The breeze was cool and fresh and the cloudless sky was a canopy of deep blue. It was another glorious day at the Palace of Amino.
Under the shade of a long line of tall trees, Sadie Stick walked briskly along Indulgene Avenue, the most exclusive of all the roads in the palace’s western districts. After her recent ordeal with the infection she felt as if she needed a long stroll by herself, so she had ordered THROB to take her ship, the Retarded Monk Grinder, back to its hanger bay without her. The mechanoid had also expressed his eagerness to continue his search for the origins of the comets – a crucial task, so some time alone would give him ample opportunity to do so.
As recommended by Odibil Evissam, the technician at QUACK, she wore nothing but a tight and highly translucent and porous white bodysuit. The reason, she was told, was to allow her skin to feel the fresh air – important in the final stage of the healing process. Having previously been told that her skin had already healed she had been little suspicious as to why she had been told that, but when she had seen the drooling expression on Odibil she had understood. He was obviously keen to see her in such a suit. Feeling generous, and eager to tease the technician one more time, she complied without question.
With the breeze brushing sensuously over her skin, Sadie Stick continued down the avenue. A couple of male menial workers nearby stopped pruning the bushes they were working on and gazed at the bounty hunter as she swayed closer. Their jaws slackened as their eyes began to eagerly explore her curves and bumps. Sadie Stick grinned as she walked passed. She relished all lustful attention, even from a couple of inbred, flat-headed, intensely ignorant and unevenly proportioned humanoids such as these.
Soon the tree-line avenue gave way to an open plaza lined with luxury boutiques, massage parlours and pie shops. And towering just a couple of kilometres beyond were the soaring mega-towers of the palace’s central districts. Even from this distance Sadie Stick had to look up at a steep angle to view the buildings’ pinnacles, the highest of which rose more than five-thousand metres into the air. An immense sense of pride washed over her. She knew how privileged she was to live and work as a bounty hunter in such a remarkable location. And since her recent close encounter with death she had a new appreciation for life here.
She also had a desire to celebrate. And she knew the best person to do that with. Looking up at the monolithic Central Tower she activated her communicator.
After a moment there was a loud response. “Sadie Stick? What the fuck do you want?”
“I just wondered if you would like to join me and help me celebrate my recovery from the infection? It would give me the chance to thank you for coming to my assistance.”
One of the deepest and most guttural burps Sadie Stick had ever heard emanated from her communicator. “Sure. Why the fuck not?! In fact, you could join me. I’m up at the Wonder Bar in the Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber.”
Sadie Stick smiled. “Sound’s excellent! I’m currently walking back from QUACK through the western districts. I should be there within the hour, though.”
“Walking?! What the fuck for?”
“I just felt like it. Also, one of the technicians at QUACK suggested that I get plenty of fresh air to my skin to aid the healing process.”
“Your skin already healed in that fuckin’ tank!”
“I was under that impression, too. It’s possible the technician just wanted to see me in the tight white translucent bodysuit that he recommended I wear!”
Ross Mental belched like a donkey. “Fuckin’ pervert!”
“He was, but he was sweet with it.”
“Whatever. Unless something comes up I plan to be here all fuckin’ day. Get here when you can. Ross Mental out!”
The huge Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber hummed with tension as hundreds of bounty hunters gambled away their free time.
Striding confidently passed row after row of busy roulette tables, Sadie Stick headed towards the far corner of the casino where an intertwined collection of marble sculptures marked the entrance to the Wonder Bar, one of the palace’s most respected and exclusive beer emporiums.
As she approached, Sadie Stick nodded to the two elegantly dressed doormen that stood to either side of the bar’s entrance. “Looking good, gentlemen!”
The two men bowed slowly. They spoke in unison. “We are unworthy of such praise.”
“Very true.” She said as she passed. She looked back and grinned. “But I’m sure if you worked together you could satisfy me!” She watched as the two doormen looked at each other, their eyes wide. She never tired of playing with the minds of her inferiors.
Making her way through several groups of beer-soaked bounty hunters, Sadie Stick headed for the cordoned off area next to the window.
An immaculately dressed humanoid, bald, wide, deeply scarred and wearing thick wraparound sunglasses, put his hand up. “Top-class bounty hunters only.” He said; his voice rumbling like an overloaded bone yard tank.
A voice yelled from behind him. “She’s my guest. Let the fucker in!”
The wide-bodied bouncer looked at Sadie Stick. He appeared to be in deep thought, unusual for someone without any discernable neck.
Sadie Stick smiled sweetly at him and took a slow deep breath. Her chest heaved. She knew what he was thinking. Behind his shades the bouncer’s eyes were almost certainly exploring her physique. “Please step aside.”
The wide humanoid complied. As the bounty hunter swayed passed she felt the light touch of a couple of thick fingers on her right buttock.
Turning fast, and at the same time dropping down, Sadie Stick kicked hard, burying the sole of her right shoe in the bouncer’s sternum. There was an audible crack. Despite him being almost three times her weight, the bouncer was thrust several metres across the bar. He landed, groaning, next to a group of drinkers.
Sadie Stick stood proudly. “The fondling of my body is strictly by invitation only! Is that clear?”
The wide humanoid looked at her and then nodded slowly. And then he slumped into unconsciousness.
The bounty hunter smiled. “Good!” She turned and headed over to Ross Mental who was sitting by a huge curved corner window.
On the way she passed by a couple of bald and burly third-class bounty hunters named Midas Fuzz and Cockerel Probe. Their eyes explored the wonders beneath her translucent suit. She winked at them and grinned. “Another time, boys.”
Cockerel Probe smiled and reached out as she passed.
Sadie Stick slapped his hand away and continued over to Ross Mental. She sat down opposite him and glanced briefly at the bright and jaw-dropping view of the Palace of Amino through the window, and at the giant Dick Burton Feasting Tower just 200 metres opposite.
Ross Mental burped like a pregnant terus and slammed his empty tankard down on the table. He laughed. “You’re one amazing fuckin’ tease!”
The lesser bounty hunter nodded. “I can’t help it. It comes naturally, I guess!”
Ross Mental turned and shouted. “Two fuckin’ beers. Now!”
Within seconds a waiter, gaunt and pale, appeared. He placed two new silver tankards on the table. He grabbed the three empty ones and flitted away.
Sadie Stick took a swig. Cool beer dribbled down her chin and neck. “Hmm! That’s great – smooth and subtle, with a hint of pepper and rust.”
Ross Mental took a gulp. He gasped. “It’s the best fuckin’ beer you can get here.” He grinned. “And it’s brewed to my own fuckin’ recipe!”
Sadie Stick’s eyes widened with realisation. “Wow! Gutfucker Premium? I read about this a few months ago in one of the alcohol journals! It’s supposed to be for top-class bounty hunters only, isn’t it?” She bowed slowly. “I’m honoured that you’re allowing me to experience it!”
“No problem. Just stop fuckin’ bowing!”
The lesser bounty hunter sat up straight. She took another swig. “Absolutely delicious!” She savoured the ale. “My mouth is starting to burn with spices. Incredible! And now a sweet taste, like lavender ice-cream, is fading in! How did you manage to get such an effect?”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter shook his head. “I’m not going to tell a fourth-class fuckin’ subordinate like you! Just drink the fucker and be thankful!”
Sadie Stick nodded. “Of course. I apologise.”
Ross Mental took another impressive gulp. He slammed down his tankard. “No need to apologise. I’d be fuckin’ annoyed if you hadn’t asked. I hate fuckin’ cowards and feeble types!” He picked up his tankard and raised it. “A toast to you, Miss Stick. Congratulations on recovering from one amazingly hideous and fuck-off ugly infection. Your body’s looking better than ever!”
The lesser bounty hunter laughed and slammed her tankard into her superior’s. “It is, isn’t it?!” She said through a spray of ale.
The two bounty hunters finished off the rest of their drinks in seconds.
A sudden wave of nausea, like the effect of entering subspace, passed through Sadie Stick’s body. She shuddered and then felt dizzy. She felt herself blinking rapidly for a few seconds.
Ross Mental was staring at her. “What the fuck’s wrong with you?”
The lesser bounty hunter felt a bit confused. “A peculiar feeling just passed through me.” She forced a smile. “I’m fine now, I think.”
“You’ve only had one fuckin’ drink.” Ross Mental said, frowning. “If you’re already pissed then my opinion of you has plummeted to the depths of fuckin’ hell!”
Sadie Stick shook her head vigorously. “No, not at all. I’m a seasoned binge drinker. I have three Extended Coherency awards, and eight Down-In-One commendations!”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter relaxed. “Glad to hear it!” He turned and yelled. “More beer! Twelve fuckin’ tankards!” He looked back at Sadie Stick. “Time for you to try for the most prestigious
alcoholic honour of them all.” He grinned wickedly. “My fuckin’ approval!”
Sadie Stick, still shaken by her momentary fit, nodded. She blocked thoughts of her strange spell and focused on the impressive bounty hunter sitting opposite, and the twenty-four litres of beer that had just been placed in front of her. The Wonder Bar had become unusually quiet as the dozens of other bounty hunters turned to watch her take up Ross Mental’s challenge. With over a hundred pairs of biological and synthetic eyes staring at her the bounty hunter grabbed the nearest tankard. Grinning, she began to gulp and gulp and gulp.