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Book: The Nomads and the Mind Machine
Chapter 17: The Predicted Path

Panman gazed intently at the main view screen.  The murky planet of Repugnius filled most of the screen, overlain with tracking data for the huge amount of traffic that always surrounded a central world.  Unusually, none of that traffic seemed to be heading down into the atmosphere.  The bounty hunter checked his console.  “There’s a major security incident in the city of Hadus.  All spacecraft have been barred from the planet!”

Peter the Ace reclined into his sumptuous command chair.  “Interesting.  I wonder what’s happened?”

Panman accessed more information.  “Wow!  There was a super fusion detonation over the Gastronemous Gallery.  It was completely destroyed!”

Peter the Ace shook his head.  “That’s a shame.  The artwork and sculptures there were some of the most pretentious and supercilious works ever created.”

“There was also a smaller explosion in a restaurant, and another in the swamp beneath the city’s platform.  And now a report of something happening at the Government Tower!”

“Hmm…  Our arrival seems to have been quite timely.”

Panman focused his attention on an unusual vessel that was heading away from Repugnius.  “What’s that?”  He reached down to his console and operated some controls.  The image zoomed into a long thin craft almost four kilometres long.  “Strange and interesting, don’t you think?!”

Peter the Ace nodded.  “Indeed it is, and all the more so because of who’s following it.”  He pointed to the left side of the main view screen.  Two bounty hunter ships could be seen with their details displayed above in a cool and glowing font.  “I shall ask our foul-mouthed friend what he’s up to.”  He operated his control console and activated the communicator.  “Ross Mental, this is Peter the Ace.  It looks like you’re following a rather strange and interesting vessel.  What’s going on?”

The response was swift, but barely comprehensible.  “Ace!.. ad… fuckin’ heads!.. Pro… ooking for!

“You seem to be breaking up.  What did you say?”

… eads!.. connect… fuckin’ cables from…

“Sorry, there seems to be a severe problem with your…”

Panman interrupted.  “Ross Mental’s not onboard the Morbid.  He’s inside that strange ship!”

“I see.”

“Its hull is very well shielded, especially the nose – it’s made of tri-melded quinteranium!”

“That explains the communications problem.  I’ll see what our other bounty hunter friend has to say about it.”  Peter the Ace opened a channel to the second bounty hunter ship, identified as the Horizontal Assassin.  “Mister Moth, this is Peter the Ace onboard the Blenheim.  Why is Ross Mental inside that strange vessel?”

This is Cardigan Moth.  It is an honour beyond the reasoning of a stage-seven hagroban monk master to finally…

“Get over your awe of me, Mister Moth.  Answer my question.”

Of course.  After I arrived here to collect the deca-whore Ross Mental had arrested, we became suspicious of some unusually large and secret renovations going on inside the GovernmentTower.  We discovered that a large space vessel had been constructed in the building’s core.  We gained access to it.  Unfortunately Ross Mental was still inside when it launched.

Panman spoke excitedly, his mind focused on the secondary information in the lesser bounty hunter’s message.  “Whoa!  A deca-whore?  They’re almost unheard of!”

I was surprised by that myself.  Ross Mental was very lucky to have been able to capture her.  She attempted to kill herself by detonating a super fusion device on her ship.  Ross Mental managed to drag her out of her ship just in time.  The whore is currently in my cargo bay.

“Amazing!  I’m going to have to see that slapper for myself!”

Peter the Ace had had enough of the whore chatter.  He got everyone back on topic.  “So, you say that the ship launched from inside the Government Tower, Mister Moth?”

It did.  The tower has been completely destroyed. Just before it launched we witnessed a Sadeeni ship leaving the base of the tower.  The two events are sure to be connected.

Peter the Ace was intrigued.  “A Sadeeni ship?  Very interesting indeed.  Our mission has led us here precisely because of rumours of a Sadeeni presence on Repugnius and their involvement in the kidnapping we’re investigating.”

I see.  We sent a message to the palace requesting that the Sadeeni ship was tracked.  Hopefully it…

Peter the Ace was looking at the sensor information on the main view screen.  He interrupted the lesser bounty hunter.  “The strange vessel seems to be getting away from you, Mister Moth.”

Indeed.  Its acceleration is impressive.

“Our sensors show it is about to enter subspace.  Disable its engines!”

Working on it…

The main view screen showed a brief flicker of light as Cardigan Moth’s ship, the Horizontal Assassin, fired.  The engine section of the strange craft was shrouded in a flash of flame.  And then the whole ship vanished.

It has entered subspace.

Peter the Ace spoke to his ship.  “Blenheim, extrapolate the projected course of that ship and suggest the most likely destination.”

“EXTRAPOLATING THE COURSE OF THE TARGET VESSEL…  THE MOST LIKELY DESINATION OF THE TARGET VESSEL IS THE VITPADA SYSTEM.”

The course was shown on the view screen, along with details of the predicted destination.

Peter the Ace was thoughtful.  “Hmm…  The Vitpada System appears to contain very little of interest to anyone.”  He read through some of the details.  “There is no wealth to speak of, and its only habitable moon is the home of a tribe of fanatical religious freaks.”

Panman laughed as he read more of the details.  “Look!  Their leaders spend most of their time brutally executing their followers for the slightest transgression!  Archaic!”

Peter the Ace nodded.  “Basically, a useless society and system.”

Panman commented.  “Perhaps the destination is closer?  Most of the course passes straight through the Slimyebba Void.”

Cardigan Moth made a suggestion.  “The Slimyebba Void is known to contain several giant nomadic ships.

Peter the Ace was impressed.  “Very good, Mister Moth.  That’s something I had not considered.  Those nomads tend to hoard riches and technological advances.  They rarely share their knowledge with anyone.”  He thought deeply.  “I need to know what Ross Mental was trying to say.  Mister Moth, did Ross Mental tell you anything before that vessel entered subspace?”

Yes, but like your communication with him, I only received a broken and distorted message.

“Can you play it?”

Of course.  Just a moment.

After a second Ross Mental’s broken voice was heard.  “Fuck!... heads in…  fuckin’… plugged in!  … heads!...  Fuckin’…  Two profess… into cables… some kind… fuckers!...

Panman frowned.  “What is he on about?”

Peter the Ace directed his voice to the ship.  “Blenheim, combine the transmission of Ross Mental’s voice from Cardigan Moth with the transmission Ross Mental made to us.  Fill the gaps in the transmissions with the most likely words.  And keep the choice of words within the context of our current mission.”

“PROCESSING… COMPLETE.  MARGIN FOR ERROR: 39 PERCENT.”

“Excellent.  Play it.”

“FUCK.  THERE ARE TWO HEADS IN HERE.  FUCKIN’ HEADS PLUGGED IN.  THERE ARE HEADS.  THE FUCKIN’ HEADS ARE TWO PROFESSORS.  THEY ARE PLUGGED INTO CABLES AND INTO SOME KIND OF MACHINE.  WHOEVER DID THIS ARE FUCKERS.

“ACE.  GLAD YOU’RE HERE.  I’VE FOUND TWO FUCKIN’ HEADS.  THEY’RE THE PROFESSORS YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.

“FUCKIN’ HEADS.  THEY’RE CONNECTED TO FUCKIN’ CABLES FROM THE SHIP.”

“Wow!”  Panman said.  “Ross Mental’s profanity sounds totally odd when spoken in monotone!”

“Indeed it does,” Peter the Ace said, “and it appears that Professors Espanys and Larberec have been decapitated.”

Panman nodded.  “Yeah.  At least they still seem to be alive, though, and plugged in to that ship for some reason!”

“Fascinating.  Why?”  Peter the Ace thought for a moment, and then spoke into the communicator.  “Mister Moth.  Join us.  Dock with our starboard port immediately.  Bring the Morbid with you.”

          “It’ll be a pleasure greater than a charged Gontarer attachment.  On my way.  Cardigan Moth out.

Peter the Ace ignored the lesser bounty hunter’s unusual analogy.  “Blenheim, set a course to follow the predicted path of the strange vessel.  Go to maximum subspace speed as soon the Horizontal Assassin and the Morbid have docked.”

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