Commander Pepe looked down and marvelled at the surface of fine glistening bubbles that lapped against the bulging folds of his colossal waistline. The steaming hot water and the rich and comforting scents of the bath foam had certainly reduced his stress levels to a manageable level. He had been wise to have hastily appointed a new chief officer instead of continuing to shoulder the burden himself. It was only by spending as much time as possible undergoing a multitude of treatments and experiences in a massage chamber that a leader such as him could function effectively. It was a management technique that had allowed him to successfully help the Palace of Amino and a multitude of bounty hunters survive catastrophe after catastrophe. He was intensely proud of that fact, and he was convinced that such a proven technique would work again.
The commander smiled as he watched the eight slim, toned, tanned and drugged females that were in the huge bath with him. Following their exhilarating performance during his most recent deep tissue massage session he had allowed them time off to play for a while. They giggled as they fondled each other and as they swam to and fro through the bubbles. It was a supremely distracting sight, exactly as he had intended.
The commander’s thoughts naturally turned to more primeval things. He felt a sudden surge of activity beneath his gut-folds. Once again he needed attention. He caressed one of the nearest females as she drifted by. She sat up and smiled dreamily. The commander pointed down. “If you please, Hazel.” Hazel immediately sank beneath the bubbles and worked her way through his layers of flab.
Leaning back, Commander Pepe closed his eyes and sighed. He breathed slowly and deeply, his tremendous sweating man-breasts rising and falling.
Commander Pepe wheezed and sat up straight. He coughed and blinked rapidly for a second. The powerful figure of Goliath Snook was standing on the marble ledge at the edge of the bath. “Damn it, Goliath! Warn me before you enter my massage chamber!”
His new chief officer spoke, his voice even more resonant in the large tiled bathing room. “I was following procedure, commander.”
“What procedure is that?!”
“The one regarding disturbing you during a session in your massage chamber. If there is a critical enough reason to do so then I read that I should simply enter the chamber and approach you without warning to avoid any delay in informing you of…”
Commander Pepe nodded, his chins wobbling. “All right, all right! I know!” He noticed Goliath was distracted by the activity of the females in the bath, and especially Hazel, who was still bobbing beneath his gut-folds. Struggling, the commander got to his feet. Water gushed in waterfalls off his vast overhang. He looked down at Hazel. “Enough.” She pulled away and looked up with lazy expectancy. “Go with all the others and prepare for a full-length full-strength full-feature session. I think I’m going to need it.”
Hazel nodded and stood up. She turned and waded sexily through the bubbles of the knee-deep bath calling sweetly to the others. They all followed Hazel up the shallow steps at the far side of the bath and disappeared through an arched and steam-filled doorway.
Goliath was gazing after them, his jaw slack.
Commander Pepe frowned. “Well, what is it?!”
The chief officer looked back at the commander and grimaced for a moment.
The commander yelled. “Yes, my body is hideously stomach-churning! Get over it!”
Goliath nodded once. “Of course, commander.”
“Now for the last time, what is it?!”
Fumbling with his data pad the chief officer activated the giant screen on the wall to the side of the bath. Schematics, charts, trajectories and images fizzled into view. The centre image clearly showed a cross section of the asteroid with the bizarre jungle at its centre.
Commander Pepe looked suspiciously at Goliath. “This is the data Peter the Ace sent us an hour ago. I’ve seen it already!”
The chief officer nodded. “Yes commander, but we have just received his further analysis.” He played with his data pad. The data on the screen played through an animated sequence. “It looks like the asteroid is likely to emerge from subspace much closer than we anticipated.”
The commander watched as the animation showed the asteroid appearing right at the edge of Enchantia’s atmosphere. He felt a shudder of shock pass over him as he watched the asteroid skim through the upper atmosphere. “There’ll be almost no time for our fleet to intercept it!”
Commander Pepe nodded, accepting the grim news. He felt a moment of despair, and his heart sank. But just for a moment. “But there will be some time.” His mood lifted slightly.
“There’s no way of knowing which side of the planet the asteroid will emerge on. It is unlikely the fleet will be in the ideal location to intercept the asteroid promptly.”
The commander scowled. “Then split the fleet!”
“That would reduce…”
“Just do it, damn it!”
The commander breathed deeply to calm himself. He rested his flabby arms on the sides of his vast midsection. Undulations rippled down across the folds of his overhang. “What else?”
The chief officer, obviously fighting to conceal his disgust, manipulated his data pad. The images on the screen changed. A close-up of the lower part of the asteroid was shown. “There appears to be a large camouflaged docking bay at the asteroid’s base. It contains four large detachable vehicles. Peter the Ace has surmised that they are landing craft. Each is approximately four-hundred metres long.”
The commander nodded. “And that is how the infected humanoid invasion force will be dispatched?”
“It looks like it, commander. And the thickness and strength of the hulls of the landing craft suggest something similar to the one used by Lawrence to deliver what he referred to as his unholy army of the night forty-five years ago.”
Commander Pepe felt a torrent of stress flood across his body. His capacious stomach ached. “That craft was unnervingly effective. We must do whatever is necessary to prevent those landing craft from getting close to the palace perimeter.”
“And what would that be, commander?”
The commander glared. “It’s your job to find out!”
Goliath nodded. “Of course, commander.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “The asteroid will arrive in less than two hours. We should begin the evacuation of the surface population to…”
Commander Pepe frowned. “What are you talking about? All bounty hunters are either in their ships in orbit or on missions here or elsewhere. All trainees and essential personnel already have their instructions to head for their bunkers when the attack warning is given.”
“I know, commander, but there are still tens of thousands of menial workers who have absolutely no idea what is going on. Shouldn’t we…”
The commander shuddered as he shouted. “P. O. I. is essential to the smooth running of the palace! It cannot be abandoned, not even in a situation as dismal as this! Didn’t you read the chief officer’s manual?!”
Goliath Snook was startled by the commander’s outburst. “We are in the middle of a crisis, commander. I only had time to read the emergency quick-start guide. There was no mention of P. O. I, whatever that is.”
“The Policy of Ignorance, of course! Surely you must be aware of that?!”
“Oh… Yes, vaguely. But surely when the lives of those menial workers are threatened we should warn them. Many - perhaps all - will be slaughtered if the infected humanoids enter the palace.”
“That could well be, but what if we warn them of the danger and some or all survive? They will no longer be completely ignorant of events beyond their mundane existences. They will start to question their place in our society and in the universe beyond. They will develop ambitions and desires that can never be achieved. They will become frustrated with their lot. They will become restless. And what could that ultimately lead to?”
Goliath thought for a second. “Rebellion?”
The commander nodded. “Exactly! If we maintain P. O. I. and some or all survive then the palace, providing the invasion is ultimately unsuccessful, will return to normality quickly, and the menial workers’ lives will go on as if nothing has happened and our services will not suffer. But if we ignore P. O. I. and warn them of what is happening then of course many more may survive, but they will become useless once the crisis is over. They will demand career progression, rewards, and ask to travel off-world. They will be distracted as questions pop into their consciousnesses, and they will become brutally aware of the utter mediocrity of their lives. They would then become a risk to the stability of this organization. Ultimately they would have to be evicted, or even destroyed.”
The chief officer looked thoughtful. “So warning them could result in more danger for them than not warning them?”
Goliath seemed satisfied. “I understand, commander.”
“Excellent. Now go!”
Goliath Snook turned and left quickly.
Commander Pepe sank back into the foaming water, thoughts of the current crisis spinning inside his mind. He panted and wheezed, and then hit a control on the side of the bath. “Power up the mud hoses and vibro-enemas. And then help me out of this bath!”