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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 29: Big and Round and Cute

Jack Cardio, a sixth-Class bounty hunter of remarkable belligerence and fashion-sense, gasped as a brief wave of nausea swept through him. The transition from subspace to normal space was always a little unsettling in a small ship, and at ten metres in length the Gash Station was one of the smallest ships in the Palace of Amino fleet.

With the churning entities of subspace now banished, the view through the narrow viewport was now the brown and grey world of Droog, less than half a million kilometres ahead. Jack Cardio looked down at the surround view-screen, a remarkable screen that completely circled round him in his ship’s cramped but stylish cylindrical cockpit. Ahead, the screen showed a detailed scan of the recently devastated planet.

A warning bleep sounded. The bounty hunter clicked a control and spun his chair round, sending his long dreadlocks flying out. Behind, the screen had highlighted two objects several billion kilometres away at the system’s outer edge. One was a large unidentified vessel almost two kilometres long – something to be regarded with great suspicion. But the identity of the second smaller ship – confirmed by a decrypted Bounty Hunter Vehicle Identification Code - was something to be revered. It was the finest and most respected bounty hunter ship ever constructed. It was the mighty Blenheim, and it appeared to have docked with the larger vessel.

Jack Cardio took a moment to catch his breath. He had been a fully-qualified bounty hunter for only a decade, and had only recently been promoted to sixth-class, so to be on a mission to aid the two greatest bounty hunters of all time was an honour beyond his dreams, and an honour usually only granted to bounty hunters that showed extreme ability, risk, and unusual levels of eccentricity. On this occasion Jack Cardio had simply been lucky enough to be passing the Droog system when the call from Amino Battle Command came through. With minimal credentials for being there, he had a lot to prove, and with Peter the Ace and Panman in the vicinity he was determined to succeed.

Jack Cardio spun his chair back round. The gloomy planet Droog now loomed large through the narrow viewport. The bounty hunter activated the decelerators and redirected the Gash Station, placing it in a very low orbital trajectory. He brought up his mission parameters on the view-screen for review. They were simple: destroy any giant humanoid machines that were walking around, and then rescue a stranded Palace of Amino cyborg at the supplied coordinates. But all bounty hunters knew that simple mission parameters did not always make for a simple mission. Thinking quickly, Jack Cardio decided that it would be better to rescue the cyborg first: it might know something that would help in defeating the humanoid machines.

The Gash Station was now almost directly above the cyborg’s last reported coordinates. Heeding the warnings he had been given about the weapons of the humanoid machines, the bounty hunter decided that an extreme descent to the surface was the safest way down.

Jack Cardio grinned unevenly. It was time to begin the mission. Pushing forwards on his pitch control, the bounty hunter sent his ship into a vertical dive. Within seconds, the ship was surrounded by the bright orange glow of plasma as it pushed hard into the ash-ridden atmosphere. Operating the touch-controls on the view-screen, he initiated a narrow deep-scan of the surface. Immediately a wealth of information appeared. Most of the surface ahead was a flat lifeless plain, covered in a thick layer of fallout dust and ash. Thirty-three active humanoid machines were detected; most were on the coastline and heading into the sea. Three were heading inland.

The Palace of Amino cyborg was not detected at the given coordinates, but a dense object could be seen moving slowly far inland near the ruins of what appeared to be dwellings. It could be the cyborg, but it was impossible to confirm – the mechanoid’s P.A.C.T. – Palace of Amino Cyborg Transponder – was not transmitting.

As the ground became visible beneath the thick dust clouds, Jack Cardio pulled the Gash Station out of its power dive. The ship skimmed the surface, kicking up clouds of dust. He slowed the ship’s velocity to just three-hundred kilometres per hour and set a course for what he hoped was the cyborg. He activated his ship’s communicator. “Cyborg? This is Jack Cardio. Reply and identify yourself!”

There was a crackle of static. “My designation is ‘Justin’.

“Why is your P.A.C.T. not transmitting?”

It was disabled during my impact with this planet’s surface following my ballistic…

Jack Cardio was already irritated by the cyborg’s mono-tonal drone. “I didn’t ask for your life story, cyborg! Shut up! I’m approaching your position. Stand by.”

I obey.

Justin was only a few kilometres ahead. Jack Cardio slowed his ship and looked at the scanner information. The cyborg was displayed in great detail now. He looked very battered, with several deep dents on his chest and shoulder plates, and his left leg was bent out of shape.

And he was not alone.

Jack Cardio looked at the new scanner information. Three life forms were standing with the cyborg. Their biological signs were weak. “Who’s with you?”

I was ordered by my master to locate some survivors and offer assistance. Thirty-four minutes ago I located the three humanoids standing to my right; two male and one female. All three humanoids are prepubescent children.

The bounty hunter could now see the cyborg and the children through the viewport. He slowed his ship and brought it to a hover. The children covered their faces as a cloud of ash was blown at them.

Jack Cardio operated a control. “I’ve opened the lower cargo hatch. It’s quite cramped in there, but you should all get in. Help the children in first, cyborg.”

I obey.

The bounty hunter watched on the screen as Justin lifted up the blackened, spluttering children and placed them in the cargo bay. They immediately cowered in one of the corners. The cyborg then pulled his bulky form into the bay. At the appropriate moment Jack Cardio closed the bay door, giving the cyborg a boost.

Justin spoke. “We are all now located in the cargo bay of your ship.

“I know!” Jack Cardio said with annoyance. He hated being told what was obvious, especially by a machine. Operating a control, the bounty hunter spun his chair round 180 degrees, and at the same time dropped it two metres. He was now sitting in the lower habitation section of the Gash Station which contained his small but comfortable living quarters. To the right was a ‘wet room’, complete with a power-shower and whirlpool bath, and to the left was a small galley and plush sofa.

Straight ahead was a hatchway to the cargo bay. Operating another control the bounty hunter opened the hatchway. With a grating sound it rose into the ceiling. Justin was there gazing back at him with his deep red vacant eyes. “Cyborg? Send the children through.”

Using his bulky arms, Justin herded the children through the hatchway. They stood there, shivering and wide-eyed, their thick torn clothes, skin and bare feet covered in grey ash. They moaned softly.

Jack Cardio grimaced. “They’re filthy and repulsive!” He stood up and pressed a control on the door to the wet room. The door slid open. The bounty hunter pointed. “In there, now!”

With a helpful nudge from Justin, the three children scurried into the wet room.

The cyborg spoke. “We should protect their modesty. The females and the male should be cleaned separately.”

Jack Cardio frowned. “You said they were prepubescent! They don’t care about such things, yet!” He played with the wash settings, and then activated the room. “Anyway, they don’t need to be naked.” Through the room’s transparent walls the children could be seen squirming as dense sprays of warm water and soap enveloped them. The force of the water was almost enough to knock them off their feet. The bounty hunter laughed. “This is my favourite setting. Look how much fun they’re having!”

After a minute the water sprays stopped. A swirling wind of hot air surrounded the children, drying their bodies and clothes with remarkable efficiency. The hot wind subsided. The door to the wet room opened.

Jack Cardio beckoned the children. The approached cautiously, their clothes now bright and colourful, and their long dark hair fluffed-up like a doll’s. The bounty hunter stepped to the other side of his living quarters and operated another control. A double bed unfolded from the wall. It clicked into place. He pointed. “Sit on there.”

The three children climbed onto the bed. They sat, cross-legged, and looked up at the bounty hunter, their eyes big and round and cute.

An alarm sounded up in the cockpit.

Jack Cardio sat back down in his chair. He looked at Justin. “Make sure they stay seated on the bed. I need to go and deal with those humanoid machines.”

The cyborg spoke. “It is unwise to launch an offensive operation using such a small vessel when there are children onboard.”

“I have my orders, cyborg!” The bounty hunter said sternly. He glanced at the children. “Don’t worry; I’ll set the gee-dampers to maximum. The children will barely notice what’s going on.”

With a whirr, Jack Cardio and his chair rose up and spun round to the front. A second later he was back in his cockpit. He looked at his view-screen, and then out through the viewport to the horizon. There, silhouetted against the dull orange sky, were three humanoid machines.

Excitement coursed through Jack Cardio’s body. This was going to be a very pleasing experience!

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