Background Noise, Part 12
By Dave Vincent
It's Hour Come Round at Last
(The development of the first true Artificial Intelligence at the FCS-Riken-JPL Combined Laboratory on Europa in 2512 gave birth to the possibility of intelligent machines. However, the early robots were of relatively low intelligence with little hope of improvement. By 2557, it began to look as if AI was a dead end. It took the mad genius of Professor Brandon St. John Gysberg to allow truly intelligent robots and machines to exist. His development of the positronic brain in 2585 was a quantum leap in cybernetics. Many hailed this development as the beginning of true freedom for mankind as the intelligent machines would take over all the manual labor and allow humanity to focus its creative genius on artistic and scientific exploration. Of course, as is well known, this belief was completely misfounded. Most humans liked having jobs and resented the robots displacing them. Gysberg's ranting about the superiority of positronic civilization did not help his cause. He became a figure of hatred and scorn. He returned this dislike in spades. Gysberg seeded his positronic programs with the irreversible "kill all humans" subroutine that set off the Great War of the Machines in 2623. At first, the robots dominated because Gysberg, who was their leader, created the deadly war machines called Killbots. These ordinary looking robots carried a hidden assortment of death dealing weaponry. These machines quickly eradicated the human population on Europa, spreading throughout the Solar System and out into the galaxy. Mars, with its update space defenses, was able to prevent the Killbots from landing. However, Earth having been at peace since the Persae attack had forgotten the hard lessons of that war.
Although the Martian fleet prevented the bulk of the Killbots from landing, enough made it through to cause significant slaughter on Earth. As Earth attempted to fashion a military to defend it from the Killbots, Gysberg used the base on Europa to broadcast the "kill all humans" code to all robotic programs. Everywhere in the solar system, robotic machines ran amok. Things began to look grim for humanity.
A desperate raid by Martian commandos led by the legendary Wei Kar Wong killed Gysberg before he could implement his plan for converting himself and others into cyborgs. This one event allowed the survival of humanity since the weaknesses of the positronic brain was not yet apparent and without the genius of Gysberg, the robots were unable to correct them. For Gysberg's positronic brain not only lacked the ability to put complex plans into motion but the positronic robots were truly flawed in that they were extremely gullible. They weren't able to distinguish between lies and truth; between plausible and implausible claims; and between fact and sheer bluff. Once humans realized the advantage this gave them, the war turned in their favor.
Over the next five years, humanity crushed the robot uprising. Many of the surviving robots were dumped onto a resource poor world in a remote star system called Capek. Although the non-positronic robots continued to be used off-world, no robots were allowed on Earth until the development of the Wernstrom Bypass program that kept the "kill all humans" routine from running except during the robot recharge period. This allowed the safe use the Gysberg positronic brain and another more controlled robot development began. - A History of Human Robotics, From the Earliest Cybernetics to Development of Androids by I. A. Simov, University of Greater California, Earth 3793)
(Fort Thunderbolt was dug into a huge granite plateau on the large island of Souvema. The plateau itself sat on a small peninsula that that jutted out into the great Jaunisse Ocean. The semicircle of firebases and fire support bases that defend it were planted just opposite the Lethe River which snaked its way across the peninsula's base. The Lethe descended from the Massif des Calcaires and flowed down between the Thunderbolt plateau and the towering Myshonko hills. Fort Thunderbolt was home to the DOOP IV Corps which consisted of the First Infantry, Eight Guards and Highlander Divisions and the various support units. Under the command of Lieutenant General Eric Grafels initially and then Major General Marcel Langlais, it was the DOOP's spear point in the struggle against the Persae. - The Da Nang Campaign by Vijay Ranjanpurani, Major General rtd. West Point Press, Earth 3079.)
Planet Express Ship, DOOP Naval Station, Planet Maug -
"I am going to Da Nang to get Fry," Leela said again.
Stunned into silence, Amy stood with her mouth agape. She had suspected that Leela was thinking about going after Fry. But she hadn't really believed that Leela would actually go through with it. Leela wasn't a rash sort. The odds were long against getting Fry off of Da Nang. Amy had thought when the moment of truth came; Leela's own rational nature would stop her from attempting something so dangerous. Now the moment had arrived and there was no doubt Leela was going after Fry.
Leela sat in the pilot's chair looking coolly at Amy, "Stop gawping at me. Did you hear what I said? I'm going to Da Nang and I'm going right now. You either help me or get off my ship."
Amy closed her mouth. She wasn't sure what to say. Although she had told Leela that she would not be left behind, now that Amy actually had to face the prospect of going into a war zone, the whole idea seemed insane. She had risked dying just to get to this place and that had only been one enemy ship. Amy could imagine that the fighting around Da Nang would be much worse. She had no desire to go on risking her life to go after Fry.
"Let's see," she thought quickly as she mentally ticked off all the hurdles they'd have to overcome and their chances, "leave a DOOP naval base without being spotted - Leela can do that. Get past the Navy patrols - well, probably that too. Then reach Da Nang orbit without being killed by the enemy or anything else since we don't have any knowledge of the conditions there - iffy at best. Find Fry on a large jungle planet - bet she hasn't got that figured out. And finally, convince him to leave with us even though he has said he wants Leela to respect him. She might not find herself to ever be able to do so if he agrees to run away. He'd always be the nice fool who needs protecting. I wonder if he would understand that. I wonder if Leela does - hmm, I doubt it. No, it's best not to go at all. But this is Leela, she won't be stopped."
Amy gave Leela a weak smile as she reached over to the engine panel and pushed a button. Leela noted the blinking light on her console that told she no longer had control of the ship's engine. Her lips pursed angrily as her eye narrowed. She looked up at Amy and growled, "I'm going and you won't stop me. Restore engine control or I'll do it myself."
Amy shook her head and was going to say something when Leela stood up and walked over to her. Looming over Amy, Leela clenched her fists. As she did this, Amy noted the dark ring under Leela's reddened eye. She wondered if Leela had had any sleep since the battle with the raider. "It might explain this sudden impulsiveness," she thought.
Leela stood next to Amy, her face impassive. "Are you going to restore engine control?" she asked quietly.
Amy, seeing the tension in Leela's arms, nodded quickly and reached to the button. Then recovering her courage, she stopped and said, "No, wait. I want to ask you something first."
Making an irritated noise, Leela reached for the button but Amy covered it with her hand. Leela stopped and glared at Amy again. Then her eye closed and a look of pain crossed her face. "Amy," she began but Amy spoke up quickly.
"Do you have anything resembling a plan?" she asked. Leela opened her eye and looked at Amy in surprise.
"Well, I ... that is," Leela began hesitantly but trailed off into silence.
Amy sensing Leela's doubt, exulted and said, "You don't, do you?"
Looking confused, Leela shook her head. She stepped back and leaned against the rail that separated her pilot's chair from the rest of the bridge. She put her hand up to her face and rubbed her eye. When her head came back up, Amy was shocked at the naked look of weary despair in Leela's face. Then tears began to form and suddenly Leela was sobbing. She wept for several seconds, tears leaving dark streaks down her cheeks, all to Amy's amazement. Finally, Amy stepped forward and put her arms around Leela trying to comfort her. It occurred to her that Leela had been under terrible stress with the disappearance of Nibbler, Bender being shot and dismantled, Fry going to war, the professor in drug rehab, the death of Doctor Zoidberg and, finally, this terrible ordeal she had had to face leading the convoy to Maug.
"It was enough to stress out anyone. It's like her whole life is falling to pieces around her," Amy mused as Leela sobbed into her shoulder. "Ever since she came to Planet Express, Fry has been the one constant in her life. The professor, Zoidberg, Nibbler, and Bender - all gone. Poor Leela, they're practically her family. Well, including her mother and father but she knows us better than them."
"I can't go on like this," Leela gasped between sobs. "I can't stand it that Fry is at risk. I have to go get him. Protect him. He can't do it himself. He's so helpless."
Amy said softly, "Leela, he's a soldier now. He's been trained for this." This caused Leela to burst out in a fresh paroxysm of wailing. Amy patted her on the back, murmuring softly, "there, there. It will be alright. You'll see. Fry will be okay."
Leela sobbed bitterly for a few more moments then she began to try to recover her composure. Using her hand, she wiped her tear-streaked face, smearing what little makeup she had left. She disentangled herself from Amy and moved to sit down in her pilot's chair. Pulling out a handkerchief from her pants pocket, she dabbed her eye. She spent a few minutes cleaning her face before looking back at Amy with a red, puffy eye.
"Amy," she said, her voice racked with a note of hopelessness, "the Navy won't be able to hold when the Persae come. Admiral Tsing practically admitted it to me. They don't have enough ships. Da Nang, this place, maybe every place will fall. I have to go to Da Nang to get Fry. I don't know what I'll have to do to get him back. But I have to try."
As she listened, Amy found herself admiring Leela. She thought about Kif and wondered if she would risk everything for him like Leela was willing to do for Fry.
"It's such a shame that she can't admit she loves him," Amy thought. "If anything, this shows the depth of her feelings for Fry." Amy considered bringing up the subject but decided this wasn't the time. Leela needed to regain control and focus on what was ahead. She looked at Leela's tear-ravaged face. "Would it hurt her to take my advice about facial products," she mused critically. Then dismissing the thought, Amy demanded, "Well, what do you plan to do then?"
"I don't' know. I'm going to go for Fry but I don't know how to rescue him," Leela admitted guiltily, unable to face Amy.
Amy smiled. All her life she had been searching for validation. Growing up as the only child of the richest people on Mars, she had always felt that something was missing. That somehow, when people looked at her, they only saw the looks and the money but not the person. It was hard to be taken serious by anyone and, to Amy's irritation, by Leela especially.
As a teenager, she had been overweight. Her father saw this as a character flaw. He had refused to pay for the treatment to end this condition and mocked her continuously. In hopes, he would say, of making her do something to lose the weight. A bright and very sensitive child, Amy had been terribly scarred emotionally by her father's verbal abuse. It was made worse by the way her mother would never stick up for her. Amy's mother absolutely adored her father and he could no wrong in her eyes. Even when he drank too much and cursed Amy's laziness, she took his side, never giving Amy any emotional support. It was always "He's your father. You have a duty to him and the family". Eventually her father quit drinking but by that time Amy, having had no one to turn to, had grown up with an intense need for approval.
She finally found the will to lose weight and, once her father restored her allowance, took the highly expensive treatment that would keep her slim forever. Her parents wanted her to marry but she had become a rebellious daughter. Against her parents' wishes, she enrolled in Mars University as an engineering student. Her father and mother both expressed dismay at this choice and demanded she find a husband. Amy, partially for revenge and partially out of boredom, threw herself into the alcohol fueled empty sexuality of sorority life. She flaunted her many lovers to her parents but they didn't seem to care. All they wanted was her to marry and have grandchildren. Amy had no intention of obliging them but soon found that she was considered an easy slut by the men of Mars U who slept with her then left too quickly. Eventually, she began to yearn for love but all she ever found was one-night lust and the empty feeling of being used. Amy didn't understand how it had come to this or how to change thing.
It wasn't until her third year when she happened to enroll in a class called the Mathematics of Quantum Neutrino Fields that her life finally began to change. The teacher, Professor Hubert Farnsworth, was the strangest man she had ever met. He was so sweet, always concerned about her health, so much so that he asked for her blood type. "Just in case," he said. But his class was so mind-bogglingly odd that she liked to call him Professor Freaksworth behind his back. When the semester ended, Farnsworth asked her to work for him as a summer intern at his delivery company on Earth.
Bored with school and looking to get away from her parents, Amy agreed. Her first few days at Planet Express turned out to be boring too. The regular staff was composed of a slave driving bureaucrat, an incompetent alien doctor and the laziest janitor she had ever seen. Amy was thinking of quitting when the Professor introduced her to three people who would affect her life like no one else had. Leela, Fry and Bender proved to be the most interesting people (and robot) Amy had ever met.
Their adventures together were the most exciting times in Amy's life. They became her closest friends and never seemed to care about her money. Except, of course, Bender who robbed her every chance he got but Amy soon learned to carry little money with her. She liked Fry since they had a lot in common. She even dated him for a while but it was soon clear he had feelings for Leela. Still, they remained good friends.
But it was Leela who made the biggest impression on her. Leela was so competent at nearly everything (except men) that Amy felt inadequate in her presence. She was the brightest girl at Mars U but Leela treated her like an underfoot kid sister. Amy felt that some of the treatment was due to jealousy since she was so totally hotter than the big-hipped Cyclops. Now the moment had arrived to show Leela she wasn't just some cute dimwit. She knew that finally, after all this time, Leela needed her help. It was a moment Amy had been waiting for.
As she thought about the chance to prove herself to Leela, Amy became excited. "I can help her do this," her mind racing as ideas of what needed to be done began to run through her mind. She forgot all her fears and doubts as the chance to gain respect from Leela beckoned.
"Okay, I can help you if you want me to," Amy said.
Leela stared suspiciously at Amy for a long moment then said doubtfully, "What do you have in mind?"
Amy grinned, "I would think a former Fate Assignment Officer would recall that Fry has an embedded career chip. We should be able to scan for it when we get to Da Nang."
Leela slapped her forehead and muttered a curse. Amy laughed and re-engaged the engine control.
"You do the flying and I'll work on getting the sensor tuned to Fry's career chip."
Leela wiped her face with her handkerchief again and smiled. She went back to the pre-flight checklist with a determined look.
Fire Base Cantigny, Da Nang IV -
It had been almost midnight when the last wounded man was treated. Almost half of the casualties who had arrived at Cantigny survived. Fry found himself carrying wounded men to the landers that would take them to Fort Thunderbolt's better equipped hospitals and eventual return home.
Around 0200, Doctor Marshall, his coveralls now stained with blood, had stopped to shake Fry's hand in between landers arriving.
"Good job," the thin Navy man had said with an exhausted smile. "I'd be happy to have you as an assistant in any operating room I'm in. Good luck to you, soldier." Then, he had departed on the battered lander he had arrived in, headed back to the asteroid base.
Grimes, the senior Navy Corpsman, had grinned at Fry and then pushed him towards another stretcher as a lander came bellowing in. This continued on in fits and starts for hours as there was a shortage of landers.
During the slow moments, Fry managed to get a small bit of food but was soon back at it. The last lander departed late in the evening on the next day. After it lifted off, Fry sat down next to Grimes who fell asleep the moment he lay down on the ground. Fry, tired as he was, didn't think he could sleep. He sat staring out over base's perimeter at the jungle and thought about the previous day.
He had nearly broken and failed those who were counting on him. Seeing 'Top' Orlov die had been hard since Fry actually knew the base's first sergeant. But the young Highlander officer who had called for his mother had been the worst. Something about the man's eyes staring in anguish out of his shattered face had pushed Fry over the edge. The training he had received had not prepared him for the sheer horror of seeing human beings dying in agony calling for their mother. If it hadn't been for Doctor Marshall, Fry would have refused to go back to the bunker and do his duty. The young doctor's words had made Fry understand that he had an obligation. It was something that had never occurred to him. His whole life, he realized, had been one long self-centered pursuit of his own pleasure. When he had put on the medic badge, he had failed to understand what it meant. There was something beyond himself; something he had never thought of.
Obligation, duty, and service - Captain DeLaine had said those words when he had pinned the medic badge on Fry's chest. Fry didn't have the greatest memory, yet he remembered the words. They were still ingrained in his subconscious. Also residing there was Leela's harsh condemnation of him back on the DOOP Space Station - "Fry, I really thought you were coming around but I now realize that you are never going to change."
That had hurt at the time but Fry hadn't really understood what she meant. Now, he knew. Leela was the epitome of responsibility and duty. "Maybe too much so," he thought. "She could lighten up a bit and have some fun now and then. But," he sighed as he looked up at the darkening sky, "she's right though. We gotta do what we gotta do. I almost let everyone down yesterday because I wasn't able to hold up my end."
He turned to look down at the snoring Grimes. The Navy man had worked as hard as humanly possible. He had run the triage at the entrance to the hospital bunker, deciding who was going to live and who had no hope. Then, when no more wounded could be received at Cantigny and the airstrip was closed, he had worked tirelessly, helping out in the bunker - giving relief to the other medics, keeping spirits up, and generally being everywhere and doing everything without complaint. Fry felt inadequate in the man's presence, yet he had told Fry that he had done a great job. That had meant something to Fry. He liked the feeling of a sense of true accomplishment. Of doing something that really mattered. Something that was not, what to Fry suddenly seemed, so trivial. Things such as sports or break dancing or trying to stack beer cans as high as he and Bender could drink them. It was so much different here from what he was used to that he actually found himself ashamed of his life before.
"This is what Leela has meant when she was trying to get me to change," he thought miserably. Fry looked back at Grimes again. He suddenly felt small and mean. He had always thought he had lived a cool life, full of fun and great times but now it seemed a total waste. He had done nothing, accomplished nothing, and been nothing. Here, on this god-forsaken planet, fighting in a war he did not understand, he had made a difference - a small one, but a difference none-the-less.
"Maybe," he thought, trying to put meaning to it, "that's all anyone can actually do. Make a small difference. Maybe it all adds up, somehow. I don't know…."
Grimes awoke and muttered about going to find something to eat and a shower. He stood up and yawned loudly. He looked down at Fry. "Best you get something too, Fry."
Fry shook his head. "No, I'm going to sit here a while longer then head back to my bunker."
Grimes stared at him for a moment and then said, "You did good work yesterday, Fry. You can be proud of it." With that, he walked away towards the chow bunker.
Fry sat for a long time staring at the jungle until Alexei Ehrensberger came looking for him. Fry let the second squad sergeant lead him back to the bunker. The others in the squad stripped off his bloody uniform and pushed him into a shower. Fry made a half-hearted effort to clean up and then dried himself. Jathara, the squad automatic weapon handler, helped Fry into his bunk. Fry lay there thinking he couldn't sleep but was soon snoring away.
2nd Platoon Sergeant Duane Hicks stopped in towards 2200 hours and found Alexei sitting at the rough card table cleaning his rifle. Other than the two men on guard duty at the fire slits, everyone else was fast asleep.
"Yo, Hicks," Alexei said without looking up from the cleaning. Pulling down his breather, Hicks smiled and stared about the room. His eyes landed on Fry and he shook his head.
"Doc Gesus says our FNG medic did a good job," Hicks muttered disbelievingly.
Alexei put down his cleaning rag and looked up at Hicks with a serious expression. "There's more to Fry than meets the eye, Duane. You shouldn't be so hard on him. He's a good guy."
Hicks grunted. "Maybe, but he ain't the sharpest knife in the drawer either. He's done some really dumb stuff since he got here. I'm surprised he's still alive. I'll wait a bit longer before I start calling for a parade in Fry's honor."
He turned to the door and said as he left, "You better get some sleep. We're doing an Op tomorrow. Briefing is at 0400."
Alexei nodded, then picked up his cleaning equipment and began reassembling his rifle.
Firebase Glasgow, Da Nang IV -
The battle of Firebase Glasgow had been over for nearly two days when the new orders from IV Corps came down to the line. Upon receipt of the order, Lieutenant Colonel Danny Moscewicz, acting commander of the Highlander Division, sent his aides scurrying to the other fire bases then called a meeting at Glasgow.
Navy SEAL Lieutenant Jess da Femme sat on an empty ration box and listened as Moscewicz read the new Corps order to Major Smith, of DOOP Special Forces and Jess' current boss (and some sort of special intelligence agent in Jess' opinion), and Captain Allen Tanner, CO of the Argyll and Sutherland battalion which retaken Glasgow from the Bugs. The three men stood around a map on a table in a partially repaired bunker at the ruined firebase. The major's robot companion, Rand, stood silently in the background.
"Corps wants us to do a sweep up to the Lethe River to keep the Bugs knocked back on their heels," Moscewicz said. "They want to take advantage of the severe losses the Bugs took in this attack. That means we need to move as quickly as possible."
Major Smith shook his head. "We're pretty hurt too. The Gordon Highlander Battalion was nearly wiped out here at Glasgow. I'm sure there were casualties at all the Highlander fire bases. What does Corps expect us to fight with?"
Moscewicz shrugged. "Corps commands and we obey. If we can only get a company in the field, then that's what we go with. But beyond a small force to garrison the fire bases, I mean to put everyone who can carry a rifle into the field."
He pointed down at the map, touching each Highlander fire base in turn. "The Seaforths at Edinburgh were dug in better than anyone so they suffered less. They'll be the main lead on the sweep. As for the Camerons at Inverness and the Lancashire Fusiliers at Skye, they can still put two companies each into the field. The Royal Scots at Jedburgh are nearly combat-ineffective but Mike Nissen's Black Watch battalion is still available. They can make up the anvil to the Seaforths' hammer. The Seaforths, with support from the Fusiliers and Camerons, will sweep from Edinburgh towards the Lethe then up it towards Jedburgh. They'll smash any Bugs against the Watch. Allen, your lads will cover the Seaforths' flank."
Moscewicz lightly rapped his fist against the map. "All in all, I think the Highlanders can still make a good show of it."
Tanner rubbed his chin and said uncertainly, "I've got my battalion spread out trying to maintain a link to Edinburgh to the north and contact with the First Division to the south. We have had a hell of a fight and are still a little mixed up. I'll need resupply and a chance to re-organize. Hell, we're still burying the Gordons' dead. Might take a couple of days to get ready."
Moscewicz grimaced. "We don't have a couple of days. Leave the dead, we can bury them later."
Tanner frowned but Moscewicz continued on. "As you know, Thunderbolt is sending out resupply. They were loading the trucks before I left two days ago so they should be arriving shortly. Everywhere along the line, we're moving out to hit back at the Bugs. You'll have to re-organize tonight and get everyone resupplied." He turned to face Tanner. "Thunderbolt and all the Fire Support Bases will start pounding the jungle at 0530. You will move out at 0600 tomorrow in at least two company strength and sweep up to the Lethe to cover the Seaforths' flank."
Tanner winced and the colonel smiled. "I know. It's impossible. Not enough time, not enough men. But that's what's going to happen. As soon as this meeting ends, I'm driving up to the other fire bases to make sure everyone will move. My staff has already been sent to get them ready. No one sleeps tonight." His smile went away and a hard look came to his face. "This division will move out at 0600, on time and in whatever strength we can send."
Moscewicz pointed down at the map. He cupped his hand and swept it from the line of fire bases to the Lethe.
"This is the biggest offensive push we've ever made on Da Nang. The First Division and Eight Guards will be moving as well. We're going to smash any Bug concentrations on this side of the river."
His hand lifted and he pointed down at the map. "And it won't end there. Corps expects us to keep the pressure on. We'll be doing a lot of large scale patrolling in the coming weeks. If the Bugs are willing to attack in force, we need to keep them off balance until the time comes to withdraw back to Thunderbolt."
Tanner leaned down over the map and began drawing lines showing were his battalion would move to. While he was doing this, Jess noticed that Major Smith was rubbing his left arm and twisting his head back and forth as if his neck was stiff. She looked up at Rand who was standing still as a statue, but Jess was sure the robot was watching the major all the time. Smith looked at the map on the table and said quietly, "Sir, my mission could kick off behind this sweep."
Moscewicz nodded to Tanner who left to get his Argyll and Sutherland battalion ready. Looking down at the map, the colonel traced the line of the Lethe River with his finger. Getting to the area nearest Glasgow, he moved his finger across river into the Myksho hills and then past them to the Ashowa valley, the target of the major's mysterious mission.
"I don't like the sound of this mission of yours at all, Major Smith," he said grimly. "Hell, I don't even know its purpose, but it smacks of desperation and looks to be suicidal."
Jess stood up to move next to the table. She glanced over at Rand but the robot showed no movement. Jess guessed from her conversation with Rand a few days ago that the Killbot believed the mission was suicidal as well. It was definite that the female robot did not want the major to go. But Major Smith was determined to do his job and Rand could not change his mind. He gave Moscewicz an icy smile.
"It's suicidal only if we get killed," he said humorlessly. "General Abrams has authorized it and now is a good as time as any to go. Shouldn't be a problem, what with the Bugs in disarray. Piece of cake."
Moscewicz pulled at his chin as he stared at the map. "Well, I was hoping to keep you as my exec and retain the services of your robot. I heard she was a marvel and we could really use her help tomorrow."
Smith shook his head. "We've delayed the mission long enough. It's vital to the security of the DOOP. Rand and I need to go. And we need to go now."
Moscewicz turned to Jess. "Your team is ready to support this?"
"Yes sir. When the major told me he wanted to be ready to go at a moment's notice, I radioed my team up at Aberdeen. They and our equipment will be arriving this evening."
"Hmmm," Moscewicz looked back down at the map again. "Alright Major Smith, you can kick off your mission behind Tanner's sweep. Lieutenant Da Femme can take you to the Lethe and will return on your signal. We should be actively patrolling so the Bug's attention will be diverted to us. This should aid you when you want to cross back again."
Smith rubbed his left arm again as he looked over at Jess and grinned. "Thank you, sir. I'm sure it will be of great help."
Moscewicz was still looking down at the map. "Major, I don't know what you are looking for in the Ashowa but I'd like to ask you to keep an eye out for something else."
Major Smith paused and looked suspiciously at the man. Jess guessed the major didn't want to add another mission objective to an already dangerous operation.
The stocky lieutenant colonel did not notice Smith's hesitation. He went on, "If the Persae are bringing in these new weapons for the Bugs, it might occur to them that some heavy artillery would change the odds here. Their shrapnel weapons give them the firepower edge over our fletchette stuff. Only our artillery kept them from swamping us the other day. If they get their hands on some big guns, things will quickly turn very bad for us here. They'll blow us out of these fire bases and all the way back to Thunderbolt. And the fort's not ready yet. We need time, Major. At least six more months."
Moscewicz paused and rubbed his unshaven cheek. He looked up at Major Smith with tired red streaked eyes. "I want you to see if they have the heavy stuff and get us the location. Might be worth a Navy strike from orbit to destroy it or…." He paused and looked bleakly at the map. "Maybe even an expedition into the Ashowa."
Smith looked down at the map and then back into the serious face of Moscewicz. He gave his usual cold smile. "You can count on Rand and me, Colonel."
Warehouse somewhere in New New York -
Zoidberg was getting a little stir crazy. Although his handcuffs had been removed, he had been stuck in the dingy warehouse room for two days. The only time the door opened was when a silent robot brought him, what was in his outraged opinion, an insufficient meal. Zoidberg had complained but the robot didn't even acknowledge him. After the second meal, Zoidberg had grabbed the robot but that resulted in him lying on the floor nursing a bruised arm and his meal scattered everywhere. After that, Zoidberg didn't speak either.
He was wondering when things would start happening. Zoidberg had already checked out the door and walls and come to the conclusion that he wasn't going to make another miraculous escape. Besides, when the door opened, Zoidberg could make out the shadows of two large robots stationed outside.
He paced around the room trying to come up with possible plans for getting out of the robot clutches. He began to have conversations with himself. On one side was Agent Zoidberg, late of the Royal Decapodian Intelligence Service and a recent recruit to the DOOP Intelligence Service. On the other was ol' Zoidy, the whiney, perpetually hungry doctor at Planet Express.
"So, escape is out," Agent Zoidberg said to himself. "Come Zoidberg, use your mind. It's what it's there for. Forget your hunger and think."
"Humph, easy for you to say," Zoidy answered himself. "You don't care that we're on this starvation diet. What's with these rohbuts? They think I'm too fat? Oy gevay, Zoidberg, you are the mere shell of the squid you once were."
"Shut up," he commanded himself. "I need to think." He rubbed his tentacles with his claw. "This rohbut Clamps is obviously deranged and somehow thinks my presence will entice the other rohbuts to join him. But this other mobster, Joey, seems to be smarter. Clamps will soon find himself in trouble. I may be able to use that to my advantage."
"It is going to be a disaster. We're going to get killed and if we don't, we'll starve to death." The voice in his head whined.
"Will you shut up about food?" Zoidberg sat down on the chair. "How am I going to get this to work?"
"Give up on these stupid notions. Nothing you've planned has gone right."
"Oh yeah, who got us out of the Donbot's basement? What would you recommend - do nothing but wait for fate?"
"Instead of all this foolish scheming, why not aks yourself what would Bender do?" The thought came in response.
Zoidberg thought for a moment and then, clacking his claws together, began laughing evilly.
Earth's Moon, 600,000 years ago -
Lady Lambsy sat at the center of the large table as the geneticist made his report. The young three-eyed Eternian droned on in mind-numbing detail about the anthropoids on blue-green world that hung in the black sky above their dome. Lambsy kept finding her mind wandering. Fortunately, she had decreed early on that everyone would use speech rather than telepathy. She found that this prevented all sorts of trouble as no one wanted to reveal all of their thoughts. That was the problem with telepathic communication, you had to actively block the others or you would be an open book. Many of the younger Eternians had a problem with this since their skill was not as advanced as the more experienced. It led to them putting up mental blocks and not being open with their opinions. Lambsy found that the younger Eternians were more concerned about their own image than sharing themselves mentally. She thought this the sad result of the dissension caused by the struggle between the Lords Cuddleysoft and LoveyDovey. They had brought a tragic new era of partisanship and closed mindedness into Eternian consciousness. At the least, verbal communications forced them to present their thoughts in some sort of logical and clear manner. On the other hand, she had to listen to a lot of interminable speeches. The price, she supposed, for trying to be nice.
Lambsy tried to pay attention but she found her thoughts drifting back to the beginning of the expedition. At Lord Adoy's direction, she had led an exploratory team to the small blue-green planet to seek out these Followers who would be the progenitors of the Mighty One. It had been easy enough to find since the prophetess Aeryn's vision of it was quite clear and the Eternian planetary database quite vast. Upon arrival, Lambsy had been shocked to learn the Followers were barely advanced above simple sentience and did not resemble the image of the Mighty One at all. She had reported this immediately to Lord Adoy who had sent geneticists to aid her.
"Start them on the path," he had ordered her. "We cannot await evolution."
So, Lambsy had set the teams to work on figuring out how to jumpstart these Followers' evolution. It took years of patient research, trial and error and some spectacular failures. The huge hairy big-headed strain that one team had come up with was one of those. Lambsy, with Aeryn's image of the orange-haired Follower who would be the Mighty One in her mind, immediately recognize that this was a dead end and ordered them to abandon it. However, the team had fallen in love with their creation and secretly continued. They managed to breed and release enough to pose a risk to the pure strain that Lambsy wanted. This went on until she discovered them at it, sacked the lot and sent them home in shame.
Things looked hopeless until one of her brighter scientists had hit on the idea of using Eternian DNA to speed the process. At first, Lambsy found the notion distasteful. When Eternians died and their spirits fled to the Place of the Beginnings, their now empty bodies were reduced to the basic elements and the DNA stored for the future. The Eternians took a long view of things and recognized that what was true today might not always be true in the future. Someday, the future might have need of the DNA. Lambsy had been unconvinced that this was the moment but agreed in desperation after several more failures. They were soon rewarded with the first Followers that she recognized as fore bearers of the Mighty One.
Although Lambsy found them rather ugly, they were tall and erect, less hairy than the early strains, intellectually curious, and incredibly aggressive. Soon this new breed would populate the planet. Lambsy recognized that the big-head strain which wandered the northern climes were doomed the moment they came into contact with the new breed. She thought it nicely symmetrical. The old mistake would be wiped out and the modified Followers would have dominion. As indifferent to the Follower races as any Eternian except for ways they could be used to aid the Eternian cause, Lady Lambsy had no concerns about this. There could only be one dominant species and from the Eternian point-of-view, the new breed was the desirable one. It had to nurtured, encouraged and protected. Therefore, the others had to disappear.
For now, the modified Followers were living a nomadic life in the southern hemisphere. As their numbers grew, they would start settling down. Soon, they would be ready for the Eternians to teach them the skills they would need to survive. Lambsy looked forward to that.
She woke from her reveries to see that the young geneticist was still at it. She took a quick glance about the room. Most of the other geneticists were paying rapt attention but she could see that the other scientists, soldiers and various specialists of her team were trying to stay awake. She looked off towards the door and saw that her two Recorders were still alert. Lambsy would have to remember to say something to them. Of all her staff, they were the most devoted to duty. A comfort, since their duty was protection of members of the council and recording their thoughts and doings.
She listened for a moment to the speaker.
"The combination of our DNA and this Follower species DNA has already displayed some interesting results. The species is more aggressive than we first surmised. Although our experience has led us to believe that most aggressive species eventually tame themselves or become extinct, these Followers could be different. That may result in some interesting times when they attain the stars." The young scientist said in his official report tone which was flat and verbose.
Lambsy was no scientist and, while she could appreciate her team's endeavors, she found the reports tedious. Her role was to provide leadership and make decisions. Happily, she found her lack of enthusiasm for all the scientific reports was not noticed by the scientists who walked in awe and reverence of her. They always prefaced any words with her with 'Great Lady'.
"Of course," she mused, "they are all so very young. To them, I am a relic from another age. None of them can remember the empire. To be in the presence of one who was there at its beginning and its end must be quite intimidating. Thank goodness, Lord Adoy is not here. We might not be able to get any work done at all."
Thinking of her father reminded Lambsy of the tragedy of her own family. She recalled the pain she had felt when she had returned too late to see her granddaughter. And her son was off somewhere in the Swarm Watch patrolling the vastness of space. It had been a crushing disappointment that he had abandoned his child, Aeryn, and gone into space. She understood his pain over the death of his wife but to abandon the child? Lambsy had been horrorstruck at the notion. Eternians loved and adored children. Eternian biology allowed them so few births that each one was to be celebrated and cherished. For an Eternian father to turn his back on his own progeny was unheard of. She wondered if her son suffered from some mental disturbance, extremely rare for Eternians but not unheard of. Cuddleysoft, her ex-husband, had scoffed at this notion. Lambsy had argued with him over sending their son to the Mind Councilors but he had refused. As Lord Commander of the Watch, he had gotten the boy into the Watch and sent him into space where she could not help him. It hurt that he had left without talking to her or leaving a message. She could only hope that one day, he would return and they could talk about what happened.
Lambsy thought about what she could do to help her tormented son. She had a germ of an idea that was taking form but she wasn't sure if it could work. As she puzzled over it, she suddenly became aware that the speaker had stopped talking. Everyone was looking at her expectantly. Lambsy realized that they were awaiting her response. Embarrassed at not really paying any attention, she said, "Well done, Doctor Sweetums. I approve all actions taken to date and agree with all recommendations."
This set the geneticists to smiling.
"By the First," she mused, "I hope I haven't agreed to something stupid."
Planet Express Ship, Maug -
Leela called the base control tower to request permission to leave for some orbital testing of the ship's engine. The tower agreed with the caveat that they return to take on a load of cargo for the return to Earth. Leela acknowledged and they were soon racing away from Maug towards Da Nang.
Amy watched in admiration as Leela used all her considerable skills to fool the DOOP sensors on the way out of the Maug system. She spoofed them electronically; used space dust and asteroids to hide from them; and she flew in the wake of other ships to shield the ship from them. Soon they were well out of the Maug system and on their way to Da Nang.
"Leela that has to be the best flying anyone has ever done."
Leela smiled. "Thanks. We're not in the clear yet. We still have to get past the patrols between here and Da Nang. Then through any orbital defenses to the planet itself."
Amy nodded and went back to monitoring the engine. She started to get a feeling that this was going to work after all.
Fire Base Cantigny, Da Nang -
Alexei shook Fry awake. Fry moaned and tried to turn over but Alexei kept shaking him.
"Get up, Fry," he ordered. "We've got an Op on."
Fry climbed out of his bunk and looked bleary-eyed around at the other men staggering about the bunker, coughing and complaining. He scratched his butt and rubbed his eyes. Alexei shoved his coveralls into his hands and said, "Get dressed." Then he went about the room urging the others to get ready.
Hicks stuck his head in through the door seal and said, "For Christ sake, Alexei, get 'em moving. Briefing in ten minutes at the chow bunker." Then he was gone.
Alexei bullied, pushed and argued his squad into their gear and out the door. Fry stood at the door blinking away the sleep while he tried to verify everyone had a breather on. Alexei was the last man in the line and he grabbed Fry by the arm, shoving him ahead and out the door into the misty pre-dawn of Da Nang IV.
When they reached the chow bunker, they found the entire Alpha Company was assembled there. Captain Mike "Ol' Coot" Tenison was standing on a raised wooden platform in front of a map of the area about Cantigny. Next to him was the base Co, Captain Ranjanpurani. Alexei went to sit with the other second squad members. Fry looked about and saw Lieutenant McNally over near the captain and went to stand next to him.
Ol' Coot looked about and grinned. "Never saw so many sleeping beauties in all my life." A few of the men laughed. Hicks, standing on the other side of McNally, gave a fierce grin in the dull light of the chemical lamps.
"Okay, you might be wondering why I got you all up at this ungodly hour. In about 45 minutes, all hell is going to be unleashed on the jungle opposite us. Our artillery is going to pound the crap out it and then walk all the way to the Lethe River. Once the artillery lifts, the entire division is going to move out into the jungle and sweep to the river. Smash up any Bug concentrations and drive them across the river. Alpha Company has been chosen by Captain Ranjan to lead the effort from Cantigny. We'll be deployed with two platoons forward and two back. You see any Bugs who look like they still got some fight left in them, kill 'em. But remember part of this sweep is to gather information, so we want prisoners. Savvy?"
The men nodded and Ol' Coot went over the specific assignments and signals to be used. Then he let everyone get some breakfast. As Fry was eating with the second squad, they heard a moaning sound above them. This was followed by a series of loud explosions that could be heard to the east. Hicks came into the bunker and yelled, "Second platoon, get on the line. Move your asses."
Fry fell in with Alexei who had his fletchette rifle over his shoulder. It was still misty outside. The air was hot and muggy and the day promised to be hotter still. As they reached the trench line, Fry could see the jungle out beyond the perimeter was burning. Whirring sounds filled the early dawn sky overhead and more explosions could be heard farther into the jungle. Fry felt his mouth go dry and pulled down his breather to take a drink of water. After one swallow, Alexei stopped him from taking more.
"Might want to save some. This is going to be thirsty work," he shouted over the sound of the explosions. "Stay close to the LT, Fry."
Fry nodded and moved over to where the lieutenant was standing. The tall gray-haired man gave a weary smile as Fry came up. "Morning, Phil. Nice to see you out and about so early this morning. Doc Gesus gave me a good report on your work yesterday. Good job."
Fry blushed and muttered an inaudible "Thank you, Sir".
McNally nodded and then looked back out at the jungle. As the light began to improve, the shelling lessened and then stopped completely. Ol' Coot stepped up on top of the trench line and blew a whistle. In the sudden silence following the roaring of the barrage, its shriek sounded incredibly loud. Fry looked back at the base behind him and saw the Charlie Company men filing into the fighting positions. After the losses they took in the fight to reach Glasgow, Captain Ranjanpurani had decided they would be staying to guard the base. In the distance, Fry saw Doc Gesus in his green smock standing outside the medical bunker watching. Fry raised his hand to wave but he heard the lieutenant say, "Let's go Phil."
Fry turned and saw that the company was advancing into the field. He quickly climbed up onto the top of the trench and trotted after the lieutenant.
DOOP Naval Vessel, Nimbus -
Kif stared morosely at the threat board which was green. Kif was feeling depressed. Since they had returned to the sector about Maug, Brannigan had been relieved of his Task Force duties and returned to captain the Nimbus. This had pushed Kif back to first officer. Kif had enjoyed his command of the Nimbus. The work had been honorable, the challenges interesting and, for once, Kif had known the satisfaction of a job well done. He felt that the Nimbus was becoming a well run ship under his command but now Brannigan had the helm again. Soon, all of Kif's hard work would be undone and the Nimbus would return to its slack ineptitude of before.
Kif sighed. He hated to think they would go back to the old days. He resolved to try and keep Zapp from ruining the ship and crew again. Now that Kif had an idea of how to handle Brannigan, the Nimbus wouldn't go completely back to what it once was. Yet, he knew that Brannigan would want to put his own stamp on things. Kif knew how difficult it was to contain Zapp's enthusiasms when he got something in his head.
Kif felt he knew how Job from the Bible felt. He certainly was undergoing trials and tribulations that were testing his faith. Still, he had experienced command and he found he liked it. Someday, Kif swore, he would command his own ship.
Brannigan came striding onto the command deck with his usual self-important strut. Kif marveled how nothing seemed to dent the man's self-confidence. Demotion from Task Force command by Admiral Tsing who did not trust him would have shaken a less self-assured man, but not Zapp. He didn't seem to mind at all and was positively cheery.
"Kif," he bellowed as he sat down in the captain's chair. "Kif, damn it man, where are you?"
"Right beside you, sir."
"What? Oh, there you are," Brannigan smiled. "Now that I'm no longer Commodore, I don't rate my own personal steward. I've sent those two petty officers back to their work stations. I expect that you'll be reporting this evening to carry out your usual duties."
Kif moaned softly. Usual duties involved anything from listening to Zapp's inane philosophical musings to rubbing ointment on Zapp's various skin irruptions which seemed to mostly occur on the man's large rear end.
Brannigan crossed his leg and put his chin on his hand. "Let's head out into the void, Kif old friend, and see what there is to see."
Kif stiffened. "Um, er, sir, we are under orders from Admiral Tsing to patrol this region of space."
"Nonsense," Zapp waved his hand dismissively. "I've always had the latitude to do what I thought necessary. I'm Zapp Brannigan not some common freighter captain."
Kif wondered how he was going to talk Brannigan from going off gallivanting about the galaxy in direct defiance of orders. He was about to try and reason with Zapp when the communications officer saved them.
"Sir," the man came bustling out of the Comm Room with a piece of paper. Zapp and Kif looked at him. "Sir, a priority message from ComSec Four."
He handed it to Kif. Kif was about to read it when Zapp reached up and snatched it out his hand. He gave the communications officer a hard glare and said very loudly, "I'm in command here."
The communications officer looked at Kif who shrugged and the man fled back to the Comm Room. Kif watched as Zapp mouthed his way through the message waiting for the inevitable order to read and interpret it. Zapp read slowly and then sat straight up and read it again. When he came to a certain line, he said loudly, "It's her! By all the love gods, it's her!"
He jumped up, dropping the message on the floor. He paused a moment to consider something and then practically yelled, "Turn us about and head for Maug system boundary at maximum speed. I want sensors on full power sweep. All unidentified ships are to be stopped and searched."
The command crew looked at him and then at Kif. Kif nodded his head. Fortunately, Zapp hadn't noticed this. He was staring at the sensor screen, his face a mixture of lust and anticipation. He turned to Kif and barked, "Kif, I'm going to be in my quarters getting prepared. Inform me immediately of any ship we find. Immediately, Kif, not a second later."
Not even waiting for a reply, Zapp turned and strode away. Puzzled, Kif reached down and picked up the piece paper. He felt his heart skip when he read the order from Admiral Tsing directing all ships to find and stop the Planet Express Ship which was believed to be headed for Da Nang.
Warehouse somewhere in New New York -
Zoidberg was asleep on the floor when the door crashed open. He looked up bleary-eyed as the lights came on. In the doorway stood Clamps with two large robots behind him.
"Wha? What is it?" Zoidberg muttered as he sat up rubbing the sleep from his eyes and yawning. "Can't a doctor get a decent night's sleep? It's bad enough you aren't feeding me enough but now you won't let me sleep."
"Shaddup you!" Clamps said harshly. "Get on ya freaking feet. Time for ya to start me on my becoming the new Donbot."
"What am I to do?" Zoidberg asked with a crafty look in his eyes as he came into a sitting position.
Clamps pointed his clamps at him. "Ya is going to tell dem boyos that ya killed the Donbot. Understand?"
"Of course," Zoidberg said humbly. "I suppose you want me to say the words so it doesn't look like you're just fixing the blame on an innocent dupe."
Clamps paused for a moment to consider this. Then he said, "That would be better. If you said the words…..hey, how do I know you're not trying to trick me? Maybe you're lying." His clamps cycled swiftly. "You'se humans are always trying to trick us."
Looking perfectly innocent and guileless, Zoidberg said in deferential tones, "But I'm not a human. You can count on the legendary Decapodian honesty. I will tell them the truth."
Clamps stared at him for a minute then he chuckled. "That's right. Your not a human skintube."
He pointed his clamp at Zoidberg and said harshly. When I'se tells ya, ya speaks up and says the words about killing the Donbot. If'n not, I'll clamps ya. Understand?"
"Yes," Zoidberg said as he crossed his heart and raised his claw in the air like he had seen the humans do when they were showing they were being truthful.
"Let's go," Clamps sneered.
Zoidberg was slow to rise so the two large robots pulled him up and dragged him into the other room. It was a large storage area with many boxes stacked all about. It was dusty and dingy in the few small lights that were on. Zoidberg looked around hoping to see some way of escaping but beyond the small halos cast on the floor by the lights, he couldn't see anything but darkness.
The robots stood him in one of the small pool of lights. Zoidberg could see Clamps and his two guards but in the shadows he could make out at least a dozen more. He got the impression that there were quite of few robots around in the darkness.
Clamps walked up to him and said, "Joey's guys are coming soon. Ya says what ya supposed to say or I'll clamps ya. Ya hear me, ya ugly alien skintube? I'll clamps ya!"
The thin orange colored robot waved his clamp hand in front of Zoidberg's tentacles, cycling them open and closed. Zoidberg gulped and sucked his tentacles into his mouth. He eyed Clamp's hands and nodded vigorously in agreement.
There was a noise towards the front of the building. Clamps made a gesture and the other robots moved back into the shadows. Zoidberg surmised that they were hiding and felt a tingle of fear.
"This could go very badly," he thought and then remembered his plan. All he needed was an opportunity to speak. If he did get the chance, he hoped that following Bender's example would be the key to his salvation. Zoidberg figured he might as well take the chance as nothing else seemed feasible and it always seemed to work for Bender.
Clamps stepped in front of Zoidberg and waited with his arms folded. Soon, two large robots bearing pulse rifles stepped into the light nearest the front. They stood with the rifles pointed at Clamps. A broad chested, purplish robot with a big medallion hanging from its neck stepped forward. Behind him, Zoidberg could see more shadowy figures moving.
"Alright Clamps," the robot with the big chest said, "you called this meeting. Make it quick so's I can finish you off and get back to being the Donbot."
Clamps laughed and said harshly, "Ya and what army, Joey Mousepad? We should settle dis robot-to-robot. My clamps against ya puny digits."
"I'm the new Donbot," Joey said, looking at his hands as if they'd just been manicured. "I don't involve myself with thrashing losers like you anymore. I have associates who handle that sort of stuff for me."
He snapped his fingers together making a metallic clank as he said, "As for what army….."
A line of weapons bearing robots stepped into the light behind Joey. Zoidberg could see that they stretched off into the darkness on both sides. Zoidberg couldn't be sure but it appeared that Clamps was heavily outnumbered. Evidently the thin robot saw it too for he looked about in a nervous manner.
"Wait guys," he cried waving his hands in front of him. "I'se got something to shows ya." He reached out and pulled Zoidberg forward.
Joey put his hands on his hip joints. "What is this?" he demanded. "Why would we care about some ugly meatbag?"
Ignoring him, Clamps laughed. "Guys, dis guy has something to tell ya about the death of our beloved Donbot." He grabbed Zoidberg's arm with his clamp hand and said quietly, "You tell 'em that you offed the Donbot or I'll clamps ya arm off. Ya hear me, you freaky sack of ugly?"
Zoidberg nodded fearfully and whined, "I can't talk with you holding me so tight."
Clamps growled and let go. Zoidberg stepped forward so that all could see him. He raised his claws high and shouted, "My rohbut friends, I do indeed know something about the death of the late and lamented Donbot."
The robots murmured for a few moments but Joey and Clamps both yelled for them to be quiet. Zoidberg knew this was the critical moment. All the robots were watching him. Clamps was behind and Joey in front. If he got this wrong, he would be dead very quickly. His whole plan depended on doing what Bender always did in a tight spot - blaming someone else.
"It was all Clamps doing," he shouted and pointed back as Clamps. "He killed the Donbot. I saw him do it."
Clamps gave a curse and moved to step forward. Zoidberg scuttled away.
"He was there that night," Zoidberg shouted as he moved towards Joey's robots. "He put a bomb in the house's basement. He didn't see me but I saw him. I just barely made it out but before I could warn the Donbot, Clamps blew the place sky high."
Clamps stopped, stunned. "Dat's a lie!" he shouted angrily and stepped forward with his clamps cycling rapidly.
Zoidberg moved into the space between the two robot forces. He raised his claws in the air. "Friends, believe me. He's wanted the Donbot's job for a long time. He found his opportunity that night but he didn't count on me being there as a witness."
A furious Clamps was coming after him but Zoidberg suddenly heard a muttering sound, as if a vast host of electronic radios were putting out static. Clamps shouted something but now Joey's robots could be heard, "Murderer! Kill da bum. Kill the lousy traitor."
Joey put his hand up to his mouth as if he was trying to decide something. The robots behind him began moving forward, almost buzzing. Joey looked about, tried to wave them back and then shouted at them to stop but they continued forwards. Realizing he had lost control, Joey stepped back out of the light. Clamps stopped moving towards Zoidberg as he saw the motion of the other robots. He hesitated and, in that moment, Zoidberg rushed away and dove behind a large box.
Clamps looked at advancing robots again. They were shaking their weapons and making electronic screeching noise that was almost beyond Zoidberg's hearing. Cursing, Clamps raced back into the shadows himself.
The firing began almost immediately afterwards. In the dark, the bright red pulse packets streaked across the warehouse as the two sides began shooting at each other.
Zoidberg lay in the dark, listening to the noise of pulse blasts impacting on the walls, the boxes and the metal bodies of the robots. He tried crawling away but this brought a flurry of shots in his direction. He crawled back to the relative safety of the box.
"Well, Zoidberg," he told himself, "here's another fine mess you've gotten me into. What do I do now?"
Jungle near the Lethe River, Da Nang IV-
Jess crouched behind a fallen log as she looked out over the dark water. She kept her rifle aimed at the far bank but in the gloomy twilight, she couldn't make out anything but a dim shadow. It had started raining again which she was happy to see as it would help the major's crossing. Behind her, she could hear the noise of the Argyll and Sutherlanders as they swept up along the river and away from her team.
Chief Tamiko and some of the others were lowering a small rubber boat into the water as the major stood next to Rand back in the dense undergrowth near Jess. As soon as the boat was in the water and loaded with the major's gear, her SEAL team disappeared to take up positions along the bank. The plan was to cover the major and Rand as they crossed the river. The major had not yet revealed how Rand was to cross and Jess was trying to figure out how this would happen, especially as they only brought one boat. The major made a motion with his hand and Rand stepped forward into the water. To Jess' surprise, the robot walked calmly into the river and disappeared.
The major watched for a few seconds then stepped over to where Jess was hidden. He squatted down beside her and looked across the river. About five minutes passed and then Jess made out a small green flash of light. The major whispered, "Well, this is it. Give me a week and then look for our signal hereabouts on any of the three nights following. At the very least, Rand should be able to return if something goes wrong."
Jess felt the breath go out of her. She didn't like this talk of the major not coming back. She knew that Rand was worried he didn't want to come back. Jess couldn't understand why the major was looking for death but she had come to like the man. He was too good a Special Forces man to be lost.
"Come back alive, sir," she said quietly. "The DOOP needs men like you."
He paused for a moment to look at her. She could see the puzzlement on his face. He said softly, "If Rand can't get back either; then we'll send you a signal. She has a short range radio capability that can link to the standard Fire Support Team radio. Frequency is 43.17 Giga Hertz. Have someone monitor the radio at all times. But it's a last resort only since it would be quick and easy to detect and trace. If we have to use it, it will be unlikely Rand and I will be coming back at all."
Jess nodded. He reached down and put out his hand. Jess took it and she felt him press something into her hand. She grasped it as he looked down at her. The major's white teeth flashed then he moved swiftly and silently towards the water. Looking down, Jess saw that he had given her the quarter that he kept around his neck. She looked back up to catch a shadowy glimpse of him climbing into the boat. He began paddling into the river and was soon lost in the darkness.
Planet Express Ship, Maug-Da Nang Corridor -
Leela guided the ship into the empty space between Maug and Da Nang. She was using all of her skills to keep the ship out of sensor range of the patrolling Navy ships they could make out on the ship's screens. They were about ten minutes into the empty void when Amy pointed out a contact coming up behind them. Leela tried to find something to hide the ship but the area was bare - no asteroids, comets or space dust to cover them. Their passive sensor picked up the Navy's active sensor sweep and Leela cursed as she realized they'd been spotted. Now it was a race. She pushed the engine to max power and sent the Planet Express ship at an increasing angle away from the Navy ship. Leela was trying to get out of sensor range before the Navy ship could call for help. Unfortunately for that plan, the Navy ship was a frigate and much faster than the Planet Express ship. Pretty soon, they could see the other ship closing on them fast. They were going to be caught if they couldn't think up some way to escape.
Amy said, "We can't outrun it and we can't hide. It's time to give it up, Leela."
Leela snarled, "Not yet. The whole DOOP Navy isn't going to stop me."
She toggled the fuel reload switch and dropped two more dark matter pellets into the ship's fusion reactor. Then she drove the engine control up to 110%. Amy paled as she watched the engine meters rise towards overload. The Navy frigate began to fall further behind. Leela laughed triumphantly. Even Amy chuckled as the frigate was soon far behind them.
The laughter died in their throats as they spotted a new sensor contact ahead of them. Initially it was just one large spot but soon resolved itself into four contacts. One was very large, another was probably a destroyer and the other two were clearly frigates. Leela cursed loudly and dialed down the power. Amy looked at her in surprise.
"Why are you doing that? We could still turn and outrun them."
"We can't go at this power for much longer. The other frigate is still behind us and these two contacts are already moving at angles that would box us in. They'll have a firing solution on us in the next twenty minutes even at this speed. We're caught." Leela frowned and then shook her head sadly. "Sorry for getting you into this Amy."
"Well, I understand why you did this. It's so romantic." Amy sighed.
"Ah crap!" Leela muttered.
"What? You hate the idea that it is romantic?" Amy said in a miffed tone.
"No, No. It's just that the large contact is the Nimbus. It's Zapp Brannigan. The one man in the whole universe I definitely don't want to see. Damn the luck."
Soon the Planet Express ship was inside the Nimbus' huge cargo bay. Leela and Amy were taken by armed marines up to Zapp's quarters. Zapp was standing there in his dark blue coveralls grinning. Behind him, looking disheartened was Kif. Amy let out a squeal of delight at the sight of him and raced into his arms. Kif went "oof" at the sudden onslaught but found himself caught up in Amy's kisses. Dismissing the marines, Zapp smiled indulgently at the couple.
"I'd like to get a little of that myself," he said longingly to Leela.
"What's stopping you? Kif is always around, you can kiss him anytime you like." Leela said sarcastically.
Kif pulled Amy off him long enough to ask, "Amy! Leela! What are you doing here in the war zone? Don't you realize how dangerous it is here?"
Leela said angrily, "We're free citizens of the DOOP. We can go where we please."
Zapp snorted. Kif stared at Amy and said, "That is not true. And why would you want to come here. Come now, Leela, the truth."
Leela, who was glaring at Zapp contemptuously, said, "So be it, the truth then. We're trying to get to Da Nang. I want to see if Fry is okay."
"See if Fry's okay?" Kif asked incredulously. "You're risking your lives to check on Fry? A letter wouldn't do?"
Leela snarled. "'Alright dammit. I'm going to get him out of there." She folded her arms across her chest and stared at the two DOOP officers coldly. "You got a problem with that."
Kif looked over at Zapp. The big man was standing with his fists clenched and his face reddening as he stared at Leela with a hurt look on his face. A sense of foreboding came over Kif. He decided he needed to get Leela and Amy out of here before something bad happened. He spoke quickly to pre-empt Zapp. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. This is a forbidden area for civilian transports. You could be facing a long stint in prison as a smuggler or worse, a spy. Are you both crazy?"
Leela simply turned her head away angrily but Amy reached out and grabbed Kif's hand. "Leela can't say it, darling," she said softly, "but she's starting to realize she's in love with Fry and wants to rescue him."
Leela looked at Amy, a blush spreading across her face. "Amy, I never said….."
She didn't get to finish as Zapp suddenly exploded. "Fry! Always that carrot-headed moron. I swear that I wasted my time getting him drafted. What the hell do you see in him and not in me? Why not me, Leela? In the name of all the gods, why not me?"
Leela's eye narrowed and she said coldly, "What did you just say about getting him drafted?"
"I did it for you. For us. You were obviously befuddled by that Swengolly. I'm the man for you Leela. I knew if you weren't around him all the time, you'd be able to see what a loser he really is. How much better I am than him. I'm the one who loves you not that puny twerp." Zapp raised his hands in supplication. "Please, Leela, can't you see? I love you so much that I got my great aunt to make a draft notice just for Fry and get him sent to Da Nang. That's how much I love you. For you, I was willing to violate every rule in the book, risk my career, my command, everything."
Zapp lowered his arms to his side and said pleadingly, "I'd do anything for you. Anything at all. Ask it and I'll do it. That should mean something to you."
Kif stared at Zapp in dismay. "Zapp, you lovesick fool," he thought angrily, "you should've kept your mouth shut."
Leela was quiet for a moment as emotions played across her face. Then she put her hands together and brought them up next to her cheek in a flirtatious way. She batted her eye and smiled. "Oh Zapp, you did all that just so we could be together?" she asked sweetly. "How romantic!"
Kif thought he heard a darker undercurrent in Leela's tone. He muttered, "Oh, oh!" and began to step forward. Amy, who had been watching Zapp and Leela, suddenly put her arm around his neck and pulled him back. "N'uh-uh, darling. Zapp's earned this ass-whooping," she whispered into his ear.
Trying to pull away, Kif felt himself being choked and relaxed. He knew he couldn't save Zapp from what was coming.
Zapp, startled by Leela's sudden change in tone, smiled and cried, "I knew it. I knew you'd be moved by the dramatic gesture. I told Kif so. Didn't I, Kif?" He looked back at Kif and winked. Kif closed his eyes and groaned. Oblivious with joy, Zapp laughed and then turning back to Leela, stepped toward her with his arms spread wide and a huge smile on his face, saying, "Who do you love, my turtle dove?"
Leela stepped towards Zapp cooing, "Who do I love?" as she planted her foot firmly on the carpeted deck. "Who do I love," she shouted as she drove her boot up into Zapp's crotch. Eyes bulging, Zapp let out a tiny little "ooogh" and bent over, grabbing his groin. Leela stepped back again and brought both hands down to grasp Zapp's head as she swung her leg back again. "Who do I love?" she raged as she brought her knee up into Zapp's face. Kif winced as he heard something crack and saw the blood spatter on the floor.
"Mg nozz! Mg nozz!" gargled Zapp as he collapsed onto the floor face first. The blood spread out from his face in a small puddle. Leela stepped forward again. She screamed, "Who do I love?" as she began kicking Zapp in his ribcage. Zapp curled up into a ball and moaned piteously. Leela kept kicking and started yelling over and over with each kick, "I love Fry. Fry! Do you understand that, you selfish self-centered bastard? I love Fry."
Amy released Kif. "I think we should stop her now before she kills him."
Amy and Kif raced over and pulled the enraged Leela away from Zapp. Leela tried to get back at Zapp again. Amy and Kif were barely able to restrain her. Suddenly, as if someone turned off a motor, all the adrenalin drained from her and she stopped struggling. Breathing huge gasping breaths, she looked down into Amy's face.
"I love Fry," she said between gasps. Amy smiled up at her and put a hand on Leela's face. Leela stared at her as if trying to focus her vision. "I love Fry," she said as tears formed in her eye.
"No one doubted it, Leela," Amy said quietly, tears appearing in her eyes. Kif went over to check on Zapp. He was still breathing but Leela had clearly hurt him badly. Kif stood up and walked over to the two young women. Standing in front of them, Kif coughed politely to get their attention. They both looked over at the thin green skinned DOOP officer. Kif was surprised to realize that he was truly angry. It wasn't the way things were supposed to be. Leela had done something irrevocable and there was no telling how Zapp would react but Kif and the crew of the Nimbus would bear the brunt of it. And Amy too, which is what really drove Kif's anger; she could be part of however Zapp responded. In that moment, Kif realized he truly loved Amy. He could not bear the thought of her being hurt. He had to get them off the Nimbus and out of Zapp's immediate reach.
"Okay, that's it. You've done enough damage. Now get off this ship and go back to Earth. Don't try to sneak around us because it's not going to happen," he snapped.
Amy looked shocked and whispered, "Kif, please..."
"No time for that. If Zapp wakes up before you are out of here, he'll lock you up. You need to leave now."
"What about Zapp?" Leela asked in a voice drained of all energy.
"He'll survive. I'll try to make sure he takes no action. You should not have come here. There are Persae stealth raiders about. I'll send some ships to escort you back out of the war zone." Kif said firmly.
A bit of fire came back into Leela's eye and she said with equal firmness, "I'm going to go get Fry. He shouldn't be on Da Nang. Only Zapp's treachery put him there."
Kif smiled bitterly. "If you try, we will shoot your engine out and tow you back to Maug. You'll be imprisoned for violating a whole series of Navy regulations. Face it, Leela; you are not going to Da Nang. If you want to get Fry out of the army, there is a process for such things. I'll send you the forms for Fry to fill out so that he can be discharged. He wouldn't be allowed to leave with you even if you could get to Da Nang. Accept it as all that can be done, Leela."
Uncertain and rapidly fading, Leela looked down at the thin green first officer as if for the first time. The old unsure Kif was gone and in his place stood a grim naval officer who would brook no opposition. Amy beamed at him with pride. "Oh Kiffy! You are so strong."
Kif snarled angrily. "Leave now. And don't come back!"
Amy ran over to him and kissed him. "Please don't hate us for what happened. Zapp deserved it."
Kif relented and said sadly, "Maybe but I doubt the Navy would understand. I sure the hell don't. If you come back, I'll see that Leela is tried for it."
Amy stepped back, startled by this new Kif. She turned back to Leela who looked to be on her last legs. Amy saw that Leela had used up all of the energy the stimulants had given her.
Kif said, "If you don't get her out of here quickly, she's going to collapse. You might be trapped here then. I don't know if I can really protect you from Zapp."
Amy walked over and grabbed Leela's hand. Leela stared down at her, wavering on her feet.
"Come on," Amy said as she pulled the unresisting Cyclops towards the door, "we need to put a lot of space between us and the Nimbus before Zapp wakes up. Don't worry, I'll drive."
Kif followed closely behind them. At the door, Amy stopped and grabbed Kif by the shoulder. She gave him a long deep kiss that left Kif gasping for air.
"That's to remember me by," she said with a grin and pushed Leela out into the corridor. Kif stopped to call for a marine detail. He then stood in the corridor holding Amy's hand until they arrived. A big burly corporal walked up to Kif and saluted. Returning the salute, Kif directed them to escort the two women back to their ship and let them go. One of them put an arm on Leela who went limp at the touch and slumped against him. Amy looked her over with concern but to her relief she heard Leela snoring. Kif ordered the marines to carry her. One of them picked Leela up in his arms and carried her down the corridor with Amy right behind, surrounded by three other marines. At the passageway door, Amy paused and blew a kiss back to Kif who returned the gesture. Then she and Leela were gone. Kif stood for a long moment wishing he could go with them, and then he turned back to his duty.
He went back to Zapp's cabin where first he sent messages to two of the ships that had helped herd the girls into the Nimbus' arms. He directed them to escort the Planet Express ship back to Maug. Then he called for the ship's doctor to come to the Zapp's cabin. Sighing over the sheer folly of it all, he walked over to Zapp. He was breathing in a great wheezing way and blood spurted from his nose with each breath.
"Poor lovesick fool," he murmured. "Why couldn't you have let it be?"
The doctor arrived and quickly moved to examine Zapp. "What happened heayah?" he asked in his slow southern drawl.
Kif looked down at Zapp and sighed. "He had an accident. Slipped and fell, I believe. I'm sure the captain would appreciate if this didn't become common knowledge."
The doctor raised an eyebrow and looked back at Zapp again. He called for some robot medical orderlies to come to Zapp's quarters. "Some accident. Something y'all ain't a telling me, commander?" he asked as he rolled Zapp over and did something to his nose that caused Zapp to groan. He then felt his ribcage. "Hmm, three maybe four broken ribs."
Kif watched him for a moment and then said, "He was also damaged in the groin area too."
The doctor looked surprised and moved his hand down to Zapp's crotch. "No problem there. He'll be just fine."
"You're sure?" Kif asked remembering that Leela had put all of her strength into the kick.
The doctor's eyes twinkled as he unzipped Zapp's coveralls. He reached into the crotch area saying, "Well, he did have some mighty fine protection," as he pulled out a large pair of rolled up socks. Kif stared at the socks then at the doctor's impassive expression. Kif tried to keep an expressionless face but couldn't help himself and burst out laughing. The doctor gave Kif a stern look but he too began to laugh. The two robot orderlies found the two gasping for breathe when they rolled up with the stretcher.