Fan Fiction

A Different View, part 1
By Graham Dawson

Chapter One – The Deadliest Species

Blackness, like space.


That was important. Something about stars. And flying. What happened?

Some sort of explosion. A loud crunch and a flash of light.

Light. A scintillating line of it, spreading across the blackness. Eyes opening...

Breathing. A gasp. Blurred figures leaning over the light, black on white, moving shadows blurred...

A hospital room. What happened?

“Fry? You’re awake?” A voice speaking out of the darkened light. Familiar, friendly, welcome. A name. “Fry?”

Darkness again. Then light. A hint of purple.

“Fry, I don’t quite know how to put this, but there was a bit of an accident. You... you...” a paling shadow leans forward, light-rimmed and filled with a glowing white orb. “Something happened.

“No, don’t move. You’ve lost a lot of weight, the doctors don’t quite know what... how to explain it, but they wouldn’t would they?

“You’re perfectly healthy as far as they can tell, apart from some minor neural trauma. I bet you have a hell of a headache...

“Just lie still for now. You need to rest.” The shadow seemed to smile, filling out into a familiar face even as it faded from view.

Darkness again. Sounds and strange lights. Dreams.

Nightmares. A strange, twisted tower of metal and flesh and bone exploding with brilliant blue-white energy. A sense of substance shifting, of the body flying backwards and dissolving. Pain and terror.

Fry woke with a start in a darkened room and for a blind moment squirmed about in panic, overcome by a momentary sense of falling, which passed away into the darkness and was gone.

The bed was strange. Slightly upright, caged by metal guards at each side. Machines blipped and warbled in the twilight, casting tiny flares of red and amber and green across the pillow. The darkness was less than it originally seemed, characteristic of a hospital. Slivers of light cracked between gaps in blinds, slipped under the door, casting odd shadows as people moved past outside in the eternal daylight of their work-world.

Something moved, and Fry tensed with unaccustomed terror. A familiar figure sat hunched in the far corner of the room, curled up on a hard-looking armchair. Fry sat up a little, rustling the bed, and disturbing the sleeping guest. She snorted and looked up, eye bleary from lack of sleep and puffy from something else.

Leela blinked and rubbed her eye. “Oh. You’re awake again,” she said, pushing herself out of the chair. There was a moment of worry in her eye as Fry’s mouth opened. “Don’t try to talk, they’ve put some sort of tube down your throat to help you breath.”

A memory. Crunching bone, but not from any impact. Fry sat up further, pulling the sheets up high, and peered at Leela with a quizzical expression. Leela frowned, regarding the sheets and the bed, refusing to meet Fry’s look.

She turned and looked away. “Fry, something happened. There was an explosion in the Professor’s lab. Do you remember taking him a package?” Fry nodded eagerly. The memory was strong, recent, unblurred. After that... Leela was looking at him again, and seemed to nod at the frown that played across Fry’s face. She came and sat on the bed.

“He was working on some new machine, nobody knows quite what it was for, but when it exploded it...” she looked down, not quite meeting Fry’s gaze again. “You were changed by the blast. Some sort of, well, nobody’s quite sure what it was. An energy beam, maybe something to do with a matter transporter he was working on the other week.”

You were changed... Fry felt the blackness closing in again, scrabbled at the tracheal tube that burrowed through skin to tortured lungs, suddenly so short of air. There was a distant cry; Leela trying to stop the action, trying to, to suffocate... changed. What did it mean?

Darkness again for so very long, punctured by moments of bright colour and sound. Is this what a coma feels like? Then the light came tearing back so suddenly that Fry couldn’t help but cry out in sheer terror. The tracheal tube was gone, replaced by a soothingly cool bandage, and the machines were silent now. The cry faded to nothing at the sight of Leela returning to lean over again, to comfort and care. Her eye was... she was afraid. Sudden realisation of the wrongness of everything. Sensations changed, different heat and cool, different weight and balance in limbs and body.

The voice. It was wrong too.

“What...” Fry shook in horror at the voice, so terribly high and soft, despite the roughness of days of sleep and dryness. Eyes suddenly filling with tears as a horrible fear settled. “What... happened?”

“You were changed,” Leela said stubbornly, refusing to meet Fry’s gaze again. Fry reached out to grab her arm and felt that wrongness again, the subtle redistribution of mass and muscle. The vague fear within began to solidify.

“What am I?”

“You’re...” Leela stepped back. “The professor thinks his machine somehow tied in to a parallel universe and pulled aspects of it into this one. Changes. Minor things, a proton off course here, a butterfly changing colour there. Little things... but growing larger the closer to the explosion they were.

“That’s the only explanation he has, that the explosion pulled the changes from some parallel universe where everything was almost identical, except...”

Fry pushed upright and stared at her, fear and shame starting to mix in equal measure. “Go on.” That wrong voice again.

Leela looked down, one hand fiddling with her elbow as she toed the floor with her boot. “You... you’re a woman, Fry. You were changed into a woman.”

“Oh. Kinky,” Fry said. Then she fainted.

Please be a bad dream please be a bad dream...

Fry opened his eyes again, blinking against the harsh-lit ceiling of the hospital room. There was nobody else around, and the machines were still silent. A picture-window opposite the bed let in a shaft of late-morning sun and a view out over New New York harbour, which looked mercifully unchanged. Liberty stood off to the side, maintaining her eternal vigil as she stared across the Atlantic.

Nobody around. Fry grimaced, feeling around the bed and noticing the strange ways his body had changed. Not a dream then. Gentle probing and prodding revealed everything was in approximately the right place, though some bits felt a lot softer than they had. Others felt firmer too. Still others were just gone. Fry let out a pained sigh and gave in, lifting up the sheets. A whimper escaped his... her...

“Awww crap, why did this have to happen to me?” That wrong voice again, resonating inside as if Fry had some distorted version of his-or-her mother crawling around his-or-her brain. Fry peered under the sheets again. There was an odd sensation, an itching at the back of the brain that seemed to be pulling mind and flesh in different directions. “Whatever happens I’m going to need a hell of a lot of counselling after this. Perhaps I’ll end up with some nice looking g...” the thought froze on Fry’s lips. As a man, women had always been the prime motivator, the first thought on waking and last before going to sleep, at least for him. Suddenly he realised that women held no attraction at all beyond a vague aesthetic appreciation. Fry thought about Amy, tried picturing her naked and could only think about how annoyingly smooth and perfect her skin was. He thought about Leela... something stirred, vague feelings of desire and longing that seemed to fall away even as they rose up, yet without ever quite disappearing.

I almost said guy!

Fry whimpered and pulled the sheets up over his-or-her head. This isn’t fair he wanted to scream, but... she didn’t care. She suddenly realised that she was perfectly normal to think that way. Confused, relieved and still a little scared, Fry lowered the sheets from... her... head. Memories and thought-patterns that were used to operating as he rebelled at the sudden mental pronoun change and Fry shuddered, unable to really cope with anything. For brief moments the his’n’her identity was completely lost as Fry’s mind stumbled and fell flat on its back out of sheer confusion at what had happened. He fell down to the bed, slipping gratefully through the mass of pillows and into a semi-oblivion as mind and will dissolved and were remade.

She sat up. She. Fry looked down, examined her hands and arms carefully, turning them this way and that. Beautiful hands, long-fingered and dexterous, so much more capable in so many ways than before. She could try the holophoner again...

... a moment of ambiguity as desire rose unbidden, tempered by strange associations of companionship and jealousy...

Fry shook her head, shifting the discontinuity of her thoughts and trying to concentrate on now. So.

A woman.

Curiosity took her. She pulled away the sheets, wondering how she would react, and looked down. A blue-green hospital gown greeted her, bulging in odd-yet-right places and not in others. She ran her hands down her legs as she sat forward, felt weight in new places shift ever so slightly, but nothing more. Normal. Another moment of discontinuity as thoughts censored themselves before they could become conscious. Fry shuffled forward and slipped off the end of the bed. There had to be a mirror somewhere.

There was. A three-quarter-length mirror was pinned to the wall by a small closet opposite the door. Fry stood in front of it, turning this way and that, though she tried to ignore her face. Wasn’t it about now that all the weird sexy stuff started? She vaguely remembered being attached to Amy and having control of an arm, but...

She pulled the gown tight, trying to get a better idea of her figure. It wasn’t too bad considering how he’d treated himself in the past; perky. Petite maybe. Her hips weren’t too narrow, her waist wasn’t too wide and her breasts weren’t the huge, overstuffed back-breakers he’d always fantasised about before. Before. Already memories were self-editing, swapping male and female in her mind, changing the substance of events to match her new self-identity. But nothing, no sense that she should be enjoying this self-examination. Not in the way he would have thought.

Discontinuity again. Fry pinched the bridge of her nose and tried to concentrate on the present. Evidently thinking about the past was too confusing, especially for her. “Still got the brains,” she said sadly. At least she wasn’t blonde, otherwise she’d have to apply for a stereotype permit.

Finally she allowed herself to look at her face. Her hair was still short, though her long stay in the hospital had left it completely un-styled. It made her look a little boyish, confusingly so, as otherwise her face was quite a picture. Her nose seemed the same, though fortunately suitably feminised, so that it made her characterful rather than ugly. Nothing a quick nose-job wouldn’t fix.

The thought came unbidden, and Fry gasped in surprise at her own mental behaviour. Was she really so shallow? She remembered Bender’s brief transformation and his behaviour, still essentially male despite everything else. Appealing to his own male ego. A manbot trapped in a fembot’s body. Is that what I’ll be like? Already she was having doubts. She looked at her hands again, wondering... she was still herself, still Fry, but she was different. Completely different. But would she go that way? Could she live with herself as some sort of parody?

Fry growled at herself in the mirror and, with sudden resolution, yanked at her gown until the straps tore from each other. She tossed it on the floor and glared defiantly at the mirror.

Nothing. She was completely naked, but all she felt was a slight sense of embarrassed shame. Suddenly she shivered; a gust of air had crossed the room, and the light had changed every so slightly. Fry’s terror returned and she looked over her shoulder in the mirror.

“Leela?!” Fry ducked and slapped both hands over her crotch. Then realised that wasn’t enough and quickly tried to shift her arms, confused. Then...

Leela had her eye closed, her face bright pink. “The autodoc said you were up and about. You, uh... you’re...”

“It isn’t what you think,” Fry said, grabbing her gown from the floor and trying to pull it on again. “Really, it isn’t. I know it sounds weird.” Success! She jumped back into the bed and pulled the sheets up to her chin. “I wasn’t ‘enjoying the view’ or any other sarcastic thing you might want to think like that. I... I had to know something. You can open your eye now. I’m decent.”

Leela contrived to pull open half her eyelid and peered sideways at Fry. “I should have knocked. If I’d know you were-”

“I wasn’t! Whatever you think, I wasn’t. I thought I might, y’know, but... Leela, what’s happened to me? I tried thinking about Amy and all I got was jealous!”

Leela’s face closed up, though she didn’t frown or obviously get annoyed. Then Fry realised that she’d actually noticed it; she felt sick to her stomach. It must have shown on her face, too, because suddenly Leela’s expression softened. She dropped a small bag on the side unit and sat down on the bed, taking Fry’s hand in her own.

“You’re probably having hormonal problems,” Leela said with an encouraging smile.

“That’s not funny, Leela.”

“I wasn’t joking.” Leela patted Fry’s hand and smiled again, though a little sorrow flickered behind her eyes. “Your body changed in an instant, but humanoid hormones take weeks to move through their cycles. You’re still feeling the effects of that change.”

“Is that why I suddenly feel like I want to rip everyone’s head off and scream a lot?”

“Uhh... possibly,” Leela said. She shuffled down the bed an inch or so before continuing. “The thing is, you have to know that I’m here for you. Amy is here for you... well she was, last time I saw her she was chatting up a doctor, but I’m sure she’s really concerned.”

“Hah. As if...” Fry frowned, trying to lock down her feelings again. The brief moment of rage and fear had subsided, leaving her with a quiet sort of determination. “Leela, I think... I’m... remember Bender getting a sex change?”

“I do,” Leela said, suddenly a little colder. She peered at him. “You’re not saying-”

“No. That’s the thing, I actually agree with you now. He was... was...” Fry struggled for a word that wasn’t insulting. Damn brain. “Wrong, y’know? But I remember thinking he was absolutely right to be that way, which is exactly how I would think. Only now I don’t.”

“That must be confusing.” Leela’s face was a picture of sympathy, though tinged with something else. Triumph? Was she gloating? Fry decided to ignore it for now, but she filed the thought away in her mind to stew over later.

Much later, after discovering the box of chocolates in Leela’s bag and spending a few hours discussing the finer points of Amy’s relationships –

How could she chat up doctors when she was still with Kif?

Gotta be force of habit...

– Fry felt like she was finally coming to terms with the changes the Professor’s explosion had wrought. Or at least that’s what she was telling herself as the afterglow of the chocolate faded, leaving her in twilight again as night fell. Leela finally left, giving her a friendly peck on the cheek as she went; Fry touched the dry-damp spot with a curious finger after the door shut and was suddenly filled with a terrible sense of loss. Her eyes filled up with momentary tears, that she managed to banish long enough to feel a victory. Fry turned and peered into the bag Leela had left. There was a small book, a potted plant, some underwear (some of which must have been Leela’s because it was far too big) and a picture of Leela, Fry and the rest of the crew standing on the Perdido docks on Crozubon Three to watch the sunrise just a few weeks ago, which Fry picked it up and stared at for what seemed like several hours. Then she cried herself to sleep.

The hospital insisted on putting her in a wheelchair, though everyone said she was perfectly healthy. The doctor had been very condescending about it for some reason that Fry just couldn’t fathom, and which she was reluctant to put down to anything. Getting into feminism after just a few weeks of being a woman was too much to even consider. Besides... and it felt strangely liberating to think it, he was kind of hot.

Then her mind had rebelled, and she’d spent the next few hours lolling mindlessly in the chair as she was wheeled back to the Planet Express building. Leela and Zoidberg had accompanied her. Zoidberg had managed the discharge, claiming to be her personal physician. They had wanted to keep her in for another week for “observation”, but Fry had told Leela that she couldn’t spend another day in the hospital.

She was in her right mind again by the time they reached the Planet Express Building, and Fry was glad they’d had the wheelchair when she realised how long she’d been insensate. But, with a determined grimace, she pulled herself from the chair and made her way up the stairs to the employee lounge under her own power, where she collapsed in the couch with a relieved sigh. Her hand reached instinctively for the beers that she knew were propped in a cooler by the side of the couch and she was just finishing the first when Leela came into the room.

“I see some things never change,” she said, a wry grin playing across her features. Fry stared at Leela, then at her beer, feeling something but not quite understanding what it was. Perhaps she was just feeling the alcohol. It had been a while.

“I am who I am, Leela,” Fry replied after opening another beer.

“I can see that.” Leela put her hand on her hip. “Well I guess I’d hoped your change would be more fundamental.”

“More fundamental than changing a chromo... sow... mee?” Fry grimaced at her lack of knowledge. “That thing with the genes on it. I can’t change who I am Leela, you know that already. Just because I’m different doesn’t mean I’m not the same. Or... something.”

Leela tittered behind her hand and rolled her eye at Fry. She gave Leela a look. “Okay,” Leela eventually said. “You just sit there and get used to being in the real world again. I have to-” Leela was interrupted by the door crashing open. Bender burst into the room, waving a sombrero and a box of cigars.

“Hey there squishy crewmates, I’m back! Did you miss me? Did you miss good old Bender, who was away from you for so long?” He stuffed a cigar into Leela’s mouth and lit it before she could protest. “Finest Cuban cigars from New Mexico City! A gift from your pal Bender, who you certainly haven’t forgotten during his absence!”

Leela pulled the cigar from her mouth and stubbed it out on Bender’s head. “I take it you enjoyed your trip to Tijuana?”

“Did I? Did I!” Bender leaned forward sadly, dropping his ‘gifts’ and souvenirs. “I hated it... everything’s so different now. They’re making cars. Cars! How can I live with myself knowing the place of my birth makes mindless automatons?”

“You’ll get over it,” Fry said. Bender turned his head very slowly and stared at Fry.

“What...” he leaned toward Leela. “Who’s the chick wearing Fry’s coat, sitting in Fry’s seat and drinking Fry’s beer?”

“Bender, I would have preferred a better time to tell you this... there was an accident.”

“You mean Fry’s dead? I call his locker!” Bender wound up as if to run from the room until Leela put a calming hand on his chestplate. “What?”

“If you’d let me finish.” Leela’s exasperation was enough to even give Bender pause. “What I was going to say is, that is Fry.”

Bender turned to look at Fry again, managing a fairly good approximation of confusion on his otherwise immobile face. He zoomed his eyes in to get a better view. “Are you cracked in the head Leela?” he said after a moment. “I mean, that’s a girl. A fembag, or whatever you walking sausages call it. I’m pretty sure Fry’s a guy.”

Leela let out an exasperated sigh. She grabbed Bender’s arm and dragged him to the other side of the room. “Look, there was an accident in the Professor’s lab, something zapped Fry and turned him into a girl. If you want details you can ask the Professor later. Right now he, uh, that is she needs some time to adjust.”

“I get it. You want understanding and discretion. Well that’s easy, I’m twenty-two percent discrete circuits!” Bender thumped his chestplate, sending something rattling around his insides until a few stray chips and components dropped out of his crotchplate. “Ahh... better make that twenty-one point nine percent.”

“Just be nice, okay? She still needs to get used to herself.”

“Well, I’ll try,” Bender said, lighting up a cigar. “It might not be easy though. I had us booked in to see a mud-wrestling competition this evening.” He paused and blew smoke. Leela stared at him aghast, and tried to splutter a reply. “Oh don’t worry your stupid bulgy head, it’s all robot.”


“I can deal with it Leela. Jeez, you’d think you guys didn’t trust me to be mature and responsible.” Bender wandered off, leaving Leela with a bemused look on her face. He paused beside Fry, looked her up and down and pulled a beer out of his compartment. “So Fry, want to go out and ogle some hot...”

Fry looked at him, perplexed. She mouthed out what Bender had been saying under her breath and then stared at him again. “No.”


Leela stared across the room at the suddenly icy scene and slapped her forehead. “D’oh...”

Bender casually wandered back across the room, heading toward the kitchen. He paused beside Leela. “Well, I blew it again, good old Bender.” He seemed to think about what had just passed for a moment. “See ya.” And with that he pushed through the kitchen door.

Fry sat up a little, staring at her beer. She looked at Leela. “This stuff tastes like piss. Got any import?”

Professor Farnsworth bumbled across his upstairs lab, which seemed curiously untouched by whatever had happened, and paused by an almost comically oversized computer. He poked a few buttons and mumbled to himself.

Fry watched him from the doorway, afraid to enter the room as vague half-memories tugged at her mind. She watched him pottering between arcane machinery and strange substances in jars and on trays, checking a retort here or a screen there. Finally he stopped and looked at the door.

“Ahh, Fry, you’re back in one piece again,” he said, shuffling over to the door. Fry tried not to cower back; she almost succeeded. “Hmm, I see you’ve had a few changes. You remind me of my own dear sister when she was your age, hm’yes. Men would flock for thousands of miles to woo her but she had none of it.” Farnsworth stared at Fry again. “Where was I?”

“You weren’t, Professor, you’d only said hello.”

Farnsworth adjusted his glasses and peered at Fry again. “I had? Well, now. I expect you want to know if you can be changed back, yes?”

“It had crossed my mind.” Fry had preferred not to think about it too much. Right now she wasn’t quite in a state to make any life-changing decisions, and if she did think about it she might end up... no, stop it Fry, later!

“I’m afraid the process is a little opaque at the moment. Uh...” Farnsworth took out a strange scanning device and began running it over Fry. “The changes are not even at a quantum level. They’re at the level of the very fabric of the universe itself, an a material scientists have spent the best part of a thousand years trying to analyse without success. I don’t quite understand how it occurred but the accident seems to have swapped aspects of two universes with each other. Presumably some parallel version of me is trying to figure out why you’ve turned into a man.” With that he snapped the machine shut. “It might take years to calculate a way to reverse the change.”

“You’re saying I’m stuck this way?” Fry looked up at the high windows and blinked away a tear.

“Oh my yes.” He adjusted his glasses again and peered at her. “I’m sorry Fry, but the only way I could help is to find out how to measure something that can’t be measured.”

Fry felt a sudden urge to make a very crude joke. She turned away, shoulders slumped as she sighed. “Thanks for telling me, Professor. Everyone else has tried to be so nice about all of this, but you told me what I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear.”

Farnsworth looked up from his readouts again. “Wah? Was I talking again?”

“Uh... you... never mind. Thank you Professor.”

“Any time miss...”

“It’s me Professor. Fry.”

“Oh yes. Well, run along Miss Fry, you have a job to do I expect.”

Fry nodded and slunk from the room, defeat dragging her shoulders and head toward the floor.

Darkness again, but infinitely deeper than night. In the black void between stars something stirred, some stray atom on a course not quite what it should have followed, careening onward as its path diverged from what should have been...

The starship drifted in the black depths of interstellar space, cast in a deep shadow that was relieved only by its navigation beacons and a few lit ports and windows. Bright floodlights picked out the registration serial DP1792, and the name emblazoned on its basking-shark-like hull. Nimbus.

Off her port-side, some thousands of kilometres distant, a smaller and more agile looking craft coasted to a relative halt facing the Nimbus. Antennae were deployed, smaller craft ejected from both ships in defensive formations. An invisible barrier, a boundary of influence, was established between the two ships as the crews of frigates and corvettes eyed each other across the vast nothing of space.

Formalities dealt with, the ships began to communicate. Carrier signals breached the void, taking routine traffic that slowly built as relationships were established, until finally a video link was opened.

Lieutenant Kroker stared at the figure that appeared on the screen and tried not to cower behind the command chair. The one race his people truly feared, apart from Humans (and that almost entirely because of his captain) were here, facing them, scant kilometres away. A pair of blank-faced slave-crew stood behind the creature.

“I’ve never seen one so close before,” he whispered, and instantly realised his mistake. The Ruklisk on the screen glowered at him through a tangle of impractical spikes and leather, but said nothing. “Uhh... your excellency, most, uh... high... his captainness is, ah, still making his way up to the command deck. I’m sorry for the delay.”

“You dare insult us with this display of... of tardiness, you, pathetic green slimething! Find him or I-” the creature was interrupted by the loud clang of the command deck door sliding open. Zapp Branigan, the famed Captain of lore, meandered on to the deck and tugged at his uniform as he sat down.

“Darn belt always getting stuck on the handle. Kif, make a note to the quartermaster, I want all the handles on the heads replaced with something less grabby, and none of your objections this time mister!”



“The screen, sir...” Kif pointed at the Ruklisk was glaring in almost apoplectic rage. What was visible of his mouth seemed to be drawn back in an animalistic rictus, exposing mandibles and impossibly shaped teeth.

Zapp started, grabbed the arms of his chair. He leaned forward to look at the screen. “What in the hell is that thing?”

“Excuse me sir, but that is the Most Excellent Captain-Hunter-Slayer “Die Slowly and Scream While You Do It” of the Ruklisk ship Slagged-brain-juices, sir. He commands the entire Ruklisk second fleet.”

“Oh. Oh really. An impressive name.” Zapp rubbed his chin, a thoughtful look gracing his allegedly noble features. “This is part of that negotiation we’re supposed to be out here for, is it?”

“Yes, sir.” Kif risked a glance at the screen. The Ruklisk’s spines had folded back, showing his full all-too-hideous face that consisted almost entirely of eyes and mouth, held together by a cadaverous looking stretch of bone and chitin. He seemed perplexed.

“I see. Well this should be easy enough I suppose. What is it you want? And make it snappy, I intend to be at the liberation bombardment on Erabask Three by oh six hundred.”

The Ruklisk couldn’t frown, but he managed to get the expression across in other ways. “You humans are reputed to be soft and... caring, like that Amphibiosan koslety you have cowering under your arm. You have surprised us, Captain Zapp Brannigan of the Nimbus. You may well be Braw Nichan, as your name suggests.”

Zapp leaned toward Kif and raised his eyebrows. Kif sighed. “It means ‘The one who will kill indiscriminately for the fun of it’ sir. It’s a high compliment in their language.”

“Excellent!” Zapp leaned forward. “I declare these negotiations to be started. You will visit our ship, and we can discuss terms.”

“Pathetic human, I visit you with hatred!” The screen blanked out. Zapp blinked at the sudden departure of the image and turned to look at Kif again.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“Actually sir, it pains me to say it, but you are perfect to negotiate with these people. He complemented you again.”

“This just gets better and better. You see Kif, one day you’ll learn that a captain has to be able to adapt himself to any situation. It’s obvious High Command chose me for this mission for that precise reason.”

Kif sighed again, and thought about the various ways he could disabuse Brannigan of that particular opinion. Bats featured heavily. And a mace. He looked down at the floor. “I... yes, sir.”

“Make preparations for the meeting,” Brannigan said, standing up. He looked around the command deck with what he probably thought was a commanding air. “Oh and Kif? I’ll be taking a bath in fifteen minutes. See everything is in order will you?”

Interstellar space is vast and empty, with an average of about five atoms of hydrogen per cubic light-year, so far apart that they might never come in contact with another particle before the end of the universe itself. Of course, averages being what they are, and the universe being what it is, the universal average can be completely unrelated to the local conditions, so that a single volume of space could have a vast cloud of hydrogen dense enough to allow interactions to take place in days rather than millenia. Rare, but not unknown.

In such a cloud a single atom moving in a particular direction can set off a chain reaction, scattering more atoms, until a wave is formed, casting forth more hydrogen at its crest. Chaos being what it is, the wave could dissipate or it could strengthen entirely through Brownian motions. Rarer still. But when a single atom has suddenly strayed from its course for no reason, the rare might suddenly become commonplace...

Zapp stepped out of his bath and waited for Lieutenant Kroker to wrap a towel around his waist. The little creature seemed to be scared of his very manly nature, presumably because he was so very pathetic, but that didn’t worry Zapp; he knew what he was amazing, and it was right that the wimpiest and most pathetic of his crew acknowledged that. It put them in their place.

“Kif, remind me when our guests are arriving.”

“Half an hour sir,” the green-skinned alien said, slouching his shoulders even further at the sound of Zapp’s voice. “The Captain-Hunter-Slayer will arrive first to ritually slaughter several of the crew, and then his delegation will follow on a second shuttle.

“Ahh, leading from the front, an admirable trait.”

“Like you’d know sir...”

“What was that?” Zapp growled as he leaned over his Lieutenant. If it had been an insult it was an unaccustomed show of spine. Kif cowered and seemed to collapse in on himself.

“Nothing, sir. I was just clearing my throat.” Kif sighed heavily. “You may be glad to know that the Ruklisk have made allowance for the fact that our crews don’t like to die without reason, so they’ll forgo the ritual slaughter when the Captain arrives this time. They are under the impression that it’s an accounting thing.”

“Accounting? What are they, bankers?”

“Actually sir...”

“Never mind, bring out my dress uniform, the one with the extra medals. We shall await them on the command deck.”

The strange plasmatic wave had travelled for almost a month before it reached the same volume of space as the Nimbus and the Ruklisk vessel, just motes against the black canvas of space from the perspective of the wavefront. It carried on, exotic and dangerous, by sheer chance aimed directly at the DOOP starship.

“The first Ruklisk vessel is aboard now, sir,” an ensign called from the comms console. Zapp nodded, stern and commanding for perhaps the first time in his life. He turned to leave the command deck and made his way down to the main hangar.

Outrigger engines on any craft are always vulnerable, protruding well beyond the bulk of the ship and dangerously close to whatever shielding that ship might have. Sometimes they have their own shields, but what use are they when they’re switched off?

The hydrogen cloud had coalesced into a plasma now, hot and fast, trailing a faintly glowing string of quarks and strange matter in its wake. The Nimbus loomed across its trajectory, her starboard engine straddling the plasma-sphere’s path like a closed gate.

Zapp and Kiff entered the hangar bay adjunct just before the Captain-Hunter-Slayer, who was waving a ceremonial slaughtering knife at the nervous guards and laughing maniacally. A small diplomatic corps team stood off to one side of the room. Cowered, more like. Only Zapp seemed undeterred by the mad alien and his weapon. He squared his shoulders and walked toward the Ruklisk, raising his DOOP ceremonial sword in salute.

The Ruklisk’s eyes glinted. “So, human, do you know of the game of klatikh?”

Zapp’s stride faltered. He glanced toward the diplomats, who seemed even more worried at the mention of the word. “Kla...tick?”

“It is best rendered as ‘The game where two combatants poke each other with sharp things until one gives up and runs away to die,’ Kif offered from behind a chair. His hands tightened their grip on the back of the seat.

“Ahh.” Zapp’s sword wobbled. Sweat began to bead his brow.

“What is the matter, human. Are you not Braw Nichan?”

An ashen-faced ensign noticed the plasma wave only a moment before it impacted the engine. He didn’t even have time to sound general quarters. The super-heated elemental gas splashed against the hull of the Nimbus, swinging her gently to port, doing very little visible damage but sending spears of high-energy radiation down into the engine’s core. The mechanisms reacted, performing the mechanical equivalent of a tickly cough. A burp of thrust knocked the ship into a small spin, for which the Nimbus’ guidance computers took almost a second to compensate before she steadied again. A hundred systems suffered minor malfunctions that cascaded through the ship. Life support vented odorous but non-toxic gas into the galley, all the lights on deck seventeen went out, whilst those on deck eleven turned a lurid pink. Deck five suddenly smelled of elderberries. The ship’s artificial gravity fluttered for a moment....

The deck lurched beneath their feet, sending the guards staggering. Kif leapt for the floor, whilst the Ruklisk, quadrupedal, stayed rock-steady against the shifting gravity field. Zapp waved his arms around wildly to try and maintain his balance. He slipped forward, his sword-hand dipping. The blade impacted just below the Ruklisk’s heart, piercing his secondary lungs and spleen. A gout of bright orange blood shot across Zapp’s face and he cried out in terror. The diplomatic corps ran screaming from the room.

For a moment there was silence. Then the general quarters alarm sounded, prompting the guards to suddenly decide they were needed elsewhere. They abandoned the room and ran for their duty posts.

Kif risked a peek. Zapp was still poised in a classic striking pose, the sword embedded up to half its length in what passed for the Ruklisk’s chest. Orange ichor and strange fluids dripped from the wound.

The Ruklisk began to laugh. He continued laughing as he pulled the sword from his chest and tossed it aside. “You win, human. You win! A killing blow so early. You are truly Braw Nichan! We concede to all of your demands on the condition that we are allowed to maintain a presence around Eridani.

“You fight well, Braw Nichan,” the Ruklisk said, his voice gurgling a little as fluid began to fill his lungs. He patted a clawed, grasping hand against Zapp’s shoulder. Zapp was slowly pulling himself back to a normal stance, though his face was a mask of terror and shock, and paled at the alien touch. “You send back your diplomats, and I send our negotiators. They will sort details.”

Still laughing, the Captain-Hunter-Slayer turned, retrieved the sword and passed it back to a shivering Zapp, along with his knife. “You keep this knife, Braw Nichan. You remember your victory. And mine, as I go to my honourable death.” He turned and stomped from the adjunct, trailing blood across the floor, and returned to his ship, which departed a moment later.

Zapp stared at the blood on his hands and whimpered.

“Sir?” Kif stood up, dusting himself down. He tugged at Zapp’s sleeve. “Sir, are you sure that was wise?”

“I... stabbed... it...”

“Sir, the Eridani system-”

“I won!” Zapp tossed the sword aside and held out the Ruklisk knife, a terrible curved blade, devoid of any decoration. A killing blade. “I won us a victory, and I didn’t even have to send men to die for it?”

“Yes, it’s something of a first,” Kif said before an exaggerated sigh. He tried to catch Zapp’s eye. “But sir, it might not be the victory-”

“I got us our concessions didn’t I? What’s at Eridani anyway? Just a colony planet and a few gas mines, it’s nothing!”

“It gives them a strategic base less than thirty light-years from earth sir.”

“Nonsense, they didn’t talk about a base, just a ‘presence’.” Zapp held up the knife again. “I think I’ll get this framed. Kif, call out the carpenter.”

“We don’t have one sir. Now, Erid-”

“No carpenter? But this is a man-o-war!” Zapp gripped the knife’s handle. He looked at the orange mes on the floor. “There has to be at least one member of this crew that can turn a lathe. Find him, and get him to make me a frame for this gift.”

“I...” Kif knew better than to argue. He could probably find a presentation box in the stores somewhere. “I’ll see what I can do sir. But please, listen to me. The Ruklisk-”

“Are now our allies, Lieutenant. Don’t you see what we have won today? Our implacable foe, brought low by the great and humble Captain of the Nimbus. Ohh they might give me more medals for this one Kif. A promotion even. Commodore Brannigan...” Zapp drifted off across the room, oblivious to the gore dripping down his front. “No, Admiral Zapp Brannigan at your service sir. Why yes, I was responsible for the negotiations with the Ruklisk. Your daughter you say?”

Kif had known far all his life in a low-level sort of way. Daily terror at the thought of Zapp going over the edge and actually becoming even less competent than he already was haunted him, but that was nothing compared to what he felt now. He glanced at the deck, making a note to have a yeoman clean it up, and made his way up to the command deck, his heart now dreading the brave new future.

Fate, he mused, was a capricious creature. If the ship hadn’t suffered its apparent malfunction, Zapp would probably be nursing a few scratches, or might even be seriously wounded and blessedly unable to command anything for a few weeks. The Ruklisk would probably be drawing back to prepare for another century of cold war. Now they were allies? Kif had a hard time believing it would last.