Futurama

Fan Fiction

The Real Decoy
By coldangel_1

Set after ‘The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings’. Fry and Leela aren’t technically going out, but they are much closer than they’ve ever been. Some time has passed, and Fry himself is a little bit more mature and worldly… not much though. And just so it doesn’t confuse you - he and Leela have taken to calling each other ‘red’ and ‘purple’ on occasion... kind of like pet names.

This fiction is shippy, but I dislike writing romance without a plot, so it’s also an action adventure with some moderate violence.

The illustrations are all my own. Apologies for my exterior Starship shots – I’m kind of a character specialist and I tend to suck at inanimate objects.

Caption: ‘Activate willing suspension of disbelief circuit… NOW’


“Space: the final frontier… These are the missions of the Starship… Planet Express ship. Its mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations… to boldly go where no man has gone before… and deliver packages!”

“Who are you talking to, Fry?”

The red-haired young man broke out of his reverie and glanced sheepishly away from the forward view screen. Leela was watching him oddly from the Captain’s chair, her enormous single eye fixed in a quizzical half-squint.

“I was narrating,” he muttered, wandering back over to the engineering console and slumping down.

The battered old green workhorse lumbered through deep space, silently slipping between stars. Fry never got sick of the sight – the depths of space, brilliant nebulae, raging novas… all the kind of things his peers found so mundane. But he was from an ancient time, and the wonders of the Universe were still so new, so breathtaking. Though there was one thing more amazing…

He glanced at her. Silken bangs of purple hair framed her beautiful eye… her full lips fixed in a strong line. She was a perfect, unique Amazon… the most incredible person he’d ever met, and…

“Fry, quit staring at me!” Leela snapped.

“Sorry.” The delivery boy looked away guiltily. He knew she was tense – the specifics of their latest mission would soon bring her into close proximity to a person she’d just as soon decapitate. The arrogant overblown space ‘hero’, Captain Zapp Brannigan of DOOP, commander of the Nimbus and recipient of the three heavy crates that took up most of the PE ship’s cargo hold.

If Leela had had any choice in the matter she would have vehemently declined the mission, however under a DOOP security mandate, the services of Planet Express had been commandeered – there was no choice in the matter. Concerns about an intelligence leak within DOOP had prompted command (Brannigan himself, no doubt) to use the small private carrier to transport components for a new super-weapon to the Nimbus at the front line of the Xylogen War. Due to the official and hazardous military nature of the mission, the usual crew of three was augmented by Bureaucrat Hermes Conrad to oversee transfer protocol, and inept physician John Zoidberg… to theoretically tend to any injuries sustained.

“Um… Leela,” Fry said quietly. “If Zapp tries to put the moves on, I can pretend to be your fiancé again… if you want.”

Leela looked at him, and to her surprise found that he looked genuinely concerned for her, and not in the least bit suggestive. “Thanks, Fry,” she said. “If it comes to that I’ll take you up on the offer. But I hope to be in and out without having to lay my eye on that creep.”

“A creep he may be, but he’s sure got good taste. Like a skunk that drinks fine wine… or a slug that smokes top-range Zuban cigars.”

“That’s very sweet and bizarre, Fry.”

Zoidberg burst onto the bridge suddenly, with his mouth appendages twitching.

“Did someone say something about a slug!?” he screeched.

As the rugged little green freighter trawled through interstellar space, a dark, sinister shape shadowed it, maintaining a 20,000 kilometre distance. The other ship was larger and sleeker, with innumerable pincer-like leading edges that gave it a gothic appearance enhanced further by its black paint scheme.

The dark frigate was running silent. Coasting on candle-power thrusters and using only passive scanners. The bridge of the vessel had an atmosphere of electric anticipation as a gathering of strange tri-symmetrical creatures observed the Planet Express ship’s lonely voyage.

<<This is the one?>> the alien commander wheezed at its first mate.

<<Apparently, sir. This is the ship our Intelligence indicated.>>

<<Why then has it no escort?>>

<<It would seem the DOOP are attempting to transport their weapon under a cloak of secrecy, sir…>>

<<Secrecy, eh?>> the commander rubbed one of its chins with a multi-jointed mandible. <<A devilish scheme of devilish proportions matched only by the proportions of the devil who instigated it… what did you say his name was?>>

<<Euhh… Zapp Brannigan, sir…>>

<<Brannigan, you say? A truly worthy adversary, worthy of being my adversary. Now, what about this ship?>>

<<It seems to be an older class of transport vessel, sir. Fast but lightly armoured. Offensive armament includes a single laser turret and four…>>

<<Enough with your overly-analytical claptrap, Kryzzerch, you disgust me>> the commander snapped. <<A true warrior knows that battles are never won through careful planning or knowledge – they are won through blind impulse and reckless action! The same way a beautiful female is won.>>

<<Euhh…>>

<<What?>>

Leela stifled a small yawn and rubbed her eye. Glancing at the chrononometer, she noted that it had been six hours since her last break.

“Hey red, I’m gonna take a nap. Do you want to take the helm for a bit?”

Fry’s face lit up. “Sure thing, purple!” he exclaimed. “Take as long as you need!”

Leela smiled at his enthusiasm. An interstellar spacecraft was just a big toy for him, and while his immaturity was irksome at times, she still couldn’t help but be infected by his playful nature. The way he looked at the Universe with wonder could make her see some of the things she took for granted in a whole new light… humanity’s accomplishments, and the marvels of space; it really was amazing, all of it.

As Leela moved aside for Fry to sit down, their hands briefly touched, and both felt a momentary tremor of excitement that they each tried to conceal. Fry took the controls and grinned.

“Just stay the course, kiddo,” Leela told him. “No deviations except in an emergency… and if there is an emergency, I expect you to wake me immediately.”

“I know the drill, Cap’n.” Fry winked roguishly. “Sweet dreams.”

Leela left the bridge, her mood lighter than it had been in hours. Despite all the monumental screw-ups and overt idiocy, Phillip J. Fry had an indefinable quality about him that could lighten anyone’s heart when they were feeling down without even trying… especially hers.

I suppose there’s a reason for that, she thought. Face it Leela, you’re madly in…

Her train of thought was interrupted as she ran into Bender exiting her quarters. The android stopped and looked at her blankly. Leela glared back.

“What?” Bender demanded indignantly.

“Take them off,” she said. “Now.”

Bender grumbled inaudibly to himself and removed the bra and panties that he was wearing awkwardly on his cylindrical chassis. He threw them at Leela and clumped off.

“They’re bland and unappealing anyway,” he declared as he disappeared toward the cargo bay.

Leela looked at the stretched-out undergarments and wondered how long it would take for the residual effects of Bender’s temporary gender-swap to wear off. She went into her quarters and lay down, trying not to think about her impending encounter with the sex-obsessed buffoon. She found it easier and more calming to think about Fry instead.

Meanwhile in the cargo hold, Hermes Conrad sat at a small folding desk with a sheaf of papers in front of him, busily documenting each uneventful minute of the cargo’s journey. Checking and rechecking that the three crates were still present and noting each creak of the ship’s hull. An official mission from the DOOP was a large-scale event sure to earn him kudos with the Central Bureaucracy… perhaps even a one-point promotion if all went well.

Hermes looked up from his paperwork and glared in irritation as Bender clumped noisily down the steps muttering to himself.

“What are ya doin’ down here, ya metal monstrosity?” Hermes growled. “This area’s off-limits to unauthorized personnel for the duration of da mission! If you want t’come down here you need to submit an application for DOOP probationary…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah – cram a clam in it, fleshsack,” Bender said. “What the hell is it we’re hauling anyway? Is it porn? I bet it’s porn.” He wanked over to one of the enormous DOOP-stamped crates and set about trying to lever it open.

“Stop it!!” Hermes shrieked, leaping over the desk to grab Bender’s arms. “Ya clankin’ cacophony of colliding cogs and camshafts! If we tamper with this shipment we’ll be lookin’ at the inside of a DOOP prison!”

“You mean YOU will be,” Bender retorted. “This haul’s your responsibility, ain’t it?”

“Well technically yes, but…”

“Then get your greasy paws of me or I’ll hit you with a shovel.” Bender moved to shove the Jamaican aside, but Hermes held up his hands, spluttering.

“Alright, alright, alright!” he said. “If you leave this shipment alone I’ll let you have a day off work.”

“A week!” Bender snapped.

“Alright a week,” Hermes relented.

“Two weeks!”

Never!

“Alright fine, a week. Starting now.” Bender pulled a cigar from his chest compartment, lit it, and blew a cloud of smoke in Hermes’ face. “Bwahahaha! Seeya later, loser!”

Hermes slumped in relief as the robot meandered away singing to himself. This particular shipment was far too important to allow idiots like Bender and the ice-cube from the stupid ages to gum things up.

Hours passed without incident. Bender found his way onto the bridge and was trying to play rock-paper-scissors with Zoidberg – neither of them had the right shaped hands for the game. Zoidberg continually produced ‘scissors’ even when he wasn’t trying to, while Bender could only make ‘rock’… nevertheless he was on a winning streak.

Fry took the ship through a number of minor course-corrections and gravity-boosts through manual control, and was proud of himself when nothing exploded.

Bender had finally tired of his game and sauntered over to Fry.

“I see eyeball’s been leaving you behind the wheel more often these days,” he observed. “Seems like she trusts you more than she used to. And that’s a trust that can be exploited…”

“I guess she does,” Fry said happily, tuning out his friend’s endless plotting. “It has been a long time since I destroyed anything valuable or threatened the lives of innocent people.”

“You’re right; you are slipping.”

“And she has been a lot nicer to me ever since I wrote that opera.”

Bender mulled on that for a moment. “Well… I’d be worried about that if I was you,” he said. “She’s at that age when human females start getting desperate for offspring. I say she’s sizing you up as a free source of genetic material, buddy. Run for the hills.”

“I don’t think that’s…” Fry trailed off as his eyes were drawn to the long-range scanner. For a moment a contact had registered at the edge of scanning range. It was weak and ill-defined, and on the next pass it had disappeared.

“Huh…” He called up the command routines for the high-powered radar array and fired a burst into the sector where the contact had been. Briefly the object returned to the screen, before becoming scattered and then vanishing altogether. It had been closer that time, but the ship’s computer hadn’t been able to lock onto it or produce identification.

“Bender, can you take a look out of the port… err… starboard side window?”

“No dice, meatbag, I’ve taken the week off.”

“But…”

“No.” “It’s a…” “No.”

“Could you just…”

“No.”

“Bender’s great.” “No…. arrr!” Bender marched away. And Fry was forced to resort to the other person on the bridge.

“Zoidberg, can you go and watch out the starboard window,” he said reluctantly. “Tell me if you see anything unusual while I try to get a fix on this…”

“Hurray! I’m useful!” The good doctor leapt up from the couch and ran to press his face against the reinforced plexiglass. “I see nothing, my friend.”

“Keep looking, I think there’s something out there, but it keeps vanishing…” Fry focused on the console, directing electromagnetic scans in a dozen different frequencies across the same vector. Should I call Leela? He wondered… It doesn’t seem like a big deal… probably just a chunk of comet debris. And if I wake her over something that trivial she might not think I’m competent any more…

“Anything, Zoidberg?”

“Nothing yet, but it’s a great pleasure to work with you… oh wait!”

“What?”

“There is something!” the crustacean said, clicking his claws excitedly. “Something big and dark is passing in front of the stars. I don’t know what it is, but it has style – black is the new black, they’re saying.”

“Oh hell…” He keyed the intercom for the Captain’s quarters and spoke apologetically into the microphone. “Leela, I’m sorry to wake you,” he said.

“What’s wrong, Fry?” came the muted reply a few moments later.

“We’ve got an object off to starboard. Scanner contact is wigging in and out so size and distance can’t be determined… seems like it might be a stealth ship or something.”

“Unless it’s an equipment malfunction, you’re probably right,” Leela said, appearing beside him and making him jump. “Asteroids don’t tend to deflect scanner beams.”

“Zoidberg confirmed visually,” Fry said, vacating the Captain’s chair and noting that Leela’s hair was untied, cascading past her shoulders like an amethyst waterfall.

She took the helm and studied the scanner readout. A ghostly shape was picked up, its position and size seeming to change from one second to the next. “I think you’re right, red,” she said, her eye narrowing. “Whoever they are, they’re operating a sophisticated stealth system. I need you to send out a friendly hail on all frequencies – can you do that?”

“No problem.” Fry dashed over to the communications console and manipulated the controls. “Broadcasting,” he said.

“Hello new friends!” Zoidberg said, waving a claw at the dark frigate. Leela looked past the lobster and saw the area of shadow passing in front of the stars.

“Any response?” she asked Fry.

“Nothing,” he replied, feeling his stomach knot.

“Damn it. They’re obviously after this stupid DOOP shipment. And now they know that we know they’re there.”

“They what - what?” Fry frowned in confusion at that sentence.

Leela shook her head. “We’re gonna break and run,” she said, keying the shipboard intercom. “All crew to battle-stations!”

“Bender’s taking a week off,” Fry said.

“He’s useless in a firefight anyway,” Leela muttered. “Fry, terrifyingly you’re actually our best marksman – you take the laser turret.”

“A million quarters in the video arcade well spent!” Fry said, whipping out a quick salute before dashing off.

Leela set her jaw and spooled the engines up to full power. Lets play, she thought.

The crew of the dark frigate had become aware of the PE ship’s scans, and now the little green freighter had increased speed and banked off toward Galactic west.

<<Attack them!>> the commander hissed, pointing a complex claw-thing at the forward viewscreen. <<Blow them into less than atoms!>>

<<Sir…>> the first mate raised a hesitant mandible. <<I should remind you that our orders are to capture the cargo intact.>>

<<Yes, yes, Kryzzerch – don’t bore me with the trivial details. Just do whatever has to be done.>> The commander slumped onto his perch, drumming his claws on a console and looking bored.

<<I suggest we target their engines.>>

<<I have an idea! Lets do that!>>

The dark frigate powered up from stealth mode, activating full engine power, shields and weapon systems. Like a mako shark crossed with a porcupine, the great spiky black behemoth swung onto an intercept course with the fleeing Planet Express ship.

Fry clambered quickly into the gunner’s seat, donning his helmet with targeting visor. The laser cannon’s controls responded to his touch, bringing the big gun around smoothly to point toward the rear.

“Main weapon system is active,” Leela said through his helmet radio.

“Disengaging safety mechanism and powering up,” Fry replied, baring his teeth in excitement and toggling a pair of switches. The cannon hummed a friendly note as five-hundred thousand volts of stored energy filled its coils.

“Ready to blast space invaders at your command,” he said.

“Wait until they fire,” Leela instructed. “We have to have clear and irrefutable proof of overt hostility.”

“Right, right… we’re the good guys, I know…” Fry glared at the dark shape closing in on a sharp tangent. “Just once I’d like to try my hand at being the bad guy; their job seems a lot easier – and they get to have cool names like ‘Doctor No’ or ‘The Green Goblin’.”

He gripped the controls and kept the crosshairs fixed on the approaching vessel. It was still out of range, but it was fast – Leela had the Planet Express ship at full acceleration and the enemy was still closing. There were few ships in the galaxy of any size that could match the PE ship’s dark matter engines.

Hermes joined Leela and Zoidberg on the bridge, looking flustered and uncertain.

“What is it? What’s happenin’?”

“We’re being pursued by an unidentified vessel,” Leela replied tersely as she watched the now-visible enemy frigate on the scanner.

“Sweet animal of someplace!” Hermes shouted. “It must be the Xylogens come to prevent delivery of the new weapon! We’re doomed! They got knives where we got fingers, and gattling guns where we got knives! They know no mercy! They gonna cut us up into little…”

“Shut up!” Leela yelled. “Man the weapons console – I want all four torpedo tubes dialled online and ready to fire straight away.”

Hermes looked uncertain.

“NOW, damn you!” she shouted. The Jamaican scrambled to the console and did as he was told.

Just then a siren wailed and the ship bucked violently under impact.

“Fry, return fire!” Leela shouted into the intercom.

Fry was already shooting volley after volley of concentrated laser fire. He’d opened up as soon as the dark frigate’s blue energy weapons had flared to life, blasting back at the enemy ship as waves of dazzling bolts slammed into the PE ship’s deflector shields and dissipated.

“Hey Fry!” Bender yelled from beneath his feet. “You up for a game of darts?”

“Busy!” Fry snapped, trying desperately to keep his bead on the enemy craft as Leela zigzagged.

“Oh right – if your darling sweetheart Leela asks you to shoot at a hostile attacker you’re all ‘yes ma’am, right away ma’am’, but when Bender wants something you’re suddenly too busy. Robot’s best friend indeed! Well fine, you have your fun. I’ll be all alone playing darts by myself.”

After the first barrage, the gauge in front of Leela told her the rear shields were already down by 50%. Whatever kind of energy weapon the enemy was using, it was powerful – far too powerful for a non-military tub like the PE ship to hold out against for long.

Suddenly a higher-pitch radar lock-on alarm sounded, and to her horror Leela saw two small blips appear on her scanner. The enemy had fired torpedoes.

“Brace for evasive action!” she shouted, preparing to corkscrew violently.

“No Leela, hold the course!” Fry said urgently over the comm. channel. “I got ‘em in my sights, just keep steady so I can aim.”

“Fry, we can’t survive a hit from one of those.”

“Trust me, Leela.”

She paused for a long moment and then relaxed slowly. “I do trust you.”

In the gunner’s turret, Fry sighted the two rapidly-approaching pinpoints of light. He fixed on the first and tracked it before firing off a burst of laser blasts that tore the torpedo to pieces, causing a cataclysmic explosion that lit up the quadrant of space like a miniature sun. The second torpedo flew onward, closing the gap. Fry squeezed of a barrage of shots, narrowly missing. He breathed out slowly and sighted again as the projectile neared.

Leela watched the torpedo on her monitor, with a sense of calm, ignoring the horrified shouts of Hermes and Zoidberg. She knew he’d never fail her. He’d fail at everything else because there was nothing else he cared about – but never her.

At the last instant, scant seconds before impact, the second torpedo vanished, shot down by Fry’s phalanx fire. The shockwave buffeted the ship and a glowing plasma ring washed past them.

“Good work, red,” Leela said. She used the cover provided by the explosion to initiate a manoeuvre.

Within the still-raging thermonuclear inferno of the torpedo detonation, the Planet Express ship performed a graceless nose-over-tail flip to point back in the direction it had come from. The engines flared, forcing a violent reversal of direction. In the cargo hold, Bender threw a dart toward the dartboard when the deck suddenly shifted beneath him – the ship’s artificial gravity unable to compensate for the violent about-face.

Somehow, when it stabilized, he found that the dart had hit him in the back of the head and lodged there.

The Xylogen frigate burst through the dissipating plasma cloud, only to be confronted by the Planet Express ship, bearing down on them head-on.

“NOW, Hermes!” Leela shouted. “All four torpedoes away!”

Hermes hit the four launch buttons simultaneously, and the projectiles blasted straight toward the big ugly face of the enemy ship. Leela peeled away, just as the weapons impacted with enormous fountains of fire and plasma. She took the PE ship zooming along the underside of the larger vessel, giving Fry free-rein to blast the enemy at close range where its shields would have no effect. He created a glowing path of fiery wounds along the other ship’s hull where clouds of crystallizing atmosphere vented explosively into the void. The Xylogens returned fire from innumerable gun ports along the serrated fuselage, but were unable to compensate for the little ship’s speed.

When they cleared the frigate’s rear, Fry swivelled and brought the cannon to bear on the three main engines now exposed. He unleashed an unending barrage of laser fire, sinking blast after blast into the big lightspeed propulsion cones. Fire and debris were disgorged, and one of the engines exploded outward in a spectacular mushroom of pure energy.

“Yahoo!” Fry bellowed as the explosion partially engulfed the other two engines on the enemy ship. His celebration was short lived – a concentrated hail of energy bolts followed the fleeing Planet Express ship, fired from a cruciform spire on the enemy’s vessel. With the PE ship in open space, and with no cover, she was struck by many of the blasts even despite Leela’s best attempts to weave through the onslaught. As the rear shields dissipated, a blue spear of energy lanced into the engine cone, causing a shower of kilometre-long sparks. The ship lurched, its acceleration suddenly unstable, and deep inside its innards, the port dark matter reactor detonated, tearing through the engineering deck like a tsunami of fire.

Fry tried to ignore the stricken shudders beneath his feet, focusing all his willpower on firing at the enemy. The Xylogen frigate was wallowing, trailing tendrils of superheated plasma and clouds of debris from its numerous wounds – but still, gradually, it was rounding its bloodied nose to face the PE ship once again.

The bridge of the Xylogen ship was awash in acrid smoke. Sirens blared mournfully as crewmen scuttled around, putting out numerous small fires.

<<Oh Gods, my ship!>> screeched the commander. <<Look what the devils have done to my beautiful ship!>> Damage reports pulsed yellow on the screen schematic, painting a picture of total chaos. The alien creatures looked on, aghast – none quite able to believe that one tiny freighter could have caused so much destruction.

The first mate cleared one of his throats. <<The enemy vessel’s main engine has been hit, sir,>> he said. <<She’s dead in the water.>> The screen changed to a shot of the Planet Express ship drifting with a slight spin. The laster turret continued to spit red beams.

<<Target that gunner!>> the commander growled. <<But don’t destroy the ship. I want those bastards alive.>>

<<And the cargo intact,>> the first mate added.

<<What cargo?>>

Fry watched a pair of blue energy pulses flare from the Xylogen ship and lance toward him. With the main engine out of commission, Leela wasn’t able to take evasive action, and the bolts slammed into the gunning turret. Fry threw an arm up to protect his head as sparks erupted around him – the laser cannon burst into flame, and the bubble canopy began to dissolve in a spiderweb of fine cracks.

“Holy pepperoni!” he exclaimed, pushing himself back from the cannon mount. He let himself fall backwards through the access hatch, a blast of flame from the fried laser knocking his helmet off as he went. As he landed heavily on his back at the bottom of the ladder, the turret bubble exploded outwards into space, sucking a torrent of atmosphere with it. Fry was picked up and thrown around in the sudden tornado of escaping air, slamming into the bulkhead numerous times until the emergency pressure hatch closed over the severed turret fixture.

“Oh man…” he muttered to himself as he lay dazed and bruised on the deck. “That was even worse than that time I slept in a clothesdryer…”

As he lay there trying to gather his wits and stop his ears from popping, he became aware of a familiar thumping pair of boots. Leela’s face suddenly appeared above him, full of fear – her eye was wet with tears.

“Oh God, Fry! FRY!?” She knelt down and lifted his head, noting the cuts and abrasions.

“What’s wrong?” Fry asked stupidly, looking at her with concern.

“The turret blew,” Leela choked, stifling a sob. “I thought you were in it… I thought...” She trailed off, suddenly feeling foolish and embarrassed.

“Aww, hey…” Fry reached up and gently wiped a tear off her cheek. “It’s okay purple – a little explosive decompression never killed anyone important.”

Leela chuckled in relief and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly as if to make perfectly sure he was real. Ever since the incident with the bee sting, she’d had a near-phobic terror of losing Fry.

Fry hugged her back, trying to ignore the pain from his various injuries. For a moment he forgot about their dire predicament and instead lost himself in the scent of her hair and the contours of her body pressed against him.

Leela composed herself and helped him up, and they stood awkwardly in silence for a few moments.

“So, are we boned?” Fry asked finally.

“Somewhat,” Leela replied. “The engine’s out – one of the reactors fried and made a mess of the engineering deck, so we’re pretty-much immobile.”

“My natural state.”

“…I can coax a little delta-V from the docking thrusters, enough to make some slow manoeuvres, but that won’t do us any good. With a week and a full workshop at my disposal I might have been able to repair and reconfigure the quantum tunnelling servos to distribute even thrust on the remaining reactor, but as it stands the propulsion array is too far out of alignment to ignite for even a short burst without risk of graviton implosion.”

Fry stared at her blankly. “Leela, I don’t know what you just said, but I do know that you’re the best Starship Captain in the galaxy, and if anyone can find a way out of a jam like this – it’s you.”

“I wish that were true, Fry,” she said. “But right now, we’re not going anywhere.”

“Now you see why I suggested we load up some oars.”

They both looked around as Bender clumped up to him with his optic sensors narrowed.

“What’s the big idea, skintubes?” he shouted, turning his head to show them the dart sticking out of it. “Can’t you be more gentle when you’re running from enemy gunships?”

“Shut your hole, Rodriguez!” Leela snapped. “If you want to live to see tomorrow you’ll go down to the torpedo room and load up the two spares.”

“Do it yourself!”

Fry frowned at the robot. “Bender, you do realize we could all die any minute, right?” he said.

“So?!” Bender snapped. “I’m not technically alive anyway. And I’ll be damned if I’m gonna waste the last minutes of my life trying not to die.”

The ship lurched suddenly beneath their feet and an ominous vibration washed over them.

“Oh no… they have us in a tractor beam,” Leela groaned.

“Arrr!” Bender threw up his manipulator arms. “Fine! I’ll go and load the stupid torpedoes into the stupid torpedo stupid tubes! But I hate you both.”

As the robot stalked off, Fry took Leela by the shoulders.

“Leela, you go down to the engine room and see if there’s anything you can do down there,” he said. “I know you think it’s hopeless, but just take a look and maybe something will come to you. I’ll take the helm – and when Bender’s done with those torpedoes I’ll give our friends a nice surprise and maybe buy you some more time.”

Leela was taken aback by the sudden assertive turn. Fry had become a lot more confident and adept in the past year. She liked it… a lot.

“Fry, you know I’m supposed to be the Captain,” she said wryly.

“Well, er…”

“Alright, I’ll take a look.” She nodded and moved away.

Fry jogged into the bridge to find Zoidberg running back and fourth whooping in terror and Hermes frantically shredding all of his documents. A shadow had fallen over the ship, and glancing out the side window Fry could see that it was the bulk of the enemy frigate filling the view and drawing closer.

“Hermes, I think you ought to break open the ship’s armoury,” Fry said, seating himself in the Captain’s chair.

“Oh my great zombie God,” the Bureaucrat moaned, hurrying off.

“Fry! Oh Fry!” Zoidberg scuttled over and grabbed Fry’s jacket with his pincers. “You have a plan, don’t you, my good friend?! Fry will save us all!”

“Well actually, I don’t really have a clue,” Fry confessed, shrugging.

“WHAT?! You’re a useless milk-sucking vertebrate!”

“Yeah, that’s me alright.”

The communications console chimed a warning note, and suddenly the viewscreen was filled with an image that made Fry’s bowels clench. The alien commander was the bastard child of a thousand horror movies – a complex mass of hooks and blades, organic and cybernetic, topped by a multi-faceted head with three blood-red eyes.

“Hi,” Fry said, waving hesitantly at the viewer.

Zoidberg fainted.

The Xylogen commander made a sound like a violin being raped by a tomcat, and Fry cringed. When the alien spoke again it was in English, if English happened to incorporate the swallowing of a cheese grater.

“Can you understand me now, human?” the creature hissed.

“Yeah, that’s slightly less horrific,” Fry replied, fidgeting nervously. “So… how’s it going?”

“SILENCE!” the commander bellowed, flecks of greenish spittle flying from its primary mouth. “Insolent Earthican filth! You have caused great damage to my vessel and sent many of my most loyal soldier caste to the cold tomb of space!”

“Yeah, it was a pretty cool battle,” Fry agreed, nodding to himself. “I’d say we both gave as good as we got. How ‘bout we call it a draw and just go our separate ways?”

The Xylogen commander narrowed two of his eyes in an effort to understand, then gave up and raised a serrated mandible threateningly.

“Know this, you barbaric fleshy fool – when I claim your ship and its cargo, you will be taken and tortured. My people have spent millennia perfecting the art of pain – it will be weeks before you finally die! I think I shall begin by flaying the skin from your primitive human reproductive organs.”

“Whoa!” Fry raised his hands in horror. “Shouldn’t you at least buy me a drink first? I mean, jeez – straight for the reproductive organs… doesn’t your species know anything about ‘subtlety’?”

The comm. link went dead and Fry felt suddenly ill. Hermes walked in carrying an armful of grimy, rust-pitted old laser pistols and plasma rifles from the ship’s antiquated armoury. He stepped over Zoidberg and set the meagre arsenal on the deck.

“Oh dear,” he muttered. “I forgot to file a provisional higher-duties request form for on-the-job handling of firearms… where’s my briefcase?”

“Not now, Hermes,” Fry said, racking his memory for some of the spacecraft technology that Leela had painstakingly explained to him. “The alien ship needs to lower its shields in order to project a tractor beam, right?”

“I think so, mon.”

“All right – I need you to get me a fix on the position of the tractor beam projector – I’m not ready to have my reproductive organs flayed just yet. And when I am, it’ll be by a one-eyed, purple-haired goddess, not by some disgusting space creature.”

“What? Who’s talking about me?” Zoidberg sat up groggily. “Oy, I had the most horrible nightmare, I did. I dreamed we were being attacked by terrifying pointy alien monsters!”

“Wow, that’s an amazing coincidence, Zoidberg,” Fry said. “Because actually…”

The distance between the two battle-ravaged starships closed slowly; as the Planet Express ship was drawn inexorably toward its doom, the dark frigate loomed ever larger, dwarfing the little green freighter.

Leela reached the engineering desk, her eye watering from the smoke that still billowed from wrecked components. As she had guessed, the place was a complete mess.

“I don’t know what Fry thinks I’m gonna do with this,” she muttered, eying the tangled mess. From toward the bow of the ship she could faintly hear Bender cursing as he carried the two spare torpedoes toward the tubes. She frowned and tried to focus on the scene in front of her – the port side dark matter reactor had exploded, reducing everything around it to scrap metal. Leela saw in 2D, which made it easy to picture what she saw as a schematic – converter lines linking energy distributors and pulse capacitors… all missing, and there were no replacements to be found on the…

“Wait…” Leela’s eye widened and she dashed off toward the front of the ship.

Hermes produced a layout of the enemy ship onscreen, showing a green blip where the tractor beam was being projected from.

“Dats it there, mon,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr Hermes,” Fry said, rubbing his chin. He keyed the shipboard intercom. “Mr Bender, how are we going with those torpedoes?”

Instead of Bender, it was Leela’s voice that answered him. “Fry, can you make do with just one?” she asked, sounding determined and hopeful.

“I guess so,” he replied. “Why?”

“I’m gonna perform surgery on one of them,” Leela replied.

Zoidberg sniffed derisively. “Oh, so now everybody thinks they’re a doctor?”

“Shut up, Bones,” Fry snapped at the lobster. “What about the other one?” he asked into the intercom.

“Locked and loaded, buddy,” Bender replied. “That’ll be fifty bucks.”

Fry shut off the intercom and narrowed his eyes at the enemy ship that filled the viewscreen.

“Mr Hermes,” he said. “Target the tractor beam projector.”

“Ya wanna stop with the ‘Mr’?” Hermes muttered as he manipulated the weapons control.

“Wait for my signal…”

Hermes waited expectantly.

“Or… now’s fine I guess…”

Rolling his eyes, Hermes dialled up the torpedo and hit the release button. They felt a slight clunk as the projectile slid away, then watched it through the window, quickly lining up and jetting off toward the enemy vessel.

“Come on, come on!” Fry mumbled through clenched teeth, watching as the deck guns on the dark frigate opened up in an attempt to destroy the approaching weapon. The torpedo flew straight and true, lancing into the yawning cavern of the dock and slamming into the bulbous tractor array. The explosion lanced through the enemy ship’s unprotected innards, splashing great clouds of plasma and atmosphere through the tremendous rent it left. Watching such immense destruction unfold in absolute silence seemed strange and unnatural, so Fry made some explosion noises with his mouth to accompany the view.

With Bender’s help, Leela was able to prise open the casing on the spare torpedo to reveal the inner components.

“So what are you trying to do?” Bender asked. “You gonna blow us up and take the enemy out with us in a blaze of nuclear glory?”

“What? No!” Leela stared at him.

“Aww… I’ve always wanted to die in a blaze of some kind of glory.”

“You can die some other time, Bender,” she muttered, reaching into the torpedo casing with her handheld multitool. “Right now I need your help to remove this torpedo’s propulsion system.”

“Oh, I see where you’re going with this,” Bender said with a chuckle. “You’re gonna make us an escape vehicle and leave the other fleshbags to their doom. I like your thinking!”

“Bender, that’s not…” She rolled her eye and nodded tiredly. “Yeah sure, that’s what I’m doing… now give me a hand.”

The Xylogen commander’s image came onscreen once again, and Zoidberg ran away whooping down the hall. Fry and Hermes paled before the terrifying visage – the creature was now silhouetted by flame and flashing lights.

The first sound from the alien’s razor-toothed maw was a bellow that could not have been intelligible in any language.

“God bless you,” Fry said automatically.

“Bastardized underhanded human scum!” the commander shouted. You have tried my patience for the final time! The only reason I haven’t blasted your pathetic ship out of existence is the superweapon you are carrying. But I’m willing to risk destroying the prize if it will stop the Brannigan from getting it… and if it will kill YOU!”

“Uh…” Fry looked at Hermes. “Did hey say ‘superweapon’?”

“That’s need-to-know,” the Jamaican replied.

“You mean we’ve been hauling some kind of doomsday device and you didn’t mention it?”

“The Captain knows, and I know. The rest of you are grunts – you’re not supposed to ask questions.”

“Leela knew?” Fry shook his head. “No wonder these guys are pissed… we’re carrying the DOOP’s trump card to their defeat…”

“SILENCE!” the Xylogen commander broke in. “Eject the weapon components from your cargo hold or I will open fire. How long do you think your shields will hold?”

Not long, Fry knew. “Uhh… can you give me a minute?” Without waiting for a reply he put the Xylogen on hold and turned to Hermes.

“Fry, mon, we can’t give them da weapon,” Hermes said. “Not only will we be thrown in prison, but the Xylogen will have the means to destroy the Earth!”

Fry groaned and slumped lower in the chair. “What would Kirk do?” he said to himself. Reluctantly he brought the Xylogen back onscreen and cleared his throat.

“Uh, sir… or madam,” he began, forcing Hermes to bury his face in his hands. “We’ve considered your proposal and decided we can’t give you our cargo. However, we can offer you a lovely set of steak knives that come with a free…”

“You will suffer dearly for this insolence!” screamed the alien.

“Yeah, I got that part.”

The image disappeared from the screen and Fry stared blankly, slowly reaching for the intercom.

“Leela?” he said.

“What is it Fry?” Leela replied from somewhere in the ship.

“Uh… they’re about to open fire again.”

There was a long silence before Leela responded. “Fry, do exactly as I say,” she said. “As soon as the first barrage hits, reduce all power to emergency level and shut off all internal and external lights – we’re gonna play dead.”

Leela left Bender welding a support strut in the engine room and raced toward midship. Such was her haste she forgot her lack of depth perception and hit her head on a protruding pipe, swearing loudly. She reached the garbage jettison chute and hastily piled the numerous bags of Slurm cans, meal wrappers and assorted vestiges lying nearby into the already half-full tube.

Task complete, she positioned herself with her hand poised above the release button and braced expectantly.

The enemy frigate opened up with a blast of energy bolts that showered down on the Planet Express ship, buffeting it violently. On the bridge Fry followed Leela’s instructions, taking the ship down to minimum power and killing the lights. For her part, Leela slammed down the jettison button, sending the tube of garbage blasting out into the void.

The Xylogen commander saw the PE ship’s energy signature diminish and a jet of gas and debris spew from within.

<<Hold fire!>> he snapped. <<They are finished.>>

The PE ship was now dark and silent. Leela felt her way along the handrail, groping blindly until a weak light appeared ahead of her. Fry clambered down an access ladder with several glow sticks strapped to his red jacket, and when he saw her he smiled.

Leela was sweaty and smeared with grease, and Fry was suddenly very aroused. He glanced down at her tank top clinging wetly to her breasts and realized she wasn’t wearing a bra.

“Hey, neat trick,” he said absently.

“Yeah, something I read in an old combat journal,” she replied, noticing his wandering eyes and deciding to let him enjoy the view. “You empty the garbage tube at the right moment and it looks like the enemy scored a hull breech. That should give us some time, but eventually they’re gonna send a shuttle over to salvage our cargo.”

Fry looked up. “Yeah about that,” he said. “The bad guy mentioned what it is we’re carrying. I had no idea…”

“Fry… you know that I…”

“Can’t tell the grunts, right?” Fry shrugged. “It’s okay I guess. I don’t suppose it would have made any difference anyway.”

“You’re not a grunt, Fry,” Leela said seriously. “You’ve been wonderful through all this, no matter what happens. I’m really impressed.”

He perked up. “You really mean that?”

“I do. I think you could be Captain material. I might have to start watching out for my job.”

Fry chuckled. “Thanks purple,” he said, stepping closer to her. Leela inclined her head to let him gently rub a smudge of grease off her cheek. Slowly she closed her eye and turned to nuzzle his palm. She felt a warm glow within herself, and a sudden light-headed contentment that seemed to wash away the horrific, desperate situation they’d found themselves in. Suddenly it was just the two of them and nothing else mattered.

“So what’s our next move?” Fry asked quietly.

Acting on wild impulse, Leela pressed herself against him and brought her lips close to his.

“How about this?” she whispered.

“Sounds good to me.”

As they leaned close to kiss there was a loud clang at the end of the narrow hallway, and an irritatingly familiar voice.

“You meatbags choose a time like this to reproduce!? Come on – we got an engine to fix!!”

Leela and Fry both sighed and slumped their shoulders simultaneously.

“Later,” Leela whispered to him with an apologetic smile. She settled for a quick peck on the lips and pulled away from him. She followed Bender toward the engine room, leaving Fry standing with his cheeks flushed and a dazed expression on his face.

Hermes left the bridge deserted – with no engines and the systems in standby there was nothing anyone could do there anyway. He passed the medibay and glanced in to see Zoidberg crumpled in a corner in the gloom with his back against the hull and his claws over his head quivering in misery. For a moment Hermes almost felt sorry for the disgusting crustacean, then the doctor let out a squirt of defensive ink that spattered the floor. Hermes walked away.

There had been tight spots before, more than a few, but the Planet Express crew had always managed to find a way through. This time though… it seemed they had nothing left to fight with, nothing they could do that would be anything more than prolonging the inevitable. Hermes wondered if the long-range communications array was operational so he could file his early death notice with Central.

He climbed down to the lower deck and found Fry staring dreamily at the wall.

“Fry, mon?”

“Huh? Oh, hi…” Fry broke out of his daydream.

“What now?”

“What… oh.” The delivery boy straightened and squared his shoulders, as if suddenly remembering where he was. “I guess we need to get ready… to make a last stand.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.” Hermes ran a hand through his dreadlocks. “They may think we’re depressurized, but the airlock is still the easiest access point.”

“So we set up barricades?”

The Jamaican nodded despondently. “Great moose of Syracuse,” he muttered. “I’m a bureaucrat, not a soldier!”

“Hey, don’t worry Hermes,” Fry said encouragingly, patting the older man on the shoulder. “I’m actually a veteran of a few interstellar wars, you know. Stick by me and you’ll be fine!”

Hermes nearly choked. He didn’t know wether to laugh or cry.

Bender gingerly reached around inside his chest compartment and withdrew a cylindrical power coupling unit. He reluctantly handed it to Leela, who began attaching it to the haphazard, jerry-rigged converter array she’d been busy constructing.

“Uh, Leela…” the robot said uncomfortably, fidgeting and looking at the floor.

“Yeah?”

“I’m uh… gonna need that power coupler back later.”

Leela looked at the unit in her hand. “Why, what’s it for?” she asked.

Bender leaned close and whispered in her ear. Leela’s eye widened and she reddened slightly.

“Oh, I see…” she said, embarrassed. “Well… I’ll try to be careful with it.” As disturbed as she was to be handling a piece of the robot’s equivalent of genitalia, she was also touched that Bender would freely offer the use of his components. She didn’t comment – his rare moments of decency weren’t something he was proud of, but they were the thing made him just tolerable enough not to smash to pieces with a sledge hammer.

The monstrosity that she’d constructed with Bender’s help was a precarious welded and duct-taped assortment of hastily-connected distributors and converters cobbled together from the existing hardware, the few undamaged parts of the ruined reactor, and the propulsion system from the scavenged torpedo. Essentially it was a bypass of the damaged energy link to the main engine, but the problem was its capacity – the power transfer rod from the torpedo wasn’t designed to take a load as large as what the dark matter reactor would produce. Leela had looped coolant hoses around the component, but it would still run dangerously hot and produce a lot of radiation.

She stood back from the mess of incestuously connected parts and frowned at it in the semi-darkness.

That wasn’t the worst part. A quick system diagnosis had shown her that three of the thrust lenses in the engine cone were damaged, but remote access to the thrusters was inoperative. Someone was going to have to go outside and remove the damaged lenses or they would explode with any application of throttle and completely destroy what was left of the engine.

She supposed it would have to be her. She started off to find a pressure suit.

“Hey, you want I should go out and get rid of those busted lenses?” Bender said, puffing on his cigar.

Leela stopped in her tracks and stared at the robot in amazement.

“Bender… why are you being helpful?” she asked, suddenly suspicious. One unselfish act in a day was reasonable, but two was downright scary.

“What? A handsome heroic guy can’t help out his deadbeat loser friends?”

“Not usually, no.”

“Ahh.” The robot folded his coil arms and looked away. “Lets just say I’m a hopeless romantic,” he muttered quietly.

“What? What do you mean?” Leela narrowed her eye.

Bender looked at the floor and spoke in a rapid monotone. “You-and-Fry-seem-to-be-getting-really-close and-I-want-to-see-the-two-of-you finally-discover-some-happiness-together and-it’d-be-a-damn-shame-if-you-both-got-killed-before-you-could-do-that and-if-you-ever-tell-anyone-I-said-that-I’ll-burn-your-house-down-with-you-inside.”

Leela gaped and then smiled slowly. “Oh Bender, that’s so swe…”

“If you say ‘sweet’, I’ll punch you,” the robot growled. “Now get outta my way.”

She followed him, smiling to herself as he swept up a toolkit and moved off. Despite his coarse, offensive, violent, criminal exterior, Bender really was a softie at heart.

They reached the cargo hold and found Fry and Hermes busy putting up a rudimentary barricade around the airlock door out of furniture and provision crates. They’d brought all the guns from the armoury and lined them up in preparation for combat.

As Bender trudged past, he snapped at Hermes: “This is a travesty: I had to work, so my week off starts tomorrow – got that, meatbag?” Not waiting for an answer, he moved to the airlock and activated the door cycle.

Fry watched the robot’s silvery sheen disappear outside and glanced questioningly at Leela.

“He’s going to give us a chance,” she explained.

“Did you have to bribe him?”

“Oddly no,” she said, smiling to herself. “Although I think there is something he wants the two of us to do when all this is over.”

“Oh God, he doesn’t want us to polish his ass, does he?” Fry groaned. “You can’t begin to imagine how much chewing gum winds up down there…”

Leela shook her head. “I’ll tell you later.”

Just then they were interrupted as Zoidberg ran into the hold with his claws up, whooping maniacally.

“They’re coming! They’re coming!” he shouted. “It’s every lobster for himself!” With that, he dove behind one of the large DOOP crates.

The others looked at each other, and then moved to one of the portholes. Outside, visible against the backdrop of the larger enemy vessel, was a small, sleek shuttlecraft that was rapidly closing the distance to the PE ship.

Bender used the small suction pads in his feet to walk gingerly along the ship’s outer hull toward the rear. Somehow he had managed to keep smoking his cigar even despite the notable absence of oxygen for combustion in the complete vacuum. The cold silence of space unnerved him a little, so he switched on a folk music mp3 file to play in his hard drive. The lack of artificial gravity outside the ship made the toolkit he carried bounce around with every move he made, its mass pulling his arm this way and that, and for one instant his body was yanked partly back the way he came.

In that instant he caught a brief glimpse of something.

He looked back again and swore to himself. One of the enemy’s shuttlecraft was making a B-line for the Planet Express ship.

He had to work fast.

Turning on his heel and trying desperately not to lose footing and float away, Bender moved as fast as he could toward the engine.

Fry, Leela, and Hermes took up positions behind the makeshift barricade, picking up weapons and digging in for a firefight. Fry chose a pair of laser pistols, while the others selected plasma rifles. Zoidberg could be heard whimpering somewhere behind them – he’d be useless in a gun-battle anyway, his pincers quite unable to work a trigger mechanism.

“Set weapons to low power,” Leela instructed. “We don’t want to blow a hole in the bulkhead.”

“Or do we…?” Fry pondered. “No… no, we don’t.”

Leela raised one side of her eyebrow at him. “They’ll be expecting vacuum in here,” she went on. “But as soon as they access the airlock controls they’ll see the cabin is still pressurized, so there’ll be no element of surprise.”

“Maybe not,” Fry said, “but coming through that airlock they’ll be in a bottleneck, and if fighting in the DOOP army taught me anything, it’s that a bottleneck is not a good place to be. I had my tongue caught in a bottle for nearly two hours! The other soldiers laughed at me and wouldn’t help me get it out… God what a senseless war that was…”

Hermes looked away and moaned. “Sweet horsefly of Narrabri,” he said. “I’m fighting for my life alongside a moron…”

“Hey - don’t you talk about Leela like that!”

They all looked up at the dull thump that heralded the docking of a smaller craft to the PE ship’s airlock. Crouching down behind their defensive position, they prepped their weapons and waited expectantly as the airlock cycled.

The damaged engine cone was still radiating heat, and the electromagnetic leakage became stronger the closer bender got. He climbed awkwardly past the rim of the cone and started down the ‘dish’ face. The damage done by the Xylogen attack was plainly visible as a dark smudge across the surface, at the centre of which the metal had been shorn apart and three of the crystal lenses that dotted the engine cone were cracked beyond repair. Thin tendrils of plasma leaked from within, and the occasional arc of residual electrical charge played across them and out into space.

Bender tossed his cigar away, and it went spiralling into the darkness. Using the lenses as handholds, he climbed down the face of the engine until he reached the damaged section. With one hand, he opened the toolbox and fished around inside for a socket piece, but a sudden burst of electricity arced out and hit him, causing his servomotors to constrict. The resulting spasm sent the toolbox flying away into space.

“Oh damn you!” he spat. Growling and muttering further, he set about working the heavy-duty screws with his three-fingered manipulator claws. It was going to be painstaking work since most of the screws had superheated and partially melted into the engine casing.

The airlock revolved with a hiss, and from within a cloud of vapour, the Xylogen boarding party moved forward…

“What the…?!” Fry almost laughed.

“Jeez-Louise, they’re…” Leela gaped in astonishment.

They were the size of hamsters. Armour-plated and bristling with weapons, but no more than a few inches high.

“Don’t let their size fool you!” Hermes warned through clenched teeth. “Those little bastards have obliterated entire civilizations!”

“What, what’s going on?” Zoidberg moved out from his hiding place and looked upon the attacking force. “Oh, they’re so adorable!” he crooned. “Like a clutch of hatchlings – to think I was so afraid of these little…”

“Zoidberg ya demented shellfish, get down!” Hermes yelled. Too late.

The diminutive Xylogen force opened fire with their miniature energy pulse rifles, and Zoidberg was struck in the thorax by a sizzling barrage. He was thrown backwards by the combined blast, and charred viscera was blasted across the hold with the scent of boiled lobster.

When he hit the deck he was in two pieces.

“Oh my God!” Fry shouted shrilly. “They killed Zoidberg!”

“YOU BASTARDS!” Leela seconded.

Then the gunfight started in earnest. The three Planet Express crew firing from their sheltered position down upon the tiny alien fighters that scuttled rapidly back and fourth across the deck. The humans scored a lot of hits, but most of the Xylogen troops got back up and kept going, their ablative armour protecting them from the blasts.

Fry, Leela, and Hermes were forced to fall back as their barricade was quickly blown apart.

“To hell with this,” Fry growled, switching his laser pistols back to full-power against Leela’s advice. He opened up wildly against the insect-like creatures that were flowing across the floor, blasting them and the deck plates into glowing molten patches.

“Fry, be careful!” Leela warned.

“There’ll be time to be careful when we’re dead!” he replied.

The Xylogens fell back momentarily, but then counter-attacked in a pincer movement, unconcerned by how many of their own number was lost. One of the aliens leapt high into the air and landed on Fry’s face. It clung there, hissing and trying to slash at his eyes with multiple blade appendages. As Fry flailed frantically, Leela expertly swung the butt of her rifle and caught the creature, sending it spinning away. She twirled the rifle around and followed through with a plasma shot that took out the alien before it even hit the deck.

Slowly, the three of them were forced back and back.

Bender cast away the last damaged lens unit and climbed back up the engine and onto the main fuselage. One look down the length of the hull showed him that the enemy shuttle had docked at the airlock.

“Oh, this bends!” he griped, trying to think of another way back into the ship. A thought struck him, and he started off toward the bow. Progress was slow, moving with the aid of the suction pads, and the thought of his friends in peril made Bender growl in frustration. Reaching the lower starboard stabilizer fin, he came to a decision. He moved out onto the fin and positioned himself on the leading edge. Electronic butterflies fluttered in his stomach simulator as he prepared for his next move – the last time he’d found himself at the mercy of zero gravity in deep space had been a long and painful journey. If he misjudged this, he could find himself on another lonely tumble into the cosmos.

Getting his feet under him he braced for a few seconds and then, with an anticipatory squeak of terror, pushed himself off the fin.

Thankfully, his aim was straight. He sailed along silently, floating past the enemy shuttlecraft and noting the flash of weapons fire showing through the portholes. The nose of the ship drew near, and he extended his arms, stretching them out to near their full length to catch hold of the ship’s red ‘running board’ strip. Using his forward momentum he was able to swing himself down under the nose, where he gently touched down and applied his suction pads.

Breathing a mental sigh of relief, he moved to one of the torpedo launch tubes and knelt to begin prising the cover open.

They kept coming, attacking in waves. They fired their tiny guns and twirled their tiny blades, screaming battle-cries as they leapt into the fray, meeting their death against the humans’ weapons one after the other.

The three Planet Express crew had scrambled past the two halves of Zoidberg and taken some small amount of refuge behind the DOOP crates.

“Tenacious little monsters!” Leela gasped, ducking back behind cover and dropping her uselessly overheated rifle. “They just don’t give up!”

“Yeah? Well we’re much less… giving-up…ish… than they are,” Fry said, briefly confusing himself.

“Maybe if we sacrifice Fry to them, they’ll let the rest of us live,” Hermes suggested.

“Hey, yeah – it worked with those IRS auditors.” Fry stepped forward. “I’ll do it,” he said. “For the greater good.”

“Nobody’s getting sacrificed!” Leela snapped, then cringed when a small lump of Zoidberg fell from the ceiling and slid off her shoulder. “Err… nobody else, I mean.”

They all ducked when a volley of energy blasts spattered into the crate near their heads. The burst of gunfire ripped apart several planks and the side of the crate split open suddenly, falling to the deck and releasing a small landslide of brownish rectangular objects.

The Xylogen boarding party and the Planet Express crew both stopped to look at the pile in surprise. It seemed that the DOOP crate was filled entirely with…

“Mud bricks?” Hermes said, looking closely at the pile of objects on the deck. “What in the name of Jah is going on here?”

“Where’s the superweapon?” Leela wondered.

“Wait, I think I get it,” Fry said. “Mud bricks are these guys’ secret weakness!” He picked up one of the bricks and hurled it at a nearby Xylogen. It hit the alien and split in half on its carapace, leaving the creature unharmed.

“No Fry,” Leela said. “I see what’s going on - we’ve been duped. We weren’t commandeered to transport their weapon – we were used as a decoy!”

“HUMANS!” one of the creatures screamed up from the floor. “Where is the weapon?”

“We don’t have it,” Leela replied, leaning down to address the tiny attacker. “It isn’t on this ship.”

The Xylogen glared up at her balefully with its three red eyes. “Very well,” it hissed. “In that case – DIE!”

Fry grabbed Leela by the back of her tank top and yanked her away just in time to avoid a face full of energy pulse. He pulled her close to him and fired an answering burst from his laser pistol at the attacking aliens. Leela grabbed another laser pistol that Fry had tucked into his waist band, then dropped to a couch and began shooting.

“Why are you still fighting us?!” she screamed at the enemy. “We haven’t got what you want! This is pointless!”

The Xylogens didn’t hear or didn’t care. They kept coming, forcing Fry, Leela, and Hermes back toward the back of the cargo hold. Along the way, they blasted open the other two crates to find them similarly filled with stacks of low-grade mud brick that would have been better employed in third-world housing programs.

Hermes stumbled on an uneven deck plate, and was unable to avoid one of the enemy’s shots that caught him a glancing blow to the side of his head. He fell unconscious, with a blackened welt along his right temple and a large portion of his dreadlocks burnt away.

Fry and Leela didn’t have a chance to tend to their fallen friend – they’d found themselves pressed back into a corner and surrounded by the little spider-like space demons. It was suddenly very quiet, and the Xylogen paused expectantly, as though savouring their victory. Fry edged in front of Leela, putting himself between her and the aliens.

“Well Captain,” he said quietly as he glared down at the ring of deadly enemies, “it’s been an honour and a privilege. And I wouldn’t change a thing… except the part where we got blasted to pieces by tiny little monsters.”

“Oh Fry…” Leela gripped his shoulder. “There’s so much I wanted to say to you… but I kept putting it off… and now I may never get the chance. Fry… I don’t want to die without telling you… that I lo…”

“DID SOMEONE CALL FOR A SAVIOUR?!”

The coarse shout echoed around the cargo hold and the Xylogen troops turned just in time to see an irate bending robot launch into their midst and begin stomping furiously, crushing one alien after another into pungent yellow ooze on the deck.

“Hey, this is kinda fun!” Bender said. “Like stomping grapes to make wine… hey I wonder if we can ferment these critters?”

“Nice going, jerkwad,” Fry said angrily as he used the distraction to rally from the corner and fire on the Xylogen. “She was about to tell me she loved me – couldn’t you have waited five seconds?”

“Oh well excuuuuuse me!” Bender snapped, kicking one of the aliens across the hold. “Maybe I’ll just let you get fried next time!”

The tables turned, and the battle quickly became a rout. With their numbers depleted, the Xylogen troops were unable to hold back the PE crew, and one by one they died. The last one left standing fired off a wild blast from his energy rifle while stumbling backwards. A lucky shot struck the robot square in the chest and blew him to pieces.

“NOO!” Fry screamed, reaching out to catch Bender’s head.

Leela rounded on the remaining Xylogen, whose gun had expended its energy reserve. The little creature looked up into the barrel of Leela’s laser and cleared one of its throats.

“I will accept your unconditional surrender,” it announced, trying to sound as threatening as possible.

Leela narrowed her eye.

“Bite my shiny metal ass,” she said, and pulled the trigger.

And then it was over.

“Get your own damn material, big boots,” said Bender’s head, sounding groggy.

“Bender, you’re alive!” Fry said.

“My head is. I don’t think the rest of me’s gonna be disco dancin’ for a while.” They looked down at the charred and dented remains of Bender’s body lying amid scores of splattered Xylogens.

Leela moved to where Hermes lay and began inspecting the burn on his head.

“Is he okay?” Fry asked.

“His breathing is steady,” she replied. “And the burn seems to be only superficial. Help me get him to the medibay.”

“Oh sure,” Bender griped from under Fry’s arm. “I’m just a head, but lets all help the guy with the little burn.”

“Yes, let’s all help the ethnic minority!” another voice chimed in. “Meanwhile, I’m lying here in two pieces – and I have a splinter in my egg sack.”

“Oh my God!” Leela breathed. “Zoidberg!?” She raced over to where the top half of the lobster lay, leaking various fluids from where the lower part of his torso should have been attached.

“Does it hurt?” she asked, not knowing what to do.

“Not as much as it does when you forget my birthday!” Zoidberg folded his arms indignantly. “But I do seem to be dying. As a final request, I would like a bronze statue of me to adorn every street corner and…”

“What can we do?” Fry asked.

“Ugh.” The Doctor rippled his mouth appendages. “The medical facilities on this vessel are woefully inadequate. I demanded new equipment from the Professor, but does anyone ever listen to Zoidberg?”

“What about the Nimbus?” Fry asked Leela.

“It would have the capacity and expertise to treat a Decapodian,” she confirmed. “But even if I can get the engine going on half capacity it’ll still be days before we reach the Xylogen system. He’s not going to last that long.”

“Hmmm…” Fry narrowed his eyes and stroked his chin. “Unless…”

It had been quite a task, but they had finally managed to cram both halves of Zoidberg into the ship’s refrigerator to keep him fresh until they could locate a suitable medical team. The crustacean hadn’t been too keen on the idea, and even in his injured and woozy state he’d managed to rip a few holes in Fry’s jacket before they’d gotten the door shut.

“Don’t worry about it,” Fry told Leela and Bender while he patted the fridge door. “Being frozen isn’t so bad. It’s kinda like going to sleep… on a glacier.”

Hermes was propped up on a bed in the medibay tanked out on morphine with a cellular regeneration pack strapped over one side of his head. And Bender’s body had been collected and placed in a pile in one corner.

“Oh that reminds me,” the robot’s head said from the floor. “You guys wanna go check in my chest compartment? I got a gift to send to our friends out there.”

“Is it just from you, or can we put all our names on it?” Fry asked.

Leela reached into the robot’s disembodied torso and pulled out a bulky spherical object.

“Bender, this is the warhead from the torpedo we dismantled.” Her eye went wide and she smiled wickedly, then turned and raced to the airlock where the enemy shuttlecraft was still docked. Without hesitating, she stepped through and into the dim pungent interior of the Xylogen craft. The ceiling was very low, forcing her to stoop.

She set the warhead down and activated its timer mechanism, selecting ten minutes. Then, using a pair of eyelash tweezers from her pocket, she manipulated the tiny controls on the shuttle’s piloting console, having to strain her eye to make out the diagrams on the little screen. Finding the alien craft’s autopilot, she set it to return to the mothership, hit the activation button on the warhead, then quickly dashed back through the airlock as it began to cycle closed.

With a small puff of delta-V, the sleek little shuttlecraft pushed away from the Planet Express ship and began to trawl slowly back toward the dark frigate that loomed beyond, carrying with it the ticking timebomb.

Leela rejoined Fry, and together they made their way up to the bridge.

“You managed to remove those damaged lenses?” Leela asked as she dropped down into the Captain’s chair.

“Yeah, yeah,” Bender replied from under Fry’s arm. “As usual I’m the only one who can get anything done around here.”

Fry set Bender’s head down on an empty seat and deliberately tightened a restraint harness over the robot’s mouth. He went on an angry, muffled rant.

Leela brought the systems back online and tracked the progress of the automated shuttlecraft on the short-range radar. It was nearing the mothership.

“Let’s give this a try,” she muttered to herself, gingerly selecting engine control and opening up the remaining reactor on minimum power. There was a deep hum and a slight vibration in the deck as the jerry-rigged power conversion apparatus struggled with the power load. And she hadn’t even lit the thrusters yet – the engine room would need a full radioactive decontamination when they got to the Nimbus.

A power load warning alarm went off, and Fry reached up from his station and silenced it.

“Leela, are we going to explode?” he queried quietly.

“Possibly,” she replied. “Most of our engine is now held together by duct tape, and half the components in it are designed to move a mass one thousandth the size of this ship.”

“Plus as soon as we engage the engine the bad guys are gonna start blasting us again, right?”

Leela smiled grimly. “Oh, they’ll have other things to worry about,” she said.

The shuttlecraft entered the main hanger bay of the dark frigate, moving deep inside to the docking terminal. Leela glanced at the time readout on her wrist thingy and edged up the power on the reactor, feeling the ship respond with an unhealthy quiver. Still she didn’t ignite the main engine – she was waiting for the right moment.

The warhead inside the shuttlecraft reached the end of its countdown, and the antimatter inside its containment sphere was released to impact normal matter, triggering a massive release of energy. From outside, it looked as though a new star had suddenly been born inside the Xylogen ship’s hanger bay.

“Now!” Leela said through clenched teeth. She activated the main engine, and the PE ship lurched forward with a violent buck, trailing a dirty cloud of isotopes.

The soft, unprotected innards of the alien frigate were torn asunder by the violent explosion that was amplified by its confinement. Entire decks were vaporized in the initial blast, and then the thermonuclear fire found its way to the rows of fuel tanks, and a secondary series of explosions ripped the ship apart from within.

In the bridge of the vessel, the commander scrabbled back and fourth in hysterics.

<<What is happening?>> he shrieked. <<What’s going on!?>>

<<We are defeated!>> the first mate told him. <<We must escape!>>

The commander drew himself up. <<Never!>> he said. <<A commander never abandons his ship, you coward.>> As he spoke, he was removing his ceremonial sash of command. With slow, deliberate motions, he hung the sash on the first mate’s neck, and then pushed past him and hurried away.

The first mate groaned and slumped his three shoulders as the ship shuddered violently and plumes of fire erupted from splits in the walls.

As the dark frigate was engulfed in a final devastating eruption of fire and plasma, the Planet Express ship chugged away.

As Gene Roddenberry had written more than a thousand years before, space truly was the final frontier. What he’d failed to mention, however, was that the frontier was a rough, brutal place where pain and death lurked behind every star and you had to bleed and hurt and grit your teeth just to make your way in the Universe.

In all fairness though, Roddenberry never actually went to space until after he died.

But despite all the terror and chaos and unreasoning hatred that went on in the vastness of space, none of those concerns could take away the beauty… the majestic brilliance of it all.

Fry found himself once again staring out at the cosmos in wonder through the bridge viewscreen. Leela watched him silently and a smile played across her lips.

The events of the last day had faded into a horrific blur. After their escape from the Xylogen clutches, the Planet Express ship had almost torn itself apart from the violent vibrations generated by the jerry-rigged engine. But Leela’s roughly thrown-together modification held together; it was noisy and unsteady, and the thrust was asymmetrical, but they’d piled on enough speed to plot a trajectory by, and with a few cleverly-mapped gravitational boosts along the way, they’d be able to reach the Nimbus fighting in the Xylogen home system inside of three days without having to engage the engines much.

It was, unfortunately, the closest port of call.

For once though, Leela was actually eager to see Zapp Brannigan… certainly for vastly different reasons than he was to see her. He had used her and her ship as a diversionary operation without her knowledge or consent – it was likely that the false intelligence of the superweapon’s presence on the PE ship had been deliberately leaked to the Xylogen to distract the aliens from the real transport vessel. And because of that three of her crew were now seriously injured and her ship was flying on a wing and a prayer – she was going to leave boot prints all over Brannigan’s head for what he’d done.

She thought of Hermes, still lapsing in and out of consciousness; the close-proximity energy blast to his head might have caused some neurological damage. And Bender – his body was scrap and would have to be replaced… she and Fry had committed to pitch in for the cost, and Bender put on a brave face, but they could tell he was quite depressed about losing his ‘birth’ body forever.

Oh, and there was Zoidberg too. She made a mental note to give that refrigerator to charity as soon as they returned to Earth – they could never eat from it again.

She engaged the autopilot and stood from the chair, stretching languidly. The accumulated scrapes, bruises, and frayed nerves suddenly hit her like a railgun blast, and all she wanted to do was flop down on her bunk and sleep for a thousand years, just like Fry.

Fry… She looked at him again, and this time he was staring back at her blankly. He looked as tired as she felt, and he still bore the assortment of shallow cuts and abrasions he’d sustained when the cannon turret blew. In the rush of escape and subsequent tending to Hermes, she had forgotten to look over his injuries.

“Bender, could you watch the ship for a while?” she asked the robot, picking up his head.

“Sure, that’s all I’m gonna be good for now anyway… watching things,” Bender replied bitterly. Leela looked worried, so he continued in a kinder tone. “It’s fine. Go on, get outta here big boots.”

She set him down on the main console and patted his head affectionately before walking over to Fry and taking him by the arm. Fry allowed her to lead him off the bridge, and Bender’s head shot him a lewd wink as he went.

“What’s up, purple?” he asked.

“Just checking you out,” Leela said, and then rephrased: “…checking out your injuries.”

“Oh, it’s nothing serious,” Fry said, then mentally kicked himself. “I mean… I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry.” He began limping slightly.

Leela smirked. Some things never changed.

She took a small medikit from the sick bay, and not wanting to watch Hermes gibber and hallucinate, took Fry to her own cabin. He stepped over the threshold, feeling like Indiana Jones breaking into the inner sanctum of some holy temple. The door slid shut behind him and he felt a little tingle of excitement.

“Just lie down and let me put some dressing on those cuts,” Leela told him, motioning toward her bunk.

“Woo,” Fry said, sitting down on the edge of the bunk. “It’s supposed to be an honour to dine at the Captain’s table – I must have done something REALLY good to be lying on the Captain’s bed.”

Leela chuckled and tousled his spiky red hair. “I know it’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to be,” she said, and then blushed slightly in the awkward silence that followed.

“Oh no - she’s onto me,” Fry muttered, grinning widely and rolling his eyes.

Leela playfully pushed him onto his back and sat down beside him. Using a bio-dabber from the medikit, she began gently swabbing the cuts on Fry’s head and applied protective films of synthetic skin. Fry closed his eyes and enjoyed her touch – she was soft and tender, occasionally tracing the lines of his face with the tips of her fingers. She seemed to be enjoying herself.

Leela noticed Fry’s white T-shirt was spotted with blood in a few places where tiny debris had scythed through the fabric during the depressurization.

“Take off your shirt,” she instructed, her voice suddenly husky.

Fry sat up and shrugged off his jacket. Leela reached up and helped him peel the shirt over his head.

“Oh God, Fry…” The delivery boy’s ribcage was crossed on one side by a large dark bruise that reached almost around to his spine.

“Got that when I fell down through the hatch,” he explained. “It’s no biggie…”

Leela very gently probed the bruised area with her fingers, checking for broken ribs. When she raised her eye she found that Fry was staring back at her intently; suddenly all pretence of a medical examination dissipated. She was sitting on her bed inches away from the man she loved, with her hands on his naked torso. Her pulse and breathing quickened; she licked her lips and slowly moved her hands up to his chest.

Fry was clearly experiencing the same impulse. He ran his hands along her thighs, hips, sides, shoulders, neck, and finally held her face between his palms, gazing into her beautiful eye.

She let him draw her closer, and their lips brushed lightly.

“Fry,” she whispered against his lips. “I love you.”

He smiled and whispered back: “I know. And I love you.”

They pressed against one another and kissed deeply and slowly. They had kissed before, but never like this – this was real, passionate, hungry, yet at the same time tender and gentle. Leela pressed Fry down onto the bunk and straddled him. When she finally broke the kiss Fry let out a long contented sigh.

“U leave me breathless,” he murmured. He watched open-mouthed as she let out her hair then unashamedly stripped off her tank top and tossed it away. “…Wow.”

As Leela leaned back down to lock her lips against Fry’s, their little green starship coasted quietly through interstellar space and the stars looked on.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident – the only exciting points were where the engine needed to be engaged to assist with gravitational slingshots. At those points the little ship bucked and screamed like an unbroken colt carrying its first rider.

Hermes was lucid enough to answer some questions about how he felt, but little else. Fry and Leela weren’t confident enough in their knowledge of medicine to attempt setting up an IV, so they had to carefully assist the bureaucrat to swallow some water.

Between these activities, and stints on the bridge to keep Bender company, Fry and Leela spent the rest of the time in Leela’s quarters exploring their newfound intimacy. It had taken a brutal and deadly space battle to do it, but the barrier that had stood between them for too long had finally been broken. Now Leela couldn’t understand why she had held him at arm’s length all that time – had it been fear? Inadequacy? Blindness from a life of looking at the world with one eye, in two dimensions, flat and logical? In any case, it was no longer important.

Of course, both of them had had sex before, but this had been the first time either of them had actually made love. For Fry it was the consummation of the most meaningful and mature relationship he’d ever had, and the realization of a long-held dream. For Leela, if was the first time in as long as she could remember that she’d slept with a man and not woken to feelings of guilt or shame or a sense of having been used. They were both happy.

Bender had immediately noticed the contented glow on his friends’ faces, and had delightedly poked fun at them.

“‘Ello, wots all this then?” he’d said in his curious Londoner accent. “You two organisms finally succumb to your primitive instincts? Oh! Oh! You gotta name your first kid after me!”

And so it went; as the PE ship limped laboriously onward the two lovers cultivated the tentative and beautiful union that had blossomed in the midst of chaos.

Captain Zapp Brannigan was bored. With the successful deployment of the secret DOOP superweapon, there had been precious little to do in the Xylogen system except mop up remnants of resistance on the three inhabited worlds. There was nobody but Kif to listen to his victorious monologues, and the little Amphibiosan weakling had been infuriatingly disinterested of late.

The light supper he’d just enjoyed was sitting heavy in his stomach as he absently stroked the velure of his uniform while he reclined in his command chair.

“Sir?” Kif said quietly, appearing by his side.

“Can’t you see I’m busy, Lieutenant?” Zapp snapped.

“I’m sorry sir, but we have a ship on the scope, approaching our position.”

“Aha!” Zapp leapt to his feet. “Finally some action! Target it with every weapon we have, and some other weapons we don’t have!”

Kif sighed. “It appears to be the Planet Express ship,” he said.

Zapp’s eyes widened. “The lady Leela!” he exclaimed. “Of course, I remember now. She and her vessel were instrumental in operation Clean Sweep… and now that she’s here, she can be instrumental in operation Red Hot Loving.

“Kif! Beam me over to her ship.” Zapp put his hands on his hips and stood expectantly.

Kif stared at him for a long moment before replying. “Sir, that technology doesn’t exist,” he said.

“And with that attitude, it never will!”

The little green Lieutenant looked away in disgust, and noticed the monitor readout. “Um… sir?” he said.

“What, what now?”

“The Planet Express ship seems to have sustained some substantial battle damage and it… it is flying toward us on a collision course.”

Zapp spun around in alarm and looked out the Nimbus’s forward viewscreen. Sure enough, a little green dot could be seen growing ever-larger.

“What is that crazy erotic woman doing?” he muttered to himself as the nose of the PE ship expanded into startling detail. “Brace for sexy impact!”

At the last moment, the Planet Express ship pulled up, but not before Leela activated the main cargo bay doors on the underbelly. As she nosed the green freighter up and over the bridge of the Nimbus, three large crates of mud bricks sailed onward and slammed into the warship’s hull, smashing apart and dispersing into a small dirty nebula.

Leela had made her point clear. And she would remove all doubt when she landed.

The Planet Express ship was parked in the Nimbus’s cavernous docking bay, and Leela was giving instructions to maintenance crews and DOOP medics when Zapp arrived with Kif in tow. She didn’t notice his presence at first as she watched Hermes being carried out of the PE ship on a stretcher and a pair of paramedics struggling with a frozen block of Zoidberg.

“Well, well, well – look what the solar tide washed up on Zapp’s shore,” a silky smooth voice crooned into her ear, and warm pungent breath fanned her neck. Leela automatically lashed her boot heel up and back, feeling it connect with satisfaction into something soft and small.

Zapp went down like the sack of crap he was, and curled into a whimpering ball. Kif hung back and tried not to snigger.

“You son of a bitch,” Leela snarled, turning to look down on Brannigan in contempt. “You sent my crew and I on a suicide mission as a damn decoy. Three of them are seriously injured. Don’t you have any morals or sense of responsibility you disgusting oaf – we were nearly all killed!”

“But you… still came… to be… by my side,” Zapp managed to croak. “Face it Leela… you just can’t… stay away.”

Leela kicked him in the stomach, hard, and rounded on Kif.

“You!” she snapped. “Did you know about this?”

“N… no,” he stammered. “This is the first I’ve heard of it, I swear. I would never knowingly endanger Amy’s friends.”

Leela accepted that with a curt nod. “Alright Kif, I believe you,” she said. “I trust that the DOOP will take care of our damage and tend to the crew’s injuries. After all, this was sustained in the engagement of a military directive.” She spat the last part of the sentence with bitter venom, casting a sidelong glance at Zapp as he climbed unsteadily to his feet.

“Of course,” Kif said. He inclined his head to Fry when the redhead meandered over.

“Yes, naturally,” Zapp said. “We will gladly repair the damage to your crew and tend to your ship’s injuries. But in the meantime, Leela, perhaps you would like to accompany me to the Lovenasium and tend to a little something else?”

Leela saw red. The bastard just wouldn’t stop! She balled her fist, and was about to strike him, when someone else unexpectedly beat her to it.

Fry’s fist lashed out and connected solidly with Zapp’s jaw, snapping his head around and causing him to stumble backward. Leela gasped in surprise and delight as Captain Brannigan spat blood, and a tooth hit the deck; he looked stunned and his eyes watered slightly. Fry advanced on him and he took a step back.

“You got a whole mouth full of other teeth,” Fry said slowly. “I can take the rest of them out one by one, or you can apologise to my Captain.”

Zapp’s eyes widened as he realized the boy really meant it. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard, gingerly wiping blood from his chin.

“I’m… sorry Captain Leela…” he said hoarsely. And then, not willing to face any more punishment from the Planet Express freaks, he turned on his heel and marched away with as much dignity as he could muster.

When Brannigan was out of earshot, Kif let out a little giggle.

“Oh, that was wonderful!” he said. “Phillip – you’re my hero!”

“Mine too,” Leela said, quite impressed. She gazed at Fry in wonder and he grinned back at her.

“Just like the old saying:” he said, “violence solves everything.”

She didn’t bother correcting him; instead she stepped close and kissed him – inflicting physical injury on Zapp Brannigan was about the sexiest thing he could have done for her, and she was going to show her gratitude.

Kif gaped for a moment and muttered: “oh my,” before quietly taking his leave.

With skilful application of medical nanomachines, both Zoidberg and Hermes were back on their feet within two days. During that time, the DOOP ‘ground’ crew conducted a near-complete refitting of the Planet Express ship, stripping out all damaged components and replacing them – the vessel hadn’t seen so many new parts since it was built. The trick Leela had pulled on the engine impressed the technicians enough that they asked her permission to include it in the next edition of the starship emergency procedures manual.

Zapp Brannigan remained mercifully absent during the rest of the stopover. Kif told them that he had secluded himself in his quarters and could sometimes be heard talking to himself. Leela wondered how long it would be before ‘the Zapper’ finally lost his mind and his command – Kif could be a real leader, and she thought it was high time he was elevated.

But that wasn’t her business.

When the ship repairs were finally complete, Kif led Hermes, Zoidberg, and Bender into the docking bay to meet Fry and Leela. Hermes’ head was patched with sticking plaster, and Zoidberg’s midsection was wrapped in bandages, but their eyes were drawn inexorably to Bender.

“Nobody look at me!” the robot wailed. “I’m hideous!”

“Ohhhh, no you’re not,” Leela said uncertainly. “It’s very… slimming.”

“I’m afraid it was the only spare body we had in stock,” Kif explained. “As a temporary measure it will have to serve until you can find something more appropriate.”

Bender’s head had been mismatched to a skeletal robot body that made him look like an anorexic. Fry couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Hey, cram it lover boy!” Bender shouted.

“Sorry Bender,” fry laughed. “As soon as we get back we’ll go straight to Mom’s and get you a new bending unit chassis – I promise.”

“Glad to see you guys are okay too,” Leela said, addressing Hermes and Zoidberg.

“Hurray! Someone’s glad I’m okay!” Zoidberg shouted happily.

Hermes glanced at his watch. “We’re behind schedule,” he grunted simply.

“Well, thanks for all the help, Kif,” Fry said, clapping the little alien on the shoulder.

“My pleasure,” Kif replied. “Once again, I extend the DOOP’s apologies for this unfortunate chain of events. Oh, and please say hello to Amy for me.”

“We will,” Leela said, giving him a quick hug. “You watch out for yourself – don’t let that idiot get you killed.”

With that, the crew made their way toward the newly repaired and polished Planet Express ship that sat gleaming on the flight deck, ready to take them home. Hermes and Zoidberg went up the boarding stair, while the other three hung back for a moment to inspect the ship.

“She’s a beautiful girl,” Leela said, gazing at the smooth green lines.

“Yeah, she sure is,” Fry said quietly, looking at the ship’s Captain. Leela glanced at him and smiled. They drew close and put their arms around each other.

Bender took a swig from a bottle of beer and puffed on a cigar, both of which he had somehow acquired during the short walk across the docking bay.

“Come on, let’s get outta here,” he grumbled. “I wanna get home and back in a body that suits my delightful charisma as soon as possible. Then everything can go back to normal.”

“Well, almost everything,” Leela whispered to Fry.

The three of them marched onboard, and within a few minutes, the ship was blasting away toward a blue planet orbiting a yellow star somewhere out in the vast expanse of the Universe.

END.

Buddies