Fan Fiction

Son of the Ashes
By Christina Nordlander

The time and tears went by
And I collected dust
'Cause there were many things I didn't know.
And Daddy went away
He said: "Try to be a man,
And someday you'll understand."

Well, I'm here to tell you now each and every mother's son
You'd better learn it fast, you'd better learn it young
'Cause "someday" never comes.

("Someday Never Comes", Creedence Clearwater Revival)


A long, long, LONG time ago...

But that wouldn't work, would it? If the past is another country, then the 20th century was now ranking up there along with places like Atlantis and Leng and Zimbabwe. Things like centuries, for example, that's something the human mind can grasp. Years are the letter-blocks of the mind, centuries are hefty bricks, but millennia -now, even the word is awe-inspiring- are like the cyclopean blocks that made up those old pyramids below the waist of America. They are dark and intangibly smooth, they gleam in the killing malaria sunlight, and you couldn't wedge a knife-blade between them, though in the case of Aztecs you probably wouldn't want to bet.

If the past is another country, then it is a one girt with concrete walls with barbed wire and ground glass on top, and words like "glorious" and "unconquered" in its national anthem. The skies are blue, between the staring monumental portrait of the great leaders, and the fields are green or, occasionally, red and wet. Behind those walls, feet tight-laced in jackboots move like puppets to the music of the status quo, but, say the signs, NO ONE GETS IN. And, of course, at times some select few get out, so they can tell you how great it was inside. The music was better, for one, the trains went on time, and children respected their elders.

So, a long time ago, in a galaxy not far away at all...

Remember that year? It was the year that was named after one of those scary made-for-TV books, but not "2001: A Space Odyssey" or "Love in the Time of Cholera". The one with the telescreens and the mindless indoctrination beginning already in kindergarten. But that's only in books, of course, not in real life...

This is Earth. This is the USA, or, if you would be grammatically correct, "are". This is Old New York, an asphalt street cracked with dandelions, a tarnished villa with a smooth plush lawn. And a picket fence.

The burly brown-haired man, who claims to have spent five months in a tapeworm-infested tree in Da Nang, is scrambling to stay on the branch of the crooked maple, kicking until his boots dislodge leaves and bark flakes. It is by no means a healthy tree, not after the youngest son's precocious maple-extracting experiments with a power drill. The branch, supposedly the steadiest one, is curving itself gracefully under his weight, but he clings on.

"Now throw me the free end of the rope, Phil!"

The suspender'd ten-year-old, tousled hair the color of molten cheese -a "liberty-head", as his father tends to call him- gets it right on the second try, and actually hits on the fifth. The loose end slaps his father between the eyes, and causes 1) a certainty that the filthy VC pigs got him after all, and 2) a curse which he bites off against his lower lip, because after all, a good American father doesn't damn well use profanity in front of his children. The other end of the rope is tied to a Goodyear tractor tire, with a few dozen yards of convolutions in between.

A knot is made, and the father tests it carefully before giving his son a thumbs-up and tumbling unceremoniously to the ground.

"There ya go, Phil. A tire swing, just like a promised you."

"You're super, Dad!"

"Every boy should have a tire swing, son. I would have made one for your brother, but when I came home from service, he was already too old for one. I just pray that the absence of tire swing influence in his childhood will not cause him to become a homophiliac or a Red."

"I'm sure he won't, Dad."

"It's one of them Freudian things, son. It vitally combines the nurturing female principle with the bloodthirsty male. I did some evening courses on this once."

"I... don't get it, Dad."

"Oh well. Enjoy your swing."

The father stomps off across the new-mown grass, and Phil sits down on the earthbound tire, chewing a flake of bark for any maple-syrupy sensations.

The father does a turnabout.


And his wife, not unlike her son with her orange hair and button-nose, looks up from painting the uniform stretches of picket fence, and strides over to the maple, secateurs in hand, as her husband storms out the gate to shout at Kremlin Joe on the corner.

Little points of light on the grass under the sprinkler. You could imagine they were stars, later, when darkness fell and the lampposts would light them...

Chapter 1: Space, the Final Fronti-ah

Captain's Log. Stardate, er. Has this thing got a calendar or something? Six. We have been scooting, yes, I know it is supposed to be "scouting", Kif, and that is why you are a Leytenant and I am, not to put too fine a point on it, your Captain. Yes, Lieutenant. Where was I? Ah yes. Scouting the Eastern Arm of the galaxy in question for hours, and the filthy lousy Imperials have made no attempt on our life. Truly, even against this frightsome enemy, the way of the DOOP shall prevail did you hear that, Kif? That was the main reactor!

Captain Zapp Brannigan, fearless fleet commander of the Democratic Order of Planets, threw off his headphones, hefted the sleek raygun given to him by his second-in-command, and did a final check on the trigger and the self-destruction button. The Nimbus lurched again, a rickety sort of motion that would have caused him to fall undignifiedly on his posterior, had he not been a man of considerable inertia. (Yes, he observed, Kif was shaking badly. But what else could you expect from such a spineless young thing?) He stood up straight, in spite of the shaking under his feet.

Furry streaks of military-use laser criscrossed the spacey darkness of the monitors, and the Captain winced. He was beginning to have second thoughts about the whole "action" thing, since there were so many things you could do in action, and only one was to prevail. But, apparently, he had to go forth against the Imperial commanders and, if necessary, die defending the scum with which the DOOP had chosen to man his ship. That was something that came with being a fearless commander.

Since certain things also came with being Zapp Brannigan, he made sure to wipe the gun on his well-filled red velour shirt for maximum gloss.

"Well then, Kif, let us go forth and conquer!"

Kif nodded, though only by default, because he quivered as another and more serious hit penetrated the hull. A burnt-rubbery smoke lay heavy in the air, and the alien's frail domed head was blanched from its nice grassy green to almost yellow as he paled with fear. Cowardly, he was, but then, the world needed cowards, just like elephants needed... well, poodles, or pineapples. To stand out amongst. Now, Captain Brannigan pondered, if he took the B8 corridor through the gallery, he might be able to fire a few warning shots and be well into the escape pods by the time the attackers had boarded...

"HULL CRITICAL!" shrieked the tannoy.

"What a relief we're not there, then", Captain Brannigan husked, motioning his Lieutenant towards the sliding doors and standing to the side to let him pass, with uncharacteristic politeness. It always paid to have Kif between himself and any potential danger, and though he was pretty sure the Imperial Cracktroopers had not yet entered the Nimbus, times like now his own men would be as dangerous as the enemy and a lot more hell-bent. Ingrates.

"THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!" came the computerised reply. The Venus Tannoy-zer was programmed to be pleasant and bland, to the point that listening to her was like having milky coffee poured into your ears. But she was stretched to breaking point. Even if the Captain did not follow his ship down, she would. "IMPERIAL CRUISER APPROACHING! COMMENCING BOARDING! BOARDING!" Nothing but white noise, the aural equivalent of snow, for a few seconds, and then, with rather more satisfaction: "Boarding complete."

In the depths of space, grappling hooks slung spinning and entered the proud plating of the Nimbus, hauling it in. Shapes armoured in void-ghost white clambered through...

Captain, fear-frelling-less Captain of the DOOP fleet. He would have to boldly go, against all common sense, towards the distant sounds of screams and blipping rayguns. Was he crazy, or what?

The B8 Corridor was off-limits. Certain little things informed this to the fearless leader's brain, which was ground sharp or at least splintery. Certain little things such as the crazy-string tape with the words OFF LIMITS sprayed like a spiderweb across the doorway, and the hell-march of redshirts moving past, shepherded by the armoured men. Brannigan stood back as some of them shook their fists at him and shouted abuse, but the captors didn't seem to care. They probably presumed that it was directed at them.

"Kif!" he barked, from a general feeling that this tended to help. "Since you got us into this predicamess..." And a pregnant pause.

Kif sighed. It was an impressive sound, perhaps the most impressive thing to come out of the small green man. As the bubbles composing his frame respectively deflated and inflated, the air fairly sparkled with resentment. "Sir, the idea to trespass on Imperial routes was not..."

"Be quiet when you interrupt your betters!" Brannigan silenced him. This did, indeed, make him feel momentarily better. "I will let you choose the way."

They were at a crossroads, the corridor splitting into three narrow walkways ahead like... some kind of three-pronged letter Y? Though explosions still rocked the battleship, the walls here were beguilingly virginal, eggshell white. Screams and gunfire filtered in from left and right, though, to be brutally honest, by now there was a lot more screams, and the shots seemed sadistically counterpointed with them.

"All I know is, not the middle corridor, sir." Kif seemed genuinely concerned. "That path will take us straight into the breach made by the Imperials."

Brannigan swore. It was silent in that corridor. You could count on silence not to kill.

"What brilliant celeberatory work, Kif", he muttered with biting irony. "Did I ax which way not to take, perhaps? I think not! Did I ax which way to take? I think yes!"

"Frankly, sir, I don't... know." Kif sighed again. "The one on the left will bring us close to the escape pods, but from the sound of it, the battle is quite fervent..." He extended his neck, peering into the distant fray.

"Well then, Kif, let us show those Imperial scumhounds what we are made of!"

"Plenty of red and purplish tubes?" Kif said, withdrawing in a hurry. He had yellowed again.

Brannigan knew that what he did next would fill him with shame for the rest of his life, but at least there would be a rest of his life, and the guilt sensations would make it feel even longer. Every time he remembered... of course, he would always remember. Maybe lobby for the good old boys at the DOOP to put up a statue, or a memorial plaque, or something. Poor old Kif. It had been an honour for him to serve.

"LEFT CORRIDOR, KIF!" he bellowed, picking up his second-in-command by the scruff of his neck and throwing him into that same doorway. "COVER FOR ME!"

Then he bolted into the middle corridor.

Silence. Kif's brief scream, of course, and that would hurt... oh yes, he would have to find out if the little guy'd had a family, or a girlfriend, or a litter or something, and whip around for a few plastic cards. Brave soldier, horrible to watch a friend go down like this... after all, he had done what he could to save him, basically... yes... laid down his own life! Only, he had realised that even suffering this emotional blow, he must return to the HQ and warn the Council for the danger the Empire had indeed grown into!

Silence. Beautiful, eggshell-like silence, and the inner fanfares of his permanent mental eulogy. You could count on silence not to let you down. Zapp Brannigan crouched up by the wall in the shadowless fluorescent light, admiring his leg musculature for a few moments. His heart needed a great long time to slow down. He listened to its heavy thumps, and silence... and yes, jackbooted feet now, metal-shod heels beating out what sounded like rather ambient march music, and... asthmatic breathing?

The Cracktrooper who had been lucky enough to find him pointed at him, rather too proudly for his Lord to take. A few seconds later, he himself flopped to the floor, clutching at his throat and going colours that would make even Kif seem normal.

Brannigan stared at the stricken man, then at the dark boots, and further, at the dark robes, and even further, at the dark destiny. Men in white armor were standing over him. And it occurred to him that unless his trusty DOOP redshirts had suddenly started to dress like albino insects, this was the enemy, and that the enemy had the upper hand, and that the situation would not suffer from a little politeness.

"My lungs get like that when I walk too far, too", he explained by way of friendly conversation. "More vegetables in your diet, that usually helps. Oh, and maybe you should have someone see to the mask."

And little later:


Chapter 1 1/2: 1987

There have been many fights with Kremlin Joe, the man who sells Pravda in the corner, lately. Not very strange, that. Joe is a strange man, and... shame to say it, but... Dad is pretty strange as well. Only sort of strange in the other end.

Phil Fry has started to have understanding of politics. He has briefly put it on hiatus, though, because he wants understanding of more immediate things, such as cooties, and the multiplication tables, and why Yancy gets to stay up with Mom and Dad and watch Dallas.

Dad isn't weird. Miss Chemile in school has told how you can recognise weird people. They give you candy and ask you to do sick things, when everyone knows that you can get candy from the highschool kids just by eating maggots. Or they wear berets and get up to poetry that doesn't rhyme in smoky bars. Or they stand on the corner and sell Pravda. She never said that you're insane if your lips tighten up in a stringy line every five minutes, or you stomp around the house in the uniform you wore in 'Nam with the ARMY SURPLUS tag still on the collar, or you stare at the bruise every time you hit your toe on something and go like: "It's the cleanser." The word for that is... oh, "sane".

Dad fights with Kremlin Joe. He also fights with the Mayor, the Senator, the Pink Ribbons lady and the reporter on TV who used the word "liberal". Sometimes even without leaving his cellar.

"Your father is a bit overstressed, boys", Mom says, over an early cup of Irish Coffee while watching the Superbowl. "Leave him alone. You know he always feels better after a few days with his friends at Fort Mount. Yancy Junior, he told you that if you don't start dating soon, he's going to send you to the Gay Correction Centre. Phillip, he thinks that you don't hang out with your male friends enough, and considers to give you a saltpetre dose."

"Damn crazy man", Yancy mutters, kicking a football across the weedy, dandelion-cloudy lawn. "OK, Phil, I'm taking a girl to my room tonight. She's going to show me how to fix a Rubik's Cube. So if you leave your room, it's on pain of death."

"Don't talk about Dad like that", says Phil.