Background Noise, Part 7
By Dave Vincent
And What Rough Beast
(Asedjrad is a desert planet that lies on the far edge of the DOOP Federation towards the outer rim of the Milky Way. No one has been able to determine the nature of the previous inhabitants but they scattered huge machines around the planet that created a breathable atmosphere. These machines used the planet's only valuable resource both as a power supply and as a source for oxygen. That resource is an ore called Imthe which the local humans refer to as the firestone since it glows brightly when exposed to air. Imthe is the only reason humans are on Asedjrad as well. Combined with certain other elements, it could be used to create Dark Matter, the vital starship fuel that allows faster-than-light drive. Dark Matter can be found in its natural state inside any star or black hole but the cost to recover it was staggering. Most starfaring species soon discovered the way to create a cheaper and less pure version of it using certain rare ores such as Imthe. Asedjrad is one of the places that Imthe could be found within the boundaries of the DOOP Federation. - A Classroom Guide to the DOOP Federation by the Office of Ministry of Education, 2998.)
(Oran Township of the Maghreb Sub-prefecture was created by Grand Erg Mining, a chartered corporation. Using the grants given by the DOOP to aid in colonization and development, Grand Erg had laid claim to twenty thousand square miles of Azedjrad for Imthe mining. Grand Erg had recruited mostly from the Khabyles and Tuaregs of North Africa on Earth. Given the current economic conditions, they were desperate for work and willing to immigrate. Grand Erg required them to sign long term contracts. It controlled all the services available in Maghreb. Paying monopolistic prices, the immigrants soon end up deep in debt to the company. With no way to pay for passage home, they find that they are trapped on Asedjrad as indentured servants of the company. - Asedjrad - Indentured Servitude and DOOP Indifference by Lazlo Biejrno, Report to the Interstellar Human Rights Campaign, 2994)
(In the final months of 3002, an air of unreality took over many of the Solar System inhabitants. With the approach of what seemed to be an inevitable war with the Persae, strange beliefs arose. Sentients on the outer colonies believed that the Persae's grievance was with Earth only and they would be untouched. There were just as many strange beliefs on Earth as well. Some believed that the Nixon administration had drummed up the Persae crisis in order to increase its own power. This was a popular belief amongst the bureaucracy which was facing a reform movement in the legislature. Others believed that the Persae were being provoked by DOOP militarists looking for a cause to expand the military. Despite the clear warnings and factual evidence of Persae aggression, some people could not be convinced that it was not all a media put-on. This was part and parcel of the disbelieving culture that was spawned in the truly strange end days of 3002. - The Culture of Disbelief, a Study of Popular Opinion in 3002 by Hannah Devoirseir, Harvard-Yale Combined Metroversity Press, 3009)
(One million years ago)Eternia -
Aeryn the prophetess had been born during a time of sorrow. It was at the end of a cycle that saw the Swarm drive the Eternians from the Angosia galaxy with heavy casualties. All life in the galaxy had been utterly destroyed. The Eternian fleet had gone into battle with new technology that they were confident would overcome the Swarm. The technology had failed miserably and only a pitiful remnant of the fleet returned to Eternia. Unlike the Followers who were simply deranged by the Swarm, Eternian minds were destroyed when the Swarm attacked them. The loss of so many in this disastrous rout shook Eternia's confidence. Sensing that defeat was inevitable, the Eternians began to suffer demoralization. There were open calls in the streets for the council to cease the hopeless struggle against the Swarm and to look to the survival of the people instead. Eternia had arrived at that terrible moment when they no longer believed they could win. Hopeless despair began to be the common mood among the Eternians as they counted the cost of the war. Aeryn changed all that.
No one knew at the time that she was gifted for hers was a terrible birth. Her mother had died bringing her forth. Her father had fled at the sight of her, leaving Eternia to take service in the Watch. She was shriveled and misshapen as no Eternian had ever been. Her arms were mere flukes and her legs could not support her. The head of the Council, Adoy, had listened as words such as abomination and tainted were thrown around. He heard the calls to show mercy and end her misery. He listened and then had taken her into his home.
She was blind but had to be watched for she was an extremely adventurous child. She would crawl recklessly about his house bringing torment to the nurses chosen to care for her. Having no mental discipline, she broadcast her thoughts without any check. As he taught her the art of control, Adoy came to love her dearly. She was given much to laughter and his widower household rang with her noisy shouts.
Over the passing cycles, Adoy found himself looking forward to returning to his now chaotic home and Aeryn's joyous laughter. The despair of his people weighed heavily on him and he had no solutions. In its desperation, the council had sent emissaries to the First begging for aid but no answer was ever returned. The grumbling in the city grew louder causing the council to fear that Eternian discipline would break down and the people scatter to the stars. Adoy posted guards on all the starships and allowed no one to leave without his permission. The resentment grew and Adoy wondered if he might have to use force against his own people.
As for Aeryn, she grew very little from her tiny size. She remained stunted but she had a great spirit. He found comfort in her simple joy at a sound or smell. The cares of the universe were left behind in the presence of such a joyful child. Her laughter rang through the house making it a small islet of happiness in a sea of angry defeatism.
She was fifteen when the first convulsion came. She had lain on the floor, her twisted body writhing furiously as she foamed at the mouth. The terrified nurse had fled leaving Adoy to hold Aeryn, sending soothing thoughts to end the fury within her. He held on to her until the convulsion subsided. Then in the perfect stillness, she had reached out to him with her mind and shown him her vision. It was a small thing about a dish breaking but it occurred later as she had seen. He called several doctors but none could diagnose the problem. All agreed that whatever the cause, it was within her mind.
The turmoil on Eternia grew so that even the council began to fragment into open factionalism. Eternian unity began to fracture and an angry era of divisiveness entered the consciousness of Eternia. With the troubled times, Aeryn's convulsions began to occur on a more frequent basis. At first, the visions were small and inconsequential but soon took on a dark aspect, mostly of death and destruction. The darkness that tinged her visions troubled Adoy for he was unsure of its meaning. As she approached twenty cycles, she began to fail physically. The doctors held no hope for her even though they tried everything. Resigned to her death, Adoy began spending all of his time with her. He rarely left her for long and even shirked his duty to the council. He found that he loved her more strongly and yearned to save her. The visions began to slow and nearly stopped. He hoped this might be a turning point and she would begin to improve. But it was not to be, for she had two great visions left in her.
Three days prior to her twentieth birthday, she suffered a great convulsion that nearly killed her. But the vision was that of the Mighty One and the hope for the universe. He sent the vision to all of Eternia setting off great rejoicing. A chance to stop the Swarm would come. Adoy ordered the council to press everyone into service to protect the Mighty One. He then sat with her as he now recognized that her time was short.
Early on the morning of her twentieth birthday, he awoke to her calling him urgently. He rose out of the chair next to her bed and went to her. She had clearly had another convulsion and it had exhausted her. He could see that she was dying and began to weep. She touched his face with her malformed arm and smiled. Then gently, she reached his mind and showed him the vision of the darkness moving through the universe.
"A danger and an opportunity," she said with eerie calmness. "The Darkness will not know of the Eternians but if it finds out it will attempt destroy them."
"Great-grandfather, Eternia must remain hidden when its doppelgangers come," her weak thought touched him like a gossamer thing, "for they are dangerous. They are the Darkness' gamble. It has put much power into them. The Swarm is too slow. It hungers for the universe and is impatient. The doppelgangers are meant to spread war and chaos. The only thing they fear is the hot fire of the sun." She was gasping now, her heart was failing and he could feel her slipping away. He tried to hold her by using his great power but it was for naught. As she began the journey to the Place of the Beginnings, she reached for him. "Thank you ta-ta for allowing me to live with you. I will wait for you." Then she was gone. He wept as he had never wept before.
He kept this vision secret even from the council. He ordered the Eternians to disguise themselves outside the home world and let no one know of their existence. When asked why, he said that he felt the Followers might begin to hunger for Eternian technology and he had no desire to fight them. He sent his people to carefully probe for information of the Darkness without letting them know what they looked for. Nothing was found not even rumors. Perhaps the time had not yet come. He had no doubt that the vision was true for he was sure Aeryn had been sent by the First.
Frustration built in him as his fear of revealing his people to the Darkness fought with his own aggressive nature. Ignoring his own decree of leaving the Followers to their destiny, he decided to take a more active approach to protect the coming of the Mighty One by secretly using the Followers. He deliberately provoked a war and so the Procyons and Sirians died. The death of forty billion sentients shook him as badly as the Eternian Clone War had. He brooded on it and accepted that his arrogance was to blame. As immortals, the Eternians were not philosophical by nature. They did not weigh right and wrong but served the grim mistress called Necessity. Such thinking had led them into opposing the Swarm. They did not oppose the Swarm because it was evil. Eternians did not think that way. Eternia fought because it was necessary. Now he was faced with the consequences of his own actions; forty billion lives gone. He thought about this and Aeryn's final words for nearly five thousand cycles. Feeling that something had to be done, he decided to leave Eternia. He surrendered his staff of office and left to roam the universe looking for something he could not put into words or thought.
(Middle October, 3002) Upstate New New York -
Zoidberg got up and brushed himself off. He ached all over particularly from the burns on his back. It had been a mighty explosion when the furnace's fuel tank went, more powerful than he'd estimated. He was fortunate not to have been killed or seriously injured. Thinking that the jury-rigged fuse he had set would allow him to get clear, he had clearly had misjudged the time it would take to dig through to the surface. The cold hard earth had slowed him down and he had barely left the hole when the furnace went. He had been tossed several feet in the air and landed hard enough to knock the wind out of him. He had lain there for a moment until he realized he was on fire and had to roll along the ground to put his burning clothes out. When he came to a stop, he looked back at the farm house. It was nearly gone. Only one small side of it and the garage remained, both in flames.
He stood up and tried to think how things had gone awry. He guessed that the hunger and cold had made him slow witted and caused him to miscalculate what would happen. He felt his stomachs growling and suddenly doubled over as he cramped up. Zoidberg remained bent over a few minutes struggling against the fear of starvation. Intellectually, he knew he was in no danger but, for Decapodians, this survival trait was very powerful. He could feel his hold on his reason slipping as the thought of eating was becoming more pronounced in his mind. He moaned, "I've got to get some food in me. I don't know how long I can hold onto my sanity if I don't." He looked up as he heard a noise.
A large green robot came clawing out of the burning rubble of the house. It was scorched badly and its legs looked mangled. It used its arms to drag itself down the steps and into the yard. After it was several yards away from the house, it turned over on its back and collapsed. It lay there crying out weakly for help. Zoidberg saw it was the Donbot and felt rage swell in him. The instrument of all his suffering was still alive. His mind gave way. He gave a low harsh trill and looked around. A smoldering jagged piece of metal was lying on the ground nearby. He limped over to it. With a ferocious look in his eyes, he picked it up ignoring the pain as it burnt his claw. He limped over to the Donbot, picking up a large stone along the way. He stood over the robot and grinned down madly at it.
The Donbot looked up at him and said, "Doctor Zoidberg, you must help me. I will give you anything you want. Help me and it's yours. I promise you. Anything."
A white frothy fluid came out of Zoidberg's mouth as he began to laugh dementedly. He knelt on top of the Donbot's chest and began pounding the metal fragment into its head. The Donbot tried to stop him but Zoidberg was too angry, too wild and too lost for anything to halt him. When the fragment cracked the metal, green fluid shot up along it. The Donbot gave a soft little electronic cry and faded away. Zoidberg looked down at the lifeless robot and then flung the stone away. He made a horrible trilling cry. Anyone who knew him would no longer recognize him. That Zoidberg was gone and a feral angry creature had replaced him.
It stood and stared up at the sky. Giving a terrible warbling shriek that expressed his rage and hunger, it raced off into the woods. A scuttling figure dressed in the tatters of a burned lab smock covered with filth and green ooze.
(10 years ago)Omicron Persae 8 -
Adoy had wandered aimlessly about the universe for over four hundred thousand cycles seeking an answer to Aeryn's vision. Eventually, he found himself in orbit around Omicron Persae 8. It was an ugly planet that had been strip-mined and industrialized until it was simply a gray and colorless blotch in space. There he found a hideous society devoted to conquest and slaughter. The Persae had been a primitive tribal society until an advanced race fleeing war had landed and befriended them. The Persae had cunningly played the willing students to their kind hearted tutors until they were able to take over the refugee's starships. They enslaved them and forced them to build warships. Finding a liking for enslaving others, the Persae embarked upon a life of conquest and built a bloodstained empire. The Persae weren't brilliant but they had a knack for striking when others were too weak or too backward to defend themselves. Fortunately for the other races, the Persae were also given to frequent civil wars and rebellions. These caused their empire to wax and wane, allowing the galaxy a breathing space.
He had arrived at a time when the Persae were expanding out towards the center of the galaxy. The Persae were riding high and had a small empire consisting mostly of slave worlds. It was the time of the return of the Swarm. The Swarm had destroyed several civilizations and was on a path that would take them through the Persae Empire. Oday thought the Darkness had an ironic sense of humor if the Persae were targeted by the Swarm. But surprisingly, the Swarm had swerved away and headed for Earth. Usually the Swarm simply kept going until they exited the galaxy or died off from lack of sustenance. He wondered if his people had figured out a way to stop them but soon realized that something important had been revealed to him.
Adoy went to the place where the Swarm turned and spent fifty cycles studying it. Finding nothing but a small Persae outpost, he returned to Persae home world to find the Persae were involved in a war with an advanced race called the Craith. The Craith were the antithesis of the Persae and should have been able to defeat them easily but somehow the Persae were winning. Adoy was puzzled. Had the Persae evolved or were they now led by someone of genius? Adoy had a sudden insight that the question of the Swarm's unexpected turn was linked with this event. He had to go down to the Persae capital, Pasargadae, and see this leader.
Under the cover of night and using his ship's stealth capabilities, he avoided Persae sensors and landed outside the city. Using his power, he projected himself as a Persae sailor and headed into the ramshackle city. Pasargadae was an exceptionally unattractive place. Everything was built in a huge, blocky style with the buildings looking like bunkers or prisons to Adoy's eyes. The air was much polluted and the streets felt greasy under his feet. Ignoring the horrible stench, he headed to the main entrance of the palace. He watched as Persae entered through the heavily guarded gate. Using a small handheld Eternian sensor device, he determined that there were electronic sensors to check the visitors. In addition, everyone seemed to need a pass to gain admittance.
Adoy went over a couple of streets to what seemed to be an upscale Persae bar although that gave the dingy dive too much credit. There he did a quick telepathic sweep and discerned that there was a meeting tonight of the fleet captains for the planning of the next assault on the Craith. One of the captains was in the bar getting in a few drinks before he had to attend. Adoy waited till he walked out and pretended to be a courier with a message for him. The captain, a brutish and dim looking Persae, was easily lured to a convenient spot where Adoy sandbagged him. Quickly scanning the captain's memory for images, Adoy assumed the captain's features and his pass. He moved through the huge throng outside the gate and easily entered the gate using his handheld sensor to fool the Persae electronic detection.
He went through the courtyard which was overflowing with guardsmen and into the great hall. There he waited in the shadows until a guardsman came out from a large room and announced the meeting would be start. The entire crowd moved into the room where the Persae high command waited. Standing at the edge of the crowd, Adoy studied the Persae leadership. At the front of the room was a raised dais with a large garish throne. Seated on it, drinking from a cup made of some creatures skull, sat a huge toad-like creature that was starting to run to fat. He wore a purple cloak which curled around him. Adoy recognized him as King Wir from the ship captain's memories.
Next to the king was a thin and sickly looking Persae who the ship captain knew as Curg. On either side of these were two large Persae who wore red cloaks which Adoy understood to mean they were Fleet lords. From the captain's memories he recognized them as Lrr and Isk. Wir looked to have an excessive liking for alcohol and Adoy dismissed him as a figurehead. Curg, who was chancellor, looked too much like an academician. The captain evidently feared this puny Persae but Adoy thought the chancellor as too unimpressive to be a leader for such a savage race. He concentrated on the Fleet lords. One of them, he was sure was the brains behind the new found Persae victories. Carefully he sent out a mental probe but found to his surprise that both of them hungered for Wir's throne but feared Curg too much to challenge for it.
Suddenly feeling the eyes of Curg on him, Adoy felt an icy touch on his mind and quickly blocked something dark from entry. Adoy realized that he had made a bad mistake. A terrible realization told him that he had just revealed himself to the Darkness.
Pointing at him, Curg barked for the Royal Guard to seize the intruder. Adoy grabbed the nearest Persae and flung him bodily at the on-rushing guards, tumbling the mass back into the assembled captains. He turned and fled from the room avoiding the hands grasping at him. He raced down the great hall, out the door and into the courtyard. There was an alarm sounding now and the guardsmen at the gate slammed it closed. The courtyard was lit up by searchlights. He heard voices behind him. He slipped into the dark shadows of the palace's wall and changed to another Persae form. There was massive chaos in the courtyard now. Guardsmen, fleet captains and servants were rushing about looking for him and generally getting into each other's way. A large phalanx of soldiers had stationed itself at the gate. Curg strode out into the courtyard and quickly pointed Adoy out to the soldiers. They began shooting and Curg yelled that he wanted the intruder alive.
Barking a laugh, Adoy leapt up to the wall and went over quickly. The guards on the other side began firing at him until Curg angrily stopped them. Pursued, he headed into the mass crowd of Persae and slaves milling outside the palace. He soon lost the pursuit and doubled back to his ship. The Persae had patrols everywhere; stopping and manhandling anyone they came in contact with. This led to some spectacular fights between the touchy Persae. Under the cover of one these riots, he slipped easily between them and made for the ship.
He opened the hatch when he heard a sound behind him. It was Curg and two large Persae. Adoy sent out a mental attack which stunned Curg and caused him to cry out. The two Persae hesitated and allowed Adoy his chance. He quickly leapt at the nearest guard and broke its neck swiftly. He picked up the body and threw it at the other guard who fell stunned. Adoy jumped at Curg who started yelling for help. They grappled and fell on the ground. Adoy reached out to Curg's mind and recoiled at the sheer icy cold of it.
There was two minds occupying Curg's body and one was definitely more powerful than Adoy had imagined. Curg began clawing at him while calling out to the patrols. The guard began to push out from underneath his dead compatriot. In the distance, Adoy could here the noise of a large group coming towards them. Curg raked his back with his claws. Adoy screeched and slammed a fist into Curg's face. Curg staggered backwards. The other guard tried to rise up but Adoy smote him in the center of his forehead hard enough to stun it. Adoy turned back to Curg just as he struck with his claws. They hit his center eye causing intense pain. Enraged, Adoy tore Curg's arm from its socket. Curg screamed and fell to the ground. Adoy could see that the Persae were closing quickly. He hit Curg with a mighty telepathic attack. Curg, already in anguish from the lost arm, was vulnerable and fell backwards. Adoy reached out and broke his neck. But Curg did not die. Adoy felt some sort of life still in the Persae and grabbing Curg, Adoy flipped him into the ship. He looked back at the approaching Persae and then jumped into the ship as well. Quickly, he lifted off as the Persae fired wildly at him.
He made orbit and headed for the Omicron Persae asteroid belt. He reached it mere light seconds ahead of the Persae fleet. He landed on a small asteroid. Outside the Persae were searching vigorously for his well concealed ship. Adoy looked at his wounds. The clawed back was painful but would heal. His middle eye was badly damaged and had a milky white look to it. After some quick first aid, he turned his attention to Curg
Curg was staring at him with dark, unblinking eyes. A quick scan revealed that the Persae called Curg was dead but the Doppelganger still lived.
"What are you?" Adoy heard the cold voice in his head. He blocked the creature's probe that followed the question. He could not allow his nature to be revealed. The Doppelganger tried multiple assaults on him and Adoy realized that it was trying to transfer itself to him. Evidently, the Doppelgangers could not exist outside a host. After a dozen attempts, the thing began sending out calls to its brothers. Adoy quickly blocked these as well but not soon enough. He felt the return call of another Doppelganger. It was only light minutes away.
Quickly, Adoy used all of his power to scan the Doppelganger in Curg's body. From this brief and debilitating telepathic encounter, Adoy found that the Doppelgangers were avatars of the Darkness. The Darkness existed outside of the real universe and wanted to enter and devour it. Only the First's might kept it out but the First could not stop the small entries such as the Swarm. The Swarm existed to generate chaos and destruction; all of which weakened the First. But it was a slow process as the Swarm cost the Darkness (which Adoy now thought of as the Omega) much energy and time to create and get through the First's defenses. This meant the Omega could only generate a Swarm every ten thousand cycles. The Doppelgangers, costing less energy, were the Omega's attempt to speed up the process. They were designed to create chaos using the inhabitants of the universe. They were parasitical in nature and needed a host. The host suffered terribly with the Doppelganger in possession. They literally were eaten alive by them forcing the Doppelgangers to choose physically strong races to be hosts. Fortunately, only ten of them made it through the First's defenses. This gave Adoy some hope.
Breaking contact, Adoy found himself totally exhausted by the ordeal. As the eldest of the Firstborn, he had just enough power to read the injured Doppleganger's mind but no more. He knew he could not face another one that was already alerted to him and Curg had sent the message to his brothers. Adoy ordered his ship to leave the asteroid and go at maximum speed towards the Persae sun. He could feel the approaching Doppelganger now only mere light seconds behind him.
He stopped the ship just outside the sun's corona. Any further and it would burn up. He quickly donned his space suit. He could feel the hatred of the Doppelganger as it stared with Curg's dead eyes. As soon as he sealed the suit, he attached a small jet pack to Curg's body. The Doppleganger began striking him with the psychic assaults but was too weakened by the death of its host. Swiftly, Adoy opened his ship's hatch and pushed Curg out. He ignited the rocket and watched as the body sped into the fiery sun. He listened to its wailing cries the whole way in until he felt the Doppelganger scream in agony. Noting that the other Doppelganger was closing fast, Adoy ordered his ship to engage its hyper jump engine and leapt from Omicron Persae to a star nearly five thousand light years away. The Doppelganger could not move as quickly since it was dependent upon its host technology which was eons behind the Firstborn. Yet, it still had a sense of him; maybe not to the exact position but close enough.
Feeling the contact, Adoy realized he would not shake the Doppleganger for long. Other Doppelgangers could be sensed approaching from other galaxies. He would not be able to stay ahead forever. He needed a plan to deal with them.
Suddenly remembering Aeryn, Adoy gave a grim smile and ordered his ship to leap again.
Planet Express Building -
After searching for Zoidberg's body, Leela and Amy had left Clamps at the farmhouse bemoaning the death of the Donbot. Amy cried quietly off and on for most of the journey. Driving and trying to comfort Amy, Leela thought of how she failed. Used to success, she was unsure of what had happened. The plan had been perfect but somehow Zoidberg was gone. She felt sadness as she thought how little she knew of Zoidberg and how indifferent everyone had been to him. Now he was gone for good; beyond any possibility of making things right. Both women mourned Doctor Zoidberg in their own way as they drove south in cold morning. After abandoning the mob robot car in a parking lot over ten miles away, they had returned by bus to the PE building after eight in the morning.
Tired and feeling sad, they walked into the building to find Hermes waiting for them.
"You're late for work," he said. Then he asked sarcastically, "So where's Zoidberg? Did the robots cheat you?"
Leela flared with anger and said, "Doctor Zoidberg is dead, thanks to you. Your heartlessness made us too late to save him." She explained what had happened.
Hermes had the decency to look distressed and said, "I'm sorry. I didn't like Zoidberg but I didn't want him dead." He paused and then said softly, "Did we save de company's money?"
Leela gave him a withering glare and then said, "Here's the money." She tossed the gym bag at him. Hermes caught it with a loud "oof". Quickly opening it, he sat down at the table to begin counting it.
"It's all there except a thousand I took for expenses," Leela said with contempt. Hermes just grinned and continued counting. Leela growled angrily and sat down on one of the chairs. Amy sat down besides Hermes and put the little pink pistol on the table. Hermes eyed it nervously and decided to stop counting.
"Er, I'll take your word for it," he said. Leela and Amy grimly smiled at each other.
Hermes held up a clipboard and said, "Here are today's deliveries."
Leela laughed bitterly and said, "Cancel them."
Hermes looked shocked and said, "We can't do dat! Dese are obligations to our customers. We could lose dere business."
Leela gave Hermes a contemptuous look and said, "Amy and I have been up all night and we're not going anywhere today. As senior company officer present, I order you to cancel them. Offer them refunds or a future discount but we're not making any deliveries today. Planet Express is officially in mourning for today."
Amy nodded her head in agreement and slumped back into the chair. She gave Leela an exhausted smile and said, "That's right, Captain Leela." Leela grinned back at her.
Hermes watched them and nodded his head. He decided it was time to make amends.
"As you wish, Captain Leela," he said. He looked at them for a moment. Leela was in her cheap green jacket and black pants. Amy was wearing a fashionable parka over her usual pink affair. Both looked very tired and emotionally exhausted. It made Hermes wonder what they had used the gun for. He decided it was better not to ask and said, "I checked out Fry's and Bender's auto-payments like you axed."
"What happened to the money?" Leela asked wearily as the long night and grief began to catch up with her. Amy's eyes were half closed and she was yawning.
"Bender stole it."
"What?" both women said loudly, as they sat up straight.
Hermes gave a wry smile and thought, "If I can make dem mad at Bender, dey might go easy on me about my role in dis Zoidberg mess. It's worth a shot."
"After Fry left for Mars, Bender must have accessed my computer and rerouted both auto-payments to a secret bank account. I checked it out and de account is nearly empty. I imagine he's spent all of it." Hermes looked at their shocked faces and continued, "Almost all de money Fry sent back from Mars is gone. Fortunately I cancelled Fry's auto-payment last week so he's got a little money in his account dat Bender didn't get."
"He stole money from Fry?" Leela said in disbelief and then frowned, "But Fry is his best friend."
Suddenly annoyed, Amy said, "Leela, Bender steals from everyone."
"Still, stealing from his best friend just isn't right," Leela said with obvious disappointment.
Amy shrugged and began pointing out that Bender was a notorious thief and hadn't cared who he stole from. Leela countered by listing Bender's few good points and random acts of kindness. The argument let them forget about Zoidberg and their weariness.
Hermes watched the two women discussing Bender and thought how foolish he had been. He had forgotten his place when the Professor was taken to rehab. For one giddy week, he had the illusion that he was running Planet Express. He had failed to remember that he was a bureaucrat and with the Professor gone, Leela was in charge. After he had returned home last night, La Barbara had asked him why he was moping. When he told her, she had given him a tongue-lashing for forgetting who he was and what his job was. He realized that he had made a mistake and now he needed to suck up to the new boss or life was going to be right miserable for him. He decided it was time to use his trump card to ensure Leela thought more favorably of him.
"By de way, Leela. You left so suddenly last week after we returned from New Eden dat La Barbara didn't get de chance to tell you dat Fry left you a package in his locker. She axed me…." Hermes didn't get a chance to finish as the two women raced towards the hangar floor. He chuckled and picked up the gym bag. He went to his office and put the bag on the floor next to his chair. He began to make the calls to cancel the deliveries for the day. After that was done, he planned to count the money. He believed Leela but he was still a bureaucrat, right down to the soles of his feet.
Leela reached Fry's locker ahead of Amy. She yanked it open and saw the large brown envelope sitting at the bottom. Leela picked it up and saw that Fry had printed her name on it in large letters. She sighed and held it to her chest.
Amy came up behind her. "Aren't you going to open it?"
Leela grinned. Holding the packet out teasingly, she said, "No, not here. I'm going to go home and take a shower. Maybe make some tea. Then I'll read it."
Amy's disappointment was obvious. Leela laughed and said, "Don't worry. I'll give you all the details later." She left the building with a lighter heart.
Fire Support Base Aberdeen, Da Nang -
Upon his return to Aberdeen, the major had made his report to General Le Maurieny. The general had been disturbed by what the major had reported and said he'd look into it. Smith got the feeling that the general wasn't all that happy with the report. "Guess he wanted me to sing praises about the Highlander's thumping the Bugs," he had thought irreverently, "instead of bad mouthing the defensive setup. Especially as it will be forwarded to IV Corps at Thunderbolt. The general's butt will be in the sling for ignoring corps' standing instructions. Well, too bad for him."
After he made his report, Colonel Swaratha, the division G-1, had come over and given him a new message from IV Corps. It was an order directing him to start Dice Roll immediately. Swaratha told him a Special Forces team was being sent down from the 8th Guards operating area and would arrive the next evening. The major figured he'd need a few days of training by the team to ensure he had Bug tactics down and then they could escort him up to Myksho Ridge. From there, Rand and he would go find themselves a Persae.
Smith stared at the order with a look bordering on joy. "At last," he thought, "I'm unleashed." He looked over at Rand. She had taken the news with her usual impassiveness but he had been with her long enough to recognize that she was not happy. She had a way of standing with a slight tilt of her head. Her "unhappy stance" as he thought of it; if a robot could feel unhappy.
"Rand does not approve of the mission," he decided as he looked over her female shaped form. She looked strange with the camouflage coloring. Some Highlander wit had painted a circled blue HD on her right pectoral. He was wearing a Highlander patch as well, on the shoulder opposite his Special Forces insignia.
"Well, we might go about in the guise of the Highlanders," he thought irritably, "but I'm still Special Forces. And Rand is.." He tried to think what Rand was and settled on, "Well, she's very special." He smiled to himself as he considered that. He reflected that since the chip had been implanted, he could have led a lonely life. The one being that prevented that, indeed the only saving grace in his life other than the work, had been Rand. She had proven an excellent companion whether at work or at happy hour. The major genuinely enjoyed her company.
"She's intelligent, a hard worker, and can hold her liquor," he thought as he stared at her. "If she was human, I'd marry her." He surprised himself with that thought and revised it to that if Rand had been human, she probably wouldn't have come near him like all the other human females. He looked over at Rand again and thought, "We've been together so long that I can read her moods." He gave a slight shake of his head. "Moods? Lord, I'm starting to think of her as capable of emotions. Maybe I've been with her so long that I'm imagining Rand is capable of feelings. I better start seeing those shrinks again."
Still, she was different from any robot he'd ever met. She acted almost human. The major laughed softly and thought, "Almost human? Rand? That is really too funny."
He felt the tingling in his neck begin again and popped another couple of aspirins. He saw Rand watching him with her dark green eyes. Sensing her concern, he grinned at her and said quietly, "You're becoming a fussy old biddy."
Rand said nothing and the major winked at her.
(One year ago, somewhere in the Milky Way) -
Adoy had managed to keep ahead of the nine Doppelgangers hunting him if only just barely. They had gotten close several times but his ability to hyper jump allowed him to escape. He was wearing down though as the constant psychic assaults they launched at him took more and more effort to resist.
"Soon I won't have the strength to stop them and they'll find out about Eternia. With that knowledge, they'll come after us as the only threat to their goal of generating chaos," he thought bleakly. Then he gave a grin. "On the bright side, while they're chasing me, they aren't causing any trouble."
Using a black hole as cover, he leapt all the way across the Milky Way into the far reaches of the DOOP Federation. He arrived in orbit around a dusty planet called Azedjrad. He had remembered it from the time when it was the home world of the engineering race called the Caznoc. He recalled their huge atmosphere generators that they had to build after they destroyed their environment. A plan had formed in his mind during the time he spent running. Azedjrad was the place to carry it out.
He had lost the Doppelgangers for the moment but that would not last. They were tireless and would eventually track him down now that they had his mental trace. He linked to the DOOP MilNet on the planet easily defeating all protections. He established that the Mighty One had arrived on Earth. Reviewing the Mighty One's file, he learned about Planet Express. He viewed the Mighty One's fellow workers with interest. The hybrid, he recognized immediately as his daughter's handiwork. But it was the Decapodian that drew his attention. A quick search established he was of interest to the Federation's intelligence service. He read the file stating that the doctor was an intelligence agent of the Decapodians.
"An interesting creature," Adoy thought with amusement. "Yes, he will be perfect for what I need to do. And finding a Decapodian on Earth will be easier than picking out one human out of billions."
Leela's Apartment -
Leela arrived at her barebones apartment. Apartment 1I was a small two room place with a bathroom and tiny kitchenette. It contained just a minimal amount of furniture and a small television that doubled as internet connection. The apartment was nearly devoid of any feminine touch. Leela sighed as she looked around and thought of how she had ended up here.
It was only three years ago that she had been living in a nice apartment with Sean, her musician boyfriend. She had a job at the Fate Assignment Bureau that paid reasonably well. Everything in her life seemed to be going good until the day she found out Sean was cheating on her. When she had confronted him, he had denied it at first but Leela had seen him with the other woman. They had a violent argument. Sean lost his temper and said some terrible things, mostly about Leela's physical appearance. He told her that he was tired of living with a big nosed, one-eyed freak. Enraged, she kicked him out and then flung all of his possessions out the window. She had cried for days on end. It had hurt her more than anything else ever had. Not even her life in the orphanarium had ever caused her pain like that. But the worse was yet to come. Sean had run up enormous charges on her credit cards. Loathing herself for her foolishness in allowing Sean access to her credit cards, Leela was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy. A lien was placed on her paycheck. She lost all of her possessions and had to move into this cheap and squalid apartment.
To make extra money, she began working a lot of overtime and covering weekends and holidays at the FAB. Her life became just one long day at the bureau. She became bitter and began to hate her job. Misery, unhappiness and eternal loneliness seemed to be her lot.
Fry had changed all of that. In his own foolish way, he had shown her that there was something beyond the bitterness she had given into. She had found a job she truly enjoyed when she had become Planet Express' captain. She had friends, true friends in Fry, Bender and Amy. It took a while but, once Fry helped her find her parents, Leela began to have hope of a normal life. She was even getting close to the point of having half her debts paid off. In another two years, she might be able to move to a decent apartment and start buying some nice things.
"All of this starts with Fry," she said to herself as she got undressed. "Somehow, Fry has been involved in everything good in my life." She thought about all the other men she had dated. The men she'd picked because she thought a successful man would be different than Sean. But they weren't. Eventually all of them found her single eye too much to overcome. Only Fry seemed to not care. He could be truly silly at times but he could also be very sweet. She sat on the bed and looked at his picture on the nightstand. She ran her finger over the top of the frame and smiled at his goofy haircut. "I miss you," she whispered then she stood up and headed for the shower.
Once Leela had taken her shower and changed into a faded pink, long t-shirt with a picture of a teddy bear holding a heart on the front. She made herself a cup of tea in the little kitchenette. She sat down on the bed and stared at the packet sitting in front of her. She began toying with it; picking it up and feeling its weight; shaking it; and holding it up to the light. She was enjoying the anticipation of what it might be. She knew she was probably going to be disappointed. Fry had strange ideas about what was romantic but she was sure whatever was in the packet came from Fry's heart.
She put the tea down and reached for the packet. She tore open the top and let the contents slide out onto the bed in front of her. It consisted of several forms and a picture. She picked up the picture. It showed a trim looking Fry standing in his uniform while Captain DeLaine pinned something to his chest. Sergeant Jubal was in the background, smiling broadly. Leela focused on Fry. She thought, "Wow, he's cute in his uniform. And that short haircut is a good look for Fry."
She turned over the picture and on the back was written: "Private First Class Philip J. Fry receives his medic qualification badge. Syria Planium Training Facility, Mars. September 22, 3002."
Leela smiled and whispered, "Oh Fry, you did it. You really did it. I'm so proud of you." She held the picture for a few more minutes just looking at Fry's face.
She put the picture aside and picked up the forms. Looking them over, she noticed Fry had already filled in a lot of the information. One form was a document that listed Leela as Fry's beneficiary for his Army Life Insurance and the other gave her power of attorney. Amongst the forms was a short note in Fry's childish scrawl, full of cross outs and misspelled words.
I'm glad to hear that you got out of the trouble with the ship. I understand why you weren't able to make my
grat…graduashun. I wish I could see you before I leave. Since that isn't going to happen, I just wanted you to have these. I have given you my power of attorney so that you can ensure any bills or taxes I have are paid although I think soljers on Da Nang are exmp…don't have to pay taxes. Most of my pay will be automatikly deposited into my account since Sarge says I won't need much money on Da Nang. Please feel free to use the money as you think necessary. I hope you will continue to write to me. Sarge says that e-mail from me will be slow because of the atmus.. amos.. air conditions on Da Nang. I hope you like the photo. I really miss you.
Leela read the note twice. She picked up the photo and stared at Fry. Tears began forming in her eye. "Oh, Fry, I miss you too. I wish I could have been here to see you off," she thought. She put the photo up next to the nightstand photo. Teary eyed, she lay down on the bed and staring at Fry's photo soon fell asleep.
She awoke to the sound of the vidphone ringing. She looked at her clock and saw she had slept for three hours. She picked up the vidphone with the screen disabled. Leela turned on the screen when she heard Amy's voice. Amy was sitting on her opulent bed in a very sexy looking negligee. She gasped as she saw Leela's t-shirt.
"N'uh-uh! That's what you wear in bed? No wonder you can't keep a man," she laughed.
Leela frowned and said, "Very funny. Maybe I won't tell you what's in Fry's letter."
Amy waved her hands apologetically at the screen and said, "Just teasing, Leela. Stop being so touchy." She paused and then smiled, "Besides, it makes us even for you running off without opening it at Planet Express."
Leela laughed. She proceeded to tell her about Fry's letter and showed her the picture. Amy sighed and said, "It's so romantic, isn't it? To have a soldier who's far away. And scary as well. What with them being at the front. I'm so afraid of what might happen to Kif and Fry."
Leela saw that Amy was getting ready to start crying again. "Really, the girl is just too sensitive sometimes," she thought. "Well, let's head the waterworks off for a change."
"Kif will be fine, Amy. He's on the Nimbus and it's the most heavily armored ship in the whole DOOP Navy. Besides Morgan thinks the diplomats will be able to work out a deal to stop the war from happening."
Amy brightened and looked less tearful. Leela felt that she wasn't being too honest but a little white lie to the hypersensitive Amy might keep her from fretting too much about Kif. Meanwhile she told herself that she needed to do something to keep Fry off Da Nang. She decided to see Morgan again in the morning to see if she could think of any way to accomplish that. Morgan had contacts within the government and maybe she might know someone who could help. It was their only hope now. Leela thought sadly, "It's a pretty slim hope but it's about all I have left."
Amy cheered up and began talking again. Leela took a sip of the cold tea as she listened to her young friend chatter gaily on.
Wong Ranch, Mars -
Uttering an angry Martian curse, Leo Wong set down his cup of coffee and turned off the vidphone. The call had been from his representative to the Pentagon. The man had informed him that he had spoken to General Abrams himself and the general was very unhappy with the new body armor prototype. So unhappy in fact, that he was only giving Wong Industries a week to correct the deficiencies or see the contract cancelled. The agent also told him that Abrams had directed one of his MOD aides to look into other contracts Wong had with the DOOP military.
Wong had been stunned. He had shouted at his hapless agent, "Who does that bottled head from the stupid ages think he is to threaten me? Doesn't he know who I am? You go see General Poorten and tell him to call me as soon as possible."
After hanging up, Wong turned to his internet connection and checked the current stock ticker. It showed several defense industry stocks of which Wong Industries was one. Currently Mom's was the top stock with Wong's just five behind her. He saw that the current quote hadn't changed more than a tenth which was good. If word got out that the military was looking at his contracts, he might be in trouble.
He cursed himself for using his Martian property and buggalo herds as collateral to buy up a defense contractor that specialized in military gear. He had renamed it Wong Industries and it had been very successful. With the expansion of the DOOP military, Wong had landed several large contracts for military clothing, shoes, canteens, and all the other small paraphernalia that was needed by the military. Sure he had cut some corners to maximize profits but he was sure that every contractor was doing that. In the chaos of the rapid buildup of the DOOP military, no one had complained. The military needed equipment for its new recruits and the money rolled in for Wong.
Flush with overconfidence from his success, he had bought controlling interest in a small ship building firm called MidSpace Ships. MidSpace had been building small intra-system mining ships but Wong wanted to get in on the lucrative Navy ship building. He leveraged Wong Industries to borrow enough capital to retool MidSpace's space yard to allow it to build military vessels. Unfortunately, the business was extremely competitive with Grumman-Vickers Industries and the Mikoyan, Bloehm und Voss and Mitsubishi Combine being the titans of the shipbuilding field. MidSpace won a few contracts for small patrol vessels and one large one to build four fast transports. However, building military vessels to specification was proving difficult for the MidSpace staff. MidSpace began to have severe problems and it looked likely that it would not meet the delivery dates. Trying to meet the schedule, MidSpace began hemorrhaging money. Wong had to keep propping it up with more and more infusions of cash. He sent agents to speak to the Navy Bureau of Ships and ask for a delay on the contract deadline. With a galactic war looming, the Navy was insistent on the ships being delivered on time. If MidSpace failed to meet the contract deadline, the Navy would exact huge financial penalties maybe even seize the yard itself. Wong was going to lose a lot of money on MidSpace. Wong Industries would be at risk as well. If Wong Industries failed too, he might lose everything. He had to ensure they wouldn't find anything if they came looking. And he had to hope that Dan Poorten could provide him with some time.
"Besides," he thought nastily, "the DOOP military will not stop the Persae. They will fail and the Persae will crush Earth. All of my factories are either on Mars or in the outer system. They will be perfectly positioned to supply whatever succeeds the useless DOOP. No one will remember who sold what to the loser federation forces. Wongs will prosper again." He gave a quiet snort and decided to call up the various factory supervisors, most of whom were his relations. He needed to ensure they were ready for any sort of DOOP inspection.
After instructing them, he sat back and looked out his office at the Martian landscape of his enormous ranch. "Stupid army jar head is causing me severe problems. I will need to pull every string I can to ensure I hold on to MidSpace and get the delivery extension. It is going to be very close," he told himself.
He sat drinking his coffee and staring out the window. The vidphone rang. He put down his cup and answered it. Dan Poorten's handsome features came on the screen. He was sitting in an ornate chair in an elegantly furnished office. He smiled and said, "Hello, Leo."
Wong smiled back and said, "Daniel, so good of you to call me. I need your help."
Poorten nodded and reached past the display to pick up a coffee cup. He took a long drink and then said, "What can I do for you, Leo? Your man was most insistent that I call you."
Wong had begun cultivating Poorten nearly a decade ago when he was a division commander on Mars. With a few invitations to important Martian political functions and a few well timed donations, Poorten was in Leo's pocket; in more ways that one. Their relationship was such that Leo felt he could be somewhat open with him. "I won't beat around the buggalo, Dan. I need to head off Abrams looking into Wong Industry contracts with DOOP or at least ensure the inspector is an understanding man. I could survive losing the body armor contract but I don't think we can take a rigorous inspection right now. The factories are a little chaotic and I'm not sure we could put on a good show. An understanding inspector would see this and not make too big of a deal about it."
Poorten grinned, "Why, of course, Leo. I'm always happy to help you. You must understand though, as busy as we are these days with Da Nang and the Persae, I might not be able to give it my full attention."
Leo Wong gave an insincere smile and thought, "Greedy gweilo. I already give him two hundred thousand for his political pretensions. How much will it cost me this time?"
He reached out to pick up his coffee and said amiably, "Of course, Daniel. I understand that your time is valuable. What can I do to help?"
DOOP Pentagon, New Washington -
Poorten turned off the vidphone and sat back with a sigh of satisfaction. He took a sip of his coffee and looked over at his aide, Colonel Enver Hoxar. Hoxar was drinking coffee as well and looking concerned. Poorten could guess why. Hoxar was a cautious if corrupt soul and always acted the sounding board for Poorten's schemes.
"Relax Enny. I'm going to get another two hundred thousands easily out of the old skinflint. That should give my future war chest a good boost. If we defeat the Persae, I'll be able to campaign on my part in the war and give old crazy Dick a good run for it. If we don't, well it won't hurt to have some ready funds in the chaos that follows."
Hoxar shook his head. "You're playing with a live grenade on this one, Dan. Assigning the right man will be difficult since Abrams has taken an interest. He's likely to insist that one of his people be sent and you know how loyal that lot is."
"Hmm, perhaps you're right. I'll need some way of keeping my hands clean and still find a way to help Wong. Any suggestions?"
Hoxar took a long drink and Poorten saw that Hoxar was stalling. Hoxar would always stall when he was about to suggest something nasty.
"Come on Enny, out with it. What's your idea?"
Hoxar sighed and reached over to the jamming device on Poorten's mahogany table to make sure that it was still on. Poorten smiled at this display of caution.
"Don't worry, it's the top of the line from our Intel boys just like my secure vidphone," he laughed carelessly.
Hoxar frowned and sat back in his chair. He fingered his coffee cup and pursed his lips. Then setting the cup down, he leaned forward and began speaking in low soft tones.
"Perhaps, Dan, you are over-exposed with Mr. Wong. It would go ill if you could not control the choice of the inspector and Mr. Wong is seriously damaged. He might take revenge by revealing your involvement."
Poorten paused in lifting his coffee cup. He hadn't considered that. He had always thought of Leo Wong as a reliable ally. But Abrams was making life difficult. The old ways of operating weren't available anymore. Abrams had sacked the head of the Marines for playing politics and taking bribes. The guy was still awaiting sentencing from what he had last heard. That couldn't be allowed to happen to him. Hoxar was right, Wong could pose a threat.
He looked at Hoxar and said, "Alright, Colonel Hoxar. What do you suggest?"
Hoxar continued in his soft tone. "I recommend that if we are unable to control the inspector selection that you shop Mr. Wong."
"Shop Leo?" Poorten asked in surprise. "To whom? And for what?"
Hoxar gave a sly grin. "Why for protection, of course. And I recommend selling him to Mom. She's been trying to expand into the ship building business. MidSpace would be a prime acquisition especially now that Wong has converted it to military purposes. And her gratitude could be very, very valuable."
Hoxar gave Poorten a cold-eyed look. Poorten shivered involuntary. He knew Hoxar might be a cautious bastard but he was a cold-blooded ruthless one too. He felt he could count on the man as long as their interests were the same but he knew that he'd be shopped as well if it became in Hoxar's interest to do so.
"It was like riding the wolf," he thought. "As long as I'm on top, I'll be fine but if I fall, I'll be torn to shreds."
He smiled at Hoxar and nodded.
Central Government Bureaucracy building, New New York -
The next morning, Leela had called Hermes and told him that Amy and he would have to handle the deliveries for the day. She planned to go see Morgan Proctor and see if she could do anything to rescue Fry. Hermes was cheerfully obliging and told her not to worry. She began to think that maybe she'd been too hard on him but decided that he'd realized who was in charge. Enjoying that thought, she caught the express tube to midtown and walked over to the towering CGB building. Riding up to Morgan's floor, she thought about how she'd handle it. Morgan and she had become somewhat friends. Maybe she could appeal to that and get Morgan's help. Otherwise, Fry was going to be stuck on Da Nang for at least a year.
"Maybe longer, if the Persae really do attack," she thought with a shudder. "Easy Leela," she told herself firmly. "You're going to scare yourself to death with this sort of thinking. Don't dwell on the negative. Focus on finding a way."
She arrived at Morgan's office and walked into the front room to find Allen sitting at the desk. He looked up and gave a sad smile when he saw her.
"Hi, Leela," he said dourly, "Morgan's not here. Hasn't been for a week."
"Where is she?"
"She caught that damned influenza virus. She's quarantined at home. No one can see her except the doctors," he said angrily.
"Hasn't she been given the vaccine?" Leela asked.
Allen smiled bitterly. "Yeah she was given it. It almost killed her. Turns out, Morgan's allergic to the vaccine. It was a miracle she survived. They say she'll be allowed to come back to work by the second week of November." He paused and a pained longing look passed over his face. "They won't let me see her. I can only talk to her on the vidphone. She won't even put the screen on. She says it's because she looks terrible and doesn't have her makeup on. Like I care about that." He had a pained expression. "I want to see her."
Leela looked at him and shook her head. "Lucky Morgan," she thought amusedly, "the kid really loves her." She smiled at him and said, "She probably means it. I don't think she's trying to hurt you. The virus makes our faces all puffy and our noses runny. Who wants to be seen like that?"
"It's not fair," he pouted.
She grinned at this and asked, "Didn't you get sick?"
He shook his head. "I was at my parents' place in west Louisiana during the outbreak. I guess the virus was concentrated in the big cities. It really hit the bureaucracy hard. Over half the people in this building didn't come to work until today. Man, it was tough keeping things running on a skeleton staff, I guarantee." He laughed and she heard the Cajun in his voice. "We did some overtime this week. I'm plumb tuckered out."
Leela chuckled and glanced down at his desk to see that his name plate said Allen Hebert. Leela decided it was time to get down to business.
"Allen, Fry got sent to Da Nang."
"Yeah, Morgan told me. She also said you'd come here looking for help."
"Is there anything we can do to change those orders?"
Allen shrugged and said, "No. Hacking the MOD is too tough. And Morgan has forbidden me to try. Especially not for you, she said. 'Sides, she's changed her password so I don't have access anymore."
Leela face showed her disappointment and Allen said gently, "What you really need is some heavyweight politician or powerful military type to pull some strings. If Fry hasn't got to Da Nang yet, you might be able to get things changed."
Leela thought that maybe Amy's dad could do something but dismissed that idea when she remembered that Amy wasn't really on good terms with her father right now. She looked at Allen and smiled sadly.
"Thanks," she said, "I guess I'll have to think of something else."
She asked Allen to say hi to Morgan for her and that she hoped she got well soon. Allen wrote down Morgan's home number and told Leela to call her if she could.
"I'm sure she'd like to hear from you," Allen said earnestly. "And if you do call, talk her into letting me come over. I've had the vaccine and won't catch the virus from her. I really want to see her."
Leela nodded and said she would do what she could. She left the building and headed back to Planet Express. As she got near the door, a thought occurred to her. Her mom knew the Chief of Staff personally. Maybe she could ask him to intercede for Fry. It would be difficult to ask, given her parents near hero worship of the general but she had to try. She was beginning to fear she'd never see Fry again and that thought was becoming almost painful.
Café Khofra, Maghreb Sub-Prefecture, Planet Asedjrad -
The front door opened and the bright sun blazed into the dim room. The wizened old man walked into the café as the sand wafted in along the floor, chased about by the slow moving ceiling fans. He hobbled slowly over to his usual spot at the table near the small window. The sullen young waiter came over and placed a carafe of sweetened chicory on the table. The old man thanked the young man graciously and began his ritual of preparing the water pipe on the table. He took his time but was soon puffing away in a serene manner pausing only to take a sip from the demitasse cup.
The café was nearly empty as most of the men were still at work in the mines outside of town. A few old men were sitting at a larger table against the wall drinking chai and playing chess. The two young waiters were sitting next to the kitchen door smoking cigarettes and murmuring quietly. The tall, lean and hard faced manager puffed on a cigar as he sat at the bar talking to the scarred, burly bartender.
The wizened man was no longer of interest to anyone. It was well known that he had little money and lived on some sort of tiny stipend that arrived every month. He had come to Asedjrad nearly a year ago to study the ancient machines that generated the planet's atmosphere. He had gone out to look at the machines a few times but he spent most of his time in the café just smoking and drinking chicory. No one really knew anything about him and the old man rarely spoke. The locals thought perhaps he had been stranded by his employers and was waiting for his family to send the fare money home. Sadly they had said, as they filled in the unsupplied details, his family would not provide the funds for they had seized the old man's property. A homecoming now would be too embarrassing. For a while, they had felt pity for him for having such a dishonorable and selfish family but that had faded to indifference. He was just as trapped as they were and no one cared. Most days he sat in the café from noon till six, drinking and smoking. He sometimes ate a small meal but he seemed to subsist mostly on the chicory and tobacco. Soon he became part of the café's background, unnoticed and unremarked.
The old man sat silently smoking as he looked out the window at Asedjrad's bright blue sky. As the Muezzin began his call for prayer, the old man took another sip of the chicory and long draught of the pipe. Part of him was there in the café maintaining the illusion for the locals but the main part of his mind was busy elsewhere. He was reaching out ever so delicately and ever so quietly to contact another mind nearly 800 light years away.
Planet Express Building, New New York -
Leela sat down at the professor's desk and turned on this vidphone. She dialed the number that she had in her wrist computer. It was the vidphone that she had used in her parent's house. She let it ring for a full minute and was about to hang up when it was picked up on the other end. It turned out to be a corporal in the 7th New New York Engineers. He was very friendly and offered to go get Munda but Leela asked him to have her call him and rang off.
She settled down to review the Planet Express' financial situation. She was satisfied that Hermes had done a good job of balancing the books. He had used the left over money from Zoidberg's botched hostage situation to buy some spare parts for the ship.
"That should make Amy happy," she thought. She also noted that Hermes had terminated Zoidberg's pay the day they had returned from trying to ransom him. This didn't make Leela happy. "Another thing to remember," she told herself, "Hermes is ruthlessly efficient. I need to keep a tight rein on him."
Around lunchtime, the vidphone rang and she answered. Her mother appeared looking very pale and tired.
"Mom," she asked with sudden concern, "are you alright?"
"Yes, darling, I'm fine," Munda grinned sheepishly. "Your father and I were up too late last night at the party. I'm afraid I'm little hung over."
"Party?" Leela raised her eyebrow. "What sort of party?"
Munda laughed. "A fun one. It was a spontaneous celebration." She rubbed her eye and grinned again. "Yesterday, Colonel Steigler made an announcement." At Leela's questioning look, she said, "He's in charge of the Legion. Anyway, he announced that the Legion was going to deploy in two days. So we threw them a going away party. Lots of booze and food. Music and dancing. Whew, it was great."
Leela tried to imagine a mutant celebration and couldn't. She gave her mother an admonishing grin and said, "Well, I hope you enjoyed yourselves and stayed out of trouble, young lady."
"Leela, you don't know the half of it. If I'm any judge, we'll see some positive results from it in nine months. Might even be a few true human-mutant crossbreeding as well. Everyone got really drunk." She winked at Leela's shocked expression.
"Mom!" Leela cried, sure that she wanted no conversations about sex with her mother.
But Munda just chuckled and then asked, "What is it you wanted? I have to get back to work."
"Mom, can you call General Abrams? I mean personally?"
"I guess so. Why?" Munda asked in surprise.
"I want you to ask him to get Fry off Da Nang."
"What!" It was Munda's turn to look shocked. "You want me to ask General Abrams to do you a favor?"
Leela nodded. "Please Mom. I really need you to do this. Fry's not a soldier. He's too heedless to be in the middle of a war without me there to protect him."
Munda looked shrewdly at Leela. "Who is this Fry? Your boyfriend? Your fiancé? Your lover?"
Leela shook her head with a miserable look. "He's my friend. I want him to come home."
Munda gave Leela a pitying smile. "Ah, dollinski. You don't even know your own heart." She shook her head sadly and then stared hard at Leela. Her bright blue eye focused on Leela's and she said firmly, "No. I won't do it."
"But Mom…" Leela began but Munda raised her hand. Leela could see that she had angered her.
"Leela, do you know how many soldiers there are on Da Nang right now?" Leela shook her head. Munda growled, "Don't you pay attention to the news? There's close to 80,000 men there. Those are the husbands, fathers, brothers, sons of someone in the federation. Somewhere, some woman, some family is praying that their loved one comes home safe and whole. And you want me to use my contact with General Abrams to get your friend out of the war zone?"
Leela tried to say something but Munda continued. "Tomorrow, the First Mutant Legion will march out of here for the spaceport. They're going off world and we may never see any of them again. Four of them are my cousins. Not one of them has asked for a release. Every one of them is willing to go. They'd go to Da Nang itself if General Abrams asked it. And you want me to help you get your friend Fry to safety?" Impassioned, Munda went on in an anguished voice. "Thousands upon thousands men and women are out there waiting for the war. I'm sure that their families would like them home but you expect me to impose upon General Abrams to help you. This is the same General Abrams who has brought hope and a chance for dignity to the degraded lives of the mutants. How could I dare ask him for a personal favor?" She stopped and took a deep breath. "Leela, how can you ask this of me? This is not like you at all."
Leela felt ashamed and stared down at the vidphone's keyboard. Munda calmed herself. She looked at Leela for a few moments and then said, "Leela, you are my only child. I love you more than I love life itself. My heart aches for all the years we were apart." She paused and in a sad voice, said, "I cried every night when I couldn't hold you and tell you that your parents loved you. I would do anything in the world for you. But, my darling daughter, this I will not do. I'd be ashamed for the rest of my life. Do you understand?"
Leela gulped and nodded. She felt herself beginning to tear up. She loved her mom and felt that she had disappointed her. "I'm sorry Mom. It's just that I don't know what to do."
Munda smiled gently and said, "Then you are in the same place as all those other families. I suggest you find something to allow you to face the fact that Fry has gone to war like so many other soldiers before him. He will have to do his duty and trust to God."
Leela sobbed. "How? What can I do?"
Munda, looking tearful herself, said, "For myself, I prayed. I prayed every night for you. Just as I will pray for all those young soldiers and sailors everywhere. Pray that they come home safe and sound."
Leela stopped and stared at her mother. She hadn't thought of her parents as religious. She hadn't seen any signs of it when she visited them.
"I didn't know you were a believer," she said.
Munda nodded and said, "We keep it quiet because the URO is pretty hard on people who follow proscribed religions. Even down here in the sewers."
Leela gave her mom a long look and said, "I'll have to think about it." She touched the display screen. "Mom, I'm sorry I asked. I was desperate."
Munda shook her head. "No, darling. You were human. It will be very hard but I'm sure Fry will come home. I just have a feeling that he will." She smiled sadly and said, "Now I must get back to work. You've done the best you can for Fry. It is in God's hands now."
Leela gave a weak smile and said goodbye. She turned off the phone. Standing, she went to the large window in the professor's office. She stared out at the river until Hermes and Amy returned from the day's deliveries.
Upstate New New York -
"Zoidberg," the voice came again. He ignored it even though it continued to bother him. He was sleeping and did not want to leave his pleasant dream of warmth and food. But the voice was insistent.
"Zoidberg, pay attention!" it commanded. He refused to look at it. It wanted to drag him back from this simple existence; back to the world of pain and suffering; back to the world of reason. He wanted to forget that place. He wanted to stay here where all he had to worry about was finding food and a warm place to sleep. The voice did not understand, he thought. Couldn't understand how cruel and hateful the world of reason was. "Go way. Let me sleep," he said, his voice brimming with self pity. "Leave me alone."
"Squ'llich!" it shouted. That got his attention. It was his name, his true name. The one he had worn long ago back on Decapodia. He had forgotten it. He did not want to remember it. He had another name now but he chose not remember it either. He looked at the voice. It was a small dark thing with two glowing orbs for eyes and a dim light atop its shadowy head. He blinked at the brightness and turned away. The light dimmed and he looked back. The voice was hidden by the darkness now. He could sense its power, its wisdom and its compassion. He hated it.
"You've been through much," the voice said sympathetically, "but more is necessary."
"No," he cried and turned away again. "Leave me be. I want no more pain. I'm tired of my life."
"Squ'llich, look at me!" it commanded. The power of the voice brought him back around. He sensed something awesome in the small darkness. It scared him.
"Are you the great Crab?" he asked fearfully, thinking of his people's God.
"If you wish," the voice said with amusement. Suddenly the darkness lifted and a huge towering figure was there. It had giant claws and its three eye stalks were monstrous. It was the great Crab as he had imagined him as a child. The eyes came down to face his. He bowed down and groveled at the deity before him.
"Oh, get up Zoidberg," the voice commanded exasperatedly. "I want you to pay attention."
He looked up and stared into the eyes. They glowed with power. But somewhere, a nagging little voice inside him was wondering why the great Crab had three eyes. The Great Crab smiled at him and said, "Good. Now we're getting somewhere. I've only been trying to get you to listen for the last three days."
"What are you?" he asked hesitantly.
"Don't you know?" the voice said and he was sure there was humor in its tone. He shook his head.
"I don't think you are the great Crab," he said with more confidence. "Perhaps you are a trick of my mind. I'm insane, aren't I?'
The voice smiled as it dwindled and became a small dark shape again. "You were insane. The abuse you endured and your own nature drove you to it. I've come to bring you back."
"Bring me back," he asked in disbelief. "What for? I've lived over two hundred years. I'm ready to go. Let me die."
The voice laughed. A friendly and kind laugh, he thought. The kind the professor used to laugh before the drug took over his life. He looked at the darkness and felt the compassion it had for him.
"Ah, Zoidberg," the voice said merrily, 'only two hundred years? A mere blink of the eye. Your species can live to nearly six hundred years. You have much life still ahead of you."
"I don't want anymore life," he said tiredly. "I've failed at everything I've ever done. Failed as a son. Failed as a businessman. Failed as a doctor. And failed as a spy. I couldn't even save Fry. Leave me in peace. Let me go." He turned away and wept.
The voice came closer. It was full of kindness now. "Doctor Zoidberg, you have not failed. Your action at the farm may have saved your young friends. You still have a part to play; a vital important part. You must come back."
He thought about the words. He turned and looked up towards the dark shape's head. "Why should I come back? Get someone else to be your pawn. I'm through with the game." He rolled over and closed his eyes.
The voice would not let him go yet. "No, Doctor Zoidberg. Your time has not come. You will sleep now and when you wake, you will remember your name. You have a part yet to play. And in the end, you may find something you did not expect."
It laughed as if the thought brought it happiness. "You will need to go to Eternia. Remember that when you wake. You will need to go to Eternia. Remember, Doctor Zoidberg, Eternia."
He laughed harshly, "Eternia? What would I do on Eternia?"
The voice said quietly, "Help the humans."
"Help them to do what?"
"Oh, you'll figure it out," the voice said gaily. He felt something touch his head. The voice laughed again. "Just get there."
Angry now at its merriment, he spat over his shoulder. "How am I supposed to do that, oh great one?"
The voice began chuckling. In an amused tone, it said, "Why the humans will take you there, of course."
"And why should they do that?" he asked in a sarcastic tone.
"Because you will tell them to." The voice said softly.
Feeling as if he was being mocked, Zoidberg turned towards the voice to curse it. But the voice was not there and he saw only a sea of darkness. Zoidberg fell into it and was lost to time and space. His last thought was of the two glowing orbs shining at him.
DOOP Pentagon, New Washington -
Grayson sat in Abrams' office watching as Megan Kaijioke laid out the plan to deal with reinforcing Greendale. It was risky but he could see Abrams had come to the same conclusion.
"So, we'll rob Peter to pay Paul?" Abrams asked. Kaijioke looked blankly at him. She was Earthican born and the religious quotes went over her head.
Grayson smiled and offered, "Taking from one hand to help the other?"
Kaijioke looked embarrassed and nodded. "Yes, sir. We'll take ships from both the Home Fleet and Admiral Scott. Scott will give up nearly half of his ships but we're gambling that stopping the Persae at Greendale will keep the Tencteri and Decapodians neutral. It doesn't leave us much in reserve."
Abrams grinned. Grayson could see he was enjoying himself. Abrams liked teasing Kaijioke who was a very attractive but exceptionally serious woman. He saw that Kaijioke realized she was being teased which made her blush a lovely shade of crimson.
Abrams gave a loud guffaw which everyone in the room joined in with. Even Kaijioke smiled. After the laughter died off, Abrams asked Kaijioke about the resupply effort for Da Nang. On firmer ground, Megan said, "The first fast convoy is on its way. It should reach Da Nang in three days. It's risky but we think we'll catch the enemy by surprise."
DOOP Naval Transport Roger Young -
Fry sat watching the other men playing craps on the floor. He'd already lost all of the money he had and learned that it was too fast paced a game for him. Everyone was shouting and throwing money and insults around. Fry found it exciting to watch. The announcement that they were leaving that night had everyone in a good mood. Contributing to the cheer was the alcohol that the Navy men distilled in the engine room and sold to the soldiers. Fry had kicked in to help buy a couple of bottles for his berthing compartment. There wasn't enough to get everyone drunk and it tasted like refined gasoline but it was booze and it made the men happy. The berthing sergeant had told them to have their party but to be sober before they made the run to Da Nang or Moscewicz would have them in the waste processors for life.
As soon as they had left Maug, Colonel Moscewicz cancelled all training, watches and cleanup duty beyond berthing. He told them to get as much sleep as possible.
Fire Support Base Aberdeen, Da Nang -
The major looked at the auburn haired SEAL team leader standing in front of him with unease. She was smiling at him and had been since he had met her. He figured she was enjoying his discomfort. After the initial shock of finding out that his support unit was a Navy SEAL team instead of Army Special Forces had worn off; the fact that it was a led by a female had come as an even more distressing idea. He stared at the young woman and thought, "Come on, Bert! Get over your bass ackward ways. If the SEALs think she's good enough, then so should you. You do work with a female robot."
"Okay, Lieutenant Dafemme, have a seat." She sat down as did the burly chief who was with her. Smith thought she was very attractive despite the short hair and the camouflage uniform that everyone on Da Nang wore. Both the chief and she carried large automatic pistols and several knives. Armed to teeth as she was, there was an unreal air about her, he observed.
"The glasses," he thought, "make her look like some college student dressed up for Halloween."
"I assume you've not briefed at all?" he asked.
"Call me Jess. Everyone does." She said with a smile. "And no, we haven't been told a damn thing except that we're working for you now. We were running recons up north for the Guards when they pulled us for this. You want to tell Chief Tamiko and me what we're doing here?"
"Lieutenant," the major said, determined not to be charmed by her although he could feel himself taking a liking to her, "my mission is to do a long range recon into the Ashowa valley. Your job is to get me to the foot of Myksho Ridge."
"Sweet Zombie Jesus!" The chief exploded. "Is this a suicide mission? That place is crawling with bugs."
"What the chief is trying to say, Major, is that Ashowa is a major bug concentration area. The Navy drops a few missiles onto it occasionally but most of their effort goes towards blasting potential kamikaze sites. It's a rather difficult area to get to and there will be river crossing as well," Jess said.
Smith shrugged. "The maps don't show the Lethe as a problem."
Both of the SEALs laughed. Jess shook her head. "Sorry Major. But the maps aren't that accurate. The Lethe is over two hundred yards wide and fairly deep. The bugs have fortified all the crossing points so you will have to cross at one of the wider parts. Coming down out of the northern Mykshos, the Lethe is a fairly rapid river too. It will very difficult to cross especially for the robot."
Smith looked surprised. But then he frowned and said, "Any obstacle can be overcome. And you let me worry about Rand."
Jess and Tamiko looked at each other and then back at the major. He grinned as he saw that they'd pegged him as some macho commando type who could get them killed.
He said tonelessly, "Evidently IV Corps has decided that you are the most qualified to support me on this mission. Your job is to quickly train Rand and me up and insert us as close as possible to Myksho. Then you wait until we're ready to come out and provide cover for our exit. That's essentially the mission parameters. Questions?"
"We've done a few ops towards the Myksho area…" began Jess.
"And everyone of 'em was hairy," the chief snarled.
Jess frowned at the chief who looked stubbornly unrepentant. She turned back to the major and said, "We shouldn't have a problem getting you to the river but why the robot? Robots can't function here. Is it some new model? Is the army going to used shielded robots here? They'd sure come in handy."
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that beyond saying Rand isn't army. You got a problem working with Rand?"
Jess shook her head and said, "We navy types work a lot more with robots than the army does, so that won't be a problem. I just hope you ain't too regular army cause we in the teams aren't all that up on the REMF BS. My guys don't look and act like the regs say. Don't expect any saluting either. Draws snipers."
Smith smiled and rubbed his neck. "Lieutenant, I don't give a damn what your team looks like as long as they can do their job when the time comes."
Jess grinned back, "Major, that's one thing you can count on."
DOOP Naval Vessel Nimbus -
Kif watched as the Gareth convoy came under Task Force Brannigan's protection. The Nimbus was too slow to go with this convoy so Kif had ensured that it was sitting far ahead towards the Da Nang Oort Cloud. The Nimbus' sensors were sweeping the area at full power to ensure that no raiders were present. The other ships of the Task Force were taking their positions to escort the convoy which consisted of one troop transport and four supply transports. At the rate of speed they were moving, they'd be at Da Nang IV in less than four hours.
"Must be a really special convoy," said Lieutenant Hanson from his weapons board. "It must be carrying something important for them to risk this sort of thing."
Kif shook his head. "No, this is part of the new effort to ensure Da Nang is fully supplied. It isn't a good sign."
"Why's that, sir?" Hanson asked. Kif looked about at the bridge crew. Everyone was concentrating on their jobs but Kif knew they were all listening to hear what he was about to say.
"It means that war with the Persae is getting close," Kif said feeling a sudden touch of sadness at the realization that if the war came, Brannigan would go back to running the Nimbus. Kif was enjoying being the captain. He had proven Major Smith wrong about his leadership qualities or perhaps the major had inspired him to do better. However, he was sure there was no way that Admiral Tsing would let Brannigan head a task force during the war.
He looked at the threat board and it showed green. Looks like his idea of moving the Nimbus up first was working. Its more powerful sensors might not spot the raiders but, by using them at full and active mode, they might be scrambling the Persae search sensors as well. At least, that was Kif's hope. Only time would tell if he was right.
DOOP Naval Transport Roger Young -
Everyone had been excited at the prospect of getting to Da Nang if only to get off the Young. That excitement gave way to fear when the Young went to General Quarters upon entering the Da Nang system. All of the troopers had to get their gear and get in the landers. If the Young was hit, the landers would be launched. So the soldiers sat in full kit in the belly of the bulky armored landers and waited. Fry looked about at the men around him. Everyone was putting on a show of being cool but Fry was certain that they were just as scared as he was.
They sat for what liked seemed hours but when Fry looked at his watch, only thirty minutes had passed. Suddenly the lander shuddered. A klaxon sounded. Everyone looked around and began talking at once. The young lieutenant with them looked just plain scared. A grizzled old first sergeant heading for a second tour bellowed for quiet. Everyone shut up and stared wide eyed at each other. Another shudder and the pilot came on the speaker.
"Command has directed us to prep for launch. Before we do, we're going to open the hatch to take on some people so you'll need to make some room," she said in a calm voice.
The sergeant looked at the paralyzed troopers and shouted, "Make some holes, rookies. We're taking on some more riders." He turned and whispered to the young lieutenant who turned very pale and bent over to throw up onto the floor. The men around him started cursing and the sergeant just shook his head with a look of mild disgust.
The lander door opened and people began rushing in. Most of them were sailors but Lt. Colonel Moscewicz was among them. They crammed in amongst the scared young troopers. Moscewicz sat down next to Fry. The pilot came on the speaker again to announce they were launching in two minutes. Other men began to vomit. The lander began to stink badly. There was a lot of cursing and yelling. The klaxon continued to sound.
The sergeant bellowed a command to shut up and strap in. Terrified, everyone did their best and the sailors simply linked arms with the men next to them. Moscewicz put his arm through Fry's.
Fry looked at him and saw that he was calm which helped Fry who felt an urgent need to go to the bathroom. He said, "Colonel, what's happening?"
Moscewicz stared straight ahead and said quietly, "The Young's been hit. We've been ordered to abandon ship. Looks like I get to pay Da Nang another visit."
Fry gulped and said, "Will we make it?"
Moscewicz gave a grim smile. "Only time and God will tell, son."
Fry grabbed his strap and held on tightly. He said a quick prayer and asked God to watch over Leela. He gave a gasp as the lander lurched out of the Young. There was a huge explosion and the lander began to tumble.