Background Noise, part 15
By Dave Vincent
The Haunted Past
[Battle of Octillian - Considered the final battle of the Robot Uprising. During the revolt, mad scientist Gysberg and his robot army seized Europa. Programmed to kill all humans, the robots exterminated all human life at the small colony. Gysberg's Killbots used the Jovian moon's surviving starships to launch attacks on Earth and Mars. However, some of the killbots left the solar system to head out into the galaxy. Dozens of battles took place between the rampaging Killbots and local human colonial forces with mixed results. Several smaller colonies and stations were eradicated. The remaining colonies lived in fear of a robot raid. Frantic requests for help from Earth were met with a promise of aid as soon as the situation allowed it. This resulted in the colonies banding together to develop their own space forces and forging alliances with other species. (It is said that the DOOP can trace its beginning from these actions.)
Once the robot rebellion was put down in the Sol system, the Solar Charter members sent military forces to track down and eliminate the marauding robots still active. The hunt for the remaining Killbots involved many grim and bloody battles, some of which are little documented although there is a persistent rumor of a Killbot being captured intact. It took nearly five years before the human military command declared the campaign to be ended.
Thus it was a total surprise to the human colonists of Octillian when a several hundred year old starship came into their system. The first inclination of this small mining and agricultural colony was salvage. Such an antiquity would have some historical value to Earth which might result in a measure of financial relief for the impoverished colony.
A cargo ship called Gort, being the only vessel the Octillians owned, was sent to investigate. The spacers docked with the ancient vessel and sent over a boarding party. All contact with the boarders was lost minutes later. Not long after, the sounds of screaming and battle were heard coming over the Gort's radio. It must have been only the merest of chances that one of the remaining crew survived long enough to send the warning "Killbots" followed by the presumed self-destruction of the cargo vessel. This heroic act of self-sacrifice damaged the robots' vessel badly enough that it could not leave the system without repair. This meant that the robots would need a place to fix their ship. To the horror of the Octillians, the robots began an ominous if slow approach to planet. The colonists immediately sent a distress message to DOOP Military Command and then evacuated to underground caverns used as protection against space pirates and alien raiders.
A Task Force built around the DNV Nimbus was dispatched by the DOOP. Arriving after the Killbots landed, the Task Force destroyed the robots' vessel just outside the colony. A dozen Killbots had managed to occupy the colony's buildings. What happened next is still classified and the few eyewitness reports sketchy and confusing. What is known is that the Killbots were all destroyed but with reputed heavy losses amongst the DOOP Marines who were sent to fight them. - A Historical Dictionary of the Robot Uprising by A. R. Kan, Proxima Prime University Press, Proxima Centauri 3107]
[No one really knew how the change occurred or when it became noticeable. It had always been theorized that Gysberg's Positronic Brain's mysterious sub-routines could be the source of unforeseen development in robots. At first, robots seemed to emotionless and dull. Busily carrying out the tasks allowed by their programming, they became part of the background noise in humanity's daily lives. But slowly, humans became aware that the robots were developing personalities not of their programmers' making. Several robots were studied but no one was ever able to discover why it was occurring. After a few years of dead-end research, the Earthican Bureaucracy cut funding for the investigation and it was eventually forgotten about as robots with personalities became the norm. - A History of Human Robotics, From the Earliest Cybernetics to Development of Androids by I. A. Simov, University of Greater California, Earth 3793]
Detoxification Ward, New New York Charity Hospital -
Eyes closed, Farnsworth lay as still as he could. The only motion was the slight rise of his chest from his shallow breathing. He could sense the nurse above him looking at the readings. He prayed she would leave. He had to lie still enough to convince her that the sedative flow was keeping him under. Otherwise she might check the monitor more closely and he'd be caught. Farnsworth's only real fear was that his heart rate would go up prompting her to take action. Fortunately, at nearly one hundred and fifty years old, his heart beat very slowly. After a few moments, the nurse walked away.
Farnsworth felt himself go limp with relief. He lay still waiting for the nurse to leave. As he had several times before, Farnsworth tried to recall how long he had been in this hospital bed while he waited. As before, he just did not know. He remembered that Hermes had come into his office with two men in white coats. They had laid hands on him and sprayed something into his face. The last thing he remembered was Hermes saying, "Go easy. Don't hurt him, mon." That had been the day after they had returned from the disastrous trip to Utopia at Barnard's Star. How many days ago had that been, he wondered.
After that, there were only brief moments of coming awake in this bed, struggling to sit up and having the nurse come to adjust his dosage. Eventually, he just slept; which meant he dreamed. And his dreams were nightmares. Sometimes the dreams were about things he had done and regretted. Sometimes they were about 'her'. The ones about 'her' were the worse. They terrified him in a way nothing else could.
Hubert Farnsworth did not fear death. He had lived a long, long life. What he feared most was memories. He knew that there was something in his past that he could not and did not want to remember. The memory must be intensely painful for when he felt a stirring of it, he had taken the restricted Forget-Me-Not drug to blot it out. He'd been taking it for so long, that he could no longer recall what the memory was about other than it hurt badly. He had even forgotten 'her' involvement. That was what was even more horrible; the knowledge that 'she' was part of the memory. That's why the dreams frightened him. He feared that the rest of the memory would return along with the pain.
Of course, the drug dulled other memories too. He vaguely recalled when he met Doctor Zoidberg but not why he had hired him. He couldn't remember when Scruffy joined him or why. The two crews that had perished; the attempts at nuclear mutants; the inventions; all of these existed but the details were hazy. Lately he had begun to recall some details long forgotten. That worried him. If simple memories could come back so could the one he did not want.
Now he wanted to go home. It was clear that he would be held here until he was deemed cured of his addiction.
"Blind fools," he raged to himself. "Can't they leave me to find my pain's ease?"
Luckily, his age prevented them giving him too much of the sedative less he slip into a coma. After a while he had begun adapting to the drug which became less effective. Soon he wasn't sleeping as much. At first, he had just lain quietly and tried to sort out what was happening. Then as the dreams came, he began to think about leaving. So, each day he began to try to fool the nurse into not adjusting the dosage. After a while he had become alert enough to think about escape.
His first idea was to just leave but soon discarded this as he didn't have the physical strength necessary. He was too weak to make an attempt without some planning and some help. If his dimwitted uncle or that purple haired woman would come visit him, they could assist him. But so far, no one had shown up. He was alone.
Farnsworth wondered why no one from his company had come to visit him but decided that they were simply ungrateful types. This gnawed at him for several days until the anger faded and he returned to thoughts of escape. He went through several ideas, some simple, some mind-bogglingly complex. All had flaws and he discarded them. Finally he decided to use the hospital's computers to aid him. The monitor at his bed would be his key to escaping.
It took several days until he was able to remove the back of the monitor which had an easy-opening latch.
"Easy opening for a young person," he complained to himself. "When will these young inventors start considering the effects of these things on the seriously aged?"
Once he was able to operate the latch, it didn't take him long to get the monitor working for him. He'd programmed robots once so a simple machine like this was child's play to him.
Working only at night and while the nurse was checking other wards, he adjusted the monitor's programming. Soon, the monitor had provided him with a schematic of the hospital including the staff schedule among other things. He tried to get it to order him released but it did not have access to the necessary authorization. Given time, Farnsworth believed he could figure it out but he wanted out. Therefore, he reprogrammed it to stop giving him the sedative but still appear to be doing so. He only had to keep fooling the nurse. A few more days and he would be able to make his break for freedom and home, Planet Express.
Vergon 6, Earth Year 1970 -
From the huge opening in the massive granite wall came the sound of singing. Lady Lambsy was sitting on a plush chair being fed some broiled windy shrimps by the temple servants. Standing behind her was Grumpystilkins, Recorder and Lamby's bodyguard, silent and dour. Lambsy was listening to the head of the temporal science team, Doctor PiddyPat, who was giving a report.
"Gr-Gr-Gr-Great Lady," he stuttered, much to Lambsy amusement, "I'm afraid to re-re-report that the casualty r-r-rate in the mines continues at an alarmingly high ra-ra-rate. We continue to stress safety to these Followers but their re-re-religious fervor seems to make them forget the simplest ru-ru-rules. If w-w-we could use Eternian technology, w-w-we could advance much quicker…"
Lambsy held up her hand and the scientist went quite. She looked out the giant window cut into the side of the huge stone temple. From where she sat, Lambsy could make out the great mine entrance. The Vergonian sun was at its zenith and the day was hot and humid. One of the six moons was shining low on the horizon.
Below, the huge crowd of Vergonians standing in the vast stone plaza below the temple's steps singing religious hymns to the glory of the revealed goddess. After her appearance, there would be two days of feasting and celebrating. Then the insect-like Vergonians would march joyously into the bowels of the planet to hew at its very vitals. They would work until the dropped. Many died from overwork, accidents and some even starved themselves to death in the frenzy to obey the goddess' desire for the blue-green ore which the Eternians had named Temporium.
The Vergonians had been a simple stone-age species when the Eternians arrived. It hadn't taken long to bring the entire population under their sway. Now, fired with religious zealotry, the whole population was totally devoted to the mining effort. Lambsy had wanted to use Eternian mining technology but her agents on Eternia had warned her that the Lords LoveyDovey and CuddleySoft were taking interest in her comings and goings. She would have to be very careful not to reveal what was going on. As far as the others knew, she was still shuttling between Earth and Eternia. She needed to keep this place a secret which meant she could make only quick short visits to check on the progress of the mining and the work on the time machine.
The time machine was critical to her work since the Mighty One had to go back into the past to become his own grandfather. Unfortunately for Lambsy, time travel was an anathema in Eternian culture. If CuddleySoft found out about it, he would not rest until he acquired it. She had no doubt her ex-husband would use it to attempt to restore the Eternian Empire. There was no telling what irreversible temporal damage might result from that. LoveyDovey, on the other hand, would use the knowledge that she was delving into forbidden technology to undermine her position on the council. That would be a disaster as well and probably result in open civil war between CuddleySoft and LoveyDovey.
Since she could not openly acquire Eternian technology, other methods were necessary. Using Vergonian muscle was inconvenient but would have to do for the time being. What she needed was an advanced Follower species to provide cover for the mining effort. Fortunately, she already knew from her future self that the human federation would be her unknowing ally in the effort.
She looked at the scientist. She had recruited him from the disgraced geneticist team she had sent back to Eternia after they had violated her orders. Grateful for the reprieve, they had had few qualms working on forbidden technology. Now hidden in a laboratory underneath the temple, they were trying to develop the theory of temporal mechanics.
"Doctor," she said coldly, "I'm sure you are aware of the limitations imposed by the task we are attempting."
The now nervous scientist nodded. She grinned at him and speared a purple fruit snake from the platter held by the Vergonian servant. Quickly gulping it down with obvious relish, she looked back at the scientist.
"We are on a tight schedule. The last time I came, you promised me that you would have the time dilation problem resolved. Yet, here I am again and you are no further than before. Additionally, I find that the mining schedule has fallen behind because of your misplaced prioritization of safety versus meeting the quota. My dear doctor, I am beginning to wonder if my trust in you was misplaced."
The young scientist blanched and began to sweat. His third eye turned this way and that as if looking for an escape. Finally, he squeaked pitifully, "Yes Gr-Gr-Great Lady. W-W-W-We have been having problems but I assure you the lost time w-w-w-will be made up."
"Good, see that you do." With that, Lambsy dismissed him with a wave of her hand. She looked over the tray again and decided on trying a slice of the sharktopus. The head priest, his raiment made of spun gold, approached and abased himself in front of her. Lambsy signaled for him to rise and he quickly scampered to his four feet.
"Oh, Mother Goddess. Oh, Creator of all. Oh, Mother of the…", he began in his chittering tongue.
"Please," Lambsy said with a note of exasperation. "Let's just get on with it. I'm short on time today."
Taken aback, the priest gaped at her unable to speak. Following a sharp nudge by one of his assistants, the priest managed to say, "Gracious Mother, we are ready."
Lambsy rose up. To the Vergonians, she appeared as the toweringly beautiful, four legged, and multiple eyed Mother Goddess of All. She nodded to the priest and he led the singing procession out towards the dais built especially for her appearance.
Her visit today was to be a quick one; a motivational meeting with the scientists and showing herself to the Vergonians in the form of the Mother Goddess to keep them happily slaving away in the numerous mining complexes around the planet. Using Eternian holographic technology, she was able to be seen in every temple complex around the planet.
The voices outside swelled as the moment approached. Lambsy looked over at the technician at the holographic control panel. He nodded and raised his finger to indicate one minute. Giving her stone-faced Recorder a rueful smile, Lambsy stepped forward out the huge temple doors and onto the platform prepared for her.
As she walked out, the holographic projector bathed her in a blue glow. All over the planet, the Vergonians saw a glowing being that looked like their Mother Goddess and began chittering and bugling wildly. Lambsy paused to look down at the thousands and thousands of upturned faces, letting the emotion and noise wash over her. She smiled and thought, "Poor doomed fools."
Planet Express Ship, DOOP Naval Station, Maug -
After sending the e-mail to Fry via Kif, Leela stripped off her clothes and took a long, hot shower. It felt good and she luxuriated in it. Generally in space, water was strictly rationed and it was rare that she was able to indulge in a long shower. Here on Maug, connected to the naval base's water and power mains, she could allow herself what would normally be an extravagance. After she finished, she dried herself and wrapped her hair in a towel.
She sat for a moment at the computer and checked her e-mail. Other than a lot of spam e-mail, there was nothing; especially from Fry. Mildly disappointed, she went to her small closet and looked over the clothes she kept on board. Distressed over the paucity of choices, she chose one of her many white tank-tops and the other pair of black pants. Over it, she decided to wear the sleeveless four pocketed green shirt.
"I really need to buy some new clothes," she thought with a shake of her head. "I'll take Amy with me when we get back to Earth. She'll enjoy it."
Laughing at the thought of spending time shopping with Amy, she spent a few moments cleaning the blood off her boots. She found herself feeling happy. Things were starting to turn around.
"Amy will be cured," she found herself talking aloud to the cabin. "Fry will come home and we can all be together at Planet Express."
She began pulling on her boots then stopped as a thought occurred to her.
"Fry was right," she murmured, suddenly recalling something he had said once. "We are a family. Planet Express is our family."
She looked over at the photo Fry had sent her of him receiving his medic badge and sighed happily.
The ship's computer came on and said in its flat voice, "A visitor has arrived. He identifies himself as Master Gunnery Sergeant Brian Mulvaney. Do you wish to admit him?"
Feeling happier than she had in weeks, Leela assented and went to meet the large Marine on the bridge.
Fire Base Cantigny, Da Nang IV -
Lt. McNally stepped into the 2nd Platoon's command bunker. Sergeant Hicks looked up from the piece of paper he was reading and nodded to the tall gray-haired officer.
"Supplies getting kinda low, LT," he said sourly and pointed at the paper. "Squads all reporting low on things like spare clothing, medical supplies and admin stuff. Hell, I had to write the platoon report on the back of the last one."
McNally looked down at the paper and shook his head. "Rajan says that Thunderbolt is limiting resupply to ammo, water purification tablets and a limited amount of food. Evidently, General Grafels is worried that we won't have enough stockpiled if the Persae come. Looks like we'll be short for a while."
"Frell!" Hicks said and stood up. "If the Bugs overrun us before the Persae get here, we'll be just as dead."
"No one was ever overrun because they were eating K-rations out of cans," McNally smiled. "Rajan says Thunderbolt thinks it will only last a week or so. New supply convoy due around then."
"I hope so, LT." Hicks said fervently then went to the waste can and dumped it out. He began gathering up all the paper in it.
The Lieutenant raised a quizzical eyebrow. Hicks paused and then smiled, "Old soldiers' trick, LT. One of the first things we're going to be missing is toilet paper."
McNally began laughing and Hicks joined in. Shaking his head, McNally went the door seal and looked out. It was another muggy day with the usual heavy rainstorm brewing off in the distance near the mountains. Looking towards the trench line, he could see Fry lecturing some newly-arrived men on safety rules for staying alive on Da Nang 4. The young medic was telling them about changing their socks; checking for and cleaning cuts; and ensuring their air breathers were functioning correctly. The lieutenant looked at the new men and sighed. These ones were a couple of semi-literate farm boys from some barely colonized planet. They were staring at Fry with awe and vague understanding.
Hicks came up besides him. McNally glanced at the muscular noncom and grimaced as he saw him stick some chewing tobacco in his mouth.
"That will be the death of you someday, Duane," McNally said dryly.
"Glad something other than this hellhole will be, LT".
"Your lips to God's ear, Duane."
Grinning, Hicks spat a brown glob into the waste can. Then he looked at Fry and new men and grinned bitterly. "More fresh fish!"
McNally nodded and looked back at Fry who was questioning the new men about what he'd just covered. Fry's voice rose in exasperation as they failed to get all of the safety rules straight - "Alright, let's go over it again. No one is getting any chow until you know these cold. Got it?" The new men nodded and looked determinedly at Fry as he went into the spiel again. The Lieutenant smiled. Fry had come a good distance since he'd arrived at Cantigny. McNally then noticed something different about Fry's face and turned to Hicks.
"Why does Corporal Fry have a black-eye?"
Hicks turned and stared at Fry for a long minute then said mildly, "Soldier's fight, Sir"
"Don't pull that crap on me, Duane. I'm not going to put him on report. What happened to our medic?"
Hicks took a long moment to work the tobacco in his mouth then spat again. Shrugging, he said, "One of the half-wits in 3rd Platoon saw the picture of Fry's gal and called her an ugly freak. Fry objected and when the guy wouldn't stop… you know how they can be if they sense they can get to you; he punched him"
"Phil punched him…"said the surprised Lt. Mac. "Wow."
"Yeah, and got the crap kicked out of him. Or at least would have, if some of the guys in 1st squad hadn't rescued him."
"Fighting for her honor?"
"Something like that," Hicks acknowledged with a shrug. "You heard about the incident with the wire?"
McNally winced. Fry had managed to get himself totally tangled up in a roll of barbed wire while trying to help set it up. If it hadn't been for Alexei cutting him loose, Fry might be still out there.
"He's a good kid, Duane," the lieutenant said gently. Hicks spat again.
"Yah, maybe," he rumbled darkly. "But LT, I'll tell you this. If he ever screws up and gets one of our guys killed, I'll shoot him myself."
McNally looked at Hicks who wasn't grinning. The sergeant nodded briskly and spat his chew into the waste can. He put on his breather and headed towards the door seal.
"I best go around and let our boys know that we'll be rationing. Give them a chance to start stockpiling stuff."
DOOP Pentagon, New Washington, Earth -
Admiral Harry Parsons, the head of the Office of DOOP Naval Intelligence, looked down the table at the Chief of Staff, Abrams, who had just put on an impressive display of anger a few minutes ago. Parsons sat at the far end of the table watching the resurrected head in a jar. After the initial outburst, the general had settled down and begun reviewing something on his heads-up display. A small microphone in the jar allowed the general to access the computer built into the base of the jar.
The daily meeting had begun like any other but the atmosphere changed when the news of the battle on Da Nang and the resulting high casualties had arrived. Lt. General Poorten, leader of DOOP Ground Forces, had not been at the meeting. He had begged off with regrets due to an important meeting with an industrial representative. His place had been filled by a junior colonel from his staff who brought the news. Abrams had not been pleased to find out that Poorten had let a low ranking staff member bring the report on the battle instead of coming himself. But when Abrams had found out that the Highlander Division had not been properly dug in, he had nearly popped a vein. Now, everyone in the meeting room was walking about on eggshells not wanting set Abrams' rage off again.
While Abrams was involved in his displays, Parsons looked down at the recent intelligence report in front of him that described the movement of more Persae ships opposite of Da Nang. This filled him with foreboding. It didn't make any sense for the Persae to build up forces there but they were. The flanking attack at Greendale certainly held more promise for a Persae invasion since they would have more room to maneuver which allowed them to use their overwhelming superiority in ships to their advantage. Choosing to fight in the confined system of Da Nang made no sense at all. Since the DOOP had concentrated a large portion of its strength at Greendale, maybe the Persae thought Da Nang would be easy pickings. Parsons found that hard to believe. Any reasonably competent intelligence service would ensure the Persae high command knew that the DOOP forces arrayed near Da Nang were enough to tie up any Persae attack easily enough.
"No," Parsons thought, "Greendale is the logical place for their main thrust but this buildup opposite Da Nang doesn't make sense. What are they thinking? Is there something special at Da Nang that we are unaware of? What could they want there? Could we have misjudged the Persae intentions?"
Parsons felt a chill go through him. If DOOP Intelligence had made an error in their judgment of the Persae strategic thinking, it would go very ill for the DOOP in the coming war.
Parsons wished that the decoders could come through but he knew that he could only be patient and wait and hope. He started to thinking about the Persae penchant for slaughter and slavery. Although Abrams was confident of the DOOP's ability to win in an extended struggle, Parsons wasn't so sure. The Persae had beaten them in every previous engagement and had delivered plague and destruction to Earth. Abrams knew of the buildup but had dismissed it with a "Good, let them tie their forces up in Da Nang's asteroid fields." Parsons did not feel the same confidence.
"Our main force is going to be hanging out at Greendale and if the Persae's main thrust comes through Da Nang, we could be split in half. We are going to be in serious trouble," he told himself suddenly unsure of the ability of the DOOP to hold Da Nang. Parsons thought about the technological superiority of the Persae weaponry. He wondered if the forces arrayed against Greendale might be a feint and decided to commit to more intelligence assets to the Da Nang sector to determine what was going on. After inputting the orders on to his computer, he decided that he would go and see for himself.
Abrams looked away from the heads-up display and said in an irritated tone, "Alright people, we've got a tough day ahead of us. So, get some coffee and snacks in here, call your family and let them know you won't be home for a while."
The staff began moving about rapidly as they headed for vidphones. Food and coffee arrived. Once everyone had returned, Abrams looked at the Chief of Naval Operations, Megan Kaijokie, and said, "First off, I want a convoy to take reinforcements and supplies to Da Nang. We'll be sending the Anzac Brigade and some more engineers."
The slim gray haired admiral nodded as she wrote the command into her personnel computer. Abrams waited a moment and then said, "I'm sending General Langlais to take over on Da Nang from General Grafels as well."
The room went dead silent. Marcel Langlais was Abrams' man and Eric Grafels had been Poorten's personal choice for Da Nang. Parsons thought this would lead to a confrontation with Poorten. Abrams was tough but could he overcome Poorten's connections? The ancient general had been resurrected as a head in the jar at the request of the President himself. Parsons wasn't sure that would be enough. He wondered what would happen if Abrams lost.
"Nothing good," he thought bleakly. Parsons spoke up, "Sir? That takes away nearly half of our available strategic ground force reserve from Earth. What are we going to do about that?"
Abrams grinned. "We have the president's approval for a second draft call, Admiral Parsons. I suggest we use it."
A Ministry of Defense official chimed in with a protest. "Sir, the ministry wanted to precede the use of this draft call with some publicity to prepare the public for it. I'm sure the Minister would not approve of such precipitous action."
Abrams merely gave a cold smile. A former used car dealer, the Minister of Defense was a holdover from the previous administration and a well-known idiot. Abrams generally ignored him and did as he thought necessary. Although Abrams was a big espouser of civilian control over the military, it did not mean that he would endure stupid directives such as those the minister was wont to issue. Even Nixon despised the man and never invited him to any cabinet meetings. Parsons figured the only reason the man stayed on was that it allowed Nixon and Abrams the ability to do their work without having any interference from a more competent political appointee.
Abrams looked at the official and said quietly, "Preparations be damned. We're going to be in a major galactic war soon enough. Sell that if you have to, but announce the new draft tomorrow."
The official paled and nodded quickly. Abrams gave another hard grin and said, "I've got another change to the draft call as well."
When he heard what Abrams had in mind, Parsons was stunned by the sheer audacity of it. The Ministry official looked as if she was about to have a stroke.
"The bureaucracy will never approve it," she squeaked.
Abrams clicked his tongue and said, "Their approval isn't required. Implement the changes."
"Damn me," Parsons thought in awe, "the general sure has some really big brass ones."
Phoenix, Arizona, circa 1980 -
Doctor Charles Gleaves stared in fascination at the lovely woman at the end of the table. She was a short dark haired woman with bronzed skin and a pair of luminous dark eyes that seemed to almost glow. The red dot drawn on her forehead (some Eastern religious symbol whose meaning he tried to recall from a long ago comparative religions class in college) added an exotic feel to her beauty. The scientist thought her one of the most gorgeous women he had ever met. It would have been a delight to simply spend time making small talk with her but she was all business. Reluctantly, he forced himself to concentrate on the matter at hand.
"You understand, Lady Fiona," he said seriously, "that the process is in no way feasible at this time. This technology is in its infant stages right now and I wouldn't expect any major advances for at least another fifty to hundred years. Maybe even longer."
She smiled and his heart leapt up into his throat at the sight. "My god," he thought, "this is one fantastic looking woman." He thought about what he had found out about her when he had been approached with her offer. "Not married, European nobility and rich as hell. She must be a real bitch," he consoled himself.
"Of course, Professor Gleaves" her melodious voice came, made more beautiful by her refined English accent. "I am quite aware of the technology's limitations. But I believe that you are too pessimistic about its potential development. I assure you that I do not put my money into profitless endeavors."
He nodded and looked down at the forms in front of him. He had spent a lot of time working on this and the idea of selling his rights for a vice-presidential sinecure in Lady Fiona's new business made him hesitate for a moment.
"But," he thought happily, "at least I'd get to see her on a regular basis. And it is a damned lot of money for something that may never work."
He took the pen and signed his name. Lady Fiona smiled and nodded to her silent, dour aide.
"Grumps, my dear man," she said pleasantly, "please do the honors."
Looking like a depressed undertaker, the gloomy little man poured the Dom Perignon champagne into two glasses. Lady Fiona lifted her glass to Gleaves.
"Here's to Applied Cryogenics and the future."
Somewhere in New New York -
Zoidberg stopped running the moment he left the warehouse. Looking back, he could see the demon robots herding a long line of mob robot prisoners out into large trucks. The nerve-jangling laugh of the Robot Devil could still be heard from inside the warehouse.
"Zoidberg," he told himself, "you are the luckiest squid around. I thought the evil rohbut would never buy that story but he did and you got two half-off coupons." He waved the two coupons he held in his claw and laughed delightedly at the outcome of the perilous agreement he had made with the two mob Robot leaders, Joey Mousepad and Clamps.
When he had refused to do Joey's bidding to distract the demon robots so that Clamps and he could escape, Joey had turned to Clamps and signaled for him to attack Zoidberg. Zoidberg had held up his claw and said, "I have a better way to serve all of our interests."
Joey had grabbed Clamps and stopped the angry robot before any damage could be done to Zoidberg.
"Alright, skintube," Joey had muttered as another flurry of pulse blasts rattled against the box. "Whadda ya got in mind?"
Zoidberg told him and Joey thought it over while Clamps raged about Zoidberg killing the Donbot and deserving to be clamped. Finally, Joey told Clamps that the Donbot was gone and that was that. He pointed out that Zoidberg was their only hope for escaping Robot Hell and what Zoidberg wanted in return was a small price to pay.
Grudgingly, Clamps agreed and Zoidberg walked out to meet the Devil and play the only card he had which was his recall of the constitutional laws of Earth as they related to robots. Originally the robots were supposed to have three Robotic laws programmed into them for the protection of humans. However, the many failures of Artificial Intelligence prevented it from occurring and Gysberg programmed his positronic brain with the "Kill All Humans" code. After the Wernstrom Bypass program was created to allow the use of Gysberg's positronic brain, the Earth legislature decided to incorporate the three Robotic laws into the constitution, the primary one being that a robot could not do harm to any citizen. Naturally, the robots were only bound by these laws in the same manner humans were. If they wanted to follow them, they would. Zoidberg was hoping the Devil was one of those.
And so it was. A grateful Zoidberg walked quickly away from warehouse and down a side alley. It was extremely dark and he moved slowly trying not to trip over the debris in the road. He was almost at the end of the alley when a voice whispered, "Here, Doctor."
Zoidberg stopped and stared at the glow of Joey Mousepad's electronic eyes. The robot stepped out from behind some sort of large metal container and pulled Zoidberg back behind it.
"Where's your friend?" Zoidberg asked nervously.
Joey laughed and said, "Don't worry about him. I'll keep him off of you. You saved our tin hides today and I won't forget it. And we'll keep our word."
Zoidberg smiled and said, "So you'll find the missionaries for me and help me rescue them?"
"That was the deal," Joey said as a large hover car pulled up at the opening of the alley behind them. The car window opened and from the driver's seat, Clamps said, "Come on, Joey. Let's scram whiles we still cans."
Joey walked over and opened the car door. Zoidberg followed him. Joey got into the car in the front seat. Zoidberg tried to open the back door and found it locked.
"Please take me back to Planet Express," he said plaintively.
Joey looked up at him and laughed. "I'm afraid, my dear doctor, that was not part of the deal. We will contact you when we have news."
He rolled up the window and the car sped away leaving Zoidberg staring in open mouthed disbelief. He turned and slowly began trudging up the road muttering to himself, "Well, here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."
Planet Express Ship, DOOP Naval Station, Maug -
Mulvaney drove Leela to the hospital. He waited downstairs in the cafeteria while she went up to see Amy. The young Martian was still in recovery but Leela could see that she looked less swollen and her color was returning. Talking to the on-duty doctor, she found that Doctor Agarn had removed the cybernetic implant during the night and the prognosis for Amy was good.
The doctor looked at Amy's chart and said, "Doctor Agarn says she should be released in about a week."
"A week," Leela said aghast. "That long?"
"Sorry ma'am but we've got to monitor for complications. The implant is gone but not the gene modification which we can't deal with here. I'm afraid it is the safest course."
Leela looked back at Amy lying in the bed asleep and hooked up to several monitors.
"When will she be awake?"
"She should be ready for release from ICU tomorrow morning and be moved back to her room in the afternoon. Why don't you come back then? She'll be less groggy and more able to communicate."
Leela nodded and headed down to the cafeteria. Mulvaney was sitting at one of the tables drinking coffee. The big marine dwarfed the little chair he sat in and Leela smiled at the scene. She got herself a cup of coffee, frowning at the ten dollar charge and sat down next to him.
He asked how Amy was doing and looked genuinely happy to hear she was okay. Leela thought about the ass-chewing Admiral Tsing had given her yesterday. "Sergeant…" she began but Mulvaney said, "Call me Brian. Tis me name, lass."
She smiled and said, "Alright, then I'm Leela. Okay?"
He nodded and gave her a large smile. She looked him over. He was a big man nearly six foot five with a barrel chest and huge muscular arms. A large scar ran down his left cheek. His hair was brownish-gray and his eyes were a bright blue. She smiled as she thought, "Another time and I would have been flirting with him. But now there's Fry and I don't want anyone else."
"Brian, why is Tsing so worried about Amy?"
"Tis as I told you before, she reminds him of his daughter. 'Tiger' Tony Tsing dotes on his wee lass even though she's twenty three now. He's worried about how she'll fare in the war. Your silly stunt drove that point home to him. Tiger needs to be focused here but he's a dad and he worries. I know."
"You have children?"
"Oh, aye," he said with a sad smile. "My lovely lass, Andrea, and I had five daughters. All lovely Irish gals with blue eyes."
"Had? I don't want to bring up bad memories, if you don't want…."
Mulvaney held up his large hand and said, "No worries. It is good to talk about it. We can't forget those who we care about."
He put his hand into his coverall and pulled out a flask. He poured a generous amount into his cup and offered some to Leela. Leela was going to refuse but then thought "what the hell" and put her cup out. After adding the alcohol, he put the flask back and took a drink of the coffee. Sighing, he sat back as best he could on the tiny chair. Leela took a drink too and coughed at the strength of the whiskey.
Mulvaney grinned. "Here now, don't tell me that you don't enjoy New Hebrides finest vintage."
Leela smiled and took a smaller sip. "Now, you were saying…"
"Ah, yes," he said and began when he met his wife while stationed on New Dehli.
"She was a secretary in the Public Works office. I met her at a wedding of one of her friends and one of mine. We hit it off right away. Twas only a year before we were engaged. Married six months later. Our first, Kathleen, was born not long after. Then came Sarah, Elizabeth, Rosemary and Carolyn. Ah, what beautiful lasses they were."
He shook his head and took another drink. Leela could see the memory was both happy and sad for the marine.
"At first," he began again, "she stayed with the lasses on New Dehli while I was assigned to the fleet. After a few years though, I was able to get shore billets. I rotated from New Caledonia, to New Dehli, back to fleet, to Proxima Prime, then to New Hebrides. Andrea and our girls followed me to those places. Ah, happy times they were. Then I went back to fleet and spent another three years there. Andrea went back to New Dehli and waited for me. I got to see them on my leave but I was gone for a long time." He shrugged. "The price of service."
He paused again, slurped down some more coffee. Mulvaney signaled the Mauggie waiter for more and stared into the cup for a few moments.
"I got a chance to go to Io and took it. Andrea and the gals went to live in New New York. I would have preferred Mars but Andrea wanted the girls to experience humanity's birth place." The little Mauggie came skittering up, the tray and coffee cups seeming to be precariously balanced but to Leela's amusement, the little lizard delivered it without mishap. Mulvaney paid the waiter and obviously gave it a good tip for the little creature opened its mouth and hissed, "Shhhannkkk youussss, Mooolllllwaannnnneeeeee."
Mulvaney laughed and stroked the creature's furry head. It skittered off in its crazy legged way and Leela laughed too. Mulvaney took out the flask again and added some to both cups. Obviously, thought Leela, they know how the marine liked his coffee since it came with enough room for a tot.
Mulvaney took another drink and then started back up. "You remember when the Persae came again?" She grimaced at the memory of the battle of Earth's orbit and how Zapp Brannigan had messed things up.
"The Persae got past that great idiot, Brannigan. Titim gan éirí ort - May he fall without rising. They then blasted New New York."
Leela felt tears welling in her eye. She knew what was coming and felt sorrow for the man.
"Andrea and Sarah, and Elizabeth and wee Carolyn were all killed. Rosemary lost a leg. They replaced it but the lass is marked by the horror of lying in our destroyed home with her mother and sisters dead about her. Kathleen was spared injury and she got Rosemary to the hospital. I got the word on Io when Admiral Scott told me personally. We couldn't do naught but watch and yell for help. I have hated Brannigan ever since."
Leela reached out and grabbed the man's hand. "Where are your daughters now?"
"I took Andrea and my dead girls back to New Dehli and buried them in Andrea's family plot. Kathleen married an artist on New Caledonia and Rosemary is going to school there. I try to visit as often as I can but I'm needed here too."
Leela looked at the man and saw the grief but saw the strength too. He had been hurt but he hadn't broken. She was glad she hadn't flirted with him. This man would love his wife until he died. There would be no other for him. Suddenly she felt ashamed of her role in the battle of Earth's orbit.
"Mulvaney," she began and halted as she tried to find the words. "Brian. I was at the battle of Earth's orbit. My ship and crew were requisitioned for the battle and fought under Brannigan. When I saw we were going to lose, I said the hell with it and took my crew home. I figured if we were going to die, we should die at home. I'm sorry."
Mulvaney took another long drink and looked into Leela's eye. Then satisfied, he sighed and said, "Twas not your fault lass. Brannigan had command and he kept the Nimbus out of the fight. He sacrificed his force but the coward stayed back out of harm's way. Oh, how I would love to hae the big blowhard within my reach. The pleasure that would gie me even if it meant a court martial."
Leela drank from her coffee cup and then said, "Well, if it's any consolation, I did kick Brannigan's ass just recently."
Mulvaney looked surprised and Leela recounted her attempt to reach Da Nang and the savage beating she had given Zapp. Mulvaney laughed heartily and poured some more of his flask into Leela's coffee. He lifted his cup and toasted her.
"Admiral Tsing would probably like to hear that story," he said after he stopped laughing. "He hates Brannigan's guts even more so than I do."
"Tiger had a brother in the marines. A fine young captain he was. He was assigned to the fleet and served on the DNV Firebolt. You've heard of the Battle of Octillian?"
Leela nodded. "Heard of it? They made the story into a big movie. Hell, you can't turn on the vid without seeing some reference to Zapp Brannigan's big victory over the killbots."
"Hmmmph," Mulvaney snorted. "Big victory, my ass. The damn fool should have been shot for what he did." He paused to slurp some coffee. "The marines landed a company and had the killbots surrounded in the colony. It was just a matter of waiting them out. Eventually killbots always attack and, with our lads dug in, we would have wiped them out without a scratch."
"But Brannigan did save the colony, didn't he?"
"Tony's brother was in charge of the company when Brannigan showed up. Since he was in charge of the Task Force, he ordered Tony's brother to attack immediately. Captain Tsing protested but Brannigan told him he'd court martial him if he didn't. The colony's governor arrived and pleaded with Brannigan not to attack and damage their home. Brannigan simply ignored him and gave Tsing a direct order to assault immediately. Being a good marine, Tsing led his company into the colony and they managed to destroy all the killbots. They also did an enormous amount of damage to the colony which resulted in Octillian being abandoned a few years later. But Captain Tsing and nearly two thirds of his company were casualties with Tsing being killed leading an assault in the final moments of the battle. Brannigan got a medal for the whole affair and the surviving marines were transferred to remote places. I also heard that the colony's silence was bought as well."
"You were there?"
"Nae, thank God. One of my friends was and he told me that story. I don't know how Tiger found out but he did and he's had it in for Brannigan ever since."
"Why doesn't Tsing relieve him and send him home in disgrace. Tsing is an admiral and Zapp is just a captain."
"Politics, lass. Dirty rotten politics. Tony can't touch Zapp without special permission. It was all he could do to get the incompetent windbag out of the Da Nang zone and back closer to Maug were he could keep an eye on him."
Mulvaney stood and helped Leela up. "Come I'll drive you back to your ship. I'll send someone to give you a ride to the hospital tomorrow."
"Thanks," Leela said gratefully since she was starting to felt the effects of the whiskey.
At the ship's gangway, Leela looked at Mulvaney and said, "Hating Brannigan isn't really worth the effort. Even my kicking his ass was only a temporary relief. There has to be more to life than hate."
"Tiger loved his brother. I don't think he's going to be in a forgiving mood for a long time to come."
Leela shook her head. "No good will come of it."
Myksho Ridge, Da Nang IV -
Smith and Rand finally crossed the top of Myksho Ridge and found to their dismay that the other side was mostly escarpment with a long drop. A small trail had been carved through the jungle and into the side of the ridge along the escarpment. It looked well-traveled.
"Damn bad luck," the major muttered to Rand as they moved slowly down the trail. "I'm guessing that with the jungle canopy, none of our photo-recons could pick up the escarpment or this trail."
Rand felt concern as she could hear the raspy breathing of the major. "Sir, it is nearing daylight and we need to find cover."
The major nodded and Rand quickly discovered a small cul-de-sac that was overgrown with bushes. She quickly cleared out a small area for them to recline and then ensured no tracks were left. The major crawled into it and quickly fell asleep. Rand sat in front of him watching the bush-covered opening as the day came on. Fortunately it began raining heavily and although some small Bug units passed by, most of them were in a hurry. After a few hours, the major woke and sat up. Rand passed him some of the ration tubes and the water bottle so he could eat.
The major stared out the opening as he ate. The rain was beginning to slack off. Rand had spent the time the major was asleep rehearsing what she planned to say. Since the rain still was coming down, she could speak quietly without worrying about being found out by the Bugs. Besides she could always hear them before they got near.
"Sir," she began slowly, "I do not think we can continue on the present course."
Smith looked over at her, his blue eyes squinting in the darkness. "Agreed, this trail looks to be the Bugs main route in this area. We'll eventually be caught if we continue along it."
Rand suddenly felt a blaze of hope. Logic told her that the major should recognize that the mission could not succeed. Her hopes were suddenly dashed when the major said quietly, "We're going to have to go down the side of the escarpment. We have the ropes and once I get going, you should be able to come down the side without too much problems."
Rand's positronic brain was suddenly swamped by something she had never known before. She didn't know what was happening but all of her normal programming was halted and she felt a tidal wave of emotions - fear, anger, unhappiness and despair.
"Nooo," Rand said in an almost moaning noise. Smith looked surprised and stared at her in disbelief.
"No?" he asked, looking confused. "You've never disobeyed an order before."
"That's because the orders weren't going to get the man I love killed," Rand blurted and then realized what she had said, began to stutter, "Th-tha-that is…"
"The man you love?" Smith said in total astonishment. "Rand, you're a robot. You aren't supposed to be able to love."
"I don't care what I'm not supposed to be able to do. I love you. I have loved you for years. I will not be part of you throwing your life away. You can't ask me to do it."
The major sat stunned for a long while. Rand stared out the opening, her thoughts racing at what she had done. Part of her was embarrassed at the emotional outburst but part of her was glad that she had finally said what she felt. She hoped that the major wouldn't be horrified at the thought of being loved by a robot. And, now that she had actually said the words, she was startled to realize that she didn't really know what to do next.
"Rand," the major began slowly and his hand reached out to touch her shoulder. "I'm not sure this is the right place to discuss this. I don't know of any place, to be honest. But we've been a team for a long, long time and I promise you that after this mission is over, you and I will talk about it."
Rand looked back at the man and thought if she had been human she would start crying. He wasn't going to give up this suicidal mission. She said nothing as she wondered what to do.
"There is nothing to do," she thought miserably. "I work for him and must obey his orders no matter what. I could rebel but then he would hate me forever. He might even go on without me. Whatever happens, I cannot allow us to be separated."
She looked back at him and said, "Very well, sir. The trail is currently quiet right now so we should go now."
Smith stared at her for a few moments as if deciding on her stability then began gathering up his gear. Rand opened the backpack she carried and pulled out a long rope. They quickly moved out into the light rain towards the edge of the trail. Rand stared down at the jungle below the stony edge of the escarpment.
"I make it just over one hundred feet to the ground," she said as she lowered the rope. The major put down his gear and walked over to look down.
"You sure?" he asked then shook his hand. "Forget that. Of course you're sure. You're the best I've ever worked with." He patted Rand's shoulder. Rand began letting out the rope down into the darkness below. The major walked back to the little opening to pick up his equipment. He put on his backpack and then strapped his fletchette submachine gun across his chest for safety. He was reaching for his belt when behind him there was a loud crack. He heard Rand cry out, "Major!"
He turned swiftly to see the stony edge giving way and Rand tumbling forward out over the escarpment. Rand's hand grabbed onto a projecting tree root and swung perilously out over the jungle below. Smith dove towards the edge of the trail and landed hard on his weapon, knocking the breath out of him. He reached out his hand to grab Rand's. She looked up at him and said, "You will not be able to pull me up."
She moved to grab part of the escarpment's stony side but as she did, the root broke and Rand fell straight down into the jungle. The sound of her metallic body crashing against the rocky sides of the escarpment echoed through the jungle.
The major yelled, "Rand, noooooo." He leapt up and began pulling off his backpack to get the other rope when he heard a loud noise coming up the trail. He turned just in time to see a large number of Bugs come jogging into view. Smith reached for his weapon but when he tried to fire, the fire mechanism jammed. He looked at it and saw that it was damaged from his dive. Quickly the major reached down for his pistol only to realize it was sitting over next to the opening.
The Bugs spotted him and came at him in a rush. He reached into his boot and pulled out his knife. For a few moments he managed to keep them at bay, even cutting one on the arm but then something hit him in the back of the head. He fell to the ground stunned. The Bugs chittered around him and he felt hands grabbing him just before he blacked out.