"Hey, Leela, check it out! I figured out how to blow hearts with my bubblegum!"
Leela shot Fry an exasperated glance from the pilot's chair, just in time to see a huge pink bubble burst in his face with enough force to send him rocketing backwards out of his seat. Of course, the idiot would choose Ludicrous Chew for his competitive bubble-blowing practice, instead of starting with something reasonable like Moderate Chew or even Extreme Chew. One of these days when she was feeling nice, she was going to have to show him how it was done.
"Did—did you see it?" he panted as he climbed back to his feet, voice muffled by the remains of the bubble sticking to his face.
"It was nice, Fry. But now the bridge smells like ham." She frowned at the controls beneath her hands. "Have you been trying to realign the comm system to pick up All My Circuits again? I can't seem to get a message through to the clients."
"Eh, so what? This delivery is small potatoes. Plus, I can't believe the Professor made us work the day before Xmas Eve! What a Scrooge."
"Fry," Leela said, adopting her best lecturing tone, "exchanging potatoes has been a sacred tradition on Idaho 3 and its colonies for centuries. If we don't get this shipment there in time, it could throw their whole culture into disarray. This is more important than our vacation time." She hoped it sounded convincing.
"Culture, shmulture," Fry said, echoing her actual thoughts as he leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the console. "Now watch me blow a giraffe!"
Leela was about to reply when the door opened and Bender strolled in, wearing a heavily embroidered silk kimono and scratching his back with what looked like half of the communications antenna. So that was why the system was on the fritz. Her temper stirred but she kept a firm hold on it. It was best to be diplomatic when accusing Bender of something, at least initially.
"Bender… have you been outside the ship?" she asked.
"Who's asking and why do you want to know?" Bender reached into his chest and pulled out a martini glass and two bottles.
"Because that looks like—"
Before she could finish, the ship suddenly rocked violently, as if it had crashed into something huge. All three of them screamed as they were tossed to the floor. Several consoles exploded, sending a shower of sparks dancing over their heads.
"Not my martini!" Bender shouted over the sound of shattering glass.
"What's happening?!" Fry said.
Leela fought her way back to the pilot's seat against the rolling of the ship. "We've been caught with some kind of grappling hook! The engines aren't powerful enough to break us free!"
A crackling noise sounded over the communications system. She fiddled with the controls, trying to right the ship and clear up the signal at the same time.
"… Be afraid! We are… space… inja… Prepare to be boarded!"
"My God!" Leela gasped. "Space ninjas!"
"What?" Fry said.
"You know, ninjas. But in space!"
Fry and Bender gasped and then broke into terrified babbling.
The ship stopped heaving quickly, restrained as it was by the giant grappling hook. Leela ran a quick check of the systems: the main lights were out, leaving them with only emergency lighting, and the espresso machine had suffered severe damage. The stars were no longer sliding serenely past the windshield. Even pushing ahead at full throttle made no difference: they were trapped and helpless, at the mercy of legendary space assassins.
"What would space ninjas want with us?" Fry asked desperately.
"I don't know! Has either of you pissed off the Emperor of Japan lately?"
Leela and Fry both looked at Bender. He stared back, first at one, then the other.
"Oh, sure," he said. "Blame the robot for your intra-species conflicts. You humans make me sick! When will you learn to take responsibility for your own problems?!"
"Well, you're the only one here wearing a kimono!" Leela said.
"I acquired this robe through perfectly legal means! Legal and untraceable." He folded his arms in defiance. "Nobody's had a hit out on me in at least three months and you know it."
A red light began blinking on Leela's control panel.
"That's it," she said. "We've been boarded. All right, guys, we can argue later. Whatever else happens, we are not going down without a fight. Fry: get behind me and stay out of the way."
"Okay!" he said, voice cracking, and cowered behind the pilot's chair.
"Bender: bend the first thing that comes through that door!"
"Aye, aye, captain!" Bender said, saluting. He rolled up his arm casings and faced the door. "If it's bendable: bend it. If it's unbendable: bend it."
An eerie silence descended on the Planet Express crew. The minutes ticked by as all three of them stared at the door to the bridge until their eyes watered.
"Wait… can ninjas turn invisible?" Fry whispered.
"No," Leela said.
"Oh, good. But they can fly, right?"
"Only the ones from Urectum."
Fry giggle-snorted and Leela rolled her eyes. "Real mature, Fry. Wait, quiet… do you hear something?"
They listened, straining their ears. She thought she'd caught just a hint of a noise; a footstep in the hallway or maybe somebody dropping something. It was impossible to tell how many there were. She might be able to take two fully-trained ninjas, but any more than that and she would be too heavily outnumbered. There was another infinitesimally soft noise and she tensed; her heart thumped painfully, but the familiar rush of adrenaline was almost a comfort.
She jumped a tiny bit when Fry spoke.
"Leela," he said, "Just in case we die, I wanted to tell you… remember all those times I tried to make bubblegum hearts and I said they were for Kim Cattrall's head? Well, they were actually for you, every one of them. I was just too embarrassed to tell you because they kept exploding and getting sticky ham smell all over me. Also, I was the one who left the spice weasel in the emergency shower."
"Oh, Fry, the first part of that was so sw-AHHHH!"
The door burst open and one, two black-clad, black-masked figures slipped through. Leela didn't hesitate; she leapt to the offensive immediately with a side kick she knew could cave in a person's ribs. But her target was too fast, shifting slightly out of reach and then coming back at her with a fist that would have numbed the nerve in her left shoulder—if she hadn't blocked it just as quickly.
Then it was kick and block and counterpunch too fast for her to concentrate on anything else. She couldn't tell if her opponent was a man or a woman, only that they were excellent and she was getting more pissed off and impressed by the moment. Leela didn't often meet her match in hand-to-hand combat.
They separated for a moment, circling each other. Leela became aware of the extraordinarily irritating sound of Fry and Bender screaming hysterically. The ninja seemed to notice it as well, because his or her head turned to look. Leela took the opportunity to launch a new attack: a spinning roundhouse kick punctuated by her signature battle cry. Her foot connected with the ninja's shoulder and she felt a momentary rush of triumph. Then something caught her eye.
The other ninja had remained by the door and was now pulling something out of their clothing. She recognized it instantly as a throwing star. The sense of danger that slammed into her was so strong that she actually turned her back on her current opponent and made a grab for the shuriken thrower's arm. Too late: the weapon hurtled through the air to the far side of the bridge, where it struck Fry full in the face.
"No!" she yelled. "Fry!" And her fist connected with the thrower's jaw.
"Ow!" said a man's voice. "Please, stop attacking us!"
"You're the one attacking us!" she said, sufficiently shocked to stop fighting.
"No, you started it!" said her original opponent who, judging by her voice, was a woman.
"Hey," said Fry, "I'm not dead."
"What?" Leela froze.
Fry was still standing by the pilot's chair, holding the throwing star in one hand and rubbing his cheek with the other. "It's a cookie," he said.
"That's what we're trying to tell you," said the male ninja. He pulled off his black mask, revealing a handsome though somewhat irritated face. "My name is Taro Matsumoto."
"And I'm Kimiko Yamada," said the woman Leela had been fighting. "We're from Croissant Moon Pastries, a non-profit organization that provides hard-working spaceship crews with free baked goods during the holiday season. Most of them don't hit us."
"But you sent us a message saying you were space ninjas and that we should prepare to be boarded!"
Taro and Kimiko exchanged a glance.
"There must be something wrong with your communications system. Obviously our transmission got scrambled somehow," Taro said. "We were actually trying to offer you some space gingerbread."
"You know, gingerbread. But in space."
"Wait a minute," said Bender, narrowing his eyes, "Bender smells a rat. If you're just pastry deliverers, why are you dressed like ninjas?"
"We're also ninjas," said Taro.
"You're ninjas who deliver pastries?" Fry asked.
"Yes. Is there some reason a space ninja can't deliver space gingerbread? Do you have some kind of problem with that?" Kimiko said, glaring at him.
"No," said Fry in a small voice.
"Then take the gingerbread and we'll go already."
The Planet Express crew ended up with a sizeable pile of ginger cookies of various shapes, all of which came from the mysterious folds of Taro and Kimiko's black outfits. There was even a complete gingerbread house with a chimney and furniture visible through the windows. Leela suspected that at least one of the two ninjas had a wormhole in their pocket, probably linked directly to the Croissant Moon Pastries bakery.
"There," said Kimiko after they'd finished, "now only one item of business remains."
She and Taro turned to stare at Bender, who was lounging in the captain's chair and idly drinking a martini.
"Ahh! What?" he said.
"It is time for you to return the Emperor's kimono," Taro said. "He needs it for his flower arranging session today."
"What if I don't want to return it?" Bender said belligerently.
"Then we will not give you our secret recipe for Venusian tea tarts. They're the best in this or any parallel universe."
Bender gave them his best 'kill all humans' glare, but neither Taro nor Kimiko seemed the least bit intimidated.
"Daarrrghh, fine!" he said, throwing his martini glass to the floor and flinging the kimono at the two ninjas. "Take the robe! I didn't actually want to learn flower arranging, anyway." He muttered sulkily under his breath as Taro carefully folded the kimono and spirited it away in his clothes (definitely a pocket wormhole, Leela thought). In return, Kimiko handed Bender a small piece of paper.
"Use this knowledge wisely," she said.
"I think I know how to handle a secret recipe," Bender said. "Good day to you, madam."
"Sorry about the attacking you thing," Leela said. "But you have to admit, you are actually space ninjas, so technically I was right."
"Next time just make sure you're attacking enemies," Kimiko said. "But by the way: nice spinning roundhouse kick."
After saying their goodbyes, Taro and Kimiko put their masks back on and slipped out backwards through the door, closing it behind them.
"Ah, another job well done," said Fry.
"What do you mean? We still have a delivery to complete."
"Oh, right. Back to work, I guess." Fry sat down in his chair, put his feet up on the console, and laced his fingers together behind his head. "Ahhhh."
If nothing else, Leela thought as she took a bite out of a gingerbread heart and resumed her place at the controls, she'd gotten a chance to kick some ass with her friends. Or at least kick some ass while her friends cowered pathetically. And after all, wasn't that what the holidays were all about?