“In case you think those are the only copies of the data, think again. It's safely archived off site. If we don't come back, all the right things will happen. When we're back and feeling safe and secure in our jobs, then we'll think about ... what was that quaint phrase you used Fry?”
“Burning the negatives.”
Hermes frowned. He scratched out the last two items on his to-do list.
“Great. I knew that if we discussed this like professionals, we could arrive at a win-win scenario. Put it in writing. And then we'll just have a look at the itinerary and bookings you so conveniently have prepared.”
"Six weeks!" Amy exclaimed. "You mean I've got to play captain to Bender and Zoidberg while you guys are on a pleasure cruise? Spluuh! You gotta be kidding me."
"Sorry, Amy, that's the way it is. Go complain to Hermes if you don't like it, this is his party, not ours." Leela replied. "If it makes you feel any better, this isn't going to be a vacation. The first leg isn't too bad, but the rest of it sounds like it'll make our quarters on the Titanic look like first class. And the place we're going isn't exactly the entertainment capital of the universe either."
"So, Leela," Zoidberg, who was sitting nearby listening, asked, "when are you leaving already?"
"Day after tomorrow from the South Street spaceport. We're booked out on the Prometheus."
"Whoa, Nice." Amy said, waving her hand.
"Maybe. Hermes booked it, so you can bet we won't be in first class." Leela said.
They were silent for a few moments while Leela studied the paperwork on the clipboard she was holding.
“Well, we better get moving, this stuff isn't going to deliver itself. Anyone seen Fry and Bender?”
“I told Bender to go load the cargo.” Amy said. “And I think Fry is in with Hermes.”
“Oh Lord, I wonder what he's up to now. I'd better go check.”
She was just turning to go when Fry walked in the room rubbing the palm of his right hand.
“Oh, there you are Fry. What did Hermes want?”
“Nothing much.” Fry replied, “Just an update to my career chip.”
“He said there was an update to my career chip that he wanted to get installed before I left so he wouldn't have to remember when we got back.”
Leela looked at him for a moment.
“Ok, Fry. Amy sent Bender to load the cargo, will you please go check on him? We'll be along in a minute.”
Fry set off toward the hanger.
“Did that sound strange to you?” Amy asked when Fry was out of earshot.
“Yeah. I used to install those things. I never heard of them being updated.” Leela replied, looking thoughtfully at Fry's receding back.
The door to Leela's apartment hissed open and Fry walked in. He was wearing a black trench coat, dark sun glasses, and a black fedora hat. In one hand he held a suitcase, in the other was an attaché case handcuffed to his wrist.
"That's a new look for you." Leela said.
"We're going on a secret mission, so I wanted to look the part."
"Secret mission? What are you talking about? Did Hermes put some goofy ideas into your head or is this out of one of your 20th century TV shows? So far as we know, this is a simple delivery. We go there, we hand over ... what are we delivering anyway?"
"Papers. In here." Fry said, holding the case up.
"Papers! Is that all?" Leela rolled her eye. "We should just stuff 'em in an envelope, drop it in the mail, and take 6 weeks off.”
She stopped and thought about what she'd just said.
“No, Leela.” she said to herself, “That's just what Bender would want to do. The right thing to do, even if it is stupid, is to go through with the mission as planned.”
“Look Fry, suppose for a minute this was some kind of secret mission. Don't you think that dressing up like that sort of calls attention to yourself?"
"That's the genius of it. No one would ever suspect such an obvious ploy. I saw that in ... um, I mean that's what I thought.”
They climbed the gangplank towards the ship.
"At least Zapp Brannagan isn't standing up there this time." Leela said.
“No, she definitely isn't Brannagan.” Fry said.
Leela elbowed him in the ribs.
The crew person at the top of the gangplank said "Welcome aboard the Prometheus. May I see your tickets please?"
Leela handed her a card. She slid it into a slot in a small tablet she was holding.
"Ah. Mr. and Mrs. Fry. You'll be in cabin 1912. That's on deck 6, port side. Here are your keys.”
She handed them two cards.
“Take the elevators over there down to deck 6, turn left, and left again. It'll be down the passage on your right."
They found the elevators, entered one, and pushed the button for deck 6.
"Mr. and Mrs. Fry?" Fry asked after the doors closed. "Did I miss a memo or something? I mean I like the sound of it and all but ..."
"Can it Fry. I took the trouble of doing some research on the places we're going, and some of them are a little backwards by our standards. I figured if we were going to be traveling together on this trip and having to share rooms it would go a lot easier if we just pretended to be married. I meant to tell you earlier, but it slipped my mind."
"You know," Fry said, "this pretending to be married bit is getting to be a routine thing for us, isn't it? Maybe we should just get the Captain to marry us and be done with it.”
“That's a myth, Fry. Marriages performed by ship Captains during a voyage aren't legally recognized by any jurisdiction that I'm aware of. A Captain would have to be ordained by a recognized religious order or hold an official post that's entitled to perform civil ceremonies, and I've never met one who was either. And besides, you're going to have to do a better job than that with your proposals if you want to be taken seriously.”
The elevator stopped and the doors slid open.
“Come on, this way.”
Their cabin was a smallish room with a double bed, a small desk, a TV screen on the wall, and it's own bathroom. Fry sat on the bed and bounced a couple of times.
“Not bad.” he said “We're going to be cozy in here.”
“Yes we are.” Leela said. She picked up a card off the desk and read it. “Dinner's at 1800 in the main dining room. We'll have to dress up.”
They wandered into the dining room. Fry was wearing his light blue tux and Leela her green evening gown.
"Leela," Fry whispered as he surveyed the crowd, "Do you think maybe we're a little over dressed?"
"Of course not Fry," she whispered back, "we're New New Yorkers. We can't be over dressed."
"Oh, yeah. Right."
“Good evening Madame and Monsieur.” the headwaiter said, “A table for two?”
“Yes.” Fry and Leela said together.
The Headwaiter looked them with an amused expression and said “This way, s'il vous plaît.”
As they followed him across the dining room, Fry whispered to Leela “Sorry, I thought you'd want me to be the man.”
“No, I'm sorry Fry, I should have let you. Old habits die hard.”
She took his arm and let him lead her across the room.
The headwaiter led them to a table with four chairs, one of which was already occupied by a man perhaps a couple of years older than Fry and wearing a dark blue suit. He stood up.
“I hope you do not mind joining this gentleman. We do not have enough tables so that everyone can have one to themselves.”
“I'm sure it'll be fine.” Fry said.
The Headwaiter held a chair for Leela and they all sat down.
“Hi, folks.” their table companion said, “My name is John Traunik.”
“Fry, and umm, that is, our name is Fry, Phillip and Leela.” Fry said.
“Glad to meet ya'. You seem like down to earth people and I don't usually stand on formality, so may I call you by your first names?”
“Well, that's where it gets a little complicated.” Fry said. “Leela you can, but I've always gone by my last name. The only ones that called me Phillip were my parents, and usually only when I was in trouble. Oh, and Mrs. Mellenger, my music teacher.”
“Ok, Fry and Leela it is. Where are you from and what do you do?”
“We're from New New York.” Leela answered. “We work for Planet Express, a small delivery company. What's your story Mr. Traunik?”
“Please, call me John. I come from a long line of inveterate tinkerers. Along the way we've managed to produce a number of valuable patents and accumulated a pile of cash. Most of my intrepid ancestors still worked for a living, even though most of 'em didn't need to. Me, I'm lazy. I prefer to be a “gentleman” of leisure and tinker on my own as the whim strikes me.”
“Sounds like good duty if you can get it.” Fry said. "Where do you live?"
"I've got a little place up in the sticks north of Chicago, but I also travel a lot."
Just then their waiter approached to take their drink orders.
“I'll be right back Fry, I've got to go powder my nose.” Leela said when John had stepped away from the table for a moment.
“Do what?” Fry asked.
“Powder my nose.” she repeated.
“Powder your nose? I didn't know you used make up.”
“Fry,” Leela whispered, “it's a euphemism, I've got to go to the bathroom. I'll be back in a few minutes. Don't wander off.”
She got up and set off across the room.
A few moments later, John returned to the table. He watched Leela for a moment, then sat down.
“Mr. Fry, please excuse my curiosity, but you and your ... may I assume she's your wife? You two strike me as unusual. If you don't mind my asking ...”
“Please, just Fry, and, um yeah, she's my wife - I'm still getting used to saying that. Well, I'm from the 20th century originally. I got frozen for a while. Leela was working at the cryogenics place and was there when I was unfrozen. We, um, ended up working at PE together. She's the Captain of our ship.”
“Well, she certainly is attractive. She also impresses me as someone you wouldn't want to cross.”
“Thanks.” Fry said, “And, no, you don't want to get on the wrong side of her. I've been there a time or two. It hurts.”
“If you don't mind my asking, what's with her eye.”
Fry laughed. “That was my first question too. She said she was an alien.”
“Ah. Where from?”
“She was raised on Earth as an orphan.”
“Oh. Sorry, didn't mean to pry, I'm just interested in a great many things, and when I get interested I investigate.”
“That's Ok.” Fry said. “It's no big deal. She's smart and strong and resourceful and a really wonderful person ....” Fry's voice tapered off as he gazed across the room in the general direction she'd gone with a faraway look in his eyes.”
They were silent for a moment. The waiter arrived and set another beer down in front of each of them.
“I took the liberty ...” John said.
“Cool. Thanks.” Fry replied.
“So,” John said, “you're from the 20th century you say? You guys will have to come up to my place some time. I've got a bunch of stuff from then that you might like to see – kind of my own personal museum.”
“Sounds interesting.” Fry said noncommittally and sipped his beer.
At that moment, Leela appeared across the room. Fry watched her – and the appreciative and speculative glances that followed her as she made her way between the tables. He smiled.
“I'm the luckiest guy in the whole damn universe.” he though to himself.
After dinner Fry and Leela wandered out on the Promenade deck and strolled aft where the lights were few and far between. In the semi-darkness, the stars were visible, spread out across the heavens in milky clusters.
Their hands found each other, and they stood by the railing watching the spectacle in silent contemplation.
“Leela,” Fry said at length, “do you remember the last time we were on a ship like this?”
She turned to him.
“Yes, I do Fry. Didn't we have some unfinished business?”
He drew closer to her.
“Yeah, I think we did.”
The Prometheus was docked at the spaceport in orbit around Pustula 7. Fry and Leela were on deck waiting to disembark and saying goodbye to some of the acquaintances they'd made on board when John came up to them.
“Leaving us so soon?”
“Yeah.” Fry said, “This is our exit.”
“We're only on this ship because our tightwad boss couldn't find a garbage scow going this way.” Leela added.
John smiled at the joke.
“We'll it's been a pleasure meeting the both of you. If you ever find yourself in my neck of the woods, or just want a few days away from the big city, please don't hesitate to call.”
He reach his hand out to Leela.
“Leela, it has been a rare pleasure. May I also add that Mr. Fry is one exceedingly fortunate individual.”
She took his hand and shook it.
“You may. Thank you, Mr. Traunik.”
He turned to Fry.
“And Fry ...”
Fry reached out his arm and when his hand was within an inch of John's there was a sudden “snap” sound and a pain in his palm. Fry's arm twitched.
“Oww. What was that?” he said as he rubbed his palm with his other hand
“Oh, I'm terribly sorry. Must have been static electricity. Here, let's try that again, but we'll grab the railing first, that ought to ground both of us.”
Fry placed his left hand on the railing and tentatively reached out his right hand. This time they shook hands without incident.
“Goodbye, Mr. And Mrs. Fry. I hope we'll meet again soon.”
He turned and left.
“Seems like a nice guy.” Fry said, still rubbing his palm.
“Hmmmm.” Leela replied.
“That was certainly one of the more interesting meals I've had in along time,” Leela said as they sat shivering in their cabin on board the Hyperborean, “if you like your food frozen and your idea of dinner attire is a snowsuit.”
“It wasn't bad.” Fry said. “Would have been nice to have a beer to wash it down with though.”
“Did you try any of those frozen disks that sort of fizzed in your mouth when you chewed on them?”
“That was the beer.”
“Oh. It was bit colder than I usually like it.”
“Right now I'd kill for anything hot with a cinnamon stick in it.”
“It's only gonna be a few days, and it isn't so bad.”
“Fry, this room would make a decent walk-in freezer. I set the heat controls as high as they'll go and it's barely above freezing in here. The Purser already "expressed concern" about the energy consumption and that the cleaning staff is complaining about how hot this room is.”
“I'll bet. Must make it hard to Zamboni the carpet.”
Fry walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist.
“We'll just have to find ways to keep each other warm.”
“I'm sure you'll do your best, but it's going to be a little difficult through five layers of clothing.”
“Well, somehow people that live in places like Minnesota and Canada figure it out, maybe we can too. And we're not gonna have much else to do for the next four or five days.”
Leela smiled. She turned around and put her arms around Fry.
“You never give up, do you?” she said.
“Hey, if I were the quittin' type, we wouldn't be here and I wouldn't get to share another exciting adventure with Mrs. Turanga Leela Fry.”
“Mrs. Turanga Leela Fry. Hmmmm. I kind of like the sound of that.”
“Me too. How about it? We could make it real.”
“You're serious, aren't you?”
“Never been more serious in my life.”
She looked him in the eyes for a moment.
“And what would you do if I said yes?”
“You mean besides being the happiest man in the whole universe? I dunno – hadn't thought that far ahead. Faint probably.”
“Well, you'd better start thinking about it, 'cause one of these days I might just surprise you and say yes.”
“But not now, eh?”
“No, Fry, not now. Not yet. For one thing, I'm not quite ready to make a commitment of that magnitude just yet. For another, I don't want to go through life telling people that I accepted a proposal made in a freezer. When I do say yes, I want the circumstances to be a little more spectacular than this.”
“Careful, you're going to overload this poor old stupid ages brain by giving it two things to think about at once. But it's nice to know there is hope.”
Leela didn't reply. She laid her head on Fry's shoulder and hugged him just a little tighter.
After a few moments she stood back and looked at him again.
“Fry, are you sure you really want to spend the rest of your life with me?”
“What kind of question is that? Of course I do. It's been my single minded obsession for the last three or four years, in case you hadn't noticed.”
“Even though I'm nosy and opinionated and prone to violence?”
Fry smiled and shrugged. “So what? That's part of what makes you you.”
“But Fry, look at me, I'm not even human. I'm a sewer mutant, for God's sake.”
“Leela, what's the matter? You are too human – you're every bit as human as I am. And besides, I love you for who you are, not what you are. Maybe you don't notice it Leela, but you should see the way men look at you; by any standard you are a goddess. And they only see the outside of the package, I know a little about what's inside too, and it's too wonderful for words. I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life learning what else is in there. I love you Leela.”
She pulled him back into a hug.
“I love you too, Fry. Thank you. Sometimes I have these doubts about myself, and you can always chase them away and make me feel better.”
“Maybe that's part of what love is.”
“Damn you Fry, you're making it awfully hard to keep saying no.”
“Maybe that's part of what love is too.”
“Maybe it is. I've just got one question; how do I get you to shut up before I do something stupid?”
“A kiss would work nicely I think. A nice, long, slow one. But what I really want to know what kind of stupid thing you hammpf!”
Eirrrac Lerzef stood nervously on the street corner, eying the traffic and the multitudes of beings and all of the strange signs and lights. He was very uncomfortable in places like this - his home world did not have huge cities, and as often as his work took him to them he still couldn't get used to it.
The lights changed and a herd of people started crossing the street. Eirrrac crossed with them, keeping toward the middle of the crowd. He made his way down the block and stopped at the entrance to one of the taller buildings. He paused, looking up at it's towering height and shuddering just a bit.
He crossed the lobby and got in line for the the lift tubes, which whisked him upward and disgorged him on the thirty-seventh floor. He hated lift tubes – all that height and nothing under you – he could never get used to it. Going up was bad enough, going down was almost impossible. He walked quickly away from the tube exit, both to distance himself from it and to avoid getting run into from behind should someone else exit the tube on this floor.
He wound his way through the labyrinth of hallways until he reached a certain office suite. He entered, and after going through the usual formalities was ushered into an office.
"You sent for me?"
"Yes, Lerzef. We have a job for you. We've received word that another shipment is being made. We know that the courier is an Earthican and the data is being sent in two parts. What those two parts are we don't yet know, although we suspect one will be on paper, possibly a microdot or some type of text cypher."
"And you would like we should prevent the delivery?"
"Yes, very much. We also desire to obtain the data. You should also be aware that there are other organizations that would be interested in obtaining this data as well. It would also be unfortunate to have this material fall into the wrong hands. So your priority order is to stop the delivery, to keep it away from the competition, and to obtain it for us. The usual rates will apply for the former, and there will be a bonus if you can accomplish the latter."
"And if it becomes necessary to eliminate the data ... or the courier to prevent it's interception?"
"If we were convinced that such action was an absolute necessity, we would consider a small bonus."
"Ahh very well. Who is the courier?"
"A nobody. Here is a picture. It isn't very good because it was take under poor conditions and at a distance, but I think you will have no trouble picking him up. He's currently en route and is due to arrive a week from tomorrow."
"This doesn't give me much time to put an operation together. Some ... improvising may be necessary."
"Sorry Lerzef, that's the way it goes. It takes time to get the information, verify that it isn't a blind or a trap or a red herring, and of course, propagation time. That's why we called you in. Time was short and we needed the best."
“Well, at least this ship is warm.” Fry said as he surveyed the squalid little compartment that they would be calling home for the next few days. The walls and floor and ceiling were metal that had at one time been painted a dull, uniform gray. But now, here and there, the paint was chipped and peeling. In some places, splotches of rust colored primer showed through. In other places, it was just plain rust.
Overhead pipes and conduits ran across the ceiling, one with a drop of something clinging to a rusty union. A single lamp poked out through the maze, casting a kind of half light that left the corners of the compartment in permanent shadow.
The bed was a metal framed bunk that folded down from the wall, one corner of it supported on the open end of a pipe that stuck up out of the floor.
“That's about all it's got going for it.” Leela replied. “At least the frozen one didn't smell. Zoidberg would be right at home here.”
“Yeah, he would. I hope this isn't what I think it is." Fry said, tapping the pipe with the toe of his shoe.
"I'm afraid it is. Facilities are a bit primitive on this barge."
"Well, I guess we can manage for a few days. It's like going camping." Fry observed. "So did they say when dinner is?”
“It isn't. We're on our own on this ship so I picked up a few space rats at the space port.”
Fry made a face. Space rations were supposed to be a complete meal in a box. They carried some on the PE ship. “Mystery meals” is how the crew usually referred to them since you never really knew what you were getting and you couldn't tell from the look or the taste or the smell.
“Yum.” he said. “I guess it could be worse, Bender could be doing our cooking.”
"Is that all you ever think about is food?"
"No, not all ..." Fry smirked, looking at Leela.
"Don't start that again."
The ship sat down in the middle of a scraggly grass field, it's thrusters kicking up big clouds of dust and dirt.
Fry and Leela descended the ramp carrying their own luggage. They were the only ones disembarking here. They had only gone a few dozen paces when they heard the engines of the ship winding up.
Leela dropped her luggage and grabbed Fry.
“Close you eyes and hold you breath, Fry, quick”.
“Just do what I said.”
They were suddenly enveloped in a hot, swirling cloud. The sound rose to a crescendo, the searing hot wind whipping around them; then receded into the distance as the ship departed.
They stood there for a few moments. Fry felt like his lungs were going to burst.
“Bastards.” Leela exclaimed. “Ok, Fry, It's safe now.”
Fry exhaled and took a deep breath. He opened his eyes. All around them a cloud of dust and dirt was thinning out and settling. Leela was covered in it.
“You could use a shower.” he said.
“So could you.” She replied.
Fry looked down at himself. He too had a coating of gray grime all over his clothes and skin.
They brushed the worst of it off themselves and each other. Leela picked up her luggage.
“Come on Fry. Let's find a room and get cleaned up. The sooner we can get this done and get off this rock, the happier I'll be.”
“Our operative on the surface just reported sir, she thinks she's spotted the courier. And sir, it's Fry, from Planet Express.”
“Of course. An ideal combination of gullibility and stupidity. That pipsqueak would be the perfect patsy for this job. Arrange an accident. Something simple, yet fatal. And painful, don't forget painful.”
“I don't think that would be a good idea sir, and there is a complication.”
“And what might that be?”
“Leela is accompanying him sir.”
“Leela, hmmmm. Try to arrange the accident so she doesn't see it happen.”
“Our orders are to support the operation, sir.”.
"Oh, very well. Follow me up to the observation deck. I've got some musing to do.”
“Ok, Fry, there it is.” Leela said as they walked past the delivery address. It was a three story brick building with a sign proclaiming it as the Iturbil Import/Export Company. “Our appointment is for 10:00 AM tomorrow, and now we know where it is.”
“So this should be easy.” Fry said.
“I hope so. I still say there's something fishy about this whole thing.”
It was starting to get dark and the streets were almost deserted.
“This place doesn't seem like it's got much night life.” Fry observed.
“No, it doesn't. Something about this planet gives me the creeps. Let's get back to the hotel.”
They walked in silence for several blocks.
The street was deserted. A single vehicle rolled slowly past them and pulled into the curb a couple of blocks down.
Suddenly three figures rushed from a doorway. One pushed Leela back while the other two grabbed Fry and started hustling him in the direction of the parked car.
Leela stumbled, then recovered her footing.
“Fry!” she cried.
“Leela, hefff..” came Fry's suddenly muted reply.
“Quiet sister.” her attacker said, grabbing her wrist and attempting to twist her arm up behind her.
Leela saw a glint of something metal in his other hand.
She rammed her free elbow backward, catching him in the chest, then turned quickly using the grip he had on her arm as a lever to spin him around. She pulled her free arm back, balled her fist, and punched him in the face as hard as she could. She felt and heard bone splinter. Something made a cracking noise. He dropped to the ground like a rock, a 6 inch knife clattering along side him.
Leela turned and sprinted towards Fry, who was being dragged kicking and struggling down the street.
“Deal with him, I'll take the freak.” one of Fry's assailants said to the other.
He reached inside his coat, pulled out a gun, and took aim at Leela.
Fry's eyes went wide as he saw the gun. He lashed out with his foot and at the same time chomped down hard on the hand that was over his mouth.
The hand moved and he yelled “Leela, look out!” His foot connected with the gunman just as an explosive flash boomed from the weapon's business end.
“Noooooo!” Fry yelled.
Something hit him from behind and the lights went out.
Eirrrac Lerzef stood quietly in the alley entrance, just inside the line of the shadow cast by the street light half a block away. If his species had any hair on the back of it's neck, it would have been standing up now. He sensed something was up. He reached inside his tunic and extracted a small, long barreled weapon. He pulled a night vision scope out of his pocket and clipped it to the weapon.
He wondered, as he always did, just what the courier was carrying that created so much interest in so many people. But, as was always the case in his line of work, he didn't know; he would probably never know. It was probably better that way.
But that didn't change the fact that his job was complicated by the presence of at least three other entities besides himself all keeping an eye on the courier. One that he'd been able to spot quite easily was probably DOOP intellegence – they were not the most skilled organization in the universe, and that was putting it politely. Another he recognized as a competitor to his employers – they were better but still a second string operation. And there was someone else present – he didn't know who, and that meant that he was up against a first rate operation.
The courier was walking down the sidewalk across the street, that female who seemed to be his constant companion was still with him.
He watched with growing unease as a car rolled slowly by. He pulled the night vision displays down over his eyes and switched the scope on. He sighted in the courier and slowly panned up the street ahead of them. He hadn't gone very far when he spotted shadowy, glowing forms in a recessed doorway. He tensed.
The figures rushed from the doorway. Two grabbed the courier and a third his companion. Lerzef sighted the cross hairs on the courier's head. He would not allow him to be taken alive.
“Looks like you can kiss your bonus goodbye, Eirrrac.” he thought to himself.
There were scuffling sounds and shouts. One of the figures pulled something from his coat and aimed. There was a flash of light as the explosion of a shot shattered the silence of the night. A segment of wall just above him shattered, raining debris down upon him. He instinctively ducked back into the darker recesses of the alley.
There were shouts and cries, a motor revving up, three more shots boomed out in quick succession, and a muted metallic "whump".
Lerzef was on his belly, crawling back to the edge of the wall. He peeked around, weapon at the ready. Across the street, he could see what looked like bodies lying in crumpled heaps on the sidewalk. Down the road a block away a vehicle lay on its side, burning. There was no sign of motion anywhere.
Lights were coming on up and down the street and in the distance sirens were beginning to wail.
Lerzef uttered what would have been a very profane curse on his home world, took one last look around, and scurried back into the darkness of the alley.
“You are late, Lord Nibbler.”
“I am sorry your Lordships. I attempted to come as soon as I received your summons but there were certain complications in leaving Earth.” Nibbler said, recalling the effort it took to escape the cage at the Veterinarian where Leela had boarded him.
“Our Sages are concerned about the Mighty One and The Other. They have foreseen some disturbing trends. What news have you of them?”
“They have embarked on a delivery, but not by their usual means. They are traveling by commercial transports and are expected to be gone six weeks.”
“To where are they going?”
“Their destination is some place known as Ekoonitrem.”
“Is this not unusual?”
“This is completely out of the ordinary for their employer and The Other was suspicious of the motivation behind it. I know not any details. What have our Sages to say?”
“Our sages are still contemplating the signs they have observed. They are unsure of the immediate ramifications, but they are much disturbed. There are indications of serious injury, a long separation, and even death. I need not remind you, Lord nibbler, of the importance of these two. They must be protected at all costs. You must locate them at once and keep them under observation. Not a moment must be lost ...”
“Excuse me, your Lordships.” said a Niblonian who had just entered the room. “Lunch is served.”
“Ummm, Hermes, excuse me, could we take a short break for a couple of minutes.” Amy asked.
Hermes looked annoyed.
“Again? Dr. Zoidberg, will you examine Amy and find out what's wrong with her?”
“The female Amy's problem is purely medical. Soon she will drop her eggs and they will hatch and all will be well.”
“No! It's not either of those things. Hermes, can I speak to you privately for a minute.”
“Amy, mon, we gots lots of t'ings to cover. Can't it wait until after the meetin'?”
“All right. Take five everyone. Amy, come wit' me.”
They went to his office.
“All right, Amy, what's so important dat we gotta interrupt staff meetin'?”
“Hermes, we've got a pile of deliveries to do, and, well, with Leela and Fry being gone it just doesn't go as fast. Bender and Zoidberg aren't exactly the most efficient crew. Can't we just skip the staff meetings for now and get to work?”
“Skip da' staff meetin's?” Hermes said, a look of incredulity on his face. He was at a loss for words.
Amy took advantage. “Great. Thanks Hermes.” She turned and left quickly before he could recover.
Amy found Bender and Zoidberg in the lounge, Bender was sitting on the couch watching TV and Zoidberg was sniffing the lid of a discarded pizza box he'd found behind the couch.
“Come on guys, let's get to work.”
“I got a better idea.” Bender said, “you get to work and let me know when it's done. Then I'll open my tired file and complain about how hard the day was.”
“No, I've got a better idea.” Amy said. She pulled out two things from behind her back and held them up. “Know what these are?”
“That looks like Leela's magnet.” Bender said.
“And that looks like Hermes' lobster hammer.” Zoidberg said.
“You're both right. Now, can we please get to work?”
The stars were very pretty tonight, Fry thought. So many of them, and they were circling slowly over head, twinkling so nicely. He marveled at the sight. He'd never seen them move like that before.
Somewhere off in the distance, there was a noise, like a voice calling to him.
A beautiful voice.
He tried to move toward it, but he couldn't remember how to work his feet.
The fog was slowly clearing.
Fry blinked. Everything was fuzzy and shadowy and there seemed to be too many everythings.
“Fry, please wake up.” the voice said, full of concern.
“Leela?” he said.
“Fry, are you OK?”
"I'm fine. How are you?"
Fry heard a snapping noise. It sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.
"Fry? Focus Fry. Look at me - no, with both eyes. Come on Fry, try to concentrate. Snap out of it."
Fry blinked again.
“Oh, hi Leela. What happened? My head hurts... wait a sec!”
Suddenly everything came back to him.
“Leela! You're all right! But what?... how? ... the gun ... you ...?”
“It's Ok, I heard your warning and I dropped and did a roll. He missed. I took 'em out. You were out cold.”
Fry pushed himself up, Leela helping him stand up. He was a little dizzy, and swayed unsteadily. They held onto each other.
“Fry, what's the matter?” Leela asked, noticing the drops forming in the corners of his eyes.
“Oh God, Leela, when I saw you go down I thought I'd lost you for good. It was horrible.”
“I'm Ok, Fry, really. I was worried about you. Come on, we can commiserate later, we need to get out of here. Can you walk?”
“Yeah, I can.”
Fry looked around.
"Where are we?"
"We're a couple of blocks away from ground zero, I didn't want to wait around and answer any embarrassing questions or find out if there was a second string to that operation. Come on, let's put some distance between ourselves and the scene of the crime."
“I told you there was something fishy about all of this.” she added as they set off.
The walked quickly and turned corners at random.
“Leela, are you sure you're ok?” Fry asked, looking at her with a concerned expression as they passed under a street light.
“I feel fine. Why?”
“Well, you've got blood all over your clothes and your right hand.”
“What?” Leela stopped and looked at her hands, then down at the front of her clothes.
She glanced around.
“Quick, over here Fry.” She led him over to a dimly lit recess between two building.
“This isn't mine.” she said, pulling the bottom of her top out to look at the dull red splotches on it. “I must have hit that first guy a little too hard. You've got some on your face. That's why I was so worried about you. Here ...”
Leela pulled the hem of Fry's T-shirt up, spit on it, and started rubbing around his mouth and cheek.
Fry grunted and made faces but put up with it.
“There, that looks better. If this isn't yours, where'd it come from.”
Fry grinned. “I bit the guy that was holding me. Must have taken a chunk out 'cause something tasted like chicken.”
“Well, he won't be missing it.” Leela said. “Now the problem is how do we get me back into the hotel? I can't just stroll across the lobby looking like this, someone's bound to notice. I shouldn't even be out on the streets, if one of the local cops sees me we'd never hear the end of it.”
Fry looked around.
“Hey, I know.” He said. “Take off your clothes and give me some cash.”
“Oh, sure thing, Fry. I'll just strip right here in the street. That'll get us back to the hotel in a hurry without being noticed.”
“No, you don't understand. Quick, just your top and pants. Here ...” He slipped his jacket off and held it out to her. “Put this on 'till I get back, I'll only be a minute or two.”
Leela looked at him for a second, then pulled her top off and took his jacket.
“I gotta be crazy ... I hope you know what you're doing.”
“Be right back. Don't go anywhere.” Fry said. He took her clothes and walked quickly down the street. Leela hung back in the deepest shadows, partially squatting down trying to get the jacket to cover her bottom. She watched Fry, who was now about a block down on the other side of the street talking with a scantily dressed young woman who was standing under a streetlight.
“Fry, what the hell are you up too?” Leela whispered to herself.
She watched as Fry and woman conversed. Fry was holding up the clothes and gesticulating animatedly while the woman shook her head. Finally she nodded and the two of them started back up the road. They turned and disappeared into an alley.
“Ok, Leela.” she grumbled to herself, “You're standing half naked on the street on some back water planet billions of miles from home, someone out there is trying to kill you, and your boyfriend just disappeared into a dark alley with a hooker, your clothes, and your money. This job really doesn't pay enough.”
A couple of minutes later Fry emerged from the alley with a bundle under his arm. He looked both ways, ambled across the street and into the recess where Leela was.
“Ok, Fry, that was what I'd call a quickie. Are you going to let me in on what you're up to?”
“A quickie would have cost less.” Fry said. “Here, I got you some clean clothes.”
Across the street the hooker, wearing a white tank top and black stretch pants, emerged from the alley and ambled back toward her corner.
“Oh, good lord!” Leela exclaimed.
“I almost think I'd have been better off walking into the hotel in bloody clothes.” Leela said, tugging at the back of the skirt she was wearing. “Does this thing even cover my ass?”
“Umm, yeah, mostly.” Fry said.
“Well next time you go picking up a hooker, try to find one that's closer to my size. I don't dare breath in this get up. And these shoes, heels are one thing, but these are ridiculous. The color does not go with my hair.”
“I think you look great. In fact, I think ...”
“Stop thinking right now Fry, you've done enough for one night. As soon as we get back to the hotel, this outfit is going straight down the disposal chute. We've got bigger problems to worry about than stoking your overactive imagination. Someone doesn't want this delivery to happen, so now we've got to try to stay one step ahead of them.”
"So what are we gonna do?"
"We'll walk into the hotel as if nothing unusual happened. Then we'll get our stuff and sneak out. I'm hoping we gave them the slip after that little fracas back there, but if anyone is still watching us, maybe we can be gone before they realize it."
"But what about the delivery?"
"One problem at a time, Fry, although you have given me an idea."
They walked in silence for a few minutes.
"How do you know how much a quickie costs?"
The cab driver eyed the strange old couple in the rear view mirror. The old man was wearing a seedy gray coat that almost matched the color of the profuse, stringy beard that bushed out of his face. On his head was a floppy hat of the kind that you saw on the ne'er-do-well characters in old movies from fifty or sixty years ago. The woman was even stranger - she looked like she'd just stepped out of the 2890s - she was wearing a long dress in a dull brown, a shawl over her shoulders, and a large hat. The only thing reasonably modern about her was a big pair of dark sunglasses; they were almost goggles, the kind that people with eye trouble sometimes wore.
The taxi cab pulled up to a stop. The driver turned around and said "Dis is the address. Are yous shurs this is wheres yous wants to goes?"
"This is the place, sonny." the old woman said in a high pitch, cracking voice.
"All rights. If youse says sos."
The cabbie worked his bulk out from behind the steering levers, walked around to the back door and held it open. The old man eased his way out, using his cane in one hand and the door frame in the other for support. He steadied himself on his cane and held his hand in to the old woman. Meanwhile, the driver opened the trunk and took out the old woman's walker. The old woman, with the help of the cab driver and the old man, got to her feet and steadied herself on the walker.
"That'll be five and thirty." the driver said. The old man reached into his pocket and extracted a coin purse. With shaking hands he opened it and sorted through the coins, selected several, and handed them to the driver.
"Gee, thanks Gramps." the driver said sourly. He returned to his cab and drove off.
"I don't think you tipped him enough, Fry. How much did you give him?" the old woman whispered.
"Hell, I don't know. I haven't figured out the goofy money on this planet. Now what?"
Leela adjusted her shawl and in the process stole a glance at her wrist comm, which was hidden by the long, foofy sleeves of the dress.
"We've got about 15 minutes. That's just about right. This way."
They made their way slowly along the sidewalk.
"Damn this dress." Leela grumbled. "Why the H did women put up with these things? It's hot, and this hat feels like I've got a ten pound weight on my head."
"I know." Fry replied "These whiskers itch."
They were passing a row of small stores.
Leela stopped and adjusted her shawl again, casually glancing around. She fussed with it until a couple of pedestrians passed.
"OK Fry, up here on the left."
"I don't get it. This isn't where we need to be."
"No, it isn't, but you'd be surprised how close we are."
They had reached a narrow gap between two buildings. Leela took a quick glance around and steered Fry into the dimness of the opening.
They trotted quickly down the alley toward the narrow strip of light on the other end. A few feet shy of it, they stopped. Leela removed the hat allowing a pile of blond hair to cascade down. Then she took off the dress and draped it over the walker. Underneath she was wearing a short purple dress. Next she pulled off the shoes she was wearing and substituted a more modern pair from the old woman's hand bag. Then she pulled out a bulging purse.
Fry had shed the coat and hat and was peeling the fake whiskers off his face. He was now wearing a suit and tie.
They looked at each other. Leela reached over, picked a couple stray whiskers off his face, and straightened his tie.
"You look pretty good as a blond, but I think I like your natural color best." Fry said.
"Thanks. Come on."
Leela slid her sunglasses back on, and Fry pulled a pair out of his pocket. They edged up to the opening and Leela glanced around.
"Ok, Fry, across the street is the back side of the Iturbil building. See that door next to the loading dock? That's our target. Let's go."
Fry put his sunglasses on as they stepped out of the alley and walked quickly across the street, across a parking lot, and up the steps to the door. They pushed through and found themselves in a hallway. Leela glanced both ways.
"This way." she said, taking Fry's arm and steering him down the hall. They pushed through another door and found themselves in a small office. There was an aisle through the room flanked by two desks, one of them occupied by a humanoid female who looked up and said "Who are ..."
"Don't get up." Leela said, "We know the way."
She led Fry out through a door on the other side of the room. They were in another hall. A few steps brought them out another door and into a small alcove at the side of the lobby of the building.
"Ok, Fry, you're on."
Fry adjusted his tie and the lapels of his suit coat, then led the way across the lobby to the receptionist.
"May I help you?"
"We're with Planet Express. We have a delivery for Mr. Burzych."
"I can sign for that."
"Sorry, but this has to be received by Mr. Burzych personally."
"I see. Please have a seat and I'll call his office and see if he's available."
She turned to the telephone as Fry and Leela moved over and sat down.
Leela glanced around the room and positioned her purse in her lap, unsnapping the catch and sliding the tips of the fingers of her right hand just inside. Fry glanced down.
"What are you doing?" he whispered.
"Being prepared." Leela said. She opened her purse a bit further and tilted it so Fry could see the nasty looking weapon inside.
Fry's eyes went wide.
“Where did you get that?”
“From the guy who shot it at me. He wasn't going to need it any more, and I thought it might come in handy. We don't know that this isn't a trap of some kind."
"I don't get it Leela. We're here. They can't get us now."
"Fry, we don't even know who 'they' are or what 'they' are after. 'They' could still try to knock us off after we leave. 'They' could even be right here. Until we're off this god forsaken planet I'm not about to let down my guard."
Fry nodded. They sat in silence for a few minutes.
The receptionist's telephone rang. After a short conversation, she got up from her desk and disappeared into the back room. A moment later, two beefy looking men in identical dark blue suits entered the lobby from the door in the alcove. One crossed the lobby and stood with his back to the front doors, the other remained in the alcove. Right behind them was another another man, this one in a black suit. He walked over to Fry and Leela. They stood up.
"You are from Planet Express and have something for Mr. Burzych?" he inquired.
"That's right." Fry said.
"May I see the paperwork please?"
Fry reached inside his coat. The blue suits stiffened up. They each placed their right hand inside their coat.
Fry froze and glanced at each of them. Slowly he peeled the lapel of his suit coat back to reveal an inside pocket with a folded sheaf of papers in it.
"Chill out, guys. Paper. See, it's paper."
He slowly extracted the delivery form, unfolded it, and handed it to the black suit.
The man took it, examined it for a moment, then handed it back to Fry.
“It's Ok.” he said.
The blue suits nodded and disappeared through the door.
“Follow me, please.” black suit said.
They were led down another corridor, up a flight of stairs, and along a hallway to an office at the end of the building. They went through an anteroom where several people were working at desks and up to a door. Their guide knocked, then entered.
They were in a spacious corner office. Two windows admitted a copious amount of morning sunlight. Along the interior wall were several file cabinets. In the center of the room was a large desk - another man, this one wearing a light gray suit, was sitting behind it reading from a sheaf of papers in his hand.
"The delivery people from Planet Express are here Mr. Burzych."
The man at the desk put down the papers and looked up.
"Well?" he said. "Let's get this over with, I don't have all day. Where is it?"
Leela stepped forward and extended an envelope.
Burzych took it, extracted it's contents, and perused them quickly.
"These look like they're in order."
"In that case, please sign here." Fry said, handing him the delivery paperwork.
"One moment please." Burzych said. Leela stiffened up.
Burzych was eying them. "We were told to expect one delivery person, not two."
Fry glanced at Leela.
Leela shrugged. "We don't know anything about that. We were just sent to make this delivery."
"I see. Is it customary in your company to send two people to deliver a single envelop?"
"No, it isn't." Leela admitted. "Nor is is customary for us to be acting as couriers."
"In more customary circumstances," he said, "which one of you would be making the deliveries?"
"Me." Fry said, raising his hand.
"Ah. Now we are getting somewhere." Burzych slid a small rectangular box with the outline of a human hand on it's top across the desk. "Would you mind placing your hand on this please."
"Why? What's that for?" Leela asked.
"It will scan his hand print, which will verify his identity. It is a security precaution to validate the delivery. This should have all been arranged with your Mr. Conrad by our agent on Earth; weren't you informed?"
"No, we weren't." Leela said, scowling darkly, "Apparently it must have slipped his mind."
They were silent for a moment. Then Leela said "Go ahead Fry."
Fry placed his palm on the box, which beeped after a second.
"Very good. We're all set. Thank you. Mr. Suvorich here will see you out." Burzych said as he signed the delivery form and handed it back to Fry.
They were escorted out of the office, down the stairs and back to the lobby.
"May I use the restroom before we go?" Leela asked.
"Sure, over there." Suvorich said.
"Thanks, I'll only be a moment."
"Dames." Suvorich said to Fry as Leela disappeared through the door. "They got no room in there for a proper bladder."
Five minutes later Leela came out of the restroom just as a taxi cab rolled up in front of the building. She took Fry's arm and hustled him out of the building and into the cab.
"Drive." she ordered the driver, who accelerated quickly away.
"Where to, folks?"
"Just drive around for a while. Turn some corners." Leela said glancing out the back window.
The cabbie turned a corner, then half turned around. "Say, what is this?"
Leela passed a bill up.
"It's cash. Shut up and drive."
The cabbie glanced at the bill, slid it into his shirt pocket, and said "Yes, ma'am."
"What is it?"
"It's the couriers Sir, our operative on the surface has lost them."
"Lost them? How did that happen?"
"Well Sir, apparently there was some kind of altercation and in the confusion that followed she got picked up by the local authorities for questioning. She's still being detained, so the controller has assigned some reserve resources. They're attempting to trace their movements now."
When the bell on the door tinkled, Eirrrac Lerzef instinctively glanced up.
“Oh Zyplong dung, what's he doing here?” he thought to himself. “The first chance I get for a hot meal in a week and I can't even get through that.”
The figure who had just come through the door and was looking around the little storefront restaurant would hardly have rated notice. He was short, rotund, slightly balding, and his clothes were those of a tradesman. A completely average Joe. That's why Lerzef had noticed him right away.
The newcomer spotted him and slid in the booth across from him.
“Mr. Lerzef,” the other said, “It's been a long time. What a coincidence running in to you on this sunny little world. It is still Eirrrac Lerzef, isn't it?”
“Mr. Mortis, it is indeed a surprise to see you. I knew there was someone else around, and you were on my short list. It is still Alfred “Rigger” Mortis, isn't it?
“Ah, sadly, yes. One never lives down an unfortunate choice of names, does one? But it does come in handy in certain quarters – sort of reinforces the image one has carefully cultivated if you know what I mean.”
Lerzef nodded. “So true. But I don't think you came here to make small talk. What's on you mind?”
“Straight to business, is it? Always the nose to the grindstone, that's Eirrrac Lerzef. All right, we both know why we're here – we both are supposed to be, um, keeping an eye on a certain courier. Then a little fiasco staged by one of our less skilled brethren allowed them to slip away and now none of us can find them. I thought you might be amenable to an exchange of ideas. Why should both of us come away empty handed?”
Lerzef spooned another mouthful of his dinner and sat there chewing in silent contemplation.
“You realize that we are in an adverse relationship on this one?” Lerzef asked. “My employers would not look kindly on your employers obtaining whatever the courier is carrying. They would be even less amused it it were known that I assisted you.”
“Oh, absolutely. I am of course in the same situation. But this is one of those circumstances where we have no leads and the prospects of finding any does not look good. So unless we turn up something, we'll both be spending who knows how long sitting on this rock trying not to trip over each other, picking our noses, and looking under rocks that everyone else has already looked under twice.”
Lerzef nodded. He'd certainly been there before.
Half an hour later, when Lerzef left the restaurant, he knew precious little more than he had before. Between his operation and that of Rigger's, he was convinced that they'd had the space port sewn up tight and there was no way the couriers could have made their flight without being spotted. That had confirmed his suspicion that they were still on the planet. They were probably in hiding somewhere in the city and if so, they'd turn up sooner or later. The big problem would be beating the competition.
The ship had been in flight for almost four hours when the robot in the hold finished inventorying the cargo and comparing it against the manifest. It was just about to plug itself into it's charger and go into hibernate mode when there was loud creaking noise from one of the crates. It paused, looking around. That noise did not compute.
There was another loud creak. This time the robot zeroed in on the source and saw a movement from one of the crates. The robot started walking toward it.
There was a muffled "Hiii Yah!" and with a crash the end panel of the crate flew open and a human female with purple hair and one eye came bouncing out.
She was making a face and saying "Good lord, Fry, what crawled in you and died?"
An orange haired male came walking out waving his hand back and forth behind him.
"Sorry, Leela, I couldn't ... hey, what's that?"
The woman looked at the robot.
The robot stared back. Humans in that shipping crate did not compute. That was not the right kind of crate to ship humans in. According to the manifest that crate was supposed to contain asbestos underwear. It took a few moments for it's software to correlate all of the input and for it's alpha-beta pruning routine to come up with the most plausible explanation ...
"Stowaways! Alert! Alert!"
The woman raised her arm and using a finger on her other hand pressed a button on something on her wrist. There was a red flash.
The robot pushed the hover dolly down the corridor and stopped outside of a door to a stateroom. It's head rotated a complete circle, determined that the corridor contained no biologics larger than 50mm, and then tapped on the large trunk that was on the dolly. The lid creaked open a couple of inches. A hand reached out, twisted the knob, and pushed the door open before retreating back into the trunk. The robot pushed the hover dolly through the door.
Once inside the room, the lid of the trunk flew open and Leela jumped out. Gasping for breath and blinking back tears, she quickly closed the room door.
"Dammit Fry, couldn't you have held that for another thirty seconds?"
Fry rose up out of the trunk.
"Sorry, Leela. It musta been something I ate."
"If I have to hide in another small space with you I'm going use my micro laser to seal you up first." she said, holding up the arm with the wrist comm on it.
Fry made a whining noise and placed his hands protectively over his back side.
Leela turned to the robot and said "Unload those suitcases and then get back to the cargo hold."
When the robot had left and Leela had closed and locked the cabin door, she turned and leaned against it.
"Ok Fry, we made it this far. And if we're lucky we've given them the slip, whoever 'them' is. For the rest of this trip, we stay in our room as much as possible. When we're out, we stick together. Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. We watch each other's backs."
"Aye, Aye, Captain." Fry said, then added suavely "I always like watching your back."
Leela rolled her eye. "Fry, please ...."
“It left when?!?” Leela asked incredulously.
“16 hours ago.” the agent repeated.
“But it's not scheduled to leave for another whole day.” Leela protested. “We should have had plenty of time to make the connection.”
“Sorry ma'am. Sometimes that happens. We don't have any control over it.”
“Ok. Fine. When is the next ship out?”
“The next ship with passenger accommodations will be in approximately three months.”
“Three months! But that's ridiculous. There must be something sooner than that.”
“No, I'm sorry ma'am. We're a little out of the way here and don't get much traffic. There's a ship going your way about once every three months. Now that's not saying that something might not stop in unscheduled. We can put you on the standby list.”
“Ok. Fine. Book us a cabin for two on the next ship out and put us on the standby list.”
“Yes, ma'am. That will be seventeen hundred fifty five globars.”
“What the hell is a globar?”
The agent peered at her over it's glasses with all six of it's eyes.
“That is the local currency, ma'am.”
Leela pushed the tickets for the flight they'd missed through the opening in the iron bars of the window.
“Here, transfer these please.”
“I'm sorry ma'am, I can't do that here. You'll have to get a refund through your travel agency or from a representative of the carrier.”
Leela sighed and put the tickets back in her purse.
“Fine. Charge it.” she said, sliding the company credit card across.
“I'm sorry ma'am, we don't take those here. Only the local currency.”
Leela was controlling herself with effort.
“Ok.” she said. “The only other thing I have is Earth dollars. Is there anywhere I can exchange those for globars?”
“Oh, yes ma'am. There are several places in town that can make that transaction. Naturally, it would not be appropriate for me to recommend one.”
“Naturally.” Leela said sourly. “Look, can you pencil us in and give us some time to get our money changed and find a place to live?”
“I'm sorry ma'am, I can't do that. We need to have payment in full. But don't worry, there should be plenty of accommodations available.”
“Wonderful. We'll be back.”
Leela and Fry sat on a park bench. By the time they'd located a place where they could change some money it was past the close of the business day and they couldn't find any rooming houses that would accept Earth money or payment tomorrow. Everything here seemed to be on a cash in advance and local currency only basis.
“Well Fry, so far on this trip we've been shocked, frozen, starved, irradiated, shot at, crated, gassed, and now we're stuck on a backwater world spending the night on a park bench. As Bender is so fond of saying, we are well and thoroughly boned. If and when we get back to Earth, you and I are going to have another little chat with Mr. Hermes Conrad.”
She sat there pounding her fist into her palm.
They spent an uncomfortable night on the park bench.
The next morning they made the rounds of the places that could change their money and by noon they had made the transaction at the best exchange rate they could find. They found a room for the night, bathed, and had dinner in the rooming house dining room where they shared a table with an eclectic mix of humanoids and aliens.
Back in their room that evening, Leela was doing some figuring.
“Ok Fry, here's the bottom line - we have enough to pay for our tickets and the left over will keep us afloat for two or three weeks at most. Since it looks like we're going to be stuck here for three months, we have to find a cheaper place to live, economize everywhere possible, and get jobs.”
“Oh, great. How are we gonna do that? Have you noticed that every sign on this planet is in some alien gibberish?"
Leela looked at him, slightly confused.
“No, I didn't notice. Are they?”
She went over to the window and looked out.
“I guess you're right, Fry. I can read that and hadn't really noticed. Can't you read it?”
“No. My high school didn't offer alien studies."
“Oh, that's too bad. You should always take a foreign language. It broadens your horizons.”
“I'll try to remember that in my next life.”
Leela pulled out a newspaper she'd bought.
“Well, let's see what kinds of places are available.”
“Can I have the comics?” Fry asked.
Leela thumbed through the paper, located the comics, and handed them to him.
“Oh, cool.” Fry said. “They've got Mary Worth. It's been like a million years since I've seen ... ummm, Leela?”"What?""Can you read them to me?"
“Yes?” the thing that answered the door said, peering up at them through the three eyeballs that protruded from stalks on top of it's head.
Fry was beginning to feel like he was the minority on this planet, at least in the number of eyes category.
“We're here about a room.” Leela said, holding the newspaper up.
“Oh, yes. For two of you?”
It eyed them from a moment, it's eye stalks waving around erratically. It made Fry dizzy to watch.
“Come. This way.”
They climbed three flights of stairs. The landlady - Fry had decided it was a she – led them to a room on the back of the building. They stepped in and looked around. It wasn't large, but it looked reasonably clean. To the right was a small kitchen. The main room had two chairs, a bed in one corner, and a desk in the other corner. On the desk was a rectangular wood box with several knobs on it. There was one light, hanging from the ceiling in the center of the room. The one window looked out on the brick wall of the building next door.
“Where's the bathroom?” Fry asked.
“End of hall, on right.” the Landlady replied.
“How much?” Leela asked.
“How long you here?”
“Three months at most. We're waiting for a ship, so if something comes earlier, we'll take it.”
“Twenty globar week.”
“Twenty globar a week? That seems a little steep. Maybe if it had it's own bath. Or was on the front of the building. But no, twenty is too much. We can go twelve a week.”
“Twenty very reasonable.”
“Oh, I'm sure it is.” Leela said. “But then I wonder why it's been in the paper for so long?”
The landlady thing looked at them for a moment.
“You look nice, quiet people. For you, fifteen. Best I do.”
“I don't know .... Phillip honey, what do you think?”
“Huh?” Fry said, caught off guard. “Oh, I don't know either. Whatever you say, um dear.”
“Give it to us for fifty a month, paid in advance, and we'll take it. If we have to move out early, you can keep the balance.”
“You got deal.”
A little while later, they were unpacking their luggage in their new lodgings.
“How did you know this place had been in the paper for a while?” Fry asked.
“I didn't.” Leela replied. “I guessed. I was running a bluff.”
“Damn you're good. Remind me never to buy a used car from you.”
She turned and pulled Fry close to her. He put his hands around her waist. She hooked one finger under his collar.
“You knew what you were getting yourself into from day one, man o' mine.”
Leela walked out of the local Employment Directorate office carrying a garment bag over her shoulder. Fry was sitting on a bench in the lobby, waiting for her.
“I got a job.” she said.
“Great. What are you going to be doing?” Fry asked.
“Bus driver. It pays seventeen a week to start. How about you.”
“Yeah, I got a job too.” Fry said without enthusiasm.
“What is it, Fry, what are you going to be doing?”
“What else? Delivery boy. Only they call it a “courier service”. Kind of ironic when you think about it, isn't it? Five a week plus tips. Oh, and I get to wear this dorky hat.”
Fry pulled out a small red cap and placed it on his head. Leela smiled. Up until a moment ago, she hadn't known what “dorky” meant, now she had a pretty good idea.
To Fry it looked like something he'd seen in a cartoon when he was a kid, something that belonged on a monkey's head.
“Well Fry, it's a start, and with any luck we won't be at it very long. What are your hours?”
“Nine in the morning until whenever. You?”
“I'm in training for a few days, so I'll be starting at seven in the morning. After that I don't know. I'm low seniority so I'll probably be on the graveyard shift. Hold off judgment on your hat until I try on this uniform.”
They walked back to their apartment.
Leela peeled off her clothes and pulled on the uniform. It was a brown shirt and skirt, a greyish-green jacket, a black tie, and a fancy cap with a shiny, black brim. She turned and modeled it for Fry.
“Well, Fry, how bad is it?”
“It's all right.” Fry said. “You look just like an East German police woman I saw in a secret agent movie once.”
“I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It sounds like we'd make quite a pair if you wore your spy outfit.”
“Yeah, we would. But we might attract the wrong sort of people if we went out looking like that.”
"Good point, Fry. Maybe we'll make it back to Earth by Halloween and you can wear it then."
"That's a good idea, but won't the bus company want their uniform back when we leave?".
"That's OK. I saved the hooker outfit." Leela said with sly smile.
“So how are we doing?” Fry asked.
They were sitting in their apartment on one of their rare mutual days off. Leela was at the desk, making entries in a ledger she was keeping.
“Not great. We're making ends meet, barely. We've had to dip into our cash supply a couple of times. If we don't have any surprise expenses and can keep this up until we can find a ship out of here, we should be Ok.”
“Well, I hope that's soon. The bicycle seats on this planet definitely weren't made for human butts.” .
He rubbed his back side at the thought it it. Leela smiled.
“I know what you mean Fry. If I never see the inside of another bus again in my life I'll be happy. Oh, by the way, this came for you today, it's from the Employment Directorate.”
She handed him an envelope.
Fry tore it open and pulled out the paper inside. He looked at it for a moment, then handed it to Leela with a sigh. It was written in alien.
“Will you read what it says please?”
“Oh, this could be good.” Leela said as she read.
“This could be really good.”
“Oh, sorry Fry, they want you to come in next week about a job with the ... I think this word means City. It doesn't say what exactly, and I don't know how to translate the department name. But whatever it is, it ought to pay better than your current job. Maybe you'll even get a better hat to wear.”
“You watch.” Fry said, “I bet they want a delivery boy.”
“Yes?” Hermes said, looking up from the paperwork on his desk. “Oh, good afternoon Mr. Balr. Do you have another delivery for us?”
“No, I do not. I have received word that the previous delivery was not in order.”
“I thought somethin' went wrong. My crew hasn't returned yet and dey should have been back a week ago. What happened?”
“I know nothing of your crew. They arrived on schedule and completed the transaction. After that I know or care not. It was the transaction itself that was not satisfactory.”
“In what way?”
“The data in the delivery boy's career chip was corrupted. Did you follow the instructions properly when you reprogrammed the chip?”
“O' course I did. It's so simple a child could have done it. I told him I was updatin' his chip, had him put his hand on the plate, and pressed the button. It all went off like clockwork and nobody suspected a thing. If it didn't work, that isn't PE's fault.”
“We have used this same technique many times before, Conrad, and it's never failed until now.”
“Well, der's a first time for everythin'.” Hermes said. “We made the delivery as contracted, and we expect to be paid for it. If someone didn't receive what they expected to get, dey need to work dat out with da shipper and leave us out o' it.”
Balr regarded Hermes for a moment, then said “You'll get paid. But I'm sure you'll understand that we'll be reluctant to use your services again.”
Hermes almost breathed an audible sigh of relief. This whole thing had turned into one huge fiasco.
“And another thing,” Balr said, “You led us to believe that there would only be one delivery person, and you sent two. That created some ... complications.”
“Sorry about dat. Some, err, new regulations dat went into effect. I had to send two people.”
“That is your problem, not mine. Our contract cuts both way, Conrad, we are not paying extra because of your red tape. Good day to you sir.”
Leela climbed the stairs to their apartment lugging two bags of groceries. She fumbled with her key, unlocked the door, and pushed her way in. She set the bags down on the counter and leaned against it breathing, her eye closed. Driving that damn bus was hard work, and it had been a long day. One of the other drivers had called in sick so she'd had to put in a couple of hours of overtime. She rubbed her left arm with her right.
“Every other planet in the Universe has had synchromesh and power steering for a thousand years,” she grumbled to herself, “and I have to get stuck on the one rock that doesn't.”
She stood up and rubbed her back. She caught sight of a movement out of the corner of her eye and turned around. She was surprised to see Fry sitting at the desk, his back to her. He was hunched over the box with the knobs on it, something that looked like a couple of cans held together with a cloth covered steel strap clamped on his head. It almost looked like one of the Professor's brain frying inventions. If this world wasn't so technologically stone age, she would have been worried.
She walked over and put her hand on his shoulder.
“Gahhh!” Fry exclaimed as he jumped.
He pushed the thing off his head with one hand while he placed his other hand over his heart, breathing rapidly.
“Leela! You surprised me. I didn't hear you come in.”
“Sorry, Fry. What are you doing with that thing?”
“I figured out what this is – it's a radio. The Zlargfarq kid from upstairs showed me how to work it.”
“That's nice.” Leela said, unimpressed, “How come you're home so early? You didn't get fired on your first day did you?”
“No! Come on Leela, have some faith in me, I did fine. I'm done for the day. I get off at three thirty.”
“Three thirty? What time do you have to go in tomorrow?”
“Seven thirty, same as today.”
“What's the job?”
“Municipal maintenance crew. We fix pot holes, put up signs, paint the lines down the middle of the road, stuff like that.”
“Sounds like hard work. I'm surprised you're not all worn out. What'd you do today?”
“Well, we got the truck loaded, and then we went out for coffee and dough nuts. After that we filled in a couple of pot holes, took a coffee break, and trimmed a tree that was blocking a sign. Then we had lunch. We drove around for a while looking for more pot holes, took our afternoon coffee break, and then we went and looked at a job site where we're putting in a new No Parking sign next week. By then is was almost quitting time so we headed back to the shop.”
Leela eyed him suspiciously.
“What exactly is your job?”
“Oh, I hold the caution sign while the guys are working.”
“Sounds like rough duty. How much are they paying you?”
“Twenty two a week.”
“Twenty two! For standing around holding a .... ohhhhh!” Leela stomped her foot.
“What?” Fry asked, confused.
“Almost there.” Leela thought to herself, a look of determination on her face.
She double clutched and shoved the shift lever down into second. The gears slid into mesh with minimal clashing. The drive line whined and the engine coughed and barked as the big, heavy bus decelerated. She grabbed the big steering wheel with both hands and wrestled it over to the curb.
“At least these damn things have air brakes.” She though, bringing the bus to a stop precisely at the designated point. She pushed the handle that opened the door and turned around.
“All right, end of the line, everyone off. Next bus in 15 minutes.”
The riders filed off. Leela got up and walked to the back where there was still one four eyed rider sleeping in a rear seat.
“Hey, buddy, wake up. End of the line.”
There was no response. She nudged it with her foot.
“Hey, you, off the bus.”
The thing stirred, then sat up suddenly, making a growling noise.
Leela jumped back, assuming a defensive posture.
The thing slowly pushed itself out of it's seat and staggered up the aisle.
Leela made a face at the smell as it went by.
“Great. Just what I needed right before lunch.”
She drove the bus around the corner and into the alley behind the bus station where a hostler was waiting to take it in for servicing.
She pulled her lunch out from under the seat and walked up the street to a nearby park. She sat on a bench eating her sandwich and enjoying the quiet.
On the other side of the park, she noticed a group of four workers gathered around a hole. One of them was holding a sign, even though they were at least 40 feet from the nearest road. Another was digging, a third was leaning on a shovel watching, and the fourth was holding a clipboard, also watching.
“Hey, that's Fry.” She got up and walked over.
As she got closer, Leela saw that there were several mounds of freshly dug dirt spaced evenly along this side of the park.
“Hi, Fry.” she said as she approached.
“Hey, Leela, what are you doing here?”
“I'm on lunch. The bus station is only a couple of blocks over. I usually come to the park if the weather is decent. What are you guys doing?”
“We're planting trees today. Hey, guys, this is Leela. Leela, these are the guys. Except for George, he's out sick today.”
Fry's coworkers nodded and make various noises of greeting, the more humanoid and carnivore among them casting appreciative glances at Leela.
“Hi.” Leela said.
The one who had been digging was apparently finished because he stepped back, stuck his shovel in the ground, licked the fur on the back of his hand, and wiped it across his forehead.
The one with the clipboard made a notation on a form, then nodded at the other, who took his shovel, stepped forward, and began shoveling the dirt back into the hole.
Leela watched for a moment.
“Fry,” she whispered to him, “I thought you said you were planting trees. Where are the trees, and why are they filling in the hole they just dug?”
“Well, it's like this; Kinzi there digs the hole, George plants the tree, and - I still have a little trouble with his name - ...”
Fry made a noise that sounded like he was about to hock a loogie.
“ ... he fills in the hole. Nomar over there, he's the foreman.”
“But Fry, you said George was sick. Why isn't someone else planting the trees?”
“Can't. Union rules.”
“But ... this is all a complete waste of time!”
“Leela, we can't sit around on our butts all day just 'cause one guy is out sick. The taxpayers wouldn't like that.”
“Fry, look at this.” Leela said, holding up the newspaper.
He glanced at it.
“Umm, Leela, you know I can't read that stuff unless it says 'No Parking' or 'Speed Limit'.”
“Oh, sorry Fry, I keep forgetting. There's a ship advertising for a Navigator. It's heading to New Altair in Andromeda. If we can get hired on that ship, we're on our way home. New Altair is a major hub, and it's part of the real universe. Our credit card will be good and we can book passage for home and not have to wait months for it.”
“Yaa Hooo!” Fry said. “When do we apply?”
“First thing in the morning. We're both going to take the day off and be the first in line.”
The address was a dingy office in the upstairs of a dingy row of buildings near the space port. They were not only the first in line, they were the only ones in line. After waiting for half an hour, they were ushered in to a small, sparsely furnished room. There were two men there, both in some kind of uniform.
One was short and balding, with a stiff black beard. The other taller and clean shaven.
“Goot morgan.” the short one said. “I am Capitan Beck. Vich von uf you ist applying for ze navigator job?”
“I am.” Leela said. “Turanga Leela Fry, sir. Here are my papers. They're, uh, still in my maiden name.”
She held out her masters papers. The Captain nodded, and the other officer reached out and took them. He looked through them and handed them back.
“Yes.” was all he said.
“Zo.” the captain said, “vat makes you think you are qualified to be my navigator?”
“Sir, I have well over two thousand hours of interstellar flight time on a private ship, plus several hours of DOOP certified combat flight time. Most of that time I was navigating and piloting. I'm confident that I can handle any navigation task you care to name.”
“Yah, zo. Und him?” he said, nodding at Fry.
“This is my husband, Phillip Fry. We are trying to reach New Altair. He needs passage also.”
“Vee have no use for him.”
“Then we have nothing further to discuss. “ Leela said evenly, “Thank you for your time. Come F...illip.”
She turned to leave.
“Vait.” It was said without emotion or emphasis, but it was a command nevertheless.
Leela turned around.
“Yes?” She said.
“You are a voman.”
“Yes I am. Thank you for noticing.”
“Ve do not have vemale offizers.”
“There's a first time for everything. You need a navigator. I can navigate. What difference does a couple of chromosomes make?”
“You vould be in charge of za third watch. Za men are not used to taking orders from a voman. You zink you could command zeir respect?”
“Yes sir, I do.”
The Captain studied her for a moment.
“Ya, I zink you vill do. Very vell, you are hired. You I vill pay, he vill vork for passage, no?”
“That's hardly equitable.” Leela said. “Mr. Fry is an experienced and valued member of my crew. He deserves just compensation for his labors.”
The Captain eyed her.
“Vell naturally you vould zay that, you married him. I vill giff him half pay.”
Leela sensed that was as good a deal as she was going to get.
“Agreed.” she said.
Beck turned to the other officer.
“Aszign him to za Chief Engineer, he vill find zomethingk for him to do.”
He turned back to Leela.
“You vill report here at 0900 two days from now.”
“Thank you, sir. May I ask a couple of questions?”
“Ya, very vell.”
“How long will it take us to reach New Altair?”
“Ein month, maybe more, maybe less.”
Leela had to clamp down hard to keep from exclaiming out loud. In the PE ship, it would be about a four or five day flight.
“Ok. What about accommodations? We are married after all.”
“As offizer, you vill have cabin. He bunks mit ze ratings. Fraternization ist verboten.”
“Man, if it had some chrome and tail fins, it'd look just like something out of one of those B-grade 1950's sci-fi movies.” Fry said as they stood looking at the ship.
It was basically a cigar shaped tube. At the rear, spaced evenly around it's circumference, were 4 pods. On top, about a third of the way back was a large hump with a hatch set into it's side.
At various places on the hull were translucent bubbles with what looked like gun barrels pointing out of them. Their placement looked like it was determined more by random afterthought than through any logical reasoning process.
The ship stood on 4 spindly landing legs, and in between them two cargo elevators were open. Gangs of men were loading crates, boxes, and bags onto them.
“Fry,” Leela said, “this might be our last opportunity for a while, so ...”
She pulled him close, hugged him tightly, and kissed him.
They lingered in each others arms for a long moment. Then with a mutual pair of sighs, they picked up their bags and headed for the gangplank.
“Mr. Fry, zis ist the Chief Engineer. He ist your zuperior.”
The Chief was a slim man. He wore a patch over his left eye. Two of the fingers on his right hand were missing and a third was bent at an odd and unnatural angle. He walked with a slight limp.
“Fry huh? Welcome aboard. Always glad to have an extra hand.” He held up the hand with the missing fingers. “Ha ha, extra hand, get it? Come on, follow me.”
Fry gave Leela a worried look, picked up his bags, and followed the chief.
“Zees,” the Captain said to Leela, indicating the man who had been at the interview, “ess Mr. Morgan. He is ze Executive Offizer in charge of ze first watch. You vill be ze third watch offizer. Mr. Morgan vill show you to your cabin und acquaint you vis your duties.”
Leela stood wedged into a corner of the bridge. She hadn't expected spacious accommodations, but this was worse than anything she could have imagined. Inside this sewer pipe like hull was crammed so much machinery and all the requisite piping and wiring and controls that there was very little space left over for the people who ran it all. From what she could see very little was automated. It even smelled like a sewer pipe.
Her cabin was a tiny closet with two bunks. It was obviously not designed with females in mind. It was hard to believe it was designed with humans in mind. It was so narrow that portions of her anatomy wouldn't clear between the bunk frame and the bulkhead. Getting in and out of the bunk and changing clothes was an exercise in acrobatics.
The uniform she'd been issued wasn't tailored for her form either. The pants were baggy, the top tight and uncomfortable, a couple of the buttons straining.
Her hair was also going to be a problem. Her pony tail had got caught on things overhead twice just on her way to her cabin, bringing her to a fast, painful stop. She'd managed to wad it up into sort of a flat spiral and contrive a means of holding it in place.
“All systems report ready, sir” the XO said to the Captain.
“Very goot. Take us out, Mr. Morgan. Show our new offizer how ve do zings.”
“Aye, aye, sir. Stand by on main engines, stand by on Z thrusters.” the XO called out.
The orders were repeated and men manipulated controls.
“Pressure check.” the XO said.
“One thousand, six hundred and forty” came the reply from somewhere forward.
In the few days Leela had been on board, she'd learned enough about the incredibly primitive drive systems on this ship that that number worried her.
“Start all turbines.”
“Start all turbines, Aye, sir.”
Levers were moved and bells rang. From somewhere below and aft, vibrations and noises began to make themselves felt and heard.
“You there, Fry, park yourself right here, stay put, stay out of the way, and don't touch nothin'. We're gonna take off soon and I got work to do.” The section head of the aft turbine room watch worked his way forward through the narrow confines compartment.
Fry squeezed back into the nook formed between a nest of pipes on one side and the end housing of the number four alternator on the other. He couldn't sit because there was a pipe protruding up from the deck with a terribly uncomfortable looking fitting on the end of it; and he couldn't quite stand up straight because there was some piece of equipment directly overhead that had sharp corners on it.
It was hot back here and he was he was already starting to sweat. There was another crewman across the aisle and down from him, not more than two paces away, who was attending a big electrical panel. He looked at Fry.
“Fry is it, huh? First flight kid?”
“No. Well, on this kind of ship it is. Is it always this hot in here?”
“Hot? This ain't hot. Wait 'till we take off, then she warms up a bit. Hey, didja hear? Scuttlebutt is the old man's hired a skirt for third watch officer.”
“No kidding? Really?” Fry said sarcastically.
“Yeah, I don't believe it either.” the crewman said, “they say she's got one eye and purple hair. Did ya ever hear such a load? That's a pretty tall tale, even for a sailor.”
“I don't know.” Fry said, “I've seen a lot of weirder things.”
“Just walking down the street on Earth.” he added to himself.
“Kid, I'd have to see it to believe it. I've traveled from one end of this universe to the other, seen a lot of strange things, but I ain't never seen no purple haired cyclopes.”
“Well, there's a first time for everything.” Fry said.
Their conversation was terminated by a bell jangling somewhere forward. Fry noticed that the other end of the compartment was shrouded in a haze or mist or something - he could make out people moving around up there, but they were as shadows in a fog.
“Stand By.” came the section head's voice.
The crewman across the aisle turned back to his board.
The bell jangled again.
“Start the turbine.” the section head yelled.
Up forward, another crewman grabbed a large wheel with both hands and turned it several turns.
There was a rushing noise and something big and heavy sounding was starting to move inside the housing next to Fry. The noise level in the compartment was rising. Soon, it was only possible to communicate by shouting. Fry noticed that the haze that the other end of the compartment was growing thicker and moving his way.
It was 18 minutes before the report “All turbines on line” was received. Leela was starting to have doubts about this idea. She hoped they didn't run into any trouble en route, if they did they'd all be frozen chunks floating in space before this crew ever got this teakettle boiling.
“Bring up Z thrusters, rate ten, limit sixty.” the XO ordered.
“Z up rate ten, limit sixty aye sir.”
The noises and vibrations increased and changed in character. Leela felt sensations of motion, even though she didn't have any visual reference.
“Clear of the ground, passing two decifurlongs. ”
“Main engines ahead ten. Fifteen degree up angle. Cycle all vents. Close all outboard ports. Retract gear.”
There was a bedlam of noise and motion as orders were repeated and actions carried out. Leela could feel the ship rising and beginning to move forward. Her ears popped as the pressure changed.
They were actually flying now, albeit unsteadily. It felt weird not having a window to see out of. The XO's eyes were in constant motion, watching gages, meters, and crewmen.
"Main engines ahead standard."
It seemed like forever. The compartment was like a steam bath – hell, Fry thought, it is a steam bath. It was hotter and he was sweating like a pig. His whole body was cramping from standing in awkward positions. It didn't help that the ship was starting to pitch and roll and give awkward lurches. Fry was starting to feel dizzy from the heat and the noise and the motion. The ship rolled and Fry felt himself falling. He reached out, trying to find support. His hand brushed something and he suddenly felt like he'd been kicked by a mule and lights flashed in his head like fireworks on a national holiday.
The ship gave a lurch as a red light lit on a panel and an obnoxious horn blared. Leela grabbed a pipe for support, banging her elbow on an valve handle in the process. No one said anything, but she noted the concerned looks.
“Ground relay on number four. Off line.” a crewman reported.
“Compensate, maintain rate of rise.” the XO ordered. The Captain sat in his seat, staring off into space as if none of this concerned him.
“Compensating. Main engines reduced forty percent.”
“Navigator, recompute our orbital injection trajectory.”
“Aye, sir” Leela said. She turned to the tiny shelf that served as the navigator's work station, pulled out the slide rule and a pad of paper and got to work.
“Fry, what the hell you doin'?”
Fry was on his hands and knees, dizzy. The whole right side of his body was tingling and there were still lights twinkling behind his eyelids. He shook his head, trying to clear it. He pushed himself into a standing position, bumping his head on a pipe.
“Ow.” he said, rubbing it. “What happened?”
“That's what I'm asking you, ya clumsy oaf.” the section head said. “You stumbled or something and took out the number four alternator.”
“Sorry my ass. You're damn lucky the Chief is a modern thinking kind of guy – time was you'd have been spaced for what you just did. Come on, I can see you don't belong in the machinery spaces – 'least not when anything is running; maybe on a cleaning detail when we're shutdown on the surface, but not now.”
It seemed to Leela like it took forever; they were finally in space and departing planetary orbit.
The XO turned to her, winked, and said quietly “That went better than usual.”
“Captain, sir, may I ask a question?” Leela said one evening when the officers were gathered in the wardroom for dinner.
“Ya, very well.”
“I have noticed that we haven't had any kind of drills since I've been on board and I would have thought that would be a routine procedure on this kind of ship. I'm wondering if there will be any?”
“Ach, drills. Ya.”
Leela noticed a couple of the other officers looking uncomfortable. The XO, seated off to the side of the Captain and out of his direct line of vision made a subtle gesture when Leela looked at him. She got the message to drop the subject.
The Chief took advantage of the silence and turned to Leela.
“I understand that your orange headed friend was a member of the crew on the last ship you were on. He doesn't seem to have much mechanical aptitude. What did he do?”
“He was our delivery b...person.”
“Ahh. Not much call for that on this ship.”
“He also was our gunner when necessary. He's pretty good at that – all that video game training.”
“Now there's something I hadn't thought of. I'll send him up to see our Armorer and have him tried out in a gun turret.”
Leela knocked on the XO's cabin door and was told to come in.
“Excuse me,” she said, “got a moment?”
“Sure. I'm just updating log entries. I'm trying to think of yet another way to say another day and nothing major went wrong. Have a seat.”
“Thanks. I wanted to ask you about dinner – I think I committed a faux pas with my drill question. What's the story?”
“Ah well, the old man is pretty lax. We haven't had any kind of drills since I've been on board. It worries me, on this kind of ship you need them. There's too much that can go wrong and if your people aren't trained to react properly, you could end up dead mighty quick.”
“That's what I thought. So what do we do?”
“Well, it you believe in any deities, you could pray to them that you make port alive and well. Me, I cross my fingers and carry a rabbit's foot in my pocket."
"With all due respect, you can't tell me you actually believe in good luck charms?" Leela asked.
Morgan shrugged. "Why not? Maybe some work and some don't. I've got my rabbit's foot and I'm still alive. We had a crewman once from Cesspujl 3; the inhabitants there believe that burning your own poop by the light of a full moon will bring you good luck - it stunk up the whole ship something awful. Didn't bring him too much luck - before morning he "slipped" on a banana peel and "fell" out of an airlock."
“Thanks.” Leela said. “I feel so much better now. You wouldn't happen to have an extra rabbit's foot you could lend me?”
“Your lordships, we have received a message from Ambassador Nibbler. He has picked up the trail of The Mighty One and The Other on a planet in the Gilh'ur quadrant. It seems they departed some days previously. Lord Nibbler and his squadron are attempting to locate them.”
Leela was awakened by a persistent knocking on her cabin door.
“What?” she said.
A muffled voice came through the door. She couldn't understand what it was saying. She reached over, slid the latch back, and opened the door a crack.
“Say again.” She mumbled, still groggy with not enough sleep.
“You presence is requested in sick bay, .... sir.”
She was instantly wide awake, a feeling of dread in her gut.
“What is it? What's happened?”
“I don't know, sir, I was just sent to get you.”
Leela cursed to herself. It had to be Fry. If something had happened to him she'd never forgive herself for getting him into this.
“One minute.” She said pushing the door shut.
She scrambled out of bed, cursing the tightness of the cabin, and struggled into her clothes. She was still buttoning her top as she opened the door and said “Let's go.”
She followed the crewman hurriedly down the corridor.
“Officer coming through, make a hole.” he yelled as men scrambled to get out of the way. One acrobatic and enterprising young man jumped up, grabbed pipes overhead, and swung his feet up and around the pipes, allowing them to pass underneath.
They reached the sick bay, and Leela rushed in, looking hurriedly around. Half a dozen crewmen lay in bunks, but none of them was Fry. At the far end of the compartment, the XO and 2WO stood next to the examination table – she could see a figure laying out on the table. She rushed over expecting the worst. She was surprised and relieved to see that it was the Captain laying on the table, his breathing labored and his skin a pasty gray color.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Some kind of attack.” the XO said.
“Heart trouble would be my guess.” Leela said. She looked around. “Where's your doctor?”
“Doctor?” the XO said, “We don't have a doctor. We have a corpsman who is trained in basic first aid, but he's off duty right now. He's been summoned.”
“Great.” Leela said. She moved around the table and started looking through cabinets and drawers. By the time the corpsman arrived, she had figured out how to get an oxygen tube hooked up and the Captain's color had improved somewhat.
“Hi Freddy, what's new?” Fry asked as he slid into a booth in the crew's mess, pushing his tray across in front of him.
The humanoid alien that was sitting across the table reading a book, a half eaten bowel of soup in front of him, looked up.
“Hello FryPhillipJ. Answer to your question requires knowledge of contextual discipline. Do you mean new, as in of recent origin; or do you mean nu, as in 13th letter of your Greek alphabet, which could represent scientific quantities such as frequency, kinematic viscosity, or Poisson's ratio; or perhaps you mean gnu which is a large antelope-like animal?”
Fry started blankly.
“Never mind. Sorry I asked. What 'cha reading?”
“Deep.” Fry said. “Don't be drinking while you're doing that stuff.”
“Drinking in human vernacular tends to mean consumption of alcohol. Alcohol, as I have told you before, is poisonous to my species. But let us assume for sake of argument that I could. Why should I not consume alcohol while doing calculus? My experiences with human institutions of higher learning suggest this is a normal activity.”
“I always heard you shouldn't drink and derive.”
Freddy looked blankly at Fry for a moment.
“Ahhh." he said finally, "I suspect that is an attempt at human humor. It has always been a most difficult concept.”
“Sorry, Freddy, I keep trying.”
Fry forked a load of something the looked like green noodles into his mouth.
“So, Freddy, do you have a girl at home? I guess I should ask if your species has girls first.”
“Ahh, I believe I have a frame of reference to answer this question from my experiences with human institutions of higher learning. By “girl” you mean a mate? No, not yet. Do you?”
“Oh, yeah.” Fry said, “She's the best. I haven't seen her since ... well, it's been a while.”
Fry paused, a faraway look in his eyes.
“I really miss her ...”
After a short interval he blinked a couple of times and refocused in the here and now.
“Well, Freddy, I guess you're better off not having one to miss.”
Freddy laid his book down, carefully marking his place with a precisely torn strip of paper.
“FryPhillipJ, may I ask you why you call me that name?”
“'Cause I can't pronounce your real name, it hurts my nose if I try. So I make up one I can pronounce, and you seem like a Freddy to me. How come you call me FryPhillipJ?”
“Is that not you name?”
“Well, yeah, but it's backwards and not all one word. Like this: Phillip ..... J ..... Fry. You try it.”
“Close. Next lesson. Just call me Fry.”
“I am not comfortable with that FryPhillipJ. It is custom of my people to always use proper name, to do otherwise is considered insult.”
“Ok, fine, whatever floats your boat. I don't care what you call me.”
“Ok .... Butthead.”
Fry looked up, surprised.
Freddy smiled. “Something else I learn from human institutions of higher learning.”
“May I speak to you please?” the XO asked Leela.
Leela nodded and he motioned her to follow him. They made their way forward through the ship to the Captain's cabin. Morgan held the door for Leela, then followed her in and pulled the door closed behind him. He locked it and turned to Leela.
“With the Captain disabled, command now falls to me. We have two problems. One, as things now stand this leaves the Second Watch Officer as second in command – if something were to happen to me, he'd be in charge. You may have noticed that he doesn't enjoy the Captain's confidence. He doesn't enjoy mine, either.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that idea.” Leela said. “That's one problem. You said two.”
“I was just coming to that. I have no desire to command. I've done it before and I dislike it. As XO, I have most of the perks and few of the responsibilities. I'm going to retire in a couple of years and I don't have the energy left anymore for the kind of command this ship needs. As I said before, the old man has been pretty lax.”
“I've noticed. We seem to have two problems with mutually exclusive solutions.” Leela said. “Either you take command, or the 2WO does. I haven't been a member of this crew for very long and I already know which one I prefer.”
“Thank you for your confidence, but we have a third option. You.”
“Me?! Oh no. I signed on this tub just as an expedient to get back home. I'm lowest seniority on this ship and a woman to boot. Putting me in command isn't going to sit well with this crew.”
“Look, like you, I want to live long enough to get home. You are our best option for ensuring that happens. I'll be behind you one hundred percent, and the crew knows I hold the Captain's highest confidence. And say what you will about this crew, the one thing they do know how to do is follow orders.”
“And what about the second watch officer? He isn't going to like getting bypassed. How do you suggest we handle him?”
“I'm in command. He'll obey my orders. If he doesn't, you can bust him to cook as soon I put you in command.”
“He was a cook?”
“No, Academy grad. But I hear he's a decent cook on his own time. I think he missed his calling. But getting back to the problem at hand, I was hoping you'd see the wisdom of taking command. Please don't make me order you to do it.”
“I wish there was some other alternative.” she said. “At PE I lead a small bunch of oddballs, some of whom are nominally my friends. There are what, a hundred and sixty men on this ship? That's a pretty big jump, I'm not sure I'm up to a command of that kind.”
“Mrs. Fry, I have seen quite a few aspiring commanders in my day. Most of them didn't have what it took to be a Captain. Some were able to learn to command. And a very few, they had a natural talent for command. I think you have that talent. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you too.”
“All right.” Leela said. “But if I do this, it's on my own terms. Once you give the order that puts me in command, there's no going back. We'll do things my way, and I'll expect your one hundred percent support and cooperation.”
“I've already said you'll have that. This is your cabin now. I'll have the Captain's personal effects removed and yours moved in.”
He turned and unlocked the door.
“Come on, Captain. We have some announcements to make.”
Leela strolled through the narrow confines of the bridge, her hands clasped behind her back. Her eye sequentially took in each meter, each gage, each switch, each lever, each valve, each crewman – the hundreds of moving parts that all had to operate perfectly to keep this ship flying. By now she knew what most of it did and what the men did. Learning their names was the hard part, but she was rapidly getting that down too.
Ever since she came on board, and especially since she'd been made Captain, she had spent most of her off duty time studying the manuals that detailed the ship and it's operation. The more she learned, the less she liked it.
“Mr. Garvarik.” she said to a crewman who was monitoring a bank of indicators. “What does this instrument indicate.”
“That is the stage two intercooler inlet temperature ... sir.”
“And what is it's normal operating range at this power level?”
“Ummm, about where it is now ... sir.”
“Mr. Garvarik, am I to understand that you do not know the exact numerical ranges of permissible stage two intercooler inlet temperatures?”
“Um, well, no ... sir, I don't know, exactly.”
“Mr. Garvarik, if you do not know, how will you know when something is wrong and what corrective action to take?”
“The turbine room operator would inform us in that event ... sir.”
“Mr. Garvarik, If we are to presume that only the best and most qualified people are promoted to bridge duty and they don't know, what confidence should I have that the turbine room operator ... ,”.
She slowly turned and looked around the bridge, her gaze stopping on each crewman in turn.
“... or anyone else for that matter, would know the correct parameters?”
She finished her turn and sentence simultaneously, gazing directly at him.
“I don't know sir.”
“I don't know sir.” She repeated contemptuously. “Mr. Garvarik, it is your job to know. The safety of the ship depends on your knowing. By the beginning of your shift tomorrow I will expect you to know the proper parameters for all of the instruments you are responsible for monitoring or you will not be serving on my bridge. Do I make myself clear?”
“And that goes for all of you.”
“Hey, carrot top.”
“Huh?” Fry said looking up, “You mean me?”
He was lying in his bunk in a room of full of bunks, all arranged in tiers of five. He was on the bottom, right next to the corridor. It was a good thing he wasn't claustrophobic, because there was only a few inches above him to the underside of the next bunk. Getting in and out was a tight squeeze.
“Yeah, you. They say you hired on with the new 3WO. You know anything about her?”
Fry didn't know why, but something told him that now would be a good time to play dumb.
“She's a real witch. Been riding the bridge crews like there's no tomorrow, and giving the section chiefs a hard time too.”
“She could give me a hard time any time she wanted to.” came a voice from somewhere across the compartment.
Fry's hands balled into fists.
One of the guys leaned over and said to Fry “It's a good thing we don't have showers. After old Zlyxie there's been in space for a few days, you gotta watch your back.”
“Man, Zlyx, you seen her?” came another voice, “She's so ugly I bet she'd take the wind out of even your sail.”
Fry's fists clenched tighter, his nails digging into his palms.
“Nah, I'd just close my eyes and think of you.” the voice replied.
The compartment burst into laughter.
Fry's arms were starting to cramp. He closed his eyes, took slow, deep breaths, and tried to think of happy places.
Leela strolled on to the bridge.
"Attention on deck!" a crewman shouted. "Captain on the bridge."
"As you were." Leela said.
A couple of crewmen off in a dark recess of the bridge grumbled to themselves. When she'd been made acting Captain, they'd assumed she was out of their hair and life could get back to normal. But it wasn't to be. She was liable to show up any time.
Leela made a slow tour of the bridge. She stopped next to the main electrical distribution board and had a whispered conversation with the crewman there. Then she strolled over to the Captain's seat, sat down, and surreptitiously buckled her seat belt. She looked around the bridge for a moment, then looked at the crewman at the electrical board. She gave a slight nod.
A jangling bell jarred Fry out of a deep sleep.
"Alarrrrmm!" some one was screaming.
Bedlam erupted. All around him men were boiling out of their bunks like mad ants out of an anthill. There was mass confusion as some tried to pull on clothes while others were trying to go both ways through the narrow and cramped corridors. In the space of 10 seconds, Fry got kicked, bumped, and swatted more times than he could count.
He stayed put in his bunk, wondering what was going on. No one had told him what to do if something happened.
The lights flickered and went out.
The confusion around him increased. People were tripping over things, running into each other, falling, cursing, yelling - and through it all that damn bell was still clanging.
The officers and section chiefs were all lined up in the officer's mess, standing at attention.
Leela stood facing them.
"A complete disgrace. A total shambles." she was saying. "If that had been a real emergency, we would all be dead. Mr. Morgan, when was the last time this ship had an emergency drill?"
"We have not had any since I hired on, sir."
"None, huh? All right, everyone, we're going to make up for lost time. You are all responsible for getting your sections into shape. I want every man on this ship to know where is action station is and what he is supposed to do. We are going to drill and drill and drill until we can get this piece of junk manned and ready for action in sixty seconds. Until then, nobody is going to get much sleep. Any questions?"
"But sir," one of the section heads said, "sixty seconds is impossible."
"It's your job to make it possible. Mr. Xygor, isn't it?"
"Your first job when you signed on this ship was checking checking the battery electrolyte, wasn't it?"
"How many cells did you have to check in a day?"
"Two thousand, six hundred and forty, sir. I'll never forget that number as long as I live."
"Did you enjoy that job, Mr. Xygor."
"No, sir! It was awful. I still have splotches on my skin from the acid."
"Well, I suggest you remember that, Mr. Xygor. Because if your section doesn't come up to snuff, I'll bust whatever your species uses for an ass back there and find someone who can do the job. Do you understand?"
The bells were ringing again. All up and down the ship the cry "Alarrrrmmmm!" was being repeated.
When Fry started to wake up, he was already two compartments forward from his bunk. By now, he knew his way by feel, which was a good thing since the lights were out again. This time, he noticed that he was lighter and each step we becoming a long, bouncing stride. Fry adjusted automatically - Leela had killed the gravity again. He reached the hatch and jumped, almost making it all the way up. One push off the top rung and he was in the turret. He rolled over, the gravity almost gone, pulled the hatch shut and dogged it down. He pushed himself into the seat, pulled the harness around him, and donned the head set all in one fluid motion. He flicked the switches that powered up the turret.
"Turret 7 manned and ready." he said, and a voice on the other end acknowledged it.
Now it would be hurry up and wait. Fry closed his eyes and was instantly asleep.
"All gun mounts manned and ready sir."
"All engineering posts manned and ready sir."
Leela listened to the reports coming in with an air of detachment.
"Captain, sir, all stations report manned and ready." Morgan said to her.
Leela glanced at her wrist comm.
"77 seconds. They're getting better. All right, lights on. Restart the gravity. As soon as it's back to point seven, secure from General Quarters."
“Excuse me sir, we've received a report that seems to suggest we've located them.”
“The couriers, sir. Fry and Leela.”
“Oh, yes, of course. Where are they?”
“They are, or at least were, on some backwater planet in the Gilh'ur quadrant, the message is not entirely clear on that point.”
“Hmmm. And what of our operation on the surface?”
“Our operatives report no activity, which is suspicious.”
“Yes, Yes, that is very suspicious. I know, we'll send wave and wave of our own men to the surface to smoke them out.”
“Um, Sir, the controller would like to move the focus of the operation to the Gilh'ur quadrant and leave a small contingent on the surface here to carry on the investigation.”
“Oh, very well.”
“Excuse me, Captain, sir. You're needed on the bridge.”
Leela looked up from her meal and groaned internally. She shoveled one last fork full of food into her mouth, grabbed her coffee cup, and stood up.
“What is it?” she asked as they entered the bridge.
“Sorry to disturb you Captain.” the second watch officer said, “But there are several ships on the detector, and the radio operator says he's receiving static bursts that are indicative of weapons discharges. There's also a lot of intership com traffic, but we don't have the equipment to decode it, so we can't listen in and ...”
“Deploy the scope.” Leela ordered, interrupting. “How many and where are they?”
“I make it 4 ships at 37 degrees theta by minus 17 degrees phi, distance twenty seven thousand.” the detector operator replied.
Leela climbed the ladder into the small compartment over the bridge. She wedged herself onto the small seat that protruded out from the shiny black cylinder of the view scope. She turned her cap backwards, pressed her eye against the rubber shield that surrounded the view port, and manipulated the controls. She rotated with the scope until the graduated dials showed the proper coordinates.
“Roll the ship, minus 120 degrees phi.” she ordered.
Leela waited impatiently while the order was executed, adjusting the controls and scanning the inky void. Suddenly she froze. She clicked the magnification up one notch higher. She tweaked the scope a hair one way, then back a bit.
“Sound battle stations!” she yelled down, “Flank speed. Stand by for course change.”
Alarms rang throughout the ship.
“New course delta – theta plus 30, phi minus 20. Go to full war emergency power!”
The order was repeated.
“Where's my power?” she yelled down the hatch. “Let's get this piece of junk moving.”
“All right you monkeys, wind this thing up tight. The Captain wants flank speed and she wants it yesterday.” the chief yelled over the bedlam of the engine room.
“What the heck is 'full war emergency power'?” the section head of the port reactor watch asked him.
“Hell if I know, but I don't like the sound of it.” the Chief replied, pulling a dusty manual down from the shelf over his tiny desk. “I'll let you know in a minute.”
He flipped through the pages and found the section he was looking for. The section head watched the expression that came over his face with growing unease.
The Chief stood still for a moment, then came to life and started barking orders.
“Listen up. Full war emergency power – all axillary cooling systems on line, pull all reactor control rods to full limits, all safetys on manual, intercooler dampers to full open, engage all circuit breaker bypasses, fire suppression systems on manual ...”
The list went on. The crew scrambled to carry out the orders as the heat and the cacophony of noises in the engineering spaces was reaching new levels that none of them, even the old hands, had ever experienced before.
“What have we got?” the XO inquired anxiously as he poked his head up the ladder into the conning tower.
“We've stumbled into a fight, and some friends of mine seem to be the intended target. But it seems that we have two of three other parties who are fighting over the right to the kill. Radio room, try to reach the Planet Express ship.”
“Planet Express? They someone you know?” the XO asked.
“That's my ship.” Leela responded. “Where's my power? Can't this tub go any faster? I want more power, dammit, and I want it now!”
The 2WO hung up the 'phone.
“You've got everything we've got at the moment Captain. It takes a while for the plant to make radical changes in power – the Chief is pushing as hard as he dares but you're up against physical laws.”
“I wonder.” Leela grumbled to herself as she turned back to the scope.
“Con, detector. New contact, designate number five – it's a big one – inbound at minus fifty five by plus seventy.” the detector operator reported.
Leela spun the scope.
“Oh crap, it's the Nimbus. That's all I need. As if I don't have enough troubles already. Radio, any luck on the PE ship?”
“Yes sir, I just made contact.”
“Pipe it up here... Planet Express, this is Captain ... uh ... Turanga of the ... stand by. XO, does this ship have a name?”.
“No, just a numerical designation. U218.”
“Planet Express, this is the U218. We're inbound off your port quarter. Can you vector to intercept? Do you copy?”
With the Nimbus in the area, Leela didn't want to mention her name. She hoped Amy, or whoever was flying the PE ship, would figure out why.
“Leela? Is that you?” came Amy's voice, barely recognizable through noise and distortion of the transmission channel. Leela rolled her eye.
“Radio, can't you tune this in any better?”
“Sorry sir, that's the best I can do under these conditions.”
Leela keyed the microphone again.
“This is Captain Turanga. Can you vector to intercept?”
“Oh, right, I got ch'a now. We're heading your way.”
“What's you condition?”
“So far, we're OK. We've taken a couple of pretty good hits to the shields, but they're holding.”
“Do you have anyone who can man your gun?”
“Guuh. No way. Bender and Zoidberg are useless. They're both cleaning up after themselves at the moment.”
“Con, Radio. Incoming transmission from contact number five. Someone calling himself Zapper wants to talk to you personally.”
Leela sighed and keyed the mic.
“Stand by Amy, a big assteroid just showed up.”
“I see that. Ask him to have Kiffy call me.”
“Amy, in case you've forgotten, someone is trying to kill you, this isn't exactly the time for ... oh, never mind! Stand by. Radio, patch in that call from contact five.”
“Captain Turanga, you sound vaguely familiar, I wonder if you might know my very close friend Captain Leela?"
“Zapp, will you quit your babbling and come to the point. I'm a little busy right now.”
“Well, well, still as feisty as ever. I find that very sensual in a woman.”
“You'd find that sensual in an inflatable sheep, Zapp. Get to the point.”
“Ah yes. Well, the way I see it, you and I have some things to get straight between us. I'm in a position to help your friends if you were in a position, so to speak, to help me.”
“Zapp, you've got two eyes an I only have one, so I don't see things the same way you do. We'll solve our own problems without your help, thank you very much.”
“Ahh, Leela, it would be such a shame to sit here and watch you get blown to bits. Those other three ships, they'll eat your friends alive. Their shields won't hold out forever. And then they'll turn on you. That piece of junk won't survive even one laser hit.”
Leela clenched her fists and growled.
“Con, Detector. New set of contacts, multiple small ships, number indeterminate, inbound at minus one seventy, plus forty two, distance over one hundred thousand.”
“Now what?” Leela said as she spun the scope around. “Time to intercept.”
“Estimated seventeen minutes at current rate of closure.”
“Any transponder returns?”
“Sorry sir, we're not equipped.”
“Damn.” Leela swore. She knew Zapp was right and they didn't have too many options.
“Radio, get me the PE ship. .... Amy, you there.”
“Right here, Lee... um I mean Captain Turanga. We'll be there in a couple of minutes.”
“Forget it Amy, he knows I'm here. New plan, form up directly in front of me, match speed, and head straight for the Nimbus – a dead on collision course straight for their bridge window. I'll cover your back, you're my forward shields.”
“Ok, Leela, but that puts the bad guys behind and it doesn't look like you have any shields.”
“You let me worry about that. Stay tuned. Out.”
"Form up on the PE ship and follow it as close as you can." Leela barked down the hatch.
“XO,” Leela called, then said quietly, “where is Fry assigned?”
“Just a second.” he said as he disappeared from view. A moment later he was back and climbed the ladder a couple of rungs, poking his head and shoulders into the conning tower. “He's manning turret number seven. Do you want me to have him relieved and brought to the bridge?”
Leela considered for a moment. Their chances of survival weren't very good and if they were going to die, she wanted Fry with her. But he had a duty to perform, just like she did. She let out a quiet sigh, her heart heavy.
"No." she said quietly, then louder "Can't we get this garbage scow moving any faster?"
"We're over 200% on the reactors and still increasing." the 2WO reported from below, clearly agitated. "The Chief says he has no idea why it's holding together now. Power is increasing as fast as the reactors can heat up but ..."
"All weapons, fire at will on those three ships. They are not, repeat not to fire on the PE ship or the Nimbus." Leela interrupted. She turned back to the scope.
Aft, the sounds of laser fire opened up as the pursuing ships came into range.
"Detector, can you make out anything on those small ships?"
"No sir. They're too far away. I can tell they're there, but I can't even make a guess on how many, let alone give you any details."
Leela said a word. She swung the scope back.
One of the ships came in over their tail. Laser fire converged on it, making it's shields glow. The ship fired a couple of wild shots and broke away.
A second ship was following it on the other side. The laser fire from all of the visible turrets homed in on it. Leela watched through the scope for a moment, then rotated it around. A movement caught her eye and she adjusted the scope upward. The third ship was boring in from directly overhead. None of the gunners had spotted it.
"Target at 90 by 225!" Leela shouted.
She heard the bridge talker relay it on the gunners circuit.
A couple of turrets started firing in it's direction. The ship opened up with it's lasers, firing half a dozen rapid bolts before vectoring away.
There was a sudden strange sound. The ship shuddered. The lights went dim, flickered a couple of times, and went out. The bridge was totally dark. A beam from a flash light cut through the gloom, then another and another.
“What happened?” Leela asked.
“Report coming in now ... hit in compartment 335, hull vented to space. We've lost communications with several compartments in that area.”
The lights came back on.
“Captain.” The 2WO said, “The chief wants you – emergency in reactor room number five.”
Leela picked up the telephone.
“We have an emergency Captain. That hit fractured a pipe and knocked out the primary cooling system for reactor number five. We've got the emergency cooling system on it, but it's flooding the compartment with contaminated water. We scrammed the reactor and evacuated, but we can only hold it for three or four minutes. Then the core will melt down and we're history. I've got to eject the core.”
“There's nothing you can do?”
“All right, standby to eject the core. Where's it come out at?”
“Plus one twenty on the central axis, 'bout 300 back from your position.”
“How long does the ejection process take."
“Get ready, on my order.”
Leela spun around and put her eye back to the scope, which she rotated and zeroed in.
"Roll the ship, minus seventy."
“Ready to eject.” came the report.
“Stand by ... stand by ... now!”
Seconds later, there was a rumbling, a series of sharp, staccato sounds, and the ship shuddered.
Leela watched through the scope. She saw a cloud of vapor and metal bits ballooning out from the ship – through the middle of it the metallic cylinder rose, severed cables flailing around, some of them venting streams of vapor. The core rose straight up.
Behind it, streaks of laser fire criss-crossed as two of the attacking ships came racing in over the rear end of the ship.
The core was rising directly in their path. One ship heeled hard over, exposing itself to laser fire from the turrets below. It took dozens of direct hits, it's shields failed, and it mushroomed into a fireball. The other ship tried to pull up and turn. It clipped the core, tearing open a section of it's side. It spun off into space.
"Con, Radio. Incoming transmission from the PE ship, urgent."
Leela keyed up the mic.
"Leela, what do you want to do when we reach the Nimbus?"
"Oh, poo." Leela said to herself, spinning the scope around.
"Holly Crap!" She turned and yelled "Evasive right, full Z thrusters, now!"
She keyed up the mike; "Amy, break left."
She turned back to the scope, looked for a second, then jumped off the stool.
"Down scope, clear the tower, sound collision!"
Leela dropped down through the hatch to the tower, pulling it shut behind her and hanging from the handle as a crewman spun the locking wheel. A raucous alarm was ringing through the ship.
Leela dropped to her feet. Tense seconds went by. There was a thud and the ship shuddered; then a metallic screeching ...
Alarm bells were sounding throughout the Nimbus.
Outside the widow that Planet Express ship rolled hard to the right and passed close aboard. Behind, looming large in the window, and beginning to roll to the left was the ship Leela was on.
"Kiff, what is that very sensual crazy woman doing now?"
"Apparently she's trying to keep from ramming us sir."
"I don't mind getting rammed by her, but this is a little extreme. Do some evasive action kind of thing or something."
"We're doing that sir."
"In that case Kiff old man, I think it's time you were made Captain again. Try not to screw it up this time."
"It's too late sir. Your personal shuttle is in that part of the ship and you can't make it in time."
"Oh. ... In that case, is this going to hurt?"
Before Kiff could finish his sigh and answer, there was a thud and a metallic screeching, then silence.
The tail end of the U218 disappeared from view.
After a moment, Zapp Brannagan opened his eyes and looked around.
"We lived?" He straightened up. "We lived. I knew I could pull us through this one. Kiff, where is that ship going? I want it stopped and the Captain brought on board. I intend to take stiff disciplinary action against her. Oh yes."
"I'm afraid that won't be possible Captain. Our sensors indicate the ship is breaking up."
"Kill that damn thing." Leela shouted over the noise of the alarm.
“What just happened?” the 2WO asked.
“I think we just clipped the Nimbus.” Leela said. She looked around the bridge, then at the pressure gauge next to the conning tower hatch. “Well, we didn't rupture the hull. Open the hatch. Deploy the scope.”
She climbed into the tower and looked into the eyepiece of the scope. She couldn't see anything. She pressed the controls that rotated the scope. Nothing happened.
“Looks like we lost the scope.” She said.
“Amy? You there?” Leela said, keying the microphone.
There was no reply, only static.
"Amy? Do you hear me?"
"Con, Radio - we've got a real high SWR, I think something's wrong with the antenna. We probably aren't radiating enough signal for them to hear us."
"Where's the antenna?" Leela asked.
"It's mounted to the scope trunk."
Leela hung the microphone back in it's mounting clip and climbed down out of the tower.
"I guess we've lost communications too. Detector, where's that third ship?"
"I don't know sir, I've lost it."
"What about those small ships?”
“I don't know sir. They've disappeared too. The only things I've got are contact 5 and the PE ship.”
Leela slumped back in the Captain's seat.
“All stop, bring us along side the Nimbus.”
“Umm, Sir.” The XO said, “It's going to take us at least fifty hours to drop back to normal power levels. We can't just stop.”
“Yes sir. It'll take that long to dissipate the energy in the reactors to the point where the quiescent load and cooling systems can absorb their output. We have to keep the main engines on line until then.”
“All right.” she said in a resigned tone, “Resume course and speed. Do we have a damage report?”
“Yes sir, seven compartments vented to space; that includes reactor five – and it's compartment is contaminated as well. We have a dead short on the number two main power buss and a number of other circuit and system failures; we have workarounds in place for anything essential. And we know we have casualties. There are at least twenty men unaccounted for. We're taking a roll call to make an exact determination. And, umm, Captain, may I speak to you privately for a minute?”
Leela looked concerned at his tone.
“We'll stay at general quarters until we're sure there aren't any more unfriendlies hanging around. 2WO, you have the con. XO, come with me.”
She led the way back to her cabin.
“Ok, what is it?”
“Turrets seven and eight are in the affected area. We've lost communication with both of them.”
Leela felt a sinking feeling in her gut.
“Are the turrets intact?”
“We can't tell for sure.”
“Assuming they are, if someone were in there ...”
“If they had the hatch properly dogged down, they could survive for a while.”
“So what you're telling me is even if someone in a turret is still alive, they can't get out?”
“What rescue means do we have?”
“Basically none. We'd have to set down on a class M planet. We're trying to figure out something so we can get in there and check but ... ”. His voice trailed off and he made a helpless gesture.
Leela nodded slowly and said “And the nearest class M planet is at least four days away. Ok, a person can easily live that long without food or water.”
“But not air.” The XO said solemnly. “With the hatch sealed and external supplies cut off, there's only enough oxygen for maybe twelve hours, fourteen at the most.”
Leela was silent for a moment, staring at him.
“All right. Make every effort to get in there. Keep me informed. Now if you don't mind ...”
“I understand, Captain. Get some rest. I'll call you as soon as I know anything.”
He turned and left, pulled the door shut behind him.
Leela sat down on the bed, her face grim.
A crewman stepped through the hatch on to the bridge, looked around, and handed the XO a clipboard.
Morgan looked at it for a minute, then walked over to the Captain's seat.
“We've completed the roll call Captain. We have 23 men missing. And Captain," he said, lowering his voice, "Mr. Fry is one of them. I'm sorry.”
Leela looked up at him.
“You're sure?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes, sir. There's no question”.
Leela nodded, her eye tearing up even as she tried to hold it back.
"You have the con."
Leela quickly left the bridge and went to her cabin. She grabbed the pillow off the bed and clutched it tightly to her chest.
"Oh, Fry, I'm so sorry." she whispered. "You've gotta get out of this alive somehow. How am I going to live without you?"
The wheel on the hatch turned. There was a click and a soft hiss. The hatch door swung downward. An alien head poked up through the opening and looked around.
“FryPhillipJ, wake up please.”
“Huh?” Fry said. “What?”
“Are you functioning normally FryPhillipJ?”
“Oh, Hi Freddy. What's new? Wait – don't answer that. I have a splitting headache and I'm hungry and thirsty, but I guess I'm OK.”
“Come FryPhillipJ. This way. Quickly.”
Freddy gestured down the hatch. Fry looked down and saw some kind of rubberized tube leading down.
“What's that?” he asked.
“Escape tube. My own design. Quickly.”
Fry crawled out of his seat and slid into the tube.
“Wahhhhhgahh!” he yelled as he slid down the slope and came to rest in a tangled ball where it turned at the bottom.
“Owwww.” he moaned.
“Forgot to warn you about that. Quickly. Crawl. I do not know how long duct tape will hold.”
Fry looked at him for a moment, then started scrambling down the tube on all fours.
“Lemme get this straight.” he said over his shoulder. “There's the vacuum of space outside and it's held together with duct tape?”
“It is a very good brand of duct tape FryPhillipJ.”
Fry put more effort into crawling. He reached a hatch, crawled through and dropped onto the deck on the other side. Freddy crawled out right behind him and someone closed and dogged the hatch.
Fry laid on the deck breathing, groaning, and rubbing his head.
“Come FryPhillipJ, Mr. Morgan he will want to see you right away.”
Fry slowly dragged himself to his feet.
“Can't I get something to eat first?”
“No FryPhillipJ. First rule on ship like this – officer's order more important than grunt's stomach. Come, this way.”
"Can I at least go to the head first?"
Freddy led Fry through the ship. They went further forward that he'd ever been before. They stopped at a door and Freddy knocked.
“Come in.” came the muffled voice of the XO from the other side.
Freddy opened the door.
“Here is FryPhillipJ sir. All Ok.”
“Very good. Thank you. Send someone with some food for Mr. Fry, will you please? Come in Fry. Sit down.”
Fry sat down.
“We're all very happy, not to mention somewhat surprised to see you Mr. Fry. You are apparently the only one in that section of the ship that survived. Now if you don't mind, it's customary to do a little debriefing after a situation like that, so I have a few questions. First and foremost is you were trapped in that turret for almost 22 hours from the time we took the hit. Your oxygen shouldn't have lasted more than 14 at the most. How did you do it?”
"I don't know." Fry said, looking confused. "I just sat there. I took at nap, maybe that helped."
"It would a little." Morgan agreed, "but that's taken in to account in the 14 hour estimate. You must have had another source of oxygen, but we can't figure out how or what. The line to the turret was completely severed by the blast."
Fry shrugged. "All I know is that there was a bright flash, a lot of noise, every hair on my body stuck straight out, and the power and comm went out. That was it until the hatch opened and Freddy showed up. I must have sang, hummed, and whistled Walking on Sunshine a couple of hundred times. And I thought about Leela a lot."
Nearly an hour later, there was a knock at the door. Fry was glad for the interruption. It seemed to him that they'd gone over the same things four or five times. It almost seemed like Morgan was stalling for time. At least there had been food; Fry had put away two sandwiches and several glasses of water.
“Enter.” Morgan said.
A crewman stuck his head in the door.
“Excuse me sir, You're needed in one four nine.”
“Thank you. I'll be right there.”
He turned to Fry.
“That's all the questions I have, Mr. Fry. I know you're tired and that you've been through something of an ordeal, but please bear with us for just a few moments longer. Come with me, there is just one more small formality.”
Morgan got up, opened the door and stepped out. He led Fry to another door just up the corridor.
“Please wait in here. It'll only be a moment.”
Morgan opened the door, gestured Fry in, pulled the door closed behind him, and leaned up against it.
There was a moment of silence. Then a muffled cry of surprise from the other side. There was a scrambling noise and a “whump” as something ran into the other side of the door with sufficient force to bounce him outward. He spent a just a moment leaning up against the door, listening to the noises from the other side, then, smiling, he went back to his quarters and called the bridge.
“Place a guard outside the Captain's quarters and see that she isn't disturbed.”
A single small ship detached itself from the hull just behind turret 7. It drifted up and away and was left behind as the big ship continued on it's way. The small ship drifted for several minutes until the ion flux from the big ship's main drive dropped down to near the normal background level; then it powered up, stabilized itself, turned, and fell in behind.
Another small ship detached itself from the Nimbus and slowly drifted away, keeping itself directly in line between the Nimbus and the U218 until the two were well out of scanner range of each other. Then it turned and headed towards the exact center of the universe.
“Are you sure you won't reconsider?”
“No, Mr. Morgan, I won't. My decision is final. This has been an experience, but Fry and I will be much happier back in New New York with our own little ship and our gang of oddballs. That's where we belong. The ship is yours, sir. As of this moment, Fry and I have resigned our posts aboard it.”
“Well, you've certainly whipped this crew into shape and showed them what they can do if they try, and for that I thank you. And I've learned a few things too. I guess I can mind the store until the Captain recovers. Thank you.” He reached out his hand.
Leela took it and shook it.
Fry and Leela trudged down the gangplank and back on to solid ground for the first time in almost five weeks.
“Where to now?” Fry asked.
“Straight to the main terminal of the space port and hopefully onto a ship for home.”
Fry walked out of the bathroom carrying a towel, still drying his left ear.
“God that felt great.” he said. “Even I never went that long without bathing before.”
Fry stopped. Leela was laying face down on the bed, clad in just her underwear. She was spread out, taking up most of the bed, eye closed and a big smile on her face.
She stretched, flexing her fingers and toes, the hard muscles of her body rippling just beneath the surface.
“Ahhhhhhhh.” she sighed contentedly. “I'm clean. I have room.”
Fry watched the scene, a multitude of feelings stirred up inside him.
He went to his suitcase and pulled out a small vial. He twisted the cap a quarter turn and gave the vial a couple of shakes. In seconds he could feet it getting warm in his hand.
“I love the future.” he thought to himself.
He climbed on the bed and sat next to Leela.
He unhooked her bra.
“Fry, what are you doing?”
“It's OK, Leela, trust me. I've got something for you. I've been saving it and now seems like a good time to use it.”
He opened the vial and poured a few droplets of it's contents onto her back. He placed his palms over the drops and slid them slowly up her back to her shoulders, then around in a circle and back down.
Leela relaxed and let out a happy moan.
Fry continued to massage her back, adding a few more drops of the heated oil occasionally.
“Mmmmmm. I'll give you about a year to stop that.” she murmured.
He worked his way up and around her shoulders and down each arm in turn.
By the time he'd finished, Leela was sound asleep, snoring like a chainsaw with a big smile on her face. Fry slid carefully off the bed and wiped his hands on his towel. He pulled the sheet over her, switched off the light, and eased in next to her.
Eirrrac Lerzef stood in the office once again.
“You failed, Lerzef. In every respect you failed.”
“I am at a loss to explain it. There were complications of course, but those are to be expected in an operation of this kind. The number of other entities involved was unusual and hindered the operation somewhat; two were our competitors and one was DOOP Intelligence.”
“DOOP Intelligence.” the man behind the desk sneered. “Now there's an oxymoron. They should have been nothing more than comic relief.”
“Oh, to be sure. One of their agents was marginally competent, but she let herself get picked up by the local authorities after that little debacle staged by the Xiasi concern.”
“That should have relieved some of the pressure. How did you manage to loose them?”
“Well, it should be noted that there were two couriers rather than one as we'd been led to believe. They proved themselves surprisingly able and in the general confusion that followed the attempt they got away. One of my agents, not the brightest of lads, was insistent that he'd picked up their trail but it turned out to be a tourist who bore some slight superficial resemblance to one of the couriers who was out picking up some, umm, "entertainment" for the evening and was staying at the same hotel.”
“Forgive my curiosity, but why not just stake out the delivery location, or is that kind of thing too elementary?”
Lerzef assumed a pained expression.
“Sadly we did just that. In fact there were so many entities watching the place that we were almost tripping over each other. I'm sorry to have to admit that they fooled us all, and they did it with a trick that is as old as cheesy detective fiction. These two are either top notch operatives or the luckiest pair of rank amateurs I've ever encountered.”
“What did they do?”
Lerzef bowed his head in shame. “They put on disguises, walked in the back door, and out the front door into a waiting taxi.”
“Ok, so they made the delivery and got away. So why did everyone compound the error and get in a shootout in space right in front of the DOOP flagship? Whose brilliant idea was that?”
“We weren't entirely sure they made the delivery at the time. The DOOP contingent was particularly careless and we were by that time able to monitor their communications with their controllers. It quickly became apparent that certain activities which were expected to be initiated upon receipt of the delivery did not happen. We all seem to have come to the conclusion that perhaps the Iturbil establishment was merely a blind, so we continued to look for them. Somehow they slipped the planet and we lost their trail for quite some time. When we finally caught up with them we had our competitors on our tail and there was some disagreement as to protocol. We were just getting that resolved when this old piece of junk freighter came barreling in with guns blazing – whoever was in command of that ship was just plain crazy to go into a combat situation with that thing. As it was they damn near got blown out of the sky, but the Captain of that ship was one cool customer. They ejected a damaged reactor core into the path of the other ships, one hit it and the other got caught in the crossfire while trying to evade. About this time the DOOP flagship shows up and took a couple of shots at us so we had no choice but to turn tail and run.”
"What happened to your quarry and the freighter?"
"The courier's ship docked with the DOOP ship. Obviously we had no chance to get them at that point. The freighter just kept going. Our best guess at this time is that they were trying to stage a rendezvous to make the delivery, but that is only a guess."
“And so the great Eirrrac Larzef finally comes back empty handed.”
Larzef sighed. “Well, as they say, there's a first time for everything.”
Fry was slowly coming to the realization that he was waking up. He laid very still, trying not to think, trying not to hear, trying not to do anything that would hasten the process.
That worked for all of maybe two seconds. He felt a hand lightly brushing his chest. He became aware of a body beside him. Something was nibbling at his ear lobe.
He opened his eyes and rolled his head.
“Hi.” he said.
“Hi.” Leela answered, smiling. Her hand continued to caress his chest.
“Love you, Leela.”
“I love you, Fry.”
“We'll be home tonight.” she said.
“Yeah, we will, won't we.” Fry said, a touch of sadness in his voice.
“What's the matter? Aren't you looking forward to getting home?”
“I guess. It'll be nice to see everyone and get a real beer and all, but ... well, these last couple of months I've come to realize that home is with you. I don't really care where I am as long as you're there. Tonight I'll go to sleep in my own bed, but I'll be all alone. And tomorrow when I wake up, you won't be there.”
“I know Fry.” Leela said softly. “In a way, I feel the same way you do. It's been nice having you next to me. I really missed that on the U218.”
“Yeah, I did too. And after today, I'll miss it again.”
“I will too.” Leela admitted.
Fry rolled on his side so he was facing her.
"Leela, why don't we just move in together? We both want it, and I promise I won't bug you for snu-snu."
"Oh, Fry, you would do that for me, wouldn't you? I guess you can call it a quirk or something – out here it doesn't seem like the real world and what we do doesn't matter. But back on Earth, in New New York, that's different somehow. There we have work and friends and ... well all that stuff and ... I don't know ... there shouldn't be a stigma about living together, but I just have a hard time with it.”
Fry smiled. “We used to call those 'hang-ups' back in the 20th century.”
Leela smiled. “Well at least I have a name for it now.”
"So that's a no then, huh?"
"Yes, that's a no. For now. But we've still got a few hours. We can stay here, sleep in, cuddle ... you know ... stuff like that."
"I'd like that Leela ..."
He paused, a perplexed look passing over his face. He groaned and started climbing out of bed.
"Fry, where are you going?"
"Ohh, dammit. I gotta pee."
They stood on the corner across the street from the Planet Express building.
“Well, Fry, it's been a while. Damn near four months. Let's go see if they've replaced us yet.”
Holding hands, they walked across the street, pushed their way through the front doors of the building, and headed back to the conference area.
A very subdued group was around the table. Hermes was droning on with his characteristic pointer and charts, but even he seemed to be making a half-hearted effort at it.
“Well, this place sure seems like a morgue.” Leela said.
Everyone jerked up in surprise, staring at them. The only sound was Hermes' pointer stick clattering to the floor and a brick thudding out from under Bender.
Amy was the first to recover.
“Leela! Fry! You're ... you're alive!!!”
“Of course we're alive. You knew that, we were talking on the radio just last week.” Leela said.
“But your ship – it hit the Nimbus and broke up ...?”
Fry and Leela looked at each other.
“No it didn't. We broke off the scope and our radio antenna, but that's it. We couldn't stop for a couple of days thanks to the antiquated drive systems on that ship but we made New Altair on schedule and got on a flight home almost immediately.”
“But ... Zapp said ...”
“Look Amy, we all know what he's full of. You have to take anything Zapp Branagan says with a grain of salt.”
“You have to take anything Zapp Brannagan gives you with a dose of penicillin.” Bender said.
“But .. so did Kiffy ... and I saw the scanner displays myself. Your ship was breaking apart ...”
“I don't know about you, but I feel like I'm alive.” Fry said said to Leela.
“Oh yeah, you're alive all right.” Leela replied with a smile.
“Nah, I don't know.” Bender said, “He looks a little pasty, you know, kind of like you coffin stuffers do when you're dead.”
“Oh, dat's normal for Fry.” Hermes said. “You don't get much of a tan in front of the TV.”
“Oh, ha ha.” Fry sneered.
Bender opened his chest compartment and pulled out some pawn tickets.
“Here Fry, you can get most of your stuff back. Should only cost you a couple of hundred.”
“Give me those, Fry.” Leela said, “We'll discuss this with Bender later. Hermes, I would like to have a word with you if you don't mind.”
“Well, um, Leela, mon, uh, it's right in the middle of staff meetin' and, um, we got us a lot of work backed up. Can't dis wait?”
“No, Hermes, it can't.” she said, gripping his upper arm and steering him in the direction of his office.
“Leela, mon, owww, be careful, dat hurts. Professor, Amy, somebody, help!”
“Whaaaa???” Farnsworth said.
“So skintube,” Bender said, “where you been?”
“Yeah.” Amy chimed in, “What took you guys so long? And how'd you end up on that ship?”
In the background they heard a muffled crash and Hermes' raised voice “Leela, mon, I can explain ...”
“Well,” Fry said, “The first ship we were on was pretty awesome ...”
“Hey, watch it ya purple haired loony ... no, not my collator ... owww ...”
“... lots of great food and we met some really cool people ...”
“... nooo, not that, it don' fit there .... aaaagghhh ...”
“... was pretty cold. I didn't mind it too much, but Leela ...”
“... stop that! ... No, don't ... I like havin' both of those ... aieeeee!”
. -. -..