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For All Nails #173: The Rocky Mountain Horror Show

Bald Eagle, California, USM [1]
2 November 1850

A week before, there had been a small but prosperous frontier town here,
nestled in the eastern foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Now the town
was gone: its buildings razed, its men slaughtered, its women ravished and its
children forced to endure whatever horrifying atrocities their new masters
chose to inflict upon them.

>From his tent, two miles away from the smoking ruins of the town, General
FitzJohn Smithers could hear the hoarse bellows of unholy joy from the men and
the cries of pain and fear from the surviving townspeople.

Three months before, they had been a collection of bright, eager young men, the
cream of the Southern Confederation's various provincial militias.  Now, they
were no better than beasts, a modern Hun horde that could outdo the original in
the sheer ferocity of its mindless savagery.  Smithers had watched it happen --
watched as the relentless drive west across the mountains and deserts of Mexico
del Norte ground the men down and eroded away the veneer of civilization,
leaving nothing but animal brutality.

The tent flap twitched open, and two men strode inside.  They were dressed in
tattered rags that had once been the field uniforms of the North Carolina
Provincial Militia.  Their names were Carter and Pyle, and they were the
closest thing to leaders that the howling mob outside possessed.

A feral look gleamed in Serjeant Carter's eyes as he said, "Gen'ral, ya gotta
find us another town, we done jus' about used 'is one up."  The once garrulous
Lance Corporal Pyle simply stood beside Carter and stared at Smithers the way a
hungry wolf stared at a wounded deer.

Smithers had long since given up trying to remind the men of their original
mission - to rescue General David Homer's men from the two Mexican armies that
had trapped them in Williams Pass. [2]  The only thing that interested
Smithers' men was the prospect of more rapine and pillage.

Smithers made a great show of unlocking the wooden chest at the foot of his cot
and withdrawing from it a weathered square of folded rag paper.  The two
savages in their once-proud uniforms gazed at it with nearly superstitious awe.
 With an air of ritual, Smithers unfolded the heavy paper atop the lid of his
chest while Carter and Pyle stood on either side of him.

"Guhhh-leee," Pyle moaned as Smithers spread the precious document open.  It
was a map of the Mexican states of El Norte and California -- the map that had
guided them through their long nightmare trek from Fort Webster. [3]  To Carter
and Pyle it was literally a treasure map, for each dot upon its surface
represented a source of new booty and captives.  For Smithers it represented
life itself -- he alone possessed the arcane knowledge that could translate the
map's lines and dots into real places such as the unlucky Bald Eagle.  It was
this, and this alone, that had kept Smithers from falling victim to the savage
fury -- or hunger -- of the brutes he led, the way the rest of his officers
had.

And what made the situation so terribly ironic was that the map was utterly
worthless.  The men who had drawn it had no access to firsthand information on
the Mexican states, and very likely had never been within a thousand miles of
the Mexican border.  The result was a map that was more a product of fancy and
wishful thinking than of reliable knowledge.  The Sierra Nevadas had been
mislabeled the Sierra Madres, Arizona had been displaced from its position
south of the Rio Grande to someplace west of El Norte, and the course of the
Colorado River bore no relation to the reality.  Smithers had actually been
making for a settlement on the Colorado called Mathers Springs [4] when he
happened upon Bald Eagle -- a town hundreds of miles northwest of Mathers
Springs.

At any rate, they were in Bald Eagle now, and Smithers felt something like hope
for the first time in what seemed like ages.  General Homer's men were in
Williams Pass, and here he was in Bald Eagle, a scant fifty miles away --
practically next door by the standards of the Transmontane West.  All he had to
do now was persuade the barbarian horde at his back to go there.

Slowly reaching out a forefinger, he let the tip rest on the spot marked Bald
Eagle.  "We are here," he pronounced.  "The nearest large town," he moved the
finger an inch to the left, "is here.  San Fernando de Sacramento." [5]

"Yehhhh," breathed Carter, "thass it.  Thassa place.  How we get there,
Gen'ral?"

Smithers turned away from the map and pointed at one of the walls of his tent,
the one he knew faced west.  "That way," he said.  "Up into the mountains,
through the pass, and out the other side.  That'll bring us direct to San
Fernando."

Carter turned suspicious eyes on Smithers.  "You sherr 'bout that, Gen'ral?" 
One hand rested near the knife on his belt, the filigreed surface of its hilt
encrusted with the dried blood of scores of helpless victims.

Speaking with a confidence he didn't feel, Smithers gestured back towards the
chest.  "It's right there on the map, Serjeant."

Carter and Pyle looked at the map for a long time before Carter nodded and
grunted, "Awright.  C'mon, Pyle, less go."  With that, the two men shambled out
of the tent.

When he was certain they were gone, Smithers allowed himself to sag down onto
his cot.  His long nightmare would soon be at an end.  As soon as the men had
exhausted their supply of captives, Carter and Pyle would chivvy them into
setting out over the pass.  With any luck, their arrival would provide Homer
with the opportunity to escape from his trap.

And if he was /really/ lucky, the Mexicans would spare Smithers the need to
bring his savage host back into civilized lands by slaughtering them to the
last man.

Notes:

[1]  OTL Reno, Nevada.

[2]  OTL Donner Pass, California.

[3]  OTL Dodge City, Kansas.

[4]  OTL Las Vegas, Nevada.

[5]  OTL Sacramento, California.  Sobel refers to this town simply as San
Fernando on p. 139, but the full name is necessary to distinguish it from the
former mission settlement of San Fernando Rey de Espaņa near Puerto Hancock.