Fan Fiction

Background Noise, Part 6
By Dave Vincent

Amy's Got a Gun

(The resurrected head program was started in 2989 by a group of robotic engineers who had decided to combine their skill at Internet surfing with robotic programming. They hit upon the moneymaking scheme of resurrecting famous figures from the past. Given the hunger for knowledge of the civilization that existed prior to the Persae attack, the resurrected head program was a smash hit. Using pre-formed android heads created by Mom's Friendly Robot Company and imprinting Internet records onto their positronic brains, the young engineers brought to life many pre-Persae figures. However, it was later found that these resurrected heads only knew what was available on the Internet. This resulted in entertainment, media and controversial historical figures being more aware than other lesser known personalities. Thus the resurrected Lucy Liu would be able to discuss her time much more competently than a vague historical figure such as Chester A. Arthur. Eventually, the misuse and abuse of the heads resulted in the government stepping in and shutting down the program. The heads ended up in the New New York Head Museum where they were allowed to make public appearances to help defray expenses. No further historical figures were resurrected after 2998 except for a special request by the government. General Creighton Abrams was recalled to duty in 3001 to deal with the Persae. Rather than use the typical Internet download, the government insisted that every available piece of material be used to create his memory. Newsprint articles, media presentations, government reports, books, the general's private papers and even other people's correspondence that mentioned him went into his programming. He was the most fully realized historical figure of the whole program and the last ever created. Bringing the Past Alive - The Resurrected Heads 2989 - 3001 by Sofie Fenwick, New New York Post-Times Books, 3065)

(A short green three-eyed alien dressed in a camouflaged Santa suit and a red fool's cap with bells appears on the TV screen. He is holding a small pistol with a huge gun sight attached to it. Behind him is a fake robot with a "middle man" sign on it. A red 'Special for Xmas' lettering appears on the screen. Ominous music plays in the background. - Hey you soft easily maimed humans out there. You think life is going to be safe this Xmas. Well let me give you the low down - it ain't. So what if the Navy knocked off Robot Santa, there's plenty of other robot fiends out there looking for some soft human flesh to crush. Here at Crazy Joe's Gun Emporium, we have just what you need for doing the smack down on the nastiest of robots. Right here in my hand, I have a really great gift. Just in time as a Xmas gift for your significant other - the Penetrator 3K2. Yes, this super little robokiller comes with your quick action trigger and the 'guaranteed or your money' back Nail-Em Dead-On Laser sight. Act now and I'll throw in two full clips of armor piercing, exploding tip bullets. That's right, two full clips of the most slamming ammo in the 'verse! Today, only three hundred ninety five dollars and ninety nine cents. That's right! I said three hundred and ninety five dollars and ninety nine cents. How can I do it, you ask? Cause here at Crazy Joe's Gun Emporium, we eliminate the middleman! The robot's eyes start rotating wildly and it says in a whiney electronic voice - Joe, you so crazy. You be stealing money from the middle man! Crazy Joe shakes his hat, making the bells ring loudly, and laughs in a maniacal tone. That's right! I'm so crazy that I'm cutting out the middle man. In fact, I'm going to shoot the greedy SOB! Crazy Joe turns and points the pistol at the robot. A red dot appears on its head. The robot's eyes bug out and it emits a keening moan. Crazy Joe fires at it and its head explodes. Joe starts laughing again. You heard ol' Crazy Joe. I'm practically giving these babies away. And ladies, it comes in pink and fuscia. The Penetrator 3K2, the perfect Xmas gift. - TV ad for Crazy Joe's Gun Emporium)

(Middle October, 3002)Planet Express, New New York -
Leela arrived at PE at eight in the morning. She walked into the meeting room and saw Hermes and Amy talking about the day's deliveries. Amy gave a squeal of joy and rushed over and hugged Leela.

"You're back. How are you feeling?" she asked in delight.

Leela smiled and said, "I'm well and ready to go back to work. Hermes, here's the paperwork the doctor gave me." She handed Hermes a small envelope. Hermes opened and, after reading it, frowned.

"Everything is in order so I guess you can return to work," he said with obvious disappointment. Leela guessed that Hermes was hoping that there would be some mistake so that he could dock her pay. She grinned and turned back to Amy. "How's restoring Bender coming along?"

Amy blew out a long breath and said, "I'm about a third of the way there. It's the hardest thing I've ever done. I wish the Professor was here. I could really use his help."

Hermes looked up from Leela's paperwork saying, "De Professor will be in de rehabilitation program for another month and a half."

Leela looked at Amy and said, "Amy, could you excuse us for a moment?"

Amy gave Leela a questioning look and Leela winked at her. Amy leaned over to Leela and whispered, "No fair, I want to see the mean jerk get what's coming."

Leela smiled and waved her off. She turned to Hermes, "Hermes, can I speak to you in private?"

Still distracted by the search for errors in the paperwork, Hermes looked up and said diffidently, "Sure, let's go into my office." He led the way to his office. Leela looked back at Amy. She was standing with her arms folded and a pouty look on her face. Leela grinned as Hermes opened the office door. Once in side, Leela closed and locked the door then turned to face Hermes. Hermes asked, "What is it?"

Leela looked serene as she stepped towards Hermes. "Hermes, where is Doctor Zoidberg?"

Hermes shrugged, "Who knows? Who cares? Good riddance if you axs me."

Leela said, "I care. And I think you know where he is." Leela reached out and put her hand on Hermes shoulder. "Now, I want you to tell me or I'm going to beat the crap out of you."

"What? You wouldn't dare," Hermes said in disbelief as a look of fear ran over his face, then his features hardened in anger. "You can't touch me. I'm a bureaucrat. Dere are severe penalties for assaulting one of us."

Smiling sweetly, Leela said, "If you think you being a bureaucrat is going to protect you, then you are about to be sadly disillusioned." She began to squeeze his shoulder. "As for any penalties, I've no doubts that Amy and Scruffy will back me when I explain that you accidentally fell down the ladder into the hanger and then a heavy toolbox fell on top of you. That shouldn't be too hard to arrange. It would be your word against ours. And I'm pretty sure I can get Morgan to make sure that any complaint you make disappears. I imagine she still remembers how you almost got her fired."

Hermes' eyes widened and he gasped as he felt Leela's fingers digging painfully into his shoulder. He knew he had no chance against her and Morgan would enjoy supporting Leela against him. He decided to surrender and give Leela what she wanted. "The Robot Mafia is holding him."

"The Robot Mafia? What do they want Zoidberg for? Something to do with Bender?"

"Yes. De Robot Mafia wants Planet Express to repay de money Bender stole from them. Dey took Zoidberg hostage to force us to pay. Dey has been calling every day trying to get us to give dem de money."

"Get the money."

"Leela, you don't understand," Hermes began but Leela looked at him sternly and dug her fingers in harder.

"Get the money, Hermes."

The pain was terrible and tears began forming in his eyes. "Okay, okay," he said quickly and Leela took her hand off him. He rubbed his shoulder and winced at the feeling. "Damn, de woman is something strong," he thought. He saw she was waiting for him to say something so he said, "But dey wants twenty thousand dollars. We haven't got dat kind of money. Besides, it's Zoidberg. He's not worth it."

"How much dark matter supply do we have?" Leela asked.

"No!" He cried in dismay. "We don't want to be selling dose. When de war breaks out, we'll be able to get four or five times de current price. Planet Express could be flush for a change instead of barely scraping by. Dere could even be large bonuses for everyone." Hermes said, his eyes gleaming with greed.

Leela shook her head. "I don't care. Sell enough to get the money for Zoidberg. When they call again, I'll make the exchange."

"What about de deliveries we have scheduled?"

"You and Amy can continue with those until I get Zoidberg back."

Hermes saw Leela's look of determination and decided not to argue. "What are you going to do?"

Leela just smiled and walked out of the office. Hermes shuddered and suddenly felt pity for the robots. He then sat down and began the process of selling some of their dark matter supply.

DOOP Pentagon, New Washington -
Rear Admiral Harry Grayson, head of DOOP Intelligence, walked into the conference room. Grayson was short balding black man who looked like a sack of meal stuffed into a blue Navy uniform. He looked about at the various Joint Chiefs, their aides and MOD personnel moving to their seats around a long table. On one end of the table was a small platform with a head in a jar sitting on it. In front of the jar was a small display screen. Behind the jar was a large Army robot standing at attention. Grayson saw the head look up from the display screen and spot him coming into the room. The head gave a wolfish grin and nodded. Grayson grinned back at General Abrams' head and took a seat near the end of the table.

General Abrams' head nodded to the men and women at the table. "Good morning everyone." There were mumbled good mornings from the assembled group. Abrams smiled and said, "Alright. Looks like everyone is here and happy. Let's start out with the current fleet status. Admiral Kaijioke?" A tall, silver haired Japanese woman, wearing a dark blue uniform and sporting three stars on her collar, stood up and went to a large display at the other end of the table.

"Current casualty reports show a loss of two frigates, a corvette and four supply transports destroyed and one destroyer, three corvettes and eight transports damaged in the last month. We had a total of six hundred twenty five killed, five missing and ninety six wounded. Several of the ships were lost or damaged due to the Persae raiders. We cannot state with any certainty that any of the raiders were damaged or destroyed. As for the Bug kamikazes, we have destroyed thirty five of them. Only eight kamikazes managed to make it to our ships. We continue to strike suspected kamikaze launch sites from orbit but without accurate intelligence, we can't be sure we're doing any good."

"What's the status on countering the stealth raiders?" Abrams asked, his face a stern mask after hearing the casualty total.

Kaijioke said grimly, "We think there are now seven raiders in action against us. They seem to be concentrated in the Maug-De Nang sectors. Our scientists have not yet figured out the technology to allow us to get a sensor fix on them. Sometimes we think we spot them as sensor gremlins but ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that's what they turn out to be. Right now, the losses are nagging but we can still function. If more raiders are deployed against us or if they move against the Sol-Maug corridor, we could be in serious trouble."

Abrams listened impassively and then directed a MOD official to get more funding to the research teams. He looked back at Kaijioke again and asked, "What about the situation with the Persae?"

Kaijioke used a laser pointer to highlight areas on the display map. "As can be seen, the Persae are continuing their slow buildup in the Khalkries system which we believe indicates that they plan to go straight at our forces at Da Nang. We are confident that we are going to be able to blunt any attack in that area. Admiral Fitch's task force at Wewak is well positioned to drive into the flank of any forces bypassing Da Nang to head for Maug. However, as I stated at our last meeting, the Persae are building up another force at Rhaetia. This force combined with the force we are seeing building up at Chersonese will give the Persae the ability to prosecute a two-pronged offensive against Greendale. It is a serious concern and will require reinforcing Greendale. With Admiral Scott's fleet keeping watch on the Decapodians and Tencteri, the only available ships will be Fitch's. If we move her task force, Maug will be at risk. If we don't reinforce Admiral Ainsworth at Greendale, we may have to rethink our plan to try and hold the Persae there."

General Abrams looked down at his own display. He grimaced and said, "If we don't defend at Greendale, we'll have to fall all the way back to Aitape Station. We'd be forced to abandon Changsha and Frisia as well. We'd eventually have to move out of Maug. That's unacceptable." He looked about and asked the other people at the table for their opinions. A few minutes of discussion ensued as the various officers and Ministry of Defense personnel argued over what should be done but no clear solutions were presented. Abrams finally decided to table the discussion for further review later in the week.

Admiral Kaijioke continued on with her briefing covering the status of the DOOP Federation fleet forces. After answering a few questions, she sat back down. Abrams nodded and said, "My thanks to the CNO for her usual excellent job." Kaijioke smiled demurely and thanked the general.

Abrams looked over at an Army lieutenant general and said, "General Poorten, what is the status of Da Nang?"

Grayson watched as the handsome man stood and walked to the display. Poorten looked every inch a soldier right down to his meticulously tailored uniform. He picked up the laser pointer and called up a picture of Da Nang 4 and began speaking in what Grayson thought of as his 'future presidential candidate's voice'. "Sir, casualties continue to be minor. We've only had thirty six killed and sixty three wounded on the planet in the last month. Most of the wounded were able to return to their units within two weeks."

Abrams looked coldly at Poorten. "I don't consider any casualties as minor, Dan. What's the supply situation?"

Suddenly flustered, General Daniel Poorten changed the display to another screen and said, "General Abrams, we are approximately fifty five percent complete on the supply buildup. Given the current amount of supplies on Da Nang, we can probably hold out for a year and half. The raider activity and the kamikaze attacks are slowing our efforts considerably."

Abrams frowned and said, "Folks, we must get those supply levels up to one hundred percent. We cannot let those men on Da Nang go under siege without full supply dumps. They may have to hold out for at least three years. Megan, I want a plan on how to speed up delivery as quickly as possible. On my display by tomorrow morning at the latest."

Megan Kaijioke nodded and sent her aide scurrying out of the room. Abrams looked down at his display again. "Dan, what is the status of the Legion Etranges? When is the first regiment moving to Io?"

Poorten gave a look of distaste and said, "Sir, are you sure you want to do that? Many civilians aren't going to be happy at using the mutants as troops. There will be a lot of fear about contamination and disease."

Abrams glared at Poorten and said in furious tones, "Damn it, I don't care what the civilians think about the mutants. The mutants have just as much right to serve as any other citizen." He paused and swept the room with an angry look. "Good God, people! The first time I went outside this building, I saw every sort of alien being imaginable on the streets. There were aliens with two heads, six eyes or four arms; blue ones, green ones, purple ones, and multicolor ones! Avians, lizards, and even some sort of blob type. No one bats an eye about them but here we have people who are human beings; people who manifest deformities caused by the most horrific exposures to radiation and toxic wastes, and their fellow humans act like they're some sort of oozing monsters. They're treated as pariahs and not permitted to come to the surface. Well, by God, I won't stand for it in the military. The civvies can do as they like but while I'm in command, the mutants get full and equal treatment by the services. Am I understood?"

Grayson thought Abrams would thump the table if he could. He had never seen the old man so angry. The others nodded and were relieved when Abrams turned his cold eyes on Poorten.

"Dan, I want the mutant regiment on Io. I want the marines there sent to Maug. And I want it damn quick."

Poorten gulped and nodded. Grayson hid a grin behind his dark skinned hand. Abrams was in a mood today. It could very well turn into what Abrams' aides called an 'ass-chewing' day. Poorten looked pale. "As well he should," thought Grayson, "Abrams has no hesitation in sacking flag officers who couldn't meet his standards even future presidential candidates."

Planet Express, New New York -
Leela left Hermes' office and found Amy waiting for her outside the door.

"Well?" she asked in frustration. Leela gave her a grin and said, "He spilled it all."

"What's happened to Zoidberg?"

"The Robot Mob grabbed him. They're holding him for ransom for what Bender owed them. They want us to pay twenty thousand dollars. I'm going to make arrangements to pay them when they call again."

Amy gasped and said, "Leela, are you really going to give them that much money? Maybe we should call the police."

Leela shook her head. "They'd take too long and Zoidberg could end up dead. No, no police. We'll handle this ourselves. Zoidberg may be a hideous quack but he's Planet Express' hideous quack. I want him back. Besides we owe him for saving our butts on New Eden. I feel guilty for not thanking him. Funny how we always overlook Zoidberg. It's like he's invisible sometimes."

Amy nodded. "What are you going to do?"

"Find out where they're holding Zoidberg and get him back."

Amy grinned. "I'm coming with you." Leela began shaking her head. Amy said, "Don't shake your head. I'm going too!"

Leela tried to argue her out of it half-heartedly but when she thought about what she planned to do, she realized she was going to need help.

"Okay, but not a word to anyone." Leela said sternly. Amy nodded and then she remembered Fry and asked, 'What are we going to do about Fry?"

Leela grimaced and said quietly, "I don't know yet. I'm still trying to think of something."

Amy sighed and turned to head down to the hangar. Leela remembered Amy's last words on the vidphone call and said, "Hey, what is it that Fry left me?"

Amy grinned and waved her hand for Leela to follow her. They went down to the locker room. Amy pointed to the wall by the lockers and Leela walked over. She gave a quiet little gasp when she saw the words and symbol that Fry had carved there. Her face took on a soft look as she traced her finger over the words and the little heart. Smiling, she thanked Amy and said she was going to go over to Fry and Bender's apartment to make sure that everything was okay there. Amy watched her friend walk out of the building. She had seen the look on Leela's face. "It isn't going to be much longer," she thought. "I just pray that Fry stays alive." She headed for the ship to make it ready for the day's deliveries.

DOOP Pentagon, New Washington -
The meeting had finally broken up around five o'clock. Only Abrams, Grayson and the large robot were still in the conference room. Grayson rubbed his eyes; it had been long and tiring day. Sitting next to the general, Grayson drank a cup of coffee which Abrams had the robot add some whiskey to. Then he had the robot pour some whiskey into the nutrient fluid that his head floated in. Abrams looked at Grayson with a mellow look and said, "What's the word on the influenza virus, Harry?"

Grayson took another sip and said, "It's from the Persae all right. Looks like they tried to target the administrative organs of the state. They probably hoped that when they come against us, our government would be in chaos."

Abrams grunted and said, "Hell, how could they tell?"

Grayson laughed and Abrams continued, "How many did we lose?"

Grayson frowned, "Nearly six hundred thousand infected. Five thousand plus died; mostly folks off world. A few individuals turned out to be allergic to the vaccine. Most of them died as well."

Abrams gave a disgusted grunt. "I hate biowarfare. It's damned immoral. Why did the Persae use influenza?"

"It's a pretty nasty virus, spreads easily and can be lethal. It is definitely debilitating. I'm guessing that they didn't realize we had a vaccine. We've tracked the original carriers back to a planet called Macellum. It's a notorious slave market. We found the slave dealer who brought the fifty infected human slaves into the Federation. He said that he was paid by the Persae to bring them here and release them in pre-designated areas. He didn't care why."

"Slavery? Who'd believe it in this day and age? Harry, the future isn't all it can be."

Grayson agreed sadly. The general came from a much simpler time. Abrams looked at him sharply, "The slave dealer?"

"He's been dealt with. His interrogation was not a friendly one." Grayson said with grim satisfaction.

Abrams nodded. "How about the slaves? Any of them survive?"

Grayson shook his head. "No sir, all of them were too far gone when we found them. Fortunately a few lived long enough to give us the story. None of them had ID or career chips, so they ended up in charity hospitals. Those places got the vaccine last. That's probably true for the ones who were released elsewhere in the DOOP."

Abrams gave him a sad disbelieving look then paused a moment to drink in some of the fluid and sighed. Grayson watched him and felt pity for the man. The general had been an active man in his time and clearly hated the phony existence of being a disembodied head. He never complained but Grayson could tell from watching that this bodiless existence appalled him. Grayson thought that maybe too much awareness was a bad thing for a resurrected head. And the general was the most self aware head he'd ever met. The programmers had done a great job on recreating the thought patterns of the original General Abrams. When he had heard that President Nixon had ordered Abrams resurrected and appointed as Chief of Staff, Grayson had been puzzled over the choice. After all, there were plenty of authentic military geniuses that they could have chosen. But after working with Abrams for nearly a year, Grayson understood that the man combined humanity and practical common sense with visionary thought. Abrams was the ideal man to restore professionalism and pride to the demoralized DOOP military. Grayson had seen psychological reports that indicated that the DOOP military suffered from an inferiority complex with respect to the Persae. And a deep sense of shame existed within the officer ranks over their inability to prevent the Persae and other aliens from raiding Earth or any other DOOP world. Abrams was working to overcome that. And from what Grayson could see, he was doing a great job. It was too damn bad that the Persae probably wouldn't give them enough time to build and crew the ships needed to stop them.

Abrams looked up at Grayson. "Well, when this crisis with Persae is resolved, we'll have to look into suppressing the slavers." He sighed again, "So much work to do."

Grayson was amazed to see that Abrams was already thinking about things postwar. "General, do you really think we can win?"

Abrams squared his jaw. "Damn straight, I do. They've got the numbers and the technology but they're like the Soviets."

"Who?" Grayson asked himself and thought, "The old man reaches for some really long forgotten historical analogies. No wonder a lot of the senior staff don't understand the man. They don't know what the hell he's talking about sometimes."

"Yes sir, but they really outnumber us badly in ships. What about the technological edge they have? They have superior ship weapons, stronger armor and a hellaciously long ranged torpedo. And let's not forget the stealth technology. It will go badly for us if they are able to use it in their capital ships. Most of my staff and a lot of the senior officers look at the numbers and don't see the DOOP having a chance. And I don't have much faith in the Decapodians or Tencteri coming in on our side. They'd be more likely to carve off a piece of the DOOP for themselves if we can't stop the Persae," Grayson said.

Abrams took a sip and said, "Yeah, the numbers are pretty overwhelming and the tech edge is lopsided but the Persae aren't really strong on initiative or imagination. They'll come at us in a headlong bull rush because that's how they do things. They should mask Da Nang and leave it be but they won't be able to resist attacking it. They'll try to take it and it will tie up a lot of their forces for a good while. Meanwhile, they'll be butting their heads against the other fortified planets. They'll pour around the hard points but they will expend forces trying to take them all. That reduces the odds against our Navy. And I think our Navy is getting better every day. There's still a lot of deadwood at flag rank, but Kaijioke, Fitch, Tsing, Scott and Ainsworth are fighting sailors. Given half a chance, they'll wreck any Persae force foolish enough to get within their gun sights. It may take several years and, God knows, it will be bloody, but I've got no doubt we'll lick 'em." Abrams took a long sip of his fluid and asked the robot to put another tot in.

Grayson wasn't convinced. "But what about their technology? The stealth raiders are nibbling us to death. If they have it in their capital ships, we'll really be screwed."

Abrams gave Grayson a long appraising look. "Harry, they're not gods. Technology is a good force multiplier but it's not enough. It's the ability of the people using it that matters. The Persae just aren't that good." He looked up at the robot and directed it to refill Grayson's coffee cup. Grayson accepted another generous portion of the general's fine whiskey and sighed audibly.

Abrams looked back at Grayson and gave a fierce grin. "I don't even have to mention the Persae's squalid ground forces to you. Clumsy butchers according to your own intel reports. They are only any good against technological backwaters or poorly armed insurgents. Look at the rebellions they're fighting against. They ought to have squashed those six months after they started but here they are a year later and still struggling with them. What makes you think their sailors are any better?"

Grayson felt his spirits lift. "The old man can make you a true believer," he thought. "Talk to Abrams and you came away thinking we'd beat them by teatime. Abrams understands the unseen factors of war. He sees something in the Persae that none of the rest of us can see. We only looked at the numbers and weighed the odds that way. Perhaps," he mused as he paused to take a long drink of his coffee, "we are hampered by our fear of the Persae. They slaughtered us once and that memory is ingrained into us. Maybe we make them out to be giants. Abe doesn't have that memory. He looks at the intangibles and sees a different outcome. The others don't because the DOOP military doesn't really have any truly experienced officers at this level," he thought. "Most of the flag rank officers are like Poorten; political appointees. Abrams has been clearing them out where he can and putting people like Kaijioke and Fitch in. But will it be enough? Abe thinks so."

Grayson smirked as he gave Nixon silent thanks for picking the right man to lead the DOOP forces. "At least, the paranoid bastard got one thing right," he thought unrepentantly.

Abrams continued, "It's the cost I worry about. Another five years and we won't have a problem but right now, it's going to be damnably bloody. God knows how many civilians will die due to battle, disease or starvation." Abrams gave a look of incredible sadness. "Probably bankrupt the economy too. Hell, the ship building alone is beggaring us now. God help us, but the president is thinking of imposing wage and price controls. I hope his economic advisors talk him out of that."

Grayson shuddered at that. "We might actually win but be ruined by the victory. Then the vultures will come to pick at the carcass. That's why we've got so many ships tied up watching the Decapodians and Tencteri. Ships that should be elsewhere," he thought mournfully. He was going to ask the general what he thought would happen to the federation if the economy crashed but Abrams had already moved on.

"What's the story on the critter you found in the charity hospital?"

Grayson paused a moment to catch up to the general's train of thought. Remembering the little three-eyed alien, he said, "It's still in a coma or at least that's what the doctors think. They really can't tell. We've identified it as an Eternian. They're supposedly an ancient race of powerful telepaths. We're still trying to find out more information on them. We recovered some street vids that showed it attacked our man. He's still in a coma too. We don't know why he was there or why it would attack him. But we know of someone who might. I've directed Counter Intelligence to find the Eternian's agent on Earth and arrest him."

Abrams took another inhale of the fluid as he thought about that. "Let's tread carefully. No sense getting some super race pissed off at us as well. Like old Abe Lincoln said, one war at a time. Keep me informed." Then he changed the subject again. "How's Project Gibberish coming along?"

Grayson smiled at hearing the name. Gibberish was what they were calling the attempt to translate the Persae language so they could start attempting to break their codes. The Persae used some sort of translator device that allowed them to keep their own language secret. Without an accurate translation, code breaking was impossible.

"It's going very well, sir. That Turanga woman is amazing. She's making some remarkable strides with new word translations nearly every day. The two linguistics professors who are cross checking her work are sure she's a famous Noble Laureate. They kept guessing at names trying to figure out which one. You did a great job of talent spotting there, General."

Abrams grinned. "Nah, it was simple. I saw her degree on the wall in their living room when they invited me in to talk. I asked my aide to check it out and he found she was an authentic genius. Seemed like a good idea to get the Navy interested in her working for them."

Grayson smiled at Abrams' modesty. "Simple? No other DOOP official would have been caught within ten miles of the sewers. Finding Mrs. Turanga was like finding a diamond in a ditch," he thought. He noted that Abrams looked tired.

"Sir, we've had a long day, perhaps we can knock off and start back again in the morning?" Grayson asked kindly.

Abrams shook his head slightly, for it was all being a head in a jar allowed, and said, "No, I've got a meeting tomorrow morning with the Wong Industries representative to discuss why they're not meeting the contract for the body armor we ordered. With the bugs using Persae shrapnel weapons, those boys on Da Nang need it but the current prototype Wong has come up with couldn't stop a butter knife." Abrams looked disgusted, then sighed and said, "And I have a meeting with the president in the afternoon."

Grayson nodded in sympathy. He knew Abrams did not get on with Nixon. When Abrams had appointed him to head Intelligence, Grayson had asked for guidance on dealing with the President. He remembered Abrams quoted some ancient admiral about fearing for your honor and integrity with Nixon. Abrams had told him, "Keep it honest and don't agree to any illegal acts and you'll be fine."

Abrams stared over at his display screen then back at Grayson. Grayson could see that he was bothered by what he was going to say next. Abrams said reluctantly, "Harry, since the Persae have unleashed biological warfare against us, I'm going to inform the president that, in accordance with DOOP policy, we will retaliate in kind once the war starts." Abrams stared off into a dark distance. "Send a message to Da Nang and tell Bert to start Dice Roll immediately."

Fry's Apartment, New New York -
Leela arrived at Fry's apartment to find men moving furniture out of it. She asked one of the men what was going on.

"They ain't been paying their bills so we've come to repossess the stuff."

"Whoa, wait a minute. They're set up to automatically pay their bills." Leela argued.

The large fat man with a too short t-shirt under a dirty jacket snorted. "Neider guy ain't paid no bills for the last two months. We sent all the notices required by de law to Misewers Fry and Bender. Now we'se is getting the company's stuff back."

The Robot Arms manager came rolling up to Leela and said, "The rent is two months overdue. Robot bending unit Bender said that he would pay it two weeks ago. Are you here to bring the rent payments up to date?"

Leela shook her head and the robot placed a series of calls. Soon second hand furniture and junk dealers showed up and the landlord said, "We are selling all the items in this apartment for reasonable prices."

Leela tried to argue with the manager but he wasn't having any of it. The repo men, furniture dealers, junkmen and the manager got into a huge argument about what belonged to whom and the police had to be called. They sorted things out and soon all of Bender's and Fry's stuff was gone. Leela saw the holophonor lying on the floor of Fry's bedroom and paid the manager twenty dollars for it.

"At least, I saved something that Fry liked," she thought sadly, recalling how beautifully Fry had played it for her. She still couldn't understand why Fry had removed the worms. With them, he had been the man she was looking for and Fry got rid of him. Fry had never spoken of it again and Leela had been initially too angry and later too embarrassed to ask. "One day," she thought, "I'll have to ask him about it."

She paused and thought about what the repo man had said. She told herself to get Hermes to find out why the guys' auto-payments didn't work. She left Robot Arms and headed back to Planet Express.

Upstate New New York -
Shivering, Zoidberg pulled the tattered blanket around his shoulders as he leaned on the heavy steel door of the basement and listened. The door was very cold to the touch. The temperature outside had dropped as winter approached. Miserable in the icy cold basement, the cold blooded Zoidberg reflected on his current situation. "Oy, it's a race between starving and freezing to death. I'm not sure which one I'd prefer. I'm pretty sure that the rohbuts will grab Leela or Amy and increase their demands on Planet Express. Ah, then they'll probably shoot me and drop my body at the building as an example of their determination. Will Hermes deny me then, I wonder? Poor Zoidberg, how did it come to this?"

He listened through the door carefully. The robots had been quiet since they'd given him his paltry meal. Hopefully, they were recharging and would be out for several hours. That gave him time to continue his work on his plan.

He looked down at the empty bowl that once held oatmeal. It would be his only meal of the day. It would hardly keep a body alive and his hunger was getting worse. He had to control it long enough to accomplish what he needed to do. If it got too bad, he'd lose focus and would become totally fixated on eating. It was a survival trait of his species and one that could get him killed. He needed to concentrate on the plan not his hunger but it was becoming increasingly difficult.

When the robots had put him in the basement, he had explored it thoroughly. He'd found some ancient tins of something called 'potted meat' and had used them to keep the hunger away. Sadly, they were all gone now. Even the tins held no flavor as he had sucked them dry. Fondly, he remembered the taste of the rancid meat and sighed.

The other discovery he had made was an old fusion furnace for heating the house. Zoidberg had inspected it carefully. He'd discovered that it had quite a supply of fuel left. Due to the cold, Zoidberg had requested the robots turn it on so he wouldn't freeze to death but the robots had laughed and given him an old blanket.

Behind the furnace, there was a fuel pipe that went through the basement wall up to the side of the house. Zoidberg began using his sharp claws to dig away at the elderly concrete wall around the pipe whenever the robots were in their recharge mode. To prevent detection, he hid the debris under the furnace but the robots didn't bother to look. It had taken several days but he almost had a big enough hole for him to go through. After that, all he had to do was dig his way out through the soft earth and on to freedom. It would take mere minutes. As an added bonus, he'd discovered several insect and worms; delicacies that helped assuage his mounting hunger.

He determined that the robots were recharging and he began picking at the concrete wall. Once it was ready, all he had to do was wait for the return of the Donbot and his associates. "Then," he said as he stared at the door with a strange light in his eyes, "Zoidberg will feast."

Planet Express, New New York -
Leela arrived back at the PE building after lunch. She had made several stops along the way and was now carrying a large gym bag. She set it on the floor and looked down into the hangar. The ship was gone. She figured Amy and Hermes had gone to make deliveries. She went down to the locker room and looked at marks that Fry had made. She traced the scratching with her finger again. Something about it made her feel very emotional. She told herself that she needed to be cautious. She recognized that her feelings for Fry were becoming stronger but she had to be careful. She didn't want to fall in love just out of loneliness. For her own safety and self worth, she needed it to be with a man she could respect.

She was still thinking about it when she heard Hermes' phone ring. She walked over to the locker room phone and picked up Hermes' extension.

"Hello, Planet Express. Winner of the Big Applet magazine's 'Most Efficient Delivery Company on Weekends and Holidays' award. How may I direct your call?" Leela said into the phone.

"Yeah, I wants to talk to someone about dat robot creep known as Bender," said the electronic voice on the other end.

Leela said, "I can talk about Bender. What do you want?'

"Great. Someone final admits to knowing da bum. We're holding your quack, Zoidberg. Unless you pays us what Bender stole from us, we'll whack your quack." The voice laughed at its own rhyme.

Leela rolled her eye and said, "We'll pay. But first I want to speak to Zoidberg. I want to know if he's okay."

"Hah! Not a chance, sister. Ya comes to where we tells ya and ya don't call the cops. Bring twenty thousand in small unmarked bills. And come alone. Anything different from what I said and lobster boy gets it. Understood?"

"I want to talk to Zoidberg," Leela said angrily.

"Be at O'Zorgnax's Pub at nine tomorrow night and wait by the pay phone. Bring de money. Remember, small unmarked bills. And no cops!"

Leela said, "Hold on a minute! I want to talk to…" and heard the other phone go dead. "Damn."

DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif spent a good part of the next morning sitting in his cabin. He'd stopped crying and was sitting on his bed, paging through his bible. Even it provided little comfort. He said a prayer for the souls of the dead sailors of the Gamling. But the whole time, he kept thinking, "My fault. Completely my fault."

He had called up the Gamling's crew roster and was shocked at how young everyone had been. The oldest sailor had been thirty-two. It depressed him deeply and he didn't want to leave the cabin. Sometime later, Kif could not remember when exactly, the intercom had buzzed from Zapp's private link. It was insistent but Kif ignored it. Pretty soon there was a knocking at the door and he heard the Chief Master-at-Arms saying that Zapp wanted to see him.

Kif was irritated. "Can't he leave me in peace?" he thought savagely. "I've no time to massage his ego or apply ointment to his various skin irritations. Doesn't he understand that I have my own sins to deal with?"

"I'm indisposed," he said loudly. The Master-at-Arms said she'd take the message to the Commodore. Kif grunted and turned to face the wall next to his bed. He felt the tears start running again as he thought of all the young men and women of the Gamling.

A little later there was another knock on his door. This time it was the Nimbus' doctor. Kif was inclined to ignore him as well but the doctor said he'd have the Master-at-Arms unlock the door if Kif didn't. Kif cursed and unlocked the door. The doctor and the chief were standing outside. Kif looked at them angrily then went and sat on the bed again. He put his face in his hands and groaned. The doctor dismissed the chief with a look and came into Kif's cabin. He closed and locked the door. Pulling up Kif's chair, he sat down next to him.

"Commander Kroker?" the doctor asked gently. "Kif, you want to tell me what the problem is?"

Kif lifted his head and stared incredulously at the doctor. "The problem? Haven't you heard? I killed seventy-eight sailors last night."

The doctor, a florid, fat-faced man with a southern accent, pursed his lips. "It seems to me, Commander Kroker, that the Persae were the ones who did the killing, not you."

"No, it was my fault." Kif cried. "I left that inexperienced hot-head in charge and she took them to their deaths. If I had followed my instincts, she'd be here on the Nimbus working on Zapp's staff and the Gamling's crew would still be alive."

"Damned nonsense! The Gamling's skipper disobeyed orders and went into a dangerous situation getting herself and crew killed. Maybe you had the right instincts about her but if you brought every hot-headed rookie officer up to task force staff, you wouldn't have anyone in command of the ships except some second rate ancient hacks like me or maybe some hoary old chief. We're at war, Kroker. You remember?'

"Yes. But I still…"

The doctor raised his hand. "War means taking chances. It means people die. Sometimes they die for stupid reasons or because human beings, or in your case, alien sentients make mistakes. No one is one hundred percent perfect, commander. Not even you. The Gamling's CO made a mistake. It's not your fault, son."

Kif shook his head stubbornly, refusing to be absolved.

The doctor reached down and picked up Kif's bible. He opened it and read from the Book of Psalms.

"If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope."

Kif looked at him with surprise. The doctor smiled and said, "I used to teach Sunday school when I was stationed on New Calcutta years ago." His face became serious. "You're not God, Kroker. You are a naval officer of the line. You must be able to live with the fact that you could be sending people to their deaths. When this war with the Persae starts, you may be sending a lot of people to their deaths. You may have to make terrible decisions such as abandoning damaged ships to their fate or sacrifice slower ships so that this task force can remain in existence. You may have to gamble with the lives of this crew because war puts you in those situations." The doctor put the bible into Kif's hands. "If you believe the crew of the Gamling died because of you, and I don't believe that for a second, then you have to accept it and learn from it so that it doesn't happen again. If you can't, then you need to resign and let someone else do it."

He put his hand on Kif's shoulder. "But, Kif, you've done a great job containing Zapp. I've been with him ever since he got the Nimbus and you are the only first officer who has made the effort to minimize Brannigan's…shall we say, enthusiasms. The Nimbus and this task force need you, Commander." He paused a moment and then barked, "They need you badly so you better get it together and right damn quick, Kroker."

Kif stared at the man with shock and then anger. The doctor stood up and smiled gently again. "I'm going to leave you to ponder the terrible burden of command. But remember this too - Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle." He looked down at Kif and said grimly, "War is coming, Kroker. A terrible Navy war. War means fighting and fighting means killing. You have to come to grips with that idea, Kroker. We will need you." The doctor turned and left. Kif held his bible and stared at the door for a long time.

Fire Base Edinburgh, Da Nang -
Rand could see the major was surprised by Edinburgh. After touring several Highlander fire bases, he had been concerned about the state of the defenses. The Highlander division's offensive mindset had caused them to ignore the defenses of their fire bases. Worse, most of the base commanding officers hadn't been interested in the major's suggestions to correct the deficiencies. Edinburgh had turned out to be a different place. The defenses had been placed correctly and the soldiers on watch were alert and ready. The major had commended the young major, a German named Dientz, in command. Major Dientz had given a shy smile and said, "I'd like to take credit, but it really belongs to my predecessor, Lieutenant Colonel Moscewicz. He was the commander of the Seaforths here at Edinburgh prior to my taking over three months ago. He was a stickler for the details and I've tried to emulate his example."

Rand watched as Smith spoke to the young human and could tell he was pleased. Afterwards the major had stood out by the wire looking at the chain of hills that made up the towering Myksho Ridge. Rand knew the major was anxious to get on with the mission. She didn't mind the delay. Any delay in the mission was a benefit in Rand's opinion. The current work wasn't too dangerous and the major seemed very interested in it. She watched him silently and noted he started rubbing the back of his neck. This new habit had started to occur at Fort Thunderbolt. When she had asked him about it at Aberdeen, he said he had a headache and took some aspirin. The headache had been occurring more frequently of late. She asked him, "Another headache, Major?"

Smith nodded and twisted his head about in a circular motion. "Yeah, I'm thinking it's the chip. Damned thing is slowed but not stopped. I figure it's trying to make a change but is so slowed that it can't. At least that's my theory. The problem is that it is causing tingling in my shoulders and down my back. It's not painful but it sure does feel weird. The aspirin help though."

Rand's robotic hearing was far superior to humans. By filtering the other noises, Rand could focus her hearing on a single noise. She did this with the major. She could hear his heart beating and the blood racing through his veins. She could hear his respiration as he breathed the toxic air through the filter of the breather. There was a slight raspy sound to it but she knew that this was due to the fact that the filter couldn't stop everything. That was why there was a one year limit to service on Da Nang. Anything longer than that and the human respiratory system began to be damaged. Even with the air purified bunkers, the humans would eventually become susceptible to the atmosphere. Once the Persae attacked, the humans would abandon the fire bases and retreat to Fort Thunderbolt. There, they should be safe from the ravages of the environment long enough for the relief force to break the siege or so the theory went.

Of course, the various skin diseases were just as bad. Some troopers didn't last a full year before being declared physically unfit for duty. Rand knew that the major wasn't in any danger of that. So, she focused closer, filtering out the heart, blood and respiration sounds. Very faintly, she could hear a tiny high speed clicking sound. It was the chip trying to cycle like the major said. She refocused on the major. "Perhaps you should seek medical assistance?"

"Yeah, right. I'm going to let some sawbones put me on the sicklist because he doesn't know what to do. No, I'll be fine." The major took some aspirin and continued to stare at the dark ridge. Rand watched him for a moment and said, "Major, do you know that you have now been in human form for thirty seven days, twelve hours, nineteen minutes and ten seconds? Your last change was back at Thunderbolt. The time between the changes seems to growing in a mathematical sequence. If nothing alters the current situation, I calculate your next chameleon change will occur four months from now."

Smith smiled as he continued to rub his neck. "That's great news Rand. Hopefully, we'll have completed the mission before then."

Rand reached up and put her hand on the major's shoulder. He looked back at her in mild surprise but did not move away.

"That is something to look forward to, sir," she said evenly but she felt despair at the finality in the major's statement. She knew he didn't wish to survive the mission. She feared that he planned to accomplish the mission and then order her to take back the samples while he remained behind to cover her escape. She was resolved that would not happen no matter what the major wanted.

Planet Express Building -
Amy and Hermes did not return until late afternoon. Leela met them as they came down the ship's stairway. She told Hermes to get the money in small unmarked bills and have it ready for tomorrow afternoon. Hermes sullenly agreed and said he was going home for the night. Before he left, Leela asked him to check on what happened to Bender and Fry's automatic payment function. Hermes stopped and looked as if he had something to say but then shrugged his shoulders and nodded as he left the building. Leela and Amy sat down at the conference table. Leela told her what had happened and then explained her plan for recovering Zoidberg.

"We will pay the ransom if they bring Zoidberg back and turn him over to us. It will end there. But if it is a trap, and I think it is, then we will follow the plan. Can you handle your end?"

Amy gave Leela a wide-eyed look and said, "I've never really done anything like this before. But I won't let you down. I'll be ready when you give the signal."

Leela nodded, "Remember we only go through with it if there is no trade."

Amy said, "Do you think they will give us Zoidberg back?"

Leela shook her head, "I don't know but I don't think so. They wouldn't let me talk to him. It's not a good sign."

Leela went back over her plan again and made sure Amy understood her role in it. Then the two young women headed home.

DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
That afternoon, Kif came out of his cabin and walked onto the bridge. He stopped at the door and stared about. Everything was in normal status and there was nothing on the threat board. He quickly noted the positions of the other ships in the Task Force and headed for the OOD. As he stepped in, he heard one of the petty officers at the sensor panel whisper to his companion, "Look who showed up; Brannigan's Valet." The other petty officer snickered quietly. Kif frowned as he stepped up the OOD. The officer of the deck looked at him and Kif said, "I'm relieving you, Hanson."

Lieutenant Hanson nodded and said loudly, "Captain's got the helm."

Kif sat down in the captain's chair and pushed one of the intercom buttons. A voice answered, "Master-at-Arms office." Kif said quietly, "I want the chief on the bridge immediately."

"Aye, aye, sir." And the intercom went dead. A few minutes later, the Chief Master-at-Arms came on the bridge and reported to Kif. Kif looked the stocky muscular woman over for a few seconds and said, "Chief, how many cases awaiting Captain's Mast?"

The chief blinked and said, "Approximately thirty-three, sir. Capt…Commodore Brannigan has never been in any hurry to hold Mast."

Kif gave a humorless grin and thought cynically, "Brannigan was shirking his duty as usual since non-judicial punishment involves work." He looked at the chief and said, "I'll hold Mast in two hours. We'll deal with the backlog as quickly as possible." The chief saluted and turned to go but Kif spoke up again. "And chief, I want the two petty officers on the sensor board put on report."

The chief stopped and stared at Kif. The bridge went quiet and everyone was looking at him. The chief said, "Yes sir. What charge, sir?"

"Disrespect to an officer. I will prefer the charges myself." Kif said crisply. The chief nodded and walked off the bridge. Kif stood up and stared about the bridge. "It's a new day, ladies and gentlemen. And there are going to be some changes on the Nimbus."

Kif turned and said, "Lieutenant Hanson." The young lieutenant rushed over quickly. Kif turned command over to him with a warning about the task force needing to be ready for replenishment the next day. Hanson nodded and assumed command. Kif walked off the bridge and headed for Zapp's cabin.

He knocked on the door and entered when Zapp shouted, "Come in." Kif found Zapp lying in his bathrobe and looking at a women's lingerie catalog. Kif smiled. Zapp looked up at him and said irritably, "I don't appreciate being ignored when I call for you, Kif. I had to put my ointment on myself. Next time, I might bring you up on charges."

Kif continued to smile and Zapp, confused, went quiet. Kif spoke with a calm voice, like a father speaking to a wayward child. "Commodore, it has come to my attention that your position rates a full time steward. I will be assigning a couple of petty officers to handle the pressing details of the Commodore's personal needs."

Zapp's face had a look of bafflement and then concern. "But I don't want anyone but you. I mean, I'm use to you, Kif. Besides, you're my friend."

Kif shook his head with a feigned sadness. "Alas, Zapp. My duties as acting CO of the Nimbus and your chief of staff for the Task Force are taking up more and more of my time. I can no longer pay the right amount of attention to your needs. And to be honest, it is belittling your dignity as Commodore not to have your own personal steward. After all, every Admiral has one and surely, the future Rear Admiral Brannigan cannot be accorded fewer perquisites than the other flag ranks."

Brannigan rubbed his chin and thought about it. Then slamming his fist down into his hand, he boomed, "Damn Kif, you are right. It is so typical of you to fail in your duty to me. Me, your commanding officer. I don't know which really annoys me more, your total incompetence or your constant negligence. I should have had a steward as soon as I became Commodore. Now go and correct this error on your part. I assure you it will be reflected in your next fitness report. Chop chop, Kroker."

Kif saluted and walked out the door. Outside, he smiled to himself and said, "It's a start."

DOOP Naval Transport Roger Young -
The Roger Young hung in orbit about Maug. It had been floating there for nearly two days. Sitting in the mess and recreation room, Fry was wolfing down a bowl of chocolate ice cream while looking out the observation window at the blue-green planet. He was sitting was some of his berthing compartment mates. They'd just finished a hard training exercise and the colonel had given everyone the rest of the day off. No one was being allowed to go down to the planet and after nearly two weeks aboard the Young, everyone was getting space-happy. Fry wasn't bothered as much by it due to his extensive experience in space. Most of the others were farmers or city dwellers that had rarely gone into space. Now they were all sitting around a table eating ice cream and drinking Slurm sodas. No alcohol was allowed on DOOP naval vessels to the intense dismay of most of the Army troops.

The other men at the table were bitching about not being able to get shore leave on the planet but Fry was too tired to care. He'd go hit his bunk but he was too tired to sleep as well. Everyone was worn down from the hard training. Sleep had become a major goal since no one seemed to get enough of it. It was hard just trying to get enough after all the work was done but it was harder when the Young went to General Quarters in the middle of the night. The soldiers were required to get out of their berths and head for the landing craft. So far, the alarms had turned out to be only a drill and the troops cursed the Navy for depriving them of sleep. Moscewicz began talking to the soldiers in small groups to try and convince them of the necessity of the drills but the soldiers still complained. The Navy personnel were polite but kept out of Army berthing as much as possible. About the only time they saw them was when the Roger Young ran drills and they looked as tired as the soldiers.

As they sat about the table, Fry noticed that Colonel Moscewicz was going about the various tables talking to the soldiers. When he arrived at Fry's table, everyone began to stand up but the colonel motioned them to sit down. He patted Fry on his shoulder and asked how everyone was doing. All the men lied and said they were fine. Fry asked why they weren't allowed to go down to the planet. The colonel smiled down at Fry.

"Private, we're waiting for a convoy to be put together. According to the captain of the Young, we could be moving for Da Nang in the next hour or the next week. Since we don't know, we can't have everyone scattered down below. Besides, I've been on Maug. You won't find anything down there that you can't find up here."

"How about some booze?" asked one of the men.

"Or broads?" said another.

The colonel grinned. "Well, the only human women on Maug are Navy and they wouldn't have time for any transients like you. The locals are a lizard type species and… well, I guess you'd have to be pretty desperate. As for booze, if you troopers can't find it on the Young, then you aren't trying."

Fry looked up at him in surprise. The colonel wasn't very old. Maybe about thirty-five, he thought. He wore the blue HD in a circle insignia of the 51st Highlander Division on one shoulder with another patch with a deer head under the word "Seaforths" just below it. Proof, Fry thought, that the man had been on Da Nang. Fry dimly remembered going there with Leela sometime last year to rescue Zapp Brannigan for reasons he couldn't quite recall. So much had happened to him since he'd awoke in the future. It seemed sometimes that he'd crammed three lifetimes into the last two years.

"Colonel, I know our virtual training mimics Da Nang's conditions but what's it really like there?" Fry asked.

"Private, it's hot, damned hot. Rains a lot. Mostly it's drizzle interrupted by intense showers. And no Methodist showers either but real Baptist downpours, lads." He grinned as most of the Earthican soldiers looked confused at the joke. He continued, "Muddy as all get out. Not ordinary mud, mind you, but that red clay stuff. Like walking through glue. Sticks to your boots like it as well. If you aren't assigned to Fort Thunderbolt," he paused to look a Fry's shoulder patch, "you'll be out in one of the fire bases. Out there, things are tougher. Resupply isn't always on time and the bugs make life interesting. No soft life like here on the Roger Young. It's hard but survivable if you pay attention to the training we're giving you."

The colonel patted him on the shoulder again and moved over to another table. The other men began a whispered conversation about potential alcohol sources on the Young. Fry listened for a few minutes and then stared tiredly out the observation window. In his mind's eye, he could see Leela's beautiful face. He tried to imagine what she would be doing at that time on Earth. A few minutes later he got up and headed for his berthing compartment. He was going to finish up his e-mail letter to her tonight and send it tomorrow.

Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg was hauled upstairs again by two robots. This time they had to carry him as he told them he was unable to walk. They sat him the chair across the kitchen table from the Donbot. The Donbot studied Zoidberg for a few minutes as he puffed on his cigar. Zoidberg's clothes were filthy. His eyes were dull and his normal red color was fading towards pink. He had a few tiny white blotches appearing on his face and hands.

"My dear doctor, I'm becoming concerned for your health. You seem to be fading fast."

Zoidberg gave him a look of despair and whined, "I'm starving to death. And it's freezing cold down there. And I'm starting to exhibit signs of shellrot due to diet deficiencies." He began pleading. "Please give me something to eat and some warm clothes. Or at least turn on the furnace. I'm begging you. I'll do anything you axs."

The Donbot shook his head. "I'm sorry Doctor Zoidberg, but we are through spending money on you. But don't worry; your problems will soon be over. Planet Express is going to give us what Bender owes me." The Donbot smiled and blew smoke into Zoidberg's face.

Zoidberg coughed and said, "What are you saying? Hermes has paid you the money and I'll be released soon?" He looked pathetically hopeful.

The Donbot smiled, "Well, the one-eyed female is going to give us the money tonight and you'll be seeing her real soon."

"Your going to grab her too, aren't you?" Zoidberg said angrily. "You're going to welsh on the deal and take her hostage as well."

The Donbot laughed and the robots joined in. "Well, aren't you the clever boots. Yes, if they'll pay that much for you, we figure we can get double for the woman."

"Then you won't be needing me anymore. You could just let me go, you know. I wouldn't say anything. I promise."

More laughter. "No, I expect to hang on to you to provide your friends with proof of our seriousness, my dear doctor." The Donbot nodded to the robots, "Take him back to his luxurious suite, boys."

The robots grabbed Zoidberg and dragged him along the floor back to the basement. Zoidberg begged for mercy the whole way. The robots flung him down the basement steps and slammed the big metal door. The clanging sound rang in Zoidberg's ears. He lay on the cold hard floor for a moment allowing the pain of the fall to subside. He stood up and looked at the door with an eerie gleam in his eyes. "I will give you some proof of my seriousness, my dear Donbot," he croaked as he moved towards the furnace.

DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif stood with a coffee cup and noted the new tone on the bridge. There were no more whispered comments and everyone was trying to look efficient. Word had gotten around about his punishment given to several petty officers at Captain's Mast. The crew was terrified at the thought of having to serve as Brannigan's personal steward. The Chief Master-at-Arms had reported that several troublemakers had found "Jesus", as she put it, and were keeping their noses clean. Kif thought that if a stint with Zapp brought some discipline to the Nimbus, then it was a good thing. He'd have to make sure he didn't overuse it or it would lose its effectiveness.

They were in the midst of a replenishment operation. The Task Force had met up with the Carmarthen, a huge cargo ship, and its escorts to take on fresh water, oxygen, food, ammunition, administrative supplies and fuel. Each ship would have to come along side the massive Carmarthen to make the exchange so it was going to take all day. Kif took a drink of the strong black coffee and grimaced at the taste. "Well, I'm going to be on the bridge the entire time,' he thought sourly, "Might as well get use to this stuff."

Several hours into the replenishment, the Comm officer came out with a priority coded message from Sector Command. The message stated that a new convoy, code named Gareth, would be passing through to Da Nang, one week from now. It would be a fast convoy, traveling at maximum speed and Task Force Brannigan was going to provide escort. Kif arched his eyes in surprise. Normally, the convoys traveled slowly and zigzagged a lot to prevent giving raiders an easy target. Obviously, this was a high priority convoy. He called to the lieutenant who handled Task Force planning and directed him to begin working up a Task Force order for the new convoy.

O'Zorgnax's Pub -
Leela sat by the public phone in the pub. She was drinking a diet Slurm and looking about the crowd of humans and robots hanging out in O'Zorgnax's. She was trying to spot the robots working for the mob but gave it up when she realized there were too many robots and that she had no idea what a mob robot looked like. Soon the phone rang and the electronic voice directed her to walk to another pay phone over six blocks away.

Leela grabbed the gym bag and headed down the street. She assumed this phone booth ploy was to make sure she was alone. She hoped that Amy could remain undetected while she went to where ever it was the exchange was to be made.

The next phone call directed her to an empty lot a mile away. She walked slowly in the cold night to the lot. It was in a very run down neighborhood. Leela stood on the street and stared into the dark area of the lot. The lot was very large and had abandoned buildings on either side of it. At the back of the lot, a small fence separated it from what looked to be a small industrial plant. She could vaguely make out a robot standing next to the fence. Leela walked towards him slowly. As she approached, and her eye grew used to the dark, she noted the robot had clamps for hands. She was a few feet away when the robot shone a red light onto her. She stopped and said, "Where's Zoidberg?"

"He's coming. Ya got the money?"

She hefted the gym bag and unzipped the top to show several stacks of bills. The robot held out his clamp hand and said, "Pitch it over to me, sister."

As she zipped bag close, Leela shook her head. "Not until Zoidberg is here."

The robot growled, "Fine, have it your own way."

A car pulled up behind Leela on the street. She looked around and saw three robots get out of the car. They came slowly towards her. She turned to the clamp robot and said angrily, "Where's Doctor Zoidberg?"

The clamp robot laughed harshly. He stepped towards Leela raising his clamp hands menacingly. "Ya'll be meeting him real soon. In fact, we'll be taking ya to see him."

Leela shook her head, "Sorry but that wasn't our deal."

The clamp robot was within two feet of Leela now and said, "We've changed the deal. Now, give me the bag." He held out his clamp hand.

Stepping back, Leela grinned and lifted the bag. With a loud 'heee-yah", she spun around quickly like a discus thrower, lifting the bag as she did. She slammed the bag into the clamp robot's head. There was a loud clanging sound as the bag made contact with the robot's head. The clamp robot crashed down onto the ground. The other robots began rushing towards Leela. She turned and looked at them with a calm smile. They were ten feet from Leela when a red dot appeared on one robot's head. There was a very loud bang and the sky behind Leela lit up in a bright flash. A figure floating in the air could be dimly seen behind the flash of light. A micro-second later the back of the robot's head exploded outwards. The robot fell with a small hole in its forehead and green ooze was gushing out of the huge hole in the back of its head. The other two robots stopped and stared. The red dot now shone on the next robot. Another loud bang with a flash of light occurred. It dropped as the side of its head blossomed outwards in a flash of sparks and green ooze. The third robot turned to run for the car but was soon slumped on the sidewalk.

Amy floated down to stand beside Leela. She was wearing night vision goggles and carrying a pistol. She turned off the jet pack and lifted up the goggles. Turning to the clamp robot, Amy pointed the small pink pistol with large laser sight attached at its dented head. Leela took out a sturdy flashlight from her coat pocket and pointed at the robot. He put up his arm to shield his eyes from the bright light. He said, "Okay, ya got me. Now what?"

"Easy enough, you tell us where Zoidberg is and we let you live." Leela said.

"Not a chance, sister. I'm a loyal soldier of the Donbot. Ya ain't getting nothing out of me."

Leela smiled and said, "My friend here is very capable with robotic programming. All we have to do is shut you down and read your memory. Now, she might get a little clumsy and you could end up thinking that your main function in life is to confess everything to the local police. It's your choice."

Amy smiled at the robot and said, "That would be after I blast your arms and legs off."

The clamp robot looked at them and saw that they weren't bluffing. He told them where Zoidberg was. Leela said, "You are going with us. If you've misled us, I'll let Amy reprogram you to be a robosexual with a yen for mob robots."

They put him in the backseat of the car and Amy switched him off. Leela opened the gym bag and pulled out two lead bricks. She dropped them onto the back seat. The two women got into the car and drove off as the sound of sirens came faintly in the distance.

A few hours later, they found themselves going down a lonely stretch of road. It had become bitterly cold, the further they drove north. There was a flickering light ahead off in the woods. Amy spotted the turnoff and Leela turned down a curving driveway lined with trees. As they drove down the driveway, they noticed through the trees that there was a bright red and yellow light ahead. When they finally turned to where the house was visible, they stopped the car and stared in horror at the sight. A good portion of the house was gone and a huge smoking crater was all that was left. The remaining portion was slumped against the garage both of which were in flames. A robot lay out on the front yard near the steps that once led to the front door. The women restarted the clamp robot. Amy pointed her pink pistol at him and motioned him to walk ahead of them.

They went over to the robot on the ground and looked at it. The clamp robot gave a loud keening wail and fell on his knees beside the dead robot. Its green body was scorched badly and it had a large metal fragment driven into its forehead. There was green ooze, the fluid that the positronic brain floated in, coming slowly out of the cracked metal. It was clear that the robot had dragged itself from the house only to die. The clamp robot said, "No! The Donbot. The Donbot dead! This is not good. This is really bad."

A voice cried out from the direction of the garage and Leela motioned the robot to go towards it. On the other side of the garage, they found another robot lying impaled by a piece of metal pipe through its head. Green fluid was running slowly along the pipe. Its eyes were destroyed and it was barely functioning. The clamp robot rushed to it and knelt beside it. He raised it up, saying, "Cholly! What happened?"

The dying robot turned its sightless eyes towards him and said, "Clamps. Is that you?" When Clamps said it was, the robot grasped Clamps and said, "I'm glad you're here, pal. You've gotta find da Donbot. Dere was a big explosion from da basement. It blew most of da house away. I was in da garage when it happened. It knocked me through da wall and nailed me with dis piece of pipe."

Leela told Clamps, "Ask him about Zoidberg." Clamps snarled but did as requested when Amy stuck the pistol barrel to his head. Cholly made a series of weak electronic noises and sputtered, "Dat guy was in da basement. I figure der ain't nuthin left of him. Clamps, ya need to find da Donbot. He wuz in da house wit d'others."

Clamps held the robot until it died. Leela and Amy looked at the fiery ruin.

"Doctor Zoidberg?" Amy asked hopefully. Leela shook her head and Amy began to weep silently.

Clamps began saying over and over, "The Donbot is dead. This is really bad."

DOOP Naval Transport Roger Young -
Fry was standing the four to eight morning watch of passageway 27B1 when Colonel Moscewicz came walking through. Fry came to attention and saluted. Moscewicz saluted back and headed down the passageway. Fry said, "Excuse me sir, but I noticed a change in the engine noise early. Are we moving?"

Moscewicz stopped, "Yes Private Fry, we are. I'm impressed that you noticed the difference. Most people can't tell."

Fry nodded. "I worked for a space delivery service before I was drafted, sir. I've spent a lot of time in space. Can you say were we are going?"

Moscewicz said, "A convoy has been formed. We're headed for Da Nang at maximum speed. We'll be there in a week." He turned and headed down the corridor. Fry watched the colonel's retreating back and shivered. "Da Nang," he thought glumly, "I'm going to war." He suddenly felt relief that he'd e-mailed his letter to Leela before he came on watch that night.