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The Old Scout: The Danger Club

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue.

The old Scout leaned back in big overstuffed chair, enjoying the rich leather and the comfort almost as much as he was enjoying the fine brandy in the elegant glass in his hand. The “Danger Club” had offered him a Cr50 honorarium—and free drinks!—to come chat with the members about some of the creatures he’d seen over the years.

“The magni-pie is very dangerous, albeit accidentally. Ran into them during the Fourth Frontier War…

“They’re kinda like a beaker with wings, capable of gliding more than flying. Call it a flying-squirrel-monkey. They have a magnetic sense that lets them navigate, but it’s also used in evaluating the gifts a male offers a female during courtship. The purer the magnetic signature, the more attractive the gift.

“Since the colonization of Gougeste, the little buggers have a habit of stealing any small bits of metal—nuts, bolts, nails—that aren’t… uh… nailed down. So to speak.”

He paused and took a sip of the brandy. “During the war, the bastards would swarm over battle fields, picking up the empty shell cases, magazines, all the expendable stuff used up in a modern battle. An in the course of this, they discovered that the ring from a grenade pin was just the right size to go around the foot and rest on the leg of a female, like a pretty bracelet.

“The females discovered jewelry.

“Nature being what it is, the males of course locked on to the best gift to gain a mate… which was ok as long as they contented themselves to sweeping through after a battle and picking up the dropped grenade pins.

“When they began sneaking in on bivouac sites and stealing them, it got dangerous.”

The Scout leaned forward a bit, his voice drawing the listeners in, “It’s 0200. You’re trying to run a silent camp as part of an infiltration mission. There’s the normal animal sounds, a little rattle of the tree branches above the camp. Nothing out of the ordinary, and the sentries are on watch with thermal and lowlight…

“One of the little critters you’ve been seeing all day runs down a tree trunk, but who cares? You lose it in the underbrush and camo around your sleeping teammates… a few moments later it scampers back up another tree trunk. “

The Scout held his breath for a dramatic pause, “Then … Boom.”

It wasn’t a yelled “Boom!”—it was a sad, maudlin way of saying it.

“Dave, the same Dave that you’ve been marching with for a month, explodes. Yeah, I know, the restraining loop over the spoon on the grenade… but from the times a soldier woke up before the magni-pie stole the pin, they snip through the strap with their beak so they can get to the pin easier.”

The Scout took another sip, savoring the brandy. “Dangerous, but they don’t intend to be, and if you’re not carrying grenades then the problem isn't there. I think the real topic on the table is creatures that are intentionally dangerous.

“On Forboldn, in the highland mountains, the natives hunt the Trellkatan. Picture a sort of arboreal mountain goat… like a goat with the hands and feet of an ape. About 1.5 meters tall when they stand on their hind legs, about 60cm running on all fours. The backs of the hands are covered with … like turtle shell, or super thick sharkskin, so when they fold the fingers into the palm the hand works like a hoof.

“The natives hunt them for the pelts—they grow long, thick coats that are chemically really similar to spider silk or kevlar. There’s a couple companies that pay nicely for them and make really elegant Cloth armor from the stuff.

“The problem is the fur gets twisted, tangled and matted, like a sheep’s… and three to four centimeter thick tangled mats tend to stop a lot of incoming fire. It’s hard to cut, it’s hard to stab through it, bullets tend to hit strand after strand and slow down. Gauss needles work, and energy weapons. But hitting them with energy weapons ruins the pelt, which is the whole point of the hunt.

“The locals use a kind of a long spear, with a thin stiletto head to it. About a third of a meter of needle, with a crossbar like a boar spear, and then about another meter and a half of metal rod.

“The Trellkatan have a very powerful grip, and if they get a hand on you they’ll crush your throat. Or the bones in your arm. Or pull the arm out of its socket. Their main weapon, though, are the curved horns, like a goat’s, except the outside and inside of the curve of the horn is razor thin and very sharp. It won’t cut deep, but the creatures are very big on hitting in the face and neck with the horns. When they hunt , they hold their prey down and slit its throat with the horn-edge.

“That’s the other difference between them and goats—or apes. They’re extremely territorial, irrationally so. No other animal can live within about 1500 meters of their lair. They’ll hunt and kill everything they find there. Another 5 km or so is hunting range, where they’ll let things live but go through hunting for food.

“They are like goats in that they’re a herd animal or a pack animal, depending on how you look at it. The hunting parties are between 4 and 24 of them, usually all males. Maybe a couple young near-adult females.

“The Lairs are mountain caves, or cave complexes, where dozens of them live. The females have a nursing organ that is like a tap that branches off where the stomach and the intestines join. A tube from the tummy that the young nurse semi-digested food from. They have litters of 2 to 5 kids every spring, and all the males hunt like crazy to feed them. They mate in the fall, and gestate all winter, deep in the cave where the temperature is the same year round. They gorge all summer, and the females are sort of hibernating while gestating.

“Trying to hunt them in the lair is… dangerous. They climb up into the tops of the cave, find niches. They hear really well, and will tap their hoof-hands on the rock to make a clicking sound that they range-find on in the dark. Not as good as a bat’s sonar, but good enough they can find their way around even in the deep-dark. And that hearing lets them know you’re coming, so they can get to the side, or above, the opening between one part of the cave and another. As the hunter crawls through, they just snatch him and slash.

“Some people will gas the cave—smoke grenades, or riot gas—but the twists, niches, and occasional water-filled tunnel stop that. Mostly they throw the smoke in to drive the Trellkatan out—although that’s not usually a problem. Get within 500 meters or so of the cave, and every adult male will mob you since you’re in their exclusion zone.”

The Scout noticed his brandy snifter was empty—and the noticing was because of the well groomed and dressed waiter who’d held off filling it until there was a pause in the story. The tall man poured another helping, the amber liquid making the cut crystal sparkle in the light of the elegant fireplace behind and to the left of the old man’s chair.

“The Trellkatan… they’re dangerous, but we hunt them. By ‘we’ I mean sophonts, humaniti. We make the choice to go up in the mountains and hunt them. It could be worse.

“I was doing a survey on… well, I’m not going to name it. It’s Red Zoned for a reason.

“We landed in badlands—not desert, not mountain, not a nearly-dry riverbed canyon, but some kind of hellish mix of the worst qualities of all three. Strange regoliths worn by wind and rain and, once upon a time when the river was more than a trickle of a stream, by rushing waters.

“Binary system, a pair of … no, I think mentioning spectral types would be bad. Let’s just leave it at a pair of dim stars, so there was never really night, and never really day. Fast rotational period, less than 14 hours, which contributed to the winds that whistled through the rocks, and made ever shifting patterns of light and shadow that tricked your eye and made you see things that weren’t there. Or, worse, made you ignore things that were there.

“Radiation was fairly high, both from the stars and from radioactive cobalt dust in the atmosphere. Yeah. Not naturally occurring, and from the half-life about 50 years back, the civilization nuked itself. Long Night colony that everybody forgot about. We found some wreckage, bits and pieces of documents.

“They’d broken with their parent world because of a dispute over genetic engineering ethics. The parent world subscribed to views similar to the enlightened, sensible, dare I say sane kind of thoughts that are common in the Imperium as a whole. Praise the Emperor and all his predecessors for wisdom.”

With that toast, the Old Scout raised his glass and took a sip, and the listeners echoed the toast.

“The… freethinkers… no, that’s too weak a word. ‘Fanatical whackjobs’ is closer, but lacks the dispassionate social professionalism so prized by the Scout Service, so I'll avoid that term. Let’s just go with ‘people’.

“The people who colonized wanted to make… well… Von Neuman machines. But they wanted biological Von Neuman Terraforming Servitor Creatures. At first, this was just peachy. There was enough land they could all spread out, grow some landscaping slave-critters, and have their own little Gardens of Eden.

“Until there got to be too many people. And then they started to argue over the choicest bits of land. And arguing turned to duels, but that wasn’t enough, so there were skirmishes and then custom-built fighting critters in arena combats. Then there were the sore losers who decided not to go along with the arena trial by combat’s result, and there were battles between estates. And then estates banded together, and… and someone decided that they were going escalate, and ‘win’, and they dusted off the old physics books and made nukes.

“Which shattered the infrastructure enough that the people were no longer in their manicured estates, and the critters were loose across the world.

“The really big ones weren’t so bad. About 15 metric tons mass, three to four meters at the shoulder. Scales? Plates? I don’t know what to call them. Size of a dinner plate, thick as your thumb and overlapping like a shark’s teeth. Ablative to energy weapon fire, and HEAP would just blow that one plate off. Trunk like an elephant, tail like a scorpion—with a stinger!—and six big legs like an alligator that let it move while keeping the soft belly near the ground. Claws that let it climb the soft limestone rock of the badlands. Eight tentacles off a mound in the middle of the back, each ending in a stinger like the one on the tail.

“Those weren't so bad, because at least you could see them coming. Well, no, you could hear them coming as they crunched up the terrain. In the shifting shadows and twisty regoliths, they could actually sneak up on you, because your eyes would sometimes think they were just a big, weird shaped rock. They’d stalk in nice and slow, crawling just a little at a time, until they were close enough.

“The Big Ones would dig down into the mud in the stream bed, and just let all the water run through their mouths—filter feeding like whales. They could sit still, waiting like that, until they noticed something to kill. The shape of their mouths was such they couldn’t even eat animals they killed—they’d toss the bodies in the stream, and filter up bits that came off or the little minnow-sized fish that came to eat the carrion.

“Worse were the bunnies. Little fluffy bunny rabbit things, with soft fur and cute bunny bodies.”

The Scout shuddered, looking off into space, and took a swig of his drink. Then steadied himself, whispered a couple of words, and said more clearly, “Absent friends” raising his drink in a toast, before sipping again. A few other people echoed the toast.

“The bunnies would roll in the dust, their fur picking it up and camouflaging them near perfectly. They were small—shoe box sized—and fast as all hell when they sprinted. Inside 100 meters, they’d be on you in a heartbeat.

“Two long, sharp incisors. Two long, sharp claws per paw… and the belly has a thing like the Hunter’s organ in an electric eel, with specialized conductors to the incisors and paws. If it could get through the HazMat suits we were wearing because of the cobalt, it could zap hard enough to stun you.

“When nothing was there to hunt, they moved like a herd of herbivores, eating the lichen and bits of plant that grew between the rocks, or digging out insects. Like watching a flock of chickens sweeping the area, nibbling here and there, while the ones on the edge of the flock keep watch. They’d go slow, stay stealthy and quiet, and feed… until the ones on the edge caught sight of real prey.

“Then the whole flock would go into stalk mode, and when they got close enough, sprint and pounce. Thirty or forty of them hitting almost at once, like land piranha. Stop one, and another is ducking around to stab at your heel, the back of your calf… and once those little needles get through, down you go. The bastard would shock and shock and shock and make sure you couldn’t get up to push its friends off.”

The Old Scout paused a bit, staring down into his glass,and then gulped the brandy down in one swallow before asking,”How about a little break? Maybe some cards?”

[Author’s Note: If you choose to introduce the ‘bunnies’ to your game, the stun effect should be rolled as 2d6 vs. END.]