("Someday Never Comes", Creedence Clearwater Revival)
A long, long, LONG time ago...
But that wouldn't work, would it? If the past is another country, then the
20th century was now ranking up there along with places like Atlantis and
Leng and Zimbabwe. Things like centuries, for example, that's something the
human mind can grasp. Years are the letter-blocks of the mind, centuries are
hefty bricks, but millennia -now, even the word is awe-inspiring- are like
the cyclopean blocks that made up those old pyramids below the waist of
America. They are dark and intangibly smooth, they gleam in the killing
malaria sunlight, and you couldn't wedge a knife-blade between them, though
in the case of Aztecs you probably wouldn't want to bet.
If the past is another country, then it is a one girt with concrete walls
with barbed wire and ground glass on top, and words like "glorious" and
"unconquered" in its national anthem. The skies are blue, between the
staring monumental portrait of the great leaders, and the fields are green
or, occasionally, red and wet. Behind those walls, feet tight-laced in
jackboots move like puppets to the music of the status quo, but, say the
signs, NO ONE GETS IN. And, of course, at times some select few get out, so
they can tell you how great it was inside. The music was better, for one,
the trains went on time, and children respected their elders.
So, a long time ago, in a galaxy not far away at all...
Remember that year? It was the year that was named after one of those scary
made-for-TV books, but not "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Love in the Time of
Cholera". The one with the telescreens and the mindless indoctrination
beginning already in kindergarten. But that's only in books, of course, not
in real life...
This is Earth. This is the USA, or, if you would be grammatically correct,
"are". This is Old New York, an asphalt street cracked with dandelions, a
tarnished villa with a smooth plush lawn. And a picket fence.
The burly brown-haired man, who claims to have spent five months in a
tapeworm-infested tree in Da Nang, is scrambling to stay on the branch of
the crooked maple, kicking until his boots dislodge leaves and bark flakes.
It is by no means a healthy tree, not after the youngest son's precocious
maple-extracting experiments with a power drill. The branch, supposedly the
steadiest one, is curving itself gracefully under his weight, but he clings
"Now throw me the free end of the rope, Phil!"
The suspender'd ten-year-old, tousled hair the color of molten cheese -a
"liberty-head", as his father tends to call him- gets it right on the second
try, and actually hits on the fifth. The loose end slaps his father
between the eyes, and causes 1) a certainty that the filthy VC pigs got him
after all, and 2) a curse which he bites off against his lower lip, because
after all, a good American father doesn't damn well use profanity in front
of his children. The other end of the rope is tied to a Goodyear tractor
tire, with a few dozen yards of convolutions in between.
A knot is made, and the father tests it carefully before giving his son a
thumbs-up and tumbling unceremoniously to the ground.
"There ya go, Phil. A tire swing, just like a promised you."
"You're super, Dad!"
"Every boy should have a tire swing, son. I would have made one for your
brother, but when I came home from service, he was already too old for one.
I just pray that the absence of tire swing influence in his childhood will
not cause him to become a homophiliac or a Red."
"I'm sure he won't, Dad."
"It's one of them Freudian things, son. It vitally combines the nurturing
female principle with the bloodthirsty male. I did some evening courses on
"I... don't get it, Dad."
"Oh well. Enjoy your swing."
The father stomps off across the new-mown grass, and Phil sits down on the
earthbound tire, chewing a flake of bark for any maple-syrupy sensations.
The father does a turnabout.
And his wife, not unlike her son with her orange hair and button-nose, looks
up from painting the uniform stretches of picket fence, and strides over to
the maple, secateurs in hand, as her husband storms out the gate to shout at
Kremlin Joe on the corner.
Little points of light on the grass under the sprinkler. You could imagine
they were stars, later, when darkness fell and the lampposts would light
Chapter 1: Space, the Final Fronti-ah
Captain's Log. Stardate, er. Has this thing got a calendar or something?
Six. We have been scooting, yes, I know it is supposed to be "scouting",
Kif, and that is why you are a Leytenant and I am, not to put too fine a
point on it, your Captain. Yes, Lieutenant. Where was I? Ah yes. Scouting
the Eastern Arm of the galaxy in question for hours, and the filthy lousy
Imperials have made no attempt on our life. Truly, even against this
frightsome enemy, the way of the DOOP shall prevail did you hear that, Kif?
That was the main reactor!
Captain Zapp Brannigan, fearless fleet commander of the Democratic Order of
Planets, threw off his headphones, hefted the sleek raygun given to him by
his second-in-command, and did a final check on the trigger and the
self-destruction button. The Nimbus lurched again, a rickety sort of
motion that would have caused him to fall undignifiedly on his posterior,
had he not been a man of considerable inertia. (Yes, he observed, Kif was
shaking badly. But what else could you expect from such a spineless young
thing?) He stood up straight, in spite of the shaking under his feet.
Furry streaks of military-use laser criscrossed the spacey darkness of the
monitors, and the Captain winced. He was beginning to have second thoughts
about the whole "action" thing, since there were so many things you could do
in action, and only one was to prevail. But, apparently, he had to go forth
against the Imperial commanders and, if necessary, die defending the scum
with which the DOOP had chosen to man his ship. That was something that came
with being a fearless commander.
Since certain things also came with being Zapp Brannigan, he made sure to
wipe the gun on his well-filled red velour shirt for maximum gloss.
"Well then, Kif, let us go forth and conquer!"
Kif nodded, though only by default, because he quivered as another and more
serious hit penetrated the hull. A burnt-rubbery smoke lay heavy in the air,
and the alien's frail domed head was blanched from its nice grassy green to
almost yellow as he paled with fear. Cowardly, he was, but then, the world
needed cowards, just like elephants needed... well, poodles, or pineapples.
To stand out amongst. Now, Captain Brannigan pondered, if he took the B8
corridor through the gallery, he might be able to fire a few warning shots
and be well into the escape pods by the time the attackers had boarded...
"HULL CRITICAL!" shrieked the tannoy.
"What a relief we're not there, then", Captain Brannigan husked, motioning
his Lieutenant towards the sliding doors and standing to the side to let him
pass, with uncharacteristic politeness. It always paid to have Kif between
himself and any potential danger, and though he was pretty sure the
Imperial Cracktroopers had not yet entered the Nimbus, times like now his
own men would be as dangerous as the enemy and a lot more hell-bent.
"THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!" came the computerised reply. The Venus
Tannoy-zer was programmed to be pleasant and bland, to the point that
listening to her was like having milky coffee poured into your ears. But she
was stretched to breaking point. Even if the Captain did not follow his ship
down, she would. "IMPERIAL CRUISER APPROACHING! COMMENCING BOARDING!
BOARDING!" Nothing but white noise, the aural equivalent of snow, for a few
seconds, and then, with rather more satisfaction: "Boarding complete."
In the depths of space, grappling hooks slung spinning and entered the proud
plating of the Nimbus, hauling it in. Shapes armoured in void-ghost white
Captain, fear-frelling-less Captain of the DOOP fleet. He would have to
boldly go, against all common sense, towards the distant sounds of screams
and blipping rayguns. Was he crazy, or what?
The B8 Corridor was off-limits. Certain little things informed this to the
fearless leader's brain, which was ground sharp or at least splintery.
Certain little things such as the crazy-string tape with the words OFF
LIMITS sprayed like a spiderweb across the doorway, and the hell-march of
redshirts moving past, shepherded by the armoured men. Brannigan stood back
as some of them shook their fists at him and shouted abuse, but the captors
didn't seem to care. They probably presumed that it was directed at them.
"Kif!" he barked, from a general feeling that this tended to help. "Since
you got us into this predicamess..." And a pregnant pause.
Kif sighed. It was an impressive sound, perhaps the most impressive thing to
come out of the small green man. As the bubbles composing his frame
respectively deflated and inflated, the air fairly sparkled with resentment.
"Sir, the idea to trespass on Imperial routes was not..."
"Be quiet when you interrupt your betters!" Brannigan silenced him. This
did, indeed, make him feel momentarily better. "I will let you choose the
They were at a crossroads, the corridor splitting into three narrow walkways
ahead like... some kind of three-pronged letter Y? Though explosions still
rocked the battleship, the walls here were beguilingly virginal, eggshell
white. Screams and gunfire filtered in from left and right, though, to be
brutally honest, by now there was a lot more screams, and the shots seemed
sadistically counterpointed with them.
"All I know is, not the middle corridor, sir." Kif seemed genuinely
concerned. "That path will take us straight into the breach made by the
Brannigan swore. It was silent in that corridor. You could count on
silence not to kill.
"What brilliant celeberatory work, Kif", he muttered with biting irony. "Did
I ax which way not to take, perhaps? I think not! Did I ax which way to
take? I think yes!"
"Frankly, sir, I don't... know." Kif sighed again. "The one on the left will
bring us close to the escape pods, but from the sound of it, the battle is
quite fervent..." He extended his neck, peering into the distant fray.
"Well then, Kif, let us show those Imperial scumhounds what we are made of!"
"Plenty of red and purplish tubes?" Kif said, withdrawing in a hurry. He had
Brannigan knew that what he did next would fill him with shame for the rest
of his life, but at least there would be a rest of his life, and the guilt
sensations would make it feel even longer. Every time he remembered... of
course, he would always remember. Maybe lobby for the good old boys at the
DOOP to put up a statue, or a memorial plaque, or something. Poor old Kif.
It had been an honour for him to serve.
"LEFT CORRIDOR, KIF!" he bellowed, picking up his second-in-command by the
scruff of his neck and throwing him into that same doorway. "COVER FOR ME!"
Then he bolted into the middle corridor.
Silence. Kif's brief scream, of course, and that would hurt... oh yes, he
would have to find out if the little guy'd had a family, or a girlfriend, or
a litter or something, and whip around for a few plastic cards. Brave
soldier, horrible to watch a friend go down like this... after all, he had
done what he could to save him, basically... yes... laid down his own life!
Only, he had realised that even suffering this emotional blow, he must
return to the HQ and warn the Council for the danger the Empire had indeed
Silence. Beautiful, eggshell-like silence, and the inner fanfares of his
permanent mental eulogy. You could count on silence not to let you down.
Zapp Brannigan crouched up by the wall in the shadowless fluorescent light,
admiring his leg musculature for a few moments. His heart needed a great
long time to slow down. He listened to its heavy thumps, and silence... and
yes, jackbooted feet now, metal-shod heels beating out what sounded like
rather ambient march music, and... asthmatic breathing?
The Cracktrooper who had been lucky enough to find him pointed at him,
rather too proudly for his Lord to take. A few seconds later, he himself
flopped to the floor, clutching at his throat and going colours that would
make even Kif seem normal.
Brannigan stared at the stricken man, then at the dark boots, and further,
at the dark robes, and even further, at the dark destiny. Men in white armor
were standing over him. And it occurred to him that unless his trusty DOOP
redshirts had suddenly started to dress like albino insects, this was the
enemy, and that the enemy had the upper hand, and that the situation would
not suffer from a little politeness.
"My lungs get like that when I walk too far, too", he explained by way of
friendly conversation. "More vegetables in your diet, that usually helps.
Oh, and maybe you should have someone see to the mask."
And little later:
"KIIF! SAVE MEEEE!"
Chapter 1 1/2: 1987
There have been many fights with Kremlin Joe, the man who sells Pravda in
the corner, lately. Not very strange, that. Joe is a strange man, and...
shame to say it, but... Dad is pretty strange as well. Only sort of strange
in the other end.
Phil Fry has started to have understanding of politics. He has briefly put
it on hiatus, though, because he wants understanding of more immediate
things, such as cooties, and the multiplication tables, and why Yancy gets
to stay up with Mom and Dad and watch Dallas.
Dad isn't weird. Miss Chemile in school has told how you can recognise
weird people. They give you candy and ask you to do sick things, when
everyone knows that you can get candy from the highschool kids just by
eating maggots. Or they wear berets and get up to poetry that doesn't rhyme
in smoky bars. Or they stand on the corner and sell Pravda. She never said
that you're insane if your lips tighten up in a stringy line every five
minutes, or you stomp around the house in the uniform you wore in 'Nam with
the ARMY SURPLUS tag still on the collar, or you stare at the bruise every
time you hit your toe on something and go like: "It's the cleanser." The
word for that is... oh, "sane".
Dad fights with Kremlin Joe. He also fights with the Mayor, the Senator, the
Pink Ribbons lady and the reporter on TV who used the word "liberal".
Sometimes even without leaving his cellar.
"Your father is a bit overstressed, boys", Mom says, over an early cup of
Irish Coffee while watching the Superbowl. "Leave him alone. You know he
always feels better after a few days with his friends at Fort Mount. Yancy
Junior, he told you that if you don't start dating soon, he's going to send
you to the Gay Correction Centre. Phillip, he thinks that you don't hang out
with your male friends enough, and considers to give you a saltpetre dose."
"Damn crazy man", Yancy mutters, kicking a football across the weedy,
dandelion-cloudy lawn. "OK, Phil, I'm taking a girl to my room tonight.
She's going to show me how to fix a Rubik's Cube. So if you leave your room,
it's on pain of death."
"Don't talk about Dad like that", says Phil.