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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 28: Hand Crank

Colonel Hilber Hamblaba stuggled under the tight grip of Sind’a Thighs’ arm-lock. “But the ship will be destroyed! This is reckless beyond reason!”

Panman looked across the cramped engine room. “Stop whining, lard lad.” He fiddled with a few controls. “Right, the program’s running. As soon as I open something called the ‘Thermal Containment Aperture’ the generator overloading will begin. I can’t program it to open automatically, so I’ll have to do it myself.”

Sind’a Thighs tightened her grip on the colonel. She looked at Panman. “Where’s it located?”

Panman was studying the screen. “Unfortunately it’s on the ship’s topside hull, right above our heads. I’ll have to go up there.”

Sind’a Thighs understood. “Once you’ve opened it, how long until the Nebulon detonates?”

“Precisely thirty-two minutes and four seconds. I’ll time the opening so that the ship blows as it reaches the fortress. And from my calculations, it’ll explode in a most interesting way!”

The lesser bounty hunter was intrigued. “Really? How so?”

Panman grinned. “I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Wait and see!”

Colonel Hamblaba spoke; the pained expression on his pasty face gave away his fear. “We’ll all be killed! There’s no need for this! Please stop!”

Panman looked at the colonel. “There’s every need. And don’t worry; your beloved tub-like backside will survive. Compared to some of the insanely perilous situations I’ve been in, this is nothing more than a relaxing stroll along the banks of a gently babbling brook. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go outside.” With a whirr of complex mechanisms, the bounty hunter’s helmet expanded and rolled over his head. Grabbing a rung of the metal ladder at the centre of the room, the bounty hunter began climbing.


Panman stood at the exit hatch and looked around. Dimly lit by the now distant Droog sun, the topside of the Nebulon’s wide cylindrical hull was an expanse of bulbous and murky green domes interspersed with antennae and other pieces of sensory equipment. Behind, the deep blue glow of the ship’s giant engines added a welcome change to the otherwise gloomy and mouldy-looking scene.

Stepping forwards, Panman walked across several thick sections of armour plating to the area he had identified on the display-screen in the engine room. There it was: a large round vent almost a metre across – the ‘Thermal Containment Aperture’. To the right of the aperture was a large folded hand crank which, for some bizarre and unfathomable reason, was the only way to open and close it.

Reaching down, Panman grabbed the hand crank and pulled. It was very stiff, but the bounty hunter had no problem using his incredible strength to unfold and extend the handle. It was now upright and at waist height. Looking towards the bow of the ship, the bounty hunter could now see the rogue planetoid that housed the Cifitra’s fortress. Although still small, he could make out the planetoid’s irregular disk shape. Consulting his suit’s systems, he brought up some information on his helmet’s head-up display. The journey time to the planetoid was now only thirty-three minutes away - perfect. With great strength, Panman began turning the hand crank. Immediately a smoggy jet of pressurised gas streamed from the centre of the aperture. Panman kept turning, and the jet of gas widened as the aperture opened. After four complete turns the aperture was wide open. Panman let go of the hand crank. The handle spun in the opposite direction and the aperture began to close. Quickly, the bounty hunter grabbed the handle and opened up the aperture again. He looked down, searching for a mechanism to lock the aperture open. There it was, snapped and bent, and useless.

A moment of realisation swept through Panman’s mind. The aperture would need to be held open until the last possible moment. He activated his communicator. “Ace? You there?”

The reply was swift. “I am indeed.

“Cool! What’s the status of the Cifitra?”

I slammed it at an extreme velocity into an asteroid.

“Awesome!”

It was! How are things going over there?

“I’ve got a bit of an issue, actually. The program for the power overload is running fine, but I had to manually open a vent out on the ship’s topside to start the process.”

Really? How peculiar! Another fine example of incredibly odd and inferior Cifitra design.

“It is. Unfortunately, the mechanism to hold the vent open is broken. It needs to be held open manually. Could you come alongside and send Justin over. He’s perfect for the job!”

It does indeed sound like his kind of work, but unfortunately I had to leave him down on the surface of Droog.

Panman was confused. “Why?”

The Blenheim was attacked by hundreds of giant humanoid machines, which managed to knock out all our weapons systems. I had to use Justin as a ballistic delivery method for some nuclear warheads.

“Whoa! Cool! He’s more versatile than I thought!”

He is, and it was a highly successful tactic! Unfortunately, just after he’d plummeted back to the surface I saw that ugly green ship you’re on emerging from the ocean. I had no choice but to follow it. I ordered the palace to send another bounty hunter to go and get Justin and finish off any of the machines that survived.

Panman nodded. “Fair enough. Looks like I’ll have to do it myself!”

It does. How do you plan to escape the blast?

Panman consulted the data on his helmet’s head-up display. “Well, I only need to keep it open for thirty-one and a half minutes. That’ll vent enough of the gas to ensure the overload. After that, it doesn’t matter if the vent closes. That gives me about thirty seconds to escape. Ample time!”

Excellent!

“Sind’a Thighs should transfer over to the Blenheim. She’s not needed here. Also, she’s holding a warty, pale-faced, flab-ridden, bald-headed Colonel as a prisoner. I guess we should lock him up.”

No problem. Be with you in a minute.

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