Futurama: The Hero of Bot-any.

This is a fanfic set after the events of my last one, 'The Real Decoy', but not directly related to it except that Leela and Fry are now a couple.

Now I kicked around the idea of doing a Futurama/Firefly crossover, but I abandoned it due to the large number of bright colourful characters involved which would have been a monumental headache what with giving each of them enough page time and such. So instead I have opted to do a homage to Firefly by adapting a portion of this story to the brilliant episode 'Jaynestown'… Fans of the show will recognise the scenes I've borrowed. All credit to Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy and the team behind Firefly – arguably one of the most emotive and incredible sci-fi TV shows in history.

Also, obvious credit to The Curiosity Company for Futurama.

CAPTION: 'Not affiliated with the animated comedy series of the same name'.

SEVEN YEARS AGO (i.e.: the future, 2998AD)

An incandescent laser bolt lanced through the bleak smoky sky, narrowly missing the two figures that ran across the warehouse roof. The lead figure was a silver bending unit, its cylindrical body catching glints of feeble sunlight through the thick smog. In its mechanical claw-like hands it held a large heavy steel box. The second figure was a shaggy-haired human who was wheezing.

"Where'd you park it, Bender?" the human puffed. "They're getting closer!"

As he spoke, a squad of armed hoverbot death-troopers floated into view over the warehouse roof and moved in pursuit of the two targets.

"Shut your damn food hole, Gareth," Bender snapped, hefting the box onto his shoulder. "I got this heist all worked out." As he spoke, a barrage of laser bolts burnt into the roof sheeting at their feet, spurring them on faster.

"I suppose rousing the guards was part of the plan?" Gareth snapped angrily.

Bender didn't respond. He skidded to a halt beside a derelict air vent. Sitting hidden in the lee of the vent was a Scooty-Puff Senior rocket bike. Bender quickly strapped the heavy box to the side and hopped on, Gareth climbing up beside him. With a roar of engine exhaust, the rocket bike lurched up into the smoky sky and began winging away from the guard robots.

"So long, jerkwads!" Bender bellowed.

"Yee-ha!" Gareth shouted. "We did it!"

"Yeah, we sure… oh CRAP!" A hail of laser beams and searing railgun pellets suddenly filled the air around them as the death-troopers opened up with all their weapons. Bender began to weave to avoid the onslaught, but a lucky shot buried into the rear of the rocket bike, lancing into the engine coils.

The Scooty-Puff Senior coughed a great plume of black smoke and began to lose altitude, dipping down toward the factories below.

"Oh hell – we're losin' power!" Bender shouted, struggling with the controls. "We're too damn heavy now!"

"Can you find a place to put down?" Gareth asked frantically.

"We put down on this rock we'll have the Supervisor's men all over us like rats on a human corpse," the robot said. "Which reminds me…" Bender swivelled at the waist to face Gareth and planted a hand on the human's chest.

"What are you doing?" Gareth said, eyes wide.

"This is for the greater good, meatbag," Bender said. "My greater good." With that he shoved the human off the rocket bike to tumble head-over-heel, screaming to the ground far below.

With the loss of weight, the rocket bike was able to gain a little more altitude, but still not enough to break atmosphere. Bender swore to himself as he watched the fuel level drop – the damaged engine was burning too rich and if he didn't escape the planet's gravitational pull soon then he'd never get off.

Behind him, two sleek shapes rose up from amid the factories and warehouses. A pair of interceptors making a beeline for him.

"Oh damn it all," he said, finally coming to a decision. He unstrapped the heavy steel box from the side of the bike and, with a longing look at it, hurled it over the side. The final jettison gave him enough lift to reach escape velocity, and with regret he soared into the sky.

Far below, dozens of pairs of optical sensors watched the robot become a dot and then disappear completely.

PRESENT DAY (i.e.: still the future, 3005AD)

"Good news everyone!"

The ancient, senile old Professor ambled gradually into the Planet Express meeting room and lowered himself into a chair with a creaking sound. He sat and stared through his inch-thick glasses as the assembled employees stared back at him expectantly.

After a long while, the purple-haired Cyclops sitting across from him cleared her throat. "Are you going to tell us?" she asked patiently.

"Hu-whaa?" The Professor broke out of his daydream. "Tell you what?"

"Tell us the good news!" Fry said, exasperated. Leela put a calming hand on his knee beneath the table and rolled her eye. The space Captain and the delivery boy were seated next to each other. Amy, Hermes, and Zoidberg occupied the rest of the table. The only one absent was the robot.

"I didn't say anything about any good news," the Professor snapped. "Now enough lip-flapping – I have good news!"

The crew groaned.

Professor Farnsworth activated the hologram projector at the centre of the round table and the three-dimensional image of a rust-coloured planet appeared in the air.

"This is Port Botany," a computerized voice said.

"This is Port Botany," the Professor added.

"Spluh!" Amy grunted, the Martian engineering intern toying absently with the sleeve of her pink tracksuit.

"Port Botany," Farnsworth went on, "is a heavy industrial planet close to the galaxy's outer rim. The entire surface is covered by factories, and the entire workforce is comprised of indentured robot slaves."

"Slaves?" Leela looked disgusted.

"Sex slaves?" Scruffy asked, poking his head through the door. The crew looked around at the rarely-seen janitor in unrecognition and so he promptly disappeared again.

"Oh my, no, not slaves," the Professor replied. "Anyhow, the slave labour on Port Botany is highly proficient at producing top-quality technical components of all manner for a fraction of the normal price."

"I have heard of dis place," Hermes the Jamaican bureaucrat chipped in. "Da Democratic Order O' Planets put a trade embargo on it 'cause da cheap high-grade components was pushin' down da' market price and makin' some of da DOOP's own industrial interests lose money."

"Yes, this mysterious Rastafarian stranger is right," Farnsworth said. "Port Botany is forbidden to export any hardware off-world. A permanent blockade has been in place around the planet for more than a year, and consequently the slave population is starving – they have received no money to pay for their basic alcohol requirements as the factories aren't running."

"That's terrible," Leela said. "What are the authorities doing about the humanitarian situation?"

"It's a robotitarian situation actually," Hermes said helpfully. "And the authorities could give even less of a mutant rat's ass than I do. The point of order here is that we have an opportunity to rake-in a little karma by helping the inhabitants of Port Botany make a little scratch, while also and more importantly pulling in a profit for ourselves."

"Wait… we're gonna scratch some karma for profit…" Fry furrowed his brow in an attempt to understand.

"He's talking about smuggling," Leela explained, a pained look on her face. "We're to buy goods from the impoverished slaves of Port Botany for a pittance and ship them out past the DOOP blockade so we can then sell them for profit. In doing so we'd be perpetuating a cycle of third-world deprivation, but in immediate terms be helping the workers survive… I suppose it's the lesser of two evils."

"Yet nobody seems interested in helping ZOIDBERG survive!" the Decapodian physician declared mournfully, slumping to the table and covering his head with his claws. "I'm soooo hungry!"

The others ignored him.

"But…" Amy Wong sat up and looked around the table. "Ta ma de! We're not smugglers… we're just a package delivery company. This is illegal!"

"Illegal?" the Professor laughed. "Oh heavens no, it isn't illegal – it's merely against the law. And since we've not had a profitable delivery job ever since that Xylogen fiasco, I – by which I mean you - are forced to undertake such a venture if we want to keep our proverbial heads above proverbial water. Now, I've had whatshisname here…" he gestured vaguely at Hermes, "program the coordinates into the ship. You're to sneak onto the surface and meet with a labour leader – a man named Vassiliev who will help broker the deal beneath the heads of both the planet's supervisor and the DOOP overseers."

Hermes consulted his clipboard and then slid a plastic envelope across the table to Leela. "The money for the shipment," he explained. "Keep it away from Bender, whenever the mechanical monstrosity decides to show himself. Also, you're to take Amy with you so she can verify the hardware you're buying."

"Yay, a smuggling run," Amy said uncertainly. "Something for my CV…"

Hermes glanced at Fry who was trying to look important and professional. "Since this is a pickup, I don't see that we'll really need a delivery boy…" Hermes cringed when a heavy boot slammed into his shin. "Ugh," he consulted his clipboard again, "unless the Captain has any specific need to have a simple-minded layabout on board."

"She does," Leela replied firmly, an a tone that told everyone present that it was not a debatable matter.

Fry grinned widely. "Alright!" he said. "Let's be bad guys!"

"Yes," the Professor seconded. "Off you go!"

Bender strutted out of the NNY branch of Mom's Old-Fashioned Robot Company feeling happier than he had in weeks. It had taken much longer than he would have liked to find a replacement body for a bending unit after his beloved chassis was completely destroyed by a Xylogen boarding party during the PE crew's last disasterous mission. During the intervening time he had been forced to make use of a skinny and pitiful robot chassis that made him look like an anorexic transvestibot.

But now he was back, baby. Head firmly mounted on an original bending unit body. It had cost a small fortune to get the older design built for a one-off, but he wouldn't have been satisfied with anything else.

As he took the midtown tube-line to Planet Express he sung brokenly to himself, an old 'Talking Heads' song that Fry had taught him, but substituting the words "take me to the river" with "Ben-der is a legend". The towering ziggurats of New New York zipped past the transparent tube and for the time being, the robot looked on the city with slightly less contempt.

When he arrived at Planet Express he entered the hangar area to find the crew bust prepping the ship.

"Look who's got his shiny metal ass back!" Bender bellowed.

Fry, Leela, and the others looked over and cheered, gathering around to inspect the new hardware.

"Oh Bender, you look better than ever!" Amy said, giving him an affectionate pat on the Shiny Metal Ass.

"Yeah man, I bet you feel a whole lot better now," Fry said.

"I'll take that bet," Bender replied. "Guys, it means so much to me you pitching in for this. I can't repay you every cent, but I can give you a little something…" He produced a wad of bills from his new chest compartment and handed the money around.

"Bender, where'd you get this?" Leela asked, a little dumbfounded by his generosity.

"I sold that skinny body the DOOP gave me," the robot replied cheerfully. "Told some sap that Elton John's head used to use it for transport. Hah-hah!"

"That's very thoughtful of you."

"Ah, it's the least I could do. Actually the least I could do is nothing, so consider yourselves in my good graces. Now, we got a job?"

"Something right up your alley," Leela said with a smile. "We're smuggling."

"Oooh-hoo-hoo!" Bender chuckled wickedly and steeped his new metal fingers. "Excellent!"

Thirty minutes later the little green Planet Express freighter was blasting its way out of Earth orbit and lining up a trajectory for the Galaxy's outer rim. Leela opened up the dark matter engines and the little blue planet quickly receded to a star behind them, and then disappeared entirely.

"How hard d'you think it's gonna be to slip past the DOOP?" Fry asked as he watched starfields drift past outside.

"Probably not hard at all," Leela muttered. "Considering their calibre of enlisted officers…"

"Hey!" Amy looked up angrily from the engineering console.

"…Except Kif," Leela added.

"Ooooh," Amy brightened. "Do you think the Nimbus will be part of the blockade?"

Fry and Leela exchanged glances. The last meeting they'd had with Zapp Brannigan had ended with Fry's fist becoming closely acquainted with the Captain's jaw. Zapp had been put in his place at the time, but it was doubtful his shock would outlast his desire for revenge.

"Amy," Leela said slowly. "I want to make this perfectly clear – we're flying under the radar for this mission. If we reveal ourselves, the mission is over and we go home empty-handed. I do not want a repeat of that other time you 'needed' to see Kif."

"Yes Captain," Amy sulked.

"Because we'll drop you right back on Mars."

"I said yes! Qin wode pigu!"

Leela looked at Amy for a long moment, and her face softened. The young woman's love was a million miles away – so how could Leela judge when her own was with her all the time?

"When we get back from this run, I'll make Hermes give you time off to pay Kif a visit," Leela said finally, and Amy raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Really?"

"Sure."

"Ooooh! I love my Captain!" Amy cried, jumping up to give Leela a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I'm gonna go check to see how the new reactor is fairing."

The girl hurried out, leaving Fry and Leela alone on the bridge. The anachronistic delivery boy was grinning at the Captain and Leela smirked back at him.

"You think I'm going soft?" she asked.

"Oh, no," Fry grunted. "I just couldn't help noticing Amy kiss you. That's a sight a guy could get used to."

"Mmm, I'm sure it is," Leela replied indulgently, moving her eye back to the instruments. "It's also a sight a guy won't get used to."

"Oh-kay, just testing that pond." He sidled over to her. "Woe is me. I guess I'll just have to kiss you myself." He leaned close and kissed her neck softly.

Leela made a small cooing noise and closed her eye, relaxing.

"Fry…?" she murmured.

"Uh huh?" he was still kissing her neck, with one hand gently trailing through her hair.

"We really should… not be doing this while I have the helm," she said, gently and reluctantly pushing him away. "It's unprofessional and potentially dangerous. You and I are something much more now, but I'm still the Captain and…"

"It's cool," Fry nodded his understanding. "Guess I'll just, uh… restrain myself."

Leela smiled. "I take my break in six hours," she said silkily.

Fry looked pleased, and was about to comment when the bridge door slid open and Bender came clumping in, whistling to himself. The robot saw Fry and Leela in close proximity and emitted an electronic chuckle.

"'Ello 'ello 'ello! Wot have we 'ere then?" he quipped. "Seems you might be trying to handle too many gearsticks at once there, big-boots. Careful you don't put us into the side of a moon."

"No, no, we're being… what did you call it?" Fry looked at Leela.

"Professional," she said.

"That what they're calling it these days?" Bender slumped into a free chair. "So where are we headed anyway?" he asked.

"A trade-embargoed planet called Port Botany," Leela replied. "We're going to…"

"WHERE?!"

Leela and Fry looked up in alarm. Bender had lurched up off the chair and now stood in what they knew to be his surprised pose. His optical sensors were fully dilated.

"Port Botany," Leela repeated, narrowing one side of her eye in a quizzical half-squint. "Are you okay Bender?"

Bender paused for a long moment before responding. "Sure…" he said slowly. "Not a thing wrong with old Bender. You won't be needing me for anything on this job though, right? I mean… I can just stay aboard the ship?"

"We'll need you to help transport the shipment," Leela said, growing irritated. "Bender if you have a problem then you'd best explain what it is."

"Nope, no problem," Bender said hurriedly, fidgeting in a distinctly un-robot-like manner. "I'm gonna go get ready." With that, he quickly marched back out of the bridge.

Fry and Leela stared after him.

"What was that about?" Fry wondered.

"I don't know," Leela replied. "But whatever it is, I don't want it to compromise this mission. We're going to be skirting the edge of a very high precipice on this one, and I don't want any complications. You should talk to him."

"Yeah." Fry nodded agreement and went back to looking at the stars.

"I meant now."

"Oh, right."

Bender was wearing Leela's green jacket and a spare pair of Fry's jeans, and he was busy trying to prise open the ship's armoury locker when Fry found him.

"Help me get this open, meatbag," Bender said, motioning for Fry to help him.

"Bender, what are you doing?" Fry looked at his friend in bewilderment.

"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm stocking up on some protection."

"But… you're wearing Leela's coat… and my pants."

Bender looked down at the apparel stretched on his cylindrical chassis.

"Oh, well…" he searched his data banks for inspiration. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… you guys are so stylin' that I… err… want to be like you," he finished lamely. "Now is there a key to this thing?"

"You're scared of something on that planet, right?" Fry said.

"Me? Scared? Never!" Bender folded his arms and laughed.

"You're trying to disguise yourself and load up on guns."

"I'm terrified."

"Why?" Bender hesitated and Fry put an hand on his shoulder joint. "You can tell me, man. I'm your friend."

"Well…" Bender looked to the left and right. "I never told you this before Fry, because I didn't want you to think less of me, but the truth is… I'm a criminal."

Fry stared at Bender for several long moments, blinked a few times, and then nodded slowly as he tried to keep a serious expression and restrain the riotous fit of laughter that was struggling to burst fourth.

"I see," he said carefully.

"I was working on Port Botany a few years before you came out of the freezer," Bender went on. "Only as a cover for the heist I was planning… but things went pear-shaped and you could say I made me some enemies there."

"That was a long time ago," Fry reasoned. "How do you know anyone even remembers?"

"The planet supervisor ain't the kinda skintube who forgets when people make a fool of him." Bender leaned close to Fry and lowered his voice. "One guy he caught skimming from the manufacturing fund ended up getting lowered into a vat of acid feet-first… and slowly."

Fry chuckled. "I saw that in a movie once," he said. Bender narrowed his eye units, and Fry sobered. "Okay, okay, there's some history. But we're not going through the supervisor, so all you need to do is keep a low profile. If you don't draw any attention then we can be in and out and nobody will know you were there."

"Well okay," Bender said, sounding unconvinced.

"And no guns," Fry added. "We're not out to start a war with those people. I'm sure they're already skittish enough with the DOOP breathing down their necks."

"Ugh. Fine." Bender turned away and started off toward the kitchenette.

"Hey Bender," Fry called after him with a grin, and the robot turned. "A criminal? Really? You?"

"Bite my shiny metal ass, Fry."

At the edge of the galaxy, on a murky brown world, in the bowels of an industrial metropolis, inside a very small cell, sat a dirty longhaired man with a shaggy beard.

Gareth was missing his right eye, and his left leg sat at an awkward angle where the bone had set crookedly. The years of incarceration had left him wizened and hallow, but even so there was still a feverish glow of energy in his remaining eye as he scratched on the floor with his square of chalk.

Scrawled across every bare surface in the tiny room – the floor, walls, and ceiling – and accompanied by rudimentary drawing of a robot in various states of demolition, were three words repeated over and over.

Bender must die.

The voyage proceeded as normal. Bender appeared to overcome his earlier panic, taking shifts on the bridge and debating with the ship's autopilot at great length. Even so, the others were still able to discern a level of unease in his manner.

Amy was heading up to the bridge to check on Bender and see if he needed anything when she nearly bumped into Fry as he emerged from Leela's quarters. The Chinese girl's mouth dropped open when she took in the delivery boy's appearance – his orange hair was mussed and his clothing askew… the white T-shirt actually seemed to be inside-out. It couldn't possibly be what it looked like… could it?

Fry's eyes widened in surprise when he saw her, and he stammered something inaudible.

"Fry?" Amy looked baffled. "What were you doing in Leela's cabin? You weren't… going through her 'things', were you?"

"What? No!" Fry looked insulted. "You think I'm some kind of pervert?"

"Well…"

Just then the door to the Captain's cabin slid open, and Leela leaned out, holding Fry's red jacket and totally naked.

"Fry, you left your…" She stopped when she saw Amy, and pulled the jacket back to cover her bare body, blushing profusely.

Amy's eyes boggled as she looked back and fourth between her two friends.

"You guys are…?"

Fry nodded.

"Since when?"

"The Xylogen mission," Leela answered. "We didn't want to announce it to everyone right away; office romances are so scandalous – you know what Zoidberg's like when he gets a juicy piece of gossip… when he gets a juicy piece of anything really. You're not mad, are you?"

"Fluh! Of course not!" Amy said, clapping her hands. "Bèndàn! We've all been waiting for you two to finally get together! I'm so happy for you both." Amy swept forward and collected Fry and Leela into a big embrace, despite Leela's unclothed state.

"She's been in a hugging mood lately," Fry observed.

Amy pulled away and grinned, hoping the slight pang of illogical jealousy she felt wasn't showing on her face.

"Leela, you and me gotta have some girl talk later," she said. "I want all the naughty details too."

"Haha, okay," Leela smiled nervously and handed Fry his jacket. "I'm going to get dressed now."

Brown-stained cirrus and cumulous clouds spread out across the grimy atmosphere of Port Botany far below the small flotilla of DOOP warships in high orbit. It was a junk assignment, boring and uneventful – the crews of the vessels had been sitting around doing nothing for months. And an itching desire to blast the living crap out of something had emerged.

When a small contact appeared at the edge of sensor range, they clamoured to intercept it.

Leela, having resumed her place in the Captain's chair, noted the probing fingers of long-range subspace radar with stoicism.

"Amy, shut down all non-essential systems," she said calmly. "Bender – launch the cry-baby."

"And I'll get you your coffee, Ma'am!" Fry said, sounding determined and militaristic.

As Amy shut down all onboard energy-emitting processes to render the Planet Express ship as silent as possible, Bender dialled up the number 1 torpedo tube and fired it. But it wasn't a torpedo that leapt from the tube and blasted away on a stream of ion propulsion – the 'cry-baby' was a jerry-rigged transmitter apparatus designed to broadcast on all frequencies a pre-recorded distress call.

With a deft twitch of its thruster, the cry-baby altered course toward Galactic South, peeling away from the PE ship's course. When it had travelled four thousand kilometres it began crying.

Aboard the lead DOOP vessel 'Corinthian', a communications alert kicked up, and an ensign looked to the Captain in alarm.

"Sir, we've got a heavy transport at the edge of the system carrying fourteen-thousand souls," the kid said. "They say they have a hull breech and request immediate assistance."

The Captain nodded. "Must have been what we picked up," he said. "Set course."

As the battle group sped toward the phantom signal, the PE ship drifted silently above them in the opposite direction.

In the PE ship's command chair, Leela smiled grimly to herself. "Seeya later, boys," she said smugly, watching the warships recede from the scope as she approached the planet unobstructed.

Sonic booms rippled out from the PE ship as it dived in low through the murky atmosphere and levelled out to skim across a dirty ocean to avoid radar. The nose of the little green freighter still glowed red from re-entry, and it kicked up a wake of steam when the ship flew through a light rainstorm.

Leela checked their trajectory and noted with satisfaction that they were on-track to the coordinates listed in the ship's guidance system.

"So this'll be quick, right?" Bender asked. "In and out, no hanging around?"

Leela looked over at the robot – he was dressed in Fry's pants, her jacket, and had found one of the old yellow 'Awesome Express' caps to pull down low across his eyes.

"No, Bender," she said. "We're not going through official channels so it will take time to arrange the meeting and cargo transfer. Until then we'll keep a low profile."

Bender muttered to himself and did up the jacket.

A coastline swam into focus ahead, looming out of the murk. It wasn't the kind of coastline one was used to seeing – this one was a sheer cliff of factory walls and heavy machinery. There was no beach – just an intricate tangle of pipes and cables. Leela slowed the ship and cruised toward the towering sprawl on candlepower. They flew into an open trench between factories and lowered altitude gradually as cranes and storage tanks whipped past on either side. Finally, Leela dropped into a hovering pattern over the top of an abandoned roofless structure, and gently eased the PE ship down into the open space below, toggling the landing gear down.

After landing, the ship's engine powered down with a descending-pitch whine, and presently the four crew-members emerged down the landing stair. The air smelt of iron filings and ozone, and it was deathly cold.

"Kluh!" Amy complained, rubbing her hands together. "The Professor certainly chose a cold smelly planet for us to pilfer."

"We're not pilfering," Leela said as she drew a box out from a compartment at the bottom of the stairs. "We're just taking advantage of third-world desperation. Now let's get this camouflage netting up to make sure the ship isn't spotted by airborne patrols." She unrolled an expansive sheet of olive mesh that they all helped to loop over the ship's fuselage and spread out. From the air, the vessel became an indistinct blob of drabness that melted into the dreary industrial landscape.

Task complete, Leela activated the ship's remote central locking and the four of them made their way out of the ruined warehouse onto a main road.

Amy looked at Bender oddly. Though it was true some vain robots took a liking to clothes for the sake of fashion (there could be no other reason), Bender had never been know to indulge.

"So what's with the outfit, Bender?" she asked conversationally. "Trying to avoid getting your new body scratched?"

"Yeah, sure, that must be it," Bender muttered, glancing around nervously. "But while we're on the surface I'd like you to refer to me as 'Caleb' at all times… no, no, better yet – 'Damien'."

"Bender's got enemies on this planet," Fry explained. "He's frightened someone will recognise him."

Leela gaped in mock astonishment. "Enemies?" she exclaimed. "Surely not our beloved Bender?!"

"Did I not just make a clear and simple statement regarding the use of my real name?" Bender snapped angrily. "I'm glad you skintubes think my imminent demise is so hilarious."

"It always is, buddy," Fry said, clapping him on the back.

Bender was about to snap off an insult when suddenly a towering factory robot wheeled out into their path and glared down at them with incandescent eyes.

"You people aren't supposed to be here," it said. "Who are you?"

"Wh… who are we?" Fry stammered, stepping forward hesitantly as he thought hard. "Well uhh…" He raised his index finger. "Ask not who we are – ask instead who YOU are. Because to know one's self is to be truly wise, and it is the wise man who…"

"SILENCE!" the factory 'droid commanded, lifting a massive steel claw threateningly. "I know who I am. YOU, I do not – section 36 dash 'A' of manufacturing prefecture five-hundred and seventy-two is off-limits to any unauthorized personnel. State your identity and business!"

Fry stared blankly. "We're Jehovah's Witnesses," he said after a long pause. "We're here to talk to you about God."

Bender leaned close to the two women and muttered sarcastically: "Who is this master of subterfuge and what has he done with our Fry?"

"Which God?" the factory robot demanded, folding its gargantuan manipulator arms.

"The God with the best quality and lowest prices guaranteed!" Fry answered with gusto, pumping his fist. "If another God offers you a better deal – we'll beat it by ten percent!"

Leela closed her eye despairingly. "Oh sweet Jesus," she murmured.

"We're also bug exterminators," Fry said, on a roll now. "We've been hired to perform a pest inspection to make sure the cockroaches aren't developing weapons of mass-destruction."

"Welllll…." the large robot rubbed its chin thoughtfully. "There WERE some bugs down in the lower levels got caught stealing Plutonium." It thought for a moment longer. "All right then, you may pass. Just don't cause any trouble!"

"No, sir." Fry grinned at the others as they moved past the gargantuan mechanoid. "So am I smooth or what?"

"Smooth like a gravel milkshake," Leela replied with a smirk. "Luckily production-line models like that don't have much use for high-grade AI. Now come on, let's get to the town square so we can put out the word to Vassiliev."

"And then get the hell off this damn rock," Bender added, pulling his cap down lower.

They continued along the tarmac strip for a few hundred feet further before the road opened out into a wide common. Various stalls and storefronts lined the sides and pipes crisscrossed the sky above. The area was virtually deserted except for a few robot vagrants rusting in the gutters. The four Planet Express crew came to a dead stop when they saw the object that took up the centre of the square.

"Gan ni niang!" Amy exclaimed, grateful (not for the first time) that her friends couldn't understand Chinese.

"What… what is this?" Leela stared wide-eyed at the spectacle.

"That's…" Fry searched for an appropriate word, and decided on: "…disturbing."

In the middle of the dusty common, standing on a stone plinth and reaching ten feet in height, was a statue. It was roughly-hewn from sections of scrap metal, but had been crafted with obvious care – the welds were clean and even, and it had been kept clean. A number of candles and floral wreaths had been laid at the statue's feet, where a name had been spelled out in bronzed letters.

It read: Bender B. Rodriguez.

It was a ten foot high statue of Bender, cast in a heroic pose with his fist raised toward the heavens.

"Sweet motherboard!" Bender muttered in quiet incredulity.

"Bender?" Fry said slowly.

"Yeah?"

"You wanna maybe try explaining this?"

"I got no answer," Bender said, shaking his head. "It don't make no kind of sense. You know I love forcing people to build statues of me – but I don't know anything about this one…"

Amy leaned from side to side as she looked up at the statue. "It's weird," she said. "Wherever I go, his eyes seem to follow me."

"Okay," Leela said, glancing around. "Obviously Bender made a bigger impression on this world than he thought. We should get out of the open and into someplace dark." She spotted a hole-in-the-wall bar at the other side of the square and motioned for the others to follow her toward it.

Fry remained for a moment, looking up at the looming statue with a sense of bewilderment and quiet dread. "Creepy," he muttered, before turning and following the others.

In the planetary space around Port Botany, the flotilla of DOOP warships had fallen into a search pattern after discovering the cry-baby unit broadcasting the fake signal. A state of yellow alert had been issued, and it had become apparent that someone or something was playing them for fools.

The Captain of the Corinthian had been forced to report the incident to DOOP command, and had been given the unwelcome news that the Order's flagship was being dispatched to investigate.

The Nimbus. Captain Zapp Brannigan. The most highly-decorated village idiot in the history of the galaxy, with the possible exception of Supreme Chancellor Dwight the Drunken from the planet Urinal V in the Pungent system.

As promised, the Nimbus emerged from lightspeed and fell into orbit around Port Botany. The massive white-flanked starship dwarfing even the Corinthian.

A wide-beam communication was sent out to all the other DOOP ships, and on their main screens the smug, superior smirk of Zapp Brannigan appeared, larger than life.

"Put away your knitting, ladies," Zapp said with a derisive chuckle. "It's time for a man to take over… the knitting… to knit… a tapestry of – competence… and justice."

Brannigan deactivated the comm. link and swivelled in his chair, giving the Nimbus's bridge crew an unwanted view up his regulation skirt. He faced his Lieutenant, the green alien Kif Kroker.

"Kif, my disgusting reptilian underling," he said, "what we have here is an attempt by outside agencies to engage in trade with a subjugated and dying world – it sickens me!"

"Shall I get the bucket, sir?" Kif muttered.

"Not now, Kif. First I pose you a question – if a vessel were trying to get to the surface of Port Botany, where would it head first?"

Kif blinked two pairs of eyelids and stared at his hated commander. "Is that a trick question, sir?"

"I don't play tricks, Kif – I live them."

Kif sighed at that nonsensical comment and answered: "I would say a vessel trying to get to the planet's surface would logically head toward the planet's surface."

"Exactly!" Zapp rubbed his chin. "It seems you aren't quite as stupid as the rest of your hideous species. Keep exercising logic like that and you'll be on the fast-track to Lieutenant."

Kif groaned and buried his head in his hands as Zapp swung back to the forward viewscreen.

"Helmsman!" he called. "Bring us into the atmosphere and begin… some kind of scanning thing – find me the ship that got through the blockade! I want those smugglers served up to me on a platter with some flat bread and an assortment of cheese… and olives… and maybe some sliced salami. Kif – make my lunch!"

Fry, Leela, and Amy were the only humans in the establishment. They were the only organic lifeforms for that matter, and their entrance cause a lot of the robot drinkers to look up in suspicion.

"Hi!" Amy said brightly, waving at the small gathering of slave-bots. There was no response, just baleful stares from cracked and faded optical sensors.

"Just watch it with that cheerful bimbo crap," Bender whispered in her ear. "These folk view flesh-piles like you three as representatives of the system that oppresses them – so get real meek real fast or you'll soon find out what the inside of a meat-grinder looks like."

Amy swallowed hard and followed the others, making sure to keep her eyes downcast. The four friends slid into a dusty booth, with Bender pressing himself into the shadows against the wall.

"Well this is cosy," Fry said, draping his arm around Leela's shoulders. "Maybe Bender can use his local fame to scrounge us up some free drinks?"

"No way!" Bender hissed. "And stop saying my name out loud, bone-bag! You wanna bring this whole planet down on our heads?"

"We don't want a lot of attention, good or bad," Leela seconded, leaning against Fry and resting her head on his shoulder. Amy looked away, suddenly uncomfortable but unable to understand why.

In the distance a siren howled, signalling the end of a shift at whatever factories were still operating under the trade embargo. At length, the battered multi-limbed bartender wheeled over to them and spoke in a deliberately put-upon manner. "What'll it be?"

"Tankard of juice," Bender said instantly. The others glanced at him in puzzlement.

"Do you have any, uhh… human food?" Amy asked.

"Vending machine in the back," the bartender replied gruffly. "If you want anything more you can go back to the corporate district where you belong, human."

With that, he wheeled away.

"Friendly fella," Fry observed.

When the android returned with a jug of dark liquid and four mugs, Leela reached out and caught one of his arms.

"Please," she said. "We're looking for someone named Vassiliev. I wonder if you can help us get in contact with him?"

The bartender stared at the cyclops for a long moment, and then glanced around the dim interior. "You with the DOOP?" he asked suspiciously.

Leela shook her head. "We're a private company," she said. "We have a ship on the surface and we're looking to take on cargo."

The robot measured her up for a few moments longer before coming to a decision. He nodded once. "I'll put out the word," he said, and then moved away.

"Spluh!" Amy spat. "Anyone would think we were buying drugs!"

"Drugs would be fine," Leela replied, settling comfortably back against Fry. "Drugs don't chip into the profits of the DOOP and the big Multi-Planetary companies that finance and supply them… that is, until DOOP starts dealing drugs themselves." A note of disgust entered her voice as she spoke about the amoral interstellar economics.

"That's right," Bender said. "Could be little fluffy teddy-bears – if it snatches profit from the big boys they'll just make it illegal. Smart people, I like their style."

"Bender, these robots – your people – are suffering," Fry said, frowning at the robot. "Don't you care?"

"Ahh, people always suffer. That's life. You take what you get handed and make whatever you can of it."

The four of them lapsed into a moody silence as a large group of robots entered the establishment after finishing their shift. Their state of disrepair was obvious – mismatched replacement limbs, pop-riveted plates covering rust holes in their casing. Maintenance clearly wasn't a high priority.

Bender drank a few mugs of the 'juice'. Fry tried some and nearly choked.

"Yeah, I wouldn't recommend it," Bender said, watching the delivery boy gasp for breath as his throat burnt. "It's fifty percent alcohol, forty-nine percent lubricant oil, and one percent more alcohol."

Fry coughed and spluttered and Leela patted his back.

"You could have warned him," she told Bender angrily.

"Yeah, I could have… sure…" Bender said with a chuckle.

A note suddenly rang out across the room, and the PE crew looked up; a skinny green sorting robot had climbed onto a rudimentary stage and was strumming a five-stringed guitar. As the first notes of a song rang out, the gathering of workers erupted into cheering.

"Bennnnnder!" the guitarist sang, and Bender froze with the mug halfway to his mouth.

"Bender… Bender the people's defender,

He never gave up, never lay down – never did surrender!

When the man with the coin brought his big boot down,

On the broken, wasted masses…

He stood his ground, and shouted loud:

BITE OUR SHINY METAL ASSES!"

The crew looked around in surprise as the whole bar shouted the line in unison, with righteous passion. Bender seemed to shrink into his seat.

"Our Bender saw the robots' backs breakin',

He saw the robots lament.

And he saw the supervisor takin',

Every dollar and ev-er-y cent.

So he said: 'you can't do that to my people!'

Said: 'you can't crush us under-your-heel!'

So he lit his cigar,

And in five seconds flat,

Stole everything the bastard had to steal!"

Fry, Leela, and Amy stared hard at their robot friend, and he shrugged helplessly as the song continued.

"Now here is what separates heroes,

From common folk like you and I:

The 'bot they call Bender,

He turned 'round his plane,

And let that money hit sky.

He dropped it onto our houses,

He dropped it into our yards.

The 'bot they called Bender,

Gave us that legal tender,

And headed out for the stars!"

The singer lurched back into the first verse, and Bender groaned and slumped forward, banging his face on the table.

"Oh crap on a circuit-board!" he growled. "Now it all makes sense!"

"Yeh-soo, ta ma duh…!" Amy rapped her knuckles on Bender's cranial casing. "What? What is it all about?"

The bar-room crowd finished the song with another hearty shout of "BITE OUR SHINY METAL ASSES," and Bender leaned in close to the others to explain.

"When I was here seven years ago I pulled a job on the planet supervisor," he whispered. "The guy's personal takings for a year – had to be at least twenty million in untraceable bullion. But on my way out I got hit by anti-aircraft fire and I was going down – I needed to shed some weight or I'd be a smear on the ground or a chump in a cell, so I had to toss the strong box. Damn it!" He punched the table savagely.

"It must have fallen here," he went on. "Probably let these people live it up for a few years… can you imagine? The things I could have done with that money…"

"Well Bender," Leela put her hand on his. "For what it's worth, you inadvertently did a good deed."

"Don't rub it in!"

Across the room, a small child robot was watching the group of strangers in the corner booth. The little unit fixed on the robot that was talking with the three fleshies. He narrowed his eyes and quietly rushed out of the bar.

"It's like looking for a haystack in a king-sized bed full of needles," Zapp said, gazing at the complex topographical data that swept past on the main viewscreen. "What the hell are we looking for on this God-forsaken sexless planet anyway?"

Kif grunted in incredulity. "The blockade runner, sir," he said in exasperation. "The one you were determined to find several short minutes ago."

"I can't be expected to keep track of all my grand ambitions, Kif." Brannigan stood up and adjusted his toupee. "Just find the damn thing so we can get our velure-draped asses out of this quadrant."

"I don't think it's going to be quite as simple as all that, sir," Kif replied.

"What!? How dare you!?"

"Euuh… the heavy industry that covers the planet's surface is causing a severe field of electromagnetic flux that's being conducted by particulate matter in the atmosphere. There is simply too much electrical activity for us to pinpoint residual engine emanations – we would have to be within five-hundred feet of a ship before we'd read anything… that's not to mention the fact that the vessel, if it is on the planet, is surrounded by machinery and as such its mass will be indistinguishable from the…"

"Oh, enough!" Zapp interrupted wearily, shoving a gloved hand in Kif's face. "If I wanted to hear a bunch of mumbo-jumbo I'd… I'd talk to the officer in charge of mumbo-jumbo! Where is Keith, anyway?"

An ensign spoke up: "Ah, he's in the med-bay. Came down with the flu."

"Whatever – the point is this isn't rocket science, it's STARSHIP science." Zapp hammered his fist into an open palm to emphasize the point. "And that's the simplest science of them all…"

Kif sighed expressively. "Actually sir, it's surprisingly complex."

"Kif, if I wanted to be contradicted I'd talk to the officer in charge of contradictions!"

"There is no such position that I'm aware of, sir."

"Exactly!" Zapp poked Kif in the chest, leaving an indentation. "That's because Brannigan is never wrong!" he said.

Kif suddenly saw red. His right eye twitched and he balled his fists. "Never wrong?!" he seethed through clenched teeth. "You're just a complete…"

Zapp's eyes widened and he stepped closer, looming over the diminutive alien. "Something to say, Lieutenant?" he demanded, his voice dangerously quiet.

"Uh… I, er…" Kif's camouflage reflex kicked in, turning him semi-transparent as he shrunk away from the Captain. "Nothing, sir."

Brannigan glared down on him for a few moments longer. "Well then good," he said finally. "Now bring us down to the surface – we're going to meet with the planet supervisor and see what he can tell us about illegal smuggling operations."

The mammoth great block of Titanium and weaponry that was the Nimbus dove down through the gloomy atmosphere, carving a tremendous wake with its passage. The last remaining flock of a near-extinct species of native bird happened to be migrating and was sucked entirely into one of the DOOP ship's atmospheric engine intakes, exiting as a dark cloud of charred feather fragments.

More than an hour had passed, and the four PE crew were still sitting in their corner booth, waiting for their contact to arrive. There was nothing else for them to do, though thankfully the multi-limbed bartender had managed to produce some low-grade beer that wasn't lethal to humans.

Amy couldn't shake the nagging discomfort she felt every time Fry and Leela touched one another. As much as she wanted to be happy for her friends, she couldn't deny she was jealous; that much was obvious. The real question was why. She told herself that it was only that Kif was so far away, and Amy herself was lonely – seeing Fry and Leela together made her want badly for someone to hold her… But aside from that, there was something else, something slightly more complex that she couldn't put her finger on because she was a little drunk.

The beers, though coarse and bitter, had done their job after Amy had downed five in fairly rapid succession to try to escape her discomfort.

Now she began to giggle uncontrollably when the 'band' started playing the Bender theme song again.

"Bender… Bender the people's defender!" she sang along. "He never gave up, never lay down – never did surrender!" She laughed breathlessly and draped herself onto the robot, patting him on the belly.

"Get the hell off me, bonebag," Bender snapped. "Bad enough I have to sit in a room full of idiots who love me."

Amy didn't hear. "Heyyy, Bender," she slurred. "How 'bout next mission we go to the little planet where I'm a folk hero?"

"Oh, you mean planet Hussy, in the Ditz system?"

"What?" Amy narrowed one eye. "Thaths not a real place…" She reached for the jug again, but Leela slid it away from her.

"You've had enough," the cyclops said firmly.

"Oh come on, zhu tou!"

"We're trying to maintain a low profile."

Amy pouted. "Jeez Leela," she grumbled. "First you take my boyfriend and now my booze…" As soon as she realized what she just said she regretted the words; she gaped and spluttered, trying to come up with something to say, to apologise or rephrase, but her alcohol-fuddled brain wasn't able to formulate anything. Fry and Leela stared at her in shock.

"Whoo-hoo-hoo!" Bender chirped happily, breaking the silence.

"Oh God… you guys, I'm so sorry!" Amy whispered. She stood up from the booth and hurried off. Leela called after her to no avail.

"Damn it," Leela said, glancing at Fry. "Does she still have feelings for you?"

"It'd be news to me," Fry replied, still dumbfounded. "I thought that was all ancient history… I mean, she's in love with Kif, right?"

"If I was you, Fry – I'd let the two of them fight over you!" Bender said helpfully.

"I better go talk to her," Leela said, getting to her feet. She started across the bar-room, but stopped when she noticed a tall grey-haired human male walking across the floor toward her. The hook-nosed stranger approached and stopped in front of her.

"You the folks been askin' 'bout Vassiliev?" he asked gruffly.

"That's right," Leela replied. "We were sent by a man named Hubert Farnsworth."

"So you'd be Planet Express, then?"

"Correct. Are you Vassiliev?"

"Nope, I'm Drupev – you don't get to meet Vassiliev 'til mornin'. Eight sharp – be at this location, and bring the money." He handed Leela a card with a location hand-written on it. "In the meantime," he went on, "y'all keep to yourselves and don't cause no ruckus. There's spies from both the DOOP and the supervisor been flittin' round these parts of late."

"We'll be careful." Leela nodded and pocketed the card.

Drupev moved away from them and Bender surged to his feet. "Alright, I'm not gonna spend another minute in this creepy-ass centre of Bender-worship. Let's get the hell out of here."

"Yeah, we need to find Amy anyway," Fry said. "I hope she's okay."

Fry and Leela followed him through the room and out the doorway. When they stepped onto the street they stopped in their tracks and stood frozen to the spot. Spread out before them was a large crowd of worker robots of all shapes and sizes, forming a circle around the bar entrance. In the front of the ranks was the little child robot that had recognised Bender, the great legend whose statue loomed behind the crowd.

"Uhh…" Fry glanced around. "Is this good or bad?" he asked.

"I think we're boned," Bender replied.

As one, the crowd suddenly burst into tumultuous cheering and applauding.

"He's back!" one of the robots shouted joyously.

"The hero of Botany is back!!"

Bender turned around and fled straight back into the bar.

The planet supervisor was a haggard man in his middle years, hallow-faced and bitter. He made the two DOOP officers wait for an inordinately long time before finally allowing them to enter his cavernous office.

Zapp and Kif walked the length of the lushly-furnished room and stood before the businessman's huge, ornate desk.

"And what could the Democratic Order Of Planets possibly want with me now?" he asked slowly, without looking up from his paperwork. "You've already raped my world in every possible way – perhaps you're here to tax the air we breathe too?"

"An interesting idea," Zapp said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "An air tax… Kif, make a note of that – I'll propose it to the high council."

The supervisor glared. "What is it you want, you buffoon?"

"We believe a ship has illegally landed on the planet's surface for the purpose of smuggling banned goods," Kif explained.

"Tell us where it is!" Zapp demanded. "Or so help me God, I'll radio my ship and have it blast this building to rubble!"

The supervisor stared. "With you inside it?" he asked.

"Oh, he'll do it," Kif sighed.

"In any case," the supervisor said, leaning back, "I've no reason not to help you, even though you sons of whores are strangling this planet with your embargo. Any smuggling that went though this office would be immediately reported to you by your overseer and his spies – that means if trade is going on like you suggest then it's happening beneath my nose and I'm not profiting from it; that will never do."

"…I don't follow," Zapp said, frowning.

"Euugh… he wants us to catch the smugglers so they'll stop stealing his money."

"Your green friend is right. Now all I can tell you is that there's been a lot of missing stores in section 36-A of manufacturing prefecture 572. That'd be the best place to start looking. That's all the help I can give you, and I'd hope my cooperation won't go unnoticed by your superiors – I'd like to resolve this economic quandary as soon as possible."

As Zapp and Kif left the office, the Captain turned to his Lieutenant and spoke quietly: "Kif, when we get back to the ship, look up the word 'quandary'."

The supervisor watched the two officers depart with revulsion and malice. His desk intercom chimed and he switched it on.

"Sir, we have just had a report from one of our informants in the slums," his secretary said. "The word is that Bender Rodriguez has returned."

The supervisor sat bolt upright, his eyes wide and nostrils flared. "Rodriguez!" he growled hungrily. "Summon my head of security!"

A few minutes later, the supervisor was being led through an intricate maze of tunnels, past innumerable cell doors. He held a bulky positron rifle in his arms, cradling the weapon awkwardly as though he'd never handled one before. The security chief was in front, marching purposefully.

"You sure you want to do this, sir?" she asked.

The supervisor grunted. "We kill him ourselves and we'll have to contend with an uprising among the slave-bots. No, it's better this way – let someone else take their hero from them so we don't have the blame."

They reached a specific door, and the security chief paused to unlock it before kicking it open. The steel hinges screeched in protest and a dank smell wafted out. For a time, nothing could be seen in the gloom, but presently a shape moved into view.

"Well howdee-doo, Gareth," the supervisor said brightly. "Long time no see – why don't you come on out here?"

Gareth limped out of the shadows and into the hallway, glaring balefully at the supervisor with his remaining eye. "The hell do you want?" he rasped.

"Want? From you? There's nothing you have that I could ever want. You've served your debt to society and now you're free to go. That's it."

If Gareth looked bewildered before, then the bewilderment was trebled when the businessman pressed a rifle into his hands. He looked down at the high-powered weapon in astonishment, hefted it to check the gauge, and then levelled it at his hated enemy.

"You lock me up in a little concrete box for seven years, and then give me a charged positron shooter?" he sneered incredulously.

"Got the urge to use it, no doubt," the supervisor said with a smile. "But I'm not the one that brought you in on that robbery. I'm not the one who partnered up with you and then turned on you when his plan went south. How high up was that Scooty-Puff when he pushed you off? Thirty feet? Bender cost you seven years of your life, plus a perfectly good eyeball. And here's the poetical portion. he's back in town. This very day."

Gareth's eye widened in rage and he bared his teeth.

"Best of luck in your new life," the supervisor said, and then strolled away, leaving Gareth standing with the gun.

The gathering inside the bar-room had stopped singing and was standing around in confusion at the sound of celebration outside. Bender pushed through them and dragged himself up to the bar, desperate for another drink. He peeled off his hat and tossed it away in disgust.

"Gimme a juice!" he said. "Quickly!"

Leela and Fry made their way back inside, looking around in expectation.

"I can't get enough of this local colour," Leela remarked wryly.

The bartender splashed a bottle of robot juice into a mug and Bender took a gulp from it. The guitarist robot dropped his instrument and stepped out into the middle of the room behind Bender.

"Don't you understand?" the skinny green android said. "He's come back!"

The crowd looked at him in bewilderment.

"It's BENDER!"

Bender's eyes darted and the bartender suddenly slapped the mug of juice from his hand.

"What the hell?!"

"The hero of Botany won't be drinking that panda urine!" the bartender shouted. "He drinks the best whiskey in the house!!" With that, he pulled out two large dusty bottles of vintage spirit from under the counter and poured a glass.

The crowd in the bar erupted into cheering and converged on Bender, slapping him on the back and shaking his hand. He lost his connection to reality and stood there amid the fanfare as if lost in a dream.

As Leela and Fry made their way carefully out of the crush of robot bodies, Drupev appeared suddenly and caught Leela by the arm.

"What the hell's goin' on?" he demanded. "Is this how people go about not causing a ruckus where you're from?"

"Not generally, no," Leela replied.

"Listen, friend, I came here to make sure a deal went down solid, not to get chopped up by the Botany death troopers and fed to the pigs!"

Leela pulled her arm out of the contact's grasp and stared him down, thinking hard.

"I understand your concern, 'friend'," she said, "but this here is all part of our new plan."

"How is this part of our plan?" Fry asked stupidly.

"Still working the details," Leela muttered, turning away.

The two suns were setting together, and Amy sat alone in deepening shadow at the base of the Bender statue. Some kind of celebration was taking place in the bar, but she paid no attention, lost in her miserable thoughts as she was.

"I'm so stupid," she whispered to herself.

"But not so stupid that you can't see it – that's something at least."

Amy turned in surprise to find Leela standing nearby. Big combat boots notwithstanding, the cyclops had a way of moving around very quietly. Amy sighed and looked down at her feet.

"I didn't mean what I said back there, Leela," she said.

"Well, I'm sure you did a little," Leela said softly, sitting down beside her. "That's how alcohol works; a little truth and a lot of headache. You wanna talk?"

"I don't have feelings for him, if that's what you're asking me," Amy replied quietly. "It's just that… well… Fry is the only guy who ever dumped me."

Leela blinked in surprise; she hadn't known that.

"I'm always the one who does the dumping," she went on. "It hurt me a little, that's all. And now he's with you… and you're so much stronger and smarter than me, and everyone respects you – nobody respects me, I'm just a clumsy little heiress bimbo. I know it sounds silly, but I used to think the only thing I had that you didn't was my way with men… oh God…" She slumped her shoulders. "I'm so pathetic."

"No, you're not…" Leela was taken-aback. "I never realized you felt that way, but you're so wrong." She put her arm around the girl. "Gosh, it's me who's always been jealous of you – you're beautiful, and socially well-adjusted, not to mention a wiz with mechanics…"

"Thanks Leela," Amy said. "And I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Leela patted her hair.

Amy smiled weakly. "I think I know why Fry dumped me now," she said.

"Why?"

Amy giggled and leaned close. "There was someone else he was crazy about ever since he fell out of cryo," she said. "And I had one too many eyes."

Leela grinned and stood up, pulling Amy to her feet as well.

"Come on, we've got a celebration to plan," she said. "Apparently there's a living legend in town."

As she spoke, a massive shape moved across the sky above them with a roar, and both women glanced up in alarm. Even in the diminishing light, the ridiculous shape of the Nimbus was obvious.

"Kiffy?" Amy said. "Oh my God, he's here!"

"Calm down, Amy," Leela said as they watched the massive warship cruise low above the factories and settle to the ground some distance away. "If they're here it means they're looking for us – and if they find us they'll arrest us and lock us away."

"Kif wouldn't do that!" Amy cried.

"It's not him I'm worried about."

Bender leaned against the bar with a drink in hand, surrounded by his adorers. It hadn't taken long for him to get into the swing of things; he figured, if you can't escape 'em, then go along with 'em. And adoration wasn't something he'd ever been particularly adverse to anyway.

The guitarist robot, whose name, it turned out, was Gallows, raised a mug to toast for the fifth time. "TO BENDER!" he shouted.

"TO BENDER!"

The crowd drank.

Bender lifted his own mug and bellowed: "TO THE SLAVE-BOTS!"

"TO THE SLAVE-BOTS!"

The crowd drank again.

Off to the side, Fry leaned against the wall nursing a small glass of whiskey and watching the display with some amusement. Leela and Amy came back in and moved to his side. Fry decided to pretend the earlier awkwardness hadn't taken place, so he shot them both a crooked grin.

"Well, Bender's certainly feeling better about life," he observed wryly. "Me, I stopped the Omicronians from destroying Earth, prevented New New York from being smooshed by a garbage ball, and discovered Bigfoot. What did I get? Nothing. Bender drops a box of money and he gets a whole planet of adoring fans." He raised his glass. "To Bender – the box-dropping criminal tin-man gone wrong!"

"There's trouble, red," Leela said, ignoring this rant. "It's the Nimbus."

Fry's smile vanished and his face hardened. "That arrogant blowhard," he growled. "What does he do, follow us around?"

Leela grumbled acknowledgement. "In any case – now we really need to keep our heads down… I just hope they don't find our ship."

"Maybe Zapp needs another lesson in humility," Fry said, and the two women stared at him in surprise. "Humility… er, it was on that 'word of the week' calendar you gave me – 'the quality of being humble; modest sense of one's own significance'."

Leela was impressed. "Very good," she said. "But I don't think fists are going to get us out of this one, as fun as it would be to try. The weight of interstellar law is against us."

"Ahh, baby we've always got the weight of something against us." Fry waved her concerns aside. "You'll think of something brilliant like normal and we'll all be fine, that's how it works – you got smarts to match your beauty."

Leela smiled shyly and her cheeks coloured a little as Fry looped an arm around her waist and pulled her close.

"Well, I do have part of an idea kicking around," she said demurely, swaying with him as he began a clumsy waltz despite the lack of music.

"See, the wheels are already turning."

Amy watched the couple and smiled, her earlier jealousy gone. They looked so good together; Leela's resilient strength and determination, and Fry's humour and wide-eyed wonder – the two of them complimented each other so well. There was still some small node of sadness buried away inside Amy, but she knew how to fix that. The solution was close now, and perhaps she would be able to prove her worth to the others by solving the larger problem as well. Quietly, while Fry and Leela were absorbed in each other, she slipped out and disappeared into the night.

"So I'm going to talk to a few pillars of the robot community," Leela murmured to Fry, her face a few inches from his, her breath warm and sweet. "I'll convince them to have a little 'Bender Day' celebration tomorrow, that way we can have everyone gathered in one place and we'll be able to sneak Vassiliev's goods onto the ship without anyone noticing."

Fry gazed into the tranquil depths of Leela's eye, not really listening; she was pressed against him and looking radiant – cunning plans for crime and escape weren't on the forefront of his mind.

"Hey, why don't we leave Bender with his fan club," he suggested, "and find some nice spot to…" he trailed off when a rusted old robot appeared alongside and prodded him in the shoulder.

"So you two are Bender's people, huh?" the robot said through a crackly voice modulator.

Leela looked indignant. "No, we're not actually 'his'…"

"Must be an honour working under a great robot like that," the worker went on.

"Hey listen, rivet-face, we're not…"

"Strong as a bulldozer, they say, and a heart the size of the galaxy."

Fry chuckled. "Oh, we're just happy he lets us hang around," he said. "You know, I live in his closet!"

"If you'll excuse us," Leela told the robot sweetly, "I need to take my boyfriend and find someplace to get his clothes off."

Fry grinned and let her pull him away. She'd said 'boyfriend'. That was a first. He was suddenly giddy; at the moment, even if Zapp Brannigan and an entire squad of DOOP's finest burst through the door, the smile still couldn't be wiped from his face.

Bender didn't notice his friends leave. He was engrossed in conversation with Gallows the guitarist, as the rest of the bar watched him in rapt fascination.

"So, the supervisor… he let you folks keep all that gold?" he asked.

"Sure did," Gallows replied. "Weren't his first choice though. When he found out he sent the troopers to take it back, but the workers resisted!"

"Fought the power, huh?" Bender had taken a liking to the skinny green sorting robot.

Gallows nodded. "When the slave-bots band together there's too many of us to be put-down. Plus if he wiped us out there'd be nobody to run the mills. So in the end, he just had to call it a 'bonus'."

Bender laughed heartily and slapped the other robot on the back. "That's one hell of a bonus!"

"And then, when we put that statue of you up in town square, he rolled in, wanted to tear it down. But the whole town rioted."

This, the idea of violence in his name, touched Bender so deeply, a tear came to his eye. "You guys started a riot?" he said, voice filled with emotion. "On account of me? Oh... I am overwhelmed, truly, truly moved by that. I mean, all of this free booze has been swell and all, but that, my very own riot..." He choked up and hugged Gallows and another robot nearby. "That's just about the sweetest thing I ever heard... I love you guys!"

"I can't believe you're back!" Gallows said.

Bender squeezed the robot harder. "How could I stay away!?"

Amy crept through the darkness, heading toward the looming shape of the Nimbus, like a gigantic black cliff punctured by innumerable squares of light. She was careful not to make a sound as she approached the massive warship sitting on the ground in an open area. Suddenly a pneumatic whine filled the cold night air and a bright sliver of light lanced out from the ship's underbelly as an embarkation ramp lowered. Amy scurried for cover behind a stack of mechanical parts and watched furtively as a line of figures emerged.

Her breath caught in her throat as she instantly recognised the two lead figures even in the poor illumination. The bulbus shape of Zapp Brannigan, and alongside him… the spindly little reptilian.

"Kif!" she whispered dreamily.

Kif trudged sulkily beside Zapp as the platoon of DOOP soldiers fanned out around them. The whole operation had left a sour taste in his mouth that had nothing to do with the sludge he'd been forced to eat in the ship's cafeteria earlier that day. The subjugation of Port Botany wasn't the foulest deed ever committed by the DOOP, but it was among the top twenty… if Kif were in charge he'd have a mind to let the smugglers go about their business, and the high council be damned. Brannigan, on the other hand, was as aroused by authority as he was by anything even vaguely female – the law was just an excuse to exert power, and he loved every second of it.

"Filthy vermin," the Captain muttered. "How dare these traitorous peasants try to make a living at the expense of their betters? Instead of trading with smugglers they ought to be lying down in the street and dying for the greater good, like a loyal citizen would do!"

"Perhaps if you spend some time with them, sir, they'll be more inclined to do just that," Kif muttered.

The insult went over Zapp's head, and he began ordering the soldiers to break up into scouting parties to reconnoitre the surrounding district. Kif wandered a little distance away and stared sadly at his hands. Life had not taken him anywhere near where he'd wanted to go.

Something suddenly stung him in the middle of the forehead, and he blinked in surprise as a tiny pebble bounced to the ground. Looking up in puzzlement he saw a shape in the shadows near a pile of debris. A familiar shape – big hair that parted in the middle and spread out to either side in waves.

"Amy?" he murmured, and the figure gesticulated at him. He glanced around to make sure Zapp was still occupied, then quickly moved over to the pile to find Amy crouched there. "It is you!" he hissed. "What are you doing…" Then he stopped as realization dawned. "Oh no!"

Amy pulled him down and planted a hard kiss against his lipless beak. Kif embraced her, and when she let him up for air he looked searchingly into her eyes.

"Amy, the blockade-runner… the smuggling vessel… it was…?"

She nodded.

"Oh Gods…" Kif started to panic. "Please Amy, you have to go. Get off the planet quickly before the jackass finds you and your friends."

"We have to finish the job," Amy said quietly. "But I needed to see you…"

"Amy, you don't understand," Kif said, his slitted eyes darting around. "You're putting me in a dangerous position. It's my duty to arrest you!"

Amy gaped. "Kiffy?" she gasped, shocked and horrified.

"Kif?" Brannigan's voice carried through the night air, and Kif straightened up from behind the pile of debris. "There you are," Zapp said. "What are you doing back there."

"Er, uhh… I, err… that is…" He looked down at Amy, still crouched in concealment, and she stared up at him with hurt in her eyes. "I was… 'taking a leak', sir," Kif said, moving away.

"Good work, Lieutenant," Zapp said. "That's all this planet's good for anyway. As a matter of fact…" He turned away and hefted up his regulation skirt to do his business. While Zapp's back was turned, Kif motioned for Amy to run. She hesitated briefly, casting a long mournful look at Kif, before bolting away into the night.

Leela shivered in the chilly night air and rubbed her bare arms, so without speaking, Fry shrugged off his jacket and draped over her shoulders. She smiled at him and took his hand.

"You take that kind of gesture for granted," she said. "But you know, in this era chivalry is as dead as the common rabbit."

Fry chuckled. "To tell you the truth, purple, it was pretty dead in my time as well."

"Mmm, so…" Leela leaned against him comfortably as they walked down the dark street. "Past or present, seems you've always been anachronistic."

"I don't know what an anachron…thingy is, but I'll take it as a compliment."

Leela leaned across and kissed him on the cheek, whispering: "You're my ancient knight in rarely-washed armour."

"And you're my beautiful one-eyed Earth Goddess," Fry said, turning to look at her.

Leela snorted light-heartedly, mistaking his comment for a joke. "Not often I hear 'beautiful' and 'one-eyed' in the same sentence," she said with a chuckle. "But thanks anyway."

Fry stopped walking abruptly and Leela paused to look back at him.

"You're kidding right?" he said incredulously, frowning at her.

"What?" Leela was genuinely confused.

"You don't… really think you're ugly do you?"

"Oh… it's okay Fry, I know I'll never win a beauty contest with this." She gestured at her eye. "It doesn't bother me though – I got over it years ago."

Fry stared silently for a long moment and then shook his head slowly. "Leela, if you could only…" he trailed off, searching for the words. "You're the most stunning woman I've ever met," he said finally. "And your eye is like a gem, with the whole world reflected in it, everything that is and everything that could be. I can look into it and lose myself for a thousand years; you can see into my soul…"

As he spoke, he gazed into her eye, and Leela stared back, overwhelmed. Her lips were slightly parted in astonishment at his words, and a drop of moisture formed beneath her eyelid.

"Leela," Fry went on. "You have a beautiful eye."

"Oh my… Fry… that's…" Leela sagged beneath the weight of emotion, and she clasped her hands over her heart. Fry moved forward, afraid he'd upset her, but Leela threw her arms around him and hugged him close.

"That's the sweetest thing that anyone's ever said to me," she said.

"Just the truth, nothing more," he murmured, gently trailing his fingers through her hair. "I only know how to tell the truth – lies don't come easy to me."

"I love you, Philip J. Fry."

"I love you, Turanga Leela."

They kissed, long and deep, and so lost were they in their own warm little bubble, they almost failed to notice the tramp of jackboots on the tarmac drawing closer. At the last moment, Leela's eye snapped open in alarm and she took hold of Fry's T-shirt, pulling him off the street and into an adjacent alleyway moments before a DOOP squad rounded a corner and marched into view. The lovers pressed themselves flat against a grimy wall in the darkness as the squad moved past, and didn't move for long minutes after the marching boots faded away.

"We should go and make sure the ship hasn't been found," Leela murmured quietly, peeling herself away from the brickwork.

"Yeah, and make sure your bed still works," Fry added with a smirk.

"I just hope Amy can figure to keep out of the DOOP's way," Leela said. "Bender looks like he belongs, but Amy…"

"I'm sure she'll be fine," Fry said. "She's not as stupid as she first appears."

"You know, neither are you," Leela said. They moved cautiously back onto the street and hurried off toward the ship's hiding place.

Gareth's trek from the prison through the industrial districts had been long and arduous; the old break in his poorly-set left leg ached terribly as he limped along. He gritted his teeth and ignored the pain, keeping the featureless metal face of his quarry in mind as he pushed onward in determination, the positron rifle tucked under his arm wrapped in oilskin.

He had the location. The worker robots on the street were bursting with the news of their hero's return. Gareth bared his teeth in a feral sneer – 'hero'? Well, when he got there he would show them their hero's true nature, and then show them what their hero's inner workings looked like.

He patted the rifle, a heavy gauge designed to take out killbots. It would do nicely – a high-powered plasma bolt through the chassis, with residual charge enough to melt the robot's circuit boards.

"You're mine, Bender," he growled.

"You're mine, Bender!" the first floozy-bot purred as she draped herself on Bender's shoulder.

"No he's not, he's MINE!" the second floozy-bot declared, draping herself on his other shoulder.

"Ladies, ladies," Bender said, chuffing on a huge cigar. "You can both have me!"

The celebratory party was winding down as robots departed gradually. The man of the hour went upstairs with the two female robots, and Amy sat alone at the end of the bar, staring miserably into an empty glass.

It had been a problem for him to see her, she thought morosely. It was his duty to arrest her…

"Ni xin tai hei le," she murmured to herself, unable to resist the dark train of thought – if Fry and Leela were in the same position, Fry would do anything and everything to ensure her safety. Why couldn't Kif be a stupid heroic fool like him?

"We're closing, little missy," the bartender said. He'd become much more friendly to the PE crew after discovering they travelled with the great Bender.

"Uhh…" Amy didn't really know where to go. "Do you mind if I just go to sleep on the floor or something?"

"Sure," the robot replied. "Nothing's too good for a friend of Bender's."

"Chee jiao," she muttered, sliding off the stool and wobbling across the room.

As she was about to slump down into one of the booths the bar-room door flew open and Kif darted inside. He fixed on her and hurried over.

"What? You here to arrest me?" Amy asked.

"Amy please!" Kif looked around anxiously. "I slipped away and tracked you here… by the scent of your perfume. You have to leave!"

"Can't," Amy said. "Not til the job is done. I was hoping you might be able to keep Zapp and his merry band of morons off us but apparently your duty is more important to you than I am."

"That's not true!" Kif protested. "I want to help you, but I can't stop that jackass any more than I can…"

"If you were any kind of man, you'd at least try!" Amy shouted, swaying drunkenly.

Kif blinked, stung by her words. "Why are you making this so difficult?" he lamented. "I'm trying to keep you safe!"

"You're trying to keep yourself safe," Amy countered. "Trying to make sure you don't get put in a difficult position. Just go back to your husband, Zapp, and tell him that if he wants me, I'm right here." Amy slumped down into a booth and stretched out on the bench. She closed her eyes.

"I'm not going to do that, Amy. You know I won't." Kif looked down at her helplessly. "I love you."

Amy opened her eyes and started to say something, but Kif had turned away. When she finally managed to sit up he had vanished.

Leela and Fry reached the ship without running afoul of any of the Nimbus landing parties, though there were a few close calls. The soldiers didn't appear to be enjoying their job as they scoured half-heartedly and came up against vehement opposition from slave robots who blamed them for the crippling poverty that had befallen the industrial world. The DOOP men had their hands full dealing with hurled projectiles and other robotic abuse – the cyclops and the delivery boy were able to slip past unnoticed.

The ship hadn't been touched, evidently no thorough searches had been conducted in the rundown section. Fry and Leela slipped into the ruined warehouse and ascended the stair.

They were already shedding clothes before they reached the door to Leela's cabin.

"You're pretty wonderful, you know that?" Fry said, running his hands along her smooth bare skin.

"And you're pretty cute," Leela replied, pulling him down onto her bunk.

The night was short on Port Botany, with the system's second sun beating the first to the horizon. Hard-edged light angled through the factory lines and as one a horde of slave robots poured from their dens of down-time to whatever work could still be found.

In the dim warmth of the Planet Express ship, two bodies lay naked and entwined, sound asleep after a night of passion. A high-pitched chime broke into their slumber, and Leela raised her head, glancing around until she fixed on her wristamijig lying on the floor alongside her discarded bra. Its alarm was flashing seven AM, local time.

She reached down and killed it with a groan.

"Come on, red," she said to Fry, poking him in the ribs. "Time to continue our undignified descent into the heart of criminality."

"Can't we do it tomorrow?" Fry mumbled, his face full of Leela's breast.

"Tomorrow's all booked up with running for our lives from Galactic authorities."

Fry grunted. "Lousy Galactic authorities can bite my pasty hairy ass."

Leela disentangled herself from Fry's limbs and slid from the bed. Fry sat up and watched her dress, marvelling at her feline grace.

"I'm going to meet with Vassiliev," she said, buckling her belt and searching for a top. "I want you to find Bender and get him to find his way to the town square by eleven – there's gonna be a little gathering in his honour, so while the DOOP and the prefecture's population are distracted we'll be able to move the goods onboard without arousing suspicion." Leela tossed Fry's jeans at him.

"Yes Ma'am," he said, pulling on the pants.

Leela finished dressing and recovered the payment envelope and the card that Drupev had given her. She considered repeating her instructions to Fry, but decided it would be unnecessary. Instead she leaned over and kissed him.

"Meet me back here when Bender's all set – and bring Amy, we'll need her." Fry nodded and watched her slip away. Then pulled on his shirt and jacket and departed as well. He left the ship and made his way out onto the street – Leela was nowhere to be seen. Retracing their steps, he made his way back toward the bar; no soldiers were around, having evidently exhausted their avenues the previous night.

As he passed the Bender statue, he couldn't resist pausing to glance up at it bemusement.

"I think they really captured him," a nearby voice said, "…captured his essence."

"I think he looks angry," Fry replied without looking away from the statue, feeling a little premonitory dread as he recognised the voice.

"That kind of what I meant," Kif replied.

Fry turned finally and looked at the little alien, not knowing what to expect next. "Hi Kif," he said uncertainly.

"Philip," Kif said uncertainly. "I know why you're here, and as you can imagine it puts me in an… unfortunate position." He looked sad and slightly dishevelled, as though he'd not slept.

"Kif, we're…"

"Be quiet," the alien snapped. "Let me finish. I haven't told Zapp that you're here, but it will only be a matter of time before he discovers your presence. I tried to talk to Amy, but she wouldn't listen. Philip, I want you to leave – take my Amy and get away before something terrible happens."

"We'll be gone by the end of the day," Fry said.

"That may be too late!"

"Well, maybe you can do something to hold Zapp off."

Kif slumped his shoulders even further. "What do you think I should do? Punch him, like you did? That won't work for me, Phil… I'm not… strong like you or… him." He gestured at the statue.

"Strength isn't about throwing punches or getting statues built of you," Fry said. "It's about taking the initiative, being assertive and determined and not giving up."

Kif accepted this with a slight nod. "I can see I'm not going to convince you," he said. "Very well… I shall do what I can." He turned away. "One thing though… please tell Amy for me… tell her that I'm sorry."

"You'll be seeing her soon enough," Fry said. "And hopefully then you won't have anything to be sorry for."

Kif walked away in the direction of the Nimbus, and Fry moved off toward the Bar.

Amy awoke through several layers of fog into a body that ached all over and a head that pounded. Someone was gently shaking her, and she almost wanted to kick whoever it was in whatever soft patch of flesh that presented itself. She opened her bleary eyes and found Fry leaning over her looking concerned.

"You alright?" he asked.

"I think I threw up," she muttered, noting the foul taste in her mouth. She sat up with some difficulty and looked around the empty bar-room.

"I ran into Kif outside," Fry said. "Take it you guys had a fight?"

"Uhh." The night's events came back to her and she buckled. "I screwed up, didn't I?" she said. "He's gonna lock us up, isn't he?"

Fry shook his head. "Have a little faith, Amy," he said, helping her out of the booth. "Leela needs you back at the ship, you up to it?"

Amy nodded sagely. "Sorry, Fry," she said. "Sorry about before."

"Think nothing of it," Fry said. "Alcohol makes fools of us all. Like the time I got so drunk I tried to fight a post box… the damn thing beat the crap out of me."

"Yeah, that was funny." Amy straightened herself out and moved away.

Fry watched her leave and looked up when Bender emerged at the top of the staircase with the two female robots on his arms.

"…When the man with the coin brought his big boot down,

On the broken, wasted masses…

I stood my ground, and shouted loud:

BITE OUR SHINY METAL ASSES!" Bender sang happily. "Okay – the living legend needs some breakfast booze, oh hey there Fry, I forgot you were around. How's it goin'?"

"Fine," Fry replied. "The living legend has a little appearance to make."

"He does?"

"That's right. There's a lot of heat around and this job's gone on well past too long."

Bender turned to the two floozy-bots. "Okay ladies, you can run along now," he said. "Got me some important hero-type stuff to do." The two robots peeled away reluctantly and Bender moved down the stairs to Fry.

The delivery boy gave Bender the rough outline of the plan.

"…So that's where the little 'Bender' celebration comes in," he finished. "Should give us enough time and cover to get the shipment back onto the Planet Express ship."

"I dunno," Bender said dubiously. "I mean, do you think it's right that we should be using my fame to hoodwink folks like this?"

Fry stared at the robot. "You must be joking," he said, deadpan.

"No, really Fry," Bender said. "I mean, maybe there's something to this… the slave-bots… I think I really made a difference in their lives. ME, you know? Me, Bender B. Rodriguez."

"I know your name, jerkwad."

"You know they had a riot on my account?"

Fry sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Just be in the town square by eleven," he said. "Get ready to bask in some ill-gotten adoration."

"Alright, alright…" Bender grumbled. "Just let me freshen up." He disappeared upstairs and Fry walked out of the bar, heading back toward the ship.

He was walking slouched-over with his hands in his pockets, and didn't notice a shape looming in an alleyway until it was almost upon him. At the last instant the movement caught his eye and he threw an arm up to protect himself from the swinging butt of a rifle. He caught the blow on his elbow, and the force of it caused him to stumble, then the assailant was on him, a fist cracking against his temple and a boot looping behind his ankle and causing him to fall headlong onto the tarmac.

Fry's vision swam and he tasted blood. Pushing through the pain he rolled over and aimed a strong kick upward, catching the one-eyed man in the stomach. The bearded stranger was surprised by the sudden counter-attack, and stumbled back from the kick, slightly winded. Fry took the opportunity to surge to his feet and lunge at the figure with fists swinging.

He managed to connect two good blows that sent the bearded stranger stumbling; but the man was tough, and swung the heavy rifle like a club at waist level, hammering it into Fry's side with a sickening crunch. Fry fell again, feeling the familiar pinch of a broken rib as he gasped painfully for breath.

"Who the hell are you?" he rasped, struggling to get back to his feet.

"I'm Gareth," the stranger growled. "And that's the last question you ask me, boy." With that he slammed his boot into Fry's face savagely, knocking him onto his back, then stooped and grabbed one of his ankles, dragging him back into the alleyway and out of sight.

Fry struggled, trying to ignore the agonizing grind of broken bone in his side.

"Heard tell you run with a robot named Bender," Gareth snarled, looming over Fry.

"What?" Fry spat blood, noting one of his teeth was loose.

"You're gonna take me to that dirty low-down faeces-processor."

"I don't know who you're talking about," Fry said, trying to muster strength to tackle the madman. Before he could move, Gareth kicked him in the stomach, further aggravating the broken rib and causing Fry to double up in pain and gasp for breath.

"I spent the last seven years rottin' in a concrete box and you're gonna lie to me?" Gareth demanded. "Now folks say you're part of Bender's team, so you're gonna tell old Gareth where that no-good toaster's hiding himself, or I'm gonna kick all them pretty-boy looks right off your face."

Gareth drew back his boot once more.

"…So that's how it's going down," Leela finished. "If some of your men can move the stuff to our ship you'll see the money. Naturally we'll need to inspect the goods, but otherwise I can't see a problem."

Vassiliev stood across from her in an empty warehouse, surrounded by a number of human and robot bodyguards, as well as Drupev. He was a dark-skinned man in his fifties, weather-beaten and scarred. He smiled thinly at Leela and inclined his bald head.

"Very well," he said at last. "I must say you have an unusual way of conducting business, but not altogether ineffective. We'll meet you with the goods and you meet us with the money."

"Pleasure doing business with you," Leela replied. "See you at eleven." She turned and left the warehouse, and when she was gone Vassiliev activated his wrist communicator. The little screen showed static for a moment which was then replaced by the face of Zapp Brannigan.

"Contact has been made with the smugglers," he told the DOOP Captain.

"Excellent, Mr. Vaseline," Zapp applauded, mispronouncing the trader's name. "I trust you have their location?"

"I will have within a matter of hours," Vassiliev promised. "After that I hope the Democratic Order Of Planets will see fit to consider my tender for a supply contract in a more favourable light?"

"Of course, of course," Brannigan said. "Your assistance will not go unnoticed. Now, is there anything you can tell me about the smugglers?"

"Only that their leader is a purple-haired cyclops with an enormous bust."

Zapp's face froze and he stared silently out from the little screen.

"Something wrong, Captain?" Vassiliev asked.

"…Just the sound of opportunity knocking," Zapp replied in a strange tone of voice. "Contact me as soon as you have the location." The comm. link was severed and Vassiliev glanced around at his men.

"No use giving them up until we have our money," he said and the others laughed harshly.

When Leela made her way back to the Planet Express ship, Amy was sitting on the steps waiting for her, but Fry was nowhere in sight.

"Where's our delivery-boy?" Leela asked, looking questioningly at the intern.

"Huh? Oh, I don't know," Amy replied distantly. "Trying to get Bender to cooperate I guess."

"Hmm, I thought he'd be back by now…" Leela noticed Amy was looking despondent again, but decided not to press. She glanced at her wrist thing and noted the time – 10:30. Half an hour remained. She activated the ship's cargo elevator, making it descend to ground level, and then sat down beside Amy to wait.

In the grimy alleyway, Gareth sent another bone-jarring kick into Fry's battered body.

"Where?!" he demanded for perhaps the hundredth time.

"Go… bone… yourself," Fry mumbled through split and swollen lips, dribbling blood onto the ground.

"Wrong answer." Gareth trod down hard on Fry's hand, crunching his fingers into the tarmac. Fry howled in pain and fury.

Unbeknownst to the deranged torturer, a gathering of robots was forming down the street. The town square was gradually filling with metal bodies, the workers assembling as though in supplication beneath the looming Bender statue.

When Kif entered the bridge of the Nimbus he found it deserted except for Zapp Brannigan. The Captain was seated in his command chair in a strange state of immobile silence, with his back to Kif and his fingers steeped contemplatively.

"Sir, forgive the intrusion," Kif said meekly. "I was wondering if I could ask…"

"It's her," Zapp interrupted without turning.

"Sir?" Kif frowned.

"Leela," Zapp replied, his voice uncharacteristically quiet. "She and that orange-haired brute. They're the smugglers. They're here, now. And soon I will have them in my grasp." There was no sense of victory in his tone, only something dark and malignant.

Kif's hearts hammered in his chest. "Perhaps it would be best if we let this go," he said.

Zapp swivelled his chair around slowly and fixed the Lieutenant with an icy glare.

"What?"

"Well, sir… I thought that considering Planet Express's past distinction in the service of the Democratic Order Of…."

"Shut your slimy little face!" Zapp snarled. "They're criminal scum! They will be made to pay – that hairpile will finally get what's coming to him!" Zapp unconsciously reached up to touch the false tooth he'd had implanted after Fry had knocked the original out.

"But…" Kif was aghast, unable to think of anything to say.

"And I will pluck Leela away from those lowlives," Zapp went on. "She may not like it at first, but she will be by my side. Either that or she will spend the rest of her life in prison."

Kif turned white. "But… my Amy is with them," he said desperately.

Zapp narrowed his eyes and turned away. "My condolences," he muttered.

Utterly deflated, and with nothing left to say, Kif turned and walked out, trembling.

Leela and Amy looked up when a group of men appeared through a break in the wall, leading four hover-dollies laden with large steel crates. Vassiliev and Drupev were in the lead, and they moved forward to meet the two women.

"Four containers of top-grade resonance capacitors and dark matter distributors," Vassiliev said.

"Our mechanic will inspect the wares," Leela said.

"Be my guest."

Leela motioned Amy forward and the girl complied, walking past the men to pop the lids on each container in turn and examine the components inside. The others stood silently and watched until she'd finished the task and flashed Leela a thumbs-up sign.

"Okay then," Leela said, producing the payment envelope from inside her tank top. "I guess this is where we part ways."

Vassiliev took the envelope, tore it open, and quickly counted the contents. "Right you are," he said, gesturing to his men. They set about moving the crates onto the PE ship's cargo elevator and disengaging the dollies. When they were finished they retreated one-by-one. Vassiliev nodded at Leela and followed them without another word.

"Great," Leela said, keying the cargo elevator to ascend back up into the ship's underbelly. "I'm breathing easy for the first time in twenty-four hours. What say we go and collect the wayward children?"

"Sure," Amy replied without enthusiasm.

Outside on the street, Vassiliev activated his wrist communicator and transmitted a set of coordinates to Zapp Brannigan's DOOP email account. Smiling thinly to himself and patting the wad of notes in his pocket, he hurried away.

The DOOP ground unit commander received the coordinate data direct from Brannigan himself. The Captain appeared in a hologram projected from the soldier's communication device.

"I want them alive," Zapp said. "Aside from that, their condition isn't important. Move out!"

"Yes sir," the soldier said. And then, then the comm. link terminated, he added: "Jackass." He led his platoon out from their hiding place between factories and they moved up the street in a formation combat jog, laser rifles held at the ready.

As they moved toward the hiding place of the Planet Express ship, a lone figure suddenly appeared in front of them, running at them and waving his arms. The field commander called a halt and watched as Lieutenant Kif Kroker approached breathlessly.

"What seems to be the problem, sir?" the soldier asked after saluting.

"Belay your orders," Kif puffed. "We're not moving on the targets. You and your men can stand down. I'll take responsibility."

"But the idiot…"

"You let me worry about that," Kif said. "We will not touch these people, alright?"

The soldier stared at Kif for a few moments, and then shrugged and nodded. "Okay men," he called. "You heard the Lieutenant – pack it in, we're falling back!"

Kif closed his eyes and rubbed a gloved hand over his smooth head, hoping desperately that he's bought enough time.

Gareth kneeled beside Fry and slapped him back into full consciousness.

"Oh no you don't, boy," he growled. "You're gonna be awake for all of this… you're gonna feel it, just like I felt it when that trash can dropped me; you're gonna…" He trailed off and stood slowly. A noise had caught his attention.

From somewhere up the road a steady chanting had become audible. Over and over a single name was being shouted by a chorus of robot voices.

"Bender! Bender! Bender! Bender! Bender! Bender!"

The empty socket of Gareth's right eye twitched spasmodically as a toothy grin spread across his face.

"Beautiful," he hissed, then stooped to pull Fry up by the scruff of his jacket. "Come on, boy – let's go see your friend!" Fry was unable to resist as the bearded criminal hauled him along.

Bender stood in a ring of adoring acolytes, with his own statue standing grand and tall behind him. The crowd of robots chanted his name over and over and he waved to them all happily.

Gallows the guitarist stood forward and motioned for some modicum of order, finally managing to quiet the crowd sufficiently for him to turn to bender and shout:

"Speech! Speech!"

At the back of the gathering, peering through the crush of metal bodies, Leela and Amy watched in bemusement.

"This ought to be good," Leela remarked wryly.

A surge of public-speaking anxiety washed over Bender as the crowd gradually hushed. He looked around at the rusty riveted faces and fidgeted nervously, clearing his artificial throat.

"I'm not too good with words," he said. "Don't have much use for 'em myself. But uhh…" He looked up at the statue of himself and back to the slave-bots. "I just want to thank you all, for being here, and for thinking so much of me. The way I see it, people like you folk have been stuck with the short end of every stick that history's ever thrown… but you took that end and you made yourselves a life. You took it, and well… I guess that's something, isn't it?" Bender nodded to himself and after a beat the robots began shouting righteous affirmations that gradually rose into fully-fledged cheering.

"Wow…" Amy said, looking stunned. "That actually didn't sound half bad…"

"I know," Leela replied. "I'm quite shocked…"

Suddenly, the crack of a positron blast ripped through the air, and the cheering turned into screaming as the crowd panicked and ducked down. Slowly a passage was formed through the throng as a man limped through the robotic mass, with a rifle levelled from the hip and a limp form being dragged behind him.

Leela craned her neck to see, and gasped in horror when she realized the gunman was dragging a badly-beaten Fry.

Bender looked into the spreading gap in the crowd and narrowed his eyes in disbelief.

"Gareth," he said. "You survived."

"Yeah, hey there Bender!" Gareth shouted, waving the gun around. "Thought I might make you watch while I butcher me one of your boys!" He tossed Fry forward onto the tarmac with a thump.

Bender looked down at his friend's prostrate form. "That ain't one of mine," he lied.

Gareth snorted and glanced down sceptically at the bloody figure. Off to the side, Leela pushed through the crowd with Amy behind her and paused, looking on in horror as the bearded gunman stood over Fry.

Bender chuckled mirthlessly. "So where you been hiding, Gareth?" I see you went and got yourself mighty hideous-lookin'."

"Yeah, sure did." Gareth stepped past Fry and walked slowly toward Bender while the crowd looked on.

Leela dashed to Fry's side, kneeling beside him and lifting his head.

"Fry? Baby?" she said anxiously, staring at his bruised and bloody face.

"…Purple?" Fry said weakly, trying to see through a pair of swollen eyes.

"Oh, honey…"

"So what's this I been hearing about a 'hero of Botany'?" Gareth shouted at Bender, ignoring the others now. "Seven years in lock-up can play tricks on the ears, but not the eyes, and what have we here? I do declare there appears to be a statue of you looking at me like I owe him something. You wanna tell me what this hero stuff's all about?"

Bender looked around at the frightened eyes of the crowd, and then back to Gareth.

"I'm no hero, Gareth," he said solemnly. "I'm just a working-class stiff like you."

This sent Gareth into a fit of bitter cackling. "Welllll, yessir, now that IS funny," he said, and then turned to address the assembled crowd of robots. "It's true though, he's right, Bender's right. In fact we actually used to work together, he and I."

Bender looked around uncomfortably at the slave-bots. Leela had helped Fry to his feet and he broke away from her to hobble unsteadily forward, fists clenched, ready to tackle Gareth from behind. Leela moved to stop him, but before she could, Gareth swung around and brought the barrel of his rifle up to poke against Fry's forehead.

"Now you just let old Gareth speak his bit," Gareth snarled quietly. Fry raised his hands and backed off.

"Go on then," he said with a small nod. Leela took him in her arms and drew him back to safety.

Gareth turned back to Bender and raised his voice loud so the whole gathering of robots could hear.

"There was a whole lot of money in the supervisor's safe, wasn't there Bender?" he said, grinning savagely as he turned again to address the surrounding robots. "Got away relatively clean too, but then our transport took a hit and we were goin' down. Only weight we had to shed was him, me, and the money! And there was no way he was gonna drop that money…"

"But he did!" Gallows shouted indignantly, stepping forward from the crowd. "He dropped it on the slaves!"

"By ACCIDENT, you rusted lump o' clockwork!" Gareth screamed. "He tossed ME off first! We worked together for six months and he turned on me in the blink of my missing right eye!"

"You'd have done the same," Bender said quietly.

"No," Gareth said. "No, not ever. Yer s'posed to protect the man you're with. You watch his back. Everyone knows that… 'cept a cold-hearted machine. Except the Goddamned 'hero of Botany'."

The crowd was deathly silent.

Bender stood motionless. "You gonna talk me to death, buddy?" he said in resignation. "Is that the plan?"

"No." Gareth aimed the positron rifle at Bender. "THIS is the plan."

The blast echoed across the square.

Darting forward, Gallows threw himself in front of Bender and took the bolt of plasma square in his casing. As the guitarist robot fell smoking to the ground, Bender leapt forward with a shout of rage and swung his right arm around, detaching it from his body at the apex of the swing so that it came loose and sailed through the air.

Before Gareth could squeeze off another shot, Bender's disembodied arm hit him in the face and, operating autonomously, wrapped itself around his head. He screamed as the metal limb constricted like a python, crushing his nose and covering his eye. He dropped his gun and scrabbled frantically to get it off.

Something slammed him hard in the chest and he fell onto his back. The robot arm released him and he looked up to see Bender standing over him with rage glowing from his eyes. He reached down with his remaining arm and grabbed Gareth by the throat, hauling him up and lifting him into the air. The bearded criminal struggled and choked, his face turning beet red as impossibly-strong robotic claws clamped down on his windpipe. After a minute of frantic struggling, Gareth's stilled, and Bender unceremoniously dropped the body in a limp heap at his feet.

He turned away from the dead man and hurried over to where Gallows lay with smoke still wafting from the charred hole in his chest.

"Get up, you stupid piece of junk!" Bender yelled, kneeling by the robot and shaking him. "Come on – get up!!"

Gallows was still; his optical sensors dim. Bender hung his head. The small child robot from the bar edged forward from the crowd and reverently picked up Bender's right arm.

"Why'd you go and do a thing like that for?" Bender sobbed, still staring down at Gallows ruined body, but the dead robot had no answers for him. "What's wrong with you? Didn't you hear what he said? I'm a dumb, mean bastard." He stood up shakily. "…and you don't get yourself shot for a dumb bastard, you dumb bastard."

He turned back to the crowd who were all staring at him in complete silence.

"And you people!" Bender shouted, pointing at them. "You really think someone's just gonna drop gold on you? Gold that they could use themselves? There's no people like that, not in the whole Universe – there's only people like ME."

After a moment, the small child robot approached him holding out his detached arm, offering it back to him. Bender snatched the arm out of the kid's hands and reattached it. The child backed away, still looking at Bender with awe.

"Nobody helps anybody," Bender said. "That's the way of things. You just gotta help yourselves." He turned around and looked at the statue. Without pausing he stepped up onto the plinth and planted his hands on the statue's legs, putting his weight against it. Getting a firm footing beneath him he heaved at it, straining his servomotors. The metal of the Bender statue creaked and began to give way, before finally it cracked at the ankles and was dragged down by its own weight, crashing to the ground in a cloud of dust.

Bender stepped down from the now-empty plinth and moved to his friends. He looped an arm under Fry's shoulder to help Leela move him, and together they made their way out, past the crowds of robots who watched them with silent unreadable faces.

The trek back to the ship was slow, and it was made without conversation; Bender lost in his own personal hell and the others unwilling to intrude. When they finally reached the PE ship's and climbed the stairs, Bender disappeared into the cargo hold. Amy took a moment to pull off the camouflage netting before she too embarked.

"Let's get off this rock," Fry mumbled, nursing his wounds.

"I'll second that," Leela replied.

"Where are they?" Zapp bellowed, hammering a fist into the arm of his chair. "Why haven't they been brought in yet?"

The ensigns and officers had resumed their places on the bridge and looked uncomfortable in the presence of Brannigan's rage. Kif walked in and took his place behind Zapp's right shoulder.

One of the ensigns spun around in alarm.

"They're leaving, Sir!" she said, looking alarmed. "The smuggler vessel is lifting off!"

"What the hell?!" Zapp leaned forward. "What happened to my strike team?"

"I called them off, sir," Kif said calmly.

Zapp turned on him, his face red. "You WHAT!?"

Kif returned his glare serenely and said nothing.

"You traitorous little reptile!" Zapp spat. "I should tear that smug look off your damn face – how dare you defy me!?" He dismissed the alien with a wave of his hand and turned to the helmsman. "Take off – pursue them!" he said.

"No!" Kif shouted, and Zapp looked at him in amazement. "We're not chasing them."

The helmsman looked confused, glancing back and fourth between Zapp and Kif.

"I said take off and pursue!" Zapp all-but screamed, without taking his eyes off Kif. "I'm the Captain – you do as I command!"

The helmsman complied, and a deep reverberation filled the giant warship as it lifted slowly off the planet surface.

"Energize weapons!" Zapp shouted. "Blast them out of the sky! If I can't have her, then she can burn!"

"But… you can't do that!" Kif cried. The crew watched the battle of wills in breathless anticipation.

"I can do whatever I want! I'm a Starship Captain!"

As the Planet Express ship ascended through the strata of thick polluted atmosphere, a massive shape rose up behind it, closing the distance. The Nimbus broke through a cloud layer and grew into a massive wall that loomed behind the little green freighter.

Leela looked at the rear radar and cried out in alarm. "Oh no – it's the Nimbus!" she said. "They're on our tail!"

"Ohh, Chou wang ba dan!" Amy exclaimed, staring at her console. "They're preparing to fire their weapons! Oh Kif… why…?"

"Hold on," Leela said through gritted teeth. "This might get bumpy."

"Open fire!" Zapp yelled, pointing at the little green ship on the forward viewscreen.

"Belay-that-order!" Kif countered, shouting louder than he'd ever shouted before. The bridge crew didn't know what to do.

Zapp surged forward with insane eyes and slammed his fist into Kif's stomach, causing him to double over with an explosion of expelled air.

"Don't listen to this traitor!" Zapp snarled, spittle flying from his mouth. "Shoot them down – now! I'm in charge!"

"Not… anymore!" Kif wheezed, straightening with difficulty. "Captain… Zapp Brannigan – for attempting to destroy a civilian spacecraft… without warning or proper provocation… I am hereby relieving you of command."

"You can't do that!"

"I can… and am," Kif said. "Like I should have a long time ago." Kif pointed at the two soldiers stationed at the door. "Airmen, escort the Captain to the brig," he said. The two soldiers happily complied, hurrying forward and placing the shocked Zapp in restraints.

"You filthy little worm…" Zapp said, incredulous, as he was led away. "I'll see you hanged for this. YOU HEAR ME, KIF? HANGED!!"

Kif ignored the continued shouts as the soldiers pulled Zapp out of the bridge and away. He breathed out a long breath and rubbed his belly where the fist imprint was slowly fading.

"Break off pursuit," he told the crew finally. "Weapons safe. Log the smuggling vessel as unidentified."

The female ensign glanced at Kif questioningly. "But sir," she said, "we have the ship's registration code. We know who they are."

Kif looked at her tiredly. "How would you like to become my new Officer in Charge of Shutting-the-Hell-Up?" he asked. The ensign took his meaning and nodded, registering the vessel as an unknown.

With some reluctance, Kif lowered himself into the command chair, wondering how long he would remain there. On the forward screen he watched the Planet Express ship continue off into orbit and then further into deep space. He sighed in relief.

"They're falling back!" Leela exclaimed. "I don't understand… they had us dead in their sights, now they've abandoned the pursuit.

"Oh Kiffy!!" Amy shrieked happily, jumping up and clapping her hands. "He did it! He did it!"

Despite his injuries, Fry had to smile knowingly to himself. "Way to go, little green dude," he said weakly.

Leela accelerated past conventional lightspeed and beyond, sending the stars into elongated spears of light that streaked past. She then engaged the autopilot and moved to Fry, looking at his battered face with concern.

"Let's get you fixed up," she said softly, taking him by the hand. "Amy, take the helm."

Amy was already slipping into the Captain's chair, a huge smile on her face. Fry and Leela moved into the access passage and on toward the medibay, but Fry stopped when he saw Bender sitting at the end of the hallway with his back to them, dangling his legs over the ledge at the top of the cargo hold.

Fry gave Leela a look, and she nodded. Together they walked the length of the passage and sat down on either side of the robot. Bender's expression was blank as he stared absently into space. His two friends remained silent, giving him time, ready to listen.

"It doesn't make sense," Bender said at last, sadly. "Why'd he do that? Why the hell'd that robot go and do that, jump in front of that blast? Why for me?"

Leela didn't know what to say, so she put a hand on his shoulder. Fry looked at the floor.

"There wasn't one of them that understood what happened out there," Bender went on. "Hell, they're probably sticking that stupid statue right back up."

"Probably," Leela agreed, rubbing his shoulder comfortingly.

"I don't know why that eats at me so much…"

Fry let out a long sigh and cringed when his broken rib pinched. "Way I see it, Bender," he said quietly, "probably every guy in history who ever got a statue made of him was some kind of bastard or another. But it's not about them, just like it's not about you. It's about the people. It's about what they need."

Long moments passed, and the three friends sat in silence with only the hum of the ship's engines.

Finally Bender gave a little grunt. "Don't make no sense," he said miserably.

The little green starship winged its way through interstellar space, heading home.

END