Friday, September 2, 3008
Being careful to keep his grip at the top of the tall sewer ladder, Hermes grunted as he lifted an arm up and pushed the heavy iron manhole cover up from its place and slid it aside. He was greeted by a loud, booming clap of thunder. He sighed glumly as he felt the continuous, cool stream of raindrops beat against his head for the second time that night.
Having grown up in Kingston and being accustomed to mostly hot, sunny days, Hermes hated rain. But he knew that had he and his team been fighting the nightwalkers on a clear night, they wouldn't have a chance of surviving.
Hermes climbed out of the sewer and stood next to the cover he had moved. Looking down, he spotted Fry moving his hands and feet over the ladder's rungs, ascending up to the city's surface.
A few seconds later, Fry pulled himself up out of the stench-riddled hole and climbed to his feet next to his leader, grateful to be away from the unpleasant smells and the gruesome death he was unfortunate enough to have witnessed. Hermes bent down to move the manhole cover back to its place, then he stood up once more.
"Come on, Fry. This way," he urged his ginger-haired teammate, motioning toward a dimly lit alley not far from where they stood.
The two soldiers took off toward a tall building shaped like a rectangular prism. The building had an iron ladder on one side.
Fry gaped in disbelief at the incredibly long height of the ladder. I have to climb that? he thought. The ladder was numerous stories high, stretching all the way up to the building's roof.
"Let's climb," Hermes instructed. He gripped the ladder and began to pull himself up its rungs.
Fry waited for Hermes to climb twice his height before continuing after him, staring in awe at the height of the building he would have to scale. He estimated it was at least fifty floors high.
After several minutes of climbing, Hermes made it to the top, with Fry trailing a few feet below him. When he saw what was on the roof, Hermes let out a startled cry. "What the — ?" he uttered aloud.
Startled by his leader's sudden outburst, Fry nearly lost his grip on the rung he was holding onto. He managed to keep it, though, and continued to climb. His heart started to pound as he wondered what had just caused Hermes to cry out in shock.
What's up there? Fry thought fearfully. Torn up bodies? Nightwalkers? Something worse?
When he had almost made it to the top, Fry peered over the roof, his eyes level with the flat surface. Aside from Hermes and the small shed-sized structure which led inside the building, there was nothing and no one else to see on it.
Fry climbed to his feet on the roof and made his way over to Hermes. "There's no one here," he noted, oblivious to the problem. "What's the matter, Captain?"
"That's the matter. There's no one here," Hermes replied sharply, motioning a hand toward the empty roof. "This is the rendezvous point where the advance team was supposed to meet us. Where in blazes are they?"
Fry shrugged his shoulders. "Beats me."
This was bad news. The advance team was supposed to meet Hermes and his team on this rooftop so they could supply them with more powerful weapons. Without them, completing their extermination job was going to be that much more difficult.
Fry watched as jagged white bolts of lightning lit up the jet black sky, momentarily turning it a dark shade of purple. Another roar of thunder followed a few seconds later. He shivered as cold drops ran down his face and pattered against his shoulders.
Like Hermes, Fry hated rain, too. He loathed the coldness, the dreariness, and the colorlessness it brought to the world every time the clouds unleashed their misery.
Fry heard light metallic clanging sounds rising up from behind him. He turned around to see Leela climb up on top of the roof.
She jogged over to the two men and scanned the otherwise vacant rooftop. "Where's the advance team?" she asked with a hint of confusion in her voice.
"I was wondering the same thing," Hermes replied, sounding equally as addled.
"What's going on?" Leela asked aloud, though she meant the question to be rhetorical.
I wish I knew, Fry thought.
Hermes opened his mouth to speak. But before he could get a word out, the communicators on his and his teammates' headsets rang, and a familiar, cringe-inducingly conceited voice spoke up.
"This is Brannigan calling extermination team leader."
"Zapp?" Leela cried in disgust. "What are you doing calling us?"
"That's Colonel Zapp Brannigan to you, Turanga," Brannigan replied curtly. "I'm here to tell you men — and women — that there's a couple of small problems with the ongoing operation."
"Wait — you're the colonel of the EIB now?" Hermes demanded. "What happened to Colonel Fitzpatrick?"
"Ah, yes. That's problem number one," Brannigan answered indifferently. "I'm afraid he's suffered a . . . um . . . what was it again, Kroker?"
A deep sigh rang through all of the team members' earpieces. "A coronary attack."
"Yes, that's it. A coronary attack," Brannigan said as if he couldn't care less about the deceased former colonel. "And quit sighing, for God's sakes."
Fry, Leela and Hermes each exchanged suspicious glances. They each knew that Colonel Fitzpatrick was in his early fifties and in good health, so it seemed very odd that he would die from a heart attack at such a relatively young age.
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir," Hermes said concernedly.
"I volunteered for the position of EIB colonel to protect Earth from the nightwalker threat after Fitzpatrick's passing," Brannigan explained. "Once the general saw my impressive track record as a twenty-five-star army general and commander of D.O.O.P., he didn't have to think twice about handing me the rank. So, from here on in, I'm in command."
Leela let out a loud, exasperated groan and covered her eye with the palm of one hand.
Brannigan ignored her reaction. "Your first objective, soldiers, is to destroy every single communications facility in New New York. Cutting off those bloodsuckers' ability to communicate by phone should make your mission easier."
"I beg your pardon, sir, but didn't the advance team already take care of that?" Hermes demanded.
"There's still an active comm antenna they haven't taken out yet," Brannigan replied. "I'm having its location coordinates uploaded to your command vehicle."
"Have you been able to contact the advance recon team yet?" Hermes asked.
"That's problem number two. We haven't been able to get a word from them or even figure out where they are. We've put a probe up to see if we can locate them, but until we do, you'll have to make do without them. You four are on your own. Brannigan out."
All of the team's communicators made a distinctive beep, indicating that Brannigan had ended the call.
"Rodríguez. Did you hear all that?" Hermes asked his robotic teammate.
"Yeah, not that I wanted to," Bender replied dryly.
"Look around the command vehicle for a small black device with two metal prongs on its end," Hermes commanded. "We'll need it for this mission."
"Aye aye, Captain Meatbag," Bender grumbled.
The rest of the team heard a series of clunking sounds as the obnoxious robot shuffled around the interior of the command vehicle, searching for the item. Finally, the clunking stopped.
"Found it. What the hell is it?" Bender demanded.
"It's an electromagnetic pulse generator," Hermes explained. "It triggers a high-voltage electric pulse strong enough to short out electronic circuitry. So don't even think about using it on yourself, Rodríguez!"
"Aw, crap!" Bender cried.
"For this phase of the mission, we've got a new rendezvous point — Malfunctioning Eddie's Rocket Car Emporium," Hermes continued. "It's only a block or so from our current position. Rodríguez, I'll need you to meet us there with the EMP generator and some of the extra weapons and ammo we've been saving."
"Roger that, I'll see your asses there. Rodríguez out." There was a beep as Bender terminated the call.
Hermes shut off his own communicator and faced Fry and Leela. "You two know what to do. We'll go to the comm facility after we meet up with Rodríguez."
"Wait a minute. Where is the comm facility?" Fry asked.
"Over there," Hermes replied, pointing a finger toward a large satellite dish on top of a building a few blocks away. "Look at it through your scopes."
Fry and Leela both lowered their displays over their eyes and pressed in a small knob on the right side of their headsets. They both now had telescopic views at double magnification. Fry found that if he turned the knob, he could magnify his view by up to eight times. Both soldiers took a good, long look at the antenna, then shut their scopes off with a second press of the knob.
"That's the antenna we're going to take out," Hermes explained. "But in order to destroy it, we'll need to get the EMP generator from Rodríguez. We'll meet up with him at Malfunctioning Eddie's."
"Can we all go together?" Fry asked eagerly.
Hermes shook his head. "No. We'd stick out too much and probably get caught. It'd be better if we split up."
Fry hung his head in disappointment.
Hermes walked over to the shed-sized structure. It had a pair of automatic doors that slid open when he neared them.
"I'll go first," Hermes said. "The two of you stay put until I give you the go-ahead. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Fry and Leela replied together.
"Okay. I'll see you two at Malfunctioning Eddie's." Hermes turned away from his teammates and hurried through the automatic doors. A few seconds later, the doors slid shut behind him.
Leela walked over to the wall on the side of the door and leaned her back against it. "Looks like we're going to be here a while," she muttered, wiping away the long, thick purple bang of hair that the rain had caused to mat against her face.
Fry looked over at Leela. She wore her hair the way she usually did, except her ponytail was cut off to allow her headset to fit around her head. Fry was disappointed by this; he liked the way she looked with her ponytail better.
While he waited for Hermes's command, Fry played around with the features of his display. He read signs on buildings a block over, checked out the radar map of the city, and viewed the area in the bright green glow of night vision. Out of curiosity, he viewed Leela using necrovision to see what color she would appear. Being that she was a mutant, she showed up as a glowing hot pink figure in the view.
As he admired Leela's pink aura, Fry thought about whether or not he should tell her about her mother's demise. It was something that had been troubling him since he saw poor Munda kicking and screaming while being pulled up into the pipe by God-knows-what sort of sadistic creature.
She deserves to know what's going on in her family, including her mother being killed. But will she understand that there was nothing I could do to save her? Or will she blame me and get angry at me for not protecting her? What if she's so upset she refuses to forgive me?
The charge on Fry's necrovision ran out, and the pink glow disappeared from Leela's figure. He sighed and lifted the display from his eyes, waiting for the necrovision to charge back up again.
It had been several minutes since Hermes had left them up on the rooftop, and Fry hadn't spoken a word to Leela. He spent that time wondering what he should say to her, if anything at all.
Finally, he decided he should just tell her and get it over with. He turned and looked over at Leela, his face full of concern.
"Leela, there's something you should know about," Fry said, his voice coming out soft and unsettled.
Leela looked him in his upset eyes and began to walk toward him. She opened her mouth to reply — but stopped when both of their communicators rang.
"This is Conrad. I've made it to Malfunctioning Eddie's," Hermes announced. "Fry, Turanga, you can head over now. Be very careful." The call ended with a beep.
"We'd better get going," Leela said, starting to walk over to the automatic doors. She stopped and looked back at Fry. "Sorry, Fry. What is it you wanted to say?"
Fry lost his nerves. He paused for a few seconds before speaking. "Forget it," he said, shaking his head. "Let's go."
Without saying another word, Leela turned around and started toward the doors. Fry followed after her, kicking himself mentally over not having the courage to break the bad news to her.
If I'm not brave enough to tell Leela her mother died, how am I going to handle a city crawling with bloodthirsty monsters? Fry thought dejectedly.
The doors slid open when Leela was a foot away from them. She slipped inside the building, with Fry making sure to stay close behind her.
The doors led to the building's countless flights of stairs which ended in the building's basement. Fry and Leela both began to make their way down the seemingly endless series of stairs. Fry struggled to keep up with Leela as she darted agilely down the stairs, taking them two at a time. Leela had run down less than half of the building's stories when she heard Fry gasping for breath.
"Can't we . . . just take . . . the elevator?" he asked, panting between words. Stopping and looking back, Leela saw that Fry looked exhausted, his face glistening with sweat.
"There could be nightwalkers in the building," Leela replied. "It's safer to take the stairs because hardly anyone uses them."
"Great," Fry muttered tiredly. Why do buildings in the future have to have so many floors? he thought bitterly. It was half an hour into the mission and he already felt wiped out. At least by taking the stairs inside the building he could escape the pouring rain for a while.
"Rest if you have to," Leela said. "I'll wait for you at the ground floor."
Leela turned away from Fry and continued to jog down the stairs. Fry leaned against a wall and waited for a minute to catch his breath and let his aching feet rest.
Looking to his right, Fry saw a door with a sign next to it marked with a bold black 27.
Twenty-seven floors to go, he thought tiredly.
With a sigh, he started to make his way down the remaining stairs. He began to pant and puff when he reached the sixteenth floor, but he forced himself to keep on going, despite his physical tiredness.
As Fry continued to make his way down, he pictured Leela standing at the ground floor with her arms crossed below her chest, leaning against the wall and tapping her foot impatiently against the floor. He couldn't keep track of the number of times in his life he had found himself feeling envious of Leela's athleticism.
Fry couldn't have been more relieved when he finally made it to the ground floor. Spotting Leela standing next to the door at the building's side entrance, he slowed his pace to a walk and stepped up next to her. He crouched down with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath once again. Beads of sweat dripped from his face onto the floor. His heart thumped against his chest. His feet ached.
Leela waited for Fry to recover before asking him if he was ready to head outside.
"Yeah," Fry gasped out, unable to hide his exhaustion. "Let's go."
There was a pair of automatic doors at the ground floor. Leela and Fry walked outside through them, and as the rain began to patter against their heads, they heard the doors slide shut behind them.
Fry looked around and realized that the two of them were in a dead-end alley. Turning around, he noticed that although he was near the automatic doors, they refused to open. There was a small panel with numbered buttons next to the doors. In order for the doors to open, one would have to enter a correct code.
The narrow alley led out to two separate paths, one leading left and the other right.
"Which way do we go?" Fry asked.
"Hermes said we should split up," Leela reminded him. "I'll take the path to left. You go right — it's the shortest route to Malfunctioning Eddie's, according to the radar."
"See you later," Leela said, looking back at Fry for a moment before she broke into a jog. She ran up to the end of the alley and disappeared around the corner on the left.
Fry sighed. Looks like it's just me now, he thought glumly. He started to walk toward the end of the alley, wiping moisture off his face and sleeves.
Fry kept his face tilted downward to prevent the rain from pouring directly onto it. He lowered his display over his eyes and examined his radar. He saw that Leela was right; Malfunctioning Eddie's was marked with a glowing orange dot not far from his current position. If he just went through the alley to the right and crossed the street, he'd be there in no time.
Fry started to turn right into the alley — but stopped when he heard a voice.
His heart starting to pound, he went back and crouched down behind one side of a pair of dumpsters next to him. He pulled his pistol out of his holster and listened hard.
The voice was coming from the direction Fry needed to go. It was a feminine voice humming a soft, innocent tune he had never heard before, probably made up.
He swore he knew who the voice belonged to, even though he hadn't heard it in a long time.
Fry peered cautiously around the dumpster, careful not to stick his head out too much. The alley was barely lit by a dim light on Fry's side. The end of the alley where the voice was emanating from was close to being pitch-dark.
Who is it? Where do I know that voice from? Fry wondered.
His question remained unanswered for only a few more moments. Fry held his breath and watched as a familiar figure emerged from the darkness.
To be continued . . .