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Book: The Kretins of Doctor Combobulay
Chapter 39: A Thin Strip of Glossy Black Leather

The Blenheim’s main galley was filled with a blistering array of the very latest state-of-the-art food preparation technology. Pioneered by the gastronomists of the Palace of Amino’s Institute of Techno-Gorging, the technology could prepare and cook almost any known dish from almost any known cuisine. It was one of the most remarkable and sophisticated food preparation areas in the galaxy, yet its capabilities were unknown to all except a select few at the Palace of Amino, and its culinary delights had been experienced by even fewer.

Panman was sitting alone at the galley’s spacious curved seating area. He was munching steadily on a frosted custard-filled doughnut the size of a dinner plate. The Joker-like grin on his face was an obvious sign of the pleasure of the experience. It was not only the massive doughnut that gave him the pleasure, though. It was also the bounty hunter’s chance for some private time in the galley. It was time that he often took during the cruising phase of missions – one of the few times he could truly savour the culinary delights of the galaxy’s sweetest cuisine, and contemplate the true meaning of the sensation of taste.

After swallowing a particularly dense piece of the doughnut, Panman remembered something. He looked at his chronometer. It was ten minutes since Justin had last called. The cyborg was supposed to call again when he had imprisoned the Cifitra head. Annoyed at Justin’s apparent impertinence, the bounty hunter activated his communicator. “Justin? Where are you?”

Justin replied. “I am in the detention centre.

“I told you to report when you had locked up the Cifitra. Why didn’t you?”

The Cifitra is not locked up, therefore the time that you required me to report has not yet…

“Stop waffling! Why are you taking so long?”

The Cifitra and I were discussing my place in the Palace of Amino and the conditions of my…

Panman frowned. “I’m not interested in mechanoid chit-chat! Get the head of that artificial freak locked up now! And when you’ve done that, get down to the main cargo bay. It needs tidying up.”

I am unable to…

Panman was desperate to get back to eating his doughnut. “Don’t make excuses! Just do it!” He silenced the communicator.

The galley’s door whooshed open and Peter the Ace walked in. He was followed by Sind’a Thighs, who was shepherding the three children. As the door closed Peter the Ace spotted Panman and grinned. “Why am I not surprised to see you down here?! Mind if we join you?”

Panman shook his head. “Not at all.” He showered the galley in crumbs.

Peter the Ace looked at Sind’a Thighs. “Seat the children opposite Panman. They’ll enjoy watching him eat!”

Under Sind’a Thighs’ guidance, the three wide-eyed children took their seats. Immediately their gaze locked on to Panman. They watched in awe as the first-class bounty hunter continued to devour his immense doughnut at unrivalled speed. They blinked as crumbs scattered across their faces. Sind’a Thighs sat down next to them.

Peter the Ace took his seat and operated a control on the table. From the centre of the table a drinks dispenser rose up. He made a selection on the dispenser’s touch-screen. A chilled glass of mango smoothie slid into his hands.

Sind’a Thighs selected drinks for the children. “I was just thinking how convincing that Cifitra’s disguise was. I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t see through it.” She handed the drinks to the children. They sipped eagerly at the sweet juice.

Panman gulped down another mouthful of doughnut. “Don’t be. Cifitra are masters of disguise. As well covering itself with the fully functioning body of an incontinent old hag, that metal freak would also have conditioned its mind to believe that it actually was an incontinent old hag. Only when I burned off its flesh did it revert back to a Cifitra way of thinking.”

Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Cifitra are certainly a dangerous foe.”

Panman finished off the last of his doughnut with a massive gulp. “They are, but they’re still no match for us!”

There was a crashing noise outside the galley, and then the distinctive whirr of servos.

Peter the Ace looked round. “Excellent! It sounds like Justin is coming to join us!”

Panman frowned. “It’s not excellent. I ordered him to go and clean up the main cargo bay!” He turned to face the galley’s doorway as it opened. “Justin! I told you to…”

A rasping metallic voice, heavily modulated, spoke. “Your mono-tonal cyborg no longer answers to you, bounty hunter!”

There in the doorway stood Justin’s bulky and dust-stained body. But it was not Justin. In place of Justin’s head was the Cifitra’s head. It stared lifelessly at the galley’s occupants.

Reacting immediately, Panman dived to the floor and slid across its smooth surface. In a second he reached the opposite side of the galley. Opening a small hidden compartment in the wall he retrieved a pistol, turned, and fired. An intense beam of sustained energy connected with Justin’s chest. The cyborg staggered back into the passageway, discharges of super-heated plasma spurting from its ponderous limbs. The Cifitra head warbled loudly.

Peter the Ace hit a control on the table’s surface. A thick blast door dropped into place, sealing the galley from the rest of the ship.

The children cried and buried their heads in Sind’a Thighs chest. She gave them a reassuring hug.

A deep thumping noise could be heard as the Cifitra pounded on the closed door. Its voice screamed over the communicator. “You fear me, bounty hunters! You are cowering behind this door in despair!

Peter the Ace responded calmly. “You are greatly mistaken.”

I am not! This vessel is now mine to do with as I please. You are also mine to do with as I please. You are doomed!

“Wrong again.”

I am never wrong! I will slaughter you as I slaughtered your companion – slowly, and from the inside out! And then I will take this ship to the…

Panman spoke. “You will take this ship nowhere, you simple-minded metallic freak! You’re going down!”

The thumping noise increased in volume. The Cifitra pounded the door harder and harder. Its voice rasped and hissed. “You are very unwise to arouse my anger, Panman! I shall ensure that your death is the slowest and most...

Peter the Ace silenced the communicator. “That Cifitra is annoying, don’t you think?” He operated a control on the table. The galley’s view-screen faded to life. An image of the Cifitra could be seen as it pounded the galley’s door.

Sind’a Thighs spoke, her voice tinged with worry. “Can it get inside?”

“Of course not.” Peter the Ace said, looking at the lesser bounty hunter. “The head may be a Cifitra, but the body is not. Justin’s bulky frame is designed for menial tasks such as box-stacking, scrubbing and pizza preparation. It is far inferior to a Cifitra’s in every conceivable way. It does not have the strength to break through such a finely engineered blast door.”

Sind’a Thighs nodded. “Of course, I should have known that.”

“You should.”

Panman was getting impatient. “It may not be able to get in, but I don’t want to spend the entire voyage home stuck in here, no matter how much awesome food there is! Let’s get this sorted!”

Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “Do you have a plan?”

Panman nodded. “Of course. And, as always, it’s phenomenal!”

“I’m intrigued! Please explain.”

Panman operated the control panel on the table. The image on the view-screen changed to show a schematic map of the ship. Several icons faded into view, each one representing a person on board. Panman pointed and spoke loudly to ensure he was heard over the Cifitra’s banging. “That’s us in the main galley, and that red blob is that metal freak.”

Peter the Ace and Sind’a Thighs nodded.

Panman continued. “As you can see, not everyone on board is…”

A thunderous and almost deafening boom shook the galley. Everyone at the table was thrown back into their soft leather seats. Instinctively, Sind’a Thighs grabbed hold of the children.

Panman looked towards the galley’s door. It had bowed in slightly, but otherwise seemed to have held. “How did that mechanical extremist do that?!”

Before anyone could formulate a response the galley door began to creak and groan its way open. Immediately Panman raised his pistol and aimed at the door. Some smoke billowed in, partially obscuring the passageway beyond. As the door finally disappeared into the ceiling, a figure appeared at the doorway. But it was not the ungainly bulk of Justin’s body as everyone had expected. It was far slimmer, and far more toned.

It was Jemima Murma.

Peter the Ace applauded. “Outstanding!”

Jemima Murma bowed slightly. “Thanks! Sorry about the mess. It was the only solution I could think of in such a short time.”

Peter the Ace shook his head. “I’m referring to your costume! It’s remarkably bizarre, even for you! You look extraordinary!”

In extreme contrast to the long red evening dress Jemima Murma had been wearing earlier, she now wore a shockingly alluring and minimalist outfit. Round her neck was a wide metal ring. From the back of the ring a thin strip of glossy black leather passed down the middle of her back, between her buttocks and legs, and then up through her deep cleavage to connect back to the ring. Two chains, attached to hooks that were dangling from her pierced nipples, were also attached to the ring. And she had shaved her head.

Jemima Murma grinned. “I made it myself. Glad you like it!”

Panman got to his feet and walked over to the galley’s doorway. He beamed at the Blenheim’s assistant. “What you did was exactly the plan I was thinking of! Cool!”

Peter the Ace joined Panman at the doorway. Jemima Murma stepped to one side, allowing the two bounty hunters a clear look outside into the devastated passageway. A five-metre stretch of the passageway’s walls was scorched black, and many usually hidden power conduits we exposed and contorted into disturbing shapes. The smouldering remains of Justin’s heavyweight body were scattered everywhere.

Peter the Ace spoke. “Justin’s body is a definite write-off.” He thought for a few moments. “I wonder how that Cifitra managed to get control of it?”

Panman shook his head in disgust. “The only way would have been for Justin to give it up. He can control his body remotely, even when his head is detached.”

“He willingly gave it up? That’s treachery!”

Panman nodded. “It is!”

A voice, slow and crackling, spoke. “Your cyborg is a weak-minded idiot! It took no effort to persuade him to give his body to me.”

Directly opposite the galley doorway, and barely visible, was the Cifitra’s head. Blackened by the firestorm of the blast, the head was embedded deep in an exposed and buckled bulkhead.

Peter the Ace spoke to the Cifitra. “And it took no effort for us to destroy it and take it back from you.”

The Cifitra head warbled. “I can sense deep fear in you. You are in despair! You are traumatized by my abilities. You are depressed at my continued existence!”

“Your perception of my emotional state is completely wrong.” Peter the Ace said, smiling. “I am actually extremely happy. Your survival means I still have a first exhibit for my Mad Animated Head gallery. I was beginning to think I’d have to put that idea on hold.”

Panman nodded. “Yeah! And your ability to live on and on and on will mean that in centuries you’ll still be spouting inane drivel from your display cabinet in the gallery. Visitors will be entertained for millennia!”

The Cifitra head spoke in a slurring and distorted manner. “I cannot be contained! No gallery can constrain my ambitions! Other Cifitra will trace me and restore me! You are doomed!”

Panman ignored the Cifitra’s ranting and looked quizzically at the smouldering area surrounding the head. “We could cut out this entire section of bulkhead - it’ll need replacing anyway. It could form the centrepiece in your gallery, allowing visitors to see precisely where that useless Cifitra was defeated.”

The Cifitra head screamed. “I am not useless!”

Peter the Ace also ignored the Cifitra. “What a marvellous idea! And with ominous lighting, regular bursts of despondent music, and a surrounding moat of molten lead the effect would be spectacular! I need to start work on this gallery right away.” He turned and looked back into the galley. “Sind’a? Take the children back to the guest quarters and see that they are heavily sedated for the rest of the trip home.”

The lesser bounty hunter nodded. She ushered the still blubbering children to their feet.

“Once they’re on the verge of unconsiousness, come back here and keep an eye on that Cifitra head. I’m certain it’s quite harmless now, but we should be careful.”

As Sind’a Thighs and the children left the galley the crazed head screamed. “I am harmful beyond your pitiful comprehension, bounty hunter! I am…”

With a particularly swift movement of his right hand, Panman aimed and fired his pistol. A bright flash of white fire surrounded the Cifitra head, silencing its rant. “Sorry, but that is one horrendously irritating head!” Panman handed Jemima Murma his weapon. “Watch over that head until Sind’a Thighs gets back. If it makes another sound, blast it again.”

She nodded. “Of course. It’ll be my pleasure.”

The Cifitra head remained unusually quiet.

Peter the Ace turned to Panman. “Let’s get back to the bridge. I need the comfort of my command chair if I’m to properly plan the opening of the Mad Animated Head Gallery.”

The two first-class bounty hunters headed for the lift.

Panman’s communicator bleeped. He answered. “Yeah?”

It is I, Justin.

“What do you want, traitor?!”

I have made an error of judgement.

“Too right you have! What made you give your body to that freak?”

The Cifitra stated that I would be fitted with a superior Cifitra body if I complied with its request to lend it mine.

“You’re a gullible idiot, aren’t you?!”

Justin ignored the bounty hunter’s question. “I wish to have my body returned.

“Too late. Jemima Murma destroyed it.”

There was a moment’s pause. “I require a new body.

“No way!”

Without a functioning body I am unable to perform my duties.

“As of now you don’t have any duties! You aided a Cifitra in its attempt to murder us and take control of this ship. A treacherous act that cannot go unpunished! Your fate will be decided when we return to the Palace of Amino.”

Panman silenced his communicator.

The two first-class bounty hunters entered the lift. Peter the Ace operated a control. The lift closed its door and then commenced its journey to the bridge.

Panman shook his head and frowned. “Despite his ungainly posture, boring voice, and often infuriating manner, Justin is the best pizza maker I’ve ever known. I can’t believe we’re going to have to submit him for punishment. Again!”

Peter the Ace nodded. “It is indeed unfortunate. At least his near-legendary pizza-making abilities will stand in his favour.”

“I guess.”

Peter the Ace laughed.

Panman was confused. “What’s so funny?”

Peter the Ace looked at his companion. “I have the perfect punishment for him! I’ll recommend it to the Superior Beings as soon as we get back.”

Panman was curious. “What punishment?”

“An exhibit in my new gallery, of course!”

Panman laughed. “Cool to the extreme!”

This lift drew to a smooth halt and the door opened.

Peter the Ace stepped out into the passageway. “Justin’s monotonous mono-tonal droning will provide the perfect contrast to the Cifitra’s vile over-modulated whining and boasting.”

Panman followed Peter the Ace out of the lift and on to the bridge. “It’s amazing how things always turn out for the best! Awesome!”

The two first-class bounty hunters sat down in their luxurious command chairs.

Peter the Ace looked around at the now brightly lit bridge. The main view-screen displayed an image of the subspacial entities that flitted around the ship. “Isn’t it amazing?”

Panman looked at the view-screen. “What? Those things?”

“No.” Peter the Ace spread his arms. “This ship! Our incredible success on every mission! Our lives!”

Panman grinned. “Yeah, we’re so cool!”

Peter the Ace nodded. “Outstandingly so! And we have so much to look forward to!”

Panman laughed. “Yeah! There’s the opening of the Chug restaurant at the Nypl-Dome, for starters!”

“And then opening of my Mad Animated Head Gallery, with one, and hopefully two, prime exhibits!”

Panman was excited. “And a multitude of exhilarating missions, depraved overlord eradications, and countless new and delectable culinary delights to experience!”

Peter the Ace grinned with satisfaction. “We do indeed have truly breath-taking lives.”

Panman beamed like an award winner. “We do! We certainly do!”

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