The first thing Leela did after rising from her bed – at the patently ridiculous time of four AM – and knocking loudly on Hermes' office door, then returning to her own room to get dressed, had been to contemplate the events, the choices, the ideas and meetings of the past few days. They had been an odd few days, the crew having to grudgingly adjust to military discipline under her strict, somewhat dictatorial new reign; still, she'd known it was vital to “school them in military ways”, as the New New York base commander had been somewhat quick to condescendingly say.
This time around, though, it was the actual military's turn to impose military discipline and equipment protocols. Kif had made it quite clear – albeit in his characteristic diplomatic fashion, one of the things that made him so easy to work with – that the DOOP NavFor Thirty-third Squadron would refuse to transport any liabilities whatsoever. For Leela, this had meant forcing the Planet Express crew to play out the role of a military task element for the past few days (complete with Zoidberg as cruddy DeForest Kelley stand-in); for the DOOP, it would mean actually forcing upon them the strictures of a military unit. As so many authors and scriptwriters had said over the years since film's invention, this was for real (and don't you forget it!).
As such, the DOOP had seen fit to wake-up-call them all at the, as previously mentioned, patently ridiculous hour of four in the morning, and so it was Leela's foul task to get them duty-ready. They'd fallen into the military routine reasonably well, and Fry actually seemed rather enthused taking orders. She didn't know why, she didn't know how; and frankly, I'm not sure I want a look into that psyche.
Another part of her own psyche, however – the less mean, more rational part – was speaking consistently over the top: You quite sure? Some of Fry's thoughts could be interesting, and I think you'd find yourself edified. Slightly embarrassed with herself for even giving over that many mind cycles to the delivery boy, she returned her attention to the corridor – through which it seemed that, if her ears were telling her right, the said delivery boy, a bureaucrat, a robot and a crustacean were wearily stumbling.
She waited a moment before quietly letting herself out behind them, resplendent in the blue jumpsuit that seemed to be the height of DOOP female fashion these days – although admittedly she couldn't fault them for utility, and she had to admit that implementing anything the rabid fashionista corps had been demanding would definitely decrease combat efficiency. Some of the ideas had been absolutely ridiculous and laughed down outright, while others had been subtly insane and required careful analysis before the DOOP's tailors could actually articulate why they were catastrophically bad moves.
Anyway … on with the show, I suppose. The round table balcony was ahead, Farnsworth notably absent, being, Leela reflected in a slightly resentful manner, the only one excused from the mission. Still, reflecting that the elderly and somewhat senile chief executive officer been excused for a reason which, despite its long-windedness and superb politeness, basically came down to uselessness, gave her just that slight twinge of satisfaction, which she sternly warned herself for.
Coming into the capacious hangar, ship sitting proud behind all of them, she surveyed the table. First up, Hermes was there, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he always seemed to be, despite a lack of caffeine and legitimate work. She wondered how he managed it.
Next to him, Bender, wearing his old lieutenant's rings around one arm. She supposed an air of power might give some of the DOOP sergeants pause, but knowing Bender and his misguided methods it wouldn't last for long; I wouldn't mind seeing how they react when he tries to give orders on no-longer-existent command authority.
Next to him, Fry, evicted from his usual spot at the table and looking a bit sad and lost. A genuinely confused Fry is kinda cute, actually … but again she pushed it from her mind. Cuteness was not important in a security officer; in fact, it would be an advantage to have a non-cute security officer. Anonymity would always be an advantage in any case, and she decided to have him wear a helmet at all times – mostly for fun, see how he'd react to being forced to wear a helmet … but also for the anonymity, yeah.
Sitting next anticlockwise from Fry, Zoidberg, looking surprisingly professional in a black v-neck. She had no doubt he'd stolen it from an op-shop somewhere, but it made a nice change from the off-white medic coat.
Finally, Amy to complete the pack. Camouflage jacket, black pants, same ridiculous hairstyle as ever despite the new clothes. Leela often wondered how much it cost to keep that hairstyle going, but dismissed the thought as irrelevant, being quite happy with the ponytail.
“Good news, everyone!” Loud communal groan. Loud. “We've been raised at a totally inappropriate time to attend weapons training courses.” She noticed the males, with the exception of a dour-looking Hermes, seemed to perk up at the mention of guns, and couldn't help but smile a bit. “Yeah, yeah, I know how much you like holding long round objects.” Ooooo from Amy.
“Thing is, we do need to present ourselves professionally … and we should be good to do that,” her critical eye couldn't actually find anything physically wrong with them. “Final advice, since I'm reasonably sure some of you are going to need this: point the guns only at the targets, say 'sir', and whatever you do, do not try to pull rank.” This last was aimed at Bender, who found himself obligated by tradition to look sheepish and thus completely failed to do so. Fry, meanwhile, seemed unsure whether or not to defend his friend, but Bender dismissively waved him down with a meaningful look at Leela.
Without a word, Leela simply turned and made her way down to the ship, making it well to the bridge before the unprepared crew had even made it to the stairs. She almost snapped the stairs shut on Zoidberg, but decided not to – a crushed medic might … not be a good idea. With a touch of a key, the doors above slid silently open, revealing the dark, apparently starless expanse of the pre-dawn sky above New New York – and with no further ado, the Planet Express quietly disengaged from its locks and soared out into the cold light.
December 14, 3008
Lower decks, Naval Base New New York
Of course, Leela yet again had cause to reflect, just because he's a drill sergeant doesn't automatically make him an asshole.
The man the Planet Express crew were working with was a solidly-built Decapodian master sergeant – one of the few of his kind to go to war – who had apparently known and liked Bender (he referred to Bender as 'Lieutenant Rodriguez', allowing Bender to preen and the others to look on with interest). He'd found them at the entrance, politely introduced himself – Robert Zoidel, he said his name was, in a soft accent in the line of the pseudo-Yiddish that seemed to characterise the Decapod species – and led them down to the training rooms. Much to universal dismay, he'd decided to put them through the cursory tactics courses first instead of simply 'handing us guns and putting us on the range', as Fry had eloquently put it. So here Leela was, with a couple of others, listening to Zoidel summarising his tactics courses at seven-thirty in the morning; mercifully, they'd been provided with coffee.
“... so, yeah, like I said, you're wanting to just keep straight with your objectives, and just keep pounding. I just cannot emphasise this enough – it's one of the key doctrines of unit tactics, big and small. Always be cautious; don't run into battle, keep back as much as possible.” Fry looked downcast again, as he had every time Zoidel had mentioned anything to do with caution. Nobody was sympathetic; Zoidel looked around expectantly. “Nothing?” The answer was obvious – he'd grilled everyone on their military tactics after his first, over and over, a couple of hours ago; of course there was nothing left to ask.
“Alright, I do believe that clears you through to the range.” Zoidel moved to a boring-looking door over at one side with quick, practiced strides, and unhooked a key, prompting a thoughtful comment from Bender about how the best lock was still mechanical – quickly followed up by a slightly less thoughtful comment that any mechanical lock could be subverted, getting a curious look from Zoidel and a reproving comment from Amy. Since when has Amy ever been a paragon of moral superiority? seemed to be the universal reaction, in which only Zoidberg and Zoidel didn't share. Unlocking the door revealed a big, dark room with several tables and what appeared to be a large holo-arena.
Along a long table lay five small guns, apparently automatic. Fry and Bender were the first to scoot over, well ahead of Zoidel, who ended up looking reproachfully at their backs; luckily, though, they were empty of magazines, removing possibility of idiocy. Amy was next, looking at the blocky firearms with a fair degree of apparently professional curiosity; next Hermes, the last-to-fight bureaucrat, and finally Leela herself, who had just been obstinately determined to head over in her own sweet time.
Finally, though, they were all assembled, and Zoidel started showing them through the weapon design with what seemed to be a practiced sales patter and a fair amount of paternal pride. “This gun – I like to call it the 'Birdman', although the official designation is the Charlie one Alpha thirty-five ACR, or automatic combat rifle. Reliable, versatile, useful, great standard-issue for most combat situations. Onboard computer with full tactical options suite, zoom scope to magnification level two with complete filter set, two fire modes.” Bender was nodding along as if he understood perfectly – which he probably did, Leela grudgingly acknowledged. Fry was somewhat less comfortable: in fact, he appeared completely bewildered, although he seemed to get the gist, and confessed that he'd only be firing it and probably wouldn't need to call on the secondary functions. It seemed somehow praiseworthy that he might say that, although for the life of her Leela couldn't imagine why – perhaps the frankness?
Zoidel picked a random exercise type for the holo-arena – single-flag capture – and divided the six up into two-person teams: Hermes with the lobster he despised most, Bender (who grudgingly accepted a temporary demotion to mere private – although the slight gleam in Zoidel's eyes suggested he enjoyed taking his senior officers down a peg or two) with his fellow military officer, Amy (whose parents had apparently bought her a reserve-forces commission under the table a while back, if Leela was interpreting Zoidel's sardonic commentary properly), and … Leela plus Fry. Well, well, this should be interesting, if that's the proper word. She wasn't quite sure how to react – just that touch off-balance at the surprising presence.
Once they'd been given the appropriate laser-tag batteries and marshalled into their proper places in the arena, Zoidel switched it on with the press of a button, accompanying the shimmering activation with a hollow laugh as he disappeared from their views.
Fry was the first to speak, albeit in a low voice. “Look, Leela, who would you rather headed out to the central point first? You, or me?” Realising how cowardly he must have sounded, he hastened to add, “Look, I mean, I can give you that assignment, if you want.”
Leela considered for a moment, and decided to let him have his fun – plus, she wanted to see if Fry had much to show from being a veteran. A sardonic part of her psyche intruded: Or it could be that you just want to watch Fry, which she mentally dismissed with an icy: Excuse me? I'm starship captain Turanga Leela. I do not think these things, and I'm rather shocked that you did, knowing all the while that talking to an errant thought was an utterly useless pursuit.
Fry moved ahead into the ring around the central plaza, oblivious, sweeping the area carefully with his rifle – it appeared he really did have some experience, since much of the maneuvering he employed seemed quite professional. Leela mirrored his movements slightly hesitantly, He didn't seem prepared, however, when Bender burst out of the foliage waving his own gun and howling in a quite un-Bender-ish manner, and only just managed to fend the apparently crazed robot off with a cluster of 'rounds' – which hit some sort of shining golden barrier. Leela was startled: Huh? When did military objectivised situations become twenty-first century video games?
She experimentally thumbed herself in the chest as Fry finished off a sour-looking robot who had given up all pretence, only to discover she had no such shield. “Bender! Hacking the damn game is not kosher! Fry … I'll go in first.”
Surprised, Fry waved her on encouragingly, taking up position behind her. The two slipped 'round a completely ridiculous number of corners, coming upon Amy wandering around aimlessly some way in and 'disposing' of her. Now there were just Hermes and Zoidberg to deal with, and Leela was reasonably sure they wouldn't be able to maintain any tactical coordination whatsoever.
She was utterly wrong. The first glimpse they had of the duo was several minutes later, a pair of shadows fluidly slipping through the flag room, a simulation of an extravagant interior garden inside a skyscraper somewhere in Africa – and Hermes and Zoidberg were completely silent. No argument, no speech at all. She signalled Fry to stop, and herself waited, staring at the shadows and sweeping the short barrel through the gaps between the trees.
Just as she had been about to go out for the flag herself, blue virtual plasma rounds cut through the air above her right shoulder, and a cry rang out. She spun quickly – Hermes and Zoidberg were engaging in a two-on-one hand-to-hand duel against Fry … which presented a completely obvious tactical opportunity: she simply put streams of rounds through their skull hitboxes, leaving the two immobilised a few inches above the ground (except for their heads) and talking a stream of annoyance at her. Fry was unscathed, and gave her another surprised look.
She headed forward to claim the flag – which was when the wave of whiteness washed over, and they were standing again in the big holoarena, immobilisation fields and energy shields deactivated. Zoidel was standing just off the edge looking at the three pairs, an approving smile on his face.
Scorecards indicated Leela and Fry were the dream team, by a large margin – 'excellent teamwork, good tactical dynamics – possibly due to experience' the Decapodian had scribbled on an actual yellow piece of cardboard, apparently while watching the spotty battles on a holoscreen outside the arena. Hermes and Zoidberg had come in second, surprisingly enough – 'good teamwork,' (at which most of the crew scoffed) 'and excellent operational efficiency'. Bender and Amy had come out last, and the notes were slightly less approving: 'too much recon, not enough attack' and 'Lieutenant Rodriguez, sneaking in several days beforehand to perform illegal program modification is not a valid battle tactic. Please remember this'. The last one got a bit of ironic laughter from the other teams, while Amy simply gave a guilty-looking Bender a reproving glare all the way back to corporate headquarters.
As it was, though, they'd all scored 'acceptable' (not a liability) to 'well above', and that meant that, at least on the strength of this certification, they were good to go.
Second time around, and here they were again, this time at nine PM, listening to a rather tired-sounding Master Sergeant Zoidel outlining team assignments for a deathmatch. This time around, there were three-person teams; Hermes ended up paired with Amy and Zoidberg, while Bender was paired with Fry and Leela – 'to see if the dream-team dynamic continues,' Zoidel had said. This time around, the teams were placed at opposite ends of a labyrinth map, instead of the triangular skyscraper map they'd been put in during the tag-team simulation.
As soon as they'd loaded their magazines, the program generated its characteristic swirling vortex of photons – the 'generating' screen; a few seconds later, the map materialised around them, complete with an abundance of freezing air and snow. Leela shivered and silently gave thanks there were no installations like this in DOOP space.
Bender took up point, handing his gun to Fry and claiming it wasn't needed. Fry, in turn, handed the gun to Leela, who stabilised both easily enough, leaving her with two workable instead of the standardised single one.
In consequence, Bender was the first to encounter fire, barely ducking streams of ephemeral rounds from two directions at once. Fry leaned out to cover him and put seven surprisingly accurate shots into a crouching Hermes' gun, leaving the other encapsulated in a yellow 'capture' field (as opposed to the red 'kill' one. Meanwhile, Amy was still firing from a right-angle to Hermes, and Bender almost got skewered through the head as he incautiously raised himself from a crouch – the smaller woman was soon dealt with, though, Fry and Leela simultaneously putting 'rounds' through the firing mechanism on her gun.
There was still Zoidberg to be dealt with, and Bender really was 'killed' this time when the crustacean silently crept out around a corner behind them and placed a neat 'hole' in the back of Bender's head. He wasn't quick enough adjusting his field of fire, though, and again Fry and Leela K.O.'ed him simultaneously.
Finally, after what seemed an oddly long period, there they were again, Zoidel pinning them with his gaze. A few seconds and he let the confrontational stare relax into a smile. “We have the Leela-Fry-Rodriguez team leading again. Keep this up and at least two of you will go into the annals of DOOP scoreboard history.”
The final tally for the simulation showed L-F-R, or Leela-Fry-Rodriguez (although everyone still referred to it as Leela-Fry in a kind of salute) way out in front – this time, the DOOP instructor had written 'excellent teamwork continuing; innovative tactics'. C-W-Z, or Conrad-Wong-Zoidberg, was still surprisingly good, and Zoidel's notes said he'd 'never seen that tactic' – right-angle pinning, he called it – 'used by trainees before'. That's what comes of informal combat every damn mission, thought Leela, but she said nothing, letting CWZ's achievements stand out on their own.
After the two tests, Zoidel had deliberated for a bit over a stein – a stein? had been the startled reaction – of Lintong coffee, showing no visible performance-enhancement effects (or, indeed, any effects at all), and had finally lowered the pencil to the paper and given them combat-ready certification, provisional, which seemed to mean that they displayed teamwork equal to DOOP soldiers if the convoluted notes were right.
So here was Leela, piloting the Planet Express over and through the quiet morning streets of New New York and listening to the reassuring status quo hum of the human fighters swapping boasts. Oddly enough, Fry seemed quiet, while Amy, Bender and Hermes were desperately showing off to each other in a rising crescendo, and Leela turned back to the greyish, threatening early-morning sky ahead (the now-returned Amy had insisted they take a few hours' worth of detour to Mars, and everyone had slept while she went off to socialise – 'or some crap like that, Christ, I don't know' as Bender had succinctly summarised it).
It was a surprisingly calm scene, given the reputation of the city: alongside the streets, majestic towers stood proudly and ships of every description soared between the pinnacles; on the streets, though, was where the real business of the city went on – assault and battery, arson, burglary, drug abuse, murder, racketeering … grand enterprises of state indeed. Every so often, misdirected small-laser fire would arc up into the sky from a criminal deal, and Leela actually had to jink the Planet Express to starboard to avoid a potential hull breach at one point.
Behind her, someone whacked the MP4 system with the prototype finglonger that had been leaning against the wall, and with a bit of adjusting, another someone (probably Fry) had flicked it over to some Stupid Ages classic rock, extremely loud; now, Leela did like some examples of the genre, but a particular pet peeve of hers was overly damn loud music. It was distracting, and in some circumstances it could be particularly dangerous … even if it was the work of Chicago, and even if some of the crew did like it, and even if she didn't want to sound too intolerant around … some of them:
'Turn it the hell down! Flying with bass boost is something only idiots do!' Leela responded at the top of her voice, and Bender obediently hit Fry across the back of the head. With a couple of loud words exchanged, the volume was reluctantly lowered to something approaching ambience, although the lyrics were still quite audible. As I was walking down the street one day / a man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch …
After what seemed an oddly long time, the Planet Express corporate headquarters loomed ahead, and she throttled back the arc converters with a couple of seconds of parameter keying to slot gently into the confines of the docking bay, coming down with nary a whisper; everybody piled out in a haphazard row, a particular mechanoid first. The pilot couldn't help but reflect that about the only thing there was to do was … oh jeez. Install the armoury. With a loud groan, she promised herself she'd get on it 'tomorrow'.
Night of December 15
The young Amphibiosan woman looked about as the familiar bistre mist, streams of golden sparks weaving through it, materialised around her. Waiting a moment for the Master to notice her, she finally opted in favour of announcing her presence. Master? she said silently. A rumble resounded throughout the perceptual reality around her as the powerful mentality adjusted itself to her presence. The tinkling music in the distance stopped abruptly, and the powerful light illuminating the imprisoning mist from an indeterminate distance shut off.
The voice was a powerful baritone, yet that of an aged man. She strongly suspected the mentality employed it to produce a paternal impression, although she didn't mind it: it was a father figure that gave rewards for loyalty, and she challenged anyone to prove her disloyal. She especially challenged any slander to that effect given the information she was about to deliver.
Master, the battlegroup departs from the centrality at some point during the ante-meridian period of the eighth spin from that which approaches. It is confirmed that the battlegroup approaches you. She spoke, for lack of a better term, in a reverent tone; the mentality was a powerful presence, and she wished only to retain its favour in her service under its dominion.
The mind immediately brightened, literally – the perceptual bistre mist lightened a couple of shades to sepia. <Excellent! This shan't go unnoticed … but I think you have more?> The mist tremored, expectant, and the Amphibiosan bowed her head respectfully.
The battlegroup stops at my assignment for replenishment.
For all its inestimable age and huge power, the mind could still be subject to fits of childish excitement, and so it was, laughing happily to itself for several seconds before calming. <Such that you could perhaps implement a monitoring schema?>
Tactical plausibility assessments ran through the young woman's mind, aided by the expanded processing resources of the outer fringes of the mentality's bounds. It might be slightly difficult, but I will attempt. Who will be your greeter, if I might ask?
<You might,> the mind replied, magnanimous. <The Speaker.>