The Hooded Whore rolled to port, and then arced close to the shaft wall, squeezing
between two footbridges at an incredible speed, and with millimetres to
spare. A fizzle of blinding energy burst from the ship’s rear cannon,
vaporising the bridges and their occupants in an instant.
Sebastian Blood centred his control stick, bringing his ship back to
a steady vertical dive, parallel to the emitter shaft’s pulsing
The bounty hunter examined his sensor screens. For once the way ahead
looked clear of obstacles, although the radiation from the power core
was interfering heavily with his ship’s sensor array, making long
distance scans erratic and very unreliable.
He had been flying down the shaft for an hour now, and had made good progress,
travelling almost eighty percent of its length at an almost hypersonic
velocity. There were no defences down here – no opposition at all,
so it had been an easy and relatively boring task to destroy all the gantries
and bridges and barriers he had encountered. His many attempts to damage
the power core, though, had failed miserably. Almost all of his weapons
– pulse cannons, beam cutters, and missiles of several shapes, sizes,
and yields had had very little effect.
Sebastian Blood’s mission was simple – go to the bottom of
the emitter power core shaft and create havoc on an extraordinary scale.
A great and worthy mission, but complicated slightly by the fact that
he had no idea what was at the bottom, and therefore what precisely he
would do when he got there.
Still, the ‘special’ weapons he had kept in reserve gave him
some comfort. And he was keen to use them, no matter what he found down
A pinging tone sounded, and then an icon began flashing on one of the
sensor screens. The bounty looked at the screen, and then touched the
icon. A mass of information appeared. There was something dense and metallic
travelling down the shaft just under three hundred kilometres ahead. It
was moving slowly – at not more than freefall velocity.
Sebastian Blood grinned. Although the sensor information was unreliable
down here, he knew exactly what it was.
Justin scanned ahead. His range sensor cut through the interference and
returned the information required - two hundred and thirty-one kilometres
to the bottom of the shaft, impact in thirty-four minutes. After falling
for many thousands of kilometres, the cyborg’s record-breaking plummet
was about to end.
Justin had tried everything he could think of to slow or stop his descent.
Many times he had tried to grab a gantry or bridge, only to rip it away
from the power core, and send the red-suited recruits working on it to
a crushing, burning, and appalling death. Many times he had tried to land
on hovering maintenance platforms, only to crash straight through leaving
a cyborg-shaped hole, and sending even more red-suited recruits to their
Now, only his final and most desperate plan remained. Over the last two
hours, Justin had carefully gathered together nearly a hundred of the
cooked and contorted corpses that had been falling down the shaft with
him. Using some cabling from some of the equipment that was also falling
with him, the cyborg had tied the dead bodies together into a hideous
five metre diameter clump. When the time of impact arrived, the clump
of cadavers would, in theory, cushion the blow, and lessen the chance
of serious damage to the cyborg’s already battered metal body.
Of course, Justin was not only thinking of himself. The helmeted head
of the female recruit he had rescued was still safely sealed inside his
chest cavity. Her bio-readings were erratic, but she was alive. Remarkably,
she had remained fully conscious for the entire time.
A signal fluttered into Justin’s digital consciousness. He was receiving
a transmission. A voice, distorted, spoke. “Justin, is that you?”
The cyborg answered. “Yes.”
“Great! Sebastian Blood here. I’d hoped I’d come across
Justin was not aware of that name. He consulted his database on bounty
hunters. Within a nanosecond Sebastian Blood’s image and statistics
appeared in his field of vision. A diagram of the bounty hunter’s
mushroom–shaped ship, named the Hooded Whore, appeared beneath.
The cyborg decided to inform the bounty hunter of his situation. “I
will impact with the base of the power core shaft in thirty-two minutes
and eight seconds.”
“I know, don’t panic. I’m heading down your way at an
absurd speed. I’ll be with you in a few seconds.”
A series of sonic booms shook the air around Justin. Several of the frazzled
corpses in his clump cracked during the momentary but dramatic change
in air pressure. Body fluids squirted out, instantly vaporising in the
five hundred degree heat. Keeping hold of his corpse cushion, Justin turned
and looked up. Far up the shaft he could see the bright flames of retro-engines.
The flames grew rapidly in size, and then out of the fire a small ship
appeared. The ship closed on the cyborg’s position at a frightening
rate, and with a final burst if its retro-engines, drew alongside.
Sebastian Blood spoke. “What’s that thing you’re holding?”
Justin replied, his voice, as usual, a drone of monotone. “Ninety-six
corpses tied together with forty-four metres of insulated power cabling.”
There was a short pause before the bounty hunter replied. “…Right.
Justin decided that an explanation was necessary. “It was my intension
to use the collection of corpses as a…”
“Never mind. I don’t want to know. What you do for your own
sordid amusement is none of my business.”
“The collection of corpses is not for my…”
“I said never mind! Now, throw away that corpse thing and grab tight
hold of my ship. I’m afraid there’s no way I can get you inside
so you’re just going to have to hang on.”
“I obey.” Justin pushed his corpse cushion away, and turned
towards the Hooded Whore. He drifted the few metres over to the small
ship, and grabbed hold of a handgrip next to its topside airlock. It was
difficult to hold, especially as large chunks of his metal fingers had
been burned away. Justin jammed what remained of his feet into some vents
and wedged himself tightly. “I am now securely attached to your
“Great! Now hold on tight. I’ve a few things to do down here
before we head back up.”
With a blast of its engines, the Hooded Whore accelerated down the shaft.
The view ahead grew brighter and clearer with every passing second, and
soon the bottom of the shaft became clear. What was down there was, quite
The ship entered a vast chamber more than a hundred kilometres in diameter.
The power core that stretched the full length of the emitter shaft continued
into the chamber and connected to a large spherical mass at the centre
– the remains of what was probably the planet’s solid iron
core, almost sixty kilometres across.
“Amazing!” Sebastian Blood exclaimed. “This is one far-fetched
engineering achievement!” He pulled his ship out of its power dive
and levelled its course just a few kilometres above the iron sphere.
The wall of the gigantic chamber was covered with a matrix of holes –
a hundred other shafts leading up into the planet in all directions. Each
had a thin power core that pulsed energy down to the iron sphere.
“Wow! They’re sucking energy out of every inch of this planet’s
innards, and sending it up to that emitter!”
Justin stated the obvious. “This is the most powerful energy concentration
device ever encountered.”
“You’re not wrong.” The bounty hunter said, putting
the ship into another steep dive. The retro-engines fired, killing off
a huge amount of speed. “I’ve got to stop as much of this
power getting to the emitter as I can.” The ship swung left and
right, arcing smoothly between the numerous power cores. The ship levelled
off again, this time only a hundred metres above the iron sphere.
Justin decided to state another obvious fact. “This chamber, the
shafts, and the power cores are constructed of quadrillium-tritanium.
It is unlikely that the weapons on your vessel can cause much damage to
“I know that, you idiot! But my sensors show that there is one thing
down here that isn’t made of quadrillium-tritanium. It’s the
only weak point in this whole contraption.”
Justin interfaced with the Hooded Whore’s sensor array. A blast
of digital realisation hit the cyborg’s consciousness. “The
thing you refer too is the iron sphere.”
“Yes! And I’m about to hit that sphere with one colossal mother
of an onslaught. Prepare to be flabbergasted!”