Background Noise, Part 5
By Dave Vincent
(The Stratus class battleships had become obsolete by 2998. One of the largest and most expensive class of ships ever built by the DOOP Federation, they were soon outstripped by the newer Invincible class that was first launched in 2997. Nearly one-third larger than the Invincibles, the Stratus class suffered from several design flaws that included a deficient engine and several inadequacies in protective armor particularly in the area around the engine thrust nozzles. The flawed engine design limited the Stratuses to 80% power which meant that the Stratus class was incapable of the speeds necessary to keep up with the newer and faster cruisers and destroyers coming out of the DOOP space yards. Their fuel consumption made them almost too costly to operate for any length of time and as a result, limited their use. Consequently, they spent a lot of time in orbit.
Two of the three Stratus class ships suffered indifferent careers. The Stratus, launched in 2987, was lost with all hands in an unexplained explosion in 2993. Several theories have been advanced, including sabotage, but a naval board of inquiry determined that most likely cause was fusion engine failure based on the weakness of the Stratus class engines. The board recommended that the Stratuses be limited to 80% power.
The Cirrus, launched in 2989, suffered from numerous maintenance problems that never seemed to be completely repaired. Known as a 'space dock queen', the Cirrus was stricken in 2995 and scrapped in 2997.
The Nimbus, launched in 2991, was the only notable ship of the class. It was the 3rd Fleet flagship during several minor wars of the middle years of the twenty-nine nineties but by 2999, it had been relegated to secondary roles. During the Omicron Persae raid of 3000, the Nimbus was in Earth orbit preparing for its new role as a training ship. Lacking experienced personnel, the Nimbus led a force of drafted merchantmen into a disastrous defeat by the Persae. The Persae raid killed approximately 20,000 civilians on Earth and the belated arrival of the 1st Fleet two days after the Persae had left caused severe upheavals in the DOOP Navy high command. The Chief of Naval Operations, the commander of the Earth Space Defense Zone and commander of the 1st Fleet were all removed for failure to protect Earth. [Editor's note - However, it was the opinion of some naval officers that the CNO was made a scapegoat for the failures of the politically well-connected Zapp Brannigan, commander of the Nimbus. It is unfortunate that Admiral Kroker's otherwise admirable memoir of his service with Zapp Brannigan does not discuss this event.]
Due to the shortage of ships during the Da Nang campaign, the Nimbus found herself escorting convoys and would have gone on to an undistinguished retirement if not for Zapp Brannigan's now legendary charge against the Persae at Da Nang. - Ships of the DOOP Navy; A Historical Record by the Editors of Jane's Space Review, New Calcutta, Epsilon Indi, 3103)
(The signing of the Solar Charter saw the restoration of government to Earth. Mars and Europa played major roles in the creation of the Solar Charter. There had been much bitterness in the colonies over their treatment by the pre-Persae United Nations. Thus, the new charter enshrined the colonies' views on the role of the government and that view was libertarian in nature. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the problems that arose from trying to govern a population the size of Earth's under such rules. The laissez-faire attitudes that dominated the governments of Mars and the outer colonies without problems were a disaster on the rebuilding Earth. Absolute freedom with a minimalist government gave rise to all manner of corruption, crime and unequal social conditions. After decades of unrest, there was a very real fear that the military, seeing all of its sacrifice being wasted, would mount a coup to re-establish law and order. A solution was found with the passage of the Bureaucratic Service Act of 2586. This supposedly temporary act empowered the bureaucracy to handle problems the Earth legislature could not or would not deal with. This led to the restoration of order and a reduction in dissent on Earth. But, unwittingly, the legislature had created a collar for the peoples of Earth for the bureaucracy interpreted this new mandate as a writ to meddle in all of Earth's affairs. The ever expanding bureaucracy insisted that no action could take place without their oversight and eventually required that all institutions have a bureaucrat assigned to ensure enforcement of the law. The bureaucracy became one of the pillars of Earthgov along with the other three branches. Only the military was able to keep out of their clutches and that was mainly due to most of the military being off Earth where the bureaucrats held no sway. As a result, Earth's society became more orderly, although it could still be heartless towards those who held no job, but the economy became stratified. No one could be hired without an implanted career chip and the bureaucracy controlled that system. Thus no one could have a job that wasn't pre-approved by the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy became bloated, arrogant and corrupt. This led to an explosion in emigration as humanity went out to other worlds looking to escape the deadening control of the bureaucracy and freedom from their arrogance. The main benefactor of this tide was the military. The military took advantage of this by offering to discharge a serviceman at any military base off Earth provided the veteran agreed to serve in the Reserve for ten years. Unable to pay for passage off Earth, many enlisted seeing this option as a fair exchange. - Post-Persae Earth, a History by John T. Crichton, Professor of Economics, University of Mars, 2801)
(The powerful bureaucracy, desiring to bring order to all things on Earth, took aim at religion. Feeling that the situation was too chaotic, they convinced the Earth legislature to pass the Religious Harmonization and Pacification Act in 2732. This legislation required all religious groups to submit to control of a new bureaucratic organization, the Religious Bureau. The new organization was initially a total failure as most religions refused to even acknowledge the bureau. Given the resistance to incorporation, the new Religious Bureau decided that it needed to replace the other religions and began the formation of its own bureaucratic sanctioned religion, the Unified Religious Organization. The Organization compiled all the world's religious texts into one (the URO Religious Guide) after ensuring that any offensive material was deleted. It combined most of the accoutrements of the various religions into their own ceremonies. The head of the Organization was the Space Pope who reported to the director of the Religious Bureau. The organization was divided into Ummas that had a bishop as its head. Each Umma was subdivided into Dioceses and these into Yogacaras. The ordinary priest wore a robe and mitre decorated with the emblems of the combined religions. Services were short and very bland. The bureaucracy didn't want people wasting too much time when they could be working and certainly didn't want to offend anyone. Naturally, the services were sparsely attended.
The most reprehensible act of the URO was to secretly create the Robot Santa Clause to make Christmas the most feared day on Earth after Tax Day. They desired to replace the most widely known religious holiday with their own URO Winter Festival, a half day holiday. Other lesser known campaigns were successfully waged against Chanukah, Ramadan, Festivus and assorted other religious dates. [Another theory has also been advanced that the bureaucracy simply wanted to reduce the number of paid holidays.]
In 2785, the URO began a campaign to force all the other religious organizations to be incorporated into the URO. By 2831, it was able to shutdown the last non-URO church on Earth and the old religions went underground or into space. The URO was unsuccessful in gaining control of the religious establishments off world and the old religions flourished out there. This was due in part to the suspicion that the URO was merely a front for the Earthican bureaucracy to gain a foothold in the colonies.
Although not the only one to do so, the Roman Catholic Church was the most successful of the religious institutions that survived the URO purge. It evacuated Rome in 2815 for Europa and in 2872 founded New Vatican City on Beta Hydri. Aiding in the re-establishment of the Catholic Church was the agreement of the DOOP military to sponsor chaplains in all faiths not just the URO. The URO raged against this but lacking power over the military and the colonies, they could do nothing but accept it. Unlike the old religions, the URO chaplains were not made service officers and would not cooperate with any non-URO chaplains.
In 2961, the major religious organizations in exile from Earth met at Beta Hydri and agreed to the Hydri Compact. The Compact laid the groundwork for the missionary expeditions that were sent to Earth. These missionaries were treated as common criminals by the Religious Bureau. More than eighty percent of them ended up in prison. But slowly and quietly, new churches began to appear. In 2975, a religious revival began to sweep the DOOP Federation giving new impetus to the missionary movement. - The Great Revival by Monsignor Paolo Di Gevanov, New Vatican Press, Beta Hydri, 3057)
Mutant Town, New New York -
Leela woke with a start as the old clock chimed three. Leela felt feverish and chilled at the same time. She had awoken from a nightmare in which she could see Fry running, carrying something. A white light lit up his face and she saw him fall away. She kept calling his name, begging him to get up. He looked up at her and smiled. "I love you," he said, "always and forever." Leela cried out and reached for him. But he was gone and then she heard bells which became the chiming of the clock. She looked down and realized that her mother had come home and put another blanket on her. She felt her bladder making demands for relief. She got up but quickly sat down feeling dizzy. Taking a moment to let her head stop spinning, she went to the bathroom where she threw up. She was sweating and, after using the toilet, she splashed water on her face. It helped a little and she was able to stagger back to the couch. She was alternately sweating and shivering. She lay there listening to the unfamiliar sounds of her parent's house. Soon she was drifting in and out of consciousness. She awoke again when she heard the door open. She looked over and she saw her father standing in the doorway framed by the eerie luminescent glow of the Mutant Town pond. She suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
"Go to sleep, baby. I didn't mean to wake you." Her father's strong voice came.
"Dad, I don't feel so good."
He walked over to her. She felt his hand on her forehead. He muttered something and went into the bedroom. Leela felt herself drifting again. Suddenly her mother was next to her feeling her forehead. Her mother and father began talking quietly and Leela could only make out bits and pieces.
"…hot… ng up. Really…fev..sh…..get ..yolet…Fiona…no time…."
She drifted away again. She woke at a touch on her forehead and looked blearily up as someone took her hand. She saw a distorted face of a mutant woman. She was looking at Leela and taking her pulse. Her parents stood beside her, their faces a mix of concern and fear. She closed her eye and tried to concentrate on what they were saying.
"Don't really know what this is," Vyolet said, her voice sounding far away. "It looks similar to the cold virus that we saw last year but it's got something different with it."
"What should we do?" Her mother asked anxiously.
"Well, I recommend that we go get the Army doctor. He might know what this is. They have access to more information than I do."
"Okay, Morris, go get Dr. Morami." Her mother ordered with a frantic tone in her voice.
Leela tried to open her eye again but found it too much effort. She drifted away again. Time seemed to drift for her until she heard other voices. She felt herself being turned onto her side. Someone grabbed her waistband and pulled her pants down on one side. She tried to stop them but was too weak. She felt a sting at her hip and a stab of pain as an icy cold bloomed there. Something grabbed her feet and shoulders. Suddenly she felt herself flying. She opened her eye and looked down at her feet. Holding her legs was a tall husky acne-scarred teenager who, seeing her looking at him, smiled at her. He was wearing an Army uniform. She glanced to her right and saw that her father, his face pale, had his arms under her back. Another young face was above her head. On the other side of her, she could see her mother with an anxious look on her face, Vyolet and a tall oriental looking man in an Army uniform. She felt another wave of dizziness and closed her eye again. They laid her on her parent's bed. She heard her mother thanking the soldiers.
A young male voice replied. "Our pleasure, Missus Munda. Your daughter is very pretty. I hope she feels better soon."
There was a noise of people moving about and doors closing. Then she heard voices again. A man's voice spoke, "It's called influenza. We thought it had been extinct for nearly five hundred years but we're starting to see it appear again up topside. No one knows why yet. This new strain is very aggressive. It doesn't take long to show. Don't worry, we have a vaccine." He paused. "The injection should help her. Here, give her these once every 12 hours. Keep her warm and give her plenty of fluids. Clean water, if you don't mind. And lots of rest. Make her stay in bed. And everyone is to wash their hands often."
Leela felt a cool hand on her forehead. The man' voice spoke again. "I think she'll be okay. Now if you don't mind, Missus Munda, I'd like some coffee. And Morris, we'll need some more blankets." She heard her father and mother bustle out of the room. The doctor's voice came again in a lower tone. "Miss Vyolet, I don't want to alarm you, but this virus can be dangerous. A strain of it killed over thirty million people early in the twentieth century. We'll need to arrange to have all the mutants vaccinated."
Vyolet whispered, "I understand. I'll arrange to have everyone ready when you are."
Her father came back in. "Is my daughter going to be okay?"
The doctor said, "Don't worry, we caught her in time. I'm more worried about the others who have been exposed to her. You say she has a job up topside?" The voices became indistinct. Then, she heard the doctor's voice again. "We'll have to start vaccinations as soon as we can. She's to have no visitors aside from Miss Vyolet, myself or my medics. Miss Vyolet, you'll have to careful too now that you've been exposed. We want to minimize the spread. Let me know if you or anyone else starts showing signs. Ah, Missus Munda, thank you. I'm not use to being up this early anymore. This coffee will be a godsend."
The doctor slurped the coffee and said, "I'm going to have one of my medics come and give all of you the flu vaccine as soon as I can get some from topside. Morris and Missus Munda, you'll have to stay home today until we can get you vaccinated. I'll check back on Miss Leela from time to time. Miss Vyolet, I'll let you know when we can start vaccinations on the mutants"
She heard her mother thanking him. He walked away and she heard the door close again. She felt rough hands stroke her face and heard Vyolet really close to her saying, "I'll come by later too. If this can affect mutants, we'll need to know more about it."
She felt her mother undress her and cover her with blankets. Her dad wiped her face with wet cloth and put it on her forehead. Leela suddenly remembered her job. She opened her eye a little and looked up at her mother. "Mom, my job…they need to know." Her mother nodded and said, "Don't worry, sweetie. I'll take care of it. You just rest now."
Leela felt comforted by the fact that she was at her parent's home and being taken care of. She slipped into sleep and began dreaming of Fry.
Planet Express Building -
Hermes sat in his office going over the Planet Express budget. He was shaking his head over the serious deficit the New Eden fines had caused. He cursed Bender for involving them in the whole fiasco and Leela for making everyone go. If it had been a standard delivery, only Leela, Amy and Bender would have been there. Amy's dad might have had to fork over the money to get his precious daughter out of prison. Leela too, he supposed. As for Bender, well, he was a big pain and no loss in Hermes mind.
Hermes sat thinking of how he could get Planet Express out of the red. Obviously they'd need to do more shipments. The big Navy contract had them making their first delivery next week so he'd have to get Leela and Amy to replace the ship's engine. If they could do it today, it would leave them with five days for deliveries if they worked through the weekend. He looked at his contact list. He thought if he offered some discounts, they probably could book all four days full. Naturally the thought of bonuses was out the window now except, of course, his. And there was always the option of selling some of Nibbler's dark matter pellets. They had several years' worth. Of course, with Nibbler gone, it might be advisable to keep a good supply on hand.
He grabbed the vidphone and called Leela's apartment. He got her answering machine. He left a message demanding she come to work early. Then, he dialed Amy. Amy answered after a dozen rings with the screen disabled. She was bleary voiced and had obviously been asleep. "Slacker," Hermes thought not caring that it was only six thirty in the morning.
He said cheerfully, "Amy, I need you to get in to work today as early as possible." Amy snarled something in Martian and said that she'd be there. Hermes grinned as he broke the connection.
He decided to look into the budget to see what could be cut to reduce the deficit. He immediately stopped Bender's salary. "If he don't work, he don't get paid. Serves him right," Hermes thought. "Stupid tin can got us into de mess on New Eden. Now he's just a head attached to de ship's engine waiting to see if the Professor can repair him." Smiling, Hermes looked for other savings. He discontinued the service that took care of Fry's bills. "With Fry off in de Army, he won't be needing the service." He scrutinized the computer ledger looking for things related to Zoidberg. He really would like to fire the crustacean quack but the Professor wouldn't allow it. "Zoidberg must have something on de Professor," Hermes mused. "Well, I can certainly eliminate Zoidberg's use of quarters here. That should save on de water bill alone." He felt good. Throwing Zoidberg out onto the street was a pleasant thought as he had long disliked the Decapodian. He couldn't wait to tell him.
He looked back to the ledger again. There were still not enough cuts to make up the shortfall. He cursed Bender again. He ran a budget program and it highlighted several large withdrawals by the Professor. They were always on the same day of the month and always for the same amount. The Professor listed the reason as personal use. Hermes remembered that the New Edenites had discovered the Professor was using an illegal narcotic called Forget-me-Not. He decided they needed to get the Professor into rehab if only to reduce the drain on the Planet Express' finances due to the money he wasted on his inventions. After finding a few more minor savings, he looked up at the clock. It was almost seven thirty. He wondered where everyone was. He tried calling Leela again but only got the answer machine once more. He thought about calling Morgan Proctor to see what happened between her and Leela, but decided it wasn't a good idea to bother a high level functionary in the bureaucracy. Leela might be able to confront her with impunity but Hermes wanted to advance in his career. He didn't want to be stuck as the bureaucratic oversight for Planet Express forever. He'd like an office downtown someday.
He heard the door open at eight and Amy came into his office. She looked like she hadn't rushed to get there which angered Hermes.
"I want you to replace de engine. And I want it done today. We'll need it ready for tomorrow if PE is going to make up for de fines we incurred from New Eden." He said with an angry tone.
Amy groaned and said, "But what about Bender? Aren't we going to fix him first?"
Hermes gave a humorless grin. "We've got no time for that. Bender will have to wait. Have you heard from Leela?"
Amy shook her head. Hermes grimaced and said, "Get going on the engine. Today, Amy."
Amy muttered something under her breath and went down to the hangar. Hermes went to find Zoidberg so he could let him know about his new living arrangements. He checked his office and all the other places Zoidberg lurked about in but couldn't find him. He shrugged and thought, "He'll show when it's time for lunch."
Hermes went back to the budget. A few hours later, the doorbell rang. Hermes opened it to see a young soldier. He handed Hermes an envelope and left. Hermes opened it and read a note from a Doctor Morami stating that Turanga Leela was ill with influenza and would be recuperating at her parent's home. The letter stated that under the Health Reform Act of 2917, he was officially informing Planet Express of his directions for a week's bed rest. Hermes muttered several Jamaican curses. Now they'd have to pay Leela sick time. The letter went on to state that an Army doctor would be coming to Planet Express that afternoon to give them all vaccinations for exposure to the influenza virus. Everyone who was exposed to Leela was required to be there. Hermes told himself to make sure La Barbara and the boys were there too.
Hermes went over and looked down into the hangar. Amy was in her jet pack up near the engine's inspection port removing the box they'd build to link Bender's head to the flux capacitor. The doorbell rang again. Hermes growled and opened the door. A small robot with a crutch for an arm was standing there. The robot was holding a slip of paper up to Hermes.
"Please, sir. The gentleman with the clamp hands asked me to give this to you. He said you'd give me a reward, sir."
Hermes grumbled as he dug into his pocket and grudgingly handed over a quarter to the robot. The robot bit into it and smiled up at Hermes.
"Bless you, sir." The robot called as it toddled off on its crutch. Hermes opened the slip of paper. There in cut out bits of magazines and newspapers was: If you ever want to see Dr. Zoidberg again, pay us what Bender owes us. We'll be in touch. No police."
Stunned, Hermes read the message twice and then looked about the street. No one was in sight and he burst out laughing. He laughed so hard that tears came to his eyes.
When he finally was able to stop laughing, he went back to his office. He tossed the message into a waste can and said joyfully, "Sometimes you helps yourself and sometimes Jah steps in to help you." Sitting back down at his computer, he began humming a Bob Marley tune, Smile Jamaica.
DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif sat in his austere quarters reading his e-mail. Amy had sent him a long, rambling message that covered the Planet Express crew's adventures on New Eden and their return to Earth. Kif idly scanned Amy's letter reading about another PE escapade. He used to worry about Amy on these things but realized that Leela was hyper-competent. She could handle nearly anything thrown her way. Kif was reading over the message when he reached the line about Fry being sent to Da Nang. He jumped up and re-read it. "Da Nang! How did that happen?" he said to himself. "Fry was stationed with the Guard on Mars. It was all taken care of."
He looked at the date/time stamp on Amy's message. It was nearly eight hours old. "What to do?" he muttered to himself. "I need to get in touch with Major Smith but how? The major was on Da Nang and on a suicide mission if the robot was right."
The major had left Kif with no guidance on how to contact the major's superiors. Kif wasn't even sure who the major's superiors were. He knew they worked for DOOP Intelligence but wasn't sure of which section. Maybe he could send a message through Naval Intelligence…no, they might not be cleared for knowledge of the Eternians. Kif wasn't sure who was cleared for that knowledge. The major had sworn him to secrecy but no one had expected Fry would be sent to Da Nang. "Oh, this is not good," he said. Then Kif remembered that the major was working directly for the Chief of Staff. Perhaps he could contact him personally. Kif imagined how that would be received.
"General Abrams, sir, a Lieutenant Commander Kroker has sent a message for you about some army private who has been sent to Da Nang. Commander Kroker asks that this private be immediately returned to Earth for reasons he cannot openly state but says you would know because of an unnamed intelligence officer who supposedly works for you personally. By the way sir, although it is not mentioned, Commander Kroker is Zapp Brannigan's executive officer. Yes sir, that Zapp Brannigan sir. Do what? Yes sir. Right away, sir." He'd be better off going to Da Nang himself and finding the major.
Kif looked at the star chart over his computer showing sector Epsilon. Originally it was supposed to encompass all space from Da Nang to Maug but Sector Command had decided to split it into four sections for better control. Now, Epsilon encompassed half of the space between Da Nang's Kuiper belt to a point halfway to Maug. Section Gamma controlled the other half. Delta and Iota controlled the area from Maug to the halfway point.
"I'm so close to Da Nang," he thought, "but there is really no way to get there right now." The task force needed him otherwise Brannigan would do something stupid and get people killed. He shook his head sadly. Fry was going to have to wait until an opportunity arose for Kif to do something.
He wrote back a short message to Amy being deliberately vague about what he could do to help Fry. He told her that transport ships now ran under communications blackouts so he couldn't get a message to Fry. He didn't want them to worry but he was suddenly very afraid. "Oh God, what if the Eternians find out?" he thought. Then remembering that Nibbler had disappeared and had not returned; a worse thought occurred to him. "What if the Eternians have given up on Fry?"
He sent the message to Amy just as his intercom buzzed. He pressed the acknowledge button. "Kroker here."
"Sir, the Galahad Convoy has just come into our sensor range. Task Force 137 has messaged us that it is turning over screening duties to us. Your orders, sir?"
"Tell the OOD to begin executing the screening plan. Notify the rest of the Task Force. I will be there directly. I'll inform the Commodore."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Kif stood up and stretched. He looked at the clock on his little writing desk. It was nearly two in the morning. 'It's really too late to wake Zapp. Best to let him sleep," he thought as he stifled a yawn. Although his species did not need as much sleep as humans did, Kif felt tired. Running the task force and keeping Zapp's image intact was exhausting work. Zapp was doing his best to make a fool of himself as usual. It was alright if the Nimbus' crew knew what Zapp was but the rest of the task force needed to believe in Zapp's image as a fighting sailor. His recent set of orders to the task force which would have sent them on a wild goose chase towards the sector boundary had only been stopped by Kif when the Comm officer had informed him of them. He consoled himself that Zapp spent most of his time in his room and slept a lot, being one of the laziest humans Kif had ever known. Or at least that's what Kif hoped he was doing. Any other things Zapp might be doing were too disgusting to contemplate.
"It's going to be a long day. Maybe I should take up drinking coffee," he thought. Caffeine affected his people just like humans but Kif didn't like the taste and the chemicals in tea made him ill. He checked his dark blue uniform in the mirror and headed for the bridge.
Somewhere in New New York -
Zoidberg had raced off the ship when they landed. He went to his office but there were no messages for him. Bondarekov had not called and Nibbler was still gone.
"Why are they all ignoring me? The whole galaxy's on the verge of war and no one wants to clue Zoidberg in on what to do. I need a brief," he muttered.
He went back to the hangar just in time to see Leela storm out the door. He walked over and heard La Barbara tell Hermes that she forgot to tell Leela something. Hermes muttered something to her and they went to gather up the two teenagers. Amy was sitting on the ship's stairs looking extremely sad. Zoidberg went over to her and sat down beside her. Zoidberg liked Amy because she was generally self-absorbed enough that he didn't have to act the fool all the time around her.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Fry's been sent to Da Nang. I thought he and Leela had a chance but now he'll probably get killed and Leela will be alone forever."
Zoidberg felt as if a dagger had been thrust into one of his hearts. Fry was going to Da Nang? What the hell was wrong with DOOP Intelligence? How could this happen? The major had said they weren't amateurs but so far DOOP Intelligence looked like complete idiots from Zoidberg's perspective. He looked over at Amy and saw she was near to breaking down. "Don't worry, he will be okay. He's just a medic after all not an infantryman," he said, trying to make it sound positive.
"Fry's too brave. I've seen him time and time again put himself into the line for fire for Leela. He's the kind of guy who'd do that for his comrades." She began weeping. Zoidberg put his arm around her and she put her face to his chest, sobbing. He didn't know what to say. Comforting crying human females was not part of what they taught you in spy school on Decapodia, he thought glumly. He patted her on the back saying, "There, there, it will be all right. You'll see. Everything will be all right."
"Leela's like a big sister to me. I want to see her happy. I know Fry's the right guy for her and now he might be killed. God help her if that happens. I don't know what Leela would do if he dies without her admitting she loves him. It would kill her."
"She loves Fry?" Zoidberg whispered, not daring to say the words too loudly.
"Yes, she's just too proud to admit it. I'm working on her but time is running out. It may be too late already." Amy said sadly.
Amy cried for a few minutes more then dried her eyes and said, "I'm going home. I need to e-mail Kiffie. Maybe he can do something. Thank you for listening."
"I did nothing." He said.
Zoidberg said goodbye as Amy left. His mind was racing. "Leela loves Fry. By Lord Runty Runt's third eye, that is great news. If we get Fry to safety this might just work out. But what to do, what to do?"
He went back to his office and walked about the rest of the night trying to think of a plan. He had several wild ideas involving stealing the ship and either going to Da Nang to rescue Fry or going to Eternia to find Nibbler. But they all collapsed in the light of cold facts. He couldn't fly the ship and had no idea of how to get to Da Nang or Eternia. He could enlist Leela or Amy but that would risk exposure and he didn't want Leela to know about the Eternians. No, that plan was too risky. He dare not do anything that could compromise the Eternians' plan for Leela and Fry. He could see that Leela was already starting to have suspicions about him. If he recommended going to Da Nang, she'd start asking questions and she was a very determined woman. Amy on the other hand couldn't keep a secret to save her life and Leela would find out soon enough from her.
He stared out the window for a long time trying to think. Finally, as the dawn broke, he fell back on contacting DOOP Intelligence. If the DOOP wouldn't come to him then he would go to their headquarters again and, this time, make someone listen to him about Fry.
He went down into the basement and woke Scruffy to borrow some money for a hypertrain ticket. Scruffy gave it to him without asking why. Zoidberg promised to repay it with interest but Scruffy just shrugged. "Scruffy still owes you, Zoidy. Me and the perfesser both."
Zoidberg shuddered at the memory of how the three of them went after the lost Planet Express crew in the Space Bee hive. Finding that the crew had been devoured by a scavenging Space Wasp and the recovering of their career chips still gave him nightmares. He thanked Scruffy and walked off, calling, "Wish me luck."
It was nearly seven when he left Planet Express. He'd heard Hermes come in and go into his office but Zoidberg didn't want to delay a moment to talk to him. He went out the door and turned down the street for the long walk to the station so as to catch the train to New Washington. "This time," he thought, "I'll make them listen."
He had walked for ten minutes when he noticed or rather felt the two robots following behind him. He could hear the vehicle coming up slowly with them. He recognized the situation for what it was and didn't bother to question why. It was going to happen and he needed to react. "Clearly," he muttered, "I can't fight them and I certainly can't outrun them over any great distance. I'm worker class not warrior and too out of shape from years of all-you-can eat buffets. Got to out think them."
He kept walking at the same waddling rate that he always used as he looked about hoping to spot a cab or a cop but as usual they all disappeared just as they were needed. "So it has to be the hard way," he thought grimly and prepared himself.
"Be aware of your surroundings," he remembered his old intelligence trainer saying. "Knowing the layout of the area is half the battle in losing pursuers."
He crossed the street noting that his two shadows did also. Now he was on the side with all the early opening bakery shops. The tantalizing smells drifted out to him and he almost stopped to take a deep breath but he got a grip on himself and kept moving.
"Timing and diversion, these are the keys to a successful evasion." The voice from the past echoed in his head.
He heard the car begin to speed up and the two shadows began moving towards him. "It's starting," he thought and then he darted right and straight into a pastry shop. The owner looked up from his baking and yelled, "Hey you mooch! I've told you to keep your red butt out of here." Zoidberg nodded politely as he walked behind the counter and into the back room. The shouting owner came after him. Zoidberg saw the fire exit and went out it quickly, tripping the fire alarm as he did. It started ringing loudly as Zoidberg began running down the alley. He heard the owner cursing him as he moved away. Then he could hear the two robots bursting out after him, knocking over the owner. The man screamed at them but they moved quickly after Zoidberg. Zoidberg knew if he could reach the street before them he could make his escape in the large mall just across the street. It was a race now with him being faster than they had suspected. He was nearing the alley's end.
"I'm going to make it," he exulted but then he felt a sudden sensation of fear go through him as he thought about the robots being able to communicate with the car. He tried to speed up but it was too late. The car pulled in front of the alley's opening and two more robots got out. One had clamps instead of hands. Zoidberg looked back and saw the two robots gaining quickly on him.
"Sometimes the odds are against you. You have to use your mind to find a way to change things to your benefit. If the other side isn't attempting to kill you, there is no need for heroics. Only desperate times call for desperate moves. A wise spy is cautious and deliberate. A wise spy lives longer." The old crustacean spymaster's voice came again.
He slowed to a walk and headed towards the car. "Showtime," he muttered to himself. As he neared the car, he began smiling foolishly and waving his arms excitedly. "Hello, I'm Doctor Zoidberg. Is your taxi available for hire?" The two robots behind him came up and grabbed his arms.
"What is the matter? Am I under arrest? I am sure it is all a misunderstanding. I didn't mean to cross the street against the light. Unhand me, I'm a doctor," he babbled. One of the robots holding his arms told him to shut his trap. Zoidberg was now close to the car and the clamp robot. "What do you want? I have no money. I'm just a poor doctor for Planet Express. I'm sure you have the wrong person."
The clamp robot put his clamp hands up in Zoidberg's face and said nastily, "If ya don't shut your yap, I'll use these to pinch something off ya. Understand?"
Zoidberg trembled and nodded. The clamp robot nodded to the other robots. "Get him in the trunk and tells the boss the package is on the way."
They made Zoidberg climb into the hover sedan's trunk and the car drove off. In the distance he heard the wailing of a fire engine's siren. He sighed and said to himself. "Too late to be of use."
He tried to keep track of the sounds so he could determine where he might be but they drove around a bit before stopping. The trunk opened and they made him get out. He tried talking again but one of the robots put tape over his mouth. As they made him move, he noticed that he was in a large underground parking lot. The robots walked him over to another car and made him get into its trunk. He saw that the clamp robot was not with them. This car drove for several hours before it stopped. This time he was at what looked to be a farm house in a wooded area. Somewhere upstate he guessed. They got him out of the trunk and ripped the tape of his mouth. He yelled and began sobbing hysterically. The robots took him into the house where a large round green robot was sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigar. Zoidberg was pushed into a chair opposite him and held there by a large robot hand on his shoulder. The round robot blew smoke at Zoidberg who sat silent. One of the robots spoke up. "Donbot, dis here is one of de Planet Express crew. Dis one is de doctor."
"So Doctor Zoidberg, you are a crew member of Bender E. Rodriguez?" Donbot asked in a fake Italian accent.
Zoidberg moaned and held his claws to his mouth tentacles. "My mouth, they hurt my mouth." The Donbot stared at him and repeated the question. Zoidberg looked at the robot and said, "Bender? Yes my good friend Bender. Sadly he is no longer with us."
'That's right. Bender stole ten thousand dollars from me and I put out a contract on him. I am hurt at his lack of gratitude towards me for helping him out when he was in need. His stealing from me has lessened my trust in my fellow robots."
"I understand. You must miss him terribly." Zoidberg said trying to sound remorseful. The Donbot nodded to the large robot holding Zoidberg's shoulder. It reached down and hit Zoidberg in the face. Zoidberg fell out of the chair. All the robots laughed. The big robot dragged him up and pushed him back into the chair.
"Doctor Zoidberg, I will tell you that I, myself, personally abhor violence but, on the other hand," he waved his hand at the robots, "my associates here really love it." The other robots laughed harshly. "Now, you will show me the proper respect I am owed or they will show you how much they love it. Capiche?"
Tasting the blood on his mouth tentacles, Zoidberg nodded. He began whining. "Please don't hurt me. I'll tell you everything. Yes, everything. Like how Hermes doesn't like me. And Leela, she is always looking down at me with that huge eye of hers. Everyone gives Zoidberg a hard time. But Bender, no one ever complains about Bender. He's always drinking and stealing. And everyone's like, let's all talk to Bender. For Zoidberg, nothing. Now Bender's dead and I'm glad. Soon everyone will be sorry for not listening to Zoidberg. When Zoidberg is…." The Donbot nodded again and the robot smacked Zoidberg. This time he was ready for it and moved with the blow; lessening the sting. Zoidberg began weeping. "Okay, I take it back. I'm not glad. I miss Bender. Please don't hit me again." He put his face down into his claws and sobbed.
"My dear Doctor, please do not make me regret inviting you to stay with us. Our contract on Bender was only one part of our effort to recover what was stolen." Zoidberg looked up at the Donbot. The Donbot moved forward in his chair, bringing his face closer to Zoidberg's and gave a smile.
"The hit on New Eden was a most satisfactory resolution to the problem of the thief, Bender. We didn't even have to pay the contract off. Unfortunately for you, that does not repay his indebtedness to me. Since Planet Express employed him, they must assume responsibility for what he owes me. Plus some minor collection fees, of course." The other robots laughed at their boss' witticism.
Zoidberg trilled fearfully. "What are you going to do?"
"We're going to hold ya until the rich Perfessor coughs up the dough," said the Donbot, his accent slipping.
Zoidberg moaned. "They won't pay a dime for me. They all hate me. They're really cheap. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for payment."
"For your sake, Doctor, I hope that is not true." The Donbot said with false sympathy. "My good associate, Mr. Clamps, is delivering the notification of their obligation even as we speak. If the professor doesn't respond with celerity; you might find that holding your breath is something you will need to become very good at." The other robots laughed again. The Donbot nodded and the robots dragged Zoidberg down to a windowless basement and locked him in. Zoidberg slumped down next to the wall facing the door.
Zoidberg frowned. "Another damned obstacle to saving Fry. The universe is testing me," he thought morosely.
"Opportunities are always present. The wise spy will examine the situation at hand. He will concentrate on the important things first." The old master's teachings kept nudging him from his memory. Zoidberg chuckled and then paused for a moment. Another more immediate thought occurred. "When are they going to feed me?"
DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif watched in satisfaction as the Galahad convoy moved into Da Nang's outer system. The Da Nang system naval forces would take over the convoy from here on. Kif thought it was a good first effort for Task Force Brannigan (oh lord, he's got me doing it, Kif muttered to himself) at providing protection for a convoy. The only slight glitch was the failure of the frigate, Gamling, to get to its assigned station on time. Kif had fired a message to it expressing the Commodore's concern. He thought about the Gamling's young CO and wondered if he needed to do something. "Later," he thought. "It's been a stressful morning and I should turn in for some sleep. I'll have to be up late tonight working out the planned sweep we're going to be running."
He yawned and turned command over to the OOD. "Brannigan should be here," he thought resentfully, "but I guess showing up an hour after breakfast and expressing boredom at the whole convoy event was the best we could expect. At least he didn't try to alter the plan."
As Kif walked out he heard one of the petty officers whisper to another, "Not too shabby a job by Zapp's cabin boy." He didn't even stop. He'd heard it before. A lot of the crew didn't respect him because he was seen as Zapp's flunky.
Kif remembered how shy and scared he was when he'd come to the Nimbus. He'd just completed a tour on a star base and came to the Nimbus to be the supply officer. Just a young ensign at the time, he was terrified of everything. His people were not particularly brave or daring. As far as Kif knew, he was the only one of his species to join the military. Most of his people chose government careers with the DOOP or went into business and other more mundane things.
He found such careers uninteresting. His interest in the DOOP Navy stemmed from the time he was a young tad. He had gotten the opportunity to go up to his home planet's orbit with his father who was a factor for a food supply company. He was delivering a consignment of fresh food to a DOOP destroyer. As the cargo transport approached the long sleek ship, Kif had been entranced by its graceful look and the sense of power. Once they were on board, the order and quiet of the ship and its crew had impressed Kif. It seemed so powerful and precise. The captain, a stocky young woman with short black hair, had spoken to his father and patted Kif on the head. She had grinned at him when he stuttered out a question about the ship but she answered him seriously. From that moment on, Kif knew what he wanted to do. His father thought him a romantic idiot but did not do more than warn his son about associating with the volatile humans. Kif had dismissed that as his father's racial prejudice against aliens. He did not realize that his father knew a lot about humans.
The humans made up the majority of the DOOP Federation's population and provided most of the military. But the DOOP wanted some diversity in the military and Kif landed a recommendation to the DOOP Naval Academy on Nova Columbia in the Tau Ceti system. For the shy young Kif Kroker, it had been a difficult time. He had no problems with the academics but the boisterous humans scared him. He almost quit several times but the academy chaplain, a Catholic priest, had befriended him and helped him find the courage to continue. Kif made it through and was commissioned as an ensign. At the same time, he also took the Roman Catholic faith as his own. His own people tended to view religion as a superstition but Kif had found comfort in it. He wasn't a noisy convert but went on quietly believing and rarely talking to anyone about it.
His first assignment had sent him to the star base at Altair as a supply officer. Kif had proven himself quite good at it and even received a commendation for his work. After two years, the Navy decided he needed to have some shipboard experience. His next assignment sent him to the Nimbus to be a supply officer. Kif thought the Nimbus a large and ugly ship compared to the sleek destroyer he'd seen in his home planet's orbit. Worse, the commander, Zapp Brannigan, matched the Nimbus. He was a large, loud and boorish human. Kif soon realized that Brannigan did everything loudly. Brannigan, on the other hand, found Kif an endless source of amusement. Kif came to dread the morning officers' call. Brannigan would make fun of his stuttering and mock his appearance. Eventually, Brannigan found that Kif would obey orders without question. Quickly Brannigan began ordering him to perform degrading personal chores for him. Kif was too scared to tell him no and did as ordered. Only his faith and the work kept him going.
When he wasn't working or on watch, he'd stay in his cabin that he shared with one of the junior engineers. The fellow was a gregarious human who spent most of his free time in the wardroom playing poker or was down in the gym. Kif rarely saw him. He spent his free time reading his bible or studying to improve as a navy officer.
After six months on the Nimbus, Kif was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade. Along with the promotion, he should have moved up to command the Nimbus' Supply division, but Zapp decided to make Kif his personal aide. This meant Kif spent a substantial amount of time alone with Brannigan. Kif was horrified that Brannigan felt he could unburden himself to Kif about all his problems. He supposed it was because he was an alien and it made Brannigan more comfortable about revealing his innermost thoughts. Adding to the hardship, Brannigan expected him to be on call at all hours.
Kif resolved to overcome this trial by learning how to handle the ship. He quickly mastered the subject and thought he could be a captain someday. He qualified Officer of the Deck and began to stand watches. While commanding the ship, Kif came to understand that Brannigan wasn't very good at his job. He couldn't understand why Zapp was able to remain in command.
By this time, the Nimbus was no longer a front line unit. It became obvious to everyone that Zapp was not looked upon favorably by the Navy high command. Soon, most of the experienced officers and enlisted men arranged transfers. As a sure sign of the Navy's disfavor, the replacements were raw rookies fresh out of boot camp, technical school or the academy or troublemakers dumped on the Nimbus by their former commanders. The Nimbus suffered severe discipline problems that were only put to rest when Brannigan ordered the Marine contingent to "go bust some heads". It wasn't legal but the discipline troubles lessened.
Four years aboard the Nimbus saw Kif finally promoted to Lieutenant. Besides Zapp, only the Nimbus' doctor was now senior to Kif. Since the doctor wasn't a line officer, Kif was made the new first officer. Kif took the job seriously but was too shy and frightened to oppose Brannigan's inane orders. Sometimes Brannigan managed to do things right but most times he was like a buggalo in a china shop.
As required by his role of first officer, Kif tried to concentrate on training the Nimbus' crew. But Brannigan's constant demands for attention wore Kif down. Kif began to hear the whispered comments of the crew. Not realizing how sharp his people's hearing was, the enlisted men would call him "Zapp's Cabin Boy" or "Brannigan's Valet" thinking him unable to hear them. Some of the other names had sexual connotations. Kif became melancholy and deeply depressed. Only his religious faith kept him going. But his despair deepened over time and he began to lose his faith in the Navy.
Two chance meetings changed Kif's life. First, he met Amy Wong and fell in love. He knew that it was wrong of him to love her for the two species were genetically incompatible. Although he had given birth to children when Leela had accidentally transferred her DNA to his reproduction glands, Kif had hoped that this meant Amy and he had a chance for children. He realized much later that the cross species pollination was due to Eternians' genetic manipulation of Leela's line.
Nevertheless, Amy brought happiness to Kif's life. He believed that Amy gave him something to live for. Kif found talking to Amy lightened the heavy burden he felt. She would commiserate with him over the trials and tribulations of life with Brannigan. So, incompatible or not, he loved her. Amy and Kif discussed his leaving the service after his time was up. Amy had arranged for Kif to get an office job with Mr. Wong's company upon his separation. Kif agreed to it although he privately thought Leo Wong was just as much a tyrant as Zapp was. He still had two years to serve but he was due a transfer. He had planned to ask for assignment to the navy base at Io so he could spend his last years in the Navy closer to Amy.
The other meeting was aboard the Nimbus when the mysterious DOOP Intelligence officer, Major Smith, and his robot companion, Rand, had come to interrogate Doctor Zoidberg about his dealings with the Eternians. The major had asked Kif to do something for the good of the service. It had appealed to Kif's sense of duty and was something Kif wanted very badly. He believed in the oath every Navy man swore and wanted to do something that would allow him to make up for the wasted years. The major's request that Kif keep Brannigan from killing any more sailors and marines had given Kif his opportunity. He'd let Amy know that he wasn't going to be leaving the service. Kif told her he loved her but had to do this. It was for his own sense of self worth, he had thought at the time. He had to be able to do something to make up for the years he'd wasted kowtowing to Brannigan. He wasn't there yet but one day, he'd stand up to Zapp and be free of him. Amy had cried but said that she loved him whatever he did.
Something had changed in Kif that day; he found new strengths in himself. With Zapp as Task Force commander, Kif was temporary captain of the Nimbus but he made most of the decisions for the Task Force too. He was essentially the commander of Task Force Brannigan. He usually couched everything as a suggestion to Zapp and made sure that Zapp had the impression that it was his own idea and not Kif's. Although he still did personal chores for him, Kif was looking forward to the future. He yawned again and dismissed the gloomy memories
"Tonight, we're going to sweep the Oort cloud and if we're very lucky, we might bag a raider," Kif thought with grim relish. The Gamma Sector had spotted something it thought might be a raider headed into Epsilon's half of the Oort cloud.
"Most likely it's a sensor gremlin," Kif thought, "but maybe, just maybe…" He had sent out an alert message to the Task Force and had been pleased to see them headed for their assigned stations. Task Force Brannigan was starting to jell and Kif took immense pride in it. He was preparing for bed when the intercom buzzed.
"Kif, I need you in my cabin right away." Zapp's voice sounded cheerful and, to Kif's tired mind, scandalously well rested.
"Sir, I've been up all night. We've got an operation on for tonight. I liked to get a couple of hours sleep." Kif said wearily.
"Nonsense, it's not even lunch time yet. I know your people don't need sleep like we humans do. Come right away." Zapp said cheerfully as he terminated the conversation.
As he left his cabin, Kif sighed. "Probably needs another ointment treatment. Zapp's Cabin Boy indeed."
Fire Base Glasgow, Da Nang -
The major looked out over the wire at the muddy open space. It extended for nearly a half mile in all directions. Beyond it lay the thick jungle and looming in the far distance was shadowy Myksho Ridge. The ridge divided the Souvema plateau valley from the Ashowa valley. It was in that valley that the major's targets were located. In Ashowa, there were Persae, known as Barcha to the bugs. The Persae were allies of the bugs and had provided weapons to them. The major suspected that these Persae were part of a technical support mission. The major's mission was to capture a Persae and bring it or its DNA back for the DOOP's biowarfare scientists to study. The operation was considered suicidal by some in the high command which had given rise to the operation's code name - Dice Roll. The major longed to get started but the operation had been put off again to prevent embarrassing another DOOP diplomatic effort to open negotiations with the Persae.
So for now, he found himself doing special duty for the 51st Highlander Division at the request of its CO. He had been going around the Highlander fire bases and giving them a thorough going over. So far he was unimpressed. The Highlanders had not done a good job digging in as was specified in the IV Corps standing orders on defensive positions. The Highlanders were a very offensive minded lot and liked to take the fight to the bugs. The thought of burrowing into the ground like moles did not strike them as the proper use of a fine hard-hitting outfit. They had rung up several successful actions against the bugs and were quite taken with themselves.
He had come to Fire Base Glasgow two days ago. It was made clear to him that he and Rand weren't welcome; especially Rand. It was odd how much the human troopers on Da Nang disliked her. It must be something psychological, he thought, some resentment that they had to work hard while robots couldn't serve here. But, they didn't stop him from doing his job. In the command bunker, the major had an unsatisfactory discussion with Lieutenant Colonel Eric al Shouf, commander of Glasgow. The man was a warrior through and through. He didn't believe in cowering in holes and letting the enemy come to him. He commanded a battalion of Gordon Highlanders at Glasgow and kept them on the hop after the bugs. The major had pointed out several glaring weaknesses in Glasgow's defenses but the colonel wasn't concerned.
"Major, I realized that you are General Le Maurieny's representative and he has tasked you with checking out our setup here. But the Highlanders don't let the bugs come to us, we go get them. We've been hammering them for the entire six months I've been here and my predecessor did the same. We're just not going to let the buggies get close enough."
His executive officer, a tall Sikh major, chimed in with, "Major Smith, the bugs have never done much but try to sneak some small squads past us to raid Thunderbolt or snipe at us. They've barely got any heavy weapons and they don't seem to be able to handle the Persae weapons that well. Really, I ask you, can you believe the bugs will even attempt to attack us. We've got enough artillery on call to chew them up. They know that. No, major, it will be small harassing raids with an occasionally mortar round in the middle of the night. No reason to waste our men's energy digging holes in the mud when we can use them to go pound on the buggies."
Major Smith gave a grim smile and said, "Just cause the bugs haven't tried it yet, doesn't mean it won't ever happen. For god's sake, you're ignoring the corps directive on camp defenses."
Colonel al Shouf laughed, "General Le Maurieny inspected us last month and didn't say squat about it. You are a newcomer here, major. You don't understand how much a soldier's energy is sapped by doing manual labor in the heat of Da Nang's atmosphere. Now maybe if you'd like to lend us your personal fembot here to do the digging…." Shouf gave a sneering nod in Rand's direction making it clear he did not like her.
Major Smith shook his head. "No sir. Rand is a specialist. She is not designed to dig holes. Colonel, I will have to report what I see here to Highlander HQ."
Colonel al Shouf nodded. "Report what you like. But the general knows that the Gordons are fighting outfit." He turned to his staff and gave some orders. The Gordons were prepping for another seek and destroy mission that night with two companies. The Sikh major who was going to command the operation tried to ameliorate the tense atmosphere between the two officers by inviting Smith to join them for a taste of action. Colonel al Shouf had concurred with the caveat that the major leave his "damned splotchy robot" behind. Smith had looked over at the mottled green and brown colored Rand and shook his head. "We're a team. We don't go anywhere without the other. Besides," the major grinned, "she wouldn't allow it." The colonel had given a thin smile and thanked the major for his observations. The major saluted and walked out of the bunker with Rand. As he left, he heard al Shouf say, "Damned stuck up Special Forces asshole. Who the hell…." His voice trailed away as Smith walked further from the bunker door.
Smith shook his head and clenched his fists. He went and stood at the wire looking out at the too short open space and the badly sited bunkers with inadequate fields of fire. Rand came up beside him. She could see that he was angry. He looked over at her. "Rand, they think themselves invulnerable. Just because the bugs haven't ever struck a fire base in force, it doesn't mean it can't happen."
"What will you do, sir?"
Smith lifted his breather for a moment to spit angrily onto the red mud. "I'll send my report up to Aberdeen. Don't know if they'll read it. I'm an outsider to them and Special Forces to boot. They'll not listen to me. I'll have to get the division commander to kick their butts. That's if he isn't suffering from the same bloody mindset. Might have to go all the way to Corps. Arrogant sods. They'll change their tune after they get a bloody nose. God knows how many will have to die for them to learn it. Come on, let's roust our driver and get going. We'll head on over to Edinburgh and see if that is in any better shape though I really doubt it. Goddamn the Highlanders."
DOOP Naval Vessel Gamling -
The Gamling was patrolling the area where Sectors Gamma and Epsilon intersected. The commander of the Gamling had read the Nimbus' message about potential raider activity and had ordered a heightened alert status. The frigate slowly wound its way up along the sector border doing sensor sweeps and mapping the area. This sector was filled with dust and debris from Da Nang's outer Oort cloud and several comets were detected by the Gamling. They were supposed to join up with the Sobutho and Wales later that evening for a planned sweep of the cloud. The Gamling's CO decided to run a sweep as they headed towards the rendezvous point. "Hopefully," the commander thought, "tonight's mission would be more interesting than convoy duty." The commander found convoy duty rather boring and wished they could be assigned to the main fleet efforts out towards Greendale.
"That's where the action will be," she thought, "not doing this tedious stuff. And we'd be away from Brannigan and that green devil of a first officer." She wondered about Brannigan. He had a reputation as a great leader but the meeting on the Nimbus had raised questions in her mind. She liked to think of herself as a perceptive woman. She pegged Brannigan as a blowhard and Kroker, she decided, was a nasty bit of work. All that shyness and polite veneer masked a sharp intellect which made her wonder why he was covering for Brannigan.
Now Kroker had revealed his claws. When the Gamling had been late arriving on station for convoy duty due to the fact that the navigator couldn't find his ass with both hands, she recalled with bitterness, Kroker had sent a message that expressed very politely the Commodore's disappointment in her "inefficiency" and how he hoped to see "improvement" very soon. She could read between the lines and recognized that Kroker was going to keep an eye on the Gamling. Brannigan may be a gas bag, she thought, but Kroker wasn't the type to forget the mistake. She'd never set a foot wrong till now. She had graduated near the top of her class and was the first in her class to get a command. She was a high flyer with ambition to spare. She would have to do something to get that black mark out of Kroker's mind. So, she drove the Gamling's crew hard. Her own first officer had complained and she had chewed him out in front of the bridge crew. A mistake, she recognized, and a sure sign of the stress she was feeling.
Mutant Town, New New York -
Leela spent the next few days drifting in and out of sleep. Her parents fussed over her which she liked at first but soon found it a little too much attention. She wanted to get up and go back to her apartment but the Army doctor forbade it. Leela asked her parents if she could move to the couch. The thought of her middle-aged parents sleeping on the couch while she was in their bed made her feel guilty. Her father said that the other mutants had brought a spare bed over for them. But Leela was insistent and got them to switch beds so they could have their room back. At least after the second day, they had to go do their jobs which left Leela alone to watch TV or read a book. Initially, she found it a strain to do nothing since she was an active person but she soon relaxed as she realized how mentally tired she was. She had been pushing herself hard since Fry had been drafted and the enforced rest was good for her. However, she spent a lot of time thinking about Fry and worrying about him.
The doctor had gotten started on the vaccinations two days after Leela took sick and everyone in Mutant Town including the 7th New New York Engineers was vaccinated. Vyolet became ill but was not as badly affected as Leela was. Both she and the doctor checked on Leela regularly. The doctor told her she could go home in a couple of days.
After Leela had been there four days, Munda had gotten the soldiers to lend them a vidphone so Leela could call her friends topside. Leela immediately called Amy. Leela was happy to see her friend and told Amy all about her sickness. Amy nodded and said no one at Planet Express had been ill but an Army doctor had come and given them all the vaccine. New New York's bureaucracy had been hit very hard by the virus causing some administrative problems. The city of New New York had mandated vaccine shots for the entire city. Amy said that the DOOP Federation was initiating a massive vaccination campaign as several dozen people had already died from the virus and many more were ill. Rumors were running rampant about another Persae plague but the authorities were denying it which in Amy's opinion meant it was true.
Amy then asked about the meeting with Morgan. Leela related what had happened and Amy looked disheartened. Leela told her to cheer up since she was still thinking of a plan to get Fry back. Amy nodded without much enthusiasm and began talking about having to replace the engine.
"What about Bender? And the Professor?"
"Hermes got the Professor into rehab for his drug problem. He'll be gone for nearly two months. I don't think he wanted to go but Hermes quoted some law that gave him the right as bureaucratic oversight of Planet Express to enforce the drug policies of New New York. As for Bender, I'm working on him in my spare time. Robotic programming is really time-consuming and Bender's programming is hard. I'm tempted to erase him and start all over."
"Amy! Don't do that. We promised him we'd get him back."
Amy grinned, "Spluh! Don't worry. I'll fix him back up. And don't worry about losing any pay. Hermes has been grumbling about having to pay you for your sick time." She paused. "Oh, and Doctor Zoidberg has gone missing again."
Leela was surprised to hear about her getting paid, Hermes was a stickler about no work, no pay. She wasn't surprised to hear Zoidberg had disappeared again. "He's always going off somewhere these days," she said wondering about some of the out of character changes Zoidberg had been exhibiting lately. She mentioned it to Amy but she said she hadn't noticed anything different about him.
"I'm sure he'll show up again. Just like he did before we left for New Eden." Leela said.
Amy nodded. "Yeah, maybe. Hermes must know something. He's been going with me on the deliveries and every time I mention Zoidberg, he just starts laughing."
"What about the big Navy delivery? It's in two days. I don't know if they'll let me go yet. I may be here for a few more days."
"It's been delayed until early November. Evidently the Navy thinks we'll need protection. We'll now have to go to some place called Gooney Bird Station to link up with a convoy to Maug. Nothing will be ready for a month. G'uh, that reminds me. The bonuses didn't happen either. Hermes says our fines from New Eden ate them. He blames you for it. I think he has been acting very mean lately."
"I'll deal with Hermes when I get back. Anything from Fry?" Leela tried to sound casual although it was the only thing she really wanted to know about. Amy laughed and said, "I was wondering how long it would take for you to get around to him." Leela felt her face heat up.
"Nothing yet but he may not be able to send anything. Kif e-mailed me to say a lot of transport ships are running under communications blackout due to the raiders. Kiffie was shocked to hear about Fry and says he'll see what he can do from his end. Although he didn't say anything, I get the feeling that he's really busy right now so we might have to get Fry out of this mess ourselves." Amy looked smug. "However, I did find something that he left for you."
Leela felt a sudden leap in her pulse, "What is it?" she asked eagerly and then thinking she sounded too eager, repeated the question in a slower more disinterested tone.
Amy burst out laughing. "You can't fool me, Turanga Leela. And it's something you will have to see for yourself." She smiled wickedly as she broke the connection. Leela grabbed her pillow and flung it at the vidscreen, calling Amy a number of impolite names.
Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg looked up from the jumbo bag of potato chips he was eating as the basement door opened and two robots came down the stairs. They grabbed Zoidberg and took him up to the kitchen. The Donbot was sitting at the table with his usual collection of robot "associates". Zoidberg was made to sit in the chair opposite the Donbot. The Donbot puffed on his cigar and looked Zoidberg over.
"Doctor Zoidberg, my friend, you do not look in too good of shape. Are you not feeling well?"
Zoidberg gave him a desperate look. "I'm not being fed enough and there is no TV. There's no nothing. I'm going crazy in that basement."
The Donbot nodded and said, "We are giving you enough food to feed an adult human for a day. You are a glutton, my dear doctor."
Zoidberg shook his head violently. "My species requires three times the calories a normal human does. I'm starving. You must give me more food."
The Donbot shook his head. "Sadly, doctor, your friends at Planet Express do not think you are worth saving. When we called, they denied you even worked there. Now, I ask, you, why would they do that?"
Zoidberg gave a sad smile. "You must be talking to Hermes. He hates me. Get in touch with the Professor."
"The professor seems to have been institutionalized for drug addiction. He cannot get the money. Anyone else? Perhaps the two females? Might they be more concerned about you?"
Zoidberg felt a chill of fear. He didn't want these gangsters to get near Leela or Amy. "There is always Scruffy."
The Donbot laughed. "The janitor? He's the one you want us to contact? Oh my goodness, Doctor Zoidberg, you are quite the comedian." The other robots laughed as well. "No, my dear doctor, we'll not be contacting a janitor. No we'll discuss you with one of the ladies and if they don't respond, we'll grab one of them too. That might help your friend, Hermes wasn't it? Yes, Hermes. It might help him to remember and live up to Planet Express' obligation to me."
Zoidberg trilled and said, "The women can't help you. If you really want to get them to pay, grab Hermes."
"No doctor, we're not grabbing a bureaucrat. We'd have the whole government down on us. It is too dangerous. No, we'll do it my way. Now, it's time for you to go back to your lovely accommodations." The other robots grabbed Zoidberg and began hauling him back to the basement. The Donbot stood and called out, "And cut his rations in half as well."
Zoidberg screamed, "No!" as they tossed him down the stairs.
DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif was stunned. He was sitting in Zapp's cabin and listening as Zapp discussed love specifically Zapp's love for Leela. Zapp had asked him to come to his cabin and Kif had expected to be asked to perform the usual degrading personal service. Instead he found Zapp staring at Leela's photo and sighing.
"Kif, old friend," he said, "you've been in love and you have a woman that loves you. How'd did you make that happen?"
Kif started to explain how Amy and he respected each other when Zapp interrupted.
"I've tried sending her flowers, letters and presents. They're all returned with a return to sender, drop dead, on them. I've tried wining and dining her in fine restaurants. She either refuses to go or leaves early if she does. I've told her I love her. She ignores me. Nothing works. My God Kif, what will it take to win the heart of Turanga Leela?"
Kif was amazed. "The big buffoon actually loves her. Zapp Brannigan in love? It's too horrible to think about," he thought with a shudder. Kif tried to remember the last time he saw Zapp with a woman. Usually it was some lady of ill repute but lately he had been alone.
"Your girl friend, Annie, does she say Leela ever talks about me?" Zapp asked.
Kif frowned. "It's Amy and as far as I know, Leela never says a word about you."
Zapp groaned and stared at the photo again. "There has to be a way, Kif." He looked over at him and Kif could see that Zapp had tears in his eyes. Kif suddenly felt pity for Zapp. He thought about the Eternians and recognized that there was no way that Zapp and Leela would ever be together even if Zapp wasn't an obnoxious jerk. He shook his head sadly and said quietly, "Commodore, er Zapp, you shouldn't obsess over Leela. There are other women…"
Zapp almost shouted, "I don't want other women. I want Leela. You don't understand. I can't stop thinking about her. She is the most perfect woman in the universe."
Kif sighed. "Leela is meant to be with Fry. Amy believes it as do I."
"Fry, Fry. Always that pipsqueak." Zapp said suddenly enraged. "I'm twice the man he is and I'm a Navy captain. No a commodore. Why can't Leela see that I'm the better man?"
Kif almost said, "Because you're not." But he settled for, "Leela and Fry are destined to be together. You need to accept it."
"Accept it, like hell," Zapp said truly angry. "I've fixed Fry's wagon and Leela will find me the only man left who really loves her."
"Fixed Fry's wagon," Kif said slowly, "what have you done?"
Zapp gave a sly smile. Kif was suddenly afraid that he knew. He stood up and walked over to Zapp. "What have you done?" he yelled. Zapp stared at him in surprise and, like a child caught doing something wrong, said meekly, "I had my aunt arrange for Fry to be drafted and sent to Da Nang. If he is killed, then Leela will turn to me."
Kif felt his vision swim. He wanted to strike Zapp. He wanted to take out his pistol and shoot him. "You damned fool. How could you do that? What makes you think Leela would want to be with the man who sent Fry to his death? Did you think of that?"
Zapp thought for a moment and then said, "She's the type of woman that appreciates the grand gesture. I'm sure that she will see that I was willing to do anything to win her love even violating all the rules."
Kif groaned. He turned to Zapp and said quietly, "Zapp, I suggest you not tell anyone about this. Especially not Leela. She might skin you alive.
Zapp laughed. "Skinned alive by Leela. That would be sexalicious."
Kif threw up his hands and walked out of the cabin.
DOOP Naval Transport, Roger Young -
Only a week out from Sol and Fry was already bone tired. The training regime on the Young was hard, much harder than boot camp had been. They were out of bed at 0430. They did calisthenics till 0600 followed by a sonic shower and breakfast. Then, the virtual reality training started. Fry had thought it would be like the Internet video games he'd played at Planet Express but it was a lot tougher and more exhausting. The very first time out, Fry was killed twice and the training sergeant chewed him out for allowing it to happen.
"Dammit, Fry. You're the medic not an infantryman. They'll need you to treat the wounded. If you keep running into the line of fire like you're playing Donkey Kong, you'll be KIA'd and won't be a damn bit of use to your platoon. Get it through your head, son, that this isn't a damned video game." The sergeant had said in a furious tone. After Fry had been killed for the third time, the sergeant assigned Fry some extra cleaning duty on the ship's mess deck to "enhance his concentration." Fry spent his free time that night scrubbing dishes. After that, Fry was more cautious and managed to perform to the sergeant's satisfaction.
Following the combat training, they spent two hours in a classroom brushing up on the conditions on Da Nang, the tactics used by the bugs, and the sundry other things a soldier in combat had to know. Then the troops broke out into separate classes to work on their specialties. Fry found himself doing virtual reality medical practice. He learned how to deal with casualties in a realistic setting. It was pretty awful as the Persae had supplied the bugs with shrapnel type weapons that made horrible wounds. But at least Fry got use to the sights and the sounds of combat medicine. The Roger Young's doctor had done a tour at a fire support base on Da Nang and gave several lectures on the conditions there.
After the day's training was completed, everyone was required to clean up their assigned area. No matter how shiny the floor, it could always be stripped and re-waxed. No toilet was ever clean enough and berthing compartments had to be spic-an-span. Colonel Moscewicz had a discerning eye and no dust bunny went unnoticed. Fry grew to hate the smell of disinfectant and floor wax. Everyone bitched about doing robot work but the colonel would not relent on this. "We'll carry our own weight on the Young, gentlemen," he supposedly told the officers and sergeants.
Once the cleaning was complete, dinner was served. Afterwards a trooper could enjoy time playing video games, reading from the ship's electronic library or watching ancient movies in the Young's assembly area. For Fry, however, the main entertainment on the Young was the ice cream machine. Fry filled up on ice cream whenever he could.
Everyone stood watch including the officers. Fry found being up late at night to guard a passageway was one of the most excruciating things he'd ever had to do. It was hard to keep his eyes open but Fry made every effort to stay awake. Moscewicz had a distressing habit of showing up in the middle of the night to tour the spaces. When one of the troopers was caught sleeping on watch, Moscewicz had him clean out one of the Young's waste processors with a scrub brush.
When Fry had time off and wasn't totally exhausted, he began working on a letter to Leela. Colonel Moscewicz had said the Roger Young was under communications blackout due to the raiders so no e-mail was allowed until they got to Maug. Fry kept adding to his letter when he got the chance. Otherwise he slept and dreamt of her. He wondered what she was doing and if she ever thought of him.
Mutant Town, New New York -
Leela was sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee and chatting with her mother. Leela felt her old self again and was looking forward to going back to work. The doctor had given her permission to leave saying she was back in good health. Munda had taken the day off to help Leela get ready to go back to the surface. Leela helped her mom clean up the house and restore the living room. Now they sat at the table.
"Mom, can you tell me some more about you and Dad?"
"What do you want to know?" Munda said with a gentle smile.
"How'd you two get together? What were my grandparents like? Do you have any brothers and sisters? You know, everything." Leela said laughingly.
Munda laughed as well and said, "Well, we only have a few hours before you leave but I can fill in a little bit. My parents, your grandparents, were Turanga Henry and Sheila. Your dad's parents were Turanga Ezra and Sophie." Leela put up her hand.
"Hold on. You mean that you and Dad are related?"
"We're second cousins. There aren't a lot of mutants down here. Most of us are related somewhat. Anyway, I had two brothers, Arnold and Kiefer. Your dad had a sister, Marie." Munda shook her head with sadness. "They all died young. That's a curse of living down here. Premature death is common here. Or perhaps I should say was. The arrival of the Army has changed a lot of things."
Leela felt saddened that her aunt and uncles had died before she got to know them. "Mom, how old are you?"
Munda took a drink of her coffee and smiled impishly, "Why, Leela, I'm sixty years old. Your dad is sixty one. We are two of the longest lived mutants down here. Some say we're just lucky but I think Fiona had a lot to do with it. While she worked hard to help all the mutants, she seemed to treat Morris and me as special. She helped me when Morris and I wanted a child. We tried for years and nothing. Then Fiona gave me this herb to take and a few weeks later, you were conceived. We've been blessed, your father and I. You were the most beautiful mutant child ever born here."
Leela blushed. "Aw mom, I'm sure every mother says the same thing. How did you and Dad meet?"
"I've always suspected Fiona played matchmaker for us. At the time, I was working on my degree and paying my tuition by writing term papers for topsiders via the Internet. I spent most of my time at my computer so that I rarely had a social life. One day, some friends of mine came over and dragged me out to a party at Fiona's house. She was noted for having some fine parties with real surface food so I went. I was very shy girl and mainly stayed on the couch talking with my girlfriends. Fiona brought over this tall young man with purple hair and one eye. I thought him very handsome. Fiona had us dance together and I admit I was smitten with him but I was cautious. He struck me as a handsome fool. He only cared about having fun and partying. I was a serious girl and wanted a man who had a future." Leela felt a sudden chill run down her spine. "He was Morris of course and while I liked the way he looked, I refused to consider him a worthwhile suitor. He kept after me and I constantly rejected him. Lord, I was such a snob. I sometimes wonder who the bigger fool was. After a few months, he began to show up to ask me if I needed any help. He had cut back on his drinking which was one of the things I didn't like about him and he was clean. That is a notable thing for mutants. I found things for him to do around my house and secretly spied on him just so I could look at him. Good lord, Leela, your father was a stud. He was so strong and tall with that cute eye. Pretty soon we were dating and a year later he asked me to marry him. I had totally misjudged him. While your father isn't the brightest man alive, he has a lot of wonderful qualities. He is brave and kind and thoughtful. He is always bringing me little gifts. He makes me laugh. And that is an important quality for someone living down here."
"Oh Mom, that is so romantic." Leela gushed. Munda nodded and then looked seriously at her. "So Leela, do you have a young man in your life?"
Leela reddened again and said, "Well, …no, no one right now, Mom. But I'm hopeful."
"It's hard to believe a beautiful woman like you doesn't have to beat the men off with a stick."
Leela blushed again and decided to change the subject. "What did you mean the Army has changed a lot of things?"
Munda grinned as she recognized her daughter didn't want to talk about her personal life. She wondered about this Fry person whose name Leela had called a few times in her sleep. She tried to remember if that was the name of the young man who worked with Leela. "Well," she thought, "she's obviously conflicted about him. I'll wait a bit before I pry."
"When the engineers came down, they brought two things with them: some robots to clean up the toxic and radiological waste and a medical staff. Vyolet is a good midwife but she doesn't have a lot of equipment or medicines. The Army medical staff began giving the mutants free medical care. Doctor Morami said that his people could learn a lot while treating the mutants. We have a lot of sickness and death here. Radiation and toxic poisoning, all manner of cancers, and a lot of diseases. They treated all of it and with clean water and fresh food, we mutants have been getting healthier. They've cut down on the child mortality rate dramatically. We're seeing babies survive past their first year." Munda suddenly had tears in her eyes. "They saved your father. He had a dangerous malignant tumor in his brain that would have killed him in a few months. We didn't even know it was there. I bless General Abrams for what he has done for us. We mutants owe him a lot. That's why we are working for him. That's why we have two regiments willing to fight for him."
Leela looked at her teary eyed mother and reached over to hug her.
DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Standing in the Nimbus' communications room, Kif frowned at the message from the Gamling. The frigate's CO had once again shown herself unable to follow orders correctly. The Task Force in Sector Gamma had reported that they'd tracked what they thought might be a suspected contact on long-range sensors crossing the boundary into Sector Epsilon. It might be a raider or it might be a sensor gremlin, no one was sure. It wasn't much to go on, but Kif had planned to use the Sobutho, Wales and Gamling as beaters to drive any suspected raider towards the rest of the Task Force. That would allow the slower Nimbus to use its powerful sensor array to target the raider and guide the other speedier ships to the kill.
The Gamling had been ordered to rendezvous with the other two ships. The Gamling's commander had responded with a message saying they were prosecuting a contact and would be delayed. Long range scans showed the frigate was sweeping towards an Oort cloud debris area. The very place that Kif suspected they would find the raider. The Gamling's CO was going to ruin his plan and spook the raider. Suddenly Kif had a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach and sent a top priority order for the Gamling to break off and rendezvous as ordered. Another order went to the Sobutho directing it and the Wales to move towards the Gamling immediately at top speed.
Kif had studied the Task Force commanders when they had first met. Most were long serving DOOP Navy officers. Save for the Gamling's CO, all had spent at least a year in command of their vessel. The Gamling's commander had only recently taken command after a year at a star base. Kif judged her extremely intelligent but brittle. She was too green for such a command in wartime. She should have been exec on a destroyer before she got her command. Kif had planned to remedy the situation. He was going to bring her up to be on the Task Force staff so she could get some seasoning in planning Task Force operations. He hadn't done it immediately because he wanted to give her a chance to prove him wrong. That had been a foolish mistake. All he had done was put the crew at risk.
Kif walked out the door onto the bridge. Brannigan was slouching in the captain's chair with his leg propped over its arm. He was watching the situation map displayed on a view screen. He grinned at Kif and pointed to the map.
"Looks like the Gamling has got themselves a raider. Damn, I wish we were there for the kill."
Kif looked up at the map and saw that the Sobutho and Wales had increased speed but the Gamling was moving further away. Kif felt anger building in him. The Gamling was like a reckless hound now; too far ahead of the other hunters. Alone, there was a danger the quarry could turn on her. It was too far away for direct communications from the Nimbus but if they could get a message to the Sobutho's captain, they just might be able to pull her back in time. He turned to give the order to the Comm officer when one of the petty officers on the sensors called out. "Sir, the Gamling just disappeared off the screen."
Kif looked up and saw the dot representing the Gamling was gone. Brannigan sat up straight and said, "Holy… What the hell happened to them?"
Kif felt his heart sink into his boots. He turned to Zapp and said, "The raider got them, sir."
An hour later, the Sobutho reported that they had found wreckage of the Gamling but no survivors. Brannigan had ordered the rest of the task force towards the area. Kif knew that they wouldn't find the raider. "It has already retreated back into Gamma sector," he thought bitterly. The Nimbus wouldn't reach the area for another two hours and Kif recommended that the Sobutho and Wales rejoin the task force. Even Zapp saw the sense of it and gave the order.
Zapp retired to eat dinner and Kif turned over command to the OOD. Zapp and Kif walked off the bridge together. As they walked, Zapp put his hand on Kif's shoulder.
"Don't blame yourself, Kif." Brannigan said in his usual booming tone. "They were doomed from the start. It was only a matter of time till your plans blew up and killed someone."
Kif stopped and stared up at Zapp. He was smiling and Kif realized that Zapp didn't mean it the way it sounded. Kif sighed and nodded. Blaming himself was exactly what he was doing. Zapp got onto the elevator and headed for his cabin. Kif went to his cabin and sat down on his bed. He began thinking about the seventy-eight sailors on the Gamling. He'd killed them by not following his instincts about the Gamling's commanding officer.
"Not Zapp. I killed them," he thought miserably. "The major left me a job and I've failed miserably. My cowardice and weakness killed all of them." He felt the tears come. He put his face down into his pillow and wept.