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Book: Toxic Venom
Chapter 1: Shards

A mighty vessel - sleek, black, and menacing - entered the atmosphere of the giant gas planet Bahl and plunged rapidly through several layers of dense swirling clouds. With a blast of crimson energy, two large retro-engines on the craft's nose levelled off the ship's course and skimmed away some of its excessive speed.

The ship was the Inquestor, an Interrogation Class spacecraft of stunning design and specification. Brimming with advanced weaponry and camera equipment, and capable of creating and recording mass destruction on a planetary scale, the vessel was one of the finest in its fleet. Such an awesome craft could only originate from one place. That place, of course, was the Cavern of Sensationalism.


"I must say," Lex Toxic said as he guided the ship in and out of the banks of cloud. "This has to be the most phenomenal ship that we've ever owned!"

"Too right!" Antoine Venom agreed, munching on a large lettuce leaf. "The cavern engineers have really excelled themselves this time."

"Still, we are the two of the most promising young journalists at the cavern with intelligence and cunning beyond belief. We should expect and deserve the best."

Antoine Venom nodded and stuffed the last piece of lettuce into his mouth. He swallowed hard and moaned with satisfaction. Chlorophyll - what a glorious naturally occurring substance!

Antoine’s console blipped gently. "The station's up ahead." He said peering down at his sensor screen. "Fifty kilometres." He transferred an image of the floating mining station onto the large forward view screen at the front of the Inquestor's luxury bridge.

"What a dump!" Lex exclaimed.

The mining station was a three hundred year old, six kilometre long complex of battered and outdated habitation modules and refining machinery. Its main purpose was to extract rare and valuable substances from the planet's dense lower atmosphere. It did so via a twenty thousand kilometre long pipe that descended down from the station's underside.

The communicator bleeped to life. "This is the Mac Mytar Corporation Mining Station Bahl One, station security officer Malcolm Gunk speaking. You have entered private air space. Please leave at once or be brutally destroyed."

Antoine looked at Lex. "He can't talk to us like that!" He said. He began to arm as much of the Inquestor's intense arsenal of exotic weaponry as he could lay his hands on.

"Calm yourself." Lex said. "We must use diplomacy. We need to get aboard that station if we're to scoop that exclusive interview with Mac Mytar and rocket our programme's ratings above the twenty billion mark."

"Oh yeah," Antoine said. "I forgot." He disarmed the weapons array and sat back into his chair. It reclined automatically, its intelligence programming sensing its user's need to relax. Antoine Venom's desire to eradicate uncooperative people utterly and completely sometimes got the better of him.

Lex operated the communicator. "This is the starship Inquestor. We are experiencing problems with our variance drive and urgently need to land to initiate repairs."

The reply was swift. "I don't believe you. Go away or be decimated."
Lex muted the communications channel. "My bluff didn't work!" He exclaimed.

"It wasn't really a very original or convincing one, was it?!" Antoine said.

"That was the whole idea." Lex said defensively. "My superior intellect could have easily come up with something shrewd and sagacious, but I decided that something simple and obvious would be better."

"Why?"

"Because it would be so bad that no one would believe any one was capable of using such a terrible idea as a bluff and instantly accept it as the truth."

"Interesting logic." Antoine said. He looked at his sensor screens. "There's an energy build up within the station. I think they're preparing to fire."

Lex engaged his brain augmentation systems in the hope of coming up with a better bluff. "I think I'll abandon the simplicity method." He said. "This Malcolm dude is obviously more stupid than I imagined." He thought of a new bluff and re-opened the channel.

"Prepare for death." The security officer said coldly.

"Don't shoot!" Lex said. "You're right, I was lying. The real reason that we're here is that we're huge fans of Mac Mytar."

Antoine couldn't believe what his partner was saying.

The station's security officer spoke once more. "What did you say?"

"I said that we're huge fans of Mac Mytar. We idolise him. We subscribe to 'Planetary Mining and Refining Quarterly' and love his articles on Teri-Tahlium extraction. He's such a genius. Please let us board your station. It's our life long ambition to meet him and hear first hand his words of wisdom."

"That's ridiculous!" The security officer said. "There is no such publication. I can tolerate this no longer. You will be destroyed."

The communications channel fell silent.

"Their weapons systems have locked on to us." Antoine announced. "Your insane bluff failed!"

"It was worth a try." Lex said.

An alarm started to bleep on Antoine's weapons console.

"They've fired" He exclaimed. He raised the deflectors.

A powerful, thin beam of energy laced into the Inquestor and scattered across it's defence fields, showering the surrounding clouds with red discharges of light. The ship shuddered violently.

"Whoa!" Antoine exclaimed. "A direct hit!"

Lex pitched the ship forwards and dived towards the base of the station. "Diplomacy and lying seem to have failed." He said as the Inquestor took another hit, this time on its top side. "Arm your weapons Antoine. Let's board the station the fun way!"

"Yes!" Antoine shouted. He had been eagerly waiting to use his new ship's impressive armoury of devastation devices. He primed the forward pulse cannons and programmed a cunning spread of fire. He pressed execute.

The Inquestor was now one kilometre below the mining station. With potent ease, the pulse cannons discharged rapidly, sending rays of searing power arcing towards the station's belly. Shards of debris dispersed across a wide area as blinding explosions flashed around the station's hull. The pipe used for mining began to buckle as the multitude of blasts around it weakened its connection with the platform's hull. Antoine had noticed this, and it had given him a marvellous idea. He prepared a torpedo for launch, then pressed his index finger onto the screen on his console indicating where he would like the torpedo to go. He fired.

The torpedo - spear like and glowing with protective energy - wove its way up towards the station. Antoine continued to fire the pulse cannons as he watched the little projectile progress towards its target. He smiled as it detonated. The blast field of the torpedo severed the pipe's connection. It began a long and hopeless fall towards the giant planet's dense core many thousands of kilometres below.

"That was so cool!" He said happily. "This ship is as awesome as we predicted."

"Indeed it is." Lex said, pulling the Inquestor into a steep climb. "We'll fly over the top side, blast away a few tons of machinery, then contact that insipid security guy. He's sure to let us speak to Mac Mytar Now."

"Absolutely." Antoine said. "I bet he's quivering away like a jelly!"

Lex used all his skill and dexterity to manoeuvre the Inquestor around the station and through the barrage of energy fire. Even his phenomenal flying skills could not avoid all the blasts. The ship shook as each hit was deflected and scattered across the hull.

With total accuracy, Antoine fired another spread of cannon fire at the mining station. Its top side was blanketed in a furious firestorm of destruction. The station ceased firing.

"We blew out their weapons!" Antoine shouted with glee.

"Well done." Lex said. He brought the ship up close to the station and hovered near to its side. "Security officer Malcolm Gunk?" He said into the communicator. "Please may we see Mac Mytar now?"

The reply was tense and agitated. "You have made a grave mistake." The security officer said. "Mr Mytar has powerful friends. You will perish for your actions!"

"I'll take that as a yes!"

The journalist closed the communications channel and flew the Inquestor over to what appeared to be the only undamaged docking port on the station. The ship's automatic coupling systems were activated and quickly established a safe connection.

"Let's go!" Lex said.

The two journalists loaded themselves with as much weaponry and body armour that they could find then made their way to the docking port. Antoine used his hand-held sensor to scan the other side.

"I get no life readings." He said. "There doesn't seem to be any guards waiting for us."

"Strange?" Lex mused. "You'd think that they'd put up some resistance. Never mind, let's go." He opened the hatch.

Several rays of death flashed towards the two journalists and slammed into their body armour throwing them back into the ship. They fell heavily to the ground. Lex recovered rapidly and looked up. Several stomping clomping machines with unnecessary red glowing eyes were approaching. They brandished bulky looking disruptors, and buzzed and whirred as they drew closer.

"Mechanoids!" Antoine said, recovering slightly less rapidly. "I never saw that one coming!"

Without wasting one more precious second of time, the two journalists opened fire. The exchange of energy was intense. Body armour, metallic limbs, and servo mechanisms scattered everywhere. How could anyone survive such a concentrated and frenetic conflict within such a confined space? Only Lex Toxic and Antoine Venom, the two luckiest journalists ever to exist within the current space-time continuum, that's who.

The battle was over in less than ten seconds. The mechanoids had been obliterated.

Antoine walked through the debris and blasted away at the twitching artificial legs and arms that littered the floor. "Stupid machines." He said with annoyance. "Look what they've done to my suit!"

Lex looked at Antoine. His protective clothing was in tatters, and so was his own. "We took quite a lot of hits, didn't we!" He said. "We should be more careful next time."

"Look!" Antoine said, holding up a small charred container. "They even destroyed my lettuce stash!"

"You brought some lettuce?"

"Of course. What if I need a snack?"

"But you've just eaten!"

"So?"

Not wanting to get into another of their regular and inane arguments, Lex resisted the temptation to reply with a witty and intelligent remark and walked through the hatchway into the station. Antoine followed, trying to scrape out the scorched lettuce remains from the container.

The station's passageways were lit by red emergency lighting along the side walls, and were quite dingy and forbidding. Ominous creakings could be heard, and vibrations felt. The whole complex was definitely unstable.

"I don't think we should stay here too long." Antoine said wisely.

Lex agreed. "When we find Mac Mytar, we should take him back to the Inquestor. It'll be safer. Plus our ship has some of the finest and most moral interview persuasion equipment in the galaxy!"

Antoine nodded then placed a blackened lettuce leaf into his mouth and crunched it noisily. "Burnt lettuce is quite pleasant" He said smiling. He offered the semi-destroyed container to his companion. "Try a piece."

Lex respectfully declined the offer.


After a few minute of meaningless wandering, the two journalists came across a convenient map of the mining complex, its independent power supply still allowing it to function.

"Useful." Antoine said. He operated some of the controls and quickly called up a general plan of the station. The words 'you are here' flashed on and off next to a large arrow.

"Very useful!" Lex agreed. "Look, it even shows the Inquestor at its docking port, and the excessive damage that we caused!"

"It must actively sense the entire complex and update its plans." Antoine said knowledgeably.

"I guess you're right."

Antoine examined the station's layout as he continued speaking. "My well-educated guess is that it uses a priority based best-first examination algorithm to accurately maintain its functional database. It probably updates several thousand times per second."

"Okay Antoine," Lex said. "I already know how hot you are with digital mapping systems."

"Look!" Antoine exclaimed excitedly as the station shuddered. "Eight percent of the complex has just disappeared from the bottom level. You can still see its layout as it falls. That means that a concurrent motion analysis routine is active, and what's more its executing independently of the primary..."

"Snap out of it Antoine!" Lex shouted sternly. Concentrate on the task at hand."

Antoine shook his head vigorously. "Sorry about that. I get excited when I see these things."

"You're not kidding! Let's find out where Mac Mytar is and how many people work here. Then we can complete our assignment."

Antoine operated the map's controls. "Wow! look at that!"

A suspicious look appeared on Lex's face. "I guess you're about to tell me that the image recollection trans-relational sub-system is based on a dynamic quantum flux auxiliary triple-indexed quark acceleration processor similar to the one that controls our ship's whirlpool baths, or something?"

Antoine stared at Lex. "No." He said, then paused for effect. "I was going to say that the complex is almost entirely automatic and has virtually no personnel on board. Although your analysis of the image recollection processor is interesting and..."

"Concentrate, Antoine!"

"Sorry. Maybe I have a chlorophyll deficiency. That sometimes caused my mind to drift."

"You've just eaten some lettuce!"

"Oh yes. So I have."

Lex was getting impatient. "You were saying?"

"Saying what?"

"That there are very few people on board!"

"Yes. Right. There are only three people on board in total. One security officer, a female named Angelina Bloom, and of course Mac Mytar."

"What's Angelina's job?"

"It doesn't say, except that she resides in quarters adjoining Mac Mytar's, and spends most of the time in the gym."

"Perplexing."

"Indeed."

Lex thought for a moment. "Can you find out how many of those mechanoids are left?"

Antoine operated the controls. A list appeared on the screen. "Yo!" He said excitedly. "Thirty four. And I can even show you where they are!"

The screen display changed once more and an isometric view of the station shimmered into view. Thirty four small purple blobs were moving slowly towards their position.

Lex studied the information on the screen. " They're about two hundred and fifty metres from us." he said. "We need a plan to eradicate them before we can get to Mac."

"Have you seen this!" Antoine said.

"What? What have you found?" Lex asked, looking at where his companion was pointing.

"The data integrity monitor is using a non-standard transfer unit for compression and encryption! It's one of the most unique uses of a KX11 Sub-Logic multi-buss..."

"Get with the program, Antoine!" Lex shouted.

Antoine got with it. "Oh yes. The mechanoids." He began to examine the map in more detail. Lex helped.

"What's that?" Lex asked, pointing at a large looking cylindrical device next to their location.

"It's the reactor core." Antoine answered.

"Why's it flashing like that?"

Antoine called up some more information. "Power supply to more than seventy percent of the station has been cut. Because the reactor is still working at full capacity, it's over-loading. It'll blow within thirty minutes."

"Awesome!" Lex said. "How hard will it blow?"

"Well, it's a Fusion Exuder mark five. Very efficient in power output, but very unstable. They've been banned from use on any of the central worlds since the great T'ar-Loc incident eight decades ago. After the sabre-toothed inhabitants of that planet decided - during a pollution induced moment of insanity - to bite through the power cables on their electrical appliances, their network of Fusion Exuder mark five power stations went critical and vaporised more than half the planet. It's now just a lifeless half-moon shaped lump of rock."

"So, are you saying that a T'ar-Loc style disaster is going to happen here in thirty minutes?"

"No doubt about it!"

Lex almost jump through the ceiling with delight. "This is fantastic!"

"Why?"

"We can video it from orbit. What an opener for our report! We'll win awards! We'll be the most revered, most respected, most courageous, most adored journalists in the entire 'Channel 180567 Carnage Tonight' watching galaxy!"

Lex's excitement was contagious.

"You're right!" Antoine said. "We'll become living legends! Our pictures will adorn the sleeping quarters of billions upon billions of teenage girls!"

"And that'll be just the start. What about merchandising?"

"Yes! Figurines, holo-games - the whole shaboodle!"

"Movie rights!"

"Awesome!"

"A TV series accurately describing our rise to stardom!"

"Uncut and after the watershed?"

"Of course!"

"Cool beyond time!"

The two journalists fell silent.

After a few seconds, Lex spoke. "Without that interview with Mac it'll never happen."

"Right." Antoine said. He reached into one of his remaining pockets and held up a small spherical device. "Let's sort out the mechanoids."

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