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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 20: A Bizarre and Funny-Looking Ship

With the blinding glare of three multi-megaton nuclear detonations illuminating the landscape from the east, Justin slammed at almost 400 kilometres per hour into an ash-strewn plain. The impact threw up a thick cloud of the ash that glowed brightly in the yellowing light.

Immediately, warning symbols and alerts popped up into the cyborg’s field of vision. There was plenty of minor damage that would affect his stability and performance – weakened servos, hydraulic leaks, and several dents in embarrassing locations. But no essential systems were off-line, and his power supply was functioning normally. He filed the alerts in his maintenance log, ready to be fixed at his next service.

The light from the detonations was fading now, and turning orange, and the cloud of ash Justin had kicked up had drifted away. With many of his servos groaning, the cyborg got to his feet and turned to look east. Three impressive mushroom clouds were climbing high above the horizon, their wide and swelling heads glowing deep amber behind the uneven net of soot that surrounded them.

A wall of blackness was approaching. Rapidly it gained height, until it obscured the mushroom clouds completely. Justin was plunged into darkness, and then with an incredible punch a supersonic blast wave swept him off his feet.

Justin was airborne once again.


Peter the Ace had watched the bridge’s main view-screen with delight as the events of the attack unfolded. The left side had showed the progress of Justin’s ballistic flight with an impressive 3D rending of his journey. The right half of the screen had showed a live image of the three massive detonations, along with an overlay of their effects. The data regarding the humanoid machines showed that the attack had been an unqualified success. Almost all had been destroyed. Just a few stragglers remained. They were wandering, heavily damaged, back towards the sea. Whatever they were for, they were no longer capable of doing it.

But the bounty hunter was no longer concerned with the events on the ground. He was watching some other information on a sensor panel on his console. Two-hundred kilometres to the east, something large, cumbersome and revoltingly coloured had emerged from the sea. It was currently accelerating up through the atmosphere.

Peter the Ace operated a few controls. The main view-screen switched to an enhanced image of the unidentified vessel. It was almost two kilometres in length, and covered in curved and bulging panels. Its colour was a highly unappealing shade of mouldy green. It disappeared through the thick cloud layer.

Peter the Ace made a decision. “Blenheim, follow that vessel. Match its speed and stay 100 kilometres directly behind it.”

The ship rumbled as its powerful thrusters fired.

The communications panel bleeped. It was Justin calling. Peter the Ace answered. “Hello, Justin! See, I told you you’d survive. Not too much damage, I hope?”

My diagnostic systems have logged 146 minor faults.

“Only minor? Excellent! You must be very pleased with yourself.”

I am incapable of experiencing pleasure.

“Ah yes, of course. Never mind.”

The Blenheim was now above the clouds and bathed in bright sunlight.

My task has been completed. I require further orders.

Peter the Ace thought for a second. “Hmm… I can’t think of anything at the moment. Stay where you are and take a break.”

I wish to return to the ship and perform more detailed diagnostic tests on…

“Sorry, my artificial friend, but I’m busy at the moment. I’ve just detected an unidentified vessel which I must follow.”

In my compromised condition it is not recommended for me to be exposed to the levels of fine ash and dust that…

“As I mentioned before, I’m busy.” Peter the Ace said, as he dexterously played with his control console. “Your damage is not serious. Think positive! Do something constructive down there.”

The image on the main view-screen zoomed to show the unidentified vessel as it left the upper atmosphere and entered space.

My task generation subsystem is unable to identify any constructive tasks to perform on this planet.

“Then your task generation subsystem needs upgrading! I can think of one task without any artificial help. The scans of the surface that Sind’a Thighs performed before she was shot down indicated that some intelligent life did survive the initial impacts. It would be very constructive indeed of you to find some of that life and offer assistance. Do you have the data from Sind’a Thighs’ scans lodged in that synthetic head of yours?”

Yes.

“Excellent! Off you go then!”

I obey.

Peter the Ace closed the communications channel and returned his attention to the main view-screen. Without the restriction of an atmosphere, the unidentified vessel was now accelerating quickly and heading away from the planet Droog at quite an impressive rate – impressive, at least, for such a bizarre and funny-coloured ship.

“Blenheim, continue following that ship. If it enters subspace, follow, but increase our distance to 100,000 kilometres.”

“AFFIRMATIVE.”

“Create a message to the Palace of Amino that includes all the new information we’ve gathered on the events on Droog. Include details of our attack on those humanoid machines, and Justin’s current position. Tell them to send another bounty hunter – fifth or sixth-class will do. The bounty hunter is required to deal with the remaining humanoid machines, and to recover Justin.”

“MESSAGE CREATED.”

“Code the message as RUNT – Relatively Unimportant, but Necessary and Thought-provoking.”

“MESSAGE CODED.”

“Use a scrambled encrypted encoded secure channel – priority two. Send now.”

“MESSAGE SENT.”

“Good stuff! One more thing; perform a level-two pulse-scan of the unidentified ship. I want to know as much about its armaments, defences, shields, and main propulsion system as possible. Most importantly, I want to know its weaknesses.”

“A LEVEL-TWO PULSE SCAN OF THE UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL WILL TAKE 32-MINUTES TO COMPLETE. A STANDARD SCAN WOULD TAKE ONLY FIVE SECONDS.”

The bounty hunter frowned. “I know that! But a standard scan is easily detectable, a pulse scan is not. Start the scan.”

“LEVEL-TWO PULSE SCAN OF THE UNIDENTIFIED VESSEL INITIATED…”

“Splendid!” Peter the Ace operated the internal communicator. “Jemima?”

The Blenheim’s assistant answered. “Hi! What can I do for you?

“I’m going to my quarters for a short break. Bring me a round of chicken, pesto and basil sandwiches, and a small bottle of our finest sparkling white wine. One from Enchantia’s Suculan Hills region should suffice.”

Of course. I’ll be there in three minutes!

Peter the Ace leapt out of his plush command chair and back-flipped onto his feet. “Blenheim, when you get the results of the scan, send them to my quarters.”

With a squeak of his battle-boots, the first-class bounty hunter turned elegantly on the spot, and then strode proudly off the bridge.

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