Shortly after the eruption. Hard to say how long; day and night were similar for a while.
I Arrive at what used to be Gunnison. The geography and strong winds of the valley have kept most of the ash away. A small layer, one or two cm thick covers the ground. Some other valleys in the mountains have similar situations. As the days go by, the survivors in Gunnison take in a few refugees. The decisions for rationing food are made. Strict limits on fish and game are enforced The town barely survives the first winter. There are quite a few deaths due to starvation and cold. Normal Curecanti winters are brutal enough, with temperatures as low as -25 being common, and windchill making it worse. This winter is particularly brutal. All resources go towards keeping seed-packets and livestock from freezing. Raiding parties from neighboring settlements along the Gunnison River keep attacking. Defenses hold, but barely.
In the spring, life slowly returns. Western State University campus library has kept our knowledge of civilization alive. Some campus buildings have been converted into plant nurseries and greenhouses. Fertile ash along the Gunnison river allows for excellent hay and vegetables. Sheep managed to survive, but barely. The herds have a very good summer, and soon lots of little lambs are born. Blue Mesa Reservoir dam is kept in working order, with electricity sent to the town. But the local tribes know how vital the dam is, and constantly try to take it as a bargaining chip. I am deployed to guard the dam. Cavalry becomes a necessity, as oil and gas have long been depleted from the town. Our orders are to conserve ammo as much as possible. Nearby springs are secured, for sulfur. Animal manure is collected for the production of saltpeter, and there is plenty of timber for charcoal. A thriving blackpowder industry emerges in the city-state of Gunnison. New caseless ammunition rifles and revolvers are machined. While not as effective as an AR-15, it allows us to conserve such weapons and their ammo for when they are really needed. Meanwhile, a Girandoni-esqe air rifle of .45 caliber, capable of holding 1000 good shots in its buttstock airtank is deployed.
3 years since ash fell. On patrol at the dam. The meth-heads from Grand Junction have gotten worse since the disaster. A fanatical death-cult has sprung up in Grand Junction. Some Mexican fucker decided to build a pyramid in Junction, and started worshiping Tezcatlipoca. To replace meth and cocaine, new drugs are fashioned from Datura and Mormon Tea. War parties from GJ raid neighboring settlements for sacrifice victims and resources. GJ grows in size and influence among the mountain settlements. Some villages send tribute. Young girls, food, other things of value. Tlatoani of GJ has a vision of conquering Gunnison. Declares that the city must submit to his will and send 100 captives for sacrifice. Council sends reply: "Achieve me first, then sell my bones!" This does not sit well with the Tlatoani. War parties rage up and down the Gunnison River. Most settlements look to Gunnison for protection. We do what we can, but our troops are too few. In my first fight, I learned to not underestimate these "Neo-Aztecs". They fight hard. Apparently the Tlatoani got them to use hard drugs only during religious celebrations, except for Mormon Tea, which they take as a focus enhancer before battle. By capturing (and sacrificing) one of our soldiers, they obtain the secrets to our silent killers: the Gunnison Arms, model 2019 Air Rifle. Soon after they start manufacturing their own version. I see them approaching, blowing their Aztec Skull Flutes, which sound like a horde of men shrieking in agony. The men on the dam are uneasy. "Don't worry", says the CO. "The new 6-inchers were installed last week." The cannons guarding the sides of the dam are wheeled into position. "These fuckers are from Grand Junction, and that's good wine country. Perhaps they would appreciate a whiff of grape." Grape-shot flies forth, and the chaos ensues.
Spring, year 4 We held through the winter, though the cost was high. Still, our manpower has recovered some, due to an influx of refugees fleeing the Tlatoani. Our electricity from the dam is an attractive thing, and slowly some outside contact has been established via radio. The ash isn't as bad now on many passes. Compression from snow and erosion from runoff, combined with new plant growth, have helped clear the passes. Trade begins to flow. We control settlements far enough south to have access to good sources of Turquoise and aquamarine. These are traded in the mountains. Silver and gold deposits are mined. Most trade is by barter, but the new Gunnison Shillings gain some popularity. This increases the attractiveness of Gunnison to the Tlatoani. The Aztecs hole-up for the moment and start a program to breed warriors, with public orgies. They need an army. We, in response, begin recruiting from neighboring towns and forging alliances. The Oligarchy of Aspen, long dependent on our agricultural products, agrees to send a contingent of 200 men. Glenwood Springs was going to volunteer help, but the Tlatoani took it and everything up to it along the Colorado River in a stunning campaign. We send an appeal to the Patriarch of Colorado Springs. His Holiness replies that we will have support. 500 men, armed with weapons from Fort Carson. They have agreed to send some ammunition for us, and to feed their own men as much as possible. In return, our churches must come under the dominion of the Colorado Church. It is a tough decision to make, giving up some of our liberty, but it is our best bet, and provides us a close ally with power. The council signs. Immediately, three Black Hawks are dispatched with a military attache. The Bishop-General, in his flowing robes, surveys our defenses. "This can be made to work. You have held out this long, and that is a miracle. When those degenerates come, we will send them to their judgement!"
As Bishop-General from Co. Springs begins preparing us, my squad (10 men including myself) gets sent on a mission. Aspen is facing skirmishers from Glenwood Springs. It seems a few orgies in the hotels and pools turned them Aztec pretty fast. Degenerates. These skirmishers are hitting small tent, teepee, and cottage settlements. Strap on my tomahawk, load my revolver, and pump up my air rifle. Get sent north. From Crested Butte we cross the mountains and descend into Aspen. First time visiting since the ashes fell. Ski lifts are dead, but they are beginning to employ our greenhouse techniques. Hopefully they won't be as dependent on our crops in the future. Smirk as I remember that our Kokanee are the only local source of smoked salmon. They have to buy that from us (thoughts of beautiful silver). Get briefed on the situation. Decide on course of action. Get extra ammo and rations, set out for settlements. Gather intel, then we sneak into Glenwood. Orgy happening at the pool. The only thing that keeps these people from STDs is the immediate sacrificing of those found to be carrying them. Avoid this scene. The market does have good stuff. New pottery made in Mesoamerican style. Wouldn't mind a fancy new mug. Decide to watch the town gate from the bushes. See who leaves tonight. I see you fuckers. Follow them through the night. Sneak up behind them as they approach small settlements near Aspen. Quick tomahawk to the skull. Some gunfire follows. No casualties for us. Done this sort of thing near Gunnison many times. Glenwood wakes up to see three dead bodies outside the gate. A few more raids follow, but the newly reorganized Aspen defenses finally have the muscle to protect their smaller settlements. The alliance with Aspen is stronger than ever now. But, since the Tlatoani controls everything up to Glenwood, they have to withdraw their small force from Gunnison. Ouch, 100 allies gone in an instant. Co. Springs forces arrive. Ammo for everyone.