Green Storm Rising
By Soylent Orange
Prologue: Somewhere in Deep Space
"What do you think it is?"
"It's just space junk, Fry. Look at it; it's probably been abandoned here for centuries. Can we please just go now? The weekend officially started..." Leela glanced at the thing she wore on her wrist. "Two hours ago."
"No, not yet!" Fry plastered his face against the glass of the forward viewport and stared bright eyed at the hulking shape that lay beyond. Brimming with excitement, he spun to face his Captain. "Hey, you know what would be awesome? Let's go explore it!"
Leela moaned inwardly. Fry's limitless enthusiasm for anything new that he came across usually ran the gambit from adorable to mildly annoying. But this was the third time in a month he'd made her stop the ship so he could watch some rusted out piece of garbage float by. She'd made the mistake of indulging his childish desire to board the first two abandoned 'ships'- the first one was obviously an old tool shed that had drifted loose from someone's property, and the second was a decrepit space portajohn, but she hadn't felt mean enough to tell Fry that.
Bender rolled his eyes. "Come on, meatbag. What's with this obsession of yours with garbage we find on the side of the road, anyway?"
"It's not garbage!" Fry insisted, pointing. "Look at it! It could be a spaceship holding the last survivors of some super race of aliens in stasis, or some kind of doomsday laser that's all like kapow, zap! And all the planets are like, whaaagh! Garhgh! Or, or maybe it's a ghost ship cuz the whole crew went nuts and-"
"Alright, alright!" Leela said, throwing up her hands in defeat. It had been a long, painful delivery. The cyclops wanted only one thing at that moment- to get home, take a long shower, and have a series of strong drinks, but she was still a few hours' flight from Earth. The last thing she wanted to deal with was an over-stimulated delivery boy babbling on and on the whole way home about what might have been contained in the pile of scrap metal that hung to port. In the long run, it would be less painful to let Fry poke his head around for a few minutes, get bored, and come back to the ship. "We'll go check it out." When Fry broke into a huge grin, Leela held up a hand, palm out, in the hope of dampening his enthusiasm before it got out of control. "For ten minutes. Then we're leaving. Okay?"
Fry let out a whoop and grabbed Bender by the arm. "Come on Bender, let's go!" The robot reluctantly let himself be dragged from the bridge, but only after shooting Leela a dark look for giving in to the redhead. The cyclops could only shrug apologetically.
When Fry and Bender were gone, Leela went back and let herself drop into the Captain's chair. For a moment she leaned over the wheel and rubbed her temples, idly wishing that she had Fry's seemingly limitless supply of energy. Then she pressed the button for the intercom and patched herself through to Amy's quarters.
"Amy, are you awake?" Leela asked tentatively. She really didn't want to wake the intern, but neither did she want to leave Amy alone on the ship without telling her first.
"Hi, Leela! What's up?"
Leela was relieved to find no hint in Amy's voice that she'd been asleep. "Nothing big. We drove by some old space wreck- a big one this time- and Fry and Bender are going to go explore. I just thought I should tell you I'm going along too, to make sure they don't do anything stupid." There was a beat. "-er than usual."
To the PE Captain's surprise, Amy's voice took on a hint of excitement. "Oh clool, I love stuff like that! Can I come too?"
"Sure, why not. Can you be ready in five minutes?"
The wreck was a black smudge against the soft greens and reds of the nebula in which it sat. Whatever the thing was, it was deceptively large. That's the problem with space Leela mused. There's no way for the eye to judge distances. Not that her eye was any good at that anyway. As the PE Ship approached, details started to appear on the pitted metal surface. Basically, the object was a series of tetrahedrons stacked on top of each other, with a few long, cylindrical protrusions sticking out in a seemingly random fashion. The whole structure was maybe a hundred meters long and half as wide and deep. Hundreds of circular windows dotted the surface. Leela made her way to the single, rectangular hole at the far end of the thing which looked like it might be an entry point. As she worked for a moment to match her velocity to the structure's lazy spin, the ship's headlights came to bear on the hole and illuminated a space just large enough to accommodate the ship.
Surprisingly, the hulk still had some artificial gravity. It was closer to lunar gravity than Earth gravity, but something was better than nothing- especially since tethering the ship in microgravity was a pain in the ass.
Donning their space suits, the PE Crew disembarked and congregated under the Planet Express Ship's bow. The flashlights mounted on their helmets cast little pools of light here and there as the crew looked around the small hangar that contained the ship. There wasn't much to see aside for a few micrometeorite holes in the bulkheads and a bit of wire that hung from the ceiling.
Fry spotted a hatch and wandered over to it and the rest of the group followed somewhat reluctantly. The abandoned hulk was decidedly spooky, which Fry would realize when his excitement wore off. Leela had just managed to catch up to the delivery boy when he turned a handle and hauled the hatch open. Bits of dust and corroded metal rained to the floor. The crew was standing at the entrance to some kind of long hallway. The combined light of the crew's flashlights revealed a series of evenly spaced, closed doors that ran the entire length of the corridor. Fry made an excited noise and headed for the nearest doorway, but Leela caught his arm.
"Remember what we agreed on, Fry. Ten minutes. Then we're going home."
The delivery boy began to protest, but knew from his Captain's tone that she wasn't going to compromise with him. "Alright. Ten minutes." Leela let go of him.
The first few rooms didn't contain anything interesting. There were a couple of abandoned desks, what looked like a smashed desk lamp, a bed with sheets that crumbled to dust the moment that Amy touched them… Leela found herself bored almost immediately.
After a few minutes the rest of the crew seemed to have forgotten the initial creepy feeling that the abandoned hulk had given them, and Bender and Amy started to peak into some of the compartments on their own. Leela just stood in the corridor leaning against a bulkhead, idly playing Tetris on her wrist computer. This is stupid. I'm going to miss The Simpsons' 1,019th season premiere. She looked at her watch. Twelve minutes had passed.
"Okay, time's up. Come on Fry, let's get back to-"
"Whoa, what is this?" Fry had just opened another door. Bender and Amy poked their heads out of a nearby compartment. "Does it look valuable?" Bender asked eagerly.
"I dunno. Come check it out!" To Leela's infinite annoyance, Bender and Amy walked over to Fry and the three of them disappeared into the room. A second later a burst of excited chatter crackled over Leela's radio. Sighing dramatically but curious despite herself, Leela stood and strolled toward the open hatch. On the other side was a large open space filled with computer consoles. Rack upon rack of electronics lined three of the walls; the fourth wall consisted of a single large viewport. In the center of the room was a low pedestal on which some giant device of inscrutable purpose was perched. The object consisted of a clear cylinder about five feet in diameter and twice that tall sitting on its end. The cylinder was at the center of half a dozen hovering metallic rings that spun around in alternating directions. Although the computers that lined the room were dark and still, the device in the middle of the room glowed a soft blue-white. Leela's coworkers were clustered around the machine.
"What do you think it is?" Amy asked no one in particular.
"I dunno." Fry replied. "What do you think, Bender?"
Bender's eyes zoomed in on the device. "It looks like easy cash to me." He said after inspecting it. "Let's take it with us. We can say it's some crazy alien artifact or something and sell it to the highest bidder."
Leela interrupted before the conversation could reach critical stupidity. "We are not taking that thing with us." She declared. "We don't have any idea what it does. Now let's get the hell out of here before we end up exposed to some kind of deadly radiation… or something." She turned and started to make her way to the exit.
And then Bender said the seven words that Leela feared more than anything else in the universe. "Hey, I wonder what this button does?"
Leela whirled to find the robot hunched over the pedestal. His hand was perched a few centimeters over a very large, very red button.
But it was too late. A rumble started to build in the deck. To Leela's horror, the compartment hatch slid closed. When the PE Captain tried to force it open again it didn't even budge. In the center of the room, the mystery device began to glow brighter. The rings that surrounded it began to spin faster and oscillate slightly up and down. Soon the light was so strong that it hurt Leela's eye. She had to turn away. The rumbling in the deck began to mount, and it became impossible to stand.
"What's going on?!" Fry was screaming somewhere to Leela's left. The cyclops tried to crawl to him, but couldn't find him in the intense blue glare. Somehow she ended up on the far side of the device, by the viewport. Amy was there too. The two women grabbed ahold of each other for support against the shaking.
"What are we gonna do?!" Amy screamed over the radio, her helmet touching her Captain's.
"I don't know!" Leela hollered back, and the light grew even brighter.
Fry materialized out of the glare and propped his body against Leela's. On impulse the PE Captain reached out and grabbed ahold of Fry's hand and then Amy's. As the shaking in the deck grew to impossible levels, the three humans huddled together. Leela shut her eye against the blue light that seemed to be coming from all around her. Everything seemed to retreat to a great distance.
Pop. Leela felt the sound more than she heard it. Suddenly the intense glare of the machine was gone and the deck was motionless. For a long moment, Fry, Leela and Amy didn't move, but it was like the craziness of a few seconds earlier had never happened.
Leela cautiously got to her feet and Fry and Amy followed suit. Bender was standing nearby, seemingly unfazed. In the center of the room, the device was emitting irregular pulses of light that occasionally cast the robot in an odd blue. Bender was staring out the viewport while idly smoking one of his cigars.
Leela was livid. "What in God's name were you thinking?!" She demanded, grabbing Bender none-too-gently by the arm. "You could have killed us, you insufferable jerk! " Bender shrugged and continued to smoke. "Are you even listening to-" Leela fell silent. Her eye had been drawn to the device, which was still emitting random bursts of light. A network of cracks had developed on the surface of the clear cylinder. As she watched, one of the cracks seemed to grow noticeably. Okay, so that can't be good. Luckily the compartment hatch had opened the moment the room had stopped shaking. Why it had locked them in the room in the first place was anybody's guess.
"Come on guys, let's get out of here. I don't like what this thing is doing." Leela gestured to the device. As if on cue there was a bright flash, and there were twice as many cracks as there had been a moment earlier. The exit hatch closed halfway but stopped amid a shower of sparks.
Leela nodded. "Uh-huh, time to go. Come on!" Leela dashed for the exit with Amy and Fry a step behind her. Bender, giving his retreating coworkers a disdainful look, tossed aside the remains of his cigar and sauntered after them.
By the time Leela and her two human crewmates had made it back to the small hangar another tremor had started building in the deck. It wasn't constant, but came in intermittent bursts like the light streaming from the device had done. Whatever it was that the device was supposed to do, it wasn't doing it right this time.
Leela bounded up the flight of stairs that led into the ship and was in the pilot's seat scant seconds later. With the whole ship shaking around her, Leela started up the engines and strapped herself into her chair. Bender appeared in the hatchway outside the PE Ship's front viewport. Seemingly unaffected by the bursts of heavy shaking that were enough to drive Leela's teeth together, the robot nonchalantly swaggered over to the ship. As soon as Bender was aboard, Leela retracted the landing gear and threw the vessel into full reverse. The shaking stopped abruptly the instant that the ship lifted off the deck.
When the ship was clear Leela threw it into a turn and pushed the throttle as far forward as it would go. The engines screamed in protest as the Planet Express Ship hurled away into space. Leela felt some kind of wrenching in her gut, and there was a massive explosion directly astern. A colossal fist reached out at the retreating ship and the whole universe seemed to turn bright blue. Leela closed her eye, but the brightness only increased. Somewhere, someone was screaming. Maybe it was her…