The Battle of the Now and Then River was an engagement fought on 12 June 2989 between the Lady from Louisiana, an Amtrak Federation wagon-train, and the M'Calls, a clan of the She-Kargo bloodline of the Plainfolk Mutes. It is notable as the first large-scale engagement between Federation forces and those of the Plainfolk.
The battle was fought in two locations, the bulk of the fighting being undertaken in a dried-out river-bed in the vicinity of navref Cheyenne, Wyoming, but with an additional air-strike on the M'Call settlement several dozen miles to the north and west, north of navref Laramie, Wyoming.
The Lady from Louisiana had been ordered to proceed into Wyoming as the first deep-range reconnaisance-in-force of Plainfolk territory. The Clan M'Call had been alerted by both the appearance of Federation Skyhawks in the skies to the south and also by magical means.
The M'Calls' initial thought was to withdraw westwards to their traditional turf, an area of tall hills, mountains and bluffs (the Wind River Range on Federation maps) that the wagon-train could not traverse, and martial their strength for a future engagement. However, this would mean abandoning substantial crops that had been planted. The M'Calls also felt it dishonourable to retreat without offering battle to the enemy. After some discussion, the clan agreed to attack.
The Mutes' plan was to lure the Lady into a dried-out river bed called the Now and Then River, so-named because it was dry in the summer but flooded in the winter. The Mutes' summoner, Mr Snow, would flood the river by magical means and immobilise the train long enough for the Mute warriors to directly attack it. During the attack, the clan settlement would be pulled under tree cover some miles to the north-west.
The Trackers' plan was to send its Skyhawk wings to simultaneously bomb the settlement in the forest, a logical hiding spot, and destroy the cropfields, the M'Calls having failed to conceal the fields from the air.
Using magic, Mr Snow wreathed the wagon-train in thick fog which hindered its movement and also clouded the mind of the wagon-train's commander, William Hartmann. This led him into taking the wagon-train into the river bed, mistakenly thinking it was the remains of Interstate 80. As the Mutes prepared to attack, however, a three-fighter Skyhawk patrol led by Field Lt. Jodi Kazan spotted their ground forces and attacked, briefly incapacitating Mr Snow and wiping out scores of Mutes. Recovering, Mr Snow destroyed two of the Skyhawks and severely damaged Kazan's, forcing her to withdraw.
As planned, he summoned a rainfall which filled the river bed and began to swamp the Lady. Hartmann turned the wagon-train out of the bed, but got stuck on the banks. As the train reversed and prepared for a second run at the bank, a flash-flood hit the side of the train, almost overturning one of the middle cars and rupturing connections down the train. The flood also pushed the train against the rocks alongside the river bank, effectively pinning it there until repairs could be made.
The train's Trail-Blazer division attempted to establish a perimeter under extremely heavy Mute attack, whilst the engineers worked to clear the blockages and restore the train to operational status. Kazan's Skyhawk attempted to land, but was swept overboard and destroyed at this time. Attempts to launch more air cover resulted in two more deaths. The engineers suffered heavy losses as the Mutes successfully broke through the perimeter in several places. Hartmann finally ordered all ground forces to re-enter the train, encouraging the Mutes to attempt to directly assault the train's doors. However, this merely got them close enough for the train's steam-jets to swing into action. Dozens of Mutes were flayed alive by the super-heated jets of water and the remainder fled.
The remaining air wing was launched to carry out the original plan. Steve Brickman and Gus White successfully destroyed the M'Call cropfields, but Brickman sustained a crossbow hit and crash-landed. Gus White's gun jammed, forcing him to withdraw. Another two pilots despatched to bomb the forest were intercepted by Clearwater, who used her own newly-discovered summoning powers to force them to shoot one another down.
The Lady affected makeshift repairs and immediately withdrew southwards. The M'Calls withdrew westwards to their traditional turf in the Wind River Range.
The battle's outcome is much-debated but generally held to be inconclusive. The M'Calls suffered far higher casualties, some 250 deaths which represented a third of the fighting strength of the clan, but on the other hand they had inflicted significant losses on the wagon-train (particularly the loss of virtually the Lady's entire air-wing, with a sole one survivor out of the ten wingmen sent into the battle). Although the Mutes had failed to penetrate the interior of the train, it had nonetheless suffered notable damage.
The battle had forced both sides to withdraw: the M'Calls had lost their crops and had to disengage. The wagon-train could not proceed any further without replenishing its losses and had to retreat back to the Federation, where the command crew were investigated for possible negligence and recklessly endangering the wagon-train, although no charges were brought.
Despite the disputed outcome, the M'Calls later spun the outcome as a victory wherein they drove back the first iron snake to enter Plainfolk territory and their casualties were sacrifices on behalf of all the Plainfolk. This won them much standing in the eyes of their fellow clans, even including some grudging admiration from rival bloodlines.
Casualties and damageEdit
Approximately 250 warriors of the Clan M'Call were killed in the battle, in the bombing runs by the Skyhawks or from the super-heated steam fired by the Lady. Many of the survivors were injured as well.
The M'Call cropfields near navref Laramie, Wyoming were completely destroyed.
At least two dozen Trail-Blazers and eight engineers were killed during the defence and attempted repair of the wagon-train. Nine wingmen were also lost (although it was later revealed that Kazan and Brickman had both survived).
The Lady from Louisiana suffered significant damage to several cars and lost nine Skyhawks during the battle.