The clear desert sky was darkening rapidly. A cooling breeze had replaced
the stifling, still air that had persisted throughout the day.
The stone fortress, half buried by sand and shadows, was deathly quiet.
A single guard stood outside, awesomely armoured, and brandishing one mean
looking, hip-mounted, life-seeker mini-missile launcher. A pulse blaster
was clearly visible on top of his helmet. Silently and carefully, he scanned
the dune-littered landscape, his head moving slowly from side to side, more
like a machines than a mans.
"Only one guard." Peter the Ace said, peering through his digital
image intensifying and analyzing night-scope. "And he's got plenty
of weapons to throw at us." The heads-up display within the scope
identified the life-seeker mini-missile launcher and the pulse blaster
with lightening ease.
Peter the Ace, a shrewdly creative and imposing bounty hunter, turned
to face Panman, a bounty hunter of enhanced intellect and extraordinary
"He's quite impressively armed." Panman said, munching on a
caramel and nut cookie. "Most security guards only carry a small
Peter the Ace turned back to his scope. "You're right." |He
said. "This is definitely the place all right." He watched the
guard continue his machine-like inspection of the desert less than half
a kilometre from their position.
"Come and have some cookies." Panman said. "They're great!
Justin's recent studies at the Amino Baking Academy have really paid off."
Peter the Ace left his scope and slid down the side of the dune to Panman's
position. He grabbed a large biscuit from the provisions container.
"I thought that our cyborg assistant had made dozens." Peter
the Ace said. "This is the last one!"
Panman burped then smiled. "He made sixty two to be exact."
Peter the Ace laughed. "You're a certified snack-food consumption
"Sugar, fat and cholesterol fuels my brain augmentation mechanisms."
Panman declared with total seriousness.
"Of course they do."
"They do! You should eat more of them."
"I rarely have to activate my mental articulation accelerators."
Peter the Ace said. "I tend to leave them in stand-by mode."
"Yeah, right!" Panman said. He grabbed and opened another provisions
container. The distinctive aroma of cinnamon doughnuts wafted through
the air. Peter the Ace watched as Panman began to gorge himself.
"I guess I should top up on brain fuel." Peter the Ace said,
giving in to temptation. "Just to be on the safe side."
The two bounty hunters ate as if there was no tomorrow.
After a couple of minutes Peter the Ace sat back and rested against the
sand, twelve doughnuts was enough to satisfy his appetite. Panman continued
"Justin's taking his time." Peter the Ace said.
Panman spoke through a mouthful of doughy snacks. "He'll be here
Panman was right. The familiar sound of servos could be heard. Justin
appeared from behind a dune and walked stiffly up to them, his stumpy
metal legs creating large imprints in the sand.
"Justin!" Panman said. "How's it going?"
"I am functioning well." The cyborg replied with synthetic monotonality.
He placed the large collection of equipment that he was carrying onto
the ground. "One pummel projectile system, two heavy assault cannons,
and eight flesh-stripper grenades as ordered."
"Well done!" Peter the Ace said. "Take one of the assault
cannons and position yourself behind that small dune over there. You can
be our back-up."
Justin nodded, grabbed the weapon, and then wandered away.
"It's a shame that he can never become a fully fledged bounty hunter."
Panman said, after Justin was out of earshot. "The palace regulations
say that someone must be at least ten percent biological to qualify."
"Indeed." Peter the Ace said. "Unfortunately he's only
point zero zero zero one percent biological. No chance!"
"Yeah. He's destined to be our assistant and cook for the rest of
his operational life."
Peter the Ace got to his feet, picked up the pummel projectile system,
then mounted it on his shoulder. He handed Panman the heavy assault cannon.
They shared the grenades equally.
"Ready." Panman said, delighted that the opportunity to use
one of his favourite weapons was approaching.
"Okay," Peter the Ace said. He activated his weapon. It purred
menacingly. "Let's go!"
The two heroes clambered over the top of the dune with remarkable athletic
ability, and made their way down towards the fortress. The sky was virtually
dark now, and sprinkled with stars. The planet's three moons had not risen
yet, causing problems for anyone without night-vision equipment.
"Right." Peter the Ace said as the two bounty hunters crouched
behind a small dune. "Were only a hundred metres away."
"Yeah." Panman said. "Time for a snack."
"That's not what I was thinking!"
"It's time to activate our life-screens."
"Yeah!" Panman loved to try out new gadgets. "The palace
engineers really excelled themselves with these devices."
Peter the Ace activated his life-screen. For a brief second, he was encompassed
with an aura of indigo light, and then it was gone. "Cool! Now I'm
invisible to all known life form detectors."
Panman activated his life-screen. "Let's hope that guard's life form
detector is a 'known' one!"
"It won't make that much difference." Peter the Ace said with
extreme confidence. "We'll have to brutally slaughter him either
Panman smiled. He loved to slaughter the enemy.
With the stealth and skill of a dimensionally disfigured ephemeral rogue
brawler, the two highly trained galactic champions crept up to the side
wall of the fortress and peered through their night-scopes around to its
front. The guard was still there, slowly scanning the landscape.
"He must be a machine." Panman said. "He hasn't moved!"
"Indeed!" Peter the Ace agreed. "And the fact that he hasn't
budged a millimetre means that our life-screens work!"
"Whoa, yeah!" Panman said. "The first field test is a resounding
success!" He looked at the main entrance, inset into the front wall.
"Maybe we can sneak by him."
The two first-class bounty hunters crept quietly behind the guard until
they reached the entrance.
"He didn't notice us!" Panman said. "What a crap guard!"
Before Peter the Ace could agree, a concentrated beam of dazzling emerald
radiated from the back of the guards helmet and connected with Panman's
right shoulder, vaporising two layers of dense armour plating. The bounty
hunter was thrust into the metal doorway. With reflexes of stunning rapidity,
Peter the Ace armed his pummel projection system and fired. An energetic
collection of shimmering particles thudded into the guard like a giant,
jabbing fist. The guard was catapulted fifteen metres into the air, his
rear body armour smouldering brightly.
"He had a rear helmet auto defence blaster." Peter the Ace said
as he watched the guard smack head first into the ground. "We didn't
see that one coming."
"Absolutely not!" Panman said recovering from his collision
with the door. He got to his feet then fired his assault cannon. Rapidly
repeating blasts of clustered laser fire hit their downed opponent’s
array of weapons. A flash of white light and a shower of charred wreckage
signified their destruction. "I guess he's pretty harmless now."
The guard lay still and quiet.
"Justin?" Peter the Ace said into his communicator. "Keep
your sights trained on this guy. If by some miracle he recovers from his
neck-braking fall, blow him away."
"I obey." came the mechanized reply.
"Try and get this door open, Panman."
Panman set to work at the door's locking mechanism, his hand-held C-Beam
scanner imaging the internal workings of the giant bolting system.
"It's a complex set-up but it can be opened, and without resorting
to hopelessly excessive violence."
"That's a shame." Peter the Ace said. "But we'll have a
chance for some carnage creation once we're inside. They're bound to have
been alerted to our presence by now."
"That's cool." Panman said. He pushed a few buttons on his thumb-mounted
quantum manipulator. "Got it!" The weighty iron door groaned
and began to descend into the ground. The scrape of metal against concrete
became annoyingly apparent.
"I hate that sound." Panman said. He felt goose bumps appearing
all over his body.
The door had dropped to head height. Searing beams of death laced their
way out of the entrance.
"Targets!" Panman shouted.
The two bounty hunters smiled with delight and opened fire. Several guards
within the fortress had their chests divided into numerous uneven pieces
as forceful pummel and laser blasts cut through their inadequate body
armour. Several of the others found cover behind a couple of all-terrain
The door had descended below ground level. The bounty hunters were exposed.
Without even a shred of fear, they sprinted forwards. A shower of intense
energy fire whipped around them, their thick body armour taking several
While Peter the Ace continued to pummel as many guards as possible, Panman
saw the opportunity for some gruesome mass butchery. He reached down to
his utility belt, grabbed a flesh stripper, primed it, and then pitched
it into the air.
"Stripper on the loose!" He warned, diving to the floor.
Peter the Ace did the same.
The flesh stripper detonated. Thirteen guards shrieked in torment as their
upper bodies were stripped of armour; then clothes; then skin; then fat;
then muscle; then cartilage; and finally, vital organs. Charred flesh
sprayed against the walls. Scorched, dried bones clattered onto the hard,
concrete floor. Several skulls cracked open allowing baked brain matter
to seep out. The stripped guard's intact lower halves, unable to function
without the direct control of a sentient nerve centre, toppled over and
distributed litres of blood across a wide area.
"Excellent show!" Peter the Ace shouted.
"My pleasure!" Panman said proudly.
The remaining guards had retreated to the rear of the fortress's entrance
bay. They opened fire. The bounty hunters leapt for cover next to one
of the vehicles.
"We have to get to that elevator shaft near where those guards are
cowering." Panman said. "It'll probably lead to their reactor
"Isn't it cool," Peter the Ace remarked, "that all of the
enemy bases and battle stations that we encounter seem to have a relatively
convenient way for intruders to access their power generators."
"Yeah, they never learn. It's probably because their tyrant overlords
spend so much time laughing inanely and chanting insane war poetry that
they never concern themselves with the more mundane things such as internal
"Mindless fools!" Peter the Ace remarked. He looked at the remaining
guards. They had started to advance. "They're braver than I thought."
He commented, as he armed a couple of flesh strippers. "I count fifteen
"That sounds about right." Panman said. "Time to resume
The two bounty hunters leapt into the air. Peter the Ace hurled the flesh-strippers
towards the approaching guards. Panman unleashed a brutal spread of rapid,
high energy laser fire. Several legs found themselves separated from their
host bodies and dropped to the floor, twitching and bleeding. Some of
the guards also fell to the floor, unable to balance without one or more
of their lower appendages.
At the same time that the bounty hunters landed from their bionically
augmented jump, the flesh-strippers detonated. Eight guards began to shudder
in extreme torment as their upper halves were quickly and efficiently
peeled to the bone. The walls received a second coat of cooked flesh.
Lower body halves and bare bones slumped and crunched to the ground.
It was relatively quiet now. Panman could hear a few groans and moans.
The seven guards whose limbs had been shot off had avoided the flesh-strippers'
"Finish them." Peter the Ace said.
Panman smiled and marched forwards. A single burst of potent laser energy
into each of their heads rapidly ended their cognizant existence.
The two bounty hunters reached the elevator's entrance.
"They'll be sending more of them." Panman said with great insight.
"Indeed!" Peter the Ace agreed. "Let's get this over with."
Panman set to work opening the elevator doors. Peter the Ace took the
pummel projection system off his shoulder and placed it on the ground.
He entered a code into its control panel. It began to whine. The sound
was quickly increasing in volume and pitch.
"Timed overload set." He said. "Five minutes."
Panman had managed to open the doors. An elevator car, plain and clinical,
"Let's get it inside." Panman said.
The pummel projection system was pushed into the elevator. Panman looked
at the elevators controls.
"Reactor level: Restricted." He said. "That's where we
want it to go."
Peter the Ace nodded. "Do it!"
Panman pressed the appropriate buttons then quickly got out. The double
doors hissed shut. The elevator's sound faded away. "Time to leave!"
"With the speed of a lunging locus badger, they sprinted back to
the main entrance and out into the black, frigid desert.
Panman noticed that the guard outside was trying to get to his feet. "I'd
better finish him." he said with a solemn sense of duty.
He didn't get the chance. A collection of dazzling energy beams cut into
the struggling guard, splitting him into five distinct parts. The odour
of burned flesh wafted through the air.
"Was that you, Justin?" Panman said into his communicator.
"Yes, it was I, Justin."
"Excellent! Well done!"
"We should get back to the Blenheim," Peter the Ace said. "Before
this baby blows." They nodded and resumed their sprint.
Panman activated his communicator once again. "Justin?"
"Get back to the ship and bake a maple syrup and banana fudge cake."
There was no acknowledgement.
"Do it Justin!" shouted Panman. "We'll be a couple of minutes
A touch of digital unwillingness could be detected in the cyborg trainee's
The two bounty hunters continued their dash across the bleak desert landscape.
"How long?" Panman asked, unaffected by the exhausting run.
Peter the Ace looked at his timer display unit. "Three minutes."
The Blenheim, a sleek black star ship of terror inducing design, could
be seen straight ahead. Most of its one hundred and sixty metre length
was concealed behind several large dunes. Justin's ponderous, conspicuous
footprints lead up to its entry ramp.
The two heroes bounded up the ramp. It closed automatically behind them.
"Blenheim?" Peter the Ace said as they made there way up to
the bridge. "Emergency power-up procedure now!"
"EMERGENCY POWER-UP PROCEDURE INITIATED." the ship replied.
The welcoming rumble of powerful engine actuators became audible.
Peter the Ace entered the bridge and somersaulted into his lavish command
"How long to overload?" Panman asked as he back-flipped into
his position at the weapons console.
"Oh dear," Peter the Ace said looking at his timer. "Six
seconds." He raised his voice and directed it towards the ship. "Blenheim.
Maximum vertical acceleration. Now!"
The ships belly thrusters erupted instantly to life. With a thunderous
roar, the Blenheim blasted skywards, the stress of the fifty gee acceleration
playing ruthlessly with the dark craft's outer hull. Inside however, due
to the Anti-Gee System, the ships occupants only experienced a two gee
A whiter than white, brighter than bright light filled the main view-screen.
"Whoa!" Panman shouted with glee. "There she blows!"
"Wow!" Peter the Ace exclaimed. "I do believe that it has
exceeded my expectations."
They both watched as the blast wave expanded across the sand strewn landscape.
It had already reached a diameter of one hundred kilometres and was increasing
its width at a rate of almost ten kilometres per second. A molten cloud
of vaporised rock and sand was rising towards them.
Panman raised the impact shields. The Blenheim shuddered as tons of highly
pressurised, melted, microscopic, hyper-sonic vapour passed by.
"We've left the atmosphere." Peter the Ace announced. He energised
the sub-light engines. Now he could get the ship up to a decent velocity.
"IMPACT SHIELD FAILURE IN FIVE SECONDS." The ship warned.
With supreme dexterity, Peter the Ace operated his master control systems.
The Blenheim, free from the resistance of air, was propelled away from
the planet at amazing speed as the sub-light engines cut in. Less that
a second later, the ship was free from the blistering inferno of destruction
that was continuing to expand across the planet and up out of its atmosphere.
"No problem!" Peter the Ace said calmly.
"That was one of the coolest escapes that we've ever made!"
Panman said with excitement. He looked at the main view-screen. "Look
at the size of that explosion now!" He read that accompanying data
on an adjacent screen. "Three hundred kilometres in diameter and
height. It's even spread beyond the atmosphere!"
Peter the Ace was looking at another view-screen. "There may be a
small problem." He said. He pressed a few buttons and a surface map
of the planet appeared on the main view-screen. "There's a city with
a population of twelve million, six hundred and thirty two kilometres
directly south of the fortress."
"So?" Panman said, distracted by a rumbling in his stomach.
"It's quite likely that the explosion will envelop it in thirty five
"Oh." Panman said.
"It seems that we may have been over-successful in our mission."
Panman thought for a moment, and tried to ignore the pangs of starvation
that were overwhelming his digestive system. "It's not that much
of a problem." He said finally.
"What do you mean?"
"Well. The drug traffickers and illegal arms dealers that we vaporised
down there have hundreds, if not thousands of friends and relatives in
that city. And they in turn have even more friends and relatives. By devastating
that city as well as their fortress, we will reduce the chance of their
organisation being rebuilt to virtually zero."
Peter the Ace smiled. Panman's rationalisation of the situation was very
Panman continued. "By annihilating twelve million lives, we will,
over time, save many times that amount that would have otherwise died
needlessly at the hands of the pirates and terrorists who buy their weapons
from this world."
"You're right!" Peter the Ace said with total confidence. "We
are completely justified in obliterating that city."
The two bounty hunters watched with clear consciences as the city was
ravaged to a state of complete destruction. The area where the seething
metropolis had stood was now blackened and lifeless. The radiation readings
were seventeen thousand times greater than the maximum safe limit. It
would remain lifeless for several centuries.
"Our mission is a resounding success!" Peter the Ace said.
"And we scored a bonus at the same time!" Panman exclaimed with
glee. "We might get a commendation for this." He was delighted
at that thought. His stomach was not. It groaned. Panman gave in to its
demands and operated the ship's internal communicator. "Justin?"
Justin replied. "Yes?"
"Is the cake ready?"
"It needs another five minutes."
"I'm starving! Bring it now."
"It will only be half cooked."
Panman looked at Peter the Ace. "Excitement like this burns off all
my sugar reserves."
"I'm sure it does." Peter the Ace said.
"It does!" said Panman. He didn't like sarcasm when it came
to his eating habits.
Peter the Ace smiled and activated his communicator. "Justin?"
"What?" the metal trainee said.
"Make sure there's enough for me too!"