Safely encased in his armoured environment suit, Ross Mental walked across the hot, dark and utterly devastated under-class cavern, his footfalls crunching on the brittle glass-like debris that littered the floor; the result of the staggeringly high temperature and pressure of the fusion detonation. The mechanoid THROB was following the bounty hunter, his footfalls remarkably quiet considering his weight and construction.
Along with Baron Onslaught, Sebastian Blood and their teams, Ross Mental had been searching the incinerated cavern and many of the adjoining passageways for more than three hours now, and the tedious nature of the task was making the bounty hunter regret his decision to lead the hunt for Sadie Stick. He was not in a good mood.
Concentrating their efforts on the bed of the cavern’s vaporised lake, Sadie Stick’s last known location, the bounty hunters searched for her remains, or indeed anything that would confirm her elimination.
Nothing had been found so far.
An alarm sounded in Ross Mental’s ear and a warning icon flashed on his suit’s head-up display. A sensor track was shown. Reacting immediately, the bounty hunter jumped sideways. A second later a large lump of glassy rock crashed into the ground next to him, shattering into hundreds of pieces. There was a loud clang from behind. The bounty hunter turned and looked back. “Why the fuck didn’t you move?!”
THROB responded dryly. “The mass and velocity of the rock presented nothing more than a superficial threat. The risk to Jess Debinitraff of the rapid lateral movement required to avoid the falling rock was above the acceptable threshold.”
Ross Mental frowned. He turned and strode forwards, approaching what looked like another passageway half concealed behind a pile of semi-congealed rubble. The glassy surface of the rocks glistened in the bright light of his suit’s floodlight. He peered round the rubble. The passageway was no more than a small cave, confirmed by his suit’s sensors. The blackened remains of a structure were attached to the cave’s back wall. It was the first evidence the bounty hunter had seen of the small under-class town that had existed in the cavern before the detonation. The rest of the town appeared to have been completely and utterly erased from existence along with its residents. The bounty hunter’s communicator icon flashed on his suit’s head-up display. The identity of the caller was shown. He answered. “What the fuck is it, Mister Blood?”
“I have found evidence of Sadie Stick.”
“About fuckin’ time!” Ross Mental said, relieved that finally something interesting was happening. He called up Sebastian Blood’s position. A 3D map of the cavern was displayed. The bounty hunter was about thirty metres beneath the cavern in a cramped tunnel. “What’s the evidence?”
“Several small pieces of charred flesh. She was obviously badly burned by the explosion. There is a trail of flesh heading down from here.”
“Fuck ! She was alive after the detonation!”
“Or, perhaps her lifeless cooked corpse was blown down this passageway and it scraped along the sides. Plenty of flesh would have been ripped off.”
Ross Mental nodded. “Yes, a possibility. But remember, that passageway was beneath the lake. The fucker would have been protected by the water, at least for the first few seconds before it evaporated. We need to confirm, one way or the other. We’re coming to find you. Wait there.”
“Will do. Sebastian Blood out.”
Reaching up, Ross Mental grabbed onto a sharp ledge. He pulled, hauling himself up. He was greeted by Sebastian Blood, anonymous-looking in his black armoured environment suit. The bounty hunter was crouching in the low tunnel, flanked by two other lesser bounty hunters.
Ross Mental looked around. “Show me!”
Turning, Sebastian Blood crawled a few metres. Ross Mental followed. Sebastian Blood pointed. “There.”
Illuminated by their suit’s floodlights, several small pieces of charred flesh could be seen. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter scanned them with his suit. Within seconds they were confirmed as part of Sadie Stick.
Sebastian Blood pointed again. “There’s more that way. It looks like she was protected from most of the explosion by the U-bend in this passageway, which would have been full of water. The temperature would still have risen to that of an oven, but her bodysuit would have given most of her body reasonable protection from that.”
One of the other bounty hunters, Dragon Snarl, spoke. “The flesh we’ve found is from her hands and face. She’s in a hell of a state. She should not be hard to catch up with.”
Sebastian Blood agreed. “Indeed. And according to my map this passageway comes to an end about three-hundred metres down. We’ll find her at…”
“I fuckin’ doubt it!” Ross Mental said. “Passageways below that level are not fuckin’ mapped, so of course it looks like it fuckin’ stops! Below that is very close to the cavern where the Superior Beings live. Security is tight as fuck down there. Even our sensors won’t work!”
“Then she’s doomed.” Sebastian Blood said. “There’s nowhere for her to go.”
Ross Mental was alarmed by the bounty hunter’s lack of perception. “Are you really so fuckin’ obtuse?! Of course she has somewhere to go, and it may well be somewhere she’s been planning to go all along!”
Sebastian Blood thought for a moment. “You don’t think that she’s…”
“I fuckin’ do!”
Everyone crouched in silence for a moment, dwelling on that profound possibility, and then a voice, cold and almost mournful, spoke. “The health of the head of Administrator Jess Debinitraff within my cranial-maintenance system is degrading.”
Ross Mental turned, annoyed at the banal interruption. He could see the shiny cylindrical head of THROB peeking over the edge of the ledge. It glinted in the light of his floodlight. “Then do something about it!”
“I have increased the flow of life-sustaining fluids to maximum. There is nothing more that I can do. I request permission to return to the surface and deliver the head of Administrator Jess Debinitraff to a cyborg construction…”
“Fuckin’ denied! Get up here. You are the closest companion of Sadie Stick. If we encounter her alive I may need you to talk to the fucker!”
THROB had no choice but to comply. He began to pull himself up onto the ledge.
Ross Mental activated his communicator. “Baron Onslaught! Fuckin’ respond!”
The reply was immediate. “Baron Onslaught here. We are approaching your position. We’ll be with you in…”
“Don’t fuckin’ bother. The passageways we’re going into are too narrow for so many of us. We’re better off as a small team. Head back to the fuckin’ surface. You’re more use up there.”
“Very well. I will be glad to get out into the open. I will go to my ship and join the fleet in orbit.”
A surge of jealousy washed over Ross Mental. “Yeah, you fuckin’ do that!” He yelled, closing the channel.
THROB crawled with remarkable smoothness to a position next to Ross Mental.
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter looked briefly at the mechanoid, and then pointed down the passageway. “Let’s fuckin’ move!”