Doghouse Blues

Silent Strike (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

“This standoff situation has persisted for six weeks now” continued Walter, “And we have done our very best to manage the news situation accordingly. But we are approaching a crisis.”

“One of the stranded clients is Marmaduke Naughton Ruse- youngest son of Peregrinne Naughton Ruse of the famous legal conglomerate: the owners of Marbella and several other systems”

“Och Aye,” said Chick, “We a’ know aboot Marbella. Pals o’ yours I’ve noo doubt.”

“We certainly have mutual business interests with the organisation, yes” said Walter pertly.

“And you’re running out of excuses, is that it?” said Clarissa flatly.

“With possible expensive complications when they realise what a hash you’ve made of things here?” chipped in Anwyn.

“Marmaduke needs to be returned as a matter of priority” continued Walter, clearly struggling to ignore the jibes of the Agents. “His holiday here was the precursor to a serious and life saving operation which is scheduled for two weeks time. He should have left here two weeks ago, but he hopefully maintains sufficient medication to survive for now. We need him off there.”

“’And Call Me Cal’? "asked ’Enery.

“First things first” continued Walter. “We’ve had a message leaked out to us that a large group of survivors have managed to hole up in Castle Paravel.”

“My nephew Benny and his Boys” interrupted Don Guiseppe. “They were keeping tabs on things for me- security and so forth.”

“Castle Paravel looks like a fairytale castle from the outside” explained Walter, “But’s it’s closed to visitors and it’s where our island security team is based. Apparently Benito and his men managed to get some of our clients safely inside- including Marmaduke it seems.”

“How did they get in touch?” asked Anwyn.

“Morse code. It seems they’ve rigged up a lamp in one of the turrets. Regular comms are being blocked of course.”

“And the maintenance teams are separate from the castle” quizzed Anwyn.

“That’s right. Maintenance is basically a series of secret tunnels under Christmastown- now we presume under ‘Call Me Cal’s control. There is a tunnel link to the castle but we assume Benito has blocked it or its heavily guarded.”

“The tasks are thus threefold” continued Walter.

“Firstly, to sneak onto the island: we can hopefully do that via submarine. Once you’re in, you need to reach the Town Hall. Once there you will need to immobilise the anti aircraft systems so that we can send a launch in to the castle. Once that is done we have a strike company ready to go. These will be mostly going to Castle Paravel to rescue the holdouts and establish a beachhead, but one will be landing at the Town Hall- which brings us to you your third task.”

“Which is?” asked Anwyn.

“Rescue Rudolf.” replied Walter. Tears started to well up in Moe’s eyes, as a dimly remembered childhood memory fought its way to the surface of his convoluted brain.

“Rudolf?” puzzled Clarissa, “As in, Rudolf…..”

“The red nosed reindeer, Yes” said Walter tartly. Big Tony will explain". The lurching thug shambled forward.

“We’s gots da only established reindeer hoid outsida Finland on Christmas Island.” he explained. “We’s gotta da GCC Conservation Awoid for dem, and we rotates summa da friendlier females as Rudolf for da punters. Usually only a weeks at a time.” Tony sniffed, dabbing what looked like a tear from the corner of his eye.

“Butta she’s been ’dere six weeks now” he sniffed, “And dey’re very sensitive animals”. He started to sob.

“Tony here is a Galaxy renowned Geneticist and Animal Breeder” explained Walter. “He’s pulled off a miracle with that herd, and they are a great draw for our clients- not to mention dozens of off world documentary makers. Even one doe is extremely valuable: Rudolf must be rescued.”

“To that end we’ll be landing a ship to evacualte Rudolf once you’ve knocked out the defences. Protect her at all costs.”

“Dere, dere” said ’Enery, as he patted Moe on the back, as he also sobbed uncontrolably.

“We’ve provided this” said Walter, reaching up and handing over a spider like palm sized droid, which dug its legs into Clarissa’s shoulder pad and perched precariously.

“Mr. Boomer at your service Miss.” chirruped the droid in a musical voice, “Primed and ready to detonate when we reach the destination control room.” Clarissa looked at the the thing nervously.

“Ooo I can’t wait” said Mr. Boomer. “It will be so exciting. And then I can relax in Robot Heaven with the satisfaction of a job well done. Robot serving girls, all the oil I can drink……”

“Quite keen isn’t he?” commented Anwyn.

“Just a mini nuke” said Walter. “Should collapse the maintenance tunnels and render the entire building unsafe, but it won’t collapse the thing entirely. We can have it rebuilt in a couple of weeks.”

“We haven’t discussed our Bounty yet” said Clarissa.

" I have a simple schedule of fees here" said Walter. “For knocking out the air defences Cr 500,000. For rescuing Rudolf another Cr 500,000. For taking out ‘Call me Cal’, a straight Cr 1,000,000.” ’Enery whistled.

“And what about Cal?” asked Chick.

“Well local time it’s Christmas Eve: Christmas comes but twice a month in Christmastown. What that means is that as the Lord of Misrule Call should be out and about on his sleigh hunting for humans for his Saturnalia Games tomorrow. Bloody combats to the death and that sort of thing. So he certainly won’t be at home, but you may bump into him” replied Walter.

“The priority is knocking out the air defences” he added. “After that you can hunt Cal at leisure.” Clarissa nodded.

“Any more questions?”

“What I’m not clear on”, said Clarissa, “Is where the Alice Gang fit into all this.”

“The Who?” asked Walter, with a show of mild surprise. Clarissa displayed her warrant meter details.

“There was a sighting here” she said flatly.

“I’’ve no idea” shrugged Walter. “Tony?” Big Tony went outside and spoke to the receptionist. There was a short pause.

“Dey ’se on holiday in Girlstown” said Tony. “Alla da extras. Good customers: ’dis is ’dere toid visit.”

“Well” said Walter, “I’m not sure you’d blend in there Except maybe you.” He gestured at Clarissa, who silently fumed.

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Always Winter, Always Christmas (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

“Ok Tony, showa da Dogs in” said Don Guiseppe Corleonne to Big Tony. Tony grunted and left momentarily.

He looked over at Walter Pertwilloughby, his brief. The guy was likely a fruit but hey- he was one of the best mob lawyers in the business. The door opened and the Strontium Dogs walked in. Pertwilloughby raised his eyebrows slightly. What a freakshow.

Some sort of punk rocker with a bug arm, a Lord of the Rings extra, Some sort of Halloween Woman and a blue chicken smoking a cheap cigar. And a gypsy chick with a bandana and a look that spelled trouble. Lefty hadn’t bothered to frisk them for weapons. He doubted they would have complied.

" Mr. Corleanne?" said gypsy chick, “We ‘re here for the warrent you’ve served via the Agency. But the details are a bit sparse.”

Don Guiseppe looked over at Walter and waved, lighting his cigar. He was far too important to talk to these bums.

“The details are quite sensitive” said Walter, introducing himself in a buisinesslike manner. "And to a respectable businessman like my client details leaking out could cost us a lot of money.

Chick had guffawed at the description of Don Guiseppe, and Walter narrowed his eyes to slits, his pencil moustache straight as a ruler. Staring at Chick he continued.

“You are familiar with Fargo?” asked Walter.

“Only from what we’ve picked upon the database” said Clarissa.

“System with but a single world – fortunately habitable – swept clean of all debris at some stage in the distant past: an ancient war maybe” intoned Anwyn.

“Hints at a culture that took all the physical matter of the system, save for the third planet and used it in something else – perhaps a Ringworld or Shellworld. Scientists have been unable to conclude the mystery and so Fargo remains an enigmatic system.”

“Yes, yes” said Walter impatiently, "It’s that world-Fargo III we’re concerned with.

“Some sortae holiday destination furr dickheads ah think issit Jimmy?” asked Chick.

“It is a premier holiday destination for the discerning tourist” said Walter flatly, " Fargo III is a premiere holiday world owned by the Quadrant Corporation, a world blessed with several unique conditions."

“Firstly, despite the small amount of surface water, the planet has an incredible supply of sub-surface aquifers, making all but the poles lush with vegetation. Second, it is remarkably poor in minerals, making it useless for mining. Third, non-native plants grow poorly and native plants do not take well to cultivation, due to complex forms of symbiosis which mean that every ‘useful’ plant requires a half-dozen ‘weeds’ in order to grow properly.”

“The result is a world with no value but its natural beauty and the Quadrant Corporation has exploited that with gusto. The entire economy of the world is given over to resorts and hotels, which make use of its unique assets”

“And yer in cahoots wi yon Quadrant richt?” asked Chick puffing his cheap cigar.

“We are legitimate partners in certain aspects of their business, yes” replied Walter.

“Sich as?”

“Westworld, Jurassic World, Knightworld, Romeworld, Christmastown, Halloweentown, Leathertown and a half dozen others” sighed Walter.

“Ach, what could possibly go wrong in a holiday resort full aff giant robot dinosaurs, gladiators or cowboy gunslingers?” asked Chick. “Why d’ye need us?”

“It’s a sensitive and difficult situation” explained Walter.

“Cracker,” said Moe, “I’m dead sensitive an’ all that”. Clarissa blinked slowly.

“It all began with a mix up with ’Call Me Cal” Walter continued. “‘Call Me Cal’ is one of our Roman Emperor series in Romeworld. We quite often switch Emperors for different scenario experiences, sometimes Augustus, sometimes Nero, sometimes Caligula and so on”

“Caligula was due for some downtime and we brought him in for a routine service, but there was a bit of a mix up unfortunately.”

“Do tell” guffawed Chick, puffing on his cigar.

“Yes. Well. We often duplicate synthiflesh sheaths for characters in different resorts. Thus for example in Westworld you will find the odd saloon tender or dusty cowpoke looking like Caligula, Henry V or some other character we feature in one of our other resorts. Similarly in Romeworld you might find a Centurion looking like Wild Bill Hickok or even John Wayne. The point is, we have a fixed database of robot ‘looks’, and we tend to spread these about a bit.”

“Isnae’ that a mite confusing?” asked Chick.

“Not really” replied Walter, "The database is quite large but it is not infinite. When a new sheath is required one is randomly generated to frame build and put in place during the next maintenance. You must remember that each resort has a huge number of robot ’extra’s- shopkeepers, serving maids, even children and so forth. Our resorts require a realistic population size. "

“Anyway, it transpires that ‘Call Me Cal’ got mixed up with a lookalike Victorian Hot Chestnut Seller in Chrismastown. Unfortunately this has led to a few minor problems.”

“Sich as?” asked Chick, guffawing again and sending himself into a coughing fit with inhaled cigar smoke.

“He somehow managed to follow the Technicians back to their hidden maintenance depot- and of course their deactivation codes didn’t work on him. As far as we can gather he has used them to seal of the maintenance tunnels and keep him active. Many of the robots have also been reprogrammed.”

“He’s now made himself Emperor of Christmastown-or New Saturnalia as he calls it now. He’s instituted the Saturnalia Games, featuring a number of our clients, and turned the Bobbie Bots into his Praetorian Guard.”

“So it’s fair to say” interrupted Clarissa, “That it’s a bloodbath down there?”

“Expensive legal complications” said Anwyn, sucking her teeth.

“Da Droid’s Nuts!” interrupted Don Guiseppe. “He’s married one of da’ reindeer and installed it as da’ Lady Mayor.”

“There are probably still two or three hundred living clients in Christmastown” said Walter, “Including some very important clients.”

“Ah” said Clarissa.

“Although our living clients have not simply been rounded up” said Walter, “A simple scan or trace will easily identify them, and the Praetorian Guard have been doing this periodically, and using some captives for games and so on.”

“Why haven’t you simply gone in mob handed, as it were?” asked Clarissa. “I’m sure you can muster the firepower.”

“Same reason we haven’t sent a merc. unit” said Walter, “Massive collateral damage and the implied threat to kill ALL of the clients in Christmastown”

“‘Call Me Cal’ also seems to have control of the localised automated defence systems- which includes anti aircraft capability. Some of our clients are the very wealthiest and we need to protect against kidnappers and the like.”

“So what do you need from us Squire?” asked ’Enery.

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Jingle Bells (16th April 2181)
16th April 2181

Clarissa had a very personal reason for this job, although she certainly wasn’t letting on to the others. As a younger agent Big Alice and Little Alice had certainly got the drop on her that time, and being tied up and used as a sexual plaything for three weeks had certainly shaped her opinion slightly.

Unfortunately the Warrant was “Apprehend and Return” only. The Alice Gang had made a reputation for robberies on a string of frontier worlds, but had managed to refrain from actually killing anyone. Not picking on the Little People and free spending had also got them a sort of reputation as latter day Robin Hoods-with everyone except the Corps and the Banks.

A sideline in kidnapping and later dumping attractive female law officers (and at least one Strontium Dog) had also added to their somewhat colorful reputation. Predictably, Moe was getting really excited about the job.

When she had outlined the job the others had been somewhat skeptical.

“Christmastown?” asked ‘Enery incredulously, "But it’s nearly Easter".

“Better not let the Churcher Police ’ear yew ’Enery love” said Anwyn, "Remember Easter is officially banned now as well as Christmas. Inappropriate religious influence an’ all that. "

“Yeah right as if anyone pays attention to the Christmas ban” replied ‘Enery. "Them New Church nutters can decree all they like, but ordinary folk ain’t gonna change the habits of a lifetime. B’ind closed doors is be’ind closed doors."

“Anyway the Yanks and the Aussies just laugh at the Bastards, not to mention most of the off world colonies”

“Only in Britain” sighed Clarissa, “It’s just getting worse”.

“Anyway Christmastown is owned by the Corleone Family as one of their more legitimate business fronts.” said Anwyn. “I ’eard that the New Church Commando Missionaries they sent ended up ice diving in concrete boots.”

As Moe came in their heads all turned towards him, and then took a double take. His greasy black hair had been well groomed, cropped and bleached pale blonde. He had invested in new armour and clothing, which was now predominantly black. His face looked well scrubbed for once.

Anwyn narrowed her eyes.

“Moe”, she said “You look like that character from those antique vids you’ve been watching: Tufty the Vampire Layer or whatever its called.”

Moe mumbled something and walked to a table with a new swagger he had adopted, probably under the delusion that it made him seem either Cool or Tough (or both). Clarissa shook her head.

“So ’wot about this job then?” asked ’Enery. They had been cooling their heels on the Doghouse for over a week now and he was getting bored.

“The Alice Gang have been sighted on Fargo III” said Clarissa.

“Umm” said ‘Enery, checking his meter, "I don’ see the attraction really, it’s not that big money."

“It’s personal” said Clarissa, gritting her teeth.

“Anyway”, she snapped, “There’s also this report regarding some trouble at Christmastown, a resort situated near the North Pole. The Corleone’s have put up a special warrant and are offering a fat reward, and its my guess the Alices are implicated somehow.”

“Ey, Ey!” said Moe excitedly, scanning his warrent meter. "It says’ere dat de Alices are wanted for repeated sexual offences against female law officers. He looked up at Clarissa. “Wot does dat mean like?”

“And oos the special warrant on?” asked ’Enery.

“Err, Father Christmas, it says ’ere” said Anwyn.

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Canine Heroes (31st March 2181)
31st March 2181

The celebration on Ariel had been riotous, and they were all now hung over.

Tim was vastly pleased at the footage he had obtained, and had lost no time in doing a deal with the Titania News Agencies about his inside exclusive.

“There’s a two part Docu Drama in this mates” he grinned, “I’ll make sure you ’re all heroes.”

“I might do a book too” he added as an afterthought.

A shuttle was being sent to Ariel to congratulate them. Tim had shaken hands with the Agents and said he needed to get to Titania in a hurry to close his deal, so wouldn’t be waiting for the dignitaries. ’Enery had looked the other way when he saw Alex sneaking on board before Tim left.

“So what now?” asked Anwyn, “Any good jobs on the meter?”

“There’s a few” replied Clarissa. “Have you ever heard of Christmastown?”

“One of those stupid resorts innit?” responded Anwyn.

“Precisely” said Clarissa. “And it seems they’ve been having a bit of bother.”

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A Very Big Bang (29th March 2181: 7.15 pm)
29th March 2181: 7.15 pm

As ’Enery piloted them out of range Chick breathed a sigh of relief. He had stayed behind with Anwyn and Demon to set charges and programme the auto destruct sequence, while Lucky and the others had suited up and returned to their own shuttle.

The dash back though the corridors to the shuttle bay had been nerve wracking: the last thing they wanted was a hidden cache of Security Droids popping up.

“All clear” said ’Enery.

“Any second now” said Anwyn. “Three…..Two……One……”

A massive flash illuminated the view screen. R 453236 was no more.

Chick lit a cigar as the shuttle headed back towards Ariel.

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Metal Mayhem (29th March 2181: 6. 45 pm)
29th March 2181: 6. 45 pm

“That must be the last of them” said Clarissa, more in hope rather than actually believing it.

They had worked their way through the base encountering more Mining Droids and Security Bots, and a seemingly endless supply of converted utility droids. They had also discovered the shuttle bay, including the dead bodies of the missing Mining Outpost crew.

Although the attacks on them occurred with intelligence, the degree of control involved fortunately seemed quite limited- otherwise they would have been overwhelmed. The number of droids which could actually be directed against them at any one time seemed quite limited.

Demon also seemed to have hit on the tactic for defeating the over sized mining droids, and his charges were disposing of them easily. ’Enery opened the door.

“Oh crap” thought Clarissa: another ‘Kill U Like’ Security Droid stood in the corridor beyond. But so was someone else.

“Die you mutant scum!” cried a synthesized voice, and a plasma grenade burst into the room, scattering and wounding the occupants. From behind the droid – oddly stationary – ACR fire cut down the corridor into the group. The Strontium Dogs attempted to return fire.

“It’s ’im”" yelled Anwyn. “It’s that bastard Kreeler, Mauler.”

“It all makes sense” thought Clarissa. “Mauler and his scum were altering the course of the asteroid to crash into Titania. His idea of Retribution for ‘going soft on the muties’, as he no doubt saw it.”

The cyborg was hit at least twice, but then snarling he raced into aside room, and she heard the doors hum shut.

“Locked it” said Anwyn. “Take a bit of time to open it will”. She pulled her tools from a utility pouch and started to work on the electronic lock.

As she worked there was a violent tremor and the whole base shook.

“Oi’ fink ’ees blawn anuvver Nuke” said ’Enery. Anwyn resumed her work, and then stepped back and nodded that it was ready.

The door burst open revealing a small control room crammed with computer consoles; Mauler had taken up a position behind one of these. As they rushed in another grenade knocked Moe unconscious, and wounded several of the others.

’Enery and Anwyn poured fire at Mauler however, and Anwyn saw that the outline of a personal force field shimmered as the bolts hit home; Mauler was certainly no pushover.

For a moment it seemed that he might actually win, when a blaster shot caught him full in the shoulder, and the force field flickered and finally died.

“Come on then you scum”, cried Mauler, “Better to die than live in a galaxy with filth like you!”

Standing up he sprayed ’Enery wounding him badly, but then it was all over as laser and blaster fire pumped into his chest. Mauler was dead.

Anwyn ran over to one of the consoles.

“Accordin’ to this the bleddy asteroid is now dead on a collision course with Titania” she said.

“Hum. Options?” asked Clarissa.

“Well, we could have tried to retime the detonation so that the course correction was wild, but that ain’t an option now” replied Anwyn.

“Or?”

“Errr….. I suppose I could set the base reactor to overload. With the amount of fissionable material in storage here it might well blow up the whole bleddy rock” said Anwyn.

“Do it”

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Welcome to the Machine (29th March 2181: 6.05 pm)
29th March 2181: 6.05 pm

“So why have you come to Uranus anyway Tim?” asked Clarissa. “It’s hardly the hub of the Solar System.”

“I’m doing some background work on the new Mining Company regs being operated in the outer planets and the Kuiper Belt. The Wesley Corporation have had them in place for a year or so now, and some of the older Family Companies are starting to follow suit.”

“Remind me” asked Clarissa.

“Technically according to Earth laws, and general custom and practice, mutants are not permitted normal employment. On frontier worlds a lot of mining companies bend this rule – generally for piece work and lower wages- simply because they need to maintain a supply of labour on unpopular worlds.”

“The outer planets and Kuiper Belt are a bit of a backwater, and the system wars established most of the colonies as independent of Earth. Even so custom and practice generally followed Earth examples.”

“Beyond Jupiter however populations have always been a bit thin, and there has been the odd mutant out there working as an independent: perhaps through some good fortune owning a ship, or working with a normal friend or family member. Exceptional cases but they do exist.”

“About a year ago Wesley, with a series of legal loopholes set up just in case, drew up a number of ‘mutant deployment schemes’. Essentially they claim that these are not employment as such, but merely provide living expenses and use of mutant labour to keep them off the streets. They’ve pretty much managed to solve the entire mutant issue as regards Uranus orbit.”

“It sounds like slave labour” commented ’Enery.

“Well Yes and No”, replied Tim." The key thing is that there are mutant only-or largely mutant only-mining communities dotted around the moons and moonlets of Uranus orbit-notably on Titania. The mutants get a ‘survival allowance’-not technically a wage but in effect it is one. They also get relative independence and the amenities of a base. They don’t earn as much as an ordinary miner, but its still an improvement. The mutants are happier, the other colonists are happier because they’re not around, and Wesley gets cheaper miners when there is a labour shortage. The only ones unhappy are some SCA bureaucrats seeing their authority being flouted. But what can they do?"

“Moight piss orf a few ex Kreelers too” said ’Enery thoughtfully, looking at Clarissa.

At the bottom of the stairwell was a long corridor with metalled floors but walls cut from the living rock, which ran east west. The bulk of the party moved eastwards towards a distant crossroads, but Muscles decided to explore westwards on his own. Sensibly for once, Moe decided that it might be a good idea to keep an eye on him. Un-noticed by one another, the two groups drew further and further apart.

Meanwhile at the crossroads Chick and Clarissa peeked southwards into a large chamber containing pallets and automated forklifts: this seemed to be an actual mining area. The tread of caterpiller tracks caught their attention.

Chick looked southward and saw a large robot- perhaps eight or nine feet tall mounted on treads, with numerous mining drills , arms and other implements attached to the torso. This one definately didn’t have a smiley face, and it lumbered straight towards him. Fearing the inevitable, he started blasting way, with Lucky and Anwyn joining in from the junction. Clarissa meanwhile was exchanging shots with another handibot that had emerged from the east.

The mining bot was hard to miss, but it seemed able to soak up a mass of punishment. Swinging round a large grabber arm it smashed Chick backwards, easily knocking him senseless. Finishing with the handibot Clarissa started hurling the last of her plasma grenades, with Demon and even Tim trying to position for a shot at the crowded junction.

Meanwhile Muscles and Moe had become embroiled in their own firefight, as three or four handibots whizzed in and out of side corridors taking potshots at them. The little robots were hard to hit, and howling in frustration Muscles ran forward and ripped the arms off one of them, and burning with envy, Moe attempted to follow suit. Meanwhile the handibots pinged away.

Back at the crossroads things went from bad to worse. With the group mostly crowded around the crossroads pouring fire into the over sized mining droid, a door to the north opened and another robot emerged, hovering on its anti grav motors.

With a twinge of panic Clarissa realised that this was no modified handibot or mining droid with its programming overwritten- this was An Atari ‘Kill U Like’ Security Droid mk VIIa: the version with Heavy Blasters as standard armament.

“Oh crap” she thought. And then the thing opened fire on ’Enery. ’Enery spun backwards badly wounded (again), and then retreated to the crossroads. he was less than pleased to see yet another large mining droid approaching form down the eastern corridor.

Realising the danger Demon armed one of his satchel charges and flung it down the hallway of the eastern corridor. As the tracks of the over sized robot moved across it he detonated the charge, and the full force blew upwards from below the robot, destroying it utterly.

The Security Droid was also in trouble, as its capacitors overloaded and its heavy blaster stopped firing for a short while. Having finally disposed of the mining bot to the south everyone poured their fire into the security droid, and they were relieved to see it collapse on ruined anti grav motors before it had the chance to fire again.

“Regroup in the pithead chamber to the south” called Clarissa, and everyone moved back behind the ruined hulk of the first mining droid. For the moment, the shooting was over.

As the group applied medipacks and first aid, a careful watch was kept at the crossroads. Although the distant hissing of doors opening and the distant tread of caterpiller tracks could be heard, they were not interrupted for the ten minutes or so their respite took.

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Asteroid Assault (29th March 2181: 5.30 pm)
29th March 2181: 5.30 pm

They had been able to fit ten people in to the Lois Lane. Besides the five Strontium Dogs there was also Tim, who had insisted on the basis that the ship was his. Clearly he was on the trail of a good story, even if this seemed somewhat dangerous.

They had also decided to take three of the base personnel. These were the two MacGhee brothers, Lucky and Muscles: Clarissa had no idea what their real names were. Muscles was a real giant of a man, and the base mechanic. Lucky was a pilot, and with ’Enery’s flying skills that gave them a bit of backup in case something went wrong. The third was Damien Prince-the base mining engineer and demolitions expert. Inevitably his nickname was ‘Demon’.

The final addition to the team was an odd one. In the holding cell of ZZA-10 was a man called Alex Niven. Alex was being detained pending pickup by the not very efficient GCC system authorities-he had been there for at least three weeks. Apparently Alex was a notorious jewel thief, who had been recognised and detained on an incoming transport vessel. The company police on Titania didn’t want him downside, and neither did the ship’s captain. An unlikely sequence of administrative blunders and buck passing characteristic of the SCA had somehow resulted in him ending up on ZZA-10, pending collection by the next GCA marshal who could be bothered making the tiresome trip to the Uranus orbit. Alex had volunteered to assist with the mission, in the hope that this might be taken into consideration with regard to his sentence. Touched by this, Moe had insisted that Alex was an essential component of the team, and with hesitation the others had agreed that his unique skills might prove useful.

They had not bothered trying to request access to the underground hanger, and instead Lucky put straight down outside near to the eastern airlock. Suited up, and with all of the regular base access codes, getting in would not be a problem.

Alex gestured for the others to wait as they approached the door, and placed a small device atop the access panel, before removing the face plate and connecting a jack from his handcomp. After a moment he nodded and inputted the access codes; Anwyn saw that he had disabled the sensors which would register internally the status of the airlock. The group piled inside, and after repressurising Alex repeated the sequence on the inner door.

The cyborg looked very surprised as ’Enery caught him mid chest with both blasters. Innards sparking he careened across the room, against a pool table: they had entered some sort of recreation room.

As they had approached they saw the typical modular appearance of the upper base: four domes arranged in a square connected by corridors, and all connected to a dome in the centre: additional domes had been added on the west and east sides at some point, presumably as the base expanded. The courtyard areas formed between corridors and domes had also been pressurised and converted into growing habitats for food and atmosphere recycling-presumably at some times the base supported a greater number of staff. Demon explained that the mining was done on a much larger sub level.

The cyborg was certainly more machine than man: well armed with an ACR and RAM grenades, and wearing hardened armour. Deciding that speed was of the essence they opened the western door and moved on. Ahead lay a corridor crossroads leading to a door to the central dome straight ahead, and to smaller domes to left and right. Chick moved cautiously up the corridor, followed by Anwyn, Moe and ’Enery. The Strontium Dogs discarded their vacc suits, pulling on their armour pads over the mesh bodysuits they were wearing beneath. They would just have to run the risk of the base being depressurised. The others looked on curiously, all experienced in space operations, and happy to continue wearing their suits.

As they approached the crossroads the door ahead cycled open, and two more cyborgs popped out, spraying Chick and Moe with automatic weapons fire. Anwyn ran up close to the junction and took deliberate aim with her new Westinghouse Phased Precision Blaster, while ‘Enery made his way up to the fore. Chick dived into the cover of the north -south corridor, only to see a pair of hovering Toyota B 4001 ’Chums that are Fun’ Handibots, probably modified for utility duties around the base. Unfortunately they also appeared to have been modified with laser pistols, and these both blasted at him, wounding him further.

Moe and Clarissa exchanged fire ineffectually with the two cyborgs, but Anwyn’s patience paid off, with the rangefinder on her phased blaster shooting through the cover, throwing the southernmost shooter backwards, dead or unconscious. Muscles and Clarissa ran into the northern corridor, Muscles ripping the head off one with his bare hands, while Clarissa’s multibeam turned the other into scrap.

Thinking he was safe Chick breathed a sigh of relief, only to be fired upon again by another Handibot which had appeared from the south. The fire of Lucky and the others was now coming to bear however, and soon the Handibot was little more than scrap. Badly wounded, Chick took refuge at the crossroads, while ’Enery, Anwyn and the others exchanged fire with the cyborg in the main room.

Both his cover and his aim were good however, and matters were not helped when another cyborg appeared in the room. Deciding that their ACR fire was ineffective against ’Enery they both treated him to a RAM grenade. His armor shredded, the Green Giant staggered back.

“Blimey!” he said, “Oi’m ’urt agin!” He started to beat a slow retreat towards the crossroads, leaving Muscles, Anwyn and Moe to take the heat.

Against these multiple targets the two well emplaced shooted resorted to full automatic fire, spraying the hallway with bullets. Muscles was wounded, and Moe badly so, though Anwyn managed to escape unscathed. Clarissa started lobbing plasma grenades down into the room, as the group pulled back to the crossroads.

Once again Anwyn aimed with her phased blaster while the others blazed away ineffectually around her; ’Enery followed suit. The two phased beams hit home, and the two finally went down.

“They were tough” said Clarissa.

“Well trained too, I reckon” said ’Enery, leaning down. “Look at this”. He had picked up an old Kreeler badge from one of the cyborgs- they were certainly well trained enough to be ex soldiers. He spat.

The group took twenty minutes while Clarissa applied medipacks and first aid. The delay was unfortunate, but here were many wounds to be seen too.

Anwyn and Alex examined a computer console in the central dome, and having free reign as regards the access codes, started to access the base computer. They had been at it for perhaps ten minutes when Anwyn stepped back with a curse, and the panel started to sputter with blue sparks. There was a faint smell of solder.

“We accessed the robot control systems " said Anwyn. “Managed to shut a few of them down I think, but we were spotted. Whoever was working against us is pretty good. He fritzed the terminal I guess as the quickest way to deal with us.”

Moe meanwhile was examining one of the Handibots. Like the others it had a stupid smiley face on it, but this one had had lips and a blonde curly wig added. It was also wearing a top, a leather miniskirt and had a pair of rubberised legs attached wearing fishnet stockings. The name “Miss Kitty” was stencilled across the top. It’s tool attachments seemed slightly different somehow, and it looked like there were other mods. As he leaned forward he fealt a tap on the shoulder.

“Anwyn’s told you before. You’re not old enough” said Clarissa. “I need to patch you up, then you can guard the corridor.”

“Huh,” Moe muttered Moe sulkily, “Miss Kitty? It must ’ave bean the stations pet mascot. An’ a hungry one at that. Lookit the size o’ it’s mouth!”

After twenty minutes or so they were finished. An exploration of the other domes revealed living accomodation and a communications centre. Anwyn and Alex again tried to access the terminal but once again their opponent shorted it out. Gathering once again in the main corridor form the airlock they descended down into the main mining area.

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Mining Base ZZA 10 (29th March 2181: mid afternoon)
29th March 2181: mid afternoon

As they approached Ariel-an iceball moon it would have been pointless attempting to terraform- they had been buzzed by the Base Commander and given clearance to land. Clarissa had noticed that Captain Hanson had worn a naval uniform, although the other staff she had been able to see wore the Company overalls of the Wesley Mining Corporation: the premiere mining company in Uranus orbit. Captain Hanson had hinted that there had been additional developments since they had made their initial emergency call.

The ‘Lois Lane’ was drawn down into an underground hanger, and the crew and passengers entered a mid sized mining base, with accomodation for maybe two dozen staff. Currently there were only about half this complement, and as they entered the living areas they were greeted by Captain Hanson, and a pair of armed and armoured security guards.

“Glad you were able to make it so quickly” said Hanson, “AS I hinted there have been a few developments over the last couple of hours.”

“What exactly has happened?” asked Clarissa. “A crash we understood?”

“Not exactly” replied Hanson. “We service a number of remote mining stations from here on various moonlets or remote locations on Ariel. One of these is situated on R 453236- a chunk of rock about 10 km in diameter: nothing more than a piece of captured space debris really. It has value however- a rich seam of Lanthanum. There’s a largely automated mining facility on it, but it’s also staffed at times, currently by Dr. MacDonald and Henry Soames, two of our staff.”

“Twelve hours ago our shuttle approached on a standard resupply run, and apparently was given clearance to land. We were in contact with Joe Kobalski, the pilot at the time. He descended down into the hanger, and then we heard weapons fire, and screams. We’ve been unable to re-establish radio contact since, and the base isn’t responding. We are now without a ship here, and that was the basis for our original call.”

“Two hours ago a 5 megaton nuclear explosion detonated on the far side of R 453236. I think Professor Kiddmann had best explain?” Here Hanson turned to a wiry man in his late fifties, with wild white hair and moustache. He spoke precisely, and with a faint german accent.

“The explosion appeared to shift the orbit of the asteroid” said the Professor. “Ten minutes before you landed there was a second explosion and the orbit shifted again.”.

“To what purpose?” asked Tim.

“I think” said the Professor, “That whoever is doing this is trying to shift the orbit of the asteroid. At this point of the cycle R 453236 is on a converging orbit with Titania. My theory is that the explosions are meant to adjust the convergence sufficiently that the rock will make a decaying orbit into the surface of Titania.”

“And that’s bad, is it?” asked Anwyn.

“The event could well be catastrophic, and could easily destroy the colony” the Professor replied. “My calculations indicate that if the adjusted orbit can be finalised, such a collision would take place in 5.76 days.” There was a short silence.

“We have only one option available.” said Hanson. “With your craft on hand we can send a team onto the base, and hopefully stop whoever is doing this.”

“This might be achieved by preventing further explosions which might finalise the new orbit.” said the professor. “Alternatively it might be possible to set up a chain reaction in the stations nuclear power plant which will cause a catastrophic failure within the asteroid.”

“Ye’ mean blow the snecker up?” asked Chick.

“Correct” said Hanson.

“Well why didn’t ye say so laddie?” replied Chick.

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Mercy Mission (29th March 2181)
29th March 2181

’Enery was giving George a bit of a break as he rolled a huge reefer. He decided to vacate the cabin as soon as George lit up, as the stuff only gave him a pounding headache.

After sealing Wylde’s remains in a casket and signing it over the SD Office on Veronica, they had been informed that the casket would be sent to the Doghouse straight away. The nasty looking amulet he had been wearing (which Clarissa had noted caused the ground beneath a nearby grave to shift uncomfortably) they had wisely decided to send on also- though as a precaution Anwyn suggested that it not be on the same flight as Wylde’s corpse-and also that it be locked up in a separate building. Not liking the look or feel of the thing, Veronica Security had complied.

Transport to Jupiter and onwards to Saturn had gone fairly smoothly, but then they had hit a snag. It had only been the purest luck that they had been able to get a lift on the “Lois Lane” on Saturn, after they had found that there wasn’t a scheduled flight on to Uranus for another few days.

It was then that ‘Enery had found himself peering at a middle aged man with fair hair, chatting at to a dreadlocked man in Pilot’s overalls, on the spacedock.

“’Im there” said ‘Enery, "Isn’t dat Tim Phillips?" He pointed.

“It sounds kind of familiar?” puzzled Clarissa.

“It’s ’Im- Phillips”, continued ‘Enery excitedly, "’Im wot rote ‘Zeroes’, ’an made them documentaries on the Kreelers!" Realisation dawned on Clarissa and several of the others.

Tim ‘Digger’ Phillips was a fairly well known investigative reporter, who had made a number of documentaries exposing the seedy underbelly of the British Establishment. In his youth his reporting during the Mutant Rebellion, and his secret inside footage of mutant concentration camps, had made him a minor hero of many mutants, and had perhaps also helped to turn the tide of public opinion against the excesses of the Kreelmann Regime.

His subsequent documentaries and books on Kreeler War Criminals, The New Church and many other anti- establishment views had made him highly unpopular with the British Government, and he had resigned from the BBC. His work was very popular in the US and Australia however, and was widely distributed off world. He made a very successful living as a freelance journalist/ documentary maker/ author.

“I wornt ’is autograarf” said ‘Enery excitedly. "’E can soin my corpy of ’Zeroes’"

Phillips had been fairly gracious, if somewhat bemused, about being approached by a bevy of Strontium Dogs, and had signed ’Enery’s book with good humour. He had casually asked, probably out of politeness, what they were doing on Saturn, and they had glumly responded that they were stranded waiting for a ship on to Uranus-in pursuit of a perp. Phillips had raised an eyebrow and looked at George-his pilot, and had offered them a lift on the "Lois Lane’.

“Bags I get an interview if it all goes well- I might be able to use it.” The agents had shrugged- it seemed like a fair deal under the circumstances.

George had just relayed their incoming to Titania control, when the controller cut in.

“Lois Lane I need you to assist, we have a situation here and you are in the closest proximity to help. " said the Controller.

“Hey no problem Mon,” said George, “Chill out and tell me your ’ting, nice and easy like.”

“We’ve had a Pan call from mining base ZZA-10 situated on Ariel: that’s only about two hours from your current intercept. We can’t get anyone there for at least 10.”

“And what’s the problem, Mon?” asked George.

“Something’s happened to their shuttle-lost with all survivors on a remote outpost. Captain Hanson, the base commander reports that the crash might have been orchestrated. Professor Kiddmann, the chief scientist also reports the situation as very serious, and they need a craft immediately. Go straight there and we’ll send another craft along as soon as we can.”

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