Panman had thought he was at a relatively safe distance from the control
room when he detonated the PUSS charges.
He was wrong.
The blast had been tremendously exhilarating, sending a wave of white heat
out into the emitter chamber. In less than an instant the control room had
been reduced to a large seeping molten hole, and anything and anyone inside
vaporised completely. A complete success, Panman had thought.
But then the shock pulse hit. The hard rock walls of the emitter chamber
had shuddered briefly but violently, cracking off the top layer of rock.
Panman had been gripping onto that layer, on a thin ledge hundreds of metres
above the chamber floor. He had had no choice but to fall with the shattered
rock. He had known that even he would be unlikely to survive the fall, so
a rapid decision was made in his mind. Using the full force of his thigh
implants, he had kicked hard against the crumbling wall, sending himself
arching towards the centre of the chamber.
Tumbling like a weed, Panman fell down into the chamber. And just as he
had planned, he shot safely into the emitter power core shaft.
Now, in a stable spread-eagled position, Panman plummeted down the wide
shaft, taking care not to drift too close to the pulsing core. Using his
visor’s heads-up display, he scanned a hundred kilometres down. In
only a few seconds, he detected what he was looking for.
The plunging bounty hunter activated his communicator. “Sebastian
Blood, this is Panman. Are you receiving me?”
The reply was fast. “Yeah. That’s not you on the way down, is
“It certainly is.”
“Wow! What happened?”
“I slightly underestimated the power of some explosives – one
of my very few faults.”
“Everyone suffers from that from that from time to time.”
“True. Anyway, I’m about eighty kilometres above you. I’d
be grateful if you could collect me and take me back up.”
“No problem. I’ll be with you in less than a minute.”
Panman decided to enjoy his last moments of freefall. He gently altered
his angle, sending himself swooping across the entire width of the shaft,
and then into a tight orbit of the power core. The bounty hunter felt his
whole body tingle as he passed within a few metres of the pulsing core.
Although an enjoyable sensation, he took that as a warning and moved away.
Through the heat haze below, something flickered rapidly, and then brightened
into a gushing flame. It was the burst of retro-engines. Sebastian Blood’s
ship, the Hooded Whore, appeared out of the fire.
Flipping over from its vertical climb, the small ship took up a hovering
position a few hundred metres directly below Panman, and waited.
Like a well trained immaculately poised giro monkey, Panman approached the
stationary ship at terminal velocity. Then, in a manoeuvre pioneered by
Panman himself many years ago inside the Mechanism, the Hooded Whore dropped
away, almost matching the bounty hunter’s speed of descent. Almost.
With the elegance of a ballet dancer, Panman gently landed onto the ship’s
topside. As soon as he was safely down, the ship’s engines rumbled
to life and rapidly slowed its descent. For the first time in five minutes
Panman felt the tug of gravity. “That was cool!” he announced.
“I should do that more often!”
“Better get inside.” Sebastian Blood said.
A metre away, a hatch hissed open. Panman was about to head for it when
he noticed something moving to his right. He looked. A blackened mass, twisted
and deformed, was turning towards him. A single metal arm seemed to be jammed
into one of the ship’s vents. It took Panman’s vast intellect
no more than a second to figure out what it was. “Justin? Is that
Two piercing red points of light appeared out of the blackness. A voice,
devoid of emotion, answered. “Yes.”
Panman laughed. “You look terrible! You look like you’ve been
locked in a furnace for a few hours, or something!”
Justin spoke in a level and boring manner. “A furnace is not an adequate
analogy for the temperature and pressure levels I have encountered over
Panman held up his hand. “Whoa! Enough! I don’t have time for
your life story.” He grabbed the open hatch and started to climb inside
the ship. He paused before closing it and looked back at Justin. “It
is good to see you again, though, metal buddy.”
He took another step down and closed the hatch.