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Book: The Nomads and the Mind Machine
Chapter 12: Silver Teardrop

Through the use of skill and cunning, and a remarkable flurry of perfectly articulated profanity, Ross Mental had managed to procure two complete construction worker uniforms.  Now he waited patiently at the edge of the market for Cardigan Moth to return.

And he did return, just a few minutes later.

“I believe I have succeeded.”  The lesser bounty hunter said as he emerged from the crowd.  He pointed.  “Around the side of the foundations about two-hundred metres from here.”

Ross Mental nodded.  “Fuckin’ cool!  Lead the way!”

Cardigan Moth turned and headed back into the crowd.

Ross Mental was about to follow when a loud grating noise from above sounded.  He looked up.  Many of the market’s visitors stopped whatever inane task they were doing and followed the bounty hunter’s gaze.  High up on the wall of the foundations, way beyond the tops of the tallest shanty town buildings, a large thick metal door was sliding open.  The door’s obviously ancient and misaligned mechanism caused the door to scrape annoyingly across the concrete wall next to it as it opened.  Once the door was fully open, and after a moment of silence, there was loud rumble.  A silver teardrop-shaped craft, no more than ten metres long, shot out from the open doorway.  Dropping down to just a few metres above the swamp, the craft accelerated rapidly, the blue blaze of its engine section glowing brightly.  Within seconds it had disappeared into the misty haze that clung to the swamp’s surface.

High up the foundation wall the metal door scraped shut.

“That was fuckin’ interesting!”  Ross Mental said, looking at Cardigan Moth.

The lesser bounty hunter was looking down at a small sensor device he was holding.  “I managed to scan the ship.  According to this it’s a Sadeeni vessel.”

Ross Mental’s eyes widened.  “Fuck off!  You’re fuckin’ joking, right?”

The lesser bounty hunter shook his head.  He showed the sensor device’s screen to Ross Mental.  “It is not a joke.”

The foul-mouthed bounty hunter examined the screen and then shook his head slowly.  “Unbelievable!  What’s one of those fuckers doing here?”

Cardigan Moth spoke.  “From my recollection the Sadeeni home world is way out in the Fornax satellite galaxy: almost 450 thousand light-years away - at least a six year journey.  There are no trade links with them, I believe.”

Ross Mental nodded.  “There certainly aren’t, and that’s because Sadeeni are always fuckin’ bad news!  Centuries ago those fuckers used to raid the outer systems and spread the foulest of diseases – just for fun!  Sick fuckers!  One of the first tasks for bounty hunters soon after the formation of the Palace of Amino was to give those furry Sadeeni a fuck-off arse–kicking and then banish them from the known systems.”

“Interesting.”  Cardigan Moth said.  “And do you think this is the first time they’ve been back?”

“Fuck no!”  Ross Mental said, shaking his head.  “They’ve been spotted many times making skirmishes at the outer rim of the Milky Way – a sighting is reported every other decade.  But they’ve never been seen this far in, and certainly not on one of the central worlds!”  He fiddled with the communications device on his wrist.  “I’m sending a message to the palace.  There must be a bounty hunter nearby who can keep track of that fuckin’ ship.  We need to know where it goes.”  After sending the message Ross Mental was thoughtful for a moment.  “This sighting justifies my suspicions about those secret fuckin’ renovations that are going on in the tower.  We need to take a look in there, and we need to do it now!”

Cardigan Moth nodded.  “Follow me.”  The lesser bounty hunter led Ross Mental through the dense crowd of stinking vagrants, down several narrow and crooked alleys, and round the next side of the vast foundations of the Government Tower.

Here the town was less dense, and there were far fewer people.  The people that were here looked even more ragged and pitiable and they were covered in layers of dirt and shit.  The stench was appalling, and it was easy to see why.  Flowing out of two metre-wide pipes high up the foundation’s wall was a thick flow of effluence.  Where the effluence landed dozens of vagrants were standing with large paddles, ensuring the flow was directed into the large lake just beyond and not into the town.

“Fuck!”  Ross Mental exclaimed with astonishment.  “Even the under-class of the under-class has a fuckin’ under-class!”

Cardigan Moth pointed at the effluence pipes.  “Climbing into those pipes is one of my ideas as an entry point into the tower.  Although it would be difficult, we could fight against the flow and make our way through the…”

“No fuckin’ way!  What’s the other idea?”

The lesser bounty hunter pointed higher.  “I noticed that there seems to be a grating towards the top of the foundations – a ventilation channel, I believe.”

Ross Mental looked at it.  “For the sake of those inside, I hope it blows instead of sucks!”

“It does indeed blow.”

“Fuckin’ excellent!  Let’s get up there.”

Pulling a grappling gun from his utility belt, Ross Mental aimed at the city platform high above and fired.  With a thud a collection of hooks shot upwards with a thin cable trailing behind.  A second later the hooks embedded themselves deep into some piping.  A jet of what looked like steam erupted out.

Cardigan Moth aimed his own grappling gun.  “I hope that pipe is not important.”  He fired.  His hooks embedded themselves next to Ross Mental’s.

Ross Mental spoke.  “A fuckin’ broken pipe is of no fuckin’ concern to me!”  With the construction uniforms still under one arm the foul-mouthed bounty hunter pressed his grappling gun’s retract trigger.  He was pulled rapidly into the air.

Cardigan Moth followed suit.

After a couple of seconds the two bounty hunters were raised high above the stinking effluence outlet and up next to the ventilation grating.

Cardigan Moth rested his feet against the wall and grabbed the grating.  He pulled hard, ripping the grating from its corroded fixings.  He threw it down.  He smiled.  “As easy as a kruuga flier’s egg strategy!”

Ross Mental stared at the lesser bounty hunter.  “What the fuck does that…”

There was a hot and blinding flash.

The two bounty hunter’s looked over to the lake.  Several hundred metres away a ball of white flame was rising.  With a deep thump the sound of the explosion reached them, instantly followed by a resonating shockwave.  Down below several of the vagrants’ were struggling to remain standing.  One of the buildings collapsed causing a nearby female to shriek loudly.

Ross Mental frowned.  “It appears that that boat woman figured out how to detonate that fuckin’ grenade you gave her!”

Cardigan Moth nodded.  “It would appear so.” He said as he watched a small metre-high tsunami hit the shore below.  Many unfortunate vagrants were washed away into the sewerage-filled lake.  Several more buildings collapsed.  “In hindsight that was not such a sensible item to give as a tip.”

“It fuckin’ wasn’t!”  Ross Mental said sternly.  He pointed at the ventilation shaft.  “Now get in!”

Cardigan Moth clambered into the shaft and then disconnected his grappling line.  He activated his standard issue hip-mounted floodlight.

Ross Mental followed.  The shaft was cramped but clean.  He took a deep breath.  The air was fresh and cool – a huge contrast to the dense heat and humidity outside.  Most importantly though, there was no stench whatsoever.  “This is fuckin’ nice!”

Cardigan Moth could not disagree.  “The odour of defecation was indeed becoming hard to ignore.”

“It was impossible to fuckin’ ignore!  I will never go down to that filthy fuckin’ place again.”

“What if we are required to…”

“Fuckin’ never!”

After a minute of crawling the bounty hunters came to another grating.  Cardigan Moth kicked it hard, sending it crashing into the darkness beyond.  He looked down at his sensor device.  “There is a large chamber beyond.  The walls seem unusually well shielded.  It is difficult for my sensor to penetrate them.”

“Then get down there and take a look!”

Cardigan Moth slipped through the opening and down into the room.  Ross Mental followed.  The room was spacious and sparse.  At the far end of the room was a wall light, currently turned off.  To the right was a closed metal door.  And right next to them, slumped against the wall, was a dumpy and extremely pale-looking little man.

Cardigan Moth directed his floodlight at the man.  The light reflected off the man’s highly polished bald scalp.

Ross Mental made an astute observation.  “It’s that fuckin’ pen-pusher, Albiam!”

“It is.”  The lesser bounty hunter said.  He scanned the assistant.  “He’s dead.  He was killed by a long bladed weapon.”

“Serves him right for being a fuckin’ traitor!”

“Indeed.  It would seem that those that were using him no longer required his services.  It’s probable that their plans have reached fruition.”

Ross Mental nodded.  “That’s a fuckin’ logical assumption, especially as we just witnessed that Sadeeni ship leaving.”  He dropped the construction uniforms he was carrying, drew his pistol from its holster and aimed it at the door.  “It’s time to get moving.  Stand back!”  He fired.   The door blew apart in shower of sparks.  Metal fragments clattered across the room.

Cardigan Moth spoke.  “My sensor readings indicated that the door was not locked.”

Ross Mental strode forwards.  “Who fuckin’ cares!”  He began pulling various items from his utility belt and attaching them to his pistol.  In seconds he had transformed the small hand weapon into a heavy and perilous-looking rifle.  He clicked a switch.  The weapon hummed deeply for a second before quietening down.

“What about the construction worker outfits?  We must go under cover.”

The foul-mouthed bounty hunter looked back.  “We no longer have time for fuckin’ sneaking around!  Come on!”

Cardigan Moth followed.

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