Ross Mental disconnected himself from his abseiling cable and slammed his feet down onto the surface of the dimly lit swamp, temporarily clearing a section of the shallow mist that seemed to be clinging to the surface of the vegetation. His boots sank a considerable distance into the rotting plant life. He grimaced. The stench of decay that wafted up was thick and vile. Several small reptiles darted away, squeaking like pre-menstrual vochets. As a defence mechanism one of the reptiles defecated violently. A spray of shit hit the bounty hunter’s left leg. “Little fucker!”
Cardigan Moth was standing nearby. He had managed to pull himself out of the swamp and had even managed to clean up his blue velvet cloak to a high standard. “This location is unappealing.” He said, looking around at the dank landscape. “It is oppressively humid, and exudes one of the most unpleasant smells I have ever encountered. It would have been better for me to make my way back up to street level.”
Ross Mental ignored the lesser bounty hunter’s complaint and looked up. More than a hundred metres above the expansive and sparsely floodlit platform that held the entire city of Hadus above the swamp stretched to the horizon in all directions. All around the foundations of the city’s largest towers could be seen plunging into the swamp. Huge metal structures like monstrous spider webs connected the foundations to the underside of the platform helping to support the vast city. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter pointed at the largest of the foundations less than half a kilometre away. “That’s the base of the Government Tower. We need to get inside there.” He started marching towards it, his boots squelching in the quagmire. “And we need a fuckin’ disguise.”
Cardigan Moth followed. He pointed ahead. “At the base of the foundations there appears to be a large shanty town.”
Ross Mental looked at the mass of crudely built shelters and smouldering fires. Thousands of dark figures were milling around. “I read that there are loads of those fuckin’ towns down here, and millions of fuckin’ vagrants living in them. This is the under-class of the fuckin’ under-class! That low-life town is where we’ll find our disguise.”
The lesser bounty hunter shook his head. “Concealing our identities by dressing up as vagabonds is not sensible. Vagabonds are unlikely to be permitted into the Government Tower. We’ll stick out like…”
Ross Mental frowned. “We’re not going to dress as fuckin’ vagabonds!” He pointed to the centre of the shanty town. “Look! It’s a fuckin’ market! Filthy fuckers like those people steal anything and everything they can get their hands on. And that includes clothing worn by construction workers!”
Cardigan Moth smiled. “And they sell what they steal in their market!”
“Fuckin’ right!” Ross Mental said, stepping over a decaying corpse. Several small reptiles had been nibbling on the corpse’s decomposing flesh. They squealed and scattered, letting loose a volley of excrement. The bounty hunter looked down and screamed. “Fuckers!”
After a few more minutes walk through the increasingly soggy and corpse-strewn landscape the two bounty hunters arrived at the edge of a small lake. On the opposite shore, approximately thirty metres away, was the shanty town. The mumbling of a drunken and unhygienic crowd could be heard.
Several makeshift boats, constructed from what looked like abandoned laundry appliances, drifted erratically across the water.
One of the boats was approaching. Its single occupant, a slim and aging woman clothed in nothing more than a long skirt of shredded towels and blotches of dried defecation, waved. “Comin’ across?”
Ross Mental could not help but stare at the woman’s flat sagging breasts that hung down to her waist. “Of course we fuckin’ are!”
Pushing on her punting stick the woman guided her boat to the shore. There was a soggy crunch as the boat came to a halt in some vegetation. “Climb on.”
Ross Mental and Cardigan Moth stepped into the boat and clambered over its surface of dented pressed-steel panels.
The shit-coated woman pushed off with her punting stick and directed the boat towards the shanty town. “Ya’ll well-dressed for the swamp,” she said, “What brings ya down here?”
Cardigan Moth spouted some bullshit. “We are researchers. We want to know more about your way of life.”
The woman’s bloodshot eyes widened. “Will ya be recording things for a video channel? I look good when cleaned up.” With her free hand she wiped off some of the crusty excrement from her chest. “See!”
Ross Mental looked at her leathery breasts and spoke with maximum sarcasm. “Fuckin’ amazing!”
The woman grinned. Her single remaining tooth wobbled. “I hear that a lot!”
The boat was just a few metres from the opposite shore now. The saggy breasted woman gave one more push on her punting stick and jammed the boat into some weeds. “Here we are.”
The two bounty hunters stepped off the boat.
Cardigan Moth turned to the woman. “What is the cost of your crossing service?”
The woman looked down at the bounty hunter’s waist belt. “One of those things will be nice.”
The bounty hunter looked down at his utility belt. “I’m afraid all that equipment is required by me to…”
Ross Mental interrupted. “Fuck! Just give her something!”
Cardigan Moth thought for a second. He detached a small spherical object. “Please take this.”
The woman took the object. “It’s shiny! I love it!” She pushed on her punting stick. The boat drifted away. “Ya’ll have a nice time researchin’!”
Ross Mental looked at Cardigan Moth. “Why did you give her a fuckin’ VAPOR grenade?!”
The lesser bounty hunter defended his action. “There is a minimal chance of her being able to activate it. She will treat it as a piece of jewellery and nothing more. It will be passed down through generations of her descendants. The grenades internal mechanisms will fail naturally before she or her descendants figure out its activation procedure.”
Ross Mental turned and frowned. “You’d better be fuckin’ right!” He headed into the crowd of inarticulate vagrants.
Cardigan Moth followed.
The shanty town was one of the greatest examples of disorganisation Ross Mental had ever seen. Crudely designed buildings, mostly constructed from discarded furniture, kitchen appliance and dried vegetation, were positioned anywhere and everywhere, creating a haphazard maze of narrow streets and alleys. Taller and better-built structures, some several storeys high, rested against the immense foundations of the Government Tower. Electric lights shone from their upper floors. The residents had obviously tapped in to the Government Tower’s energy grid.
After a while the two bounty hunters entered a more open area of the town. Rows of tables covered in all kinds of products and produce could be seen, and hundreds of smelly individuals milled around looking for items of interest and something edible. Rotting meat, skewered reptiles and badly bruised fruit seemed to be the only culinary offerings.
Ross Mental pointed to a stall at the far end. It was stacked high with helmets and florescent jackets of all shapes and sizes. He laughed. “Fuckin’ bingo!” He looked at Cardigan Moth. “I’ll go and get our fuckin’ disguises. You go and find a way into the tower’s foundations.”
The lesser bounty hunter nodded. He looked up at the extensive mass of the tower’s foundations. “At first glance it looks rather impenetrable. But I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”
“You’d fuckin’ better!” Ross Mental said sternly. He turned and headed away through the filthy crowd.