“Oh, Badoodoo! The perfection of my forward planning is incomparable!” Lord Ecnerwal said. He stood in a wide and powerful stance on his huge purple bed, his face beaming. He looked down at the assistant, his expression transforming quickly into a scowl. His voice rasped. “And you, my little poo pellet, protested my request to have an ejection system fitted to the subspace field generator, didn’t you?”
Badoodoo began to defend himself. “Only because no other ship in history has ever had one fitted. Such generators cannot be overloaded in the same way as drive systems and therefore don’t require…”
“Shut up!” Lord Ecnerwal yelled. He pointed at the screen opposite the bed and grinned. “With a single stroke I managed to eject that bounty bastard and get his own kind to destroy him. You cannot deny that! And you cannot deny that my idea was incredible, and quite inconceivable to those beneath my unbelievable level of ingenuity!”
Badoodoo knew what he must do to survive. “No, my lord. I cannot deny that.”
Lord Ecnerwal laughed. He let himself fall back onto his silky bed sheets in a spread-eagled position. “Rejoice in the truly magnificent spectacle of my splendid sagaciousness!” He began to cackle like an old wart-infested hag, and continued to do so for more than a minute. And then he sat up and looked intently at Badoodoo. “When will my scab demons be dispatched?”
Badoodoo looked down at his data pad. “The lower rock hull has lost almost eighty percent of its mass. The landing craft of the scab demons will be able to leave in just a few…”
An alarm interrupted the assistant.
Lord Ecnerwal looked around frantically. “What was that? Is it good?”
Badoodoo swallowed. “Erm… no, my lord, alarms such as that one are never good. A ship has emerged from subspace directly behind us. Less than a hundred kilometres away.”
The asteroid shuddered. Badoodoo almost lost his footing.
Lord Ecnerwal was incensed. “What’s happening?!”
The assistant steadied himself. “The ship has fired on us!”
“It… It’s the Blenheim, my lord!”
In a fit of exaggerated rage, Lord Ecnerwal leaned over and vomited with all his might onto Badoodoo’s face.
The Blenheim rocked wildly as another burst of energy struck its shields. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH SEVENTY-EIGHT PERCENT.”
“Target the topside – random SPUNGE spread. Ten units. Fire!”
The ship complied. “TARGETING… FIRING…”
Peter the Ace watched the main view-screen, which currently showed a view directly down, as the Super Penetrating UNdulating Girth Expansion torpedoes shot out of their bays and headed down to the asteroid less than ten kilometres below. Within seconds they hit their target, detonating hundreds of metres below its surface.
Although partly obscured by streams of burning plasma, Peter the Ace could clearly see the top surface of the asteroid lift up and then break apart. He grinned as geysers of white fire blasted through the cracks. He operated his communications panel. “Lawrence, good to see that you’re still as mad as ever. Are you enjoying my torpedoes? I must say, I’m impressed by this current plan of yours. Your arrogant lunacy has reached yet another new high. Congratulations!”
As expected it took only a few seconds for a response to come. The image of a deeply scarred face and scalp appeared in a small window on the main view-screen, overlaid over the view of the blazing asteroid and the attacking bounty hunter fleets. “Your powers of perception are feeble, bounty bastard!” Lawrence said, as what appeared to be vomit dribbled down his chin. His voice rose in pitch.“You mistake justified confidence for arrogance, and mind-blowing creativity for lunacy!”
Peter the Ace laughed. “Wow! You’re so easily goaded, and by nothing more than a true and unexaggerated assessment of your plan, too!”
Lawrence shook visibly with rage. “Such impudence will be punished when my magnificent plot succeeds! You will soon bow down to kiss my bare un-moisturised feet and beg for forgiveness! And then you will die in the worst manner possible!”
The bounty hunter ignored Lawrence’s rant. “I notice that your face is now as scarred as your scalp. The result of a close encounter with Panman, no doubt.”
Lawrence appeared initially infuriated by the remark, but his expression quickly changed to one of satisfaction. “Yes it was, but your companion is now dead – killed by your own kind!” He threw his head back and yelled. “Ha harr! I have inconceivable cleverness!”
The communications channel was closed abruptly. But another one immediately opened. It was a call from Amino Battle Command. As he positioned his ship for another attack Peter the Ace answered the call. The horrific multi-chinned head of Commander Pepe appeared on the screen. “Commander, glad you called. I’ve just spoken to Lawrence. He claims Panman has been killed by bounty hunters. He’s obviously lost his mind completely to make such a preposterous statement. But if he truly believes it then we can use that to our…”
Commander Pepe looked solemn. “Lawrence’s statement may not be as preposterous as it sounds.”
“What possible reason could you have to say that?”
“As you may be aware, a bounty hunter ship destroyed the subspace field generator that was ejected from the asteroid.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Yes, the Blenheim’s sensors picked that up. That was a vital piece of equipment. More evidence that Lawrence has completely lost his mind, don’t you think?”
“I’m afraid I don’t. It appears that Lawrence ejected the generator because Panman was on it.”
Peter the Ace paused for a moment. “I see.” He said, frowning. “And yet you still ordered its destruction?”
The commander’s guilt was obvious. He had begun to sweat profusely. “There was no indication of Panman’s presence. His transponder was obviously not functioning. We only realised he was there when he opened a communications channel just before the generator’s destruction. There was no possibility of calling off the attack.” He wheezed and then took a bite out of a pie, obviously for comfort. Crumbs tumbled down his chins, many sticking as they got trapped in pools of sweat.
The Blenheim shook as another blast slammed into the ship. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH SIXTY-SIX PERCENT.”
Peter the Ace ordered another attack. “Target the stern. Disruptor burst – five-second duration and forty-degree arc. Fire!”
Peter the Ace smiled as he watched a deep white-hot gash being carved into the asteroid’s rear end. After a moment he returned his attention to the commander, his expression turning serious. “Once again you seem to doubt Panman’s abilities, commander. This is quite unlike you. Perhaps you are not up to the job anymore?”
Commander Pepe’s eyes widened. He spat out some fragments of pie. “I am as capable as ever! I have suffered stress beyond that suffered on previous crises, I’ll admit that, but I have also doubled the time I spend in my massage chamber to compensate. I assure you I am completely up to the job!”
“That’s good to know, commander. I will find Panman. Maintain your confidence and get rid of those doubts. Greater challenges are surely on their way.”
The commander nodded. His image faded away.
“Ha harr! Look at him flee like a flea!” Lord Ecnerwal said with glee as he stood on his bed in a proud and theatrical stance. “His fear of my intelligence and stirring mood swings is clearly evident!”
Badoodoo wiped the last of the vomit from his face as he watched one of the screens on the wall. The sensor image of the Blenheim did indeed appear to show the ship in a rapid retreat.
Increasingly violent shudders rocked the bed chamber.
Badoodoo was looking at his data pad. “That last attack damaged our propulsion system, my lord.” He looked up at his master. “We are no longer able to sustain our course and speed within the atmosphere!”
Lord Ecnerwal looked around like a startled cat, his focus switching from the glowing orange globes at his bedside, up to the high ceiling and then finally back to the large screens on the chamber wall. “We must! The scab demons must launch!”
Badoodoo consulted his data pad once more. “The lower rock hull has finally burned away, my lord. The landing craft will launch within seconds.”
Lord Ecnerwal jumped to his feet and then looked down at his assistant, smiling sweetly. “That pleases me immensely. Thank you, stench monger.”
Badoodoo ignored yet another insult. “I recommend that we leave the atmosphere immediately after the landing craft launch, otherwise we may lose the ability to do so.”
Lord Ecnerwal nodded. “That is a very sensible suggestion, Badoodoo. You’re not as thick as you appear or sound, are you?”
Badoodoo sighed. “No, my lord.”
“Good. Pass the order on to the command crew.”
The assistant nodded.
One of the large screens now showed a view looking down onto the landing craft. All four of the huge, black rectangular ships were now descending, their bows glowing as the friction of the atmosphere took hold.
Lord Ecnerwal sobbed at the sight. “Beautiful.” He said, sniffling. “Isn’t it beautiful?!”