Futurama

Fan Fiction

Futurama: Universe of Malice, Part 2
By Kenneth White

Chapter 2: Facing Worlds

Sliding across the smooth metallic surface, a shiny silver ball shot just missed a reaching hand and disappeared into the darkness behind him.

"GOAL!!!" a loud robotic shout voice shouted out, echoing around the room.

A man lay on the floor, looking at where the ball had gone. He clenched his hand into a fist and banged it down on the shiny grey floor. The same hand that had just seconds ago missed the silver ball that had disappeared into the goal.

"Dammit!"

Three men slid over to him, stopping remarkably quickly, considering their speed. They wore metallic suits that were as shiny as the floor, but instead of being silver they were red. Almost like a suit of armour, they wore helmets and gloves, but the material obviously wasn't as heavy. Golden numbers adorned their front too, with one having the number 2, one having 12 and the other with 8. The guy on the ground had a large number 3 on his back, and worse similar attire, although his helmet had a much large guard that covered almost his whole face. The one with number 2 on him sneered down at the fallen man, while number 8 stooped down to help him up.

"That's what happens when you skip practice, Maurice."

The goalkeeper, Maurice, got to his feet. He argued back. "I didn't skip practice, I was busy!"

"Oh yeah," said number 2 sarcastically, "you were with that bimbo, weren't you?"

He nudged number 12. "Am I right, Donovan?"

Donovan laughed before slipping over from the nudge.

"Hey! Katie's not a bimbo!"

Maurice lunged at number 2, who simply slid aside to send the goal keeper flying past him and hitting the metallic floor with a deep clang.

"Come on guys, lighten up," said number 8. "We've got a game to win."

The four red suited players looked across the achromatic arena to where a group of seven opposing players were getting into their fielding positions. They wore the same style of team uniform, but were coloured in a shiny sapphire, rather than red. Their three other teammates were also placing themselves appropriately. The arena in which they stood was pretty much all metal. The floor was reflective, and the walls all had a slight curve to them. There were goals at each end, each one had a large screen above it. On both sides of the arena were glowing yellow orbs built into the wall, one on each side. The red team had one on their side of the arena, it was on their right, while the blue team's one was on the opposite wall on their domain. High up around the arena were rows of seats, however only two were occupied, both by old men wearing tracksuits.

The four red players slid over to their spots, indicated by foot print symbols on the floor. Upon standing on them, the footprints lit up, glowing a bright jade green. Then they waited.

Within seconds a chrome square tile in the centre of the room flipped open to reveal a mini-cannon. The cannon stopped for a split second to shoot a metal ball into the air, before the tile flipped back to its normal place. As the ball sailed high into the air, the forward centres for each team both leapt up to grab it. The red player, number 2, took the ball in his hand, then immediately threw it down into the awaiting hands of the team-mate to his right, who had run ahead as soon as the ball had been shot. Catching it, the player quickly swerved away from a diving blue player, then tackled another. Drawing his arm back, he then threw the ball to his left on an angle; it just missing the hand of a blue player who was in a desperate dive to claim it. Another blue player in defense watched the ball and then called out in shock.

"ELECTRO BALL!"

No sooner had he said it than the ball hit the yellow orb on the blue team's side. Upon contact it sparked, and the orb lost it's glow. However, the ball got it instead, as it raced towards the blue player who had just yelled out, emitting a golden glow. It flew into the player's chest, sparking and causing a bright flash accompanied by a small cloud of smoke and an electrical crackle. The victim was blown straight into the air, about two or three metres high, before he hit the ground with a dull metallic clunk. He groaned, a dark circular scorch mark on the centre of his chest. The ball sped on, heading directly towards the goalie. He knew he had to stop the ball, but the chances were low. There was enough electrical energy in it to knock down another two players, so unless another two stood in his way, it would go through him like it did his associate. Then, the ball made contact. BLAM!!! The goalie was sent flying, as the ball hit his leg. He spun in the air three times before landing face first on the shiny surface below. His immediate reaction was to turn his head so that he could see the ball spinning towards the goal. He closed his eyes, listening for the sound of a score.

Clang!

That wasn't the sound of a goal he heard, but the sound of metal on metal. He opened his eyes again to see the ball rolling on the ground, it's glow diminishing. It hadn't gone in, and he could see why. In front of the goal was a large metal cover, stopping anything from entering it. The two red lights on either side of the goal screens flashed as writing spun up onto the screen, and a voice-over said what the word said: "DENIED!"

The red team members all groaned in disapproval and disappointment just before the screen changed again. This time the face of Captain Zapp Brannigan appeared on screen, his familiar arrogant smirk there for all to see.

"They stopped our goal to show his ugly face?!" one of the red players whined.

Brannigan spoke: "Greetings, fellow members of the DOOP. I, Captain Zapp Brannigan, ask all ensigns to report to the Great Debriefing Hall for a special announcement."

Meanwhile, Admiral Graham Gordon sat in his office with a glass of whiskey in hand. His chair was turned to face the window where he looked onto the Earth below. He lifted the glass to his mouth to drink more, a dim glow shining on him, caused from the shine from the planet outside. He listened, Brannigan's message being transmitted through a speaker on one of the walls.

"I have to choose forty-seven of you for a super secret mission to a far away planet where a super secret substance called Black Spirit has been discovered."

The Admiral had just taken a mouthful of liquor, and after hearing what Zapp had said to everybody in the DOOP Headquarters, his eyes widened and he ejected the drink from his mouth, spraying it across the window. He rose from his chair and with an expression of infuriation he yelled at the top of his lungs into the air, "BRANNIGAAAAN!!!!!"

In the comms room, Zapp Brannigan stood in front of a camera with a microphone above his head. The camera was being operated by his first mate, Lieutenant Kif Kroker. Kif had a look of pure boredom on his face, while Zapp smiled as he continued, probably enjoying the fact that he could see multiple pictures of himself on the many monitors around him more than anything else.

"So, if you're brave and willing to take on this dangerous mission, then come to the Great Debriefing Hall at 1900 hours to volunteer."

Zapp lifted the edge of his left glove and looked at his watch.

"That's about......... twenty..... thirty...... twenty-two..... Twenty Seven minutes from now, so get moving!"

Zapp walked out of the view of the camera, then stopped for a few seconds before leaning back to have his head back within view of the lens.

"Oh, and a few Lieutenants as well, I need a few of you guys I think."

He disappeared out of the view again, and the camera switched off. Kif jumped off the camera seat and walked over to Zapp.

"So, Kif, how do you think I did?"

"It was okay, Sir. But don't you think Admiral Gordon will be mad at you for announcing the secret to everybody in the space station?" Kif replied.

"Don't be stupid, Kif. Why, the only way to get men to follow you to death and back is to tell them about the excitement of the mission ahead. The men need to know what the exciting locations that they'll see and what's going to kill them."

Kif rolled his eyes back and sighed in frustration.

"Now we must prepare, Kif!" Zapp continued. "Come. You can help me put on my special ceremonial underwear."

As Zapp turned and left the room via a automatic sliding door, Kif shuddered and followed him reluctantly.


Twenty Minutes Later

The Great Debriefing Hall, one of the largest rooms aboard the orbiting DOOP Headquarters, was swarming with carmine uniforms. They were all sitting in front of a large stage, and all but 12 of them were ensigns. There had to be at least 2,000 people in there. On the stage stood a lone podium, and a large engraving of the DOOP's famous logo adorned the wall behind it. The noise of chattering amongst the ensigns dwindled to a light mumble as the small green Lieutenant Kif Kroker walked onto the stage and approached the podium. He stood before it, and the hall fell silent. He spoke: "Please rise for the arrival of legendary DOOP Captain, Zapp Brannigan."

Kif rolled his eyes as the ensigns rose, then stepped down from the podium and waited beside it. Within moments, the tall, proud captain walked onto the stage and proceeded to the podium. All that could be heard was Zapp's footsteps. He stopped at the podium and faced the assembly below.

"At ease, men! You may be seated!"

They did.

Zapp spoke aside to Kif, "Kif! Raise this microphone a notch for me." The microphone was just under Zapp's chin.

Kif groaned. "Can't you do it, Sir?"

"I don't need to," Zapp replied, "when you can do it for me."

Kif groaned and rolled his eyes again. He pressed a red button shaped like an upwards-pointing arrow on the side of the podium. The microphone flicked up, hitting Zapp on the nose.

"OW!! Lower! Lower!"

"Sorry, Sir," Kif replied, lowering the microphone so that it was in front of Zapp's mouth. He then turned away and chuckled to himself quietly.

"Okay men!" Zapp continued. "I've summoned you here for a purpose. Which is elementary, because there'd be no point summoning you if there was no purpose, would there?"

As Zapp paused, there was nothing but silence from his audience. After about five seconds, a voice rang out from somewhere in the crowd.

"You suck!"

Zapp cleared his throat, clearly ignoring the comment. He started again, "Men, for those few of you that will be chosen for this mission, I must say you will be the luckiest men alive. This is a mission of adventure, mystery and responsibility. This may just be the mission that changes your lives forever."

"Or ends them forever," mumbled Kif under his breath.

"But before I continue, are there any questions?" the star ship captain queried.

There was just silence again, until Maurice, the goalkeeper from the red team playing earlier, stood up from his front row seat with his left arm raised slightly. Rather than wearing the metallic red sports armour he adorned earlier, Maurice was now wearing a crimson velour uniform.

Zapp noted him and pointed in his direction. "Yes, Ensign?"

"Where are we going, exactly..... Sir?" Maurice asked.

Zapp smiled. "I'm glad you asked," he said, before turning his attention to Kif. "Lieutenant Kroker, the star map if you please?"

Kif nodded and took a remote control from behind his back. It had a large red button on it, which he depressed, aiming it at the roof. In a split second, a device above and to the right of Zapp shot a 3D circular hologram of the known universe above the stage. There it sat, orbiting slightly and glowing a bright green. Zapp smiled and walked in amongst it, easily walking right through stars, suns and planets. The thing was a hologram after all. He stopped and then looked as some of the planets circled around him, a look of confusion on his face.

"What's going on, the planet's supposed to be here?" he said angrily.

An old green member of Kif's species sat up from one of the chairs, leaning on his old walking stick. "So, the Captain has lost a planet has he, Hmmmmmm?" he chuckled. "How embarrassing! How embarrassing!"

"Quiet you!" retorted Zapp before turning his attention back to Lieutenant Kroker. "Kif, where's the planet?"

Kif walked over to a completely different area of the hologram star chart, then pointed to a planet with a look of pure boredom on his face. "I believe this is the planet you're looking for, Sir," he said, his voice matching his expression.

Zapp wandered over to Kif, then looked at the planet Kif was indicating. The expression on his face changed back to an arrogant smirk. "Of course it is, Kif. I was just wondering when you'd figure that out. You passed my test."

Kif rolled his eyes again, before returning to where he stood before. Zapp indicated the planet himself and continued talking to the assembly, "Here we have the planet known as Cimmerian. A dark and desolate world where to even breathe in is to die. For those few of you that will be chosen, it will be your home for at least the next two years, unless of course you die. You will be guarding a top-secret mining crew, as well as some DOOP engineers who will be building a defending fortress on the planet. Here you will protect them from any alien attacks until the base has been completed. After that, you will man the defence post. It will be equipped with high tech weapons as well as all the comforts of home. Only fifty of you will go, three of you will be lieutenants, the rest ensigns. Are there any questions?"

Many ensigns raised their hands, but the one Zapp called on was a man in the third row. He rose and spoke: "What exactly is this 'Black Spirit' you mentioned?"

"I don't recall mentioning anything about a Black Spirit?" Zapp replied.

"But earlier, when you called us on the--"

"There is no Black Spirit," Zapp interrupted. "That was just a cover to get you men interested in the mission."

Another man rose and spoke: "Then what's the deal with that?"

Everybody turned their heads towards where the man pointed, which was to a large window that covered most of the wall to the left of the assembly. Outside that window, the Nimbus could be seen at a docking port. A large ramp connected the Nimbus to the docking port and loads of machinery and equipment was being loaded onto the star ship via this ramp. In large black letters on the side of many of the crates, vehicles and machinery entering the ship was writing such as 'Black Spirit Mining Crew', 'Black Spirit Defense Crew', 'Black Spirit Base Supplies' and other such things. After about ten seconds, the assembly all turned their attention back to Zapp. As the Captain stood there dumbfounded, the man who asked the question rose an eyebrow and sniggered a slightly sinister chuckle from the back of his throat.

Zapp tittered. "Tha.... that's purely for show," he said nervously. "In case enemies come across us. They'll just think we're....... uh..... involved in the making of some dark alcohol."

There was some murmuring in the assembly between the ensigns. The man who asked the question let loose a final snort of contempt before sitting down. Zapp raised his hand and the forum fell silent.

"In any case, there's a sign up sheet by the door. As you leave, all those interested place your names on it. The first forty-seven of you will be chosen. If there are not enough of you, the rest will be chosen by random selection. Would the twelve lieutenants who showed up please stay behind. Men, you are dismissed."

The hall rose simultaneously and made their way for the exit. Every so often, a man would stop at the sign up sheet and scribble down his name on it before leaving again. Within two minutes, the hall was empty, save for Zapp, Kif and the twelve lieutenants. Kif wandered over to the where the sheet hung, while Zapp walked down to where the remaining dozen officers sat.

He addressed them, "Men. You are the finest that DOOP has to offer. Because of this, five of you will come with us to Cimmerian. One of you will be promoted to commander to run the base once it is completed. Now, before I continue, how many of you are interested in undertaking this mission?"

Seven of them raised their hands.

"Okay. Those who didn't raise their hands may leave. The rest of you will undergo a special DOOP selection process."

The men that didn't raise their hands rose from their chairs and left the room. Kif wandered over and handed the piece of paper with the volunteers on it to Zapp.

"One hundred and thirty two names, Sir," the small green Lieutenant told Zapp.

"Excellent," the Captain replied, turning his attention back to the seven men who sat in front of him. He reached into his pocket and then pulled out several plastic straws. He separated some, then put all but seven into his pocket. Turning around, he arranged the straws so that it appeared each was of equal height in his hand. Turning back, he held the straws up to the lieutenant on the far left. He took a straw. Zapp then held it to the man sitting next to the first man and he took a straw. this continued until all of the lieutenants each had one. Zapp compared the straws and sent two of them away. One of them was the second person to take a straw, the other was the last.

He addressed the five remaining when the other two left the room: "Congratulations men! Today is the first day of the rest of your lives."

The man sitting directly in front of Zapp raised a hand. Zapp nodded in his direction.

"Now that it's just those who will be on the mission, Captain, could you please tell us what this is about, exactly?"

"And your name is.....?" queried Zapp.

"Lieutenant Bill Raker, Sir."

"Well, Mister Raker, I shall debrief you all as to what this is all about during our travels. I suggest that you all use the remaining time to prepare for departure and say goodbye to your women. We depart tomorrow at 1800 hours, but we want you ready and at the ship two hours in advance. Dismissed."

The five men rose from their seats and saluted, then turned and left.

Zapp handed the list in his hand back to Kif without looking at him. "Notify the first forty seven on the list that they've made the cut, Kif. I'll be in my quarters waiting for you to do my packing when you're done."

"Yes, Sir," Kif sighed, and he left the large room also.

Zapp smiled to himself. "This mission is going to be very, VERY interesting."


The next day at 1800 hours GMT, the great DOOP ship Nimbus departs from the orbiting DOOP space station. Filled with men, both recruits of the DOOP and mining and building crews, as well as heavy machinery, the ship gracefully detaches from its docking bay and makes it's way into deep space. On the main bridge, Captain Zapp Brannigan sat in his chair, his loyal first mate Kif standing to his right side. Around them operating the many control panels and computers were about a dozen scarlet uniformed men. Zapp leaned forward and pressed a button on the control panel incorporated within the right armrest. A triple-bleep sounded and he spoke, directing his voice towards the armrest: "This is your Captain speaking. Would the five Lieutenants on the ship please make their way to Conference Area 2ACV02 immediately, where you shall all be debriefed as to our mission. That is all."

Zapp hit the button again, turning off the intercom as another triple bleep sounded, this one a reverse version of the original. He turned to Kif and he rose, "You're in charge of the bridge while I'm debriefing the others, Kif."

As Zapp left the bridge, Kif took over the captain's chair. Meanwhile, behind them, somebody watched the ship disappear out of sight through a large window in the DOOP space station. He had a glass of dark liquid in hand. It was, of course, Admiral Graham Gordon. A smile formed in the corner of the Admiral's mouth. "Well. It looks like I'm finally rid of Zapp Brannigan. At least for a couple of years."

"Is that why you chose him for this mission?" a familiar robotic voice questioned from behind him.

"Indeed," the admiral nodded, turning his head. "Zapp wasn't chosen for this mission because he's the best captain for the job, Servo. He was chosen because he's the most annoying and self-centered."

"In other words, he's irritating and completely expendable," Servo said.

Gordon smiled at his robotic friend, nodding simply with a quiet chuckle in his throat.

Back in Nimbus Conference Area 2ACV02, Zapp Brannigan and four of the lieutenants waited around a large table. Zapp was at the far end of the long table, while two men sat at the table on the right side of Zapp and another two to his left. Behind those on the left, was a long window that stretched across the whole wall with its width, but was only about a metre in height. There was also about a metre between the top of the window and the roof, and a metre between the bottom of the window and the floor. Stars could be seen flitting past constantly through the window. At each end of the long room was a door, one behind Zapp, and one at the other end of the table. Another door was situated in the middle of the room on the right-hand wall, opposite the window. Decorating the same wall were a few computer images of the Nimbus from different viewpoints, as well as a map of the whole ship, a computer screen that displayed a bunch of constantly changing figures, and a large screen, which was completely blank. A single shelf also adorned one part of the wall, and upon it sat a single object. It was a golden scale model of the Nimbus itself, which sat on a wooden stand. The only other things in the room were a few unused chairs, computer consoles beside each of the doors and the small computers that sat in front of the five officers present. The men were silent, obviously waiting for someone, or something, patiently.

Then, the door across the far end of the room slid open with a swish. Stepping through it was Lieutenant Bill Raker. Zapp smiled, staring at the new entrant across the other end of the table, while the others simply turned their heads in his direction. Zapp stood up and spoke: "Ah, Lieutenant Raker. How good of you to join us. Please, take a seat."

"Yes, Sir," replied Raker, taking a seat on the left, his back to the window. He then pressed a button on the underside of the table and in a flash two panels in the desk in front of him slid away and a computer, exactly like the ones the others had, popped up out of the desk. All the men turned their attention to the captain, who had sit back down again.

"Men. The details of our mission are top secret. Nobody outside this ship must hear any of what I'm about to tell you now. That is why there will be no outgoing communications from this ship, nor will there be any from the planet Cimmerian once we arrive. I will be the only one who can make outgoing transmissions. Any questions?"

The men sat silent, almost like statues.

After about ten seconds Zapp continued: "Now, on to your mission"

He pressed a button on his computer. A holographic image appeared in the centre of the table, similar to that of the one that appeared in the Debriefing Hall in the DOOP space station earlier, but instead of many planets, this image only had one. The only other thing that appeared was a single moon that orbited the heavenly body.

"This is the planet Cimmerian, our destination," Zapp stated simply. "It is the second planet from its sun, and is dark and dangerous, void of oxygen, with temperatures that reach into the hundreds of degrees celsius. There is little visibility, and the surface is prone to random earthquakes. Questions?"

This time ALL the men rose their hands.

Zapp pointed to the one closest to him on the right. "Yes, Lieutenant Rock?"

"Why are we going to this God-forsaken place?!"

"Excellent question," Zapp replied. "And here is your answer...."

Zapp bent under the desk and after some shuffling he pulled out a clear container with a lid. Inside the container was the same black liquid that Admiral Gordon had shown him only a few hours earlier. He removed the lid and slid it into the middle of the desk. The eyes of the four lieutenants followed it as it slid, and rested on it as it stopped.

"That gentleman," Zapp continued, "is Black Spirit."

"So it does exist?" said the man sitting next to Lieutenant Rock in an almost awed whisper.

"Yes, Lieutenant Beta. And this is what we're fighting for. Many other races have caught on to this discovery, and it's up to us to make sure it remains in the hands of the DOOP."

"But why is this stuff so special?" asked Lieutenant Rock.

"Another good question," Zapp said.

Zapp continued to debrief the men and inform them about the situation and the substance itself. Unaware as to what was happening just a few million kilometers away from their destination....



The planet's name was Calorificus. Only 73 million kilometers from Cimmerian, it was the first planet from the sun in its solar system. The amount of land on the planet was small. It mostly consisted of molten rock; an ocean of glowing lava. The only land visible on the planet consisted of small islands of hard rock dotted about the planet's surface, surrounded by the burning red liquid. None were any larger than a few kilometers in length and most were strangely flat on the top. A hardy green grass blanketed the surface of them, which was about the only plant life that survived in the harsh conditions, due to its proximity to the sun. The only other vegetation consisted of a strange white bush that grew here and there on the surface, which had small blue berries on it. The skies were nothing but a dirty brown mass of cloud, which was strangely semi-transparent for some reason, meaning that the nearby sun and the charred moons could be seen from the planet's surface, assuming there was anybody or anything to see them. Apparently, something could.

From a small hole in the ground on a raised piece of land about half-a-kilometer in length and half that again in width, a head popped out. The head was completely black, and belonged to what appeared to be a lizard. Climbing completely out of the hole, the long, but tiny, dark lizard sniffed the air. Flicking its tongue out, it scuttled over to the edge of the piece of rocky land and peered over the edge; it was a sheer drop into the lava below. As the red glow beamed onto the creature's face, it looked out across the sea of magma. There was no horizon and no more land to see, just an endless stretch of glowing red, orange and yellow. It turned its head towards the sky. Cocking its head to one side with a gurgle, the reptile observed a passing moon with its purple eyes. The moon was black with red glowing crooked lines that zigzagged randomly across the surface, clearly showing how hot the natural satellite was.

As the lizard watched it, though, the earth below him began to shake. The reptile jumped away from the edge of the cliff, then watched the moon again. It was used to the frequent volcanic activity and the daily earthquakes. The ground continued to shake, though, and also began to get more violent. After about a minute, the lizard began to get shook around, and with a worried expression on its little face, it desperately tried to get back to its hole. Awkwardly scurrying inside the burrow, it poked its head out of the hole again and looked around. Turning its head swiftly to the right, it watched as a second moon travelled by. The creature began to turn its head away, but then whipped it back towards the moving object, realising it wasn't the second moon at all.

For one thing, the spherical object was further away than the moon should be, and secondly, it wasn't black. Although the smoke cover made it hard to distinguish exactly what it was, it wasn't a moon, and the reptile knew this. As it watched it, it saw that the object glowed with red and orange: a reflection from the planet against its surface. It also appeared to be getting closer, and as it did, the earthquakes got more violent. The lizard however stood his ground, crouched in the hole and he watched and waited. It then realised something else: the object was heading towards the moon that he'd watched earlier. Bracing itself, the creature continued to watch, despite the fact that the whole planet was shaking, and a strong wind was also blowing. However, what the reptile saw next was an amazing example of both awe and destruction

As the large sphere approached the moon, it became clear that it was over twice its size. Then at the front of the object, or at least what could be considered the front, based purely on the direction it was travelling, a hole began to appear, getting wider and wider. From out of that hole, a thin red beam shot, hitting the moon in the dead center. The beam did not appear to harm the moon in any way though, but instead the lunar entity slowly became covered in a sparkling red. Once the red had stretched across the whole surface, it grew away from the geosphere, increasing in size and giving the appearance of a large red bubble that enveloped the tiny moon. Because of the size of the surrounding laser-red globe, it no longer touched the surface, but rather surrounded it, appearing almost like a force field. In some ways it was.

The hole that was the red beam's source then also grew in size, changing the previously thin beam into more of a tube. The red beam may have been harmless, but what happened next however, was not.

Without warning, a thin purple beam shot out from where the red one did moments earlier, striking the side of the moon and clearly damaging it. Within a few seconds, it shot out the other side too, only stopping when it met the inside edge of the transparent red sphere. Then, as fast as it had appeared, the beam vanished. The damage it did, did not. The moon began to crumble where the holes had been made, then random explosions appeared on the surface, first few and minor, but the blasts soon built in intensity and numbers. As this occurred, large chunks began getting sucked into the violent sphere

The lizard could only watch in awe as its planet's neighbour tore itself apart and got devoured by the destructive ball. It then also became clear what the red force field-like ball surrounding the moon was for, as bits of moon that exploding away made contact, they bounced back, preventing any debris from escaping the object that caused it. Within a few minutes, there was nothing left at all. No sign that the moon was even there. The red beam flickered and disappeared. If the reptile was scared from what he just saw, what happened next must have been pure terror.

Slowly, but surely, the round silver monster turned towards the planet. When its turn had ceased, the small creature was almost certain that it was staring straight at him. It just sat and watched, the destruction around him caused by the intruding orb's proximity alone forgotten. Then, the hole opened again, shooting that same red beam down at the planet. Within minutes, the whole planet was blanketed in it the same way as the former moon was previously. The last thing the creature saw was a purple flash.


20 Hours, 14 Minutes later

Zapp Brannigan lay relaxed in his private chamber, wearing a purple robe as he lay back on his hovering bed. As he sighed, he looked up at the stars flitting by through the skylight in the roof. After a few seconds, a beep sounded, followed by a familiar voice.

"Captain Zapp Brannigan, please report to the bridge now."

It was Kif.

Zapp reached behind him and pressed a button on the nearby control panel mounted on the wall. Holding it down he replied, "On my way." Letting go of the button, he got up with a groan.

Meanwhile, on the bridge, Kif Kroker sat in the captain's chair looking ahead. Ensigns and other officers of DOOP on the ship used computer consoles and wandered around the place. In a few minutes, Kif turned his head to the sound of a sliding door. Zapp emerged in his familiar red uniform from a door behind and to the left of Kif. He approached the captain's chair as Kif stood up and waited beside it.

"What's going on, Kif? Why did you call me here?"

Kif replied as the Captain took his seat, "We are in contact range with Cimmerian, Captain."

"Excellent! Open hailing frequencies!"

A tall, dark skinned man behind Zapp pressed some buttons on his console. He spoke in a gruff, harsh voice: "Hailing frequencies open, Captain."

Zapp nodded and stood up, looking at the blank screen in front of him. "This is Captain Zapp Brannigan of the Nimbus. We bring men and equipment to help you mine and defend the Black Spirit substance."

In a few seconds, a man's face appeared on the screen. He seemed to be in his early fifties or late forties with hardly any hair. He wore a gray uniform with the DOOP insignia on his left breast, and his left arm had an orange and yellow stripe on it. He smiled and responded: "Greetings, Captain Brannigan. We've been expecting you. A landing code is being transmitted to you now that will let your ship automatically dock at the right place. You can't just plant your ship anywhere on this planet you know. We look forward to your arrival."

With that, the screen went blank again. Lieutenant Beta, sitting at a console in front of Zapp to his left slightly, spoke: "Landing code coming through now, Captain. Shall I start the procedure?"

"Make it so!"

As Beta nodded and started the process, a man came up to Zapp holding a machine. He spoke: "Captain, I've programmed this sewing machine to make that scarf you wanted. Shall I turn it on?"

Zapp smiled and replied, "Make it sew!"

After entering Cimmerian's orbit, the large star ship veered off to its left, heading down towards the planet. For a while, nothing but thick cloud and smoke could be seen as the Nimbus made its descent. As it did, Zapp pressed a button on his seat's arm rest, a familiar triple-bleep sounding. He spoke, directing his voice into the armrest as he always did when transmitting his voice through the ship's intercom: "This is Captain Zapp Brannigan. All men proceed to suit up into their special environmental suits and prepare to depart the ship. We will be landing at the mining colony with in a few minutes. That is all."

Zapp turned the intercom off and looked at Kif. "Come, Kif. It's time to suit up and embark on our mission."

As the two officers left the bridge, the Nimbus broke through the dark smoke atmosphere and the land below could be seen. There wasn't much to see, though - just a barren wasteland of dark grey rock. The surface was rough, with large spikes of rock poking into the sky. Some of the larger ones in the distance disappeared into the sooty cloud above. The odd volcano could also be spotted in the distance, its lava being the only bright natural color the planet had. There was no apparent vegetation or life on the planet at all.

As the ship levelled out and flew along just above the surface of the planet, something different could be seen in the distance. Nearing the object, it was what appeared to be a small base, not much bigger than the Nimbus itself. The star ship slowed and began to circle the area around the base, showing that outside the base there was activity. Sone large mining equipment and a few mining robots could be seen, as well as what were probably humans dressed in fully masked environmental suits. A large hole in the side of a nearby cliff was also visible, and out of that came more robots, humans and mining equipment. This included a large drill, which appeared to be badly damaged. What stood out the most, though, was the man holding a small blue box who was heavily guarded by armed troops.

Finally, the Nimbus set down beside the base gracefully, pushing up billows of soot as it did so. Inside the base, in a large room nearest to where the Nimbus had landed, a group of men wearing orange uniforms and strange helmets sat at computer consoles. One man nearest to the Nimbus had a large console in front of him, and above that, an even larger window. The side of the Nimbus could be seen though this window as the man pressed some buttons and spoke: "Initiating environmental docking tube, sir."

He spoke to some men standing behind him. One was the man who had greeted Zapp just before they landed, and beside him stood another man who wore a similar uniform to him. The other four were armed guards who stood obediently behind the two higher ranked men. As they waited, a large tube came out of the base, moving towards the Nimbus. It connected with the side of the ship, locking on to it as it fit snugly into the grooves that were made for this very purpose. After a few seconds, a large door opened on the Nimbus exactly where the tube had connected, and out of it strode Zapp Brannigan, followed by Kif, the five other lieutenants and then the group of ensigns recruited for the job. They all wore thick crimson suits, with ivory coloured gloves and boots. On their backs were computerised packs, and they each carried a fully faced helmet under their left arms. As they made their way along the long tube, the doors that connected the tube to the base also opened, allowing the visitors to enter. The man who greeted Zapp earlier moved towards the captain as he entered the base with his men.

"Welcome Captain Brannigan. I'm Hew-Let Packard, commander of this humble base. We've been looking forward to your arrival."

Zapp shook Packard's hand and spoke: "And I've been looking forward to arriving."

"Excellent," replied Packard. "This is my right-hand man, Robert J. Muldoon."

He indicated the man standing beside him.

Zapp shook his hand. "Pleased to meet you. May I introduce Kif Kroker, my second in command. Also, lieutenants Bill Raker, Beta, James Rock, George La-Gorge and Wharf."

Packard wandered over to each of the men, shaking their hands as he greeted them.

"Hello, Lieutenant Kroker. Welcome to this enterprise, Commander Raker."

"I'm only a lieutenant, sir," replied the middle-aged officer.

"But I'm sure you'll make commander soon. Hello Lieutenant Beta. Oh my! You're looking a bit pale."

"I have the Omicronian Flu, sir."

"Oh. Then try not to breathe on too many people. Aaah, greetings Lieutenant Rock. Good to see you again!"

"It's been a long time, sir."

"It has. How are those children of yours doing?"

"Young Melissa has just graduated from high school, and Jeff's just learnt to walk."

"Good to hear. Ah, hello there Mister La-Gorge. Hmmmm... why are you wearing your headphones over your eyes?"

"Not again!" yelled Zapp. "Return your headphones back to their fully upright position, La-Gorge!"

"Yes, sir," obeyed the lieutenant.

"Ah, the jokester," laughed Packard. "There's always one. And finally, Mister Wharf. Interesting ridges on your head there. Do they serve any purpose?"

Wharf glowered at Packard.

"They are excellent tools for grating cheese... sir."

"I'll bet. Well Captain Brannigan, shall we begin the tour?"

As Packard tugged on the front of his uniform down, Zapp nodded and smiled. "Sure! Lead the way!"

"Excellent. This way please. Oh, and you'd better put on those helmets now."

Zapp nodded and turned towards his men. "Alright men! Helmets on!"

After a while, the crew were led outside into the atmosphere of the planet. Within Zapp's helmet, a small LCD screen told him the condition of his oxygen level, his suit's temperature and a few more stats. All the environmental suits had these built into their helmets. They wandered to an area where many different robots were busy performing various tasks. Packard stopped, so Zapp and his men did also.

"This is where the robots work," Packard said simply. "They perform various tasks, ranging from maintenance to building structures. Some robots also work in the mines too, of course."

Zapp looked around.

"You must have almost every kind of worker robot there is?"

"Yes. It's amazing how many types of robots you need for a job like this."

Kif stepped forward.

"Excuse me, sir, but couldn't you just use less robots by having them perform multiple tasks?"

Zapp and Packard laughed together out loud. Packard gathered himself and explained: "No way! The robots need to be specialised!"

Kif indicated a nearby bending unit that had its back to them, "But, that bending unit isn't even working. He's playing poker with a digging unit and a drinks dispenser. Couldn't he do some other tasks when his skills aren't required?"

The robot turned his head around, revealing a pointy metal goatee. He wandered over the group. Packard smiled. "Ah, Flexo. How goes the bending?"

"I haven't done any bending for two days, and you know it! But that's all I'm programmed to do, so I'm not doing anything else!"

Zapp spoke.

"Not even if it was at double pay?"

"Of course not! Not if it was at double pay, or even triple pay! Or even for a million dollars!"

Flexo leaned back and laughed heartily for about five seconds.

"Naw, I'm just kidding, I'd do other things for a million dollars. But no less!"

"No deal," Packard stated simply.

"Fine! Then I'll just go back to playing poker with Chuck Digson and Vend-tor."

Vend-tor stood up from his seat and flung his head back. He roared menacingly and waved his arms in the air.

"Must you do that every time your name is mentioned?" Digson asked.

Packard spoke to the group: "Don't mind that. It's a common trait with robots whose name ends with 'tor'. Take Destructor for instance."

He indicated the large ex-Ultimate Robot Fighting robot that was carrying a large rock. Destructor suddenly perked up and dropped the rock, which made a metallic crunch sound as it crushed a tiny passing robot. He flung his head back in similar fashion and roared, his arms also flailing in the air.

Packard drew himself closer to Zapp and Kif and whispered aside to them, "And don't even get me started on Bomb-tor."

The group moved on as an explosion sounded from over the hill, and another digging unit flew into the air screaming.

In a few minutes they were now inside a deep cave, their only light, the torches on their helmets. Packard explained as they walked through the rock tunnel that had been carved out by machinery, "This is a Black Spirit Mine. Within a few moments we'll be at the end of the tunnel where we may find some black spirit being discovered."

After only a few seconds after he finished talking, the ground shook violently. Some of the men fell over with the jolt, while the rest had trouble keeping their balance. When it had stopped, those who had fallen picked themselves up.

Zapp spoke with concern, "What the hell was that?!"

"Just a tectonic quake," explained Packard, without even a hint of worry apparent in his voice. "They're quite common here. This planet is just the slightest bit unstable."

"Unstable!?!" Zapp burst out.

"Yes. But not that much more than Earth. Don't worry. Let's continue, shall we?"

As Packard and Muldoon kept walking, Zapp turned towards his men, "Hear that, men? Nothing to worry about. A common occurre......"

Zapp trailed off into nothingness as he looked around. "Where's Lieutenant Raker?"

Kif looked back also, scanning the group.

"I don't see him, sir. He was here when we entered."

Zapp snorted, "Ah, he's probably scared of the dark and turned back. Anyway, let's continue."

The group marched on, catching up with Packard. Just as they were about to turn a corner, a small red lighted flashed with a beeping sound on Packard's wrist. He stopped, pressed a button beside the light and spoke into it, "Yes, what is it?"

"Sir! I'd advise that you evacuate the tunnel immediately! There's something here I think you should see!"

Packard sighed with frustration. "This better be important?!"

"It is, sir! Believe me!"

In only a few minutes, Packard, Muldoon, Zapp and his men were outside. Packard wandered over to a man at a nearby outside console. The man had a worried look on his face.

"What is it, Wiz?"

The man simply pointed at the large screen on his console. As Packard, Muldoon, Zapp and Kif looked at the screen, two large round objects could be seen on it.

"These images are coming from the other side of the planet, sir," Wiz said.

"Wow!" said Zapp with a smile. "I didn't know Cimmerian had two moons?"

Packard, however, was not smiling. He answered, plain and simply, "It doesn't."

Zapp looked shocked. "Then what the hell is that other thing?!"

Another violent quake rocked the area, even more powerful than the last. Lieutenant Raker came running from inside the main base.

"We were wondering what happened to you?!" Zapp shouted over the rumbling.

Raker stopped in front of them, breathing heavily.

"Sir! I suggest you all return to the Nimbus and prepare for departure!"

"Why?" Zapp asked.

"Because--"

Raker was cut off as suddenly everything went red.

"What the hell?!" asked Packard with genuine concern.

"SIR!!!"

Packard turned to see Wiz pointing at the screen again frantically. Moving their gazes there, Packard, Muldoon, Raker, Zapp and Kif could see that the redness was from a beam being emitted from the fake moon. All the men could see was red for the next few minutes, and then they were surprised again as the red moved away from them and drew back into the atmosphere. The cloud cover prevented them from seeing that is still surrounded them.

Zapp sighed, "Well, I'm glad whatever that was is gone. What was that? Some sort of probing beam?"

"It's not gone," Raker stated strictly and to the point. The others all turned their attention to him. "It's surrounding this planet as we speak. The cloud cover is preventing us from seeing that. It's like a large bubble surrounding us!" His voice suddenly became more urgent: "We have to get out of here RIGHT NOW!!!"

Without any hesitation, the men made their way towards the base, where a siren was already sounding the evacuation alert. The base still seemed quite far away to Zapp, who was at the back of the stampede towards it. But suddenly, he became glad that it was.

The ground rumbled with such force that it sent everybody flying into the air and bounced them around against the rough surface. This lasted a good ten seconds and was followed by a deafening roar from the distance.

Zapp couldn't believe what he saw. A massive beam of purple that had to have been at least two kilometres in diameter burst up through the planet on the horizon behind the base, pushing up large chunks of terrain and disappearing into the clouds above. A huge piece of land that had been shot into the air spun towards the base. There was nothing anybody could do as it slammed into the side, completely tearing the sanctuary to pieces and no doubt killing all those that had made it in. Zapp and the others outside the former base ducked as the titanic chunk of earth rolled through the air only a few hundred meters above them and crashed down behind them where the mine was they had just left.

Packard was his knees, tears in his eyes. Speechless. The rest of the survivors were shocked and disorientated. Then the men were sent either scattering or falling, as multiple cracks crackled across the ground, large enough to swallow men easily. The wind and shaking was unbearable, and Zapp fought to keep his eyes open against the stinging sand and dirt. The robots were also running in all directions.

A large crack appeared under Flexo and he disappeared into the ground below. As he fell, he could see a pool of burning magma below. "Woo Hoo! I'm on top of the world!" He laughed out loud as he fell and then suddenly stopped.

"Naw, I'm just kidding! I've never been more scared in my life!!!" He screamed in terror and pain as he hit the molten rock, disappearing without a trace.

Back on the surface, the last thing Zapp Brannigan saw was a large mining drill speeding towards him. Then it was black.

Kif Kroker suddenly found a hand grasp his arm and turn to find Raker pulling him along.

"Quick! In here! It's our only chance of escape!"

Raker pulled him over to a small space ship. It was only slightly bigger than a shuttle or rod, but despite its size it was meant to travel quite a longer distance. Not the same as a ship as large as the Nimbus, but still a fair distance. Kif got in and sat beside Raker who started the machine up and took off into the sky. After a battle trying to avoid large chunks of terrain and shrapnel from the base, Raker piloted the thing into the clouds and then out the other side. It was a fast little craft. Once above the clouds, Kif could see out his window the large object that was devouring the planet as well as the red shield that was preventing any debris from escaping. He turned to Raker with a frown as he removed his helmet, "You know what that thing is, don't you? And you knew that it was coming!"

Raker's eyes darted at Kif for a split second and after a good few seconds of silence he replied, "Yes, and no."

Kif stared at him with a scowl, then looked ahead. His expression changed to a worried one. "How are we going to get past the shield?"

"I have something for that. Open that panel"

Raker pointed to a metal plate on the front of Kif's console that was held on by some screws. Kif looked around the floor for something, while Raker removed his helmet and pulled out a small black box from inside his pack. Finding a small crowbar, Kif jammed it into the top groove between the panel and the console and ripped the panel off. This revealed the various circuits and chips beneath. Raker took a strange looking device from out of the box and chucked it to Kif.

"Okay, now take out the shield generator chip and plug that into it. When I tell you to, activate the shields."

Kif looked at the device. At one end was a lead, but rather than a normal socket plug, it had what looked like a chip on the end. This connected to a tubular silver device with a switch on it. Finally, attached to the top, was a glass orb. Inside that orb was a large red crystal held in place by three metal prongs. Kif carefully removed the correct chip and then carefully plugged in the device.

Raker smiled. "Excellent. Now turn the device on."

Kif nodded and flicked the switch. The machine whirred into life and a beam from inside the main part of the device hit the red crystal, making it glow. Kif was in awe as he turned to Raker, "What is this thing?"

Raker smiled and turned his attention back to their heading as he replied, "That, is a device I made especially for this purpose. The red jewel though, is what's known as the Ruby of Utopia. It's very rare and valuable, and it's hopefully going to get us through that shield."

"Hopefully! Haven't you done this before?"

"Nope," said Raker simply. "This is its first test. According to my theory, it should work. Now we're almost there, so have your hand ready on that shield activation."

Kif nodded and readied himself. Raker stared intensely at the red shield ahead of them as they neared. When they were about a kilometre from it, Riker gave the command: "NOW!"

Kif pressed two buttons on his console, and within seconds they were surrounded by a glowing red force field. As one shield connected with the other, the metal giant's one receded where it touched, creating a hole about twice the size of Raker's craft, and allowing them to pass through.

"Okay, turn off the shield and the machine," Riker ordered.

Kif did as he was told and then sighed in relief. "We made it, Raker!"

"Yes we did. But, sadly, we were the only ones."

Kif looked back to see the hole in the enemy's shield repair itself and also the destruction of Cimmerian, as chunks of the planet were sucked into the monster orb. Kif sighed and turned back to Raker, "Okay. Tell me what that thing is!"

Raker sighed in frustration. "Okay, I'll tell you as soon as I've plotted in this course. We'll have plenty of time to talk about it on the way there."

"Where are we going?"

"Ghak. It's the third planet in this solar system. We should be safe from the creature there, as I'd seriously doubt it's in its path. The next planet it will probably hit will be the fifth one."

"Path? So that thing has a planned direction of travel?"

"I don't think so. It just travels in a straight line. That's why it hit us after devouring Calorificus."

Kif looked stunned. "The first planet in this system"

Raker nodded.

"So you KNEW it would hit us then?"

"No! I had no idea. There was only a small chance it would. But now that it has, I can tell you where it will hit, and where it won't. And it won't hit Ghak."

The small craft sped on, leaving the destruction behind it. But is Ghak really safe?

 

To be continued

Buddies