Fry squinted in the bright morning light, able to make out the shadowy shape of the merchantman they were pursuing on the horizon.
A stiff wind was at their back, keeping them after their prey. With their sleek hull and fuller sails, the pirate sloop was gaining handily on the fatter commercial ship.
“Have ‘em in sight, Fry?”
“Aye aye, Levar,” Fry called back.
“Get down, here, man, and get ready for shooting!”
Fry loosened his grip on the rope and began to carefully scramble down. Learning to scale the rigging of the sloop had been no easy task, especially with only one hand. He had slipped and almost fallen several times in the few days since he was fished out of the sea by the Betty Sue. Each time he had managed to catch himself, dangling on ropes dozens of feet over the back-breaking deck or heaving sea.
More than once his thoughts had flashed back to that time at Xmas when he was hanging off a ledge on a high skyscraper, barely saved in time – and who saved him.
Leela, he though to himself. Where are you right now? Are you okay? Fry had surprised himself with how worried he was about the purple-haired love of his life. Fry thought maybe it was Leela’s job to worry about everything else. And my job to worry about her.
When he was within a few feet, Fry jumped down to the deck, like he’d seen a dozen pirates do in the last few days. When his feet hit the deck, however, his breath was driven from his lungs.
“Ooof! Uh, reporting for duty, sir.”
“’bout time,” the pirate Levar said. “And don’t be calling me sir, softie.”
“Aye aye, si - uh, mister.”
Levar groaned. “Get to the weapon master; he’ll issue you a weapon.”
Fry hustled into the group around the weapon master, who was handing out blades and guns from his “armory:” a heavy oaken chest.
“You ever handle one of these ‘fore?” the weapon master asked Fry, dangling what looked like an old-style flintlock before him.
“Uh…yeah, sure,” Fry said. “Boom!”
The weapon master shook his shaggy head, put the gunpowder weapon away, and pulled out a short, curved blade. “Here,” he said. “Take this.”
Fry took the weapon, and realized it was much lighter than it looked. He hefted it, shrugged, and stuck through his belt. Time to figure that out later, he thought.
“Take stations, you curs!” Levar bellowed. “The rabbit is close!”
Some crew gathered around two long tubes of oaken staves, reinforced with winding rope. Fry realized they were cannon made of wood, and he cringed slightly at the sight.
Two men stuffed in powder at the mouth of the cannon, and another loaded a round stone behind it. They ran from the mouth, and the rest of the crew wheeled the two cannon into position, pointing at the growing shape of the merchantman.
After a while, the civilian ship was fully visible ahead of them, its crew frantic on the deck and in the riggings.
“Fire,” Pratt shouted, his face a steely mask. The cannons boomed, smoke and fire belching from their mouth and from cracks in the oak staves. Water spouted up next to the fleeing merchant ship.
Fry’s stomach clenched a little. The whipping wind and booming cannon were exciting, but deep down inside he knew that there were lives at stake here.
“Give them some more encouragement, Mr. Levar,” Pratt bellowed, and the grinning pirates adjusted the cannon and fired again.
This shot creased the hull of the merchant man, sending splinters up along with the gushing sea water.
“Yield!” Pratt bellowed across the water to the merchantman.
The crewman on the cargo ship, little more than two-inch high figures to Fry, milled some more and then started hauling something up the mast.
It was a white flag of surrender.
Pratt’s men forced the merchantman’s sailors onto the Betty Sue at sword and gun point. Fry and others were detailed to carry over all manner of supplies, including the two cannon, from the Betty Sue to the merchant man, which Pratt whimsically re-named the Matei Pavel. A few trusted men, including Levar, were occupied in carrying over a long, tarp-draped object from the Betty Sue’s holds which was carefully and mysteriously taken below and secured in the Matei Pavel’s deepest bay.
It occurred to Fry that Pratt would not be making this switch of men and equipment unless he intended to abandon the Betty Sue, a thought which was confirmed later in the day.
Fry was still on the Betty Sue gathering up random items. Levar and some toughs held the merchantman crew at gun-and-sword point, while they waited for Pratt’s next order.
The pirate captain appeared on the Matei Pavel’s railing, clutching a rope for support and addressing the captured cargo ship’s crew. “Avast, you scurvy dogs! I have a proposition for ye.”
A murmur ran through the gathered sailors.
“I need crewmen, and some familiar with this ship. I can offer any man who joins me a fair share in the booty at the end, as a free pirate – not as a wage slave.”
“And if we say no?” a sailor boldly shouted.
Pratt smiled. “Then ye may sail your merry way on me gift to you – the Betty Sue!”
“Foul mutiny!” yelled a man in captain’s finery. Fry recognized him as the former captain of the merchantman. “The Masters’ll punish any of you who join damned outlaws like them –”
Pratt pulled out a flintlock pistol, lit the fuse and fired it at the former captain of the Matei Pavel, knocking him to the deck. Blood poured from his chest, he kicked once, and then he didn’t move.
“Choose me, choose slavery or choose hell,” Pratt shouted, his face twisted in anger, “but I’ll not hear yapping from the lapdogs of those monsters who call themselves ‘Masters.’”
He regained his composure, bared his teeth in a smile again, and said, “So, who’s with me?”
The crowd of merchant sailors was murmuring. One turned to Fry, “how is it, being a pirate?”
Fry shrugged. “Okay so far; I’ve only tried it for a few days.” The man looked worried, and he had such an open and honest face that Fry suddenly wanted to reassure him. “I’d do it,” Fry whispered to him.
The man looked doubtfully at Fry, then at Pratt and bit his lip. “Ah, to the devil with it.” He raised his hand. “My name is Chan, and I’ll join your crew.”
“A brave man!” Pratt approved. “Fry, escort Pirate Chan to his ship!”
Fry gestured to Chan, and the two swung across the belaying lines between the ships.
“So, the captain’s Pratt,” Fry told his new crewmate, “and his second in command is Levar, over there.”
Chan looked scared. “What do you think, Fry? Did I do the right thing?”
Fry clapped his hand on Chan’s shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, Chan. You can’t look back too much, or you’ll never see what’s coming.” Of course, Fry thought to himself, maybe I should look forward a bit more…
A great shout from behind them turned them around. Only two other merchant sailors had come over to the pirates’ side, and Levar and the others were returning to the Matei Pavel. Across on the Betty Sue, the remaining merchant sailors were running up sails and making way before the pirates changed their minds.
“Mr. Levar, get us under sail,” Pratt said, staring at the departing rear of the Betty Sue.
“Aye aye, Captain.”
Almost absently, Pratt dug into his filthy jacket and pulled out his wicked-looking laser pistol. He pointed the incongruous weapon at the waterline of the Betty Sue and fired three quick shots.
The energy bolts blew gaping holes in the hull of the sloop, as well as setting the timbers on fire. The crew yelled and cursed at Pratt as the sloop slowed to a stop, taking on water, and began to sink, pointed prow down. Some of the merchant crew jumped free and tried to swim toward the Matei Pavel. Pratt fried two and the rest turned away, shaking their fists and cursing Pratt’s descendants. Others cried and sobbed in fear as the Matei Pavel sailed away
Years ago, Fry would have said nothing, but something of Leela had rubbed off on him. “You’re not just going to leave them to drown, are you? You’re crazy –”
Chan caught Fry’s arm as he started to move to Pratt. “Not now, my new friend. Quiet.” Fry struggled with something in himself, then recognized Chan’s point and fell silent.
Pratt turned back to his crew, expressionless. “Mr. Levar, I’ll be in the captain’s cabin, inspecting me new accommodations.”
“Aye aye, Captain.”
“Why the whole charade? Why switch ships?” Fry asked angrily.
“Be quiet, Fry,” Chan said again. The two were splicing ropes on night shift, alone on the forward deck, but Chan was terribly jumpy. Watching his former crew mates get drowned or incinerated hadn’t helped his nerves. “I told you, the treasure in the holds is way too heavy for a light sloop like the Betty Sue to make off with.”
“And the offer?”
“Just to see who might be tempted. Pirates do have attrition.”
Fry shook his head. “I just can’t imagine it. Killing all those people – and slowly, too…”
“Enough, Fry.” Chan shook his head. “I just want to get home, and see my mother again. Forget this pirate life. Why did I agree?” he moaned.
If you didn’t agree, you’d be fish food right now, Fry thought. He didn’t think Chan would appreciate the comment, though. Leela would be proud of how I can not say things sometimes. Thinking of his captain – his real captain – made his chest hurt. He suppressed a sniffle.
“What are you thinkin’ about?” Chan asked him after a bit. “Got a girl in port?”
Fry sighed, the memory of Leela’s scent lingering in his mind. “Yeah, I do. Not sure what port, though.”
“You’re kinda strange, Fry.”
Fry smiled. “You have no idea.” Another thought struck him, and he tossed down his rope. “Come on, I want to see this treasure.”
He stood and headed toward the nearest hatch to below-decks, Chan following reluctantly. After ducking through a few crudely hewn hatches and down another set of ladders, they arrived at a hold filled with crates.
Chan looked around. “I don’t understand – when Captain Loren was here there were armed guards on this hold.”
“I guess Pratt trusts us pirates more,” Fry said as he pried open a lid and looked inside. Expecting the glitter of gold and jewels, he was surprised to see the dull gleam of iron ingots. “What the heck is this?”
“The treasure,” Chan said. “A fortune’s worth of smelting metal, direct from the mines of the Masters.”
“But it’s just iron!”
“Oh, there’s steel and lead in there too – also copper, which the Masters particularly prize. Not sure why – it’s always seemed kinda soft to me.”
“Just…scrap metal?” Fry was disappointed.
“Is there anything more valuable?” Chan asked, surprised.
Fry was starting to get a headache. No, it’s one of those – what do you call it – ideas! “There’s not a lot of metal on this planet, is there?” Fry said.
“I don’t know what you mean by planet,” Chan said, “but metal’s pretty rare. Almost all metal comes from the Masters’ mines.” He eyed Fry. “You must come from an island pretty far away.”
“Who are these Masters everyone keeps mentioning?” Fry said.
Chan goggled at Fry. “You don’t have Masters where you come from?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, although that’s not unusual for me.”
Chan hesitated for a moment and then opened his mouth to speak. Before he could reply, Pratt’s voice, scratchy with whisky, came out of the darkened depths of the hold.
“I’ll tell you about the Masters,” the pirate captain said, as he stepped out of the gloom, eyes ruddy and a bottle in his hand. “I’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
Night had fallen when the crew of the Planet Express regrouped under the camouflage tent Kif and Hermes had erected over the ship. Bender had started a small fire – either intentionally or by accident, no one was sure – and the crew clustered around it, eating food from self-heating packages and saying very little.
Amy licked barbeque sauce from her fingers and smiled at Kif, who was nibbling a cracker. Turning her gaze to Leela, her smile faltered. The cyclops was staring off at the wine-dark sea, chewing on some bit of food while her mind was light-years away.
Amy looked around. No one else even seemed to be looking at Leela. Sighing, Amy stood, wiped the last bit of sauce on her sweatpants and walked over to Leela. Sitting down on the sand next to her, Amy said, “Hey there.”
Leela looked at her, and her eye was a thousand miles away. “Oh, hey, Amy.”
Amy put her arms around her knees. “How are you doing?”
Leela gave her a half-smile, and said, “Poorly, I think. My thoughts keep…drifting.”
“You’ve kept us organized and moving,” Amy volunteered.
“Work,” Leela said bitterly. “I’ve always buried myself in work, trying to forget my problems.” Her voice was low. “Discipline. Achievement. Getting ahead. Meanwhile, I was ignoring – ” She shook her head. “What was right in front of me.”
Amy put her hand on Leela’s shoulder. “We all have blind spots, Leela. Spleesh, for years I was bouncing from man to man, looking for a good time. Ghud, did I have some good times! Men fawning all over me, taking me out, buying me gifts – ”
Amy blushed and coughed. “Well, the point is that Kif was there and I didn’t even recognize how important he was to me at first. But once I did…wow!”
“I’m just so scared, Amy,” Leela said finally. “Scared for him and…scared for me. I don’t like that feeling. My whole life I’ve been beating my fears. Why is this so hard?”
“Because you care so much? You and Fry have been dancing around this for a long time, Leela. It’s okay to be afraid.” Amy looked at Kif, who was talking to Zoidberg by the fire. “Just don’t give in to the fear – like I did.” She shook her head sadly.
“Kif’s forgiven you, Amy. You can forgive yourself,” Leela said.
“Thanks. Besides, Zap’s one thing we have in common now,” Amy said, a half-smile on her face.
Leela snickered. “Who would think that oaf would be good for anything?” Her expression changed. “God, I miss Fry’s goofy laugh, and his goofy smile and the way he could make me feel good just by being there.”
“We’ll find him, Leela. Don’t worry.”
The two women sat silently for a time together, listening to the crackle of the fire and the murmur of the crew. Leela eventually sighed. “Well, better get back to it,” she said. The two women stood, and mutant turned to the Martian. “Thank you again, Amy, for talking to me.”
“We girls have to stick together,” Amy said.
Leela nodded, and turned to the group. “Alright, listen up!” she said, raising her voice. The crew quieted and turned towards Leela. “Let’s go through and see what we’ve got. Hermes?”
The bureaucrat stood and adjusted his glasses. He pulled out his clipboard, and said, “Reviewing the stores, I found dat we have packaged food supplies for three months, parts to completely refit the ship if needed, a mini-laboratorium for de Professor, and I tallied many bananas.”
Hermes shook his head. “Sadly, I found that we failed to file our required ‘Flight from Justice’ form when we busted you ladies out of jail, so I wanted to file a ‘Notice of Late Filing’ notice…” he let out a sob “…but I didn’t bring any!” He started crying.
“There, there, husband,” LaBarbara comforted Hermes in her arms.
“Oh…kay,” Leela said. “Amy?”
“Bender and I set up the water desalination equipment, and we’ve filled up the ship’s main and auxiliary tanks with distilled water. I only had to use Bender’s patriotism override once!”
“Lousy stinking humans…” Bender muttered.
Leela suppressed a laugh. “Kif, Dr. Zoibberg and I managed to extract enough whale oil to completely refuel the ship, as well as stash some in the emergency reserve tank the Professor installed in the hold. Best of all, with Dr. Zoidberg’s help underwater, we didn’t have to kill any of the whales. He made sure they made it back to the sea after we siphoned off some excess blubber.”
Dr. Zoidberg looked up from where he was licking his claws. “Vat? Oh, yes. Delectable – I mean delightful - creatures.”
Leela blinked at him once, and then coughed. “Well, Professor, it seems we’re in position to get out of here once we do some repairs. Oh, and – ” her voice changed pitch “ - as soon as you find a way to get Fry back!”
The ancient scientist stood slowly from his unfolded beach chair. “Sadly, I’m still working on that. But more importantly, we can’t just leave this planet. We have to do something about the people on here.”
“Why is it our problem, Professor?” Amy axed.
The old man looked down, and frowned. “What I’m about to tell you is the deepest secret of the Academy of Inventors. It is my unhappy fate to have to reveal this to you. In some small, but real, way, these people’s fates are my fault.”