lower cargo bay door whirred open, and a blast of warm muggy high-pressure
air almost knocked Panman off his feet. He sniffed the air and grimaced.
“Yuck! Amonia! Babies’ nappies!” Immediately the visor
on his black armoured environment suit buzzed shut, its emergency close
facility triggered by the foul stench. The bounty hunter steadied himself,
breathing a lungful purified air, and then peered down through the large
opening to the thick orange atmosphere below. Dense puffy cloud structures
stretched and swirled down deep into the giant planet’s seemingly
endless atmosphere, eventually fading into a dark red haze hundreds of kilometres
Panman spoke into his communicator. “Ace? Are we in position yet?”
Peter the Ace replied. “Almost. Sensors have a visual lock on Radic’s
ship: it’s fifty kilometres below. If I get any closer he’ll
spot us. This is the best I can do.”
“It’s good enough. We’re lucky his sensors are still out,
otherwise we’d have to be thousands of kilometres away.”
Panman turned and stepped over to one of two large inverted three-metre
tall conical devices that were hanging next to the open cargo bay door.
“I’ll get into the BULIT Diver now. Stand by.” He touched
the side of the first cone. It hummed like a baritone, and a panel opened
up in its side revealing a cramped and well-padded cabin. The bounty hunter
reached up and pulled himself inside. As soon as he sat down the diver’s
interior flickered to life. Contoured display panels illuminated with a
bewildering array of information. The side panel closed with a thud, sealing
Panman inside. The roar of the wind was silenced. The bounty hunter touched
one of the screens. The BULIT Diver moved slowly out over the open bay doors.
The BULIT – Balanced Ultra-Light but Incredibly Tough – Diver
was the first prototype craft to be created by the Palace of Amino’s
new Brute-Force Solutions Institute. Constructed from single chunk of tri-melded
quinteranium – the toughest known material ever developed –
the diver was designed for the sole purpose of penetrating the hulls of
spacecraft at sub-orbital velocity, and taking a single occupant with it.
At such low speeds this was a highly challenging aspiration for the designers.
Their solution was to make the diver as sharp as possible. The tip of the
cone, as well as being made from the toughest material ever known, was also
the sharpest object ever known.
Panman looked down through the BULIT Diver’s large front window at
the endless atmosphere below. He touched another control and the diver stopped
moving. “In position.”
Peter the Ace replied. “Looking good! Get ready to drop on my mark.”
Panman waited, his adrenalin enhancers pumping at maximum. He looked down
at the display panels. Already the BULIT Diver had a visual lock on the
ship below. The enhanced image showed clearly the harsh angular design of
the vessel, and the huge rupture on its subspace propulsion system. It was
that damage that had forced the ship to hide deep in the atmosphere of this
giant world. Panman smiled. He always got a rush of acute pleasure from
seeing the violent results of his handiwork.
Peter the Ace spoke. “Panman?”
Panman reached up and pulled hard on a handle marked ‘Release’.
Freed from its clamps, the diver fell out of the Blenheim’s lower
cargo bay and out into the thick atmosphere. Within seconds, the planet’s
immense gravitational pull combined with the diver’s streamlined inverted
cone shape accelerated the un-powered craft to an incredible speed.
Panman, almost weightless inside the freefalling cone, gasped as the sensation
of falling momentarily disorientated him. He quickly regained control of
his senses. As stacks of thick yellow clouds sped up passed the window,
he examined one of the display panels. “Speed now terminal at 342
metres per second. Distance to target is 47 kilometres. Interception in
two minutes, twenty-five seconds.”
“Excellent work! I’ll monitor things from up here. Peter the
The BULIT Diver began to shudder, throwing Panman from side to side.
The diver’s computer spoke for the first time. Its voice was female,
and needlessly sexy. “TURBULENCE EXCEEDING PREDICTED LEVELS. COURSE
CORRECTION REQUIRED.” There was a rumble as several small control
fins extended from the cone’s hull. The noise of the wind increased
with the extra resistance.
A small joystick appeared at Panman’s side. He looked at it. “You
want me to do it?”
Panman frowned. “Why can’t you do it?”
“AUTO-COURSE-CORRECTION MODULES HAVE NOT BEEN INSTALLED.”
The bounty hunter shook his head. “Stupid prototype!” He grabbed
the joystick and looked at the central display panel. The current course
of the BULIT Diver was clearly shown. Without correction it would miss Radic’s
ship by hundreds of metres. That would be a disaster, especially as the
diver was un-powered. If it missed it would plummet to the planet’s
core thousands of kilometres below, taking Panman – one of the galaxy’s
most astounding heroes – with it.
Nudging the joystick, Panman began to correct the trajectory. Each nudge
caused a whoosh of sound as the fins adjusted. The projected course was
modified on the screen. Within seconds the projected course indicated that
everything was back on track. Panman released the joystick. There was another
rumble as the fins retracted.
“INTERCEPTION IN ONE-MINUTE.”
Panman drummed his fingers with impatience. He selected a snack from his
suit’s nutrition system, and then looked out of the window. The diver
had plunged into a clear section of air. The view, across thousands of kilometres
of tangerine cloud banks was an awe-inspiring sight.
After a few seconds silence the computer spoke. “I WILL NOT SURVIVE
Panman was puzzled. “I know.” He replied, chewing on a rather
tender mouthful of synthetic beef steak. “You’re a one-use device.
Expendable. Disposable. So?”
“I WANT TO LIVE.”
Panman eyes widened. He tapped away quickly on one of the display panels.
Information regarding the BULIT Diver’s software appeared. He shook
his head. “Idiot engineers! Why’d they put in so much sentience?
This damn thing is self-aware!”
The computer spoke again. “INTERCEPTION IN 30 SECONDS. I DO NOT WANT
TO INTERCEPT THE TARGET VESSEL.”
The bounty hunter frowned. “That’s your mission! Do as you are
“I WANT TO LIVE.”
There was a rumble as the control fins were extended once more. The BULIT
Diver shuddered as its course shifted.
“Hey! I thought you said you couldn’t do course corrections?!”
Panman had to act quickly. Tapping away on the display panel, he accessed
the system intelligence folder of the diver’s sentience core. The
bounty hunter began to delete file after file. Within seconds he had removed
the computer’s philosophical and motivational hubs, and deactivated
its moral and ambition centres.
The shuddering stopped.
The computer spoke, its voice subtlety different, and much less sexy. “INTERCEPTION
IN TEN SECONDS. COURSE CORRECTION NECESSARY.”
“Of course it is!” Panman said, grabbing the joystick. Looking
down out of the window he could see the ship below. He yanked the stick,
causing the diver to lurch violently.
“INTERCEPTION IN FIVE SECONDS.”
Panman yanked the joystick one more time, causing his helmet to slam into
the window as the gee-force of the manoeuvre took effect. The ship loomed
large below. “That’ll have to do.” He sat back and tensed.
The noise was horrendous, and the pressure of deceleration even more so.
With a tearing, grating, clanking, snapping and slamming sound the BULIT
Diver came to an almost instantaneous halt.
For a few seconds Panman just sat there, stunned by what had been the most
shocking experience of his long bounty hunter career. And then he grinned.
“Bitchin’!” He punched the door eject button. Several
charges detonated, sending the door flying away. It clattered to the floor
at the far end of a dark chamber.
Panman stepped down out of the diver. He looked around. Above, a two-metre
diameter mangled hole stretched up at least two decks. The orange clouds
of the atmosphere could be seen high above. Around him several shattered
food crates had covered the floor in various vegetables and pastes. Obviously
this was the ship’s larder.
Knowing his presence would already be known, the bounty hunter made no attempt
to conceal himself. Pulling out a pistol from his suit’s thigh holder,
Panman aimed at a closed door at the far side of the chamber. He fired.
A pulse of blinding blue energy connected with the door, melting away a
large portion of it in an instant. A spray of molten metal splattered in
all directions. The bounty hunter ran and jumped through the hole and into
He was met with a barrage of fire.
Panman groaned as several shots pummelled his suit. In a ball of flame he
rolled across the floor and took up a crouching position. He switched his
pistol to rapid-fire and unleashed a wall of energy. Several screams of
agony were heard. The hostile fire stopped.
Panman got to his feet. For a second he was surrounded by a spray of mist
as his suit’s fire suppression system activated. The flames were doused
immediately. He strode forwards along the dimly lit passageway. Three smouldering
bodies blocked his way, contorted into various agonised poses. He stepped
over them. A fourth, still alive, moaned softly a few paces ahead. He looked
up at the bounty hunter, his eyes blackened with smoke. The bounty hunter
adjusted his pistol to narrow beam and aimed at the fourth figure’s
head. He fired. In a flash a centimetre-wide hole was burned through the
figure’s head. The figure slumped forwards, freed for eternity from
The ship rumbled and then swayed. It was moving and accelerating. There
was not much time. Ahead the passageway curved through 90 degrees, at the
end of which was a large closed door. From earlier scans Panman knew what
lay beyond. The bridge, and Radic. The bounty hunter pulled a small grenade
from his belt, activated it, and then threw it. He stepped back around the
corner and crouched. A blinding flash of yellow filled the passageway followed
immediately by a roar of sound. Molten metal scattered everywhere.
Panman leapt to his feet and ran through the splintered doorway. The bridge,
small and round, was surrounded by curved panoramic view-ports. The whole
room was lit orange from the immense vista of drifting bright clouds outside.
Control panels glowed red, mostly showing warnings and damage reports. And
at the centre, sitting in an oversized and well-padded black chair, sat
Radic. He slowly spun his chair round, raising his arms.
Panman aimed his pistol at the alarmingly old-looking miscreant. “Got
Radic strained a grin, his mouth almost completely obscured by his excessively
long nasal hair. His cheeks wrinkled up. “It seems so.” He was
obviously dejected, but he was putting on a brave face. “I managed
to evade you for many days. Not a bad effort, was it?”
Panman had to agree. “For a feeble, elderly, intellectually-challenged,
low-life, whore-cloning lunatic you certainly did give us the run-around.”
Radic sighed. “Well, you may have got me, but my cloning facilities
are too well hidden for you to find. My sons still elude you, and they have
full control of my facilities and my whores in my absence. Those whores
will continue to flood the market on all the depraved worlds. Riches will
fill the accounts of my offspring. My legacy will survive.”
Panman laughed. “No way! For the last few hours bounty hunters have
been devastating your cloning facilities with all kinds of advanced mass-destruction
devices. Your legacy will certainly not survive!”
Radic stood. “Not true!” he shouted. “My facilities are
secret beyond the eyes of even your kind!”
“Of course it’s true. You have three cloning facilities. The
one on Debu, below the swamps of Fette, was obliterated three hours ago
by a bounty hunter named Frederika Toe-Mangler.”
Radic’s jaw dropped.
Panman continued. “Just one-hour ago I received confirmation that
your facility on the fifth moon of Blo’Tid was vaporised in spectacular
fashion. It was recorded. We can watch it later, if you like?!”
What little colour Radic had drained from his wizened face.
“And the one near the north polar icecap of the Hiroi-Ketsu homeworld
is currently a smouldering orifice, thanks to none other than the legendary
Radic’s eyes widened and he staggered slightly. His breathing deepened.
“That was unexpected. A marvellous achievement for you.” He
held onto the arm of his chair for support. “But there are still thousand
of whores out there – all brainwashed to provide extreme pleasure
and transfer the proceeds to my secret accounts. My sons will collect the
Panman interrupted, shaking his head. “Wrong! Over the last day almost
a hundred bounty hunters have been rounding up your whores on Degeneron,
Myre and the twin planets of Suluju and Sumellu. Thousands have been captured.
They’ll be retrained and put to work in the Palace of Amino’s
Radic let out a desperate laugh. “Ha! But there are more! They’ll…”
“Generate no more wealth for your family; you can be sure of that.
You must be talking about the ones on Repugnius, as they’re the only
ones left that I haven’t mentioned. Ross Mental is about to lead a
small fleet to sort out the very whores you’re thinking about. There’s
no escape. They will be captured, or if they resist, administered instant
Amino justice. Within days all of your whores will be neutralised, and all
of your revenue streams closed.”
Radic’s strength left his body. He collapsed to his knees. He gazed
at the floor, shaking his head slowly. His nose hair dragged across the
floor’s ridged panelling.
Panman continued, relishing the moment. “Without extreme wealth your
sons will soon turn to desperate measures to regain their income. Their
desperation with cause them to make monumentally stupid mistakes. The Palace
of Amino will be waiting for such mistakes. And when those mistakes are
made, bounty hunters will swoop on your offspring with fierce brutality.
Your sons will join you in lifelong captivity at the palace, or die in a
torment of regret and despair.”
Radic, once the galaxy’s most prolific whore-cloner, wept.
Panman spoke the words all bounty hunters live to say. “In the name
of the Superior Beings of the Great Hall of the Palace of Amino, I arrest
you and condemn you to a life of hopelessness and despondency in the darkest
shadows of the Palace of Amino’s most mind-numbing dungeon.”
The bounty hunter took a couple of seconds to savour the moment, and then
spoke into his communicator. “All done.”
Peter the Ace replied. “Excellent stuff! Did you break him?”
“He’s sobbing like a girl, so I guess I did?”
“Good work. Miscreants are so much easier to handle when they’re
Panman walked over to the bawling Radic and nudged his shoulder with his
knee. Radic fell to one side. He lay on the floor in a foetal position still
crying. “You’re right!”
“I always am. Justin’s preparing a detention cell for our guest.
I’m bringing the Blenheim down to you.”
“Cool! I’ll be ready.”