Canto 42 – Agent Ace Campfield
Arkin Cloudstalker had stepped out for a bit of a look around. Castle Orpheum was too dark and mysterious for his taste. He preferred a cockpit in space, or even the open air to this dim and dreary underwater place. He missed his family, wife and kids who lived parsecs away on a moon of the wealthy residential planet called Bird World. Being a corsair had driven him further and further away from his original vision of being a Galactic Hero. He wanted to make the universe a better place to live, but more and more it seemed that all he could manage was to become a better killer and criminal. The lamp-lit streets of Castle Orpheum were deserted at this time of the artificial day-night cycle. Most intelligent residents were in bed asleep.
Someone was walking towards him on this particular street. This someone had an orange Kevlar jumpsuit and a very big gun. This someone clanked as he walked, metal striking the pavement to the beat of a slightly off-kilter step. Arkin slowed to a stop.
“Don’t stop on account of me, Cloudstalker,” said the figure. He pulled up short under a streetlamp so that Arkin could finally see his face. It was an undead Mechanoidface, skull-like and one-quarter metal. The enlarged right eye was a glowing red computerized visual sensor. “I came to see you face-to-face about a little matter of a bounty. I am an ace bounty-hunter, Argo “Ace” Campfield.”
“I didn’t call for any bounty hunter,” said Arkin, measuring the distance between them at about forty paces, easily within the range of the big gun the Mechanoid carried.
“No, Count Nefaria hired me with money he got from a Galtorrian Knight he called Sir Saurol. With Nefaria dead, I’ll probably get even more money for your severed head.”
Arkin leaped for a nearby alley opening, rolling and coming up with his emergency blaster pistol, a one-shot plasma gun that he kept in his vest for occasions like this one. Campfield’s deadly green beam burned leather, hair, and the top layer of skin off of Arkin’s left shoulder.
“Gazzool!” groaned Arkin, using the only Bird World cuss word he still remembered, mild though it was. He aimed unsteadily and fired his blaster. The air sizzled with a beam of pure star fire and Campfield’s robotic right leg melted into two pieces.
“Hah! I laugh at losses like that!” growled Ace Campfield. He hopped on one metal leg in Arkin’s direction. “You may have slowed me down, but my sensors tell me you have no more shots left to take.”
Arkin knew the undead death-machine was basically right. He was slightly wounded and weaponless against an enemy who was tireless and had nothing left to fear from him. He was as good as dead unless he did some very quick thinking. The alley he had dodged into ended in a ladder that went all the way up into the subsea dome’s catwalks. From there he could make his way to the submarine pens if only he could get out of range up that ladder before Campfield hopped into position for a good shot. That would be a darn good trick, since the robotically enhanced senses of a Mechanoid were bound to make Campfield’s marksmanship superb.
As swiftly as Cloudstalker could run, he bounded towards the ladder. It was only a matter of moments before Campfield would lock on him as a target and burn a hole through his chest or back with that energy beam. His heart pounded as he looked up the ladder into the distant grill-work of the catwalks above. His heart almost stopped for a moment as he saw another face peering down at him over the edge of a catwalk platform. Did Campfield have a partner? Was he trapped as well as doomed? The face was almost as unusual as Campfield’s skeletoid visage. This new face had crossed eyes and a white fright-wig of frizzy hair crammed up underneath a black top hat. The silly pink tongue, longer than the normal humanoid tongue, lolled out of the slack mouth. Before Arkin could yell, the strange face dropped a coil of rope down on top of his head and motioned for Arkin to grab hold with one hand while he waved a skinny rubber chicken with the other hand.
Having little other choice, Cloudstalker firmly took hold of the rope. Instantly he was dragged upward by some high-speed winder that thumped him several times against the ladder, but pulled him up to the platform in a matter of seconds. Campfield spotted him, but even robotic reflexes didn’t allow him to get a shot off before Arkin was safe.
Face to face with his weird rescuer Arkin tried to thank the man. “You saved me from certain death just now,” he said, gasping for air. “May I know your name?”
The man, his tongue still flopping out of his mouth, shook his head yes and handed the rubber chicken to Arkin.
“What does this mean?” Arkin asked.
The man pantomimed turning something over.
Looking stupidly impatient, the smiling fool took the rubber chicken back and now slapped it forcefully down in Arkin’s hand.
“I don’t have time for this. What are you trying to tell me?”
The man pantomimed turning something over again, then slapped the feet of the naked rubber bird. Finally realizing something of the nature of the message, Arkin turned the rubber chicken over in his hand. There was a name written there in purple crayon. It said, “White Dook”.
“The White Duke sent you?” Arkin was incredulous, yet at the same time amused. The fool grinned and handed him a second rubber chicken. He turned it over to see the word “YES” in purple crayon.
Below them, Campfield was at the base of the ladder. His robotic muscles pulled the one-legged bounty hunter up hand-over-hand at a frightening speed.
“We’d better get going!” said Cloudstalker.
He received a third rubber chicken. When he turned it over, it said, “You said it, sister dear!”