“Long, long ago, you and the cyborgs came to this world from somewhere else: Earth!” Fry started. Remembering his advice to the Madfellows, Fry had decided to lay it on thick. “I come from that same magical place, birthplace of us all.” Something occurred to him, and he pointed at Kif, down in the powder room standing guard of over the bomb. The little green alien was visible through the hole in the deck that Cambrien had punched earlier. “Well, except for him. He’s not human. He’s a great guy, though. Say hello, Kif!”
The Amphibosian waved hesitantly to the assembled throng staring at him through the ragged gap in the deck.
“Oh Lord,” Leela muttered to herself, covering her eye. “I can’t watch this.”
Fry paused, trying to gather his scattered thoughts. “Then…then…” Fry broke off, shaking his head. “This isn’t working.”
The pirates grumbled en masse, as their leaders looked on impassively. Leela held her breath, getting ready for a fight.
Fry started over. “I thought I’d try to convince you of what’s happening with words – pretty words, but just words. But I’m no good with words, not pretty ones anyway. So I’m not going to try to convince you, or give you a speech or any of that.” Fry took a deep breath. “My name is Philip J. Fry, and I’m just going to tell you what’s going on, and what I think you need to do about it.”
And so he did.
Fry talked as the sun dropped in the sky, telling the pirates about the wormhole, describing it as a great thunderhead in space. He told them of the gamma ray burst approaching them as a storm front of unimaginable power, enough to sweep every island clean and sink every ship on the sea. He talked about the cyborgs, their technology and how it was all just tools. Fry acknowledged, with a hitch in his voice, all that the cyborgs had done to the normal humans of the planet.
Fry spoke honestly and openly about how the cyborgs and the Normals would have to work together to survive. He talked of freedom for everyone, of no more Masters, of everyone pulling together. He understood it would require forgiveness from the normals; but forgiveness, he quoted his hazy memory of his mother, healed both the thrower and the catcher.
When he ran out of things to say, he just stopped and looked over the crowd as the ruddy sun bulged on the horizon.
“That’s my piece,” Fry finally added. “I hope it helps.”
The pirate elders nodded. One – Fry thought his name was Sven – said, “You’ve given us much to think about, Philip J. Fry. What of the Masters, though?” he asked.
They turned toward the cyborg in their presence.
“A pretty speech,” Cambrien said. Her monocular implant was locked on Leela, but her organic eye followed Fry. “It ignores the fact that the Enhanced are superior.”
“Just in technology,” Leela said. “After all,” she smiled viciously, “we do have you tied up.”
“Is that a human metaphor?” Cambrien asked. “Do you imply you have all of us Enhanced ‘tied up’ with the EMP bomb?”
“How do you manage to convey sarcasm without modulating your voice?” Leela asked in mock amazement. She got serious. “I think Fry has something to say to all of you cyborgs, anyway.” She turned to him. “She’s all yours, Fry.”
“Uhhh…” Fry hesitated. He leaned in to whisper in Leela’s ear.
“What?” Leela hissed to him.
“My mind. It’s gone blank,” Fry admitted.
“How’s that different than usual?” Leela said peevishly.
Fry winced. “Well, not that unusual….”
Leela sighed. “I’ll stall.” She pulled away from Fry and turned to the bound cyborg. “Can the others hear us, Cambrien?”
“All of us can hear you, Normal,” Cambrien said with icy menace.
“Good,” Leela said firmly. She put her hands on her hips. “Now, let’s be clear about something. You can’t overawe me with your flying machines and your glowing green eyes. Remember, my ancestors kicked your ancestors’ butts right out of the Milky Way.”
Leela gestured around her. “I don’t think the whole ‘overawe’ thing’s working so well here, either. It may have worked for the last few centuries, but if these pirates are any indication, these ‘Normals’ are getting pretty tired of the whole petty god thing.”
“This was their first big attempt, and they came pretty darn close to shutting you all down. What are you going to do next time?” Leela challenged Cambrien.
The cyborg said nothing, but her eye shone an intense green, and cast a projection beam onto the deck. A greenish-tinted hologram appeared, two feet tall. It was a miniature replica of the cyborg leader from the great fortress, glaring up at Leela. “You presumptuous organic,” it said.
“Oh yeah?” Leela said. “Unhappy with being treated as an equal?”
“Normal scum will not topple us, if that’s what you imply!”
“Why not?” Leela smiled mischievously. “They’re going to get as good as me, and I almost took out Cambrien here.”
“Liar!” Cambrien managed to snarl, while not moving her holographic projector.
“Really?” The cyborg leader studied Leela for a long minute. “Do you gamble, Normal?”
“Huh?” Now it was Leela’s turned to be nonplussed.
“Do you participate in wagers on events?”
“Sometimes.” Leela was starting to get a nervous feeling in her gut.
“Then perhaps a wager is in order.” The cyborg leader was nearly purring. “You versus Cambrien. If you defeat her, we will accede to your requests. If she defeats you, you will disarm the EMP bomb, give us the formula for this ‘diamondium,’ and leave this world, never to return.”
“No weapons?” Leela asked. “Until someone yields?”
“Leela, you’re not actually considering this, are you?” Fry asked anxiously.
Leela ignored Fry. “And you give the Normals equality?”
“Sure, why not?” The cyborg leader glibly said. “Cambrien will wipe the deck with you.”
Seems like a win-win, Leela thought in the darkest part of her mind.
“Leela…” Fry said again.
Leela rolled her head on her neck and flexed her arms. “Oh, I think I can accept this challenge,” she said.
“Do you have any idea what you’re risking?” Fry axed.
She winked at Fry. “I know what I’m doing.”
Fry was puzzled. “Was that a blink or a wink?”
Damn this one eye, Leela thought. “It was a wink. I can take her, Fry.”
“Right,” Fry said doubtfully.
Leela narrowed her eye at Fry. “I have a plan, Fry. I can take her.” I think, she mentally added.
Leela drew her laser pistol and handed it to Fry. “Zap her if she tries anything.” She repeated the instruction via her wrist-thingy to Amy, who was in the turret on the Planet Express ship, looking worried.
Leela pulled out the remote for the restraints, and released the super-tough diamondium threads. The glittering crystalline threads fell in a cloud-like heap at Cambrien’s feet. The cyborg rose slowly, then smiled, shark-like, at Leela. “I am ready to begin whenever you are, Normal,” Cambrien said.
The pirate spectators formed a ragged ring on the deck thirty feet wide, ready and waiting for any treachery from the cyborg. When she stepped into the ring, the crowd hissed at her. She looked around at them with imperious disdain, then pointedly ignored them and fixed her gaze on Leela as she walked forward.
The starship captain had stripped down to her standard black pants and white tanktop. Her long hair, normally in a ponytail, had been put up in a bun and gel-fixed in place to deny her opponent any advantage. Leela took up an Arcturan kung-fu stance and smiled lopsidedly at her opponent. “Ready, Cambrien?”
“Prepare for serious injury,” Cambrien said flatly, and leaped at Leela in a blur of speed.
Leela rolled to the side and kicked at Cambrien’s knee. The cyborg dodged her blow, but landed on the deck on her shoulder, rolled forward and came up in a flash.
Remember, Leela, the mutant thought to herself. I’m faster but she’s stronger. If I can wear her down…Leela ducked a kick Cambrien aimed at her head, slipping under the cyborg’s guard to throw a punch at her kidney area. Leela hit Cambrien’s torso hard enough to crack the concrete bricks she practiced with at the gym, but the blow seemed to have no effect on the cyborg.
Then again, maybe I’m not going to wear her down…
Cambrien punched at Leela’s chest. Leela sidestepped the blow, grabbed Cambrien’s arm and flipped her.
Or tried to. Leela merely succeeded in lifting her own feet from the deck. With a grim smile, Cambrien whirled around and threw Leela against the mainmast. She crashed against the wooden pillar and fell to a heap on the deck.
“Leela!” Fry shouted in fear and started pushing his way through the crowd toward where his love lay crumpled on the floor.
Leela stood up carefully, shook her head and narrowed her eye at the cyborg who waited for her with insulting casualness. I’m NOT going to let Fry down, she said to herself. “Hey Cambrien,” she called out, “what the Robot Devil do you weigh? A diet might be a good idea.”
The female cyborg growled, her implant flaring green.
Leela smiled and leaped back into the circle.
The two combatants danced around each other for a few more minutes, trading blows and blocks with dizzying speed. Suddenly, Leela was crouched low delivering a flurry of punches when Cambrien grabbed at her with both hands.
Leela hesitated and the cyborg had her around the neck and lifted her in the air, squeezing hard. “Prepare to die, Normal!” Cambrien growled.
Here’s your chance, Leela thought to herself over the excruciating pain. She swung her arm into Cambrien’s face, bashing into the monocular implant with her wrist-thingy.
The implant cracked and the lens shattered. Cambrien staggered a bit, but kept up the iron pressure on Leela’s windpipe.
Leela fought to keep consciousness as her vision went gray. She reached up with her other hand, where she had palmed the bracelet her father had made for her all those years before, and shoved the metal plate into the implant socket.
All Leela knew was that there was a flash and she was flying through the air – and the pressure on her neck was blessedly gone. She picked herself a second time from the deck, and saw Cambrien lying six feet away from her, convulsing uncontrollably.
Leela limped over to where the cyborg thrashed, the smell of ozone in the air. Turning to a nearby pirate, she commandeered his ceramic dagger and leaned down over Cambrien. She dug the point into the implant and pulled out her bracelet which, she noted sadly, was slightly charred and melted. “I’ll be taking that back, thank you,” she said. “It has sentimental value.”
Cambrien lay still, her flesh eye closed.
She looked up, facing the pirates, and raised her hands in the air.
The assembled pirates erupted into a raucous cheer that boomed over the water to the other pirate ships. Fry ran forward, relief evident in his face. He grabbed her and hugged her tight. “Don’t ever do that to me again!” he said.
“It was a piece of cake,” she assured him. She wiped some blood from her face and winced in pain. “Well, maybe not that easy…”
Fry pulled her to him and, as the pirates chanted her name, they leaned forwards -
“…Uh, guys?” Amy said over the loudspeaker from the Planet Express ship.
“WHAT?” both Leela and Fry shouted.
“I think you should listen to this!” Amy cut in another feed to the loudspeakers.
“ – will never give in to your demands!” the voice screeched.
“I think he’s upset,” Leela murmured.
“We will crush you impudent Normals!” The cyborg leader raved.
Leela snapped on her wrist-thingy’s comm unit. It was, she was relieved to see, still working. “What happened to our agreement?” she asked archly.
“No agreement with scum can hold the Enhanced!”
Leela couldn’t see him, but she imagined the cyborg leader frothing at the mouth. Do cyborgs spit? she wondered idly. And I seem pretty calm about this – do I have a head injury?
“We will scour the seas with your innards, Normal! We will – ” The cyborg’s rant was suddenly interrupted.
“We will do nothing,” Cambrien said, rising from the deck like a wraith. Sparks still flew from her scorched and shattered implant, and blood ran freely from her ears and matted her black hair. She stepped stiffly forward toward Fry and Leela.
Leela sighed internally and slowly took up a stance.
Cambrien said, “Our fight is over, Turanga Leela. You won.” Cambrien bowed to Leela.
Leela looked at the battered cyborg in amazement, and then returned the bow.
“You do not have the authority to make any such decision,” the cyborg leader’s voice said over the loudspeaker. Now he really is spluttering, Leela thought.
Cambrien smiled broadly, but again without warmth. “Nor do you.”
She turned to face them all. “I say this out loud so that the Normals may hear it. You are no longer the leader of our Great Council; our gestalt has selected another.”
There was only crackling silence from the loudspeaker, then another cyborg’s voice came over the carrier wave. Leela thought for a moment, and then recognized it as the red-haired cyborg that had been somewhat civil with them during their meeting with the cyborg leader.
“Attention all Normals within the sound of my voice. We are projecting this announcement over all public address and loudspeaker systems within our domains. This is a very important announcement.”
Everyone on the pirate ship became still. Everyone in the pirate flotilla waited in expectant silence.
“A grave threat approaches our planet,” the voice of the new cyborg leader continued. “A lethal gamma ray burst will be upon us in eight years. It will take the entire resources of our world, material, personal and moral to save life on this planet. It will take all of us, working together, to do this.
“We Masters are ready to share the burden with the Normals of this world. A certain faction within the Enhanced has always felt that more…responsibility to Normals would be healthy for our combined polity. The gestalt whole of the Enhanced now is forced to agree with this faction.
“We are ready to transition the Normals to full independence. The current power structure will be retired; a transitional authority must be established. It would appear the Pirate Council is the only Normal institution that can fill the void until a new government is in place.
We are ready to all be equals, because only by standing together will we all survive.”
The loudspeaker fell to hissing silence again. The Matei Pavel was filled with the murmurings of the crew. Cambrien spoke to the shocked Leela and Fry. “Does our grant of freedom meet the requirements of our wager?”
Fry said, “It’s an offer, not a grant. Let’s see if we take it.” He turned to the assembled pirate council. “The cyborgs are willing to step down as Masters, and let the Pirate Council govern normal humans for now. Are we ready to stop our war against them?”
Leela unobtrusively made sure her comm was picking up this exchange and re-broadcasting it over the loudspeakers.
The elder pirates looked at each other, and then Sven asked, “What do you think, Philip J. Fry?”
Fry thought for a moment, and said “I think you’d be crazy not to take this chance.” He grinned at the older man.
Sven nodded. “I agree.” He turned to the other four council members. “So say we all?”
They responded in formal unison. “So say we all!”
The roar from the ships of the Pirate Fleet was deafening.