Elena L’Apriscatole sat in the cockpit of the Pizza Express - her
mind sharp and incredibly alert thanks to a quick dose of Dream-Killer,
the latest wake-up potion from the drug concoctors of the Palace of Amino’s
Anti-Narcoleptic Laboratory. The potion had been many decades in the making
- held up for many years due to hideous side effects in all the drug’s
test subjects, the most common being spontaneous internal cauterisation,
skin evaporation, and liver vomiting. But finally, only a few months ago,
all the problems had been solved. The potion was declared safe for bounty
hunter consumption and released to thousands eager to try the most effective
stimulant ever conceived, and the most delicious too.
Currently, the display screens in front of Elena L’Apriscatole’s
unusually wide and staring eyes were replaying the first fleet’s encounter
with the emitter beam. The bounty hunter was examining as much of the data
as possible in an attempt to glean a fragment of inspiration that could
help her fleet tackle the still potent beam. So far she had found nothing.
A tinge of sadness passed across Elena L’Apriscatole’s mind
as she examined the list of bounty hunters lost during the first fleet’s
encounter. She had known many of them personally. Some she remembered from
the academy during her decades of training, and some she had met only occasionally
during her frequent visits to many of the Palace of Amino’s malted
milk bars. One, Big Juan the Slammin’ Man, she had known intimately.
She took a moment to visualise as many of them as she could, retrieving
fond memories, amusing conversations, and warm and cuddly encounters.
The bounty hunter’s thoughts were interrupted. The left side of her
cockpit’s crescent-shaped control surface was bleeping - the five
Elena L’Apriscatole sighed, and then snapped herself back into command
mode. She activated her communications console, opening a fleet-wide channel.
“Ciao tutti. Svegliarsi! All ships report in. Send your status.”
Within a couple of seconds all ships - more than two-hundred and fifty of
them – reported in.
“eccellente! Good to see you’re all alert!” The bounty
hunter consciously lowered and slowed her voice. “We have four and
a half minutes until the beam reaches us. Take a minute to clear your minds
of questions and doubts. Think only of our mission and the task at hand.
No matter what, do not deviate from your positions, and if any of the ships
adjacent to yours are destroyed, close up the grid as rehearsed. Do not
waste mental effort grieving for your lost companions. There will be plenty
of time for that sort of thing later.”
Elena L’Apriscatole paused for effect, and then lowered her voice
even further. “Remember, use the insanity within you. Only through
the use of insanity can a mission this absurdly crazy succeed. I know I
can rely on you all. Follow my commands and we will prevail. La fortuna
buona a voi tutti.”
Elena L’Apriscatole closed the communications channel. She looked
at her control surface. Three and a half minutes to go. Following her own
advice, the bounty hunter placed her hands on her lap and closed her eyes.
She began breathing deeply and slowly, quickly erasing all uncertainty from
her mind. Questions disappeared. Distractions vanished. A pure and simple
will to succeed appeared. She embraced it. Her confidence, already high,
rose even higher, sending a pulse of elation through her body. She felt
weightless, liberated from the bonds of uncertainty, free from the negativity
that plagued the minds of all lesser humanoids.
Elena L’Apriscatole noticed another feeling building in a deep recess
of her mind. It strengthened rapidly. She recognised it immediately and
relaxed herself even further, nurturing the new feeling, encouraging it
to grow. Within seconds the feeling overwhelmed her. She gasped.
Elena L’Apriscatole opened her eyes and found herself laughing inanely.
Her sides were aching, her throat was dry. Her insanity had returned in
delicious proportions. A beaming smile spread across her youthful face.
Elena L’Apriscatole felt glorious.
The control surface bleeped, this time more rapidly - the one minute warning.
With a swift motion of her left hand, Elena L’Apriscatole activated
the communicator. “Un minuto, tutti! Switch shields to standby.”
Elena L’Apriscatole’s main display screen showed a diagrammatic
view of her fleet. The icons representing the ships started to turn green
as each one powered-up its shield mechanisms.
“Bene!” Elena L’Apriscatole said. “Now, check your
positions. Modify if necessary.”
The display screen showed the small movements of many ships as they tweaked
their positions with subtle bursts of thrusters. The quality rating of the
shield grid was now more than ninety-nine point three percent – an
incredible achievement, but still below Elena L’Apriscatole’s
Elena L’Apriscatole noticed that one ship was moving too slowly. It
was still out of position. She touched the offending ship on her display
screen, launching a window full of information on the vessel. It was the
Elena L’Apriscatole contacted the pilot of the Drip Stream. “Scooby
Gob-Smacker! Muovere più veloce!”
“One moment, please.” The pilot said.
Elena L’Apriscatole frowned, but she gave Scooby Gob-Smacker his moment.
The position of all ships was now optimised. The quality rating of the shield
grid was now ninety-nine point six percent. Extraordinary.
Elena L’Apriscatole was impressed. “Bene fatto!”
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
Elena L’Apriscatole ignored Scooby Gob-Smacker’s odd response.
She spoke to the fleet. “Ten seconds. Prepare to link shields on my
A call came in. It was Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka onboard the Bavarian
Meat Wagon, right behind the Pizza Express. “Vee vill prevail!”
the bounty hunter said. “Vee are bounty hunters of zee Palace of Amino!”
Elena L’Apriscatole answered. “Ovviamente! No more idle chatter!”
Elena L’Apriscatole’s hand hovered over her shield activator.
Elena L’Apriscatole gazed through her forward view port. Silence.
Darkness. There was nothing but the black void of space, and the tiny points
of light from star systems dozens of light years away. So peaceful. It was
hard to believe anything even remotely destructive was approaching.
Elena L’Apriscatole spoke to the fleet, her voice measured and quiet.
Elena L’Apriscatole screamed like a banshee on a chilli barbeque.
“Link shields. Now!” She slammed her hand down onto her shield
The main display screen on Elena L’Apriscatole’s control surface
flickered as a net of green lines connected all the icons representing each
ship. The shield grid was in place.
Blinding purple light!
The Pizza Express shook violently, throwing Elena L’Apriscatole back
and forth. She touched her control surface, tightening her restraints. Although
she had been preparing for this moment for days, is was still one of the
most shocking experiences she had ever known. The bounty hunter looked down
at her main display screen. It was not good news. Already thirty ships had
been destroyed, and grid quality was lessening rapidly. She spoke to the
fleet, her voice warbling with the intense vibrations. “Il concentrato!
Hold your positions!”
As Elena L’Apriscatole spoke, several more ships flared out of existence,
including the ship right next to her, the Bastion of Arse Whipping. Against
her own advice, Elena L’Apriscatole spared herself the briefest of
moments to mourn the loss of her friend, Lord Fear Factor. She would miss
his dancing jowls and his bombastic and scandalous poetry.
The Pizza Express creaked like a galleon. Elena L’Apriscatole’s
hands flitted eagerly across her control surface, correcting her ship’s
position as best she could.
The control surface whooped.
Elena L’Apriscatole looked down. Her shields were failing - thirteen
percent and falling. In ten seconds the shields would be gone. And so would
A call came in. Once again it was Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka. “Your
shields are about to fail. You must vithdraw!”
“Farò non!” Elena L’Apriscatole shouted, more to
be heard that from annoyance at Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka’s call.
“I’m channelling all power to them… There. They’ll
last another minute.”
“Oh dear, this iz not good!” Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka said.
“What isn’t good?”
“Now my shields are failing!”
“Channel more power to them.”
“I must vithdraw!”
“No! The grid is already destabilising. Hold you’re position!”
“Then I vill Set all systems to auto and eject!”
“Non essere tale ventre giallo!” Elena L’Apriscatole screamed.
“Stay where you are! I need your insanity at the controls, not the
logical numbness of a computer!”
Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka replied, his voice strict. “You are right.
I vill do as you order! Ve vill prevail!”
More than half of the fleet had been destroyed now, and ships were still
vanishing from Elena L’Apriscatole’s display screen at a frightening
rate. Outside, the vicious blinding light of the emitter beam continued
to pummel through the fleet, biting at every ship’s shields without
a hint of mercy.
Elena L’Apriscatole’s ship began to break apart. Armour plating,
heated to extremes beneath the failing shields, flaked away and atomised.
The forward weapons array liquefied, spreading across the view ports like
a spray of luminous milk. Warning messages and lights flashed red and orange
across the main display screen. The ship shook harshly.
It was getting hotter. Elena L’Apriscatole’s fingers were starting
to blister. Her pain suppression implants kicked in, relieving her distress.
She opened a communications channel to the remaining ships of the fleet.
“Some of you are drifting.” She said; her voice coarse and weak
in the burning air of her cockpit. “Continue to maintain your positions!”
Grüber Zee Mudda Fukka called again. His breathing was laboured. “I
am on fire. My shield’s vill fail in a few seconds. I fear I am doomed.”
“Maintain your position, Mister Mudda Fukka.”
A deafening series of cracks rocked the Pizza Express, and then a brutal
jolt hit, ripping Elena L’Apriscatole from her restraints. She slammed
forwards into her control console, hitting her head hard onto the main display
screen. She groaned, unable to breath in the scorching temperature. Struggling
to lift her head slightly, Elena L’Apriscatole looked at the screen,
managing to remain conscious just long enough to witness a few more of her
dwindling fleet’s ships flicker and die…