Futurama: The Real Decoy
Set after 'The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings'. Fry and Leela aren't technically going out, but they are much closer than they've ever been. Some time has passed, and Fry himself is a little bit more mature and worldly… not much though. And just so it doesn't confuse you - he and Leela have taken to calling each other 'red' and 'purple' on occasion... kind of like pet names.
This fiction is shippy, but I dislike writing romance without a plot, so it's also an action adventure with some moderate violence.
Caption: 'Activate willing suspension of disbelief circuit… NOW'
"Space: the final frontier… These are the missions of the Starship… Planet Express ship. Its mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life, and new civilizations… to boldly go where no man has gone before… and deliver packages!"
"Who are you talking to, Fry?"
The red-haired young man broke out of his reverie and glanced sheepishly away from the forward view screen. Leela was watching him oddly from the Captain's chair, her enormous single eye fixed in a quizzical half-squint.
"I was narrating," he muttered, wandering back over to the engineering console and slumping down.
The battered old green workhorse lumbered through deep space, silently slipping between stars. Fry never got sick of the sight – the depths of space, brilliant nebulae, raging novas… all the kind of things his peers found so mundane. But he was from an ancient time, and the wonders of the Universe were still so new, so breathtaking. Though there was one thing more amazing…
He glanced at her. Silken bangs of purple hair framed her beautiful eye… her full lips fixed in a strong line. She was a perfect, unique Amazon… the most incredible person he'd ever met, and…
"Fry, quit staring at me!" Leela snapped.
"Sorry." The delivery boy looked away guiltily. He knew she was tense – the specifics of their latest mission would soon bring her into close proximity to a person she'd just as soon decapitate. The arrogant overblown space 'hero', Captain Zapp Brannigan of DOOP, commander of the Nimbus and recipient of the three heavy crates that took up most of the PE ship's cargo hold.
If Leela had had any choice in the matter she would have vehemently declined the mission, however under a DOOP security mandate, the services of Planet Express had been commandeered – there was no choice in the matter. Concerns about an intelligence leak within DOOP had prompted command (Brannigan himself, no doubt) to use the small private carrier to transport components for a new super-weapon to the Nimbus at the front line of the Xylogen War. Due to the official and hazardous military nature of the mission, the usual crew of three was augmented by Bureaucrat Hermes Conrad to oversee transfer protocol, and inept physician John Zoidberg… to theoretically tend to any injuries sustained.
"Um… Leela," Fry said quietly. "If Zapp tries to put the moves on, I can pretend to be your fiancé again… if you want."
Leela looked at him, and to her surprise found that he looked genuinely concerned for her, and not in the least bit suggestive. "Thanks, Fry," she said. "If it comes to that I'll take you up on the offer. But I hope to be in and out without having to lay my eye on that creep."
"A creep he may be, but he's sure got good taste. Like a skunk that drinks fine wine… or a slug that smokes top-range Zuban cigars."
"That's very sweet and bizarre, Fry."
Zoidberg burst onto the bridge suddenly, with his mouth appendages twitching.
"Did someone say something about a slug!?" he screeched.
As the rugged little green freighter trawled through interstellar space, a dark, sinister shape shadowed it, maintaining a 20,000 kilometre distance. The other ship was larger and sleeker, with innumerable pincer-like leading edges that gave it a gothic appearance enhanced further by its black paint scheme.
The dark frigate was running silent. Coasting on candle-power thrusters and using only passive scanners. The bridge of the vessel had an atmosphere of electric anticipation as a gathering of strange tri-symmetrical creatures observed the Planet Express ship's lonely voyage.
"This is the one?" the alien commander wheezed at its first mate.
"Apparently, sir. This is the ship our Intelligence indicated."
"Why then has it no escort?"
"It would seem the DOOP are attempting to transport their weapon under a cloak of secrecy, sir…"
"Secrecy, eh?" the commander rubbed one of its chins with a multi-jointed mandible. "A devilish scheme of devilish proportions matched only by the proportions of the devil who instigated it… what did you say his name was?"
"Euhh… Zapp Brannigan, sir…"
"Brannigan, you say? A truly worthy adversary, worthy of being my adversary. Now, what about this ship?"
"It seems to be an older class of transport vessel, sir. Fast but lightly armoured. Offensive armament includes a single laser turret and four…"
"Enough with your overly-analytical claptrap, Kryzzerch, you disgust me," the commander snapped. "A true warrior knows that battles are never won through careful planning or knowledge – they are won through blind impulse and reckless action! The same way a beautiful female is won."
Leela stifled a small yawn and rubbed her eye. Glancing at the chrononometer, she noted that it had been six hours since her last break.
"Hey red, I'm gonna take a nap. Do you want to take the helm for a bit?"
Fry's face lit up. "Sure thing, purple!" he exclaimed. "Take as long as you need!"
Leela smiled at his enthusiasm. An interstellar spacecraft was just a big toy for him, and while his immaturity was irksome at times, she still couldn't help but be infected by his playful nature. The way he looked at the Universe with wonder could make her see some of the things she took for granted in a whole new light… humanity's accomplishments, and the marvels of space; it really was amazing, all of it.
As Leela moved aside for Fry to sit down, their hands briefly touched, and both felt a momentary tremor of excitement that they each tried to conceal. Fry took the controls and grinned.
"Just stay the course, kiddo," Leela told him. "No deviations except in an emergency… and if there is an emergency, I expect you to wake me immediately."
"I know the drill, Cap'n." Fry winked roguishly. "Sweet dreams."
Leela left the bridge, her mood lighter than it had been in hours. Despite all the monumental screw-ups and overt idiocy, Philip J. Fry had an indefinable quality about him that could lighten anyone's heart when they were feeling down without even trying… especially hers.
I suppose there's a reason for that, she thought. Face it Leela, you're madly in…
Her train of thought was interrupted as she ran into Bender exiting her quarters. The android stopped and looked at her blankly. Leela glared back.
"What?" Bender demanded indignantly.
"Take them off," she said. "Now."
Bender grumbled inaudibly to himself and removed the bra and panties that he was wearing awkwardly on his cylindrical chassis. He threw them at Leela and clumped off.
"They're bland and unappealing anyway," he declared as he disappeared toward the cargo bay.
Leela looked at the stretched-out undergarments and wondered how long it would take for the residual effects of Bender's temporary gender-swap to wear off. She went into her quarters and lay down, trying not to think about her impending encounter with the sex-obsessed buffoon. She found it easier and more calming to think about Fry instead.
Meanwhile in the cargo hold, Hermes Conrad sat at a small folding desk with a sheaf of papers in front of him, busily documenting each uneventful minute of the cargo's journey. Checking and rechecking that the three crates were still present and noting each creak of the ship's hull. An official mission from the DOOP was a large-scale event sure to earn him kudos with the Central Bureaucracy… perhaps even a one-point promotion if all went well.
Hermes looked up from his paperwork and glared in irritation as Bender clumped noisily down the steps muttering to himself.
"What are ya doin' down here, ya metal monstrosity?" Hermes growled. "This area's off-limits to unauthorized personnel for the duration of da mission! If you want t'come down here you need to submit an application for DOOP probationary…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah – cram a clam in it, fleshsack," Bender said. "What the hell is it we're hauling anyway? Is it porn? I bet it's porn." He wanked over to one of the enormous DOOP-stamped crates and set about trying to lever it open.
"Stop it!!" Hermes shrieked, leaping over the desk to grab Bender's arms. "Ya clankin' cacophony of colliding cogs and camshafts! If we tamper with this shipment we'll be lookin' at the inside of a DOOP prison!"
"You mean YOU will be," Bender retorted. "This haul's your responsibility, ain't it?"
"Well technically yes, but…"
"Then get your greasy paws of me or I'll hit you with a shovel." Bender moved to shove the Jamaican aside, but Hermes held up his hands, spluttering.
"Alright, alright, alright!" he said. "If you leave this shipment alone I'll let you have a day off work."
"A week!" Bender snapped.
"Alright a week," Hermes relented.
"Alright fine, a week. Starting now." Bender pulled a cigar from his chest compartment, lit it, and blew a cloud of smoke in Hermes' face. "Bwahahaha! Seeya later, loser!"
Hermes slumped in relief as the robot meandered away singing to himself. This particular shipment was far too important to allow idiots like Bender and the ice-cube from the stupid ages to gum things up.
Hours passed without incident. Bender found his way onto the bridge and was trying to play rock-paper-scissors with Zoidberg – neither of them had the right shaped hands for the game. Zoidberg continually produced 'scissors' even when he wasn't trying to, while Bender could only make 'rock'… nevertheless he was on a winning streak.
Fry took the ship through a number of minor course-corrections and gravity-boosts through manual control, and was proud of himself when nothing exploded.
Bender had finally tired of his game and sauntered over to Fry.
"I see eyeball's been leaving you behind the wheel more often these days," he observed. "Seems like she trusts you more than she used to. And that's a trust that can be exploited…"
"I guess she does," Fry said happily, tuning out his friend's endless plotting. "It has been a long time since I destroyed anything valuable or threatened the lives of innocent people."
"You're right; you are slipping."
"And she has been a lot nicer to me ever since I wrote that opera."
Bender mulled on that for a moment. "Well… I'd be worried about that if I was you," he said. "She's at that age when human females start getting desperate for offspring. I say she's sizing you up as a free source of genetic material, buddy. Run for the hills."
"I don't think that's…" Fry trailed off as his eyes were drawn to the long-range scanner. For a moment a contact had registered at the edge of scanning range. It was weak and ill-defined, and on the next pass it had disappeared.
"Huh…" He called up the command routines for the high-powered radar array and fired a burst into the sector where the contact had been. Briefly the object returned to the screen, before becoming scattered and then vanishing altogether. It had been closer that time, but the ship's computer hadn't been able to lock onto it or produce identification.
"Bender, can you take a look out of the port… err… starboard side window?"
"No dice, meatbag, I've taken the week off."
"Could you just…"
"No…. arrr!" Bender marched away. And Fry was forced to resort to the other person on the bridge.
"Zoidberg, can you go and watch out the starboard window," he said reluctantly. "Tell me if you see anything unusual while I try to get a fix on this…"
"Hurray! I'm useful!" The good doctor leapt up from the couch and ran to press his face against the reinforced plexiglass. "I see nothing, my friend."
"Keep looking, I think there's something out there, but it keeps vanishing…" Fry focused on the console, directing electromagnetic scans in a dozen different frequencies across the same vector. Should I call Leela? He wondered… It doesn't seem like a big deal… probably just a chunk of comet debris. And if I wake her over something that trivial she might not think I'm competent any more…
"Nothing yet, but it's a great pleasure to work with you… oh wait!"
"There is something!" the crustacean said, clicking his claws excitedly. "Something big and dark is passing in front of the stars. I don't know what it is, but it has style – black is the new black, they're saying."
"Oh hell…" He keyed the intercom for the Captain's quarters and spoke apologetically into the microphone. "Leela, I'm sorry to wake you," he said.
"What's wrong, Fry?" came the muted reply a few moments later.
"We've got an object off to starboard. Scanner contact is wigging in and out so size and distance can't be determined… seems like it might be a stealth ship or something."
"Unless it's an equipment malfunction, you're probably right," Leela said, appearing beside him and making him jump. "Asteroids don't tend to deflect scanner beams."
"Zoidberg confirmed visually," Fry said, vacating the Captain's chair and noting that Leela's hair was untied, cascading past her shoulders like an amethyst waterfall.
She took the helm and studied the scanner readout. A ghostly shape was picked up, its position and size seeming to change from one second to the next. "I think you're right, red," she said, her eye narrowing. "Whoever they are, they're operating a sophisticated stealth system. I need you to send out a friendly hail on all frequencies – can you do that?"
"No problem." Fry dashed over to the communications console and manipulated the controls. "Broadcasting," he said.
"Hello new friends!" Zoidberg said, waving a claw at the dark frigate. Leela looked past the lobster and saw the area of shadow passing in front of the stars.
"Any response?" she asked Fry.
"Nothing," he replied, feeling his stomach knot.
"Damn it. They're obviously after this stupid DOOP shipment. And now they know that we know they're there."
"They what - what?" Fry frowned in confusion at that sentence.
Leela shook her head. "We're gonna break and run," she said, keying the shipboard intercom. "All crew to battle-stations!"
"Bender's taking a week off," Fry said.
"He's useless in a firefight anyway," Leela muttered. "Fry, terrifyingly you're actually our best marksman – you take the laser turret."
"A million quarters in the video arcade well spent!" Fry said, whipping out a quick salute before dashing off.
Leela set her jaw and spooled the engines up to full power. Let's play, she thought.