It’s a couple of hours before dawn when the group awakes – still plenty of time before the nobbles should arrive and so Hyrm goes through the tactics once again. Hyrm and Dan Kennedy will be using grav/belts; the others will be in the two air/rafts driven by Max and Billy-Bob. Hyrm tells everyone to just shoot for medium and larger sized nobbles at the back and on the sides of the herd. If the downed nobbles are trampled on during the stampede, then their carcasses will be useless.
Everyone checks their weapons once again and then there’s little that they can do apart from waiting.
As the first rays of light cut through the darkness, it’s possible to just make out a cloud emerging from the south as the nobbles head their way. Hyrm is watching them with binoculars.
An hour later and it’s fully light. All can just make out the sound of the nobbles’ gigantic hooves making their way towards the party’s position. Another half an hour later and they are in sight – thousands of them, slowly tramping towards the party, the ground starting to vibrate below them.
“OK, fellas, let’s do this thing,” Hyrm says.
Everyone gets to their vehicles and Billy-Bob and Max follow Hyrm and Dan up into the air.
As they pass over the herd, it makes for a very impressive and somewhat terrifying sight. Although the party members had seen several holovids of the beasts which Hyrm had shown them, nothing prepared them for the massive creatures which are each the size of a small house.
The group maneuvers around the rear of the group and starts to follow them, watching Hyrm’s lead. He waits until the herd is within 20 km of the group’s base camp and then fires the first shot.
Pandemonium then ensues as the party members blast away at the nobbles as fast as they can. The noise from the huge hunting rifles is immense and the recoil from the weapons shakes the air/rafts. The nobbles are starting to drop and the herd starts to stampede. The interiors of the air/rafts are starting to fill up with spent shell cases and magazines as everyone unleashes volley after volley at the beasts.
After an hour, Hyrm calls a halt to the slaughter and the air/rafts descend to see the results.
They go down to investigate the carnage that they caused, finishing off the nobbles that are just injured.
Everyone counts up those that they took down. Jie got the most, bringing down 18 of the beasts, her laser rifle the perfect weapon for the task – at least it was until it ran out of juice shortly before the end of the harvest. Arvor was just behind her on 17. Clint and Dan, both experienced in harvesting took down 14 and 15 respectively. Grim and Taeva also did well for first-timers bringing down 13 each. Hyrm is showing his age now and only managed to bring down 10. William put on a good show considering that shooting is not his forte and he could hardly hold the huge rifle, adding another 7 to the tally.
“That’s good,” nods Hyrm. “We’re seven over – they won’t count, but we have fulfilled our quota.”
“That was the fun part though,” he adds. “Now we have to process them all.”
Hyrm was right. The next six hours are not fun at all as it involves hacking the carcasses to pieces with large machetes and lasers, which the air/rafts then drag to the refrigerated containers where the others then have to manhandle into the refrigerated containers. By the end of it, each of the party members are covered in nobble blood and guts and the stench is overwhelming.
“If you think that’s bad, you should be here in the summer,” Dan says. “They stink to high heaven then.”
Even the fittest of the party members are panting and exhausted by the time the last of the man-sized nobble steaks are loaded into the container.
Just a few minutes later, a large 200-ton non-starship starts to descend from the sky, landing right next to the group’s base camp. The captain gets out and shakes Hrym by the hand before going into the containers to check the contents. While he does so, the ship unloads some empty containers to replace those that they will be taking.
A few minutes later and the captain emerges, apparently happy with what he has seen. He releases the funds and then shouts to his crew who start to winch the containers into the ship. The system runs like a well-oiled machine and the ship takes off less than 30 minutes later, heading for the bulk freighter that is in orbit overhead.
Hyrm slumps against one of the empty containers and smiles.
“Well done, lads,” he says. “You all did great.”
He heads over to the stores and comes back with a couple of bottles of whisky which he starts passing round.
Uncharacteristically, Jie holds up a dry blood caked hand and refuses the well deserved alcohol. She is focused on the real job, that of dealing with Big Jimmy. To aid in this she gives strict attention to the process of de-gauzing the trans-node capacitor of her military issued laser weapon as it recharges. She knows what she would like to do but keeps herself very characteristically quiet. She looks to Taeva for leadership in this decision because it was her ranch that was sabotaged and her father that was killed. In this situation Jie will follow Taeva to Hell and beyond.
“What are we going to do about the money?” Hyrm asks. “Usually workers get Cr.4000 each for helping with the harvest?”
The party members forego the offer of salary from Hyrm knowing that the ranch is going to need the funds for getting back on its feet a lot more than the party does – especially after Jimmy-Joe’s unwilling contribution to their retirement funds from the contents of his safe. They agree that Hyrm will pay Clint, Billy-Bob and Dan Kennedy their wages and keep the rest.
The group then discusses their next move. Although Taeva is still a little nervous of leaving Hyrm and Shania alone at the ranch, she’s keen to find out more about Jimmy-Joe’s reaction first of all so as to work out what his reaction is likely to be. So the party members decide to head off to Newland as quickly as possible.
Grim quietly hands Hyrm a copy of the portion of recorded Vid that shows JJ’s thug discussing the killing of Mr Traske:
“If everything heads south Hyrm, show this to the militia. You and Shania have done nothing wrong and this is proof JJ and his men were responsible for Taeva’s dad dying. If something happens to us and JJ comes after you, threaten to get a lawyer and sue him for wrongful death and conspiracy. Even though he didn’t pull the trigger, that’ll slow him down some, and it might keep you safe, at least for a while.”
Everyone says their farewells to Hyrm and Taeva says that she will keep in touch with Shania over the commos. They then head to the air/rafts and head towards Plainsville which is both close to their current location and directly on the way to Newland.
On the way, William uses his handcomp to see if there is any news about the warehouse fire. He finds some information about it on the website for the Stenden Informer:
Evander – 101-1106 – Evander Fire Department was called out to tackle a blaze at the warehouse of Evander Agricultural Engineering around noon earlier today. The Fire Department was able to stop the fire from spreading to other buildings in the area, but it was too intense to spare the building or the vehicles contained inside. Evander Agricultural Engineering CEO, Jimmy-Joe Jefferson commented in a phone interview, “I understand that the fire started when sparks from a welding torch caught some cleaning rags, which in turn ignited a barrel of diesel. There were no suspicious circumstances to the blaze and so the TDF have not been involved.”
It takes just a couple of hours to get to Plainsville, but the party members are so exhausted from the harvest that they are dozing for much of the journey.
Plainsville is buzzing compared to the last time they were here, the streets filled with harvest vehicles and ranch hands. Despite the cold temperatures, there are crowds standing outside the saloon drinking as there’s no more room inside.
They head towards the hotel. This too is packed and so the party members are forced to pay through the nose to get rooms for the night and are forced to double up for the night. At least the showers work and so everyone is able to remove the grime and stench of nobble blood from themselves and their clothes prior to heading to bed.