far Sind’a Thighs’ whole experience on Droog had been quite
peculiar: the crash landing, travelling along the seabed in a walking machine,
having to wear a stuffed uniform to look like a plump enemy crew member,
and then suffering a peculiar debriefing by the lustful Berbert Bout that
had been filled with sexual innuendo and invitations to all kinds of perverted
And now it was about to get even more peculiar.
The bounty hunter was standing on a high platform in a giant artificial
cavern adjacent to the maintenance bay of the Kretin base. A dozen metres
below all around her, thousands of humanoids had gathered around a large
oval lake of sea water at least a kilometre long. With her on the platform
were six of the highest-ranking officers in the base, each dressed resplendently
in ceremonial uniforms. They were here for the arrival of Doctor Combobulay
– due to happen within the next few minutes. They were all noticeably
It had been only a few hours ago that Sind’a Thighs had been told
that the doctor was coming here to meet her, or to be more precise, to meet
Rubella Moul, whom everyone still believed that the bounty hunter was. Rubella
had obviously not been the most sociable of the Kretin crew members. No
one had yet questioned her identity.
The water below began to swell and bubble. The crowd cheered.
One of the high-ranking officers next to Sind’a Thighs spoke to her.
His voice was slow and brimming with condescension. “Stand straight
and tall, Officer Moul. Doctor Combobulay does not tolerate slouchers and
The bounty hunter frowned. She was standing straight, but the uneven padding
in her suit created the impression of a lazy posture. She corrected things
as best she could.
In the water below something small – a sphere – rose out of
the water. The crowd cheered once more as the sphere rose higher on a tall
metal arm. And then the massive bulk of what was below crashed out of the
water. Waves rolled over the edge of the giant pool and washed into wide
drains, along with several of the more stupid crowd members who had strayed
too close to the water’s edge. Sprays of water spread like clouds
across the gathered crowd.
The huge oval lake was now filled with the bulbous mass of a massive submarine.
The whole craft glistened in the brightly lit chamber as sea water drained
from its curved mouldy green surfaces and several large and offensive looking
weapons that were welded to the hull. The top of the massive vessel was
now level with the platform on which Sind’a Thighs was standing. A
narrow bridge extended out from the platform to the submarine. With a hiss
and a clunk, it connected with the vessel.
It must have been this submarine that had shot her down, Sind’a Thighs
thought. It had to be. The desire for vengeance filled her mind, briefly
overwhelming her with rage. In an instant she subdued that rage, but kept
it bubbling; ready to swell into insanity when the right moment presented
After a few seconds of silent anticipation, a panel on the side of the submarine
slid open. The crowd gasped. From out of the open doorway something appeared.
It was a chair, and it trundled at remarkable speed across the bridge. The
Standing on narrow platforms on either side of the device were two men.
One of them, dressed in an immaculate blue fur cloak, sported a long and
well-groomed beard. The other was dressed in heavy body armour and carried
a heavy-looking energy weapon. Sitting between the two men was one of the
oldest, thinnest and most wizened-looking women the bounty hunter had ever
seen. Her long and straggly white hair blew wildly in the wind.
The chair clattered onto the platform and stopped only a couple of metres
in front of Sind’a Thighs. The two men stepped off the chair.
From her chair the hideously ancient woman gazed at the bounty hunter. She
edged the chair forwards. “Your body is a strange shape, Rubella.”
Her voice boomed as it was amplified around the cavern.
This must be Doctor Combobulay, Sind’a Thighs thought. She resisted
the urge to vomit as the smell of urine and rose perfume entered her nose.
“I know. Sorry about that.” She was momentarily startled as
her voice was also amplified for all to hear. “I promise to exercise
The doctor frowned, and then smiled. “You have a spirit I don’t
normally see in my crew. And you don’t appear as awed by my presence
as I had expected. Perhaps this is why you survived the attack on your Kretin?”
The bounty hunter knew her cover could be blown at any second. She bowed
her head. “Sorry, doctor. I am still in shock from my experience.”
Doctor Combobulay laughed. “You certainly have a strange way of showing
The crowd laughed too, as did the officers around her.
The doctor spoke seriously again. “As the weapons officer who first
fired on the alien ship brought down from orbit, you are a bit of a hero,
are you not?”
Sind’a Thighs nodded. “I guess so.”
“You know so! I received a report on your debriefing which was highly
complimentary, especially regarding your physical attributes.”
The doctor made a motion towards the giant submarine. “Your experience
on the Nebulon was only in the conditioning halls, was it not, right after
you were commissioned?”
The bounty hunter had very little idea what the archaic lady was talking
about, but she nodded. “Yes, it was.”
“Then, as a reward for your excellence, let me show you the areas
of the vessel that only a privileged few ever get to see.” She pointed
at one of the narrow platforms in the side of her chair. “Step on.”
Sind’a Thighs grinned. She was being invited into the submarine that
had shot her down. Her opportunity for vengeance would soon present itself.
“I sense joy within you.” Doctor Combobulay said as the bounty
hunter stepped onto the chair. The chair turned to face the bridge. “Such
joy is deserved.” The chair rolled forwards. The two men that had
previously ridden the chair walked behind.
Over the cheer of the crowd the doctor spoke again. “Life should be
filled with surprises, should it not?”
Sind’a Thighs was puzzled by the question. “It certainly makes
things more interesting.”
The chair reached the doorway into the Nebulon. “Indeed it does.”
Doctor Combobulay said, grinning. “You are about to experience some
surprises, not least in something I may offer you if you continue to impress
The chair trundled through the doorway, followed by the two men. The door
hissed shut, eliminating completely the sound of the crowd.
With a rumble the floor descended into the submarine.
Doctor Combobulay spoke as they descended. “We will start with a look
at one of my favourite areas. I created it as a motivational and inspirational
place for my crew to visit. It instils obedience and compliance, and also
the fear of death – something necessary for a disciplined mind, don’t
Sind’a Thighs nodded. “I do.”
The doctor smiled. “Of course you do! You are as wise as I predicted.
I am pleased.”
The floor stopped descending. The doctor turned to the man in the blue fur
cloak. “Commandant Fumbla? Go to the bridge. Set course for our previous
location and sail immediately. Take this guard with you. I wish to spend
time alone with Officer Moul.”
The commandant nodded. “Yes, ma’am.” He turned and strode
away down a dimly lit passageway. The guard followed.
“Right.” Doctor Combobulay said. “Let’s start the
tour!” She operated a control on her chair. A wide door opened ahead.
The chair rolled forwards. “Welcome to the Example Chamber!”
The bounty hunter looked around. The chamber was a large oval room at least
thirty metres across and filled with what looked like large tinted glass
vases. The high ceiling was covered in a myriad of small bright spotlights,
each one directed at one of the vases. There was the smell of antiseptic
in the air, like that of a particularly clean and efficient hospital, or
the torture clinic of a particularly well-trained Jigantus pain specialist.
The doctor guided the chair towards one of the nearest vases. “This
one was the first installed here. You may recognise the occupant.”
Sind’a Thighs was curious. Occupant? As the chair slowly passed by
she peered through the tinted glass. Her eyes widened as she saw what was
inside. It was a naked shrunken humanoid, crumpled up like a bundle of used
wrapping paper, and preserved in some kind of greenish oil. The humanoid’s
eyes were nothing more than small dark pits, and its limbs mere sticks covered
with creased and leathery skin. “Oh, yes! I recognise…”
she looked down at the humanoid’s shrivelled groin, “…him.”
Doctor Combobulay grinned, her unhealthy teeth far too visible for comfort.
“Yes! My first commandant, Dumba Bumumba. His act of incompetence
six years ago forced me to punish him in a very special way. I created the
Example Chamber to house his contorted body as an example to others of what
will happen if they do not perform to my expectations.”
Sind’a Thighs nodded and played along. “Understandable. Your
subordinates on this vessel must be tightly controlled and disciplined.”
The doctor laughed. “Exactly! Your understanding is as I’d hoped.”
She lifted one of her arms and made a sweeping motion. “There are
over three hundred examples in this chamber now. All crew members are required
to walk through this chamber before their shift begins to remind them of
their fate if they do not excel at their duties.” She looked at the
bounty hunter. “If there is a better way to motivate staff, I have
yet to think of it.”
Sind’a Thighs nodded. “I certainly would not presume to think
A group of crew members passed by, bowing deeply at the doctor. The chair
was now approaching the end of the chamber.
The doctor pointed to three vases. “These are the latest examples,
installed only a day ago. They were fine officers, but I cannot tolerate
even one mistake. I must punish brutally and without mercy. It is the only
Despite her disgust at Doctor Combobulay, Sind’a Thighs had no choice
but to agree. She nodded.
Again the doctor seemed pleased with the bounty hunter’s response.
She smiled crookedly and directed the chair towards the chamber’s
exit. “You please me, Officer Moul. You please me very much. As one
of my subordinates you are well aware of my policy on mistakes and well
aware of the severity of punishment if a mistake is made. You should be
cowering before me, yet you stand with me on this chair without any sign
of fear. You emanate confidence with a radiance I have never seen, even
from my current commandant.”
Sind’a Thighs could not help but grin. The doctor was completely taken
with her. Her first solo infiltration of an enemy stronghold was a stunning
success. Surely it could not get any better than this? The bounty hunter
bowed, suppressing the ecstasy of her triumph. “Thank you, doctor.”
The chair trundled out of the Example Chamber.
Doctor Combobulay laughed, and then began a bout of coughing and wheezing.
When she recovered she spoke again. “As of this moment you are promoted.
You will become the assistant commandant on the Nebulon.”
It had just got better. The bounty hunter bowed once more, her face beaming
with genuine pleasure. “I am honoured, doctor.”
“So you should be. The position of assistant commandant is second
only to me and Commandant Fumbla.” The doctor waved. From out of the
shadows two guards appeared. “Escort Assistant Commandant Moul to
the Dressing Chamber. See that she is provided the correct uniform, and
then deliver her to Commandant Fumbla in the command centre.”
The guards bowed silently.
Doctor Combobulay looked up at Sind’a Thighs. “Go with them.”
The bounty hunter nodded and stepped off the chair.
With a whirr of acceleration the doctor sped away.