18 days later…
Since the latest failed attack by Lawrence on the Palace of Amino there had been dozens of celebrations, the largest being the impromptu dance extravaganza the following day in Opulent Square, and the formal victory dinner party in the Great Hall a few nights later. But none had been as exclusive or as decadent as the latest and final official celebration held on the wide private open terrace at the top of the Dick Burton Feasting Tower.
As midnight approached, the circular terrace, which surrounded the private apartment and office of Dick Burton, was filled with lively and intellectual chatter as the highest ranking bounty hunters and Battle Command staff ate and drank some of the galaxy’s finest cuisine and beverages. Even the elusive Dick Burton himself had made an appearance. He was perched a level up on his personal balcony and was singing unusual songs with his small band of musicians.
Ross Mental leaned against the railings. Holding a four-litre flagon of ale to his mouth and with his head back, he gulped furiously. Frothy liquid ran down his neck. He finished the drink in seconds. Gasping with satisfaction, he slammed the empty flagon down on a nearby table and then looked around.
An immaculately and formally dressed waitress was approaching through the throng of top-class bounty hunters, her long white hair fluttering in the strong breeze. She was carrying a tray of exotic-looking cocktails. She stopped in front of the foul-mouthed bounty hunter and smiled; the pale skin of her face mellowed by the soft ambient lighting of the terrace.
Ross Mental burped at full volume, causing the waitress to flinch, and then looked at the tray in disgust. “I don’t want one of those fuckin’ ‘lady’ drinks!” He looked at the waitress. “Bring me another flagon of Ruptured Gut!”
The waitress nodded and then headed away.
Peter the Ace was standing nearby. He laughed and held up a shallow glass of purple liquid. Several lumps of green luminous jelly bobbed on its surface. “You really should expand your horizons when it comes to drinks. You don’t know what you’re missing. Why don’t you try one of these?”
Ross Mental frowned. “No offence, Ace, but I’d rather die like a fuckin’ under-class turd farmer than be seen holding on to one of those fuckers! It’s just not me.”
“No offence taken.” Peter the Ace said, taking a sip. He joined the foul-mouthed bounty hunter at the railings. “I would have actually been offended, though, if you’d accepted my idea and tried one. My opinion of you would have plummeted to an unbearable low!”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter nodded. “No chance of that!” He said as he looked out at the view. From the terrace, more than three and a half kilometres above the ground, the glistening lights Palace of Amino were spread out before him far below. Only the imposing mass of the Central Tower two-hundred metres opposite rose higher. He looked up, following the impressive lines of the tower for another one and a half kilometres high into the night sky. Beyond it he noticed the faint sparkling of the palace’s normally invisible defence field. The ash and dust that still filled the devastated atmosphere of Enchantia created the subtle display as it drifted into the intense dome of energy. Without the constant protection of the defence field the air at the palace would have been a toxic nightmare and would have made such an outdoor party quite impossible to hold.
The melancholic background music stopped.
“About fuckin’ time!” Ross Mental said. “I was wondering when that fuckin’ cacophony would end!”
The waitress had returned. The foul-mouthed bounty hunter smiled and took his drink from her tray.
Peter the Ace pointed up and grinned. “It’s only temporary!”
Ross Mental looked up. On Dick Burton’s balcony he could see Panman taking up his position at an antique-looking set of drums. “Fuck!” He shouted, taking a massive swig of ale.
Dick approached the microphone. “Please welcome Panman to the stage.”
Cheers and applause rose from the select crowd. Panman waved back.
Dick continued. “This next song is an old one.”
“It always fuckin’ is!” Ross Mental shouted, taking another noisy swig. Many around him looked at him and laughed.
Immediately Panman began pounding out a fast and phenomenally powerful rhythm. The thud of the bass drum and the crack of the snare could be felt as well as heard as the terrace’s formidable amplification system pumped out what was quite possibly the highest quality sound ever heard. The guests cheered once more.
“Let me see your arms in the air!” Dick shouted as he began strumming away on his blood-red guitar. A few members of the audience obliged him. He flicked his head to once side, clearing a long quiff of dark hair from his face, and then, as a diminutive keyboard player finished up his odd synthesizer intro riff, he started to sing. “Screams inside my head, you can hear them too, I long for silent thoughts, that’s what you want too…”
Peter the Ace took another sip of his drink and smiled. “I actually like this one!”
Ross Mental shook his head. “Most of his songs are so fuckin’ depressing!”
“Indeed, but they have catchy rhythms and riffs. That counts for a lot!”
The music had built to a remarkable crescendo, thanks mainly to the ever more powerful rhythm section. Dick yelled out the chorus, accompanied by the high and mellow tones of his deeply tanned and lank-haired backing singers. “Annihilate you - please go away, devastate your mind. Penetrate you - leave me alone, violate your kind...”
The guests cheered as the backing singers, wearing short and tight-fitting translucent white evening dresses, began a frantic and synchronised display of hip gyrations.
Ross Mental found himself cheering, too. He turned to Peter the Ace and grinned. “Now that I fuckin’ like!”
Peter the Ace agreed. “Such visual embellishments enhance music like nothing else can!” He reached out and grabbed a canapé from the tray of a passing waiter. Just beyond he noticed a blue cloaked figure. She had a stern look on her face. “Miss L’Apriscatole!”
Elena L’Apriscatole, turned, and then smiled broadly. She stepped over. “Ciao!” She shouted over the still pounding music. Seemingly out of nowhere a waiter appeared and offered her a drink. She took a blue cocktail laced with fruit and sipped at it, closing her eyes. She sighed. “Mmm… Grande!” And then her serious expression returned. The third-class bounty hunter shook her head slowly. “Can you believe it? I just managed to return to the palace an hour ago. I missed the invasion! I missed almost all of the celebrations!” She shook her head again. “Sono così infastidi!”
Ross Mental gulped back another mouthful of ale. “So where the fuck were you?”
“I was in the Gni’Yonna Sector sorting out a couple of rampaging cyborgs.”
Peter the Ace nodded. “That’s far away. I’m surprised you got back so quickly.”
Elena L’Apriscatole took another sip of her drink and grinned. “I’m fast!” She said. She raised her free arm and punched the air. “Molto veloce!”
“You are indeed!” Peter the Ace agreed. His communicator bleeped. “Excuse me for a moment.” He turned to take the call.
The intense music faded and there was a roar of applause. Panman and Dick Burton were bowing up on the balcony. After a few seconds Dick spoke. “We will take a short break now. Please continue to eat and drink to your heart’s content.”
“Of course we fuckin’ will!” Ross Mental shouted, gulping back the rest of his ale with ease. He burped like an old tractor’s exhaust, causing some of those nearby to jump.
Elena L’Apriscatole sighed. “I can’t believe this is the last celebration! I love victory parties!” She stamped her feet. “I want more!”
Peter the Ace deactivated his communicator. “Well, there will be one more, starting at noon tomorrow!”
Ross Mental looked at the first-class bounty hunter. “Is it what I think it is?”
Peter the Ace nodded.
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter laughed. “Fuckin’ cool!”
Elena L’Apriscatole’s eyes were wide with curiosity. “What’s planned for tomorrow?”
“Something intensely entertaining.” Peter the Ace replied. “It’s an extremely exclusive event, though, much more so than even this gathering. Just first and second-class bounty hunters and a few others that had a leading role in the defence of the palace, I’m afraid.”
The lesser bounty hunter looked disappointed. She let out a long slow breath. “Ho capito…”
Peter the Ace put his hand on Elena L’Apriscatole’s shoulder and smiled. “But, as you missed all the excitement, I’ll make an exception and let one more join us.”
The lesser bounty hunter looked up at her superior and shrieked with joy. “Fantastico!” She hugged him. “Siete molto gentili!”