Background Noise, part 13
By Dave Vincent
Time Keeps On Slipping
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Jungle near Firebase Cantigny, Da Nang IV-
"It's hotter than Trisol," Fry muttered wearily as he shuffled along behind Lieutenant McNally and the rest of second platoon. Following an early morning artillery barrage, Alpha Company had moved off into the still smoking jungle as part of the IV Corps counter-offensive against the Bugs. Although they moved cautiously and expected contact with the Bugs at any moment, the company had marched for two hours without seeing anything. Mostly the troopers suffered from the effects of the heat. The temperature rose as the sun came up for one of Da Nang's now rare clear days.
The jungle was eerily quite, not even the sound of the native leather-winged flying shriekers could be heard. Captain 'Ol' Coot' Tenison made frequent stops to rest the men and waited for the scouts to report.
The forward scouts ran across a large trail and the captain decided to follow it. The trail led down towards the Lethe River which cut across the base of the Souvema peninsula. Although the Bugs seemed to have abandoned this side of the river, Tenison decided to push on to see what could be seen. As they neared the river valley, the ground sloped down towards the swift dark greenish water. Here, the number of insects was greater and the men's discomfort grew. Men cursed the heat, the insects, and their lot.
Prompted by Lieutenant McNally's gentle hint and feeling embarrassed at not thinking about it himself, Fry moved about the platoon handing out salt tablets and reminding them to drink water. The LT and platoon sergeant Hicks kept going about as well; encouraging the men to keep moving and stay alert. Fry looked at the second platoon leader who he respected and liked. Lieutenant Dafydd McNally was in his forties (old in Fry's fuzzy concept of age) but managed to seem relaxed in the heat. His uniform was dark from perspiration but the LT looked as calm as if he were at the beach.
The other two leaders in Fry's little world were Hicks and Alexei. Duane Hicks was a good decade younger than the lieutenant, blond and handsome but tough as leather. Fry feared him since the platoon sergeant was always riding his butt. The second squad leader Alexei Ehrensberger, a good friend to Fry, walked in the steaming heat with a languorous catlike grace. Nothing seemed to bother the young sergeant who took everything with an easy grin. The young sergeant epitomized cool to Fry who wished he could be more like him.
They kept stopping for what seemed interminable waits. Fry was beginning to feel dizzy in the muggy heat. He heard someone say it was nearly one hundred and four degrees. One of the platoon wits made a joke about it not being the heat but the humidity. This only elicited groans from the men who heard it. However, it was true. The humidity was terrible. It was like being in a sauna. Everyone's coveralls were drenched in sweat. Some men pulled them down and tied them off at the waist. Someone took off his helmet which earned him an ass chewing from Hicks.
Fortunately, the jungle provided some shade from the sun and clouds could be seen gathering to the east. It looked like another storm but at least the rain would cool things down. After living under what seemed to be perpetual rainy conditions, Fry didn't think he would ever find himself wishing for more of it but a clear day on Da Nang was nearly unendurable.
As it looked like they weren't going to move anytime soon, Hicks had them take defensive positions in herringbone fashion along the trail. Up ahead, first platoon was deployed across the trail in a long line. Fry moved up and down the line of men checking for signs of heat exhaustion. Alexei told him to rest himself or he'd be the one who'd need help. Fry nodded and moved up next to Lieutenant McNally. Nothing seemed to be happening for a long while then Ol' Coot's orderly Cates, came jogging down the trail and told McNally that the captain wanted him up ahead.
Fry slumped down against a tree trunk and took a small sip of water from his canteen. Sweat dripped down from under the plasteel helmet and ran down his cheeks. He wiped his face with a towel he wore about his neck. Alexei duck walked over to him and patted him on the shoulder before moving on to check on the rest of the second squad. Behind him, Fry could hear Sid Kawala bitching and whining about the heat. A nineteen year old city boy from Earth, Kawala had arrived at the same time as Fry but was proving to be less than adequate soldier. Alexei spent a lot of time with the youngster trying to toughen him up but so far this had not happened. Fry might have felt pity for the kid but Hicks was always on his butt about something. Fry would have loved to trade Hicks' yelling at him for Alexei's kindly coaching any day.
Fry stretched his legs out and sat drowsing beneath the tree. The very ground seemed to give off steam. Even Kawala finally shut up in the oppressive heat. Fry found himself day dreaming about the time he went to the Himalayas to try and rescue Bender from deep space. He remembered the snow and how cold it was. This led to thoughts of Leela in her parka and how cute she looked. A kick to his boot brought Fry out of his reverie and he looked up into Hick's hard blue eyes.
"You've got a job, sunshine," he said unsmilingly. "You're the medic, so check on the guys. If anyone comes down with heat stroke because you're doping off, I'll make sure you carry the poor SOB yourself."
Fry nodded and blinked away the sleepiness. He moved slowly down the line to check on the men. Behind him, Alexei walked up to Hicks and said, "Why are you always picking on the guy?"
Hicks shook his head and said, "He's a slacker, Alexei. He's gonna fold when the going gets tough. We'll need him and he won't be there. A lot of our guys will die. Mark my words."
Alexei murmured quietly, "You're wrong, Duane. Fry's got heart. He'll be on the line when the time comes. Just watch and see if he don't."
Hicks gave a disbelieving "hmppf" and turned back to checking the platoon's dispositions.
A few minutes later, the LT came back and called his squad sergeants together. Fry went with Alexei and stood next to him as McNally began briefing them.
"Okay, the scouts have found a hamlet ahead. It's empty but the captain wants us to move in and occupy it. Another trail comes into it from the north. Tenison is headed east along the main trail down to the river. He wants us to cover the flank against any possible Bugs coming down the other trail. I'll take second and third squads and move into the jungle to the north. We won't go far but I want to cut the trail and set up defensive positions. Duane, take first squad and go into the village. Fry, you set up a first aid station there."
Hicks nodded and called for the squads to mount up. Lieutenant McNally and the two squads moved off into the jungle and disappeared quickly. Hicks gathered first squad together with Fry and moved down the trail after the rapidly disappearing first and heavy weapons platoons. Behind them, the third platoon began deploying to act as rear guard.
About fifty yards down the trail, they came to the hamlet in the middle of a clearing. It was sad looking little place composed of ten grass and leaf huts. Most of them were on their last legs and two had collapsed completely. It looked like it had been abandoned for a long time. As Hicks deployed the squad to protect the trail leading to Tenison and the river, Fry decided to use one for a first aid station and began checking out the huts. The first two were unsuitable since they were crawling with insects.
In the third hut, Fry found what looked to be a small doll. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands several times. It was made from grass and resembled a Bug in design. He stared at it for a few moments until it occurred to him that it was a child's toy. Fry blinked in dismay as he suddenly realized that the Bugs had children too.
"Dummy," he chastised himself. "What did you think? They just reproduced out of thin air."
It hadn't occurred to him that the enemy might be people just like him. The thought of Bug children made Fry uncomfortable. He hadn't really given much thought to the war on Da Nang IV. He had been drafted and sent here. Now it began to dawn on him that they might be killing women and children. Who knew what the DOOP had done here.
He heard a noise behind and turned to find Lieutenant McNally and Hicks standing at the door. Fry held out the doll to the LT who took it and turned it over in his hands as he looked at it. Hicks grimaced then spat on the floor.
Fry watched the lieutenant study the doll. His feelings aroused by the thought that innocents may have suffered in the war, he blurted out, "Lieutenant, are we killing women and children?"
The normally grinning Hicks now looked stone faced and said, "Yeah, kid. Don't mean to but it probably happens."
McNally looked at Fry's bewildered face and said, "Phil, something troubling you?"
Fry hesitated, he didn't want to seem weak but this had hit him like a blow to the gut. He asked, "Sir, why are we here? Why are we fighting these people?"
Lieutenant Mac gave a sad smile as he bent down and laid the doll gently on the floor. He straightened up and looked Fry in the eyes. The Lieutenant's faded blue eyes focused on Fry and he said, "Phil, how many Bugs do you think there are here on Da Nang?"
Fry puzzled for a moment and then said, "I dunno. Bugs? Millions of them, Mr. McNally. I think. Definitely a lot of them for sure."
Hicks snorted derisively and the LT smiled. "DOOP Intel estimates about one and half million survived the cataclysm. And on this island, there are approximately forty to fifty thousand, probably a quarter of them are warriors with rest being elderly males, females and children. The Bugs are primitive compared to us and need more muscle power to do the things we can do with trucks and landers. They tend to have more camp followers. When they fight, they bring the camp followers with them. They risk getting killed as well."
McNally looked around the hut for a moment as if imagining a time when it was occupied and then asked, "And how many sentients in the DOOP?"
Fry paused for a moment before he shook his head helplessly. He didn't know and couldn't guess. The lieutenant gave a small grin at Fry's confusion. "There are nearly fourteen billion citizens in the federation. The Persae mean to make war on us and slaughter or enslave as many of us as they can. Do you want that to happen?"
A sudden image of Leela in chains appeared in his mind. Fry touched the plastic case around his neck that carried his one photo of her then shook his head again. The lieutenant took off his helmet and wiped his hand through the short iron gray hair on his head.
"No, of course you don't," McNally said softly. "You want that girl of yours to survive and live in peace. Unfortunately, we aren't lucky enough to live in a time of peace. A great war is coming on us and the Persae aren't amenable to negotiation. It is our lot to live in such times and perhaps sacrifice ourselves so that others may live free. It's a matter of numbers - the DOOP's fourteen billion versus the Bugs' two and half million."
The LT paused a moment to look around the hut then he peered into Fry's sweaty face. "I have a wife and two sons on Mars. I truly want to see them again but I want them to live their lives in peace and freedom. That's why I volunteered to come here when I heard the Mars National Guard was to be federalized even though it meant I had to sign on as a lieutenant to get combat duty. I felt that it would give me the most chance of doing something to help my family and my home."
Hicks, who had been silently standing and listening, nodded his head. He had left his wife and daughter to serve as well. Fry looked at both of them as the realization hit him. They had left their families for this. They weren't draftees like him and Sid Kawala. They had volunteered. Some of the other men made fun of the ones who volunteered and Fry had agreed that anyone who willingly came to this hellish place was a fool. Now he had to think about that.
"More things to think about," he thought glumly. He felt he had so many new things to try and comprehend that his brain would explode with all the thoughts that he was having. Life had been easier when all he worried about was beer, fun and dating Leela.
McNally cocked his head and looked past Fry with a distant gaze. "Do you know what a caltrop is, Phil?"
"A calf top?" Fry asked blankly causing Hicks to laugh. The lieutenant smiled again and said patiently, "A caltrop. It is a twisted piece of metal with upraised points that was used by infantrymen in the so-called stupid ages to slow down cavalry attacks. They'd scatter them in front of their position so when the horses ran over them, they would cut into their hooves and come up lame. It enabled the infantry to slow an attack by horsemen."
Fry blinked in confusion. He didn't understand what the LT was getting at. The lieutenant held up his hand and said, "The Persae mean to ride over the DOOP. They have the ships and the numbers but we here on Da Nang are going to be the DOOP's caltrop. We are going to cause them to get bogged down here fighting us so it will give our Navy a fighting chance."
McNally turned and looked out the hut's opening. It had begun to sprinkle and the temperature began to lower noticeably.
"We offered the Bugs a deal for Souvema but they wouldn't take it. Fortunately for us, they're divided and given to tribal rivalries. If they wanted to come at us in great numbers, they could overwhelm us. The shattering of the moon has wrecked the planet and melted the polar caps causing great oceans to arise. The Bugs weren't seafarers and haven't really taken to it. In time, they will and then it will be problematic if we can stay."
He sighed. "But the Persae will come first and we have to hold them here. Here, Phil. Or they'll drive right into the heart of the DOOP and straight for Sol, our families and homes. That's why we're fighting on Da Nang. It is hard luck for the Bugs but we haven't got a choice. We don't want to fight them and, to be honest; they'd make good allies against the Persae." He shook his head sadly at the thought then straightened and looked stern. "But we're staying so we have to fight. That's why we're here."
"Killing civilians is always a tragedy but war is a two-sided game. Everyone who plays," McNally looked down at the little doll again, "pays."
The rain began to come down solidly. The decrepit roof leaked like a sieve and the water ran down onto the three of them. Feeling the relative coolness of the rain wash over him, Fry stared at the doll and then looked at the lieutenant. McNally sighed and said quietly, "Phil, it's all about the numbers. For the DOOP to have a chance, we have to stay on Da Nang. The Bugs don't want us to. Eventually the Persae will come and this place will become a ruin."
Hicks gave a braying laugh at this. The lieutenant grinned. "Well, more than it is now."
He looked into Fry's eyes again. "Do you understand now, Phil?"
Fry wasn't really sure but, not wanting the lieutenant think him a moron, nodded. The LT smiled and then looked at his watch. "Duane, I'm going to check on the two squads on the north trail. Keep on top of things here." Hicks nodded.
McNally turned and stepped out into the rain. Fry made to move after him but Hicks put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
Fry looked up into the blond man's handsome face. He looked solemn and said, "Sunshine, the LT is an educated man. He believes in the cause and can talk prettily about it. But you and I are simple guys. Causes don't mean that much to us. If you want to know why you and I are fighting the Bugs, I can make easy enough for even you to understand."
Fry nodded and Hicks let go of his shoulder. "We're fighting because we're soldiers. We fight for the guys next to us so as to not let down our buddies. We're fighting because we are the ones that are here. That's our job." He grinned again and poked Fry's chest with his thick finger. "Well, it's your job, sunshine. Mine is to make sure you do it."
Hicks stepped out into the rain and moved away. Fry looked back at the little doll on the floor then gave an apologetic shrug before stepping out into the rain.
Earth's Moon (approximately 1100 years ago) -
Lady Lambsy looked at the monitor apprehensively. The spaceship on the screen had appeared out of nowhere and was approaching Earth rapidly. Around her, the members of her staff whispered and gave off psychic emanations of fear.
"Silence," she commanded regally and everyone went quiet. Lambsy looked again at the mysterious ship and turned to her head scientific advisor.
"Doctor Pattycake, what can you tell me of this?" she asked quietly.
"Great Lady," Pattycake said in her extremely formal way of speaking, "we have little information at this time. This strange ship appeared suddenly out of nowhere and is headed for Earth. We do not know the meaning of it as of yet."
Lambsy waved her hand in frustration. "Yes, I understand we don't know anything but what are we doing about it?"
Her staff looked embarrassed and no one seemed willing to speak. Finally the blue suited soldier, Captain Plummy, spoke up.
"Great Lady," he said crisply, "as you know we have a limited force here. I only have three ships under my command and all are deployed at the outer edges of the system. I have already sent orders for two to come back immediately but they cannot get here before the unknown ship reaches Earth."
Lambsy felt her anger welling but quickly tamped it down. It would not do for these younger Eternians to see her in her wrath. It would terrify them. It had taken years to get them to stop being so damnably tongue-tied in her presence. Indeed, the fault was hers since she had ordered Plummy to deploy his small force (all that Lord CuddleySoft was willing to spare from the Watch) to guard against potential intruders.
They were approaching the time of the Mighty One and Lambsy worried for the safety of the Earth. Her father, Lord Adoy, had deliberately started a galactic war between the two Follower races, the Sirians and Procyons, to prevent the Procyon Empire from expanding towards the humans. This war had been incredibly bitter and resulted in extinction of the two races. Although most Eternians had little concern for the Followers whose life spans were a mere eye blink when compared to the nearly immortal Eternians, Lord Adoy had been traumatized by the death of tens of billions of sentients. He had withdrawn into a self-imposed isolation and stopped attending council meetings. Lambsy had tried to see him but her father refused to meet with her. To Lambsy, it was a shock. Adoy had always been the greatest, most stout-hearted leader of the Eternians. He, who had walked in the light of the First, should have been made of sterner stuff. After all, it was Lord Adoy who had led them in the Clone Wars that resulted in the extermination of many more races than these two. To have him suddenly show concern over the fate of the Followers was suspicious. Lambsy wondered if there was something more to Aeryn's prophecy than her father had let on.
She would have pursued this thought if she could but with Lord Adoy's withdrawal, Lambsy had to hold things together. Commuting between Earth and Eternia, Lambsy had been forced to spend more and more of her time trying to keep Eternia running. Amongst their race that had always known unity, two factions had arisen. The largest was led Lord CuddleySoft, commander of the Swarm Watch. They wanted to seize control of the Followers and resurrect the Empire. The other was slightly smaller and led by Lord Lovey-Dovey. His followers wished to withdraw from contact with the corrupting influence of the universe and let things happen as fate would have it. Lady Lambsy found that most of her time was devoted to preventing the struggle between the two from dividing the Eternians even further perhaps even breaking down into civil war.
Lambsy sighed. The day that saw Lord Adoy lay down his staff and leave Eternia had put her in charge. She had to spend a lot of her time on Eternia trying to balance the competing factions. This left her little time to oversee developments on Earth. Regrettably, the humans had proven incredibly aggressive, fighting numerous civil wars including the most recent one that had moved them into the Atomic Age. Lambsy despaired that the Mighty One would ever survive the warlike nature of these Followers.
"Great Lady," said Pattycake anxiously, "the intruder has reached Earth and looks to be headed for a landing."
Lambsy looked up at the monitor again. She could see the ship head down towards the large continental structure called North America. Soon it disappeared into the atmosphere.
"Where," she demanded.
Pattycake looked down at her indications. She fiddled with some knobs for a moment and then said, "It seems to have landed in the southwestern area of the continent. I believe it is in the area the local humans call New Mexico."
Plummy muttered a curse under his breath then, turning to Lambsy, said, "Great Lady, this nation-state maintains its atomic weapons base there. An alien ship landing in this area would cause quite a disruption. The local humans may react aggressively."
Lambsy groaned. "This just gets worse and worse. An unknown ship slips through our defenses, arriving at Earth near the time of the Mighty One's appointed coming and then lands in the one spot sure to cause intense uproar."
She looked about the room at all the expectant faces. "Coincidence?" she asked bluntly.
Plummy shook his head. Pattycake paused a moment to twiddle with some dial then said, "Most unlikely, Great Lady. This ship did not come here from the outer system. It appeared directly in near Earth space. How, I do not know but my initial scans show no jump-engine capability. We have to assume evil intent and possibly directed at the Mighty One. Mayhap the Brain Swarm has learned of his threat to them."
Lambsy shuddered at the thought. The Swarm had always seemed like a ravenous senseless tide, destroying all in its path. Like most Eternians, Lambsy thought it insensate but what did the Eternians really know of the Swarm. None survived its arrival and the Eternians had little accurate intelligence to go on. She had to take the threat seriously.
"Captain Plummy," she barked, "Recall all ships immediately and bring them here at once."
The soldier put his hand to his chest in salute then went to the communications panel and began speaking rapid orders.
Lambsy didn't even pause to acknowledge the salute. She turned to Pattycake and said harshly, "Assemble teams to investigate the arrival of this ship and to determine how to undo any damage that may be caused. I want answers and I want them frelling quick."
Pattycake flinched at Lambsy's resort to vulgarity. They were not use to her speaking in a tone that was not kindly. She turned to her assistant scientists and began giving directions.
Lambsy looked up at the monitor again and felt a frisson of fear go up her spine.
Planet Express Ship, DOOP Naval Station, Maug -
Amy looked out the window at the two vehicles parked alongside the ship's walkway. A squad of marines stood deployed around the ship and two naval officers stood at the bottom of the walkway. One was a short chunky oriental man with gold braid and the other was a tall dark skinned officer. They started climbing up the walkway.
"Time to face the music," Amy muttered to herself. They had just arrived back on Maug, escorted by the two Navy ships Kif had sent with them. The Nimbus' marines had laid a sleeping Leela onto her bed in her quarters and Amy had piloted the ship back to Maug. Upon landing, she had been informed that Admiral Tsing would be boarding to speak to the captain. But she was still sleeping and Amy had no intention of waking her or allowing her to be awakened. The poor woman had undergone a traumatic experience and as far as Amy was concerned, the whole DOOP Navy could wait until Leela woke up. Besides, Amy figured she could handle two lonely sailors by herself.
Amy stood nonchalantly by the pilot's chair as the two Navy men came on board. Tsing looked at her and growled, "Who are you young lady? And where the hell is Captain Turanga?"
"She's sleeping," Amy said casually, "and that's what she's going to continue to do. She busted her butt bringing the convoy in and is worn out helping you cheap DOOP bastards." She figured putting them on the defensive by reminding them of Leela's heroism would be a good start.
The tall black officer gave her an angry glare but Tsing suddenly relaxed and smiled a little bit. He said in Martian, "And who are you, O' Celestial Daughter?"
Amy smiled at hearing a bit of home and said, "Honorable sir, this one is called Amy Wong of the Wong family."
Tsing smiled and turned to the other officer. "Chisulo, we are being honored. Commander Atrius Chisulo, may I present Amy Wong, daughter of the richest man on Mars."
Commander Chisulo bowed his head to Amy who nodded politely. The commander turned to Tsing, "Admiral, do you wish the Marines to board? The Planet Express crew has violated several fleet directives."
Tsing shook his head. "No Chisulo, send the Marines back to quarters. I have a different idea for these two."
Chisulo saluted and left. Tsing sat down in the pilot's seat and looked over the controls.
"Amazing. A Decapodian Snark. I thought these ancients had all been scrapped."
Amy said proudly, "Professor Farnsworth is a genius. He can make anything work."
"Hmm, so he must be," Tsing mused as he touched various controls. "Thankfully, he did not foresee a need to make the ship a bit stealthier. We spotted you as you left the system despite Captain Turanga's inspired maneuvering. Alas that she is not in the service. We could really use her." The admiral shook his head ruefully then continued. "Maug is probably the most heavily defended spot along the frontier. Our sensors are the best there is."
Amy shrugged indifferently. They had been caught, what difference did it make how.
Tsing looked at her for a long moment and then said in Martian, "So tell me, illustrious one, why were you going to Da Nang?"
Amy looked out the window and saw the marines loading back up in their combat vehicle. She looked back at Tsing who was running his hand over the control panel. "Honored sir, we were merely trying to test our ship. We wanted to make sure that nothing had happened in the long fight with the stealth raider. Which we killed for you, if I may remind you."
"Ah," Tsing said disinterestedly. "So, the choice of going to Da Nang was just a random selection for testing this ship."
Amy nodded brightly and felt herself relax. "That's right. Just an accidental mistake of navigation. Nothing more."
Tsing looked at her with an impassive face then said in the same disinterested tone of voice, "So, it had nothing to do with a certain Private First Class Philip J. Fry then?"
Amy was caught completely off guard. "How did you…." she stuttered, "I mean who is…."
Tsing grinned. "My dear young lady, we just don't let anyone land on Maug. I know all about the Planet Express crew and your co-worker, Philip."
"Uh, Fry," Amy said distractedly as her mind raced, trying to recover from her shock.
"He goes by Fry," Amy said and went silent as she realized she didn't have a good excuse.
"Does he now," Tsing laughed.
"Damn," Amy thought, "he reminds me of daddy. I could lie to my father sometimes but this guy may be trouble. We could end up in prison and the ship seized."
She decided to try flirting. It seemed to work everywhere else and she didn't have anything else to play.
"Yes," she simpered and batted her eyes at him. "I certainly hope that you will be very understanding."
Tsing looked at her without expression. Amy turned to allow the light from the window to put her attractive figure in silhouette.
"My best side," she thought as she smiled prettily at the admiral. "A lonely old sailor like him is sure to be interested."
Tsing eyed her appreciatively. Amy swayed a little to emphasize her jiggle factor as Leela called it. Tsing broke out into a grin.
"It's working," she thought with satisfaction as she arched her back a little more and leaned forward. "Just like it always does. I'll have the old geezer apologizing to us before I'm done."
To her surprise, Tsing roared with laughter. "My God, lass, you should be ashamed. Vamping me like that. I'm old enough to be your father."
Amy blushed and Tsing barked, "Enough of this foolishness, young lady. What were you doing? The truth now or I will be forced to call back the marines and I'm sure we don't want to go that route."
Amy gulped. Thinking quickly, she blurted, "We were going to see if he was okay. Leela hasn't heard from him for quite a while and we were worried."
Tsing stared at her for a moment in disbelief but then grinned hugely. "Alright, honorable daughter, I'm going to accept that lame excuse because of the stealth raider you bagged. But in return, Planet Express is going to take a load of cargo back to Earth for the DOOP. Without hesitation or complaint. And yes, without payment."
Amy nodded her head and felt relief shoot through her body. Leela might be angry about working without pay but at least they weren't going to be punished. Her father would have done so but Tsing seemed to be a different man.
Tsing got up and said, "Also, we're going to give you a reload on the missiles and pulse charges."
He walked towards the exit. At the hatch, he stopped and looked back at Amy. His eyes seemed to look right into her soul. She felt as if he knew everything she had ever done.
"Young lady," he said with a sly grin, "you remind me a lot of my daughter. She can't lie worth a damn either. I'll find out how your friend Fry is doing and let you know."
He paused and looked about the bridge again. Tsing's eyes came back to Amy's face. "And, my dear girl, one last thing. Tell Captain Turanga something for me." His face went serious and grim. "Don't ever do it again. She won't like the results."
Amy shivered as Tsing gave her a ferocious smile.
With that he left and Amy felt her body go limp with relief. She hugged herself. "Oh, Amy Wong, you are so very, very smart." She looked back out the window as Admiral Tsing stepped into his staff car. "And so very, very lucky."
Warehouse somewhere in New New York -
Zoidberg cowered behind the dubious protection of the box as the robots traded bright red and blue pulse fire. He had tried twice to crawl away to safety but each time brought a flurry of shots. Several times, a pulse blast hit the box only to pass through due to its flimsiness.
Zoidberg decided that he was in a comfortable spot and laid himself flat on the floor and listened to the whining pulses speed around the dark warehouse. Sometimes they hit a box with something inside causing a explosive popping sound; sometimes they hit the warehouse wall and burned through; but occasionally they'd hit one of the robots and it would crash down on the ground in a resounding clatter.
Zoidberg wondered how long it would last and whether he would be able to escape.
"Framing Clamps for the Donbot's death," he thought glumly, "has proven a mixed blessing. Although I'm currently free, it is the freedom of this small space. If Clamps wins this fight, it will go badly for me."
He gloomed about that for a moment then brightened. "On the other claw, if this Joey rohbut wins, he might see fit to let me go as I did aid his victory over his rival, Clamps." Then his mood turned again. "No Zoidberg, you are never that lucky."
The fighting seemed to drag on incessantly. While Joey had the numbers, Clamps' robots knew the warehouse and had better positions. Soon, the battle devolved into a stalemate. Zoidberg guessed that neither of the would-be Donbots wanted to look weak by suggesting a truce so the firing went on with no discernable damage being done to either side.
Zoidberg lay face first on the ground and snuffled through the dust for something edible. Unfortunately, all he got was a snootful of dust and a large sneeze. This drew a few shots his way and he decided it would be best to not do anything at all. He wondered how long could it go on.
"Surely," he thought, "one of them will realize we are in an enclosed space and try to come in from the back or side." Then he stiffened in terror as another more dire thought occurred. "Oh, no! Zoidberg, you idiot. They could burn the place down. They won't be affected by the fire but you will surely burn to death if you're not suffocated by the smoke. Oyyyy."
While he lay shivering in fear of the possibility of a horrible death, another noise began to be heard over the whining pulse fire. At first, it was a high pitched sound that grated on the ears. Slowly, the firing died off and the sound became clearer. Zoidberg strained to make it out as it lowered in tone and became more distinguishable. Soon he was able to recognize it as laughter.
From where he lay, Zoidberg could see a couple of Joey's robots step out into the light and look about. They seemed to be scanning the darkness looking for the source of the laughter. One's head turned Zoidberg's direction and peered at him for a long, nerve-racking moment but then moved on.
Suddenly, two glowing red bolts of light came streaking in from the far side of the warehouse and hit the two robots. They both went down in crumpled heaps. The laughter came to an end and a terrible electronic voice said in gloating tones.
"How about a little light, boys?"
A large fire blazed up along the wall perpendicular the two mob robot lines. It gave the warehouse a dark glow that illuminated but it did not seem to be a real fire. Zoidberg squinted into the dark flames and saw a large number of demonic looking robots with tridents pouring into the building through a hole in the warehouse wall. Looming over them was the Robot Devil himself.
He began laughing again and Zoidberg covered his ears in terror from the sound. From all around him, an eerie moan went up from the mob robots. Zoidberg looked up and saw that they were all motionless, seemingly paralyzed by this apparition.
The Robot Devil stood amongst his minions and pointed at Joey and then Clamps. "Mom sends her regards. Now will you all kindly go to robot hell?"
He signaled the robot demons and they began to move forward in a line towards the mob robots. The mob robots were unmoving until Joey stepped into the light. His refined Donbot tone disappeared as he yelled, "Alright boys, we ain't gonna let dese gremlin pansies push us around. Clamps, we can resolve dis later. You wit me?"
Clamps came forward into the light and, cycling his clamp hands, said, "Yeah, Joey, I'se wit you."
Joey looked at the motionless robots. "Well, what are you waiting for? Murderize dese bums!" he roared and then began firing at the approaching demon robots. Clamps gave a loud screech and charged forward, clamp hands extended. All around them, the mob robots came to life and began firing their pulse rifles.
Zoidberg decided it was time to scoot and crawled towards the opposite wall. As he did, he could hear the sound of laughter over all the electronic noises and firing.
Jungle near Myksho Ridge, Da Nang IV -
Rand could hear the Bugs moving about the small cleft in the ridge that they had taken shelter in. She and the major had moved away from the river during the night after crossing. Almost immediately, Rand had detected a huge number of Bugs deployed to watch the river. Using all of her enhanced senses, she had led the major through small gaps in their defenses but this took hours. As the dawn approached on what seemed to become a clear day, the major directed her to find a place to hide. She found a hidden cleft at the foot of the ridge that became their hideaway during the extremely hot day that came on.
The major tried to sleep although the heat made him uncomfortable. Sitting beside him, Rand stared at the human that she had come to love. She had noticed that he was rubbing his neck and arm more and more. Her sensitive hearing could hear the chameleon chip in his neck whirring frenetically. Sometimes it would slow and nearly stop but then it would pick up speed again.
She could hear his breathing and heartbeat as well. The breathing was more raspy than usual and his heart was beating faster than normal. It was a small difference and could be attributed to the stress of the mission, but Rand believed that it was the sign of something more ominous. Something was going on with the chip but what, she could not tell.
Rand looked at the sleeping form of the major. He was a muscular orange-gray haired man. Rand's databanks told her that he was an average looking human but there was something about him. Rand could not say what this was but she knew she loved him and wanted to save him if at all possible. She amused herself with thoughts of knocking the major out and completing the mission herself but she knew he would hate her for it. Besides, she would have to tie him up and leave him. The Bugs might stumble on him and possibly kill him.
"No," she said to herself. "We're together on this. Where he goes, I will go. I will share his fate no matter what."
She listened to the noise of the Bugs outside as they moved about. Soon it would be dark and the Bugs would settle for the night. They could move on in the late hours to the next hiding place. At this rate, it would take days maybe even weeks to get to the Ashowa Valley but Rand knew the major would try no matter what.
She reached out her metallic hand and slowly caressed the major's arm. "Together," she thought, feeling a strange calm come over her. "Yes, I like that word."
Jungle near Firebase Cantigny, Da Nang IV -
Deciding the leaking huts would not do, Fry ended up putting up a tent half against two trees as a temporary first aid station. The tent sheet was a product of the dreaded Woefully Inadequate Company and leaked as well. Fry had scrounged some duct tape to cover the holes and made it adequate enough. He squatted under the shelter watching the rain come down. As he waited, he went through his first aid kit to ensure he had everything. Fortunately, he had never had to use it so it was fully stocked with Fast-Seal Bandage spray, Quick-Numb Punch-Tabs, anti-infection wipes and other necessities for Da Nang medicinal purposes. As he pawed through the bag, checking on the various items, Fry prayed he would never need any of them.
Tenison and the two platoons came back to the hamlet after a couple of hours. The rain was pouring down in sheets now and everyone was enjoying the relative coolness. Fry was standing next to Lieutenant McNally when Tenison walked up. The two officers stepped into the dubious protection of one of the huts. Fry could hear them from where he stood as he watched the first and heavy weapons platoon file by up the track back to Cantigny.
"Mac, we found squat," Tenison said as he wiped the rain off his face. "We searched at least two miles in either direction. The Bugs have all decamped across the river."
McNally looked out the door at the line of men going up the trail. "That's odd, Mike. I can't believe they would abandon this side of the Lethe after one setback. Maybe they were hurt worse than we thought."
"Or they have something else up their sleeves or whatever the frell they wear," Ol' Coot growled. "We're going back to Cantigny. You'll act rear guard."
McNally saluted and stepped out into the rain. He shouted for Hicks and gave him orders to deploy as rear guard. After about fifteen minutes, the two platoons were gone and the LT gave orders for the gradual movement towards Cantigny.
They'd only just left the hamlet and were moving slowly up the trail when a series of popping sounds were heard coming from behind them towards the hamlet. Hicks began yelling, "Incoming! Grab some cover. Incoming! Grab some cover."
Fry stopped and stared uncomprehending at Hicks as he raced back down the trail shoving men down into tree roots and dips in the ground. A whining sound was heard and the first round landed several yards off the trail in the jungle. Fry goggled at it and began slowly backing up when a hand grabbed his shoulder and spun him around. It was Alexei. He pushed Fry down towards a tree and dropped down beside him.
More rounds landed. Hicks was still running along pushing men down and yelling for everyone to take cover. Fry watched for a second and then looked about for the lieutenant. He saw him crouched near a purplish palm-like tree. His radio talker was next to him and the LT was talking on the handset. Alexei yelled something to Fry but he couldn't make it out in all the explosions. Alexei jumped up and signaled to some of the men around him. They began moving to take positions facing back down the trail towards the hamlet.
Hicks slid down next to Fry. He was breathing hard and had a thin streak of blood across his cheek. Fry tried to stop him to treat it but Hicks shook his head and yelled into his ear, "Get back to the lieutenant. You're too damned close to the line if they follow this up."
Fry nodded and began crawling towards the rear as Hicks began waving other troops forward and out into the jungle. The mortar rounds kept dropping in around them but no one seemed to get hit. Some burst in the trees over head showering everyone with wooden splinters. One exploded just ahead of Fry on the trail and he pushed his face down into the muddy ground. Mud, rocks and jungle debris rained down on him. Then he heard the dreaded cry, "Medic! Medic!"
Fry crawled further up the trail as it seemed if mortar rounds were dropping all about him. He finally came upon Sid Kawala sitting on the ground next to a large tree, holding his leg and crying like a baby. A small piece of wood splinter had hit him and was sticking in his leg. Fry reached out and grabbed it. A quick yank and he jerked it out to Kawala's bawling scream. Then just as quickly, he pulled out a disinfectant wipe and cleaned off the blood. He followed this up with a spray from his quick bandage can.
Satisfied that the wound had been properly treated, Fry looked back down the trail. The platoon was spread out along both sides of the trail and was firing into the jungle towards the hamlet. Fry could see winking lights replying to this. He made to move back towards the front line but felt a strong grip on his arm. His face tear-stained and pale with fear, Kawala wailed, "You need to give me something for the pain. It really hurts."
Fry shook his head. "I've got to save it for anyone who is seriously wounded."
Kawala looked shocked and shook Fry's arm harder. "But I'm really in pain." Fry was about to curse the young man when another barrage of mortar rounds came dropping down all around them. Fry threw himself down next to the kid who shrieked as if he was dying. It lasted for only a few seconds but Fry found himself trembling. Tears streaming, Kawala asked him, "Are you scared?"
Fry looked at the panic-stricken youngster and decided he needed to say something to buck up the kid's courage. He thought a moment and then said, "No, I'm cold."
Sid stared at him in disbelief. Fry mustered up a half-hearted grin and then decided he needed to head back to the rest of the platoon. He crawled through the muddy jungle towards the platoon line. As he did, he could hear a loud whirring sound passing over head quickly followed by the sound of large explosions. Fry looked back down the trail and saw the hamlet disappear in huge flashes of light and smoke. The noise was tremendous and Fry held his fingers in his ears as the roaring continued. Then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.
A corporal from the first squad came jogging by carrying some ammunition. He gave Fry a grin and said, "You can get on your feet, Doc. It's over. They've gone."
Fry stood up and felt his legs turn all rubbery. He had never been so scared in all of his life. Lying on the ground in the middle of a mortar attack was like being naked in a shooting gallery. Fry jogged slowly from tree to tree checking on the platoon members. He soon reached the spot where the lieutenant was standing with his radio talker. McNally gave Fry a questioning look. Fry gave him a thumbs-up sign.
"Anyone seriously hurt?" The LT asked. Fry shook his head. Grinning, the LT moved forward.
Fry stopped and tried to brush off some of the mud covering him. He peered down the trail at the hamlet. It was all smoke and flames now and Fry had a twinge of sadness at the thought of the little doll. He could see the platoon was spreading out and moving forward towards the burning jungle.
Fry looked back and could see Sid Kawala limping back up the trail towards Cantigny. Feeling an overwhelming sense of fatigue, Fry stepped back onto the muddy trail and walked slowly in the rain towards his platoon's new position.
Earth's Moon (approximately 1100 years ago) -
Lady Lambsy boarded the tri-finned ship through the small airlock her people had established. Captain Plummy escorted her through the unfamiliar surroundings up towards the front of the ship.
They had easily captured the alien craft after it had attacked the American nuclear base in New Mexico. Lady Lambsy had sent a ship down to use the memory neutralizer on the local village and military base. Obviously more would have to be done and done quickly but Lambsy needed to know what the purpose of the attack had been before she could respond.
Her military forces had captured the ship as it had come up into orbit and had quickly put the crew into a type of suspended animation. Her scientists had been working feverishly to determine what was going on and if the brain swarm was involved. There were many questions to be answered. Particularly crucial would be the reason why they had attacked the base but had only taken an obsolete radar dish. When Doctor Pattycake had called to ask to her to come quickly, Lambsy could hear the shock in the scientist's voice.
As she arrived on the bridge, she could see the four figures sitting on the floor. Their eyes were closed and they were unmoving. Pattycake came forward but Lambsy held up her hand. She wanted to see for herself before she heard the report. Lambsy looked them over carefully. One was clearly a Decapodian, strangely mutilated as if surgery had been performed recently but then abandoned in mid-incision.
"A Decapodian," she thought, "but so far from home."
Next was an ancient human male. The third looked like a human female but only had one eye. It was the last figure that made Lambsy's very breath go out of her. It was the spitting image of Aeryn's Mighty One.
Her mind reeled at the thought that he was actually here. She stepped forward and stumbled. Captain Plummy reached out and put his hand on her arm to steady her. Lambsy gave Pattycake a quizzical look.
"Great Lady," she said with her voice trembling. "It is true. This is the Mighty One. We have confirmed he is missing the Delta Brain Wave. He has arrived but not in the right time."
Lambsy looked at her and then back at the four figures. "I don't understand. What is he doing here and who are these people?"
Pattycake took a deep breath. "Before I explain them, we have something you must see first." She led the way to a small kitchenette just off the bridge. There Pattycake showed her a severely damaged box-like device.
"Great Lady," she said, assuming her usual pedantic tone of report delivering. "This is some sort of microwave device. Scanning the crew's minds, we were able to determine that they were in the graviton wave of a supernova when this device was activated. It seems to have put out an energy burst that combined with the graviton wave catapulted this ship nearly one thousand years back in time. This device seems to have especially designed to bring them back to this exact time."
"Time travel?" Lambsy scoffed. "It's only theoretical. I know some of our scientists…."
Lambsy stopped as Pattycake held up her hand. "Great Lady," she said in her most portentous manner. "This device was created by Eternians. Although nearly destroyed, all the signs are present of our peoples' handiwork."
"What? How is that possible?'
"I don't know," Pattycake said. She paused and looked as if the next words were difficult to say. "It seems someone from Eternia wanted the Mighty One to come to this time."
"I don't understand," said Lambsy, her mind reeling from the implication of the Eternians able to travel through time. The very thought of the amount of damage that could be done by any time paradox frightened her. Her people had been very leery of time travel research and proceeded with the utmost caution. She looked over at Pattycake who was waiting patiently.
"There is much more, my lady," she said in a portentous tone. Lambsy wondered what else could there be. "We will return to the four up forward soon but I must show you the other sentient we found."
Pattycake led her out of the kitchenette and into a small cabin. Lying on the bed was what resembled a disassembled metallic body. Its arms and legs were lying next to the cylindrical gray body. Its head sat on a small table. Lambsy could see its eyes opened as they approached.
"Freaking great! More of you ugly little three-eyed rats. What is this? Man, the professor needs to get some pest control for this tub." The metallic head said sarcastically.
"Great Lady, may I present Bender?"
Lambsy stared at the head and the angry looking eyes. "Er, a pleasure to meet you. I think."
"Bite my shiny metal ass." The metal head snarled. "You're uglier than Nibbler if that's possible."
Lambsy was staggered at the sound of the name. "Did you say Nibbler?" she asked hesitantly.
"Yeah, what if I did? You look just like the poop-making creep. Who are you and what have you done with my friends?"
Lambsy looked back at Pattycake who shook her head. She touched Lambsy telepathically.
"Great Lady," she thought. "This strange creature claims to be a robot. A mechanoid created by humans to bend metal. But, my lady, this is the most advanced mechanical device I have ever seen. The brain is so nearly….I mean it's…" She stopped and stared at Bender. Then Lambsy felt her touch again. "It's a near perfect duplication of the human brain. Please Great Lady, allow me to study it. The things we could learn." Her tone was pleading.
Bender spoke up again. "Hey, fleabags. I'm talking to you. What do you want?"
Lambsy looked at the robot again and said, "We want to know why you are here? And who sent you?"
Bender made a rude noise. "Say. Could you turn me around so I can see my body? I need to scratch my ass." Then he laughed loudly.
Pattycake looked outraged but Lambsy smiled. "I see you have a sense of humor, Mr. Bender."
"Yeah, I'm the life of the party. Give me some booze and hookerbots and I'll light things up. Speaking of booze, I've been without for a while, you dumb mutts wouldn't happen to have anything to drink?"
Unfamiliar with the terms Lambsy looked back at Pattycake who shrugged. Lambsy began to reach out to create a telepathic link with the robot but Pattycake stopped her. Lambsy felt her fearful thought touch her.
"Please do not try that, my lady," the tone was concerned. "One of my people tried to link and got a very bad shock. The mind may be similar to humans but it cannot be linked to."
"Hey! What gives? You furbags going to get me something to drink or what?"
Lambsy stepped forward and climbed up onto the small chair at the table. She could see some sort of small cases on the table and what looked to be a small book. Standing so she was looking the robot in the face, she said with all the dignity she could muster, "Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Lady Fiona of the Nibblonians."
Lambsy gave her alias that she currently used to the robot. When the Eternians had found that their true names were nonsensical or childish sounding to the humans, they had been mortified. To prevent a loss of dignity, they had taken human sounding names to use when they met with them. These changed over the years to conform to the human language changes.
Bender stared at her for a moment then started, "Yeah, so……" His eyes suddenly closed and a loud whirring sound could be heard. Pattycake looked alarmed and stepped forward to grab Lambsy. But before her hand could close on Lambsy's, the sound stopped and the eyes opened again.
"Code name correct. Voice signature confirmed." the cold electronic voice said. "Lady Lambsy, greetings from the future. This message was recorded by you in the Earth year 2998. This will let you understand what will occur and what must be done to protect the Mighty One."
Although completely flabbergasted, Lambsy had the presence of mind to look over at Pattycake whose mouth had fallen open. The sight was so comical that Lambsy laughed aloud.
The voice said, "First, I will inform you as to reason the Mighty One was sent back in time to the Earth year 1947."
Planet Express Ship, Planet Maug -
Amy stood on the ship's cargo elevator as the large cargo hauler came floating up silently. Once it stopped, some large robots and several smaller creatures got out of the back and began carrying boxes to the elevator. Amy watched as the robots stacked the boxes neatly. She stared at the smaller green lizard creatures with their wavy orange fur. No lover of animals like Leela, Amy thought, "Ugh, creepy crawlies. Puke-atronic!"
Soon the elevator was full and Amy pushed the remote that lifted it into the ship's cargo hold. Once it reached the full up position, the robots began carrying the boxes to the area Amy pointed out to them. The little lizards skittered crazily after them, carrying smaller boxes or cleaning up after the robots. Amy was bemused by their antics for a few moments but quickly became bored. She pulled out her hand compact and did some touch up work while the cargo was stored. Soon it was all over and the robots and lizards stood around her as she lowered the elevator.
On the ground, a young Navy man was waiting. As the elevator slowly moved down, one of the lizards came over and grabbed Amy's hand. It lisped, "Prethhhy Whooommmann. Byzzzsss ssssome ssssstonnessss? Mannneee prethhhy ssssstonnessss. Yessshhhh?"
Feeling revolted at the touch, Amy pulled her hand away and said angrily, "No!"
The little lizard ducked its head and retreated to stand amongst its fellows. Amy suddenly felt remorse at the harshness of her tone. The elevator stopped and the robots and lizards moved back to the hauler. The Navy man stepped up to Amy and presented her with forms to sign. She signed the three pages silently cursing the bureaucracy. The Navy man turned to leave.
"Wait," Amy called. The man stopped and looked at her expectantly. "The little lizard tried to sell me some stones. What did it mean?"
The man smiled. "The Mauggies make jewelry. They're actually quite good. Stuff is pretty cheap too."
Amy smiled. Jewelry was something she could definitely appreciate. "Can you ask the lizard to show me his stuff?"
"Sure. But they're not really lizards, you know."
Amy was surprised. "They're not? They sure look like one. If they're not lizards, what are they?"
The Navy man had moved towards the hauler. He stopped and gave a laugh. "Most people think that, but they're really proto-birds. Pretty close genetically to the Hyperchickens."
Amy felt the sensation first and knew she was in bad trouble. She looked down at her hand and saw the swelling already beginning. She felt her heart begin racing and her breathing becoming difficult. Her medicine was back on the ship but she began swaying on the elevator platform.
The Navy man came over saying, "Miss? Are you alright?"
"Allergic," was all Amy managed to mumble before she collapsed on to the cold hard steel deck.