was important. Something about stars. And flying. What happened?
sort of explosion. A loud crunch and a flash of light.
A scintillating line of it, spreading across the blackness. Eyes
A gasp. Blurred figures leaning over the light, black on white,
moving shadows blurred...
hospital room. What happened?
You’re awake?” A voice speaking out of the darkened
light. Familiar, friendly, welcome. A name. “Fry?”
again. Then light. A hint of purple.
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
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
perfectly healthy as far as they can tell, apart from some minor
neural trauma. I bet you have a hell of a headache...
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.
again. Sounds and strange lights. Dreams.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
voice. It was wrong too.
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?”
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
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.
the only explanation he has, that the explosion pulled the changes
from some parallel universe where everything was almost identical,
pushed upright and stared at her, fear and shame starting to mix in
equal measure. “Go on.” That wrong voice again.
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.”
Kinky,” Fry said. Then she fainted.
be a bad dream please be a bad dream...
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.
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...
crap, why did this have to happen to me?” That wrong voice
again, resonating inside as if Fry had some distorted version of
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.
almost said guy!
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.
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...
shook her head, shifting the discontinuity of her thoughts and trying
to concentrate on now.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Fry ducked and slapped both hands over her crotch. Then realised that
wasn’t enough and quickly tried to shift her arms, confused.
had her eye closed, her face bright pink. “The autodoc said you
were up and about. You, uh... you’re...”
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.
contrived to pull open half her eyelid and peered sideways at Fry. “I
should have knocked. If I’d know you were-”
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!”
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.
probably having hormonal problems,” Leela said with an
not funny, Leela.”
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
that why I suddenly feel like I want to rip everyone’s head off
and scream a lot?”
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
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?”
do,” Leela said, suddenly a little colder. She peered at him.
“You’re not saying-”
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.”
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.
later, after discovering the box of chocolates in Leela’s bag
and spending a few hours discussing the finer points of Amy’s
could she chat up doctors when she was still with Kif?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
am who I am, Leela,” Fry replied after opening another beer.
can see that.” Leela put her hand on her hip. “Well I
guess I’d hoped your change would be more fundamental.”
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.”
tittered behind her hand and rolled her eye at Fry. She gave Leela a
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.
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!”
pulled the cigar from her mouth and stubbed it out on Bender’s
head. “I take it you enjoyed your trip to Tijuana?”
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
get over it,” Fry said. Bender turned his head very slowly and
stared at Fry.
he leaned toward Leela. “Who’s the chick wearing Fry’s
coat, sitting in Fry’s seat and drinking Fry’s beer?”
I would have preferred a better time to tell you this... there was an
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
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.”
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
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.”
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
be nice, okay? She still needs to get used to herself.”
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.”
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...”
looked at him, perplexed. She mouthed out what Bender had been saying
under her breath and then stared at him again. “No.”
stared across the room at the suddenly icy scene and slapped her
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
Fry sat up a little, staring at
her beer. She looked at Leela. “This stuff tastes like piss.
Got any import?”
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.
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.
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?”
weren’t, Professor, you’d only said hello.”
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?”
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!
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.”
saying I’m stuck this way?” Fry looked up at the high
windows and blinked away a tear.
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.”
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.”
looked up from his readouts again. “Wah? Was I talking again?”
you... never mind. Thank you Professor.”
me Professor. Fry.”
yes. Well, run along Miss Fry, you have a job to do I expect.”
nodded and slunk from the room, defeat dragging her shoulders and
head toward the floor.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!”
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.
started, grabbed the arms of his chair. He leaned forward to look at
the screen. “What in the hell is that thing?”
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Zapp leaned forward. “I declare these negotiations to be
started. You will visit our ship, and we can discuss terms.”
human, I visit you with hatred!” The screen blanked out. Zapp
blinked at the sudden departure of the image and turned to look at
I say something wrong?”
sir, it pains me to say it, but you are perfect to negotiate with
these people. He complemented you again.”
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
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.”
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?”
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.
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
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.
remind me when our guests are arriving.”
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.
leading from the front, an admirable trait.”
you’d know sir...”
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.
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.”
What are they, bankers?”
mind, bring out my dress uniform, the one with the extra medals. We
shall await them on the command deck.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Ruklisk’s eyes glinted. “So, human, do you know of the
game of klatikh?”
stride faltered. He glanced toward the diplomats, who seemed even
more worried at the mention of the word. “Kla...tick?”
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.
Zapp’s sword wobbled. Sweat began to bead his brow.
is the matter, human. Are you not Braw Nichan?”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
stared at the blood on his hands and whimpered.
Kif stood up, dusting himself down. He tugged at Zapp’s sleeve.
“Sir, are you sure that was wise?”
the Eridani system-”
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?”
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-”
got us our concessions didn’t I? What’s at Eridani
anyway? Just a colony planet and a few gas mines, it’s
gives them a strategic base less than thirty light-years from earth
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.”
don’t have one sir. Now, Erid-”
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.”
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-”
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?”
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.
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.