Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim on a low and gently curving course around the southern perimeter of the Palace of Amino and out towards the east. The main view-screen showed a panoramic image of the dark view ahead. A thickening haze of smoke and ash was quickly shrouding the devastated landscape around the palace as the melted surface cooled and smouldered. Visibility was down to two-kilometres and falling, not helped by the fact that the sun had just set.
Jemima Murma entered the bridge wearing loose and pink silk pajamas. Her shoulder-length dark hair was straggly and completely devoid of any particular style. She placed a tray containing two crystal glasses and a bottle of vintage Champagne between Peter the Ace and Panman. “I thought you’d like to celebrate!” She said, smiling sweetly. She poured two glasses.
“What a marvellous idea!” Peter the Ace said, accepting his glass from the assistant. He took a sip and then looked up at her. “You’re welcome to join us if you’d like to. Have some Champagne!”
Panman had already downed his glass. “Yeah!” He said, burping. “There’s plenty!”
Jemima Murma bowed. “You’re both so kind! I’ll go and get myself a glass.”
“Don’t worry about that.” Panman said, activating his communicator. “Yo, Justin! Where are you?”
The reply was devoid of expression. “I am in the cyborg construction laboratory.”
“Cool! Bring a Champagne glass up to the bridge for Jemima!”
There was a slight pause. “I obey.”
Jemima Murma was looking at the view ahead. “It’s a desolate scene.” She said; sadness obvious in her voice. “I used to ride garuths at night across the plains and through the forests down there.”
Peter the Ace looked surprised. “You used to ride at night? Why?”
“So I could be naked. The breeze was always fresh and tingly against my skin, and the movement of the beast between my thighs gave me an immense sensation of well-being.”
Panman had just poured himself another glass. He raised it and laughed. “I’ll drink to that!”
On the view-screen a shape, massive and dome-like, was emerging from the darkening gloom. It was the remains of Lawrence’s asteroid. Sensor information overlaid on the left of the screen showed frenzied activity around it by ships and bounty hunters. Many were entering the vast structure through the gaping wounds on its surface.
Jemima Murma gazed at the screen. “Do you think Lawrence is alive in there?”
Peter the Ace nodded. “Indeed. He would not perish so easily. We have learned that much during our encounters. I can’t imagine he’s in a healthy state, though!”
Panman laughed. “He never has been!”
The sound of servos could be heard. With a series of dull clangs Justin walked his dense metallic frame onto the bridge. He stopped just behind Jemima Murma and held out a Champagne glass.
The assistant turned and took it. “Thanks.” She said. She reached down and picked up the Champagne bottle. She topped up the glasses of Peter the Ace and Panman and then poured herself a glass. She took a sip and smiled.
Panman looked up at Justin. The cyborg was standing motionless and staring at the main view-screen. “How’s the head I gave you doing?”
The cyborg looked down at Panman. His eyes were shining a piercing shade of red. “The construction of a cyborg body for Shipoopaa is underway. Completion is scheduled to occur in thirty-seven minutes.”
Panman frowned. “I asked you to take her down there ages ago! Why’s it taking so long?”
“All of her skin and part of her skull were burned beyond recovery. Also there was significant heat damage to her frontal, parietal and occipital lobes. The lower part of her Medulla has suffered deep cauterisation. Because of this thirty-one percent of her brain requires reconstruction. Integration with her remaining biological brain will…”
Panman held his hand up. “Alright! Point made! You’d better get back down there. She’s going to be in a hell of a confused state when she regains consciousness.”
“I obey.” Justin said, turning. He stomped noisily off the bridge.
The main view-screen was now filled with the view of the crashed asteroid. Hundreds of bounty hunter ships could be seen flying close to its crumpled surface, their floodlights cutting through the dimness and sweeping across its seared surface.
Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim down towards a particularly wide split in the hull at ground level. “I think we need to get inside that thing.”
Panman nodded. “I’ll find out what the commander’s plan is.” He operated his communicator. An image of Chief Officer Goliath Snook appeared in a small window at the centre of the screen.
The chief officer bowed. “Congratulations. Your shrewd use of a MADPLOP has defeated Lawrence.”
“It was destined for success.” Panman said. “Where’s the commander?”
“Commander Pepe is being massaged by six naked females whilst submerged in mud. He has asked not to be disturbed at this time.”
“I see. Well, we want to know what your plan is for the downed asteroid. What’s going on in there?”
The chief officer looked down. “In the commander’s absence I ordered the second fleet to scour the surface and interior of the asteroid for signs of Lawrence. There are sixteen ships currently in the asteroid’s interior. They are using fusion cutters to carve their way through.”
Peter the Ace slowed the Blenheim as it drew within a few hundred metres of the hull. He looked at some sensor displays. “Although the MADPLOP destroyed most of the penetration device on the base of the asteroid it seems some of it did survive. It looks to have still managed to penetrate three-hundred metres into the ground.”
“I am aware of that.”
“But you do not seem to have any bounty hunters assigned to investigating it. It’s possible that Lawrence is deranged enough to believe his penetration device will still give him access to Battle Command. He could be down there.”
Goliath nodded. “Of course. I will assign a team to that task immediately.”
“Good. I’m surprised you haven’t done that already.”
The chief officer frowned. “I was more suspicious of the impenetrable area at the centre of the asteroid. I had directed all available resources towards it.”
Panman was refocusing his sensors. “That’s the jungle dome. It seems to have been sealed off completely.” He looked at Peter the Ace. “It’s heavily masked, but I’m detecting an energy build-up in there.”
Peter the Ace was intrigued. “What’s the pattern of the energy?”
“The analysis is coming through now.” Panman said, looking back down at his sensor screen. He looked up, his eyes wide. “It looks like a subspace field is forming!”
Peter the Ace operated his controls. The Blenheim thrusted away. “Get everyone out of there, Mister Snook. Now!”