Peter the Ace stepped off the Blenheim’s forward exit ramp and onto the smooth deep blue surface of one of the giant Nomad ship’s hanger bays. The Blenheim, itself a large and impressively muscular ship, was a mere dwarf in comparison to the scale of the bay, which stretched for almost a kilometre in all directions. Vast patterns of pale swirls covered the bay’s walls. The swirls rose to a central point at the centre of the distant ceiling. The bounty hunter smiled. Only an advanced culture of the highest intellect would think to adorn a hanger bay in such a fashion. For once he would be dealing with beings on his own level; a rarity in a galaxy as depraved and sordid as the Milky Way.
Peter the Ace looked towards the back wall of the bay. The wall was completely transparent and behind it was a breathtakingly vast inner chamber containing what looked like small spire-filled cities. The cities, on platforms of varying heights, seemed to almost float above what looked like an immense undulating plain of snow and ice. It was awe-inspiring to say the least.
Something was approaching fast over the frigid plain.
Peter the Ace’s communicator activated. It was Panman. “Ace, are you sure you don’t want some backup out there?”
“Not at all. Remember, nomads such as these are approaching a benevolent level of civilisation that exceeds all known planet-based societies. They will deal with news of even the most precarious and deadly situations in a measured and considered manner. It will be very easy for me to relate to them.”
Beyond the huge window three small bowl-like silver aircraft could now be seen. As they reached the transparent wall a section of the wall opened. The aircraft, in a tight formation, flew fast and silently through the opening and across the blue surface of the hanger bay. Three beings, one in each aircraft, could be seen. Slowing rapidly the three aircraft descended to the floor and landed just 20 metres in front of the Blenheim.
The being in the leading aircraft stood up, unfolding his slender and incredibly tall physique. His hairless skin was pale – almost pure white – and he was dressed in what appeared to be a tight-fitting green leotard. Using legs that must have been at least two metres long, he stepped down to the hanger bay floor and walked with slow elegance towards Peter the Ace. The two other beings remained in their aircraft, watching intently.
The being stopped just a couple of paces in front of Peter the Ace. He looked down and spoke softly, his chinless lower jaw barely moving. “You come at a time of upheaval. What is it that you want?”
The bounty hunter answered. “I want to help you. I am…”
“Peter the Ace,” the being said, interrupting, “a first-class bounty of fluid thought and extraordinary vigour.”
Peter the Ace grinned. “You know about me, excellent! And who are you?”
“I am Bob.”
The bounty hunter waited for more information. None came. “I see… Well, as I said, Bob, I’m here to help you with your problem. I’m sure you’re aware that at this very moment there’s a very long and pointed spacecraft embedded deep into your fine ship.”
“I am. A security team is dealing with the issue. It is of no concern to you.”
“I’m afraid it is of concern to me. That craft contains the disembodied heads of two professors. It is my mission to rescue them. I will do all I can to ensure my mission is a success.”
Bob’s expression lacked any real emotion. “If we retrieve any disembodied heads from the spacecraft we will hand them over to you.” The being turned and started to walk away.
“It is not that simple. You and your companion ships, of which there are four I believe, are in great danger.”
Bob turned back and looked down at Peter the Ace. “Explain.”
“Like all nomadic ships, yours are controlled by artificial bio-minds, are they not?”
“They link together using permanent ultraspace links, do they not?”
Peter the Ace’s expression changed to become the epitome of seriousness. “The spacecraft embedded in your ship is of Sadeeni design. I believe the Sadeeni are attempting to take control of your ships. Because the artificial bio-mind that runs your ship is immune from infiltration by conventional artificial intelligences, the Sadeeni have created their own bio-mind – one created using pure and highly intellectual biological components.”
Bob spoke softly. “And the two disembodied heads you mentioned are those biological components?”
“Indeed they are.”
Bob looked up for a second as if in deep thought. He looked down again. “What you say is plausible.” A light flickered on a small device on the side of Bob’s head. He closed his eyes for a moment and cocked his head to one side. He opened his eyes again. “There are 2,654 Sadeeni spacecraft approaching this location.”
Peter the Ace was very surprised. “Are you sure?”
“The information is accurate.”
The bounty hunter operated his communicator. “Panman, did you hear that?”
“I did. I cannot confirm it, though. The energy shielding on this nomad ship is too strong. There’s no way I can use our sensors.”
Peter the Ace spoke to Bob. “Can you lower the shielding around this area? It would be useful if we can scan for the Sadeeni ships.”
Bob nodded. He raised a device mounted on his wrist to his mouth. He spoke into it quietly and then spoke to the bounty hunter. “It is done.”
Peter the Ace nodded. He spoke into his communicator. “Panman, you should now be able to…”
“Whoa! That nomad dude is right!”
“This is unprecedented, and very grave. There has never been such a large Sadeeni presence in this galaxy before, at least as far as we know.”
“Yeah, this is serious! It looks like Cardigan Moth is in serious trouble, too. There are dozens of Sadeeni ships after him. His ship’s suffered a lot of damage.”
Peter the Ace Looked at Bob. “Our ship must leave to help our colleague. I will stay and help you.”
Bob nodded. He raised his wrist-mounted device and spoke into it once again. He looked down. “Your ship may leave.”
“Panman,” Peter the Ace said, “go and do what you can for Mister Moth.”
“I will. Ross Mental’s ship is still docked with us. I’ll leave it here. It’ll just affect manoeuvrability if I don’t.”
“Good idea. And send a message to the palace. Some backup would be useful.”
“No problem. Panman out.”
A deep whirring sound was heard as Ross Mental’s ship, the Morbid - attached to the side of the Blenheim - extended its thick insect-like legs. With a thud the ship dropped a metre onto the blue floor of the vast hanger bay. The slow echo of the thud faded.
With a thunderous rumble the Blenheim rose rapidly high into the air, turning as it did so. It sped away towards the now opening hanger bay door.
Peter the Ace watched with pride as the dark muscular mass of his ship shrank into the distance, and then he turned to face the nomad. “I must warn you that a bounty hunter was onboard that Sadeeni ship that penetrated your ship. He’s a particularly ferocious and offensive bounty hunter. He will be unaware of his location. Any of your crew that encounter him may be in serious danger.”
Bob responded. “If the bounty hunter you speak of is known as Ross Mental, then we have already detected his presence. We are aware of his abilities and will take appropriate precautions.”
“Excellent!” Peter the Ace said, smiling. “I’ll contact him now. If I explain things your people will not be…”
“You cannot speak to him. He is inside the dome containing our bio-mind. You communicator signal cannot penetrate its shell.”
“Then you had better take me there immediately.”
The nomad nodded. “Come with me.”