With skill never before witnessed in the material universe, Peter the Ace guided
the Blenheim out of Enchantia’s upper atmosphere and into the vacuous
void known as space. The large forward view-screen showed the stars ahead
and the faint scarlet gas clouds of the nebula that surrounded Enchantia’s
system, hiding it from the intrusive eyes and scanners of the surrounding
Panman, as usual, was seated at his weapons console. He examined his sensor
screens. “Whoa! There she is! The Slaying Mantis! Ten-thousand kilometres
“Excellent.” Peter the Ace said. “Calculate the approach
Panman operated a few controls with breathtaking dexterity. “Approach
vector calculated. Slaying Mantis Approach Control confirms the vector.
We have permission to dock. Not that we need it of course!”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Of course.” With even more breathtaking
dexterity, he operated some controls on his own console. The Blenheim switched
to auto-pilot. The hero of infinity reclined his command chair and relaxed.
“It’s nice to fly on manual, but it’s even nicer to let
the ship do all the work!”
“Too right!” Panman agreed. “But manual control is a necessary
burden for us. Our reaction times and accuracy are far greater than even
the most powerful of on-board computers. The missions that we undertake
are way too complex and hazardous for machines to handle.”
“Indeed. The Slaying Mantis should bring machines one step closer
to us, though.”
“Yeah, but as there are billions of steps it will still be no match
for our adeptness, cunning, and intellect.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Those are wise words.”
“They are. I guess that’s why we are taking it on its first
test flight. Talking of the Slaying Mantis, I think we should have a look
at the specs for it.”
“Good idea, it’s about time that we did that. Put them on the
Panman displayed a side-on cut-away view of the Slaying Mantis, complete
with all the technical information you could ever want. “Wow!”
he exclaimed. “That is one mean mother of a vessel!”
The Slaying Mantis was indeed an impressive piece of engineering. Over three
kilometres in length, its elongated shape, uneven curves, and scabrous lines
were meticulously designed to send a jolt of fear shuddering through the
hearts and livers of anyone who opposed its power. On its seventy-three
decks it could accommodate a crew of four-thousand-three-hundred and four
people, one-thousand of which would be bounty hunters. The rest, of course,
would staff the restaurants, casinos, bars, holo-cinemas, health spas, malls,
holo-video game suites, and salons needed to keep the bounty hunters in
the style they were accustomed to.
Even more impressive were the main engines. Eight networked proto-jet graviton
generators combined with four sub-version compressors enabled the ship to
travel at sub-space-8.6, even faster than the Blenheim, currently the fastest
ship in the bounty hunter fleet.
Defence wise, the hull of the Slaying Mantis was covered in two metre thick
hedral-quinteranium armour plating, a super-tough alloy even stronger than
the normal quinteranium used on other bounty hunter craft. A repulsion field
was also available which, when activated, surrounded the Slaying Mantis
with an invisible sphere of energy able to absorb most, if not all energy
And what an offensive system! Eighty-four neo-star pulse cannons littered
the hull, each able to operate independently or in co-operation for flexible
devastation creation. Six forward and aft macro-shaft missile launchers
covered long range programmable destruction needs. Last resort weapons systems
included B.R.U.T.A.L. missiles, flesh warpers and strippers (continental
scale), and, of course, the P.E.N.E.T.R.A.T.E. The largest and most annoying
weapon was the A.C.H.E. (Abdominal Cave-in and Head Eruption) pulse emitter.
This device, situated at the bottom end of a kilometre long pole connected
to the underside of the ship, caused all biological beings caught in its
path to suffer cramps and constipation in a most unbearable way. This, combined
with a headache of biblical proportions, incapacitated all but the most
moronic of creatures. Without immediate treatment, any individual unlucky
enough to experience the effects of this unique and remarkable weapon would
eventually die in ghastly torment as the mass and density of their abdomen’s
contents generated such a strong gravitational field that their lower body
was sucked into a ball the size of a pea. A second later, their heads would
explode due to a catastrophic backwash of negative gravitons discharged
from the abdominal singularity.
Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “That is a cool ship!”
Panman’s mouth was hung open with astonishment. “Look at that!”
he said, pointing.”
“Almost all of deck forty is a casino!”
A bleep from his console interrupted Panman. He looked down. “We’re
on final approach!”
The main view-screen switched back to a forward view. The magnificent sight
of the Slaying Mantis filled the screen. It had yet to receive its black
stealth colouring and glimmered bright silver in the sunlight. The two bounty
hunters watched the screen in silence as the Blenheim flew automatically
under the huge new ship and up to a position at the centre of its underside.
In a perfectly smooth manner, the Blenheim thrusted gently upwards and into
a large indentation - a perfect fit. The Slaying Mantis had a special custom-built
docking area just for the Blenheim, the two most important ships in the
fleet must be able to join and become at one with each other whenever necessary.
A satisfying clank, followed by a short hiss signified that the docking
clamps had been engaged and the pressure equalised. Peter the Ace and Panman
left the bridge and entered the Blenheim’s turbo-lift. Through a special
link, the lift sped the two bounty hunters up into the confines of the Slaying
The turbo-lift spoke. “WELCOME ABOARD THE SLAYING MANTIS, THE FIRST
INFERNO-CLASS VESSEL AND THE LARGEST AND MOST ADVANCED BOUNTY HUNTER STARSHIP
“Thanks.” Panman said.
“PLEASE STATE DESTINATION.”
“THAT DESTINATION IS RESTRICTED TO AUTHORISED PERSONNEL ONLY. PLEASE
PROVIDE EVIDENCE OF AUTHORISATION.”
Peter the Ace spoke. “I am Peter the Ace, one of only two first-class
bounty hunters in existence.”
Panman spoke. “And I’m Panman, the other one!”
“Of course it is.” Peter the Ace said sternly. “Panman
and I require unrestricted access to anything and everything concerning
the Palace of Amino. Therefore, we should not have to provide evidence of
authorisation for any part of this ship. I order you never to ask us for
evidence of authorisation again and that you allow us to go anywhere on
this ship at any time. Is that understood?”
“I UNDERSTAND. I WILL OBEY.”
“Glad to hear it.”
Panman was, as always, impressed by his colleague’s ability to assert
his supreme authority. “Cool stuff, Ace.”
The two titanic heroes watched the lift’s deck-counter quickly count
down from seventy-three as they hurtled up through the remarkable ship.
In less than half a minute they had reached their destination. The lift
doors opened. There was a huge cheer of adoration and respect. The entire
bridge crew - twenty fourth-class bounty hunters - greeted their idols as
they walked out of the lift.
“First-class bounty hunters on the bridge!” shouted one of them.
The others bowed submissively.
Peter the Ace walked over to the one who had spoken. “At ease.”
The bounty hunter relaxed.
“What is your name and rank?” Peter the Ace asked.
The bounty hunter failed to hide his annoyance at being unrecognised. “Why,
it’s me, Farqhar Alqurseltsa, sir. I lead the tow-cable attack on
the Mechanism! I was promoted to third-class bounty hunter and honoured
for my daring deeds!”
“Oh yes. I seem to have a vague recollection of you. You still haven’t
told me your rank!”
Farqhar Alqurseltsa battled to control his anger. “I will be your
first officer on this test flight.”
Peter the Ace nodded then turned to the rest of the bounty hunters. They
were an even mix of males and females of various shapes and sizes, and all
“Return to your positions.”
The bounty hunters obeyed and spread out across the bridge’s vast
Peter the Ace took a few moments to look around. The bridge was indeed vast.
It was spread over three sub-levels and was over forty metres in length
with a lovely high renaissance ceiling. Thick heavy duty carpet covered
the floor, walls, and ceiling displaying the gold and blue logo of the Palace
of Amino. Workstations and sumptuous chairs were spread across all the levels
and floor-space. The most impressive feature of all was at the front. There,
a ten metre high, thirty metre wide ultra-high resolution comb-filtered
1000 Hz view-screen covered the entire wall.
Peter the Ace smiled broadly. He was going to enjoy pushing this ship to
its limits. On the top sub-level were two chairs. They were the largest
and most luxurious chairs on the bridge. The first class bounty hunter walked
over to one of them and sat down. The whole bridge was laid out before him.
He also noticed that he was in the best position to experience the bridge’s
surround sound system when it was activated.
Panman had been noticeably absent. Peter the Ace looked round. He spotted
Panman at the back of the bridge. He was punching a vending machine and
cursing audibly. “What’s up, Panman?”
Panman looked at him, annoyed. “This drinks machine is not working!”
Farqhar Alqurseltsa approached. “I’m sorry, sir. It has not
been fully installed yet. It was not deemed important for the test flight!”
“Not deemed important?!” Panman shouted angrily. “Who
the hell would say that?”
Farqhar Alqurseltsa smiled. “The Superior Beings.”
Panman instantly calmed down. “I will not question their wisdom.”
Peter the Ace agreed. “Nor will I.”
Panman took his place in the large seat next to Peter the Ace’s. “I
guess I can make do without one for the duration of this test flight. How
long is this flight. By the way?”
“Two months.” Peter the Ace replied.
A partially clothed female, dark and slender, walked up to Panman. She bowed.
“I noticed your distress over the lack of a functioning food and drinks
dispenser on the bridge. I would be honoured if you would allow me to fetch
you the beverage and snack of your choice from one of the restaurants below.”
Panman smiled. “Excellent! Get me a kiwi milkshake and four bowls
of treacle sponge pudding. Ace, you want anything?”
“Just a bunch of bananas for me.”
The girl bowed once again, and then left the bridge.
Peter the Ace stood. “Right.” he said with masterful authority.
“Let’s get going. Prepare for departure, everyone. Farqhar,
show me our proposed route on the main view-screen.”
Farqhar Alqurseltsa, who was seated at his console on the level below, tapped
at his controls. The main view-screen burst to life. A map showing the proposed
course and the various points at which tests were to be performed was displayed.
“As you can see, we first test navigation and engines by travelling
at maximum velocity through several planetary systems while making preposterous
course changes. Then we test the energy sphere and armour by deliberately
ramming our way through an awfully dense asteroid belt. Next we test our
cannons and missiles on passing meteors and hopefully a few unsuspecting
smugglers. After that we test some of the last resort weapons by wiping
out the insignificant life forms on the planet Wirz. And finally, while
returning home, we test the casinos, restaurants, and bars for quality,
cleanliness, and efficiency.”
“That sounds cool!” Panman said usefully.
“Excellent.” Peter the Ace said. “Who’s our pilot?”
“Jim Jam, sir.” Farqhar Alqurseltsa said. He pointed to a short
stocky dude who was sitting at the front position on the lowest level. He
was clothed in spiked leather and wore his blond hair as a heavily gelled
cone that extended almost half a metre above his head.
“Jim Jam,” Peter the Ace said. “Set course 345-043-098
- maximum velocity.”
Jim Jam replied in the deepest voice ever heard. “Course and velocity
Jim Jam slammed his fist down on the large red square on his console. A
deep rumble, barely noticeable, filled the bridge.
For the first time ever, the Slaying Mantis entered the distorted realm
Panman was impressed. “That was so smooth and quiet!” he said.
Farqhar Alqurseltsa turned and explained why. “This ship has the most
comprehensive system of motion dampers and sound insulators in the fleet.
Only the lowest levels don’t have them.”
“They contain the living quarters of cleaners, caterers, shop assistants,
and software consultants. Their level of social and job status is undeserving
of such luxuries.”
“Too right.” Panman said, laughing. “I guess it’s
really noisy and unsteady down there now.”
“It is.” the third-class bounty hunter agreed. “The simulations
predicted that as soon as we started moving, anyone on those decks would
begin a jolly session of vomiting which would continue until we came to
a full stop.”
Panman laughed even more. “They’ll be worn-out!”
The Slaying Mantis continued its journey through sub-space. The first
day of its test flight had begun.