After receiving their reward from a surly John Chivington on the morning of June 5, 1879, the party decided to head for Denver to the northwest. While leaving Chivingtonville, the party notices the footprints of a giant hound. The party travels for several days on the high plains of Colorado without incident. On the fourth day, the party is approached by four Cheyenne warriors. The warriors grow much friendlier once they learn that the party put Black Kettle to rest. However, that does not stop them from asking the party to help them track down a group of bandits.
After several hours, the party and the Cheyenne find the six bandits attacking a lone wagon. But this is no ordinary ambush. The wagon is surrounded by a protective dome of electricity, which the lead bandit is trying to bring down with some kind of contraption that throws fireballs. The Cheyenne ride down to attack the bandits, but while bullets seem to bounce off the braves’ elaborate buckskin vests they hold up less well against a fireball. The bandits dismount and take cover behind their horses, but a convenient malfunction takes the fireball thrower out of the fight. Argent urges Hightower to drive the stagecoach closer so he can hit them with his sword. Hightower takes a shot at the bandit leader, but kills his horse instead, which falls onto the marauder. The bandit leader manages free himself only to be shot in the face at point blank range by Argent. The lead Cheyenne warrior recovers enough to skewer a marauder with a spear, while Jack’s hexes bring down another. Vincent’s bad luck continues as he tries to unjam Hightower’s rifle but only makes the problem worse and his Heal-o-tron 9000 repeatedly fails to treat Jack’s injuries.
With three of their companions down, the remaining bandits flee, but Argent is able to shoot one before he escapes. With the battle done, the wagon’s lightning shield lowers and the heroes meet its occupants: Professor Charles Lewis Reason of Howard University and his top student, Ms. Loretta Freeman. Professor Reason explains that he is on a geological survey of the West and had hoped his facility with languages would allow him to pass through Cheyenne territory unharmed. The lightning shield is a creation of another Howard student, Granville Woods. To Vincent’s disappointment, the device is patented. Three of the four Cheyenne warriors have survived the fight, but two are pretty injured. The lead warrior is busy collecting the bandit’s firearms, explaining that the Cheyenne are stockpiling them for the day when the Old Ways aren’t enough to protect them. To Vincent’s dismay, the fire cannon is too damaged to be repaired, but its scrap materiel is enough to construct another device.
The party also discovers that the lead bandit was carrying a strange card: on one side is the symbol of an eye inside an inverted triangle and the words “Nos Nunquam Somnus.” On the other side, inscrutable writing can be briefly glimpsed before it vanishes. Professor Reason translates the words as Latin for “We Never Sleep,” but no one is able to recognize the phrase or the symbol. Jack determines that the vanishing words were a supernatural message being sent elsewhere.
Professor Reason asks the party to accompany his wagon to Denver, to ward off any other surprises. The party travels for another three days, finding abundant food and water. On the evening of June 10, however, a storm is approaching and they seek shelter at a nearby farmhouse. They are welcomed by Sherilyn Conway and her son Jamie. The boy’s father is notably absent. Sherilyn lets Loretta stay in the house, while everyone else must bed down in the new barn. That night, the party hears noises from the old, dilapidated barn across the way. They sneak up and spy Jamie conferring with a 12-foot tall armored automaton, with a gatling gun for one arm and sharp pincers for another. The automaton has the words “U.S. ARMY, 9th CAVALRY” emblazoned on its chest and a flag painted on each shoulder.
The party soon learns that somewhere in the metal hulk are the remains of Rob Conway, who was shot by bandits after leaving to seek work. Rob’s memories after that are fragmentary: he remembers waking up in a dark room with men in white coats who mentioned someone called “the Wizard.” He remembers lumbering across the prairie, with a woman’s voice whispering in his ear, telling him to kill all the Cheyenne. He remembers burning tepees and a medicine woman blasting him with a spell. Then the voice was gone and his mind was his own again. He fled back to his family’s farm, where he has been hiding in the decaying barn and communicating with his son by scratching words in the dust with his claw. He has not been able to work up the courage to reveal himself to his wife.
Vincent examines the automaton, quickly noting that the gatling gun is out of bullets and that Rob has suffered battle damage. Vincent also quickly determines that there is not enough room in the chassis for Rob’s entire body, so most likely his brain is all that remains. How it is being sustained is unknown, though Vincent does remember that about 60 years ago a German doctor speculated that electricity could be used to revive a dead brain. No further work on the subject has since been published. The examination also reveals that all the factory marking and serial numbers have been filed off, except in one spot where the following can be made out: " ellstro "
Hightower fears that this may be a conspiracy to frame the U.S. Army, while Vincent suspects a rogue element within the government could be involved. Either way, everyone feels like they’ve gotten in over their heads. At this point, they hear a horse whinny outside. Another wagon has pulled up outside the house, and the dark figures climbing out of it look to be carrying guns.