Doghouse Blues

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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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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