“That her face, at first just ghostly,
Turned a whiter shade of pale.”
Words by Keith Reid
Neffan woke up late again. Instead of a loud ringing or a blast of music, the clock just made a monotone moaning sound. He got dressed in his drab clothing, brushed his teeth, splashed some water on the gray skin of his face, and then went out to start the day. He didn't even bother to say goodbye to his parents as he went off to work. He stepped out into a cloudy, rainy morning...most mornings on his home planet of Udeteron seemed to be this way. Neffan looked back at his parents’ flat - one of a collection of gray boxes scattered about with white numbers painted on them. Why was everything in his world gray? Why couldn't someone just go crazy and paint something in wild colors? That would have gone against the Unified Code of Neutrality. What punishment would that have brought? No one really cared enough to ask – it had never been enforced, because no one had ever cared to violate it. No one cared.
Neffan was 15 minutes late at his job when he arrived. The boss was standing next to the timeclock when he punched in; he stared into the eyes of the portly bald man waiting for a response.
"Neffan," the boss said, "I really wish you'd be on time for once."
Neffan's eyes widened. Was this it? Would he be threatened? Would this man chew his butt out? Would he finally take a stand on something?
"But," the boss continued, "you probably have your reasons."
That was it? Not even the courage to give him the tongue lashing that he so richly deserved? Disgusted, Neffan left the boss behind to start his boring shift.
His job at the paint factory was dreadfully dull; he was tasked with matching colors of gray, and creating new tones of this same color if and when he could. The pay was okay…sort of. He had some benefits that kind of covered him – up to a point. But Neffan was always terribly dissatisfied with his life here…in this place, in this town…on this world.
The Planet Express ship came out of the rising sun for an orbit around Udeteron. Leela kept an eye on Amy as she pegged a nearly flawless orbit around the gray planet. Amy peeked back at her for approval.
“Girl, that was as close to perfect as it gets,” Leela told her. “You should have no problems passing your annual.” Leela began to look around. “Hey, where is Fry? He’s been nowhere to be found all trip long. Is he up to something?”
“He’s not up to anything,” Amy said. “I mean, at least, not that I know of.”
“Which means you know what he’s up to…”
“I didn’t say that…”
“But that’s what you meant. He and Bender are like two bad little kids. I’m going to hunt him up.”
Amy stammered, “W-wait…I’ve got some more questions…”
“On what? You just did a perfect orbital entry.”
“Uh, on the jake brake.”
“What? You just kick it in at a thousand meters…don’t leave it on over a populated neighborhood, as it’s loud enough to wake the dead. Something’s going on back there, and you know about it – you wouldn’t ask me about a jake brake.”
“Don’t go back there,” pleaded Amy.
“Or what? What are Fry and Bender up to…spill it…”
Amy got an angry look in her eyes. “It’s almost July 29th – Gah.”
“Your birthday, Leela. Fry is back there practicing on his holophoner for your birthday. I wasn’t supposed to tell, but I guess I just did. And don’t you dare tell him I let the cat out of the bag or I’ll spank your butt.”
Leela’s mouth began to break into a smile. “That silly meatbag.”
Fry soon came up to join the girls. He looked at Leela, and then at Amy. “What?” he asked.
“Amy here told me what you were doing,” said Leela.
His eyes got wide. “She did?”
“Yeah…did you get Bender repaired?”
Again, a confused look. “Uh, yeah. He’s got to stop eating those hot Amazonian chili peppers – the juice shorts out his wiring.”
Leela and Amy smiled at each other as they got the ship ready for re-entry.
Lunchtime came, and Neffan walked down to the café. Lunch was nothing to get excited about…it consisted of a grayish oatmeal substance that one added hot water to. It contains all the necessary nutrients, he thought to himself, but it doesn’t have any flavor. As he stirred his bowl of gray goo, one of his friends joined him at the table.
“Hey, Neffan,” the friend noted, “did you catch the football match yesterday?”
Neffan’s eyes looked up. “Oh yeah? Who won?”
The friend broke eye contact and glanced down at the table. “You know…I don’t even know who won. I sorta lost interest halfway through.”
Neffan got up from the table and left the café.
“What got into him?” asked another man. “Not that I really want to know…just askin’ is all…”
Neffan’s portly boss stuck his head into the café doorway. “Have you seen Neffan? I’ve got a shipment I need him to pick up.”
Neffan’s friend spoke up. “He just left. He might have gone that way…or he might have gone that way…”
The boss shook his head and left the café.
"Is it a bad mechanical problem, Leela?" Amy looked up and down the hull. "It sure made a horrible noise on the way in."
Leela climbed up the stabilizer and opened a small panel. "Naw, it'll take me a few minutes of tinkering around and we'll be on our way. We just stripped an erosion cam is all. The Old Man has got to start getting us new parts."
While the girls looked over the ship, Fry brought the palette of paint cans on the anti-grav lifter down the gangway. Now, all they had to do was wait for a delivery van to pick up the load.
“Boy,” Leela groaned, “this place sure was a bear to find – everything in this stinking city looks alike. Just a bunch of grungy boxes. Now we have to wait in an empty field for these people. Maybe they're waiting in those warehouses over there. If we've got to wait too long, I might as well start that repair now."
Fry was checking his load against the shipping order. “Is all of this paint? Let me see…Battleship Gray, Carbon Gray, French Gray, White, Black…these guys aren’t much on color, are they?”
“Boy howdy,” blurted Bender, “I’m glad you guys cleared that up for me. I was starting to think that my color receptors had failed.”
“Hey, this must be the truck,” said Amy.
The Planet Express crew watched as a grey van with an electric motor lumbered up to them. A young man with gray skin and a gray uniform stepped out. He looked up in wonder at their ship.
“Ain’t you never seen a spaceship before, Swabby?” Bender asked.
He then turned his attention to the crew. Walking by Bender, he began to gaze at the newcomers in his midst. His jaw dropped as he examined Leela’s hair. “That’s p…pur…”
“Purple,” Leela said as she smiled.
He then turned to Amy, and admired her hoodie. “And that…that’s p…puh…”
“Pink?” she added.
“Pink,” he repeated.
“Oh, lovely,” spat Bender. “Do we need to help him with his ABC’s next? Do you need help identifying your shapes, mister?”
Leela looked at the robot with an angry eye. “Bender, he’s probably never seen colors before, you nitwit.”
Neffan withdrew. “I am so sorry…I didn’t mean to offend. I probably should get back to work.”
Leela smiled. “You’re not offending us at all. We can show you around our ship if you’d like…”
“I can show him some porno – that’s really colorful stuff,” inserted Bender.
“Don’t you dare, Tin-Man.” Leela pointed up the gangway. “Get back on the ship if you’re going to misbehave.”
“Aw, you fleshbags are no fun!”
Fry helped Neffan load the paint cans into his van. As he worked, he began to sing a tune from the 1980’s.
Neffan stopped and pointed to him. “What’s that thing coming from your mouth?”
Fry looked at him in confusion. “What?”
“That noise…it was sort of like talking, but different. And when this woman you speak of blinded you with science…are you telling a tale of your people? How did she do this?”
“Uh…I was just singing a song…”
Leela walked over. Empathizing, she asked him, “You’ve never heard music before, have you?”
“Fry, play him something from your holophoner.”
Fry got that look on his face as if he’d been doing something bad. “My what?”
“Fry, I know you brought it with you. Play him a song.”
He gave Amy a mean look, and then loped up to the ship to grab his beloved instrument.
“Thanks a bunch, Leela,” Amy said, “now I’ll be living in his back pocket for the rest of the trip. You owe me for that one.”
Fry came back with his instrument, and looked around at everyone.
“Come on, Benny Goodman, play us a tune – I know you’ve been practicing,” said Leela. She placed her hand on Fry’s shoulder. “Amy did tell me, and I thought it was very sweet.”
Fry placed the mouthpiece to his lips, and started to play “Moonglow.” Neffan’s jaws dropped as the music began to float across the field, and he watched in amazement as the images of Fry and Leela began to dance above them. Neffan held up his hand to touch the figures, which seemed to dissipate every time his fingers made contact. Leela smiled, as if she were watching a curious child playing with soap bubbles for the first time. Soon a small group of locals came over to watch the display and listen to the music.
As he continued to play, two of the natives in military uniforms pulled up in an aircar. As they made their way over to the group, Bender threw his hands up in surrender. “Guys, if this is about that moonshine that I sold to those nuns, I could have sworn it was legal liquor. I got receipts!”
The officers shoved Bender aside, and walked up to the rest of the group. “You,” one of the men said, “turn that thing off.”
“I was just playing a song,” said Fry. The images disintegrated into thin air.
Leela stepped up. “I’m the captain of the crew of this ship. We haven’t been playing our music too loud…what exactly is the problem?”
The leader of the men stepped up. “I am Nangar. I also go by Epgar, or Junior. You have violated our sacred Law of Neutrality, and therefore must appear before our body of judges.”
“What’s the penalty for our infraction?” asked Leela.
The men looked at each other. “We aren’t quite sure – that will be for the judges to decide. For now, you must come with us.”
“Aw, yer bluffin’,” Bender said, “all you got are stunguns. Hey Leela, you want I should bash their heads in? I’ve been in prison, and I ain’t goin’ back!”
“No, don’t you dare. We probably will have to pay some sort of fine and be on our way. Let’s get into the car.”
Neffan had a strange, excited look on his face. “I can’t believe it,” he told the others, “someone actually made a decision!”
The five were placed inside a jail cell in the center of the capitol city. The jailer was so nonchalant about his duties that he briefly left the cell door open to answer a phone call.
"You left the door open, you Peanut-head!" Bender called out.
"Oh, sorry about that." The jailer quickly closed the door.
"Thanks, Bender...you're a real help," Leela spat.
Bender then grabbed Fry and held him in front of himself. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"I got shanked in Chino once," Bender said nervously, "I ain't goin' out like that. You'll be my human shield. I’ll need you to walk in front of me in the yard."
"How long will we be in here?" asked Amy sadly.
"I don't know," answered Neffan. "Maybe a few minutes...or weeks, if they get distracted and forget about us."
Bender gently grabbed Amy's arm. "Amy, our best chance is to sell Fry for all the cigarettes we can, and then join a prison gang like the Robot Brotherhood. We need to go into the blind...I'm sure they've got birds on the line, so watch what you say."
Leela frowned. "You don't even smoke cigarettes, you idiot."
"Oh, that's right. Sorry Fry."
Leela turned to Neffan. "So, how did you guys get into this situation, anyway?"
"What...the neutral thingee? It all goes back many years to an interstellar war where we tried to help a neighboring planet...we were nearly destroyed by the enemy. Ever since then, we’ve been a completely neutral society. As time went on, the neutral attitude began to rot our society from within. And now, our whole civilization has turned into mush."
Bender leaned in close to Amy. "If you'll give me a deck of squares, I'll teach you how to make pruno in the toilet."
"Bender, will you can it with the prison slang? We have no idea what you're talking about," said Leela.
The jailer soon came back. "The judges want to see you guys."
The five were brought into a small courtroom, which was painted in gray tones like everything else on the planet. The trial was to be televised, so a reporter spoke in front of a camera. "This is it, folks, the trial of the century," the reporter said. "Or, if you lose interest, there's always a Western on channel 8."
As the group stood there, a body of six judges came out to hear the case. A little weasel of a man in a gray suit came up to Leela. "Are you our court-appointed attorney?" she asked.
"I think," the man told her, "pretty much for now. Yes, I'm fairly sure."
Leela thrust up her hand until the judges turned to her. "Yes, young lady, what is it?"
"Can I represent my crew? I am their captain, after all."
"You want to represent your crew?"
"Did I stutter? Yes, I do. Your attorney here couldn't find his fly if he had 3 days and a road map to find it with...he doesn't even know if he's our council." The attorney withdrew from them.
The judges chattered amongst themselves.
"Well? Can I?"
More intense debate among the judges erupted.
Again, Leela's hand went up. Again, the lead judge motioned for her to speak. "Yes?"
"What exactly is the charge we're being accused of?"
The lead judge cleared his throat. "Well, uh...on the 38th day of this month you and your party broke our sacred law of neutrality and attempted a breach of peace. We’re not quite sure what, but something could have happened. You know how a mob mentality works…all heck could have broken loose."
"Okay...what is the penalty for what we've done? Is it a fine? Do we get a beating about the face and neck? Do we get put into stocks in the town square? What do we get?"
More debate ensued. "Uh," said the lead judge, "we don't know."
"You don't know?" Leela's eye got that downward curve of anger in its upper lid. "Okay, here's another question...not that you'll answer it. What is the precedent?"
"The precedent...how many times has this law been enforced - and what penalty was handed down?"
More discussion amongst the judges.
Bender leaned over to Amy. "Hey, toots," he told her, "after lunch we're havin' a prison break - we'll pick a fight with Fry as a distraction for the guards. You with me?"
Amy snorted. “Bender, you couldn’t break your way out of a wet paper bag.”
Now Leela was annoyed. "Excuse me..."
The lead judge turned, but then got pulled away into more discussion.
"You," Leela told the lead judge as she pointed to her eyeball, "look me right in the eye...right here. Don't look at him, look at me. Answer me now..."
"Can I represent my crew?"
"No, not good enough. This is a yes or no question. What is it - yes or no?"
"I swear if I hear you say 'uh' one more time, I'll give you a mouthful of bloody chicklets. I am starting these proceedings right now, if you have no objections..."
"But we were going to recess for lunch," said a whiney judge, "we just hadn't decided on how long a lunch break it would be."
"Too bad - you'll have to go hungry. You should have brought granola bars and a can of pop with you. We're starting the trial right now."
The judges looked at each other. "Uh, okay...I guess you can proceed."
"Your Honors, I move for a mistrial."
"A mistrial? Can she do that? Uh...on what grounds?"
Leela cleared her throat. I move for a mistrial on these grounds, Your Honors. Firstly, by enforcing the very neutrality law you hold in such high esteem, you have therefore made the law itself null and void. Ergo, concordantly, you have made a decision to arrest us, instead of remaining neutral and going about your way as the law would dictate.
Secondly, you have apparently never enforced this law before, therefore there is no precedent in which to penalize us by.
Thirdly, I rule that the judges present here are incompetent of rendering a decision. Thusly, if you were able to reach a verdict, you would again be in violation of the very law that you hold in such high regard. Either way, the entire judicial system on this planet is in shambles, and needs to be completely overhauled.”
Leela then walked up to the docket, and picked up a wooden gavel. “I declare this trial over, and recommend that the defendants be released with time served.” She pounded the gavel on the docket once. “I also recommend that no others be charged with this offense until further study can be made on this law.” She placed the gavel back on the docket. “I’ve got a small repair to do to my ship, and we won’t trouble you any further, Your Honors.”
Bender chuckled. “Johnny Cochran ain’t got nuthin’ on this gal; if the law don’t fit, you must acquit!”
“Shut up, Bender,” said Amy.
The judges just stood there in disbelief. “Can she do this?” asked the whiney judge.
“She apparently has,” said another.
Fry then stood up. “Your Honors, if I may…I only brought the instrument to play a song for my girlfriend’s birthday…you can understand that, can’t you?”
Leela gritted her teeth and motioned him to sit down.
“Well yes,” the lead judge said, “we can understand. We ourselves have wives and children at home that we sort of care for.”
“Sort of? I know she just threatened you and bullied you around…she can do that. She’s done it to me. But this lady here is someone that I really care for. And I just wanted to give her something nice for her birthday. But, if I’ve got to go back to jail, I’m willing to do that for her…so she and the others can go free. I was the one who broke the law, not them. They can pick me up when my sentence is served.”
The lead judge thought about it. He picked up the gavel and held it in his hands. “You make a very appealing argument, young man. I move…I move…that we side with this woman and declare a mistrial.”
Again, the judges began arguing amongst themselves.
“Well?” asked the lead judge, “are we judges or not? It’s about time we judged something. We’ll make this a precedent case. Who incarcerated these people anyway?”
“We thought you did,” said one of the judges.
“But we haven’t even had lunch yet,” complained the whiney judge.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake – go downstairs to the vending machines…”
“But for how long?”
“I don’t know…come back when you feel well fed.” He then turned to shake Neffan’s hand. “That took some courage, young man…you may have started something here. Your parents should be proud.”
Neffan grinned. “My parents barely know my name - they argued for days about what to call me when I was born.”
The lead judge then turned to Leela. "And you people...you've created quite a mess here, but I suppose it's not all bad. Maybe it's time to shake things up a bit around here. It will take time, though."
“Now you’re starting to be worthy of those judge robes, Your Honor.”
“I’m going to make more decisions,” the lead judge remarked. “I’m calling my wife right now – I’m not going to vacuum the floor for her annoying bridge club friends.”
“Easy, Your Honor…you might want to take this in small steps.”
Leela busily worked on the ship in hopes of getting back into space before dark. As she groped around inside one of the hull plates, she thrust her hand out to Fry. "Spanner...the big one," she told him.
Fry handed her the tool.
She crawled back out of the hole, and replaced the hull plate. "That ought to do it...we'll at least get home." She wiped her hands. "This bucket of bolts will break down anywhere in the galaxy...but it will get you across the galaxy before it breaks down."
"Hey, it's Neffan," said Amy.
Neffan came up to the ship wearing a bright yellow shirt. His pants where blue with pink polka dots. He wore red shoes. "Well guys, what do you think? I found these clothes buried in the back of the warehouse. I'm starting a revolution, and this seemed like the best way to go about it. It will take some time, but hopefully this is a good start."
"I can see that," Leela told him. "With that outfit, you might be the first one up against the wall when the revolution breaks out."
"Neffan," Amy said, "you and I need to talk about coordinating your colors a bit; I'm about to go blind from all that clashing. I'm sorry to say this, but you look like a circus clown."
"What’s a circus? Then again, what’s a clown?” Neffan shrugged his shoulders. “Hey Fry, could I ask you to make more of that noise on that thingee of yours?"
"Aw nuts," said Bender, "I'm hidin' up in the ship - I'm not going back to the joint! They'll never take me alive!" Bender pulled a sack out of his door. “Fry – we’ll pour these coffee grounds all over ourselves to throw off the scent of the dogs. We’ll split up once we hit the woods. Don't you dare follow me.”
"I suppose I can play some more," Fry told him.
"Yeah, you never did get to finish your birthday present to me," Leela said with a smile.
Fry jogged back up to the ship, and retrieved his instrument. When he came down, he started up with Miles Davis' "Blue in Green." Again, the images of Leela and himself began to dance through the sky in a sea of color. Leela smiled, and couldn't help but appreciate how good he'd gotten with the holophoner. In the few minutes that Fry played, several more of the local citizens gathered to watch the spectacle. No one came by to pester them.
Amy nudged Leela in the shoulder. "Just a thought, sis - now that we've caused the collapse of their society, we can't call them Neutrals anymore."
"Well, what will we call them?"
"All my life, whenever it comes time to make a decision, I make it and forget about it."
President Harry S. Truman