For two hours Panman had crawled, leapt, swung and bounded his way across trees and gantries, and through the narrowest of vents at painstakingly slow speeds. And now he was peering down through a fine mesh panel into what appeared to be a large and ornately decorated chamber. It had been quiet for a while and almost dark – the only light coming from a wide window that looked out across the jungle and the glow from an oval control console at the centre.
But just as he was about to move on the bounty hunter heard voices.
Badoodoo struggled not to show his revulsion as his master swayed towards him, his bony hands cupping his chin and his mouth spread into a wide and ludicrous grin.
Lord Ecnerwal stopped and placed his face only a few centimetres in front of Badoodoo’s. He spoke sweetly. “You have an update for me, haven’t you?”
Badoodoo nodded. “Yes, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal arched his back and spread his arms out. He screamed. “Yes! Oh, yes!” He stood up straight and lowered his hood. He stared with an air of deep suspicion. “It is good news, isn’t it? News that will please me?”
For once Badoodoo had no new bad news. He nodded. “It is, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal shuddered, and then cocked his head to one side. He gazed at Badoodoo and spoke softly and seriously, scratching his scarred scalp as he did so. “I am an extraordinary individual with a mind of profound quality. My intellect is extreme, and my ambition is infinite. I am a deity to the likes of you and your kind. You worship me, and if they existed even the gods of the universe would worship me, too.” He threw his head back and punched the air above his head repeatedly with both of his knobbly fists. The massive sleeves of his robes flapped loudly. He shouted. “I am incredible! I am invincible! I am a vision of purity and success to all that think and moan and defecate!” He laughed and began to spin. “Ha harr!!!”
And then he stopped, suddenly, with a long and noisy intake of breath. He stared, wide-eyed, at his assistant and whispered. “I’m ready for your update, bulge muffle.”
Badoodoo nodded and headed towards the console at the centre of the chamber. He tapped on his data pad. The screens on the wall beyond the console faded to life and displayed several charts and a star map.
Lord Ecnerwal approached. He pointed at the map. “We get closer and closer, don’t we?! Closer and closer and closer!”
Badoodoo played along. “Yes we do, my lord.”
“Ever closer to the Palace of Amino and all the little bounty rectums within.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “Invincible! Unstoppable! I am the living definition of those words!” He closed his eyes and laughed. “Ha harr! I am perfection!”
A clatter and a deep thud reverberated through the chamber. “Hello, Lawrence.”
Lord Ecnerwal opened his eyes and looked in the direction of the voice. For a moment he stared, motionless, at the white-suited, heavily armoured figure standing in front of one of the screens. And then he pointed; his index finger pale and twig-like. “You!” He rasped. “You!”
Panman grinned. “Yes, it’s me!” He frowned. “Wow, you look awful, and your scalp is even balder!”
Lawrence’s mouth hung open. “How?!”
“Never mind how. I am here, Lawrence. That’s all that matters.”
Lawrence yelled. “That name has no meaning to me! I forbid you to use it! I am Lord Ecnerwal!”
Panman laughed. “That’s so inane! Your lack of imagination is hilarious!”
Lawrence shuddered with rage. “Badoodoo, detain him immediately!”
The chubby humanoid next to Lawrence spoke. His voice quivered with nervousness. “He… he’s Panman, a first-class bounty hunter! I don’t have the ability to detain him, my lord!”
Panman nodded. “The little fat dude is right. He would die in a second if he tried, and he knows it. And so should you, slap-head!”
Lawrence screamed and spun around. A fizz of energy burst from within his flailing cloak. Panman grunted as he was blasted across the chamber. The helmet on his armoured suit activated immediately and extended over his head. A second later the bounty hunter slammed into a panelled wall, shattering a grotesque piece of artwork, and then fell to the floor. He rolled forward and to one side, his suit smouldering. Hiding behind the central console, he took the opportunity to look up at the data on the screen. His suit’s system automatically absorbed the information which contained enough clues for Panman to work out the general plan of Lawrence’s attack, as well as a useful schematic of the asteroid’s interior.
As much as he would have loved to stick around and snap Lawrence’s limbs, Panman had to find a way to get the information to the Palace of Amino as soon as possible. Still, he had given Lawrence a huge amount of stress and anguish by simply letting him know he was here. Lawrence would now be highly distracted by his presence, and much more likely to make critical errors in his attack on the Palace of Amino.
Panman pulled a small golf ball-sized device from his belt and activated it. He secured it to the underside of the console. Grinning, Panman pulled off the cover of a conveniently located ventilation shaft and, with a final glance at his parting gift, slipped away.