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Book: The Face of Satan's Bog
Chapter 6: Heavily Gelled Cone

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 sectors.

Panman, as usual, was seated at his weapons console. He examined his sensor screens. “Whoa! There she is! The Slaying Mantis! Ten-thousand kilometres and closing.”

“Excellent.” Peter the Ace said. “Calculate the approach vector.”

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 main view-screen.”

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 weapons encountered.

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.”

“What?”

“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 Mantis.

The turbo-lift spoke. “WELCOME ABOARD THE SLAYING MANTIS, THE FIRST INFERNO-CLASS VESSEL AND THE LARGEST AND MOST ADVANCED BOUNTY HUNTER STARSHIP EVER CONSTRUCTED.”

“Thanks.” Panman said.

“PLEASE STATE DESTINATION.”

“The bridge.”

“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!”

“AUTHORISATION GRANTED.”

“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 well-toned.

“Return to your positions.”

The bounty hunters obeyed and spread out across the bridge’s vast split-level floor.

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.

“Doh!”

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 set, sir.”

“Go!”

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 of sub-space.

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.”

“Why not?”

“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.

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