It had been quite a task, but they had finally managed to cram both halves of Zoidberg into the ship's refrigerator to keep him fresh until they could locate a suitable medical team. The crustacean hadn't been too keen on the idea, and even in his injured and woozy state he'd managed to rip a few holes in Fry's jacket before they'd gotten the door shut.

"Don't worry about it," Fry told Leela and Bender while he patted the fridge door. "Being frozen isn't so bad. It's kinda like going to sleep… on a glacier."

Hermes was propped up on a bed in the medibay tanked out on morphine with a cellular regeneration pack strapped over one side of his head. And Bender's body had been collected and placed in a pile in one corner.

"Oh that reminds me," the robot's head said from the floor. "You guys wanna go check in my chest compartment? I got a gift to send to our friends out there."

"Is it just from you, or can we put all our names on it?" Fry asked.

Leela reached into the robot's disembodied torso and pulled out a bulky spherical object.

"Bender, this is the warhead from the torpedo we dismantled." Her eye went wide and she smiled wickedly, then turned and raced to the airlock where the enemy shuttlecraft was still docked. Without hesitating, she stepped through and into the dim pungent interior of the Xylogen craft. The ceiling was very low, forcing her to stoop.

She set the warhead down and activated its timer mechanism, selecting ten minutes. Then, using a pair of eyelash tweezers from her pocket, she manipulated the tiny controls on the shuttle's piloting console, having to strain her eye to make out the diagrams on the little screen. Finding the alien craft's autopilot, she set it to return to the mothership, hit the activation button on the warhead, then quickly dashed back through the airlock as it began to cycle closed.

With a small puff of delta-V, the sleek little shuttlecraft pushed away from the Planet Express ship and began to trawl slowly back toward the dark frigate that loomed beyond, carrying with it the ticking timebomb.

Leela rejoined Fry, and together they made their way up to the bridge.

"You managed to remove those damaged lenses?" Leela asked as she dropped down into the Captain's chair.

"Yeah, yeah," Bender replied from under Fry's arm. "As usual I'm the only one who can get anything done around here."

Fry set Bender's head down on an empty seat and deliberately tightened a restraint harness over the robot's mouth. He went on an angry, muffled rant.

Leela brought the systems back online and tracked the progress of the automated shuttlecraft on the short-range radar. It was nearing the mothership.

"Let's give this a try," she muttered to herself, gingerly selecting engine control and opening up the remaining reactor on minimum power. There was a deep hum and a slight vibration in the deck as the jerry-rigged power conversion apparatus struggled with the power load. And she hadn't even lit the thrusters yet – the engine room would need a full radioactive decontamination when they got to the Nimbus.

A power load warning alarm went off, and Fry reached up from his station and silenced it.

"Leela, are we going to explode?" he queried quietly.

"Possibly," she replied. "Most of our engine is now held together by duct tape, and half the components in it are designed to move a mass one thousandth the size of this ship."

"Plus as soon as we engage the engine the bad guys are gonna start blasting us again, right?"

Leela smiled grimly. "Oh, they'll have other things to worry about," she said.

The shuttlecraft entered the main hanger bay of the dark frigate, moving deep inside to the docking terminal. Leela glanced at the time readout on her wrist thingy and edged up the power on the reactor, feeling the ship respond with an unhealthy quiver. Still she didn't ignite the main engine – she was waiting for the right moment.

The warhead inside the shuttlecraft reached the end of its countdown, and the antimatter inside its containment sphere was released to impact normal matter, triggering a massive release of energy. From outside, it looked as though a new star had suddenly been born inside the Xylogen ship's hanger bay.

"Now!" Leela said through clenched teeth. She activated the main engine, and the PE ship lurched forward with a violent buck, trailing a dirty cloud of isotopes.

The soft, unprotected innards of the alien frigate were torn asunder by the violent explosion that was amplified by its confinement. Entire decks were vaporized in the initial blast, and then the thermonuclear fire found its way to the rows of fuel tanks, and a secondary series of explosions ripped the ship apart from within.

In the bridge of the vessel, the commander scrabbled back and fourth in hysterics.

"What is happening?" he shrieked. "What's going on!?"

"We are defeated!" the first mate told him. "We must escape!"

The commander drew himself up. "Never!" he said. "A commander never abandons his ship, you coward." As he spoke, he was removing his ceremonial sash of command. With slow, deliberate motions, he hung the sash on the first mate's neck, and then pushed past him and hurried away.

The first mate groaned and slumped his three shoulders as the ship shuddered violently and plumes of fire erupted from splits in the walls.

As the dark frigate was engulfed in a final devastating eruption of fire and plasma, the Planet Express ship chugged away.

As Gene Roddenberry had written more than a thousand years before, space truly was the final frontier. What he'd failed to mention, however, was that the frontier was a rough, brutal place where pain and death lurked behind every star and you had to bleed and hurt and grit your teeth just to make your way in the Universe.

In all fairness though, Roddenberry never actually went to space until after he died.

But despite all the terror and chaos and unreasoning hatred that went on in the vastness of space, none of those concerns could take away the beauty… the majestic brilliance of it all.

Fry found himself once again staring out at the cosmos in wonder through the bridge viewscreen. Leela watched him silently and a smile played across her lips.

The events of the last day had faded into a horrific blur. After their escape from the Xylogen clutches, the Planet Express ship had almost torn itself apart from the violent vibrations generated by the jerry-rigged engine. But Leela's roughly thrown-together modification held; it was noisy and unsteady, and the thrust was asymmetrical, but they'd piled on enough speed to plot a trajectory, and with a few cleverly-mapped gravitational boosts along the way, they'd be able to reach the Nimbus fighting in the Xylogen home system inside of three days without having to engage the engines much.

It was, unfortunately, the closest port of call.

For once though, Leela was actually eager to see Zapp Brannigan… certainly for vastly different reasons than he was to see her. He had used her and her ship as a diversionary operation without her knowledge or consent – it was likely that the false intelligence of the superweapon's presence on the PE ship had been deliberately leaked to the Xylogen to distract the aliens from the real transport vessel. And because of that three of her crew were now seriously injured and her ship was flying on a wing and a prayer – she was going to leave boot prints all over Brannigan's head for what he'd done.

She thought of Hermes, still lapsing in and out of consciousness; the close-proximity energy blast to his head might have caused some neurological damage. And Bender – his body was scrap and would have to be replaced… she and Fry had committed to pitch in for the cost, and Bender put on a brave face, but they could tell he was quite depressed about losing his 'birth' body forever.

Oh, and there was Zoidberg too. She made a mental note to give that refrigerator to charity as soon as they returned to Earth – they could never eat from it again.

She engaged the autopilot and stood from the chair, stretching languidly. The accumulated scrapes, bruises, and frayed nerves suddenly hit her like a railgun blast, and all she wanted to do was flop down on her bunk and sleep for a thousand years, just like Fry.

Fry… She looked at him again, and this time he was staring back at her blankly. He looked as tired as she felt, and he still bore the assortment of shallow cuts and abrasions he'd sustained when the cannon turret blew. In the rush of escape and subsequent tending to Hermes, she had forgotten to look over his injuries.

"Bender, could you watch the ship for a while?" she asked the robot, picking up his head.

"Sure, that's all I'm gonna be good for now anyway… watching things," Bender replied bitterly. Leela looked worried, so he continued in a kinder tone. "It's fine. Go on, get outta here big boots."

She set him down on the main console and patted his head affectionately before walking over to Fry and taking him by the arm. Fry allowed her to lead him off the bridge, and Bender's head shot him a lewd wink as he went.

"What's up, purple?" he asked.

"Just checking you out," Leela said, and then rephrased: "…checking out your injuries."

"Oh, it's nothing serious," Fry said, then mentally kicked himself. "I mean… I guess it's better to be safe than sorry." He began limping slightly.

Leela smirked. Some things never changed.

She took a small medikit from the sick bay, and not wanting to watch Hermes gibber and hallucinate, took Fry to her own cabin. He stepped over the threshold, feeling like Indiana Jones breaking into the inner sanctum of some holy temple. The door slid shut behind him and he felt a little tingle of excitement.

"Just lie down and let me put some dressing on those cuts," Leela told him, motioning toward her bunk.

"Woo," Fry said, sitting down on the edge of the bunk. "It's supposed to be an honour to dine at the Captain's table – I must have done something REALLY good to be lying on the Captain's bed."

Leela chuckled and tousled his spiky red hair. "I know it's somewhere you've always wanted to be," she said, and then blushed slightly in the awkward silence that followed.

"Oh no - she's onto me," Fry muttered, grinning widely and rolling his eyes.

Leela playfully pushed him onto his back and sat down beside him. Using a bio-dabber from the medikit, she began gently swabbing the cuts on Fry's head and applied protective films of synthetic skin. Fry closed his eyes and enjoyed her touch – she was soft and tender, occasionally tracing the lines of his face with the tips of her fingers. She seemed to be enjoying herself.

Leela noticed Fry's white T-shirt was spotted with blood in a few places where tiny debris had scythed through the fabric during the depressurization.

"Take off your shirt," she instructed, her voice suddenly husky.

Fry sat up and shrugged off his jacket. Leela reached up and helped him peel the shirt over his head.

"Oh God, Fry…" The delivery boy's ribcage was crossed on one side by a large dark bruise that reached almost around to his spine.

"Got that when I fell down through the hatch," he explained. "It's no biggie…"

Leela very gently probed the bruised area with her fingers, checking for broken ribs. When she raised her eye she found that Fry was staring back at her intently; suddenly all pretence of a medical examination dissipated. She was sitting on her bed inches away from the man she loved, with her hands on his naked torso. Her pulse and breathing quickened; she licked her lips and slowly moved her hands up to his chest.

Fry was clearly experiencing the same impulse. He ran his hands along her thighs, hips, sides, shoulders, neck, and finally held her face between his palms, gazing into her beautiful eye.

She let him draw her closer, and their lips brushed lightly.

"Fry," she whispered against his lips. "I love you."

He smiled and whispered back: "I know. And I love you."

They pressed against one another and kissed deeply and slowly. They had kissed before, but never like this – this was real, passionate, hungry, yet at the same time tender and gentle. Leela pressed Fry down onto the bunk and straddled him. When she finally broke the kiss Fry let out a long contented sigh.

"U leave me breathless," he murmured. He watched open-mouthed as she let out her hair then unashamedly stripped off her tank top and tossed it away. "…Wow."

As Leela leaned back down to lock her lips against Fry's, their little green starship coasted quietly through interstellar space and the stars looked on.

The rest of the voyage passed without incident – the only exciting points were where the engine needed to be engaged to assist with gravitational slingshots. At those points the little ship bucked and screamed like an unbroken colt carrying its first rider.

Hermes was lucid enough to answer some questions about how he felt, but little else. Fry and Leela weren't confident enough in their knowledge of medicine to attempt setting up an IV, so they had to carefully assist the bureaucrat to swallow some water.

Between these activities, and stints on the bridge to keep Bender company, Fry and Leela spent the rest of the time in Leela's quarters exploring their newfound intimacy. It had taken a brutal and deadly space battle to do it, but the barrier that had stood between them for too long had finally been broken. Now Leela couldn't understand why she had held him at arm's length all that time – had it been fear? Inadequacy? Blindness from a life of looking at the world with one eye, in two dimensions, flat and logical? In any case, it was no longer important.

Of course, both of them had had sex before, but this had been the first time either of them had actually made love. For Fry it was the consummation of the most meaningful and mature relationship he'd ever had, and the realization of a long-held dream. For Leela, if was the first time in as long as she could remember that she'd slept with a man and not woken to feelings of guilt or shame or a sense of having been used. They were both happy.

Bender had immediately noticed the contented glow on his friends' faces, and had delightedly poked fun at them.

"'Ello, wots all this then?" he'd said in his curious Londoner accent. "You two organisms finally succumb to your primitive instincts? Oh! Oh! You gotta name your first kid after me!"

And so it went; as the PE ship limped laboriously onward the two lovers cultivated the tentative and beautiful union that had blossomed in the midst of chaos.

Captain Zapp Brannigan was bored. With the successful deployment of the secret DOOP superweapon, there had been precious little to do in the Xylogen system except mop up remnants of resistance on the three inhabited worlds. There was nobody but Kif to listen to his victorious monologues, and the little Amphibiosan weakling had been infuriatingly disinterested of late.

The light supper he'd just enjoyed was sitting heavy in his stomach as he absently stroked the velure of his uniform while he reclined in his command chair.

"Sir?" Kif said quietly, appearing by his side.

"Can't you see I'm busy, Lieutenant?" Zapp snapped.

"I'm sorry sir, but we have a ship on the scope, approaching our position."

"Aha!" Zapp leapt to his feet. "Finally some action! Target it with every weapon we have, and some other weapons we don't have!"

Kif sighed. "It appears to be the Planet Express ship," he said.

Zapp's eyes widened. "The lady Leela!" he exclaimed. "Of course, I remember now. She and her vessel were instrumental in operation Clean Sweep… and now that she's here, she can be instrumental in operation Red Hot Loving.

"Kif! Beam me over to her ship." Zapp put his hands on his hips and stood expectantly.

Kif stared at him for a long moment before replying. "Sir, that technology doesn't exist," he said.

"And with that attitude, it never will!"

The little green Lieutenant looked away in disgust, and noticed the monitor readout. "Um… sir?" he said.

"What, what now?"

"The Planet Express ship seems to have sustained some substantial battle damage and it… it is flying toward us on a collision course."

Zapp spun around in alarm and looked out the Nimbus's forward viewscreen. Sure enough, a little green dot could be seen growing ever-larger.

"What is that crazy erotic woman doing?" he muttered to himself as the nose of the PE ship expanded into startling detail. "Brace for sexy impact!"

At the last moment, the Planet Express ship pulled up, but not before Leela activated the main cargo bay doors on the underbelly. As she nosed the green freighter up and over the bridge of the Nimbus, three large crates of mud bricks sailed onward and slammed into the warship's hull, smashing apart and dispersing into a small dirty nebula.

Leela had made her point clear. And she would remove all doubt when she landed.

The Planet Express ship was parked in the Nimbus's cavernous docking bay, and Leela was giving instructions to maintenance crews and DOOP medics when Zapp arrived with Kif in tow. She didn't notice his presence at first as she watched Hermes being carried out of the PE ship on a stretcher and a pair of paramedics struggling with a frozen block of Zoidberg.

"Well, well, well – look what the solar tide washed up on Zapp's shore," a silky smooth voice crooned into her ear, and warm pungent breath fanned her neck. Leela automatically lashed her boot heel up and back, feeling it connect with satisfaction into something soft and small.

Zapp went down like the sack of crap he was, and curled into a whimpering ball. Kif hung back and tried not to snigger.

"You son of a bitch," Leela snarled, turning to look down on Brannigan in contempt. "You sent my crew and I on a suicide mission as a damn decoy. Three of them are seriously injured. Don't you have any morals or sense of responsibility you disgusting oaf – we were nearly all killed!"

"But you… still came… to be… by my side," Zapp managed to croak. "Face it Leela… you just can't… stay away."

Leela kicked him in the stomach, hard, and rounded on Kif.

"You!" she snapped. "Did you know about this?"

"N… no," he stammered. "This is the first I've heard of it, I swear. I would never knowingly endanger Amy's friends."

Leela accepted that with a curt nod. "Alright Kif, I believe you," she said. "I trust that the DOOP will take care of our damage and tend to the crew's injuries. After all, this was sustained in the engagement of a military directive." She spat the last part of the sentence with bitter venom, casting a sidelong glance at Zapp as he climbed unsteadily to his feet.

"Of course," Kif said. He inclined his head to Fry when the redhead meandered over.

"Yes, naturally," Zapp said. "We will gladly repair the damage to your crew and tend to your ship's injuries. But in the meantime, Leela, perhaps you would like to accompany me to the Lovenasium and tend to a little something else?"

Leela saw red. The bastard just wouldn't stop! She balled her fist, and was about to strike him, when someone else unexpectedly beat her to it.

Fry's fist lashed out and connected solidly with Zapp's jaw, snapping his head around and causing him to stumble backward. Leela gasped in surprise and delight as Captain Brannigan spat blood, and a tooth hit the deck; he looked stunned and his eyes watered slightly. Fry advanced on him and he took a step back.

"You got a whole mouth full of other teeth," Fry said slowly. "I can take the rest of them out one by one, or you can apologise to my Captain."

Zapp's eyes widened as he realized the boy really meant it. He cleared his throat and swallowed hard, gingerly wiping blood from his chin.

"I'm… sorry Captain Leela…" he said hoarsely. And then, not willing to face any more punishment from the Planet Express freaks, he turned on his heel and marched away with as much dignity as he could muster.

When Brannigan was out of earshot, Kif let out a little giggle.

"Oh, that was wonderful!" he said. "Philip – you're my hero!"

"Mine too," Leela said, quite impressed. She gazed at Fry in wonder and he grinned back at her.

"Just like the old saying:" he said, "violence solves everything."

She didn't bother correcting him; instead she stepped close and kissed him – inflicting physical injury on Zapp Brannigan was about the sexiest thing he could have done for her, and she was going to show her gratitude.

Kif gaped for a moment and muttered: "oh my," before quietly taking his leave.

With skilful application of medical nanomachines, both Zoidberg and Hermes were back on their feet within two days. During that time, the DOOP 'ground' crew conducted a near-complete refitting of the Planet Express ship, stripping out all damaged components and replacing them – the vessel hadn't seen so many new parts since it was built. The trick Leela had pulled on the engine impressed the technicians enough that they asked her permission to include it in the next edition of the starship emergency procedures manual.

Zapp Brannigan remained mercifully absent during the rest of the stopover. Kif told them that he had secluded himself in his quarters and could sometimes be heard talking to himself. Leela wondered how long it would be before 'the Zapper' finally lost his mind and his command – Kif could be a real leader, and she thought it was high time he was elevated.

But that wasn't her business.

When the ship repairs were finally complete, Kif led Hermes, Zoidberg, and Bender into the docking bay to meet Fry and Leela. Hermes' head was patched with sticking plaster, and Zoidberg's midsection was wrapped in bandages, but their eyes were drawn inexorably to Bender.

"Nobody look at me!" the robot wailed. "I'm hideous!"

"Ohhhh, no you're not," Leela said uncertainly. "It's very… slimming."

"I'm afraid it was the only spare body we had in stock," Kif explained. "As a temporary measure it will have to serve until you can find something more appropriate."

Bender's head had been mismatched to a skeletal robot body that made him look like an anorexic. Fry couldn't help but chuckle.

"Hey, cram it lover boy!" Bender shouted.

"Sorry Bender," fry laughed. "As soon as we get back we'll go straight to Mom's and get you a new bending unit chassis – I promise."

"Glad to see you guys are okay too," Leela said, addressing Hermes and Zoidberg.

"Hooray! Someone's glad I'm okay!" Zoidberg shouted happily.

Hermes glanced at his watch. "We're behind schedule," he grunted simply.

"Well, thanks for all the help, Kif," Fry said, clapping the little alien on the shoulder.

"My pleasure," Kif replied. "Once again, I extend the DOOP's apologies for this unfortunate chain of events. Oh, and please say hello to Amy for me."

"We will," Leela said, giving him a quick hug. "You watch out for yourself – don't let that idiot get you killed."

With that, the crew made their way toward the newly repaired and polished Planet Express ship that sat gleaming on the flight deck, ready to take them home. Hermes and Zoidberg went up the boarding stair, while the other three hung back for a moment to inspect the ship.

"She's a beautiful girl," Leela said, gazing at the smooth green lines.

"Yeah, she sure is," Fry said quietly, looking at the ship's Captain. Leela glanced at him and smiled. They drew close and put their arms around each other.

Bender took a swig from a bottle of beer and puffed on a cigar, both of which he had somehow acquired during the short walk across the docking bay.

"Come on, let's get outta here," he grumbled. "I wanna get home and back in a body that suits my delightful charisma as soon as possible. Then everything can go back to normal."

"Well, almost everything," Leela whispered to Fry.

The three of them marched onboard, and within a few minutes, the ship was blasting away toward a blue planet orbiting a yellow star somewhere out in the vast expanse of the Universe.