|Series||The Amtrak Wars|
|Preceded by||Cloud Warrior|
|Followed by||Iron Master|
The Amtrak Federation has begun its onslaught against the Plainfolk Mutes, sending the Lady from Louisiana, a heavily-armed high-tech wagon-train, to begin the pacification of the Mutes in Wyoming. However, in an epic battle the Mute clan M'Call defeated the Lady, wiped out most of its air wing and forced it to retreat, leaving behind many dead. Wingman Steve Brickman was taken prisoner by the M'Calls and returned to health, mostly through the attentions of the clan wordsmith, Mr Snow, and his apprentice Cadillac. Unable to escape overland, Steve constructed a glider with the apparent intention of teaching Cadillac how to fly, but at an opportune moment escaped himself.
Unbeknown to Steve, his escape was arranged by Mr Snow, Cadillac and Cadillac's soul-mate Clearwater, who has fallen in love with Steve, as part of a greater scheme. Cadillac's abilities as a seer have allowed him to 'copy' all of Steve's knowledge of flying, valuable information the clan is planning to sell to the enigmatic Iron Masters who dwell in the distant east.
A hero's welcomeEdit
November, AD 2989. Steve reaches the Pueblo way-station in Colorado on his glider, 'Blue-Bird', but instead the hero's welcome he was expecting he is arrested as a renegade and imprisoned. The way-station commander, Colonel Anne-Marie Anderssen, is sceptical of his story about being taken prisoner by the Mutes but forwards a report to the First Family. She is promptly told to send Steve on to Roosevelt/Santa Fe for debriefing and to erase all records of his presence at the way-station. A bemused Anderssen complies.
Four wingmen from the Red River wagon-train arrive with orders to convey Steve to Roosevelt/Santa Fe. The Pueblo staff are surprised to see the Mark 2 Skyhawk, which has just reached operational status for the first time, along with the Sky-Rider transport aircraft. Steve is loaded onto the Sky-Rider for transport, and is startled to find that the pilot is Donna Monroe Lundkwist, one of his classmates from the Flight Academy.
Steve arrives at Roosevelt/Santa Fe and is initially interviewed by his guard-mother's brother, Bart Bradlee, State Provost-Marshal for New Mexico. Bradlee is concerned that Steve might have been brainwashed into 'doing a deal' with the Mutes in return for them sparing his life, and is suspicious of why they held Steve for five months without killing him. Steve's inability to answer this last part especially concerns Bradlee. He tells Steve that his parents think he is dead and he won't disabuse them of that notion until Steven has been formally cleared. Eventually he passes Steve on to some deputy provosts, who take him by shuttle train to Houston/GC. On the way Steve suddenly has a mental flash of his kin-sister, Roz, telling him she is being watched, but she knows he is alive because of their strange mental link.
At Houston, Steve is housed at a sub-level of the White House, the primary government facility of the Amtrak Federation. He is given a medical by a medic named John Chisum, who knows Roz and offers to tell her that Steve is okay. Chisum also tells Steve that he is not suffering from any signs of raditation poisoning at all, despite five months spent unprotected on the overground. Furthermore, he enigmatically tells Steve that 'he is not the first'.
Chisum is actually a government agent and reports on his findings to Franklynn Delano Jefferson, Steve and Roz's 'controller'. He reports that he is trying to win Steve's trust, but it is hard-going as Steve is suspicious of Chisum's questioning and as a trained wingman is naturally self-reliant with little need to confide in others. Fran agrees to his suggestion they put Steve and Roz face-to-face to analyse their reactions and also to help build up Chisum as a reliable figure Steve can put his trust in. Frank mentions that Steve and Roz are both 'sensitives' and are part of a Federation secret project called 'OVERLORD' which has been running for fifty years already.
Steve is called before a Board of Assessors, with Fran taking the role of President of the Board. They subject Steve to several days of detailed questioning on every aspect of his imprisonment. Steve tells them about life amongst the Mutes, the traditions of 'biting the arrow' and 'chewing bone', their ability to run vast distances every day and the abilities of wordsmiths. He also tells them about the Iron Masters, the enigmatic race whom the Mutes trade with, which seems to be news to the board. Steve also adopts an obdurate position on the subject of the Mutes' 'sub-human' category, suggesting that whilst that definition remains valid, the Mutes are more intelligent than previously given credence for and their ability to use crossbows and help him build a glider suggests that they are capable of adaptation to circumstances, possibly enough to endanger the Federation's war against them. Steve's suggestion that the Mutes are more than just grubby primitives does not sit well with the board, but he does score some points with the news that the Mutes do not operate very well at night, and are more vulnerable to attack at that time.
As the assessment winds down, Fran questions Steve on the relative ease of his escape and why the Mutes would be so eager to help him build a glider. He suggests that the Mutes wanted him to escape, to return to the Federation with a warning related to the Talisman Prophecy. However, when he first mentions Talisman's name, Fran immediately termiantes the interview and edits out that word from the conversation.
During downtime, Steve runs into Chisum again and mentions their earlier conversation about the radiation situation. Steve theorises that maybe the radiation levels have dropped to nothing and the Trackers are being contained in the Federation by the First Family as they are easier to control down there. Chisum thinks that is a bit ludicrous and explains how other radiation sickness cases are still appearing. His own theory is that the Federation has developed an anti-radiation serum and has secretly been giving it to select Trail-Blazers and examining the results.
The next day the Board of Assessors delivers its verdict. Whilst accepting Steve is not guily of malfeasance, it is unimpressed with his 'positive' descriptions of Mute life and fears that he might contaminate others if his ideas are allowed to spread. Accordingly, he is reassigned to work on the maintenance run down in the A-levels, the lowest levels of the major divisional bases, for three years, at which time his situation will be reviewed. A stunned Steve is led away to his new job.
Steve agrees to Chisum's offer to set up a meeting with Roz, before he gets sent down to the A-levels. Chisum arranges for Roz to be brought over from Inner State U and they meet in an accomodation block in the Santanna Deep complex. Roz reveals to Steve that she is better 'tuned in' to their mental link and is aware of a lot of things that happened to him on the overground, including his liaison with Clearwater and his experience in biting the arrow, as she suffered psychosomatic wounds from that experience as well. Roz gets Steve to try some rainbow grass, but the substance has been tamped with and they are both knocked out. Chisum and some government agents enter the room and administer a truth drug to Steve and get every single bit of information out of him about his time as a captive of the Mutes. Steve unaware of this, wakes up and is sent on his way to the A-levels.
In the Oval Office, the President-General of the Federation, George Washington Jefferson 31st, meets with Fran and gets the full story from the drugged interrogation. He learns about Mr Snow, Cadillac and Clearwater and their respective powers and abilities. When Jefferson asks why Steve kept all of this secret, Frank explains that Steve didn't want to endanger his life by talking about Mute magic - a Code One offence - and has a latent sense of gratitude to Mr Snow for saving his life and didn't want to betray his promise not to reveal the clan's secrets. He has also developed an attraction to Clearwater. The President-General finds these explanations valid. Fran is puzzled as to why the President isn't more interested in the 'Iron Masters', but the P-G tells her he already knows all about them, but they are on the back-burner for now. Fran's final assessment is that Steve is hungry for power, influence and the recognition of his abilities, and he can only acquire those things in the Federation. He would make an ideal recruit for their plans and the P-G agrees, but thinks that Brickman needs to be seasoned in the A-levels for a while first.
The President-General calls a meeting of Group Nine, a secret cabal of First Family members responsible for the planning and operation of OVERLORD. Chief amongst these advisors is Ben Karlstrom Jefferson, the head of AMEXICO, the Amtrak Executive Intelligence Commando, a top-secret intelligence and special ops organisation which operates behind enemy lines. The group discusses how they should proceed in response to the threat posed by Mr Snow, Cadillac and Clearwater. An operation code-named SQUARE-DANCE is proposed to deal with the situation, and Steve will be instrumental in its success. However, with winter setting in and the Mutes taking cover for the duration, the operation will have to wait until spring.
A new jobEdit
From 25 November to 1 March Steve works in the A-levels, mostly working on a pipe-laying battalion several hundred feet below John Wayne Plaza in Houston/GC. A couple of days before the end of February he bumps into Chisum, who claims to have been sentenced to the A-levels for fifteen years for helping Steve out. He also claims that Roz has been suspended from Inner State U, to Steve's distress.
On the first day of March, Steve is pulled out of his role and interviewed at length by Karlstrom, who claims that Roz confessed everything to the Amtrak executives. Steve is forced to give a much fuller account of his time amongst the Mutes but manages to avoid mentioning Mute magic. He is taken aback when Karlstrom casually mentions they will be discussing that subject the following day.
The next day Steve and Karlstrom meet with the President-General, startling Steve. Steve agrees to talk about Mute magic and learns that the First Family has been watching out for signs of Talisman ever since they heard the prophecy well over a hundred years ago. The P-G recites the start of the Talisman Prophecy but curiously says that "A new-born child of the Plainfolk," instead of "A child born of the Plainfolk." Steve keeps his mouth shut, but is aware that the Federation is looking for a new-born baby who will become Talisman, whilst Mr Snow's version suggests that Talisman could be a grown adult whose powers have not been awoken yet. The P-G also reveals that the Federation knows what the 'great mountain in the west' is, but chooses not to share that information with Steve. He offers Steve the chance to join AMEXICO and take part in the quest to find Talisman. Steve agrees. The next day, Steve is sworn into AMEXICO and assigned to a month-long induction course at Rio Lobo before being sent into action under the call-sign 'Hang-Fire'.
On 1 April 2990, Steve Brickman is flown to Nebraska on a Sky-Rider. He takes up residence at a dug-out built by AMEXICO as a base of operations in the region. His cover story is that after fleeing from the M'Call settlement he never made it back to the Federation and holed up in the dug-out over the winter. To help bolster his cover story, a wolf-cub named Baz is given to him to bond with and train up, and a dead renegade is buried nearby as part of Steve's cover story that he killed the previous occupent of the dug-out. His plan is to wait a week and then move west into Wyoming and try to link up with the M'Calls.
The plan is interrupted by the arrival of a group of Tracker renegades passing through the area. They hold Steve at gunpoint, but by great fortune one of the renegades turns out to be Jodi Kazan, presumed dead after her Skyhawk was swept overboard during the Battle of the Now and Then River. Whilst Jodi vouches for him, the group's leader, Malone, is unconvinced and eventually shoots Baz and has Steve 'posted', tied to a post with the rotting corpse of the dead renegade, until he agrees to talk. Steve continues to protest his innocence so the group takes off.
Jodi continues to protest Steve's innocence to Malone, until he finally gives in and sends Jodi, 'Yellow-Cap' (formerly known as 'Beaver', real name Dave Kelso), 'Medicine-Hat' and 'Jinx' back to retrieve Steve. Unfortunately, just as they are doing that a posse of Mutes arrives, led by Mr Snow himself. The group is taken prisoner.
Steve decides to confess all to Mr Snow, that he has been sent to capture Mr Snow, Cadillac and Clearwater. The Trackers are concerned that the presence of all three in one clan is too much of a threat to the Federation's plans. They are also intrigued by this notion that Cadillac and Clearwater are connected to Talisman in some way. Steve reveals that he has a eight-man back-up squad located in the wilderness and a radio built into his knife so he can communicate with them. Mr Snow bears this news with interest, noting that Steve is conflicted in his loyalties due to his feelings for Clearwater but also the fact that Roz is possibly in danger back in the Federation.
Mr Snow reveals that after Steve's departure, Cadillac built a new powered glider (using the knowledge stolen from Steve's mind) and flew to the Iron Masters' homeland as part of their deal to swap an aircraft and pilot for new, improved weapons. Clearwater went with him, so she might use her powers to help Cadillac escape should the deal turn sour. However, they are due to return in six weeks or so when the great wheelboats arrive at the trading post at a place called Du-aruta on the Great River. Every year the Mute clans declare a truce and journey to Du-aruta and another trading post located further east called Bei-sita to trade with one another and the Iron Masters. They send Mute workers (known as journeymen) and also captured Tracker renegades to the Iron Master homeland in return for trading goods.
Steve contacts Karlstrom via the radio-knife and mentions that Cadillac and Clearwater are not present (although he doesn't mention anything about their trip to the Iron Master homeland) and Karlstrom agrees to suspend the plan for now. Steve will accompany Mr Snow to meet them at Du-aruta the following month. In the meantime Steve joins in the usual operations of the clan.
- Ben Karlstrom Jefferson, the head of AMEXICO.
- Franklynn Delano Jefferson, Steve and Roz's 'controller'.
- George Washington Jefferson 31st, the President-General of the Amtrak Federation.
- John Chisum, an AMEXICO secret agent.
- Anne-Marie Le May Anderssen, Colonel, commander of the Pueblo way-station.
- 'Baz', a wolf-cub used in AMEXICO training exercises.
- Delaney, a deputy provost marshal at Roosevelt/Santa Fe.
- 'Deep Six', leader of an eight-man AMEXICO back-up squad operating in Wyoming.
- Dan Dover, a member of Steve's line-unit in the A-levels.
- Gazzara, a deputy provost marshal at Roosevelt/Santa Fe.
- Matt Harmer, Lt., guard duty officer at the Pueblo way-station.
- Deke Haywood, a video communications technician at the Pueblo way-station.
- Jerri Le May Hiller, Major, senior battalion officer and third-in-command at the Pueblo way-station.
- Abraham Lincoln Jefferson, the director of Group Nine.
- Nancy Reagan Jefferson, the President-General's secretary and aide.
- Quincy Adams Jefferson, the director of the Life Institute and a member of Group Nine.
- Warren Harding Jefferson, a member of the First Family and Group Nine.
- 'Lisa', an AI construct and subset of COLUMBUS serving as an AMEXICO instructor at Rio Lobo.
- Brad Maxey, commander of Steve's Seamster line-unit in the A-levels.
- Joe Minelli, Red River wingman.
- Ty Morrison, a member of Steven's line-unit in the A-levels.
- Jake Nolan, Line-Sergeant, guard commmander at the Pueblo way-station.
- J.K. 'Maggie' Pruett, an Amtrak executive, JX-2, serving at Houston/GC as an aide to Commander-General Karlstrom.
- Reardon, Red River wingman.
- Roscoe, Major, senior battalion officer and second-in-command at the Pueblo way-station.
- 'Snake-Eyes', an AMEXICO agent stationed at the dug-out outpost in south Nebraska.
- Glen Wyler, video communications technician at the Pueblo way-station, the relief tech for Deke Haywood.
- Rick Wyman, Red River senior wingman.
- Malone, the head of a group of renegades operating in Nebraska and Wyoming.
- Jankowski, nicknamed 'Jinx', one of the renegades under Malone's command.
- Blue-Thunder, the new paramount warrior of the Clan M'Call.
- Doctor-Hook, a M'Call Bear and one of Mr Snow's bodyguards.
- Kid-Creole, a M'Call Bear and one of Mr Snow's bodyguards.
- Manhattan-Transfer, a M'Call Bear and an experienced scout.