Doghouse Blues

Burger Wars (27th January 2181)
27th January 2181

The convoy set off in the darkness before dawn, and consisted of four unmarked trucks as well as the chuck wagon. Chick ran shotgun in the lead wagon,while ’Enery and Clarissa scouted ahead on Skimmer Bikes; Anwyn brought up the rear on another bike.

The projected journey was over 400km, and with the sometimes difficult desert terrain the Lead Driver estimated a trip of around eight hours, assuming no exceptional detours due to dune movement or dust storms. Besides a driver, each wagon also contained a backup, armed with a shotgun or machine pistol.

The convoy were four hours out of Victoria when Clarissa heard the low ticking over of an engine off to her left. Looking sideways she noticed two red painted skimmers , each containing armed men. Shouting a warning over the comms she and ‘Enery skidded their bikes to a halt, as the ambushers realised they’d been discovered.

Engines gunned in the dunes all around them, accompanied by the chatter of automatic weapons fire and a loud explosion which erupted from a buried mine, collapsing the walls of the gully and seperating the lead truck from the rest of the convoy. Hidden machine gunners opened up on the cab containing Chick, who thumbed his blasters and knocked open the roof hatch.

“Alright people! Let’s show them Burger Queen creeps the garbage pail!” came an amplified voice, and ahead of Clarissa another skimmer gunned out of a gully, with a painted clown standing in the back manning an articulated machine gun.

“Shit! It’s Ronald MacSaunders!” thought Clarissa. “Will these mean I can’t use my free cup of coffee coupons any more?”

Ronald grinned as he opened up on Clarissa, and then banged his fists in frustration as the guns jammed: no doubt the fine desert grit had been quietly doing its work. Clarissa and ’Enery ran for the cover of some rocks.

All around the convoy heads had popped up from the tops of dunes, and were spraying the trucks with automatic rifle fire, back up by a few heavy machine guns. A prerecorded message was blaring out from somewhere.

“Lower your weapons and stand down and you will not be harmed. If you do not, MacSaunders accepts no liability for any injury which may be caused in defending itself!”

Chick considered this as the driver was ripped apart by weapons fire, and his truck ploughed through the gulley towards the wall of a dune ahead. He grabbed on for dear life as it caught one of the skimmers head on, crushing it like a tin can, before burying its perforated cab into the gulley side.

‘Enery meanwhile had slightly more luck, his Heavy Blaster removing the head from one MacSaunders employee, with the same beam then cutting a tennis ball sized hole through Ronald’s torso. The Clown flew backwards off the skimmer, which skidded round in a circle. A tossed grenade from Clarissa landed in the cockpit of another, taking out all of the occupants.

Towards the rear of the convoy Moe had climbed out onto the roof of one of the trucks, and was then hurled off as it braked to avoid colliding into the collapsed gully wall and braking truck ahead. With the wind firmly knocked out of him, and dimly seen figures spaying the trucks with bullets, he decided that it might be best to play dead.

Anwyn caught up the stalled column with her bike, but then skidded it into a dune as the bike was hit by multiple bullets. Crawling to the cover of a truck she exchanged ineffectual fire with several of them, before taking one straight in the chest.

From the ruins of the truck cab Chick finally managed to blast one of the machine gunners, and started to disentangle himself to reach the safety of the rocks. ’Enery meanwhile had taken potshots at several of the attackers, and another grenade from Clarissa had taken out another of the skimmers.

With Ronald dead, the morale of the ambushers had started to crumble. First in ones and twos, and then en mass, they started to flee away into the dunes-though not before several more had fallen to the Strontium Dog’s fire.

As the shooting stopped the convoy took stock. The cab of the leading truck was a total write off, and another truck had taken engine damage. None had escaped undamaged. Anwyn’s bike also required fixing, though one enemy skimmer had been captured intact. Some of the surviving Burger Queen staff were complaining about chipped nail varnish or laddered fishnets.

Several of the Burger Queen staff were injured, and the lead driver was dead. As usual, Moe had managed to get badly injured. The effect of the Agent’s blaster weapons had been devastating, and none of the fallen attackers were going to survive.

“A pity” said Clarissa, “We could have done with interrogating one of them.”

“A’s alright Hen” said Chick, “Ah’ve a tyme Drogue in ma’ pocket, and we can wake one ’o these stiffers fer a wee talkie like”.

Clarissa searched through the corpses, until she found one that still had most of its parts attached. Young, early 20’s maybe. A hint of acne and a stupid cap. A typical employee perhaps. She beckoned Chick over, and he drew the Time Drogue out of his Sash pouch. Knowing what was coming, the other Strontium dogs stood well back, and motioned for the others to do the same.

As Chick pressed the switch there was a faint shimmering as the localised time field started to take effect. Miraculously, or so it seemed, the trickles of blood on the man’s mouth vanished, and the hole in his chest seemed to collapse inwards, as it seemingly repaired itself. The man sat up coughing, and then stared wide eyed into the face of Clarissa, who had grabbed his shoulders, and Chick’s blaster pointed directly at his head.

“Wh..What?! What happened? Please don’t kill me! I don’t mean any harm!” cried the spotty youth. Clarissa looked straight into his face with all three of her eyes.

“Look at me! Do as I say! Listen to my voice! Answer my questions and I won’t harm you! Do you understand?” soothed Clarissa.

“I….I…..Yes.” said the youth, seemingly fixed by Clarissa’s gaze.

“Why did you attack the convoy?” asked Clarissa.

The youth stammered out his tale. MacSaunders had been having problems with its new Meat Growing facility, which was constructed only last year to source local meat for the company on planet. Three months ago the machinery had broken down, and there had been serious delays in procuring replacement parts and engineers from offworld. With supplies limited the on world Manager had taken drastic measures: capturing Burger Queen supplies (just buying vat meat from Victoria would have made the Company policy a laughing stock), and supplementing these with captives obtained from a deal with Yobo’s gang. Clarissa wrinkled her nose in disgust.

“So let me get this straight? You resorted to cannibalism to keep the company balance sheet straight?” she asked pointedly.

“It’s high quality product! Carefully fattened and seasoned, and using only the choicest cuts. The new BBQ Pork Royale is a genuine success. The customers are really happy with it. Local sourced, quality meat product. There’s a finger lickin’ difference at MacSaunders you can enjoy.”

With hard eyes Clarissa drew out the location of the Unit, located to the mountains in the southwest, maybe 100 kliks away. She turned to Chick who shrugged. He switched the time drogue off and the boy’s chest exploded, as he died screaming, a second time. One of the watching Burger Queen drivers turned away shuddering, and spat.

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A Day Off (26th January 2181)
26th January 2181

Early the next morning the Agents went to the Burger Queen offices to enquire about the escort job they had previously discussed. The female assistant (?) had been replaced by a smartly dressed male PA, who explained that Danni (the manager?) was not available, but that he had the necessary contracts and arrangements for them.

The contracts seemed simple and standard, and the Agents agreed to sign. They would meet a convoy of four wagons early the next morning, and ride shotgun with them.

The rest of the day was spent searching around Victoria for any information on Nicky the Greek. They were able to turn up a few pieces of information about his previous scams, and a few pointers as to where to search next.

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Hurt (25th January 2181: Noon)
25th January 2181: Noon

Two hours later and they thought they had found them. Taking a few abandoned skimmer bikes, and with the Chuck Wagon carrying Moe, the recent skimmer trails had been quite easy to follow- at least until they had started to get to rockier ground.

Here a more careful search had been necessary: there were numerous abandoned small mining structures and caves, but a sharp pair of eyes had noticed evidence of a campfire in one cave mouth, and the vehicles had been parked accordingly while the four Strontium Dogs crept forward. At least, three Strontium Dogs crept forward, while Moe, against all advice, limped behind, crying “Ey! Wait fer me!” to the muted curses and considered stunshots of the other Dogs.

Fortunately the occupants were distracted for some reason, and creeping close to the cave entrance, ’Enery stepped through, followed by Anwyn and Clarissa. Shouts and bursts of laser fire greeted him, but fortunately the bulk of these were directed at Moe, who had once again limped forward without cover, taking him down.

“At least he’s been some use then” was the almost universal thought.

The cavern was a large one, with parked bikes and crates scattered around the perimeter, and there were a number of stone pillars making galleries. Anwyn and Clarissa took one down each, and ’Enery another, and a couple more fled northwards along a darkened corridor.

Positioning themselves along either side the Strontium Dogs worked their way upwards, meeting a hail of fire mostly directed at ’Enery who was taking point. Barked commands could be heard form down the corridor. A thrown grenade from Clarissa took out a couple of Howlers at an intersection, and taking position the remaining three Dogs exchanged fire with a handful more, until a further grenade silenced them also. Making their way through the acrid smoke and smell of singed flesh they saw that one of these was somewhat larger and with yellowish fur: presumably this was Yobo.

Taking her first aid kit Clarissa briefly considered seeing to Moe first, but dismissed this fairly quickly as Yobo was worth an additional Cr 150,000 if taken alive. Taking a dropped laser pistol Anwyn set about dispatching the other Howlers: they were Termination only.

The cave complex was fairly extensive, and included cots and supplies: there would at least be a haul of weapons and spare bikes they could possibly resell. Around the firepit in the large cavern were also a number of cracked human bones: grim evidence of the Howler’s cannibalistic habits.

As they searched around Clarissa found a small safe near one of the larger niches. Anwyn laid out an impressive collection of electronic lockpicks, mini jemmies and small gadgets and set to work. At least she set to work until Moe realised what she was doing, and produced the key he had taken from around Yobo’s neck. The safe opened.

Inside was some cash and half a dozen bottles of MacMac: these were rapidly sent to the cooler in the Chuck Wagon. There were also two SD badges, some cash and an old fashioned leather bound book.

As Clarissa started to bind Moe’s wounds, Anwyn and ‘Enery had a quick skim through it. It appeared to be some sort of ledger, with the first column giving species (generally human); the second column gave gender (there were a few question marks in this), and then age, weight, condition, a date aquired,a price and a second date. Both sets of dates applied to 10 -12 individuals. The most recent date given was 22nd January, and the intervals were generally of around two weeks. In each instance the generic second date was not marked for a handful of individuals, and instead these were marked off with individual dates and a letter F. Thus in general something like 10-15 individuals would be aquired at a time, perhaps 10 of these would be disposed of at the same date, and the remainder would be marked ’F’ with different individual dates.

Anwyn checked on her handcomp and several of the dates and numbers were identical with trains or caravans which had gone missing. Some of the dates applied to neither, though Clarissa suggested that the Howlers had perhaps been additionally raiding small mining camps and so on.

“Over ’ere” called ’Enery, who had been exploring one of the other exits from the caverns. He pointed out marks of some large vehicle or wagon which had been parked recently over the loose gravel. There were also other caves, and from several of these came the appalling smell of rot and human excrement.

Entering one of these they found a storage area containing perhaps 60 boxes of ‘Lard-On.’

“This is pretty fancy stuff” said Anwyn, as she read the label.

“Lard-On: the quality way of adding designer Fat in a balanced and healthy natural way. No more loose flaps! No more random pockmarks! Lard -On adds fat in a balanced and whole body holistic natural layer, unlike some of our competitor brands. Use Lard-On! The fit way to add Designer Fat!” She pulled a face, as Moe perused the line of wall manacles, and foul smelling piles of excrement beneath them.

“I think Yobo and his Boys have been selling on their captives-fattening them up too” suggested Clarissa.

“I bet they’ve been selling them to Wimpey, and they’ve been making their burgers from them. We’re all cannibals now” said Moe. He said this in a perfect Oxbridge accent again, standing rigid with one arm at his side, and his chitinous arm gesticulating wildly. Anwyn shook her head.

A few hours later they were back at Victoria, but Scotty didn’t want to enter. “We should make camp roundabout somewhere with the Chuck Wagon” he said. “You can drive in on skimmer bikes and do your business.”

Yobo was taken into the Sheriff’s Office, and the reward paid out for the henchmen, making a tidy sum. The reward for Yobo himself could only be collected on safe delivery to the Doghouse, and the next ship back to New Caledonia did not leave for some days.

The Hire shop were not happy at the loss of their skimmer, and Anwyn lost her 7K deposit. “From Moe’s share that” she snapped. They also gave the man a couple of the captured skimmer bikes to avoid any further hassle from him.

Some of the Strontium Dogs took the opportunity to replace ammunition or equipment, and to sell the captured laser weapons. Frontier prices were pretty high-more so for mutants it would seem. Clarissa took the opportunity to pick up some additional and replacement armour pieces for Moe.

There was also a vid call from Chick: apparently he was feeling better, but was not happy to learn that he had missed out on the Bounty for Yobo and his Boys.

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T-R-O-U-B-L-E (25th January 2181)
25th January 2181

The next morning the group set off. Anwyn had hired a skimmer for the SD Agents, placing a sizeable Cr 7000 deposit with the hire merchant. The intelligence they had gained indicated that Yobo and his gang were hiding in one of the many small abandoned mining camps in the hills to the north and east, at a distance of between 50 and 100 km. This would have placed the gand within easy stiking distance of the rail track to Geriville, and a variety of vantage points with which to survey much of the area. As they drove eastwards ’Enery was acutely aware of the large billow of dust and sand disturbed by the skimmer vehicles: they could be spotted for miles around.

Behind the skimmer drove Elvis and Co. in the Chuck Wagon; Elvis, unlike Scotty, had been rather upbeat that morning, and keen to get out on the road. Driving in the desert was not as straightforward as they had thought, and the skimmers were not able to reach anything like top speed.

After two or three hours they had traveled maybe 100 km, when they became aware of a wall of dust approaching towards them from the northeast at high speed. The group sped on to the rocky are through which the railway snaked, and pulling the two vehicles up, started to take cover in the rocks. Ahead of them they could hear engines being cut, though a distant drone told them that several vehicles were still active.

’Enery ran across a gully to a group of large boulders to the side, and a burst of energy fire sizzled through the air. Straining, they could hear a harsh voice issuing harsh commands: it seemed like the Howlers had found them.

As ’Enery tried to climb up on top of the boulders, he came under further fire. Anwyn and Clarissa scrambled through the rocks looking for a target, but Moe, with no driving experience whatsover, decided that it would be a good idea to jump in the skimmer and drive though the ambushers.

After some difficulty he managed to start it, and flooring the pedal drove it in a straight line for maybe twenty meters before crashing it directly into a rock wall. The weak antigrav motors of the skimmer lifted the nose upwards at impact, but the net result was that the vehicle was held up by its nose at an angle,hooked on the rocks.

As some Howlers finally appeared at the top of a group of boulders to the east, Moe made an ideal target, and their laser fire shredded the vehicle and badly injured him. Anwyn too came under fire, but the cover and her armour made her a difficult target. At the top of a large boulder ‘Enery made a much better target for the Howlers, but this also gave him a clear target to several attackers. Methodically he took them down with blaster fire. Their return fire, though sometimes accurate, seemed to make limited impression on ’Enery’s thick hide.

Staggering from the vehicle Moe was again hit, and this time dived for cover underneath it. To the rear of the group came a sudden rush and buzz of more skimmerbike engines, and four Howlers gunned their engines towards them. Clarissa managed to throw a grenade which took out one of them, but the bike ploughed forward and rammed the stranded skimmer beneath which Moe was hiding. Another shot by ’Enery did the same, and this time Moe was slammed into insensibility.

The Howlers had clearly had enough however, and behind the rocks ahead of them they could hear more barked orders, and the sound of more skimmerbikes being revved up. Another grenade from Clarissa took out a couple more of the attackers as they retreated, and Anwyn shot another of the escaping bikers. And then the attackers were gone.

Back in the gully ’Enery dragged Moe from beneath the skimmer. Anwyn looked distinctly unhappy.

“That bleddy halfwit ‘as wrecked the skimmer-’an he can’t even drive” she fumed. “Well that 7k can come out of’is share, it was ’is blasted fault!”

“He’s not all there that’s for sure” said Clarissa, as she applied first aid. “He’s not even wearing much armour. Maybe he’s got a death wish.”

“Wull ’dere’s quite a few dead ’Owlers” said ‘Enery, "Wiv a 10k Bounty on each dat’s a good start. Think the Big ’Un got away though."

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The Fair is Moving On (24th January 2181)
24th January 2181

While Elvis’s entourage made their preparations, the agents made a few final checks. Clarissa decided to check out the local Burger Queen Emporium to ask about the missing meat, but checking the length and breadth of Victoria’s three main streets she found neither a MacSaunders nor a Burger Queen. The biggest burger joint was a Wimpy, and there were a couple of small independents.

Checking the local directory she found that there was a Burger Queen office however, and making her way to this discovered a neat two storey adobe building. The brass business plaque has a discreet etching of the company logo, but there were no other outward signs of the famous company. A bit odd, she thought.

Answering the buzzer led her in to a pristine female secretary (at least, Clarissa thought she was female), and a direction to the manager’s office upstairs. In line with her frequent custom, Clarissa had covered up her third eye with a bandanna, though she openly wore her SD badge and equipment. The manager, in white company shirtsleeves and a logo tie, eyed her dubiously, though with some curiosity.

“I’ve come about your missing shipments” explained Clarissa, “We’re hunting several leads on planet and I wonder if you might give me any extra information.”

“The missing meat? You have a lead?” asked the manager eagerly.

“Possibly. We need to check it out first though.” explained Clarissa. “Do you have the bar and shipment codes? And can you explain to me how the burger business works on Little Sister?”

As the man ran of the codes he gave a quick rundown. It was impossible to keep large numbers of cattle on planet, and so meat was either imported or vat grown by the Aackermann Meat Company. They had a contract to supply Burger Queen, and other clients, with fresh beef. Burger Queen then shipped these to their outlets at Melville and Geriville. Two shipments had gone missing over the last three weeks to Melville, though an equal number had got through.

“Don’t you have outlets in Melby and Emmaton?” asked Clarissa. The man pulled a sour face.

“No. Those outlets are owned by those MacSaunders BASTARDS!!” he said with some venom, snapping his pencil in two. “Bloody MacSaunders and their bloody local sourcing strategy. We were here first!”

“Ah, I, er see” said Clarissa diplomatically, “It’s odd there are no outlets in the capital, here in Victoria?……” she let the words trail.

“Pah that idiot of a sheriff.” he started to rant, “Banned MacSaunders, fair enough, but he banned us too? Can you imagine the cheek of it? My husband nearly had a nervous breakdown, but thankfully he recovered as you can see.” He gestured downstairs.

“What happened?” asked Clarissa mollified, “To provoke this… very unreasonable reaction from the Sheriff?”

“Oh nothing much. A few piffling fights between staff- provoked by those MacSaunders scum I have to say. Only one shooting, a couple of burnouts. Nothing at all really.” The man ground his teeth at the unfairness of it all.“Oh, your details are on this datacube, here you go.”

“Thanks very much” said Clarissa, " Well I need to be going."

“One more thing” said the manager. “I need to run another meat convoy to Melville this week, and my staff are getting understandably nervous. Would you consider a little side job?”

“An escort job? How much? We’re very busy” responded Clarissa.

“CR 3000 per man, bonus on safe delivery. About two days work” he replied.

“Fine. We should be free in the next couple of days-definately not tomorrow or the day after. I’ll update you as soon as I can.”

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Baby, Let's Play House (23rd January 2181)
23rd January 2181

The villa was comfortable, and the basement bunkroom at least provided free accomodation. The ground floor of the villa contained several larger bedrooms and rooms, while the basement also featured a games room (with full size shuggy table) and mini cinema. There was also a small annexe, which was used as seperate accomodation for the four remaining security guards.

Besides Scotty there was Brother Martin, Mike and Mindy-the film crew, and, of course, Elvis. His face looked kind of familiar, and Anwyn checked on what passed for the local internet.

It transpired that Elvis Presley had been a big music entertainer in the 20th Century-he died in the 1980’s. However, The Church of the Living Elvis were listed as a successor Cult to The Church of Elvis the King and the Second Sway (another wacko cult she assumed). The second coming of Elvis was officially deemed to have occurred on January 8th 2085, and during his Reign the King, amongst other pronouncements indicated that he would never again leave his Faithful. The Church was re-organised as The Church of the Living Elvis in 2114, and since that time there had always been a Living Elvis. The current Elvis had apparently reigned since 2165. It was speculated that The Living Elvis might be a surgically altered impersonator, or more esoterically a clone, or even a clone with memory transfer of one or all of the original Elvis’s. The Church were not saying, and the speculation helped to maintain interest in The Living Elvis. The Church had also aquired rights to most of the original Elvis’s material, and was clearly a viable money-making concern. Not short of a few credits then.

Elvis appeared to be in his early thirties, and was a peculiar mix of the spoiled and the humble.Strangely polite, even to Strontium Dogs, his flunkies nevertheless ran off to fetch him a burger (putting on ordinary cloths as a disguise, Anwyn noticed) at a moment’s notice. Brother’s Scotty and Martin seemed to work hard to keep him happy. Clearly however, Elvis was getting very bored with his villa confinement, and Anwyn has already overheard more than one raised altercation between the Brothers and Elvis.

After the last one Elvis had stormed out, looked at Anwyn and beckoned her downstairs into the basement. She helped him open a side panel and lay out what were apparently a number of dojo mats. Elvis went into a side room and got changed into a martial arts gi, indicating to Anwyn that there was gear in another room into which she could change. She had shrugged- a workout would relieve the boredom after all.

Being a Strontium Dog, Anwyn was no stranger to hand to hand combat. She was also tall for a female, and pretty strong. “Probably best not to head butt him with my horns” she thought. A surprise was in store for her however.

After some initial pad work and warming up they moved onto sparring, and, somewhat unexpectedly, Elvis whupped her ass. In the ten or so bouts they had, she won only perhaps a third of them. Clearly the man was not quite all he appeared to be.

“Where’s you learn all those fancy moves Elvis?” asked Anwyn. Her own style was basically some military nastiness she had learned from the mutant army, mixed in with whatever she had discovered would actually work.

“Bin’ doin it a long time Darlin’” said Elvis, “Never quite given up on it. Keeps me sane sometimes.”

After a night and a long day of this the Agents were also getting restless. Yobo’s bounty was waiting, and their bank balances were yawning hungrily.

“Look Scotty” said Clarissa eventually, “These Webbs might take a long time to come, or they might never come at all. And this place is pretty vulnerable: snipers on any of a dozen surrounding outcrops could pot down into the villa, never mind an assault. And we need to get on.”

“’At’s roight” said ’Enery, “If them mercs. ’as decent weapons from distance a few RAM grenades and an SAW would pretty much take out this villa from elevation, and pretty much everyone in it. A sniper would do the rest. No need for close stuff.”

“So it’s actually dangerous here Man?”interjected Elvis, “All the more reason I should come with you then.”

WHAAT?!” exclaimed Scotty, “You’ve got to be joking Elvis.”

“No joke man. These guys have their own business, and like they said, this ain’t a good place to protect me. I could take the Chuck Wagon and go with them. Be on the move too-harder to find.”

The ‘Chuck Wagon’ it transpired, was a tour Mo Home, complete with mini music and vid editing suite. It had served as a mobile home for the small tour company on a dozen worlds, though it was currently in storage in a lockup, waiting their exit form the planet. After some discussion the group agreed that this made some sort of plan. ’Enery put it quite succinctly.

“Arfter all,” he said, “What could be more sensible than us driving round the desert in a tour bus, hunting dangerous cannibal bandits with Elvis Presley and a film crew in tow?”

Brother Scotty insisted that he too needed to accompany Elvis. Brother Martin and the four security guards would remain at the villa and maintain the pretense of occupation. The following day they would prep. the Chuck Wagon and give it a less conspicuous re-spray, and the following day the group would set off on, as Anwyn put it, Elvis’s Hound Dog Tour.

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Playing for Keeps (22nd January 2181: Afternoon)
22nd January 2181: Afternoon

The more senior of the monks, who was called Brother Scotty, poured out his somewhat far fetched tale of woe. Elvis was currently in the middle of his ‘Unplugged’ Tour in the Outer Reaches: a sort of back to basics musical tour, playing local festivals and the like rather than huge concert halls and orbital stadiums. As he described the situation, Brother Scotty shook his head.

“It isn’t really that good an idea: too dangerous. Too much to go wrong. But Elvis insisted and insisted, and in the end-in order to maintain good relations- the Church CEO gave in.” Brother Scotty shrugged.

“Maybe if Elvis gets this out of his system, we will be able to resume business as usual when we return.” The thought seemed to comfort him. “Anyway, the film crew will get some good material out of it, and we should be able to able to put together a good ‘On the Road’ movie. Can you imagine it? The first new Elvis movie in over 200 years?”

The Strontium Dogs couldn’t imagine it. In fact they didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. ’Enery was starting to nod off in the early afternoon heat, Anwyn noticed.

“Get to the Point. Why were you following us?” said Clarissa, with something of an edge to her voice.

“We need your help! We meant no harm!” said Brother Scotty. “We need protection for Elvis: we were expecting an additional security detail on the incoming ship, but it looks like they might have been replaced with assassins. We just didn’t know how to approach you, that’s all.”

“Whoa! Slow down there mister!” said Anwyn. “Why danger? Why assassins?”

“On our last two worlds” explained Scotty slowly, “Two of our eight man security team have met with accidents, one dead with stab wounds and another has vanished completely. I smelled a rat and we’ve holed up here for the last month. The additional team were to beef us up so we could move on: now we will have to wait for at least an additional week- I sent another subspace telegram from the orbital station. Maybe two.”

“And why do you think there were incoming assassins? asked Clarissa.

“The four Webb brothers. It’s a kind of trademark. A group of Fanatics dedicated to killing the Living Elvis. Religious nutcases.” said Scotty. Clarissa looked across at Anwyn, who raised her eyebrows.

“The group of four mercenaries may be innocent or they may have been extra backup. Either way it’s suspicious that they were able to slot in and replace the security detail.” he continued.

“Them mercs. were talking to the brothers” interrupted ‘Enery, who had been listening intently. "’Oi saw ’em."

“Well there you go them” said Scotty. “We’ve kept a low profile for the last few weeks but Elvis is getting restless. It’s only a matter of time before they find him.”

“So what is our incentive for helping?” asked Clarissa. “We’ve our own business here.”

“The Church can pay you” said Scotty. “How about a daily retainer of, oh Cr 1000 each? Plus, lets say a bonus if there is any trouble. Minimum one week retainer?”

The agents nodded and so it was agreed, and through a series of quieter alleys and a short walk out of town, they found themselves at a small walled villa.

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The Plot Thickens (22nd January 2181: Noon)
22nd January 2181: Noon

“Ok, that’s the last of the paperwork” said the Deputy. With an extra in-tray labelled ‘SD Stuff’ he comprised the nearest thing on Little Sister to the local SD Office. With their weapons registered and permits signed the agents were free to pursue warrants on planet.

“So what can you tell us about Yobo’s activities?” asked Clarissa.

“Well the dates and stuff are mostly attached to the warrant, but basically there have been about nine attacks along the line leading eastward from Victoria to Geriville, which is about 300 kliks eastward. The colony is basically one big dustbowl of a valley, with Victoria in the centre, Geriville to the east, Melville to the south, Emmaton to the southwest and Melby to the west. This bowl is pretty much surrounded by mountains and dotted with maybe 30 mines, used and unused.”

“A railway links Victoria to each of the settlements-there ain’t any roads-the main private vehicles are grav skimmers, and they generally follow alongside the railroad when they’re going somewhere. As far as we know Yobo’s done two train attacks in which they vanished with loot and maybe a dozen captives each time. The others were all skimmer convoys, and there’s been no survivors.”

“Hmm, all along the eastern route?” asked Clarissa.

“Funny you should say that” said the Deputy. “Over the last three weeks there have also been two convoys vanished along the southern route to Melville. Skimmer convoys of vat grown beef.”

“Beef? Not very portable as loot I’d have thought?” said Anwyn.

“These Howlers love meat remember” said the Deputy. “All those poor saps that were taken likely ended up on the dinner table. This stuff was destined for the Burger Queen Outlet in Melville-the stuff is grown here in Victoria.”

Clarissa nodded as she mused. Burger Queen were one of the Big Two burger franchises which had found a new lease of life as human space expanded. After almost dying through a century of Atomic Wars the Big Two had both been resurrected (along with a number of historic businesses) some thirty years ago by a few surviving shareholder entrepreneurs. The other had conglomerated with a chicken franchise into MacSaunders, but had otherwise expanded pretty much along along its historic lines. The re-animator of Burger Queen had a few sexual identity issues, and so had re-branded and re-named it: you could read this stuff in any of a zillion cheap plastic “Where we come from” wall panels erected in Burger Queen joints throughout the Galaxy. She had always been slightly disappointed with them since they had stopped doing that one with mushrooms on.

“Them Red Monks is still there” interjected ’Enery, who was looking out of the window. Clarissa pointed them out to the Deputy and raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“Them?” he said. “They’re the Elvis guys. Funny; didn’t know they were still on planet.”

“Who are they?” asked Anwyn.

“Elvis guys. Church of the Living Elvis or something. Elvis is some sort of rockabilly singer-he was playing at the Great Big Mining Sheebang about a month ago. Not too bad I thought.”

“And he has a Church?” probed Clarissa. The deputy shrugged.

“Don’t ask me. The galaxy is full of kooks. I think these are of the mostly harmless variety, but what do I know?” After a few more questions the agents gathered their paperwork and agreed that Anwyn and Clarissa would leave by the front door, and see if the monks continued to follow them. ’Enery and Moe would leave by the back door and double round-trailing the monks if they followed, and creeping up on them if they could find a suitable spot.

Clearly the monks were no experts at this game and Clarissa and Anwyn lured the pair down a quiet side street. Moe approached them from behind, and placed a chitinous arm on the shoulder of one of them, who shrieked when he turned. ’Enery also approached, and the pair found themselves surrounded by a group of rather intimidating Strontium Dogs.

“So….” commenced Clarissa.

“Their boots, I want their boots” said Moe capering and cackling, “And all the pretty kittens.”

“As I was saying….” Clarissa continued.

“Why is it so bright Mummy? Who would have thought the Old Man had so much BLOOD in him?” moaned Moe, who hugged his arm and then started crying.

Clarissa rolled all three of her eyes. Moe started to titter. “Moe. SHUT THE FUCK UP!” snapped Clarissa, and grabbing one of the monks by the arm dragged him away several paces. Moe started to follow but ’Enery stood on his foot.

“Stay there yer bleedin’ scarse nutcase”, he grunted. “Leave this fer the grownups.”

“Why?” asked Clarissa pointedly. “were you following us? The truth now- and only one chance.”

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Up and Down (22nd January 2181)
22nd January 2181

‘Enery looked on taciturnly, with a feeling of mounting annoyance. As if Chick’s incessant scottish whining about the bird flu he had caught, which was sweeping through the crowded mining vessel was not enough, Moe’s delusions were now getting on his nerves.

He was engaging in a pointless argument with a bored looking ships officer, claiming about the charges ‘someone else’ had apparently made on his account, for downloading and viewing upwards of 50 pornographic films while they had been in transit. Idly he looked over the stewards shoulder at the list of movies: he didn’t recognise any of them, though he dimly remembered “Saddle Sore Sluts” as being one Waugh had mentioned during their night of bingeing on Hootmanney Station.Some sort of cowboy movie he dimly recalled.

As it was thanks to Moe they were now pretty much the last passengers stuck on board: they would be waiting hours for a shuttle at this rate. Clearly Clarissa and Anwyn were losing patience, and eventually Clarissa snapped at Moe to pay up, and still with protestations of innocence, Moe at last paid up. Finally they managed to collect their weapons from the purser and exit the John Henry.

As they exited onto the concourse, the first shuttle planetside was boarding. He noticed that the Webb brothers were in line, as was the small mercenary team. Both groups seemed to have a fair amount of luggage, including weapons cases by the look of it: they seemed to be in active discussion with one another about something. Between themselves and the leaving shuttle were at least a hundred mining crew from the John Henry: clearly, thanks to Moe, this was going to take a while. As they pondered their situation ‘Enery noted two men dressed in red monks robes, and, somewhat strangely, fancy cowboy boots searching along the lines-apprently looking for someone he guessed. Clearly they didn’t see them, and went over to one of the Information Desks.

“Oh this is hopeless” said Clarissa, taking off her SD badge and tying a bandanna across her third eye. “Let’s see if we can speed this up.” She too wandered over to the Information desk, and started some convoluted story with one of the clerks about how she had a business meeting dirtside in a couple of hours. ’Enery noticed a couple of Big Ones slipped into a brochure which she waved before handing it across. “Greasing the wheels” he thought to himself.

His attention wandered, and he found himself listening in one the two adjacent Red Monks.

“But I know they were due-a group of eight people. Booked in the name of Mr. Sanders.” said one of the monks. The clerk checked through the boarding records.

“Ah yes here it is. Cancelled at the very last minute” said the clerk.

“Cancelled?! Are you sure?” asked the monk.

“Yes” replied the clerk. “Their berths were taken by two parties of four- a Mr. Webb, Webb, Webb and Webb, and a Mr. Black, White, Brown and Grey. They just left dirtside on one of the shuttles.”

“The two monks looked at one another in consternation. “Webbs!” muttered one. The other nodded glumly.

“Thank you so much for your help” smiled Clarissa to the clerk, and turned round and winked at ‘Enery. "We’ve got a place on the next shutttle" she confided as they moved away from the desk. “I can’t wait to set foot on a planet again, even if it is one of the usual dusty Sh**holes.”

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Out of Warp (21st January 2181)
21st January 2181

Anwyn idly perused the database on her handcomp as the ‘John Henry’ exited Warpspace, and began the haul towards the moon of Zhufi-4 (imaginatively named ‘Little Sister’). The Zhuf system was a tiny star system outside of chartered space, but it was and filled with small planets, dwarf planets and moons that the Iridon Mining Corporation was currently attempting to exploit for resources.

A number of the larger moons and planets had been terraformed, but with the usual result of producing an extremely dry and sandy world, which was capable of supporting life- just not very easily. No doubt some food resources were grown in greenhouses or underground hydroponics greenhouses, while other materials were probably shipped in on the regular Iridion ore runs.

The ‘John Henry’ was one such; while no passenger liner it did contain a number of 2-8 bunk staterooms for ferrying new workers in-system, and occasionally other passengers would take advantage of these if there were vacancies and the company were willing. This was indeed the case on this run, as she was aware that one room was shared by the four Webb brothers- near identical quadruplets, and another was being taken by some tough looking mercenaries. Anwyn was sharing with Clarissa in one of the smaller two bunk rooms, while the other three mutants the others were sharing with an unhappy looking sanitation engineer. Boy did he smell.

She overheard Clarissa sending a vidcom to what passed for the local SD office in Victoria, the capital on Little Sister. The conversation was short and to the point: the usual requirement to check in on landing to receive local registration and weapon permits. The Cop did sound somewhat relieved that SD Agents were finally arriving on planet however, and hinted that there were also a couple of local warrants that hadn’t been uploaded yet, which the Agents might be interested in. On a small frontier world like this the local law would be pretty stretched mused Anwyn. Probably a Sheriff and a few deputies to keep some order in Victoria itself, and maybe a smaller force or none in the other four mining towns: Melby, Emmaton, Geriville and Melville. There were over two dozen mines though, and a large outback area which probably received no attention at all. No wonder opportunists like Yobo and his gang were able to thrive on places like this.

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