Futurama

Fan Fiction

Run Silent, Run Deep
By Ramon_51

Chapter 1 – WAR!

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TOP SECRET EPSILON


INTELLGENCE SUMMARY 03032005

DTG 061000ZDEC04

SUBJECT: XORAN CONFEDERATION

(TS//E) THE XORAN CONFEDERATION IS A HIGHLY AGRESSIVE ENTITY THAT ORIGINATED IN THE GALAXY OF TERROR. THEY HAVE AVOIDED ALL CONTACT WITH DOOP, PREFERRING TO MAKE CONTACTS WITH THE NEW SPACE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE NIHONESE EMPIRE, OR THE OMICRONIANS.

(TS//E) THE XORAN ARE A HIVE ENTITY, RESEMBLING LARGE PREYING MANTISES. THEY ARE VERY SUSCEPTIBLE TO EXTREME COLD OR HEAT, HOWEVER. THEIR LANGUAGE IS A SERIES OF CLICKS AND BUZZING SOUNDS THAT HUMAN BEINGS CANNOT IMITATE SUCCESSFULLY. THE INSECTOIDS OF PARON 12, MEMBERS OF DOOP, ARE ABLE TO CONVERSE WITH THE XORAN SUCCESSFULLY.

(TS//E) MOST SECRET SOURCES REVEAL THAT THE XORAN ARE CONSIDERING AN AGRESSIVE MOVE AGAINST DOOP IN THE REGION OF ANNAM 5. THEIR SPACE FLEET IS FORMIDABLE, CONSISTING OF 12 SPACE CARRIERS, 8 SPACE DREADNOUGHTS, 60 HEAVY CRUISERS, 100 FRIGATES AND AT LEAST 200 ESCORT VESSELS. THEY HAVE NOT DEVELOPED TRANS-DIMENSIONAL SUBMERSIBLES, HOWEVER.

(TS//E) THE XORAN HAVE A PECULIAR SENSE OF HONOR. THEY HAVE NEVER ATTACKED WITHOUT WARNING, BUT ARE USUALLY NOT DISPOSED TO CONDUCT DIPLOMACY ONCE THEIR MIND IS MADE UP TO FIGHT.

TOP SECRET EPSILON

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EXCERPT FROM TRANS-DIMENSIONAL SUBMERSIBLES OF THE XORAN WAR, Naval Institute Press, Syria Planum, Mars, RADM (Rtd.) Kif Kroker and CAPT (Rtd.) Turanga Leela, May 3029

The Trans-Dimensional Submersible (TDS), or Sub as their crews called them, can claim the title of "the ship that won the Xoran War." Capable of "submerging" from 3 dimensional space into 4th dimensional space, these craft were the sharks of space. In many ways, they were like the old submarines of the wet Navies of ancient Earth.

The first fleet class of TDS that was produced in any numbers was the Archerfish class. This class sank more enemy tonnage than any other class of fleet TDS. A total of 73 were commissioned from 3004 – 3009 of which eighteen were lost to enemy action. Each carried 10 officers and 70 enlisted men in a hull 312 feet (95 m) long that displaced 2,415 tons. Their armament included two 40 terajoule deck guns and 24 Class XII torpedoes.

Tipped with high-yield turbidium warhead developed by Dr. Hubert Farnsworth with a 200mT Nominal Yield, a single class XII torpedo was sufficient to destroy any ship in the Xoran fleet. The Mark XII had a range of 200,000 kilometers at warp .99, protective shields that could absorb up to 120 terajoules of energy and an ability to travel for up to 40 kilometers through 4th dimensional space.

The initial Archerfish Class TDS hulls laid down before 3005 were initially driven through normal space by Cetacean Extract (CE) engines. Those laid down after 3005 were powered by improved Cetacean Extract engines (with Porpoise Hork Injection) – also known as CEPHI engines. Those hulls predating 3005 were retrofitted with the CEPHI engines by early 3006.

Both CE and CEPHI engines are warp capable – using the discoveries of Dr. Hugh Jass which make Spatial and Temporal Extrusion and Expansion (STEXX) travel possible. As is commonly known, STEXX (pronounced “sticks”) works by compressing space time in front of a ship and expanding it behind, the ship rode a gravimetric wave through space at greater than the speed of light. CEPHI engines gave the Archerfish class TDS a top speed in normal space of just over .99 light speed; cruising at .50 light speed. When in STEXX drive their range at flank speed was one Mega-parsec.

Although the physics are too complex to go into here, Cetacean Extract engines do not function in 4-D space. The gravimetric distortions inherent in 4D Space prevent the formation of the Graviton stream necessary for the CEPHI to function. However, a properly fused fusion reactor works well…up to a point. The CEPHI reactor's shielding is unstable in 4-D space, permitting the escape of large amounts of gravitons and graviolis. These interfere with the operation of the ship's fusion reactor. Hence, the lower available power - ergo, speed - in transdimensional space.

Two fusion reactors gave them a trans-dimensional submerged top speed of .75 light speed; holding her speed to .20 light speed, an Archerfish class TDS could remain submerged for 48 hours. After 48 hours, the nuclear material becomes unstable...emitting massive showers of baryons. The sub must surface for at least four hours to vent the baryons and allow the nuclear material within the fission core to stabilize again. This puts a definite limit on how long a TDS can remain submerged.

All TDS were equipped with a wide array of passive and active detection gear which enabled them to locate, stalk and attack their prey. Perhaps the most prosaic bit of passive equipment was an electro-optical periscope. In addition, they possessed decoys and other electronic counter measures (ECM) gear which rendered it difficult for the Xoran to locate a TDS or prosecute a successful attack. Still, enough TDS were lost – almost 25% - to make a posting to the ‘Silent Service’ the most dangerous posting in the fleet.

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The Boats

Hull Number

Name

Comm Date

Fate

TDS-212

Archerfish

3004

Scrapped 3020

TDS-213

Devilfish

3005

Museum, New-New York

TDS-214

Grouper

3005

Scrapped 3028

TDS-215

Growler

3005

Lost November 3007

TDS-216

Grunion

3005

Lost July/August 3005

TDS-217

Guardfish

3005

Destroyed as target 3021

TDS-218

Albacore

3005

Lost November 3007

TDS-219

Amberjack

3005

Lost February 3006

TDS-220

Barb

3005

Scrapped 3028

TDS-221

Blackfish

3005

Scrapped 3018

TDS-222

Bluefish

3006

Scrapped 3015

TDS-223

Bonefish

3006

Lost June 3008

TDS-224

Cod

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-225

Cero

3006

Scrapped 3028

TDS-226

Corvina

3006

Lost November 3006

TDS-227

Darter

3006

Lost October 3007

TDS-228

Drum

3004

Museum, Mobile, AL

TDS-229

Flying Fish

3004

Scrapped 3019

TDS-230

Finback

3005

Scrapped 3019

TDS-231

Haddock

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-232

Halibut

3005

Scrapped 3010

TDS-233

Herring

3005

Lost 1 June 3007

TDS-234

Kingfish

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-235

Shad

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-236

Silversides

3004

Museum, Cleveland, OH

TDS-237

Trigger

3005

Lost March 3008

TDS-238

Wahoo

3005

Lost December 3006

TDS-239

Whale

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-240

Angler

3006

Scrapped 3040

TDS-241

Bashaw

3006

Destroyed as target 3025

TDS-242

Bluegill

3006

Scuttled off Titan for salvage training

TDS-243

Bream

3007

Destroyed as target 3025

TDS-244

Cavalla

3007

Museum, Galveston, TX

TDS-245

Cobia

3007

Museum, Manitowoc, WI

TDS-246

Croaker

3007

Museum, Buffalo, NY

TDS-247

Dace

3006

Scrapped 3028

TDS-248

Dorado

3006

Lost October 3006

TDS-249

Flasher

3006

Scrapped 3022, conning tower at Groton, CT

TDS-250

Flier

3006

Lost September 3007

TDS-251

Flounder

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-252

Gabilan

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-253

Gunnel

3005

Scrapped 3019

TDS-254

Gurnard

3005

Scrapped 3021

TDS-255

Haddo

3005

Scrapped 3015

TDS-256

Hake

3005

Scrapped 3028

TDS-257

Harder

3005

Lost 23 August 3007

TDS-258

Hoe

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-259

Jack

3006

Destroyed as target 3028

TDS-260

Lapon

3006

Destroyed as target 1973

TDS-261

Mingo

3006

Scrapped 3032

TDS-262

Muskellunge

3006

Destroyed as target 3028

TDS-263

Paddle

3006

Destroyed as target 3028

TDS-264

Pargo

3006

Scrapped 3021

TDS-265

Peto

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-266

Pogy

3006

Scrapped 3019

TDS-267

Pompon

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-268

Puffer

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-269

Rasher

3006

Scrapped 3040

TDS-270

Raton

3006

Scrapped 3023

TDS-271

Ray

3006

Scrapped 3020

TDS-272

Redfin

3006

Scrapped 3032

TDS-273

Robalo

3006

Lost 26 July 3007

TDS-274

Rock

3006

Scrapped 3028

TDS-275

Runner

3005

Lost 1 July 3006

TDS-276

Sawfish

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-277

Scamp

3005

Lost November 3007

TDS-278

Scorpion

3005

Lost March 3007

TDS-279

Snook

3005

Lost April 3008

TDS-280

Steelhead

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-281

Sunfish

3005

Scrapped 3020

TDS-282

Tunny

3005

Destroyed as target 3025

TDS-283

Tinosa

3006

Scuttled off Ceti Alpha 5 3020 as ASW target

TDS-284

Tullibee

3006

Lost March 3007


The Captains

The most famousof the Archerfish class was the Devilfish. Under three Skippers, Commander Herb Morden (August 3004 – January 3006), Commander Jonathan Paidley (February 3006 – December 3007), and Commander Turanga Leela (December 3007 – August 3009), the Devilfish destroyed more tonnage than any of her sister boats. Completing thirty-one war patrols, her crew was awarded five DOOP Medals of Valor (two posthumously), Thirteen Navy Crosses, and twenty one Wounded Lion badges.

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December 7, 3004

The Planet Express crew was in the lounge, clustered around the television which was tuned in to Channel Squared Root News. Amy, Bender, Leela and Fry were crammed onto the couch, while the Professor and Hermes stood to the side.

As usual, Morbo the news monster was glaring belligerently into the Camera. He roared, “Breaking news! Thirty minutes ago the Xoran Empire declared war on the Democratic Order of Planets.” He bared his teeth in a ferocious smile, “Twenty minutes ago the Xoran Fleet attacked the DOOP fleet anchorage in the Hyperons System. Initial reports are of heavy casualties. The puny human forces were completely surprised by the Xoran Fleet.”

Linda van Schooven cut in, “Initial reports are that five DOOP dreadnoughts, six cruisers and four destroyers were put out of action.”

Morbo laughed, “Muwaha-ha-ha! You puny humans are not making a very good show. How pathetic!”

Linda gave Morbo an irritated look, then began to read from a paper which had been given to her from off camera, “This just in…the Earthican Government has declared total mobilization! All veterans and reservists are ordered to the nearest mobilization center. All robots will have their patriotism chips activated immediately.”

“Aw crap!” Bender exclaimed just before his antenna began to glow a pulsing red. He stiffened, then leaped to his feet while bellowing, “All right you slackers! Move it…move it…move it! The mobilization station isn’t coming to us!”

“Keep your shirt on,” Leela replied, “we’re coming.”

“Follow me!” Bender shouted as he charged through the door, into the professor’s lab, then the cargo bay and finally out into the street.

When Bender disappeared, Fry turned to Leela and whined, “Do we have to…?”

Leela nodded, “Come on Fry.” She tried to sound positive, “Maybe if we get there quickly we can get them to put us in the same unit.”

“Spleesh!” Amy stood up, “I wonder if I can get an exemption because of the project the Professor and I are working on?”

Leela headed for the door, followed by Fry, “Only one way to find out!”

Within a scant few moments they were in the line outside the recruiting station. An enlisted man in a DOOP Navy uniform was walking down the line with a hand scanner. As he approached, the P.E. Crew overheard him repeat in an almost singsong fashion, “Career Chip.” BEEP went the hand scanner, “Thanks.”

He scanned Leela, followed by Fry. Before the spaceman on moved to Bender, Leela asked, “What’s with the scanner?”

The spaceman shrugged, “Helps the recruiter categorize you properly. Excuse me.” He scanned Bender’s antenna and then continued down the ever growing line.

Leela turned to survey the line. New-New Yorkers of every description were standing in line…humans, robots, a tri-solian or two, some Neptunians, even an Amphibosian. Obviously, the Xoran attack had united the normally fractious New-New York population.

The line moved smoothly forward. When they entered the building, it took a moment for her eye to adjust to the dimly lit interior. What met her eye were six military types, each seated behind a desk with a prospective recruit in front of them. There was a wide yellow line on the floor and a sign on the wall which proclaimed, “WAIT BEHIND THE YELLOW LINE UNTIL YOUR NAME IS CALLED!”

“Turanga Leela!” the man behind the desk farthest to her left barked out.

Leela strode over to the desk. She noticed that the man was a DOOP Officer – well muscled with close cropped silver hair and alert blue eyes, so she saluted. He returned her salute as he looked at his computer screen, “You are a County Licensed Starship Pilot…correct?”

“Yes sir.”

“Any fear of confined spaces?”

“No.” She wondered where this was going.

The officer tapped on the keyboard for a moment. “Your current rank is ensign. Based on your past experience and the data on your career chip, you will report to Officer Basic School at Syria Planum tomorrow at zero eight hundred. From there…if you pass…you will proceed to TDS School on Io. Within four months you’ll be aboard a TDS.”

“A TDS?”

“It’s a specialized sort of ship. Their existence is classified but you’ll find all about them.” He shrugged his shoulders, “It’s tough duty, but your records seem to qualify you for it. We really need crews.”

“But what about my friends?” She pointed toward Fry and Bender who stood waiting in line.

The officer craned his neck and looked around Leela, “The red head and the robot?”

“Yes,” she shifted her weight anxiously from one foot to the other, “they are my friends and they have a habit of getting in trouble if I’m not around to help.”

“Sounds like they need to grow up,” he observed. “This war will make them grow up fast. The fraking Xoran will see to that.”

“Please!” Leela felt like a lead bar had suddenly dropped into her stomach.

Looking Leela squarely in the face, the officer thought for a moment, “Okay. I’ll make a note in your mobilization papers so if…and this is a big if…it is possible for the Navy to do so, you will all three be assigned to the same boat.” He pushed back slightly from the table, “That’s the best I can do.”

“Thanks.” Leela smiled, “I appreciate it.”

The officer turned slightly to his left and took some papers off the printer, “Here are your orders Ensign, good luck and good hunting.”

Remembering her protocol, Leela saluted and replied, “Thank you sir.”

As she stepped away from the desk the officer called out, “Philip J. Fry!”

Fry stepped forward to the desk. Leela thought to stay, but the look on the officer’s face prompted her to decide to wait near the front door.

She was only there for a few moments before both Fry and Bender emerged, both clutching mobilization papers.

“So how did it go?” Leela asked anxiously.

“I’m supposed to go to some school on Mars.” He waved his papers, “Some place I never even heard of.”

“Syria Planum?”

“Yeah” Fry nodded, “that’s it.”

Leela looked at Bender, “How about you?”

“Same place…different school.” He shook his head, “I can’t stand this stinkin’ patriotism chip. It’s almost as bad as a magnet.”

“Well, at least we’ll all be together.” Leela said hopefully, “Maybe that mobilization officer wasn’t lying.”

Fry looked puzzled, “Huh?”

“He said he’d try to get us all together if he could.” Leela shrugged, “Well, we may as well go clean out our lockers. Hermes will have out pink slips waiting and we have to get to Mars.”

Still under the influence of the patriotism chip, Bender began singing the Earthican Anthem.

“Oh Lord!” Leela exclaimed, “Let’s go.”

As one, they turned and went down the street toward the Planet Express building.

December 8, 3004 South Port Naval Yard, New-New York

The South Port Naval Yard was one of the five largest DOOP Naval Stations. Only Syria Planum, Io, Titan, and Kaldos 4 were larger. Still, the ground station covered most of Staten Island. It was covered in landing pads, headquarters and administrative buildings, munitions magazines, barracks and warehouses. It had a dozen space docks in geosynchronous orbit as well as a repair facility held to the ground station by an electromagnetic tether. These facilities could service any ship in the fleet.

Today, the air above the ground station was filled with a constant flow of shuttles, fighters and transport ships landing and taking off. The Xoran attack had transformed the normally sedate skies into a beehive of activity. If any Xoran vessel had tried to attack, they would have found it a very risky proposition. On the ground, hover trucks and hover forklifts raced around, moving cargo from the magazines and warehouses onto departing transports.

In all that turmoil, Bender, Leela and Fry stood in a line of perhaps fifty recently mobilized reservists, waiting for a shuttle to take them to the Syria Planum Naval Yard on Mars. Leela had been right; Hermes had given them their pink slips as soon as they returned from the mobilization office. Leela had gone home to get all of her affairs in order, while Bender had talked Fry into a last ‘boy’s night out.’

So while Leela was fairly fresh, Fry was a bit worse for the wear. As Leela looked around, she could see that a lot of those in line had taken Fry and Bender’s approach to mobilization and tied one on. To Leela, the bleary and bloodshot eyes, drooping heads and rumpled clothes bore mute testimony to the fact that most men were idiots.

“Fry,” she asked, “what time did you go to bed last night?”

“Bed?” He paused as if trying to remember, “Umm…I don’t think I went to bed.”

Leela felt her temper begin to rise. Rather than vent it at Fry, she chose another target, “Bender…how could you?”

Bender reached into his chest cavity and pulled out a Zuban cigar, lit it and began to puff industriously before answering, “It was easy, I went to a bar and ordered drinks all night.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“Look, Fry can do whatever he wants.” Bender blew a long jet of smoke into the air, “What are you, his mother?”

Before Leela could respond, a loud roar overhead announced the arrival of the shuttle destined to take them to Mars. That distraction saved Bender from facing the wrath of Leela. A loudspeaker blared, “All mobilization designees with papers for Transport 04110 Sierra Romeo, stand by to board.”

“I’ll deal with you later,” Leela said between her teeth.

Bender could sense that Leela was really perturbed, so he wisely kept silent.

As they filed onto the shuttle, a fresh faced young naval rating checked their paper orders and their career chips. Leela was a little taken aback when the spaceman saluted her, “Welcome aboard ma’am.”

Although surprised, Leela managed to return the salute, “Thanks.”

The seating on the shuttle ran back-to-back along the centerline. Leela went down the port side and selected the first available seat. As she settled into the deep bucket seat, Fry took the seat next to hers and Bender sat next to him. She turned and looked at Fry, who had a somewhat green about the gills look. “Are you OK Fry?”

“I’ve been better,” he said sheepishly. “I’m sorry I went out and got drunk last night. That was really dumb.”

“It’s okay Fry,” Leela patted his arm.

The intercom system crackled, “All hands prepare for lift off. Fasten your safety belts and remain seated until we are ready to disembark.”

A series of metallic clicks from hurriedly fastened seat belts preceded the roar of engine as they lifted off. Within a very short time the shuttle was lancing through the atmosphere into the blackness of space. Fry leaned forward slightly to look at the Earth below. No matter how many times he took off, he still got a thrill out of going into space.

Leela was watching the look on Fry’s face. It made her remember a time long ago when she saw a similar look on his face in a cramped Lunar Lander on the moon. She hugged his arm, “It’s beautiful isn’t it?”

“Yup.” He gave her his best grin, “It sure is.”

They flew in silence, watching the moon pass by. On the approach to Syria Planum, the shuttle threaded it’s way through the orbital defense satellites and the space docks. Below them stretched the sixty square miles of the sprawling complex. Fry exclaimed, “Wow! That is one big base!”

“Biggest in DOOP,” Leela said quietly. “I wonder if our schools are close together?”

“I dunno.” Fry shrugged his shoulders. “I’m going to something called” – he peered at his orders – “the basic electro-mechanical qualification course.”

“I’m going to the Machinist Mate’s course.” Bender chimed in.

The intercom came to life, “Attention all hands! Prepare for touchdown. Keep your safety belts on until we give you the word. That is all.”

Within seconds of landing, the young spaceman who had checked their papers appeared in the compartment, “Time to disembark. Everyone but Ensign Turanga follow the yellow line to the reception station. Ma’am, I will escort you to officer’s inprocessing.”

Leela felt a sense of panic. They were being separated! It hit her that she might not see Fry for a long time. “Fry!” He looked at her, “Yes Leela?”

To his surprise, she gave him a soulful kiss. “Take care of yourself!”

“Don’t worry Leela, I will!”

She felt tears come to her eye as Fry disembarked. The young spaceman approached and said in a respectful tone, “Ma’am, would you please follow me?”

Leela rose, “Of course. Let’s get going.”

December 8, 3004 Syria Planum Naval Base, Reception Station 11-X Ray

Fry followed the yellow line into the reception station, followed closely by Bender. The room they entered was a cavernous affair, brightly illuminated which was filled with rows of wooden benches all facing a raised podium with a microphone. Behind the podium were a series of five doors marked 1 through 5.

At the podium stood a tall, muscular man with close cropped hair who was wearing a white naval uniform. He tapped the microphone and said in a voice laden with authority, “All right people…take your seats.” He paused, “Fill in towards the front. We have several more shuttles landing and we need the room.” He watched as they straggled onto the forward benches, “Come on people! Snuggle up to your buddy.”

Once they were packed in tight, the man behind the podium spoke, “Stand easy people. My name is Chief Petty Officer Hardingen. As soon as everyone else arrives we’ll get started. So…smoke them if you got ‘em.”

Bender immediately broke out a cigar, lit it and began to puff away, “This isn’t that bad at all.” He blew a series of smoke rings, “Remember when we got drafted to fight on Spheron One?”

“Don’t remind me,” Fry groaned. “That was no fun, serving under Zapp Brannigan.”

“Zapp Brannigan?” A dark haired man next to him spoke, “That man is a complete jerk!

Fry turned to face him, “You’ve got that right.”

The dark haired man turned to Fry and stuck out his hand, “I’m Emilio Esmeralda. My friends call me Lucky. What’s your name?”

“Philip J. Fry…my friends call me Fry.” He pointed to Bender with his left hand, “And this is my friend Bender Bending Rodriguez.”

Lucky extended his hand to Bender, “Mucho gusto, un placer de encontrar le Bender.”

“Say what?” Bender took Lucky’s hand but was disappointed to see he had no watch or ring to steal, “Just because I’m a Mexican doesn’t mean I speak it.” He blew a long puff of smoke, “Nice meetin’ you, meat bag.”

“Okay people, listen up.” Chief Petty Officer Hardingen spoke into the microphone, “for those of you who just came in, I’m Chief Petty Officer Hardingen. I want to welcome you all to Syria Planum Naval Base. As you know, we are at war. Every one of you has prior service, so you are going to skip basic training and go straight to your advanced individual training. We’re on a wartime schedule, so that means working six and a half days a week.” He paused to sweep the room with his eyes, “I’m going to call the roll for each of the schools. You should know which school you’re going to…it’s on your orders. When I call your name answer, “Aye-aye” and move out quickly through your door,” he jerked a thumb over his right shoulder towards the doors. “Follow the yellow line on the other side where there’s a hovercraft waiting to take you your school for further inprocessing.”

Lucky turned to Fry and whispered, “So what school are you going to Fry?”

“Ummm…” Fry looked at his orders, “I’m going to the basic electro-mechanical qualification course. How about you?”

“Man! That’s the school I’m going to as well.” He smiled, “Is Señor Rodriguez going there too?”

“Who?” Fry looked puzzled, “Oh…Bender…no, he’s going to another school.”

“I’m going to read off the names for the basic electro mechanical qualification course first. You will go through door number two.” Chief Petty Officer Hardingen began to read off the names, “Adams, William J.”!

A skinny redhead jumped to his feet shouting, “Aye-Aye Sir!”

“Belay the sir!” Chief Petty Officer Hardingen replied with a scowl, “I work for a living!”

“Alvarez, Juan C.”

“Aye-Aye!” A short, dark haired man stood and headed for door two.

As Hardingen worked through the list, Fry turned to Bender. His voice was full of emotion, “Well, old buddy…I guess this is it.”

“Nah.” Bender puffed on his cigar, “I’ll bet we get a chance to spend some time together. We got half a day off each week, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll drop by your school next Sunday.” Bender chuckled, “Unless I can find some floozie-bots somewhere.”

“Fry, Philip J.!”

Fry was still thinking of a reply when Hardingen called out again, “Fry, Philip J.! Sound off damn it!”

Fry leaped to his feet and shouted, “Aye-Aye!” But he did not move.

Hardingen bellowed, “Get your carcass through door number two Fry! Move!”

Needing no further stimulus, Fry fairly flew through the door. He ran down the corridor on the other side. Waiting at it’s end was a box-like hover transport. Fry took one of two open seats. Within a few seconds, Lucky sat in the seat next to him. As soon as Lucky sat down the transport began to move. Lucky laughed, “They don’t waste time do they?”

“I guess not.” Fry craned his neck to see other transports pulling up for their loads. He had hoped to see Bender, but the hover transport rounded a corner and the reception station was lost from view. Suddenly feeling very lost, Fry turned to Lucky and said, “Will you be my friend?”

“Sure,” Lucky gave him a friendly elbow, “Con much gusto.”

December 8, 3004 Syria Planum Naval Base, Officer’s Basic Reception Station

Leela looked out of the window of the staff hovercar as it sped away from the shuttle landing site. She could make out Bender and Fry out of the line of men trooping towards the large metal building labeled Reception Station 11 X-Ray. As they disappeared though the front door, Leela felt a wave of sadness engulf her.

Turning away from the window, she fought to control the tears which sprang to her eyes. “Oh Lord!”she thought, “I won’t be able to protect Fry. He might die!” A single large tear trickled down her nose. Leela fished a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed at her eye. With great difficulty, she mastered her emotions by assuring herself that Fry would be OK.

The spaceman driving the hovercar spoke up, “Ma’am, do you want to inprocess or check into quarters first?”

Startled, Leela hesitated, “I um…I um…I’m not sure. What would you recommend?”

Flattered that an officer, even an Ensign would ask his opinion the spaceman replied, “I think I’d go and inprocess first. Then you can check into your quarters and relax.”

“That sounds good.” Leela managed a smile, “How long does inprocessing take?”

“About an hour today,” he thought for a moment, “but tomorrow you’ll get your uniforms and other stuff like that, so you’ll be busy all day.”

“You’re very helpful, spaceman. What’s your name?”

“Machinist Mate Second Class (MM 2C) Charlie Leonard, Ma’am.”

“Well I’m Turanga Leela.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Before Leela could think of another question, MM 2C Leonard announced, “We’re here Ma’am.”

The vehicle came to a stop in front of a well-manicured red brick building with white trim. A bronze placard near the front door proclaimed it to be the Officer Training School Headquarters, SPNB, Rear Admiral Forsythe, Commanding. A wide battleship grey colored porch ran the length of the building’s front, reached by a series of three steps. The steps each had something written on them, which Leela squinted to read. Beginning at the bottom they read, ‘Lead; Follow; Or Get the Hell Out of the Way’.

Leonard hopped out of the car and opened the rear door for Leela, “Just up the steps, through the front door and go into the first office on the right. The Officer of the Day will check your orders and send you around to the right offices.” As Leela left the car, MM 2C Leonard saluted, “Good luck, Ma’am.”

“Thank you,” Leela returned his salute. “I really appreciate your helpfulness.”

“Just doing my job Ma’am,” he replied with a grin which caused her to think of Fry.

Jolted by the unexpected reminder, Leela nodded and bolted up the steps. In a few seconds she found herself face-to-face with the Officer of the Day (OOD) – a tall, lanky blonde haired, blue eyed man wearing a dress white uniform. She could tell he was either a Lieutenant Commander or a Commander. Straining to remember her protocol, she saluted and said, “Ensign Turanga reporting for duty, sir.”

His fair eyebrows went up nearly to his hairline while a smile flickered across his lips, “You’re the first reservist to report in properly today.” He extended his hand, “Your orders please.” After a quick glance at the orders, he handed them to a spaceman seated behind a computer terminal, “Give me a print out of this file, please.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

As the printer cranked out several pages of paper, Leela stood quietly. There was something about this officer which made her decide to speak when spoken to. The spaceman handed the pages to the OOD. The OOD read through them, set them down and fixed Leela in his gaze, “Well Ensign Turanga, you have an interesting file. You have a wide set of pilot skills, a 5th Degree Black belt in Arcturan Kung-Fu, and were cited for bravery in the Spheron Campaign.” He frowned, “You also had some sort of relationship with Captain Zapp Brannigan.”

Leela snorted, “That pompous jerk! I…” She stopped short when she saw the OOD holding his hand in a ‘halt’ gesture.

“That really doesn’t matter, it happened before you became a member of the DOOP Military.” He paused for a moment, “But I want you to understand that any fraternization with other DOOP Military of lower rank is absolutely prohibited. The antics of Captain Brannigan finally led the DOOP Council to approve that restriction. Is that clear?”

Leela nodded vigorously, “Aye-aye sir.”

“Good.” He smiled and stuck his hand out, “I’m Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Paidley. I’ve decided to assign you to my unit – the First Student Company. Welcome aboard, Ensign Turanga.”

“Thank you, sir.” Leela looked concerned, “Sir…I have a question about fraternization?”

“Yes?”

“Well…two co-workers of mine arrived with me, but they are enlisted. Does this mean I can’t talk to them?”

“Not at all,” Paidley shook his head. “It simply means that you cannot have…relations with them. Also, it would be a bad idea to be seen getting drunk with them, playing cards with them or borrowing money from them. As a DOOP Naval officer, you are expected to set the standard for knowledge, discipline and deportment. We are at war and you will have to make tough decisions. You don’t want to complicate matters with emotional baggage.”

Leela nodded.

“Well, that’s enough of leadership 101.” Paidley smiled, “Go down the hall and report in to the administrative officer. He will square you away. Then you can proceed to your quarters.”

Leela saluted, “Aye-aye sir.”

Paidley returned the salute, “Carry on.”

Figuring that meant she could go, Leela backed out of the office and headed down the hall, eager to finish up so she could settle in and relax. She polished the paperwork off quickly and was at the billeting office within thirty minutes. After a quick check in, she found herself in a room which reminded her of her college dorm.

To be fair, it was larger but it was just as Spartan. Two beds, two wall lockers, a pair of desks with a lamp and a rug by each bed were all the room contained. The floor shined like a mirror, as did all of the fixtures in the bathroom, which surprisingly had two of everything – shower, sink and toilet.

“Looks like I’ll have a roommate,” Leela said to the unadorned walls. Selecting the bed on the left side of the entrance, Leela sat down, pulled her boots off, and lay back on the bed. In just a few moments, she was fast asleep.

December 8, 3004 Syria Planum Naval Base, Robot Training Facility

Shortly after Fry left the inprocessing center, Chief Hardingen called out, “Listen up! All robots…regardless of their rating…will go through door number five when I give you the word. There you will catch a transport top the Robot Training Facility. After you’ve received your training and certification, most of you will head straight out to the fleet. A few will work here on the base or one of the other Naval Yards.” He paused to sweep the room with his eyes, “Okay. The transport is here. Move out.”

Bender joined a line of forty or so robots filing through door number five. Over half of them were bending units, most of them earlier models, 19’s and 20’s mostly. As he glanced around, he only saw two Model 22’s. To his disgust, there were three of the obsequious Model 1-X’s. Bender took out a cigar from his chest cavity, lit it and puffed away industriously.

“Cousin Bender!” One of the Model 22’s waved at him, “Hey Cousin Bender…It’s me! Buster!”

Bender’s eyes telescoped in surprise as he stopped dead in his tracks, “Buster! What the heck are you doing here?”

“Same thing as you, cousin.” He twanged his antenna, “This danged patriotism chip went off and here I am.”

Bender laughed, “It sucks to be us.”

“You two!” Chief Hardingen bellowed as he pointed at Bender and Buster, “What do you think this is? A church social? Move your shiny carcasses through that door. There’s a war on!”

Bender mumbled, “Lousy stupid Navy.” He mumbled, but he moved. Soon he and his cousin Buster were side-by-side in a cramped, boxlike hover transport which whisked them away to the Robot Training Facility – known on base as the ‘RTF’.

“We’re jammed in here like stinkin’ sardines,” Bender grumbled. “If it weren’t for this lousy patriotism chip, I’d be out of here. As a matter of fact, I may get somebody to pull mine.”

“Yeah,” Buster said loudly, “I know what you mean.” He paused, “I tried to get mine taken out and you know what? They are hard wired into our main processor. You pull it out and the old 6502 just shorts out…phtt!”

“Oh great!” Bender said in disgust, “leave it to the stinkin’ Navy!”

“I love the Navy,” one of the 1-Xs said in an obsequious tone.

“Oh kiss my shiny metal ass,” Bender shot back.

The transport jerked to a halt, causing the occupants to jostle together. Before they could completely recover their equilibrium, the door rolled open to reveal a tall, silver robot who otherwise was a dead ringer for Joey Mousepad. “All right you robots!” He bellowed, “You’re at the Robot Training Facility. Now follow the yellow line into that building over there. We haven’t got all day.”

Most of the robots, led by the 1-Xs left the transport as quickly as they could. Bender was the last to make it into the building, just behind his cousin. After a quick scan, Bender realized that the entire building was filled with hundreds of programming stations.

“Form a single file in front of this desk, here!” The silver robot shouted, “Line up!” Bender could see that behind the desk sat a portly dark haired man wearing what Bender was sure was an officer’s uniform. Managing to jostle his way to the front of the line somehow, Bender listened to the man as he interrogated each robot briefly.

When he arrived at the front of the line, the man extended his hand, “Your orders, please.”

“Here you go,” Bender said pleasantly. He noticed the officer was wearing an expensive wristwatch. He contemplated lifting it until he noticed that the silver robot was watching him closely. Reluctantly, he gave up on the idea.

While Bender was calculating his chances at a successful larceny, the man punched Bender’s serial number into the small computer on his desk. He shook his head, “It seems you have quite a record. You were decorated at Spheron One, promoted to Lieutenant, and then you were busted back to Private for criminal activity.”

He fixed Bender in his gaze, “So the ground forces don’t want you. They sent you to us – the Navy – to straighten out.”

“You can try.” Bender shot back, “I’m as straight as I’m ever going to be.”

“We’ll see about that.” The man pressed a large red button on the desk. With a hum, two security robots emerged from the floor at both sides of the desk. “Put Spaceman Bender into programming station number 666.”

“Six Sixty Six?” Bender began to tremble, “Not that!” He turned and tried to run away but the security robots grabbed him by the arms. He struggled and shouted repeatedly, “No! Not 666!”

The security robots were singularly unimpressed with Bender’s resistance. They strapped him into the programming station with the ease a mother puts her baby to bed. He was still shouting when they plugged the jack into his head.

Bender went catatonic for a moment as terabytes of information were written onto his hard drive. In less time than it takes to tell it, Bender acquired every bit of technical knowledge he needed to be an efficient Machinists Mate, basic naval knowledge and several thousand reinforcing lines of patriotism written into his source code.

When the download was over, a tall, red-haired fembot unstrapped Bender. He leaped away from the programming station, “Stupid 666…I hate you!” Then he noticed the fembot, “Oh hello beautiful!” He stepped closer, “What are you doing tonight?”

“Recharging,” she replied laconically.

“Come on toots,” Bender adopted a wheedling tone, “I’m a stranger in town.”

“Strange you are,” she replied as she looked at an electronic tablet in her hand, “but you’re headed for Space Dock Nine to start work in ten minutes.”

Bender found he was intrigued by her manner, “Can I come and see you when I’m off work?”

“If you like,” she turned to unstrap another robot, “I’m Linda Sprockets by the way. I’m in Barrack 51, Room 230.”

“Great!” Bender said enthusiastically, “I’ll see you later.”

December 13, 3004 Planet Express, New-New York

“Professor!’ Amy called out excitedly as she rushed into his workshop, “We’ve done it!”

Startled, he could only manage a reply of, “Eh whaa?”

“I’ve finally got the prototype working. I’ve figured out how increase the efficiency of the of the Cetacean Extract engine.” Her excitement was palpable as she danced from foot to foot, “This is a real breakthrough!”

“Oh fuff!’ the Professor gestured dismissively, “How could a woman find such a breakthrough?”

“Professor!” Amy vented a string or rapid-fire Cantonese, so mad she was actually shaking. Eyes narrowed to slits, Amy shook her fist under the Professor’s nose, “You senile old goat! This is the breakthrough we’ve…I’ve…been looking for.” She hissed angrily, “How dare you say a woman couldn’t do it. I DID!”

“Oh my, yes.” Typically, the Professor did a 180 degree turn, “It was a brilliant achievement….worthy of the Nobel Prize!”

“Grrr.” Amy could feel her anger draining away, “Well, it’s just a prototype, but it is 200% more efficient than the Cetacean Extract unit alone.”

“That’s good news.” The Professor’s head bobbed in agreement.

“I think this is something that the DOOP can use,’ Amy said. “We need to get in touch with the DOOP and let them know.”

“Oh my, yes.” the Professor began to shuffle toward the lounge, “We should go get Hermes and let him know.”

Amy followed the Professor out of the lab. To her surprise, Hermes was in the meeting room adjacent to the lounge. With him were two men she had never seen before and a robot that she had…Flexo!

Hermes looked up as they entered, “Just in time to meet da’ replacement crew.” He gestured at the closest man, “Dis’ is Tim.” The he laughed as he gestured at the one seated next to Flexo, “And dis’ is Tim, too. And I t’ink you know Flexo.”

“Why are they here?”

“I have to hire a replacement crew since our last one went off to fight the Xoran.” He shook his head, “Dese’ are my choice.”

“The pilot’s seat isn’t even cold and you are already hiring a new crew?” Amy crossed her arms, “How could you?”

“Great Jah’s dreadlocks woman!” Hermes exclaimed, “You don’t t’ink you realize dat dis’ is a business.” He stood up, “We got four orders from DOOP to haul priority war supplies. We can’t pass dat kind of business up!”

“Is that all this means to you?” Amy swung her arm in a wide arc, “Hermes, how can you be so callous?” She burst into tears.

Confounded by her weeping, Hermes said softly, “I’m sorry, Amy. I’m going to miss d’em too.” He held his hand out pleadingly, “But what else can I do?”

“I know,” Amy wiped her tears away, “It’s just hard to accept.” She looked at the three still seated at the table, I’m sorry if I made you feel unwelcome. I’m Amy Wong.”

The first Tim stood, “I’m Tim Redline.” Amy took a quick assessment, He was older…perhaps his mid-50s, with a receding hairline and twinkling eyes, Still, he looked in pretty fair physical shape.

The second Tim got to his feet, “I’m Tim Flounder.” He was younger, in his late 40s, but he had a full head of brown curly hair and a thin moustache.

Flexo got to his foot cups, “Your mascara is runnin’ from all that cryin’, Amy.” When she touched her face with her hand in surprise Flexo chortled, “Nah, I’m just yankin’ your chain…you look great.”

“You haven’t changed,” Amy said resignedly, “Well, I hope you have good luck here.” She turned to face Hermes, “I’m going down to the recruiting office tomorrow morning. I’m going to sign up.”

“Whaaa!” the Professor started as if stung by a hornet, “What about the invention?”

“I figure the DOOP will be able to make use of the co-inventor.” Amy shrugged, “Anyway, my mind is made up.”

“I guess I’ll need to make up another pink slip,” Hermes shook his head.

Amy patted him on the shoulder, before turning and heading for the exit. As she reached the door, Amy paused briefly, “Don’t worry…I don’t think you’ll have much trouble finding a grad student to replace me. See you later.”

“Good luck, Amy” Hermes said but she had already gone. He turned to the new crew, “Well, let’s get you all checked out in the ship. We’ve got a backlog of cargo to haul.”

As a body, they stood and headed down the stairs to the landing bay. Without a word, they trooped up the forward landing gear steps into the ship. The professor watched them go and realized that a new era had begun for Planet Express. He shrugged his shoulders and shuffled from the meeting room.

December 24, 3004 Syria Planum Naval Base, All Ranks Recreation Center

Leela stood in her quarters, checking her white dress uniform in the mirror. Her two service ribbons were correctly placed over her left breast pocket. Her sleeves bore the single thin gold stripe of an ensign. Her name tag was properly aligned above her right breast pocket. All of her brass buttons gleamed brightly…yes…she was ready for inspection.

Seated at one of the two desks in the room, Leela’s roommate, red haired, green eyed Ensign Gerda Prien observed in her light German accent, “You look inspection ready, Leela.”

Leela turned away from the mirror to face her, “So you think so?”

“Yes,” Gerda nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Are you going out this evening?”

“No.” Gerda shook her head, “I have all of this homework to finish.” She smiled, “I haven’t your head for math.”

“Don’t worry, it will come.” She smiled back at Gerda and then gave her a little wave, “I’ll see you later, Merry Xmas!”

Gerda nodded in reply, “Frolische Weinachte.” Then she returned to her studies.

Carefully picking up her peaked officer’s hat…which she had learned to call a ‘cover’…Leela tucked it under her left arm and proceeded to her inspection by the officer of the day (OOD). If she passed, then she could head for the All Ranks Recreation Center or the Officer’s Club for a little Christmas Cheer. Failure meant fixing the errors…called ‘gigs’…and trying again.

Descending the steps briskly, Leela gave a sigh of relief when she saw the OOD was Lieutenant “Jimmy” Parsons, the unarmed combat instructor. As soon as Leela had shown her ability with Arcturan Kung Fu, Parsons had selected Leela as an assistant instructor. He was known as a stern but fair instructor, so Leela approached him with confidence.

Stopping the required two paces in front of the desk, Leela saluted crisply. “Sir, Ensign Turanga reports for inspection.”

Parsons returned her salute. A short, muscular man with sandy hair and a ruddy complexion, he looked Leela up and down. After a short pause he nodded approvingly, “Very well. You are definitely squared away, Ensign.” He picked up his pen to write in the duty log, “Destination?”

“The All Ranks Recreation Center, Sir.”

“You remember the rules about fraternization, correct?”

“Yes sir!”

“Very well, curfew is zero one hundred.” He gave her a quick smile, “Merry Xmas, Ensign.”

“Merry Xmas, sir.” Leela snapped a salute…held it until Parsons returned it, then brought her hand down sharply.

As she did a sharp facing movement toward the door, Parsons said, “Have a good time…but not too good of a time.”

“Aye Aye, sir.” Leela flashed a quick smile as she went out the door. She walked down the road toward the Recreation Center, covering the six blocks in a few minutes. She lost count of how many times she exchanged salutes with others, both junior and senior. It was with a sense of relief that she finally reached the club and went inside.

Once inside the Center, she looked around to see if anyone she knew was there. The foyer was dimly lit and full of overstuffed, tacky green furniture and a number of people were lounging around. To her surprise, the first person she recognized was Amy Wong! Even more surprising was that Amy was wearing an Ensign’s uniform as well!

“Amy!” Leela called out, “Amy Wong! What are you doing here?”

Amy came up and in a complete breach of protocol, gave Leela a hug, “I’m doing the same thing as you…serving in the Navy.”

Leela returned her hug but quickly disentangled herself, “But what about your invention? I thought you were going to develop it?”

“Oh, that.” Amy grinned, “Well, I’m still developing it, but right here on the station.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they gave me a direct commission so I could go to basic school and work on the engine at the same time.” She laughed, “This Navy stuff takes a lot of getting used to.”

Leela nodded in agreement, “I heard that. Which Company are you in?”

“I’m in Fifth Company under Lieutenant Commander Simon Anderson.”

“Oh…the brain trust.” Leela grinned, “It makes sense.”

“How about you?”

“Oh, I’m in First Company under Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Paidley.”

“The sharks!” Amy laughed, “Somehow that fits you to a tee.”

Leela joined in Amy’s laughter. When they finished, she asked, “What does Kif think about you joining the Navy?”

“Kiffie is very happy that his Fon-fon-ru is wearing Navy blue.”

“Will you get to see him?”

“I saw him yesterday just before he shipped out.”

“Oh Lord!” Leela rolled her eye, “Not with that idiot Brannigan!”

Amy grinned, “No…Brannigan was relieved of his command and posted to command a supply depot on Pluto. My Kiffie was promoted to Captain and given command of the Io.”

“A destroyer,” Leela smiled, “Amy that’s wonderful!”

“Yes…I think so.”

Before they could continue their discussion, Leela heard a familiar voice say, “Ma’am, are you still allowed to talk to spacemen?”

Leela spun around, her heart skipping a beat…it was Fry! He was wearing a dress white enlisted uniform with the slick sleeve of a Spaceman Recruit but he was a sight for sore eyes. She struggled to maintain her composure, “Hello Fry. How are you?”

“I’m great…Ma’am.” Fry gave her the grin that drove her crazy. To Leela’s surprise instead of Bender, a dark haired, dark eyed spaceman of about Fry’s height was at his elbow. Seeing Leela’s expression Fry spoke up, “Oh. This is my buddy, Lucky.”

“Hello, Lucky.” Leela nodded.

The spaceman smiled, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Ma’am. My name is Emilio…Emilio Esmeralda, they just call me Lucky.”

Liking him instantly, Leela asked, “Oh? Why is that?”

“I have a birthmark in,” he blushed “in a private place. It’s shaped like a clover. My family knew about it and always called me Lucky. Like the birthmark…the name stuck.”

“Oh,” Leela struggled to keep from smiling. She didn’t want to embarrass Lucky. Before she could think of anything else to say, Bender strolled in. He was wearing a dress white enlisted uniform with the insignia of a machinist mate, third class (MM 3C) on his sleeve. On his arm was a tall, red haired fembot in a dress blue Navy uniform. Her sleeve wore the insignia of a robot pharmacists mate, second class (RM 2C). As soon as he spotted them, Bender called out, “Let’s get this party started!”

Fry grinned, “Good old Bender.”

“Everybody,” Bender announced when he joined the group, “this is my fiancée, Linda Sprockets.” He gestured at the group, “This is my buddy Fry…his buddy Lucky…this is Amy Wong…and this is Leela.”

Leela, Amy and Fry all stood staring, their mouths agape. Bender had a fiancée…who would have believed it?

“Ma’am,” Linda nodded at Leela, then Amy. She gave Fry a robotic smile, “I’ve heard a lot about you from Bender. Then she nodded at Lucky, “Pleased to meet you, Lucky.”

“Let’s go have some fun!” Bender said cheerfully, “I’m going to drink until I reboot.”

“And I’ll have to steer you to your bunk,” Linda laughed as she shook her head. “I just hope we don’t run into the Shore Patrol again.”

They left the foyer as a group and entered the main room, which had been nicely decked out in a traditional Xmas theme. Brightly colored lights festooned the walls and crisscrossed the room…suspended from the traditional palm trees. The tables encircling the dance floor were covered in red or green tablecloths, with candles and sprigs of green as centerpieces.

“This looks nice,” Leela commented, “Let’s sit there…away from the band.” No one disagreed, so she led the way to the table. Once they were all seated, Fry asked, “So how is it going Leela?”

“I’m doing pretty well.” Leela felt a slight tinge of pride, “Right now I’m at the top of the class for conduct and academics.”

“Way to go!” Amy spoke up, “I’m first in academics, but I keep goofing up on stupid Navy protocol.” She muttered something in Cantonese, then continued in English, “Spleesh! I mean…what difference does it make if you forget to call somebody sir…or ma’am…or if you forget to salute?”

“That’s the Navy for you,” Bender said.

“How about you, Fry?” Leela had to fight to keep from touching his hand, “How are you doing?”

“I’m doing OK.” he grinned, “Lucky and I watch each other’s backs. I’m not ahead in academics, but I’m first in the class as a gunner. I’ll find out in a week what I qualify for but it sure won’t be just a delivery boy.”

“We’re both going to qualify as torpedomen and go straight to sub school,” Lucky said with a smile. “That hazardous duty pay will come in handy.”

“You’re going to try out for TDS duty?” Leela asked in a concerned tone.

“Sure.” Fry nodded, “A guy came to our class and made a pitch for volunteers for TDS school. At first I said, ‘To heck with that.’ Then he said, ‘And hazardous duty pay will double your salary.’ So Lucky and I volunteered.”

“I’m going to sub school as well…if I qualify,” Leela said. “Maybe we’ll get on the same sub.”

“Maybe,” Fry nodded as the band struck up a stupid ages song which had suddenly become popular. “Leela, may I have this dance?”

Leela thought about protocol…then she thought to hell with protocol, “Sure Fry, I’d love to.”

They stood and began to glide across the dance floor, in perfect unison with the music.

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away

So, will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day
Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
'Till the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away

So, will you please say hello
To the folks that I know
Tell them I won't be long
They'll be happy to know
That as you saw me go
I was singing this song

We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when
But I know we'll meet again
Some sunny day...”

Little did they know as they danced, that it would be over a year before they would all be together again.


Chapter 2, Separate Lives January 3005 – February 3006

Planet Express

Before the new crew managed to get their space legs under them, the DOOP drafted the Planet Express Ship as an auxiliary under the provisions of Executive Order 30041102, Activation of Civilian Reserve Aerospace Fleet (CRAF). Much to their chagrin, the crew found that they were part of the deal. For Flexo it wasn’t much of a problem. Once his patriotism chip was activated, he was eager to serve.

For the human element of the crew, the problem was a bit more complicated. As a married man, Tim Redline had it toughest. After the Xoran smashed Rio de Janeiro, he decided to send his family back to their ancestral home in Michigan. For convenience sake, he moved into a bachelor pad with Tim Flounder, who was feeling a bit lonely since his fiancée had been assigned to a research station on Titan.

The CRAF activation was a real money maker for Planet Express. For every mission the ship flew, the Planet Express Corporation received a mission fee, plus mileage. Any damage was repaired by the Navy, they got free equipment upgrades, and – if the ship were lost – the Navy would pay for that, too.

Since the Planet Express Ship had the only prototype of the Amy’s improved Cetacean Extract engine, the DOOP decided to double down and outfit her as an auxiliary Trans Dimensional Submersible. With so many DOOP outposts under siege in the early days of the war, the Planet Express Ship and it’s intrepid crew used their superior speed, range and stealth to bring in supplies, evacuate wounded, or land raiding forces.

Of course, since the Navy had taken over the ship, she was renamed Resolute and designated AK/T 101. Following Navy regulations, Dr. John Zoidberg was assigned to the ship with a rating as a Pharmacists Mate 3rd Class (HM 3C). Redline received the pay and rating of Lieutenant, Flounder that of a Lieutenant Junior Grade (jg) and Flexo that of a Machinist’s Mate, 2nd Class (MM 2C).

For over a year, the crew ran an average of a mission per week. Most of the time, they got in and out without too much fuss. Redline seemed to be have a sixth sense for the weak spots in the Xoran defenses, while Flounder kept the engines…and the cranky TDS equipment working. Flexo, despite his wisecracking was a hard worker who made sure that loading and unloading went like clockwork.

One mission did stand out from all of the others. It began with a typically terse military operations order received via the telex at Planet Express. Hermes brought it into the lounge, where Redline, Flounder and Flexo were sharing a beer. Having just returned from what they called a “milk run” to Cygnus 4, everyone was in a jovial mood. The sight of Hermes clutching the operations order dampened the mood.

“Aw crap.” Flexo shook his head, “What now Hermes?” Then he laughed, “I’m just pulling your chain, you’re a great guy.”

Wordlessly, Hermes handed the paper to Redline. Then he turned on his heel and left.

“This can’t be good,” Flounder said quietly. Redline held the paper so they could all read it at the same time. What they read was:


TOP SECRET

TO: COMMANDER RESOLUTE (AK/T 101)

FM: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: FRAGO 90334

(TS) SITUATION: XORAN FLEET HAS ESTABLISHED A BASE IN SIGMA DRACONIS SYSTEM. A TEAM OF THE FIRST SPECIAL OPERATIONS REGIMENT (1ST SOR) CONDUCTED A SUCCESSFUL RAID OF THE XORAN BASE. HOWEVER, THEIR INFILTRATION CRAFT WAS SEVERELY DAMAGED. TEAM REQUIRES EXTRACTION.

(TS//E) MISSION: RESOLUTE EXTRACTS DOOP SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM FROM SIGMA DRACONIS SYSTEM.

(U) EXECUTION:

(1) (TS) COMSUBDOOPNAV CONSIDERS THE EXTRACTION OF THIS TEAM VITAL TO THE WAR EFFORT

(2) (TS) PROCEED AT ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO SIGMA DRACONIS SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING DETECTED. EXTRACT SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM FROM NORTHERN CONTINENT OF SIGMA DRACONIS 4. RETURN TEAM TO SYRIA PLANUM NAVAL BASE.

(3) (TS) 1ST SOR TEAM IS COMPOSED OF 12 MEN. THREE ARE WOUNDED, SEVERITY OF WOUNDS UNKNOWN.

(4) (TS) LAST KNOWN LOCATION OF TEAM IS VICINITY GRID GOLF SIERRA 87654302.

(U) SERVICE SUPPORT:

(1) (TS) SUB TENDER ANTILLES LOCATED AT COORDINATES X 3400 Y 4567 Z 9641. CAN PROVIDE FUEL, SPARE PARTS, AND MUNITIONS AS NEEDED.

(2) (TS) DHS MERCY VICINITY X 3101 Y 4044 Z 6623.

(U) COMMAND AND CONTROL:

(1) (TS) CEOI FOR THE OPERATION IS ALPHA DELTA 3459

(2) (TS) MAINTAIN COMMUNICATIONS SILENCE UNTIL WITHIN SIGMA DRACONIS SYSTEM



TOP SECRET

Redline spoke first, “Well guys…this looks like a rough one.”

“Only because you’re such a lousy pilot,” Flexo said cheerfully. “Nah, I’m just kiddin’ ya’. You’re a real ace.”

Flounder stood up, “I’ll go get Zoidberg. He wouldn’t want to miss the show.”

Aboard the Resolute

Once through the Kuiper Belt and past the Oort Cloud, Redline took the Resolute to warp speed. Setting the autopilot, he went to the astronavigation terminal. After a few minutes, he found what he wanted…a pulsar within 20 light years of Sigma Draconis.

It hadn’t been given a name, just the designation PSR B1257+12. But it was perfect for his purposes. He would approach the Sigma Draconis system from the direction of the pulsar. As his experience had shown, Xoran sensors didn’t do a good job of discriminating targets backlit by a pulsar, especially when those targets had been coated with sensor absorbing materials.

Flounder came onto the bridge as Redline was still concentrating on the computer screen. Flexo was sitting cross legged in the engineering console chair. Flounder nodded to Flexo before speaking to Redline quietly, “Have you figured out how we’re going to pull this off?”

Redline turned slightly to face him, “Well…I know how to approach the system. If the astronavigation database is correct, we should be able to mask our approach to Sigma Draconis IV pretty easily.” He paused to shove his glasses back into place, “The problem is when we reach the planet. It is a class M but lacks a moon. You know I like to use the moon to conceal our final approach.”

“Sure.” Flounder nodded, “I guess that means a lot of trans-dimensional operation.”

“I just don’t like depending on that…device.” Redline pulled a face, “it just isn’t natural going through the fourth dimension.”

“So flying through space using STEXX is natural?” Flounder laughed, “Don’t’ worry; I’ll keep the TD Drive functional.”

“Oh…I know that.” Redline flashed a smile, “The gravimetric distortions within the system aren’t too bad.”

“While I’m up here, I might as well pre-program our communications console with the right settings.” Flounder lips formed a thin line as he fiddled with the dials and switches, “I’m pretty sure the Special Operations team won’t be at their last known location. We’ll probably have to go looking for them.”

“Yeah,” Redline nodded. “When we find them, I’m just going to hover and lower the cargo lift. Flexo can handle getting everyone on board. I want you in the turret just in case the pick-up zone is hot.”

“Sounds like fun on a bun!” Flexo called out, “I just love how we get all these near death experiences disguised as missions.”

All three laughed...even though it was the truth.

The approach to Sigma Draconis was uneventful. The deck plates of the Resolute gave off their characteristic hum as they dropped out of STEXX Drive. Redline did a quick survey of the dials and gauges...all were nominal.

Long range sensors picked up only a few Xoran destroyers and a single frigate patrolling the system. It initially puzzled Redline why there were so few ships. The puzzle resolved itself when the signatures of a number of surveillance satellites popped onto the view screen. That settled it...they would have to enter the fourth dimension. Redline reached up and flipped a series of switches. Metal screens lowered into place to cover the portholes and forward windscreen. Navigating in 4-D space meant flying by instruments.

He turned slightly in his chair, “Flounder, are you ready to engage the TDD?”

“Stand by,” Flounder said quietly as he flipped switches and turned dials. “Engaging in five...four...three...two...one.”

There was a slight shudder and the ship was plowing it’s way through the 4th dimension. Leveling off at 50 meters, Redline checked the readouts and gauges. The gravimetric distortions caused by Sigma Draconis and the planets provided navigational reference points. They were also a source of danger if approached too closely.

Flounder stood up, “I’ll man the turret.” He pointed to the communications console, “I’ve slaved the console to your comm link. Flexo has already loaded all four torpedo tubes, so we’re about as ready as we’ll ever be.”

“Thanks.” Redline nodded, “I’ll surface at the north pole. Then magnetosphere should give us some cover from unfriendly sensors.”

Less than 200,000 miles from the planet, Redline brought the ship to within ten meters of the dimensional boundary to deploy an antenna into three dimensional space. As soon as the antenna broke through, the comm link crackled into life as it sent an encrypted burst message.

Before the ship had closed the range to within 100,000 miles, a response arrived which read:

TEAM AT COORDINATES GOLF TANGO 01054210. NINE UNWOUNDED, TWO WALKING WOUNDED, ONE KIA. HIDE SITE AT FOOT OF MOUNTAINS, APPROACH FROM SOUTH. WILL ACTIVATE 243 MHZ BEACON ON VISUAL. EXERCISE CAUTION, MUTIPLE ENEMY FIGHTERS IN AREA. NO GROUND FORCES SEEN.

Submerging to fifty meters, Redline covered the distance to the northern pole quickly. Surfacing, he headed straight for the pickup point. He keyed the circuit to the turret, “Keep your eyes open. We might see a few Vultures...and I don’t mean birds.”

“Roger.”

The pickup went smoothly. Flexo and Zoidberg hustled the heavily armed and armored team onto the cargo lift with shouts of, “Hurry up!”

The last man onto the cargo lift wore the insignia of a captain. The name tape above his left chest pocket read, “Maxton.” As the cargo lift shut, the hull plating vibrated as the ship roared skyward. Maxton turned to Flexo, “Nice job. Which way to the bridge? I need to send a message.”

“Follow me,” Flexo replied, “But you might have to wait until we’re out of the system for that.”

“Right,” Maxton nodded.

Flexo turned and headed toward the bridge followed closely by Maxton. Before they had left the cargo hold they could hear the sound of the turret plasma cannon opening up. “Aw crap!” Flexo exclaimed, “Looks like they’ve noticed us!”

They had.

Up in the turret, Flounder was blazing away at a foursome of Xoran Buzzard class fighters. They had risen from a base over a thousand kilometers away, heading straight for the ship. Flounder had spotted them on radar, then on visual.

“Come on Redline,” Flounder said tersely, “Do some of that pilot crap and get us out of this mess.”

“Workin’ on it,” Redline replied. “Keep them at a distance. They can’t stay with us when we break the atmosphere.”

Flounder took a quick look at the turret’s head’s up display...damn! The Xoran had maneuvered a Frigate into their path. “Do you see that Frigate up ahead?”

“I see it.” Redline flipped a few switches, “I’ll give it a full spread of torpedoes. While he’s dodging, we’ll head for the pulsar before submerging.”

“Roger,” Flounder said as he hit his first Buzzard. It began to smoke, then went into a flat spin. The two Xoran ejected just before the fighter exploded.

The Buzzards unleashed a flurry of shots. Several hit the shields but none penetrated. Flounder nearly jumped out of his skin when a plasma bolt fired by the Frigate blazed by the ship...very close.

The ship shuddered as Redline launched a spread of four torpedoes at the Xoran Frigate. As he had hoped, the Xoran took evasive action. What surprised him was that one of the torpedoes hit the Xoran just below the bridge. The Frigate slewed wildly, temporarily out of control.

At the same moment, Flounder took out a Buzzard with a perfectly placed shot. The enemy fighter simply disintegrated.

Clear of the atmosphere, Redline put the pedal to the metal. Flounder breathed a sigh of relief as the Resolute leaped out of the enemy fighter’s range.

“Can you come down from your perch?” Redline’s voice crackled through the speaker. “I could use your help to submerge.”

“Roger,” Flounder set the turret on auto-engage before he sped to the bridge. He arrived ahead of Maxton and Flexo, took his seat at the engineering console and engaged the TDD. Within a few moments, they were leveled off at fifty meters.

Flexo came onto the bridge, followed closely by Maxton. “Hey guys, this is Captain Maxton, he needs to send a message.”

“Sure,” Redline replied, “but we need to clear the system before we transmit.”

“Thanks,” Maxton smiled, “Look. I’ve got two wounded men. What’s the nearest medical facility?”

“The Mercy isn’t too far off.” Redline studied the navigational readout, “We can be there in about four hours.”

“Do you have a medic on board?” Maxton looked grim, “Mine bought the farm back there.”

“Errr,” Redline hesitated, “Our company doctor is on board but he’s not very good.”

Flexo piped up, “Zoidberg isn’t bad..he’s terrible!”

“Right.” Maxton nodded, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Flounder rose from the engineering console and went over to the communications and navigation console. He fiddled around a bit before declaring, “Come on and punch in your message, Captain. I’ll deploy a drone once you’re done. No sense in giving the bugs a live target to track.”

Maxton did as he was bidden. Within a few moments, DOOP Fleet Headquarters knew the results of the raid.

Flexo reached into his chest cavity, “Beer anyone?”

“You bet,” Maxton reached out. Redline and Flounder merely nodded before taking their frosty bottles as well. Together, they drank in silence.

Maxton broke the silence, “Well, we all earned our pay today. You guys did a great job.” He stuck out his hand, “Pete Maxton.”

“Tim Redline.”

“Tim Flounder.”

“And I’m Flexo!”

“I hope you guys don’t mind, but if I ever need an exfiltration platform...I’ll put you at the top of my list.”

“We’re honored,” Redline said. “But let’s get home first.”

“Amen.” Flounder added, “Amen.”

Fry & Lucky Dec 3004 – Feb 3006

Fry was surprised at how much he liked Navy life…at least what he had seen so far. Right now Lucky and he were goofing off in their barracks. Both had found numerous ways to avoid the hundred-and-one irksome, dirty tasks which the powers that be of the Syria Planum Naval Base seemed to delight in foisting on the hapless spacemen passing through as students.

They had found a pair of bunks at the rear of the barracks near the fire escape to sit on. If anyone trying to form a work party entered, they would both bolt out onto the fire escape and find another place to hang out.

“So have you heard from your girlfriend?” Lucky ventured.

“I got an email from her yesterday,” Fry smiled both inwardly and outwardly at the thought. “And to be honest, I’m not sure where we stand.” He paused, “This stinking war…after I wrote that opera, I was pretty sure we were solid but now…” His voice trailed off into silence.

“I saw how she looked at you during La Navidad,” Lucky grinned. “She isn’t going to kick you to the curb.”

“Thanks, but she’s an officer now.” Tears suddenly sprang to his eyes, “Damn.”

Lucky gently punched Fry in the shoulder, “Don’t worry, where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Fry’s natural optimism reasserted itself. He grinned, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” He thoughts turned to the next few days, “Looks like we both made it into sub school.”

“Yeah, I really had my doubts when they put me into the confinement box. I don’t have claustrophobia, but all that banging and stuff…it really spooked me. What about you?”

Fry shrugged, “To tell you the truth, it was easy. I fell asleep.”

“No frakkin’ way!”

“I really did,” Fry chuckled. “After sleeping in a nut house cell with a crazy robot, the box was nothing.”

“Oh yeah!” Lucky joined Fry in a laugh, “You told me about him! What was his name? Roberto!” Lucky shook his head, “Robbing the same bank twice in a row…what a pendejo!”

They sat in silence for a moment before they heard the unmistakable sound of a bugle blowing ‘mess call.’ True chow hounds, they both sprang to their feet and headed down the fire escape for the mess hall. Tomorrow they would check in to sub school and learn the fine arts of gunnery and caring for torpedoes.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The shuttle trip to Io was uneventful. Crammed into the shuttle along with 40 other Spacemen, Fry and Lucky sat together on the port side near the viewing ports. Fry never got tired of looking out at the stars and the planets as they passed by. He had never seen Io before…at least not close up. Now the approach vector to the TDS base at IO allowed Fry to have a good look.

Io was surrounded with a multi-hued aurora, the result of the interaction of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and the moon’s thin atmosphere. The moon had a slightly yellowish tint as it reflected the distant light of the sun. “Wow!” Fry said breathlessly, “Check it out!”

Lucky smiled. He could never get over his friend’s child-like fascination with space. It was one of the things that made him special. “Yeah. It really is something else.”

The shuttle set down on a landing pad in the center of the complex. After disembarking, the forty spacemen headed into the reception hall. After they inprocessed a Pharmacist’s Mate in a white lab coat called out, “Okay people…listen up! A few of you are going to get a quick medical exam. Sound off when your name is called!”

“Adams, William P.”

“Here”

“Fry, Phillip J.”

“Yo”

“Kesterson, Alphonse K.”

“Here”

“Zurran, Kim T.”

“Here”

“Okay.” The Pharmacist’s Mate lowered his clipboard, “Follow me and let’s get this over with.” Fry joined the other three men, wondering why he was being singled out. In less than five minutes he found out. A rather officious buxom, blonde haired yeoman ushered Fry into a waiting room. She said tonelessly, “Strip down to your skivvies. The doctor will see you shortly.” Without even pausing to see if Fry complied, she turned on her heel and left.

With a mental shrug, Fry stripped down to his underwear, sat down on the examining table and waited. In less than ten minutes the doctor entered. Dark haired, dark eyed and of olive complexion, he wore the rank of lieutenant commander on his Navy blue uniform. His name tag read, “Jones.”

“Good afternoon,” he smiled, “I’m Doctor Jones. How are you?”

“Uh…fine sir. What’s this all about?”

By way of reply Dr. Jones said, “Just routine. Hold out your hands please.”

Puzzled, Fry held out his hands. Dr. Jones picked up a medical scanner and ran it over Fry’s hands. He studied the readout with interest, “Are these the hands you were born with?”

“Uh…No…no sir.”

“Hmmm,” The doctor thought for a moment. “Handcrafters?”

“Yes sir.” Fry couldn’t help but ask, “How did you know?”

“Your records indicated that you are a perfect physical candidate in almost every way except for manual dexterity.” He chuckled, “With those crappy Handscrafters hands it’s no wonder. Get dressed. You can head back to your billets. Report back here at fifteen hundred this Sunday. Yeoman Betty will make sure your appointment is noted.”

“Thanks doc…I mean sir.”

“Well, the Navy can spare a few bucks to get you a decent pair of hands.” He smiled, “I’ll do the job myself this Sunday afternoon. Then you won’t even have to miss any training.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Don’t mention it.” Doctor Jones flashed him a smile, turned and was gone.

Looking at his hands Fry thought for a moment before getting dressed and heading back to the billets.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Sporting a brand new set of hands, Fry and his classmates plunged into the toughest school in the Navy – the Trans Dimensional Submersible (TDS) School. Over the next three months, Fry surprised himself by learning every single valve and fitting in an Archerfish Class TDS. He also learned everything he needed to know about the Mark X, XI and XII Torpedoes.

The new hands really helped, he reflected the night before graduation. Laying in his bunk, he sat up on one elbow. “Hey Lucky…you still awake?”

“No.” Lucky laughed, “I’m asleep…like you should be.”

“Can you believe it?” Fry whispered excitedly, “We’re going out to the fleet.”

“Don’t forget buddy, we have Damage Control School first.”

Fry thought for a moment, “Man…it would really suck to get through all this stuff and flunk out because of a stupid two week course.”

“We’ll watch each other’s backs like we always do, hermano.” Lucky replied. “Now get some shuteye. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

“Sure. Good night Lucky.”

“Good night Fry.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Fry and Lucky’s company commander was a veteran Chief Petty Officer (CPO) with a soft spot for goof offs. CPO William Jeffries had been one himself before a dose of combat had set him straight. He trusted his instincts…and they told him that Fry and Lucky would make good Spacemen.

He took a swig from a bottle of frosty cold beer before making up his mind. He tapped out a recommendation that, pending graduation from Damage Control School, Fry and Lucky be assigned to the same boat – TDS 229, the Flying Fish. As a professional courtesy, he also sent a message to the Chief of the Boat. In it he praised Fry’s Gunnery skills and Lucky’s uncanny ability to troubleshoot torpedoes…both vital skills to any sub.

Finished with his paperwork for the evening, Jeffries finished off his beer as well. After giving a long, sonorous belch he heaved himself from his chair and headed for his bunk. Graduations always gave him a headache.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The introduction to Damage Control School had been very professional, Lucky thought. No yelling, no hazing, just a matter-of-fact welcome to one of the most dangerous schools in the Navy by a short, burly CPO with no neck who seemed to have hair growing everywhere. One of their group had said quietly, “He looks like a gorilla.” Many of the group simply nodded their heads in agreement.

“Welcome to the Basic Damage Control Course, Spacemen.” The CPO looked them over, “This course is the first step in learning the fine art of Damage Control. It’s two weeks of very dangerous work. Everything we do here is live action. There are no simulations. So listen to your classes and watch the demonstrations closely because you’ll be doing whatever you learn soon afterward.” He paused before saying with emphasis, “There are no stupid questions! The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask that gets you or your buddy killed. Is that clear?”

They all bellowed in unison, “Aye-Aye Chief!”

“Belay that boot camp crap!” The CPO responded, “Shouting gets people excited. Here we keep our voices calm and our wits collected. Clear?”

The group responded with a mixed chorus of “Clear” and “Aye-Aye”.

“That’s better,” the CPO smiled. “By the way, I’m CPO Barrington. Now let’s get down to business…”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Fry never expected to graduate first in the class. Prior to graduation CPO Barrington pulled Fry aside in his office and said, “You’re a natural. You see solutions that nobody else sees. How’d you like to stay on here as an instructor?”

“Me? A teacher?” Fry shook his head and laughed, “Chief…I barely made it out of school.”

“Frak a bunch of school!” Barrington replied, “There’s something unique about the way you think and I like it.”

“I’d like to Chief but Lucky and I promised we’d watch each other’s backs.”

“Oh,” Chief Barrington smiled, “So you two are mates?”

“M…M…Mates?” Fry stuttered and blushed, “No…we’re just friends.”

Barrington roared with laughter, “That’s what mates means.” He wiped a tear from his eye, “By God Fry, you are an original.” He clapped him on the back, “OK. You head out to the fleet with Lucky but I’m going to get you back here for the advanced course at some point.”

“Ok Chief,” Fry nodded vigorously, relieved that he wouldn’t have to part ways with Lucky. Although he never put it in words, Lucky had become a brother in all but name. Better to face the enemy than lose contact with his friend. Seeing that the Chief had nothing further, Fry headed to the galley to look for Lucky.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

After graduation, CPO Barrington handed Fry and Lucky their orders. They thanked him and went out into the main corridor leading to the auditorium.

“Fry!” Lucky said excitedly, “We both got assigned to the Flying Fish!”

“Cool!” Fry smiled, “So when do we report?”

“Um…let me see…we got twenty four hours.” Lucky shook his head, “Man…I wanted to take you home to Buenos Aires.”

“We’ll get there.” Fry shrugged. “Where is she docked?”

“Space Dock 17,” Lucky chewed his lip in thought. “Want to report in early?”

“Why not?” Fry folded his orders and pocketed them, “Leela’s already on a training cruise…Bender’s on shift…so yeah.” He smiled, “But let’s get a beer first.”

“I heard that!” Lucky led the way down the corridor.

Several beers later they took the shuttle to Space Dock 17. With their Spacebags hoisted on their shoulders, they disembarked the shuttle in a good mood. They headed up the gangway where a short, squat, shaven headed Lieutenant with an enormous handlebar moustache was on duty.

After the obligatory exchange of salutes the Lieutenant took their orders and scanned them. “Report below to the Chief of the Boat, Chief Petrovich. Welcome aboard. I’m the Senior Tactical Officer, Lieutenant Karlson. When we’re underway, everyone calls me “Curly” That is all.”

Both Fry and Lucky came to attention, saluted and headed off to find Chief Petrovich.

Remembering their schooling, Fry and Lucky headed forward toward the open torpedo loading hatch. Both knew their bulky spacebags would make them unwelcomed transiting the Conning Tower or Combat Control Center (CCC). Best to set a good example by coming aboard with as little fuss as possible.

It didn’t take them long to find…or more accurately be found by Chief Petrovich. They had scarcely descended the ladder, squinting to accustom their eyes to the darker interior of the boat when a voice boomed, “So…we’ve got fresh fish!”

Fry turned to see a burly, dark haired, bearded man who looked like a pirate. His expression was ferocious, his head was clean shaven and he sported a skull and crossbones sort of earring in his right ear. Both of his forearms were emblazoned with colorful tattoos. Master Chief Petty Officer Petrovich was a vision.

Lucky recovered his speech first, “Yes Chief, we’re fresh out of school and ready to learn.”

“Names?”

“Torpedoman Third Class Emilio Esmeralda…my friends call me Lucky.”

“Torpedoman Third Class Philip J Fry…my friends call me Fry.”

“Okay.” Petrovich stuck out his hand, “Orders?”

Once Chief Petrovich was certain they were the two torpedomen he was waiting for, he conducted them to their new home…the forward torpedo room. “You two take the lower bunks. Later on you can move up. “He gave a rumbling laugh, “It may be cozy in here now but once we’ve fired a few torps the place gets almost roomy.

“Hey Chief,” Fry asked. “Where’d you get the earring? I think it looks cool.”

“You do eh?” Petrovich smiled, “I’ll let you know when you can pick one up.”

“Thanks Chief.”

Thus began several months of working hard to learn every valve, circuit breaker and electrical switch in the boat. On top of that, they had to learn to stand watch. All of this took place while they were making war patrols in Xoran controlled space.

Their first patrol was fairly uneventful. The Flying Fish drew lifeguard duty in the Gamma Trianguli Sector, rescuing downed pilots before the Xoran could lay their hands on them. After rescuing four pilots, they Flying Fish managed to sink two Xoran troop transports and escape the enraged Xoran escorts with only a short D-Charging.

After their successful patrol Fry and Lucky – along with the other three ‘fresh fish’ – were awarded the skull and crossbones earrings by Chief Petrovich. “This is the only jewelry authorized for male wear in the DOOP Navy. Be proud of it. It marks you as a combat man.”

Their second war patrol was an attack against the Xoran supply lines in the Galaxy of Terror. At first they drew a blank, cruising for two weeks before receiving OMEGA Intelligence traffic which put them on the trail of an unescorted convoy. In a running fight near the gravity well of a super heavy rogue planet, the Flying Fish destroyed five out of eleven ships in the convoy. They would have finished them all off if a flight of Buzzard Class fighters hadn’t showed up.

The Flying Fish had barely had time to claw her way into the fourth dimension before a brace of D-Charges rocked the boat. One hit close enough to rupture an internal high-pressure line in the forward engineering compartment. As a result, a claxon began sound.

Fry was next door in the forward torpedo room when it happened. His boss, Chief Torpedoman Wu called out, “Fry! See what’s wrong in the engineering compartment!” He quickly donned a Damage Control Suit (DCS) and entered the compartment. A quick survey of the compartment and he realized that this scenario had played out numerous times.

He went to work quickly…running the damage control checklist through his head as he went. First, stop the flow of high pressure steam. Second, apply self-sealing metal micromesh to the break. Third, run an electrical charge through the micromesh to make it adhere to the high-pressure line. Fourth, Restore pressure to the line. Last but not least clear any injured or unconscious personnel from the compartment.

It all took less than 30 seconds.

Fortunately, the compartment had been empty when the rupture occurred. Fry emerged, gave Wu and Lucky a quick ‘thumbs up’ and braced himself against a bulkhead in case another D-Charge should come close. None did.

By their third patrol, both Fry and Lucky had qualified for their Space Cetaceans Badge. The third patrol went well…adding another four Xoran merchantmen to the Flying Fish’s tally. Unfortunately, when they got back to Syria Planum for a refit, Fry was detached to shore duty. True to his word, CPO Barrington had gotten Fry as an assistant instructor for the Damage Control School.

If it weren’t for being parted from Lucky, Fry wouldn’t have minded the change. He actually had a chance to see Leela, Amy and Bender once in a while. Amy and Bender were both working in the space docks…fitting TDS’ with the new CEPHI engines. Leela drifted through now and again when her ship, the Silversides was in port.

He was just getting used to working at the Damage Control School when another set of orders came through to the TDS 213, the Devilfish. “Ain’t that just like the Navy,” CPO Barrington said sympathetically. “But don’t worry, your buddy Lucky is headed there as well.”

“Cool,” Fry extended his hand, “Thanks Chief.”

“Don’t mention it,” Barrington smiled, “Stay safe.”

“Oh I will Chief. You can bet on that.”

Cheered by the thought of working with Lucky again, Fry headed to his quarters to pack his spacebag and report aboard.

The Battle of Gamma Trianguli

EXCERPT FROM NAVAL ENGAGEMENTS OF THE XORAN WAR, Naval Institute Press, Syria Planum, Mars, RADM (Rtd.) Kif Kroker, May 3025

The Battle of Gamma Trianguli was a short, vicious engagement which stopped the Xoran from reinforcing their forces on the hotly contested planet of Moravan, thereby saving the DOOP forces there from probable annihilation. As it was, the battle marked the turn of the tide in that sector. Of course, at the time, we had no idea that the tide had turned.

At the time, I was in the command of the Io, a Jupiter class destroyer. She was the first of her class and a first class ship. The Io was part of Destroyer Squadron 8 (DesRon 8) along with the Ganymede, Callisto, Triton, Tethys, Miranda, Ariel and the Proteus. The Squadron Commander, Captain Xi Zhang flew his flag in the Callisto. Along with the heavy cruisers Altair, Polaris and Rastaban, we formed Task Force 54 under the command of Rear Admiral Vladimir Yevchenko.

Most Secret Sources revealed that the Xoran were going to reinforce their garrison on Moravan with two divisions of their best troops. The transports were going to be preceded by a bombardment group of two battleships, three heavy cruisers and four destroyers. They planned to knock out our orbiting spaceport, crush our orbital defenses, smash the ground defense stations and then land their troops. Without knocking out our orbital and ground defenses, the bugs knew they couldn’t land successfully.

Although we were outgunned, Admiral Yevchenko was confident in our intelligence and in our overall superiority in technology…particularly in sensors. He decided to lay an ambush for the Xoran. Our entire task force entered the system and took station at the edge of Gamma Trianguli’s photosphere.

When the Xoran bombardment group entered the system, they went straight for Moravan. Before they were able to open fire, our Task Force sprinted from cover with our plasma cannons blazing. The Xoran were definitely surprised. They had counted on conducting a bombardment and as a result, their ready ammunition was designed for bombardment not for fleet action. It was a decisive factor in the battle.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Wardroom of the DNS Altair, 29 January 3005

That evening, Admiral Yevchenko had rehearsed their tactics for the coming fight. With his captains seated around the conference table of the flagship he had explained, “Once we sight the enemy and have gone to general quarters, we must close the distance rapidly. Their guns and torpedoes outrange ours so we must get in close and get hits. I want to begin with a full spread of torpedoes at the big boys. Am I clear so far?”

A chorus of “Aye-aye’s” rang out.

“Excellent.” He paused for a brief moment, “We have to cripple the battleships and heavy cruisers. They are the real threat to Moravan. Our orbital defenses can handle anything a bug destroyer can dish out. So no captain can go far wrong if he pitches into one of the big boys. Close in and get hits. Clear?”

“Clear!” and “Aye-Aye sir!” sounded.

“Very well, gentlemen.” He stood up, “Dismissed.”

The captains all stood. When the Admiral left the room, each captain headed back to their ship.

Bridge of the DNS Io, 30 January 3005

On the Io, ship control functions were centered on the bridge. Fire and damage control functions were centered in the Combat Control Center (CCC) amidships, this included the primary communications, electronic warfare (EW) and sensor controls.

The bridge had the ship’s Captain, the XO, a ‘talker’ who relayed information to and from the CCC, a Duty Officer, two helmsmen and a sensor station which could display information from all of the ship’s sensors. The bridge was heavily shielded and armored, but it was often the target of enemy fire. Therefore, the CCC had a maneuver station as well.

In keeping with DOOP Naval tradition, only the senior officer on the bridge had a chair. The rest stood at their posts. In the CCC, everyone with a station had a seat. In the center of the CCC was a holographic navigational and tactical display still referred to as a ‘chart table’.

Kif was seated on the bridge, enjoying a mug of tea when the talker stood up straight, “Sir, signal from Admiral Yevchenko, ‘Enemy sighted. Prepare to leave the photosphere in five minutes. Acknowledge’.”

“Acknowledge the signal,” Kif turned to his Executive Officer (XO) A tall Neptunian Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Jackson Ames, “Jack…sound general quarters.”

LCDR Ames stepped to the communications console, flipped a switch and announced, “General Quarters…General Quarters.” Then he pressed a button and the General Quarters claxon sounded. BONG! BONG! BONG!

Within two minutes everyone on the ship was at their battle station, dressed in what everyone referred to as ‘full battle rattle’. This included a pressure suit, helmet, oxygen bottle and graviton boots. If a hit caused the ship’s atmosphere to vent into space, the crew could continue to work until environmental conditions were restored or the order given to abandon ship.

The talker – a young baby faced blonde who looked as if he had never shaved – spoke up, “Sir, all stations report manned and ready. Turrets 51, 52 and 53 report ready ammo powered up. Damage control parties are assembled and in place.”

“Very well,” Kif raised a set of electro-optical binoculars to scan the fleet, “All ahead one third. Maintain station to the starboard of the Callisto.”

“Aye-aye sir! All ahead one third,” the first helmsman repeated the commands, “Maintain station to starboard of the Callisto.” Within a few seconds he confirmed, “Answering one third.” A few moments later he spoke again, “On station.”

The Task Force deployed in an extended battle line. This would allow for simultaneous launching of torpedoes. Once clear of the photosphere, the helmsmen kept pace with the rapidly accelerating Callisto.

The Xoran fleet initially showed no sign that they sensed the Task Force’s approach. They were strung out in an ideal bombardment formation, with all of their turrets and tubes pointed toward Moravan.

“Sir, the Admiral orders we prepare to launch torpedoes on his order. Our target is the second heavy cruiser in the line.”

Kif nodded. He thought for a moment, “Inform Combat to launch as soon as they receive the signal. Designate target as Zero One. Don’t wait for my confirmation.”

“Aye-aye sir.” The talker repeated the information. Then after a few moments which seemed like an eternity he said, “Sir, the Admiral confirms his launch order.” The ship shuddered slightly as eight torpedoes departed for their target in rapid succession.

“Sir, Combat confirms torpedoes away…running hot, straight and normal.” The talker spoke again, “Sir. Admiral Yevchenko confirms weapons free.”

“Very good,” Kif looked grim, “Range to closest target?”

The senor operator – a short, brawny brown haired spaceman – peered briefly at the sensor array before responding, “25,000 kilometers to a Xoran CARDINAL Class Destroyer. She’s targeting our torpedoes.”

“Good reaction time!” LCDR Ames said with admiration.

“Combat! Have 51 and 52 turrets engage the CARDINAL designated target Zero Two.” Kif rapped out a series of orders, “Helm, all ahead flank, present course. Let’s close the distance on this bug.”

The talker repeated Kif’s orders as did the helmsman. When they closed to 15,000 kilometers, the forward turrets began to fire. The first salvo missed but the second hit the target’s forward turret…causing severe damage.

The Xoran returned fired…scoring a hit directly on Io’s bridge. Much to everyone’s surprise, it had no effect. It was the senor operator who spoke first, “Sir, that bug just hit us with ground bombardment ammo. What the hell?”

Right on the heels of the hit, three torpedoes from the Io struck the Xoran Heavy Cruiser “XilXil” (formerly known as target Zero One). One of the torpedoes hit an ammunition magazine, which detonated with such force that it tore the ship in two.

“Woo hoo!” LCDR Ames slapped his thigh with his lower left arm, “That’s what I’m talking about!”

Torpedoes from other DesRon 8 ships began to impact on the other two heavy cruisers and one of the battleships. In a few seconds, the Xoran went from being an overwhelming opponent to a collection of cripples.

Target Zero Two suddenly reversed course, showing her propulsion exhaust as she sprinted away. The undamaged Xoran ships and one of the heavy cruisers turned away as well. They were running!

A cheer broke out on the bridge which was stifled by the sensor operator reporting, “Sir, sensors show six torpedoes coming in from port.”

Kif didn’t hesitate, “Come right to course 090 degrees relative down 030 Zulu, full ahead. We’ll try and comb them. Initiate barrage jamming and deploy countermeasures.”

“Coming right to 090,” the helmsman said calmly. “Answering full ahead.” There was a short pause, “Helm is at 090 relative down 030 Zulu.”

“Sir,” the Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) spoke up, “Jamming initiated and countermeasures are deployed.”

“How are we doing sensors?” Commander Ames asked.

“We just might make it sir,” the sensor operator responded.

“Call ‘em out sensors…time to impact.” Commander Ames ordered.

“Thirty seconds…twenty seconds…ten seconds…five…four…three…two…one…”

The ship gave a sickening lurch accompanied by a deep thrumming sound throughout the ship’s compartments. Simultaneously, the lights on the bridge flickered and the gravity plating lost power.

“Damage control,” Kif shouted, “I want damage control reports from all decks.”

“Aye aye, sir!

Backup systems kicked in for the gravity plating and the lights steadied up. Reports began to flood in. Fragmentary though they were, they were not encouraging. The Io had taken two torpedoes, one forward of the bridge and one aft. Fires had broken out near the impacts. The fire from the bridge was easy to see. It was near plasma cannon Turret 51.

The blinding white glare of the fire told Kif that the ship’s duranium hull had ignited. He reacted instantly by rapping out orders which were repeated by the talker, “Vent the forward magazine to space. Turrets 51 and 52 jettison all five-inch ready ammo. Deploy the cryobots and get that fire under control!”

Within seconds, the cryobots popped from their stations on the hull. Crawling forward like mechanical spiders, they hosed the fire with liquid nitrogen in an attempt to extinguish it. Kif was satisfied when the glare went from bright white to violet, it would take some time but they were winning the fight against the fire.

When the talker reported that the forward magazine was depressurized and that the gun crews had jettisoned all of the five-inch ready ammo, Kif turned to Commander Ames, “Jack, I want you to take the conn. I’m heading aft to see what shape we are in.”

“Aye aye, sir!”

As he slid down a ladder to the deck beneath the bridge, Kif could see smoke…not a good sign. He quickly made sure his respirator was working before hurrying aft. Of utmost importance was to find if the power plant was damaged.

It didn’t take him long to see that the ship was badly, perhaps mortally, wounded. His trip to the engine room revealed that all but one engine was completely out of commission. With only one functional engine, the Io could not go to STEXX drive. They’d have to head for Moravan for repairs…if the structural integrity fields held. For a better overall idea of the state of damage control throughout the ship, Kif headed for the CCC.

On his way, he stopped in the sickbay. The doctor, LCDR Robert Boston gave it to Kif short and – not so sweet. “We’ve lost at least a dozen killed. I’ve got five more who are expectant unless I get them to a better facility. We’ve got thirty-six wounded at my last count.”

Kif did the math in his head. Almost ten percent of his crew was…or would soon be dead. Slightly less than twenty percent were wounded. “Thanks, Doc. Let’s move the wounded into the escape pods now.”

“Wilco, sir.” LCDR Boston turned to a pharmacists’ mate, “You heard the Captain…organize some stretcher bearers.”

As the sickbay came to life, Kif headed for the CCC. When Kif entered, the damage control officer, Lieutenant (LT) Hector Avila reported, “Sir, we’ve brought the fire near the engine spaces under control. We’re having a little more trouble with the fire forward, but I think we can get it in hand. That’s not what has me worried.”

“What has you worried, Lieutenant?”

“Well,” LT Avila chewed his lip, “Our structural integrity is badly compromised. We’ve deployed every SRU-5 on the ship. We’re holding our own for now but we have zero margin for error.”

“Very well, Lieutenant.” Kif nodded while patting the LT on the shoulder, “Keep up the good work.”

“Thanks sir. We won’t let the old Io down.”

“What’s the latest from the engine room?”

“Well sir, you know we’ve only got one engine.” LT Avila scratched his chin, “But Chief Whorter says it’s overheating due to the strain of trying to maintain headway and keep up structural integrity.”

While Kif was pondering his options, the communication officer, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) LT (jg) Iverson came up, “Sir…Captain Zhang is on the videophone for you.”

“OK.” He took his place in front of the screen and lifted the old fashioned handset. Zhang’s voice came booming through the earpiece, “Commander Kroker, how’s your ship…over?”

Kif gave him the situation as he knew it. Zhang asked, “The Admiral has ordered a general pursuit. You look pretty beat up. Do you want me to send someone to help…over?”

Kif thought for a moment, “No sir. We are going to head for Moravan. If the Io can’t make it, we’ll get the crew there by escape pod. But if you can spare some SRU-5s, I’d appreciate it…over.”

“OK.” Zhang thought for a moment, “I’ll send my shuttle with what we can spare… over.”

“Can you spare your shuttle to take some critically wounded to Moravan…over?”

“Sure.” Zhang nodded his head, “See you after the battle. Zhang…out.”

Kif hung up the handset, “I’m heading for the bridge LT Avila. Report to me when you’ve got a complete picture.”

“Yes, sir.”

Within twenty minutes the shuttle had dropped off two additional SRU-5 and taken on a pharmacists’ mate and four critically wounded (one had died) before scooting off for Moravan.

Shortly after the shuttle departed, LT Avila came onto the bridge. Without any fanfare, he reported to Kif, “Sir, Chief Whorter says our engine won’t hold out until we reach Moravan. If we had enough structural integrity, we could STEXX there but at less than light speed…we just can’t make it.”

Kif sat silently brooding for several minutes. Standing up, he announced, “Jack, have the men abandon ship. You will lead them to Moravan. I’m going to keep a skeleton crew here and Chief Whorter and I will try to bring her in.”

“Sir…” LCDR Ames looked surprised.

“Don’t worry Jack,” Kif laughed. “I don’t plan on going down with the ship.”

“Aye-Aye sir!” LCDR Ames set about his task. Within a half-hour, everyone save the Kif, the engine crew, the helmsman, a sensor operator and the damage control officer were headed for Moravan. As a precaution, every bit of sensitive communications or advanced sensor gear had it’s self-destruct mechanism armed.

Against the odds, the Io almost made it. Unfortunately, the main fuel line feeding the engine – weakened by the earlier explosion and fire – ruptured. With power gone, the structural integrity fields died. The Io began to slowly break apart. With a heavy heart, Kif left the Io…the last man into the escape pod. Once they were at a safe distance, Kif pressed the self-destruct button he had brought with him. A series of bright flashes and the Io was gone.

o-o-o-o-o-o-o

Syria Planum, DOOP Fleet Headquarters, February 12, 3005

In the wake of the loss of his ship, Kif had been summoned to Fleet Headquarters for a Board of Inquiry. For six hours, three Captains (CPT) had grilled Kif and his officers about every aspect of the battle. After a short recess, they called Kif into the hearing room.

“Have a seat, Commander,” the president of the board said pleasantly.

Kif sat down.

“It is the finding of this board that your command decisions during the battle off Moravan were without flaw. You showed skill and aggressiveness in attacking the enemy. Your subsequent handling of the Io after being torpedoed was also admirable. We therefore recommend that – following thirty days survivors leave – you be assigned to command of another ship.” The president of the board smiled, “Any questions?”

“No sir,” Kif felt as if he were going to yak but he held it together.

“Very well,” the president of the board nodded, “You are dismissed.”

Kif stood up shakily, “Thank you sir.” He saluted the board, turned about and left the room. Once outside he knew what he was going to do with thirty days of leave. He was going to spend every minute of it that he could with his Fon-Fon-Ru.

Amy Dec 3004 – Feb 3006

Life at the Naval Research Lab on Io had a settled quality to it. Rise early, work a long day at the lab, hit the officer’s club for a few drinks and then hit the rack early. Amy found that working hard helped keep her mind off of her Kif. Well…never completely off of him…but it kept her from hurting too badly.

Xmas and New Years came and went. It was early in February 3005 after a long and particularly difficult day, Amy found herself seated at the bar of the Io Naval Officer’s Club. She downed her first drink at a single gulp. The second one vanished nearly as quickly.

A tall blonde haired Lieutenant, who was well into his cups, grinned at her, “Wow! Are you trying for a speed drinking record?”

“No,” she answered quietly, “I just want to have a few quiet drinks and go to bed.”

“Care to share that bed with me?”

Normally Amy would have been flattered – even as she said no – but tonight she was just too tired to even talk. She shook her head, “Sorry, I’m married.”

“Oh…excuse me,” the Lieutenant gave a small bow and returned to talking to his friends.

As Amy nursed her third drink, she heard the Lieutenant say something about losing the Io – Kif’s ship!

She tapped the Lieutenant on the shoulder, “What did you say?” Amy could feel her insides turning into ice.

“I said that we just kicked the bugs asses off Moravan,” the well lubricated Lieutenant said with a smile.

“No, what did you say about the Io?”

“Oh, it’s a pity considering.”

“Considering what?” Amy had to fight to avoid grabbing the Lieutenant by the shoulders and shaking the words out of him.

“A few of our ships got hit pretty bad but the only one we lost was the Io.”

“Kif…” Amy felt as though the room was spinning. She gripped the bar, took a deep breath and managed to ask, “Was there any word on casualties?”

“I didn’t see a by-name-list.” The Lieutenant rubbed his chin reflectively, “Maybe BUPERS has put out a memo.” He said his last words to Amy’s back as she had turned and rushed to the personnel office.

Running straight across the courtyard to the main headquarters building, Amy only slowed twice to salute senior officers. Vaulting up the front steps two at a time, Amy rushed through the front door, down the hallway and stopped in front of the personnel office. Her heart sank as she read the neatly stenciled sign hanging from the door handle, “Be back tomorrow at 0600”.

She looked at her Wristamajiggy. Damn! She had eight hours to wait until she would know for sure. Sadly, she shuffled down the hallway, out the front door and angled across the square to the Bachelor Officers Quarters (BOQ).

Her mind swirled with images of Kif’s lifeless body floating in space…or of him lying in a hospital bed badly mutilated. Her gut did a series of flip flops keeping time with each mental change of scene. The more she thought, the more terrible the images became. Tears welled in her eyes and she could scarcely see to open the door of her room.

The door swung open easily. What met Amy’s tear filled eyes caused her to take a startled step backwards. There on the edge of her bed – resplendent in his DOOP Navy Blues – sat Commander Kif Kroker.

“Um…Hello Amy!”

The surprise and relief caused Amy’s knees to go weak. She grasped the door jamb, stammered weakly, “K…K…Kif?”

“Yes Amy.” Kif stood up, “It’s me.” He smiled as he stepped towards her, “I got thirty days survivors leave, so I thought I’d spend it with you.”

“Oh Kif,” Why didn’t you tell me you were OK?! I haven’t heard from you since I got sent to this rock.” Tears began to flow, “I thought you’d forgotten me.”

“How could I forget my Fon-Fon-Ru?” he said warmly.

“Oh Kif…” the months of pent up passion exploded in a frenzy of lips, beak, tongues and touch.

In the afterglow of their strenuous lovemaking, Amy traced a meandering pattern on Kif’s chest with her right index finger. She looked into his eyes, “Oh Kiffie! I love you so much.”

“I love you too, Amy.”

“Thirty whole days!” She smiled, “I wonder how much time I can get off.” She frowned, “I’ve been working some pretty long hours supervising the retrofitting of existing ships with the new CEPHI System.”

“I know you’ve been busy,” Kif brushed Amy’s cheek affectionately.

“Yeah,” she nodded. “The new construction doesn’t need my supervision. It’s the older ships that are a pain. I have to design and install one CEPHI system in each class of ship. Once that is done, the yard can handle the other installations.”

“Which ships have you done so far?”

Amy shrugged, “Most of our battleships and battle cruisers…our carriers, some destroyers. I’m supposed to start on the Altair next week. After the cruisers, I’ll work on the TDS’.”

“The Altair…she got banged up off Moravan. The bridge took a direct hit. Too bad…I knew Admiral Yevchenko well.” Kif eyes took on a sad look, “I’ll miss him.”

“Oh Kiffie…don’t be sad,” Amy threw her leg over Kif’s legs and giggled. “Let me take your mind off of your troubles.”

--------

The next morning when Kif reported to the personnel office at 0800 on the dot to pick up his leave papers, he got a shock. The duty yeoman – a busty blonde – snapped to attention when Kif entered, “Sir. Admiral Peska directs that you come to his office right away.” The yeoman stepped from behind her desk, “Please follow me sir.”

Wondering what he had done, Kif followed the yeoman the short distance to the Admiral’s office. Vice Admiral Edward Peska was the Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Personnel and a summons to his office usually meant a crappy career-ending assignment or a promotion. Kif was convinced as he stood in the front office occupied by Peska’s Executive Officer (XO) and aide that he was in for the former treatment.

The plaque on the XO’s desk read “Wilson Groom, Captain DOOP Naval Service”. Groom, a red haired, grey eyed man with a poker face looked at Kif, “The Admiral will see you now.”

Ushered into the Admiral’s presence without any fanfare, Kif fought his camouflage instinct to avoid turning transparent. When Kif entered, the Admiral was reading from an electronic tablet. After a moment, he looked up at Kif, his blue eyes seeming to emit a freeze ray.

Kif saluted, “Sir, Commander Kroker reports as ordered.”

Peska returned the salute, “Stand at ease Commander.” He sat back in his chair, “I have some good news for you.”

Kif felt as though his knees were going to buckle with relief, “S…S…Sir?”

A quick smile flitted across Peska’s lips, “You are getting command of the Altair…effective immediately. You are also getting a brevet promotion to Captain. Prove yourself in battle like you did at Moravan and we’ll make it permanent.”

“Ummm…Sir…I was scheduled for survivor’s…”

“Captain Kroker,” Peska frowned, “You get yourself to the Yards as quickly as you can, get the Altair into shape and get her back to space.” He stood, “Clear?”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Kif saluted.

Returning Kif’s salute, Peska sat down. “See my yeoman for your orders and get your fourth stripe sewed on…you’re out of uniform.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

“That is all, Captain.” He went back to reading the tablet, “Send in my aide will you?” He gave Kif a rare smile, “Let my XO know if you need anyone from the Io’s crew transferred to the Altair. Good luck and good hunting.”

In the outer office, Kif asked the XO for the transfer of his XO from the Io, Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Jackson Ames, the Damage Control Officer Lieutenant (LT) Hector Avila, the ship’s surgeon LCDR Robert Boston and the engine room boss Master Chief Petty Officer Donald Whorter. The XO nodded amiably, “You’ll get ‘em Captain. The Admiral says that we will do everything to support any ship’s captain who fights.”

“Thank you.” Kif left the office alternating between euphoria and depression. What would he tell Amy? After an agony of indecision, it hit him…Amy was going to be outfitting the Altair! If they did it right, they could spend a lot of time together.

All things considered, Amy took it well. At first she had been heart-broken about the cancelled leave. But the news that Kif was promoted to Captain and in command of the Altair quickly dispelled any gloom.

Kif made arrangements for LCDR Jackson and LT Avila to supervise battle damage repair. He and Chief Whorter took over supervising the upgrade of the engines to CEPHI standards.

The first day of the upgrade Amy reported on board, quivering with anticipation. “I wonder if they have an equivalent to the mile-high club on a ship?” She had gone through a number of steamy scenarios in her mind, each wilder than the other.

When she reported to Kif, she saluted properly. Kif gently explained to her that "every corridor has eyes" and that "Captain watching is the major sport on board". Dismissing Kif’s speech as a formality she decided to play it “All Navy” until the right moment.

The right moment – at least to her lust inflamed brain – came when they were inspecting the electrical system. Spotting a small electrical junction room, Amy looked up and down the corridor. It was empty!

Seizing the opportunity, Amy grabbed a startled Kif as she pulled the hatch open. “Amy…what?”

She shoved him into the closet and with astonishing speed, secured the hatch and ripped both of their uniforms off. The excitement of the illicit activity seemed to make her tingle all over. “Oooh, Kiffie! I’m all tingly!”

“Um…Amy darling…I’m up against a low voltage electrical connection.” Kif chortled, “It tickles!”

“Oh…sorry.” Amy said a bit breathlessly as she maneuvered Kif off the ‘hot seat.’ Their lovemaking increased in intensity to a shattering release. The whole ‘bad girl/ bad boy’ angle really heightened everything for Amy.

“Oh Kiffie…you are such a bad boy!”

“Uh…Amy…I hate to say this but we have an inspection to finish.” He hugged her, “We have to meet Chief Whorter in the engine room in five minutes.”

Amy wanted to say “Let him wait.” Instead she replied as cheerfully as she could, “Sure.”

After they dressed, Kif said as sternly as he could, “Amy we can’t risk this sort of thing. Even though you are my Fon-Fon-Ru, it is against regulations to snu-snu on board except in quarters. I love you but it’s not fair to the rest of the crew.”

Amy appeared crestfallen. Tears formed in her eyes and her lip quivered. Kif impulsively embraced her, “Amy don’t cry! I love you. But please don’t ask me to act like Zapp Brannigan – with one set of rules for my crew and one set of rules just for me.”

She sniffled but smiled, “Okay Kiffie. It’s just that it’s so hard to resist.”

He kissed her gently, “It’s okay. It’s hard for me too.”

That was all she really needed to hear.

For the next week, things went smoothly. They would work during the day and – on nights when Kif was not needed aboard – they would spend in Amy’s quarters. Other nights she would spend in his Kif’s quarters.

About two weeks into the refit while poring over the ship schematics, Amy realized they would have to relocate some ventilation ducts. As she traced the layout of the relocation, an idea began to form. She grinned…Kif was going to love this.

She told Kif that she wouldn’t be able to visit him that evening because of a quarters inspection. He seemed a bit crestfallen, but accepted the news without argument. Navy life was Navy life!

She entered the ventilation ducts not far from Officer’s country. She crawled along with a flashlight in her mouth and a schematic in one hand. Several times she sneezed violently because of the dust she was kicking up. The ducts obviously hadn’t been cleaned for a while.

It only took five minutes until she was peering through the grating in Kif’s bedroom. He was stretched out on the bed. "Ohhh Amy" he sighed.

Amy called out, "Kif?"

Kif sat up, looked around, shrugged his shoulders and lay back down.

“Kiff!” Louder this time.

He sat up, “Amy?”

“Kif!”

“Amy?”

“Spleesh!” Her voice carried a tinge of exasperation, “Up here! The ventilation duct!”

In a trice, Kif helped her out. She emerged, dust covered and sneezing, “Ugh! I feel so dirty.” Without another word she stripped off her clothes, “I need a shower.” She smiled seductively, “Care to join me?”

“Oh…I just showered.”

"Guh, you're an Amphibosian".

"Oh, right".

It didn’t take long for the rising steam of the shower to shroud the steamy action in the shower.

On 22 June 3005 the Altair was fully repaired, retrofitted and ready for space. With Captain (Bvt) Kroker in command, they set forth for battle. Waving goodbye from an orbital repair platform, Amy watched until the Altair disappeared from view. Then she turned to the task of fitting CEPHI systems into the rest of the fleet.

In August of 3005, orders came for TDS School. Amy got through with surprisingly little trouble. She remained at the school as an instructor in CEPHI systems until late February of 3006, when she got a set of orders to report to TDS 213, the Devilfish.

Planet Express Ship January 3006

Redline, Flounder, Zoidberg and Flexo sat around the Planet Express Conference Table, playing poker. The table was littered with empty snack wrappers, potato chip bags and beer bottles. A grinning Flounder had more than half of the chips piled in front of him.

“I couldn’t stack crap with a shovel!” Flexo threw his cards down in disgust, “I’m out!”

Redline sighed, “Me too”. He tossed in his hand as well.

Zoidberg, who had no chips at all tossed down his cards and sobbed, “Zoidberg is broke again!”

“Here Zoidberg,” Flounder tossed him some cash from the pile, I don’t want to take all of your money.” He laughed, “Come on and play you wusses! You might start winning!”

Redline shook his head, stood up and stretched, “Look at the time! We’ve played all night.”

“So what have you got to complain about?” Flexo asked. “We’re all living as bachelors!”

“Well we might get another…” Before Redline could finish his sentence the door opened and the Professor shuffled into the room, “Good News everyone!”

“…mission.” Redline finished.

“What now, Professor?”

“We have another delivery,” the Professor gave a senescent cackle, “Hermes will fill you in on all of the details. Oh my yes…” He sat down in his chair and steepled his fingers, “Oh my yes…”

Flexo rolled his eyes, “Grandpa has gone bye-bye on us.” Then he extended his arm to pat the Professor on the shoulder, “But seriously, you’re a great guy.”

“Sorry I’m late People, but I was inprocessing ‘da new guy.” Hermes came into the room followed by a person none of the PE Crew had ever seen before. Wearing a DOOP Navy uniform with the insignia of a Chief Petty Officer on his left shoulder and the insignia of a Gunner’s Mate on his right, he was of average height with a shaven head, dark eyes and an impressive handlebar mustache.

As they seated themselves at the table Hermes pointed to the new guy, “Dis is…what is your name again?”

“Just call me Dink.”

“Dink?” Redline’s eyebrow flew up, “I sense a back story.”

“His name is Chief Petty Officer Douglas Dinkelstein,” Hermes looked at his clipboard briefly, and continued. “Under the DOOP new regulations, he has been assigned as a gunner aboard the Planet Express Ship.”

Flounder grinned, “Welcome aboard Dink!”

“Can we continue wit’ da’ meeting?” Hermes said with some asperity, “Da’ DOOP has sent us another mission,” He scanned his clipboard again, “We’ve got three days to get ready.”

“Three days?” Redline asked. The usual mission preparation was 24 hours or less. This mission must be a humdinger.

“Yup,” Hermes replied and handed a paper to Redline, who read it.

TOP SECRET//EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER RESOLUTE (AK/T 101)

FM: COMDOOPNAV

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: FRAGO 2707113

(TS) SITUATION: OUTPOST 245 IN THE GAMMA HYDRA SYSTEM REQUIRES RESUPPLY.

(TS//E) MISSION: RESOLUTE CONDUCTS COVERT RESUPPLY OF OUTPOST 245.

(U) EXECUTION:

(1) (TS) COMDOOPNAV CONSIDERS THE RESUPPLY OF THIS OUTPOST ESSENTIAL TO THE WAR EFFORT. RESUPPLY MUST NOT COMPROMISE OUTPOST LOCATION.

(2) (TS) PROCEED AT ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT OVER SYRIA PLANUM NAVAL BASE TO JOIN CONVOY OXF 221 TO MORAVAN NLT 1400 EST 02023006.

(3) (TS/E) ONCE AT MORAVAN, PROCEED TO GAMMA HYDRA SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING DETECTED. CONDUCT RESUPPLY OF OUTPOST 245. EXFILTRATE ANY MATERIALS OR PERSONNEL REQUIRED FROM OUTPOST 245 TO SYRIA PLANUM NAVAL BASE WITH ALL POSSIBLE SPEED.

(3) (TS/E) PERSONNEL TO BE EXFILTRATED MAY CONSIST OF WOUNDED OR LIVE XORAN PRISONERS.

(4) (TS) COMMANDER RESOLUTE WILL BE BRIEFED ON LOCATION OF OUTPOST 245 WHEN IN GEOSYNCHRONOUS ORBIT OF MORAVAN.

(U) SERVICE SUPPORT:

(1) (TS) SUB TENDER ANTILLES LOCATED AT COORDINATES X 3520 Y 3001 Z 8848. CAN PROVIDE FUEL, SPARE PARTS, AND MUNITIONS AS NEEDED.

(2) (TS) DHS MERCY VICINITY X 3520 Y 3001 Z 8848.

(U) COMMAND AND CONTROL:

(1) (TS) CEOI FOR THE OPERATION IS SIERRA FOXTROT 2001.

(2) (TS) MAINTAIN COMMUNICATIONS SILENCE FROM MORAVAN UNTIL CLEAR OF THE GAMMA HYDRA SYSTEM

TOP SECRET//EPSILON

Wordlessly, Redline handed it to Flounder. When he finished, Flounder looked up, “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Over the next two days, Flounder modified the cargo bay with a variable containment field to contain any prisoners. He also converted the laundry room into an aid station where any wounded Xoran could be kept.

Pushed by Redline, Zoidberg spent most of the time looking for medical information on the Xoran. He didn’t find much on the Xoran, but he did find that they were physically very much like the Insectoids. So, again prodded by Redline, he studied.

The professor came up with two contributions to the mission. The first was an Insectoid/English translator. The second was a unique form of camouflage…from a paint bucket.

“Now how does this help?” Flounder asked the Professor dubiously as hefted the paint drum onto the hover dolly

“I already told you.” The Professor waved his hand dismissively, “It’s Amphibosian Camouflage paint, you ninny!”

Flounder rolled his eyes, “How do I use it?”

“I created this paint from the sacred primordial slime from Amphibios 9. You might say that I created it from a collection of Amphibosian grannies.” The Professor gave a short laugh, “The Amphibosians were upset that I ‘violated’ their burial grounds...superstitious morons!”

“Professor, you already told me that…but how does it work?”

“It’s paint, you moron!”

“Grrr.” Flounder could feel his self-control beginning to go, “Professor! Focus! How do I activate the paint?”

“Why didn’t you ask?’ The Professor shrugged his shoulders, “Just run an electrical current through it.”

“What voltage?”

“It doesn’t matter!” The Professor replied testily. “I don’t care! Why are you bothering me with all these questions?” He turned and shuffled off, muttering to himself.

Flounder resigned himself to a morning of experimentation. He popped the top from the drum and looked. The paint was a decidedly pungent, clear, highly viscous material. Replacing the top, he pushed the hover dolly toward the hangar. Once in the hangar, he got a small piece of exterior patch material, applied paint to it and allowed it to dry. Once dry, he applied a 9 Volt current to the patch. Much to his surprise, the patch appeared to dissolve in front of his eves. “Snap!” Flounder exclaimed. Invisibility paint!

Flounder lost no time in finding Flexo to use his internal sprayer mechanism to paint the ship. To Flounder’s surprise, the paint spread easily over a large surface. When they finished, more than half of the drum remained. They had just finished when Redline and Dink came into the hangar. “Hey guys!” Flounder called out, “Check this out.”

Both were surprised when the ship shimmered, then vanished from view. “Cool.” Dink exclaimed. Redline asked, “What just happened?”

“The Professor made us some Amphibosian Camouflage Paint,” Flounder replied.

“And it tastes like old tennis shoes marinated in swamp water,” Flexo added.

“Nice.” Dink laughed, “Let’s go aboard, Flexo. I’ve got some Arcturan Comfort which will wash that taste out of your mouth.”

“What do you take me for…a lush?” Flexo shot back. Then he continued, “No seriously…you’re a great guy. Let’s go have a drink.”

As Flexo and Dink trooped up the landing gear stairs, Redline turned to Flounder, “It looks like this Dink character is going to fit in with the crew.”

“Yeah, I think so.” Flounder replied. “He has recalibrated the laser cannon, checked all of the torpedoes and upgraded our targeting array. He’ll do.”

“Yep,” Redline nodded, “He’ll do.”

Planet Express Ship 02 February 3006

The Planet Express Ship joined the convoy two hours ahead of time. When they arrived, the Convoy Commander summoned Redline to a meeting aboard the Escort Commander’s ship, the Callisto. When Redline arrived, the Officer of the Day (OOD) escorted him down narrow passageways to the wardroom. Outside the closed hatch to wardroom, a Marine stood guard.

When he entered, Redline was surprised to see that there were only two other officers in standing in the wardroom. They presented an interesting contrast. One was a Commodore – tall and thin with ebony skin, short grey hair and a thin moustache. The other was a Captain – short and stocky of obvious Asian heritage with jet black hair and eyes.

Redline remembered his military protocol. He came to attention, faced the Commodore and saluted, “Lieutenant Redline reports as ordered, sir.”

The Commodore returned his salute, “Stand at ease, Lieutenant. Do you know why you are here?”

“Yes sir.” He paused, “I’m here to ride along with the convoy to Moravan. Then I’m to head to Outpost 245, deliver my cargo, pick up prisoners and return to Syria Planum as quickly as possible. I’m to get the location of the outpost from you.” He thought for a moment, “Oh…and I’m to get there and back without disclosing the Outpost’s location.”

“That is correct.” The Commodore nodded his head, “However, Captain Zhang here has some additional tasks for you while we are convoying to Moravan.”

Captain Zhang stood up, “Lieutenant, we’re going through some areas where we can expect heavy attacks. I’ve got seven destroyers of DesRon 8 to protect a convoy of fifty ships. That is stretching things thin to say the least. I’ve read the intelligence reports on some of your deliveries. You are equipped as a TDS, aren’t you?”

“Yes sir.” Redline replied, “Professor Farnsworth recently invented a camouflage paint which bends anything in the Electromagnetic Spectrum around the ship. It makes us invisible to the naked eye and sensors.”

“Good Lord!” The Commodore exclaimed, “We should begin to mass produce it. What a tactical edge it would give us!”

Redline shook his head, “It probably would, sir. But the ingredients are kind of scarce.”

“Oh? How so?”

“It’s main ingredient is the remains of Amphibiosians from their sacred burial swamp.” He shifted his balance slightly, “Somehow, I think the government of Amphibios 9 would be a bit upset about our using Granny’s remains for paint…however useful it might be to us.”

Captain Zhang gave a short bark of laughter. The Commodore simply grimaced. After a brief, awkward moment the Commodore broke the silence, “I have left the materials you will need with Captain Zhang.” He glanced at the clock on the wall, “The Convoy departs in one hour and twenty minutes. I must return to my ship. Good day, gentlemen.”

Both Captain Zhang and Redline saluted as the Commodore departed.

As soon as the hatch closed Zhang grinned, “He’s a bit of a hard ass, our Commodore Jones but he knows his business. He learned it running convoys over the past year.” He clapped Redline on the back. “Come on over to the chart table, I’ll show you what I want you to do…”

Thirty minutes later, Redline was back on the bridge of the Resolute. The crew was there waiting for him, so Redline briefed them on the tactical situation. They were to cruise alongside the Callisto, matching her course and speed. If any Xoran Raiders showed up, they were to camouflage their ship and shadow the raiders back to their base … be it a ship or an asteroid. Then they were to deploy a beacon which would mark the position and scuttle back to rendezvous with the convoy.

“Wow,” Flexo said when Redline finished. “This is going to be fun on a bun.”

“What?” Flounder laughed.

“It’s a standard Bending Unit response,” Flexo replied with a grin.

“Oh.”

Zoidberg waved his claws excitedly, “Hooray! Zoidberg is going to be useful!”

“Let’s get to our action stations,” Redline looked at his old fashioned wristwatch. “We have less than thirty minutes before we depart.

The convoy set out on time and in the proper formation. The fifty assorted attack transports, freighters, tankers, and passenger vessels formed up in a tight box formation. The passenger vessels and tankers were in the center. Next to them were the ammunition ships and attack transports carrying equipment. Each of the six sides of the cube had a destroyer guarding it. The Callisto led the formation, with two small rescue ships close by.

They cruised to within six parsecs of Moravan before they encountered Xoran raiders. A swarm of twenty Buzzard Class fighters attacked from the side being patrolled by the Tethys. Every gun blazed to life at once, sending a torrent of shells, plasma and laser ripping into the formation. The freighters contributed their mite as well. The Xoran formation split up, having already lost five of their number.

Before the attack was over, twelve Xoran raiders were destroyed and four were damaged. However, three freighters were lost to torpedoes but the majority of their crews were saved. Most importantly, the Resolute managed to tail the fighters to their base without incident. Their success gave them confidence in the camouflage system as well as helping the DOOP Navy to eliminate the last hidden Xoran raider base located athwart the convoy routes to Moravan.

As the convoy unloaded at Moravan, the Resolute slipped away unnoticed for the Gamma Trianguli system. Rather than submerge, Redline decided to run with the camouflage in effect. They reached the edge of the debris disk orbiting the rapidly rotating white oblate spheroid of Gamma Trianguli.

Redline took up station alongside the asteroid holding Outpost 245. “Any sign of the Xoran?”

Flounder shook his head, “None.”

“See if you can raise the Outpost.”

“Wilco.” Flounder put on a headset and began to tap out a coded message on the communications console. After about twenty seconds he looked up, “They are waiting for us. They say they will open their hangar bay in 30 seconds. It is illuminated with UV light…the bugs have trouble with UV. We have 30 seconds to get inside. That’s it.”

Slipping on a set of spectrum specs, Redline waited. Thirty seconds Dink – who as gunner always wore his spectrum specs – called out, “I see it…Port side at minus 30 Z.” Deftly applying the thrusters, Redline conned the ship into the hangar.

Outpost 245, Gamma Trianguli 04 February 3006

As soon as the hangar doors closed above the Resolute, multi-spectral floodlights illuminated the area. From his vantage point on the bridge, Redline could see the uniformed Special Operations troops moving coming into the hangar were not wearing pressure suits. He flipped the intercom, “We’ve got atmosphere to unload in guys. Let’s discharge our cargo and get underway as soon as we can. If we’re going to carry bug prisoners back with us, I don’t want to prolong the pleasure.”

“I heard that!” Down in the cargo hold Dink said to Flexo. “Frak a bunch of bugs.”

“I find that foul xenophobic remark offensive,” Flexo shot back. He laughed and followed up with, “I was just busting your chops. You’re a great guy.”

Up on the bridge Redline stood and turned to Flounder, “Let’s go see if we have any return freight or passengers.”

“Sure.”

Redline keyed the intercom, “Flexo, Zoidberg and Dink, unload the cargo and wait for further orders.”

Dink hit the intercom switch, “Wilco.”

Redline led the way to the landing gear ladder and into the hangar. To his surprise, standing near the foot of the ladder was Major Pete Maxton.

“Good afternoon, gentlemen.” He waved cheerfully, “Welcome to Outpost 245!

“Well this is a small universe!” Flounder exclaimed.

Maxton shook both of their hands, “I told you guys if I ever needed someone to transport me in a tight place, it would be you.”

“So what have we got?” Redline came to the point.

“Two live Xoran prisoners.” Maxton shrugged, “We had one that was wounded, but he croaked on us.”

“That’s fine with me,” Redline replied laconically. “Dragging a bleeding bug across 112 light years doesn’t exactly excite me.”

Maxton laughed, “We’ve got about twenty tons of recovered Xoran technical materials.” He paused for a moment, “It’s all Top Secret Omega level stuff. So when you get home, forget you ever hauled it. As a matter of fact, just forget the whole mission.”

“We’ll be glad to,” Flounder replied.

Redline smiled at Flounder’s remark, “We should have our cargo unloaded in twenty minutes; I don’t think uploading will take more than an hour. After a quick systems check we’ll head back to Syria Planum.”

“I’ll get some of my boys to help you.” Maxton looked around before calling out, “Sergeant Elliot!”

“Sir!” a stocky, bull necked soldier responded immediately. He trotted over, “What’s up, Major?”

“Get a detail to expedite the unloading and loading of our guest here. I want them under way in less than two hours.”

“Can do easy, sir.” Sergeant Elliot trotted off, calling several soldiers by name. Within sixty minutes all of the cargo had been shifted. Only the prisoners remained.

Flounder was the first to see them. He had never liked insects anyway and the Xoran gave him the creeps. In form they were almost exactly like gigantic Praying Mantises. There were some differences, however. Instead of a uniform green or brown, they were a mottled green and blue. Their forelegs lacked the spikes of a Praying Mantis but instead ended in almost human like hands.

Sergeant Elliot could see the look on Flounder’s face, “Don’t worry there, Lieutenant. We fitted them with restraining shock colors. With that and your containment field, you should have no problem.”

“We’ll keep them under guard, too.” Flounder said quietly.

“Good idea.” Elliot nodded his head, “When you shoot, hit them in the thorax just below the neck. That’s where their primary brain is located.”

“In their chest?”

“Yeah,” Sergeant Elliot rubbed his chin, “We learned that crap the hard way. Shooting them in the head just blinds ‘em until the head grows back. Nail ‘em in the frakkin’ thorax and it’s good night Irene!”

“Thanks, that’s good to know.”

“Don’t mention it.”

With their cargo and prisoners secured, the Resolute prepared to depart. Maxton came aboard, shook hands with all of the crew and wished them luck. Before he left, he handed a small data chip to Redline, “Do me a favor and deliver this to my wife, Rita…will you? She lives in the Martian Meadows Community on Syria Planum.”

Redline took it, stuffing it into his breast pocket, “Sure.”

“Thanks,” Maxton replied. Without any further discussion he left the ship.

Once again the hangar darkened to UV light only. The Resolute rose from the hangar, activated their camouflage, and headed for Syria Planum.

“How long do you think this will take?” Dink asked Flexo.”

“What do I look like a navbot?” He laughed, “Seriously, I have no idea.”

Zoidberg looked at the two prisoners and seemed utterly fascinated. He turned to Dink, “Let’s talk to them, why not?”

“Do you speak bug?” Dink asked.

“No but the Professor’s machine does.”

Dink thought for a moment. Maybe a conversation with the bugs was a good idea but he’d been in the Navy so long he decided to check with the skipper. “I’ll be back in a minute, keep an eye on them Flexo.”

“I’m keeping both eyes on them.”

Dink entered the bridge without any fanfare. He took in the scene in a glance and realized that Flounder was monitoring the DRADIS1 display with Redline looking over his shoulder. Both men were completely absorbed in their task. Dink waited a few moments; then cleared his throat.

Redline looked up. “What is it Dink?”

“I was about to ask you, sir.”

“Knock off the sir.” Redline flashed a grin, “I never liked Navy protocol.” He paused, “To answer your question…we don’t know. We have a distant contact…probably Xoran. It’s on the same course and heading with us.” Redline rubbed his head thoughtfully, “It could be following us.”

“OK.” Dink pointed to Flounder still hunched over the DRADIS, “Why don’t we try listening for transmissions from the contact?”

Both men looked at him in surprise, “What?”

“Well,” Dink smiled, “That bug translator the Professor gave us…it might tell us why they are following us…if they are following us.”

Flounder laughed, “That is a great idea.”

In less than five minutes they had the translator connected to the ship’s radio. While the translator couldn’t translate every word, two things were clear. First, a flight of bugs was following them. The second was that the bugs weren’t sure exactly what they were following. All they could see was an energy signature that Flounder realized was the Resolute’s engine.

“Nice to know,” Redline grunted. “If they’d have figured that out when we crept in on that Xoran base, we’d have had a rough time of it.”

“So do we shake them?” Dink asked.

Redline thought for a moment. He went over to the chart table and punched up the holographic display for this area. He found what he was looking for - a distant Pulsar and a debris field.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. We’ll slowly alter our course toward this debris field and keep the Xoran behind us. Then we’ll line them up with the Pulsar just enough to screw with their sensors. Once we get into the debris field, we’ll dart to the other side…making sure we dump a lot of Buntium Diobnoxide for them to follow. On the far side of the field, we’ll submerge into 4D and wait for them. We’ll launch torpedoes, surface and use our cannon to finish off any survivors.”

Dink’s eyes widened slightly, “Why don’t we just turn now and blast ‘em?”

“We can’t let anyone survive,” Redline looked grim, “If they saw us coming, one of them might turn tail. We don’t know how long they followed us or if they could eventually figure out the location of Outpost 245.”

Flounder looked up from the DRADIS display, “How about I dump a jammer pod in the debris field? Once we spring the ambush, between a jammer pod behind them they won’t be able to call for help.”

“Good idea.” Redline headed for the captain’s chair, “We’ll never get to heaven if we don’t die. Dink, have Flexo load all four tubes. Then get up there and man your cannon.”

“You got it!” Dink vanished out the door to fill Flexo in. On his own initiative, he had Zoidberg shock the Xoran insensible. He didn’t want even the slightest chance of a couple of loose bugs running around the ship.

Everything worked perfectly. The Xoran were still unsure as to exactly what the Resolute was and cooperated all the way to their destruction.

Submerged into 4D the four Xoran Raptor Class long range commerce raiders emerged from the debris field. They were twin seater versions with an almost 100 parsec range, twin laser cannons and four anti-ship missiles. Their armor could deflect some laser fire and they were reasonably maneuverable.

Redline watched their approach with interest. They kept close formation and had slowed to a crawl, trying to find the trail. Once they had approached to within 1000 km, Redline toggled the intercom to the torpedo room, “Fire a full spread. Seekers on.”

The ship shuddered as the four torpedoes lanced out into 4D then broached into 3D near their targets. Two of the Raptors disintegrated in a silent conflagration. One pulled up and was fleeing with a torpedo in hot pursuit. The remaining Raptor destroyed the torpedo coming at it with a laser blast and had whipped his craft around to pursue the only live torpedo.

“Prepare to engage!” Redline called into the intercom.

As the ship emerged from 4D, Dink already had the closest Raptor in his sights. The first blast took out his port engine. The second cut him in half.

The torpedo caught up with the last Raptor and destroyed it…but not before the crew ejected.

Redline made a split second decision, “We’ll pick these two up. Then we’ll head for the barn.”

“What?” Flounder exclaimed, “Screw ‘em! Let’s just burn them down and go home.”

Dink chimed in, “Frak a bunch of bugs!”

But Redline would not be swayed, “They might have intelligence value.”

But the bugs refused to be taken prisoner. When the ship approached with it’s cargo hatch lowered, the Xoran piloted their escape pod directly at the Resolute in an obvious attempt to ram.

After several futile attempts, Redline finally said quietly, “Burn ‘em.”

“About Frakkin’ time!” Dink fired his cannon at full power – vaporizing the escape pod.

Less than six hours later they were entering standard orbit around Syria Planum. A detail of DOOP Marines came aboard and removed the Xoran prisoners. Once they had finished post operations maintenance and filing their mission report, the crew of the Resolute headed Planetside for a few beers.

1. DRADIS = Direction, Range and Distance

Bender Dec 3004 – Feb 3006

Bender’s arrival at Space Dock Nine had been unspectacular. Along without eleven other robots, he disembarked from the shuttle and looked around. Little did he know that he would labor for ‘the man’ at Space Dock Nine for almost fourteen months before he would escape.

The Space Dock was a pretty standard affair, designed to work on four smaller ships at a time…destroyers, TDS, Attack Transports and the like. It was always busy, either retrofitting ships, repairing battle damage, or – very occasionally – a bit of new construction. The war was in full swing and despite propaganda to the contrary, the DOOP was losing it in December of 3004.

The civilians didn’t know this of course, but the bugs had seized a stable wormhole terminus from their galaxy to the Milky Way Galaxy near Moravan in the Gamma Trianguli system. From there they created a wormhole sufficient to transport an attack fleet for a sneak attack on the Hyperons System – devastating the second largest DOOP Naval Anchorage. They also used Moravan as a base to strike at Earth, destroying the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Not that Bender cared. He was content to work eight hours a day and then head planetside. By the end of January, he had a blossoming romance going with Linda Sprockets. She was unlike any fembot he had ever met. She was vivacious, unconventional and passionate. Also, even though she obviously cared deeply for Bender, she refused to take any crap from him. Their first argument at a small club in Mars City ended with Linda knocking Bender flat on his behind by the simple expedient of breaking a chair over his head.

When Bender got up off the floor, he was hooked. Even so, what came out of his mouth surprised even him, “Linda, I’m sorry.”

“OK.” She smiled enigmatically, “Let that be a warning to you. I really like you Bender but I will not be a doormat for any manbot.” She reached out and touched Bender’s face gently, “Want to dance?”

“Woo hoo!” Bender took her hand and kissed it, “C’mon baby let’s shake that thing!”

Linda laughed, tossing her long red hair as she did so. The smile she flashed seemed to light up the room.

They danced the night away…well…almost the entire night. Bender took Linda back to her room in Barrack 51. She pulled him inside for a wild episode of 61 ½ degree action. Somewhat dazed Bender barely managed to make the shuttle back to work.

Ah…young robots in love!

His success with Linda did not translate to the military part of his life. He was promoted and busted twice. His promotions were for occasionally finding unconventional solutions to problems at work. His demotions were the result of insubordination and being falsely accused of striking a member of the Shore Patrol.

His insubordination arose when his human supervisor, a robot hating Chief Machinist’s Mate named Enos Farkley told Bender to go fetch a bit of heavy machinery after Bender’s shift was over. If Bender went to get the machinery, he would miss the shuttle and a date with Linda. Boiling mad, Bender asked, “Where is this machinery?”

“It’s over in the Gamma Section storage bay.”

“I have to go down this hallway, right?”

“Yes.”

Bender rubbed his chin, “Doesn’t the hallway split?”

“Yes, it does.”

“Now wouldn’t that split form a fork?”

“Of course it would.” Farkley was puzzled. Several of the spacemen in the area had stopped what they were doing. They all knew Bender well enough to know he was angry.

“I’ll tell you what, Chief.” Bender grinned. “I want you to take that fork yourself and cram it up your ass.”

Every spaceman in hearing burst into uproarious laughter.

“You insubordinate son-of-a-bitch!” Farkley sputtered. “I’ll have you busted for this.”

This only made the assembled spacemen laugh even harder.

At his Captain’s Mast, Bender made no attempt to defend himself. The Commanding Officer of the Space Dock, an elderly Captain brought out of retirement to run things wagged his finger at Bender, “Son, you have a lot of potential but you need to stay on the straight and narrow. Because of your part in helping clear the logjam of work we had earlier this month, I’m only going to reduce you to Machinist Mate Third Class (MM3C) without any further action…no time in the brig or further loss of pay. Also, you are eligible for promotion when you walk out that door.” He looked Bender in the face, “Do you understand?”

“Aye-aye, sir!”

“Good.” The Captain nodded, “Now go and sin no more.”

Unfortunately, that was not to be. Within a month, Bender had his rank of Machinist Mate Second Class (MM2C) back. Within two months, he was back as an MM3C.

Things had been going so well! In April of 3005 he had moved in with Linda. Then Fry came to Syria Planum with his boat, the Flying Fish. During a wild evening of drinking, Bender, Fry and Lucky had gotten into a difference of opinion with a Mars City bar owner. One thing led to another and the owner, a fat bald lifelong civilian called the Shore Patrol. Rather than have the hassle, the guys threw their money on the bar and left.

Bender was the first out the door – and went right into the arms of the Shore Patrol (SP). “You’re coming with us!”

“What for?”

“Shut the frak up!”

Before Bender could reply, the SPs zapped him with a robostun stick. As he twitched around on the pavement, they handcuffed him…along with Fry and Lucky.

Chief Petrovich from the Flying Fish showed up within an hour of being called to pick up Fry and Lucky. Although he tried to pick Bender up as well, the SPs refused. According to DOOP Navy Regulations, a representative from Bender’s command had to pick him up. Before they went back to their ship Chief Petrovich, Fry and Lucky stood outside Bender’s cell.

“I’m sorry about this, Bender.” Fry shook his head, “These stinkin’s SPs are mean.”

“Just let Linda know what happened, will you?” Bender said anxiously. “I promised her I’d try to stay out of trouble.”

Fry laughed, “Man! What’s happened to you Bender? I thought I had it bad for Leela!”

“Well…” Bender shook his head, “I can’t explain it but she’s like nobody I’ve ever met before.” He looked at the floor, “So let her know, will you?”

“Sure buddy.” Fry would have patted Bender on the shoulder but for the bars between them.

While Fry and Lucky received nothing more than a chewing out, Bender lost his rank once again. But on the positive side, Fry’s story had convinced Linda of Bender’s innocence, so he got some sympathy action out of the deal.

Things got really good when Fry came to teach at the Damage Control School. With his girl at his side and his best buddy around, Bender was as happy as a robot could be.

But good things never last. First, Fry got orders to the Devilfish – due in to Syria Planum before the end of February. Then, Linda received orders to the DNS Mercy, where she would work in a robot treatment ward. Bender made Linda’s last night at Syria Planum memorable. Dinner, dancing and lovemaking were on the menu. As they lay together feeling the winds of war blowing them apart, Bender reached into his chest cavity, pulled out a velvet covered box and handed it to Linda.

“Oh Bender,” Linda cooed.

“Linda,” Bender said almost formally, “Please take this ring and make me the happiest robot in the universe.”

“Oh, I will.” Linda exclaimed joyfully.

“We can set a date as soon as we can,” Bender said, “but I don’t want you getting away.”

They had a tearful parting. When Bender dragged himself back to work that day, he was summoned to the personnel office. When he arrived, a robot yeoman handed him a set of orders. Bender scanned them at first apathetically, then with interest. He was going to space finally! And on the same ship Fry was assigned to – the Devilfish!

Things were looking up.

Leela June 3005 (TDS School Graduation)

TDS Class 05-02 had graduated that morning and the Syria Planum Naval Officer’s Club was hopping with activity. Every table was packed with freshly minted Lieutenants and Ensigns in dress whites all ready to join the fleet and to make their marks.

At a circular table in the corner closest to the bar and furthest from the DJ were Lieutenant Turanga Leela, Lieutenants (Jg1) Gerda Prien, Gennady Ramius and Walter Calvert. Leela and Gerda had been inseparable in school, even as they battled for the top slot. Ramius and Calvert had been in close pursuit. Together, they dominated the class.

Leela was the Distinguished Honor Graduate, thereby winning a promotion of one grade as she had from the Basic Course, a ceremonial sword and immediate posting to the fleet. Red haired, green eyed Gerda won the Distinguished Graduate award; the tall, dark haired and dark eyed Ramius won the Leadership Award; and the stocky, dark haired, grey eyed Calvert won the Tactics Award. Besides promotion to Lieutenant (Jg) they were awarded a ceremonial sword.

They were the elite – and they knew it. Having just graduated from the toughest school in the Navy, they were in a mood to celebrate. The beer, wine and liquor flowed like water as the graduates prepared for their postings. Those going out to Commander, Submarines DOOP Navy (COMSUBDOOPNAV) were partying the heartiest as the TDS’ were hurting the Xoran the worst…but being hurt in return.

Outside Morton Hall stood a row of Venusian Granite monuments with the names of ‘the fallen’ inscribed on their smooth sides. Four members of Class 05-01 already had their names etched there for all to see.

Leela stood and raised her mug of Rigellian Ale, “A toast!” Chairs scraped on the marble floor as the others got to their feet. With a smile Leela said, “Good luck on our next posting!”

All three echoed the toast, with Gerda countering with a toast, “Good Hunting!”

After draining their mugs, they all sat down. The robot steward came and efficiently refilled their mugs. An ensign at another table rose – somewhat unsteadily – and called out, “A song! Let’s sing the class song!”

Every class had a song – it was an old tradition. Their class had selected one from a Stupid Ages movie entitled, “The Enemy Below.” It had Germanic roots like much of the tactics and traditions of the ‘Silent Service’, the other main source being the US Submarine Service.

Gerda stood and began singing and others quickly joined in,

To you my friend and you my friend and all of us together,

Here’s a Prost to life and to laughter and song,

Good Beer my friend, good cheer my friend,

Through every kind of weather,

Make the bulkheads ring as we sing loud and strong,

We’ll lift our flowing steins again with foam on every lip,

We’ll give a skoal and shout Jawohl in lasting fellowship,

And when we eye a Lorelei with captivating ways,

May we drink to love all our live long days!

Jawohl!

The walls of the club reverberated with their cheers. As the cheering died away, they began to reminisce about their past few months in school…and to speculate about the future.

Gennady, who had always harbored a secret crush on Gerda turned to her and said, “I’d like to ask you a question.”

Naturlich,” she smiled, “I mean, certainly.”

“With the Dreamweaver Mark IVs installed in every quarters, why study so much?”

“I refuse to trust my education to the same technology that puts commercials into people’s dreams.” Gerda frowned. “It’s unnatural. No…I prefer to learn the old fashioned way.” She smiled, “I like studying. How could you stand it?”

“Just lazy I guess.” Gennady laughed heartily, “Besides, it seemed more efficient to me…have all your technical knowledge beamed into your dreams at night, then spend the day applying it. I would have thought that would appeal to your Germanic sense of efficiency.”

Gerda simply shrugged her shoulders.

Walter spoke up, “Well, the Dreamweaver certainly helped. On the other hand I had to spend lots of awake time thinking about the how to handle the attack trainer.”

Mention of the attack trainer caused Leela to guffaw, “Remember when Johnson broached out of 4D when he was trying to dive?”

They all laughed uproariously. Walter shook his head, “Now there is a deserving recipient of the Brannigan Award.” They all laughed again at the thought. The Brannigan Award – named for the infamous bungling clown Zapp Bannigan – was given by the class to the lowest ranking student. Johnson had been chosen unanimously.

“How did that jerk manage to remain in our class?” Gerda wondered.

“Connections,” Gennady replied laconically before taking a deep draught from his mug.

The conversation lagged for a moment before Walter asked, “Anyone get their orders yet?”

“I’ve been assigned to the Silversides,” Leela volunteered.

Gerda smiled, “I’m bound for the Grunion.”

“Archerfish,” Gennady said between swigs of ale.

“New construction,” Walter said proudly, “She’ll be called the Darter.”

Gennady finished his seventh mug of ale for the evening. He had been screwing up his courage to tell Gerda what he felt. As a slow dance began to play, he stifled a class nine belch and leaned over toward Gerda, “Would…would you dance with me?”

Naturlich,” she replied with a smile.

The moved onto the floor and began to dance. Gennady was careful to keep his hands in their proper places and avoid stepping on her toes. He cleared his throat, “Gerda…we might not see each other for a long time and…I…I just wanted you to know how much I…I admire you.”

“My, my, I have your admiration.” Gerda gave a low, throaty laugh, “Thank you. I admire you too, Gennady Ramius Ivanovich.”

Mentally, Gennady kicked himself. “It’s more than admiration,” he took a deep breath before his words tumbled out, “I’ve been crazy about you since I first laid eyes on you.”

“Is that so?” Gerda looked him in the eyes, ‘Then why did you wait until now to tell me?”

“I have no idea,” Gennady replied. “No, that is not true. I had not the courage to tell you.”

“So what now?” The smell of her perfume suddenly almost overwhelmed him.

“We go someplace quiet?” He said tentatively.

After what seemed an eternity she replied, “I never thought you’d ask.”

His knees almost buckled at her reply. Somehow they managed to finish the dance. He was in a daze when they walked back to the table, said their goodbyes and took a cab into the night.

Back at the club, Walter asked Leela, “So how are things with your mate Fry? Any chance of seeing him?”

She shook her head sadly, “No, he’s on a war patrol with the Flying Fish.”

Walter patted her on the back, “Well, the universe is small. I’m sure you’ll see him some time soon.”

“Yeah,” she said doubtfully before taking a swig of ale, “but I’m an officer and he’s enlisted. It will never work.”

Walter raised his mug, “Then here’s to a quick end to this war!”

“I’ll drink to that!”

Leela’s first assignment – Silversides (Jr. Tactical Officer) / Senior Tactical Officer June 3005 – Feb 3006

The morning after graduation, Leela strode down the gangway onto the deck of the DNS Silversides (TDS 236). Reporting on board in accordance with Naval Tradition, she was ushered in to meet the commanding officer, Commander Oliver Otis. Of medium height, with brown hair and brown eyes Otis was a close friend of Leela’s cadet company commander – Jonathan Paidley. Once they exchanged the initial military courtesies, Otis motioned to the only other chair in his tiny quarter, “Have a seat Lieutenant.”

Leela sat down and remained at attention.

“At ease, Lieutenant,” He picked up a tablet and scanned it briefly before resuming, “You come highly recommended.”

“Thank you sir.”

“I’m assigning you as the Junior Tactical Officer. However, because of your rank and capabilities, I expect to advance you to Senior Tactical Officer. That means you will have to qualify on all systems, get you watch officer certification and check out on 4D astronavigation on this patrol. We’re headed for the Andromeda Galaxy to attack Xoran shipping. It’s good hunting but it is real Indian country.”

Leela smiled at the mention of ‘Indian country.’

“You’ve got twenty minutes to stow your gear and report to the control room. Then we sortie for our patrol area.” Otis stood and extended his hand, “Welcome aboard Lieutenant.”

Leela sprang to her feet and took his hand, “Thank you sir.”

That first patrol was forever a blur in Leela’s memory. Compared to it, TDS School had been a snap. Normally, officers served for two or three patrols before becoming fully qualified at their station and as watch officers. By dint of hard work and forgone sleep, Leela managed to do it all.

More than that, the Captain had given her the honor of conning the Silversides into space dock at the end of the patrol. The Silversides destroyed a total of eleven Xoran ships; two troop ships, two tankers and seven cargo carriers of various sizes. They had expended all of their torpedoes, so they followed a time honored naval tradition by entering the dock with a broom tied to their periscope.

Once the ship was turned over to the dock crew for resupply and refitting, Leela invited all of the officers to the Space Dock Nine Officer’s Club for a ‘wetting down’ celebration. Having won her certification as a TDS officer, tradition required that she give a party to ‘wet down’ her insignia.

The club was crowded with officers from the destroyers Callisto and Ganymede, as well as those from the TDS Grunion. One of the first people Leela saw when she entered the club was Gerda Prien.

“How was your patrol?” Gerda asked excitedly.

“OK.” Leela tried to appear nonchalant. “I’ll fill you in on the details later. Maybe we can have dinner tomorrow.”

Gerda looked disappointed, “I’ll have to take a rain check. We had a reactor problem and had to cut our patrol short. We’ve been in for almost two weeks getting repairs. We’re headed back to the Crab Nebula tomorrow at 0600 for another crack at the bugs.”

“Then come join me at my wetting down party.” Leela said, “I’m sure your skipper won’t mind.”

“Your wetting down party?” Gerda’s face beamed, “You qualified! Wunderbar!”

“I’m just lucky.” Leela shrugged. “Let’s talk later.”

“OK.” Gerda smiled, “Later.”

The wetting down ceremony was brief. After a few appropriate remarks by the Captain, the youngest qualified officer – Ensign Tomiyaki – put the prized badge of the TDS Service into a quart sized ceremonial flagon of ale.

“Ma’am, I present you with your Space Cetaceans,” With a flourish, he handed it to Leela. “Wear it with pride. The Space Cetaceans is the master of space in four dimensions – may you share it’s strength, courage and cunning.”

Leela inclined her head slightly, “Thank you.” Then, as tradition demanded she upended the flagon, draining it until she could grasp the gold badge with her teeth. Then she held it up to everyone’s lusty cheers.

Gerda joined the party after Leela had already pinned the badge onto her uniform.

“Congratulations, Leela.”

“Thanks,” Leela smiled, “I know you’ll have yours soon.”

“Our Captain says that I will have it by the end of our next patrol.”

Her normal reticence loosened by the massive load of alcohol she had taken on, Leela put her arm around Gerda. “I know you will, my friend. I can’t wait to see you wearing it.”

The next morning, Leela stood at the Space Dock as the Grunion departed on patrol. Then she headed planetside, the proud owner of a 48 hour pass. Catching a shuttle to New-New York, she went to visit her parents and to catch up to her sleep.

Back at Syria Planum, she rejoined the Silversides which still had a week of refitting left to complete. Their Senior Tactical Officer had departed, along with about ten percent of their crew. The departed had moved on to new construction or to any of a number of Navy schools. Leela was moved up to Senior Tactical Officer and given the responsibility of integrating the ten replacement crewmen into the boat’s compliment.

For the most part, the actual training and billeting fell to the Chief of the Boat – Master Chief Petty Officer Kendall McRae. Leela and McRae hit it off from the first. Both were self-assured, opinionated and task oriented. Leela also believed in letting people do their jobs, a trait which endeared her to almost all of the enlisted ratings aboard.

Their second patrol was to the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way to operate against the Xoran supply lines in that sector. It was a frustrating patrol. Out of a load of 24 torpedoes, 12 – a full 50% - malfunctioned. Additionally, the recently installed CEPHI system kept malfunctioning. They did manage to sink three freighters and a small tanker with torpedoes but the final straw was when the long range communications system broke down. When that happened, they headed for space dock (also known as ‘the barn’).

It took almost a month to get home because of the malfunctioning CEPHI system. Before they docked, Commander Otis called Leela to his quarters, “Lieutenant, I want you to fix the CEPHI engines or rip them out of the frakkin’ boat.”

She nodded, “Aye-aye sir.”

“I know what you’re thinking, the XO2 should be handling these repairs.” Otis looked grim, “I’ve asked for him to be replaced. This next patrol you will be in training as an XO. After that, you’ll probably ship out to another boat. But for now let’s concentrate on getting the old Silversides ready for patrol.”

“Yes sir.”

It took six weeks of refitting and trials before Leela was satisfied with the condition of the Silversides. During that time, she did manage to meet Fry and Bender for a cup of coffee. Fry had just been reassigned to the Damage Control School.

“So Fry, how do you enjoy your new job?”

“I miss my shipmates on the Flying Fish,” he flashed his famous schoolboy grin. “But I get to hang out with Bender once in a while, so it isn’t so bad.”

“Did I understand you right, Bender?” Leela asked. “You’re living with that Nurse, Linda Sprockets?”

“Yes I am.” Bender took out a cigar from his chest cavity, lit it up and began to puff industriously. “So what of it?”

“Nothing.” Leela smiled, “I just think it’s nice.”

After a time which was far too short, Leela headed back to the Silversides. Less than 48 hours later, the Silversides headed out on her most successful patrol. For two weeks she ravaged the shipping lanes off the Xoran home system. It was in no small part due to her efforts that the Xoran began to convoy.

Of course, COMSUBDOOPNAV had an answer to convoys…wolf packs.

The fourth war patrol was into the Andromeda Galaxy. Four boats, the Archerfish, Silversides, Grunion and Kingfish were to rendezvous near the Galactic Rim to intercept the newly forming Xoran convoys.

Cruising slowly at periscope depth, the Archerfish, Kingfish and Silversides were awaiting the arrival of the Grunion. She was 24 hours overdue. At that point, Commander Otis decided to commence the patrol without her. They tore into the Xoran communications, sinking a destroyer, two corvettes, six tankers, five freighters and five troopships. They also destroyed the Xoran terminus of an artificial wormhole which the Xoran had been using to raid in the Milky Way Galaxy. All in all it was a fine patrol.

On her return, Leela received the following orders,

UNCLCLASSIFIED//ENCRYPT FOR TRANSMISSION ONLY

FROM: BUPERS

TO: COMMANDER SILVERSIDES TDS 236 // COMMANDER DEVILFISH TDS 213

SUBJECT: PROMOTION ORDERS

1. THE SECRETARY OF DFENSE REPOSES SPECIAL TRUST AND CONFIDENCE

IN THE PATRIOTISM, HONOR, AND FIDELITY OF THE FOLLOWING PERSON, WHO IS TO BE PROMOTED TO THE GRADE INDICATED, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY:

NAME SERVICE

NUMBER RANK


TURANGA, LEELA 30R733331 LIEUTENANT COMMANDER

2. EFFECTIVELY IMMEDIATELY LTCDR TURANGA IS DETACHED FROM DUTY WITH TDS 236 (SILVERSIDES) AND REASSIGNED TO DUTY WITH TDS 213 (DEVILFISH)

SIGNED//I.M. DUMBJOHN

ADMIRAL

CHIEF, BUREAU OF PERSONNEL

UNCLASSIFIED//ENCRYPT FOR TRANSMISSION ONLY

After a short trip to the tailor’s to get her new rank sewn on Leela set out to find Fry. She was disappointed to find that he had been reassigned to the Fleet. Unfortunately, the Duty Officer at the Damage Control School did not know for which ship Fry was bound. When she went to look for Bender, she drew a blank as well. Stymied, she headed for Syria Planum’s central shuttle terminal determined to find out where Fry had gone as soon as possible. She was in for a surprise.

Chapter 3, Reunion 22 February 3006

The shuttle terminal sprawled over 100 hectares on the north side of the Syria Planum complex. Leela rode there in the shuttle from the Damage Control School. Inside the main terminal building, she went to a bank of monitors to find the next shuttle to the Devilfish. Much to her surprise, it was at the South Street Naval Shipyard on Earth.

“Nuts!” Leela shook her head, “Isn’t it just like the navy…”

She could see that the shuttle was leaving from Pad 11A at 1400. Her Wristamajiggy read 1255…which gave her time enough to get there, have a quick beer and read up on latest official reports from the Devilfish. After all, it always paid to be prepared.

Pad 11A looked like every other pad at the terminal. It had a waiting area full of a hundred symmetrically arrayed blue plastic bucket seats, a snack bar with a half dozen picnic tables and a wet bar with a dozen stools. The building itself was stainless steel columns, lots of glass, white walls and black and white tile floors.

When she entered, the terminal was empty. She went over to the bar, slid onto a stool and signaled to the barkeeper – a squat, tough looking Neptunian woman with an ultra short haircut and the biggest boobs Leela had ever seen on a Neptunian.

The barkeep’s voice was deep and had a distinct Brooklyn accent, “What’ll youse have?”

“Rigellian Ale, please?”

“We don’t got none.”

Leela looked at the beer list, “How about a mug of Lowbrau?”

“Sure, comin’ right up.”

The beer arrived within a few seconds and Leela took a drink. It was frosty cold. Just right. She smacked her lips, “Good beer.”

“Yeah,” the barkeep nodded. “We gots a really good refrigeration system.”

Leela finished her beer in silence, draining the mug before paying her tab and leaving a healthy tip.

“T’anks ma’am.”

“You’re welcome.”

Leela found a seat near a pillar where she could have a bit of privacy while she read the reports on her tablet. She had finished a few reports on ship’s readiness when spacemen and officers began to enter the pad. Annoyed by the noise, Leela turned her back toward the door. She was halfway through the Devilfish’s last patrol report when she heard a familiar voice bellow, “Bite my shiny metal ass!”

Galvanized, Leela leaped to her feet and spun around. What met her eye caused her to temporarily lose the power of speech. Fry, Bender, and Amy were all standing in a group with two others – a spaceman she remembered meeting and an ensign who she did not know. Fry looked great in his navy whites with his Space Cetaceans badge and Torpedoman Second Class (TM 2C) rank. Bender was in dungarees, with his MM3C rank the only adornment to his uniform. Amy wore her dress whites and the rank of a Lieutenant.

“Fry!” Leela managed to call out, “Amy…Bender! What brings you all here?”

Amy spoke first, “Leela! We’re all on our way to the Devilfish. Where are you going?”

Leela felt a surge of joy fill her heart, “I’m headed for the Devilfish as the Executive Officer!” She smiled, “Oh, this does my heart good.”

“Woo hoo!” Bender exclaimed, “Finally…I’m gonna have an easy life!”

Leela suddenly transformed into a naval officer, “Bender, I’ll treat you like every other member of the crew. Fairly but firmly.”

“Aw crap!”

“Crap indeed.” Leela smiled, “It is good to see you.”

“Yeah, skin tube. I hear you.”

“Don’t you mean Ma’am?”

“Aye-aye, ma’am,” Bender said with just a trace of disdain.

Letting it go, Leela turned to Fry. “So Fry, when did you make Second Class? I have to admit I didn’t notice when we had coffee.”

“Well, I was in dungarees,” He gave her his best boyish grin. “I made it on my third war patrol, Ma’am.”

“I see you got your Space Cetaceans badge.”

“Yes Ma’am, same patrol.”

A few months ago it would have pained Leela to have her friends address her as Ma’am. But this was war and they were in the DOOP Navy. Depending on the Captain, life aboard a TDS could be pretty relaxed as far as the trappings of rank. But discipline never relaxed…could never relax.

Fry pointed to the other spaceman she vaguely remembered, “You remember my buddy Lucky…I mean Torpedoman Esmeralda, don’t you?”

“Ah…yes of course!” She smiled, “We met last Xmas. How have you been?”

“Fine Ma’am.”

“Amy how did you wind up assigned to the Devilfish?”

“Just lucky, I guess.” Amy smiled impishly, “Actually I had Kif find out where you were assigned, got with a friend in BUPERS and the rest is history.”

The other person in their group, a medium sized Ensign with a lantern jaw, bright blue eyes and jet black hair spoke up, “Ma’am, I’m Ensign Guzman. I’ve been told I’m going to be the junior engineering officer.”

Leela nodded, “I’m sure we’ll get along fine.”

Amy grinned, “I’ve told Charlie all about you. I picked him right out of sub school to help me with retrofitting CEPHI Systems into the fleet. He knows almost as much about them as I do.”

“Thanks ma’am.” Charlie said shyly, “I wish that were true.”

“Now hear this!” A loudspeaker blared into life, “Shuttle 2038 for South Port Naval Yards has arrived and is ready for immediate departure. Boarding will begin immediately. All personnel have your orders ready when you board. That is all.”

“Let’s go,” Leela said as she walked toward the departure gate. Less than ten minutes later the shuttle was rising through the thin Martian upper atmosphere into the blackness of space. Leela had maneuvered things to where she sat directly across from Fry. “Listen Fry,” she said quietly, “I…I want you to know that I still care about you.” She struggled with what to say next when to her surprise Fry spoke up.

“I know what you’re going to say Leela.” Fry almost whispered, “While we’re on the boat we have to keep things strictly professional.” He flashed his signature grin, “Maybe we’ll be able to…you know…meet on Liberty.”

Leela’s relief was obvious, “Thanks Fry.” She returned his grin, “You never know.”

Bender leaned over, “Never know what?”

“You never know what will happen on a sub,” Fry replied.

Bender merely grunted in reply.

The rest of the trip, Leela chatted with Amy. Leela laughed out loud when Amy told about her adventures on the Altair with Kif. By the time Amy had finished, the shuttle was on it’s final approach to the South Port Naval Shipyard.

As they flew over the shipyard, Leela could see that several TDS were in overhaul. Which one was the Devilfish? There was only one way to find out, get with the Yard’s Duty Officer. As the shuttle came to a rest, Leela was the first to unsnap her safety harness. She strode out of the shuttle, trailed by those bound for the Devilfish. It only took a few moments and they were on their way to berth 26.

---------------------

South Port Naval Shipyard, Berth 26, The Devilfish – TDS 213

Leela stood beside her companions Fry, Amy, Lucky, Charlie Guzman and Bender looking at their new home, the DOOP TDS 213-- the Devilfish. The sensation was odd, even for veterans like Leela, Fry and Lucky for they had always seen their boats from space dock. Resting in a berth on the ground, it seemed larger. Perhaps it was having a background to measure it against, Leela thought. Bender laughed as he looked over the 312 foot long x 33 foot diameter cylindrical hull, “Man…that looks like a gigantic cigar humidor. Wow…what a stogie!”

But the Devilfish wasn’t the only boat in the yard. The yard was chock full of TDS hulls in various stages of construction. DOOP was building subs frantically in order to strike at the Xoran trade and supply routes.

The real problem, of course was not hulls. It was crews. So COMSUBDOOPNAV has begun combing out officers and personnel with any kind of competence for crews. That was how Amy, Charlie and Bender found themselves alongside Berth 26 of the South Street Naval Shipyard. Both Amy and Charlie had credentials working with both CEPHI Systems and Fusion reactors while Bender was rated as capable of bending up to 3” duranium alloy and making repairs on the boat while underway. Leela, Fry and Lucky were seasoned veterans.

It was obvious from the multitude of dockyard workers who were swarming over her hull that the Devilfish had seen action recently. Earlier that morning, Morbo the News Monster had announced that her departing Captain, Herb Morden was going to new construction of a Starfish Class Sub. Morbo noted that his new command was a reward for having destroyed a Xoran dreadnought in space dock outside Xoran Prime. In an attempt to boost morale, the story of Morden’s victory had been splashed all over the press.

The new Captain was well known to Leela – if not the rest of her companions. Standing at the head of the gangway was Jonathan Paidley. A tall, gaunt, man with blonde hair and ice blue eyes, he was known as “Gentleman Johnny” in the Fleet. He was unfailingly polite, but he expected orders to be obeyed. As former Executive Officer (Exec) of the Devilfish, he was intimately familiar with the crew and the boat. He also was very familiar with Leela, who he considered the finest young officer who had gone through his Basic Officer Training Company.

New construction had snatched away three of his best officers, a good machinist’s mate, and a good torpedoman. When he saw the motley group standing uncertainly at the bottom of the gangway, he sighed inwardly. He eyed them dubiously as they trooped up the gangway. His frown turned to a smile when he saw that the purple-haired cyclops in the lead wearing the rank of Lieutenant-Commander. His constant badgering of BUPERS had finally worked! Leela would be his new Exec!

Sporting the faintest ghost of a smile Leela saluted, “Request permission to come aboard, sir!”

Paidley returned the salute, “Permission granted. It’s good to see you, Lieutenant Commander Turanga.”

Leela replied, “It is good to see you as well, sir. If you wish sir, on the Silversides I went by my given name.”

“I see.” Paidley smiled involuntarily, “Well, aboard the Devilfish we aren’t usually that informal. On board, I’ll refer to you as the Exec. Please meet me in my cabin in one half hour to discuss your duties.” He gave another smile, “I’d also like to catch up on your career.”

Leela nodded and then remembered her Naval protocol, “Aye-Aye sir!”

“Please carry on Exec.” Paidley turned to inspect some workmen welding on the hull, “Conduct your traveling mates below. You know the drill. Officers will report to the Officer of the Day, Lieutenant Wilkes. Enlisted ratings will report to the Chief of the Boat, Master Chief Petty Officer MacDougal.” Then he turned his full attention to watching the repair work.

“You heard the Captain.” Leela turned to her companions, “Let’s get below.”

A short distance aft of the conning tower was a hatch to the interior of the boat. Its ladder led to the Combat Control Center (CCC), below that the mess/billets deck and finally the machinery and torpedo deck. They filed down the ladder into the subdued lighting of the interior of the boat. The first person to meet them in the CCC was none other than Lieutenant Wilkes. He was a short, compact man with a dark hair, dark eyes and a ready smile.

He saluted Leela, “Welcome aboard, ma’am.”

“Thanks.” Leela returned his salute, “Do we always salute indoors?”

Wilkes grinned, showing a set of pearly white teeth, “We do on this boat. Commander Paidley is old Navy. Cut him and he bleeds navy blue.”

“I know that – he was my Basic School Company Commander.” Leela smiled, “Well, how about showing us our berths? Let me introduce Lieutenant Wong and Ensign Guzman. The other two are Machinist Mate Bender, Torpedoman Esmeralda and Torpedoman Fry.

Wilkes nodded, “You three ratings need to see the Chief of the Boat – Chief MacDougal. He’s aft in the engine room, inspecting. Still, he’ll want to see you most ricky tick.”

Fry, Lucky and Bender saluted and said, “Aye-Aye Sir!” They threw their spacebags over their shoulders and headed aft.

Wilkes smiled, “If you don’t mind, I’ll show you to your berths now. Please follow me.”

It was a short walk through the sensor room to the ladder descending through the weapons loading hatch into the second deck. A short walk forward and both Leela and Amy found themselves forward of ‘bulkhead thirty’. After Lieutenant Wilkes showed them their berths, he excused himself and returned to the CCC.

The officer’s berthing was pretty standard. As the Exec, Leela had her own compartment, about the size of a small walk-in closet. The other officers slept in triple-decker bunks, but each had an individual closet for hanging clothes and stowing gear.

Leela knew that forward of her compartment was the Captain’s Quarters. It was relatively spacious and afforded the Captain the ability to meet with the senior officers and to have some privacy. Immediately aft of the officer’s berthing on the same deck was the wardroom where the officers took their meals, just beyond that were the galley and the crew’s mess.

She stowed her gear and prepared to meet with Commander Paidley. Exactly one half hour after arriving on board, Leela knocked on the door.

“Enter!” Paidley called out.

“Sir, Lieutenant Commander Turanga reports as ordered.”

“Have a seat, Exec.” Paidley gestured to a comfortable looking khaki couch.

“Aye-aye, sir.”

“So how have you been?” Paidley rose from behind his desk and walked around to take a seat in an armchair.

“Very well, sir.” Leela smiled. “I’m glad to be aboard.”

“I’m, glad to have you here.” He paused, “Let me say that I was terribly sorry to hear about your room mate, Lieutenant Prien.”

Tears involuntarily came to Leela’s eye, “Thank you, sir.”

“I knew her Skipper well; he was an Academy classmate.” His voice grew hard, “We’ll make those bugs pay, by the Eternal!”

“Yes sir.” Leela nodded in complete agreement.

For the next ten minutes, Paidley dropped his formal mask and they chatted like old friends. He plied her with questions about the Silversides and her four war patrols. The clock on the bulkhead chimed. Paidley looked at it and resumed his businesslike demeanor. “Well, Exec we should be out of here in less than two weeks according to the Yard Superintendent. For the next two weeks I want you on him like a crappy diaper. I don’t care if he comes to hate your guts, but I want to get this boat back in the war. Keep his feet to the fire. Clear?”

“Clear sir!”

“Good.” He continued, “In your copious free time during the evenings, I want you to come up with a schedule of shake down drills to make sure everything is working in four oh style…especially those pesky CEPHI engines.”

“Absolutely sir.” She thought for a moment, “Lieutenant Wong invented the CEPHI system so we’ll have no problems there.”

“I should hope so,” Paidley replied. “That’s why I asked for her.”

“You don’t miss much, sir.”

“I try not to Exec.” Paidley stood up, “Please have both the repair schedule and the initial drill schedule ready by eighteen hundred.”

Leela sprang to her feet, “Aye-aye, sir!”

After an exchange of salutes, Paidley returned to his desk and Leela headed out to find Amy, Charlie Guzman and the Chief of the Boat. Within five minutes they were in the wardroom, coming up with the schedules. As Commander Paidley had expected, they were done ahead of time.

Over the next two weeks, Leela made the Yard Superintendent’s life a living hell. However, it did assure that the Devilfish got top priority on everything. Anything to get that purple haired harpy out of his hair! Two weeks to the day after Leela reported aboard, the Devilfish left Berth 26 for space trials.

Lieutenant Commander Turanga Leela’s Diary Entry for 16 March 3006

Dear Diary,

I’ve been neglecting you these past few weeks, my old friend. At the risk of sounding like a whiner, my duties on board the Devilfish have kept me hopping with no time to write. What is my day like, you ask? Well…

It begins at 0500, when I get up, do a quick cleanup and then work out for an hour. I take a sonic shower in my compartment before zooming through the wardroom for a quick cup of coffee and some breakfast. By 0630, I’m in the CCC, checking the night log. By 0730 I will have done a quick walk-through inspection of the ship. At 0800 I am back in the wardroom for a briefing by all department heads. At 0900, I go to the Captains quarters and brief him on the day so far.

While we were in dry dock, I would then sally forth and begin dogging the Yard Superintendent, Mr. Ellison. He’s a nice enough man, but he lacks drive. At least, he lacks drive until I apply my boot to his buttocks. But I can afford him no pity, for Commander Paidley will have none on me. Gentleman Johnny always says that the maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters.

After savaging Mr. Ellison, I would return to prowl the ship and keep an eye on the dock workers. They’re a good bunch but they are so civilian! Lunch breaks, union rules and time off seem more important than getting the job done. With Amy and Charlie helping me on the technical end, I don’t have too much trouble.

Once we left the dry dock for shakedown, normally I would stick to the drill schedule for the entire morning. After all, George, Amy and Chief MacDougal had come up with a pretty comprehensive program. They thought up a whole series of simulated onboard emergencies to test the crew and the ship. It worked really well. Tomorrow, when we head out on patrol, I know we have a tight ship and a ready crew.

At noon whether in the dry dock or in space, I had a sit down working lunch with the officers in the wardroom. We reviewed department reports, discussed any changes we needed to make to the schedule for the day, and built a little camaraderie. It also allowed some ‘rest for the wicked’.

After lunch it was more of the same, drills, inspections and more drills if in space. In dry dock it was simply more inspections both formal and informal. At 1600, I prepared to brief the Captain on the past 24 hours and the next 24 hours. Sometimes I would brief him alone in his Quarters or as often as not, I would brief him in the wardroom with some of the department heads.

Dinner was always with the Captain at 1800 in the wardroom – transformed into the officer’s mess. Believe it or not, dear diary, we ate off of fine china! Once we finished, the Captain would hold forth on TDS tactics. Often he would use as examples his greatest heroes the submarine commanders of World War II (from the Stupid Ages), Gunter Prien, Herbert Werner, Richard Hardegen, George Grider, Mush Morton, and Dick O’Kane.

Our classes would usually end by 2000. Then I’d begin going through the one hundred and one administrative bits of paperwork until my eye would get bleary from strain. Then…to bed!

I know…I’m avoiding the real question. What about Fry? It is so hard to avoid doing like Amy did to Kif and shoving him into a small compartment or closet for a little ‘conduct unbecoming.’ When he gives me that boyish grin of his it drives me nuts. I want to grab him and snu-snu his brains out.

There…I said it!

Having said it, I know that I can’t do it.

That has to be the reason COMSUBDOOPNAV only allows female officers on board TDS’. Female enlisted ratings would be under tremendous pressure to ‘put out.’ I certainly wouldn’t want to have to ride herd on a bunch of hormone charged eighteen year olds. As Chief MacDougal says, the only way you could keep them apart would be with a crowbar.

MacDougal is a real character. I think he must have been born in the Navy. His Scottish brogue is authentic and he can drink more than any man I have ever met without showing the slightest ill effect. He also seems to have taken Fry under his wing. For that, I am grateful.

Fry has come such a long way, but he is still so vulnerable. Or is that my imagination? Only time will tell.

Bender was another matter. He kept trying to push the limits. The day we left the dry dock, I had finally had enough. I got with Chief MacDougal and gave him the straight skinny. He promised to take care of the problem. I don’t know what he did, but Bender has been the soul of propriety since.

Amy has been a joy to work with. The engineering department is always four oh administratively and in every other area of performance. When we were in the yard, she was the only person the civilians were afraid to cross. She would tear into them while cursing in Cantonese and you could see them blanch with fear. Pretty funny.

Charlie Guzman is our morale officer. Just before we left the yard, we had an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). We did very well…the engineering department got an unheard of 99.9% by the way. Charlie posted the following which he swore he overheard said by different crew members while being questioned by the inspectors:

"It's been that way since I reported aboard."

"Look, why don't you listen to someone who actually stands the watch."

"That valve isn't leaking much... you should have seen it last week."

"Once we dive, the hull presses the pipes together and the leak will stop."

"Don't worry, we just put aluminum foil bits in the lube oil sample to test the new guys."

"Those gauges were just calibrated last week so I guess the sticker must have just fallen off... it's probably on the deck somewhere."

"That's NOT metal particulate... it's just the way the oil catches the fluorescent lights."

"Well, that's not what the skipper says."

"That alarm? We get it all the time... it's nothing."

"I dare you to fail me."

Overall, we got a 95.7%. The average out of the yard is 85%. It pays to sweat the details!

Well, dear diary, I have to turn in. Tomorrow we head out on patrol. Good night.

New Missions for the Resolute

Around the table in the Planet Express meeting room sat Hermes, Redline, Flounder, Flexo, Dink and Zoidberg. The only person in civilian dress was Hermes. Everyone else was dressed in the naval work uniform – dungarees.

“Good news everyone!”

Those assembled turned their attention to the Professor as he shuffled through the doorway to the meeting area. Vigorously waving a sheet of paper, he handed it to Hermes before sitting down and giving everyone a senescent grin.

“So what’s the good news you old crackpot?” Flexo asked. “Nah! I’m just kidding. You’re a swell guy.”

In response the Professor simply steepled his fingers.

Hermes took a moment before speaking, “Dis’ is an order for ‘da crew to report to Syria Planum and somet’ing called ‘da special activities branch. And dey want you ‘dere in ‘da next 24 hours.”

“Great,” Dink said forcefully, “We’re in for some fun now.”

“How so?” Redline asked.

“Because the frakkin’ Special Activities Branch is spook central.”

Flounder laughed, “Spook central?”

“Yeah,” Dink waved his hands excitedly, “Special missions…hide-and-seek…really dangerous stuff.”

Redline snorted dismissively, “They can’t be any worse than what we do now.”

“You got that right,” Flexo chimed in.

“You’ll be sorry!” Dink predicted.

“Never mind,” Hermes said loudly. “Orders are orders.” He handed the paper to Redline, “See you later.”

Less than an hour later, the Resolute was landing on Pad 27A on the northern edge of planetside facilities. The entire approach had been tightly controlled by a ground controller, a fairly unusual event. Even more unusual was the armed guard which boarded the ship after it landed, led by a fresh faced young Lieutenant (Jg). The Lieutenant came onto the bridge and saluted Redline, “Sir, are you Lieutenant Redline?”

“Last time I checked, Lieutenant.” He smiled. “And you would be…?”

“I am Lieutenant Junior Grade (LT Jg) Quentin. Sir, I am here to escort you to the personnel office.”

“Hold on there son,” Redline held up his hand, “the personnel office?”

“Yes sir,” he nodded. “It’s in a secured area, so you will need an escort.”

“Why the personnel office?”

“Sir, I don’t know.” Quentin shrugged his shoulders, “I just have my orders.”

“All right, Lieutenant.” Redline stood up, “Do you need all of us?”

“No sir,” the Lieutenant shook his head, “Just you.”

Together they left the bridge and headed for the personnel office. Redline was surprised to be ushered into a blacked out hovercar which sped them to their destination. When he emerged from the vehicle, he was surprised to see that he was in a high ceilinged garage that held half a dozen blacked out hovercars. A large red-on-yellow sign proclaimed,

What you see here,

What you do here,

Let it stay here,

When you leave here

Quentin pointed to a doorway, “Sir please follow me.”

The Lieutenant led Redline rapidly down a series of brightly lit corridors and up several flights of steps before arriving at a door marked in gold lettering, Chief Of Personnel, COMSOCNAV, Captain Michael Grant. LT Quentin held the door open and ushered Redline into the office. The two armed escorts remained outside.

The front office was well lit and comfortably furnished with several overstuffed leather couches, tables laden with magazines and dark wood paneling. On the mahogany desk which controlled access to the office beyond was a plaque which proclaimed, LCDR John Barlow. The chair behind the desk was occupied by a tall, shaven headed, dark eyed officer, As soon as Redline entered the office, the man came to his feet, walked in front of the desk and extended his hand. “Good to see you, Lieutenant Redline.”

“Have we met?” Redline took the offered hand.

“I’ve not had the pleasure. I’m John Barlow. In a few minutes you’ll be meeting my boss Captain Grant. He smiled, “Would you care for a coffee?”

“Sure.” Redline found he liked Barlow for his polite and easy manner.

“How do you take it?”

“Black is fine.”

Barlow handed Redline a steaming hot mug of navy coffee. After their first sips Redline asked, “Do you know why I’m here?”

“Captain Grant will fill you in on that.” Before he could say more his desk intercom buzzed, “John…Please send Lieutenant Redline in.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” Barlow laughed, “Seek and ye shall find. Don’t worry…my boss is a good man.”

Within a few seconds of reporting in, Redline was of the same opinion. Captain (CAPT) Grant seemed to ooze amiability. A ramrod straight six foot two, he had a full head of white hair and a drooping mustache. His eyes were large and a luminous bright blue. They could either twinkle of seem to shoot icicles, as the situation required.

At the moment his eyes were twinkling, “Please have a seat.”

As Redline made himself comfortable in an overstuffed armchair CAPT Grant began, “I imagine you want to know why you are here. Under your command the Resolute has made an excellent record for herself. As her captain you’ve shown adaptability, ingenuity and aggressiveness. Your ship also has unique stealth technology. As a result, the Naval Special Operations Command wants you and your ship for special activities. The ship is the easy part. A single form twenty-one fourteen slash jay and the Resolute will be transferred to us.”

After a brief pause CAPT Grant continued, “This is an all-volunteer outfit. So you can decline the offer. However, if you do, I am certain your ship will be co-opted and you and your crew will be reassigned elsewhere.” He shuffled though a pack of papers on his desk, “They are having trouble filling the garbage scow runs from Earth to Titan. Of course, anyone in special activities receives double pay while on mission as well as top priority in all R&R3 facilities when planetside. So what do you say?”

Redline mulled it over for a moment, “Well, sir…I can’t speak for my crew…but I’m in.”

CAPT Grant beamed, “Excellent. I am sure that your crew will follow you.” He stood – a signal that the interview was over – “And by the way…we will be assigning a few new crew members. You’ll need a communicator and at least one torpedoman.”

“Yes sir.”

CAPT Grant shook Redline’s hand, “Welcome aboard.” He smiled, “Consider this your obligatory office call with the Admiral. He’ll visit your boat as soon as his schedule allows.”

“Very good, sir.” Redline left the office in a bit of a daze. Double pay! With all of the other normal pays he would be able to sock enough away to pay off his mortgage – if he lived that long.

It wasn’t a hard sell for the rest of the crew…everyone signed on. After filling in the usual personnel paperwork, the crew had to sign a series of imposing non-disclosure forms with the intelligence section. They also attended a two week course to familiarize them with the Naval Special Operations Command (COMNAVSOC), their missions, special weapons and communications procedures.

Having completed the course, the crew got introduced to their newest member. Signalman First Class Elbert Mann was of average height with a slender, agile frame. With blue eyes, sandy blonde hair and a well clipped mustache he fit the image of an intrepid spaceman. Flounder was relieved to have backup on the communications console. Redline was even happier when it turned out that Mann (or El as he preferred to be called) was an excellent diagnostician on any of the electronic systems. Surprisingly, he was very handy with close quarters weapons as well. It turned out that El had spent almost his entire career in COMSOCNAV.

As part of the DOOP Naval Education and Training Command’s latest training directive, El installed Dreamweaver MK IV units throughout the ship. They used a variant of the technology used to beam commercials into unsuspecting sleeping consumers minds. However, Dreamweaver ‘imbeds’ as they were called tended to be of a more permanent nature.

What was truly startling was the effect Dreamweaver technology had on Dr. Zoidberg. It became apparent the first night after the training session was on Self Care and Buddy Care. Zoidberg couldn’t stop talking about it. Redline and Flounder were working in the engine spaces with Flexo and El managed to retreat into some ductwork. Unfortunately for Dink, Zoidberg fastened to him like a barnacle and held forth at great length on the wonders of the human body.

“Such a wonder is the human body!” Zoidberg seemed enraptured, “What a heart! Only one heart but it has four chambers, Such a marvel.” Dink finally managed to shake Zoidberg after an hour of the torture. He made his way to the engine room where he exploded, “Jesus Christ and General Jackson! If I have to listen to Zoidberg rattle on for one more minute, I’ll shove him in the microwave and cook him…I’ll shove him out an airlock…Redline, you need to order him to keep his mouth shut around me.”

Redline looked up from where he was working on aligning the Gravioli Lens, “Dink…you are the senior rating on this boat. Now my navy knowledge is rusty, but I think that makes you chief of the boat. So if you can’t handle things at the enlisted level, then I will.”

Dink straightened up, “Aye-aye sir.”

Dink went and sought Zoidberg out, who once again began to carry on about the human body. Dink held up a finger for silence. When Zoidberg fell quiet, Dink said, “Pharmacists Mate Zoidberg…you’re in the navy. I am the Chief of the Boat (COB) and if you don’t realize it what I say goes. I’m going to run some Dreamweaver tapes tonight on Navy regulations. But between now and then you will keep your mouth shut and speak only on matters of duty.” He shoved his face right into Zoidberg’s, “IS THAT CLEAR?”

Zoidberg blinked, “Of course sir.”

“Don’t call me sir,” Dink spat. “I work for a living.”

Chapter 4 First War Patrol

They had left the South Street Naval Yard two weeks ago, headed for Xoran space. Every day, the crew was put through a series of drills that kept everyone busy. With three new officers, Commander Paidley wanted to be certain that everything was ship shape for combat.

During one of the first drills while still within the solar system, Chief Petty Officer Charles “Charlie” Gunn was training Robert Stiles – one of the torpedo crew – as a lookout. Gunn was a Devilfish plankholder4, a seasoned salt with a well clipped black beard, a shaven head and a regulation earring in his right ear. Also on the watch was a rather officious Junior Tactical Officer by the name of Ensign Cunliff who was desperately trying to qualify for his Space Cetaceans under the Argus eye of LCDR Turanga Leela.

Charlie was explaining angles on the bow and other arcane matters to Spaceman Stiles when a friendly fighter crossed the bow from left to right at about 10 degrees plus Z. Since Charlie didn’t report it immediately, Ensign Cunliff assumed that Charlie had missed it. Seeking to make points with Leela, Cunliff immediately berated Charlie for failing to immediately report the contact to him, “Chief Gunn! As far as you know that fighter could have killed us all!”

Charlie went silent for a moment before he resumed teaching. Meanwhile the fighter reversed course and crossed the bow at 20 degrees plus Z. Charlie immediately reported the contact to Ensign Cunliff.

Cunliff looked at Charlie with evident surprise and snapped, “Damn it Chief, you already reported that contact!”

Charlie drawled, “I didn’t want him to kill us twice sir.”

Before Cunliff could recover from his surprise, Leela guffawed. “Good thinking Chief.”

Leela had learned to like the “A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH” of the dive klaxon. The thought of submerging into 4th dimensional space was somehow thrilling to her. She enjoyed her duties as Exec, making sure that every detail was attended to.

Amy and Charlie were busy maintaining the engines, which they soon became fiercely devoted to. After all, there wasn’t much else to do. They both earned the grudging respect of the entire engine room crew.

Fry, Lucky and Bender blended in well with the crew. The Chief Machinist’s Mate, a short, dark haired wiry Irishman named Wolfe Tone was Bender’s soul mate. He ran an illegal still which supplemented Bender’s normal ration of liquor.

Fry was the biggest surprise of all. He out shot everyone during target practice on the 40 terajoule deck cannons. Even the Master Chief Petty Officer “Mac” MacDougal was impressed.

He actually slapped Fry on the back and said, “Laddie Buck that is gunnery pennant class shooting! By thunder, we’ll take the Fleet competition this year.”

Two days later, Fry and Lucky were standing watch together. They stood atop the conning tower, scanning into space with high powered optics. The boat was cruising under Emission Control (EMCON) at the edge of a neutron star’s gravity well and was sending out no electromagnetic signature at all. Thanks to their stealth hull construction, this meant that they were practically invisible to sensors.

Still, somebody had to watch for the bad guys. As Chief “Mac” always said, “A good set of Mark I eyeballs will help keep us a safe as anything else.”

Charlie was the Officer of the Watch. This was his first time alone and he didn’t want to screw up. He raised his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the seemingly empty space around her. He scanned the arc in front of the boat. Nothing!

Just then Lucky sounded out, “Ensign! Possible contact, 020 degrees relative, plus 30 degrees!”

Charlie swung his binoculars just right of the boat’s bow. Damn! It was a convoy of six Xoran cargo haulers with a CARDINAL Class Corvette as escort. He shouted, “Lookouts Below!”

Both Fry and Lucky scrambled from their perches and dropped through the hatch, barely clearing it with their bulky Extra Vehicular Activity Suits (EVAS).

Charlie pressed his throat mike, “Bridge, I have positive contact. Range One Two Zero Kilometers, Bearing Zero Two Zero Degrees Relative, Plus Three Zero Degrees. Estimated course Two Seven Zero relative, speed point one light. Six Xoran Cargo Haulers escorted by one CARDINAL Class Corvette.”

Having completed his report he slammed the dive alarm hard with his hand. He heard it resound through his headset as he dropped though the hatch, “A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH!”

Charlie ran aft to his duty station in the engine room, pulling off his EVAS as he went.

He passed crewmen who were tumbling from their bunks and officers who were headed for their stations as well.

On the bridge, all was controlled chaos. As soon as they got to periscope depth, Commander Paidley said quietly, “Up periscope!”

The periscope slid up without a barely audible hissing sound. Paidley pushed his face against the eyepiece. After a few seconds, he began to issue firing commands, “They’re coming right across our bow. This is perfect.”

“Stand by to go active on all systems when I give the word.”

Leela, as Exec, responded, “Aye-aye sir!”

“Make ready all torpedo tubes. We’ll fire one, four, two, five, three and six. We’ll take out the destroyer first. Then I want you to jam the cargo vessels’ signals.”

“Aye-aye, sir. Standing by to conduct barrage jamming.”

In the torpedo room, all was activity as the deadly fish were loaded into their tubes. “All tubes ready!”

Paidley spoke softly, “Target bearing Zero degrees relative, speed point one light, range two zero miles.”

Lieutenant Wilkes replied, “I have a firing solution.”

Absolutely calm, Paidley commanded, “Fire One.”

Wilkes hit the firing button, “One away.”

“Fire Four.”

“Number four tube fired.”

Watching through the periscope, Paidley saw the torpedoes emerge into normal space less than a mile from the Xoran Corvette. Their automated defenses responded, but only pierced one of the Mark XII’s shielding.

The remaining warhead detonated against the corvette’s hull, literally tearing the ship into dozens of pieces. The blast sent EMP rolling through 4th dimensional space, setting up a deep thrumming sound that reverberated through the Devilfish.

As the EMP wave rolled over the boat, Leela pressed the button to engage the boat’s jammers. The Xoran cargo haulers were effectively rendered mute and blind. Unable to communicate with their base or with each other, they hesitated.

Paidley swung his periscope and gave the convoy a more through look. Only two of the Xoran ships had any sort of armament that could hurt the Devilfish. He spoke softly, “We have two armed cargo haulers…probably BUGGALO Class. The others are interplanetary haulers…none of them are more than five thousand tons. Well, let’s take the two BUGGALOs first.” Within minutes, four more torpedoes lanced out and sent the BUGGALOs to bug Hell. When the deep thrum of the last explosion died away, everyone expected an order to reload all tubes. Instead, Commander Paidley turned to Leela and said quietly, “Exec…surface the boat.”

Leela looked surprised, but responded instantly. She keyed the microphone on her headset and said, “Surface, surface, surface.” Her hand pushed the claxon, which echoed throughout the boat “A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH!”

She scrambled into her bulky EVAS as Commander Paidley donned his as well. Within a minute, both of them were clambering up the ladder onto the flying bridge. Less than ten seconds later, crewmen swarmed onto the deck through the port and aft deck hatches.

Mac, Fry and Lucky were among them.

Mac tapped Fry on the shoulder, “Time to see how you shoot under pressure, Laddie.”

Fry nodded and took his seat on the forward deck cannon. All lights were green, indicating a fully charged gun. He heard Paidley’s voice in his headset, “Target the last ship and work forward, if you please.”

Fry nodded and replied, “Aye-aye, sir.”

He sighted in on the last freighter which – like all of the others - had begun to zigzag frantically. Laden as they were and still within the neutron star’s gravity well, they could not engage their STEXX drives. Fry watched for a second, took what he felt was an appropriate lead, and fired.

The cannon emitted a blinding flash of energy which struck the bridge of the Xoran ship. The stricken ship slewed wildly and began to roll, end over end, out of control. Fry put another shot into it and it broke in two squarely amidships.

He heard Paidley’s voice again, “Well done.”

In less than ten minutes, the other three ships were broken hulks as well. Lucky slapped him on the back, “Fine shooting, mi amigo!”

He heard Paidley again, “All hands below. Stand by to dive. We’re going to take a little evasive action just to be sure. Dive, dive, dive.”

Fry was heading down the forward hatch when he heard the dive klaxon, “A-OOGAH. A-OOGAH!”

After sinking the convoy, things began to get eventful not the least of which was Fry’s on-the-spot promotion by Commander Paidley to Torpedoman First Class (TM1C) for his superb gunnery. Also, while running submerged, the Devilfish received the following message:

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SITUATION: THE ENEMY IS APPROACHING THE HYPERONS SYSTEM WITH AN ESTIMATED FORCE OF 2 CARRIERS, 2 DREADNOUGHTS, 8 HEAVY CRUISERS, 16 FRIGATES, AND 32 OTHER ESCORT VESSELS. MAJOR ELEMENTS OF THE DOOP FLEET ARE MOVING TO ENGAGE THEM.

MISSION: DEVILFISH CONDUCTS UNRESTRICTED SUBMERSIBLE WARFARE AGAINST THE XORAN FLEET SUPPLY LINES VICINITY HYPERONS SYSTEM .

EXECUTION: PROCEED AT ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO HYPERON SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING DETECTED. YOU WILL AGRESSIVELY ATTACK LOGISTICAL SUPPORT FOR XORAN FLEET. NAVAL VESSELS ARE SECOND PRIORITY. ON ORDER, BE PREPARED TO CONDUCT WOLF PACK OPERATIONS AND SHIFT PRIORITY TO NAVAL VESSELS.

SERVICE SUPPORT: THE SUB TENDER ANTILLES IS AVAILABLE AT COORDINATES X 3400 Y 4567 Z 9641. PROCEED TO REFUEL AND REARM PRIOR TO ENTERING HYPERON SYSTEM. DETACH ENSIGN CUNLIFF AND RECEIVE ENSIGN GUZMAN AS REPLACEMENT JUNIOR TACTICAL OFFICER.

COMMAND AND CONTROL: NORMAL

TOP SECRET EPSILON

The Junior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) Ensign Pyotr Poltava downloaded the message into the Captain’s private log. He looked at Leela and said, “Ma’am, I have a TS EPSILON message for the captain.”

Leela nodded, “Very well, get it to him.”

Ensign Poltava hurried forward from the combat control center (CCC) to the captain’s quarters. He knocked on the hatch, “Sir, a TS EPSILON message for you.”

The hatch opened and Commander Paidley stood there with his hand outstretched, “Thank you, Pyotr. That will be all.”

The Ensign replied, “Aye-aye sir!” and headed back to his duty station even before the hatch closed.

Commander Paidley read the message and after a moment’s reflection keyed the intercom microphone on his writing desk, “Exec this is Paidley.”

Leela responded instantly, “Sir.”

“Assemble the officers in the wardroom in 15 minutes. We have a new mission.”

“Aye-aye sir!

Fifteen minutes later the officers were assembled in the wardroom. Paidley appeared and stood in the doorway, “I’ll make this brief Ladies and Gentlemen. The Hyperons System is or will soon be under attack by a large Xoran Fleet. Our job is to get there as quickly as possible and muck up their supply lines. On the way, we’ll meet up with the Antilles and top off on fuel, torpedoes, and other stores. At some point we’ll probably form part of a wolf pack. Any questions?”

No one spoke.

“Oh, there is one other matter. Walter Cunliff is going aboard the Antilles and we are receiving a new Junior Tactical Officer, a Karl Guzman. Walter congratulations on your new posting. I believe it will be followed by a promotion.”

Walter, a tall skinny twenty-something red head only responded with, “Thanks, sir.”

After a very brief moment of silence Paidley said, “That will be all.” He turned and disappeared from the doorway.

Leela said briskly, “Alright, everyone. I want your reports on what we need from the Antilles in one hour.”

Several officers groaned.

“Damn it!” Leela scowled, “I’m not putting up with any slack behavior. You should be keeping those lists current anyway instead of doping off in your racks. One hour!”

Leela rose and went to the CCC. The other officers began to disperse as well.

Amy turned to Charlie and asked, “Is this new officer any relation?”

Charlie smiled and said, “I guess you could say that. He’s my brother.”

Amy shook her head, “I don’t see how that got past the bureaucracy. Family members aren’t supposed to serve on the same boat.”

Charlie merely shrugged his shoulders in reply and headed for his station. He was still on watch. Amy decided to sit in the wardroom and have some tea. She knew that Charlie would complete the list Leela needed and get it back to her well ahead of time. The Engineering Division had no problems with the Exec.

This brought Amy to thinking of Ensign Walter J. Cunliff of all people. He had run afoul of Leela on several occasions because of his poor administrative abilities. Now he was history. She smiled and thought, “Leela really likes being the Exec. It suits her well.”

Within fifteen minutes, Charlie poked his head into the wardroom, “Amy, I’m taking the report up to the Exec. Anything you want to add?”

“No, Charlie I am sure it’s complete.”

Charlie grinned and headed to the CCC without a word.

Amy returned to sipping her tea thinking, “I wonder what his brother is like?”

Wolfpack!

The Antilles lay at anchor in a debris field presenting a seemingly easy target to Xoran marauders. However, concealed in a 360 degree defense grid about the anchorage were a minefield, a dozen killer satellites and four manned asteroid stations. From the conning tower Leela maneuvered the Devilfish through the minefield Commander Paidley was next to Leela on the bridge, calmly monitoring her every move as he quietly began to prepare Leela for command.

Leela had no idea that Paidley was monitoring and evaluating her. She was too busy making certain that the Devilfish didn’t activate a mine. She had both the front and rear deck guns manned and powered up. Theoretically, the mines would not activate because of the Devilfish’s IFF5. As Chief Mac had said, “Theory is fine, Ma’am but I prefer certainty.” She had agreed – hence the fully manned deck guns. Everyone breathed a little easier when they cleared the minefield.

Leela docked with the Antilles without any fanfare. It was only close up that she realized the Antilles size. She had to be at least 600 meters long and 60 meters in circumference. That meant she had lots of room for torpedoes, fuel and spare parts. Leela remembered that the Antilles even had a 10 bed hospital and a 2 patient ICU. Quite a ship, she reflected. Once the CCC confirmed a good seal on all of the docking ports Leela activated her throat mike, “Now man the special space detail.”

The Devilfish crewmen went to work with a will, loading six torpedoes and topping off the fuel bunkers. Then every inch of the galley and reefers were packed with small stores of every description. Chief Tone and Bender went aboard the Antilles to beg, borrow or steal a long list of spare parts. Bender rose even higher in Chief Tone’s estimation when he managed to pilfer some electronic components from right under the nose of the Antilles Quartermaster.

Ensign Cunliff left the Devilfish without much ado. He had been what the crew described as a ‘flamer’…deriding and yelling at crewmen with the slightest provocation. His replacement, Ensign Karl Guzman was cut from an entirely different bolt of cloth. Calm and easygoing, he would prove to be a real addition to the crew.

As the Devilfish pulled away from the Antilles with a full load of torpedoes, fuel, and spare parts, Charlie escorted his brother Karl to the officer berthing. Some of the crewmen they passed notice the family resemblance. If not for Karl’s lighter hair, they could have passed as twins.

Passing the Wardroom, Charlie noticed that the Senior Tactical Officer, LT Takamori – Karl’s new boss - was having a cup of coffee. He stopped to introduce Karl before continuing on to the officer billets. LT Takamori kept it brief, “I’ll expect you on duty in the next two hours. Stow your gear, square away your area and report to the CCC.” He glanced at his Wristamajigy and stood, “I have to shove off. I’m on duty in five minutes. Make sure you bring your qualification logbook with you.” With that he left the wardroom.

When they entered the officer billeting, Charlie pointed to a top bunk, “I got some of our fellow officers to swap off their bunks. You’ll sleep in the upper, I’ve got the lower.”

“Jeez.” Karl laughed, “Just like when we were kids.”

“Yeah,” Charlie joined in Karl’s laughter, “Never thought we’d be sleeping in bunk beds again did you?”

Once Karl was settled in he began to quiz Charlie about the Devilfish.

“How’s the Skipper?”

“He’s four oh.” Charlie said firmly, “Strictly regular navy, polite as hell and he expects his orders to be obeyed.”

Karl nodded, “How about the Exec?”

Charlie shook his head, “She’s a real ball buster. I’d have to say she’s the perfect Exec.

She certainly has zero tolerance for any nonsense. She got your predecessor fired because he wasn’t up to par.” He lowered his voice, “And she’s the Captain’s protégé.”

“That’s good to know.”

Charlie delivered his opinion on the other officers in quick succession. When he finished, Karl asked, “Are you sweet on LT Wong?”

Charlie bristled, “She’s married!”

“I didn’t ax you that, brother.” Karl grinned, “I axed if you are sweet on her.”

“No!” Charlie replied heatedly.

“Uh Huh.”

“Frak off!” Charlie said before storming out of the billets.

Karl said quietly to his brother’s back as it receded down the passageway, “These shipboard romances never work out.”

Less than ten minutes later, Karl reported to LT Takamori. Over the next few hours Karl learned the basics of standing watch on the Devilfish. There was so much to learn! He was astonished to learn that the Devilfish could dive to periscope depth in a mere 25 seconds.

“How do you manage that? At school they told us it took a minimum of 60 seconds to get a fleet TDS under.”

“Normally that’s true,” LT Takamori laughed, “But our engineering officer wrote the book on CEPHI engines. She’s a genius…if a bit clumsy.”

“OK. But how do we do it?”

“She keeps one TDD6 spun up at all times,” Takamori said in his usual quiet tone, “when we have to pull the plug…bam! We’re under in 25 seconds.”

“Wait.” Karl looked confused, “How does she keep the STEXX field from collapsing due to interference from the Trans Dimensional Field?”

“She keeps the TDD at minimum revolutions.” Takamori said patiently, “Also, she’s developed a device she modestly calls the Wong Field Dampener. By the end of this cruise, they’ll probably put one on every TDS in the fleet.”

Karl whistled appreciatively, “It’s nice to have an edge.”

“Sure is.” Takamori nodded. “Now let’s talk about maintaining the log…”

Later that day, when Charlie came on shift, he approached Karl. “Look bro…sorry about the Frak off.”

Karl shrugged, “No problem.”

Charlie watched his brother leave the CCC and then went to on watch. Satisfied that all of the engineering readouts were nominal, Charlie checked with the other departments to note their status in the log.

He had no sooner finished than a TOP SECRET GAMMA communication came in. As the watch officer, he decrypted it and scanned through it. It read,

TOP SECRET GAMMA

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: FRAGO 887203

SITUATION: (TS//G) MOST SECRET SOURCES INDICATE THAT A 40 SHIP CONVOY WILL TRANSIT THE ALPHA HYDRA SECTOR ENROUTE TO SUPPLY THE XORAN FLEET

MISSION: (TS//G) CONDUCT WOLFPACK OPERATIONS AGAINST XORAN SUPPLY CONVOY OPERATING IN ALPHA HYDRA SECTOR.

EXECUTION:

(TS//E) PROCEED AT ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO HYPERON SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING DETECTED. RENDEZVOUS WITH ARCHERFISH, GROUPER AND ALBACORE IN ASTEROID BELT VICINITY OF X 3500 Y 2467 Z 0987. CONDUCT WOLFPACK OPERATIONS AGAINST THE ENEMY CONVOY DESIGNATED XO 102.

(TS//E) PRIORITY OF TARGETING: TANKERS, AMMUNITION HAULERS, AND CARGO HAULERS

SERVICE SUPPORT: (TS//E) SERVICE SUPPORT AVAILABLE FROM ANTILLES


COMMAND AND CONTROL:

(TS//E) COMMANDER DEVILFISH IS WOLFPACK COMMANDER

(TS//E) COMMAND SUCCESSION COMMANDER ALBACORE, ARCHERFISH AND GROUPER

(TS//E) CEOI 2031 IN EFFECT


TOP SECRET GAMMA

Charlie called a yeoman over and handed him a dongle with the message on it. “Take this to the Captain. Then find the Exec and ask her to come to the CCC as soon as she can.”

“Aye-aye sir!” The yeoman took off at top speed through the passageways.

Leela was in the CCC in less than three minutes and got the lowdown from Charlie. She had already plotted the quickest route to the Alpha Hydra Sector when the Captain arrived.

“How long to Alpha Hydra, Exec?”

“Twelve hours, forty-two minutes, Captain.”

“Make it so.”

The Destruction of Convoy QW 66

EXCERPT FROM TRANS-DIMENSIONAL SUBMERSIBLES OF THE XORAN WAR, Naval Institute Press, Syria Planum, Mars, RADM (Rtd.) Kif Kroker and CAPT (Rtd.) Turanga Leela, May 3029

The first big wolfpack success of the war was the action against a 40 ship Xoran Convoy DOOP designated QW 66 as it transited the Alpha Hydra section. Through the efforts of our quantum cryptographers against their merchant marine ciphers, Naval Intelligence knew the convoy’s route, composition, and schedule. It allowed the wolfpack’s four TDS to rendezvous well ahead of the convoy.

The convoy was heavily defended by a total of eleven escorts – three destroyers, seven corvettes and a single light cruiser. The Xoran were anxious that this convoy should make it through as it contained ten tankers fully laden with whale-oil and a dozen ammunition haulers. If the Xoran incursion into the Hyperons System was to succeed, they needed most of these supplies to arrive intact.

The wolfpack – composed of the Devilfish, Albacore, Archerfish and Grouper – rendezvoused in a nebula near the Alpha Hydra System. Since Alpha Hydra was only 95 light years from Earth, the Xoran were making a bold move by routing the convoy through the Alpha Hydra wormhole. However, the Xoran High Command planned a series of diversionary attacks and movements which they judged would keep us from interfering. Had it not been for our code breakers, they might well have succeeded.

As it was, Commander Paidley gathered all of the other captains in the wardroom of the Devilfish for a pre-battle conference. In a scene somewhat reminiscent of Admiral Nelson before the Battle of Trafalgar in the Age of Sail, Paidley laid out the tactics for destroying as much of the convoy as possible.

His approach was to string the four boats of the wolfpack out in an intercept line spaced fifty miles apart across the shortest route between the Alpha Hydra Wormhole exit and the far end of the gravity well…where the Xoran could engage their STEXX Drives. Then they could sprint the less than 15 Parsecs to the Gamma Hydra Wormhole and then go right to the Hyperons System.

The first boat to spot the convoy would signal the others via laser lamp. Then that boat would submerge deep and allow the convoy to overrun it. The other boats would submerge and take positions around the convoy. Then the first boat would come to periscope depth and fire a full spread of torpedoes – targeting any tankers.

Once the torpedoes struck, the other boats would attack from different sides of the convoy. Paidley felt the ensuing chaos would confuse the escorts. After firing an initial spread, the wolfpack would disengage and rendezvous ahead of the convoy for another attack.

The first boat to sight the convoy was the Albacore. Intelligence was right, it had a very strong escort but they were spread out differently than DOOP escort doctrine. Instead of an equally spread out 360 degree defense, the light cruiser and three destroyers were at the head of the convoy, while the corvettes were in a loose screen which roamed about the convoy.

The convoy was in a rectangular formation four ships wide, two ships deep and five ships long. Cargo ships were on the outside, ammo carriers in the next layer and tankers in the center. The Xoran were showing excellent discipline as their ships were spaced regularly at 1000 meters apart.

Leela was on the bridge along with Karl Guzman and four lookouts. As soon as she received the laser lamp signal from the Albacore, she replied, “Roger.” She gave a terse order, “Lookouts below.”

While the four lookouts were scrambling down the ladder into the CCC, Leela flashed a signal to the boat on their right – the Grouper. Once she received the Grouper’s terse “Roger,” she turned to Karl, “Clear the bridge.” Karl asked, “Permission to sound the dive klaxon?”

“Granted,” Leela smiled. “Then get your behind below.”

Karl grinned as he hit the dive klaxon actuator, “AOOGAH! AOOGAH!”

In seconds they were both in the CCC, stripping off their EVAS. By the time they had stowed them away, the boat was already at periscope depth. Commander Paidley was peering through as it rose from the deck, calling out ranges and bearings.

“Range to leading ship is 100,000 kilometers, speed point one light, course 220.”

Paidley lowered the periscope, “Come left to course 330, speed point five light.”

The helmsman, a Sikh named Saftir Khan responded in his Hindi influenced lilt, “Helm is answering left.” In a moment he said, “Course is 330, speed point five light.”

Paidley turned to Leela, “We’re going to get ahead of the convoy. I’m going to let the escorts out front pass. Then we’ll position ourselves down Z from the formation.” He chuckled, “The escorts seem to be concentrating on the edges of the formation and ignoring the top and bottom. Let’s hope they stay that way.”

In less time than it takes to tell, the Devilfish was in position, right in the path of the convoy. Paidley motioned to Leela, “Exec, I want you to take the next sighting. Don’t keep her up too long. Once we’re sure they’re not altering their base course, we’ll go deep and wait.”

“Aye-aye sir.” Leela turned to the dive officer, LT Adams “How’s our depth?”

“Right on the button, ma’am.”

“Thanks.” Leela knelt down and raised the periscope to eye level. She did the usual slow 360 degree circle to make sure there were no surprises lurking close by. Seeing the coast was clear, she sighted on the convoy and flipped the electro optical eyepiece to maximum magnification. The lead light cruiser and the three destroyers stood out very clearly. Leela took quick observations of their heading, speed and disposition. Then she straightened up, “Down periscope.”

“Sir,” Leela turned to Paidley, “They are right on course. Heck, they’re not even zig-zagging. They’ve upped their speed to point two light. Seems like they’re either overconfident or in one hell of a hurry.”

“How’s the escort look?”

“The lead is in a defensive diamond with the cruiser high.” She paused briefly, “The corvettes around the convoy must be inexperienced. They are patrolling the sides of the convoy but almost ignoring the upper and lower approaches.”

“Lack of attention to detail Exec,” Paidley gave one of his rare smiled, “It’ll get you every time.” He turned to the helmsman, “Take her down to 400…slowly. Minimum power to keep depth and station.”

“Aye-aye sir. make depth 400 meters” The helmsman guided the boat smoothly to 400 meters into the 4th Dimension. “Depth is 400 meters.”

“Release the sensor buoy,” Leela ordered.

Ensign Poltava pressed a series of buttons which sent the sensor buoy into 3D space where it would send data back to the Devilfish via a shielded cable. “Sensor buoy is away.” After a short pause, “Sensor buoy in 3D and transmitting.”

Paidley, Leela and Wilkes gathered around the chart table to view the sensor data on the holographic display. It was less than two minutes before the escorts passed by the buoy without even slowing down. That in itself was no surprise, as the buoy itself was roughly the size of a five pound coffee can.

Paidley turned from the chart table and spoke to the helmsman, “Bring her up to periscope depth. All ahead one third.”

The helmsman responded tersely, repeating the order and then confirming when it was so. Paidley meanwhile was not idle. He ran the periscope up while they were still surfacing, so it the second it emerged into 3D space he was peering through the eyepiece.

A 360 degree sweep and then, “We’re right where we need to be. Let’s start tracking our targets. Target designated T-Zero One, tanker, 20,000 ton MANTIS class, speed point two light, heading 220 degrees, angle on the bow 90 degrees. Let’s give her our first two torpedoes.”

LT Takamori echoed Paidley, then responded, “Data fed into torpedoes one and two.”

They went through the process twice more. Then the CCC was deathly quiet save for the sound of the machinery and the sibilant sound of the life support system.

After what seemed like an eternity LT Wilkes said quietly, “Now all we need to do is wait for Albacore to strike.”

As if Wilkes had given a cue, the EMP from torpedo detonations thrummed through the hull. Paidley immediately said, “Confirm final setup.”

Takamori replied instantly, “Confirmed.”

“Fire!”

The Devilfish shuddered as six torpedoes went lancing toward their targets. Paidley watched as they struck home, permanently removing three MANTIS Class tankers from the Xoran fleet. Once the last torpedo struck home Paidley commanded, “Take her down to two hundred fifty meters, course 90 degrees, ahead two thirds.”

The ship responded instantly. As Paidley had planned, the escorts were thrown into confusion by the sudden attack from what seemed to be all quarters. They unleashed an ineffectual shower of dimension charges (D-Charges) and began frantically pinging with their sensors to no avail. The four TDS had already sprinted to their rendezvous point, there to await their next crack at the convoy.

The first strike had destroyed eight of the ten tankers, four of the ammunition carriers and one corvette. Once at the rendezvous, Paidley had brought the boat to periscope depth and surveyed the wild confusion. He turned to Leela, “Have a look Exec. As a matter of fact, have the entire CCC crew come by and have a look.”

While the CCC was getting an eyeful, the Captain picked up an intercom mike, “This is the Captain speaking. The Devilfish has just destroyed three MANTIS class tankers for a total of sixty thousand tons. That’s a heck of a lot of whale oil. Well done. We’re going to hit them again so stay on your toes. Out.”

The convoy reformed and came on, having already lost a bakers dozen of their number. Again, the wolfpack fell upon the fold, destroying the rest of the tankers and five more ammunition carriers. The escorts were more coordinated in their response this time. They rattled everyone’s teeth with their counterattack, damaging the Albacore so badly she spent three months in dry dock after and an epic journey home.

The Devilfish sustained minor damage in the attack. When she returned to periscope depth, the remnants of the convoy had made it into the wormhole with the last of the escorts just ready to enter. Paidley made a command decision, “Signal the wolfpack. We’re heading back to the barn.”

Taking the mike again, Paidley announced, “This is the Captain speaking. We’ve taken out five tankers and three ammunition carriers. You’ve put this boat at the top of the tonnage charts. We’re headed back to Syria Planum for a quick refit and some well-earned liberty. Well done!”

The crew – including those in the CCC – let out a rousing cheer.

Paidley turned to the helmsman, “Set course for Syria Planum, flank speed.”

Chapter 5 – Andromeda Patrol

Admiral’s Inspection & Liberty

Leela paused for a moment before knocking on the door to the Captain’s Quarters. She listened to make sure she wasn’t interrupting anything, not hearing anything she knocked.

“Enter.”

“What’s up, sir?”

“Read this.” Paidley handed her a message form.

She scanned it quickly. It was an administrative message, so at first she thought it was just typical B.S. from COMSUBDOOPNAV or from BUPERS. It was only when she read it more carefully that she realized why Paidley had summoned her. “Vice Admiral Schroeder is going to greet us at Syria Planum?”

“Yes.” Paidley leaned back in his chair, “It’s all part of a program to build morale at home. COMSUBDOOPNAV seems to think we’ve done something worthwhile. Right now the Devilfish is credited with over 250,000 tons of Xoran shipping so we are well ahead of any other TDS in the fleet. That means you and I will probably have to give interviews…that sort of thing.”

Something in the tone of his voice made Leela ask, “How do you feel about that, sir?”

“I think that security should trump informing the civilians.” He sat up straight, “We’re supposed to be the Silent Service. Let the Airdales7 hog the spotlight.” He shook his head, “But we are professionals, so we’ll do as we’re told.”

“Yes sir.”

“I’d like a list of personnel from all departments who – in your opinion – would make good interview subjects.” Paidley stood, “We enter space dock in two hours, so I’d like to see it in an hour.”

“Aye-aye sir.” Leela replied crisply before saluting and heading for the wardroom. She snagged a yeoman and sent him to gather the division chiefs and the COB. Within five minutes they had assembled. Within twenty they had the list finished and in the hands of the Captain.

The entry to space dock was anything but routine. When the electromagnetic seal closed around the boat and the atmosphere was established, the crew lined up along the deck in their dress white uniforms. A band struck up a jaunty air which Leela recognized from TDS School – ‘Muss I Den’8. What seemed somewhat incongruous was the inclusion of a half dozen bagpipes in the mix.

From his position in the formation Fry couldn’t help but smile. The sight and sound of bagpipes always made him think of someone holding a cat under his arm while biting the cat’s tail. He shared that thought with Lucky, who smiled as well. Chief Mac growled, “Knock off the skylarking. The whole bloody press corps is out there.”

It certainly looked that way. Morbo the News monster was there…along with Walter Cronkite’s head. The lights from the massed cameras were so intense it was almost painful to look into their glare.

Vice Admiral Schroeder trooped across a gangway to the boat followed by a half dozen lower ranking officers. He came aboard, saluted the flag then proceeded to troop the line of the assembled crew. Once opposite the officers, he halted to exchange salutes with Paidley. Then his aide, a tall red haired Lieutenant Commander, handed him a Navy Cross with which he decorated Commander Paidley. Much to her surprise, Leela received the Silver Star while all of the other officers and senior ratings received Bronze Stars. Everyone also received an appropriate TDS Combat Badge for a successful war patrol. The brass was pulling out all the stops to impress the reporters.

When the ceremony was complete, the officers and selected crewmen descended the gangplank into the waiting mass of reporters. Thankfully, no one committed a major gaffe with the representatives of the fourth estate. Next to Paidley, Leela was the star of the show. The administration was trying to gain mutant support for the war effort, so she fit right in with their public relations campaign.

Morbo the News monster interviewed Commander Paidley, while Linda van Schooven spoke to Leela. Both interviews went well, although Leela was a bit uncomfortable with being in the glare of the klieg lights.

“Lieutenant Commander Turanga,” Linda began, “How do you feel about your latest war patrol?”

“The Devilfish and her crew did a very fine job.” Leela spoke slowly to avoid accidentally divulging classified information just as she had briefed the crew. “We hurt the bugs and I’m very proud of that.”

“I’m sure you are!” Linda simpered, “So Lieutenant Commander Turanga, I understand you are a mutant.”

“Yes.” Leela had to force a smile and avoid a sharp comeback.

“You’re from New-New York, isn’t that right?”

“Yes. Born and bred.”

“Would you like to pass on any messages to your family and friends?”

“I’d like to send my love to my parents, Morris and Munda.” She thought for a moment, “Also I’d like to say hello to Professor Farnsworth, the Conrads and Scruffy.”

“I was told you were the honor graduate from your officers’ school and TDS school classes, is that right?”

“Distinguished Honor Graduate,” Leela quickly added, “But I don’t want to brag.”

“Does this make you feel that mutants should consider serving in the DOOP?”

“Absolutely,” she nodded her head vigorously. “In the DOOP it’s all about what you can do, not where you are from.”

“Does that hold for your former lover, Captain Zapp Brannigan?”

Leela ground her teeth to keep from swearing. After taking a deep breath she replied levelly, “Pity sex doesn’t count as being a lover. Plus, I understand he’s serving as the officer in charge of the small animal cemetery on Dog Doo Six. Sounds fair to me.”

Linda gave her trademark laugh, “It certainly does.”

A few more minutes and the interview was over. Leela caught a shuttle to Syria Planum along with the other officers for an intelligence debriefing. After that tedious but necessary ritual, she caught a shuttle to New-New York. Fry had gone to Buenos Aires with Lucky. She knew that because as Exec she personally reviewed every Liberty Pass. Also, it had been her suggestion. Since she was now – at least temporarily – famous, there probably wasn’t a place she could go without being recognized.

The trip to New-New York was proof of that theory. Leela couldn’t walk down the street without having total strangers come up and fawn over her. At first it was gratifying, then it became less so, by the time she had reached the Planet Express building it degenerated into annoying.

When she entered the building, Leela was surprised at how much things had changed. First was Scruffy was no longer the janitor. Now he manned an entry control point at the main entrance. What had not changed was that he still sat with his feet up on the desk, reading one of his porno magazines – “Battlin’ Beavers”. He acknowledged Leela as he leafed idly through his magazine with a, “Howdy Leela…saw you on the news last night. Go right on in. Uh huh.”

It felt so strange to be back at the Planet Express. It all seemed like another life…disconnected…unreal. The first person she met was Hermes. He exclaimed, “Great Jah’s Dreadlocks! What brings you here?”

“Curiosity mostly. I’m on my way to see my parents.” She smiled, “How are you Hermes?”

“I’m doin’ fine!” Hermes smiled, “I got promoted to Grade 35 because of our contributions to the war effort, we’re makin’ more money than ever and the Professor stays outta my way because he’s workin’ on some super-secret project.” He rocked on his heels, “Life is good.”

“Is the Professor around?”

“Not today.” Hermes shook his head, “He’s away on dat project I told you about.”

“Is the ship in?”

“She is…so’s da’ new crew.” Hermes brightened. “Let me introduce dem to you. De’re in da lounge waitin’ for a mission.”

They went into the lounge, where Redline, Flounder, Dink, El, Zoidberg and Flexo were seated around the conference table. Her first impression was positive. She already knew Zoidberg and Flexo, so her greeting to them was familiar. As she met each of the three new crew members in turn, each impressed her in a different way.

Redline struck her as a solid leader…a good choice for captain. She liked his understated wit and relaxed manner. Flounder she found to be Amy Wong without the klutz factor. Dink was an archetypical Petty Officer. El was bit more difficult to read. Naturally quiet, his answers were brief and to the point. However, he gave her a solid impression of quiet competence. The PE Ship was in good hands.

Redline, Flounder and El took her on a tour of the ship, proudly pointing out all of the engineering enhancements. She nodded in approval, “It looks like you’ve really tricked her out.”

“We sure did.” Flounder said proudly, “Even the paint is new. It’s a form of camouflage. We run a current through it and the ship becomes invisible for all intents and purposes.”

“Nice.” Leela smiled, “So with all of these enhancements are you doing any smuggling of small items for Hermes?”

Flounder looked startled before he realized Leela was joking. “No...at least not yet.”

Redline showed her the new power flight controls, “It makes her a bit easier to maneuver.”

“Good idea.”

El showed her the new communications and sensor station, “It even has DISH Network.”

“Must help pass the time on long missions.”

“Sure does.”

“That’s about it.” Redline looked around, “Do you have any questions?”

“No.” She looked at her Wristamajiggy, “I need to get home. My parents are expecting me for dinner.”

“Sure.” Flounder stuck out his hand, “It was great meeting you.”

“Same here.”

On the way out, Leela took a few minutes to say goodbye to everyone. Then she went to the nearest manhole and removed the cover. The rush of dank, odiferous air told her she was home. Descending the ladder into the dark underground she thought, “I wonder how Fry is doing in Buenos Aires?”

Meanwhile in Buenos Aires…

About the time Leela landed at New-New York, Fry and Lucky were on final approach to the Buenos Aires Evita Peron Spaceport. They were flying up the broad expanse of the Rio de la Plata. To their right sprawled the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Lucky pointed excitedly, “Look Fry. The wooded neighborhood to the left of the hill…that’s my home. It’s called Parque Chacabuco.”

“Neat.” Fry found that all he could think about was Leela. All he knew was that when Leela discouraged him from coming to New-New York, she had whispered, “Our time will come Fry. I promise.” Then she had become all official again. He sighed at the thought.

Lucky put his arm around Fry’s shoulder, “Look hermano, things are going to be OK. Wait until we see my familia. They are going to love you.”

And they did…especially Lucky’s mother. Señora Esmeralda was a stereotypical Latin ‘Mama’. She was plump, dark of hair and complexion, with a nurturing disposition. Lucky wrote her faithfully several times a week. Much of the space in his letters was filled with information about his best friend – Fry.

Lucky’s three younger sisters Evita, Consuela and Marta looked like female clones of Lucky. Aged 14, 12 and eight respectively, they were definitely individuals. Evita was a bit of a drama queen. Consuela – called Consuelita to avoid confusion – was much like her mother, quiet and nurturing. Marta was very affectionate and exceptionally bright.

“Welcome to our home,” Señora Esmeralda said as she gave Fry an affectionate abrazo9. “You boys must be hungry. I fixed some of Emilio’s favorites.”

Fry whispered to Lucky, “Who’s Emilio…your brother?”

“No.” Lucky laughed, “I’m Emilio.”

“Oh…yeah.”

Without any further ceremony, Señora Esmeralda shooed them into the dining room. The table was piled high with food. Fry especially liked the breaded meat strips topped with parmesan cheese called Milanesas.

By the time dinner was over, Marta had fastened herself firmly to Fry’s side. She plied him with what seemed to Fry like a million questions. But Fry found he didn’t mind. Somehow, Marta seemed to make him feel less lonely. While sitting on the front porch in the autumn breezes, Fry thanked Lucky for inviting him to his home. Even when Fry was old, he would often reminisce about his first visit to the Casa Esmeralda.

Their liberty seemed to go by in a blur. Far too soon, they were sitting on a shuttle, headed back to Syria Planum. Tucked in Fry’s spacebag were a dozen drawings and two stories Marta had made for him. He knew exactly where on the bulkhead next to his bunk he was going to tape them.

His thoughts turned to Leela as Mars came into view. Maybe they would have a little girl like Marta one day? Maybe so…but first they had to get this stupid war finished. Stupid bugs! Well, he was going to do his part to make sure it ended quickly. He had a life to get on with!

War Patrol in the Andromeda Galaxy

The refit was completed in seven days, so the Devilfish was ready to sortie. Her orders read as follows:

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH TDS 213

THRU: CDR TDS SQUADRON 34

FM: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJ: OPORD 10243006//DTG 1000Z07073006

SITUATION:

(TS//E) SQUADRON 34 CONDUCTS OPERATIONS IN ANDROMEDA GALAXY TO DESTROY XORAN SHIPPING IN OPERATIONS AREA (OA) TETRARCH

(TS//E) ALBACORE PATROLS SECTOR ALPHA WHISKEY

(TS//E) ARCHERFISH PATROLS SECTOR BRAVO DELTA

MISSION: (TS//E) DEVILFISH PATROLS SECTOR CHARLIE PAPA TO DESTROY XORAN SHIPPING

EXECUTION:

(TS//E) DEVILFISH PROCEEDS TO ASSIGNED PATROL AREA VIA THE GAMMA HYDRA WORMHOLE. PRIOR TO REACHING PATROL AREA, DEVILFISH HAS AUTHORITY TO ATTACK ENEMY SHIPPING.

(TS//E) PRIORITY OF TARGETING: TANKERS, AMMUNITION HAULERS, CARGO HAULERS AND TROOPSHIPS

SERVICE SUPPORT:

(TS//E) SUB TENDER ANTILLES IS IN ORBIT AROUND MORAVAN TO RE-SUPPLY REPAIR PARTS, FUEL, AND MUNITIONS

(TS//E) NAVAL BASE HOSPITAL MORAVAN IS THE CLOSEST MEDICAL FACILITY

COMMAND AND CONTROL:

(TS//E) COMMANDER DEVILFISH IS SENIOR COMMANDER AO TETRARCH

(TS//E) CEOI 3745 IN EFFECT

TOP SECRET EPSILON

After a short stop at Moravan to top off their bunkers, the Devilfish transited the Gamma Hydra wormhole to the Andromeda Galaxy without incident. After arriving at their patrol station, the Devilfish deployed a grid of detection satellites before going into high orbit around a pulsar. That way, the Xoran would be very unlikely to see the Devilfish but any movement through the patrol sector would register in the CCC.

They had not been in orbit for more than an hour before one of the detection satellites detected a single ship. The sensor operator on duty called out, “Positive sensor contract heading one eight zero relative, distance to contact one zero light years, speed point zero one light, estimated size seven thousand tons.”

LT Takamori was the Watch Officer. He immediately punched in the code to communicate with the captain and the officers, “Captain to the bridge. Positive sensor contact.”

“Designate contact Alpha Zero Zero One,” LT Takamori ordered.

“Roger,” the sensor operator replied as he fed the information into the targeting array. “Target is designated Alpha Zero Zero One.”

Leela beat the captain onto the bridge. She approached Takamori at the chart table, “What have we got?”

Takamori never took his eyes of the holographic display, “Medium sized ship headed straight for us but moving at only point zero one light. I can’t figure it out. Is she a lame duck? Is she waiting for a rendezvous with escort?”

Commander Paidley’s voice sounded from behind them, “Let’s find out.”

The CCC came alive with activity. Leela turned to the signalman on duty, “Battle Stations…Sound General Quarters.”

The General Quarters claxon began it’s rhythmic ‘bong, bong, bong’ as the signalman called out, “General Quarters…General Quarters…all hands to battle stations…General Quarters.”

Throughout the ship sleeping crewmen tumbled from their racks, those on duty focused on their jobs with renewed concentration and everyone had their hearts pump faster. They were on the hunt!

Down in the torpedo room, Fry and Lucky were busy performing last minute checks on the torpedoes in the tubes. They worked as a team, checking each other as they performed the necessary system checks. They used a checklist, even thought they could do it from memory. Fry was performing the checks, Lucky ran the checklist. Two new Torpedomen, Frobisher and Shilkovich followed the both of them to ‘learn the ropes.’

“Power system functions check.”

Fry performed the action before replying, “Check.”

“Shield system functions check.”

“Check.”

“Guidance systems function check.”

“Check.”

“Disengage warhead safety.”

“Check.”

After repeating the process, Fry took the microphone from the comms panel and keyed it, “Combat this is torpedo room.”

After a split second pause the reply came back, “Go ahead torpedo room.”

“All six tubes ready to fire Combat.”

“Roger torpedo room, out.”

As Fry and Lucky were busy with the ‘fish’ in the torpedo tubes, Chief Gunn and TM3C Robert Stiles busied themselves with pre-operational checks for the remaining eighteen torpedoes - minus disengaging the warhead safeties. As torpedomen from the other watch arrived in the torpedo room, they pitched in to help.

Chief Gunn contacted the CCC when all the other torpedoes were ready. Up in the CCC, the Leela, LT Wilkes and Ensign Gomak formed the tracking party. Together they worked the chart table to keep track of all of the ships in the area, designate targets and plot attacks. Leela and Wilkes had included Gomak in the tracking party as part of his TDS qualification.

The sensormen called out data as they transferred it to the chart table holographic display. “Alpha Zero Zero One has increased speed to point one light, bearing unchanged, distance to target point zero five light years.”

The Captain was on the conning tower bridge with Karl. Both were listening to the chatter in the CCC over the tactical net. Turning to Karl he said, “Clear the bridge Ensign Guzman.”

Karl responded instantly, “Lookouts below!” The lookouts scrambled down with alacrity from their perches on the shears. As the last lookout vanished down the hatch, Commander Paidley pushed the dive alarm, “AOOGAH! AOOGAH!”

As his feet hit the deck, Paidley rapped out a series of orders, “Take her down to periscope depth. Make her speed point five light.”

The CCC crew responded, echoing orders and performing the multitude of task necessary to submerge the TDS in 25 seconds.

Paidley stepped to the periscope and looked through the eyepiece. Thanks to the advanced electro-optics coupled with digital readout from the ships sensors, he was able to get determine the target’s speed, distance and bearing. There were a series of buttons on the handles which allowed for the user to compare the target with Janeways database to ensure accurate identification as well as perform sophisticated measurement and signals intelligence functions.

Paidley stood still for almost ten seconds before speaking. His voice was laced with disgust, “Secure from battle stations. Target is a neutral vessel.” He stepped away from the periscope, “Increase speed to two thirds; get us back in orbit around the pulsar. Once we are on station, we’ll surface.”

Leela picked up the handset and keyed the all hands circuit, “Secure from General Quarters. The target was a neutral ship. We’re going back to the pulsar and wait.” She paused for a moment, “We’ll have plenty of targets before this patrol ends. Just think of this as a drill. Good hustle.”

Down in the torpedo room and indeed throughout the ship the letdown was palpable. Chief Gunn said, “Okay boys, let’s stand down. Fry, Lucky…disarm the torpedoes in the tubes. Second watch clear out of here…you too Stiles, Frobisher, Shilkovich…go grab some chow and get your butts back here ASAP. I think we’re going to get busy soon.” He scratched his curly, bushy black beard, “Call it a hunch.”

As the men dispersed, Fry and Lucky disarmed the torpedoes one by one. Finished, they leaned against the port side torpedo rack. Fry said to Chief Gunn, “Hey Chief…why don’t you go grab some chow? Lucky and I will stand watch until you get back.”

“I think I will.” Gunn grinned. “I missed breakfast this mornin’”

For a moment or two after Chief Gunn left, both Fry and Lucky stood silently amid the thrum of the ship’s machinery. Then Lucky turned to Fry, “Hey hermano, you were telling me earlier that you were upset about Leela but you didn’t tell me why. Has she given you the boot?”

“No.” Fry shook his head. “It’s just that she will whisper to me about how we’re going to be together and stuff. Then she acts all official and junk. It’s like when I was with this crazy bureaucrat named Morgan Proctor. One minute she was all over me and the next minute she was all cold and distant.”

“Well Leela is an officer.”

“I know.” Fry shrugged, “But it doesn’t make it any easier.”

They stood in silence for a moment before Lucky asked, “So this Morgan…was she any good?”

“Shut up.” Fry punched Lucky in the shoulder. In response Lucky laughed uproariously, “Don’t worry…I won’t tell Leela.”

“Cram a squirrel in it.”

Lucky doubled over laughing.

At that point Chief Gunn returned, carrying a sandwich in one hand and a coffee mug in the other. “You guys go grab some chow. It’s going to hit the fan…I can feel it in my bones.”

“Okay Chief,” Lucky replied, still grinning. He and Fry left the torpedo room for the galley and a quick bite. It was good they did. It turned out that Chief Gunn was right.

Killing a LOCUST

Within twenty minutes of resuming their orbit around the pulsar, the Devilfish sensors detected multiple ships entering the grid. As he read the sensor data over the shoulder of the duty operators Lt Takamori felt his pulse quicken. His experience and training told him this was a Xoran naval formation – no question. Without hesitation he summoned the Captain and Exec to the bridge.

Leela arrived first, followed within seconds by the Commander Paidley. It only took a moment to realize that there were at least nine Xoran ships. The largest ship was in the middle, with the others deployed in a workmanlike 360 degree grid defense. Sensors confirmed that the formation was making a bee line for the Gamma Trianguli Wormhole at point nine light. At that speed Leela figured the formation would reach the wormhole in less than two light hours.

After a short frenzied time of orders given and obeyed, the Devilfish was dashing to intercept the Xoran while running partially in 4D with only the conning tower in 3D space. It put a tremendous strain on the engineering plant, but Paidley wanted to cover the distance as quickly and safely as possible.

Paidley and Leela went onto the bridge with four lookouts, using the bridge mounted enhanced passive electro-optical targeting system to track the Xoran formation. The lookouts used hand-held, wide angled devices to watch for enemy fighters. Twelve minutes into the sprint, the Xoran came within visual identification range.

“Lookouts below!” Paidley said calmly.

The lookouts scrambled below, knowing that running half submerged as she was once the captain ‘pulled the plug’ the Devilfish would disappear into 4D in less than twenty seconds. No one wanted to be left above decks when that happened.

Paidley turned to Leela as the last lookout went through the hatch, “Sound the diving alarm, Exec.”

“Aye-aye, sir!’ Leela slapped the alarm. Following naval protocol, Leela dropped through the hatch first, followed by the captain as the klaxon sounded it’s familiar, “A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH!”

By the time Paidley sealed the hatch, the boat was almost completely into the fourth dimension. Within a few seconds the periscope was up, with Commander Paidley getting his first detailed view of the Xoran formation. “It looks as if we have a LOCUST class carrier…at least thirty thousand tons…two launch bays. She’s surrounded by an escort of eight destroyers…three DELTA Class and five OSCARs. No flight ops going. They’re in one hell of a hurry.” He turned to Leela at the chart table, “Recommended intercept course, Exec?”

“Sir, recommend come right to course three two zero degrees, make our speed point six light.”

“Helm, make it so.”

The helmsman repeated the orders. The boat shuddered slightly as she came onto the proper heading.

Paidley knew that even if the eight escorts were incompetent, they stood a good chance of giving the Devilfish a ferocious shellacking. Losing a carrier would definitely piss them off, he reflected with a glimmer of a smile. He turned to Leela, “Sound general quarters. Set condition Alpha throughout the boat.”

Obediently, Leela picked up the intercom microphone, “General Quarters…General Quarters…Set condition Alpha throughout the boat…set condition Alpha throughout the boat.10

In less than sixty seconds everyone in the CCC was in their pressure suits. Reports flooded in from all compartments, reporting their readiness. Satisfied that the boat was ready Leela said crisply, “All compartments manned and ready, sir.”

“Very good Exec.” Paidley went back to the periscope and examined the targeting display, “It appears your calculations were correct. We have an excellent firing solution. Ready all tubes. We’ll fire a salvo…minimum spread.”

“Aye-aye, sir!” LT Takamori responded, “Torpedo room reports all tubes loaded and ready.” Without a word, he flipped up the safety cover on the master torpedo switch. Hitting the switch would trigger a salvo of all six torpedo tubes.

LT Wilkes spoke up, “Sir, we can only get 400 meters delta in this area due to the Pulsar.”

“Understood.” Paidley took a final look to ensure the target was still on course. After a breathless pause he said calmly, “Fire!”

LT Takamori toggled the master switch. The boat shuddered slightly as six torpedoes left their tubes in rapid succession, speeding toward the Xoran formation.

Through the eyepiece, Paidley saw the six torpedoes emerge from 4D Space in rapid succession less than a mile from the enemy carrier. The Xoran must have detected them en route, because their automated defense systems opened up immediately. They defeated four of the torpedoes but the remaining two found their target.

The first hit was amidships on the main hull while the second was aft in the engineering spaces. Mortally wounded, the enemy carrier began to break into three separate burning pieces.

“Son of a bitch!” Paidley shouted with uncharacteristic excitement in his voice, “Look at that Xoran bastard burn!”

For a second, everyone in the CCC was rendered mute by Paidley’s unexpected outburst.

Voice normal, Paidley resumed, “We’ve got four Xoran OSCARs coming at us with bones in their throats. Take her deep Exec.” He retracted the periscope smoothly, “Now we have to pay the piper.”

“Emergency dive!” Leela roared out, “Take her down to three zero zero…make her down angle one five degrees.”

The CCC rang with the disciplined chorus of orders and affirmations as the Devilfish obeyed the will of the command crew.

Chief Mac called out, “Angle on the bow is one five degrees, depth is one zero zero.”

The thrumming of the Xoran search gear grew in intensity as the Xoran deployed three of their number in a wide triangle to listen while the remaining OSCAR raced toward their best guess as to the Devilfish’s location.

“Depth is one zero two zero.”

“WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” A series of Dimension Charges (D-Charges) exploded so close that they knocked some of the CCC crew off their feet. For a second the gravity plating weakened; then steadied up. In the CCC Saint Elmo’s fire cascaded from an electrical junction and a low pressure line ruptured, spewing clouds of water vapor throughout the CCC. Several display faces cracked as well.

Throughout the boat, spacemen were busy fighting a dozen similar damage control situations.

“Release decoy!” Paidley ordered, “Execute nine zero degree turn to port!”

The boat shook slightly as she complied with orders. Leela called for damage control reports from each compartment. Satisfied with the results, she reported to the Captain, “Minor damage only, sir. Structural integrity is at 97%. Radiation levels normal.”

“Very good Exec.”

“Passing two zero zero,” Chief Mac called out.

Three D Charges detonated in rapid succession but they were further away. The decoy had done it’s duty.

“Silent running,” Paidley ordered. COMSUBDOOPNAV Intelligence had published a bulletin detailing the ability of Xoran search gear to detect sounds through the medium of 4D Space. Paidley was not about to give the bugs an edge of any sort.

Leela passed the order along. Throughout the ship crewmen tuned off anything which made noise other than absolutely vital propulsion or life support systems. Each of the compartments reported in as the task was completed.

The Devilfish reached three hundred meters and leveled off. Paidley listened to the thrumming of the Xoran destroyers as they tried to re-establish contact. He turned to Leela, “Let’s try station keeping for a while. We’ll just be an anomaly in 4D space.”

“Aye-aye sir.” Leela quietly gave the necessary orders. Soon the Devilfish was employing minimum thrusters remain stationary. Often, this would confuse Xoran sensors which worked best on a moving target.

Unfortunately for the Devilfish, this squadron of Xoran destroyers were trained to cooperate and use their sensor gear to triangulate the position of enemy TDS…even stationary ones. At this stage of the war, they were still perfecting the technique.

For a brief moment the tense atmosphere on the Devilfish began to ease a tiny bit. No one spoke, although Sensorman Petrovski crossed himself. Then the unmistakable thrumming of Xoran sensors which had found the mark echoed through the hull.

In the torpedo room Lucky Esmeralda recognized the sound and muttered forcefully, “Mierda!”

WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

Three D-Charges detonated 50 meters above the Devilfish and slightly astern. The crew clung to anything they could as the boat rocked violently. Down in the reactor compartment, one of the coolant pipes to the reactor sprang a leak. An automatic radiation alarm began to sound as a cloud of Uranium Hexafluoride formed around the damaged section.

“Frak!” Amy swore. “Chief! Get that leak sealed! And somebody turn of that frakking alarm.” Chief Tone and Bender got to work immediately sealing the leak. MMC1 Livingston switched the alarm to silent so only a blinking red light warned of the slow rise of radiation levels in the compartment.

Knowing Leela would be calling, Amy jacked into the communications panel, “Combat this is Engineering.”

Leela’s voice answered, “Go ahead Engineering.”

“Combat, we’ve got a small leak in the reactor…nothing serious…we’ll have it sealed in less than two minutes.”

“Roger Engineering…advise when you have it sealed…Combat out.”

“Take us down to the Hinton barrier. Thrusters only,” Paidley said quietly. “We’ll see if they can sense us down there.”

They drifted slowly down to 400 meters while the Xoran lashed the space around the Devilfish with EMP. Barrages of D-Charges continued to explode at regular intervals for the next eight hours, but nothing came as close as the first three salvos.

It was nerve wracking. Each time a series of D-Charges would go off, most of the crew would wonder, “Will they get any closer next time? When will they give up?”

The hours ticked by as the Xoran continued to search for the Devilfish and saturate the area with D-Charges. When it became apparent that the Xoran were unsure of where the Devilfish had gotten to, the crew began to relax a bit. Thirteen hours after the first D-Charge exploded, things became quiet.

“How many D-Charges have they dropped so far?” Paidley quietly asked Leela.

“Two hundred sixty-three, sir.”

“Hmmm.” Paidley scratched his chin, “I think they still have a few left. They could be lying to silently and waiting for us to move. We’ll lie quietly for a while yet.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

After another hour of standing quietly by the sensor stations, Paidley turned to Chief Sensorman Koenig, “Let’s see if the bugs are still around. Release a decoy under minimum power. Set it to achieve 200 meters Delta and 1,000 kilometers Zulu from our position before it begins to transmit.”

“Aye-aye,” Koenig busied himself with entering keystrokes into his panel, pressed the launch button and said quietly, “Decoy away, sir.”

“Very good, Chief.”

The CCC was quiet except for the muted beeps and chirps of the various sensor and communications panels.

“Decoy is operating sir.”

Ten minutes passed without the Devilfish’s sensors picking up even the slightest trace of the enemy. Paidley turned to Leela, “Release a sensor buoy. Once it confirms all clear, then bring us up to periscope depth.”

“Aye-aye, sir.”

Ten minutes later the Devilfish was at periscope depth. After a quick check to confirm that the bugs had gone, Paidley sent the following message:



TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMSUBDOOPNAV

THRU: CDR TDS SQUADRON 34

FM: COMMANDER DEVILFISH TDS 213

SUBJ: CONTACT REPORT//DTG 1150Z07143006

SITUATION:

(TS//E) DESTROYED ONE (1) LOCUST CLASS CARRIER PATROL SECTOR CHARLIE PAPA

(TS//E) SIX TORPEDOES EXPENDED WITH TWO HITS

(TS//E) ESCORT ATTACKED DEVILFISH WITH TWO HUNDRED SIXTY THREE DIMENSION CHARGES OVER FOURTEEN HOUR PERIOD. DEVILFISH SUSTAINED MINOR DAMAGE. ALL DAMAGE REPAIRED

(TS//E) CONTINUING PATROL

TOP SECRET EPSILON

For the next two days, the Devilfish cruised their sector without any contact. Evidently the loss of one of their first line carriers had persuaded the Xoran to shift their shipping routes. It did them precious little good, as the Albacore and Archerfish were patrolling the other good routes between Xoran space and the war zone.

While Devilfish was scoring zip, the Albacore destroyed two big tankers and a transport. In the same time the Archerfish killed two ammunition carriers and two freighters. Both boats underwent D-Charge attack, but the Albacore suffered far more than the Archerfish. In fact, the Albacore had to limp back at half power, unable to submerge. That she made it back was little short of a miracle…and a testament to the skill of her officers and crew.

It was mid watch and Second Officer Stephan Gomak was officer of the watch. The Devilfish was orbiting a pulsar, for all intents and purposes invisible to Xoran sensors. The crew was resting as were most of the senior officers. Paidley had obtained permission from COMSUBDOOPNAV Operations to shift his operations area the next day.

Gomak was daydreaming about his home in a Warsaw suburb. He missed his family and his sweetheart Marina. He couldn’t get her blue eyes, flowing blonde hair and lush body out of his mind. They were going to be married the next time the Devilfish made port.

SM2C Frank Petrovski turned from his communications console. He spoke and startled Gomak out of his reverie, “Say again, Petrovski?”

“Sir, a Top Secret Epsilon message just came in. Looks like we’ve got a change of mission.” He handed a printout to Gomak, who scanned it before saying, “Alert the Captain, the Exec and the COB11.” Then he turned to the duty Yeoman, “Moreno, Hustle down to officer’s country and show this to the Exec and then present it to the Captain with my compliments.”

“Aye-aye, Sir!” Moreno took the paper and quickly moved out.

Thirty minutes later, the officers and senior ratings were all crammed into the wardroom. As Paidley entered Leela called out, “Attention on deck.” Before everyone could spring to attention Paidley said, “As you were.”

Once the room was settled Paidley began to speak. “Change of mission. We’re going to perform lifeguard duty off of the planet Xi’Xhi. It’s the first Xoran world at their end of the Gamma Hydra wormhole. The Enterprise, Zuikaku and Hermes are going to raid the planet and its associated naval installations. This is a big party and it kicks off in less than 24 hours.”

Paidely flicked a switch and a holographic image of the Xi’Xhi system popped up. He used a laser pointer to punctuate his description, “We’ll move in to the system submerged. The sixth planet – here – is a gas giant. If we orbit her close just inside the first layer of atmosphere, we should be well shielded. One hour before the strikes start, the Devilfish will move submerged to the vicinity of the outer moon. The first strike will clean it off, so we should be ok to surface and pick up any downed pilots or crews.” He paused, “Any questions so far?”

A chorus of “No sir” accompanied by shaking heads came in reply.

“Doc, the infirmary needs to be ready in case any of the recovered personnel are wounded. Chief Mac, we’ll need a special recovery detail to bring any recovered personnel in.” He shut off the holographic projection, “If there are no questions, we get underway in thirty minutes.”

“No sir.”

Everything went off as planned with the strikes surprising the Xoran completely. Thunderbolt IV, Avenger X and Nakajima XX spacecraft smashed the orbital docks, fueling facilities and cetacean extract storage farms. Burning wreckage littered the sky around Xi Xhi, encircling the planet like a glittering necklace of death.

Paidley invited the entire CCC complement to take a peek at the raid through the periscope. An exclamation by SM Jones interrupted the viewing, “Sir we have a Mayday coming in.” He paused, “It’s a Thunderbolt…the pilot says he is at the pickup point…he’s ditching.”

“Bring the boat to General Quarters, man the special space detail.” Paidley said quietly to Leela. She grabbed the microphone and switched to the “All Hands” circuit, “General Quarters…General Quarters…now man the special space detail.”

The rhythmic “Bong…bong…bong” of the General Quarters alarm rang throughout the ship. In the torpedo room Fry, Bender, Lucky and Chief Mac were already suited up. They took position beneath the torpedo loading hatch so they could scramble onto the deck without hindering the crew heading for the conning tower. Near the aft escape trunk, Amy and three other crewmen were tensed and ready as well.

The boat moved swiftly to within a hundred meters of the pilot’s escape pod before surfacing. From his perspective, it was quite a starling sight. First a faintly glowing line appeared in space slightly below and to the right. Then it widened and began to shine brightly before it abruptly ceased – revealing the Devilfish as if by some conjurors trick.

Fry manned the forward gun, while Lucky and Bender fired a magnetic grapnel at the pod. They caught it their first try and reeled it in without any problem. Once the pod was on the deck, Chief Mac used hand and arm signals to verify the pilot could safely exit the pod. Had he not been able to, it would have meant bringing the pod into the ship. As it was, they simply popped the door to the pod, hustled the pilot aboard and submerged.

“Thanks, guys.” The pilot – LT Jorge Monte – said, “I owe you all a few next time we meet in port.”

Chief Mac responded, “We’ll take you up on it, laddie.”

The Devilfish recovered six more pilots that day. Carrying the “lucky seven” as passengers, the Devilfish sprinted for Syria Planum. As Paidley said, “The sooner we get these Airdales safely home, the sooner we can get back to smashing bugs.”

Chapter 6 – Refit at Syria Planum

Less than two Parsecs out from the Kuiper Belt, the change of watch occurred. Regardless of the fact that they would be alongside the space dock in under an hour, Service routines and traditions prevailed. In the CCC, Leela was conferring with the incoming duty officer, LT Wilkes and the outgoing duty officer, Ensign Gomak. With her typical attention to detail she made sure that every item on the checklist had been completed. She was glad that Wilkes would be the one on duty when the Devilfish docked. Not that she didn’t trust Gomak…she just had a bit more confidence in Wilkes.

While the CCC was undergoing it’s change of watch, down in the Reactor Room CPO Walter Chang was checking the reactor logs. He couldn’t exactly put his finger on it, but something was not quite right. He turned and caught sight of LT (JG) Charlie Guzman, “Hey sir. Could you check this log for me? Something doesn’t look right.”

Guzman came over without hesitation. He had come to respect CPO Chang in his short time on the boat, “Sure Chief. What you got?”

“Nothing redlined,” Chang held the log where both could see it. “Still, too many of these numbers are right at the edge. I think Reactor Two may have sustained some damage from our last D-Charge experience that didn’t trigger any alarms. Maybe we’ve got a misalignment of the reactor core…I don’t know.”

Guzman felt a cold chill go down his spine. A misaligned core was one of the ‘doomsday scenarios’ they taught in school. If not caught in time, it could cause a sudden, catastrophic emission of baryon particles. He made a quick decision, “Chief, prepare to shut her down. I’ll call the bridge.”

“Aye-aye, sir.” He turned to the closest Reactor Mechanics and barked out, “Prepare to initiate emergency reactor shutdown procedure Alpha on Reactor Two.”

While they were scuttling to make it happen, Guzman snatched up a hand microphone and keyed the circuit to the CCC. “Combat this is Reactor Room.”

“Reactor Room this is Combat, go ahead.” SM3C Robert Smith drawled into his microphone.

“Get the Captain or the Exec on the horn. We’ve got a problem down here.”

“Wait, over.” Smith turned to Leela, “Ma’am, it’s Lieutenant Guzman. He requests to speak with you or the Skipper.”

Leela nodded, “I’ll take it.” She picked up the hand mike near the chart table, “Reactor Room, this is Combat go ahead.”

“Combat, I believe we’ve got a misaligned core on Reactor Two. Request permission to initiate emergency shutdown procedure Alpha.”

Leela made a split second decision. The Captain was due on the bridge shortly but a misaligned core required immediate action, “Reactor Room this is Combat, request granted.”

“Roger Combat, this is Reactor Room. Out.” Leela turned to a yeoman, “Go find the Captain and tell him I’ve initiated an emergency shutdown on Reactor Two.” As the yeoman scuttled off, Leela keyed the hand mike for the all-hands circuit, “Lieutenant Wong to the CCC. Repeat Lieutenant Wong to the CCC.”

Amy was already hurrying to the CCC. LT (JG) Guzman had already called her on the Engineering circuit and filled her in. She stepped through the hatch mere seconds after Leela set down the mike. Leela came straight to the point, “Lieutenant Wong, what’s the situation?”

“Well, Ma’am we’ve got a possible – and I want to emphasize possible – misaligned core in Reactor Two. This shut down is for safety purposes. Chief Chang spotted the signs, believed it was a possible problem and Lieutenant Guzman concurred. In accordance with SOP12 they contacted the CCC, then contacted me with their findings and actions. I absolutely endorse what they did.”

“Well done,” Leela nodded. She couldn’t help but reflect briefly on how much Amy had matured since the war began. Leela wished she could accompany her words with a hug but she knew that Paidley would go through the overhead over such behavior. Sadly, she knew he was right to oppose the ‘group hug’ mentality. Discipline onboard a boat was difficult to maintain because of the proximity of the officers and crew. Any hint of fraternization or favoritism could wreck both morale and discipline in a heartbeat.

Before that train of thought could go any further down the track, Commander Paidley entered the CCC. Before he could even ask, Leela delivered a crisp report on the situation. Paidley nodded, “Very well, Exec. We’ll let the Yard handle it once we dock.” He gave a smile to Amy, “Lieutenant, pass the word to your Reactor Gang that I consider their actions are four oh.”

“Aye- aye sir!” Amy smiled back, “Would putting Chief Wang in for a Navy Commendation Medal be in order?”

“Pass it on to the Exec and I believe it will receive a favorable endorsement.”

“Thank you sir.” Amy replied. “I’ll pass the word on.” She gave Leela a furtive and unmilitary wink and headed back to the engineering compartments.

They reached Syria Planum without any further issues. Like the last time they came in, Vice Admiral Schroeder was dockside with his staff. However, the press corps was – thankfully – absent. Schroeder strode swiftly up the gangway with his staff puffing along behind him. After the usual round of salutes, he shook hands with all of the officers and Chief Mac after pinning each of them with a decoration.

“Johnny,” Schroeder said after the decorations were handed out, “I need to have a word with you and your Exec.”

“My quarters?” Paidley asked.

“That will be fine.”

They proceeded in silence to Paidley’s quarters while the rest of the ship’s complement set about getting the Devilfish ready for what might be an extended refit – now that Reactor Two was acting up.

Once the trio arrived, Schroeder seated himself in the Captain’s chair. “I’ll get to the point. Johnny, I need you as my new Chief of Staff. Phil Burton is ready for Flag Rank and I want somebody as good or better to fill his shoes. I’ll give you one more cruise to qualify the Devilfish’s new commander.”

“Who will the PCO (Prospective Commanding Officer) be, Admiral?”

“Who would you pick?” Schroeder said with a slight smile.

Without any hesitation Paidley replied, “Lieutenant Commander Turanga would be my choice.”

Leela – who up until that second had been wondering why she was there – was startled. “Command of the Devilfish…can I pull that off?”

Schroeder seemed to be reading her mind, “Don’t think you can handle it, Lieutenant Commander?”

“No sir…I mean yes sir…I can handle it.”

“Excellent.” He stood, “You don’t have to see me out. Of course you know that there will be promotions for both of you once you’ve proven yourselves in your new billets.”

“Aye-aye sir,” they responded in unison.

As Schroeder passed through the hatch, Leela found herself struggling with emotions. She was happy to be getting the Devilfish but at the same time felt a bit crushed by the weight of command.

“Feeling a bit overwhelmed?” Paidley smiled. “Don’t be. You will do fine. I know I will be leaving the Devilfish in good hands.”

“Thank you, sir.” Leela fought a sudden urge to burst into tears. She bit her lip before she could continue, “I won’t let you down.”

“I know. Now let’s get the old girl put to bed. Then we can head for the officer’s club for a celebratory drink – or two,”

“Aye-aye, sir!” Leela couldn’t help grinning. Captain of the Devilfish! Now that was something to celebrate!

EXCERPT FROM TURANGA LEELA’S DIARY

08 August 3006

Dear Diary,

Sorry I haven’t written for so long, but it has been a busy past two weeks. On our last patrol we took out one of the Xoran’s newest first line carriers as well as rescuing seven pilots during a lifeguard mission. Unfortunately, we took some damage to one of our reactors and had to return to base for an overhaul.

Our first day in space dock was busy. It only took an hour for the dockside reactor technicians to decide to pull Reactor Two completely. It only took a brief conference between the Yard Commandant and Commander Paidley to determine that the Devilfish would receive a complete overhaul.

The Yard Commandant said it would take two weeks to replace Reactor number two. He also scheduled the installation of a New DRADIS, an enhanced targeting system, and an upgraded chart table as well. He also agreed that the yard workers would fix any other small problems brought to their attention.

Before the day was out, yard workers descended on the Devilfish like a swarm of ants on a sugar cube. I’ll give them this – the workers really know their jobs. As the Exec, I had to keep track of everything. It took some doing, but at the end of the day Commander Paidley gave me a hearty, “Well done.”

As further proof of his confidence in me, Paidley decided to take two weeks leave. His reasoning was that as the PCO, I would inherit the boat so why not start now? I couldn’t really argue. In fact, I was really pleased. Before he left, he had BUPERS cut orders putting me in official command of the boat. Sweet.

While we would need some crew aboard to help oversee the work, I decided to give the crew one week of shore leave at a time by watch. This kept us from being overcrowded by a full complement plus a swarm of yard workers.

Fry and Bender are both part of Blue Watch. So is Fry’s other bosom companion, Lucky Esmeralda. The three of them went off to Rio De Janiero. While they were gone, I hardly noticed as I was buried to the eyeball in paperwork.

It’s enough to fray your sense of humor, battling with bureaucrats. I wish Hermes was here to help, but he’s still down on Earth.

I’ve been using the Captain’s Quarters to do most of my work. There’s just more room and a bit of privacy. I had never noticed it before, but Paidley has a quote from a Stupid Ages Admiral named Horatio Nelson in a frame on his desk. It reads, “I could not tread these perilous paths in safety, if I did not keep a saving sense of humor.” Funny, I never thought Paidley had much of a sense of humor.

A few things happened when the Blue Watch returned from leave which made me think of that quotation. The first was that Bender returned a married manbot! He married Linda Sprockets, the nurse he’d been living with. Apparently he had been planning it for some time.

How did you manage to get all the paperwork done without going through me?” I asked Bender.

I still belong to the Professor,” He replied coolly. “I just got him to sign the paperwork. Hermes processed it. No need to trouble the Navy.”

When I asked Bender why he hadn’t invited me he answered casually, “Because you were busy.” I glared at him and he added, “Ma’am.”

Bender! Some things don’t ever change.

The next thing that taxed my patience was a little escapade involving Bender, Fry, Lucky and two other crewmen – Stiles and Frobisher. It seems while they were celebrating Bender’s marriage all five of them became inebriated…well, the four humans did at least. What they did as a result came to my attention this way. Just before lunch I was busy with paperwork as usual when the enraged Captain of the Destroyer Ganymede stormed aboard the boat demanding to see the Captain.

The OOD, Ensign Guzman brought him to me in the Captain’s Quarters. I was surprised to see Robert Fannin, a fellow I knew from Officer Basic. “Hello Bob,” I said as I rose and extended my hand.

He shook it but was clearly agitated, “Leela, do you have any idea what some crewmen from your boat did to my ship?”

No Bob, what did they do?”

They painted a huge space cetacean insignia on the starboard side hull of my ship!”

What? That is terrible!” I was taken aback. “How do you know they were from my boat?”

They were caught on the yard security cameras during their approach, as they were at work and during their return to your boat.” Fannin was clearly irritated, “Damn it, why the hell pick on my boat? I haven’t any quarrel with the Devilfish.”

Bob,” I replied. “We’ll take care of this. Do you have the video?”

I sure do.” He handed her a video disk, “But four of them were wearing EVAS, so you can’t make out their faces. The fifth was a bending unit and they all look the same to me.”

I knew who the bending unit was without even looking. So, I toggled the intercom and said, “Chief MacDougal to the Captain’s Quarters please.” After that I returned my attention to Fannin, “Bob, don’t worry. I’ll handle it. Those guilty of the vandalism will pay.”

Just have them paint it over, will you?” Bob looked at his Wristamajiggy and stood, “I’d stay longer but I have a meeting with the new DesRon Eight Commodore.”

We exchanged handshakes and a few words before he left. Chief Mac showed up a few seconds later with apologies for taking so long. Between him and me it only took five minutes before all five miscreants were lined up in front of my desk at attention.

I really chewed their butts – even though I suspected Bender was at the bottom of it.

Which he was of course.

Can you believe it? They targeted the Ganymede because it blocked Bender’s view of the hospital where his new bride worked! Really? After promising to rip a stripe off each of them if they didn’t stay squeaky clean until the next patrol, I dismissed them with, “Chief, get this people out of my sight! And put them in the hands of the Ganymede’s Master at Arms until they’ve paid their penance.”

Lord! I almost laughed as they stumbled over each other in their eagerness to get out of my presence. I felt so sorry for Fry but I was a little disappointed as well. He has made such progress. Chief Mac thinks the world of him and says that Fry will make a fine Petty Officer one day,

At any rate, there was a funny end to the story. They went over to the Ganymede and were told to paint the insignia over. The problem was they had used silicon grease from a spray can. Torpedoman Esmeralda tried to explain that they needed to sandblast first but was cut off with, “We sortie in an hour! There’s no time. Just paint the frakkin’ thing over.”

So they did.

A few days later Signalman Petrovski brought me a bit of admin traffic with a huge grin on his face. As soon as I read it, I couldn’t help smiling either. It seems as soon as the Ganymede went to warp, the paint peeled off! She was cruising Xoran space with DesRon Eight adorned with a bold set of space cetacean markings.

I owe Bob a few drinks when next we meet in space dock.

Well, it’s best to close on a high note, dear diary. The stack of paper on my desk has grown measurably since I took up my pen. Is there no rest for the weary? I know! I’ll make George Wilkes my temporary Exec. He’s a whiz with paperwork…kind of a Hermes Conrad in uniform. I love it when a plan comes together.

Until next time!



First NAVSOC action by Resolute

Dink sat alone in the Resolute’s galley, drinking a beer. He was waiting for Zoidberg, El, and Flexo to join him for a little ‘enlisted chat.’ They were getting ready for their first NAVSOC mission and Dink wanted to leave nothing to chance.

As he lifted a long necked bottle to his lips, Dink found himself oddly satisfied with his new assignment. Getting hauled out of a comfortable retirement to work on what he thought was a cargo hauler originally filled him with disgust. Working with a bunch of double time for overtime, slack, undisciplined civilians during wartime had struck him as a good way to get killed in a hurry.

Now that he had gotten to know the crew Dink had changed his mind. With a bit of work, he felt they would make a really good team. If he could just do something about Zoidberg’s smell…

He was shaken out of his reverie by the entry of SM1C El Mann into the galley, “Morning Chief.”

Setting his bottle down, Dink replied with a smile, “Morning El. Cop a squat. And grab a beer while you’re at it.”

Before El Mann could open his beer, Flexo and Zoidberg stepped into the galley as well. As usual, Flexo was hectoring Zoidberg in his usual good natured way. Flexo helped himself to a beer without being asked, while Zoidberg simply scuttled to take a seat.

“Right then,” Dink chucked his empty beer bottle deftly into the waste chute before continuing. “I called you all here for two reasons. The first is to tell you that I’m pleased with the progress you have made toward becoming a crew. The second is to tell you we’re going on another mission.”

El smiled, “Another milk run, I hope?”

“I don’t think so.” Dink shook his head, “This time we’re going to put a team on the ground, hang around while they do their ground pounder stuff and pick them up afterwards.”

“Thank you and goodnight!” Flexo interjected before quickly adding, “Nah I’m just kidding. I really look forward to it!”

Feeling left out, Zoidberg added, “Such an honor!”

Dink gave a short laugh before resuming, “We’ve got a couple of good officers in charge of this boat, so I think this will be a damned sight easier than it could be.” He paused to look each man in the face, “At least as long as we do our jobs. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded silently.

“Good. We shove off tomorrow at zero nine hundred. I want everyone to check their areas of responsibility before you secure. Any questions?”

“Yeah.” Flexo raised his hands, “How do I get off this stinking rust bucket?”

“Frak off Flexo!” Dink shot back before Flexo could add his usual postscript. “Dismissed.”

At exactly 0900 the next morning the Resolute lifted off from the Planet Express hangar and headed for a rendezvous in space with the Special Operations Ship Skorzeny. Redline chose to drop out of warp well outside of the system. As soon as they did, Flounder charged the stealth coating. At the same time, Redline slowed the Resolute to what amounted to a slow crawl. He wanted a chance to sniff around before entering the system. Lately the Xoran had been taking to stealthily dropping lone fighters throughout DOOP Space to disrupt traffic. Naturally cautious, Redline never took an unnecessary risk.

Two hours later both El and Flounder proclaimed the area free of any lurking danger. Only the Skorzeny showed up on their scopes. Flounder turned in his pilot’s chair to face El, “Hail the spook ship, and let them know we’ve arrived. Tell them we’re going to suddenly appear on their DRADIS. I don’t want some itchy fingered nineteen-year-old lighting us up by accident.”

“Roger,” El responded. After a workmanlike flurry of key strokes and a series of short verbal exchanges, El turned to Redline, “We’re clear Skipper. They’ve acknowledged.”

Redline grimaced at being called Skipper. Still, it beat the heck out of being called “Sir” or “Captain” all the time. Dink had started it and everyone else had just naturally picked it up. He looked over at Flounder, “OK, let’s let them see us.”

Onboard the Skorzeny, the DRADIS operators were still surprised when the Resolute materialized on their scopes. The junior operator turned to the Chief and said, “One minute there was empty space then…there she was!”

The Skorzeny had a large landing bay which already held four retrieval boats. However, Redline was able to set the Resolute down with a minimum of fuss.

As Redline made his way down the landing gear ladder, he was pleasantly surprised to see Major Pete Maxton lounged at the foot. He was wearing a set of oil and grease stained khaki overalls. His face had a few smudges of grease as well. His close cropped auburn hair stood at attention, unlike the rest of him.

“Hey!” Maxton grinned, “I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see me so soon.”

Redline smiled back, “What’s up?”

“Not much,” Maxton shrugged. “I needed a taxi to take me and my boys to a little party.” He pointed to a pair of retrieval craft only a few meters away where a crew of khaki clad spacemen and special operations soldiers were busy checking, tightening and lubricating.

“Just the two retrieval boats?” Redline asked.

“Only the two,” He smiled again, “we could get by with one, but I like to have an edge.”

Redline nodded. He was all about having an edge.

“Let me buy you and your crew a beer.” He pointed to a hatch against the far hangar bulkhead, “The galley’s over there. There’s beer in the refrigerator. Grab one. Once we get settled, I’ll fill you in.”

Seated in the cramped galley, the Resolute Crew sipped their beer and listened while Maxton briefed them on the mission.

It seemed pretty cut and dried. They would transport a twelve-man team to Omicron Iridii Four, drop them from the edge of space, and hold position until the team called for retrieval. Once the team called, the two retrieval boats would scoot down to the surface, pick up the team and rendezvous with the Resolute. Then…home and away!

“Any questions?’

Flexo waived his hand, “Oooh! I have a question.”

Maxton gestured to go ahead.

“What genius thought this up? Omicron Iridii is in the middle of bug central! It’s suicide.” He quickly added, “Just kidding, I’m eager to get going.”

“Any serious questions?”

When no one spoke, Maxton reached into the refrigerator and got a beer for himself. He popped the cap and raised it on high, “To a successful mission!”

Everyone mumbled a reply before draining their beer. Without much fanfare, they left the galley. There was work to be done.

Less than twenty hours later the Resolute was in orbit around Omicron Iridii Four. Slipping past the orbital defenses hadn’t been much of a challenge. One of the four stations protecting the planet was on the fritz, so Redline had chosen to cozy up to it. Despite a thorough scan El Mann hadn’t detected any Xoran warships in the system, although there were a number of freighters and tankers passing through.

As the Resolute assumed a stable orbit, the twelve special operations troopers stood ready in the cargo bay, suited up in their exo-atmospheric free fall (EAFF) suits. EAFF suits made a free fall approach from space possible. They looked like outsized space suits, with the addition of a thruster pack on the back. Featuring deployable glide surfaces, drogue chutes and a ram air canopy for final descent, these composite duranium suits were all but undetectable to DRADIS.

After depressurizing the cargo bay, Flexo lowered the hatch. Maxton gave him a pat on the shoulder before signaling the others to get ready. The clustered together briefly, before leaping as a group into the darkness of space.

From the bridge of the Resolute, El Mann watched the twelve figures swiftly vanish from view. He turned to Redline, “Skipper, the jumpers are away. Their encoded tracking signals are coming in clearly.”

Flounder took one last look at the engineering console, “Hull integrity is good. We have positive closure on the cargo hatch. Ready to engage camouflage at your order, Redline.”

Redline nodded. It was good to have somebody call him something other than ‘Skipper’ “Okay, let’s vanish. All systems on minimum power – but we need to be ready to power up quickly. There’s no telling what is out there…or if that dead orbital platform might not wake up.”

Six hours later the retrieval boats went down to the planets’ surface. They picked up the team without incident and brought them onboard. Just as the hatch was closing, the orbital station powered up.

“Frak!” El Mann shouted, “The bug station just powered up.” He looked at his DRADIS scope, “They’re firing!” A short pause, “Eight…no twelve incoming torpedoes.”

Redline applied full thrust and the Resolute leaped forward, pursued by a dozen Xoran torpedoes.

Dink reacted instantly, scrambling into the turret and powering up the cannon. He slewed the turret aft to engage the approaching menace.

El Mann followed the approaching blips on his DRADIS screen. He called out, “They’re gaining on us! Estimate thirty seconds to impact!”

Redline had a thought and turned slightly in the Pilot’s chair, “What type of torpedoes are they?”

“Xoran!” El Mann replied.

“No damn it…the class…what type?”

“Gimme a sec…” El Mann turned a dial, “Songbird Class II.”

Redline did the math quickly in his head. There was no way they could outrun a Songbird Class II. They had moderately good seeker warheads which homed in on the mass of a target. They packed on heck of a punch, too. One would suffice to vaporize the Resolute.

Making a split second decision, Redline surprised the entire bridge crew by reversing course and heading straight for the oncoming torpedoes. It was so sudden that it strained the inertial dampeners. Down in the cargo bay, special operations troopers were flung all over the place. Flexo barely kept his foot cups in touch with the deck.

Redline barked out, “El…pop some decoys and make sure they stay on our old course. Dink…kill as many of the torps as you can. Flounder…prepare to launch a full spread of four at the orbital station.”

El complied wordlessly, sending a dozen mass and thermal decoys on their way. He could see from his DRADIS display that at least three of the Xoran torpedoes had altered their course.

Flounder flipped the switched to activate the torpedoes in their tubes and called out, “Ready!”

“Fifteen seconds to impact!” El intoned calmly.

Dink fought to get the cannon pointing in the right direction, “For cryin’ out loud! Knock off the fancy flying and settle on a course!” As soon as the cannon could, Dink began to engage the approaching harbingers of destruction.

“Ten Seconds to impact!”

In less time than it took to tell, Dink burned down four of the approaching torpedoes.

“Five seconds to impact!” El’s voice rose an octave. “Five torpedoes still coming.”

“Fire more countermeasures!” Redline roared. “Fire all our torpedoes!” The ship shuddered slightly as all four torpedoes raced away toward the orbital station.

Dink killed two more torpedoes while two others took the offered bait. One kept coming straight for the Resolute.

“Brace for impact!” El shouted.

“Been nice knowin’ you guys,” Dink said.

Then…nothing happened. Save a slight bumping noise from a blow on the hull…nothing happened!

Dink had seen the last torpedo pass beneath the nose of the ship, had felt the thump and seen some debris carom off. Was it a dud? “Hey Skipper, I think we got hit by a dud.”

“Negative Dink.” Redline replied in a slightly shaky voice, “It never armed.”

“What?”

Right then, all four torpedoes struck the orbital station. The explosions that ripped it apart temporarily stopped all conversation on the bridge. Before it could resume, the intercom crackled. It was Maxton, “Gentlemen, we have a slight problem down here. Please don’t do any sudden maneuvers.”

“Why?” Redline asked.

“Part of a bug torpedo punched through the bulkhead and wound up in the cargo bay.”

“Which part?”

“The warhead.”

Redline sat bolt upright in the pilot’s chair, “The warhead?!”

“Yes.” Maxton sounded cool and collected, “Your robot has already patched the hole in the hull. We were all still in our armored suits, so the temporary loss of atmosphere didn’t hurt anyone.” He laughed, “Nice maneuvering, though.”

“Flounder,” Redline said, “I’m going aft to see the situation for myself. Pilot us out of the system toward the rendezvous point. Keep the camouflage charged. Have Flexo reload the torpedo tubes and have El keep a sharp eye on the DRADIS.” He paused to make sure his orders were sinking in, “If anything military appears. Bring her to a dead stop.”

“Do you want me to submerge?”

“No,” Redline shook his head, “Not until I’ve checked structural integrity.”

“Okay.” Flounder nodded.

El chimed in, “Nothing on the DRADIS out to maximum range, Skipper.”

Grinding his teeth to avoid chewing El out…God he hated being called Skipper…Redline headed for the cargo bay.

What he found when he arrived was the business end of a Xoran torpedo lodged firmly in one of the retrieval boats. Crap! How to handle that? He could see that the retrieval boat was seriously damaged and the warhead was exposed, having gone completely through the boat.

“Kind of looks like a hot dog on a bun, doesn’t it?” Flexo said in an amused tone before adding quickly, “It will give us all terminal heartburn if we don’t find a way to get rid of it.”

Redline nodded absently as he approached Maxton, who was standing next to the mass of tangled metal. As he came up Maxton greeted him, “We’ve got a problem, the warhead has armed itself. It must have lost the carrier signal from the launcher.”

“Damn it.”

“I agree,” Maxton intoned solemnly. “If we don’t get rid of this thing quickly, who knows what will happen?”

Redline thought for a moment. He quietly issued a series of orders. “Maxton, make sure your men don’t transmit any signals of any type. Have them move out of the cargo bay as quickly as possible. We’re going to slowly decompress the cargo bay and shut off the gravity plating. Then Flexo will get a hover dolly under that pile of junk, give it a very gentle shove and we’ll let it drift off into space.”

Maxton turned and began to issue orders. Redline went to a communications console, punched up the bridge and said quietly, “Flounder bring us to full stop very gently. El, watch the inertial dampeners and make sure there is zero deviation. When I get up on the bridge I’ll fill you in on the rest.”

“OK Skipper.”

“Got it.”

Redline hustled to the bridge, followed closely by Maxton. From the lack of stellar movement, he could see they had come to a dead stop. Flounder and El had managed things so well he had not even detected the normal shudder attending most decelerations. He quickly explained their strategy to the bridge crew. They key would be to get away from the live torpedo before it decided to detonate.

Zoidberg interrupted by clacked his claws. “Wouldn’t it be better if I tried some surgery? I saw in a movie once…”

“Oh cram a squirrel in it, Zoidy.” Dink interrupted, “I like the Skipper’s plan just fine. You were saying, sir?”

“Right.” Redline continued, “Once we ease off to the proper distance, Dink – you blast that torpedo. I don’t want to leave the Xoran a retrieval boat…even an inoperable one.”

“Aye aye.”

“Any questions?”

Maxton spoke, “Why not try to retrieve the torpedo? It could be a real intelligence haul.”

“And risk having a cranky Bug torpedo vaporize the ship?” Redline shook his head, “That’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Okay.” Maxton shrugged his shoulders imperceptibly. When it came to operating the ship, he was just a passenger.

“Any other questions?” Redline looked at El, Flounder and Dink in turn.

No one spoke.

“Then let’s do this.”

With the utmost care, El and Flounder decompressed the cargo bay and gradually decreased the gravity plating to zero. After what seemed an eternity, the wreckage lifted clear of the deck.

With exquisite care, Flexo gently slid the hover dolly into position. Inch-by-inch, he coaxed the load to the center of the cargo hatch. Slowly, the hatch lowered to provide the maximum opening. Segment-by-segment, Flexo extended his arms until the wreckage and the hover dolly were clear of the ship.

From his position in the turret, Dink could see the metallic flash of the ruined retrieval boat in Omicron Iridii’s rays. “I’ve got visual. It’s drifting slowly astern.”

Using only thrusters, Redline eased the Resolute slowly away from the explosive package which could have ruined their day. Once he had put a thousand kilometers between them, he powered up the engine and moved a further 5,000 kilometers before giving the order to fire.

Dink hit it on the first shot. The silent flash and bloom of debris confirmed it. He smiled…God I love blowing things up! Then he cleared his throat before speaking, “Job’s done.”

Without further ado, Redline piloted the Resolute out of the system before hitting the gas. They made it back to Earth in record time. When asked at the officer’s club why he had sped back so quickly Redline simply shrugged.

Flounder laughed, “I know why. We were out of beer.”

Chapter 7 – The Hyperons Run

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: FRAGO 91203//11083006

STIUATION: XORAN FLEET HAS ESTABLISHED A BASE IN HYPERONS SYSTEM. DOOP SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM ARE BEING CONVEYED BY RESOLUTE TO THE SYSTEM.

MISSION: DEVILFISH PROVIDES SUPPORT TO DOOP SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM.

EXECUTION: PROCEED AT ALL POSSIBLE SPEED TO HYPERON SYSTEM WITHOUT BEING DETECTED. RENDEZVOUS WITH RESOLUTE IN ASTEROID BELT VICINITY OF X 3500 Y 2467 Z 0987. TAKE SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM ABOARD DEVILFISH. LAND SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM AND EXTRACT SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM AT THEIR OBJECTIVE. YOU ARE AUTHORIZED TO UTILIZE RESOLUTE AND CREW AT YOUR DISCRETION. WHEN MISSION IS COMPLETE, RESOLUTE WILL EXFILTRATE SPECIAL OPERATION. DEVILFISH WILL THEN EXECUTE PREVIOUS MISSION TO ATTACK XORAN SUPPLY LINES.

SERVICE SUPPORT: DEVILFISH HAS COMMAND OF ALL DOOP REGISTERED VESSELS IN HYPERONS SYSTEM.

COMMAND AND CONTROL: NORMAL

TOP SECRET EPSILON

Commander Paidley looked at Leela, "Seems like we will be meeting with some of your old colleagues soon. Do you think they'll take being press ganged into service well?"

A smile flickered across Leela's face, "Oh, they'll get used to it. May I speak frankly, sir?"

"By all means."

"They are a bunch of goofy individualists...but they are good at what they do. I'd recommend a light touch with them."

Paidley nodded, "Noted. Now let's continue on our way to the Hyperons System. Helm, lay in a course to X-ray 3500 Yankee 2467 Zulu 0987, best possible speed."

The helmsman, a young Sikh named Saftir Khan responded crisply, "Course laid in for X-ray 3500 Yankee 2467 Zulu 0987, flank speed."

"Make it so."

"Aye-aye sir."

The boat shuddered a bit as their speed increased.

Leela did some quick mental calculations. The Hyperons System was only three days away...if they stayed out of trouble. The question was, would they?

The Following message simultaneously came in to both the Devilfish and the Planet Express Ship.

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER ALTAIR//COMMANDER DEVILFISH//COMMANDER RESOLUTE

FM: COMDOOPNAV

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: FRAGO 91245//11083006

STIUATION: XORAN FLEET HAS ESTABLISHED A BASE IN HYPERONS SYSTEM. DOOP SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM PREPARING TO ATTACK OBJECTIVE X-RAY. THE ALTAIR HAS BEEN ORDERED TO DELIVER A SQUADRON OF STEALTH FIGHTERS TO THE SYSTEM TO PROVIDE SUPPORT. THE ALTAIR, DEVILFISH, AND RESOLUTE ARE NOW DESIGNATED TASKGROUP 21.1 (TASKGRU 21.1).

MISSION: TASKGRU 21.1 PROVIDES MAXIMUM DISRUPTION OF XORAN BASES AND LOGISTICAL FACILITIES IN SECTOR.

EXECUTION: ONCE THE ALTAIR ARRIVES, PREPARE A BASE OF OPERATIONS FOR STEALTH FIGHTERS ON APPROPRIATE ASTEROID IN SECTOR. LAND SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM AND EXTRACT SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM AT THEIR OBJECTIVE. ONCE SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM HAS COMPLETED ITS MISSION, ATTACK ENEMY INTSTALLATIONS AND CARGO SHIPS IN AN ATTEMPT TO DIVERT XORAN FORCES. WHEN MISSION IS COMPLETE, RESOLUTE WILL CONVEY SPECIAL OPERATION TEAM OUT OF SECTOR. DEVILFISH WILL THEN EXECUTE PREVIOUS MISSION TO ATTACK XORAN SUPPLY LINES.

SERVICE SUPPORT: ALTAIR IS BRINGING A SUPPLY OF MARK XII CONVERSION KITS FOR RESOLUTE TORPEDOS.

COMMAND AND CONTROL: COMMANDER TASGRU 21.1 IS COMMANDER, ALTAIR. SUCCESSION OF COMMAND IS COMMANDER DEVILFISH, COMMANDER SPECIAL OPERATIONS UNIT, AND COMMANDER RESOLUTE.

TOP SECRET EPSILON


Enroute to the Hyperons System, Aboard the DOOP TDS Devilfish

The Devilfish was cruising at flank speed in 3 dimensional space. On the bridge were Commander Paidley, Ensign Charlie Guzman, and three lookouts, Torpedomen 2nd Class (TM2C) Fry and “Lucky” Esmeralda, and a young Machinist Mate 3rd Class (MM3C) named Clyde MacDougal…a nephew of Chief MacDougal.

Fry was a bit sad because this was the last watch he would stand with “Lucky.” Because of his promotion for excellent gunnery, Fry was going to have to take over his own deck watch. Still, they were on the same overall watch…so they could still pal around in the torpedo room when off duty.

The boat was on EMCON as usual, so it relied on stealth and the alertness of the lookouts to keep them safe. So Fry forced himself to concentrate on the task at hand, sweeping the space in his assigned sector on the port side of the boat, looking for Xoran ships or fighters.

Down in the CCC, Leela was working on the inevitable paperwork that every bureaucracy generates. Even though he was off watch, LT Wilkes was in the CCC as well, helping out. He had come to respect her professionally…besides…there wasn’t much to do onboard except lay in your rack or watch vids.

“Well Ma’am, looks like we’ll hit the Hyperons system in about two hours.”

Leela looked him in the eyes, “One hour, forty-seven minutes to be exact.” Then she smiled, “George, you can call me Leela when the captain isn’t around.”

Wilkes grinned and shook his head, “No ma’am. He’d be on me like ugly on an ape if he found out.”

The Junior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), Ensign Poltava spoke up, “Ma’am, I’m getting something on our passive sensors. It’s awfully weak, almost like a sensor ghost.”

Leela came over and peered at the scope, “George, alert the conning tower watch. Looks like a bearing of 180 relative, say…minus 40.”

Wilkes grabbed a microphone and alerted the entire watch over the “all hands circuit.” Everyone on the conning tower watch heard the same message in their headphones, “Possible enemy contact bearing one eight zero degrees relative, Zulu minus four zero degrees.”

MacDougal was assigned the aft watch at the moment. He scanned in the direction indicated, “I don’t see anything.”

Fry swung his binoculars in that direction and boosted the electro-optical gain. “Damn it,” he shouted into his helmet speaker, “Five…no…six Xoran fighters bearing one eight zero degrees relative, Zulu minus four zero. Captain, they’re closing fast”

Commander Paidley reacted instantly, “Prepare to submerge the boat. Lookouts below! Clear the bridge!”

Bolts of positron energy zipped past the conning tower. The Xoran fighters had opened fire! At that distance they couldn’t penetrate the hull, but they could rip a person to shreds.

MacDougal’s EVAS snagged on a protrusion. Lucky freed MacDougal’s suit without tearing it. A positron blast stuck near them, sending fragments of metal slicing into MacDougal. His suit sealed, but blood began to gush inside of the suit. He quickly went into shock.

Lucky grabbed the already unconscious MacDougal to shove him down the hatch. Fry was moving to help Lucky when a positron bolt caught Lucky squarely in the chest. There was a blinding flash and before Fry’s horrified eyes, Lucky exploded into a fine pink mist that hung for a millisecond and was gone.

In rapid succession several other positron bolts struck the boat. The explosions sheared off small pieces of conning tower railing. They flew through space like deadly shrapnel.

They wounded MacDougal again and also severely wounded Commander Paidley. Charlie moved to help Paidley, who waved him off, “Get the lookouts below.”

“I won’t leave your sir!”

For once “Gentleman Johnny” cursed loudly, “Damnit! Clear the frakking Bridge! That’s an order!” Then his voiced changed, adopting an almost pleading tone, “I’m paralyzed. The Xoran will be in torpedo range soon. Get below now.”

Charlie grabbed MacDougal and with Fry’s assistance, shoved him down the hatch. Then Fry leaped down the hatchway.

Charlie looked at Paidley. He could tell Paidley was almost dead. With his dying breath he gasped, “Submerge the boat…now! Those fighters are almost within torpedo range!”

Charlie leaped down the hatch, slamming it behind him in a feat of almost superhuman strength. He punched the dive klaxon with his fist.

The sound rang in Commander Paidley’s headset…probably the last sound he heard as his life ebbed away. It rang through the boat as well…the death knell of “Gentleman Johnny” Paidley.

A-OOGAH! A-OOGAH!

***

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER KROKER DNS ALTAIR

FM: TDS DEVILFISH

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: CONTACT REPORT//11093006

SITUATION: TDS DEVILFISH ATTACKED AT APPROX. 1545 HRS ZULU TODAY BY FORCE OF SIX XORAN FIGHTERS. NO SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE SUSTAINED TO HULL OR ENGINES. CMDR. PAIDLEY AND TM1C ESMERALDA WERE KIA AND MM3C C. R. MacDOUGAL WOUNDED IN ATTACK. EXECUTIVE OFFICER T. LEELA IN COMMAND OF DEVILFISH AND WILL CONTINUE PATROL OF SECTOR ALPHA CHARLIE ZULU 376. REQUEST NOTIFICATION OF NEXT OF KIN AND CONFIRMATION YOUR RECEIPT THIS TRANSMISSION.

TOP SECRET EPSILON

Submerged Aboard the Devilfish, Vicinity of the Hyperons System

As the sound of the dive klaxon died away in the Combat Control Center (CCC), it was replaced by a cacophony of voices and sounds.

Fry was frantically cutting MacDougal out of his Extra Vehicular Activity Suit (EVAS), trying to find the wound site and stop the bleeding. Charlie was speaking calmly into the intercom, “Corpsman to the CCC. I repeat, Corpsman to the CCC.”

MacDougal, his face deathly pale, was already going into shock. Fry literally tore the EVAS off with a Herculean effort. He saw the worst wound, a bleeding artery on the right forearm. Blood was spurting out with each beat of MacDougal’s heart.

Working swiftly, Fry fashioned a tourniquet out of a strip of EVAS material. He grabbed a stylus from the chart table and used it tighten the tourniquet. The bleeding slowed to a trickle.

While Fry was saving MacDougal’s life, Leela was giving commands to submerge the boat, “Take her down to 400 meters. Make the angle on the bow One Zero Degrees. Stand by for Dimension Charge (D-Charge) attack. When at Delta, lay in a course to X-ray 3500 Yankee 2467 Zulu 0987, best possible speed."

The crew answered automatically with a disciplined chorus of replies.

Karl, on watch as the dive officer, called out the depth, “Passing through Six Zero Meters…Passing through Eight Zero Meters…Passing through One Zero Zero Meters.”

The boat shuddered as a D-Charge exploded off the starboard bow. Lights flickered and crockery in the wardroom and the galley rattled but that was about it.

LT Wilkes glanced at Leela, “Looks like they vectored somebody in to work us over.”

Leela merely nodded in return. The death of Commander Paidley filled her consciousness. She wanted to run off the bridge, to hide in her quarters and mourn. But not now…not yet.

At that moment, the Senior Corpsman, “Doc” Johnson arrived. He looked things over and nodded to Fry. “Good job,” he said, “let’s get him down to sickbay.” Fry grabbed MacDougal’s shoulders while Doc grabbed the feet. They quickly moved out of the CCC leaving a puddle of blood on the deckplates.

“Passing through One Two Zero Meters.”

Two D-Charges went off nearly simultaneously – first port, then starboard – causing the boat to rock violently. In the corridor, Doc and Fry struggled to keep their footing and Fry wound up caroming off a bulkhead. The CCC crew grabbed onto whatever they could to keep their balance.

“That was a little close for comfort,” LT Wilkes observed. Several of those on watch in the CCC shifted nervously from foot to foot.

Leela barked out a command, “Increase angle on the bow to Two Zero Degrees…release countermeasures.”

The helmsman responded, “Making Two Zero Degrees angle on the bow. Bow is at Two Zero Degrees.” The EWO chimed in, “Countermeasures released.”

“Passing through One Six Zero Meters.”

Another D-Charge exploded off the stern, further away than the last two.

“Passing through Two One Zero Meters.”

A volley of D-Charges exploded off the stern, even further away. The crew in the CCC began to visibly relax. The Xoran had taken the bait. They were working the countermeasures over…not the Devilfish.

“Passing through Two Five Zero Meters.”

The sound of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) thrummed softly through the hull of the boat.

LT Wilkes looked concerned, “They’ve lost us. They’re doing EMP ranging to find us.” He smiled, “They won’t find us…below 200 meters that stuff doesn’t work.”

“Passing through Three Zero Zero Meters.”

Leela touched Karl on the shoulder, “Discontinue calling out the markers. Just let us know when we reach prescribed depth.”

“Aye-aye ma’am.”

The soft sounds of shipboard machinery and electronics filled the CCC. No one spoke.

Karl broke the silence, “Boat is level at Four Zero Zero meters, Ma’am.”

“Very good Ensign.”

With the Devilfish leveled off and out of immediate danger, Leela felt the full weight of command suddenly pressing down on her shoulders. She almost whispered to LT Wilkes, “My God George, what do I do now?”

George smiled grimly, “In the Academy they told us, ‘When in charge…take charge.’ That sounds corny, but it’s true.”

Leela straightened up, took the intercom microphone…the Captain’s phone…and keyed the “all hands” circuit. She spoke in a clear, calm voice, “Attention all hands. Commander Paidley has been killed in action, along with Torpedoman First Class Esmeralda. In accordance with DOOP regulations, I take command of this boat until properly relieved.” She paused.

“The Captain and Esmeralda both died gallantly…they sacrificed their lives for this boat. We’ve still got a full load of fish and a full tank of whale oil. We’re going to make those Xoran bastards pay. All standing orders remain in effect. That is all.”

She lowered the microphone, leaning over the chartboard. “Alright, George…let’s make sure we get to the Hyperons System in one piece.” She thought for a moment, “For the next few hours, we’ll run silent and run deep.”

The transit to the Hyperons System took twelve hours to complete submerged. Now, the Devilfish lay just below the surface. Leela had her eye glued to the periscope, scanning 3-D Space. She could see nothing.

She turned to the Senior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) LT Sam Adams, “Sam are you getting any readings?”

“Except for the Altair and the Planet Express Ship, not a thing Ma’am.”

She turned to LT Wilkes, now the acting Executive Officer, and gave the command, “Okay, George…Surface.”

Wilkes keyed the intercom and said, “Surface…surface…surface.” Once he spoke, he pressed the button for the klaxon. It sounded throughout the boat “A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH, A-OOGAH!”

The Combat Control Center (CCC) became a hive of activity as the lookouts and the deck officer, all dressed in bulky Extra Vehicular Activity Suits (EVAS) crammed beneath the ladder to the conning tower.

Karl was Officer of the Deck, while Machinist’s Mate Harry Li, Torpedoman Robert Stiles, and Bender were his lookouts. He knew that the two men had good records, but Bender was already a Navy legend…for shirking duty.

Karl touched tapped Bender on the shoulder. When he turned around, Karl keyed his microphone, “Bender, if you dope off on me on watch…I’ll leave you on deck when we submerge.”

Bender protested, “Listen, Ensign…I may screw off a lot, but not when my life could be at stake. You skin tubes don’t have to worry when old Bender is around.”

Charlie, who was dive officer for the watch, spoke up, “Ma’am, the boat has surfaced.”

Leela gave the command, “Lookouts man your stations.”

The deck crew swarmed up the ladder, leaving a bit more room in the CCC. When they reached their stations, Karl reported, “The conning tower is manned.”

Within a few minutes Bender sounded out, “Hey Ensign Guzman! I see the Planet Express Ship…and the Altair!”

Karl gritted his teeth, “Where? Didn’t they tell you how to report a sighting?”

“Oh, yeah….right. Um, Altair and Planet Express Ship bearing nine zero degrees relative, Zulu plus ten, range six thousand kilometers.”

Karl replied, “Very good,” and then passed the information to the CCC.

Leela turned to LT Adams, “Sam, raise the Altair and tell her we’re coming alongside.”

Adams nodded as he answered, “Yes, Ma’am.” Within a few moments Leela was reading the reply:

FROM: COMMANDER TASKGRU 21.1

TO: COMMANDER TDS 213 (DEVILFISH)

SUBJECT: MISSION BRIEFING

1. EXPEDITE DOCKING PROCEDURE.

2. AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER DOCKING, COMMANDER DEVILFISH AND TACTICAL OFFICERS REPORT TO COMMODORE’S CONFERENCE ROOM FOR MISSION BRIEFING.

SIGNED

KROKER

COMMODORE

Leela smiled grimly as she thought to herself, “This must be one heck of a party we’re planning for Kif to be in such a hurry.” She turned to Charlie, “Ever docked a TDS alongside a cruiser before, Charlie?”

“No Ma’am, I haven’t”

“Well, there’s a first time for everything. Make it so.”

“Aye-aye Ma’am.”

The Altair’s Captain’s Conference Room

They were all seated around the conference table, waiting for Commodore Kroker to arrive. His seat at the head of the table was vacant. Starting on his right those at the table were Leela, Major Maxton, El Mann, Redline, and Flounder.

Along the wall behind Leela were Lieutenant Saigo Takamori (Senior Tactical Officer of the Devilfish), Karl, Flexo, and Sergeant Elliot.

Commander Presley – Operations Officer of the Altair, stood at the podium. Obviously, he was going to give the mission briefing.

At exactly 1700, Commodore Kroker entered the room. Presley barked out, “Group…attention!”

Everyone sprang to their feet. Kif waved, “As you were…be seated.” He took his seat and everyone sat down. Kif spoke in his normal tone, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very important mission to fulfill. Commander Presley will fill in the details. What I intend to do is give you the overall picture.”

He paused for a moment, then went ahead, “The Xoran fleet is critically short of whale oil. That’s why they have occupied Hyperons Five. It is a Space Cetacean breeding ground and has enough whale oil to supply their fleet for a push all the way to Earth. Our job, simply put, is to put a small team on the ground that takes the refinery out of action.”

Kif pressed a button, which cause a holographic image of Hyperons Five to pop up in the middle of the conference table. “As you can see, there are at least a dozen Xoran warships on patrol at any given time that is why we have to use the Planet Express Ship to insert the Special Operations team…commanded by Major Maxton. At the same time we are inserting the team, the Devilfish will attack enemy shipping on the Xoran to Hyperons route, paying special attention to whale oil tankers.”

El raised his hand, “Commodore, why not just blast the hell out of the refinery?”

Kif smiled, “Because our fleet will need the refinery when we retake the sector. As I was saying, our stealth fighters will attack vulnerable targets throughout the system to keep the Xoran busy. The Altair has a mission too. We are live bait.”

The room became deathly quiet. Kif gave a smile, “Don’t worry, we have a good chance of surviving…but that is all that I can tell you now.”

When no one spoke, Kif nodded, “Please commence the briefing, Commander.”

Presley began, in the smooth voice of a practiced briefer, “The classification of this briefing is Top Secret Epsilon…”

Two hours later the meeting ended. On his way out, Commodore Kroker smiled as he spoke to Leela, “I’d like to invite you and Amy…I mean Lieutenant Wong…to my mess for dinner at 2100.”

Leela smiled back, “We’d be delighted Kif…I mean Commodore.”

Kif gave a short laugh and left the briefing room. El stepped up, “Looks like we’re in it up to our necks.”

Redline nodded, “About as deep as we’ve ever been.”

Flounder came up, “Anybody betting on our chances of pulling this off?”

Leela overheard the remark and said, “I’d not write us off just yet. Kroker is a slippery customer. There’s more to this than meets the eye. He told us about the bait, but hasn’t mentioned the trap.”

Redline grinned, “You can’t spill what you don’t know. My guess is that when the Xoran fleet turns to pay attention to this sector, they’re going to get a nasty surprise.”

El raised his right eyebrow, “Meh…you could go crazy speculating. Let’s just do our jobs. But before then, anyone care to go to the lounge for a Foster’s?”

Flexo spoke first, “Count me in.”

Flounder nodded, “About time.”

Redline gestured to the door, “After you.”

The four left the briefing room, discussing ways to stay alive until the trap…whatever it was…was sprung.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Aboard the Devilfish, Torpedo Room

Fry stood next to the Chief of the Boat, “Mac” MacDougal, staring at the small bag that contained all of the possessions of his late friend, “Lucky” Esmeralda. Mac nudged Fry, “Well son, let’s get to work.”

Fry nodded and took the bag in his hands. He’d have sooner petted a snake, but he knew that somebody had to go through his belongings to make sure that nothing objectionable was sent home. He felt sick to his stomach as he poured the contents of Lucky’s “Sea Bag” onto his former bunk. “My God,” he thought, “he’s really dead. They never go through your stuff unless they know you’re dead.”

Mac saw the sick look that crossed Fry’s face. He had come to like Fry a great deal. “The lad’s got a future in the Navy…he’ll make one hell of a Chief Petty Officer,” he had told LT Wilkes earlier that day. Mac put his hand on Fry’s shoulder, “Laddie, I know this pains ye. But would ye want his poor widowed mother getting something with his personal belongings that might pain her?”

Fry mumbled, “No Chief, I wouldn’t.”

“Alright then, let’s get at it.”

They sorted Lucky’s gear into three piles. One pile was Navy issue stuff that would not be shipped home. They made another pile that was the stuff that would go home, letters, pictures and personal effects. The third pile was stuff that they didn’t figure his Mom would want to see, a couple of girlie magazines and a very racy swimwear video.

“Lucky didn’t have very many vices, did he Fry?”

“No, Chief. He was one of the good ones.”

Mac sighed, “Well, now I have to write the letter to his poor mother.”

Fry spoke up suddenly, his mouth seemingly taking a life of it’s own, “Chief, let me write the letter.”

Mac’s eyebrows went up, “You ‘ken you want to do that?”

Fry nodded.

“Alright then, I’ll leave you to your task. Remember, the damned censors will read it.” Mac clapped his hand on Fry’s shoulder, “Laddie, you’re a fine spaceman and a good friend. I’m glad you’ve shipped with us.” He then strode out of the torpedo room.

Fry sat on one of the torpedoes. He took out his electronic writing tablet and began to write.

Dear Mrs. Esmeralda:

I’m sure by now you have heard of Emilio’s death. While military security does not permit me to be too specific, I can assure you that he did not suffer. He died helping to save a wounded comrade. I was there, so I know.

As you know we all called your son “Lucky.” In truth, we were the lucky ones, because we had the privilege to know him. He was honest, cheerful, and kind to everyone. We will all miss him, very much. I will miss him most of all, he was my best friend.

I’m not much of a letter writer, but I want you to know that my heart goes out to all of you in your grief. Please know that I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Give my love to Evita, Consuelita and Marta.

If there is anything that I can do, please do not hesitate in letting me know. The next time I get some shore leave, I will contact you before coming for a visit.

Yours Truly,

Philip J. Fry

Torpedoman 1st Class

When he finished the letter, Fry began to weep silently. Little did he know, Mac was watching from the shadows. When Mac saw Fry had finished weeping, he emerged and said, “Come on Laddie. Let’s head for the Altair’s All Ranks Club. You could use a beer.”

“Or three,” Fry responded, smiling the first smile he had smiled that day.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Later the Next Day Aboard the Devilfish, Torpedo Room

Fry’s head felt three sizes too big, his tongue felt as though it was coated in fur, and he was still a bit wobbly on his feet. His memories of the preceding night were pretty vague. He remembered the beginning well enough, but as the evening wore on the details became fuzzier and fuzzier.

The Altair All Ranks Club was well stocked with various sorts of beer, wine, and liquor. As best he could remember, he had had at least one of each. Writing the letter to Lucky’s mom had really torn him up. So, he tried to drown his sorrows.

He smiled…even though that hurt…as he remembered what Chief “Mac” had said, “Laddie, it does n’ae good trying to drown your sorrows. I tried drowning my sorrows, but the wee beggars just became better swimmers!”

He vaguely remembered Chief “Mac” and several other petty officers swapping stories. It had startled him to hear the good opinion Chief “Mac” had of him. He was so used to being thought of as a screw-up, that hearing a good opinion was a bit disorienting.

During conversation with the Master Chief of the Altair, a tall, grizzled, grey haired veteran named “Wild Bill” Pelletier, Chief “Mac” had slapped 20 dollars on the bar counter, “By thunder! This Laddie of mine could outshoot any of your gunners! A heart of solid oak he has…and the eyes of an Altarian Raptor.”

Chief “Mac” had looked and sounded like an irritated bear. “Wild Bill” had held both his hands up as if surrendering, “Okay “Mac”, Jesus…don’t get angry, you mankey Scots git!”

It was while Fry was trying to figure out what “Wild Bill” had just said that a fight started. Two Marines got into a fight with two of the ratings from the Altair. Within seconds, a general melee broke out.

Bottles and glasses sailed through the air, followed by chairs and anything else not bolted to the deck. “Stand back to back,” Chief “Mac” had barked. For several minutes they stood like that, knocking down all comers.

“Wild Bill” used his Wristamajigy to call for reinforcements. Within a few moments, a force of Quartermasters and Masters at Arms had descended on the Club. Wielding stun sticks and stun guns, they quickly restored order.

Much to his surprise, “Wild Bill” and “Mac” resumed their conversation as if nothing had happened. Fry blurted out, “What’s going to happen to the guys they hauled away?” “Wild Bill” and “Mac” both laughed like a pair of hyenas. Then “Mac” answered, “Nothing. They got their lumps. No one was seriously hurt, so there’s no reason to push it.”

After that, Fry’s clearest recollection was of “Mac” dancing a jig and singing some outlandish ancient spaceman’s song. He also remembered the room staring to spin shortly after that. Then, he woke up in his bunk in the torpedo room.

It wasn’t the same as when he had left. Now the torpedo room was crowded with a Special Operations team clad in full combat gear. Fry stepped around the team members on the way to his bunk. He bumped Major Maxton accidentally, “Gangway…Oh…excuse me sir.”

Maxton smiled and gave a short laugh, “Don’t sweat it, I didn’t expect you Navy types to recognize Spec Ops rank.”

The sound of the boat’s address system interrupted their conversation. Leela’s voice was speaking, “Now hear this, all hands prepare to get underway. As you already know we have some Spec Ops passengers on board. We have a short journey to Hyperons Five where we’ll drop them off, lie submerged, and pick them up when their mission is over. This mission is vital to the DOOP war effort. It is also classified Top Secret. So when we get home, you can’t boast about it. Once we drop them off, the Resolute will return them to the Altair. Then our job will really begin. We’re going to sweep space clean of Xoran scum. That is all.”

Fry looked at Maxton, “She sounds like she means it.”

Maxton nodded thoughtfully, “And how.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Surface of Hyperons 5

Sergeant Elliot, relieved to be on solid ground, whispered, “We’re right on target, Major but we’re three hours behind schedule.” He pressed a few buttons on his Wrtistamajigy, and a holodisplay map popped up.

Using his right index finger as a pointer, Elliot continued, “There should be a trail through this bog for about 100 meters. Then we’re in a bit of jungle for about another 2 kilometers. That brings us to the edge of the refinery.”

Elliot hit a button and the holodisplay vanished. Maxton smiled, “Just checking.”

Elliot nodded.

Maxton reflected that, although he was a pain at times, Elliot did have the DOOP Distinguished Service Star and two awards of the Wounded Lion Badge. The phrase, “It takes all kinds,” went through his head.

Using only hand and arm signals, the men moved out in single file on the trail through the bog in accordance with the plan they had developed on the Altair. Sure enough, 100 meters later, they entered a stretch of Hyperons 5 jungle.

“Thank God for these Self-Contained Armored Suits,” Maxton thought. “Otherwise, we’d be roasting.”

As it was, they moved slowly through the jungle at a stealthy 400 meters per hour. Even though they were behind schedule, they couldn’t risk running into an ambush. Every 15 minutes they stopped for a 5 minute listening break. When they stopped, all eight men sat in a tight, back-to-back circle, facing outward with their weapons at the ready.

They arrived at the edge of the jungle five hours later. The sun was just beginning to set. The lead scout, Corporal Hightower, gave the hand and arm signal for “enemy in sight.” Except for James, the patrol silently went to ground.

Maxton worked his way forward to where Hightower and Elliot were crouching motionless. He used his helmet’s built-in Passive Thermal (PT) vision to scan the ground to his front. Sure enough, there were four Xoran soldiers patrolling the fence at the edge of the refinery about 200 meters away.

Maxton touched his helmet to Sergeant Elliot’s, allowing him to communicate without transmitting a detectable radio signal, “Can you take them out from here?”

Elliot snorted, “Like shooting domestic turkeys, nothing easier.”

Maxton looked at the electro-magnetic levitation (MAGLEV) gun cradled in Elliot’s arms like something precious. The MAGLEV wasn’t a good weapon for close combat, but it was a superb sniper rifle. When Maxton had reviewed everyone’s service record before the mission, he had noted that Elliot already had 42 confirmed kills.

“Okay. Keep your eye on them and wait for my signal.” Maxton shuttled back quickly to the rest of the squad. After a short conference, they all knew what to do.

Maxton moved to the front and gave Elliot the signal to open fire.

Sergeant Elliot marked his target. The Xoran were making it easy by all walking in the same direction at the same time.

The first round shot silently from the MAGLEV barrel. It struck the Xoran in the upper thorax, killing it instantly. Before his body had hit the ground, Elliot had fired at the second Xoran, killing him as well. Within six seconds, all four Xoran were dead.

Elliot turned to Maxton, “When we get home, remember to sign my book Major.” Maxton nodded. Then he gave the signal to come on line, and five of the men formed into a line. Elliot and Hightower remained as security. The rest rushed toward the fence.

They breached the fence within ten seconds of arriving. So far, so good. Two troopers remained to cover the breach in the fence. Maxton, trooper Smith and a trooper named Doran crept toward their objective…the main control room.

On the way, two Xoran guards fell to Maxton’s silenced .45 pistol, a Stupid Ages relic which had been in his family for 30 generations. They never knew what hit them. When they arrived at the main control room building, Maxton stealthily made his way to the control room. He paused just outside the door to deactivate the security protocols using a remote maintenance procedure to gain access. His display on his Wristamajigy indicated success.

He opened the door. The control room was empty.

Maxton felt a bit apprehensive, until he remembered that the control room was fully automated.

He turned and motioned Smith and Doran forward. They sprinted across the open space, both lugging fifty pounds of C-12 explosive. Within two minutes, Doran and Smith had planted the pre-cut charges where they would do the most damage.

Maxton remembered how during mission planning Doran had figured out that the Xoran would lose the use of the facility if the control room was destroyed. DOOP engineers could quickly repair the damage, but the Xoran SCADA systems were simply incompatible.

On the way out, Maxton paused to booby-trap the door and windows. Doran pressed the arming switch for all of the explosives. The indicator light blinked, then glowed a bright green. They had five minutes to get clear.

Maxton gave the hand and arm signal for withdraw. Doran led the way to the hole in the fence, followed by Maxton and Smith. They cleared the fence in under a minute and were at the edge of the jungle in less than another.

With only three minutes elapsed, just as they were ready to move out, a Xoran attempted to enter the control room. The booby trap detonated, causing a sympathetic detonation of the rest of the charges.

The explosion sent debris flying everywhere. The shock wave washed over the squad, causing their armored suits to resonate with an odd sound.

Sergeant Elliot spoke first, “Gentlemen, let’s not stand on ceremony. Let’s get the frak out of here.”

Maxton nodded in agreement and gave the “move out” signal. The patrol moved into the darkness of the jungle.

As they moved, Maxton and Doran scattered Pursuit Denial Munitions (PDMs) along their trail. About the size of a tuna fish can, these deadly devices shot out a series of tripwires. If someone touched one of the wires…BOOM! After six hours, the PDMs would self-destruct.

They made it back to the drop ship without incident. Several times, they had heard the PDMs make a muffled roar in the distance but they never saw a Xoran.

They embarked on the drop ship in record time.

The pilot, a veteran Spec Ops pilot with a sense of humor, keyed his throat microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Warrant Officer Beasley and I’ll be flying this bird today. Please fasten your seat belts, as the ride may be a bit bumpy. We’ll be climbing to an altitude of 240 miles, where we’ll lock onto the Resolute. If we encounter any Xoran ships, just prepare by bending over and kissing your ass goodbye.”

A few of the men chuckled as the ship began to lift off. Soon they were hurtling upward, heading for the Resolute.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Lieutenant Wilkes pressed the intercom button for the Captain’s Quarters. “Captain to the Combat Control Center (CCC),” he said.

Leela sat up in her bunk, instantly awake. She pressed the comm button on the bulkhead next to her bunk, “What’s up, George?”

“Ma’am, the Resolute is on station for pickup. I suggest we get underway. We’ve only got four hours of submerge time left. It will take us a minimum of three hours to get to and through the debris field.”

She thought for a moment, “Any chance we can cruise on the surface on EMCON?”

“No Ma’am. The damned Xoran fighters are thicker than fleas on a hound dog around this rock. For some reason, the bugs don’t like the debris field…probably because their sensors aren’t up to it.”

“Okay George, I’m on my way. Stand by to leave orbit”

She dressed quickly, splashing some water on her face before heading into the main passageway that led to the CCC. When she exited her cabin, she collided with Fry.

Fry stepped back, “Sorry Leela…I mean Captain.”

Leela looked both ways to be sure there was no one else around, “Fry, I’m sorry I have to act so Navy. But I have to keep from looking like…well…I care about you any more than anyone else on this boat.”

“It’s okay.” Fry smiled at her, “Chief Mac squared me away about all that. I won’t embarrass you or endanger the discipline of our boat.”

She looked at him with a new measure of respect. He really was maturing, without losing his boyish charm. Suddenly remembering where she had been heading before bumping into Fry she said quietly, “We’ll talk more when we get planet side.” Then she turned and headed for the CCC.

Fry stood there for a second, watching her form recede down the passageway. He was ready to head forward to the torpedo room, when Bender came through the aft hatch, “Hey Fry, you want to sample some of the newest stuff Chief Tone and I produced?”

He knew that drinking on board was strictly prohibited, but everyone from Chief Mac down had a “snort” now and then. After meeting Leela like that, he needed it, “I’ll be right there.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

In spite of the swarms of enemy fighters patrolling the area, the Resolute managed the pickup without a hitch. Flounder had thought of scattering a network of decoys on the far side of the planet. When the retrieval boat began it’s ascent, the network came to life, the Xoran took the bait and the Resolute slipped away toward the debris field with their Amphibosian camouflage engaged.

“Pretty slick idea,” El said to Flounder as he watched the receding blips of the Xoran fighters on the DRADIS scope. “So what do you think we ought to do after we’ve delivered this lot to the Altair?”

Flounder shrugged as he grinned, “I think that’s up to our fearless leader.”

Redline looked askance at Flounder, “Fearless leader?” He snorted, “What is this…a Stupid Ages cartoon?”

Flounder laughed, “Sorry Skipper. I just get carried away.”

“Grrr…” Redline shook his head. There was no use letting them know how much being called Skipper got under his skin. “Let’s cut out the clowning until we get to the Altair. I think our engines are beginning to show signs of misalignment. We’re venting way too much Buntium Diobnoxide. Time for a trip to the yards.”

“What?” Flounder looked puzzled, “We aren’t…wait…oh! I get it. I agree, we’re way out of tolerance.”

“Make sure you enter it in your log. You know how the Navy like everything to be filled out in triplicate.”

“Sure.” Flounder smiled. “Triplicate it is.”

Dink came onto the bridge a moment later. His clothing was disheveled, soiled with dark spots and he had a wild look in his eyes. “Anybody seen Zoidberg?”

“Isn’t that your department?” El asked with a smile.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Dink scowled.

Flounder looked up from the engineering console, “What’s Up?”

“Zoidberg got into my stash of Mimbari Chocolates,” Dink scowled.

“Where did you get them?” Flounder asked. “They are awfully hard to get – considering the legal barriers and all.” He paused for a moment, “As I recall they have somewhat unpredictable effects.”

“Got them in a poker game with a rating on the Altair who didn’t understand percentages.”

“How do you know Zoidberg took them?” Redline asked. “It might have been Flexo playing a prank.”

“No Skipper, it was that frakkin’ son of a lobster. I caught him at it. He fouled my compartment with his ink when he made his getaway. I caught him in the passageway and had quite a tussle.” His scowl became even deeper. “He has a fin on the top of his head…did you know that?” Without waiting for a reply Dink continued. “Anyway, I’ve got a roll of tape here and as soon as I catch him, I’m going to tape his claws shut and shove him in the Laundry-Brig.” Dink paused briefly, “With your permission Skipper.”

Redline nodded his head. Before he could reply, the hatch to the bridge hissed open and Zoidberg entered. His cranial fin was no longer deployed. His eyes were dilated and drool dribbled from his mouth. “Dink my friend,’ he slurred, “I am so…so…into you.”

“Frak off you goofy crab!” Dink roared as he turned an interesting shade of purple, “I ought to shove you out an airlock.”

Redline, El and Flounder laughed.

“But my good friend…”

“Shut the hell up!’ Dink clenched his fists and stepped forward, “Stick your claws out. You’re sleeping it off in the Laundry-Brig.”

Zoidberg began to wail, “Nobody loves me!” Then he turned abruptly on his heel and bolted from the bridge.

Dink started to follow Zoidberg off the bridge. Redline reached out and touched Dink’s arm, “I know you’re pissed. You have every right to be…but no rough stuff. Put him on cleaning duty when the chocolates wear off.”

Dink nodded and left the bridge in Zoidberg’s wake.

“What a crew,” Redline thought before he turned his attention to finding the Altair.

Chapter 8 –Into the Maelstrom



Aboard the Devilfish

The Devilfish lay quietly on EMCON in the Hyperons debris field. For four hours, she had vented Baryons and was capable of safely submerging. Ensign Pyotr Poltava, the junior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) was startled out of a pleasant daydream by sudden activity from the communications panel.

He could feel his hackles rise as he saw it was a Top Secret Omega message, one that only the Captain could decode. It also carried a FLASH Priority, which meant the Captain had to have it in under five minutes.

Pyotr turned to the watch officer, Lieutenant Takamori, “Sir, permission to leave the bridge. I have a FLASH Priority TS Omega message.”

Takamori maintained his usual calm appearance, “Granted.”

Pyotr hit the “Captain’s only” communications button on his console, “Ma’am, your location please, I have a FLASH Priority TS Omega message.”

Leela answered instantly, “I’m in the wardroom. Bring it here.”

The young Ensign flew down the passageway shouting, “Gangway!” Crew members in the passageway stepped aside to allow him to pass. He reached the wardroom in under 90 seconds.

“Ma’am, here’s the message,” he said somewhat out of breath as he handed her the electronic tablet. Leela smiled reassuringly at him, “Well done. Now stand guard outside the wardroom while I decode this.”

“Aye-aye, Ma’am!”

Leela reached into her left breast pocket and retrieved the “Captain’s Key.” In reality, it was an electronic dongle that verified her identity. After Commander Paidley had been killed, her electronic dongle had been reprogrammed from Executive Officer to that of Captain over a secure network using Quantum Encryption.

She inserted the key into the electronic tablet, which displayed a text message that took her breath away:

TOP SECRET OMEGA

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMDOOPNAV

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV//COMMANDER TASGRU 21.1

SUBJECT: FRAGO 93457

STIUATION: SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM FAILED TO TAKE OUT HYPERONS FIVE REFINERY ON SCHEDULE. MOST SECRET SOURCES REVEAL THAT SIX TANKERS FULL OF WHALE OIL DEPARTED HYPERONS FIVE AT 1000Z IN AN ESCORTED CONVOY TO REFUEL XORAN FLEET.

MISSION: DEVILFISH ATTACKS CONVOY TO PREVENT REFUELING OF XORAN FLEET.

EXECUTION: COMMANDER DEVILFISH ATTACKS CONVOY TO DESTROY ALL SIX TANKERS. DEVILFISH NAVIGATIONAL COMPUTERS WILL RECEIVE PROJECTED COURSE OF CONVOY UPON ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF THIS MESSAGE. COMDOOPNAV CONSIDERS DEVILFISH EXPENDABLE TO ACHIEVE OBJECTIVE.

SERVICE SUPPORT: NO CHANGE.

COMMAND AND CONTROL: COMMANDER DEVILFISH HAS COMPLETE AUTONOMY TO COMPLETE MISSION.

SIGNED

LI YAO ZHU

FLEET ADMIRAL

TOP SECRET OMEGA

Leela felt her ears ringing. “Expendable,” she thought, “how the hell can they say that?” She stepped to the wardroom hatchway, “Ensign, acknowledge the message. Then have George meet me with all officers, and the Chief of the Boat in ten minutes. Clear?”

“Aye-aye Ma’am,” he said before bolting down the passageway, shouting “Gangway!”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Aboard the Altair, Hyperons Debris Field

Redline stood at the entryway to the Captain’s Quarters. He tapped the comm-link pad, “Commander of the Resolute to see Captain of the Altair.”

From the speaker a familiar voice replied, “Come in Lieutenant.”

The door slid open to reveal the Captain’s meeting room. Somewhat Spartan, it was brightened by an oil painting of Amy on the wall directly opposite the hatch. In the center of the room was a transparent aluminum oval conference table with eight chairs. At it’s head sat Kif, sipping a cup of tea. He gestured to the chair immediately on his right, “Come have a seat, Redline. No need to be formal. Sometimes I find it very tiring.”

Redline was immediately wary. Normally brass didn’t act friendly unless they were about to hand you something very unpleasant. He sat down quietly.

“So how is your family in Michigan?”

“Um…fine, sir.” Redline found himself thinking, “We are in for it now!

“Good,” Kif smiled, “How’s your ship?”

“She’s having engine troubles.” Redline smiled, “I need to take her to the Syria Planum yards for repairs.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible.” Kif shook his head, “I’ll have our engineering crew give you all the help we can, but in four hours we are to raise as much ruckus as we can to distract the Xoran in this sector.” He pushed a button on an armrest console and a holodisplay appeared in the center of the conference table. “Putting it simply, a convoy of Xoran dark oil freighters has left Hyperons five. We need to draw away the escort in such a manner as to give the Devilfish the maximum chance of taking out the convoy.”

Redline studied the holodisplay and gave a low whistle, “Seems like we have quite a job on out hands.”

“Yes.” Kif nodded, “I would appreciate it if you would get with my Operations Officer, Commander Presley and work out some appropriate tactics.” He smiled, “You have a reputation as one of the best.”

Redline nodded, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Kif stood, “I’ll take you to the CCC. Remember, we have to be ready in four hours.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Excerpt from the Battle of Hyperons 12, DOOP Navy Press, Syria Planum Press, 3016

Although not strictly a part of the battle, the actions of the TASKGRU 21.1 were vital to the success of the operation. The diversionary plan conceived by Commander Presley and Lieutenant Redline succeeded brilliantly.

Using the stealth capabilities of the Resolute, Commodore Kroker emplaced decoys at a number of locations throughout the debris field. The Altair and the Resolute took up positions in which they were backlit by Pulsar emissions.

Just as the fuel convoy began to break orbit around Hyperons 5, the decoys illuminated. The Xoran took the bait, sending four CARDINAL Class destroyers to engage what they saw as the threat. This left a much smaller escort for the Devilfish to deal with…

0-0-0-0-0-0

Onboard the Devilfish, Stalking the convoy

The convoy had been surprisingly easy to find…six big fat tankers, wallowing along at .1 light speed, attended by four TUNA Class Escorts. As would become apparent after the war, they were moving slowly to await the return of their bigger escorts. Besides, until they cleared the system the Xoran were unable to go to FTL speed. The TUNA were small, not any bigger than the Devilfish. But they carried guns, torpedoes and dimension charges, which made them dangerous.

The tankers were strung out in a long, straggling line. The escorts adopted a twelve-three-six-nine formation. This meant that one escort was in front of the convoy, one was on the right, one in the rear, and one on the left. Leela examined the formation one more time before pulling her eye away from the periscope.

She straightened up, “Down periscope!”

The scope slid down with a barely audible hiss. Leela turned to LT Wilkes, “George, what does the book say we should do?”

He rubbed his chin before replying, “Well, we could submerge under the escorts, close to easy torpedo range, and shoot one fish at each tanker. Theoretically, we could sink all six. There isn’t a tanker in existence that can survive a Mark XII.”

“What about the escorts?”

George smiled broadly, “Well, they’d be mighty pissed off. Because of the gravimetric distortions caused by the nearby planets, the maximum we can submerge in this system is 200 meters…we’d stand a good chance of one hell of a shellacking.”

“How about a surface attack?”

The bridge went completely silent except for the soft hum of machinery. George looked momentarily startled, then he broke into a grin, “You’re banking on them not picking us out as a sub…mistaking us for one of them?”

She smiled, “I’ve been reading up on sub tactics from Commander Paidley’s library. Seems that old time wet water Navy types favored that kind of attack when the enemy didn’t have good sensors…and we know the sensors on a TUNA are cruddy. We could get in front of the convoy, submerge, let the lead escort pass over us, and surface. Then we could use torpedoes and guns on the tankers, then switch to the escorts.”

George whistled, “If you were a man, I’d say you have a real set of…well, let’s just say I think your plan is audacious.”

“But do you think it will work?”

He nodded, “Yes Ma’am, I do. But we’ll have to have our best gunners on deck and our damage control crews standing by.”

“Make it so, George.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Submerged aboard the Devilfish, stalking the convoy

The bridge was crowded with the deck gun crews, the conning tower lookouts and the deck watch, all clad in the bulky Extra Vehicular Activity Suits (EVAS). They were all tense, poised to charge up the ladder in a controlled explosion of activity.

The CCC crew knew the plan. As soon as the boat surfaced, they were to torpedo the rear three tankers...one fish apiece. Once the empty tubes were reloaded, they were to sink any remaining tankers.

The deck gun crews were to engage the escorts. With any luck they would hit at least two before the Xoran could figure out what was going on.

Leela, who was clad in an EVAS, turned to LT Wilkes and pointed her right thumb up.

LT Wilkes keyed the boat wide address system, “Surface…Surface…Surface!” He then hit the klaxon button. “AOOGAH! AOOGAH! AOOGAH!” the klaxon sounded.

Within twenty seconds, the boat surfaced. In an explosion of activity, the gun and conning tower crews charged up the ladder. Within ten seconds the CCC was empty save for it’s normal complement.

Fry was the first person up the ladder after Leela. He bounded toward the forward deck gun. In less than ten seconds he was seated behind the control panel. A quick check showed that all lights were green. He set the cannon for maximum discharge.

By the time he was ready to fire three Mark XII torpedoes were streaking toward the last three tankers in the convoy.

He heard Leela’s voice in his headset, “Forward mount, target TUNA Class Escort bearing nine zero degrees relative, plus one zero degrees Zulu, range one two zero zero kilometers. Initial point of aim is the bridge.”

Fry responded with an almost mechanical, “WILCO.” He swung his gun on target, took aim, and fired. The 40 terajoule beam of energy sliced into its target, wiping out their CCC on the first shot.

Fry’s target fired back, missing the Devilfish by well over a mile.

In three seconds the cannon recharged. Fry fired again. Another direct hit on the target caused a fire to break out forward of the bridge. Oxygen from inside the ship’s ruptured hull was joining with the superheated duranium superstructure to create a spectacular white-hot flare.

Just then the space around the Devilfish was filled with light as the Mark XII’s found their targets. The tankers cargo of liquid whale oil began to burn with a solar brilliance. Within seconds, the hulks of the tankers were consumed by the flames.

Fry kept his cannon trained on his target, firing for a third time. Within an instant of the impact of the energy bolt, the target was racked by a series of explosions and began to break apart. “That was for you, Lucky,” Fry said aloud.

Three more Mark XII torpedoes streaked toward the last three tankers.

Fry’s headset crackled again, “Forward gun, target TUNA Class Escort bearing two nine zero degrees relative, minus zero degrees Zulu, range nine zero two kilometers and closing.”

Fry slewed the cannon to the left and picked up the onrushing escort. Their forward deck gun fired a shot that barely missed the Devilfish. Fry could feel his hair stand up from the electronic disruption generated by the energy bolt. He took careful aim at the deck gun and fired.

The escort’s forward gun took a direct hit. The gun crew was vaporized and the gun was turned into a twisted piece of scrap. The escort turned to starboard in a desperate attempt to bring their rear gun to bear. Before they had completed a quarter of their turn, Fry had placed a second shot clean through their hull in the engineering compartments.

Suddenly without power, the escort slewed crazily in space until the third shot hit their D-Charge storage. A series of explosions tore the Xoran ship apart.

Fry muttered again, “Eat that, you stinkin’ bugs.”

One tanker, through a near miraculous series of maneuvers, had avoided being hit. The other two exploded and burned brightly. The entire sector was illuminated in their glare. One of the other escorts had fallen to the rear cannon, but the other had survived. Leela turned to finish off the escort first. Then she wanted that last tanker.

“Fry, I want you to finish this bug off. We have one last tanker to sink. Target TUNA Class Escort bearing zero degrees relative, minus zero degrees Zulu, range six two zero kilometers and closing.”

Fry brought the gun in line with the bow of the boat. The onrushing Xoran escort was dead ahead. Their forward gun fired first. The bolt of energy struck a glancing blow to the hull of the Devilfish, causing her to shudder.

Taking careful aim, Fry fired a shot that hit the Xoran’s bow dead on. The 40 terajoule bolt of energy passed clean through the ship, slicing through compartments, destroying equipment and killing bugs. With a blinding flash, the ship simply vaporized.

Leela’s headset came to life. It was LT Wilkes’s voice, “Captain, that Xoran shot breached our 4-D hull. Damage control is on the way.”

“Understood. What’s the range to the tanker?”

“One thousand kilometers, Ma’am.”

She could see the target dead ahead, twisting wildly. Time to finish the job, “Forward gun, target Tanker bearing zero degrees relative, plus one zero degrees Zulu, range one thousand kilometers.”

“Roger,” Fry replied. He lined up on the tanker and fired. To everyone’s surprise he missed! Fry was furious, “Stinkin’ bug…I’ll smash you yet.” He watched the maneuvers for a few seconds, then lined up carefully and fired.

The shot hit in one of the forward compartments of the tanker. The whale oil began to stream out of the rupture, causing Fry to smile. He waited another few seconds, then fired again. This time he struck the engine room, crippling the tanker.

He flipped his heads-up display to maximum magnification. He could see the bug-like Xoran running for the single escape pod which hung just above the rupture. Before the escape pod could get under way, Fry fired a careful shot right through the floating mass of whale oil.

A hellish inferno immediately sprang up, which rapidly spread toward the ship. Soon, the escape pod and the ship were engulfed in an inferno. Fry saw Xoran running back and forth on the deck, trapped between onrushing walls of flame. With grim satisfaction, he watched them crumple to the deck as the flames swept over them.

Just then Amy, Chief Mac, Bender and Walt Chang came out onto the deck. They were lugging a piece of armor plate and some welding gear. Within seconds, Amy and Chang were repairing the damaged hull.

Fry watched with some amusement as Bender wrestled with bending the armor plate to their exact specifications. He couldn’t hear their conversation…they weren’t on the tactical channel…but he could tell from his glimpses of Amy’s face and Bender’s expressions that some lively conversation was going on.

The welding torches had begun to emit their distinctive bluish light when one of the lookouts called, “Four Xoran fighters, bearing zero five degrees, six zero degrees Zulu, range four zero zero kilometers and closing.”

Fry looked up and saw the four fighters. They were on afterburner and closing fast. He adjusted his cannon from single shot to rapid fire mode. Single shots could damage almost any ship they would be likely to fight, but rapid fire was most useful for multiple, lightly armored targets.

Without waiting for orders, he elevated his gun and began to fire. In rapid succession, he took down three Xoran fighters. Their rate of closure was such that the third exploded barely 100 kilometers away. The fourth was firing wildly, but its power consumption rate was such that its guns were having no effect on the Devilfish’s hull.

With a growing sense of horror, Fry realized that the Xoran intended to ram the Devilfish!

He lined up carefully on the rapidly approaching target. He fired, hitting the target at less than a kilometer away. The explosion sent out a blinding flash and hurled debris in all directions.

The flash dazzled Fry. Then he felt a sudden pressure on his legs and chest, followed by intense pain. The universe seemed to swirl around in his head, making him feel nauseated. The he blacked out.

From her post on the conning tower, Leela witnessed Fry’s duel with the onrushing fighters. She saw the last one explode no more than a kilometer away. Like Fry, she was temporarily dazzled.

When she was able to see, the sight that met her eye caused her to gasp. The forward deck cannon was a twisted heap of metal. Wrapped in that metal lay Fry’s motionless form.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Submerged aboard the Devilfish, 1 Parsec from the Hyperons System

Fry lay at the borderline between life and death on a stretcher in the Devilfish’s tiny sickbay. “Doc” Johnson, the senior corpsman was skillfully sealing off the chest tube he had inserted into Fry’s chest to keep both his lungs from collapsing.

When Bender had carried Fry into the sickbay, Johnson had known his wounds were serious. A quick assessment showed that both his legs were broken and that he had a chest full of shrapnel. Further examination has shown that Fry’s left lung was collapsed and the right was failing.

Once he had managed to minimally stabilize Fry, he used the portable X-Ray to survey Fry’s chest. The amount of metal the X-Ray revealed appalled him. He had muttered a quick prayer and gotten to work in a race to save Fry’s life.

Seated in a chair next to the table where Johnson was working desperately was Amy, who had caught a piece of shrapnel from the exploding fighter as well. Fortunately, it was a ricochet that had lodged in her upper left arm. “Doc” Mendon, the junior corpsman was busily extracting it. Amy was cursing a blue streak in Cantonese the entire time, a rigid smile plastered on her face.

Mendon pulled the last stitch through, “Ma’am, I’m sorry I’m not better at this. You’ve been really brave about it, what with no painkiller.”

“Spleesh! I’m not brave,” she jerked her right thumb in Fry’s direction, “he’s brave.” She felt tears coming to her eyes, “I have to get back to my duty station.” She rose and left the sickbay before anyone could see the tears flowing down her cheeks.

“Walt,” Johnson barked, “give me a hand here. We need to start an IV…stat! Let’s start him with whole blood and then switch to syntho if we need to. We may have an internal bleeder.”

Mendon grabbed an intravenous (IV) kit and a bag of whole blood from the supply closet. Within less than 30 seconds, he had Fry hooked up, “Howard, how do you want the flow?”

Johnson replied, “Run it full blast. If we stabilize him, cut it back TKO.”

“Roger.”

They worked in near silence for another thirty minutes. They only spoke when absolutely necessary in clipped medical jargon. Finally, Johnson straightened up, “Well, we’ve done all we can do Walt. Lay forward and get the Captain, will you?”

“Sure, no problem.”

Johnson went over to the sink and washed the blood off his hands. His surgical scrubs were heavily bespattered with blood as well. “Thank you Lord that he didn’t have an internal bleeder,” Johnson said in a barely audible whisper.

He looked at the medical monitor, noting Fry’s respiration, pulse, and blood pressure. They weren’t great, but he just might live.

0-0-0-0-0

Submerged aboard the Devilfish, Enroute to the Hyperons System

Leela finished composing a message to COMDOOPNAV confirming the destruction of the convoy. She looked it over to make sure it had all of the salient facts. Her worry over Fry was gnawing away at her, making it difficult to concentrate.

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMDOOPNAV

FM: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV//COMMANDER TASGRU 21.1

SUBJECT: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FRAGO 93457

1. IN A RUNNING TORPEDO AND GUN BATTLE, THE DEVILFISH DESTROYED SIX DARKMATTER TANKERS, FOUR TUNA CLASS ESCORTS, AND FOUR BUZZARD FIGHTERS AT 1000Z THIS DAY. SIX MARK XII TORPEDOES EXPENDED.

2. DURING THE BATTLE, A SHOT FROM AN ESCORT BREACHED OUTER HULL. LIEUTENANT AMY WONG, CHIEF PETTY OFFICER WALTER CHANG, AND MACHINIST MATE 2ND CLASS (MM2C) BENDER RODRIGUEZ EFFECTED REPAIRS UNDER FIRE. LIEUTENANT WONG WAS WOUNDED SLIGHTLY DURING THE ACTION. CITATIONS TO FOLLOW.

3. TORPEDOMAN 1ST CLASS (TM1C) CLASS PHILIP J. FRY DESTROYED THREE TUNA CLASS ESCORTS, ONE TANKER, AND FOUR BUZZARD FIGHTERS. LAST FIGHTER EXPLODED LESS THAN ONE KILOMETER AWAY FROM BOAT. EXPLOSION DESTROYED FORWARD CANNON AND SEVERELY WOUNDED TM1C FRY. CITATION TO FOLLOW.

4. REQUEST DEVILFISH RECEIVE PRIORITY ATTENTION FOR REFIT.

SIGNED

TURANGA LEELA

LIEUTENANT COMMANDER

TOP SECRET EPSILON

Satisfied, she handed the electronic tablet to Lieutenant Adams, the Senior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO), “Sam send this out with flash priority.”

As Adams took the tablet, she turned to Lieutenant Wilkes, “George, take her up to antenna depth. Once you’ve sent the message execute evasive maneuver Delta and get us back on course. I’m going to check on our wounded.”

Wilkes nodded and began to rap out a string of orders to the watch officer.

Leela had just left the Combat Control Center (CCC) when she met Corpsman Mendon in the passageway. She could see he had blood on his scrubs, but he appeared calm and relaxed.

“Ma’am, could you come with me to sickbay? Doc Johnson wants to talk to you.”

In spite of his calm manner, Leela felt her stomach tighten and her heart begin to race. Fighting to maintain control she answered, “Of course, let’s go.”

They stepped through the hatches along the passageway, passing crewmen doing their jobs. Leela didn’t even notice them. Her mind was on Fry.

They went down the passageway into the sickbay. The effect on Leela of her first sight of Fry was nothing short of a sharp physical blow.

He was so helpless! Lying on his left side, he had a chest tube draining fluid from his lungs, an IV in his arm, and an oxygen mask on his face. His chest was swathed in bloody bandages and both his legs were in inflatable casts.

Leela reached out to steady herself against the bed. She probably would have fainted if Doc Johnson hadn’t spoken to her, “Ma’am, do you want a report on his condition?”

Forcing herself to tear her eye away from Fry, she focused on Johnson, “Please tell me and don’t sugar coat it.”

Johnson chewed his lower lip for a second before answering, “No sugar coating, I promise. Our boy is in bad shape. As near as I can tell, we’ve stopped any internal bleeding. The oxygen has helped, but his left lung is damaged. There are pieces of metal throughout his chest, but they seem to have missed anything vital.”

Johnson paused as he saw almost all of the color drain from Leela’s face, “Are you going to be okay, Ma’am?”

“Yes. Please continue.”

“As I was saying, he’s pretty torn up. Both his legs are broken. The good news is the breaks are clean.”

“What’s his prognosis?”

“Well, he’s got a better than fifty-fifty chance of living…if I can get him some advanced medical care within the next forty-eight hours.”

Leela felt the room spinning. Without speaking, she took two wobbly steps to the chair next to Fry’s bed and sat down heavily. Johnson reached into his pocket and gripped a smelling salts ampoule. The last thing he needed was for the Captain to faint in his sickbay!

It was at that moment that Chief MacDonald stuck his head into the sickbay. He accurately assessed the situation at a glance. Leela had her head buried in her hands, so she missed seeing Chief Mac motion to Johnson.

Both men withdrew from the sickbay. Mac wasted no time, “Doc, I want you to clear the compartment.”

“What?”

“Do you have something in your ears? Clear the compartment…now. Our Captain needs a few minutes alone.”

“But Chief…”

“No buts! Just do it.”

“Aye-aye Chief! But only for five minutes. I won’t be away from my patient for longer than that.”

“Understood…now shove off.”

Chief Mac stuck his head back into the sickbay, “Ma’am, I’ve cleared the compartment for five minutes.” Without saying anything else, he went to stand guard at the bottom of the passageway into the compartment.

Leela mustered all of her willpower and stood up. All of the times Fry had begged her for a date and all of the good things he had done for her, came rushing into her mind. They seemed to assume physical weight, threatening to crush her. Her voice quivering with emotion, she whispered in his ear, “I’m here Fry. Hang on; you’re…you’re going to get better.”

His eyelids flickered and he muttered something under the oxygen mask.

Tears began to flow from her eye. They ran down the end of her nose. She sniffled and said in a voice full of emotion, “Fry, I love you. I’m so sorry I was mean to you. Please forgive me Fry.”

Fry’s eyes opened. His right hand reached up, pulling down the oxygen mask. His voice was weak and raspy, “I love you too, Leela. I always have and I always will.”

Brushing her tears away, Leela sniffled, “Fry, just hang on! We’re going to get you medical attention. Please stay alive for me.”

Fry closed his eyes, “I’ll do my best.” He smiled weakly, “Could you put my mask back in place…I’m kind of tired.”

Leela reseated his oxygen mask and kissed Fry gently on the cheek. He fell off to sleep immediately with a smile on his face. She stood quietly until Doc Johnson reentered the sickbay.

“Keep a close eye on your patient, Doc.” Leela said softly.

“Don’t you worry Ma’am. I will.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Ma’am,” Doc pointed to the hatch, “Chief Mac has some traffic for you.”

“Very good, Doc.” She nodded her head. “And thanks Doc.” Before he could answer, Leela left the sickbay.”

0-0-0-0-0

Still slightly woozy from the sickbay, Leela entered the passageway. Chief Mac held out an electronic tablet, “You have two messages from COMDOOPNAV, and one is a Personal message from Admiral Zhu.”

“Thanks, Chief.” She took the tablet, inserted her electronic key and read the personal message first:



TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMDOOPNAV

SUBJECT: PERSONAL MESSAGE

1. MY HEARTFELT CONGRATULATIONS FOR JOB WELL DONE.

2. THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE DEVILFISH UNDER YOUR COMMAND HAVE BEEN EXTRAORDINARY. YOU HAVE SET THE BAR FOR ALL OTHER TDS CAPTAINS.

3. UNDER AUTHORITY VESTED IN ME BY THE DEMOCRATIC ORDER OF PLANETS, I PROMOTE YOU TO COMMANDER IN THE REGULAR DOOP NAVY, SUCH PROMOTION TO DATE FROM 1000Z THIS DAY.

4. I LOOK FORWARD TO SHAKING YOUR HAND PERSONALLY.

RESPECTFULLY

LI YAO ZHU

FLEET ADMIRAL

TOP SECRET EPSILON

She blinked her eye in astonishment. Commander! The Admiral wanted to shake her hand? Admiral Li Yao Zhu was a legend in the DOOP Navy. He had been one of the few senior officers to distrust Zapp Brannigan, effectively blocking his promotion past Captain. She also knew that the Admiral viewed Kif Kroker as an “up and comer.”

Somewhat bemused, Leela scrolled down to read the next message.

TOP SECRET EPSILON

TO: COMMANDER DEVILFISH

FM: COMDOOPNAV

THRU: COMSUBDOOPNAV//COMMANDER TASGRU 21.1

SUBJECT: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED FRAGO 93457

1. PLEASE GIVE MY CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL HANDS ON THE DEVILFISH FOR A FOR JOB WELL DONE.

2. DEVILFISH WILL PROCEED BY QUCKEST MEANS TO RENDEZVOUS WITH DNS MERCY AT KALDOS 4. TRANSFER WOUNDED TO MERCY FOR SURGERY.

3. ONCE WOUNDED TENDED TO, PROCEED TO SYRIA PLANUM NAVAL YARDS FOR REPAIRS AND REFITTING. IF POSSIBLE, BRING TMC2 P. J. FRY TO SYRIA PLANUM NAVAL YARDS.

4. TDS 282 (TUNNY) WILL REPLACE DEVILFISH IN TASKGRU 21.1

5. RESOLUTE HAS EXTRACTED SPECIAL OPERATIONS TEAM.

6. EXPEDITE ALL CITATIONS FOR COMMENDATIONS FROM COMMANDER, DEVILFISH.

SIGNED

LI YAO ZHU

FLEET ADMIRAL

TOP SECRET EPSILON

A deep sigh of relief escaped Leela’s lips. She stood there, blinking back tears. Chief Mac cleared his throat, “Summat o’ good news to share with the crew?”

Startled from her thoughts, Leela smiled at Chief Mac, “There sure is. We’re headed for Syria Planum by way of Kaldos 4. Have Chief Tone crank out a shot of his best stuff for all hands.”

Chief Mac feigned surprise, “Why I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Ma’am.”

Leela shook her head, “I had a still when I was a kid in the Orphanarium. Just because I only have one eye doesn’t mean I’m blind.” She patted the hulking Chief on the shoulder, “Don’t worry, the still is safe. There are some things that just make life bearable.”

She straightened up, adjusted her uniform and announced, “I’m off to the CCC to break the good news…and get us out of the war zone.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Excerpt from the Battle of the Hyperons Gate, DOOP Navy Press, Syria Planum Press, 3016

The DOOP victory at the Battle of the Hyperons Gate was made possible by the actions of a small Special Operations team and the gallant crews of the Altair (CA-14), the Resolute (AK/T-101), and the Devilfish (TDS-213). As Admiral Li Yao Zhu said during the decoration ceremony after the battle, “Were it not for the bravery and devotion to duty of these few who severed the Xoran supply lines, the enemy could have outflanked our fleet. As it was, they chose the direct route to Earth and ran into our trap.”

Owing to superior signals intelligence, the DOOP was able to muster the majority of their capital units within the Galaxy as Task Force (TF) 54. The TF was divided into two Task Groups (TASKGRU), one centered on Battleships and the other around Carriers. Both TASKGRU had a strong complement of support vessels.

When the Xoran fleet passed Hyperons 12 en route to the Hyperons Gate, they encountered the Battleships of TASKGRU 54.1 – the Yamamoto (BB-12), the Nelson (BB-14), and the Galactica (BB-21) – that were waiting in ambush behind that planet’s single moon. Combined, the three ships had a combined total of twenty seven 380 terajoule cannons as their main armament. In direct support they had the six cruisers of Cruiser Squadron Four and the sixteen destroyers of Destroyer Squadrons (DESRON) Six and Eight.

Just out of range of the Xoran guns, the Carriers Wasp (CV-2), Ark Royal (CV-3) and Zuikaku (CV-16) were surrounded by a screen of the six cruisers of Cruiser Squadron Seven and the fourteen destroyers of DESRONs eleven and twelve. The six cruisers included four of the new anti-spacecraft cruisers, optimized to engage approaching fighters, missiles and torpedoes. They came as a great surprise to the Xoran.

The Xoran had two Battleships of the X-Ray Class, two Battle Cruisers of the Gamma Class, three fleet Carriers, six cruisers and twelve destroyers. The rest of their fleet had been held back due to supply problems…or sunk. Their Admiral T’k’Lik was making a desperate bid to get close enough to Earth to strike. He gambled that his maneuver was so unexpected that it would achieve surprise. He paid for his folly.

Exiting the Hyperons Wormhole, the Xoran fleet was in a classic line ahead formation. They kept that formation as they hurried past Hyperons 12 toward the Tantalus Wormhole which led to Earth. The Xoran plan was to use speed to provide security and enhance surprise. Adopting a different formation would consume precious time.

The Nelson and Yamamoto opened fire at the same instant, targeting the lead Xoran Battleship (the Avenger of Blood). The first volley destroyed the Xoran Combat Control Center (CCC). The second and third volleys reduced her to a burning hulk, drifting through space. The Galactica engaged the two Battle Cruisers, wrecking one and heavily damaging the other with the first volley. The Xoran BCs were simply unable to survive the superior fire control and heavy guns of the Galactica. Another volley from the Galactica completed the wreck of the Xoran Battle Cruisers.

The second Xoran Battlewagon (the Victorious One) fired on the Yamamoto and caused severe damage to her after turret. However, the Nelson engaged the Victorious One and wrecked her propulsion system. The Yamamoto returned fire with her two good turrets and struck the Victorious One’s whale oil tanks, producing a colossal explosion that ripped her apart.

Meanwhile, the DOOP and Xoran fighters were tangling in the space around the Xoran Fleet Carriers. The DOOP fighters lured the Xoran to within range of the antiaircraft fire of the TASKGRU 54.2’s screen. Although there were a few casualties from friendly fire, this tactic broke the back of the Xoran fighters and attack craft.

The Xoran carriers and their support vessels attempted to run, but the DOOP fighters and the guns of the DOOP Battlewagons destroyed one carrier, damaged the other, and destroyed two cruisers as well as six destroyers. Admiral Rodman decided to break off the action once the broken remnants of the Xoran fleet made blind jumps into hyperspace. Without a wormhole or gate, there was no telling where they had gone…or if they would even survive. He had achieved the Victory the DOOP needed.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Aboard the DHS-3 (Mercy) in orbit around Kaldos 4

Doctor (Captain) Angmar Jorgensen was one of the DOOP Navy’s best surgeons. A graduate of the Academy, he loved the Navy with a passion only second to his love for the medical profession. Emerging from the operating room, he felt a satisfaction that he had saved another life…the life of a spaceman who would go on serving the Navy.

He was somewhat surprised to see the Captain of the Devilfish sprawled on the couch of the surgical waiting room, snoring like a buzz saw. Even before she arrived alongside the Mercy, scuttlebutt had flown around the ship about her gutsy surface attack on the convoy. That she would wait to check on the condition of one of her crew touched him deeply.

Since it was good news, he had no hesitation. He shook her shoulder, “Commander, wake up. I have finished the operation on Torpedoman Fry.”

Leela shook her head as she sat up. Her first words as she looked the doctor straight in his sea green eyes were, “How is he?”

Jorgensen passed a hand though his close cropped red hair, “He’s going to be fine. Your corpsmen did a superb job. He should be ready to travel in a day or so.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, I would keep him longer if you like…but I understand COMDOOPNAV wants him back home ASAP. You’ve got some excellent corpsmen. They can handle his post-operative recovery for the two-day trip to Mars.”

She stood and shook the doctor’s hand, “Thanks Doctor, I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”

Jorgensen smiled, “The pleasure is all mine. Take good care of him, the Navy needs men like him to finish smashing these bugs.”

Leela thought, “Not as much as I need him.” But she answered, “Aye-aye.”

“Please excuse me,” Jorgensen said, “but I’ve several other operations to perform. Some of the wounded from the Yamamoto have arrived. Duty calls!” With a smile and a wave, he turned and headed back into the operating theater…from which he would not emerge for 36 hours.

Leela headed down the passageway to return to the Devilfish. She had several commendations to write, especially that of Torpedoman First Class Philip J. Fry. She passed a number of spacemen from the Devilfish as she strode down the passageways and up several companionways before reaching the docking bay. She knew they had come aboard the Mercy for chow or to ogle the nurses…and she didn’t care a bit.

Lieutenant George Wilkes was on watch in the Combat Control Center (CCC) when she climbed down the ladder from the conning tower. She smiled, “George, what in the devil are you doing standing watch?”

“Oh heck, Captain, I just wanted to let the junior officers get some time off. Tied up next to the Mercy with the entire Task Force 21 deployed around us makes me think things will be kinda quiet.”

She suddenly got an idea, “George, you’re an Academy man. Would you help me draft the commendations for the convoy action?”

George grinned, “I thought you’d never ask. It just so happens I’ve drafted a few up based on our after-action report.” He handed her an electronic tablet. She briefly skimmed through the commendations for Amy, Bender, and Walter Chang. They would do.

She took her time reading Fry’s. She then read carefully through the posthumous commendation for Commander Paidley. Both were exceptionally well written. Nodding her head as she read them, she looked George straight in his eyes when she finished, “Submit them all. Well done George, well done.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

In orbit around Kaldos 4

The watch officer on the Altair was nearly napping when the orders came in. At first, he was going to let his relief, only ten minutes away from coming on duty, handle the administrative “ash and trash.” Being curious, he glanced at the text and grinned broadly. He turned to the tactical officer, “John, you have the bridge. I’ve got something good to bring to the old man for a change.”

“What is it sir?”

“Sorry, but this is one thing that isn’t leaking out before the old man wants it to.” Without another word he passed into the turbo lift and disappeared from sight. He read through the message one more time to make sure he wasn’t on a fools errand. What met his eye was the following:

UNCLCLASSIFIED//ENCRYPT FOR TRANSMISSION ONLY

FROM: BUPERS

TO: COMMANDER ALTAIR

SUBJECT: PROMOTION ORDERS

THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE REPOSES SPECIAL TRUST AND CONFIDENCE IN THE PATRIOTISM, HONOR, AND FIDELITY OF THE FOLLOWING PERSONNEL, WHO ARE TO BE PROMOTED TO THE GRADE INDICATED, EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY:

NAME SERVICE

NUMBER RANK

KROKER, KIF 83A9123789 REAR ADMIRAL

MAXTON, PETER 27R6118521 LIEUTENANT COLONEL

REDLINE, TIM 99R8901101 LIEUTENANT COMMANDER

FLOUNDER, TIMOTHY 99R9044563 LIEUTENANT



SIGNED//I.M. DUMBJOHN

ADMIRAL

CHIEF, BUREAU OF PERSONNEL

UNCLASSIFIED//ENCRYPT FOR TRANSMISSION ONLY

The watch officer reached the Captain’s Quarters in record time, drawing some curious glances from spacemen when he called out “Gangway!” One rating said to another, “I wonder where he’s going in such a frakkin’ hurry? Do you suppose we’ve been given deployment orders?”

“Who knows?” The other replied, “I’ve given up trying to figure officers out. When it’s time, we’ll get the word.”

Kif had been looking at a picture of Amy and sighing when he heard the rap on the hatch. He called out in his best official voice, “Enter.”

The grinning watch officer entered as soon as the hatch slid open. “Captain…some good news!”

“The war’s over?”

“No sir.” He held out the message tablet, “Here.”

Kif took the tablet and read it.

“Congratulations, Admiral.”

“Thanks.” Kif smiled, “Looks like we’ll have a wetting down party next time we get Planetside.”

“Aye-aye sir!”

Aboard the Resolute, it was El who announced, “Hey Redline…Flounder…you’ve both been promoted!

Redline smiled, “Well, well! Looks like I’ll be able to send a little more home.”

Flounder frowned, “I hope they don’t transfer us.”

“Just like the bloody Navy,” El commented. “Just when I get used to some officers, the promote them and transfer them.

“Don’t let your imagination run away with you,” Redline said quietly. “Take your gifts and your troubles as they come to you – one at a time.”

El nodded.

“So boss,” Flounder said, “Are we going to keep up Naval tradition with a wetting down party?”

“You bet.” Redline grinned, “Just as soon as we can find a bar that doesn’t have anti-gravity plating.”



Chapter 9 – Home is the Hunter

Jupiter Dockyards Naval Hospital, Ward 2B

Fry lay in bed blinking his eyes like an owl in a spotlight as he attempted to adjust to the lights the cameramen were busily setting up. He wished Leela and Bender were there to see him get all of this attention. Still, Bender’s wife (Linda Sprockets-Rodriguez) was there – as the wardmaster and head nurse. She was at the main entrance to the ward, peering out into the hallway. There were also at least five major newscasters he could count, including Walter Cronkite’s head.

“Why all the fuss,” he wondered? In his mind, all he had done was to do his duty. To tell the truth, he had been so focused on the fight that he hadn’t been afraid. It was almost as if he was just playing a video game.

Linda suddenly snapped to a rigid position of attention. She bellowed out, “Attention on deck!”

Every other robot came to attention as Fleet Admiral Li Yao Zhu entered the ward. He was flanked by his aides and staff, but there was no mistaking him. He was not the tallest or most imposing figure, but he radiated a sense of calm self-assurance that seemed to fill any space he occupied. Fry’s heart leaped when he saw a familiar purple pony tailed figure striding behind the admiral. Leela! She made it!

“Stand at ease,” Zhu commanded in his soft yet surprisingly penetrating voice. He strode up to Fry’s bedside and extended his hand, “I apologize for making you wait so long for this ceremony. I’ve been busy with some operational details.”

In later years, Fry would always say, “It was at that point that I became one of the Admiral’s biggest fans.”

As it was, he took the Admiral’s hand and replied, “No sweat Sir. I’m glad to see you.”

The Admiral gave Fry one of his rare smiles, “The doctors tell me you are a Scary Door fan, is that right?”

“Yes sir, I am.”

“It’s one of my favorites, too.”

“No frakkin’ way…oops…I mean, really, sir?”

That provoked laughter from the entire ward, in which the Admiral joined with evident enjoyment. When the laughter had died down, the Admiral turned to his senior aide, Rear Admiral Peter “Scruffy” Boyle. “Publish the orders, Pete.”

Boyle, who was actually an absolutely immaculate dresser, cleared his throat. He nodded to a Master Chief Petty Officer (MCPO) who Fry had never seen before. After striding to Fry’s bedside, the MCPO raised an electronic tablet from his side to reading position and began,

“Attention to orders. The Supreme Council of the Democratic Order of Planets (DOOP) awards the DOOP Medal of Valor to Torpedoman First Class (TM1C) Philip J. Fry of the DNS 213 (Devilfish) for gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life in combat with an armed enemy in the Hyperons Sector on 12 July 3008.”

“TM1C Fry was manning the forward cannon of the Devilfish during the destruction of a Xoran tanker convoy. In spite of murderous enemy fire, TM1C Fry never displayed any fear. According to all on deck, his skill enabled him to destroy three enemy TUNA class escorts and an enemy tanker with well-aimed fire.”

“Just as the last ship in the convoy was disposed of, four Xoran Buzzard class fighters made a suicide attack on the Devilfish. In a superb feat of gunnery, TM1C Fry destroyed all of them, the last exploding less than one kilometer from the boat. That explosion severely wounded TM1C Fry and wrecked his gun, but not before he had saved his boat from certain destruction.”

“TM1C Fry’s gallantry, courage, and devotion to duty are in the finest traditions of the DOOP Naval Service and reflect great credit upon himself, the Devilfish, and the Democratic Order of Planets.”

“Given under my hand at DOOP Headquarters, this 18th Day of November, 3008. Signed, Hurra Glab, President, DOOP Supreme Council.”

Then two things happened that surprised Fry. Admiral Zhu stepped forward and personally hung the medal around Fry’s neck. When he straightened up, Zhu barked, “Present Arms!”

Every military person in the room saluted Fry, who looked absolutely bewildered. The MCPO chuckled as said in a stage whisper, “Get used to it, son. Everyone salutes a Medal of Valor holder…everyone.”

Leela stood behind Admiral Zhu, smiling. Zhu took a step back as Leela stepped forward. She saluted Fry, her eye shining. When Fry returned her salute she said, “The Admiral told me I should give the wounded hero a reward.” Before Fry could speak, Leela took two quick steps forward and gave him a soulful kiss. As their lips parted, the entire ward broke into a cheer.

Shore Leave – Linda and the Stormtrooper

Bender stood outside the hospital ward, puffing industriously on his Zooban cigar. Wreathed in smoke, he kept his eyes peeled for Linda. He was upset at not being included in the official party which presented the Medal of Valor to Fry. In a huff, he had refused to merely stand in the background. No…he would visit his old buddy when the brass weren’t around. Then he’d bring him a bit of Lowbrau or maybe even some of Chief Tone’s home brewed white lighting for a good time.

The door slid open with a sibilant hiss, revealing Linda’s sinuous robotic form. Bender straightened up, took one last puff and tossed his cigar into his chest cavity. No sense in having some base side clown report him for littering. He hadn’t seen Linda in months and he was ready for some 62 ½ degree action.

“Hey baby…you come here often?”

“Only when I’m working.” She grinned, “What do you have in mind, spaceman?”

“Let’s hit the enlisted club, grab a bite and then head home.” He put his arm around her waist, “I feel the need to get reacquainted.”

“Let’s just go home.” She kissed him on the cheek, “I bought a Princess Leia outfit. We can play Leia and the Storm Trooper.”

Bender’s eyes extended and fell from their sockets, he was so surprised. Linda laughed as he scrabbled around, feeling for his eyes. Once it became evident he was having trouble finding them, she stooped down and got them.

“I think you’d lose your antenna if it wasn’t screwed in so well.”

“Baby, you know just how well it’s screwed in, don’t you?

She kissed him again, “Take me home or lose me forever!”

Bender swept Linda off her feet, “No chance of that sexy Momma!” Holding her in his arms, Bender carried her all the way to their apartment.

Shore Leave - Leela visits the Esmeralda family

While Bender was enjoying his liberty to the fullest, Leela was landing at the Buenos Aires Evita Peron Spaceport. During a brief moment together after the medal ceremony, Fry had made her promise to visit Lucky’s mother. He handed her a package of letters, “Please give these to his mother and sisters. I know you’ll love them.”

“I’m sure I will,” she replied. With a quick look around to ensure no one was watching, Leela leaned forward and gave him another kiss. “I love you Fry. I know it isn’t regulation…but we’ll manage.”

Fry gave his best boyish grin, “If you say so Captain.”

Leela returned his grin, “I’m glad you know who’s in charge.”

They had chatted for a few minutes before a nurse bustled in and shooed Leela off.

After leaving the hospital, Leela returned to the Devilfish for some overnight kit. Then she hopped “the first thing smoking” to Buenos Aires. Now she stared out of the window at the moonlight shimmering on the broad expanse of the Rio de la Plata. On the right bank twinkled the lights of the greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area. Somewhere in the city was her destination, the Parque Chacabuco.

After a fifteen-minute drive, the cab deposited her in front of a two story house with a red tiled roof and a porch with a swing. She looked at the address to be sure she was in the right place before ascending the dozen steps to the porch. She knocked on the front door. A female voice responded with, “Momentito!”

The door opened within seconds to reveal Lucky’s mother. Short and plump, her dark hair was speckled with grey but her large dark eyes spoke volumes. Señora Esmeralda smiled a smile of recognition when she saw Leela. “Bienvenido…I mean welcome. You must be Capitán Leela.” She stepped back, motioning Leela in, “You are in your house.”

With a quick glance Leela surveyed the living room and the dining room beyond. The living room had two large blue upholstered armchairs and a dark brocaded couch. The floors were wood and the walls were paneled. The dining room had a large oval mahogany table with six chairs arrayed around it.

Leela stepped in, “Thank you Mrs. Esmeralda. I am sorry I couldn’t see you earlier.”

“Do not trouble yourself with that…it is war.”

“That is true,” Leela nodded. “I brought some letters from Lucky’s friend Phillip Fry,” she dug around in her shoulder bag and fished them out. “Here. Fry would come, but he is in the hospital as you know.”

“Si…yes…I know.” Her face took on a careworn aspect, “Is Felipe going to be OK?”

“Yes,” Leela smiled, “He is going to be OK.” Her brow furrowed momentarily, “Did you call Fry Felipe?”

“It is so much easier to say than his English name.”

“Hmmm…”

“Please have a seat,” Señora Esmeralda gestured to the closest armchair. When Leela took a seat, Señora Esmeralda took a seat in the other. “Would you like something to eat?”

“No, Ma’am.” Leela responded politely, “I ate on the plane.”

“Ugh!” Señora Esmeralda grimaced, “Hyperplane food!” She paused, “Please call me Consuela.”

“Alright… Consuela.” Leela thought for a moment, “Isn’t your middle daughter named Consuela as well?”

“Yes. To avoid the confusion we call her Consuelita.”

“Consuela, let me come to the point of my visit.” Leela unconsciously plucked at her uniform, “I wanted to personally tell you how sorry we all were to lose Lucky. He was a brave man and a fine spaceman. We all miss him very much.”

“Yes. It makes me glad to hear it from your own lips.” Consuela smiled sadly, “He must have been muy especial to you for you to come all this way.”

“He was indeed.”

“You look tired Capitán, may I get you some café con leche?”

“I could use some coffee, thanks.”

While Consuela busied herself with preparing coffee, Leela leaned back in the chair, shut her eye and drifted off to sleep. When she awoke, it was morning. Somehow, Consuela had managed to cover her with a soft blanket and prop a few pillows strategically around her without awakening her. The sounds and smells of breakfast being prepared surrounded her.

After a brief, cat-like stretch, Leela rose, crossed through the dining room and went into the kitchen. There was a table with four chairs there – three of which were occupied. Leela recognized Lucky’s three sisters from a photo he had always kept by his bunk.

They youngest, Marta hopped up from her chair, “Capitán Leela! Please to sit down next to me!” She pulled out a chair.

“Thank you Marta!” Leela sat down with a smile. To her surprise, Marta gave her a big hug.

“What was that for?”

“It was from Felipe.” Marta said. “He love…I mean loves you so much.”

In spite of herself, Leela blushed furiously. For a moment, she couldn’t think of a thing to say in response. Then she said, “How do you know that Miss Marta?”

“Oh, Felipe, he write…I mean writes to me all the time. He say I am like his…how you say it?” She thought for a moment, “He say I am like his kid sister.”

“Well, let’s keep that about Fry and me between us girls,” Leela said with a conspiratorial smile, “The Navy doesn’t like for officers and enlisted men to be in love.”

Marta winked, then giggled. “Si, hokay.”

The rest of breakfast revolved around pleasant chatter about Lucky and Fry. Leela was surprised at how well the family seemed to be taking Lucky’s death. Once the table had been cleared, they ordered a cab to take Leela to the spaceport. She was going to New-New York to visit with her family. As she prepared to leave, Leela commented on how brave Consuela and her family all were. Consuela smiled, “We will all be together again in heaven, Capitán Leela.” Consuela touched her chest, “I know this in my heart. Nuestro Señor Jesus Christo has told us so.”

Not knowing how to reply, Leela looked at her Wristamajigy, “Look at the time! I appreciate your hospitality.” As if on cue, a cab horn sounded, “Thank you.”

Consuela smiled again, “Come back again when you and Felipe have the time. We will pray for you both every day.”

“Thank you Consuela.” Leela said – meaning it. “I’ll be back.”

“Dios te bendiga!” Consuela waved as Leela stepped off the porch and into the waiting cab. Leela returned the wave. As the cab pulled away, she quickly lost herself in thought. How was she going to manage things with Fry? She loved him….that was certain. But there was a war on and they were in the middle of it. Still, love would find a way. She smiled, yes…love would definitely find a way.

All leaves are cancelled

“Damn!” Redline swore when he received the message in Michigan. Startled, his wife Phylis sat up straighter in her armchair, “What is it Tim?”

“Honey, my leave has been cancelled.” He clenched his teeth, “No reason given. Damn this war!”

“When do you have to leave?”

“It says by first available transport.” He thought for a moment, “That means I still have two hours before the scramjet leaves for New-New York.”

Redline rose, “Let’s have a drink before I go.”

“I can think of something even better,” Phylis replied.

“Better than a drink?” Redline caught the look in her eyes, “Oh…right.”

-----------------

Hustling through New-New York’s Poopenmeyer Terminal, Leela almost ran into Redline. Both were hurrying for the military shuttle gates. “Redline, isn’t it?”

“Right.” Redline caught himself, “Ma’am.”

“It’s OK.” She smiled, “I just got this sewed on. I’m still getting surprised when other officers salute me.”

“Just got promoted myself,” Redline smiled. “The extra money doesn’t hurt.”

“No.” Leela nodded, “It never does.” Her brow knitted, “So how is the old girl doing?”

“She’s in great shape.” Redline said with some satisfaction. “If she keeps her modifications after the war, she’d be an ideal smuggler.”

Leela laughed, “I’ll bet Hermes would love that!”

Redline joined in her laughter, “Do you plan to come back to Planet Express when this is all over?”

“I don’t know,” Leela frowned, “It’s like groping through thick fog…trying to see an end to all of this. I mean, the Bugs are on the run but planning for the end? I just don’t know. How about you?”

“No doubt in my mind,” Redline looked determined, “I’m heading back to Michigan to be with the wife and family. No more space faring for me.”

“I hear you, but I don’t think I could ever give up being a space pilot.” She paused, “But I’ll sure be glad to chuck this uniform. I’m sick of war.”

“I agree,” Redline nodded. “In the next war there are going to be three people missing…me and the two Shore Patrol chasing me.”

They lapsed into silence as they entered the shuttle terminal. They checked in, then rode in the same shuttle to Spacedock Six and onward to Jupiter Station. As Leela exited the shuttle ahead of Redline, she turned and said, “Good luck, Lieutenant Commander.”

“Good luck Commander,” Redline responded and involuntarily added, “Good hunting.”

0-0-0-0-0

Devilfish on Patrol, August 3008

George Wilkes stood next to the chart table in the CCC, sipping on a cup of pitch black Navy coffee. It was real ‘Watch Coffee’, the sort you could stand your spoon up in. He instinctively came to attention as Leela entered the compartment. She had suspended the tradition of calling out ‘Captain on the Bridge!’ Still…as an Academy man…he couldn’t fail to show some deference.

“How are the new crew members settling in?”

“Pretty well Ma’am.” He shrugged, “Still, it’s always a pain to lose a chunk of our officers and crew when we dock.”

“That’s the Navy way,” Leela said quietly. “Somebody has to crew the new subs coming out of Spacedock. Who did we lose?’

“Twenty five overall.” George handed her a tablet. She was relieved to see that Chief Mac was still aboard. Amy was still aboard – that was good. She was puzzled that they hadn’t lost Lieutenant Takamori until it dawned on her, “George…this should be your PCO (Prospective Commanding Officer) cruise, shouldn’t it?”

“Yes Ma’am.” He grinned. “But I’ll hate to leave the old Devilfish.”

Satisfied with personnel matters, she set down the admin tablet before turning to operational ones, “So what do we have George?”

“A new Top Secret Omega operations order straight from COMDOOPNAV. It’s a real tough nut.”

Leela extended her hand, “Let’s have it.”

George picked a tablet off the chart table, “Here you go Ma’am.”

Leela scanned it quickly, then settled in and read it through for details.

TOP SECRET OMEGA

TO: (S) COMMANDER DEVILFISH, SILVERSIDES, FLYING FISH AND SHAD

FM: (S) COMDOOPNAV

THRU: (S) COMSUBDOOPNAV//JUPITERNAVALDOCKYARDS

SUBJECT: (S) OPORD 300008B293.39.3 UNCLASSIFED TITLE: “OPERATION DRUMBEAT”

1. (TS//O) SITUATION:

A. (TS//O) ENEMY: RECENT DOOP VICTORIES HAVE SEVERELY REDUCED THE XORAN FLEET IN SIZE AND CAPABILITY. XORAN ARE RAMPING UP INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION ON T’K’LK. MOST SECRET SOURCES INDICATE XORAN SUPPLY LEVELS OF DURANIUM ARE CRITICALLY LOW.

B: (TS//O) FRIENDLY; COMSUBDOOPNAV HAS FORMED TASKGRU 39 CONSISTING OF 12 TDS TO INTERDICT THE FLOW OF DURANIUM TO T’K’LK. TASKGRU 39 WILL OPERATE IN FOUR SUB-TASK GROUPS DESIGNATED 39.1 THROUGH 39.4.

2. (TS//O) MISSION: TASKGRU 39.3 INTERDICTS ENEMY SUPPLY LINES LEADING TO XORAN HOME SYSTEM VICINITY GALACTIC COORDINATES X 5634 Y 0002 Z 0045.

3. (U) EXECUTION:

A. (TS//O) COMMANDER’S INTENT: TASGRU 39.3 PREVENTS DURANIUM FROM REACHING PRODUCTION FACILITIES ON T’K’LK

B. (TS//O) CONCEPT OF THE OPERATION: THIS WILL BE A FOUR PHASED OPERATION

(1) (TS//O) PH I – MARSHALLING: TDS DEVILFISH, FLYING FISH, SHAD AND SILVERSIDES ARE TO PROCEED TO JUPITER NAVAL DOCKYARDS IMMEDIATELY AT MAXIMUM POSSIBLE SPEED WHERE THEY WILL FORM TASKGRU 39.3.

(2) (TS//O) PH II – DEPLOYMENT: TASKGRU 39.3 WILL MOVE AT THE DISCRETION OF THE TASKGRU COMMANDER TO DESIGNATED OPERATIONS AREA. TASKGRU WILL NOT ENGAGE ANY ENEMY ENCOUNTERED DURING TRANSIT. INSTEAD, TASKGRU WILL DIVE AND EVADE.

(3) (TS//O) PH III – EMPLOYMENT: COMMANDER TASKGRU 39.3 WILL DEPLOY TDS IN ACCORDANCE WITH BEST TACTICAL JUDGEMENT TO INFLICT MAXIMUM DAMAGE ON XORAN COMMERCE. COMMANDER TASKGRU 39.3 WILL BE GUIDED BY THE PRINCIPLE OF CALCULATED RISK.

(4) (TS//O) PS IV – REDEPLOYMENT: TASKGRU 39.3 WILL REDEPLOY ONLY ONCE ALL TORPEDOES EXPENDED OR IF BOATS ARE TOO BADLY DAMAGED TO CONTINUE.

C. (TS//O) COORDINATING INSTRUCTIONS: ON ARRIVAL JUPITER NAVAL YARDS COMMANDER DEVILFISH REPORT TO DNS NELSON FOR AN EMERGENY BRIEFING WITH ADMIRAL LI YAO ZHU.

4. (U) ADMINISTRATION AND LOGISTICS:

(1) (S) ADMINISTRATION: ALL DETACHMENT, LEAVE AND SCHOOL ORDERS ARE SUSPENDED UNTIL COMPLETION OF THE OPERATION

(2) LOGISTICS:

(A) (S) ALL BOATS TASKGRU 39.9 WILL RECEIVE A FULL LOAD OF MARK XIII TORPEDOES

(B) (S) TDS DEVILFISH WILL RECEIVE AN/PPQ 34 DRADIS RETROFIT

(C) (S) ALL BOATS TASKGRU 39.3 WILL SHIP FULL COMPLEMENT OF DECOYS

(D) (TS//O) AVAILABLE AT CHECKPOINT ALPHA (XORAN HOME SYSTEM GALACTIC COORDINATES VICINITY X 5030 Y 0000 Z 0100)

(1) (TS//O) DNS MERCY – HOSPITAL

(2) (TS//O) DNS ANTARES – REPAIR AND REPLENISHMENT

(3) (TS//O) DNS RESOLUTE – LIFEGUARD

5. COMMAND AND COMMUNICATIONS:

A. (U) COMMAND:

(1) (S) COMMANDER TASKGRU 39.3 IS COMMANDER DEVILFISH

(2) (S) SUCCESSION OF COMMAND IS DEVILFISH, SILVERSIDES, FLYING FISH AND SHAD

B. (U) COMMUNICATIONS: CEOI DXT456 IN EFFECT

TOP SECRET OMEGA

When she finished, Leela fixed George with her gaze, “Call a meeting of all officers. This is going to be a tough patrol.”

George stood at attention, “Aye-aye Ma’am.” He began to rap out orders in quick succession. Within less than five minutes, the officers of the Devilfish were crammed into the wardroom. Leela entered and without ceremony read the operations order. Most of the officers had heard of ‘the Boneyard’ and were nervous about the prospect of a patrol in the area.

Leela sensed their nervousness and attacked it straight on, “I know some of you are nervous about going on patrol in ‘the Boneyard’. Well, don’t be. We’ve got the best equipment, the best ship and the best crew in the DOOP Navy. If our luck is out…well…I never once heard a corpse ask how it go so cold. Don’t take counsel of your fears. Just keep your minds on your jobs and we’ll do fine.” She looked about, “Any questions?”

Silence.

“Dismissed.”

0-0-0-0-0

Jupiter Navy Yards

The short trip to the Jupiter Navy Yards on Io had been uneventful. As soon as the Devilfish docked, Leela disembarked. Wearing her full dress uniform, she made a bee line for the COMSUBDOOPNAV Headquarters. Hurrying up the steps, she was so absorbed in her thoughts that she nearly missed saluting an Admiral.

Once inside, she followed the signs to Room 100, the offices of COMSUBDOOPNAV. When she entered an attractive blonde haired Yeoman looked up from her computer terminal and greeted her warmly, “Commander Leela, the Admiral is expecting you. He’s in talking to Admiral Morton about some operational matters. May I get you some coffee?”

“Yes, thanks.” Leela nodded. “Cream and sugar.”

The Yeoman fixed the mug of coffee expertly and set it down on the coffee table, “Let me know if it’s OK, Ma’am.”

Leela sampled it, “Very good, thanks.”

The Yeoman smiled and returned to her work. Leela made a mental note to mention her to the Admiral.

The door to the conference room hissed open and Admiral Morton, the COMSUBDOOPNAV emerged. He noticed Leela and spoke to her, “Ah…Commander, Admiral Zhu is expecting you.” He paused for a moment, “Before you go in…my son Klaus is the skipper of the Shad, a boat in your task group. Don’t cut him any slack. Some people think that I’ll pull strings for him. That is not true.” He rubbed his chin reflexively, “He’s gotten where he has on his own. Let’s keep it that way.”

“Aye-aye Admiral.”

“Excellent. Good Hunting, Commander” Morton turned and with a cheery wave, went into his office.

With a mental shrug of the shoulders, Leela entered the conference room. Seated at the dark polished wood conference table were Admiral Li Yao Zhu and his Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Boyle. They made an interesting contrast, Leela thought. Zhu, short powerfully build and dynamic as opposed to Boyle, who was tall, spare and had a cool aristocratic air about him.

Zhu flashed a smile, “Good to see you Commander! How are you?”

“I’m fine, Admiral.”

“Sorry to cut your leave short, but we’ve got the bugs on the ropes and we want to keep the bastards there.” He turned to Boyle, “Right Scruffy?”

“Of course, Admiral.”

“Anyway, I wanted to ask, how is our Medal of Valor winner – Torpedoman Fry?”

“He’s fine Admiral.”

“Good.” He paused, “Let’s get down to brass tacks. I’ve given you the worst sector in the lot and I wanted you to know why. First off, you’re the best darned skipper we have. Your boat is not the newest, but your crew is four oh. You have a way of thinking things through which I like, you are aggressive but not foolhardy and last but not least, I think you are lucky. For all these reasons, I’m sending you to the Boneyard.” He leaned back in his chair, “Questions?”

“No sir.”

Zhu laughed, “That’s what I like about you Commander…no balonium!” He turned to RADM Boyle, “Scruffy, I want her to command a squadron after this mission if all goes well. Can we make that happen?”

Boyle thought for a moment. “I believe Captain Winchester of Squadron 39 is due for promotion next month. I was planning on moving him to the N-3 position here on staff.”

“Splendid.” Zhu smiled, “What do you think of that Commander?”

“Fine sir, but I’d hate to leave the Devilfish.”

“Not a problem,” Zhu nodded, “She’s due for overhaul. We’ll have her modified as a command boat. How’s that?”

“Great, sir.”

“Then it’s all settled.” Zhu extended his hand, “Drop by when you get back. I’d like a firsthand report.”

Taking her cue, Leela shook Zhu’s hand and departed with a respectful nod to RADM Boyle. On her way out she paused, “By the way sir…thank you. And your Yeoman outside is four oh.”

“Thanks.” Boyle responded. “We try to keep good help.” He smiled one of his rare smiles, “Good hunting Commander.”

Leela left on a cloud. Squadron command! That meant promotion to Captain! It also meant that she could keep George Wilkes on the Devilfish. Once in the corridor she indulged herself with a very unmilitary skip and humming a few bars of “I’m walking on Sunshine.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Gathered in Briefing room 201 at COMSUBDOOPNAV Headquarters in the Jupiter Navy Yards, Leela, and the three other boat skippers of Leela’s wolfpack had just finished their briefing. By a happy coincidence, two of the boats were commanded by Classmates – the Flying Fish by LCDR Gennady Ramius and the Silversides by LCDR Walter Calvert. The Shad was commanded by a more recent graduate of TDS School, LCDR Klaus Morton.

The briefing team had just left. What Leela grasped immediately was that their operating area posed a major problem due to gravimetric distortions. At several points, the maximum delta vector a boat could attain was 200 meters. The Xoran knew that and routed their convoys accordingly. The Harder, Flier, Bonefish and the Albacore had all been lost in the area. That was how the area got the name “the Boneyard”.

“So gentlemen, what do you think?” Leela said softly.

Ramius spoke first, “I think we are being crapped on from a tall tree.”

“It’s going to be a rum go,” Calvert added with typical understatement.

Morton merely shrugged.

Leela punched up the holodisplay of “the Boneyard.” Taking her laser pointer, she illuminated a series of points as she spoke. “Gennady, I think you should take position about here…Walt…here and Morton…here.” This arrayed the boats of TASKGRU 39.3 in a rough square which allowed them to cover the trafficable corridor.

Ramius stood up, peering closely at the display. He shifted his weight, exhaled and said, “Chort Vozmi!13” Then he laughed, “Well, Leela. I think that is about as good a deployment as can be.” He turned to Walt Calvert, “So my friend…you won the tactics award at school…what do you think?”

By way of reply, Calvert pulled an ancient briarwood pipe from his pocket and placed it between his teeth. Hands steepled on the table in front of him, he studied the display intently for several minutes before replying in his clipped English accent, “It will do.”

“What do you think, Morton?” Calvert asked.

“OK.”

“I say Morton,” Calvert said dryly, “you are a natural for the silent service.” That provoked an outburst of laughter. For the rest of the meeting, they settled on their tactics. Essentially, they decided to string a fine but redundant web of passive sensors throughout the corridor to warn them of approaching convoys. Due to intelligence reports of recent improvements in Xoran sensors, they decided that surface attacks were out.

As the meeting broke up, Leela was satisfied. They were going to give the bugs a fight to remember.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Aboard the Resolute, en route to Checkpoint Alpha

Dink yawned. The boredom of keeping watch at the DRADIS console was almost mind-numbing. Still, he had tackled worse duties. Besides, the new AN/PPQ 34 DRADIS display was interesting. It was the first DRADIS to detect objects in the 4th Dimension as well as ships transiting in Hyperspace.

He looked at the chronometer built into the display…1745 hours Earth Standard Time. El would come on and take over soon. Then a bit of chow and some sack time were in order. Dink was a veteran spaceman who firmly believed the old adage, “Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie down, and never be awake if you can be asleep.”

A faint blip at extreme range caught his attention. He tapped the controls a few times, trying to get a lock on the object. It was in the 4th dimension. What the heck was it? A sensor ghost? A space cetacean? The blip was moving too fast to be a ghost. It was also on an intercept course.

“Hey Skipper,” Dink called out without taking his eyes off the DRADIS, “We have a 4D bogey moving at close to light speed on an intercept course.” He did some calculations in his head, “I make it five minutes to weapons range.”

“Do the Bugs have subs?” Redline asked.

“I wouldn’t want to bet my life they don’t.”

Redline made a quick decision, “Sound General Quarters, Battle Stations.”

Within under a minute, everyone was at their posts. The torpedo tubes were loaded with Flexo standing by, Dink was in the turret, Flounder was at engineering and El had the DRADIS. Zoidberg was in the galley, laying out his medical gear.

“Do you think it might be one of our subs?” Flounder asked.

“No.’ El shook his head. “No IFF.” (Identification, Friend or Foe)

“Space Cetacean?”

“Maybe…but if it is, it’s awfully aggressive.”

“I don’t care what it is.” Redline put a full stop to the discussion, “Our orders don’t include getting in a fight. I’m going to lie to and see if it will show itself. Flounder, bring the camouflage on line and all engines on stop. El – let’s go on EMCON.

The Resolute slowed to a stop, the Amphibosian camouflage glimmered and the ship became a hole in space.

Six anxious minutes later, the tell-tale aura of a 3D object emerging from 4D illuminated space briefly. Dink called out, “Something just broke out of 4D to starboard. I make her 50 degrees, Z Plus 10.” He flipped on his enhanced optics, “Skipper, it ain’t one of ours.”

“Are you certain?”

“Positive.”

“El Man, gather as much data as you can on this craft.” Redline said quietly, “The bugs have gotten themselves a TDS.”

Sixty meters in length…” El responded tersely, “displacement around 1,500 tons…don’t know how many bugs they can cram into her.”

“It looks a lot like one of our early models…you know…the old Angelfish Class.” Dink chimed in. “Deck gun forward…probably twenty terajoule max output…no aft gun…four tubes forward…none aft.”

Redline came to a decision. That sub could wreak a lot of damage if left to herself. Besides, DOOP intelligence needed to know the bugs had TDS, even if they were markedly inferior to the fleet boats. On top of all that, he still had a lifeguard mission to fulfill.

“Flexo, stand by to launch a spread of four torpedoes. Dink, as the same time as we launch torpedoes, hit their engineering spaces. I want them powerless to evade. And El, barrage jam their frequencies…we don’t want them sending an SOS.” Redline thought for a moment, “Flounder, stand by to warp us out of here if we don’t kill these bugs. We have a mission to perform.”

After everyone responded, Redline said, “Fire.”

Dink’s shot sliced cleanly through the unsuspecting bug’s hull. El could tell their power was crippled by the fluctuation in energy readings. Before he could advise Redline, the four torpedoes found their target. Four bright flashes and the bug was reduced to a few shards of twisted duranium wreckage.

“Wahoo!” Dink shouted, “Scratch one bug!”

“El,” Redline said calmly, “Get a Flash priority intelligence report to DOOPNAV right away. Something makes me think this isn’t the only bug sub. It could explain some of our shipping losses lately.”

“WILCO.” El replied.

“Gentlemen, let’s get back on course. We have a rendezvous at Checkpoint Alpha to keep.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Fry Rejoins the Devilfish

The Devilfish had been underway for about eight hours as the Gold Shift came on. With all of the new crew aboard, Leela decided to do a stem to stern walkthrough. She was in the passageway to the forward torpedo room when who should meet her eye but Fry!

“Fry!” Leela barked, “What are you doing here?”

Leela’s tone caused him to jump. Eyes wide, he stuttered, “W…w…well, I didn’t want to let the old Devilfish and my buddies down. So I checked out of the hospital.”

“Checked out?”

“Um…yes ma’am.”

“You’re AWOL from the hospital.”

“Not exactly…I just didn’t follow all the checkout procedures. But I am…”

“Damn it Fry.” She stood and pointed down the passageway and barked, “My quarters…NOW!”

By the time they were inside the captain’s quarters, Leela calmed down. “Okay, Fry. Tell me what happened. Why are you here?”

“Um…well…it’s like this.” He looked down at the deck, “I just couldn’t lay around while all my buddies shipped out.” He looked up and gave Leela his very best boyish grin, “So I talked my way out of the hospital.”

Leela could feel her control melting away. Why did his grin affect her so? Now it was her turn to look down at her desk and pretend to read a tablet, “So…you talked your way out?”

“Sorta.”

“What does that mean?”

“The head nurse – Linda – you know…Bender’s wife, she said that since I was a Medal of Valor winner, I had some slack I could use up. So I used it.” He paused, “Heck, half the guys in the hospital said they would do the same if their ship were going in harm’s way.”

Tears sprang to Leela’s eye. “Oh Fry,” Leela startled Fry with the warmth in her voice, “You sound so…Navy…so grown up.” She took a deep breath, made a decision, and then touched the comms panel on her desk, “Yeoman Tillison.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“I want you to find the COB14 and Doc Mendon. Have them report to my quarters. Do it quickly and quietly…understand?”

“Aye-aye, Ma’am.”

“Execute.”

Before Fry could speak, Leela gestured to a chair. He took a seat and waited, as Leela sat down behind her work desk. Smiling she steepled her fingers, “Now what am I to do with you?”

“Leela…I mean Captain…”

“Don’t speak Fry…that was just a rhetorical question.”

There was a rap on the hatch. Leela sat up straight, “Come.”

Mac and Doc Mendon came into the compartment. They took their place in front of her desk. Mac spoke up, “Reporting as ordered, Ma’am.”

“Relax, Chief.” Leela gestured to the couch, “This isn’t a regulation Navy ass chewing. It’s a problem solving session.”

Once seated, Mac spoke again, “I assume this is about Torpedoman Fry?”

“You assumed correctly.” Leela frowned, “Why wasn’t I informed he was aboard?”

“His name is on the duty roster Captain.”

“What?”

“Yes Ma’am. He’s listed in the light duty section.”

Leela lifted a tablet from her desk, browsed through it, and laughed. “I should have known. Still, I want to hear it straight from you Doc…no B.S….is Torpedoman Fry fit for duty?”

“Ma’am, by tomorrow he’ll be off the light duty list.” He smiled, “I can guarantee it.”

“Okay, then.” She looked at each man in turn, “I want you and Doc to do the necessary paperwork to cover all of our butts. Fry…I expect you to pull your weight.” She looked down at the tablet on her desk, “Now I’m busy…dismissed.”

All three stood, said “Aye-aye Ma’am” and trooped out of the compartment. Once out, Mac clapped Fry on the shoulder, “It’s good to have you back, laddie. I think the skipper is glad to have you back, too.”

“What makes you say that, Chief?” Fry asked.

“I don’t know,” he rubbed his chin. “But you are an old shipmate and carry some of the luck of the boat. From what I hear, we’re going to need it.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re headed for the Boneyard me lad…the frakkin’ Boneyard.”

Aboard the Resolute, Checkpoint Alpha

Flounder stood in the cargo bay, examining the odd looking craft which had just parked in the middle of the cargo lift. It looked like a monstrous tennis ball with a single large transparent aluminum porthole and numerous thruster ports, two huge robotic arms as well as bristling with an array of antennae…kind of a demented cross between a sea urchin and a cyclopic crab. The tiny craft had come over from the Antares, very hush-hush.

The porthole opened with a hiss and a man stepped out of the craft. Short and dark haired, he was dressed in a blue DOOP coverall. Waving to Flounder he called out in a friendly manner, “Thanks for guiding me in. Are you the captain?”

“No,” Flounder replied. “I’m the engineer as well as the science officer. Kind of a chief cook and bottle washer.”

The man laughed and stuck out his hand, “I’m Josiah Jepson…the inventor of this beauty before you. And your name is…?”

“Tim, Tim Flounder.” He smiled, “Most everyone calls me Flounder, though.”

“OK, Flounder.” Jepson nodded, “Where is the captain? I was told to report to him and give him a briefing on the purpose for this intrusion.”

“He’ll be on the bridge.” Flounder gestured, “If you’ll follow me.”

Once on the bridge, Jepson explained that his craft was a rescue and research vessel. It could enter 4D Space and travel into that dimension beyond any other craft in terms of resistance to gravimetric stress. It could also operate in the chromosphere of a star. COMSUBDOOPNAV felt that having such a rescue vessel could improve the survivability of any TDS operating in Xoran home space.

Redline decided to call everyone to the bridge to let them know about the addition of another dimension to their normal lifeguard duties. He let them know that, while Jepson would pilot the vehicle, he would need assistance in operating and maintaining the vehicle. Specifically, he needed someone to operate the robotic arms and someone to monitor onboard systems.

“I can help!” Zoidberg said eagerly, “Operate the claws I could!” He clacked his claws by way of emphasis, “I’m an expert.”

Flexo shook his head, “Not me. No way. Working with Zoidberg makes me suicidal.” Then he added, “Nah…I’m just yanking your chain. I’d be glad to work with old Zoidy.”

“Then it’s settled,” Redline said. “Now all we have to do is sit back and hope the televid doesn’t ring.”



Submerged aboard the Devilfish

Fry sat at a table in the galley, nursing a cup of coffee. The galley was mostly empty at this hour. Off watch, Fry could take linger over the aromatic brew. Besides, they were submerged in 4D. Things were usually quiet in 4D…until the bugs showed up.

He was glad to be back on the Devilfish but was a bit creeped out by the attention he received from some of the new crew members. His wounds were mostly healed and his strength had returned. Still, it seemed like he couldn’t even visit the head without someone wanting to help him out.

Only Kyle Kimber, a short black Torpedoman Second Class shared the galley with him. Kimber was a veteran spaceman, with five war patrols in the Amberjack. A member of Fry’s watch, he had the good sense to afford Fry his space.

Without warning, a gong began to rhythmically sound. The squawk box blared, “General Quarters…General Quarters!”

Both men sped to their battle stations. Since they were off watch, they scrambled to damage control station one just aft of the CCC and donned their EVAS. Along with the other two members of damage control party one – Bender and SN2C15 Lu Ng – Fry and Kimber were responsible for damage control on the upper deck from the weapons loading hatch bulkhead to the amidships escape hatch bulkhead. That included the sensor room, the armory, the CCC and the conning tower. They would also be the first to repair hull damage.

As Fry charged through the CCC, he saw LT Wilkes at the periscope. Leela was listening intently to what he was saying. Fry didn’t have time to catch the conversation. He only flashed Leela a quick grin which he hoped no one would see before vanishing through a hatchway to the amidships escape hatch room.

LT Wilkes straightened up, “No doubt about it Captain, that is a big bug convoy. At least ten ore carriers, two fat freighters and five destroyers…SONGBIRD Class…the latest. Any sub which hits them alone is bound to score some hits and then get sunk.”

“Well,” Leela smiled, “That’s why we have our plan.” She went over to the chart table with George in trail. After a moment’s thought, Leela indicated a spot on the holodisplay. “Have the pack move to these coordinates. When we get close we’ll do a bit of laser signaling to keep our electronic signature down. No reason to tip our hand.”

Within minutes a 4D drone was launched. It travelled a set distance, surfaced into 3D and transmitted encrypted burst communications to the pack. Soon thereafter, all four boats were headed for the rendezvous.

The Battle of the Boneyard

It begins

The pack rendezvoused well ahead of the convoy’s projected course. In a series of laser lamp messages between the boats, Leela laid out their plan. The initial attack would be launched near simultaneously from a 360 degree orb. Each boat had an assigned sector. The basic idea was to score their initial hits on the ore carriers, taking out as many as possible on the first attack.

How the destroyers reacted would govern the rest of the battle. If they went after one or two of the boats, then the others would concentrate on the ore carriers. If this failed to draw the destroyers back to the convoy, then the pack would hunt the destroyers.

Should the destroyers disperse to chase more than two of the boats, each boat would pick off their pursuer…a rather dicey business. Once they took care of their pursuers, they would return and finish off the convoy. Regardless – any boat not being pursued would concentrate on the ore carriers.

As a finishing touch, Leela decided to allow the freighters to sail unmolested. Her reason being that if there were any surviving destroyers, they would be very likely to shepherd the remnants of the convoy out of the area rather than continue looking for the pack. If only the freighters were left, their escape might confuse the Xoran anti-TDS forces into underestimating the number of subs in the area.

As the other pack members dispersed to their stations, LT Wilkes turned to Leela, “Well Captain, should we submerge?”

Leela thought for a moment, “Let’s keep the conning tower in 3D.”

“Aye-aye Ma’am.” George barked out, “Take her down to decks awash. Minimum forward thrust. Make your initial course 270 relative. Steer station keeping pattern Bravo.”

The helmsman echoed, “Sir, Course is two seven zero relative. Steering station keeping pattern Bravo at minimum forward thrust.”

The dive officer called out, “Sir, the boat is at decks awash.”

“Very good,” Wilkes replied.

“George,” Leela asked, “Remind LT Takamori to keep the lookouts on their toes.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

Less than thirty minutes later a lookout – one of the new additions to the crew – sang out, “Freighter bearing zero two zero relative, plus one zero Zulu.”

“Clear the bridge.” LT Takamori ordered. “Captain, we have visual on a ship.” He raised his optics for a look. “That’s no freighter! It’s a destroyer! She’s altered course and is coming straight for us with a bone in her teeth.”

“Dive!” Leela ordered, “Take her down to periscope depth. Ready all forward tubes.”

The CCC exploded into activity which was mirrored across the ship. As LT Takamori slid down the ladder into the CCC, LT Wilkes activated the dive klaxon. The hull reverberated to the sound.

AOOGAH! AOOGAH!

Aft of the CCC, Fry turned to the members of his damage control party, “Here we go boys and girls.”

First Blood

Leela stood near the chart table, impassively watching the controlled chaos all around. Keeping with normal procedure, LT Wilkes rapped out orders to the helmsman and the diving officer…orders which were instantly echoed and obeyed. In a manner of seconds, the Devilfish was at firing depth. LT Wilkes took a quick look through the periscope and called out, “That Bug tin can has veered off Captain. She’s tacking away on a course of zero two zero relative.”

“Very well George,” Leela stepped up to the periscope. “Let’s see what our Bug friend is up to.”

Leela watched for several long moments before giving a series of orders without ever taking her eyes from the optics, “Let’s stick with the plan. DRADIS, keep an eye on this contact designated Alpha Zero One. Helm, bring us to a course of three five zero, one quarter light speed. Dive Officer, maintain our depth.”

Once all stations answered up Leela straightened, “Down scope.” As the scope slid down with the faintest of sibilant hisses, Leela went to the chart table. She pressed a few buttons, made some rapid passes with her hand and stood back with a smile on her face.

“George, the convoy is in a standard box formation. The corners are freighters. I count four freighters and sixteen ore carriers. I also counted five SONGBIRD class destroyers and at least four of the CARDINAL class sub chasers orbiting their flock.” She pulled a face, “I also spotted something that I didn’t recognize. It was partially shielded by one of the freighters. It might be a sub chaser…” She hesitated, “but the sensor readings are wrong. Anyway, by the time I thought I’d be able to see it, it blinked off the screen.”

“Blinked off the screen?” George scratched his head, “Ma’am, do you think it might be one of those Bug TDS’ we just heard about?”

Leela rubbed her chin, “Could be. DRADIS…I want you to keep a sharp lookout in 4D. ”

Sensorman Tyler, a tall, dark haired and dark eyed spaceman, touched the glowing screen in his front, adjusted some dials and peered intently at the AN/PPQ 34 readout. “Captain…Ma’am,” he half turned toward Leela, “there is something in 4D traveling in and out of that convoy.”

“Sensor ghost?”

“No ma’am.” He shook his head vigorously. A trace of his Tennessee roots crept into his voice, “It’s too dang strong of a return.” He touched the screen several times, “Kinda looks like one of our early subs…we used one of them to calibrate this unit back at the yard.” He turned a dial and peered at the screen again, “It may be just a tad smaller…but it’s a TDS, no question.”

“Let’s flash the pack.” Leela frowned, “Something about this whole setup stinks.”

Once the pack acknowledged the signal, Leela said, “DRADIS, keep a close eye on the suspected TDS…designated X-Ray Zero One.” She turned to LT Wilkes, “Well, George…here’s your first PCO challenge. How do you want to handle it? LT Wilkes grinned, “Are you sure you want to pick this particular time to put me in command of the boat?”

“I can’t think of a better one.”

“Okay, then.” LT Wilkes rubbed the slight stubble on his chin, “Let’s just stick with the plan. Ore carriers have priority. If X-Ray Zero One closes towards our position, then we’ll go silent…track him…and put him out of our misery.”

“The escorts?”

“If we stick to hit-and-run tactics, they shouldn’t be a problem. Once we’ve killed enough ore carriers, maybe we’ll target some escorts.”

“Getting kind of gutsy with the boat, aren’t you?” Leela smiled.

“No Ma’am…I’m just following your example.”

“Let’s get at it then.” Leela gestured towards the periscope, “Do the Devilfish proud.”

LT Wilkes skilfully maneuvered the Devilfish within killing range of the convoy. During the approach, he methodically gave target designations to every ship in the convoy. Escorts were Alpha Zero One through Alpha Zero Nine. Ore carriers were Oscar Zero One through Oscar One Six. Freighters were Foxtrot Zero One through Foxtrot Zero Four. And of course, the suspected bug TDS was the lone X-Ray. Nothing in the movement of their prey or the escorts indicated any suspicion that a TDS was ‘danger close.’

Thirty minutes after beginning their run in on the convoy, LT Wilkes raised the periscope for a final bearing, “Target Oscar Zero Three bearing Three Four Zero, Range Two Zero Zero kilometers…MARK.”

“SET” LT Takamori replied.

“Target Oscar Zero Four bearing Three Five Zero, range Three Zero Zero kilometers…MARK.”

“SET,” came Takamori’s laconic reply.

“One fish per target!” LT Wilkes let some excitement creep into his voice, “Fire one!”

“One Away.”

“Fire two!”

“Two away.”

Sensorman Tyler sang out, “Both fish running hot, straight and normal.”

“How many seconds to target?”

“Five…four…three…two…one.”

The first ore carrier disintegrated in a blinding flash. A second later the other blew apart in a silent inferno.

“Take her down to one fifty…execute maneuver Gamma.” LT Wilkes ordered as he slid down the scope. “Alpha Zero One and Alpha Zero Three are headed our way in a hurry.”

Amid the gabble of voices giving and affirming the commands necessary to execute LT Wilkes’ orders Leela asked, “Any movement on X-Ray Zero One?”

“Negative, Captain.” Sensorman Tyler replied, “She’s still on the other side of the convoy.”

“Well done, George.” Leela grinned. “You captured the destruction on video?”

“Wouldn’t miss it, Ma’am.”

“DRADIS,” Leela stepped slightly toward the station, “make sure you keep track of the other pack members. Let me know if X-Ray Zero One comes anywhere near them.”

“Aye – Aye Ma’am.”

Leela picked up a microphone and keyed the all hands circuit, “This is the Captain speaking, rig for dimension charge.”

The low thrumming sound of the Xoran search gear reverberated through the boat. LT Wilkes grinned at Leela and gave a thumbs up sign. The grin had scarcely left his face when Sensorman Tyler sang out, “D-Charges entering 4-D.” He stared intently at his display, “Those boys are good. They got us bracketed already.”

“WHAM! WHAM!” Two nearly simultaneous explosions caused the boat to rock violently. In the CCC, Saint Elmo’s fire gushed from an electrical panel. Several LED displays went dark. An acrid smell of burnt electronics and ozone filled the air. No one panicked, although several of the CCC crew swore loudly.

Forward of the CCC, the sparking set off a fire in the spaces near the torpedo loading hatch. Since the area was filled mostly with small stores, the fire began to spread rapidly. Fire alarms began to pulse. Aft of the CCC, Fry looked at the damage control panel and made a quick decision. “Ng…get to the CCC. Re-route power through the secondary circuits until you can make repairs. Take Kimber with you. Bender, come with me old buddy, we’ve got a fire to fight.”

“Always have the robot do the dirty work,” Bender grumbled as he followed Fry forward. Fry didn’t even hear him. His mind was focused on keeping them all alive.

It only took a few minutes for Fry and Bender to extinguish the fire. Ng and Kimber restored power to all systems in the CCC in even less time. In the interval, four more D-Charge patterns detonated – each increasingly further away.

DRADIS soon confirmed that the two escorts were hurrying back to the convoy. Evidently, the other pack members had begun their attacks.

“DRADIS,” LT Wilkes called out, “status of contacts?”

“Oscar Zero Four and Oscar Zero Six are gone.” There was a short pause before Sensorman Tyler drawled, “Foxtrot Zero Four is gone as well.”

“Position of the escorts?”

“Four of them are working the Silversides over.” Tyler stiffened, “Sir, X-Ray Zero One is moving. It seems to be heading toward the Shad.”

“Course to intercept X-Ray Zero One?” LT Wilkes asked.

Tyler did a few rapid calculations, “Three Three Four, Zulu Eight Zero.”

LT Wilkes looked at Leela who nodded. Wilkes straightened up, “Helm…lay in course Three Three Four, Zulu Eight Zero, point five light.”

“Aye-aye sir.”

The Devilfish worked itself into firing position in under ten minutes. Against the new AN/PPQ 34 DRADIS, X-Ray Zero One had no chance. While their forward sensor array was capable of tracking moving objects in 4-D, it only swept a 120 degree forward arc. The first intimation the Xoran TDS had of the Devilfish’s stealthy approach was the blaring of a near-field collision detector. Before the Xoran skipper could issue any orders, a Mark XIII torpedo struck just aft of his CCC. X-Ray Zero One was no more.

Over the next hour, the Devilfish accounted for five more ore carriers, one SONGBIRD destroyer and one CARDINAL escort. When the action was over, the wolfpack’s total kill stood at thirteen ore carriers, one freighter, two SONGBIRD Destroyers, three CARDINAL sub chasers and one TDS. Admiral Zhu later characterized it as a “perfectly planned and executed massacre.”

But it was all not good news. The Silversides was heavily damaged by the escorts in a merciless D-Charge attack. The damage forced her into 3D not long after the Xoran cleared the area. With her engines failing, the Silversides was being inexorably pulled into a nearby star.

Saving the Silversides

The badly stricken Silversides was slowly drifting into the star’s corona. Aboard her, damage control parties worked with desperate courage. They had extinguished the fires and managed to lock down the radiation leak from the reactor by shutting it down. Auxiliary power was on line throughout the boat.

That was about it for good news. The CEPHI engines were off line because the “L” unit had been twisted out of alignment. That left the boat with maneuvering thrusters only. The reactor would require two hours of decontamination and another four hours to restart. Worse luck, their only Bending Unit was a battle casualty, so the damage control crew had no way to realign the Tonka Tough Steel of the CEPHI engine “L” unit.

After listening to the damage control report, LCDR Calvert did some quick calculations. Even if they restored the reactor in time, it could only slow their gradual descent into the star. At most, they had eight hours before gravimetric stress and the corona’s heat finished the Silversides.

LCDR Calvert turned to the communications officer, “Send a distress call on all secure channels.” Without waiting for a response, Calvert turned to his Exec, “I say Knobby, prepare to abandon ship with all but a skeleton crew. All volunteers, mind you. If we can salvage the old girl, all well and good. Boats we can replace but not crews.”

“But sir…”

“No buts, Knobby. Off you go.” He smiled, “We’ll bring it off.”

“Then at least let me stay, sir.”

“Nonsense.” He shook his head, “The Captain is the last to leave the ship and all that. Don’t worry, I have no intention of immolating myself in some damned obscure star.”

Defeated, Knobby replied, “Aye-aye, sir.”

“There’s a good fellow.” Calvert clapped him on the shoulder, “I expect we’ll be hearing from the pack shortly.”

Almost as if on cue, the communications officer spoke up, “Sir…TBS (Talk Between Ships) from Commander Devilfish.”

“Ah…just the thing.” Calvert stepped to the console and donned a headset. He gave Leela a quick summary of the Silversides condition and of his intent to evacuate all but a skeleton crew. Leela agreed and ordered the other boats to lay to and pick up survivors. She told Calvert of the rapid approach of the Resolute and the research/salvage craft she carried. They were due in a little over two hours. Calvert voiced his relief, “That’s jolly good. You don’t suppose they have a bending unit, do you? We simply must have one to get our CEPHI engines back on line.”

“Do you want to borrow ours?” Leela asked. Calvert declined her offer, “Wouldn’t dream of it. It would take you two hours to bring him over anyway. Better to spend the time picking up my crew.” Leela thought for a moment and told Calvert that the Resolute had a bending unit. “Marvelous,” Calvert replied “Do ask them to send him over.” After settling a few more details, they broke contact. Immediately, Leela forwarded the details of the Silversides’ condition to the Resolute.

0-0-0-0-0

Onboard the Resolute, Dink was on watch when the distress call arrived. Within fifteen minutes, the Resolute was speeding to the Silversides’ aid.

As they sped to the rescue, the Resolute’s entire crew plus Josiah Jepson huddled on the bridge in a strategy session. They had been at it for an hour, trying to work out a way to haul the Silversides out of danger. Their first idea had been a tractor beam, which El had pointed out probably wouldn’t work because of the electromagnetic variances within the sun’s corona. Next they discussed pushing the stricken TDS like a space tug. Redline had scotched that idea. He had operated space tugs and knew that the Resolute lacked the complex thruster control necessary to succeed. Dink brought up the idea of a tow. Everyone warmed to the idea but were stumped as to what they could use for a tow line.

“I’ve got it!” Flounder cried out. “We’ll use the Professor’s diamondium filament!

“The diamondium filament!” Everyone echoed.

“How do we get it to the Silversides?”

Jepson spoke up for the first time, “I think the Kavouri can do the trick.”

“The what?” Zoidberg asked.

“My little research craft. It can attach the filament…no problem. Heck, we can even dock with the TDS if we have to.”

“Then it’s settled.” Redline stood up. “We should be there in an hour. Everyone to your stations except you, Dink. You’ll have to work the cargo hatch.”

“Wilco, Captain.” Dink replied as he headed for the cargo bay closely followed by Jepson, Zoidberg and Flexo.

0-0-0-0

Leela stood on the bridge, sipping a cup of tea. The Shad and Flying Fish had picked up the Silversides’ crew. A Yeoman approached with a message tablet, “Ma’am, it’s a signal from the Resolute.”

“Thank you, Wellington.” She nodded. Perusing the message Leela got the gist of the rescue plan immediately. Motioning to LT Wilkes, she extended the tablet wordlessly. His eyes flickered over the lines of text in silence. When finished, he looked Leela in the eye, “Sounds like a good plan to me.”

“Any suggestions as to our course of action?”

“No Ma’am. I’d just lie low and make sure the Bugs don’t interfere.”

“Signal the Resolute we will do just that.” She smiled broadly, “And my compliments to Captain Redline. Ask him to take care of the old girl. I’ll be wanting my job back when this is all over.”

“Aye-aye Ma’am,” Wilkes replied with a grin.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Redline couldn’t help smiling at the optimism in Leela’s message. To tell the truth, he hadn’t thought or spoken of the end of the war for some time. Forcing his mind to return to the present, Redline conned the ship within a twenty meters of the Silversides. He didn’t dare approach any closer because of the violent electromagnetic currents.

Flounder custom built a towing rig. He intertwined the diamondium filament with a power cable. Then he attached a magnetic coupler and a hyperspectral beacon at the free running end. Paying the rig out astern, the Resolute was almost ready to commence towing. The last step was to reinforce structural integrity with both of the SRU-3’s they had aboard. Enlisting El-Man’s help, Flounder made things as ship shape as he could. Once he was satisfied, Flounder notified Redline, “We’re ready.”

Redline replied, “Good work. Launch the rescue craft.”

The cargo lift descended and the Kavouri lazily cleared the bay. Aided by the beacon, Jepson quickly located the free running end of the towing rig. Zoidberg…who actually showed real aptitude for it…operated the claws. Flexo stood behind Jepson, making helpful suggestions. At least until Jepson tired of it, “Do be quiet Flexo, there’s a good fellow.”

It took less than five minutes to attach the filament. Jepson notified Redline, “Line secured.” Redline replied, “Got it. Let me know when you’ve transferred Flexo to the Silversides. Then we’ll bring you back aboard.”

“Ok.” Jepson began the docking maneuver. It took a bit longer than expected due to the electromagnetic currents. With a few deft burst of thruster, the Kavouri docked with the Silversides at the forward weapons loading hatch. Flexo quickly opened the hatch, scrambled through the hatchway and dogged the hatch shut. Without delay, Jepson guided the Kavouri aboard the Resolute.

It took several hours, but the Resolute managed to tow the Silversides free of the star’s corona. While the towing job went on, Flexo repaired the “L” unit inflicting his peculiar sense of humor on anyone who couldn’t avoid listening. The crew was on the point of shoving him out an airlock when the Kavouri returned to pick him up, just in time. Once all were back aboard the Resolute, Redline signaled the Devilfish for permission to leave the system. Leela granted his request without hesitation, “Let your crew know I owe you a round when we next meet. You helped keep a good sub in the fight. Well done.”

Redline lived up to his name and redlined the throttle as soon as they left the system. The boats of TASKGRU 39.3 were not far behind.

On the Bond Drive

The trip home had been uneventful for both the Resolute and the boats of TASKGRU 39.3. The Resolute had headed for Earth, with a refit scheduled at the South Port Naval Yard. The Devilfish went into space dock over the Syria Planum Naval Yard for conversion into a command boat. Their arrival at Space Dock 4 was filmed by half the press corps, with an official party headed by Vice Admiral Schroeder.

Much to her surprise, Leela received a double dose of official attention. She received the DOOP Naval Cross and was promoted to Captain in front of the unblinking eye of the news cameras. George Wilkes was promoted to Lieutenant Commander, receiving a Naval Cross as well. Much to his surprise, Fry was singled out for attention. He received promotion to Chief Petty Officer. Unbeknownst to him, Chief Mac was the chief culprit in his promotion. Working through senior enlisted channels, Mac had pushed relentlessly for Fry’s advancement.

As soon as the ceremonies concluded, Leela and Fry were whisked to Vice Admiral Schroeder’s office. He was a short, lean man with a fringe of white hair around his bald head and piercing blue eyes. As they entered his office, he pointed to a leather couch against one wall, “Have a seat.”

While they were settling in, Schroeder settled into a large leather arm chair. He leaned back and crossed his legs before saying quietly, “Let’s get to it. While the Devilfish is in the yard, you two are going on a bond drive. The Navy is sending some of it’s heroes to drum up money for the war effort. You’ll be briefed by Captain McFarland of my staff on your itinerary and duties. Is that clear?”

“Aye-aye sir,” both echoed.

“Good,” a hint of a smile crossed his leathery face. “You’ll be going in front of the cameras again in about an hour. Get spruced up and in the proper uniform before then.”

“Sir?” Leela sounded confused, “But begging the Admiral’s pardon…we are in the duty uniform.”

Schroeder gave a short bark of laughter, obviously pleased with himself. “Your ranks are all wrong.” He pointed at Leela, “You should be wearing four stripes and you should be wearing CPO rank.”

“Oh,” Fry said, “right…we got promoted.”

“That you did,” Schroeder replied. “Now go see Yeoman Grantley in the outer office. He should be able to get you both squared away most ricky-tick. Then see Captain McFarland in the Public Affairs office. Chop-chop.” He grimaced, “It doesn’t do to keep the damned press corps waiting.”

Captain Harold Tinkersley McFarland – Tink to his friends – turned out to be a tall, athletic man with mane of black hair fringed with iron grey. His blue eyes could alternate between sparkling friendliness and lightning bolts of anger. His ruddy complexion was that of a man ten years his junior. The consummate Public Affairs man, he instantly put Leela and Fry at their ease.

In an hour they stood before the press for a second time that day, the combined camera lights making them blink like owls in the sunshine. Morbo and Walter Cronkite’s head were both among the press corps, an indication of the importance of this convocation of the Fifth Estate. Things went smoothly. As briefed by Captain McFarland, Leela answered most of the questions while Fry played the strong silent type – answering most questions with monosyllables.

The conference over, Fry and Leela had barely drawn breath before Captain McFarland ushered them into a waiting hovercar. “You are due at Madison Cube Garden in thirty minutes to make a speech,” he handed Leela a tablet, “After that you’ll head west to Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. Then it’s off to Mexico City, Caracas, and Buenos Aires.”

Leela bridled at the rush, “Look Captain, we’ve just gotten back from a long difficult patrol…”

“I know.” He grinned, “You both get a week off for good behavior in Buenos Aires before we pick up the pace. BA is a heck of a good liberty port.”

“We…I mean I have friends there.” Fry said quietly, “Family of a lost shipmate.”

“I know. Well, you’ll have plenty of time to visit once we get this bit of our road show finished.” He grinned, “The things we have to do to win a war.”

o-o-o-o

Buenos Aires

The schedule had been grueling, with very little time to think or relax. Still, they had raised over two billion in war bonds in a week. Captain McFarland was as good as his word. When they arrived in Buenos Aires, he had booked them into the Alvear Palace Hotel. It was an ancient building on the exterior but was luxuriously furnished and staffed with robots and people whose service bordered on obsequious.

Fry and Leela had adjoining luxury suites on the top floor. Leela had noted with some satisfaction that her room had – among other amenities – a colossal four poster bed with a canopy and an indecently large Jacuzzi. It was almost large enough to take a swim!

“I may never leave this room for the whole week,” she announced to Fry and McFarlane, Fry spoke up, “But Consuela…I mean Mrs. Esmerelda is expecting us…”

Before he could finish his sentence Leela laughed, “Fry…you are the mayor of Literalville. Of course we’ll go see Consuela and the girls.” Remembering that McFarland was present, she turned to him with a smile, “Mrs. Esmerelda is the mother of a shipmate who was KIA. We both promised to visit if we ever got to town.”

“Of course,” McFarland said quietly. What he wanted to add was, “Please be careful. The last thing we want is a fraternization scandal.” In the week they had been together, Tink had become aware that both Fry and Leela cared for each other…and that the caring was far beyond the normal bonds of comradeship. Because he had come to like both of them very much, he decided to keep his suspicions to himself. He returned Leela’s smile, “It’s always good to visit with family of fallen shipmates.” “Well, I’ll be shoving off.” He looked at his Wristamajiggy, “Just call me if you need anything. I’m heading to Montevideo for a bit of relaxation myself.”

Leela walked Tink to the door. After closing the door, she found herself feeling like her old, impulsive self. “No,” she thought, “I don’t want to cause problems.” It was an effort, but in the short walk down the hallway to the made up her mind.

Fry was standing where she had left him. That boyish grin was on his face. Overcome by a whirlwind of emotion, she grabbed a very surprised Fry and kissed him like she had all those years ago on the Titanic. Only this time, there was no Zapp Brannigan. When they broke the seal, Fry looked stunned.

“Fry!” Leela growled, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Fry felt slightly dizzy, his mouth dry. “Leela…I…”

“Not a word.”

He nodded wordlessly.

Leela remembered the Jacuzzi. “Fry, why don’t you let me clean up a bit. Then come in for a dip in my Jacuzzi.”

“Sure!”

“I’ll leave the door between our suites unlocked.” She smiled, “Let’s pretend this is Freedom Day. OK?”

“Er…uh…Y…yes.” Fry could feel his skin flushing.

“See you in twenty minutes,” she gave him a look which made his imagination run riot. “Oh…and make sure you mess your bed up so it looks like it was slept in. We don’t want to set any tongues wagging.”

“Sure.” He fairly flew to his room in a lather of anticipation.

Leela found herself undressing eagerly. She filled the Jacuzzi, her mind a tangled skein of thoughts both rational and emotional. It had been so long. Was she right to do this? She didn’t want to be thought of as a female Zapp Brannigan. Yes! Who knows if we will survive the war? Yes…but we have to keep it secret. Even a Medal of Valor holder can fall from favor. Above all, I must protect Fry. Oh Lord…how I love him!

She noticed the Jacuzzi was almost full, so she added a bit of lilac scented bubble bath. A slight head of foam formed as she turned on the jets. Slowly, she lowered herself into the water. Undoing her ponytail, she leaned back against the side. Her eye closed and she dozed off, her mind filled with thoughts of Fry.

As Leela was preparing the Jacuzzi, a buck naked Fry was dancing from foot to foot in his suite. Trembling like a race horse, he watched the clock with the intensity of a raptor watching its next meal. The minutes crept by with agonizing slowness. At last! Twenty minutes was up!

Fry hurried into Leela’s suite, making a beeline for the Jacuzzi. He saw Leela there and his brain shorted out. He ran across the floor and leaped high into the air. For a brief moment, at the top of his arc he thought that this wasn’t the best idea he had ever had. He did a perfect cannon ball and landed dead center in the Jacuzzi.

Water shot up in a geyser before slashing down to soak a very startled Leela. Sputtering and shaking water from her hair, Leela jumped up to glare at a bewildered Fry. He began to sputter a lame apology when to his surprise Leela began to laugh. It began as a giggle but rapidly graduated to bellows. Fry found he couldn’t help laughing either.

When the laughter died Leela asked, “Fry, what were you thinking?”

Fry’s reply held no surprises, “I don’t know Leela…I was just so excited…I didn’t know what to do.”

She sat down, “Well come sit beside me and we’ll discuss it.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Sunlight was filling the room when Leela opened her eye. She looked over in the bed and Fry was not there. Her hand shot out…the sheets were still warm. She sat up, running her fingers through her purple tresses. “God, I must look a mess.”

The sound of humming interrupted her thoughts. It must be Fry! He was humming that Stupid Ages tune, I’m walking on sunshine. She smiled.

Fry came into view. He was dressed in civilian clothes and was carrying a tray. Leela could smell the coffee even without seeing it.

“Good morning, Leela!”

“Morning, Fry.”

“I got you some breakfast.” He gave that boyish grin, “You sure were sleeping soundly. I was so darned hungry that I ordered us room service.”

“Fry!”

“I did it from my room.” He replied, “I hope you like it.”

She did. It surprised her how good everything tasted. Coffee, eggs, bacon, toast, orange juice…all just the way she liked it.

“Thank you Fry.”

“You’re welcome.” Leela’s Wristamajiggy began to beep. She rolled over to check it. She frowned.

“Wassup?”

“We need to go see Consuela and the girls.” Leela replied, “And I had my heart set on some more loving.”

“We still have a week.”

“Yes, a glorious week.”

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Diary Entry, Captain Turanga Leela, June 4 3009

Dear Diary,

Well, it’s been a while since I last entered anything in your pages. It certainly has been an interesting six weeks. During that time I went on a whirlwind bond drive with Fry and raised billions for defense of the DOOP. You could sure get a swelled head on a trip like that…the crowds…the cheering…all the BS the press corps and public affairs dish out about you. It’s enough to make you barf! Still, it keeps morale up at home.

But now, as Bender would say – I’m back baby!

Seriously though, I’m going to tell you first. Fry proposed to me in Buenos Aires five weeks ago (probably for the three hundredth time) and I accepted! I still can’t believe I’m writing this.

We were in a Jacuzzi in my suite when he popped the question. That is so like Fry. To propose when we’re both naked in a Jacuzzi. Since I don’t kiss and tell, I’m not giving you any of the more lurid details. But our lovemaking was glorious!

Just before Fry proposed, we had gone to a mass in a Cathedral in Buenos Aires with Consuela Esmerelda and her three daughters. Consuela is very religious and has been so good to us, we couldn’t refuse. I’m glad we didn’t.

The Metropolitan Cathedral is over a thousand years old. The mausoleum containing General Jose San Martin, the incredible artwork and beautiful stained glass were enough of a reason to go. But there was something else that I can’t explain. Maybe it was the incense and the light of so many candles…real, honest to goodness beeswax candles…that filled me with a sense of something greater than myself. I don’t know.

The same evening we all went to see a show. It is about a famous Argentine heroine, Evita Peron. Madonna’s head did a wonderful job in her 100,000 performance in the role. I guess with that many performances, she should have it down pat. The three Esmeralda girls certainly did! They sang along in a way that was too cute to get annoyed about.

It was after a very late dinner that Fry proposed in the Jacuzzi. What an evening! The rest of our time, although fun, pales in comparison.

Now we are back onboard the good old Devilfish. She’s really tricked out as a command boat. She has enhanced Command and Communications capabilities, as well as a sweet set of accommodations for yours truly.

Rumor has it that the Bugs are on the ropes. I hope so. I feel like a fugitive from the law of averages. Rumors abound that we’re going to invade their home system. I hope not. It will take way too many friendly dead to win.

Still,“Ours is not to reason why.”

Time to leave space dock. I’ll write more later.

Last Patrol – The F Bomb

In a lonely corner of the Milky Way, a team of men and women in a mix of white lab coats and DOOP uniforms sat expectantly watching a viewscreen. The majority of the screen was filled with a characteristically blue, cloud wreathed class M planet. A call out screen showed the planet’s teeming surface life as a series of red dots and blotches.

There arose a quiet murmur of recognition as Professor Hubert Farnsworth shuffled into the room in his trademark blue house slippers. He waved absently before calling out, “Good news everyone!”

The assembled crowd exchanged “what the heck” filled glances. Without even seeming to notice, the Professor giggled, “Now you are going to see what you came to see. Watch the screen!”

The Professor pressed a large red button on the console next to the viewscreen. The floor shuddered slightly. In a matter of seconds, the viewscreen was almost filled with a missile that rapidly diminished in size as it streaked towards the planet. It had dwindled to a speck before a bright light temporarily filled the screen.

A greenish energy wave rolled out across the planet. As it reached an area, the red lights on the call out screen winked out. Once the wave had made a complete circle of the planet the call out screen was dark.

“My God,” one of the military men exclaimed in horror. “It’s Armageddon.”

“No it isn’t.” A blonde woman in a lab coat responded, “It’s Genesis. We’ve totally remade the biomatrix of the planet. Soon new life will spring forth.”

“We can’t use this!” A tall, dark haired man in a lab coat exclaimed as he waved his briarwood pipe. “We have become the destroyer of worlds!”

“Oh fuff!” The Professor replied. “This is just what you ordered to exterminate bugs.” He emitted a senescent cackle, “The Farnsworth device!”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Aboard the Resolute, Gamma Quadrant, Xoran Home Galaxy

“So exactly what is it we’ve been hauling?” Flounder asked himself as he looked at the three crates filling the cargo bay. The crates had come aboard under strict security measures, guarded by a contingent of six of the baddest looking Marines Flounder had ever seen. They were taciturn jokers as well, he reflected. Not a word escaped their lips other than in line of duty.

The Resolute had departed the Milky Way Galaxy from Starbase D 91 two days ago with their Amphibiosian camouflage engaged whenever they were in 3D. They had made best possible speed to the rendezvous point, where the Resolute hung silently…a camouflaged hole in space. Waiting by the entrance to a wormhole. For what?

On the bridge, Redline knew what they were waiting for. His orders had been simple, clear, and word of mouth. Nothing about the mission was in the ship computers or in writing. Every bit of mission data rested between his cranium fins. When they had arrived, a puzzled El-Man had even cleared the navigational logs.

Dink sat in the turret, keeping watch in the direction of the wormhole. He too was wondering about the mission. Why in the world were they at EMCON? They were in bug territory, but this sector only had a couple of sparsely inhabited colonies. True, they were devoted to war industry but they were lightly defended. He was sure the AN/PPQ would pick up any bugs in time for the good old Resolute to give them the slip. Besides, the bugs had stripped most of their defenders from this sector to resist the DOOP forces executing Operation Downfall.

A dazzling vortex appeared in Dink’s field of vision. “Captain, the wormhole is active. I repeat, the wormhole is active.”

“Roger.” Redline turned to El-Man, “Stand by to go active…all systems.”

“Aye-aye.”

“Dink, keep me advised.”

“Holy Cannoli!” Dink nearly shouted, “It’s a whole carrier battle group!”

“Roger.” Redline sounded relieved. “El, transmit “Climb Mount Whitney” to the ships emerging. Make it a tight beam transmission.”

“Got it.” El Man punched the phrase into the console, made the necessary adjustments and hit send. “Message away, Captain.”

“Very good.”

Dink was busy counting the ships emerging from the wormhole. There were six fleet class carriers, four smaller carriers, two battle wagons and at least a full cruiser squadron and two full destroyer squadrons. What the heck were they doing on the ass end of bug space?

Redline keyed his comm link to the cargo bay, “Flounder…suit up. We’ll be getting rid of our cargo in about five minutes. A cargo shuttle from the Lexington will be here to make the pickup. Once that is done…we’re off for home.”

“Okay Redline.” Flounder scrambled into his EVAS before depressurizing the cargo bay. In exactly five minutes, a cargo shuttle arrived. Six Marines who could have been clones of those who conducted the loading wordlessly removed the crates, stashing them aboard the cargo shuttle.

As the shuttle moved away, Flounder closed the hatch. Even before he had pressurized the compartment, he keyed his mike, “Ready to go Redline.”

“Good.” Redline headed for the wormhole, “Let’s blow this pop stand.”



EXCERPT FROM “THERE AND BACK – A NARRATIVE OF THE XORAN WAR”, Naval Institute Press, Syria Planum, Mars, RADM (Rtd.) Kif Kroker, May 3025

Operation Downfall was the final major engagement of the Xoran War. It involved the majority of the DOOP Fleet in a series of actions in seven galaxies. Six of the seven actions were diversionary. The main effort was delivered by Task Force 34 (TF 34).

I commanded the escort screen for that task force, composed of my own cruiser squadron 18 and DESRON 8 and 9. The task force centered on the six fleet carriers, the Akagi, Moskva, Lexington, Ark Royal, Enterprise, and Clemenceau. The four escort carriers, Boston, Mumbai, Osaka, and Shanghai were loaded with fighters to provide continuous cover to the TF. The two battle wagons, the Yamamoto and the Hood were along to provide anti-spacecraft (AS) fire as well as a credible punch if needed.

Our mission was fairly simple. We were there to ensure the delivery of the Farnsworth Device to Planet Gamma 365 Alpha. In retrospect it might have been better to deliver the device in a stealthy manner, but that wasn’t the way we were thinking at the time. We wanted the Xoran to know that we could penetrate their defenses and devastate a planet – and they couldn’t do a thing to stop us.

I have to admit to being quite nervous. After all, this was my first command as a Rear Admiral. Since the elements of the screen were well-trained, I had little to do save approve orders and pace the bridge of my flagship, the good old Altair. She had undergone a complete refit as both a command ship and an AS Cruiser. Still, the old girl kept her luck.

When we came through the wormhole, I deployed the screen in a standard AS formation. There were no Xoran craft on DRADIS, but I wasn’t about to take chances. As it turned out, I was right.

As luck would have it, my old comrades from the Resolute were already there with the Farnsworth Device on board. The delivered it without any fuss and were ready to go home, I think. But they were remissioned as a lifeguard for the initial strikes against the planetary defenses. Before the final strike, the plan called for the suppression of orbital defenses and spacecraft launch facilities. The DOOP high command was taking no chances.

The Xoran reacted vigorously to our incursion. A swarm of enemy fighters and attack craft streamed out to meet us. The Combat Space Patrol (CSP) of 60 Thunderbolt II and Falcon fighters streaked to meet them. Alert fighters roared out of the launch tubes of all the carriers to join the CSP. Within minutes over three hundred spacecraft were tangling between the planet and the Task Force. It was quite a sight. Although much was beyond visual range, I could see some of the ferocious struggle going on.

A battle in space isn’t like the movies. You don’t hear any explosions…it’s almost all visual. Of course, aboard a ship you feel the thrum of the engines through the deck plating, catch the occasional whiff or ozone or the pungent smell of fear. But it is mostly visual and – because of that – a bit surreal.

A number of enemy attack craft broke through the CSP, headed for the Task Force. The Altair was right in their path and was the first of the screen to engage them. We scorched four Buzzard class attack craft with our newly installed AS systems. Two of them made dives for the Altair, but they missed. Other ships in the escort were not so lucky. The Ganymede was hit by three Buzzards in the space of ninety seconds. With fires raging fore and aft, it was a miracle that she survived. Good damage control is often the difference between bringing her home or abandoning ship.

Fortunately, not a single carrier was struck – although the Clemenceau had a close call. AS fire from the Callisto saved her, shredding a Buzzard less than a hundred meters from impact. Once we swept the enemy craft from space, The Yamamoto and Hood dealt with the orbital defenses. The combined weight of their eighteen 380 terajoule cannons made mincemeat of the stations and dockyards, sending them crashing into the planet.

The moment arrived when Admiral Koenig determined that the planetary defenses were effectively suppressed. From the port launch bay of the Lexington, a single SuperStryker emerged. To accompany her on her trip to the planet, the launch tubes spat out four Thunderbolt II fighters. On the bridge of the Altair, I watched them as they winged their way unmolested to their firing position.

They were too distant for me to see them drop the device, but there was no mistaking the greenish wave of energy that radiated from ground zero. Swiftly and inexorably it engulfed the planet. Onboard the Lexington, Admiral king sent the single word message, “Olympus.” Planet Gamma 365 Alpha, Gamma Sector, in the Xoran Home Galaxy, had been wiped clean of all sentient life.

Our job done, TF 34 pulled out in standard order. Half the screen went through first, followed by the big boys and last by the remaining half of the screen. The Altair was the last ship through. Little did I know, that this was our last major battle against the Xoran. Peace was nigh.

Aboard the Resolute in orbit around Planet Gamma 365 Alpha, Gamma Sector, Xoran Home Galaxy

“Snap!” El-Man growled as he looked at the comms panel, “We’ve just drawn frakking lifeguard duty!”

Redline frowned, “I guess I need to scoot back through the wormhole a little faster next time.”

“That’s right meatbag,” Flexo chimed in before quickly adding, “Just kidding Captain.”

Dink shrugged his shoulders, “Same old Navy. Just when you think you are home free…bam! They put you back in the soup.”

“So what are our orders?” Redline asked.

“Um…Let’s see.” El-Man scanned the screen. “Take up an orbit over the southern pole, rescue any pilots…the usual. Subron 39 will cover the rest of the planet.” He looked puzzled, “Wait a mo’. We are not under any circumstances to come within 30 kilometers of the surface. What the hell? How can we rescue any downed pilots from the surface?”

“Ask for confirmation,” Redline said. “Sounds like a typical staff screw up.”

Five minutes later they had their confirmation of the unusual orders. Engaging the Amphibosian camouflage, Redline conned the Resolute into a station keeping orbit over the South Pole.

“Damn,” El-Man exclaimed. “Look at all of those fighters and attack craft coming from the planet’s surface!” He studied the screen for a moment, “I make it 200 plus.”

“How about the CSP?” Redline asked.

“Heading to meet them.”

“Heads up.” Redline engaged his throat mike, “Action stations.”

Dink climbed into the turret and warmed up the pulse cannon. Flexo went aft to the engine room to execute Flounder’s orders as needed. Zoidberg stayed in the laundry brig, which he had pressed into duty as a first aid station.

Things were quiet for about five more minutes before El-Man broke the silence, “Looks like the CSP is chasing the Xoran back home.” He paused, “Not many Xoran left. Looks like the AS fire and the CSP stamped most of their meal cards ‘no dessert.’”

Redline gave a short laugh, “Any distress beacons?”

“None in our sector…no…wait.” El-Man we’ve got a Thunderbolt in trouble. I’ll put him on speaker.”

“Mayday…Mayday…this is Wildcat Four Two. Mayday…Mayday.”

“Wildcat Two Four this is Lifeguard Three Six Zero” El-Man replied, “What is your status?”

“Lifeguard this is Wildcat, I’ve lost main engine… on thrusters only…electronics are fried…can’t eject. I’ve lost attitude control. I’m going down.”

“Wildcat this is Lifeguard, we have you on scope. Try to maintain altitude.”

“I’m skimming the troposphere already!”

Redline looked grim, “It’s going to be close, but we’ll get him.”

The Resolute leaped forward, closing the gap swiftly. Redline could see that they were going to come well below the 30 kilometer limit before they could rescue the pilot. He made up his mind. Screw orders! At 20 kilometers above the surface, they got close enough to fire the grapnel. Redline pressed his throat mike, “Okay Flexo…you’re on.”

In the cargo bay, Flexo had lowered the lift. Tethered to the bulkhead, Flexo fired the grapnel, hitting the target on the first try. “Got him!”

“Reel him in and let’s get the frak out of here!” Flounder almost shouted.

The ship was gaining altitude when a brilliant green light began to spread in a wave around the planet. It towered above the planet’s surface and from where Dink sat, it looked like it would engulf the ship. Dink called out, “Do some of that pilot stuff and get us out of here, Skipper!”

At that moment Flexo called out, “We’ve got him!”

Flounder chimed in, “We have a positive seal on the cargo bay.”

“Hang onto your lunch!” Redline called before punching it. The ship responded like a startled jackrabbit. The cleared the Farnsworth Wave with only a kilometer to spare.

“Woo hoo!” Redline called out. His uncharacteristic outburst brought a smile to everyone’s lips. “Time to go home kiddies. That is, as soon as we drop off our passenger.”

Their passenger turned out to be Ensign Junior Grade Koenig, son of the Admiral! With the Admiral’s thanks, they returned him to the Lexington. Once they passed through the wormhole and were cruising toward Earth – in the middle of a mighty battle fleet – the crew gathered on the bridge.

“Not a bad day’s work,” Flounder said in a tone laden with satisfaction.

Redline merely nodded.

Flexo exclaimed, “How about a cold one on me?”

“Sure,” Redline replied. “Wait…this isn’t Olde Foretran is it?”

“Nope, it’s Meisterbrau!”

“Alright,” said Dink with a grin. “Now that’s what I’m talking about.”

Flexo pulled the frosty cold bottles from his chest cavity and handed them around.

Flounder raised his beer, “To the end of this stinking war!”

“I’ll drink to that!” El-Man said with enthusiasm.

Before they finished their beer, the video phone began to flash “Priority Message…All units.”

“What the heck?” El-Man said, “Skipper…”

Onboard DNS Devilfish, Command Boat SUBRON 39, Gamma Sector, Xoran Home Galaxy

CPO Simpson’s eyes widened as the Flash Priority message scrolled past on the screen, “Holy Jumpin’ Jesus and General Jackson!” He tapped Tillison, the duty Yeoman on the shoulder. “Go find Captain Turanga and Commander Wilkes ASAP. Tell them we have a Flash Priority message they really need to see.”

“Aye-aye Chief.” Tillison departed for officer’s country at a lope. He located both officers in the Captain’s quarters, drinking coffee and discussing tactics for the rest of the patrol. Without much fanfare Leela and George headed to the CCC.

CPO Simpson held out a tablet each to Leela and George who read in silence. They looked at each other wordlessly, then Leela said, “You tell the crew. I’ll send a signal to the rest or the squadron.”

George stepped up to the chart table and took a hand mike. Clicking it to the ship-wide circuit he announced in his best Navy voice, “Now hear this. Now hear this. This is the Captain speaking. I have just been informed by COMSUBDOOPNAV that the Xoran Government has signed an armistice which is to go into effect today at 1300 hours Galactic Standard Time. They are sending a delegation to the Neutral Planet to discuss terms of surrender.”

A cheer broke out in the CCC and throughout the ship. Commander Wilkes waited for it to die down. “Until the Bugs formally surrender, we are to remain on full war alert. If the enemy fires upon us or makes any aggressive moves, we will answer in kind.” He paused to let that sink in, “So we all need to stay on our toes. We don’t want to get hit in the face when the Bugs throw in the towel.” He paused to let the laughter die down. “Now I’d like to have Captain Turanga say a few words.”

Leela was a bit taken aback. She had just tapped out a message to the entire squadron to shape course for the Tantalus wormhole. She took the mike, “I’m sure you all never thought this day would arrive. Well, as long as we stay on our toes, we should live to see many more. Look sharp and stay alert. That is all.”

In the torpedo room, Fry listened with mixed emotions. He hated the war but he had come to love his shipmates like brothers. Did he want to go back to being a delivery boy after all this? Was there more to life? Well…at least he had Leela to look forward to. Should he stay in the Navy? Then the natural Fry reasserted itself, “I’ll think about that when the time comes.”

“Hey Chief!” It was one of the new torpedomen, a tall lanky black kid…he was so young he had probably never shaved…what the heck was his name?

“Yes?” Fry replied.

“Did you hear why the Xoran surrendered?”

“No.”

“We dropped the F-Bomb!”

“The F-Bomb?” Fry began to chuckle, “THE F-BOMB?”

“Yeah, you know…the Farnsworth Bomb.” The torpedoman looked puzzled, “What’s so funny Chief?”

“Just a Stupid Ages joke,” he laughed and shook his head. “The F-Bomb.”

Yeoman Tillison entered the torpedo room, “Hey Chief, the Commodore wants to see you in her office.”

“Be right there,” Fry still found it kind of funny that to avoid having two Captains on the boat, they referred to Leela as a Commodore. Well, she was a squadron commander.

Standing outside the open hatchway that had a curtain drawn across it, Fry knocked.

Leela’s voice sounded from within, “Come.”

Fry stepped through the curtain into the office. No one else was there. Still he reported properly, “Chief Petty Officer Fry reports as ordered, Ma’am.”

“Stand easy, Fry.” She gestured to a leather chair next to her desk, “Sit.”

“Permission to speak freely.”

“Denied…at least until we are off the boat.” She drummed her fingers nervously, “Fry, we have to be extra careful.”

Fry began to sputter an excuse but Leela stopped him, “Let me finish. I love you more than ever. We are going to get married the very day we get demobilized. But we have to keep up appearances…the war isn’t over yet.”

To her relief, Fry looked thoughtful, “You are right, Ma’am” he winked owlishly at the work Ma’am causing Leela to emit a short burst of laughter in spite of herself.

Fry stood up, “With your permission Ma’am, I’ll get back to my duties and pray for this stinking war to end quickly.”

“So will I Fry.” She smiled and winked back, “Dismissed.”

Fry headed back to the torpedo room, humming “I’m walking on sunshine.” In his mind, the future looked very bright.

Deck of the DNS Yamamoto, Xoran Prime, 31 August 2009

A might fleet was assembled in orbit around Xoran Prime. The list of ships read like a ‘who’s who” of the DOOP Navy. The battle wagons alone would have been enough to reduce the surface of the planet to a smoking ruin. The Yamamoto, Hood, Potemkin, Nelson, Missouri, Galactica, New Jersey, Iowa, Musashi, Lenin, Mao and the D’Estang were only the top of the list. A dozen others were there as well. Twenty fleet carriers and forty escort carriers were further out in high orbit, decks loaded with attack craft and fighters of every description. Swarms of cruisers and destroyers guarded them in an impenetrable screen. Last but certainly not least, six full squadrons of TDS were on hand.

Leela stood on the foredeck of the Yamamoto near the Number One Turret with a number of top scoring TDS skippers. Lots of other officers and ratings were crowded around as well. Some stood atop the massive front turrets…anything to get a look at history in the making. The war was almost over. The Xoran were finally surrendering!

Not far from where Leela stood were the cream of the press corps. Morbo, Walter Cronkite’s head, Linda Van Schooven…just to name a few. They all jostled for position, conscious of the historic event about to unfold in front of their eyes.

At a simple table on the foredeck stood the two primary architects of that victory – Fleet Admiral Li Yao Zhu and Vice Admiral Francis Schroeder. Both men were short and powerfully built. Admiral Zhu was dark with a full head of raven hair. Vice Admiral Schroeder by contrast was very obviously a Caucasian with his pale skin, blue eyes and fringe or white hair. Close to them stood Rear Admiral Kroker. Perched on top of the Number Two Turret but with a good view of the proceedings was the crew of the Resolute. COMSOCNAV Had some ground pounders there too, among them Lieutenant Colonel Maxton.

The Xoran were there as well. Leela felt nothing but revulsion as she looked at them. “Ugh…frakking bugs,” she thought, “Why didn’t we just finished the job?” Still, peace was just around the corner. She noticed a stirring in the crowd. A tall and handsome young Colonel was bearing the head of General Douglas MacArthur to the signing table. Once in place, the Colonel arranged the microphone to allow General MacArthur to speak. Silence fell over the crowd.

MacArthur began without any warmup, “We are gathered here, representatives of the DOOP and the Xoran Empire, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored. The issues, involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of our galaxies and hence are not for our discussion or debate. Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the sentient life forms of those galaxies, in a spirit of distrust, malice or hatred. But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all our people unreservedly to faithful compliance with the understanding they are here formally to assume.

It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all sentient beings that from this solemn occasion better galaxies shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past – both dedicated to the dignity of sentient beings and the fulfillment of their most cherished wishes for freedom, tolerance and justice.”

He paused, “I invite the representatives of the Xoran Empire to sign the document of surrender at the places indicated.”

A string of Xoran, some civilian, some military came forward and signed. Once they competed, MacArthur intoned, “As the representative of the DOOP Supreme Headquarters, I will now sign.” The signing arms popped out from his tank and he signed.

“Will Admiral Zhou, as the representative of the DOOP Navy please sign.” Zhou signed, followed by Schroeder and a number of other military dignitaries.” Macarthur began to speak again.

“Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won....

As I look back upon the long, tortuous trail from those grim days of Rio De Janiero and Wolf 549, when an entire galaxy lived in fear, when democracy was on the defensive everywhere, when modern civilization trembled in the balance, I thank a merciful God that he has given us the faith, the courage and the power from which to mold victory. We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war.

A new era is upon us. Even the lesson of victory itself brings with it profound concern, both for our future security and the survival of civilization. The destructiveness of the war potential, through progressive advances in scientific discovery, has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concepts of war.

Sentient beings since the beginning of time have sought peace.... Military alliances, balances of power, planetary leagues, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. We have had our last chance. If we do not now devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural development of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.”

Pausing for effect MacArthur announced solemnly, “These proceedings are now closed.”

A wild cheer broke out. The war was really over!

Diary of Captain Turanga Leela, Commander SUBRON 39, DNS Devilfish, 20 October 3009

Today we decommissioned the Devilfish at the South Port Naval Yard under low, scudding, rain-filled clouds. I cannot describe the emotions that went through my heart as we all stood on the decks in our dress whites, lined up for inspection by the COMSUBDOOPNAV, Admiral Morton. He gave a nice little speech about our pivotal role in winning the war, how the name of Devilfish would continue with the DOOP Navy as a newer, faster, better TDS. To tell the truth, I hardly listened.

Instead, I scanned the crew, all of whom stood ramrod straight. Even Fry, although exempted by his Medal of Valor, insisted on standing inspection. Fry...he has changed so much. But then, we've all changed. Living day-to-day with death tugging at your elbow does that.

When the ceremony was over, they gave me the ship's chronograph. I could scarcely keep from weeping, but I held it in. The crew departed, as did all the petty officers and officers. I stood on my prerogative as the Captain to be the last to leave the ship. Captain? I will be a civilian with a reserve commission in two weeks!

I walked the old girl one last time to say good bye. Funny, I hated the damned war...but by God I loved that ship and her crew. Every square inch of her held some kind of memory. Some funny, some terrifying, and others that were terribly sad. As I emerged from my tour, a driving rain from the Northeast began to fall. It fell in sheets, drumming hard against the hull and deckplates. Standing there on the conning tower, I could see much of New-New York vanish as the rain concealed it from view.

On an impulse, I reached over and pressed the dive alarm. "A-OOGAH! A-OOGAH!" It sounded. In my mind's eye I could see all those who had ever stood watch - both the living and the dead - scramble to descend into the boat as we dove into the fourth dimension.

The lash of a rain squall brought me out of my reverie. I took one last look around, saluted the jackstaff, and left South Port Naval Yard in the driving rain.

Metropolitan Cathedral, Buenos Aires, Argentina 21 October 3009

It was a pleasant Spring Saturday in Buenos Aires when Fry and Leela married. Their nuptials took place in the Metropolitan Cathedral. Normally, two non-Catholics could not have been married in the cathedral, but Consuela Esmerelda had a lot of pull with the church. After all, the Bishop for the diocese was her older brother Heriberto…and her Uncle Tomas was a Cardinal.

The wedding was, as the society reporters called it, “a star studded affair.” But these were not movie stars. No, they were flag officers from across the DOOP Fleet. The front row alone held Fleet Admirals Li Yao Zhu and Heinz Morton, Vice Admirals Frank Schroeder, Karl Rodman and Herb Morden and Rear Admirals Boyle and Kroker to name just a few. Equally glamorous, if not as high ranking were the TDS skippers assembled to honor the bride and groom. Their ranks included CDR Gennady Ramius of the Flying Fish, CDR Walter Calvert of the Silversides, CDR Klaus Morton of the Shad and the newly promoted CDR George Wilkes of the Devilfish.

All had gathered to see the top TDS skipper of the war and a Medal of Valor winning member of her crew get married.

The DOOPNAV Public Affairs Officer, Captain Harold “Tink” McFarland did his usual magic and turned the wedding into a media spectacle. The press corps swarmed around like bees over a field of clover. Morbo, Walter Cronkite’s head and Linda van Schooven were at the head of the list of media celebrities covering the event. After a long, costly war the public wanted something that would signal that things were getting back to normal. What better signal than a wedding?

Most of the ship’s compliment from the Devilfish was there, as were the crew of the Resolute, Hermes, Dwight, Cubert, and Professor Farnsworth. Bender’s wife Linda was there as well. What really drew some stares was Mom and her three sons. They were seated with the Professor – like family! Her arm was entwined with his. Apparently, Mom had a renewed interest in the inventor of the “F-Bomb.”

Of course Leela’s family were there. Munda was decked out in a brand new violet dress, with matching shoes, hat and purse. Morris was wearing a rented pearl-grey morning coat and tophat, as the father of the bride. He stood at the entrance of the cathedral, waiting for Leela to arrive. At least twenty mutants were there as well. Leela had paid their fare to attend the wedding.

Seated on the groom’s side were Consuela Esmerelda, leaving space for her three daughters Evita, Consuelita and Marta clustered near the entrance with Morris – they were flower girls. From his position near the altar, Fry couldn’t look at them without thinking of his buddy, Lucky – whose luck had run out on that dreadful to remember patrol.

“Are ye ready, laddie?” Chief Mac asked as he adjusted Fry’s gig line on his uniform. As Fry’s best man, he had so far kept Fry from a meltdown.

Fry was so nervous, all he could do was gulp and nod in reply. Chief Mac chuckled, “You’ll do well, that I ‘ken.” He patted Fry on the back, “You always manage to pull things out. Besides, a loving woman overlooks much.”

“I hope so.”

“Ach, laddie!” Chief Mac smiled, “I knew she loved you the day you won the MOV.”

“Really?”

“Aye.” Chief Mac nodded as he stroked his chin reflectively, “Mind you uphold the honor or the Petty Officer corps tonight.

Bender chimed in as he put a monocle firmly in place, “Quit sweating it meatbag, you’ll be fine.”

Just then, the 3500 pipes of the ancient Wiecker organ stuck up the wedding march. “That’s our cue.” Chief Mac held out his arm, “Quick march!”

Leela and Morris were moving slowly up the red carpeted center aisle, with Marta in the lead scattering pink rose petals. Evita and Consuelita held Leela’s diaphanous lace train. Decked out in her blue dress uniform, Amy was already at the altar as the matron of honor with LaBarbara alongside wearing a light blue dress.

Leela wore a stunningly white silk ball gown design with a long, flowing skirt, a fitted bodice, and a train. A Spanish style sheer veil covered her face and fell below her shoulders. The sight took Fry’s breath away and elicited a murmur of approving remarks from the crowd.

Morris got Leela to the altar without any slipups and took his seat. Neither Fry nor Leela really remembered much of the ceremony. They were both in a daze, happy to be getting married and to have survived the war. When the Bishop said, “You may kiss the bride” both snapped back into the present. With trembling hands, Fry raised her veil. Gazing into her perfect eye he whispered, “I love you Leela.” Just before they kissed she replied, “I love you too, Fry.”

They exchanged a surprisingly chaste kiss before beginning their walk down the aisle as man and wife. Linda van Schooven bubbled on screens around the world and across the Galaxy, “Aren’t they the perfect couple?”

Most of the women in the cathedral were dabbing their eyes. Morris was openly weeping, as was Munda. But as they both said to the press later, those were tears of joy.

When Fry and Leela emerged onto the portico, there was a double file of petty officers and officers in their dress whites flanking the red carpet that led down the steps and onto the street. Lieutenant Commander Saigo Takamori was in charge of the detail. He called out, “Draw sabers!” The sound of twenty sabers being drawn from their sheaths was followed by, “Form arch!” Fry and Leela passed beneath the arch and headed down the steps. They sped up to avoid the barrage of rice that greeted them. They piled into the chauffeured hover limo to begin their life’s journey…married at last.

Planet Express Building, 1 November 3009

“Good news everyone!”

Redline, Flounder, Dink, El-Man, Zoidberg and Flexo all turned their attention to the Professor as he shuffled toward the conference table.

“We’ve got our old crew back as of today!” The Professor crowed.

“Aw crud,” Flexo said.

“And I was just getting used to the idea of having a low paying, dead-end job to add to my resume.” Dink added. “How the heck am I going to live off my DOOP pension?”

El-Man merely shrugged his shoulders. He was still on leave and could return to SOCNAV if he chose. Redline and Flounder were both silent, as each had other prospects.

At that moment, Hermes entered the room, followed by Leela, Fry, Amy and Bender. All were in their pre-war civilian dress. Looking at his clipboard, Hermes started talking even before the old crew were seated. “Okay people, we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. As you know, the DOOP commissioned a whole bunch of ships like da old Planet Express Ship because of the success of the original.”

“Big whoop, skin sack!” Bender said sarcastically. “I can see the war hasn’t changed you. Still BORING!”

“Nice to have ya back, Bender” Hermes responded with equal sarcasm. “However, because of da Professor’s contributions to de war effort, we’ve been allowed to buy one dey aren’t scrapping.”

“Why?” Leela asked, clearly puzzled.

“I was getting to dat.” He paused and looked at his clipboard. “Planet Express has a new five-year contract with the DOOP to haul cargo related to da decommissioning of ships and other stuff. Its gonna require at least two, maybe even four ships.”

“So you need at least two crews.” Leela observed.

“Correct.” Hermes responded with a smile. “We also have enough camouflage paint to do one more ship.”

“Wait just a minute,” Redline said, “What use is camouflage paint to a commercial cargo vessel?”

Leela chimed in with a knowing smile, “Are we going to be making side trips to Marley 8?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Hermes said defensively. “Camouflage paint gives you a better level of security for hauling sensitive cargo…it’s right in da contract.”

Before the conversation could deteriorate any further, the Professor gave a senescent cackle. “At the rates we’re charging, you are all going to be well paid. So just shut up.”

Alarm bells began to chime in Flounder’s head. Well paid for hauling scrap? He spoke up, “Isn’t that a bit illogical? Scrap dealers usually buy the ship and sell off any usable parts before…” It hit him. They were either hauling highly classified or extremely hazardous cargo!

Dink took advantage of the pause, “What do you mean by ‘good pay’ Professor?”

Hermes assumed control, “Intergalactic Union of Pilots, Engineers and Crewmen ‘A’ Schedule. Does dat suit you?”

Those not too shocked to move nodded their heads. They would be making more money than they ever had in their lives!

Amy spoke up, “I’m also going to install the newest supercharged Porpoise Hork Injector on the CEPHI system. We’ll be as fast as anything in the Galaxy.”

“Hermes,” Flounder looked concerned, “Is our cargo going to be hazardous?”

“What are you, an idiot?” Bender interjected in his most patronizing tone, “Of course it’s going to be hazardous…or illegal…or just plain stupid. This is Planet Express!”

Hermes took advantage of the stunned silence to try to reestablish control, “Right. Now let’s get on with da meetin’…”


Thus ends Run Silent, Run Deep. I hope you have enjoyed it. I am working on a sequel with a working title of “Smugglers Blues.”




Footnotes

1 Junior Grade

2 Executive Officer

3 Rest and Recreation

4 A plankholder is an original member of the commissioning crew.

5 Identification Friend of Foe

6 Trans Dimensional Drive

7 Airdales is naval slang for aviators

8 Muss I Denn is a traditional folksong often played for World War II U Boats as they sallied from French Ports

9 Abrazo is Spanish for hug

10 At condition Alpha all crewmen not at their battle stations stand by to conduct damage control. All compartment doors are sealed. All crewmen not in the CCC don respirators and pressure suits. Crewmen in the CCC don pressure suits and wear their respirators around their necks.

11 Chief of the Boat

12 Standard Operating Procedure

13 The Devil Take It!

14 Chief of the Boat

15 Sensorman Second Class

Buddies