Doghouse Blues

The Things from Another World (2nd February 2181: 8 pm)
2nd February 2181: 8 pm

Chick looked round, and before anyone could start to speak he piled up his plate from the free buffet.

Moe was still in bed, sedated by Clarissa to stifle his whining, but Anwyn was present, scoffing Mars Bars he noticed, from what appeared to be a supply kept in one of her ammo pouches. What was even odder was that the scratches and wounds she had recieved earlier seemed to have largely healed. He had heard stories but hadn’t believed them till now.

Also sat around the table were Toppinghouse, Mr. Burnes, Smithers and Dr. Halffrunt. Chick wasn’t sure what a beatnik was, and so was unable to confirm whether or not he looked like one.

Dr. Halffrunt was probably middle aged, and the top of his head was bald as a coot. He wore thick glasses and still had a semicircle of uncombed hair, somewhat resembling a dirty scrubbing brush, circling the middle of his head from ear to ear. The effect of his eyebrows almost made it appear like there was a perfect circumference of wiry hair. Absently he noticed that while this hair was a salt and pepper grey/ black, the copious hair growing from his nostrils was an alarming red.

“So Dr. Halffrunt”, concluded Mr. Burnes, “These are the facts as we know them. Perhaps you could now deign to inform us of your half witted opinion?”

“’Zis iss all very interesting”, said Dr. Halffrunt. “Zer Preying Zorg iss Native to Fundi. Normally ’zey average some 3.5 metres tall, und zho I can only conclude ’zat ze vuns you encountered ver still in ’zer rudimentary stages off ’zer life cycle.”

“But how did they get here?” asked Clarissa, “And why have they re-appeared now?”

“Ah vell. I can only hypothesise of course” said Halffrunt. “’Ven ’zis vorld was terraformed some thirty years ago, it iss possible ’zat ’zere was some contamination: ’ze process was somewhat rougher and readier back ’zen. Alternatively ’ze zorgs might haff been imported on an early colony supply vessal: I fear biosecurity iss not always a priority in such circumstances. Eizer vay,zey arrived at Eerie Caller some time ago I suspect.” Here Dr. Halffrunt paused, and gripped the lapels of his shabby checked jacket, leather elbow patches shining dully.

“Ze natural prey of ze Zorg are ’ze small, tree-dwelling marsupials of Fundi’s jungles but ’zey can readily adapt to larger prey-including lone miners. Fortunately thirty years ago ’ze miners were few, and zroo fortunate circumstance ’ze mine was abandoned, depriving the nascent Zorg colony of its primary food source. At ’zat time the planetary population was mere hundreds, and settlements scattered, so ’ze colony must have started to prey on vun anozzer, before going into hibernation. It iss established zat ze Zorg can do this.”

“And now?” asked Clarissa.

“Now is different situation” beamed Dr. Halffrunt. “Zere are many mines and small settlements, und a population numbering over ten thousand. Zer iss ample food available for ’ze colony to expand and prosper. Also ’zer wind patterns are now much more temperate, so an airborne migration is far more likely to succeed.”

“Wait a minute!” interrupted Mr. Burnes, “Airbourne migration you say?”

“Ah yes. If ’ze colony produces a new queen in und her drones, ’zese will have a short lived winged stage to facilitate establishment of a new colony.” Here he paused and started fiddling with a slide rule. “I estimate ’zat if a new queen is established in a hidden location elsewhere, and if… yes…. and zo….Hmmm.” He continued to calculate

“Yes. It is extremely probable ’zat ’ze colony will be largely overrun in… what… seven or eight months?”

WHATT?!” exploded Mr. Burnes. “But that is completely unacceptable. We’ll never be able to ship in replacement workers at that sort of rate.”

“What do you suggest Sir?” asked Smithers, looking panicked.“We need to destroy these enemies!”

“Zere are no enemies in science Mr. Smithers, only phenomena to be studied.” lectured Dr. Halffrunt. “’Ze spread of ’zis species has neffer been studied in ’ze necessary scientific detail before, and ’zis situation offers a unique opportunity to study the phenomenon and ’zer rate of destruction of ’zer colony. I vould be grateful if you could assign me a team of your mining staff to assist me in my field studies.”

“Are these things intelligent?” interrupted Clarissa.

“Zey have a rudimentary intelligence but ’zey are essentially ruthless killing machines,perfectly adapted to their role. No emotions, no feelings. no pleasure, no pain… no emotion, no heart. Our superior in every way. It will be most fascinating to monitor ’zer effects on ’ze colony.”

“You blathering lunatic!” exploded Mr. Burnes. “Smithers, call Boris and Lurch to to stuff this imbecile into a wastepaper basket! And call my personal shuttle.I need a vacation.”

“Ach. I am afaid ’zat will not be possible.”said Dr. Halffrunt. “I haff already filed my report with the SCA and ’zis world is now under quarantine.” He shrugged.

“Rattling Boobykins! Smithers! Bring me the rubber truncheon!” gasped Mr. Burnes, incandescent with rage.

“Careful Sir. Careful!” said Smithers soothingly, "Your heart remember?

“Er, can I say say something?” asked Clarissa, sticking up her hand.

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A Hasty Retreat (2nd February 2181: 1.15 pm)
2nd February 2181: 1.15 pm

“What the Fuck were they? They came out of nowhere!” muttered Clarissa as she applied her medikit in the relative safety of the radio shack.

At least a dozen of the creatures, silent and lightning fast, had emerged out of galleries from all sides. The security bot had been destroyed, and both Anwyn and Moe had been badly injured.

The creatures were something like giant mantises, with a torso five or six feet long. They had lunged out with serrated claws and cutting mandibles, attacking too quickly even for the practiced reflexes of the Strontium Dogs. They were lucky to be alive.

After the firefight had finished they had heard cries for help from further inside, and minimal exploration had revealed a barricade inside the main gallery, with three relieved looking mine security staff and two guard robots. These were survivors of the party who had investigated the mine some days earlier, and their experience was not dissimilar to the events experienced by the Strontium Dogs.

“Weel thurr shood be a rewarrd fer these onyway, like” said Chick with some satisfaction. “A purty the heid the ball wasnae killed like” he sniffed, glancing over at Moe.

Clarissa radioed Elvis who drove nearer with the Chuck Wagon, and half an hour later the group were driving back towards Melby. As they approached they called the local Company Agent, who met them as they approached town. They discussed their experiences.

“Well this is sure outta my league” he said, “I guess I’d better inform Mr. Burnes”.

Two hours later a personalised Grav Carrier arrived,and an elderly hawkish looking man in a business suit disembarked, along with what Clarissa guessed was a Personal assistant and a pair of Goons.

“This better be important Toppinghouse” said Mr. Burnes, “I was in the middle of fabricating some very important Safety Reports for those clowns at the SCA.”

“Sorry to disturb you Sir, but its about the Strike situation.” replied Toppinghouse.

“What!!? I’m still paying good money to those Bolshie troublemakers?” exploded Mr. Burnes. “Toppinghouse, I want you to horsewhip those workshy Wobblies and hire some scab labour at once. There are plenty of mutant layabouts littering the planet, hire some of them. At quarter rates dammit!”

“Excuse me Mr. Burnes” interrupted his PA hesitantly.

“What is it Smithers? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of having a Rant?” growled Mr. Burnes.

“Yes Sir. Sorry Sir. It’s just that if we hire scab labour the Union says they will down tools at ALL mines on Little Sister, which mean that we’ll be losing…” here he pulled out his handcomp and did a quick calculation, “Oh… er, Well Sir. Um, that’s an awful lot of money we’d lose per day. We simply can’t afford to do that Sir.” Mr. Burnes glowered. There was a polite cough from Toppinghouse.

“I did hit on a solution Sir.” he beamed. “I hired these Strontium Dogs to investigate the mine, and they found that it had become infested with ..er creatures Sir.”

“Creatures?” said Mr. Burnes sarcastically. “Like invisible man eating six foot Bunny Rabbits perhaps? I think you’ve been on the sauce Toppinghouse. Take a disciplinary memo Smithers.”

“No sir, not bunny rabbits Sir. I’ve checked the databases and it might be serious. I think they’re Preying Zorgs, Sir” proffered Toppinghouse.

“Preying Zorgs. Hmm. Never heard of ’em” said Mr. Burnes. “Have you Smithers?”

“No Sir. Perhaps we ought to consult with a Biologist?” suggested Smithers.

“Biologist?!” sneered Mr. Burnes. "Namby pamby tree huggers you mean? "

“Yes Sir”

“This is a Mining Company Smithers! We don’t rake in the cash by wasting money on a bunch of Pie-In-The-Sky Do-Gooders lecturing us on how we ought to save the teddy bears!” said Burnes. “No, No. Hard work and minimum wages. A few unimportant lives lost here and there, a bit of duplicitous corner cutting and we rake in the big bucks. File the right reports to keep the pen pushers at the SCA happy and everyone’s a winner. Well, everyone of importance that is.”

“But there’s a Biologist on planet Sir. Maybe we should take advantage of his expertise?” asked Smithers.

WHAT!!!” exploded Mr. Burnes. “We’re actually paying one of these irrelevant beatnik freeloaders?”

“Not directly Sir. Dr. Zack Halffrunt is employed by the Colonial Office. He’s currently on planet doing follow up surveys for the Terraforming Office of the SCA. We wouldn’t have to pay a penny.”

“Hmm, not pay a penny you say?” said Mr. Burnes. “Alright Smithers you’ve convinced me. It can’t do any harm to call in this beatnik chump if it can potentially save us a major strike problem. Call him in Smithers, call him in.”

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Whistling in the Dark (2nd February 2181: 1 pm)
2nd February 2181: 1 pm

Anwyn looked down at the gallery map the Tech had provided them; there seemed to be a large gallery over to the northwestern edge of the mine, with a maze of passages leading off in this direction, with numerous crossroads, intersections and alternate routes.

They moved in a rough file, with the guard Bot at he head being controlled by Clarissa behind it, along with Chick. Moe was intent at scouting slightly ahead.

Inside it was dimly lit, with the galleries partially illuminated at junctions by sporadic electric lanterns. As they moved along there were dozen places attackers might be lurking.

It was soon after they entered that they heard the eerie whistling. They hesitated, and the sounds persisted for some 15 seconds before it all went silent again.

Ahead was a sudden blur of movement, as out of a side passage something lurched at Moe. His laser pistols spat red light off to a gallery to his left, out of Anwyn’s field of vision, and then she heard him howl with pain as what looked like a serrated spear cut through the armour pad on his left shoulder.

At the same time the robot started firing straight ahead, as swift moving shapes suddenly appeared from nowhere, as though conjured from thin air. Clarissa and Chick started firing as more lightning shapes lurched out of the darkness, and Anwyn realised that their attackers were stalking them from all directions. Just in time she swung round to face an unknown gallery off to her right, and opened fire at the blur of movement which was suddenly upon her.

She just had time to register satisfaction at the things head exploding before two more shot out from a gallery ahead of her. Though they had several metres to cover she could simply not react fast enough, and though her beam cut through the torso of one assailant, the other grabbed her with two razor sharp claws, and then she knew no more.

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Lunch at Eerie Caller (2nd February 2181)
2nd February 2181

At around 11 am they came to the end of the lonely canyon that housed Eerie Caller. They had parked the vehicles in cover, and ahead of them they could see a shallow bluff, perched atop of which was a two storey adobe building-some sort of office perhaps.

Clambering up through the rocks the Strontium Dogs clambered up the shallow cliff, and sheltered in the lee of the building. All seemed quiet.

Below them to the south and west lay the body of the camp-half a dozen or more buildings including storage sheds, bunkhouses and offices, an a number of railway sidings with parked trucks. Heavy machinery and vehicles lay abandoned.

One of the buildings had a radio antenna on the roof, and as they peered at his they could see that beyond it the railway tracks disappeared into the side of the mountain. It was then that Clarissa spotted the Robots-two of them near the radio block.

“Damn” she thought, “Security ‘Bots. They look the same type as those ones at the MacSaunders Place: hope they aren’t armed as well.”

With the cover of the buildings and the rock face it was possible to creep closer without breaking cover, and so Anwyn and Chick made their way closer towards the cliff, ready to pop out and deal with them if necessary.

Meanwhile Clarissa made her way down to the line of railway trucks with Moe, and she started moving westwards along their north side to get closer towards the mine entrance.

Moe on the other hand, decided to scramble under the line of trucks, and the next line beyond, to emerge on the far side of the railway tracks near the southern line of buildings. Predictably enough, he walked into the line of another Security Bot, which decided to shoot him.

As the firing broke out Anwyn broke cover to the north and knocked out one of the two ’Bots, near her, while Chick ran round the corner of the radio shack and managed to knock out another.

A laser blast had wounded Moe however, and a second machine trundled round a building corner and also started shooting at him. Clarissa started shooting through the trucks to assist as she might, but Moe’s position in the open was not a good one and he went down under a hail of fire, although he did manage to dispose of one in the process.

From her cover Clarissa continued to exchange fire with the remaining ’Bot. Behind her Anwyn and Chick had disposed of another ’ Bot, though she was now facing two alone, although at least her cover was good as she fired through the gaps between the trucks.

Eventually the three of them managed to knock out the remaining two robots, and Clarissa turned her attention to Moe, shaking her head at his propensity to put himself in exposed positions, and then get shot. he wasn’t going to last long at this rate. Still, more Bounty for the rest of them.

Meanwhile Anwyn and Chick examined the Radio Building-another two storey adobe building, with a roof probably accessible from the upper floor. The door was metal and secure, and shutters appeared to have been pulled down and secured over the outside of the ground floor windows. As Anwyn peered up she though she caught a shadow of movement on the upper floor-someone was up there!

Deploying her wire launcher she scrambled up pnto the roof, hauling Chick up afterwards. Sure enough there was a locked door leading to a stairwell. Looking at the radio antenna they observed that sections of it seemed to have been twisted out of shape, and were likely no longer functional.

“Let ’ess down there!” she yelled, “Or we’ll blow the bleddy doors off. We’re not messin’ about” Chick pounded on the metal door as if to add emphasis.

“N n no! Go away. You’ve desroyed the robots. They’ll be coming for us! All of us! Go away!”

Chick shrugged, and blew the door of its hinges with his twin blasters. Moving cautiously down the stairwell they spotted a man cowering behind several barricaded desks. The air was stale, and thick with old cigarette smoke and rancid sweat. Anwyn wrinkled her nose.

“Lissen’ ye’ weelin’ Bampot!” snapped Chick. “We’ll no harm ye’, unless ye’ carry oan behavin’ like a stupit wee gurrllie. Noo came oan oot, or ah’ll regretfully haev tae blow yer’ heid aff like.” As if to add emphasis he vaporised a section of the desk. The man, badly shaken and hardly smelling of roses, crawled out.

As he staggered out Anwyn pinned him against the wall, and then frisked him for weapons. Chick opened all of the windows, and then went downstairs to let Clarissa and a limping Moe in. With some coaxing, interspersed with threats from Chick, the man eventually let his story out.

He was one of the skeleton team left to occupy the surface of the mine after the bulk of the workers had evacuated. It all seemed quiet, but by the end of the first day two people had gone missing. One of the others though he heard voices inside the mine, and so armed with shotguns, half a dozen went in to do a quick search-none came out by nightfall.

It was then that that the visitors arrived. He wasn’t sure what they were but his sole remaining colleague also vanished, and it seemed that whoever was doing this was able to climb the building: fortunately these were barred, and although it appeared some of the bars were bent slightly, they had otherwise held. This was a few night ago, and he had been able to sent out a garbled rescue message before the antennae was put out of operation.

The next morning he had not been confident enough to leave the site, but he had managed to recall six of the security robots, which operated on a secure short range communications system. He had putt hem on full alert and they had started firing, though he was unable to catch a glimpse of any of their targets. Since then he had decided that the best option was to sit tight and wait for rescue.

“I guess we need to go into the Mine then”, said Clarissa. “I guess the robots probably kept the attackers bottled up-but now we need to get in there before they start to wander out again.” The others shrugged and agreed.

While they prepared lunch Clarissa and the tech scavenged the fallen robots, and managed to get one back in working order-this time to be directed via a control console. It was around one when they finally stood outside the mine entrance.

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More Wary than Wobblie (1st February 2181)
1st February 2181

It was mid afternoon when they arrived in Melby: another two street, two bit mining town, with a variety of ramshackle prefab miners shacks scattering outwards from what purported to be the town centre. ‘Enery spied the ’No dogs or muties’ sign on the door of the biggest saloon, but noticed there were a few mutants around-no doubt engaged in the explosives work and and mining the more remote or dangerous seams. Following one of them they entered a smaller bar at the end of the main street, called the Pick and Shovel.

Inside were maybe a dozen or more miners: none of them mining, and all of them nursing their drinks.

“What’s with the big spenders?” Clarissa asked the barman. He looked up sourly.

“Eerie Caller’s been closed these weeks, ain’cha heard? Lots of broke miners in town.” he growled, “Much more of this and I’ll be out of business.”

“Well you got customers now darlin’” said Anwyn. “Stand ’em ep barman. For the house too.” The barman started pouring and she put a couple of hundred credits behind the bar. The miners started to queue eagerly.

“Let us know when its low mate”, said ’Enery, “We need some grub and a room too.”

As the miners sat down again with their drinks Clarissa passed around her picture of Eric, but without success. The miners were more than willing to pass on tales of their own troubles however.

Eerie Caller was one of the very first mines opened over thirty years ago, but it had proved difficult to work and had soon been overtaken by more lucrative digs, and it had closed down.

A new orbital survey a couple of years ago had revealed the likely proximity of a rich lanthanum deposit however,and some six months ago the mine had been re-opened. All had gone well for a while, but then, a few weeks before Christmas, the disappearances had started.

“It were just one or two at first, at decent intervals like.”said one miner. “Bad of course, but nuthin’ we ain’t used too.”

“But then in one weeks it was three, and the next five. And then the stories started circulatin’”

“Stories?” asked Moe wide eyed.

“Whistlin’ in the dark. Eerie like. Eerie calls in fact” said another miner.

“I spoke to old Jeb Collins” said their spokesman. “Jeb was here when the mine first opened thirty years ago. It seems it got it’s name because the miners then heard whistlin’noises too. The Bosses said it was just the wind, but folks then reckoned it was haunted.”

“He also said folks back then disappeared” he continued. “Not so many, but then other reasons to close popped up and it was abandoned anyway. Most of the miners then thought the place was bad luck anyway, and were glad to move on.”

“Anyway, talks with management got nowhere and more disappeared, and so eventually the Union called a strike” he continued. “It ain’t like we are allowed to be union members bein’ mutants, but crossin’ the picket line would be employment suicide, so I reckon we need to stay out too. It ain’t so bad for the norms ’cos the union emergency fund is supporting them a bit, but no such luck for us.”

As the others chatted Clarissa quietly slipped into her room and got changed into some ordinary looking cloths, and covered her third eye with a bandanna-hardly an unusual clothing item on this dust bowl world. Slipping out the back she made her way along the street to one of the regular miner saloons, and ordered some chille and a cold beer. She attracted the interest of some of the more amorous types who fancied their chances, and soon got into a conversation regarding the current mine situation.

The story was much as it had been described by the mutants, though there was one further piece of information. Although it was been glossed over somewhat, the management had persuaded the sheriff to send in a couple of deputies to check the mines one the strikers had abandoned it. They had not returned. Apparently there mine was now locked down, though a small company team still inhabited the surface buildings to keep an eye on things.

“Hmm, next stop the Company offices I think” mused Clarissa.

Ten minutes later she managed to talk her way in, flashing her SD badge to a surprised official, and explaining that she and her associates had just hit town.

The manager’s tale confirmed the one she had heard from the miners. All in all, twenty three people had gone missing, not counting the two deputies. Clearly the Union had a strong case for striking given the circumstances.

“The Sheriff won’t send any more men down there” he said, “but he mentioned that a couple of Stronties had arrived on planet a few weeks ago, and that maybe if I posted a reward up they might take on the job?”

“I’m afraid those Agents are dead” said Clarissa acidly. “However, it just so happens that my team has arrived on planet recently, and we have a little time on our hands while we wait for the next shuttle. We may be interested, if you can offer a reasonable incentive. There are five of us-all well armed.”

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Checking Things Out (31st January 2181)
31st January 2181

Moe was going to be absolutely no use at all today. He had somehow acquired a “Bill Danger, Action Ranger” figure and a small cuddly toy rat, and was currently preoccupied in acting out elaborate Revenge scenarios featuring himself (represented by Bill), and Roland (represented by the rat). She sighed.

The others were in a brooding or apathetic mood. Brother Scotty had acquired a variety of beer and meats (not from MacSaunders)and was setting up a barbeque, while the others pretty much lounged around on deckchairs. “Well let them be for today”, she thought, and went off into town to see if she could find anything out about Eric.

Luck was wearing a bit thin however, though she did discover he had hitched a lift on a wagon convoy westwards, though to Melby or Emmaton she wasn’t sure. She dropped back into the Sheriff’s office to ask for more information on the job with the Miners strike at Melby.

“Dunno much about it. The sheriff there asked if those Stronties-not you, them ones that got ‘et by Yobo’s gang-were still on planet. Whatever the situation is, he’s lost two deputies dealin’ with it, and we ain’t really got resources to help. The Company will put up a reward though-I’ll wire ‘an tell ’em if you’re interested.” he explained.

“Sure thing” replied Clarissa. “Tell them we’ll be heading out to Melby in the morning”.

Her final port of call was the Burger Queen office. The possibly female secretary was back in place, as was the manager, though with evidence of incomplete removal of black nail varnish. Clarissa gave a summary, and he started to crow out loud.

“We’ve got the bastards! Got ‘em dead! They won’t last a week on planet. I could be promoted to sub sector manager for this!” Clarissa was touched for his concern for his burgified employees. She had decided on balance that it was probably a lot less hassle to sell the video evidence to Burger Queen rather than try to blackmail MacSaunders themselves: that might involve assassins, or even worse, lawyers. And so the bargaining commenced.

An hour or so later she arrived back in camp. “You can all cheer up now: with the vid money and escort reward from Burger Queen we each get Cr 105,000- that’s more than what we’d have got from the Yobo split. We haven’t done too badly.”

“I’m still goin’ to nail that ratty bastard” said Anwyn, lowering her sunglasses, “but not today, at least”. She lounged back on her sunbed.

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Victoria Again (30th January 2181)
30th January 2181

The vehicles were ready to roll by 8am, and soon the convey set back across the desert back to Victoria, which they reached around 6 pm. The Burger Queen offices were put aside till the next morning, but the Agents decided to drop in on the Sheriff before winding down for the day.

“I had the Doc’s report since I spoke to you last”, he said. “The patrolling Deputy and the one in the office were both stunned with blaster fire.Not a common weapon on this here planet.”

Clarissa nodded, noting that the cops themselves were armed with heavy caliber slug pistols, though they had assorted longarms for backup no doubt.

“Cameras?” she asked.

“Purged or wiped” he replied. “Not recoverable either: its like the electronics and memory were totally scrambled. Maybe by a pulse or something.”

Clarissa ummed and thought. Her initial suspicions had turned to an inside job, but this was now looking like the work of professionals. ’Enery tugged her sleeve, and led her outside to the porch of the adjacent building.

He pointed down to the remains of an expensive cigar, and then produced the remnants of a paper matchbook from his pocket. The name of the ship was “The Woger Wabbit”. A sinking feeling tugged down deep in her belly.

The group headed over to the Downport Office-no more than a shabby office next to a small warehouse, where they encountered a bored looking shift manager. Much to her surprise he was actually reasonably helpful, and he palmed the C Chip without breaking pause and brought the screen up.

The Woger Wabbit was the weekly company ship, which had arrived at noon on the previous day; it was still in orbit in fact. Checking the passenger list two names stood out: Roland Ratt and Doghouse Reilly-both Strontium Dogs.

“Oh uh” she thought, and then asked for the passenger manifest for the ‘John Henry’-the ship they had arrived on, and which had left at midnight on the previous night. Both Strontium Dogs, sure enough, had been booked aboard-along with cargo.

“I know Roland”, said Anwyn. “A right little creep, wanderin’ ’ands ’e ’as. I pissed ’im off once ’cos ’e reckons I took a bounty that was rightfully ’is.”

“Well, it’s looking like he’s poached us this time” said Clarissa. “No doubt they have Yobo with them: there’s no way we can catch them up.”

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Bad News (29th January 2181)
29th January 2181

With not much to do the next day Clarissa and Chick nosed around Melby, looking for news of Wreckless Eric or Nicky Cairo. A pointer from the Sheriff gave them the name of Spikes MacFadden, and one of his regular haunts, Patterson’s Shuggy Hall.

As the pair entered half a dozen badly shaven bikers looked towards them, and the room went silent.

“Nothing to worry about Boys, just after a little information that’s all” said Clarissa. The bikers looked distinctly unimpressed.

“Look, we know this bastard beat the crap out of one of you called Spikes , and we want to nail him. Any info. you have would be useful, that’s all.” explained Clarissa.

The mood of the bikers thawed somewhat, and the information started to trickle out. Eric had arrived a few weeks ago, after having been thrown out of most of the other Shuggy Halls. He hadn’t made many friends, and picked fights with almost everybody: only two days ago they had finally thrown him out.

“The bastard left town” said Spikes. “Headed to Victoria I guess. Shoot the S.O.B. for all I care.”

Late that evening Clarissa awoke from a troubled sleep. It was the Town Sheriff from Victoria.

“Bad news” he explained,“About an hour ago Yobo was busted out. The Doc. is seeing to my two Deputies now.”

“Shit!”exclaimed Clarissa. “We should be back in town tomorrow Sheriff. I’d like to speak to your boys then if I may.”

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Return to Melby (28th January 2181)
28th January 2181

The next morning Clarissa and ’Enery set out on the two remaining bikes- Clarissa unfortunately breaking down halfway there. It was close to noon when the two finally crawled into town again.

Clarissa hired a large skimmer truck, complete with winch arrangement, and the pair headed back to the MacSaunders facility. By the time the fatties had been hosed down again, winched on board, and driven back to Melby, it was after 7 pm.

Checking at the garage they discovered that the vehicles would be in for another day yet, and so after shopping for food and beer the group headed back to the Chuck Wagon to set up in camp for an easy night, and went early to bed.

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Battery Hens (27th January 2181: Evening)
27th January 2181: Evening

The convoy had arrived in Melville late afternoon, and the thawing meat from the disabled truck was transferred quickly into the iced store: Some of it would be spoiled, mused Clarissa, but possibly they would use it anyway.

The convoy would not now be returning for some days, due to the damage taken by the surviving vehicles. Leaving the Chuck Wagon with the Burger Queen vans, the Strontium Dogs had discussed their options and decided to take the skimmer and bikes that evening to the site of the supposed meat facility- striking while the iron was hot. Elvis and Scotty accompanied them.

It was around 7 pm when they found the track leading down a canyon, and exploring through they reached a wider area which opened up in the centre of the foothills. Crawling forward Clarissa saw a double fence containing a large unit at the rear of the compound, power generators and several smaller buildings. Standard Guard Robots patrolled the perimeters-she could see perhaps a dozen in all.

Discussing the situation with the others came up with a simple plan. Clarissa and Anwyn would make their way to the north western corner of the compound. The surrounding rocks here were only some 20-30 m from the corner of the large building, and slightly higher. Using their wire launchers they would rappel across from the rocks to the roof, while the robots were at their furthest points away. Chick would cover the north eastern corner form the rocks, and ‘Enery from the south west. Moe would ram the gates with the skimmer; he hadn’t written off any vehicles yet that day.

At first, it went well. Clarissa fired her wire across, and slid across using her grippers. Anwyn followed, but had a problem slowing down and rammed full into the side wall of the main building, knocking the wind out of her. It was some moments before she managed to recover, and tried to scramble up over the edge of the rooftop, and by that time one of the bots had spotted her, and lanced a laser beam in her direction.

At this signal ’Enery and Chick also opened fire in their respective corners, and Moe ineffectually attempted to start up the skimmer without stalling it again.

Hidden in the rocks or on rooftops, the Strontium Dogs were in good cover, but even so the occasional shot hit home. ‘Enery was only scratched, but Chick’s armour was not as effective, and he took some moderate hits.

The robots seemed well armored too: sometimes a first shot (especially from ’Enery’s Heavy Blaster) would take one out straight away, but if not the lighter weaponry of the other Agents merely chipped away at their defences. The robots also outnumbered the Strontium Dogs, though fortunately about half of the bots were shooting at ’Enery.

Eventually Moe started up the skimmer, but his steering was terrible. Instead of ploughing through the gates he smashed through the double fence to one side, triggering several proximity mines located in the strip between the two fences. The skimmer was a total write off, as was one of the bots it had crashed into. Barely alive and hardly sane, Moe staggered out of the wreckage and staggered through the buildings towards the power generators.

Anwyn had now managed to scramble to the rooftop, and she and Clarissa managed to concentrate their fire on the robots below. Between them and ’Enery, the droids fell one by one, but Clarissa took several wounds. Chick finally managed to dispose of the two bots in the north eastern corner, and started to make his way round to ’Enery and the main gate. As he was doing that, an unseen bot, hidden in the folds of rock behind ’Enery, stunned the green giant. Chick altered course, sneaking up on the bot and destroying it, aided by long range covering fire from the girls on the roof across the compound.

Moe meanwhile had now staggered to the power generator door, and had blown the lock of the door. “Top of the World Ma!” he screamed at the top of his voice. " Now we’ll see who can do it!" he started pouring blaster bolts into the high voltage machinery, causing alarming arcing across to adjacent buildings.

“Moe what the Fuck are ….” started Clarissa, and then realised it was pointless arguing. She shot Moe with a stasis beam and he jerked and toppled over.

The shooting finally stopped and the ’Enery and Chick made their way into the compound. The subsidiary buildings gave the impression of being hastily abandoned,but entering the large unit they found a vehicle loading bay, and leading off this what appeared to be a butchery, with two rather gory robots with multiple chainsaw attachments. After disposing of these they saw that grossly fat human bodies were being separated into meat cuts and waste, the two items being lowered on conveyor belts into some sort of automated basement processing unit. Investigating this via a set of stairs they saw that this resulted in two products: neat burger patties packeted and loaded onto refrigerated pallets for later collection, and large sacks of bone meal or fertiliser, presumably for use in vegetable greenhouses.

In the end section of the unit were a double rack of human restraint units. Most of these were now empty but strapped into five of these were immense fatties, being force fed vast quantities of seasoned weight inducing sludge from overhead hoppers. The survivors were each at least twenty stone by the look of them. Anwyn released the restraints while ‘Enery started to hose them down with a unit he’d found on the wall.

“Well isn’t this interesting” said Clarissa, carefully recording everything on her DDR. “I’d think this will go down well on the MacSaunders promotional material.”

“I say we blackmail ’em wiv da vid.” grunted ’Enery. “After we get back, that is.”

“I denno man”, said Anwyn. “Do we really want to put ourselves directly into MacSaunders firing line? Remember when Brigitte La Bombe in a vid interview just dropped a comment that she didn’t eat at MacS’s because she had to watch her figure? Their legal team nearly had her arse even tho’ she’s maybe the hottest property on the film market. Their lawyers are complete bastards.”

“As to gettin’ back, like, we got more immediate problems sweet ’eart” she continued. “Shit for brains out there ‘as wrecked the skimmer again, and we’re 100 km from the nearest town, with two bikes, six people, one ‘alfwit and five fatties ’oo’d ’ave an ’eart attack if they walked ten yards.”

“I’m totally exhausted” said Clarissa,“Let’s bunk up in one of these buildings and ’Enery and me will head into town in the morning, and call up some extra transport.”

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