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
“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
“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.
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
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
“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!”
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 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?”
“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
“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
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.”
“I fired everything last time. All we have are fifteen different
types of hand weapons in the gun locker.”
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,
“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.”
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
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
“Is that it?”
Peter the Ace smiled. His esteemed colleague had unique intelligence.
“Panman, it’s so simple and freakishly passive that it just
“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
“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
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
“They will assume that the sugar levels are low and proceed to the
“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.”
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
“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
“Cool!” Panman said. “Let’s see it then!”
Peter the Ace operated a few controls and sent his work to the main view-screen.
$PowerSys *DEC 0 1
&Val *DEC 0 1
DoitAgain: RTVJOBA JOB($PowerSys &Val)
IF (&Val ‘PowerUp’)
SNDRCVF (&Val ‘PowerDown’)
CHGVAR $PowerSys ($PowerSys+1)
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
“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!”
“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.”
“Transfer file entitled KillMech into the Mini-Mechanism’s
central computer core.”
“FILE TRANSFER COMMENCING... COMPLETE.”
“Execute the program.”
“PROGRAM ‘KILLMECH’ EXECUTING.”
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.”
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
“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.”
“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
Peter the Ace thought about that for a few seconds and smiled. “Actually,
it is pretty cool isn’t it?”
“We’re sensational! We should get an award!”
The main view-screen displayed the image of the Mini-Mechanism heading
“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!”
“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
“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