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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 24: Expert Taunting

Colonel Hilber Hamblaba stood outside the doorway to Doctor Combobulay’s private chamber. To either side of him stood Panman and Sind’a Thighs, hidden behind the doorway’s thick frame. They both brandished their pistols.

Panman whacked the colonel on the back of his shoulder with his pistol. “Stop dallying! Go!”

The colonel frowned and rubbed his shoulder. He took a deep breath, and then pressed the button at the side of the doorway. A second later the doorway fell away into the floor. The colonel was bathed in a bright white light. He stepped forwards.

Panman and Sind’a Thighs remained hidden. They listened.

Doctor Combobulay’s croaking voice was heard. “What happened to your uniform, colonel?”

The colonel replied. “It was erm… the malfunctioning console I mentioned, ma’am. I was standing next to it. It burnt me a little.”

“When you have finished your update, go and get it repaired!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

The doctor shrieked. “And close the door to my chamber!”

“Of course, ma’am.”

Panman nodded at Sind’a Thighs. It was time.

The two bounty hunters ran at the doorway, leaping over the fast-rising door. Sind’a Thighs slammed into the colonel’s back, knocking him forwards. With a smack, his head hit the solid metal flooring.

Panman headed straight for Doctor Combobulay. Leaping high, he landed, feet together, right on her chest. The force of the kick was enough to shove the doctor and her chair more than a metre backwards. She groaned loudly. Panman fell back and hit the floor. He rolled, and stood up, aiming his pistol at the wizened old woman. “Good to see you again, doctor. How are you?”

Doctor Combobulay looked up at the bounty hunter. She grimaced, but said nothing.

Sind’a Thighs moved to stand next to Panman. She looked at the doctor. “That kind of kick would normally crush an old woman!”

Panman nodded. “An ordinary old woman, yes. But this is no ordinary old woman.”

Doctor Combobulay cackled. “You think you’ve beaten me, don’t you?”

“It looks that way.” Panman said calmly.

The doctor laughed. “You have no idea who I am at all!”

Panman agreed. “No, I do not know who you are.” He paused for effect. “But I do know what you are.” With an agile flick of his thumb, the bounty hunter changed the setting on his pistol, and then fired.

Instantly, Doctor Combobulay was consumed in a ball of flame as arcs of energy flickered like designer lightning over her body. She writhed, screaming like a bloated baby, as her clothes were reduced to charred flakes. Her skin bubbled into deep red boils that burst into sprays of steam.

Despite her training and upbringing, Sind’a Thighs found herself slightly shocked by Panman’s actions. She spoke, shouting to be heard above the doctor’s agonised and gurgling screams. “Surely we should keep her alive? This kind of torture is not productive.”

Huge blazing gashes had now appeared on the doctor’s body. Boiling innards gushed out.

Panman continued his brutal attack. “It’s necessary to prove a point; therefore it’s actually highly productive!”

Doctor Combobulay’s screams became shriller as Panman’s horrific onslaught continued. Her skin was now flaking off in large blackened chunks, revealing cracked and already over-cooked internal organs. Smoke billowed into the air. And then the doctor’s massive bladder burst. A flood of scalding hot urine gushed onto the floor, and then evaporated rapidly. The doctor thrashed, sending charred tissue flying in all directions.

There was virtually no flesh left on the Doctor now. Even her head had been stripped bare. The doctor still managed to move and yell, but the yell no longer sounded human.

Sind’a Thighs was beginning to realise what Panman had realised many hours ago. Doctor Combobulay was not a shrivelled and incontinent old lady. She was not a bad-tempered, moaning and bitter old hag. She was something far more dangerous.

Panman ceased fire. Immediately the noise level dropped. All that could be heard was the crackle of flames as the remnants of the doctor’s flesh continued to burn on the floor.

Something was moving within the shroud of smoke that surrounded Doctor Combobulay’s chair. As the smoke started to clear a slender and weak-looking skeleton could be seen. The skeleton was brushing away the last specks of scorched flesh from its bones. But they were not really bones at all. Instead the sheen of polished metal could be seen, and small motors that existed next to joints and sockets whirred gently.

Doctor Combobulay was a machine.

Panman grinned. “Finally we can see you!”

The doctor’s metal head turned and looked at the bounty hunter. Its eyes were now deep black pits that seemed to disappear deep into its shiny head. “You have destroyed my organic skin,” it said, its voice now metallic and deep, “nothing more.” It stood now, looking remarkably strong despite the spindly nature of its metal limbs. “You have freed me from the need to maintain my cover as that insipid woman. I no longer need to act as a feeble flesh being. That is something you will come to regret very shortly.”

Panman shook his head. “I never regret anything. If you had any real knowledge of me or other top-class bounty hunters, you’d know that. I find you pathetic.”

The Combobulay machine warbled. “I am not pathetic!”

“Yes you are! I know your kind. You’re a Cifitra. I’ve never encountered one of you before, but I’ve studied accounts of your escapades.”

The machine glared at the bounty hunter, its featureless face devoid of expression. “Then you will know of my strength and speed. You will know of my intelligence and cunning.” It paused for a second. “You will know to fear me.”

Panman laughed. “Yes, your kind are strong and fast and quite cunning at times, but intelligent? You’ve succeeded in only one of your invasions in the thousand or so years that you’ve been around, and even that was only a partial success!”

“It was a complete success!!!”

“Your occupation of Evi’Sap lasted less than a century, and then you were kicked out by an uprising of proto-humanoid troglodytes that you didn’t even know existed!”

The Combobulay machine warbled. “The underground dwellers were impossible to detect!”

“They were armed with nothing more than handheld digging tools! They were later classified by the Hindar System’s University of Bipedal Studies as having intelligence levels lower than basic primates!”

The Combobulay machine rumbled. “They were devious beyond reasonable expectations – devious enough to fool those bipedal academics!”

Panman grinned and moved on. He continued his expert taunting. “And where have you been for the last five-hundred years? During the entire time since the Palace of Amino was created the Cifitra have not been seen at all! We had to learn about you from history texts, a few old photos, and the cave drawings of the Evi’Sap troglodytes!”

“We have been planning!” The machine said, raising its head high. “We have been plotting! We have been evaluating ideas and technology!”

Panman laughed. “And after five-hundred years this is the plan you came up with?! Disguise yourself as a feeble and incontinent old woman, redirect a few rocks to crash into a developing planet, and then, once the planet’s primitive civilisation was destroyed, claim it as an invasion success?! That is one of the most cowardly and pathetic plans I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard thousands!”

The Combobulay machine let out a loud and heavily modulated scream, and then leapt at Panman, slamming hard into his suit’s chest-plate. The bounty hunter flew back and out into the Nebulon’s command centre. As he fell, Panman aimed and fired his pistol, sending accurate pulses of energy coursing into the machine as it landed on a terrace on the far side of the command centre, right above the massive hole created earlier by the hyper-hot-shatter-bomb.

Panman hit the floor of the command centre.

Sind’a Thighs was standing at the entrance to the chamber. She fired her pistol, hitting the Combobulay machine squarely on its shoulder plates. The machine was enveloped in sparks and fire, but it seemed unaffected.

The machine turned and held up its hands, blocking the onslaught. It screamed; its metallic voice harsh and piercing. “You are no match for the Cifitra!” And then it turned and smashed through a closed doorway, tearing through the door’s metal shielding with seemingly effortless ease.

Sind’a Thighs ceased fire and shouted. “I’ll follow it!”

Panman was now standing at a console at the base of the command centre. “No.” He said as he tapped away at the console. “We’ll deal with that vile machine later.” He looked up. “Go and revive that fat and warty colonel dude. We may need him.”

Sind’a Thighs nodded, and then headed back into the chamber.

Panman brought up a schematic of the Nebulon on a screen next to the console, one of the only functioning screens left in the entire command centre. A plan of staggering ingenuity formed within the mind of the bounty hunter. With masterful agility he manipulated some controls. A route to the engine section of the ship was highlighted. Panman memorised it, and chuckled. “This is going to be so cool!”

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