Cardio, a sixth-Class bounty hunter of remarkable belligerence and fashion-sense,
gasped as a brief wave of nausea swept through him. The transition from
subspace to normal space was always a little unsettling in a small ship,
and at ten metres in length the Gash Station was one of the smallest ships
in the Palace of Amino fleet.
With the churning entities of subspace now banished, the view through the
narrow viewport was now the brown and grey world of Droog, less than half
a million kilometres ahead. Jack Cardio looked down at the surround view-screen,
a remarkable screen that completely circled round him in his ship’s
cramped but stylish cylindrical cockpit. Ahead, the screen showed a detailed
scan of the recently devastated planet.
A warning bleep sounded. The bounty hunter clicked a control and spun his
chair round, sending his long dreadlocks flying out. Behind, the screen
had highlighted two objects several billion kilometres away at the system’s
outer edge. One was a large unidentified vessel almost two kilometres long
– something to be regarded with great suspicion. But the identity
of the second smaller ship – confirmed by a decrypted Bounty Hunter
Vehicle Identification Code - was something to be revered. It was the finest
and most respected bounty hunter ship ever constructed. It was the mighty
Blenheim, and it appeared to have docked with the larger vessel.
Jack Cardio took a moment to catch his breath. He had been a fully-qualified
bounty hunter for only a decade, and had only recently been promoted to
sixth-class, so to be on a mission to aid the two greatest bounty hunters
of all time was an honour beyond his dreams, and an honour usually only
granted to bounty hunters that showed extreme ability, risk, and unusual
levels of eccentricity. On this occasion Jack Cardio had simply been lucky
enough to be passing the Droog system when the call from Amino Battle Command
came through. With minimal credentials for being there, he had a lot to
prove, and with Peter the Ace and Panman in the vicinity he was determined
Jack Cardio spun his chair back round. The gloomy planet Droog now loomed
large through the narrow viewport. The bounty hunter activated the decelerators
and redirected the Gash Station, placing it in a very low orbital trajectory.
He brought up his mission parameters on the view-screen for review. They
were simple: destroy any giant humanoid machines that were walking around,
and then rescue a stranded Palace of Amino cyborg at the supplied coordinates.
But all bounty hunters knew that simple mission parameters did not always
make for a simple mission. Thinking quickly, Jack Cardio decided that it
would be better to rescue the cyborg first: it might know something that
would help in defeating the humanoid machines.
The Gash Station was now almost directly above the cyborg’s last reported
coordinates. Heeding the warnings he had been given about the weapons of
the humanoid machines, the bounty hunter decided that an extreme descent
to the surface was the safest way down.
Jack Cardio grinned unevenly. It was time to begin the mission. Pushing
forwards on his pitch control, the bounty hunter sent his ship into a vertical
dive. Within seconds, the ship was surrounded by the bright orange glow
of plasma as it pushed hard into the ash-ridden atmosphere. Operating the
touch-controls on the view-screen, he initiated a narrow deep-scan of the
surface. Immediately a wealth of information appeared. Most of the surface
ahead was a flat lifeless plain, covered in a thick layer of fallout dust
and ash. Thirty-three active humanoid machines were detected; most were
on the coastline and heading into the sea. Three were heading inland.
The Palace of Amino cyborg was not detected at the given coordinates, but
a dense object could be seen moving slowly far inland near the ruins of
what appeared to be dwellings. It could be the cyborg, but it was impossible
to confirm – the mechanoid’s P.A.C.T. – Palace of Amino
Cyborg Transponder – was not transmitting.
As the ground became visible beneath the thick dust clouds, Jack Cardio
pulled the Gash Station out of its power dive. The ship skimmed the surface,
kicking up clouds of dust. He slowed the ship’s velocity to just three-hundred
kilometres per hour and set a course for what he hoped was the cyborg. He
activated his ship’s communicator. “Cyborg? This is Jack Cardio.
Reply and identify yourself!”
There was a crackle of static. “My designation is ‘Justin’.”
“Why is your P.A.C.T. not transmitting?”
“It was disabled during my impact with this planet’s surface
following my ballistic…”
Jack Cardio was already irritated by the cyborg’s mono-tonal drone.
“I didn’t ask for your life story, cyborg! Shut up! I’m
approaching your position. Stand by.”
Justin was only a few kilometres ahead. Jack Cardio slowed his ship and
looked at the scanner information. The cyborg was displayed in great detail
now. He looked very battered, with several deep dents on his chest and shoulder
plates, and his left leg was bent out of shape.
And he was not alone.
Jack Cardio looked at the new scanner information. Three life forms were
standing with the cyborg. Their biological signs were weak. “Who’s
“I was ordered by my master to locate some survivors and offer assistance.
Thirty-four minutes ago I located the three humanoids standing to my right;
two male and one female. All three humanoids are prepubescent children.”
The bounty hunter could now see the cyborg and the children through the
viewport. He slowed his ship and brought it to a hover. The children covered
their faces as a cloud of ash was blown at them.
Jack Cardio operated a control. “I’ve opened the lower cargo
hatch. It’s quite cramped in there, but you should all get in. Help
the children in first, cyborg.”
The bounty hunter watched on the screen as Justin lifted up the blackened,
spluttering children and placed them in the cargo bay. They immediately
cowered in one of the corners. The cyborg then pulled his bulky form into
the bay. At the appropriate moment Jack Cardio closed the bay door, giving
the cyborg a boost.
Justin spoke. “We are all now located in the cargo bay of your ship.”
“I know!” Jack Cardio said with annoyance. He hated being told
what was obvious, especially by a machine. Operating a control, the bounty
hunter spun his chair round 180 degrees, and at the same time dropped it
two metres. He was now sitting in the lower habitation section of the Gash
Station which contained his small but comfortable living quarters. To the
right was a ‘wet room’, complete with a power-shower and whirlpool
bath, and to the left was a small galley and plush sofa.
Straight ahead was a hatchway to the cargo bay. Operating another control
the bounty hunter opened the hatchway. With a grating sound it rose into
the ceiling. Justin was there gazing back at him with his deep red vacant
eyes. “Cyborg? Send the children through.”
Using his bulky arms, Justin herded the children through the hatchway. They
stood there, shivering and wide-eyed, their thick torn clothes, skin and
bare feet covered in grey ash. They moaned softly.
Jack Cardio grimaced. “They’re filthy and repulsive!”
He stood up and pressed a control on the door to the wet room. The door
slid open. The bounty hunter pointed. “In there, now!”
With a helpful nudge from Justin, the three children scurried into the wet
The cyborg spoke. “We should protect their modesty. The females and
the male should be cleaned separately.”
Jack Cardio frowned. “You said they were prepubescent! They don’t
care about such things, yet!” He played with the wash settings, and
then activated the room. “Anyway, they don’t need to be naked.”
Through the room’s transparent walls the children could be seen squirming
as dense sprays of warm water and soap enveloped them. The force of the
water was almost enough to knock them off their feet. The bounty hunter
laughed. “This is my favourite setting. Look how much fun they’re
After a minute the water sprays stopped. A swirling wind of hot air surrounded
the children, drying their bodies and clothes with remarkable efficiency.
The hot wind subsided. The door to the wet room opened.
Jack Cardio beckoned the children. The approached cautiously, their clothes
now bright and colourful, and their long dark hair fluffed-up like a doll’s.
The bounty hunter stepped to the other side of his living quarters and operated
another control. A double bed unfolded from the wall. It clicked into place.
He pointed. “Sit on there.”
The three children climbed onto the bed. They sat, cross-legged, and looked
up at the bounty hunter, their eyes big and round and cute.
An alarm sounded up in the cockpit.
Jack Cardio sat back down in his chair. He looked at Justin. “Make
sure they stay seated on the bed. I need to go and deal with those humanoid
The cyborg spoke. “It is unwise to launch an offensive operation using
such a small vessel when there are children onboard.”
“I have my orders, cyborg!” The bounty hunter said sternly.
He glanced at the children. “Don’t worry; I’ll set the
gee-dampers to maximum. The children will barely notice what’s going
With a whirr, Jack Cardio and his chair rose up and spun round to the front.
A second later he was back in his cockpit. He looked at his view-screen,
and then out through the viewport to the horizon. There, silhouetted against
the dull orange sky, were three humanoid machines.
Excitement coursed through Jack Cardio’s body. This was going to be
a very pleasing experience!