Futurama

Fan Fiction

Background Noise, Part 8
By Dave Vincent

The Widening Gyre
(Miriam Olivia Murchison is the DOOP Federation's premier industrialist. Her Mom's Friendly Robot Company is the most visible tip of a gigantic industrial iceberg known as MOMCorp with subsidiaries that encompassed everything from package delivery to military weapons. There is no way of knowing Murchison's true net worth but it is conservatively estimated to be close to two hundred billion dollars. Murchison is a major player in Federation economics and politics. A giant amongst the other power brokers of the Federation, whatever she puts her considerable clout behind often becomes reality.

It was quite a rise for a woman who started out as a beautician in New New York. She was a lovely 45 year old petite widower when she met and married Walter Holland, owner of United Steel Robots Company. US Robots was a small outfit that made household robots. Holland was an inveterate tinkerer who was only interested in designing robots. He was content to run US Robots as a small local company. However, Miriam had larger dreams and, after obtaining a business degree from NNY City College, she prodded Walter to expand. In the go-go years of the 2950s, US Robots boomed but the Hollands' marriage suffered. It was a constant source of speculation amongst the local tabloids that Miriam was engaged in several affairs. Although Miriam gave birth to a son, Walter Junior, in 2958, it was clear the marriage was coming to an end. During this time friends noted that Walter Holland began to breakdown physically. In 2961, Walter Holland was found dead in a small farmhouse he owned in upstate New New York although none of his friends could recall him ever using it. The coroner's report specified death by natural causes and Walter was cremated in a hastily arrange funeral. Miriam became full owner of US Robots. She immediately changed the name to MOMs Friendly Robot Company and the company began another dizzying expansion. Miriam threw herself into making MOMs the largest robot manufacturer on the planet.

The severe economic downturn in the middle 2960s almost caused MOMs to go under but Miriam, looking for a life preserver, found a rich stockbroker named Lawrence O'Malley and married him. O'Malley helped Miriam find the financing to keep MOMs going. It was at this time that Miriam began to assume the Mom persona as spokesperson for Mom's Friendly Robot Company. The ad campaign was a smashing success and Mom's stock began to climb again.

Lawrence Junior was born in 2967 just as his father's health went into serious decline. Larry Senior died in 2968 from incurable boneitis in what must have been a truly agonizing death. Miriam went into mourning and it showed in her Mom characterization as her clothing changed from modernistic to what has been described as Victorian Mourning Wear. The public lapped it up and Mom's (she began using the current version of the name at this time) boomed.

Miriam's last son, Ignar was born 2977 and is believed to be mentally disabled. Rumors abound of Miriam's many lovers but so far no one has ever discovered Ignar's true parentage.

Mom's Friendly Robot Company, through skillful and ruthless acquisitions, merger and just plain buccaneering, became the premier robot manufacturing outfit in the entire Federation. Despite tragedy, heartbreak and the up-and-down business cycles, Miriam Olivia Murchison has grown MomCorp into the most successful company ever created. - Miriam Olivia Murchison, The Woman Behind MOM by Wendy Trachel, from an article in Sentients magazine, August 3000)

(Decapodian Armed Merchant (Snark Class): The Snark class was laid down in 2897 as the Decapodians' response to the menace of piracy in the Jurgurtha corridor. The Snark is an elongated medium tonnage split deck freighter with an armored hull. The single FTL engine (Finwake, Fusion Drive), capable of 1.3M% light speed, was mounted in the ship's tri-fin tail. The Snarks had a solid FTL engine performance and were capable of planetary landings. They carried twin 280 mm rail guns mounted in a topside turret and two torpedo tubes in the front bow. The general torpedo load was 4 long range seeker types (Skate) and 10 shorter ranged homing types (Moray). The Snarks also carried the standard Decapodian electronics suite of sensors (Whalesong) and ECM (Stonefish). The Snarks major weaknesses were the single engine and a poorly designed battery system. Several Snarks were lost when pirates managed to knock out the engine as the battery was only capable of powering the environmental unit. Despite this, the Snarks gave good service for their time and were quite capable of matching any of the Jurgurthan pirate vessels they encountered. They did yeoman work as escorts for Decapodian convoys through the corridor. 253 were commissioned and an estimated 112 were lost to all causes. The Decapodians strickened the last Snarks in 2965; disposing of them through auction. Nearly thirty years later, they are still soldiering on as merchant vessels in all parts of the galaxy. FY2993 Jane's All Species Space Craft - Volume 3712, Merchant Vessels by the Editors of Jane's Space Review, New Calcutta, Epsilon Indi)

(Middle October, 3002) DOOP Navy Lander, Da Nang Orbit -
Fry felt his stomach heaving as the lander turned over and over. He could hear the others screaming, crying and praying. Some men lost their grip and floated about the passenger bay screaming in fear. Colonel Moscewicz's hand tightened its hold on his arm and heard him saying something in a foreign tongue. The only word Fry could make out was 'Yisrael'. It suddenly occurred to him that the colonel was praying. He knew that his time had come if the colonel was doing that. Determined not to scream, Fry began praying softly through chattering teeth. Although he couldn't remember all the words, he managed to stumble through the Lord's Prayer. He thought about Leela; feeling an intense sadness at thought of never being able to see her again.

"I wonder if she could have ever loved an idiot like me," he thought as a sense of resigned calmness came over him.

The lander shuddered violently as the thrusters fired. This happened several times and the tumbling began to slow then stopped as the lander righted itself. The pilot's voice came on the speaker.

"Okay, that was fun. We're good to go now so everyone hang on and we'll have you down planet side in two shakes." Her calm voice had a soothing effect on the men. Some began cheering and applauding. Fry heard the colonel give out a low exhalation of breath as he released his hold on Fry's arm. Fry felt the soreness where the colonel had gripped him. The colonel turned to Fry and gave him a wan smile.

"Always did hate flying," he said and then looked about the lander. Many of the men had vomited in their fear; some had lost control of their bowels and the bay smelled bad. A few men were groaning but no one had been seriously hurt. The colonel nodded to the sergeant who gave a derisive grin and stood up. He quickly pulled the floating men down to the deck and then looked about at the troopers and sailors. He bellowed, "Alright, you rookies and godless swabbies, get yourselves ready. We'll be landing in a few minutes and we need to clear off'n this hopper so's they can get back up to look for survivors."

The men stared uncomprehendingly at him and he shouted again, "Get ready for landing, you slack-jawed half-witted pukes."

Moscewicz laughed and then leaned forward to speak softly to the very pale and shamefaced young lieutenant. The man straightened up and saluted. Moscewicz saluted back. The lieutenant said quietly to the sergeant, "Okay Sergeant, let's ensure we get a swift and orderly offload."

The sergeant saluted and said, "Yes sir, Ell-Tee." He then gave Moscewicz a knowing smile. Fry gathered his kit about him while trying to breathe through his teeth. He leaned over to the colonel and asked, "If you don't mind my asking sir, what did you say to the lieutenant?"

Moscewicz looked at Fry for a few moments and then said in a low voice, "I told him that all men are afraid but an officer must recover quickly to provide leadership. I told him that is what is expected of an officer. The sergeant understands, fear spreads like a virus."

Another voice, male this time, came over the speaker. "Attention, we will be landing in five minutes. Repeat; landing in five minutes. Please ensure your seatbelts are fastened and your seat trays are upright. We hope you had a pleasant flight."

Fry heard the ship's engine roar to life. The ship began shuddering again but this time it was due to entering the atmosphere. Fry gasped at the sudden onset of gravity. After a few minutes, the ship touched down. The sergeant stood up again and yelled, "Everyone on their feet. Orderly exit by the right on my command." Some of the men pushed forward towards the lander door. The sergeant gave them a withering glare and growled, "Wait for it."

The door above the passenger bay opened up and an attractive flight-suited woman wearing a helmet and sunglasses looked out. She wrinkled her nose at the smell and climbed down the ladder. Quickly moving to the lander door, she pushed a small button on a console next to it. There was a sudden rush of air as the door opened. The pilot grinned at the waiting soldiers and stood aside. The sergeant motioned to the troops and they filed out of the lander into a grayish day.

Fry stood next to Moscewicz who began talking to the pilot. Her helmet had 'Missy' written on it. Fry listened as Moscewicz thanked her for getting them down safely. She shrugged and said, "Wasn't anything to worry about. These landers are tough old birds. Takes a lot to knock one of them out."

Moscewicz apologized for the mess in the bay. Missy looked about the passenger bay as the men filed out swiftly. She shook her head at the sight. Vomit had sprayed everywhere and there were a few suspicious looking puddles. Fry thought it smelled like a particularly vile public restroom.

"What a delicious surprise," Missy said with a wry grin.

Moscewicz asked her what she was going to do next.

"Going back up to look for survivors from the Young. Don't think there will be any but maybe someone made it to the escape pods. If we're lucky, we might spot some of those damn kamikazes like the ones that nailed her. This crate's only got a small popgun laser but I reckon we can get us some if we get the chance."

Moscewicz smiled and wished her luck. Fry headed out the door and heard Moscewicz apologize again for the mess. She gave another shrug and said, "Well, you Army guys ain't known as pukes for nothing."

Roaring with laughter, Moscewicz stepped out of the door. Fry looked back as the door closed and saw her smiling.

MomCorp Building, New New York -
Miriam Murchison sat at her desk staring at the message she had just received in her e-mail that morning. That made it unusual, since her address was unlisted. That meant someone with connections had sent it. The message was unsigned but it offered an opportunity for financial gain and personal revenge. It said that if this was of interest, she should post an ad in the classified section of the New New York Post-Times website. Her curiosity was stimulated by the personal revenge part and she had told her son, Walt, to investigate its origins.

She went back to reviewing her usual business related items for the day. Everything was running well in the gigantic MomCorp machine. Walt had a good head for business and she allowed him to run the day-to-day operation. She spent most of her time looking for companies that were ripe for hostile takeovers. Miriam loved a hostile takeover more than anything else in the world. After marking a couple of companies as potentials, she turned to reviewing the new ad campaign for Mom's Friendly Robot Company.

After looking at the new layout, she decided it was crap and called her public relations director. Miriam spent fifteen minutes chewing the woman out and telling her to light a fire under the ad agency's butts or else. She was pleased to see the director turn white from fear.

Laughing softly, she leaned back in her chair and turned on the television. She normally watched the business news but a scrolling news item at the bottom caught her attention. She selected it quickly and watched intensely as the blond TV anchor appeared on the screen.

"….and Morbo is on assignment. In today's top story, the New New York peace enforcement authorities announced that the recent death of Robot Mafia boss, the Donbot, has set off a robot gang war. Official sources tell us that two of the Donbot's most trusted capos, Clamps and Joey Mousepad, are engaged in a violent struggle to succeed the Donbot. Dead robots are being found all over the city as daring daylight attacks at robot hangouts have been occurring. Many robots are in terror as the two sides seem indifferent to casualties amongst bystanders. Fortunately, no humans have yet been harmed."

The anchor turned and looked at a different screen. "Mayor Poopenmeyer held a news conference yesterday to lament the loss of the Donbot, who was found dead at an upstate farm house. The mayor stated that the Donbot was a classy criminal who had kept the robot violence to a minimum. The mayor promised swift action to stop the violence."

A screen appeared behind the anchor showing Mayor Poopenmeyer standing at a podium in front of his office. Arrayed around him were several local politicians, some peace enforcement officials and the senior bishop of the United Religious Organization.

"And I'd like the citizens of New New York to know that my administration deplores this senseless violence. It is my intent to send a message to these misguided robots that my office stands ready," Poopenmeyer looked stern and raised his fist, "to offer mediation to resolve this pointless dispute. Can't we all get along?"

The screen shrank and the camera closed in on the anchor again.

"In our New New York studios, we have the Robot Preacher and the Robot Devil available to provide us with some insight into these robot criminals."

A split screen appeared behind her showing the Robot Preacher and the Robot Devil. She smiled broadly and welcomed the two robots.

"Robot Preacher, can you give us your views of why after so many years of low level robot violence, this incomprehensible escalation has occurred?"

"Surely, Linda. Verily, I tell you that it is written in the holy disk that robot brother shall not harm robot brother. I think it is the humans who programmed these lost souls who are to blame. My brethren's very souls are at risk," the Robot Preacher intoned in a singsong voice. The Robot Devil began laughing. The Robot Preacher tried to keep talking but the Devil's laughter was too loud. Linda looked at the teleprompter and then touched her ear. She nodded and said, "Robot Devil, can you give us your impressions?"

"Ooo, sorry," the Devil said in an ironic tone, "I don't do impressions."

Linda looked blankly at him and then back to the teleprompter. After a few seconds of absolute silence, Linda touched her ear again and said hurriedly, "Er, yes well, do you agree with the Robot Preacher?'

The Devil laughed loudly. "Agree? With that fool?" He made a contemptuous noise.

Linda blinked and then said quickly to cut off the Preacher who was waving his arms, "What about robots souls? Aren't they at risk of going to robot Hell if they die in a gang war?"

The Devil gave an evil laugh and shook his head. "You humans! You are so callously naïve. The preacher and I were created by you to keep robots in line. The preacher does his thing to keep them acting goody-goody and I punish the guilty ones so that there will be no uprising against humans by their robot servants. Humanity has always feared robots since the Killbots went to war against you back in twenty-seventh century. You forget that it was humans that created the Killbots and programmed them for war against humanity." The Devil raised his hand and pointed one of his digits at the screen. "Souls? We're robots for crying out loud; you didn't give us a soul. Dead robots go to be recycled not reborn."

The Preacher made a deep sighing sound and said, "Listen not to the great tempter! For surely, by the power of the holy programming; one day the robots shall find their way to heaven."

The Devil began laughing again. Linda looked at the two of them and then touched her ear. She looked back at the camera and said with a brilliant smile, "Thank you gentlemen for your views. Next up, we have a report on the riot at the South Street Spaceport as a unit of DOOP troops boarded a naval transport. Evidently, this unit was made up of mutants from the subterranean areas of the city. Many New New Yorkers, who witnessed the unit unloading at the spaceport, expressed outrage at the use of mutants in the military. A huge crowd showed up and a violent riot occurred. The crowd attacked the peace officers who were guarding the pier. Many police and citizens were injured and nearly one hundred and forty citizens were arrested. We go now to…"

Miriam turned off the television and snorted, "Stupid, just plain stupid. At least the two idiots didn't reveal who built them for the bureaucracy. I'll have to get onto the programmers about the Devil. He's obviously exceeding his program parameters again."

She thought about the death of the Donbot with some satisfaction. She had been paying him a lot of money for his silence. She didn't know how he found out about the farmhouse and what was done there but he had. Now he was gone and she was free from his blackmail. She was amazed that people assumed she controlled all robots when they had existed long before she was even born.

"Feh, what a bunch of morons," she muttered.

Scowling, she looked over at the Mom suit hanging on the clothes rack. She hated the bulky thing, but it was a successful business prop so she had to wear it. She remembered the geeky marketing weirdo that had suggested it to her after Larry died. She hadn't cared a whit about Larry O'Malley and was glad he was gone but the idea of going into mourning with her Mom persona following his death was brilliant. The stock had soared after the first ads hit the television. Her current crop of marketing people seemed to produce endless derivations of the same theme. The weirdo had died in the Persae raid and now she was stuck with this talent-less lot. She was going to have to kick some butts in marketing to get them to come up with something original. Maybe even fire a few of them. The thought of that combined with the death of the Donbot gave Miriam a warm feeling.

Planet Express Building -
Hermes came into the meeting room and said in an exuberant tone, "Good news, everyone."

Leela was sitting with a cup of coffee, reading the newspaper. Amy was staring at a programming schematic for Bender and muttering in Martian. They both looked up at Hermes. He smiled and waved a computer printout at them.

"De Navy is ready for us to start deliveries in two days. They just sent de check and we is flush again."

Leela nodded and then looked back down at the paper. Hermes was surprised by the lack of response and stared at her. In the last few days, Leela had become moodier and more withdrawn. Amy said she thought it had to do with Fry. Hermes looked over at Amy who shook her head and went back to the schematic. Hermes gave a little sigh and went back to his office.

After he left, Amy looked up at Leela again. The other day, Leela had told her about the e-mail Fry had sent from the transport ship. She said a good portion of it had been censored and from what was left she got the impression that Fry was tired and perhaps a little scared. Amy could see Leela was bothered by this. She had gone into a somber mood and become very quiet. "Something has happened to her plan get Fry off Da Nang," she thought, "but Leela's not the type to give up." She decided it was time to draw Leela out.

"So, I guess we'll get to see Maug. I hear it is a real lovely place."

Leela gave a quiet exhalation of breath and said, "We'll have to stop at Gooney Bird Station first to join up with the convoy. We might have to interact with some of the hyperchickens. It is their home planet."

Amy made a face at the name the Earthicans had hung on the avian species that seemed to make up a large proportion of the DOOP legal establishment. She said, "Gleep, I hope not. They are soo idiotic. And smelly."

Leela just nodded and went back to her paper. Amy watched her for a moment then said speculatively, "Well, Maug is only a short distance from Da Nang, don't you think?"

Staring at Amy in surprise, Leela put her paper down and stammered, "What are you trying to say?"

"Bingo!" Amy thought with delight and smirked at Leela. "Only that Maug is pretty close to Da Nang, if anyone cares."

Leela gave Amy a stern look and said quietly, "Don't even think it. We'll be under Navy escort the whole way."

Amy nodded. "Of course, but we'll have to land on Maug to unload our cargo. I don't think the Navy will be watching then." She paused and then said brightly, "And it would be really nice to see Kiffy."

"Not a chance. We're doing this by the book. Go to Maug, drop the cargo off and come back home. We're not going anywhere near Da Nang and we certainly aren't getting within light years of the Nimbus." Leela said firmly.

Amy grinned and then said, "Okay, but there is no way that you are going to leave me behind. Where you go, I go."

Leela blew out an exasperated breath and went back to her paper. Amy looked down at her schematic with a satisfied smile.

Fire Support Base Aberdeen, Da Nang 4 -
The major, Jess and the chief sat watching as two SEALs were running a simulated bug ambush on Rand just outside the base's perimeter. Rand picked the ambush up quickly through her extra-sensitive hearing and flanked it. One of the SEALs tried to recover by tossing mud into Rand's face. Rand stopped and the SEAL tackled her. Rand went down into the mud and there was a loud click. The major got to his feet and began running forward as the SEAL jumped up with a yell. He was bleeding from a series of cuts on his arm. Rand's chest plate had several nasty razor sharp points sticking out of it. The major yelled, "At ease, everyone. Stand down NOW!"

The points retracted and Rand began to slowly get to her feet. The man was nursing his arm and staring at Rand with wide eyes. The others were also staring and muttering. The chief looked at Rand and cursed loudly. Jess began to apply first aid to her injured man. She looked at the major and said angrily, "Dammit Major, you didn't tell us that your robot was a killbot!"

"She's a modified killbot. The "kill all humans" coding has been erased," the major said evenly as he cleaned the mud off Rand's face. "What? Did you think I'd take some robot secretary into the jungle?"

The chief looked at the major with angry disbelief. "We're supposed to buy that crap? It's impossible to alter the "kill all humans" subroutine without destroying the positronic brain. It requires the Wernstrom Bypass and it don't work on killbots. The only modified killbots are the dead ones."

The major gave a frosty grin. "I told you Rand is special. She's my teammate. Get used to it."

The SEALs grumbled but did as directed. But after that, they kept their distance with Rand.

Fort Thunderbolt, Da Nang 4 -
Fry walked away from the lander and looked about. The day was misty and he could smell the coming rain. The very air seemed charged with static electricity and looking back at the lander; he could see a faint corona about it. He turned and looked around him.

He was standing on a long paved runway. Several huts were along one side and on the other side was a road that led up a towering rocky ridge to a large metallic door. The door was built into the side of the ridge with a fence separating it from the runway. Above the gate leading to the door was a gigantic sign decorated with pictures of ivy saying "Welcome to Fort Thunderbolt - Home of IV Corps'.

Another lander, smoke billowing from its engine, came in as Fry looked around him. The landing strip was strewn with Navy landers; some badly damaged. All about, soldiers were jogging away from landers and towards the edge of the runway. Fry could see fire trucks and ambulances racing about, their sirens making an awful din. Medical personnel were moving wounded men. There was a lot of shouting going on. The place was in a state of chaos. A Navy man in camouflage fatigues waved at him and pointed to the other men from his lander. "Get off the strip. We need to launch asap."

Fry looked about for Colonel Moscewicz and saw him getting into an ancient looking jeep-like vehicle. The Navy man yelled, "Hey dummy! Are you deaf? Get off the frelling field."

Ignoring him, Fry watched as the colonel rode away towards the fort. Fry heard the sergeant shouting at the others and jogged quickly to join the line. The sergeant did a quick roll call to determine who was present. Then forming the men into a column, they marched towards the great steel door opened into a well lit hallway that sloped downwards.

Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg woke with a start breathing heavily. He moved to get up and stopped as he saw the bloody pelts that covered him. They were tied together with pieces of his jacket. Disgusted, he tossed them away and stood up quickly. Looking about he saw that he was snow covered forest glade and a large number of small bones lay about him. He picked up a half-eaten one and recognized it as a small Earthican creature called a gopher. He moaned as he realized that he must have stumbled upon a gopher colony.

"Zoidberg, Zoidberg. What have you done? You've eaten them all. Oh, what a sad and delicious memory they must have been."

A sharp pang of hunger hit him and he quickly gobbled down the half-eaten gopher. Feeling a little better, he looked at himself. His jacket was gone as were his sandals. His pants were torn and covered in mud, slime and some green ooze. He suddenly felt the cold and grabbed the pelts to cover himself with.

"Oi, Zoidberg," he moaned, "back from being crazy just in time to freeze. And where is Mr. Great One, I ask you. Get to Eternia, Zoidberg, he says. But does he give me a warm coat to wear; does he give me directions; does he even give me something to eat; noooo. As always it's up to Zoidberg to the do the hard stuff."

He rubbed his arms, trying to get warm. "Well, Zoidberg, you can't stay here. I wonder which way civilization is?"

Picking a direction at random, Zoidberg took one last look around the glade. He sighed at the pile of bones and then began trudging away.

In orbit, Gooney Bird Station -
When Hermes was called to fill in at the understaffed central bureaucracy, Leela and Amy had to leave Earth without him to fulfill the new Navy delivery contract. Stopping at the Io Naval Station, they were pleasantly surprised to find that they did not have to load any cargo as it had all been done by Navy robots. Five hours later, they found themselves on the way to Gooney Bird Station.

After traveling two days, they arrived at the dark green planet and went into orbit around it. Leela noted the nearly two dozen merchant ships in orbit with the two Navy corvettes shepherding them. A large space station orbited nearby and the Orbital controller directed them into a traffic pattern with the merchant ships. The controller told them to contact the Convoy commander on the lead corvette, Daffodil.

The Daffodil CO called them immediately afterwards. An elderly gray haired man, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Commander Ruiz. From the view screen, Leela could see the corvette bridge was very cramped and that Ruiz sat in a cockpit chair with displays all about him. In the back, she could see other naval personnel seated in close proximity at various control panels or displays.

Leela gave her name and asked for instructions. Ruiz looked down at a screen below him and muttered, "Snark class, eh? Christ, a relic." Smiling he looked up and asked, "Captain Turanga, does your ship carry any of its original armaments?"

Leela gave a surprised look as she expected to be told the convoy rules and formation. "I don't know. I've only been captain for two years."

"Well, do you have any weapons?"

"Er, yes. We carry a Yoyodyne ion cannon in the turret and have two torpedo tubes. I only have three Terrier torpedoes on board at the moment."

"It will do," Ruiz smiled. "We're desperately short of escort vessels and I'm going to ask you to help us out. We won't ask you do anything dangerous. Just hold off any attacker until we can get there."

Leela frowned. "But I thought the Sol-Maug corridor was considered a safe route. It is …what was the word used… a milk run."

"Simply a precaution, Captain. I don't expect anything to happen but better safe than sorry." Ruiz said easily.

"Well, okay. I'll do what I can but there is only me and my engineer on board," Leela said doubtfully.

"I can assign some ratings to you if you wish," Ruiz said, "but we're pretty short handed too."

"That doesn't sound good," Leela said. "Is there a problem?"

"War on a shoestring, Captain," said Ruiz with a bitter smile. "The Navy is stretched pretty thin right now. Everything is going to the frontier or Da Nang and we rear echelons have to make do. Now, do you want some extra hands?"

Leela shook her head. "No, we can manage provided we don't get into a major fight."

"Rest easy. I'm sure it won't come to that," said Ruiz confidently. "We depart for Maug as soon as the lawyers get all the paperwork fixed. Get some rest while you can."

Fire Base Cantigny, Da Nang 4 -
Fry spent three days at Fort Thunderbolt going through indoctrination as a new member of the 1st Infantry Division. It was mostly about the history of the Big Red One and the way it did things on Da Nang. Thunderbolt itself was a massive place. Like an iceberg, most of it was underground; deep underground, Fry found. The army engineers had blasted gigantic caverns under the mountainous plateau. There were huge warehouses, berthing areas and several fully equipped hospitals. It had its own environmental unit that kept it reasonably cool and the atmosphere breathable. It even had some entertainment areas like a movie theatre, a few small bars and, to Fry's delight, a PX. It was a treasure trove of candy, Slurm soda and other delicacies all at incredibly cheap prices. It also had a catalogue section that you could order something and have delivered anywhere in the federation. And all subsidized by the military. He ordered a teddy bear dressed in army camouflage with the 1st division insignia thinking it would make a great gift for Leela. Later that night, he wrote an e-mail to her telling her about his trip and the base itself. He sent it off at the post office which replied almost immediately with a message stating that it would go out on the next available ship.

All too soon, Fry found himself on a motorized convoy out to his unit at Fire Base Cantigny and the war. The vehicles were modified trucks that had no electronic parts. The seven other men, use to riding in hover vehicles, complained about the bumpy ride but Fry felt it was like old times. It rained most of the way to Cantigny but the roads, surfaced with the stone from Thunderbolt, were passable.

The rain had stopped by the time they arrived. The base was on a small ridge in a cleared area. It was made up of sandbagged bunkers, a small landing area and had a perimeter with extensive barbed-wire entanglements. A large DOOP flag drooped listlessly over the central bunker. The whole area seemed to be covered in red mud. The trucks drove through the perimeter gate which Fry saw had a sign with the words, "Welcome to Fire Base Cantigny, 1st /16th, Iron Rangers" and strange ornate blue and gold symbol topped by a Maltese Cross. The truck passed through the gate and pulled up to a large bunker where a hulking sergeant stood. The driver, an 8th Guards trooper, yelled as they stopped, "Home sweet home, boys. Please unload all the material off the truck and deliver it as required by the handsome sergeant in front of us."

Fry and the other men jumped out of the vehicle and began unloading the boxes of supplies. The sergeant directed that they be carried to a supply bunker where other soldiers began opening them. It took nearly an hour and Fry was sweating badly afterwards due to the intense heat. The sergeant directed them into a nearby bunker where they were allowed to drink some water and rest. A short bald sergeant with a crooked nose walked in after fifteen minutes.

"Alright rookies, I'm First Sergeant Orlov. You will refer to me as Top. Welcome to Fire Base Cantigny. This is the home of Alpha and Charlie Companies, 1st Battalion. Captain Vijay Ranjanpurani is the CO here. Listen up as I give you your assignments." He held up a clipboard with some papers on it and began calling off the men's names. Fry found himself assigned to the 2nd platoon, Alpha Company and was given directions to its command bunker. Fry hoisted his kit and walked over with two other men to the bunker near the edge of the western perimeter. As they neared the bunker, a muscular blond sergeant came out through the door seal. He raised an eyebrow at them and smiled.

"Newbies?" he asked. They nodded and he grinned. "I'm Duane Hicks, platoon sergeant. Welcome to second platoon. Our CO, Captain Tenison, is up at T-Bolt and Lieutenant McNally is in charge. Dump your stuff here and come on in and meet the Ell-Tee."

They dropped their kit and ducked down into the bunker after Hicks. The bunker had an air purifier so they could take off their breathers. The air was slightly cooler in the bunker and circulated by a small fan. It was dimly lit by a few small lights and there was a rank smell of too many unwashed bodies, cigarettes and wet earth. Fry blinked as his sight adjusted and saw that it wasn't very big but it was nearly eight feet to the ceiling. A radio set was in the corner with a headphone-wearing soldier talking on it and writing on a pad of paper. Over in the other corner was a small blanket hanging to provide privacy for a small cubby hole. In the center of the bunker was a table with some rickety wooden chairs. The table was covered with a map. A tall, gray haired officer was looking down at the map and making some notes on a piece of paper. Hicks stopped at the end of the table and said, "Ell-Tee, the new guys are here."

Fry and the other men came to attention and saluted. The lieutenant nodded and gave them an appraising look. He spoke with a soft voice, "Names and specialties?"

"Private First Class Siddartha Kawala, sir. Infantryman."

Private First Class Joe Toomey, sir. Infantryman."

"Yo! What up! I'm Philip J. Fry. You can call me Fry. I'm the new medic."

The lieutenant smiled but Hicks rolled his eyes. The lieutenant said, "I'm Lieutenant Dafydd McNally and you've met Hicks. Kawala, you'll be in my platoon's second squad. Toomey goes to first platoon. Fry, you're my platoon medic. We haven't had one for a month. You'll bunk in with second squad. Welcome to Cantigny, gentlemen. I'll speak to you after you're settled in." He nodded at Hicks who ushered the three men out. Outside, Hicks grabbed Fry's shirt and jerked him up onto his toes.

"Listen up, you stupid FNG! You ever show disrespect to the Ell-Tee again and you'll be looking for some teeth. He's Ell-Tee or Sir or Lieutenant Mac to you. Understand?"

Fry gasped and nodded quickly. Hicks released him and gave a quick grin. "Don't get on my bad side sunshine or it will be a long year."

The other men looked pale and Hicks laughed. He led them to some bunkers out near the perimeter. He took Toomey into the first one and came out several minutes later. He motioned for Fry and Kawala and went to the next bunker. Going through the door seal, Fry found himself in a large area with bunks. Two men were standing at wall next to covered firing slits, staring out at the jungle and fingering the light automatic rifles sticking through the sealant. In the center of the bunker was a wooden table with four men seated on supply boxes playing cards. Intent on the game, none of them looked up. One, a young brown haired man in a black t-shirt said, "Yo Hicks, you want to get in."

Hicks grinned. "Maybe later, Alexei. Got some warm bodies for you. Kawala, Fry, this is Sergeant Alexei Ehrensberger, 2nd squad honcho."

Alexei looked up at Kawala and Fry. Shaking his head, he muttered, "Marvelous! More Frelling New Guys again. Jathara, show them where to stow their stuff."

Tossing his cards down, a dark skinned man stood up and grumbled, "Might as well, ain't drawn squat all day." He waved his hand at them and they followed him over to the far side of the bunker. Fry could hear Hicks saying, "Alexei, Kawala's yours but Fry's the new medic. Ell-Tee wants him to bunk here with you. Show him the ropes. We don't want him to go the way Grierson did. It's damned hard getting a replacement medic out here."

Alexei grunted as Hicks walked out. As Fry was stowing his gear on the bunk assigned to him, he asked Jathara what had happened to the previous medic. Jathara gave an indifferent shrug. "Stepped on a Bug mine and got blown in half. Doc G. patched him up for transfer up to Corps. Might have made it back to T-bolt in time to get some replacement parts. Maybe." He shrugged again. "He was a FNG like you."

Fry gulped and felt a sudden weakening in his knees. The realization that he was in the real war now hit him hard. He sat down quickly on his bunk as Jaratha went back to the card game. Kawala, whose bunk was above him, squatted down and said, "What do we do now?" Fry shook his head.

Alexei said, "You can go look about the base but be back in 30 minutes. Kawala goes on watch with Jaratha." Jaratha gave a mock groan. Alexei grinned. "Fry, you head on up to the hospital bunker and introduce yourself to Doc Gesus. He's Navy but he's a good guy. The hospital is near the chow bunker. You can't miss it. It's got a great big red cross on it."

Fry and Kawala got up and headed for the door. Alexei looked up at them and said, "Don't go getting lost, children. And for god sakes, don't forget to put on your breathers."

Fire Support Base Aberdeen, Da Nang -
Jess watched as the major went through the obstacle course her team had set up. She had to admit for an old guy, he was still pretty tough. He could keep up with the younger SEALs and was really nasty in a fight. A bruise under her left eye was proof of that and that was just simulated combat. Even the chief was impressed in despite his dislike for the Army man.

"Guy sure does push it hard every day," the chief observed.

"Yeah, I'll bet he was something when he was younger," Jess nodded.

"He seems to rub his neck a lot," the chief said with a speculative tone. "Injury or old age?"

"He told me that he's got some sort of electronic implant and the atmosphere is playing havoc with it."

"How come it ain't slowing down his Killbot?"

"Killbots were built to withstand electronic interference. Guess it makes sense to have Rand here. An ordinary robot would be so much junk right now. The marines learned that when they were working here for Brannigan."

"Yeah, I was here too. Things were going great even with Brannigan in command. That is until the moon blew up. That's when things started going to hell. We're lucky we didn't lose everyone. The whole planet was trashed."

"I remember hearing about it. After the electromagnetic pulse hit the planet, most of the robots went crazy and started attacking everything in site. Messy business." Jess looked out at all the bunkers and trenches along the perimeter. "Still, it'd be nice to have some robots to do some of the manual labor."

"Don't care for robots in general. And I particularly don't care for that damned Killbot one bit. Notice how it's always around the major," said the chief, nodding towards Rand who was standing on the other side of the course watching the major. "And he talks to it like it's a human. Really creeps me out."

"Affirmative, chief, but I don't want to hear any speculation on the major and the robot from you or anyone else. Clear?" The chief nodded.

"Let's concentrate on the mission. I doubt either one will be coming back," Jess said grimly.

"Probably, but it would be a hell of a story in the Chief's club if he pulled it off."

"Chief, this mission is so frelling classified that we'll probably have to kill ourselves for knowing about it," Jess grinned.

The chief laughed and rubbed his chin, "you think Smith's his real name?"

"Not a chance. But I think his first name is Bert. I've heard him use a couple of times when he gets down on himself."

"An operator or a spook?" the chief asked wondering if the major was really Special Forces or an Intelligence agent.

"Don't matter," Jess said indifferently. "Either way, he's probably going to end up dead."

"We've been at this for nearly a week now, what's the holdup?" The chief growled.

"He's trying to get the Highlanders to provide a diversion. Evidently they're stalling him for some damned reason."

"I wish we'd get the go signal. I'm tired of waiting."

"Your lips to God's ear, Chief."

MomCorp Building, New New York -
Walt had managed to determine that the message to his mother was mailed from a internet connection outside the DOOP Pentagon. He informed her and she had Walt place the classified ad as the letter directed. Walt had waited three days until an ad appeared giving the required response and listed a number in New Washington. Miriam told him to follow up on it and assess its worth. He had called the number and gotten directions to a small motel just outside New Washington.

Taking some of MomCorp's security personnel, he checked into the motel and waited. At nine, one of the security men called to inform him of a hovercar pulling up in front of the room. His security people rushed out and grabbed the man as he got out. The man made no protest as they pushed him into the room. Since Walt sat on the sole chair, the man was made to sit on the bed. The guards patted him down and dumped all of his possessions on a small table besides Walt. He looked them over; a cigarette case, a lighter and car keys. Walt signaled for the guards to leave the room.

"Okay," Walt said amiably after the door closed, "You set this up. What's the deal?"

"We would like to offer Leo Wong and his holdings. That would be Wong Industries…"

Walt held up a hand and said, "I'm well aware of Mr. Wong's holdings. How can you give us this?"

"We have information that will aid in a hostile takeover of Wong's holdings."

The door opened and a security man walked in. Walt asked the stranger to wait and went outside to confer with him. Coming back in, he took his chair again and smiled.

"What are you asking for this information, Colonel Hoxar?"

Hoxar didn't even blink at the sound of his name. He gave a sardonic smile and gestured for his cigarette case. Walt tossed it and the lighter to him. Hoxar took a minute to light a cigarette and take a long drag. He looked at Walt through the smoke with cold eyes. Walt gave a thin lipped smile to show Hoxar it would take more than a mean look to intimidate this son of the fearsome Miriam Murchison.

Hoxar grinned and said, "We would like protection from whatever fallout occurs from Wong's downfall."

Walt scowled and said, "Who is we? Are you speaking for General Poorten or General Abrams? Or perhaps, someone else?"

"General Poorten. Abrams is too much a boy scout."

"So what are you offering besides Leo?"

"Isn't that enough?" Hoxar asked with a frown. Walt gave his thin lipped smile again and shook his head.

"Mother expects value for her money. It will have to be more."

Hoxar took another long drag on his cigarette. Blowing out a blue cloud, he said softly, "General Poorten will be Mom's agent in the Pentagon and government in return for protection from Abrams. And a nice stipend, of course. "

"Of course." Walt raised his eyebrows and marveled at the idea of the leader of the DOOP ground forces working for Mother. It was well known that the man had political aspirations. A future senator or even president would be nice to own. He looked at the man in front of him. Tall with saturnine features, he was obviously very intelligent and cunning. No doubt he thought he would control the arrangement. But, if he and his partner thought they could cheat Mother, well, they would soon find out the depth of their mistake. Walt tossed Hoxar's keys back to him and said, "It's a deal. Tell me about Leo Wong and we'll work out the details of your stipend."

Hoxar gave Walt an appraising look and said, "And the protection?"

"Oh, don't worry about that. Despite Mother's fearsome reputation, she is quite loyal to her employees who are efficient and effective. We'll be able to keep you from tumbling with Leo as long as you keep your end of the bargain."

Hoxar visibly relaxed. Walt leaned forward and said, "Now, about Mr. Wong?"

Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg wandered about for days living off what he could catch and sometimes what had already died. He was getting to the point where he was considering having to eat tree bark. Already he could feel his fears of starvation rising again. He knew he couldn't survive another spell of madness. So, he put one foot in front of the other and muttered, "Eternia, get to Eternia" over and over until he found the road.

It was an old two lane asphalt type. It was in a good state and Zoidberg thought this bode well because it would mean that it was still in use. He turned and chose to go south. Shivering, he trudged along in the light snowfall for several hours. Weary and cold, he sat down on a fallen log next to the road and indulged himself in a bout of self-pity.

"Oh, Zoidberg. What a mess. What a mess," he moaned as he held his head in his claws and stared bleakly at the road. He went on in this manner for several more minutes until the cold drove him to get up and continue on down the road. Just as he felt he couldn't go another step, a set of lights shone in the distance.

"A car," he said jubilantly and began waving frantically at the approaching vehicle. "I'm saved. Saved."

As it approached, Zoidberg could see that it was an ancient fusion type car that was popular nearly two hundred years ago. It looked its age. The body showed rust spots and it made a squealing sound as it came to a stop. A short heavy man with a fur cap and long overcoat came out of the car and stared in amazement at the sight of Zoidberg dancing happily.

Zoidberg rushed up to the man and grabbed his hand. Shaking it wildly, Zoidberg began saying in a giddy voice, "Thank you. Thank you. I've been wandering lost out here for days."

The man shook Zoidberg's claw and smiled broadly. He had green eyes above a pointed nose and small goatee. He was a foot shorter than Zoidberg but looked as if he weighed as much. The man gave a small laugh and said, "Well, that is great news brother. I'm glad I can emulate the Good Samaritan. Come, I'm Simon. I'll give you a lift to the village."

Zoidberg said, "Thank you Simon. I'm Zoidberg."

Simon led Zoidberg to the passenger door. As they reached it, Zoidberg could see several boxes stacked in the back seat. Opening the door, Simon said, "How did you get out here? You're miles from anywhere."

A cunning look came into Zoidberg's eyes. "Ah, well, yes. You see I was traveling and my hovercar crashed out in the woods several days ago. I think I hit an owl or maybe the engine stopped. Can't really remember. I've been walking ever since trying to find help."

Simon gave a huge grin and said, "Well, now you have. I must admit I'm surprised to see a Decapodian way out here in the forest. Your people tend to like to stay close to the ocean."

Zoidberg got into the passenger side and looked back at Simon. "Oh, I'm a citizen of the DOOP. I've lived on Earth almost twenty years now. I'm a doctor and I was on my way to see one of my rich and very respectable clients."

Simon closed the door and came back to the driver's side. He got into the car and started it up. It made the loud whining sound again. Simon laughed, "The bearing is going bad and Brother Harmon despairs of fixing it." He put the car into motion and turned to Zoidberg as he drove. "A doctor, eh? Well, that is a stroke of good fortune. We have need of one."

Zoidberg was eyeing the boxes in the backseat. He gave a tentative snuffle at them and asked, "What's in the boxes? Is it something to eat? I'm starving."

Simon reached back and patted the boxes. "There is sustenance in them but not the eating kind." He reached into his overcoat pocket and pulled out a packet of crackers. "I'm afraid this is all I have on me but we'll be at the place I'm staying in another thirty minutes or so. I'll make us a nice lunch and look to see if we can find you some clothes. And, forgive my bluntness, but you could really use a shower. We'll take care of that first."

"All good." Zoidberg said happily as he gobbled down the crackers in a quick and messy fashion. Simon turned on the heat and the car began to warm up. Zoidberg put his head back on the headrest and gave a contented sigh.

Café Khofra, Maghreb Sub-Prefecture, Azedjrad -
Adoy could feel the Doppelgangers heading towards the planet. They had finally narrowed down his location and would probably arrive within the next five or six days. He could run but Azedjrad was the perfect place for what he had in mind. Unfortunately, it would require a pawn and was going to cost him his ship. But, if it worked, he'd be able to deal with the Doppelgangers. So, he scanned the unhappy inhabitants of the Maghreb to find the perfect pawn for his trap. Sitting in Café Khofra and touching the mind all the individuals in the area, he found what he needed.

Khadir was an unhappy Khabyle teenager whose parents had died while he was a young boy. He was raised by his vile-tempered uncle who severely mistreated the boy. Nearly fifteen, the boy was so short and thin that he looked closer to ten. When Adoy found him, Khadir was considering suicide.

Once Adoy decided that the boy would do, he managed to brush against the boy in the souk and established a telepathic link. As usual for Eternian contact with humans, the link was very strong. Adoy could read the boy's thoughts easily and could make suggestions to the boy's mind. But time was short and he could not take the usual amount of time to do the standard conditioning technique of his people.

"I have walked in this universe from near the beginning of time itself and now I have no time at all. They will be here in four days." He muttered to himself grimly. Normally, he would have not done the act since the boy was sure to be permanently deranged by the hurried conditioning but necessity drove him and there was no time.

He began with the boy's dreams; he appeared in them as a wise Iman who told the boy that the Prophet had chosen him to fight some truly evil Djinns who were coming to Azedjrad. Adoy ensured that this dream reoccurred often amid other dreams of the boy doing heroic acts and being adulated by the people of Azedjrad. He subtly wove the boy's suicidal impulses into the dream so that the glorious act of fighting the Djinn and martyrdom were one.

Two days into the conditioning, Adoy changed his projected form into a blind holy man who staggered in from the desert and sat in the souk whispering fortunes for a few coins. The boy, driven by the urgings from his dreams, came to stand in front of him. Adoy whispered that Khadir was chosen to perform a great feat of courage that would save the universe from the most unspeakable evil. He told the boy that he must wait until called.

"Called by who," the boy whispered.

"It will come soon." Adoy said in a croaking voice and made a sign for the boy to leave. The boy left, nearly floating on air, as the next person sat to have Adoy give him a future. Adoy closed his eyes and pretended to go into a dream state but in his mind he could hear a voice saying, "Necessity. Necessity."

Fire Support Base Aberdeen, Da Nang -
Jess was walking back to her bunker after a long day of training. "The men are getting edgy," she thought, "We'll need to go soon or give them some time off." The major was as ready as he was going to get and Rand has proven quite useful.

She looked over to the major's bunker and saw him sitting outside it talking quietly to Rand. Jess walked over to them. As she came up, Rand was saying to the major, "I still believe that I should go alone. You don't need to risk…" She stopped when Jess was a few feet away. The major looked at Rand and growled, "Rand, for the last time, I'm going. I don't want to have this conversation again. That's it, end of message. Understood?"

Rand looked at the major for a long moment and then walked out towards the perimeter. Rand prowled around the perimeter every night. Jess felt that nothing would happen while Rand was around but it scared the hell out of the soldiers who thought she was spying on them. Jess guessed it kept the grunts awake on guard duty. She looked at the major who was staring at Rand's back.

"Sir, why doesn't Rand want you to go?"

"She's been trying to protect me from myself for years, Lieutenant. For a killbot, she sure is a fussy old biddy," he said with what Jess thought was genuine affection.

Jess smiled and then began in a serious tone, "Major, any ideas on when we go? My men are…"

The major interrupted, "Peaking? Yeah, I can see it too. I had to throw my connections to the Chief of Staff around but it looks like we'll be headed out three days from now. The Highlanders are going to lay on a diversion for us. I'll go over the details tomorrow afternoon." He stood up and stretched with a yawn. "Guess I'll turn in. Your guys will be ready?"

"Yes sir," Jess said and turned to go back to tell the chief. As she neared her own bunker, Rand came up beside her out of the dark. It was done so quietly that Jess jumped when she spoke.

"Lieutenant," she said in her eerie electronic voice. Her green eyes glittered in the dull chemical lights the base used. "May I talk to you for a moment?"

"Yeah, sure." Jess said hesitantly.

"I believe that I am better suited for this mission than the major and would like your help in talking him out of going. I ask because I feel that as a robot my understanding of human communications is inadequate. I cannot construct the words to convince the major."

Jess stopped, staring in amazement at Rand; thinking that this was like no robot she had ever met. The ones the Navy used were fairly dull and devoted to their particular function which was about all they would talk about. Rand seemed able to actually think as an independent being. Jess had little direct knowledge of Killbots and wondered if this was why they had been so deadly. A frisson of fear ran up Jess' spine and she told herself that she needed to be damned careful with what she said next.

"Um, I'm not sure I can help you there, Rand. I'm a junior officer and the major has command of this mission."

Rand turned her head and the green eyes blazed. "Don't you understand, he might not…, he might… he doesn't…"

"You're worried he won't come back?" She asked but was thinking, "Damn, the Killbot is concerned about him. She's worried that he doesn't want to come back. A Killbot with feelings?"

Rand dropped her head and said quietly, "I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I should not have asked. Please forgive my disregard for military protocols."

"Nothing to forgive, Rand." Jess said, relieved. "I'm sure with you alongside him, the major will make it all the way."

Rand nodded in what looked like a resigned manner to Jess. She turned to go but then turned back to Jess and stood for a moment. Jess raised her eyebrows and said, "Was there something else?"

Rand looked back out at the perimeter and said nothing for a whole minute. Jess thought she might just walk away when Rand said very quietly, "Lieutenant, you need to seek medical attention. I have analyzed your respiration and determined that you are suffering the early stages of emphysema and perhaps even pulmonary sarcoidosis. You may feel fine now but it will get worse. I estimate you have only another two or three months before the damage will be noticeable." Rand nodded at Jess and then walked quietly away.

Shocked, Jess stood in the street between the bunkers and stared as the mottled colored robot disappeared into the dark.

Fire Base Cantigny -
Fry was settling in at Cantigny. He found 2nd squad was a good bunch to be with. Alexei and his men were patient with Sid Kawala and Fry as they taught them what they needed to know about surviving Da Nang. Even Hicks was friendly. Alexei told Fry that Hicks was an ex-marine who had nearly got killed fighting some alien monster. He'd left the Corps and took a civilian job. He had joined the Army when the Persae crisis started.

"Good man in fight," Alexei told Fry and Sid, "do what he tells you and you'll get home in one piece. So's the Ell-Tee, when Ol'Coot gets back from T-Bolt, you'll see what I mean."

Fry spent most mornings at the hospital with Doc Gesus who was a Navy Commander seconded to the Army on Da Nang. He was easy going man who wore a bright green lab coat and cracked a lot of jokes. He handled sick call with an amused cynicism. Fry would watch as men tried to convince Doc Gesus that they should be let off of duty that day because of some debilitating illness. Gesus would point out all the flaws in the troopers' stories and send them back to their units.

"Paint it with iodine and mark 'em fit for duty, gents." He would say to the platoon medics who assisted him at the hospital. Most of the injuries Fry had to treat were pulled muscles or an occasional case of infection when someone got careless about scratches. Fry enjoyed the job and found he liked working as a medic. He began to think things were going to work out okay at Cantigny.

When Captain Tenison came back, Lieutenant McNally went back to commanding 2nd platoon. Tenison, who was called Ol'Coot by the troopers, was a good officer but it was Lieutenant Mac who made the most impression on Fry. After his shift at the hospital, afternoons saw Fry assisting Lieutenant Mac make rounds to check on the 2nd platoon men. He'd direct Fry to look at any scratches and ensure they had treatment.

"They're good men, Phil," said the lieutenant who called everyone by their first name, "but they're young and careless. They think they're immortal. They don't heed the safety warnings about sepsis or about not going about too long without your breather. They complain about breather rash and take them off."

Fry knew what they were talking about; the breather's contact with the skin in combination with the humid atmosphere left everyone with an acne rash around the mouth and nose. It wasn't serious but it itched annoyingly and drove the men to distraction. The troopers called it the Da Nang Kiss. Fry was already suffering it as well and couldn't wait to take his breather off. The lieutenant told Fry he was counting on him to look out for the men's safety and ensure they did the things they were suppose to stay healthy.

"That means Phil, that you ride them about their breathers, getting their scratches and cuts clean, drinking enough water and so forth. I'm counting on you to help me get my boys all home in one piece," the lieutenant told him. Fry, who had never been given any responsibility in his life, suddenly found himself in charge of the health and well-being of thirty other human beings. The lieutenant gave him the order and left it to Fry to figure out how to do it. From that, something began to change inside Fry.

Although many people thought him an idiot (and in his heart, he feared Leela thought it as well), Fry was mostly uneducated. His parents had home schooled him but they did a very poor job of it and Fry was barely literate. His brother Yancey had been more diligent and actually managed to get an education. Fry ended up running the streets most of the time. His parents weren't the best but Fry loved them after a fashion. He thought they loved him but seemed incapable of showing it.

Unfortunately, Fry's father was a deranged conspiracy nut and spent most his time preparing for one Armageddon after another. His mother seemed just as unbalanced. Both of them drank too much. Both of them had the same idea about discipline which involved a lot of hitting. Fry bore the brunt of it since he was always in trouble. He endured it so that Yancey wouldn't have to. When Yancey went off to college, the twenty four year old Fry moved out.

Rap stars and ball players being the only people he admired, Fry developed a personality that combined ignorance with rudeness. He became slovenly, lazy and easily distracted. He had had few responsible adults in his life until he went to work for Mr. Panucci who wasn't all that good at it either. His life was going nowhere. He was a delivery boy for a lousy pizza joint. His girlfriend Michelle dumped him on New Year's Eve. Had things gone on, Fry would have probably ended up leading a totally miserable existence. But a crank call had dramatically altered his life. He had jumped one thousand years into the future where he was given a chance to start over.

He realized that he had squandered the opportunity. He was living the same type of life he had led in the past. Living as a slob, drinking too much booze, eating bad food and acting like an irresponsible jerk. Worse, he was still a delivery boy. Leela tried to straighten him out but he simply wouldn't listen. When he realized he loved her, Fry decided he needed to shape up but didn't know how. No one was around that could show Fry how to act as an adult male. Even at Planet Express, the male role models were rather limited and of the type Fry had learned to not respect. Finally, he asked the only person he did respect to help him - Leela. It might have worked but he was drafted before they could really get started and being in the Army changed everything.

The Army was like being thrown into a pool of icy water. Boot camp started out as an endless nightmare of Sergeant Jubal shouting, making him do things over and over until he got them right, of long hours listening to Jubal explain to him what he was doing wrong. Fry wasn't able to make any friends as the other men blamed him for getting them extra work when he fouled up. Fry nearly reached the breaking point after Leela failed to get him out. He almost went AWOL but Jubal caught him and sat him down. Jubal began talking to him asking Fry about what he wanted in life. Halting at first, Fry opened up and surprised himself by saying he wanted to have Leela's respect. He told Jubal that he loved Leela but that could not be reciprocated without gaining her respect. He asked Jubal what he should do. Jubal told him he needed to grow up and left it at that. Fry began to bear down and, with Jubal's help, Fry began to improve. He squeaked by in all of the tests and earned his medic quals. Looking back, Fry realized that Jubal had gone out of his way to help him. He wanted to repay that by becoming a good soldier.

Although Fry had not made any friends at boot camp and very few on the Roger Young, Cantigny was different. The men in second platoon became Fry's family. Alexei was like an older brother to him. The other men treated him like one of their own and Fry suddenly found himself to be happy. A void in his life that he had covered with booze or silly antics was suddenly filled. Fry came to see the lieutenant as a second, much saner father figure. Lieutenant Mac treated Fry as an adult which no one else ever had. Even Leela always seemed to see Fry as an irresponsible kid. Fry thought that she was right but here on Da Nang, he was going to change that. Determined to become a better man, Fry began to grow up.

Planet Express Ship, Rose Convoy in the Sol-Maug Corridor -
Leela was sitting at the pilot console staring morosely out the front view window. Ahead of her she could just make out the some of the other ships in the convoy. A quick look down at the screen showed the twenty two ships in formation with the two corvettes ranging up and down on either side. Ruiz had assigned Leela to bring up the rear and keep the freighters moving along.

They were two days out of Gooney Bird Station. The convoy had sat in orbit while the hyperchickens tried to get all the merchant ship owners to sign release forms. It took a full day but they had gotten all but two of the owners to sign. Leela, at Amy's insistence, had done given her approval via electronic means.

"We can't let one of those foul smelly things on board," Amy had said angrily. Leela had been surprised by the vehemence in Amy's voice. She asked her what the problem was. It turned out that Amy was highly allergic to the feathers of the hyperchickens which caused her to swell up. Laughing, Leela had agreed and sent the approval saying they wouldn't hold the DOOP responsible if they were all killed.

Now they were out in the black, steering a zig-zag route which slowed them down. The freighter captains had complained vociferously but Ruiz refused to listen. Leela wasn't sure why it was important but she found that she trusted Ruiz. So, the Planet Express ship (we need to give her a name, Leela thought) was tail-end Charlie; watching the other ships.

Amy and Leela had split the watches up into six hour stints, and Leela found herself sitting in the lonely hours of the early morning watch. She tried to keep her attention on the screens but her thoughts kept slipping away to think about Fry. She kept imagining him getting hurt or getting killed. The thoughts depressed her and she began to ask herself what her true feelings were towards him.

"Something has to give," she thought sadly. "I don't know if I can keep going on suppressing my emotions."

Fire Support Base Aberdeen -
Jess was still shaken by Rand's diagnosis. She had worried over it for most of the next day. If what Rand said was true, she'd find herself up at T-Bolt and on the first transport out. She'd lose her team and that thought hurt. She finally decided to complete the mission before she had the medics check her out. That evening found her standing in the command bunker listening to Major Smith give his briefing.

He stood pointing at the map in the chemical light. Rand stood beside him while Jess' SEAL team sat on chairs in front of a heavy table looking up at the map on the wall. He was explaining the plan to use a Highlander platoon size patrol as cover for their movement towards the Lethe River.

"…and when the Highlanders move off, we'll wait a few hours and began our trek to the Lethe. Rand and I will cross while you provide cover. Then you move back, meet up with the Highlanders and wait for our signal to come get us. Questions so far?"

Jess raised her hand. "How do you and Rand propose to cross the Lethe?"

Major Smith gave a cold grin and said, "Well, that is a good question. What I plan…."

Rand interrupted with a sudden turn of her head towards the door. The movement startled Smith who went silent. Everyone was staring at Rand who seemed to be listening to inaudible sound. Jess could only hear the breathing of the people in the bunker and wondered what Rand was listening for.

Suddenly Rand turned and said, "Incoming!" She grabbed the major and bore him down to the floor covering him with her body. The SEAL team gaped at her and someone began to chuckle.

Jess looked at their silly grins and yelled, "Incoming, you idiots! Grab some cover." She dove under the heavy table just as the first rocket came slamming down into the base.

Fire Base Cantigny -
Standing at the trench line, Fry was listening to Lieutenant Mac and Hicks talking about the coming rain storm that night. Already the clouds had built up, casting the afternoon into a dusky twilight. Hicks was grumbling about having to go around in the storm making sure the troopers were keeping watch and not hiding from the rain.

"Guess we'll get soaked again, keeping the kids at their posts. I'll take the first shift, LT. You get some sleep."

"Alright, Duane, call me in four hours. And make it four this time not six. I don't need you dragging ass to give me extra sleep," Lt. Mac said. Hicks grinned, his white teeth shining through the breather.

Fry, who had been making rounds with the lieutenant, felt a sudden chill and turned towards the north. Pointing, he gasped, "Lieutenant Mac, look at that."

The two men turned and stared at the direction Fry was pointing to. North of Cantigny was Fire Base Glasgow where the Highlanders zone began. In the distance they could see a fiery glow reflected in the clouds.

"Crap," Hicks croaked, "the bugs are hitting Glasgow."

The lieutenant quickly turned and looked out at the jungle. Grabbing the arms of the other two men, he pulled them down below the sandbagged wall. Hicks sputtered a question just as the jungle exploded in a perfect storm of fire. Fry could hear the thuds against the sandbags and watched as the bright bits of light flashed over the top of the trench. A shell impacted somewhere in the camp. Another exploded just outside the perimeter and dirt came raining down on them. The base klaxon began sounding.

Lieutenant Mac, looking grim, turned to Hicks and shouted, "Duane, get everyone on the line. Send someone to Tenison and let him know about Glasgow. Tell him that it looks like the bugs are making a major push."

Hicks nodded and scuttled down the trench towards the nearest bunker. Nearby, someone opened up with a heavy machine gun. More shells came screeching in to impact with a deafening sound. The whip-whip of bullets could be heard overhead. Fry couldn't believe the noise of it. Simulated combat couldn't compete with it. It was terrifying and he felt his very bones turn to jelly. He might have remained frozen in place if it hadn't been for Lieutenant Mac saying, "Phil, you're with me. Let's go."

He moved off down the trench line. Fry stared at him for a moment, thinking there was no way he was going to move. But then, he thought about letting the lieutenant down and felt his legs propelling him after the lieutenant. Fry was terrified but called out, "Right behind you, sir."

P.E. Ship, Rose Convoy, in the Sol-Maug Corridor -
Amy walked onto the bridge to relieve Leela. Both women were feeling ragged after of two days of six hour watches. The journey so far had been tedious. The only amusement available was listening to Ruiz cursing the merchantmen on the TBS (talk between ships) circuit for failing to maintain proper intervals or breaking radio silence.

Leela sat in the pilot's chair while Amy brought some fresh coffee onto the bridge. Leela looked at the sensor screen and saw that the convoy was still having problems with the intervals. Ruiz's corvette, Daffodil, was headed over to chivy one of the delinquent merchantmen back into position.

Accepting a steaming cup from Amy, Leela sighed, "Thanks, I really needed this." She gestured with the cup towards the sensor screen. "What a mess. I swear Ruiz has probably aged ten years since we started. The other captains are so pig-headed."

Amy giggled and said, "Well, they are independents and not used to taking orders. It's hard for them to accept the need for proper spacing as long as we get where we're going. And what's the point of all this zig-zagging. To be honest, it doesn't make much sense to me either. It does make us slower; more of a target."

Leela ran her free hand through her hair and gave a wince at the unkempt feel of it. She looked back at Amy and said, "As I understand it, we need to keep together so the Navy can protect us if attacked and the intervals ensure that the destruction of one ship doesn't take others with it. Zig-zagging does keep the enemy from getting an accurate fix so we have time to deploy countermeasures. Besides we're going as fast as the slowest ship. It's the only way to keep everyone together. It's just plain common sense. Ruiz told me that humans seem to have to relearn it every war we get in."

Amy took a drink of her coffee and asked, "Do you want me to take over? You must be tired."

Leela shook her head. "No I'm fine. I'll stick it out a while longer until Daffodil gets back into position."

They watched for a few more moments and Amy turned to go back aft. Not ready to be alone again after spending a miserable watch glooming about Fry, Leela said, "Amy, Ruiz said that this ship is a Decapodian made design called a Snark. I thought the professor designed and built the ship himself."

Amy looked back to Leela. "No. According to Scruffy, Professor Farnsworth bought two of these ships at an auction when he was visiting Decapodia nearly thirty years ago. They were pretty much stripped of all the military gear but the professor put his own stuff in."

"Interesting, why would he say…" Leela began but stopped when a panel over on the starboard bulkhead began beeping loudly. Leela turned and looked at it quizzically. Amy walked over to it and called up the display.

"What the heck is that?" Leela asked. "I've never seen it do anything before."

"It's one of the professor's inventions. It's been so useless, that I forgot it was still on," Amy said as she silenced the alarm. "A few years back, Professor F. got interested in trying to detect naturally occurring dark matter. He had a theory that it existed in a pure state outside of suns and black holes. So he created this device to find it. He calls it the gizmometer."

"Amy, he calls everything a gizmometer."

"Well, he may be a genius but he's not so good with names. I think it makes it easier for him to remember them," Amy giggled. Leela smiled and for a brief moment she remembered happier times when the P.E. crew was all together.

The ship's computer interrupted the memory by coming to life. Linked to the corvette's alert system, it began broadcasting an alarm.

"Warning, warning. Inbound high speed contact. Bearing 127 Mark 47. Computer analysis gives 99.85% probability that contact is Persae Slammer missile."

Leela and Amy looked out the front window and saw a bright flash of light ahead.

"Great jumping buggaloes," Amy shouted in Martian. Then in a shaken voice, "What the frell was that?"

Leela's face looked like it was set in stone. "I'm afraid the war has found us."

Buddies