but first, a big thank you very much to JBERGES who very kindly beta'd this for me. (And he's awesome at it, of course!)Rest assured, this is much improved from his efforts.
Shippy Mandy: Your support means so much to me! Thank you! I never thought I could write anything this along... until I did. This update is actually 7300 words long. It is terrifying.
Venus: I really hope that you enjoy the adoption story. To be honest, I am terrified by the thought of taking on another major writing project. If I had known before starting this thing what I know now...
NIC: I will not forget, but you may wish I had...
I really shot myself in the foot there didn't I? There's no escape!
I'm sorry I haven't replied yet, but I will! I've been working so hard on this lately... forgive me?
SpaceCase: Hey, you're still around, that's great! Enjoy this tediously long update.
PJ :Darn... I have always wanted to be batman. This is definately a crazy story, and it's about to have one last rush of crazyness... and then some more.
Gorky: Always wonderful to hear from you, especially when some people (looks around guiltily) have not kept up with the other fab writers on this board. I'm glad you've been liking the wacky humour, as I can only learn from what you and Bergey do. I definately do the careful word choice things. It makes for good reading, in my opinion.
Philp_J_Fry: Thanks as always, you rock!
I:I like your short username. Welcome to PEEL and thank you for delurking and making me happy girl. I hope you enjoy this major update.
JBERGES: In addition to being my beta (Whoo!) you get a gold star for using the word, "unsurreptitious". And cause you make me laugh! I'm sure your creative mind can come up with all sorts of ways to finish the undefended minor story.
One thing, the "whatlever you splay" line was not, gasp!, a typo. It was a failed Amyism, whoo!
Ol'coot: Bless you, too! I love to make you hate Zapp Brannigan.
Venus, again: (Slaps forehead) Cursed by my own hubris! I live in shame, I assure you. Here I was thinkgin I was being all clever for having two minor characters not actually know eachother, when they did! Also, bugger, I messed up her name. Thanks for catching me!
Amy needed a clumsy moment. She's been fairly well co-ordinated in this story so far.
The 49th part... of longness.
Bitter disappointment coloured Morris’ every move as he stood amongst the crowd of gathered mutants waiting for direction. Despite his best efforts, few mutants had been willing to leave the relative, and ultimately, temporary safety of the shelters to come and preserve the safety of the sewers. While he hadn’t expected them to come singing and dancing at the thought of standing between the invaders and what they wanted, he’d hoped that more than the twenty or so mutants who had followed him would understand that hiding would not help them this time.
“Not sure there’s any help for us at all,” he admitted quietly, so that his companions wouldn’t hear. It wouldn’t do anyone any good to give up before they had even joined the battle.
Looking around, Morris knew no one else’s luck had been much better. There were no more than two hundred mutants gathered in front of the entrance to the sub-sewer. It was quiet here; the invaders had not made it this far in yet, but they were coming.
It was fortunate that the mutants had fair warning, however, for things were not as bad as they could have been. The militia Raoul had gathered upon hearing of Nixon’s plans was impressive, despite the small numbers. They were calm, or at least, they seemed to be, and reasonably well organized given the circumstances. The members of the militia were scattered throughout the crowd of soon-to-be soldiers, giving them orders, explaining strategies and equipping them with whatever weapons they’d managed to cobble together.
A female mutant approached them carrying a bag of said weapons.
“I’m Janice,” she greeted them perfunctorily; projecting her voice so everyone could hear her. She began corralling the mutants into groups of twelve even as she gave out weapons and instructions. “I’ll tell you right off that we don’t have enough arms for everyone.”
“Tell me about it,” chuckled Bertie, a tall mutant who had four sets of hands that jutted out of his body without the benefits of a single arm. Strained laughter broke out and some of the tension in the air diffused.
Janice did not so much as smile. “If you don’t end up with something from me, there’s debris all over the place where you’ll be going. Pick up something pointy.” She moved just left of Morris. “Any of you have any experience with lasers?” As one, the group of mutants began glancing around nervously at their companions.
After hesitating, Morris raised a hand and spoke. “I’ve fired one.” He had been dating Munda and was trying to impress her with a bit of a light show. It hadn’t gone off very well, but she’d forgiven him anyway.
Janice smiled at him grimly. “Great. This is yours then.” She handed him something wrapped in cloth. He chose not to look for the moment. The serpentine-eyed woman passed out what she had to give. Weapons distributed, Janice addressed the group again.
“If you can, don’t let them see you. Get them from behind, from a distance, anything you can do to stop them. This isn’t going to be a fair fight. Guerilla warfare is our best bet.
“Gorilla?” came a confused murmur from someone in the crowd. Janice rolled her eyes.
“Look after that one,” she commanded Morris with a shake of her head. He turned to his fellows who were glaring at a sheepish double-nosed mutant.
“I will,” he promised. The embarrassed mutant was just a kid. ‘So young,’ Morris thought regretfully.
Janice nodded sharply. “Good. We’re going to attempt to ambush Nixon near the mutagenic lake.” An odd number of eyes widened at her statement. “But that’s not your concern. You’re going to be stopping the invaders who split off from the main group and are headed for the school district.”
She frowned, and for the first time, Morris heard worry creep into her voice. “There are a lot of families laying low in that area and we really don’t know what the invaders will do with prisoners. It’s a good bet that if the lives of the surface dwellers don’t mean much to Nixon, our lives mean even less. We are counting on you,” she added firmly, “don’t let us down.”
With that grim order, Janice departed to instruct the next group, leaving them to their task. When no one moved, Morris rolled his shoulders. “Let’s go then,” he said, and headed for the school district, refusing to look back to check if his comrades had followed.
Lord Nibbler had been watching the earth broadcasts for hours, trying to glean valuable information, information that he fervently hoped would inspire the council to action. “I must insist that what I present be considered a clear threat to the survival of the Mighty One,” he transmitted, voice lolling through the quiet room.
Dr. Zoidberg had left the Planet Express headquarters a long time ago, leaving Nibbler free to sneak in and use the surviving large TV in the meeting room for his search. It was a good deal more comfortable than being confined in his own ship where he’d spent the first few hours. His eyestalk had stared to cramp up.
“A long-lived people like ours know the value of comfort, and if I am forced to endure the primitive babbling of the Earthican’s “Pre-War Show”, then I might as well do it nestled in my pet bed with a very dignified chew toy to gnaw,” he mused. “And troubled times like these require solitude for pondering,” he added. Certainly, the bizarre Earth customs necessitated much thought.
Some time ago, interviews had been held with the President and several of the soldiers that would be sent into the mutant’s domain. At first, Lord Nibbler could not believe the hubris that led these creatures to reveal their invasion plans on the air for anyone to see. “And yet, after the initial shock, I realized I should not have been surprised. We are, after all, dealing with humans.”
The Nibblonian knew the mutants had access to this audio-visual transmission technology and could use it to their advantage as Nibbler himself was doing. “But despite their increased attractiveness, I have little evidence to support the suggestions that the mutants are any more intelligent than the genetically standard population.”
However, even on Earth, some secrets managed to remain secret; for instance, the Mighty One’s involvement and the exact time of the attack. “I do not like waiting ‘til the last niblet to take action. While I have faithfully delivered the plans for developing a device to combat Fry’s illness into the hands of the so called “scientist,” I am not certain that he has engaged it properly, if he has engaged it at all. The despot of this world continues his search for the Mighty One, and I fear for the safety of Leela as well.”
In truth, Nibbler was more than worried. He was frustrated with the lack of freedom he had to act. If it were up to him, the Nibblonians themselves would have simply taken both Fry and Leela to ensure their safety. Everything depended on it.
The Nibblonian healers could have solved the catastrophic effects of the delta waves flooding Fry’s fragile brain in peace, and then erased the memories of everyone involved. It would have been over and done with by now. Was there truly more wisdom in leaving it the unsteady hands of a witch doctor? The Council said yes, and Lord Nibbler had to obey. He would not voice his desire for more active involvement.
Still, the Nibblonian continued to question that decision, even as he hoped it was the right one. If the hopes of the galaxy were captured, he would act. Even the most cautious members of the Council would recognize that intervention would be necessary in those circumstances.
The lab door opened without warning and Nibbler slipped into pet mode without thought. Dr. Zoidberg had returned.
“Why, look at this!” the Decapodian exclaimed in delight. The little land mammal had found the code for the professor’s TV and now Zoidberg could watch! He rubbed Nibbler’s furry head with one affectionate claw.
Temporarily thwarted, Nibbler started to leave the table but before he got far, Zoidberg scooped him up. “Yes, you’ll be a good friend to Zoidberg while he watches Aqua-aerobics, not like those others! Always off doing exciting things while I’m stuck here, all alone.” He sighed pathetically, the very definition of self-pity.
‘No, no!’ Nibbler thought, struggling violently, ‘I must watch for news of the Mighty One and the Other!’ A low, almost inaudible growl began in his throat.
Heedless, Zoidberg sat in a chair and kicked his sandaled feet up on the table, still cradling the struggling pet in one arm. “But wait, what’s this? An awards show? No, a pre-war show! Well, that’s even better than Coral’s Flippercise Hour! Excellent, excellent! We’ll just watch this together then, won’t we Nibbler?”
The Nibblonian was not amused in the least, but was unable to wrench himself free without revealing more about himself than was wise. It would be torment, but he would endure. Cooing sweetly, he relaxed against the Decapodian’s carapace.
“Pretty tense, isn’t it?” Zoidberg mumbled, “and so much more interesting than Zoidberg’s life! It looks like the mutants are going to get what’s coming to them today!” He sighed, blowing out his lip dealies. “Poor little unwanted creatures,” he added, with sudden empathy.
“Coming up next, Morbo interviews the manager of the dry cleaning company that looks after the president’s wardrobe. Here’s a clip.”
“Did you find it difficult to become a massive disappointment to those who bore you?”
“I’m not a-”
“When did you decide to give up on all your meaningless hopes and dreams?”
“Uh, well, I-”
Linda, giggling lightly appeared on
the screen again. “You can look forward to more of tha– Oh! We have just received word that the noble intervention in the lives of the sewer-dwelling scum has already begun.”
The newscaster began chatting with
a smartly dressed man in the studio. “So, Major Amiro, you say that the operation is going smoothly thus far?”
“Quite smoothly, Linda, the majority of the mutants are welcoming us with open… tentacles.” He smiled genially, “Although they are repulsive and beneath us, we are eager to reach out and give them the aid they have needed for so long.”
“Has there been much fighting?”
“Well, Linda, it is only a small section of the population that resists our rescue efforts. We expect them to fall in line with a minimum of convincing.”
“Morbo believes your weak planet will fall under our domination “with a minimum of convincing,” but we will destroy you anyway!” He laughed wickedly at the startled officer.
Nibbler shifted slightly to get a better view of the screen. ‘Perhaps the leaders are not as foolish as I once thought. It takes a skilled mind to sift the real information out from the copious lies and half-truths.’
They say that the moments just before a battle are worse than the battle itself. Morris now knew that to be blatantly untrue. In a lifetime that could optimistically be described as wretched, Morris had done some hard, hard things in exceedingly unpleasant circumstances. He had never thought war would be one of them.
In the fleeting couple of hours he’d had to gather support, Morris had not had time to really absorb the fact that he would soon have to fight, and probably kill, in order to defend his home. Dying was too abstract a possibility for him to consider, even now.
The mutants defending the school district were in desperate trouble. Things had started off badly when some youngster had given away their position with a burst of inadvertent laser fire. One of the armored agents pounding through the slick tunnel had taken her down almost immediately. With the first blood already drawn, the other mutants had sprung from their positions in a reckless attack that surprised the invaders with its intensity, if not its timing. The agents had split their fire in a well-practiced attack pattern that proved ruthlessly effective. It only took a few seconds for the distraught defenders to gather their wits and go back into cover, but seconds in a battle are an eternity when it comes to casualties.
The mutants were still reeling from the devastating mistake as the agents coolly pressed the advantage. Despite the terror around him, Morris not afraid at present, he was wrathful. It was a strange word to describe his emotional state, but true nonetheless. His large hands trembled with the intensity of his fury as he thought of the wide-eyed youth Janice had asked him to protect, killed beside Morris in the opening volley.
“I couldn’t do one blessed thing for him,” he choked, grief warring with rage. His eye misted and he squeezed it shut, commanding his emotions to lie quietly for the moment. Sorrow surrendered patiently, willing to wait before overwhelming him, but anger was less forgiving. Morris knew who had caused all this destruction, and it made his blood boil.
Although they could not see Nixon, the President’s howls echoed through the labyrinthine tunnels, unnerving the mutants. It was one thing to know that stopping the mad dictator was not his responsibility, but it was quite another to ignore that threat completely, especially when he knew the crazed head-in-a-jar was after his family. Morris was beginning to think murder would not be so difficult if Nixon was the victim.
The darkness of his thoughts alarmed him and his self-preservation kicked in again, telling him to be afraid. Stubbornly, he fought it with the lazy humour that had carried him through other dark days. “Arroo,” Morris muttered to himself as he ducked out of the way of a laser aimed at his head. “Why on earth did they have to elect a madman with a catch phrase?”
The laser fire intensified and he skidded behind the remains of somebody’s home. “What was Leela thinking when she didn’t vote?” He shook his head and rested one rough hand on the rougher concrete. After all, she was the lone voting representative of their people. Morris crouched down farther as he ran, hoping to elude the fellow chasing him. “I told her mother we should have made her more politically aware.”
Something touched his shoulder and Morris spun in alarm, trying to look ready for a fight. “Whoa, whoa! Easy, I’m on your side.” A mutant, probably 30 years Morris’ junior had huddled beside him, seeking refuge from the intense, hopelessly one-sided firefight. Why were they always kids?
“Danlen,” the skeletally thin mutant greeted Morris, wearing an easy smile that did not disguise the quaver in his voice. He was obviously terrified. ‘You and me both, kid.’ Morris thought sadly before proffering his hand.
“Morris,” he returned with a calmness he didn’t feel. The mutants watched in dismay as another wave of soldiers raced by them. “I suppose we oughta do something about that.” Danlen said reluctantly.
“Guess so.” Morris nodded, feeling strangely relaxed. “Wish it hadn’t come to this.”
“Yeah, me too,” he replied with a sad smile. ‘Always smiling, this kid,’ Morris thought, ‘’cause there isn’t anything to smile about.’
Even before the fight started, Morris knew it was hopeless. They all knew. Outnumbered, outgunned, out-skilled, and ill equipped, still, they had to try, even if the only thing they could do to protect their families was to slow down the relentless invaders.
Danlen shifted the vicious looking piece of metal in his hand. Not much good to him if they couldn’t get closer to the invaders. The laser Morris was armed with was weak and unreliable, cobbled together from various pieces flushed by criminals. It had proved strong enough to give an attacker serious burns. The mutant had managed to avoid killing anyone thus far, but things were desperate.
As if in response to Morris’ thoughts, Danlen whispered, “I’ve never hurt anyone before. Now I’m probably going to have to kill someone.” He raised his head and looked Morris in the eye. “I’m scared of that, more than anything else,” he confessed.
“Me too,” Morris admitted, as a shared understanding passed between them.
“Maybe that’s why so many refused to come,” the younger mutant offered, breaking the moment, “they didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
“But it’s our home!” Morris replied with quiet passion. “There’s nowhere to go if we don’t defend ourselves, our place in the universe, right now. Nixon isn’t going to go away and leave us alone, even if we don’t resist him.”
Danlen thumped Morris on the shoulder in an encouraging gesture. The role-reversal struck Morris as amusing, and his lips twitched with a smile of their own. “I was at the park with my sisters when you came.” The younger mutant ducked his head but spoke with sincerity. “I’m sorry so many chose to stay, though I don’t really blame them.”
“Me too, and me neither.” The cyclops sighed. “I’ve got a family to look after too, and I’d rather be with them than anywhere else.”
Despite that understanding, Turanga Morris had had a hard dose of disillusionment when so many refused to come. “We have nowhere to keep them safe, if we can’t keep them safe here.” Danlen nodded in silent agreement, his eyes far away.
“So we’ve got to keep them safe here.” Morris affirmed his own words, determination awakening in him once again. Something in his voice must have caught the younger mutant’s attention, for he looked up suddenly with a fire in his eyes.
Their devotion to their loved ones renewing their heroism, Morris and Danlen left the tiny bit of rubble they’d been crouched behind and entered the fray. It was none too soon for a small group of lightly armed mutants. They were pinned down by crossfire in one of the few rickety buildings still stubbornly standing against the onslaught of the enemy.
Morris darted out and was fired at almost immediately. He had no time to turn and check that the kid was following. One blast brought others and Turanga Morris raced hopelessly towards the invaders attacking the huddled group.
Without warning, time, so slyly mutable, slowed dramatically. Indeed, Morris was not even aware of the change until he heard Danlen’s cry. It was long, unnaturally extended, and all the more appalling for the minutiae made clear in the strangled voice. No one with a heart could ignore that piercing sound.
Strangely detached from himself, Morris spun in exquisite slowness, reaching for the falling mutant. A sudden heaviness flooded over him and Morris couldn’t catch Danlen. This confused him, and he tried to lean further only to realize that, at some point, he had fallen to he rotten boards of the wharf. Icy cold shock invaded him and Morris knew that he’d been hit.
The cyclops felt no pain, only a powerful numbness. As his mind began to shut down, Morris reflected that the absence of pain was probably a bad thing. “I meant to do more than this,” he tried to say, but the darkness pulled him down first.
The unlikely band of foiled escapees were firmly escorted through the unchanging corridors, but not back to the cell as they’d expected. Amy had a general idea of the ship’s layout, and not just from her semi-regular visits with the little green love machine. She was, after all, studying to be an engineer.
While there was some truth to the belief that it was her parent’s ludicrously exorbitant wealth that got Amy into Mars University, the vapid, cute, and giggly Amy was a serious student, especially when her professor was a hot guy. Her mediocre grades did not spring from apathy but rather from her passionate devotion to the noble cause of ticking off her parents. The intern had come to the conclusion that rebellion was the key, or at least one of the keys, to lasting youth. Familial closeness was a sacrifice she was willing to make for flawless skin and a perfect body.
The leader of the agents met the group less than a minute after they’d been captured. He said nothing to them, and it was a nothing far more frightening than words could ever be… unless they came in the form of terrifying acronyms such as SKFC and IRS. The man did not glare at them, or smile at their capture. He simply fell into step with the guards, with a face that looked like it had been carved out of Elzar’s week old bread.
Amy frowned, troubled as they turned again and passed by the holo-chamber. No, they weren’t going anywhere near the cells. Her trepidation must have shown clearly on her beautiful face because Hermes was watching her in uneasy confusion.
Most of the colour had washed out of Kif’s head and what remained was shifting subtly. Kiffy was fighting nerves. What could make the courageous, yet spineless lieutenant so frightened, if her parents weren’t anywhere nearby?
Whispered conversations filled the hallways around them as they passed by agents and crew alike. There was no mistaking the malicious glee in many faces. It was undeniably focused on Zapp Brannigan.
“Ah, my loyal crew! It’s about time you showed your faces! I’ve been waiting for the grand ceremony to restore my command.” Snickers and cruel smiles greeted Zapp’s pompous words. One of the crewmen when so far as to salute sarcastically.
The odd little party and the small crowd of hangers-on that had boldly elected to gather gossip for the benefits of their fellow crewmembers moved through the ship until their little stroll ultimately gave way to a rather ominous airlock. ‘Of course,’ Amy thought bleakly, wishing she did not know as much as she did about the effects of vacuum and near absolute-zero temperatures on the fabulous human body.
Not that the temperature really mattered.
When it came down to it, even if it had been a balmy 28 degrees Celsius out there, it still would mean a not-nearly-quick-enough death. Even worse, her beautiful figure would explode if she held her breath.
“What is the meaning of this? Am I being promoted to admiral?” Brannigan demanded. “Is this some sort of surprise party?” No one answered him.
Someone hit a panel on the hatch, which cycled open invitingly. The calm, business-like expressions of the agents were a sharp contrast with the nearly manic, raptly interested expressions of the handful of Nimbus crewmen who had not scattered once seeing the airlock.
A deep, strange sadness gripped the intern, not for her fate, or even for Kif’s, but rather for the harsh reality of a profession where life meant nothing and causing death was no more than blowing a puff of air to extinguish a candle. Why can’t we all just go shopping?
The feeling did not last long. It was crushed out by black terror as the four prisoners were forced into the airlock.
“Are you really going to kill us?!” she demanded as her panicky lungs began gasping for air as though it had already been stolen from her.
“Me?” came the mild question, “No. My orders say nothing of your deaths.” Andrew shrugged easily.
“So you’re not going to blow us into space?” Kif asked, his gentle voice ragged with relief. It was such a violent phrase coming from someone so sensitive. ‘Everything he says sounds wonderful,’ Amy reflected, falling in love with him all over again.
“I’m not.” Andrew replied, heavily emphasizing the first word. Amy’s heart sank. “Since you didn’t appreciate the accommodations in the brig, I though we’d upgrade you to an airlock. Weakest spots on a ship in some ways, and the strongest in others.” He looked at them levelly, “and not too many people are stupid enough to mess with one when it’s all that’s keeping them pressurized.”
With that, the hatch was sealed shut, leaving them in the dark with a sky full of stars. Zapp instantly started wailing, lamenting his fate and making sure everyone within earshot knew it. Unfortunately, they were the only ones who could hear him, and they didn’t care.
Hermes seemed inclined for a good lament himself, but he was quieter about it, speaking more to himself than to anyone else. “Zombie Nana was right. I should have listened to her and stayed in the shack. Ever since I met Zoidberg I knew my life would be a series of unfortunate events ended by a highly improbable, ridiculously clichéd death.” He sighed heavily, "although I’d always hoped I’d have the pleasure of seeing Zoidberg die in the gutter first, after stabbing him with a shrimp fork.”
“Hmm… well, actually, death by airlock failure is actually quite common. It’s the third leading cause of death among space crews, right behind crossing Mom and corrupt employers.” Kif offered helpfully.
“How interesting,” Amy cooed supportively. “Where did you ever hear about that, Kif?”
The little green man ducked his bulbous head bashfully. “I did a little research when I found out I was assigned to the Nimbus.”
Hermes was not impressed. “Keep it to yourself, you lipless reptile. Some of us are trying to sulk.”
“Well, actually, I’m not really reptilian. I suppose if you were going to compare me to with an Earthican species-“
Hermes’ murderous look finally got through to the sheepish, amphibian-ish, lieutenant.
Amy moved to reassure him, linking her arm with his and pulling him close.
“It’s a beautiful view,” she murmured, staring out at the stars.
“Yes, it is,” Kif agreed in his
“And so romantic. You know this reminds me of our first meeting on that doomed ship that Zapp piloted into a black hole.” Hermes rolled his eye in exasperation.
Now more than ever, the prisoners knew they were in deep trouble. All it would take was one crewman with a grudge and they’d be skinny dipping in space, and there was no dearth of such crewmembers on the Nimbus.
‘But they like Kif’, Amy thought hopefully, ‘surely, that would stop them from killing us.’ Not satisfied with the attention he was getting, Zapp bawled louder and Hermes growled audibly. ‘Then again, it can’t be a good sign that Hermes looks about ready to push the button himself.’
Bender skittered wildly into the warehouse, spun on his heels, slammed the heavy doors shut and held them there with all his might. “Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!” he cried before the words dissolved into alarmed babbles.
Farnsworth woke creakily. “What did you do to my ship this time?!” he demanded angrily, looking around in an attempt to focus his tirade.
“Fry did it.” Bender blurted out without missing a beat.
“Tell my uncle he’s fired!” Farnsworth bellowed before dropping off to sleep again.
Obligingly, Bender let go of the door, as well as his artificial anxiety and made his way over to where Fry lay, fighting for his life. “Yo, buddy, good news! Your life expectantly just quadrupled!” The robot patted his friend’s limp head with the gentlest of touches. Still brightly, he continued, “Now let’s book before the giant robot cracks open this building like those diabolical can openers have been doing to bending units for years!”
“He’s coming? Now?!” the doctor cried in alarm.
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” Bender responded saucily as he returned to brace the door again.
Chastity looked at Munda, who slowly raised her head and winked her reddened eye before whispering, “We can’t move them, can we?” It wasn’t really a question.
The doctor shook her head from where she was huddled over Fry. “Maybe Leela, but not Fry. He’s too unstable. If we move him, I’m afraid we’ll lose him.” A series of booming impacts heralded Nixon’s approach.
“Ah,” drawled Bender, “Well, in that case, there’s no point in worrying about the towering leader advancing on us, dragging Nixon’s head along with him.”
Munda was sick with worry for her missing husband, but there was no time to think about that at the moment. When a large chunk of rubble worked its way from the ceiling and smashed violently on the floor, a little shriek of terror slipped involuntarily out of Munda’s throat.
Despite the fact it had landed nowhere near them, Munda threw herself protectively over Leela in instinctive reaction, a testament to how tightly wound her nerves were. When nothing else happened, she stood, the faintest blush of embarrassment touching her cheeks. With gentle hands, Munda soothed away any hurt she may have caused her unconscious daughter.
“He’ll have to get through me,” Munda promised. It was the only promise she had left to give.
An alarm went off in one of the Professor’s machines, startling the cyclops. “What’s wrong?” she demanded, turning towards the doctor. However, with one look at the doctor, she had her answer already. Dr. Rumelle had just unhooked Leela from the life sign monitor.
“We’ll get Leela out at least,” she said smoothly, wearing a mask of professional detachment on her face that would have caused a Neutral to nod thoughtfully. There were troubling undercurrents in her eyes, however, that Munda did not like the look of one bit.
Munda found herself bundling a blanket around Leela long before her thoughts caught up with her actions. “What about him?” she asked, gesturing towards the redhead.
“I’ll stay with him and defend him as best I can.” Munda was about to object when the doctor cut her off briskly. “Listen to me, Munda. I’m a doctor, he’s my patient. We can’t move him, so I will stay with him. Fry’s not a mutant, he’s not!” she insisted defensively, as if Munda would argue.
“And from what you’ve told me, they’d be more interested in capturing him than killing him anyway. Once they’ve got him, they’ll runs tests of him. Eventually, they’ll figure out that he’s not a mutant. Maybe they’ll let him go.”
A troubling thought occurred to the doctor. “Although, for your daughter’s sake, I hope they don’t, because they’ll be after her next.”
“What if they do find out?! He’ll be useless to them. I don’t want him to die!” The mother moaned in dismay. Fry had tried so hard to help Leela. Did it really have to be this way?
“There’s nothing else I can do for him here anyway, Munda. If Leela couldn’t help him, maybe there are surface doctors, real doctors, who can.”
“You are a real doctor.” Munda said weakly.
“Not enough of one for Fry, I’m afraid, but maybe someone else can help him.”
In her heart, however, Chastity knew there was no hope of that. She was nearly certain that the shock of yanking Leela out of his mind would be the last straw for him. Fry would finally lose the battle he had fought so hard to win. The redhead would never make it to the surface with the invaders; there wouldn’t be enough time for them to save him.
‘Professional, professional,’ she chanted the litany in her head as she reached for the Professor’s device, trying to steady herself with the knowledge that his death by her actions would be kinder than anything Nixon would offer.
She wondered sickly how she could break the news to Munda that they would have to get rid of Fry’s body at some point, thus protecting not just Leela, but the entire mutant population of Earth from enslavement.
Chastity spared one glance at his face, though she knew it would only make things harder. She needed to take that responsibility, knowing it would burden her for the rest of her days. Chastity wished she could ask Fry’s permission, or at least thank him for his selflessness. She knew already that he would be willing to make that sacrifice, though she didn’t really know him at all. His actions had brought him to her, and had revealed his character in the process.
‘You’re a hero, she whispered tenderly to him in her spirit, hoping that somehow his own spirit could hear it, ‘and we’ll never forget it.’
Chastity’s normally rock steady hands shook as she lifted the device. It was a violation of everything she believed. She would never be able to practice her healer’s skills again without experiencing this betrayal of her ethics. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, apologizing for not being able to save him, and for taking away his lifeline.
“Stop,” came the time-wearied voice. “Let me do that. It’s my invention, you know, at least, it is unless I forget it in a dream.” Professor Hubert Farnsworth stepped in and took the device from her numbed fingers. Did he realize what this would do to Fry? Chastity knew the two men were close.
“As his only living relative, this is my responsibility, my fortuitous responsibility, and I’m going to do it, so there!” He leaned over closer to the doctor and whispered, “Besides, there are a lot of genetic abnormalities around that will need a good doctor.”
She stared at him in astonishment, at his clarity of understanding. He chuckled manically, “I am a genius, you know, even though I am so very old.” He shooed her back away from the device with a warning. “I’m going to do this as gently as possible, although that’s not really my style, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this stopped hearts, including mine.”
Wordlessly, Chastity prepared Leela for CPR.
Munda, once again separated from her daughter, felt a chill go through her as the doctor approached Leela and not Fry, who was undoubtedly more fragile. Her head swam as she understood the reasoning, even as she fought to deny the conclusion. “Forgive us, Leela,” she whispered as tears flowed anew down her face.
An earth shattering crash sent debris falling everywhere as Robotic Nixon stormed into the building, right through the unresisting walls, knocking Bender across the room.
“This just in: we’re boned!” he called cheerfully as he flew by.
Leela was watching the delivery boy intently, but as interested as she was in this unprecedented glimpse into his head, her mind was not entirely focused on his halting words. She was intensely focused on her friend, but on his condition rather than the events that had shaped him. If it wasn’t obvious to Fry, it was obvious to Leela that his mental state was deteriorating.
Fry was disoriented and had begun occasionally slipping beneath the dark waters when he moved carelessly. Most alarming to the cyclops was his lack of reaction when this happened. He didn’t seem to notice or care when the water closed over his head, even after Leela hauled him out.
She herself felt dizzy and sick with worry for her friend. Fright gave way to a sudden burst of distraught frustration, and she pounded the unyielding rock with all her strength, startling the delivery boy out of his reverie.
“What are you doing?!” he demanded, panic in his voice. The cyclops cursed her own lack of control. If she didn’t calm Fry, he would sink into the water again. Fighting to control herself, she replied in a wavery voice, “I need to get us out of here, Fry. The water is rising.”
Suffocation loomed overhead as surely as the threat of drowning. The sealed cavern offered no hope of escape and the air was getting thick with carbon dioxide. ‘Either way we’re dead,’ she thought bleakly. Fry had that resigned look on his face again, like a lamb awaiting slaughter.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he murmured solemnly. “This was my choice, not yours.” Even the vacant-eyed delivery boy could not miss the smoldering glimmer of anger in her eye. Quickly he added, “I know. I know. ‘Together or not at all, Captain.” He tossed off an archaic salute, before adding sadly, “But if it turns out to be not at all, I’ll never forgive myself for letting you die with me. That’s not what heroes are supposed to do.”
Leela rolled her eye expressively. “Don’t worry about it, Fry. You’ll probably die first anyway. I can swim.”
The morbid gallows humour actually seemed to cheer the redhead slightly. “Mom was right. There is an upside to everything.”
“Exactly. You should always listen to your mother,” Leela said lightly, thinking of her own.
“Can’t anymore,” Fry sighed sadly, beginning to sink again. “Maybe I can listen to yours?” he asked hopefully.
Leela gave up any hope that Fry could stay above water on his own. Sliding next to him, the cyclops wound her arm around his waist, then, carefully bracing herself for balance, she let go of the rock face and slung the redhead’s weary arm over her shoulder.
“I’m sure it would thrill her.” She was rewarded with his faint smile.
After a few seconds, Fry let his head tip sideways to rest on hers. Leela relaxed against the friendly intimacy, shifting her head just slightly so that wet red hair wasn’t poking her in the eye. It was such a childlike position for him to be in, and feelings of protectiveness rose up in her again.
“You’re exhausted,” she whispered, though she was no less so.
“Leela?” he began softly after some time had passed.
“Where are we?”
The quiet question caught Leela’s attention. “Don’t you know?” she asked, keeping her voice level.
“No,” he replied blearily, eyes closed. “We’re in trouble though, aren’t we?”
“Yeah,” she replied, staring over the dark waters.
“I’m sorry.” Fry sounded so
“For what?” she asked, keeping her voice gentle, as though he were a small child looking for comfort.
His brow furrowed in confusion. “I don’t remember. Whatever I did to get us in trouble this time.”
Leela’s breath caught, but her voice remained steady, even though the effort cost her dearly. “It’s not your fault, Fry. You did everything right.”
The redhead frowned in uncertainty, “I did?”
“Yep,” Leela said firmly, not wanting him to doubt her sincerity.
“Oh… well, good then.” He leaned heavier against her, clinging to her now as the water splashed his chin.
Glad to have provided him with a little comfort, the cyclops closed her eye, shutting out the water and darkness as best she could. Leela breathed in and out, and listened to Fry’s breathing. She let his closeness comfort her as she rarely let it before. They were all each other had now, and there was no one to whisper or gossip.
Holding tight to Fry, Leela could not feel the tickle of the cold water as it climbed. More than that, the delivery boy seemed to possess a strange power in that moment. He was cloaking her own despair. She stood there, supporting him, and believed, truly believed, that everything was going to be all right.
A sound drew Leela from her reverie. Fry was humming, eyes closed, and fighting fear. The melody was nothing Leela had heard before, just a simple, childish tune. He seemed to get lost in his memories so easily now, as though he was fading away from the strange reality where they were trapped.
Her own fear intruded on them harshly as she stood on her toes to keep their faces out of the water. In response to her movement, Fry’s humming shifted into scattered words.
“…happy, when skies are grey,”
Leela called to him gently. “Fry?” But the redhead kept humming. She tried again. “What are you singing, Fry?”
His eyes remained closed for a minute, before fluttering open. “Oh, hi Leela. What are you doing here?” he smiled warmly at her.
“Taking care of you. What else would I be doing?” She tried to sound irritated; it made her feel strong, but her quavery voice betrayed her.
Fry didn’t seem to notice. “I dunno. Thanks though.” His eyes began to drift closed again, so she tried to catch his attention.
“What’s the song?” She squeezed him tighter.
“Hmm... oh, this? Nothing much. Just an old song. It’s been stuck in my head for, I dunno, seems like forever.”
For a moment, his eyes opened, and fear struck the cyclops. They were so lifeless. She had to keep him awake. “Sing it for me?”
“’Kay,” he agreed easily before beginning in an unsteady tenor, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never know, dear, how much I…” Fry looked at her, suddenly more alert, and stopped singing.
“Sweet tune,” Leela offered, feeling uncomfortable under the intensity of his gaze. At least he was looking at her.
“Yeah,” the redhead shrugged, before urgently saying, “This isn’t really the best time, but we’re running out of time. Leela, I want you to know…that you
are my sunshine.”
What a silly thing to say.
Emotion choked her. Denial of their fate mixed with fear and sorrow, and a desperate desire to hold Fry, to tell him it would be alright, that they would be alright. He was still looking at her. Leela tried to joke; it was all she could do.
“So you’ve been walking on me for all these years?” she blurted shakily, trying to force a smile.
Fry stared at her in confused alarm. “No, Leela, why would you say-?”
She launched into a song of her own, all she had ever heard of it. “I’m walking on sunshine, whoa-oh! And don’t it feel good!”
He stared at for a minute, then smiled sweetly.
The water level was nearly over Leela’s head, and Fry was losing his grip on reality. He was singing again, and looking at her. The resignation in his eyes tore at her, and she knew that at least some part of him understood that he was going to die.
Fry went abruptly limp and slipped from her grasp, beneath the surface. All of her grief and resignation flashed to panic. Leela pulled him up, but she was losing purchase fast. Soon, she would no longer be able to protect him. Her feet could no longer touch bottom and the cyclops desperately tried to tread water enough to support both of them.
“You make me happy, when skies are grey. You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine-” and he was under again.
She didn’t have the strength to lift his head out of the cold water that had sapped her energy. Soon, she would not be able to fight anymore either. A calmness took her. A moment of decision. Fry had made the choice for her, and the least she could do…
Leela plunged beneath the dark waters and pushed Fry up until she touched bottom. Then, she waited for death to take her, knowing it was hopeless; he would die soon after. There was nothing else.
She thought of her parents, her friends, her life. She was sorry it would end like this, without a word of goodbye, but Leela could not leave Fry to die alone. She was a captain, and he was her crewmate, more than that, he was her friend. He was Fry.
Leela’s lungs heaved involuntarily, trying to suck in air, and after a few seconds, she could no longer control the need to breathe. As she sucked in nothing but black water, she clutched at Fry’s legs. Reaching up, she gave his hand one last squeeze. I love you and goodbye. You were my sunshine too, Fry.
She tried not to thrash as her fragile lungs shuddered, expelling water only to drag more in. Senses deserted her, and all she could feel was Fry’s hand, until she could no longer feel at all. Thought stayed longest, and she saw him, smiling at her, calling her sunshine. And then, there was only light.
So... I hope you like cliffies...