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Pony Soldiers

Modified on 2011/10/18 11:27 by Kerrick Categorized as Books, Deathlands

   The frontier is always with us, just a little beyond tomorrow's dawn.

   -J.B. Lobkowitz

   The book starts with a young Apache man lying on a rock overlooking a road. He's a scout, watching for a merchant caravan to come by so he can ambush it. The expected trucks come along, but unbeknownst to him, it's a trap - he's shot from behind and killed.
   The companions return to the redoubt in upstate New York after nearly six months away. They head down to the cafeteria and are ambushed by almost a dozen muties. They make short work of their attackers, eat dinner, and go to bed. After breakfast the next morning, they stock up on ammo and head to the gateway to jump out.
   As they walk into the mat-trans chamber, Ryan notices a set of computers that he hadn't seen before. Doc tells them that those computers were controllers for time-trawling. Fascinated, Ryan flips the switches to toggle it, then activates the chamber.
   At it cycles up, another mutie bursts into the room and slashes Jak's arm, then goes after Krysty. She dodges, and the mutie stumbles into the chamber. Doc yells at Lori to slam the door, and the chamber finishes cycling. When the timelapse ends and they can open the door again, there's nothing left but a pile of dust and some blood.
   By mutual consent, they turn it back to mat-trans and make the jump. They end up somewhere that looks vaguely familiar, but Ryan doesn't figure it out until they get to the control room - they're in Alaska. It's very cold, and none of them want to stay, so they jump again.
   This time, they end up somewhere very hot. They explore the redoubt and quickly find that it was hit during the nuking - most of the place is gone, and everyone inside either died in the blast or shortly thereafter.
   Since the place is still highly radioactive, they leave and head down the road. Jak finds the tracks of a mutie cougar that he estimates at around 12 feet long. They stop for the night in a grove of trees, setting watches. Around bedtime, Jak gets up to get more wood for the fire, and Krysty tells Ryan to go after him. Jak ends up falling into a pit trap set for the cougar, breaking a couple ribs, and the cougar attacks Ryan. He kills it and gets Jak out with his friends' help, but Jak has internal bleeding and is dying.
   They rig up a travois and drag him along, hoping to find someone who can help. Long about midday, Ryan spots a butte ahead and goes up to take a look around. He spots a dust cloud heading their way, so they drag Jak to a concealed spot near the trail and wait.
   When the men approach, Ryan jumps up and hails them. The leader (who looks vaguely familiar) signals the men to start shooting. A firefight ensues, but both parties are too well entrenched to dislodge the other. The impasse is broken when a band of Apaches appear on the ridge above the companions. The riders below fire on the Indians, so Doc calls up to them (in Mescalero) and says that they're fighting the men as well. The Indians charge past the companions, firing on the men below, so the companions join them and drive the men away.
   The leader returns to the group and says that his shaman, Man Whose Eyes See More, might be able to help Jak, so they all go to the canyon where the Indians live. After dinner, the chief, Cuchillo Oro, tells them of General Yellowhair, the leader of the riders. They find out that back in the 1990's, the US govenment built a museum nearby; fifty years later, it was taken over by bandits. Yellowhair came along and whipped the men into a highly-organized force who have been skirmishing with the Apaches ever since. In return for helping Jak, Ryan and the others decide to see what they can do about the marauders.
   The next day, they have a council of war, and a plan is hashed out. Two days hence, Ryan, JB, and six of the tribe's best warriors would go riding out to ambush a patrol and see how they fought. They arrive at Many Deer Canyon just ahead of the patrol; Ryan gets into an argument with one of the Apaches, and the warrior goes riding off to prove himself against the soldiers. His brother goes after him; one is killed, and the other captured. The second man is strung up on a frame over a fire and the soldiers start to torture him, but Ryan borrows Cuchillo's buffalo rifle and shoots him.
   They return home and have another council of war. This time, Ryan comes up with a new plan - he's going to send a message to the soldiers to arrange a meeting for a truce, then they'll ambush the men on the way to the meeting and kill their leader. The Apaches tell them of a ghost town about midway, so the companions go to check it out. After they return, Cuchillo asks Ryan where they really came from, so Ryan tells him of the redoubts and gateways. Cuchillo asks if he and his daughter can come along, and Ryan says he'll think about it.
   The next day, Ryan, JB, and Krysty ride out to the town again. The soldiers' leader is expecting a trap (as any intelligent person would); his men capture Ryan and bring him back to the fort. He's tossed into a cell, and Yellowhair himself comes to visit. Ryan suddenly recognizes him - it's Cort Strasser.
   Back at the camp, Krysty and Donfil get the feeling that Ryan's in deep trouble, and she finally realizes that Yellowhair is Strasser. Their only hope is to send someone in after him, but Strasser knows most of the group, so Jak has to go. He poses as a lone mercenary and gets into the compound.
   Meanwhile, Ryan is set up to fight one of Strasser's men, a brute name Rourke. Strasser intends for Ryan to get beaten down, but Ryan kills the man instead. Strasser, in a rage, throws Ryan back into his cell and tortures him.
   That night, Strasser takes his newest recruit (Jak) to see him torture his prisoner to death. Once they're in the cell, Jak overpowers Strasser and knocks him out, then drags him to another cell and tosses the key inside. The two then escape the fort and ride back to the Apache camp with Strasser's men hot on their heels. The rest of the companions, along with some of the Apaches, ride out to meet them halfway and hold off the soldiers long enough to return to the camp and set up an ambush.
   When the soldiers arrive at the Apache camp, it appears empty - everyone's pulled back to the far end. The soldiers ride right into a hail of gunfire, and most of them are slaughtered. Strasser manages to climb up one of the sheer walls and gets away, and a few men are captured.
   The prisoners are tortured that night; the companions are invited to watch, but they're quickly disgusted by the spectacle and leave. Ryan alone stays to avoid giving offense, but he decides that Cuchillo can't come along.
   The next morning, the companions leave. When they return to the redoubt, they find Donfil there waiting for them - he wants to come along, so they let him.

DEATHLANDS, OUTLANDERS, EARTH BLOOD, and JAMES AXLER are all the property of Gold Eagle / Worldwide Library, and are used here strictly under Fair Use guidelines.
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