Fan Fiction

Futurama: Universe of Malice, Part 22
By Kenneth White

Chapter 22 - Internal Struggles

The hood was pulled up again to obscure his face in darkness from the white world that surrounded him.

"Farewell, Lord Nibbler," the figure said with a raised hand. "Your information has been most useful. I bid you good luck in your quest."

"Good luck acknowledged," Nibbler answered back. He was wrapped in a blanket, facing his cloaked associate and standing on a rock to keep himself out of the snow. "Information will be passed to you upon analysis of the objects."

A sad sigh from the Nibblonian.

"I just hope the Mighty One will regain his confidence. I fear for his well being."

The hood nodded, then turned and walked towards a small, pink, saucer-shaped craft with a clear dome. The dome swished open, the figure crawled in, and once the dome had closed again, the ship blasted away into the air. Watching it leave, Nibbler sighed and then scurried away. But he was not the only one to see it...

From the edge of a small stream that trickled between clouds of ground bound snow, Fry stood and watched a streak of peach light blast upwards in the distance. He didn't think much of it though, his mind was elsewhere, as he stood below a lifeless tree, wrapped in a brown jacket with dried, crimson stains on it. The planet's rising sun created a golden pink horizon and shadows tenfold the length of the objects that spawned them and created their elongated forms. The frosty white ground glistened as if sprinkled with the grains of shattered crystal, reflecting random sparkles of colour taken from a rainbow's palette. The beauty was lost on Fry, though, whose heart and mind was colder than the liquid gurgling at his toes.

"I hate this stupid universe," he muttered coldly, gazing back down at the crisp running water. His reflection seemed to suit his thinking at the moment; garbled due to the random mass movement.

He hadn't slept much last night. After reluctantly coming back inside the night before, the Iffles had been kind enough to offer him and the crew accommodation. The beds were too small however, so they stayed in the ship that night anyway. They would have left, but the Iffles insisted they stay one night. The ship was due to be taken to the Nimbus any moment now actually.

"Come on, Fry!" a familiar voice called from the distance behind him. "We're taking the ship to the Nimbus any moment now!"

Fry almost smirked at Leela's comment. But he didn't feel like smirking at the moment. He hated everything too much to see the funny side of anything.

"Coming!" he called back. His voice was empty, and Leela could tell. She groaned sadly, then turned around and trudged back to the ship. Bender was just walking up the landing gear steps now, and nearby Amy kissed Kif as the green lieutenant commander was about to join his fellow officers on their DOOP shuttle. Ditte leaned out and waved at Leela.

"We'll see you aboard!" he called to her. She just nodded and waved back, and after the shuttle took off, she turned to Amy.

"Let's go then," Leela told her. "The sooner we get to the Nimbus, the sooner we get to Earth and the sooner we can save the universe."

"Pfft! Who cares," muttered Fry from behind as he moped towards the staircase. "Might as well just let the stupid thing destroy everything."

"That doesn't sound like the Fry we all know," Leela said with a combo of sympathy and worry.

"The Fry you know is gone," he hissed back, then proceeded up the stairs and into the ship. Leela just looked at Amy.

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" Amy asked her. She nodded sadly.

"He's taken her death harder than I thought he would," Leela answered. "I'm beginning to wonder if he'll ever recover."

"Wounds heal with time," Amy said, patting her friend's shoulder in support as Leela gazed back at where Fry had disappeared.

"Yeah," Leela replied, then turned to Amy. "But the deeper ones usually leave a permanent scar."

Amy gave a reassuring smile to Leela, but its effects were mild at best.

"Kif said there's a counsellor on the Nimbus," Amy stated. "Maybe she can help him?"

"He's going to need somebody or something to do it. He's not going to get through it alone, he's destroying himself."

After exchanging waves with some watching Iffles, Leela and Amy stepped into the ship, and moments later they were in the air and off towards the orbiting Nimbus. Ten minutes later, Leela met with Captain Ditte in his office.

"So here they all are," Ditte stated. "All the ancient objects of power. Just like Raker had said."

As indicated, laid out across the desk were the objects in question: Four gems and two staff pieces.

"They're all very pretty," Leela noted, picking up the sapphire and examining it as she leant on the edge of his desk. "Who'd have thought they actually create the ultimate doomsday device?! Or should I say, the ultimate doomsday device for destroying the ultimate doomsday device? I just hope the Professor doesn't want to keep it for himself when we take them to him."

"They'd better work, that's all I can say!" Ditte growled out of the blue. There was an odd silence in the room. Leela knew about what happened to Ditte, as he had told her at the feast on Glaciatus.

"I'm sorry about Hydros, Captain Ditte," Leela said simply. "But sometimes a Captain needs to make decisions like that. And we just have to deal with it."

He looked up at her and she smiled.

"I don't think you made the right choice, but you made the better one," she added. "The choice I would have made."

"But it wasn't my choice... It was the DOOP's," he countered sadly. "I just followed their orders."

"What would you have done if it was then?"

"I'm not sure," Ditte answered after a pause. "Provided them with alternate power sources, perhaps?"

"That would take days, even weeks though," Leela stated. "The only two real options you had were right there, so in all honesty, what would you have done?"

Ditte sighed.

"I would have left it," he admitted. "I would have left the gem where it was."

"For the sake of the universe?"

"Yes," he nodded. "For the sake of the universe. Maybe if it was a sure thing, then... Yes, maybe then I would have taken it. But not while these objects and their power is still shrouded in fog."

"But you'd never know until you tried," Leela said. "There's no way we can know whether they really do what legend says until we've tested it."

Ditte managed a grin.

"I wish I'd had you as an officer on my ship when it happened," he said. Leela returned a smile.

"Thanks. And thanks for taking us back to Earth, Captain," Leela said sincerely.

"Why waste fuel on two ships," Ditte answered. "We're heading there anyway, so we'll just drop you off before we go to the DOOP Orbital Base while you head to Earth. I've also organised quarters for you and your crew aboard the Nimbus, so feel free to make yourselves at home here. You may want to go and tell them."

"Thank you," Leela nodded. "I'll do that now, if we're done here?"

"Uh... Actually, there's one last thing," Ditte said, sounding a bit nervous.

"Oh?" Leela said. Ditte blushed a little bit, having only just come up with a thought now and feeling a little shy about it. It didn't help that Leela was actually taller than him too.

"I was just wondering... Would you like to... uh... join me for lunch today?"

Leela jumped a little bit. The offer was flattering for sure, as Ditte had come across as a very nice guy to Leela, almost the opposite of his predecessor Zapp actually. So despite being rather short, he had a really good personality as far as Leela was concerned, with a good sense of moral decency and definite intelligence. There was still one major problem though...

"I'd love to," Leela stated. "Normally I would. But, my close friend Fry is going through a tough time at the moment, and... I don't think he'd really like it. He's very fragile at the moment you see."

"I understand," Ditte said, trying to hide his disappointment.

"Sorry," Leela added. "In fact, I'd better go see if he's okay right now. If you'll excuse me, Captain."

Ditte nodded as Leela gave a small bow and left. She walked to the docking bay, thoughts swimming through her head like a hyperactive fish going downstream.

'I wish I could have accepted that lunch offer. Maybe I should have? I mean... Fry's being irrational anyway, and the others all said I needed to relax and treat myself more. But I can't hurt Fry's feelings any more. Unless somehow I could hide it from him? No! That's just deceit, and that always leads to trouble. What if I just axed him if he'd be okay with it? Hmmmm... maybe? I'll see how he's doing, then I'll decide.'

Leela was at the Planet Express ship in no time, and she walked into the cockpit where Amy and Zoidberg sat.

"Captain Ditte has allocated some quarters for us all, and says to make yourselves at home on the Nimbus until we reach Earth," she told them. "Do you know where Fry is?"

"He's disappeared out back somewhere?" Zoidberg said thumbing his smaller claw over his shoulder. "He left about a minute ago."

"What about Bender?"

Just then, Bender wandered through the door, whistling to himself with a cigar in his mouth and flicking some money in his metal hands.

"Alright then... What have you been up to, Bender?!" Leela said accusingly. "Where'd you get that money from?!"

"What?!" he stammered with hurt shock. "A robot can't walk into a room whistling and flicking a wad of cash through his greasy fingers without being accused of something?!"

"Then why are you doing it?" Leela asked.

"I've had this money for a while, I just felt like counting it again."

Leela sneered at him, then her expression mellowed.

"Do you know where Fry is?"

"Nope, haven't seen him for a while. Well, not since he went into the crew's quarters just over a minute ago, crying like a... Ummmm..."

"Baby?" Amy asked."

"Maybe?" Bender mused. He quickly opened his chest door and pulled out an Iffle baby holding a lollypop. He snatched the candy from the infant and it started crying loudly.

"Nope. Fry's crying was more pathetic," Bender noted and he put the baby back inside him. Leela groaned.

"Well... you guys go to see Captain Ditte, he'll tell you where your new quarters are, while I'll see if I can find him."

"Can do, chief," said Bender with a salute.

"And Bender... Get that baby back down to the surface."

"Awwwwww! All right then! Where's the nearest window?"

"Alive!" Leela ordered. "Take it to Captain Ditte or something..."

Bender groaned again. "Fine! But you're no fun!"

They all disappeared out the door with a scuffle, and Leela just sighed as she stood there alone. Then, there was a sound in the distance. Some muffled honking and squeaking that echoed around her.

"Fry?" she questioned quietly, kind of pointless as unless he was in the cockpit he'd never hear her.

She walked out the book door into the corridor. The noises continued, echoing around, but sounding slightly different now. It was some kind of music. Leela wandered further down the passageway, and it got louder. Sure enough, the echoing sounds came from the crew quarters, along with wafting light beams that sailed across the floor. Leela was pretty sure who was making the sounds and what he was making them with, a peer around the corner confirming Leela's suspicions. Glowing figures that resembled off-model cartoon characters moved around to the uneven but still somewhat in tune music, characters that Leela recognised: Bender, Zoidberg, Amy, Alesia and herself. All of them were connected to a single source via streams of light that danced from it, and that source was the holophonor in Fry's hands. Leela watched though the tiny gap between the door and its frame, careful not to disturb what was taking place so that she could observe it.

At the moment Alesia was by herself, while the other figures were together. Then, starting with Amy, they gradually began to walk over towards her. Zoidberg was next, then Bender. But Leela couldn't help but notice how her hologram stayed put. All the while, the semi-patchy music seemed very sad. Things changed from here, with the addition of Elod's caricature to the group, and swords in each of their hands. They each took on a generic pirate hologram in sword fighting, save for Alesia's hologram. As the holograms fought, the music became very action orientated. Alesia's image stepped forward, the music starting to grow sad again. From nowhere suddenly, two floating hooks flew down, imbedding themselves into her chest and stomach with harsh notes that made Leela jump. As Alesia's hologram fell, the hooks flew away and the other figures disappeared. But a new figure appeared, this one being Fry. He knelt before the unmoving Alesia hologram, his face distressed and sad. The music was even sadder here, in fact some of the most lamentable music Leela had ever heard. It was becoming more in tune and crisp here too, crisper than anything Fry had played without the aid of internal worms or robot hands. Alesia's head drooped to one side, and Fry's hologram stood up and gestured great sadness and pain. The two hooks reappeared, lodging themselves into Fry's chest, Leela jumping again as a strong sharp note pierced her ears just as the hooks pierced Fry's chest. They dislodged themselves, pulling out the Fry hologram's heart as well, which was shaped like a love heart rather than a real one, each side with a hook in it. The hooks pulled in opposite directions, the music straining out piercing waves as the heart began to rip down the centre. When the tear was about half way, the heart morphed into a planet instead. Earth to be precise, and still torn half way down. This continued, until the planet was ripped in two, and strewn onto the ground like a spliced tennis ball, an echoing musical thump sounding from the instrument.

'Does that mean what I think it does?' Leela thought to herself. She hoped it didn't, but things weren't over.

After quite a pause, the glows from the remaining Earth halves almost disappearing, they flared up again, then floated upwards and became two large eyes. From the eyes sprouted a form, and Leela couldn't believe what she saw, for while all the other characters so far had been like cartoons drawn by a semi-artistic ten year old, this one was suddenly very, very realistic. It was a near perfect, life-sized image of Alesia, whom if Leela hadn't seen it form right there before her eye, she would have sworn it was the real deal. She wore a glowing, long white dress, a bit like the one she wore to dinner in the Sheridan, and she had an ethereal haze around her as if an angel. Fry's playing was even better here, a sad and elegant tune that seemed to be building up to something, as the hologram wandered towards him. A hand reached up to Fry's cheek slowly, the playing more intense than ever, and tears rolling down Fry's cheeks. Leela felt her own eye watering too, she could feel the pure emotion in Fry's music, and there was nothing but hurt. Then, when the figure touched his cheek, there was a continuous blare than almost blew Leela backwards, screeching as the figure before Fry changed. Her skin began to grey, her hair transformed from a smooth dark brown into an ashy wire and her face, body and limbs became gaunt. Her eyes seemed to burn away, as she looked like a zombie that slowly withered away before Fry. Leela had to turn away after a while, the sight was just too morbid and gruesome, as Alesia's god-forsaken form reached out to Fry. But Fry's gaze was fixed the whole time, as if he was torturing himself. His playing was at a climax and becoming strained, his eyes almost bursting themselves with grief and tears, his heart almost visibly tearing in two like the earlier image shown. He didn't stop until there was nothing left of her, as she turned to dust and then disappeared. And as soon as she did, he curled into a ball on the bed, and began whimpering to himself, his holophonor clasped to his chest like a teddy bear to an infant.

Leela couldn't take this any more. She couldn't just watch her friend destroy himself like this, it was time to intervene and stop him before he went too far. She opened the door with a creak, and the pathetic figure on the bed jumped and curled up even tighter. His face screwed into a Gollum-like scowl.

"Go away!" he hissed.

"No Fry!" Leela said firmly but kindly. "It's time to talk!"

"Leave me alone!" he said, recoiling further into the back corner of his bed, like a frightened hermit crab into a shell.

"No, you've had your time to be alone. Now it's time for you to let me help you. You're just hurting yourself like this, and me and the others are here to help you through this. Alesia's death was tragic, yes, and we expect you to grieve, but you're taking things too hard, Fry."

"How do you expect me to take them?!" he growled. "Just accept things?!"

"No, but don't keep it to yourself. Let me help you through this. If not me, Kif said the Nimbus has a good counsellor you could go to."

"I'm not crazy!" Fry snapped. "It's the rest of the universe that's crazy! The rest of this sick, twisted hell known as existence! Alesia was right... she is in a better place now!"

"Fry, you're scaring me!" Leela said with deep concern. "Promise me you won't do anything drastic!"

"How can we live in a universe that's so unjust?!" he answered, ignoring Leela's plea. "Where's the justice in the murder of an entire family. Alesia and her parents were brutally killed for nothing! They did nothing wrong, they were probably the nicest people you could find! And they paid the price, a price they didn't even owe, with their lives!"

Fry looked back at Leela, tears trickling down his now saddened face.

"How can people be so cruel and evil? Am I the only one who finds it ironic that the word 'humane' has the word 'human' in it?"

"Fry, please!" Leela begged. "Don't do anything drastic! Promise me you won't!"

Fry looked into her fear fixed eye for a moment, and after what Leela thought was a submission, Fry scowled again.

"I promise nothing," he growled, then turned over and curled up again.

"Damn it, Fry!" Leela said, so scared and sad that she expressed it in anger. "Stop it! You're not just hurting yourself, you're hurting those that care about you!"

"Then stop caring about me, and you won't get hurt," Fry replied with a huff. "Just go about your lives and look after yourselves before somebody stabs you in the guts with a hook! I don't care what you do, just leave me alone."

"Stop this! Please, Fry!"

"What do you care anyway. You don't love me... You've probably already set a date up with that Radish guy or that Nimbus Captain!"

"Well, actually..." Leela started, then trailed off after a decision to keep quiet. It was too late though.

"What?!" Fry asked, flicking his head back towards her.

"Nothing!" Leela said quickly.

"No," accused Fry in a quiet rumble. "You're hiding something! What is it?!"


"Tell me!!"

"Fine!" she conceded. "Captain Ditte axed me out to lunch earlier... It's no big deal."

Fry's eyes narrowed.

"Get out!" he yelled.

"Fry, please! I didn't--"

"Get out! GET OUT!!!" he screamed, raising up and clasping his fists tightly. Leela backed away towards the doorway.

"Listen, Fry! I haven't--"


Leela quickly dived out as Fry picked up something and threw it at her. She heard it crack against the wall and hit the floor, then the sound of the door closing and bolting shut. She picked herself off the ground and looked behind her. Her face sank.

"Oh no..."

She stooped and picked the broken item up from the floor, as well as the pieces that had snapped off of it. It was Fry's holophonor. Leela thought of the irony of Fry casting her out and almost hitting her with the very thing he had bought to impress her. The very thing that had helped Fry actually manage to truly touch her emotionally to some extent. And that tragic thought brought tears to her eye.

"And that's why when Kif went into the woods that day, he was in for a big surprise," Zapp finished.

"That's story stunk!" Baldur snorted. "I've heard mutes with better tales!"

"Let's hear you tell a better one, then!" Zapp challenged. Baldur growled.

"Fine! I'll tell you a story about my life. One night, my wife and I were in bed..."

"I like where this is going!" Zapp smiled.

Baldur continued, "...and I suddenly got my usual cravings."

"Go on!" Zapp said eagerly.

"So I turned to my wife, and said: Achaia! I'm in the mood for some sweet, sweet passion..."

"Yes, tell it!" Zapp yelled with a grin as wide as an ocean.

"...fruit and orange juice in a tall glass with some ice cubes," Baldur finished. "So get out of bed and get me a glass of that juice, woman!"

Zapp's face sank with disappointment.

"And she did," Baldur stated. "And it was the best juice I ever tasted. The End!"

"Surely you have some better stories to tell?" Zapp groaned, then he sounded perkier. "There must be other ones about you and your wife... Eh?"

"Well... there was the time we made banana and raspberry juice together. That was tricky."

Zapp's face sank again. Then, a sound. From high above, an echoing whoosh. One that got closer and closer.

"What now?!" Baldur snorted. "Wait! I can sense other living beings!"

A blast of cool air, and four shapes came shooting from the end of a thick pipe above. The four things slammed into Zapp, and Baldur looked across as they all hit the wall and crumpled to the ground. The first to hit the floor was a female with short blonde hair, then a man with wavy grey hair, a bald man with goggles, a large burly man, and finally, a very squished looking Zapp.

"Who the hell are all you?!" Baldur boomed down at them. Dawson sat up with a groan and regarded the warrior.

"Another survivor?!" Dawson gasped, then turned towards some straining coughs to see Zapp. "Two survivors?!"

"Answer me!" Baldur roared at Dawson as the others began to recover and get to their feet.

"We are the Chaos Renegades," Dawson answered simply as he got to his feet. "And you're lucky your friend stopped a rough impact, or we'd have likely blasted you to death."

"He's not my friend. And I'd doubt it somehow," Baldur snorted. Dawson opened his pack.

"We're carrying dynamite," he explained. "And to answer your question, we came in here to destroy the beast from the inside, seeing as it's invincible on the outside."

Baldur laughed out loud, the rest of the Renegades all standing now and staring at him. Zapp was still on the ground, making strange sounds. When the small warrior finally ceased, he smirked.

"You waste more time than that fool does words!" he snorted, pointing down at Zapp. "This thing is as invincible inside as it is out! See..."

He launched an energy ball from his right palm and blasted it into one of the metal walls. It did nothing more than create a short lived light and sound show.

"We're not here to blast it apart," Dawson stated. "We're here to dismantle it."

Baldur laughed again.

"Hoping to pull apart the machinery, are we?!" he scoffed. "I'd doubt you'd succeed there either. Just take a look down there!"

Baldur indicated for them to look over the edge. The four renegades did, and all gasped in near unison. Below them, stretching down thousands of metres and spanning many miles for as far as the eye could see, were giant cogs, gears, pistons, camshafts and other internal mechanical devices. They were titanic, most of them dwarfing a skyscraper no problems and all apparently made of the same metal as the monster everywhere else.

"By the sky of Atlas!" Chris exclaimed. "We are but a picayune particle within the labyrinth of Goliath's timepiece!"

She got strange glances from the others.

"Well, we are!" she snorted back roughly. Zapp sat up quickly.

"Is... is that a woman's voice I hear?!"

He turned his head and gazed up at Chris, who had swivelled around at the sound of the captain's voice. Before she could respond, he was standing before her, and had grasped her left hand between his. While he looked entranced, she looked surprised. And not a happy surprised.

"Hello," Zapp said suggestively. "I'm a Gemini. You must be a Scorpio, because I love your twins!"

As Zapp pointed at her bosom, Chris just sneered back with hatred. There were few things she hated more than pathetic come-ons from sexist, amorous men.

"Yes I am," she answered with a growl. "You would you like to feel my STING?!!"


Zapp must have flown five metres backwards at least, as Chris' fist landed smack in the middle of his face. He would have gone further, but his back hit the metal wall and he slumped to the ground. He put his head up dizzily, a trickle of crimson running down his nose. Despite this, he kept a goofy smile on his bruised face.

"Quite a punch you have there," he answered groggily. "Would it help if I said I was a pirate looking for buried treasure, and that I need to check out your chest?"

A growl and another smack, as Chris' left boot launched Zapp's chin skyward and sent the back of his head clanging against the hard wall behind. As the captain yelled in pain, his attacker spoke.

"I'd shut up if I were you... Pirate... Else I make you walk the plank!"

Zapp looked up wearily to see her pointing past the edge of the raised surface they were on, towards the clanking machinery far below.

"I'll be quiet then," he uttered, his voice somewhere between sounding drunk and like his privates were in a vice.

"Now what do we do?" Madcap asked simply. Baldur gasped and suddenly looked alert.

"How about we start with getting rid of them?!" he yelled, and the others turned and joined his gasping as some bendy, metal vines came straight for them from a hole in the ceiling, reaching towards them like a squid's tentacles towards a fish.

"That blasted machine must have sensed us and brought us all here to kill with those things!" Baldur growled. He shot off an energy blast towards it...


...and it actually destroyed it. The warrior looked on in shock.

"They aren't invincible like the rest of this beast!"

"Die, steel tentacles from hell!" yelled Chris, and she whipped out her large plasma gun and let rip towards the assaulting objects, the bright green energy clods tearing them to pieces as she did.

"They must be made of a different, more flexible metal!" called Dawson over the noise. "But we need to get away from them still!"

More appeared in place of the destroyed ones, as well as extra ones as if to make sure their targets would be caught.

"Cover us while we try to find refuge!" called Dawson to Chris and Baldur. Chris nodded as she kept shooting, while Baldur just snorted with contempt.

"I'm covering no one! I just enjoy blasting things finally, that's all!" he growled.

Still he seemed to comply in action if not in words, moving around with Chris and the others as they kept running in the direction Baldur and Zapp were originally going. One grasped Zapp by the leg, pulling him upwards into the air screaming.

"Help!" Captain Brannigan squealed. "I'm too alive to die!"

Chris sighed with reluctance, and shot the metal vine a few metres down from where he was being held, sending him falling down and back onto the surface they were all on. Madcap was taken by one as well, but a small laser sword flashed from his metal arm and he saved himself. However, he didn't take much note that he was dangling above nothing, and he fell down towards the mechanics below. But there was a jerk, and a strong pressure on his arm.

"Gotcha!" said a thick Russian voice, and Madcap looked up to see Boris had stopped him. The Russian pulled his friend up and they continued to run again. Dawson pointed into the distance.

"There! A hole in the wall!"

The group dived in, and looked back to see the metal tentacles fly past, then disappear. They all breathed a sigh of relief and stood up. Zapp turned to Chris.

"I'd like to thank you for saving me back there," he said simply.

"That's okay," she answered simply but gruffly. Zapp leaned against the wall behind her and leant in closer, his eyes suggestive.

"No, I mean I'd really like to thank you," he purred sleazily.


Zapp was on the ground again in a flash with his nose bleeding again, and a small smear of red coated the side of Chris' gun barrel. Dawson sighed in the darkness of the tunnel.

"It's a good thing we left the ship on the surface with Tucker... I don't think it would have taken this."

Baldur made an interested sound and whirled around.

"You left a ship on the outside surface of this thing?" he asked with curiosity.

"That's right," Dawson nodded.

"And there's somebody in it?" Baldur queried further. Dawson nodded again, and Baldur smirked then burst out laughing.

"Whass sno punny?" Zapp asked through his bloody nose.

"You fools!" Baldur chuckled. "You've given me a way out of here!"

"Impossible! It would take you ages to get back to it!" Dawson said.

"Not when I can fly," Baldur smirked, levitating from the ground slightly to evoke four gasps from the Renegades. "And at over a thousand miles per hour at that! I saw where you came out of, so all I have to do if fly back there and sense where your friend is! That will lead me to your ship and a way out of this beast!"

Baldur laughed again maniacally.

"So long fools!!" he yelled. Then, in a bright flash, he disappeared out of the hole. Blasting the metal vines that attacked him along the way, he shot into the pipe where the Renegades had fallen from, leaving only the echoing sound of his whoosh of flight and evil cackling.

"Now what do we do?" Madcap asked the remaining group.

"Keep trying to find a weakness to this thing I suppose," Dawson stated.

"Aren't you worried about him taking your ship?" Zapp asked the Renegade leader after clearing his nose on a flower-patterned handkerchief.

"No, I doubt he'll escape as easily as he thinks," Dawson said as he turned to Zapp. "And who are you anyway? One of the DOOP no doubt, judging from your uniform."

"Captain Zapp Brannigan of the Nimbus. And you all are?"

"Wait?!" butted in Madcap. "You're the legendary Captain Brannigan, thought to be dead by everybody?!"

"Yes," Zapp nodded proudly. "That's me alright."

"We're the Chaos Renegades," Dawson stated. "I am Dawson. This is Chris, Madcap and Boris. And now formal introductions are out of the way, I'm open to suggestions as to where to go next."

"According to my calculations... by which I mean these figures on my arm computer display... If we proceed further into this dark hole we've dived into, it will lead us nearer to the heart of the beast," suggested Madcap with a grin. "Our windy trip blew us quite a distance."

"How far?" Chris queried, slinging her gun over her shoulder and unintentionally bopping Zapp on the head. He just happened to stand up again behind her at the wrong time, and groaned after hitting the ground again.

"Thirty-one point seven two thousand kilometres," Madcap answered. Gasps came as an answer.

"That must mean we're close," Dawson said firmly. "Very close... And at the heart of the beast, may exist a weakness."

He strode off ahead with determination.

"Let's get going," he called. "There's still many an hour of walking ahead of us, no doubt."

The cargo bay of the Planet Express ship was dark and abandoned, save for one figure. Elod listened again quickly, thinking that he had heard a sound. But there was only silence. He grunted quietly, then moved his gaze back to the desk he sat at, and the object he was working away at. Lit only by the dim glow of a small lamp, the Rabbish swung the creaky metal arm of a magnification tool above the damaged object, then peered down at it.

"Damn!" he cursed quietly. "If I don't get this thing finished before we get to it, all is lost!"

He peered carefully at the object through the circle of glass and poked at it with a small tool, causing sparks to spit out of the end upon contact with the insides of the item. After a few seconds of this, tweezers were applied, and out came a burnt-out diode.

"Where am I going to find the replacement parts though?" he sighed before flicking it into a small container on the desk along with several other fried circuitry pieces. As it rattled across its fellow victims before coming to a halt, the quiet clatter was joined by a more distant sound.

"Damn!" Elod cursed in a whisper, hearing the footsteps clearly. "The Cyclops!"

His keen ears luckily could hear the footsteps from quite far, and he swiftly gathered up the belt-like object and shoved it into one of his pockets, then switched off the lamp and turned to face his ship. The sleek, black vessel sat upon the cargo lift, the main hatch open on it to reveal the small cockpit. Elod jumped into it and tried to look busy, just as Leela walked into the room with something in her hands.

"So this is where you are?" she said simply, neither happily nor angrily. Just with an air of distrust evident in her voice. "Do you know that Captain Ditte has given you quarters on his ship?"

"No," answered Elod. "But I do now."

"What are you doing?" Leela asked.

"Working on my ship," he stated to the point. "Why are you here?"

"Not that I need to tell you because this is my ship," she answered with a bit of a huff, only to soften a bit. "But I'm actually here to fix Fry's broken holophonor."

Elod cursed in his mind. If she were here using the tools, it would stop and delay him. He looked back and her and suddenly leapt out of his spacecraft.

"Fine, I'll leave you be then," he told her. "I'll go and find out where my new quarters are I suppose."

He wandered past her and picked up his sword that lay on the bench nearby, Leela watched him, a little nervous about that sword. Then, Elod slid it into the sheath on his back and made for the exit, the closing door echoing behind him as he pulled it shut.

"Well, looks like I'm on my own again," Leela said, sitting the main part of the holophonor on the desk. "That's as good an excuse as any to talk to myself."

She reached into her pockets and threw down a few random pieces that had broken off from the instrument. She sighed, but then gasped as she heard a noise. There was a rattle from the corner of the room.

"Who's there?!" she asked. "Bender? Fry? Amy? Zoidberg?"

She slowly moved closer to the source of the noise. Suddenly, a shadow leapt at her throat... and licked her face.

"Nibbler!" she said as she caught him. "Don't do that, you scared me!"

He just made some noises. She smiled.

"Awwww... You're so cute when you're... uh... doing things."

She walked back to the desk with him and placed him on it, sitting him near the edge and out of the way of her working space. Nibbler made some noises and looked at the holophonor.

"Yeah, Fry got angry and threw it at me," she sighed. "It hit the wall and broke, so I'm going to fix it for him. For once I was the one who said something stupid too."

She exhaled deeply.

"I shouldn't have mentioned that lunch invitation to Fry. Especially since I didn't accept it, even though I wanted to."

Nibbler replied with some babbling. Leela smiled.

"You're right. Now that he's already mad and knows, I might as well go on it after all."

Nibbler slapped his forehead as Leela stood up again. That wasn't what he meant at all, so he started jabbering loudly and more intensely.

"You're right," Leela said, turning back to him and taking her seat again. "I should finish this first."

Nibbler calmed down. It wasn't what he meant, but it was good enough. Sometimes he wished he could just talk to her. But it wasn't time for that. Not yet.

"I want to buy Fry a new one actually," Leela told him as she held a transparent piece of pink plastic that had snapped off up to the lamp and stared through it. "I think that would show him that I care about him. But I have a feeling he has some sort of sentimental attachment to this one in particular. So instead, I'll repair it for him."

Nibbler made a noise of approval. Leela applied some glue to the piece and sighed again.

"I just don't know whether it will be enough," she told Nibbler. "He's really messed up at the moment, and he needs to be shown some warmth and kindness..."

She paused, applying the glued piece to the holophonor.

"Some love," she added. Nibbler jumped a little, and Leela suddenly did too.

"Not that I'm in love with him or anything!" she added quickly. "I mean a love between two close friends."

Nibbler turned his head to one side and cocked an eye, as if to give Leela an accusing 'Oh really?' look. Leela frowned at him.

"No," she stated firmly. "I'm not."

Nibbler gave the look again.

"Don't give me that look!" she said gruffly, picking up another broken piece. "Fry's just a friend."

She stopped scowling and suddenly smiled, then rubbed his head.

"Ohhh, you don't know what I'm talking about anyway," she said cheerily. "You're just a dumb animal. I mean, it's not as if you're going to try and pair us up or anything..."

Nibbler shrugged and jabbered again incoherently. Leela just smiled and put glue on the next piece, only to frown again.

"I just hope he pulls through this. It's clear he doesn't want any help from me. Maybe this is something he has to work out for himself?"

Nibbler shook his head quickly and yammered on some more.

"You're right!" Leela said firmly. "He's a friend. And a friend in need at that. I can't leave him to suffer this out alone, and I won't! And I'm starting with fixing this holophonor."

Nibbler said something that sounded like approval. Leela smiled at him and patted his head.

"You know, Nibbler... Sometimes you seem wiser than you act."

Nibbler responded with a few yelps and grunts, then picked up the glue bottle and squeezed the paste into his mouth. Leela groaned and rolled her eye.

"Then again..."

"Light!" called Dawson's voice from the darkness. The walking stopped as a whitish silver glow appeared in the distance.

"Oops! Sorry!" said Zapp's voice. There was a growl.

"Bump into me one more time," an angry female voice uttered in front of him, "and I'll make you swab your own blood from the deck!"

"No time for standing around," called Dawson. "Let's move"

The patter of many boots was heard, as Zapp and the Chaos Renegades made for the distant light. It wasn't long until they had left the hole, and it was quite a sight on the other side.

"Oh my God!" said Dawson. "What is this place?!"

In a vertical tube-shaped area that had to be a good two kilometers in diameter, and reaching both up and down endlessly, were rows upon rows of strange things that looked like capsules. Each was about two metres wide and four metres high, lining the edge of the wall all around them. They stood upon a fairly wide ledge, the only gaps not filled with the capsule like objects being the hole behind them and a few other openings at set spots around the edges. There were more of them wrapped around what could best be described as a central pillar. This pillar only looked to be a few metres in diameter though, leaving a wide space of just nothing between those ones and the ones against the walls. They could barely be called walls, as the pod things were like tiles with no gaps between them.

"What are these things?!" Madcap asked. Zapp wandered over to one and examined it.

"Maybe they open up?" he theorized. He began pulling on the front of it roughly, grunting as he did. After a while he stopped and leant on his own knees for support, panting.

"Man! These things are harder to get into than a nun's underpants!" he commented.

Chris stepped forward and shot a blast of plasma right past Zapp's face, hitting the front of the capsule. It ricocheted off it and flew into the distance before losing its energy and disappearing, doing no damage to the door whatsoever. Chris grunted and Zapp squealed.

"A warning would be nice!" the DOOP Captain whined.

"A warning would indicate that I actually cared whether you got hurt or not," Chris answered forwardly.

"Eh... fair enough..." Zapp said nervously.

Chris wandered closer to the capsule and began to examine it closely. She bent down as she examined the bottom half of it and Zapp spoke, "You know, those baggy army trousers of yours don't compliment what is surely a well toned-- GAHKK!!"

Chris' hand grasped around Brannigan's throat like a steel clamp to a magnet, and she stared into his oxygen-starved eyes with pure contempt and disgust.

"Listen carefully, scum! Because this is your final warning!" she growled with venom. "If you make any, and I mean ANY more sexist comments, so much as look at me below my neck, or even think about anything detrimental and chauvinistic towards me or females in general... I will take a rocket from this gun, set a ten second timer on it, shove it where the sun doesn't shine, then finally throw you off that ledge and find out whether you hit bottom or explode first! And that's assuming you don't bungee back up, because one end of your intestines will be held in place up here under my boot! DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?!!"

"Yes ma'am!" Zapp choked.

Chris sneered again with a snarl, then shoved him backwards as she let him go. As he tried to catch his breath again, Chris pointed at the bottom of the capsule and addressed the other three.

"There's a hinge on here, so it might open with some force," she said. "Stand back."

She took a rocket from the rifle, pressed a button on it, and shoved it into a gap at the top centre. She ran away and joined the others at a good five-metre distance. Zapp was still standing in front of it.

"That's going to explode in three seconds," Chris told him. "Two... One..."

Zapp gasped and dived aside, just as there was a loud boom and a cloud of smoke. What must have been a hatch swung downwards violently and dark green liquid burst forth from the capsule and began to stream over the edge of the ledge. It didn't last long, as it emptied rather quickly, and Zapp looked away from the now opened object and back to Chris.

"You warned me this time," he smiled. "You care somewhat after all."

"Not really," she said wandering towards the pod casually. "I just want to see how long you can last without being a sexist pig."

"How did you manage to break it anyway?" Dawson asked her.

"I didn't," she said. "The force just jarred the lock open, that's all."

"How did you know that would work?" Dawson shrugged.

Chris just returned a shrug, then turned and peered into it, a blonde eyebrow rising.

"That's unpleasant," she said bluntly. Zapp stood up and looked in too, only to squeal like a teenage girl at a boy band concert. The others approached and looked also, reacting somewhere between Zapp's and Chris' opposite extremes.

There within the capsule was the body of a creature. A strange reptilian humanoid figure, the yellow-scaled creature looked to be dead, with a glassy-eyed gaze. Four tubes ran into it vertically, straight down the middle. One in its stomach, then its chest, neck, and finally, forehead. There looked to be some kind of liquid in these tubes, green like the stuff that had gushed from it. Two small antennae flicked out of the side of Madcap's mechanical arm, flashing blue as he scanned the body up and down.

"Its alive," he stated simply.

"A living battery?" Dawson queried.

"Judging from these readings... No," Madcap stated. "More like a living source of intelligence."

"You're saying this monster isn't a giant robot running on AI, but is instead using the intelligence of real living beings?" Chris asked.

"In a way, that's what it seems," Madcap nodded. "This beast keeps them alive and merges their minds with its own programming. I'd say it's more likely that it gets its power from what it devours."

"If we ripped out every one of these creatures, would it stop the beast?" Dawson posed.

"No. The basic programming would still be there, and it'd still remember all the stuff it knew before. Besides, I have a feeling it isn't even using these creatures at the moment. I think they're in storage."

"For what?" Chris asked.

Madcap shook his head.

"I don't know," he sighed. "But I think we have a clue behind this beast with these capsules. I suspect that somewhere in here, one of them is the primary mind behind it."

"In that case, we'll find it," Dawson stated firmly.

"And how do you propose we do that?" asked Zapp with a huff. "Take the elevator or escalator? Or get beamed straight there by some anti-matter particle man beaming thing?"

"Madcap," Dawson announced. "Tell me the depth and height of this gap here."

Madcap turned and faced his metal arm downwards.

"The depth of this thing is... is... Two Hundred and seventeen kilometers!"

He moved his arm upwards, then his manic smiled returned.

"The height however, is only two point twelve kilometers."

"Up it is then," Dawson nodded. "Let's climb people."

"Wait a minute!" Zapp intervened. "Why are you so sure about going up?"

"I'm not," said Dawson. "But it's faster to go up if we're right, than it is to go down if we're wrong."

"Ehhh... what?" Zapp uttered.

"Just climb, skirt boy," Chris snorted at him. Zapp looked upwards and gulped.

Leela manoeuvred a cherry in her bowl back and forth with a spoon, like an ice hockey player dribbling a puck with his stick. She just stared at it blankly, as it skimmed to and fro across the thin layer of syrup in the dish between a wedge of apple and a banana slice.

"Is something wrong?" a voice asked. Leela jumped and looked up across the table, her lips curling into a weak smile from their otherwise expressionless line.

"Sorry," she said with a slight blush, taking her elbow off the table and sitting upright. She was wearing some dangling earrings and the same black dress she wore on Laplace at dinner. She didn't carry nice formal wear on the ship, so her deciding to keep the dress had been a godsend for her lunch with Captain Ditte.

"The fruit salad's fine isn't it?" Ditte asked her from across the table. He was wearing his dress uniform.

"Oh, yeah... It's fine," Leela smiled.

"That's good," he smiled. Then, for the next ten seconds, just silence.

"I'm sorry, I must be boring you," Ditte said to break it. "You haven't said much all meal. If you want to go--"

"No!" Leela frowned. "Sorry, it's not your fault. It's just that... well... my mind is elsewhere tonight. I should be the one apologising."

"Your friend, Fry is it?" Ditte asked before taking a sip of white wine. Leela nodded woefully.

"Yes. Things have gotten worse since I last mentioned him."

"He lost somebody close to him didn't he?" Ditte asked her. "In your fight with the pirates."

"Yes," Leela said. "Somebody he loved greatly."

Leela sniffed and blinked away some tears.

"I'm just worried that he's not going to get over this," she said, taking her glass and swirling the clear drink around in it slightly. "He's like a shell of his former self. He's become bitter and cynical. And..."

She sniffled as she took a shuddering breath. Ditte's face saddened, and Leela tried to blink away some more tears. They were too abundant and lush for her lashes to keep at bay now though, and were set free.

"And I'm afraid he might do something drastic, like... take his own life."

Leela wiped the escaped tears away and tried to regain her composure. She was embarrassed that she had broken down so suddenly, but it had been building up somewhat during the whole meal, as well as her time fixing Fry's holophonor. She felt Ditte wrap his hands around hers gently.

"Don't worry, we'll help your friend out," he said. "I'll get Counsellor Troy to speak with him."

"Thanks," Leela smiled. "I'm sorry about the lunch."

"No apologies necessary," Ditte said, sitting back again. "Your friend's well being is far more important than a silly meal."

"Thank you," Leela smiled. "That's very kind of you. Too bad there aren't more captains like you in the DOOP... or in general for that matter."

"Yeah," said Ditte sarcastically as he twirled his wine glass around. "I'm sure the DOOP would love that... They don't care about morals and ethics, just results. That's why they want more captains like Brannigan."

Leela almost choked on her mouthful of wine.

"Please, don't mention that name!" she said bitterly.

"You knew of the late Captain Brannigan?" Ditte asked.

"All too well," Leela shuddered. "Let's just say I don't care for him or his attitude about things in general."

"I won't ax," Ditte chuckled.

"Yeah, it's best that way," Leela said.

There was another silent moment, broken by a sad sigh from the cyclops. Ditte noticed and stood up.

"Look, we're finished eating, so I'll get Counsellor Troy now and get your friend on the road to recovery again. That way maybe you'll rest easy. Do you want me to escort you to your quarters first?"

"No thanks," Leela smiled. "I've got to give Fry something first, so I'll go do that now."

Less than five minutes later, there was a knock on the outside of the door where Fry lay. He didn't answer, and a repeat knock sounded. He stayed silence still, and the door creaked open. Leela sighed with relief when she saw he was all right, lying there on the bed and just staring at the ceiling with a fixed scowl.

"Fry," she started softly. "I know you're mad at me at the moment, so I'm not going to preach to you."

"That'd be a first," he snorted, not even looking at her. He sniffed with his nose. She was wearing perfume.

"How was your lunch date with Captain Shortie?" he asked bitterly.

"Fine," she said, almost as a guilty whisper. "And lunch was all that happened before you accuse me of anything. I've got something for you too."

"What is it? Leftovers?"

There came no answer, or at least none by voice. Just something being placed on his chest lightly. For the first time since she had entered, Fry's gaze shifted as he looked at what was on him.

"It's your holophonor," Leela explained obviously. "I fixed it after it got broken from you throwing it at me."

Fry grasped and looked at it, Leela's heart warming a little as she noticed his eyes soften, if only a bit.

"Captain Ditte's going to get Counsellor Troy to visit you some time soon," she continued as Fry sat up to lay the instrument on the wall shelf above him. "She'll just have a talk with you."

"Could be interesting," said Fry flatly as he leaned back and resumed his ceiling staring. "I wonder how much she really knows about the human mind?"

"Have you eaten anything today?" Leela asked.

"No. And I don't want anything either. I'm fine. You've always said I should stop eating junk anyway."

"That doesn't mean not eating anything," Leela stated. "Though in your case it probably does..."

"Are you finished hassling me yet? Because when you are, just go would you?" Fry uttered.

"Sorry," Leela said. "Have any of the others come in to see you?"

"Amy came in with Kif and tried to talk to me, but I shooed her away. Zoidberg wanted me to dress up in a DOOP uniform and get some food for him from the Nimbus kitchen. And Bender dropped off a couple of photos of Alesia that were in his camera to apparently cheer me up... Not that it did. Plus he charged me five bucks for them."

Leela made a sceptical sound in her throat.

"Well... That's about all the sympathy you'll get from Bender, I suppose."

"I haven't even asked for sympathy," Fry muttered. "I just want to be left alone!"

"I'll go then," Leela said, "but only because you're going to see Counsellor Troy soon. Just don't forget that we care, and we're just worried about you."

"Whatever," he mumbled.

Leela just exhaled in sad frustration, turned and left him. She just hoped that there was something the Councillor could do.

Zapp clanked another magnetic clamp onto one of the capsules wearily, then pulled himself up with a groan.

"I feel like we've been climbing for miles!" Zapp groaned.

"We have been climbing for miles!" Madcap answered

"That explains the feeling then" Zapp said, wiping his sweaty brow with one arm.

"No, I actually mean we've climbed miles!" Madcap said. "As in over a mile. As in almost two kilometres."

They all looked upwards. Still nothing visible in the darkness above. It had taken them several hours to get this far, and luckily there were ledges for them to take rest stops on every so often. Zapp needed them more than the others, usually wanting to stop at every ledge while the others were okay with stopping at every five or six. Luckily they found that the gravity was fairly weak after climbing for a while. Sometimes it even felt like it was actually encouraging them to go up.

"Pick up the pace, people, we're almost there now," called Dawson, clanging on ahead.

"I wish Kif were here," Zapp snorted. "He would have done my climbing for me, then just hoisted me up. Then I could have just dangled on the rope and played Strip Poker on my Deluxe Super Nintendo Famicon Gameboy Colour Deluxe 64 handheld game console on the way up."

"Play what on it?" Chris growled accusingly.

"Uhhh, Strip... Painter," Zapp came up with quickly and nervously. "Yeah, that's it. A game where you strip paint... from houses... with a paint stripper."

He laughed nervously as she glowered at him. "Hours of fun!"

Chris climbed ahead and Zapp breathed a sigh of relief and followed. After just a few more minutes of climbing, something appeared in the darkness finally. What appeared to be the ceiling to the massive area. They got to it, and just looked around.

"Well that's just great!" Zapp pouted sarcastically. "We get to the ceiling and just find a roof!"

"Wrong," said Madcap, shining a torch from his arm into the distance a bit. "There's a gap over there, only..."

He mumbled some numbers.

"Eleven capsules along."

The light beam confirmed the claim, and another sweep of it revealed more holes the same along the edges at a uniform distance. Every twenty-five capsules they seemed to be, but that was the closest of the gaps to them.

"So why are you guys even doing this?" Zapp asked as they moved around. "I have a sneaky suspicion you may be renegades up to some chaos."

"We were hired by your organisation, actually," Dawson stated.

"The League of Sextraordinary Gentlemen?" Zapp queried, mispronouncing 'League' as 'Leay-goo' in his sentence. Everybody stopped looked at him like he was a moron.

"No, the Democratic Order of Planets," Dawson said, continuing on again.

"Ah, of course," Zapp said. "Sorry, I belong to a few organisations. I'm even a five star General in the Earth army," he added with pride.

Chris' eyes lit up at the comment, then narrowed as she turned around to face Zapp.

"Wait a minute... you're in the DOOP and a general in the Earth army?"

"That's right," Zapp said.

"Tell me, General... do you know why the Men Only Policy was forced on the Earth Army in three thousand one?"

"Yes. The army decided women weren't fit for service after a series of deadly blunders caused by distracting low-cut fatigues and lots of harmless pinching..."

Chris growled.

"Not while I'm in charge," Zapp finished. Chris' eyes flared up and her teeth gnashed together.

"You BASTARD!!" she screamed, an accusing finger pointed at Zapp that alone almost made him fall off. "You're the reason I and many other women were kicked out of the army!! I'LL KILL YOU!!"

She reached back with her free arm to retrieve her gun, but her wrist was grabbed by Dawson's hand.

"Chris, stop!!" he said.

"Let go, Dawson!" she growled. "Revenge is mine!!"

"Not now, Christina! Please!"

Using her full name got her attention fully. She hated when he used it, but knew he only would if it was something important.

"Note carefully that Captain Brannigan be worth a lot of money to the DOOP alive."

Chris looked at Dawson's stern expression and after some reluctance, finally nodded. Dawson leaned in close to Chris and whispered.

"Don't worry," Dawson added privately to her before moving on. "After he's returned for the right price, you can hunt him down and have your revenge. And if that price isn't met, he'll be yours."

Chris grinned with malevolence. Or as she'd call it, femalevolence. Zapp on the other hand wasn't feeling that happy with what he had just seen. But the time for worrying about that was over, as the gap had been reached.

It was about two metres wide and at least ten times that in length. Dawson went in first, and it was a good dozen more metres in height before he popped his head out. And as soon as he did, all the colour vanished from his face, and his jaw dropped.

"OH... MY... GOD!!!"