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Book: Invasion of the Scab Demons
Chapter 29: The Edge of a Smouldering Crater

Ross Mental looked back along the damp and dimly lit tunnel.  Behind the impressive figure of Baron Onslaught and the three other bounty hunters, who all seemed to be jogging effortlessly despite their heavy weaponry and armour, he could see THROB.  The mechanoid was lagging at least ten metres behind the rest.  “Why the fuck are you so slow?!”

THROB spoke, his voice a quiet echo compared to the rhythmic thudding of everyone else’s boots.  “I am travelling at the maximum recommended velocity for my current status.”

The foul-mouthed bounty hunter frowned and dropped back.  He drew level with the mechanoid and tapped his cylindrical torso.  “How is she?”

“Jess Debinitraff is in a weak but stable condition.  She must be taken to a cyborg construction facility as soon as…”

“I fuckin’ know, but getting her head a new body is not our priority!”

“Jess Debinitraff cannot survive indefinitely in my cranial-maintenance system.”

Ross Mental punched THROB’s shoulder.  “I said I fuckin’ know!”

The mechanoid said no more.  He continued jogging at a steady pace, his lithe and tubular body moving remarkably smoothly and quietly.

“That fuckin’ administrator was lucky you had such a system in your chest,” Ross Mental said eventually, “otherwise she’d be just another one of Sadie stick’s rotting fuckin’ victims.”

THROB responded.  “All Palace of Amino mechanoids have cranial-maintenance systems installed.”

The bounty hunter was surprised.  “Since fuckin’ when?!”

“All Palace of Amino mechanoids, and cyborgs with non-biological torsos, have been required to have cranial-maintenance systems fitted following the first effective field use of such a system 18.67 years ago on the planet Gun-Loc by the cyborg designated C Y B eight-eight-two-seven-zero-three-three-four.”

Ross Mental thought for a second.  And then he laughed.  “You’re talking about that fucker, Justin, aren’t you?!  That time he sawed off that recruit’s fuckin’ head in that lump-fucker’s power core shaft!”

“You are correct.”

“Wow.  That dense fuckin’ iron man has been more useful than I’ve been giving him credit for.  A fuckin’ pioneer, in fact!”

A blinding burst of light flashed across the tunnel up ahead.  Everyone except THROB turned instinctively away.

“Fuckin’ hell!”

The mechanoid stepped sideways and crouched down.  “Brace.”  He said evenly.  He gripped onto the tunnel’s rutted wall.

Ross Mental and the other bounty hunters were blown off their feet.

Sadie Stick gasped as the scorching air around her blistered her skin, mouth and lungs.  She wretched, and then pulled herself forwards towards the shore of a lake just metres away, dragging her energy weapon with her.  With her hair flaming she sank into the cool water.  The sting of her skin and the roar of the explosion faded away.  It was a brief moment of relief.

Surfacing, and with the air cooling rapidly, the bounty hunter looked around.  The small and cramped under-class town by the lake was half-flattened, half flaming.  A dense cloud of smoke was gathering at the cavern’s ceiling, blotting out most of the remaining lights.  The chilling moans and whimpers of surviving citizens echoed all around.

The bounty hunter looked back at the small beach she had crawled across.  There were several charred corpses there – blackened, blistered and swollen.  Kegg was one of them. 

Sadie Stick felt a brief pang of sorrow and regret as she watched her tubby companion smouldering gently like a spent campfire.  She knew that only her shiny black tight-fitting bodysuit had prevented her from suffering a similar fate.  That, and her superior bounty hunter reflexes.

A voice, deeply masculine, called out and echoed around the small cavern.  “Surrender or die, Miss Stick.  The next fusion charge I detonate will not be set to minimum.”

Sadie Stick recognised the voice.  It was one of her most pleasurable conquests of recent times – mere weeks ago.  She thought quickly and then shouted.  “You don’t want to do that.  I am the best you’ve ever had, Sebastian.  And I know you are desperate for more.  Come with me.  You will have all you want!”

“I was desperate, but now you’re bald and scabby, have a face like an over-cooked pizza, and you no doubt smell like an amateur barbeque.  My desire for you has evaporated.”

Sadie Stick felt a surge of anger.  “My body is protected!  It is smooth and toned!”

“You are a traitor and of no interest to me.  Surrender or die.”

Yelling with rage, Sadie Stick raised her weapon and fired wildly.  Arcs of energy blazed across the cavern melting and blowing huge gashes into the rock walls.  She sank back beneath surface of the lake, accompanied by a rain of returned energy fire.

Ross Mental, Baron Onslaught and the other bounty hunters ran out of the tunnel and into the devastation of the next cavern.  THROB followed closely behind.

Ahead, crouched at the edge of a smoking crater, were Sebastian Blood and his eight-strong team.  Several of them were firing their rifles.

Ross Mental shouted.  “Mister Blood, how about a bit of fuckin’ warning before you do that?!”

Sebastian Blood looked up at him.  “Sorry.  It had to be done quickly.”

Ross Mental looked down to where the other bounty hunters were firing.  “I take it the fucker survived the blast?”

“She did.  She’s remarkably agile.  My sensors indicate that she’s swimming near the bottom of that lake.”

The lake was hissing as the relentless fire boiled and vaporised its surface.

“Stop that useless fuckin’ firing!”

The other bounty hunters did as ordered.

Ross Mental frowned.  “We don’t have time to fuck around.  We’ve been cleared to use fusion charges, you know!”

“I just used one.”

“Not fuckin’ properly, you didn’t!  Minimum setting is for babies, plumbers, fuckwits and farm animals!  Which are you?”

“None.  Not anymore, anyway.”

“Then vaporise that lake and this cavern.  And do it fuckin’ now!”

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