Fan Fiction

The Silver Blade's Sweep: Capitulum IV: Conversion to Orbital
By Jarmatus

Thirty-third Squadron crews have thirty minutes of launch prep time. Act accordingly. Command out.”

Leela looked to Fry, then Bender. “Do we really need launch prep time?” Both shook their heads no, and forging on, Leela pushed the large red button that had replaced the ignition keyhole in the latest overhaul of the ship.


Nothing happened. Fry and Bender looked at a nonplussed Leela for explanation, expectancy engraved on their faces, but she was swiveling out of her chair and frowning as she headed for the aft in-lock. “One of you is gong to have to come with me … we need to be ready to take off once we're done checking around the aft section. Volunteers to be pilot?”

Two of the four hands on the bridge not owned by Leela went up to about shoulder height. She closed her eye for a second, then smiled. “It was always a foregone conclusion. Fry, because I can remember what happened last time you piloted a ship of any size, Bender.” Over the robot's futile protestations, she handed Fry the card-key that controlled the ship's engine lockdown. “Fry, I can trust you to press buttons when I tell you to, right? Not do anything stupid?”

He looked genuinely injured for a second, then a smile cracked his face. “I'll only be stupid if you order me to, Captain,” and he sketched a friendly-mocking salute. “Chain of command rules supreme.”

Leela would have raised an eyebrow if she'd had two or more. As it was, she would have just looked stupid. “Excellent.” Smiling at Fry for the briefest of moments, she turned to Bender and started issuing highly complex orders, and as such failed to see the slight expression of wonder evincing itself on Fry's face as he slid into the pilot's seat.

As Leela was talking technicals to Bender, who despite his appearance of reluctance earlier was now listening intently (sensing somehow there'd be no shirking this duty), Fry studied the controls. They seemed fairly simple, although much of the computing power had been relocated to provide a kind of wraparound screen surrounding the pilot's seat, giving whoever sat in it a nice little cocoon.

Around the yoke sat several buttons which hadn't been there three weeks before. They were all clearly set out; most of them were black and had white name labels next to them. The only exception to the first rule was a large red button whose nametag signified it controlled the functioning of the Funnelweb system, and was marked with some care 'Do not press. Ever' in Leela's neat cursive script; with good reason, too, as the chief tech – Amy – had forwarded Fry some damage potentials a while back. They weren't pretty, although Fry thought the Funnelweb could likely rip easily through anything the DOOP was capable of bringing to bear. An old line came to mind: Fools! Do they really think we would arm ourselves with weapons that could hurt us?

Apparently they would, he thought, and that was where that train of thought ended as he became aware he was about to be addressed, several seconds before the fact.

“… and for God's sake, Bender, stop keeping your collapsible guitar in the tool space. Last time we put it near the keeper we nearly broke orbit. Of a neutron star … aaand, alright. Mister Fry, you have the bridge.” There was just the slightest hint of informality in her tone, and it had every right to be there – after all, as far as Planet Express went, the chain of command was a big in-joke to be followed or disregarded as one liked. Still, some orders had to be followed, but Fry was perfectly comfortable with maintaining the bridge. He rather liked the level of trust it implied on Leela's part, actually.

“Actually … wait just one minute.” Bootsteps sounded across the decking behind him, Bender's suddenly impatient grumbling faintly audible under them, and Fry turned just as Leela leaned over his shoulder to adjust a couple of switches on the console. The movement forced her to lean into him slightly, and Fry went visibly still – very still. Petrified, even. Bender took due note, formulated a few theories (the predominant being 'deep shock') and stored them away, what with now not being the time and all.

Leela, meanwhile, completely failed to notice the sudden widening of Fry's eyes, given that a) she wasn't looking at his face, she was looking over his shoulder, and b) even if she had been able to see his face she wouldn't have read anything into it, as she was really more concerned with making sure the ship's Immersive Operating Environment booted to plan at that time. It did, a wave of colour touching the wraparound screen for the longest of brief moments, then fading to reveal an extensive desktop of formidable-looking icons. A keyboard thunked out from the console, barely missing Fry's knees and forcibly redirecting his attention from the pilot leaning over his shoulder to the new interface.

Standing up, Leela placed a hand on Fry's shoulder. “Fry, the job looks comfortable, but it's really not. If we call a code red, you need to shut down the systems in question. If control calls in a code green, on the other hand, you need to take off.” He turned, making eye contact, and she gave him a serious look; uncharacteristically for him, he didn't give her a silly grin: more an 'everything is under control' sort of absent tweaking of the edges of the lips, which actually was more reassuring than if he'd said anything to that effect. She'd noticed that when Fry was concentrating hard on something, he got a bit zoned out, and he had the same sort of absent expression on his face that Bender had told her she'd had earlier, although obviously inspired by different thoughts.

It actually did seem, for once, that everything was indeed under control. She began to walk off, then hesitated a moment and placed a hand on Fry's shoulder, not quite knowing what she was trying to say by it. He, in his turn, looked away from his work to give her a smile: a small smile, but a sincere one.

Everything under control.

Everything was not so much under control in the engine bay, though, as it looked like someone – likely Amy – had forgotten to re-lock the a-grav castors, and half of the new spherical link junction reactor was perilously hanging free, swinging from the remaining locked castors. Leela sighed and got to work, catching the sonic probe Bender threw her without even looking around, then doing the same with a gravity field manipulator and slowly, slowly pushing the big sphere back into place.

It was a real monstrosity, and it had way too much mass to truly pay its way around, but it did the job extremely well. Unlike the old 'dark matter cooker' – the nickname Fry had given the big old direct-feed reactor – which ran three arc converters at cruising speed and ate up disorganised lumps of dark matter like nothing the DOOP overhaul crew had ever seen, the new device ran ten tri-cable clusters (each an arc-converter equivalent, possibly better), took literal fuel rods, and took a very long while to eat through even one of said rods. From the perspective of an engineer and pilot, Leela had been extremely pleased – on this kind of power they could haul ass from one end of the universe to the other seventeen times without exhausting a single rod.

No, running out of fuel or speed definitely wouldn't be an issue, but if some idiot kept leaving the castors unlocked after maintenance jobs they might all find themselves facing drastic 'engine problems' sooner than they might like, Leela thought sourly. Her cerebrations were interrupted by a grating robotic voice soon enough, though; Bender was quiet, but a kind of sincerity seemed evident in his tone that was almost never present in the usual course of things.

“Do something about it, meatbag.”

Leela shut off the tight-beam sonic probe for a second and turned to him, opening her mouth to ask a question – but he'd already got back to work, navigating his way through the system architecture. An idle comment meant for some tangent to their work there, she supposed, but couldn't help but be slightly puzzled. Maybe he meant to tell her to lock the castors in faster, but that wouldn't make sense; Bender didn't really have a habit of telling people to do what they were already doing, and he didn't seem especially snarky.

This would have to be something else, but what? Well, never mind, she had work to do and she wasn't about to let some vague, misdirected comment get in the way of that. Bender's sudden discovery of the wrong way to implement the concept of unspoken meaning wasn't significant from where she stood. A meticulous little voice in the back of her head kept obsessing on it, though: isn't it strange that you got mentally defensive only a few seconds after he said it? What are you trying to hide?

Nothing, she firmly insisted, and pushed the thought away, leaning closer in to the cylindrical tri-cable cluster subjunction she was working on to make a minute adjustment with the sonic probe, pulling it to the left just that little bit with no visible negative or positive result. Taking a deep breath, she took a firm grip on the spherical device, retrieved the pseudo-elastic power cord from its little portable holder next to her boot, closed her eye, and shoved it into the socket.

Several things happened in quick succession.

Firstly, the entire cable cluster erupted in way too much light and heat. The main junction went up to a brownish heat almost instantly, and the subjunctions were hot enough to fry an egg in seconds. Unfortunately, both of Leela's hands were still in contact – very painful contact – with the suddenly excited atoms, and she screamed in pain, jerking her left arm, then a second later her right, away from the entire power assembly and scrambling backwards on her hands and feet, inadvertently causing more pain for the affected arm. Meanwhile, the probe that had flown out of her hand thanks to the velocity with which she pulled it away now slammed into the bulkhead, several buttons on its side suddenly finding themselves simultaneously activated and locked onto the nearest active electric device, setting off the next sequence of events:

Bender was suddenly jammed into the loading port of the arc reactor, one of the loader electromagnets vaguely visible inside, flailing around uncontrolled on the end of its limb … and the port's malmetal was expanding at a decent clip to accommodate him. Even in a hectic situation like this Leela could still remember that behind that port was the always-burning pilot light. It was a rather powerful dark matter burner, and if his head came in contact …

It had now been precisely three point seven five seconds since the activation of the cable cluster, and Leela lifted her wrist computer to her lips, intending to call for help. She barely got out the first word – 'Fry' – when suddenly everything went completely quiet and still. Almost completely quiet and still, rather.

Bender fell back out of the loading port, landing with a loud clang and rolling away as his self-defence reflex kicked in. He was still screeching in panic, though, although that cut off just under a second later. A local instance of the fire suppression system kicked in, a mock turret on the ceiling urgently spraying down some supercooled substance or other and, once the steam died away, giving the faulty cable cluster a silvery pseudo-metallic covering, nailing it to the deck and preventing it from being any more of a hazard.

“– Code Red,” Leela finished lamely. “Was that you?”

Fry's answering tone was the audible expression of cautious, unsure triumph. “Affirmatory. Physical isolation of cabling complete, electromagnets deactivated, nanite repair bots en route. Is everything okay down there?”

Leela was stunned, just for a second. Is everything okay? “Yes! Yes, of … of course. Cables broke up in the covering, unexpected contact ensued, and we had power feeds going every which way. Kinda ignited the casing; know 'igniting' isn't the right word. Will try to think of something.” What she didn't say was: You just saved two people from serious injury faster than even the ship's computer ever managed.

Affirmatory,” Fry responded from his little computing cocoon on the bridge. Both he and Leela were talking in the strange, quick, slightly pronoun-deficient parlance of those who have just averted a major crisis. Something at the back of Leela's mind reminded her to reflect that only Fry actually had a right to speak in that parlance, having been the one who averted the crisis, and she made a conscious effort to slow her speech and calm her tone.

“We'll leave the nanites to clean up here. They can do cables and such, right?” Fry responded in the affirmative, and Leela forged on. “So … yeah, we'll leave them to clean up. I finished locking the a-gravs, so we should be good to launch. And … thank you, Fry. You did brilliantly.”

She was silent a moment, as was the channel. Finally, Fry broke the silence, quietly saying, “Any time.”

For some reason, Bender, now having recovered from his shock, was sitting against the wall humming a ridiculously cheery tune and staring into the loader port, wherein glowed a pale imitation of the flames of Robot Hell; Leela shot him a curious glance and a query, ironically managing to kill the mood better than Bender could ever have done by himself.

There was a bit of scuffling behind the mike as Fry apparently turned to look at something on the wraparound; Leela could hear vague dialogue from the mil-net in the background, mostly from the Nimbostratus' emotionless systems coordination intelligence: “–detaching grapples, switching feeds to remote. Special assignment – picket ship Delta November four two six five, code green, effective at time plus one hundred fifty seconds.”

Fry came back over. “Leela, did you--?”

Leela nodded, then realised Fry couldn't see her. “Yes, I heard. Look, Fry, I told you that if control called in a code green, you were supposed to unlink the ship and take us out. If … if you want, you can do that. It's up to you.”

Staticky silence over the channel for a moment, then Fry, stammering and obviously slightly stunned by the choice given. “Well … wow, just … yeah. Muchas gracias. I won't disappoint.”

As such, precisely two minutes and thirty seconds later, the ship lifted smoothly from its docking bracket and engaged on an accelerating vector down through the centre of the interior cavern, heading for an out-pipe gouged from the lower rim. Leela observed all this from one of the aft portholes, staying several corridors away from the bridge just to make it perfectly clear she wasn't looking over Fry's shoulder; Bender didn't observe it at all, as he was down on the lower sub-deck of engineering fine-tuning the electronic components of the ship's system and cussing out the computer for having the impertinence to run the irredeemably complex code Amy had implemented during the overhaul.

Fry's voice came over the intercom. The enthusiasm and happiness was gone, to be replaced with tightness and strain. “Leela, you have a call. You'll never believe who it's from.”

The answer was quite obvious, and Leela placed a hand to her forehead for a short moment. “Oh God, really? … Keep him on hold until we're out of this place, Fry. This is your hour.”

Thanks.” A sigh of relief, Fry's tone calmed down – which in a strange kind of association prompted Leela to notice that, in addition to going an increment over safety speed for undocking, the Planet Express was also showing course deviations as Fry presumably adjusted the yoke: the kind of course deviations which wholly precluded the Planet Express being on the magnetic guides. She held back an alarmed gasp – the amount of precision Fry's piloting was showing was negating the risk of injury to a large extent, although she'd still be prepared to forcibly engage the autopilot.

The Ship soared triumphantly from the pipe, the hum of the engines going up a full tone as Fry gunned them in celebration … only to subsequently cease entirely as he cut off the dark matter flow, the Ship abruptly dropping from the sky without any visible support whatsoever. Thankfully, the gravity didn't cut out, and Fry retained the composure to inform her over the channel that a large ship had been, seemingly coincidentally, cruising over the exit. “Guess which ship.” Leela supposed it was really rather obvious.

Annoyed babble could be heard in the background as the Nimbus' traffic controller jabbered to the Planet Express ship's low-level AI system about how they'd never known it was coming through. Leela didn't pay too much attention, writing the whole situation off as another instance of Fry saving their collective asses – just a string of wonders today, really – until a male voice with a slightly drawling Earthican accent was heard faintly in the background.

That's not Zapp, surely? Leela listened more intently as Fry took over the mic from the ship intelligence, maintaining a laudable amount of professionalism (if a bit of unwarranted coolness) while speaking with 'the Zapper'; the latter, however, more than outmatched him for politeness, his voice neutral and his speech using absolutely no ad hominems – or indeed subjective remarks of any kind – whatsoever.

No way is that Zapp. Can't be … ? Slashing the volume on the bridge feed to a faint, words-indistinct hum, she called up a new feed slot and keyed it. “Leela to Engineering. How viable is our IT?”

Bender's tone was slightly sardonic, but he proceeded to, in due order, inform her that precisely one terminal was currently functioning at full – that being the DOOP-CIMIC-mandated tie-in to the milnet's gigantic repository of intelligence data. Perfect. “Engineering, can you bring up Op-Int kaybee,” the slang term for 'knowledge base article', “one nine two six three seven seven bravo?”

And you can't?” the synthesised voice retorted. Instead of having to speak through a microphone like an organic would (or 'might' – it was always positive to keep one's ocular organ or organs scanning for new possibilities), Bender could simply link into the ship's network and speak directly through a wrist computer, foregoing his local speech synthesis hardware entirely. “My lazy ass doesn't feel like moving the couple of inches I need to enter that code.”

“Your lazy ass doesn't have to move,” Leela retorted. “Do I look blonde? After eight years not even Zoidberg would be dumb enough to forget the small fact that you happen to have extendable arms. As for your other question, no, I can't do your rightful work, because your lazy ass forgot to sync command codes for the network, so I can't bypass. If you'd rather watch me fossilise while the damn page is loading, then fine, but you're still going to have to come up here to do it, which equates to way more ass-shifting than you'd need to input the damn file code.” She paused, rather surprised with herself for going on a rant at the drop of a metaphorical hat, but decided it was of no importance. He probably deserved it, anyway.

I can deal with that. Ungrateful damn meatbag.” The voice link was abruptly cut – nevertheless, the information came through, the command codes attached in a rider. The article proper was all very neat, edged with the blue-and-white virtual stationery of the DOOP military network and divided into short, user-friendly paragraphs of serifed text.

Zappariah “Zapp” Julius Brannigan, born 22 November 2963 (age: 45) is a noted officer of the DOOP military. Brannigan was known as a capable naval and marine forces commander until a series of incidents regarding the War in Spheranhame cast doubt on his fitness for duty and saw him demoted to the rank of commander, barely retaining his command of the cruiser Nimbus (known best as BP-1729, now DN-1729). Brannigan's mental integrity is also suspect following partially-unverifiable sequence of events in late 3008 (see Dated Service Log, below).

Yeah, yeah, I know this already – except for the sanity part. Interesting. She paged down impatiently until the header 'dated service log' flashed past; scrolling back up, she began paging again through Zapp's career, coming up to a couple of items highlighted in 'truth value unknown' blue, dated at time minus three months and thereabouts.

DA-20.MO-9.YE-008.MI-04: Brannigan is retrieved from an abandoned facility on Campania, showing signs of severe dehydration and starvation and evincing several dermal and epidermal integrity breaches of varying extent. Claims to have been taken into custody of hostile faction (purported name 'the Swarm'), beaten, interrogated. Brannigan exhibits major personality changes.

Squick. An image of Zapp, apparently taken just after the logged event, sat to the right of the block of log text; a forest of scars decorated the man's face just above his jawline. In higher resolution, they were quite clearly the results of wounds cutting into the subcutaneous tissue of his face, and must have been extremely painful to inflict. Wouldn't wish that on anyone. Even Zapp. A single line of text lay below the first, marked 'In-Depth Analysis [expand]'. Leela clicked 'expand', and was rewarded with what must have been eight, perhaps ten pages of standard A4 text. As such, she decided to cut to the chase and reviewed the important ones.

Analysis of injuries
Subject facial skin displays organised breaching through to subcutaneous tissue level; consists of rather angular representation of two intersecting triangle waves, bracketed lengthwise by dashed/solid line pair (inner bracket and outer respectively). Triangle waves form symmetrical diamonds; diamonds contain simple pseudo(?)-linguistic glyphs. All polygons formed by regular cicatrice patterns exhibiting micron-scale precision.

Attached to this was a somewhat grisly image of said injuries, a picture of Zapp's rather gaunt cheek with said designs engraved into it, dated approximately one day after the 'sequence', as the file extract euphemistically described it – presumably as a shortened form of 'sequence of events'. It must have been horribly painful, and micron precision implied Zapp had been restrained in some form during the process. The document backed that up, saying Zapp had been secured to a surface by 'curiously classical' (what kind of context is this to be talking about design in? Leela wondered) metallic manacles; muscular stress analysis indicated the surface in question was likely a wall. In summary, someone had hung Zapp off a cement block wall and carved things into his cheek for two days.

No matter what kind of grudge the person had against Zapp, that had been an extremely twisted thing to do. For anyone. That was a psychotic, sadistic, maniacal sort of gesture, and she understood why Zapp had suddenly become quiet and stoic; she was almost tempted to offer sympathy, but ultimately decided not to, figuring he probably didn't want to be reminded.

With some suddenness, the beeping of her wrist computer alerted her one call was prodding her instant messaging client with an 'urgent transfer' flag. The flag was coming through the bridge channel, the intermediating node was 'pfry2563 (Philip FRY)', and the initiating node was 'zbran2273 (Zappariah BRANNIGAN)'. Sighing, she decided it was time to face the music. “Pick up.”

The urgent transfer flag canceled out and Zapp came on the line. He sounded distinctly different from pretty much every other time any member of the Planet Express crew had spoken to him – the exaggerated pitch wavering in his tone was completely gone, and none of them had ever known Zapp to lose that tone, no matter his emotional state. Without it, he just sounded like an ordinary man.

Leela?” Some distortion was evident. Obviously the Nimbus hadn't been kept in the best of condition ever since Zapp's name had been turned to mud following the Spheron War.

“That … would be me, yes,” Leela acknowledged, keeping some caution about her. Eight years of habit were hard to break, and she didn't want to break them for no good reason.

I and the Nimbus will accompany you to orbit. This ship will serve as a transfer node for your reports back to Earth. On behalf of my crew and myself, I really do hope you find what you're looking for out there. Godspeed and good luck.” Uncharacteristically for him, Zapp cut the link without waiting for a reaction; he had sounded sincere, though. Maybe the effects of his incarceration and wounding were going to be lasting ones. There wasn't much time to contemplate this, though, as green lights flashed across the ship and the speakers sounded a perfect fourth.

Time to move, and Fry came across the intercom a second later as if to verify that. “All crew, secure loose objects and prepare for atmospheric transition.” The section of the ship that Leela was closest to was the computer core, and she could hear, very faintly, Amy moving around inside the cable-wrapped floating sphere that comprised that section, slamming lock collars onto network cables and (with a loud whack!) turning off the somewhat jittery swivel on the single swivel chair. All of this brought Leela's mind back to the fact that she really needed to secure herself. Fast. However much beginner's luck Fry might have, there was no way he was going to make an atmospheric transition without some level of turbulence; that took about one hundred flight hours to master, and Leela was the only person she knew who could claim that every transition she'd made outside those one hundred hours was a smooth one.

She sprinted to the nearest corner, bouncing off the wall and running on as the hum of the engines was kicked up a notch. Oddly, she couldn't feel a sharper transition angle – most newbies turned off the gravity-alignment relocator ('a-grav field' in common parlance) for better power distribution the first time they tried to get out of the atmosphere, inadvertently amplifying the turbulence effects on unsecured crewmembers and objects. The correct procedure was to swivel the thrusters – which were quite powerful in themselves – reroute the weapon power through the engine systems, and turn off the shielding to reduce circuit load (because in this day and age it was really only reentry you needed shielding for); thing was, most newbies didn't tend to learn that lesson until about fifty flight-hours into their flying career.

The next feature she came to was a staircase, taking her onto the outer corridor of the crew accommodation deck (the bare metal of the portside emergency hatch ran along the equally bare inner wall, she absently noted in the way that people do when they've got nothing else on their minds, seeing it out of the corner of her eye for the nth time). A row of doors lay open on the outer side, and she scanned them desperately for a moment, finding the one marked 'Leela' and getting in there posthaste.

As soon as she entered the cabin, something began nagging away insistently at her mind; half a second later, it set off a whole bunch of other things nagging away insistently at her mind. Three seconds later, she realised what they were collectively screaming about: the sky outside the porthole was absolute pure black, speckled with stars.

The ship was well out of the atmosphere. There had been no power fluctuations. The lights hadn't flickered, the a-grav hadn't dropped out, the computer hadn't flash-rebooted. Most significantly, there had been no turbulence. Everything was nominal. No way does anyone have that much beginner's luck. I'm calling it preparation.

“Leela to bridge. Fry, you have too much free time.”

Huh?” Genuine puzzlement.

“That kind of atmospheric transition is somewhere in section fifty-nine of the operating file for the Ship. That's seven hundred fifty pages in, isn't it? I didn't know I was giving you that much time off.”

Huh … ?” Same puzzlement, amplified.

“You know? Section fifty-nine? 'Specific Astrodynamic Procedure for the Express Line, LX Series'? That section?”

Leela, I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about.” Fry's tone suggested he thought it was some kind of in-joke, and one he didn't even faintly get.

“Hmm.” She'd never intended for Fry to pilot the ship out of the atmosphere, because she'd thought he didn't know the procedure. Now that he'd achieved it – in a ludicrously excellent fashion, too – it would probably be a good idea to know exactly where he was getting his information from, and if he was going to lie to her. “Fry, describe to me the exact sequence of actions you executed to take us out of the atmosphere.”

People who'd read starship operating manuals – or indeed any type of potentially sensitive document – on the sly typically tended to respond to that query (or applicable variants thereof) with much of the same stuffily formal verbiage that the documents employed; it was something about the documents' style, she supposed, but nobody ever described the procedures and infodumps in casual language unless they'd literally worked them out from scratch – which was a very rare event indeed.

It was Fry's response that clinched it for her, said slightly apprehensively – approximating the tone, in fact, of someone who suspects they might have inadvertently done something severely deviant from accepted procedure and thinks they're about to be executed by firing squad. “I … well, I basically synced the thrusters with the main engine bank and pulled a bunch of energy out of the shields and weapons to balance the energy budget. Did something go boom?”

The language formed a bit of the judgement – most of the books, and by extension cheating trainees, tended to describe the systems with a fair number of unnecessary, negative-efficiency-impact precision-objectivised sesquipedalian lexicological pseudocombobulations. Even the terminology required to describe the descriptions was ridiculously long – more to the point, 'sinistral-aspect multi-adaption aggressive-defensive-neutral device-mount spheroid adaptor-armature with malleable framework' my organic ass, she thought resentfully. Why not just call it a left-side turret joint and be done with it?

Fry's language, on the other hand, was pure laymanese, and the possibility that he'd revised it beforehand was ruled out by his genuine tone of pseudo-eschatological fear. He really did believe something he'd done might have blown part of the ship away, and that said he didn't have the kind of confidence in what he was saying that any cheating trainee might.

Which basically meant he'd, entirely on his own, constructed the series of logic leaps needed to maintain the correct power distribution, then executed it in the correct order. Her admiration for him suddenly kicked itself up several notches, landing squarely in 'like, wow, radical, dude' territory (the slightly quaint mental designator was one she'd adopted as a teenager). Attention was soon required elsewhere (as seemed to be happening a lot today), though, with a synthesised giggle over the Engineering channel. It grew into a cackle, then a roar of laughter.

Bender barely managed to get out, thankfully unheard by Fry, “Getting the hots for the meatbag, Leela? Again?” It was a crude, cheap, unprovoked shot, and it called for a crude, cheap, unprovoked reply; Leela adopted a suitably ominously sweet tone, said: “I wonder what this button does,” and pressed said button in the sea of similar protrusions that made up the advanced controls on her wrist computer.

Aaaaaaa--!” The ear-splitting scream of pain reached her first. The smell of melted metal reached her about twenty seconds later. 'The floor is now lava' in practice, I suppose. A job well done.