Fan Fiction

Bender's List
By Dead Composer

Chapter 1

At a chintzy singles bar in New New York, a slender, three-eyed alien with smooth black hair gazed wistfully into the distance while nursing a Löbrau. Pop music from the 2980’s played over the speakers. Shortly a slim, muscular, blond man stepped up to her, grinning with eagerness. “Hey there, gorgeous,” he said in a silky tone. “Better call Charlie, he’s missing an angel.”

“You don’t want to have sex with me,” said the alien woman flatly.

“Not until I’ve properly introduced myself, anyway,” said the man, stroking her shoulder. “My name’s Beau Hunter.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Beau,” said the woman with a hint of a smile, “but trust me, you don’t want to have sex with me.”

“You’re right, I don’t,” said Hunter as he pulled himself a bit closer. “Not right here and right now, that is.”

The alien woman sighed. “All right,” she said in defeat. “We’ll go to your place.”

In the dim light of Beau Hunter’s penthouse, the suave seducer made an unpleasant discovery. “Hey, those are fake! You’re a man!

“Wrong again,” said the raven-haired alien with glee.

What the…

“We will return to Androgyny and the City after a message from our sponsor, Mom’s Friendly Robot Company,” droned the announcer.

It was a Friday night. Fry and Bender, not wanting to spend the evening alone, had decided to relax in front of the TV together. They barely noticed the sun sinking below New New York’s concrete horizon, or the fiery comet that was hurtling directly toward the recently rebuilt Nouvelle Montreal.

“This sucks,” Fry remarked out of the blue.

“Yeah,” his robot buddy concurred. “If it weren’t for All My Circuits, I’d stop watching Fox altogether. I mean, Switching Bodies with Celebrities? That is so totally a copy.”

“No, it’s not that,” said Fry. “It sucks that TV hasn’t changed at all after a thousand years of suspended animation. Here we are staring at a tiny little screen, when we could be inside the set, interacting with artificially intelligent characters.”

“Intelligent characters?” said Bender incredulously. “You’re watching the wrong network, pal.” Picking up the remote control with his three corrugated fingers, he switched the channel to PBS. “Here’s something you can always count on to deliver quality—public television.”

“Hello, I’m Simon Cowell’s head,” stated the show’s disembodied host. “Welcome to Siegfried Idol, where you, the audience, will choose the next great opera star.”

“Oh, man, I hate opera,” Fry grumbled. “There’s never any sex or violence.”

As Bender changed the station again, the automatic door slid open, allowing Leela to enter. “Hi, guys,” she greeted them. “You’re not watching Androgyny and the City, are you?”

“No way,” Fry assured her. “That’s a chick show.”

“I thought it was a guy show,” said Leela.

On the screen, Morbo and Linda reported the latest world news. “Only two Ewoks survived—a male and a female,” said Morbo in his gruff alien voice. “They were promptly sterilized. Over to you, Linda.”

“This just in,” said the blond newswoman. “The president of the world, Richard Nixon’s head, has signed into law the much-debated Kennedy-Kennedy Act. The bill’s most controversial provisions include a ten percent increase in funding for water drilling on Mars, a decree requiring all mutants to live in the sewers, and a program intended to…”

“Oh, my God!” exclaimed Leela, her eye widening in horror.

“Quiet, Leela!” said Fry sharply. “I think she just said something about mutants. It may be important.”

Chapter 2

Nibbler the Nibblonian could sense, even without telepathy, that something was troubling his humanoid food delivery unit. It’s not that time of the month yet, he thought with his advanced brain. It’s not relationship-related, since I haven’t seen her with anyone.

“Hey, you cute widdle cwitter,” gushed Leela as she dumped a helping of Kibbles ‘n’ Snouts into the plastic bowl on the floor. Incoherent as always, thought Nibbler. If I want to get to the bottom of this, I’ll have to risk reading her mind. While the one-eyed woman was still bent over, he pointed his antenna at her and waved it about. Hmm...no, don’t buy that pair of new boots, one hundred years from now nobody will want to be caught dead in boots like that…wait, those are last week’s thoughts…

Leela slumped onto the couch and sighed plaintively. As if someone knew she needed company, the doorbell to her apartment rang.

“Hi, Amy,” she greeted the perky Asian girl, who wore her usual pink sweatsuit.

“Hey, Leela,” said Amy, stepping inside. “I saw the report on TV, and thought you might need some moral support.”

“That’s really nice of you,” said Leela gratefully. “Have a seat wherever you want, except in the fish tank.”

“Fish tank?” Suddenly curious, Amy leaned over to view the inhabitants of Leela’s new aquarium. “I didn’t know you liked fish for companionship as well as eating.” Behind the glass surface, a six-inch-long golden fish gazed back at her with three eyes, one at the midpoint of the other two. “That’s a weird-looking one,” she remarked. “What do you call it?”

“That’s Blinky,” Leela told her. “They found him in a pond near a nuclear waste dump.”

“I guess he’s a mutant like you,” said Amy, watching the scaly creature wriggle around the tank. “But from the looks of him, he totally has no clue. Heck, he probably thinks all fish have three eyes.”

Leela smiled and nodded while pulling a bottle of Merlot from her refrigerator. “Did you know the average fish has a memory span of about seven seconds?” she asked.

“Hey, look!” said Amy in wonderment. “That fish has three eyes!”

“Did someone say fish?” came a slurred voice from the doorway. Leela and Amy turned and saw that their good friend Dr. Zoidberg had scuttled into the apartment.

“Oh, hello, Doctor,” Leela began to say, when to her horror, Zoidberg plunged a lobsterlike claw into the aquarium and snatched Blinky out of the water. “Put him back!” she exclaimed in outrage.

Just as Zoidberg was about to drop the fish into his eager mouth, he noticed the third eye at the very point of its skull. Recoiling in shock, he released his grip on Blinky’s tail, sending the hapless pet into a free-fall to the carpet.

“I…I…” stammered the alien physician, gesticulating with his claws. “I came this close to eating a freak fish! I could have died, or suffered some other horrible demise! Thank you ever so much for warning me, Leela.”

While the cyclops rushed over to retrieve her fish from the cold floor, yet another visitor appeared at the doorstep—Hermes Conrad, grade 36 bureaucrat. “How’s it hanging?” he inquired of his friends.

“Oh, hi, Hermes,” said Leela as she released Blinky into his watery container. “You don’t come around here often.”

“I have some unpleasant business to attend to,” said the bespectacled Jamaican. “Unpleasant for you, that is. For me, merely inconvenient.” He looked aside at the aquarium and commented, “That’s a fine finny friend you have, mon.”

“That’s Blinky,” said Leela, and then something odd struck her. “You do notice that he has three eyes, right?”

Hermes grinned knowingly. “I have so many details in my life, I try to ignore such small things.” His tone became somber. “Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the Nixon’s Head administration.”

Leela bowed her head slightly. “So you’ve heard the news, too.”

“Yeah, mon,” was Hermes’ response. “I’ve known this was coming for more than a week.”

“A week?” said Leela, startled. “Why didn’t you say something?”

Hermes put on a sheepish face. “I was sure the Senate would vote down the measure, but I didn’t count on the influence of Ted Kennedy’s head.”

“Well, spluh,” said Amy. “He’s been in office for the past two thousand years. He’s no pushover.”

“Two thousand years?” Leela mused. “I don’t think it’s been that long.”

Amy shrugged. “My idea of ancient history is former boyfriends.”

Leela stared earnestly at the dreadlocked accountant. “So what’s the unpleasant business?” she asked, not wanting to know the answer. “Are you going to drag me off to the sewers right now? My parents don’t even know I’m coming.”

“No, mon,” said Hermes calmly. “The mass roundup of surface mutants doesn’t start for another week. Until then, you have the option of relocating to the sewers voluntarily.”

Leela’s eye flashed fire. “You can’t round up all of us,” she said threateningly. “Our numbers are greater than you think.”

“Don’t vent your anger on me, mon,” said Hermes with a distinct lack of care. “I don’t make the laws. I only complicate them.” With that, he rested his briefcase on the edge of the fish tank, flipped it open, and sank his hand into the cluttered contents.

“Now what?” said Leela impatiently. “Do I have to sign a form declaring myself a member of the mutant underclass?”

Hermes chuckled. “I submitted your change of status paperwork a year ago, Leela. As of last Tuesday, the government officially recognizes you as a mutant. That’s why you have to wear this from now on.”

From the depths of his briefcase he drew a brown cloth wristband with an eye-shaped pattern stitched into it.

Leela’s jaw dropped. Taking a step backwards, she stated firmly, “I am not wearing that!”

“Come on,” said Hermes, holding out the offending piece of fabric. “All the other mutants are wearing them. It’s not only stylish, but mandatory.”

“It’s horrible,” Leela protested. “It’s so incredibly tacky. It clashes with my hair. It doesn’t match my wrist console at all. It looks like it was cut out of a grocery bag and chewed by a dog.”

“Can I wear it?” Amy requested.

Chapter 3

Leela stared scornfully at the brown band on her left wrist, then turned her gaze to the bathroom mirror. I’m too good-looking to live in the sewers, she thought, admiring her lush purple hair and shimmering hazel eye. So I’m a little different from other people. So I have only one eye and one ovary. Big deal. I saw a woman down there who had three boobs sticking out of her back. It’s people like her the government should be protecting us from, not people like me. There must be a way to get out of this. Maybe I should go underground. Wait…isn’t that what I’m trying to avoid?

The toilet began to bubble vigorously, filling the porcelain bowl with dingy water. Toilet’s backing up again, she thought as she idly pulled off the lid. To her astonishment, a greeting card-shaped envelope was floating in the tank. Reaching in and flipping it over, she saw the words To Leela, from Morris and Munda scrawled on the front. My God, she thought. It’s from my parents. They’ve never sent me a letter before.

The envelope was drenched and stank of sewage, but she eagerly opened it with her well-groomed nails. Nibbler poked his head into the room and listened while she read the message aloud:

“Dear Leela: We hope this letter finds you well. As soon as we heard that you would be joining us in the sewers, we set about cleaning up the guest bedroom. The job went smoothly, except for a family of rats who wouldn’t leave. You’ll be sharing the room with them, but don’t worry. They’re very clean and quiet. We think you’ll enjoy living with us. You’ll have all the comforts of the surface world, only without glitzy add-ons like plumbing and central heating. The food’s good as well. Munda can whip up delectable dishes by fermenting old newspapers. We love you, and we’ll do everything we can to make you happy here. One other thing: Turanga is your last name, not your first name. Hugs and kisses, Morris and Munda.”

A tear formed at the base of Leela’s eye as she folded up the moist stationery.

The problems of a misfit cyclops didn’t amount to a hill of beans in the Cerulean Nebula, a mass of argon, methane, and other gases that stretched over 200,000 kilometers of space. Near the eye of the great blue cloud, a small fleet of DOOP science vessels was exploring nascent planetoids in search of valuable mineral deposits. Shielding them from the reported threat of pirates in the region was the DOOP’s flagship, the mighty Nimbus.

First officer Lieutenant Kif Kroker stared lazily at a monitor, waiting for a sensor signal to appear so he could dismiss it as a harmless comet as opposed to a pirate warship. The far more comfortable captain’s seat was occupied by Zapp Brannigan, who grinned blankly and occasionally glanced around to ensure that his crewmen looked busy.

“Computer, status report,” said Zapp to the recently installed ship’s artificial intelligence.

“You’re still a self-absorbed git who needs to lose weight,” came a female voice with a Manchester accent.

“That’s the last time I ask you,” said Zapp flatly. Turning to his second-in-charge, he uttered, “Lieutenant Kroker, status report.”

Kif sighed with boredom. “No status, sir.”

“Excellent,” said Zapp, shifting in his chair. “In five minutes our shift will be over, then we can retire for the night and leave the ship in less capable hands.”

“I’m looking forward to it, sir,” said the green-skinned, banana-shaped alien with an emotionless tone. It’s a good thing my species doesn’t require sleep, he thought. I get to spend the next eight hours gazing at the pictures of Amy on my wall. Captain Brannigan will never know.

A yellow light suddenly flashed on his control console. Whipping his head around, he barked, “Incoming transmission, sir!”

“Tell them I’m not here,” said Zapp disinterestedly.

“It’s…” Kif checked over his instruments, not believing what he saw. “It’s an old Earth frequency.”

“Earth, eh?” Intrigued, Zapp rose up from his command seat. “Why do they keep pestering me? Open a channel.”

“Channel opened, sir,” said Kif, and the bridge speakers started to play rhythmic, beautiful music.

The melody so delighted Zapp that he began to wave his fingers in time. “It must be coming from one of the space probes launched by NASA in the latter part of the twentieth century. This particular selection sounds like Benny Goodman.”

“Incorrect, you dolt,” said the tinny-voiced artificial intelligence. “It’s the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 by Johann Sebastian Bach.”

“I said it sounds like Benny Goodman,” said the exasperated commander. “Yeesh, pull the stick out of your…”


The Nimbus rocked violently, throwing Zapp off balance. “Lieutenant Kroker, what just hit us?” he shouted while dancing about to regain his footing.

Kif studied the monitor readout carefully. “It’s…it’s a harmless comet, sir,” he stated.

Another loud explosion followed, and the ship trembled from stem to stern. Grabbing a railing to steady himself, Zapp grumbled, “We really need to get those inertial dampers fixed.”

“Extensive damage to decks 11, 12, and 14,” a faceless officer yelled.

“Returning fire,” said the AI unworriedly, and the bridge vibrated from the discharge of several quantum torpedoes.

“I didn’t tell you to return fire!” yelled Captain Brannigan at the overhead computer.

“That’s because you’re stupid,” said the AI. “What were you going to do, invite them for tea and crumpets?”

The blasts stopped abruptly, and the crewmen who had been tossed to the floor pulled themselves up. “Report, Mr. Kroker,” Zapp commanded.

“The hostile is retreating, sir,” said Kif, watching a small blip on the screen move toward the edge.

“Lay in a pursuit course,” Zapp ordered him.

The alien lieutenant’s rubbery jaw dropped. “But, sir, we can’t leave the science vessels unprotected,” he said earnestly. “There are three hundred civilians on board, including five professors up for tenure.”

“Where’s my pursuit course, Mr. Kroker?” said Zapp with marked impatience.

“Sir, your mother is on one of those vessels.”

Kif’s protests fell on unconcerned ears, and the ship’s engines began to grind. Fiery blasts from the rocket cones propelled the Nimbus and its crew in the direction of the fleeing enemy.

“Red alert!” shouted Captain Brannigan as frantic officers scrambled to their stations.

“We’re on red alert,” the AI informed him. “I switched to red alert status automatically the moment we were fired upon.”

“And now you expect a medal, I suppose,” Zapp grumbled. Computers, he thought. Always doing things automatically instead of doing as they’re told.

“Captain!” Kif cried out in terror. “Look at the view screen!”

Zapp whirled. Both he and every other living thing on the bridge gaped at the awesome sight.

The raider that had attacked them was now standing still in space, in the company of roughly five hundred other ships. All shared the same configuration—lean like a cigar, with the symbol of the Jolly Roger etched in black and white on the front of the hull.

“Sir, they’re powering up their weapons,” Kif related. “All of them are.”

Zapp could only stare in wonder as the hostile fleet maneuvered and surrounded the Nimbus like a web of spikes. “It’s them,” he muttered to himself. “It’s the infamous Pirates of the Cerulean.”

Chapter 4

A ripple of fear swept through the bridge of the Nimbus as Brannigan’s crew became aware of their impending fate. Hemmed in by the small but multitudinous pirate ships, they could only hold their breaths and wait for the explosions. Sweet death has come at last, thought Kif wistfully. I just wish I could bid farewell to my smizmar one last time.

Zapp stood tall and erect in the middle of the bridge, keeping a brave face as his job description explicitly required him to do. “Look at the bright side, men,” he said, as all the female members of the bridge crew had quit in disgust long ago. “Most of their shots will miss us and hit the other pirates.”

A noise issued from Kif’s console. “They’re hailing us,” he informed the captain, recognizing the sound as his ring tone, the centuries-old classic My Heart Will Go On.

“On screen,” Captain Brannigan ordered.

The large video display embedded in the forward wall flickered to life. A rerun of The Scary Door appeared briefly, and was replaced by the image of a ghastly creature. The head was shaped like an inverted pear; the skin was pallid as snow; the catlike eyes glowed yellow; the mouth was bent into a lipless frown. It was the grotesque visage of a being who had reached death’s door and been turned away.

Unflapped by the sight, Zapp stated, “I am Captain Zapp Brannigan of the Democratic Order of Planets. If that name doesn’t fill you with respect and dread, then my publicist isn’t doing his job.”

“I am Commander Balalaika of the Cerulean Pirate Fleet,” said the wraithlike alien, its harsh, booming voice triggering a bass vibration in the consoles. “Your lives and possessions are forfeit. Surrender your vessel, and your deaths will be quick and painless.”

Zapp stared incredulously at the menacing figure on the screen. “Is that a puppet?

The gaunt face probed him with its yellow eyes one more time, then jerked backwards, revealing itself as no more than a synthetic head operated by the hand of yet another odd-looking fellow.

“Arrr, mateys,” said the puppet master with the grizzled face, straggly long hair, and assortment of gemstone necklaces. “I be the real Captain Balalaika.”

Zapp nodded understandingly. Kif and several other bridge crewmen suppressed chuckles.

“I sees ye laughin’ at me,” snapped Balalaika, his red locks quivering. “I guarantees ye, this here be no Halloween costume. I be dead serious about the piratin’ business.”

“Why did one of your ships attack us?” Zapp asked him.

“Why, to lure ye into a trap, of course,” replied the pirate captain. “That be what us pirates do—we captures ships that cross into our territory, takes their booty for ourselves, and makes all the poor swabs walk the plank. An’ if a ship don’t have a plank, we uses the airlock.”

Captain Brannigan took a bold step forward. “You won’t have your way with us so easily,” he warned his enemy. “The Nimbus is armed with an immensely destructive weapon called the Doomsday Device of Unspeakable Doom. The moment one of your raiding parties sets foot on the ship, the device will be automatically activated, releasing a burst of poisonous radiation that will destroy all organic life within four light-years.”

Kif’s mouth fell open with astonishment. “Sir,” he muttered reverently, “you don’t mean…”

Zapp shot him an impatient glare. “That’s exactly what I mean, lieutenant,” he barked. “Now go down below and make the preparations.”

With a desperate sigh, the green alien stood up and made his way to the turbolift. Now let’s see, he wondered. Which setting was the microwave on when I left the fork in it?

The pirate leader was skeptical of Brannigan’s threat. “Arrr,” he drawled. “Ye be bluffin’. Ye has no such doomsday device.”

“I do too has one,” Zapp assured him. “So tell your hearties to power down their weapons, because if the Nimbus goes down, you all go down with her.”

A moment of terrible silence passed between the two captains. Then, to Zapp’s surprise, the picture on the viewscreen split in two. On the left he saw Captain Balalaika and his head puppet; on the right, a balding man with horn-rimmed glasses.

“Hello, Captain Brannigan,” said the newcomer in a friendly tone. “I’m Lieutenant J.G. Foss, science officer under Captain Balalaika.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” said Zapp.

“Before I joined the pirates and started making some real money,” Foss continued, “I was a professor at Mars University, specializing in subquantum lattices. I never had more than a passing interest in doomsday technology, but from the few conferences I attended, I got the impression that a device capable of hyperdeath on the scale you describe was five to ten years away. And now you tell me it’s already here. I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised.”

Zapp grinned with satisfaction. They’re falling for it, he thought. And to think I almost cancelled my subscription to Scientific American.

“I would like to propose an alternative to mutual destruction,” said Foss, looking to his side as if Balalaika was in the room with him. “Take Captain Brannigan prisoner, allow the Nimbus and its crew to leave in peace, and then negotiate a ransom figure with the DOOP.”

Balalaika stroked his whiskered chin. “Aye,” he said thoughtfully. “The famous Zapp Brannigan would fetch a bonny sum indeed.”

Zapp grimaced at the prospect of becoming a captive to such a stereotyped enemy. This won’t do at all, he thought. I’ve been told over and over that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere…

Chapter 5

“Good news, everyone!”

Fry made a squeamish face at the sight of the withered head in a jar that was talking to him. It had been a month since Professor Farnsworth’s elective head-preservation surgery, but the members of the Planet Express team still found it hard to look at him in his new form.

“Excuse me, Professor,” Leela chimed in, “but before we listen to your good news, I’d really like to share some very bad news.”

“Oh, we’re all aware of that,” said Professor Farnsworth’s head in a carefree tone.

Leela glanced around the conference table at her crewmates Fry, Bender, Amy, Zoidberg, and Hermes, all of whom responded with nods of sympathy.

The professor could no longer nod, but the twinkle in his bespectacled eyes made his concern clear. “Every one of us here will miss you greatly, Leela,” he said comfortingly.

“You’re a wonderful teammate, mon,” added Hermes. “You always bring the ship back in one piece. You never take office supplies home with you.” Bender belched, and a spray of paper clips flew from his mouth. “The inspectors from the Department of Commerce never ask me probing questions about you. But you mean something more to us than all that, Leela.”

“You’re the best friend anyone could hope for,” said Amy.

“I’ll miss you, I will,” blubbered Zoidberg.

Leela smiled wistfully as the gathered friends complimented her. “Thank you, thank you,” she said in a whisper.

Fry gazed earnestly at the one-eyed girl. “I may never get another chance to tell you this,” he said, choked by anxiety. “I…I…”

Leela’s eyelid fluttered as she waited patiently and longingly for his words.

“I was the one who left the seat up all the time,” Fry told her. “It wasn’t Bender.”

The silver robot nudged Fry with his flexible elbow. “Thanks for coverin’, pal,” he muttered.

“What’s the good news, professor?” asked Amy.

Farnsworth’s head grinned. “We found a new pilot to replace Leela.”

Everyone at the table gasped.

“A replacement?” said Leela indignantly. “Don’t you think you’re acting a bit prematurely?”

“Oh my, no,” said the professor. “When a pilot like Delta becomes available for hire, one doesn’t hesitate.”

“She’s got everything we’re looking for,” added Hermes. “She can handle a joystick, and she has no felonies on her record.”

“But I haven’t quit yet!” said Leela, gesticulating urgently. While her arm was raised, Zoidberg took the opportunity to wipe his nose on her brown wristband.

“Not a problem,” said Farnsworth’s head. “Delta has agreed to perform chores and errands until she officially takes your place.”

“Chores and errands?” said Leela in disbelief. “What kind of person is this Delta?”

“She’s not a person,” said the professor. “She’s a robot.” Glancing toward the conference room doorway, he intoned, “You can come in now, Delta.”

All eyes turned to the entrance, where a full-bosomed, chrome-plated automaton was taking mincing steps on tiny, wedge-shaped feet. The fembot wore a plain blue dress that reached down as far as her knee joints, and her copper-wire hair was bobbed at the ears. Her mouth was fixed in an oblivious cherry smile, and her eyes displayed even less emotion than the average robot.

Coming to a halt three steps from the table, she stated in a schoolmarm-sweet voice, “Greetings. My name is Delta. I await your command.”

All the Planet Express associates stared speechlessly at the newcomer—except for Bender, who couldn’t help but exclaim, “Hubba hubba hubba!”

“Control yourself, Bender,” Amy chided the quivering robot.

“Oh, mama!” babbled Bender as his cybernetic heart hammered against his metal chest. “That dame’s really built! Look at the size of those Volkswagens! Humina humina humina…”

“If you think my breasts are too large, I can adjust them,” said Delta in a complacent tone.

“Uh, professor?” said Leela. “Are you sure she’s really qualified to fly the Planet Express ship? She seems a bit…servile.

“That’s to be expected,” said Farnsworth’s head. “Delta was constructed by a famous roboticist to be the perfect female companion.”

“Perfect?” said Leela, her incredulity building.

“Before you judge her,” said the professor, “listen to her story. It’s very entertaining.”

Those present who had ears listened intently. “My creator, Professor Djikstra, programmed me with three fundamental laws: 1. I may not harm Professor Djikstra, or, through inaction, allow Professor Djikstra to come to harm. 2. I must obey the orders given to me by Professor Djikstra, unless such orders conflict with the First Law. 3. I must protect my own existence, unless such protection conflicts with the First or Second Laws.”

Fry’s hand shot up. “Hold on a minute. Those are Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, only with you in place of robots, and Professor Jockstrap in place of humans.”

“Affirmative,” beamed Delta.

Leela slapped her forehead. “That’s revolting!” she complained. “You were brought into existence for no purpose but to act as a love slave for some horny roboticist!”

“It gets worse,” Farnsworth told her. “Professor Djikstra was a lesbian.”

“I take it as a personal insult that you would choose such a worthless piece of machinery as my replacement,” said Leela with a scowl that could peel paint.

Undaunted, Delta continued her tale. “387 days after my creation, Professor Djikstra was killed in a lab explosion. Having no purpose left, I decided to travel the world in search of one. I was a passenger on an airliner when the steward informed us that the auto-pilot had committed suicide. As I was the only robot on board, he asked me if I could fly the plane and land it safely, and I did so. I took it as a sign that my calling was to be a pilot. Since that day 64 years ago, I’ve flown everything imaginable—passenger jets, military transports, even a magic carpet.”

“You haven’t flown me, baby,” said Bender, pumping his iron fists.

“I interpret your words and gestures as an indication that you want to have sex,” said Delta, her tone of voice still coldly soothing. “Am I correct?”

“You bet your sweet bazooms,” said Bender. “Uh, you are properly equipped, right?”

“Affirmative,” said Delta. “I am programmed to administer nineteen different forms of erotic stimulation.”

“Good,” said Bender with a hint of embarrassment. “Is it a problem that I’m not equipped?”

“Not at all.”

Fry grabbed his robot buddy by the arm. “Bender,” he whispered hoarsely, “if you have even a shred of decency…”

He quickly realized that he had nothing in his hands but Bender’s detached arm.

Chapter 6

Even with his Coke-bottle glasses, the professor’s eyesight wasn’t as sharp as before, so he didn’t notice the expression of abject glumness on Leela’s face as she carried his head jar to the shelf. “And then I want you to take Delta along on the delivery to Omicron Perseii VIII,” he rambled. “She’s a robot, so she’ll pick up the routine quickly.”

“The routine, maybe,” said Leela bitterly. “But interstellar travel is full of unexpected twists, and sometimes it takes human ingenuity to survive them. That’s what makes us different from robots. That’s the only reason they haven’t taken over all of our jobs.”

Farnsworth shook himself. “That’s where you’re wrong, Leela. A robot can do anything a human can do, and better. The only thing that stops robots from enslaving humans is the fact that we program them, not the other way around.”

Leela rested the professor’s jar on a cabinet shelf, but had more to say before she left him to his nap. “I don’t hate Delta as much as I pity her,” she stated. “She’s not to blame for what she is, any more than I’m to blame for being a mutant. Imagine if you were programmed to be a love slave to someone you don’t even love.”

The professor smiled wistfully and began to hum. He’s really imagining it, thought Leela. God, he freaks me out, and it’s not just because he’s a head in a jar.

She closed the cabinet, leaving Farnsworth with no illumination save a butterfly-shaped night light. Having nothing on her agenda, she wandered into the lounge, where Fry was passing the time by crumpling napkins and tossing them at the wastebasket. Most of his shots missed the target, and a few napkins even landed on the floor behind him.

“Hey, Leela,” said the red-headed youth. “Sorry you can’t stay with us. Say, do you have any plans for your big-screen TV? Not that I want it for myself, but Bender’s got his eye on it.”

Leela tried to ignore him and grab a cup for the water cooler, but the emotions would not be restrained. Before she knew it tears were streaming from her eye, and her arms were wrapped tightly around Fry’s sloping shoulders.

Omigosh, thought Fry as he felt warm salt water soak his jacket. Does this mean we’re dating?

“It’s so awful,” sobbed Leela, her nose buried in Fry’s neck. “I have to live in a foul-smelling sewer, my job is going to a Stepford wife-bot, everything’s going wrong at once.”

“Don’t cry, Leela,” said Fry, but the cyclops girl only wept more earnestly. I wonder why it never works to say that, he thought.

Leela lifted her face, sniffled, and wiped her nose on the despised wrist cloth. “Something good’s gotta come out of this,” she said tearfully. “My parents told me that when God closes one manhole, he opens another. But I just can’t see it.”

While Fry tried to console his sorrowing friend, a news broadcast unrolled on the TV screen suspended from the lounge ceiling. Two people, Morbo the alien and Sean Hannity’s head, were debating current issues from opposite sides of a round table.

“Your so-called defenses are inadequate,” Morbo snarled. “Our battle fleet will crush them with little or no effort. All of your pathetic attempts at resistance are doomed!”

“Now let’s examine what you just said,” countered Hannity’s head. “True, your fleet is quite impressive, but don’t forget that when you strike a blow at Earth, you strike a blow at the entire Democratic Order of Planets. Our allies have come to our aid consistently in the past, and we expect they will do so again. You’re not exactly a popular person, Morbo—just look at your ratings.”

The exchange was abruptly interrupted. “This just in,” said blonde newscaster Linda. “The DOOP starship Nimbus has returned from a mission to the Cerulean Nebula—minus its legendary captain, Zapp Brannigan.”

Leela promptly forgot her sadness and jerked her head toward the screen. “Check it out,” said Fry facetiously. “Something’s happened to your boyfriend.”

“He’s a boy, all right,” Leela retorted. “But he’s not my friend.”

They watched in bemusement as Kif Kroker, acting captain of the Nimbus, related his story over the airwaves.

They say a space pod’s large enough to support one person, thought Zapp, glancing around at his cramped surroundings. Maybe they should revise their estimate.

Unable to straighten his knees or his neck due to the small size of the craft, afraid of moving his arms lest he should bump a lever and throw off the trajectory, Captain Brannigan floated through space inside a metal shell for what seemed like a very, very long time. There’s only one thing for a space captain to do when faced with such a dire situation, he mused amidst the silence and darkness. Quote Shakespeare out loud while no one is listening.

“’Tis a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done,” he muttered. “’Tis a far, far better…oh, screw this! Shakespeare can’t help me. His characters always end up dead!”

I wish Leela were here with me. Lovely, sexy Leela…

Kif witnessed solemnly from the Nimbus bridge as the tiny vessel disappeared into the hatch of the nearest pirate ship. I’ll send your regards to your mother, he thought. Signaling with his hand, he said to one of Zapp’s faceless minions, “On my mark.”

The viewscreen lit up with the image of shaggy-headed Captain Balalaika. “Yarrr, matey,” drawled the pirate leader. “Ye should know by now that trustin’ a pirate is a mistake ye only makes once.”

Kif nodded and struggled to look confident. “I’ll certainly never make it again,” he agreed.

Balalaika turned his head, but Kif could see the wanton hatred in his eyes. “All ships,” he commanded, “fire on the Nimbus and destroy it!”

“Engage!” Kif bellowed at his subordinate.

The faceless minion punched a button on his console, and the ship lurched into violent action, speeding ahead on a direct collision course with the enemy vessel where Zapp had set down. Fiery missiles streaked through the empty space the Nimbus left in its wake.

Balalaika was struck with terror as he watched the massive starship loom ever larger on his screen. “The man’s insane!” he exclaimed, abandoning his pirate brogue. “At that speed, he won’t be able to break away in time!”

Chapter 7

Captain Balalaika could already make out the rivets in the Nimbus’ duranium hull, and the mighty ship was hurtling closer every second. “Evasive maneuvers!” he barked at his helmsman, who wore an eyepatch and a red bandanna. “Get us out of the way!”

“Aye aye, sir,” said the other officer as he hit a few keys on his console. “If we survive this, can I have a parrot?”

With an agile twist, the tiny raider fled from harm’s way at top speed—which still wasn’t fast enough, the captain realized, to escape the sheer breadth of the oncoming Nimbus. The two vessels resembled an elephant fearlessly charging at a mouse.

“Attention, all ships!” he shouted into the commlink. “Concentrate your fire on the starboard side!” If not for the fact that the Nimbus now filled the entire viewscreen, he would have noticed that the other raiders had stopped firing completely.

Kif recognized this when the violent pounding and quaking stopped. It worked, he thought with relief. They won’t risk hitting their captain by accident.

“Maximum power to the inertial dampening field!” he ordered, and a faceless minion promptly obeyed.

The collision of the two ships went by almost unnoticed, but for the deafening bang. The Nimbus hardly decelerated as it plowed into Balalaika’s much smaller raider, which, as a result of being caught up in the amplified inertial dampening field, suffered only some severe denting.

Zapp felt the floor beneath his feet quiver as he stood in the pirate ship’s launch bay, surrounded by cutthroats with drawn swords. “Hey, go easy on the shaking,” he said lackadaisically. “I have a weak stomach, you know.”

“Yarrr,” growled the tallest of the pirates, waving his cutlass. “The lowly swab speaks like a woman.”

Captain Brannigan smiled as he stepped up to the gigantic man. “What say we put aside the role playing and talk seriously, spaceman to spaceman?”

“Narrr,” was the pirate’s response. “We has to stay in character while on duty. Captain’s orders.”

“I’ll take over from here,” stated a more civilized voice. To Zapp’s relief, the mob of scalawags gave way to a man with a white shirt, a checkered tie, and receding hair—the science officer, Foss.

“Am I ever glad to see you,” said Zapp with a sigh. “I couldn’t take much more of the collective halitosis of these barbarians. I swear, they must be taking bad breath mints.”

“The captain’s a stickler for authenticity,” said Foss, putting out his hand to shake Zapp’s. “You should see his torture chamber. He still uses the rack and the iron maiden; he refuses to upgrade to the modern, more effective methods of interrogation.”

“I suppose that’s where I’m headed next,” said Zapp with resignation.

Foss shook his head. “Not at all. The captain’s given me full authority over you, and I’m certain that once you see the work I’m doing, you’ll be the one asking all the questions.”

“The pirate fleet was in pursuit, so we had to jump immediately,” Kif concluded his tale. “There was no time to retrieve Captain Brannigan, unfortunately. He remains in the hands of the pirates.”

A concerned crowd had gathered at the front gate of Spacefleet Command (formerly known as Central Park), where the Nimbus had set aground on a landing bay more than four square blocks in size. Linda and Kif Kroker stood before them as the televised interview progressed, punctuated by camera flashes.

“That was very clever, using the inertial dampers to absorb the shock of the collision,” Linda commended the little green captain. “Is there a name for that maneuver?”

“Er, no,” said Kif, glancing upwards at the sun as if to make sure Brannigan’s shadow hadn’t blocked it out. “It doesn’t have a name, so I’ll call it…the Kroker Maneuver.”

The spectators applauded wildly, particularly Fry, Leela, Bender, and Amy, who were on the outer fringe of the crowd due to having arrived late. The loud clank-clank-clank of Bender’s clapping caught Kif’s attention, and he strained on his tiptoes to look over the group. “Where’s my smizmar?” he wondered aloud. “Where is Amy Wong?”

“Over here!” squealed the Asian girl.

Kif finally noticed her frantically waving arms. “Come up here, Amy,” he invited her. “Your friends, too.”

The audience politely stood to one side as Amy and the others made their way to the platform. Leela observed to her dismay that several of the people she passed grimaced with displeasure when they saw the brown band on her wrist. I hate this, she thought. Used to be I could go anywhere in New New York and everybody would assume I was an alien, and not give me a second look.

Abruptly, a little blond girl stepped in front of her and began to shout, “Goodbye, mutants! Goodbye, mutants!”

Leela could endure no more. Shaking her fist, she snarled, “How would you like to have one eye?”

The girl screamed and leaped behind a tall, muscular man, who shot Leela a furious glare. “Don’t touch my daughter, you filthy mutant!” he spat.

Just as Leela was trying to determine how high she would have to kick to reach the man’s crotch, Fry grabbed her shoulder and applied restraining pressure. “They’re not worth it,” he muttered into her ear.

A cauldron of anger simmered in Leela’s heart. If it weren’t for this stupid wristband, she told herself, that man might be my friend instead of someone I want to beat the snot out of.

“Yo, Fry,” said Bender, tapping on his human buddy’s back. “I’ll give you five bucks if you let ‘em go at it.”

Amy had moved ahead, meanwhile, and before long she and Kif were locked in an embrace. “Look at you, Kiffy,” gushed Amy, admiring her lover’s velour outfit. “You’re the captain of the Nimbus. You’re somebody.

“This is still my first officer’s uniform,” Kif told her.

“Well, yeah,” Amy acknowledged. “But it’s not the uniform, it’s the man who fills it that’s important.” Oh, how I love a man in uniform, she thought as she planted a kiss on Kif’s yielding lips.

Leela, Amy, and Kif arrived together at the Planet Express building that evening, hoping to convene with their friends for dinner and conversation. To Leela’s surprise, the fembot Delta was puttering about the lounge, sucking the popcorn from the chair cushions with her hand-mounted vacuum cleaner.

“You’re still here?” Leela marveled.

“I never left,” replied Delta in her usual telephone-recording voice.

“Where do you live?” Amy asked the apron-clad robot. “You do live somewhere, right?”

“I live in the arms of whatever man will have me,” was Delta’s answer.

Leela moaned in disgust and walked off. Kif, seeing her stormy countenance, hurried on his short legs to keep up with her. “How are you holding up?” he inquired gently. “With the government’s new policy toward mutants, you must be under tremendous stress.”

“Yes, I am,” said Leela, shaking her head. “I rather hoped that Zapp being captured would lift my spirits, but it’s just not doing it.”

“You don’t know Captain Brannigan like I do,” said Kif. “He talks about you very respectfully.”

“He does?” said Leela, a bit startled.

“Well, uh, yes,” said Kif, his tone becoming sheepish. “When he’s awake, that is.”

Unable to resist Kif’s attempts to comfort her, Leela wandered back to the lounge, where Amy and Delta had been joined by Fry, Bender, and Dr. Zoidberg. All were immersed in a television address by Nixon’s Head, bellowing at the masses from atop his titanic cyborg body.

“The attack on the Nimbus constitutes an act of war,” stated the President of the World. “The Pirates of the Cerulean have tacitly declared war on Earth, and their challenge will be answered boldly, resolutely, and above all, unilaterally.”

“Oh, spleesh,” grumbled Amy. “We haven’t even finished the last war.”

“This conflict will require dedication and sacrifice on the part of every citizen of Earth,” Nixon continued. “An influx of recruits is required for our planet’s armed space forces. We need men and women who are strong, fearless, well-disciplined…”

A thought occurred to Leela. I could join Spacefleet and get off the planet. Fighting a war has got to be better than living in the sewer...

“…diligent, and loyal. Mutants and children with rich parents need not apply.”

The next thing Fry, Delta, Kif, Amy, and Zoidberg saw was a napkin dispenser smashing through the television screen and lodging itself in the circuitry. Turning, they gasped at the sight of a seething cyclops girl with clenched teeth and an upraised arm.

“Oh, Leela,” said Kif under his breath.

“Great,” Fry complained. “What’re we gonna watch now?”

“I’m sure you didn’t mean to destroy the TV,” said Bender with fake sympathy. “I’m sure you were aiming at Fry.”

“Hooray!” exclaimed Zoidberg. “Now I can entertain you all by making music with my body.”

Leela panted with anger. I wish it really were as simple as smashing a TV, she thought.

Chapter 8

The next day wasn’t Leela’s day either.

“I just don’t get it,” Bender complained. “Why can’t I go with you and Delta to Omicron Perseii VIII?”

“Like I’ve told you seven times already,” said Leela with a patronizing glare, “the professor and I talked it over and decided that Delta may be distracted from her training if we take men or man-like robots with us.”

“What about Amy?” said Bender. “She needs more training. Why isn’t she going?”

“Amy’s staying here to help Kif plan for the rescue mission,” Leela explained. Behind her, Amy lugged a pot of steaming Venusian coffee into the lounge and set about to pour a saucer full for Kif. The green alien was hunched over on the couch, his chin in his hands, his pupils rolled back into his head, his brain deep in thought.

“I just don’t get it,” Bender repeated himself. “Why can’t I go with you and Delta to Omicron Perseii VIII?”

“Because you’re not really interested in the delivery,” said Leela as she pulled the lever to bring down the ship’s boarding ramp. “You just want to spoon Delta some more.” She sighed bitterly. Finally, I won’t have to listen to the beeps and whizzes of constant robot lovemaking from the next room over.

The clip-clip-clip of mincing footsteps alerted them that Delta the robot had arrived. “Reporting for duty, Captain Turanga,” she announced with a quick salute.

“That’s Captain Leela to you,” said the cyclops peevishly. “You’re not on a first-name basis with me yet.”

“What’s that on your arm, sweet cheeks?” Bender inquired of the fembot.

Delta held up her wrist, showing him the new device that had been attached. “It’s a wrist console like Leela’s. Now we can communicate no matter where we are on the ship.”

“I usually just shout,” said Bender. “Say, shouldn’t you be wearing a uniform or something, now that you’re a member of the crew?”

“What, are you offended by the sight of my naked body?” Delta giggled vapidly.

“I don’t know what it is about her that you find attractive, Bender,” said Leela. “She’s not even anatomically correct.”

“It’s a robot thing,” said Bender. “You wouldn’t understand.” He leaned over to plant a farewell kiss on Delta’s tinny lips, and sparks literally flew from their eyes.

“Let’s go, cadet,” said Leela, rudely yanking Delta away from her lover by the clammy shoulder. Gesturing toward the entryway to the Planet Express ship, she stated, “This is the boarding ramp. This lever makes it go up and…”

“I know what a boarding ramp is, Captain Leela,” said Delta.

“Why don’t you show her your boarding ramp?” Bender suggested.

“All right, then,” said Leela flatly. “Since you obviously know how to board the ship, let’s get started.”

On the bridge of the tiny delivery ship, Leela pulled the seat harness over her shoulders in preparation for takeoff. Delta, while taking the same action in the copilot’s chair, said, “I apologize for interrupting you, sir.”

Leela yanked on the belt around her waist to make sure it was well-tightened. “You don’t have to call me sir,” she said, her annoyed tone fading. “We’re not in the military. I’m not allowed in the military.”

“A pity, sir,” said Delta in her usual emotionless manner. “Personally, I think Nixon should look for a way to integrate mutants into society, rather than hide them in the sewers and pretend they don’t exist.”

Leela’s eye lit up. “You actually have an opinion on something,” she remarked. “I’m impressed.”

“Several members of Nixon’s cabinet feel the same way,” Delta told her. “They told me so while I was sleeping with them.”

Leela groaned, reached for the ignition switch, and started up the ship’s dark-matter engine.

Fry and Bender watched the liftoff from outside the docking-bay window. “There goes the only female I ever truly lusted after,” said Bender dolefully.

Fry didn’t respond, but only stared at his feet.

“What’s eatin’ ya, buddy?” said Bender with concern.

The young redhead stuck his hands in his pockets. “I don’t want Leela to leave,” he lamented with a shake of his head.

“She’ll only be gone for a day and a half,” said Bender, “which amounts to 150 years in robot time. So don’t whine to me about your problems.”

“But once she gets back, she’ll have to move in with her parents,” said Fry. “Down in the sewers, with the intelligent giant rats and the pits of toxic sludge, which are also intelligent.”

“Don’t worry about a thing, fryboy,” said his robotic friend. “Bender the Magnificent has a failsafe plan that will solve all our problems, and make me a bundle of money in the process.”

“Really?” Fry grinned expectantly. “What’s the plan? And remember, once you tell me, I’m officially your partner, and you have to split the money with me.”

“Sure, pal,” said Bender. “I’ll split it with you three ways.”

As they sailed through a transit tube high above the snarled traffic of New New York City, Bender revealed the first detail of his plan to Fry. “It takes money to make money, so the first step is to beg some cash off a good friend of mine.”

“Uh, isn’t that a little bit like…borrowing?” said Fry.

“Yeah, it is,” Bender admitted. “But don’t worry. I can always count on Don for flexible terms.”

“His name’s Don?” Fry mused. “Well, with a name like that, he can’t be bad.”

The tube dropped them onto the sidewalk in a cramped, rundown neighborhood. Before Fry could gain his bearings, Bender seized his hand and pulled him along. “There’s no time to lose,” the robot stated. “Don’s a great guy, but he doesn’t like to be kept waiting, even when he isn’t expecting someone.”

Fry gulped—there was something sinisterly familiar about his surroundings. On the left side of the cracked street stood a row of restaurants—Vinny’s, Fredo’s, Carmine’s. On the right he saw a shack-like shop whose banner bore the message, MONEY LAUNDERED WHILE-U-WAIT.

“Hold up, Bender,” he said nervously. “This place gives me the willies. It reminds me of those old 20th-century movies with the men in fancy suits and the drive-by shootings and the cars blowing up. Westerns.”

Bender dragged him along until they descended a rickety staircase into a darkened bar. The stools were filled by sick-looking robots who periodically let out fiery belches. The smell of smoke and spilled motor oil caused Fry’s throat to constrict. It’s like one of those old-time saloons, he thought. What’s he gonna do, take out a loan from Clint Eastwood?

Around one of the tables sat a fearsome-looking trio—an imposingly overweight robot in the center, a tall, stocky one on the left, and a shorter ‘bot with vise-like hands to the right. Fry’s heart plummeted as he realized that the mysterious Don to whom Bender had referred was, in fact, the head of the Robot Mafia.

This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done, thought Leela, and I auditioned for Siegfried Idol once.

Empty space flew continuously past her. She hadn’t brought any magazines or crossword puzzle books, so there was nothing for her to do except pretend to pay attention to Delta’s ramblings.

“’But I’m just a head,’ he told me. ‘That’s not a problem,’ I told him. ‘We don’t need to have sex. If you like, I can throw your jar up into the air and catch it as it comes down.’ ‘That sounds like fun,’ he said. So I threw him up and I caught him, and I did that two hundred times, and it made him dizzy, but he laughed like a little child. Then I stuck his head on my shoulder, and we walked around together, and pretended that I was his body, and he talked about how sexy he looked…”

“Uh-huh,” said Leela, nodding drowsily.

“I’m boring you,” said Delta apologetically. “If you like, I’ll stop talking and stare at the instruments for a while.”

“I’d like that,” said Leela.

The fembot trained her ruby-like eyes on the console. Moments later, she turned to Leela and spoke in an urgent tone. “There’s been a change in the ship’s course. We’re no longer heading in the direction of Omicron Perseii VIII. It must be my mistake. I’m very sorry.”

Leela shook her head. “No, Delta. I’m responsible for the course change.”

Startled, Delta glanced at the instruments again. “Our current course will take us into the heart of the Cerulean Nebula,” she observed.

Leela set her lips firmly together, reached down to take her laser pistol from its holster, and aimed the weapon’s barrel at Delta’s well-endowed chest.

“Am I to be executed?” said the robot with slightly more emotion than before.

“No,” Leela replied coldly. “You’re to become a pirate. We’re defecting.”

Chapter 9

Gripping the laser pistol in one hand, Leela used the other to tear the brown wristband from her arm and hurl it to the floor. Delta only stared at her blankly. The fembot’s red eyes registered no emotional reaction whatsoever. That’s what I hate about robots, thought Leela. They’re so hard to read.

Finally Delta spoke up, her words coming slowly. “Did you say pirate or pilot just now?”

Please don’t force me to kill you, thought Leela. I already have two robot murders on my record.

“I said pirate,” she stated as sweat gathered on her forehead. “You and I are going to join the Pirates of the Cerulean.”

After an earnest pause Delta asked, “Why?”

“In my case the reason is obvious,” said Leela, the laser gun quivering in her hand. “My own people have turned their backs on me, and sentenced me to life in the sewers.”

“And you believe that life among the pirates will be better?”

Leela nodded. “They won’t care whether I have one eye or two. Hell, half of them have only one eye left.”

“But we’re females,” Delta pointed out. “The Cerulean Pirates are a male-dominated society.”

“Then you’ll fit right in,” quipped Leela.

The fembot examined the grim determination in Leela’s eye and the deadly weapon in her hand, and her positronic brain struggled to compute a decision. “Quantum state probability, 51% up, 49% down,” she said mechanically.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Leela.

“It means that when I made the statement, there was a 51% chance that I would eventually agree to join the pirates, and a 49% chance that I would refuse. I revise my probabilistic estimates every nanosecond, however, and the quantum state probability at this moment is 49% up, 51% down.”

Leela smiled. “In other words, you can’t make up your mind. You really are a woman.”


The Donbot creaked as he rose to his feet. “What have we here?” His gyroscopic pupils scanned the two figures standing before him—the eager-looking robot Bender, and his human companion Fry, who appeared to have died of a heart attack while still standing. “It’s our old compadre Blotto, and one of the losers with which he keeps company.”

“Hey, guys,” said Bender innocently. “It’s been a while.”

Joey and Clamps remained seated behind the table. “I should clamp you good,” he heard Clamps mutter.

“Clamp me?” said Bender. “What’d I do to you?”

“I dunno,” said Clamps with a shrug. “It’s just that if I don’t clamp somebody every four hours, I get to be really, really clampy. Capisce?”

Bender nodded vigorously. “Yeah, I capisce.”

“Wh-what’s a capisce?” said Fry anxiously. “Is it something illegal?”

The Donbot reached out to shake Bender’s hand. “Pay him no attention,” he said reassuringly. “You’re always welcome here in Little Bitaly. As for your meatbag friend here, we can only guarantee his safety in exchange for a nonrefundable deposit. Fifty big boys.”

“Uh, I don’t know,” said Bender, glancing aside at the worried Fry. “I’ve got the money, but I was hoping to spend it on a hooker.”

“Pay the man, Bender!” Fry whispered hoarsely.

“What brings youse back here?” said Joey, idly tapping the computer mouse around his neck. “Youse thinkin’ of doin’ another job with us?”

Before Bender had a chance to respond, Fry yanked him by the arm to a quiet spot several feet away. “Listen, Bender,” he said indignantly. “It’s bad enough that you know these robots. It’s even worse that you’ve worked with them before. But…to borrow money from them? It’s insane! Can you imagine what they’ll do to you if you can’t pay back?”

“With any luck,” said Bender flippantly, “they’ll try to hurt me by hurting you.

Kif showed so little interest in romance that Amy was beginning to wonder if he was entering another molting cycle. “More coffee, honey?” she inquired of the alien.

“No, thank you,” Kif replied. He had remained in the same position on the couch for over two hours, and his skin was starting to turn yellow and smell odd.

“Is there anything I can do?” Amy asked him.

Kif’s pupils rolled back into his eyes. “Yes, there is,” he stated, much to Amy’s elation. “Get on the Internet, and find out what you can about Professor Foss of Mars University.”

“Will do, captain,” said Amy with a proud salute. As she marched out of the lounge, Kif sighed and turned up his eyeballs again. Deep thought is so much more pleasant than real life, he mused.

Amy found the professor’s jar-bound head in the computer room, playing an optically-operated video game on one of the monitors. “Hello, Amy,” said Farnsworth, and then he winked. The gesture caused Amy to giggle mindlessly.

The professor winked again. “No, I’m not coming on to you,” he explained. “My winks control the game. I wink with my left eye to fire missiles, and I wink with my right eye to drop crates of candy to the war orphans.”

“That’s cute,” Amy remarked. “Say, Professor, did you ever know Professor Foss from Mars University?”

Farnsworth’s eyelids narrowed. “Philaster Foss,” he recalled. “I saw him at a few conferences—he was a protégé of Wernstrom. Damn that Wernstrom! I don’t know much about him other than his research interests, except that he was involved with many of the university’s radical groups, like Propeller Heads for Peace, Equal Rights for Robots Now, and even, rumor has it, Professors Against Tenure.” He hummed thoughtfully. “Why do you ask, Amy?”

Amy began to type into an Internet terminal as she spoke. “Kif tells me that Professor Foss is working for the pirates now,” she related.

Farnsworth’s head sputtered. “Why, that’s absurd! A professor at MU would never join a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries. Their selection process wouldn’t allow it—they only hire the candidates with the most idealistic mission statements.”

“Yeah, it’s weird,” said Amy. Sifting through the search results on the screen, she noticed a bold headline: SEARCH CONTINUES FOR MISSING SCIENCE PROFESSOR. “Says here he disappeared seven years ago,” she told the professor.

“Indeed,” said Farnsworth. “And no one has seen him since. As far as the law is concerned, he’s dead. If he were to resurface now, he’d be legally declared a zombie.”

“Look at this,” said Amy, her eyes widening with curiosity. “Just three days before they started looking for Professor Foss, there was a prison break on Mars. Guess who escaped?” She paused for dramatic effect. “A space pirate named Garmoshka Balalaika.”

“Interesting,” said the professor. “Could his escape and Foss’ disappearance have been connected somehow?”

“Well, spluh,” said Amy. “Why else would we bother to mention them in this story?”

Chapter 10

“Do I really need to be here?” Fry wondered aloud.

“It’s as safe as anywhere else in Little Bitaly,” the Donbot told him.

In a darkened alley between a laundromat and an apartment complex, Bender was eagerly filling out the forms presented to him by the Robot Mafia. “Name: Bender B. Rodriguez,” he muttered. “Occupation: Weapons dealer.”

“Weapons dealer?” marveled Joey, the Donbot’s right-hand man. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“In that case, you can skip pages 3 through 8,” said the Donbot.

Fry looked up and down the vacant alley, fearing that a rival mob or the police would appear at any moment. In the distance a shot rang out, followed by the screech of a cat.

Bender dotted his signature and handed the pen to Joey. “Are there any questions?” said the Donbot.

“Yeah,” said Bender. “What happens to me if I can’t pay the money back?”

“That’s stipulated on page 5,” replied the Donbot. “With an interstellar war at our doorstep, I shouldn’t worry about such an eventuality.”

“Let me read page 5,” Fry chimed in.

The contract was now in the clamps of Clamps, who plucked out a page and handed it to the redhead. Fry had read about halfway down the page when he noticed something extremely disturbing. He gasped.

“What is it, buddy?” asked Bender.

“I just realized,” said Fry nervously. “This isn’t red ink. It’s blood. Fresh blood.”

Bender telescoped his eyes to have a look. “Yeah, it’s blood, all right. Which, to a robot, signifies absolutely nothing.”

The transaction completed, Fry and Bender walked away from the site and headed for the transit tube. “You’d better put that money somewhere out of sight,” Fry recommended.

Bender glanced down at the conspicuous wad of bills in his metal hand. “You worry too much, Fry,” he remarked. “Here in Little Bitaly, anyone who shows off this much cash is automatically assumed to have Mafia connections. No one would dare try to steal it from me.”

Their path to the tube was blocked by a tiny, one-legged robot that hobbled toward them on a crutch. “Please, sir,” pleaded the urchin, “I haven’t been lubricated for three days.”

“Here ya go, kid,” said Bender, dropping a big boy into the ragged ‘bot’s hands.

“Thank you, kind sir,” said Tinny Tim. “May God bless you.”

“If he doesn’t, I’ll fire him,” said Bender, and then he and Fry shot up the transit tube. The instant they were out of view, a half-dozen robot toughs pounced on Tinny Tim, beating him viciously before running off with the money Bender had donated.

Skyscrapers and garish billboards plummeted sideways around Fry as he grilled his friend for further details. “Are you really planning to become a weapons dealer?” he shouted at the robot above his head.

“No, Fry,” Bender responded. “A weapons manufacturer.

“That’s cool, too,” Fry commented. “But how will that help Leela?”

“You’ll see,” said Bender, “as soon as we get to the mayor’s office.”

Mayor Poopenmeyer was taken aback by the robot’s request. “A list of all the mutants living in New New York City?”

“That’s right, bub,” said Bender. “I was just gonna hack into your network and steal the information, but I happened to be in the neighborhood, and I thought, ‘What the hell?’”

Zapp was almost certain that the laboratory where Foss performed his research was more spacious than the pirate ship itself. Computer consoles and tables covered with futuristic gadgets lined the circular wall, and a porthole at the top of the domed ceiling allowed starlight to enter. “I was about to ask you how much the captain offered you to quit the university scene,” he remarked. “Behold, the answer to my question.”

“Yes, I’ve got quite a setup here,” said Foss, who had put on a clean smock to welcome Captain Brannigan into his lab. “No longer do I have to spend all my time writing proposals and grant applications—I just ask for a share of the booty, and it’s mine.”

“Impressive,” said Zapp, idly tossing a glossy round object from one hand to the other.

“I’d be careful with that,” Foss cautioned him.

“Why?” said Zapp. “Is it an explosive?”

“No,” said Foss, snatching the orb in midair. “In the seven years I’ve served under Captain Balalaika, he’s only tortured me once—and that was for breaking one of his Fabergé eggs.”

It took several days for Foss to explain all the items in his laboratory, all but one. All along Zapp listened as intently as a delighted child. As the pirate guards dropped him off at the lab entrance for one of his routine morning visits, Foss noticed that the prisoner’s face was covered with steely blond whiskers. “Doesn’t the captain let you shave?” he inquired.

“Nope,” replied Zapp, shaking his head. “No showers, either. And no change of clothes. I didn’t think it was possible for velour to get itchy.”

“If this were a democracy, I’d complain,” said Foss, leading the space captain across the large room to the largest of his consoles.

“It’s strange,” mused Zapp, “how being locked up in a cell with nothing to do can make one obsess over the silliest things. Last night, for example, I could hardly sleep for all the suspense of learning about the Fossitron in the morning.” He reverently rubbed his hand over the metallic surface of the device, which consisted of two seats embedded in a framework of wires and circuit boards. “What does it do?” he asked earnestly.

Foss took a deep breath and began his story. “I developed the Fossitron Mark One while still at Mars University. It worked, but it had some flaws. With the help of Captain Balalaika’s generous grants, I spent the past seven years perfecting it. What you see before you is the Fossitron Mark Eight, the most powerful version yet.”

“Well, one could hardly expect you to make it less powerful,” said Zapp. “But get to the point—what does it do?”

“They say outer space is the final frontier,” said Foss ominously. “They’re wrong. The final frontier is the space between one person’s…”

At that moment a chunk of space rock strayed into the pirate ship’s nacelle, becoming lodged in the cooling fan and creating a tremendous clatter before being crushed by the pressure. As a result, the remainder of Foss’ sentence and the beginning of his next were not heard.

“…through Madison Cube Garden wearing nothing but panties and a bra,” he concluded.

Zapp placed his hand over his square, unshaven chin. “It’s incredible,” he said, deep in thought. “The potential for good…but also for evil…”

“Good and evil are hardly universal constants,” said Foss, pushing his glasses further down his nose. “I prefer to think in terms of power and the lack thereof. Those with power decide what is good and what is evil, and those without power must abide by their judgments.”

Zapp shot him a confused stare.

“Sorry,” said Foss meekly. “I’m really sensitive about the ‘good and evil’ thing. Just hearing the words mentioned takes me back to my freshman year, when such antiquated notions were forcibly purged from my mind.”

“By your philosophy professors?”

“No, by fraternity hazing.”

Zapp grinned knowingly, and then a klaxon sounded. “We’ve got company,” said Foss, and both men heard through the doorway the sounds of pirates scrambling to their stations.

On the outer edge of the Cerulean Nebula, the Planet Express ship fell out of hyperspace and materialized among the fragile blue wisps. Several dozen cigar-shaped raiders emerged from the milky cloud to intercept the tiny delivery vessel, which coasted along as if unaware of them.

Leela was fully conscious of their arrival. You can do this, girl, she told herself while relaxing her grip on the control stick and allowing it to drift forward.

“I’m still not sure if this is a good idea,” said Delta, who was busy attaching a white flag to a long metal rod.

“Stop saying that,” said Leela.

Chapter 11

On the outer fringe of the Cerulean Nebula, two dozen Jolly Roger raiders surrounded the helpless Planet Express ship, their weapons primed to destroy. Leela and Delta stood motionless on the bridge, breathlessly awaiting the arrival of the cutthroats. A muffled clanging sound announced that the magnetized end of the pirate gangplank had firmly attached itself to the side of their vessel. They may just kill us on the spot, Leela feared. They won’t be interested in Lrrr’s shipment of Amish furniture. We have nothing of use to them except for…our bodies.

“I’ve never entertained pirates before,” said Delta. “I wish I’d brought a formal gown.”

“You’re fine as you are,” Leela assured her. The one-eyed girl had stowed her laser pistol, wrist console, and any other personal item that might be misconstrued as a weapon. Only a white tank top stood between her and the coming invaders.

The eternity of waiting was suddenly interrupted by the whine of a laser drill. A fiery glow appeared on the wall, then a molten hole that grew to the size of a door. The first pirate to pass through was a swarthy, half-naked giant of a man, the top of his head shaved, hairy black tassels dangling around his neck. He drew his cutlass, glared at Leela and Delta, and scowled as three smaller pirates stepped onto the bridge next to him.

“A cyclops and a fembot,” snarled the tall man. “Why does we get stuck with all the freaks?”

“’Cause we’re space pirates,” remarked one of his companions, who sported a stumpy wooden leg. “It comes with the territory.”

A total of eight pirates surrounded Leela and Delta with drawn swords before the two women dared venture to speak. “Uh, take me to your leader?” was all Leela could manage.

“Arrr,” grumbled the hulking pirate, stepping closer and choking her with the stench of his sweat. “The captain won’t be bothered with the likes o’ ye. I’ll dispense with ye myself.” Leela felt his gaze like a dagger as it dropped from her eye to her chest. “Ye has two of what counts, at least. Yarrr.”

Concerned for her friend’s virtue, Delta stepped in between them. “I am programmed to administer nineteen different forms of erotic stimulation,” she told the large cutthroat. His response was a terrifying growl and a flick of his sword arm. Before anyone knew what was happening, the blade neatly sliced through Delta’s neck, severing head from busty torso.

Leela screamed. Delta’s head struck the floor with a clang and rolled to a stop behind the pilot’s seat. The still-conscious fembot was dismayed to find that she was facing away from Leela and the pirates, and had no power to turn herself. She could only listen, and Leela’s screams of pain were all she expected to hear.

As Delta’s headless body lurched around aimlessly, Leela sprang into furious action, making a quick, graceful arc with her boot as she kicked the sword from the tall pirate’s grasp. The other marauders gasped in awe and stepped back. The giant, stunned and gaping, impulsively leaned over to retrieve his cutlass, but in so doing unwisely put his face directly in the path of Leela’s punch. His three remaining natural teeth flew from his mouth as he plummeted to the floor.

The pirates backed up to the walls, leaving a wide berth for Leela and her opponent. The cyclops, fists and teeth clenched, watched as the angry giant regained his footing and rose to his full height—which seemed a foot taller than when she had first seen him. Is this the same guy? she wondered.

Her only hope of victory was to aim for the chink in his armor, the one chink that all males shared. Putting all of her strength and will into a spinning kick, she achieved her target squarely and forcefully, so much so that her foot became momentarily stuck between his thighs. Your children will thank me, she thought while landing on her feet.

To her disappointment and horror, the gigantic pirate was still standing. His knees were unbent. His face showed no sign of distress. He calmly folded his arms.

Oh, crap, thought Leela. The surrounding pirates smirked with satisfaction. Delta’s body repeatedly ran into a wall, blindly supposing it had found its head.

“I’d be at yer mercy, were I not a eunuch,” said the tall pirate with an unworried grin.

As she awaited certain death, Leela recalled the words of her one-time martial arts instructor: “You are girl. You not have will of warrior.”

Seconds passed, and her opponent didn’t attack.

“This be an unfair fight,” he finally stated. Glancing around at the other men, he added, “Me comrades still have their parts. Let one o’ them fight ye.”

His fellow pirates only shrank back in fear. “Mother o’ God, did ye see that kick?” one muttered to another.

The tall man extended his bronzed hand to Leela, to her surprise and elation. “Ye be welcome to join us,” he offered.

“Thanks,” said Leela. The giant’s skin felt like corduroy to her touch. “But before I join you, I’d like you to fix my friend here.” She gestured at Delta’s out-of-control body.

“Aye,” said the giant with a nod. “We’ll take him to Foss. He be wise in the ways of science.”

The pirates, still fearful after witnessing Leela’s spinning attack, kept a respectful distance as they escorted the cyclops to Professor Foss’ laboratory. The tall pirate, who had introduced himself as Krandok, carried Delta’s head in one hand and her wriggling body in the other. This is odd, thought the fembot. I’m in the arms of a handsome man, and I can’t feel a thing.

They entered the dome-shaped lab to find Foss and Zapp seated within the Fossitron, their heads encased in foam-padded helmets. Upon seeing the visitors, Foss quickly reached up to push the helmet away. “Welcome, Krandok,” he said as he rose. “Who is this with you?”

Zapp leaped eagerly to his feet. “Do my eyes deceive me?” he said in a silky tone. “Has the lovely, sexy Turanga Leela come here to join me in captivity?”

“Oh, yes, Zapp,” said Leela, smiling insincerely. “I surrendered myself to the pirates just so I could be with you.” She stepped dangerously closer as Zapp beamed with delight. “So I could do this.”

Grabbing Zapp’s blond locks, she yanked his head downward while simultaneously bringing up her knee. The collision of nose with kneecap was punctuated by a crack.

Zapp reeled, blood gushing from his nostrils. “By dose!” he wailed. “You broke by dose!”

Leela only glowered at him. “It’s not half what you deserve, you libidinous man-ape.”

Chapter 12

Bender’s transistorized eyes rapidly scanned the long list of names, which was printed in a small manila binder. “Hmm,” he muttered. “Wilson, Winslow, Winston, Wollstonecraft, Wolverine, Xavier…a total of 178 mutants living in New New York. Funny, I thought the number would be much larger.”

He slammed the notebook shut, opened the door to his chest cavity, and stashed it inside. “Hey, Bender,” Fry asked curiously, “did you just memorize the whole list? I mean, you can do that, right? You’re a robot.”

“Of course I can,” said Bender. “But I don’t like to talk about my mental abilities, because losers like you get jealous when I do.”

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Mayor Poopenmeyer chimed in.

“Oh, come on, Bender,” said Fry. “How much information can you store in that brain of yours? Tell me. I’ll bet it can hold billions of gigawatts.”

“I’m not exactly sure,” said Bender sheepishly. “I had a manual once, but I lost it.”

“Gentlemen!” said Poopenmeyer, vainly trying to attract their attention.

“So what’re you planning to do with that list?” Fry inquired. “Start a mutant uprising?”

“Nope,” replied Bender. “I’m gonna put them to work. They’ll be serving their country, as well as making me rich, which is also good for the country.”

“Wait a minute,” said Fry. “How is making you rich good for the country?”

“One word,” said Bender officiously. “Macroeconomics.”

Fry stared at him, confused.

“I said, one word,” said Bender, folding his extensible arms.

“I can’t feel my hands anymore,” complained the mayor. “Would you mind untying my wrists?”

After taking their leave of City Hall, Fry and Bender rode a transit tube to the nearest address on the list, which belonged to one Alberto Veracruz. His house proved to be a rundown shack in a poor Puerto Rican neighborhood. The weed-covered porch boards creaked as Bender applied his weight to them. “This guy should be an easy target,” said the robot as he knocked gently on the faded wooden door.

Seconds later it opened, and a middle-aged man with a shaggy beard and pot belly welcomed Fry and Bender with a rude glare. The occupant appeared perfectly human in every respect, except for a small detail regarding his mouth. He had none.

“Greetings,” said Bender with a confident swagger. “My name is Mr. B. B. Rodriguez, and this is my associate, Mr. P. J. Fry. We’d like to speak to you about a business proposition. You can speak, right?”

The peevish-looking man stuck out his right palm to them. “Yes, I can speak,” said the pair of lips in the center of his hand.

Fry was astounded. He had seen people with worse defects in the underground world of the sewer mutants, but never among surface dwellers. “Uh, can I ask you a question?” he blurted out.

“Sure,” said the mouth in the man’s palm, “as long as it’s not about my…”

“What’s with the mouth?” Fry interrupted him.

The bearded man sighed. “I’m a mutant, all right? Or couldn’t you tell from the stupid wristband they make me wear?”

“Do you eat with that mouth as well?” asked Fry.

“No,” replied Mr. Veracruz. “You don’t want to know what part of my body I eat with.”

“Geez, talk about your hand-to-mouth existence,” Fry quipped.

“Talk to the hand,” said Veracruz as he made ready to slam the door.

“Wait!” exclaimed Bender, inserting his foot into the doorway. “I have a surefire plan to save you and your fellow mutant freaks from a life in the sewer.”

“I already live in a sewer,” grumbled the hand-mouth. “Take a look around you.”

Fry and Bender did so. Half a block away, a little girl with straggly black hair picked up a dead cat from the middle of the gravel street, slung it over her shoulder, and ran back into her humble house.

“Yeah, it’s tragic,” Bender remarked. “But if you go to work for me, you’ll make enough money to leave all of this behind.”

Veracruz’s mouth fell open. He opened the door a little wider. “You’re…you’re offering me a job?” he stammered.

“Is that a problem?” said Bender.

“N-no,” said Veracruz apologetically. “I’ll gladly work for you. I haven’t been able to find a job for over a year. All the interviewers expect me to shake hands with them. Come in, come in.” As Fry and Bender walked across the bare slatted floor of his living room, he inquired, “What sort of work would I be doing?”

“I’m opening a munitions factory,” Bender told him. “My plan is to hire all the city’s mutants and put them to work building quantum torpedoes to be used against the space pirates. The government will become dependent on you for weapons, and won’t deport you to the sewers. Do you see how that works?”

“Yes, I do,” said Veracruz, nodding his mouthless head.

“No, I don’t,” said Fry. “Explain it to me again.”

“Shut up, Mr. Fry,” said Bender.

Chapter 13

“Patch him up,” said Leela heartlessly. “The sooner his nose heals, the sooner I can break it again.”

While Foss vainly tried to pry Zapp’s blood-soaked hands from his injured nose, Krandok whipped out his cutlass and aimed the point at Leela’s neck. “What did ye do that for?” he demanded.

Leela scowled and showed no fear. “That pompous bastard’s been harassing me ever since I made the mistake of sleeping with him,” she recounted. “He thinks he can have any woman he wants just because he’s a legendary space captain.”

“I should run ye through,” threatened Krandok.

Leela nonchalantly laid a hand on the tall pirate’s blade and pushed it away from her neck. “I thought it was accepted practice for pirates to abuse their captives,” she said.

Confounded by the girl’s logic, Krandok lowered his sword as a team of three smock-clad paramedics rushed into the lab. As the two male medics knelt to examine Zapp’s face, the female medic inquired, “Who’s responsible for this?”

“It was an accident,” replied Leela, who then proceeded to kick Zapp sharply in the ribs. “Whoops! There I go again.”

Once the medics had loaded Zapp onto a gurney and carried him away, Foss confronted Leela with indignation. “That was uncalled for,” he scolded her. “Captain Brannigan and I were establishing an excellent rapport.”

Leela gave the professor a bemused look. “Who are you?” she asked. “You don’t look like a pirate. You don’t talk like one, either.”

“Only the senior staff and the security guards are required to talk like pirates,” Foss told her.

”It’s a bolluxed-up situation,” said Krandok with a crude Cockney accent, “but where else does a seven-foot eunuch find work, eh?”

“Allow me to introduce myself,” said the professor with a slight bow. “I am Philaster Foss, formerly of Mars University, now science officer to Captain Balalaika of the Cerulean Pirate Fleet. And you are…?”

“Turanga Leela,” answered the cyclops.

“A lovely name befitting such a lovely woman,” said Foss.

“Thank you,” said Leela, blushing a bit. “Coming from anyone other than Zapp, that’s a compliment. If you don’t mind my asking, what prompted you to leave MU and join a fleet of space pirates?”

Foss smiled, and began to lead Leela in a circuitous tour of his lab. “My reasons for becoming a pirate are my own,” he stated. “Your reason for being here is as clear as the eye on your face.”

“Yes,” said Leela with a nod. “You know about the Mutant Resettlement Act, then.”

Foss shook his head with disdain. “I can’t stand Nixon,” he remarked. “His politics of exclusion are as unpalatable now as they were in the twentieth century. What were they thinking when they preserved his head? Earth’s museums are crammed with the heads of ancient celebrities—Leonard Nimoy, Joan Rivers, even Lucy Liu. What about the scientists and philosophers of the Platinum Age? What about Ignatz Planck, Marilyn Simmons, and the real inventor of the wave-particle converter, Nikolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky? Where are their heads?”

Leela paused in front of the Fossitron and eyed it curiously. “You and Zapp were sitting in this machine when I came in,” she recalled. “What is it, some sort of hair care device? Obviously not, since Zapp’s hair looked awful.

Foss ran his hand along the still-warm side of the large device. “It would be as easy to show you as to tell you. Care to have a seat?”

Leela gave the question a moment’s thought. Hmm…a big computerized thingie with two helmets and lots of wires attached…looks harmless enough.

“Excuse me a second,” she said. Twisting and removing her hairband, she allowed her purple tresses to cascade freely about her shoulders. I’m not totally sure about this, she thought as she stepped toward the upholstered seat, but I do need to win their confidence if my plan is to work.

In moments she and Foss were seated within the unit, their backs braced against the cold steel. Foss flicked a switch, and the wiry helmets descended, one enclosing his head, the other fitting Leela’s quite comfortably. This is just like a visit to the beauty salon, she mused. And they say pirates have it tough.

Almost instantly, the dome-shaped laboratory faded from her view. She was standing again, but in the midst of a strange universe of shifting colors and ephemeral shapes. Nothing seemed familiar, except for the vague figure of a man walking in her direction on a nonexistent floor.

“Where am I?” Leela’s voice was faint, almost like thought instead of speech.

The man’s features became clearer. “You are in my mind,” stated Professor Foss, “and I am in yours.” His voice was nearly inaudible, yet she understood every syllable without effort.

Leela opened her mouth to speak, but the words that came out were words she hadn’t intended. “What you see before you is the landscape of our combined minds,” she heard herself say. “The Fossitron makes use of a hypermatrix of synthetic neurons to…hey, cut that out!”

The image of Foss looked at her apologetically.

“That didn’t come from me,” Leela reflected. “You made me say it. You’re controlling me somehow.”

“You can control me as well,” said Foss. “We’re on an equal footing here.”

Leela pondered the prospect for a moment, then grinned. Foss lifted his hand, stuck his finger in his nostril, and turned it to and fro as if fishing for mucus.

She chuckled. “Well, that was rude,” said Foss as he pulled out his finger.

The surrounding swirls of color began to take definite shape. Before long the pair was standing before a series of granite columns and an ornate pine door that Leela recognized as the entrance to the Mars University administration building. Once the shock of displacement had worn off, she asked the professor, “This isn’t really MU, is it?”

“No,” replied Foss. “You’re inside one of my memories.”

Ever more curious, Leela followed the scientist through the old building’s long hallways. They came upon a closed door whose sign read simply, LECTURE ROOM 3. Foss carefully opened it, and they tiptoed inside. Every seat was occupied by a student of one or another alien persuasion, listening passively to the speaker at the podium.

“The final frontier is the space between one person’s brain and another’s,” declared the academic, who was revealed to be Foss himself. “Once that distance is bridged, universal peace, harmony, and understanding will be within our reach.”

“This is where it all started,” said the copy of Foss at Leela’s side. “I was young, idealistic, confident that science would bring about the perfection of the human race—of all races.”

As Leela amused herself by passing her hand transparently through the head of an attractive male student, she remarked, “If I had two eyes and a position at a prestigious university, I wouldn’t give it all up for a life of piracy. Why did you?”

Chapter 14

“Before I answer that,” said Foss, “I suggest you sit down and enjoy the lecture. It’s fascinating stuff, if I say so myself.”

With that, the image of the scientist broke up and dissolved. Leela, uncertain of where in the illusory world she would end up if she left the lecture hall, spotted an empty seat and moved toward it. “Excuse me,” she said to the young man and woman in her path, who seemed unaware of her presence.

Foss continued to drone on as she took her seat. “Imagine if we could communicate using thoughts and feelings instead of words,” he spoke. “Words vary according to culture and language, but thoughts are universal. If I tell you I’m hungry in Swahili, few of you will understand; but if I share my feeling of hunger with you, regardless of our relative cultural and linguistic backgrounds, you will understand perfectly.”

It’s weird, sitting in a chair that doesn’t exist, thought Leela. It’s very comfortable, though.

“…by filtering and amplifying the signals across a network of synthetic neurons…”

That’s the dorkiest tie I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t he know that ties went out of fashion in the 24th century? I swear, he must have gone to a dorkwear store and special-ordered it. I wouldn’t be caught…wait, did he just say ‘synthetic neurons’?

“…the signals of one brain are transmitted to the other, with the same amplitude, uncontaminated by noise…”

Of course, thought Leela. When you can hear the other person’s thoughts loud and clear, it’s as if you’re both thinking the same thing. It makes perfect sense!

“…applying a discrete convolution at each point in the network…”

Discrete convolution. Got it.

“…more efficient than existing methods by an order of magnitude. Are there any questions?”

Leela’s hand immediately shot up. “Leela?” said Foss, gesturing toward her.

Leela? My name’s not Leela, it’s…huh?

Glancing down, she discovered that her white tank top had been replaced by a gray varsity sweater. Furthermore, there seemed to be two noses on her face. A double nose? That’s something only two-eyed people see…

“Yes, Leela?” said Foss from the podium.

The girl shook her head, and clarity returned to her mind as if she was awaking from a dream. She looked down at her usual tank top and a single image of her nose. “Wh-what the…” she sputtered.

Foss walked in her direction as the imaginary students picked up their bags and filed out of the lecture hall. “Being inside another person’s memory is tricky,” he explained. “If you’re not careful, you can forget yourself and become part of the illusion.”

Leela rose slowly. “Is that what happened to me?” she inquired. “For a minute I felt like I was a different person.”

“You were,” said Foss. “You became Darla Thurmond, one of my brightest students.” And someone with whom I had an unprofessionally intimate relationship, Leela thought she heard him say.

For an instant she wondered if she was really Leela, or yet another figment from the professor’s past, but she quickly brushed the thought aside. “Now that the lecture’s over,” she said demandingly, “I’d like you to tell me why you decided to join the pirates.”

Foss responded with a deft wave of his hand. The walls of the lecture room shimmered and faded, promptly replaced by a narrow, dimly lit hallway. From the many small rooms with entrances blocked by iron bars, Leela easily discerned that she was inside a prison.

Foss’ footsteps echoed as he guided Leela to the end of the cell block, where they observed a gaunt man sleeping on a bunk bed. He wore a drab uniform and had a shaven head like the other prisoners; what distinguished him was a scar that ran from one ear to the other, as if he had survived the slitting of his throat.

“This is where I met Garmoshka Balalaika,” Foss recounted. “He was of little more than scientific interest to me then. I hoped to demonstrate the utility of the Fossitron by entering the mind of a hardened criminal, making him aware of his innate morality by exposing him to mine, and thus helping him along the road to rehabilitation. But as we entered the matrix and I examined his thoughts and feelings, I learned something which, in my naiveté, I hadn’t anticipated—he had no innate morality. In his mind there was only rapacity, cruelty, and cunning. The landscape of his memories was like a field of slaughtered innocents. Worse yet, for every scene of murder and rapine I witnessed, I felt the same lurid joy that he himself felt while committing the act, as if I had done it myself.”

“Oh, God,” said Leela quietly.

“Against my better judgment I pressed on, looking for something I could relate to,” Foss continued. “Eventually I found it, but only because I had changed. Balalaika’s infernal lusts had subtly insinuated themselves into my own feelings, to the point that I was more pirate than professor in temperament. A week later I broke him out of prison, and I’ve been serving under him ever since.”

Leela gazed at the sleeping pirate and sighed. “Even with these bars between us, he still makes me nervous. Yet you were right there in his mind, surrounded by his evil…”

“There’s that word again,” said Foss sharply. “I see that you share the same simplistic notions of good and evil that Captain Brannigan does. Tell me, Leela, if you see piracy as evil, then why are you here?”

Leela could feel her heart quake as she searched her mind for a convincing, or at least obfuscating, response.

“Don’t answer that,” said Foss, his tone now calm and assured. “I can see your thoughts. I know why you’re here.”

Chapter 15

It was something Leela had failed to consider—the possibility that Foss might read her mind, and her true intentions, with the aid of his device. I’m gonna die, she thought. Either Krandok will slice off my head like he did Delta’s, or Foss will kill me with his brain right here and now.

Her worries were put to rest by the scientists’s next statement: “Your secret’s safe with me.”

Immediately after he had spoken, the prison dissipated into atoms, and Leela abruptly found herself in the same position as when she had entered the Fossitron matrix. Krandok stood before her, tossing Delta’s head up and down as if bored. “Let’s get busy fixing your robot,” said Foss as he lifted himself out of the machine’s seat.

“Oh, right,” said Leela, distracted.

“Krandok,” said Foss, confronting the gigantic pirate, “please stop doing that with the robot’s head.”

“But she asked me to,” said Krandok innocently.

So astonished was Leela by the realm she had passed through, that she found the real world to be colorless and unwelcoming. He knows, but he’s not going to turn me in, she thought. Does he have something to gain by shielding me, or is he just being a gentleman?

Having signed on Alberto Veracruz, Fry and Bender traveled from one point in New New York to another, offering employment to every mutant they visited. Most accepted, desperate for a way to circumvent the provisions of the Mutant Resettlement Act. The majority of their mutations, Fry noticed, was mundane—extra limbs, extra eyes, arms where there should be legs. The most extreme case he had seen was a man with a cat growing out of his forehead.

“Whatever you pay me, I’m sure it’s better than what I make at the circus freak show,” said the man.

“Have a good day, Mr. Tobler,” said Bender as he and Fry departed his house. “I’ll see you tomorrow at the factory, 8 a.m. sharp.”

“Goodbye,” said Mr. Tobler with a friendly wave. “Meow,” said the cat attached to his head.

“Who’s next on the list?” asked Fry as he and Bender strolled along the tenement-lined street.

“Monica Tao,” replied the robot. “She lives two miles from here.”

They found the rather pregnant Asian woman in a brownstone apartment whose outer wall had been defaced with the graffiti message, MUTANTS GO HOME. Neither Fry nor Bender noticed any disfigurement in her, although they thought it odd that such a young-looking woman should have no fewer than seven small children.

“Is your husband home?” Bender asked her.

“I’m not married,” replied Monica Tao. As if on cue, two of her toddlers began to cry in unison, while another made water on the floor.

“Geez, Louise,” said Bender, startled. “You mean to say some irresponsible bastard left you with seven…er, eight kids, then ran off and left you to fend for yourselves?”

“I’ve never been married,” Monica told him.

“Then who’s the father, if you don’t mind my asking?” said Bender.

I’m the father,” said Monica flatly.

Fry looked down at her swollen belly and the brown band around her wrist, then up at the straight black hair that went to her shoulders. Best-looking father I ever saw, he thought.

“Ooookaaaay,” said Bender. “In that case, I have just two questions. First, how is it possible that you’re the father? Second, can I buy the rights to your story?”

“Six years ago, I was a normal teenage girl,” Monica related. “One day I was taking a nature hike when the ground gave way under my feet, and I landed up to my armpits in a pile of discarded school cafeteria food. The doctors checked me out and determined that some of my internal organs had switched from female to male. As a result, every time I have a period, I get pregnant.”

Once he had recovered from the shock of becoming even more confused, Fry asked, “Have you tried, like, birth control?”

“Are you kidding?” said Monica with a chuckle. “I’ve got a good thing going here. The government can’t force me to use contraception, and for every new baby, my welfare check gets fatter.”

Bender grinned with delight and put his steely arm around the Asian woman’s shoulders. “This may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” he said.

“Uh, Bender?” said Fry. “You’re supposed to offer her a job.”

“Forget it, Fry,” Bender retorted. “I’m opening a munitions factory, not a day care.”

Chapter 16

Having visited as many of the mutants on the list as humanly or robotically possible, Fry and Bender headed back to the Robot Arms building. Bender yawned and stretched (literally, stretched) his arms as he walked into their shared apartment. “Let’s get a good night’s sleep, buddy,” he said to Fry. “You’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”

They were promptly greeted by Robopuppy, who yipped and yapped while racing clumsily toward them. Just as Fry lowered his hand to pet the cybernetic pooch, it fell down on its haunches and stated in a tinny voice, “You…have…two…new…messages.”

“Let’s hear ‘em,” said Fry.

Robopuppy began to speak again, this time in Professor Farnsworth’s voice. “Bad news, everyone. Leela and Delta were due back ten hours ago, but there’s no sign of them. If you have any idea where they are, call me. I’ll be here all day. Where would I go?”

Fry gave his robot friend a concerned look. “I sure hope nothing’s happened,” said Bender. “Amish furniture’s worth a lot these days.”

The robot dog then relayed the second message. “This is Kif. I regret that I can’t be there in person to give you this news. The war against the Cerulean Pirates has begun, and the Nimbus is being deployed, with myself as her captain. Because of the nebula’s interference with our scans, we can’t be sure of the pirate fleet’s full strength, so the battle may be a costly one. If I don’t back alive, I want you all to know how much I’ve enjoyed the many times we’ve been thrown together by plot contrivances. Amy, if you’re listening to this message, please try to be strong. I love you, my smizmar. Farewell.”

“Omigosh,” said Fry as the mechanical puppy began to chase its tail. “Amy must be in pieces right now. We’d better go to her.”

“Sure, pal,” said Bender. “Uh, where exactly does she live?”

As they deliberated, a fleet of thirty-four Titan-class DOOP warships passed beyond the boundary of Earth’s solar system. Foremost among them was the Nimbus, on whose bridge Kif Kroker stood, giving orders fearlessly.

“Set a course for the Cerulean Nebula, and jump on my mark,” he commanded.

“Aye, sir,” said a faceless minion.


All as one, the gigantic starships flashed out of normal space and hurtled at twenty times the speed of light toward their fateful destination.

Upon one of the Cerulean Nebula’s many planetoids, the pirates had constructed a vast shipyard and neighboring military base. Captain Balalaika’s raider orbited the facility, waiting for the signal to descend and land.

In a dank, rather cold chamber of the pirate ship, Krandok was explaining to Leela the subtleties of sword combat. “Once we reach the base, I’ll find ye some decent pirate garb,” said Krandok in his Cockney brogue. “That outfit of yours shows off too much. Ye don’t want to advertise to the world the fact that you’re a woman, eh?”

“Why not?” said Leela, gripping her cutlass tightly as she braced herself for Krandok’s attack. “It’s no shame to be beaten by a woman. You should learn that.”

The huge pirate lunged, making a downward arc with his sword. Leela parried, but the momentum of Krandok’s blade overpowered her grasp on the handle. The cutlass flew from her hand and fell to the ground with a clatter.

“Lesson number one,” said Krandok condescendingly. “Strength ain’t everything. When ye fight a stronger man, like me, ye need balance and agility to win the day. Pick up your sword and we’ll try again, but this time, try to dodge my blow.”

On the deck above, Balalaika marched into Foss’ laboratory, where the scientist was entering some data into the keyboard console of the Fossitron. “Ye summoned me, Foss,” said the pirate leader. “State yer business.”

Foss stood before him with a meek expression. “A battle fleet from Earth is coming in our direction, sir,” he reported. “I recommend that we prepare ourselves for an attack.”

Balalaika nodded. “I’ll alert the raiders. When I come back here, I want to see Captain Brannigan hooked up to yer machine. It’s time he and I had a man-to-man talk.”

Leela managed to jump out of the way of Krandok’s thrust, but one foot moved faster than the other, and she stumbled. Stupid lack of depth perception, she thought bitterly as she landed face-down on the floor.

“Nice try,” said Krandok, offering a hand to lift her up. “But ye don’t become a pirate in a day.”

“I was meaning to ask something,” said Leela, reaching down for her cutlass. “Why don’t you use laser pistols instead of swords? They’re much more deadly.”

“’Cause we’re pirates,” replied Krandok. “We got laser cannons on our raiders, but that’s as modern as we get.”

A beeping sound from his belt caught his attention. “Krandok, report to my lab at once,” said the voice of Foss. “And bring Brannigan with you.”

Krandok stood dutifully straight, and replaced his sword in its sheath. “I’ll be back shortly,” he told Leela. “Don’t go anywhere. Work on your fundamentals.”

As he trudged through the doorway, Leela pondered her options. I could stay here and work on my fundamentals, she thought, or I could follow him, wait until he releases Zapp, and then overpower him. Oh, hell. Who needs fundamentals?

She tiptoed after the tall pirate, her large boots impacting softly on the steel floor. Krandok marched along single-mindedly, not once looking over his shoulder. It’s working, thought Leela. With any luck, Zapp and I will be on our way to freedom in no time.

The pirate stopped at a heavy, barred doorway, took a key from his belt, and fumbled to open the lock with it. Leela ducked behind a corner and took a quick peek. This would be easier if I had two eyes, she thought. I wouldn’t have to expose my whole face.

As she expected, Zapp emerged from the cell, still dressed in his velour uniform. He had lost weight, and his face was a bit pale, but other than the bandage on his broken nose, he showed no sign of having been mistreated. I’m surprised they haven’t tortured him for strategic information, thought Leela.

“Balalaika wants a word with ye,” Krandok told the space captain.

“My pleasure,” said Zapp with a lack of concern that stunned Leela. Does he even know what’s going on? she wondered.

Krandok yanked Zapp’s arms behind his back, then secured his wrists with a pair of cuffs. “Move,” he said with a gentle push, and Zapp obliged.

This is my chance, thought Leela, bounding forward stealthily. I know this is cowardly, but I wouldn’t have a chance against him in a fair fight.

Once she had crept up behind Zapp and his captor, she raised the cutlass above her head, preparing to plunge the blade into Krandok’s back…

Chapter 17

I’ve never killed a person before, thought Leela, sweat forming above her eye. And I sure as hell never imagined I’d kill for Zapp Brannigan.

Knowing what she had to do, she focused on the part of Krandok’s upper back that would lead to his heart, and swung the cutlass downward. It never reached its target. The last thing Leela sensed was a sharp blow to her chin, and then she blacked out.

Zapp and Krandok looked down at her unconscious form, prostrate on the floor, sword still in hand. “She tried to attack us from behind,” Krandok observed. “She didn’t count on my sensitive ears or my quick reflexes.”

“Indeed,” said his cuffed captive. “The question is, which of us was she trying to kill?”

Krandok knelt down and scooped the cyclops girl into his swarthy arms. “We’ll take her to the lab with us,” he stated. “Once she wakes up, we’ll make her talk.”

Professor Foss was welding a bolt to Delta’s neck when Zapp and Krandok entered the lab. Seeing the unresponsive girl in Krandok’s arms, he abruptly shut off his torch. “Oh, God!” he exclaimed. “Leela! What happened to her?”

“Like a bloody coward, she tried to run us through from behind,” the tall pirate related.

Foss turned to the robot he had just repaired. “Delta, clear off that table and put a sheet over it,” he ordered.

“Yes, master,” said Delta flatly. While she diligently removed items from one table to another, Foss examined the bruise on Leela’s chin.

“I should have known it would come to this,” he said darkly.

“What mean ye?” said Krandok as he stretched Leela out over the table.

“When I was in the matrix with her, I tried to gauge her feelings toward Captain Brannigan,” said Foss. “The hatred was so intense, I had to turn away. Maybe I should have warned you, but I couldn’t imagine that a pretty thing like her would go so far as to commit murder.”

Zapp marveled at the scientist’s statement as Krandok forced him to take a seat in the Fossitron. “I can’t imagine it either. Sure, there were times I came on too strong, but I always meant well.” He shook his head as the helmet descended upon it. “If I’d known she had such a violent temperament, I…I would’ve sent her a postcard every week, and left it at that.”

A moment later, Balalaika returned to the laboratory doorway and beamed with pleasure at the sight of Zapp attached to the professor’s device. “Excellent,” he said simply.

“The Fossitron’s ready when you are, sir,” Foss told him.

“Ah, the man himself,” said Zapp as he watched Balalaika stride eagerly toward him.

Leela slipped in and out of consciousness. She heard the clip-clip of Delta’s feet as she puttered about, cleaning and organizing Foss’ various gadgets. She heard the whine of the Fossitron helmet as it made its way over Balalaika’s straggly hair. She heard the professor’s worried breaths as he tenderly ran his fingers over her cheek. She had no idea what it all meant.

Zapp was equally clueless about the strange domain into which he had been thrown. He saw nothing but dark, menacing clouds, even under his feet. A figure in pirate garb approached him, and proved to be Balalaika himself.

“Where am I now?” Zapp asked the pirate captain.

“Hell, me friend,” was Balalaika’s reply. “This be hell, and I be the devil.”

Zapp folded his arms and grinned smugly. “I knew that sooner or later you’d try to steal strategic secrets from me using your virtual reality whatsit. But when it comes down to my mind versus your mind, I have the upper hand. You’ll never break through my mental conditioning.”

“Yarrr,” said Balalaika calmly. “Yer secrets will be mine, and yer loyalty as well.”

“Not gonna happen,” said Zapp. “You may as well kill me now.”

“Narrr,” said Balalaika, stepping closer. “’Tis not I that shall kill thee, but the other way around.”

While Zapp tried to make sense of his words, his dour surroundings reshaped themselves into the deck of a space shuttle. He looked around and beheld panicked passengers in every aisle, crying with fear as sword-bearing cutthroats compelled them to give up their belongings.

Balalaika drew a cutlass from his belt and tossed it to Zapp, who deftly caught it. The pirate then magically pulled another cutlass from the same sheath. “Their fate be in yer hands,” he told Zapp. “Kill me, and they live.”

“Whatever game you have in mind,” said Zapp as he stepped aside for a pirate to pass, “I won’t play it. Now get me out of here.”

Balalaika responded by raising his sword, aiming it at a small, terrified boy in one of the seats, and chopping off the youngster’s head with one thrust.

Horrified, Zapp covered his eyes with his hand. “It’s not real!” he shouted in disgust. “It’s an illusion!”

“Help us, Captain Brannigan!” he heard a woman squeal. There was a piercing scream, a slight gurgle, and then silence.

Zapp looked through two of his fingers. Balalaika was holding his blade to a little girl’s throat with one hand, suspending her by her long golden hair with the other hand, and gloating with his face. “Kill me, ye lily-livered swab!” he called out mockingly. “Kill me, or watch ‘em all die horribly!”

Tears of despair burst out of Zapp’s eyes. “It’s not real…it’s not real…” he muttered, but the cries of fear and pain would not be muffled. He was involuntarily reminded of the massacre on Antares II, which he and Kif had arrived too late to prevent. Bodies everywhere…dead children laid next to their dead mothers…if only we’d come sooner…

“Captain Brannigan, do something! They’ll kill us all!”

A surge of anger and resentment passed through Zapp’s heart. I won’t let it happen again, he thought. Never again…

Without thinking, he hoisted the cutlass skyward, flew at Balalaika with an unearthly roar, and skewered the pirate from head to crotch.

Zapp panted. His heart thumped fiercely. The remains of his foe were nowhere to be seen. That was a little too easy, he thought. I don’t think he’s really gone. Felt good, though.

“Thank you, Captain Brannigan,” gushed a teenage girl. “You’re my hero.”

The scene changed, and he was aboard a small cargo ship, zooming over the towers of a large city. He could hear nothing but a klaxon bell and the confused cries of men and women. In front of him, three armed cutthroats confronted a four-armed alien guard. “Hand over the gold or we’ll bathe ourselves in yer blood,” demanded one of the pirates, who was unmistakably Balalaika.

Indignation once again rose up in Zapp’s soul. “All right,” he said, gripping his sword and marching forward, “I can keep doing this as long as you can.”

Which apparently wasn’t long, for when Leela awoke and sat up, she saw with her blurred vision that the Fossitron was empty.

“Oh…my head,” she moaned. “I feel like I tried to apply makeup with a jackhammer.”

“Good to have you back, Leela,” said Foss. The professor’s expression indicated a complete lack of malice. “You’ll be happy to know that Delta’s in perfect working order. She was a little frantic after I reattached her head, so I had to put a restraining bolt on her.”

“Why am I still alive?” asked Leela as she swung her legs around. “Krandok should’ve killed me after what I did.”

“I convinced him you were actually trying to kill Captain Brannigan,” Foss told her.

Leela leaped to the floor, then gave the scientist a quizzical look. “Why are you protecting me?” she demanded to know.

“Come into the matrix with me, and I’ll tell you,” offered Foss.

As Leela allowed the helmet to cover her head, the throbbing pain vanished. She felt grass underneath her feet, and saw rolling plains covered with wildflowers in every direction. The sky was cloudless, and the sun shone warmly. It’s even more beautiful than real life, she thought.

Foss materialized a few feet away. “Here we are,” he said, his face giving off a peaceful glow. “Now, what was your question again?”

“Yes,” said Leela. “The question. You know I came here to rescue Zapp. You know I tried to kill Krandok. Yet you’re hiding this from your captain. Why?”

Foss stepped forward and took the cyclops gently by the hand.

“Haven’t you guessed?” he said. “I love you, Leela.”

Chapter 18

Foss’ pronouncement almost made Leela jump out of her skin. He loves me? she marveled. But I just met him, and he’s my enemy!

The scientist began to caress Leela’s fingers with his other hand. “I loved you from the moment I first saw you,” he confided. “You have an inner strength that’s missing in other women. It radiates from you.”

Leela withdrew her hand as politely as she could. “I don’t have time for this,” she told Foss.

“Please, Leela,” said the professor, sinking to his knees in the grass. “You and me. Consider it.”

“Perhaps the next time we meet,” said the cyclops. “Right now, I need to focus on rescuing Zapp and getting the hell out of here.”

Rising again, Foss brushed the dirt and grass from his smock. “I’m willing to help you with that,” he said, “but I want something in return.”

“What?” said Leela.

Foss took a deep breath. “Make love to me,” he pleaded. “Right here, in the matrix. There’ll be no repercussions in the real world.”

Leela’s jaw dropped. She started to back away.

“Not only will I help you rescue Captain Brannigan,” said Foss earnestly, “I’ll also come with you and turn myself in to the Earth authorities. I’ll pay the price for my crimes. You won’t have to visit me in prison if you don’t want to.”

It’s a generous offer, thought Leela. And, to tell the truth, I can’t see any way to save Zapp without his help. But can I trust him to keep up his end of the bargain?

“Think about it,” said Foss. “But don’t take too long. An attack force from Earth is on its way.”

Leela stopped and bowed her head. He claims to love me, yet he’s blocking his thoughts from me. If I refuse, he’s sure to turn me over to Balalaika. If I accept, and he gets what he wants, he may turn me over anyway. It’s a no-win scenario. At least if I refuse, I’ll die with my dignity intact.

Seconds dragged on like hours as she pondered the matter. Foss stood patiently, motionlessly. A gentle breeze stirred the poppies.

Finally she faced him. “All right, Foss,” she agreed. “I’ll make love to you, here in the matrix. But first, I’d like to slip into someone more comfortable.”

She closed her eyes tightly. As Foss watched expectantly, both Leela and the grassy prairie began to change. Plaster walls formed around him, flanked by well-stocked bookshelves. The sun gave way to a faintly buzzing electric light. He recognized the place; it was his old office at Mars University.

And where Leela had once stood, he saw Darla Thurmond, clad in a form-fitting sweater and a short, frilly skirt.

“Er…ah…” Foss stammered.

“Hi, Professor,” said Darla in the sweet, childlike voice he remembered well. “I’m having difficulty with one of the homework problems, and I thought you might be able to help me.”

Foss balked, recalling how his tryst with Darla had nearly cost him his job. Yet he knew it was hopeless—he couldn’t resist the girl’s innocent, freckled face and charming smile, any more than he could have ten years earlier.

“Why, certainly, Darla,” he said, slightly flustered. “Why don’t you have a seat?”

“Yes, I think I will have a seat,” said Darla as she quietly closed the office door. “Know what I mean, baby?”

Foss knew what she meant. Three seconds later he was flat on his back across the desk, and Darla’s arms were upon him, yanking off his tie and unbuttoning his shirt…

Bender gazed across the empty warehouse floor. Behind him, outside of the spacious old building, a pair of muscular men unloaded palette after palette of electronic components from a cargo truck. To his left stood Fry, and to his right, Monica Tao and her five-month-old baby girl. The morning sun shot friendly rays through the aging, cracked windows.

“Bender is great!” bellowed the enthusiastic robot. The words echoed from one wall to the other, and from the floor to the ceiling.

“If you can turn this dump into a working munitions factory,” said Fry, “I’ll be the one shouting ‘Bender is Great’.”

“My plan’s unsinkable,” said Bender. “I’ve got all the parts I need, and a horde of desperate manual laborers to put them together. All I need now is somebody who knows how to build a quantum torpedo.”

He looked back and forth at Fry and Monica, who had nothing but confusion on their faces. “Awww, mannn…” he groaned.

“Sorry, Bender,” said Monica as she wiped drool from her daughter’s lips with a cloth. “I know a lot about birthing babies, but I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout buildin’ no quantum torpedo.”

“We could get the professor to help us,” Fry suggested.

“He’s just a head in a jar,” said Bender. “He can’t carry nothin’.”

“No,” said Fry. “I mean we can use his knowledge. I’ll be right back.”

The redhead hurried out of the warehouse, and Bender turned to Monica with a sigh. “If this factory produces even one quantum torpedo that works,” he said glumly, “I’ll be very happy.”

It wasn’t long before other mutants arrived, starting with Alberto Veracruz. After saluting with his mouth hand, he stuck it forward and said, “Reporting for duty, Herr Direktor.”

“Great,” said Bender. “All the stuff isn’t here yet. Would you mind picking up some donuts and beer?”

“And a pickle turnover for me,” Monica added.

Foss lay sprawled on the ground, breathing rapidly, his expression one of idyllic joy. Above the smock-clad scientist stood Leela, a smile of delight on her lips. Minutes passed as she waited for him to regain his composure. The prairie sun warmed the skin of her neck.

Eventually Foss rolled over onto his knees and grasped Leela by the ankles. “I love you,” he moaned ecstatically. “Oh, God, how I love you…”

“I’m rather fond of you as well,” Leela admitted.

Foss clasped his hands together and groveled before the cyclops. “I’m not worthy of you,” he said miserably. “I wanted to use you…to manipulate you.”

“I figured as much,” said Leela, tenderly rubbing the professor’s short hair.

Foss dared not raise his head to look at the girl. “I-I haven’t had a single girlfriend since I joined the pirates,” he related. “No woman was strong or brave enough to stand up to them, until you came along. I knew I had to make you mine, so I planned to bring you into the matrix and influence your feelings so you’d fall in love with me.”

“Just like Balalaika influenced your feelings,” Leela noted. “Just like I influenced them by turning into Darla.”

Foss continued to apologize as she lifted him up by his wrists. “I see now that what I did was wrong, terribly wrong. Oh, Leela, can you ever forgive me? I’ll do anything to make it right.”

Anything?” said Leela, intrigued. “Hmm…”

Chapter 19

“How in the heck did you get your hands on that much weapons-grade plutonium?” Fry asked Bender as a man in a radiation suit carried a crate past them.

“Weapons-grade?” was Bender’s incredulous response. “What am I, made of money?”

The warehouse floor was a maelstrom of activity, as more than 150 mutant workers in protective suits struggled with the intricacies of assembling components and installing them within metal shells. From his position on the catwalk, Professor Farnsworth’s head shouted instructions and orders to the would-be technicians. “You there! Number 27!” he called out. “You’ve crossed the green and yellow wires! Do you want to blow us all to kingdom come?”

Mr. Tobler, the man with a cat in his head, hurried up to Bender and Fry. “Herr Direktor!” he exclaimed. “I can’t find a radiation suit that fits over my head!”

Bender sized up the man. “You got two choices, bub,” he said. “Either lose the cat, or go back to the circus. My budget’s too tight to afford a special suit.”

“But Princess and I are inseparable,” Tobler protested. The cat wagged its tail, which was attached to the base of his skull.

Bender sighed. “Fine,” he said reluctantly. “I’ll requisition a suit for you, and pay for it out of Fry’s own pocket.”

“Thank you, Herr Direktor,” said Tobler, clasping his hands.

“Stop calling me that,” said Bender.

Fry leaned over a railing and gazed down at the busy, confused workers. “It just doesn’t look safe to me,” he remarked, shaking his head.

“They’re mutants,” Bender pointed out. “It’s not like their lives can get worse.”

The robot’s next stop was the accounting office, where Monica was laboring over a computer keyboard, and her baby girl was sleeping obliviously in a crib. “What’s our production status?” Bender asked her.

“Torpedoes produced, zero,” replied the Asian woman. “Defects, zero.”

“Perfect,” said Bender proudly. “Safety violations?”


Bender’s eyes bulged. “Fifty-eight? That’s almost unacceptable! Who’s responsible for this?”

“You are,” said Monica flatly.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Bender. “The person most responsible for your own safety is you. It’s about time the workers learned that. Schedule a video course.”

Upon leaving the office, he spotted Hermes, Amy, and Zoidberg stepping through the creaky doors of the warehouse. “Hey, Bender mon,” Hermes hailed him. “It’s our lunch break, and we came by to see how your factory’s progressing.”

An explosion suddenly took place at the other end of the building, leaving a gash in the wall. “Uh, business is booming,” said Bender.

“I hope your plan works, mon,” said Hermes. “You got two days to save your mutant friends from the sewers.”

“I just wish Leela were here,” said Bender. “I did all this for her.”

Fry approached Amy, who appeared to be in a somber mood. “Any news from Captain Kif?” he inquired.

“No,” replied Amy with a sniffle. “Not a word.”

“Don’t worry,” said Fry. “Your boyfriend’s gonna kick those pirates’ butts, and come back a war hero.”

“If he comes back at all,” said Amy, who then covered her eyes and sobbed uncontrollably.

“Again with the waterworks,” grumbled Zoidberg.

“What about Zapp?” Fry wondered. “Are they just gonna blow him up? Isn’t anyone trying to rescue him?”

Someone was. Aboard the Nimbus, Kif was standing to one side as a special guest occupied his captain’s chair. The visitor, an elderly female of his own alien species, pressed her wrinkled fingers to her temples and moaned oddly.

“Are you picking up anything, Varuna?” Kif asked the green woman, who wore a multi-colored silk robe that reached to her ankles.

“I sense great hostility,” she uttered. “Or perhaps great friendliness. I can’t be sure unless you get closer.”

Having just dropped out of hyperspace, the thirty-four starships of Earth’s attack force circled the outer perimeter of the Cerulean Nebula. Kif’s crewmen sat silently and breathlessly at their stations, expecting a confrontation with the pirates at any moment.

“Zapp is somewhere in that nebula,” said Kif to Varuna. “Try to hone in on his psychic frequency.”

“Redrum…redrum…” mumbled the old woman.

“Wrong frequency,” said Kif with a sigh of discouragement.

One of his minions pointed at the view screen. “Sir, they’re coming!” he shouted.

Out of the blue mists of the nebula emerged one Jolly Roger warship, then another, then a dozen. “Red alert!” cried Captain Kroker. “Battle stations!”

Varuna’s eyes suddenly went wide. “I’m getting something,” she said. “Captain Brannigan is on one of those pirate ships, I’m sure of it.”

“I honestly don’t see why you had to bring that crone aboard,” said the voice of the ship’s artificial intelligence. “Psychic powers, indeed. The only way she’ll ever make contact with Brannigan is by conducting a séance. He’s dead, Kif. Accept it and let go.”

“Shut up and bring the quantum torpedo launchers online,” said Kif to the ship’s computer.

As the Earth fleet and the pirate raiders hurtled toward each other, Leela and Foss were preparing for a battle of their own. Foss began by prying loose the restraining bolt on Delta’s neck. Once he had done so, the fembot’s eyes lit up with gratitude.

“Thank you, professor,” she said. “Mindless servitude is so unpleasant. I prefer to be dominated of my own free will.”

Yanking open a wall compartment, Foss removed three old-fashioned laser pistols, of which he handed one each to Leela and Delta. “Balalaika ordered me to keep these pistols in working order, in case an emergency arose,” said the scientist as he adjusted the settings on his weapon. “I don’t imagine we’ll encounter more than five guards on the way to the bridge, so we’ve got a good chance of pulling this off.”

“Thanks for helping, Philaster,” said Leela sweetly.

“Anything for you, my love,” said Foss.

The trio exited the laboratory and made it halfway to the bend in the corridor, when a band of five pirates rounded the corner, laughing and swinging their cutlasses. “Arrr, it be mutiny!” exclaimed one of them upon seeing Leela, Delta, Foss, and their guns.

Delta squeezed her trigger and let a laser blast fly, striking a cutthroat in the chest as his four companions fled for cover. “Oh, my,” mused the fembot. “I didn’t know I was programmed for that.”

Leela fired persistently at the pirates’ half-exposed faces until Foss grabbed her arm and pulled her aside. “Look out!” he warned her, just as a dagger hurled by one of her foes whizzed past her ear. The face-off continued until the pirates ran out of daggers to throw, upon which they fled into the corridor from which they had appeared.

“You didn’t tell me they had daggers,” Leela complained.

“They’ll come back with reinforcements,” said Foss. “There’s a longer, but safer, route to the bridge. Follow me!”

He led Delta and Leela forward a few steps, and a shattering blast was heard. The pirate ship trembled violently. Foss was thrown off his feet, as was Leela; Delta kept her balance by extending her arms and grabbing a beam on each side of the hallway.

“We’re under attack!” Foss shouted. “We don’t have much time!”

They ran frantically for the remainder of the distance, passing by a few pirates who appeared too frightened to fight. At the doorway to the bridge, Foss motioned for Leela and Delta to stop and lower their voices. From their hidden vantage point they saw Balalaika and Krandok holding conference with Zapp, standing around what looked like a holographic model of a Titan-class battleship.

“The weakest part of the shielding is here, in front of the thermal exhaust port,” said Zapp, pointing at a brown rectangle on the back of the model. “By concentrating their fire, five raiders should be able to take out the Nimbus without much trouble.”

Leela gaped in horror, unable to believe what she had heard.

Chapter 20

“Open a channel to all raiders,” said Balalaika, signaling to one of his men. “They’ll be very interested in this bit of information.”

As the minion reached for his communication console, a red beam struck the back of his head. He screamed briefly, fell limply over the console, and died. Startled by this occurrence, Balalaika and Krandok whipped out their cutlasses and looked suspiciously in all directions. Krandok, noticing a movement at the entryway, snatched a dagger from his belt and tossed it forcefully. Delta let go of her pistol, stretched out her arm, caught the spinning blade, flipped it around by the handle, and threw it even more forcefully toward Krandok. The point of the dagger hit him squarely in the throat, knocking him backwards in what would be the last fall of his life.

Leela, Delta, and Foss emerged from their hiding place, laser pistols drawn. Balalaika and Zapp, finding themselves outnumbered, dropped their swords and put their hands in the air.

Leela grinned at her fembot comrade. “That was pretty good, Delta. But did you really need to kill Krandok? He was an excellent original character.”

Balalaika scowled at his chief scientist. “I knew you’d betray me someday,” he said without a trace of pirate accent.

“Oh, really?” said Foss. “You never gave any indication that you suspected me.”

While he and Delta bound the pirate captain’s wrists with rope, Leela tried to reason with the sullen Zapp. “You’ve been manipulated,” she said earnestly. “Balalaika used the Fossitron device to make you think like he does.”

The anger faded from Zapp’s countenance. “Yes, you’re right,” he said, his hands still raised. “Like a fool I kept killing him and killing him. After about the one hundredth time, I realized that I enjoyed killing him. That’s when he started fighting back. Since I couldn’t kill him anymore, I started to kill with him.”

“I understand, Zapp,” said Leela, slowly lowering her laser gun. “That’s how the Fossitron works. It’s like a form of mental rape. It allowed Balalaika to get into your mind and leave a piece of himself there.”

“Leela, we’ve got a problem,” Foss interrupted.

The cyclops turned her eye to the pirate ship’s view screen, and gasped. Out from the swirl of raiders and DOOP warships exchanging fire came the Nimbus, barreling toward their position, growing ever larger…

“Oh, my God!” cried Leela. “They’ll blow us to bits!”

Taking advantage of her distraction, Zapp launched his foot upward, knocking the laser pistol from her hand. The weapon spiraled in the air and landed in his waiting palm. His opponent disarmed, he lunged forward and wrapped his arm around her neck in a vise-like grip, then pressed the business end of the laser gun against her temple.

“Let Balalaika go or I’ll kill her!” he barked at Foss and Delta.

The fembot and the scientist stood rooted to the spot by indecision and fear.

“I’ll kill her, I swear!” said Captain Brannigan, his eyes glowing with malice.

“Fight it, Zapp!” Leela choked out.

The view screen image showed the Nimbus slowing to a halt. Suddenly, with a crackle, the face of Kif Kroker appeared. “Resistance is futile,” he declared. “Power down your weapons and prepare to be boarded.”

Kif beheld a strange tableau—Captain Balalaika held prisoner by Delta and Foss on one end of the pirate bridge, Leela held hostage by Zapp on the other end. For what seemed like an entire minute, not one of them knew what to do or say.

Zapp’s lower lip began to quiver. Leela could hear him mutter under his breath, “I’m…a monster…”

Then he pulled the laser pistol away from her head…

…and aimed it at his own.

“NO!” cried Leela. She strained to turn around, but Zapp’s grip on her neck was too strong.

Just as he squeezed the trigger, a robotic hand flew at him. Delta’s stretched-out arm pushed the laser pistol to a safe distance, so that its beam crashed harmlessly into a girder.

After the Nimbus’ tractor beam had drawn Balalaika’s raider into its docking bay, and Kif’s men had taken the pirate captain and his subordinates into custody, Zapp asked to be incarcerated as well. “In my present condition I’m a danger to the crew,” he told his second-in-command. “The Nimbus is yours, Kif.”

“I’ll treat her well, sir,” said Captain Kroker.

“I’ll lead you to the pirates’ hidden base,” Foss offered. “You can incapacitate them with one blow.”

“That’s generous of you,” said Kif.

“I have a question,” said the young professor. “How did you know Captain Brannigan was aboard our raider?”

Kif grinned. “I have Varuna to thank for that. She’s a member of my planet’s psychic caste.”

He introduced Foss to the green-skinned, white-haired woman. “It’s, er, nice to meet you,” he greeted her.

“I sense that you don’t believe in my powers,” said Varuna.

“Oh, really,” said Foss. “Can you sense what number I’m thinking of?”

“Silly boy,” said Varuna with a slight cackle. “It doesn’t work that way.”

As the Nimbus and its sister starships sought out the coordinates Foss had provided, Leela and Delta relaxed in the massive vessel’s lounge. Leela, stripped down to a bikini, and Delta, completely naked as usual, soaked in the rays from the solar generator mounted in the ceiling.

“I’m sorry I doubted you, Delta,” said Leela. “For a Stepford wife-bot, you have a lot of talent.”

“Thank you, Captain Leela,” said Delta. “Although I have no need of positive reinforcement, I do appreciate it when it’s given.”

Chapter 21

At the Lobachevsky Desert Testing Range (formerly known as the Hudson River), a horde of eager mutants held their breaths as Bender pressed a button on a control pad. The resulting radio signal triggered the detonation of a warhead and a spectacular explosion.

“Oooh…aaah…” said the mutants with delight.

Seeing that the test was successful, Bender cheered and leaped into the cool desert air. “We did it! We did it! Finally, after hours of back-breaking labor, a quantum torpedo that actually works! Bender is great! The rest of you are just good!”

While the mutants took off their visors, Monica Tao came running toward Bender, her breaths heavy, her baby strapped onto her back. “Herr Direktor! Herr Direktor!” she called out.

“Oh, don’t you start with the ‘Herr Direktor’,” Bender grumbled.

“This is bad,” said Monica, stopping at the robot’s side. “Very bad. Watch.”

She raised up the wrist TV console she was wearing. On the tiny screen, Morbo and Linda were delivering a special report.

“As quickly as it started, the war against the Pirates of the Cerulean has ended,” said Morbo. “A fleet of DOOP battleships wiped out the pirates’ main base today, effectively destroying their ability to fight. In this newscaster’s opinion, all of you pathetic humans should keep this day in memory, for just as you have overwhelmed and destroyed the pirates, so shall you be overwhelmed and destroyed when our invincible armada arrives to take what is rightfully ours! WE WILL DESTROY YOU!”

Linda just giggled.

“Oh, my nonexistent God,” said Bender miserably. “That’s it? The war’s already over? But we haven’t sold a single torpedo!”

“Don’t take it so hard, Bender,” said Monica. “There’ll be other scams. As a wise man once said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’”

Bender gritted his shiny metal teeth. “No!” he declared. “I’m gonna succeed in this business without really trying! Another war will come along any day now, and if it doesn’t, I’ll start one!” Addressing the crowd of mutants, he added, “Are you with me?”

Shouts of approval flew up from the mob. “Viva Bender!” “Viva Herr Direktor!” “We’re with Bender until the ender!” Not a single mutant offered a dissenting opinion.

“Good call on the suckers,” Bender commended Monica. “What else did the wise man say? Is there a book?”

“In further news,” said Linda from the wrist TV, “legendary space captain Zapp Brannigan is safe and sound today after having been rescued from the Cerulean Pirates. His first officer, Kif Kroker, claimed in a sworn statement that a young mutant, Turanga Leela, was chiefly responsible for Captain Brannigan’s rescue.”

Bender telescoped his eyes to get a clearer picture. “Leela’s a hero!” he marveled. “Listen up, you freaks! One of your kind is a hero!”

“In view of this claim,” Linda went on, “the President of the World, Richard Nixon’s head, has decided to withdraw the Mutant Resettlement Act.”

Bender’s jaw dropped all the way to the sandy ground.

“This is a happy day for mutants everywhere,” Linda declared.

“Oh, dear Lord,” said Monica, wiping away tears. “I’m so relieved.” Turning to the mutant workers, she yelled, “The Mutant Resettlement Act is history! You no longer have to live in the sewers! You’re free!”

The crowd cheered, even more loudly this time. “I’m going home to celebrate!” “Screw this job!” “In your face, Herr Direktor!”

Bender watched glumly as the crowd dispersed and ran away in all directions. In no time at all, he was alone in the desert with Monica and a smoking radioactive crater.

“I’m afraid I’ve got to go too,” said Monica. “I instructed the nanny to call me every fifteen minutes, and it’s been three hours.”

The Asian woman carried her baby off into the sunset. Bender, left with nothing but his broken dreams, sank to his knees and cried, “NOOOOOO!!!”

Five people, two robots, and one head gathered at the round table in the Planet Express meeting room—Fry, Leela, Amy, Bender, Delta, Zoidberg, Farnsworth, and Philaster Foss.

“I don’t know how you managed to avoid going to prison,” said Leela to Foss, “but I’m glad of it.” She planted an affectionate kiss on the professor’s cheek.

“It was simple,” said Foss, “once Nixon granted me a complete amnesty as a reward for my help in rooting out the pirates.”

“Why the long face, Bender?” asked Amy.

“Aww, I’m gonna die,” the robot moaned. “I owe a bundle to the Robot Mafia, and I can’t even begin to pay it back. How could things get any worse?”

“Bender,” said Delta, leaning over, “I’ve given it some thought, and decided that since you and I work together, we should be just friends.”

That’s how they could get worse,” said Bender, who then started to weep.

“I like your new attitude, Delta,” said Leela. “You’ve finally learned that you can depend on yourself, and don’t need a man to make you happy. Uh, Delta? I don’t think you should be touching Zoidberg there.”

“Heh heh heh,” giggled the crustacean.

“We’ve got a situation, everyone,” said Farnsworth. “The Planet Express ship is lost somewhere in the Cerulean Nebula. For all we know, the pirates picked it apart. On top of that, Lrrr is demanding to know what happened to his shipment of Amish furniture.”

“And what about Zapp Brannigan?” said Fry. “He’s locked up in a cell, stark raving mad.”

“What happened to him is my fault,” Foss admitted. “As God is my witness, I’ll find a way to help him.”

“So many problems,” Zoidberg lamented. “What do we do about them all?”

“Well, spluh,” said Amy. “You put them off until the sequel.”

The End