Worth and Ying Johnson collected the Doc and their weapons when they returned to the sheriff’s blockhouse. Sheriff Dayton had called a meeting of all the able-bodied men in town willing to take up arms against the cons and Johnson took the opportunity to convince Sai McKittrick that it was in his best interests to ferry the innocent townsfolk to the next settlement along the cattle drive.
Johnson pointed out that in doing so the Sheriff might be more disposed towards allowing McKittrick to defend his shipyard however he saw fit, including moving his ships to a safer locale. Johnson volunteered to fly the Firefly to Keyman’s Drift along with one of McKittrick’s mechanics and ensure the ship’s safe return.
McKittrick eventually agreed, saying only that the townsfolk had to be kept out of the secondary cargo hold during the little surface-to-surface hop. It would be cramped for the fifty-odd women, children and infirm for a short trip, but at least they would be safe for the time being.
The Sheriff was outlining his plans for a defense of the town, playing up their advantages – better firepower, some knowledge of how many cons were out roaming the countryside (courtesy of Worth and YJ’s estimates), and the understanding that the cons had but two objectives – springing their ringleader Li Shan from jail, and taking McKittrick’s ships.
Li Shan took the opportunity to interrupt the Sheriff and address the gathering of defenders from his cell. He said that the town’s problems would go away if the convicts were given one ship and allowed to leave. He noted that the convicts were desperate and had nothing to lose, while the men in town had everything to lose – their businesses, their farmsteads, and their families. He said that while his Boxers were a disciplined lot, they were a minority compared to the murderers, arsonists, rapists and other psychopaths who had been on board the Jailbird, and who would love nothing more than to go down fighting. The convicts had weapons of their own after all, pilfered from the Jailbird’s crew and those unfortunate passers-by who had been bushwhacked over the past few days. The convicts also had numerical advantage.
Li Shan’s oratory convinced about half of the assembly to leave town and either hitch a ride to Keyman’s Drift or go back to their homesteads rather than wait for the convicts to trap them up against Evan’s Ridge. As the men streamed out of the police station, the Sheriff angrily locked himself in his office while Li Shan smiled from his bunk.
The PCs knocked on Sheriff Dayton’s door after letting him sulk for a few moments. They were ushered into his office and offered shots of whisky from the lawman’s private stock. Dayton surprised the crew by making them another offer. He needed them to disable McKittrick’s fleet of spacecraft after the run to Keyman’s Drift was taken care of. He conceded that it was likely that the convicts would raze the town, boost Li Shan from jail and destroy the land-lock facilities that were holding McKittrick’s ships in place. Dayton’s plan was to ground the boats, allow the convicts to board them and then keep them trapped aboard until the Alliance showed up. In return Dayton would not pursue the illegal salvage charges and in fact scrub any records of the PCs even being in town.
Worth figured he could disable the ships in a way that would be nigh impossible to quickly reverse simply by removing the catalyzers from the boats’ compression coils and ensuring no spare parts were kicking around. The Doc convinced one of McKittrick’s mechanics that a sweep of his fleet of ships was necessary to determine if they had enough medical supplies for the ensuing conflict.
While Johnson prepped the Firefly for the ferry ride to Keyman’s Drift, Worth and the Doc started their ‘sweep’ of the other ships in McKittrick’s yard. Worth disconnected the catalyzers and filched whatever else he could as they snuck on board each grounded vessel. The Doc didn’t much care about Worth’s sticky fingers, as he himself was intent on ransacking whatever first aid kits were on board for painkillers to keep him ‘steady’ during the upcoming brawl.
Johnson covered his companions’ tracks by running engine tests on the Firefly, blowing all manner of dust about and concealing their movements. The Doc and Worth ended up running into McKittrick but were able to explain themselves as wanting to check on the medical supplies and flight-readiness of his ships in case they were needed for an emergency pullout.
Meanwhile the Sheriff oversaw the transfer of the remaining townsfolk from the church to the main hold of McKittrick’s Firefly transport. One of McKittrick’s mechanics positioned himself in front of the sealed doors of the secondary cargo hold with a shotgun to prevent anyone from passing through. Johnson fired up the engines and took the ship on its short run with no mishaps on either leg of the journey.
Upon Johnson’s return, the Sheriff called all the remaining defenders into the police station – four deputies, two ranchers, McKittrick and his five mechanics, the town shepherd, three farm hands and the PCs – and began planning a defense of the town. Since the police station was the likeliest first target the group decided to move Li Shan to McKittrick’s house and keep him under guard. The Shepherd and the Doc would take up a position in the church, Worth and one of the farmers would station themselves on the roof of the trade station adjacent to the blockhouse while another deputy and a farm hand did likewise on a building across the street, the two ranchers would move out to the corral to act as spotters, a deputy and a farm hand would conceal themselves on the roof of the town’s water tower, and Johnson and the rest would take up firing positions inside McKittrick’s house. The plan was to draw the attackers down the main street and turn it into a shooting gallery while keeping an eye on the shipyard at the base of the ridge.
The defenders got a bit of shut-eye and waited for the inevitable attack. With spotters in the church steeple, the water tower and on the edge of town, it didn’t take long for someone to see movement in the wilderness as dawn broke the next morning.
Two groups of men – likely Boxers given their stealth skills – emerged from hidden positions much closer to the city limits than the defenders thought possible. Carrying all manner of scavenged tools, covered in dirt and stripped down to their skivvies, one group headed towards the shipyard while the other headed for the police station.
Using their high positions to an advantage, the defenders stationed on the water tower and Worth’s farm hand sidekick opened fire, wounding some of the Boxers and sending the rest scrambling for cover.
Then the sounds of wild battle cries went up from around the town as the rest of the escaped convicts – 50 or more – started running pell-mell towards Evans City from all directions. The Doc took this opportunity to give himself a shot of the painkillers to steel his nerves.
That wasn’t all. The sound of struggling engines echoed across town as a vehicle crested the hill near the corral. It was the second, heavier utility bus from Ironmonger, dragging a standard shipping container behind it and straining like a workhorse pulling a too-heavy load. The bus had slapdash armor welded to it as it the Alliance Jailbird had been stripped for parts, making it look like a demented tortoise. As it dragged the container into the town’s main drag, the jerry-rigged towing tackle snapped and the bus left it behind as it barreled towards the police station.
“Now what do you suppose is inside that thing?” Dayton asked sarcastically. Worth hefted his assault rifle, selected ‘autofire’ and trained it on the shipping container as its doors swung open.