She had deceived. She had sabotaged. She had murdered. She knew this, and yet she felt nothing, except the urge to hide and wait for new thoughts to guide her to her next objective. She also had the urge throw up.
Holding back a swell of vomit, Sadie Stick crouched behind a thick pillar at the side of the narrow effluence channel as a slow river of stinking and rotting waste flowed by. A few metres away, standing at the edge of the flow, was a fat and filthy menial worker. Clothed in a heavily soiled leather outfit, the man was holding a large paddle which he was using to redirect larger chunks of waste into a smaller side channel. The bounty hunter stood up and walked confidently towards the man.
When he noticed her he froze and almost dropped his paddle. His gaze wandered up and down the bounty hunter’s curvaceous body. His mouth hung open, revealing a stained and incomplete set of teeth.
Sadie Stick stroked herself provocatively, moving her hands up and down her black shiny body-suit.
The man finally spoke. “You’re a bounty hunter!” he said, his voice slurring. “I’ve never seen your kind down here before, like!”
The bounty hunter forced a smile. “Of course not. This place, and all other domains of the under-class, are so far beneath the status of bounty hunters and trainees that they are not even thought about, let alone considered as places to visit.”
The filthy fat man nodded. “I understand.” He struggled to think for a moment as he continued paddle the larger waste items in the flow. “But you’re here.” He said. He looked up at the bounty hunter. “So you must have thought about our domains, and considered a visit, like!”
Sadie Stick nodded. “Of course I did. I wish to understand your unseen contribution to the Palace of Amino.”
The man stood as tall and proud as he could. “Then I should introduce myself. I am Kegg, head paddler for Effluence Section A-14. And you are?”
Sadie Stick frowned. “You don’t need to know.” She pointed to an archway in the side of the tunnel. “I presume that leads back to where you reside?”
Keg looked round and nodded. “It does – all the way to the town, like!”
“Take me there, now!”
The head paddler looked confused for a moment. “I need to paddle. No paddle station can ever be deserted.”
“You are the head paddler, are you not? Get one of your inferiors to take over from you.”
Kegg nodded. “Of course!” He fumbled in his grubby jacket’s breast pocked and pulled out a clunky-looking communicator. He pressed a button. Over a roar of static he spoke. “Tunk? It’s Kegg. Are you there, like?”
There was a loud crackle. “Always here, Kegg, my boss. Always here, you know that, like!”
“Get up here. I need you to take over for a while.”
“You not feeling fine, my boss? Too much bog oil last night, eh, like!”
“I feel fine and hog-healthy, just need to escort a…”
Sadie Stick grabbed Kegg and whispered. “Do not tell him what I am!”
The head paddler nodded.
“Kegg, my boss, you there?”
Kegg coughed. “I’m here. I need to escort someone who’s lost back to town.”
“Lost, eh? Daft thick twat! Floating in the flow, eh, like!
Kegg chuckled. “No. Just a wanderer.”
“Shame – want to see something like that, someone in the flow. Funny as a bowl of feet that would be, like! Be there in minutes.”
The communicator fell silent. Kegg looked at Sadie Stick. “Tunk will recognise you as a bounty hunter when he sees you.”
The bounty hunter nodded. “He will, unless I look a little more like you.” Stepping sideways, Sadie Stick plunged into the effluence flow. She sank beneath the surface, gagging as the stinking liquid entered her nose and mouth. She waited for a few seconds, allowing the lumpy fluid to smear and adhere to her suit, and then rose to the surface. She clambered for the side and then pulled herself out with ease.
Kegg was staring at her.
Sadie Stick spat out some effluence, and then pulled some of the excess waste from her hair. “I look awful, I stink, and I’m generally repugnant. Is that better?”
The head paddler though for a few seconds and then nodded. “You’re more like a local, that’s for sure, like!”
Cocooned in his armoured environment suit, Ross Mental crouched on a gantry and looked down into the Palace of Amino’s immense power core shaft. At several hundred metres wide, and thirty-four kilometres deep, it was an awe-inspiring heart-pounding sight, even for a top-class bounty hunter, and provided a tangible feeling of incredible power. The bounty hunter spoke into his communicator. “It’s definitely been resealed?”
The reply came. “It has. Someone has definitely cut their way out and then tried to cover their tracks. It’s very well done – I almost missed it!”
“The fuckin’ bitch must have gone through there. She definitely did not come this way.” The bounty hunter examined his head-up display. “I’m right over the core now, and its 500 fuckin’ degrees out there! Without a suit she’d have been fried. And if she’d had one and gotten to the core we would probably be nothing but fuckin’ vapour by now, anyway!”
“Reopen the breech and get yourself and your team down there, and get Sebastian Blood’s team to join you. The under-class habitats are a fuckin’ nightmare of disorganisation and degeneracy. Finding her there could be a fuck-off challenge! I’ll join you in there shortly. I’m going to get more assistance!”
“Very well. Baron Onslaught out.”
Ross Mental opened a channel to Amino Battle Command. “Weezil, you fucker, are you there?”
“That treacherous bitch has escaped into the under-class domain.”
“Then you must follow her.”
“I know, you fuckin’ arse magnet!”
The chief officer let out an audible gasp. “Erm… OK. Then what do you want?”
“I need to know who is the closest person to her – the one that’s known her the longest. There must be a bounty hunter she’s always around when she’s here.”
“So they can come and assist me, that’s fuckin’ why! Use your fuckin’ brain!”
Weezil could be heard tapping away at a console. “Hmm… Despite her outgoing personality and captivating physique it seems she’s always kept away from deeper relationships at the palace. She doesn’t seem to be close to anyone – nothing but casual encounters.”
“There must be someone?!”
“The only person, if you can call him that, who knows her in the way you wish, is THROB.”
“That tin fucker?!”
“They seem to spend almost all of their time together, and he accompanies her on all her missions. It’s a waste, really. An emotionless mechanical being is unable to appreciate her wondrous…”
“Yes… But you must agree that her firm…”
“Shut the fuck up!” Ross Mental yelled. He frowned. “I guess that mechanoid will do. Tell him to meet me in thirty minutes. Ross Mental fuckin’ out!”
“Impressive, don’t you think?” Kegg said, his arms stretched out wide. “Even the likes of your kind should think that, eh?”
Sadie Stick looked around at the bustling under-class town that was laid out before her on the cavern floor below. It was mishmash of dark stone and metal shacks; all crammed tightly together, the only gaps being a network of winding and uneven roads. At the edges of the cavern many shacks were held up on multiple steel platforms like giant shelves, shrouding those beneath - an obvious attempt to cram in even more under-class citizens – required to deal with the ever-increasing output of the palace above, no doubt.
The town was lit by concentric rings of dull lights high on the cavern’s ceiling. At the very centre of the town was what looked like a wide stone pillar which rose all the way up into the cavern’s ceiling, joining it at the centre of the light rings.
A fetid odour filled the air.
The bounty hunter humoured her under-class companion. “Impressive? Yes, of course. That’s exactly what I think.”
The head paddler nodded proudly as he led her through the town’s main rusted gates and into what appeared to be a suburb of relatively large and ram shackled houses. “I’ve never been to the surface, but I can’t imagine it being much more impressive than this, like!”
Sadie Stick ignored Kegg’s ridiculously ignorant ramblings and pointed to the stone tower at the centre of the town. She could now see small windows placed at regular intervals up its entire length. “What building is that?”
Kegg grinned. “Great, isn’t it?! It’s the administration tower. All of our work and lives are controlled from there. Only our best and smartest work in there. Our leader is there.”
“Administrator Jess Debinitraff, of course!” Kegg said. He looked at the bounty hunter. “You must have heard of her, like?”
The bounty hunter nodded. “I am aware of her. But to me she’s just a clerical officer, albeit a senior one. I can’t believe you actually revere her.”
The head paddler was gazing at the tower. “It is said that the tower has direct access to the surface, and also to much deeper levels.. But that’s just a rumour. Amazing if true, like!”
Sadie Stick looked at her porky companion. “Really?”
Kegg nodded. “Oh yes. Apparently the administrator is often visited by surface people. Every year, I think. Maybe she even goes up there herself, like!”
Suddenly a desire appeared in the bounty hunter’s mind. “I would like to meet the administrator.”
“Almost impossible.” The head paddler said, shaking his head. “She is busy beyond the reckoning of all of us, and she is above us in status, stature, cleanliness and odour, like. It would be…”
“You will take me to that tower. I must speak to your administrator.”
“I’ll take you to the tower, like. That’s no issue. But getting inside is difficult.” He nodded vigorously. “Yes, very difficult.”
Sadie Stick shook her head. “Not for me. I’m a bounty hunter. The administrator will be obliged to see me, I’m sure.”
Kegg looked thoughtful. “Well, you are superior to me and closer in status to the administrator, like. That would be favourable for you.”
Sadie Stick said nothing. She focused on a feeling she was getting. She felt a surge of elation. She had a new purpose – a new focus. The clarity was astounding. She gasped.
Ahead, the tower at the centre of the town, surrounded by a crowded market, loomed large.
Still caked in effluence from her earlier dip, Sadie Stick strode ahead of Kegg and pushed her way through the malodorous crowd. Fearlessly, she stepped up to the arched metal door of the tower.
Kegg, slightly breathless, stopped beside the bounty hunter. “This is not a good idea. You had better not…”
Sadie Stick covered the head paddler’s mouth with her hand, and then knocked on the door. Immediately a voice spoke through a speaker above the door’s arch. “Move away from the door.”
The bounty hunter spoke. “I wish to see the administrator.”
“Move away from…”
“I am a bounty hunter on critical business. I must see the administrator now.”
“Your appearance is not consistent with your claim. Also, the administrator would be aware of such business. She is not. Move away from the door.”
Sadie Stick reached up to her collar and activated a control. Immediately her bodysuit began its auto clean cycle. The caked-on effluence flaked off and fell to the floor. The bounty hunter ran her hands through her hair removing chunks of waste. Within seconds her bodysuit had returned to its former black and glossy state.
Smiling, Sadie Stick ran her hands over her curves. “Does this look like the body of an under-class woman to you?”
The crowd nearby had been watching. They gasped in awe.
There was a short pause, and then the voice replied. “No. You’re appearance is consistent with that of a bounty hunter.”
Sadie Stick smiled. “Great. Let me in.”
“No. Your claim to be on critical business remains dubious. Provide evidence for such a claim or move away from the door.”
The bounty hunter frowned. She had no time for this. She turned and dragged Kegg away and through the gathering crowd towards the nearby market stalls. “Are cleaning products sold here?”
Kegg looked puzzled. “Well, yes, but not the sophisticated stuff you’re probably used to, like. As you can see we don’t…”
“Get two bottles of different kinds for me, and also get me a small electronic timing unit, two bits of wire, and a bucket. Now!”
The bounty hunter spoke softly and smiled. “You will be rewarded.”
The head paddler nodded briskly. “I’ll be back in a moment!” He headed over to the stalls.
Sadie Stick waited patiently, slapping away the waves of eager hands that clamoured for a feel of her body.
Kegg returned quickly and shouted to be heard above the sound of the excited crowd. “I could only find these.” He said, panting. He held out a bag full of items.
The bounty hunter pushed away more members of the crowd and looked into the bag. She could see a small bottle of disinfectant, a large bottle of vinegar, an alarm clock, a small bucket, and two audio cables. “Astoundingly crude, but adequate.”
“Adequate for what, like?”
“Opening doors.” The bounty hunter said. She turned and strode back to the metal door of the tower. With the head paddler watching curiously nearby, she placed the bucket on the ground and filled it with a mix of the disinfectant and vinegar. It began to froth. Ripping the wiring from the cables she attached it to the alarm clock. She set the alarm and then placed the free ends of the wires into the bucket. She moved the bucket, now overflowing with froth, next to the door and then turned. She sprinted, shouting at the crowd. “If you want to live then run!”
Kegg followed, struggling to keep up. “Live where?” He shouted.
Panicking, the crowd had started to follow when a dazzling flash of light blanketed the cavern in a pale yellow glow. A deafening thud was followed by the clatter and zip of high-velocity debris.
The force of the blast knocked Sadie Stick off her feet. She slammed into the side of a crudely constructed shack, cracking the wall. Kegg landed beside her. He groaned.
As the repeating echo of the detonation faded away the bounty hunter got quickly to her feet and looked around. Through the settling dust a scene of utter desolation appeared, accompanied by the desperate moans of hundreds of under-class citizens as they crawled through the blood-soaked and decimated remains of their less-fortunate companions. Distant screams and the creak of damaged buildings reverberated across the town.
With a curious lack of compassion Sadie Stick strode confidently across the landscape of dismembered corpses and back to the tower. The arched metal door was now a scorched and crumpled mess. Next to it was a gaping smoke-filled hole.
Kegg had followed the bounty hunter. His voice was unsteady and weak. “Why did you do that? You have murdered, like!”
The bounty hunter stepped into the hole in the side of the tower. “It was necessary.”
The head paddler followed. “Why?!”
“Be quiet, or leave.”
“I demand that…”
Sadie Stick turned and grabbed Kegg’s mouth. “You will do as I say! I am a bounty hunter. I am superior to you in all conceivable ways. Do you understand?”
Kegg nodded once.
“Then you must accept that it was necessary and beyond your comprehension and say no more.”
He nodded again.
“Good.” She said, letting go of Kegg’s mouth. “You have been helpful and are useful to have around. Do not jeopardise your usefulness by questioning my actions again.” The bounty hunter turned and headed deeper into the wrecked lower level of the tower. “Follow me.”
Nursing a multitude of cuts and bruises, Kegg followed.