Bounty hunters of the Palace of Amino Book Nine

Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter Stuart Fothergill
www.palaceofamino.com

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The following novels by Peter Stuart Fothergill are available for download at www.palaceofamino.com

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino Series
Book One: Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino Book Two: Rise of the Dough Monster Book Three: Mechanism Book Four: The Impaler and the Slim-Jims Book Five: The Face of Satan’s Bog Book Six: Vengeance of the Lump-Being Book Seven: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay Book Eight: The Nomads and the Mind Machine Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Other Novels
Toxic Venom High-Tech Green Thing Hippies *

* With contributions by Panos Aristidou, Justin Codd, Ross Meddle and Lawrence So

www.palaceofamino.com

2

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino
Book Nine

Invasion of the Scab Demons

www.palaceofamino.com

3

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Copyright  Peter Stuart Fothergill 2009 All rights reserved

The right of Peter Stuart Fothergill to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.

www.palaceofamino.com

4

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Chapter List
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 Quarantine Zone The Sound of Giggling Females Perilous Significance Relentless Grazing Slamming Upside-Down in a Bath A Highly Contradictory Brain Foot Blemish White Suits and Bubble-Domed Helmets Time-Lapsed Cow The Most Prestigious Alcoholic Honour Enormous Sleeves A Bowl of Melted Butter Millions of Infected Humanoids Painfully Ugly and Shapeless A Mathematical Model of Contentment All Sorts of Sordid Scenarios The Vomit of a Worm Bloated Fish Pit Two Jugs of Thick Chocolate Cream Contaminated Padding Stringent Job-Sharing Regulations A Cacophony of Whistles Froth Remarkably Tangy Mango Chutney Cold Murder Tabitha’s Moon Cupboard Abominable Fat Bundles The Edge of a Smoldering Crater Elderly Smog Lover A Wide and Ludicrous Grin Clang Cunning Monkey The Policy of Ignorance A Wretched Knob of Butter The Circle of Civilization Habitually Constipated Gasping Whales Wallington’s Recesses Lavishly Carved Headboard Poison Bug Soggy Pill Fragments Horrific Multi-Chinned Head Pork Pie Suctioned Nipple Cups Clogged Arteries
www.palaceofamino.com

7 10 12 17 21 25 28 33 36 42 45 49 52 56 61 65 69 72 78 87 89 91 95 99 106 111 116 119 124 127 131 133 136 139 143 146 149 153 157 161 164 167 171 173 177

5

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61

Shadows Huge Clammy Stalactites Scum-Sucking Bottom Feeders Slug Polyp Rare and Unusual Rage Giant Fish Oil Capsule Dome of Protection A Wide Plateau of Polished Stone Darkening Gloom Vast Quantities of Tiny Eggs Forty Heat Pulses and Blast Waves Delightful Specimens Gelatinous Pond Dwellers A Rustle and a Thud The Very Final Official Celebration Dung

180 182 188 190 194 197 199 201 205 208 210 212 215 219 222 226

www.palaceofamino.com

6

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

1 Quarantine Zone
Earth Reference Year: 2433.72 AD “It is confirmed as a 17 metre wide hollow stone sphere encased in an irrevium-iron shell. The stone sphere contains unidentifiable biological matter.” Sadie Stick, a fourth-class bounty hunter of enticing curves and flexibility, looked at the two-hundred metre wide slab of ice outside the large oval viewport at the front of the bridge. Its rugged surface glistened brightly in the pale yellow light of the nearby star. She turned to her artificial companion, who was still gazing down at his sensor screens. “The same as the other one?” THROB turned his cylindrical head and responded. “It is essentially the same in all but superficial respects.” The bounty hunter looked down at her screens. The second comet, just over a light-year away, was drifting on an almost a parallel course. She shook her head. “This is most odd.” She pointed at her screen. “And look, there’s evidence of a third one three light-years away.” After a few seconds thought she pulled herself out of her command chair. “We need to know what’s inside. I’m going to take a look.” She stared out of the viewport once more. “Take the Retarded Monk Grinder round to the comet’s dark side and use a disruptor beam to melt me a hole down to that stone sphere. I’ll be down in the port airlock.” THROB nodded. “As you wish.” “And continue your scans. I want to know where the comets originate and where they’re heading.” Sadie Stick slapped her left buttock, turned, and then strode purposefully off the bridge.

The outer door of the Retarded Monk Grinder’s port airlock whirred and then slid open quickly. Sadie Stick activated her environment suit’s floodlights illuminating the icy surface of the comet which was just a few metres away from the open door. A hole, more than three metres across, sank deep into the comet’s interior. She activated her communicator. “THROB, I’m heading out. Monitor me closely.” The mechanoid responded dryly. “As you wish.”
www.palaceofamino.com

7

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The bounty hunter stepped to the edge of the airlock and then pushed herself off. Released from the pull of her ship’s artificial gravity, she drifted across the dark void and into the deep hole. She activated her suit’s thrusters and accelerated forwards. The hole, almost a hundred metres deep and drilled by her ship’s distruptor beam, was perfectly smooth and coloured turquoise in the light of her floodlights. As Sadie Stick drifted deeper she noticed the ice beneath the surface glistened and flickered as her lights reflected off imperfections and bits of dust. She found it eerily beautiful. The end of the tunnel was in sight now. The scorched surface of the irrevium-iron shell could be seen, and even some of the stone beneath. From a holster on her suit’s thigh Sadie Stick drew her chunkylooking pistol and aimed towards the end of the tunnel. Setting the weapon to ‘Constant Beam’ she fired. An almost blinding orange beam cut into the metal and stone ahead showering the tunnel in spark and molten debris. As she continued to drift closer and closer the bounty hunter slowly moved the intense beam from side to side. Within a minute a hole big enough for her to climb through had been cut. A voice spoke over the communicator. “The method of entry into the stone sphere that you have chosen is unwise. The beam could harm the unidentified biological matter contained within…” “I want to get in quick!” The bounty hunter interrupted, annoyed at the criticism. “I know what I’m doing.” “As you wish.” Sadie Stick turned off the beam and re-holstered her pistol. By the time the bounty hunter had reached the end of the tunnel the molten sides of the hole she had cut had cooled and solidified. Globules, like black glass, lined the hole into the stone. She operated her communicator. “I’m going inside.” THROB responded. “As you wish.” Sadie Stick frowned. The mechanoid’s repetitive response was becoming annoying. Grabbing hold of some of the glass-like globules, the bounty hunter pulled herself into the stone sphere. Illuminated by her suit’s floodlights, the inside of the sphere was revealed. It was lined with what looked like hundreds of metre-wide transparent cylinders, each filled with a slowly swirling mass of brown and green gunk. “THROB, are you seeing this?” “I am receiving a stable image from your suit’s camera.” “What do you make of it?”
www.palaceofamino.com

8

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“The biological matter is obviously contained in those cylinders.” “I’d already figured that out!” Sadie Stick said. She examined her suit’s head-up display. “My suit’s sensors are having difficulty identifying it. Can you get a result?” “ o. You will need to obtain a sample.” The bounty hunter nodded. “I thought so.” She activated her suit’s thrusters for a brief second and drifted further into the sphere. “I’ll try and drill through the top of one of the cylinders.” An alarm sounded. Sadie Stick checked her display. “I’m reading a power surge in here!” “There are six distinct unidentified power readings within the sphere. I recommend immediate evacuation.” The bounty hunter shook her head. “No. I’ll get the sample first. Maybe I can…” There was a sharp thud on her thigh. She looked down. A small transparent device was embedded into her leg. Her suit’s auto-seal system had already enclosed around it. The device was filled with the unidentified biological matter. She winced with pain. “Something hit me! It’s penetrated my suit!” “Evacuate immediately.” Sadie Stick turned and activated her suit’s thrusters. She headed towards the sphere’s exit. The pain in her thigh increased sharply. She looked down at the device. The biological matter inside it had gone. She felt breathless and dizzy. “I’ve been injected with some of that stuff!” There was a moment’s pause before THROB replied. “I have implemented a quarantine zone from the port airlock to the sick bay. Return to the ship immediately.” Sadie Stick nodded. She blinked slowly. “That’s what I’m doing!” She was out of the sphere now and drifting back up the tunnel. She bounced off the sides, unable to focus clearly on her trajectory. “THROB, send all the information you have to the palace. Tell them we will send them an analysis of whatever’s infected me…” She paused, finding it harder and harder to breath. “…as soon as possible.” “As you wish. Transmitting now.” The bounty hunter’s head lolled around. Her breathing was shallow, her body weak. “THROB, I can’t… I feel so…”

www.palaceofamino.com

9

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

2 The Sound of Giggling Females
Peter the Ace and Panman strode confidently down the Blenheim’s main exit ramp and onto the smooth polished surface of the Central Tower’s cavernous prime hanger bay. There to meet them, along with over a hundred formally arranged engineers, was the prime hanger bay’s chief technician, Doctor Eric Brillo. He bowed. “Welcome back. I hear your mission was a great success.” Peter the Ace nodded. “That should come as no surprise.” “Of course.” Eric said. He turned and walked with the two first-class bounty hunters. He looked up at the heavily battle scarred hull of the Blenheim. “It looks like you’ve had a rough time.” Panman laughed. “We just spent a month in the Kradymirg Expanse hunting down the last few Dratsabamai raider ships, and most of the time with zero shield strength! What did you expect?” The chief technician nodded. “The damage is understandable.” “It’s nothing compared to what we inflicted!” Peter the Ace agreed with his companion. “Indeed. Quite literally there are no longer any Dratsabamai raider ships in existence!” Eric Brillo grinned. Stories of bounty hunter successes obviously gave him great pleasure. “That is very good to know.” He stopped and looked once again at the large and mighty vessel squatting menacingly in the cavernous hanger bay. “Are there any parts of the Blenheim that you think need extra attention?” “All of it.” Peter the Ace said. He glanced back at his ship before looking down at the chief technician. “It must be in immaculate condition the next time we use it.” Eric Brillo smiled. “As always.” He turned to his engineers and clapped loudly twice. “Off to work!” He turned back to face the two bounty hunters. “If you’ll excuse me I must return to my station.” Peter the Ace and Panman nodded. Eric scurried away through the mass of dispersing engineers. Many of the engineers grabbed equipment and headed up into the Blenheim. Others headed for large vehicles and machinery that lined the walls of the vast hanger bay. Already huge pieces of equipment and piping were descending from the ceiling two hundred metres above ready to connect up to the ship’s systems. Whenever the Blenheim needed a major service, that service had to be done rapidly
www.palaceofamino.com

10

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

and with maximum efficiency. The Palace of Amino’s flagship had to be ready to launch at a moment’s notice. There was a deep rumble as the hanger bay’s giant doorway began to close. Panman glanced back to watch as the nuclear powered door rose up and erased the morning skyline of the palace beyond. He grinned. “I love missions, but I also love coming home!” “Indeed” Peter the Ace agreed. “Our ship is the height of luxury and comfort, but it still can’t beat the magnificence of our palace residences!” The two bounty hunters left the hanger bay and entered a long deeply carpeted passageway. The armed guards that stood against each wall bowed as their superiors passed by. As they reached a private elevator Panman asked. “What are you planning to do first?” “A soak in my Jacuzzi, I think!” Peter the Ace replied, stepping into the elevator. “Followed by a relaxing hour or two with a selection of fine wines and cheeses.” Panman entered the elevator. The doors closed silently. “Cool!” He said as the elevator began its journey to the Central Tower’s pinnacle three kilometres above. “I think I’ll go for a few hours of hardcore holo-gaming.” Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “You just spent almost the entire journey home doing that. Wouldn’t you like a change?” Panman shook his head. He looked confused. “No. Why would I want that?” Peter the Ace was about to give Panman a speech on the physiological and psychological benefits of partaking in a wide variety of recreational activities when the communicator on his battle suit activated. It was Commander Pepe. “Yes, commander?” The commander spoke. “Sorry to bother you, I realise you’ve just arrived back.” The sound of giggling females could be heard in the background. “Not at all.” Peter the Ace said, smiling. “What can I do for you?” “Yesterday we received a transmission from a fourth-class bounty hunter out in the Cefni Cluster. She’s discovered something unusual inside a comet.” “So?” The elevator began to decelerate. “Her findings, when correlated with other recent observations, have raised the possibility that something very alarming is going on.” “I see.”
www.palaceofamino.com

11

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I wouldn’t normally bother you at this stage, but as you’re here I would appreciate it if you and Panman would come down to Battle Command and give us your insights into what may be going on.” The elevator drew to a halt at level one-thousand. The double doors opened to reveal a wide circular lobby decorated with fine and contorted contemporary works of art. The two top-class bounty hunters stepped out onto the deep blue carpeting. Peter the Ace looked at Panman. Panman nodded. “Of course, commander. We have plans, but we’ll be free in around three hours. Would that be OK?” “That would be fine. See you both then. Commander Pepe out.” Intrigued, Peter the Ace and Panman headed for their penthouses.

3 Perilous Significance
The cavernous chamber of Amino Battle Command, carved into dense rock almost two kilometres below the Palace of Amino, was filled with the usual quiet murmurings of its dedicated staff - silhouettes against the mellow glow of their consoles. On the distant main wall huge screens, the main light source in the otherwise dark chamber, were filled with images and statistics of the palace’s formidable defence installations and detailed real-time scans of the surrounding space and planetary systems. Other screens displayed information on the thousands of bounty hunter missions currently in progress. Peter the Ace and Panman stood on a terrace outside the elevator and took in the scene below. Despite having the very highest level of security clearance the two first-class bounty hunters had not visited Amino Battle Command for several decades. Lengthy and gruelling missions of the deadliest kind, and the desire to experience the joy of the palace’s opulent surface facilities during their short spells at home, meant that visiting the subterranean command centre was rarely, if ever, part of their agenda. But today was different. Commander Pepe’s unusual request for their assistance had intrigued them, and they had agreed to come down.

www.palaceofamino.com

12

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman was munching on a triple-glazed banana doughnut. “This is an impressive sight!” He said, spraying crumbs over the terrace’s railings. Peter the Ace nodded. “It must have been a most exhilarating experience to be down here during those attacks on the palace, especially when that lump-being’s emitter beam hit.” Panman laughed. “Yeah, that would’ve been cool!” He was thoughtful for a moment. “Of course, it could never be as cool as being thousands of light years away dealing with the enemy face-toface!” “You’re right, of course.” Peter the Ace said. “I wouldn’t give that up for all the tea on the central worlds.” With a whoosh a set of double doors opened just a few metres from the two first-class bounty hunters. The terrace was flooded with light and steam and the intoxicating scents of massage oils. From out of the hot fog a figure, barely able to move under the strain of its huge sagging mass, waddled heavily onto the terrace. Clothed in nothing more than a thick and tent-like white towel, the figure turned and looked at the bounty hunters. “Peter the Ace? Panman? Is it time for our meeting?” Peter the Ace grinned. “It is indeed. I see you’re not quite ready!” Commander Pepe looked a little flustered. “I apologise. Hazel and Miranda excelled themselves today. The way they buried themselves into my flab was intensely refreshing. I’m afraid I lost track of time.” “No problem, commander. We understand.” The commander continued, obviously lost in his memories of his recent steamy session. “The most distracting moment was when Hazel lifted my gut and nuzzled deep into my…” There was a huge cheer from down below. Commander Pepe looked down. “Ah. My staff has noticed your presence.” Peter the Ace and Panman gave the Battle Command staff below a quick wave. The staff whooped with joy and admiration. One young female officer found the whole experience too much to cope with. She exhaled noisily and then fell to the floor. The commanded leaned on the terrace’s reinforced railings. He frowned and asserted his considerable authority. “Enough! Get back to your stations!” His massive layers of fat wobbled, sending slow ripples around his tremendous girth. He pointed at the fallen female. “Revive her immediately!”

www.palaceofamino.com

13

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The staff below bowed and then turned back to their consoles. A medic appeared and tended to the fallen female. Commander Pepe turned his mass uneasily. “Let’s go to my office. Weezil is probably there already. He’ll present to you the information we’ve received.” Two females – tanned, toned, naked and oiled – appeared from the open sauna. They were carrying a deep purple bathrobe. They helped the commander put it on as he walked. They scurried around tying the robe’s various straps until the commander was securely clothed. They then ripped out the towel from underneath. The commander thanked them. The females looked at Peter the Ace and Panman and giggled. They then ran back into the sauna dragging the commander’s huge white towel with them. Smiling, Peter the Ace and Panman followed the slow-moving wide load that was Commander Pepe with consummate patience.

Commander Pepe’s office was the largest private space at Amino Battle Command. Oval in shape, and almost ten metres across at its widest point, the lavishly furnished office was a haven of luxury, and was custom built to accommodate the commander’s ever-increasing mass and bulk. Sinking into his reinforced leather chair, Commander Pepe positioned himself behind his crescent-shaped desk. Peter the Ace and Panman sat in front of the desk on two plush swivel-armchairs. Panman grabbed an oily snack from a plate on the commander’s desk and shoved it into his mouth. He looked around and then pointed. “That’s one amazingly bizarre sculpture!” The commander looked over to a large bulbous mass of metal next to his office’s main entrance. “Ah, yes! That was made to my specification only last year. I’m surprised you haven’t seen it before. It was featured in the palace’s ‘Pompous Artefacts’ magazine a few months ago.” Panman shook his head. “I don’t read that kind of thing. I find it as boring as a clean blanket!” Peter the Ace agreed. “It certainly is not the most stimulating of reads.” Commander Pepe nodded. “I understand. I guess when you are always away on life-threatening missions of perilous significance such a magazine would seem dull beyond belief.” Panman nodded and then reached for another snack.

www.palaceofamino.com

14

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace spoke. “Still, I’m curious. What exactly is it supposed to be? It looks like a dozen or so stimulated breasts fused together, to me.” The commander applauded. “Well done! That is exactly what it is!” “Really?” Commander Pepe grinned. “Indeed!” He operated a control on his desk. The dark wood paneling behind his desk parted. A cloud of steam billowed out. From out of the softly lit fog a toned and large chested female, clothed in nothing but a black thong and bikini top, stepped into the room. She looked at Commander Pepe dreamily. “What can I do for you, love puppet?” “Janta, show Peter the Ace and Panman the inspiration for my new sculpture.” Janta gasped as she realised the significance of the two bounty hunters in front of her. “It would be an honour!” She said. She brushed her hands through her dark wet hair to calm herself. And then she reached round and untied her bikini top. Her ample breasts were released. Peter the Ace looked calmly at Janta’s assets, and then over to the sculpture. “There is a remarkable likeness, especially to the larger examples at the top of the piece.” He looked back at Janta. “Thank you, that was very informative.” Janta gasped once again. She bowed. “It was a pleasure!” Panman just had to ask a question. “Commander, why are you so obsessed with breasts?” Commander Pepe smiled. “It is not an obsession, although I can see why it would appear that way.” He reached up and cupped Janta’s left breast in his hand. He squeezed gently. “I have a deep appreciation for these that’s beyond a mere sexual obsession. I consider them art – and high art at that! The form, colour, texture and firmness of the best examples, such as the one I’m manipulating right now, are delightfully inspirational and provide me with cerebral pleasures beyond anything else I know.” The commander circled his index finger around Janta’s nipple. He licked his lips. “And when I suck on this delicious…” From the far side of the office a voice spoke. “Perhaps we should get on with the meeting?” Standing in front of the office’s huge panoramic window was the impatient-looking Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit. He was framed by an impressive view of the main Battle Command chamber beyond.

www.palaceofamino.com

15

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe nodded. “Oh yes, of course. All this chatter about breasts distracted me.” He motioned at Janta. “Leave us.” Janta nodded and then stepped back into the steam. The panels closed behind her. The commander looked at the doors longingly for a second and then turned back. He nodded at the chief officer. “Get on with it!” Stepping away from the window and over to a large viewscreen Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit began. “We have received a transmission from Sadie Stick’s ship, the Retarded Monk Grinder. Sadie Stick is currently on a random patrol mission in the Cefni Cluster.” Commander Pepe’s legendary impatience kicked in. “We know that, Weezil! Get to the point!” The chief officer nodded. “Of course. The following presentation was formulated from information sent by Sadie Stick’s mechanical companion, THROB.” The view-screen faded to life. Over the next minute a detailed yet concise visual and aural presentation explained the situation. The comet that Sadie Stick had entered contained a chamber filled with vats of what appeared to be a highly potent and fast-acting virus. The bounty hunter had been infected and had been quarantined on her ship. The symptoms of infection were already proving to be quite severe, with Sadie Stick currently deeply unconscious and with her skin peeling off at a rapid rate. When the visual presentation concluded Weezil summed up the situation. “Less than a month ago the population of the planet Lodi in the Nacirema System is known to have been recently infected with an almost identical virus, and that outbreak occurred shortly after a comet strike. The virus spread throughout the entire pre-subspace civilisation within days. A coincidence is highly unlikely.” “Thank you, Weezil.” Commander Pepe said. He turned to Peter the Ace and Panman. “What do you think?” Peter the Ace answered first. “This is a serious situation. It looks like the intentional infection of several worlds is in progress. The reason for that must be uncovered as soon as possible. Do you know where the three recently discovered comets are heading?” Weezil answered. “All three are heading for heavily populated planets similar to Lodi. And all will make planet fall within the next three months.” “Those comets must be destroyed immediately.” Panman nodded. He grabbed another oily snack from the commander’s desk. “Yeah, and the origin of those comets must be traced.”
www.palaceofamino.com

16

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe agreed. “Wise, as always!” Peter the Ace added. “I suggest you get a top-class bounty hunter out to the Retarded Monk Grinder as soon as possible to aid THROB in his research on Sadie Stick’s condition. I’d rather not rely solely on the dry and witless machine logic of a mechanoid in this situation. Insane reasoning and crazy speculation is needed.” The commander nodded once more. “My thinking exactly! Weezil, did you get all that?” The chief officer was tapping on his data pad. “I did. May I also suggest that we get all bounty hunters currently in that region to check for other comets, or planets already infected?” Commander Pepe slammed one of his lardy fists onto his desk. The thud was dull – muted by the deep luxury carpeting and paneling in the office. “Of course you may suggest it! That’s part of your job!” “Yes, commander.” Peter the Ace’s communicator bleeped. He looked at the message. He got to his feet. “Well, commander, it looks like you’ve got things covered. We must go. Panman and I have an appointment with Doctor DeMorgan.” Panman stood up. Oil dribbled down his chin. “Oh yeah, I’d almost forgotten about that!” Peter the Ace headed for the exit. “When you’ve got more information on the severity of the situation let us know.” Panman followed his companion. “Yeah. We’ll be ready to assist if necessary.” The commander nodded. “Let’s hope the situation is not so serious as to require such extraordinary assistance.” Peter the Ace and Panman strode heroically out of the commander’s office.

4 Relentless Grazing
Through the humid bowels of the asteroid he ran, his squat, cloaked frame huddled over an unnecessarily bulky data pad. With remarkable speed the little fat humanoid scurried along black and unevenly cut passageways, each one designed to annoy, confuse, intimidate and disgust. The design worked.

www.palaceofamino.com

17

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

At regular intervals he passed large thick windows cut into the rock walls, allowing him a glimpse into the grim laboratories beyond. There he could see green clothed individuals toiling hard in appallingly toxic conditions. The life expectancy of one of those lab assistants was only a few days, he knew. He was happy to have avoided such work. Dodging pools of synthetic sludge the portly humanoid left the dark passageways and entered a much more spacious region of wide gloomy shafts and towering black-walled chambers. After crossing numerous nerve-racking gantries and arched bridges he clambered across a final bridge over a bubbling lake of green-lit sludge and over to a tall arched doorway. Panting, he touched a panel in the middle of the doorway. After a few seconds the door recognised him. It groaned like a nauseated moose, and then sank into the floor. In the vast room beyond a figure, robed, hooded and still, stood silhouetted against the huge wall-sized window at the far side of the room. The figure sniggered quietly and then raised his arm. “Come to me, Badoodoo.” Badoodoo entered the room and then scurried across the polished stone floor up to a position next to the figure. He bowed and then wheezed excitedly. “Lord Ecnerwal, I’m pleased to inform you that…” Lord Ecnerwal interrupted and sniggered once more. He pointed towards the window. “Look Badoodoo!” Through the expansive window a steamy jungle plain could be seen stretching for kilometres under a dome of artificial daylight. Wandering creatures, most more than thirty metres in height, were making a slow progression through the densely packed trees. As they walked they let out frequent and deeply resonant moans. With mouths as wide as shuttle craft they scooped up huge mouthfuls of foliage and chomped down on it hard with anvil-sized teeth. Badoodoo nodded and humoured his master. “Yes, I see them, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal grinned unevenly. “The relentless grazing of the egralons pleases me immensely. And their plentiful defecations please me even more!” One of the giant egralons was now only a few dozen metres away. Lord Ecnerwal sniggered yet again. He rubbed his hands together. “It does my bidding, Badoodoo. I created it from nothing, and it defecates copiously just as I command!” He leaned back and his voice rose in pitch. “Ha harr! It empties its bowels the moment I wish it to!”
www.palaceofamino.com

18

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Badoodoo watched as the creature dumped several tonnes of excrement onto the undergrowth. “They do that all the time, my lord. It’s natural, I think. Especially considering the amount of food they…” Lord Ecnerwal turned and planted his knee firmly into Badoodoo’s plentiful gut. Badoodoo collapsed to the floor. He gasped for breath as a deep pain spread through his abdomen. Lord Ecnerwal looked down at him and screamed. “The egralons do my bidding, you stomach chunk! Acknowledge that fact now!” Badoodoo nodded and then groaned. “Of course, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal looked down. After a few seconds of apparently deep thought he made an observation. “You are a short, pathetic and rotund specimen of life, Badoodoo!” Badoodoo looked up. “I know, my lord.” He replied, wheezing. With difficulty he sat up. “You inform me of that fact every day.” “That’s because you need to be reminded, you frog-choking hog strand!” “It’s not necessary. My memory is not so…” Badoodoo’s head snapped back as Lord Ecnerwal’s white and bony fist smacked him hard on his forehead. He collapsed back to the floor groaning. His head throbbed. “Insolence!” His master shouted. “Never question my need to remind you of anything at anytime ever!” Wincing in pain, Badoodoo rolled over and then struggled to his feet. He was still gripping tightly onto his data pad. “Yes, my lord.” His master’s voice suddenly became the epitome of calm. “Very good.” He pulled back his hood revealing his bald and deepy scared scalp. Tufts of wiry grey and black hair nestled behind his ears. He smiled unevenly, his gaunt face creasing up like an old bag of nuts. “You have information that will please me. Is that correct?” Badoodoo was, as always, initially startled by Lord Ecnerwal’s appearance. He immediately composed himself. “That’s correct, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Then tell me what it is!” Badoodoo shuffled over to a large oval console at the centre of the chamber. The bright glow of the console’s control surfaces was the only illumination in the room. He operated a few controls and then tapped on his data pad. A huge oval view-screen glimmered to life. A simulated image of a rotating and jagged celestial body filled the screen. Badoodoo explained. “This is Comet WULF, my lord.”

www.palaceofamino.com

19

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal frowned. “Don’t abbreviate, you dangling dog fidget! Use its full name!” Badoodoo nodded. “This is Comet Wart Udder Limp Fumble, my lord.” “I know, I created it, you cheesy hair bundle! What of it?” “It was infiltrated twelve hours ago. The injection mechanism activated. The infection was delivered.” Lord Ecnerwal gasped. His mouth hung open like a shocked and excited baby. “And the recipient?” Badoodoo grinned and operated the console. Finally he would please his master. The image on the view-screen changed to an internal view of the comet. A figure dressed in an environment suit could be seen drifting towards a jagged tunnel. Something could clearly be seen sticking into the figure’s leg. “Oh joy!” Lord Ecnerwal exclaimed. He obviously recognised what he was seeing. “A bounty hunter! Oh Badoodoo, It has happened! My plan – decades in the making – is finally coming to fruition!” Badoodoo nodded. “It is, my lord.” “I am momentous, am I not?!” “You are, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal began pacing excitedly around his chamber. “This is sooner than I expected. My intellect must be more stunning that even I realised.” He stopped pacing and grinned strangely at Badoodoo. “That makes my modesty even more incredible than ever!” Badoodoo was disturbed by Lord Ecnerwal’s bizarre behaviour, which seemed to be intensifying. “What are your orders, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal began pacing. “That should be obvious, bung plunger! I will soon require my army. Stage two must begin immediately. Contact Captain Elbano. Inform him that the collection vessel must launch now!” “Yes, my lord.” “And monitor the signals from the infected bounty hunter closely. I need to know the status of the nano infestation and the instant the bastard regains sentience.” Badoodoo bowed. “Of course, my lord.” He turned and with considerable relief scurried towards the exit. “Badoodoo?” Badoodoo stopped at the exit and turned to face his master. He knew what was coming next. He sighed. “Yes, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “You are short and fat and you smell!”

www.palaceofamino.com

20

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

5 Slamming
Doctor Gerrardo Alberto DeMorgan, the Palace of Amino’s most senior and respected cyborg specialist, sipped gently at his hot foaming coffee. A long dribble of the beverage was creating an ever expanding stain on the front of his white coat. The doctor pointed at the bulky and ungainly-looking cyborg that stood motionless against the far wall of the Central Tower’s cybernetics laboratory. It was connected by a dense collection of tubing to various pieces of monitoring equipment. Two white-coated technicians were standing next to the cyborg. They tapped furiously at their data-pads as they monitored and logged the cyborg’s condition. Doctor DeMorgan spoke. “After eighteen years without a body it will take a short time for neural configuration of his artificial brain to readapt to mobility.” Peter the Ace and Panman were standing near the doctor. Peter the Ace nodded. “That’s understandable.” He said. He smiled as he looked up and down the cyborg’s frame. “You’ve recreated the look of his original body very well. It’s a great retrostyle!” Doctor DeMorgan nodded once. “Thank you, although actually it was impossible to attach a more modern and streamlined body. The lack of complexity of his brain’s motion interface would not have been able to cope with the subtleties of smoother and more refined motivators.” Peter the Ace understood. “Very true. His mind must be quite crude when compared to more advanced mechanoids.” Panman shouted. “Justin, how does it feel to have a body again?” The cyborg responded in pure monotone, his eyes glowing deep red. “I am unable to feel.” “Then what’s your opinion on your new body?” “It is the functional equivalent of my previous body. It is therefore a satisfactory replacement.” Panman laughed. “Yeah, but it’s shiny and new. It looks far better! Isn’t that cool?!” “The polished appearance of my body is superficial and has no bearing on my body’s functions or on its ability to efficiency…” “Yeah, yeah!” Panman shouted, holding his hand up. He was already annoyed at Justin’s droning tone. Justin fell silent.
www.palaceofamino.com

21

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace turned to Doctor DeMorgan. “Is he ready to be released?” “Just a moment.” The doctor said. He took another sip of his coffee and then turned and operated a control on a nearby console. All the tubing disconnected from the cyborg and retracted into the walls. The two technicians moved away. “Time for a quick test.” The doctor looked at the cyborg. “Justin, take two steps forwards.” With a familiar whirr of servos the cyborg took two unsteady steps forwards slamming his plate-like feet into the laboratory’s hard tiled flooring. The whirring and grating noise was almost excruciating. Peter the Ace grimaced. “That sound is rather unpleasant. Can you do anything about it?” “Not really,” Doctor DeMorgan said, “but don’t worry, it will lessen in volume considerably after his body is run in. It should only take a day if he walks a lot.” He looked at Peter the Ace. “Basically he’s ready. But as I said, he’ll need a bit of time to regain full and accurate mobility. I recommend only assigning him menial tasks for the next few days.” Panman grinned. “No problem. That’s all we usually used to give him anyway!” He motioned towards Justin. “Come on; time to go for a walk!”

For almost an hour now Justin, accompanied by Peter the Ace and Panman, had been stomping uneasily across the ornate smooth stone surface of Opulent Square, the huge open space at the base of the Central Tower right at the heart of the Palace of Amino. Hundreds of bounty hunters had soon gathered nearby. Although they had initially come to see and cheer their heroes, Peter the Ace and Panman, they soon focused on the comical staggering of the cyborg as he gradually got used to his new body. Peter the Ace patted Justin on his steel-plated back. “Well done.” The bounty hunter said as they started on their fifth lap of the square. He spoke loudly to be heard above the whirr of servos and the sound of laughter from the crowd. “You seem to be getting steadier by the minute.” Panman was walking alongside. “And you’re a big hit with the audience.” He pointed towards the centre of the square. “You’re even more entertaining than him!” At the centre of the square, on top of a wide ten-metre tall column, was the large transparent sphere containing the fump-fester lump-being, Pys Phecees.

www.palaceofamino.com

22

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace laughed. “Indeed you are! You should be very proud.” Justin spoke. “Why?” “Because you should be!” The cyborg spoke again. “The lump-being known as Pys Phecees has been imprisoned in the sphere at the centre of this square for 28 years. He lives in a pool of his own excrement and twitches constantly and rapidly due to mental conditions induced by his desire for revenge; conditions which have been exacerbated greatly by his lengthy and humiliating public incarceration. There is no discernable entertainment value.” Panman laughed. “Don’t worry about it. An artificial mind such as yours can never understand the concept of entertainment. Just accept what we say!” Justin’s heavily conditioned mind had no choice by to do what the bounty hunter said. He responded dryly. “I obey.” “Good! Now let’s go and pay that lumpy dude a visit!” Panman lead Justin towards the centre of Opulent Square, closely followed by Peter the Ace. The crowd of bounty hunters parted respectfully to allow them through. After a few minutes of loud stomping they reached the base of the lump-being’s column. They all looked up. High up in his sphere Pys Phecees was looking down. He lolled around in his own filth causing it to slop and splash against the sphere’s transparent surface. His baseball-sized black eyes blinking furiously. Panman laughed. “What a pathetic mound of brutally vengeful alien incompetence! He deserves to be in there. It makes your disembodied punishment as a prime exhibit at the Mad Animated Head Gallery seem like a delightful summer holiday, doesn’t it?!” Justin droned. “My punishment at the Mad Animated Head Gallery, as well as being an actual exhibit, was to describe in detail to visitors my act of treachery, and also to answer questions on my duties during my service onboard the Blenheim.” “I know. So?” “No definition of the word ‘holiday’ can be applied to that situation.” “Lighten up!” Panman said. “I was just making a relative comparison of your punishment with that of that leathery fudge sucker.” As if on cue the lump-being began pounding his stubby fat fists on his sphere. He was shuddering and blinking more rapidly that before and his huge tongue was slapping across his thick lips. Glutinous saliva dribbled down the inside surface of the sphere.
www.palaceofamino.com

23

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace smiled. “It looks like he’s finally recognised us!” He waved. Pys Phecees banged away furiously. Panman also waved. He looked at Justin. “Come on! Wave!” Justin raised the bulky mass of his shiny new right arm and then moved it from side to side. Servos whirred and hydraulics hissed. The lump-being was incensed. He thrashed hard, sending large semi-solid blobs of excrement flying around. And then suddenly he was shrouded in a spray of deep brown mist. A long deep rumble was heard. The crowd of bounty hunters standing nearby roared with laughter. Peter the Ace smiled. “It looks like we’ve over-excited him a little!” Justin was still waving. Panman tapped him on his shoulder. “Stop that!” Justin lowered his arm. Peter the Ace’s communicator bleeped. He looked down at it and then at Panman. “We’ve been asked back to Battle Command. It seems the situation is worsening.” Panman nodded vigorously. “Let’s go!” “You seem excessively keen to get back down there?” “Of course!” Panman said. “Those snacks the commander keeps on his desk are delicious! I need to find out where he gets them from!” Peter the Ace understood. Panman’s obsession with delectable snack food was legendary. He looked at Justin. “I think that’s enough walking for you for now.” He pointed up at the vast Central Tower. “Go up to the prime hanger bay and board the Blenheim. Offer your assistance to Eric Brillo. Tell him to assign you to the waste management systems; they require a full inspection and clean. Your lack of a sense of smell and a stomach with which to vomit makes you well-suited to that task, I think!” Justin droned a response. “The receptors on the front of my face are analogous to a biological sense of smell.” “No they’re not because they can’t induce vomiting. Now get going!” Justin had no choice. “I obey.” With a grating whirr he turned and stomped away, still unsteady. The crowd of surrounding bounty hunters roared with glee.

www.palaceofamino.com

24

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

6 Upside-Down in a Bath
The surface of the comet shone brightly ahead. Nearby the uneven grey disk of a ship could be seen. Ross Mental operated some controls and slowed his ship’s approach. He activated his communicator. “Retarded Monk Grinder, this is Ross Mental onboard the Morbid. Fuckin’ answer!” After a few seconds, and just before the foul-mouthed bounty hunter would have had no choice but to launch into a tirade of impatience-driven profanity, the answer was received. “This is THROB onboard the Retarded Monk Grinder.” Ross Mental frowned as the image of THROB appeared on one of his screens. He shook his head and then mumbled. “I hate fuckin’ mechanoids!” THROB spoke, his voice dry and almost completely devoid of melody. “Your previous sentence did not possess sufficient amplitude or clarity for comprehension. Please repeat.” The bounty hunter yelled. “I hate fuckin’ mechanoids!” “What is your basis for such a generalised emotional statement?” “Because you metal fuckers say things like that, that’s fuckin’ why! And you’re all obsessed with fuckin’ logic!” “That is illogical.” Ross Mental was incensed. “Are you fuckin’ mocking me?!” “ o. I was stating that…” “Shut the fuck up, bucket head!” THROB fell silent. “That’s more like it. Amino Battle Command sent me to assist you.” The mechanoid replied. “As you wish.” “I don’t fuckin’ wish it! I’ve got two bound and gagged Gorfrog Despiser Chiefs with appalling personal hygiene jammed into my tank bay and I want to get them back alive to the palace as fast as fuckin’ possible. This diversion is as annoying as fuck!” “The initial part of my investigation into the attack and infection of the bounty hunter known as Sadie Stick is complete. I have already transmitted the results to Amino Battle Command. I can continue my investigation without your assistance, therefore you may resume your return journey to the Palace of Amino if that is your…”

www.palaceofamino.com

25

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Peter the Ace, Panman and Commander Pepe think it’s essential. They don’t trust fuckin’ tin heads, and neither do I. I need to come aboard. Tell me where to dock.” “My head is not constructed from tin. It consists of a tritanium inner shell surrounded by a polished double-plated…” “Tell me where to fuckin’ dock!” After a moment’s pause THROB answered. “The starboard port.” The bounty hunter closed the communication channel. As he initiated his ship’s docking sequence he fumed. “Double-plated fucker!”

The airlock’s inner door swished open, revealing a narrow softly lit passageway. THROB was standing there, his slender tubular body straight and rigid. Apart from a single visor-like visual strip his cylindrical head was featureless. Ross Mental looked the mechanoid up and down. “I’ve not seen an artificial fucker like you before. What series are you?” “I am not part of a series.” THROB said. “I was designed and constructed by the bounty hunter known as Sadie Stick as part of a project during the final eight years of her training.” Ross Mental eyes widened. “That’s quite impressive, although because I’ve never heard of you before your contribution to Sadie Stick’s missions must be fuckin’ negligible. Not so impressive after all!” THROB turned slowly, his motivators purred gently. “I provide significant analytical, research and mathematical assistance to the bounty hunter known as Sadie Stick.” The bounty hunter laughed. “She’s infected by a hideous disease! Your analysis of the current situation must have been fuckin’ appalling!” THROB started walking. “I must return to my investigation. Please follow me to the sickbay.” Grinning, Ross Mental followed the mechanoid down the short passageway. The mechanoid’s disturbingly smooth and almost sensuous walking style soon wiped away that grin. Turning a corner, THROB operated a control. A doorway slid open revealing a brightly lit room. “We have reached the sickbay.|” The mechanoid said, stepping into the room. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter followed. The sickbay was clean but cramped – typical for a mid-sized bounty hunter vessel, and was divided into two chambers separated by a thick transparent panel.
www.palaceofamino.com

26

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

In the other chamber beyond the panel was a naked and heavily scarred woman submerged upside-down in a deep cylindrical transparent bath. A mask covered her nose and mouth, and tubing was connected to her nipples and anus. Ross Mental stared silently at Sadie Stick for a few moments before expressing his opinion. “She’s in a fuckin’ awful state!” THROB was leaning over a console filled with active display screens. “Your statement is simplistic and crude, but true.” The bounty hunter thought for a few more moments and then glared at the mechanoid. “You stripped her, connected tubes to her nipples, rammed one up her arse, and then dunked her upside-down in a bath. This had better not be some kind of perverted fuck-off metal fantasy?!” The mechanoid continued to look at his screens. He answered in his usual toneless manner. “It is not.” “Then fuckin’ explain!” THROB straightened his body and then turned his cylindrical head towards the bounty hunter. “She is naked because the infection spread rapidly across her skin causing it to peel and fuse with her clothing. The clothing had to be chemically removed. She has tubes connected to her nipples because the infection stimulated her mammary glands to produce milk. The milk is infected and therefore must be removed. She has a tube inserted in her rectum to remove the large quantities of volatile diarrhea that has been generated by the infection. She is inverted to ensure that the huge reduction in blood pressure and volume caused by the infection does not cause brain damage. She is submerged in regeneration fluid to hasten the healing of…” “Enough!” Ross Mental said, putting his hand up in front of the mechanoid. “You really fuckin’ go on, don’t you?!” Before THROB could respond the console bleeped furiously. The mechanoid looked down. “The physical state of the bounty hunter known as Sadie Stick is modifying.” Ross Mental looked at Sadie Stick. Her legs and arms were twitching randomly. And then without warning she began thrashing wildly, banging the side of the bath. The regeneration fluid began to froth. And then Sadie Stick opened her eyes.

www.palaceofamino.com

27

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

7 A Highly Contradictory Brain
Commander Pepe appeared even larger clothed in his full robes as he paced heavily up and down in front of the panoramic window of his sumptuous Battle Command office. He stopped and peered down into the main chamber of Amino Battle Command at the coloured glow of a hundred consoles, and then across at the giant display-screens. It was a typical scene of calm efficiency. The commander contemplated his life, position and girth for a few moments, and then turned to Peter the Ace. “I think I may have over-reacted calling you and Panman down here. As you just saw, the latest report from THROB onboard the Retarded Monk Grinder indicates that the threat of the infection spreading beyond presubspace worlds is unlikely. All that remains is for the other comets to be destroyed, and the only known infected planet, Lodi, to be monitored.” Peter the Ace looked thoughtful. “On the surface it does appear that way.” With difficulty the commander bowed. “My sincere apologies to you.” He groaned; his considerable circumference made it difficult to hold such a subservient position. He turned and then bowed in the direction of Panman who was sitting at the commander’s desk and gorging on some oily snacks. “And to you. This is a job fit for lesser bounty hunters only. It is beneath your abilities and therefore an insult.” Panman, unable to speak due to the massive quantity of food in his mouth, gave the commander a thumbs-up. Peter the Ace spoke. “Your apology is appreciated, commander, but I hadn’t finished. As I said, on the surface it does appear that way, but look deeper and you’ll see that there is potential for a far more serious situation to develop.” Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit was nearby. He shook his head. “My careful analysis does not indicate that.” Peter the Ace spoke sternly. “My rapid analysis does!” The chief officer turned and activated one of the display-screens on the wall. “Let me show you again the…” Commander Pepe straightened himself up. He yelled. “Damn it, Weezil! What’s wrong with you? How dare you attempt to challenge the wisdom and intellect of a first-class bounty hunter?!” The chief officer immediately fell silent. He deactivated the screen and lowered his head.
www.palaceofamino.com

28

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace held his hand up. “It’s no problem, commander. Weezil’s insolence cannot be helped. It is caused by his enthusiasm and total belief in his abilities, which is acceptable, and necessary for someone in his position.” Commander Pepe nodded. “Of course.” He glared at Weezil. “But the fate of his predecessor awaits him if his insolence turns into insubordination!” The commander took a couple of deep and wheezing breaths to calm himself. He turned his wide and sagging face towards Peter the Ace. “So, what is it you see when you look beneath the surface?” “Creating a comet that contains such an infectious substance is not trivial, but if the comet that infected Lodi had been the only one then I would agree with Weezil that the situation is unlikely to develop any further. It would most likely be the work of a deranged and sadistic disease freak with a fixation for planet-wide contamination – certainly something that could be handled by lesser bounty hunters. But there are three other comets. We have to ask ourselves why?” The commander was thoughtful. “It could be a sadistic disease freak with a desire to infect many planets?” Peter the Ace shook his head. “What happened to Sadie Stick suggests otherwise. Whoever or whatever is behind this must be a deeply unbalanced individual with a highly contradictory brain.” Commander Pepe frowned. “A highly contradictory brain, you say? An interesting phrase. What precisely do you mean?” “Someone, or something, with a deep and powerful intellect surrounded by a broken net of mental retardation.” “A broken net of mental retardation?” “Indeed.” The commander scratched at his chin releasing a pool of yellow sweat that had gathered beneath one of its folds. “By that do you mean that the individual behind the comets has such a high degree of mental retardation that the retardation itself is unstable?” “Exactly. A deeply unstable, highly retarded individual with a potent intellect.” Commander Pepe gasped and wheezed. He then smiled. “Bravo!” He said, clapping. The heavy masses of flab on his arms caused the sleeves of his robes to ripple. “What a remarkable and insightful view of events!” He turned and glared at Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit. “It is an insight I rarely get from my senior staff!” The data pad the chief officer was carrying chimed gently. With obvious relief at the distraction Weezil looked down at its screen.
www.palaceofamino.com

29

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

He looked up at Commander Pepe. “Commander, a call has come in for you from the Retarded Monk Grinder.” “Has that cylinder head, THROB, got more information?” “It’s not from THROB. It’s from Ross Mental.” The commander grinned. “Excellent! I’d forgotten that his arrival there was imminent. Put the call through to the main displayscreen.” The largest display-screen at the centre of the wall opposite Commander Pepe’s desk faded to life. Ross Mental could be seen, his hard features even harder than usual in the cold light of what was obviously a medical bay. Standing next to him was a polished and slender mechanoid with a cylindrical head. Ross Mental opened the conversation in his usual and eloquent manner. “Fuck, Ace? Didn’t expect to see you there. What are you doing down in that fat fucker’s office?” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s eyes widened as he notice Commander Pepe waddling into view. “You’ve fuckin’ grown!” The commander nodded. “Thank you. I have indeed gained a significant amount of body mass since we last met.” “ ice! Ace, have you seen the results of the research this metal fucker has done?” Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed I have. Panman and I are both up to speed on events.” “I think there’s a fuckin’ unstable and semi-retarded fuck-off intellectual behind all this.” Commander Pepe applauded. “Wonderful! It looks like you concur with Peter the Ace!” Peter the Ace nodded. “I came to the same conclusion just moments ago. We need to find the origin of those comets.” There was a dull clang as Ross Mental elbowed THROB. “This shiny fucker is working on that now.” There was a moaning sound. Ross Mental looked round, and then back. “Fuck, I almost forgot the reason for my call - Sadie Stick is fuckin’ conscious!” Commander Pepe looked surprised. “That’s excellent news. Can she talk?” “Yeah, and fuckin’ coherently, too, considering her condition! I’ll put her on.” The image changed to that of a transparent cylindrical tank filled with clear liquid. Sadie Stick could clearly be seen suspended naked and upside-down in the tank. Her skin was covered in thick scab-like scars, and tubes were connected to various erogenous parts of her body.
www.palaceofamino.com

30

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Licking his lips, the commander leaned towards Weezil and whispered. “Are we recording this?” The chief officer nodded. “As always, commander.” “Excellent. Ensure that I have exclusive access to the file for the next 24 hours.” Weezil could not help but smile. “Yes, commander.” Commander Pepe glared at him. “For review purposes!” “Of course, commander.” Commander Pepe looked at the screen. “Miss Stick, how are you feeling?” The reply was strained but strong, and slightly muffled by the facemask she wore. “Exceedingly tired, commander, and my skin is itchy, but apart from that I feel remarkably good.” “That’s encouraging to know.” “I apologise for the appearance of my body. It must be quite disgusting to look at.” The commander shook his head. “Oh no, not at all. I once lusted after a naturally scabby female bounty hunter many years ago. If her body had not been destroyed by the pounding fists of a cyborg I have no doubt that I’d still be lusting after her now. Your body is just as appealing.” “Thank you. But personally I could not stand to look at myself like this. Hopefully the regeneration fluid will return my skin to its former condition.” THROB spoke. “The regeneration fluid will heal the skin of the bounty known as Sadie Stick within nine hours.” Commander Pepe asked. “What about the infection?” “The infection has been eradicated throughout 98 percent of her body. A small amount of infection remains within the milk ducts of her breasts. The tubes attached to her nipples are connected to a pump which is removing the infected milk. Infection removal should be complete within three hours.” Peter the Ace was suspicious. He pointed at the screen and frowned. “Is all that really necessary? She is not pregnant. Why would she be producing milk? This is not some kind of perverted mechanoid fantasy you’re living out, is it? Physical abuse of a bounty hunter by an artificial being is an offence punishable by permanent disassembly!” Ross Mental spoke. “That was my first though, Ace, but this fucker is telling the truth. The infection is somehow causing Sadie Stick’s breasts to produce milk. Fuckin’ bizarre, I know!”

www.palaceofamino.com

31

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace nodded. “I see. That’s fine then. I just wanted to clear that up. There are only a few things in this galaxy that I can’t stand, and mechanoid perversion is one of them!” Commander Pepe nodded, sending his multiple sweat-coated chins into a cascade of long-lasting wobbles. “I think we all feel the same regarding that issue. The very thought of it sickens me.” Panman had finally finished snacking. He approached Peter the Ace and Commander Pepe and stood beside them. “When the infection’s gone I guess you can return to the palace.” Ross Mental nodded. “Yeah. Actually, I need to do that as soon as possible.. I’ve got two Gorfrog Despiser Chiefs onboard my ship that are sweating and drooling all over my fuckin’ tank bay!” Commander Pepe nodded. “That’s understandable. The situation on your ship sounds quite horrible.” “Fuckin’ horrible! The sooner I can get them locked up in the dungeon and my ship fumigated the better!” “As the infection in Sadie Stick’s breasts will be sucked out within hours you may as well head home now. You’d better check her into QUACK, just to be on the safe side.” “ o fuckin’ problem!” “Don’t forget to destroy that comet first.” “It’ll be a pleasure and a fuckin’ half! Ross Mental out.” The display-screen changed to the Palace of Amino Battle Command insignia, and then faded to black. Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Panman nodded. “I expect so.” Peter the Ace smiled and activated his wrist-mounted communicator. “Doctor Eric Brillo?” The response was quick. “This is Doctor Brillo. What can I do for you?” “Prepare the Blenheim for launch in thirty minutes.” “Certainly. She’ll be ready for you.” Commander Pepe’s expression changed to one of excitement. “This is sudden!” “There’s no time to waste, commander. These events are happening within a hundred light-years distance of the palace. That’s only half a day of traveling at maximum subspace speed. “Are you saying that our location may be known?!” Peter the Ace shook his head. “No, not at the moment. But we should be concerned. That’s why we need answers fast.” “Where are you going?”

www.palaceofamino.com

32

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I believe that many of those answers are to be found on the planet Lodi. The population has been infected for a reason. We should find out what that reason is.” The commander looked proudly at Panman. “I can tell that you were indeed thinking exactly the same thing.” He smiled. “I am honoured to be in the presence of such extraordinary individuals such as you!” Panman looked at Peter the Ace and then back to Commander Pepe. “Actually, I was about to suggest that we all go to the Dick Burton Feasting Tower and spend a few hours of pure gluttony in the Sugar-Bug Bistro. But yeah, whatever. A trip to the planet Lodi is cool, too.”

8 Foot Blemish
“Badoodoo!” The scream of his master’s voice made Badoodoo shudder. With a shuffle he made his way quickly across the vast chamber’s smooth stone floor and over to the huge window where Lord Ecnerwal was once again standing. Lord Ecnerwal pointed. “Look, Badoodoo!” Badoodoo did as his master commanded and looked. Swinging and leaping across the treetops of the domed jungle amongst the chomping heads of the massive egralons were hundreds of slim and hairy primates. They had baskets strapped to their backs. “The tipmra males gather and gather at my bidding!” Lord Ecnerwal said excitedly. “They bring the goodness of fruit to fuel the minds and loins of all who serve me!” Badoodoo nodded. “I know, my lord. They do that almost every day.” He stumbled backwards as his master’s bony elbow slammed into the centre of his chest. Lord Ecnerwal turned and removed his hood. He looked at Badoodoo and frowned, the deep lines on his face appeared to deepen even more. “Do not tell me that which I already know!” He rasped. After a moment his expression changed and became more thoughtful. “Of all the humanoids I have encountered, you are one of the most pathetic and most spherical. Did you know that, Badoodoo?” Badoodoo signed and then nodded. “You remind me of that fact every day, my lord.”

www.palaceofamino.com

33

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal slapped him hard across his face. “Because I have to, you noxious tongue mouthful!” Badoodoo recoiled for a second and rubbed his reddening cheek. “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal clapped several times. A narrow spotlight beam from high up on the ceiling illuminated the edge of the oval control console at the centre of the chamber where a large bowl of glistening fruit lay. He pointed. “The first tipmra delivery arrived just an hour ago. Help yourself to fruit that will enliven your innards and send pulses of goodness to all your interesting parts! And then tell me the good news that you have for me.” Badoodoo headed for the bowl and grabbed a large piece of something yellow. He bit down hard. Sweet tangy juice dribbled down his chin and neck. Lord Ecnerwal folded his arms. The long elaborate fabric of his robes’ sleeves stretched almost to the floor. “Well?” Badoodoo swallowed hard. “I have tremendous news, my lord. Just give me a moment to…” Lord Ecnerwal stepped forwards and yelled. “Are your innards enlived?! Are pulses of goodness reaching your interesting parts?!” “Erm… Yes.” Badoodoo said, nodding with false assurance. He struggled to cover up his alarm and shock at his master’s increasingly unstable behaviour. “Yes they are, my lord.” His master laughed and arched his back. “Am I not greater that the sum of the parts of myself and even the sum of the parts of others who are themselves greater that the sum of their own parts and others?!” Badoodoo stared at his master for a second. “Yes you are, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal sighed and then smiled. “You are my most trusted aid, Badoodoo. Thank you.” “I am here to serve you and only you, my lord.” “Flower-shaped foot blemish!” A gloved fist landed hard and fast on top of Badoodoo’s bald head. Momentarily stunned, he sank to the floor. Lord Ecnerwal shrieked. “Again you tell me that which I already know!” He leaned over and whispered with menace. “Let that be the last time.” Badoodoo nodded and struggled to his feet. “Yes, my lord.” “Now tell me something good!” Badoodoo nodded and then stepped over to the console. He operated a few controls and the oval view-screen above the console glimmered to life. The image of a female humanoid, voluptuously
www.palaceofamino.com

34

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

shapely and toned, filled the screen. “The infected bounty hunter has now been identified. She is Sadie Stick, a fourth-class bounty hunter.” Lord Ecnerwal clapped once and then raised his arms. “Ah yes! I have heard of her!” After holding that pose for a second he lowered his arms. “Continue.” “She is now fully conscious. The nano infestation of her brain has integrated successfully.” “Is she receptive?” “Totally, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal spun around twice on the spot spreading his robes into a billowing cone. He extended his arms and moaned. “Oh yes!” For a few seconds his breathing became deep and noisy, and then he turned to Badoodoo and frowned. “Keep talking, wart bandit!” Badoodoo manipulated some controls. The image on the viewscreen changed to a map of a galactic region. “The bounty hunter’s ship has entered subspace.” Lord Ecnerwal clasped his hands together. “Ha harr! She is returning to the Palace of Amino!” “That is not certain, my lord. We will have to wait a while longer to determine if…” The force of the kick sent Badoodoo slamming backwards onto the floor. Lord Ecnerwal stood over him. He scowled. “You daft anal fringe! The Palace of Amino is the only logical destination for an infected bounty hunter to go to. Is that not so?!” Badoodoo groaned. “It is, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal took a couple of steps back. “Excellent. Continue, but stay on the floor. I may need to kick you.” Badoodoo remained on his back and spoke. “Just one more thing, my lord. Comet Wart Udder Limp Fumble has been destroyed.” A heavy metal toe-capped boot slammed into the side of Badoodoo’s chest. He gasped, winded. Lord Ecnerwal seemed distraught for a moment. “Oh, my precious iceball! It was so precious. So very precious. And beautiful, too.” Badoodoo wheezed. “Its destruction was expected, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal smiled, his mood suddenly and disturbingly light. “Of course it was. Now get out. Return when you have more good news.” Badoodoo struggled to his feet. He bowed and then scurried unevenly towards the exit, the stabbing pain in his rib cage causing
www.palaceofamino.com

35

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

him to wince with every step. He managed to pass through the arched exit and onto the bridge before he heard his master’s voice again. “Badoodoo?” Sighing, Badoodoo turned to face his master. “Yes, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal clenched his fists and shouted, his whole body shaking visibly. “Your face is identical to your bottom!”

9 White Suits and Bubble-Domed Helmets
Ahead, silhouetted against a cloudless dawn sky and flanked by the jagged peaks of the surrounding mountains, was the magnificent skyline of the Palace of Amino. Leveling off at an altitude of five hundred metres, Ross Mental activated the Morbid’s auto-approach system. The ship’s head-up display immediately plotted a 3D course to the bounty hunter’s private hanger bay in the palace’s Central Tower. Ross Mental looked at one of his display-screens. Sadie Stick’s ship, the Retarded Monk Grinder, was still following less than a kilometre behind. Its course did not look right. The bounty hunter activated his communicator. “THROB, you fucker! You should be on a course for QUACK!” The reply was instant. “I am in the process of setting the course...” The mechanoid droned. “Course to QUACK is now set. Auto-pilot is now engaged.” Ross Mental watched his sensor display as the ship drifted north. “About fuckin’ time!” He exclaimed, looking out of the viewport. The palace perimeter wall was less than a kilometre away now, and along the wall to the left he could see that the giant funnel-like entrance to QUACK’s hanger bay had already been extended and was jutting out noticeably over the perimeter wall. QUACK – the Amino Quarantine facility for those with Unsightly Afflictions or Contagious Keratogenic disorders – required a secure entrance that could be extended outside of the palace’s defence field to ensure quarantine integrity. With effortless ease the Morbid passed through the defence shield a few hundred metres south of the egg-like QUACK building and sped over the palace’s western districts, passing over lakes and tree-lined avenues, plush apartment buildings and wildly illuminated entertainment facilities.

www.palaceofamino.com

36

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I trust you can handle things by yourself from now on?” Ross Mental asked. THROB responded. “My capabilities are…” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter deactivated his communicator. “Annoying fucker!” A minute later the Morbid passed over the kilometre-wide Nypl Dome and then curved its way through the mass of elegant and supertall towers of the palace’s central districts, at one point passing recklessly close to breakfast diners on the lower-level balconies of the Dick Burton Feasting Tower. After a few more tight turns and a ridiculously irresponsible retro-braking maneuver, the Morbid slipped smoothly into its dedicated hanger bay in the tallest tower of all. As his ship extended its insect-like legs and touched down, Ross Mental smiled. He had been away for a long time, and he was exceptionally keen to pour a few litres of one of the palaces finest beers into his guts. But that would have to wait a while longer. First he had a couple of miscreants to deal with. “Fuckin’ Gorfrogs!” He grunted. He pulled himself out of his cockpit chair, drew his pistol from its holster, and then headed back towards his tank bay.

It had been a truly odd experience. Cushioned by the warm syrup-like regeneration fluid, Sadie Stick had watched from her inverted position as she had been removed from her ship’s medical bay and transferred on an unmanned vehicle along a starkly lit corridor to a large oval laboratory. Now, at least a dozen men and women, all clothed in white suites and bubble-domed helmets, peered in at her and waved buzzing sensory equipment too and fro. Despite the fact that all the tests performed on her ship had now declared her free of infection the Palace of Amino was obviously taking no chances. The bounty hunter understood and made no objections to the new tests, not even when new and thicker tubes and devices were inserted deeply and forcefully into all her orifices without warning, and not even when those devices began to vibrate and shock her with high-voltage discharges for no discernable reason at all. All the time, distorted by the viscosity of the fluid, she could see THROB at her side. Despite his annoying voice and manner the mechanoid was a loyal and devoted companion. Although she would never admit it, she would not have risen to the level of a fourth-class bounty hunter without THROB’s constant monotonal advice and

www.palaceofamino.com

37

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

support. Constructing him during her final years of training was the best thing she could ever have done. Turning her head to the mechanoid, Sadie Stick spoke. “Thank you, THROB. You’ve saved my life yet again.” THROB turned his cylindrical head and looked down at the bounty hunter. “It is my duty.” He said, coldly. “I know, but I wanted to thank you, anyway.” “As you wish.” Sadie Stick was annoyed. “You really need to develop a friendlier persona!” “As you wish.” The bounty hunter sighed. After a few seconds silence THROB spoke. “The QUACK laboratory technician known as Odibil Evissam is spending seventythree percent of his time staring directly at your genitals.” “So? My skin has healed and I’m a curvaceous and toned bounty hunter which makes me one of the most desirable humanoid females in existence. For him it’s probably the one and only time he’ll see such delights. I have no problem with him taking advantage of the situation.” As a tease Sadie Stick parted her legs a fraction more and thrust her hips forwards. The technician stumbled back, startled. THROB spoke. “The physical changes I have detected in his body indicate that he desires to engage in sexual intercourse with you immediately.” The bounty hunter grinned. “Of course he does!” “The current physical state of your body indicates that you do not intend to fulfil his desire.” Sadie Stick frowned. “Certainly not! You know that I only have such relations with bounty hunters - and only bounty hunters of fifth-class and above.” “Setting such an arbitrary restriction is not logical. Also, the restriction you have set limits your choice of sexual partners to only 1,634.” “Having high standards is perfectly logical. And quality is far more important than quantity.” Before THROB could respond one of the technicians tapped on the transparent cylinder. Sadie Stick looked at him. The technician spoke. “Miss Stick, I’m Chief Infection Officer Derob. I’m happy to confirm that you are indeed free of infection. Also, your skin has now healed completely.” The bounty hunter nodded. “Thank you.”
www.palaceofamino.com

38

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The chief infection officer looked down at his data pad. “I’m going to recommend to Battle Command that you do not go on any missions for a month.” Sadie Stick groaned. “Are you suggesting I hang around the Palace of Amino for a whole month and do nothing?!” Derob shook his head. “Not at all, only that you do not leave. I’m sure you can get involved in duties here. I’ll send a personal recommendation to Commander Pepe that you should be assigned to a temporary role here at the palace, if you like? That should keep you occupied.” The bounty hunter nodded. “Fine. That’s better than sitting around in bars and drowning my frustrations, I guess.” The chief infection officer nodded. “Excellent.” He pointed at his companion. “Once the regeneration fluid has been drained my technician, Odibil Evissam, will remove the tubes from your body and help you clean up and dress.” The young technician nodded. “I am at your service, Miss Stick!” The bounty hunter grinned. “I know!” The chief infection officer looked at Odibil. “Hmm… Miss Stick, if you’d prefer a female technician to assist you that can be arranged.” Sadie Stick noticed the look of desperation on Odibil’s face. She smiled. “No, your male technician will be fine. I’m sure he’ll be gentle with me!” “I will!” Odibil exclaimed, holding up his hands. “My studies included a year of intense massage practice at the Amino Skin Manipulation Clinic, and several years of work experience at the Nypl Dome’s deep…” “Odibil!” Chief Infection Officer Derob shouted. “Stop blathering and get to work!” He bowed politely towards Sadie Stick, and then walked briskly away. Odibil operated a control on the cylinder. With a gurgle the fluid began to drain quickly away, emptying completely within a minute. After he opened the top of the cylinder, the technician used a lifting arm attached to the laboratory’s ceiling to remove Sadie Stick. With regeneration fluid still dripping from her body, and with the various tubes still inserted, the technician lowered the bounty hunter onto an adjacent bed. Odibil stood over Sadie Stick, his breathing deep and his expression eager. His mouth hung open slightly. Reaching forwards he removed her face mask.

www.palaceofamino.com

39

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The bounty hunter took a deep breath. She sighed. “It’s good to get that thing off!” She looked at Odibil. “Could you remove the nipple tubes first? They are causing me a little discomfort.” She smiled. “You’d better remove your gloves. I’m sensitive so I wouldn’t want you to grip too hard.” Odibil nodded. “Yes, of course!” Fumbling, he removed his gloves. He then reached forwards, hand trembling, and gripped the suction cup that attached the tube to the bounty hunter’s left nipple. He seemed to be having difficulty removing it. Sadie Stick grinned. Teasing was so much fun. “If you like you can cup my breast with your other hand to steady yourself. Would you like to do that?” The technician’s breathing deepened and quickened. “Yes, I would definitely like to do that!” He leaned forwards and placed his other hand underneath her breast’s more bulbous part. He then gripped the suction cup. This time he removed it with ease. Sadie Stick’s left nipped was revealed. It glistened in the light of the bright spotlights that illuminated the bed. With a groan the technician crossed his legs and leaned further over the bed. He panted, his eyes closed. Sweat had appeared on his brow. He signed loudly. Sadie Stick laughed. “That’s better! Perhaps now you can concentrate on the task at hand!” Odibil nodded. After taking a few seconds to compose and rearrange himself he reached for the bounty hunter’s other breast.

Dungeon Master Lax Tenibakaeki, a Seletilian male, spun his chair round, and clasped together his slender reptilian hands. His red leather sleeves creased tightly around his elbows. “Your captives are secured, Mister Mental.” He said. His voice hissed like a broken gas valve. “They are now in the temporary holding area awaiting formal sentencing by the Superior Beings.” Ross Mental nodded. “Can I see the fuckers?” “You can.” The dungeon master said, his almond-shaped eyes blinking. He spun back round and flicked his long grey fingers across his curved control console. Ahead, on the one of the large displayscreens set flush against the spherical room’s smooth rock wall, a 3D map of the entire Palace of Amino Dungeon Complex was displayed. At the top of the multi-level maze-like facility, cut into dense rock more than a kilometre below the surface, a small square flashed. The image then zoomed in and was replaced by a video image of the inside of an austere-looking prison cell.
www.palaceofamino.com

40

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The foul-mouthed bounty hunter laughed. “Look at those fuckin’ idiots!” On the screen the two Gorfrog Despiser Chiefs that Ross Mental had captured just a few days before were slapping each other’s wide flabby faces with impressive force, sending sweat and drool splashing in all directions. And they were shouting and spitting vehemently. Although the two prisoners could not be heard a text translation of their conversation was presented on an adjacent screen. “Fuckin’ classic!” Ross Mental said. “They’re still blaming each other for their capture.” He looked at the dungeon master. “Can I speak to them?” Lax nodded. “Of course.” He manipulated some controls and then nodded. Ross Mental yelled. “Hey, fuckers!” The two Gorfrog Despiser Chiefs stopped their shouting and slapping and looked around. Their heavily perspiring faces glittered in the pale lighting of their cell. “If you don’t start to behave I’m going to come in there and slap your fuckin’ faces clean off your fuckin’ skulls!” The Gorfrogs stood still, theirs eyes flicking left and right. “Understand?!” The despiser chiefs nodded vigorously. “Good! Now sit the fuck down!” The Gorfrogs squatted down and then rested themselves against the back wall of their cell. Their eyes continued to flick left and right. Dungeon Master Tenibakaeki cut the communications link. He turned and looked up at Ross Mental and smiled. “That would make a great segment to include in our weekly video show on the antics of our prisoners.” He hissed. “It’s very rare that we able show prisoners being chastised by a top-class bounty hunter. Would that be OK with you?” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter nodded. “I don’t see why not. But I want full fuckin’ credit for my contribution!” The dungeon master nodded. “Of course.” He turned and looked down over his console to two other Seletilians sitting in a pit below the large display-screens. They were monitoring their own consoles. “Did you hear our conversation?” The two Seletilians looked up and nodded. “Good. Make sure the Gorfrog extract is included in the trailer, too. That should help lift our ratings!”

www.palaceofamino.com

41

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lax turned back to the bounty hunter. “Our next broadcast is tomorrow evening. We should be able to include your sequence by then.” “Great!” Ross Mental said. Bored of the triviality of the whole thing, he turned. “I need a fuckin’ beer.” He headed for the exit.

10

Time-Lapsed Cow

The bright frigid horizon of the planet Lodi filled the main viewscreen as the Blenheim entered a very low orbit just a few kilometres above the planet’s atmosphere. Panman sat at his console on the bridge of the Blenheim and looked at the sensor information that accompanied the image of Lodi on the main view-screen. “There’s appears to be nothing in orbit at all. It looks like they’re at least a century away from developing a space launch facility. Actually, there’s not even any air traffic. The civilization on that world is definitely primitive!” Peter the Ace was reclining in his sumptuous command chair. He sipped at a dark frothy cocktail. “Indeed. And the massive infection that’s ravaging their population will set them back centuries, and may even prevent further technological development happening altogether.” Panman examined the sensor data further. “Most of the population is in cities located in the equatorial regions, and the comet hit right between two of the largest ones.” Peter the Ace nodded. “That is where the infection will be concentrated.” He directed his voice to the ship. “Blenheim, alter our orbit so that we pass directly over the comet impact site.” “ORBIT TRAJECTORY MODIFICATION IN PROGRESS...” With a noticeable change in pitch the ships engines flared to life. “NEW ORBITAL TRAJECTORY ACHIEVED.” “How long until we pass over the impact site?” “TWO MINUTES AND THIRTY-THREE SECONDS.” Panman thought for a moment, and then activated the communicator. A voice, devoid of feeling and as cold and monotonous as a full-length fuuge-stuuge opera, answered. “Yes?” Panman frowned. “I was looking for Jemima Murma. I need a snack; something dripping in hot oil.”

www.palaceofamino.com

42

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Jemima Murma is in her quarters exfoliating her skin to maintain its youthful appearance.” “Fair enough.” “She ordered me to monitor communications for culinary requests.” “Great! Here’s one for you. Deep-fry some soft cheese and get it up here with a suitably sweet and tangy dip within two minutes. And bring up a beer, too. The best you can find.” “Two minutes is insufficient time to…” “No excuses! Just get on with it!” There was a moment’s pause, and then the cyborg answered. “I obey.” The image of Lodi on the main view-screen was darkening as they approached the night side of the planet. Peter the Ace was looking at his screens. “I’m already getting sensor information on the area around the impact site.” He operated some controls and sent the information to the main view-screen. The impact site, enhanced to stand out from the surrounding darkness, could clearly be seen. A crater, more than a kilometre wide, nestled closely to a large, and now devastated, city. At the centre of the crater a metallic object was marked in shades of red. Panman pointed. “irrevium-iron! The same as in the comet Sadie Stick found!” Peter the Ace nodded. He pointed at a series of vehicle tracks leading up to the object. “It looks like the locals were curious and opened it up. Just as its creator hoped, I should think!” The information on the view-screen was updated. The extent of infection was shown. “Whoa!” Panman exclaimed. “More than three million infected!” Peter the Ace operated his console. More information appeared on the screen. A shaded section indicated the area where the infection had taken hold. “It seems most of the infected are congregating in the vicinity of the crater. That’s rather strange.” Panman agreed. “It is. You’d think they’d be staggering around all over the place.” Peter the Ace was thoughtful. “I wonder what it is that sustains them in such an area of devastation? What do they eat?” “We should go down and take a closer look.” “Indeed we should.” Peter the Ace said. He thought for a moment. “As this is a pre-subspace culture we should avoid contact with the locals as much as possible.” He examined a map of the area around the infected region.
www.palaceofamino.com

43

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

There was a whirr of servos and the resonating clunk of platelike metallic feet as Justin entered the bridge. He stomped over to Panman and placed a tray on the table next to him. “Deep-fried soft cheese, gooseberry sauce and a bottle of Shym-Sham’s Personal Best.” The bounty hunter looked down at the food and took in a deep breath. “Smells fantastic!” He grabbed a chunk of deep-fried cheese, dipped it in the sauce and the stuffed it hard into his mouth. He chewed like a time-lapsed cow. “Tastes even better!” After swallowing he looked up at the cyborg. “Great work, and within the time limit! Don’t be so negative next time.” Justin looked down at the bounty hunter, his eyes glowed a deep shade of crimson. “I was not being negative. I was stating that there was insufficient time to prepare the required food to the highest standard possible. I was not stating that…” Peter the Ace interrupted. “We don’t have time for this, Justin.” He said sternly. “It should be obvious that we are busy. Go back to your position the galley.” They cyborg’s compliance software gave him no choice but to carry out that order. “I obey.” He turned and stomped like a piledriver off the bridge. Panman took a swig of his beer and shook his head. “Justin’s not what he used to be.” Peter the Ace shook his head. “No, he’s not. But he has spent almost two decades without a body as an exhibit in the Mad Animated Head Gallery. He needs more time to adjust to life on the outside, I think.” Panman nodded, his chin coated in melted cheese. Peter the Ace pointed at the main view-screen. “Back to business.” The Blenheim was now right over the impact site and offering a much higher-resolution view of the surrounding area. The bounty hunter sent more information to the screen. “The mountainous area about six kilometres south of the crater looks promising. There are just a couple of tiny settlements there overlooking the city. Beyond that the area is too inhospitable to inhabit – just deep snowfilled gorges and glaciers. We can land there unseen.” Panman grinned, gooseberry seeds clinging to his teeth. “Cool! We can use our snowboards again!” Peter the Ace smiled. “Excellent idea!” He operated his console. “I feel like doing this manually!” Grabbling hold of the flight stick that had just appeared out of his console, he pushed forwards. The Blenheim pitched down and with a barely perceptible rumble entered the frigid atmosphere of Lodi.
www.palaceofamino.com

44

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

11

The Most Prestigious Alcoholic Honour

The breeze was cool and fresh and the cloudless sky was a canopy of deep blue. It was another glorious day at the Palace of Amino. Under the shade of a long line of tall trees, Sadie Stick walked briskly along Indulgene Avenue, the most exclusive of all the roads in the palace’s western districts. After her recent ordeal with the infection she felt as if she needed a long stroll by herself, so she had ordered THROB to take her ship, the Retarded Monk Grinder, back to its hanger bay without her. The mechanoid had also expressed his eagerness to continue his search for the origins of the comets – a crucial task, so some time alone would give him ample opportunity to do so. As recommended by Odibil Evissam, the technician at QUACK, she wore nothing but a tight and highly translucent and porous white bodysuit. The reason, she was told, was to allow her skin to feel the fresh air – important in the final stage of the healing process. Having previously been told that her skin had already healed she had been little suspicious as to why she had been told that, but when she had seen the drooling expression on Odibil she had understood. He was obviously keen to see her in such a suit. Feeling generous, and eager to tease the technician one more time, she complied without question. With the breeze brushing sensuously over her skin, Sadie Stick continued down the avenue. A couple of male menial workers nearby stopped pruning the bushes they were working on and gazed at the bounty hunter as she swayed closer. Their jaws slackened as their eyes began to eagerly explore her curves and bumps. Sadie Stick grinned as she walked passed. She relished all lustful attention, even from a couple of inbred, flat-headed, intensely ignorant and unevenly proportioned humanoids such as these. Soon the tree-line avenue gave way to an open plaza lined with luxury boutiques, massage parlours and pie shops. And towering just a couple of kilometres beyond were the soaring mega-towers of the palace’s central districts. Even from this distance Sadie Stick had to look up at a steep angle to view the buildings’ pinnacles, the highest of which rose more than five-thousand metres into the air. An immense sense of pride washed over her. She knew how privileged she was to live and work as a bounty hunter in such a remarkable location. And since her recent close encounter with death she had a new appreciation for life here.
www.palaceofamino.com

45

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

She also had a desire to celebrate. And she knew the best person to do that with. Looking up at the monolithic Central Tower she activated her communicator. After a moment there was a loud response. “Sadie Stick? What the fuck do you want?” “I just wondered if you would like to join me and help me celebrate my recovery from the infection? It would give me the chance to thank you for coming to my assistance.” One of the deepest and most guttural burps Sadie Stick had ever heard emanated from her communicator. “Sure. Why the fuck not?! In fact, you could join me. I’m up at the Wonder Bar in the Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber.” Sadie Stick smiled. “Sound’s excellent! I’m currently walking back from QUACK through the western districts. I should be there within the hour, though.” “Walking?! What the fuck for?” “I just felt like it. Also, one of the technicians at QUACK suggested that I get plenty of fresh air to my skin to aid the healing process.” “Your skin already healed in that fuckin’ tank!” “I was under that impression, too. It’s possible the technician just wanted to see me in the tight white translucent bodysuit that he recommended I wear!” Ross Mental belched like a donkey. “Fuckin’ pervert!” “He was, but he was sweet with it.” “Whatever. Unless something comes up I plan to be here all fuckin’ day. Get here when you can. Ross Mental out!”

The huge Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber hummed with tension as hundreds of bounty hunters gambled away their free time. Striding confidently passed row after row of busy roulette tables, Sadie Stick headed towards the far corner of the casino where an intertwined collection of marble sculptures marked the entrance to the Wonder Bar, one of the palace’s most respected and exclusive beer emporiums. As she approached, Sadie Stick nodded to the two elegantly dressed doormen that stood to either side of the bar’s entrance. “Looking good, gentlemen!” The two men bowed slowly. They spoke in unison. “We are unworthy of such praise.” “Very true.” She said as she passed. She looked back and grinned. “But I’m sure if you worked together you could satisfy me!”
www.palaceofamino.com

46

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

She watched as the two doormen looked at each other, their eyes wide. She never tired of playing with the minds of her inferiors. Making her way through several groups of beer-soaked bounty hunters, Sadie Stick headed for the cordoned off area next to the window. An immaculately dressed humanoid, bald, wide, deeply scarred and wearing thick wraparound sunglasses, put his hand up. “Topclass bounty hunters only.” He said; his voice rumbling like an overloaded bone yard tank. A voice yelled from behind him. “She’s my guest. Let the fucker in!” The wide-bodied bouncer looked at Sadie Stick. He appeared to be in deep thought, unusual for someone without any discernable neck. Sadie Stick smiled sweetly at him and took a slow deep breath. Her chest heaved. She knew what he was thinking. Behind his shades the bouncer’s eyes were almost certainly exploring her physique. “Please step aside.” The wide humanoid complied. As the bounty hunter swayed passed she felt the light touch of a couple of thick fingers on her right buttock. Turning fast, and at the same time dropping down, Sadie Stick kicked hard, burying the sole of her right shoe in the bouncer’s sternum. There was an audible crack. Despite him being almost three times her weight, the bouncer was thrust several metres across the bar. He landed, groaning, next to a group of drinkers. Everyone laughed. Sadie Stick stood proudly. “The fondling of my body is strictly by invitation only! Is that clear?” The wide humanoid looked at her and then nodded slowly. And then he slumped into unconsciousness. The bounty hunter smiled. “Good!” She turned and headed over to Ross Mental who was sitting by a huge curved corner window. On the way she passed by a couple of bald and burly third-class bounty hunters named Midas Fuzz and Cockerel Probe. Their eyes explored the wonders beneath her translucent suit. She winked at them and grinned. “Another time, boys.” Cockerel Probe smiled and reached out as she passed. Sadie Stick slapped his hand away and continued over to Ross Mental. She sat down opposite him and glanced briefly at the bright and jaw-dropping view of the Palace of Amino through the window, and at the giant Dick Burton Feasting Tower just 200 metres opposite.

www.palaceofamino.com

47

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Ross Mental burped like a pregnant terus and slammed his empty tankard down on the table. He laughed. “You’re one amazing fuckin’ tease!” The lesser bounty hunter nodded. “I can’t help it. It comes naturally, I guess!” Ross Mental turned and shouted. “Two fuckin’ beers. Now!” Within seconds a waiter, gaunt and pale, appeared. He placed two new silver tankards on the table. He grabbed the three empty ones and flitted away. Sadie Stick took a swig. Cool beer dribbled down her chin and neck. “Hmm! That’s great – smooth and subtle, with a hint of pepper and rust.” Ross Mental took a gulp. He gasped. “It’s the best fuckin’ beer you can get here.” He grinned. “And it’s brewed to my own fuckin’ recipe!” Sadie Stick’s eyes widened with realisation. “Wow! Gutfucker Premium? I read about this a few months ago in one of the alcohol journals! It’s supposed to be for top-class bounty hunters only, isn’t it?” She bowed slowly. “I’m honoured that you’re allowing me to experience it!” “No problem. Just stop fuckin’ bowing!” The lesser bounty hunter sat up straight. She took another swig. “Absolutely delicious!” She savoured the ale. “My mouth is starting to burn with spices. Incredible! And now a sweet taste, like lavender ice-cream, is fading in! How did you manage to get such an effect?” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter shook his head. “I’m not going to tell a fourth-class fuckin’ subordinate like you! Just drink the fucker and be thankful!” Sadie Stick nodded. “Of course. I apologise.” Ross Mental took another impressive gulp. He slammed down his tankard. “No need to apologise. I’d be fuckin’ annoyed if you hadn’t asked. I hate fuckin’ cowards and feeble types!” He picked up his tankard and raised it. “A toast to you, Miss Stick. Congratulations on recovering from one amazingly hideous and fuck-off ugly infection. Your body’s looking better than ever!” The lesser bounty hunter laughed and slammed her tankard into her superior’s. “It is, isn’t it?!” She said through a spray of ale. The two bounty hunters finished off the rest of their drinks in seconds. A sudden wave of nausea, like the effect of entering subspace, passed through Sadie Stick’s body. She shuddered and then felt dizzy. She felt herself blinking rapidly for a few seconds.

www.palaceofamino.com

48

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Ross Mental was staring at her. “What the fuck’s wrong with you?” The lesser bounty hunter felt a bit confused. “A peculiar feeling just passed through me.” She forced a smile. “I’m fine now, I think.” “You’ve only had one fuckin’ drink.” Ross Mental said, frowning. “If you’re already pissed then my opinion of you has plummeted to the depths of fuckin’ hell!” Sadie Stick shook her head vigorously. “No, not at all. I’m a seasoned binge drinker. I have three Extended Coherency awards, and eight Down-In-One commendations!” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter relaxed. “Glad to hear it!” He turned and yelled. “More beer! Twelve fuckin’ tankards!” He looked back at Sadie Stick. “Time for you to try for the most prestigious alcoholic honour of them all.” He grinned wickedly. “My fuckin’ approval!” Sadie Stick, still shaken by her momentary fit, nodded. She blocked thoughts of her strange spell and focused on the impressive bounty hunter sitting opposite, and the twenty-four litres of beer that had just been placed in front of her. The Wonder Bar had become unusually quiet as the dozens of other bounty hunters turned to watch her take up Ross Mental’s challenge. With over a hundred pairs of biological and synthetic eyes staring at her the bounty hunter grabbed the nearest tankard. Grinning, she began to gulp and gulp and gulp.

12

Enormous Sleeves

Badoodoo yelped as his chubby face was pressed hard against the window. Lord Ecnerwal shrieked. “I asked you if you could see the wonderous event! Answer me!” Badoodoo grimaced. “But my lord,” he said, his voice muffled, “I don’t know what I’m looking for!” “Perhaps you should get a little closer.” Lord Ecnerwal said, pushing harder on the back of Badoodoo’s head. There was a cracking sound. Badoodoo screamed. Blood flowed from his now broken nose. His eyes watered. There was no chance of him seeing anything now. “Answer me!” Badoodoo, his mind filled with pain, said. “No! I see nothing!”

www.palaceofamino.com

49

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal released his grip. Badoodoo slumped to the floor. “You unobservant vole impression!” He shouted, pointing out of the window to the artificial sky above the jungle. “It is raining! It is raining to provide moisture for my egralons! Humidity is rising to soften and moisturize their gargantuan hides!” He raised his arms. “The eco-system I developed is better than any that nature has created!” He looked down at Badoodoo and squinted. “Don’t you agree, grease vomit?” Badoodoo wiped the blood and tears from his face. “Yes, my lord.” With his vision clearing he could now see the sheets of rain out above the jungle. “It is an impressive sight.” Lord Ecnerwal laughed. “Of course it is!” His laugh turned into a girlish giggle and he clasped his hands together. “My ecosystem is secret now, but one day I shall be the most respected, revered and honoured artificial environment creator ever! I shall be showered with praise and adoration and love, and receive some of the most intense female attention ever experienced by any intellectuallysuperior man!” Badoodoo was finding his lordship’s ever-quickening plunge into mental oblivion quite difficult to comprehend. It was a startling experience, and deeply unnerving. But his urge to please his master overcame all that. His personal reward when his lordship’s scheme succeeded would be something very special indeed. He did not want to jeopardise that at all. With a groan he hauled his small chubby body back onto its feet. He sniffed back some blood. “I have an update for you, my lord – two pieces of information that will please you immensely.” Lord Ecnerwal scowled. He pointed at the chamber’s central console which was glowing steadily in the dark chamber. “Then show me, fungal glaze!” Badoodoo nodded and then scurried over to the console. He activated some controls and brought the huge oval view-screen opposite to life. An image of a large and yellowish spacecraft appeared, surrounded by numerous tables of complex and unnecessary data. With the taste of blood still in his mouth he spoke. “Firstly, the collection vessel has reached its destination. It will begin planet fall within a few minutes.” Lord Ecnerwal gave a shallow nod. “That information does indeed please me.” He paused for a moment and pursed his lips. “Although not immensely so.” Badoodoo continued. “Initial detailed scans by the collection vessel indicate that there will be at least three million subjects ready for collection.”
www.palaceofamino.com

50

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“That pleases me more,” Lord Ecnerwal said, “although I would still not describe my pleasure as immense. Your next piece of information had better do as you promised. Otherwise I will have to hurt you.” Badoodoo smiled. His master seemed taken aback. “Your confidence in the face of threatened pain is startling. Will the next piece of information really give me such pleasure?” Badoodoo nodded. “It will, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Tell me, then, thong fabricator!” Badoodoo changed the image on the view-screen. A star map appeared. “The location of the Palace of Amino has been found.” Dropping to his knees and screaming with delight, Lord Ecnerwal shuddered and shouted. “Oh, yes! Oh, how wonderful! Oh, Badoodoo, my pleasure is indeed intense now! Thank you!” “You are welcome, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal stretched his arms out to his sides and swayed left and right. The enormous sleeves of his robes billowed. “Pleasure is rarely so pleasing!” Badoodoo spoke again. “I can also confirm that the bounty hunter, Sadie Stick, has received her first instructions.” Lord Ecnerwal squealed. “It gets better!” He leapt to his feet and his expression became eerily serious. “She is not aware of that, is she?” “No, my lord. The subliminal nano-interface appears to be functioning well.” “And the signal was not detected by those bounty scum packers?” “No, my lord. The quantum-band wave-encrypted ultraspace transmissions are, as you predicted, undetectable.” His lordship gasped. “My pleasure has risen to a level far beyond intense!” He turned and headed to a large arched doorway in the side of his chamber. “I must retire to my bed immediately.” “Of course, my lord.” “Inform me of any more news as soon as possible.” Badoodoo nodded. “Yes, my lord.” Knowing what was sure to follow; he turned and headed for the exit as quickly as he could. Within seconds he was through the main doorway, across the bridge that spanned the green-lit slime, and heading into the asteroid’s dark passageways. He had made it! And then his wrist communicator bleeped. Badoodoo looked down at it. When he saw the caller’s name his heart sank. He activated it.
www.palaceofamino.com

51

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

A voice, high, tinny and strangely sweet, called out. “Badoodoo?” Badoodoo sighed. “Yes, my lord?” “You fornicate with rodents!”

13

A Bowl of Melted Butter

Sitting silently in his cramped quarters on board the Retarded Monk Grinder, THROB the mechanoid had spent the last couple of hours processing all the evidence regarding the comet and Sadie Stick’s infection. With the ship safely parked and powered down in its hanger bay near the pinnacle of the Palace of Amino’s luxurious Vacuman Tower, the mechanoid had had the opportunity to harness all of the ship’s immense processing ability and combine it with his own. And he had done so without hesitation. He had analysed micro scans of the comet’s ice and rock, and its molecular structure. He had processed multi-spectrum far-field sensor sweeps of the surrounding light-years. He had filtered and collated six generations of subspace disruption maps. And he had cross-referenced all pre and post process data with the unimaginably vast data store at the Palace of Amino. And now the results were ready. Immediately the mechanoid initiated a communications link with Amino Battle Command.

Commander Pepe wallowed dreamily in the mud, the folds of his hideously obese body hidden by the thick brown sludge. He breathed deeply, inhaling the soothing menthol vapours of the aromatic oils that flowed gently along a narrow canal around the bath’s rim. He opened his eyes and peered up into the steamy dimly lit air. He smiled, bunching up his cheeks into concertina-like folds. Standing over him and straddling the wide bath was Hazel Lazernipelz. Her eyes were glazed and her expression was a picture of drug-induced bliss and contentment. She was naked and oiled, and she was grinning lazily. She whispered. “Shall I begin?” The commander’s gaze wandered over her toned physique. He felt an ache of longing and anticipation spread across his bulging body. He nodded.

www.palaceofamino.com

52

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

With a barely perceptible squelch Hazel descended into the mud and disappeared. The commander gasped as she slipped under his enormous overhang and began her work. His pleasure heightened. He groaned. A bleeping sound emanated from a panel at the side of the bath. Commander Pepe frowned deeply, and then answered. “What is it, Weezil?! I’m very busy!” “Commander, I’ve been contacted by THROB, the mechanoid companion of Sadie Stick.” “So?!” “He has determined the originating system of the comets that contained the infection. I think you should see what he’s found.” The commander grunted. “Yes yes! Of course I should! I’ll be right out.” He nudged Hazel with his hips. Within seconds a mound of mud rose up before him. It slipped away to reveal the outline of Hazel Lazernipelz. She wiped the remaining mud from her face. Commander Pepe sighed. “I must go. Open up the bath and fetch my towel.” Hazel nodded and stepped out of the bath. She walked over to a control panel on the far side of the marble-tiled room, leaving a trail of steaming sludge, and pulled on a small lever. The sides of the commander’s bath descended sending thick mud oozing across the floor. Three other girls rushed in and buried their arms in the commander’s deep folds of flab. They pulled, helping the sludgecaked tub of lard to his feet. Hazel brought over the commander’s tent-like white towel. Once wrapped up the commander dismissed his masseurs and waddled towards the exit. The door whooshed open. He stepped out of his massage chamber and into coolness of his battle command office. Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit was standing in front of the commander’s desk. Displayed on the large screen opposite the commander could clearly see the almost featureless cylindrical head of THROB, and next to him a mass of information and diagrams. Commander Pepe squeezed himself into his chair. Large squirts of mud were forced out of his towel, one of them with such force that it slapped hard into Weezil’s face. The commander shouted. “Clean yourself up!” The chief officer nodded and produced a dainty handkerchief from his pocket. He wiped the mud from his face.

www.palaceofamino.com

53

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander looked at the array of snacks and drinks on his desk and licked his lips. He grabbed a spring roll, dipped it in a bowl of melted butter and then into a jug of single cream, and then crammed it hard into his mouth. The commander shouted, his voice muffled by the mass of food. “THROB! Present your findings. And do it quickly, I have important business to attend to.” THROB spoke. “Yes, commander.” On the screen to the mechanoid’s right a map covering more than fifty light-years of space appeared. Trajectories were highlighted. “To identify the origin of the comets containing the infection the initial part of my investigation was to simply reverse the course of the comets to determine their likely origin according to their velocity and mass, whilst factoring in the gravitational effects of all celestial bodies that the comets would have encountered during…” Commander Pepe swallowed hard and shouted, his colossal gut undulating under his towel as he did so. “Just tell me the point of origin!” THROB gave a single nod and continued. “The initial part of my investigation concluded a 90 percent probability that all of the comets containing the infection originated in the Heis system.” “Never heard of it!” “The Heis system is a dwarf star system at the centre of the H’jos sector.” “Ah, yes, I know that sector. It’s totally uninhabited, is it not?” “You are correct, commander. There are no life-bearing planets or artificial facilities in that sector.” The commander nodded and became thoughtful. “Yet the comets and their infectious contents originated there…” He looked up at his chief officer. “Weezil, dispatch the nearest bounty hunter too…” THROB interrupted the commander. “The conclusion of the initial part of my investigation was incorrect.” Commander Pepe glared at the mechanoid. “Then why did you waste minutes of my time telling it to me?!” “I was explaining the background to the next part of my…” “Now you’re wasting even more time! Just tell me the real origin of the comets!” He grabbed the jug of single cream and took a deep swig to calm himself down. THROB nodded once and then continued. “When my parallel analysis of the multi-spectrum far-field sensor reading was correlated with the subspace disruption maps, I discovered a large residual subspace emergence disturbance and an expanding debris field 4.6 billion kilometres back along the trajectory of…”
www.palaceofamino.com

54

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe fumed. “Get to the point!” His body wobbled like a thuggoth’s backside, and then his towel slipped open revealing the largest set of mud-smeared man-breasts ever seen. The commander made no attempt to cover them up. The mechanoid got closer to the point. The information on the screen changed to a set of detailed diagrams. “The comets were transported through subspace in tritanium shells, which were destroyed during the comet’s re-entry into normal space. Such destruction is highly likely to be intentional.” The commander screamed; his voice had become hoarse. “The point!” “After calculating the mass, velocity and energy requirements to transfer the comets through subspace, and the maximum distance that the tritanium shells could travel, my final calculations concluded that the true origin of the comets is the Oaso system, on the leading edge of the emadal Expanse.” Commander Pepe sighed. “Finally!” He said. He took another swig of cream. “Is there an inhabited planet in that system?” “The only life-bearing planet in the Oaso system is Tolaso. It suffered a catastrophic extinction event two million years ago. Currently the highest level life form is a giant crustacean. Prior to the extinction event the planet is thought to have had a large population of giant lizards, the largest of which are referred to as egralons…” “Enough waffle!” The commander yelled. He turned to his chief officer. “This must be investigated.” Weezil nodded. “Of course, commander. I took the liberty of checking to see if any bounty hunters were currently on missions in that area. Very little happens in that region. For a hundred light years in all directions from the Oaso system the highest level of civilization is nothing more than a basic agrarian …” Commander Pepe’s patience was reaching breaking point. “Is no one able to get straight to the point today?!!!” The chief officer apologised. “I’m sorry, commander.” He looked down at his data-pad. “Both Maximus Thorn and Water Lily will pass through that region on their way back from Otomiro Nebula within the next couple of hours. I’ll send them to investigate.” “Good. Make sure these findings are sent to Peter the Ace and Panman, and also to all other bounty hunters involved.” The commander said, struggling out of his chair. His sludge-soaked towel fell to the floor. He looked at the screen. “Thank you, THROB.” “I also have information regarding the infection. It is a modification of a…”

www.palaceofamino.com

55

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

““Don’t concern me with that!” Commander Pepe blurted. Ignoring the fact that the huge and repugnant mass of his revoltingly flabby body was exposed for all to see, the commander turned. “Send that information out with the other information. It is relevant only to bounty hunters in the field.” With the mud already drying into a crust over his folds of flesh, Commander Pepe disappeared into the billowing steam of his massage chamber.

14

Millions of Infected Humanoids

Striding through the darkness in one of the thickest blizzards ever known, Peter the Ace and Panman reached the top of the ridge. The two first-class bounty hunters stood, thigh-deep in powder snow, and looked down. The sensors on their suits filtered out the dense horizontal blasts of snow, revealing a detailed view of the valley below. Panman sucked some Foie Gras paté from the feeding tube of his suit and examined the sensor image on the head-up display of his visor. “Whoa! That crater’s nearly filled with them, now!” He spotted some intense activity at the centre of the crater and zoomed in. Dismembered body-parts were being thrown around and chewed on. The bounty hunter laughed. “I think we found the answer to your question ‘What do they eat?’!” Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed. They’re really chomping hard on each other, aren’t they?!” Panman was thoughtful. “Maybe this is the final stage of the infection? They’ll all start eating each other until there are none left. And then the final one will starve. Case closed!” “That’s a profound assessment based on what we’re witnessing.” Peter the Ace said. “But the fact that the initial infection was intentional makes that outcome unlikely.” “Yeah. If they’re now eating each other they won’t survive much longer. The reason for their infection must become obvious soon.” Peter the Ace nodded once more. “I agree. We should get closer.” “I was hoping you’d day that!” Panman said gleefully. He reached back and grabbed his snowboard, which was clipped to his

www.palaceofamino.com

56

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

backpack. He put the board down and then stepped into its bindings. The bindings automatically hooked onto his boots. “Ready!” Peter the Ace stepped onto his own board. He looked back for a second. Through the roaring blizzard his sensor image showed the outline of the might Blenheim, half submerged in snow a few hundred metres away. He spoke over the communicator. “Justin, we’re heading down into the valley. Monitor our progress, and stay alert.” The reply was a colourless monotonal drone. “I obey.” Peter the Ace turned to face the valley again. “Let’s go!” The two bounty hunters leapt over the ridge and plunged down a near vertical slope. Relying totally on their sensors they carved their way around covered rocks and outcrops. Within seconds they had reached near freefall speeds. Panman whooped as he launched himself into the air, and then grunted as his board slammed back into the powdered snow. He laughed as the satisfying crunch of the compacted snow beneath resonated through his suit as his board dug in. Arriving at a smoother and less steep part of the hill, Peter the Ace crouched down causing the underside of his board to automatically transform into its most frictionless state. He accelerated to an absurd speed within seconds. Panman followed suit, cutting through the blizzard like shrapnel through a fat bastard’s belly. With the soft rumble of snow hitting his visor, Panman spoke. “At this rate we’ll be at the bottom in less than a minute. What’s the plan?” The ground was uneven now, probably caused by the ejector blanket of the crater. Peter the Ace slowed. “Let’s get a close up view of some of the infected humanoids.” Skimming over several large mounds the two bounty hunters drew to a halt at the edge of the crater, and less than a hundred metres away from the nearest humanoids. The blizzard seemed much less intense down at the floor of the valley, and it seemed to be subsiding quickly. Peter the Ace examined the detailed scan of the nearest group. “The pattern of infection seems different to that of Sadie Stick.” “Yeah.” Panman said. “She certainly did not generate cannibalistic tendencies. She did loose a lot of skin, though. They seem to have lost almost all their skin. They’re covered in some of the thickest and bloodiest scabs I’ve ever seen!” “They would all benefit from a prolonged period in regeneration fluid. Unfortunately we…” Panman interrupted. “Look at them all!”

www.palaceofamino.com

57

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace looked. The humanoids had stopped their cannibal fest and were looking up. They were standing perfectly still. Many still had torn flesh hanging from their mouths. “How very odd.” The communicator beeped. It was Justin. Panman answered. “Yes?” “It is I, Justin.” “Damn it! I know! What is it?” “A large unidentified vessel is entering this planet’s atmosphere.” Peter the Ace spoke. “Let me guess. It’s headed for our location?” “Your guess is correct.” Panman looked at the mass of infected humanoids. They were still motionless and staring up at the sky. “How do they know it’s coming?” Peter the Ace was thoughtful. “That’s a remarkably good question.” “There must be more to that infection than just a virus.” A deep rumble could now be heard. It was rapidly increasing in volume. Peter the Ace spoke to Justin. “Send as much information as you can on that vessel.” “The requested information is transmitting now.” Detailed images and statistics on the unidentified vessel appeared on the bounty hunters’ visors. “It’s huge!” Panman exclaimed. Bright light suddenly illuminated the valley, diffused by the low cloud and lessening blizzard. “And it’s arrived.” Peter the Ace said. A deep and resonant roar sounded as the vast underbelly of the dull yellowish vessel, so large that it spread across the entire valley, descended from the clouds. A few hundred metres above the ground the vessel stopped its descent. After several seconds dozens of wide circular platforms full of vertical transparent tubes were lowered to the ground. The millions of infected humanoids, illuminated by the bright lights of the gigantic vessel, headed for the platforms. Within minutes they were being sucked up into the vessel with remarkable speed. Peter the Ace watched as thousands of the scab-ridden humanoids shot up the tubes. “That’s a reasonably entertaining spectacle.” He shouted over the resonating roar of the giant vessel above.

www.palaceofamino.com

58

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman agreed. “I’m recording it. The trainee bounty hunters on my Peculiar Abduction Techniques course will love it!” Peter the Ace turned to his companion. “I wasn’t aware that you taught such a course.” “I’m starting it next month. I’m just doing one session a year. All trainees will attend!” Peter the Ace was impressed. “That’s a big class. How many peculiar abduction techniques are there?” “At least a thousand.” “Impressive.” Panman looked around. All of the platforms were now sucking up the infected humanoids at an incredible rate. Illuminated by the bright lights of the enormous vessel above, the valley was slowly but surely being emptied. “At this rate all of those diseased scabby dudes will be onboard in just over two hours.” Peter the Ace thought for a moment. He looked up. “Despite THROB’s recent findings we still have no idea what’s really going on.” He turned to Panman. “We need to get into that ship. And we need to do it without being detected.” Panman laughed. “And I know just how to do it!” “I knew you would! Explain.” “It’s brilliantly simple: we smear our suits with the blood and entrails of one of the half-eaten infected corpses we’re sure to find out there. Then we go to the nearest platform and get sucked up!” “That is indeed brilliantly simple. But won’t the fact that we’re wearing white heavily armoured environment suits give us away?” Panman shook his head. “There is a risk of that, but it’s very minor. Remember that the dude or thing behind all this is almost certainly a deeply unstable and highly retarded individual with a remarkably well-developed intellect. That combination is sure to mean that the sensors on those suction platforms will, at most, be looking for external confirmation of infection only.” Peter the Ace grinned. “As always, your plans are consummate examples of effortless genius.” Panman shrugged. “Of course.” “Let’s go.” The two bounty hunters leapt over the crater wall and boarded down across the blinding snow towards the centre of the crater. They drew to a halt near the edge of the crowd of infected humanoids. They both unclipped their snowboards. Peter the Ace stood and looked at the crowd as it shoved and jostled its way towards the nearest platform. He looked up. “We need to find out how they knew that ship was coming.”
www.palaceofamino.com

59

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman nodded. “I think that’s a job for our chrome-plated assistant and Jemima Murma.” “Indeed.” “They’ll need a specimen. As intact as possible.” With the speed of a Regnil snug sniper, Peter the Ace pulled his quantum-flux pulsar rifle from his backpack. He set the weapon’s power setting to minimum and narrowed the pulse width. He aimed at the back of the neck of the nearest humanoid and fired. A pea-sized pulse of bright energy passed through the humanoid’s neck. The humanoid slumped instantly to the floor, its spinal column severed and cauterized. It gasped once and then was still. Peter the Ace operated his communicator. “Justin?” The reply was instant and toneless. “Yes?” “Panman and I are going to infiltrate the unidentified vessel. Once the vessel leaves I want you to follow it, discretely. And send a message back to the palace explaining what we’re up to.” “I obey.” Peter the Ace looked down at the humanoid corpse. “All of the humanoids appeared to know about the arrival of the vessel long before they should have. There is a dead humanoid at my location. When that vessel leaves this valley I want you to come and collect the corpse. I want you and Jemima to examine it to find out how it knew about the vessel.” “That order conflicts with the previous order. Which order is considered the highest priority?” Peter the Ace frowned. “Both orders are of the highest priority! Pick up the cadaver first, and then follow the vessel!” There was a moment’s pause. “I obey.” Panman looked down. “And Justin, pick up our snowboards too.” “That order conflicts with…” “No it doesn’t!” Panman yelled. “Pick up the snowboards, then the humanoid, and then follow the ship.” “I obey.” Peter the Ace silenced the communicator. “Is it my imagination, or is Justin not as sharp as he used to be?” Panman shook his head. “It’s not your imagination, although he was never that sharp to begin with. I’ll get him to make a pizza when we get back onboard the Blenheim – stuffed-crust for an extra challenge. That’s probably the best test. If that’s up to standard then we have nothing to worry about.”

www.palaceofamino.com

60

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace agreed. “Excellent idea.” He pointed at the nearby mass of scab-encrusted humanoids. “Right, let’s cake ourselves in blood and guts and get onboard!”

15

Painfully Ugly and Shapeless

Three hours of sustained beer drinking with Ross Mental had left Sadie Stick woozy and slightly dishevelled, but also incredibly exhilarated. But now, suddenly, a deep thought burst out from her subconscious. A sense of urgency momentarily overwhelmed her, and then a brief but intense wave of nausea tore at her stomach. She gasped, and then felt compelled to leave. “Thank you for the experience. It has been a real honour. But I must go now.” Ross Mental gulped down a few mouthfuls of yet another tankard. He slammed it down onto the table, splashing beer in all directions. “Fuckin’ lightweight!” Sadie Stick smiled and got slowly to her feet. “I think I’ve proven otherwise.” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter thought for a moment, and then nodded. “Actually, you did a lot better than I thought you would.” He frowned. “But not as good as I’d hoped. We must do this again, and fuckin’ soon!” “Indeed we must” Sadie Stick said, turning. Aware of a multitude of ravenous eyes probing her curves and bumps the bounty hunter strode, in not quite a straight line, out of the Wonder Bar and into the expanse of the Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber. Ignoring yet more ravenous eyes the bounty hunter followed another unexpected burst of nauseating thought and activated her communicator. She made a call. The answer was swift. “Amino Battle Command Internal Communications Officer Porcia Prosperoso speaking.” “This is Sadie Stick. I wish to speak with Commander Pepe.” “Only third-class bounty hunters and above may speak directly to Commander Pepe.” “Mention my name. He’ll take the call.” “You are fourth-class only, miss Stick. You will need to go through one of the commander’s administrative staff. I’ll transfer you to…”

www.palaceofamino.com

61

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“You will do no such thing! Call Commander Pepe and tell him I wish to speak with him! He will take my call.” “I…” Sadie Stick yelled. “Do it!” There was a moment of hush in the casino as many of the players turned to look for the source of the yell. Sadie Stick continued walking passed the roulette tables. The gamblers quickly returned to their games. The communications officer was silent for a moment, and then said. “Very well. Hold, please.” Sadie Stick reached the casino’s elevator lobby. She stepped into an elevator and selected the ground level. The doors closed silently. The elevator fell. “Miss Stick! How are you feeling?” It was Commander Pepe. He sounded out of breath. The bounty hunter replied. “Apart from being mildly drunk, I’m fine.” “Glad to hear it. That was a nasty business, that infection of yours. The only upside was all those delicious scabs. I loved them! All gone now, though, I hear.” “They have, commander.” “As you know, I wouldn’t normally take calls like this, and I’m only doing so because of your recent trauma. You had better be quick. What is you wish to talk about?” “As you may know, I’ve been advised not to go on missions for a month. But I would like to do something constructive with my time. Would it be possible for me to help down in Battle Command?” “Ah, yes. Chief Infection Officer Derob sent me a message regarding that. He recommended I assign you to a position at the palace. I didn’t expect you’d want to be down here, though. Bounty hunter’s usually like to be out and about. I would have thought you’d prefer the training cliffs, or the Amino Weapons Institute testing zone.” “No. Amino Battle Command is my only preference.” “Hmm… Very well, come on down. I’m… very busy at the moment, but I’ll make sure my chief officer meets you. He’ll assign you an interesting task. Any particular area of our work that you’re interested in?” Before she even felt herself think, Sadie Stick blurted a reply. “External Defences.” “I see… A rather dull choice, in my opinion. Perhaps the longrange intelligence department would be a more interesting choice? You’d certainly brighten things up there. The head of that department,

www.palaceofamino.com

62

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

General Jenny Talwartz, is a painfully ugly and shapeless old cow, and totally devoid of humour. Her staff would appreciate your…” “External Defences will be fine.” “As you wish. I’ll let Weezil know.” There was the sound of giggling in the background “Hmm… Something’s come up. Must go. Commander Pepe out.” The communications channel fell silent. Sadie Stick felt a huge smile spread across her face.

Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit grinned like a school boy. His wide eyes looked up and down. “You are looking very well, Miss Stick.” “I’m feeling well.” She said, stepping out of the elevator and into the secondary lobby of Amino Battle Command. There was a quiet whirr from above as ceiling-mounted disruptors locked on to her. The fact that the bounty hunter was still alive meant that her identity and presence had been accepted. The chief officer was still gazing at the bounty hunter’s body. Oddly, she found that irritating. “There is no chance at all of having sexual intercourse with me, or even of a quick fondle of my breasts or buttocks, so banish those thoughts immediately.” Weezil blushed. “I, erm… Really?” “Really. Let’s go to External Defences, shall we?” The chief officer nodded. “Of course. Woody Tiptoe is expecting you in his office. This way.” Sadie Stick followed the chief officer down a wide passageway and into another larger lobby. Various sculptures and paintings depicting great bounty hunter achievements decorated the walls. Several uniformed members of staff relaxed on purple sofas at the centre of the lobby, drinking tea, eating cakes, chatting softly, and massaging each others feet and foreheads. The current alert status was obviously not very high. As they entered another well-furnished and decorated passageway Weezil turned and glanced at Sadie Stick. “Maybe I…” “If you say one more word out of turn your genitals will cease to function.” The chief officer nodded. They arrived at a double doorway. After checking their identities the doorway whooshed open to reveal a spacious and leather-lined reception area. Behind a thick wooden desk, and wearing a pink plastic high neck top, was an ancient looking woman. She looked up at the chief officer and Sadie Stick and smiled. Her
www.palaceofamino.com

63

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

toothless grin was startling. She spoke in a peculiar series of wheezes and exhalations. “Mister Tiptoe is expecting you. Please go through.” She operated a control on her desk and another doorway opened up. Sadie Stick followed the chief officer through the doorway. Woody Tiptoe’s office was an eclectic mix of old and new, bland and bizarre. Disturbing oil-paintings of contorted trees and sea creatures with odd grins adorned the walls, whilst a crystal chandelier hung from the centre of the deeply coved white ceiling. The furry carpeting appeared to be a stitched-together collection of large animal skins. Woody Tiptoe was sitting behind a green-tinted glass desk at the centre of the room with his feet crossed on top of the desk,. His tight red plastic body suit was even more disturbing than the office’s artwork. Weezil spoke. “Woody, this is Sadie Stick.” Woody Tiptoe spoke, making no attempt to get up. “Miss Stick! Welcome to my amazing office!” The bounty hunter smiled. “Thank you.” She turned and looked at Weezil. “You can go now. I’ll be fine.” The chief officer looked disappointed. He nodded and left the office. The door slid shut behind him. Woody continued to slouch at his desk. “It is rare that anyone takes an interest in our work, despite its crucial nature. After all, we protect the entire palace from external threats.” He spoke excitedly. “Just look at what we achieved when the lump-being’s emitter beam struck!” “Perhaps no one is interested because all you do is to make sure the defence field and the orbital defence grid are powered up?” Sadie Stick said. Woody finally sat up straight. He frowned. “All we do?!” “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offence. That’s what the average person would think. After all, they take such things for granted. As did I until recently.” He was curious. “And what happened recently to change that?” “I’m not sure, to be honest. Earlier today I just suddenly began appreciate the great work you do. And as I just happen to be grounded for a while I thought I’d come down and offer my services to you. I would love to find out more about the palace’s defences.” The Head of External Defences grinned. “That’s wonderful! It is rare that I get to work with anyone interesting down here. And you look very interesting indeed!” Sadie Stick ignored that last remark. “Perhaps you can take me to the control console for our defences and show me how they work?”
www.palaceofamino.com

64

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Certainly!” Woody Tiptoe said, getting to his feet. “The defences are controlled down in the main chamber.” He headed for the exit. “Come. I’ll introduce you to my senior operator.” Sadie Stick felt herself smile as she followed the lanky plasticsuited Head of External Defences out of his office.

16

A Mathematical Model of Contentment

The stench of blood, decay, urine and defecation was intense. Fortunately Peter the Ace only had to read about it on his environment suit’s head-up display. He did so as he quietly breathed the cool filtered air that circulated round the inside of his helmet. Peter the Ace and Panman had been inside the strange yellowish vessel for almost two hours now, after having been sucked up in quite a thrilling fashion from the frigid surface of Lodi by one of the ship’s transparent loading tubes. Now they both walked through chamber after chamber filled with moaning and phlegm-drooling infected humanoids. Most of the humanoids were now sucking like cubs on nutrients passed down through flexible transparent pipes from the dark domed ceiling panels above. For fun Panman tripped up the nearest humanoid. The humanoid keeled over backwards and slammed onto the hard floor. Congealing blood splattered from between two large scabs on his shoulders. He continued to suck on his feeding pipe as other infected humanoids trampled over him. “At least they’ve stopped eating each other.” Peter the Ace nodded. “That is one positive aspect about their new predicament.” The gentle background rumble of the vessel increased in pitch. Vibrations quickly built in intensity. “Finally!” Panman exclaimed. “I was wondering when this thing was going to leave.” Like pigs on a multitude of teats, the humanoids continued their feeding. Peter the Ace looked around. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of watching these hopelessly diseased folk gorge themselves.” Panman sucked on his suit’s food dispenser. He swallowed hard. “For some reason I feel quite at home here. I think I’m developing a strong empathy for them.”
www.palaceofamino.com

65

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “This is not a restaurant. They have no choice but to feed. The disease has obvious reverted them to follow only the very basic of instincts. You gorge in fine restaurants and do so by choice. It’s a big difference.” Panman shook his head. “Some of my hunger cravings are extreme and often I feel I have no choice but to gorge. I do dine in fine restaurants, but that’s because I can. Other than that, and the fact that I’m a first-class bounty hunter with a supreme intellect, physique and lifestyle envied by even the elite of the Central Worlds, I feel I have a lot in common with those infested rag-wearing people.” Peter the Ace continued to look at Panman for a few seconds. And then he smiled. “That’s an astounding explanation. Bravo!” Panman nodded and sucked out another mouthful from his food dispenser. Peter the Ace continued. “I’ve still had enough of watching them fill their stomachs, though. I suggest we try to find the command centre of this vessel.” Panman agreed. “Sounds like a good plan to me. From what I’ve seen, though, I would expect this ship to be almost totally automated.” “Indeed. It looks like its on nothing more than a collect and return mission. If there’s a crew it will be minimal.” Panman pointed up. “That ventilation shaft looks quite large.” Peter the Ace laughed and pulled a grappling hook and line from his utility belt. “It certainly does. Of the hundreds of massive ships we’ve infiltrated, every single one had an unmonitored ventilation system large enough and extensive enough for us to travel throughout the entire vessel with minimal opposition. And I doubt this is any different!” “Yeah!” Panman said, chuckling. He pulled out his own grappling hook. “The retarded intellectual megalomaniac behind all this is as predictable as always.” The two bounty hunters threw up their hooks, activated their retraction controls and disappeared into the darkness above. The swelling mass of infected humanoids paid them no attention. They continued sucking on their feeding tubes, and defecated without thought.

Looking like a deeply deformed and mildly emaciated metallic elephant, Justin sat on his reinforced bench at the back of the Blenheim’s spacious bridge. A long thick data cable stretched from

www.palaceofamino.com

66

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

the control consoles at the front to a data port in the cyborg’s polished forehead. A dense stream of information flowed in both directions. Having collected the corpse of the infected humanoid and the snowboards of Peter the Ace and Panman, the cyborg had now set the Blenheim on a pursuit course with the huge yellowish vessel, which was currently powering through subspace less than two light-years ahead. A surge of simulated pride flitted through the electrical domain of Justin’s artificial brain. It had been 36 years since he had last been at the controls of the Blenheim. Throughout the entire period of his punishment as an exhibit at the Mad Animated Head Gallery he had nurtured and amplified a simulated ambition to fly the ship again. And suddenly that ambition had now been realised. With a digital pulse of synthetic satisfaction the cyborg flagged the relevant ambition module as completed. A mathematical model of contentment was generated, compiled and executed. Via the data cable stuck into his shiny forehead, Justin activated his communicator. “Jemima Murma, it is I, Justin.” The reply was almost instant. “Yes, I know. Your name appears when you call. You did know that, didn’t you?” “Yes.” “Right… What can I do for you?” “I require an update on the status of the deceased infected humanoid.” “Of course. As ordered I placed it in an isolation chamber in the sickbay. I am about to commence scanning to try and determine how it knew about the arrival of the ship that came to collect it.” “Your update was satisfactory. Keep me informed.” “Your forehead is plugged into to the command console, isn’t it?” “Yes.” “You can access the sickbay systems and keep yourself informed, can’t you?” “Yes.” “Then you should do it, shouldn’t you?” “Yes.” “Great! Then there is no further need for inane verbal communication such as this! Jemima Murma out.” Jemima Murma’s obvious dislike of cyborgs had no effect at all on Justin. The cyborg, his deep red glowing eyes devoid of all expression and life, sat still and silent on his reinforced bench. Data, organized and precise, flowed freely into his head.

www.palaceofamino.com

67

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

“There are hundreds of them!” Panman said, looking down through the grating. “It’s crazy!” More than twenty metres below the huge water tank, more than three-hundred metres across, was writhing with giant scaly creatures. Peter the Ace was curious. “This is indeed a rather unusual sight to see onboard a space vessel. It’s certainly not something I would have predicted. What’s the point of it?” Panman activated his pulse scanner. “The water’s about eighty metres deep, and there’s what looks like a huge mincing machine at the bottom.” Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “Are you saying that this is some kind of food stock?” Panman nodded. “One of those reptiles has just been sucked down and minced. This is what those infected dudes are being fed on!” “How bizarre.” Peter the Ace said, returning his gaze to the creatures below. “Why not feed them synthetic food – that’s a far simpler process!” “The highly retarded intellectual megalomaniac behind all this must also have an unhealthy fixation with giant lizards!” Peter the Ace nodded. “He must. His mental state is worse than I imagined.” He activated his sensor. “I’ll see if I can identify their species.” After a couple of seconds the information was displayed on his visor’s head-up display. “Very interesting. They are almost identical to the long extinct heguorons of Tolaso!” “Whoa!” Panman said with realisation. “That’s one of the planets in the Oaso system that THROB claimed was the origin of the comets!” Peter the Ace nodded. “I believe we have found evidence to confirm that claim, and also to reinforce his claim that the infection is derived from the dung of giant omnivores.” “Yeah. Our megalomaniac has been bringing back to life Tolaso’s prehistoric beasts!” “Indeed.” “Maybe we’re heading for Tolaso now?” “Perhaps, but why send a comet all the way to Lodi to infect millions of humanoids, and then return them to a dying planet of creeping deserts, filth and stinking decay?” Panman nodded. “It does seem pointless.”

www.palaceofamino.com

68

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I have a feeling this ship is headed for a rendezvous somewhere else.” Panman knew the accuracy of Peter the Ace’s legendary feelings all too well. “Cool! Rendezvous with what?” “I would expect we are to rendezvous with another vessel on which the retarded intellectual behind all this is residing. And from there the infected humanoids will be used for whatever purpose they were destined for.” “Yeah.” Panman looked at Peter the Ace. “We should get to this ship’s command centre.” He looked at his head-up display. “We must be near the top level by now. If we head over this water tank we’ll be close to the front of the ship. I would expect to find the command centre there.” Peter the Ace agreed. He pointed into the darkness of the ventilation shaft. “After you!”

17

All Sorts of Sordid Scenarios

The large display surfaces of the external defences console glowed brightly at the back of the huge and relatively dark Amino Battle Command main chamber. Shu Pong, the mop-haired senior operator of the console sat, rigid and upright, in front of his screens. His assistants - two chubby and dark-skinned females named Rebulba Chun and Retsina Dral - sat a couple of metres to his right. Both of them were slumped up against their consoles, their bulging waists and chests squashed against the controls. They looked as though they had been sitting there for decades. They probably had. Sadie Stick, sitting on Shu Pong’s left, occasionally looked over at the assistant operators. They looked as bored and lifeless as jumbo sloth-monkeys, and much more unattractive, too. She pitied them, and understood their need to constantly suck on their snack tubes for comfort and relief. The senior operator, Shu Pong, had finished his explanation of the dedicated defence field power core, and the field’s operation. He began explaining the orbital defence grid, his gaze fixed on Sadie Stick’s body. “This screen shows the position of the five thousand automated defence stations that orbit Enchantia. Each one is linked to all the others, and to Battle Command, via a sub-etheral trans-global terra-encrypted data-comms system. They can work together, taking advantage of a various tactical and strategic swarming configurations,
www.palaceofamino.com

69

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

or work alone if preferred, or if communication is compromised. Each defence station contains two redundant synthetic sentience units giving it an astonishing level of intelligence and independence.” Sadie Stick nodded. “Just like the units fitted to modern mechanoids?” Shu Pong shook his head. “Not really. These are highly specialised, and nothing like the generalised units fitted to artificial beings. The intelligence of the defence stations is limited only to military applications.” “And how is it turned off?” The senior operator seemed surprised at the question. “Oh, we never turn it off! It has been running constantly ever since it was first activated three centuries ago.” “But it is possible to turn it off, isn’t it?” Shu nodded. “Certainly. The orbital defence grid can be deactivated from the power-flow control panel here, just like the defence field. But as I said, we’ve never turned it off, and we never will.” The bounty hunter examined the controls and the data on the screen. “I see…” The senior operator was quiet. His gaze was becoming more and more intense every minute. Sadie Stick spoke sternly. “It’s never going to happen, so get over it!” Shu Pong was highly embarrassed. He looked up at Sadie Stick and bowed. “So sorry. Was I doing it again?” The bounty hunter scowled. “Yes! Yet again your eyes have been fixed on my breasts for several minutes!” The senior operator of the Palace of Amino’s external defences was obviously struggling not to look again. There was sweat on his high forehead, and the stress on his expression was mildly disturbing. Sadie Stick noticed his anxiety and softened. “I am quite impressed, though. You still managed to explain the defence field operational strategy and defence grid operation clearly and with a high level of coherency.” “Thank you.” Shu said. “Your translucent bodysuit is quite a distraction. I can clearly see…” “Concentrate!” “Of course.” He turned back to the expansive control console. “That’s really all there is too it, I’m afraid. The control and monitoring of the defence field and the orbital defence grid is as simple as that.”

www.palaceofamino.com

70

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick felt compelled to ask a question. “I would like to be in charge of the external defences for a day. Tomorrow would be good. I assume that would be OK?” Shu Pong shook his head. “I don’t know if I can allow that. Procedure dictates that…” Sadie Stick’s desire to work Shu Pong’s console was strong. She had to persuade him. She touched the senior operator’s leg. “I’ve decided that it will happen for you, after all.” Shu stuttered. He was obviously shocked. “It… it will?” “Yes. But only of you let me do your job tomorrow.” The senior operator’s eyes swept up and down the bounty hunter’s curvaceous body. He tensed up. It was clear that he was imagining all sorts of sordid scenarios. “Procedures can be modified.” His eyes were wide. “When will ‘it’ happen?” “Tomorrow evening. After I finish work here.” Shu Pong nodded vigorously. “I shall spend all day preparing my apartment for you! I’ll fill the bath with Screech ‘n’ Wail Lavender foamer, and open a bottle of the finest Suculan Cider! I’ll cook the juiciest and bloodiest steaks imaginable, and then I’ll oil myself with three of the…” Sadie Stick held up her hands. “Enough!” She said, feigning excitement. She grinned. “I prefer surprises!” Shu Pong nodded. “Of course.” His voice betrayed his excitement. His imagination and mouth seemed out of control. “When you see me naked and oiled, and standing proudly with the mightiest of… ” Sadie Stick interrupted loudly. “I said I prefer surprises!” The bounty hunter’s voice echoed around the vast main Amino Battle Command chamber. Many operators turned and looked back at her. She lowered her voice. “This is our secret.” The senior operator nodded. “I understand.” “Not a word to anyone. I have a reputation to maintain.” “Of course.” Shu Pong was breathing heavily and rapidly. “And calm yourself!” The bounty hunter got to her feet and strode sexily away. Unseen in the subdued and atmospheric lighting of Amino Battle Command, her expression transformed into a wide and mildly disturbing grin.

www.palaceofamino.com

71

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

18

The Vomit of a Worm

Badoodoo found himself pressed up against the window once again, but this time his back was towards the glass. Lord Ecnerwal pushed him harder and kept him at arms length. He looked Badoodoo up and down. He yelled. “You’re nothing but a mound of fat!” And then he whispered. “And you resemble an armpit.” He released Badoodoo, allowing him to fall into a podgy heap on the floor. Badoodoo gulped down a few deep breaths and then looked up at his master. “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal spun around, the layers of his robes billowed out. “Excellent! You have acknowledged yet more of your faults. In just a few more years you will have acknowledged them all!” He skipped over to the glowing control console at the centre of his dark chamber. “You said you had an update for me.” He stopped at the console and turned. He pulled back his hood slowly to reveal his bald and deeply scared scalp. The light from the console lit up his face from beneath and highlighted the tufts of wiry hair behind his ears. He frowned and his voice became deep and guttural. “Give me that update now!” Badoodoo nodded and got to his feet. He joined his master at the control console and then activated his data pad. Once again the large oval view-screen faded to life. An image of the giant collection vessel was shown. “I am pleased to report that the collection vessel successfully collected 3,102,412 infected humanoids from the planet Lodi.” Lord Ecnerwal arched back and laughed. “Ha harr!” He straightened up and looked down at Badoodoo. He grinned crookedly. “Oh yes, my little whale belly, you should indeed be pleased!” Badoodoo continued. “The nano infestation in all their brains has been completely successful. They have all responded correctly to sedation commands and have been feeding calmly.” He reeled as a bony gloved hand slapped his face. Lord Ecnerwal smiled. “That was meant in friendship. It was a slap of appreciation and kindness.” Badoodoo blinked, and then bowed once. He rubbed his reddening cheek. “Yes. Thank you, my lord.” “Get on with it!” Badoodoo changed the image on the view-screen. “The collection vessel is now on final approach. It will dock with us within the hour.”
www.palaceofamino.com

72

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal nodded and began pacing up and down. He began muttering quietly. “Hmm… Good. It’s going as planned. Perfectly, in fact. So very good. They will soon be here. Hmm… My scab demons will be here. Here with their master.” He turned to face Badoodoo, spread his arms out wide and cackled. “Ha harr! Such joy!” Badoodoo was confused. “What are scab demons?” A fist, bony and hard, smacked into his forehead. He fell to the floor, his head pounding in pain. Lord Ecnerwal shrieked. “It is the collective term for the infected humanoids onboard the collection vessel, you undesirable surplus!” Badoodoo apologised. “I’m sorry, my lord. I have never heard that term mentioned before. I thought you had decided to call them your unholy army of…” The sole of a boot, hard and heavy, slammed into Badoodoo’s chest. He collapsed back onto the floor. “No I hadn’t!” Badoodoo decided not to question his master anymore. Struggling to breathe, he pulled himself up onto his feet. He gasped at the air. “I have one more… update for you…, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal looked excited. “Ooo! Wonderful! Tell me!” Badoodoo took a couple of seconds to compose himself. “The bounty hunter, Sadie Stick, has successfully infiltrated the Palace of Amino’s Battle Command. She is due to take control of their defences within a few hours.” “Oh, how extraordinarily brilliant!” Lord Ecnerwal said, hugging himself. “That is honey to my toes!” He pulled up his hood and then operated a control on the console. A doorway opened in the chamber’s huge panoramic window. The hot humid air from the jungle dome beyond wafted in. “You deserve a reward, my little heap of bowel nuts.” He strode in the direction of the doorway. “And that reward is to witness the arrival of my scab demons!” Badoodoo followed his master out onto a wide walkway that spread around the circumference of the jungle. “But… I was going to do that anyway.” Lord Ecnerwal turned and screamed. “It is still a reward, bulge island!” Badoodoo sighed. “Of course, my lord.” With a flourish of his robes, Lord Ecnerwal spun round and strode along the walkway. To the left, two nearby egralons munched steadily on the jungle’s treetops. One of them groaned loudly. A three tonne lump of fibrous defecation slammed onto the jungle floor.
www.palaceofamino.com

73

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

Although there appeared to be only five crew members, the bridge was enormous, and decorated in some of the most ambiguous and unsettling artwork and sculptures ever seen. The lighting, nothing but piercing spotlights behind the sculptures, scattered long and contorted shadows in all directions. It was remarkably disturbing. Standing in front of a high-backed deeply padded blue chair at the centre of the spacious bridge was a figure clothed in layers of long black clothes. His long and frizzy blond hair hung down the sides and back of his head, and his hands were clasped loosely behind his back. Ahead of him a view-screen, at least ten metres wide, displayed the image of what looked like an asteroid, dimly lit, which was quickly growing in size. Panman looked out through the mesh of the air vent at the back of the bridge. “Taking control of this ship would be so easy!” He said gleefully. “If we leap down brandishing our super-heated carnage blades we could purge the life out of this crew in seconds!” To illustrate his point Panman made stabbing, twisting and slashing motions with his right arm. He obviously relished the thought of decimating miscreants in close combat with high temperature hand weapons. Peter the Ace nodded. “We could, and it would be a fine and justified action to perform, but I think we should allow this vessel to reach its destination first.” The view-screen was now filled with the surface of the asteroid. A large section of the surface was opening up. “Whoa!” Panman said. “That is one amazingly huge door!” “Indeed. And through it is the most likely location of the highly retarded intellectual megalomaniac that we’re seeking. Boarding this vessel was a deeply sagacious act on our part.” The view-screen was now filled with the interior of a huge cavity inside the asteroid. Huge docking arms that must have been hundreds of metres long were making their way towards the ship. Ahead an array of massive docking ports and sweeping platforms could be seen. In a similar fashion to the ship’s bridge, the vast hanger bay was lit by powerful lights placed behind sculptures and machinery, sending streaks of hazy beams through the bay’s obviously humid atmosphere. It was a hugely impressive sight. The ship shuddered mildly as it passed through the bay’s atmospheric shield.

www.palaceofamino.com

74

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman was visibly shaking. “You know, so far, apart from our brief bit of snowboarding, this mission has been particularly dull.” Peter the Ace nodded sympathetically. “It has.” Panman frowned. “I really need to see some action soon!” For comfort he sucked down a mouthful of sage and onion stuffing from his suit’s food dispenser. “Patience, my friend. I have a feeling we will soon see more action than we could hope for.” Panman’s eyes lit up. “Really? Cool! What makes you think that?” “Just a feeling…” Panman grinned. Peter the Ace’s feelings about such things were legendary. “Awesome!” The image on the huge view-screen changed. It now showed a heavily robed figure standing on a high windswept platform, its face hidden by a thick deep hood. The figure was accompanied by a short fat bald humanoid, also robed. The image slowly zoomed in through streaks of harsh light and haze to the hooded figure’s hidden face. The figure spoke, its voice shrill and queer. “Captain Riah Elbano. You return, and with pleasurable results!” Captain Elbano bowed slowly. “Indeed, my lord.” The hooded figure laughed. “Ha harr! My horde of scab demons is finally here!” The captain tipped his head to one side. “Scab demons, my lord? I thought you were going to refer to the infected humanoids as your unholy…” “Insolence!” the figure screamed. “Insolence as wide as the enema of my ancestors!” Captain Elbano bowed again. “I’m sorry, my lord. This is the first time I’ve heard the phrase ‘scab demons’”? The figure waved his arms around sending ripples through his robes. “Excuses! If your subservience was satisfactory you would have accepted the term immediately and without question!” He leaned forwards and deepened his voice to a deep wet rumble. “Kneel before me, you disappointing snack, and request forgiveness.” With apparent reluctance the captain got down on his knees. He spread his robes neatly around himself and then lowered his head. His long blonde hair almost touched the floor. “My lord; he who is satiated with the purity of detestation, the perfection of viciousness, and the agitation of psychosis. I request your celestial absolution for my act of appalling insolence. I deserve only death, but I request life.”

www.palaceofamino.com

75

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The figure arched his back and laughed. “Ha harr! You are a wretched muffin! Even the vomit of a worm would not consider you an equal!” Captain Elbano remained on his knees. “Yes, my lord.” The figure waved his arms. “Get up, captain. Yet again you are forgiven.” He snarled. “But this is the last time!” The captain got to his feet. “Thank you, my lord.” He paused for a moment. “The… scab demons are ready for transfer on your command, my lord.” The robed figure raised his arms and shook them. “The command is given. Transfer them! ow!” Captain Elbano turned to one of his subordinates and nodded. He turned back to the view-screen. “The transfer has begun, my lord.” “Excellent! You will be pleased to know the target location has been revealed to me, and my agent there is performing as expected.” “That is indeed pleasing news, my lord.” “Once all of my scab demons are on board we will begin the final phase. Are you ready, captain?” The captain nodded. “Yes, my lord. We will take up position as per your orders.” The figure leaned forwards and pushed back his deep hood revealing his gaunt and bald head. His scalp, extensively scarred, looked gruesome in the harsh lighting of the hanger bay. He frowned. “Yes you will, captain. Or you will suffer like your siblings!” The image on the view-screen faded. Peter the Ace and Panman had seen and heard everything from their vantage point behind the ventilation grill. Panman looked at Peter the Ace. “I’m glad I’m wearing my helmet. If I hadn’t been my jaw may have dropped right to the floor!” Peter the Ace shared his companion’s surprise. “I was starting to think we’d never see him again!” Panman fell into a serious mood. “I think we can guess what the target location is.” Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed. And his mention of an agent there is remarkably disturbing.” “He must know the location!” “Indeed. One of us must get back to the Blenheim. The palace must be warned.” Panman nodded. “By the sound of it this vessel will leave again shortly. If you stay onboard I’m sure you can find a way off once it leaves.”

www.palaceofamino.com

76

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace’s frown was deep enough to be visible through his visor. “What makes you think I should be the one to return to our ship?” Panman became tense. He shuddered. “You know how much I need to see some action! I must get onto that asteroid!” He started to mimic stabbing and slashing motions again. “I must confront the loathsome and mentally-distorted fiends of degeneracy that…” Peter the Ace patted his colleague on his shoulder armour and smiled. “You’re right. I should go back to the ship. Get into that asteroid and do what you do best.” Panman punched the air. “Awesome!” Peter the Ace pointed through the ventilation grill towards the large view-screen of the bridge. It was now showing an image of the infected humanoids as they left the vessel. “You should go now. They’ll all have been transferred within an hour or so.” With a single nod Panman turned and slinked away.

With his arms still raised Lord Ecnerwal leaned over the waist-high railings and peered down into the depths of the huge hanger bay. The curved bow of the vast collection vessel could be seen stretching down for more than a kilometre, its hull lit by sharp floodlights and shaded by irregular shadows. Hundreds of metres down several large walkways had extended out of the ship and connected with the wall of the hanger. Dense crowds of humanoids were making their way unevenly across the walkways, their distant moans wafting up through the humid air. Lord Ecnerwal Laughed. He slapped Badoodoo’s scalp. “Look, Badoodoo! They’ve come! My scab demons are here! They are here as I predicted! And they are well fed from the same reborn genetic stock that has defecated on my command to produce dung from which the infection that infected them was extracted and concentrated and modified with my illustrious nanotech designs!” He turned and growled. “Aren’t they?!” Badoodoo nodded. “They are, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal grinned unevenly. “My preparation teams are, as we speak, preparing the scab demons for their task.” He sighed. “Oh Badoodoo, what a significant and extraordinary time this is – such a special and invigorating moment in the history of the universe. Do you feel it, Badoodoo? Do you?” Badoodoo did not feel anything but dread at the continuing mental deterioration of his master. “I think so, my lord.”

www.palaceofamino.com

77

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal slapped Badoodoo hard. “Either you do or you don’t, bladder rupture! Which is it?” “I feel it, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal gasped. “Isn’t it orgasmic?!” He smiled dreamily for a moment and then looked down at Badoodoo and frowned. “What is your task, now that the scab demons are here?” Badoodoo was a little confused by the question. “Erm… Well, to revive the command crew ready for departure. And to visit your chamber and give you updates as always, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal yelled like a Du’Ol trader. “Then go and do it!” Badoodoo nodded and scurried away. After a few seconds he heard his name called. He heaved a sigh and turned. “Yes, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal bellowed. “Your odour is rectal!”

19

Bloated Fish Pit

After a few hours of contented sleep and an unexpected morning frolic with the deeply satisfying Jack Slammer, Sadie Stick arrived in the main chamber of Amino Battle Command. Heads turned as she wandered sexily though the rows of consoles, the light from their screens reflected in the curves of her tight-fitting black and polished bodysuit. The suit was one of the latest designs – created to ensure the sensuality of female bounty hunters was preserved while providing significant protection from energy and stabbing weapons. Ahead, sitting like giant lumpy potatoes at their consoles, were the dark and ugly external defence assistants, Rebulba and Retsina. They looked up lazily at the bounty hunter. Sadie Stick stopped at her seat. She gulped and almost coughed as a surge of stomach acid encroached on her throat. The two small round metallic objects that she had felt compelled to swallow an hour earlier were still causing her discomfort. After taking a moment to compose herself she spoke to Rebulba and Retsina. “I’d expected you both to be fresh and eager in the morning. You look like unmotivated, sleep-deprived hog masters!” Rebulba responded. “We didn’t sleep. We stayed awake. We stayed here.” “Why? What about the night shift?” Rebulba shook her head. “There is no night shift for external defence. We work all night. We stay awake with drugs and implants.”
www.palaceofamino.com

78

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick was confused. “Why do you do that? Don’t you want to go home, have fun and experience the heights of pleasure like normal people?” This time Retsina spoke, her voice flat and weary. “We are overweight and unattractive. We have tarnished skin and sweat too much. And we are dull. We have no life outside of this chamber. No one takes an interest in us. We prefer to stay.” The bounty hunter frowned and sat down at the main external defences console. “That’s a sad situation.” Without thinking she logged in using Shu Pong’s account. “Do you live down here permanently?” “We have been down here for a century and have never left.” Sadie Stick felt a little sorry for the two lonely females, and for some reason that feeling annoyed her. She looked up at the two assistants. “Well, I can confirm that you both are indeed fat and ugly, and you are dull – exceedingly so. You are socially hopeless, and your decision to spend your entire lives at your consoles here in the darkness at the back of Battle Command is a wise one. No one on the surface or in the rest of the galaxy has to see you, and no one has to know you. Which is good, as no one would want to.” Rebulba and Retsina had both been sucking on their snack tubes. Rebulba took a break from feeding. Tears welled in her sunken and bloodshot eyes. “Thank you.” Once again the bounty hunter was confused. “Why are you thanking me?” “You expressed your opinions of us with eloquence. You did not resort to hurtful expressions.” Sadie Stick shuddered for a second, and then gulped as a brief surge of nausea engulfed her innards. She began tapping away at her console’s controls. She blinked several times and then continued. “I thought I was hurtful.” She glanced up at the two assistants for a moment. “That was my intention!” Retsina took a break from feeding. Rebulba resumed. Retsina spoke. “What you said was like music to us. When people down here encounter us they often slap and pinch our bodies. They whisper insults into our ears.” “Such as what?” “Things like ‘Fugly dump’, ‘girth monster’, ‘bloated fish pit’, ‘gut sack’, ‘globule’, ‘wobbly bastard’, ‘gravity well’, ‘tulip’, ‘mobile lard unit’, ‘butter factory’, ‘planet’…” “Fine! I get it. What I said was polite in comparison.” “It was.”

www.palaceofamino.com

79

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Enough of this.” The bounty hunter said as she continued to tap at her console’s controls. “I have things to do. Get back to work.” The two assistants nodded and returned their attention to their screens. On the bounty hunter’s screen subtle programs, encrypted and shrouded, coalesced and multiplied, and then hid themselves deep into the external defence’s hierarchy of systems.

Commander Pepe stood by the large panoramic window of his office and looked out at the huge and bustling main chamber of Amino Battle Command. He smiled and nodded slowly, his multiple chins undulating like sacks of jelly. He was incredibly proud of his teams down there. They worked tirelessly, and with a dedication second only to the bounty hunters they supported and protected. Apart from two unsightly assistants on the External Defences team, whose sweaty appearance and attitude had bothered the commander for decades, every single person worked hard and with flawless enthusiasm. It was a magnificent and inspiring display of loyalty. And it was irrefutable evidence of their tremendous respect for his corpulent authority. A voice interrupted the commander’s thoughts. “Commander, the call is coming through now.” Commander Pepe turned his astonishing bulk round and faced his chief officer. “Put it on the main screen.” As the large viewscreen faded to life the commander waddled behind his crescentshaped desk and began the strenuous and exhausting process of sitting down; a process made all the more difficult when wearing his thick and opulent robes. With a groan like the moans of a ram shackled felko he finally managed to squeeze his obscene backside into his chair. His desktop, normally filled with food, was unusually bare. Only a bowl of butter-coated snacks remained. The commander grabbed one and placed it into his mouth. The view-screen now displayed the details of two fifth-class bounty hunters. On the left was Maximus Thorn, a bounty hunter of long sinuous muscle and densely platted hair. The life-size full-length image of him confirmed that description and showed him clothed in one of the tightest blue bodysuits the commander had ever seen. The other bounty hunter was Water Lily. The life-size image of her, wearing an exceedingly short frilly white mini-skirt and high platform shoes, rotated slowly. Commander Pepe’s eyes widened as he gazed at the shapely pair of pale bare legs in front of him. His gaze drifted up, pausing for a moment on the mounds of her chest, partly covered by the bounty
www.palaceofamino.com

80

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

hunter’s long and straight strawberry-blonde hair and a white leather shoulder strap covered in smalls stabbing weapons. Something stirred beneath the commander’s robes. He swallowed the snack he was eating and sighed. “Miss Lily, I am stunned by your image. I don’t believe I’ve ever set eyes on you before.” The bounty hunter responded; her voice light and sweet. “I’m a little surprised by that, commander. “I am well known by others of my class, and those below, of course. My image adorns the walls of many trainee bedrooms. ” “I don’t doubt that at all!” The commander said. “I must apologise. I am usually informed when such a delightful specimen of bounty hunter femininity such as you graduates. Your legs are so slender, and so pallid, yet their subtly muscular shape reveals the power that lies within you. I have no doubt that you are an unexpectedly formidable opponent in close combat, and an extremely satisfying companion to many of your male peers – the ache in my groin is confirmation of that!” “You honour me, commander.” Commander Pepe nodded. “The honour is mine, and I shall be thinking of you later.” He glanced once more at the other bounty hunter, Maximus Thorn. “Mister Thorn, I’m afraid I cannot compliment you on your physique. I am not a homosexual and I will never entertain such thoughts.” Maximus Thorn responded, his voice deep and smooth. “I guess I can understand your reserve, commander, but, I’m a little confused. The reports last month of your intimate relations with one of your bodyguards in the lobby outside your apartment suggest that…” The commander yelled. “He slipped and fell under my robes and into my underwear! It was an accident!” “But the eyewitness said that the bodyguard was moving in a rhythmic fashion beneath...” “His head was caught in the elastic!” “I see… But when he finally emerged his face was said to be…” “Yogurt!!!” After a few seconds of silence the bounty hunter spoke. “Of course, commander. I’m sorry.” “Get on with your report!” Water Lily spoke. “We’ve been in the Oaso system, the suspected location of origin of the comets, for several hours now and have done a comprehensive scan of the immediate area.”

www.palaceofamino.com

81

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander nodded, the soothing tones of the female bounty hunter’s voice calmed him. “Excellent. What have you discovered?” “Many things, especially on and around the planet Tolaso. Maximus Thorn will explain.” The commander frowned. “If he must.” Maximus Thorn spoke. “There are two main discoveries. The first is the discovery of a recently abandoned research complex down on the surface of Tolaso.” A detailed image of the complex appeared on the view-screen. The bounty hunter continued. “The complex still contains many vats of the infection and huge piles of dung, and is littered with the decaying remains of hundreds of short and chubby humanoids. All of them died due to the infection.” Images of contorted corpses and huge mounds of defecation swept onto the view screen. Commander Pepe grimaced. “It looks like the facility suffered a major containment breach.” “We have evidence to show that it was deliberate. It seems once the research was completed the staff were‘silenced’.” “Hideous!” The commander said, shaking his head. His chins rippled like jelly. “This provides the source of the infection, then?” “It does. The infection was indeed derived from the fecal matter of reanimated prehistoric creatures, as that mechanoid, THROB claimed. Some of those creatures are still roaming around the facility, although there is evidence that many were taken elsewhere.” “I see. Interesting. You mentioned two main discoveries?” “I did. The second is regarding Tolaso’s largest moon. It is small, only seven kilometres in diameter – most likely a captured asteroid.” “What have you discovered on that moon?” “ othing.” Commander Pepe frowned and then shouted. “Then what, in Skidal’s transit, are you mentioning it for?!” “The moon has vanished.” The commander was shocked. “How? Where has it gone?” “We don’t know, as yet. There is no evidence to suggest it impacted on Tolaso, and it cannot be traced anywhere in the Oaso system.” “I need an answer, Mister Thorn!” Water Lily spoke. “I’m afraid we don’t have a definitive answer, commander. But we do have a theory.”

www.palaceofamino.com

82

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe was pleased to hear Water Lily’s soft voice again. “Excellent. Tell me.” “We have detected traces of comets in orbit around Tolaso, and also irrevium-iron – the material used to make the inner shell of the comets that contained the infection.” The commander nodded. “That’s evidence that the comets were constructed in orbit around Tolaso. But it gives no indication as to what happened to the moon.” “ o it does not, commander. But we also found traces of tritanium – the material used to make the outer shells that the comets were encased in during subspace transfers.” The commander sighed. “Despite your exquisite physique you are in danger of annoying me, Miss Lily. I have still not heard your theory on the whereabouts of that moon!” “Also in orbit we discovered a faint but significant ring of debris.” An enhanced image of the ring appeared on the view-screen. “This ring was not there the last time the Oaso system was scanned for our archives. The material of the ring consists of ironmagnesium silicates with some metallic iron in the exact proportions found in the composition of the missing moon.” “And?” “The mass of the material in the ring is equal to thirty-seven percent of the mass of the moon. We believe that the moon was hollowed out and the comet construction carried out inside it. We believe the moon was then converted into a starship.” The commander nodded. “An intriguing concept.” He said, leaning forward onto his desk. The desk creaked under the strain. “And I assume you believe the moon left orbit under its own power?” “We do. There are traces of subspace drive residue that support the theory. The drive mechanism was obviously crude to leave such a trace.” “Where do you think the moon went?” Maximus Thorn spoke. “We have no idea.” The sound of Maximus Thorn’s voice immediately annoyed Commander Pepe. “Then you should develop an idea! Both of you continue your research. I want more answers by tomorrow!” Both bounty hunters responded in unison. “Yes, commander.” The communications channel was closed. Commander Pepe grabbed another butter-soaked snack and crammed it into his mouth. He leaned back into his chair, his guts wobbling noticeably under his tent-like robes. He shook his head.

www.palaceofamino.com

83

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“What is going on, Weezil? What is the point of all this?” Melted butter dribbled down into the folds of the commander’s chins. The chief officer was still standing by the large view-screen. “It is all quite bizarre.” The commander took a slow deep breath. “It is indeed. Why convert a moon into a space vessel? It would be much simpler too…” A soft chiming interrupted the commander. Weezil looked at his data-pad. “There is another call coming in. It’s from the Blenheim.” With a groan Commander Pepe sat up straight and wiped the butter from his chins with his sleeve. “Excellent! Peter the Ace and Panman must have returned to their ship with news.” The chief officer looked up and shook his head. “I think not. The call is from Justin.” Commander Pepe scowled. “That tin traitor? Again?” He pursed his fat lips. “Very well, put the call through.” The image on the view-screen changed to the Blenheim’s insignia. A voice, sterile and cold, spoke. “It is I, Jus…” “I know!” The commander bellowed. “What do you want? Where are Peter the Ace and Panman?” “In answer to your first question, I am calling to update you on our findings with regard to the deceased infected humanoid we have onboard. In answer to your second question, as far as I am aware my masters are still onboard the huge yellowish vessel.” “As far as you are aware?” “One hour ago the huge yellowish vessel emerged from subspace and docked with an asteroid. It is possible that my masters have now left the vessel, but I have no evidence to support that.” Commander Pepe’s eyes widened. “A large asteroid?” He glanced at Weezil and then back at the view-screen. “Really? Show me the asteroid!” An image of the asteroid appeared. The resolution was poor. The commander was not impressed. “That’s awful! Send a better image!” “I am maintaining a distance of three light-years from the asteroid and have minimised emissions to avoid detection. Highresolution passive ultraspace imaging at such a distance is not possible.” “Then it will have to do.” The commander said. “You haven’t, by any chance, compared this asteroid to the largest moon of Tolaso, have you?” “ o.”
www.palaceofamino.com

84

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I thought not.” “There is no logical reason to perform such a comparison.” “There is now. We have just found out that the largest moon of the planet Tolaso has disappeared.” “That is a logical reason. I am now performing the comparison...” After a few seconds a second image, one of the moon of Tolaso, appeared next to the asteroid’s fuzzy image. “The asteroid matches the dimensions and surface detail of the largest moon of Tolaso.” Commander Pepe grabbed another snack, the last one in the bowl. He chewed loudly, and then recapped on the findings of the last few days. “First we have a bounty hunter infected by something deep inside a fake comet – something derived from the defecation of giant and previously extinct creatures. Then we find that a pre-subspace society of humanoids was also infected after an identical comet collided with their planet. Then we see that same society taken away in a huge yellowish vessel. Then we discover an abandoned research facility on Tolaso that seems to be the source of the infection. Then we discover that the largest moon of Tolaso has disappeared and has most likely been converted into a starship. And then we discover that the huge yellowish vessel containing the society of infected humanoids – millions of them – has docked with the now rediscovered moon of Tolaso in deep space. What is going on?” Justin droned. “There is insufficient information to formulate a definitive answer to your…” The commander yelled. “It was a rhetorical question, cyborg!” There was a moment’s pause and then Justin spoke. “I must update you on our findings with regard to the deceased infected humanoid we have onboard.” Commander Pepe nodded. “Make it quick.” “Jemima Murma has been conducting studies on the cadaver of the…” “I said make it quick!” The commander fumed. He shuddered. “Why do iron freaks like you have so much trouble getting to the point?!” “I am not constructed of iron. My body consists of…” Commander Pepe’s face was reddening rapidly. “The point!” “A nano-mechanism has been detected at the centre of the infected cadaver’s cerebellum. It is fully integrated into the nervous system of the humanoid and contains data reception and transmission facilities.” “Interesting. Is this technology native to the humanoid’s home world?”
www.palaceofamino.com

85

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“ o.” “Then how did it get there?” “The infection contains a nano-scopic schematic along with barely-detectable construction nano-machinery. The nanomechanism in the cerebellum of the humanoid was constructed after the infection had entered the humanoid’s body.” “So what is it for? Have you detected signals from it?” “ o signals have been detected. The type of signal has not yet been determined.” “Then go away and determine it! And send all the information you have!” “I obey.” The communications channel fell silent. The knot of stress in Commander Pepe’s expanded stomach tightened. He looked over at the bulbous breast sculpture next to the entrance to his office but it provided little comfort. He operated a control on his desk. The wood-panelled doors behind him opened. A cloud of hot steam billowed out. He grunted as he struggled to haul his mammoth weigh onto his feet. Two girls - naked, tanned and toned - rushed out of the steam to help him. Once on his feet the commander looked at his chief officer. “Weezil, I need to spend some time in my massage chamber.” The chief officer nodded. “Of course, commander.” “Send the information uncovered at Tolaso and by that tin-top Justin to all parties concerned.” “Yes commander. I must remind you that the bounty hunter, Sadie Stick, was infected by the same infection that infected the humanoids on Lodi.” The commander frowned. “What for, Weezil! Why, in bounty hell, would you want to remind me of something that I could never for…” The force of realisation whirled around the stress in his stomach. The knot tightened further. “She could have a nanomechanism in her brain!” “It is highly likely, commander.” “Set alert status Lavender-Blue! Have her found, detained and examined immediately!” The chief officer nodded and tapped at his data-pad. The commander pointed at his desk. “And have that filled will oily snacks! This is a crisis, and yet my desk looks as barren as a sundried nun!” He shuddered and yelled. “I never want to see it like that again!”

www.palaceofamino.com

86

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

With his personal stress levels rising rapidly the commander turned. Flanked by the two naked females, he ventured into the steamy mellow confines of his massage chamber.

20

Two Jugs of Thick Chocolate Cream

A message icon fizzled into existence on one of Sadie Sticks screens. It was a welcome break from the monotony of monitoring the external defence systems, and from the occasional but mind-numbing conversations with Rebulba and Retsina. She still could not figure out why she had requested this assignment. The bounty hunter opened the message. It was a call from Shu Pong. She accepted. A small screen to the bounty hunter’s right faded to life. An image of the senior external defences operator was displayed. His face was spread wide with one of the most genuine grins the bounty hunter had ever seen. His mop of hair was matted with what appeared to be grease. “How is it going down there, Miss Stick?” Sadie Stick forced a smile. “Very well. I’m having a great time. Your assistants are entertaining me.” Shu Pong frowned. “Really? They are normally as boring as fluff! And their profound ugliness and circumferences are superficial and very short-lived sources of humour.” “True, I guess. What do you want?” “I wanted to show you something.” The image of the senior operated pulled back. He was standing in the centre of what looked like a mound of cushions, and he was wearing nothing but a black pair of baggy shorts. His skin glistened. “I’m oiled and ready!” Sadie Stick struggled not to grimace. Shu Pong’s body, although not chubby, lacked condition and definition. It was a stark contrast to the lean and toned body of most bounty hunters. “You’re a little premature, aren’t you?” The senior operator looked down at his shorts. “You can tell?” “I’m referring to all the oil! I won’t be with you for a couple of hours at least.” “I know. I just thought I’d give you a taste of what to expect!” “Great.” “I’ve prepared several bowls of juicy fruit with two jugs of thick chocolate cream! We can smother each other before and after we…” “Enough!” The Sadie Stick shouted. Rebulba and Retsina looked up lazily from their consoles. Their mouths were hung open
www.palaceofamino.com

87

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

and their flabby expressions were vacant and brainless. The bounty hunter lowered her voice. She forced yet another smile. “Don’t spoil things. I’d rather be surprised when I arrive.” Shu Pong nodded. “I understand. You will not be disappointed when you see my…” A brief alarm sounded. Without thinking Sadie Stick cut the communications link with Shu Pong and looked around. All the console screens and the giant main screens had the words ‘Lavender-Blue Alert’ written across the top. Above, up on the high black ceiling, a purple light was pulsing. The bounty hunter focused on her console screen. Her hands moved rapidly across the controls. Previously dormant processes were now running. For some reason the thought ‘too soon’ flitted into her consciousness. She shuddered, and then blinked rapidly for a few moments. She gulped back a bitter hint of vomit. A voice interrupted the bounty hunter’s thoughts. “There are power fluctuations. Some new processes are running.” Sadie Stick turned. The pallid mass of Retsina’s fat and blotchy face, lit by nothing but the glow of her console, was gazing at her. Retsina continued. “You’ve done something wrong.” The bounty hunter looked down and operated her console. “I’ve done nothing wrong.” Rebulba joined the conversation. “You initiated the new processes. They are harmful.” “They are not harmful!” “I must contact Shu Pong. He will know what to do. He will correct your mistake.” Sadie Stick felt a brief wave of nausea spread across her body. Her eyes blinked, and then she stood up. She walked over to the two lard-laden assistants and stood between them. “Before you contact Shu Pong perhaps I can correct whatever problem you see?” Rebulba nodded. “Perhaps…” She said, pointing at one of her screens. “One of your processes is de-coupling the power transfer conduits. Another has locked out…” With a rapid outward flick of her arms Sadie Stick thrust two small blades into the bloated necks of Rebulba and Retsina. With expertise she twisted and dragged the blades, severing the assistants’ spinal columns and opening up their throats and jugular veins and arteries. Rich dark blood pumped out. Re-sheathing the blades, the bounty hunter grabbed the assistants by their hair and yanked their heads back, opening up their wounds even further. Rebulba and Retsina looked up at her, paralysed and wide-eyed; their mouths gulping like fish as litres of blood poured into their throats and lungs.
www.palaceofamino.com

88

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I’m sorry, but this is for the best. You need to die. Take comfort in the fact that no one will grieve for you. No one will care.” The two assistants fell still. Pushing their heads forwards, Sadie Stick positioned them in a slumped pose. It was indistinguishable from their normal working positions. After locking out their consoles the bounty hunter turned and strode quickly away.

21

Contaminated Padding

The news was not good. Not good at all. With his nerves jangling and a bead of sweat hanging from the end of his nose, Badoodoo entered his master’s chamber. He clutched tightly onto his bulky data-pad and looked around. It was quiet and still, the only light coming from the jungle beyond the huge panoramic window at the far side. It was raining heavily. An arched doorway on the side of the chamber slid smoothly open revealing a deep orange glow. It was the entrance to his master’s bed chamber. A high voice called out. “Come to me, Badoodoo.” Badoodoo could not help shuddering as he peered into the doorway. His master was lying spread-eagled on his wide oval purple bed at the centre of the round chamber. Large orange globes on either side of the bed glowed brightly. Fortunately his master was still robed, although his feet were bare. Lord Ecnerwal raised his head and looked intently at his subordinate. “You look ill at ease, Badoodoo. Are you stressed from a lack of intimate pleasure?” Badoodoo frowned, surprised and a little annoyed at the question. “Erm… Well, I…” His master sat up. “I understand. You are ugly and you smell. It’s natural for females to reject you and even to vomit in your face.” He pulled back his hood and sighed. “It happens to you a lot, doesn’t it?” Badoodoo shook his head. “Actually, no. Only recently I…” Lord Ecnerwal screamed. “Do not lie to me, gut chunk!” “I’m not, my lord. I…” “Accept that you are a disgusting sack of contaminated padding!”

www.palaceofamino.com

89

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Badoodoo knew when it was better to give in. He sighed and then bowed. “I accept, my lord.” “And accept that you are undesired, even by the most urinesaturated females ever known!” “Again I accept, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal grinned. “Excellent. You are wise to accept your astonishing physical failings. No amount of surgery or medication, or even perfume could make you a desirable mate.” Badoodoo knew better than to disagree. “Yes, my lord.” He looked down at his data-pad. “I really must update you on…” Lord Ecnerwal interrupted; his expression thoughtful. “To compensate for your dreadful unattractiveness you must dedicate yourself to me, even more so than you do now.” He paused and breathed deeply. “Yes, you must become part of me; an extension of my very self!” He raised his arms, the giant sleeves of his robes rustling as they swept over the luxurious satin sheets of the bed. “You will be like a sentient tumor deep within the bowels of my bowels, motivated by the fragrant variety of defecation that passes by. And you will thrive on the varying degrees of pressure placed upon you as daily bouts of constipation attempt to crush the life out of you!” Badoodoo struggled not to grimace, and he struggled even more to understand the bizarre metaphors that his master had conjured up. He forced a smile. “It will be an honour, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal laughed and raised his arms. “It will! Oh, it will!” He sighed. “Ah!” Suddenly, and in his typical style, his mood changed. He frowned. “Why are you here?” Badoodoo swallowed. “I have an urgent update for you, my lord.” “Excellent. Give it to me.” “We have just received a signal from Sadie Stick. The Palace of Amino has been put on a state of alert and she has had to leave Battle Command.” A heel, hard and bony, smacked into Badoodoo’s face. He fell back, slamming into the thickly carpeted floor. He groaned. Lord Ecnerwal stood on the bed. “Why?!” Badoodoo spat blood and then clambered to his feet. “I don’t know for sure, my lord. It is likely that either the bounty hunter’s nano-infestation or its signal has been detected.” Lord Ecnerwal gripped the sides of his head. A look of deranged despair filled his face. “The signal is virtually undetectable!” He shuddered. “I must succeed! What can we do? Is it too late?” He stared at Badoodoo, his eyes glistening with desperation. “I’ve laboured for decades to fuse my staggering
www.palaceofamino.com

90

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

concepts into strategies of faultlessness, and to project those strategies onto actualities of physical manifestations!” He leapt off the bed and grabbed Badoodoo’s throat. “Is it too late? Tell me!” Badoodoo shook his head. He struggled to speak as his master’s tight grip restricted his air supply. “Sadie Stick managed to activate the programs she had embedded in the palace’s defence systems, my lord. It is premature, but we can still execute your plan. We will need to wait until…” Lord Ecnerwal grinned and released his grip. “Indeed! Do it now!” Badoodoo shook his head. “We need to allow the command crew to recover from their revival. Coming out of deep hibernation requires a lot of physiotherapy and they will be drowsy and sluggish. We must…” “Nonsense! Do it now!” “But, my lord, there is…” Lord Ecnerwal kicked Badoodoo hard between his legs. Badoodoo yelped as a flood of intense pain flashed across his body. An incredible ache grew within his centre. He gasped, and then moaned quietly. “Of course, my lord.” “Wonderful! We leave within the hour! Contact everyone relevant and tell them that we are departing early.” He raised his arms and screamed. “I am extraordinary!” Before Badoodoo could turn he noticed his master’s expression change to a clown-like grin. After a moment of awkward silence he asked slowly. “Is there something else, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal nodded and maintained his grin. His voice was now soft and gentle. “You are an armpit.” “Thank you, my lord.”

22

Stringent Job-Sharing Regulations

“They died about twenty minutes ago.” Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit explained. Commander Pepe looked at the two mounds of female obesity slumped over their consoles. He shook his head. “There has never been a murder inside Amino Battle Command since its creation. This event is highly disturbing, even taking into account their extreme levels of unattractiveness and poor odour.” He looked up at his chief

www.palaceofamino.com

91

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

officer. “There appears to be very little blood. How were they killed?” The chief officer reached forwards and grabbed the lank hair of the nearest corpse. He pulled, forcing the head to flop backwards. A gaping wound in the female’s neck was revealed. He pointed. “Their necks were slashed with a small blade. As you can see the wound is deep and precise. It’s angled to ensure that most of the blood flowed into the victim’s oversized stomach. Both were killed in the same manner.” Commander Pepe took a sharp intake of breath. He stared at the pale fat face of the nearest corpse. “Only a bounty hunter would be such a skillful killer.” Weezil Sagifagpakit nodded and looked at the commander. “The only bounty hunter known to have been down here in the last hour is Sadie Stick.” “Why was she here?” The chief officer pointed at an unmanned console next to the corpses. “According to the personnel logs the senior operator of External Defences, Shu Pong, allowed her to replace him for the day.” The commander grunted. “That is a total breach of procedure!” “It is.” “Have him arrested, strip-searched, and hog-tied immediately!” “Yes, commander.” Commander Pepe frowned deeply and sighed. “This is confirmation that Sadie Stick is no longer in control of her actions.” He barked an order. “Raise the alert level. She must be neutralised at the earliest opportunity!” “Neutralised? What exactly do you mean?” The commander fumed. “Prevented from doing whatever she intends to do, of course! What did you think I meant?” “Does that include killing her?” “Of course it does! Are you dense?!” The chief officer seemed concerned. “She is a formidable bounty hunter. Our security staff will be quite ineffective against her. She will easily defeat…” The commander seethed. “Damn it, Weezil! Do I need to think of everything? Get a top-class bounty hunter on the case now!” The chief officer nodded. He turned and headed away.

“You’re fuckin’ kidding me, right?” Ross Mental was standing rigidly at the centre his luxurious Central Tower apartment. To his right a huge log fire roared in the
www.palaceofamino.com

92

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

stone-arched fireplace, and to his left the dull crackle of deep-frying meat emanated from the capacious kitchen as his assistants, Pruda Pundling and Tia Enkaik, prepared his dinner. The bounty hunter’s attention, though, was directed solely at the wall-sized image of Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit on the screen in front. The chief officer shook his head. “I’m afraid not.” The bounty hunter frowned, the creases on his furrowed brow exaggerated in the flickering light of the fire. “I was drinking with the fucker only yesterday! I even let that fuckin’ bitch drink some of my exclusive Gutfucker Premium!” He thought for a moment, and then yelled. “Treacherous fuckin cow!” “She is a critical risk to Palace of Amino security and must be neutralised as soon as possible.” “Then fuckin’ do it!” “The security personnel down here, whilst densely muscled, are no match for a bounty hunter. And also we do not know Sadie Stick’s current location. Although we are quite certain she is still underground.” “And you want me to find her?” The chief officer nodded. “Yes we do. We already have two teams of lesser bounty hunters searching for her, lead by Baron Onslaught and Sebastian Blood.” Ross Mental laughed. “You’re hopeless fuckers, aren’t you?!” Weezil Sagifagpakit frowned. He obviously did not appreciate that remark. “We are all highly capable individuals and are exceptional at our roles. Just because we cannot apprehend a highlytrained and exceptionally curvaceous and toned…” “You said earlier that Sadie Stick was looking after the palace’s external defences. Is that right?” “Yes. Despite it being in contravention of stringent job-sharing regulations, Shu Pong had allowed her to take over his position for a day without supervision.” “What the fuck for?!” “Apparently Sadie Stick requested it. We arrested and hog-tied Shu Pong at his apartment a few minutes ago. He was naked and oiled, and about to smear himself in chocolate cream. It seems that the bounty hunter promised him an intense and deep…” “Fuckin’ idiot! He gave her access to the external defences just because she promised him a mind-blowing fuck?!” “It appears so. In a way it’s understandable. Sadie Stick has perfectly formed butt-cheeks, and a lovely…” Ross Mental fumed. “Fuckin’ hell! Do none of you have any fuckin’ self-control down there?!”
www.palaceofamino.com

93

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Of course, but you must admit that…” “Fuckin’ focus!” The chief officer nodded. “I’m sorry. We are all…” The bounty hunter interrupted once again. He had no patience for the hormone-related chatter of inferiors. “Did none of you find Sadie Stick’s request to work down in Battle Command as a bit fuckin’ suspicious?” “Well...” “A bounty hunter would never request such a banal fuckin’ job?!” “She seemed…” “Don’t make fuckin’ excuses!” “There’s no need to…” Ross Mental screamed. “Shut the fuck up!” After a few seconds he calmed slightly. “Have you checked the external defence systems yet?” “Erm… o, not yet.” The bounty hunter yelled like a fawning mollot. “You are fuckin’ hopeless, aren’t you?! Is incompetence hard-wired into your fuckin’ brain, or something?! It’s obvious that Sadie Stick wanted to work with the external defence systems for a good reason – a reason given to her by or via the nano-mechanism in her brain. And that reason is quite likely to be fuckin’ sabotage!” “I will order the system to be checked.” “You’d fuckin’ better!” Ross Mental took a few deep breaths and paced around. “Right, I’m coming down there with some fuck-off weapons.” He looked at the screen and grinned. The thought of a hunt within the confines of the palace itself was surprisingly intoxicating. “I’ll soon have your rogue bounty hunter ‘neutralised’, as you like to call it!” The chief officer looked worried. “If possible please capture her alive, and intact. She is a valuable asset, one that must be…” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter laughed. “She’s never going to let you fuck her, so fuckin’ forget it!” Weezil looked flustered. “ o no. That’s not what I…” “Just admit it, you weak fucker!” He laughed again. “Don’t worry, your lust is understandable. Unfortunately, though, if I need to slice that fucker up and fry her innards I fuckin’ will, so accept it!” Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit nodded solemnly. Pruda Pundling and Tia Enkaik, both dripping with sweat, emerged from the kitchen, their normally loose red outfits clinging to their wet bodies. They each carried a tray full of fried and grilled

www.palaceofamino.com

94

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

meat. They put the trays on a low table in front of the fire, bowed, and then slipped quickly away. Ross Mental stared at the food and smiled broadly. “Fuckin’ great!” Pruda returned with a tankard of ale. She handed it to the bounty hunter. Ross Mental took a long deep swig and then gasped. He looked at the screen. “I’m going to stuff this fuckin’ meal down and then I’ll be down there. Get those other bounty hunters who are searching for Sadie Stick to report directly to me. Ross Mental fuckin’ out!” He grabbed the charred leg of a gunta and bit down hard. Oil, fat and blood poured down his chin.

23

A Cacophony of Whistles

The hum of the engines deepened for a second, and then rose, increasing in amplitude. A subtle collection of vibrations spread through the hull. It was time. From his hiding place right above the huge yellowish vessel’s expansive subspace field generator, Peter the Ace reached out and grabbed a handhold. He swung out over the generator and then looked down. The generator shimmered as the air in the chamber quickly rose in temperature. The bounty hunter shuffled along the handhold, lining himself up with a grill-covered vent at the side of the generator directly below. He waited for a few seconds, listening intently to the still rising hum of the engines – waiting for the perfect moment. And then, as arcs of energy flashed and grew across the surface of the generator, that moment arrived. He let go. Flattening his arms to his sides and gripping his legs together, the bounty hunter plummeted through the vast generator hall, smashed through the grill and fell into the darkness of the vent. An incredible force pushed him hard as the super-heated air behind expanded and burned. The head-up display on his suit’s visor flashed with red icons. Warning messages popped open, and statistics showed that the suit’s cooling system was overloading. The whoosh of the air around him grew to a cacophony of whistles. And then silence.

www.palaceofamino.com

95

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The warning icons and messages blinked out or turned green. The view through Peter the Ace’s visor was now filled with a vista of stars and a view of the dimly lit and now distant asteroid. What a ride! Grinning, the bounty hunter turned and looked back. Behind he could see the receding mass of the huge yellowish vessel, its engines flickered a deepening shade of red. With a flash of white, it was gone. Peter the Ace turned back to look at the asteroid. It too was gone, just as he had expected. He was light-years from the nearest star system. He was alone. Peter the Ace turned off his suit’s head-up display and took a slow deep breath. The only light he could see now was from the surrounding stars – pinpoints of heat in the blackness of the frigid void. He turned and looked at the two brightest stars - a nearby binary system. They were a blaze of yellow-white light framed by the misty backdrop of the galaxy’s core. It was an inspiring yet peaceful scene, and utterly beautiful. The sense of tranquility was astonishing. But enough of that. Peter the Ace activated his communicator. “Justin?” The response was swift and dull. “Yes?” “Where are you and what are you doing?” “I am onboard the Blenheim one point two six light-years from your current position. As per your orders I am calculating a pursuit course for the huge yellowish vessel…” “Cancel those orders. Come and retrieve me.” “I obey. Course set. Engaging subspace engines. Arrival at your location in nine minutes and forty-five seconds.” “Excellent! How did your research go on that infected humanoid? I expect you found some kind of control mechanism in the humanoid’s brain.” “Yes. A nano-mechanism was detected at the centre of the infected humanoid’s cerebellum. It is fully integrated into the nervous system of the humanoid and contains data reception and transmission facilities.” “I assume you sent all your data to the palace?” “Your assumption is correct.” “Great! While I wait for your arrival patch me through to Commander Pepe – priority critical.” “I obey.”

www.palaceofamino.com

96

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

Commander Pepe groaned as another jug of warm strawberry cream was poured over his face and chins. He lapped it up as Janta, naked and dripping with perspiration, massaged his chest, rubbing more cream into his abundant man-breasts. He sighed, the cream gargling in his mouth. “My dear, you are the definition of sensual perfection!” Janta grinned dreamily. “You are kind beyond reason to compliment me so.” She bowed her head, her steam-soaked dark hair clinging limply to her face. “I do not deserve it.” The commander reached up and cupped one of her large breasts. He squeezed gently. “This alone proves that you do!” Janta giggled and then hauled herself up onto the commander’s mountainous belly. “Is it really proof enough? It’s nice of you to say so, love puppet, but I’m not so sure.” She lowered her body down over his waist and licked her lips. “Perhaps this will be enough?” Commander Pepe closed his eyes and groaned as Janta moved over his flab-ridden form. “Oh yes! That is indeed even better proof of…” The double doors of the massage chamber whooshed open. Cooler air wafted in, along with a slender figure silhouetted against the light outside. The commander yelled. “Weezil! How dare you barge into my massage chamber like that?! Can’t you see that I am in the middle of some urgent treatment?!” He struggled to sit up. Immediately, Janta dismounted, and three other females appeared from out of the steam clouds to help the commander haul his enormously flabby body up to a sitting position. Strawberry cream ran down his chins and dribbled over his chest and gut folds. The chief officer spoke. “I’m sorry, commander. I would not have barged in unless it was absolutely necessary.” Commander Pepe frowned. “What is it that’s so damned necessary?” “We’ve received a communication from Peter the Ace – priority critical.” The commanded nodded. “Very well. Allow me to make myself more presentable before…” “There is no need. The call is audio only.” “Then I’ll speak to him here. Put him through, now!” Weezil nodded and tapped at his data-pad. Commander Pepe yelled. “And close the doors, idiot! Can’t you see I’m naked and wet?! A chill would ruin my libido!”
www.palaceofamino.com

97

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The chief officer nodded. With a whoosh the doors shut. Two more females appeared with a large white towel and placed it round the commander’s shoulders. Another began wiping away the remaining cream with a thick cloth. Now flanked by seven naked and toned females, the commander spoke. “Peter the Ace, this is Commander Pepe. Good to hear from you. Are you back onboard the Blenheim?” “ o, but in a few minutes I will be. At the moment I’m adrift in deep space.” “I see. What is it that…” The first-class bounty hunter interrupted the commander, his voice urgent and brimming with urgency. “Approximately thirteen hours from now the Palace of Amino will suffer a direct attack.” The commander gasped, and then shuddered with tension. “What?! Explain!” Noticing their master’s stress, two of the females began massaging the commander’s neck and shoulders. Peter the Ace continued. “The millions of infected humanoids from Lodi were transferred to an asteroid base at my current location.” The commander nodded. “Ah yes, the missing moon of Tolaso.” “I see… So that’s where it came from… Hmm… That explains the Tolasian reptiles we found onboard the huge yellowish vessel. Anyway, the asteroid, or moon, has just entered subspace and is, with ninety-nine percent certainty, heading for you.” Commander Pepe’s expression was strained. “Of course I have no doubts about your information, but how can you be so certain?” “I witnessed the leader of the attack himself confirming his intentions. He referred to an ‘agent’ at the palace. I assume that is how he is aware of the location.” “An agent? He must be talking about Sadie Stick. She appears to be under the control of a nano-mechanism in her brain.” “As I suspected. I assume you have neutralised her?” The commander glared at Weezil. “Unfortunately, no. She is on the run after murdering two offensively ugly operators from the external defences department. Ross Mental is hunting for her.” “Take no chances. Destroy her if necessary.” Weezil Sagifagpakit blurted. “She should be captured alive. Her remarkable…” Commander Pepe screamed. “It’s never going to happen, Weezil, so shut up!” The chief officer bowed his head. “Apologies, commander.”
www.palaceofamino.com

98

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander took a deep breath and his mood calmed slightly. Two more of the females began massaging his back and buttocks. Peter the Ace continued. “I suggest you go to maximum alert, place all external defences on standby, and recall all possible bounty hunters. Panman is on the asteroid and I’m sure he’ll do all he can to sabotage the attack, but even he is unlikely to be entirely successful.” The commander nodded and shouted. “Weezil, do as Peter the Ace orders!” The chief officer nodded. “Yes, commander.” He turned and opened the massage chamber doors. He left, a mass of steam billowed in his wake. The commander spoke solemnly. “This is a grave situation, one that the palace has not known since the lump-being’s emitter attack almost three decades ago.” “Indeed, commander.” The commander was thoughtful. “Do you know the identity of the leader of the attack?” “Ah, did I not say?” “I don’t believe that you did.” “It’s Lawrence.” Commander Pepe shuddered with extreme tension. He panted heavily, wheezed like a donkey, farted like a fog horn, and then fell back onto his bench. Surrounded by a rank cloud of flatulence the seven females immediately commenced a deep and sensual emergency massage routine.

24

Froth

She had deceived. She had sabotaged. She had murdered. She knew this, and yet she felt nothing, except the urge to hide and wait for new thoughts to guide her to her next objective. She also had the urge throw up. Holding back a swell of vomit, Sadie Stick crouched behind a thick pillar at the side of the narrow effluence channel as a slow river of stinking and rotting waste flowed by. A few metres away, standing at the edge of the flow, was a fat and filthy menial worker. Clothed in a heavily soiled leather outfit, the man was holding a large paddle which he was using to redirect larger chunks of waste into a smaller
www.palaceofamino.com

99

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

side channel. The bounty hunter stood up and walked confidently towards the man. When he noticed her he froze and almost dropped his paddle. His gaze wandered up and down the bounty hunter’s curvaceous body. His mouth hung open, revealing a stained and incomplete set of teeth. Sadie Stick stroked herself provocatively, moving her hands up and down her black shiny body-suit. The man finally spoke. “You’re a bounty hunter!” he said, his voice slurring. “I’ve never seen your kind down here before, like!” The bounty hunter forced a smile. “Of course not. This place, and all other domains of the under-class, are so far beneath the status of bounty hunters and trainees that they are not even thought about, let alone considered as places to visit.” The filthy fat man nodded. “I understand.” He struggled to think for a moment as he continued paddle the larger waste items in the flow. “But you’re here.” He said. He looked up at the bounty hunter. “So you must have thought about our domains, and considered a visit, like!” Sadie Stick nodded. “Of course I did. I wish to understand your unseen contribution to the Palace of Amino.” The man stood as tall and proud as he could. “Then I should introduce myself. I am Kegg, head paddler for Effluence Section A14. And you are?” Sadie Stick frowned. “You don’t need to know.” She pointed to an archway in the side of the tunnel. “I presume that leads back to where you reside?” Keg looked round and nodded. “It does – all the way to the town, like!” “Take me there, now!” The head paddler looked confused for a moment. “I need to paddle. No paddle station can ever be deserted.” “You are the head paddler, are you not? Get one of your inferiors to take over from you.” Kegg nodded. “Of course!” He fumbled in his grubby jacket’s breast pocked and pulled out a clunky-looking communicator. He pressed a button. Over a roar of static he spoke. “Tunk? It’s Kegg. Are you there, like?” There was a loud crackle. “Always here, Kegg, my boss. Always here, you know that, like!” “Get up here. I need you to take over for a while.” “You not feeling fine, my boss? Too much bog oil last night, eh, like!” “I feel fine and hog-healthy, just need to escort a…”
www.palaceofamino.com

100

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick grabbed Kegg and whispered. “Do not tell him what I am!” The head paddler nodded. “Kegg, my boss, you there?” Kegg coughed. “I’m here. I need to escort someone who’s lost back to town.” “Lost, eh? Daft thick twat! Floating in the flow, eh, like! Kegg chuckled. “No. Just a wanderer.” “Shame – want to see something like that, someone in the flow. Funny as a bowl of feet that would be, like! Be there in minutes.” The communicator fell silent. Kegg looked at Sadie Stick. “Tunk will recognise you as a bounty hunter when he sees you.” The bounty hunter nodded. “He will, unless I look a little more like you.” Stepping sideways, Sadie Stick plunged into the effluence flow. She sank beneath the surface, gagging as the stinking liquid entered her nose and mouth. She waited for a few seconds, allowing the lumpy fluid to smear and adhere to her suit, and then rose to the surface. She clambered for the side and then pulled herself out with ease. Kegg was staring at her. Sadie Stick spat out some effluence, and then pulled some of the excess waste from her hair. “I look awful, I stink, and I’m generally repugnant. Is that better?” The head paddler though for a few seconds and then nodded. “You’re more like a local, that’s for sure, like!”

Cocooned in his armoured environment suit, Ross Mental crouched on a gantry and looked down into the Palace of Amino’s immense power core shaft. At several hundred metres wide, and thirty-four kilometres deep, it was an awe-inspiring heart-pounding sight, even for a topclass bounty hunter, and provided a tangible feeling of incredible power. The bounty hunter spoke into his communicator. “It’s definitely been resealed?” The reply came. “It has. Someone has definitely cut their way out and then tried to cover their tracks. It’s very well done – I almost missed it!” “The fuckin’ bitch must have gone through there. She definitely did not come this way.” The bounty hunter examined his head-up display. “I’m right over the core now, and its 500 fuckin’ degrees out there! Without a suit she’d have been fried. And if she’d had one and gotten to the core we would probably be nothing but fuckin’ vapour by now, anyway!”
www.palaceofamino.com

101

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Quite likely.” “Reopen the breech and get yourself and your team down there, and get Sebastian Blood’s team to join you. The under-class habitats are a fuckin’ nightmare of disorganisation and degeneracy. Finding her there could be a fuck-off challenge! I’ll join you in there shortly. I’m going to get more assistance!” “Very well. Baron Onslaught out.” Ross Mental opened a channel to Amino Battle Command. “Weezil, you fucker, are you there?” “Yes.” “That treacherous bitch has escaped into the under-class domain.” “Then you must follow her.” “I know, you fuckin’ arse magnet!” The chief officer let out an audible gasp. “Erm… OK. Then what do you want?” “I need to know who is the closest person to her – the one that’s known her the longest. There must be a bounty hunter she’s always around when she’s here.” “Why?” “So they can come and assist me, that’s fuckin’ why! Use your fuckin’ brain!” Weezil could be heard tapping away at a console. “Hmm… Despite her outgoing personality and captivating physique it seems she’s always kept away from deeper relationships at the palace. She doesn’t seem to be close to anyone – nothing but casual encounters.” “There must be someone?!” “The only person, if you can call him that, who knows her in the way you wish, is THROB.” “That tin fucker?!” “They seem to spend almost all of their time together, and he accompanies her on all her missions. It’s a waste, really. An emotionless mechanical being is unable to appreciate her wondrous…” “Fuckin’ focus!” “Yes… But you must agree that her firm…” “Shut the fuck up!” Ross Mental yelled. He frowned. “I guess that mechanoid will do. Tell him to meet me in thirty minutes. Ross Mental fuckin’ out!”

“Impressive, don’t you think?” Kegg said, his arms stretched out wide. “Even the likes of your kind should think that, eh?”
www.palaceofamino.com

102

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick looked around at the bustling under-class town that was laid out before her on the cavern floor below. It was mishmash of dark stone and metal shacks; all crammed tightly together, the only gaps being a network of winding and uneven roads. At the edges of the cavern many shacks were held up on multiple steel platforms like giant shelves, shrouding those beneath - an obvious attempt to cram in even more under-class citizens – required to deal with the everincreasing output of the palace above, no doubt. The town was lit by concentric rings of dull lights high on the cavern’s ceiling. At the very centre of the town was what looked like a wide stone pillar which rose all the way up into the cavern’s ceiling, joining it at the centre of the light rings. A fetid odour filled the air. The bounty hunter humoured her under-class companion. “Impressive? Yes, of course. That’s exactly what I think.” The head paddler nodded proudly as he led her through the town’s main rusted gates and into what appeared to be a suburb of relatively large and ram shackled houses. “I’ve never been to the surface, but I can’t imagine it being much more impressive than this, like!” Sadie Stick ignored Kegg’s ridiculously ignorant ramblings and pointed to the stone tower at the centre of the town. She could now see small windows placed at regular intervals up its entire length. “What building is that?” Kegg grinned. “Great, isn’t it?! It’s the administration tower. All of our work and lives are controlled from there. Only our best and smartest work in there. Our leader is there.” “Your leader?” “Administrator Jess Debinitraff, of course!” Kegg said. He looked at the bounty hunter. “You must have heard of her, like?” The bounty hunter nodded. “I am aware of her. But to me she’s just a clerical officer, albeit a senior one. I can’t believe you actually revere her.” The head paddler was gazing at the tower. “It is said that the tower has direct access to the surface, and also to much deeper levels.. But that’s just a rumour. Amazing if true, like!” Sadie Stick looked at her porky companion. “Really?” Kegg nodded. “Oh yes. Apparently the administrator is often visited by surface people. Every year, I think. Maybe she even goes up there herself, like!” Suddenly a desire appeared in the bounty hunter’s mind. “I would like to meet the administrator.”

www.palaceofamino.com

103

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Almost impossible.” The head paddler said, shaking his head. “She is busy beyond the reckoning of all of us, and she is above us in status, stature, cleanliness and odour, like. It would be…” “You will take me to that tower. I must speak to your administrator.” “I’ll take you to the tower, like. That’s no issue. But getting inside is difficult.” He nodded vigorously. “Yes, very difficult.” Sadie Stick shook her head. “Not for me. I’m a bounty hunter. The administrator will be obliged to see me, I’m sure.” Kegg looked thoughtful. “Well, you are superior to me and closer in status to the administrator, like. That would be favourable for you.” Sadie Stick said nothing. She focused on a feeling she was getting. She felt a surge of elation. She had a new purpose – a new focus. The clarity was astounding. She gasped. Ahead, the tower at the centre of the town, surrounded by a crowded market, loomed large. Still caked in effluence from her earlier dip, Sadie Stick strode ahead of Kegg and pushed her way through the malodorous crowd. Fearlessly, she stepped up to the arched metal door of the tower. Kegg, slightly breathless, stopped beside the bounty hunter. “This is not a good idea. You had better not…” Sadie Stick covered the head paddler’s mouth with her hand, and then knocked on the door. Immediately a voice spoke through a speaker above the door’s arch. “Move away from the door.” The bounty hunter spoke. “I wish to see the administrator.” “Move away from…” “I am a bounty hunter on critical business. I must see the administrator now.” “Your appearance is not consistent with your claim. Also, the administrator would be aware of such business. She is not. Move away from the door.” Sadie Stick reached up to her collar and activated a control. Immediately her bodysuit began its auto clean cycle. The caked-on effluence flaked off and fell to the floor. The bounty hunter ran her hands through her hair removing chunks of waste. Within seconds her bodysuit had returned to its former black and glossy state. Smiling, Sadie Stick ran her hands over her curves. “Does this look like the body of an under-class woman to you?” The crowd nearby had been watching. They gasped in awe. There was a short pause, and then the voice replied. “ o. You’re appearance is consistent with that of a bounty hunter.” Sadie Stick smiled. “Great. Let me in.”
www.palaceofamino.com

104

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“ o. Your claim to be on critical business remains dubious. Provide evidence for such a claim or move away from the door.” The bounty hunter frowned. She had no time for this. She turned and dragged Kegg away and through the gathering crowd towards the nearby market stalls. “Are cleaning products sold here?” Kegg looked puzzled. “Well, yes, but not the sophisticated stuff you’re probably used to, like. As you can see we don’t…” “Get two bottles of different kinds for me, and also get me a small electronic timing unit, two bits of wire, and a bucket. Now!” “But, I…” The bounty hunter spoke softly and smiled. “You will be rewarded.” The head paddler nodded briskly. “I’ll be back in a moment!” He headed over to the stalls. Sadie Stick waited patiently, slapping away the waves of eager hands that clamoured for a feel of her body. Kegg returned quickly and shouted to be heard above the sound of the excited crowd. “I could only find these.” He said, panting. He held out a bag full of items. The bounty hunter pushed away more members of the crowd and looked into the bag. She could see a small bottle of disinfectant, a large bottle of vinegar, an alarm clock, a small bucket, and two audio cables. “Astoundingly crude, but adequate.” “Adequate for what, like?” “Opening doors.” The bounty hunter said. She turned and strode back to the metal door of the tower. With the head paddler watching curiously nearby, she placed the bucket on the ground and filled it with a mix of the disinfectant and vinegar. It began to froth. Ripping the wiring from the cables she attached it to the alarm clock. She set the alarm and then placed the free ends of the wires into the bucket. She moved the bucket, now overflowing with froth, next to the door and then turned. She sprinted, shouting at the crowd. “If you want to live then run!” Kegg followed, struggling to keep up. “Live where?” He shouted. Panicking, the crowd had started to follow when a dazzling flash of light blanketed the cavern in a pale yellow glow. A deafening thud was followed by the clatter and zip of high-velocity debris. The force of the blast knocked Sadie Stick off her feet. She slammed into the side of a crudely constructed shack, cracking the wall. Kegg landed beside her. He groaned. As the repeating echo of the detonation faded away the bounty hunter got quickly to her feet and looked around. Through the settling
www.palaceofamino.com

105

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

dust a scene of utter desolation appeared, accompanied by the desperate moans of hundreds of under-class citizens as they crawled through the blood-soaked and decimated remains of their lessfortunate companions. Distant screams and the creak of damaged buildings reverberated across the town. With a curious lack of compassion Sadie Stick strode confidently across the landscape of dismembered corpses and back to the tower. The arched metal door was now a scorched and crumpled mess. Next to it was a gaping smoke-filled hole. Kegg had followed the bounty hunter. His voice was unsteady and weak. “Why did you do that? You have murdered, like!” The bounty hunter stepped into the hole in the side of the tower. “It was necessary.” The head paddler followed. “Why?!” “Be quiet, or leave.” “I demand that…” Sadie Stick turned and grabbed Kegg’s mouth. “You will do as I say! I am a bounty hunter. I am superior to you in all conceivable ways. Do you understand?” Kegg nodded once. “Then you must accept that it was necessary and beyond your comprehension and say no more.” He nodded again. “Good.” She said, letting go of Kegg’s mouth. “You have been helpful and are useful to have around. Do not jeopardise your usefulness by questioning my actions again.” The bounty hunter turned and headed deeper into the wrecked lower level of the tower. “Follow me.” Nursing a multitude of cuts and bruises, Kegg followed.

25

Remarkably Tangy Mango Chutney

Wearing the very latest matt-black tech-loaded body armour, Peter the Ace left his lavish quarters and strode confidently down the Blenheim’s wide and luxurious deck-two passageway. At the far end of the passageway the doors of the lift slid silently open. The ship’s assistant, Jemima Murma, stepped out, wearing nothing more than a light pink translucent flowery gown that glistened subtly in the ambient lighting. The gown seemed to cling

www.palaceofamino.com

106

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

tightly to her body. Her black hair was tied up in a bun on top of her head. A usual the assistant gasped as she saw her master, and then bowed sweetly. “I was just coming to clean up for you.” Peter the Ace grinned. “Excellent! That was a fine dinner, especially the speckled craphobian gill-flap stew. Truly delectable!” “You flatter me.” “It’s my true opinion - nothing more, nothing less.” The bounty hunter said seriously. “It’s about time you started to accept high compliments. You consistently deserve them.” Jemima Murma bowed once more. “Of course.” The bounty hunter looked down at the assistant’s body. “And I must compliment you again. Your choice of garments never fails to impress me - your often bizarre levels of style and imagination are quite astonishing at times. And now is definitely one of those times. You look positively wet underneath that almost transparent gown!” “Thank you.” She said breathlessly. “This is the actually latest fashion in the upper-class enclaves of Nemia and Gigneei. It’s an oilent cling-gown. The oily substance that oozes from the inner surface ensures the gown hugs the skin. It’s very sensual.” Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed it is! I wish I could spend more time admiring it, but I have pressing business to attend to. I’ll be on the bridge. When you’ve finished in my quarters please bring a steaming mug of Earl Grey and some of your remarkably tangy mango chutney up there.” The Blenheim’s assistant nodded happily. “Lucky! I just made a fresh batch!” She skipped away. Peter the Ace stepped into the lift and turned, just in time to see Jemima Murma disappear into his quarters before the lift’s doors closed. “Bridge.” He said, smiling as the image of the assistant’s oiled buttocks lingered in his mind. Her toned and tanned physique, her ever-changing wardrobe and her culinary abilities had been a tremendous asset to the Blenheim. His decision to appoint her as an assistant on what is the greatest bounty hunter vessel of all time had indeed been a deeply sagacious one. After a couple of seconds the lift door opened. Peter the Ace stepped out and turned right, and then strode fearlessly onto the dimly lit bridge. Justin was sitting on his reinforced bench at the back of the bridge, his polished surfaces reflecting distortions of the glowing instrumentation all around. A long cable stretched from his forehead to the main control console at the front. Peter the Ace approached the cyborg. “Update.”
www.palaceofamino.com

107

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Justin spoke, his voice metallic, flat and lifeless. “We are in transit to the Palace of Amino at maximum subspace velocity. Arrival is expected in twelve hours and seven minutes.” “Excellent.” The bounty hunter said. “And the asteroid? Are we tracking it?” “There is a 99.83 percent chance that we are tracking the asteroid – formally known as the moon of Tolaso.” Peter the Ace frowned. “Either we’re tracking it or we aren’t. Which is it?” “The asteroid is enveloped in an unidentifiable dispersal field. It is impossible to confirm that the object we are tracking is the same one that I observed entering subspace eleven minutes before I rendezvoused with you. The likelihood of another object on a direct course to the Palace of Amino from our previous location is highly unlikely and therefore…” “Fine, I get it. Continue with your update.” “The asteroid is three light-years ahead. It is on course for the Palace of Amino. It will arrive in eleven hours and fifty-one minutes.” Peter the Ace yanked the cable from Justin’s forehead. The cyborg shuddered briefly. The bounty hunter let go and the cable retracted into the console. “Good of you to look after things. You can resume your normal duties now.” The cyborg’s servos whirred as he stood. His clear-domed metal head turned slowly. “My abilities would be better utilised if I remained…” Peter the Ace frowned. “Resume you normal duties. If I need you for anything else I’ll call for you.” Justin clanked towards the exit. “I obey.” He left the bridge. The bounty hunter walked to the front of the bridge and sat down in his sumptuous command chair. He looked at the main viewscreen, which was showing the view of subspace ahead. For a few seconds he contemplated his remarkable life, and reminisced about past glories. And then he spoke to the ship. “Blenheim, open a focused scrambled encrypted narrow beam channel to Amino Battle Command for the attention of Commander Pepe.” “CHANNEL OPENED.” A window opened on the main view-screen. After briefly displaying the Palace of Amino Battle Command insignia the image changed to an extreme close up of a one of the chubbiest and most chocolate-coated faces in the galaxy. “Peter the Ace! I was going to call you shortly. Thanks for saving me the effort.”

www.palaceofamino.com

108

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“You’re welcome.” The bounty hunter said. He found the closeness of the commander’s face mildly uncomfortable. He quashed his desire to move away from the screen. “Could you zoom out a bit? I find the size of your face quite disturbing.” Commander Pepe shook his head. “Unfortunately you caught me in an uncompromising position. If you could see more of me you’d be sickened.” Peter the Ace nodded. “I understand. The stress of the current situation must be tremendous for you.” He smiled. “I guess you feel compelled to try some rather extreme treatments!” “Indeed.” The commander said, nodding. “And some rather invasive ones, too. CurrentlyI have three lubricated latex…” “Such details are unnecessary and undesired, commander. Let’s concentrate on the situation at hand shall we? I am sending you details of our recent scans.” Commander Pepe looked down. “Just receiving them now. Hmm… Yes, our scans match yours. General Talwartz recently informed me that her department was tracking an incoming object. It does not seem to be anywhere near the size of the asteroid you claim is on its way, though.” “It is shrouded in a dispersal field which is fooling your longrange sensors. Believe me, commander, the former moon of Tolaso is on an intercept course with Enchantia and the Palace of Amino.” The commander nodded solemnly, his humongous amounts of facial flab wobbling and undulating as he did so. “I believe you. Your colossal status and flawless reputation means that I have no choice.” “How are your defensive plans going?” The commander looked down once again. “Almost 300 bounty hunters have returned to the palace after our emergency recall. Another hundred or so will return before the asteroid arrives. Combined with those already here we’ll have a force of over 2,000 bounty hunters, and a fleet of 1,700 ships. A formidable force, I think!” “Indeed. Will the Slaying Mantis be among them?” “It would be highly desirable, but I’m not hopeful. Admiral Phutphungus has taken that ship on a deeply covert mission to the Skuungfuusta Dark Zone. It is a deeply sensitive and paranoid region so a total communications lockdown has been necessary. So far that ship has not responded to our hails.” “Understandable. Antagonising the Skuungfuustan Empire would not be wise, even for the Palace of Amino’s battleship.”

www.palaceofamino.com

109

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe nodded. “We must assume that the Slaying Mantis will not be with us. What we need are more details on the attack plan of Lawrence.” “It is clear that he intends to invade. That’s the only reason he would want to create such a huge and disgusting army. Hopefully Panman is doing all he can onboard the asteroid to disrupt things. Have you managed to deal with Sadie Stick?” “Apparently she has taken refuge down in the under-class caverns. Ross Mental is leading the operation to find her. Just before you called I received a report of a significant detonation down there. That will help us identify which under-class community she’s gone to.” “You must seal all possible exits. Sadie Stick must be contained.” “Indeed, and we have all but done that. ow the only operational exit is that used by Jess Debinitraff, our administrator of the under-class. Security at that exit is being reinforced. Ah… I’m receiving more information…” Jemima Murma entered the bridge still wearing her oilent clinggown. She placed a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea and a bowl of mango chutney next to Peter the Ace. Obviously realising that serious business was being discussed she said nothing and walked away. Commander Pepe spoke. “It appears that the location of the explosion was in the central under-class cavern right next to Jess Debinitraff’s tower.” Peter the Ace sipped at his tea. “It seems that Sadie Stick is trying to get back to the surface. Ross Mental should be informed immediately, and the other bounty hunters already in the caverns should head for the site of the explosion.” The commanded nodded. His chins bobbed like a water bed. “My thoughts exactly.” He said as he tapped on his unseen device. He looked up. “Done.” “Good.” Peter the Ace said. He spoke solemnly. “Sadie Stick is remarkably toned and curvaceous, and in possession of one of the most alluring female bodies at the palace. You must not let that fact get in the way of what may have to be done, commander.” The commander nodded. “You are wise, as always. Ross Mental has said something similar, although not as eloquently!” His voice suddenly rose in pitch and his eyes widened. In the background a sweet voice giggled. The commander spoke quickly. “Sadie Stick will be contained, and destroyed if necessary.” Peter the ace grinned. “Excellent. I can tell that your relaxation treatment has recommenced. I’ll leave you to it.”
www.palaceofamino.com

110

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander groaned and then sank off the bottom of the screen. The image faded.

26

Cold Murder

Sadie Stick slashed once more, transforming the guard’s screams into a deep frothy gargle. He grabbed frantically at his gaping neck wound and dropped to his knees gasping and coughing. Blood sprayed from his mouth and poured rhythmically through his fingers. Reaching down the bounty hunter grabbed the guard by his hair and yanked his head back and down. There was a tearing and snapping sound. The guard fell back to the floor splashing into a pool of his own blood. He twitched once, and then was still. Stepping over the two other bloodied and lifeless guards, Sadie Stick approached the wide desk at the far end of the room. “Resisting a bounty hunter is not wise.” She said as she scraped off some of the drying blood and flesh that clung to her body suit. Administrator Jess Debinitraff was sitting at the desk, her thin and aged body draped in a thick grey robe. She was obviously terrified, but she remained defiant. She sat up straight, placed her bony hands on the desk and spoke, her voice trembling but firm. “Your method of entry and the cold murder of my staff are unacceptable actions!” She swallowed hard. “There is no reason at all for you to do that, no matter how critical you consider your business here to be!” “Those who resist me die. Remember that.” The administrator swallowed once again. Nervously she straightened her robes. “What is your business?” “I simply wish to use your lift.” “What?” “Your lift to the lower levels.” She pointed at a metal doorway at the side of the office. “It’s through there, I presume?” Jess Debinitraff looked confused. “The lower levels? Why would you need to…” With a lightening-fast swipe Sadie Stick lashed out. The administrator yelped. A long gash had been opened up on the right side of her head, from her ear to her chin. Blood poured out. She cowered and yelled. “What is wrong with you?!” Kegg, who had been lurking in a corner, spoke. “That’s the administrator! She must not be harmed!”
www.palaceofamino.com

111

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick glared at the head paddler and yelled. “I told you to remain silent!” She turned back to Jess Debinitraff. “Open the door to your lift. Now!” The administrator’s desk chimed, and then a screen in its surface lit up. The bounty spoke impatiently. “What is that?” The administrator looked at the screen. “It’s a warning about you from Amino Battle Command.” She looked up. “They are aware of the explosion. They know you’re here. It seems you are a traitor.” The bounty hunter reached forwards and grabbed the administrator. She pulled her up onto the desk and whispered. “Open the lift door, or die.” There was another chiming sound, this time from the right. Sadie Stick looked over towards the lift doors. A screen next to the doors was now active. Jess Debinitraff spoke, her voice shaking and weak but still filled with defiance. “Someone’s coming down. You might as well surrender.” Without even looking Sadie Stick swiped hard, severing all the arteries and veins in the administrator’s neck. The administrator gasped and sank back into her chair, clutching her neck. She coughed and gargled, spraying blood across her desk. Kegg yelled. “No!” He ran towards Jess Debinitraff. “The administrator must live!” Sadie Stick grabbed Kegg. “Do you wish to avoid the same fate?” Kegg looked up at the bounty hunter. He nodded, tears welling in his eyes. “Yes, but…” “Stay behind me and be quiet!” The bounty hunter said as she reached down and grabbed one of the dead guards’ energy weapons. The screen next to the lift door displayed the lift’s progress. It would arrive in less than thirty seconds.

“You’re a lanky fucker, aren’t you?!” THROB looked down at Ross Mental, his long cylindrical head cocked to one side against the lift’s ceiling. “The term ‘lanky’ is an inaccurate description of my physical properties. I am taller than most humanoids and my limbs are thinner than most humanoids in a relative sense, but the materials used in my construction and my tenthgeneration sub-fusion power system, in conjunction with my twin ultra-core hyper-reactive intelligence centres, enables me to…”
www.palaceofamino.com

112

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Shut the fuck up!” Ross Mental yelled. “You’re almost as bad as that fucker, Justin! Why do you metal fuckers insist on responding in such a fuckin’ annoying manner?” “It is important to answer questions as completely as possible.” “Not every fuckin’ question, it isn’t, especially rhetorical ones!” THROB droned. “Although your question was intended to be rhetorical it contained an inaccuracy that required me to…” “Fuckin’ shut up!” THROB fell silent. Ross Mental looked at the small display-screen on the wall of the lift. “Right, we’re almost there. Remember, as soon as we encounter Sadie Stick you must begin your negotiations with her and try to persuade her to surrender.” “I am ready.” “Good.” The bounty hunter said as he stroked the heavy energy rifle he was carrying. “And when that fails I’m ready to blow her fuckin’ guts open!” THROB peered down at Ross Mental. “My negotiations may succeed.” “Of course they fuckin’ won’t, they’re just a formality, and formalities are an unfortunate and fuckin’ annoying necessity for those on the side of truth and justice – even for fuck-off bounty hunters like me!” The lift chimed and decelerated. The bounty hunter stepped to one side. “Get ready.” THROB took up a position in front of the doors. “I am in position.” Ross Mental resisted the powerful urge to spurt profanities in response to the mechanoid’s statement of the obvious. The lift stopped its descent and the doors slid open. With a deafening crackle a burst of white energy slammed into THROB’s polished torso. The mechanoid rocked back slightly as his slender frame sparkled and absorbed the blast. He stood there, his tubular body smouldering. A voice called out. “THROB? I’m sorry! I had no idea it would be you! Are you OK?” The mechanoid responded. “There is external scarring to the outer coating of my quad-melded tritanium shielding. All of my systems are exhibiting nominal functioning.” Ross Mental whispered. “Get the fuck out there and get on with it!” THROB stepped forwards.

www.palaceofamino.com

113

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Sadie Stick spoke with affection. “I’ve missed you. Are you here to help me?” The mechanoid spoke as he walked. “There is a nanomechanism in your brain that is instructing you to commit acts of treason and murder. I am here to ask you to surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.” The bounty hunter yelled. “I am not a traitor! I am doing what is right! I have never felt such conviction and certainty!” “The nano-mechanism in your brain is responsible for the neural impulses that give you the feeling of conviction and certainty. You believe that you are right, yet you are not. You have committed acts of treason that have compromised the security of the Palace of Amino.” Ross Mental continued to listen from the lift. “No! You don’t understand! What I am doing is necessary for the protection of the palace! I must continue. You must help me!” “I will not assist you.” Sadie Stick shouted. “Then you are a traitor!” “You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and...” A cacophony of crackles and several blinding flashes filled the room. THROB shuddered as focused energy battered his body. He spoke loudly to be heard above the noise. “Cease your attack. You must surrender and submit yourself to…” The mechanoid’s voice was drowned in the thud and crash of a particularly loud explosion. THROB’s negotiations had come to an end, and so had Ross Mental’s patience. Yelling, the bounty hunter charged out of the lift into the smoke-filled office of Jess Debinitraff. “Surrender or die, you treacherous fuckin’ bitch!” Using the sight on his rifle he quickly found the shapely form of Sadie Stick through the thickening smoke. She was with a smaller fatter humanoid. He fired a warning shot at the wall above her. A large section of the wall detonated, spraying semi-molten debris across the room. She and her companion dropped to the floor. “Drop your weapon and fuckin’ surrender!” Sadie Stick shouted. “What I am doing is necessary! Please believe me!” THROB spoke. “You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.” Through his rifle’s sight Ross Mental could see the mechanoid as he walked slowly towards Sadie Stick. He frowned. “Negotiations are over, you metal fucker! Get the fuck back!” He noticed the

www.palaceofamino.com

114

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

bloody and unconscious form of Jess Debinitraff at her desk. “Go and check on the administrator.” THROB turned and headed towards Jess Debinitraff. Ross Mental fired another warning shot; this time to Sadie Stick’s left. A gaping hole was blown through the wall, and hot debris ricocheted across the room once again. “Last chance, bitch!” Through his rifle’s sight the foul-mouthed bounty hunter watched with a touch of shock as Sadie Stick rolled out of the hole in the wall dragging her fat little companion with her. “Fuck!”

Baron Onslaught stood proudly, his massive frame wrapped tightly in a thick wine-red fur cloak which was secured by a heavy black leather belt around his waist. His large square belt buckle glinted in the sharp overhead lighting of the cavern. The bounty hunter listened to his communicator. “She jumped through the fuckin’ wall!” The bounty hunter had watched as a shapely figure, accompanied by a shorter and rounder one, had fallen from the tower and into a pile of debris and corpses. “I saw her.” “Then burn the fucker!” “We shall endeavour to do so.” With a swift motion of his arm, Baron Onslaught signalled to the team of lesser bounty hunters at his side. They moved forwards, their rifles raised and ready. In the distance Sadie Stick appeared from out of the pile of corpses and ran, dragging her podgy companion with her. Her companion was dragging one of his legs and was covered in blood. He had clearly been badly injured in the fall. “Kill her.” Baron Onslaught’s team opened fire. Several beams of energy lashed forwards, tearing into the ground and buildings ahead. Sadie stick vanished in a cloud of flames and smoke. “Cease fire.” The team waited for a few seconds. The smoke began to clear. Baron Onslaught nodded. “I do believe she’s been well and truly…” A sweeping arc of blinding energy cut through the smoke and crackled through the air. The two leading bounty hunters, Vague Dog and Helga Rump, shuddered as their body armour melted. They doubled up and sank to the floor. Helga Rump’s mouth hung open and flames flickered out, licking at her rapidly cauterising lips.

www.palaceofamino.com

115

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Annoyed, Baron Onslaught shouted. “Kill that traitor, damn it!” One of the other bounty hunters, Master Wan Kin, spoke. “She’s not in my sights. She’s fled into the town.” Baron Onslaught raised his own rifle and looked through its sight. The scene beyond the smoke was revealed. Other than groups of wandering and bewildered under-class citizens, there was no sign of Sadie Stick. He grunted and activated his communicator. “She’s gone.” Ross Mental’s response was totally predictable. “Fuck!” “Sebastian Blood’s team is in the adjoining cavern. It looks like she’s heading that way. They should be able to intercept her.” “They’d fuckin’ better! I’m coming down. Go after that fuckin’ bitch!” “We’re in pursuit.” Baron Onslaught said. He waved the three remaining members of his team forwards.

27

Tabitha’s Moon Cupboard

Commander Pepe sat behind his desk, his thick robes and hideously bulging body squeezed tightly into his reinforced chair. Despite having just finished one of his most penetrative massage sessions ever, he still felt tense – even more so now that the increasingly irritating Weezil Sagifagpakit had appeared in front of his desk with an update. As Weezil spoke, the large screens behind him filled with animated charts, superbly rendered images and data. “As you can see, our fleet is in place and ready to confront the asteroid as it emerges from subspace. Another sixty-three ships are expected to join it over the next three hours.” The commander nodded. “Excellent. What about our other defences? How have the system checks been going?” “The defence field and orbital defence grid appear to be fine. We have not detected anything abnormal during our viral scans.” The commander frowned. “I assume you performed a nanograde scan?” The chief officer shook his head. “Actually, no. That would not have given us results for a few hours. I thought that a micro-grade scan would be sufficient. Such a scan is considered satisfactory for normal system violations…”

www.palaceofamino.com

116

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe slammed his lard-loaded arms onto his desk. He shouted. “What, in Tabitha’s moon cupboard, made you think this could be a ‘normal’ system violation?!” “Well, I thought that…” “Thought?! You obviously didn’t think at all!” The commander was now fuming. He took a deep swig from a glass of double vanilla cream. The fatty liquid dribbled over his collection of chins. He slammed the glass down cracking its base. “Perform the nano-grade scan now!” “But commander, the results may not be available before the asteroid arrives. I don’t think…” “Do it!” The commander yelled. He breathed heavily. “Why must you exacerbate my stress in such a consistent manner?!” Sweat was forming on Weezil’s brow. Before he could respond his data pad chimed. He looked down at its screen and then back up at Commander Pepe. “There’s a call for you from Ross Mental.” The commander scowled at the chief officer. “Then put it through!” The chief officer tapped at his data pad. After a second Ross Mental spoke. “Commander? Are you fuckin’ there?” “Sorry, yes. I was momentarily distracted by the astonishing incompetence of one of my senior staff.” “I bet it was that fucker, Weezil, wasn’t it?!” “I don’t want to name names.” “You should. Brain-dead fucker’s like him need to be exposed!” Weezil shuffled with discomfort, his head down. Commander Pepe frowned and stared at the chief officer. “What you say has great merit. Perhaps I’ll consider doing so if we survive the current crisis. What’s your status?” “That treacherous fucker has fled towards the adjoining cavern. I’ve joined up with Baron Onslaught’s team. We’re on our way there now. The fuckin’ bitch killed two bounty hunters!” Commander Pepe’s stress level doubled. “Show her no mercy!” The chief officer looked alarmed. He started to speak but stopped when the commander scowled at him. “I stopped considering mercy long ago. She’s heading straight for Sebastian Blood’s team. If we don’t catch up with her in time, I’m hoping he’ll be able to blow the fucker clean away.” The commander nodded. “You and your teams have my full confidence, as always.” “It really fuckin’ annoys me that we can’t use more powerful weapons. I guess the palace relies on all these stinking fucks down
www.palaceofamino.com

117

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

here to process all our shit. Just one tactical fusion charge in that fuckin’ traitor’s vicinity would have sorted this problem long ago! And it probably would have sterilised this rank fuck hole, too!” “Actually I’m not so sure we rely on them that much. The Superior Beings brought them here to process our waste during the palace’s construction phase, but a lot of automation was done shortly after that. Still, no one has informed me otherwise so I guess they are still essential. Weezil will probably confirm that.” The commander looked up at the chief officer. “Well, Weezil?” Weezil looked at the commander. “Erm…” “Answer me, damn it!” “I guess we let them live down there out of compassion. There can be no other reason. Waste processing at the palace is completely automated. The under-class down there seems to like playing with our output, so we divert some in their direction to keep them happy.” Commander Pepe seethed. “Why didn’t you inform me of that?!” “I thought you knew.” The commander lowered his voice. He wheezed. “You kept this from me because of your lust for Sadie Stick’s body! You knew I would order her vaporisation her if you told me!” Weezil shook his head vigorously. “No. I simply assumed that…” Commander Pepe pushed a concealed button under his desk. “You endangered the safety and security of the Palace of Amino by withholding information vital to my decision-making! And you did so to ensure that Sadie Stick is captured alive and imprisoned under your supervision, which would allow you access to live high-definition video of her in her cell at any time – day, night, clothed, or naked!” Weezil looked shocked and embarrassed. “Commander! I admit to finding her a highly arousing specimen of female…” The door to Commander Pepe’s office whooshed open. Four armoured security guards strode in. The lead guard spoke. “What is the problem, commander?” The commander pointed at Weezil. “That pathetic hormonal moron is the problem. He has endangered the Palace of Amino, and betrayed his superiors. Arrest him!” Before the chief officer could respond one of the guards gagged him and then blindfolded him. He struggled for a moment as another guard cuffed his ankles and wrists. He whimpered softly. The commander shouted. “Get him out of my sight!” Ross Mental’s spoke. “What the fuck’s going on there?”

www.palaceofamino.com

118

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe’s voice was shaking with rage. “I’ve just had my chief officer arrested and imprisoned for betrayal and endangering the palace.” “About fuckin’ time!” “Apparently the under-class is not as essential as we thought. You may use fusion weapons if necessary.” “Fuckin’ yes!” “But please be careful. You are only about two kilometres from the Superior Beings. They must not be disturbed by your actions.” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter laughed. “Don’t fuckin’ fret. I’ll be good!” He laughed loudly. “Ross Mental fuckin’ out.” Commander Pepe leaned back into his chair and breathed heavily. His heart was pounding, and sweat was now dribbling down his forehead. For a few seconds he gazed out of his office’s panoramic window at the expansive Battle Command chamber. The sensor image of the approaching menace on one of the huge main screens sent a new surge of anxiety through his body. He needed help. He touched a control on his desk and then turned. The dark wood panelling behind his desk slid apart. A dense mist of steam billowed out accompanied by the scent of a dozen rare oils. And then three barely-clothed females emerged. They smiled dreamily. The commander spoke with a serious tone. “I need it deep, long, and hard. And I need it now!” The females giggled. They reached out, helping the disgustingly obese commander to his feet, and then dragged his colossal frame into the fog.

28

Abominable Fat Bundles

Badoodoo waited patiently as Lord Ecnerwal continued to spin round and round across the smooth dark floor of his vast chamber, the layers of his robes spreading into a cone. And then Lord Ecnerwal stopped suddenly, his cloak twisting around his spindly legs before coming to rest. “Oh, Badoodoo!” He sighed, pulling down his deep hood. The scars on his scalp seemed even deeper and drier than before. “Can you sense it?!” A feeling of dread built up inside Badoodoo as he searched for the right thing to say. “Erm… yes?”

www.palaceofamino.com

119

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

His master gazed at him, his eyes wide and bright. “Delightful, isn’t it?! So magnificently delightful, and a bit tingly, too!” Badoodoo had no idea what Lord Ecnerwal was talking about, but he knew that if he admitted such a thing he would be beaten once more. That was something his bruised and battered body could not take much more of. “It is, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal arched his back and laughed. “Ha Harr! The knowledge of assured success within the next few hours is invigorating!” He took a deep breath and looked at his assistant. “You must be here to update me. It must be good news!” Badoodoo gulped, and then looked down at his datapad. “Some is, my lord.” His master straightened himself up and glared at his assistant. He licked his lips. “I realised after your last update that bad news increases my appetite. Do you want me to become nauseatingly obese with mouldy gut-folds and an impossible-to-wipe bottom, just like you, your sister, and your mother’s neighbours and close associates?” Badoodoo’s heart sank as he realised there was only one safe answer to that question. “No, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal pointed his bony finger at Badoodoo and grinned. “So, you admit it! Finally you confess that your family and the wider community around them are abominable fat bundles? Is that right?” Badoodoo sighed. “Yes, my lord. That is indeed right.” Lord Ecnerwal seemed oblivious to his assistant’s daring sarcasm. He spoke gently, nodding. “I am right, as always. And I am humble, as always.” He redirected his bony finger to point and the control console at the centre of his giant chamber. “Begin your update.” As Badoodoo and his master approached the console a deep and resonant moan reverberated across the chamber. Outside, amongst the densely packed trees of the jungle, two of the giant egralons had risen up above the tree tops. They moaned again, and then looked down, hissing and drooling. Lord Ecnerwal stopped for a moment. “My wondrous beasts are agitated. That is very unusual.” He turned and looked at his assistant. “Why?” Badoodoo shook his head. “I have no idea, my lord.” A dry and hard palm slapped the assistant’s right cheek. Lord Ecnerwal rasped. “You should have! You should have ideas upon ideas! And you should deliver them to me on gem-studded stone tablets engraved with tools fashioned by yourself from your own bones and teeth!”
www.palaceofamino.com

120

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Badoodoo was shocked once again by his master’s words. “I should, my lord. Forgive my failings.” “I shall, for the time being. Now give me my update!” Badoodoo tapped at his datapad. The large displays opposite the chamber’s central console glimmered to life with a star map of the local galactic area. The assistant waited a few seconds for another reverberating moan from the jungle to subside and then spoke. “As you can see, we are maintaining our course and speed for the Palace of Amino. We will arrive on schedule in just over eight hours. The command crew has now fully recovered from their revival.” The display changed. “Your scab demons have been prepared and are now wearing their armour and brandishing rusty bladed weapons. Currently they are feeding in the embarkation areas and receiving their final hormonal treatments.” Lord Ecnerwal shuddered. “Good good good!” “Just over fourteen-thousand had to be terminated due to faults in their nano infestion.” Badoodoo noticed his master’s face twitching – a sign that rage was building within him. He spoke quickly. “That is less than half a percent of the total – a remarkably low error rate. You are to be congratulated, my lord!” Lord Ecnerwal thought for a moment and then smiled broadly. “I am indeed!” He shrieked. “I am incredible!” He took a deep breath and then gazed at Badoodoo, his head cocked strangely to one side. He whispered. “Please continue.” “Unfortunately we have lost contact with Sadie Stick.” With incredible force Badoodoo was pushed backwards. He slammed into the giant screen and then slumped to the floor. He groaned. Lord Ecnerwal stomped towards him and shrieked. “Ineptitude! Why?!” Badoodoo gasped. He answered; his voice hoarse. “I believe she is now too deep beneath the surface.” He paused, straining to breathe. “She has also been injured.” “Why?!” “I don’t know. The messages from her nano-infestation do not contain such details.” Lord Ecnerwal’s eyes darted around. “But she has one more mission!” He focused back on his assistant. “Does she know about it? Will she follow the directive?” Badoodoo nodded. “She received the directive. She will have no choice but to follow it, my lord. If she is alive then she will do everything possible to complete her final mission.”

www.palaceofamino.com

121

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal growled slowly. “You had better be right, foot architect!” He stretched his arms out and then took a deep breath. “Relax… Oh yes, relax… Hmm… Rolling waves and seaweed…” Another deep moan, much louder than before, emanated from the jungle outside. Lord Ecnewal turned and screamed towards the huge panoramic windows that looked out over the tree tops. His attempt at relaxing himself had obviously failed. “Why are my joyously defecating creatures annoying me?!” He slammed his fist hard onto the central console. A doorway opened in the window. He raised his hood over his head. “Come with me, Badoodoo.”

Panman leapt sideways as the gigantic flat foot slammed into the undergrowth. The colossal creature moaned once more. The bounty hunter kept his body flush against the nearest tree and looked up. A huge house-sized head was looking down, its pale rheumy eyes searching for whatever was running around its feet. Despite his relatively tiny size, and his attempts to remain inconspicuous, Panman had been a constant irritation to the giant creatures since he had entered the jungle more than an hour ago. They were obviously highly sensitive beasts. The bounty hunter’s assumption that trekking through the jungle would be easier than travelling round it had been proven utterly wrong. It had been unexpectedly enjoyable, though. With a booming thud of its feet, and another resonating moan, the nearest creature turned and headed away, dragging a huge mouthful of foliage with it. The first-class bounty hunter took a moment to look around. He was finally nearing the far side of the jungle. He could see the smooth metal wall less than a hundred metres away, and high up the railing of the walkway that seemed to encircle the entire chamber. What looked like two robed figures were standing up there – one short and one tall. Immediately the bounty hunter ducked back behind the tree. That must be Lawrence and his dumpy companion. A plan, cunning and mildly insane, formed in his mind. He reached up and started to climb the tangle of vines that netted the tree’s wide trunk.

“What is it that you see, Badoodoo?” Badoodoo looked up at his master. “I think it may have been one of the scab demons, my lord. It must have gotten lost or…”

www.palaceofamino.com

122

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The assistant’s forehead hit the railing of the walkway. He straightened up and then staggered backwards, momentarily stunned. Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Lost?!” He punched Badoodoo once more, this time on the side of his head. “My illustrious scab demons were supposed to be guided to their embarkation areas through incredibly secure passageways! How could one of them become lost in my jungle?!” The assistant stuttered. “Erm… well… Perhaps it wanted to escape?” “Absolute incompetence!” Badoodoo braced for another beating, but it never came. He watched as his master pulled down his hood, arched his back and then began panting like a dog. After a few long seconds Lord Ecnerwal grunted and then straightened up. He spoke with disturbing calm. “The nano infestation in their brains turns them into mindless automatons. Their free will is completely eliminated. How could one of them possibly conceive the idea of escaping?” “The nano infestation is not always successful, my lord. As you know, some of the scab demons had to be terminated. It’s possible that…” “Shut up, puss valley!” “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecenerwal smiled unevenly. “Do not fret. It is of no real concern. My glorious beasts will crush it with their massive feet or stools. It is doomed.” He pointed and laughed. “Oh, look! The tipmra males are gathering fruit once more! Delicious, nutritious and magnificently tangy fruit!” Badoodoo looked out over the trees. The primates were leaping across the jungle canopy, their baskets strapped tightly to their backs. He winced as a bony palm slapped down hard on his bald head. “I will retire to my bed.” Lord Ecnerwal said, turning. He strode back towards to doorway to his chamber. “Get back to your duties.” Badoodoo continued to watch the primates. He envied their simple carefree lives and the way they seemed to live for the moment. They looked joyous. And they were oblivious to the evil that had brought them to this place. Their lives, simple and innocent, were far more appealing than his. He watched, perplexed, as one of what he assumed was one of the primates crawled unusually slowly across the giant leaves of one of the trees. It looked rather bulky for a tipmra male, its limbs far too thick…

www.palaceofamino.com

123

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

A shrill voice shattered the assistant’s train of thought. He turned. Lord Ecnerwal was calling him from the doorway of his chamber. “Yes, my lord?” “Your head is a diseased testicle!”

29

The Edge of a Smouldering Crater

Ross Mental looked back along the damp and dimly lit tunnel. Behind the impressive figure of Baron Onslaught and the three other bounty hunters, who all seemed to be jogging effortlessly despite their heavy weaponry and armour, he could see THROB. The mechanoid was lagging at least ten metres behind the rest. “Why the fuck are you so slow?!” THROB spoke, his voice a quiet echo compared to the rhythmic thudding of everyone else’s boots. “I am travelling at the maximum recommended velocity for my current status.” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter frowned and dropped back. He drew level with the mechanoid and tapped his cylindrical torso. “How is she?” “Jess Debinitraff is in a weak but stable condition. She must be taken to a cyborg construction facility as soon as…” “I fuckin’ know, but getting her head a new body is not our priority!” “Jess Debinitraff cannot survive indefinitely in my cranialmaintenance system.” Ross Mental punched THROB’s shoulder. “I said I fuckin’ know!” The mechanoid said no more. He continued jogging at a steady pace, his lithe and tubular body moving remarkably smoothly and quietly. “That fuckin’ administrator was lucky you had such a system in your chest,” Ross Mental said eventually, “otherwise she’d be just another one of Sadie stick’s rotting fuckin’ victims.” THROB responded. “All Palace of Amino mechanoids have cranial-maintenance systems installed.” The bounty hunter was surprised. “Since fuckin’ when?!” “All Palace of Amino mechanoids, and cyborgs with nonbiological torsos, have been required to have cranial-maintenance systems fitted following the first effective field use of such a system

www.palaceofamino.com

124

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

18.67 years ago on the planet Gun-Loc by the cyborg designated C Y B eight-eight-two-seven-zero-three-three-four.” Ross Mental thought for a second. And then he laughed. “You’re talking about that fucker, Justin, aren’t you?! That time he sawed off that recruit’s fuckin’ head in that lump-fucker’s power core shaft!” “You are correct.” “Wow. That dense fuckin’ iron man has been more useful than I’ve been giving him credit for. A fuckin’ pioneer, in fact!” A blinding burst of light flashed across the tunnel up ahead. Everyone except THROB turned instinctively away. “Fuckin’ hell!” The mechanoid stepped sideways and crouched down. “Brace.” He said evenly. He gripped onto the tunnel’s rutted wall. Ross Mental and the other bounty hunters were blown off their feet.

Sadie Stick gasped as the scorching air around her blistered her skin, mouth and lungs. She wretched, and then pulled herself forwards towards the shore of a lake just metres away, dragging her energy weapon with her. With her hair flaming she sank into the cool water. The sting of her skin and the roar of the explosion faded away. It was a brief moment of relief. Surfacing, and with the air cooling rapidly, the bounty hunter looked around. The small and cramped under-class town by the lake was half-flattened, half flaming. A dense cloud of smoke was gathering at the cavern’s ceiling, blotting out most of the remaining lights. The chilling moans and whimpers of surviving citizens echoed all around. The bounty hunter looked back at the small beach she had crawled across. There were several charred corpses there – blackened, blistered and swollen. Kegg was one of them. Sadie Stick felt a brief pang of sorrow and regret as she watched her tubby companion smouldering gently like a spent campfire. She knew that only her shiny black tight-fitting bodysuit had prevented her from suffering a similar fate. That, and her superior bounty hunter reflexes. A voice, deeply masculine, called out and echoed around the small cavern. “Surrender or die, Miss Stick. The next fusion charge I detonate will not be set to minimum.” Sadie Stick recognised the voice. It was one of her most pleasurable conquests of recent times – mere weeks ago. She thought
www.palaceofamino.com

125

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

quickly and then shouted. “You don’t want to do that. I am the best you’ve ever had, Sebastian. And I know you are desperate for more. Come with me. You will have all you want!” “I was desperate, but now you’re bald and scabby, have a face like an over-cooked pizza, and you no doubt smell like an amateur barbeque. My desire for you has evaporated.” Sadie Stick felt a surge of anger. “My body is protected! It is smooth and toned!” “You are a traitor and of no interest to me. Surrender or die.” Yelling with rage, Sadie Stick raised her weapon and fired wildly. Arcs of energy blazed across the cavern melting and blowing huge gashes into the rock walls. She sank back beneath surface of the lake, accompanied by a rain of returned energy fire.

Ross Mental, Baron Onslaught and the other bounty hunters ran out of the tunnel and into the devastation of the next cavern. THROB followed closely behind. Ahead, crouched at the edge of a smoking crater, were Sebastian Blood and his eight-strong team. Several of them were firing their rifles. Ross Mental shouted. “Mister Blood, how about a bit of fuckin’ warning before you do that?!” Sebastian Blood looked up at him. “Sorry. It had to be done quickly.” Ross Mental looked down to where the other bounty hunters were firing. “I take it the fucker survived the blast?” “She did. She’s remarkably agile. My sensors indicate that she’s swimming near the bottom of that lake.” The lake was hissing as the relentless fire boiled and vaporised its surface. “Stop that useless fuckin’ firing!” The other bounty hunters did as ordered. Ross Mental frowned. “We don’t have time to fuck around. We’ve been cleared to use fusion charges, you know!” “I just used one.” “Not fuckin’ properly, you didn’t! Minimum setting is for babies, plumbers, fuckwits and farm animals! Which are you?” “None. Not anymore, anyway.” “Then vaporise that lake and this cavern. And do it fuckin’ now!”

www.palaceofamino.com

126

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

30

Elderly Smog Lover

It had only been ten minutes since he had left his massage chamber, but high stress and tension once again filled Commander Pepe’s mind and body. Even the hardest and most penetrative massage he had ever experienced seemed to have offered him no more than temporary relief from the worries of the grave menace the Palace of Amino currently faced. The external threat from the approaching asteroid, lead by non other than Lawrence himself, was one of the main cause of his worries, and the remarkable resilience and survivability of the traitor, Sadie Stick, was certainly the other. And earlier he had lost most of his External Defences team after Sadie Stick had murdered its two textbook-ugly assistant operators and persuaded the senior operator, Shu Pong, to leave his post and wait, oiled and eager to fornicate, in his apartment. And now the need to have had his chief officer arrested and imprisoned for gross and lustful incompetence provided yet another cause of anxiety. This was one of the most stressful periods of his long and corpulent life. And that thought increased his stress levels even more. After taking a deep and slow breath the commander commenced his strained waddle across the floor of the main chamber of Amino Battle Command, his thick robes wafting in his wake. The huge dark chamber, lit only by the glow of numerous control consoles and the giant main view screens, was alive with hushed activity as the ongoing crisis was monitored and managed. It was amongst the senior members of this remarkable team that he hoped to find his new chief officer, but for now they were better left to their current tasks. The commander would take on the chief officer’s role himself. But it would mean he would have almost no time at all to spend in his massage chamber, and the thought of that took his stress to yet another new height. A deep rumble rose quickly in volume, and the ground shuddered. Commander Pepe staggered sideways and fell onto the nearest console, his mammoth bulk rolling across the control surface and onto the operator. The operator let out a muted scream as his body was smothered by the commander’s obscenely fat mass. The operator’s chair collapsed under the pressure. A dull alarm began pulsing, and the dim light in the chamber altered as the information on the giant view screens changed, much of it now rendered in a deep red hue.
www.palaceofamino.com

127

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The shuddering and rumbling subsided as quickly as it had begun. A small crowd gathered. Commander Pepe looked up at the silhouetted faces, angry and embarrassed. “What, in Shingle’s thong, was that?!” Several sets of hands reached down and helped the commander to his feet. A voice, deep and resonant, spoke. “Are you injured, commander?” The commander glared at the man that had spoken. He recognised him. It was Goliath Snook, the senior covert hygiene operative. “No I am not!” He bellowed, still in a slight state of shock. “There appears to be blood on your back and left shoulder.” The commander reached up. His shoulder was indeed warm and wet. There was a coughing and gargling noise from the floor. The operator than had been crushed by the commander was lying contorted in pain. Even in the near darkness it was obvious he was bleeding badly, mostly from his mouth. From out of nowhere two medics arrived and grabbed the operator. They dragged him away. Commander Pepe looked around and bellowed. “I asked what happened. Someone answer me, now!” A voice, effeminate and rasping, called out from near the front of the chamber. “It was a fusion detonation two-point-two kilometres east of our location, and several hundred metres down.” Commander Pepe hauled himself towards the speaker, Jang Queen, the operator of the seismic sensor console. As he walked he looked up at the information on one of the giant screens. The detonation had taken place in under-class district J-12, one of the smallest caverns. The cavern was now much larger. Another operator called out. “Commander, a call is coming in for you. It’s Ross Mental.” The commander stopped and looked at the operator. “Put it through!” Before Commander Pepe could speak an excited voice boomed across the Battle Command chamber accompanied by an incredible cacophony of background sound. “Whoa! Fuckin’ yeah!” The commander spoke, unable to suppress his annoyance. “I expect a reasonable warning before such weapons are used within the confines of the Palace of Amino!” The background noise was subsiding. “If we’d had the fuckin’ time you’d have got one!”

www.palaceofamino.com

128

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander trusted the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s decision-making skills enough to reprimand him no further. He suppressed his irritation and moved on. “Did you succeed?” “We’ll have to check, but that treacherous fuckin’ bitch was very close to the epicentre. It’s unlikely she could have survived, and even if she did she’ll be in one hell of a fuckin’ state! You sedentary fuckers in Battle Command can probably consider her well and truly fucked!” The commander sighed. “That’s good to know.” “I bet it fuckin’ is! We’re going to look around for evidence to confirm the fucker’s demise. Ross Mental out!” The communications channel fell silent. A voice from the back of the chamber called out. “Commander, can I have a moment of your time?” Commander Pepe struggled to turn his enormous bulk and looked back. The voice belonged to Woody Tiptoe, the head of External Defences. The commander grunted as he heaved himself back towards to rear of Battle Command, annoyed at having to reverse direction. “What is it, Woody?!” He shouted. A feeling of uneasiness spread over him as he noticed that Woody was wearing his tight red plastic body suit. It was a disturbing sight, and no doubt intentionally so. When the commander finally arrived at the main External Defences console Woody pointed. “There appears to be a critical problem with the defence shield and the orbital defence grid.” Commander Pepe sighed. “Explain.” “As you can seen from the images and data on the screen, neither system responded when the fusion detonation occurred.” The commander frowned. “Why should they have? The detonation was within the confines of the palace. It was an internal threat.” Woody nodded. “Indeed it was, but both systems are designed to increase in strength when such a detonation occurs as it may be the precursor of an outside attack. Instead the systems shut down.” The commander shuddered as a new column of tension rammed through his core. “Why?!” The head of External Defences manipulated some controls. “Not long ago your chief officer asked me to do a nano-grade scan of the entire system. The scan will take several more hours to complete, but it has already found an issue.” He pointed. “What is it?” “A very small but furiously multiplying virus. It has already embedded several million copies of itself around the system. I have
www.palaceofamino.com

129

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

stopped it breeding, but the copies are all functioning. Whenever the system tries to activate it is immediately shut down. I will need to eliminate all copies to get the system functioning again.” “Then do it! This system will be crucial to our defence when that asteroid arrives!” Woody nodded. “I will do it, commander, just as soon as I program the appropriate assassination routine. It will take me a couple of hours to get it running, though, and several more hours for it to complete its function.” The commander fumed. “That’s not acceptable! Do it quicker!” Woody closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. “Not possible, I’m afraid. Of course, if my team had not been murdered or arrested they would have been able to sort things out much sooner, especially Retsina and Rebulba. They may have been repugnant mounds of ugliness but they were amongst the best programmers the Palace of Amino had. As the head of the department I was above such menial tasks, which is why it will take me much longer too…” Commander Pepe yelled, his voice becoming hoarser with each word. “No excuses! Just do it!” “Of course, commander.” The commander groaned, and then staggered. An allconsuming wall of stress had collapsed onto him. He struggled to remain upright. Taking on the additional responsibilities of chief officer was just too much for someone of his girth. He thought quickly and then yelled. “Goliath Snook, where are you?!” Goliath approached quickly. “I am here, commander.” Commander Pepe stuggled to speak as the wall of stress crushed his shoulders. “You are my new chief officer. Congratulations.” Goliath was obviously startled. “Erm… this is too sudden. I have covert sanitation responsibilities that must…” “We are about to be attacked! Secretive hygiene tasks are not important now! You have one minute to delegate them to your inferiors, and then you will assume all the responsibilities of my former chief officer.” Goliath Snook bowed. “Of course, commander.” He turned and headed away. The commander operated his personal communicator, panting. “Prepare my massage chamber for maximum relief!” Wheezing like an elderly smog lover, the commander let loose a muffled rasp of wind and then lurched towards the nearest exit.

www.palaceofamino.com

130

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

31

A Wide and Ludicrous Grin

For two hours Panman had crawled, leapt, swung and bounded his way across trees and gantries, and through the narrowest of vents at painstakingly slow speeds. And now he was peering down through a fine mesh panel into what appeared to be a large and ornately decorated chamber. It had been quiet for a while and almost dark – the only light coming from a wide window that looked out across the jungle and the glow from an oval control console at the centre. But just as he was about to move on the bounty hunter heard voices.

Badoodoo struggled not to show his revulsion as his master swayed towards him, his bony hands cupping his chin and his mouth spread into a wide and ludicrous grin. Lord Ecnerwal stopped and placed his face only a few centimetres in front of Badoodoo’s. He spoke sweetly. “You have an update for me, haven’t you?” Badoodoo nodded. “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal arched his back and spread his arms out. He screamed. “Yes! Oh, yes!” He stood up straight and lowered his hood. He stared with an air of deep suspicion. “It is good news, isn’t it? News that will please me?” For once Badoodoo had no new bad news. He nodded. “It is, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal shuddered, and then cocked his head to one side. He gazed at Badoodoo and spoke softly and seriously, scratching his scarred scalp as he did so. “I am an extraordinary individual with a mind of profound quality. My intellect is extreme, and my ambition is infinite. I am a deity to the likes of you and your kind. You worship me, and if they existed even the gods of the universe would worship me, too.” He threw his head back and punched the air above his head repeatedly with both of his knobbly fists. The massive sleeves of his robes flapped loudly. He shouted. “I am incredible! I am invincible! I am a vision of purity and success to all that think and moan and defecate!” He laughed and began to spin. “Ha harr!!!” And then he stopped, suddenly, with a long and noisy intake of breath. He stared, wide-eyed, at his assistant and whispered. “I’m ready for your update, bulge muffle.”
www.palaceofamino.com

131

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Badoodoo nodded and headed towards the console at the centre of the chamber. He tapped on his data pad. The screens on the wall beyond the console faded to life and displayed several charts and a star map. Lord Ecnerwal approached. He pointed at the map. “We get closer and closer, don’t we?! Closer and closer and closer!” Badoodoo played along. “Yes we do, my lord.” “Ever closer to the Palace of Amino and all the little bounty rectums within.” “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Invincible! Unstoppable! I am the living definition of those words!” He closed his eyes and laughed. “Ha harr! I am perfection!” A clatter and a deep thud reverberated through the chamber. “Hello, Lawrence.” Lord Ecnerwal opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the voice. For a moment he stared, motionless, at the white-suited, heavily armoured figure standing in front of one of the screens. And then he pointed; his index finger pale and twig-like. “You!” He rasped. “You!”

Panman grinned. “Yes, it’s me!” He frowned. “Wow, you look awful, and your scalp is even balder!” Lawrence’s mouth hung open. “How?!” “Never mind how. I am here, Lawrence. That’s all that matters.” Lawrence yelled. “That name has no meaning to me! I forbid you to use it! I am Lord Ecnerwal!” Panman laughed. “That’s so inane! Your lack of imagination is hilarious!” Lawrence shuddered with rage. “Badoodoo, detain him immediately!” The chubby humanoid next to Lawrence spoke. His voice quivered with nervousness. “He… he’s Panman, a first-class bounty hunter! I don’t have the ability to detain him, my lord!” Panman nodded. “The little fat dude is right. He would die in a second if he tried, and he knows it. And so should you, slap-head!” Lawrence screamed and spun around. A fizz of energy burst from within his flailing cloak. Panman grunted as he was blasted across the chamber. The helmet on his armoured suit activated immediately and extended over his head. A second later the bounty hunter slammed into a panelled wall, shattering a grotesque piece of
www.palaceofamino.com

132

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

artwork, and then fell to the floor. He rolled forward and to one side, his suit smouldering. Hiding behind the central console, he took the opportunity to look up at the data on the screen. His suit’s system automatically absorbed the information which contained enough clues for Panman to work out the general plan of Lawrence’s attack, as well as a useful schematic of the asteroid’s interior. As much as he would have loved to stick around and snap Lawrence’s limbs, Panman had to find a way to get the information to the Palace of Amino as soon as possible. Still, he had given Lawrence a huge amount of stress and anguish by simply letting him know he was here. Lawrence would now be highly distracted by his presence, and much more likely to make critical errors in his attack on the Palace of Amino. Panman pulled a small golf ball-sized device from his belt and activated it. He secured it to the underside of the console. Grinning, Panman pulled off the cover of a conveniently located ventilation shaft and, with a final glance at his parting gift, slipped away.

32

Clang

Safely encased in his armoured environment suit, Ross Mental walked across the hot, dark and utterly devastated under-class cavern, his footfalls crunching on the brittle glass-like debris that littered the floor; the result of the staggeringly high temperature and pressure of the fusion detonation. The mechanoid THROB was following the bounty hunter, his footfalls remarkably quiet considering his weight and construction. Along with Baron Onslaught, Sebastian Blood and their teams, Ross Mental had been searching the incinerated cavern and many of the adjoining passageways for more than three hours now, and the tedious nature of the task was making the bounty hunter regret his decision to lead the hunt for Sadie Stick. He was not in a good mood. Concentrating their efforts on the bed of the cavern’s vaporised lake, Sadie Stick’s last known location, the bounty hunters searched for her remains, or indeed anything that would confirm her elimination. Nothing had been found so far. An alarm sounded in Ross Mental’s ear and a warning icon flashed on his suit’s head-up display. A sensor track was shown. Reacting immediately, the bounty hunter jumped sideways. A second
www.palaceofamino.com

133

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

later a large lump of glassy rock crashed into the ground next to him, shattering into hundreds of pieces. There was a loud clang from behind. The bounty hunter turned and looked back. “Why the fuck didn’t you move?!” THROB responded dryly. “The mass and velocity of the rock presented nothing more than a superficial threat. The risk to Jess Debinitraff of the rapid lateral movement required to avoid the falling rock was above the acceptable threshold.” Ross Mental frowned. He turned and strode forwards, approaching what looked like another passageway half concealed behind a pile of semi-congealed rubble. The glassy surface of the rocks glistened in the bright light of his suit’s floodlight. He peered round the rubble. The passageway was no more than a small cave, confirmed by his suit’s sensors. The blackened remains of a structure were attached to the cave’s back wall. It was the first evidence the bounty hunter had seen of the small under-class town that had existed in the cavern before the detonation. The rest of the town appeared to have been completely and utterly erased from existence along with its residents. The bounty hunter’s communicator icon flashed on his suit’s head-up display. The identity of the caller was shown. He answered. “What the fuck is it, Mister Blood?” “I have found evidence of Sadie Stick.” “About fuckin’ time!” Ross Mental said, relieved that finally something interesting was happening. He called up Sebastian Blood’s position. A 3D map of the cavern was displayed. The bounty hunter was about thirty metres beneath the cavern in a cramped tunnel. “What’s the evidence?” “Several small pieces of charred flesh. She was obviously badly burned by the explosion. There is a trail of flesh heading down from here.” “Fuck ! She was alive after the detonation!” “Or, perhaps her lifeless cooked corpse was blown down this passageway and it scraped along the sides. Plenty of flesh would have been ripped off.” Ross Mental nodded. “Yes, a possibility. But remember, that passageway was beneath the lake. The fucker would have been protected by the water, at least for the first few seconds before it evaporated. We need to confirm, one way or the other. We’re coming to find you. Wait there.” “Will do. Sebastian Blood out.”

www.palaceofamino.com

134

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

Reaching up, Ross Mental grabbed onto a sharp ledge. He pulled, hauling himself up. He was greeted by Sebastian Blood, anonymouslooking in his black armoured environment suit. The bounty hunter was crouching in the low tunnel, flanked by two other lesser bounty hunters. Ross Mental looked around. “Show me!” Turning, Sebastian Blood crawled a few metres. Ross Mental followed. Sebastian Blood pointed. “There.” Illuminated by their suit’s floodlights, several small pieces of charred flesh could be seen. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter scanned them with his suit. Within seconds they were confirmed as part of Sadie Stick. Sebastian Blood pointed again. “There’s more that way. It looks like she was protected from most of the explosion by the U-bend in this passageway, which would have been full of water. The temperature would still have risen to that of an oven, but her bodysuit would have given most of her body reasonable protection from that.” One of the other bounty hunters, Dragon Snarl, spoke. “The flesh we’ve found is from her hands and face. She’s in a hell of a state. She should not be hard to catch up with.” Sebastian Blood agreed. “Indeed. And according to my map this passageway comes to an end about three-hundred metres down. We’ll find her at…” “I fuckin’ doubt it!” Ross Mental said. “Passageways below that level are not fuckin’ mapped, so of course it looks like it fuckin’ stops! Below that is very close to the cavern where the Superior Beings live. Security is tight as fuck down there. Even our sensors won’t work!” “Then she’s doomed.” Sebastian Blood said. “There’s nowhere for her to go.” Ross Mental was alarmed by the bounty hunter’s lack of perception. “Are you really so fuckin’ obtuse?! Of course she has somewhere to go, and it may well be somewhere she’s been planning to go all along!” Sebastian Blood thought for a moment. “You don’t think that she’s…” “I fuckin’ do!” Everyone crouched in silence for a moment, dwelling on that profound possibility, and then a voice, cold and almost mournful,

www.palaceofamino.com

135

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

spoke. “The health of the head of Administrator Jess Debinitraff within my cranial-maintenance system is degrading.” Ross Mental turned, annoyed at the banal interruption. He could see the shiny cylindrical head of THROB peeking over the edge of the ledge. It glinted in the light of his floodlight. “Then do something about it!” “I have increased the flow of life-sustaining fluids to maximum. There is nothing more that I can do. I request permission to return to the surface and deliver the head of Administrator Jess Debinitraff to a cyborg construction…” “Fuckin’ denied! Get up here. You are the closest companion of Sadie Stick. If we encounter her alive I may need you to talk to the fucker!” THROB had no choice but to comply. He began to pull himself up onto the ledge. Ross Mental activated his communicator. “Baron Onslaught! Fuckin’ respond!” The reply was immediate. “Baron Onslaught here. We are approaching your position. We’ll be with you in…” “Don’t fuckin’ bother. The passageways we’re going into are too narrow for so many of us. We’re better off as a small team. Head back to the fuckin’ surface. You’re more use up there.” “Very well. I will be glad to get out into the open. I will go to my ship and join the fleet in orbit.” A surge of jealousy washed over Ross Mental. “Yeah, you fuckin’ do that!” He yelled, closing the channel. THROB crawled with remarkable smoothness to a position next to Ross Mental. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter looked briefly at the mechanoid, and then pointed down the passageway. “Let’s fuckin’ move!”

33

Cunning Monkey

It was a desperate time for the Palace of Amino, and Peter the Ace understood that with a depth and clarity second only to the Superior Beings. But even at maximum subspace velocity it would still take another three hours for the Blenheim to reach the palace – at least fifteen minutes after the arrival of the asteroid. It would be wasteful and psychologically destructive to spend that time worrying about
www.palaceofamino.com

136

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

what might or might not occur when Lawrence and his army of infected humanoids reached their destination, so Peter the Ace did not worry at all. Wearing nothing more than a white towel around his waist, and lying face down on one of the soft beds of the Blenheim’s luxurious spa facility on deck two, the bounty hunter groaned in satisfaction as Jemima Murma, dressed in a black loose-fitting gown, massaged a soothing cocktail of warm oils into his densely muscled back. He breathed slowly and deeply, savouring the silky smooth aromas. In the background he could hear the gentle lapping of the moat-like water feature that surrounded the bed. Jemima Murma spoke softly. “It’s time to do the other side.” Peter the Ace turned slowly over. The Blenheim’s assistant could not contain her delight at seeing her master’s sculpted chest and abdomen. She gasped, and for a moment simply stared at the muscular perfection that confronted her. And then she blushed and quickly reached for the oil. She poured a little onto her master’s chest and began to move her hands over his skin in slow and precise arcs. Peter the Ace looked up and smiled at his assistant; more or less a silhouette against the soft orange lighting that circled the ceiling of the spa. “You’ve been doing this for decades. I’m surprised that you still get so flustered at the sight of my physique.” Jemima Murma leaned closer and worked on the bounty hunter’s astonishing shoulders. “I’m sorry.” “There’s no need to be. I find it quite endearing.” “It’s during moments such as this that I realise just how privileged I am to be here. There are tens of thousands back at the palace, and millions on the Central Worlds, who would give anything to simply be near you, let alone be in my position and work with you on board this amazing ship.” Peter the Ace closed his eyes and relished the firm and sensuous touch of his assistant. “You are indeed privileged, but you also deserve such privilege. Never forget that. Your physical and mental skills, and not least your culinary skills, are perfectly suited to your position here. You are to be congratulated for developing such skills and for applying them in such a consistently outstanding manner.” “Thank you.” A soft alarm sounded. The wide view-screen on the ceiling glimmered to life. The ship spoke. “THE UNIDENTIFIED DISPERSAL FIELD AROUND THE OBJECT BEING TRACKED HAS DISAPPEARED. THE IDENTITY OF THE OBJECT BEING

www.palaceofamino.com

137

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

TRACKED HAS NOW BEEN CONFIRMED AS THE FORMER MOON OF TOLASO.” Peter the Ace looked up at the detailed sensor information on the screen. He chuckled. “It seems that Panman is hard at work!” The Blenheim spoke again. “THE DIAMETER OF THE SUBSPACE FIELD SURROUNDING THE FORMER MOON OF TOLASO IS FLUCTUATING.” “Excellent! Perhaps Panman has damaged it. Is it about to fail?” “NEGATIVE. THE FLUCTUATIONS ARE MINIMAL. A PATTERN HAS BEEN DETECTED WITHIN THE FLUCTUATIONS.” Peter the Ace thought for a moment as Jemima Murma moved down his body and began to oil and massage his legs. And then he grinned. “Analyse the fluctuations. Compare them with the data configuration of all Palace of Amino communications protocols.” “ANALYSING… COMPARING… THE PATTERN DETECTED IN THE SUBSPACE FIELD FLUCTUATIONS MATCHES THE PALACE OF AMINO AUDIO-ONLY PROTOCOL KNOWN AS ‘CUNNING-MONKEY’.” “Decode and play it.” As Jemima Murma continued massaging, a low-fidelity voice was played over the spa’s sound system. It was Panman. “… this information to the palace. The data file that will follow contains some details of Lawrence’s plan of attack, and also a schematic of this asteroid. Can you believe that the freak actually built a jungle at the centre of this asteroid?! He’s got huge creatures in there – egralons. He’s got labs here creating more and more of the infection. I’ve no idea why as all of the infection he required could have been created back on Tolaso. He’s obviously developed a perverted desire to watch giant omnivores empty their bowels! And he must have developed some kind of hideous foot complaint, too, as there seems to be a huge chiropody clinic here! This message will repeat as often as possible to make sure you get it. Here’s the data file…” After a few seconds the ship spoke. “THE DATA FILE HAS BEEN RECEIVED.” “Show it.” The view-screen filled with charts, text, maps and images. The schematic of the asteroid was shown, with the jungle at the asteroid’s centre clearly visible. Below it was what appeared to be a lake filled with small boats. And below that was one of the largest chiropody clinics the bounty hunter had ever seen.
www.palaceofamino.com

138

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Lawrence’s feet must really be in an awful condition.” Peter the Ace remarked. “Blenheim, Encrypt and send Panman’s message and data file to Amino Battle Command.” “MESSAGE AND DATA FILE ENCRYPTED… MESSAGE SENT.” Peter the Ace turned his head and looked over at Jemima Murma. She had reached his feet and was now pressing her thumbs hard into his soles. “I need to go and study Panman’s data further so I must cut this massage short, I’m afraid. Prepare a bath for me.” Jemima Murma smiled and nodded. She stepped across the moat of water and over to the large oval bath in the corner. She activated a control. A rapid but smooth flood of steaming water poured into the tub, filling it with remarkable speed. The underwater lighting of the bath faded up causing the water to glow a deep shade of lilac. Jemima Murma turned. “Ready.” She tapped on the wall and a panel opened. She picked up the bottle inside and poured champagne into a tall glass. Peter the Ace got to his feet and stepped over to the bath. He accepted the drink. “Thank you.” He said, taking a sip. “I’ll be up on the bridge in thirty minutes. Please have a large mug of Darjeeling and a selection of sashimi and cheeses waiting for me.” The assistant nodded sweetly. “Of course.” She turned and headed out of the spa. Stepping into the bath, Peter the Ace sank into the hot water, taking completely for granted the opulence that his status as a firstclass bounty hunter granted him.

34

The Policy of Ignorance

Commander Pepe looked down and marvelled at the surface of fine glistening bubbles that lapped against the bulging folds of his colossal waistline. The steaming hot water and the rich and comforting scents of the bath foam had certainly reduced his stress levels to a manageable level. He had been wise to have hastily appointed a new chief officer instead of continuing to shoulder the burden himself. It was only by spending as much time as possible undergoing a multitude of treatments and experiences in a massage chamber that a leader such as him could function effectively. It was a management technique that had allowed him to successfully help the Palace of Amino and a multitude of bounty hunters survive catastrophe after
www.palaceofamino.com

139

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

catastrophe. He was intensely proud of that fact, and he was convinced that such a proven technique would work again. The commander smiled as he watched the eight slim, toned, tanned and drugged females that were in the huge bath with him. Following their exhilarating performance during his most recent deep tissue massage session he had allowed them time off to play for a while. They giggled as they fondled each other and as they swam to and fro through the bubbles. It was a supremely distracting sight, exactly as he had intended. The commander’s thoughts naturally turned to more primeval things. He felt a sudden surge of activity beneath his gut-folds. Once again he needed attention. He caressed one of the nearest females as she drifted by. She sat up and smiled dreamily. The commander pointed down. “If you please, Hazel.” Hazel immediately sank beneath the bubbles and worked her way through his layers of flab. Leaning back, Commander Pepe closed his eyes and sighed. He breathed slowly and deeply, his tremendous sweating man-breasts rising and falling. “Commander?” Commander Pepe wheezed and sat up straight. He coughed and blinked rapidly for a second. The powerful figure of Goliath Snook was standing on the marble ledge at the edge of the bath. “Damn it, Goliath! Warn me before you enter my massage chamber!” His new chief officer spoke, his voice even more resonant in the large tiled bathing room. “I was following procedure, commander.” “What procedure is that?!” “The one regarding disturbing you during a session in your massage chamber. If there is a critical enough reason to do so then I read that I should simply enter the chamber and approach you without warning to avoid any delay in informing you of…” Commander Pepe nodded, his chins wobbling. “All right, all right! I know!” He noticed Goliath was distracted by the activity of the females in the bath, and especially Hazel, who was still bobbing beneath his gut-folds. Struggling, the commander got to his feet. Water gushed in waterfalls off his vast overhang. He looked down at Hazel. “Enough.” She pulled away and looked up with lazy expectancy. “Go with all the others and prepare for a full-length fullstrength full-feature session. I think I’m going to need it.” Hazel nodded and stood up. She turned and waded sexily through the bubbles of the knee-deep bath calling sweetly to the others. They all followed Hazel up the shallow steps at the far side of the bath and disappeared through an arched and steam-filled doorway. Goliath was gazing after them, his jaw slack.
www.palaceofamino.com

140

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe frowned. “Well, what is it?!” The chief officer looked back at the commander and grimaced for a moment. The commander yelled. “Yes, my body is hideously stomachchurning! Get over it!” Goliath nodded once. “Of course, commander.” “Now for the last time, what is it?!” Fumbling with his data pad the chief officer activated the giant screen on the wall to the side of the bath. Schematics, charts, trajectories and images fizzled into view. The centre image clearly showed a cross section of the asteroid with the bizarre jungle at its centre. Commander Pepe looked suspiciously at Goliath. “This is the data Peter the Ace sent us an hour ago. I’ve seen it already!” The chief officer nodded. “Yes commander, but we have just received his further analysis.” He played with his data pad. The data on the screen played through an animated sequence. “It looks like the asteroid is likely to emerge from subspace much closer than we anticipated.” The commander watched as the animation showed the asteroid appearing right at the edge of Enchantia’s atmosphere. He felt a shudder of shock pass over him as he watched the asteroid skim through the upper atmosphere. “There’ll be almost no time for our fleet to intercept it!” “Correct, commander.” Commander Pepe nodded, accepting the grim news. He felt a moment of despair, and his heart sank. But just for a moment. “But there will be some time.” His mood lifted slightly. “There’s no way of knowing which side of the planet the asteroid will emerge on. It is unlikely the fleet will be in the ideal location to intercept the asteroid promptly.” The commander scowled. “Then split the fleet!” “That would reduce…” “Just do it, damn it!” “Yes, commander.” The commander breathed deeply to calm himself. He rested his flabby arms on the sides of his vast midsection. Undulations rippled down across the folds of his overhang. “What else?” The chief officer, obviously fighting to conceal his disgust, manipulated his data pad. The images on the screen changed. A close-up of the lower part of the asteroid was shown. “There appears to be a large camouflaged docking bay at the asteroid’s base. It contains four large detachable vehicles. Peter the Ace has surmised
www.palaceofamino.com

141

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

that they are landing craft. Each is approximately four-hundred metres long.” The commander nodded. “And that is how the infected humanoid invasion force will be dispatched?” “It looks like it, commander. And the thickness and strength of the hulls of the landing craft suggest something similar to the one used by Lawrence to deliver what he referred to as his unholy army of the night forty-five years ago.” Commander Pepe felt a torrent of stress flood across his body. His capacious stomach ached. “That craft was unnervingly effective. We must do whatever is necessary to prevent those landing craft from getting close to the palace perimeter.” “And what would that be, commander?” The commander glared. “It’s your job to find out!” Goliath nodded. “Of course, commander.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “The asteroid will arrive in less than two hours. We should begin the evacuation of the surface population to…” Commander Pepe frowned. “What are you talking about? All bounty hunters are either in their ships in orbit or on missions here or elsewhere. All trainees and essential personnel already have their instructions to head for their bunkers when the attack warning is given.” “I know, commander, but there are still tens of thousands of menial workers who have absolutely no idea what is going on. Shouldn’t we…” The commander shuddered as he shouted. “P. O. I. is essential to the smooth running of the palace! It cannot be abandoned, not even in a situation as dismal as this! Didn’t you read the chief officer’s manual?!” Goliath Snook was startled by the commander’s outburst. “We are in the middle of a crisis, commander. I only had time to read the emergency quick-start guide. There was no mention of P. O. I, whatever that is.” “The Policy of Ignorance, of course! Surely you must be aware of that?!” “Oh… Yes, vaguely. But surely when the lives of those menial workers are threatened we should warn them. Many - perhaps all will be slaughtered if the infected humanoids enter the palace.” “That could well be, but what if we warn them of the danger and some or all survive? They will no longer be completely ignorant of events beyond their mundane existences. They will start to question their place in our society and in the universe beyond. They will develop ambitions and desires that can never be achieved. They
www.palaceofamino.com

142

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

will become frustrated with their lot. They will become restless. And what could that ultimately lead to?” Goliath thought for a second. “Rebellion?” The commander nodded. “Exactly! If we maintain P. O. I. and some or all survive then the palace, providing the invasion is ultimately unsuccessful, will return to normality quickly, and the menial workers’ lives will go on as if nothing has happened and our services will not suffer. But if we ignore P. O. I. and warn them of what is happening then of course many more may survive, but they will become useless once the crisis is over. They will demand career progression, rewards, and ask to travel off-world. They will be distracted as questions pop into their consciousnesses, and they will become brutally aware of the utter mediocrity of their lives. They would then become a risk to the stability of this organization. Ultimately they would have to be evicted, or even destroyed.” The chief officer looked thoughtful. “So warning them could result in more danger for them than not warning them?” “Yes!” Goliath seemed satisfied. “I understand, commander.” “Excellent. Now go!” Goliath Snook turned and left quickly. Commander Pepe sank back into the foaming water, thoughts of the current crisis spinning inside his mind. He panted and wheezed, and then hit a control on the side of the bath. “Power up the mud hoses and vibro-enemas. And then help me out of this bath!”

35

A Wretched Knob of Butter

Badoodoo winced and moaned once more as the final piece of shrapnel was pulled from his forehead. The white-suited medic who was treating him placed a small spherical device on the bleeding wound and quickly sealed it. Badoodoo’s eyes were watering. The medic stood, bowed, and then scurried away. Lord Ecnerwal was standing nearby. He shouted. “You are a feeble worm, Badoodoo!” He raised his arms. “But look at me! I am the exact opposite of such a creature. I was attacked by one of the top bounty hunters ever to exist and my body has been lacerated and chunks of flesh ripped from my face, yet I continue to stand proudly and revel in my own glow of natural gloriousness!”

www.palaceofamino.com

143

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Badoodoo’s eyes had cleared. He looked up at his master’s face, now deeply disfigured, even more so than his scalp. It was a gruesome sight. Lord Ecnerwal leaned closer. For a second his eyes darted around as they examined the assistant’s scarred face, and then he yelled. “You are a wretched knob of butter!” He threw back his hood and then arched his back whilst resting his bony hands on his hips. “I am incredible!” For several seconds Lord Ecnerwal held that position, and then he slowly straightened up. He looked at Badoodoo and spoke calmly, smiling. “You agree with me, don’t you, Badoodoo?” Badoodoo blinked slowly, bewildered by the shocking madness of his master. If he wanted to live he had no choice but to agree. He nodded. “Yes, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal sighed. “Look around at the devastation here, Badoodoo.” He pointed at the contorted mess at the centre of the chamber. Charred components and circuits jutted out from the ruptured control console, and most of the large screens on the wall opposite had been shattered by high-velocity debris. Two stumpy technicians were dousing the final small fires that remained. “Despite the fact that you are responsible for allowing the bounty hunter to perform such an act of destruction in my presence, my extraordinary compassion allows you to live. You are privileged beyond the dreams of the Intellectual Architects of the First Council of the Artisan Mind Practicum!” Badoodoo had no idea what his master was talking about, but he agreed. “I am indeed, my lord. Thank you.” Lord Ecnerwal glared at his assistant. “Now, I need you give me an update. I assume you have one?” Badoodoo looked down at his damaged but still functional data pad. “I’m not sure. Since the explosion I haven’t really had a chance to collate a report for you. I had sixteen shards of metal embedded in my body which…” A gloved fist, clenched and bony, slammed down onto Badoodoo’s head. He stumbled back. Lord Ecnerwal snarled. “You still have your information streams, don’t you?” Badoodoo struggled to clear his head as he looked down at his data pad. “Yes, my lord. I’m receiving them. But I usually spend an hour collating the information into a brief…” “Update me now, pig fodder! Where is that bounty bastard?!” Recovering quickly from the smack on his head, Badoodoo rapidly scanned the information he’d received. “Erm… From what I
www.palaceofamino.com

144

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

gather Panman has made his way close to the engine section, and down close to the scab demon’s disembarkation area. His exact position is not known, though.” “Why not?” “He has been not been travelling through the normal passageways. I think he’s been using the ventilation system. There’s no surveillance there.” Lord Ecnerwal glowered. “Why?!” “Well, because it was not required in the design specification. In hindsight, perhaps that decision was…” “My specification was perfect!!!” Badoodoo took a step back, startled by the disturbed expression on his master’s face. He worked quickly to avoid another beating. “Of course, my lord. There is no question that your design of this astonishing vessel is beyond the ability or comprehension of even the most sagacious of beings. You are to be applauded constantly for your achievement.” He bowed. Lord Ecnerwal took a sharp intake of breath and sniffled. “You have moved me, Badoodoo.” He said, blinking away the excess water in his eyes. “Your deep feelings of affection for me are obvious.” “That is good to know, my lord. I…” He stopped as he noticed some new information on his data pad. Lord Ecnerwal’s mood had changed yet again. “Finish your sentences, turd mugger!” Badoodoo’s stomach tightened. It was bad news. “Erm… It looks like Panman has managed to disable the dispersal field.” Lord Ecnerwal shuddered. “How!” He spun around, looking randomly in any direction. “The systems are secure!” Badoodoo felt he had to continue. “And it appears that he managed to install a program in the subspace field control system.” His master stopped looking around and focused on his assistant. He spoke in a piercing and feminine manner. “Oh no! What did it do?” “It caused minor fluctuations in the subspace field around this vessel. The fluctuations were ordered. It looks like he embedded a message in them.” Lord Ecnerwal placed his hands on the sides of his head and shuddered. “Why would he do such a thing? What possible reason could he have?” “Well, the obvious reason would be to warn the Palace of Amino of our plans.”

www.palaceofamino.com

145

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal screamed, his hands still clamped to his head. “Kill that bounty hunter now! Send 1,301 scab demons to hack out his throat and kidneys and ligaments and hair follicles!” Badoodoo tapped frantically at his data pad. “Yes, my lord. The order is being transmitted now.” He looked up at his master. Lord Ecnerwal was grinning in a most unusual manner and slowly leaning backwards. The assistant felt a surge of fear spread over him. “My lord? Is something wrong?” His master held his hands out to his sides. He looked up at the ceiling and spoke softly and deeply. “Our surprise attack and invasion is no longer a surprise, is it?” Badoodoo shivered and tried to say something positive. “We will arrive in just over one hour. There is no time for the bounty hunters to arrange an adequate response, my lord. I don’t think you need to worry…” The last thing Badoodoo noticed was the wide billowing of his master’s cloak, a high pitched fizz, and the briefest sparkle of white light.

36

The Circle of Civilisation

With a final burst of thrust Baron Onslaught’s ship, the Packet of Organic Dried Mango, shot vertically out of Enchantia’s upper atmosphere and into the cold and unforgiving void of space. With his attention on the glowing telemetry and trajectory charts floating in front of him on his cockpit’s head-up display, the bounty hunter made a few sweeping gestures across the main control surfaces in front of him. The ship responded immediately and rolled gently to starboard, leveling off upside-down in relation to Enchantia’s surface. Looking up through the large viewport above his cockpit seat, Baron Onslaught gazed briefly at the circle of civilization that was the Palace of Amino, more than two-hundred kilometres below. The shadows of the palace’s imposing towers were long and distinctive in the early evening sun, and the surrounding mountains were now a brown and orange hue with many of the valleys already shrouded in darkness. It was a stirring sight – a sight that always unleashed an incredible surge of pride in all bounty hunters, but today that pride was tarnished by a tinge of worry. In less than an hour the palace would experience what could be the most devastating attack in its history. And with the palace’s defence field and orbital defence grid
www.palaceofamino.com

146

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

out of action, such an attack had a high chance of success. Only the carefully honed resilience and determination of the bounty hunters would have a chance of thwarting the attack. But that chance was still small. With the Palace of Amino receding from view, Baron Onslaught focused his attention back to the information on his headup display. He was now just over a thousand kilometres away from the first fleet of bounty hunter ships – more than 800 of them, which was clearly displayed as a cloud of glowing white triangles on his display. Trajectory information showed his automated flight path into the formation, and also the flight paths of seven other ships that were also converging on the fleet. As his ship drew within 500 kilometres of the fleet he operated his communicator. “Fleet leader, this is Baron Onslaught onboard the Packet of Organic Dried Mango. Approaching formation.” “This is Mad Woman.” The fleet leader replied, her voice coarse and high. “You’re third-class. I want bounty hunters of your calibre right next to me. Modify your course.” “I will do as you ask.” With a few sweeping motions the bounty hunter instructed his ship’s navigation system to amend its course. The course trajectory now arced over the fleet, dropping down on its far side. The fleet was less than two-hundred kilometres away now and clearly visible through the forward viewport as a haze of bright and distant dots. The gentle hum of the ship’s engines altered in pitch as it began to decelerate. “Just had a look at your file, Mister Onslaught.” Mad Woman said. “You’re recent success during the Bubaran rebellion was astonishing, as is your mission success in general.” Her voice deepened. “And you are an impressively rotund specimen of manhood!” “I’ve heard such a compliment many times.” Baron Onslaught said as his ship reached the rear of the fleet. He watched for a moment as hundreds of ships flashed passed beneath, and then looked at a file image of Mad Woman on one of his display screens. She looked chubby and rough with an unnervingly uneven figure – deeply unappealing. It was a shame as her face, even surrounded by her vagrant-like frizz of matted black hair, was fiercely attractive. “Perhaps, when this crisis is over, you could demonstrate just how impressively rotund your manhood actually is?” Mad Woman suggested. “No. I like your face but nothing else.”

www.palaceofamino.com

147

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Mad Woman let out a hoarse gasp. “Then just look at my face while you work!” “That would not be acceptable.” Baron Onslaught said as the Packet of Organic Dried Mango rapidly decelerated and descended. “Had the situation been reversed and your body had been exceptionally pleasing, but your face had resembled a pig carcass, then I could have easily been aroused.” The ship drew to a relative halt next to the Bone, Mad Woman’s small battle-scarred ship. “Our relationship must be professional and nothing more.” There was a moment of tense silence, and then a coarse laugh erupted over the communications channel. “I accept your challenge, Mister Onslaught! Arousing you will be a most arduous task, and one that will demand the use of all of my most alluring skills. I relish the prospect!” “I was not challenging…” “You will succumb to my advances, no matter how long it takes. I will never yield. I will have satisfaction! And believe it or not so will you!” “You are accepting a challenge that does not exist.” Baron Onslaught said, his attention wandering to his much more interesting tactical displays. One of them showed the location of the second fleet on the opposite side of Enchantia. The planet’s orbital defence grid – out at a much greater distance – was also shown. Each of the grids thousands of small stations was shown in red to indicate its current impotent state. “The challenge is there, Mister Onslaught, even if you deny it!” “Whatever you say.” The bounty hunter said as he began to review the latest information on the approaching asteroid. “You are certainly proving just how apt your bounty hunter name is.” Mad Woman laughed again, finishing with a high-pitched wheeze. “I’m just getting started, Mister Onslaught!” The tone of her voice changed. “But for now we must banish lustful thoughts. We will soon have a crucial task to perform, a task essential to the survival of the Palace of Amino itself. Absorb the details of our foe and our tactical plans and prepare yourself and your ship.” Baron Onslaught frowned. He was beginning to wish he had remained deep underground with Ross Mental and the others. “I am doing that now.” “Excellent. Others are joining my fleet so I must attend to them. I expect nothing but perfection from you when the time comes, and I’m not just talking about our task! Mad Woman out.” The bounty hunter shook his head slowly. “Nutter!”

www.palaceofamino.com

148

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

37

Habitually Constipated Gasping Whales

The blade entered easily. The infected humanoid gargled, frothy blood spurting from his neck and mouth, and then sank to his knees. Panman withdrew the rusty knife, grabbed the humanoid’s head and twisted. With a dull snap he was immediately rendered silent and limp. He fell forward onto several other still twitching corpses. Panman looked back up the narrow passageway. Dozens more infected humanoids, all brandishing rusty bladed weapons, were lumbering towards him, their bare scabby arms occasionally scraping on the uneven walls and leaving bloody smears. Their eerie melancholic moans, remarkably similar to the distressed call of habitually constipated gasping whales, had amused the bounty hunter for a while, but now the sound was becoming highly irritating. For more than an hour now the bounty hunter had been pursued by them, and he had slaughtered more than three-hundred, many with grenades, and many with his bare hands and with the rusty weapons he had snatched from his victims. Lawrence’s soldiers were, as always, pathetic and mindless drones, at least individually. As a whole, however, they did have the potential to overwhelm even the most skilled opponents if their numbers were great enough. And with around three-million of them waiting to be dispatched to the Palace of Amino, they were certainly going to prove a significant risk. Panman looked down at the small display on his suit’s forearm. There was only around thirty-five minutes left before the asteroid would reach Enchantia and the Palace of Amino. He had wasted enough time dealing with the infected humanoids and their annoyingly mindless stumbling around. Turning, and dropping the rusty weapon, Panman headed away from his groaning pursuers and sprinted further down the passageway and round the tight bend just ahead. The passageway widened considerably and was now lined with thick square columns of dull metal on either side. Twenty metres away at the far end was a set of tough-looking black doors flanked by two large sculptures of disembowelled bipedal lizards. Panman grinned. The sculptures were a definite sign that something important was behind those doors. Pulling a small fusion charge from the belt of his environment suit, the bounty hunter activated it, set the blast level and type, and then threw it at the doorway. He leapt sideways, and rolled to a position behind one of the metal columns, the helmet of his suit sealing rapidly over his head as he did so.
www.palaceofamino.com

149

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

An agonisingly bright flash bleached out the entire passageway as the deafening thud of the pressure wave passed by. It was accompanied milliseconds later by a wall of intense fire. Panman’s suit, buffeted by the blast and heat, displayed dozens of red icons on its head-up display as its protection systems were challenged. The bounty hunter, however, remained comfortable and cool as the suit’s integrity was maintained. The chaotic sound of the explosion died quickly and was replaced by the distant clatter of debris, and the weak and high-pitched moans of pain from the infected humanoids back down the passageway. Taking a quick and well-earned sip from his suit’s liquid food dispenser, Panman leaned over and glanced back up the passageway. At least thirty infected humanoids had taken the full force of the detonation, their bodies cooked and blackened and decimated. The few at the front were still enveloped in flames. A few of those further back writhed slowly amongst the remains of their peers. The sound of their despair was fading fast. Knowing that the blast and fire would have travelled a considerable way back around the corner of the passageway, the bounty hunter turned his attention back to the doorway. It no longer existed. Instead, through the thinning haze of vaporised metal and stone, Panman could see a round and still molten hole more than three metres in diameter and beyond it a large and now devastated chamber. Panman got to his feet. He sprinted towards the hole and leapt through it, tumbling over and landing in a crouched position. Taking note of an alarm and a threat warning symbol that had appeared on his suit’s display, the bounty hunter rolled to the right. A blast of white energy crackled passed and burned into the ground where Panman had been only half-a-second before. Jumping to his feet the bounty hunter charged towards the source of the energy blast, swerving and jumping randomly to avoid being targeted again. Two more blasts crackled passed, one grazing his left side. A few seconds later the bounty hunter leapt onto the source of the attack, pinning down a squirming and obese female humanoid onto a badly damaged control console. He grabbed her pistol. The humanoid looked up at Panman, terror and agony written all across her blistered and lacerated face. Her clothes and hair were smouldering. Holding the humanoid’s neck firmly in his right hand the bounty hunter smiled and spoke. “You almost got me with one of your shots. For such a feeble lard-ridden mass of sagging flesh that’s very impressive!”

www.palaceofamino.com

150

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The humanoid’s wide eyes continued to gaze up at the bounty hunter. She gagged and wheezed as the effects of his tight grip took hold. Panman took a moment to look around. The oval chamber’s wall was lined with now gashed and shredded control consoles. The dozen or so operators that had been sitting at those consoles were now slumped, burning and deeply lacerated, over their controls. He looked down at the debris-strewn floor and noticed for the first time that it was transparent. Beneath was what looked like a huge dimly-lit cave. A huge black rectangular object filled most of the view. Panman looked back at the now gasping humanoid. “That floor’s a nice feature! I take it that that huge black thing is one of the landing craft for those infected dudes?” When the humanoid did not respond the bounty hunter squeezed her neck even tighter. She nodded rapidly; her tongue now sticking out of her mouth with the pressure on her throat. Panman released his grip. The humanoid coughed and took in huge breaths. She sank to the floor and vomited. The bounty hunter waited a few seconds for her to finish spilling her guts. “What’s your name?” She looked up at him and wiped her mouth. “Shipoopaa.” Her voice was weak and trembling. “Shipoopaa, you will explain to me when and how those landing craft will launch.” Tears welled in her eyes and she shook her head. “Lord Ecnerwal will have me executed if I tell you such things. I must…” “I am Panman, a bounty hunter of the Palace of Amino.” Panman said sternly. “You will answer my questions or you will suffer the seething ferocity of immediate Amino justice – something far worse than the punishment Lord Ecnerwal, or Lawrence as he is really known, can inflict on you!” Shipoopaa sobbed. Panman knelt down beside her. He softened his tone. “Help me and I promise I will take you into my custody and protect you. You will no longer have to answer to Lawrence.” Shipoopaa looked up at Panman. “Lord Ecnerwal promised me a glorious position within his…” “His promises are empty.” Panman said, raising his voice. “Look around you. I am just one bounty hunter and yet I have infiltrated this vessel and caused havoc, death and destruction on an immense scale. I have even been into the private chambers of Lawrence – Lord Ecnerwal – himself and inflicted great pain on him and his fat little companion.” He motioned towards the devastation
www.palaceofamino.com

151

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

surrounding him. “And I have brutally dispatched your companions in this facility. Imagine what will happen in thirty minutes time when this vessel encounters thousands of bounty hunters and their ships!” Shipoopaa shuddered. After a few seconds thought she nodded. “I have no choice but to help you.” Panman smiled. “Not unless you want to die immediately, no!” He helped her to her feet. She winced with pain. “Now, answer my question.” Shipoopaa pointed down. “The landing craft will be launched when the floor of the hanger has been vaporised.” Panman looked down through the transparent floor at the rocky base of the vast hanger. “Vaporised? How will that happen?” “It will be burned off by the friction of entry into the atmosphere of the target planet.” An anvil of realisation hit the bounty hunter. He suppressed his normal reaction to such information. “I see. Go on.” “The landing craft will then drop to the surface and release the scab demons that will…” “Scab demons?” Shipoopaa nodded. “That is what Lord Ecnerwal is now calling his army.” Panman laughed. “He’s such an astounding idiot! Not only because of the stupid name he’s give to those infected humanoids, but because those landing craft will come under a sustained and overwhelming attack the moment they leave this asteroid!” Shipoopaa nodded once more. “That is what Lord Ecnerwal wants.” Panman frowned. “What do you mean?” “Those landing craft are sealed shut and are surrounded by fifty-metre-thick multi-layered tritanium armour. The armour is designed to be worn away by the defences at the target. Only when it’s is worn away will the scab demons be able to get out and commence their invasion of the target.” The anvil of realisation struck the bounty hunter once more. “Wow… That is remarkably cunning for Lawrence. I must find a way to warn the Palace of Amino as soon as possible.” He thought out loud for a moment. “It will take too long for me to go back to the subspace field control room and program another set of fluctuations.” He looked at Shipoopaa. “Is there a way to access the subspace field controls from near here?” She shook her head. “No, but the actual subspace field generator itself is only two-hundred metres above us. There is a

www.palaceofamino.com

152

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

maintenance access core hatch over there that will allow you to climb to…” Panman grabbed the dumpy female humanoid and dragged her in the direction she had pointed. “Time to burn off some of that lard!”

38

Wallington’s Recesses

Commander Pepe, dressed in his impressive and striking battle robes, hauled himself in as regal a manner as possible across the dimly lit upper terrace at the rear of Amino Battle Command’s huge main chamber. As he walked he looked to his right at the gigantic display screens filled with charts, tables, and complex 3D models of Enchantia’s atmosphere and the surrounding space. One piece of data in particular caused his capacious stomach to tighten: the predicted path of the asteroid, which would arrive within the next fifteen minutes. He took a deep laboured breath and then glanced down to the hundreds of personnel below who appeared to be working silently at their glowing consoles, their shadows black and long against the light of the main screens. There was a tangible sense of tension and foreboding – a sense of menace and anticipation that was rising in intensity. The commander forced a sense of resolve to form in his mind and suppressed an aching desire to return to the steamy and carefree pleasures of his massage chamber. He knew that his place at such a time was with his staff in this awe-inspiring chamber. And he knew that he would have to remain here until the crisis was over. It was his duty as the leader to be an inspiration to all of those working below, and especially to those working high above who would soon face the attack head on. He would have to be a massively obese beacon of hope to the entire population of the Palace of Amino during its darkest hour. He would not, and must not, fail to be all those things. The commander glanced down at his tremendous waistline and stroked it. He felt a surge of pride for his achievement in building such a motivational and deeply respected girth. Reaching the centre of the terrace, Commander Pepe sank his colossal flabby frame into his massive reinforced command chair. Two small command and communications consoles to each side of the chair shimmered to life. A screen ahead of him, set low in front of the railings of the terrace, glimmered to life and displayed its battle configuration mode. At the sight of it a shiver made its way across the
www.palaceofamino.com

153

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

commander’s ample frame. He recalled that the last time he had seen such a configuration was during the emitter beam attack by the lumpbeing, Pys Phecees, almost three decades ago. His stress level then had been almost unbearable at times. And now the same feelings of deep anxiety threatened to consume him once again. He took another deep breath, and then tried to banish such thoughts from his mind. He focused on the tactical and strategic information on the screen, and on the images of the two fleet leaders and their ships - Mad Woman onboard the Bone, and Claudius Buttress onboard the Tainted Glove Puppet. Communications links to the fleet leaders were already active. Below them was an image of Peter the Ace and the Blenheim. The sight of the first-class bounty hunter and his ship stirred the commander’s soul and lifted his spirit. A communications link and a tactical data feed to the top-class bounty hunter was set up and ready. The commander looked up at one of the giant screens at the front of the capacious chamber. The position of the Blenheim in subspace was clearly displayed far behind Lawrence’s asteroid. Chief Officer Goliath Snook approached; his foot falls silent on the dark plush carpeting. He took his seat to the right of the commander. Commander Pepe turned to Goliath. “How are the final preparations going?” Goliath peered down at his data pad; his face bathed in the light of its screen. “The two fleets are now fully formed. All bounty hunters and their ships that were available at the palace, or that were able to return in time, are in place. With the exception of Ross Mental and his team, of course.” The commander nodded. “Of course. I expect they’ve confirmed the death of Sadie Stick by now and are on their way back up?” “No, commander. They had to go deeper. They are currently beyond contact, both by sensors and via communications systems.” Commander Pepe frowned. “Then where, in Wallington’s recesses, are they?!” “Their last known position was one kilometer down and 2.3 kilometres east of this location. That was three hours ago. Ross Mental said they had evidence to suggest that Sadie Stick had gone even deeper so they continued their descent. Beyond that depth there is permanent sensor and communications jamming and no mapping information in order to…” “Protect the Superior Beings – I know that, damn it! Stop spouting verbiage!”

www.palaceofamino.com

154

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Goliath nodded once. “We will just have to trust that they find Sadie Stick and prevent her from doing any further harm down there.” Commander Pepe calmed a little. “Yes, I have full confidence in Ross Mental, so Sadie Stick and her treacherous mutilated form are of little concern to me at the moment.” He pointed at the giant display screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber. “It is that asteroid and all the uncertainties that come with it that concerns me.” He turned back to the chief officer. “I trust my head of External Defences has managed to clear his systems of the virus?” “No, commander.” The commander frowned deeply. “Damn it!” He shuddered, sending ripples across his chins and then slammed his fist onto the side of his chair to activate the communicator. “Woody Tiptoe!” There was a tense two-second delay. “Yes, commander?” “You must have the defence field up and running within the next fifteen minutes!” “ ot possible, I’m afraid. But it should be possible soon after that.” “Soon after that? Be more specific, you spandex addict! How long is ‘soon after that’?!” “The best estimate I can give is 30 to 90 minutes.” Commander Pepe spoke through gritted teeth. “That is not specific at all!” “Sorry, commander. The estimate depends on how many more instances of the virus require assassination. That cannot be determined in advance. We will just have to hope our fleets can provide enough cover for us until the…” The commander silenced the communications channel and grunted in disappointment. He turned his head slowly towards Goliath and frowned. “Anything else I need to know?” The chief officer consulted his data pad. “In your absence, and in line with the crisis protocols, I held a meeting with all your department heads, including Madam Sabina Rolipoli, Cyclone Joe Maloney…” “Don’t sit there and read out the attendees list! What was the outcome of the meeting?” Goliath tapped on his screen. “Emergency sub-surface food and beverage production and distribution facilities have been activated. Battle Command staff and trainee bounty hunters in their shelters will have the high quality meals and drinks that they are accustomed to. They will also have access to the usual entertainment facilities.” Commander Pepe was becoming impatient, but he nodded. “Very good. Such things are important – arguably more important –
www.palaceofamino.com

155

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

during such times of upheaval such as this, especially for those who are playing a passive role.” The chief officer continued. “The Head of Outlying Facilities, Matilda Fuddidud-bugruckus, reports that all servants - many carrying rare beverages, assistants and trainees in other regions of Enchantia, including the luxury residential hillsides, the training cliffs and the Jhamdownut Islands, have returned to the confines of the palace and are in the shelters…” The irrelevant nature of the information finally got to the commander. He bellowed. “Enough! Why do I need to know such trivial rubbish?!” The chief officer blinked slowly. “Because you asked me if there was anything else you needed to know.” “Exactly! ‘Needed to know’! Why, during a crisis of this magnitude, would I ‘need to know’ that some servants carrying beverages have returned to the palace?!” “The beverages are rare, commander, and valuable. They consist of such delicacies as Kutchikutchi and Munchimunch coffee beans, Happy Monkey smoothies, and…” The commander thudded his fists onto the arms of his chair. His stress levels were rising rapidly. He scowled at Goliath and then pointed at the giant view screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber. “There is in progress what could very well turn out to be the most devastating attack on the Palace of Amino since its creation!” He looked back at his chief officer. “That prospect used to consume my attention. The thought of it used to make me shudder with trepidation and foreboding. The enormous responsibility I bear of directing our defences against that attack used to soak me in stress and anguish. But no longer.” Goliath looked back at the commander. “Really?” The commander nodded. The beads of sweat on his wobbling chin-folds glinted in the pale coloured light of the giant view screens. “And do you know why?” The chief officer shook his head. “Because you have bored me rigid with your inane outpouring of irrelevant information that, for what is likely to be some hideously unclean reason, you thought was something I ‘needed to know’!” Goliath sat in silence for a moment, and then spoke. “From now on I will only convey information to you that is directly relevant to the impending attack.” Commander Pepe took a deep breath. With a rasping and wheezing sound he let the breath out. “Thank you.” He looked

www.palaceofamino.com

156

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

around, thinking for a moment, and then he looked back at Goliath. “Now go and get me some strong Munchimunch coffee!”

39

Lavishly Carved Headboard

“They’re coming up! I can hear them!” Shipoopaa said. Panman gripped tightly onto the rungs of the ladder and struggled to look down as Shipoopaa’s bulky thighs, wrapped tightly around his neck, severely restricted his movements. Using the zoom function of his suit’s head-up display he was able to get a good view of the base of the maintenance shaft almost two-hundred metres below. Milling around down there was a crowd of scab demons. Many had started to climb. “You’re right. But I don’t see why you’re so worried. They’re on your side, after all!” “Lord Ecnerwal is wise and ruthless.” The podgy female said, shivering. “He will know by now that I’ve betrayed him. We should’ve climbed quicker and then we could’ve locked ourselves in the…” Panman continued climbing. He interrupted with no attempt to contain his annoyance. “If I didn’t have to haul your massive dumpy arse up here on my shoulders we would’ve reached the top a long time ago, so stop moaning!” “My bottom is a normal size!” She protested, upset. “You obviously don’t know my species very well!” The bounty hunter pushed up on the humanoid’s soft and sagging butt-cheeks and rolled her onto a ledge at the top of the shaft. “Is it normal for your species to be unhealthy and lazy, too?” Shipoopaa got to her feet and winced with pain. The burns she had sustained during Panman’s explosive entry into her chamber below were obviously causing her great discomfort. “I spend my entire time sitting and working. I have no time for exercise!” Panman pulled himself up onto the ledge. “Ah, yes - the lament of a fat bastard!” Shipoopaa was about to speak, but she was silenced by the bounty hunter’s hand. “Enough of this stupid banter.” He said. He pulled his pistol from its holster in his suit’s leg and pointed at a hatchway. “Can I expect any resistance through there?” The female humanoid shook her head. Some of her charred hair fell away. “It’s completely automated. No one will be there.”

www.palaceofamino.com

157

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“You’d better be right; otherwise I’ll have no choice but to melt your thighs down to a more appealing size, and carve huge smouldering chunks out of that mountainous arse!” Shipoopaa shouted. “I’m not lying!” “Glad to hear it.” “And the size of my bottom is normal!” Panman looked down at the female’s backside. He grimaced. “Not in my experience it’s not. Only the whores of Hadus have bigger buttocks than that!” Shipoopaa sniffled. “I don’t understand your need to be so critical of my bottom.” “It’s been on my shoulders for the last fifteen minutes, that’s why. As far as I’m concerned that gives me the right to comment on it as much as I want, and even the right to compose poems and songs about it. If I was so inclined I would even feel perfectly entitled to write numerous essays on it, and to write and narrate a documentary series on each and every fold and sag.” Tears welled up in Shipoopaa’s eyes. Satisfied that he had made his point, Panman pointed at the hatchway once more. “Now open it, please.” Wiping the tears from her face, the tubby female frowned at the bounty hunter and then turned and tapped at a control panel next to the hatchway. The hatchway hissed and then slid sideways. Panman peered through. The room beyond was narrow and almost dark, but extremely high – seeming to stretch forever into a misty blackness above. The bounty hunter’s suit’s sensors read the height as close to hundred metres. The suit’s sensors also confirmed that the twisting tubular edifice that stretched from the centre of the floor far up into the darkness above was indeed a subspace field generator. A deep hum resonated around the deserted room. He turned to Shipoopaa. “Go through.” Still sniffling, Shipoopaa stepped gingerly forwards and into the room. Panman turned back to the shaft. He could hear a soft moaning sound from below. He pulled a fusion charge from his belt, set it, and then dropped it into the shaft. He turned and leapt through the hatch. “Seal the hatch! Now!” Startled for a second by the bounty hunter’s rapid movement, Shipoopaa quickly played with the control panel next to the hatchway. It slammed shut. Almost immediately after there was a muffled thud and a loud crunch as the hatchway buckled slightly. “Sorted!” Panman said with glee, and then he strode over to a control surface next to the tubular edifice. Its configuration was the
www.palaceofamino.com

158

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

same as the one he had encountered before. Re-holstering his pistol, he began manipulating the controls and quickly found the program he had embedded earlier. “Easy as Pi!” He said, and then he stopped and thought for a moment. “Hmm…” He muttered as he selected a snack from his suit’s menu, which, detecting the bounty hunter’s thought processes, had automatically displayed on his suit’s head-up display. Panman sucked on the dispenser tube and chomped noisily on the steak pie that filled his mouth. “Oh, yeah!”

Lord Ecnerwal jumped up and down on his huge oval bed, his cloak billowing and flapping wildly. “One minute!” He yelled with excitement, pulling back his hood. His pale scarred face and scalp were bathed in the light from the orange globes at either side of the bed. He pointed at the large oval display screen on the far wall of his bed chamber. “One minute and my splendid crusade will commence its final glorious surge into the nether regions of victorious magnificence!” Badoodoo, still weakened and in considerable pain from the vicious energy attack by his master the hour before, watched the screen as data and graphics and sensor readouts displayed their final approach to Enchantia, the home planet of the Palace of Amino. With the main chamber next door severely damaged by Panman’s attack a few hours earlier, both he and his master had had to move into the bed chamber. The prospect of spending a long period in the bed chamber with his increasingly mad and unpredictable master was not something that the stubby humanoid was looking forward too. A deep sense of dread filled his mind, and he could feel sweat forming on his brow despite the relative coolness of the air around him. New information appeared on the screen. A graphic of their asteroid appeared with a fluctuating border. A warning flashed in red. Lord Ecnerwal stopped jumping. He looked down at Badoodoo. “What is that?” The assistant knew immediately. It was bad news. He braced himself. “The subspace field is fluctuating again. It looks like Panman may be sending another…” A bony gloved fist slammed down onto his head. Badoodoo slumped to the floor, momentarily stunned. His master screamed. “I ordered you to send 1,301 scab demons to hack out his throat and kidneys and ligaments and hair follicles?!” Badoodoo’s eyes watered as the agony of his injuries returned. “I did, my lord.”
www.palaceofamino.com

159

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Then why does he still appear to possess those body parts?!” The assistant tapped frantically at his data pad. Information filled its screen. “Well, it seems the scab demons have not been very effective. Panman has killed more than half of them, and the rest are stuck behind a huge pile of burning corpses that is blocking access to a maintenance hatch that the bounty hunter escaped into.” Lord Ecnerwal’s face was turning red with rage. “Incompetence on a perpetually rotating scale!” He turned and ran over to his bed’s lavishly carved headboard. He kicked it repeated. “The message he is sending must be stopped!” He turned and glared at Badoodoo, and then raised his arms slowly. “Stop it now, or be roasted in six seconds. The choice is yours, bowel dimple!” Badoodoo pointed at the screen and spoke quickly. “My lord, the transmission of the message relies on the subspace field being active. We will leave subspace in a few seconds time. The field will then disperse and the message will disappear!” His master’s expression immediately calmed. He lowered his arms and spoke gently. “Oh yes! How right you are. The futility of Panman’s efforts is astounding, is it not?” He arched his back and shouted towards the high ceiling. “My intellect is enormous!” To emphasize his statement he thrust his hips up, and then he turned to face Badoodoo whilst still maintaining his arched posture. “I have just had a breathtaking idea!”

Panman watched the screen of the control surface as subsystems began to shut down. “Hey!” He exclaimed, trying to cancel the process. There was a mild shuddering, and then the deep hum emanating from the tubular edifice at the centre of the room faded. A brief wave of nausea passed over him. He knew what that meant. “Damn it!” Shipoopaa was sitting on the floor next to the console. She looked around. “The subspace field has deactivated.” Panman looked down at her. “Obviously. It seems we have arrived. I hope enough of my message was received.” The chunky female buried her head in her arms and began to sob. The bounty hunter frowned. “What’s wrong now?” She looked up, tears running down her chubby and blistered cheeks. “I was promised so much by Lord Ecnerwal once we were triumphant. Now I have betrayed him. Only death awaits me.” Panman was loosing his patience. “Forget about Lawrence, you’re with me now. Stop blubbing and stand up!”
www.palaceofamino.com

160

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Awkwardly, Shipoopaa got to her feet. Panman nodded. “That’s better. Now, I need to…” The whole room began to vibrate. Shipoopaa looked down at the control surface. She screamed. “No! This can’t be! Please, no!” The vibrations were increasing in intensity. Panman looked down at the controls. New data had appeared on the screens along with a blinking countdown. There were only seven seconds left until zero. The bounty hunter immediately realised what was happening. “Wow…” He said, looking down at Shipoopaa, who was now gripping his waist tightly and sobbing once more. “This is going to be very interesting...”

40

Poison Bug

Baron Onslaught cringed as the voice of the annoying female, Mad Woman, sounded over the communications channel. “There is it! Heading 315-332-021. Subspace emergence is even closer than expected. Execute Attack Run ‘Poison Bug’ – modification two!” With a swift sweeping movement of his right hand, Baron Onslaught activated the pre-configured attack plan. His ship surged forwards and banked hard to starboard, pressing the hefty bounty hunter hard into his seat. He took a quick look all around through his viewports as the hundreds of other ships in the fleet performed similar manoeuvres. It was an impressive sight, all the more so because of the stunning backdrop of Enchantia a few hundred kilometres below. He grinned as the fleet sped closer to the planet on a course that would send them skimming the atmosphere at more than fifty kilometres per second. The head-up display was now brisling with colourful information on the state and position of the fleet’s ships, a summary of the progress of ‘Poison Bug’, and, of course, tracking information and sensor details of their target eight hundred kilometres dead ahead. Minimising some of the head-up information, Baron Onslaught looked at the view ahead. For a few seconds he caught his first clear view of Lawrence’s asteroid – a gleaming grey and brown rock in the bright sunlight. It seemed to disappear suddenly as it plunged into the shadow of Enchantia’s night side, but then it reappeared almost immediately as a rapidly brightening ball of blazing plasma.

www.palaceofamino.com

161

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“It’s already in the upper atmosphere! We’re going to have to be quick. Prepare the first salvo. Break and fire on my mark.” Baron Onslaught savoured the sensation of excitement as the fleet spread apart in groups of three. His ship, the Packet of Organic Dried Mango, stayed in close formation with Mad Woman’s ship, the Bone, and Master Freak’s glossy red and spherical ship, the Full Bog Experience. For a few seconds the view ahead changed to a dim field of stars before the three ships arced back towards the planet. Once again the glowing ball of plasma that was the asteroid was dead ahead, and looming larger than ever against the black night side of Enchantia. “We’re close. My sensors are reading multiple and energised emitters on that thing’s surface, so watch out. We must be in range by…” Several blinding beams of energy emanated from the asteroid and swept across the dispersed fleet, one passing within a few hundred metres of Baron Onslaught’s ship. On his head-up display more than a dozen ships winked out of existence. To the port side he noticed the distinctive flashes of detonating globular drive cores. He looked at the new information on his head-up display. Already bounty hunters – two of which he had known personally – had died. His excitement turned to anger. “Fire!” With a slam of his palm, Baron Onslaught activated his ship’s forward disruptor. A rapid stream of energy pulses leapt forwards. The pulses slammed almost instantly into the surface of the blazing asteroid, along with hundreds of others from the other ships. With another slam of his palm he released a spread of MELTERS – Massively ExpLosive Torpedoes with Extremely Reactive Shields. The torpedoes leapt forwards, their flickering sublight engines burning brightly as they manoeuvred along their intentionally erratic courses. Most failed early; intercepted by the asteroids emitters, but enough got through to cause of a cascade of detonations across the asteroids surface, which now filled the view ahead. Baron Onslaught laughed with satisfaction. His ship shuddered violently as it hit the outer atmosphere of Enchantia and then passed through the expanding cloud of vaporised and shattered rock, all the time maintaining its formation with the Bone and the Full Bog Experience. For a second he was no more than a hundred metres away from the asteroid’s surface

Commander Pepe watched the attack unfold on Amino Battle Command’s giant view-screens. Already thirty-six bounty hunter
www.palaceofamino.com

162

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

ships had been destroyed. He took a final swig from his mug of coffee, finishing it. “When will the second fleet intercept?” Chief Officer Goliath Snook analysed the information on his data pad. “Within three minutes, commander. They were on the other side of the planet and need more time to…” “Yes yes, I know!” The commander blurted. He sighed as he noticed that four more bounty hunter ships had been lost. “What about the damage to that asteroid?” “It’s loosing mass at a rate of four million tonnes per second.” The commander nodded. He was confused. “It does not appear to be slowing down.” Goliath shook his head. “No, commander. It appears that its flight through the atmosphere is powered. It is no longer loosing altitude, either.” “When will it reach us?” “Within sixteen minutes.” Commander Pepe grunted and touched the control pad on his chair. “Woody? What’s the status of the defence field?” Woody Tiptoe’s reply was swift. “It’s still down, commander.” “Damn it, I know that! I need it active within the next few minutes!” “Of course you do, but it may be a little longer than that. There is still a significant amount of infection in there. You’ll need to be patient for a little…” The commander wheezed at the top of his voice. “How dare you tell me to patient?! Look at the screens, frill seeker! Do you think Lawrence and his invasion force will be patient? Get it working!” “I’ll do my best, commander.” The communications channel fell silent. The commander gasped as a feeling of breathless anxiety briefly overcame him. “Commander,” Goliath said. “There is an urgent communication from Peter the Ace.” Commander Pepe nodded. “Patch it through.” A second later the image of Peter the Ace appeared on his personal screen. The image of the first-class bounty hunter made him feel a little better. “Peter the Ace! Good to hear from you. I see from our sensors that you’ll be arriving in ten minutes or so. Having you and your magnificent ship here will…” “ o time for chit-chat, commander.” Peter the Ace said. “I picked up another message from Panman a minute ago. It was embedded in the asteroid’s subspace field again.”

www.palaceofamino.com

163

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe attempted to sit up straight but failed. He slumped back with a groan. “That’s good news. What did he say?” “Unfortunately his message was cut off as the asteroid emerged from subspace, but it seemed to be a warning about the landing craft that will emerge from the asteroid. He said we should not shoot them down.” The commander frowned. “Not shoot them down? They are part of an invasion fleet! Are we supposed to just let them land unimpeded?” “That appears to be Panman’s advice.” “Why would he advise such a ridiculous course of action?” “As I said, the message was cut short. The instruction not to shoot them down was very clear, though.” Commander Pepe grunted. “Panman must be under some form of duress. He would never suggest such a ludicrous course of action!” Peter the Ace spoke sternly. “It is impossible for a first-class bounty hunter to succumb to such a situation. You of all people should know that, commander!” “Of course.” The commander said, nodding once. “My apologies. But you must admit the advice is strange.” “It is, but only because we do not have access to the facts and reasoning that caused Panman to issue the advice.” He paused for a second. “The course of action our fleets must take is ultimately your decision, commander.” Commander Pepe felt a surge of stress pass over his blubbery frame; one of the most powerful yet. “I know.” Peter the Ace smiled. “Good. Make sure you make the right one. I’ll be joining the battle in eight minutes. Peter the Ace out.” The commander gazed at the images and data on the giant screens as he considered his course of action. He could see that the second fleet was now descending on the asteroid and that twenty-three more bounty hunters had perished. And he could also see that something long and thin had been ejected from the asteroids upper surface. Bemused, he turned to Goliath. “What, in an ape’s crevice, is that?!”

41

Soggy Pill Fragments

The force of the fifteen-gee acceleration had pinned Panman to the floor and had rendered him almost powerless. Although he had not
www.palaceofamino.com

164

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

been able to see her, he had felt the tremendous weight of Shipoopaa pressing down onto his legs, and he had felt the multiple snaps as her bones were crushed. Within seconds the walls of the subspace field generator had crumbled and fallen away, and seconds after that the force of the acceleration had ceased, only to be replaced by the roaring hurricane of fiery plasma. Acting quickly, and growing ever hotter despite the incredible protection offered by his suit, Panman secured himself to the base of the subspace field generator and removed an emergency cranial maintenance bag from his belt. Drawing and activating his superheated battle blade, he grabbed Shipoopaa’s writhing, baking and burning body and sliced off her blackened head. He sealed the head in the bag and then activated its life-support systems. The roar fell away. The heat quickly dissipated. Now clear of the atmosphere, the subspace field generator drifted slowly away from the massive ball of flaming plasma below. Panman sheathed his battle blade and quickly checked his suit. Its surface was heavily charred but otherwise seemed intact. His helmet’s head-up display was showing a few error messages, the most serious of which was the failure of his transponder. Other than making him harder to locate that would not be much of a problem. At least there seemed to be no problem with his communicator. As he prepared to contact the Palace of Amino he looked down at Lawrence’s burning asteroid and watched as it moved away. It was clearly under a massive and sustained attack, made all the more impressive against the night side of Enchantia and the dim starfield beyond. The bounty hunter watched proudly for a moment as hundreds of ships, most mere pinpricks of light, flew like highlytrained energy-emitting insects in rapid and tight arcs around the invading lump of rock. Satisfying detonations rippled across the asteroid’s surface. And then he noticed a ship approaching from below. There was a flash of light from its bow. The bounty hunter’s suit warbled and a critical warning appeared on his helmet’s head-up display. “Aw! Shit!” Gripping tightly onto Shipoopaa’s head and kicking off with maximum force, Panman leapt away from the subspace field generator. It exploded. The first-class bounty hunter was immediately engulfed in a searing cloud of debris. As he activated his communicator a tremendous force whacked into him.

www.palaceofamino.com

165

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

“The object’s been destroyed, commander.” Commander Pepe reclined his bulging frame into his chair and nodded. “Very good. Best to be safe, don’t you agree?” Goliath Snook nodded. “Yes, commander.” The commander glanced and the giant screens at the front of the main Amino Battle Command chamber. One of them showed a detailed sensor image of the dissipating explosion of the object. “Any idea what it was yet?” The chief officer looked down at his data pad. “Debris analysis indicates it was a subspace field generator.” “Hmm…” The commander said, scratching several of his chins as he thought. “Surely that asteroid would need that to re-enter subspace? Why would Lawrence eject it?” “Perhaps it was damaged?” “Ejecting it seems a drastic course of action. Lawrence is madder and more deranged that even I imagined.” Goliath was silent for a moment. “Perhaps not, commander. Perhaps Lawrence has no intention of leaving in that asteroid. It looks likely that he intends to stay, one way or the other.” Commander Pepe shuddered. Yet another wave of anxiety swept over him. He frowned and then grimaced as the sting of excess stomach acid rose into his throat. “Let’s hope it’s the other.” He grimaced again and activated his communicator. “Janta, bring me a pork pie and some ale!” The reply was sweet and dreamy. “Yes, commander. I’ll bring them as soon as I can.” “And a tub of antacids!” “Whatever you desire, love puppet.” Commander Pepe looked at Goliath. The chief officer was looking down at his data pad and muttering something. He shook his head. “What is it?” Goliath looked up at the commander, his face solemn. “I believe we may have made a grave mistake.” He held up his data pad. Janta arrived and quietly placed the commander’s order by his side. The commander nodded once in thanks and then focused on the chief officer’s data pad. He gasped at what he saw, and then let out a rumbling and wheezing cough. Frantically he grabbed the small jar of antacids on the table next to him and poured them into his mouth. He chomped hard, swallowed and then gagged momentarily as he almost choked. Recovering, he turned towards Janta who was walking sexily
www.palaceofamino.com

166

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

away. The commander shouted, a spray of soggy pill fragments erupting from his mouth. His stress, desperation and gastric agony were obvious in his voice. “More antacids!”

42

Horrific Multi-Chinned Head

“Oh, Badoodoo! The perfection of my forward planning is incomparable!” Lord Ecnerwal said. He stood in a wide and powerful stance on his huge purple bed, his face beaming. He looked down at the assistant, his expression transforming quickly into a scowl. His voice rasped. “And you, my little poo pellet, protested my request to have an ejection system fitted to the subspace field generator, didn’t you?” Badoodoo began to defend himself. “Only because no other ship in history has ever had one fitted. Such generators cannot be overloaded in the same way as drive systems and therefore don’t require…” “Shut up!” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. He pointed at the screen opposite the bed and grinned. “With a single stroke I managed to eject that bounty bastard and get his own kind to destroy him. You cannot deny that! And you cannot deny that my idea was incredible, and quite inconceivable to those beneath my unbelievable level of ingenuity!” Badoodoo knew what he must do to survive. “No, my lord. I cannot deny that.” Lord Ecnerwal laughed. He let himself fall back onto his silky bed sheets in a spread-eagled position. “Rejoice in the truly magnificent spectacle of my splendid sagaciousness!” He began to cackle like an old wart-infested hag, and continued to do so for more than a minute. And then he sat up and looked intently at Badoodoo. “When will my scab demons be dispatched?” Badoodoo looked down at his data pad. “The lower rock hull has lost almost eighty percent of its mass. The landing craft of the scab demons will be able to leave in just a few…” An alarm interrupted the assistant. Lord Ecnerwal looked around frantically. “What was that? Is it good?” Badoodoo swallowed. “Erm… no, my lord, alarms such as that one are never good. A ship has emerged from subspace directly behind us. Less than a hundred kilometres away.”
www.palaceofamino.com

167

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The asteroid shuddered. Badoodoo almost lost his footing. Lord Ecnerwal was incensed. “What’s happening?!” The assistant steadied himself. “The ship has fired on us!” “Identify it!” “It… It’s the Blenheim, my lord!” In a fit of exaggerated rage, Lord Ecnerwal leaned over and vomited with all his might onto Badoodoo’s face.

The Blenheim rocked wildly as another burst of energy struck its shields. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH SEVENTY-EIGHT PERCENT.” “Target the topside – random SPUNGE spread. Ten units. Fire!”. The ship complied. “TARGETING… FIRING…” Peter the Ace watched the main view-screen, which currently showed a view directly down, as the Super Penetrating UNdulating Girth Expansion torpedoes shot out of their bays and headed down to the asteroid less than ten kilometres below. Within seconds they hit their target, detonating hundreds of metres below its surface. Although partly obscured by streams of burning plasma, Peter the Ace could clearly see the top surface of the asteroid lift up and then break apart. He grinned as geysers of white fire blasted through the cracks. He operated his communications panel. “Lawrence, good to see that you’re still as mad as ever. Are you enjoying my torpedoes? I must say, I’m impressed by this current plan of yours. Your arrogant lunacy has reached yet another new high. Congratulations!” As expected it took only a few seconds for a response to come. The image of a deeply scarred face and scalp appeared in a small window on the main view-screen, overlaid over the view of the blazing asteroid and the attacking bounty hunter fleets. “Your powers of perception are feeble, bounty bastard!” Lawrence said, as what appeared to be vomit dribbled down his chin. His voice rose in pitch. “You mistake justified confidence for arrogance, and mind-blowing creativity for lunacy!” Peter the Ace laughed. “Wow! You’re so easily goaded, and by nothing more than a true and unexaggerated assessment of your plan, too!” Lawrence shook visibly with rage. “Such impudence will be punished when my magnificent plot succeeds! You will soon bow down to kiss my bare un-moisturised feet and beg for forgiveness! And then you will die in the worst manner possible!”

www.palaceofamino.com

168

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The bounty hunter ignored Lawrence’s rant. “I notice that your face is now as scarred as your scalp. The result of a close encounter with Panman, no doubt.” Lawrence appeared initially infuriated by the remark, but his expression quickly changed to one of satisfaction. “Yes it was, but your companion is now dead – killed by your own kind!” He threw his head back and yelled. “Ha harr! I have inconceivable cleverness!” The communications channel was closed abruptly. But another one immediately opened. It was a call from Amino Battle Command. As he positioned his ship for another attack Peter the Ace answered the call. The horrific multi-chinned head of Commander Pepe appeared on the screen. “Commander, glad you called. I’ve just spoken to Lawrence. He claims Panman has been killed by bounty hunters. He’s obviously lost his mind completely to make such a preposterous statement. But if he truly believes it then we can use that to our…” Commander Pepe looked solemn. “Lawrence’s statement may not be as preposterous as it sounds.” “What possible reason could you have to say that?” “As you may be aware, a bounty hunter ship destroyed the subspace field generator that was ejected from the asteroid.” Peter the Ace nodded. “Yes, the Blenheim’s sensors picked that up. That was a vital piece of equipment. More evidence that Lawrence has completely lost his mind, don’t you think?” “I’m afraid I don’t. It appears that Lawrence ejected the generator because Panman was on it.” Peter the Ace paused for a moment. “I see.” He said, frowning. “And yet you still ordered its destruction?” The commander’s guilt was obvious. He had begun to sweat profusely. “There was no indication of Panman’s presence. His transponder was obviously not functioning. We only realised he was there when he opened a communications channel just before the generator’s destruction. There was no possibility of calling off the attack.” He wheezed and then took a bite out of a pie, obviously for comfort. Crumbs tumbled down his chins, many sticking as they got trapped in pools of sweat. The Blenheim shook as another blast slammed into the ship. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH SIXTY-SIX PERCENT.” Peter the Ace ordered another attack. “Target the stern. Disruptor burst – five-second duration and forty-degree arc. Fire!” “TARGETING… FIRING…” Peter the Ace smiled as he watched a deep white-hot gash being carved into the asteroid’s rear end. After a moment he returned his
www.palaceofamino.com

169

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

attention to the commander, his expression turning serious. “Once again you seem to doubt Panman’s abilities, commander. This is quite unlike you. Perhaps you are not up to the job anymore?” Commander Pepe’s eyes widened. He spat out some fragments of pie. “I am as capable as ever! I have suffered stress beyond that suffered on previous crises, I’ll admit that, but I have also doubled the time I spend in my massage chamber to compensate. I assure you I am completely up to the job!” “That’s good to know, commander. I will find Panman. Maintain your confidence and get rid of those doubts. Greater challenges are surely on their way.” The commander nodded. His image faded away.

“Ha harr! Look at him flee like a flea!” Lord Ecnerwal said with glee as he stood on his bed in a proud and theatrical stance. “His fear of my intelligence and stirring mood swings is clearly evident!” Badoodoo wiped the last of the vomit from his face as he watched one of the screens on the wall. The sensor image of the Blenheim did indeed appear to show the ship in a rapid retreat. Increasingly violent shudders rocked the bed chamber. Badoodoo was looking at his data pad. “That last attack damaged our propulsion system, my lord.” He looked up at his master. “We are no longer able to sustain our course and speed within the atmosphere!” Lord Ecnerwal looked around like a startled cat, his focus switching from the glowing orange globes at his bedside, up to the high ceiling and then finally back to the large screens on the chamber wall. “We must! The scab demons must launch!” Badoodoo consulted his data pad once more. “The lower rock hull has finally burned away, my lord. The landing craft will launch within seconds.” Lord Ecnerwal jumped to his feet and then looked down at his assistant, smiling sweetly. “That pleases me immensely. Thank you, stench monger.” Badoodoo ignored yet another insult. “I recommend that we leave the atmosphere immediately after the landing craft launch, otherwise we may lose the ability to do so.” Lord Ecnerwal nodded. “That is a very sensible suggestion, Badoodoo. You’re not as thick as you appear or sound, are you?” Badoodoo sighed. “No, my lord.” “Good. Pass the order on to the command crew.” The assistant nodded.
www.palaceofamino.com

170

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

One of the large screens now showed a view looking down onto the landing craft. All four of the huge, black rectangular ships were now descending, their bows glowing as the friction of the atmosphere took hold. Lord Ecnerwal sobbed at the sight. “Beautiful.” He said, sniffling. “Isn’t it beautiful?!”

43

Pork Pie

“I say again, target the rear craft only. That is the order of Commander Pepe.” Baron Onslaught was still confused by the order. He glanced over at Mad Woman’s ship as they sped in close formation and at hypersonic speed through the dawn light of Enchantia’s lower atmosphere. “That order is ridiculous. It goes against all tactical common sense!” “The order is clear, Mister Onslaught. It’s unnecessary for us to know the reasoning behind it, and there is no time for us to discuss it!” The bounty hunter had to admit she was right. “Fair enough.” He waved a hand over his control surfaces. “Target acquired.” His head-up display showed the thirty other ships assigned to this task all locking on to the trailing landing craft, less than fifty kilometres ahead. “Prepare to fire on my mark.” Baron Onslaught’s head-up display highlighted some new information. He looked up. The asteroid, still blazing in a cloud of burning plasma high above, was noticeably receding. With most of its rocky surface now burned or blown away the asteroid resembled a giant pin-cushion, with the pins actually the stalks of the potent energy emitters that had so far destroyed more than three-hundred bounty hunter ships. Explosions could be seen flashing across its surface as hundreds of bounty hunter ships continued their attack. “The asteroid’s heading out of the atmosphere.” “That’s not your concern, Mister Onslaught. Maintain focus!” Baron Onslaught struggled to contain his annoyance at Mad Woman’s voice and manner, but he managed. He took a deep breath and looked beyond his head-up display at the brightening horizon ahead. There in the distance, silhouetted against the dawn light, were the four black landing craft. The head-up display had surrounded the nearest one in a glowing green square.
www.palaceofamino.com

171

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Mad Woman’s irritating voice spoke yet again. “Fire!”

Commander Pepe watched as a portion of one of the giant viewscreens showed the ongoing attack on one of the landing craft. Layer after layer of the rectangular craft’s thick black armour was being stripped away by a constant barrage of disruptor beams and missiles. The other three craft were continuing on their course unchallenged. This troubled the commander. His instincts told him that he should be attacking those, too. But he could not completely ignore the partial message from Panman that contradicted his instincts, nor the very recent lack of confidence in his abilities expressed by Peter the Ace. His compromise, to attack just one of the landing craft to see what happened, felt totally inadequate, but it was the only course of action he could think of. Wincing as his deepening anxiety caused a surge of stomach acid up his throat; he knocked back the last dregs of his ale and then turned to his chief officer. “Give me some good news, Goliath.” The chief officer looked down at his data pad for a second, and then up at the main screens. “Well, as you can see the asteroid has unexpectedly left the atmosphere. We had expected it to pass very close to, or even hit, the Palace of Amino in the next ten minutes – a certain catastrophe considering our defence field is still not functional. The most recent attack by Peter the Ace seems to have damaged its propulsion system, which has probably bought us some time.” Commander Pepe nodded and looked at the information on the asteroid’s position on one of the main screens. It was now more than five-hundred kilometres above the atmosphere. It had taken on a weird and spiky appearance since its rocky surface had been worn or blasted away. A swarm of bounty hunter ships were continuing to attack it, focusing their attentions on the long energy emitters that were continuing to wipe out ships at an alarming rate. According to a nearby table of data close to four-hundred ships and bounty hunters had now perished. His anxiety deepened further. The commander focused his attention back on the approaching landing craft. At their current speed they would arrive at the palace in fourteen minutes. He tapped on his communications console. “Woody! Update!” There was a moment of silence before the head of External Defences responded. “The defence field should be back online soon, commander.” “Be specific!” “Within the next hour.”
www.palaceofamino.com

172

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Be more specific!” “I’m afraid I can’t. Sorry, commander.” Commander Pepe slammed down his fist and closed the channel. He grabbed and swallowed his remaining antacid pills. He breathed heavily and noisily. Goliath Snook had noticed the commander’s stress. “Perhaps another pork pie would help, commander?” The commander glared at the chief officer and then nodded. “You’re damn right it would! Get me one. Now!”

44

Suctioned Nipple Cups

The blackened object on the main view screen grew brighter as it slowly emerged from Enchantia’s shadow. Its identity was now confirmed. Peter the Ace spoke to the ship. “Bring us right over him. Hold at five metres.” “COURSE SET. ARRIVAL IN FOUR MINUTES AND FOURTEEN SECONDS.” Jemima Murma entered the bridge carrying a tray. She set it down on the surface beside Peter the Ace’s sumptuous command chair. “A pot of Darjeeling and a bowl of cherries, as ordered.” “Thank you.” The bounty hunter said as he watched the assistant pour him a cup. He looked up and down her body and smiled. “Is that new?” Jemima Murma glanced down at her own outfit. She was wearing nothing more than a furry black mini-skirt and a pair of tiny black suctioned nipple cups. The nipple cups were connected to her ears by delicate silver chains. “I’m honoured that you noticed!” She said, grinning. “I made it during our voyage.” “Marvelous effort!” Peter the Ace said, genuinely impressed. It’s good to see you’re making constructive use of your free time.” The assistant bowed politely and then glanced up at the main view-screen. She looked a bit shocked. “Is that…” Peter the Ace looked back at the screen and nodded. “It is. You’d better get down to the sickbay. Your splendid fabric-cutting talents are sure to come in useful.” Jemima Murma nodded and then walked briskly off the bridge. After taking a sip of his tea Peter the Ace touched his communications panel. “Justin, what are you doing?”
www.palaceofamino.com

173

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The cyborg responded in his usual lifeless fashion. “I am scrubbing the bacterial filters on the waste compressors.” “Excellent. A worthy task. Forget that for now, though. Get yourself cleaned up and disinfected and then go down to the lower cargo bay.” “I obey.”

Justin stood motionless next to the large open door in the floor of the lower cargo bay, his magnetised plate-like feet securing him to the floor in the current zero gravity of the bay. He looked down through the door and out into the blackness of the silent void beyond. “I’m moving the ship now.” Peter the Ace said via the communicator embedded in the cyborg’s thick metal head. “Get ready to grab him.” After a few seconds a blackened figure, curled up into a foetal position, drifted slowly up into the bay. Justin extended his bulky arms. After a few seconds the charred figure was within reach. With the cargo bay door already closing, the cyborg grabbed the figure and pulled it closed to his reinforced metal chest plate. “I have acquired Panman.” “Excellent. Restoring gravity. Take him to the sickbay.” “I obey.” Justin waited for a few seconds until his sensors registered the return of a gravitational force, and then he turned and headed for the exit. There was a hushed rush of air around him as the bay repressurised.

The Blenheim’s sickbay was one of the most advanced medical facilities in the galaxy, and also one of the most luxurious. The subdued lighting, soft carpeting, soothing aromas and plush beds and seating created an air of sophisticated calm and professionalism. Just the sight of it was said to be enough to initiate a recovery. With a whirr of his servos Justin entered the sickbay and strode heavily over to the central operating table, the usual clang of his footfalls silenced by the carpet. Jemima Murma was waiting there; a look of deep concern on her face. The cyborg looked at the toned, tanned and barely-clothed assistant. He felt nothing. He put the burnt figure of Panman down on the table. “Panman is now in the sickbay.” Peter the Ace spoke. “Good. Jemima, please cut him out of his suit.” The assistant looked nervous. “I will.”
www.palaceofamino.com

174

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Don’t worry.” Peter the Ace said, obviously detecting the fear in her voice. “Just get on with it and don’t think too much.” She nodded. “Thank you.” “Justin, stay there for a while and offer assistance if necessary.” “I obey.” “I must take us back to join the battle so you may experience the odd violent jolt now and then. Keep me informed.” The communications channel closed. Taking a deep breath, Jemima Murma rolled Panman onto his back. She attempted to straighten his legs and arms but they refused to move. The intense heat that had seared the suit had locked it into position. She looked at Justin. “I think you may need to straighten him for me.” The cyborg leaned his bulk over the operating table and placed on of his chunky hands on Panman’s knees, which were raised up almost onto his chest. He placed his other hand on the top of Panman’s chest armour and then pushed. With a loud crunching and tearing sound the bounty hunter’s legs straightened out and slammed into the surface of the table. Charred fragments of the suit scattered across the sickbay. As the dull clatter of the debris faded Justin made a dry and lifeless observation. “Panman is holding onto an object.” Jemima Murma looked underneath Panman’s arms. There was indeed an object there encased in a translucent bag. Grabbing the bounty hunter’s arms she pulled hard. This time she did not need Justin’s help. The arms moved apart relatively easily, and with only a mild cracking noise. She picked up the object. It was quite heavy, and through the semi-transparent bag she could see that the object was as heavily charred as Panman’s suit. Justin spoke. “The object is encased in emergency cranial maintenance bag. There is a high probability that the object is a humanoid head.” Jemima Murma grimaced slightly and then handed the head to Justin. “I’ll let you deal with that.” Free of the head, the assistant tapped at the operating table’s control surface and programmed a cutting sequence. Immediately a piece of equipment descended from the ceiling. A barely visible beam of energy began to move across Panman’s helmet in a crisscross pattern. Within seconds the helmet was breached. The equipment retracted into the ceiling. The assistant took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment, preparing herself for the traumatic experience of seeing the roasted corpse of one of her idols. She cleared her mind and opened her eyes. Gripping the helmet’s visor, she pulled it apart.

www.palaceofamino.com

175

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman’s face was revealed. Mercifully he seemed to have been spared the ravaging temperatures that had virtually incinerated the outer layers of his suit. He looked calm and at peace with his eyes closed. A small dribble of food clung to the side of his mouth. Despite her attempts at self-control, a tear made its way down Jemima Murma’s cheek. Justin spoke. “My heat sensor indicates that the core temperature of Panman’s body is 36.7 degrees Celsius.” Jemima Murma felt angry. She looked up at the cyborg and was about to reprimand him for his cold and inappropriately timed technical statement when she was distracted by movement below. She looked down and gasped at what she saw. Panman was staring up at her. “Sorry, I must have nodded off!” The bounty hunter said. “The entertainment system failed. It was as boring as a nun’s résumé in here!” He licked the food from the side of his mouth and grinned. “Hmm… Tangy!” Jemima Murma could not contain her joy and relief. She sobbed openly, a huge smile across her face. Panman looked over at Justin. “Ah, metal buddy! I see you’re holding the head of Shipoopaa. She’s in a desperate state. Take her to the cyborg construction lab. Get her a new body as soon as possible.” “I obey.” Justin said as he turned. He stomped away. “Now,” Panman said, looking back at Jemima Murma, who was still sobbing and grinning, “calm yourself and help me get out of this suit.” The assistant nodded and programmed another cutting sequence into the operating table’s control surface. “I must let Peter the Ace know you’re OK.” She said as some equipment descended from the ceiling once again. This time several beams of energy began cutting into Panman’s charred suit. “Allow me.” Panman said as the right arm of his suit was opened up. With remarkable dexterity he reached over and activated the communicator on the table’s control surface. “Yo, Ace!” The response was swift. “Panman! Great to have you back.” “I guess Lawrence’s attack is well underway.” “It is indeed.” “Did you get my last message?” “Some of it. I passed your warning about the landing craft to Commander Pepe.” “Cool!” “ ot so cool, I’m afraid. For some reason he thinks you sent the message under duress. He felt inclined not to believe it.”
www.palaceofamino.com

176

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“What?!” Panman exclaimed. He sat up, his sliced-up suit falling away. “It’s me, damn it!” “I did try to explain. His stress levels are higher than ever, and his confidence lower than ever. For some reason he’s finding the current crisis particularly difficult to deal with. That’s evident in one of his most recent orders. I’ve just zoomed in to the tactical display for the four landing craft that are now approaching the palace. They will arrive in about eight minutes. Three of them are being left alone as you ordered, but one is being attacked furiously.” “That’s an alarming tactic! Is he going mad?” “I guess he’s unsure so he’s attacking one of them to see what happens.” “He is going mad!” “Perhaps. He does think you’re dead, and that he killed you.” Panman frowned. “Definitely mad!” The equipment retracted back into the ceiling. Ripping the last remnants of his suit from his body, Panman leapt off the operating table. He was wearing only his grade-one red inner comfort suit. He grinned at Jemima Murma. “Thanks for getting me out of that thing.” The assistant, still tearful, bowed. “It was an honour and a privilege.” “I’m sure it was!” Panman said as he bounded for the exit. “Ace, I’m coming up. I need to talk to the commander as soon as possible.” He paused at the doorway and looked back at Jemima Murma. “Bring a bowl of dipping-custard and a basket of white chocolate mini-muffins and caramelised bananas up to the bridge as soon as possible!”

45

Clogged Arteries

Commander Pepe burped loudly. He was very satisfied with the sensation of yet another pork pie sitting heavily in his stomach. The chefs in the Battle Command kitchen were living up to their reputation as some of the finest at the Palace of Amino. Goliath Snook’s resonant voice interrupted the commander’s moment of pleasure. “Commander, there’s a call for you from the Blenheim.” The commander nodded. “Put it through.” He watched his large private screen a couple of metres to his front as the Blenheim’s
www.palaceofamino.com

177

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

insignia briefly displayed, and then a face, totally familiar and yet totally unexpected, appeared on the screen. The commander was acutely aware of his own jaw dropping. Shock almost rendered him speechless. He managed one word. “Panman?” “Of course it’s me.” The bounty hunter said. Crumbs scattered from his mouth. “But… I was almost certain that…” “I know, and I’m very disappointed that you doubted my abilities and survival skills.” Shame and embarrassment welled up inside Commander Pepe. He attempted to bow, but from his seated and slightly reclined position his tremendous gut-folds and bloated chins prevented him from succeeding. “I apologise. I was foolish beyond description.” “You were,” Panman said as he stuffed what looked like a glazed banana into his mouth, “especially when you failed to heed my advice regarding those landing craft.” “It was an astonishingly difficult decision to make.” The commander said defensively. “I could not be sure of your integrity. I thought it best that…” “ o excuses! You must call of the attack at once, before it’s too late!” “Too late for what?” The commander asked, confused. Panman glared out of the screen. “There’s no time to explain. Just do it! Panman out!” Intense waves of stress, embarrassment and guilt spread through Commander Pepe’s vast flab-infested body as he prepared to contact the first fleet’s leader, Mad Woman, who was leading the attack on the landing craft. He struggled to concentrate, the burning sensation of his reddening face and the pounding of the clogged arteries in his neck were highly distracting. His breathing had become fast and noisy. The chief officer had noticed the commander’s distress. “Commander, you do not look well. Perhaps I should bring you another…” “Pork pie?!” The commander shouted, wheezing at the top of his voice. “Yes, damn it, bring me another pork pie!”

Another hail of armour plating clattered across the hull of Baron Onslaught’s ship. Ahead, silhouetted against the low amber sun and only a few kilometres away, the landing craft continued to shed its skin as a relentless barrage of disruptor beams and missiles tortured its hull.

www.palaceofamino.com

178

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The bounty hunter examined some of the data on his head-up display. “We’ve blasted away more than half of its mass. It must be the most heavily armoured ship I’ve ever seen!” “Concentrate, Mister Onslaught.” The fleet leader said. “Otherwise I may change my mind on pursuing and pleasuring you!” Baron Onslaught scowled at the sound of Mad Woman’s voice, and especially at her ridiculous sexual over-confidence. “Do not pursue me. You do not appeal to me in any way.” Another storm of debris approached his ship, this time containing some huge fragments. The bounty hunter moved a hand quickly over his control surfaces causing his ship to dive. He quickly levelled his course just a hundred metres over the densely forested valley below. The debris passed overhead. “I never give up on a challenge. You will be mine!” Baron Onslaught frowned. “There was never any challenge to begin with.” “Of course there was! I hear the lust in your voice, Mister Onslaught, even if you do not yet consciously register it yourself.” Baron Onslaught could not contain himself any longer. “You are indeed a mad woman! When this crisis is over I do not want you to come near me!” Mad Woman laughed. “It will be you who’ll be coming near me, Mister Onslaught, and you will beg for my close and intimate attention. I guarantee it!” The bounty hunter was incensed. “Never! I would rather plunge the venom-filled fangs of a syklath deep into my loins than…” Mad Woman interrupted. “Silence! I have an urgent message from Battle Command coming in. Stand by.” Baron Onslaught fumed. He took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. There was no way he would ever desire Mad Woman’s hideously uneven body, and there was no way she was going to lay even a finger on his. He should simply ignore her strange flirtations. “All ships abort the attack!” “Why?” “Just do it!” Baron Onslaught deactivated his weapons systems. All the other ships ceased firing. Ahead, the target landing craft, in formation with the others, continued on its course. It was leaving behind a dense trail of smoke, but it was no longer shedding a cloud of armour. On the brightening horizon could be seen the imposing skyline of the Palace of Amino.

www.palaceofamino.com

179

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

46

Shadows

Lord Ecnerwal sat cross-legged in the middle of his purple silksheeted bed with his hands clasped tightly to the sides of his scarred head. He looked at Badoodoo, his mouth hung open and his eyes wide and wet with distress. He spoke softly. “Why are they attacking only one of them, Badoodoo? They should be attacking them all. They are supposed to. Why, Badoodoo? Why?” The assistant was becoming increasingly nervous. “I think they may have figured out how the landing craft work, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal was shuddering, but his voice remained soft. “My scab demons must be released. They must, Badoodoo.” Some information appeared on Badoodoo’s data pad. As he analysed it he swallowed hard. A deep sense of dread swept over him. Lord Ecnerwal frowned, his mood and manner swinging wildly as usual. He hissed. “What is it, stool sample?!” The assistant looked up. “They have ceased their attack on the landing craft, my lord.” Trembling, Lord Ecnerwal clambered uneasily off the bed. “This news is dire.” He said, almost in monotone. His trembling increased. “You must give me some news that is good. It is the only way that you can live beyond the next minute.” Badoodoo backed away. Now he too was trembling. He frantically scanned his data pad and blurted out some more positive information. “The landing craft that was being attacked may be damaged enough to allow the escape of the scab demons! All the craft will arrive at the Palace of Amino in one minute. The palace still has no defence field!” Lord Ecnerwal relaxed. “Then I will watch and wait. If the scab demons disembark, you will live. If they don’t, you will die in an appropriate manner.” He smiled and held out his arms. “Come Badoodoo. Stand close to me so we can watch together.” Terrified, Badoodoo did as he was told. He walked over to his master and stood by his side. Lord Ecnerwal put his arm around the assistant’s shoulder. He pointed at the one of the large screens on the wall of the bed chamber. “Show me the Palace of Amino.” Barely able to control the shaking of his hands, Badoodoo manipulated his data pad. The screen now showed a view straight down onto the palace which was bathed in the orange glow of sunset.
www.palaceofamino.com

180

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The palaces towers were casting long black shadows. “The landing craft will arrive from the east.” Lord Ecnerwal squeezed Badoodoo. “I know, my rotund little growth of flesh, I know.” The assistant winced in pain as his master’s bony grip on his shoulder tightened and tightened.

“There they are.” Goliath Snook said. The huge central screen at the front of the main Amino Battle Command chamber showed an ultra-high-definition view to the east of the palace. Well lit in the evening sun, the four black landing craft could be seen approaching in parallel just a few hundred metres above the forests and lakes. The craft on the left was noticeable smaller, having had a large percent of its mass blasted away. It was leaving a cloud of dense smoke in its wake. Spread widely behind the landing craft, the much smaller bounty hunter ships could be seen maintaining close contact with the invaders. Commander Pepe stared at the image. He chewed on the last mouthful of his latest pork pie. “How long?” He asked, crumbs of pastry spraying out across his vast belly and tumbling over his chins. “They will pass over the perimeter wall in fifteen seconds.” The commander sighed and touched his communications console. “Woody, you know what I’m going to ask.” “I do.” Was the reply. “And you know what my answer is.” The commander closed the channel. There was no point in shouting. Such methods of motivation would no longer be very effective. The landing craft were here, and they were about to land. The invasion of the Palace of Amino was about to begin. The chief officer asked. “Do you have any further orders, commander?” Tension gripped Commander Pepe’s humongous body from head to foot. He kept his focus on the giant image of the landing craft ahead. “Surround me with pork pies.” He said quietly, and then he turned and looked at the chief officer, his expression the definition of dread. “Now!” Goliath Snook nodded once and then relayed the order. The commander looked back at the image of the landing craft. They had just passed over the palace’s perimeter. Panman had better be right, he thought.

www.palaceofamino.com

181

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

In the orange glow of a glorious sunset and partly obscured by the shadows of the Palace of Amino’s soaring towers, the four black rectangular landing craft descended. With a roar like sustained thunder, the first of the craft hit the ground hard, flattening a large part of the Maimem entertainment district and throwing forwards a huge cloud of debris. The second two hit a few seconds later - one of them gouging a wide deep furrow through the centre of Kireiometot Park, and the other slamming into the base of the Suave Tower. As if in slow motion the tower, a six-hundred metre tall complex of luxury apartments and restaurants, collapsed neatly onto the landing craft, quickly covering its four-hundred metre length with layers of palisteel and rubble. With most of its heavy armour blown away, the final landing craft descended slower. It continued much further before the taller and more densely grouped towers close to the palace’s central districts finally brought it to a halt. Scraping between the domed towers of the Amino Extreme Surgery Clinic, the battered smoking craft finally plummeted the last fifty metres to the street below. For the first time in almost forty-six years the Palace of Amino’s defences had been breached.

47

Huge Clammy Stalactites

“There is a large cavern twelve metres ahead.” Ross Mental looked at THROB. “About fuckin’ time! I hate these fuckin’ tunnels. Feels like we’ve been crawling around in them for fuckin’ days!” The mechanoid spoke. “We have been traversing these tunnels for three-hours and forty-seven…” “Shut the fuck up!” The foul-mouthed bounty said as he followed the mechanoid. THROB was crawling along the cramped tunnel just a couple of metres ahead; his lanky metallic limbs moving in a most extraordinary and unnervingly smooth manner. Despite his general distaste for mechanoids the bounty hunter could not help but be impressed by THROB’s fluidity of movement through the often torturous tunnels. Sadie Stick’s design was remarkable.

www.palaceofamino.com

182

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

After a minute Ross Mental reached the end of the tunnel and pulled himself up to a position on a ledge next to the mechanoid. He consulted his suit’s head-up display but his sensors were still receiving very little information. The electronic jamming this deep was almost perfect. Cursing under his breath the bounty hunter turned up his floodlight to maximum and directed it away from the ledge. The roof of the cavern, just a few metres above, was immediately illuminated. A crowd of huge clammy stalactites hung down, many stretching far into the darkness below. The far side of the cavern was barely visible. Without warning a brilliant white light, almost blinding in its intensity, shone from THROB’s forehead. It focused forwards, illuminating the far side of the cavern. With rapid movements of his head the mechanoid shone his light in all directions. He finished off by looking straight down. “My visual scan indicates that the cavern is five-hundred and six metres wide and three-hundred and fourteen metres deep. There is a deep lake at the base of this cliff.” Ross Mental frowned. “Why didn’t you let me know you had such a bright fuckin’ light?!” “My focusable forehead light is…” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s legendary impatience with mechanoids was alive and well. “Never fuckin’ mind!” Sebastian Blood pulled up beside Ross Mental. The two lesser bounty hunters were right behind him. “She definitely came this way.” He said, holding up a small sliver of charred skin. Ross Mental nodded and then pointed down. “And there’s only one fuckin’ way she could’ve gone.” He looked around at the others. “It looks like we’re going for a swim. THROB, you first.” The mechanoid spoke. “It is my duty to remind you that the head of Administrator Jess Debinitraff is contained within my cranialmaintenance system. The health of the head is continuing to degrade. I request permission to return to the surface and deliver the head to…” “Permission fuckin’ denied!” Ross Mental yelled. He pointed over the ledge. “Now get going. Once you’ve hit the lake let us know if it’s OK to follow.” THROB spoke. “The range of my communications system in this environment is only sixteen metres. It will be impossible to…” “Just splash rhythmically in the water, you fucker!” Without further delay THROB got to his feet and then positioned himself on the edge of the ledge. With his forehead light still blazing, the mechanoid leaned forwards and was gone. Ross Mental and the other three bounty hunters looked over the edge. The bright and tumbling light of THROB was receding rapidly. After a few seconds it seemed to dim and split apart in a sparkle of
www.palaceofamino.com

183

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

fragments. The mechanoid had hit water. A distant splash reverberated around the cavern. After a few seconds the rippling light faded to nothing. Ross Mental sighed. “The fucker sank!” “Not unusual for something that consists largely of dense metal alloys.” Dragon Snarl said. Ross Mental turned and prepared to unleash a tirade of profanity on the lesser bounty hunter when he heard the sound of rhythmic splashing. He looked down. THROB’s light was visible once again. “Fuckin’ yes!” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter said. He stood up and turned. “Come on!” Sebastian Blood and the others got up and stood to either side of Ross Mental. After a few seconds Ross Mental yelled. “Fuckin’ jump!” Without hesitation the four bounty hunters leaned forwards and leapt away from the ledge.

Through a haze of agony Sadie Stick looked back. Four more lights were falling through the darkness at the far side of the cavern. After a few seconds they splashed into the black water of the lake. Despite the horrendous burns that encompassed her body, the bounty hunter managed to pull herself out of the water and crawl into yet another narrow and jagged tunnel. She winced as yet more of the charred flesh on her legs was stripped off, the ragged remains of her bodysuit giving her very little protection. As she edged painfully along the tunnel she became aware of pale yellow light coming from up ahead. It was barely perceptible, but it was definitely there. And it was getting brighter the further she crawled. Her remarkable motivation to complete her final task was the only thing that prevented her from succumbing to the pain that burst into her mind from almost every nerve ending. And the sight of the light increased that motivation even more. She felt a moment of elation that triggered an attempt to smile, but the unbearable agony that shot across her face almost made her cry out. Her desire to smile vanished. With an impressive resolve the bounty hunter upped her pace and pulled her dying body towards the light.

www.palaceofamino.com

184

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

THROB led the way across the lake, his cylindrical head held high above the water by the magnetohydrodynamic drives installed in his legs. His forehead light shone brightly. Ross Mental was swimming beside him. He lifted his head up out of the water. The water drained away completely from the frictionless surface of his suit’s visor. He had been watching the fine stream of bubbles surrounding the mechanoid’s motionless legs. “That’s a fuckin’ impressive feature! I had no idea mechanoids could do that!” “I am the only mechanoid at the Palace of Amino to possess such a capability.” THROB said dryly. “Lucky fuckin’ you!” The three lesser bounty hunters were swimming a few metres behind. Sebastian Blood spoke. “According to my suit’s inertial navigation system we are getting very close to the Superior Being’s cavern.” Ross Mental looked at his own head-up display. “We certainly are. And no doubt that treacherous fucker is even closer!” The shore was now only a few metres away. Noticing the bed of the lake below, Ross Mental put his feet down and strode out of the water. The tall and lanky form of THROB walked beside him. There was a small tunnel ahead. Some charred fragments of flesh and a trace of blood could clearly be seen at the tunnel’s entrance. The foulmouthed bounty hunter looked up at THROB. “After you!” The mechanoid got down on his knees and crawled efficiently into the tunnel.

Sadie Stick squinted as her eyes adjusted to the dazzling light. More than four hours in almost total darkness meant that it was a couple of minutes before she was able to focus the blurred view beyond the end of the tunnel. And when she did she gasped as something deep and unconscious within her mind recognised the massive cavern that opened up beneath her. For a few moments the constant and excruciating pain that consumed her entire body faded away. Illuminated by the pale yellow glow of the phosphorous lichen that covered the cavern’s ceiling, the bounty hunter could see rolling hills of a dense forest stretching into the distance far below. Small lakes littered the landscape and several huge misty waterfalls cascaded down the cavern’s walls creating a deep and constant background
www.palaceofamino.com

185

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

rumble. Towards the centre of the cavern a wide metallic cylindrical tube, almost a kilometre tall, extended from a clearing in the forest up to the ceiling. And then she saw them: four cylinders moving slowly on a wide stone plateau within the clearing. Although they were at least two kilometres away, there was no doubt as to what they were. The bounty hunter gasped once more. And then a familiar voice from behind interrupted the bounty hunter’s elation. “You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.” As the agony of her injuries flooded back, Sadie Stick turned and squinted as THROB’s forehead light focused on her face. A flood of memories returned. “I’ve missed you.” THROB approached slowly. “My scans indicate that without treatment your injuries will be fatal. I estimate that death will occur within two hours. You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination. It is the only way you will survive.” Sadie Stick shook her head, wincing as the cooked flesh on her neck split and seeped. “It’s essential that I complete my task. I have no choice but to continue. The survival of the Palace of Amino depends on it. Help me.” “I will not assist you. You are under the influence of a nanomechanism in your brain. The mechanism is designed by Lawrence and is instructing you to carry out his orders. Your actions have led to an invasion attempt on the Palace of Amino. That attempt is likely to be occurring at this exact moment.” Sadie Stick knew she was right. Something deep inside her mind told her so. She shouted. “No! I am saving the palace!” She coughed, splattering blood and phlegm onto the mechanoid. “Help me!” “I will not assist you. You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.” “No!” From behind THROB there was a flash of blue and a thunderous crack. Sadie stick almost slipped out of the tunnel as her arm and shoulder fragmented and disappeared in a brief burst of fire. “Traitors!” She screamed, and then she turned and pushed hard with her legs. She leapt out of the tunnel.

THROB turned his cylindrical head 180 degrees and spoke. “Destroying Sadie Stick’s left arm was not an effective strategy.”

www.palaceofamino.com

186

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“You were in the fuckin’ way! It was the best I could do!” Ross Mental shouted, re-holstering his pistol. He pointed. “Now go after the fucker!” Without delay THROB turned his head back and then leapt out into the brightly-lit cavern. “Let’s go!” Ross Mental shouted. He pulled himself forwards. He took a second to take in the magnificent sight of the Superior Beings’ cavern, and then launched himself into the air, at the same time grabbing his rifle off his backpack. As he reached terminal velocity he adopted a stable freefall position looking straight down. The densely forested area below approached rapidly. There were no lakes directly below, but there were a few large pools. He saw a splash in one of them as Sadie Stick landed. He aimed his rifle, but once again the spread-eagled form of THROB was in the way a few hundred metres below. “Fuck!” A few seconds later THROB positioned himself upright and then slipped like a quad-melded tritanium dart into the same pool. Ross Mental could now see the black form of Sadie Stick clambering out of the lake. “Got you, you fuckin’ Bitch!” He shouted as he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter immediately remembered that no energy weapon would function in the cavern of the Superior Beings. “Fuck!” Gripping his rifle tightly to his chest, Ross Mental took up a vertical position. He splashed into the pool. He heard two other splashes around him as two of the other bounty hunters joined him in the water. There was also a dull thud. Surfacing, Ross Mental noticed THROB striding out of the water. “Our weapons don’t work down here! Grab that treacherous fucker and pin her down!” THROB headed quickly into the trees. Ross Mental retracted his helmet and made his way to the shore and out onto the grass. Sebastian Blood followed Ross Mental, retracting his own helmet. “Why won’t our weapons work?” “Bombs and energy weapons don’t function near the Superior Beings, that’s fuckin’ why!” “I never knew that.” “Of course you didn’t – it’s classified fuckin’ knowledge. Only top-class bounty hunters are told about it.”
www.palaceofamino.com

187

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“I see.” The lesser bounty hunter said, nodding. He looked to his right and pointed. “We have a casualty.” Ross Mental looked over and saw Dragon Snarl crouching near the crumpled form of an environment suit. He frowned. “Fuckin’ idiot! I didn’t even know his name. Who was it?” “Hugh Chimp Act. Seventh-class.” Sebastian Blood said. “He was a quiet one. A fine marksman, though, and a great poet.” “He lived up to his fuckin’ name!” Ross Mental said. He shouted. “Mister Snarl, leave him and get the fuck over here! We’ve got a job to do!”

48

Scum-Sucking Bottom Feeders

Baron Onslaught pulled his ship into a tight turn around the Dick Burton Feasting Tower and headed back towards the east, accelerating through the shadows of the early evening skyline. Going low and fast, he targeted yet another dense group of lumbering humanoids and unleashed a cloud of flesh-strippers as he passed over them. The tiny grenades detonated a metre above the ground, vaporising the flesh of more than a thousand humanoids right above the waistline. He watched the detailed sensor and video images of his attack as the dried bones of the humanoids’ upper bodies clattered to the floor. Their intact lower bodies toppled over seconds later. All around dozens of other bounty hunter ships continued to attack the infected humanoids – or scab demons as Lawrence apparently called them - as they staggered out of the broken landing craft. Waving his hand over his control surfaces, Baron Onslaught took his ship on a low course over the other three landing craft. He now understood why the order had been given not to attack them. No scab demons were escaping. It appeared that the landing craft had been designed to be attacked. It had seemed very strange when he received the order not to attack them, but now that he understood the reason why he found it even stranger that they had been told to attack just one of them. Why the inconsistency? It seemed there was a rising level of indecision, or even incompetence, at the high levels of command at Amino Battle Command. And the responsibility for that must lie with Commander Pepe. The commander would have a tough time explaining himself to the Superior Beings when all this was over. It was highly likely that his position would be rendered untenable.
www.palaceofamino.com

188

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

There were interesting times ahead, and no doubt there would be many documentaries and extravagant dramas on the subject over the coming months on the palace’s entertainment channels. The prospect of such high-quality productions pleased the bounty hunter immensely. There was nothing he liked better, apart from a drug-assisted romp and the face-to-face eradication of scum-sucking bottom feeders, than a night at home watching tense dramas with a flagon of fine ale in each hand. Looking at his head-up display, Baron Onslaught could see the sensor trails of dozens of other bounty hunter ships as they made lowlevel attacks on the emerging scab demons. Mad Woman seemed to be particularly enthusiastic. Instead of using her weapons she was simply ramming groups of scab demons with her ship as it skimmed just a metre above ground along avenues and across parks. That sight gave Baron Onslaught a motivational boost, and also raised his level of respect for the fleet leader. With a swift motion of his arms the bounty hunter brought his ship around and prepared for another attack run.

Commander Pepe burped dramatically, forcing out what was likely to be the loudest release of stomach gas ever head at the Palace of Amino. He instantly regretted that Panman had not been there to witness it. The commander had lost count of the number of pork pies he had eaten, but the sensation of bloated satisfaction that he now felt indicated that it was considerable. A momentary wave of gluttonous pleasure swept over him. A glance at one of the giant screens and its images of lumbering scab demons quickly banished that pleasure. Goliath Snook turned to the commander. “More than twohundred thousand scab demons have now left the landing craft. All but around ten-thousand have been killed.” The commander nodded. “Excellent. And the rest?” “They have managed to gain access to some of the nearby buildings. Some bounty hunters and trainees have been sent in to neutralise them. The scab demons are armed only with rusty bladed weapons. They are proving easy to kill.” “Good. What about casualties on our side?” The chief officer looked down at his data pad. “Just over seven-hundred menial workers were hacked to pieces in their accommodation blocks. Most had just gone to bed after completing their shifts. Their ignorance of the impending attack had left them totally…”
www.palaceofamino.com

189

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Commander Pepe glowered. “I want to know about bounty hunter and trainee casualties! Menial workers mean nothing to me, and you should damn well know that!” Goliath’s eyes widened momentarily. “Of course, commander. So far there have been none.” “Very good.” The commander said. He calmed himself and then picked up the last pork pie on his plate. He gazed at it. “Perhaps I don’t need this one? This invasion has been far less effective that I’d expected. Those scab demons seem even dumber than Lawrence’s unholy army of the night!” He turned to Goliath. “Perhaps this crisis is almost over?” The chief officer shook his head. He pointed at one of the giant screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber. “It is not, commander. Look at Lawrence’s asteroid. It has just taken up a stationary position seven-hundred kilometres directly above the Central Tower.” Commander Pepe nodded. “So that Lawrence can watch his invasion attempt, no doubt!” “The invasion attempt is too pathetic to be a serious one.” “Indeed it is. It will soon be quashed, as will Lawrence’s asteroid.” He pointed a fat finger at the screens. “Look at our fleets as they continue their attack. Marvellous! And Peter the Ace and Panman are now with them! Perhaps our lack of a defence field will not be a problem after all, eh, Goliath?” “The invasion is a diversion.” The commander looked at the chief officer. “Really?” He scoffed. “A diversion for what?” An alarm sounded. Goliath pointed once again. “For that.” Commander Pepe looked at the screens. When he realised what he was seeing his jaw slackened and his breathing quickened. Gasping and wheezing like a suffocating swampus, he let his head fall back, raised his last pork pie above his face, and then stuffed as much of it into his mouth as he could.

49

Slug Polyp

Badoodoo seemed to have escaped whatever grisly fate his master had planned for him. At least for now. Despite three of the landing craft failing to release their scab demons, Lord Ecnerwal seemed pleased enough with the thousands of
www.palaceofamino.com

190

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

infected humanoids that now lumbered around inside the Palace of Amino. He was pleased even though most of them were being slaughtered with little effort as they emerged from their broken vessel. That had initially confused Badoodoo. But that confusion evaporated the moment Lord Ecnerwal had ordered the next phase of his plan into action. The sudden and seemingly suicidal descent of the asteroid towards the Palace of Amino that had followed had filled the assistant with terror and despair. Lord Ecnerwal, however, seemed incredibly happy. “The sublime joy of this moment rouses me like no anthem of jubilation ever could!” He shouted, squatting like a frog on his bed. He pointed at the screen opposite the bed. “See how they are distracted by my scab demons! See how they fail to anticipate the boldness of my intellectual radiance!” Badoodoo nodded nervously. “Yes, my lord, I see. But this asteroid is not built to survive an impact at this speed. Our hull is strong, but not…” Lord Ecnerwal screamed. “You obtuse little cyst!” He glared at the assistant, his eyes narrowing to nothing more than a dark slit. “Have you not yet figured out the true finale of my plan?!” It was all becoming too much for Badoodoo. His eyes welled up. “No, my lord, I have not!” He said, his voice quivering. Lord Ecnerwal continued screaming. “The scab demons are a diversion! That was the plan all along! Did you really think that I could assume control of the Palace of Amino with an army of lumbering disease-ridden morons armed with rusted blades?!” Confusion filled the assistant’s mind. “Well, yes. You said that you could, and I believed you!” “Of course you did! My skills of deception are beyond the understanding of sweaty cloths such as you!” Badoodoo wiped away some tears and simply stared at his master. Lord Ecnerwal spoke more calmly. He smiled. “Do not be so miserable, Badoodoo. I deceived you to protect you. I knew that a bounty hunter would one day infiltrate this asteroid. And I expected that bounty hunter to capture you and removed ample parts of your body in an attempt to find out the details of my plan. I could not risk having those final details revealed prematurely. Fortunately for you, and disappointingly for me, that bounty hunter failed to carry out the amputations I predicted.” Badoodoo pointed at the screen. The asteroid was now only five-hundred kilometres above the palace. “I know the strength of our hull. We cannot survive the impact!”
www.palaceofamino.com

191

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal shook his head slowly and sighed. “You know far less than you think, Badoodoo. There is a device on this vessel, a marvellously ingenious device that will cushion our impact and deliver us directly into Amino Battle Command.” Badoodoo thought for a second. “But I oversaw the construction of this asteroid’s interior. I know of all the functionality contained within it. There is nothing that…” He paused as he thought a bit more. His eyes widened. “The chiropody clinic!” Lord Ecnerwal laughed. “Yes!” Badoodoo was feeling better. “So it’s not really a chiropody clinic then, my lord?” “Of course not, slug polyp! Why would I need such a massive chiropody clinic?! My feet contain the most perfect examples of phalanges and metatarsals ever known!” Badoodoo watched as his master stood up and wriggled the toes on his white bony feet. The feet were some of the ugliest he had ever seen. “They are… fine examples, my lord.” Lord Ecnerwal stopped showing off his feet and frowned with seriousness. “Enough about my feet. Contact the command crew. Order them to prepare for the final phase.” He leaned back and yelled at the ceiling. “Order them to extend the penetrator!”

The Blenheim shook as another emission of energy pummelled the ship’s shield. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH THIRTY-ONE PERCENT.” “I can’t understand a word he’s saying!” Panman said, leaning back into his comfortable chair at his weapons console. On the main view-screen, overlaid over an image of the spikylooking asteroid and the attacking fleets, was the image of Commander Pepe’s humongous head. His reddening cheeks were crammed with food and he was mumbling like a gagged hostage. Crumbs flew out of his half-open mouth. Peter the Ace was sitting in his command chair. He spoke sternly. “Commander, we haven’t got time for this. I understand the stress you must be suffering, and I appreciate your need to consume vast amounts of fattening food, but I do not understand your need to make contact simply to spit crumbs and processed meat at us.” The ship shook once more. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH TWENTY-SIX PERCENT.” Panman slammed his hands down onto his console and unleashed a spread of HEATs as a response. Part of the main viewscreen changed to show the track of the torpedoes. Within seconds
www.palaceofamino.com

192

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

once of the energy emitters on the asteroid broke apart in a shower of glowing debris. The image of the commander changed to that of another man. “I’m sorry,” the man said, his voice strong and resonant, “but another pork pie has arrived for the commander. I don’t think he is going to be in a position to speak in a comprehensible manner for a while.” Panman was nodding. “Hmm…” He mumbled quietly. He was obviously sympathetic to the commander’s needs. “Who are you?” Peter the Ace asked. “I am Chief Officer Goliath Snook.” Peter the Ace wondered what had happened to Weezil Sagifagpakit but decided it was not important right now. “You’ve probably noticed that the asteroid is on a collision course with the palace. It has reached a steady velocity of three kilometres per second. It will reach you in just over two minutes.” “I am aware of that fact. Amino Battle Command is fully locked down. My systems indicate that we should survive the impact. The surface facilities will, of course, be devastated. Is there anything you can do?” Panman was speaking quietly into his communicator. “Jemima, I need a pork pie…” Peter the Ace had learned a long time ago how to ignore his companion’s lust for nutrition. He nodded. “We could do a lot if we were able to use our most powerful weapons, but as you know those weapons would also destroy the Palace of Amino in its current defenceless state. You must find a way to activate the defence field so that we can launch an effective attack. It is the only way the surface structures of the Palace of Amino can survive.” Panman pointed at the image of the asteroid. “Ace, look at that! Something’s extending from it!” A long tubular structure, just less than five metres in diameter, was extending fast from the asteroid’s base. It had already extended beyond the length of the stalks of the remaining energy emitters. Goliath Snook had spotted the structure. “What is that?” Wider sections of the tube could now be seen extending at a slower pace. It was beginning to resemble an old-fashioned telescope and was now more than a kilometre long. Its length was increasing at almost fifty metres per second. A sudden blast of realisation hit Peter the Ace. He operated his communicator. “This is Peter the Ace to all bounty hunter ships. Focus your attacks on the device extending from the asteroid.” He looked at Goliath. “It looks like Lawrence is planning to punch through the ground and right into Battle Command.”
www.palaceofamino.com

193

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The chief officer’s jaw slackened. He looked up. “Focus, Mister Snook!” The chief officer composed himself and looked back at the bounty hunter. He nodded. Peter the Ace continued. “The situation has changed. We cannot allow Amino Battle Command to be compromised. Commander Pepe must authorise me to use the extreme weapons at my disposal. And you know what that will mean if you do not get that defence field up and running. You have less than one and a half minutes!” Jemima Murma wandered onto the bridge, her yellow anklelength summer dress fluttering around her. She placed a tray next to Panman. “Here’s your pork pie. I took the liberty of bringing you a glass of port. I hope that’s fine with you?” Panman had already stuffed a large slice of the pie into his mouth. He grinned and then nodded. Crumbs fell from his teeth.

50

Rare and Unusual Rage

Baron Onslaught laughed as he watched another group of scab demons split apart in a shower of smouldering flesh. The bounty hunter’s ship, the Packet of Organic Dried Mango, hovered in the shadows just a couple of metres above the ground outside the main vaulted entrance to the Amino Extreme Surgery Clinic. The numbers of scab demons emerging from the crashed landing craft nearby had reduced to a trickle and along with many of the other bounty hunters Baron Onslaught had started taking them down just a few at a time. It gave him a rare chance to hone his manual targeting and firing skills. It was also remarkably enjoyable. Sweeping his hand over a control surface the bounty hunter fired once again. A thin burst of bright energy cut into a line of scab demons that had been struggling up the steps outside the clinic. They blew apart, scattering flaming body parts in all directions. The intact head of the leading scab demon arced high into the air leaving a trail of smoke. It smashed back down onto the steps, cracking open to reveal the hard and steaming brain inside. As Baron Onslaught began another round of laughter an alarm sounded. Immediately his ship’s head-up display indicated the reason. No longer laughing, the bounty hunter looked up through his overhead viewport. He gasped at what he saw. The asteroid did indeed seem to
www.palaceofamino.com

194

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

be coming straight at him. He activated his communicator. “That asteroid’s coming to ram the palace! We must…” “Any excuse to contact me, eh, Mister Onslaught?!” Everything about Mad Woman’s voice, mannerisms and personality filled Baron Onslaught with annoyance. “How critical an excuse do I need to contact you?!” “The lust in your voice is crudely veiled.” For some reason the image of Mad Woman’s uneven body popped into the bounty hunter’s mind. That mental intrusion annoyed him even more than her statement. “There is no lust at all! There is only…” “Enough of your flirting, Mister Onslaught! All ships at the palace: your orders are to ignore the approaching asteroid. It is the concern of the rest of the fleet and Battle Command, not ours. We can be confident that they will deal with it. Continue your attacks on the scab demons. Let’s get our streets clean!” A rare and unusual rage coursed through Baron Onslaught’s veins. He unleashed that rage by launching a single CROW at the closest group of scab demons. The CRowd Obliterating Warhead detonated, vaporising more than fifty scab demons in a blinding pulse of heat. The Packet of Organic Dried Mango shuddered violently as the almost point-blank explosion enveloped the ship.

Commander Pepe had gotten to his feet and was standing at the railings of his Battle Command terrace. He forced the last slice of his pork pie into his mouth and began chewing manically. Goliath Snook was standing beside him. “The asteroid is now only two-hundred and thirty kilometres away. It will collide with the palace in just over one minute.” The commander chewed and swallowed hard. Goliath Snook continued. “The device on the asteroid’s underside appears to have stopped extending. It is now just over two kilometres long. It would definitely be possible for it to penetrate as far as this chamber. You must give the order to use any weapon necessary to prevent that happening.” Commander Pepe’s face was deep red. He felt anger, despair and guilt building rapidly inside him. He shuddered, attempting to speak, but the gag-reflex in his oesophagus stopped him. With a gargling groan the commander spewed a mass of chunky vomit over and through the railings and down onto several of the operators below. It took just a few seconds for the commander’s enormous stomach to empty its entire contents. The commander grabbed the railings to
www.palaceofamino.com

195

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

steady himself. He gasped, exhausted, and looked down at the mess below. The nearest operators, especially those that had suffered a direct hit, were themselves now vomiting. With an oozing mass of semi-digested pork pies spreading over his chins and onto his robes, Commander Pepe wiped his mouth with his sleeve and shouted. “Woody! Get that defence field up now!” The staff down on the main floor of the Battle Command cheered, obviously pleased to hear their commander’s voice once again. Woody Tiptoe appeared from beneath the terrace. He grimaced as large glob of vomit dripped from the railings and smacked onto his forehead. Another glob landed on the shoulder of his red plastic bodysuit. He wiped the vomit from his forehead. “The urgency of the situation is quite clear to me, commander.” The Head of External Defences said with obvious annoyance. He turned. “Let me work in peace,” he shouted as he disappeared back beneath the terrace, “and you never know, you may be pleasantly surprised.” Commander Pepe fumed. Woody’s insolence had unleashed a wave of tension within him, made all the worse because of the sudden and profound lack of processed pig flesh within his digestive tract. The chief officer spoke once again. “The asteroid has now entered the upper atmosphere. It will impact in thirty-five seconds. You must give the order. The palace’s surface facilities can be rebuilt when…” The commander winced as deep and almost crippling chest and stomach pains stabbed at his consciousness. “I know!” He wheezed. “Why do you keep stating the obvious?!” “I’m sorry, commander.” Commander Pepe staggered backwards and fell with a muffled thud back into his reinforced command chair. The chair’s structure creaked but held. Touching his nearby control pad he activated his communicator. Peter the Ace’s face appeared on his personal viewscreen. The commander spoke, each word a huge effort through the fog of agony that he was now experiencing. “Do what you must.” Peter the Ace simply nodded. His image vanished. Goliath Snook sighed with relief, and then immediately returned to business. He glanced down at his data pad. “Commander, according to crisis protocols you must now be evacuated to a safer location.” He looked up at the commander. “You must accompany me down to the main situation room on sub-level…” The commander growled. “I will do no such thing!”

www.palaceofamino.com

196

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“There is still a chance that Battle Command will be breached. The main situation room is a kilometre below Battle Command. It can be sealed off and is defended by…” “I am staying here!” Commander Pepe bellowed. His fat face screwed up as another surge of pain shot through his flab-laden torso. He coughed, sending a chunk of pork high into the air and out across the chamber.

51

Giant Fish Oil Capsule

Lord Ecnerwal was lying on his back on his bed and giggling like a little girl. He raised his legs up and slammed them into the bed, sending a fast ripple out across the bed’s purple silk sheets. And then he sat up and pointed at one of the screens ahead of him. He lowered his hood. Tears were streaming down his gaunt and scarred cheeks. “Look, Badoodoo! We are almost there! Success grows beneath us like swelling bruises!” Badoodoo looked at the screen which was showing the rapidly growing image of the Palace of Amino. Deep and uneasy feelings made it hard for him respond positively, but he managed. “Yes it does, my lord.” “And look!” Lord Ecnerwal said, pointing at another screen. “They flee so fast! The terror they feel at the thought of my superior audacity and my inevitable domination of the entire galaxy is unmistakable!” Badoodoo look at the sensor display. The hundreds of bounty hunter ships that had been swarming all around the asteroid had ceased their attacks and were indeed leaving the scene. And they were doing so at quite incredible speeds. But the fact that one of the ships had remained relatively close made the assistant not view the development in such a positive manner. An almost consuming sense of dread and suspicion grew inside him. “Perhaps it is not fear that drives them away, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal glared at Badoodoo. “Of course it is, toe fungus!” “But the Blenheim is still…” “The arrogance of Peter the Ace and Panman is legendary,” Lord Ecnerwal spat, “as will be their humiliating obliteration! Their presence is nothing more than a blotch on a pear!” He raised his arms,

www.palaceofamino.com

197

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

took in a deep and noisy breath, and then screamed. “I am about to fulfil my destiny!”

“WARNING: THE ASTEROID WILL COLLIDE WITH THE PALACE OF AMINO IN TWENTY SECONDS.” The Blenheim announced. Panman finished tapping at his weapons console. He swallowed his last mouthful of pork pie. “Proximity and yield parameters set!” He said, reaching for his glass of port. He knocked the last of it back and gasped. “This is going to be so cool!” “That’s a significant understatement.” Peter the Ace said, looking at the new information that had just been overlaid onto the main view-screen. It showed an oval schematic of the MADPLOP – the MAssively Destructive Projectile filled with Liquid with a consistency of Oil but much more Potent, the first prototype weapon from the recently established Amino Rapidly Deployable Unguided Weapons Institute. As usual, the Blenheim had been given the honour of being the first bounty hunter ship to be fitted with such a weapon. The ship spoke. “MADPLOP LAUNCHER ALLIGNED.” Panman grinned. “Launch!” A mild shudder was felt as the weapon, resembling a giant fish oil capsule, left the ship. The main view-screen image changed to a view of the asteroid as it plummeted into Enchantia’s atmosphere in a storm of fiery plasma. The hypersonic course of the MADPLOP was plotted. “Blenheim,” Peter the Ace said with urgency, “take us away from here, maximum subspace acceleration!” The background rumble of the ship’s engines increased in pitch. “MADPLOP DETONATION IN SEVEN SECONDS.” Peter the Ace was thoughtful. He leaned back into his plush command chair. “Do you think it’s insane to use an unproven prototype weapon, developed in a new and unrated facility and which is in essence nothing more than a big transparent bag of exotic liquid, this close to the Palace of Amino without its defence field functioning and as the one and only attempt to neutralise a potentially terminal threat at the last possible moment?” Panman nodded. “Yes.”

Lord Ecnerwal was sitting cross-legged on his bed and giggling. “Now they flee!” He said with glee as one of the screens showed the rapid retreat of the Blenheim. “Wretched creatures!” And then he
www.palaceofamino.com

198

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

noticed something on another screen; an approaching object. “What is that?” Badoodoo looked down at his data pad. “Well, it appears to be a container of liquid, my lord.” “Toilet waste, no doubt!” Lord Ecnerwal yelled happily. He giggled. “The bladders of Peter the Ace and Panman must have emptied without a shred of control as fear of my monstrous capabilities overwhelmed their minds!” “It does not appear to be urine, my lord.” “Shut up, belly guff! We are twelve seconds from triumph! What else could it be?” An alarm sounded. Lord Ecnerwal glared at his assistant. “Now what?” Badoodoo’s heart sank to a record low. “It can’t be!” He said, almost as a whisper. Lord Ecnerwal bellowed as he got to his feet. “What is it?!” Badoodoo was shaking visibly. His voice quivered. He looked up at his master. “The Palace of Amino’s defence field has activated!” And then all the screens turned white, and a tremendous jolt sent the assistant and his master flying across the bed chamber.

52

Dome of Protection

The whole of the Palace of Amino was bathed in an almost blinding blue-white light, a complete contrast from just a second ago when the warm amber glow from the setting sun had been casting longer and longer shadows amongst the palace’s towering structures. Instantly the viewports on Baron Onslaught’s ship had adjusted to filter out the excess light, but never the less the bounty hunter still had to squint at the sudden harshness of the view beyond the confines of his ship. As an alarm began to sound the head-up display in front of the bounty hunter displayed detailed graphics and an analysis of what had just happened sixteen kilometres above the palace. A detonation, one of the largest the bounty hunter had ever witnessed, had occurred just a few kilometres below and to the west of the asteroid. The effect had been dramatic, slowing the asteroid’s descent to less than five-hundred metres per second and shoving it off course towards the east. A huge part of its hull had been blasted away.
www.palaceofamino.com

199

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Baron Onslaught silenced the alarm and looked up. The palace’s defence field was shimmering as its dome of protection absorbed the ferocious energy of the explosion. Beyond the defence field the approaching mass of the asteroid could be seen drifting towards the east. It was surrounded by a growing cloud of fire and smoke. A wide grin spread across the bounty hunter’s heavy-set face. The communications panel activated. “I notice that most of you have stopped your attacks on the scab demons. The show above is certainly impressive, but we still have a job to do. Return to…” Baron Onslaught silenced the communicator. He was not going to allow Mad Woman to spoil his enjoyment of this moment. He continued to watch the asteroid as fell.

“It is no longer on a collision course with the palace, commander.” Goliath Snook said. The relief in the chief officer’s voice was obvious. Commander Pepe sighed. A significant amount of stress and tension evaporated from his body, easing the intense pains in his chest. The chief officer continued. “The impact point will now be three-point-three kilometres east of the palace’s perimeter wall.” One of the massive screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber displayed the progress of the asteroid in both a visual and sensor form as it approached the ground. It was a wonderful sight, but that sight was marred by the images on some of the other screens. Although the timely reactivation of the palace’s defence field had saved the palace from destruction, the surrounding landscape had had no such protection. For as far as could be seen the former forests, valleys and mountains now glowed a deep orange as their softer surfaces had been vaporised and then the rock beneath melted by the incredible heat of the detonation. The commander looked at his chief officer. “How far does the devastation extend?” Goliath looked down at his data pad. “There is total destruction of the landscape out to a radius of almost two-hundred kilometres, commander, and to a lessening degree out to more that a five-hundred kilometres. A supersonic blast wave is spreading. It is likely to effect more than half of the planet.” Commander Pepe nodded solemnly. He looked at the sensor analysis of the detonation on one of the screens. He spoke quietly. “It looks like the first field test of a MADPLOP was a success.” “It does, commander.” The chief officer said, nodding.

www.palaceofamino.com

200

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The commander said nothing more and watched, along with the entire staff of Amino Battle Command, as the now heavily scarred and deformed asteroid smashed into the ground sending up a wide cone of molten debris high into the air. The palace’s defence field lit up with myriad of sparkles as the wide spray of the debris vaporised on contact. A deep rumble quickly rose in volume as the intense tremors of the impact began to shake the palace. Satisfied that the primary threat to the palace had been neutralised, Commander Pepe struggled to his feet and then steadied himself against his chair. Battle Command continued to shake as he looked down at his chief officer. “Look after things, Goliath. I’ve been neglecting my massage chamber. I must pay it a visit. Let me know what has become of Lawrence as soon as you can.” The chief officer nodded. “Of course, commander.” As the tremors began to subside the commander turned and walked heavily away.

53

A Wide Plateau of Polished Stone

The deep rumble and the rustle of the trees died down as the tremors weakened. Distant splashes continued to reverberate around the cavern. “What was that?” Sebastian Blood asked, still gripping onto the nearest tree. Ross Mental was looking up through the foliage towards the cavern’s glowing ceiling. “Something fuckin’ huge!” He said as the tremors faded completely. Dragon Snarl was squatting nearby. He stood up and followed the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s gaze. “The palace may have been destroyed.” Ross Mental glared at the lesser bounty hunter. “If so then that’s even more motivation to get that fuckin’ traitor!” Ahead the agonising screams of Sadie Stick could be heard once more. “Come on!” Ross Mental said.

Sadie Stick ran up the hill, every step an excruciating round of torture as the splits in her deeply charred skin lengthened and widened. Blood was running freely down her legs. Thankfully there was little
www.palaceofamino.com

201

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

pain from the cauterised wound on her left shoulder where her arm used to be. Still, she was weakening fast, and she knew her life would soon give out, but something deep in her mind was motivating her to make this one last huge effort. Reaching a stream she leapt up, jumping over the gurgling water with ease. She landed hard, screaming as the deep weeping wounds on her buttocks and thighs tore open even more. She gasped as she continued up what she believed to be the final slope. The agony of her injuries reached yet another height of intensity. The trees were beginning to thin out. A voice called out from behind her. It was much closer than before. “You must surrender and submit yourself to confinement and examination.” Sadie Stick did not respond. She did not even look back. She did not care. She was consumed with the desire to complete her final task. Nothing else, not even her pain, mattered anymore. She reached the top of the slope. There they were, lined up in their thick steel cylinders on a wide plateau of polished stone. They were looking at her, their purple eyes glowing behind slits of thick tinted glass. Yet again the bounty hunter gasped. With barely a pause, Sadie Stick leapt onto the stone plateau. As she ran she pulled on the release mechanism of her bodysuit. The remains of the suit fell away. She then drew a small blade from the remains of its sheath on her hip and without a conscious though began slicing through her own abdomen. She screamed as the scorched skin on her belly split open revealing the soft knot of organs beneath. She reached inside and screamed again as she began pulling out her own bloody intestines. She felt along the organ, searching for the hard spherical forms of the micro-grenades she had swallowed half a day before. She found them quickly at the top of her small intestine. She sliced it open, screaming once again as she squeezed out the grenades. She dropped the blade and held both grenades in her remaining right hand. She attempted to arm them. The ‘Armed’ symbol failed to appear on either of the grenades’ tiny screens. Sadie Stick was confused. As she approached to within twenty metres of the Superior Beings she attempted to arm the grenades again. Something grabbed hold of her right thigh and pulled fast. She heard a tearing sound. And then a second later she slammed into the stone floor, snapping several ribs. The grenades flew out of her hand and rolled across the smooth floor. Struggling to draw breath she watched them for a moment and then looked back. Standing behind her was the tall and slender form of THROB. He was holding on to her
www.palaceofamino.com

202

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

severed leg. She could see three others approaching behind him. “Traitor!” She shouted, turning back round. She noticed that the Superior Beings’ cylinders were approaching silently, gliding a few millimetres above the surface of the plateau. With a final desperate sense of purpose she began pulling herself towards her grenades. Several voices spoke in unison. “YoUr DeViCeS wIlL nOt FuNcTiOn In OuR pReSeNcE.” Sadie Stick screamed. She managed to grab one of the grenades. Awkwardly she attempted to arm it once again. When it failed to arm she threw it at one of the Superior Beings. It clanged off its cylinder and fell harmlessly to the floor. “You must die!” She yelled pathetically. “It is the only way!” Weakening fast, the bounty hunter’s head slumped back onto the floor. Slowly, feebly, she rolled over and pulled herself across the smooth stone surface towards the Superior Beings, leaving a thick smear of blood in her wake.

Ross Mental stood next to THROB, who was still holding on to Sadie Stick’s leg, and watched as the treacherous bounty hunter continued her astonishingly dismal advance on the Superior Beings. Sebastian Blood and Dragon Snarl were standing just behind him. As Sadie Stick inched her way forwards the foul-mouthed bounty hunter decided it was time to put an end to her attack. He stepped forwards. “Do NoT ApPrOaCh.” Ross Mental stopped. “We WiLl EnD hEr ToRmEnT.” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter bowed. “Of course.” The Superior Beings began to move. “AlL eXcEpT tHe MeChAnOiD mUsT tUrN aWaY.” Realising immediately what was about to happen, Ross Mental turned. He looked at the two lesser bounty hunters, who were both still staring at the Superior Beings and Sadie Stick. “Turn around, you stupid fuckers!” The two bounty hunters turned. A throbbing sound began to rise in volume. Dragon Snarl tried to sneak a look back. Ross Mental frowned. “Try and look again and I’ll snap your fuckin’ arse bone!”

As the throbbing sound deepened Sadie Stick looked up. She blinked away tears to clear her vision. The Superior Beings had positioned
www.palaceofamino.com

203

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

themselves all around her, and their thick cylindrical steel cases were rotating slowly. The cylinders started to rise. With her mind almost overwhelmed with pain the bounty hunter was confused at first. The base of each cylinder remained near the ground, and as the rest of each cylinder rose up Sadie Stick could clearly see the bulging knotted form of what looked like a single dark purple foot revealed on each base. As the cylinders rose gnarled and folded torsos were revealed. Sadie Stick was no longer confused. She felt a surge of terror join the pain in her mind as she realised what was happening. She knew that she should look away but an overwhelming sense of compulsion to watch the horrific unveiling took over. She could not resist. Screaming, she watched as the jutting folds of the Superior Beings repulsive chins became visible. Thick cloudy saliva oozed over each one. Intense nausea grew within her as her attention flicked from one Superior Being to another. When the Superior Being’s wide concave noses were revealed she felt her stomach tighten violently. She vomited, sending bile and blood spraying across the polished floor. She gasped and then coughed, and then, without the chance to take a breath, she vomited again. She slumped onto her back, exhausted. And then the purple eyes of the Superior Beings were revealed. With their cylinders hovering just above their heads, the four now naked and exposed Superior Beings stared down at the bounty hunter, their large wide eyes locked onto hers. Revulsion and fear triggered another intense contraction of the bounty hunter’s stomach. She vomited yet another mass of bile and blood, this time almost straight up. Her face and eyes were now covered in bloodied sick, but even though she could no longer see the Superior Beings an image of their horrifically nauseating forms remained fixed and sharp in her mind. Despite her weakness she wretched and vomited again and again and again. She could not breathe. She could not think. With her mind overwhelmed by agony and terror, Sadie Stick fell into blackness.

The deep throbbing faded. The only sound was now the rush of the distant waterfalls.

www.palaceofamino.com

204

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Ross Mental found the urge to turn around almost uncontrollable. The fidgeting of the two less bounty hunters in front of him showed that he was not the only one. “FaCe Us.” Without delay Ross Mental turned. The four Superior Beings were back in their cylinders and were lined up a few metres away. In front of them, soaked in a mass of bloody vomit, was the legless, armless and severely burnt body of Sadie Stick. Her mouth was hung open, and the expression on her now unrecognisable scorched face was one of petrified astonishment. After a few seconds Ross Mental looked up at the Superior Beings. He grinned. “Fuckin’ nice!”

54

Darkening Gloom

Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim on a low and gently curving course around the southern perimeter of the Palace of Amino and out towards the east. The main view-screen showed a panoramic image of the dark view ahead. A thickening haze of smoke and ash was quickly shrouding the devastated landscape around the palace as the melted surface cooled and smouldered. Visibility was down to twokilometres and falling, not helped by the fact that the sun had just set. Jemima Murma entered the bridge wearing loose and pink silk pajamas. Her shoulder-length dark hair was straggly and completely devoid of any particular style. She placed a tray containing two crystal glasses and a bottle of vintage Champagne between Peter the Ace and Panman. “I thought you’d like to celebrate!” She said, smiling sweetly. She poured two glasses. “What a marvellous idea!” Peter the Ace said, accepting his glass from the assistant. He took a sip and then looked up at her. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like to. Have some Champagne!” Panman had already downed his glass. “Yeah!” He said, burping. “There’s plenty!” Jemima Murma bowed. “You’re both so kind! I’ll go and get myself a glass.” “Don’t worry about that.” Panman said, activating his communicator. “Yo, Justin! Where are you?” The reply was devoid of expression. “I am in the cyborg construction laboratory.”
www.palaceofamino.com

205

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Cool! Bring a Champagne glass up to the bridge for Jemima!” There was a slight pause. “I obey.” Jemima Murma was looking at the view ahead. “It’s a desolate scene.” She said; sadness obvious in her voice. “I used to ride garuths at night across the plains and through the forests down there.” Peter the Ace looked surprised. “You used to ride at night? Why?” “So I could be naked. The breeze was always fresh and tingly against my skin, and the movement of the beast between my thighs gave me an immense sensation of well-being.” Panman had just poured himself another glass. He raised it and laughed. “I’ll drink to that!” On the view-screen a shape, massive and dome-like, was emerging from the darkening gloom. It was the remains of Lawrence’s asteroid. Sensor information overlaid on the left of the screen showed frenzied activity around it by ships and bounty hunters. Many were entering the vast structure through the gaping wounds on its surface. Jemima Murma gazed at the screen. “Do you think Lawrence is alive in there?” Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed. He would not perish so easily. We have learned that much during our encounters. I can’t imagine he’s in a healthy state, though!” Panman laughed. “He never has been!” The sound of servos could be heard. With a series of dull clangs Justin walked his dense metallic frame onto the bridge. He stopped just behind Jemima Murma and held out a Champagne glass. The assistant turned and took it. “Thanks.” She said. She reached down and picked up the Champagne bottle. She topped up the glasses of Peter the Ace and Panman and then poured herself a glass. She took a sip and smiled. Panman looked up at Justin. The cyborg was standing motionless and staring at the main view-screen. “How’s the head I gave you doing?” The cyborg looked down at Panman. His eyes were shining a piercing shade of red. “The construction of a cyborg body for Shipoopaa is underway. Completion is scheduled to occur in thirtyseven minutes.” Panman frowned. “I asked you to take her down there ages ago! Why’s it taking so long?” “All of her skin and part of her skull were burned beyond recovery. Also there was significant heat damage to her frontal, parietal and occipital lobes. The lower part of her Medulla has
www.palaceofamino.com

206

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

suffered deep cauterisation. Because of this thirty-one percent of her brain requires reconstruction. Integration with her remaining biological brain will…” Panman held his hand up. “Alright! Point made! You’d better get back down there. She’s going to be in a hell of a confused state when she regains consciousness.” “I obey.” Justin said, turning. He stomped noisily off the bridge. The main view-screen was now filled with the view of the crashed asteroid. Hundreds of bounty hunter ships could be seen flying close to its crumpled surface, their floodlights cutting through the dimness and sweeping across its seared surface. Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim down towards a particularly wide split in the hull at ground level. “I think we need to get inside that thing.” Panman nodded. “I’ll find out what the commander’s plan is.” He operated his communicator. An image of Chief Officer Goliath Snook appeared in a small window at the centre of the screen. The chief officer bowed. “Congratulations. You shrewd use of a MADPLOP has defeated Lawrence.” “It was destined for success.” Panman said. “Where’s the commander?” “Commander Pepe is being massaged by six naked females whilst submerged in mud. He has asked not to be disturbed at this time.” “I see. Well, we want to know what your plan is for the downed asteroid. What’s going on in there?” The chief officer looked down. “In the commander’s absence I ordered the second fleet to scour the surface and interior of the asteroid for signs of Lawrence. There are sixteen ships currently in the asteroid’s interior. They are using fusion cutters to carve their way through.” Peter the Ace slowed the Blenheim as it drew within a few hundred metres of the hull. He looked at some sensor displays. “Although the MADPLOP destroyed most of the penetration device on the base of the asteroid it seems some of it did survive. It looks to have still managed to penetrate three-hundred metres into the ground.” “I am aware of that.” “But you do not seem to have any bounty hunters assigned to investigating it. It’s possible that Lawrence is deranged enough to believe his penetration device will still give him access to Battle Command. He could be down there.”

www.palaceofamino.com

207

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Goliath nodded. “Of course. I will assign a team to that task immediately.” “Good. I’m surprised you haven’t done that already.” The chief officer frowned. “I was more suspicious of the impenetrable area at the centre of the asteroid. I had directed all available resources towards it.” Panman was refocusing his sensors. “That’s the jungle dome. It seems to have been sealed off completely.” He looked at Peter the Ace. “It’s heavily masked, but I’m detecting an energy build-up in there.” Peter the Ace was intrigued. “What’s the pattern of the energy?” “The analysis is coming through now.” Panman said, looking back down at his sensor screen. He looked up, his eyes wide. “It looks like a subspace field is forming!” Peter the Ace operated his controls. The Blenheim thrusted away. “Get everyone out of there, Mister Snook. Now!”

55

Vast Quantities of Tiny Eggs

The sloping transparent walls of the wide circular room gave Badoodoo a clear and unnerving view straight down to the brightly lit jungle. Hundreds of metres below him he could see dozens of giant egralons moving slowly through the dense foliage and grazing on the tree-tops. They seemed completely oblivious to the disaster that had occurred beyond the confines of their humid little world. Badoodoo was far from oblivious. He was still shaking from the shock of the ferocious detonation and impact, and from the terror he had felt when Lord Ecnerwal had demanded an update from him on the asteroid’s status. He had given his bleak report and had prepared himself for a brutal, prolonged and agonising death. Instead his master had simply thanked him in a sweet and mellow voice and then dragged him up to the viewing room above the jungle. The fact that bounty hunter ships were now blasting their way through the asteroid’s interior seemed to be of no concern to his master whatsoever. Badoodoo’s data pad bleeped. He looked at the screen. Against all the odds it appeared to show some good news. He looked over to the centre of the room where Lord Ecnerwal was. His master

www.palaceofamino.com

208

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

was sitting in a well-padded chair and chucking to himself as he spun round, manipulating controls on his circular control surface. The assistant walked over to his master. “My lord, it’s hard to believe, but the bounty hunters seem to be leaving!” Lord Ecnerwal turned and glared at Badoodoo. “Of course they’re leaving, pork slab! Their dull, fudge-like minds have finally figured out what I’m doing!” He turned back to his controls. Badoodoo was confused. “Why are we up here in the jungle viewing room, my lord? And why are you so happy considering our failure?” “I am happy because I predicted that this could happen.” Lord Ecnerwal said, glancing back at the assistant. “This time I have a momentous backup plan beyond judgement!” “But why are we in the jungle viewing room, my lord?” “We are leaving!” Lord Ecnerwal said as he focused on his control surface. He hit a panel and then turned. A distant rumble became audible. “We will abandon this asteroid and withdraw to a more restful and decadent location. There we will wait.” The assistant shook his head. “But we can’t leave. The propulsion system of this asteroid has been destroyed, and even if it weren’t you ordered the ejection of the subspace field generator which is essential for…” Badoodoo staggered back as a bony hand smacked him across his cheeks. Lord Ecnerwal scowled. “You are indeed as dense as my best testing indicates!” Vibrations built up as he jabbed his index finger into his assistant. “Think, little fat man!” Badoodoo thought for a moment. He could think of no way of escape. He had overseen most of the design and construction and there was not a… He remembered his master’s trick of using the chiropody clinic as the cover for his penetrator. Perhaps… His eyes widened. “The boating lake beneath the jungle!” Lord Ecnerwal giggled. “Exactly! Why would I ever need a boating lake?” He narrowed his eyes and flicked them left and right. “I hate boats! Their bobbing and creaking drives me mad!” He screamed. “Mad, I tell you! Mad!” Badoodoo did his best to ignore his master’s typically odd outburst. He thought for a moment. “So, there is a propulsion system there instead?” Lord Ecnerwal slapped his assistant again. “Of course there is, turd captain! And a subspace field generator, too.” He turned back to his controls. “Everything’s ready. Up we go!” He said with glee as he hit another panel. “Ha harr! I am a sage!”
www.palaceofamino.com

209

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The deep rumble of explosions could be heard above. Several violent shudders forced Badoodoo to grab the back of his master’s chair. He felt the weigh of acceleration pushing him into the floor. “Where are we going, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal yelled over the increasingly deafening sounds all around. “I told you, dim fart: to a more restful and decadent location!” “Where is that?” “Are you dense?! To the collection vessel, of course! Captain Elbano is waiting for us. There will be a banquet to honour my brilliance and fortitude. I intend to consume vast quantities of tiny eggs and wait in opulent surroundings.” Badoodoo continued to hold onto his master’s chair. “Wait for what, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal turned and grabbed Badoodoo by the neck. He squeezed firmly. “Until we hear that Sadie Stick has successfully completed her final mission. What else would we wait for?!” Badoodoo desperately tried to breath but he could not. After a few seconds his master let go. The assistant fell to the floor, gasping. Lord Ecnerwal smiled down at him. “Would you be so kind as to bring me some raisins?”

56

Forty Heat Pulses and Blast Waves

The Blenheim shuddered as it continued to be pummelled by supersonic debris from the massive explosion that had blasted open the top of the asteroid. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH TWENTY-TWO PERCENT.” “That was quite unforeseen.” Peter the Ace said calmly as he brought the ship around. “That’s the first time I’ve know Lawrence to have a plan ‘B’!” The main view-screen showed a huge armoured dome-like vessel as it rose out of the disintegrating asteroid and accelerated straight up. The piercing light of its engines lit up the surrounding ash-filled atmosphere with an eerie and diffuse glow. Beneath it a mass of detonations still flashed across and within the asteroid as it continued to destroy itself. Panman was monitoring his sensors. “We’ve almost certainly lost a few ships down there. And dozens of bounty hunters!”

www.palaceofamino.com

210

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Jemima Murma was still on the bridge. She picked up the tray on which the empty Champagne bottle and glasses were standing. The celebration had been a bit premature. “I’ll bring up some tea and scones.” She said, obviously noting the seriousness of the situation. She turned and walked briskly off the bridge. Peter the Ace directed the Blenheim onto an intercept course with the domed ship. He looked at the sensor readouts. “There appears to be a subspace field forming around that ship.” “There is!” Panman confirmed. “If it enters subspace there’s a good chance it could escape!” “Indeed. That must not happen. Do something, Panman!” “I’m on it.” Panman responded with obvious glee. He checked his sensors once more, ensuring that other bounty hunter ships were not in the vicinity. Most had fled to safety through the Palace of Amino’s defence field or far away across the devastated surrounding landscape. Panman’s hands worked with unparalleled dexterity, targeting and arming a dense spread of HEATs. Within two seconds he had finished. “Firing now!” With a barely perceptible rumble forty Horrendously Effective Atomic Torpedoes left the Blenheim’s forward launchers. The main view-screen showed an image of Lawrence’s domed ship, now bathed in the bright orange glow of the evening sunlight as it headed into the clear air of the upper atmosphere. Sensor information was overlaid onto the image of the ship showing the progress of the hypersonic torpedoes. “Detonation in seven seconds.” Panman said. “The subspace field around that ship is almost fully formed!” Peter the Ace nodded. “This will be a close one.” Panman was fiddling with his controls. “It will, so perhaps I should do this…” An intense and sustained beam of energy leapt from the Blenheim’s lower disruptor. Instantly it connected with the glowing engines of the escaping ship. A burst of fire and smoke spread unevenly beneath the vessel. Peter the Ace smiled. “Excellent effort. The subspace field has dissipated. That’ll give us a few more seconds. It’s already reforming, though.” “Not for long.” The main view-screen washed out to white for a second. The HEATs had detonated. Overlaid sensor images showed off Panman’s well known genius at weapons choreography as a sphere of perfectly timed destructions surrounded Lawrence’s ship. The forty heat pulses

www.palaceofamino.com

211

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

and blast waves tore into the domed vessel, dispersing forever its subspace field and shedding massive amounts of its armour. The Blenheim shook as the blast waves passed by. The domed ship began to tumble slowly and lose velocity as its propulsion system failed. Dense clouds of black smoke spewed from its underside. Peter the Ace was very pleased indeed. “Sterling stuff!” “Exactly as planned!” Panman said, grinning. He looked at his sensor displays. “That ship’s in a total mess. Unless Lawrence has a plan ‘C’ I think we’ve got him!” Panman examined his screens further. “That ship’s losing speed, but not by enough. It’s still well above escape velocity.” “No problem.” Peter the Ace said. He activated his communicator. “All ships of the first fleet, this is Peter the Ace. Intercept the escaping vessel and ensure it enters a stable orbit around Enchantia. Guard it. Destroy anything that attempts to leave it.” Within a couple of seconds acknowledgments from hundreds of ships flashed onto his communications display. Panman was curious. “I wonder where it was that Lawrence was going?” Peter the Ace was thoughtful. “I don’t know where he was going, but I think I know what he would be rendezvousing with: something large and yellowish.” With impeccable timing Jemima Murma walked onto the bridge carrying a tray of tea, scones and a selection of the finest and most exclusive jams available. Panman’s stomach groaned noisily.

57

Delightful Specimens

Commander Pepe stood, naked and proud, at the edge of the oval mud bath as Janta and Hazel hosed down his morbidly obese body. After decades of practice the two females were highly skilled at forcing out mud, sweat and mould from even the deepest of the commander’s gutfolds. And the strong cocktail of drugs that infused their bodies ensured that they did their work with a smile and a giggle, and without even the slightest hint of disgust or nausea. Squatting down, the two females began to clean under the commander’s massively sagging overhang and buttocks. The

www.palaceofamino.com

212

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

commander grinned. This was always his favourite part of the hosedown, and indeed one of his favourite treatments of all. Janta and Hazel turned off their hoses. Two more females emerged from the clouds of steam at the far end of the massage chamber, a huge white towel spread between them. They walked around Commander Pepe, wrapping him up in the towel’s thick and soft fabric. Escorted by all four females, the commander made his way towards the slowly opening exit of his massage chamber. Steam billowed out as he stepped into the dry air of his office. Goliath Snook was standing in front of his desk. With a wave of his hands Commander Pepe dismissed the females. They bowed, giggling as they did so, and then stepped back into the massage chamber. The commander watched them for a moment. Despite having just finished an intensely satisfying session in the mud bath the sight of those four perfectly formed and perfectly toned buttocks disappearing into the steam made his groin ache. He sighed, and then turned to his chief officer. “Delightful specimens, aren’t they?” Goliath nodded. “They are indeed, commander.” Stepping over to his desk, Commander Pepe lowered his monstrous backside into his reinforced chair. “What has been happening since I’ve been in there, Goliath?” As usual, the chief officer consulted his data pad. “As you know, the asteroid hit the surface of Enchantia three-point-three kilometres east of the palace’s perimeter wall.” “Don’t tell me what I already know!” Goliath nodded. “Sorry, commander. I just thought that a brief…” “Get on with it!” “Of course, commander. Unfortunately, as many of our ships and bounty hunters were entering the remains of the asteroid in search of Lawrence, Lawrence escaped in a large domed ship. The asteroid self-destructed.” The commander felt a twinge of pain in his chest. His stomach tightened. The chief officer continued. “Although an evacuation was underway we lost another seven ships and twelve bounty hunters.” Commander Pepe shuddered. “Damn it!” He yelled, slamming both fists into his desk. He reached out and grabbed a cheese stick from the snack tray and dipped it into some melted butter. He crammed it into his mouth and shouted, launching a rain of soggy

www.palaceofamino.com

213

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

crumbs into the air. “How, in Garth’s passage, could you let Lawrence escape?!” Goliath flicked away a couple of the crumbs that had stuck to his uniform. “My report is not yet finished, commander.” “Then finish it!” Goliath nodded. “Peter the Ace and Panman disabled Lawrence’s ship and prevented him from escaping. The domed ship has just been shepherded into a stable orbit by three-hundred bounty hunter ships. Those ships will guard the ship to ensure Lawrence cannot attempt an escape again.” The commander was incensed. “Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?!” “You asked me to tell you what had happened since you’d been in your massage chamber, commander. I was simply…” The commander forced himself to calm down. He waved. “Yes yes! Get on with it.” Goliath looked down at his data pad before continuing. “Several teams of bounty hunters will soon enter the domed ship to find Lawrence and detain him.” Commander Pepe was becoming calmer. “Hmm… Good. It will be nice to have him locked up at last.” “It will.” The chief officer said, nodding. “Peter the Ace has a theory as to where Lawrence was attempting to escape to. He believes he was heading for a rendezvous with the ship that collected the infected humanoids from the planet Lodi.” The commander nodded. “A sagacious theory.” He looked seriously at the chief officer. “Any theory by Peter the Ace must be taken with the utmost seriousness and acted upon. Can I assume you have done so?” “Yes commander. I instructed twenty-two bounty hunters who were in the process of returning to the palace to conduct searches for the vessel. Just a minute ago I received a message from Maximus Thorn and Water Lily, the two bounty hunters who investigated the Tolaso system several…” “I know who they are. What was the message?” “As soon as they received my order to look for the vessel they responded to say that they had detected something matching its profile on the edge of the Tiurl Expanse. They are heading back there and will intercept it in four hours. I’ve sent three other ships to assist them.” Commander Pepe felt pleased. “Very good.” He looked thoughtfully at Goliath. “Considering you were promoted to Chief Officer without warning from a relatively low level, and during one of
www.palaceofamino.com

214

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

the most brutal attacks ever on the palace, you have, in general, performed your duties in a most remarkable manner. Well done, Goliath!” The chief officer gave a shallow bow. “Thank you, commander.” “I doubt you have yet had the time to enjoy the privileges that come with your rank – the plush Central Tower apartment, twice daily foot cleansing, and a regular supply of muffin baskets, to name but a few.” “No, commander.” The commander smiled. “You’re in for a real treat, especially as I failed to mention any of the more exotic and sensual privileges.” “Such as what, commander?” “I’ll let you discover those once you have the time to visit your new apartment!” The commander said with glee. He operated a control on his desk and then pushed down hard on the arms of his chair, hauling his massive sagging frame up to a standing position. Behind him the wood panelling on the wall had opened up. Steam billowed out of the massage chamber accompanied by two oiled and naked females. The commander grinned at them and then looked back at Goliath. “I have business to attend to. Keep me apprised of the situation.” The chief officer nodded. “Of course, commander.” Turning, Commander Pepe headed into the steam.

58

Gelatinous Pond Dwellers

Nursing hundreds of deep bruises, Badoodoo wiped away some halfchewed raisins and examined the sensor images on the circular control surface. Tension and fear plucked at his chubby little body. “They’re coming in, my lord! More than a hundred of them! There are bounty hunters everywhere!” Lord Ecnerwal smiled at him. “Your family is nothing more than a collection of gelatinous pond dwellers. Wouldn’t you agree?” The assistant was confused by the bizarre question. “Erm… No, my lord.” Badoodoo yelped as a bony bare foot slammed into his groin. He sank to the floor, a powerful ache growing through the centre of his body. Lord Ecnerwal laughed. “I am right!”
www.palaceofamino.com

215

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The assistant groaned. “The bounty hunters, my lord. We must surrender or we’ll die!” “Nonsense!” Lord Ecnerwal said. “I have planned for this eventuality.” He stood up and spread his arms out wide, and then breathed in deeply, speaking at the same time. “I inspire tremendous awe in the likes of you!” Badoodoo struggled to his feet. “What have you planned, my Lord.” His master pointed down through the transparent walls to the jungle below. “My wondrous creations live on down there. When the bounty hunters discover them they’ll be unable to let them perish. They’ll create a haven for their survival at the palace. And because this ship’s life support systems are failing, they’ll do it within days!” Badoodoo was confused. “How will that help us, my lord?” He looked down at the sensor screens with despair. “The bounty hunters will soon break into the jungle. There is no escape!” Lord Ecnerwal grinned. “I see that your desolate mind is unable to work it out. We will be hidden long before they get here.” He strode towards the exit. “Follow me, nostril dew!”

Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim to within a hundred metres of Lawrence’s huge domed ship as it drifted through the blackness of Enchantia’s shadow. The main view-screen showed an image of the ship’s devastated hull, illuminated by the floodlights of the huge number of bounty hunter ships that were attached to its surface. Panman swallowed the last scone. A large glob of ginger and grapefruit jam clung to his lower lip. “It’s always impressive to see so many bounty hunters and their ships working together!” He said, taking a gulp of his tea. “Indeed.” Peter the Ace agreed. “It’s a shame it’s such a rare sight. But if it was common it would mean that the galaxy was even more deeply malevolent than it already is!” Panman nodded. The jam dripped onto his weapons console. “I guess the fact that it isn’t means we’re doing an unbelievably awesome job!” “Indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. Bringing the Blenheim to a relative halt next to Lawrence’s ship, the first-class bounty hunter activated the communicator. “This is Peter the Ace onboard the Blenheim. How is your search going, Mister Buttress?” After a second delay Claudius Buttress, the fourth-class bounty hunter who had been the leader of the second fleet, answered. “We have almost completed our search of the outer layers of this ship. We
www.palaceofamino.com

216

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

encountered mild resistance from some rotund little humanoids but they were easily reduced to terminal mounds of despair. If their lungs and throats had been functioning they would have no doubt been begging in high-pitched and often very camp voices for us to free them from their torment by melting their brains in an instant of superconcentrated…” “Your descriptions are impressive, Mister Buttress, but I’d rather have a quick report from you, if you don’t mind?” “Of course, my apologies. The centre of the ship appears to be completely sealed off. From the information Panman provided I believe that that section contains the jungle, as well as Lawrence’s private chambers.” “It does. When will you get inside?” “We are cutting into it and should break through in the next ten minutes or so.” “Excellent. Keep a reasonable number of your team on the outside. We need to ensure Lawrence cannot escape.” “I will.” “Panman and I will join you shortly. Peter the Ace out.” With a few motions of his hands Peter the Ace lowered the Blenheim towards the hull of Lawrence’s ship.

“Get inside!” “Into a food capsule, my lord?” “It’s not a food capsule, nut sack!” Badoodoo looked through the oval hatch. Inside the dimly lit interior of the barrel-shaped capsule, that Lord Ecnerwal referred to as the Lozenge, were two cramped purple leather seats. What looked like padded tiles, also covered in purple leather, covered the lower half of the Lozenge. The upper half appeared to be transparent. It definitely was not a food capsule. The assistant felt a sharp pain in his back. He surged forwards and found himself pressed hard against one of the seats. Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “You’re wasting time, mug stain!” Wincing, Badoodoo turned and squeezed himself into one of the seats. His master wrapped his cloak around himself and stepped daintily through the hatch. He sat down next to Badoodoo. With a whirr of servos two restraints extended from above and behind the seats. The assistant found himself strapped in tightly. He could barely move. The oval hatch in front slammed shut.

www.palaceofamino.com

217

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal was sniggering. He started manipulating a small control surface on the arm of his seat. Various indicators lit up. He threw his head back. “Ha harr!” Badoodoo’s confusion was almost overwhelming. “What are we doing here, my lord?” His master sighed. “I have just launched something. Something that will fool those empty-headed bounty bastards.” He grinned crookedly at the assistant. “And now we will go for a ride.” He touched the control surface again. The Lozenge shuddered briefly, and then it dropped. Badoodoo gasped as he felt his innards rise up. Instinctively he gripped on to the arms of his chair. A second later the assistant was pushed hard into his seat. He felt exhausted, both by the pressure and the terror, as the Lozenge hurtled forwards. And then bright light flooded in through the transparent top. The Lozenge shook as leaves and branches smacked at the walls. And then with an incredible thud it stopped. Badoodoo coughed and groaned. He felt dizzy. Lord Ecnerwal was laughing. “Oh Badoodoo! What a glorious entity my brain is!” He looked at his assistant, his eyes wide. “Can you believe just how incredibly superior my mind is?!” The assistant was still dazed, but recovering rapidly. He looked up. Through the transparent roof he could see the jungle canopy swaying high above. Beyond it the pale-blue artificial sky shone brightly. “Why are we down in the jungle, my lord?” Lord Ecnerwal laughed once more. “To be swallowed, of course!” He tapped at his control surface. There was a dull pumping sound. What looked like a dark green paste appeared on the outside of the Lozenge. It partly obscured the view outside as it dribbled down. Lord Ecnerwal seemed very satisfied. “Our scent will be irresistible. And we will taste like heaven!” Badoodoo was almost beyond caring. He sighed. “Forgive me, my lord, but I don’t understand.” “I will forgive you.” Lord Ecnerwal said quietly. And then he frowned. “But only because I do not want to spend what could be weeks in here with an oozing corpse!” The assistant was shocked. “Weeks?!” “Of course, bile client! The digestive tract of one of my beloved egralons is long and slow. You should know that by now!” Badoodoo’s heart sank as he finally figured out his master’s plan. He felt his stomach tighten. There was a long and muffled groan.

www.palaceofamino.com

218

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Shuddering with fear, Badoodoo looked up. Through the spreading green paste he could see a huge opening mouth approaching. A wide set of flat stained teeth circled the Lozenge. It was dark again.

59

A Rustle and a Thud

“Its subspace drive is powering up!” Fractious Emjay said. “Firing solution locked.” Justin repeated his masters’ order to the sixth-class bounty hunter in the ship ahead. “The escape capsule must be captured. It must not be destroyed.” With his masters now onboard Lawrence’s domed ship, Justin was in charge once more. As he sat on his reinforced bench at the back of the Blenheim’s bridge a synthetic approximation of satisfaction ran as a medium-priority process within the omnidirectional layers of his posi-digital-hypercube-derived artificial mind. All of the cyborg’s high-priority processes were now focused on the task at hand – the pursuit of the small escape capsule that had launched from Lawrence’s ship fifteen minutes earlier. Its sudden appearance and acceleration had taken everyone by surprise. The only ships able to make an immediate response were the Blenheim and the Cantankerous Can Tanker. “I’ve targeted its engine pod: low energy burst programmed. I can disable it now!” Justin absorbed the Blenheim’s continuing tactical analysis through the data cable attached to his forehead. He relayed the analysis without a shred of emotion. “Do not fire. The escape capsule’s engine pod is showing signs of instability.” Fractious Emjay was obviously looking at his own sensor images. “You’re right. There’s a growing imbalance in its primary accumulators. There’s no way that the capsule can enter subspace with such a significant fault. Any attempt and it will disintegrate!” “It is logical to assume that Lawrence will abandon the attempt.” Sensors continued to show a build up of energy. A small detonation on the rear of the capsule sent it spinning out of control. The build up continued. “You’re logic is flawed! ow its secondary accumulators are imbalanced. It’s going to blow!”
www.palaceofamino.com

219

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

An alarm sounded. The Blenheim spoke. “WARNING: THE SUBSPACE DRIVE MECHANISM ON THE TARGET VESSEL WILL DETONATE IN EIGHT SECONDS. SHIELD STRENGTH IS INSUFFICIENT TO GUARANTEE PROTECTION. EVACUATION TO A MINIMUM SAFE DISTANCE OF THREETHOUSAND KILOMETRES IS RECOMMENDED.” Having received the warning through the data cable, Justin had already adjusted the Blenheim’s course and accelerated to maximum sublight speed. “Evacuate to three-thousand kilometres immediately.” As the Blenheim leapt away from the scene sensors showed the Cantankerous Can Tanker doing the same. The escape capsule detonated. The Blenheim shook violently as a wave of subspace distortions tore at its hull.

Dressed in his dense black body armour, Peter the Ace stood outside Lawrence’s chambers at the railings of the wide walkway that stretched around the entire circumference of the jungle. Just over fifty metres away the two nearest egralons were munching at the treetops, stripping branches bare with their blunt teeth. One of them let out a long deep moan. Several tones of excrement plopped out and dropped into the undergrowth with a rustle and a thud. Panman approached. “I just had a call from Justin. The escape capsule has been destroyed.” Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “Not by our metal friend, I hope. Otherwise he’s looking at another long stretch at the Mad Animated Head Gallery!” Panman shook his head. “It seems the capsule suffered a malfunction in its drive system as it prepared to enter subspace. Apparently both the primary and secondary accumulators became imbalanced.” Peter the Ace frowned. “The primary and secondary accumulators?” Panman nodded. “Yeah! How unlucky is that?!.” “Profoundly so.” Peter the Ace said, returning his gaze to the jungle. “In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing ever happening.” “Never?” Panman asked, sucking on his suit’s drink dispenser. “Never.” Panman thought for a moment. “Actually, me neither. Lawrence must be the unluckiest man ever to have lived!” Another bounty hunter approached. Peter the Ace looked at him. “Mister Buttress, did you find out what that large tube was for?”
www.palaceofamino.com

220

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Claudius Buttress nodded. His polished white bald head reflected the light from the domed ceiling of the jungle with remarkable clarity. “It appears to be nothing more than a mechanism for delivering food capsules onto the jungle floor.” He pointed up. “There are hundreds of capsules near that viewing gallery above the artificial sky. They’re loaded up there and then sent down.” Panman was looking at the egralons. “I guess munching on the trees is not enough for them?” “I guess not.” Claudius Buttress said. “The last food capsule was delivered around the time Lawrence escaped. It’s not down in the jungle so I expect it was eaten up very quickly.” “Hmm…” Panman said. “They must taste great…” His mind wandered. Peter the Ace looked out over the jungle. After a few seconds he smiled and then looked back at Claudius Buttress. “The creatures of this jungle are innocent victims of Lawrence’s nefarious scheme. They must be well looked after. Ensure that they are transferred to an appropriate sanctuary down on Enchantia. And make sure it’s done well before the life support systems on this ship degrade to a dangerous level.” The lesser bounty hunter bowed once. “Of course. I’ll see to it at once.” He turned and strode purposefully away. Panman had been sucking paste from his suit’s food dispenser. “I guess were done.” He said, his voice muffled by a dense black mass that clung to his tongue. “Time to head down to the palace, I think!” Peter the Ace nodded. “You think right.” He took one last look at the jungle, and then he turned and headed towards the entrance to Lawrence’s chambers. “I need some beer. Let’s go to the Wonder Bar.” “Cool!” Panman said excitedly, following. “Beer rules!” He drew up alongside Peter the Ace and looked at him thoughtfully. “You know, for someone who’s off to consume a large quantity of beer, you don’t seem too thrilled.” “I am quite thrilled.” Peter the Ace said. “But I’m also in an incredibly thoughtful mood.” Panman nodded. “I see. What’s on your mind, Ace?” Peter the Ace smiled. “I’ll tell you once the beer’s on the table!”

www.palaceofamino.com

221

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

60

The Very Final Official Celebration

18 days later…

Since the latest failed attack by Lawrence on the Palace of Amino there had been dozens of celebrations, the largest being the impromptu dance extravaganza the following day in Opulent Square, and the formal victory dinner party in the Great Hall a few nights later. But none had been as exclusive or as decadent as the latest and final official celebration held on the wide private open terrace at the top of the Dick Burton Feasting Tower. As midnight approached, the circular terrace, which surrounded the private apartment and office of Dick Burton, was filled with lively and intellectual chatter as the highest ranking bounty hunters and Battle Command staff ate and drank some of the galaxy’s finest cuisine and beverages. Even the elusive Dick Burton himself had made an appearance. He was perched a level up on his personal balcony and was singing unusual songs with his small band of musicians.

Ross Mental leaned against the railings. Holding a four-litre flagon of ale to his mouth and with his head back, he gulped furiously. Frothy liquid ran down his neck. He finished the drink in seconds. Gasping with satisfaction, he slammed the empty flagon down on a nearby table and then looked around. An immaculately and formally dressed waitress was approaching through the throng of top-class bounty hunters, her long white hair fluttering in the strong breeze. She was carrying a tray of exotic-looking cocktails. She stopped in front of the foul-mouthed bounty hunter and smiled; the pale skin of her face mellowed by the soft ambient lighting of the terrace. Ross Mental burped at full volume, causing the waitress to flinch, and then looked at the tray in disgust. “I don’t want one of those fuckin’ ‘lady’ drinks!” He looked at the waitress. “Bring me another flagon of Ruptured Gut!” The waitress nodded and then headed away. Peter the Ace was standing nearby. He laughed and held up a shallow glass of purple liquid. Several lumps of green luminous jelly bobbed on its surface. “You really should expand your horizons when
www.palaceofamino.com

222

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

it comes to drinks. You don’t know what you’re missing. Why don’t you try one of these?” Ross Mental frowned. “No offence, Ace, but I’d rather die like a fuckin’ under-class turd farmer than be seen holding on to one of those fuckers! It’s just not me.” “No offence taken.” Peter the Ace said, taking a sip. He joined the foul-mouthed bounty hunter at the railings. “I would have actually been offended, though, if you’d accepted my idea and tried one. My opinion of you would have plummeted to an unbearable low!” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter nodded. “No chance of that!” He said as he looked out at the view. From the terrace, more than three and a half kilometres above the ground, the glistening lights Palace of Amino were spread out before him far below. Only the imposing mass of the Central Tower two-hundred metres opposite rose higher. He looked up, following the impressive lines of the tower for another one and a half kilometres high into the night sky. Beyond it he noticed the faint sparkling of the palace’s normally invisible defence field. The ash and dust that still filled the devastated atmosphere of Enchantia created the subtle display as it drifted into the intense dome of energy. Without the constant protection of the defence field the air at the palace would have been a toxic nightmare and would have made such an outdoor party quite impossible to hold. The melancholic background music stopped. “About fuckin’ time!” Ross Mental said. “I was wondering when that fuckin’ cacophony would end!” The waitress had returned. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter smiled and took his drink from her tray. Peter the Ace pointed up and grinned. “It’s only temporary!” Ross Mental looked up. On Dick Burton’s balcony he could see Panman taking up his position at an antique-looking set of drums. “Fuck!” He shouted, taking a massive swig of ale. Dick approached the microphone. “Please welcome Panman to the stage.” Cheers and applause rose from the select crowd. Panman waved back. Dick continued. “This next song is an old one.” “It always fuckin’ is!” Ross Mental shouted, taking another noisy swig. Many around him looked at him and laughed. Immediately Panman began pounding out a fast and phenomenally powerful rhythm. The thud of the bass drum and the crack of the snare could be felt as well as heard as the terrace’s formidable amplification system pumped out what was quite possibly the highest quality sound ever heard. The guests cheered once more.
www.palaceofamino.com

223

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“Let me see your arms in the air!” Dick shouted as he began strumming away on his blood-red guitar. A few members of the audience obliged him. He flicked his head to once side, clearing a long quiff of dark hair from his face, and then, as a diminutive keyboard player finished up his odd synthesizer intro riff, he started to sing. “Screams inside my head, you can hear them too, I long for silent thoughts, that’s what you want too…” Peter the Ace took another sip of his drink and smiled. “I actually like this one!” Ross Mental shook his head. “Most of his songs are so fuckin’ depressing!” “Indeed, but they have catchy rhythms and riffs. That counts for a lot!” The music had built to a remarkable crescendo, thanks mainly to the ever more powerful rhythm section. Dick yelled out the chorus, accompanied by the high and mellow tones of his deeply tanned and lank-haired backing singers. “Annihilate you - please go away, devastate your mind. Penetrate you - leave me alone, violate your kind...” The guests cheered as the backing singers, wearing short and tight-fitting translucent white evening dresses, began a frantic and synchronised display of hip gyrations. Ross Mental found himself cheering, too. He turned to Peter the Ace and grinned. “Now that I fuckin’ like!” Peter the Ace agreed. “Such visual embellishments enhance music like nothing else can!” He reached out and grabbed a canapé from the tray of a passing waiter. Just beyond he noticed a blue cloaked figure. She had a stern look on her face. “Miss L’Apriscatole!” Elena L’Apriscatole, turned, and then smiled broadly. She stepped over. “Ciao!” She shouted over the still pounding music. Seemingly out of nowhere a waiter appeared and offered her a drink. She took a blue cocktail laced with fruit and sipped at it, closing her eyes. She sighed. “Mmm… Grande!” And then her serious expression returned. The third-class bounty hunter shook her head slowly. “Can you believe it? I just managed to return to the palace an hour ago. I missed the invasion! I missed almost all of the celebrations!” She shook her head again. “Sono così infastidi!” Ross Mental gulped back another mouthful of ale. “So where the fuck were you?” “I was in the Gni’Yonna Sector sorting out a couple of rampaging cyborgs.”

www.palaceofamino.com

224

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Peter the Ace nodded. “That’s far away. I’m surprised you got back so quickly.” Elena L’Apriscatole took another sip of her drink and grinned. “I’m fast!” She said. She raised her free arm and punched the air. “Molto veloce!” “You are indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. His communicator bleeped. “Excuse me for a moment.” He turned to take the call. The intense music faded and there was a roar of applause. Panman and Dick Burton were bowing up on the balcony. After a few seconds Dick spoke. “We will take a short break now. Please continue to eat and drink to your heart’s content.” “Of course we fuckin’ will!” Ross Mental shouted, gulping back the rest of his ale with ease. He burped like an old tractor’s exhaust, causing some of those nearby to jump. Elena L’Apriscatole sighed. “I can’t believe this is the last celebration! I love victory parties!” She stamped her feet. “I want more!” Peter the Ace deactivated his communicator. “Well, there will be one more, starting at noon tomorrow!” Ross Mental looked at the first-class bounty hunter. “Is it what I think it is?” Peter the Ace nodded. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter laughed. “Fuckin’ cool!” Elena L’Apriscatole’s eyes were wide with curiosity. “What’s planned for tomorrow?” “Something intensely entertaining.” Peter the Ace replied. “It’s an extremely exclusive event, though, much more so than even this gathering. Just first and second-class bounty hunters and a few others that had a leading role in the defence of the palace, I’m afraid.” The lesser bounty hunter looked disappointed. She let out a long slow breath. “Ho capito…” Peter the Ace put his hand on Elena L’Apriscatole’s shoulder and smiled. “But, as you missed all the excitement, I’ll make an exception and let one more join us.” The lesser bounty hunter looked up at her superior and shrieked with joy. “Fantastico!” She hugged him. “Siete molto gentili!”

www.palaceofamino.com

225

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

61

Dung

Aches and pains were a permanent fixture in Badoodoo’s consciousness, and they had been for what seemed like weeks. The slow progress of the Lozenge through the egralon’s digestive tract had often left him suspended upside down in his harness for days on end, something his weak and fat little body was definitely not designed for. The lack of toilet facilities, something that his master had screamed had been intentional when he had dared to complain, and only the most basic source of nutrition from a small tube next to his seat, had left his pants filled with diarrhea and soaked in foul-smelling urine. The experience was the most depressing and disgusting of his entire life. And now Badoodoo found himself staring straight down at the exit hatch as his and his master’s excretions dripped onto its metallic surface with a rhythmic wet tapping sound. The assistant almost wretched as a wave of nausea passed through him. He struggled to keep the contents of his stomach inside as stared through the transparent upper hull of the Lozenge. He could see the thick and fibrous defecation that moved slowly around them. A deep and almost subsonic moan made sent vibrations through his seat. And then the Lozenge surged downwards, coming to a jarring halt just a second later. Badoodoo groaned and then lost control of his stomach, spewing out a large quantity of the brown paste he had eaten just a few minutes earlier. His vomit slapped onto the exit hatch. Lord Ecnerwal was laughing. “It’s almost time, Badoodoo!” The assistant wiped his mouth with his filthy sleeve and looked at his master. Lord Ecnerwal was grinning, as he had been doing almost all of their time inside the giant creature’s gut. “Really, my lord?” The Lozenge surged downwards again. “Ha harr! Of course it is, duck prick!” Lord Ecnerwal shouted, slapping Badoodoo hard across his face. “Even a self-certified and independently verified pudding-head such as you should be able to work that out!” There was another surge, this time more violent. Badoodoo winced and grunted as the straps of his harness dug into his shoulders and waist. Just above the exit hatch a shaft of light appeared.

www.palaceofamino.com

226

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Lord Ecnerwal shuddered with obvious delight. “Ha harr!” He exclaimed, spreading his arms out and smacking the back of his bony left hand onto Badoodoo’s nose. “I am remarkable!” Badoodoo sniffed back some blood and looked down towards the hatch. The patch of light through the transparent section of the hull was expanding. Lord Ecnerwal was growing more excited. “Oh, Badoodoo, this is a moment we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives, don’t you think?!” Badoodoo could not disagree. He was certain that he would never be able to forget such a filthy and traumatic event. He fought to hold back more vomit. “Yes, my lord. I cannot imagine forgetting.” Another deep and resonant moan sent more vibrations through the Lozenge. It dropped at least another metre. Light now flooded in as more than half of the transparent part of the hull was exposed. Badoodoo had not seen such brightness for a long time. He squinted, his eyes watering, as he peered outside. He saw what looked like long grass a few metres below. Lord Ecnerwal placed his hands on his cheeks and gasped. “One more push and we’re free! Free to roam on the planet of the bounty hunters in a most surreptitious manner!” He took a deep breath and then stared at his assistant. He screwed up his face and yelled. “We will become sly agents of doom amongst their kind!” Badoodoo stared back at his obviously crazy and deeply disturbed master for a moment. Despite the revolting the souldestroying experience inside the egralon the assistant still had a desire to live, so he felt no option but to agree. “We will, my lord.” There was another resounding moan, and then, with a sickening squelch, the Lozenge dropped. Badoodoo gasped as a momentary sensation of freefall gripped him. More light flooded in. With a thud the Lozenge came to a sudden and violent halt. After spending a second standing upright it fell sideways, this time landing softly to one side in what was obviously a massive pile of dung. There was a wet clattering from above as a further shower of defecation fell. Lord Ecnerwal had undone his harness. He sniggered and stepped over to the hatch. Badoodoo looked up at his master’s once fine and shiny purple cloak. It was now deeply stained with urine and faeces. The assistant began to undo his own harness. Lord Ecnerwal operated the hatch’s controls. It hissed and then swung open slowly. He turned. “Hurry up, maggot fart!”

www.palaceofamino.com

227

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

***

The temporary enclosure for the egralons covered less than a single square kilometre, yet it was impressive none the less. Thirty metre tall metallic walls, constructed in just a few days, surrounded what had been the Palace of Amino’s only natural parkland, right next to the southern-most section of the perimeter wall. More than a dozen egralons roamed through the enclosure, feeding off numerous artificial trees that pumped out a nutritious sludge whenever one of the giant creatures came close.

Under the dark orange tint of the ash-shrouded noon sky, more than thirty guests sat in the large oval open-topped ceremonial sky-car that hovered within the enclosure only ten-metres from the nearest egralon. With its noise cancellations systems running at maximum the sky-car made almost no sound and appeared to be of no interest to the huge beast as it munched on its latest mouthful of sludge. The guests, however, almost all of whom had served a pivotal role in the recent defence of the palace, were taking great interest in the egralon. Or more specifically, in the large pill-shaped food capsule that had just dropped out of its anus. The guests sipped their beers, cocktails and tea, and nibbled at their snacks, as they waited in anticipation of the events to come. At the very front of the sky-car, flanked by Justin the cyborg and THROB the mechanoid, were Peter the Ace, Panman and Ross Mental. They stood and watched as a hatch on the capsule began to open. A dark figure emerged. The figure, shrouded in a filthylooking purple cloak, took a couple of steps forwards, arched his back and spread his arms out. He laughed in an apparent worship of the sky. As he did so a disgusting-looking fat little humanoid clambered out of the capsule. Obviously weakened and sick, the humanoid tumbled to the floor and ended up face down in the surrounding dung. He pushed himself up and then vomited hard. Ross Mental laughed and raised his glass. “Fuckin’ top notch entertainment, Ace!” Peter the Ace nodded, finishing the last of his Earl Grey tea. “It certainly is!” He said, putting down his cup and saucer. “I think it’s time to make it even more entertaining.” He played with a control surface in front of him and turned off the noise cancellation. The whoosh of the sky-car’s engines became audible. Peter the Ace spoke, his voice now amplified. “Hello, Lawrence!”
www.palaceofamino.com

228

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

The cloaked figure turned. The wide grin on his face narrowed to a slack-jawed expression of shock. Peter the Ace continued cheerfully. “For decades I had imagined how it would be when we finally captured you. I had envisaged all sorts of apocalyptic battles and long and arduous pursuits through the deadly regions of the galaxy’s remotest arms. I even once conceived an unusually civilised scenario where you surrender yourself to me calmly as we both enjoy a smooth glass of stout in a rustic wooden tavern on a simple agrarian world. But I can honestly say that I never imagined you would simply drop out of a massive butthole into a pile of hot dung right here at the Palace of Amino!” The guests roared with laughter. Ross Mental could barely control his hysterics. He pointed at Lawrence and yelled, his powerful voice carrying despite having no amplification. “You useless fuckin’ idiot!” Lawrence screamed. “Bounty bastards!” He pushed his arms forwards. A flash of energy lashed out from his sleeves. The shield of the sky-car shimmered as it absorbed the attack. Immediately Peter the Ace and Panman drew their pistols and fired. Intense beams connected with Lawrence’s arms shrouding them momentarily in white flames. Smoke rose up as Lawrence fell backwards into a soft mass of excrement. Startled, the egralon, which until now had still been standing nearby, moved away, moaning and pushing out even more dung as it did so. Once again the guests laughed. Lawrence struggled and groaned as he tried to get out of the dung pile and up onto his feet. Peter the Ace continued. “You’ll be happy to know that we are not the only ones witnessing this ridiculous event. The rest of the Palace of Amino is watching a live broadcast of it, and soon the Central Worlds will see it too when they receive the ultraspace transmission we are about to send. I’m told Lord Gastronemous himself is already in his video theatre, along with many of his governors and senior officials, ready to view your expulsion from the bowels of that creature.” Lawrence had managed to sit up. His arms were still smouldering. He tried to fire his weapon once more. Nothing happened. He shuddered and pointed at his chubby companion. And then he shrieked like a Hunah serving wench. “You smell like his pants!” Peter the Ace ignored the crude insult and looked at Panman. “Would you care to do the honours?”
www.palaceofamino.com

229

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Panman grinned and nodded. He looked at Lawrence. “In the name of the Superior Beings of the Great Hall of the Palace of Amino, I arrest you for the multitude of disgusting and degenerate capital crimes you have committed against the Palace of Amino, bounty hunters, and the citizens and dignitaries of the Central Worlds.” The guests cheered and whooped. Glasses chinked. On a raised and well-padded platform in the middle of the skycar, Commander Pepe was sitting. His massive robed body was encircled by six scantily-clad masseurs. Goliath Snook stood by his side. As the cheering died down the commander waved his glass of ale all around and spoke. His voice was strong but wheezy. “A remarkable effort by you all. Well done!” Everyone cheered again and then downed their drinks. There was a shout from the back row. Standing next to the recently mechanised and immaculately polished form of Administrator Jess Debinitraf was Elena L’Apriscatole. She was pointing at Lawrence and jumping up and down; her blue cloak flapping like a flag behind her. “Voi criminale stupido! Gridi in prigione!” Lawrence was now standing. He shook with rage. “I have not been arrested! I will never surrender!” He turned and ran, slipping and sliding across the expanse of dung. “Come, Badoodoo!” The fat little humanoid, who was sitting forlornly in the egralon’s excrement, turned and look at Lawrence. He shook his head dejectedly. “No, my lord.” Lawrence kept on running and slipping. He yelled. “Perfidious puss mound!” The guests on the sky-car were laughing once more. Peter the Ace decided that it was time to finish this part of the show. “THROB, Justin, off you go.” THROB got to his feet and then leapt over the front of the skycar. He landed silently on the grass a few metres beneath and then sprinted with almost mesmerising smoothness towards the fleeing Lawrence. Justin had also jumped out of the sky-car. He landed heavily with a dull but loud thud; his large plate-like feet sinking almost twenty centimetres into the moist ground. With a whirr of servos he pulled his feet free and stomped over to the fat little humanoid. He leaned over and grabbed him with his thick metal arms and pulled him out of the dung pile. He held him tightly. The humanoid made no attempt to escape.

www.palaceofamino.com

230

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Almost a hundred metres away THROB had captured Lawrence. Holding him in his outstretched arms, THROB ran back. Lawrence was kicking and screaming like a child. A smaller open-topped ceremonial sky-car descended, flanked at a discrete distance by two small bounty hunter ships. The sky-car landed softly next to the food capsule. Four heavily armed guards stood silently in the vehicle and watched as first Justin and then THROB climbed on board with their captives. Justin took up a position at the centre of the sky-car, whilst THROB took up a position at the front. As the sky-car rose the mechanoid held his thrashing captive out across the railings. As the large sky-car he was on also began to rise up Peter the Ace spoke again, making no attempt to suppress his delight. “This will be your final ever journey, Lawrence, and your final ever public appearance, so make the most of it!” Lawrence shuddered and screeched. “Bastard bounty nobules!” He glared down at Peter the Ace, Panman and the other guests. “Your doom will be generated by my excellent sagacity!” He shouted, and then he nodded his head and slammed his body rhythmically against the front of the sky-car, his heavily soiled cloak flapping in the strong breeze. Gaining a little speed, the sky-car flew over the egralon enclosure’s high wall and then descended towards the tree-lined and crowded avenue beyond. As they followed close behind the guests on the larger sky-car continued to enjoy themselves as they were served new refreshments and drinks by waiters and waitresses that had appeared from the car’s lower level. The guests laughed as Lawrence’s tantrum showed no signs of subsiding. Both sky-cars descended to just a couple of metres above ground level. The dense crowd of lesser bounty hunters and menial workers below cheered and waved as the sky-cars passed close by and headed towards the towering splendour of the Palace of Amino’s central districts. Peter the Ace waved down at the adoring crowd and then looked at the incredible and soaring vista of the palace before him. It was an awe-inspiring sight, made even more so against the dark greyorange ash-filled sky. Several more bounty hunter ships had joined the original two to provide escort. “What a great day this is!” Ross Mental nodded. “It fuckin’ is.” He said. He pointed at the sky-car ahead and laughed. THROB was still dangling Lawrence over the railings. “Fuckin’ baby!”

www.palaceofamino.com

231

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

“The deepest, darkest, dankest and most depressing cell we have has been reserved for Lawrence for almost half a century now. It’s a thoroughly distasteful environment. It’ll suit him perfectly.” The foul-mouthed bounty hunter raised his glass of ale. “Fuckin’ great!” He said, taking a gulp. He burped. “I may visit him down there from time to time.” Peter the Ace looked at Ross Mental with curiosity. “Why would you want to do that?” “To remind him that he’s a fuckin’ brainless fuck!” “Oh. Of course. I guess he’ll need that.” Ross Mental gulped down another mouthful of ale. “He will.” He shouted at the top of his voice, jabbing his finger in the direction of Lawrence as he said each syllable. “Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck... Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck!” Inspired by the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s enthusiasm, the rest of the guests joined in. Within seconds Ross Mental was leading a chorus of vulgar abuse towards Lawrence. “Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck… Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck!” The crowds below soon started to join in. By the time the ceremonial sky-cars and their escorts passed between the vast towers of the central districts the sound of tens of thousands of voices shouting in unison had taken on an almost spiritual and meditational quality. Peter the Ace and Panman, who had refrained from joining in, turned and looked back at the rest of their sky-car’s occupants. All were shouting and jabbing their fingers or fists, even Commander Pepe. And all had a look of joy on their faces. Especially Mad Woman, it seemed, who was punching the air with one hand and fumbling under Baron Onslaught’s robes with the other. Baron Onslaught was the only one in the entire group not smiling. “It’s a bit crude.” Panman said eventually, as he grabbed an entire tray of doughnuts from a passing waitress. He offered one to Peter the Ace. Peter the Ace accepted the offer. He took a bite. “It is indeed crude.” He said as he turned to the front to look at the extraordinary scene ahead. He spread his arms out wide and closed his eyes for a moment, relishing the strong and cool breeze on his face. “But it is gloriously so!” Panman nodded, and then crammed three whole lemon-iced doughnuts deep into his mouth.

www.palaceofamino.com

232

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino

Book Nine: Invasion of the Scab Demons

Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino
Book Nine

Invasion of the Scab Demons

Copyright  Peter Stuart Fothergill 2009 All rights reserved

www.palaceofamino.com

233

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful