Commander Pepe, dressed in his impressive and striking battle robes, hauled himself in as regal a manner as possible across the dimly lit upper terrace at the rear of Amino Battle Command’s huge main chamber. As he walked he looked to his right at the gigantic display screens filled with charts, tables, and complex 3D models of Enchantia’s atmosphere and the surrounding space. One piece of data in particular caused his capacious stomach to tighten: the predicted path of the asteroid, which would arrive within the next fifteen minutes. He took a deep laboured breath and then glanced down to the hundreds of personnel below who appeared to be working silently at their glowing consoles, their shadows black and long against the light of the main screens. There was a tangible sense of tension and foreboding – a sense of menace and anticipation that was rising in intensity. The commander forced a sense of resolve to form in his mind and suppressed an aching desire to return to the steamy and carefree pleasures of his massage chamber. He knew that his place at such a time was with his staff in this awe-inspiring chamber. And he knew that he would have to remain here until the crisis was over. It was his duty as the leader to be an inspiration to all of those working below, and especially to those working high above who would soon face the attack head on. He would have to be a massively obese beacon of hope to the entire population of the Palace of Amino during its darkest hour.
He would not, and must not, fail to be all those things.
The commander glanced down at his tremendous waistline and stroked it. He felt a surge of pride for his achievement in building such a motivational and deeply respected girth.
Reaching the centre of the terrace, Commander Pepe sank his colossal flabby frame into his massive reinforced command chair. Two small command and communications consoles to each side of the chair shimmered to life. A screen ahead of him, set low in front of the railings of the terrace, glimmered to life and displayed its battle configuration mode. At the sight of it a shiver made its way across the commander’s ample frame. He recalled that the last time he had seen such a configuration was during the emitter beam attack by the lump-being, Pys Phecees, almost three decades ago. His stress level then had been almost unbearable at times. And now the same feelings of deep anxiety threatened to consume him once again. He took another deep breath, and then tried to banish such thoughts from his mind. He focused on the tactical and strategic information on the screen, and on the images of the two fleet leaders and their ships - Mad Woman onboard the Bone, and Claudius Buttress onboard the Tainted Glove Puppet. Communications links to the fleet leaders were already active. Below them was an image of Peter the Ace and the Blenheim. The sight of the first-class bounty hunter and his ship stirred the commander’s soul and lifted his spirit. A communications link and a tactical data feed to the top-class bounty hunter was set up and ready. The commander looked up at one of the giant screens at the front of the capacious chamber. The position of the Blenheim in subspace was clearly displayed far behind Lawrence’s asteroid.
Chief Officer Goliath Snook approached; his foot falls silent on the dark plush carpeting. He took his seat to the right of the commander.
Commander Pepe turned to Goliath. “How are the final preparations going?”
Goliath peered down at his data pad; his face bathed in the light of its screen. “The two fleets are now fully formed. All bounty hunters and their ships that were available at the palace, or that were able to return in time, are in place. With the exception of Ross Mental and his team, of course.”
The commander nodded. “Of course. I expect they’ve confirmed the death of Sadie Stick by now and are on their way back up?”
“No, commander. They had to go deeper. They are currently beyond contact, both by sensors and via communications systems.”
Commander Pepe frowned. “Then where, in Wallington’s recesses, are they?!”
“Their last known position was one kilometer down and 2.3 kilometres east of this location. That was three hours ago. Ross Mental said they had evidence to suggest that Sadie Stick had gone even deeper so they continued their descent. Beyond that depth there is permanent sensor and communications jamming and no mapping information in order to…”
“Protect the Superior Beings – I know that, damn it! Stop spouting verbiage!”
Goliath nodded once. “We will just have to trust that they find Sadie Stick and prevent her from doing any further harm down there.”
Commander Pepe calmed a little. “Yes, I have full confidence in Ross Mental, so Sadie Stick and her treacherous mutilated form are of little concern to me at the moment.” He pointed at the giant display screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber. “It is that asteroid and all the uncertainties that come with it that concerns me.” He turned back to the chief officer. “I trust my head of External Defences has managed to clear his systems of the virus?”
The commander frowned deeply. “Damn it!” He shuddered, sending ripples across his chins and then slammed his fist onto the side of his chair to activate the communicator. “Woody Tiptoe!”
There was a tense two-second delay. “Yes, commander?”
“You must have the defence field up and running within the next fifteen minutes!”
“Not possible, I’m afraid. But it should be possible soon after that.”
“Soon after that? Be more specific, you spandex addict! How long is ‘soon after that’?!”
“The best estimate I can give is 30 to 90 minutes.”
Commander Pepe spoke through gritted teeth. “That is not specific at all!”
“Sorry, commander. The estimate depends on how many more instances of the virus require assassination. That cannot be determined in advance. We will just have to hope our fleets can provide enough cover for us until the…”
The commander silenced the communications channel and grunted in disappointment. He turned his head slowly towards Goliath and frowned. “Anything else I need to know?”
The chief officer consulted his data pad. “In your absence, and in line with the crisis protocols, I held a meeting with all your department heads, including Madam Sabina Rolipoli, Cyclone Joe Maloney…”
“Don’t sit there and read out the attendees list! What was the outcome of the meeting?”
Goliath tapped on his screen. “Emergency sub-surface food and beverage production and distribution facilities have been activated. Battle Command staff and trainee bounty hunters in their shelters will have the high quality meals and drinks that they are accustomed to. They will also have access to the usual entertainment facilities.”
Commander Pepe was becoming impatient, but he nodded. “Very good. Such things are important – arguably more important – during such times of upheaval such as this, especially for those who are playing a passive role.”
The chief officer continued. “The Head of Outlying Facilities, Matilda Fuddidud-bugruckus, reports that all servants - many carrying rare beverages, assistants and trainees in other regions of Enchantia, including the luxury residential hillsides, the training cliffs and the Jhamdownut Islands, have returned to the confines of the palace and are in the shelters…”
The irrelevant nature of the information finally got to the commander. He bellowed. “Enough! Why do I need to know such trivial rubbish?!”
The chief officer blinked slowly. “Because you asked me if there was anything else you needed to know.”
“Exactly! ‘Needed to know’! Why, during a crisis of this magnitude, would I ‘need to know’ that some servants carrying beverages have returned to the palace?!”
“The beverages are rare, commander, and valuable. They consist of such delicacies as Kutchikutchi and Munchimunch coffee beans, Happy Monkey smoothies, and…”
The commander thudded his fists onto the arms of his chair. His stress levels were rising rapidly. He scowled at Goliath and then pointed at the giant view screens at the front of the Battle Command chamber. “There is in progress what could very well turn out to be the most devastating attack on the Palace of Amino since its creation!” He looked back at his chief officer. “That prospect used to consume my attention. The thought of it used to make me shudder with trepidation and foreboding. The enormous responsibility I bear of directing our defences against that attack used to soak me in stress and anguish. But no longer.”
Goliath looked back at the commander. “Really?”
The commander nodded. The beads of sweat on his wobbling chin-folds glinted in the pale coloured light of the giant view screens. “And do you know why?”
The chief officer shook his head.
“Because you have bored me rigid with your inane outpouring of irrelevant information that, for what is likely to be some hideously unclean reason, you thought was something I ‘needed to know’!”
Goliath sat in silence for a moment, and then spoke. “From now on I will only convey information to you that is directly relevant to the impending attack.”
Commander Pepe took a deep breath. With a rasping and wheezing sound he let the breath out. “Thank you.” He looked around, thinking for a moment, and then he looked back at Goliath. “Now go and get me some strong Munchimunch coffee!”