Nursing hundreds of deep bruises, Badoodoo wiped away some half-chewed raisins and examined the sensor images on the circular control surface. Tension and fear plucked at his chubby little body. “They’re coming in, my lord! More than a hundred of them! There are bounty hunters everywhere!”
Lord Ecnerwal smiled at him. “Your family is nothing more than a collection of gelatinous pond dwellers. Wouldn’t you agree?”
The assistant was confused by the bizarre question. “Erm… No, my lord.”
Badoodoo yelped as a bony bare foot slammed into his groin. He sank to the floor, a powerful ache growing through the centre of his body.
Lord Ecnerwal laughed. “I am right!”
The assistant groaned. “The bounty hunters, my lord. We must surrender or we’ll die!”
“Nonsense!” Lord Ecnerwal said. “I have planned for this eventuality.” He stood up and spread his arms out wide, and then breathed in deeply, speaking at the same time. “I inspire tremendous awe in the likes of you!”
Badoodoo struggled to his feet. “What have you planned, my Lord.”
His master pointed down through the transparent walls to the jungle below. “My wondrous creations live on down there. When the bounty hunters discover them they’ll be unable to let them perish. They’ll create a haven for their survival at the palace. And because this ship’s life support systems are failing, they’ll do it within days!”
Badoodoo was confused. “How will that help us, my lord?” He looked down at the sensor screens with despair. “The bounty hunters will soon break into the jungle. There is no escape!”
Lord Ecnerwal grinned. “I see that your desolate mind is unable to work it out. We will be hidden long before they get here.” He strode towards the exit. “Follow me, nostril dew!”
Peter the Ace guided the Blenheim to within a hundred metres of Lawrence’s huge domed ship as it drifted through the blackness of Enchantia’s shadow. The main view-screen showed an image of the ship’s devastated hull, illuminated by the floodlights of the huge number of bounty hunter ships that were attached to its surface.
Panman swallowed the last scone. A large glob of ginger and grapefruit jam clung to his lower lip. “It’s always impressive to see so many bounty hunters and their ships working together!” He said, taking a gulp of his tea.
“Indeed.” Peter the Ace agreed. “It’s a shame it’s such a rare sight. But if it was common it would mean that the galaxy was even more deeply malevolent than it already is!”
Panman nodded. The jam dripped onto his weapons console. “I guess the fact that it isn’t means we’re doing an unbelievably awesome job!”
“Indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. Bringing the Blenheim to a relative halt next to Lawrence’s ship, the first-class bounty hunter activated the communicator. “This is Peter the Ace onboard the Blenheim. How is your search going, Mister Buttress?”
After a second delay Claudius Buttress, the fourth-class bounty hunter who had been the leader of the second fleet, answered. “We have almost completed our search of the outer layers of this ship. We encountered mild resistance from some rotund little humanoids but they were easily reduced to terminal mounds of despair. If their lungs and throats had been functioning they would have no doubt been begging in high-pitched and often very camp voices for us to free them from their torment by melting their brains in an instant of super-concentrated…”
“Your descriptions are impressive, Mister Buttress, but I’d rather have a quick report from you, if you don’t mind?”
“Of course, my apologies. The centre of the ship appears to be completely sealed off. From the information Panman provided I believe that that section contains the jungle, as well as Lawrence’s private chambers.”
“It does. When will you get inside?”
“We are cutting into it and should break through in the next ten minutes or so.”
“Excellent. Keep a reasonable number of your team on the outside. We need to ensure Lawrence cannot escape.”
“Panman and I will join you shortly. Peter the Ace out.”
With a few motions of his hands Peter the Ace lowered the Blenheim towards the hull of Lawrence’s ship.
“Into a food capsule, my lord?”
“It’s not a food capsule, nut sack!”
Badoodoo looked through the oval hatch. Inside the dimly lit interior of the barrel-shaped capsule, that Lord Ecnerwal referred to as the Lozenge, were two cramped purple leather seats. What looked like padded tiles, also covered in purple leather, covered the lower half of the Lozenge. The upper half appeared to be transparent. It definitely was not a food capsule.
The assistant felt a sharp pain in his back. He surged forwards and found himself pressed hard against one of the seats.
Lord Ecnerwal yelled. “You’re wasting time, mug stain!”
Wincing, Badoodoo turned and squeezed himself into one of the seats. His master wrapped his cloak around himself and stepped daintily through the hatch. He sat down next to Badoodoo. With a whirr of servos two restraints extended from above and behind the seats. The assistant found himself strapped in tightly. He could barely move. The oval hatch in front slammed shut.
Lord Ecnerwal was sniggering. He started manipulating a small control surface on the arm of his seat. Various indicators lit up. He threw his head back. “Ha harr!”
Badoodoo’s confusion was almost overwhelming. “What are we doing here, my lord?”
His master sighed. “I have just launched something. Something that will fool those empty-headed bounty bastards.” He grinned crookedly at the assistant. “And now we will go for a ride.” He touched the control surface again.
The Lozenge shuddered briefly, and then it dropped.
Badoodoo gasped as he felt his innards rise up. Instinctively he gripped on to the arms of his chair. A second later the assistant was pushed hard into his seat. He felt exhausted, both by the pressure and the terror, as the Lozenge hurtled forwards.
And then bright light flooded in through the transparent top.
The Lozenge shook as leaves and branches smacked at the walls. And then with an incredible thud it stopped.
Badoodoo coughed and groaned. He felt dizzy.
Lord Ecnerwal was laughing. “Oh Badoodoo! What a glorious entity my brain is!” He looked at his assistant, his eyes wide. “Can you believe just how incredibly superior my mind is?!”
The assistant was still dazed, but recovering rapidly. He looked up. Through the transparent roof he could see the jungle canopy swaying high above. Beyond it the pale-blue artificial sky shone brightly. “Why are we down in the jungle, my lord?”
Lord Ecnerwal laughed once more. “To be swallowed, of course!” He tapped at his control surface. There was a dull pumping sound. What looked like a dark green paste appeared on the outside of the Lozenge. It partly obscured the view outside as it dribbled down. Lord Ecnerwal seemed very satisfied. “Our scent will be irresistible. And we will taste like heaven!”
Badoodoo was almost beyond caring. He sighed. “Forgive me, my lord, but I don’t understand.”
“I will forgive you.” Lord Ecnerwal said quietly. And then he frowned. “But only because I do not want to spend what could be weeks in here with an oozing corpse!”
The assistant was shocked. “Weeks?!”
“Of course, bile client! The digestive tract of one of my beloved egralons is long and slow. You should know that by now!”
Badoodoo’s heart sank as he finally figured out his master’s plan. He felt his stomach tighten.
There was a long and muffled groan.
Shuddering with fear, Badoodoo looked up. Through the spreading green paste he could see a huge opening mouth approaching. A wide set of flat stained teeth circled the Lozenge.
It was dark again.