Leela kept her hands on the Planet Express ship’s controls, and struggled with her emotions. When the first Cyberian raider had appeared, all the feelings she experienced when learning that Fry had been lost flared back up. Sorrow, fear, loss – and anger. If I’m honest with myself, guilt as well, she had thought.
She had hovered one hand over the launch button for the torpedo as the Professor and Amy had transmitted the parley code over all the communications channels the ship could transmit on. While they sent, the first raider had circled them, holding its fire. It was joined by another, and then a third. Finally, a harsh, somewhat mechanical voice came over the communications channel.
“Identify yourselves!” the gender-less voice had commanded.
The crew looked at each other, and Leela had broken the silence. “I am Captain Turanga Leela, of the Planet Express Delivery Company. We come to discuss saving your world from the oncoming gamma ray burst. We seek an audience at the Great Castle of…the Masters.” Her voice hung a bit on the last word.
The voice had paused for a moment. “Illogical. What assistance can you provide?”
Hermes had smoothly broken in. “Perhaps none. But if your superiors discover that you did not allow us to transmit our offer to them, will you be rewarded or punished?”
The silence had stretched interminably, and then the voice had commanded, slightly less certain, “Fly to these coordinates, and remain in the center of the formation.”
Leela looked at Hermes wonderingly, and the man had smiled. “Bureaucracies are the same the world over – kick the problem upstairs.”
Now they flew across the sea, headed toward the Prime Island of the cyborgs, escorted by a trio of raiders.
And Leela felt nothing but rage at those she blamed for Fry’s disappearance. At least she tried to feel nothing but rage; it helped to keep the other, darker emotions at bay. I should have been more careful. I should have gone back for him, and damn the others. I should have been the one to go in the cargo bay. I should have been the one lost.
“Leela?” Amy said quietly.
“What?” Leela barked. She bit back more. Amy doesn’t deserve that, she thought.
“You’re hurting yourself,” Amy observed, looking at the cyclops’ hands. Leela glanced down, and saw that her fingers were curled around the controls so tightly that her nails were drawing blood from her palms. She cursed, and wiped blood on her pants.
“Thanks, Amy,” Leela said. From the corner of her eye, she could see Kif take Amy’s hand. I’m glad Kif came back to her, she thought. They’re such a comfort to each other. Like how Fry is a comfort to me – No. Don’t think about him right now. Don’t think about his cute red moptop or the bump in his nose…
Don’t think about how you should have rescued him. Leela shook her head again. Amy’s right. I’m just hurting myself.
Everyone was so focused on the raiders surrounding them as they flew that no one noticed passing high over the little sailing ship, nor the synchrotron radiation detector the Professor had left carelessly lying on a bench blinking vigorously as it detected a life-form passing beneath them which had traversed the wormhole.
The evening was uneventful, until a voice in the night called out “lights on the starboard!”
“Quarters, men!” the office of the watch bellowed. There was chaos for minutes as pirates dashed about. Fry put down his wooden bowl of slop and ran over to where the weapons master was lugging out his “armory.”
Levar and Pratt were conferring nearby, and Fry noticed Pratt was wearing a long, fancy coat from the previous captain’s closet. It covered his scruffy pirate finery, and made him look almost respectable.
Pratt spotted Fry glancing at them, and waved him over. Worried, Fry scuttled over to the two, sticking the sword the weapon master had issued him in his belt. “What up, Captain?” he asked.
Pratt nodded toward a bright search light approaching across the water, beams focused on the Matei Pavel. “Looks like our beloved Masters are paying us a visit. Of course, they’ll find nothing but law abiding, obedient servants here.” He smiled toothily.
Fry looked around at the pirates, armed with ceramic cutlasses and flintlock pistols. “Um, is this a good idea, Captain?” he asked reluctantly.
Levar answered. “It’s just a random customs patrol, softie. One or two Masters with a bunch of human dogs. Nothing we can’t handle.”
Pratt said, “Don’t underestimate them, Levar. Some of us will die today.” His expression remained flat, but his tone changed. “All of them will die, though,” he snarled. He turned to his second. “Levar, get to the gadget; on my word, use it.”
Levar nodded and ran off. Pratt told Fry, “Get your friend Chan and get back here – I want you to see this.”
“Uh, I can skip it, Captain – ”
Pratt gave him a look Fry recognized well, so he ran below decks and grabbed Chan, who was grumbling on bilge duty. Chan had mixed feelings about accompanying Fry – he was happy to get above decks, but not happy about being in the line of fire.
“Don’t worry,” Fry assured him. “If they start shooting, I bet you the whole ship’ll go up.” He threw up his hands in an imitation of an explosion.
“Thanks for the reassurance,” Chan said doubtfully.
When the two friends returned to Pratt’s side, the patrol hovercraft was pulling alongside the ship. It floated up, ignoring the rocking seas, until it was level with the Matei Pavel’s deck and then a door slid open.
A human came out first, laser rifle at the ready and night-sight goggles on. Another exited with a sensor wand out, and his rifle slung on his back. Finally, with a faint subsonic whirring sound, out stepped a Master.
He – and Fry was pretty sure it was a he – was tall, but not ridiculously so. He was not overly muscled, but he moved with an easy power which hinted at great strength. His bald head glittered with the facets of electronics and implants, and his one-piece jumpsuit was likewise studded with all manner of devices. One arm ended in a perfectly normal human hand; the other had a clutch of squirming mechanical tentacles emerging from the wrist. He opened his mouth, and spoke in a voice like Bender’s after the robot’s personality had been wiped. “Assemble the ship’s complement before me,” he commanded.
“Of course, good Master,” Pratt said, almost simpering as he played the part of an obedient ship’s captain. He turned slightly, and said loudly, “Levar, please give the signal.”
Levar nodded, bent down, and suddenly all hell broke loose.
The cyborg imperceptibly straightened and quick as a flash pivoted, raised his tentacled hand, and fired a laser blast at Pratt. The pirate, however, had already danced aside. The Master’s laser beam blew apart some barrels behind Pratt; the pirate captain had his own laser pistol out and fired back – at the hovercraft.
Fry dove to the deck, but he saw the first shot explode the hovercraft’s windscreen, and the next two fry the interior of the craft. Its engines began to scream dangerously, and it dropped down toward the water, flames gouting from the open hatches and shattered windscreen.
Pirates swarmed the two human guards, who went down in a flurry of sword blows without getting off a shot.
The cyborg was a different story. Pirates rushed him, but he blurred around like a movie on fast forward and knocked six of them flying. Suddenly he was three meters away and firing his laser, killing pirates like a boy frying ants with a magnifying glass.
His blood up, Fry got up from the deck and ran forward, sword raised, when the Master announced, “Enough of this,” and raised his other arm.
Something in the air changed, and suddenly every living pirate stopped dead in his tracks. Each had a blank expression of stupefaction. Fry saw Pratt standing, his laser pistol loose in his hand, drool running down his chin.
“Now,” the cyborg said to himself, his back to Fry, “to find the jamming device that is cutting off my communications.” He turned around, and Fry ducked behind a pile of woven sandbags to hide. He heard the cyborg walk past him, and he held his breath in anticipation. Whatever he used isn’t affecting me. It’s just like when the Brains attacked Earth! Okay, Fry, it’s all up to you - now what? He thought about his friends. Bender would run – Leela would attack. If I have to choose between Leela and Bender, I know who I’m following.
The cyborg bent over, back to Fry, and began rummaging through a chest. Fry gathered up his courage, drew in a breath and charged.
His running steps must have alerted the cyborg, because the man/machine hybrid turned with swiftness and lifted one arm toward Fry. Fry swung his sword down and chopped at the cyborg’s elbow.
The ceramic blade sliced into the cyborg’s outstretched arm near the crook of his arm (if there was one). Fry had expected to see blood; instead, the sword stuck in with a grinding noise and let loose a flurry of sparks. The cyborg pulled that arm away, taking Fry’s embedded sword with it, and his other arm smashed Fry in the chest, sending him flying.
Fry hit the deck with a thump, shouting in pain. Aw, crap that hurts!
In a flash the cyborg was on him. The damaged arm dangled at the Master’s side, sword sticking out ludicrously, but he grabbed Fry’s neck with his good hand and lifted the red-head into the air. “Tell me, normal, why is my delta brain wave suppression field not affecting you?” the Master commanded.
“Gack!” was all Fry could say, hanging with a steel grip on his windpipe and his heels in the air. His hands clutched uselessly at the cyborg’s strength-enhanced fingers.
“I should take you back to Prime Island for dissection, normal,” the Master said thoughtfully. “Your mutation is certainly interesting. Should I terminate you now, or keep you alive until – ”
The cyborgs’ musings were cut short when a laser bolt exploded his head, sending blood and electronics flying. Fry coughed as blood and little bits of metal peppered his face.
“I’ll be the one terminatin’ around here,” Pratt said, pistol still leveled at the cyborg.
The headless body dropped Fry and turned. Remarkably, it charged Pratt like a resurrected ghoul, but two more shots to the legs and torso finally brought it down.
Fry rose on rubbery legs, hands at his neck. “Good god, that thing was strong!”
Pratt eyed the smoking wreck of the dead cyborg, and nodded. “Strong as demons, they are.” He looked up at Fry. “Pretty brave of you, boy, to charge one, alone, with nothing more than a sword.”
Fry thought for a moment. “I don’t think anyone’s ever called me brave before.”
“Plus, you saved the day.” Pratt gestured around to where pirates were taking up station and bandaging their injuries. “If you hadn’t knocked out that stunning thing, we’d all be at the bottom of the sea – or in those devils’ experiment pits.”
Pratt held out his hand. “Good work, boy.”
Fry took his hand, feeling a glow of pride in himself he rarely felt. “Thanks, Captain.” Whadda ya know, Yancy, he said to his dead father. I did something right!
“Get yourself cleaned up, Fry. See me in my cabin afterwards. I have something to show you and Levar.”
“Aye Aye, Captain.”
The Planet Express ship had come out of a storm over Prime Island, which seemed equal parts bustling sail-era city and green, verdant farm land. They were shepherded toward a line of mountains, and ultimately directed toward the nearest mountain. As they drew closer, its nature became clear.
“My word!” was all Kif could choke out. The others were silent.
What they approached was no mountain, but a multi-tiered fortress of spires, with a central rampart which thrust high into the sky. The structure dwarfed the tallest buildings of New New York, resembling one of the nearby mountains. It was dotted and sprinkled with lights, like some demented monstrous fairy toadstool.
“Land on the pad lit in green,” the voice commanded over the comm channel.
“Sure thing,” Leela muttered, her every instinct screaming to fire all engines to maximum and run. She brought the Planet Express ship down on the indicated pad, where a group of humanoid figures waited for them, seemingly unaffected by the whipping winds and backdraft from the ship’s drive. The three Cyberian raiders that had ‘escorted’ them here peeled off and flew away.
Another voice, dispassionate but identifiable as a woman’s, came over the channel. “Exit your vehicle immediately. Do not bring any weapons or other devices.”
Everyone looked at each other, and got up together. “In for a penny…” Amy said. They started taking off tools, scanners and weapons. The Professor was looking quizzically at a number of strange devices he was pulling out of his pockets. Leela carefully put down her emergency back-up pistol, boot gun, and brass knuckles, and saw Amy staring at her. “Girl can’t be too prepared!” Leela said cheerfully.
Bender stayed resolutely seated. Hermes said, “Get a move on, ya gearheaded green snake!”
“You heard the nice lady,” Bender said. “Leave all devices behind. You guys treat me like some tool, so I’m staying right here!”
Leela’s eye narrowed as she stared at Bender. “You want to rethink that, metal boy?”
“Not in the least,” Bender said.
Leela smiled broadly. “Good; I love a challenge that combines my love of violence with teaching you a lesson.” She cracked her knuckles and advanced on the robot.
Outside the ship, the cyborgs heard a clanging noise, and a roughly humanoid robot tumbled down the forward steps of the Planet Express ship, cursing colorfully as he rolled on the landing pad and came to a stop. Bender stood up and froze as the rest of the crew followed him out.
The icy wind tore at the crew, but the real chill came from confronting the Cyberians. There were eight of them, of varying heights and genders. In the front was a tall, slim woman with long black hair and a monocular implant replacing her right eye. She raised a gloved hand and pointed at them. “Stop and raise your hands above your heads,” she said.
They complied. Leela felt somewhat queasy when she realized that the woman’s “glove” was actually a bionic hand replacing her organic one. The female cyborg swept over them with her hand, and her readings must have satisfied her, because she gestured them forward. “Single file, and follow me.”
Leela led the little line, and the other cyborgs fell in on either side of the column, forming a guard. Probably *not* an honor guard, Leela thought.
They were marched to an open lift, where they were dropped down through a maze of levels and floors. Leela was dazzled by the sights – cyborgs of all shapes, sizes and races of humanity purposefully moving about, vast structures of indeterminate purpose and construction and ships drifting about inside the vast space.
“It’s so quiet,” Amy observed. Leela agreed – there was no murmur of humanity as they would be in a great city on Earth. This place was the Cyberian’s metropolis, and it was as silent as a tomb. There was no small talk, or orders, amongst their guards either. Leela supposed they had other ways to communicate.
The cyborgs marched them off a lift and they came to a large blast-proof door, adorned with symbols of uncertain nature. Two cyborgs stood guard, and the female cyborg who had led them here stopped, her little group in tow.
“I see the captives are still alive,” one of the guards, another woman, said out loud.
The cyborg who commanded the Planet Express’ guard simply stared at the other cyborg.
“Let us not be rude, Cambrien,” the door guard said nastily. “Let us communicate verbally.”
“You are the one being rude,” their escort, Cambrien, finally said. “They are technically visitors, Aurenna, not captives; they may be of use.”
I sure feel like a captive, Leela thought to herself.
The otherwise expressionless face of Aurenna the guard seemed to sneer. “Tell yourself what you like, Cambrien. Your faction is a minor concern to the Great Ones.”
Before Cambrien could respond, there was a vast snapping, like God’s light switch had flipped, and the blastproof doors began to swing open.
The two door guards stepped aside, and Cambrien marched the Planet Express crew into the chamber.
The vaulted chamber was partly lit, but much of it was draped in shadows. Within, six cyborgs seated on tall pedestals waited for the group to march in. They wore jumpsuits similar to what the other cyborgs outside had worn, but theirs were adorned with rings in an ancient fashion.
“Spleesh,” Amy muttered. “Rings? How seventh millennia.”
“Amy!” Leela hissed back.
They stood before the seated cyborgs for long moments, as the man/machine hybrids silently conferred amongst themselves. Then, the central cyborg, a short, powerfully built male encrusted with metal, said simply, “Explain yourselves.”
The Planet Express team looked at each other. The Professor raised his hand and said, “I will speak.”
“Begin! Our patience with you Earth normals grows thin.”
“Begin, eh? Well it all started when my great-to-the-fiftieth-power uncle Philip J. Fry was frozen back in the twentieth century – ” The Professor droned on.
“We’re boned, aren’t we?” Bender stage-whispered to Amy.
“Oh, yeah. We’re boned,” the intern answered.
“So, so boned,” Leela added.