the blinding glare of three multi-megaton nuclear detonations illuminating
the landscape from the east, Justin slammed at almost 400 kilometres per
hour into an ash-strewn plain. The impact threw up a thick cloud of the
ash that glowed brightly in the yellowing light.
Immediately, warning symbols and alerts popped up into the cyborg’s
field of vision. There was plenty of minor damage that would affect his
stability and performance – weakened servos, hydraulic leaks, and
several dents in embarrassing locations. But no essential systems were off-line,
and his power supply was functioning normally. He filed the alerts in his
maintenance log, ready to be fixed at his next service.
The light from the detonations was fading now, and turning orange, and the
cloud of ash Justin had kicked up had drifted away. With many of his servos
groaning, the cyborg got to his feet and turned to look east. Three impressive
mushroom clouds were climbing high above the horizon, their wide and swelling
heads glowing deep amber behind the uneven net of soot that surrounded them.
A wall of blackness was approaching. Rapidly it gained height, until it
obscured the mushroom clouds completely. Justin was plunged into darkness,
and then with an incredible punch a supersonic blast wave swept him off
Justin was airborne once again.
Peter the Ace had watched the bridge’s main view-screen with delight
as the events of the attack unfolded. The left side had showed the progress
of Justin’s ballistic flight with an impressive 3D rending of his
journey. The right half of the screen had showed a live image of the three
massive detonations, along with an overlay of their effects. The data
regarding the humanoid machines showed that the attack had been an unqualified
success. Almost all had been destroyed. Just a few stragglers remained.
They were wandering, heavily damaged, back towards the sea. Whatever they
were for, they were no longer capable of doing it.
But the bounty hunter was no longer concerned with the events on the ground.
He was watching some other information on a sensor panel on his console.
Two-hundred kilometres to the east, something large, cumbersome and revoltingly
coloured had emerged from the sea. It was currently accelerating up through
Peter the Ace operated a few controls. The main view-screen switched to
an enhanced image of the unidentified vessel. It was almost two kilometres
in length, and covered in curved and bulging panels. Its colour was a
highly unappealing shade of mouldy green. It disappeared through the thick
Peter the Ace made a decision. “Blenheim, follow that vessel. Match
its speed and stay 100 kilometres directly behind it.”
The ship rumbled as its powerful thrusters fired.
The communications panel bleeped. It was Justin calling. Peter the Ace
answered. “Hello, Justin! See, I told you you’d survive. Not
too much damage, I hope?”
“My diagnostic systems have logged 146 minor faults.”
“Only minor? Excellent! You must be very pleased with yourself.”
“I am incapable of experiencing pleasure.”
“Ah yes, of course. Never mind.”
The Blenheim was now above the clouds and bathed in bright sunlight.
“My task has been completed. I require further orders.”
Peter the Ace thought for a second. “Hmm… I can’t think
of anything at the moment. Stay where you are and take a break.”
“I wish to return to the ship and perform more detailed diagnostic
“Sorry, my artificial friend, but I’m busy at the moment.
I’ve just detected an unidentified vessel which I must follow.”
“In my compromised condition it is not recommended for me to be
exposed to the levels of fine ash and dust that…”
“As I mentioned before, I’m busy.” Peter the Ace said,
as he dexterously played with his control console. “Your damage
is not serious. Think positive! Do something constructive down there.”
The image on the main view-screen zoomed to show the unidentified vessel
as it left the upper atmosphere and entered space.
“My task generation subsystem is unable to identify any constructive
tasks to perform on this planet.”
“Then your task generation subsystem needs upgrading! I can think
of one task without any artificial help. The scans of the surface that
Sind’a Thighs performed before she was shot down indicated that
some intelligent life did survive the initial impacts. It would be very
constructive indeed of you to find some of that life and offer assistance.
Do you have the data from Sind’a Thighs’ scans lodged in that
synthetic head of yours?”
“Excellent! Off you go then!”
Peter the Ace closed the communications channel and returned his attention
to the main view-screen. Without the restriction of an atmosphere, the
unidentified vessel was now accelerating quickly and heading away from
the planet Droog at quite an impressive rate – impressive, at least,
for such a bizarre and funny-coloured ship.
“Blenheim, continue following that ship. If it enters subspace,
follow, but increase our distance to 100,000 kilometres.”
“Create a message to the Palace of Amino that includes all the new
information we’ve gathered on the events on Droog. Include details
of our attack on those humanoid machines, and Justin’s current position.
Tell them to send another bounty hunter – fifth or sixth-class will
do. The bounty hunter is required to deal with the remaining humanoid
machines, and to recover Justin.”
“Code the message as RUNT – Relatively Unimportant, but Necessary
“Use a scrambled encrypted encoded secure channel – priority
two. Send now.”
“Good stuff! One more thing; perform a level-two pulse-scan of the
unidentified ship. I want to know as much about its armaments, defences,
shields, and main propulsion system as possible. Most importantly, I want
to know its weaknesses.”
“A LEVEL-TWO PULSE SCAN OF THE UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL WILL TAKE 32-MINUTES
TO COMPLETE. A STANDARD SCAN WOULD TAKE ONLY FIVE SECONDS.”
The bounty hunter frowned. “I know that! But a standard scan is
easily detectable, a pulse scan is not. Start the scan.”
“LEVEL-TWO PULSE SCAN OF THE UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL INITIATED…”
“Splendid!” Peter the Ace operated the internal communicator.
The Blenheim’s assistant answered. “Hi! What can I do for
“I’m going to my quarters for a short break. Bring me a round
of chicken, pesto and basil sandwiches, and a small bottle of our finest
sparkling white wine. One from Enchantia’s Suculan Hills region
“Of course. I’ll be there in three minutes!”
Peter the Ace leapt out of his plush command chair and back-flipped onto
his feet. “Blenheim, when you get the results of the scan, send
them to my quarters.”
With a squeak of his battle-boots, the first-class bounty hunter turned
elegantly on the spot, and then strode proudly off the bridge.