Whoo! Update time at long last! And I'm on spring break so I'll try to get as much of the story out as I can this week. I really didn't mean to cause any kind of controversy, although N-o-r probably did.
Like he said, I wanted to show him a specific joke, just to make sure that it worked for him, seeing as how hardly anyone else will even notice it. It's not cause I love the rest of you any less.
Anyway, if anyone should be jealous, it should be JBERGES who is in fact my beta, and has never gotten so much as an email from me. (But he will, cause I feel guilty now)
Now how can I make this up to you? Hmm... I know, an update! And I'll dedicate it to you guys. (Actually, Venus should really like this, as I'm kind of fulfilling a request here. And my dear bodyguard, I'm doubling your salary. (And as far as I've known, you've never made any specific requests.)
Incidentally, if ever Cirque de Soleil ever did recruit me, the billing would go something like this:
Tonight! Watch the amazing act of Layla, who we kidnapped!
Tommorow: Closed forever!
N-o-r: Thanks for the love! And especially thanks for pointing out that typo, knowing me, I would have missed it! I'm glad you liked your gift.
To everyone who commented on the last update, thank you so very much and I hope this next update meets your expectations.
Part: Uh, little help, 44 maybe?
Hermes less than dignified return was a great relief to Amy, but Zapp was far less enthusiastic. He watched through narrowed eyes, as two agents dropped the semi-conscious bureaucrat onto the floor, then departed wordlessly.
Amy quickly fell to her knees beside Hermes. “Are you alright?” she asked anxiously. A confused mumble was the only reply she received from the senseless man. “Oh no,” she crooned, wringing her delicate hands, “I wonder what they did to him.”
“Not enough, if you ask me.” Zapp proclaimed disdainfully, “He’s just lucky he wasn’t interrograted by the Master, by whom I mean, the Zapper, by whom I mean Zapp Brannigan, captain and lover, and not necessarily in that order.”
“Captain and lover, huh?” Amy muttered coolly, “That’s not what Leela calls you.”
“Hmm? Oh, clearly you misunderstood her. All those awful things she says about me, those are affectionate, like pet names, and meta-pores.” Amy paid Brannigan no mind. Instead, she leaned forward over Hermes to check the pulse in his opposite wrist. It made up the sum total of her medical knowledge.
Abruptly, his eyes flew open and he howled in pain.
“Oh! What’s wrong? What did those horrible agents do to you?!” In the back of her mind, Amy couldn’t help but wonder if they would be coming back for her. She glanced up at Zapp, then back at Hermes and was startled by the anger burning in his eyes.
“Agh! Get off me, woman! You’re kneeling on my hand!”
“Oop! Sorry!” she gasped, moving back quickly. Hermes sighed in relief. Zapp frowned down at the bleary-eyed bureaucrat with obvious antagonism.
“Shouldn’t you be dead?”
With a poisonous glare of his own, Hermes dizzily pulled himself up to a sitting position, blinking away the cobwebs. “Sorry,” he grumbled, his voice laden with sarcasm, “Hell had no vacancies.”
An eerie cry, filled with longing and despair cut off Brannigan’s smarmy, irritated response. “Was that me or was that you?” Hermes moaned to Amy through dry lips and a splitting headache.
The intern shook her head and helped to move the bureaucrat to a bench. Hermes immediately began to slide off, and the intern quickly wrapped her arm around him in support. “Smeesh, Hermes, you’re really orbiting Pluto right now. What did they do to you?”
“Stop asking me that, all three of you!” He tried to shrug her off, but Amy held fast to him. “This is no different from the time we let Bender become the acting physician. Once we found out who the buyer was, and put everything back in, I was fine.”
“It took us three days!” Amy protested heatedly as Hermes managed to push her arm off his shoulder. “And you don’t look as good this time.”
Her point was lost on the addled bureaucrat. “Spare me your sympathy, Miss Give-Bender-The-Laser-Scalper-I’m-Sure-It’ll-Be-Fine.”
A sharp clang, again from the walls, distracted them from the argument. Dutifully, Amy cracked open her lipstick again and marked off the new noises. Crankily, Zapp yelled at the walls, “Stop that! That’s an order, you, you wall!” He startled his cellmates by ramming his fist against the offending structure, howling in pain when the stubborn wall did not yield.
“You’re a flab-tastic captain, you know that?” Amy growled at the whimpering man before hauling him down to sit on the bench by Hermes. “Now stay there and keep out of trouble. I’m too rich to babysit!”
An amused voice from outside the cell cut in, “He hasn’t had his nap today; no wonder he’s so cranky.”
Still cradling his injured fist, Brannigan sprang to his feet and approached the forcefield. “Johnson, is that you?”
Hermes was beginning to recover, so Amy left him on the bench and joined the captain. A young man in a DOOP uniform was smirking at Brannigan.
“Aye, captain, it’s me,” he tossed off a mocking salute. Zapp returned it formally. “I’ve relieved the guard. They’ve asked all the agents to begin a full scale search of the ship for the source of all these strange noises.” He shook his head ruefully. “I can’t quite believe they’d leave one of us to keep an eye on you, seeing as how you were our ‘noble’ captain.”
Amy’s brief flicker of hope was extinguished by the crewman’s obvious loathing for Brannigan. Naturally, Zapp missed it entirely. Leaning forward eagerly, he hissed. “Johnson, as a loyal member of my crew who hasn’t been killed or horribly mangled yet, you have to let us out of here!”
Johnson’s smile grew broader before his expression shifted, chameleon-like, to a look of childlike innocence. “Oh, of course, captain! Those agents sure are foolish to leave loyal little me in charge of the brig when you’re the prisoner.”
Brannigan smiled back, before darting a quick glance at Amy to make sure she was taking this in. Behind them, Hermes sighed heavily.
The crewman continued sweetly, “I can’t imagine why they would have done that. Oh wait! I guess they must have heard about the competition.”
“Competition?” Brannigan prompted blankly.
Johnson’s eyes narrowed and contempt warred with unholy glee in his eyes. “Did I forget to mention? Your loyal crewmembers have been competing for the right to arrange a little ‘accident’ for you.”
“Uh oh,” murmured Amy.
“We’re jerked!” moaned Hermes.
“A wha?” muttered Zapp.
“Oh, don’t worry. There’s nothing you can do about it, and I hear that worrying takes years off your life. I lost in the third round, anyway.” With an easy chuckle, Johnson left off his teasing and returned to his post, a faint curve of his lips the only break in his military demeanor.
When his wife dropped off, utterly fatigued and overwhelmed by heartbreak, Morris tenderly wrapped her in a blanket and moved Munda, still in her chair, away from Leela’s bed. In another chair, near Fry, Dr. Rumelle dozed lightly. Morris knew that she would be up and alert in a moment’s notice if anything changed. The Professor had fallen asleep as well, head propped up on some machine the mutant couldn’t begin to understand. Bender had disappeared some time ago.
“It’s just you and me now, baby,” he whispered to Leela, taking her limp hand in his own. They were so much bigger than his daughter’s hands. Morris gave his unconscious daughter a watery smile. “I remember the day you were born. Right away you stole my heart.”
Before she had even opened that perfect eye, during those first, incredible moments, Leela had sought him with those same fragile fingers. “You were so tiny, so soft and perfect.” Morris chuckled in gentle remembrance, “Your ol’ dad was almost scared, you know. Can you imagine that? A tough guy like me, frightened of sweet little you?”
Morris had been frightened, frightened by the ferocity of the love that washed over him when he’d first seen her wriggling little form. “It wasn’t just me though, darling, everybody knew you were something special.” With a delighted smile, the doctor had joyfully announced, “Oh, you have a little girl, a beautiful little girl!” and Morris knew his world had changed forever.
There was no preparing him for the wonder that was Turanga Leela. Beautiful did not begin to describe the miraculous life that reached out, eager for her first taste of the world outside her mother’s warmth. Fearless, he’d thought in quiet pride. Strong, perfect.
Morris had actually stepped back from her when the doctor offered his daughter to him. Not in rejection, no never! “I love you so much, Leela, so much.” Morris choked softly.
He had not recoiled in denial of that glorious burden, but in realization of his unworthiness. Nothing Turanga Morris had ever done in his life could possibly earn him the right to hold his child, his child! “You were already so much better than I could ever be.” He swallowed hard. “All I could think of was how I could never give you what you really deserved.”
He smiled gently. “The poor doctor didn’t know what to think.” A flicker of confusion had crossed the doctor’s face, and there was a pain-wracked murmur from Munda, his precious, treasured, amazing jewel of a wife. “Nor your mom, neither.” He chuckled again, and stroked Leela’s hair.
“But I guess you understood, ‘cause you didn’t put up with daddy’s nonsense for one second.” Before Morris could even try to explain the jumble of emotions running through him, Leela had let out an imperious squawk and thrust tiny grasping fingers into the air. Her sweet baby face scrunched up, expressing her displeasure.
Morris had become a dad in that moment, reaching forward, unable to deny her anything and silky soft baby flesh brushed against his own rough hands. “You never minded these battered hands, did you?”
Munda claimed later that he’d wept, but if he had, Morris had not noticed. Only Leela had mattered in that moment. His baby, his daughter, his Leela. Before his brain was aware of it, his heart had already sworn fealty to the precious little girl, a promise that meant more to him than his own life, like the promise he had made to Munda. ‘I will never, never leave you, love, never, and anything I can give you will be yours.’
Morris repeated his promise to his daughter, now grown to be more than he could have hoped for. “I am going to take care of you, honey, and your mother, no matter what it takes.” He leaned forward, gently resting his forehead on his hands, still linked with Leela’s. Wetness dropped cool on his hand, and Morris realized he was crying. “Don’t worry, you’re going to be alright. You have to be. It’s the end of the world if you aren’t.”
Shuddering, he tried to pull himself together. The doctor would wake soon, and then Munda would wake and Morris did not want his wife thinking he’d given up on Leela. Once again, his mind drifted back into the past. “We’ve gotten through harder times than this, baby, and we didn’t have your strength to depend on then. I’m so proud of you,” he whispered into her ear, hoping she could hear him.
The discovery of Leela’s near normality had been filled with sweet bitterness for the newly born father. Morris hadn’t known that the bold promise made, to put her needs above everything, would bind him into giving Leela up. How could he have done it? Surrendering his child to be raised by strangers in a place that was less than loving. Was a life on the surface worth the cost of a life without love?
Morris spoke even more softly. “Did we make the right decision? I still don’t know, honey. Which is more selfish? To give you up to a loveless childhood with the hope of a future or to keep you here, with a love-filled childhood but a hopeless life? Have you forgiven us?” The uncertainty was anguish and Morris could not speak for a time.
“Did you know that you can actually get used to having someone else raise your child?” It was something he had never been able to admit, even to Munda. “Can you understand why we did what we did?” Guilt long suppressed began to leak out of his with every tear, and he knew he would never find absolution.
After those first devastating weeks after the Decision, it hadn’t been too bad. It was easier when Leela was too tiny to talk about the strange people that watched out for her. Munda would sing lullabies, and he would whisper stories of hope and joy to the sleepy infant. When their need got too great, he and Munda would slip into the orphanarium, just so they could hold her.
But time did not stand still. Every minute, they had felt it running out on them. One day, the grieving parents had silently agreed that they could never again let Leela see them, lest she betray her secret in innocent babbling. “That was probably the worst day, darling, because it was so final. We didn’t think that you would ever want to know us. After all, look at who we are.”
He squeezed his eye shut and tried to even out his ragged breathing. “But you did. After all those years, you still wanted us. Even after you understood what we are, you wanted us. Thank you, daughter, ‘cause we sure wanted you.”
Weariness soon claimed Morris’s voice, so he lapsed into silence, but where tongue failed, a fatherly touch continued to whisper of love to Turanga Leela.
A rumbling laugh precluded the robot’s return to the sewers. The manhole cover was no hindrance to Bender’s sturdy hydraulics and he slipped back into the dank tunnels without a fuss.
For a robot, bender had a remarkably expressive face, and at that moment, his expression fairly screamed ‘self-satisfaction, baby’. “‘Oh, Bender, I think I need a bit of soldering. Would you mind taking a look at my circuit board?’ Not at all. Heh heh heh.”
He took hold of either side of the corroded ladder and skidded rapidly down to the subsurface, adding a jubilant little hop for good measure. “I still got it!” As he strutted through the sewers, Bender felt the sudden desire for a little love and worship.
“Hey, mutants! Let’s all cheer for Bender!” There was no response. “C’mon! I wanna here some noise!” A phenomenally loud boom sent the robot’s auditory sensors to jangling and he clamped his hands on the sides of his head immediately.
“Well, there’s the R-E-S-P-E-C-T I’ve been looking for!” he proclaimed, even though his CPU had already decided that something very bad and not Bender related was happening.
Terrified screams reverberated along the corridors. “Oh…” he moaned in exasperation, as his morality circuits kicked in, starting up weakly like a hovercar on an icy morning. “I guess I oughta check that out, he grumbled, starting off in the direction of the explosion.
He didn’t have to go too far, however, before he began passing distraught mutants. Some, like himself, were headed to the source of the commotion, but most were running away in panic. Snipits of phrases helped Bender understand what was happening long before he had found the place, but it only took one frantic word to send him running for the makeshift hospital where Fry, Leela and etcetera were holed up: “invasion.”
Morris was still tenderly watching over Leela when Bender burst in, waving his hands wildly in the air and babbling in alarm. The crash of the doors woke the sleepers in a flash, just in time to decipher the garbled warning.
“What?!” all three conscious mutants cried in alarm. But Bender was no longer interested in them. He darted past them to where Fry still lay, pale and fragile.
“C’mon, buddy. Enough of this. Time to wake up, before the heat gets here.” He started to pick Fry up, but Chastity quickly ducked between the robot and her patient.
“You can’t move him. Let go!” Bender was not particularly inclined to yield to authority, and so ignored the doctor, ducking around her in order to get Fry out of there.
“You can’t! You’ll kill him!” the mutant shrieked, crashing into Bender with her full body weight in an attempt to knock him aside. Chastity bounced harmlessly off the robot’s metal form, and Morris and Munda had already rushed to her aid, grabbing Bender’s arms to stop him.
In the end, it was not their physical efforts that decided Bender, but the doctor’s firm conviction that moving at that moment would be akin to murdering him.
“Fine, then. Leggoame!” He firmly shook them off. “But don’t blame me when Nixon busts through here and gets Fry!”
“Oh, hello, Bender.” The professor wandered over and greeted him mildly. “Now then, where am I?”
Morris shook his head, then pulled Bender over to look at him. “What’s happening.”
Bender’s eyes shifted uneasily before he replied, “So, I was out, uh, saving orphans, and when I get back there’s this explosion. So a bunch of freaks come running by, and they’re all going on about something. Looks like El Presidenté finally figured out where we been hiding out.” The robot shrugged. “Now I figured we might want to get Fry outta here, but since you don’t feel like it, I’m just gonna go loot me some swag. See ya!”
He waved cheerfully at Fry’s limp form, “Hope they don’t suck out your brain there, buddy!” before heading for the exit.
Morris quickly blocked him. “Wait a minute. You’re staying here. I’m going.” Munda made a strangled protest and her husband spared her a quick glance. “He’s going to stay here and protect you for as long as he can. If you have to run, run. The robot can carry Leela, and maybe you,” he glanced at the doctor, “can stabilize Fry enough to get him away.”
Munda blinked and tears began rolling down her face, but she didn’t fall apart. “Why don’t you stay here and help us get them out of here?”
“Someone has got to get out there and stall the invaders.” An utterly solemn look made his open face seem stony and hard. “This is our home, Munda, and I’m not letting anyone just walk in and destroy it.” Her tentacles were pressed against her face, but she nodded in regretful acceptance.
“I understand.” Then she marched over to him and caught him in an authoritative embrace. “But you better not be late for dinner.”
Morris smiled and touched her cheek in a gentle caress. “I wouldn’t dare.” He then looked over everyone else “Is everyone clear?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Bender muttered sulkily. “But I better get some ice cream soup out of the deal.”
The Professor peered at Morris in fascination.“Did you know you only have one eye? Whoa-ah…” he drawled. Morris exchanged a skeptical look with his wife.
“Yeah, well, great. I’ll be back as soon as I can. Look after them, doctor.” He gestured at the sleepers, and Chastity nodded. With one quick squeeze of Munda’s hand, Morris left them then, without a backwards glance.