Badoodoo waited patiently as Lord Ecnerwal continued to spin round and round across the smooth dark floor of his vast chamber, the layers of his robes spreading into a cone.
And then Lord Ecnerwal stopped suddenly, his cloak twisting around his spindly legs before coming to rest. “Oh, Badoodoo!” He sighed, pulling down his deep hood. The scars on his scalp seemed even deeper and drier than before. “Can you sense it?!”
A feeling of dread built up inside Badoodoo as he searched for the right thing to say. “Erm… yes?”
His master gazed at him, his eyes wide and bright. “Delightful, isn’t it?! So magnificently delightful, and a bit tingly, too!”
Badoodoo had no idea what Lord Ecnerwal was talking about, but he knew that if he admitted such a thing he would be beaten once more. That was something his bruised and battered body could not take much more of. “It is, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal arched his back and laughed. “Ha Harr! The knowledge of assured success within the next few hours is invigorating!” He took a deep breath and looked at his assistant. “You must be here to update me. It must be good news!”
Badoodoo gulped, and then looked down at his datapad. “Some is, my lord.”
His master straightened himself up and glared at his assistant. He licked his lips. “I realised after your last update that bad news increases my appetite. Do you want me to become nauseatingly obese with mouldy gut-folds and an impossible-to-wipe bottom, just like you, your sister, and your mother’s neighbours and close associates?”
Badoodoo’s heart sank as he realised there was only one safe answer to that question. “No, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal pointed his bony finger at Badoodoo and grinned. “So, you admit it! Finally you confess that your family and the wider community around them are abominable fat bundles? Is that right?”
Badoodoo sighed. “Yes, my lord. That is indeed right.”
Lord Ecnerwal seemed oblivious to his assistant’s daring sarcasm. He spoke gently, nodding. “I am right, as always. And I am humble, as always.” He redirected his bony finger to point and the control console at the centre of his giant chamber. “Begin your update.”
As Badoodoo and his master approached the console a deep and resonant moan reverberated across the chamber. Outside, amongst the densely packed trees of the jungle, two of the giant egralons had risen up above the tree tops. They moaned again, and then looked down, hissing and drooling.
Lord Ecnerwal stopped for a moment. “My wondrous beasts are agitated. That is very unusual.” He turned and looked at his assistant. “Why?”
Badoodoo shook his head. “I have no idea, my lord.”
A dry and hard palm slapped the assistant’s right cheek. Lord Ecnerwal rasped. “You should have! You should have ideas upon ideas! And you should deliver them to me on gem-studded stone tablets engraved with tools fashioned by yourself from your own bones and teeth!”
Badoodoo was shocked once again by his master’s words. “I should, my lord. Forgive my failings.”
“I shall, for the time being. Now give me my update!”
Badoodoo tapped at his datapad. The large displays opposite the chamber’s central console glimmered to life with a star map of the local galactic area. The assistant waited a few seconds for another reverberating moan from the jungle to subside and then spoke. “As you can see, we are maintaining our course and speed for the Palace of Amino. We will arrive on schedule in just over eight hours. The command crew has now fully recovered from their revival.” The display changed. “Your scab demons have been prepared and are now wearing their armour and brandishing rusty bladed weapons. Currently they are feeding in the embarkation areas and receiving their final hormonal treatments.”
Lord Ecnerwal shuddered. “Good good good!”
“Just over fourteen-thousand had to be terminated due to faults in their nano infestion.” Badoodoo noticed his master’s face twitching – a sign that rage was building within him. He spoke quickly. “That is less than half a percent of the total – a remarkably low error rate. You are to be congratulated, my lord!”
Lord Ecnerwal thought for a moment and then smiled broadly. “I am indeed!” He shrieked. “I am incredible!” He took a deep breath and then gazed at Badoodoo, his head cocked strangely to one side. He whispered. “Please continue.”
“Unfortunately we have lost contact with Sadie Stick.”
With incredible force Badoodoo was pushed backwards. He slammed into the giant screen and then slumped to the floor. He groaned.
Lord Ecnerwal stomped towards him and shrieked. “Ineptitude! Why?!”
Badoodoo gasped. He answered; his voice hoarse. “I believe she is now too deep beneath the surface.” He paused, straining to breathe. “She has also been injured.”
“I don’t know. The messages from her nano-infestation do not contain such details.”
Lord Ecnerwal’s eyes darted around. “But she has one more mission!” He focused back on his assistant. “Does she know about it? Will she follow the directive?”
Badoodoo nodded. “She received the directive. She will have no choice but to follow it, my lord. If she is alive then she will do everything possible to complete her final mission.”
Lord Ecnerwal growled slowly. “You had better be right, foot architect!” He stretched his arms out and then took a deep breath. “Relax… Oh yes, relax… Hmm… Rolling waves and seaweed…”
Another deep moan, much louder than before, emanated from the jungle outside.
Lord Ecnewal turned and screamed towards the huge panoramic windows that looked out over the tree tops. His attempt at relaxing himself had obviously failed. “Why are my joyously defecating creatures annoying me?!” He slammed his fist hard onto the central console. A doorway opened in the window. He raised his hood over his head. “Come with me, Badoodoo.”
Panman leapt sideways as the gigantic flat foot slammed into the undergrowth. The colossal creature moaned once more. The bounty hunter kept his body flush against the nearest tree and looked up. A huge house-sized head was looking down, its pale rheumy eyes searching for whatever was running around its feet.
Despite his relatively tiny size, and his attempts to remain inconspicuous, Panman had been a constant irritation to the giant creatures since he had entered the jungle more than an hour ago. They were obviously highly sensitive beasts. The bounty hunter’s assumption that trekking through the jungle would be easier than travelling round it had been proven utterly wrong. It had been unexpectedly enjoyable, though.
With a booming thud of its feet, and another resonating moan, the nearest creature turned and headed away, dragging a huge mouthful of foliage with it.
The first-class bounty hunter took a moment to look around. He was finally nearing the far side of the jungle. He could see the smooth metal wall less than a hundred metres away, and high up the railing of the walkway that seemed to encircle the entire chamber. What looked like two robed figures were standing up there – one short and one tall. Immediately the bounty hunter ducked back behind the tree. That must be Lawrence and his dumpy companion. A plan, cunning and mildly insane, formed in his mind. He reached up and started to climb the tangle of vines that netted the tree’s wide trunk.
“What is it that you see, Badoodoo?”
Badoodoo looked up at his master. “I think it may have been one of the scab demons, my lord. It must have gotten lost or…”
The assistant’s forehead hit the railing of the walkway. He straightened up and then staggered backwards, momentarily stunned.
Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Lost?!” He punched Badoodoo once more, this time on the side of his head. “My illustrious scab demons were supposed to be guided to their embarkation areas through incredibly secure passageways! How could one of them become lost in my jungle?!”
The assistant stuttered. “Erm… well… Perhaps it wanted to escape?”
Badoodoo braced for another beating, but it never came. He watched as his master pulled down his hood, arched his back and then began panting like a dog.
After a few long seconds Lord Ecnerwal grunted and then straightened up. He spoke with disturbing calm. “The nano infestation in their brains turns them into mindless automatons. Their free will is completely eliminated. How could one of them possibly conceive the idea of escaping?”
“The nano infestation is not always successful, my lord. As you know, some of the scab demons had to be terminated. It’s possible that…”
“Shut up, puss valley!”
“Yes, my lord.”
Lord Ecenerwal smiled unevenly. “Do not fret. It is of no real concern. My glorious beasts will crush it with their massive feet or stools. It is doomed.” He pointed and laughed. “Oh, look! The tipmra males are gathering fruit once more! Delicious, nutritious and magnificently tangy fruit!”
Badoodoo looked out over the trees. The primates were leaping across the jungle canopy, their baskets strapped tightly to their backs. He winced as a bony palm slapped down hard on his bald head.
“I will retire to my bed.” Lord Ecnerwal said, turning. He strode back towards to doorway to his chamber. “Get back to your duties.”
Badoodoo continued to watch the primates. He envied their simple carefree lives and the way they seemed to live for the moment. They looked joyous. And they were oblivious to the evil that had brought them to this place. Their lives, simple and innocent, were far more appealing than his. He watched, perplexed, as one of what he assumed was one of the primates crawled unusually slowly across the giant leaves of one of the trees. It looked rather bulky for a tipmra male, its limbs far too thick…
A shrill voice shattered the assistant’s train of thought. He turned. Lord Ecnerwal was calling him from the doorway of his chamber. “Yes, my lord?”
“Your head is a diseased testicle!”