd and leave, so to speak.
I’ve got a solid crew, but I’m shy a few. I’m lookin’ for experienced trail riders, but I’ll settle for anybody who knows which end of a gun the bullet comes out of. But pickin’s is gettin’ slim and I want to get on the trail before we get too far into spring, so if I can’t get that, I’ll make do with breathin’. Nobody comes to Sutter’s Flat if they’ve got anywhere else to be, so I figured I’d make you the offer.”

Our heroes, having indeed nothing better to do and nowhere in particular better to be, talk Sutter into paying slightly higher wages than he was hoping to and sign up. They’ll be paid $35 a month for the duration of their employment, with horses and food provided by the Lazy S. There’s a month or so’s work to be done around the ranch to prepare for the drive, which is planned to be along the Goodnight-Loving Trail towards Denver or the Confederate base at Roswell. They’ll be bunking at the ranch, and they can start work tomorrow morning.

The first task Sutter puts the posse to is a relatively tame one: breaking horses, under the direction of Luke Canton, Sutter’s right-hand cowboy. It doesn’t go particularly well, but eventually between them our heroes break five mustangs to the saddle and gain themselves an interesting collection of sprains and bruises. Canton then gives them the chance to try to break “Devil Eyes”, a mare who seems to be unbreakable. She’s a large, coal-black animal with a mean look in her eyes, who seems to take a hellish glee in throwing riders. Canton’s best cowboys have failed to break her so far, but he’s willing to give the posse a try at her if anyone’s got the huevos for it.

Remarkably, with the aid of intimidation, a muttered prayer from the Reverend Bly, and possibly a sly punch to the head before mounting, Martin Chavez succeeds in breaking the unbreakable horse and is given her for his own by an impressed Luke Canton. One of the posse at least has gained a little respect around the Lazy S.

The following few days sees the posse riding the ranch, trying to trace and round up wandering cattle. The work is pretty brutal, with the hands working six-and-a-half-day weeks from sunup to sunset; as well as rounding up the cattle there’s gear to be maintained and repaired, branding to be done, and the edges of the herd have to be ridden to deter predators. The new hands find it heavy going, and even Old Ben Blanco, who’s tried his hand at many hard jobs over the years, is soon showing the effects of fatigue.

A few days later our heroes encounter a nest of Terrantulas, but manage to overcome the dog-sized spiders with the help of Chavez’s blazing six-gun, Ely Bly’s righteousness, and Ben Blanco’s frontier grit and borderline alcoholism.

phelps.JPG Soon after their arachnoid interlude the posse witness an enounter at the Lazy S ranch between Sutter and a dandified-looking gunfighter by the name of Bartholomew Phelps. Phelps tells Sutter he’s come to buy the cattle at the “agreed-upon” (and insultingly-low) price of five dollars a head, but is sent packing by Sutter. He doesn’t seem inclined to press the matter, having only six men with him and being surrounded by Lazy S hands, but it’s clear the issue isn’t over. The posse’s attention is drawn to one of Phelp’s companions, an older-looking Indian dressed in a threadbare Confederate jacket decorated with bangles and fetishes. Enquiring about him they discover that Black Dog is an old Comache raider with no love for Sutter, as Sutter was part of the posse who ran him down back in ‘73. Black Dog apparently signed on with the Confederacy for clemency, but they cut him loose after a while and it seems he’s signed on with Bayou Vermilion.

Sutter asks the posse to escort his niece Abby into town the following day, with good reason as it turns out as they soon run into Phelps at the general store. Phelps and his men pick a fight, but with Phelps gunned down his men decline to press the issue.

Bill Sutter decides that with Bayou Vermilion having taken the gloves off it’s past time to get the hell out of Sutters Flats, and accelerates his preparations. The cattle drive will be hitting the trail tomorrow.

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Chapter One, Part Two - the actual journey actually begins
Beans. Lots of beans. Also, zombies.

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After a final frantic day of preparations Sutter’s cattle drive gets underway. The posse take up their assigned positions: right at the back.

Swing, Flank, and Drag

The Lazy S riders are split between riding point, swing, and flank. The point riders are the most experienced hands outside the trail boss. They have the coveted spot at the head of the herd and keep the lead steers headed in the right direction. They also set the pace for the drive. Luke Canton is almost always assigned to one of the point positions. Swing men ride in pairs, one on each side about a third of the way back along the herd, and keep things moving. The flank riders are usually positioned in a pair about two-thirds of the way back and are responsible for wrangling in cattle that drift off to one side or the other of the main body. As the least experienced, the posse is given the job of “riding drag” on the drive which means they follow directly behind it. Drag riders are responsible for picking up any stragglers and driving the slower cattle at the herd’s pace. They also get to breathe the dust and flatulence of several thousand cows and beeves, so it’s pretty much the bottom of the totem pole on the drive. There’s another reason Sutter places the heroes in the drag position. It’s the most likely direction for Indian raiders, rustlers, or outlaws to strike the herd, as they can often get in and back out before the rest of the crew even realizes an attack is underway. Sutter’s hands may know cattle, but they’re not necessarily seasoned gunhands. The rancher is banking that at least a few of the posse are—that’s why he hired them, after all!

As well as all those cows there’s also a small herd of horses, known as the remuda. Each cowboy has a string of five or six remounts, some of which may be specialised horses with specific traits for specific jobs, which adds up to several dozen horses under the care of Sutter’s niece Abby. During the day they’re usually near the chuck wagon, and at night they’re in a rope corral near the camp.

Speaking of the chuck wagon, this is the domain of Javier Ortega, a former mexican soldier and the cook of the Lazy S. The chuck wagon is a marvel of ingenuity and organisation, with cubbies holding everything from salt and lard to tobacco and castor oil. The “boot” under the wagon holds skillets, pans, and Ortega’s prized dutch oven.
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Ortega pulls the longest days of anyone in the Lazy S, up before the dawn to prepare breakfast, driving his wagon ahead of the herd to set up camp, and only turning in once the last hands have been fed and have bedded down for the night. His last job is always to point the wagon tongue at the North star, to orient the herd in the morning in case the sky is overcast.
Ortega’s cuisine runs heavily to beans. On rare occasions there might possibly be a bit of meat in there too, but mostly it’s beans. They’re nutritious, tasty, relatively easy to transport and prepare; what’s not to like? Weeks down the line this will lead to the posse spending their own money on a variety of non-bean ingredients for Javier to use.

A few days into the journey, with Sutter and Luke Canton away scouting the next waterhole, Bayou Vermilion and Black Dog make their first attack. Black Dog supports the attack with his fear power and by sniping with his Winchester, while Bayou Vermilion gun thugs attack the camp. Some of the gunmen seem a little unusual though, and when they come close enough to be seen a wave of panic runs through the defenders. Bayou Vermilion’s shock troops are reanimated corpses! Jon600.jpgThis causes some disquiet to our heroes as well as the Lazy S trail hands: after the fight it’s seen that an inch wide streak of Martin Chavez’s jet black hair, running back from his temple, has turned stark white. This adds to his already unsettling appearance, what with the scar and the killer’s eyes, to make him quite intimidating.
The Lazy S cowboys take some casualties and our heroes take a couple of wounds, but the Bayou Vermilion gunmen are eventually driven off. The zombies know no fear and so have to be gunned down one by one, and Black Dog vanishes without a trace, without even leaving tracks. One of the Lazy S cowboys distinguishes himself by making a spectacularly successful shot during the fight, becoming known as Dead Eye Pete (and getting his own character token and everything!)

Sutter and Canton rejoin the cattle drive with bad news: there’s a long dry spell ahead. Ben Blanco starts to develop suspicions about Sutter in the recesses of his whisky-soaked mind, as he’s now been absent for two gunfights with Bayou Vermilion.

The cattle drive pushes on, across a parched land, with the few watering holes little more than mud puddles. They rewater at the well of an abandoned house, locked from the inside with no occupants to be found and the remains of a meal still on the table. It’s unsettling, but no explanation is found. Pushing on, travelling at night when it’s cooler, with water rationed and the cattle thirsty, the Lazy S drive reaches a tributary of the Colorado river. Our heroes have a lot of trouble controlling the water-maddened cattle, but eventually reach the river without the herd stampeding. While shepherding the cows across though, the party are surprised by a mass of deadly water moccasins. They suspect the hand of Black Dog at work, especially as the reverend seems unable to reach them with beast friend, but Eli is able to call on the Lord in other ways, helping to separate the snakes from the posse and avoiding any fatalities.

The cattle drive pushes on, towards Roswell, New Mexico, where Sutter has hopes of selling his cows to the Confederate army.

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Chapter One, Part Three - the Roswell Incident
Erasmus Fisk, we hardly knew ye. Also, rocket pack!

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.

jetpack_crash.JPG 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.

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