After a well deserved day of rest, the group is awoken the next day by a comm chirp from Molly. Chipper despite the hour, Molly let’s the group know she’s out in the hangar with George, ready to board.
Opening the Albatross’ main cargo door, the group is greeted by a nearly 5 meter tall bipedal mech vehicle – “George” – a salvaged Alliance AMARC, a helmeted Molly barely visible through the armor glass canopy. With amazing agility, Molly pilots the behemoth into the cargo bay, and heads for one of the side catwalks, crouching George into a docking position, before the rear of the chassis pops open with an airlock his, and Molly clambers out in a halter top, bikini bottoms and boots, with what look like belts strapped to her thighs, calves, arms and wrists, each with network cables attached, and strung through a shoulder harness. Molly let’s folks know that George is locked and docked, and transmits a set of coordinates from her omni-tool for where they can fly and set down to disembark. She also apologizes for the working clothes, since the Old-Tech nerve pad sensors are way easier to jury rig and make new parts for out on the fringe, rather than paying for full haptic displays and biomonitor sensors to upgrade George. Without any sense of modesty, Molly heads to the lounge with the rest of the crew while Milo gets the Albatross airborne, and lays out the details of the hunt…
A salarian by the name of Hark maintains a fairly large Agristead southwest of Cardinia Colony, specializing in a gene modified goat-analog from a frontier world that can survive mostly on the lichens and ground shrubs of Etamis. Molly describes him as abrasive, irritable, and isolationist. She also happens to know that despite his frontiersman facade, Hark has a crude biogenetics lab in his habitat which he uses to customize and “upgrade” his goats, but which is clearly higher end gear than one can get with the average University funding most of the on-planet academics receive. After the second attack, Hark installed motion sensitive cameras to try and catch the attacker in the act. However, what he forwarded to Molly is just more curious. The goat herds seemed to be attacked at nights, while sleeping. All of the camera shots show either a before of suddenly frightened goats, followed by a bloody mess of way less goat mass than was their previously. Hark reported that the aftermaths all had evidence of crushed bones and ripped tatters of skin and flesh, though not much, on otherwise bare earth or rock.
Molly still thinks that whatever it is is an animal, but not one they’ve seen on Etamis before, certainly not a Selcha Spiger, or a Coy Pack. Possibly an accidentally released species by a wildcatter. The group decides to review the data on the flight, but nothing becomes obvious, though Nero has a strange tickle in the back of his head.
Setting down outside the Agristead, the group gets into the Blazemaster, while Molly gets back into “George”, and heads through the main gate near the hab. Molly gets an update from Hark, noting 3 more herd kills since she’s been hired, and Hark reveals that two areas of the security fence on his plot were knocked down about a month ago – a bit of revelation not previously shared. The sections were nearly 3 meters wide, but he’d originally thought it was ground shift, since the soil there had slid of the rocks into a nearby gully.
The group decides to survey the most recent ones, and preparing to widening search out from the center. At each goat massacre, there is limited remains, and in both instances, the lichen has been scoured from the earth and stone, leaving strange score marks and pits. Something has eaten not only the dead goats, but most everything edible on a 3 or 4 meter wide area. Searching the immediate area, the group finds another patch of rock cleaned of it’s lichen and ground cover, with the same pits and score marks. It then becomes clear that there is a round about path of strange broad pad-like foot prints that moves from the scoured area to the attack, clearly picking up speed once it has a straight line to where the goat herd was.
That’s it hits Nero, it’s a Hrulk. While the word can mean “Ground Thunder”, essentially an earthquake on Dekuuna, the Elcor Homeworld, it also has a mythic meaning, “the Living Thunder”. A terror to scare younger elcor, it was a rocky piece of ground that would come alive and knock over elcor and shatter limbs. Elcor biologists and historians believe that it is based off a real creature that used to prey upon Elcor before their rise to sentience. However, no such creature has ever been seen or verified since the elcor started recording their history. Some Elcor cultural biologists even suggest that the Hrulk may have been the predator that pushed the Elcor up from simple herd animals to thinking, planning sophonts who then hunted their predator to extinction.
It all seems a little far fetched, but then they start pulling up the photographs of the attacks. Now that they are looking for a piece of terrain that seems to have moved, they start picking it out. The goats aren’t suddenly missing, they are instead suddenly under a piece of ground that wasn’t their before, rather than just being hidden behind the herd. In each after photo, there is a portion of ground, irregular, rocky, lichen and moss covered that dominates the picture, though from different angles. Two to three meters wide and probably 4 meters long, and incredibly low to the ground, the goats, much smaller than an elcor, are being run over and crushed by the creature that then must have a mouth on it’s underside which it uses to scour the remains of it’s victims.
The group revs the engine, and plans a circular search pattern out from the latest attack, George and Molly on the outside, the Blazemaster on the inner ring as they slowly spiral out. Primarily looking for bare spots, and the strange paddle-footprints. Sweeping outward, but within sight of each other, an hour and half passes, and just when they think it’s a wild goose chase, THERE. A bare spat not coinciding with the attacks. The plot it and adjust their search pattern – 15 minutes later…there it is…a lumpy, rocky piece of terrain near one of the Bad Weather Emergency Sheds. It doesn’t quite fit the local terrain, but if they weren’t looking for the rocky carapace from the photos, they would’ve just passed it by…instead, the group fires a few rounds from the turret at the thing.
And the reaction is startling – a 3 × 5 meter piece of ground rumbles and rockets to life, sending a spray of dirt into the air as a dozen legs suddenly drive it to immense speed. The crew put the Blazemaster into pursuit, crossing behind the Hrulk, while Molly maneuvers George into a small gully between the nearby hills, asking for the crew to drive the beast back around at her. Getting on the beasts left, the Blazemaster comes around, first firing from the battle rifle on the turret, and then angling ahead of it, the back door is dropped, and Nero and Illyria open up with the Adv Rifle and the Light Accelerator Cannon into the left side of it’s head. There is a grating roar heard dimly above the thunder of it’s feet as it veers right, though only a few speck of gummy ichor suggest even the slightest wound. Repeating the effort, the Hrulk veers away from the Blazemaster, and right into line with George.
Molly drops into a low stance, George’s center of gravity dropped low as both arms point at the approaching Hrulk, ports on each arm cycle open revealing a pair of Heavy Accelerator Cannons – which Molly opens up with. Unfortunately, she misjudges the Hrulk’s speed, and most of the shots carom off the rear of the creatures which decided to simply barrel into the AMARC.
George is a damn sight heavier than the Hrulk, and with the legs locked, the AMARC is not knocked over, but rather driven back…while the Hrulk’s rear end pivots upward as it’s head is driven into the ground after ricocheting off George’s angled and armored knees. Molly has the presence of mind to not only maintain control, but swing George’s arms across the lifted Hrulk, flipping it like a giant monster turtle onto it’s back – revealing not only the dozen flailing legs but a half dozen lamprey like mouths on it’s underside.
When the Blazemaster skids to a stop behind it, guns are already firing as everyone lays out a full salvo into the beast’s leathery underside.
Everyone takes a moment to take a breather and look around. Nope, no more Hrulk nearby, and hopefully anywhere. It certainly matches the description Nero remembers from home. But…how is one alive? And how is it here? There are no answers. The group hooks up several cables to the corpse, and the group tows the carcass back to the Albatross, stopping briefly at Hark’s main habitat. Molly has no actual use for the corpse, but she always gets the rights to it as part of a hunting job, and she gives it to the crew as a bonus, since they already have a deal with Dr. Basiri for new xenobiological specimens. However, she spells out the details to Hark, and with proof of the beast combined with his own photo evidence which can match the creature’s camouflaged carapace, Hark transfers the credits to Molly, who passes on the crew’s share. She also warns Hark that nobody knows how these things mate, or have young, or anything, but they seem to like to camouflage themselves as rocks and terrain, so he should probably have his hands keep an eye out for new weird rock formations, scoured areas of bare ground, and similar signs. Hark seems taken aback, but has no harsh words for that and retreats to his habitat.
Molly drives George into the Albatross, and the lot flies back to Cardinia, the crew calling Dr. Basiri about their new catch. She is flabbergasted, completely at a loss with the group’s ability to find strange creatures unknown to Etamisian catalogs. Nonetheless, she accepts the Hrulk, though she has to give the group an IOU until the next mail run. Molly thanks the group for their assistance, and says she’ll give them a shout if similar jobs come up in the future.
With money on their cred sticks, hot showers to be had, and a few days before the safari job interviews occur, the group parks the Albatross on one of he outer pads, and settles in to relax for a bit.