Chapter 3: The Alien Lieutenant's Woman
And it swivels... Kif was strapping himself into a supine position in the
pod, rather unsuccessfully. He had long feeble wrists, which had made it
easy to slip out of the grip of the guards, but which, more importantly,
made it difficult to fasten the wrist-straps. The designers should have used
elastic. No helping his legs, they were going to dangle free, and if he
didn't come down with whiplash now he never would. Nothing but sickening
velour, still smelling of the plastic smoke of the Nimbus, between him and
the cold metal. The stars danced outside, and some of them, a large
constellation of bright yellow points, looked a lot closer. He had been
successful in aiming for New New York, then. With his luck, it would be the
last thing he saw.
The bullet of the pod tore through the Earth's lacerated ozone layer and
drew manes of flame through the atmosphere. And yes, now he spun... he
dangled... he slipped out of the straps and hit the back wall with an impact
that would have pulverised the bones of a human. As it was, Kif felt like
vomiting, but his stomach was empty.
The nausea, revolving slowly somewhere between his two digestive tracts,
actually managed to keep him occupied and sane by the time that the pod
slipped into the bay, skidding like a flat stone on the blue-scummy polluted
waters and millions of reflected lights. But it was getting worse when the
young Lieutenant clambered through the hatch and let the waves slosh himself
towards the quay. It felt... heavy... and yes, urgent. If he closed his
eyes and his ears, he fancied he heard the squelching noise of something
soft burrowing in other soft things. He preferred to put it down to
Amy. He was on Earth, and that meant that Amy was here, unless of course she
had gone to her family on Mars, in which case there was nothing he could do,
really. He could feel his pristine love for her leading him on, like the
snowy flame of a comet. And of course she was at the top of his mind, even
more than usual, because the Imperial guards had axed him about her, but he
had not... given them any information... to hurt sweet, sweet Amy...
He was hungry again. That would account for the nausea. He reeled up next to
the bright yellow light of a van selling Tofu Green, but hardly even felt
how bland it was.
Then the glitter of a queerly-shaped building, somewhat like a cone with a
globe on top, perhaps it had looked futuristic when it was built. Shadows in
the bulging windows. A spicy smell of rocket fuel and... take-away food.
Shadows. The distinctive silhouette of a soft-figured woman with waves of
shadow hair, retroussé nose... beckoning at one of the others by the table,
The dizziness in his stomach beckoned.
The rubber band snapped close.
Zapp Brannigan's body was amorphous with pain. His muscles felt twisted with
agony; his lungs ached too hard for him even to howl. He was not entirely
sure that he would be capable of begging for mercy, but when it became too
much to bear he flung himself at the feet of his captors, feeling the cold
bright metal floor as a distant relief.
"You win, you creepy saddists!" he whimpered into a fleck of misting breath
where his mouth touched the sweet plating. "Are you proud? See how your
barbarous methods have reduced even the great Captain Brannigan, the pride
of the Democratic Order..."
As he managed to twitch his gaze upwards, he noticed the pitying looks.
"As a matter of fact, we have not been torturing you", said a young Imperial
woman with a clipboard, sounding a bit anxious. "You have, as a matter of
fact, only been walking through the corridors of the Unleaded. You must be
aware that, as Imperial cruisers go, it is quite a big..."
Lord Cyan nodded, the chin of his helmet clanking against his breastplate.
Zapp winced, then found the strength of defiance.
"Walking! You call this a walk? Curse your subtle mind games! How long is
this corridor, anyway?" It felt as though he had to pause for a breath
between the very letters, for the love of Oprah!
The Bureaucrat looked at the cruel spectre of fanatical persecution. Lord
Cyan looked at the Bureaucrat.
"It is highly unorthodox..." she began. Then, her lips creased in a faintly
hollow smile. "But, since the prisoner seems in no condition to walk
The guards stood back. With the care of a priestess uncovering a sacred
artifact, she handed that Evil Imperial dark lord a tall, round, matte black
box, its grey plastic lid sealed shut. She wiped her hands on her blazer. So
much Brannigan could make out, but then his face sunk back to the floor. His
hair hung like a stinging yellow mist on his eyes, and a life's supply of
sweat was dripping out of his uniform.
"Get up, scum", Lord Cyan said. Gauntleted fingers were positioned, somewhat
clumsily, to pry the lid open. Brannigan did not like his tone at all. "And
kneel. You know, if you had been a little more... cooperative... we could
have let this... session... wait until we had reached the de-briefing suite.
And you could have got a drink of water. Some rest."
"Will you stop making those pregnant pauses?" Brannigan hissed.
"No, Captain... but you will."
... glaring light...
"Those were some of the best nachos I have eaten today", Leela said,
spraying some Cheez-A-Way on her wrist computer. "But will you look at the
time! I think we should all go to bed."
Fry leant back in his comfortably creaky chair, hands folded over the
stomach balling slightly under his greasy white T-shirt, looking into the
flickering striplights and letting digestion do its work. He didn't look at
Leela, because he didn't have to. Her silhouette was always there on his
brain anyways, like that of a hawk is on the brain of a chicken: a rangy yet
full-figured body, a springy purple ponytail... or did purple really come
into the silhouette thing?... and that one limpid eye. He had a whole ball
of feelings for her, for the hyperactive kittens that were his hormones to
play around with. But as of now, he preferred just feeling her close,
smelling her sporty perfume (Obsession for Mutants, or so Bender claimed)
and knowing that she was breaking her fingernails trying to scrape nacho
cheese out between keys.
"Your Captain said it", Professor Farnsworth said in his friendly
absent-minded fashion, beaming at his employees. Light cascaded off his
inch-thick glasses and the ridged dome of his head. I guess he has been
like a father for me, since I first woke up on the first day of the rest of
my life in the future. Mom and Dad were right, younger relatives are there
to take care of you. "It is past lights-out! Begun from my property,
slaves... er well, I mean trusted associates."
Scraping of chairs, the grotesque slurping of Dr Zoidberg trying to vacuum
the nacho shards off the tabletop, the clonking of Bender getting his feet
off the table and straightening his many joints... and, behind all that, a
knocking. Not even that. It was more a faint scraping, beginning somewhere
on the door but ending on threshold level.
"Did you unisex guys hear that?" Amy gasped, her fine Oriental face
scrunched up as though she couldn't really decide to be interested or
scared. A little flake of nacho dangled in her swaying black hair. "Think it
might be rats?"
"Let them come!" Dr Zoidberg shouted bravely, one claw to his chest.
"Zoidberg eats rats for breakfast!"
The white-frocked crustacean clattered towards the sliding doors, flicking a
switch. The doors slid open, though tentatively so, since a body was wedged
against them in the shadows of the staircase. Red uniform, a green head as
hairless as a helmet, long three-fingered hands crooked with some inner
tension. Fry shuddered.
"Oh no! It's that little scary freak... Amy, your boyfriend! Kif Kroker!"
Amy was already by his side, cupping his head in her hands and, hopefully,
doing her best to nurse him back to health. Fry kept watching, in case there
would be nudity involved.
"Stand back!" Dr Zoidberg bellowed. "After all, one of us is a doctor!"
"Yes, me", Bender said, square pupils locked in a concertingly familiar
sneer as he eyed the stricken alien. "Amy, my condolences, but your fiancé
is sinking... sinking... gone. Now..." a sharp rattle as he reached inside
his stomach compartment "... to see if he's got any organs."
"No!" It was Amy who screamed, but it was Kif who jolted out of her grasp
and half-crawled, half-scampered across the carpeted floor, noisome at the
best of times. Fry had been informed that Kif's species could actually crawl
on the ceiling, like flies and the guy in "Battle of Olympus" for NES. Right
now, it looked like the redshirted alien had problems holding on to the
"No... no! Amy..."
Kif stood up straight, but only by default. Yes, he looked like he was
hanging by his feet, dangling slightly. He had a colour known only to
chameleons on drugs, and his large eyes were almost fully closed, veins
throbbing in his eyelids in a scary fashion. His little slot-like mouth was
bubbling. His body was bubbling. Amy was trying to get closer, but had to
shield her face against the light. Zoidberg was shouting for everyone to
duck and cover, but that was Zoidberg for you.
"Amy... I came for you..." Kif whispered, his fingers twisting together in a
sickening fashion. "I have... a... distress call..."
And from that moment, the world split into about equal parts of "Star Wars"
and "Alien". And Fry didn't like any of them one bit.
"Help me, Amy Wong and co-workers. You are my last remaining hope."
The miniature man shivered, collapsed, rewound with a static noise and
started again. Even though he was made all out of white light you could make
out a heavy-set body, a skimpy skirt, the remains of an arrogant cast to his
"Help me, Amy Wong and co-workers. You are my last remaining hope."
However, it was by this point that Kif needed acute medical attention.
"What is this abomination of nature?" the Professor exclaimed, holding said
abomination in a couple of tongs. When he dangled it, because there is
nothing wrong with a bit of drama, it writhed slightly. To his
disappointment, Zoidberg hardly even gave it a second glance. Of course, the
lobster had likely had more repulsive things for classmates, but still...
It was vaguely snake-like, about the length of a long kitten and the girth
of a piece of kalamari. When Professor Farnsworth lifted a withered hand
behind the worm-thing, in the faint light of the red-room, he could see it
distorted through the crystalline body. It cast its own light, bluish or
perhaps neon white, and it was evidently still alive. A few slivers of green
skin clung to the scaly hide. Its rudimentary head resembled nothing so much
as a large eye, resembling nothing so much as a camera lens, and in the
shadows it still emitted, very faintly, rays of lights forming the shape of
the pleading DOOP Captain.
"Hand it to me, Professor", Dr Zoidberg said, rather self-importantly,
opening what appeared to be an oversize film box. "The light in here will
not harm it, but it does not take well to the air."
"What is it?" Professor Farnsworth shrilled.
"Well, Professor... you know about the brainworms?"
The Professor nodded impatiently, as the gruesome thing slithered into its
box and was heard to rattle around inside for a while. Early in the 30th
century, the brainworms had held the galaxy in a state of fear, until they
were reduced to near-extinction by the immigration of the more adaptive
"Well, then you should know that this thing..." rattle rattle "... is not
like a brainworm at all." Dr Zoidberg beamed, as much so as was possible
with facial tentacles. "They are largely unknown in our solar system, but
are known to be used for purposes of communication by the Evil Empire. They
call them Tapeworms."
"Oh my yes." He had read about this, had he not?
The lobster physician was in an infodump mood. "The Tapeworms are highly
sensitive to light. They are also primitive beings, which can regrow
themselves out of one single segment, or square, which is no thicker than an
old plastic film scroll. When swallowed by an organic being, one such
segment will need short time to grow into a developed Tapeworm..."
"I understand!" The Professor gestured again. "What for?"
"Do excuse me." Zoidberg grabbed a vat of developing fluid and gulped it,
sticking his tentacles in his mouth one by one and sucking them. "All this
talking was making me thirsty. As I was saying, the Tapeworms are sensitive
to light. When they are exposed to a view, they will transmit a holographic
image of it... and this is where the split segments come in. Every
Tapeworm grown from the segment, or square, of another member of the species
will share a bond with it, as is common among lower organisms. By default,
it will feel the light impulses inside its parent's body, and instinctively
Professor Farnsworth gasped for breath in the sullen air. "In short, when
Captain Brannigan used a Tapeworm to record his distress call, the one
inside young Kif transmitted the message? What a load of jargon! It seems
"And a good idea it was, too", Dr Zoidberg averred, as the two scientists
walked through the makeshift sickbay. "Of course, up until the point that
the parasite ruptured his abdomen. However, he is a hardy young specimen,
and will likely..."
"Then, to more important matters!" The Professor's white frock flapped in a
dramatic gesture. "Let us take this to the DOOP!"
The Democratic Order of Planets was the Democratic Order of Planets of time.
It went back to the first contacts with alien species, to the first
dust-clouded steps on other planets. Before it, there had been war. After
it, there was bureaucracy.
In glassy domes of light, in orbiting gardens of otherworldly glory, in
offices stacked with paperwork, the fates of worlds were made and unmade.
Human, Trisolian, Wormulan, Decapodian, Omicronian and robot could meet as
equals, rather than as enemies or as preys. Fates of worlds were made and
unmade. Trade arrangements, mighty in import and lack of interest, were
But now, a shadow had fallen upon the pride of galactic compromise. A shadow
of dark helmets, a white noise of tramping jackboots. The Evil Empire had
arisen, and it would take a lot more than fuzzy teddy bears to placate it.
The Emperor was unseen, hidden in his paradisiac world of Scintillant, where
he reputedly owned a palace the size of a city, a city the size of a
continent, and more concubines than most men have hair lice. But he was,
figuratively speaking, the moving hand inside the black-plated gauntlet that
was Lord Cyan and his élite army of Cracktroopers, pale of panzer like
squadrons of silver beetles. And Lord Cyan was a foe of a kind with which
the Democratic Order of Planets was unused to deal. He was not remarkable of
intelligence, or charisma, or bravery in the field, or even by having the
powers of an ancient group of mental warriors. He had decent skills of
organization, but the trait that made him a formidable enemy was a kind of
rage that seemed to power his every move. He was always polished, even
diplomatic. Perhaps that fury had never been released, but the mere idea of
it erupting was enough to drive flotillas of Imperial ships to the heart of
the enemy. It was merely a low-burning flame on which you could melt cursed
His name, it was said, had been given him by his conquered enemies and meant
"the stranger". Now, that was evidently an urban myth, since everyone who'd
gone through a normal education could tell you that it meant "a light sort
of bluish-green, a bit chemical, like turquoise blue but less saturated".
Howsoever, he seemed a stranger no matter where he went. From his general
shape, he was most probably human, but, it was said, even his Emperor shied
away from the aura of strangeness around him. He did not seem to belong, and
this strangeness and his eternal, internal wrath made him dangerous.
With his aid and abetting, the Emperor would soon swing the galaxy a starry
trinket at his wrist. Planets and systems would slip out of the DOOP and,
soon, yield more soldiers and sharper ships to darken the skies. It had
Darkness. Shaking, rattling, rolling across the folds of it.
"Here ya go, mister! Express package!"
"The message from the late Captain Brannigan... that's 'late' as in
'former', not as in 'dead'..."
The darkness grew thicker.
"Sorry, sir, high priority package from New New York..."
... glaring light...
It was a dim, dingy office. Even the word "office" seemed too good for it;
there was no tendency to order, let alone cleanness. There were windows, the
grimy glass slightly warped, jellied street light entering between the slats
of the blinds, tenderly polluted summer air seeping through slacking
stretches of insulation. There was a desk, and a desk lamp of a dispirited
green-lacquered model, old-fashioned even for the 1960s. If it had been lit,
it would have given off solar heat, as well as an enigmatic stench of burnt
rubber. But it wasn't.
In the pleasant cool of his jar, President Nixon's head swivelled towards
the earpieced headguards by the door. He gave them a grin which he judged to
"You may leave me, minions. The prisoner has had time to... mellow. He will
crack any moment." A string of bubbles rose through the translucent blue,
slightly salty water as he laughed maniacally.
Swivelling again, he bashed his grizzled brows on the glass slightly,
causing the jar to edge itself across the desktop. The subject would see
him... oh yes, it would. "We know you are concealing something from us,
friend. Oh, yes you are. But... do you want it to die with you?"
He glowered for a while, and then, as the door squeaked shut:
"Er... light for me, men."
The desk lamp came on, filling the room with the boiling heat of suns. Even
Nixon blinked slightly, much as the water in his jar was attuned to the salt
levels in his eyes. Then what must it not feel like...
Wound on a little executive's toy rack, a cliché but good for his purposes,
was the Tapeworm that had lately been taken out of the stomach of that
unfortunate DOOP Lieutenant. The President fancied that it was trying to
"Now, my maggot friend... I do believe you had something to show me."
And the Headman watched as the flickering images formed and melted...
A few minutes later, he was carried into the opulent, yet confusing Möbius
Office by his headguards. At one wink, a holoscreen flickered alive.
"Give me the General Secretary of the DOOP!" he barked, far from displeased.
A frail, elegant female being gleamed into view, the strangely twisted strip
of office still visible through her jade skin and stately jewelled robes
and the office behind her. For all her natural grace, General Secretary
Glab seemed more troubled than ever. Nixon's sight, made sharp by the fact
that it was about the one sense he had left, took in the paperwork on her
desk and the carefully lined models of warships, hanging stiffly in mid-air.
"What news, Mr President?" she asked, fatigue speaking and slurring her
"Unfortunately, madam, the prisoner died during interrogation..." the
President began, utilising the slight bubbly quality of his voice to make it
into what he regarded as syrup.
The General Secretary hushed him with a restrained gesture.
"Though I trusted in your methods, Mr President, I have no need to know them
in detail", she said, her gaze briefly flickering. "What is the message
from..." another flicker, towards a bulging folder on her desk. It was
closed with a black seal of mourning, which had then been half-torn as an
afterthought. "... our mutual friend?"
Had the President had lungs, his breath would have hitched. As it was,
slight perspiration caused his jar to overflow, if ever so faintly. The
Tapeworm is dead. I was the only one present at the final unwinding, and I
recorded nothing. I can feed her any lie; there will be no verifying nor
disproving. You may not know this yet, young lady, but Richard Nixon knows
how to tip the balance of this puny galactic war. Then again, what reason
had he for concealing the truth? It was quite straightforward. His last
great failure had involved lies and tapes.
Trying to unwind... relax, even, by concentrating on the General Secretary's
narrow carven-jade neck, he spoke:
"As might be reasonable in the context, Captain Brannigan is requesting a
rescue team. There is a condition, however..."
"Fry! Wake up, Fry! Don't make me roll up your eye visors!"
Beached out of sleep, Fry gulped for air and instead got pillow. Once he had
finished gagging, he grabbed it and tried to sock it to the assailant.
Bender bent out of the way, daintily pushing his antenna back into position.
"Sorry, Fry", he said, dragging him across the plank floor all the while,
"but we're needed at Planet Express with immediate effect. Emergency
Fry managed to get some protesting noises out, in between his head banging
on the floorboards. Not that he was totally against that. It might drive the
dream out of his head...
"Come on... it's still dark!" He needed to whine, some things inside him
felt very sore. New New York was a storm of stars outside the windows of
Robot Arms Apartments. "At least let me get my clothes on, right!"
The toy-like robot, his closest friend and sometimes enemy, leant back
against the wall for just as long as it took Fry to discard his pajamas and
pull his pants on, then grabbed him again... his arm, this time, and dragged
him down the escalator.
The summer air was sultry and not really fit to breathe, but Fry's lungs had
adapted since their first faltering breaths in the 30th century, and he
relished the clear streaks of cooler, past-midnight air. Now, as for
Weren't they all about his brain trying to discharge all the impressions got
during the day, or something? He reckoned his brains might have plenty to
discharge. In fact, earlier tonight, by the time the creepy glowing
snake-thing ripped out of poor Kif's stomach and started twisting on the
floor, holograms still coming out of its head, he was pretty sure he was
going to have bad dreams every night of his life. For some reason, he had
been sure those nightmares would not involve a man in a black mask calling
to him across a room full of frozen statues, and... a sword duel above the
It was a relief, again, to get slapped up the stairs and into the still
somewhat nacho-heavy, yellow-lit air of the Planet Express HQ. The others
were there as well. Leela, stolid stalwart Leela, looking stunning as she
combed her long orchid hair out. Amy, clasping the back of a chair as though
to stop herself from shivering. Dr Zoidberg, dejected tentacles boding
nothing but misfortune, large eyes set squarely into the flagstones. Hermes,
armed with a clipboard, blinking slightly against the strip lights, and even
Kif, his fiancée's other arm around his slanting shoulders, seeming healthy
apart from a bandage creasing his uniform skirt and the expression of
someone who had abandoned all his hope in a bin by the door. The Professor,
too, his nephew, funny to think really, turned towards a holoscreen,
switching it off while he was watching. It had been facing him, and Fry only
got the briefest impression of a gala-dressed female of Kif's species.
Wasn't she one of those DOOP bigwigs, or something?
"Good news, everyone!" the Professor exclaimed, in the face of all sanity.
"As you all heard tonight, Captain Brannigan, many-times-decorated officer
of the DOOP, has been taken prisoner by Imperial forces."
The frowns deepened, except on the face of Kif, who seemed close to
"Now, that is good news", Leela snipped. She had been saying something
along those lines when the hologram first appeared. But her pupil went all
over the place... it seemed to be weighing on her mind. "I pity the Imperial
Kif gave her a stare that mixed, possibly, rage and agreement. He then
faltered again, and Amy firmly motioned him onto the chair.
"That is not, however, the good news", the Professor droned on, cheerful as
ever in spite of the late, or early in fact, hour. "The good news is that
the General Secretary and High Council of the DOOP, in collusion with Earth
President Richard Nixon, have, after a high-priority meeting..."
"Please to dispense with the formalities, old man!" Hermes said. "I can deal
with those myself. As is the situation, lest Captain Brannigan be used by
his captors, be it for prestige, blackmail or extracting of intelligence..."
"Not very much prestige", Leela said under her breath, "and very little
intelligence indeed." She seemed to find a sort of grim enjoyment in this
situation. Best not to think about why.
"Let me continue, cyclops!" Hermes exploded. "It is evident that a rescue
team is much needed, and it is a great honour for this concern that it has
been chosen solely amongst us present!"
"It is the dried frogs' truth, Hermes", Professor Farnsworth said, amiably.
"To cut to the core of the matter..." Kif winced again "... the intelligence
we have informs us that conditions for a rescue attempt will be most
favourable before the Imperial cruiser, the Unleaded, on which the
prisoner is held prisoner, reaches planet Scintillant. Therefore, speed is
of the essence. Leela, as captain of my ship, you will head the expedition.
Besides, Hermes found some protocol claiming that to a ranking officer, it
is demeaning to be saved by an inferior, or some garbage like that. Knowing
your virtuous character, I knew that you would volunteer, and took the
liberty to volunteer you myself."
"Sir", Leela said flatly. Her expression did not change, but she blinked a
few times, possibly thinking that nobody would notice.
"Kif has already volunteered, as the rescuee is his commanding officer, and
he knows the risks involved." Kif nodded, miserably, but he made no run for
the door, as Fry would have done in his situation. It was possible that he
was too badly injured. "In her position of
only-other-person-ever-so-distantly-able-to-fly-the-ship, and Kif's fiancée,
Amy will come along. After all, the message was for her."
Amy gave a faint smile, a fraction from being a grimace. Leela opened her
mouth, a look of consternation on her strange beautiful face, but bit shut.
"We have no idea of what injuries the brave Captain might have suffered",
Professor Farnsworth went on, "but knowing the sadistic mindset of the
Empire, they might be as gruesome as to make you all vomit in terror. Dr
Zoidberg will go with you in order to wipe up in case of vomiting."
Dr Zoidberg put a claw to his chest, presumably where one of his hearts was,
and beamed. If he had been carrying a boombox, he would likely have turned
on a track of patriotic music.
"And finally, Bender shall go, since when it comes to jail-breaks, he is, I
believe, the bot."
Bender grinned electronically and mimicked lifting a door off its hinges. He
then strode over to the back door, lifted it off its hinges, and slung it
into the wall with a mighty SLAM. Fry felt the need to applaud.
"And finally... Fry." Fry nodded attentively, trying to put off the moment
when the realisation would reach his brain. "Are you all willing and
prepared to go off to save Captain Brannigan from the claws of Lord Cyan the
Fiery, Dark Lord of the Empire, into the claws of the DOOP?"
"Professor", Leela said urgently, "the message, there is something..."
"Then it is decided", said Professor Farnsworth, spreading his hands in a
solemn manner. "You six shall be the team of... Operation Forbidden
"OPERATION FORBIDDEN PASSION?" Leela shouted, and Kif buried his face in his
"It was my Captain's last words as they led him away", he murmured, sounding
to all the world as though he was going to get beaten up for this. "He
said..." and he mimicked a barking military voice, testosterone oozing from
it, "'KIF! When they get the rescue mission, be sure to name it Operation
Forbidden Passion!' Alright, those were not quite his last words. Those
were: 'If you screw up, you'll never work in this galaxy again!'" He
collapsed in helpless sobs.
Amy's soft, tan hand slipped onto the nape of his neck, stroking him until
his shaking subsided.
"There, there", she whispered, giving him a hug. "We'll have your Captain
out in no time, honey."
"My point exactly", Kif replied in a small voice.
"Well then", said Leela, drawing herself up and wiping her mouth as though
some memory was leaving a bad taste. "While we lag here, a fellow officer is
suffering excruciating tortures! You go ahead to the ship. Bender, stay
here. I'll need your stomach compartment to pack a few things."
As their footsteps died away, leaving the office empty and silent except for
the humming of the lights, Hermes turned to the Professor.
"You gave no reason for Fry to leave with them, Professor", he stated.
"There is a very good reason indeed", his employer said, turning towards the
panorama windows as the sleek green ship cut into the air, trailing a river
of smoke and stars. "Oh yes. Surely the General Secretary told you?"
"But... Professor, you had a reason for everyone else..."
"Oh my, yes. It would look quite strange to send my
great-great-many-times-uncle off alone, would it not? Especially considering
his tendency of getting hurt or lost." The Professor's voice took on an
almost paternal tenderness. "I feel quite sad about what I had to do."
"When there are forms to fill in, I will put him down as 'the delivery
boy'", Hermes said firmly.
"Do so." The aged face was already far away in thought.
Unhelmeted, Lord Cyan was sitting in his tall dark chair on the main bridge
of the Unleaded. Stars simmered across his eyes, leaving little glittering
It has begun.
Bubbling electronic music was playing behind him, almost below hearing
level, and he was no longer young, and the air conditioning in his helmet
always made his ears whine. It was... yes... The Buggles. "Video Killed The
Radio Star". To most of his crew, that music would seem as alien as he
himself, and well it might. His strangeness evoked their fear, and their
fear was his weapon.
Come to me. Come closer.
When Lieutenant Riffenstein entered the bridge, the man in the chair let out
a frustrated hiss and slammed his helmet down on his head. The Lieutenant
only caught a glimpse of dark brown hair, and then the helmet turned around
and focused him.
"Milord, the DOOP will try to intercept us before we reach Scintillant", he
said. "The loss of a Captain will be hard for them to stomach. Shall I give
orders to prepare for battle?"
A dark hand opened slowly, every joint of its plating catching starlight.
"The despicable Reds will use fraud, not force", said the Dark Lord,
shimmering notes in his voice giving the impression of his mind being
light-years away. "We must play their game, until the point when we turn the
tables on them. If we want the bass, we must let it swallow the bait."
"The bass, milord?"
No answer but the filtered breath. It put Lieutenant Riffenstein off his
nerves. Some of his comrades, fellows that was, in the Glorious Imperial
Army had claimed that Lord Cyan had grown up in a world ravaged by nuclear
war, and that he wore the helmet in order to conceal a face burnt with
radiation. Strangely, others said that he needed the breath filter since his
lungs were unused to the everyday background pollution of 31st century
atmosphere. He was a strange man if both were true. A strange man indeed.
Before Lord Cyan, the galaxy spread out like a star-spangled banner.
And Phil, I know that you are out there.
Chapter 3 1/2: 1989
"The Wall is down?" Yancy Sr. booms in the stairway, trying to kick frozen
mud off his boots. There is a layer of snow outside the windows... not
really a romantic view. As the industrial districts are none too far away,
it looks like chocolate ice cream. "THE WALL IS DOWN? Why not give freaking
Gorbachev a flaming ticket to the White House already? In the Air Force One?
You want to know what I think about this, Ilyena, Yancy?"
"It is a conspiracy, sir?" Yancy snaps back. Yancy is attending business
school now, and can be awfully clever when he sets his mind to it.
"Once Commies, always Commies, they're all the same." Slam, slam, tlink. He
is going through the kitchen now. Fry sincerely hopes that he's just after a
whisky. There was the time he found a can of Cuba Cola in the fridge door,
and went on to call Mom a traitor. He doesn't want that to happen again.
He, Phil Fry, now known as "Fry" to all his buddies, is folded double on his
bed, face covered with Mom's home-made acne plasters, the ones that are made
with plantain leaves and help about as much as a nuke on the surface of the
sun. He is holding a photo, torn out of the school yearbook, of brown-haired
pretty Michelle, and sniffling in what is hopefully a romantic fashion. Snow
has been blowing in through the window-frame again.
"And the Government is working with them, isn't it, Dad... sir?" Is Yancy
making fun of him? No... no, Yancy agrees with Dad, but he's not nice to
him. Screw you, Yancy, he doesn't have it easy, you know.
Fry feels the other way around, when his hormones aren't bouncing him all
over the place. He wants Dad to be happy. He wonders if there's some way to
make him happy without dropping a bomb over Moscow, or is it Berlin?
Don't think about that. There's no helping some people. They'd feel better
if they could settle down and drink some Cuba Cola, actually. Now, think
about nice things, like Michelle... the prom...
"Why, yes!" The shouting is subsiding, but the walls in the house are still
so flimsy, if you lick your finger it goes right through. He'd have to put
his head under the pillow if he didn't want to hear. "The corruption goes
all the way up to the President, and what is he doing? Sitting on the
nukes like a moulting old hen! It's all in this 'democracy'..." and come
on, all the teachers say it's such a good thing, so why does Dad pronounce
it like it's some kind of sexually transmittable disease? "Inherent in it.
The people are nothing but sheep! They will be an easy prey to the wolf of
Communism... which is, in fact, some kind of a bear..." Stomp, stomp up the
already-fragile, warped staircase. "This entire hassle has angered up my
blood! I'm going back to Fort Mount, and I'm taking Phil with me!"
"Not me, sir?" Yancy asks, a bit sharply. He's been alternating between
admiring and making fun of the guys up at Fort Mount, but no matter what, he
prefers not to be left out.
"No, Yancy." Some kind of sad heaviness in that voice. Possibly he is
patting Yancy on his shoulder now. "It's time that he learn his
responsibilities. You... stay here. See if you can find some women. Once the
Bomb drops, genetical variety will be of the... I'll go get Phil."
Almost envy that Phil guy... now wait a moment...
He manages to get into a sort-of upright position, even snap off a salute,
when Dad barges into his room. He is entering winter, too, or at least that
gloomy greying bit of autumn when the ground is sticky with dead white
fruit. His stomach is tugging at the uniform buttons, strange really, since
he never seems to stay for a full meal. His hair, same colour as Yancy's, is
starting to go grey. How old can he be... not over forty? There is some sort
of eternal stress in his eyes, like he's staring straight into the bursting
sun and is too proud to blink or squint.
"At ease, Phil", he commands. "Now then, are you doing anything enjoyable
"Not really... sir", Fry mutters. He doesn't want to hurt Dad. "Well, apart
from the winter prom. I'm going with... you know Michelle?" The photo has
slipped onto the floor and caught between two boards. His fingers are glassy
red with cold. "She's a very pretty girl with chestnut-coloured hair and...
and a B+ in chemistry..."
"She will be a valuable addition to our pure-bred American gene base!" Dad
huffs and slaps him in the back like set his spine straight. "But tonight,
son, you are coming with me up to the bunker! There, eh? Are you not proud?"
"Very much so... sir", Fry replies, and tries hard not to make it a lie.
An incredibly bumpy ride up the broken road snaking the hills. In Sgt
Reefer's army van, mind you, since Dad's license was recalled only the other
year. And Reefer can't drive. He mutters about the Viet Cong every time the
van -scratched, mouldy green, an eagle holding thunderbolts painted on each
side- crashes across a pit. Strangely enough, he is playing "Video Killed
The Radio Star" on the radio, so loud you've got to wonder if it's a drug to
him. He claims that it took him through 'Nam with his sanity in one piece.
The air conditioning smells of bitter cold, the kind that puts wedges
between your atoms and forces them apart, and out there are peaks and cliffs
and pines in the same poisoned grey, like the world is painted by a
Having to cite the Pledge of Allegiance in front of some masked nutcase with
a semiauto... and that makes his stomach flutter, but then again, so would
dressing up for the prom. (Now, can you say "I pledge of allegiance to..."?)
Then being introduced to what is apparently the Council of Survivors: mostly
people Mom's and Dad's age, none wearing the same uniform, the women with
their blouses unbuttoned to show off nylon corsetry and gulping
cherry-flavoured beer, the men brushing mud out of their beards when they
put the snuff in, and sometimes elbowing one another in solar plexus and
talking about how life will be so much better once the Bomb drops.
A disloyal thought: I wouldn't want these people to repopulate the Earth. I
wouldn't even want them to repopulate New Jersey.
Dad seems out of place, even among these people. He does unbutton his
jacket, but he seems to feel the cold. He urges them into the bunker... he's
the only one showing any kind of energy. There is... is it apathy? Fry hears
someone whine: "Now the Wall is down, bet we won't have a nuclear war after
all." He laughs until the iced air aches in his lungs. It was a joke, right?
For some reason, whenever anyone mentioned the bunker, he's imagined a log
cabin, preferrably with a rag rug on the polished hardwood floor and a
roaring fire reflecting in a glass-top coffee table, maybe even hot cocoa
and a cuckoo clock, though he does know the limits to wishful thinking. It
ain't. It's, for all the world, a concrete cave, the entrance of which is a
set of crampons in a cold chimney that leans, so you end up more sliding
on your back than actually climbing down. And the floor is stained with snow
melt. Fry stares at it for a while, hiding his cold cramped hands in the
sleeves of the army supply cardigan and wondering why radiation won't enter
when the water does.
It's almost five o'clock, and he is hungry. He gets what a fantasy writer
would possibly describe as the Lembas of the poor: flat, hard rusks which
according to General Simone will last forever. (He suspects that is because
not even bacteria regard it as edible.) And canned beans. Now, there is a
lot to be said for canned beans, but he doubts he is going to say it. His
watch is ticking on, kind of slowly, maybe the cold wet is getting to the
screws or whatever inside it. At least he explained to Michelle he won't be
in tonight, and she'll understand him... he did phone Michelle, didn't he?
"Er... Bomber Harris..." he murmurs urgently, pulling at the greatcoat of
the first man who comes into view. "Yancy... my brother... told me you had
one of them mobile phones you can carry around..."
"You wish, city boy!" the man grumbles. "I sold it to some yuppies for two
barrels of catfish... and they think they won the bargain! America will do
better without them!"
"But..." Gather hope. Michelle is probably sitting in front of her mirror
now, doing... well, the stuff girls do when you're not looking. He lets his
mind shy away a bit. Straightening her eyelashes, or whatever. "Surely there
must be a... well, shortwave radio or something..."
"Are you thinking of alerting the feds, city boy?"
"You know, in about ten years, the world is gonna blow, right? Computers and
all! Hell on earth! And you want everyone to know about the one safe place
in the mountains..."
"Harris, let my son down."
"Thank you, sir."
Michelle is taking on her dress. Blue, she said. There's no blue down here,
just fuzzy green stains on the walls, so when the Bomb drops I doubt we'll
need to stock penicillin. She's swirling it a bit in front of her mom who's
always looking at me like my fly's undone. What am I doing here?
He sits on a run-down couch, mostly springs held together with yarn. He
yawns, not really from tiredness, mostly because the air here is not fit for
breathing. He watches some inane William W. Johnstone adaptation film, and
the ensuing not-quite-arthouse discussion. And General Simone goes into the
kitchen -concrete, tan flower-patterned cork carpeting- to cook up the
tinned dinner. And sometimes in the world outside, the one that has
Christmas-card streets and Russians who own nightclubs and hardly ever
ritually devour their victims, a pretty brown-haired girl is waiting for her
Fry sidles up to Dad, who's already at his second Foster's. His eyes are
going just a tad vacant, but he seems happy, shame, happier than he ever
does at home. He's unbuttoned his coat, and the ambience is running a bit
high... the bunker is almost room temperature, with the burnt fumes issuing
from the kitchen. Evidently, General Simone thinks benzene is an
indispensable in cooking.
Let's say I'm making this easier for him. He wouldn't want me to be
unhappy, would he? It's important to him... I'm ruining it...
"Dad... if I start walking back to the city, I think I can make it to the
prom. And Michelle might be waiting for me already..." He hardly even hears
the last words, himself.
"It's 'yes, sir'."
Strange how the little things topple the big things, isn't it? Just one
snowflake to make an avalanche...
"Well, 'sir'..." He doesn't like his own voice much. Is it breaking again?
It feels like drinking burning gasoline. "Sir, I take that as a yes. I'm out
The beer is slowing Yancy Sr. down. His son is almost at the crampons,
flaking with rusts in a red puddle on the floor, before he is able to stand
up or even bellow:
"That is not going to happen, you hear that? What if the Russkies are
dropping the Bomb on us tonight? She's doomed, son."
Strange how the white waterfall of the avalanche can take you over the
"Oh, get real! You don't seriously believe that, do you? What are the
chances in hell?"
He's already climbing up that slippery chute, like some kind of twisted
Santa in camou, and the raw air is making his hair flop into his face.
Choking shampoo fumes... oh yes, he washed it earlier today. And he snuck
into Mom's cloth cupboard thinking that he could sew himself a tuxedo. And
that hair has to rub against the rusty trapdoor now, as he pushes it open
into the wintery sky, and the air hurts...
"That's 'what are the chances in hell, SIR'! You come back immediately,
Now... New York is over that way. There, where the enormous stars are
showing the way. And walking along the road shouldn't be so hard. It's a bit
glazed, but that just means you can slide downhill. And he doesn't think the
pines are going to attack him.
Tinkling scraping as the trapdoor moves again. His father's... the
commander's voice. "I said for you to come BACK!"
Then a bullet sparks off the asphalt behind him, and he dives into the
roadside snow. Blind, for a moment. Wet snow in his mouth. Having to
crawl... how ironic, this isn't a some kind of a wargame, madman! If he
dies out here, blood all over the snow, how is he going to explain it to
Voices flail behind him:
"I SAID... Reefer, why are you firing at my son? Cut it out!"
"Sorry, Yance... I was thinking, maybe I could take out the air pumps in his
Nikes or something..."
Darkness, cold inner darkness, like someone's taken a piece out of a jigsaw
puzzle inside him. He hurries down the trail of lampposts and tries hard not
Michelle is waiting outside the gym hall of Aconite High, all clean and dry
and beautiful, and that almost makes him want to stay out of the light. No,
he didn't crawl all the way down the hills, but he's been so splashed by
cars and dowsed by mini avalanches from the firs that he might as well. No
tux. No combing. A head cold that might be deadly. And the commander doesn't
like him anymore.
"Michelle!" He's so hoarse he has to shout again before she notices, and
then she skips and looks about to run. A half-rotten leaf slides down in
front of his eyes, and his fingers tangle up when he tries to brush it off.
"... Fry?" she manages, eventually. "Whatever happened to you?" From her
tone of voice, it is not likely that the dance will ever happen.
"Michelle... you've got to help me." He slumps to her feet. It seems easiest
that way. "Sir, I mean Dad, hates me, and I'm tired... let's go inside..."
She does agree, after a fair amount of begging, on the condition that he go
into the boy's room and get the mud out of his hair. After all, women like
men in uniform. They, supposedly, look dashing.
And I sure dashed, he thinks moodily, on the dance floor, briefly
oblivious to the warmth on her shoulder under his arm. The commander can
tell you, I sure did.