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Book: Mechanism
Chapter 26: Nomadic Techno-Heathens

Panman sat cross-legged on the floor of the Blenheim’s galley surrounded by box after box of multi-flavoured doughnuts. As you would expect, they were rapidly finding themselves crushed between his powerful servo-assisted jaws and gulped mercilessly into his stomach.

Peter the Ace took up a more civilised position at the table. He gently munched on a sugar-syrup and chicken tikka sandwich. “It really builds your appetite fighting globular dudes.” he said with deep insight.

Panman nodded. “It does.” A cloud of doughnut crumbs spread forth from his mouth as he spoke.

“It obviously makes some people thirsty too!” Peter the Ace said pointing in Ross Mental’s direction. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter was lying in a pool of vomit next to an empty case of whisky. He was moaning softly and incoherently.

Panman swallowed hard. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much before, not even Ross Mental.”

“Maybe he’s in a state of depression because his ship is missing?”

“Maybe.” Panman said as he began to gorge again.

Peter the Ace looked at his totally accurate gold and diamond studded Amino warrior watch. “Well, by now either our fleet of tremendous ships has pulled the Mechanism away from its course of destruction or our haven of sumptuous delights has fallen prey to its obscene mass and momentum.”

Both bounty hunters thought in silence for a few moments. They thought of their comrades and friends and the ultimate sacrifice that they may have just made. Sarah Savage and her broadsword of dense cold steel. Commander Pepe and his undulating frame of blubber. Sonia Por Favor and her agitated wit. Elena L’Apriscatole and her brutal shoulder-mounted cannons of mayhem and mass butchery. They were all great people of superior intelligence and wisdom. If they had died, they had died like warriors - at their posts and doing their sworn duty.

Ross Mental didn’t think anything at all. He simply threw up then rolled into his own pool of regurgitation.

“Well, I guess we should get on with our mission.” Peter the Ace said, getting up from the table.

Panman was confused. “What mission?”

“We’re following the Mini-Mechanism. Don’t you remember?”

“Oh yeah!” Panman replied. “The lack of sugar in my memory enhancers must have caused a temporary shutdown of my parameter passing sub-routines.”

“Of course!”

“It did!”

“Enough bantering.” Peter the Ace said. He directed his voice to the ship. “Blenheim, give me a status report please.”

The ship answered in its usual boring way. “WE ARE CURRENTLY TRAVELLING AT SUB-SPACE VELOCITY SIX ON AN INTERCEPT COURSE WITH THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI-MECHANISM. TIME TO INTERCEPTION: THREE MINUTES, SEVEN SECONDS.”

“Good stuff! Have you established A heading for that thing yet?”

“THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI-MECHANISM IS ON A DIRECT COURSE FOR THE PLANET DESTE’TUOT, FOURTH PLANET OF THE IMPECUNIOUS SYSTEM.”

“Never heard of it. How long until it arrives?”

“THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI MECHANISM WILL ARRIVE AT THE PLANET DESTE’TUOT IN THIRTY TWO MINUTES.”

“Really? I didn’t realise that there were any planets that close to the Palace of Amino. Give me a little background information on Deste’Tuot.”

“Yeah!” Panman said. “Let’s see if it’s worth saving!”

“THE PLANET DESTE’TUOT WAS COLONISED BY A TRIBE OF NOMADIC TECHNO-HEATHENS FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO. ITS RANCID AMMONIA, METHANE, AND OXYGEN ATMOSPHERE APPEALED TO THEIR MASOCHISTIC TENDENCIES AND WITHIN DECADES FESTERING CITIES OF FILTH AND DEPRAVITY HAD BEEN CONSTRUCTED. AFTER SEVERAL CENTURIES OF SUFFERING AND UNCONTROLLED BREEDING THE POPULATION ROSE IN NUMBER FROM THREE HUNDRED AND EIGHT TO FORTY ONE BILLION. DURING THE LAST CENTURY, SEVERAL WARS - LATER NAMED THE WRETCHED WARS OF GLOOMINESS - DESTROYED ALL BUT ONE OF THE CITIES. THAT CITY, KNOWN AS GRYM, EXPANDED RAPIDLY TO ENCOMPASS THE SURVIVING POPULATION THAT WAS MIGRATING INTO ITS CONFINES. GRYM, ALMOST ONE THOUSAND KILOMETRES ACROSS AND WITH A POPULATION OF TWENTY THREE BILLION, IS CURRENTLY THE LARGEST AND MOST DISGUSTING CITY IN THE GALAXY. IT IS LOCATION CLOSE TO DESTE’TUOT’S NORTHERN POLAR...”


“That’s enough!” Peter the Ace shouted. “Don’t you know what ‘a little information’ means?”

“I AM FULLY AWARE OF THE EXACT MEANING OF THE WORDS YOU MENTION. THE INFORMATION I GAVE WAS ONLY ONE POINT THREE PERCENT OF THAT WHICH...”

“Silence! Shut down your vocalisers. Do not utter another word until I grant you permission. Understand?”

There was no audible answer. Instead, the word ‘YES’ appeared in small green letters on the microwave’s display.

“Good.”


Peter the Ace always made sure that mere machines were put in their place. He turned to his companion. “I guess we should make an attempt to save that planet, even if it is a foul and bogus place.”

“Yeah, why not? I need something to do.”

The two bounty hunters left the galley and headed to the bridge.

Ross Mental convulsed for a few seconds then puked once more.


By the time the two bounty hunters made it to the bridge there was only one minute left to interception. The words ‘CONDITION RED’ flashed like giant fire-flies on the main view-screen and the bridge lights had been turned off to add a feeling of menace and dread. The only illumination came from the display panels of various impressive and well-polished control surfaces.

Panman liked the look. “Cool as meat locker!”

“Indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. “I asked the Blenheim to develop a more atmospheric feel to the bridge whenever a battle of biblical proportions seems likely. It is obviously a great success!”

“I can’t fault you there!” Panman said. “You should set up a college of interior lighting when we get back to the palace, if it still exists of course. Your fantastic new talent must be put to good use.”

“I’m well ahead of you there, Panman.” Peter the Ace said, sitting down in his command chair. “Yesterday afternoon, well before this crisis started, I summoned Professor Blewprynt to my apartment.”

“He’s in charge of the Faculty of Offensive Fantasies at the academy, isn’t he?”

“Absolutely! I presented to him my proposal for the immediate construction of AILMENT, the Amino Interior Lighting and Multi-Environment Nuclear Tank University. The professor loved the idea with all of his heart!”

“Marvellous!” Panman thought for a moment. “What have nuclear tanks got to do with interior lighting?”

“Nothing at all, but the palace needs to expand its ground defence capabilities. I was thinking that it would be cool if experienced interior lighting experts were also competent nuclear tank commanders as well.”

Panman was excited. “That would indeed be cool!” he exclaimed. “And obviously those tanks would have the best interior lighting of any tanks anywhere in the galaxy!”

“Indeed.”

A slightly solemn look swept across Panman’s face. “None of that will happen if the palace has been smashed beyond repair.”

“I sincerely hope that that is not the case!” Peter the Ace said with a touch of annoyance. “I spent almost thirty minutes working on that idea!”

“That’s a long time!”

“It certainly is!”

Several consoles bleeped and the image on the main view-screen changed to that of the hundred kilometre wide Mini-Mechanism. The crafts underside was fizzing wildly as it powered its way through subspace.

Panman snapped into action. He unloaded several bags of potato chips and three large cans of cola from his utility belt and placed them around his weapons console. Then he armed every destructive implement that the mighty Blenheim had. He smiled at Peter the Ace. “I’m ready!”

“Peter the Ace nodded. “Glad to hear it.” He looked at the view-screen and read the targeting information surrounding the image. “We’ll, it’s only a thousand kilometres away and well within range. I guess all that’s left to do is blow it away, save that dismal planet of foulness, and then go home.”

Panman was nodding vigorously and smiling broadly.

“Whenever you’re ready.” Peter the Ace said quietly.

Panman leapt out of his chair and performed a miraculous triple somersault and double twist. He finished his acrobatic display with an elegant swan dive onto his console. He hit every fire button with perfect accuracy.

By the time Panman had slumped back into his chair, one hundred and twenty nuclear warheads, sixty three armour piercing transception torpedoes, thirty eight graviton imploders, and one thousand pulse blasts were heading towards the Mini-Mechanism at a ferocious speed.

“Yes!” Panman shouted with glee as he watched his arsenal of weapons make their way across sub-space. He shook his fist vehemently. “See what you make of that, Zyix dude!”

After only a few seconds, the mass of destructive devices were about to hit their target.

“This is going to look awesome!” Panman screamed.

Suddenly something very annoying happened. The Mini-Mechanism began firing on the approaching weapons. Instantly, more than half of the warheads, torpedoes, and imploders were atomised. Panman grunted in disgust and opened a large bag of leek and pork fat chips.

The remaining weapons did manage to detonate around the Mini-Mechanism in a splendid way, spreading fire and incredible destructive forces across the massive vessel’s surface. Shards of dense debris scattered in all directions. The bits of wreckage flashed and effervesced as they decelerated into normal space.

Panman looked less disgusted. “I guess that wasn’t so bad.” he said munching away.

Peter the Ace agreed. “It did look quite stunning, I must say!”

A massive shockwave passed through the Blenheim. Panman tumbled from his chair and rolled across the floor closely followed by his potato chips and cans of cola. Peter the Ace managed to stay seated. “Blenheim, reactivate vocalisers. What happened?” Another shockwave buffeted the ship.

“THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI-MECHANISM IS CURRENTLY BOMBARDING THIS VESSEL WITH A PULSING PARTICLE BEAM OF A TYPE UNKNOWN.”

Another shockwave hit. Panman. who was just attempting to get to his feet, found himself rolling around on the floor once again. Spilt cola soaked into his hair. The severed head of Xjaq Dominator, which had been left on the bridge by Ross Mental, tumbled by.

“What’s our status?” Peter the Ace asked the ship.

“SERIOUS DAMAGE WAS SUSTAINED DURING OUR ENTRY INTO AND EXIT FROM THE OBJECT KNOWN AS THE MECHANISM. SHIELD STRENGTH: FIVE PERCENT. STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY: SEVEN PERCENT...”

“Are you telling me that we’re in no condition to fight?”

“ABSOLUTELY.”

“Hmm... Destroying that thing could turn out to be quite a challenge!”

Panman scrambled into his seat. He was looking pissed off.

“Don’t look so mad,” Peter the Ace said to him as another shockwave hit. “We’ll stop that thing somehow.”

“I’m not mad about that!” he exclaimed. “Look at my snacks and my drinks! All wasted!” The bounty hunter was almost weeping.

“Don’t be such a Homer!” Peter the Ace said. “There’s plenty more in the fridge.”

Panman smiled. “Oh yeah! I think you’re right!” He started to get to his feet.

Peter the Ace pressed on Panman’s shoulder and pushed him back into his chair. “Why not wait until after we’ve completed our current task? Okay?”

After a moment of careful thought, Panman answered. “Okay.”

“Excellent. Why don’t you launch another attack?”

Panman looked at his console. “I can’t.”

“Why?”

“I fired everything last time. All we have are fifteen different types of hand weapons in the gun locker.”

“That’s all?”

“Yep!”

Another shockwave hit, this time far worse than any of the previous ones. Several fires erupted from various consoles.

“WARNING. HULL BREACH SECTIONS 14 A, 16 C, 16 E, 31 A, 32 B, 34 F, AND 38 Z. EMERGENCY AUTO-SEAL ACTIVATED.”

“Bloody hell!” Panman said. “This is heavy!”

“Indeed it is!”

Automatic extinguishers quickly put out the fires.

Yet another shockwave hit.

“WARNING . HULL BREACH SECTIONS 24 F, 25 R, 35 T, 43 A, AND 54 W. COMPLETE EMERGENCY AUTO-SEAL FAILURE. HOLO-GAMES SYSTEM OFF-LINE.”

“What!” Panman shouted, standing. “Why does our games system always break down at the slightest provocation? What if I need to better my high score on 'Reptilian Chambermaids Assassinate Galactic News Channel Anchor Men with Rounded Safety Scissors and Thimbles'? I can’t, can I!”

“Get with it Panman!” Peter the Ace said sternly. He knew how Panman felt, he felt the same way, but there were slightly more important things to attend to.

Panman sat back into his seat and breathed deeply.

Peter the Ace directed his voice to the ship. “Blenheim. Emergency tactical withdrawal alpha-epsilon-gamma-delta-one. Execute!”

The Blenheim lurched and pitched forwards as its retro engines fired for a brief moment. Within a couple of seconds, they were more than a million kilometres behind the Mini-Mechanism and out of range of its awesome weapons of doom and dejection.

“I can’t believe we retreated!” Panman said. “Bounty hunters never retreat!”

“We didn’t retreat.” Peter the Ace said sagaciously. “We made a tactical withdrawal.”

“What’s the difference?”

“Spelling and pronunciation.”

“Oh yeah!”

The two bounty hunters looked at the main view-screen. The Mini-Mechanism appeared small and distant now.

Calming down, Panman regained his wisdom. “We need a more cunning and subtle plan.”

“We certainly do.” his companion agreed. “Do you have any suggestions?”

Panman bowed his head and thought deeply. He looked up. A look of inspiration filled his face. “I have!”

“Lay it on me man!”

“We send command signals into its central control system and shut it down.”

“Is that it?”

“Yep!”

“No violence?”

“Nope!”

Peter the Ace smiled. His esteemed colleague had unique intelligence. “Panman, it’s so simple and freakishly passive that it just might work!”

“It will!” Panman said. He looked at his official Palace of Amino watch. “We’ve twenty minutes until it reaches Deste’Tuot. We’d better get to work this instant!”

“The first thing we must do,” Peter the Ace said. “Is to establish what central control system it has.”

“How do we do that?”

“We must open up a communications link with it.”

“Oh yeah! Cool! I could give old Zyix Taskmaster a call and have a chat!”

“Indeed. And while you do that I can surreptitiously use the open channel to interrogate the Mini-Mechanism’s computer core!”

“Bitchen!” Panman shouted with glee. He operated the communicator. “There’s no time to lose. I’m going to call now. Are you ready?”

“Always.”

Panman opened a channel. “Hey Zyix. Are you there? Do you remember me? I’m the one that introduced you to the pleasures of Jacuzzis! Talk to me, globular fiend.”

There was no reply.

Panman tried again. “Are you scared wobbly buddy. Look at you running away from me in that pointy mega-ship of yours. You fear me don’t you! You’re too afraid to speak to me!”

There was still no reply. Panman decided to use more persuasive words. “Coward! Chicken! Yellow belly...”

I am not running from you.” Zyix Taskmaster said in a bubbling and apocalyptic tone of voice. “Nor am I a yellow belly.

“Then why are you heading straight for a worthless planet of bucolic penniless under-class citizens instead of an ornate world of highly affluent aristocrats and gleaming golden spires?”

Vast wealth is not a necessary criterion for effective absorption.

Peter the Ace was busy establishing a link with the Mini-Mechanism’s computer. “Keep him talking.” he whispered to Panman.

Panman nodded. “So er... Zyix. Tell me more about this absorption thing that you do.”

This conversation is irrelevant.

“No it’s not, I’m interested. Why do you do it?”

I must absorb several million lifeforms from this galaxy to establish average blood sugar levels.

“Why would you want to do that?”

If the level is equal to or above our established nominal requirement, I will authorise the fleet to advance.

Panman looked at Peter the Ace with an obvious look of awe. “You have a fleet?” he asked with shock.

Five hundred Mechanisms are waiting one thousand light years beyond this galaxy’s rim. If I am satisfied with the sugar levels in this galaxy they will begin absorption of all of its life on my command.

“Shit!” Panman said. “That’s heavy!”

Peter the Ace whispered. “Just a few more seconds.”

Panman continued with the questions. “And what if you don’t contact them?”

They will assume that the sugar levels are low and proceed to the next galaxy.

“If you’re that desperate for sugar, why don’t you just make doughnuts or something?”

Peter the Ace gave Panman a discrete ‘thumbs up’.

“Well,” Panman said quickly. “Great to talk to you again. Now piss off!” He closed the channel.

Panman turned to Peter the Ace with a look of concern. “Did you hear that?! A fleet! An entire fleet of Mechanisms! We’ve got to prevent Zyix from communicating with his extra-galactic mates at all costs!”

“Calm yourself.” Peter the Ace said. “I have the information I need. All I need to do is have it analysed by the Blenheim to determine the architecture of that thing’s computer.”

“Cool! Go for it.”

“Blenheim,” Peter the Ace asked. “Analyse the large wad of data that I stole from the Mini-Mechanism and give a brief - and I mean brief - report.”

“ANALYSING...”

The ship thought for a few seconds.

“THE DATA OBTAINED FROM THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI-MECHANISM IS VIRTUALLY IDENTICAL IN FORM AND FUNCTION TO THAT OF THE ANCIENT AS/400 SYSTEM ONCE USED BY BUSINESS ORGANISATIONS ON EARTH. THE SYSTEM WAS PRIMARILY USED FOR FINANCIAL...”

“I said brief!”

The Blenheim’s computer fell silent.

Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “It’s really weird, but for some reason I feel as though I’m familiar with AS/400s!”

Panman nodded. “Me too! That is weird! Why is that I wonder?”

“Well, as we both seem to have no recollection of our first century of life, maybe we both encountered the system or even worked on it during that time?”

“It’s possible. It would have been the right time period.”

Suddenly, Peter the Ace sat back into his command chair with a wide eyed and startled expression. “This is amazing!” he said.

Panman was confused. “What’s the matter Ace?”

“A huge treasure trove of knowledge and skills has just passed into my conscious mind!”

“What knowledge and skills?”

“AS/400 of course! I can see it all: CL programs, objects, libraries, display files, physical files, logical files, ECS transmissions. Wow!”

Panman was excited. “Can you use this knowledge to stop the Mini-Mechanism?”

Peter the Ace leaned forwards. “Indeed I can! Blenheim, open an editor on my console’s display.”

“SPECIFY FILE TYPE AND FILE NAME.”

“File type AS/400 CL program. Call the file KillMech.”

The editor appeared on the screen. Peter the Ace started typing on the keyboard that had emerged in front of him. The manual inputting of data was very rare on super-advanced star ships such as the Blenheim, so primitive devices like keyboards were usually kept hidden away.

The first class bounty hunter worked tirelessly for almost a whole minute. Panman watched in admiration as his colleague clattered away at the keys.

“All done!” Peter the Ace said finally. “Blenheim, save and compile.”

“Cool!” Panman said. “Let’s see it then!”

Peter the Ace operated a few controls and sent his work to the main view-screen.

        PGM
          DCL
          $PowerSys *DEC 0 1
          &Val *DEC 0 1
          DoitAgain: RTVJOBA JOB($PowerSys &Val)
            IF (&Val ‘PowerUp’)
              DO
                SNDRCVF (&Val ‘PowerDown’)
              ENDDO
              CHGVAR $PowerSys ($PowerSys+1)
          GOTO DoitAgain
        ENDPGM


The Blenheim made an announcement. “COMPILATION OF FILE ‘KILLMECH’ COMPLETE. ERRORS: ZERO. VERDICT: AN INSPIRED PIECE OF PROGRAMMING.”

After examining the program Panman made an astute comment. “It’s a little simple isn’t it?”

“That’s correct!” Peter the Ace said.

“Can it do all that it needs to do?”

“Indeed! It’s one of the most elegant and accurate pieces of code ever written!”

Panman nodded and agreed. “It does look mighty nice. What does it do?”

“It searches through the Mini-Mechanism’s thousands of different systems to see if they are powered up. If they are, it powers them down.”

“Whoa! It’ll shut down the entire ship!”

“Of course.”

“What if the systems are turned back on?”

“That’s not a problem. This program is basically an infinite loop. It will constantly check to see if something comes back on line. If it does, it will turn it off again. It’ll run so fast that no system will have any time to perform any of its functions. The Mini-Mechanism will become completely useless!”

Panman leapt into the air, back-flipped, and then slammed back into his chair. “Transmit it Ace! Let’s get this over with.”

“Blenheim,” Peter the Ace said. “Establish a data transfer link with the Mini-Mechanism via the access channel I discovered during Panman’s conversation with Zyix.”

“LINK ESTABLISHED.”

“Transfer file entitled KillMech into the Mini-Mechanism’s central computer core.”

“FILE TRANSFER COMMENCING... COMPLETE.”

“Execute the program.”

“PROGRAM ‘KILLMECH’ EXECUTING.”

“Excellent!”

The two bounty hunters watched for the effects of their program.

Nothing happened. At least not for a while anyway. Then something did happen. The Mini-Mechanism’s engines faded to darkness and the myriad of lights across the craft’s surface winked out. It slowly tumbled then decelerated rapidly.

“Cool!” Panman yelled. “It’s leaving sub-space! Blenheim, match its deceleration!”

The Blenheim followed the giant and now lifeless craft out of sub-space and back into the relative normality of the physical universe.

“Look at it! Your program worked!”

Peter the Ace grinned. “It would seem so. That was so easy.”

“When you’re as cerebral as we are, everything is easy.”

“Very true!”

In the distance, many millions of miles ahead of the Mini- Mechanism, was a pale grey and brown lump. It was the planet Deste’Tuot.

Panman enlarged its image on the main view-screen. “We saved that filth ball from absorption. Such heroes are we! Let’s break out the champagne and sausage rolls!”

Peter the Ace wasn’t looking quite as happy as he had looked a moment ago.

“What’s up Ace? Don’t you like sausage rolls?”

The bounty hunter ignored his companion’s second question. “It seems that we were not as successful as we thought.”

“Why?”

“The Mini-Mechanism is on a direct collision course with Deste’Tuot.”

Panman was annoyed. “We can’t let it hit! We have to be heroes to those vagabonds!”

“Then you must tell me how to stop it.”

“Simple! You transmit a program that turns its engines back on and directs it away from the planet.”

“In theory that’s a phenomenal idea, but not in practice. As soon as I realised that the Mini-Mechanism would collide with that planet I tried to re-establish the link with it. Unfortunately, my program in its computer core is too successful. It has completely shut down all means of communication. Further data transfer is impossible, and will be for eternity and beyond.”

Panman could not help but feel impressed with his companion’s programming abilities. “Eternity and beyond, eh? That’s super-cool in the extreme!”

Peter the Ace thought about that for a few seconds and smiled. “Actually, it is pretty cool isn’t it?”

“Too right!”

“We’re sensational! We should get an award!”

The main view-screen displayed the image of the Mini-Mechanism heading towards Deste’Tuot.

“I guess we should try and do something.” Panman said looking at the display.

“Yes, but unfortunately that ship is millions of times more massive than we are. We can’t push or pull it away.”

“We could warn them! Let’s get to the planet before the Mini-Mechanism does and tell them all to get underground or something!”

“Underground?”

“It’s better than nothing.”

“You’re wise as always, Panman. Anyway, there’s only one city on that planet, albeit an enormous and grotesque one. The likelihood of that ship hitting anywhere near it is insignificantly small.”

“Your right Ace. Blenheim, when and where will the Mini-Mechanism hit?”

“THE OBJECT NICK-NAMED THE MINI-MECHANISM WILL IMPACT ON THE SURFACE OF DESTE’TUOT IN TWENTY THREE MINUTES ON THE THIRD NORTHERN CONTINENT...”

“That sounds fine.” Panman interrupted.

“FIFTY THREE KILOMETRES SOUTH OF THE CITY NAMED GRYM.”

Peter the Ace and Panman looked at each other.

“That’s close!” they said.

“They’re in deep shit!” they said.

Devilish smiles appeared on their faces. The prospect of an outstandingly difficult rescue attempt awaited them.

They screamed at the top of their voices. “First class bounty hunters of the Palace of Amino to the rescue!”

Peter the Ace whacked his control panel in all the right places and the Blenheim blasted forwards at near light speed. It easily overtook the lifeless Mini-Mechanism and powered its way towards the murky cloud-shrouded planet ahead.

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