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Book: Vengeance of the Lump-Being
Chapter 1: Thick Titanium-Clad Neck

Earth Reference Year 2405.01 AD

Can you see it?” Panman asked.

“It is not visible to me at the present time.” Justin replied, his voice devoid of all emotion.

Then check the engine section.

Justin looked across the hull to the ship’s rear. “I obey.”

Using the powerful electro-magnets on the soles of his plate-like feet, Justin the cyborg began to clank heavily across the Blenheim’s armoured hull. The mass of the ship’s advanced weaponry across its surface made the going tough, and the fact that the Blenheim was orbiting low over the night side of the planet Gun-Loc did not help. The whole ship was in almost complete darkness.

With the help of his image enhancers, Justin made it to the engine section. He surveyed the scene, his visual processors outlining the area in vectors of green and blue. The outline of an object a few metres ahead turned red. Information on the object’s dimensions, mass, and materials entered Justin’s digital consciousness. The object matched the one he was seeking. More information appeared, this time the information was flagged as urgent. Justin engaged his neural integrated communications unit and contacted the bridge.

Panman answered the call. “Yo?

“It is I, Justin.”

I know who it is! What do you want?

“I have located the CR4 Stealth Penetration Mine.”

About time! What’s its status?

“It is buried deep into the Blenheim’s armour at section 23-C. A countdown to detonation has been activated.”

How long?

“Fifty-three seconds.”

Shit!” Panman shouted. “Pull it out! Those things are sub-fusion based! Even the Blenheim would have difficulty withstanding a blast of that intensity!

“I obey.” Justin bent over, grabbed the mine with his bulky hydraulic fingers, and pulled. The mine was stuck. He tried to pull again, but this time his fingers slipped on the mine’s smooth stealth coating. The cyborg fell back and slammed into the hull. Only his magnetic feet - still attached to the hull - kept him from drifting off to infinity. He yanked himself upright and called the bridge. “The mine is stuck.”

Pull harder, chrome-dome!

“The mine appears to be coated in an anti-grip substance. The dyhydrotanium friction pads on my fingers and palms are insufficient for the purpose of gripping an object coated in the aforementioned substance. Twenty-five seconds to detonation. I recommend immediate abandonment of this vessel.”

Never!” Panman yelled. “Top-class bounty hunters never abandon their ships!

Peter the Ace joined the discussion. “Detach yourself from the hull, Justin. I’m going to try to shake the mine loose.

“It would be my preference to remain attached to…”

Do as I say,” Peter the Ace said sternly. “The manoeuvres that I’m about to perform would tear you apart.

“I am constructed of super-dense alloys capable of…”

I order you to detach now! I’ll come back and get you when I’m finished.

Justin tried to object again but his A.C.T.O.B. (Automatic Complete and Total Obedience to Bounty hunters) algorithm activated. “I obey.” The cyborg’s electro-magnets disengaged. With a quick push he drifted away from the ship.

Almost immediately, the Blenheim’s powerful engines kicked into action. The ship accelerated away from Justin at a phenomenal rate leaving a thinning trail of plasma residue in its wake. Within a few seconds it was no more than a bright point of light far in the distance.

Justin drifted alone in orbit.

Less than two hundred kilometres below him the planet Gun-Loc rotated silently. The lights of several cities glittered in the darkness, like jewels floating on a sea of Marmite. Operating the servos in his thick titanium-clad neck, Justin turned his head and looked at the horizon. It was brightening; soon his orbit would bring him into sunlight. It was a beautiful sight, or at least it would have been to a sentient biological being. To Justin beauty was nothing more than a word beginning with ‘B’.

For a brief moment, a bright flash of light lit up the planet’s surface. Justin turned to look at the source of the light. A disk of expanding destruction was approaching, shimmering through blinding shades of yellow, red, and white. The CR4 Stealth Penetration Mine embedded in the Blenheim’s hull had detonated.

Without thrusters Justin had no way of avoiding the approaching blast wave. He consulted all of his emergency escape sequence algorithms. Within milliseconds they all returned the same answer:

    RESULT: Escape impossible.
    No method of propulsion available
    SUGGESTION 1: Go limp.  Deactivating rigidity
    systems will reduce the likelihood of
    extreme damage to motion devices
    SUGGESTION 2: Self-destruct. Solves all
    current and future problems

Justin decided to try suggestion one. The cyborg sent shutdown commands to all the rigidity systems in his arms, legs, and neck.

Five milliseconds later all the rigidity systems confirmed their shutdown.

Five milliseconds after that the blast wave hit.

An incredible force, like the kick of a prehistoric Jelliphant, pummelled into Justin sending him into a wild spin and tearing away the hydraulic motivators in his left arm. Sparks and gooey liquid scattered in all directions. The rapidly changing information flooding into Justin’s sensor arrays induced immediate digital disorientation. Damage reports, warnings, and inane advice popped into his consciousness. Justin’s posi-digital-hypercube-derived-omni-directional-phantom-powered brain had no choice but to declare an internal state of emergency and deactivate all non-essential systems - the digital equivalent of an extreme adrenaline rush.

As quickly as it had arrived, the blast wave passed. Justin watched as it dispersed impressively across Gun-Loc’s upper atmosphere.

An alert symbol appeared in the corner of Justin’s field of vision. It was flagged as urgent. Justin expanded the symbol:

    163 SECONDS.

Simulated concern circulated through Justin’s synthetic mind. He requested a course of action from his emergency escape sequence algorithms. As before, the reply was rapid and unanimous:

    RESULT: Re-attainment of orbital
    stability impossible. No method of
    propulsion available
    SUGGESTION: Self-destruct. Solves all current
    and future problems

Justin was not at all impressed with his emergency escape sequence algorithms. He decided to ignore their suggestion. A call to his masters would be more useful. The cyborg activated his neural integrated communications unit.

Peter the Ace answered, his voice almost drowned by a mass of background noise. “Hello?

“It is I, Justin.”

Ah, Justin. We’re a little busy right now. Can it wait?

“My orbit is decaying. I will enter the atmosphere of the planet Gun-Loc in seventy-six seconds.”

There was a crash of distortion over the communications link. “Sorry, metal buddy, but that mine blew most of the engine section clean off. Not much I can do to help at the moment. I would send out Panman in the Baby Blenheim but the blast caused the microwave in the galley to malfunction. He’s back there doing repairs. He had some treacle sponge pudding on the go. I believe it was ruined. He’s quite upset.

“I am not designed to enter atmospheres at orbital velocity. I require assistance.”

You’re on your own I’m afraid. Think of your situation as a positive challenge. What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger!

“That is illogical.”

I’d love to talk but I have to sort things out here. Take it easy.

The communications channel fell silent.

Suddenly intense sunlight hit the cyborg, he’d broken into the sunrise. His optical sensors adjusted instantaneously to the change in brightness. The temperature of Justin’s outer layers began to rise as the sun heated his armour plating.

Twenty seconds to atmospheric entry.

Justin consulted his last resort database for advice. Its advice was simple - enter feet first. The cyborg followed the advice. By swinging his good arm and his legs Justin managed to reorient himself so that his plate-like feet were pointing down at the planet’s surface. He pulled his legs together, pulled his damaged left arm into his side, and then did the same with his right arm. He made sure that he was as streamlined as possible, and that his feet were tight together to form a flat solid barrier.

The countdown to atmospheric entry ended.

The cyborg’s entry in the air of Gun-Loc was gentle at first. The friction of the high altitude atmosphere was slight, with Justin’s sensors barely registering the airflow around him.

Within seconds that all changed. The air rapidly became denser, violently shaking the cyborg. His feet began to glow, first red, and then orange with heat. A cloak of superheated plasma built up around Justin like a huge tear drop, obscuring his view of the surface. The shaking increased, blurring his dense metal body. His feet were now white hot.

Warning icons flashed all over the cyborg’s field of vision - his structural integrity was failing, and his feet had exceeded their maximum safe temperature limit by more that one-hundred percent. Justin cancelled all the warning icons and concentrated on keeping his orientation stable. Even a slight drift out over the shield created by his feet and that would be it - vaporised in a second.

Less than a minute had passed since Justin had entered the atmosphere, and already his feet were visibly smaller - burned away by the intense friction of the thickening air around him. He knew that he had at least seven more minutes before his velocity reduced enough to allow him to cool down. All he could do was hope that his plate-like feet would remain plate-like for long enough.

At seventeen thousand kilometres per hour, Justin streaked like a fireball down towards the surface. He was currently the fastest and hottest object in Gun-Loc’s skies.

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