Part Two: Deep Space, June 5th, 3002
“… and that’s why I changed from pink fingernail polish to yellow fingernail polish.”
“Uh-huh.” Leela just kept staring out the front viewport, completely lost in her thoughts. Amy got up from her seat at navigation and waved a hand in front of the cyclops’ face to make sure she was even awake.
“Uhh, Leela? Are you ok?”
Leela reacted as though she’d been shocked. “Huh, what? What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
Amy cocked her head. “Uhh, no, but I was starting to get a little worried. I just told a fifteen-minute story about fingernail polish and you didn’t even roll your eye once. I wanted to make sure you were alright.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Leela said, forcing a weak smile. “I was just thinking. I guess I kinda got lost in my head.”
“You were thinking about Fry again, weren’t you?” Amy asked as she sat back down in her seat by the communications gear.
“Yeah.” Leela admitted. “I mean, I know it’s not a coincidence that Planet Express has been three times as profitable since he got fired a month ago, but for some reason I just don’t like my job anymore, even with the raise that Hermes gave us.”
“You like him, don’t you?” The intern asked, smirking slightly.
“W-what?” Leela stammered. “No! What on Space Earth gave you that idea?”
Surprised by her Captain’s outburst, Amy said, “Well you know, you two spent so much time together, I just figured…” She shrugged.
Leela shook her head. “No, it was never like that. I mean, we had a couple of moments. Like on the Titanic right before it got sucked into that black hole, but nothing serious. Besides, I don’t think it matters much anymore.”
“What do you mean?”
Leela hesitated. She had told her coworkers that Fry wasn’t going to be coming back to Planet Express, but she hadn’t mentioned the fight that she had had with the delivery boy. She hadn’t even explained why Fry hadn’t contacted anyone but her after he had been tossed overboard, or even told anyone that she knew where he was. Her coworkers suspected that she knew more than she was telling, but as yet none of them had pushed her on the subject. After storming out of Fry’s apartment she had had a long walk home in the rain in which to cool off. By the time she’d gotten back to her apartment her anger had subsided somewhat, and she’d even felt a pang of regret. But then her mental defenses, honed by years of continuous emotional bombardment from society’s cruel prejudices, snapped firmly into place against the pain that Fry had caused her. From that point onward she’d attempted to think of the delivery boy as little as possible.
“Well…” Leela began, reluctantly deciding that Amy had the right to know, regardless of how uncomfortable it was to talk about.
Amy waited expectantly while Leela gathered her thoughts, the autopilot beeping softly in the background.
“I talked to Fry after he disappeared. Face-to-face, I mean.” Leela managed at last.
Amy looked surprised. “But you said he just left a note at your apartment saying he wasn’t coming back.”
“I know. I don’t know why I lied. Fry and I had a fight. A big one. I found out where he was living and went to have a talk with him. He got so angry with me that he told me to leave, and I don’t think he’ll ever speak to me again.”
“What?!” The intern was shocked. “Fry threw you out of his apartment?! That’s so out of character for him! He must have been really angry at you.”
Leela gave the intern a pained expression. “He found out that Bender and I secretly tried to get our jobs back without him. We knew we had a better shot at getting Farnsworth to rehire us if Fry wasn’t around, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Now he thinks that everyone stabbed him in the back, like we all just wanted to take advantage of him.”
“Oh.” Amy said. “well that’s too ba-“
But Leela wasn’t finished. Her eye narrowed, and her grip tightened on the steering wheel. “I tried to explain that I was just trying to keep from hurting him, but would he listen? No. But then, he never does, does he? Everything he does is so… reckless! Drinking that Trisolarian Emperor, locking himself in a freezer tube with that crazy ex-girlfriend of his, trying to sell his lungs, and now this! Instead of listening to me, he decides to abandon everyone that cares about him and start over.”
Hesitantly, Amy tried to offer a few words in Fry’s defense. “Spleesh, Leela. He’s not that bad. He means well. And anyway, if he wasn’t so reckless he wouldn’t have come to the future at all, and you’d still be stuck in that job that you always say you hated so much.”
The harsh look on Leela’s face softened slightly.
“Besides,” Amy added cautiously, “doesn’t he have a point? We did kinda take him for granted. Remember how on each delivery we used to fly a quarter mile farther away from the place where Fry had to deliver the package, just to see how far he’d walk before he started to catch on? We haven’t exactly been very nice to him, especially Bender. And then you went and did something that made him feel betrayed-“
“Betrayed?!” Leela growled, real anger flashing in her eye. “What right does he have to feel betrayed? It’s because of him that I lost my job in the first place. Farnsworth fired me because Bender and Fry stole the ship. I mean, what the hell? How can I get canned for someone else’s blunder? But did Fry stand up for me? No. He let me take the fall with him, as if it was all a big joke. I mean, I expect that kind of crap from Bender, but I thought Fry and I were friends. Fry betrayed me, not the other way around!”
Amy’s response was a tiny, intimidated squeak. “Oh.” She said. The bridge fell into silence, a silence that the intern was too scared to break until the ship reached its destination.
Two tense hours later, the Planet Express Ship glided into the atmosphere of a small terrestrial world. The planet was smaller and less massive than Earth, but what it lacked in stature it made up for in sheer beauty. The brilliant blue light from the nearby star shone down on clouds of carbon dioxide and water vapor. Oceans covered nearly half of the planet’s surface, with all of the dry land contained in a single gigantic continent. At the landmass’s center was a bleak, wind-swept desert, but the continent’s edge was tinted green and purple by what looked like vegetation. Leela brought the ship in low through a valley between two snow-capped mountain ranges. The peaks, able to grow to dizzying heights in the weak gravity, easily reached 40,000 feet.
After a few minutes, the valley began to widen, and the mountains became rolling hills. The Planet Express Ship was soon flying over a flat, featureless plain. Leela set the ship down near the coordinates that she had been given and removed the keys from the ignition. As the ship’s engines powered down, Bender came walking in through the hatch, holding the package under one arm.
“Hey chumps. Are we there yet?” Asked the robot.
Leela glanced at the robot and then out the viewport. The PE Ship was resting in the middle of a sprawling plain. Rather than grass, the ground was covered in something that looked like purple moss. The tops of distant mountains could just be seen, their bases hidden by the curve of the planet. There was no sign of civilization anywhere. She frowned. “Yeah, we’re here alright, wherever here is. The Professor was pretty cryptic about this mission; all he gave me was a set of galactic coordinates for the planet and a latitude and longitude to land at. He wouldn’t even tell me what’s in the package that we’re delivering.”
“Did he at least tell you where we’re supposed to deliver it once we landed?” Amy asked.
Leela shook her head. “No. I figured that it would be obvious once we landed. But I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t see anybody around.”
“Maybe we’re in the wrong place?” Bender offered. “No offense, but you know what they say about human drivers.”
The two humans ignored him. “Should we call the Professor, you know, to make sure he gave us the right coordinates?” Amy asked.
After thinking for a second, Leela took the package from Bender. She showed the intern the shipping label, which had the coordinates of its destination marked on it in clear black ink. Hermes’ red stamp sat squarely in the middle of the label. Everyone present knew that no shipping label, pay stub, or miscellaneous document bearing the Jamaican’s seal of approval would contain an error capable of being overlooked by his zealous bureaucratic scrutiny.
Amy was obviously a bit perplexed. “Huh. Well then what do we do now?”
“Well, since Hermes probably didn’t give us bad information, we can probably assume that there’s people around here somewhere. We just can’t see them from here for some reason. Maybe they live underground like on Subterra IV. I think the best thing to do is to head outside and look around. Maybe we’ll find something that will tell us which way we should go.”
Amy, Bender, and Leela stood at the airlock. The Martian intern had the package, since she was technically the new delivery girl. Leela pressed the button that would open the inner hatch, and the three of them squeezed into the uncomfortably small space. When Bender hit the button that would cycle the lock, a red light began to flash and a buzzer sounded three times. Surprised, and a little irritated, Leela pushed Bender’s hand out of the way and pressed the button. Again there was a red light followed by the buzzer.
“Hey guys?” Bender and Leela awkwardly turned to face the intern in the cramped compartment. “There’s a message on this screen thingy over here.” Amy continued. “It says that the atmosphere is toxic. The ship won’t let us outside unless we have suits on.”
“What, really?” Leela asked, genuinely surprised. “We’ve never delivered to a planet with a non-breathable atmosphere before. Why wouldn’t Hermes have mentioned that?” Not that it really mattered. Besides, she thought, it shouldn’t be a surprise. Not every planet in the universe has been terraformed to human standards.
The two humans and the robot clambered out of the airlock, and as Bender waited impatiently, Leela went and fetched two spacesuits. In a matter of moments the three of them were back in the airlock. This time, when Leela pressed the ‘cycle’ button there was the hiss of the airlock’s atmosphere being drawn into the ship, and another hiss as air from outside was allowed in. When the interior and exterior pressures reached equilibrium the outer hatch swung open, and the trio walked down the ramp to the planet’s surface.
The purple ground under Leela’s feet felt soft and spongy. Curious, the PE Captain bent down and grabbed a handful of the mossy purple stuff that coated the ground as far as the eye could see. It came free of the ground with a soft sucking noise that was barely audible through Leela’s helmet. She held the moss up to her face and looked closely at it. It was only a shade or two darker than her hair and looked like the foam that was stuffed into cheap mattresses. After a few moments, the stuff started to squirm in Leela’s gloved hand. The PE Captain dropped it, grossed out more than she cared to admit.
When Leela looked up, Bender and Amy were a few dozen meters ahead. When they realized that she had fallen behind they stopped and waited for her to catch up.
“Everything ok?” Amy asked.
“Yeah, fine.” Leela replied, and motioned for her two friends to keep walking.
For what seemed like hours Leela and her two companions searched the countryside for some clue that there was sentient life nearby. Leela led the way while Amy, who was not used to long distance hiking, fought doggedly to keep up. Bender took up the rear, caught between a need to whine about being forced to work so hard and a desire to flout his robotic superiority. The going was rough. Walking on the moss was like walking through deep snow. Leela kept sinking into the stuff up to her shins, and she had a hard time keeping her balance. Worst of all, every time she lifted her feet the moss seemed to pull at her spacesuit’s boot as if there was some kind of suction. Eventually, Leela was too tired and frustrated to continue.
“That’s it.” She said between panting intakes of breath. Bender and Amy stopped beside their Captain, glad for the rest. “There’s nobody here. Let’s get back to the ship. Maybe if we fly around for awhile we’ll see something. If not, then screw it. We’ll go home and Hermes can deliver the package himself.”
Amy nodded, too exhausted for words. The intern, panting hard, handed the package to bender and sat down on the soft ground. Bender stuffed the small box in his chest cabinet and then turned away. He froze.
“Umm, meatbags?” Bender asked with uncharacteristic alarm.
Leela turned to face him. “Yes, Bender?”
“Uhh, what color was our spaceship when we left?”
Leela gave the robot an odd look. “Umm. Green? The color that it’s always been?”
Bender pointed off in the direction of the ship. It was a lot farther away than Leela had realized. Distance was hard to measure on the flat, featureless plain, but it looked they had wandered a mile at least from the ship. Even at this distance she could clearly see what had caught the bending robot’s attention. The once-green spaceship was now a dark purple, the same color as the moss.
Amy let in a sharp intake of breath, and Leela felt her heart skip a beat. “The ship must be covered with this purple moss stuff!” Amy exclaimed.
“Come on, back to the ship!” Leela ordered, and she began to fight her way through the moss. A moment later there was a loud scream. Leela whirled to face the sound, laser pistol drawn. There was no alien monster, just Bender standing idly with his arms crossed and Amy sitting cross-legged in the moss. There was a look of panic on the intern’s face.
“Leela, it’s got me!” She cried. As Leela watched, horrified, Amy tried unsuccessfully to dislodge herself from the purple moss. A thin film of the stuff was starting to crawl its way up the sides of her spacesuit.
“Bender, help me get her free!” Leela yelled. Bender, obviously reluctant to do any more work than was absolutely necessary, only budged when the PE Captain shot him her most dangerous glare. Leela grabbed Amy’s left arm while Bender grabbed her right.
“Ok, on the count of three, pull! One. Two… Three!” Amy’s bottom came free of the moss with a loud pop. Unfortunately, Bender had pulled a little too hard, and Amy’s suited figure went sailing through the air. She hit Bender square in the chest and knocked the robot backward. The two of them landed in a heap. Leela, who was still gripping Amy’s arm, lost her balance and felt her feet leave the ground. Suddenly she was also lying flat out on the ground. The PE Captain tried to get up, but something held her in place. A thin sheet of purple started to climb the edge of her helmet.
“Damn. I can’t move. The moss is holding me down. Are you guys alright?”
Amy and Bender both assured her that they were. Unfortunately, they were also both stuck.
The moss began to creep its way up Leela’s helmet, until she was completely encased in it. All she could see was a dull purple glow. Whether she was seeing dim sunlight or whether the moss was somehow weakly fluorescent, the PE Captain had no idea. Amy and Bender were silent. Leela had tried to keep up a conversation with them so as to keep up morale, but she’d quickly run out of encouraging things to say. She also knew that they expected her to be the one that got them out of this, and so she had spent the last few minutes thinking. She went over their situation one more time, trying to find anything that they could use to their advantage.
“Let’s see. I could probably reach the autopilot on communicator, but the ship might be just as stuck as we are. Besides, even if the ship lands two feet away it won’t do us any good if we can’t move. She’d already asked Bender if he had something that could cut or burn its way through the moss. The robot listed off at least half a dozen different tools that he had that might do the trick. Unfortunately they were all in his chest cabinet, which the moss was currently preventing him from opening. Leela had a knife strapped to her leg and the laser pistol at her waist, but she wasn’t even able to move her hand enough to reach them. For the tenth time she cursed herself for holstering her weapon before helping Amy, and not reacting quickly enough to grab the gun when she had first fallen.
As far as the PE Captain could discern, they had no options. But that was unacceptable. There had to be some way out of this. She was damned well not going to die at the hands of some stupid alien plant. She had to think of a way out of this, and she had to do it fast. The layer of moss collecting around her was growing thicker by the minute. Every minute she delayed was one minute closer to the moment when the suit would become her tomb.
“Hey meatsack, think you could over clock your CPU for a minute and find a way out of here? You know, before I die of boredom?”
Leela ignored the robot. She had been stuck in the moss for two hours now. Her legs were cramped, and her right cheek was sore from being pressed up against the side of her suit’s faceplate. It was maddening to be held prisoner like this. She desperately wanted to pound her fist into something, but no matter how hard she tried she couldn’t make the suit’s arm budge an inch. How the moss could be so soft when she walked on it and yet so completely unyielding when she was laying in it, she had no idea.
Frustrated, but not yet giving up hope, Leela mentally reviewed her options yet again. Could they somehow cut themselves loose? The answer was still a disappointing no. In order to do that, one of them would have to be able to move an arm. Maybe the moss would let go of them if they inflicted enough pain on it. How about shocking it somehow? Not likely. Both of the spacesuits were heavily insulated, and Bender couldn’t risk using himself as a ground without potentially frying his circuitry. What about burning?
Leela sighed. Nope, no way- hey, hold on a minute. “Wait. That’s it! Bender, I need you to give us the biggest flaming burp you can come up with.”
The bending robot was delighted. “You got it, big boots!” He then proceeded to let out a mighty belch. The moment a lick of flame touched the amorphous purple moss that had collected around the robot’s mouth, it started to sizzle. Nothing else happened.
Amy’s anxious voice floated into Leela’s ears over the suit radio. “Well guys? Did it work?”
“N-” Leela began, but then there was a brilliant flash of white followed by a noise like two planets colliding. The two humans and the robot were flung into the air like rag dolls. Or at least, Leela thought it was the air. It looked more like she was tumbling through the interior of the sun. All she could see was a wall of light. The heat was so intense that she could actually feel a little warmth through the high-tech fabric of her spacesuit. Even with her visor at full opacity, the glare was enough to make her eye water. Abruptly, her flight ended in a collision with the ground that took the breath out of her. She bounced once and then rolled a few meters before coming to rest on her back. Stunned, she could only stare blankly as the light turned from white to orange, then to red, and finally to black. She just stared up into the sky, completely unable to function. Time passed. Maybe it was a few seconds, maybe a few hours.
A savage blow to the side of her helmet finally broke her out of her daze. She blinked and labored to get her eye to focus again. The hazy gray blob that stood over her finally coalesced into Bender, apparently unharmed, idly smoking a cigar while looking at her curiously.
“You alright?” Bender asked, making it clear in his tone that he didn’t really care one way or the other.
“Yeah, I’m-” Wait a minute… Leela thought. Smoking a cigar? The PE Captain bolted to her feet in a wave of adrenaline and snatched the Zuban from the robot. She pressed it into her gloved hand until it smoked and died. Then she whirled on her mechanical friend. “What the hell are you doing?! Are you trying to set off another explosion?!”
Bender made no attempt to hide his disdain. “Uh, look around, meatsack. It doesn’t take a genius like me, Bender, to see that there’s nothing left to explode.”
For the first time, Leela actually looked at her surroundings. The landscape wasn’t quite the same as she remembered. A light rain of soot fell from brooding clouds of grey ash.
The purple moss was gone, replaced by a black plain of scorched rock. A thick haze of smoke cast everything in a dim murk. Leela bent down and brushed away a thin coating of ash. The rock underneath was smooth as glass, which was exactly what it was. The fireball that Bender had set off had been hot enough to flash-melt solid rock.
“Well, looks like you really screwed this one up,” Bender said brightly in the background.
Leela stood and turned to face him, putting her hands on her hips. “Hey, now hold on a minute. This wasn’t my fault. How was I supposed to know that purple alien moss is as explosive as dark matter oil?”
The robot shrugged and a layer of ash that had accumulated on his shoulders cascaded to the ground. “Beats me. But Fry isn’t here so we can’t blame him, and we certainly aren’t going to blame me, Bender. That leaves you or Amy, and since Amy’s dying…” The bending robot trailed off.
“What?!” Leela grabbed the robot by what probably counted as his neck. “Why the hell didn’t you say something?! Where is she?!”
Bender regarded his Captain for a full three picoseconds before his processor decided that the threat of bodily harm was high enough to activate his self-preservation program. His CPU immediately ceased running in its default ‘wiseass’ mode and executed an emergency ‘whiny coward’ subroutine. “Over there.” He squeaked, and pointed in the direction of a small boulder.
Leela looked closer. No, not a boulder. A body! “Amy!”
The PE Captain ran the few dozen meters to her fallen crewwoman and dropped down beside her. Amy was lying splayed out on her stomach. She wasn’t moving. Leela grabbed hold of the right arm of the intern’s charred spacesuit, meaning to roll her over. She was cut short by a piercing scream that came blasting in over the suit radio, followed by a string of rapid-fire Cantonese curses. The PE Captain let out a breath that she hadn’t known she was holding.
“Amy, are you all right?” Leela asked.
The cursing died away. “Yeah, I think so.” The intern said. “I must have been knocked unconscious when I hit the ground. I woke up when you yanked on my arm. It hurt like a-” The last word was in a language that Leela didn’t speak. “I think my arm’s broken.”
“We’ll get that patched up when we get back to the ship. Do you think you can stand?”
Amy nodded, and Leela helped her as she unsteadily got to her feet. At that moment Bender sauntered up to the group.
Leela looked at her two subordinates in turn. Amy was injured, in pain, and probably in shock. Bender was, well, Bender. Nothing ever seemed to affect him the way it ought to, emotionally or physically. Regardless, Leela knew that it was time for her to take charge.
“Alright. The first thing is to get back to the ship. Bender, when we’re there I want you to get the ship ready for takeoff while I take care of Amy.” She turned to the intern, her face set in the familiar look of command. “Amy, are you set to walk?”
The intern nodded.
“OK, good.” Leela pressed some buttons on the computer that she wore on her wrist and squinted to see the dim screen. “According to my wristo-whatsit, the ship is that way.” She pointed off over Bender’s shoulder.
Bender made a grand show of stepping aside to let Leela pass. “Meatbags first” He said, gesturing.
Leela rolled her eye at the robot and started to march into the gloom. Her two companions followed close behind.
Without the moss to slow them down, it only took a few minutes to get back to the ship. The Planet Express Ship seemed to have been unaffected by the firestorm that had engulfed it a short while earlier. The purple moss that had covered it had all been reduced to a fine ash that settled around the vessel’s landing skids. Its bright greens and reds stood out in sharp contrast to the grays and dark browns of the surrounding landscape. Leela had expected the ship to survive- it had been designed to handle the fires of re-entry, after all- but she still felt a wave of relief wash over her when the airlock light turned green and a hatch opened to welcome them aboard.
Leela removed her spacesuit and helped Amy out of hers. When Amy finally got a chance to look at her right arm, her face went green. The flesh was bruised and swollen, and the arm itself hung at an unnatural angle.
Bender’s eyes zoomed in on the wound. “Neat!” He said, and began rummaging around in his chest cabinet. He first pulled out the package, which had managed to survive intact inside the robot’s metal body. Making an irritated noise, Bender dropped the box and continued to dig for what he was looking for. His hand finally reappeared with a digital camera. He snapped a picture of Amy’s broken arm and the camera disappeared back into his chest.
Leela bent down to examine the wound. “Don’t worry.” Leela said in her most reassuring voice. Straightening, she smiled at the intern and said “One of the Professor’s nannite suppositories will fix that right up. I’ll go get you one from sickbay.”
Amy nodded, and Leela walked off into the depths of the ship. Bender, now bored, wandered toward the bridge, leaving Amy alone by the hatch. The intern leaned against the hull and waited, closing her eyes against the throbbing pain in her arm. Luckily, Leela was only gone for a minute or two.
Upon opening her eyes, Amy discovered that Leela was standing right in front of her. The intern hadn’t even heard her approach.
“Huh? Oh, right.” With her left hand, Amy accepted the pill-shaped object that Leela held out to her. She knew, of course, that it wasn’t a pill. The Professor didn’t believe in them for some reason. “Thanks” she said.
“No problem.” Leela assured her. “Meet me on the bridge when you’re finished, uhh, taking your medicine. Ok?”
Amy winced, then nodded.
Leela had a few minutes to think while the nannites in Amy’s blood healed her arm. While she paced up and down the length of the bridge, Bender sat on the couch and smoked a cigar, his boredom simulator executing an endless loop.
When Amy appeared, she was carrying the package under her right arm. Leela stopped pacing. “Feeling better?” She asked.
“Much better.” Amy replied. She handed the package to Leela. “What are we going to do with this thing?” She asked.
Bender, sensing that he was in danger of being forced to do more work, spoke up before Leela had the chance to respond. “Easy. We toss it out the airlock and say we delivered it. Then we say the planet mysteriously caught on fire shortly after we left.”
Leela looked troubled. “We just destroyed everything for as far as the eye can see. There might be animals- or even people- out there that are injured and need our help.”
“I don’t know, Leela.” Amy replied. “We walked all around and didn’t see any people, and the only animal, or well, whatever it was, that we saw was that moss stuff.”
“Yeah, and the longer we stick around here feeling sorry for the furry animals that Leela probably just brutally murdered-” The look that Leela aimed at the robot would have killed most organic life. “ –the more likely it is that somebody will show up and put our asses in prison. There’s only one sensible thing to do.” He paused for dramatic effect. “Cheese it!”
It didn’t feel right to just leave, or, for that matter, to listen to Bender’s advice, but the truth was that the planet had seemed deserted, and there was little chance of finding anyone or anything that needed help in the smoke-clogged plain. Leela reached a decision.
“Alright. Let’s get out of here.” Promising herself that she would notify the DOOP of the accident when she got home, the PE Captain sat down in her chair and began to power up the ship. The engines throttled up smoothly, and Leela put the ship into gear and pushed the throttle forward. There was a mighty roar as the dark matter engines came to life, and the PE Ship… didn’t go anywhere.
“What the hell?” Leela checked her instruments. Everything looked nominal. More confused than worried, the PE Captain shoved the throttle up all the way. The spaceship began to vibrate somewhat, but still remained anchored to the ground. Leela cursed.
“Uhh, Leela?” Amy called from tactical.
“Just a moment, Amy.” Leela replied distractedly.
But the intern was insistent. “Leela, I think you should see this.”
Leela finally caught the worry in the intern’s voice. She looked up from her console and saw that Amy was looking at something through the side viewport. After throttling down and putting the ship back in neutral, Leela got up from her chair and went to stand next to the intern. There was an enormous, white spaceship descending overhead.
There was a hiss of static. Leela turned to see an image of a young man dressed in a smart-looking grey uniform glaring at her from a video screen. The PE Captain recognized the lanky, balding figure immediately.
“Who’s in command?” The face demanded.
“I am.” Leela addressed the monitor. “My name is Turanga Leela, Captain of the Planet Express delivery ship.” She paused, giving herself time to plan her next words. “We were involved in an accident, and we are having trouble with our engines. We could use some assistance”
“Ah yes, Captain Leela. I remember you from that whole affair with the robots. My name is Walt, but you already know that. There is nothing wrong with your engines; your ship is just caught in my suck ray. Your vessel is being confiscated, and you are all now property of Momcorp, Ltd.” Walt broke the connection.
Leela blinked a couple of times while the meaning of Walt’s last words sank into her head. The groan of protesting metal resounded through the PE Ship, and the ground began to slowly recede from the viewports.
The PE Captain dashed for her console and threw the ship into gear, pushing the throttle to emergency thrust. The ship began to shake violently as its engines fought the invisible grasp of the suck ray. It was no use. As Leela made a valiant, but futile, attempt to wrench her ship free, the suck beam drew it steadily toward the mammoth vessel overhead. An opening appeared in the larger ship’s underside like a mouth, and the PE Ship was swallowed whole.
“Alright. We’re coming out. Nobody shoot.” Leela took a hesitant step down the ship’s embarkation ladder. She stopped for a moment and made a show of putting her hands on her head.
The PE Ship had been pulled through some kind of force field and deposited none too gently on the floor of a cavernous hangar bay. Leela’s eyes swept the compartment. The deck and bulkheads were painted in a crisp white, and the deck was separated into a grid pattern of crisscrossing strips of red, reflective tape. In this manner, the hangar was divided into a six by ten matrix of squares- each approximately 10 meters on a side- so that the hangar harbored a passing resemblance to a tiled floor. Each tile was a parking space, and stubby ships of some sort occupied about half of them. From what Leela could tell, the ships looked slow but heavily armored; they practically bristled with weaponry. There were two dozen or so heavily armed security personnel surrounding the PE Ship. The barrels of two laser turrets glistened in the glare of the harsh overhead lights.
A hatch opened at the far end of the hangar, and three uniformed figures began to stride purposefully in Leela’s direction. The PE Captain recognized them as Walt and his two brothers, whose names she had forgotten.
Walt broke through the circle of guards and strode to the bottom of the Planet Express Ship’s ramp. Clasping his arms behind his back, he waited for Leela to descend. The PE Captain signaled for Amy and Bender to emerge from the relative safety of the airlock, and, letting her arms drop to her sides, she began to walk casually down the ramp, hoping to appear a bit more confident than she felt.
When the PE crew had descended to the hangar deck, Walt finally spoke. “Captain Leela.” He said. “You are under arrest for trespassing on private property, arson, destruction of property, and attempting to flee the scene of a crime. Now hand over the package.” He gestured to the box that Amy had, for some reason, thought it necessary to take with her when she left the ship.
Amy meekly handed over the package, but Leela just crossed her arms. “Uh huh.” The PE Captain said, not buying a word of it. “And where exactly is it written that you have the authority to arrest people?”
Walt and his red-haired brother started to laugh. Larry. That was his name. Leela remembered. And the other one is Ignar.
“What’s so funny?” Leela demanded.
“Money. Money gives us the authority to do whatever we want.” Walter answered.
Larry added: “That’s right. If we want something, we buy it. If we can’t buy it, we steal it.”
“And if we get caught,” Walt continued, smiling wickedly, “we just buy a judge or two, and the problem goes away.” His expression changed, and there was suddenly anger in his voice. “Now march!” He ordered, pointing toward a nearby hatch. With two dozen plasma rifles leveled at them, the PE Crew didn’t have much of a choice but to obey.
Amy, Bender and Leela were led through a maze of twisting corridors and turbolifts until they came to a compartment that was obviously a brig. The far end of the room was divided into three smaller rooms, each of which had no door. One of their guards motioned with his plasma rifle for the PE Crew to walk into one of the compartments. When they were inside, the guard hit a button on a small control panel and a translucent yellow force field sprang into existence, sealing the PE Crew inside.
Walt stepped up to the force field. Leela turned to face him. As she stood there, arms crossed, eye narrowed in defiance, she couldn’t help but think he looked like a giant rat.
“You won’t get away with this.” Leela said.
Walt frowned at the threatening note in his adversary’s voice. “We’ll see who gets away with what.” He said in a cool voice. “Now tell me, who hired you to sabotage the nursery?”
Leela blinked once, confused. She and Amy exchanged glances. Bender just stood in the corner, his system on standby, waiting for Leela to do the whole obligatory ass-kicking routine so he could get on with important Bender-related business.
“What do you mean, nursery?” Leela asked cautiously, not sure whether she should be giving away her ignorance.
“Don’t give me that!” Walt snapped. "You know what this planet is, and what the dangers were when you accepted the mission. The unprocessed Moss is only explosive when it is brought into contact with alcohol, and only then when there’s a strong heat source to act as a catalyst. We warned you about this when we hired you, so there’s no way that you managed to accidentally-”
“Wait, you hired us?” Amy interjected. “Doesn’t Momcorp have its own delivery service?”
Walt gave the intern an annoyed look. “Well, yes, mother does own her own delivery company, but the employees kept committing suicide rather than go on a delivery to Cardena.”
“Cardena?” Amy asked.
Walt stared blankly at the Martian for a moment. “That’s the name of this planet.” He said, obviously confused as to how someone who had just made a delivery to a planet could fail to know its name.
“Let me guess,” Leela broke in, “Mom’s employees didn’t like the idea of taking a package to a planet inhabited by carnivorous moss.”
Walt chuckled mirthlessly. “No, they didn’t, so I decided to try another delivery company. The old man I talked to over the videophone said that you would deliver anywhere, regardless of how suicidal it might be, so I paid you to ship the package for me.”
Leela rolled her eye. Thank you, Professor Farnsworth, she thought sarcastically.
“So, what was in the package, anyway?” Bender asked.
“A transmitter.” Walt replied, retrieving the box from one of the guards that flanked him. “You were supposed to land at the coordinates I gave the old man, take the transmitter out of the package, and deploy it right next to your ship.”
Opening the package, Walt removed the tiny transmitter, which had miraculously survived unscathed. The device was shaped somewhat like a can of Slurm mounted on a tiny tripod. When Walt pressed a button on the transmitter’s surface, a gossamer-thin antenna emerged from the top of the device and telescoped outward. The transmitter began to chirp, and to Leela’s surprise, the screen on her wrist computer began to flash red.
“The transmitter was supposed to broadcast a warning on all frequencies to any ship entering the Cardenian System.” Walt explained.
As if on cue, a friendly, synthetic, female voice began to speak out of Leela’s wrist computer. “Warning.” The voice advised. “You are now entering private space. Trespassers will be ‘disappeared’.” There was a few seconds of silence for the meaning of the message to sink in, and then the transmission began to repeat. Walt pressed another button on the transmitter, and the voice fell silent. Leela’s wrist computer switched itself off.
When the transmitter was shut down, Walt turned back to Leela and pointed his finger at her accusingly. “The idea was for you to activate the transmitter and then leave before the Moss started to wonder whether you were edible, or stick around long enough to get eaten. It didn’t really matter. But now the entire crop is destroyed! You’ve cost Momcorp trillions of dollars in profit!”
Amy and Leela winced. “Uhh, sorry?” Leela offered. Bender, bored again, decided to stop paying attention until the violence started.
“I’m afraid an apology isn’t good enough.” Walt said. “Moss is the number one ingredient in 237 products that Momcorp sells. Clothing, mattresses, insulation, paint… It’s even the number one ingredient in crappy foods like Bachelor Chow. It can pretty much be used for anything, once it’s processed so that it isn’t explosive. Without this year’s crop, Momcorp might have to use sawdust instead, and do you have any idea how much more expensive that is?!”
“But we didn’t mean to destroy the crop.” Amy protested. “It tried to eat us, and we accidentally blew it up while we were trying to get away.”
Surprisingly, Walt shrugged. “Maybe it was an accident. It doesn’t really matter. Either way, you’ll all spend the rest of your lives working for Momcorp to repay the company for the damage that you’ve done.”
Amy’s jaw opened wide, and Bender gasped. Leela just glared. “You won’t get away with this.” The PE Captain said. “I’ll break us out of here sooner or later, and when I do, I’m going to kick your ass all the way to Andromeda.”
Walt laughed. “Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Actually, I’m fairly sure you’ll cooperate.” He gestured for one of his guards to bring him something. Four other guards, armed with what looked like stun rays, took up position right in front of the forcefield. Walt took three metal discs, roughly the size of cufflinks, from the first guard. He held them up for the PE Crew to see. “These nasty little devices,” he explained, “are neural suggesters. They will implant themselves in your skulls and attach themselves to your brains with tiny electrodes. Using this controller here-” He pulled a small remote out of his shirt pocket. “-will allow me to effectively control your minds.”
Leela and Amy were speechless. The color had drained from both of their faces. Bender, on the other hand, wasn’t as impressed. “Pfft. Yeah, right. Like you’re actually going to control my brain with that little tiny thing. You’re full of crap, chump.”
Walt’s grin sent a shiver down Leela’s spine. “Oh, it works, I assure you. Here, let me demonstrate.” He gestured to a guard that was beyond Leela’s field of view, and the force field disappeared. The guards with the stunners opened fire before Leela had time to react. The last thing she remembered before losing consciousness was lying on her back, staring up at Walt as he knelt over her, one of the metal discs gleaming menacingly in his hand.