Badoodoo found himself pressed up against the window once again, but this time his back was towards the glass.
Lord Ecnerwal pushed him harder and kept him at arms length. He looked Badoodoo up and down. He yelled. “You’re nothing but a mound of fat!” And then he whispered. “And you resemble an armpit.” He released Badoodoo, allowing him to fall into a podgy heap on the floor.
Badoodoo gulped down a few deep breaths and then looked up at his master. “Yes, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal spun around, the layers of his robes billowed out. “Excellent! You have acknowledged yet more of your faults. In just a few more years you will have acknowledged them all!” He skipped over to the glowing control console at the centre of his dark chamber. “You said you had an update for me.” He stopped at the console and turned. He pulled back his hood slowly to reveal his bald and deeply scared scalp. The light from the console lit up his face from beneath and highlighted the tufts of wiry hair behind his ears. He frowned and his voice became deep and guttural. “Give me that update now!”
Badoodoo nodded and got to his feet. He joined his master at the control console and then activated his data pad. Once again the large oval view-screen faded to life. An image of the giant collection vessel was shown. “I am pleased to report that the collection vessel successfully collected 3,102,412 infected humanoids from the planet Lodi.”
Lord Ecnerwal arched back and laughed. “Ha harr!” He straightened up and looked down at Badoodoo. He grinned crookedly. “Oh yes, my little whale belly, you should indeed be pleased!”
Badoodoo continued. “The nano infestation in all their brains has been completely successful. They have all responded correctly to sedation commands and have been feeding calmly.” He reeled as a bony gloved hand slapped his face.
Lord Ecnerwal smiled. “That was meant in friendship. It was a slap of appreciation and kindness.”
Badoodoo blinked, and then bowed once. He rubbed his reddening cheek. “Yes. Thank you, my lord.”
“Get on with it!”
Badoodoo changed the image on the view-screen. “The collection vessel is now on final approach. It will dock with us within the hour.”
Lord Ecnerwal nodded and began pacing up and down. He began muttering quietly. “Hmm… Good. It’s going as planned. Perfectly, in fact. So very good. They will soon be here. Hmm… My scab demons will be here. Here with their master.” He turned to face Badoodoo, spread his arms out wide and cackled. “Ha harr! Such joy!”
Badoodoo was confused. “What are scab demons?” A fist, bony and hard, smacked into his forehead. He fell to the floor, his head pounding in pain.
Lord Ecnerwal shrieked. “It is the collective term for the infected humanoids onboard the collection vessel, you undesirable surplus!”
Badoodoo apologised. “I’m sorry, my lord. I have never heard that term mentioned before. I thought you had decided to call them your unholy army of…” The sole of a boot, hard and heavy, slammed into Badoodoo’s chest. He collapsed back onto the floor.
“No I hadn’t!”
Badoodoo decided not to question his master anymore. Struggling to breathe, he pulled himself up onto his feet. He gasped at the air. “I have one more… update for you…, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal looked excited. “Ooo! Wonderful! Tell me!”
Badoodoo took a couple of seconds to compose himself. “The bounty hunter, Sadie Stick, has successfully infiltrated the Palace of Amino’s Battle Command. She is due to take control of their defences within a few hours.”
“Oh, how extraordinarily brilliant!” Lord Ecnerwal said, hugging himself. “That is honey to my toes!” He pulled up his hood and then operated a control on the console. A doorway opened in the chamber’s huge panoramic window. The hot humid air from the jungle dome beyond wafted in. “You deserve a reward, my little heap of bowel nuts.” He strode in the direction of the doorway. “And that reward is to witness the arrival of my scab demons!”
Badoodoo followed his master out onto a wide walkway that spread around the circumference of the jungle. “But… I was going to do that anyway.”
Lord Ecnerwal turned and screamed. “It is still a reward, bulge island!”
Badoodoo sighed. “Of course, my lord.”
With a flourish of his robes, Lord Ecnerwal spun round and strode along the walkway.
To the left, two nearby egralons munched steadily on the jungle’s treetops. One of them groaned loudly. A three tonne lump of fibrous defecation slammed onto the jungle floor.
Although there appeared to be only five crew members, the bridge was enormous, and decorated in some of the most ambiguous and unsettling artwork and sculptures ever seen. The lighting, nothing but piercing spotlights behind the sculptures, scattered long and contorted shadows in all directions. It was remarkably disturbing.
Standing in front of a high-backed deeply padded blue chair at the centre of the spacious bridge was a figure clothed in layers of long black clothes. His long and frizzy blond hair hung down the sides and back of his head, and his hands were clasped loosely behind his back. Ahead of him a view-screen, at least ten metres wide, displayed the image of what looked like an asteroid, dimly lit, which was quickly growing in size.
Panman looked out through the mesh of the air vent at the back of the bridge. “Taking control of this ship would be so easy!” He said gleefully. “If we leap down brandishing our super-heated carnage blades we could purge the life out of this crew in seconds!” To illustrate his point Panman made stabbing, twisting and slashing motions with his right arm. He obviously relished the thought of decimating miscreants in close combat with high temperature hand weapons.
Peter the Ace nodded. “We could, and it would be a fine and justified action to perform, but I think we should allow this vessel to reach its destination first.”
The view-screen was now filled with the surface of the asteroid. A large section of the surface was opening up.
“Whoa!” Panman said. “That is one amazingly huge door!”
“Indeed. And through it is the most likely location of the highly retarded intellectual megalomaniac that we’re seeking. Boarding this vessel was a deeply sagacious act on our part.”
The view-screen was now filled with the interior of a huge cavity inside the asteroid. Huge docking arms that must have been hundreds of metres long were making their way towards the ship. Ahead an array of massive docking ports and sweeping platforms could be seen. In a similar fashion to the ship’s bridge, the vast hanger bay was lit by powerful lights placed behind sculptures and machinery, sending streaks of hazy beams through the bay’s obviously humid atmosphere. It was a hugely impressive sight.
The ship shuddered mildly as it passed through the bay’s atmospheric shield.
Panman was visibly shaking. “You know, so far, apart from our brief bit of snowboarding, this mission has been particularly dull.”
Peter the Ace nodded sympathetically. “It has.”
Panman frowned. “I really need to see some action soon!” For comfort he sucked down a mouthful of sage and onion stuffing from his suit’s food dispenser.
“Patience, my friend. I have a feeling we will soon see more action than we could hope for.”
Panman’s eyes lit up. “Really? Cool! What makes you think that?”
“Just a feeling…”
Panman grinned. Peter the Ace’s feelings about such things were legendary. “Awesome!”
The image on the huge view-screen changed. It now showed a heavily robed figure standing on a high windswept platform, its face hidden by a thick deep hood. The figure was accompanied by a short fat bald humanoid, also robed. The image slowly zoomed in through streaks of harsh light and haze to the hooded figure’s hidden face. The figure spoke, its voice shrill and queer. “Captain Riah Elbano. You return, and with pleasurable results!”
Captain Elbano bowed slowly. “Indeed, my lord.”
The hooded figure laughed. “Ha harr! My horde of scab demons is finally here!”
The captain tipped his head to one side. “Scab demons, my lord? I thought you were going to refer to the infected humanoids as your unholy…”
“Insolence!” the figure screamed. “Insolence as wide as the enema of my ancestors!”
Captain Elbano bowed again. “I’m sorry, my lord. This is the first time I’ve heard the phrase ‘scab demons.”
The figure waved his arms around sending ripples through his robes. “Excuses! If your subservience was satisfactory you would have accepted the term immediately and without question!” He leaned forwards and deepened his voice to a deep wet rumble. “Kneel before me, you disappointing snack, and request forgiveness.”
With apparent reluctance the captain got down on his knees. He spread his robes neatly around himself and then lowered his head. His long blonde hair almost touched the floor. “My lord; he who is satiated with the purity of detestation, the perfection of viciousness, and the agitation of psychosis. I request your celestial absolution for my act of appalling insolence. I deserve only death, but I request life.”
The figure arched his back and laughed. “Ha harr! You are a wretched muffin! Even the vomit of a worm would not consider you an equal!”
Captain Elbano remained on his knees. “Yes, my lord.”
The figure waved his arms. “Get up, captain. Yet again you are forgiven.” He snarled. “But this is the last time!”
The captain got to his feet. “Thank you, my lord.” He paused for a moment. “The… scab demons are ready for transfer on your command, my lord.”
The robed figure raised his arms and shook them. “The command is given. Transfer them! Now!”
Captain Elbano turned to one of his subordinates and nodded. He turned back to the view-screen. “The transfer has begun, my lord.”
“Excellent! You will be pleased to know the target location has been revealed to me, and my agent there is performing as expected.”
“That is indeed pleasing news, my lord.”
“Once all of my scab demons are on board we will begin the final phase. Are you ready, captain?”
The captain nodded. “Yes, my lord. We will take up position as per your orders.”
The figure leaned forwards and pushed back his deep hood revealing his gaunt and bald head. His scalp, extensively scarred, looked gruesome in the harsh lighting of the hanger bay. He frowned. “Yes you will, captain. Or you will suffer like your siblings!”
The image on the view-screen faded.
Peter the Ace and Panman had seen and heard everything from their vantage point behind the ventilation grill.
Panman looked at Peter the Ace. “I’m glad I’m wearing my helmet. If I hadn’t been my jaw may have dropped right to the floor!”
Peter the Ace shared his companion’s surprise. “I was starting to think we’d never see him again!”
Panman fell into a serious mood. “I think we can guess what the target location is.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed. And his mention of an agent there is remarkably disturbing.”
“He must know the location!”
“Indeed. One of us must get back to the Blenheim. The palace must be warned.”
Panman nodded. “By the sound of it this vessel will leave again shortly. If you stay onboard I’m sure you can find a way off once it leaves.”
Peter the Ace’s frown was deep enough to be visible through his visor. “What makes you think I should be the one to return to our ship?”
Panman became tense. He shuddered. “You know how much I need to see some action! I must get onto that asteroid!” He started to mimic stabbing and slashing motions again. “I must confront the loathsome and mentally-distorted fiends of degeneracy that…”
Peter the Ace patted his colleague on his shoulder armour and smiled. “You’re right. I should go back to the ship. Get into that asteroid and do what you do best.”
Panman punched the air. “Awesome!”
Peter the Ace pointed through the ventilation grill towards the large view-screen of the bridge. It was now showing an image of the infected humanoids as they left the vessel. “You should go now. They’ll all have been transferred within an hour or so.”
With a single nod Panman turned and slinked away.
With his arms still raised Lord Ecnerwal leaned over the waist-high railings and peered down into the depths of the huge hanger bay. The curved bow of the vast collection vessel could be seen stretching down for more than a kilometre, its hull lit by sharp floodlights and shaded by irregular shadows. Hundreds of metres down several large walkways had extended out of the ship and connected with the wall of the hanger. Dense crowds of humanoids were making their way unevenly across the walkways, their distant moans wafting up through the humid air.
Lord Ecnerwal Laughed. He slapped Badoodoo’s scalp. “Look, Badoodoo! They’ve come! My scab demons are here! They are here as I predicted! And they are well fed from the same reborn genetic stock that has defecated on my command to produce dung from which the infection that infected them was extracted and concentrated and modified with my illustrious nanotech designs!” He turned and growled. “Aren’t they?!”
Badoodoo nodded. “They are, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal grinned unevenly. “My preparation teams are, as we speak, preparing the scab demons for their task.” He sighed. “Oh Badoodoo, what a significant and extraordinary time this is – such a special and invigorating moment in the history of the universe. Do you feel it, Badoodoo? Do you?”
Badoodoo did not feel anything but dread at the continuing mental deterioration of his master. “I think so, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal slapped Badoodoo hard. “Either you do or you don’t, bladder rupture! Which is it?”
“I feel it, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal gasped. “Isn’t it orgasmic?!” He smiled dreamily for a moment and then looked down at Badoodoo and frowned. “What is your task, now that the scab demons are here?”
Badoodoo was a little confused by the question. “Erm… Well, to revive the command crew ready for departure. And to visit your chamber and give you updates as always, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal yelled like a Du’Ol trader. “Then go and do it!”
Badoodoo nodded and scurried away. After a few seconds he heard his name called. He heaved a sigh and turned. “Yes, my lord?”
Lord Ecnerwal bellowed. “Your odour is rectal!”