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Book: Mechanism
Chapter 1: Giant Bucket

Earth Reference Year 2392.81 AD - 04:06 hrs

“Twenty eight red.” Panman said confidently, pushing a single, one thousand credit chip towards the mechanoid croupier.

The machine nodded, accepting the bet.

Farquar Alqurseltsa was the only other player sitting at Panman’s table. “Two thousand on third twelve please, there’s a good machine.” he said smugly.

The digital croupier nodded once more and with a swift motion of its right hand, started the roulette wheel. It spun rapidly, its perimeter transforming into a blur of red and black. A small chrome ball appeared at the end of a nozzle in the croupier’s hand and was immediately propelled forwards by a hiss of compressed air. It orbited the wheel in the opposing direction, generating an almost inaudible rumble. Panman watched calmly as the ball travelled on its shallow, spiralling course, slowly getting closer to its unpredictable destination.

“Final bets please.” the croupier said.

Panman turned to his fellow gambler. “You only chose third twelve because my number is in that region.”

“Not at all!” Farquar objected. “I happen to have a jolly good feeling about the numbers twenty five to thirty six, that’s all.”

“Only because I have a good feeling about twenty eight red!”

“My good man!” Farquar said, raising his voice. “If you were not an awesome bounty hunter of miraculous intelligence, well above me in both status and stature, I would not hesitate to inform you as to where I think you should go and stick it!”

“Stick what?” Panman asked, laughing. He liked to tease his fellow players.

“You are well aware of what I mean!”

“No I’m not. Tell me.”

“I will not utter a rude word. It is beneath me!”

Farquar turned his attention back to the table, his face red with annoyance.
Panman smiled.

The croupier spoke. “No more bets.”

The ball connected with the wheel and bounced erratically above the numbered pockets. The ball seemed to park itself momentarily in number five, then change its mind. A second later, it made its final choice.

“Fifteen black.” the croupier announced mechanically.

Farquar Alqurseltsa stood up. “What!”

“Ha harr!” Panman laughed. “You lost! What happened to your ‘jolly good feeling’?”

Farquar glared at Panman. “I do not see why you’re so happy,” he fumed. “You lost too!”

Panman continued to laugh. “I lost on purpose! I wanted to see if you would blindly follow any bet that I made. And you did!”

Farquar’s face was screwed up with rage. “You are lucky that I am a thoroughly decent chap of impeccable breeding!” he said. “I bid you farewell!”

Panman watched the lesser bounty hunter stomp angrily away and disappear into the crowds surrounding the other tables. “He needs to learn restraint if he’s to reach my level of oneness with the universe and all of its sentient corporeal and incorporeal entities.” he said with unintentional wisdom.

Peter the Ace approached. “Panman! Are you still here? You must have been playing all night!”

“Really?” Panman said. “What time is it?”

“It’s after four!”

“Cool! But it’s nowhere near my record of eighty six hours non-stop!”

“Very true.” Peter the Ace said. He looked back. “I see that you’ve been upsetting Farquar again.”

“It’s for his own good.” Panman said. “He has to learn to think for himself and not blindly follow others.”

“You’re right, of course.”

“Indeed I am!”

Peter the Ace wandered over to the large window behind the roulette table and looked down at the rest of the Palace of Amino, two and a half thousand metres below. The sky was slowly brightening as sunrise approached. The lights of buildings and transportation craft sparkled and twinkled through the cool morning air. One kilometre to the south of the central tower was a large flood-lit area. It was a concentration of intense activity.

Peter the Ace smiled. “I see that the foundations of the Dick Burton Feasting Tower are almost complete.”

“Yeah!” Panman said smiling broadly. He joined his companion at the window. “I heard that all of the palace’s construction personnel are working on it. That means in less than two months the tower will be fully operational!”

“Cool!”

“Very cool!” Panman said. He noticed a rumbling in his stomach. “The thought of bread is making me hungry.”

“Me too.” Peter the Ace agreed. “Let’s go and get breakfast!”

The two bounty hunters headed for the casino’s exit.

Panman was in a dilemma. “Should we go up to our apartments or go somewhere more exciting?”

“Our apartments are exciting.” Peter the Ace said.

“That’s true.”

“But a change of scene would be nice!”

“Yeah.” Panman entered a thoughtful mode. “How about Shely’s Sustenance Centre, we haven’t been there for years.”

“True, but it’s eight kilometres away in the northern districts.”

“You’re right! I can’t be bothered to go that far. There’s a new place that’s just opened at the Monolith Mall. That’s not far.”

“What’s it called?”

Panman scanned his memory with three of his five synthetically intensified hyper-cube recall enhancements. “Georgina’s Grub Bucket.”

“Great name!” Peter the Ace said.

“It is, isn’t it? And what’s more it’s also a literal description of the restaurant.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s actually shaped like a giant bucket!”

“You’ve sold me!” Peter the Ace said. “Let’s go!”


Georgina’s Grub Bucket had only been open for business for two days and was already a huge success. With more than five hundred succulent items on the menu, ranging from simple sugared Locust wings to highly complex Mammoth heart kebabs that take two hundred hours to cook, high profits and packed tables were inevitable. Situated on level sixty of the Monolith Mall high in Tower One, it was destined to become one of the most frequented places of nutritional consumption at the Palace of Amino.


Peter the Ace and Panman looked up from the mall’s lowest level. The giant red bucket could clearly be seen hanging from the ceiling high above.

“Cool beyond belief!” Panman exclaimed excitedly.

The two extraordinary stars of galactic adventure and mayhem entered the nearest glass elevator and began the ascent to the Monolith Mall’s top level.

“I wonder why I’d never heard of that restaurant until now?” Peter the Ace said as he watched each level whiz by.

“Georgina kept the whole development very quiet.” Panman said knowledgeably. “Only those like me who subscribe to ‘Voracious Gut Rumbler Monthly’ knew much about it.”

Peter the Ace looked surprised. “They have a magazine for people who like to gorge themselves?”

“Yeah! You didn’t know about it?”

“No. Never heard of it.”

“It’s great. It gives you all the nutritional gossip about the palace’s half a million eating establishments, menu changes, and reviews of new and exciting dishes. I have even written a couple of articles myself. Those issues always sell out twice as fast!”

The elevator reached its destination. Peter the Ace and Panman walked out and towards the massive bucket.

“I’m surprised that you haven’t started a magazine yourself.” Peter the Ace said.

“‘Voracious Gut Rumbler Monthly’ was my idea!” Panman said. “They wanted me to be the editor but I had to decline the offer. As well as being too busy mutilating villainous sadists, I’d rather just read the thing and eat what it recommends. Much easier!”

“True!”

The two bounty hunters reached Georgina’s Gut Bucket.

“A table for two please.” Peter the Ace said to the scantily clad, well toned young female employee that was hovering on an anti-grav disk at the entrance.

“I’m sorry.” she said erotically. “All of our tables are full at the moment, and we’re booked solid for the next three months.”

Panman approached her. “Do you know who we are?”

She looked closely at Panman and Peter the Ace. A look of delightful awe filled her surgically enhanced face. “Peter the Ace! Panman!” She bowed. “Please forgive me. I didn’t recognise you without your astonishing battle suits.”

She grabbed their hands and kissed them. “Let me make up for my lack of facial recognition. Please allow me to pleasure you beyond reality at my apartment tonight!”

Peter the Ace smiled. “Thank you for the offer.” he said. “But we get all the pleasure we need. Extra pleasure from a low paid waitress would not be anything special.”

“Yeah.” Panman agreed. “You could gain our forgiveness simply by finding us a table.”

“As you wish.” she said, bowing once again. She floated away into the bucket. The two bounty hunters followed.

“Excuse me.” she said to two men dressed in overalls as she stopped next to their table. “Please could you both vacate the premises right now.”

One of the men looked up. “We’re only half way through our meal!”

The waitress spoke once more. “Two bounty hunters of intense competence and substantial vitality require these seats.”

“We were here first!” the man said angrily.

Peter the Ace and Panman approached the table. The instance that the two men saw the most revered and honoured warriors of justice ever to walk amongst mere mortal forms, their attitudes changed from angry defiance to subdued compliance.

“Of course we’ll leave.” they said getting to their feet. “We apologise for our anti-social and disrespectful behaviour.”

“No problem.” Panman said. “What do you two do?”

“We’re drainage inspectors.”

“I wondered what that foul stench was! Next time, shower and change your clothes before venturing out in public.”

“Yes sir!” they said.

“Please leave us.”

The two men left quickly.

“Please be seated.” the waitress said. “Enter your order into the terminal. I’ll bring it to you shortly.”

“Thank you.” Peter the Ace said kindly.

The two bounty hunters sat down. Within ten seconds, Panman had ordered seventeen items. “That’ll do for now!” he said.

Peter the Ace sat back. “I’m done!”

Panman looked around at the restaurant’s interior. “Ross Mental would love this place. He’s into strange food of a delectable nature!”

“He is indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. “It’s three months since we returned after destroying Lawrence and that dough fiend, and there’s still no sign of him!”

“Yeah, he hasn’t even called!”

“Maybe he was blown so far away that he ended up in another galaxy or something?”

“It’s more likely that he was obliterated.”

“Never!” Peter the Ace said sharply. “He is a bounty hunter of immaculate perception and capability. He’s somewhere out there.”

“I guess you’re right.”

The waitress floated sensually up to the bounty hunters’ table and handed them their first course. “Enjoy.” she whispered, and then drifted away.

Panman started to shovel down his bowl full of jellied Fegile intestines. Peter the Ace smiled broadly, and then tucked into his plate of sliced Jag cortex in a rich and potent synaptic hormone sauce.

“I could eat this for the rest of my life!” Panman exclaimed through a mouthful of duodenum.

“It is marvellously appetising!” Peter the Ace agreed.

Panman finished. He stood up and shouted. “Waitress? Next course please, hurry!” He sat back down. “Wow! Am I starved or what?!”

“Always!” laughed Peter the Ace.

Panman frowned. “That’s not true!”

“It is.”

“It isn’t!”

“When were you ever not hungry, then?”

A look of deep thoughtfulness filled Panman’s face. He smiled. “Ninety four years ago, during the agonising B’Rahmba M’Xylianti-Konicon civil war.”

“No way!”

“Yes!” Panman said. “Don’t you remember? We were sent in to protect the B’Rahmban overlord from a spiteful band of sabre-toothed assassins!”

“Of course I remember.” Peter the Ace said. “But, as I recall, you insisted that the safest place for us to guard his life was to take him down into his mansion’s lavishly equipped kitchen and barricade the doors shut.”

“Your point being?”

“My point being that, in a twenty four hour period, you managed to consume one month’s supply of baked Yams!”

“I don’t deny it.” Panman said proudly.

“Then you must have been hungry, mustn’t you!”

“Yes, but not for the half hour following that impressive snack!”

Peter the Ace looked suspicious. “Are you sure?”

“Definitely!”

“Then please accept my apology.”

“Accepted!”

Their little argument was forgotten as course two arrived.

“Awesome!” Panman exclaimed. His face disappeared into a canister of skinned Pygmy Hogs. Black tar-like gravy splashed everywhere.

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