In Jack's estimation they should have been nearly to Denver when the train lurched to a stop.
"I wonder what's wrong," Doctor Carter said as she peered out the window. "It's gotten awfully dark and stormy looking."
Jack leaned over and looked for himself. "Sure has. The wind's whippin' pretty good too."
"Do you think it might be a tornado?"
"I dunno. I'll go check it out." He got up and walked down the aisle to the door. Several other curious passengers followed him.
"Be careful, Marshal," she called after him.
He stepped off the train and had to quickly put a hand on his hat to keep it from flying away in the wind that tugged mightily at his clothes. He looked up at the sky toward Denver. Sinister, dark clouds were forming faster and more furious than he'd ever seen before. Lightening arched constantly in the sky.
He moved toward a group of men, including the conductor, engineer, several porters, and a couple of passengers, that were all staring at the strange sky in awe.
"Ain't never seen a storm like that," one of the porters said. All the others nodded in agreement.
Jack stared at the storm. It looked unnatural. And it gave him a really bad feeling. "We shouldn't stay here. Something's not right."
"Well, we can't go back," the engineer said.
Jack stood there a moment longer, before he let that instinct that had saved his life more than once take over. He turned away and rushed back on the train to Doctor Carter. "We've got to go."
"Why? What's happening?" she asked in alarm.
"What's in those?" he asked pointing to the leather valise and brown paper wrapped package beside her.
"Clothes and personal items."
"Bring 'em if you can carry them and climb."
"Trouble is coming. We've got to go now," he told her in his sternest command voice.
Thankfully, the good little general's daughter snapped to it and pulled out a large shawl from her valise. She quickly contrived a way to wrap up her bag and parcel in it and tied it to her back. Jack threw his saddle bags and bedroll over his shoulder and picked up his rifle. "Let's go."
He helped Doctor Carter off the train on the mountain side of the track. She glanced up at the sky, "Holy Hannah!" The darkness in the sky had spread and the lightening was even more intense. "This is no regular storm."
Jack unbound his bed roll and handed the shotgun that had been hidden there to her. It was a lot easier to hit a target with a shotgun than a pistol. Although he really hoped she wasn't misleading him about her proficiency with firearms. "You do know how to use on of these, don't you?"
"Of course," she said with an insulted tone to her voice. She cocked the shotgun to underscore her words.
"Just don't shoot me."
"Just don't get in the way."
"Start climbing! We need to get away from the train."
Doctor Carter had hitched up her skirts almost to her knees. Even scurrying up the wooded hill and running for his life from some unknown threat, Jack couldn't help but be at least being mildly titillated by the sight of her trim ankles encased in cunning high buttoned boots and her shapely silk stocking clad calves. He had really been out on the trail too long.
Suddenly, she stopped. "What's that sound?"
He stopped as well and listened. There was a strange screeching roar. Then there was an explosion from the direction of the train. Jack threw Doctor Carter to the ground and covered her body with his own to protect her. The explosion was so powerful it sent a shower of dirt and rock falling down the hill on top of them. There were several smaller sounding explosions following. After it had quieted down he got up and helped Doctor Carter to sit up. They looked toward the direction of the train and saw fire and smoke above the trees.
"The train exploded? But why?" she asked and he had no answer.
The screeching roar came closer again and they looked up through the treetops to see a stranger silver bird-like shape.
"Oh, my God! A metal airship! How is that possible?"
Fireballs seemed to fall out of it and caused another explosion closer to them.
Jack grabbed her arm and started pulling her up the side of the mountain again. "I don't care. We've got to keep moving."
It was night when they finally stopped to rest in a clearing on from which they could see Denver in the distance. Or the burning ruin of what had once been Denver. The ominous storm cloud had dissipated, but in its place hovering over the town was an unbelievably enormous pyramid shaped airship with many of the smaller sliver bird shaped airships buzzing around it and occasionally dropping fireballs to the ground.
Sam sat down hard on the ground. She was so overwhelmed by the sight before her that her legs just wouldn't support her anymore. "I think I'd like a sip of that whiskey now, Marshal."
"Me, too." He sat down beside her and passed her his flask. "What the hell is that thing?"
She took a long drink of the whiskey, enjoying the burn as it went down, but it did nothing to settle her nerves. "I've seen airships before, but I've never seen technology like this, ever. Not even…" She almost couldn't even contemplate the possibility. "It can't possibly come from here."
She shook her head. "Earth."
"Wow." She handed the flask back to the Marshal. He took a long sip and then said, "There were times in the war that I thought I knew what the end of the world looked like, but I was wrong."
Sam couldn't even fathom the carnage these airships could potentially cause. "What will we do?"
"Stay alive. Fight back," he said as if it was they could possibly stand a chance against such a foe.
"Are you insane? How can we fight something like this?" She gestured at the great airship.
"We'll think of something," he said getting to his feet again.
Sam studied the marshal in the darkness and wondered at the confidence she heard in his voice. He had saved her life by getting her off the train before it was destroyed. Perhaps she should trust in him a little longer. She held out a hand to him and he pulled her to her feet. She hefted the shotgun and sighed, "At least, we're armed."
"It's a start."