Blenheim’s main galley was filled with a blistering array of the very
latest state-of-the-art food preparation technology. Pioneered by the gastronomists
of the Palace of Amino’s Institute of Techno-Gorging, the technology
could prepare and cook almost any known dish from almost any known cuisine.
It was one of the most remarkable and sophisticated food preparation areas
in the galaxy, yet its capabilities were unknown to all except a select
few at the Palace of Amino, and its culinary delights had been experienced
by even fewer.
Panman was sitting alone at the galley’s spacious curved seating
area. He was munching steadily on a frosted custard-filled doughnut the
size of a dinner plate. The Joker-like grin on his face was an obvious
sign of the pleasure of the experience. It was not only the massive doughnut
that gave him the pleasure, though. It was also the bounty hunter’s
chance for some private time in the galley. It was time that he often
took during the cruising phase of missions – one of the few times
he could truly savour the culinary delights of the galaxy’s sweetest
cuisine, and contemplate the true meaning of the sensation of taste.
After swallowing a particularly dense piece of the doughnut, Panman remembered
something. He looked at his chronometer. It was ten minutes since Justin
had last called. The cyborg was supposed to call again when he had imprisoned
the Cifitra head. Annoyed at Justin’s apparent impertinence, the
bounty hunter activated his communicator. “Justin? Where are you?”
Justin replied. “I am in the detention centre.”
“I told you to report when you had locked up the Cifitra. Why didn’t
“The Cifitra is not locked up, therefore the time that you required
me to report has not yet…”
“Stop waffling! Why are you taking so long?”
“The Cifitra and I were discussing my place in the Palace of Amino
and the conditions of my…”
Panman frowned. “I’m not interested in mechanoid chit-chat!
Get the head of that artificial freak locked up now! And when you’ve
done that, get down to the main cargo bay. It needs tidying up.”
“I am unable to…”
Panman was desperate to get back to eating his doughnut. “Don’t
make excuses! Just do it!” He silenced the communicator.
The galley’s door whooshed open and Peter the Ace walked in. He
was followed by Sind’a Thighs, who was shepherding the three children.
As the door closed Peter the Ace spotted Panman and grinned. “Why
am I not surprised to see you down here?! Mind if we join you?”
Panman shook his head. “Not at all.” He showered the galley
Peter the Ace looked at Sind’a Thighs. “Seat the children
opposite Panman. They’ll enjoy watching him eat!”
Under Sind’a Thighs’ guidance, the three wide-eyed children
took their seats. Immediately their gaze locked on to Panman. They watched
in awe as the first-class bounty hunter continued to devour his immense
doughnut at unrivalled speed. They blinked as crumbs scattered across
their faces. Sind’a Thighs sat down next to them.
Peter the Ace took his seat and operated a control on the table. From
the centre of the table a drinks dispenser rose up. He made a selection
on the dispenser’s touch-screen. A chilled glass of mango smoothie
slid into his hands.
Sind’a Thighs selected drinks for the children. “I was just
thinking how convincing that Cifitra’s disguise was. I’m a
bit embarrassed that I didn’t see through it.” She handed
the drinks to the children. They sipped eagerly at the sweet juice.
Panman gulped down another mouthful of doughnut. “Don’t be.
Cifitra are masters of disguise. As well covering itself with the fully
functioning body of an incontinent old hag, that metal freak would also
have conditioned its mind to believe that it actually was an incontinent
old hag. Only when I burned off its flesh did it revert back to a Cifitra
way of thinking.”
Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Cifitra are certainly a dangerous foe.”
Panman finished off the last of his doughnut with a massive gulp. “They
are, but they’re still no match for us!”
There was a crashing noise outside the galley, and then the distinctive
whirr of servos.
Peter the Ace looked round. “Excellent! It sounds like Justin is
coming to join us!”
Panman frowned. “It’s not excellent. I ordered him to go and
clean up the main cargo bay!” He turned to face the galley’s
doorway as it opened. “Justin! I told you to…”
A rasping metallic voice, heavily modulated, spoke. “Your mono-tonal
cyborg no longer answers to you, bounty hunter!”
There in the doorway stood Justin’s bulky and dust-stained body.
But it was not Justin. In place of Justin’s head was the Cifitra’s
head. It stared lifelessly at the galley’s occupants.
Reacting immediately, Panman dived to the floor and slid across its smooth
surface. In a second he reached the opposite side of the galley. Opening
a small hidden compartment in the wall he retrieved a pistol, turned,
and fired. An intense beam of sustained energy connected with Justin’s
chest. The cyborg staggered back into the passageway, discharges of super-heated
plasma spurting from its ponderous limbs. The Cifitra head warbled loudly.
Peter the Ace hit a control on the table’s surface. A thick blast
door dropped into place, sealing the galley from the rest of the ship.
The children cried and buried their heads in Sind’a Thighs chest.
She gave them a reassuring hug.
A deep thumping noise could be heard as the Cifitra pounded on the closed
door. Its voice screamed over the communicator. “You fear me, bounty
hunters! You are cowering behind this door in despair!”
Peter the Ace responded calmly. “You are greatly mistaken.”
“I am not! This vessel is now mine to do with as I please. You are
also mine to do with as I please. You are doomed!”
“I am never wrong! I will slaughter you as I slaughtered your companion
– slowly, and from the inside out! And then I will take this ship
Panman spoke. “You will take this ship nowhere, you simple-minded
metallic freak! You’re going down!”
The thumping noise increased in volume. The Cifitra pounded the door harder
and harder. Its voice rasped and hissed. “You are very unwise to
arouse my anger, Panman! I shall ensure that your death is the slowest
Peter the Ace silenced the communicator. “That Cifitra is annoying,
don’t you think?” He operated a control on the table. The
galley’s view-screen faded to life. An image of the Cifitra could
be seen as it pounded the galley’s door.
Sind’a Thighs spoke, her voice tinged with worry. “Can it
“Of course not.” Peter the Ace said, looking at the lesser
bounty hunter. “The head may be a Cifitra, but the body is not.
Justin’s bulky frame is designed for menial tasks such as box-stacking,
scrubbing and pizza preparation. It is far inferior to a Cifitra’s
in every conceivable way. It does not have the strength to break through
such a finely engineered blast door.”
Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Of course, I should have known that.”
Panman was getting impatient. “It may not be able to get in, but
I don’t want to spend the entire voyage home stuck in here, no matter
how much awesome food there is! Let’s get this sorted!”
Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “Do you have a plan?”
Panman nodded. “Of course. And, as always, it’s phenomenal!”
“I’m intrigued! Please explain.”
Panman operated the control panel on the table. The image on the view-screen
changed to show a schematic map of the ship. Several icons faded into
view, each one representing a person on board. Panman pointed and spoke
loudly to ensure he was heard over the Cifitra’s banging. “That’s
us in the main galley, and that red blob is that metal freak.”
Peter the Ace and Sind’a Thighs nodded.
Panman continued. “As you can see, not everyone on board is…”
A thunderous and almost deafening boom shook the galley. Everyone at the
table was thrown back into their soft leather seats. Instinctively, Sind’a
Thighs grabbed hold of the children.
Panman looked towards the galley’s door. It had bowed in slightly,
but otherwise seemed to have held. “How did that mechanical extremist
Before anyone could formulate a response the galley door began to creak
and groan its way open. Immediately Panman raised his pistol and aimed
at the door. Some smoke billowed in, partially obscuring the passageway
beyond. As the door finally disappeared into the ceiling, a figure appeared
at the doorway. But it was not the ungainly bulk of Justin’s body
as everyone had expected. It was far slimmer, and far more toned.
It was Jemima Murma.
Peter the Ace applauded. “Outstanding!”
Jemima Murma bowed slightly. “Thanks! Sorry about the mess. It was
the only solution I could think of in such a short time.”
Peter the Ace shook his head. “I’m referring to your costume!
It’s remarkably bizarre, even for you! You look extraordinary!”
In extreme contrast to the long red evening dress Jemima Murma had been
wearing earlier, she now wore a shockingly alluring and minimalist outfit.
Round her neck was a wide metal ring. From the back of the ring a thin
strip of glossy black leather passed down the middle of her back, between
her buttocks and legs, and then up through her deep cleavage to connect
back to the ring. Two chains, attached to hooks that were dangling from
her pierced nipples, were also attached to the ring. And she had shaved
Jemima Murma grinned. “I made it myself. Glad you like it!”
Panman got to his feet and walked over to the galley’s doorway.
He beamed at the Blenheim’s assistant. “What you did was exactly
the plan I was thinking of! Cool!”
Peter the Ace joined Panman at the doorway. Jemima Murma stepped to one
side, allowing the two bounty hunters a clear look outside into the devastated
passageway. A five-metre stretch of the passageway’s walls was scorched
black, and many usually hidden power conduits we exposed and contorted
into disturbing shapes. The smouldering remains of Justin’s heavyweight
body were scattered everywhere.
Peter the Ace spoke. “Justin’s body is a definite write-off.”
He thought for a few moments. “I wonder how that Cifitra managed
to get control of it?”
Panman shook his head in disgust. “The only way would have been
for Justin to give it up. He can control his body remotely, even when
his head is detached.”
“He willingly gave it up? That’s treachery!”
Panman nodded. “It is!”
A voice, slow and crackling, spoke. “Your cyborg is a weak-minded
idiot! It took no effort to persuade him to give his body to me.”
Directly opposite the galley doorway, and barely visible, was the Cifitra’s
head. Blackened by the firestorm of the blast, the head was embedded deep
in an exposed and buckled bulkhead.
Peter the Ace spoke to the Cifitra. “And it took no effort for us
to destroy it and take it back from you.”
The Cifitra head warbled. “I can sense deep fear in you. You are
in despair! You are traumatized by my abilities. You are depressed at
my continued existence!”
“Your perception of my emotional state is completely wrong.”
Peter the Ace said, smiling. “I am actually extremely happy. Your
survival means I still have a first exhibit for my Mad Animated Head gallery.
I was beginning to think I’d have to put that idea on hold.”
Panman nodded. “Yeah! And your ability to live on and on and on
will mean that in centuries you’ll still be spouting inane drivel
from your display cabinet in the gallery. Visitors will be entertained
The Cifitra head spoke in a slurring and distorted manner. “I cannot
be contained! No gallery can constrain my ambitions! Other Cifitra will
trace me and restore me! You are doomed!”
Panman ignored the Cifitra’s ranting and looked quizzically at the
smouldering area surrounding the head. “We could cut out this entire
section of bulkhead - it’ll need replacing anyway. It could form
the centrepiece in your gallery, allowing visitors to see precisely where
that useless Cifitra was defeated.”
The Cifitra head screamed. “I am not useless!”
Peter the Ace also ignored the Cifitra. “What a marvellous idea!
And with ominous lighting, regular bursts of despondent music, and a surrounding
moat of molten lead the effect would be spectacular! I need to start work
on this gallery right away.” He turned and looked back into the
galley. “Sind’a? Take the children back to the guest quarters
and see that they are heavily sedated for the rest of the trip home.”
The lesser bounty hunter nodded. She ushered the still blubbering children
to their feet.
“Once they’re on the verge of unconsiousness, come back here
and keep an eye on that Cifitra head. I’m certain it’s quite
harmless now, but we should be careful.”
As Sind’a Thighs and the children left the galley the crazed head
screamed. “I am harmful beyond your pitiful comprehension, bounty
hunter! I am…”
With a particularly swift movement of his right hand, Panman aimed and
fired his pistol. A bright flash of white fire surrounded the Cifitra
head, silencing its rant. “Sorry, but that is one horrendously irritating
head!” Panman handed Jemima Murma his weapon. “Watch over
that head until Sind’a Thighs gets back. If it makes another sound,
blast it again.”
She nodded. “Of course. It’ll be my pleasure.”
The Cifitra head remained unusually quiet.
Peter the Ace turned to Panman. “Let’s get back to the bridge.
I need the comfort of my command chair if I’m to properly plan the
opening of the Mad Animated Head Gallery.”
The two first-class bounty hunters headed for the lift.
Panman’s communicator bleeped. He answered. “Yeah?”
“It is I, Justin.”
“What do you want, traitor?!”
“I have made an error of judgement.”
“Too right you have! What made you give your body to that freak?”
“The Cifitra stated that I would be fitted with a superior Cifitra
body if I complied with its request to lend it mine.”
“You’re a gullible idiot, aren’t you?!”
Justin ignored the bounty hunter’s question. “I wish to have
my body returned.”
“Too late. Jemima Murma destroyed it.”
There was a moment’s pause. “I require a new body.”
“Without a functioning body I am unable to perform my duties.”
“As of now you don’t have any duties! You aided a Cifitra
in its attempt to murder us and take control of this ship. A treacherous
act that cannot go unpunished! Your fate will be decided when we return
to the Palace of Amino.”
Panman silenced his communicator.
The two first-class bounty hunters entered the lift. Peter the Ace operated
a control. The lift closed its door and then commenced its journey to
Panman shook his head and frowned. “Despite his ungainly posture,
boring voice, and often infuriating manner, Justin is the best pizza maker
I’ve ever known. I can’t believe we’re going to have
to submit him for punishment. Again!”
Peter the Ace nodded. “It is indeed unfortunate. At least his near-legendary
pizza-making abilities will stand in his favour.”
Peter the Ace laughed.
Panman was confused. “What’s so funny?”
Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “I have the perfect punishment
for him! I’ll recommend it to the Superior Beings as soon as we
Panman was curious. “What punishment?”
“An exhibit in my new gallery, of course!”
Panman laughed. “Cool to the extreme!”
This lift drew to a smooth halt and the door opened.
Peter the Ace stepped out into the passageway. “Justin’s monotonous
mono-tonal droning will provide the perfect contrast to the Cifitra’s
vile over-modulated whining and boasting.”
Panman followed Peter the Ace out of the lift and on to the bridge. “It’s
amazing how things always turn out for the best! Awesome!”
The two first-class bounty hunters sat down in their luxurious command
Peter the Ace looked around at the now brightly lit bridge. The main view-screen
displayed an image of the subspacial entities that flitted around the
ship. “Isn’t it amazing?”
Panman looked at the view-screen. “What? Those things?”
“No.” Peter the Ace spread his arms. “This ship! Our
incredible success on every mission! Our lives!”
Panman grinned. “Yeah, we’re so cool!”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Outstandingly so! And we have so much to
look forward to!”
Panman laughed. “Yeah! There’s the opening of the Chug restaurant
at the Nypl-Dome, for starters!”
“And then opening of my Mad Animated Head Gallery, with one, and
hopefully two, prime exhibits!”
Panman was excited. “And a multitude of exhilarating missions, depraved
overlord eradications, and countless new and delectable culinary delights
Peter the Ace grinned with satisfaction. “We do indeed have truly
Panman beamed like an award winner. “We do! We certainly do!”