Deadlands: New Mexican Standoff
Commonwealth of California
War Comes a-Clangin’
Unexpectedly, we find ourselves in the midst of an Age of Opportunity. The War Between the States has given way to nothing less than a scientific renaissance, spurred by the new “superfuel,” ghost rock. The precious ore draws prospectors, miners, settlers, and land agents to California in droves, and fuels just about every one of those newfangled contraptions your Aunt Mabel’s been raving about. With the cease-fire between North and South holding, everything should be right as rain.
Yet fear is everywhere, from the haunted channels of the northern Maze to Santa Anna’s massive armies just south of the Mexican border. In my travels along the shattered West Coast I’ve felt a brooding cloud of fear over the city of Shan Fan, overheard anxious muttering beside the gallows at Lynchburg, and witnessed abject starvation in all the scattered boomtowns surrounding Lost Angels.
But everyone’s still in a rush to reach the West Coast, and the reason can be summed up in just two words— ghost rock, my friends. Black gold. California coffee. It’s an exceedingly valuable commodity to be sure, and the Great Maze is just about busting at the seams with it—but it can’t be eaten. Therein lies the essential irony of the Maze. In a land rife with the most valuable substances known to man, you can’t even rely on getting a mouthful of grub or a sip of fresh water. When mothers live in constant fear their children will sicken and die, when men have to fight for their bread on a daily basis, when the hunger and the struggle consume every breath—evil is sure to multiply in the shadows.
I’ve spent the past few years traveling the busted-up length and breadth of the Great Maze to bring you the guide that follows, in the hope you won’t end up as so many others do—starved, alone, and afraid. If you do go to California, remember two things: first, don’t ever get between a hungry man and his vittles if you enjoy life; and second, out here every man is hungry. Keep those words in mind, and you’ll go far.
The War to end all Rail Wars
Every clang of hammer upon spike and every rail fastened to the earth takes us one step closer to all-out war. The armies of the rail barons are converging on Lost Angels, and who’s going to win the race is still anyone’s guess.
Bayou Vermilion and Dixie Rails forge across the treacherous Mojave Desert, , while Iron Dragon lays track from the Pacific Northwest. Union Blue and Black River, operating on Denver-Pacific lines, are also moving troops into place.
Only Wasatch seems destined to fall short of a transcontinental line. We last saw Dr. Darius Hellstromme’s operation in 1877, just before their crews vanished into the great morass of the Rocky Mountains, laboring to blast their way through—some say excavate under—that most formidable barrier. Trouble is no one has seen them since.
Most are in consensus that Wasatch has all but conceded its defeat, as we at the Epitaph have reported since last year.
No matter which rail baron reaches Lost Angels first, the others won’t be pleased. As the so-called “Great Rail Wars” come to a head, the West Coast will see total war, the ferocity of which not even our recent War Between the States can equal. When the rail barons attempt to push into Lost Angels, and Reverend Grimme endeavors to hold back the tide and enforce his Edict of ’74, history will be written in letters of fire and blood.
The Confederacy and Union maintain significant military presences in the Maze, but neither has the resources to get involved in a fight for Lost Angels. After years of logistical adjustment and personnel transfers, their chains of command are in disarray. During a drawn-out conflict, expect them to hunker down and let their proxies—Union Blue and Dixie Rails—do the fighting.
Santa Anna’s Revenge
None of this even begins to account for the single greatest military threat facing the Great Maze—the long-anticipated invasion by Santa Anna. Mexico’s got a fleet superior to that of the bluebellies or the rebs, and an army ten times the size of anything the North or South could assemble on short notice. Most importantly, Santa Anna’s been quietly moving that army into position for the past two years, eliminating California’s isolated points of resistance with devastating night raids.
It’s the Emperor Maximillian, through Santa Anna, who wields the power to utterly change the face of the Maze. He’s still smarting over the loss of Texas, and eager for payback. With starvation and malnutrition as rampant in Mexico as they are in the Maze, pressure mounts on Santa Anna to invade.
Ominous tales persist that Santa Anna’s army isn’t composed exclusively of old-fashioned conscripts. Refugees fleeing Mexicali report that in addition to his conventional troops, Santa Anna commands a terrible “Army of the Night” that attacks with peerless savagery and can never be defeated. Only time will tell, but it won’t be long now given recent reports of Mexican troop movements.
It’s odd, but in the Great Maze people aren’t so afraid of war. “Not much a body can do ’bout gettin’ shot dead, or blowed up, is there?” was how one sage ghost rock prospector put it to me. Strange as it might sound, the possibility of armed conflict on a scale never before witnessed doesn’t frighten these people as much as the prospect of simple starvation. Hunger stalks this land like a lean wolf, ribs showing through her mangy pelt. Fireside tales are told of doomed miners who literally go insane with a hunger that spreads like sickness.
Since the Great Quake of 1868 shattered California into a ghost-rock-laden jigsaw puzzle, crops mostly refuse to take root. It’s no surprise when you consider the western half of the state is broken into a vast labyrinth of high-walled channels, all of them flooded with seawater that constantly leaches salt into the land. Farther inland one finds the occasional arable valley, but these can be as much a source of conflict as they are a source of sustenance. Banditry is so common that even rail companies have been known to raid farms when the need strikes.
The High Cost of Living
Even imported foodstuffs spoil sooner than expected nearly everywhere in the Maze. “Must be something about the climate,” is what the locals say (no matter where those locals are from), usually with a nervous shrug, as if it’s something they’d rather not fret about. You can tell they’re fretting anyway.
For the most part fresh food needs to be imported, which makes it scarce and pricey. Provisions, meals, and most other goods cost about five times the normal price on the West Coast. Amazing, but true. That’s just a general guide—you’ll want to avoid buying your gear in places like H.J. Kent’s of Lynchburg, where the going rate is more like eight times the suggested retail. All you penny-pinchers might consider a trip to the Confederate port of Shannonsburg, where the CSA man dates pricing and cracks down on gougers ruthlessly. In Shannonsburg everything costs just what you’d expect it to, though friends of the Union might end up paying a higher price than they figured on.
The Weird West Coast
So are we all doomed? Probably not. But things will definitely change when war reaches the Maze. Prices of food and other goods, already inflated, will skyrocket out of control. Entire towns will most likely be blown off the map overnight as claims are jumped by extremely powerful and unprincipled villains.
California, Here I Come
There are an awful lot of regular folks bound to get caught in the crossfire when so many factions start shooting at one time. Yet, strangely, people continue to emigrate to the West Coast in droves. Ever since the Sixty-Niners came in search of the first veins of ghost rock, California—and the West Coast of North America in general—has been the destination of millions of immigrants from all over the world. Thousands more will arrive before these words go to print.
California is home to an amazing variety of people who come to try their hands at digging fundaments out of the earth—fundaments being anything valuable that’s currently covered by dirt. Everywhere you go you’ll find men and women hoping to cash in on gold or silver or ghost rock, and boomtowns springing up wherever they do. But there are just as many ghost towns left in the wake of exhausted claims, a stark reminder of how fast one’s fortunes can change.
It’s also a reminder that evil stalks the West Coast. You know we here at the Epitaph have always endeavored to the highest ideals of journalism and strive to bring you the truth in all matters. So consider yourself duly warned, Dear Reader, that the Maze is home to a myriad variety of cunning and vicious critters—terrors, some would say—that would just as soon kill you as scratch an itch.
California and the Great Maze
As you know, what we call the Maze was created when the Great Quake of ’68 cracked the California coast from top to bottom. Thanks to a vote in which the state’s residents opted to follow neither the USA nor the CSA, today much of it is lawless—except for the law that resides in the barrel of a gun, and with the man who holds the rope.
Geographically speaking, the Maze consists of miles and miles of broken outcroppings and mesas of all shapes and sizes, surrounded by water-filled canyons. In these canyons are nestled thousands of veins of ghost rock—new ones discovered every day—and atop the mesas sit the boomtowns looking to exploit them. From certain vantage points, one can see literally dozens of small towns.
The Great Melting-Pot
Nowhere is California’s diversity more in evidence than in the Great Maze. In my travels I met countless settlers and prospectors from Back East, as well as members of such diverse Indian tribes as the Cuahilla, Chumash, Costanoan, Gabrielino, Mojave, Southern Paiute, Serrano, and Tipal, among others. Add to that mix a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, Union and Confederate soldiers, the Mexican forces of Santa Anna, thousands of scientists seeking the region’s ghost rock, the pirate fleet of the Warlord Kang…I could go on, but you get the picture.
With so many different folks trying to eke out a living, and no central government keeping everyone in line, only one group stands between the Maze and economic chaos—the Greater Maze Rock Miners’ Association.
The R.M.A.—or “Rockies”—is a cartel of shipping magnates that considers itself the authority on ghost rock. It purports to be the only official validating body for new claims and the only legal means of exporting fundaments in the entirety of the Maze.
In reality that’s a tall order for any one organization to maintain, especially when faced with such rivals as the rail barons, the Union and Confederate armies, the Shan Fan Triad, Grimme’s Church of Lost Angels, and scheming scientists galore. An extensive salvage industry has grown on the smoking wreckage created by this conflict, sometimes referred to as the Maze Wars.
There are two big problems with the Rockies’ authority, both of them causing no end of friction with the mining population. The fact that they vested the authority in themselves is first and foremost, but their refusal to buy ghost rock from anyone who won’t play their game is a close second.
In past years the Rockies have used the Rail Wars as a pretense to raise the price of ghost rock (despite record levels of production), and subsequently issued a warning that any miners caught selling directly to rail companies would have their claims revoked immediately. They have serious power, resources, and influence—a true monopoly for the time being—but whether they can defeat all comers is another thing entirely.
A few years ago ships flying the colors of the railroads appeared in the Maze, steaming up and down the major channels and snapping up any ghost rock they could find. Armed clashes between railroad ships and Rockies forces were only the next logical step. There have been some attempts at negotiation in the past year, but with so many players it’s impossible to get them all around the same table, much less agree to the same truce.
Needless to say, the Maze Wars continue to simmer, with recent developments threatening to blow off the lid.
The Mining Life
While the Big Bosses, wealthy industrialists, and heads of state wrangle and make war, the multitudes of the Maze go about their daily lives. They struggle for their next meal, chipping their livelihood out of the rocky channels that surround them. In this land the true measure of success is mere survival.
Some call the Maze the “Fast Country,” because living a year there is like living five anywhere else. It’s a harsh and unforgiving land, where the strong prey on the weak. But it’s also a place where a man can strike it rich just by staking a claim to some land. There are enough rags-to-riches stories out here to motivate many a man and woman.
Staking a Claim
The actual practice of ghost rock mining is nothing spectacular. Mostly it involves spending long days hanging from a scaffold on the sheer side of a mesa, chipping nuggets of ghost rock into a special leather harness worn over the shoulders. When the entire band is depleted, one chips down to the next layer and starts over.
Some impatient prospectors opt for a different tactic—they find a promising cliff and detonate the entire thing with dynamite from the safety of their vessel. Tons of earth and ghost rock fall into the channel, the miner cherry-picks what he wishes, and then he putters off in search of another vein. These “Boat Rats,” as honest miners call them, are universally despised for their sheer wastefulness.
Where there are large ghost rock deposits, entire towns spring up atop the mesa, with steam-powered lifts that connect the town to the docks in the channel below. Most of the time, though, the entire population of a mesa consists of one miner, and maybe his nearest and dearest.
Spirits of the Earth
All manner of weird tales circulate in mining communities, but none hits so close to home as those of rocks that come to life and kill miners. These spirits—or “hoodoo,” as the miners call them—are thought to be angry about ghost rock. Some witnesses claim they’re angry about ghost rock being taken from them, while others maintain they’re fuming because it’s here in the first place. All agree that the hoodoos express their rage by smashing miners to bloody pulp and then vanishing back into the rocks.
Here Be Pirates
The Maze is full of folk even more hated than Boat Rats, cruel opportunists who make their living jumping other people’s claims—Maze Rats. Every miner is constantly on the lookout for pirate ships, for their arrival can mean the loss of everything he holds dear—his livelihood, his family, and even his life.
Kang maintains an entire fleet of ships dedicated to seizing ghost rock from those too weak or poor to keep it. These ships typically make port and resupply at one of Kang’s pirate cities—Dragon’s Breath, Lion’s Roar, or Bear’s Claw. Needless to say, these mesa towns are off-limits to non-Chinese, but it’s possible for anybody to sneak in if they have a good reason and are determined as all get out.
Countless independent pirates roam the Maze’s channels, as well as Mexican raiders under the command of the dreaded Capitan Sangre (that’s Captain Blood, for all you gringos). Even the Union and the CSA have been known to raid each other’s towns, a problem that’s been growing worse of late. With the rampant banditry inland, it all adds up to a place where you’re well-served to keep a shooting iron handy.
Against all odds a multitude of large towns and settlements thrive among the jagged waterways of the Great Maze, and you need to know a bit about them before you light out for your final destination.
We’d be remiss if we failed to mention one last piece of advice for West Coast travelers—only fools trust the weather. The specifics vary from place to place, but the one thing you can count on from the weather is that it will be rotten at some point. “Always be prepared to get caught unprepared,” is what Mazers say.
The Great Maze and California are arid to semi-arid country, which means the weather is almost uniformly hot and dry. But the real trouble is in the water patterns. Since most travel through the Maze is done by plying the channels in various watercraft, sailors, travelers, and prospectors alike need to be aware of the deadly hazards that rear their heads nearly every time one sets foot on a boat.
To begin with, the tides are so extreme that a perfectly navigable channel might end up bone dry when the tide goes out. If one finds enough water to sail in, there are so-called “water dogs” that can shake a ship to pieces. Riptides sweep unpredictably through the Maze, buoying boats along or smashing them like toys against the rock walls. Powerful whirlpools, unpredictable waterspouts, and boiling sulphur pools in regions of volcanic activity—all are common perils capable of capsizing even the largest vessels.
The only rule of West Coast weather is that it doesn’t follow any rules. And while the above phenomena get most of the column inches, the real day-to-day danger is from the weather that no one predicts. Squalls, sand storms, floods, mudslides—these sorts of catastrophes have been encountered all over the Maze.
Be prepared to get caught unprepared.