A-typical Delivery, Part 1
Another day, another face full of ink. Fry sighed unconcernedly as he used his shirt to wipe a crustaceous defense mechanism out of his eyes. Things like this didn’t faze him anymore. Life was good, or at least always somewhat better than it had been; he had a fun job, a place to live, some friends, and three rhomboid meals a day. It was practically all he needed. Fry stepped forward as Zoidberg scuttled back towards the door from whence he came, but Bender seized him by the claw faster than a portly man at a buffet.
“I give you a shopping list with TWO items on it and you still manage to screw it up?!” Bender inveighed, tearing open the bag in disgust. “What the hell is this stuff anyway?” he yelled, producing several long red strands.
“I needed liquor and ice, you idiot!” yelled the robot, making impromptu use of the candy by flogging Zoidberg with the makeshift whips. They lived up to their name, cracking loudly as they struck the doctor’s carapace. Carrying out stage two of his patented “ink and run” defense, Zoidberg broke free and dashed from the room, Bender in hot pursuit.
Leela glanced quizzically at Fry, knowing full well the events could have been averted.
“Fry, you know Bender’s weekly shopping list, why didn’t you say something?”
“I wasn’t even with him! We just met at the door!”
“Oh really?” Leela said, taking the opportunity to make Fry squirm a bit. “Then why weren’t you at work?”
Fry had an answer. “Uh... I... was at the museum, looking at art!”
And in fact, this statement was not a lie, though Philip failed to mention that Art is the homeless man that lives on the museum’s front entrance steps. Sometimes he’ll play the spoons for a quarter, which in some circles could be considered art. Earth is not enclosed by any such circle. Leela merely rolled her eye at Fry, which by this point in her life had become about as instinctive as breathing regularly. In fact, the only thing Leela truly missed about having two eyes was being able to roll both of them at once. Something was simply more gratifying about it. Her pupil had plenty of time to return to their normal direction to catch the last two thirds of Farnsworth’s protracted entrance into the room.
“Good news and bad news, everyone!” he shouted giddily.
Leela sneered, “Isn’t the good news usually bad news anyway?”
“Not this time it isn’t!” assured the scientist, “This time, the bad news is most assuredly the bad news.”
“Well that’s a relief!” exhaled Fry. Leela was not as persuaded.
“Fine, I’ll bite,” she groused, before assuming a faux-naïve tone. “What’s the good news, Professor?”
“The good news is that the bad news isn’t so bad!”
Leela let out a sigh that could extinguish a birthday cake, and once again found her pupil pointing upwards. She knew that ceiling well. Very well. Fry took it upon himself to ask the obvious question; he was good at that.
“...and the bad news is?”
“Due to scheduling and proximity, you’ll have to make your next three deliveries in a row, on one trip,” Farnsworth stated. “It could take a while. You’ll be leaving as soon as possible.”
Leela was worried by this vague phraseology. “How long is a while? A while as in, ‘a couple of days,’ or a while as in, ‘don’t count on you being alive when we get back?’”
“Both, I’d imagine,” answered Hubert, undaunted. “Anyway, let’s see... this is a long trip, so you two will need to bring the staff doctor, and the staff cook... and the staff engineer along.”
Fry and Leela exchanged nervous looks. One of the few things they consistently agreed on was that, generally, the more people that went on a mission, the worse things tended to go. Bender was indeed a welcome addition most of the time, especially when some strength and non-metaphorical elbow grease were needed. However, most of those missions didn’t require a dreadful in-flight meal. The last time Bender had tried cooking onboard, he had completely burnt the kitchen down. Not accidentally, of course, he had simply gotten bored while waiting for the pork to ferment. Fry got along with Amy well enough, but sparks were liable to fly between Leela and the intern; especially if Amy ever tried to fix that broken electrical coupler again.
Everyone hated Zoidberg.
“Hermes and I will stay here,” Farnsworth added, “I’m forcing him to do some repairs on the building while you’re gone.”
“Can you tell him to paint the ceiling while he’s at it?” asked Leela. “Something interesting.”
“So then, what are we delivering?” Fry curiously inquired.
“Oh, you know, this and that...”
“Your clipboard and that pen?”
“No!” came Farnsworth’s necessarily angry reply. “You can peek in the crates when you’re onboard; your things are waiting for you no need to pack get moving!” all escaped in one accelerated breath. Gasping for lost oxygen, he pointed the way out of the room, as if it was previously uncharted. Fry and Leela reluctantly adopted his hastened pace, and headed out.
The Planet Express Ship, a ship Professor Farnsworth once declared “too good for a proper name.” He also said the same of “That thing! Yes, you know the one I’m talking about! That invention that’s too good for a proper name! ...No, not the ship, damnit!”
Leela liked the fact that the ship didn’t have a name. There was something more dignified about flying a ship of sheer business compared to a “Zip,” a “Lucy in the Sky” or a “Nimbus.”
Amy, Zoidberg, Fry, and Bender were aboard now, and Leela had even managed to smuggle Nibbler along for the ride. The Professor had stayed true to his word; the ship was already filled with everything they needed for the trip. Farnsworth had even provided new clothes, which he produced using the Clothing Xerox he’d invented. “Hmph...” Amy had scoffed, “looks like another week of wearing the same outfit.”
Leela leaned against the steering console. She needed a week off, not an indefinite amount of time with coworkers. Halfheartedly, she went through parts of the mandatory preflight check with Fry.
“Crew and cargo?”
“Czech!” beamed Fry, popping the top off of a ‘Fortranvar’ brand beer.
“Good enough for me,” confessed the captain. “Let’s get going. I need to steer us out of the mega-sector before autopilot can take over, and I’d like that to happen sometime before what would be morning. Start the countdown at zero, would you?”
Leela activated the required controls, and the ship darted gracefully into the sky. A perfect takeoff, sans a nasty crashing sound from just outside the cockpit.
“Hey! How about a little warning next time!” shouted an irritated Martian.
Several hours of lackluster flight soon took their toll on the captain. In truth, the thoughts that run through a tired captain’s mind are almost always lonely and depressing. Even an emotionally stable captain will attest to it. Something about the endless blackness; the blurred voids of what never was, and never will be. You can easily maneuver a ship through that stuff, but rarely a life. The mere recapitulation of this truth had once made Leela pity a man so much as to submit herself to him, an act she would regret forever. Presently, thoughts of this manipulation haunted her as she steered a steady course. It was like some sort of malicious cycle, and she could only hope to God that that she’d never bumble through the wrong side of that metaphoric wheel again.
Meanwhile, Fry was gleefully juggling apples. That is, if by ‘juggling,’ one meant tossing four of something into the air, flailing your arms about for a short length of time, and then picking up the same four of something off the ground. The two workers were in the same room, and the dichotomy of moods was enough to trigger a tornado somewhere between them. Fry had given up small talk at these times long ago. Leela, however, had not.
“Do you really have to do that in here?” she yelled.
“Do you really have to do that in here?”
Leela looked down at her controls, then back to Fry. “YES!”
“Oh, right.” Fry conceded, deciding to leave Leela be. “I guess I’ll give these apples back to Bender in the kitchen. He pegs the mice for the soufflé with them.”
Leela gave a near inaudible murmur of recognition, then continued steering. Fry never even heard it.
Elsewhere, Bender Bending Rodriguez darted through the ship’s hallways like a kid in a candy store being chased by a bull in a china shop. He was excited, but staid; the packages in the storage hold had not yet been pilfered. The thrill of the impending filch-fest slightly overshadowed his resentment at being behind schedule. After all, multiple deliveries mean more of a selection. Serpentining for the pure showmanship of it, Bender spied the unguarded door. He was currently outsmarting an opponent that didn’t actually exist, but if he just walked in there like it was nothing, where would the fun be? In a way, he almost longed for the days when Leela cared about the mission. In many more ways, he didn’t.
Bender lowered his eye shutter to imitate a concentration induced squint, but in truth he was having little difficulty calculating the optimal speed to reach the automatic door at. Indeed, a disjoint process in his queue, dedicated to performing at least 7 self-exaltations per nanosecond, barely lagged at all. Crossing the threshold merely 5 ‘attabot’s after the path was clear, Bender ran headlong into what he could only guess was some sort of red exoskeleton.
“Hey! Watch it, crabby!”
Zoidberg tried to appear dignified, “Hmmph. Jabs at my disposition won’t faze me.”
“Well, how about this then? I still hate you for before!”
Bender followed with his version of compassion. “But if it makes you feel better, it’s not like I liked ya to begin with.”
“A bit, yes,” Zoidberg mused, then suddenly felt culpable. “Uh... I was just here checking to make sure this cargo wasn’t... uh... askew,” he said, making sure to flagrantly shift one box slightly to the left, completing the elaborate ruse.
“I don’t care what you’re doing... just as long as it affects me in no way whatsoever, no matter how indirectly.” Bender decreed, and proceeded to rip the top off of the largest crate. Zoidberg peered in as well, hoping his wishes would be fulfilled, and that the contents would be edible... or semi-edible... or at least not fatal when consumed.
“Empty...” bewailed Bender. The word echoed desolately off the walls of the vacant container, which soon found its contents to be exactly one tear.
Prying open the remaining crates like a child before Santa could arrive, Bender slowly realized the horrible truth; the Professor hadn’t put anything in the crates. Actually, what he vocalized was “There’s nothin’ for me to steal!!” but the basic concept remained the same.
“Well, there’s no need for the others to know...” he decided, and began securing the tops back on the boxes.
“You’re not making any sense again.”
“Look, if we go back now, it’s a wasted trip, and my time is more valuable than your life. But if we get to where we’re going before Leela finds out, at least maybe some good interplanetary thievery will come out of it. Now, if Leela hears anything about this from you...”
“My mandibles are tied!”
An abrupt jolt of the ship rattled a second latent tear out of Zoidberg’s eye, as he and Bender quickly found themselves sliding across the floor like reluctant players in an electric football game. Off balance, Fry half ran and half fell through the doorway, shouting fearfully.
“Earthquake! Earthquake!! Uh... I mean... Not-on-Earthquake....” he pondered as he skated past the jumbled array of crates.
Meanwhile, Amy gracefully made her way to the cockpit, the movement of the floor perfectly complementing her somewhat ungainly gait. Leela turned her head slightly to note her arrival, and then went back to hitting random buttons and jerking the controls in directions. The intern tried to remain calm as she addressed the already frazzled captain.
“This is bad! Very very bad!”
“What’s causing all this shuddering, Amy!”
“It’s the quantum drive! Y’know, the thing that regulates the engines?”
“Yes, I know! But I thought you fixed that problem!”
“Uh... no, I thought you got the Professor to after my last report.”
“What? On your last status report you said the quantum drives would hardly shake!”
“...Hardly’s the opposite of softly, right?”
Amy let out a modest fake laugh, as Leela wished she could bury her face in her presently occupied hands, or preferably her hands in Amy’s presently occupied face.
“So, no one fixed the quantum drives...” Leela reiterated as coolly as possible, getting used to the vibrations. “The ship will break up if we don’t land pretty soon. We’ll have to find a mechanic.”
“A quantum mechanic,” Amy emphasized. “And I hate quantum mechanics!”
“Don’t we all...” sighed Leela.
Space travel, in essence, is no laughing matter, unless you happen to be traveling through the essence of an N2O nebula. The transition from normal, primitive, town-to-town travel on a single planet to sprawling traversals of entire galaxies was fraught with difficulties in every aspect imaginable. Take, for instance, an ordinary traffic light. Red, green. Stop, go. It’s a concept so simple that many planets besides Earth had developed a similar schema before contact was even made.
Now, try driving a spaceship towards the stoplight at one third the speed of light... most cruise controls have that option... and that red light’s going to look green. This fact does not bode well for inexperienced drivers. The easiest solution? A second, more intense “light” blasts infrared at oncoming traffic, who, thanks to our shifty friend Mr. Doppler, see a crisp red signal approaching.
Leela slowed the ship to a stop at the intersection of ?80 and i(81). She tried to remind herself of how beautiful the deceleratory shift was, the new colors washing away the old like a reflection of a rainbow ebbing with the tide. This was a trifle difficult, however, as her crew was still as obnoxious as ever, her hands were effectively soldered to the steering wheel, and the twenty minutes of incessant rattling had successfully knocked her brain off-stride, her legs off-senses, and her bra strap off-shoulder, much to Fry’s non-chagrin.
Finally able to let go of the controls, Leela took a moment to gather herself, both mentally and physically. Once the vessel was idling, the general clatter onboard became less chaotic, and more like the ship was a giant cell phone set to vibrate alert.
“Look!” shouted Bender, bounding into the room, “I can make a martini without even moving!” He demonstrated by clamping his mixer together and waiting for a few seconds, just in case Leela or Amy doubted him.
“That’s great...” muttered Leela. “Where did Fry end up? We’re going to be landing soon and I don’t want him playing around the landing gear when it’s deployed again...”
“He’s in my room,” Bender assured, neglecting the fact that he and Fry actually shared the cabin. “Since you kicked him out of the bridge for good, he’s been trying to draw a picture on his Etch-a-Sketch. ...It hasn’t gone well.” Bender snickered at his friend’s expense, then froze in a sudden panic.
“Uh oh, that’s resonant!” he bemoaned, before falling to pieces.
Luckily, the light chose an apt time to turn green. Leela, who hadn’t even noticed a change in frequency, punched the gas, just as the structural integrity of the ship could be heard weakening as the hull oscillated. This assuaged the sounds of warping metal, but brought about a third, completely unique way of shaking previously thought impossible by everyone onboard. By now, even the consistently chipper Amy had had enough.
“Ai- lay yow mow low gah?” She grumbled to herself, lamenting her earlier mistake. No one would ever hear her fault herself in English, of course.
“This stones temple pilots!” shouted Leela, aiming the ship in the direction of a rest stop. “Assuming there’s even someone there that can fix this, they’re going to charge at least my yearly salary!”
“You could always sell your body to truckers,” suggested a recently decapitated head.
“Seems it’d be easier to sell yours now, doesn’t it?” came Leela’s cold retort.
“Yeah, much easier,” agreed Amy, in a manner which undeniably insulted Leela far more than Bender.
The task of clearing the airlock without hitting the walls was much like the task operating the finglonger after your 99th cup of coffee, but Leela handled it with poise. She scraped the sides mercilessly, but maintained her poise throughout. The Planet Express Ship drifted downwards towards a parking spot, stalled 10 feet above, and deployed its landing gear. A confused lobster had a confusing 10-foot fall, and beat the ship in an unscheduled race to the ground.
Leela turned off the engines; finally, it was over. No matter what horrors awaited them at this undoubtedly sketchy rest stop, Leela took solace in the fact that she would no longer have to drive her vessel in a seat which was mimicking an Omicronian massage chair. Another thing Leela had learned in her few years of captaining; you should always take as much solace as you can, because someone’s bound to take most of it back.
Meanwhile, Fry figured it was safe to show himself again. He tried his luck, and opened the door marked ‘Bridge,’ ...allowing him to step out onto a viaduct of the Professor’s construction. Using it to cross over the cage with the lion, he then shimmied down a ladder, bringing him to the hallway. This hallway is what finally led to the cockpit, which, ironically, is exactly what Farnsworth had once decided against, opting instead to get a lioncage.
“Alright now,” Leela started, effectively predicting Fry’s entrance, “we’ll find the mechanic, and hopefully be on our way in a few hours. I don’t want anyone wandering too far off.”
She knew that they were currently in an inescapable airtight dome, but Fry and Bender were the type you could lose track of in a suicide booth.
“Amy, I have no idea how much this is going to cost,” Leela continued, “but you’ll have to pay for the repairs for now, and maybe the Professor will reimburse you. Do you think you’ll be able to cover it?”
“Well, I did just buy 3 metric tons of hair care products,” pondered Amy, “But my parents put a deposit in my account yesterday, and the bank said that it was terrific!”
“You mean outstanding?”
“Well,” sighed the cyclops, “...we’d better hope the checks clear...”
“You mean Fortranvar Crystal?” Fry interjected. “We’re out of that.”
“Plenty of explicatory martini left, though” added Bender.
“Let’s just go...” said Leela, halfway out the door.
The rest stop was indeed sketchy. A crime scene sketched by an anguished artist, perhaps. The airlock and dome looked shiny and new, for the distinguishing reason that they were the only things that kept everyone inside from dying. Everything else had been left to putrefy into a rancid shabbiness, a comatose scrap of an insipid past kept alive by a bubble of the finest mandated technology. If the laws of science allowed wind to blow in the dilapidated hemisphere, it would whisper, “Just let me break.” A restaurant, a garage, and two fuel pumps, long since tired of each other’s company, welcomed anyone desperate enough to partake in their services.
“Hmph... quantum repair man?” Leela scoffed. “We’ll be lucky if there’s someone who can re-pair socks...”
She smirked, but the “whoosh” the line made passing over the crew’s heads created the first wind the dome had seen in eons, the brevity of which gave little time for a whisper in edgewise. Zoidberg, by now, had dusted himself off and joined the group as they glanced interestedly, passing the first and only other ship they came across. It was green and bulbous; a rather traditional rocket shape with a mild overbite. At a glance, one might easily confuse it with the PE ship, but closer inspection showed the vessel was not of Earth. The engines were oddly shaped to say the least, and the landing gear looked somewhat like an advanced form of gelatin. By the fuel pumps, a lone space-taxi idled, and that was all there was to be seen.
“Amy and I will head to the garage to see if anyone can fix the ship, the rest of you go to the restaurant and see if they can fix a sandwich,” said Leela, motioning towards the destinations.
Bender was not pleased by this usurpation, “What?! I slaved over a hot stove for nothing?!”
“The only time anyone slaved over that stove is the time you tried to sauté that slave,” remarked Fry, in an intermittent squall of thought.
“Whaddaya mean ‘tried’?” boasted Bender, letting the initial point slide, as he had, in fact, not even begun to consider procrastinating getting started on delaying the process of cooking, due to the earlier thieving incident.
“Don’t worry friends,” started Zoidberg, turning to face the women, “If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s finding food!”
“Is there one thing you’re good at?”
“Well,” Leela interposed, “in that case you should go back and get Nibbler. If they actually bring the ship in for service... I just realized it would probably be best if he wasn’t left onboard.”
“Should I get the lion too?”
“Do we ever take the lion?”
“Do we ever even acknowledge the lion?”
“Leave the lion.”
“Yes ma’am!” shouted the lobster, with the sudden fervor that Zoidberg sometimes gained upon receiving an ‘important’ task to do. He strode confidently towards the ship; assured that he would get it right, and maybe, just maybe, he would be appreciated for it. Then lunch.
“Zoidberg! The keys?!” hollered Leela.
The doctor turned back around. “I hear they’re lovely this time of year!” he yelled back, “Are we going on vaca-oof!” he rambled, before getting hit in the face with a set of keys thrown at the velocity of a pitched blurnsball.
The three parties went their separate ways.
Fry and Bender approached Allen Omla’s Cleanly Diner. It appeared to be open, and through the window, there could be seen someone assumedly working the counter. Whether he was conscious or not was yet to be discovered.
“Uh, Bender? Do you have any money?”
“None that anyone else is getting.”
“Well, I’m broke,” said Fry, “I guess we’ll have to-”
Bender cut him off. His attempt at stealing had been thwarted earlier, but now he had been given a second chance.
“Alright, Fry! If we’re going to do this we’re going to do this right. This ain’t gonna be no two bit operation...” said the robot, as he pointed to his head, “Only the simplest of mechanical operations take up two bits.”
“Shaves and haircuts, mainly.”
“Anyway, you’re going to be running strict diversion,” Bender continued, regaining his zealous focus. “Seduce the sentinel at the counter, while I sneak around back, stealing the food... and anything in their safe, with skill and style.”
“Seduce?! But I-”
“No time for questions!” Bender yelled, pointing a trembling metallic finger at the diner window. Inside, the lone worker idly drummed his fingers. “Meet back here in 10 minutes!” And he was gone. Fry shrugged plaintively, and entered the front door.
Next door, Leela and Amy entered the garage. It gave off the same, ‘ancient death’ vibe as the remainder of the rest stop. A correspondingly ancient robot waited behind a counter, the two LED’s glowing behind the eyes the only hint of sentience. Leela cautiously walked up to it.
“Hello?” she said tentatively.
“Hi. And welcome to Steve’s Garage. Please stand aside and let other customers through.”
“But we’re the only-” Amy started.
“Please stand aside, or go fetch your captain.”
“I AM the captain,” said Leela, already indignant.
“Does not compute. Please stand aside, or go fetch your captain.”
Amy cut off what would have been a burst of shouting from the cyclops.
“Is there, by chance, a life form that we can discuss this with?”
“Yes, but he has no need to speak with you. Please fetch your captain.”
“I am programmed only to accept dealings with men.”
“I am programmed only to accept dealings with men.”
Leela swallowed her pride. It had a mysteriously exotic taste to it.
“Fine. Uh... our captain... he sent us to discuss price before he bothered to leave his quarters.”
Amy gawked in Leela’s direction; she hoped the woman was up to something. The robot paused, seemingly to contemplate, but probably due to its glaringly sluggish processor.
“That is acceptable. Please state the nature of the malfunction.”
Leela turned her back to the droid and pantomimed hitting some buttons on her wrist device, then put on the phoniest cheerful tone imaginable.
“Captain Slabbody? Hi! This is Leela. ... Yes, yes, we found him fine. ... Oh, I’m doing great, yeah. ... Yes, Amy’s here too. ... Oh, hehe! You’re too sweet sir...”
Amy gave her a look, gesturing to speed it up. Leela snapped back from her fantasy world.
“So anyway, this adorable wittle robot wants to know what’s wrong with the ship.”
She paused for theatrical effect, and then opened her eye wide.
“Well golly! Those are some big words! OK, I’ll tell him.”
Leela twirled back to face the robot.
“He says, ‘a loose quantum drive is causing severe instablety...uh... instability.”
Amy had to turn away and cover her face to keep from hysterics. This was just too out of character for Leela. Another pause by the robot, this time even longer.
“That problem is unsolvable with the tools that are at our disposal.”
“He says it’s unplausible with the tools they have,” Leela talked into her forearm. “...OK. OK, I’ll ask him.” She looked up at the automaton. “But you could bring the tools in, right?”
A third pause.
“That would cost us more money than you could possibly afford.”
“Oh, I’m not too sure about that,” Amy jumped in, clearly enjoying herself, “Our captain’s very rich... and verrrry sexy.”
“He’d want the greatest designer tools from far and wide. Could you give him an estimate?” asked Leela.
A fourth pause, the grandest of all. The inferior robot was clearly struggling with the complex calculations.
“Estimated cost... ...infinite... dollars...”
Leela put her arm back to her ear, and then addressed the droid again.
“You, sir, drive a hard bargain. Charge us 70 percent of that and you’ve got yourself a deal.”
The robot exploded.
“Hmmph, overflow error.” Leela leered.
“Common in robots built before 2800” added Amy, remembering some of her college engineering. “Well... now what?”
“We wait for the owner, who should-“
“What in the name of Jesus Reformatted Christ is goin’ on in here?!” bellowed a voice which could only be described as ‘unpleasant.’ Footsteps echoed ominously down the hall, and Leela prepared herself for whomever... or whatever emerged around the corner.
Relatively nearby, Fry leaned against a counter, the hand not propping himself up drawing a crude dog shape in the dust that had gathered on the surface. He eyed the cashier, who was ostensibly weary of his only customer of the day.
“Sooooooo...” Fry drawled... “You come here often?”
“I work here, sir.”
A crash from behind the cashier told Fry to hit the deck. Bender had, after some deep thought, decided on a ‘smash and grab’ strategy over the ‘sneak and pilfer’ and the albeit briefly considered ‘rumba and rummage’ strategies.
“Commence operation Counter-Strike!!” came the battle cry. Bender turned to the now ardently alert attendant.
“Five sandwiches! Now! Before someone gets hurt! ...also, could you throw in the maximum amount money I can steal before it becomes a jailable offence?”
“Y-y-yes Mr. Robot sir!” was all the callow employee could stutter. Meanwhile, the front door slammed shut, and all three occupants wheeled around to discover a guest none of them recognized.
“A robbery, eh?” said the man as he entered. He seemed irate, but not because of the situation. He seemed interested, but not quite surprised by what he had entered upon. His species was apparently reptilian, or perhaps amphibious, but this guy looked like he was capable of using Kif as a birdie in an extremely macho game of badminton. He peered at Fry darkly then turned his gaze to Bender. “Well?” he asked, like some sort of monstrous mother expecting an immediate explanation. No one stirred, though the attendant whimpered mutedly.
“Bender,” Fry hissed, in a faux-whisper, “What do we do?!”
Very calmly, Bender turned to the cashier. “Better make that six sandwiches.”
A smile that could brighten a dark room, and thus cause all those around to quaver at the sight of its bearer, crept onto the interloper. He laughed heartily.
“Hey, you guys are alright!” He chortled, redonning his previous mood only to address the worker. “You heard him! Get to it!”
The unfortunate employee bumbled through his work, two potentially dangerous and one seemingly vacant set of eyes watching over him.
“And don’t forget the frilly toothpicks!” barked the green skinned one before turning to Fry. “By the way, my name’s Charlie. Hey, why don’t you guys come over to my ship for lunch?”
“I’m Fry, and that’s Bender. Uh, we’d love to, honestly, but we kinda have to meet with our-”
“Bring ‘em along, I don’t care.”
“...sure.” said Fry, not wanting to get on this new friend’s bad side. He uncomfortably glanced at his surroundings, and noted the cashier, still shivering, handing a sack to Bender. “C’mon Bender, let’s get out of here before I get that nauseous feeling again.”
“I had Zoidberg prescribe you guilt medicine! Why don’t you take it?!”
“He ate it all when he realized it was just Eucharist.”
“Oh, well then- Hey wait up!” Shouted Bender, grabbing Fry and heading after Charlie, who was already out the door. Glad to be escaping the situation, Fry followed closely.
As luck would have it, Leela and Amy were already running towards them, in a manner which suggested that they had reason for this running other than cardiovascular fitness. Two groups sprinting from two distinct problems soon became one group running from an indeterminate entity of badness somewhere behind them. Escapes like this were nothing uncommon; they fell into form as if the ordeal was as well-rehearsed as a fire drill, scampering up into Charlie’s ship instead of their own without as much as a second thought, save Leela, who had a second, but surely not a third.
Charles “Bananas” Foster (An unappreciated nickname very few friends dare used) had a bit of everyone from the PE crew in him. He had Leela’s reclusiveness and temper, Bender’s lust for treachery and money, Fry’s reckless yet optimistic attitude, Zoidberg’s ability to repulse, and Amy’s proclivity to finding eccentric employers. Born on the planet Lagártos Two, Charlie slowly grew to find a balance between a dubious and legitimate lifestyle. Sure, there were crime sprees and there was money laundering, but there was also boring old clothes laundering, and the occasional delivery for his on again off again employer, Nuzi Spoziano. Nuzi was a merchant, but an inventor at heart, and often bestowed Charlie the benefits of his research, which was really the only reason Foster bothered staying around at all.
For instance, Mr. Spoziano had fitted Charlie’s ship with promising experimental landing gear. A near solid plasma, which descends from the bowels of the ship, is used to help the vessel literally ‘stick’ the landing. Of course, this connection is no more secure than that of two pieces of salami congealed together. To affix the bond, parts of the landing gear compound are composed of electromagnetically controlled ferrofluid, which, when activated, spreads to the bottom of the gear and magnetically pulls the ship towards any nearby correspondingly magnetic material in the ground. An onboard sensor alerts the pilot to any such optimal landing zone, and accordingly, a skilled pilot is able to land the ship at surprisingly steep angles, and even on the ceilings of caves or tunnels in a pinch. Upon liftoff, a reverse of the electric polarity through the ferrofluid nets the ship a bonus antigrav-lift due to same sign repulsion... just be careful if you’re already on a ceiling...
The door shut behind the PE crew; the air was dank and uninviting. A lone light unwillingly lit the cargo-bay that had greeted them. Leela retained the wry smile of a woman who had just kicked a large man’s ass, while Amy maintained the nervous adrenaline-soaked expression of a callow fighter who had just hit a man with a metal pipe hard enough to create onomatopoeia to her surname.
Fry asked the obvious question, “What happened to you two?”
“Let’s just say we won’t be getting our ship fixed here any time soon,” said Leela. She didn’t even bother to ask what had instigated the boys’ sprint. Frankly, she just didn’t care.
“Great, so now what do we do?” moaned Bender.
“You could start by introducing yourselves,” resonated an ominous voice in the darkness, the tone of which sent chills down the women’s spines.
“Oh, sorry.” started Fry, oblivious to the foreboding atmosphere. “Charlie, this is Leela, and this is Amy,” he said, indicating each female.
“Greetings gals!” bellowed Charlie, as if they were all his rowdy friends. “Sorry if I scared you there. Some people say I’m a cold-blooded killer... but they don’t know me. If they did they’d realize my species is warm blooded! Heh-heh!” He guffawed coarsely, slapping Amy on the back hard enough to perturb her. “So how ‘bout those sandwiches, Bender?”
“Comin’ right up, buddy.”
Lunches distributed, the group moved to a dining area, where small talk came along arduously. Feeling Charlie out was like handling a marshmallow coated cactus. Fry and Bender soon became bored with the blether.
“Say... Leela. Shouldn’t we get Zoidberg and your fur pile?” asked Bender.
“Hmm, you’re right...” Leela mused, “They’re all alone now. I wouldn’t want one of them eating the other... though I’m not sure which way that would work out...”
“Uh... Fry and I‘ll go get ‘em if ya want.”
Leela was stuck. She knew they were just trying to get out of an awkward situation, but at the same time suddenly feared for her pet’s life. Who knew what Zoidberg’s shell would do to his adorable digestive tract?
“Yeah, go ahead...” she conceded.
“We’ll be right back Charlie.”
“Know the way out?”
“Touch anything on the way out or in and I’ll kill you?”
Bender grabbed Fry by the hand again and pulled him away. Over time, Bender had realized that this was much easier than talking him into things, as easy as doing that already was. He brought Fry down to the cargo bay, opened the hatch via control panel, then made an abrupt right turn.
Fry asked the obvious question, “Bender, this isn’t the right way, where are we going?”
“Storage chamber connected to the cargo bay; saw it on the way in. This bay is empty, so we’re checking it out.”
“But he’ll kill us!”
“Big deal. I’m technically not a life-form and you don’t have a life, so we’ve got nothing to lose!”
Fry couldn’t argue with that, which was good, because by the time he would have formed an argument Bender had already overrode the lock on the door.
Meanwhile, the captains conversed as best they could. Amy wasn’t saying much, if anything at all.
“So, you do deliveries for a living?” asked Leela.
“I wouldn’t exactly say that.”
“Oh... well then what do you-”
“Let’s say I’ve discreetly steered the conversation away from me, alright?!” came a curt and vociferous reply. He instantly calmed. “But you, you do the delivery thing?”
“Yeah, I suppose you could call it that. I prefer the term ‘Captain,’ or even ‘Remedial Educationalist’ to describe my job, though.”
“What are you delivering now?”
Leela sighed. “Boxes,” she mumbled.
“Empty boxes and crates, that’s it,” said Leela. “The Disorganized People of Disorgatron ordered a ship-full. If they like them, they’ll eventually order some more.”
“But,” Amy interrupted, “But I thought we were delivering to three different planets, weren’t we?”
“They’re very disorganized.”
“Sounds like a wild good time,” jeered Charlie, pulling apart two pieces of salami which had congealed together, then stuffing them both into his mouth. “I have some crazy things with me right now; craziest looking things... haven’t the damnedest what they do, but this guy I know said they’re pretty interesting. Don’t know if I buy it, though. I’m bringing them from one scientist to another for testing, or some crap like that... probably steal ‘em if I wasn’t afraid of blowing myself up with one of them.”
“You’re carrying them and you don’t even know if they’re harmful?!” Leela reacted, incredulously.
“Hey!” Charlie stood up, casting a looming shadow over the cyclops. “Why don’t you keep your criticism to yourself, huh? Whose ship are you on, anyway?”
Leela was too stunned to even retort. Amy dropped her sandwich, inattentively leaving her mouth in sandwich acceptance mode, then collected both meal and lower jaw in one sheepish fell swoop. Charlie sat down, but did not break eye-contact with Leela for a pregnant moment, and while Leela had just taken a decidedly sizeable man down with only minimal help from her cohort, something about Charlie told her he’d win in a fight.
“One looks like a camera, and one looks like a box with a couple red buttons. I’m getting paid well and legally to bring them somewhere, and I’m not confident enough in their value to risk messing with that. That’s sufficient knowledge for me.” said Charlie, resolutely.
“Oh I’m sorry,” Leela began, “I just assumed-“
“Don’t assume, Leela. Assuming makes an ass out of you.”
“Me!” Leela belted, completing the ancient idiom.
“Right, out of you,” said Charlie, in an almost patronizing fashion.
The man smirked in a way which suggested he was just toying with Leela, seeing how far he could provoke her. If this was what he was up to, he was somehow an expert on her already. The silence that followed was piercingly braying.
“So... what type of shoes are those?” blurted Amy, mouth not quite full enough to prevent her.
Fry and Bender examined a large case; the only interesting thing in the room. Fry was clearly nervous now that he had thought about the consequences more, and was eager to get out and do what they had actually said they were going to.
“Alright Bender, just take the case and let’s go”
Bender looked at the bulky case, and then to Fry.
“Heh, you kiddin? I don’t have that type of volume available!”
Fry turned a dial on the back of Bender’s torso.
“How about now?”
“NOT THAT TYPE, MORON!” roared the din that was once Bender’s non-augmented voice. Fry quickly turned the dial back; hoping desperately that the room they were in was soundproof. After several silent seconds had passed, Fry relaxed, tenderly putting his hands to his ears.
“Ow... my cochleae...” he whimpered. And with that, Bender opened the case. Inside, he found two relatively common looking items; one looked like a camera, and one looked like a simple metal device with several red buttons.
They had dawdled too long now... if they had only gone to get Zoidberg first, perhaps they could have stopped it...
Just minutes earlier, Zoidberg had finally reached the Planet Express Ship following an exciting chase after a ferret that had turned out to actually be a large mouse which had escaped from behind the deli. Not one to be fastidious, he ate it, though it wasn’t really much of a meal. It tasted like soufflé.
Activating the staircase via a remote delicately perched between his pincers, Zoidberg wandered up the stairway, dully aware that he was making a lot more noise on the metal stairs than usual. He soon noticed that there were also several more guns pointed at the back of his head than usual. Zoidberg’s claws were up faster than an order at Sam’s Short Order Seafood.
“Alright, let’s have it.” said a robot, in an exceedingly serious tone.
“Have what?” asked the doctor.
“Don’t play dumb!” a female voice barked.
“I don’t need to play, I promise!”
“He wants you to elaborate, Holly!” the android hollered, hands in the air in frustration.
“Oh, cool it Kui,” snarled the woman, noting the bot’s overdramatic pose, “And if you keep your hands up like our friend here I may be tempted to shoot you too.” She turned to Zoidberg. “Look, it’s very simple Lobster-boy. You have what we want.”
“The lawbreaker...” repeated Zoidberg, thinking heavily. ‘...you mean the robut?”
“The rowboat? I.... uh... look, we don’t know exactly what it is, we just know what it’s called, and we have strict orders to ‘retrieve’ it from you. You were making a delivery, weren’t you?”
“Well that’s what we want! Now get it before I pull this trigger then go find it myself!”
Zoidberg briefly thought back to his depressing trip to the cargo bay. They probably weren’t going to be very happy either when they found out the crew had forgotten their payload. Then again, maybe they would...
Holly stared at Zoidberg, who had the semblance of someone trying to calculate the proper tip to leave while in the midst of a bar brawl. She really didn’t feel like following through on her threat, as violence made her squeamish, and she wanted to shrug off as many female stereotypes as possible. Ever since teaming up with K.U.I., who was basically your standard killbot... with some severe moral hang-ups, she hadn’t had to resort to bloodshed. People usually do whatever you say when two weapons are pointed at them. “This guy, though...” she thought, “This guy either knows exactly what he’s doing, or is lost beyond rescue.”
The doctor perked up, a sure sign of his first cohesive thought.
“You guys don’t have any food on you do you? I haven’t eaten decently all trip!”
“Beyond rescue...” muttered Holly. “Kui, tear up the cargo bay. You’ll find it eventually”
Zoidberg had never retained much of a natural sense of danger. He was usually oblivious to it, choosing instead to lament over his minor shortcomings in life- how poor he was, his lack of good friends, how every single letter he had ever received from a woman was a Dear John letter... It was quite amazing that he had even shown the awareness to comply with the intruders at first, but soon his common sense melted away like certain types of paint at his scent.
“So... ‘Kui,’ that’s an interesting name...” He said, still cheerful despite the robot’s inability to provide food.
“KUI is short for a ‘Killbot Under Inhibition,” replied Holly, briefly lowering her gun.
“And you’re kind of chubby for a bandit...” scoffed Kui, already though a sizable portion of the boxes.
“Hey, that’s not what I meant!” shouted Holly, diffidently tugging her shirt past a slightly exposed midriff. Feeling even more flustered for letting Kui get to her, she charged the gun and pointed at the nearest scapelobster.
“Young man,” started Zoidberg, “As you may not be aware, not being a person of medicine, unlike your species mine cannot survive being shot in the head.”
“...and?” Holly maliciously insinuated.
“Oh, just making conversation. I happen to have extensive knowledge about what kills things, a skilled practitioner as I am.” Zoidberg beamed.
It was so naïve that she had to believe it. She holstered the weapon; he wasn’t worth the ion pack a fully charged shot would consume.
“Nothing’s here!” Shouted Kui, completing his efficient search of the boxes.
“What?” screeched Holly. “That’s impossible! Let me see...” She ran to Kui, momentarily stopping to turn back to the crustacean. “Now don’t try anything dumber. I’ve got my eye on you; make a move, and I’ll ion you.”
Holly joined her cohort, hoping her searching skills could somehow surpass the precision sensors of a military automaton. Indeed, all of the boxes were empty... “They must have hid the cargo...” thought the woman, “somewhere where they could look after it...”
“Let’s check the cockpit!” she declared. “Maybe they were keeping it safe in there. And if we can’t find it we’ll just take the whole ship back to ‘em.”
She jogged back to the Zoidberg, snatched the ships’ keys from him, then headed for the interior cargo-bay door, which to her surprise she discovered to be locked. The key in her hand was clearly for the ignition.
“What? How can this be locked?!” Holly was flummoxed. She wheeled on the doctor. “This door locks from the inside! How did you plan on getting into the rest of your own ship, you idiot!!”
“Calm down, sir!” said the lobster, in a soothing but forceful voice. “You’re awfully tense right now. I think you may be coming down with hypochondria...”
“Kui! Interface with that door and hack your way in, OK?”
Kui looked despondent. “Do you have any idea how annoying that is? What have you done for me lately?”
“Well, I got you those strippers for your birthday.”
“True, true. ...fine...” forfeited Kui. Opening up his cabinet, he retrieved said strippers, using them to fray a wire on his finger, and then spliced it into the door panel. Some standard sparks ensured.
“Nothing. I don’t have access...” he sighed. “Wait... wait... OK, no problem, I’ve downloaded an electronic blueprint of their ship. We can find a way from here through the vents, since they connect from here to the cockpit; it says so in the legend.”
“We’re going to wriggle through a ventilation system on nothing but myth?”
“No, I mean there’s a key!”
“Well then unlock the damn door!!”
“No! Do you even know-”
The two continued to squabble as Zoidberg looked on, perplexed at the entire situation, but prepared to treat any emotional scars the fight may cause with a tourniquet. Eventually, Holly would learn not to bicker senselessly with a computer program. Simply put, computer programs know far too much about arguments. Meanwhile, Nibbler abandoned his post at the opposite side of the recently locked door, bounding to the cockpit as fast as his legs could carry him, which was slower than usual. After all, he had just eaten a lion.
Back on the other ship, Bender currently felt like the star of Charlie’s Angels Four: The Legend of Charlie’s Hidden Electronics. He snatched both devices and stashed them in his chest compartment, further packing in the money from his earlier misdemeanor. Despite a multitudinous urge to leave immediately, Fry’s attention was drawn to a small note Bender had failed to notice, or had failed to care about. Thusly piqued, he peeked at the parchment that had peaked his interest and proceeded to pick up the paper to peer:
Included are both the Lawbreaker 1.1 and Desiderator 3.0. I’m quite sure the latter works splendidly, but need to pass it off for another round of testing before I can call it the Desiderator 4.0, which is far more catchy in my opinion. Careful with the Lawbreaker; I haven’t gotten all the kinks out, and it’s dreadfully unpredictable. Moreover, I am thinking of renaming it, as my initial reports have been met with staunch criticism. I’m not a bloody criminal; maybe those toffee-nosed scientific journalists should read a bit further than the title, eh?
Fry pocketed the note, hoping it contained more clues about what exactly Bender was purloining than he was able to ascertain from it.
“OK Bender, I’m going to find Zoidberg now; are you coming or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t get your panties in a mobius strip.”
Bender lackadaisically followed his human companion out of the room, while said meat-bag became visibly more panicky with each passing second. Fry had almost broken into a full run off of the ship, thinking of what its owner would do to them if he were to find them now. He doubled back to gather his sauntering companion.
“Bender, remember what happened last time you got overconfident and let a stealing spree get out of hand?!
“Yeah! You were impressed.”
“...into the Stumbonian Navy!” Fry inveighed.
“Ah, yeah...” the robot fondly recalled, “Heh... and they let me off the hook. Sure hope you learned your lesson!”
“I guess not...” seethed Fry, grabbing Bender by the Squeezy and speedily dragging him away. “Your patented burglary-binges are in need of some shortening”
“I have plenty of shortening! I put it in our milkshakes!” carped Bender, and they were finally outside.
Meanwhile, Nibbler was pensively waiting for his visitors to arrive in the cockpit. The muffled clanking and cursing from behind the top of the wall was an obvious signal they were gradually approaching. The Nibblonian had been worried at first; thinking he may have to blow his cover in order to stop a disastrous hijacking. Granted, only revealing himself to Zoidberg was a best case scenario, but he didn’t have clearance to wipe yet another memory clean, and riding on the fact that no one paid attention to the lobster was precarious at best.
As he scampered to the cockpit, though, it dawned on him that all he would have to do is lay low. He needn’t electrify the controls, superheat the driver’s seat, or strike the intruders with pendulum paint cans on strings... he would simply let karma run its course... he exited the room.
One. Two. Three. Three of the most diverse body types imaginable struck the ground, creating three of the most dissimilar sounds conceivable. Holly had made three mistakes already. First, she had decided it would be best if Zoidberg joined them to the cockpit. Second, she had allowed him to molt when it became evident his bulky, nonmalleable form would not fit into the vents. Third, Zoidberg had gone in first, wearing only a towel. She didn’t even want to know what she had just been crawling through. She desperately needed a shower and a cigarette... though not at the same time. On the plus side, the woman was treated to a slightly broken fall thanks to her revolting hostage. On the minus side, her robot partner received the same service from her.
“Ah! My legs!” yelped Holly.
“Sorry, I was aiming for your stomach,” quipped Kui, taking his time to get up. As soon as Holly’s legs weren’t pinned, he was vaulted forward by a kick that would have made Leela proud. While he toppled awkwardly to the ground, the woman sprung to her feet, poised to do it again. She didn’t know why he angered her so; she knew he just did it to keep her in check; but still, she wouldn’t tolerate that kind of crap from a stupid robot....
“I’m OK, my face broke my fall.” said Zoidberg, readjusting his towel. No one paid attention.
“I don’t even see a good place to hide something,” said Kui, surveying the room from his new low angle perspective.
“Great... just great...” Holly gestured towards the doctor. “And you have no clue what we’re talking about?”
“What were we talking about?”
“The... the... oh, screw it! Just screw it!” Holly ran her hands through her hair, grasping at her shoulders in frustration. “I don’t get paid enough for this. We’re taking the ship. If it’s on the ship the boss can find it, and if someone else has it we’ll at least have a hostage.”
She jammed the keys into the ignition, intensity begat from rage in her eyes.
“So... I’ll be getting my shell back if you need me,” casually mentioned Zoidberg. He started to leave.
“Right, so you can try to call for help?” alleged Kui, now standing in front of the door. “I think you’ll be staying right here.”
“Well, OK, I guess...” the crustacean shrugged; and with this motion, the towel started to slip...
“Go get your shell.”
Midway between the only two occupied spots in the parking lot, Bender and Fry couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It looked like the Planet Express ship was planning to take off. The entrances had been retracted, and the landing gear was rising, though the thrusters had yet to be engaged.
“Oh no...” hollered Fry, as what was happening set in. “Zoidberg’s trying to drive the ship! We’re doomed!”
“Gangway!” shouted Bender, pivoting to retreat, pointing out the tangible gangway that lead back onto Charlie’s ship.
“Right, we gotta get Leela!” agreed Fry. They sprinted off in the direction they came from.
The two women and the reptile were still in the dining area. Amy had given up on interjecting, and was quietly polishing her nails. Leela and Charlie were in a heated debate; though one other than Amy could probably sense that both were enjoying the intelligent, if not immature, conflict. Leela collected her thoughts, noting Charlie hadn’t seemed seriously threatening for the past couple of minutes.
“Listen you daft punk! You can’t just make the crude blanket statement that men are simply better than woman at piloting!”
“No, you listen,” Charlie stood up, but Leela didn’t regress this time. “Even though we know nothing about many civilizations, you can’t write off the facts we do know as statistical anomalies. Statistics aren’t blanket statements! Now if I had said, ‘All women should be home knitting blankets...’
“Leela!!!” Fry had burst into the room. “Zoidberg’s trying to take the ship!”
“What!? He wouldn’t! He couldn’t!” She paused, and a thought hit her. “Amy... what if Steve is stealing the ship?”
“Who?” asked Amy.
“Steve, the garage guy we ran away from?”
Amy looked confused.
“You don’t remember being chased?!”
“Well, maybe back when I was 15…”
The unmistakable sound of a low-flying ship halted the conversation.
“Let’s move!” ordered Leela, and the four crew members, in a show of obedience expedited by fear, hurriedly exited. “Sorry Charlie!” she added, just within earshot.
Arriving outside, Leela’s worst fears were confirmed. The Planet Express ship glided towards the rest stop airlock. She wheeled, scanning the dome for some sort of an escape. There, still idling by the gas pumps, was the same space-taxi they had seen earlier. She dashed after it, her three subordinates following close.
“Everyone into the taxi, we’ll follow them!” Leela commanded. She had gained the driver’s attention and was pointing towards the open airlock before they even reached the cab; fearing that she would soon lose sight of her precious vessel. To her delight, the pilot sped off before they even had the doors closed.
“I got it, I got it...” assured the cabbie, and the pursuit was on.
Leela closed her eye and exhaled; they still had a chance. It had all gone smoothly and gracefully... almost too gracefully. Fry cautiously poked her.
In the recently evacuated dining area, Charlie sighed. The afternoon hadn’t been portentous, yet somehow he had enjoyed himself; or at least had been starting to enjoy the company of the cyclops. Was he losing his edge? Strolling, and suddenly wishing he had a crew of his own for once, Foster wondered if he’d see them again. They were all pretty nice, even if for some reason he didn’t trust that robot for-
“Oh, crap.” growled Charlie, making a prediction that would have made Nostradamus applaud. He bolted for the storage chamber, and barreled through the unlocked door.
Empty. The storage case was empty. Of course it was! How stupid could he be? Anger surged though each and every one of the reptile’s veins. To hell with all the stuff he had just been thinking! Now he remembered why he preferred to be alone. Now he remembered why you should only trust yourself. In fact, if he saw any of those stupid little Earthlings again-
A dull knock on the open cargo bay door interrupted his runaway bullet train of thought. He peered out of the storage room, and gazed upon the equivalent of a child who had just lost their mother in a crowded store. Regardless, his responding glare was nothing short of malevolent.
“Um... heheh... hi?” Amy stammered.