The firestorm raged – as bright as a newborn star.
With its atmospheric propulsion system at maximum, the Hooded Whore left
the colossal chamber at the planet’s core, and tore up the emitter
power core shaft. Only seconds before, thirty-eight experimental egg-shaped
and egg-sized warheads had detonated around the large iron core at the
centre of the chamber, penetrating deep into its heart like white-hot
Justin was still firmly wedged to the topside of the Hooded Whore’s
hull. He looked back at the blinding white wall of flame racing up the
shaft behind them. “The wave of destruction is approaching.”
Sebastian Blood replied. “I know! The engines are at maximum. There’s
nothing more I can do. I’m sure the force of the blast will dissipate
Justin’s blast progress assessment algorithms performed a rapid
analysis of the approaching heat wave. He announced the results in his
usual lifeless manner. “The wave of destruction will not begin to
dissipate for approximately thirty seconds. The wave will engulf this
vessel in twelve seconds. We are doomed.”
Sebastian Blood disagreed. “No way! My calculations estimate it’ll
dissipate a second or two before it hits us.”
They could do nothing else but wait. Justin’s epidermal sensors
fed constant readings into his digital consciousness. The temperature
in the shaft had risen to several thousand degrees – well above
the maximum tolerance level for a cyborg of his class. His metal body,
already severely damaged from his high-speed atmospheric entry a few days
ago, began to glow and vaporise. The hull of the Hooded Whore was coping
far better, but it too would vaporise when the wall of destruction hit.
Five seconds to go. The entire shaft shone a blinding shade of white now.
Justin’s lower body was disappearing fast. It took only another
second for his legs to burn away. Without his legs wedged firmly to the
ship, his upper body began thrash wildly. He banged against the hull.
But then the whiteness began to fade.
Quickly, the colour of the shaft passed through every conceivable shade
of yellow, then through orange, then to red. The temperature cooled.
“What did I tell you?!” Sebastian Blood said, pride filling
Justin did not understand. “I do not understand. My blast progress
assessment algorithms were developed by the Palace of Amino’s Experimental
Blast Research Institute. They are considered the most accurate in the
galaxy. We should have been vaporised.”
“Did your algorithms take into account the tri-radial flux of the
emissions radiated by the power core, and the subsequent sub-graviton
field produced as the emissions reflected back across the shaft into the
core’s field matrix?”
Justin thought for a second. “No.”
“Then take the tri-radial flux of the emissions into account and
recalculate. Should we still have been vaporised?”
The cyborg did as he was ordered. The results came back several nanoseconds
later. Justin answered the bounty hunter’s question. “No.”
Sebastian Blood laughed. “You’re out of date, buddy! You’d
better get an upgrade when we get back.”
Justin made a mental note to do so.
The Hooded Whore continued its hypersonic cruise up the power core shaft.
Peter the Ace stopped and looked up. The wide spiral of stone stairs seemed
to continue forever, lit by dim lamps of blue and gold. “Quite impressive.
And it looks rather tasteful, too.”
Ross Mental was strapped to the first-class bounty hunter’s back.
“Are we fuckin’ there yet?”
“I don’t think so.” Peter the Ace answered. He turned
and looked back. Jodi funk Junky was lagging behind. She had the limbless
old man strapped to her back, and she was panting heavily.
Peter the Ace shook his head slowly. “You’re out of shape,
She stopped and looked up at him. “I’m sorry.” She said
breathlessly. “I have been unable to do any physical activity training
in the months I’ve been here.”
The top-class bounty hunter looked up and down her scantily clad body.
“Hmm… You are still quite toned, but your fat levels are definitely
above the maximum allowed for female bounty hunters. That must be rectified
at the earliest opportunity, is that understood?”
Jodi Funk Junky bowed her head. “Yes, I understand.” She looked
up. “If only I had the fitness implants that you…”
“Bionic fitness implants are only for third-class bounty hunters
and above. You should be well aware of that. Lesser bounty hunters like
you must maintain top levels of fitness through conventional means.”
“I know.” Jodi Funk Junky said, nodding slowly. “It
would just make things so much easier. And I’m still only a seventh-class
bounty hunter, so it’ll be many years before I qualify.”
“It takes a lot of effort, skill, cunning, and an incredible amount
of death-defying flukes to reach the level of third-class bounty hunter.
Even exemplary bounty hunters can take decades to reach such a level.
And unfortunately, you, my dear, after your performance here on Gun-Loc,
cannot be considered anywhere near exemplary.”
A tear appeared in Jodi Funk Junky’s left eye. She wiped it away.
“I know.” She sniffled. “I will not fail again. I promise.”
Peter the Ace reached out and stroked her left shoulder. “I believe
Peter the Ace looked up again. “How much further?”
The lesser bounty hunter followed her superior’s gaze. “The
lump-being’s chamber is right at the top.” She said. “Another
couple of hours climbing, at least.”
Peter the Ace started walking. “Then let’s get going!”
Jodi Funk Junky followed, making sure she stayed well away from the inner
edge of the stairs, and the long drop down to the base of the stairway.
Peter the Ace’s communicator bleeped. He answered the call. “Hello?”
“This is Sebastian Blood.”
“Mister Blood! Have you completed your task?”
“I have, but the effects were not as strong as I’d hoped.”
“What was the result?”
“Well, I detonated all the charges around the planet’s iron
core, which is being used as a conduit for dozens of other power cores.
The scans I’ve just performed show that much of the iron core has
been vaporised. Unfortunately, some power is still being channelled to
“Still around thirty percent.”
“Well, a seventy percent reduction in that emitter’s power
is a good result. It’ll have to do. And, to be honest, it was what
I expected. Well done, Mister Blood, it seems you’ve met my expectations.”
“Thank you. You know, if I could use one of your ship’s famous
last-resort weapons I could…”
“That’s not an option, and you know it.” Peter the Ace
said, sternly. “This whole planet would almost certainly be destroyed.
If it were a planet full of iniquitous hoodlums then it wouldn’t
matter, but the population here, however backwards in their attitude,
technology, and means of entertainment, are generally of good nature.
Such a society must be preserved. Don’t you agree, Mister Blood?”
“Good. Anything else to report?”
“I managed to find your cyborg. He’s clinging to the hull
of my ship.”
“Excellent! Good show. When you get back up to the emitter chamber,
hang around. We may need your services again very soon.”
“Will do. Sebastian Blood out.”
The communications channel fell silent.
Peter the Ace continued up the wide spiral stairway. Jodi Funk Junky –
weary and more than a little breathless – followed close behind.
Someone was coming down.
Panman stepped back into a cramped alcove at the edge of the stairway.
He waited silently as the sound of hurried footsteps grew louder. Whoever
it was, they were agitated, and judging by the sniffling and blubbering,
rather upset too. The sound passed quickly, and then started to fade.
The bounty hunter peeped out of the alcove and looked down. A recruit
was running down the spiral stairway. Blood was running down his face
and the back of his head, and he was mumbling in a highly troubled manner.
Panman quashed his desire to put the recruit out of his apparent misery,
and waited. Once the recruit was out of sight, the bounty hunter stepped
back onto the stairway and continued his speedy ascent, the implants in
his legs allowing him to leap up three or four steps at a time –
a most inspiring sight.
After a few minutes of trouble-free leaping, Panman reached the top. A
large vaulted open space, lit by blue and gold lamps, greeted the bounty
hunter as he jumped up the last few steps. He landed in a crouching position
on the smooth stone floor and performed a rapid scan. The display on his
visor indicated that all was clear – no weapon placements, guards,
and no surveillance. Nothing. Panman smiled. Whoever designed this place
did not expect anyone to infiltrate this far. They had not reckoned with
the ingenuity, genius, and absolute cunning of top-class bounty hunters.
A fatal mistake!
Panman looked around. Several arched passageways lead off from the open
space, each one lit by rows of low-slung orange lanterns, but they were
of no interest to Panman. His digitally enhanced instincts told him that
only the large half-open blast doors at the far side were important. Standing,
he sprinted daintily over to the doors, noticing the broken trail of blood
left by the troubled recruit. The trail led straight through the half-open
The bounty hunter took a few seconds to check his weapons. He called up
his suit’s inventory on his heads-up display. He still had all eight
PUSS (Potent Ultra-Sharp Shrapnel) charges – perfect for what he
Grinning like a large ginger cat, Panman slipped silently through the