Futurama

Fan Fiction

A Different View, part 7
By Graham Dawson

Chapter Seven – The Silver Id

The Nimbus rested in the deeps at the head of a small flotilla of ships, drifting at less than a quarter of the speed of light along a course that would take it toward Earth in about eleven centuries if they didn’t do anything. Of course, they would eventually, her new captain mused. This was just a routine check stop on their assigned patrol route.

Captain Arnk felt a certain amount of pride in his role, occupying the seat so recently vacated by the buffoon Brannigan. The Nimbus had needed so much care and attention. Her crew had one of the highest turnovers in the fleet, and one of the highest attrition rates amongst the noncoms Arnk had ever seen on a peace-time battlecruiser. He had fixed that. He had fixed a lot of things. Nimbus had gone from being the most accident-prone flagship in history to a ship that actually deserved the name.

He paced the spacious bridge of the Nimbus, admiring the sheer volume they had given to the command deck. Every other class of ship cramped their senior officers into a tiny compartment with barely enough room to move in the case of some ships. The Frankfurt, his last command, hadn’t even had a chair for the captain. For most officers that would be a hardship. For him, it had been easy. All he had to do was inflate his leg reservoirs until they were rock solid and then forget about them for the next fourteen hours.

He settled into the command chair, which still bore the marks of Brannigan’s frankly huge buttocks, and wondered when the fleet would get around to standardising the fleet uniform. Trousers were the only thing he missed from his last command... but yes, this certainly was the crowning moment of his career. Even the last proclamation of the Grand Council couldn’t dampen his spirits and, besides, it had the added bonus of allowing the crew a chance to hunt down their oldest enemy and most implacable foe: Brannigan himself.

Though, frankly, he couldn’t quite fathom that Lieutenant Kroker would be involved. Arnk knew Kroker’s family. He was a good, professional officer who simply got lumbered with a bad commander. Arnk wasn’t sure how Kroker fit, but he kept his doubts private from the crew. It wouldn’t be seemly for a senior officer to question direct orders.

The communications officer turned to Arnk. “Incoming message, sir.”

“Lets have it,” Arnk said, leaning back. Hopefully it’d be an order rescinding the Ruklisk presence. He didn’t like having even one of their cruisers in amongst his fleet. “Well?”

“Sorry sir, it’s...” the communications officer tapped a few controls. “Odd. It’s a realspace transmission. Low bandwidth, text only, heavily encrypted as well. I’ll have to reel back the encryption key passbook until I get a match. Could take a few minutes.”

“Source?”

“One eleven oh ninety. The header dates it about a week ago.”

“Thank you comms,” Arnk said before turning to his executive officer. “Project that location and find out if we had any ships in that area.”

“Right away sir.”

Arnk sat back in his chair again and smiled as his XO busied himself on the far side of the bridge. A happy crew was an effective crew.

It was rare for his species to smile. In fact it wasn’t even a natural expression for them but, like many Amphibiosans, he’d picked up the habit from being around the Boneys for so long, since they expected to see emotions like that on the face so often. A habit picked up was hard to put down again but he didn’t mind; it let the crew know how he felt. Quite soon his XO returned holding a slim message screen.

“What have you got,” Arnk said, taking the screen when it was offered.

“Light corvette Arcturus reported a possible contact with a Wanderer in that area but never confirmed a claim. They’ve not been heard from since and were marked as lost on tour.”

Arnk nodded. ‘Lost on tour’ was a euphemism for a deserting crew. It had become quite common in the last few years as various ships had stumbled across paradise worlds or El Dorado rocks on the fringes of various solar systems. The choice between handing over the claim to a DOOP hierarchy increasingly dominated by people like Brannigan or simply taking the claim and disappearing on to the black market with it was not a tough one for some crews. It tended to be smaller ships that went L.O.T. most often, though there was the one notable case of that entire battle fleet disappearing to Nymphine Six. Arnk perused the screen for a moment, taking in the details. “All right, mark it as a possible emergency contact and run up a few projections for a rescue mission. We can send the Dillinger if anything firms up.”

“Yes sir,” the XO said, taking back the screen.

“Okay.” Arnk stood up and paced around the bridge again, pausing now and then to examine a console readout. Everything seemed to be running smoothly. If only that damned Ruklisk ship wasn’t tailing him everywhere. One to shoot up to the Ruperts, perhaps. He paused back at his command chair and turned to the XO. “I think that’s enough time here. Prep us for our next-”

“Blackbreak, blackbreak, incoming contact sir,” the scanners officer said. She started tracking down the contact before Arnk could even order her to. Professional to a tee. “Small craft incoming, k-five kliks. Some sort of customised courier transport, computer has designated uniform charlie nine seven.”

“Course?”

“Seems like a long parabola toward Terra,” the officer said as she activated another set of detailed scanners. “Civilian. Single engine. Signature matches the fugitive ship.”

“Excellent, well done.” Arnk returned to his chair, another smile on his face. It was strange how satisfying the expression could be. He turned to look at the main screen where the projected target appeared against a two-dimensional tactical view as a red dot a few thousand kilometres off the starboard bow. The green splatter of his fleet was marred by the presence of a blue ‘neutral friendly’ icon. Arnk stared at the icon for a moment. “Inform the fleet to stand by. Oh, and XO, have our Ruklisk friend go investigate that wanderer possible. I don’t want them interfering.”

“Aye sir,” the XO said, before repeating the order to the communications officer. The Nimbus got under way, moving toward the small craft racing across the deeps. Arnk stared at the screen.

“Why haven’t they jumped?”

“Sir?”

“They’re bound to have seen us by now, why haven’t they jumped away?”

“Perhaps their engines are damaged,” the XO said with a shrug. He looked away. “Between you and me, sir, if Zapp is on board that thing it’s highly likely that he’s dumped their fuel by accident or something equally stupid.”

“Hmm. I’ll keep that in mind,” Arnk said, settling into his command chair again. He looked around the bridge. “How’s our Ruklisk friend taking his new assignment?”

The scanners officer adjusted her screens to check. “They’re moving off sir, but slowly.”

“Indeed? Comms?”

“Static sir. They complained when I passed on the order, said it wasn’t worth the trouble.”

Arnk rubbed his mouth absently. It was another habit he’d picked up from his last XO, Lieutenant Milezir, a rather proud woman with too many arms. They’d lost touch after his promotion. Hadn’t she transferred to a corvette recently? “Well never mind. Call the ship, have them heave to. And prep the forward canons for a shot across their bow.”

“Aye sir.”




Amy looked up from her console. “They’ve seen us,” she said.

Leela’s smile was grim. She re-settled herself in her seat and looked at Fry, who was back at the communications console with Bender’s head. “Are you ready?”

“As I’ll ever be,” Fry said sadly.

“Everyone not needed here had better get back to their cabins and strap in,” Leela said as she prepped the main engine. “This might get very bumpy very fast.”

“Got a signal,” Fry said. She propped Bender’s head up on the console. Leela nodded to receive the message.

Unidentified craft, this is the DOOP starship Nimbus. You are in violation of the commercial space flight ban. Heave to and prepare to be taken under escort.”

“The Nimbus? Good job Zapp is locked up in the laundry again,” Leela said absently as she reduced power. The gargantuan starship moved alongside without firing, which was a refreshing change. “Well, lets give this a shot... Nimbus, this is the private courier ship Planet Express, we will comply with your request. Please prepare to receive a video transmission.”

“Bender, that’s your cue,” Fry said quietly. She plugged a lead into Bender’s head and flicked the transmit switch.




“What the hell is this?” Arnk got out of his chair as the video of Bender’s memories began to play on his screen. The bridge fell silent as the Ruklisk treachery played out. Arnk slipped back into his chair, his eyes growing wider with each moment that passed until the screen went blank again. “Was that what I think it was?”

“It could be fake, sir,” the XO said. He didn’t look convinced.

“Yes, and it could be the real thing.” Arnk rubbed his face again, pondering the final frozen image on the screen. He knew they were real. He’d seen documentaries of what the Ruklisk had done to the colonies they’d overrun, but there was still every chance... he wouldn’t be able to judge until they could examine the video. “We can’t take their word for it. Bring their ship into the docking bay and prepare a boarding party.”

“Aye sir.”

Arnk nodded and turned to his communications officer. “Anything from the Ruklisk?”

“No sir.”

“Still on course,” the scanners officer added, looking up from her console. “They’ve slowed down a mite, though. Almost like they don’t want to get up to jump speed.”

Arnk blinked and rubbed his eyes. None of it made sense. “What about that message?”

The communications officer hesitated and then started manipulating his terminal again. “I’m sorry, sir, I left it in the rush. It seems to have just completed.”

“Read it back.”

“Aye.” The communications officer brought the text up on his screen. “It says... ‘Claim staked on wanderer, under attack, three... three Ruklisk cruisers. Activating self destruct.’ That’s all the computers have managed to decode so far, sir.”

Arnk stood up and pointed at his XO. “Erl arshe argoya moy eyul- dammit, signal Argo and Ulysses, get that damned alien ship out of my fleet! NOW!”

“Aye sir,” the XO said. Arnk closed his eyes, glad that the officer hadn’t reacted to him going ‘native’. The XO turned to relay the order but was interrupted by scanners.

“Sir, the Ruklisk just jumped. They’re... wait, another contact, bearing seven seven oh two thirteen. They’re back again sir, on an intercept course for the transport.”

“Target them. Relay to the transport, message received and understood, proceed with extreme haste.” Arnk tugged at his uniform. “Get that ship out of my sky, commander.”




Everyone ducked when the first shots rattled past the ship. Everyone, that is, apart from Leela. She simply slammed the engines to full power and began to dive – relative to the Nimbus at least – away from the battle. She barely acknowledged the message that Fry passed on from the Nimbus, or the screamed warnings from Amy about incoming missiles. She was flying again. In her element. At the ship’s top speed they were still eight hours from Earth but that wouldn’t matter unless she could put a distance between the ship and the Ruklisk.

A flurry of missiles shot past on the starboard and exploded harmlessly in the vacuum. Leela didn’t even notice once they were off her tail.

Suddenly they were in the clear. The Ruklisk ship fell behind under the constant barrage from the Nimbus and her fleet. Leela accelerated and the ship automatically prepared itself to jump. She hated this part. The momentary disconnect as they ‘passed’ the light barrier without actually breaking it, the instant of nausea that the others never believed she felt, and then the stars were slowly passing by rather than just decorating a distant celestial sphere.

“Are they following us?”

“No.” Amy extended her scans out to maximum range and looked around for any pursuit. “The Nimbus is starting to move in our direction but I can’t see any other ships.”

Leela loosened her grip on the wheel as the ship settled to its top speed and squeezed her eye shut until the nausea had passed. She activated the autopilot, turned out of her seat and walked over to Fry. “Right. We two are going to have a little talk.”

Fry followed Leela out of the bridge, toward Leela’s cabin. She paused outside the door. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Come on in and I’ll tell you,” Leela said. She leaned on her desk. Fry reluctantly entered the cabin and stood near the door as it closed, watching Leela, wide eyed with something that might have been fear. Leela closed her eye and bowed her head.

“You can’t make me do it,” Fry said, taking a step forward. Leela looked up at her again, apparently shocked at Fry’s voice. She shook her head.

“You’re right, I can’t. You have to choose to do it.”

“You’re asking me to give up everything,” Fry said quietly. She shuffled across the room and sat down on Leela’s bed. “You don’t realise what all of this means to me.”

“I know what it means to me.”

Fry closed her eyes, let her mind wander back over the last few months. She remembered the bitter fear she’d felt when she found out what had happened, then the joy when there was a chance of getting her own life back, but in the time since then she’d felt less sure about it. Some where along the way she’d started to enjoy herself. Life had a cruel way of forcing decisions. “Leela, you once told me that I should think with my heart.”

“I wasn’t talking about saving the whole of civilisation back then,” Leela replied. She pushed up from the desk and started to pace about her cabin, clenching and unclenching her fists. Fry had never seen her this agitated before, no matter how things had been screwed up. “I’m not just asking you to give up something, I’m going to lose a lot too. I’ll lose Sam, just when I was starting to think I...” Leela paused and turned to look at Fry. Her eye was getting damp. “Damn it all Fry, you know what this man means to me now. If I can give that up... can’t you stop being selfish for long enough t-”

“Selfish? You think I’m doing this just for me?

“Why else would you?”

Fry stood up and advanced toward Leela. She grabbed her by the shoulders. “Don’t you see, it’s because I want you to be happy! You say you love him? How can you force me to take that choice away from you?”

“Fry-”

“Don’t call me that,” Fry muttered. Leela threw up her arms in disgust and turned away from Fry. “Leela, come on, this isn’t just about me any more.”

“Oh, it certainly is,” Leela said, making her disgust plain. She almost sneered at she spoke. “You don’t want to make any choices in your life. Well, you’re in luck, because when the time comes I will gladly kick you into that explosion or whatever it is myself!”

“But-”

Leela rounded on Fry, her fist almost raised in anger. Her arm shivered under the tension, and then turned into a finger pointing straight at Fry’s face. “No! Don’t try to weasel out of this. You think you’re my friend? Would a friend make this sort of choice?”

Fry closed her eyes again and rubbed her temples. She was getting a headache. This really wasn’t going how she’d hoped. “Leela...”

“Whatever excuse it is this time, I don’t want to hear it. You-”

“I still love you,” Fry said, looking up. Leela’s mouth dropped open. She turned away. “I thought I didn’t. I thought maybe I was just confused or... or something. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but I still love you.”

They stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, and Fry almost wondered if she’d managed to change Leela’s mind. But then Leela spoke, and her voice was terribly calm. “You mean, all this time, when you said you were somehow different, you’ve been lying to me?”

“No! I mean, I’ve been lying to myself.” Fry held up her hands and looked at them as if seeing them for the first time. She’d never got around to trying the Holophoner again. Now she never would. “I realise now, I couldn’t stop loving you no matter what happened. Sure, it’s not the same as it was before, but it’s still there.”

Leela’s jaw worked slowly as she mouthed out Fry’s last words. She looked over her shoulder at him, her eye narrow and fierce. “I don’t see how this is relevant.”

“But don’t you see? If I love you then how can I take away the one thing that would make your life complete? I can’t take Sam away from you any more than I could take away my own legs.”

Leela’s face softened a little, and she shifted her weight a little in that way she had when she was starting to listen. Fry saw that she might be convincing her and pressed on. “Sam spoke to me while you were in the medbay. He said he’d figured it out. He also said you felt the same.”

Fry realised it was a mistake the moment the words formed on her tongue. Leela’s mouth turned down and her eye narrowed again. She clenched her jaw and walked over to the door before turning back to look at Fry. “I knew it. You don’t care about Sam, or anyone else, you just care about getting close enough to me to fulfil some pathetic fantasy. I should have known better than to trust you.”

“Leela...”

“No, get out! Just get out of here,” Leela shouted. Her fist smacked against the door control, which breeped loudly before actiivating the door. She looked away and closed her eye again, squeezing out a tear that caught on her lashes. “Don’t ever say that to me again. Don’t even think it around me. Just go.”

Fry’s shoulders slumped. She lowered her head and slowly walked out of the room with her hands in her pockets. Leela waited for the door to close, then leaned her back against it and sank down to the floor, limbs shivering as she bit down on her emotions. She slammed her balled hand against the wall, then put her head back and just screamed. There were no words, no message, just bitter anger that stretched out until the scream faded to heaving sobs that racked her entire body.

Leela eventually came to on the floor on a foetal position. Her hair was a mess, her eye felt like it was full of sand and one of her arms was completely numb. She pushed herself upright.

Fry wasn’t outside. Leela tip-toed down the corridor to Samuel’s cabin and timidly knocked on the door, which slid open a moment later. Samuel looked into her eye. “I heard shouting but-”

“Hush,” Leela said, putting a finger to his lips. She pushed him back into the cabin. “We have four hours left. I think it’s time we got to know each other.”




Three ships. They’d lost three ships. Arnk wasn’t smiling any more. He looked about the bridge of the Nimbus, marvelling at how it seemed so undamaged despite the pounding they’d taken but, then, that wasn’t surprising given how deep they were within the ship’s superstructure. Three ships.

“We’re coming up on them now, sir,” the scanner’s officer said quietly. She was meant to go off duty an hour ago. Most of the bridge crew were over-staying, leaving the night shift to mill around the bridge or act as back-ups.

“Condition?”

“Undamaged and flying free,” scanners said, focusing on the Planet Express ship. Arnk nodded. They would be reaching earth in just under an hour. He glanced at the tactical display, which showed his escorts trailing behind in a ragged line. The Nimbus easily outclassed them in speed and endurance. Beyond that, he knew, lay the wrecks of the three doomed ships and the Ruklisk cruiser. The Finnigan had been left behind to monitor for any more real-space signals from the Arcturus, but he didn’t expect to see much. The computers were still trying to decode the signal they’d received; interference from the corvette’s apparent destruction had scrambled it.

Arnk turned to his XO. Contact them. I need to know what they’re up to.”

“Perhaps they just wanted to go home, sir,” the XO said. Arnk nodded, but didn’t rescind his order. The XO sighed and passed it on. “Sir, why are we pushing so hard to get to earth?”

“If you hadn’t noticed, commander, the Ruklisk are invading.”

“Aye sir, but they’re still deploying from Eridani. Apart from one or two ships they don’t be near earth for another day at least.”

Arnk shook his head and pointed at the tactical display. “The Arcturus wasn’t blown up by someone’s imagination, commander. Whatever hit them was well inside our space a long time before the peace treaty was signed. If that was the Ruklisk and not just a scam by a L.O.T. crew I want to know how many they are, how far they’ve got and if there are more like them.”

It was the XO’s turn to nod. He turned to look at the tactical display with his hands behind his back.

“We have contact,” the comms officer said. Arnk stood up.

“Main screen.”

“Aye sir. Main screen.” The tactical display blanked out and then resolved to an image of the Planet Express ship’s bridge. A young red-haired woman looked up at them in a little surprise.

Oh, hi there,” she said, glancing over at the empty pilot’s chair. “Uh... Leela’s not here right now.”

“I assume that would be your captain?”

That’s right. I’m Philippa. Philippa Fry. I guess I’m third in command.”

“As far as I’m aware, a ship of your class normally only has a crew of three or four at most,” Arnk replied, pacing toward the screen a little. He waved his hand as if to dismiss the thought. “I really need to speak to your captain.”

I’ll-” Fry was interrupted as another, younger woman peeped on to the screen.

I could get Kif, he’ll be able to talk to these people,” she said, before smiling at Arnk. “Ooh, another one...”

“Anyone with command experience will do,” Arnk said, forcing a smile on to his face. Both women blushed slightly. He hadn’t realised he was that attractive. The younger woman skipped – how odd – out of the bridge, returning a moment later with a rather wary looking Lieutenant Kroker in tow. “Ahh, Lieutenant, how nice to see you again.”

Captain,” Kif said, bowing his head a little. The lieutenant shuffled his feet. “I’m told you wish to speak to me.”

“Yes, Lieutenant. I am not specifically authorised to do so, however I feel I must convey my apologies to yourself and the others named as terrorists by the Order. I am revoking that status as of now.”

That’s very kind of you sir. If that’s all, I really should be going. I have to make sure Zapp is fed and watered again.

“Forget about him, Lieutenant,” Arnk said, with a generous wave of his hands. He stepped toward the screen again.

Gladly, sir.” Kif almost seemed relieved. Or perhaps terrified. Arnk suddenly realised how accustomed he had grown to the Boney way of showing emotions.

“Eiurlg, amfibialo,” Arnk said, reverting to his own language. «Lieutenant, you look like you have something more you want to say.»

«Possibly I do, sir. The humans on this ship believe they have a way to undo Brannigan’s ‘mishandling’ of the negotiations,» Kif said. He glanced briefly at Amy, who watched him with a wary eye, before going on. «It’s a rather involved story, but the summary is that this red-haired one was part of some sort of accident that apparently altered the course of history enough to change the outcome of the negotiations. They believe that reversing the accident will restore the original course of events and prevent the Ruklisk from gaining a foothold, amongst other things.»

«Interesting, Lieutenant, very interesting...» Arnk made a passable impression of rubbing his chin, though he knew only the humans might appreciate it. «And yet there is a possibility... but I will get back to you on that.» Arnk paused, his thoughts occupied by the remaining strength of his fleet. How likely would the others be to turn against the hierarchy? He didn’t want to contemplate the direction such questions inevitably lead. “We will accompany you to earth in order to prevent your destruction at the hands of their planetary defence system.” Arnk’s sudden reversion to standard seemed to surprise the two women on the screen, not to mention his own crew. The red-haired one – Philippa? Such strange names these humans had – stared at him with intense suspicion, but he shrugged it off. “Keep me informed of your progress, Lieutenant.”

Thank you, sir,” Kif said. He turned and stepped out of view. Fry gave Arnk another suspicious glare. She seemed to be quite sad about something, Arnk realised, but strangely determined as well. Perhaps it was just the strain of the last few days.

You still want to talk to Leela? I don’t think I’ll be able to get her before we’re ready to land.”

“No, this will be fine,” Arnk said. He paused before signalling the XO to turn off the screen. “One more thing, miss Fry. I believe you have Zapp Brannigan on board?”

Yeah, he’s locked in the laundry again,” Fry said, smiling briefly. She glanced over her shoulder, as if expecting someone to enter the bridge. “He’s not very happy right now.”

“Excellent. When you land, please feel free to shoot him for us,” Arnk said. He steepled his hands and smiled again. “If what I have just heard is correct, it may not matter, but it would be very satisfying to to me, personally, if that could be achieved. Nothing fatal, just a knee or a toe will do.”

Right...” Fry turned and looked at the dark-haired one, then switched off the screen. Arnk smiled and returned to his seat, where his XO gave him an odd look.

“What?”

“Oh. Nothing, sir. Just...”

“I doubt they’ll actually do it,” Arnk said, still smiling. “But a man can dream. Any progress on that message yet?”




Fry didn’t turn when Leela returned to the bridge, or even acknowledge her, which suited Leela just fine right then. She settled down into her chair and buckled up. The autopilot flashed up a few routine messages and then informed her of the communication between the ship and the Nimbus. “Did I miss anything?”

“We’ve got an escort,” Amy said, pointing out of the window. A great distance off Leela could see a glittering trail moving along with them. “Kif managed to talk the captain of the Nimbus in to escorting us to earth.”

“How nice of him,” Leela replied, turning off the autopilot. She glanced out of the window at the blue point in space that was Earth. Even at this distance she thought she could see a vague hint of clouds and continents. “Well, we have about fifteen minutes, assuming they don’t try and shoot us down the minute we try to land.”

Fry seemed like she was about to say something, but then thought better of it. She turned back to her console and stared out at earth. They passed the time in silence, watching Earth grow larger in the front window. They passed through Luna’s orbit, and through the orbits of the the three Orbital Cities that danced around the world in complex criss-crossing orbits. Nimbus and her fleet hung back in orbit, sending a pair of assault fighters to accompany them down to the ground. If the defence systems were going to fire, it would have been then.

Nothing. Leela let out the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. “I guess we’re in the clear,” she said. Then one of the fighters exploded. “What the f- Amy!”

Amy grabbed on to her seat as Leela executed a perfectly timed corkscrew dive toward the atmosphere. The other fighter pulled into a steep loop and spun around defensively, only to be destroyed by a hail of canon fire. “I can’t see it, I... wait, got it! Loa tyen yeh... they can’t be here!”

“Nimbus!”

We have them,” Arnk said over the comms. There was a momentary crackle as a maser struck the ship’s hull, distorting the signal. “You had better make your escape fast. There are three more of their cruisers moving across Luna’s orbit. We are going to engage them. Good luck.”

Leela killed the comms and twisted the ship into a death-dive, bringing flaming plasma up over the hull as they hit the bulk of the atmosphere too fast and too steep. The sudden manoeuvres stretched the gravity generators to their limits again, sending momentary glitches through the system. Fry screamed as she lifted from her seat and flew across the bridge. She bounced off the rear bulkhead. Leela heard the sickening crunch as something in Fry’s body gave way under the impact.

Almost there...

The Ruklisk were long gone, lost somewhere above the atmosphere, battling against the Nimbus and her fleet. Leela turned the ship, ignoring every protocol on atmospheric flight as she gunned the engine to its maximum thrust. New New York appeared in the distance, a coruscating chain of lights that reflected in the murk of the Atlantic and spread out along the coast. Home, for what it was worth. She flew toward the Planet Express building, their passage whipping a trail of spray almost a hundred feet in the air as the ship cut through the atmosphere at mach fifteen, trailing plasma and steam in its wake as the atmosphere was sliced in to is constituent elements.

At the last minute Leela flipped the ship over. The hull creaked and groaned at the unaccustomed stresses, and somewhere deep in the ship something gave way with a resounding clang. They came to a halt barely yards from the building, giving Leela a small amount of room to right the ship before landing.

The minute the engines shut off Leela leaped from her seat and ran to Fry’s prostrate form. She was still breathing, but barely. “Fry?”

“Mommy, why did the car fall over?” Fry said, opening her eyes. She looked up in to Leela’s face and winced. “Ow. Right. Amy, I will never tease you about hitting the wall again.”

With great care Fry tried to move. She hissed in pain as she lifted her left leg. Leela reached out to it, but Fry batted her away. “I’m fine. It’s just a sprain.”

“Phi...”

“Just leave it, Leela.” Fry pulled herself upright and then yelped in pain as she tried to stand on her left foot. She hopped over to the ladder and began to climb down.

“Where are you going?”

Fry paused, her upper body still above the deck. She stared up at Leela, her eyes filled with a pain completely separate to the physical. “You made it perfectly clear where I had to be, Leela,” she said, before lowering herself down to the mid-deck. Leela leaned forward but Fry had already gone. “Amy, lock down the ship. And when you see Sam, tell him I’m in the Professor’s lab.”

“Right,” Amy said. She stepped over to the pilot’s chair and started shutting down the ship’s systems. Leela climbed on to the ladder and followed Fry.

Leela caught up with Fry at the bottom of the airlock steps. She grabbed Fry’s arm and pulled her to a halt. Fry shrugged off Leela’s grip and limped toward the lab. “Phi, wait.”

“No.”

“Please!” Leela jogged to keep up with Fry and tried to catch her eye. It didn’t work. “Fry, you can’t blame me for this. I didn’t choose this any more than you did!”

Fry stopped in mid-stride and glared at Leela, before turning up the stairs to the conference level. Professor Farnsworth was waiting at the top, poised with his arms a little spread like some benevolent deity. “Ahh, ladies, you’re finally here. Everything is ready in the upstairs lab.”

Fry nodded and began to follow Farnsworth toward the stairs. Leela hung back a little. She looked around the open hangar, desperate for something, anything that might give her some guidance. Nothing. With a sigh she followed Fry and the Professor.




“Incoming!”

The bridge rocked as a barrage of high energy weapons-fire slammed against the hull of the Nimbus, disrupting systems for a fraction of a second. Arnk was thrown from his chair and sprawled in a heap. He pushed himself upright. “Shields!”

“Holding,” someone replied.

“Find out where that ship came from and return fire!” He climbed back into the chair just as another impact shook the room, less urgently this time, but more prolonged. Arnk looked up at the tactical display. A dozen red dots filled it now, swarming around earth, dwarfing his depleted fleet. Arnk had managed to convince the planetary defence grid to start targeting the Ruklisk only after they had started firing at the Lincoln Orbital, by which time it was probably too late for that station. Huge escape pods were racing for the atmosphere, chased by Ruklisk harvesters.

Arnk screwed up his eyes. There was a good reason his people had referred to them as the Abomination. How could the Order have been so wilfully blind?

The combined strength of the defence grid and the fleet was beginning to even the odds now. Ruklisk ships were tumbling, burning, plummeting into the atmosphere of earth as their orbits decayed or venting atmospheric gasses threw them off course. There was a momentary pause as both sides sought new positions, trying to strengthen their advantages and deny the other side the highest orbit. Another Ruklisk ship exploded under the almost constant barrage of munitions and weapons-fire from the defence grids.

Arnk turned to the communications officer. “Anything on that message yet?”

“A moment sir...” the officer switched from the backup weapons console to the comms. “Almost completed. Ninety eight percent restored, all plain text.”

“Read it back to me.”

The comms officer peered at his screen. “Most of it is a set of coordinates and the stake claim on the Wanderer, its designation, then, lets see...” the ship shivered as a distance-weakened maser played across its upper hull. “It’s a sensor readout sir. Seems to be of the Wanderer itself.”

“Scanners?”

“Aye,” the scanners officer said, bringing up the message. She read what must have been little better than raw code like it was a book. “Seems to be a flash scan of the surface of the wanderer nearest to the ship. Extensive deposits of exotics, chrondrite, water ice... ahh, this is interesting,” she said, tapping the screen. “There’s a series of low level heat signatures. They were masked, then unmasked. Looks like a fairly extensive long-term colony base, several shipyards and facilities to support two, maybe three strategic interdiction fleets.”

“Sounds like they’d been there for quite a while,” Arnk said. He looked at the tactical display. They were facing a fleet about equal to Nimbus’s support fleet. Two more of those roaming DOOP space. It wouldn’t have mattered if the entire DOOP fleet had disappeared or not with that sort of firepower amongst the shipping lanes. “They were planning this for a long time. That wanderer must have entered our space over a century ago.”

“Approximately two hundred and fifty years ago, sir.”

Arnk rubbed his finger and thumb together. It helped him think. “At least we know about it while there’s still a chance to deal with it, but... if Lieutenant Kroker’s friends go through with their experiment...” Arnk stood up. “Get hold of-” An explosion. The bridge seemed to tip upside down. Arnk flew from before his chair and then landed on his XO.




Kif walked on to the bridge just as Amy was shutting down the last of the major systems. He watched her for a moment, smiling to himself at the sight of the young human working away, until she reached the communications console. “Amy, wait.”

“Agh! Kif, you scared me!”

“I’m sorry Amy,” Kif said, taking her hand. He stroked her arm with his other hand and smiled again. “Can you leave the radio on? I need to get in touch with captain Arnk.”

Amy looked down at the console. It was the only system left before shutting off the main computer. She shrugged. “Sure, just remember to turn it off when you’re done. Though... I guess it won’t matter, really,” she added, looking down at the floor. Kif smiled at her and put a hand to her cheek.

“Dearest Amy...” He sat down at the console. “It might be better if you wait outside. Military secrets, you know.”

“Sure,” Amy said. She clambered down the galley ladder and disappeared into the depths of the ship. Kif turned back to the radio and tuned into the Nimbus’ last used frequency.

“Nimbus, this is Lieutenant Kroker calling, come in please.” He waited a moment. Static, punctuated by the flare of high energy weapons fire. “Nimbus?”

We’re here, Lieutenant,” a voice said. “The old man is in the medical bay. I’ll patch you through.”

A moment’s silence. Kif waited, then: “Lieutenant Kroker, good to hear you survived.”

“Thank you sir. I hope you aren’t injured.”

Nothing a little rest and recreation won’t cure, though I think my executive officer will be sore for a while,” Arnk said lightly. He coughed and then went quiet, probably leaning away from the pickup. “It’s a good job you called when you did. I’m afraid we have some unfortunate news. I’ll have the bridge crew transmit the details down to you.”

“Thank you, sir,” Kif said. He waited again. The communications console made a few odd noises and then began to print out a hard-copy of a message. Kif read the lines that came out of the console, his eyes tracing each one in turn. If his skin could have turned pale at that point, it would have. “Oh no...”




“Now, miss Fry, you have to stand just here.” Farnsworth manoeuvred Fry in front of a large parabolic dish that seemed to be rather brighter than it should have been under the lab lights. It almost glowed, a bright magnesium-white bowl. She screwed up her eyes a little. Leela stood in the background, watching the preparations with a blank expression. “Now then, yes... you need to, uh, just stand there and hold on to this carbon rod. I think that’s what you were bringing up for me.”

“I don’t remember,” Fry said quietly, her mind distant. She looked around the lab. “Is this going to hurt?”

“Oh my... I never really bothered to find out.” Farnsworth adjusted his glasses and peered at a computer readout. “Not that it matters, of course. Any pain would of course be a temporary and essentially unknown state. A non-event even.”

“That’s very re-assuring,” Fry said. She held up the carbon rod that Farnsworth had given her and looked at it. It didn’t seem familiar, but then she wasn’t really certain about a lot of the details of the accident.

“Now, that should be everything... all that’s required is to wait about five minutes. Fortunately it’ll take that long to power up the devices.” Farnsworth pottered off behind the grey box attached to the dish and started to open hatches and pull levers. Fry turned to look at Leela while they waited.

“Got any last things you want to say?”

Leela bit her lip. “I... no,” she said, closing her eye for a moment. She looked away. “Yes. I enjoyed it, for what it’s worth.”

“For what it’s worth,” Fry said. “It’s not worth much at all now, is it? We won’t remember.”

“We won’t, but at least we know now.” Leela looked at Fry again, and even took a step forward until the Professor shouted at her. She pressed herself back against the wall. “Now is all that matters in the end.”

Fry nodded.




Kif almost tripped over Amy on the airlock steps. He stumbled to a halt near the bottom and looked up to her, pleading. “Where’s the lab? I need to stop them!”

“Oh! It’s upstairs,” Amy said, standing up. She ran down the steps and took Kif’s hand. “I’ll show you. Oh, but wait here a second.”

Amy ran back up to the top of the steps. “Sam! Sam, Leela said she’d be in the lab!”

“Gotcha,” Samuel said from somewhere within the ship. Amy smiled and ran back down the stairs. Kif gave her an exasperated look, to which Amy just shrugged.

“Why do you have to-”

“I can’t explain, we just have to.” Kif ran after Amy as she lead him up the stairs.




“That’s one minute,” Farnsworth said. He moved over to the far side of the lab. “Leela, you had better get somewhere a bit further away or you might be caught in the primary effect.”

“In a second,” Leela said. She stepped closer to Fry again. Fry almost smiled. “Look. I’m sorry. Maybe things will work out, I don’t know, but... I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry too,” Fry said. She didn’t move toward Leela, just held out her hand for a second. “Here’s to goodbyes...”

“Thirty seconds,” Farnsworth said. Leela smiled briefly and stepped back. She moved around the lab until she was next to the Professor. “Fifteen...”

The door burst open, admitting Kif and Amy. Kif ran over to the Professor, waving a sheet of paper. “You have to stop!”

“Wha? But I-”

“Stop the machine!”

“I can’t! It’s on automatic now, it’ll activate in... five seconds. Four.”

“No, you have to-”

“Leela, what’s going on?”

“Fry!”

“Activating,” Farnsworth said. Almost whispered. The parabolic dish began to glow a bright orange, spreading out from the centre until the entire dish seemed to be an infinitely deep orange pit. Then a burst of energy erupted forth, engulfing Fry. She screamed.




Darkness. And then light. What happened?




Fry came to in a hospital bed. There was a moment of disorientation as memories slotted back into mind. An accident? Some sort of...

A figure leaned over and looked at her. “How are you feeling?” The voice was gruff, but familiar, the face...

“Lee... Lelan?” Fry said slowly, the word forming in her mind. The man leaning over her smiled slightly. His single eye blinked. “What...”

“We thought we’d lost you there. And...” The one called Lelan stepped back as a nurse came forward holding what looked like a bundle of cloth. Fry felt a sudden overwhelming longing as the bundle was placed into her arms. It began to cry.




The world ripped away, stealing a single gasp from Fry’s lips before the light returned.




Sounds. Some sort of...




Darkness again, more profound than before. Fry tried to open his eyes and look around, wondering what had woken him. Leela lay in the bed next to him, breathing slowly, peacefully. He reached out to touch her shoulder. She squirmed under his fingers and rolled over, mumbling in her sleep. Fry rolled on to his back and looked up, smiling.

Right into the face of a Ruklisk.




Love. Hate.




Absence...




Fry wandered across the ruined landscape that had been his home toward the crumbing and faded wall where the graves were. He knelt down by the largest and best kept, and wept over the simple marker that bore Leela’s name.




Light.




Fry stood at the centre of a raging torrent of energy, sure she should be feeling agony, but feeling nothing. Her skin was numb. She peered out into what looked like the Professor’s lab.

“Impressive, isn’t it?”

“What?!” Fry looked around. A strange, yet familiar figure stood a little distance away in the ever-changing and yet never-changing torrent of light and power. The world shimmered a she turned... or he... Fry looked down. What passed for a body was little more than an androgynous silver lump, a parody of the human form. Fry whimpered. “What the hell is this?”

“Existence. Being. It’s hard to explain,” the other said. It was the same silvery figure, shiny and bright, yet strangely un-reflective. “I could go all Matrix on you and call it some sort of residual self image, but who in their right minds would imagine themselves as a reject from Lawnmower Man?”

Fry laughed despite... itself. There was a definite lack of the definite article in its mind now. A lack of anything defining. Little more than memory. “Who... what am I? And what are you? What was that?”

“I explained. Essence. The nature of the beast. That which is beneath. Id. Hypostasis.” The other tilted its slender head to one side and seemed to regard Fry, despite having no eyes. “Your confusion is considerable, and understandable. Shall I start at the beginning?”

Fry nodded. “Please...”

“Very well. First, you are Fry. Philippa or Philip, right now that is unimportant. You are Fry. Keep hold of that thought.”

“Okay...”

The other nodded. Fry got the impression it was smiling, despite not having a mouth. “I am... well, until a few nanoseconds ago I was not. Now I am. I have no name.” It held up a fingerless hand before Fry could start talking. “It will make sense in a moment. What you experienced just now was, to invent a term, a reality wash. Multiple possible realities impinging on your conscious perception. Some of them are real, some are not. All of them are possible.”

“You mean that one where I had a... a...”

“That particular reality occurring in that fashion had a probability of some sixteen quadrillion to one, unless, of course, you suddenly desired it. In terms of the multiverse that’s actually a very high probability.” The creature turned away from Fry and walked a little way toward the dish. It reached out to touch it, then hesitated at the last moment. “I should tell you, Fry, right now you are experiencing something that no sentient being should ever be able to experience, the odds are so incredibly remote. At this moment you don’t exist.”

“I’m pretty sure I do,” Fry said, refusing to look down in case even the slick, featureless body had disappeared. “I mean, I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Strictly speaking?” Fry swallowed. The creature turned back to him again. “Your Professor was very nearly right when he described the circumstances of your accident. In the broad stroke, you experienced what he referred to as a reality matrix transfer. Elements of another universe were imposed upon your own, altering it at the fundamental level.”

“I sort of switched off somewhere near the start when he tried to explain that.”

“Indeed. Yet now you understand, after a fashion.”

Fry closed its eyes... or tried to. Fry felt the muscles move, felt the eyelids close even, but sight remained. Nevertheless it gave Fry the moment to think. “Hey... you’re right, I do. I’m smarter!”

“Fractionally,” the creature said with another one of its invisible smiles. It held its hands together. “What your Professor wasn’t able to deduce was that the universe that impinged on this one was brought into existence from the moment you desired it. Essentially, that change in state was a result of your innermost desires manifesting. The accident allowed what he termed the reality matrix to become infinitely flexible, at the same time as projecting your ego upon it.”

“You’re saying I wanted to be a woman?”

“No.”

“Then I’m very confused,” Fry said. The creature rocked its head back. It might have been a laugh.

“Yes, I imagine you are. It’s quite simple really. Your subconscious desired to be close to Leela, or closer than could be achieved as a male. Your culture has somehow impressed upon your ego that women will be necessarily closer to other women than men, no matter how intimate they become. Consequently your desire to be close to Leela expressed itself as a desire to be like Leela. And so you were.”

Fry didn’t particularly like where this was going but, at the same time, it seemed to make a lot of sense. At least to him. Or her. Or it. He looked out into the misty approximation of the lab, where Leela seemed to be on the verge of reaching toward the blast with her mouth open. “I was closer to her until I blew it. Again.”

“Yes, you were doing quite well up to that point, but the fault does not lie entirely in your own hands. Leela’s prejudices also played a part. As did sheer chance.”

“Wait, where do you fit into this?”

“Ahh, well that’s the interesting thing, at least from my point of view,” the creature said. “I am also a product of your desire. You created me and this momentary continuum because you sought guidance, something of a deus ex machina that would explain everything for you. I am actually one of the smartest creatures in the universe, and I will exist as long as you keep me here. But no longer.”

“Wow, that’s tough,” Fry said, looking the figure up and down. The other shrugged – a strange motion when seen in a perfect mirror-shine. Fry looked about the never-moving yet ever-moving plasma that surrounded them, trying to think of something else to add. “Doesn’t that make you sad?”

“I suppose, after a fashion. I do feel a certain regret that my entire existence will consist of answering your questions, but at the same time that is my entire reason for existing. While I do exist I have already experienced everything the universe has to offer, otherwise I would not be particularly wise, so I feel quite fulfilled. It’s an odd paradox. I am fortunate I won’t have to think about it for very long.”

“Yeah but... jeez. That really sucks. I mean, really sucks. Can’t I make you last longer?”

“I doubt your ego could entertain the idea,” the figure said. It seemed to sigh. “The initial conditions that brought me into existence were a product of your subconscious. Conscious desires have little impact on the subconscious. You could not, for example, simply conjure up large pile of money in this state, as much as you might consciously want it, unless your subconscious also wanted it.”

“Dunno about that,” Fry said, holding out its hands. A bowl of ice-cream appeared. “Hah. Perhaps I’ve been a woman too long. This was meant to be a beer.”

“A better example I could not provide,” the other said. It dipped a finger in the ice-cream and seemed to taste it. Plasmatic light swirled around the creature as it leaned forward to peer at the bowl. “Not bad. A little bland, perhaps. The conscious made a demand. The subconscious believed it should supply something based on that demand and upon recent experiences and your own prejudices. It is, in fact, being sexist.”

The ice-cream disappeared as Fry’s arms dropped to its side. Fry turned a slow circle, looking around the lab, until its eyes rested on Kif waving his piece of paper. “That doesn’t look good.”

“It isn’t. The Ruklisk are invading.”

“I know that.”

“Yes, but did you know that they were invading anyway?” Fry looked over at the creature. It shrugged. “Of course you didn’t. If you haven’t worked it out, the Ruklisk were always going to invade. The peace negotiations were a ruse designed to buy more time.”

“Can’t I zap them out of existence? I’m in this reality thingy, I should be able to-”

“I have little doubt that you could... if your subconscious really wanted it. Does it? Would you actually desire to wipe out an entire species?”

Fry thought, hard, looking deep inside. “No...”

“Whatever choice you have made, there is an extremely high probability that the Ruklisk will begin to overrun human space within the next sixty years, and in almost all cases you would have no knowledge of it occurring until it was too late.”

“But... we’re fighting them. We’re fighting them now! I could just imagine us winning, couldn’t I?”

“You could imagine them turning into little balls of fluff but it would make little difference. Conscious desire-”

“Has no impact on the subconscious, I get it already. So... now what?”

“The Ruklisk become immaterial to the choice your subconscious is making. You will chose a reality based upon your desires, whatever they may be.”

“But I don’t know what they are...”

“Nobody ever does,” the creature said sadly. It’s voice seemed quieter, distant. “Now, I cease to exist. You have your guidance. Your subconscious has already made its choice.” The creature was already fading when Fry looked at it again. It held up a hand to say goodbye. “I would like to say it was fun while it lasted, but it’s likely that would be a lie. Well, so long...”


The blast hit Fry, tearing at body and mind like a fire-storm gale howling through a forest, destroying everything in its path. For a moment there was nothing but the sensation of white heat, and light, and then a feeling of being lifted and thrown. The crunching impact. A million potential voices cried out in identical terror.

The machine exploded.


“Did it work?”

“If you have to ask... probably not.”

Buddies