"He wasn't never a bad boy," said Martha. "Just restless. One day he packed up his boomerangs and went walkabout. Sent me a postcard from the States a couple of weeks later. Came back every few years, never forgot about his home, he didn't."
She gazed into her teacup. The living room was adorned with pictures of a small boy in a slouch hat, always clutching at a boomerang at least half his size.
"He was always good with them bloody things. More'n your average bloke around here, even."
"You said something changed a few months ago, Mrs Bishop," said the Skull. "He find a new employer?"
"Said he was going straight," she replied. "Found a job where he had to wear a suit. I said, don't you never trust nobody who makes you wear a suit, boy. That's what I told him."
There was a crash as a small boomerang flew into the open door and embedded itself in the sofa.
"My bad," said Bones as he ran to retrieve it. He grabbed the weapon and gave a thumbs up to someone outside before trotting back out the door.
The Skull shook his head. "You have any information on who gave him a job? A name?"
"Yeah, I do got something like that," Martha said, reaching for a drawer. "A business card."
She handed the card to the Skull, stepping around the furniture strewn across the cluttered room. It was white and orange, with nothing except the logo printed in its centre.
"'Goetech'," said the Skull. "Never heard of them. I'll look into it."
"Cheers, kid. Lotta folks around here are mad as all hell about what happened to Rick. I just want to get him back."
"I'll let you know what happens. Look out for the sign of a skull," said the Skull, turning to the door. "Bones! Put those things down before you lose a finger."
"Why do we have to walk?" said Bones. He drooped melodramatically as he trudged along the long dirt path. They were a few miles from the town, and though the sun had dropped below the horizon, it was still stiflingly hot.
"Because unless you learned to fly back in Boomerang, we've got to make it to a landing strip before we can get out of here."
"But why do we have to walk?"
"We're probably halfway-"
The Skull paused and motioned at Bones. The pair fell silent and scanned the surrounding rocks.
A figure sprang from an outcrop with a flash. "Rufruf has been far too quiet!"
The Skull and Bones dove to each side as a column of lightning smashed into the ground beside them. The bolt returned to Rufruf's outstretched arm, and shards of glass sprouted from the sand.
Lightning seared through the air as the Skull sprinted towards the rock Rufruf stood atop of. From each of his wrists a dart sliced into the air and burrowed into Rufruf's feet. Immediately a block of ice grew around each foot, trapping him on the stony surface. As soon as it had grown, the ice began to melt and crack.
Bones arrowed forward and pounded his fist into the base of the tall rock. The red stone shattered, its peak toppling to earth and dragging the man frozen to its surface with it.
Chunks of stone rained from the air as Rufruf rolled in the dust. He had time only to groan before he felt the Skull's knees slam into his torso.
"You work for Goetech, don't you?" said the Skull, his hands at Rufruf's throat. "Who are they? What do they want?"
"Nobody and nothing," said Rufruf, his sharp teeth organising themselves into a grin.
The Skull clasped his fist. A lattice of ice spread for a moment across Ruruf's neck before collapsing in the heat. "Answer me truthfully."
Rufruf scowled. His body buzzed and shimmered, but the Skull tightened his grip and the electricity settled. He drew his mouth into a sneer and spat his last words.
"Furfur would rather die."
The sky belched and a jet of light shot narrowly past the Skull's head and into his prisoner's. With a blinding flash and a wave of heat, the Skull was propelled back onto the sand. When he looked again, all that was left was a rapidly crumbling pile of ash.
"What the hell was that?" said Bones.
"That," said the Skull, "was proof we're on the right track."
Another set of rats rotated into the machine. Another set of blades mounted on small mechanical arms swung to meet them. White fur was stained red as the arms worked. Three hundred of them, in this machine. One hundred more of those lined neatly in the massive warehouse.
Cameras glided along on suspended rails once the rats were opened. Thousands of high-resolution digital images would be analysed in seconds, processed by the supercomputers mounted in each corner of the room.
There was a faint hum as the rats were tipped onto conveyor belts, to be swept outside. A hundred trays of fresh rodents slotted into place. Above, half a dozen men watched. Figures poured into the control room overlooking the warehouse – millions of variables, billions of statistical points. Graphs and tables splayed onto the dozens of monitors spread around the room.
"Thousands of years of technological progress and mankind has yet to abandon extispicy," said one of the men, standing behind the others. "Does it really work?"
"Faintly, Mr Sitri," replied a technician. "With sufficient numbers, results are better than chance. It never hurts to diversify your data."
"And what does this data say?"
"We're forecasting no problems, sir. Haruspex report is clear to go."
"Excellent," said Sitri. "And the Skull?"
Another man spoke. "He won't be an issue, sir. Not for a while, at least."
"Well then, gentlemen. We've got a city to capture."