Ross Mental opened his eyes. Everything was a blur of white and blue, with a
hint of coffee brown. He blinked several times. Things started to focus.
A dark fuzzy shape appeared. It was getting closer. The bounty hunter tensed
himself. Whatever it was, if it came much closer it would feel the full
force of his reinforced fist, and that was a force very few mortal beings
could survive. The shape got closer and closer. Ross Mental prepared to
“My friend! You’re awake!”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter recognised the voice. “Rinkle, you
old fucker! Is that you?”
“It certainly is. You regained consciousness much quicker than I expected.”
Ross Mental’s vision snapped into focus. He looked around. The room,
carved out of dense dark rock, was circular, and at least ten metres in
diameter. The ceiling was vaulted, and stretched high into pure darkness.
More than a dozen gleaming cubicles ringed the room, most had an upright
and deeply unconscious humanoid inside, and each was clothed in deep red
Rinkle, the old man that had brought him here, stood in front of him. He
was now wearing yellow overalls. “Remarkable! The drugs should have
kept you unaware for at least another three…”
Ross Mental grabbed Rinkle by the throat. He squeezed. “You drugged
The old man gasped. “It was necessary. Your mind had to be prepared
for the task ahead. And also you had to be bathed and then dressed appropriately.
It would have been difficult if you were conscious.”
The bounty hunter squeezed harder. “You bathed me?! You fuckin’
The old man wheezed. “Yes.”
Ross Mental looked down at his new clothes. “And you clothed me in
this fuckin’ red outfit?!”
The bounty hunter squeezed even harder and pushed up, raising Rinkle onto
his toes. He stepped out of his cubicle, carrying the old man by his throat.
The floor was cold and smooth. “Where the fuck are my clothes and
“You have no need of them now.”
Under normal circumstances, the old man would have died at the end of that
sentence. Fortunately for him, Ross Mental remembered his mission. He let
go of Rinkle. “You will return them to me before we leave.”
The old man coughed. “Very well, my friend. But after you see what
you will see down here, you will not want to leave.”
Above the room’s arched exit, a round blue light began to pulse, accompanied
by a deep pounding tone.
“We must go.” Old Rinkle said. “The next induction is
about to begin.” He turned and headed out of the room. “Please
The bounty hunter followed the old man out of the round room, and into one
of the largest underground chambers he’d ever seen. Also round in
shape, it stretched over a kilometre in all directions. Its floor was a
smooth lake of polished grey marble, which sloped gently down to the centre
of the chamber, creating a huge shallow bowl. The chamber’s ceiling
was shrouded in a dense flaxen mist, and from out of the mist a dozen long
wide red bands of thick fabric reached down to the floor.
From the edges of the giant chamber hundreds of red-dressed people were
making their way down into the bowl, those leading were wearing yellow.
Ross Mental pointed at the old man’s overalls. “Why the fuck
do you get to wear yellow?”
“I’m a recruiter.” He answered with pride. “Promoted
only two months ago. I already have a star!” He pointed to a silver
star on his breast pocket.
“What the fuck is that for?”
“It’s a reward for finding fifty recruits. I’m well on
my way to the next one!”
“That’s so fuckin’ great.”
Old Rinkle smiled. “It is!” He headed down the gentle slope
towards the chamber’s centre.
Ross Mental followed. The pounding tone was still sounding, but at a higher
pitch. There must have been over a thousand people now, all wandering down
to the centre, and they were not just locals, many were obviously off-worlders.
Most where unfamiliar, but some the bounty hunter recognised. There were
Diminutons – tiny frantic folk from the Odius Sector, and Dryps –
greasy-haired chinless insectivores from the Blue Moons of Leehkee’Pype.
He even spotted a female Schnipplar-Duoplaous-Nutt, a green-skinned and
dreadfully ugly homo-marsupial from the Ring Islands of Pow’Cha –
a rare sight, especially this close to the galactic rim.
The nearby whirr and crunch of damaged machinery caught Ross Mental’s
attention. He turned. “Justin! I’d forgotten about you! Where
the fuck have you been?”
Justin creaked alongside. Instead of the orange tarpaulin, he was now cloaked
in a giant pair of red overalls. “I have been exploring this facility.”
Old Rinkle laughed. “You’re friend is quite a strange one. I’ve
never seen someone with such an excessively mechanised and charred body.
It was difficult to find some clothing large enough. He was also very difficult
to drug, but fortunately we found some kind of pipe work into which to inject
him. He became very subservient.”
“He’s always subservient.” Ross Mental said. “He’s
almost completely devoid of any fuckin’ will!”
“I am completely autonomous.” Justin said without feeling. “I
can function independently for an indefinite period. I have advanced survival
algorithms. This can be considered having a will of my own.”
Ross Mental laughed. “But you have to do whatever the fuck I or any
other bounty hunter says. We can completely override any of your ‘algorithms’
– even your fuckin’ survival ones! You therefore have no will
of you own.”
The cyborg spoke. “In the Journal of Artificial Minds - second edition,
Professor Felix Xilef states that…”
“Don’t quote fuckin’ text books to me, you fuckin’
metal freak!” The bounty hunter said, riled by the Justin’s
ranting. “I order you to believe you have no will of your own.”
The red-clothed cyborg said nothing.
“So,” Ross Mental asked. “Do you have a will of your own?”
Justin was silent for a moment; obviously his internal algorithms were wrestling
each other. After two seconds he answered. “No.”
The bounty hunter smiled. “That’s fuckin’ better!”
The pounding tone fell silent. A feeling of quiet awe filled the vast chamber.
Everyone stopped walking and gazed up to the misty ceiling.
Rinkle spoke softly. “Stand still, my friends. It begins.”
Ross Mental frowned. “What’s fuckin’ beginning?”
In the silence, the bounty hunter’s profanity echoed for several seconds
around the chamber.
“The induction, of course.” The old man whispered. “Please
The bounty hunter scowled, but said nothing. He looked up, following the
gaze of all the others in the chamber.
The ceiling of the chamber burst into a cloud of blinding light, which then
faded fast. The mist that had shrouded the ceiling rippled away to nothing.
A dark saucer-shaped object descended rapidly. The crowd gasped.
“The Inductor!” Old Rinkle exclaimed.
The saucer dropped – almost at freefall speed –through the centre
of the chamber. At the last moment it decelerated rapidly, coming to a halt
just a few metres above the marble floor. There it hovered, unmoving, suspended
in the air by some unseen technology.
“Is this supposed to impress me?” Ross Mental asked, folding
Old Rinkle patted his shoulder. “Be patient, my friend.”
The top of the saucer began to spin. It lifted up, unscrewing itself from
the saucer’s base. Once it was free of the base, it rose up several
metres, and then stopped – perfectly still.
“There he is!” the old man whispered.
Ross Mental peered at the saucer’s base. Although it was more than
three hundred metres away, he could make out the shape of two tall and stocky
humanoids standing either side of a large mound. They appeared to be wearing
black cloaks and black spherical helmets.
The bounty hunter turned to Rinkle and spoke softly. “What do you
mean he? There are two of them, you dense fucker!”
“No, my friend. I’m referring to the one in the centre.”
Ross Mental looked between the two large humanoids. All he could see was
the mound between them. There seemed to be nothing of significance there
at all. But then the mound moved. Two lumps extended from each side of it,
each lump quickly forming into the shape of a hand.
The walls of the chamber lit up as several enormous video-screen flickered
to life. Each displayed a high-resolution progressive scan image of the
mound. The chamber erupted with sound as the crowd cheered. Some members
of the crowd wept with joy.
Ross mental could see the mound clearly now. It took him only a second to
recognise the squat and leathery creature, and only a second more for his
mind to fill with an incredible sense of dread.
Justin spoke with cold monotony. “That is a Fump-Fester lump-being.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter leaned over to the cyborg and whispered.
“I thought Peter the Ace and Panman wiped out those depraved fuckers
Justin searched the archives of his digital mind. “My masters’
mission to destroy the Fump-Fester terrorist home world ninety years ago
was successful, but the resulting devastation rendered it impossible to
reliably confirm that all lump-beings had been eliminated.”
“Well,” Ross Mental said. “I guess we can now confirm
that the fuckers were not eliminated!” He looked up at one of the
giant video-screens. The leathery lump-being was still waving to the crowd,
revelling in their adoration. Its stumpy arms were now fully extended from
its body, and its two eyes, as black as oil and as large as baseballs, blinked
furiously. Slowly, the lump-being lowered its arms, the three dumpy fingers
on its hands clenched into fists. From what seemed like nowhere, a large
wide mouth appeared below the lump-being’s eyes.
The crowd fell silent.
“I am Pys Phecees, the great inductor.” The lump-being said.
Its voice was deep and guttural, and it reverberated through the huge underground
chamber. The lump-being’s wide mouth was toothless, and its fat tongue
slapped around its lips as it spoke. “You have been chosen for a purpose
higher than any that has come before. You have left behind the meaningless
lives that you have been leading, and will fulfil your best destiny by dedicating
the rest of your existence to serving my glorious cause.”
The crowd cheered.
“Fuckin’ losers.” Ross Mental muttered.
The cheers died down. The lump-being, Pys Phecees, continued. “Serve
my cause without question, and serve my cause without deviance or thought
for the surface world above. Serve my cause without complaint and without
distraction, and the cause is guaranteed to succeed.”
The crowd cheered once again. Several ‘whoops’ of joy echoed
round the chamber.
Ross Mental shook his head in disgust. He whispered to Justin. “They’re
more weak-willed than you are. I didn’t think that was fuckin’
Justin ignored the insult. “I have completed an analysis of the drug
injected into my left postural hydraulic pressure chamber.”
The bounty hunter looked at the cyborg. “What?”
“I have completed…”
“I know what you said, you fuckin’ rust bucket! I just didn’t
realise you could analyse drugs in your hydraulic fluid.”
“The ability to analyse my hydraulic fluid is necessary to detect
and eliminate contaminants and monitor…”
Ross Mental elbowed the cyborg. “Shut-up and give me your fuckin’
“The drug injected into my hydraulic fluid is an advanced info-genic
Justin continued. “The compound contains data that is fused into the
neural network of the recipient’s brain. The recipient’s memory
and belief system is altered to instil a natural and innate allegiance to,
and adoration of, the cause promoted by the Fump-Fester lump-being that
speaks before us.”
The bounty hunter was amazed. “I thought info-genic compounds were
still theoretical! The egg-heads back at the fuckin’ palace have spent
decades trying to create them.” He thought for a moment. “Hey!
I wasn’t fuckin’ affected!”
Justin knew the reason why. “The standard bounty hunter drug resistance
treatment that you receive every year has made you immune to the brainwashing
effects of the compound.”
Ross Mental punched the air. “Fuckin’ cool!”
The noise of the crowd was abating.
The Pys Phecees raised his arms, and then lowered them to silence the crowd.
“With your unquestioning loyalty and relentless toil, a new order
will be created in the galaxy, and this region will be freed from the control
and oppression of the central worlds. But most importantly of all, it will
be the end of those who defend the central worlds. The end of those who
protect the sickening opulence of the life forms who control our commerce
and our currency, and who write the schedules of our tele-video networks
and decide the contents of our vending machines.” The lump-being leaned
forwards, and spoke in a much lower tone. “It will be the end of the
Bounty Hunters of the Palace of Amino.”
The crowd exploded with delight. The sound was almost deafening.
Old Rinkle was jumping with joy. He looked at Ross Mental and laughed. “Incredible,
don’t you think?”
The bounty hunter was disgusted. He turned to Justin and said the only thing
he could say in this situation. “Fuck!”