[This story was originally submitted as an adventure for Active Measures. Because of the way the submission was written, we have decided to run it as a story for Raconteur's Rest, but note that it can be used as the lead-in for an adventure. -Ed.]
The winter culling of the herds was almost over. In only two weeks the cargo ships that would take the meat, hides, and other usable parts of what the locals rerferred to as duffs would arrive. Most families hadn't yet met their quotas, and everyone, skinner to herd boss, was working around the clock to get finished. Others were done or nearly so, and would get to startown early, to start the party before the ships arrived. One of those was the Nguyen family.
Dan Nguyen, herd boss of the family, was organizing the last of the culling operations when he got a call. "Hey Bossman, can you spare a second? There's something I want to show you."
Dan grinned, "Sure Little Mickey, I'll be right over." He turned down the volume control as his earpiece exploded with curses and threats. "Little Mickey", his younger brother, was over 2 meters tall, and massed over 130 kilos, and really resented being called by his childhood nickname. Dan walked over to his ATV, climbed inside, flicked the power switch on, and smoothly accelerated towards where his brother should be.
When he got there he saw his brother standing next to one of their hired hands, Sam Than. Sam looked to be in some pain, and was holding his right arm at his side. "Uh Oh," he thought, "Mike better not be getting into scraps with the hands again."
He got out of the ATV, and walked between the placidly eating duffs over to where the two men stood. "Ok, what's going on?" he asked.
Mike looked over to his brother, "Well, I think I'd better let Sam tell you, I really didn't see the whole thing, I got here afterwards."
Sam shifted his injured right arm and started talking, "Well it was the damndest thing, I was starting to put the bolter up to that duff's head over there," motioning with his head at a duff nearby grazing, "and the thing lifted up it's head, looked straight at me, and headbutted the bolter right out of my hands! The bolter went flying, and I think the big bastard knocked my arm out of its socket, cause I can't work it right."
Dan narrowed his eyes and looked Sam over. He didn't look drunk, and Sam had been with the family for a few years now, and wasn't the type to lie or exaggerate to get out of trouble. "I've never heard of a duff doing anything like that before, ever."
"I know Boss, but I swear that's just what it did!"
"Well, if you're sure about it, maybe we need to look over that duff, and see if anything's wrong with it."
Mike had been looking around in the grass during this, stopped, bent over and retrieved the bolter. "It looks OK, I'm just going to try it out to see if it works." Mike walked over to the duff that Sam had picked out.
Dan suddenly got a strange feeling, and called out to his brother. "Wait a minute, let's check that du..." He stopped as his brother, hefting the bolter to the duff's forehead, came face to face with the animal. It was looking straight at him. Mike and the duff stared into each others eyes for a moment, and then the duff started a low rumble in the back of its throat, which picked up in pitch and intensity to a high scream.
Mike began to back away from the animal, but it was too late. The seemingly enraged duff charged Mike, hitting him and tossing him 4 or 5 meters away, where he lay still, then rushing to the prone man and beginning to stomp, kick, and bite at him. Sam and Dan looked on in horror, until Sam noticed the other duffs in the herd had noticed the attack, and were watching it and them. "Uh, Boss, I think we'd better..."
"Yeah, you're right Sam, let's get back to my ATV."
The two men began to back away, with some of the duffs beginning to follow, some of them beginning to make the same rumbling sounds the first duff did. Dan looked back to where his brother lay. "Sam, when I yell run as fast as you can to my ATV, and try to get some help."
"We can both run at the same time, Boss..."
"No, Sam! I have to go back for my little brother. Now RUN!" With that Dan gave Sam a push and turned back towards where his brother lay. Sam ran as fast as he could towards the ATV, tears of pain and fear streaming down his face. He could hear behind him the screams of the duffs, and the angry cries of Dan Nguyen. Dan's voice was suddenly cut off with a painful scream. Then Sam could both feel and hear the duffs begin to charge towards him. The fear and adrenaline gave him the power to run the last few steps in a heartbeat. He pulled himself up the two rungs to the driver's door, opened it up, and pulled himself inside. Pulling the door shut, he could see the herd running towards him. He fumbled with his good hand for the radio.
"Emergency! Emergency! Kill Team 2 has an emergency! Oh god, Mike and Dan are dead, and the d..." As he spoke the enraged duffs struck the ATV, throwing him into the inside wall, knocking him out. He didn't wake as they overturned the vehicle, or when the climbed onto it, crushing it with their weight. Of course, it was much too late by then.