The smile Kif Kroker sported as he entered the bridge of the Nimbus was wide, bright and filled with the sort of naive optimism only a brand new graduate of the DOOP Academy could feel. Marching in single line formation with his fellow Nimbus-assigned graduates, Kif scanned the width and length of the bridge, trying to adjust to his new place in this military order.
“It’s so much bigger than the academy’s mothership,” Kif murmured to himself as the line about-faced. He kept himself at attention, his eyes peeled for his supervisor. Within minutes the door hissed open, revealing a tall blond haired man with regal bearing and a bright, white smile.
“At ease,” he said, placing a hand on each hip. “Gentlemen,” he boomed, “welcome to the DOOP. I’m your commanding officer, Zapp Brannigan. I run a well-oiled, highly-perfumed and lusciously murderous ship. Only the best of the best serve under me. Your first assignment is going to be pretty dangerous, and only the toughest of you need apply.”
“Sir yes sir!” The string of troops blurted out.
“All right. Your first duty as a DOOP officer is….to get me coffee!” He flicked his fingers dismissively. “Double cream with sugar – daddy likes LOTS of sugar.”
Zapp’s men stood by in incredulous silence. Nothing in their training had prepared them for such a pitiful task. Kif’s reflexes, strongly honed as they were, had been prepared to follow whatever order had been given to him – he leapt from the line and scaled the walls, climbing across the room and back with Zapp’s cup of coffee in a matter of minutes.
Zapp sniffed the cup before drinking it. “Green Hill and Dale….clean roast….good blend.” He smiled. “Yes. This will do. Good job, Junior Lieutenant Kreeper…”
Zapp dismissed him with a shrug of his shoulders. “The rest of you report for KP duty on the double.” A groan rose up from the assembled troops. “Kracker, walk with me.” Kif beamed as he followed Zapp into the mess hall.
“Thanks to your loyalty I’ll be having coffee with my cake. What would you like?” Zapp asked. “The finest Champale? A bit of Canned Imitation Red Velvet cake?”
“No thank you,” Kif replied. “Sir, while I find it flattering that you would…”
Zapp plopped a pile of purple jelly on Kif’s plate, followed by two chunks of brown-colored meat and three more green sausages. Kif turned pale as he stared at the pile of food. “Krump,” Zapp said, clapping Kif on the back so hard that he winced, “I see big things for you in the DOOP. Big, boot-polishing, gentlemen’s magazine fetching things.”
Kif groaned. “Sir…”
But Zapp clapped him on the back again, cutting off his speech. “You and I are going tonight to a place where no man and alien have ever gone before.”
Kif’s eyes brightened as he envisioned a wild planet of wild adventure. “The Wadcognia Dimension?” he asked.
“No, the new singles’ bar on Planet Easy.”
Kif glowered. “Sir, I don’t think I should….”
“Are you giving lip to your superior officer, soldier?” Zapp asked.
Before Kif could answer, a distant alarm began to blare, red lights flashing on the ceiling. “Battle stations!” he shouted. “The enemy is in our sight!” He grabbed a passing soldier. “Boy, do you know who the enemy is?”
He squirmed under Zapp’s scrutiny. “No, sir!”
“Damn, I was hoping you did!” He pushed the young soldier away, and then turned toward Kif. “Enjoy this, Kriff – you never get to redo your first time.”
Kif let out a muffled sigh as he followed Zapp into the bridge.
The battle was, to Kif’s disappointment, a poorly-managed disaster. He found that it was easier to care for himself in battle than assist Zapp, who was far too busy dodging plywood spears and arrows to properly command his troops. They were lucky that they were fighting balsa wood people on the balsa wood planet.
At last, the final enemy had been torn limb from limb. Zapp stood at the furthest end of the throne room, mopping his brow. “Pile up the casualties for firewood,” he said wearily, flopping down on the toothpick throne, which quickly collapsed beneath him.
Kif gave a weary look to the pile of stick figure people. “Sir, I have a question….”
“Always pull out a splinter, never wiggle it. I learned that the hard way.” He shuddered. “Two shards in the ol’ boys. It wasn’t pretty, Kriff.”
“But why did we invade this planet? Were they threatening government security?”
Zapp kicked a wooden limb. “These terrible things were trying to steal highly-classified government secrets…”
Kif nodded his head, kicking at a nearby wooden limb.
“…Specifically, the ingredients to the president’s pecan pie recipe,” Zapp glared at the wooden hand by his foot. “No dirty hippie foreigner’s going to live to make Mama Nixon’s famous homemade pie and live to tell the tale!”
The shock on Kif’s face told the entire world of his disbelief at Zapp’s words. “But that means this invasion operates against DOOP guidelines!” he whispered. But by then, Zapp had moved away from him, further into the throne room, where he had found a great stash of jewels lying in a spilled-open safe – rubies and emeralds.
He smirked and topped his head with a golden crown. “I can already read the headlines now: ‘Brannigan conquers planet, civilizes universe, has delicious date with va-va-voomish chickeroonie.”
To Kif’s utter disgust it worked out that way. At the end of the day they wound up at the Hip Joint, where Zapp tried every pick-up line he could think of on anything that resembled a female figure in an attempt to win himself a night of attention.
“Haven’t you heard that the thigh’s the limit?” he asked one of them, only to be slapped hard across the face. Zapp held his jaw, rubbing it, staring after the retreating woman. “Tonight,” he said, “the world is our bag of Pop Rocks, Kip.”
“Kif,” he snarled.
“Now watch the smoothest seducer in all of Alpha Centauri pull the woman of his dreams from this crowd of nobodies.” He popped his collar and approached a stacked redhead.
Kif sank down against the table, folding his face against his arm, hearing the offended scream of the redhead Zapp had tried to pick up. If things kept up the way they were, he couldn’t ever envision getting along with his supervisor.
After a mission to a world made entirely out of cotton candy (which they melted down with blowtorches), Kif sat in his cabin, glowering as he tried to keep his exoskeleton from absorbing the dyes and scent of the foodstuff. That was when the ship was suddenly buffeted to the left and then the right, rocking it beneath a shower of debris. Kif threw on his uniform shirt and ran toward the bridge.
Zapp sat in his commander’s chair, gesturing helplessly at the screen, clutching a bag filled with Super Absorbent Cotton Candy. “Who knew those monsters would have the gumdrops to fight back?” he wondered.
At that point, a horrible screeching sound could be heard from the hull. A flood of burning red fluid jetted into the body of the bridge, shattering the viewscreen, opening up a vacuum that sucked out two engineers before plugging the hole with something that resembled a large canon mouth. It began emitting a liquid that buried the remaining screaming crew members in….
“Cinnamon sauce!” gasped out Kif, as he paddled to higher ground.
“We need the world’s largest sundae!” blurted out Zapp as he clung to a pylon upon the highest observation desk in the room. “Get me a mountain of ice cream and three hundred spoons!!” In mid-order, Zapp suddenly lost his grip and tumbled into the liquid. He came up gasping. “Help! I can’t swim!”
Kif didn’t hesitate for a moment. Untying the sash of his DOOP uniform, he lashed himself to an overhead pipe; then, using his natural elasticity, he hooked his legs around it and threw himself downward toward Zapp, the fluid-filled bladders that supported his system providing a bungee cord-like resistance.
“PLEASE, Kif, hurry! Oh, I wanted to die buried in beautiful women and martinis!” Zapp called out, his hand flailing above the cinnamon goop. Kif grabbed him just before he bobbed completely beneath the surface.
Kif dropped a gasping Zapp beside him on the pipe, then surveyed the still surface for further victims. The rest of the crew had apparently drowned, and worse yet, the flow of cinnamon sauce continued unabated.
Kif scanned the room for something to throw into the maw of the tube. Then he noticed that Zapp hadn’t let go of the bag of candy. Kif grabbed it out of his hands and hurled it across the room, successfully blocking the flow of sauce. Then, unhooking his legs from the pipes, he darted down toward the command controls and shouted “FIRE” into the speaker system. There was a mighty shudder from the Nimbus as it bucked forward and delivered two torpedoes to the hull of the attacking ship.
There was a loud explosion, then a steady decrease of liquid. It gradually drained away out through the floor to reveal a bunch of cinnamon-coated bodies and a thoroughly shattered control room.
Kif eyed the carnage with utter shock. He heard Zapp’s graceless dismount from behind him, followed by a soft sound of disappointment. “In my day they taught men how to swim before they let them into the order! Kif, call the corpse suckers, then get me a new uniform and a fresh pair of boots.”
Kif wheeled around to shout that he wanted to quit, go back home and forget his dreams of helping the world and bringing about peace. That was when Zapp cut through his angry reverie.
“If you keep it up, I just might make you my second in command, Kroaker. I really like the way you fetch coffee.”
A blistering rant rose to the tip of Kif’s tongue. But then he noticed the look on his CO’s face. A strange surge of power went through Kif. Zapp needed him – he was helpless without him. And that, perhaps, was the best tribute he’d gotten to his competence yet, though it was the strangest. As much as he loathed the man, he was his ticket to making an actual difference in DOOP.
The smile that had been wiped from his face two days before was suddenly back. Kif gave Zapp a crisp salute. “Yes, sir,” he said, before turning around and heading back out the door to find Zapp’s uniform for the first though – much to his eventual chagrin – not the last time.