It had only been ten minutes since he had left his massage chamber, but high stress and tension once again filled Commander Pepe’s mind and body. Even the hardest and most penetrative massage he had ever experienced seemed to have offered him no more than temporary relief from the worries of the grave menace the Palace of Amino currently faced. The external threat from the approaching asteroid, lead by non other than Lawrence himself, was one of the main cause of his worries, and the remarkable resilience and survivability of the traitor, Sadie Stick, was certainly the other. And earlier he had lost most of his External Defences team after Sadie Stick had murdered its two textbook-ugly assistant operators and persuaded the senior operator, Shu Pong, to leave his post and wait, oiled and eager to fornicate, in his apartment. And now the need to have had his chief officer arrested and imprisoned for gross and lustful incompetence provided yet another cause of anxiety. This was one of the most stressful periods of his long and corpulent life. And that thought increased his stress levels even more.
After taking a deep and slow breath the commander commenced his strained waddle across the floor of the main chamber of Amino Battle Command, his thick robes wafting in his wake. The huge dark chamber, lit only by the glow of numerous control consoles and the giant main view screens, was alive with hushed activity as the ongoing crisis was monitored and managed. It was amongst the senior members of this remarkable team that he hoped to find his new chief officer, but for now they were better left to their current tasks. The commander would take on the chief officer’s role himself. But it would mean he would have almost no time at all to spend in his massage chamber, and the thought of that took his stress to yet another new height.
A deep rumble rose quickly in volume, and the ground shuddered. Commander Pepe staggered sideways and fell onto the nearest console, his mammoth bulk rolling across the control surface and onto the operator. The operator let out a muted scream as his body was smothered by the commander’s obscenely fat mass. The operator’s chair collapsed under the pressure.
A dull alarm began pulsing, and the dim light in the chamber altered as the information on the giant view screens changed, much of it now rendered in a deep red hue.
The shuddering and rumbling subsided as quickly as it had begun. A small crowd gathered. Commander Pepe looked up at the silhouetted faces, angry and embarrassed. “What, in Shingle’s thong, was that?!”
Several sets of hands reached down and helped the commander to his feet. A voice, deep and resonant, spoke. “Are you injured, commander?”
The commander glared at the man that had spoken. He recognised him. It was Goliath Snook, the senior covert hygiene operative. “No I am not!” He bellowed, still in a slight state of shock.
“There appears to be blood on your back and left shoulder.”
The commander reached up. His shoulder was indeed warm and wet.
There was a coughing and gargling noise from the floor. The operator than had been crushed by the commander was lying contorted in pain. Even in the near darkness it was obvious he was bleeding badly, mostly from his mouth.
From out of nowhere two medics arrived and grabbed the operator. They dragged him away.
Commander Pepe looked around and bellowed. “I asked what happened. Someone answer me, now!”
A voice, effeminate and rasping, called out from near the front of the chamber. “It was a fusion detonation two-point-two kilometres east of our location, and several hundred metres down.”
Commander Pepe hauled himself towards the speaker, Jang Queen, the operator of the seismic sensor console. As he walked he looked up at the information on one of the giant screens. The detonation had taken place in under-class district J-12, one of the smallest caverns. The cavern was now much larger.
Another operator called out. “Commander, a call is coming in for you. It’s Ross Mental.”
The commander stopped and looked at the operator. “Put it through!”
Before Commander Pepe could speak an excited voice boomed across the Battle Command chamber accompanied by an incredible cacophony of background sound. “Whoa! Fuckin’ yeah!”
The commander spoke, unable to suppress his annoyance. “I expect a reasonable warning before such weapons are used within the confines of the Palace of Amino!”
The background noise was subsiding. “If we’d had the fuckin’ time you’d have got one!”
The commander trusted the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s decision-making skills enough to reprimand him no further. He suppressed his irritation and moved on. “Did you succeed?”
“We’ll have to check, but that treacherous fuckin’ bitch was very close to the epicentre. It’s unlikely she could have survived, and even if she did she’ll be in one hell of a fuckin’ state! You sedentary fuckers in Battle Command can probably consider her well and truly fucked!”
The commander sighed. “That’s good to know.”
“I bet it fuckin’ is! We’re going to look around for evidence to confirm the fucker’s demise. Ross Mental out!”
The communications channel fell silent.
A voice from the back of the chamber called out. “Commander, can I have a moment of your time?”
Commander Pepe struggled to turn his enormous bulk and looked back. The voice belonged to Woody Tiptoe, the head of External Defences. The commander grunted as he heaved himself back towards to rear of Battle Command, annoyed at having to reverse direction. “What is it, Woody?!” He shouted. A feeling of uneasiness spread over him as he noticed that Woody was wearing his tight red plastic body suit. It was a disturbing sight, and no doubt intentionally so.
When the commander finally arrived at the main External Defences console Woody pointed. “There appears to be a critical problem with the defence shield and the orbital defence grid.”
Commander Pepe sighed. “Explain.”
“As you can seen from the images and data on the screen, neither system responded when the fusion detonation occurred.”
The commander frowned. “Why should they have? The detonation was within the confines of the palace. It was an internal threat.”
Woody nodded. “Indeed it was, but both systems are designed to increase in strength when such a detonation occurs as it may be the precursor of an outside attack. Instead the systems shut down.”
The commander shuddered as a new column of tension rammed through his core. “Why?!”
The head of External Defences manipulated some controls. “Not long ago your chief officer asked me to do a nano-grade scan of the entire system. The scan will take several more hours to complete, but it has already found an issue.” He pointed.
“What is it?”
“A very small but furiously multiplying virus. It has already embedded several million copies of itself around the system. I have stopped it breeding, but the copies are all functioning. Whenever the system tries to activate it is immediately shut down. I will need to eliminate all copies to get the system functioning again.”
“Then do it! This system will be crucial to our defence when that asteroid arrives!”
Woody nodded. “I will do it, commander, just as soon as I program the appropriate assassination routine. It will take me a couple of hours to get it running, though, and several more hours for it to complete its function.”
The commander fumed. “That’s not acceptable! Do it quicker!”
Woody closed his eyes and shook his head slowly. “Not possible, I’m afraid. Of course, if my team had not been murdered or arrested they would have been able to sort things out much sooner, especially Retsina and Rebulba. They may have been repugnant mounds of ugliness but they were amongst the best programmers the Palace of Amino had. As the head of the department I was above such menial tasks, which is why it will take me much longer too…”
Commander Pepe yelled, his voice becoming hoarser with each word. “No excuses! Just do it!”
“Of course, commander.”
The commander groaned, and then staggered. An all-consuming wall of stress had collapsed onto him. He struggled to remain upright. Taking on the additional responsibilities of chief officer was just too much for someone of his girth. He thought quickly and then yelled. “Goliath Snook, where are you?!”
Goliath approached quickly. “I am here, commander.”
Commander Pepe stuggled to speak as the wall of stress crushed his shoulders. “You are my new chief officer. Congratulations.”
Goliath was obviously startled. “Erm… this is too sudden. I have covert sanitation responsibilities that must…”
“We are about to be attacked! Secretive hygiene tasks are not important now! You have one minute to delegate them to your inferiors, and then you will assume all the responsibilities of my former chief officer.”
Goliath Snook bowed. “Of course, commander.” He turned and headed away.
The commander operated his personal communicator, panting. “Prepare my massage chamber for maximum relief!”
Wheezing like an elderly smog lover, the commander let loose a muffled rasp of wind and then lurched towards the nearest exit.