The party members are up at 7.00am for breakfast again as a result of their early nights. As before, Shania has a big breakfast waiting for them as they head to the lounge.
“So what are we doing today?” asks Max.
“I’m going to spend the day checking computer records,” William replies. “Maybe the rest of you want to go and have a word with the Kennedys?”
The others are happy with that, feeling impotent otherwise because of the darkness. Shania is constantly bursting into tears before excusing herself, which just adds to the gloomy and oppressive atmosphere.
“I’ll come with you to show you the way and introduce you to Charlie,” says Hrym.
So as William boots up his handcomp, the others head to the air/rafts. Despite the darkness, it takes just half an hour to cover the 100km to the Kennedy Ranch.
The two air/rafts set down in front of the ranch house. It’s certainly in a lot better shape than the Traske Ranch, yet still far from being opulent.
A man of similar age to Hyrm and Taeva’s father comes out of the ranch with a shotgun in his hand. As soon as he sees Hyrm leading the others, he relaxes however, putting the shotgun to one side.
He shakes Hyrm firmly by the hand and then Hyrm introduces the others to him. he invites everyone into the lounge and brings out cold beers for everyone.
Charlie Kennedy immediately asks after Mr. Traske, which leads Hyrm to tell him the whole story. Arvor is watching the rancher like a hawk as he listens to the story for any indications from his body language that he might know something about the situation. Charlie seems to be genuinely surprised and shocked by the news though – he seems genuinely concerned by his disappearance. Arvor asks him a few questions, but they lead nowhere. Charlie and Taeva’s father were good friends although they didn’t see too much of one another. The last time they saw one another was around 6 Terran weeks ago when Charlie stopped by just to drink beer and talk shit.
“What are you going to do about the nobble harvest?” Charlie asks Hyrm. “You know that bids need to be in within 36 hours?”
Hyrm sighs and shakes his head. “I was hoping that he’d be back in time to sort it out and find the staff we’d need if we’re successful. But we’re really running out of time now even if, by some miracle, we found him tomorrow.”
“What’s a nobble ’arvest?” Max asks.
“That’s how us ranchers make a living,” Hyrm explains. “Well try to make a living, anyway.”
“Each contract is for 100 nobbles and calls for their delivery within 6-12 Terran days of the bids being submitted.”
“Lowest bid on the contract wins, but prices are fairly standard at Cr1.2 per kilo of meat. A nobble provides about 1800 kilos of meat per 6000 kilo animal. So a typical contract will call for Cr. 216,000 payment for 100 nobble carcasses properly dressed and ready for delivery. We’re allowed to bid on just one contract per season.”
“So what does harvestin’ nobbles involve then?” asks Max.
“Shooting at them from air/rafts to bring them down and then skinning and preparing them,” Hyrm says.
Max’s eyes light up, “You mean that you get paid to sit around all day shootin’ at things what can’t shoot back at yer?” he says incredulously.
Hrym nods. “Well that’s the fun part, yes. But that only lasts a maximum of an hour. After that is a very long day of blood, guts and a lot of heavy lifting.”
“How many people are needed?” Max asks.
“We need a team of ten,” Hyrm replies.
“You guys up for it?” Max asks. “I am.”
Clint is up for it – and has a lot of experience with this. Billy-Bob has never tried it before, but he’s keen to give it a go.
Nobble harvesting. Not exactly what Jie would call a fair fight as she hefts ‘Black Betty’ up for inspection. But Arvor is right, if the Trasks don’t get the credits then they will fold and the mystery guys will be victorious. Plus Hyrm said it was hard labor and of the team jie proudly thinks she is most suited for the job, and as an addition if the interlopers attempt to interfer with the harvest, they will find this Imperial Marine not so easy to run off.
“I can lend you one of my guys if you’re still short,” offers Charlie. “I need all of the others for our own bid.”
Once they have finished asking questions, the party members thank Charlie for his help and head back to the Traske Ranch, where they find William still hunched over his handcomp. They fill him in on what they learned at the Kennedy Ranch and ask him if he has managed to make any progress.
“A little,” William replies. “No luck on geological records. It seems as if there have never been any detailed geological surveys conducted here. I couldn’t find any signs of anyone having tried requesting the data from the main planetary computers anyway.”
Then he smiles.
“But I had more luck making inquiries about the Land Registry. It would appear that someone was checking out the data just a few weeks before the first of the problems.”
“Who? Who?” Max asks, practically jumping up and down in his chair with excitement.
William frowns again. “Apart from the date, all I could find out was that whoever requested the information did so using Evander’s MiFi network. The ident code to the computer accessing the network was spoofed. Obviously they took some precautions.”
Max scratches his chin. “It will be light again tomorrow morning and then we got a day an’ a half of daylight. We need to use ’em wisely.”
Arvor suggest that they make a bid of Cr. 175,000 for the nobble harvest and asks Shania what she thinks.
“I don’t know much about the business, I’m afraid,” Shania replies. “Hrym knows more about it than me.”
Hrym nods, “Cr. 175k sounds good to me. We’d be very unlucky to miss out on a bid that low.”
This sounds fine to everyone and they ask Hrym to take care of it.
“Might as well do it right away,” Hyrm replies. “It only takes a few minutes.”
He goes and gets the ranch’s handcomp and keys in the bid.
“Now we just need to wait until tomorrow evening to see whether we were successful or not.”
Taeva starts cleaning her Gauss Pistol, and asks Hyrm if there’s any rifles on the Ranch she can borrow.
“That there is,” he says and heads off. He returns a few minutes later with an enormous looking bolt action rifle and a box of 14mm ammo.
“You sure that you can handle one of these?” he asks. “They’ve got a kick like a mule.”
“The young ‘uns have all gone over to lasers now but your father is a traditionalist and likes to do it the old-fashioned way. Spraying nobbles with full auto doesn’t work – you’d spend hours getting all of the bullets out if you did that and there’s never enough time as it is during the harvest.”
With the matter of the harvest now taken care of, the party members go back to discussing their plans for locating Taeva’s father once more. William spends a while trying to see if he can predict the path that the air/rafts will take over the swamp. Looking back at the old data though he sees that they they never follow one particular flight path – it could be anywhere in a corridor some 800km wide.
“We should head west towards the swamp before first light, so as to be over there as the sun rises, to get some serious searching in,” Arvor suggests.
“Well the swamp starts just a few hundred metres from here,” Hyrm replies. “For all we know he might be less than a click from here.”
He shakes his head sadly again.
“There’s no worse terrain for making a search than swampland. If he’s gone into the water, then we ain’t never going to find him.”
Shania bursts into tears again and has to leave the room.
The party members continue to discuss their options for several more hours before heading to their rooms, knowing that they are in for another long day again tomorrow.