Friday, September 2, 3008
The sounds of sewage trickling through the sewer system and Fry's own slow, steady footsteps filled his ears as he walked cautiously into a dark alley between two dilapidated buildings. Hermes followed several feet behind him, moving equally as stealthily despite his weight.
Looking ahead, Fry could see that the alley turned left. Nearing the turn, he put his back against the wall to his left and pulled his 9mm pistol out of its holster. Sucking in a deep breath of foul sewer air, he spun around and moved into the corner, aiming the gun down the dim alley ahead of him.
The alley was vacant.
Fry let out an audible sigh of relief.
A sharp "shh" from behind him almost made him jump. He turned around to see Hermes holding a finger over his lips, glaring at him in frustration. This was the second time so far that Fry had nearly given away their presence.
Fry turned away from Hermes so he couldn't see the annoyed look on his face. Sneaking around New New York in black combat fatigues and trying to avoid discovery was not how he wanted to spend the rainiest night of 3008.
This whole mess began about six months ago in March, when Fry first started to hear about civilian disappearances on Channel √2 News. Since the reports started out few and far between, Fry gave them no thought. But about a month later, the reports started to become more and more frequent, with several humans announced missing every day.
It was then that even Fry began to notice that something was seriously wrong within New New York. With every passing day, the streets looked increasingly deserted, with fewer people walking around and using the transport tubes.
Fry started to wonder what was going on. So far, only adult humans, male and female, had been reported missing; no robots or aliens had disappeared.
As two months passed, Fry's unease about the situation worsened as people he knew or was familiar with began to vanish. Amy stopped showing up for work, and none of the Planet Express crew had seen her since. Linda van Schoonhoven became permanently absent from Channel √2 News, leaving Morbo as the show's only anchor. With every new report of a missing human, Morbo's tone sounded more aggressively ecstatic.
Finally, the remaining crew members showed up at Planet Express one morning to find the Professor missing. With no one to take orders from and no one to replace the Professor, the crew had no choice but to leave Planet Express and seek employment elsewhere.
Fry, Leela, Bender and Hermes didn't have to job hunt for long. Several days after the Professor's disappearance, they were contacted by the EIB (Earthican Information Bureau), which was searching for new recruits. Fry initially refused to join due to the name of the organization alone, expecting to have to undertake a dull and mundane bureaucratic job like Hermes had.
As it turned out, paperwork was only a fraction of what the EIB dealt with. The organization was designed to gather and examine data about domestic and interplanetary terrorist threats, and was commonly referred to as "the eyes and ears of Earth's government" by the public. But what the public didn't know was that the EIB was involved with numerous other organizations, including Earth's army, the ODC (Office of Disease Control), prestigious scientists, and major businesses.
The EIB's intent was to enlist Fry and his coworkers in a special covert action team to counter the threat facing New New York's human population. Excluding Hermes, they already had some experience in military combat when they served under Earth's army eight years earlier.
Fry obliged solely for the soldiers' discount.
For the next three months, Fry and his coworkers underwent further combat training and learned that the mass civilian disappearances were being caused by vampire-like creatures that the EIB referred to as "nightwalkers".
Based on the holographic images that they were shown in training, nightwalkers appeared as humanoids with deathly pale skin, animalistic eyes, and elongated, razor-sharp canine teeth and claws. They multiplied by feeding on human blood and transforming their victims into one of their own. Fry's superiors also noted that just one or two slash attacks from a nightwalker's claws would result in death for a human. Given that nightwalkers could also easily outrun the most athletic humans and leap over buildings several stories high, it was no wonder that so much of New New York's population had fallen prey to these creatures.
In addition to learning about the nightwalkers, Fry and his comrades were also taught how to utilize various types of military-issued equipment and weapons, which included pistols, assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, anti-materiel rifles, and technologically advanced knives called UV knives. The knives were battery-powered, and stabbing a target with one of their blades would release deadly ultraviolet rays into its body and cause it to incinerate due to the rays' extreme intensity.
Throughout his training, Fry felt as though he was being worked harder as a soldier than he could remember. This was due to the fact that he and his allies had only three months to train before the night they would have to undertake their mission, which they could not afford to fail. Monthly weather forecasts predicted lengthy periods of rainfall in early September. Since the nightwalkers' acute senses were dulled by rain, the precipitation would give Fry and his team the fighting chance that they needed. According to the ODC's calculations, if they didn't react to the threat soon, the nightwalker population would exceed that of humans worldwide by 3011.
Their chance to fight back came on the second night of September, a dreary night if there ever was one; rain poured like bullets from thick gray clouds that blanketed a starless black sky illuminated occasionally by jagged white streaks of lightning. Fry, Leela, Bender and Hermes were deployed to the streets of New New York that night at 9:00 PM sharp at a location that the EIB had designated as Point E32. The command vehicle they rode in looked like an ordinary hover van on the outside, but was loaded with detection devices and equipment for communication and analysis on the inside. The equipment would allow them to view information from UAVs and EIB headquarters so they could devise tactics and always stay one step ahead of the nightwalkers.
To help them blend in with their dark surroundings, Fry, Leela and Hermes were each decked out in completely black night combat uniforms which included snug-fitting long-sleeved shirts, protective vests, gloves, fatigue pants, combat boots, and holders for their weapons, ammunition, and transmitters. They also wore headsets with small microphones for communication and displays that could be lowered over the user's left eye (Leela's display was custom-built for her single eye). The display's functions included the ability to see uploaded images as well as a radar, telescopic view, night vision, and necrovision. Necrovision was a special view that displayed different colored auras on targets depending on their species; it would be especially useful against nightwalkers since they had the ability to take on human forms.
Unlike his other teammates, Bender didn't wear a uniform; his body was dyed black and he had all of his equipment strapped on where necessary. He also had no need for a head-mounted display, as he had all of its functions programmed into his eyes.
The team's ultimate goal was to track down and destroy the prime walker who ruled over New New York. Upon a prime walker's death, all other nightwalkers that it spawned would be reduced to ashes, effectively purging the city of the nightwalker threat. Unfortunately, the prime's identity and whereabouts were currently unknown to the EIB. The advance team that had been sent prior to Fry's squad had supposedly obtained intelligence on the prime walker, but the EIB had failed to make any contact with them despite their efforts.
As Fry, Leela and Hermes stepped out of the warm, dry command vehicle into the dark, rain-soaked city for their first objective, Fry felt a chill run down his spine as the cold, falling drops hit his face and seeped through his carrot-colored hair for the first time that night. Despite all the equipment he had and the extensive training he and his teammates had underwent, he still felt afraid and unprepared for the long, danger-filled night ahead of him.
Now, Fry and Hermes were carefully working their way through Sewer City in an effort to avoid detection, as traveling at ground level had proven to be too risky.
As Fry stepped timidly through the alley, he found it to be too dark for his liking. He reached a hand up to his headset and groped around for the button that would activate night vision. The first button he pressed displayed his view in a hazy monochrome and showed Hermes and himself as glowing green figures; that was necrovision. The second button, thankfully, provided Fry with a fully lit view of the alley bathed in an emerald green luminescence.
Advancing further into the alley, Fry heard distant footsteps coming from around the corner he was headed toward. They were quick, frantic footsteps headed in his direction.
Fearing that the footsteps belonged to a hostile, Fry tightened his grip on the pistol.
Both Fry and Hermes were armed with pistols and a few sixteen-round clips. Even though it wasn't the most powerful firearm in the universe, Fry would rather have a pistol than no weapon at all.
As the footsteps drew nearer, Fry froze in his tracks and looked back at Hermes. About one quarter of his face was covered by his display, but Fry could still see that he looked just about as nervous as he felt. Still, Hermes silently urged him to keep going forward.
Fry continued to creep ahead, inhaling and exhaling as quietly as he could. He wished Bender and Leela were with them so they'd have a better fighting chance if they had an enemy encounter. But Hermes, being ranked as their team leader, had ordered Bender to stay back in the command vehicle and try to establish contact with the advance recon team. Bender had grudgingly tried to call the advance team, but after about two minutes of getting no responses, he gave up and sat back with his feet on the desk, downing one of the six Olde Fortrans he had stashed in his compartment. Leela herself had stayed behind in the sewer by Hermes's request.
In the ten or so minutes he'd spent sneaking through the city with Hermes, Fry hadn't encountered any of the nightwalkers yet. But the disturbing sights he'd seen so far that night were enough to make him wish he was sound asleep in Bender's spacious closet back in Robot Arms Apartments.
For now, all Fry, Leela and Hermes had to do was head for the roof of a building where they'd meet up with some members of the advance team that were supposed to be there to provide them with better weaponry. To decrease their chances of being caught, Hermes sent Leela on her own and took Fry with him to keep an eye on him. But on their way to the rendezvous point, the two men ran into a problem.
Earlier on the city surface, Fry and Hermes were making their way through an alley that led out onto the street. Jogging past a dumpster with trash scattered around it, Fry accidentally kicked an empty Slurm can out onto the street. The can clattered into an area near some civilians. Fortunately, none of them bothered to investigate how the aluminum can had sailed out onto the street, as they were far more interested in the grisly scene that lay in front of them.
Peering around the corner, Fry and Hermes both saw that the civilians were gathered in front of a Fishy Joe's restaurant, staring and exchanging murmurs of shock and horror. Local cops Smitty and URL were busy hanging yellow and black POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS tape in front of the joint. In the center of the tape lay the lifeless body of Joseph Gilman, the restaurant chain's owner. Gilman rested belly-up on the ground, blood flowing out from deep lacerations in his stomach and puddling around his pudgy frame. His face was frozen in a permanent wide-eyed, open-mouthed expression of pure terror. His left arm had been torn clean out of its socket and lay sticking out from underneath a hover car parked nearby, the flabby appendage separated from its owner by a trail of gore spanning several feet.
Fry had to fight to keep his dinner from spewing forth from his mouth at the sight of the man who had literally been torn apart.
At that point, Hermes was unsure of where to go, since their pre-planned route was now blocked off by cops and civilians who wouldn't take kindly to them running around the city with loaded guns. He called up Leela to ask if she knew an alternate route to their destination.
Fortunately, she knew of a route they could take through Sewer City that would minimize their chances of being detected. She also knew of a manhole that led out right under the building they had to ascend. Hermes told Leela to hold her position and wait while he and Fry made their way over to her.
On their way to Leela, Fry and Hermes found a strange image on the side of a building that neither of them had seen there before. It looked like it had been drawn on the wall with what appeared to be human blood, apparently mixed with a hardener of sorts that prevented the rain from washing it away. The picture consisted of a vertical line that curved twice with a crescent shape drawn on its left and a circle with a dot in its center drawn on its right. To Fry, the image looked like crudely drawn male genitalia. Hermes, however, thought that the markings represented the astronomical symbols for the sun and moon, but he was unsure of their significance.
A few minutes later, the two men regrouped with Leela and headed down into the sewer together.
In the time that Fry and his two teammates had spent sneaking through the dimly lit, stench-filled city, the only sewer mutant they'd come across was Dwayne, whom they'd found lying facedown in a pool of his own blood, his bulbous forehead preventing his dual-nosed face from touching the wooden dock that served as a sidewalk over the sewage. Judging by the deep slashes that had been dug into his back, it was obvious to the three soldiers that he'd been killed by a nightwalker. This was a surprise to them, as they originally thought that nightwalkers only attacked humans.
As much as Leela hated to admit it, the fact that nightwalkers went after mutants as well as humans made her unsettled. Knowing that she could become a victim if one of the creatures got the drop on her, she couldn't help but feel a little on edge.
Hermes ordered Leela to stay behind and examine Dwayne's corpse while he and Fry went ahead, a task she was understandably not thrilled about. Leela was to catch up to them when she was finished.
As she knelt down to study the body, worried thoughts began to cloud Leela's head. It wasn't her own safety she feared for; she knew she could handle the nightwalkers. It was the lives of the other defenseless mutants she was concerned about, especially those of her parents. She wondered if her mother and father knew about the nightwalker threat and hoped that they were all right.
Listening to the nearing footsteps minutes after he'd left Leela behind, Fry wished that Hermes had brought her along with them. That way, he'd have had two able bodies to cower behind instead of just one if things got ugly.
As Fry neared the end of the alley, he found that it was bright enough to see without his night vision, so he shut it off. He then turned with his back against the wall to his left and slid along it until he reached the edge. Peering around the corner, he saw that the alley led back out to the dock that ran around the sewer block that he and Hermes were on.
Fry took a step past the corner — and froze suddenly. The hair on the back of his neck stood up on end. Through the thick sewer stench, his nostrils could faintly detect a subtle odor that pervaded the area around him. It was a sickeningly sweet, saccharine smell that reminded him of cheap body sprays.
Fry swallowed quietly. One of the few things he was able to remember from his combat training was that nightwalkers had a fine, cloying body odor that permeated any area they went. Remembering his superiors' descriptions of the scent, he shuddered as he realized that it was the same smell he sensed now. Knowing that there was a deadly, evil creature in close proximity to him, he hesitated to go any further.
Stealing a glance at Hermes coming up behind him, Fry could tell from his apprehensive expression that he was even tenser than when he last looked at him. Hermes paused uncertainly for a moment, then lightly bobbed his head forward at Fry, urging him to go on.
Fry and Hermes both crouched down and moved furtively with their backs pressed against the wall, heading out to the edge of the sewer block. Fry's heart started to race as he heard the footsteps coming closer and closer.
As he moved toward the end of the path, he heard a second set of footsteps approaching. Fry's heart rate increased exponentially. The new footsteps were even quicker and more urgent than the first, pounding against the dock as if whoever — or whatever — was making them wanted something desperately.
Continuing on his path, Fry breathed as quietly as he could. Beads of sweat rolled down his face as the footsteps grew louder, pounding in his ears. He fought to keep from gagging as the overly sweet odor grew stronger, filling his nostrils with its unpleasantness.
Fry realized at this point that he was intensely frightened now, since he was making every effort to be silent. The last thing he wanted to do was make any hostile aware of his presence. Besides, Hermes had already chewed him out for kicking the Slurm can out onto the street near civilians, and he didn't want to go through something like that again.
Wiping the perspiration from his face, Fry looked back and cast one more brief glance at Hermes. The team captain's face retained its agitated countenance, but was now accompanied by tears of sweat that made his nose and cheeks glisten.
That one look, as short as it was, told Fry of everything that was going through Hermes's head.
I'm going forward, forward into possible death, Hermes's expression read. Not because I want to, but because I have to. And there's no telling if I'll survive or not.
Fry knew that feeling all too well; he had worked with Planet Express as an interplanetary delivery boy for over eight years.
When he was a few feet away from the end of the alley, Fry stopped and sat against the wall. He listened hard. The two pairs of footsteps were coming from around the corner on his left and were closing in on him.
Fry swallowed some saliva that had built up in his mouth and looked toward the dock. He lowered a hand to his chest and felt his heart beating furiously against his palm as his fear intensified.
The footsteps pounded loud and near. The sweet odor grew strong.
Then, for a brief moment, the footsteps stopped.
A horrified shriek suddenly rang out mere feet from Fry's position and reverberated along the sewer walls, followed by a guttural, inhuman cry of attack. Fry winced as he heard a sharp, disgusting ripping sound that resembled Velcro being torn apart.
He saw a wave of blood splatter across the wooden dock. A pair of arm-length tentacles slapped against the dock, followed closely by a head topped with graying purple hair tied back in a neat bun.
Fry's blood froze. He raised both hands over his mouth to keep from throwing up or screaming.
The creature had gotten Leela's own mother.
Fry pieced together what had just happened. The first set of footsteps he'd heard wasn't a hostile at all; it was Turanga Munda running for her life. The second set of footsteps was a nightwalker chasing after her that had now succeeded in hunting the poor mutated woman down.
Upon seeing what the creature had done to Munda in just one strike, Fry wanted to turn tail and duck behind the 250-pound Jamaican barricade he had with him. But even he knew that that was a bad idea since his panicked, thumping footsteps would alert the walker to his presence, and he'd be dead as well.
For now, Fry was a sitting duck as he looked down at Munda, his face twisted in fear and sadness. She lay facedown on the dock, her pooled blood soaking her face and the front of her dress. She didn't move.
Staring at her for several seconds, Fry felt his stomach churn. He thought for sure that Munda was dead. To his amazement, her body twitched ever so slightly.
With what little life she had left, Munda tilted her head up and gazed pleadingly at Fry, her sole eye bulging in absolute terror and despair. Her mouth stood agape in a wide circle of fear, as if screaming, but no sound came out.
Fry could only stare back at her with utter remorse. He wanted with all of his heart to help her. But given the fact that it took almost a full clip of ammo to kill one of the creatures, it only meant he'd be feeding the thing three meals instead of one if they tried to fight it.
As Fry struggled to figure out what to do, Munda squeezed her eye shut and clenched her teeth, clinging to the dock as tightly as she could with her suction cups. But the walker yanked her back with such tremendous force, it ripped her tentacles free from the dock with a series of loud, rapid pops and violently extracted her from Fry's view.
In those brief seconds, Fry had formulated a plan. He would give the creature some distance, then leave cover and open fire on it, figuring it would ditch Munda to fight off the bigger threat — him. But he knew he didn't have enough firepower to kill the walker by himself.
Fry looked back nervously at Hermes. He held his gun out toward the danger zone and eyed his team leader questioningly in a silent request to engage the enemy.
Hermes hesitated for a few moments. Although it was their sworn duty to defend Earth's population from the nightwalker threat, they were instructed to fire on the creatures only when necessary due to how difficult they were to kill. But he didn't want to waste any opportunity to save a life.
Hermes gave Fry a nod and sat crouched against the wall with his pistol raised. Fry adopted the same position.
Trembling in fear, Fry quietly let air in and out of his nostrils and thought of his plan once more to calm down. He was going to wait for the walker to move to a safe distance, then begin shooting at it. Once he fired off his first shot, Hermes would come out of hiding and provide him with support fire. If they could each get at least eight rounds into the creature before it reached them, they'd be okay.
But if we can't . . .
Fry forced the thought from his mind. As terrified as he was of engaging the walker, it was the only way he could save Munda from the horrible fate she was heading toward. He couldn't let her die, and it wasn't just because it might make Leela admire him if she knew he was responsible for saving her mother's life.
Fry listened to the walker's thudding footsteps as they started to fade into the distance and tensed his muscles. His heart hammering against his chest, he mentally counted down the seconds until he'd spring from cover.
Three . . . two . . . one.
Fry burst from the alley with his pistol aimed in the direction that Munda had been dragged.
To his surprise, both Munda and her attacker were gone.
Totally confused, Fry scanned the area, trying to determine where they had went.
Glancing down, he noticed a sizeable pool of blood at his feet. He could feel bile rising to his throat as he saw it trailing in the direction that Munda had been pulled. The dark red track extended several yards ahead of Fry and ran across a small wooden bridge that connected the two sewer blocks. His queasiness mounting, he saw her blood running up the front of a ramshackle building on the other side of the sewage.
The wet, gory trail ended just underneath a long pipe that extended up to the city's surface. There, he saw the last he'd ever see of Leela's mother as she ascended into the pipe — her tail swishing, her legs thrashing wildly as she futilely tried to fight off the creature that was about to end her life.
No! Fry's mind screamed.
Even though he knew Munda was done for, Fry started to frantically make his way toward the pipe anyway, common sense taking a backseat to desperation.
Hermes raised a gloved hand over Fry's protective vest to prevent him from going any further. "Forget it, mon," he said glumly. "It's too late. We can't save her."
Fry's heart sank as he helplessly watched Munda disappear into the pipe. He hated to think how Leela would react if she knew he and Hermes had failed to save her mother, even if they did have almost no chance of succeeding against the nightwalker.
"Fry, follow me."
Hermes's voice interrupted Fry's gloomy thoughts. He tore his eyes away from the pipe and saw his leader run around a nearby corner ahead of him.
Fry took off after Hermes. Twenty seconds later, he saw Hermes stop in front of a very long iron ladder that hung from the sewer ceiling and ended just above their heads. The ladder led all the way up to a manhole cover situated next to the building they'd need to scale in order to rendezvous with the advance team.
"This is our exit," Hermes said to Fry. "Come on, let's get out of this stink hole."
Hermes stood underneath the ladder and jumped up, grabbing the lowest rung with both hands. Straining a bit to pull up his dangling heavyset body, he reached up and gripped the second lowest rung with his right hand and the third lowest with his left. It became much easier for him to climb when he got ahold of the lowest rung with one foot.
When Hermes was far enough above him, Fry jumped up and began to climb the ladder in the same manner that his leader had.
As he followed Hermes up to the surface, Fry felt his stomach clench up in knots. He knew he'd have to face dozens more of these creatures before the night was over. A titanic wave of dread washed over him as he realized the true extent of the danger that he and the rest of the human (and mutant) population were in because of the nightwalkers.
These weren't run-of-the-mill vampires they were up against.
They were savage, unrelenting monsters.