Aches and pains were a permanent fixture in Badoodoo’s consciousness, and they had been for what seemed like weeks. The slow progress of the Lozenge through the egralon’s digestive tract had often left him suspended upside down in his harness for days on end, something his weak and fat little body was definitely not designed for. The lack of toilet facilities, something that his master had screamed had been intentional when he had dared to complain, and only the most basic source of nutrition from a small tube next to his seat, had left his pants filled with diarrhea and soaked in foul-smelling urine. The experience was the most depressing and disgusting of his entire life.
And now Badoodoo found himself staring straight down at the exit hatch as his and his master’s excretions dripped onto its metallic surface with a rhythmic wet tapping sound. The assistant almost wretched as a wave of nausea passed through him. He struggled to keep the contents of his stomach inside as stared through the transparent upper hull of the Lozenge. He could see the thick and fibrous defecation that moved slowly around them. A deep and almost subsonic moan made sent vibrations through his seat.
And then the Lozenge surged downwards, coming to a jarring halt just a second later.
Badoodoo groaned and then lost control of his stomach, spewing out a large quantity of the brown paste he had eaten just a few minutes earlier. His vomit slapped onto the exit hatch.
Lord Ecnerwal was laughing. “It’s almost time, Badoodoo!”
The assistant wiped his mouth with his filthy sleeve and looked at his master. Lord Ecnerwal was grinning, as he had been doing almost all of their time inside the giant creature’s gut. “Really, my lord?”
The Lozenge surged downwards again.
“Ha harr! Of course it is, duck prick!” Lord Ecnerwal shouted, slapping Badoodoo hard across his face. “Even a self-certified and independently verified pudding-head such as you should be able to work that out!”
There was another surge, this time more violent. Badoodoo winced and grunted as the straps of his harness dug into his shoulders and waist. Just above the exit hatch a shaft of light appeared.
Lord Ecnerwal shuddered with obvious delight. “Ha harr!” He exclaimed, spreading his arms out and smacking the back of his bony left hand onto Badoodoo’s nose. “I am remarkable!”
Badoodoo sniffed back some blood and looked down towards the hatch. The patch of light through the transparent section of the hull was expanding.
Lord Ecnerwal was growing more excited. “Oh, Badoodoo, this is a moment we’ll both remember for the rest of our lives, don’t you think?!”
Badoodoo could not disagree. He was certain that he would never be able to forget such a filthy and traumatic event. He fought to hold back more vomit. “Yes, my lord. I cannot imagine forgetting.”
Another deep and resonant moan sent more vibrations through the Lozenge. It dropped at least another metre. Light now flooded in as more than half of the transparent part of the hull was exposed. Badoodoo had not seen such brightness for a long time. He squinted, his eyes watering, as he peered outside. He saw what looked like long grass a few metres below.
Lord Ecnerwal placed his hands on his cheeks and gasped. “One more push and we’re free! Free to roam on the planet of the bounty hunters in a most surreptitious manner!” He took a deep breath and then stared at his assistant. He screwed up his face and yelled. “We will become sly agents of doom amongst their kind!”
Badoodoo stared back at his obviously crazy and deeply disturbed master for a moment. Despite the revolting the soul-destroying experience inside the egralon the assistant still had a desire to live, so he felt no option but to agree. “We will, my lord.”
There was another resounding moan, and then, with a sickening squelch, the Lozenge dropped. Badoodoo gasped as a momentary sensation of freefall gripped him. More light flooded in.
With a thud the Lozenge came to a sudden and violent halt. After spending a second standing upright it fell sideways, this time landing softly to one side in what was obviously a massive pile of dung. There was a wet clattering from above as a further shower of defecation fell.
Lord Ecnerwal had undone his harness. He sniggered and stepped over to the hatch. Badoodoo looked up at his master’s once fine and shiny purple cloak. It was now deeply stained with urine and faeces. The assistant began to undo his own harness.
Lord Ecnerwal operated the hatch’s controls. It hissed and then swung open slowly. He turned. “Hurry up, maggot fart!”
The temporary enclosure for the egralons covered less than a single square kilometre, yet it was impressive none the less. Thirty metre tall metallic walls, constructed in just a few days, surrounded what had been the Palace of Amino’s only natural parkland, right next to the southern-most section of the perimeter wall. More than a dozen egralons roamed through the enclosure, feeding off numerous artificial trees that pumped out a nutritious sludge whenever one of the giant creatures came close.
Under the dark orange tint of the ash-shrouded noon sky, more than thirty guests sat in the large oval open-topped ceremonial sky-car that hovered within the enclosure only ten-metres from the nearest egralon. With its noise cancellations systems running at maximum the sky-car made almost no sound and appeared to be of no interest to the huge beast as it munched on its latest mouthful of sludge.
The guests, however, almost all of whom had served a pivotal role in the recent defence of the palace, were taking great interest in the egralon. Or more specifically, in the large pill-shaped food capsule that had just dropped out of its anus. The guests sipped their beers, cocktails and tea, and nibbled at their snacks, as they waited in anticipation of the events to come.
At the very front of the sky-car, flanked by Justin the cyborg and THROB the mechanoid, were Peter the Ace, Panman and Ross Mental. They stood and watched as a hatch on the capsule began to open. A dark figure emerged. The figure, shrouded in a filthy-looking purple cloak, took a couple of steps forwards, arched his back and spread his arms out. He laughed in an apparent worship of the sky. As he did so a disgusting-looking fat little humanoid clambered out of the capsule. Obviously weakened and sick, the humanoid tumbled to the floor and ended up face down in the surrounding dung. He pushed himself up and then vomited hard.
Ross Mental laughed and raised his glass. “Fuckin’ top notch entertainment, Ace!”
Peter the Ace nodded, finishing the last of his Earl Grey tea. “It certainly is!” He said, putting down his cup and saucer. “I think it’s time to make it even more entertaining.” He played with a control surface in front of him and turned off the noise cancellation. The whoosh of the sky-car’s engines became audible. Peter the Ace spoke, his voice now amplified. “Hello, Lawrence!”
The cloaked figure turned. The wide grin on his face narrowed to a slack-jawed expression of shock.
Peter the Ace continued cheerfully. “For decades I had imagined how it would be when we finally captured you. I had envisaged all sorts of apocalyptic battles and long and arduous pursuits through the deadly regions of the galaxy’s remotest arms. I even once conceived an unusually civilised scenario where you surrender yourself to me calmly as we both enjoy a smooth glass of stout in a rustic wooden tavern on a simple agrarian world. But I can honestly say that I never imagined you would simply drop out of a massive butthole into a pile of hot dung right here at the Palace of Amino!”
The guests roared with laughter.
Ross Mental could barely control his hysterics. He pointed at Lawrence and yelled, his powerful voice carrying despite having no amplification. “You useless fuckin’ idiot!”
Lawrence screamed. “Bounty bastards!” He pushed his arms forwards. A flash of energy lashed out from his sleeves. The shield of the sky-car shimmered as it absorbed the attack.
Immediately Peter the Ace and Panman drew their pistols and fired. Intense beams connected with Lawrence’s arms shrouding them momentarily in white flames. Smoke rose up as Lawrence fell backwards into a soft mass of excrement. Startled, the egralon, which until now had still been standing nearby, moved away, moaning and pushing out even more dung as it did so.
Once again the guests laughed.
Lawrence struggled and groaned as he tried to get out of the dung pile and up onto his feet.
Peter the Ace continued. “You’ll be happy to know that we are not the only ones witnessing this ridiculous event. The rest of the Palace of Amino is watching a live broadcast of it, and soon the Central Worlds will see it too when they receive the ultraspace transmission we are about to send. I’m told Lord Gastronemous himself is already in his video theatre, along with many of his governors and senior officials, ready to view your expulsion from the bowels of that creature.”
Lawrence had managed to sit up. His arms were still smouldering. He tried to fire his weapon once more. Nothing happened. He shuddered and pointed at his chubby companion. And then he shrieked like a Hunah serving wench. “You smell like his pants!”
Peter the Ace ignored the crude insult and looked at Panman. “Would you care to do the honours?”
Panman grinned and nodded. He looked at Lawrence. “In the name of the Superior Beings of the Great Hall of the Palace of Amino, I arrest you for the multitude of disgusting and degenerate capital crimes you have committed against the Palace of Amino, bounty hunters, and the citizens and dignitaries of the Central Worlds.”
The guests cheered and whooped. Glasses chinked.
On a raised and well-padded platform in the middle of the sky-car, Commander Pepe was sitting. His massive robed body was encircled by six scantily-clad masseurs. Goliath Snook stood by his side. As the cheering died down the commander waved his glass of ale all around and spoke. His voice was strong but wheezy. “A remarkable effort by you all. Well done!”
Everyone cheered again and then downed their drinks.
There was a shout from the back row. Standing next to the recently mechanised and immaculately polished form of Administrator Jess Debinitraf was Elena L’Apriscatole. She was pointing at Lawrence and jumping up and down; her blue cloak flapping like a flag behind her. “Voi criminale stupido! Gridi in prigione!”
Lawrence was now standing. He shook with rage. “I have not been arrested! I will never surrender!” He turned and ran, slipping and sliding across the expanse of dung. “Come, Badoodoo!”
The fat little humanoid, who was sitting forlornly in the egralon’s excrement, turned and look at Lawrence. He shook his head dejectedly. “No, my lord.”
Lawrence kept on running and slipping. He yelled. “Perfidious puss mound!”
The guests on the sky-car were laughing once more.
Peter the Ace decided that it was time to finish this part of the show. “THROB, Justin, off you go.”
THROB got to his feet and then leapt over the front of the sky-car. He landed silently on the grass a few metres beneath and then sprinted with almost mesmerising smoothness towards the fleeing Lawrence.
Justin had also jumped out of the sky-car. He landed heavily with a dull but loud thud; his large plate-like feet sinking almost twenty centimetres into the moist ground. With a whirr of servos he pulled his feet free and stomped over to the fat little humanoid. He leaned over and grabbed him with his thick metal arms and pulled him out of the dung pile. He held him tightly. The humanoid made no attempt to escape.
Almost a hundred metres away THROB had captured Lawrence. Holding him in his outstretched arms, THROB ran back. Lawrence was kicking and screaming like a child.
A smaller open-topped ceremonial sky-car descended, flanked at a discrete distance by two small bounty hunter ships. The sky-car landed softly next to the food capsule. Four heavily armed guards stood silently in the vehicle and watched as first Justin and then THROB climbed on board with their captives. Justin took up a position at the centre of the sky-car, whilst THROB took up a position at the front. As the sky-car rose the mechanoid held his thrashing captive out across the railings.
As the large sky-car he was on also began to rise up Peter the Ace spoke again, making no attempt to suppress his delight. “This will be your final ever journey, Lawrence, and your final ever public appearance, so make the most of it!”
Lawrence shuddered and screeched. “Bastard bounty nobules!” He glared down at Peter the Ace, Panman and the other guests. “Your doom will be generated by my excellent sagacity!” He shouted, and then he nodded his head and slammed his body rhythmically against the front of the sky-car, his heavily soiled cloak flapping in the strong breeze. Gaining a little speed, the sky-car flew over the egralon enclosure’s high wall and then descended towards the tree-lined and crowded avenue beyond.
As they followed close behind the guests on the larger sky-car continued to enjoy themselves as they were served new refreshments and drinks by waiters and waitresses that had appeared from the car’s lower level. The guests laughed as Lawrence’s tantrum showed no signs of subsiding.
Both sky-cars descended to just a couple of metres above ground level. The dense crowd of lesser bounty hunters and menial workers below cheered and waved as the sky-cars passed close by and headed towards the towering splendour of the Palace of Amino’s central districts.
Peter the Ace waved down at the adoring crowd and then looked at the incredible and soaring vista of the palace before him. It was an awe-inspiring sight, made even more so against the dark grey-orange ash-filled sky. Several more bounty hunter ships had joined the original two to provide escort. “What a great day this is!”
Ross Mental nodded. “It fuckin’ is.” He said. He pointed at the sky-car ahead and laughed. THROB was still dangling Lawrence over the railings. “Fuckin’ baby!”
“The deepest, darkest, dankest and most depressing cell we have has been reserved for Lawrence for almost half a century now. It’s a thoroughly distasteful environment. It’ll suit him perfectly.”
The foul-mouthed bounty hunter raised his glass of ale. “Fuckin’ great!” He said, taking a gulp. He burped. “I may visit him down there from time to time.”
Peter the Ace looked at Ross Mental with curiosity. “Why would you want to do that?”
“To remind him that he’s a fuckin’ brainless fuck!”
“Oh. Of course. I guess he’ll need that.”
Ross Mental gulped down another mouthful of ale. “He will.” He shouted at the top of his voice, jabbing his finger in the direction of Lawrence as he said each syllable. “Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck... Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck!”
Inspired by the foul-mouthed bounty hunter’s enthusiasm, the rest of the guests joined in. Within seconds Ross Mental was leading a chorus of vulgar abuse towards Lawrence. “Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck… Fuck… in’… brain… less… fuck!”
The crowds below soon started to join in.
By the time the ceremonial sky-cars and their escorts passed between the vast towers of the central districts the sound of tens of thousands of voices shouting in unison had taken on an almost spiritual and meditational quality.
Peter the Ace and Panman, who had refrained from joining in, turned and looked back at the rest of their sky-car’s occupants. All were shouting and jabbing their fingers or fists, even Commander Pepe. And all had a look of joy on their faces. Especially Mad Woman, it seemed, who was punching the air with one hand and fumbling under Baron Onslaught’s robes with the other. Baron Onslaught was the only one in the entire group not smiling.
“It’s a bit crude.” Panman said eventually, as he grabbed an entire tray of doughnuts from a passing waitress. He offered one to Peter the Ace.
Peter the Ace accepted the offer. He took a bite. “It is indeed crude.” He said as he turned to the front to look at the extraordinary scene ahead. He spread his arms out wide and closed his eyes for a moment, relishing the strong and cool breeze on his face. “But it is gloriously so!”
Panman nodded, and then crammed three whole lemon-iced doughnuts deep into his mouth.