Three hours of sustained beer drinking with Ross Mental had left Sadie Stick woozy and slightly dishevelled, but also incredibly exhilarated.
But now, suddenly, a deep thought burst out from her subconscious. A sense of urgency momentarily overwhelmed her, and then a brief but intense wave of nausea tore at her stomach. She gasped, and then felt compelled to leave. “Thank you for the experience. It has been a real honour. But I must go now.”
Ross Mental gulped down a few mouthfuls of yet another tankard. He slammed it down onto the table, splashing beer in all directions. “Fuckin’ lightweight!”
Sadie Stick smiled and got slowly to her feet. “I think I’ve proven otherwise.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter thought for a moment, and then nodded. “Actually, you did a lot better than I thought you would.” He frowned. “But not as good as I’d hoped. We must do this again, and fuckin’ soon!”
“Indeed we must” Sadie Stick said, turning. Aware of a multitude of ravenous eyes probing her curves and bumps the bounty hunter strode, in not quite a straight line, out of the Wonder Bar and into the expanse of the Admiral Torpedo Gambling Chamber. Ignoring yet more ravenous eyes the bounty hunter followed another unexpected burst of nauseating thought and activated her communicator. She made a call.
The answer was swift. “Amino Battle Command Internal Communications Officer Porcia Prosperoso speaking.”
“This is Sadie Stick. I wish to speak with Commander Pepe.”
“Only third-class bounty hunters and above may speak directly to Commander Pepe.”
“Mention my name. He’ll take the call.”
“You are fourth-class only, miss Stick. You will need to go through one of the commander’s administrative staff. I’ll transfer you to…”
“You will do no such thing! Call Commander Pepe and tell him I wish to speak with him! He will take my call.”
Sadie Stick yelled. “Do it!”
There was a moment of hush in the casino as many of the players turned to look for the source of the yell. Sadie Stick continued walking passed the roulette tables. The gamblers quickly returned to their games.
The communications officer was silent for a moment, and then said. “Very well. Hold, please.”
Sadie Stick reached the casino’s elevator lobby. She stepped into an elevator and selected the ground level. The doors closed silently. The elevator fell.
“Miss Stick! How are you feeling?”
It was Commander Pepe. He sounded out of breath. The bounty hunter replied. “Apart from being mildly drunk, I’m fine.”
“Glad to hear it. That was a nasty business, that infection of yours. The only upside was all those delicious scabs. I loved them! All gone now, though, I hear.”
“They have, commander.”
“As you know, I wouldn’t normally take calls like this, and I’m only doing so because of your recent trauma. You had better be quick. What is you wish to talk about?”
“As you may know, I’ve been advised not to go on missions for a month. But I would like to do something constructive with my time. Would it be possible for me to help down in Battle Command?”
“Ah, yes. Chief Infection Officer Derob sent me a message regarding that. He recommended I assign you to a position at the palace. I didn’t expect you’d want to be down here, though. Bounty hunter’s usually like to be out and about. I would have thought you’d prefer the training cliffs, or the Amino Weapons Institute testing zone.”
“No. Amino Battle Command is my only preference.”
“Hmm… Very well, come on down. I’m… very busy at the moment, but I’ll make sure my chief officer meets you. He’ll assign you an interesting task. Any particular area of our work that you’re interested in?”
Before she even felt herself think, Sadie Stick blurted a reply. “External Defences.”
“I see… A rather dull choice, in my opinion. Perhaps the long-range intelligence department would be a more interesting choice? You’d certainly brighten things up there. The head of that department, General Jenny Talwartz, is a painfully ugly and shapeless old cow, and totally devoid of humour. Her staff would appreciate your…”
“External Defences will be fine.”
“As you wish. I’ll let Weezil know.” There was the sound of giggling in the background“Hmm… Something’s come up. Must go. Commander Pepe out.”
The communications channel fell silent.
Sadie Stick felt a huge smile spread across her face.
Chief Officer Weezil Sagifagpakit grinned like a school boy. His wide eyes looked up and down. “You are looking very well, Miss Stick.”
“I’m feeling well.” She said, stepping out of the elevator and into the secondary lobby of Amino Battle Command. There was a quiet whirr from above as ceiling-mounted disruptors locked on to her. The fact that the bounty hunter was still alive meant that her identity and presence had been accepted.
The chief officer was still gazing at the bounty hunter’s body. Oddly, she found that irritating. “There is no chance at all of having sexual intercourse with me, or even of a quick fondle of my breasts or buttocks, so banish those thoughts immediately.”
Weezil blushed. “I, erm… Really?”
“Really. Let’s go to External Defences, shall we?”
The chief officer nodded. “Of course. Woody Tiptoe is expecting you in his office. This way.”
Sadie Stick followed the chief officer down a wide passageway and into another larger lobby. Various sculptures and paintings depicting great bounty hunter achievements decorated the walls. Several uniformed members of staff relaxed on purple sofas at the centre of the lobby, drinking tea, eating cakes, chatting softly, and massaging each others feet and foreheads. The current alert status was obviously not very high.
As they entered another well-furnished and decorated passageway Weezil turned and glanced at Sadie Stick. “Maybe I…”
“If you say one more word out of turn your genitals will cease to function.”
The chief officer nodded.
They arrived at a double doorway. After checking their identities the doorway whooshed open to reveal a spacious and leather-lined reception area. Behind a thick wooden desk, and wearing a pink plastic high neck top, was an ancient looking woman. She looked up at the chief officer and Sadie Stick and smiled. Her toothless grin was startling. She spoke in a peculiar series of wheezes and exhalations. “Mister Tiptoe is expecting you. Please go through.” She operated a control on her desk and another doorway opened up. Sadie Stick followed the chief officer through the doorway.
Woody Tiptoe’s office was an eclectic mix of old and new, bland and bizarre. Disturbing oil-paintings of contorted trees and sea creatures with odd grins adorned the walls, whilst a crystal chandelier hung from the centre of the deeply coved white ceiling. The furry carpeting appeared to be a stitched-together collection of large animal skins.
Woody Tiptoe was sitting behind a green-tinted glass desk at the centre of the room with his feet crossed on top of the desk,. His tight red plastic body suit was even more disturbing than the office’s artwork.
Weezil spoke. “Woody, this is Sadie Stick.”
Woody Tiptoe spoke, making no attempt to get up. “Miss Stick! Welcome to my amazing office!”
The bounty hunter smiled. “Thank you.” She turned and looked at Weezil. “You can go now. I’ll be fine.”
The chief officer looked disappointed. He nodded and left the office. The door slid shut behind him.
Woody continued to slouch at his desk. “It is rare that anyone takes an interest in our work, despite its crucial nature. After all, we protect the entire palace from external threats.” He spoke excitedly. “Just look at what we achieved when the lump-being’s emitter beam struck!”
“Perhaps no one is interested because all you do is to make sure the defence field and the orbital defence grid are powered up?” Sadie Stick said.
Woody finally sat up straight. He frowned. “All we do?!”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean any offence. That’s what the average person would think. After all, they take such things for granted. As did I until recently.”
He was curious. “And what happened recently to change that?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. Earlier today I just suddenly began appreciate the great work you do. And as I just happen to be grounded for a while I thought I’d come down and offer my services to you. I would love to find out more about the palace’s defences.”
The Head of External Defences grinned. “That’s wonderful! It is rare that I get to work with anyone interesting down here. And you look very interesting indeed!”
Sadie Stick ignored that last remark. “Perhaps you can take me to the control console for our defences and show me how they work?”
“Certainly!” Woody Tiptoe said, getting to his feet. “The defences are controlled down in the main chamber.” He headed for the exit. “Come. I’ll introduce you to my senior operator.”
Sadie Stick felt herself smile as she followed the lanky plastic-suited Head of External Defences out of his office.