The detonation was as breathtaking as expected. A blinding ring of synchronised
flashes had lifted a hoop of snow and rock high into the early morning sky.
Shaken to a million pieces, the centre of the ring had then collapsed into
the mountain, creating a dark three hundred metre wide dust-filled hole.
“Yes!” Panman shouted. He punched the air repeatedly with both
fists. “That rules!”
A powerful shockwave, visible as a deep ripple through the snow, spread
rapidly from ground zero. It reached the bounty hunters’ position
within seconds, accompanied by the lengthy and thunderous thud of the detonation.
Peter the Ace looked down at the devastation below. He gripped tightly onto
the ridge of rock as the mountainside quaked beneath him. “That certainly
is an impressive sight.” He said calmly. “Well worth the wait.”
Several avalanches were now pouring into the hole.
Panman was overjoyed. “Cool!”
A deep rumble from behind caught Peter the Ace’s attention. He turned
and looked up the mountain. A thick wall of chaotic snow was approaching.
“Time to go, I think!”
Panman looked back at the avalanche. “You think right!” He pushed
himself over the ridge, back-flipped like a chimpanzee, and then landed
hard and fast on his board. He sped away down the steep slope, whooping
like a sports fan.
Peter the Ace followed, gaining speed at a tremendous rate – necessary
to keep up with his fearless companion. With remarkable agility, the bounty
hunter reached round to his backpack and grabbed two customised Amino Devastator
quantum-flux pulsar rifles. “Panman!” he shouted, throwing one
of the rifles ahead.
Panman raised his right hand, grabbing the tumbling weapon as it passed
over him. He energised it, and then took up a crouching position. His velocity
The two top-class bounty hunters carved their way closer to the massive
hole ahead, a wall of snow following close behind. The sound of all the
snow cascading around them grew to an almost deafening roar.
With the flow of the billowing snow carrying them both forwards, Peter the
Ace and Panman shot over the edge of the hole and plummeted into the mountain.
Immediately, Peter the Ace adopted a face down position, using his board
as a convenient stabiliser and steering device. Panman preferred nature
to take control and let himself tumble freely.
The cloud of destruction had reduced visibility to zero. Peter the Ace activated
his suit’s active sensor array. A clear digital view of the huge cavern
below filled the inside of his visor. He could see the giant emitter dish
directly under him, covered in thousands of tonnes of rock and snow. Hundreds
of frantic humanoids were running in all directions across the flat floor
of the cavern, desperately trying to avoid the debris falling from above.
Of course, with his suits active sensors pouring out emissions, he would
be lit up like a beacon to any defence system in the cavern. Confirmation
of that came almost immediately. A beam of intense light cut through the
dust cloud and hit the bounty hunter’s backpack. The pack exploded,
thrusting Peter the Ace forwards. With his back in flames, he tumbled away
from his intended landing point on top of the dish. “Panman.”
He shouted. “You’ll have to take my position on the dish. I’ll
take the floor.”
Another energy beam zipped by, missing Peter the Ace’s head by millimetres.
Visibility was improving. The dish and the cavern floor emerged from the
haze. The bounty hunter switched off his sensors. He looked to his left
as he fell passed the rim of the dish, just in time to see Panman land right
on the edge of it, his snowboard’s airbag system cushioning his impact.
Peter the Ace turned his attention to his landing spot, less than two hundred
metres down, and right on the edge of the wide power core shaft. With a
flash his board’s airbags automatically inflated, a five metre wide
disk of safety spreading out below him. A second later the bounty hunter
hit the floor, kicking up a thick smog of dust. He unclipped his snowboard,
and then leapt off the deflating airbags, throwing away the remains of his
burning backpack as he did so. He landed in a crouching position, his rifle
raised and ready to burn anyone that approached. But no one did. Only red-clothed
humanoids – many with missing or pulverised limbs – were anywhere
close. And they all seemed too preoccupied with their own terror to pay
the bounty hunter any attention.
Peter the Ace noticed the reading on the chronometer display in the corner
of his visor’s heads-up system. He smiled, and then looked up.
Right on cue, a small grey mushroom-shaped craft dropped out of the veil
of dust at the top of the cavern. It swooped low and fast, hooking under
the emitter dish, and then turning tightly. A barrage of energy fire erupted
from a ring of defence stations high on the cavern’s walls. The little
ship was buffeted by the onslaught, but its shields held, absorbing or dispersing
the energy in flashes of crimson light.
Peter the Ace operated his suit’s communicator. “Perfect timing,
“As always.” Came the reply.
Peter the Ace ignored the lesser bounty hunter’s arrogance. “Before
you continue with the plan, you may have noticed that this cavern is more
heavily defended than Justin’s data predicted.”
Sebastian Blood’s ship, the Hooded Whore, was knocked sideways by
another vicious attack. “You want me to take them out?”
“I would appreciate it.”
Peter the Ace watched as the Hooded Whore nipped under the emitter dish,
and then arced right. From the ship’s underside, two continuous green
beams of piercing energy flashed to either side of the cavern. Immediately,
the beams liquefied long swathes of rock as they cut into the walls. Yellow
lava dribbled down like illuminated treacle. The beams from the Hooded Whore
began to sweep too and fro across the walls.
The defence stations continued to fire, but one by one they were melted
in two, or sealed behind molten rock. In less than a minute, the inadequate
defences were neutralised.
“Excellent.” Peter the Ace said. “Continue with the plan.”
Sebastian Blood replied. “No problem. On my way.” The Hooded
Whore climbed in a tight loop, and then dived fast into the power core shaft,
its engines roaring like a copulating De’Ar thumb-beast.
Peter the Ace leaned over the edge of the shaft and watched the mushroom-shaped
ship disappear down into the planet.
An echo of energy fire bounced across the chamber. Peter the Ace looked
up. Way up on the rim of the dish he could see Panman firing his rifle in
short bursts down towards the far side of the chamber. “Panman. What’s
Panman replied. “Loads of black-cloaked dudes just ran in!”
A sudden barrage of return fire almost knocked Panman off the dish.
Peter the Ace aimed his rifle where his companion was firing. His suits
visor zoomed in to the far side of the cavern, more than a kilometre away.
Eight black-cloaked dudes were crouching behind debris; each firing what
looked like small pistols up at Panman. The fire was concentrated and relentless.
“Shit!” Panman was saying. “I can’t get any more
“You should be proud.” Peter the Ace said, preparing to fire.
“They obviously think you’re a very important target!”
He fired three bright pulses. The shots incinerated the nearest black-cloaked
guard’s helmet, then burst open his head. He slumped back, shuddering
like chilled mongoose.
Immediately, half of the remaining guards began firing at Peter the Ace.
The bounty hunter ducked down for a second, then rolled right, firing as
he did so with astonishing accuracy. Two more of the black-cloaked guards
slumped back as their chests and faces burned like flares.
Panman found an opening. He yelled. “Eat this!”
Peter the Ace watched as his companion took advantage of the guards’
momentary distraction. Yet more of them ruptured into flames as red pulses
of energy pounded their bodies. The couple that remained ran, disappearing
through a small open doorway. The doorway sealed behind them.
A relative calm fell on the chamber. Most of the surviving red-clothed humanoids
had managed to leave – only a few remained, sitting and whimpering
softly amongst the shredded and pulped remains of their peers.
The snow and rock tumbling in through the huge hole above had slowed to
a trickle. The cloud of dust that hung over the dish was noticeably thinner.
Peter the Ace smiled. “Looks like we won this little battle.”
He looked up at Panman. His companion was standing proudly on the edge of
the dish. “You’d better see if you can make sure that emitter
“All this rock should stop it!”
“Possibly, but it’s made of quadrillium-tritanium, remember.
Toughest stuff ever made. See if you can get inside and do some more damage.”
“Good idea. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Excellent.” Peter the Ace got to his feet. “I’ll
go and find Ross Mental.”
“Cool! And if you come across that fat-buttocked bag of diarrhoea,
keep hold of him till I get there!”
Peter the Ace had one more thing to do before he left. He reached down to
his belt and unclipped a small device brimming with tiny and unnecessary
lights. He attached it to a crumpled part of the railing around the edge
of the power core shaft, and then activated his communicator. “Sebastian
Blood. How’s it going?”
The lesser bounty hunter responded. “No problems. I’m making
good progress down the shaft – about two hundred kilometres so far.
I passed a lot of debris earlier – there’s half a million tonnes
of rock following me!”
Peter the Ace nodded. “That is good progress. Any resistance?”
“None! There are plenty of those recruits working down here. I’ve
been vaporising them as I see them, just to be on the safe side, and to
ensure my weapons are calibrated for later. My weapons hardly seem to graze
the shaft, though.”
“I’m not surprised at that. It’s lined with quadrillium-tritanium.”
“Should I continue as planned?”
“Of course. Go right to the core. Create as much havoc as possible.”
“I’ve set up a communications relay at the top of the shaft.
We’ll be able to stay in touch.”
“I’ll keep you updated.”
“Good.” Peter the Ace remembered something. “Keep a look
out for Justin. If my calculations are correct, and they are, he should
still be falling.”
“I’ll see if I can find him. Sebastian Blood out.”
Peter the Ace turned and headed across the rock-strewn floor towards the
edge of the chamber.