Jim Jam, the pilot of the Slaying Mantis, turned and made an announcement.
His voice was as deep as could be, reverberating across the cavernous bridge.
“We will reach the Humki Pumki system in five minutes.”
Sub-officer Shym-Sham Shawallihoo was perched awkwardly on his stool next
to the command chair. “That’s good news, Jim Jam.” The
sub-officer croaked. He turned to the communications officer. “Where
is Admiral Phutphungus?”
Meg Marmalade-Specklepelt, a short and heavyset old lady covered in homemade
shawls and headscarves, examined her screens. “The admiral is in his
quarters.” She squeaked.
Shym-Sham nodded. “Put a call through to him. Direct the image to
the main view screen.”
The communications officer complied. “The channel is open.”
“Admiral?” The sub-officer groaned.
A few seconds passed. There was no answer.
Shym-Sham tried again. “Admiral?”
“Admiral, please respond.”
With a flicker, the image on the gigantic view screen at the front of the
bridge changed. The view ahead was replaced by a blurry black and pink image.
The sound of heavy breathing wheezed across the bridge’s surround
Shym-Sham was a little concerned. “Admiral? Are you all right?”
The blurry image zoomed out and focussed. A truly repugnant sight was revealed.
The massively overweight admiral was lying naked on his bed, his bedclothes
soaked in sweat. An equally naked and flab-ridden woman straddled him. It
was incredibly difficult to determine where one body ended and the other
began. And it was even more difficult not to heave violently.
The bridge crew gasped with shock. The incredible repulsiveness of the image,
combined with the incredible size and resolution of the main view screen,
made the whole scene impossible to ignore. And it would also make it impossible
to forget. Some crewmembers would need hours of counselling when this mission
was over. And a handful would almost certainly never recover from such disturbing
The admiral finally answered. “What is it?” he said, annoyance
obvious in his voice.
Shym-Sham was more than a little embarrassed. “I’m just calling
to inform you that we are about to arrive at the third planet of the Humki
Pumki system, as you ordered.”
“Oh yes. Of course. Thank you.”
“I can see that you’re… occupied, admiral, so I’ll
The admiral yelled. “You can see me?”
“Umm… Yes, admiral. An image of your chamber is on the main
The admiral pushed the fat female off his body and sat up. There was a deep
thud as the whale-like woman hit the floor. “How dare you invade my
privacy in such a huge and wide-screen manner!”
“Admiral, you can easily prevent callers seeing you by setting the
transmission mode on your communications console to…”
“Don’t lecture me, you slim-chested moon-butt! Close this channel
immediately. Do not call me again!”
The sub-officer nodded. “Yes, admiral.” He ended the call. The
image changed back to the view ahead.
The bridge crew sighed with relief. Some of the less experienced crewmembers
began wiping layers of vomit from their consoles. Others helped bring round
those that had fainted.
Shym-Sham calmed himself, and then spoke to Meg Marmalade-Specklepelt once
again. “Put a call through to the leader of the second fleet.”
The communications officer nodded. “The call is placed.”
As expected, the call was answered promptly. The image on the main view
screen changed. A face, fresh and pretty, filled the screen –a complete
contrast to the disturbing scene that had been on display only seconds earlier.
Shym-Sham’s smiled. “Elena L’Apriscatole, this is Shym-Sham
on board the Slaying Mantis.”
Elena L’Apriscatole grinned. “Ciao, Shym-Sham! Are you feeling
OK? You look a little paler than usual.”
“I just experienced something quite disturbing, but I am fine now,
thank you. We will arrive at the Humki Pumki system in two minutes. Please
prepare your fleet to leave sub-space on our signal.”
“Siamo già preparati, Shym-Sham. A prescindere da alcuni lacci
di scarpa di untied, siamo pronti. Awaiting your signal.”
The sound of Elena L’Apriscatole’s sweet voice always had a
wonderfully calming effect on Shym-Sham, even though he only understood
half of what she said. “Take care of yourself, Elena. Good luck to
“Thank you, Shym-Sham. Good luck to you, too. Se i fuochi di trasmettitore,
assorbe altrettanto dell'il suo raggio come lei può. See you soon.”
The call ended. The image on the main view screen changed once again to
the view ahead.
Elena L’Apriscatole examined her cockpit’s crescent of display
screens. All was in order, and each member of her fleet was in position
– a perfect spiral formation of well over two hundred ships stretching
for ten kilometres behind her own.
There were some notable bounty hunters in her fleet. Immediately behind
was Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka, an austere and virtually emotion-free
bounty hunter on board his dull but functional ship, the Bavarian Meat
Wagon. Much further back was the petite Isabella Skull Sucker on board
her black cranial-shaped ship, the Festering Thought. And right next to
her, at his own request, was the literally legless Lord Fear Factor, an
over-eager and endlessly humorous bounty hunter on board his ship, the
Bastion of Arse Whipping. And bringing up the rear was a dense and ray-shielded
ship named the Geek Freak, crewed by Jules Rules and Sigmund Permanently-Bulging-Body-Parts
Such a fine and capable fleet, Elena L’Apriscatole thought. She
activated her communicator. “All ships of the second fleet. We are
one-minute from our destination. Prepare to leave sub-space. Signal your
readiness, and link in to my emergence system.”
A signal from each ship was returned. Everyone was ready. With improbable
accuracy, all the ships of the fleet synchronised their drive systems
with those of the Pizza Express. One of the display screens in front of
Elena L’Apriscatole indicated that each ship was now linked to hers.
She had full control.
Elena L’Apriscatole made another announcement. “Twenty seconds.
Stand by.” She fiddled with her controls, making a final adjustment
to the emergence time. Then she pressed ‘Set’. The console
Her ship made an announcement. “EMERGENCE OF FLEET FROM SUB-SPACE
IN TEN SECONDS… NINE… EIGHT… SEVEN… SIX…”
“Five seconds, everyone.”
“FOUR… THREE… TWO… ONE… EMERGING FROM SUB-SPACE.”
A brief sickening jolt echoed through her ship, shocking her guts into
a brief and disconcerting spasm. The deep rumble of the sub-space engines
faded quickly, and so did Elena L’Apriscatole’s discomfort.
The view ahead of the Slaying Mantis and the first fleet dissappeared.
In its place a field of stars appeared, and just off to the right, a brown
boring airless sphere. It was the large, lifeless, and totally uninteresting
third planet of the Humki Pumki system.
“FLEET EMERGENCE SUCCESSFUL.”
“Molto bene!” Elena L’Apriscatole said, happily. “Maintain
your positions. It’s almost two days before that emitter may fire,
so relax and enjoy yourselves.”
The leader of the second fleet set all her ship’s system’s
to automatic, and then reached up and grabbed the bar above her seat.
She pulled herself up and over the seat back, landing squarely at the
rear of the cockpit. She turned and headed towards her ship’s compact
little galley. It was time for a nice strong cup of malted milk.