Background Noise, Part 10
By Dave Vincent
When the Man Comes Around
[Author's note - this section takes place in the same time frame as the events in part 9.]
(The Hydri Compact soon came to be considered a direct threat to the Earthican bureaucracy's power. With a reform movement growing in the Earthican legislature, the bureaucracy felt that any sign of weakness could cause an uncontrolled rush to reduce the powers the Bureaucratic Service Act had given them. The Hydri missionaries were initially ignored by the Religious Bureau until it noted that more and more people were openly displaying signs of the exiled religions and refusing to pay the mandated tithe tax to the Unified Religious Organization. Fearing that such open defiance would embolden the reformers, Bureaucrat Number One (as with all the high ranking bureaucrats of this period, his name was never revealed) ordered the Religious Bureau to crack down. At first, the missionaries were arrested, fined and deported but when they wouldn't stop coming, the Religious Bureau began to act more firmly. By 2998, long prison sentences were routinely being handed out to the missionaries and people who openly professed the exiled faiths were fined and harassed. But when such measures failed to stop the Hydri, the Bureau turned to harsher methods. - The Great Revival by Monsignor Paolo Di Gevanov, New Vatican Press, Beta Hydri, 3057)
(The legislative hearings into the illegal paramilitary units were driven by secret testimony from several witnesses and victims. The brutal nature of these units, mostly employed by the soon-to-be defunct Religious Bureau, caused widespread outrage amongst the public. These revelations gave new impetus to the reform movement that wanted to lift the leaden weight of the bureaucracy from Earth's neck and force the bureaucratic agency to return to civil service status. Hermes Conrad, the smooth talking head of the bureaucracy during this period, adroitly used the heinous acts of the Religious Bureau to divert the hearings away from the question of abolition of the Bureaucratic Service Agency and into the need to ensure justice. Many members of the URO and Religious Bureau were arrested and tried for crimes committed during the years of 2980 to 3010. Many bureaucrats felt that Conrad had betrayed the agency but it could be safely said that his actions during the legislative hearings of 3031 saved the bureaucracy as an independent organization for nearly fifty more years. By allowing the Religious Bureau to be sacrificed, Conrad managed to keep secret the story of the secret relationship between the bureaucracy and several powerful industrialists, most notably Miriam Murchison. The knowledge that MOMCorp and other cybernetic corporations had aided the bureaucracy by incorporating spyware into many of the robotic devices they sold would eventually set off a firestorm of public anger. These devices were used to keep track of the doings of the ordinary citizens by the myriad agencies that the Bureaucratic Service Act of 2586 had spawned. Once the public and its representatives became aware of the full story of the bureaucracy's malfeasance, the triumph of the reform movement was assured. As it was, Conrad's artful testimony provided cover for those actions and the revelation of the bureaucracy's secret spying on the Earthican people would have to wait another half century. - The Secret Rulers, A History of the Earthican Bureaucracy - Professor Llana Gathol, John Carter Center for Government Studies, University of Mars, 3232)
Dusura Patera Military Station, Io -
Dwayne sat on the hard cement floor with his duffel bag propping him up. He was idly strumming his guitar as he watched the motion and chaos about him. Around him sat or stood the other mutants in his platoon. Dwayne could see Raoul pacing up and down in front of them as he waited for the platoon leader, Lt. Byrd, to return from a meeting.
The platoon was waiting for the order to load into the giant transport crawler that would take them to their new home on Euxine Mons. Sitting in the huge hangar of the Dusura Patera military complex, Dwayne could see other units boarding transports and preparing to leave for their assignments. As usual, their platoon seemed to be suffering another snafu which meant that Byrd would be in a really bad mood. Even though it was Byrd's responsibility to get them on the transport, he had as usual failed to give the Raoul the information necessary for accomplishing the task at hand. And as usual, Raoul would wait until the last moment and then would take matters into his own three hands and get things done. Then, as usual, Byrd would blame the mutants for his failings. Dwayne sighed as he thought of the extra "details" the platoon would have to endure until Byrd got over it.
He paused in his playing and looked out of the heavily shielded viewing window behind him. The domed military complex sat in the shade of one wall of the shallow crater called Dusura Patera. Outside he could see the spaceport with Jupiter's huge mass dominating the sky above it. The orange-brown landscape of Io stretched out before him. Towering in the distance was Skythia Mons and, although he could not see it from this window, Euxine Mons was out there as well. Raoul, now the platoon sergeant, had told Dwayne that their platoon was to be stationed at Euxine Mons to protect a space defense laser battery there.
Dwayne had never thought he'd ever leave the sewers of New New York. He'd often creep up to one of the openings in the surface world and look at the stars. Dwayne had long dreamed of traveling to other worlds but the prejudice against mutants seemed to rule out any chance. But now, here he was on Io. He had never thought it was going to happen but the military had given him the opportunity. For that, he was very grateful to the military because Dwayne found being in the military trying with its petty rules and mindless repetition. He put up with it because Raoul had told him that this was a way for the mutants to show that they deserved the same rights as the normal humans.
"We can earn our rights," Raoul had announced to the other mutants in their unit. "We can't let them say the mutants were bad soldiers or cowards. This is our chance to help our people."
It had been difficult. The officers were all normals and some clearly did not like this assignment. Those officers made life difficult for the mutants under their command. Their platoon commander, Lieutenant Thomas Byrd, was one of those types of officers and drove his platoon mercilessly. Dwayne hated the man but Raoul insisted that no one give Byrd the opportunity to say the mutants were bad soldiers.
Fortunately, while their regimental commander, Colonel Steigler, was a tough disciplinarian and hard on the mutants, he was also a fair man and treated them as soldiers. He made it clear that the First Legion Etrange would be a top-notch unit. It became the slogan for the mutants. If something was good, it was top-notch. Raoul was passionate about their platoon being top-notch and had turned into a no-nonsense noncom. Dwayne was more of a slacker and wanted nothing more than to play his guitar. This resulted in Raoul spent a lot of time riding Dwayne's butt about doing things the military way. It was a hassle especially as Dwayne could not think of Raoul as a sergeant but as his best buddy from Mutant Town. Raoul would get exasperated with Dwayne's lackadaisical attitude and infuriated when Dwayne told him to chill out. Dwayne found himself doing a lot of KP, guard duty and latrine cleaning.
Still, Dwayne didn't consider life too bad. Surprisingly, Byrd had let him bring his guitar along. After his tour, he'd be able to go home having done his bit which might impress the girls some. Better yet, he would have a considerable amount of guitar practice under his belt and, perhaps, some cool songs to sing.
He looked out the window again at the majestic view of Jupiter and thought amazedly, "I'm on Io. How many mutants could say that?"
He saw Raoul slap his thigh in frustration and stop pacing. Dwayne smiled. Raoul was going to get things going, he thought as he began to gather his belongings. Raoul turned and barked, "First Platoon! On your feet. Let's get on the crawler."
The mutants stood up, shouldered their duffle bags and grabbed their pulse rifles. Raoul watched them as they formed up into two lines. Dwayne, as usual, was the last to get into place. Raoul frowned and then said, "Alright. Top notch! Let's move out."
Upstate New New York -
Simon pulled the wheezing hover car into a driveway of a large two-story house. As Simon stopped the fusion engine, the combined weight of Zoidberg and the rotund Simon proved too much for the ground effect fan and the car collapsed onto the ground with a groaning sigh.
The house was in a tree shaded cul-de-sac that kept it out of view of the other houses in the village that was scattered along the highway. The place was old but looked reasonably kept-up. Zoidberg, stomachs growling, got out of the car as three men came out of the house. The men gawped at him and Zoidberg realized he must present quite a sight. He had only scraps of clothes remaining. His people weren't bothered by the odd human fear of being naked. "Sometimes," he thought with a slight sense of embarrassment, "I forget that not all humans are as open minded as my good friend, Professor Farnsworth." Zoidberg felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness. He missed the Planet Express building and his friends even Hermes but most of all, he really missed the refrigerator in the lunchroom. He could feel himself getting misty-eyed.
Simon jumped out of the car and began introducing the men to Zoidberg.
"My friends," he said in a jovial tone. "This is Doctor Zoidberg. He had an accident down the road and is going to stay with us for a day or two." He turned and pointed at each man.
"This is Howard," he said as a tall thin red-faced elderly man dressed all in black reached out his hand. Zoidberg lifted up a claw and smiled his most charming smile. Howard put his hand on top of the claw moving it up and down. The next man was called Brother Harmon, a bald, gaunt man dressed in grimy coveralls. He touched Zoidberg's outstretched claw. The last man was dressed in workman's clothes. He was large and burly with snow white hair and a bushy beard. Simon called him Orkon and he merely grunted at Zoidberg. The men struck Zoidberg as polite but wary. He could feel their suspicion.
Zoidberg thought Simon must have sensed it too for he said, "Don't worry my friends. Doctor Zoidberg will only be here for a short while. He has to get home to his own. He's clean. It isn't going to be a problem. And he is a doctor."
Puzzled at Simon's words, Zoidberg could see Howard and Harmon relax but Orkon looked unconvinced. After the introductions, the men began unloading the strange boxes that Zoidberg had seen in the backseat of the car. Curious, he paused to watch but Simon quickly escorted Zoidberg into the house. Simon found some clothes that might fit, mostly Orkon's and his; and then showed him the bathroom.
Zoidberg stepped into the shower and began running through his frustrated artist repertoire of various show tunes. After a long, long hot shower, Zoidberg stepped out of the tub humming the tune from Barry Manilow's head's titanium-selling rap masterpiece Straight out of Copacabana. He shook his body like a dog, sending a spray of water all about the small bathroom. Using nearly a dozen towels, he slowly dried himself. Then he put on the clothes that Simon had found for him. They were a pair of Simon's black pants with a stretch waistband which Zoidberg noted was severely tested by his girth.
Next Zoidberg took up a plaid shirt which must have been Orkon's. Not a choice he would have made, favoring hospital scrubs, but at least it was an extra-extra large. It fit around his shoulders but was a bit too long for Zoidberg's taste. On the other hand, the sandals were perfect, he thought as he stepped into them.
Feeling refreshed, Zoidberg left the bathroom and headed downstairs to the dining room. He mulled over what face he was going to show these men. Zoidberg's mind ran through various options. "Clearly they're suspicious of outsiders. It may be difficult to win them over but, I'm going to need their assistance in getting back to New New York. I have to find out if Leela and Amy are safe," he thought shuddering to think that they might be in the hands of the Donbot's associate, Clamps. Then he remembered the primary mission and winced. "And I need to recover Fry somehow."
He sighed as he remembered the glowing three-eyed creature's command to go to Eternia. "A dream or a psychotic raving?" He mused. He hadn't decided about that yet.
He walked into the combined living and dining room as Harmon was setting out the food. As Zoidberg walked into the room, a voice said, "Seven O'Clock. Time to eat." Zoidberg stared in surprise at a clock mounted on the wall. It had a large set of painted eyes and a garish red mouth. Harmon smiled at Zoidberg, "That's Orkon's toy. He loves gadgets like that." He nodded to the food. "We don't stand on ceremony here. Go ahead and help yourself."
Near starved after the Donbot's cruel treatment and his mad wanderings in the wood, the Decapodian instincts took over and Zoidberg let himself go with a warbling screech. Harmon stared in horrified amazement as Zoidberg began stuffing himself with food. Simon and Howard, attracted by the noise, stepped into the room as well. Despite being in a feeding frenzy, Zoidberg became dimly aware of the men staring at him with shocked expressions. Zoidberg suddenly felt embarrassed at his loss of control. Slowly he regained his composure and stopped, wiping his mouth tentacles on his sleeve. Pieces of food were spattered over the table, on the floor, the wall, on Harmon and on Zoidberg's plaid shirt. He turned and looked at the men. They were staring at Zoidberg in disbelief. He put on a big smile and said in his idiot's voice, "Vat? There is enough for everyone, isn't there?"
As the men blinked and looked at each other, Zoidberg inwardly sighed. Back to the fool's role, he thought disgustedly and damned his people's instincts. He moved to wipe his mouth again but found some mashed potatoes left on his shirt sleeve. He quickly gobbled it down. He turned to Simon and said apologetically, "Would there be a problem using your vidphone to make a long-distance call to New New York?"
Simon shook his head. "We don't have a vidphone. Nor a computer either. There may be a public phone in the village."
Zoidberg was shocked. "No vidphone, no computer. What were these men?" he asked himself. He had heard the professor railing against an anti-technology cult called the Luddsaleians who were wont to smash machines. Were these men technophobes or something even worse - poor? Then a terrible thought suddenly occurred to him, "What if there's no TV?"
As Zoidberg goggled in horror at that notion, from upstairs Orkon's voice bellowed. "By Saint Sergius, what happened to the hot water?"
Watcher Ministry Office, Government Palace, Hikoshida -
Shotai Gerida Kurisan stood on the ornate steps of the government palace and stared in frustration at the night sky. He took in deep gulps of air as he tried to calm himself. He could feel the tension in the muscles of his four arms. He was tempted to turn about and go back but that would lead to a violent confrontation that he was sure to lose. Trying to bring himself back under control, he focused on the sky.
There were very few stars to be seen on this side of the planet. Gerida quickly picked out a dim small star that twinkled alone in the far distance. It was known as Fusetari; the Guarded Realm. In Hikoshidan legends, it was said that they had lived in the Fusetari system as servitors to the Great Ones. It had been called Nibblari then; the First Realm. It was said to be a time when the gods walked the universe. Legend had it that the Hikoshidans had fought for the Great Ones in their wars when most others had betrayed them. But it also said they had rewarded by being exiled nearly half a million years ago. Some said it was for sacrilege; others said it was because the Great Ones had moved beyond the universe and left the mortals to pursue their own destinies.
Many daring explorers, scientists and religious missionaries had attempted to visit Nibblari but none had ever come back save one. Several thousand years ago, an intrepid explorer had returned badly injured. He managed to live long enough to say that Nibblari was well-protected by strong defenses that allowed no passage. Robotic probes were sent but they too were destroyed. After a time, the Hikoshidans gave up trying and began calling it Fusetari. Hikoshida had settled into a minor flurry of colony building within its own system. They traded with other systems and forgot about Nibblari. They lapsed into a peaceful existence that seemed to go on endlessly
Eventually the old knowledge of the Hikoshidan time in the Guarded Realm had faded to legend. Indeed, Fusetari had become a symbol of something beyond reach. The term "Going to Fusetari" had come to mean that someone was attempting the hopelessly impossible.
Feeling calmer, Gerida sighed. He reflected on why he was here. Hikoshida was dying. Things were going badly and someone had to do something. That someone was the fleet. Gerida had seen an analysis of Hikoshidan current conditions - negative population growth, lack of scientific progress, pleasure-seeking over hard work, family connection trumping merit. Even the old religions were dying out as fewer and fewer espoused the old faiths. To Gerida, these were all indications of a people in decline. If the trends continued, Hikoshida would become vulnerable. And out towards the rim were the barbarians. Not that anyone had seen one in nearly three hundred years but the fleet was convinced they were there. If nothing was done, the Hikoshidans were doomed. The fleet could not allow that.
He thought back to the meeting he had just had with his grandfather. Gerida had been sent by his fellow fleet officers to see if his grandfather could be moved to action. He did not get along with his grandfather as a loyal grandson should and generally tried to avoid him as much as possible. But his co-conspirators thought him the most likely candidate to get admittance to the Grand Chutai's presence.
The meeting had been tense from the beginning as Kuri had made jests at Gerida's expense. Gerida had ground his double set of teeth angrily as he presented the fleet's request to the head of Hikoshida's military forces. Grand Chutai Kurii Hikisan had looked incredulous at the proposal. He raised his craggy eyestalks in disbelief and bellowed, "No!"
Gerida knew that his grandfather's refusal was adamant. He had hoped that Kurii would see the logic of the request. Gerida and his fellow conspirators felt this was the only chance left to avoid the horrors to come. Impatient by nature, Gerida felt his frustration building inside him. Trying not to allow his anger to show, Shotai Gerida stood and bowed to his grandfather. Seated on the heavy stone chair, the large Grand Chutai merely looked with amusement at the young Hikoshidan warrior. His ugly striped face broke out into a smile. The sight raised Gerida's hackles. Gerida fought strongly to control his words. For the sake of Hikoshida, he had to make the effort.
"Grandfather, think of our people…" he began, trying to be humble.
To his shock, his grandfather started laughing and said in contemptuous tones, "You act like a Garmak, Gerida."
Comparing him to a pretentious and preening Garmak, the posturing and cowardly food animal, was too great an insult. Gerida lost all self-control. He tossed up two of his four arms in exasperation and opened his mouth allowing his forked tongue to stick out in a childish manner. His grandfather grinned at this and then opened his mouth to expose a dual set of fangs. Yawning, the powerful Hikoshidan war minister flicked his tongue over his snout, a gesture of total contempt. A wave of hopelessness seized Gerida as he realized he had failed.
Gerida had vowed not to get into an argument with Kurii as usually happened when they met these days. But he had lost control of his anger and offended his grandfather. This was their last hope and he had mishandled it. And all because the damn fool Kokutai had chosen this ill-opportune time to die.
The sudden ending of two thousand years of peaceful rule by the Kokutai Shorii Hikosan the Venerable, had caught Gerida and his fellow officers unprepared. It was nearly a week before he could make arrangements to meet his grandfather. The lost time had allowed the people and politicians to accept the idea that the late Kurotai's pusillanimous great-great-grandson, Shudoh Shorisan, would mount the throne. Gerida thought it a travesty that the kingdom was about to be ruled by another pacifistic fool. He had come to the ministry to ask the High Commander of the Watchers, his grandfather, to lead a challenge against the investiture of the new Kukotai. His grandfather was of an equally derived bloodline and could make a legitimate claim to the throne. If they acted quickly, they could legally make the challenge which would have the backing of the fleet. In Gerida's opinion, Shudoh, a weak-minded pleasure-loving simpleton, would probably yield without protest. Each day that went by without the challenge made a bloodless change less likely. Gerida did not want to have a civil war but action was needed. Unfortunately, Kurii talked of duty and honor. Gerida thought this was cowardice in the face of reality. Duty demanded that his grandfather seize the throne ahead of Shudoh and reverse the dangerous trends that were occurring.
The Kingdom of Hikoshida was slowly dying and another pacifist Kukotai would only speed the process. Gerida knew that there was a widespread belief amongst fleet officers of his generation that the present policy of non-expansion would lead to the eventual extinction of the Hikoshidans. The Hikoshidans were being made dull and enfeebled by the long years of peace and prosperity. That this peace was protected by the Watchers who guarded the system borders was a fact that was quickly being forgotten by the populace. Already the politicians were baying for cutting Watcher funding and reducing the size of the fleet to fund social programs. The thought horrified Gerida and the like-minded warriors of the fleet.
The military was once considered sacrosanct. The Watchers had been created nearly five hundred thousand years ago to protect the people following their exile. In those days, the settling of the Hikoshidans in this system had been fraught with danger. The fleet had fought many desperate battles against other exiles looking for a home. But those days had faded into legend and the Hikoshidans had known peace for a long time. Now the need for such a large and expensive fleet was openly debated. Admittedly, they had not seen any actual major combat other than minor barbarian raids for nearly three thousand years but, in Gerida's view, being prepared was more important to the survival of Hikoshida than the politicians' vote-buying schemes.
Gerida's grandfather was openly supportive of the submission of the military to the civilian government and, while he did argue for maintaining the current funding, he submitted to the demand for the budget cuts. This policy was not popular amongst the fleet officers who openly resented the politicians. Their discontent had caused enough concern at Watcher High Command that his grandfather had sent notice to all officers reminding them of the civilian control of the military and that any attempt to change that arrangement would be dealt with harshly.
This message had forced Gerida and his fellow conspirators to become secretive in their opposition. Gerida had been recruiting throughout the fleet and was confident that at least a third of the Watchers would support a coup. Gerida believed that Shudoh's accession would do nothing to stop the politicians from disarming the fleet. The decline of the Hikoshidan people would increase and eventually civilization would either collapse or fall to the barbarians from the outer rim. Without the fleet, there would be no hope for the people. Gerida had come to see his grandfather to plead with him for action but his grandfather had refused. Kurii had made it clear he would support Shudoh's ascension.
Standing in front of his grandfather's ornate desk, Gerida made one last attempt to prevent the bloodshed he knew would be inevitable if Shudoh was crowned. He swallowed his pride and begged Grand Chutai Kurii to save the people. His grandfather snorted and pointed the four digits of one his hands at Gerida. "You claim to be a warrior, Gerida, but you lack understanding of honor. Our family motto is duty above all. We are servants to the throne. You clearly do not understand what that means but I do. I will not dishonor us by displacing the new Kokutai. Our people have survived fools on the throne and if Shudoh proves to be one, we will survive him as well. I have listened to your ravings long enough. The trends you speak of are only temporary. Nothing is forever and we will endure. Now, although you are my only heir, I will hear no more insults. You will go to your command and continue our Navy's role of guarding our system borders."
Gerida opened his mouth but the old man raised his hand growling in a tone that brooked no opposition. "Go and do your duty."
Gerida snarled his acquiescence and stalked out in a thunderous rage. He moved swiftly through the waiting room of his grandfather's palace office. His two aides, recognizing his anger, fell in silently behind him
Now he stood staring at the sky, his rage cooling in the night air. He collected his thoughts as his two aides stood dutifully behind him. His grandfather's refusal only made things inevitable now, he thought grimly. Civil war would be the only option left to Gerida and his fellow conspirators. He'd have to fight his grandfather and those who would support the old regime. Gerida wondered if they had strength enough to win. Perhaps what he and the other fleet officers planned was "Going to Fusetari" too.
"Perhaps, but fight we will," he swore as he stared at the lonely star.
Upstate New New York -
Even after the food disaster, the men had remained friendly, save Orkon who Zoidberg concluded was just born sour. After Zoidberg had helped clean up the mess he had made, Harmon had cooked some more food. Orkon had grumped about the mess Zoidberg had left in the bathroom but Harmon volunteered to clean it up. Zoidberg got to eat another large portion of food and after the meal he sat at the table talking to the men. He mixed up his talk with idiotic sayings, silly asides and slipped in a pertinent question every now and then. The men eyed each other and relaxed as he could see that they had decided he was a fool. He had asked about what they did but no one was really specific. They said they did odd jobs for people in the village which made him wonder how they could afford to live in the large house.
Zoidberg ran through some possibilities. "Perhaps they are rich technophobes." He had heard of these types who lived in the ancient ways without the modern conveniences but quickly dismissed that thought.
"No, they do not give off the appearance of the well-to-do. There is an impoverished air about them," he mulled as he looked at their cheap clothing and the patched up furnishings in the house. "Criminals? No, that doesn't feel right somehow. But they are doing something secretive. Of that I'm sure. And it has to do with the boxes in Simon's car. I need to get a look at them, but how."
He sat at the table and puzzled over this for a while but he put the thoughts aside when Simon asked if he would provide some medical aid to Howard and Orkon. Zoidberg was leery at first. Although the Planet Express crew thought he was a total quack, Zoidberg wasn't a complete fool about medicine. He was quite adequate when it came to Decapodian medical needs but humans were another matter. If he had to go beyond basic first aid, Zoidberg tended to mix the two species up with sometimes dubious results. He wasn't sure he wanted to get too involved with these suspicious-minded men, especially if there was a chance that he might somehow harm one of them. He told Simon that it would be better if the two men went to the local hospital or clinic. Simon demurred saying that was impossible and that he hoped that, since they had shared with him, he might repay the favor.
"Of course," Zoidberg said, not liking the sound of that.
"Something is wrong here," Zoidberg thought as he reluctantly agreed to look at the two men. Orkon was first and removed shoe and sock to show a painfully ingrown toenail. It was clear that it was infected and causing a lot of pain. Simon had given Zoidberg a first aid kit and Zoidberg looked at it and made a "tch" sound.
"It would be better if Orkon went to the local physician," Zoidberg said dubiously as he rooted through the kit. "I'm really more of a specialist. This isn't really my usual kind of work."
"Impossible, my dear doctor," Simon said with an apologetic smile. "You see, we…er, have no health insurance. Yes, no health insurance. We're mere common laborers and cannot afford it. You understand, of course."
A faint alarm began sounding in Zoidberg's mind. He could hear his old spymaster's voice chuckling.
"If it flerks like a quelvark, spoogs like a quelvark and looks like a quelvark, it is undoubtedly a quelvark!"
Feeling suddenly chilled, Zoidberg wondered how he could get out of doing anything at all and still get home. Then, as he stalled and examined the big toe, it occurred to him that the infected nail was possibly equivalent to Shellblane, a painful inflammation of the Decapodian shell. Figuring that the treatment was the same, Zoidberg said, "I can help him but the cure will be excruciatingly painful." He hoped this might dissuade them.
Simon looked at Orkon who grunted and nodded his assent. Trapped, Zoidberg had reached down and gingerly placed his claw tip under Orkon's toe nail, then clamped down on it and jerked it off in one swift motion.
Orkon had only grimaced and said, "By Saint Serafim!"
Zoidberg then had Simon apply an anti-bacterial ointment and bandage to the bleeding toe. Orkon sat quietly while this happened, then when Simon was done, said grumpily, "We could have let Tovarish Harmon do that with a pair of pliers. Some doctor."
Simon laughed and said, "Come Orkon, don't be mean spirited. Brother Zoidberg did the best he could with the tools available."
Muttering in a language Zoidberg did not know, Orkon had limped off and Howard took his place. Howard complained of shortness of breath, tiredness and general aches and pains. Zoidberg looked carefully at the elderly human and listened to his chest. He recommended that Howard go to the hospital but again, this was deemed impossible. Recalling something he saw on an All My Circuits episode, Zoidberg gave Howard some aspirin and recommended bed rest. Howard thanked him politely and left for his room.
Zoidberg watched as he walked out and turned to Simon saying, "I cannot be sure without using some fancy equipment but I believe your friend may have a serious condition. The noise in his chest sac is not as regular as other humans who I have examined. It seems to flutter in an inconsistent manner."
Simon looked saddened and thanked Zoidberg for his help. Zoidberg nodded as the clock said "Ten O'Clock. Time for bed."
Simon took Zoidberg upstairs to the small bedroom and told him he could sleep there tonight. Tomorrow, he would look into arranging transportation back to New New York. Zoidberg thanked him and settled in for his first night in a real bed after what seemed an age.
Lying on the bed, Zoidberg soon felt better. Simon had thoughtfully given him a small fusion heater to keep the room a nice toasty temperature. It made the cold-blooded Zoidberg feel intense gratitude to the rotund human. It was good to be warm again, he thought blissfully. The only thing he could compare it to, was the day he found that half-eaten pizza in the dumpster. It was a delight unlooked for and so satisfying. Yes, today had been a good day, he thought happily as he pulled the large blanket over him.
Still, there was a slight nagging problem troubling him - Should he bill the men for his services? "After all," he mused, "I am a medical corporation and my skills do not come cheap."
DOOP Naval Vessel Commerce -
Captain John Pedro Lorraine did not consider himself a warrior. An intellectual man with wide ranging interests, Lorraine liked to think of himself as a representative of what was best in the DOOP. He had a great distaste for the way things had been going within the DOOP Navy. The ominous movement to war with the Persae disturbed him and he keenly felt that it was a terrible mistake. Lorraine thought that the DOOP Navy ought to be an exploratory service with its ships going boldly out into the galaxy as ambassadors for the DOOP. Instead, Lorraine observed sadly to his officers, his beloved Navy was being militarized by that thug Nixon and his vicious accomplice Abrams.
"They're forcing this war on us," Lorraine said as his officers sat in his stateroom drinking an uncommonly fine port. "I've no doubt we can negotiate with the Persae but Nixon wants a war. It's the only way he can stay in office."
Commander Attica, the Commerce's first officer, nodded his head in agreement. Attica was an elderly stout officer with a dark bushy beard. Lorraine thought the world of him and could not understand why such a fine officer hadn't been offered a command of his own. He suspected that the new Navy high command had blackballed him for his womanizing ways.
Lorraine looked about the table at the other officers. The Engineering officer, Lieutenant j.g. "Scowser" Lanvil, and the science officer, a robot named Lt. Commander Sparky, sat to his right. On his left sat Attica; then came the tactical officer, Lieutenant Miguel Frow, and the ship's doctor, Babs Smasher. All fine upstanding individuals that would all one day make fantastic ship captains. But sadly, like Attica, they had been passed over due to some minor indiscretions that could not be tolerated by Fleet Command's warlike zero-tolerance attitude. Once Lorraine obtained his star, he was going to push their careers. He wanted to get like-minded officers in position throughout the fleet so that his vision of the peaceful explorers could be realized someday. He had great hopes that his friend in the Bureau of Personnel would be able to push his promotion through the red tape of the Navy bureaucracy. It couldn't come soon enough. Lorraine was slightly embarrassed that officers junior to him were advancing to admiral while he was the only member of his academy class not to have advanced to flag rank yet.
Instead, he found himself in command of an embarrassingly small ship (for a captain of his stature) out on the frontier. The Commerce was an aging old Business-class survey vessel that had been designed as a mapping and scientific research ship. It should have been scrapped several years ago. Instead, the rapid buildup had resulted in the Commerce being recalled to service to be refitted and re-armed. Lorraine had been selected as captain after he had practically begged his few high ranking friends to find him a command.
With its crew of eight officers and twenty enlisted, the Commerce was assigned to patrol the border between the DOOP and the Tencteri and Decapodians. Since nothing was happening out here, Lorraine found it tedious duty. He yearned to be exploring, to meet new civilizations and extend the hand of friendship to all species. But with the current command structure, such dreams were not to be.
Lorraine still seethed over his meeting with his commander, Vice Admiral Daniel Scott. The craggy-faced officer, who Lorraine privately scorned as being a dimwitted fascist, had been rude and insulting to Lorraine when he had met with the admiral on his flagship, the heavy cruiser Bellatrix, to receive his orders.
"You and your leper colony have only one function, Lorraine," the gray-haired sailor had growled. "You patrol the border with the Tencteri and Decapodians. Your boat has a good sensor array. So you get to be our early warning system. I haven't got a large force here and can barely cover both borders. You have to give us enough notice to be able to concentrate on whichever one of them comes at us."
Lorraine had tried to explain to the stubborn aggressive fool that the Tencteri and Decapodians were reasonable beings and perhaps Scott might consider finding out what they wanted and negotiating in a peaceful manner. Scott listened in silence as Lorraine warmed to the theme but broke out in a gale of great honking laughter when Lorraine came to the idea of standing down or withdrawing the task force as a good faith gesture.
"By God!" Scott had snorted as he slapped his knee. "Audrey Fitch is right about you being as dumb as a stump."
The mention of Fitch brought Lorraine up short. Fitch, his former commanding officer, had tried to court martial him on trumped charges of losing his previous ship, the Starwanderer. Lorraine felt himself to be blameless for what had happened. In his opinion and that of his officers (who had followed him to the Commerce), Fitch's orders allowed him the latitude to take the actions he did. Fitch had sent him to suppress some pirates but Lorraine was sure that negotiation was a superior tactic. The pirates had taken him and his ship "hostage" as part of the bargain he arranged to force Fitch to come to a peaceful resolution. Instead of bargaining in good faith to retrieve the "hostages", Fitch had come in with guns blazing and "rescued" Lorraine and his crew. However, the Starwanderer had been damaged badly enough to force the Navy to scrap it which had infuriated Fitch. Lorraine had lost other ships before but had never faced the mandatory court martial for it. In Lorraine's opinion, it was the low quality of the DOOP Navy enlisted ranks that had led to the loss of the Starwanderer and his other two commands. With the loss of the Starwander, Lorraine had known he was going to be made a martyr since the officers of the court martial board were of the same mindset as Fitch. In Lorraine's opinion (which was echoed by his staff), if anyone was guilty of a crime, it was the violently inept Fitch.
Fortunately, due to his close friendship with Vice Admiral Selma Brannigan-Bouvier, Chief of Personnel, he was able to escape the vindictive Fitch's grasp without a mark on his record. Now, sadly here he was working for someone who was a lot like Fitch. It was an uncomfortable thought.
Scott had looked contemptuously at Lorraine. "Well, I'd shove you into some admin job on a remote outpost if we weren't so short on officers. I don't have anyone available to take your place. And while you have one of the worse crews in the fleet, I surely wouldn't want to curse them by putting that moron Attica in charge."
Lorraine had drawn himself up in what he thought was a respectful but stern pose and said with icy disdain, "I'm afraid I must disagree with your assessment of my crew and my first officer, Admiral Scott. I'm not sure Admiral Fitch or yourself have the ability to judge their worth."
Lorraine had expected the man to show some effect of this crushing remark but Scott had only laughed. Lorraine wondered if the man was drunk or perhaps too simple minded to understand the implied insult. Scott had shown a toothy smile. "You have your orders, Captain. I suggest you carry them out. And don't try any of that crap you pulled under Fitch. We're in a war situation and I'll space you if you screw this up. You see the Tencteri or Decapodians massing on the border, you come running back to me squealing the alarm all the way."
Lorraine felt as if he had been physically slapped. The bullying tone of the admiral was intolerable. Unable to respond in a civilized manner, Lorraine merely saluted and left. On the shuttle back to the Commerce, he had allowed his anger to show as he dressed down the unfortunate steward for spilling his tea. Putting the man on report had given him some satisfaction. Lorraine was a big believer in non-fraternization between officers and other ranks. In Lorraine's view, the enlisted personnel were mere sheep who had joined the Navy because they lacked the ability to find a job or were too mentally slow to attend university. Fortunately, the Commerce was small and had few enlisted personnel. He reflected that it was another difference between him and officers like Scott and Fitch. Scott was way too familiar with the Bellatrix's enlisted personnel right up to knowing them by name. It was just another example of what was wrong with the DOOP Navy.
"Well," he thought hopefully, "one day, I'll be a flag officer and then we'll see some changes."
Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg had fallen into a deep sleep but woke when he heard a noise outside. He lay for a few minutes trying to determine what the noise was. All he could make out was a low scraping sound that repeated quite often. Rising, he saw that it was nearly three in the morning. He dressed quickly and moved quietly from his room into the hallway. At the far end was a window that looked out onto the backyard. Zoidberg walked up and looked out. He could see into the backyard. Down below, Orkon was carrying the boxes from Simon's car.
Simon was holding a flashlight as the boxes were brought to a spot in the yard where Harmon was kneeling next to a hole in the ground. Orkon opened the first box and began to take out what looked to be smaller rectangular boxes. Harmon began to stack them in the hole as Orkon removed them from the boxes. Zoidberg was so absorbed by the scene that he didn't hear Howard walk up behind him until too late.
"What are you doing, Brother Zoidberg?" he asked, the tiredness in his voice noticeable.
"That's Doctor Zoidberg. And you should be in bed. You are not well," Zoidberg said with genuine compassion. A thought crossed his mind about hitting Howard and stealing the car but he quickly decided against it. These weren't evil men, he thought, they saved me and gave me food and shelter. It would be the height of ingratitude to use my training against them.
"Tell me, Howard," Zoidberg said calmly. "What are you burying in the yard?"
'It would be better if you didn't know," Howard said just as calmly and Zoidberg suddenly realized that Howard wasn't afraid of him. That intrigued Zoidberg and he turned back to the window. Howard came up and opened it to call down to Simon. Simon looked up at the window and said something to Orkon. He left the others and came into the house.
Howard turned to Zoidberg saying, "Come with me" and led the way down stairs.
Zoidberg and Howard met Simon in the living room. Simon was carrying one of the small rectangle boxes Zoidberg had seen. Simon asked Howard to make some coffee as he motioned Zoidberg to sit down on the sofa. He sat opposite of Zoidberg and put the rectangular box on the table between him. Zoidberg thought it quite ordinary looking. He wondered what was in it that required hiding.
"Brother Zoidberg," Simon began but Zoidberg sat up and reached for the box. Simon grabbed it first.
"What's in the box, Simon?" Zoidberg asked mildly. Simon stared at him for a long moment.
"Doctor Zoidberg, you do not appear to be the idiot you like to portray. Who are you, really?"
Zoidberg was surprised by the directness of the question. "I hadn't expected this," he thought as he stared at the box. He sat back onto the couch and said, "I'm really a doctor for the Planet Express Delivery Company of New New York. And I was lost out there in the woods following a most tragic incident. All I want is to get back home."
Simon stared at him with a quizzical look. Howard came back in and set some coffee down in front of them. Zoidberg reached out and took his mug. Simon looked up at Howard and nodded. Howard sat down next to Zoidberg. Zoidberg heard a noise behind him and looked back to see that Harmon and Orkon had entered from the other door to stand behind him.
"What is going on here?" Zoidberg asked, feeling a bit of trepidation. He didn't want to fight but if he had to, it would not be too much trouble. Zoidberg estimated that only Orkon was a threat but he was larger than Orkon and quite strong. Plus, he had special training although it was many years ago. "They don't look like criminals but who could tell," he thought. "Still it would be better if this did not end in violence."
Simon smiled gently and said, "Doctor Zoidberg, are you familiar with the Hydri Compact?"
Howard looked dismayed and said, "Brother Simon, I don't…"
Simon held up his hand. "He's seen what we're doing, Howard. We must have his understanding and his silence." He looked back at Zoidberg. "Have you heard of the Hydri Compact?"
Zoidberg shook his head. Simon peered intently at Zoidberg. "Do you work for any law enforcement agency?"
Zoidberg looked blankly at him and said, "No, I'm a doctor." Which was truthful enough, since intelligence work rarely had anything to do with law enforcement, he thought.
Simon sat back with an audible exhalation of breath. As he did, Zoidberg saw that he had a small electronic device in his hand. Zoidberg felt a sudden amazement when he recognized it as a portable truth detector. It was an expensive gadget and in the hands of what seemed to be impoverished technophobes. Simon held up the device to Howard and said calmly. "He's telling the truth." Howard grunted and relaxed.
Simon continued, "That's good, doctor. I was worried that you might be an agent of the URO."
"The URO?" Zoidberg frowned. It sounded familiar. He tried to remember what it stood for, but couldn't. "Never heard of them. I work for Planet Express Delivery."
"Of course," Simon said affably. He reached forward and held out the box to Zoidberg who took it. "Go ahead, doctor. Open it."
Hoping that it was something to eat, Zoidberg opened the box's top and looked blankly at the red book that lay in it. He picked it out of the box and allowed it to fall open to the first page. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," he read out loud. "What is this?"
Simon looked at the others and smiled. Zoidberg saw everyone relax. "I passed the test," he thought genuinely relieved but puzzled since he couldn't understand why the book was so important.
Simon reached over and took the book from Zoidberg. Holding it in the palms of his hands, he said, "This is the King William V Bible, Doctor Zoidberg, and we are missionaries sent to spread its truth."
A light went on in Zoidberg's mind as he suddenly recalled the professor whispering about the Bible during some of the longer flights. He had never really paid attention since the religious affairs of humans didn't matter much to him. Now he was among men to whom it obviously mattered a great deal.
Simon put the book back into the box and handed it to Orkon who left the room with Harmon. As they left, Zoidberg noted that Harmon was carrying a shovel.
"So much for my taking them," he thought wryly. "Brother Harmon was ready to brain me."
Howard took the coffee cups and headed out of the room to get refills. Zoidberg blinked and thought perplexedly, "I don't understand what is going on. First I can't be allowed to know and now everyone is acting as if it doesn't matter."
He looked at Simon with total bafflement. Simon gave a small laugh and put up his hand. "Pax, Doctor Zoidberg. I will attempt to end your confusion."
"The Hydri Compact was an agreement by most of the Christian religions-in-exile to bring genuine religion back to Earth. Everyone agreed to support sending missionaries to spread the gospel. Each of us represents a different branch. Howard is a Jesuit; Orkon represents the Orthodox; Brother Harmon is Baptist; and I am Mormon. Our goal is to bring the word of God to our fellow humans who have been denied it too long by the false church of the bureaucracy."
"Okay," Zoidberg said, trying to keep the skepticism out of his voice, "so why all the secrecy?"
Simon smiled again. "The Religious Bureau does not want the religions-in-exile to return. They want to keep control of organized religion on Earth. And on other planets too, if they could. To that end, they created the main bureaucrat religion, the Unified Religious Organization. I doubt many of the Earthicans actually believe anything the URO espouses. That is why you have the URO supporting more popular sects like Oprahism and Voodoo but they're still part of the URO. The Hydri intend to bring the true faith back to Earth and the Religious Bureau will do anything to stop that. They are very harsh on those Hydri they catch. Our missionaries usually work alone or as couples. Our team is the supply nexus for this region. We deliver the bibles to the other missionaries."
Zoidberg's own spy training made him question this. "Isn't that risky? If you are caught won't you be able to reveal the location of the other missionaries?"
"Oh, we don't know who the other missionaries are," Simon said. "We just deliver our bibles to public places and the missionaries decide how to recover them." Then suspiciously, "You seem to have some knowledge of secret activities, Doctor Zoidberg."
Zoidberg realized that he might have been a bit too inquisitive and said hastily, "I like spy movies." He decided to change the discussion away from spying. "Why would the bureaucracy be so harsh? It's not like your trying to steal anything."
Howard had entered the room and placed a tray of coffee mugs and crackers onto the table. He had heard Zoidberg's question and said, "Of course we are, doctor. We are trying to steal souls away from the devil. Which is why the devil hates us. Or at least his minions on Earth, the Religious Bureau, does."
"The robot devil hates you?" asked Zoidberg, confused.
Simon laughed and slapped his knee which made his large round body quiver. Howard grinned and headed back to the kitchen. Zoidberg reached for a handful of crackers and snarfed them down quickly. In the presence of the genuinely mad, he decided that one needed to ensure one's strength.
Simon reached over and took some crackers as well. "Needless to say, you understand that we have to keep our secret..well secret."
Zoidberg suddenly felt a thrill of fear. "Here it comes," he thought, "the reason they told me about themselves."
"You see, Doctor Zoidberg, we need a more efficient delivery system for our work. Our automobile is breaking down and it takes forever to get our bibles to the cities for distribution. But we have to operate under the bureaucratic domination of this world. None of us have career chip implanted in our hands. That's why Howard and Orkon can't go to a doctor's office or the clinic. They'd be scanned and recognized as off-worlders. That's why we can't replace the car even though we can pay. We're extremely limited in our operations by the ubiquitous scanners on this planet. Now, I have been thinking about your job as a member of Planet Express delivery. I'm sure your influence could convince your company to do some unscheduled deliveries. Perhaps meeting us in the woods south of here and dropping off in certain discreet locations. It would be perfect."
Zoidberg, now regretting his boasting about his role at Planet Express to Simon in the car, was horrified. Simon gave a small smile and said, "Really, we can pay a reasonable fee."
Zoidberg didn't know what to say. While Planet Express could use the money, involvement in an illegal smuggling ring was probably more than even the Professor could countenance. He sputtered for a moment and then said, "Why can't you set up your own distribution network? If you have money, you could use the internet to find all sorts of easily disguised methods to transport your, er.. books."
Simon shook his head. "No we can't use any communications network. It is our understanding that all internet, phone and televisions are monitored by the bureaucracy on Earth. It would be extremely risky for us to do so. So we stay away from such things. No, Doctor Zoidberg, we need a small legitimate organization that can deliver items without attracting attention. Your Planet Express is ideal."
As he took a sip of coffee, Zoidberg wondered what they would threaten him with to get his cooperation since he knew there was no way he would recommend that Planet Express get involved with these men. Perhaps he should pretend to agree until they got him home. Then he remembered the truth detector device. So lying was out.
"Maybe they'll offer me a large bribe," he thought brightly. "It would be nice to be able to afford things."
Behind him, the clock said, "Five O'Clock. Time to rise." Zoidberg looked back at it and wondered who thought five in the morning was a good time to rise. He shook his head and began wondering how much he should ask for to aid these men. He decided to provide an offer of tentative help based upon what his company thought of the offer. He needed to get home and this was an opportunity to do so. As he was about to speak, the room lit up with a bright light. Zoidberg blinked in the harshness of it while Simon jumped up and ran to the window. Zoidberg could see more lights in the front yard outside, red and blue, with the sound of cars screeching to a halt. Car doors could be heard and the sound of running boots on the gravel.
"The police," he thought and wondered how they'd tumbled to the missionaries. "No time to think on that. I must not be caught with them. I doubt the police will believe that I'm an innocent victim of circumstances." He turned quickly to move towards the kitchen.
Zoidberg stopped as Orkon and Howard came into the room. Simon turned from the window and smiled sadly.
"The merchandise," he said quietly. Orkon nodded and Simon muttered "thank God."
A voice over a bullhorn called out, "We have the place surrounded. There is no escape. Surrender now and no one will be hurt."
Howard made a crossing motion on his chest. Zoidberg looked into the kitchen but he could see more lights in the backyard through the kitchen window.
"Trapped," he muttered. "Ah, Zoidberg, can nothing go right for you?"
Simon looked back to the window as a pounding noise began at the front door.
"Thy will be done," said Simon calmly as he sat down on the sofa and took up his coffee cup.
"Time to Repent." Intoned the clock.
New New York -
Mayor Poopenmayer stared at Mom's face on the vidphone screen. She was smiling her most motherly smile. Over the years, Poopenmayer had come to recognize it as the prelude to Mom demanding the sun and stars. He gave a little sigh as he waited for her to lay out her demands. He glanced at the others in the room to see if they were aware of what was coming. Sadly no, he mused as he looked at the hopeful faces of the city council, the placid vacant gaze on the URO bishop and the sly greedy look of the police chief who Poopenmayer had long suspected of being owned by Mom.
"Well, my dear mayor, I certainly want to be a good citizen and help out my hometown in its moment of need but I'm just a friendly old robot-maker. I can't really see how I can help," she said in her Mom voice.
Poopenmayer winced as he listened to her. Oh, she knows she has us over the barrel and is going to ream the city good. So much for the welfare budget increase I had hoped for, were the mayor's anguished thoughts.
The police chief spoke up. "Ma'am, we're getting our heads handed to us by this robot mob war. My guys are afraid to go out into the streets with all the violence. It's already spilling over into the poorer human neighborhoods. The military hasn't got anything to send us to help out."
Not exactly true, Poopenmayer thought morosely. They'd offered one of the new mutant units but I couldn't get anyone here to agree to accept it; damned fool bigots. So now we've got to beg for Mom's overpriced help.
"We need your help before these crazed robo-hoods start shooting up valuable property," the police chief finished in an almost obsequious tone.
Mom smiled coyly. "Well, I suppose I could see if I have something that could help but I'm not too sure I can cover the necessary costs."
Poopenmayer looked at the people standing around him. The others were all staring at him waiting for him to agree to Mom's demands. And they'll let me take the blame for it, he thought sourly. He sucked in a deep breath and, for one mad moment, thought of telling Mom to go to hell and ask the military for the mutants. But he knew he'd be impeached so fast that he wouldn't have time to clean out his desk. Sighing softly, he said in a near whisper tone, "How much help do you need in covering the expenses?"
Mom didn't even hesitate. The number she stated calmly and matter-of-factly was stunning. The mayor gasped. Well there goes the parks and recreation budget too, he thought as he nodded his agreement.
Upstate New New York -
The door burst open with a resounding crash. Heavily armed men dressed dark brown uniforms came bursting in. They swiftly surrounded the four humans and Zoidberg. In a matter of moments, the five were sitting on the couch with their hands cuffed behind them. Two men in the dark uniforms and masked faces stood watching them while the others were trashing the house in a very destructive search. Simon leaned over slightly and whispered to Zoidberg, "Nothing about the bibles. Everything else, yes, but not the bibles."
"Shut up, porky!" shouted one of the men. Zoidberg gave a slight nod hoping he could keep that promise. He wasn't one of them and their cause meant nothing to him. He had other priorities that overrode theirs and finding Fry was at the top of the list.
After about fifteen minutes, a tall burly sallow faced human dressed in a dark trench coat came in. With him was a young man dressed in a sports jacket. One of the armed men walked up to them and saluted. He spoke quickly to them and pointed back at the five on the couch. The trench coat said something and the five were dragged to their feet.
Trench coat came back to the five and stood in front of Howard. Zoidberg looked at Howard and saw he was pale and sweating. He started to say something about Howard being ill when one of the armed men hit him in the stomach with his rifle butt.
"Hello," Zoidberg said idiotically, "I'm sure there is some sort of mistake. I'm Doctor Zoidberg…"
The trench coat looked disgusted and turned away. He walked over to the sports jacketed man and said something quietly. The man pulled out a personnel data assistant (PDA) and began working with it.
Trench coat came back to the four and stood in front of Howard. Zoidberg looked at Howard and saw he was pale and sweating. He started to say something about Howard being ill when one of the armed men hit him in the stomach with his rifle butt.
"Owwwwwwww…" Zoidberg moaned as he doubled over.
Trench coat sneered, "You will keep silent unless you have something to confess or you are asked a question. Do you understand?" Zoidberg groaned and nodded.
"Not good," he thought. "You are going to have to think hard to get out of this one, Zoidberg. Oh, why? Why does it have to be so damned hard?"
Trench coat turned back to Howard and said menacingly, "Where is the contraband?"
Howard smiled weakly and said, "May God forgive you and bring you…ooffff."
Trench coat slammed his large fist into Howard's stomach and Howard fell backwards onto the couch. Orkon bellowed in rage and leapt forward only to be clubbed down by the guard.
Surprised at the attack on Howard, Zoidberg momentarily forgot about self-preservation and yelled, "No, please. He's a sick man. He needs medical attention." This resulted in another belt to his gut from the rifle butt of the guard next to him. Zoidberg fell to his knees and vomited on the floor. The guard cried out, "Crap, this guy smells like he puked up some rancid fish guts."
Then he hit Zoidberg in the back of his head with his rifle. As Zoidberg fell forward into his own vomit, he heard Simon praying out loud.
Trench coat laughed and said gruffly, "Yeah, you guys always start that stuff thinking it will help you but you'll talk in the end. Everyone always talks in the end."
Zoidberg heard another blow and Harmon screamed. He could hear Orkon being clubbed viciously over by the end of the couch. Next to Zoidberg, Simon was rolled up into a ball on the floor as boots kicked him over and over. He was screaming, moaning and praying. Zoidberg raised his head from the pool of vomit and looked back at the couch. Howard was laying there holding his chest breathing shallowly with his skin turned a grayish hue. Zoidberg tried to say something but a boot came down on the top of his head and he was forced down to the floor. Recognizing that events were no longer within his ability to influence; Zoidberg did something that he hadn't done since he was a child. He prayed.
"Oh, Great Crab," he prayed as the tears ran from his eyes. "Save us now and I'll be forever loyal."
The voice of the sports jacket broke in over the noise of the beatings. "Hey, boss, look at this."
Mutant Town -
Munda paused to take another drink of her tea. The display before her showed the odd words that the Navy had decoded in the most recent batch of Persae transmissions. To the untrained eye, it looked like gibberish but Munda could see some sort of pattern to it. She sipped at her tea and studied the screen as she mulled over the new additions. It was always a good day when the Persae dictionary could be added to.
The Navy decoders had broken the Persae naval codes easily enough. Commander John Berges, the leader of the project, had told her that the Persae used a rather basic code system since they were counting on the fact that nobody understood their language to protect their communications.
Munda had been given the opportunity to participate because General Abrams, the Chief of Staff, had seen her Alien Linguistics degree on her living room wall. She was more than grateful to the general for giving her a chance to serve not to mention sending the medical unit that saved her Morris' life. Munda felt she owed the general a lot and wanted to help the DOOP in any way she could.
But, it was hard work. Not only was the Persae language unknown; no one had any idea of how their writing worked. Added to that was the complete lack of knowledge of the Persae culture. As Commander Berges had told her, "It isn't that we don't know their alphabet that makes this hard. We can substitute anything for that, even make up our own. No, it's the grammar and cultural references that's the real bitch. Your pardon, Mrs. Turanga."
And the Commander was right, Munda reflected. They used Standard English for the alphabet and quickly established that there were twenty three letters in the Persae language. But since the code was not in an identifiable sentence format, the decoders couldn't associate the words in a way to make sense of the messages. The attempt to determine what the words meant was time consuming. If only they knew the Persae grammar rules and had someone who understood their culture, it would speed up the process immensely. But they didn't and things crawled at a glacial pace.
Munda and her team were translating a lot of words but they were meaningless to the decoders without some sentence structure. The Navy was counting on her and the six other mutant ladies who helped her to come up with a Persae dictionary. Without it, the decryption was worthless. And with war fast approaching, Commander Berges had begun to gently hint at the need to go faster.
Munda started putting in longer hours, sometimes working sixteen hours a day. Morris complained but Munda felt that what she was doing was vital to the DOOP surviving the coming war. Fortunately, one of her younger cousins, Rebecca who everyone called Shaucker, had volunteered to assist Munda. A pretty girl with reddish-purple hair and the distinctive one eye of the Turangas; she had joined the team following Munda's suggestion to Commander Berges. Munda thought her quite bright and quick witted. Berges had asked about her schooling and when he found that she had been studying music (admittedly over the internet), he had signed her up. Later he had told Munda the story about the US Navy decoders who used the band members of a badly damaged battleship to help decode Japanese Navy messages during some nearly forgotten war.
"Miss Shaucker can be our band member on the team," he had said with a smile. Very quickly, Shaucker had proven quiet adept at translating and Commander Berges had complimented Munda on her talent spotting. Munda was pleased that her cousin had proven useful.
As she paused from staring at the monitor, she sat her tea down again and looked over to where Shaucker sat. She was arranging some Persae words on her display trying to make sense of them. Shaucker had a jawbreaker in her mouth and drinking a diet Slurm while humming some tune that Munda did not recognize. She looked up at Munda and smiled. Munda smiled back and felt a faintness come over her. Sometimes Shaucker reminded her a little of Leela. It made her wonder where her strong-willed daughter was at. Leela had left a message saying she was going to be gone for a couple of weeks on a delivery. Munda prayed she was safe and whole then turned her attention back to the display. A new word stood out on the screen. It was something they hadn't seen before and she stared at it.
"Ghorsva," she mused. "A name I think. I'll need to see it again to decide if it is someone or someplace." She quickly added it to the unknown file and went on with her work.
Upstate New New York -
The prison cell only had two beds. Simon lay in one and Orkon the other. Orkon was very badly injured and Zoidberg had used his shirt to bandage him. Zoidberg had asked the guard who brought some water for medical help but the man ignored him.
Zoidberg had helped Simon the best he could too. Simon was suffering but wasn't unconscious like Orkon. His face was bruised badly and one eye was closed from the savage beating he had been given. Zoidberg had thought they would kick the fat man to death but Howard had intervened and given up the secret of the bibles. The brown uniformed men had recovered the books and took them away. Then they dragged or carried the four to several cars for a short trip to the local jail. There, the trench coated man had commandeered the jail and locked all of them except Howard and Harmon into a cell. Zoidberg wondered what had happened to Harmon and the elderly Howard. He was clearly too ill to endure such treatment.
Simon moaned softly and Zoidberg poured him some water. The man's face was terrible to behold and Zoidberg couldn't fathom the cruelty that would allow such treatment. As he dabbed Simon's face with a wet piece of his shirt, it occurred to Zoidberg that the humans were not quite the harmless species he had thought. They could be very ruthless and cruel as he had just witnessed. And all for a difference in religion, the thought of which shocked him. Supposedly Earth was a democracy but he had not thought about the authoritarian strains that ran through the Earthican bureaucracy. He should have realized this by the casual cruelty Hermes often displayed. Yet, he knew that there also existed decent humans like the professor, Leela, Amy and Fry. He looked over at Simon. Clearly this man was not a criminal but he was being treated like one by the authorities. All he wanted to do was preach his religion to people who wanted to hear it, yet that was a crime here.
Simon opened his one good eye. It was bloodshot and blackened. He gave a weak bloodstained smile.
"Don't fear, my dear Doctor," he whispered, "we'll let them know that you aren't one of us but just a hapless victim. They should release you soon enough. I'm sorry that you were caught up with us."
Zoidberg gave a gentle smile. "I doubt if they even care," he thought sadly as he poured a little water into Simon's mouth. Zoidberg's beating had stopped when the younger sports coat had found something on his PDA. The others were savaged until Howard gave up the bibles. Zoidberg had begged for medical help for Howard but the trench coat had laughed.
Simon gave a half-sigh, half-sob. Zoidberg felt rage well up in him.
"Damn them," he said angrily. "How can they treat anyone this way? Are they barbarians?"
Simon looked queerly at him and then said gently, "Forgive them for they know not what they do."
Zoidberg stared at him with surprise. Simon stared up at the ceiling. "They have not heard the word of God. They are lost and need to be found."
"I don't understand. You're forgiving them even after they did this? Are you some sort of pacifist?" Zoidberg said, shaking his head in amazement.
Simon gave bloody smile showing where some of his teeth had been kicked out. "Pacifist? No, I served with DOOP Marines for six years before I heard the call. I moved to New Sion and joined the Mormon Church there. Our church was one of the original signers of the Hydri Compact. We Mormons have always sent missionaries to spread our faith." He coughed and Zoidberg poured him some more water. Simon thanked him in a hoarse whisper and asked, "How is Orkon?"
Zoidberg shook his head. "He's unconscious and I'm sure he has many broken bones. He and you need medical care. This is terrible. We're prisoners of truly evil men."
Simon looked at Zoidberg with that queer look again. "Forgive them, Doctor Zoidberg. They're misguided. If we could get them to listen, we might be able to save them."
Zoidberg stared in amazement. This was a strangest human Zoidberg had ever known which was saying much given the company Zoidberg kept.
"Aren't you afraid? They could kill all of us."
Simon groaned and closed his good eye. Zoidberg put the damp rag on his forehead again and then wiped some of the blood away from Simon's nostrils.
"Bless you," Simon said weakly. "Afraid? Yes, very much so. I have four daughters back on New Sion. I would dearly like to see them again. But my dear doctor, I am called to bring the faith to those who do not know it. Our God tells us that this is what a Christian should do, even if we may suffer for it. When I was studying to become a missionary, I remember reading the story of a Spanish priest who was to be shot by men who hated religion. They allowed him one request and he asked that he be allowed to be shot facing them so that he could bless them before he died. To me, that man was a true man of God. Now, it may well be our turn to face such a fate. Can we try to do no less than he?"
Zoidberg stared wide-eyed at him and shook his head. "The Great Crab does not ask such sacrifices."
Simon gave another bloody gap-toothed smile. "I know little of the Great Crab. When this is over, I would like to sit and talk to you about your God. I believe that no mortal can truly know God and we all see him through our own fractured viewpoints."
Zoidberg gave a slight smile at the fat man's optimism then frowned. "How can your God allow such evil, if he truly exists?"
"God gives all of us the free will to choose as we can. Some choose evil because the devil tempts them. Perhaps some do it because they are ill. But many do so because they have never heard the word of God. We can only bring them the word, if they will listen, and hope they can choose wisely."
Simon coughed up some blood and moaned softly. After a few moments, he fainted. As Zoidberg tried wiping some of the blood away, he heard the noise of rolling treads on the corridor floor. He looked up as the trench coat man appeared at the cell door with two robot peace officers. The man unlocked the door and motioned to Zoidberg.
"Come on," he said with a grin, "you're presence is requested elsewhere."
Zoidberg shook his head. "No, not until you tell me where Harmon and the old man, Howard, is. And not until you promise to get these men medical attention. They are seriously hurt."
Trench coat smiled. "Well, the geezer no longer needs anyone's help. Unfortunately he waited too long to talk. The other guy is being interrogated now and these two still have more information to give, such as the location of their network. When we're satisfied, they can have help. If they don't make us wait too long, of course."
Zoidberg shuddered. The man had killed Howard and was torturing Harmon. Now he was looking forward to torturing the other two as well. To his astonishment, this made him angry. Zoidberg decided to take a stand.
"I'm not leaving them," he said.
Trench coat shrugged. "Things have been arranged. You're going."
He nodded to the two robots. They moved into the cell with surprising quickness. Zoidberg resisted as best he could but it was no use. Soon, he was dragged down the hall and put into the backseat of a police car. The ride took the better part of four hours and the robots wouldn't answer any of Zoidberg's questions nor stop for any reason. When they reached New New York city, the car pulled up to what looked like an old warehouse. Zoidberg felt a sudden fear. Something was wrong.
"This isn't a police station," he quavered. "Where are we? Why haven't I been transferred to another police station? I demand to know."
"Shaddup," said one of the robots. Two large robots came out of the building and rolled up to the driver's window.
"You got the skintube?
The driver said harshly, "Yeah, we's got de ugly freak. You got our money?"
One of the warehouse robots opened the door and stared in at Zoidberg.
"Why's he all banged up?" it asked suspiciously.
"He slipped in da shower. Who knows and who cares? Get him outta da car and gimme da money. We gotta get back," the driver growled impatiently.
Muttering, one of the warehouse robots handed over a bag to the driver who looked at it quickly and nodded. Zoidberg was pulled out of the car and dragged him into the warehouse. Once inside, the robots took him to a room that only had a chair in it. Zoidberg was seated into the uncomfortable chair and handcuffed to it. The robots left the room. Zoidberg stared around but there was nothing to be seen.
An hour passed and the frustrated Zoidberg began shouting, "Hello? Is anyone there? I'd like something to eat, if it wouldn't be too much trouble. And perhaps a shower? Hello?"
The door opened slowly and a shadow stepped into the light. He looked up at the figure in the doorway. Zoidberg's eyes went wide and he gasped in horror, "You!"
Clamps stood in the door. He looked at Zoidberg and began chuckling. All the while, he was cycling his clamps open and closed.