Commander Pepe’s face filled the main view-screen on the Blenheim’s bridge.
Panman had updated the commander on current events. “Now that Cardigan Moth has patched up his ship we are heading back to the point where the nomad ships left subspace. If I’m lucky we’ll get there before the Sadeeni fleet.”
The commander’s mass of chins undulated like a stack of half-inflated inner tubes. “That’s good. Whatever Peter the Ace is planning I’m sure he’d appreciate some help.”
“Can we expect any more bounty hunter ships to arrive?”
“Indeed you can! As Ross Mental requested, a nearby bounty hunter was sent to track the Sadeeni vessel that left Repugnius. She’s an eighth-class bounty hunter named Mistress Beast Feaster. Her arrival in the Slimyebba Void should be imminent. I’m not sure how much help she could be, though. She’s only just completed her seventh and most challenging solo mission, and that involved nothing more than the slaughter of a rampaging gang of six psychotic patients on the asylum moon of Y’zarc.”
“Don’t be too hard on her, commander. I know that asylum, and the inmates are some of the most violently unpleasant creatures known. They stink, too, and often consume and vomit their own excrement just to pass the time.”
Commander Pepe nodded. His chins undulated. “You’re right, as always. I just remembered that eight-class bounty hunters don’t qualify for nausea-suppression implants. Her mission at the asylum must have been much tougher than I realised!”
“Too right! Coming here will be a real challenge for her, but she sounds ready for it.”
“Indeed she does. Four other bounty hunter ships should also join you in the next few hours.”
Panman nodded. “Great! I’ll watch out for Mistress Beast Feaster and the others. Knowing Ace, though, he’ll have things sorted by then! They’ll have nothing to do but twiddle their thumbs!”
The commander nodded. “As always you are both consummate professionals with the very highest levels of wisdom and talent possible.” He gave a shallow bow. “The opulence and decadence of the central worlds is depending on you, and at times like these, when the fabric of extravagant civilisation is facing brutal violation and decimation, there is no one better to depend on.”
Panman grinned. “Thanks! I’ll let you know how we get on. Panman out.” He closed the communications channel and then spoke to the ship. “Blenheim, how long until we reach the nomad ships?”
“ARRIVAL AT THE NOMAD SHIPS WILL BE IN THREE MINUTES AND FOURTEEN SECONDS.”
Cardigan Moth entered the bridge. His blue velvet cloak flapped over his slender frame as he approached Panman. “Your assistant, Jemima, is a delightful woman.”
Panman turned and looked at the lesser bounty hunter. “She is!”
“I particularly enjoyed the muffins she just served me. And the shape and tone of her breasts is most appealing. I could see plenty of detail through the thin layers of her delicate upper garments.”
“No one would argue with you there!” Panman said, turning back to his console. “You’d better get down to your ship. Well be arriving in less than three minutes.”
Cardigan Moth nodded. “On my way.” He turned and strode confidently off the bridge.
With the serenity and elegance of a frictionless sleeper mole, the Blenheim emerged from subspace. The main view-screen now showed the five joined nomad ships less than a million kilometres ahead. They were barely visible in the gloom of the void. The ships were surrounded by an immense cloud of faint debris.
Panman read the information on his sensor screens. The debris was the remains of hundreds of Sadeeni ships, with some nomad ship hull plating thrown in. Panman smiled; the mass destruction of malicious alien vessels was a sight that sent shivers of joy down his reinforced spine. And the thought of even more destruction that was sure to come increased those shivers to absurd proportions. The bounty hunter laughed loudly.
An alarm sounded. The ship spoke. “WARNING: 2,103 SADEENI VESSELS ARE EMERGING FROM SUBSPACE.”
Panman’s sensor screens filled with objects. The main view-screen showed hundreds of dark ships popping back into space. And then the image ahead went almost completely black. A ship, gargantuan in scale, appeared less than a fifty kilometres away. It was the flagship Sadeeni ship.
Panman slammed his hand onto his communications panel. “Mister Moth! We’re surrounded by Sadeeni vessels! Detach now. Get to the central nomad ship as soon as you can, anyway you can!”
“I see them. Detaching now.”
The Blenheim spoke. “ALERT: POWER SURGE DETECTED ON THE SADEENI VESSEL DEAD AHEAD. WEAPONS LOCK DETECTED.”
Panman manipulated his controls. With incredible nimbleness the Blenheim arced up, rotating as it did so. “Maximum shields!”
“SHIELDS NOW AT MAXIMUM STRENGTH.”
The ship shuddered violently as several bursts of energy hit.
“WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH NOW 47 PERCENT.”
Panman accelerated the Blenheim directly towards the side of the giant Sadeeni ship. “All disruptors – ten second continuous burst across that ships hull – anywhere you like. Now!”
Immediately fourteen blinding beams reached out from the Blenheim’s disruptor banks and cut deep into the massive Sadeeni ship’s hull. Globules of melted hull-plating erupted into space.
Panman guided the Blenheim fast and low over the giant Sadeeni ship’s hull, banking and rolling to avoid masts and antennae. He chuckled as he operated his weapons console. There was a dull but rapid series of thuds from behind. His weapons screen indicated that ten fusion charges had left their launch bays. Pulling up, he guided the ship back in the direction of the nomad ships.
“ALERT: 16 SADEENI VESSELS ARE IN PERSUIT.”
Panman looked at the sensor screen. The course of the ships would take them close to the top side of the Sadeeni flagship. He smiled.
The fusion charges detonated.
In a cloud of blinding nuclear fire the smaller Sadeeni ships were vaporised. The topside of the giant Sadeeni ship began to melt as the irradiated firestorm swept across it.
The image on the main view-screen now showed the Sadeeni fleet lit up by the nuclear blasts. The bounty hunter shouted with glee. “Stupid Sadeeni! You didn’t see that one coming did you!” He activated the communicator. “I see a clear run to the nomad ship – heading there now. How’s it going, Mister Moth?”
“My ship has suffered severely, but I too see a clear path. I’ll be at the nomad ship in a few minutes.”
“Cool! Those Sadeeni ships are armed to the teeth. Detonate what you can in your wake to avoid getting hit.”
“No problem. Fusion charges, HEATs and ripplers primed and launching.”
As he programmed his own weapons console, Panman watched his sensor screen with delight as Cardigan Moth’s ship, the Horizontal Assassin, released dozens of potent and massively destructive weapons. With the touch of a large red button the Blenheim followed suit.
Trailing a highly distracting fireworks display of apocalyptic proportions, both bounty hunter ships headed towards the nomad ships. Clouded by a radioactive fire wall, the Sadeeni ships seemed unable to hit them; beams of energy fizzed by, very wide of their intended targets.
The communicator activated. The source of the call was the central nomad ship. “Excellent, Panman! That’s a stunning show you’re putting on!
Panman replied. “Thanks, Ace! It’s good to know we have an audience! We can’t keep it up for long, though. We need to get inside the nomad ship as soon as possible.”
“I know. The hanger bay we landed in before is opening. As soon as you get here the ship’s shield will open just long enough for you to get through.”
“Nice! We’ll be going at a hell of a speed. It’ll be awesome!”
“Looking forward to watching. Peter the Ace out.”
Panman spoke to Cardigan Moth. “Did you hear that?”
The lesser bounty hunter replied. “I did.”
“Good. Follow me in. Don’t decelerate until you’re in the hanger bay. That ship’s shield will only open up for a second – no more.”
The main view-screen was now filled with the image of the five huge nomad ships, illuminated by the constant detonation of weapons in the Blenheim’s wake. At the side of the central ship an expanding circle of light could be seen. It was the entrance to the giant hanger bay.
The Blenheim spoke. “WARNING: ANOTHER VESSEL HAS EMERGED FROM SUBSPACE 16,403 KILOMETRES FROM THIS LOCATION.”
“THE VESSEL IS A BOUNTY HUNTER SHIP NAMED THE PIG.”
Panman activated his communicator. “Mistress Beast Feaster! Well done, you’ve arrived at an extremely exciting moment!”
The reply was swift. “Panman! It’s an honour beyond belief to be here! It’s been my dream to aid you and Peter the Ace on…
“No time for that now! Hide yourself in a cloud of nukes and follow us on our course towards the central nomad ship.”
Panman altered the course of the Blenheim slightly to avoid the crumpled remains of a small Sadeeni cruiser, and then set it on a direct course for the hanger bay. He could not help laughing out loud. “This is going to rule!”