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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 9: A Blackened Room of Soot

The descent down the giant seabed staircase had been uncomfortable and intensely precarious. With the sheer wall of the abyss to the right, and the sheer drop into a black abyss to the left there was no margin for error, especially when another Kretin headed in the opposite direction had wanted to pass by.

Now, though, the journey had become a little less perilous. Rubella was driving the Kretin along a wide shelf cut deep into wall of the abyss, which also seemed to serve as a parking area for other Kretins. Sind’a Thighs watched as they passed by row after row of the motionless machines standing silently like an extremely disciplined platoon of soldiers. Shoals of fish swam in clouds around the giant machines.

“How many Kretins are there?” The bounty hunter asked.

Rubella thought for a moment. Her expression was pained. She was suffering considerable discomfort from the remains of her scorched arm. “Almost a thousand, I think. There are three-hundred based here. The rest are at bases up and down the coast.”

Sind’a Thighs shook her head slowly. “Why does Doctor Combobulay think that clumsy walking machines will be a good means of controlling the survivors? Very odd!”

“The wisdom of Doctor Combobulay is…”

The bounty hunter punched the weapons officer’s right ear. “Do not spout that brainwashed rubbish!”

Rubella winced, and then sniffled. “Sorry.”

Up ahead, a huge doorway was opening in the side of the cliff. Light flooded out onto the shelf. The two Kretins that had been escorting them moved to one side. The communications console activated. “Kretin 67, this is Kretin 52. Report for maintenance and debriefing.

Rubella replied; her voice significantly weaker than before. Her breathing was laboured. “Kretin 52, this is Kretin 67. Affirmative. Reporting for maintenance and debriefing.” She sighed, and then slumped onto the console. The Kretin lurched.

Sind’a Thighs pulled Rubella back and grabbed the control stick. The Kretin steadied. “Rubella? Stay conscious! You’ll be in the base soon. I assume there are medical facilities there?”

The weapons officer looked up at the bounty hunter. Her eyes blinked slowly. Her voice slurred. “Yes, there is a hospital.”

“Good. I need you to drive us in there. It’s the only way not to arouse suspicion. Okay?”

Rubella nodded. She sat up and took hold of the control stick. They were now standing in the giant doorway, the entrance to a spacious airlock. The weapons officer pushed the stick forwards, directing the Kretin into the airlock.

The communications panel activated. A new voice was heard. “Kretin 67, this is Fanoog Base Control. Set to automatic. Prepare for airlock draining.

Almost drained of energy, Rubella flicked a switch. “Fanoog Base Control, this is Kretin 67. Automatic set.”

Rapidly the water around the Kretin dropped away through large openings in the floor. Within less than a minute the airlock was empty. The inner door ahead opened revealing a long chamber lined with maintenance bays, gantries, complex equipment and vending machines. The chamber was floodlit to an almost blinding level. The Kretin began to step forwards.

Rubella’s breathing was growing extremely shallow. “Base Control is driving now.”

Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Good. How long until we reach our maintenance bay?”

“A few minutes, maybe.”

“Hmm… I need a uniform like yours. Is there one on board?”

The weapons officer head lolled, and then she pointed down to a hatch on the floor. “The living quarters are below. I have a spare down there.”

Sind’a Thighs looked at Rubella, and her plump body. The uniform would be far too baggy for the bounty hunter’s slim and toned physique, but it would have to do. “I’ll be back shortly. Hang in there!” She opened the hatch and jumped through.

Sind’a Thighs returned dressed in a baggy blue uniform. She had stuffed some of Rubella’s other clothing around her waist to fill the suit out a bit. She stood to one side of the weapons officer. “What do you think? Not bad? I look as plump as you!”

Rubella did not respond. She sat their, lifeless, her head back and mouth open. A trickle of drool ran across her left cheek.

The bounty hunter touched Rubella’s neck, and then sighed. She thought quickly and came up with a plan in seconds. She grabbed Rubella’s corpse and dropped it through the hatch into the living quarters below. The bounty hunter took a quick look out of the front window. The Kretin was headed towards an empty bay. It would be there within a minute. There was not much time. She jumped down through the hatch. Opening the cabinet where she had hidden her body suit, helmet and weapons, the bounty hunter grabbed one of her grenades. She set its control to ‘Furnace – Low Yield’, activated it, and then climbed quickly back through the hatch, sealing it.

There was a loud thud, and then a roar as the grenade detonated. The Kretin shuddered. After a few more seconds the noise died away. The floor was noticeably warmer. There would be nothing left of Rubella or Sind’a Thighs’ equipment - nothing but a blackened room of soot and toxic smoke. Perfect.

There was clunk. The Kretin had stopped.

Through the window Sind’a Thighs could see many pale-faced technicians shuffling large pieces of equipment about. Several more clunks were heard – something was obviously being connected. Diagnostic messages appeared on the screens.

The hatch above opened and a male voice shouted. “Weapons officer Rubella Moul?”

Sind’a Thighs looked up. “Yes! That’s me!”

The man, bald, thin and with a face the colour and texture of an uncooked pie, looked at her quizzically for a second. “Good. I’m Maintenance Supervisor Sambert Taul. Come with me.”

The bounty hunter nodded, and then climbed out through the hatch. She stood on top of the cockpit-less Kretin and looked around at the huge subterranean chamber, squinting in the bright light.

The maintenance supervisor pointed at all the damage. “It’s amazing that you survived. There’s nothing left up here!”

Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Yes, it was a shocking experience.”

“Is there any other damage?”

“There was an intense fire in the living quarters.”

Sambert looked perplexed. His sweaty pastry-like forehead creased up. “Really? That’s unusual. How did that get started?”

The bounty hunter shrugged. “No idea. I was too busy driving.”

“Oh. Well. We’ll fix it. You’d better get to your debriefing.” He pointed to a gantry that had been attached to the Kretin’s left shoulder. It led to an arched doorway cut into the rock. “Follow me.” The supervisor walked awkwardly onto the gantry.

Sind’a Thighs followed.

The debriefing room was large and stark, with plain white walls and ceiling, and a uniform grey floor. And there was absolutely no furniture at all. It was a level of austerity that Sind’a Thighs had never seen before, not even in the strict Impaler community where she had lived before moving to the Palace of Amino.

The bounty hunter stood in the centre of the room, her unevenly padded blue uniform looking odd and uncomfortable. A few metres in front of her stood a man holding a data-pad. He was not tall or short, not fat or thin, and not old or young. He was very ordinary in everyway, and the bounty hunter had never met anyone with such a bored expression. He was a truly dull being, and instantly forgettable. It took all of Sind’a Thighs’ willpower to hold back what would probably have been the longest and deepest yawn of her life.

The man spoke. “I am Debriefing Officer Berbert Bout.”

Sind’a Thighs nodded. “And I am Rubella Moul.”

“I am aware of your identity.” The debriefing officer said. His expression altered slightly. “But your appearance is not what I expected.”

“How so?” The bounty hunter said, preparing to fight if her cover was blown.

Berbert was quiet for a few moments. He looked up and down the bounty hunter’s body.

Sind’a Thighs quickly formulated a plan, utilizing her favourite eradication technique. She would leap forwards, kicking hard at the briefing officer’s right knee cap. The force of impact, and the pressure from her thighs would snap his tendons and ligaments and crush his knee joint, bending his leg backwards. He would collapse in agony. Half a second later, she would jump up and wrap her thighs around his neck, dragging him down. Just before hitting the floor, she would squeeze her quadriceps and twist her hips hard, snapping his neck. He would be dead before he could draw his next breath – excruciating, but very quick.

Berbert spoke. “You are unevenly shaped, and your head lacks the double-chin and skin conditions of such a fleshy body.” The essence of a smile appeared on his face. “You are an unusual but appealing female specimen.”

The bounty hunter relaxed. Berbert was attracted to her. That distraction would improve her chances of getting through this debriefing. “Thank you.”

The smidgen of a smile disappeared from the debriefing officer’s face. “You must now be debriefed. The process normally takes two hours.”

The bounty hunter sighed quietly. “I see.”

“But that time must be cut short by a considerable amount. Doctor Combobulay herself will arrive here in a few hours. She wishes to meet you.”

A moment of shock filled the bounty hunter’s mind. “Me? Why?”

“The reason for Doctor Combobulay’s visit and her interest in you is not known to me, and nor should it be.”

“But, I would....”

“We must not question the motives and wisdom of Doctor Combobulay. You should know that.”

“Of course.”

“We must all prepare for her visit - especially you.”

“What must I…”

“Quiet! The debriefing must begin now if we are to have time to prepare.” A barely discernable smile appeared on the debriefing officer’s face again. “And if we are to have time to act on the obvious attraction we have for each other.”

Sind’a Thighs’ revulsion at the thought of sexual activity with such a dull and pointless male was almost unbearable. Delicious thoughts of snapping Berbert’s neck flitted through her mind, and quelled her nausea. She smiled at the prospect.

The debriefing officer took the bounty hunter’s smile completely the wrong way, and blushed ever so slightly. He looked down at his data-pad and tapped a few buttons.

The bounty hunter noticed him occasionally looking up at her weirdly padded suit. Behind the bland glaze of his eyes she could see a fiery lust. She smiled.

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