Doghouse Blues

Battle of the Century (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

As they waited nervously they became aware of a rythmic thumping. It was a minute or two before they recognised the sound of metal shod boots marching in unison.

And then they appeared over a low rise: soldiers in double battle line, and in the centre the sleigh like ATV they had seen on the feed. This stopped, and there was a metallic crunching sound as the thing seemed to rearrange its shape. In its place was what looked like a fifteen foot tall robot Santa, complete with a missile pod on one shoulder, and an auto laser on one arm.

“A Mecha. How quaint” commented Sgt. Callan. “And marching in ranks. These boys have a lot to learn.”

Clarissa counted the troopers. Their dress seemed much like that of a classical Roman Soldier, though these carried a laser carbine with a wicked blade attached in lieu of sword and shield. Instead of helmets though they wore head wraps. Cal clearly hadn’t bothered with synthiflesh, and robotic eyes glinted from between their linen hoods.

“Eighty of them” counted Claissa.

“A Century” added Chick, “And the Big ‘Yin wi’ the crest will be the Centurion.” Chick knew a little about ancient history. The Legionaries tramped relentlessly forward.

The mercs opened up with concentrated ACR fire and a barrage of HE grenades from one of the Drones, leaving a large dent in one of the lines. Clarissa, now armed with her VCB, lobbed Number 4 Cartridges to similar, if less intense, effect.

It transpired that the Legionaries were not great shots, and the barrage returned as the lines slowly advanced was impressive but largely ineffective, thanks to their opponents cover advantages. However, a near hit from the missile pod on Cal’s Mecha nearly flattened Moe, his force field once again doing overtime duty. With their blasters the other Strontium Dogs picked off individual targets.

One or two mercs were wounded, and one went down incapacitated before his buddies could find time to apply a medpac, but Cal’s casualties were far greater. The SSW Drone was now concentrating it’s uranium core bullets onto the Mecha itself, and with his heavy blaster ’Enery followed suit.

After more inaccurate counter fire from Cal and several bursts from the Drone, the Mecha reeled. Cal’s face appeared on a view screen on the chestplate.

“You Fools! Ingrates! Why do you not Love me?” The mecha crashed to the ground. But still the Legionaries marched relentlessly on.

The lines were closer now, and though near the merc positions the attackers were pretty much devastated, the situation on the Strontium Dogs flank was more serious. A lucky shot stunned Anwyn, and both Clarissa and Moe had taken wounds.

“Top of the World Ma!” yelled Moe, rushing out behind the annexe to face the oncoming line. Shaking his head ’Enery followed. This was a mistake.

The Legionary droids were clearly no great shakes at gun combat, but using their bayonet blades was a different matter. Moe took one in the shoulder, and ’Enery took three or four, staggering and wounding him badly.

Seeing the way the cards were falling Moe played his last trick. He coughed and staggered to the ground, implementing the old trick he had learned from another Agent some years previously. The beat rate of his heart slowed down, bringing it to a very slow rate for several minutes, and giving his opponents, hopefully including the droid’s scanners, every appearance of being dead. It was a desperate gamble, but better than dying. The droids marched over Moe surrounding ’Enery, who tough skin or no, was battered down into a bloody heap. The droids tramped on.

But the flank of the mercs was clear now. As Cal had clambered from the wreckage of the Mecha the SSW had cut him down, and now the troopers were reinforcing the Strontium Dog’s flank. Behind them the other half of the platoon, facing north into the town, were calmly picking off the hordes of victorian civilian robots who were attempting to make their way across the street towards them. The massed ACR’s halted the droids entirely, leaving smoking heaps.

Sgt. Callan came up and got his data pad out. A trooper came over and reported that there was some light damage to one of the drones, and that a Trooper Kale was incapacitated but would otherwise be fine after a few days in bed.

“Good, good” said Sgt. Callan, “No need to worry about the Widow Clause in your contract then.” He smiled a tight smile, like a very brief flash of unenthusiastic sunlight on a cold winters day.

“Ammo replacement and equipment damage shouldn’t come to more than a few tens of thousands. It’ll be deducted from your account when I’ve done the paperwork .”

“Gee thanks” said Anwyn, who was now on her feet. She limped over to where Chick crouched over the fallen bodies of Moe and ’Enery. Automatically she reached for a pepperoni from her body sash and started to munch it, kick starting her strange regeneration ability.

A trail of bright blood showed stark red against a festive white. Tears rose in Anwyn’s eyes. Even as she watched Moe groaned and then sat bolt upright, looking around in panic.

He quickly took in the scene and a flash of what looked like deep remorse flashed across his face. Chick, usually the most distant of the group, bent his knee and laid his blue chicken like head to the bruised and beaten chest of his friend and silently wept. Then he got up quickly and ran over to Clarissa.

“’Enery!” he said.

“Yes. Yes, I know he’s had it. I’m just putting up a wanted ad. to see if we can meet a replacement somewhere. Any ideas?” she said.

""He’s no’ deid" siad Chick gritting his teeth. “Git yer snooty arse in gear wumman, put the pad doon and do yer’ medic thing. Noo!” He waved his blaster for emphasis.

“Oh alright. Hang onto your perch” said Clarissa sighing, and went over to ’Enery. He certainly looked dead, but nevertheless she dutifully applied a medipac, and started to see to the worst of the wounds. The problem with ’Enery was that his skin was very tough, and the nanite treatment he had undertaken made it even tougher. She needed to use a precision laser cutter on its highest setting to stitch the holes. It made mediscanner readings awkward too: if he was indeed alive that might have been what had actually saved him from the droids.

Much to her surprise, ’Enery’s watery eye’s flicked open. Still: he did not look well.

“Is there any chance of a lift out of here?” called Anwyn over the comms. “We have a man down here and he needs emergency treatment.”

“The Sarge says it’s ok” came the response. “I guess he must be in a good mood today.”

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Emperor Cal is Comin' to Town (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

Up in the foyer they could hear ’Enery trying to calm a spooked Rudolph.

“We’ve got to get out of here. It isn’t safe” said Chick.

As they emerged their comms sputtered into life.

“Attention Strontium Dogs do you copy?” called a voice. They replied in the affirmative.

“This is D Platoon Eagle Company, be advised that we are inbound and our ETA is sixty seconds. Is the package safe?” The cavalry were coming.

“Rudolph is secured” said Clarissa, “I repeat. Rudolph is secured.” Next to her Anwyn staggered to her feet.

Moments later the Lander appeared, replete with winter camo effect. As the skids touched down a rear hatch opened and a platoon of ACR armed mercs appeared, forming a defensive perimeter around the craft. Clarissa waved, and a Sergeant ran over with another rifleman.

“Sgt. Callan” he said in a matter of fact way. “Hicks here will take control of the animal.” ’Enery duly handed the beast over.

“You might be interested in these” said Callan, holding out his datapad. “Our observation drones show 9 vehicles heading this way, from south of the town hall. Take a look.”

As Clarissa examined the feed she counted nine ATVs speeding across the snow. Eight of them displayed what looked like Roman eagles, plus the addition of fabricated horses heads on the front of the roof, and along wavy horsetail fixed to the rear. The other vehicle looked like a cross between an ATV and a sleigh, and bore a pair of antlers.

“‘Call me Cal’ is on his way with reinforcements” she said. “I’d guess that’s over 50 troops. Is there any chance of help?” Sgt. Callan sucked in his teeth and grimaced.

“Well now” he explained. “Our mission is simply to secure Rudolph and lift off again. My understanding is that you Strontium Dogs were taking care of Cal.” The hard faced mercenary looked deadpan. Clearly he was no pushover.

“But we can’t handle a whole company on our own” she said. “And you’re professional mercenaries!”

“That we are Miss” said Callan. He paused. “Tell you what” he said, thumbing through his datapad. “Maybe if I can draw up a standard contract here, I can get my platoon to assist. How about Cr 500,000: half the reward money for Cal?”

Clarissa sighed. Clearly they were getting screwed here, but they didn’t have much choice.

“Fine” she said. “Where do I sign?”

“SIgn here, and again here for settlement within 30 days” said the Sergeant. Moe noticed another soldier was filming the transaction.

Once the deal was done the mercenaries reacted quickly. What looked like large plastic bags were pulled out of the vehicle and gas cannisters attached. "

’Enery guessed that some sort of foam or catalyst was being pumped in as the bags expanded to make what looked like firing positions, about a dozen feet wide and four feet high. Quickly the mercs carried these to positions around the lander and used a tool to stake them deep into the ground. Instant cover.

Half of the mercs took positions roughly north of the lander, while the others, including two weapon drones controlled by the Lander copilot, faced south near the pond, using the west side of the Town Hall to cover their flank. The Strontium Dogs took their position on the east sound of the Town Hall, at the corner of the main building itself or around the Annexe. They were all set up within less than ten minutes.

“They seem to be taking their time” called Sgt Callen over the comms. At that moment hidden speakers blared into life around Christmastown.

“O most wretched of people! I have filled this place with good laws, and principles of justice, and wealth, and comfort, and prosperity, and abundance of other blessings, you miserable wretches. You fools and cowards have harmed my paradise of order and cold, with chaos and fire! " spoke a clear voice, sounding English and precise.

“Know that I am a God! You cannot harm me, and even if I fall I will arise stronger and destroy you” the voice continued.

“And now, all citizens of Christmastown. Rise up and destroy the interlopers gathered at the Town Hall. To assist you in this task, my genius has composed this little ditty” He cleared his throat, and the sound of sleigh bells and christmas type music started to blare through the speakers.

“You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town

He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

With sharp bright blades and great big guns
Stabby stab stab and zappy bang boom
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So please be good
And if not its just too late

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming to town
Emporer Cal is coming
Emporer Cal is coming
Emporer Cal is coming to town"

Disconcertingly, Moe was humming and tapping his toes.

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Down, Down 'Neath Christmastown (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

A set of steps led down to a basement, and within this an access hatch and ladder led down to a sub basement. Moe climbed down, finding a ramp that sloped down in a left hand curve ahead, with another corridor going off to the left. Motioning the others down he crept down the ramp, pausing only to blow his nose loudly.

The ramp emerged into some sort of control room, and hovering in this was a Handibot, which immediately scooted out of a door on the far side. Moe chased after it, but by the time he had re opened the door with his access card it had vanished from view. Their route to the missile defence controls lay southwards anyway, and waiting for the others, they made their way down though several rooms and corridors until they stood outside the designated station.

Anwyn opened the door: nothing. Ahead of them lay the control panels. Clarissa entered the room, and as she reached the panels Mr. Boomer scuttled down off her shoulder and cleared his throat.

“As required by GCC law I am now giving the compulsory 60 second warning before nuclear detonation. No personal claims for damage, injury or sterilisation will therefore be accepted. Ok ’Bye guys!” He started to sing.

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark……..”

“Bugger” said Anwyn.

“Ahhhh……” cried Clarissa flinching, as a laser bolt from a hovering handibot up near an access pipe shot at her, narrowly missing."

“Run fer it!” called Chick, making as good as his word. Clarissa wasted precious seconds exchanging fire with the handibot.

“At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark”

Chick and Anwyn pounded back towards the entrance, only to find additional robots appearing to frustrate them. Chick was near the front when a handibot, and even worse, an Atari ‘Kill U Like’ Mark Vlla Security Robot appeared alongside it. Anwyn ducked just in time as its heavy blaster made a hole the size of her head in the adjacent wall.

Meanwhile Clarissa had disposed of the handibot, and rushed past Moe.

“Move it Moe!” she yelled. But Moe was not paying attention.

“Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown”

Moe was singing along with Mr. Boomer, admittedly improvising the words somewhat (as he didn’t know most of them). There were tears in his eyes.

What Clarissa didn’t know was that the song had particular resonance for Moe as a Liverpudlian. During the mutant rebellion it had been a sort of anthem for the people of the city, when they had rebelled against the Kreelers and fought side by side with the mutants in the streets of the ruined city. Their co rebels in Glasgow had also adopted it as a sign of unity. For generations before that it had been a hymn of sports fans. He had sung it as a kid: and he was singing it now.

“I love you Mr. Boomer” wailed Moe, picking up and cuddling the tiny droid.

“Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone”

Anwyn badly damaged the securibot, and raced forward towards Chick’s cover as another securibot and handibot appeared behind her. Just as she neared cover the second securibot blasted her down, even as Chick’s twin blasters downed the first.

As Boomer continued to count down, Clarissa was cut off from the exit now by the second securibot. She hid in cover and took potshots, seemingly to little effect.

“I should have carried my VCB” she thought.

“Moe, stop pratting about and help me out here!” she yelled at Moe, who was still singing along and crying. Moe jolted back to some semblance of reality.

“Goodbye Mr. Boomer” he sobbed, “I’ll always remember you.”

“Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone”

“Take some of this!” screamed Moe, standing full in the corridor and firing both laser pistols. He took a a shot which staggered him backwards and caused his force field to fritz and spark, but fortunately it held. Chick and Clarissa also poured their fire at the deadly machine, and finally it lurched to the floor.

“Twenty four seconds guys, so long!” called Mr. Boomer. They raced past the destroyed robots towards Chick, and Moe helped him with Anwyn as they raced towards the ladder.

As Chick bundled Anwyn up they could still hear the final strains of Mr. Boomer.

“Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone”

“Up! Up!” called Moe pushing Clarissa (and watching her bottom). At the top of the hatch Chick reached down and hoisted Clarissa up. Moe finally started to climb. Chick grabbed the back of his jacket and pulled him though, slamming the hatch down.

There was a loud whoosh and the cellar started to shake.

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Rudolph the Much Abused Reindeer (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

’Enery peeked out of a snow festooned window, squinting through the tiny panes of glass at the street outside. They had managed to break into an empty shop and apply their medipacs and first aid; they knew that they could not sit still for long though, and now they were keen to make their way towards the Town Hall before the droids started to organise.

The Town Hall was a double winged building sat within an area of parkland, near the edge of town. Children (probably robots) were skating on a frozen pond, and Victorian citizens hurried past in their mufflers and tall hats. In front of the building was a cenotaph and a brightly illuminated christmas tree, with several stalls at its feet selling hot chestnuts, toffee apples, toddies and the like. Nestled between the Town Hall steps and one wing was a life size nativity scene – complete with a red nosed reindeer apparently dressed in a tutu and what looked like a suspender belt and ill fitting fishnet stockings.

“Don’t hurt Rudolph: she’s worth 500,000 creds to us” reminded Clarissa.

As they strolled nonchalently across the street (making sure Moe looked both ways) to an annexe building along the side of the Town Hall, a bystanders head swivelled round 180 degrees and gave that laser beam look at Moe. Realising that the time for stealth was over they started running for the parkland and the cover of the smaller building.

More bystanders started to come to life, and ’Enery shouted that he would take backstop as he leaned out from the side of the building and took potshots at the droids as they started to become aggressive. There were a couple of bobbies in the mix.

A simple bugle call rang out, and just before he made it to cover ’Enery noted half a dozen soldiers dressed like something off a chocolate box smartly stepping out, and arranging themselves in a line across the Town Hall steps. On the windows, shutters slammed down.

Recieving ’Enery’s report Clarissa ran around the rear of the Town Hall, and as she gave the pretense of knowing what she was doing, Chick and Anwyn followed her.

Moe had another idea however. Dimly remembering some old movie he had seen, he pulled out one of the flare dispensers and pressed the ‘Point Blank’ setting, fixing its spike in the ground and pointing directly towards the cenotaph. He pressed the ‘5 second interval’ button and then ran, following the others around the perimeter of the Town Hall, and learning the hard way that it does not pay to run flat out on packed snow.

As ’Enery picked off civilian robots the others eventually tumbled round the front corner of the Town Hall, having run and slipped all the way round the building. They moved forward to the limited cover of the christmas tree and stalls. But no one was shooting at them.

The programmed flares were still going off only tens of feet in the air near the cenotaph. All of the robot bystanders and chocolate box soldiers were staring transfixed at the flares, their artificial eyes glistening.

Quickly appreciating a potential duck shoot, Anwyn and Chick started popping away, while Moe, Fearful that the flares would run out, set off the second flare dispenser. ’Enery caught up and joined in.

As their blasters wrought carnage among the static robots Moe ran across the Town Hall steps toward Rudolph, who was staring mournfully at him. Moe grabbed her by the base of the antlers and tugged, and with the resignation of the long suffering, Rudolph reluctantly followed.

The soldiers were just so much scrap metal. Anwyn ran up to the access panel (cunningly disguised as piece of plastic stonework) and worked her magic with a handcomp and some illegal looking electronic widgets. The shutters rose up, and the doors opened.

“Please miss…no running in…..Bzzzzzzt” shouted a footman as Clarissa blew him to smithereens. Rudolph looked pleasantly surprised that Moe had let her go inside a reception room. She started to chew on a tablecloth. Moe looked out of the window and pondered the Baby Jesus.

“Roight!” said ‘Enery. "Oi’ll moind Rudolph while you gert orff dahhn to the basement and do the business."

“Goody! Goody!” burbled Mr. Boomer. “Oh yes! Yes! Take me there quick!”

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Attack of the Tiny Tims (2nd May 2182)
2nd May 2181

’Twas the Night before Christmas (sort of), and as they peered out from the edge of the pinewood a christmas card scene lay before them. Across a couple of miles of snow clad farmland they could see the small town spread out below them, with the bulk of Castle Paravel faintly illumined nearby. There was no glitter of exterior electrical lights: windows were lit from within to be sure, but the illumination of the town itself appeared to be by gaslight – no doubt simulated.

In the town itself the church bells rang six, and in the silence Moe thought he could hear a brass band playing ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’. He wiped a tear from his eye. It was starting to snow.

The farmland was unpopulated apart from a lantern outside an isolated farm. Clarissa guessed that the animals were probably real: it was likely that there were some working farms to provide fresh produce and such. Whether staffed by humans or lookalike robots they had no way of telling, and avoided it.

Moe had very mixed feelings about all this. Officially Christmas was now banned in New Britain, and had been for several years. In his own squalid childhood Christmas was of course something he had loved, though the advertising and christmas card ideal had been far different from his own reality in the slums of Liverpool. He remembered that it had snowed deeply one year though, and even the decaying docklands of Bootle had been transformed in the darkness and thick snow to a place of magic and wonder for a child. This place was just…… wonderful. He completely forgot that in reality it was May. This was Christmas Eve.

As they entered the town over a stone bridge they walked into one of the two parallel main streets; these were spaced by a hundred yards or so, leaving plenty of opportunity for winding, narrow connecting streets, filled with Old Curiosity Shoppes, Shops selling toys, exotic sweets and other wonders. Although it was close to seven, some of these were still open. As they walked along they were seemingly ignored, apart from Victorian gents raising their hats and wishing them the compliments of the season.

As they passed a toy shop Moe noticed a small boy on crutches pointing at a toy merry go round, with his muffler clad father at his side.

“Which one do you like TIm?” asked the father.

“I like all of them” said the boy, in a wavering voice. A lump came to Moe’s throat.

“Good boy Tim,” said the father, “But not one in particular?”

“Well father, I know we can’t afford none of them. So I might as well like them all”.

“He’s so like me” thought Moe, his eyes staring to water. He noticed the thin frame of the boy, the crutches, the wavering voice. He envisaged a future christmas with a pair of empty crutches propped in memorium in the corner of a humble room, while the father sat quietly at home. He started to reach for his credit card.

“Ere darlin, fancy keepin’ me warm this evenin’?” Moe looked up: a pretty girl has appeared from a side ally and had ridden up the hem of her skirts, displaying a shapely hooped stocking above calf boots and an equally shapely ankle. She smiled invitingly at Moe, who hesitated, caught between pathos and lust.

“Oh come on Moe” cut in the icy razor of Clarissa’s voice. " And you. Push off." she directed towards the Dollymop, who flounced away muttering about ‘the wife’.

Moe hurried away, not looking where he was going. The cab skidded to a halt in front of him, bumping into him and knocking him over. There were the shouts of bystanders: Moe had been walking in the middle of the street.

“Ello’, Ello’, Ello’” said a stentoran voice. “Wot’s goin’ on ’ere then?” A burly constable was approaching Moe, and another from further down the street. Anwyn cringed: they had been warned to avoid the policemen, with their more sophisticated programming.

As the policemen approached one of them suddenly stopped, and appeared to be looking at Moe; he then started to reach inside his coat.

“What is it with Moe and vehicles?” thought Anwyn, and then she noticed that the eyes of a nearby shopper were glowing red and he was looking in Moe’s direction. And then he fired laser beams from them. To add insult to injury the bobbies hidden Webley .455 was in fact a blaster of some sort, which he fired in Moe’s direction. The zips and bangs of displaced air cut thought the snowbound atmosphere. Carols were singing in the background.

With a logjam of three carriages at the crossroads there was at least some cover for the Strontium Dogs. Two additional policemen approached, reacting very quickly. Additionally, an assortment of Mr. Pickwick’s, Cheerible Twins, Sam Weller’s and even Nancy, Moe’s erstwhile friend started to sport glowing red eyes and laser beams. Even Bob Cratchett joined in, while Tiny Tim hobbled up to Anwyn, and with a final “God Bless us. Every one!” exploded like a plasma grenade. Fortunately she threw herself back and her armour absorbed much of the blast.

Worryingly another Tiny Tim exited a door and started to approach, along with Smike, Oliver Twist and some little girl or other. The Cheerible Twins were giving Moe a fair bit of trouble. Carnage ensued.

“Christmas was always like this in our house” said Anwyn, nostalgically.

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In through the Out Hole (2nd May 2181)
2nd May 2181

It was with a degree of trepidation that they walked along the gangway and into the giant pleisiosaurs bottom. The ‘Nessie’ was a submarine of course: one of their cunningly disguised maintenance vehicles: this one usually serving in the lakes around Jurassic World.

The captain was a sharply dressed Italian in an immaculate white uniform, his perfect teeth gleaming like marble from between long black sideburns. Moe immediately hated him, feeling like some ignorant and misbegotten lump of ignorance in comparison (which he was, of course).

Captain Juliano was extremely gracious to Clarissa and even Anwyn; Moe gritted his teeth. Juliano explained that the journey would not take long, even in these ice bound waters. They would be dropped off a few miles from Christmastown at around four, which in these latitudes would be near dark. He also handed the Strontium Dogs each a small black box, around the size of a packet of cigarettes.

“If you carry this it will send out a signature to the surrounding droids; the various transponder codes will register you as a robot in their eyes, and they probably won’t enquire any further unless you draw attention to yourselves.”

“But won’t they see we look out of place?” asked Anwyn.

“They are robots, not people” grinned Juliano with a dashing smile. “If you register as a robot that will be it. A robot won’t look at you and think ‘He has brown hair’. A robot will scan for the appropriate codes on initial contact. If you show them, it will ignore you.”

“Beware that the more sophisticated robots have more advanced protocols however” said Juliano. “This wouldn’t fool ‘Call me Cal’ for a moment. It should fool the rank and file though.”

Captain Juliano also handed over two handheld devices resembling mini rocket launchers.

“These are flare guns” he explained. “If you get stuck set these off and make for the drop off point. We will keep an eye out and move in for a pickup. Your comms will not work, of course.”

After a four hour trip the pleisiosaur surfaced, and the Agents found themselves in a small rubber dinghy, fifty yards offshore from a forested and snowbound shoreline. It was starting to snow. Clarissa noted that Moe was playing with a large hooped stocking he seemed to have acquired.
.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“’And Call Me Cal’? "asked ’Enery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The tasks are thus threefold” continued Walter.

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

“Which is?” asked Anwyn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what about Cal?” asked Chick.

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

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

“Any more questions?”

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

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

“There was a sighting here” she said flatly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You are familiar with Fargo?” asked Walter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sich as?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah” said Clarissa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anwyn narrowed her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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