Badoodoo seemed to have escaped whatever grisly fate his master had planned for him. At least for now.
Despite three of the landing craft failing to release their scab demons, Lord Ecnerwal seemed pleased enough with the thousands of infected humanoids that now lumbered around inside the Palace of Amino. He was pleased even though most of them were being slaughtered with little effort as they emerged from their broken vessel.
That had initially confused Badoodoo. But that confusion evaporated the moment Lord Ecnerwal had ordered the next phase of his plan into action. The sudden and seemingly suicidal descent of the asteroid towards the Palace of Amino that had followed had filled the assistant with terror and despair.
Lord Ecnerwal, however, seemed incredibly happy. “The sublime joy of this moment rouses me like no anthem of jubilation ever could!” He shouted, squatting like a frog on his bed. He pointed at the screen opposite the bed. “See how they are distracted by my scab demons! See how they fail to anticipate the boldness of my intellectual radiance!”
Badoodoo nodded nervously. “Yes, my lord, I see. But this asteroid is not built to survive an impact at this speed. Our hull is strong, but not…”
Lord Ecnerwal screamed. “You obtuse little cyst!” He glared at the assistant, his eyes narrowing to nothing more than a dark slit. “Have you not yet figured out the true finale of my plan?!”
It was all becoming too much for Badoodoo. His eyes welled up. “No, my lord, I have not!” He said, his voice quivering.
Lord Ecnerwal continued screaming. “The scab demons are a diversion! That was the plan all along! Did you really think that I could assume control of the Palace of Amino with an army of lumbering disease-ridden morons armed with rusted blades?!”
Confusion filled the assistant’s mind. “Well, yes. You said that you could, and I believed you!”
“Of course you did! My skills of deception are beyond the understanding of sweaty cloths such as you!”
Badoodoo wiped away some tears and simply stared at his master.
Lord Ecnerwal spoke more calmly. He smiled. “Do not be so miserable, Badoodoo. I deceived you to protect you. I knew that a bounty hunter would one day infiltrate this asteroid. And I expected that bounty hunter to capture you and removed ample parts of your body in an attempt to find out the details of my plan. I could not risk having those final details revealed prematurely. Fortunately for you, and disappointingly for me, that bounty hunter failed to carry out the amputations I predicted.”
Badoodoo pointed at the screen. The asteroid was now only five-hundred kilometres above the palace. “I know the strength of our hull. We cannot survive the impact!”
Lord Ecnerwal shook his head slowly and sighed. “You know far less than you think, Badoodoo. There is a device on this vessel, a marvellously ingenious device that will cushion our impact and deliver us directly into Amino Battle Command.”
Badoodoo thought for a second. “But I oversaw the construction of this asteroid’s interior. I know of all the functionality contained within it. There is nothing that…” He paused as he thought a bit more. His eyes widened. “The chiropody clinic!”
Lord Ecnerwal laughed. “Yes!”
Badoodoo was feeling better. “So it’s not really a chiropody clinic then, my lord?”
“Of course not, slug polyp! Why would I need such a massive chiropody clinic?! My feet contain the most perfect examples of phalanges and metatarsals ever known!”
Badoodoo watched as his master stood up and wriggled the toes on his white bony feet. The feet were some of the ugliest he had ever seen. “They are… fine examples, my lord.”
Lord Ecnerwal stopped showing off his feet and frowned with seriousness. “Enough about my feet. Contact the command crew. Order them to prepare for the final phase.” He leaned back and yelled at the ceiling. “Order them to extend the penetrator!”
The Blenheim shook as another emission of energy pummelled the ship’s shield. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH THIRTY-ONE PERCENT.”
“I can’t understand a word he’s saying!” Panman said, leaning back into his comfortable chair at his weapons console.
On the main view-screen, overlaid over an image of the spiky-looking asteroid and the attacking fleets, was the image of Commander Pepe’s humongous head. His reddening cheeks were crammed with food and he was mumbling like a gagged hostage. Crumbs flew out of his half-open mouth.
Peter the Ace was sitting in his command chair. He spoke sternly. “Commander, we haven’t got time for this. I understand the stress you must be suffering, and I appreciate your need to consume vast amounts of fattening food, but I do not understand your need to make contact simply to spit crumbs and processed meat at us.”
The ship shook once more. “WARNING: SHIELD STRENGTH TWENTY-SIX PERCENT.”
Panman slammed his hands down onto his console and unleashed a spread of HEATs as a response. Part of the main view-screen changed to show the track of the torpedoes. Within seconds once of the energy emitters on the asteroid broke apart in a shower of glowing debris.
The image of the commander changed to that of another man. “I’m sorry,” the man said, his voice strong and resonant,“but another pork pie has arrived for the commander. I don’t think he is going to be in a position to speak in a comprehensible manner for a while.”
Panman was nodding. “Hmm…” He mumbled quietly. He was obviously sympathetic to the commander’s needs.
“Who are you?” Peter the Ace asked.
“I am Chief Officer Goliath Snook.”
Peter the Ace wondered what had happened to Weezil Sagifagpakit but decided it was not important right now. “You’ve probably noticed that the asteroid is on a collision course with the palace. It has reached a steady velocity of three kilometres per second. It will reach you in just over two minutes.”
“I am aware of that fact. Amino Battle Command is fully locked down. My systems indicate that we should survive the impact. The surface facilities will, of course, be devastated. Is there anything you can do?”
Panman was speaking quietly into his communicator. “Jemima, I need a pork pie…”
Peter the Ace had learned a long time ago how to ignore his companion’s lust for nutrition. He nodded. “We could do a lot if we were able to use our most powerful weapons, but as you know those weapons would also destroy the Palace of Amino in its current defenceless state. You must find a way to activate the defence field so that we can launch an effective attack. It is the only way the surface structures of the Palace of Amino can survive.”
Panman pointed at the image of the asteroid. “Ace, look at that! Something’s extending from it!”
A long tubular structure, just less than five metres in diameter, was extending fast from the asteroid’s base. It had already extended beyond the length of the stalks of the remaining energy emitters.
Goliath Snook had spotted the structure. “What is that?”
Wider sections of the tube could now be seen extending at a slower pace. It was beginning to resemble an old-fashioned telescope and was now more than a kilometre long. Its length was increasing at almost fifty metres per second.
A sudden blast of realisation hit Peter the Ace. He operated his communicator. “This is Peter the Ace to all bounty hunter ships. Focus your attacks on the device extending from the asteroid.” He looked at Goliath. “It looks like Lawrence is planning to punch through the ground and right into Battle Command.”
The chief officer’s jaw slackened. He looked up.
“Focus, Mister Snook!”
The chief officer composed himself and looked back at the bounty hunter. He nodded.
Peter the Ace continued. “The situation has changed. We cannot allow Amino Battle Command to be compromised. Commander Pepe must authorise me to use the extreme weapons at my disposal. And you know what that will mean if you do not get that defence field up and running. You have less than one and a half minutes!”
Jemima Murma wandered onto the bridge, her yellow ankle-length summer dress fluttering around her. She placed a tray next to Panman. “Here’s your pork pie. I took the liberty of bringing you a glass of port. I hope that’s fine with you?”
Panman had already stuffed a large slice of the pie into his mouth. He grinned and then nodded. Crumbs fell from his teeth.