Ross Mental sat in the silver bowl-like aircraft with Peter the Ace and Bob the nomad as they rose silently and rapidly up and over the platform cities of the icy inner chamber. He looked over at the nomad and watched as the very tall and slim being gently manipulated the controls of the craft. The nomad had taken off his fur coat and was sitting there in nothing more than a tight-fitting green leotard.
Ross Mental spoke quietly to Peter the Ace. “Bob’s a lanky fucker, isn’t he?!”
Peter the Ace smiled. “Yes, his appendages are unusually thin for someone of his height.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter nodded. “And he looks fuckin’ gay, too!”
As he guided the aircraft ever upwards through the vast inner chamber Bob spoke gently. His voice was almost a whisper. “I am not a homosexual.”
Ross Mental looked up at the nomad. “But you fuckin’ look like one, you must admit that!”
“My attire is the uniform of an official on this ship. It indicates authority.”
“No it doesn’t! It’s nothing more than a fuckin’…”
Peter the Ace put his hand up. “Enough. We must respect the clothing choices of all respectable beings, however bizarre and effeminate they are.”
Ross Mental knew not to question his superior. “Yeah, you’re right.” He looked up at the nomad. “You just look fuckin’ queer, that’s all.”
Bob kept facing the direction of travel. “Your opinions are of no concern to me.”
Frustrated at not being able to speak his mind further, Ross Mental distracted himself by looking over the side of the craft. The plains of ice were many kilometres down now, and he could see the long thin Sadeeni ship laid across the landscape. The many groups of small platform cities that were raised high above the ice on transparent columns were now laid out below across the entire width of the huge chamber. Although he would never now say it to those cross-dressing nomads, this gargantuan ship was exceptionally impressive.
Up above, in the glare of the artificial blue sky, a grid of what looked like docking ports could be seen. There were hundreds of small round bays, many filled with aircraft similar to the one the bounty hunters and Bob were riding in. As their aircraft approached it slowed.
With incredible silence and accuracy, Bob the nomad guided their aircraft up and into one of the empty ports. The aircraft attached itself with a remarkably satisfying suction sound. The nomad stood and stepped slowly and elegantly out. He pointed. “The monitoring centre is this way. Follow me.” He strode away.
Ross Mental and Peter the Ace stepped out of the aircraft and followed Bob along a narrow gantry flanked by dozens of docking ports. As they passed the empty ports they were allowed a view straight down into the gigantic chamber below. The lack of railings would have sent vertigo-induced shivers down the spines of ordinary beings. Fortunately bounty hunters had absolutely no fear of heights. They felt quite the opposite, in fact. Ross Mental in particular loved the challenge of surviving a fall from a great height. He looked longingly down to the cities and ice below.
Peter the Ace seemed to notice his colleague’s desire. “There’ll be time for base jumping later.”
Ross Mental looked down through the next empty port. He could feel the chill wind blowing up. The icy wastes beckoned. “It would be great!” He said, fantasising. “I’d fall head first - arms at my side to maximise speed - and then melt a deep section of the ice with the fuck-off wide-beam full-energy setting of my pistol.” He tapped his holster. “I’d then slam into the slush with a huge fuck-off splash! The locals would go fuckin’ crazy!” He turned to Peter the Ace. “How’d you do it?”
Peter the Ace humoured his fellow bounty hunter. “Well, I’d head for one of the cities. I noticed that many of their buildings have class-domed ceilings and deep atriums. I’d fire a concussion grenade to shatter the glass, and then fall into the atrium. I’d then fire a grappling hook to latch onto the top of the atrium and break my fall just a metre above the base. I’d then nod politely as the surrounding nomads shower me with deep adoration and tremendous respect.”
“Fuckin’ cool!” Ross Mental exclaimed. He thought for a second. “Actually, I did something similar yesterday in Hadus!”
“Yeah! After we’d sent a little fucker off to investigate the renovations in the Government Tower we went to a top restaurant, full of bloodied food – fuckin’ delicious stuff. I can’t think of the name.”
“It wasn’t ‘Bloodbath’ by any chance, was it?”
Ross Mental nodded. “Yeah, that’s it!”
“I’ve been there several times - excellent food and service.”
“Yeah, anyway, the restaurant was attacked and destroyed. We were thrown down to the streets. I used my grappling hook to swing over and into the building opposite. I blasted through the wall into a room packed with fuckin’ addicts!”
“An interesting tale.” Peter the Ace said. He thought for a moment. “If you tell Panman that story, be gentle. That restaurant was a favourite of his. You know how attached he is to food.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter nodded. “Yeah, fuckin’ deeply attached!”
“Right, let’s concentrate on the task as hand.”
Ross Mental thought for a moment. “Oh, you mean those fuckin’ heads and that fuck-off Sadeeni fleet?”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter scowled. “I hate the fuckin’ Sadeeni!”
The two bounty hunters followed the lanky nomad through several sets of large sliding doors and onto a platform in the centre of a large spherical room. The room’s curving wall was a continuous view-screen that appeared to show a complete sensor image of the surrounding space. Two other nomads, both dressed in identical leotards to Bob’s, were sitting on stools next to a small control panel.
Peter the Ace looked around. “This is an impressive facility.” He said. He pointed at the pin-sharp image of the approaching Sadeeni fleet. “The resolution of your sensors is equally impressive.”
Bob ignored the bounty hunter’s compliments. He raised his long pale hairless arm and waved it around. “You can see that our four other ships are approaching. Convergence will take place in fifteen minutes.”
Ross Mental spoke. “They’re going to fuckin’ ram us!”
The nomad shook his head ever so slowly. “They are not. They are following a standard program that will connect them to our hull. Energy and control flow will then be merged. Essentially all five ships will become one.”
Peter the Ace was thoughtful. “And the bio-mind on this ship will be the dominant mind, I presume?”
“That is correct. The bio-mind on the ship that initiates the convergence is automatically considered dominant. The bio-minds on the other ships will obey this ship’s bio-mind without question.”
“So essentially the bio-minds will become a single controlling entity?”
“That is correct.”
Peter the Ace entered a deep state of thought. “Other than a common bio-mind, what is the advantage of merging your ships? What would the Sadeeni be able to do?”
Bob was silent.
Peter the Ace became deadly serious. “I am here to help you. Don’t hide important information from me.”
Ross Mental nodded. “Yeah, come on! Fuckin’ tell us!”
Bob spoke. “Despite the size and sophistication of our ships, they do not have subspace capability. We are content to roam this void and therefore deemed it an unnecessary function.”
Ross Mental was incensed. “What a fuckin’ useless decision that was! What if you need to escape something? What if there’s a fuckin’…”
Peter the Ace silenced his companion’s rant.
The nomad continued. “But, if the need arises all five of our ships can converge. This convergence allows the generation of a subspace field that enables all converged ships to travel together at subspace velocities.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “I see. That’s a good reason why the Sadeeni would want all your ships to join up. They are obviously going to send your ships somewhere. I cannot see the point of that, though. Is there any other reason why the Sadeeni would want all your ships to join up?”
Bob was silent once more.
Ross Mental shouted; his legendary impatience obvious in his tone. “Fuckin’ spit it out!”
Bob spoke softly. “Individually each of our ships only has a defensive capability. Our energy shielding is significant and can repel all anticipated methods of attacks. We are content to roam this void and therefore we never conceived of a need for offensive weaponry on each ship.”
“You’re fuckin’ mad! And your defences didn’t stop that fuckin’ pointed ship from skewering you, did it?!”
“An attack of that form was not anticipated.”
Ross Mental was about to scold the nomad when Peter the Ace put his hand up. The foul-mouthed bounty knew it was time to shut up.
Peter the Ace spoke. “Please continue, Bob.”
The nomad continued. “Although our individual ships have no offensive ability, when all our ships have converged the combined energy shielding and subspace ability can be use to generate a brief directional ultra-space gravistatic pulse.”
Peter the Ace’s eyes widened. “Really? Hmm… That’s impressive. Most impressive, in fact. Such a weapon is still only at the theoretical stage of development on even the most advanced of the central worlds. Even the Palace of Amino Weapons Institute has yet to create a practical working system.” The bounty hunter thought for a moment. “With a high enough magnitude such a pulse could be devastating. A magnitude six pulse could, in theory, shatter and disperse an entire planet and its moons.”
Ross Mental could not wait. “Bob, what’s your fuckin’ magnitude?”
Ross Mental turned to his fellow bounty hunter. “Fuckin’ double!”
“It’s more than that.” Peter the Ace said. “The scale is exponential.”
“The pulse from the nomads’ ships could shatter an area more than a light-year across.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter turned to the nomad. He grinned. “That’s fuckin’ amazing! You’re not as fuckin’ stupid as I thought!”
Peter the Ace was as serious as he ever had been. “The situation is grave.” He looked up at Bob. “It is extremely likely that the Sadeeni are going to use your ships as a weapon against the central worlds. I cannot allow that to happen.”
Bob looked down at the bounty hunter, his head cocked to one side. “We do not wish for out ships to be used in such a manner. We are pacifists, and our ships contain the last survivors of our planet.”
“Good. Then you will agree that we must regain control of your ships as soon as possible.”
“By any means possible.”
Bob was silent.
Peter the Ace smiled. “I’ll take that as a yes!”