The bright frigid horizon of the planet Lodi filled the main view-screen as the Blenheim entered a very low orbit just a few kilometres above the planet’s atmosphere.
Panman sat at his console on the bridge of the Blenheim and looked at the sensor information that accompanied the image of Lodi on the main view-screen. “There’s appears to be nothing in orbit at all. It looks like they’re at least a century away from developing a space launch facility. Actually, there’s not even any air traffic. The civilization on that world is definitely primitive!”
Peter the Ace was reclining in his sumptuous command chair. He sipped at a dark frothy cocktail. “Indeed. And the massive infection that’s ravaging their population will set them back centuries, and may even prevent further technological development happening altogether.”
Panman examined the sensor data further. “Most of the population is in cities located in the equatorial regions, and the comet hit right between two of the largest ones.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “That is where the infection will be concentrated.” He directed his voice to the ship. “Blenheim, alter our orbit so that we pass directly over the comet impact site.”
“ORBIT TRAJECTORY MODIFICATION IN PROGRESS...”
With a noticeable change in pitch the ships engines flared to life.
“NEW ORBITAL TRAJECTORY ACHIEVED.”
“How long until we pass over the impact site?”
“TWO MINUTES AND THIRTY-THREE SECONDS.”
Panman thought for a moment, and then activated the communicator.
A voice, devoid of feeling and as cold and monotonous as a full-length fuuge-stuuge opera, answered. “Yes?”
Panman frowned. “I was looking for Jemima Murma. I need a snack; something dripping in hot oil.”
“Jemima Murma is in her quarters exfoliating her skin to maintain its youthful appearance.”
“She ordered me to monitor communications for culinary requests.”
“Great! Here’s one for you. Deep-fry some soft cheese and get it up here with a suitably sweet and tangy dip within two minutes. And bring up a beer, too. The best you can find.”
“Two minutes is insufficient time to…”
“No excuses! Just get on with it!”
There was a moment’s pause, and then the cyborg answered. “I obey.”
The image of Lodi on the main view-screen was darkening as they approached the night side of the planet.
Peter the Ace was looking at his screens. “I’m already getting sensor information on the area around the impact site.” He operated some controls and sent the information to the main view-screen. The impact site, enhanced to stand out from the surrounding darkness, could clearly be seen. A crater, more than a kilometre wide, nestled closely to a large, and now devastated, city. At the centre of the crater a metallic object was marked in shades of red.
Panman pointed. “irrevium-iron! The same as in the comet Sadie Stick found!”
Peter the Ace nodded. He pointed at a series of vehicle tracks leading up to the object. “It looks like the locals were curious and opened it up. Just as its creator hoped, I should think!”
The information on the view-screen was updated. The extent of infection was shown.
“Whoa!” Panman exclaimed. “More than three million infected!”
Peter the Ace operated his console. More information appeared on the screen. A shaded section indicated the area where the infection had taken hold. “It seems most of the infected are congregating in the vicinity of the crater. That’s rather strange.”
Panman agreed. “It is. You’d think they’d be staggering around all over the place.”
Peter the Ace was thoughtful. “I wonder what it is that sustains them in such an area of devastation? What do they eat?”
“We should go down and take a closer look.”
“Indeed we should.” Peter the Ace said. He thought for a moment. “As this is a pre-subspace culture we should avoid contact with the locals as much as possible.” He examined a map of the area around the infected region.
There was a whirr of servos and the resonating clunk of plate-like metallic feet as Justin entered the bridge. He stomped over to Panman and placed a tray on the table next to him. “Deep-fried soft cheese, gooseberry sauce and a bottle of Shym-Sham’s Personal Best.”
The bounty hunter looked down at the food and took in a deep breath. “Smells fantastic!” He grabbed a chunk of deep-fried cheese, dipped it in the sauce and the stuffed it hard into his mouth. He chewed like a time-lapsed cow. “Tastes even better!” After swallowing he looked up at the cyborg. “Great work, and within the time limit! Don’t be so negative next time.”
Justin looked down at the bounty hunter, his eyes glowed a deep shade of crimson. “I was not being negative. I was stating that there was insufficient time to prepare the required food to the highest standard possible. I was not stating that…”
Peter the Ace interrupted. “We don’t have time for this, Justin.” He said sternly. “It should be obvious that we are busy. Go back to your position the galley.”
They cyborg’s compliance software gave him no choice but to carry out that order. “I obey.” He turned and stomped like a pile-driver off the bridge.
Panman took a swig of his beer and shook his head. “Justin’s not what he used to be.”
Peter the Ace shook his head. “No, he’s not. But he has spent almost two decades without a body as an exhibit in the Mad Animated Head Gallery. He needs more time to adjust to life on the outside, I think.”
Panman nodded, his chin coated in melted cheese.
Peter the Ace pointed at the main view-screen. “Back to business.” The Blenheim was now right over the impact site and offering a much higher-resolution view of the surrounding area. The bounty hunter sent more information to the screen. “The mountainous area about six kilometres south of the crater looks promising. There are just a couple of tiny settlements there overlooking the city. Beyond that the area is too inhospitable to inhabit – just deep snow-filled gorges and glaciers. We can land there unseen.”
Panman grinned, gooseberry seeds clinging to his teeth. “Cool! We can use our snowboards again!”
Peter the Ace smiled. “Excellent idea!” He operated his console. “I feel like doing this manually!” Grabbling hold of the flight stick that had just appeared out of his console, he pushed forwards. The Blenheim pitched down and with a barely perceptible rumble entered the frigid atmosphere of Lodi.