“Its subspace drive is powering up!” Fractious Emjay said. “Firing solution locked.”
Justin repeated his masters’ order to the sixth-class bounty hunter in the ship ahead. “The escape capsule must be captured. It must not be destroyed.”
With his masters now onboard Lawrence’s domed ship, Justin was in charge once more. As he sat on his reinforced bench at the back of the Blenheim’s bridge a synthetic approximation of satisfaction ran as a medium-priority process within the omni-directional layers of his posi-digital-hypercube-derived artificial mind.
All of the cyborg’s high-priority processes were now focused on the task at hand – the pursuit of the small escape capsule that had launched from Lawrence’s ship fifteen minutes earlier. Its sudden appearance and acceleration had taken everyone by surprise. The only ships able to make an immediate response were the Blenheim and the Cantankerous Can Tanker.
“I’ve targeted its engine pod: low energy burst programmed. I can disable it now!”
Justin absorbed the Blenheim’s continuing tactical analysis through the data cable attached to his forehead. He relayed the analysis without a shred of emotion. “Do not fire. The escape capsule’s engine pod is showing signs of instability.”
Fractious Emjay was obviously looking at his own sensor images. “You’re right. There’s a growing imbalance in its primary accumulators. There’s no way that the capsule can enter subspace with such a significant fault. Any attempt and it will disintegrate!”
“It is logical to assume that Lawrence will abandon the attempt.”
Sensors continued to show a build up of energy. A small detonation on the rear of the capsule sent it spinning out of control. The build up continued.
“You’re logic is flawed! Now its secondary accumulators are imbalanced. It’s going to blow!”
An alarm sounded. The Blenheim spoke. “WARNING: THE SUBSPACE DRIVE MECHANISM ON THE TARGET VESSEL WILL DETONATE IN EIGHT SECONDS. SHIELD STRENGTH IS INSUFFICIENT TO GUARANTEE PROTECTION. EVACUATION TO A MINIMUM SAFE DISTANCE OF THREE-THOUSAND KILOMETRES IS RECOMMENDED.”
Having received the warning through the data cable, Justin had already adjusted the Blenheim’s course and accelerated to maximum sublight speed. “Evacuate to three-thousand kilometres immediately.”
As the Blenheim leapt away from the scene sensors showed the Cantankerous Can Tanker doing the same.
The escape capsule detonated.
The Blenheim shook violently as a wave of subspace distortions tore at its hull.
Dressed in his dense black body armour, Peter the Ace stood outside Lawrence’s chambers at the railings of the wide walkway that stretched around the entire circumference of the jungle. Just over fifty metres away the two nearest egralons were munching at the treetops, stripping branches bare with their blunt teeth. One of them let out a long deep moan. Several tones of excrement plopped out and dropped into the undergrowth with a rustle and a thud.
Panman approached. “I just had a call from Justin. The escape capsule has been destroyed.”
Peter the Ace looked at Panman. “Not by our metal friend, I hope. Otherwise he’s looking at another long stretch at the Mad Animated Head Gallery!”
Panman shook his head. “It seems the capsule suffered a malfunction in its drive system as it prepared to enter subspace. Apparently both the primary and secondary accumulators became imbalanced.”
Peter the Ace frowned. “The primary and secondary accumulators?”
Panman nodded. “Yeah! How unlucky is that?!.”
“Profoundly so.” Peter the Ace said, returning his gaze to the jungle. “In fact, I’ve never heard of such a thing ever happening.”
“Never?” Panman asked, sucking on his suit’s drink dispenser.
Panman thought for a moment. “Actually, me neither. Lawrence must be the unluckiest man ever to have lived!”
Another bounty hunter approached. Peter the Ace looked at him. “Mister Buttress, did you find out what that large tube was for?”
Claudius Buttress nodded. His polished white bald head reflected the light from the domed ceiling of the jungle with remarkable clarity. “It appears to be nothing more than a mechanism for delivering food capsules onto the jungle floor.” He pointed up. “There are hundreds of capsules near that viewing gallery above the artificial sky. They’re loaded up there and then sent down.”
Panman was looking at the egralons. “I guess munching on the trees is not enough for them?”
“I guess not.” Claudius Buttress said. “The last food capsule was delivered around the time Lawrence escaped. It’s not down in the jungle so I expect it was eaten up very quickly.”
“Hmm…” Panman said. “They must taste great…” His mind wandered.
Peter the Ace looked out over the jungle. After a few seconds he smiled and then looked back at Claudius Buttress. “The creatures of this jungle are innocent victims of Lawrence’s nefarious scheme. They must be well looked after. Ensure that they are transferred to an appropriate sanctuary down on Enchantia. And make sure it’s done well before the life support systems on this ship degrade to a dangerous level.”
The lesser bounty hunter bowed once. “Of course. I’ll see to it at once.” He turned and strode purposefully away.
Panman had been sucking paste from his suit’s food dispenser. “I guess were done.” He said, his voice muffled by a dense black mass that clung to his tongue. “Time to head down to the palace, I think!”
Peter the Ace nodded. “You think right.” He took one last look at the jungle, and then he turned and headed towards the entrance to Lawrence’s chambers. “I need some beer. Let’s go to the Wonder Bar.”
“Cool!” Panman said excitedly, following. “Beer rules!” He drew up alongside Peter the Ace and looked at him thoughtfully. “You know, for someone who’s off to consume a large quantity of beer, you don’t seem too thrilled.”
“I am quite thrilled.” Peter the Ace said. “But I’m also in an incredibly thoughtful mood.”
Panman nodded. “I see. What’s on your mind, Ace?”
Peter the Ace smiled. “I’ll tell you once the beer’s on the table!”