Neptune was in the furthest reaches of its orbit, beyond Pluto. Leela was glancing through the tour guide pamphlet. She was glad that the question of Pluto being a planet was ancient history. But Fry seemed to have it confused with a dog. She didn’t understand.
“How much longer?” Amy asked to nobody in particular.
Leela sighed. “When these porpoise heads in LeVerrier give us a docking berth.”
“Yeah, but how much longer?”
“Did your parents ever take you on long trips?”
“So I guessed.”
Fry wandered in. “Hey, when are these porpoise heads going to get a berth for us?”
Amy kept filing her nails, Leela dropped her head onto the console.
“And when is Heather getting back? We need her to sign that crate through customs.”
Amy perked up, “You know it was strange that there was a shuttle waiting to pick her up as soon as we arrived here. We can’t even get a berth, and she’s like so out of here.”
Leela raised her head, rested her chin in her palm, and inhaled to say something but was interrupted by a chime from the control console.
“We have a space in LeVerrier! Move over, boredom! Here we come.”
LeVerrier Port was a freight depot orbiting the equator of Neptune. This was the off season for the port, other times of the year it was almost exclusively used by Santa. In spite of what Amy thought was a long time, the PES was able to secure a berth relatively quickly.
The Neptunians crewing the station were efficient. When the PES landed, there was a yellow crate waiting for them.
Bender looked out the window, “I’m not picking that up. You need my predecessor, Lifter.”
“Bender!” Leela whapped Bender in the back of the head. “C’mon, let’s go see this thing.”
Heather hired the PES crew to deliver clothing specifically made for Neptunians on Earth. But this didn’t look like a crate of clothes. It was yellow, lumpy, made of plastisteel, and about as high as Fry’s shoulder. Across the surface was printed several different warnings in different languages.
“Man, what kind of clothes are these?” Fry rubbed his elbow.
“Apparently shirts with four sleeves.” Leela opened the inspection hatch, and glanced inside. And was rewarded by a view of different colored fabrics sealed in plastic. Then she noticed the freight bill of lading. “Oh, oh look. Heather has already signed this through customs. How’d she do that? Where is she anyway?”
A crew of six Neptunians arrived. The lead pair instructed the group to load the crate into the ship. But they weren’t able to. More hands were called. Still the crate was too heavy. A third crew arrived. The eighteen Neptunians finally pushed the crate onboard the PES.
“You’d never get me to lift that,” Bender chimed in.
“You didn’t,” muttered Leela. “Let’s find Heather and get the seventeen shades of Hades out of here.”
Inside the ship, the crew was anxious to leave. The thought of a quiet delivery to New New York ran across everybody’s mind. Fry and Bender sat in the forward lounge, Amy in the engineer position, and Leela settled herself into the Captain’s chair. Amy finally noticed the light blinking on the communications desk.
“Oh, joy. It’s from the Professor. I hope he doesn’t start with…”
“Good news, everyone! We have a bonus! There is a passenger on Neptune who needs to be taken immediately to Earth. And he’s paid us already!”
Amy and Leela looked at each other. “But we’re not a passenger ship, we’re…”
“Now I know we’re not a passenger ship, but he doesn’t mind. Neither do I. With this payment I can invest in that pizza parlor across the street. Chop-chop!”
“Fry,” Leela smirked. “Looks like you may get your old job back.”
Fry stood up and started to say something but was interrupted by a chime. There was somebody at the hatch. Leela glanced at the monitor and smiled.
“Well, half of our passenger list is complete.” She released the door lock.
Some sounds floated out of the corridor, and the door to the control room slid open. Heather glanced inside, behind her, and then entered. She was wearing the same overcoat she’d had when she first hired the crew, but had a small duffel bag slung over her shoulder.
“Well? Lets go! I got the crate around customs already. Lets get out of here.”
“I’d like to, Missy. But we can’t.”
Heather raised her eyebrows and spluttered.
Amy suspected that Leela was enjoying this. She took a long look at the Neptunian. Something was different but she wasn’t able to pinpoint it.
“The Professor has taken on another passenger. Looks like we’re becoming a passenger liner.”
“What? Who?” More spluttering. “I paid for this trip. This is on my schedule!” One set of arms clung onto the duffel bag, another hand on her hip, the remaining hand pointed at Leela. Both eyes focused on Leela.
“Hold on there. If the Professor has taken on another somebody dumb enough to ride with us, we need to take whoever it is.”
More spluttering. “What? You don’t even know who it is?”
Leela obviously didn’t like being talked back to. “Does it matter?”
As Heather opened her mouth again, another chime sounded. There was a long pause between Leela and Heather.
“Well, what now?” Sulking, Heather folded one set of arms across her chest and sat down.
“Passenger number two is here. Now we can leave. Fry, go see who it is, and get whoever it is into a cabin.” Leela faced her consol again and started to flip random switches.
With a sideways glance Leela said to Heather: “You and I have some unfinished business to talk about.”
“Fine, just get me to New New York.”
More switches being flipped sounded quite loud in the silence.
The ship pulled away from LeVerrier. As a last parting security precaution, the ship was scanned by a bored security team. Afterwards Heather seemed a bit more relaxed.
“Hey everybody,” Fry entered the control room, “Meet our passenger Doctor Hnn.” An Omicronian ducked through the doorway.
“No!” The crew and passenger turned and looked. Heather was standing, barely able to stop shaking. “No, not that!” A second passed before anybody reacted. Heather ran out of the control room.
Dumbfounded, Leela turned to Amy. “Amy, go find Miss Canary and see what’s going on with her.” Turning to the Omicronian she said “I’d like to apologize for our other passenger, but I can’t. She’ll have to do that herself. The flight time to Earth is relatively short but I don‘t want any more…” Leela grimaced “…tension than we already have.”
Amy wandered down the corridor, listening. She wasn’t quite sure what she was listening for, but still moved forward. Finally she heard it. At first she couldn’t identify the sound. It was a thumping, clicking sound. Not from Heathers room, but the cabin assigned to Hnn.
“Hello?” Amy tried the door. Locked. She sighed, opened a small access plate, flipped a bypass, and the door slid open.
Heather was pounding on the wall with one arm, and typing on a personal comm device with two others, and still clutching the duffel bag. Amy could have sworn that Heathers’ eyes moved independently to follow everything that she was doing.
“Hello?” Amy asked again.
Heather spun around and glared at Amy. “What’s going on, Miss Ca-” Amy faltered, then spit out “Missy?”
“How could you let this happen? Don’t you know anything?” Heather pointed at Amy. Amy focused on that fingertip. “An Omicronian! That ‘Doctor’ title is plain smoke screen. Do you know what those mercenaries do to us?”
Amy refocused on Heather. She lowered her shoulders, tried to relax and sighed, said: “Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about, or what you’re trying to do. But what you said was plain flat rude.”
Heather squinted her eyes. And stood fully upright. Amy suddenly realized Heather wasn’t very tall. “Rude? How ignorant are you? Santa hires Omicronians as security guards. Those…” Heather takes a deep breath “…mercenary things are what keeps us under Santas’ metallic thumb!”
Amy just stared.
After a second Heather continued. “How much do you know about us? I mean Neptunians!”
Amy shook her head. It was probably better to just listen for a few minutes.
Heather sighed, but still angry she continued. ”Neptunians begin life small.” Amy nodded. “Then grow to full size in adulthood, then we grow small again as we age. Santa likes small people. They’re easy to intimidate. And you have to admit that Omicronians are pretty intimidating.”
Amy nodded. “Globously. Hnn barely fit through the door. Wait, how old are you?”
Another glare. Amy was becoming immune to that. “I’m on the shrinking side. Last year I was this much taller. But that’s not important. Do you know how tall my parents are?”
Amy slowly shook her head. Then opened her eyes wide. “That crate…?”
Heathers turn to be surprised. “Yes, inside that crate is my immediate family. Four of my family.” Two hands held up four fingers, another pointed at herself. “And you let an Omicronian on board!”
Amy’s doctorial mind came on-line. Twelve years studying under the Professor finally became handy. “Wait, how could there be four people in there? It’s not that big. Unless…”
“Unless most of the crate is full of hibernation naptosis equipment. It’s self-sustaining for a few days complete with lack of electronic signature. Typical security screens won’t see it. But I need to get it emptied soon!”
“Oh, okay. But it’s a short trip to Earth.”
Heather put one hand on her hip and mimicked Amy: “Globously, it’s already taken several days to get through customs.”
Now it was Amys’ turn to glare at Heather. “Oh, We gotta tell Leela.” Amy clicked a toggle to connect her with the bridge. But before she said anything to Leela, Amy faced Heather and said “Nice nails. Those are done by Saint Aplhalnzo, right? Don’t deny it, I know my manicurists. Get the pedicure also? Serious money for that set, let me tell you. Daddy hated it whenever I visited Neptune.”
Heather stood still.
“Leela? This is Amy. We have a problem.”
“You can say that again. We have…” A click, the ship lurched, then blackness.