“The emergency recall has been transmitted, admiral.” Sub-officer Shym-Sham
Shawallihoo croaked, stooping as he walked into Admiral Phutphungus’s
opulent office. The three metre tall and painfully gaunt officer stepped
unsteadily over to the admiral’s desk. “We can expect the first
ships to return in less than half a day.”
The admiral turned his chair away from his panoramic view of battle command
and looked up at his assistant. “Excellent. How many bounty hunters
can we expect to return?”
Shym-Sham looked down at his data-pad. “There are two hundred and
forty-three that are close enough to return in time. Combined with those
already here, that’s a total of nearly five hundred bounty hunters,
and four hundred and seventy-one ships.”
Admiral Phutphungus stroked his moustache. “Hmm… That will have
to be sufficient.” He grimaced, rubbing his neck. “Would you
mind sitting down? Looking up at your gangly frame is painful.”
The sub-officer shook his head. “No thank you admiral. I’m quite
The admiral bellowed. “Damn it, Shym-Sham! Sit your bony bottom down!
That’s an order!”
Shym-Sham quickly sank into a well-padded armchair, coiling his spine until
his head was level with the admiral’s. “Sorry, admiral.”
“That’s better.” The admiral leaned forwards, resting
his elbows on his thick wooden desk. “Now, what about the Slaying
The sub-officer called up the details of the palace’s only battle
cruiser. “It’s due to return from its mission to the Pong Expanse
within the hour.”
“Ah. That’s good news.”
“The news is not really good, admiral.”
Admiral Phutphungus frowned. “Explain what you mean!”
“We received a garbled message from the Slaying Mantis two days ago.
They suffered some severe damage – not sure what from.”
“Then why didn’t you ask them?”
“I tried, but we lost contact. I think their communications array
was damaged. We only know they’re returning because we picked them
up on a long range scan.”
The admiral leaned back. He fiddled with his moustache again. “Hmm…
I was hoping to have that ship lead our primary fleet.” He thought
for a moment, and then looked purposefully at Shym-Sham. “Have our
best maintenance teams meet the ship as it arrives in orbit. No matter how
damaged it is, I want it in decent working order by tomorrow morning.”
“Yes, admiral. But from what we heard I think the ship is…”
The admiral slapped his desktop. “No buts! Do as I order!”
The sub-officer bowed. “Of course, admiral.”
“Now. I need to find a leader for the secondary fleet.” The
admiral leaned back into his chair. “I need a distinguished and high-class
bounty hunter. Someone with a reputation for highly tangential thinking,
and the ability to suck victory from the dry sponge of defeat.”
Shym-Sham gazed down at his data-pad and entered a few details. “There
appears to be only two available who match your criteria.”
The sub-officer turned and pointed his data-pad at a large screen on the
far wall. The screen shimmered to life. The face of a thin bald male humanoid
appeared. He had pasty blotchy skin, and a ridiculously small goat-beard.
A shiny metal dome was stuck into his forehead. “This is Harley Deep-Jaw
Tree-Hugger, a fourth-class bounty hunter of radical ideas and unusually
Admiral PhutPhungus was unsure. “I’ve seen him in action a couple
of times. He’s a fine fighter, and a great banjo player, but his excessive
vegetarianism is frankly a little too disturbing.”
Shym Sham nodded. “Yes. I had noticed that myself.” He touched
his data-pad. The image changed to a youthful female. She was beautiful
and tanned, with dark curly hair that fell lazily over her shoulders. Her
cheeky smile was instantly endearing.
The admiral grinned. “Of course!” he said, laughing. “I
know her well. She’s perfect.”
“She’s a fine bounty hunter, admiral.”
“She certainly is! Bring her here at once.”
The man thudded to the floor and gasped, winded by the force of the impact.
He looked up, squinting in the bright light. A machine, thick and cylindrical,
stood over him, buzzing softly. With a whirr of powerful motors, the machine
raised its heavy left arm, its spherical metal fist sprouting thin polished
spikes. The man closed his eyes, awaiting the final blow.
A voice shouted. “La fermata! Pause program!”
The machine stopped moving and fell silent.
“On your feet, Slug.”
The man stood up slowly. He brushed himself down. “I’m sorry,
Mistress Elena, The mechanoid was too fast. It did not give me a chance.”
Elena L’Apriscatole approached Slug, her fine amber cape billowing
behind her. “Lei non sono messi a fuoco!” She rested her hands
on her hips and glared at her student. “You must feel the insanity
growing inside you. Nurture it. Focus it. Direct it to where you need
it the most. Your insanity was vague and distant. Sanity took hold of
Slug was frustrated. “That machine is too heavily armoured! It’s
an unfair test! How am I supposed to fight something with such fast and
Elena L’Apriscatole was not happy. “Lei non me ascoltano!.
It’s only unfair in your mind. You must trust what I teach you.”
The bounty hunter turned and addressed the other students standing at
the edge of the training suite. “I realise this is only your first
year of insanity training, but you all have to believe in what I teach,
no matter how crazy it seems. Remember, feed on the impossibility of what
I show you and what I ask you to do, and your insanity will grow.”
One of the students raised her hand.
Elena L’Apriscatole nodded. “Yes, Dominina?”
The short and rotund student spoke. “Mistress Elena, the mechanoid
we are fighting today is far more powerful than those we’ve used
before. Surely you should gradually increase the ferocity of our opponents
instead of sudden leaps. That would be more sensible.”
Elena L’Apriscatole shook her head. “Lo sono realmente ciò
stupido! Listen to what you are saying. A gradual increase in the difficulty
of your opponents would indeed be more sensible, but wouldn’t that
also be more sane?”
After a second of thoughtful silence, the students all realised what Elena
L’Apriscatole was saying. “Ah.” The students said in
Elena L’Apriscatole smiled. “Buono!” She turned and
looked at the training mechanoid, still paused at the centre of the room.
“Now, before we finish for the evening, I’ll show you how
Slug should have tackled his opponent.”
The students’ fell silent. None of them wanted to miss this rare
display of the bounty hunter’s insanity.
Elena L’Apriscatole took a few slow steps towards the mechanoid,
and then took up a powerful cat-like stance. She took a deep breath. “Resume
The mechanoid whirred to life. It spun rapidly, searching for an adversary.
As soon as it saw the high-class bounty hunter it let out a chilling digital
scream and surged forwards, its two spiky fists thrusting ahead.
Elena L’Apriscatole made a sprightly step left, and then crouched
into a ball. The mechanoid’s fists zipped over her head, missing
by less than three millimetres. She looked up, and then with a grunt leapt
into the air.
The mechanoid turned fast and raised one of its arms, trying to catch
the flying bounty hunter. It almost succeeded, managing to snag her white
body suit. There was a loud ripping sound as the material tore open.
Elena L’Apriscatole tumbled away from the machine, her left thigh
exposed through her torn outfit revealing her rarely seen Cyko Fighter
tattoo. Without wasting a millisecond, she back flipped onto her hands,
and then pushed hard, launching into the air once again. Feet first, she
followed a perfect arc, and landed squarely and noisily on the mechanoid’s
The mechanoid screamed once again, and jerked sideways, trying to shake
the bounty hunter loose. Elena L’Apriscatole crouched down and grabbed
hold of the mechanoid’s shoulder couplings – one in each hand.
She pulled hard on some power cabling, tearing it away. She giggled as
a spray of sparks scattered all over her.
The mechanoid shuddered then tried to raise its arms. The arms jerked,
and then fell back limply. Helpless, it started to spin.
The students clapped, impressed by their teacher’s moves and the
ease at which she had disabled the machine.
Using the increasing centrifugal force to her advantage, Elena L’Apriscatole
relaxed and slipped forwards, rolling off the mechanoid and onto the floor.
She rested on her hands for the briefest of moments, and then with a piercing
yell, kicked back hard with both feet. “Lei sono condannati!”
The mechanoid took the full force of the double kick. It fell; lifting
clear of the floor for an instant, before slamming heavily onto it’s
back. The machine began rocking side-to-side, screaming like a synthetic
The students cheered.
Elena L’Apriscatole got to her feet. She stood proudly, her fists
clenched by her sides. She looked down at the fallen mechanoid, spending
a few moments to savour the sweet-smelling scent of victory. Then she
spoke, the glimmer of a smile appearing on her face. “End program.”
The machine spluttered, then was silent.
Elena L’Apriscatole looked up at her students. They were still cheering,
and several of the females were weeping openly with joy. Although she
would never admit it or show it, or even write secret encoded messages
about it, Elena L’Apriscatole revelled in their adoration. It was
one of her secret pleasures. After a few seconds she raised her hands.
The students quietened down.
“Think about what you have seen this evening.” The bounty
hunter said. “Dismissed. Vederlo domani.”
The students bowed, and then in single file made their way out of the
When the last student had left, Elena L’Apriscatole turned and wandered
over to the west-facing side of the glass-domed room. There, seven kilometres
away, was the incredible skyline of the palace’s central districts,
its tall slender towers glistened like stacks of jewels against the clear
night sky. She loved this view, and often stood here alone after teaching
a class – a few minutes of quiet admiration of her beloved home
helped clear her mind, and sooth her body.
Tonight, though, her short time of solitude was to be even shorter.
A voice called out. “That was most impressive.” It croaked.
She turned. A very tall, appallingly thin man was walking unsteadily towards
her, his long bell-bottomed trousers scraping across the floor. She recognised
him immediately. “Shym-Sham! Che sorpresa!”
Sub-Office Shym-Sham Shawallihoo smiled crookedly and continued his approach.
“It’s good to see you again, Elena.”
Elena L’Apriscatole took hold of the sub-officer’s hand when
he finally reached her. She looked up and smiled sweetly. “It’s
good to see you, too.” Her expression changed to one of curiosity.
“I’m surprised you came all the way out here to see me. In
fact, I’ve never known you to leave battle command. I get the feeling
this is not just a social call.”
“I’m afraid not.” He said, looking down at the bounty
hunter. “Admiral Phutphungus sent me. I’m to escort you back
to his office immediately. Priority critical.”
Elena L’Apriscatole’s eyes widened. “Che è successo?”
“Time is short.” Shym-Sham said. “I’ll explain
on the way. My transport is waiting.”
The bounty hunter nodded. “Then let’s go.” She said.
Elena L’Apriscatole and the sub-officer made their way out of the