Doghouse Blues

The Morning After (2nd January 2181)
2nd January 2181

Clarissa (or more properly ‘3- Eyes’) shambled into the Ready Room, assuming there would be a daily briefing and issuing of warrants. It was the end of the holiday season, and Boy did Harvey not look happy: still sporting a hangover she imagined.

In fact there were very few S/D Agents present-there never were at this time of year. The ones with a deal of cash wanted to blow it in someplace where they didn’t mind mutants spending it to have a good time, and the ones that were more broke would find a bolt hole somewhere for a week or two, before the lure of cash and the dangerous life of a Bounty Hunter required they return to the Doghouse.

She looked round- there were only maybe half a dozen present and Harvey didn’t look in the mood to delay-probably wanted to sneak back to his bunk and pretend he was catching up with paperwork.

“Alright you Freaks, I’ve got a few here!” grumbled Harvey.

“Got one here on a Jenine Denkers- apparently poses as some sort of Singing Nun/Teacher and works convent schools. There’s a persistent warrant out for her on four worlds for corruption of minors, and another for fraudulent use of copyright material. Kidnapped five girls too, all later found dead. Any takers?”

“Sounds right down my street Harv” purred the voice of Delores Two Kitties. Most of the male S/D Agents couldn’t fathom why she was called that-stupid boys. “Is she pretty?”

“Er, Kind of” said Harvey, looking slightly embarrassed. “Want it-20,000 Cr Reward?”

“Fine Dahling. You’re such a good boy.” Harvey tossed the warrant over to her and she caught it easily. Smiling she swayed off.

“Ok here’s a real Doozey.” continued Harvey, “Standard contracted Courier Duty assignment for Bide a Wee Orphan Supplies-any of you soft hearted Stronties fancy a couple days babysitting a bunch of snot nosed kids?”

“Gimme a break Harv, we EAT kids” shouted Magilla Gorilla. “Ain’t you got anything juicier?”

The smaller warrants were announced ,and mostly taken up. It seemed most of the SD Agents preferred to pace their arrival into the new year. He came to the end of the list.

“Got one more-a Howler Job.” said Harvey, looking up. The few agents left were waiting for him to continue.

“This one’s on a moon of the Zhuf system. Ain’t surprised if you never heard of it ’cos its outside of chartered space.”

Clarissa sighed-Howlers: bound to be trouble. The sociopathic uplifts were violent and clannish- and that meant lots of them.

“So how do we get there then?” asked ’Enery the Safe.

“If you take the warrant you go to New Caledonia” replied Harvey. "The Iridon Mining Corp. have an orbiting base there, and if you report there they’ll arrange transport on one of their supply ships to their Outer Reaches Holdings: those guys run a number of operations out there, and there’s a regular run to Zhuf. "

“New Caledonia?” Clarissa did a quick mental calculation: about Cr. 18,000 to get there from here with a Mid, and about Cr. 3000 Steerage plus the run from NC to Zhuf.

“So how much Harvey?” she asked.

“Cr. 100,000 dead, or Cr. 250,000 alive-he’s the brother of one Roon the Howler, and if we can interrogate him we might get some info. on Roon’s whereabouts. Cr.25,000 for each of his Goons you can off too: Full Termination Warrants.”

“I’ll take it Harvey” said Clarissa.

“Hey wait a minute” said ’Enery, and several others. “I want that too.”

“Gentlemen, Ladies” smiled Clarissa. “It’s an Open Warrant! But a gang of Howlers? This one has Team Job written all over it.”

At the back of the room Mantis Moe looked on, muttering to himself as usual.

“Don’t take this job Moe, you’re not what others may call a ‘Team’ player”. Besides, we can get that sweet job hunting down that cereal killer Captain Crunch on Durineb all alone…just you and me: just the two of us." said Moe, apparently to himself. Frank Finney noticed this with interest, before wisely taking just four or five steps away.

“Gerrof Emmric yer shirtlifter! ” said Moe irritably, and probably more loudly than he would have liked. The few people around him were well aware of Moe’s outbursts, and paid little attention studiously: a headbutting contest when you already have a hangover just isn’t worth it.

“I’ll pick me own assignments, and I want this one!” he snapped. “Besides I wouldn’t push that posh bird Mc Turk arrar bed on a cold mornin, knoworrameanlike?”

Moe shrugged his right shoulder as if to begin the process of raising his arm. The right arm in question did not raise, and lay limply in a seemingly petulant state on the desk. Sighing he raised his thankfully obedient, and very human looking left arm and said " I’ll join up!"

Harvey nodded as Clarissa inclined her head. “Sound!” grinned Moe, before muttering at his arm once more.

“Ok I got ’Enery, 3 Eyes and Moe. Any more?” asked Harvey.

A Nice Little Side Job (4th January 2181: 12.45 pm)
4th January 2181: 12.45 pm

Clarissa put the crossword down. Still three days for the weekly run to New Caledonia, which was probably just as well really.

She had gathered a team of six in all-and a couple of those were off doing some secretive side job at the moment, though they promised they would be back for the 7th. More like the end of the Christmas Holidays she suspected- even though the New Church had officially banned Christmas (with a singular lack of success outside South East England).

Her intercomm buzzed.

“Clarissa?” It was Harvey. Unusual for him to buzz a Strontium Dog in their quarters in this fashion.

“Come up to Admin. Special Job. Keep it quiet.” said Harvey. “The Guards will expect you.”

As she walked into his office was sipping at a coffee. Clarissa had covered up her third eye with a headscarf; it might prove advantageous as she was aware that secretly many of the base staff fancied her-although of course they would never have admitted to it. Men were easy to manipulate.

“Hello Harvey. You have something for me?” crooned Clarissa.

“Yeah. I need someone with their head screwed on.” said Harvey. “You’re not a nut job like half of the Stronts out there. Need a cool head.”

“And why is that Harvey?” smiled Clarissa.

“Earth job. Sensitive. In and out very quick.Interested?”

“I’m interested Harvey. What’s the job?” responded Clarissa.

“It’s a ’time sensitive’ warrent issued by those Fanatics at the New Church” replied Harvey, “The thing’s all been set up in terms of intell. We’ve just been contracted to make the grab. Target is one Ivanna Petrinkya, wanted for stealing the haematology supplies from medical facilities all across Earth, along with the aid of her frequent associates, Egor and Vladimir. Tens of thousands of credits worth of supplies and donated materials have been taken, along with vast files about the donators.”

“Target has been tracked to a hotel in New Wallachia, the E-Calypso Hotel and Casino, where she resides. She stays in her room during daylight hours due to her sunlight allergy. Egor Tzepes is never far from Ivanna, guarding her during daylight hours.” continued Harvey.

“She MUSTN’T be harmed-conditional for payment. Cr 30,000 for a couple hours work.”

“And the catch?” asked Clarissa with a sigh.

“Well”, said Harvey, “You might say that nobody has informed the New Wallachian Authorities: as the place is pretty much run by the Mafia families you can imagine why. There’ll be hell to play if any bystanders get hurt.”

“So….” began Claissa.

“So no explosives or heavy weapons. The licence permit is for one firearm each -and I suggest something with stun settings. We’ve arranged a pinpoint teleportation to the E-Calypso. This will put you a few hundred metres outside of the hotel, in the parking lot of the casino. It’ll be up to you to get through to her without harming anyone or causing a shootout with the locals. She is registered in Suite 644. We got a three hour window starting from 3 pm local time-that’s in one hour. Timing is everything. Who you taking?”

“Hmm.” Clarissa pondered. “’Enery for sure, I saw him around earlier.”

“Ok.” replied HArvey," But don’t have him blowing any walls down or anything. Any others?"

“Also Mantis Moe, and Anwyn-she’s a bit of a tech. That should do.”

“Mantis Moe! Are you sure? He’s crazy! Talks to that arm of his.” Harvey looked somewhat doubtful.

“Maybe, maybe. But the Boy seems eager to please me. At least I think he does. I can’t really understand that Scouse accent of his.” Clarissa wrinkled her nose. “Anyway he’s been through the wars, he will no doubt be useful.”

“If you say so” said Harvey doubtfully. He handed Clarissa the warrant and she turned to go.

“Oops there’s one other thing” called Harvey. “Nearly forgot. She’s got some sort of allergy to direct sunlight. She burns up real bad in it, and it can easily kill her. We want a perp not a baked potato.”

Clarissa glanced down at the warrant. She was looking at a portrait of an attractive dark haired woman, in her early thirties maybe.

“Harvey this isn’t a photo- it looks like a painting or something.” she remarked.

“Yeah, yeah. Slippery customer.” he replied. “Best we could get.”

Fifteen minutes later Clarissa sat round a table in the Ready Room; with her were the hulking ’Enery the Safe, Anwyn Wilde and Mantis Moe.

“…….and that’s the job.” finished Clarissa. “What do you think?” Unexpectedly Moe and his arm stirred.

“I tink its great to be onajob with tew crackin Jewdies meself knoworrameanlike? Sound!” said Moe in a rapid staccatto,before leaning back and then grabbing his mutated arm with other one, as it seemingly leapt towards the adjacent Anwyn." Baffled, Clarissa looked across at ’Enery for enlightenment.

“Oi’ve no idea what the bleedin scouse git said” shrugged Enery, “We speaks The Kings English darn sarf, yer take my Norma Leeming?”

“Ah come again Henry?” asked Clarissa politely.

“Henry? Henry? Me names ’Enery!” boomed ’Enery (or Henry).

“Worrat cockney twat just say?” asked Moe, leaning forwards with an odd gleam in his eye. ’Enery caught the motion and turned to face Moe.

“Wassup? Fancy me ye big southern jessie? Don’t fuckin’ luk at me or I’ll kick yerfuckin’ teeth in” said Moe diplomatically.

“This was all going so well” thought Clarissa. “If only I could understand what they’re saying.”

Universal Soldiers (4th January 2181: 2.00 pm)
4th January 2181: 2.00 pm

After the brief disorientation caused by the Teleport they looked round. They were stood in the corner of a large car park, bordering the against the thick Carpathian Forest. Ahead of them stood the E- Calypso hotel. Despite its rather garish name it appeared to have been constructed in a not inappropriate mock- Gothic style;it looked more like an expensive retreat for the wealthy rather than any downmarket casino.

Having browsed the literature online Clarissa was aware that the annexe housed a casino, restaurant, swimming pool and other exclusive facilities, while the main eight stories provided luxury hotel apartments and conference facilities. She scanned the gargoyles perched at the top of the buildings eight floors, and the turrets and parapets surrounding the pointed roof. This small corner of the world remained relatively untouched by the atomic wars which had devastated much of the planet. Just lucky, she supposed.

Scanning round the car park they noted that it was exceedingly full, and not only with skimmer vehicles. There were a significant number of antique petrol guzzlers -possibly a local habit, or some pursuit of the local rich. Looking at her handcomp she noted that it was situated about halfway between Brasov and a small settlement called Bran, and was pretty isolated.

“There’s a lot of friggin’ cars here” said Moe. “There must be somethin’ goin’ on like.”He pointed. “And there’s a banner up over there: SWAGOTH or something.”

While Anwyn marked the car parking space they had appeared in with spray paint, Clarissa scanned the website for the E Calypso.

“There is something going on. A S.W.A.G.O.T.H. convention, whatever that is. Let me see.” She typed further.

“Here it is”said Clarissa. “It’s a joint Convention held by the Star Wars Appreciation Society (whatever that is), and the British Gothic Society. This is S.W.A.G.O.T.H. XII apparently. Looks like it’s held somewhere different every year, with this year it’s being held ‘near the home of Count Dracula’.”

“And what do they do?” asked Anwyn.

“Watch old movies, buy and sell. Drink a lot.” she replied. “Odd but harmless.They seem to have taken over the top four floors for the next three days. I’ve just bought us four day tickets online.”

“Er are you sure we’ll blend in?” asked Moe, “Holding up his mutated arm and pointing at the others.”

“Trust me. My little brother was into all this. Look.” She pointed as two skimmer coaches pulled up at the far end of the car park.

The door opened, and eight troopers dressed in white and black combat armor walked out, forming an avenue between them. When they were arrayed a tall black cloaked figure marched out between them, and the troopers turned and marched off towards the Hotel, escorting him. A variety of exotic looking aliens, and spacers-several of them armed or armoured, also started to disembark.

The Strontium Dogs moved forward, hoping that they could blend themselves with the group. A tall, reddish fur covered alien turned towards Anwyn. “Growwarrrr. Growaoonneee.” he said.

A tough looking spacer stepped forward and spoke. “What my friend Chewie says Miss, is that he likes your Strontium Dog outfit.” Anwyn looked him up and down.

“Thank’im sweet ’eart”, she replied. “And tell ‘im he’s got a wine gum tangled down there on his leg.” Chewie bent down and frantically started scuffing through his fur.

At the door were two sharply suited men in dark glasses and expensive suits who bore all the hallmarks of in house security. They paid absolutely no attention to the gaggle of aliens, spacers, marines, bounty hunters and miscellaneous heroes of science fiction, armed with a bizarre collection of (obviously fake) weaponry. The Strontium Dogs slipped in and picked up their registration badges. There were even a couple of fake SD Agents Clarissa noted.

Taking the lift they found themselves up on the sixth floor. Moe perused the brochure he had picked up and read with interest that the Princess Leia Mud Wrestling heats were due to start down in the recreation annexe, in less than an hour. Perhaps if they got the business over with they might have time for a peek?

When the lift doors opened on the sixth they were confronted with a stall selling old editions of gothic novels, and two hunchbacked lab assistants engaged in a heated argument regard who’s particular contributions were of the greatest value to ‘The Mashter’. A seemingly seven foot tall patchwork humanoid (with bolts in his neck) was listening impassively.

As they stepped out onto the foyer they saw that this comprised a rectangular balcony surrounding the lifts and stairs, with the various rooms arranged around the outside of this corridor. The largest suite was open to all, and had been converted into a mini movie theatre, showing an endless reel of horror classics. Around the foyer balcony were arranged small stores selling movie books and memorabilia, and browsing all of this were a bewildering array of mad scientists, hunchbacked assistants, vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monsters and even a very hot looking mummy, drinking an ice cold drink through a straw. The throng was also peppered with the odd Imperial Stormtrooper or alien from downstairs. The whole was very busy.

“This isn’t going to be easy” said Clarissa. “Spread out and see if you can spot room 664.” The four mingled around the balcony, with Moe mainly concentrating on seeing if there was anything which might be stolen easily.

In fact room 664 turned out to be more or less adjacent to the lifts. As she came to this realisation Clarissa saw two female vampires, holding hands and giggling, open the door and go inside, closing it to behind them. With the intervening crowd she could not get across in time. “Damn and Blast!” she thought. She gathered the others and shared the news.

“And was one of them her?” asked Anwyn.

“One had white hair, and the other dark. Could have been the dark haired one but I didn’t get a clear view.” she replied. They moved across to the door, and noted that the two hunchbacks and the monster were still stood nearby. Clarissa listened briefly and heard the sound of giggling inside, and a low moan. She turned to the hunchbacks.

“Is this a private room or can my friend and I”, here she gestured at Anwyn, “get in?”

The hunchbacks looked mollified but the monster leaned down and responded in a polite upper class British voice.

“Are you friends of Marjorie? That’s her room. If you are I’m, er sure she’ll appreciate the extra company”. He nudged the two hunchbacks and they moved away to a different part of the landing. Clarissa pressed the intercom, and a langourous female voice answered. In the background was another female voice making occasional noises.

“Hello? Who is this? I’m a little busy right now.” Female laughter.

“Is that Marjorie? This is Clarissa-we met at last year’s Convention. I was hoping that I could join your little party, and pick up where we left last year. Come on, you know it makes sense.”

There was a pause and she could hear the other voice saying “Me, me” before the phone was put down. “Damn. Lost her” she commented.

“If you cover me I can trigger that electronic lock forr yew, Clarr.” suggested Anwyn. Clarissa winced at the abbreviation of her name. As good as her word Anwyn knelt down by the door with an electronic probe in her hand, while the others three stood in front of her, shielding her from the crowd. After a few minutes she announced that the door was open. Clarissa slipped inside and Anwyn followed, closing the door in Moe’s face. “You’re not old eneff darlin’” whispered Anwyn over her comm.

Behind the door was a short corridor,which Clarissa padded along while Anwyn stayed by the entrance door. There was a scent of perfume and musk, and from the moans ahead Clarissa gathered that the two were having rather a good time.

Beyond the suite living area was an open door, and peeking through Clarissa saw the dark haired woman (Marjorie/ Ivanna?) spreadeagled on the bed, clad in only the scantiest of underwear. The white haired girl, similarly (un) clad was positioned with her head between the others legs, causing the other to moan with pleasure.

“Let’s make this quick” thought Clarissa, and aimed at the dark haired girl and fired a stasis shot from her Multibeam Blaster. The girl jerked and slumped back. Mistaking the action the white haired girl started to say something before Clarissa shot her too from behind. She gestured to Anwyn and the two set about the unconscious females with gaffa tape.

Behind them Moe and ‘Enery crept in: Moe stared wide eyed. "Woo’aaar. Tew birds naked together, Were di….y’ know?"

“Surprisin innit love?”said Anwyn. “I had all of ‘em ’ere marked down as virgins. You live and learn don’ chew?.”

Meanwhile Clarissa scanned the girls. The white haired girl had her mouth covered in blood, and there were two small puncture wounds and slight bleeding on the others thigh. Whitey seemed to have a pair of fangs.

The dark haired girl did too-but these were stored in a small box situated on the bedside cabinet. Alarm bells ringing, Clarissa checked and found that the White haired girl’s fangs were also detachable.

Anwyn checked through their bags. “Marjorie Thatcher and Naomi Campbell. Both from Hartlepool, England-same address on their passports too.” She shrugged. “One’s er, a computer tech, and the other runs a shop or somethin’.”

“And here are their convention tickets” said Clarissa, picking them up from a dresser. She looked at them, and then frowned. “Wait a minute. These say they have room 668.”

“The curtains” said ’Enery. “The curtains is open. Not bothered by the light I reckon.”

The realisation dawned on all of them: they had the wrong room. “Outside and mingle” said Clarissa. “I’m going down to reception a moment”. As they let Anwyn locked the door shut again.

Downstairs Clarissa approached the receptionist. “Excuse me, I’ve been to see my friends Marjorie Thatcher and Naomi Campbell in 668? But there doesn’t seem to be any answer. Have they arrived yet?”

“Ah, the newlyweds you mean?” smiled the girl. “They did a swap with Room 664: they wanted a front facing view and the resident of 664 agreed a swap. The lady in there is a bit of a Night Owl I’m afraid, so she was probably asleep when you knocked on 668. But your friends are now in 664.”

Returning upstairs Clarissa added this tidbit of information, and they stared across the landing at the entrance to room 668. Two stalls stood adjacent, but as they watched they saw that one man, dressed in what appeared to be a brown monk’s habit, stood outside the door and seemingly didn’t move around the rest of the floor. Clearly, he was on guard, and Clarissa suspected he was armed.

It was Moe who came up with the idea of a distraction. His misspent youth had taught him the trick of banging the plastic heads off foam fire extinguishers, and then running like hell out of the building they were located in. This somewhat novel trick might also provide a non lethal distraction, enabling ’Enery to quickly take out the Guard and Anwyn to gain access. The group positioned themselves around the landing.

Anwyn banged the head off one extinguisher quickly, and as the foam sprayed out across the floor she made her way towards ’Enery. To his increasing frustration Moe had no luck at all with his extinguisher, so he flung it down on the floor, pulled out his Laser Pistol and shot it. As the skin burst under pressure there was an almighty bang, and combined with the zzzappp of the discharge people started screaming on the landing nearby.Luckily no bystanders were hit by the shrapnel.

This was not the case with Clarissa however, who had decided on a similar tactic. Chunks of metal tore into an Imperial Stormtrooper, the Mummy, and one of the Vampirellas. Blood and more screams. “Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea” thought Clarissa.

’Enery pulled out his blaster and hit the door guard with a stunshot, flinging him backwards. The screaming grew louder.

“Oh sod it” thought ’Enery, and flicking his Heavy Blaster to kill he blew the door down. As he marched though the doorway shots rang out, pinging the woodwork nearby, and increasing the intensity of the panic. As the others tried to push their way through the screaming horror fans, ’Enery ducked into the apartment and exchanged shots with his assailant, eventually hitting him square in the chest and blowing him backwards into a darkened room.

Inside the apartment the four gathered, each switching on their Night Vision Goggles before entering the darkened room. They were operating on a very tight clock now, as it was only a matter of time before Hotel Security arrived.

The apartment was large and completely darkened, with the curtains having been stapled together, and blankets used to plug any additional gaps. Moe entered the room first as the others discussed their options, and saw that the only occupant was a naked man sprawled on one side of the bed.

The afternoon was now late and the sky was darkening outside, and the apartment was eerily silent. Moe gulped as he moved across the room.

“It doesn’t look like she’s ’ere” he called, “What do we do now?” Clarissa and the others moved in and scanned the room. She cursed.

The panic was quietening down now, as people fled downstairs or into the lifts. Gunfire rang from close by, staggering ’Enery as he was hit in an armoured shoulder. Anwyn, Clarissa and ’Enery took cover in the entrance corridor and adjacent bathroom, and exchanged fire with a couple of men positioned outside the door. The two were stunned but others appeared. After a brief pause and a bark of commands the firing renewed again, this time supplemented from people hiding in the central stairwell, and these were using Needlers and automatic fire. Things were getting deadly, and the group appeared to be trapped.

Near Dark (4th January 2181: 3.50 pm)
4th January 2181: 3.50 pm

Moe fealt very lonely in the darkened room. Even with the gunfire ringing outside he had a horrible feeling that he, personally had a lot more to worry about. The man lay very still on the bed, and although he hadn’t yet plucked up the courage to approach, he had a horrible feelng that he was dead.

Seeing all that he had seen, doing all that he had done, this logically should not have been an issue for Moe. But Moe wasn’t being logical at the moment. Ever since they had arrived the dark cloud and brooding forest surrounding the hotel had started to bother him, and the looming heights of the surrounding Carpathians had only added to his sense of unease.

He had seen enough old horror movies to recognise this unease for what it was: simple fear. What if vampires were actually real?

Oh sure, he knew that that some mutants were vampires, and that this mark was a supposed mutant. At least one Strontium Dog-Durham Red- was a vampire like mutant. She was an evil bitch, and gave him the creeps, but she did not hide from daylight: she was actually a mutant. Well, at least he’d always assumed she was.

This was different: although the warrant card said otherwise, this Ivanna sounded like the real deal. And what did she want all that blood she’d stolen for? To sell on? To whom? He shuddered.

As often happened in such situations, the voice that Moe called Emeric started speaking to him in perfect Oxbridge English. In his delusional state, Moe imagined that the others could all hear it too.

“Consider Moe” said Emeric. “If this Ivanna really is a vampire like you’ve seen in the movies, then she can’t be seen in mirrors. What if that means she also can’t be seen through, say, electronic sensor goggles. Like ,for example, the one’s you’re all wearing?” The voice went silent.

Trembling Moe fumbled in his pocket for the small pencil torch he carried.He reached up and lifted up his goggles, clicking on the narrow beam. Lying naked on the bed next to the man was a woman, and she was covered in blood. She sighed and shifted position. Moe shrieked.

“She’s here! She’s here! If you take the goggles off you can see her. She’s here”" he wailed.

“Shut up Moe we’re kind of busy” hissed Clarissa. “Cuff her and wrap her in a blanket or something.” A burst of needler fire cut off her comment. Moe was alone again.

The form on the bed sighed again, and seemed to be stirring. Gulping, Moe reached into a pouch for a set of binders, and tip toed towards the form on the bed. Trembling he reached out, and in his nervous funk dropped the restraints with a clatter. As he reached down Ivanna opened her eyes, which he saw were feral and pure red. “Noooo!” he screamed, fumbling for his pistol as she sat up.

There was a burst of blaster fire and Ivanna shuddered, and then slumped back onto the bed again.

“Put a sock in it Moe. Bind her and wrap her up. We need to go.” Clarissa was shaking her head at him, her goggles now lifted up. She turned back to the firefight. “Hurry up!”

“They’re keepin’ their’eads down now” called Anwyn. “Got us bottled up good. Waitin’ for backup probably.”

“It’ll take a bit of time to arrive. Another ten-20 minutes maybe” said Clarissa. “All in the main room and shut the doors”.

“I suggest I take the girl down with me. My wire launcher will take the strain of the two of us. Any of the rest of you got one?”asked Clarissa. Moe and ’Enery shook their heads.

“Nothin’ like plannin’ eh?” said Anwyn. “I got my grav chute: I can get down fine.”She produced the small handheld unit from her belt, and pushed her hand through the grip.

“Fine.”said Clarissa. “We two go down, stash the Dollymop and come back up the stairs. We take them down from behind, while ’Enery and Moe do a breakout. We pick up the girl and run to the pickup. Questions?”

While the girl was bound up in a bundle, Anwyn tested her Grav Unit and then jumped,slowly floating the six floors down. It was now after four, and starting to get dark anyway; it was unlikely that there would be any danger from sunlight towards their captive.

Clarissa fired her wire launcher into the stonework above them, and with Ivanna strapped across her front, abseiled herself down using the web plastic safety grippers. Anwyn was waiting below and they carried the bundle between them, stowing their captive under the canopy of the trees on the northeast side of the hotel. Slipping back into the crowd gathered in the foyer (there were no guards evident now), the two slipped up the stairs to the second floor, and then carefully made their way back up towards the sixth.

Crouched in the cover of the stairwell were two men, and getting the drop on them Clarissa and Anwyn took these out very quickly. Moving quickly up the stairs they managed to drop two more before they realised what was happening.

At the same time ’Enery burst out of the apartment, immediately attracting a volley of covering fire. He was knocked back to the floor but was miraculously unhurt, his thick hide saving him once again. Seeing his opportunity Moe raced out of the apartment, jumped on the table of one of the book stalls and launched himself over the rail and down into the central stairwell, landing behind Clarissa and Anwyn.

The firefight continued between the Dogs and the three or four still conscious gunmen. Some of these seemed to be the sharp suited hotel guards (“mafia thugs” thought Clarissa), armed with Needlers, while the remainder seemed like casually clothed henchmen, armed with slug pistols. Either way after a few moments the superior armour of the Strontium Dogs prevailed, and all was finally quiet on the sixth floor. Without further pause they raced down to the first floor and burst their way into a rear facing apartment, and dropped down into the woodland below.

Making their way in the darkening gloom around the rear of the hotel, Moe was directed to pick up the wrapped bundle that was Ivanna. “You may as well be of at least some use” said Clarissa tartly.

Peeking out from the woodland edge, they crossed the slippery access drive to the eastern side of the car park, their feet crunching in the crisp snow. Hopefully they would be able to make it directly to the pickup point, and the alternate trees and stone planters, as well as the packed cars, provided a decent amount of cover.

Clarissa spotted something and froze, alerted by the sound of slamming vehicle doors. Marching towards the hotel across the car park were were a group of eight burly men in suits and dark glasses: “Reinforcements” she guessed, and slipped towards the woodland edge.

The others started looking around, but a sharp cry went out as one of the men caught sight of the burly ’Enery. Moe scrabbled behind one of the stone planters and hid.

While half of the men engaged Clarissa, Moe and Anwyn with their Needlers, another group made their way across the south edge of the car park till they were below the group, and then made their way closer towards them using the cover.

Clarissa took several hits, but her armour managed to keep her on her feet, and one by one the firing group were taken down by the stun beams. As the second group approached from the south ’Enery too started to soak up damage, but eventually the superior weaponry of the Strontium Dogs took its toll. Moe remained cowering behind the planter.

Shooting him a contemptuous glance Clarissa ushered the group on towards the pickup point, and a call to the Dog House led to a crackling blur, before once again they stood in the Teleportation Room, awaited by a few nervous techs and a dozen burly Security Guards, who escorted them to the Directors office.

“So how’d it go?”asked Harvey.

“We got her alright” said Clarissa, “Alive and well.”

“Been monitoring the local bands”, said Harvey, “Quite a bit of disruption down there, the locals are going Ape.”

“Not our fault Harvey. What the intell. didn’t say was that the place would be packed out with a Freak Convention” explained Clarissa. “They gave us the wrong room number too. That’s religious nutcases for you.”

“Anyone hurt?” asked Harvey.

" A lot of stunner hangovers" said Anwyn, “And a few minor injuries on some bystanders. No one dead though.”

“Hmppf. We’ll deny all involvement anyway. You’re shipping out soon aren’t you?” queried Harvey.

“Yep. Off to the Outer Sectors” said Clarissa.

“Ok fine. That should keep you out of the way for a few weeks. Keep a low profile till then: and I never sent you on this anyway so no chatting to the others. Clients instructions.” Harvey counted out their cash, and waved them out.

Now the Carnival is Over (6th January 2181)
6th January 2181

At the very pinnacle of the ‘Dog House’ towards the spindle end that pointed at Earth, sat the observation deck, boasting a dome made of transparent glasteel offering a spectacular view of the planet that many of the Strontium Dogs had renounced as their home.

On this day there were some two dozen SD agents gathered, many of them having just returned to the Dog House at last after a prolonged break: back to work. Here too were a handful of base personnel- a couple of guards, Myrom the tech from the Teleport bay,Doc Shack and a couple of others. Standing in front of them was a simple oblong box, nearby which stood the Chief Station Administrator, Harvey. Resting on top of the box were two simple bunches of flowers, sent up from Earth no doubt.

“Ok” said Harvey, “And so we’re here to consign the mortal remains of Sally Big Bum to space. Any of you freaks want to say anything?”

“She was a good killer, but she sure had a fat ass!” called a voice from the back. There were a few chuckles.

This was it for a Strontium Dog: the final farewell. If it wasn’t decaying bones on some obscure hellhole of a frontier world, or dumping at a town garbage tip, this was the best they could hope for. Any other Dogs on base usually experienced a compulsion to attend. A few of the Normals at the base maybe, with whom the deceased had struck up some sort of aquaintance. Family: none. Friends: none. Tears: none. Possibly there was someone in this instance-a couple of relatives perhaps who had sent a bunch of flowers, but who couldn’t afford the shuttle fare to visit the Dog House.

“She still owed me 3000 credits” complained Kid Knee. “I have all the rotten luck.”

“’Ey…’Ey…Me,!” said Mantis Moe from the back of the assembled. “Oie gots sommin’ ta say.”
Heads turned round.

He walked briskly towards the podium.On his way he used his hideously insectoid arm to deftly filch the blaster from the holster resting on top of the box, and stick it under his shirt. Moe jumped up behind the podium and made to hip-bump Harvey out of the way, until he caught the look in his eye.

“Oie knews dis kidda from wayback! ‘im an ’er would ‘ead to da pub and suck down bevvies an ciggies an shot da shit till we pissed our kecks, like. ‘She an me would go out ta some minty world and hunt down some fuckwit, usually afta punchin’ a few divvies whot got in our ways. Oie loved ‘er, ‘She was one Boss old cow!” Mantis paused to wipe a tear from his eye.

“”Ey…’Ey…can we all bow our ‘eads collectively an close our winkies while we all do’s a little pray ta remember my kidda, my good friend …” Here Mantis bent over the casket and glanced at the brass name plate. “Sally’Big Bum’ Dupont.”

With that the assembled looked quizzically towards each other and stared down for a brief moment. Just exactly the sort of opening Moe was looking for.

Seeing that no one was looking, Moe reached down and filched the more expensive looking of the two flower arrangements. Then, as quickly as he could he walked down the outside edge of the group and exited the room, sniffling.

After walking briskly down the corridor to the main elevator banks, Moe took the time to scribble over the front of the dedication card in the flowers. He then flipped it over and on the blank side wrote:

‘dear claeresa. u are one boss bird. I like u. moe.’

Grinning to himself the bounty hunter floated away on the clouds of dreams, and dwelt on finer days to come. As Moe entered the lift, he failed to notice the bulky form of ’Enery move out of the shadows, scratching his chin thoughtfully.

“Right. Nuffink wrong wiv ’at one. Nuffink at awl…” he chuckled softly to ’imself.

Auld Aquaintance (14th January 2181)
14th January 2181

The first leg of the journey had been pretty uneventful, and the SD Agents were now waiting at Hootmannay Station while Clarrisa made contact with the Irridion Company base. A company transport direct to Zhufi would be the quickest way to get there: the only major route through the Outer Sector would have dropped them at Marbella most likely, and then they would still have had to depend on small traders and independent vessels to warp them to Zhufi, which might take weeks.

In the end Clarissa had stuck with a team of four, though she would have liked one or two more. She closed the comm link and turned to the others.

“There’s a supply vessel leaving here for the station tomorrow, and they’ll pick us up then. The Zhufi run is the day after so it all pans out nicely” she said. No-one was listening.

Moe sat in the corner talking to his arm, while ’Enery’s eyes were glazed as he knocked back multiple glasses of Auld Kiltstripper duty free. Anwyn was poking her fingers and trying to make friends with a large fluffy cat sitting in a Vacc Biocarrier-one of a pair which seemed to belong to a very large mustachioed man,who dwarfed even ’Enery. He was smoking a cigarette in a rather retro looking holder, and was discussing his cats with a be-kilted official.

“Angus my dear friend” said the man, speaking in a strong British upper glass accent, “May I call you Angus? My, what clear green eyes you’ve got.”

“I dinnie knae whit ‘ye talkin’ aboot Mistturr Waaugh” said the official, scratching his head under his bobble hat, “But I cannae authorise yer moggies doon durtside without the six weeks quarantine like.” Mr. Waugh looked mildly offended.

“Moggies? Moggies!!” he exclaimed. “Percival and Justin are prime pedigree studs. Percival is a Blue Persian and Justin a Samoan Pink. They are aristocrats of the Feline World, and have both just won multiple rosettes at Tufts- the Outer Sector Cat Breeders Show on Marbella. They are simply NOT moggies Dear Boy.”

“Ah cannae help that. Rules is rules” shrugged Angus.

“Angus. Dear friend” said Mr. Waugh, putting one massive well muscled hand on his shoulder. “Is there nothing you can do to help me through this pettifogging bureaucracy? A snifter of the sights of Och Eleven in one of your Luxury Sassenach Lodges would be just the ticket for a quiet week, but I can’t leave my prize winning Princes up here. They’re worth a fortune man!” Angus pondered.

“Ah’ll tell ye’ what. Ye seem like a nice feller.” said Angus, scratching his chin thoughtfully. Waugh beamed at him.

“The restriction don’t apply if yer cats can’t breed Jimmy. Whut if I got the base surgeon to get their nuts cut off like?” suggested Angus helpfully. Waugh looked at him in utter horror, and drew the back of his hand across his eyes.

“Don’t listen to the nasty man my dahlings” cried Waugh, as he moved across to the containers. He spotted Anwyn trying to make friends with Percival, and a brief quick look of revulsion crossed his face when he saw that she was a mutant (or possibly, a girl). However,this quickly vanished as breeding, good manners and a public school upbringing took over.

“Oh sorry Boyo” said Anwyn. “Lovely cats-this one’s a Blue Persian intit?”

“Ah yes, er Miss-a Search Destroy Agent? Interesting. You know something of cats then?” he asked politely.

“Jest a little. Blew the kneecaps off a cat smuggler once on Caytor. Spent days sorting out the animals afterwards -there was a bonus on their return see?” explained Anwyn.

“Charming. Quite charming” relied Waugh smoothly.“But where are my manners? Waugh’s the name, Devlin Waugh.” Introductions were made.

“If that beastly man won’t let my cats down on planet I’ll just have to wait in this dreadful Starport Hotel and take a flight to Sol” he sighed. “I loathe returning to Earth now-it’s just not the same anymore. But I can get another ship from there easily enough I suppose.”

“Strict they are on Och Eleven” explained Anwyn. “I’d guess they’d let Scottish Cat Breeds down, but not any others. Very funny that way they are.”

“Hum, so it would seem. How tiresome.” said Waugh. “Still, I suppose I’d better book into this awful hotel. I wonder if I can get a suite?”

Baring Teeth (15th January 2181)
15th January 2181

As they waited on the shuttle deck for the Iridion Craft to dock, Clarissa heard a familiar voice behind her.

“Weel Noo. Four Strontium Dogs lined up to take a company shuttle, when there’s transport to the Outer Sectors tomorrow. I wonder why?” the voice had a strong scots accent.

Turning round she saw another Strontium Dog, his weapons, like their own, presumably stowed away in the kitbags he was carrying.

“Hello Chick” said Clarissa, looking the mutant up and down. “Been visiting the old haunts?”

“Aye, ah have” said the mutant she had called Chick. “A guid long break. But noo its back tae wurk, and ah checked the latest subspace downloads on mah warrant meter, and guess where ah’m heading?”

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.

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.”

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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