Background Noise, Part 11
By Dave Vincent
In Arduis Fidelis
(The atmospheric conditions on Da Nang made it a difficult place for the DOOP military to fight. Most of its modern weaponry was electronics based and the electro-magnetic radiation played havoc with the circuitry, making the most advanced DOOP weapons nearly useless. Abandoning the pulse rifles and high tech equipment, the DOOP army on Da Nang fought with weapons from three centuries ago. The great-great-great grandfathers of the average DOOP trooper on Da Nang would have recognized the weaponry their descendents had to use. However, these weapons initially gave the DOOP the edge over the Da Nang natives who had progressed from pre-industrial weapons to stolen pulse rifles that they acquired during Brannigan's tenure. The shattering of Da Nang's moon and the resultant change in Da Nang's atmosphere had rendered all such weapons useless. The DOOP army had easily held its own against the hit and run attacks of the natives. That changed when the Persae began secretly shipping in advanced weaponry. These shrapnel type weapons would soon put the DOOP on the defensive on Da Nang. - The Da Nang Campaign by Vijay Ranjanpurani, Major General rtd. West Point Press, Earth 3079.)
(Antebellum Persae society was based on a feudalistic tribal and clan system. The basis of Persae society was the clan structure which was also caste-like in nature. A member of a Persae clan was required by Persae law to serve in those functions that were allotted to their clans. Each Persae was obligated by a system of feudal obligations to the higher status clan members that stretched up to the king himself. The only mobility across clans was through marriage with any resulting offspring becoming members of the patriarchal clan. However, a Persae could advance himself through battle against higher status clan members. Normally with such a violent and barbaric species such as the Persae, this would lead to anarchy but Persae society had evolved a ritualized protocol for challenges. This allowed for a more stable method of leadership changes. Additionally, victory in battle against alien enemies could lead to a promotion to higher status within the tribal boundaries and a possibility of founding one's own clan based upon a wealth garnered through slaves from the conquered aliens.
Each clan was part of a greater tribe. There were twenty five tribes on pre-war Omicron Persae 8. These tribes were led originally by chieftains but when the Persae moved into space, the chieftains evolved into Fleet Lords and Warlords. The Warlords commanded the tribes that made up the Persae ground forces and the Fleet Lords ruled over the space forces. Each of the various lords was a member of the King's council. As the Fleet Lords commanded more respect and authority than the Warlords, they made up the Privy Council for the Kingdom of Omicron Persae 8. It was in the Privy Council where the true power of the kingdom lay. The king appointed a chamberlain to lead the Privy Council and act as his spokesman when the king could not attend. Depending on the dissipation and indolence of the king, the chamberlain could be quite powerful. - Antebellum Persae Society - A Study of the Government, Military and Social Structures of the Pre-war Kingdom of Omicron Persae 8, by Professor Ikr Al-Moustafa, Gala-net Metroversity, Paulus Township, Planet of Arethedain, Canopus System, 13 NCE [New Commonwealth Era])
Planet Express Ship, Rose Convoy, Sol-Maug Corridor -
For what seemed like the hundredth time, Leela rubbed her eye. She stared out the ship's front window trying to focus on the stars which seem to be blurring in and out. Leela felt tired beyond words but the stimulants she had taken during the battle had her too wired to sleep. More than anything, she wanted to go to her cabin and just crash for a week. She looked at the stars again and tried to blink away the blurriness.
"Serves me right for taking too many of them," she muttered to herself.
A gentle snoring interrupted her thoughts. Smiling at the sound, Leela looked over at Amy asleep in the other chair on the bridge.
"She's earned it," she thought as she looked at the young Martian. It had been an exhausting day, full of fear and death. Leela focused her sight on the scanner. She frowned as she saw the blips representing the sad remnants of the Rose Convoy being escorted by the ten Navy ships from Maug. There were only eight ships left out of the twenty two merchant freighters and two escorts that had set out from Gooney Bird Station. The Persae stealth raider had decimated them before Leela was able to destroy it. She wanted to be angry at someone for what happened - the death of Lt. Commander Ruiz and the sailors of his two corvettes; the loss of the freighters; the dreadful order she had been forced to give for the convoy to run at maximum speed which had left the slower ships and any life pods to their fates. Leela couldn't decide who was responsible for what happened. She tried to concentrate her thoughts but her mind was too exhausted. She just wanted to be able to sleep and forget. But sleep was impossible, so she looked up at the view screen again and the blurry stars.
Leela reached up and rubbed her forehead. She could feel a headache coming on. One of the downsides of her mutant physiology was the lack of a bridge for her nose. This meant she had a larger sinus than regular humans and suffered intense headaches which affected her eyesight. Another downside was that when she cried, her tears ran down her nose as well. She felt this called attention to something Leela thought of as the most unattractive part of herself and she was very self conscious of it. She brought her finger up along side of it and ran it along the length of her nose.
"It's not so big," she told herself as she began recalling all the insults directed towards it. Angry at the memory, she shook herself and looked at the view screen again. Leela tried to focus on the stars to keep them from blurring. Amy's snoring began to take on a rhythm which had a hypnotic quality and Leela's thoughts began to drift idly. As was usual these days, she quickly found herself thinking of Fry.
She wondered what he was doing and whether he was safe. Some part of her ached with the need to protect him. She still saw him as the sweet goofy kid who couldn't handle anything more complicated than delivering packages. The thought of him being on Da Nang under fire scared her more than she wanted to admit. She had tried everything to keep him safe and failed. Suddenly, she felt the tears forming in her eye. Wiping her eye, she shuddered and sat upright in the chair. Her eye was drawn back to the window and the blurred stars. She tried to shake away the gloomy thoughts but the fear remained and her pulse quickened as the stimulant reacted to the increased heart rate.
Leela looked over at the sleeping Amy and wondered if she felt the same sort of fear for Kif. She supposed she did but Amy seemed to be able to keep it from tearing her up inside. A good cry and Amy was all sunny again. Leela wished she had that ability but it wasn't her way. She could cry and often did, particularly when faced with some sad story about cute animals or when someone said something that brought back memories of being an orphan. But it brought no end to the hurt. The pain went on and brought a frustration that Leela had to find a way to release. At first it had been difficult, especially at the orphanarium, but she soon discovered that violent physical activity was an outlet for all those suppressed feelings and she often resorted to it. Whether in actually hurting someone (who deserved it she told herself half-believingly) or through athletic endeavors such as the martial arts or physical exercise; she found a cathartic release of the pent-up frustration. But with Fry on Da Nang, it was different. Her regular exercise routine, the martial arts practice, even pounding the mob robot had not given her the emotional release she needed. Her frustration was nearing intolerable limits and behind it there was something Leela didn't want to acknowledge - fear of losing Fry.
Leela was use to fear. She was afraid of ending up alone; never getting married; of being childless. She was nearing thirty and the thought of never having someone else in her life scared her. She liked Fry. Maybe more than she was willing to admit. He was a truly sweet guy with a good heart but his idiotic ways and foolish behavior aggravated her sense of self-worth. She didn't want loneliness to drive her into a relationship with a man she couldn't respect even if it might be the only man she might ever have a chance with. And there was the rub; Fry loved her. She knew that without any doubt. The holophonor she had saved at his apartment was proof of that.
Leela began replaying in her mind what had happened that day when Fry had played it so beautifully for her. She had told him she had loved what he had become. She had meant it as praise since Fry had become her ideal man. But Fry had sighed and then, to her shocked surprise, had left promising to return. She had waited for him but fell asleep. When Fry returned, changed back to his usual insensitive self, she had gotten angry and thrown him out. Now, as she sat looking at the stars, it slowly began to dawn on her why Fry had gotten rid of the parasites. She had always wanted to be loved for who she was. Now, she had rejected Fry for not wanting to be someone else. She thought about the times she had tried to change herself, to make herself more human, more beautiful. All those efforts had been failures and she still felt the pain of them. But Fry had never cared about her one eye, her huge feet, or her big nose, she thought as she catalogued all her self-perceived flaws. He had loved her as she was.
Suddenly, Leela felt totally ashamed at how she had treated him. She wished she could take it back. She had been totally selfish in thinking only about herself and not giving a thought about how Fry had felt. She had rejected him coldly without an explanation or even trying to show that she still cared for him. Yet, despite her rejection of him, Fry continued to be there for her, to care about her, and to love her. The thought of him on Da Nang, risking his life made her angry.
"Damn the person who got him drafted," she muttered angrily. "If Fry was here, I wouldn't be feeling so bad. I would know where he was and be able to keep my eye on him."
She sighed. "Why does it have to be so hard? Why am I feeling so scared for Fry?"
"Because he is so helpless," she told herself half-heartedly. Her mother's words came back to her - "He will have to do his duty and trust to God."
Leela trembled as she remembered the words. They reminded her of the dream she had had in her parents' house the night she fell ill. It had been of Fry falling away into darkness. A feeling began to grow in Leela's heart. A feeling that made her heart beat faster. She tried to keep the thought from occurring, tried to throttle it before it became a reality; tried to deny it. But it came into her mind anyway and she couldn't unthink it. It had a terrible certainty about it - Fry was going to die on Da Nang and she would not be able to save him.
She felt her hands grip the steering column tighter as if she was trying to choke it. She was angry and wanted to hurt something - anything to ease the pain.
"The Rock" - DOOP Naval Station, Da Nang Asteroid Field -
Doctor Rhys Marshall listened to the radio as the reports of the heavy fighting on Da Nang came through. Although radio contact with Thunderbolt was sporadic at best with the huge storm generating electromagnetic noise and static, Rhys could make out that the fighting had been severe and casualties were heavy. Marshall knew that they were going to need help on Da Nang and called the station CO to volunteer. The CO told him that with the storm, no ship could possibly get him down to Da Nang and it would take an insane pilot to even attempt it.
The young doctor wasn't the type to give up so easily and went down to the station's bar. Several pilots were relaxing after a hard day's patrolling the Da Nang approaches for Persae stealth raiders. Marshall bought a round of drinks and then asked the pilots who was the most insane pilot on the Rock.
"Well," said one of them after waiting until the young doctor bought another round, "there's several head cases here on the Rock including some in this bar." The other pilots all raised their glasses in salute as the man grinned broadly. Thinking for a moment, he said quietly, "but for plain out-right insane flying, it would be that Roger Young orphan." He paused to sip from his glass and then looked to his fellow pilots asking, "What's that gal's name? The one who got assigned here after the Young bought it?"
"Missy," said one of the other pilots. "She does things with that lander of hers that border on the totally insane. A real whacko, if'n you ask me."
The others nodded in assent. Marshall thanked them and asked where she might be found. Realizing the good doctor wasn't going to stand another round, they directed him towards the hanger bay.
"Look for a beat-up crate called the En Violette," said a pilot as Rhys left the bar and headed for the station's outer perimeter.
Marshall entered the hangar bay and walked amongst the dozens of landers, patrol craft and small corvettes. It took a while but he finally found the En Violette. It wasn't much to look at, in Rhys' admittedly inexperienced opinion. The ship had the standard rectangular shape of a DOOP Armadillo-class assault lander but looked battered and pitted from extensive service in the dusty Da Nang orbital approaches. It badly needed a new paint job but Marshall noted that the laser mini-cannon slung beneath the cockpit looked to be in meticulous condition. As he approached, he saw a man in a flight suit sleeping on a chase lounger next to the lander's open hatch. Under one of the lander's stubby wings a young woman, also in a navy flight suit, was looking into an inspection port on one of the lander's wing mounted engines.
Marshall walked up and said, "I'm looking for a pilot named Missy."
The woman turned around and gave a brilliant smile. "That'd be me," she said and, noting the doctor's rank, brought her hand up in a semi-salute. "What can I help you with, Lieutenant Commander?"
Rhys gave a sloppy salute in return and said, "I need to get down to Da Nang as quickly as possible."
"In this weather?" she asked, raising an eyebrow in mock disbelief. "I can't imagine the Rock's CO would even authorize it. Have you got some orders for this?"
"No, I don't have any orders," Marshall admitted. "But I have some medical supplies to get to Da Nang where they are going to be desperately needed. The other pilots said you were the one person who could pull it off."
Missy laughed and said, "Well, I appreciate the compliment but I'm not really sure it's a good idea. I saw the weather report and it's a helluva storm down there."
The doctor frowned. "There's a lot of casualties and with Thunderbolt socked in, they'll have to go to the firebases. They generally only have one or two doctors. They'll be swamped quickly and start running out of darn near everything. I want to get down there with as much medical supplies as you can carry and help out anyway I can. We could save some lives."
Missy looked down at the sleeping man on the lounger and thought for a moment. Then she gave an impish smile. "Well as my ex-CO Skusting used to say it's always easier to get forgiveness than permission." She shook her head and laughed. "He was one of those swashbuckling types that don't make it to admiral. Always in trouble with the big brass."
Feeling relieved, Marshall grinned back and said, "I'll go get the supplies. Back in thirty minutes."
Missy nodded and watched as the thin stick-figure of a man rushed away. She nudged the sleeping man with her boot.
"Get up Wotjek. We're making a run down to Da Nang."
The man groaned and stood up slowly. He looked on sleepy-eyed as Missy explained what they were going to do. Stretching into a big yawn, he reached into the open hatch and pulled out his helmet which had the name Swidzi written on it. He looked at it for a moment then gave a sour grin.
"Sweet Mother of Mercy, Missy! Not another unapproved mission? We'll be in hack for the next ten years and that's if the CO is in a good mood," he grumbled as he put his helmet on and folded up the lounger. "I should have listened to my mom and stayed at New Warsaw University."
Laughing, Missy gave him a push towards the hatch. "Spin her up while I go sweet talk launch control into letting us out."
Fire Base Glasgow, Da Nang IV -
Jess gazed tiredly about at the ruin that was once a fire base. It looked like Earth's moon with all the shell craters. Most of the bunkers were destroyed or burning. The very air seemed heavy with the stench of burnt flesh. Scattered everywhere was the debris of war; weapons, uniforms, and paper. Jess was surprised at how much sodden paper there was strewn about the base.
"So much for the paperless age," she muttered to herself. Everywhere she looked there were bodies; dozens of humans and hundreds of the Bugs. Some were torn beyond recognition from shell fire. As she walked along the base's main road, she came upon a large number of Bugs scattered in a semicircle about a huge body with no head. The body had been savagely hacked and butchered. Despite the horrible mutilation, she recognized it as a Jintai cat, one of the DOOP's warrior races serving on Da Nang. The Bugs had a deep hatred and loathing for the cats who had acquired a taste for collecting Bug ears.
"Last stand," she thought bleakly. "Must of have been a hell of a fight. There are more than twenty dead Bugs here." She paused and saluted the fallen cat then trudged on along the road looking for Major Smith.
The Bugs had finally overrun Glasgow in the early hours before dawn and were celebrating their first major victory on Da Nang. Their first indication of the fleeting nature of the moment came when the Bugs who had bypassed the fire base to head for Thunderbolt came rushing out of the jungle. Behind them came Rand, in full killbot mode, and a horde of screaming Argyll and Sutherlanders with bayonets fixed. The Bug leadership had tried to put up a defense but they were too disorganized by the all-night fight for Glasgow. The Highlanders swept into Glasgow and swiftly drove the Bugs out of the firebase and back into the jungle. Jess had been separated from Smith during the attack. She had ended up atop a smoldering bunker with Captain Tanner who directed her to call fire down on the Bugs as they streamed away into the jungle. Jess, who had not fired a shot all night, had the satisfaction of adding to the Bug casualty total in the final spasm of the great battle.
Half an hour later, the shelling was still going on as Thunderbolt and the assorted fire bases blasted the jungle east of the Highlander Bases. Jess found herself walking through the shattered base looking for her commander. Weary beyond care, she took off the bulky fire support radio she had carried all night. Her shoulders were sore from where the straps had bitten into them. She could feel the pain in her back from where the radio had bounced against it. Her legs ached from marching over twenty-five miles all night through the pouring rain with only short rest periods. In her mind, she could still hear the major's voice growling, "Keep moving, keep moving. Those are our guys ahead. Keep moving."
Jess couldn't remember feeling this tired when she went through the SEAL course at the training center on New Calcutta. She had thought that was the most grueling thing she ever done but the night march from Aberdeen to Glasgow topped it easily. She set the radio down on the road, followed by her web belt and rifle. Exhausted, she sat down on top of the radio and took a long drink of water from her canteen. She looked at the various members of the Argyll and Sutherland battalion moving about the base looking for survivors. The Highlanders were hollowed-eyed and fatigued. Most of them looked as filthy as she felt. She put her elbow on one knee and rested her head on her hand. She rubbed her face with the other as she thought about how terribly, terribly tired she felt. Jess' eyes closed as she began thinking about the night before.
The rain had come down in torrents as they moved away from Aberdeen. The jungle provided some shelter but everyone was soon drenched. The fast marching pace set by the major was not aided by the muddy ground and running water. Men fell often and soon everyone was covered in red mud. Complaining and cursing, the Argyll and Sutherlanders pushed towards Glasgow in a surly, angry mood. Even the major slipped a few times. He joked to Jess that it was lucky for him that the Highlanders had the Bugs to take their anger out on. In order to prevent the Bugs from slipping around them, the major had Tanner spread his force out in a long line across the main supply road to Glasgow and into the jungle on either side. Tanner worried about rushing headlong into the enemy but the major was confident in Rand's ability to detect the Bugs before they spotted the Highlanders. On the headset of the radio, Jess could hear the Highlander fire bases calling for artillery support from Thunderbolt. The desperation in the voices made Jess want to run instead of march but the major demanded ten minute rest periods every hour. Despite the rain, they made good time initially.
Fifteen miles out from Glasgow, they had their first battle. Smith and Jess had been with Tanner's command group just behind the main line when Rand came out of the jungle beside them. It made everyone except the major jump with fright. Rand reported that the Bugs were coming towards them with a large force. The major directed Tanner to ambush them and sent Rand to come in on the flank once the fighting started.
Jess wanted to go forward but the major did not move. Firing broke out ahead and soon spread up and down the jungle in front of them. It lasted nearly twenty minutes. Tanner sent a runner back to say the Bugs had withdrawn down the road and he was in pursuit. The major and Jess moved on but had only traveled a short distance when another firefight developed. This one lasted longer.
It went on like that nearly all night. The Bugs would reform and attempt to fight again. Rand would detect the new Bug position and Tanner's men would deploy to push them out of it. Each battle took time and, from what Jess could hear on the radio, time was the one thing the firebases were desperately short of. Soon, even the major became frustrated and pressed Tanner to move faster. But despite Rand's abilities, the Highlanders could not speed the battles up. The Bugs weren't doing their normal snipe and run tactics. They were standing and forcing the Highlanders to push them back. Lots of Bugs were killed but the Highlander casualties began to mount as well.
Two miles out of Glasgow, a huge fight developed that lasted nearly an hour and a half. The Bugs fought every inch of the way. The battle ended when Rand found a way around their flank and Tanner sent his reserve company with her. The Bugs broke and went streaming back into Glasgow with the Argyll and Sutherlanders in furious pursuit.
It was at that point that Jess heard a voice calling itself 'Glasgow Six Actual' come on the radio and announce that the base was overrun. He then requested artillery fire directly on his position, giving the coordinates. The Thunderbolt Fire Control Officer requested confirmation. The voice replied laconically was that if the FCO waited another minute, he could get it directly from the Bugs. A few moments later, Jess could hear the sound of shells streaking over head. 'Six Actual' told the Thunderbolt gunners to correct range and fire for effect in the same indifferent tone. Behind the voice on the radio, Jess could hear weapons fire and screaming. Another set of shells went over and suddenly there was static. Jess could hear the Thunderbolt FCO calling 'Six Actual' but no reply came.
Jess turned to the major and told him what happened. His face twisted with a grim smile, Major Smith said, "Al Shouf pays for his sins and another glorious Highlander legend is born." He shook his head angrily and stalked off down the trail. Jess wanted to ask him what he meant but the major's demeanor made her decide against it. She decided whoever this Al Shouf was; the major clearly did not like him.
That had been nearly two hours ago. Now as dawn broke over the camp, Jess felt a hand shaking her shoulder. She opened her eyes and stared up at the mud streaked face of a Highlander sergeant.
"Ma'am?" He asked with a sardonic smile. "I don't think this is the place to be taking a nap."
Jess shook her head to clear the cobwebs and mumbled "No, I suppose not."
As she rubbed her eyes, she asked, "Any idea where the CO is?"
"Yes ma'am. He's with the major over on the northern perimeter."
Jess picked up her gear and put it back on her aching body. She trudged towards the northern perimeter. It took a few minutes but she soon saw a group of men standing next a smoking crater that was once a bunker. Beyond them, a column of men were moving off towards the north. Jess saw Major Smith and Captain Tanner talking to each other as they watched the men move away. As she came up, she heard them discussing the relief of the northern fire bases. Tanner explained that he was sending two companies north towards Edinburgh, one south to link up with the First division and one to stay and hold what was left of Glasgow.
The major told him that he would arrange for resupply and evacuation of the wounded. Tanner nodded and walked off calling for his sergeant major. Jess came up to Smith who was staring off at the men moving to the north. He turned at the sound of her footsteps. A brief smile came to his lips and he said, "There you are. I was worried you'd got lost." Then his features hardened. "Any word from the Black Watch?"
Jess smiled. At least she had some good news for him. "Yes sir. Nissen reported that he reached Jedburgh before it was overrun and drove the Bugs off. He's linked to the Eighth Guards and is pushing south for Skye."
"Good," the major said and gave a tired smile. Jess could see that the wear and tear of the night march had left a mark on the major as well.
"He's not a young man," she thought. "I'm nearly done in and he's got twenty plus years on me." She was going to ask him if he would like to rest a bit when Rand came silently up. The killbot was stained with mud, soot and blood. There were dents in her body where Bug shrapnel weapons had impacted but she looked none-the-worse for wear. Jess imagined how terrified the Bugs had been when Rand came at them.
"Yet, they stood and fought," she thought with amazement. They had always run before. It was going to be a different war if they fought like they had this day; a much harder war.
Rand stared at the major for a long moment and said, "I'm pleased to find you in good health. You should take an opportunity to rest."
Smith eyed the robot for a moment then gave a gentle smile. "I've got work to do. I can sleep when I'm dead."
Rand looked as if she was going to say something else but nodded and turned to head back into the base. The major looked after her for a moment and then shook his head ruefully. Jess watched all of this quietly and then felt amazed.
"She has feelings for him," she thought with disbelief, "and he genuinely likes her. Talk about your odd couples." She wondered if the major knew how Rand felt then dismissed the notion as ludicrous.
"Everyone knows that robots don't have feelings. Rand obviously had some sort of programming glitch," Jess thought. An eerie feeling came over her and she looked at Rand then back at the major. "My god, what if it's true?"
Shaking her head, she fell in with the major. He asked her to contact Thunderbolt with a request for resupply and med-evacs. As they returned to the center of the base, Jess began calling in the major's request. While she did this, a truck came into camp from the west. Jess looked at it in surprise. She wondered who was nutty enough to drive a truck through the storm and risk running off the road or stumbling into a Bug ambush. It pulled up in front of them and a stocky colonel jumped out of the cab. He signaled the driver who began to unload boxes of ammunition and food from the back of the truck. The colonel walked up to Major Smith who drew himself up and saluted.
"Major Smith?" When Smith nodded, the man smiled. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Danny Moscewicz. I've been appointed acting commander of the Highlanders. I'm here to relieve you."
Jess was shocked. It seemed so unfair. The major had just saved the DOOP position on Da Nang and now he was to be replaced. And by some short colonel, not even a full bird. It was insulting and she expected the major to be angry or annoyed but he smiled and said, "Very good, sir. I'll brief you on the situation as it stands." He paused for a moment and looked at the dark ridge to the east. "And the particulars of my mission."
Fire Base Cantigny -
The rain began to subside as dawn broke. The Bugs had kept up a desultory fire most of the night but withdrew in the small hours before dawn. Exhausted from the tense night, Fry had sat down on a fire step next to the platoon sergeant, Hicks, and fallen sound asleep. He slept for nearly an hour before Hicks shook him awake.
Groggy and feeling worse for the short snooze, Fry rubbed his eyes in the growing light and said blurrily, "Whassit? Why'd you wake me up for?"
"On your feet Fry," Hicks had said gruffly. "They want you up at the hospital bunker ASAP."
Fry shuddered and stared up at Hicks' unshaven face and red-rimmed eyes. He rubbed the stubble on his own face and wondered if he looked as bad. Swallowing nervously, he asked, "Was someone hurt?" He hoped that no one from the platoon had been hit.
Hicks gave a weary shake of his head. "Not any of our guys. But they want all the medics at the bunker now. So get a move on with you." He pulled Fry up and boosted him up onto the ground behind the trench. Fry staggered for a moment and then stumbled slowly towards the hospital bunker.
He arrived to find the place in a frenzied state. Doc Gesus, wearing his ubiquitous green smock, was shouting orders at everyone. When he saw Fry, he yelled, "Private Fry, so nice of you to join us. Help Spotznik and Grimes to get the other operating room set up."
Fry went to help the two Navy corpsmen assigned to the base with Gesus. As they set up the medical equipment, he asked them what was going on. Grimes said, "They can't get the wounded up to the major bases because of the storm. It's clearing from the east and we're the closest to the Highlanders. All the really serious cases that need immediate attention are going to come here." He paused from adjusting the oxygen tanks and gave Fry a grim look. "It's going to get really bad here, Fry. Very bad."
Fry wanted to ask what he meant but the base loudspeaker began crackling. Fry jumped as it blared.
"Attention, attention. Incoming landers. Stretcher bearers report to the landing strip immediately."
Grimes sighed and told Spotznik to finish setting up. Then he turned to Fry. "Let's go Fry. This is going to be one bitch of a day."
Navy Lander "En Violette", Da Nang Orbital Approaches -
Missy brought the Violette into a slow drop down out of orbit towards the planet. The lander began to glow as the heat shield touched the atmosphere. She could see the huge storm that covered the island of Souvema where Fort Thunderbolt lay. Missy clicked her tongue and said to Swidzi, "Looks like we'll have a little chop."
Swidzi looked back at the pale-faced Doctor Marshall in the little jump seat behind them in the cockpit and grinned. "A little chop? It'll be a miracle if'n we don't run into a freaking mountain." He reached under his seat and pulled out a small plastic bag. Handing back over his shoulder, he said, "Here are some airsick bags, Doc. I don't care how cast iron your stomach may be, we're about to get hammered."
Marshall took the bags with a dubious look. He glanced out the forward window at the huge storm below them. "It's clearing from the east. Can't we come in from that direction? Surely, it will be safer."
Missy shook her head. "Only if we want a Bug air defense missile up our tailpipe. They love to feast on these slow-assed crates. And we ain't got that much armor despite the glorious title of armored assault lander."
Swidzi snorted and looked at the navigation console. "We're three hundred miles from the coast and fifty up. I make Zulu twelve thirteen seven dash forty six as the first potential landing area. Ummm, looks to be called Cantigny. Forty two minutes out."
"Roger that. Cantigny it is," Missy acknowledged while Swidzi entered the numbers into the navigation computer.
Missy gripped the steering column and said with a laugh, "Okay boys, grab hold onto something. We're about to have some fun."
Marshall stared wide-eyed at the approaching clouds as Missy banked the lander towards them.
"Here we go," she said as the lander went into the swirling clouds and began to buck as the winds grabbed at it. Missy gave a 'wheee' sound and Swidzi looked back at Marshall. "Okay back there, doc?"
The lander shuddered as the storm lashed at it and then swerved violently from side to side. Doctor Rhys Marshall turned a greenish tinge and said, "Ooy!"
Planet Express Ship, Planet Maug Orbit -
Leela shook Amy awake as they settled into the landing path for the huge space port on blue-green planet below. Amy rubbed the sleep from her eyes and Leela had a twinge of jealously as she saw that Amy looked refreshed and youthful following the short sleep. Leela had looked in a mirror earlier and was shocked to see that the face that looked back at her seemed old and worn. She could see lines on her forehead and around her mouth.
"If I don't get some sleep soon," she had thought sourly, "I'm going to look like the Professor."
With that thought in mind, she sent Amy back to the cargo bay to get it ready for delivery. Leela guided the ship down to the space port. As Leela guided the ship onto the beacon vector she could see that the gigantic field was covered with ships of all shapes and sizes. The sky above the port was filled with ships coming and going. As she neared the field, the port air control came on the com and took over guidance of the ship. She felt a bit uncomfortable allowing a computer to land the ship but it seemed smooth enough.
As soon as they landed, she headed down to the cargo bay. Amy had opened the hatch and lowered the ramp. A human in Navy coveralls came aboard and introduced himself as Petty Officer Wolman, a cargo specialist. He asked for the invoices and Leela handed them over. While Wolman inspected the paperwork and looked over the cargo, Leela told Amy to shutdown the engine and run diagnostics.
"I want to make sure the engine and all systems are one hundred percent. I don't want to have any problems on the way home," Leela said firmly.
"What? I've been cooped up on this damned ship too long," Amy said, her snub nose wrinkling with her outrage. "I want to go ashore and have some fun. I'm tired of the stinking recycled smell of the ship. I'm tired of engines. Damn it, Leela, we were almost killed out there. We've earned some time off."
Leela scowled. "Work first, playtime later."
Amy started to argue some more but Leela gave her a glare that would have frozen Bender in his tracks. With a heavy sigh, Amy went back to the bridge muttering about bossy one-eyed captains.
Wolman walked back over to her and said, "Looks like it's all in order, captain." He signed the receipt, handed it to Leela and then walked to the ramp to signal to a group outside.
Leela watched as six large robots came up the ramp and began picking up the boxes in the hold. Among the robots were some small green creatures that Leela had never seen before. They picked up the smaller boxes or cleaned up after the robots that seemed to drip oil everywhere. She asked Wolman what the creatures were. He grinned and said, "Them's the locals. We call 'em Mauggies but what they call themselves…eh, beats me. Lizard critters but friendly as all get out. We hire them to help out on the base. Helps the local economy and frees up the military personnel." He turned back to directing the unloading.
Fascinated, Leela stared at the small green creatures. They were about two feet tall and stood upright on two thin legs. They had narrow green faces with long snouts and forked tongues. They wore what seemed to be uniforms and had a tuft of bright orange fur that went from the top of their heads down towards their spines. They ran in a crazy bowlegged fashion that made Leela laugh.
"Awwww, aren't they the cutest things," Leela said, her voice unconsciously dropping into her baby talk tone. Leela watched the Mauggies come and go until she felt a tap on her shoulder. A young male voice said, "Excuse me, but I'm looking for Captain Leela."
Leela turned and said, "It's Captain Turanga." She frowned as she saw a young Navy ensign who recoiled at the sight of her eye. Leela felt all of her anger come back as the officer tried to recover his composure.
"What is it?" she demanded in an irritated voice. The young man stuttered and seemed to be unable to look away from her face. Finally, he blushed and stammered, "Ma'am, er Captain. Admiral Tsing would like…like to see you, er..Captain sir, er.. Ma'am."
Leela scowled and said, "I need to get my cargo offloaded and make sure my ship is ready to leave."
The ensign blushed again and stared down at his feet. He said in a squeaky voice, "I'm to deliver you to the Admiral's office, Captain.
Fire Base Cantigny -
Grimes had assigned Fry to take charge of the stretcher detail. Fry would direct the men assigned to be stretcher bearers to unload the wounded from the landers that seemed to come in waves. The landers could only hold a few wounded on stretchers. Fry would do a quick check to verify signs of life and then ensure their breathers were on as the troopers lifted the mangled bodies onto a stretcher. He'd hold the IV bags as they rushed over to the entrance to the hospital bunker. There, they would lay the wounded men down in a large roped off area where a grimfaced Grimes would look them over. It took several trips before Fry realized that Grimes was doing triage - deciding who would go into the bunker to be worked on by Doc Gesus and who wasn't going to make it. Fry saw that the ones designated as savable were quickly being outnumbered by the others. Spotznik was seeing to the latter; giving them water, talking with them, and putting a towel over their faces when they died. The base chaplain, Reverend Lovejoy, was there as well. He read from his bible, held their hands and tried to comfort the dying men.
Fry was getting into a rhythm when a sound made him look up. A battered looking lander with a small laser mounted under the cockpit was coming in. It bellowed down beside Fry and the others. The door opened and Fry expected to see more wounded but instead, a thin angular man stepped out. He was very young and dressed in a set of very clean and pressed Navy coveralls. He looked at the filthy Fry and said, "I'm Doctor Rhys Marshall of the DOOP Navy. I've got some medical supplies with me. Point me towards the hospital."
Astonished at this sudden apparition, Fry gaped at him stupidly. The young officer asked in a soft tone, "Where's the hospital, soldier?"
Fry pointed. The doctor nodded and told Fry to get a detail to deliver the supplies, and then the lanky doctor walked swiftly towards the hospital bunker. A man in a flight suit and armed with a pulse rifle leaned out of the lander door and shouted to the receding back of the doctor, "Hey, Doc. We'll come back later tonight to take you back up."
Fry watched as the other medic, a man from third platoon, told several of the men to unload the supplies. As soon as the lander was unloaded, it roared away and headed towards the north. Feeling a wave of apathy, Fry watched it dwindle in the distance then turned away. Another lander came bellowing in and disgorged a load of wounded. Fry turned to it. After it departed, another came and then another.
Fry soon became numb with fatigue as a constant stream of landers arrived, unloaded and departed. The troopers under his command were showing signs of exhaustion as well. Many had vomited and all looked pale. One man simply sat down on the edge of the field and sobbed openly. Fry let him sit for a while then made him get back to the task. The man had stared stupidly at Fry but one of his friends helped him up. After a few hours, Grimes came up with another medic and told Fry to take a break.
"Get something to eat and come back to the hospital. We'll try to rotate folks through so everyone can get some food and a bit of rest." Grimes said while trying to wipe blood off his uniform. He did this for a few moments but stopped when he realized he was just smearing it. Making a disgusted sound, he headed back to the hospital.
Seeing the other medic had everything well in hand, Fry went to the chow bunker but found he had no appetite. He sat outside it listening to the sound of landers coming in. After a few minutes of sitting, he fell asleep.
He awoke to someone kicking his boot. Fry looked bleary-eyed up at Sergeant Hicks. Hicks stared at him with a half-smile then motioned his head towards the hospital bunker. Fry grimaced and stood up. Hicks looked at him for a moment, then with a satisfied nod moved off towards the perimeter. Fry walked slowly back towards the hospital. As he arrived he saw that Grimes' triage area had grown dramatically. More and more bodies lay in the roped-off area but the number of men in the no-hope section had exceeded the available space. Spotznik had soldiers carrying the dead back behind the bunker where they were stacked on top of each other. The smell was terrible but the noise was worse. Wounded and dying men were screaming, crying, calling for their loved ones or help or God. The men working the area looked emotionally drained. Fry could see even the chaplain was near breaking. He walked over to the exhausted-looking Grimes and said, "I'm back. Where do you want me?"
Grimes looked up from a bloodstained sheet where the most recent casualty had just been lifted. He paused to take a drink of water. Readjusting his breather, he said in a tired tone, "The landing strip is closed. We can't handle anymore casualties. Even with that other doc, we're too crowded. I'll need you to help inside. Go give someone a break."
Fry felt suddenly weak-kneed. Carrying the men had been bad enough but to actually be inside the bunker was something Fry didn't want to think about. He wanted to say no. He desperately wanted to say no. But he heard a voice in his head that sounded like Lieutenant Mac's- "You've been trained for this, Phil. Those men need you. You must go."
Fry closed his eyes with a pained look and then nodded. Grimes turned to look at another casualty as Fry ducked through the bunker's door seal.
Inside was a scene from all the horror movies Fry had ever seen. The bunker was dim from the chemical lights. Hot and muggy, the air stank from a combination of sweat and blood mixed with the dismal odor of a latrine. The floorboards were stained with blood and other suspect fluids. The bunker had been divided into two operating rooms by the means of a couple of hanging blankets. Lying alongside the bunker walls were dozens of men awaiting their turn on the operating table. Other medics were assisting them or carrying wounded men on stretchers out to the recovery area or the dead and dying back outside to Grimes' impromptu morgue.
Doc Gesus, his green smock gore-spattered, stood over a table with a scalpel in his hand. Gesus was cutting into the man lying below him. He turned to the tired looking medic beside him holding a tray and dropped the scalpel on it. Gesus grabbed something from the tray. He looked up for a moment and saw Fry standing at the door. He yelled through his gauze mask, "Fry, get over here and relieve Tibbets before he passes out."
Fry took the tray from the other medic who quickly rushed outside. Fry stood beside Gesus as he worked on the young soldier on the table. The man's right chest was cut open and Gesus was pulling out pieces of shrapnel. Fry tried not to look but Gesus told him to pay attention. He would select various implements from the tray pausing only to direct Fry to use sponges to clean off the blood. Fry felt ill. Even with all his training which should have made him impervious to the sights, sounds and smells, he still felt ill. His stomach gave small lurch and Fry made a gulping sound.
Gesus looked up at him and said angrily, "Damn you, Fry. Don't you dare be sick! I'll gut you myself if you puke."
Startled, Fry choked back the taste of bile and took a deep breath. Gesus stared at him for a moment then shook his head. He started to say something but the soldier on the table gasped suddenly and Gesus turned back to him with a curse. As Fry watched, the young man's chest simply stopped moving. Gesus grabbed Fry's arm.
"Start CPR," he shouted.
Confused, Fry blinked and stammered, "What about the defrab…defaboral…the shock thingy?"
Gesus shook his head. "It's on the damned fritz again." He began breathing into the young soldier's mouth. Fry pumped rhythmatically on the man's chest stopping every so often to allow Gesus to listen for a heart beat. They did this for ten minutes until Gesus swore loudly. He grabbed Fry's arm and pulled him away.
"He's gone," he barked and signaled to two stretcher bearers standing near by. The doctor angrily tore off his surgical gloves and tossed them onto the floor. He turned to dip his hands into a bowl of antiseptic solution. Fry watched as the dead man was lifted up and taken out. Gesus wiped his face and hands with a towel. As he was putting on some new gloves, he looked over towards the men lying along the wall and bellowed, "Next."
It took Adoy the better part of a day to claw his way out from under the blasted rocks above him. While they had shielded him from the worst of the explosion and firestorm, he had still suffered. Finally after hours of effort, he could see the glowing sky above him as he pushed away the last obstacle and crawled out onto the melted rocks. He blinked in the swirling dust storm that covered the entire area. Closing all but his third eye, he looked about at the horrendous damage the detonation of the atmospheric converter's fusion generator had caused.
Where the generator had stood, was now a huge crater with twisted bits of metal showing what remained of the tower. The sand around it had been fused into glass which glowed eerily as it reflected the electromagnetic lights of the swirling dust cloud. Fortunately, it was not as bad as it could have been, he thought as lay on the hot rocks peering through the gloom. The ship's jump engine had induced an implosion that somewhat reduced the effects of the actual explosion. It had caused the creation of a miniature sun right at the heart of the tower ensuring that enough heat was generated to destroy the Doppelgangers.
Still the explosion was powerful enough to cast its effects over a wide area although thankfully there was not much radiation generated. In a few years, this place would return to normal except for the glass plain about the crater.
Adoy looked himself over and saw that his skin had been seriously damaged by the heat. His back was painfully burnt and would take quite awhile to heal. Not sure if he could move very far at the moment, he decided to lie still and rest until his strength returned. He quickly fell into an exhausted sleep.
How long he lay there, he could not tell but awoke in a dark swirling storm to the sound of voices, human voices. He lifted his head slowly and in the distance near the ruined tower he could see some lights. Some sort of vehicle with treads was parked next to the crater. Humans in protective suits were walking around the crater with various pieces of equipment. He could see that the humans are attempting to discover what happened. Adoy suddenly realized that the humans would be worried that there might be a possibility that other converters could explode as well. That reaction hadn't occurred to him and he cursed himself for not foreseeing this effect of his actions on the local humans.
"I'm making too many mistakes," he thought bitterly. "I've been reacting to the threats and not thinking clearly enough of the long term consequences of my actions."
Adoy thought of what to do next. He couldn't stay here for long. He would have to leave Asedjrad as soon as possible. He needed time to heal and recover his strength. He needed to find some place safe to do it. Six of the parasitical monsters had been destroyed here but that left three others loose in the universe. He couldn't face them again. He was going to need help. Unfortunately, he had finally realized what Aeryn's warning had meant - he had revealed the existence of the Eternians to the Doppelgangers. They would not rest now until they found the Eternian home world. Adoy did not know if his people could face the Doppelgangers. He himself had been lucky, very lucky. They hadn't been prepared to face Eternian psychic abilities, Eternian technology and the ruthlessness of Adoy Nibblonian. But they were aware of it now and that meant he would need help. Somehow he needed to get a message to his people to look to their defenses. A telepathic message would be the quickest means but he felt too weak for the effort. Besides, the Doppelgangers were capable of detecting it if they were close enough. No, he was going to have to find a way to get the message to them without undue risk. He still had time. They didn't know the location of Eternia yet and it would take some time for them to sort through all the myth and distorted legends his people had planted when he had ordered Eternia hidden from the universe.
He rose painfully and limped slowly away. In the swirling dust, none of the humans noticed the tiny bent figure. As he moved each pained filled step, Adoy wondered about Aeryn's words of warning about the Doppelgangers - "A danger and an opportunity." Well, the danger was clear enough but what was the opportunity, he wondered as the darkness swallowed him up.
DOOP Naval Station, Planet Maug -
Leela held onto the dashboard of the hover jeep as the nervous ensign drove it recklessly down the road from the spaceport. Following her landing at space port, she had been summoned to meet Admiral Tsing and report on her victory over the Persae raider. Despite the ensign's obvious unhappiness, Leela had insisted on showering first. She wore her standard black spandex pants and white tank top but had put on her old Fate Assignment Bureau jacket to look more presentable. She left Amy to continue running diagnostics on the ship.
Fearful that the kid was going to kill them both, she was grateful when he pulled up to a large complex just outside the spaceport and escorted her to a small office. It was a spartan affair with a wooden desk and a few metal chairs. The desk had a small electronic notepad, a stylus, a comlink and a picture of a chunky young oriental woman in a school uniform. Over in one corner was the ubiquitous DOOP flag and a portrait of Nixon's head was on the wall. She only had to wait a few moments when a stocky oriental Navy officer with a large grin walked in. The ensign came to attention and Leela found herself straightening as well.
Nodding to the ensign who then left the room, the officer reached out his hand to Leela. After the handshake, the man smiled broadly and said, "Captain Turanga, it is a pleasure to meet you. I'm Tony Tsing."
Leela nodded politely as the admiral asked her to sit and tell him of the convoy battle. Leela started slowly at first but soon became animated as she got to the raider attack. Her anger over the small escort and the loss of so many ships finally broke through. Her words began racing along when she told of the escort commander's sacrifice and her order to run. Looking concerned, the admiral asked her to stop and calm down. Leela had to take some deep breaths before she was able to regain control.
Tsing looked at her with a grim look and said, "A terrible order, Captain, but a necessary one. Without it, I doubt anyone could have made it. It took considerable courage to make that decision." He smiled reassuringly. "Please continue."
Leela started again and talked of the race to escape the raider. At last, she spoke of how she had tracked the raider and how it had committed suicide rather than risk capture. Tsing listened calmly and, after Leela was done, pulled open his desk drawer. He took out a bottle of brown liquid along with two glasses and poured two small shots. He gave Leela one and raised his in a toast.
"Whiskey. Local vintage," he said with a sad smile, "but it does the job."
He paused as he took a sip then smiled. "Captain, you are one lucky lady. You were fortunate to run into what must have been the most idiotic captain in the Persae fleet."
Leela blinked and quickly drank down her glass. She felt herself flush. She had been expecting praise or at least some empathy but not this. She opened her mouth to say something but Tsing held up his hand.
"We've known some time about tracking their torpedoes but usually they fire from asteroid or dust fields. And they never, ever come back to the same heading." Tsing took Leela's glass and poured two more drinks. "Still killing a raider is nothing to sneeze at. We're going to publicize the hell out of it. Should help morale at home and in the fleet."
Leela was speechless. Tsing was so blasé about it. Nearly four hundred people had died. That deserved some recognition in Leela's book. She felt her anger boiling. After she drank down the second glass, she found her voice.
"Dammit, admiral," she blurted, "a lot of people died. They didn't even recover a third of the life pods. I don't want publicity. I want someone called to account for all those deaths."
Tsing looked speculatively at her for a moment. "And who do think that should be?" he asked.
Feeling the two whiskeys fighting with the stimulants, Leela felt a sudden euphoria come over her. "Damned if I know. Whatever fool allowed the convoy to sail with two escorts."
Tsing winced. He looked out the window and sighed. "That would be me, Captain."
Leela stared at his slumped shoulders. "But why?"
Tsing brought his chair from behind his desk. Sitting in front of Leela, he said solemnly, "We're stretched thin out here. I haven't got the escorts to spare for the so-called quiet sectors like the Sol-Maug corridor. They have got to make due with what's available. My focus is here and Da Nang. We have to be able to keep the supply lines open to those men on Da Nang. And I don't have the ships to do that and protect convoys from Earth."
Tsing sighed. Reaching over to his desk, he picked up his glass and drank it down. Placing the glass back on the table, he took up the picture. He stared at it for a moment and then showed it to Leela.
"My daughter," he said.
"She's very pretty," Leela said, trying to sound sincere.
Tsing smiled. "She's college student at the University of Mars. Advanced FTL engineering. She received her draft notice six months ago but got a deferred induction date so she could graduate next month. She's already scheduled to go to Officer's Candidate School. Four months from now, she'll be a fleet officer perhaps even serving on one of those escorts."
He looked at the picture again and shook his head. Looking back at Leela, he said in a somber tone, "The DOOP is attempting to rebuild the military after decades of neglect and incompetence. We're praying the Persae hold off long enough for us to get up to strength. We have enough manpower but equipment is another story. The federation's industrial base is trying to re-gear itself for war. It's a slow and cumbersome process. Short cuts are being taken. General Abrams is trying to change this but that takes time too. For now, we take whatever industry can give us. That means we put up with second rate shoddy goods just so we can have something for our troops. It's not so bad on the big stuff like the heavy ships which are being rushed out to Greendale as fast as they come out of the space yards. No, it's the little things that hurt. Like the corvettes and frigates that industry is trying to mass produced because we need escorts very, very badly."
He stood up again and walked over to the bottle. Filling his glass back up, he said, "Those little cans are lightly armed, badly cramped and have damned near no armor."
He drank a swallow and then turned suddenly back to Leela saying bitterly, "And there is a good possibility that my daughter is going to be on one of them." He set the glass back down on the table.
Leela stared at the man with disbelief. "Why are you telling me this?'
Tsing gave a twisted smile. "My daughter is going to be a ninety-day wonder. She's going to have to learn how to be a Navy officer on the job. It wouldn't be a problem if we had a lot of veteran officers and petty officers to teach her and the other kids and hold their hands until they learn enough to survive but we don't. We need people like you, Captain Turanga. We need experience, aggressive spacers who know how to fight a ship." He paused and looked out the window at the busy port. "I need people like you here so when the war starts, I can maybe, just maybe keep Da Nang and this place from falling to those barbarian bastards. I need someone to who can help those kids."
He looked back at Leela again. "Basically Captain Turanga, I'm asking you to sign on for the war. You did a four-oh job out there against that raider. You've got what it takes to survive. The DOOP…no, my daughter and every one of those green kids need someone like you."
Leela didn't know what to say. She was shocked and, as the import of Tsing's words sank in, scared.
"If the Admiral's right, then Da Nang could be the first place to fall. Oh Fry, why are you there and not with me where you'd be safe?" she thought fearfully.
She saw Tsing was looking at her expectantly. Reluctantly, she shook her head.
"I'm sorry, sir, but I'm the only captain Planet Express has and they are doing vital war work as well. We don't need everyone to be in the Navy. Someone has to deliver the cargo as well."
Pushing a button on his desk, Tsing gave a sad nod. "Of course. Sorry that we can't tempt you but keep us in mind. Thank you for bringing the Rose convoy in. As I said, you did a great job out there."
The young ensign returned. Leela set the glass down and rose to shake the admiral's hand again. After she had walked out, the admiral called for his aide. A commander appeared and Tsing grinned.
"She's a good'un. Won't volunteer but mark her down as a definite. And make sure they know about her ship. And get her some reloads for what she used out there. We owe her and she just might need it on the way back."
The commander saluted and left. Tsing took up his drink and sipped it slowly as he stared out the window at the hover jeep headed back to the spaceport.
New New York -
Zoidberg stared at Clamps in disbelief. "How did you find me?" he demanded.
Clamps stood in front of the tied-up Zoidberg and cycled his clamp hands as he stared at Zoidberg. Clamps laughed and his harsh electronic voice grated on Zoidberg's ears.
"Oh, I knew you weren't dead. Dem two broads bought your act but after dey left, I searched the ruins of the house. I didn't find any remains and there's always something. I know; I've gotten rid of a few bodies in my time. When I didn't find something to say you wuz down in the basement, I searched the grounds. It wasn't easy but I found your footprints leading away from da Donbot and into da woods. I tried to follow you but I lost your trail after a mile or so."
Zoidberg felt despair rise up in him. "I was so close," he thought bitterly. "I was going home until those policemen arrived. And now, to fall back into the hands of this creature."
Then remembering Simon and the others, he became enraged. "I'm been the patsy too long. I'm tired of being kicked around. It's time for me to have some revenge," he thought as the anger billowed in him. "I don't know what I'm going to do but I'm going to start here with this stupid rohbut."
He stared up into Clamp's face as the robot amused itself by cycling its clamp hands in front of Zoidberg's tentacles. Obviously enjoying himself, Clamps continued on, "Knowing youse was still alive, I wuz going to round up the gang to find you and make you pay for killing da Donbot. But, Joey decided he wanted to be da new Donbot. Da guy wasn't dead more'n a few hours and dat ungrate tried to move into his job. You know what I'd like to do to dat ungrate."
Clamps picked up a piece of wood from the floor and used his powerful clamp hands to crush it in front of Zoidberg. He laughed loudly and shouted, "Dat's it. I'd like to clamps him. Dat's what I'd like to do."
Zoidberg, tired of the blustering, asked amiably, "So why don't you?"
Clamps stopped laughing. He stared at Zoidberg and held up his clamps menacingly. "Cause..well, cause. Ah shaddup."
Zoidberg gave a small smile and realized there was hope yet. "Cause you went to war with this Joey for the Donbot's job and you've botched it. Haven't you?"
Clamps snarled, "Shaddup, you lousy skintube freak. I ain't botched nutting. Joey's just got da upper hand at dis particular moment. But now's that I'se got you, I'm going to be changing dat."
Zoidberg was puzzled at this. "Me? How can I help you?"
"When my police robot buddy told me dat you wuz being held by those crazy special cops, I knew dat my chance had come. Joey may be winning the war but wit you; I can get da others to back me." Clamps said, his electronic voice chilling Zoidberg's blood.
"I don't understand," Zoidberg said. "How can I help in a mob rohbut war of succession?"
Clamps sneered. "Don't be using dem fancy words on me. I don't know what sucsesshon is but I aim to be da new Donbot. When I tell da others dat I have da skintube what offed the Donbot, dey will leave Joey and join wit me." Then he began swaying about the room and laughing dementedly.
Zoidberg stared at Clamps as he laughed and danced about with his arms in the air. He noticed that half of his face was bent inwards from some mighty blow. It was clear to Zoidberg that Clamps was desperate and desperate sentients often made rash decisions. If he played it right, the end result might be chaos and leave Zoidberg with a fighting chance. The words of the old spymaster came back to him.
"In the midst of chaos, there is always opportunity. A wise spy will exploit this. A wise spy will seek the opportunity when none else can see it."
Watching Clamps waltz around the room cycling his clamps, Zoidberg gave a smile at his old mentor's words. "As always," he thought, "fate has thrown me behind the blerns' ball again but this time I aim to cheat the old whore. From now on, Zoidberg is going to make his own fate."
Fire Base Cantigny -
Fry soon became numb to the seemingly endless operations that Gesus performed. Some of the bodies on the table stopped breathing to Gesus' intense anger but most were patched up and sent on to recovery. Fry tried looking at the men's faces just so he could remember them. But it soon became too much to bear especially after they brought in 'Top' Orlov who murmured something about getting a message to his wife. Gesus strove mightily to save the fire base's first sergeant but he died a few moments after Gesus began removing the shrapnel from his torn body.
Fry nearly broke then but he took comfort in the strong presence of Doc Gesus who was a tower of strength. The Navy man fought hard to save everyone who came across the table. He took very few breaks and gave his all to each and every patient. When he was called to assist Doctor Marshall, Fry had a moment to catch his breath and take a drink of water. He was surprised how tired and thirsty he felt. The break didn't last long as the stretcher bearers put a new victim on the operating table. It was a young blonde Highlander officer who had been wounded in the head and stomach. As Fry cut away his uniform to prep him for surgery, the man raised his hand and grabbed Fry's arm. His bright blue eyes peered out of the bloody mask his face had become. He croaked the word "Mutter" and then more softly, "Gott" before he fell back. His bright blue eyes were looking off into nothing. Fry stared at the man in horror. He would have fled there and then if Doc Gesus had not returned and quickly closed the man's eyes. The doctor pulled the man's hand of Fry's arm. Fry remained frozen, staring down at the bloody face. Gesus looked at Fry's face for a moment then, signaling the bearers to remove the corpse, the doctor gave Fry a gentle push in the back and told him to go take a break. As Fry walked around the table towards the door, he noted the name on the dead man's coveralls was Dientz.
Outside in the twilight, Fry walked to the far end of the bunker away from the bodies and the noise. He sank down to the ground and sat with his back to the bunker wall. The storm had passed over to the west and left a humid mugginess in its wake. The air was full of the local bloodsucking insects that plagued the human troops on Da Nang. Fanning the air to keep them from his face, Fry stared up at the hazy sky and watched as a dozen meteors, parts of Da Nang's shattered moon, burned up overhead. He stared at the burning streaks for a moment and then said quietly to no one, "Mutter? What's that mean?" Then it hit him. "Mother? Ah geeze, ah geeze." With that, the tears began to fall and Fry found himself sobbing like a baby.
How long he sat there with big fat tears rolling down his cheeks, he did not know. It seemed like forever. After a while, he felt the tears stop and wiped his face with a dirty, bloody sleeve. A noise behind him made him jump up and turn. He found himself facing the young doctor. The man was drinking a diet Slurm and waving at the insects that crowded around them.
"Dagblasted nuisances!" he shouted. "How do you grunts bear up under these things?"
Sniffling, Fry shook his head and said, "You get use to them, sir. They are only out following a real hard rain. Alexei," he started then paused as he waved away some that had landed on his face. "He's the second squad sergeant. Anyway Alexei says that they have short life spans so they feed and reproduce then die. They'll be gone in an hour."
The doctor grinned and started to turn but he paused to peer at Fry. Noticing Fry's tearstained face, he said, "Are you alright, solider?"
Fry was going to say yes but something about the day made him blurt out all of a sudden, "No sir. I don't know if I can go back there," pointing at the hospital. "All those hurt men; all that blood; all that death. I don't know if I can stand it again."
Marshall looked at him for a long moment and then said, 'You and I were trained for times like these. We're all that stands between these men and death. If you don't go back, then all that training is wasted. Seems a shame to let men suffer because you can't do your job. Surely, you wouldn't want to have that on your conscience?"
Fry looked at the ground and then back into the young doctor's face. He asked hesitantly, "How do you do it, sir? You and Doc Gesus? How do you go on when so many die right in front of you?"
The doctor reached out and put his hand on Fry's shoulder. "Because some of them live. That's why. Because of Commander Gesus, those Navy corpsmen, the Army medics, and me and you, some of those men who might die will live. And that's why we keep going."
Marshall looked up at the sky and waved off some more of the insects. "It's a hard job to be part of the medical corps during a war. The fighters get the elation of victory but we see the grim aftermath of battle - the broken bodies, the maimed, the crippled and the dying. Our victories are when the patient comes off the table alive. Today is a rough day. Those bug weapons are terrible. They tear huge holes in the flesh and leave behind broken bits of metal. We can't have advanced equipment out due to the messed up atmospherics. So we have to use primitive stuff. A lot of men will die because there is only so much a body can take and survive but we increase the odds of that every time we keep trying."
The young doctor pointed at Fry's medic badge pinned to his coveralls. "Do you know the meaning of the words on the badge?" Fry shook his head.
"No?" Marshall said, and then he read the badge's motto. "In Arduis Fidelis means Faithful in Adversity. When the history of this war is written, no one will remember what we did here. No one will remember the doctors who operated or the medics who risked their lives to treat the wounded out in the field. There won't be any vids about us. But we remain faithful to our job. We go on and try to save those who might die. No matter what the conditions are or how dangerous or how horrible it all is, we remain faithful in our promise to care for the wounded and dying. Yes, even in adversity."
The doctor waved off some more insects and then gave a shy smile. "Sorry didn't mean to make a speech. You take a few more moments and think about it." He turned to go but stopped and looked back at Fry. "We will need you in there, soldier. Those men will need you."
With that, the skinny figure disappeared into the gloom towards the hospital bunker entrance. Fry stared down at the medic badge. He remembered the day that Captain DeLaine had pinned it to his chest back on Mars. How proud he had felt. He thought maybe this might make him more worthy in Leela's eyes. He had forgotten what the badge had really meant. He was a medic. He was trained to help the wounded. Fry looked back at the sky and, for a moment, he wondered where Leela was at.
"I don't want to go," he told her in his mind. He could see her frown with her nose wrinkling up in that cute way she had. He imagined her lifting her finger as she was about to lecture him and he smiled.
"She's always looking out for me," he thought. "No, I don't want to go. But I'd never be able to face her again if I don't."
He paused and took a deep breath. "Faithful in adversity," he muttered to himself and then turned and walked back to the bunker.
Omicron Persae 8 -
Fleet Captain Skr watched as his tribe's leader, Fleet Lord Kyr, stood in front of King Lrr. The fat (and probably drunk, Skr thought irreverently) King Lrr was giving Kyr his official orders for his new mission. Standing in the audience chamber with all the other Kyr retainers as show of the Fleet Lord's power, Skr was not happy. He had just found out that Lord Kyr's forces would remain in reserve for the upcoming campaign to crush the human upstarts and their so-called federation. This meant that there would be no chance at glory for Skr. No opportunity to advance himself through brave deeds. No chance to get a small human world to be overlord of with many thousands of slaves at his call. And no chance to found his own clan with marriage into a suitable family enhanced by his glorious feats.
"No," he thought miserably, "all the good stuff will be long taken by the time we arrive. I'll probably end up with some small worthless moon and a few miserable stinking human slaves. Or worse, an asteroid inhabited by their worthless allies such as those green weaklings, the Amphibiosians."
This thought depressed the huge bulky captain even more. Skr was one of the more intelligent Persae and he was intensely ambitious. He wanted to rise up to Fleet Lord someday and he needed to be at the forefront of battle to achieve that. Now, when a great war was in the offing, his diplomatic minded (which in Skr's mind equated weak) tribal leader was going on a technical mission to that worthless dung heap the Persae knew as Lkonrkva which the humans called Da Nang. This meant that Kyr's forces would not be part of the campaign and would only arrive after all the fighting was done.
Skr stared angrily at the Fleet Lord wishing that Kyr would fall over dead. Kyr was medium sized for a Persae but intelligent and cunning. He had fended off several challenges from his fellow clan members, all of whom died horribly. Now no one dared challenge him for the leadership. Skr did not believe the rumors that Kyr had made a pact with the great gods who had sent him a demon familiar to aid him. The skulking three-eyed creature that dragged behind Kyr everywhere might pass as a demon to the weak-minded but Skr thought that this story had been planted by Kyr to make any challengers think twice. Skr would love to challenge Kyr for his position as Fleet Lord but the law forbade a Persae of his rank calling out someone of Kyr's exalted status.
Skr looked at the small creature that held onto Kyr's red cloak and hid underneath it. Some of Skr's brethren called the creature, Kyr's Luck, but Skr did not think it was so lucky. After all, it only had one foot. If it had been a demon familiar, it certainly would not allowed the chamberlain, Isk, to take the other. Skr had been there that day when Kyr was winning at the gaming table. Isk had just lost a large sum to Kyr and was grumbling over Kyr's unbelievable luck. Kyr, who was drunk at the time, had picked up the ugly three-eyed creature and set it on the table, bragging about it being his lucky charm. Isk, equally as drunk, had then demanded Kyr give it to him. By Persae law, Kyr could not refuse a demand from the Chamberlain of the Privy Council. Refuse and continue living anyway.
Kyr quickly sobered and paled a bit. The whole room went silent and you could feel the tension in the very air itself. Skr loosened his knife in his belt, fearing that Kyr would refuse and they would have to fight their way out. Matters had taken an unforeseen turn when the creature had walked over and put its paw on Isk's hand. Isk had stared down at the malformed creature then wrinkled his nose.
"Pfaug, it stinks like a gelb-rat," Isk had muttered and then all of sudden he had laughed loudly and told Kyr to keep the ugly beast.
"Surely, such an ugly smelly thing can have no luck in it," he had growled amusedly and backhanded the creature back over to Kyr's side of the table. The creature had tumbled to the table surface and lay there somewhat stunned by the blow. Everyone laughed and the room relaxed. Skr breathed easier and took his hand of his knife.
"A good thing," he had thought, "we are badly outnumbered here. Strange turn of events. I would never imagine that greedy bastard Isk giving way so easily."
Kyr evidently thought so too for he suddenly pulled out his own blade and swiftly sliced the creature's left foot off. Taking the bloody thing, he had offered it to Isk.
"My High Lord Chamberlain, take this token from a grateful servant for your magnanimity in allowing me to keep my beloved pet."
Isk had taken the foot and now wore about his neck as a good luck charm. Skr had thought it niftily done and proof that Kyr was very clever and quick witted. Isk was happy with the charm and Kyr would never bring the creature into the presence of Isk again. The risk of open warfare with Isk's tribe had been avoided by Kyr's quick thinking. But, Skr would never forget the look of shock on the creature's face when Kyr's knife had bit into its leg.
DOOP Naval Station, Planet Maug -
As soon as the ensign had dropped her at the ramp to the ship, Leela had raced up the stairs taking them two at a time. She rushed into the ship to find Amy on the bridge running diagnostics on the engine control panel. She frowned when Leela rushed in and said in a surly voice, "Almost done, Captain Leela. Everything is checking out just fine."
Leela shed her jacket and sat in the pilot's chair. She looked at Amy for a moment and said, "Get the engine ready. We're leaving."
Leela began to go through the pre-flight checklist. Confused, Amy watched for a moment and then said with exasperation, "Where are we going? I'm still owed some time ashore. Work first, then playtime. Remember?"
Leela stopped for a moment and said in a cold tone. "I've got no time for your foolishness right now. Get prepped for launch."
Amy was taken aback. She had seen Leela in many moods but this was something new. Leela in her anger could be pretty scary but this was different. In a flash of insight, Amy realized that this was Leela girded for battle. She had seen a bit of it during the long running fight to reach Maug. But that had been in actual battle; this was something very different. Suddenly, Amy was very frightened. She didn't know what was happening but it was sure to be dangerous.
"Where are we going," she asked hesitantly.
Leela paused again. She looked at Amy for a long moment and then back down at the control panel. Amy was going to repeat the question when Leela looked back at her again.
"I'm going to Da Nang to get Fry off that hellhole. And no one is going to stop me."