Part Three: New New York, July 14th, 3002
As Fry navigated the streets of New New York, he couldn’t help but admire the fantastic architecture that sprang up around him on all sides. He had always loved the skyscrapers of the old city, especially the majestic peak of the Empire State building, but even that old testament to the industriousness of the 1920s couldn’t compare to the towering structures of the new city. In the midst of the smaller rectangular buildings rose pyramids and cylinders of glass and plascrete, some stretching high enough that they pierced the underbellies of the thunderheads that were slowly building to the southwest. The lower levels shone a brilliant yellow as their countless windows reflected the evening sun.
Autopiloted vehicles of every size, shape, and description flitted between and above the skyscrapers at what would have been suicidal speeds for their human drivers. It was easy for Fry to get lost in the spectacle, and he often found himself standing in the middle of the sidewalk, gawping at the scenery while the current of pedestrians parted itself and flowed around him. But not today. Today he had somewhere to be.
He was supposed to be meeting Chelsea for dinner and a movie in two hours. That gave him just enough time to get home, shower, and change before he had to head for the park where they were planning to meet. He was tempted to skip the shower and the change of clothes, but his admittedly limited experience told him that, for some reason he’d never quite figured out, women actually care if you smell bad.
Fry almost missed the turn onto his street. He couldn’t help but chuckle at that. It had been, what, ten weeks since he’d left Robot Arms, and he still found himself automatically walking home in that direction. Turning the corner, he passed what had been Amy Wong’s favorite store. A sign over the doorway proudly proclaimed it to be the . Fry didn’t know what was to be found behind its convex, tinted windows, but for some reason he found himself unable to resist peering in the doorway as he passed by.
Two hours and twenty minutes later, Fry was running pell-mell down the street, shirttails billowing in the breeze, belt undone, and hair in disarray. Startled pedestrians stared wide-eyed as the redhead clumsily dodged between them.
“Excuse me! Pardon me!” He yelled as he barreled through a crowd of stocky, crablike Haniir tourists who were waiting for their bus. One of the Haniir raised his trunk and bellowed back something indecipherable; Fry assumed it was an insult. It was unfortunate that Fry didn’t speak hanii, for if he had, he would have known that what the blue alien had actually said was “Excuse me sir, but I can see your hindmouth.”
By the time Fry finally made it to the little grassy patch that was generously referred to as a park, he was panting and sweaty. He looked around frantically, but Chelsea was nowhere to be seen. He felt a stab of panic. Had she gone home already, thinking that he’d stood her up?
“Damn it! Why did I have to turn on the TV while I was at home changing?!” The new spin-off of All My Circuits, Battlestar Calculon, had drawn him in so thoroughly with the revelation that Monique was actually one of the Final Cylons that he had completely lost track of time.
But then, to Fry’s infinite relief, he spotted Chelsea rounding a corner in the distance. She was running flat out, an impressive feat considering she was wearing heels. Fry leaned against a nearby lamppost and caught his breath while Chelsea easily threaded her way through the crowd. The minute or so that Fry had to wait would have been an opportune time to fix his hair, tuck in his shirt, and pull his pants up to their proper height, but he found himself unable to resist watching Chelsea dodge between, under, and around the members of the crowd with a skill that might even have rivaled the PE Captain’s. Fry noted that Chelsea was taking pains to avoid the aliens that were mixed in with the crowd. It didn’t surprise him, really. She was still adapting to the bizarre newness of the future. She was having a harder time getting used to the 31st century than he had, but she’d come around eventually.
Although she was undoubtedly of Asian descent, Chelsea was an inch or two taller than him and had striking brown, almond shaped eyes that contrasted starkly with her obsidian black hair. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail that flopped against her back as she ran. She was wearing a dress of what Fry’s vocabulary could only describe as reddish-purplish that flowed gracefully around her lithe figure. Fry thought she looked absolutely stunning, almost as beautiful as Le- He crushed the thought before he could finish it.
Chelsea stopped a couple of feet from Fry and smiled guiltily. “Sorry I’m so late.” She said, not even slightly winded. “I made the mistake of turning on the TV while I was getting ready. Did you know that Monique-”
“Is a Cylon? I know, isn’t it awesome?!” Fry grinned. “I got sucked into the show too. I only got here a minute ago.” Suddenly remembering his appearance, he turned away and stuffed his shirt into his khakis. Fastening his belt, he turned back around. At the questioning look in Chelsea’s face Fry smiled weakly. “I uhh, sorta forgot to finish getting ready when I realized I was late.” The redhead waited for Chelsea to roll her eye- err- eyes. He was a little startled when she just shrugged.
“Whatever. No big deal.” She looked at her watch. “Hey, we need to get walking. We’re supposed to be at the movie theatre in, uhh, now. Crap, we’ll never make it there before the previews are over.”
Fry hesitated for a second. They were a mile from the theater. She was right; they wouldn’t make it in time. Unless… He spoke up, somewhat carefully. “You know, there is another way.” He glanced at a nearby tube station to demonstrate his point.
Chelsea blanched. “Oh no. You’re not suggesting we… Oh God. You know I hate those things.”
Fry took her arm. “Yeah, I know you do, but it’s the only way we’ll get there in time. Besides, you’ll never conquer your fear unless you face it head on.”
Chelsea regarded him skeptically. “Who told you that? It was that Leela person you’re always talking about, wasn’t it?”
A little embarrassed, Fry admitted it. “Yeah, I guess it was. She said that when she was trying to get me to get over my fear of brain slugs.”
“Brain slugs?” Chelsea asked, her tone making it obvious that she knew that she didn’t want to know the answer.
“Uhh, little green blobby things that- umm, never mind.”
Chelsea reluctantly allowed herself to be pulled toward the transport tube. She looked at the tube’s clear flanks with a mix of distaste and suspicion. The day she’d been unfrozen she had been wandering through the city, just walking and marveling at the sights, when she’d innocently walked into a tube entrance, curious. She’d seen the clear tubes snaking all over the city, but since it had been midday and tube traffic was light, there was no one flying overhead to demonstrate what the things were used for. When she’d entered the base of the tube, she’d immediately had the sensation that she’d been closed in. She turned to leave and came up hard against an invisible barrier of some kind that blocked the entrance. More annoyed than scared, she’d pounded at the whatever-it-was that had trapped her, hurtling obscenities at it in vain. Unfortunately, the nanocomputer mounted in the tube wall somehow misinterpreted her words as a destination command, and before she’d had time to react she was careening through the air. She’d felt like a bullet being accelerated endlessly down the barrel of a gun.
Fry gave the reluctant woman’s arm a soft tug. “Come on, Chelsea. It’s just like riding in an elevator, only faster… and higher… and without the elevator car or anything to hold you up-“
“Stop!” Chelsea blurted, clamping a hand over the clueless redhead’s overactive mouth. “Let’s just get this over with, alright?” With that, she stepped into the empty tube and turned around. She crossed her arms. “You owe me for this.” She said, dead serious. Then, wincing, she said aloud to the computer that was listening in, “Googolplex theaters.” A moment later there was a puff of air and Chelsea disappeared into the sky with a whump of suction.
“Man that movie was terrible.”
Fry nodded his agreement. He and Chelsea were walking side by side, letting themselves be pushed toward the lobby by the crowd of moviegoers. Theatres hadn’t changed much in a thousand years. They were still dark, dirty, and smelled of old popcorn and floor cleaner. The only significant difference was the addition of spilled motor oil to the conglomeration of popcorn, soda, candy, and who knows what else that covered the floor. The addition was not an improvement, as it somehow bonded with the other detritus into a substance analogous to superglue. When the movie was over, Fry tried to get up from the tattered stadium seat, only to discover that his feet were glued solidly to the floor. Chelsea had had to kick him free.
“Yeah, that sucked. I forgot that most records of the past got destroyed.”
“I thought a documentary of the 20th and 21st centuries would be good for us. It’d be like going back in time for a few hours. Plus, I really wanted to know what happened after I got frozen. But everything was wrong!”
Fry caught the disappointment in Chelsea’s voice and frowned. He wanted her to be happy, and although she’d picked the movie, he felt a little responsible for not realizing what was going to happen. “It’s ok.” He said lamely and then fumbled for something comforting to add.
“I mean, a robot with a plasma cannon screwing up the 2000 presidential election? What the hell? And since when were the Backstreet Boys the leading philosophers of the 21st century?”
Fry giggled, despite himself. “Yeah. And as if Hillary Clinton raised an army of cyborgs and took over the planet in 2012.”
Chelsea hesitated for a moment. “Well actually,” she said slowly, “that is somewhat true. There really was an army of cyborgs that tried to conquer the planet in 2012. They almost succeeded too, but their momentum started to falter after they took over the western hemisphere. Clinton was on the human side, though.”
“Hey, that’s right!” Fry exclaimed. “You were there in the 21st century. Well, for the first 12 years anyway. You should write to the movie’s producers and tell them what really happened.” When Chelsea shrugged noncommittally, he added, “So, what was the war about, anyway?”
Chelsea stopped walking abruptly. When he didn’t immediately stop as well, she lightly grabbed his arm. Surprised, the redhead turned to face her.
“Is something wrong?” He asked, afraid that he’d made some terrible blunder. But there was no anger on Chelsea’s face. It was studiously blank, as if in the blink of the eye she had put on a mask. The only hint of emotion that Fry could find was buried in the backs of her eyes, something buried just a little too deep for him to read.
When Chelsea spoke her words came out very carefully. “Fry, the war was a tragic part of my life that I would really like to forget. I was frozen a few months after it started, but during those few months my entire life unraveled. I saw friends and colleagues brutally slaughtered. So please understand, the war is a painful subject for me, ok?” Then, to Fry’s bewilderment, the mask was gone and there was a smile on Chelsea’s face again. “Now, let’s go get something to eat.”
Before Fry could react, Chelsea, who still had a light grip on his left arm, began gently pulling him along behind her as she forced a path for them through the gaggle of moviegoers.
The night air was hot and entirely still. Fry hated the end of July in New New York as much as he’d hated it in Old New York. After a full day of baking in the summer sun, the pavement released its heat into an atmosphere so saturated with water that a person seemed liable to drown. By the time he and Chelsea had worked their way through the brightly lit streets to the restaurant, Fry could feel the sweat trickling down his face in little rivulets
As they approached Elzar’s, Fry suddenly remembered his sense of chivalry. He jogged up ahead a couple of steps and pulled open the door. When he looked back at his date, she smiled at him, and Fry burst into a big grin.
Fry and Chelsea crossed the threshold and entered the restaurant, and a little bell tinkled as the door closed behind them. As if on cue, a purple, four-armed alien came bursting into the room.
“Hi kids. Welcome to Elzar’s” The owner and head chef greeted them in his distinct Neptunian accent. “Table for two?”
“Yes, please.” Fry responded, nodding
“Alright then. Follow me.” The Neptunian led them through the densely packed restaurant to a table near the rear of the establishment. Chelsea sat down facing the door, and Fry sat down across from her. Elzar handed them each a menu. Before leaving to attend to another group that had just arrived, he recommended that they order the special of the day. “What I do is mash together all of the food that didn’t get eaten yesterday.” He said before turning to leave.
Chelsea regarded Fry uneasily. “Is he serious?” She asked.
Fry chuckled. “Who, Elzar?” He waved dismissively. “Nah, don’t pay attention to him; he always makes jokes like that. This one time he even said he forgot to cook the chicken I ordered. Actually, come to think of it, that was only a few hours before I got that really awful flu I was telling you about.”
“Uh-huh.” Chelsea replied, not particularly convinced.
Elzar returned a few minutes later to take their orders and then vanished into the kitchen with a flourish. He returned an hour later with their meals. Fry and Chelsea chatted while they ate, first about their jobs and then about the future in general. The computer at Applied Cryogenics had come to the decision that “security guard” was the career to which Chelsea was most suited. Momcorp had been at the top of the list of suggested employers. Chelsea had applied electronically and been hired before she even left Fry’s office.
Chelsea was eager to share her experiences since she had been unfrozen, but her whole demeanor changed abruptly when Fry innocently asked about her childhood. She didn’t object to the question, but gave him a hasty, disjointed answer, as if it was uncomfortable even to think about it. Sensing his mistake, Fry tried to change the subject, but the energy that Chelsea had exhibited five minutes earlier was gone.
A few awkward minutes passed in silence before Fry found the courage to speak. “You ok?” Fry asked.
“Hmm, what?” Chelsea asked, startled.
Fry frowned slightly. “Are you alright? You haven’t said anything in like twenty minutes. You’ve been just nibblin’ at that salad and staring into space.”
Noticing the worried look on Fry’s face, she reached out and squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry.” She reassured him. “I’m alright. You haven’t done anything wrong. This has been a great night for me. I’m just thinking about… something.”
There was another minute of silence, but this time it lacked the awkwardness. Fry finished off the last of his meal as he waited for Chelsea to work through whatever was bothering her. When she finally spoke, it was with a single word. “Religion.” She said.
Fry looked up at her. “Huh?”
“Religion and betrayal. That’s what the war was about.”
The redhead put down his fork. “Are you sure you want to talk about this?” He asked.
Chelsea shook her head. “Nope. But its probably good for me to talk about it with somebody, and well, if I’m going to talk to somebody about it, I kinda feel like it should be you.” For the first time ever, Fry saw some vulnerability tug at the corners of Chelsea’s face.
A little perplexed, and very touched, the redhead waited for her to continue. “It all started in a town called Los Alamos.” She began. “There was a group of people who believed that human life, even though it was the only form of life to contain a soul, was illogical, and therefore flawed. Machine life, on the other hand, was innately logical, but had no soul. The group believed that the perfect form of life was a combination of human and machine- a cyborg that could take advantage of the strengths of both groups, but was limited by the disadvantages of neither. Their leader, a brilliant robotics expert working for the United States government, developed the technology to turn people into cyborgs, even against their will. The scientist’s wife discovered what he was planning and reported him to the feds. He was assassinated by some shadowy government agency, but one of his children secretly continued his research. One day, just a few months before I was frozen, the cyborg cult, as they were called, came out of hiding. They enslaved or assimilated town after town, adding armies of drones to their ranks. It was only a few months before the military had been pushed all the way back to the East Coast. When the cyborgs finally invaded New York, the fighting was savage. Everyone fought. Men, women, children who were old enough to pick up a rifle. So many deaths…” Chelsea trailed off as tears came to her eyes, but she managed to gain control over her emotions. “Eventually they took over the entire western hemisphere; only patches of the American northwest and Nova Scotia were free. Millions of people died fighting the cyborgs, and millions more died when they were converted to mindless drones and forced to fight their former comrades.”
Fry listened to all of this in silence. The words that Chelsea was speaking didn’t scare him nearly as much as the sorrow and latent terror that laced each word. He tried to picture what Chelsea must have seen during those few months. He shuddered. “W- what happened next?” He asked, hesitantly.
“The cyborgs began to stall.” Chelsea said. “While they had been busy conquering the Americas, Europe had been preparing for them. EMP weapons were mass-produced. There was no way for the cyborgs to cross the ocean without being crushed by the combined fleets of the exiled American government, the European Union, Russia, and China. Then an organized resistance group broke out in the conquered territories, and that bogged the cyborgs down even more. The UN counterattacked and liberated the East Coast of the United States after a long, bloody trench war, but I wasn’t there for that. I froze myself right before the invasion of New York. Everyone thought the war would be over by then, one way or the other.”
“But what if, you know, the good guys didn’t win?” Fry asked. “If the freezer tube hadn’t malfunctioned, you would’ve woken up to…” The prospects made his blood run cold.
Chelsea seemed to have to think about it for a second. “I told myself that, whatever happened, it would be better than having to live through all those years of war. My family was dead by then- almost everyone I knew was dead. I couldn’t watch people killing each other anymore.”
That seemed to make sense. “Did you ever find out what else happened after you were frozen?” Fry asked.
“Yeah. I did some research after I thawed out. Like you said, most of the records from back then are gone, but it looks like the UN managed to beat the cyborgs with their electromagnetic pulse technology.”
“What did they do with those cyborg cult people?”
Chelsea frowned. “Most of them died in the war. The others that didn’t go into hiding were executed, I think.”
Just as Fry was about to say something comforting, he heard a familiar voice calling to him from somewhere over his shoulder. “Fry, mon! Is dat you?!”
Fry’s face turned white. He began fervently trying to make himself as small as possible.
“By Jah, I’d know that hair anywhere!” The voice said a moment later, this time much closer. A thick Jamaican hand landed on Fry’s left shoulder.
The redhead winced. “Hi Hermes.”
With dread pulling at his stomach like a lead weight, Fry twisted in his chair to face the bureaucrat. The Jamaican’s broad face was grinning back at him in the manner usually reserved for unexpected letters from the DMV. His wife Labarbara and his son Dwight stood at his side. Both of them returned Fry’s gaze with blank looks, as if they hadn’t realized yet that he was there. Fry could see Professor Farnsworth maneuvering his arthritic frame through the maze of tables in the background. His son Cubert, obviously frustrated by the shuffling old man, detoured around a couple of Thurians who were noisily devouring a heaping pile of mustard and olives, and, in a few quick strides, crossed the room to stand next to Dwight. The pudgy 11 year old regarded Fry and Chelsea, and then gave Fry a skeptical look. Fry swept the room with his eyes, but he didn’t see any signs of Leela or Bender. Or Amy for that matter. The weight in his stomach eased somewhat.
“Fry mon!” Hermes continued. “It’s great to see you! Where in Babylon ‘ave you been all dis time?!” There was a beat as the Jamaican noticed Chelsea, seemingly for the first time. “And who might dis be?”
Fry found himself completely caught off balance. He fumbled for something to say, but had no idea how to react. Should he treat Hermes as the casual acquaintance that he had been back when Fry had been a delivery boy, the coldhearted bureaucrat that had fired him, or the long lost friend that he had never been, but that, if his current enthusiasm was to be believed, Hermes seemed to think he was? Fry was aware that he had to say something, and do it before the silence became strained. A few confused words escaped Fry’s lips, but his brain was unable to come out with anything even remotely coherent.
Luckily, Chelsea came to his rescue. “Hermes, is it?” She asked pleasantly, and extended her hand. “My name’s Chelsea. Chelsea Porter.” The Jamaican’s beefy paw engulfed her hand, but when they shook, it was Chelsea, not Hermes, who had the stronger grip. The bureaucrat, surprised, withdrew his hand.
“Nice to meet you.” Hermes said, then gestured for his party to settle around an adjacent table. Hermes lowered himself into a chair and twisted around so that he could continue the conversation.
“So Fry, where ‘ave you been all ‘dis time? I haven’t seen you in weeks.”
Fry stared at the bureaucrat for a moment. What the heck is going on here? “Uh, Hermes, don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you being so nice to me? I mean, the last time we talked was when you fired me for- well, you know.”
Instead of getting offended, which is what Fry had expected him to do, the Jamaican just chuckled and made a dismissive gesture with his hand. Ok, this is too friendly. Fry told himself. Something’s up. Self-preservation instincts, dormant after months of safety at Applied Cryogenics, suddenly kicked into high gear.
Fry noticed the somewhat heavy expressions on the faces of Labarbara, Dwight, and even Cubert. Only the Professor seemed his normal self, although, since the scientist had fallen asleep in his chair, it was somewhat hard to tell. Where are Leela, Bender, and Amy?
At that moment, Zoidberg, having been feasting upon the delicious leavings in Elzar’s dumpster, waddled into the restaurant. Elzar moved to intercept him, but the Decapodian made a beeline for his coworkers. Satisfied that the creature was part of the Planet Express party, Elzar returned to the kitchen.
Warbling softly to himself, Zoidberg squeezed his way between Chelsea and Hermes and sat down next to the Professor. As the Decapodian lowered himself into his seat, he gripped the back of Chelsea’s seat with a garbage-streaked claw for balance. In the process, the claw almost came into contact with Chelsea’s hair. Chelsea jerked away and glared at the alien. For a moment, Fry thought she might say something, but she seemed to catch herself.
Zoidberg didn’t notice Chelsea at all, but upon recognizing Fry, let out a squeal of joy. “Fry! Good to see you, it is!”
After acknowledging the Decapodian with a quick “Hi, Zoidberg”, Fry proceeded to follow the Planet Express employees’ example of pretending Zoidberg wasn’t even there. Turning back to Hermes, Fry asked “How’s business?”
Hermes was caught slightly off guard. “Oh. Uh, business is fine.” He said. “In fact, it’s running so well dat I took the whole company out to dinner to celebrate. We’ve been doin’ so much business dat I just stamped my ten millionth form dis morning!”
Labarbara, who had until this point been silent and detached, broke into the conversation. “Husband, stop playing games with ‘da poor boy.” She said, giving Hermes a reproachful look. “Your ten millionth form was a letter to notify ‘de Central Bureaucracy dat three of your employees are missing.” Turning to Fry, she continued. “I’m sorry Phillip, but three of your friends- ‘da cyclops, ‘da robot, and ‘dat Martian girl- are missing.”
Fry felt his heart skip a beat. He blinked twice, surprised by his own reaction. “Missing?” He asked.
Hermes frowned at his wife, then turned back to Fry. “Yes, I’m afraid so.” He acknowledged, with a slow nod. “Dey went out on a delivery and never came back. We never even got a distress call.” The bureaucrat sighed, and then shook his head sadly. “We lose more crews dat way… It is a huge loss for ‘da company.”
Wondering if the loss to which Hermes referred was the lives of his employees or the expensive intergalactic spaceship, and then deciding he really didn’t want to know, Fry asked: “How long have they been missing?”
“Five weeks.” Labarbara said.
The odds that they were alive weren’t very good, then. “Did you put up ‘missing’ signs? Back in the 20th century, my friend’s cat ran away, so he put signs on all of the telephone poles.”
“Did it work?” asked Dwight.
“Yeah. Well, I mean, it turned out the cat wasn’t really missing. It was just locked in my friend’s closet, so I guess the signs didn’t help at all. But still-”
“No, we didn’t put up any signs.” Hermes said, cutting Fry off. “We don’t have any idea what happened to dem, or where dey are.” He admitted. Strangely, there was a hint of embarrassment, or possibly even shame in his voice. The Jamaican glanced at his wife as if for support, but Labarbara crossed her arms and pointedly looked away.
Fry sighed. “You didn’t even look. Did you?”
Hermes spread his arms. “How were we supposed to mount a rescue mission?” He asked. “We couldn’t use a spaceship to go look for dem; the only spaceship we had was missing!”
“You could have rented a ship, or hired someone to go look.” Fry replied. “Or put up posters.”
“Ah, but dat would ‘ave been expensive.” Hermes replied with confidence, as if that somehow proved a point. “It makes more business sense to fill out missing persons notices and hire a new crew.”
“What about the Wongs?” Fry pointed out, anger starting to build in his chest. “They have, like, gazillions of dollars to spend on looking for Amy.”
Before Fry had finished speaking, Hermes was already shaking his head. It looked as though he’d heard the argument before. “I can’t tell dem that Amy is missing until I receive permission from de Central Bureaucracy. But don’t worry. Dey’ll get back to me within a few months.” There was a beat. “Oh, by ‘da way.” Hermes added, his overly-friendly demeanor suddenly back in full swing. “We happen to be hiring a new crew, and we have an opening for a new delivery boy. Since you already ‘ave da training, and if things aren’t working out at the cryogenics lab, maybe you could-”
Hermes never got to finish that statement. Fry exploded out of his seat. There was a clatter of dishes as his knee crashed into the underside of the table. His chair tumbled backwards and hit the floor with a thud. Chelsea was startled by the sudden noise. In a single fluid motion she was out of her seat and in a defensive position. When her brain caught up with her instincts a moment later, she hesitated and looked about her uncertainly.
“How can you say that?!” Fry was yelling, surprised at himself, and at the intensity of his emotion. “Leela, Bender, and Amy are people. You can’t just let them die because of regulations and business expenses!” The ex-delivery boy’s hands were shaking with the force of his emotion. “And then you actually offer me my job because you need a replacement for them?! They’re- were- my friends!”
Fry looked away from Hermes and shook his head in a combination of disbelief and disgust. For a split second his eyes met Chelsea’s, and some kind of nonverbal communication passed between them. One of Chelsea’s hands lay casually at her hip by a slight bulge that he had not noticed before. Her left eyebrow was raised slightly. Something in Fry’s expression must have sufficed as an answer, because Chelsea’s hand moved away from the bulge, almost reluctantly.
“B- But I thought you would want your job back.” Hermes stammered, confused. The other restaurant patrons, curious about all of the commotion, had been listening to the conversation. The bureaucrat noticed uncomfortably that many of them were favoring him with hostile looks. Obviously he had said something wrong, but all of the resources of his bureaucratic mind were unable to figure out what it was. He looked to his wife for support, but all he got in return was a silent “serves you right”.
“I did.” Fry replied to Hermes’ question. “But not like this. I can’t take back my old job, knowing that I’m replacing somebody that used to mean a lot to me. Not when you aren’t going to look for them if you can find new employees instead. It would be like I was helping to kill them or something.”
At that moment, Elzar came storming out of the kitchen “Hey, what’s going on here?” The Neptunian demanded, all four arms on his hips. “Is there a problem?”
Fry was about to explain the situation when Chelsea leaned across the disheveled table and touched his arm to silence him. Regarding the Neptunian with distaste, Chelsea said. “No problem. We were just on our way out.” She reached into her purse, pulled out enough bills to cover both of their dinners, and tossed them onto the table. Walking around Fry’s fallen chair, she put a hand on the redhead’s shoulder and began to steer him towards the door. Fry tried to object, but Chelsea was insistent, and he let himself be led away. At the last moment, Labarbara reached out and grabbed the hem of Fry’s shirt. “Hold on a second, boy.” She said. “You should know. The name of da planet they went to was Cardena.” With that, she smiled, let go, and turned away.
As Fry and Chelsea walked down a narrow side street a few blocks from Elzar’s, Fry could feel the anger building inside him. “Can you believe all that?” He was saying. “All that ‘Hi Fry, nice to see you again’ crap. He just wanted to take advantage of me.” The redhead sighed. “I guess nothing changes.”
Chelsea didn’t answer right away. The two of them were alone on the cracked sidewalk. The rain had stopped some time ago, though a thick dampness still hung in the air. A distant rumble of thunder rolled in over their heads. The street was only sparsely lit by the soft, orange glow of the streetlights, which were further dimmed by a thick mist that was rising off the pavement. When Chelsea finally spoke, it was in a guarded voice. Fry tried to read the expression on her face, but they had passed into the shadow between the street lamps, and he could only make out her silhouette.
“Fry, sometimes people say or do things that other people misunderstand, not because they’re cruel, or evil, but because they believe it is right. Even when they’re wrong, it’s not always right to hate them. They can’t help what they’re doing; they don’t know any better.”
“I don’t hate-” She held up her hand to silence him. “I know you don’t, and I agree with you that Hermes was wrong to put you in that position. It was a dirty trick to try and maneuver you into returning to Planet Express as a replacement for your old friends, but what else would you expect from someone that associates with aliens? Remember that, whether or not he actually was wrong, he didn’t know it, and he didn’t mean it.”
“Yeah I know.” Fry said, unconvinced. Then, frowning he added: “Wait, what about ali-?”
But Chelsea was speaking again. “Back in the 21st century there was someone who was very close to me that did something… unforgivable. It took me years to understand that she betrayed me, not because she was cruel, but because she was too ignorant to understand what she had done. I didn’t hate her; I wasn’t disgusted by what she did. I just had to tell myself that that’s who she was. She couldn’t help it.”
“Oh.” Fry replied, not quite sure where this new turn in the conversation had come from. “Who was she?”
“It’s not important.” Chelsea said quickly, and there was silence between the two of them. Fry was just beginning to worry that he’d said something wrong again when Chelsea changed the subject. “What are you going to do with the information that Hermes’ wife gave you?” She asked.
Fry thought it over as they approached another streetlight. They were approaching an intersection. “I don’t know.” He said.
“Isn’t there some kind of search and rescue organization here in the future?” Chelsea enquired. The two of them reached the intersection and Fry paused momentarily. He was used to the transport tubes and hadn’t walked around this part of town often enough to recognize where he was. Chelsea, on the other hand, seemed to know exactly where they were. She immediately turned left. Fry rushed to catch up, and almost got backhanded in the face as she waved at a passing trashbot. She noticed that Fry was again at her side. “But anyway,” she said, addressing the redhead, “isn’t there a space-coastguard or something?”
Fry had to think about it. “Huh. I don’t know. I mean, I guess there ought to be.” He hadn’t really considered the possibility. “What I meant though was that I didn’t know what I was going to do about it.”
“What, you mean you’re thinking about going to look for them?” She asked, incredulous. “You don’t think you still owe them some kind of loyalty, right? I mean, Leela betrayed you. You kicked her out of your apartment for lying about it to your face.”
Fry nodded, although Chelsea almost certainly didn’t see the gesture in the murky light. Did I really do that? He thought to himself. He knew that he had, but it seemed so… strange now, like it was something he’d seen a long time ago in a half-forgotten movie. It was true that he was still angry at Leela and Bender for what they had done, but Chelsea’s earlier words echoed in his head. Sometimes people say or do things that other people misunderstand, not because they’re cruel, or evil, but because they believe it is right. That didn’t work for Bender, who was undoubtedly cruel and definitely evil ( Bender had once shown him his ‘certifiably evil’ card), but as for Leela… Had she, somehow, thought that it was right to go behind his back and then lie about it? Either way, he wondered, can I really hate them for being who they are?
“Fry?” Chelsea prodded.
The redhead snapped out of his reverie. “What? Oh, sorry.” He was quiet again for a moment while he collected his thoughts. “Yeah, I’m going to go look for them.” He said. “They were my friends; I guess I feel like I owe them somehow. Besides, I think Leela would do the same for me.” Fry realized suddenly that they had reached Chelsea’s apartment building. Chelsea opened the door for him and they entered the lobby.
Chelsea mulled over what her friend had said while they waited for the elevator. “You talk about Leela as if she was such a great friend, and yet she betrayed you simply because it was convenient.” The elevator car arrived and they walked in. Chelsea automatically pressed the button for the eighth floor. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand why you think that you need to go look for her and the others.” She paused again. “But if you really think you need to, then I want to help you.” There was a brief acceleration and then the doors opened. Moments later, Fry found himself standing right outside Chelsea’s door. He heart immediately began to beat faster.
“T- thank you.” Fry said, trying to concentrate on the issue at hand.
Chelsea’s right hand was on the doorknob but her left was propped under her chin as a plan started to form in her head. “I’ll tell you what.” She said. “They’ve been missing for weeks; another few hours won’t make a difference. Tomorrow morning we can rent a spaceship and go look for them at that planet that Hermes’ wife mentioned. Does that sound alright to you?”
Fry nodded, and couldn’t quite resist sneaking a glance at Chelsea’s hand on the doorknob. Chelsea immediately caught on. “I’m really tired right now-” she said carefully. Fry’s face immediately crumbled, and Chelsea put a hand on his shoulder. When Fry looked up at her she smiled at him. “Will you take a rain check?” She asked. Fry’s face immediately lit up. Men. Chelsea thought. So very easy to please.
Chelsea gave Fry a quick hug and waited expectantly as the redhead got up the nerve to kiss her. When it finally came, it was on the cheek. Chelsea opened the door and slipped into her apartment. She waved at him as she started to close the door. “I’ll come by your apartment tomorrow morning at dawn.” She said, and Fry nodded. Right before the door clicked shut he spoke. “Chelsea?” He asked, hesitantly.
“Back at Elzar’s, right after Hermes offered me my job back, when you gave me that look… You weren’t about to…” His voice trailed off.
The warm smile didn’t leave Chelsea’s face, but something changed back in the depths of her eyes. “Good night, Fry.” She said softly, and closed the door.
Fry’s doorbell rang at precisely 5:00 am. The redhead, who had just two hours earlier managed to slow his brain down enough to sleep, grunted, mumbled something incoherent, rolled over, and then continued snoring. Something touched his leg. He bolted upright, immediately awake, as his fight-or-flight, but mostly flight, reflex went into overdrive.
His eyes locked on a dark figure that was hunched over him, which quickly focused into Chelsea. She had a lopsided grin on her face, and her right hand was still lightly clutching his ankle through the sheets.
“Morning, sleepyhead.” She teased him. “Ready to go?”
“Ch- Chelsea?!” He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “What are- How did you- What time is it?”
“5:03.” She replied cheerfully.
Fry let himself fall back to the bed. “It should be illegal to wake people up this early.” He grumbled. Then, after yawning dramatically, he sat up and then hauled himself to his feet. He completely forgot to be embarrassed that he was only wearing his boxers.
Fry went through the motions of dressing, showering, and shoveling a bowl of Bachelor Chow into his mouth. He noted somewhat absently that the Bachelor Chow didn’t quite taste the same as usual. There was a distinctive, woody taste there that he’d never noticed before.
Chelsea was perched on his couch in the same spot as Leela had been during their argument so many ages ago. She was staring blankly out the window, but she apparently sensed that he was watching her, because her gaze swiveled to meet his. “All set?” She asked in a voice that, in Fry’s opinion, was much too perky for that early in the morning.
“Umm, yeah.” Fry acknowledged. “But uh, if you don’t mind my asking, how did you get in here, anyway?”
Chelsea shrugged. “You didn’t answer the doorbell, so I opened the door. It wasn’t locked.”
“Yes it was.”
Another shrug. “Not very locked.”
Fry decided to let it go. After all, worse things had happened to him than being startled awake by beautiful women in the middle of the night.
The rental agency sat atop one of the larger towers in downtown New Manhattan. The office occupied the upper floor, with the rental ships parked in neat rows on the roof overhead. There was no line, and Fry was able to walk right up to the rental counter. A pretty looking redhead, about his age, was behind the counter. She was leaning against the desk and staring blankly at the countertop in front of her. The girl seemed familiar somehow, but he couldn’t quite place her. All that came to mind was an image of a bar, and, for some reason, the word ‘gaydar’. He tapped the counter to get her attention and she looked up at him.
“Oh, sorry, sir.” She said. “I didn’t see you come in. Can I help you?”
“Yeah, we’d like to rent a ship. Nothing big, just a…” He stopped. The girl was staring over his shoulder, mouth agape. “Uh, is something wrong?” He asked.
“Y- y- you!” The girl stuttered and pointed behind him. Fry turned to follow her finger. Chelsea was standing in the middle of the room, staring back at the clerk. She looked around and then behind her, trying to figure out who the clerk was pointing at. There was no one else around. “Uhh, do I know you?” Chelsea asked, startled. She looked as confused as Fry was.
There was panic in the rental clerk’s eyes. “Oh my god. It is you!” Then, to Fry’s absolute bewilderment, she screamed, vaulted the counter, and ran for the nearest exit. In a split second she was gone.
Chelsea and Fry stared blankly at each other for a moment. “Uhh, any idea what that was all about?” Fry managed.
“I have absolutely no idea.” Was all that Chelsea could think to say.
Somebody cleared their throat. Fry and Chelsea whirled to find another clerk standing at the doorway to a back office.
“Can I help you two?” he asked.
The balding, weasel-like clerk had been less than willing to assist them. Something about Fry that he couldn’t quite place had sent alarm bells ringing in his head. It was only after extracting a promise that they would buy every type of insurance possible that he grudgingly turned over a set of keys.
The ship was a sporty little vessel, streamlined and elegant. The main body was a bright red cylinder of ten meters that tapered smoothly to a point at the bow. Four dark red fins sprouted from the aft quarter of the ship and stretched backward, extending beyond the main engine. A tiny defensive laser sat mounted on a turret between the two upper fins. The smoothness of the hull was broken by a narrow strip of tinted glassteel that marked the ship’s cockpit. Inside, the ship was divided into three sections, each of which was separated by an airtight emergency hatch. The ship’s main ramp led to a tiny airlock. Beyond that was a corridor that connected the bridge in the bow with the engine room in the stern. The living quarters, consisting of a head, a meager kitchen, a bed, and a couch, was situated amidships.
Fry wasn’t particularly impressed by the ship’s cramped cockpit, which barely contained enough volume for the two of them to squeeze in next to each other. At least the controls were familiar. He just hoped he still remembered how to fly. It had been awhile since the last time he’d flown a spaceship, and that hadn’t ended well. Too bad Chelsea couldn’t fly; She hadn’t had time to apply for a license yet.
Fry started to rev up the engine as Chelsea watched, fascinated. She had not yet had the chance to travel off-world. The roar that started to build through the deck did not have the deep, throaty undertones of the Planet Express Ship. The quintessence engine that powered the vessel couldn’t muster the raw power of Professor Farnsworth’s dark matter engine. Still, when Fry pulled back on the stick he could almost feel the ship’s eagerness to be airborne. Carefully, he began to apply pressure to the throttle, and the ship leapt into motion.
There was a jarring crash. “Oops.” Fry said, taking the ship out of reverse. This time, when Fry fed power to the engines, the little red ship hurtled into the sky.
It took a few hours for the ship to reach the Cardenian System. Fry kept a close eye on the sensors for some sign of a distress signal, but apart from weak synchrotron emission from the nearby Taurus star-forming region, there was nothing unusual to speak of. One burst of radio noise briefly caught his attention, but the computer immediately disqualified it as coming from a known pulsar.
When they entered Cardenian space, Fry cut the engines and let the ship glide into the star’s gravity well. It was a technique that he’d seen Leela employ on many occasions when she’d wanted to avoid detection. Anyone scanning them from long range would think them just another hunk of space rock hurtling starward in a hyperbolic orbit. Fry, on the other hand, could use his passive scanners to study the situation.
The Cardenian System seemed to be fairly ordinary. The central star was about twice the mass of the sun and glowed slightly bluer than Sol. Two rocky planets resided in the inner system. One was huge by human standards. Composed almost entirely of iron, it contained at least six times Earth’s mass. The other terrestrial world was Cardena itself. The outer solar system consisted of a thin ring of rocks that could barely be called an asteroid belt and three distant ice giants made of helium and liquid methane.
“Uhoh.” Chelsea said, and Fry took his eyes away from the radar.
“This ship must have some kind of spectrometer built into it somewhere, because it just gave me a report on the composition of that second planet’s atmosphere. It’s mostly oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide, but there’s a lot of carbon monoxide too.”
Fry stared at her. He was used to future-y science gibberish from Farnsworth and Leela, but it was bizarre to hear it from someone from the past who’d never even flown in a spaceship before. “Specter-ometer?”
Chelsea chuckled. “Sorry. I minored in astronomy in college. A spectrometer looks at the light that comes from something like a planet’s atmosphere and can tell what the atmosphere is made of by what colors make up the light.”
“And it found something bad?”
She nodded. “Yes. There’s enough carbon monoxide down there to kill you if you went outside and tried to breathe”
Fry didn’t like the sound of that. Bender wouldn’t have a problem since Fry was pretty sure he didn’t actually breathe, but if Leela and Amy were stuck down there then they’d be confined to the ship. He wasn’t even sure the Planet Express Ship could recycle the air for the five weeks that they had been missing, or, for that matter, that Leela, Amy, and Bender could live together that long without killing each other. And if the ship had been damaged or destroyed…
The little video screen that sat on the console between the seats beeped and turned itself on. Fry felt his heart leap, but his hopes were dashed when Leela’s face didn’t appear. Instead, the screen began to flash “Warning!” in bold red letters. A pleasant female voice advised them that they were entering Cardenian space and that trespassers would be ‘disappeared’. Fry’s felt his blood freeze.
Chelsea cursed loudly. “Well, I think we know what happened to Leela and the others.” She said bitterly.
Fry wasn’t so sure. It would have taken a massive force to defeat Leela, and that’s if she’d been taken by surprise. But with a warning to tell her of the danger? There was no way she’d have been taken out. When he said as much aloud Chelsea gave him a skeptical look but didn’t contradict him.
“Ok, then what now?” She asked.
The question sent a thrill running through his body. For the first time ever he was in command of an actual spaceship. His and Chelsea’s lives, and possibly those of Leela, Bender, and Amy, all depended on his next decision. The weight of the responsibility he suddenly felt himself cloaked with was almost overwhelming. He wondered how Leela had always managed to handle that burden so confidently.
“I need to use the restroom,” he declared authoritatively, and rushed from the cockpit, butterflies in his stomach. A few minutes later the butterflies were flushed and Fry crawled back into the cockpit.
Fry reached out and thrust the throttle all the way forward. The quintessence engine roared into life and the universe itself began to stretch and deform, creating the illusion that distant Cardena was rushing toward them at impossible speed. Huge energies poured into the sea of virtual particles that frothed against the bow of the ship, and the particles, suddenly discovering that they had become real, annihilated each other in a flash of hard radiation. The glow of plasma heralded their entrance into Cardena’s poisonous atmosphere. They’d just broadcasted their presence to everyone within a dozen lightyears, but Fry intended to be long gone before anyone could do a thing to stop them.
They circled the planet a dozen times, flying just high enough to clear the jagged mountain ranges. Fry kept one eye glued to the sensors while his other scanned the horizon. They were flying at many times the speed of sound, and the shockwave of their passage blasted snow, and what looked like ash, from the tops of the peaks. Chelsea was staring out the front viewport, face pale, certain that Fry had gone quite mad, but afraid to say anything lest she break his concentration and find herself smeared across a hundred square miles of alien landscape.
In a manner of minutes Fry had surveyed the entire surface of the planet’s one continent. Satisfied that there was no trace of the Planet Express Ship to be found, he pulled back on the stick and the atmosphere faded to the black of space. Chelsea turned to her companion with newfound respect. “Where the heck did you learn to fly like that?” She demanded.
Fry just shrugged. “Meh, that was nothing. One time, I flew all the way around the Earth at less than 100 feet in two minutes while towing the whole Planet Express Building.” He paused. “Well, okay, Bender actually flew part of the way. Well, with his ass, anyway.”
Chelsea shook her head in disbelief. “I thought you were exaggerating when you told me that.”
“It’s not as hard as it looks. The ship’s computer won’t listen to you if you tell it to do something that’ll get you all smashed up. And besides, Leela taught me how to fly a little back when-” Something on his instrument panel caught his attention.
“What is it?” Chelsea asked, worried by the sudden concern that clouded her friend’s face.
“There’s something funny on the radar.” He said, throttling back the engines.
“Hold on.” He swung the ship into a wide turn, and a tiny patch of green rotated into the field of view. Chelsea squinted at it. It was some sort of ship. A marking of some kind was painted on its dorsal fin, but she couldn’t make it out.
“Bad guys?” She asked.
Fry shook his head. He pressed a few buttons and the image of the ship expanded to fill the viewport. The vessel was spinning lazily, its lights dark and landing skids extended. It didn’t look like anybody was home. “No, worse.” Fry replied, gesturing at the Planet Express emblem that was now clearly visible on the ship’s tailfin. “The good guys.”
There weren’t any life signs aboard the Planet Express Ship. Fry ran the scan three times.
“I’ve got to go over there.” Shielding his eyes against the glare of the nearby star with one hand, he tried to peer into the other vessel’s darkened bridge. All he could make out were the vague silhouettes of some of the equipment. Nothing moved.
Chelsea was already hauling spacesuits out of the storage locker at the rear of the cockpit. She tossed one in his direction and then grabbed one of the fishbowl helmets for herself. The garments were surprisingly flexible and easy to get into, not at all like the old, bulky suits he’d used at Planet Express. Fry reached past Chelsea and picked up a helmet. When the helmet’s rim touched the ring seal at his suit’s neck there was a hiss of suction. Fry’s nose immediately caught that unique metallic smell of canned air.
When they’d both finished putting on the suits, Fry nudged their ship against the derelict Planet Express Ship. Their vessel shuddered slightly when the airlocks mated. Fry double-checked each of Chelsea’s seals, and the two humans squeezed into the tiny airlock.
A buzzer sounded back in the cockpit. Grumbling, Fry awkwardly extricated himself from the airlock and strode the few paces to the pilot’s seat. The ship’s computer was trying to warn him about a ship that was bearing down at them.
“A ship just showed up.” He called back to Chelsea. “They’re hailing us.” He started to work the controls on the console in front of him. “Could you answer them? I’m going to start getting the weapons ready, just in case.”
Chelsea slid back into the copilot seat and looked around her. She couldn’t find anything that was obviously a radio amongst the knobs and dials that were spread before her. You’re in the future, she reminded herself. Think Star Trek. “Uhh, on screen?” She was only half surprised when the video screen came alive with a hiss of static.
A squat, leathery creature dressed in a grey uniform glared at her from the screen. “You are in restricted space.” The creature growled. “Power down your engines and open your outer hatch. Prepare to be boarded.” The image disappeared.
“Did you hear that?” Chelsea asked.
Fry looked up from his console and nodded. Of course he’d heard it; he just wasn’t particularly surprised. That kind of dialogue was typical bad guy stuff. You got used to it after working in space for awhile. “Yeah, I heard. He fiddled with a knob and an image of a spaceship filled the screen. For a minute he just stared at the stocky white alien vessel. It practically bristled with weapons. Alright, Phil. He told himself. What now? He didn’t know enough about spaceships to know whether they could outrun them, or even what affect his ship’s defensive laser would have on the other vessel’s armor plated hide. But if he surrendered, he might very well suffer whatever fate had befallen Leela, Bender, and Amy. It suddenly seemed incredibly foolish to have gotten himself into this situation. What the hell was I thinking coming out here? I’m just a dumb kid from the stupid ages!
“I- I don’t know what to do now.” He admitted.
Chelsea looked at him as if he had spoken in Greek. “What do you mean?” She asked. “Now we fight.”
He shook his head. “But I’ve never flown a ship during a battle before. All I ever did when I was working for Planet Express was fire the laser, and I don’t know anything about tactics or stuff. I’ll just end up getting us killed.”
Chelsea put a hand on his shoulder. “If we surrender, they’ll do to us whatever they did to the others. We don’t have a choice; we have to fight.”
“You just worry about making sure we don’t crash into anything.” Chelsea said, cutting him off. “I’ll take care of the rest. Just tell me how to make this thing shoot lasers.”
Fry regarded her for a long moment. His brain told him that fighting wasn’t the answer. He just didn’t think there was anyway they could win, not with an inferior ship. But Chelsea seemed confident, as though she had access to some knowledge that was hidden from him.
“Right.” She said.
Fry blinked. “What? I didn’t say anyth-”
“No, I mean right. Move the ship to the right!”
“Well, it’s actually called starboard when you’re on a ship…”
“I don’t care what it’s called. Move the fucking ship. Now!” Chelsea grabbed the wheel and gave it a hard twist. An alarm blared as the seal between their vessel and the Planet Express Ship was broken. The little red ship rolled right and over the PE Ship’s hull. The torpedo that had been meant for them sailed under their bow and detonated astern, sending a massive concussion reverberating through the ship.
“Ow!” Fry yelped as his head smacked against the wheel. He sat up and winced. “I guess they got tired of waiting for us to make up our minds.” He looked over at Chelsea to make sure she was ok. She was rubbing an elbow that she’d banged against the hull, but seemed otherwise unhurt. Also angry.
“You alright?” He asked.
“Just tell me how to run the laser.” The fire in her eyes made it clear that there would be no argument.
Fry pressed a button that was mounted on the ceiling and a blank panel on Chelsea’s console slid away. A black joystick and a small video screen rose out of the console. A field of stars was displayed on the screen, with a large set of red crosshairs painted at the center. Chelsea grabbed the stick and gave it an experimental flick to the left. The stars flew across the screen from left to right, and the laser turret hummed as it rotated overhead on its track. In a matter of seconds she had the enemy ship centered in the crosshairs. She nodded at Fry.
Fry took a deep breath and threw the throttle forward. The enemy ship responded immediately, letting loose a barrage of violet plasma fire. Most of it passed overhead, but a stray shot glanced off the shields. Their own weapon responded with a staccato burst of green light. The first few volleys were nowhere near their target, but Chelsea soon had the hang of the controls.
When the first rounds splashed against the enemy’s shields Chelsea let out a whoop. “Take that, jackass!”
Fry hazarded a glance in her direction as he made a sloppy series of barrel rolls. To his utter amazement, Chelsea seemed to actually be enjoying herself.
A loud thump shook the ship. “They’re behind us!” Chelsea yelled, and then let off another barrage of laser fire. Fry tried to lose them, but he proved no match for the trained enemy pilot.
“I can’t shake them!” Fry yelled in desperation as a wave of plasma washed over the shields.
“Pull back on the stick, then cut the engines!” It was an order. Fry obeyed, and the enemy ship rocketed by underneath them. Fry throttled up the engines and slid in behind them. Chelsea didn’t fire. She was looking at something at the top of the joystick. She gave it a flick with her fingernail and a plastic covering fell away, exposing a little cavity. In the cavity was a big red button.
“Huh.” Chelsea pressed it.
The engines died without so much as a cough. Systems throughout the ship turned themselves off. “What-?” Fry said as the artificial gravity quit. It was suddenly dark and eerily quiet. Not even the throbbing of the ship’s life support systems could be heard. “What did you do?!”
“Well that’s just great.” Chelsea was saying. “Who the hell puts a surrender button on a weapons system anyway? The French?”
Fry was about to say something when he felt the slightest vibration in the armrest he’d grabbed as the closest available anchor for his freefalling body. Chelsea felt it too.
“Uhh, what is that?” She asked as it started to build. A high-pitched whine began to fill the ship.
Fry’s first thought was that it was some kind of suck ray, which Leela had told him was the technical term for what he’d always called a tractor beam, but the enemy ship, which he could still see through the front viewport, was too far away to be using one on them. In fact, they weren’t doing much of anything, just sitting idle. Maybe they’re as confused about what’s going on as we are. He thought.
The whine increased in intensity until it was at a level that was barely tolerable and the vibration increased to the point that it became difficult to hold onto the armrest. Then both abruptly stopped, and all was still.
“Okaaay-” Chelsea began. Something tore through Fry’s body like a million shards of hot glass. He had the crazy idea that his body was flying apart in all directions. He and Chelsea both started to scream, but the sensation was already gone.
As Fry tried in vain to slow his heart rate he could hear Chelsea in the background swearing up a storm. When he finally had calmed himself to the point that he could meet her gaze he found her grinning like a maniac.
“A goddamned quintessence bomb.” She laughed. “I don’t even believe it.”
She must have seen that he was looking at her as if she’d just sprouted an extra head, because she visibly made an effort to get herself back under control. “Sorry.” She said. “I guess I’m a little high on adrenaline.” Another laugh. “A quintessence bomb.” She shook her head. “Who would ever have thought?”
When all she got as a response was a blank stare, she tried to explain. “The rental agency guy said that the ship was powered by a quintessence engine. I didn’t think about it then, but that’s a fancy word for dark energy. Do you know what that is?”
Fry shook his head.
“Dark energy is the stuff that causes the universe to expand. I guess you could say that it makes space bigger. I didn’t even think it was possible, but I guess in the future scientists know how to use the stuff to expand and contract different parts of the universe. That’s how the ship gets from one place to another, by shrinking the space in front of it and expanding the space behind. I think that, when I pressed that button I told the ship to take all the energy it had available and use it to lob a chunk of dark energy at that other ship.”
Fry, suddenly remembering that they were in the middle of a battle, searched frantically for the enemy ship in the viewport.
“Don’t bother trying to find it.” Chelsea said, waving casually in the general direction of the ship’s last position. They’re probably stuck behind their own event horizon by now. I wonder what it feels like to have your body disassembled piece by piece right down to the subatomic particles?”
Fry thought about that for awhile. “So, we won?” He asked cautiously.
Chelsea grinned at him. “Oh yeah. We won. We totally kicked their ass-” Something hit the ship. Fry and Chelsea were thrown roughly back into their seats.
Fry tried to read his instruments, but they were all still dead. There was another series of loud bangs, followed by the sound that space travels dread above all else, the peculiar whistle of rushing air.
“They’re shooting at us again!” Fry yelled.
“No shit!” Then: “We’re leaking oxygen!”
Silently Fry thanked whatever supreme being that happened to be listening in that they were both still wearing their spacesuits. The emergency hatch closed inches behind Fry’s head. The hiss of escaping air died immediately, but now he and Chelsea were locked on the bridge of a nonresponsive spaceship under fire. We have to get out of here. Fry realized. A green form in the viewport caught his eye.
Chelsea saw it too. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Of course! The Planet Express Ship!
The enemy ship fired again. The rounds impacted in the stern. Strangely, there was no explosion this time. When Fry hit the emergency hatch release it immediately became apparent why. The whole rear half of the ship had been sheered away. Bits of rapidly cooling metal and miscellaneous detritus were floating out of the slowly retreating aft section like blood seeping from a wound. The senseless destruction was, Fry had to admit, incredibly cool. But there wasn’t time for that now.
The redhead grabbed Chelsea around the waist and fired a burst from the thruster pack mounted on his suit. The ruins of the ship began to recede. Fry fired again, and the Planet Express Ship swung into view, as did the enemy vessel. It wasn’t the same ship that had attacked them the first time. This one was bigger, and had a large ‘M’ emblazoned on the underside of its hull. At no point in his life had Fry felt so vulnerable as he did at that moment, hanging as he was in the middle of space with nothing to protect him from a well placed plasma round than a tenth of an inch of glass and fabric. He just hoped the enemy gunner wasn’t a good shot.
As it turned out, he needn’t have worried. The enemy vessel didn’t shoot.
Fry and Chelsea made it to the Planet Express Ship’s airlock. He just prayed Hermes hadn’t gotten on the crew to change the access code every month like they were supposed to. The airlock light turned green. Yes!
Inside, the ship seemed physically undamaged, although life support and artificial gravity were apparently offline. When Fry and Chelsea stepped out of the airlock, the ship’s lights turned on automatically. Fry began propelling himself down the hallway in the direction of the bridge.
As soon as they entered the compartment they felt the tug of gravity pull at their bodies. Fry’s ear caught the whir of a ventilation fan. The bridge’s emergency power generator was still operational, then. He removed his helmet and tossed it aside. Chelsea waited to make sure he could breathe before following suit. “So this is the famous Planet Express Ship, huh?” Her eyes took in the sleek bridge. “Impressive.”
Fry didn’t respond, but instead took his old place at tactical. He tried not to think about the gruesome scene he’d been half-expecting to find on the bridge. The console came alive when he sat before it. A complex wave of emotions washed over him as he was confronted with the memories that accompanied that chair- that ship. He forced himself to suppress them. The console was advising him that there was a ship coming alongside. Fry’s eyes went wide and he bolted from the seat.
“What?! What’s going on?!” Chelsea demanded as Fry bolted across the bridge. The redhead dove into the Captain’s seat and twisted the key that was still in the ignition.
The ship shook. Chelsea almost lost her balance, but grabbed the monitor that hung from the ceiling to steady herself.
An alarm sounded somewhere belowdecks. One of the first things Leela had done after being appointed Captain of the Planet Express Ship was to force Fry to memorize the sound of every alarm that the ship possessed. It had proven a daunting task. There were a lot of things that could go wrong in space, and each of them had its own alarm. This one was a low wail, almost solemn in its timbre. It quickly crescendoed to a climax and then slowly faded to silence before repeating. That meant-
“We’re being boarded!” Fry exclaimed
Chelsea swore under her breath. “What about weapons? Do we have laser guns onboard or something?”
Fry shook his head. “No. Leela was afraid that Bender would try and hijack the ship if she kept guns around. She probably had one hidden onboard somewhere in case of an emergency, but I dunno where.”
“Well, it probably doesn’t matter anyway.” Chelsea replied in resignation.
“Huh? Why?” Chelsea nodded toward the rear of the bridge. Three spacesuited figures floated through the hatchway and landed lightly on their feet as the artificial gravity caught them. Each of them had nasty looking laser rifles clutched in their ungloved hands.
The lead figure gestured with his pistol for Fry and Chelsea to place their hands over their heads. When they had complied he reached for the seals around his neck and his helmet detached with a click. The creature was of the same species as the aliens that first challenged them. Its head was small and wide with two small horns at the top. Two slits high up in the center of the face served as a nose. Two large eyes sat at either end of the face, bulging outward in such a way that Fry thought they might fall out of the alien’s skull. The skin was brown and leathery, giving the impression of having been out in the sun for too long. Overall, the alien didn’t appear all that threatening, except for the laser, of course.
“Move away from the controls.” The alien ordered in a low, gravelly voice. “Make any sudden movements and I will shoot you.”
Fry and Chelsea had no choice but to comply. “Who the hell are you?” Chelsea demanded.
“And what did you do to Leela and the others?” Fry added. Chelsea shot a glance in his direction, surprised at the tension in the redhead’s voice.
The alien frowned at the insolence of the weird-looking creature that stood before him. “My name is Lox. This is Kali and Erenor.” He gestured to his two companions, who still had their weapons pointed squarely at the humans’ faces. “But that isn’t important.” Lox continued. “What matters is that we’re a private security contractor hired by Momcorp to patrol the Cardena System. You two are trespassing-”
“Wait, hold on a minute!” Chelsea interrupted. “You work for Momcorp? I’m a Momcorp employee! I work security at corporate headquarters in New New York.”
“Did you have official business here?”
“Well n-” Fry stared at her, and she caught herself. “I mean yeah. Definitely. We were, uhh, testing out a new guidance system that-“
“That’s enough!” Lox sneered. “Don’t take me for an idiot. There weren’t any authorized missions to this system logged for today. You think I’d tell my own men to shoot at people who had a legitimate reason to be here?”
“But we were only trying to find our friends!” Fry protested. “They work for a delivery company and were hired to bring a package here. But something happened to them. They never came back!”
Lox’s eyes went wide. “You mean those morons that owned this ship?”
“Yeah, them.” Fry’s hands involuntarily balled themselves into fists at the insult. “What happened to them? Where are they?”
The alien laughed. “I have no idea. They cost Momcorp more income in five minutes than most planets make in a century. Whatever Mom’s sons did to them, I probably don’t want to know about it. Serves them right though. What a fool their captain must have been, actually ordering a robot to-“
“You take that back!” Without even having made the conscious decision to do it, Fry found himself lunging at Lox with every intent to rip the sneer right off of the wrinkly alien’s face. He made it about halfway before the helmeted alien on the right reacted. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the barrel of the laser rifle tracked in his direction. The other suited alien moved to put himself between his commander and the ball of redheaded fury. Erenor, the alien with the weapon aimed at Fry’s forehead, squeezed the trigger, and Fry waited for the concentrated beam of photons to sear its way into his skull. He closed his eyes.
His momentum changed sharply. Chelsea grabbed ahold of Fry’s ankle and pulled hard. Fry toppled over and crashed into a bulkhead. The laser buried itself harmlessly in the hull, passing right through the spot that Fry’s face had been a second earlier. Chelsea rolled and pushed off the floor. She hit Erenor squarely in the chest. The alien went limp as his pistol flew from his hand. Her momentum carried them both through the hatch and into freefall. Chelsea spun around. She kicked off the deck and plowed into Lox from behind. She easily managed to pull the laser from the alien’s grasp. That only left- Searing pain ripped through Chelsea’s shoulder. She screamed and convulsed. Her body collided hit the deck with sickening force.
Erenor’s pistol slid across the deck and came to a rest by Fry’s right hand. He had just enough time to see Kali begin to squeeze the trigger. The redhead had spent many a night after a particularly epic laser battle lying in his cot on the Planet Express Ship wondering if, when the time finally came, whether he’d actually be able to willingly shoot someone; whether he was capable of making the conscious decision to kill. As it turned out, seeing your friend get shot was a powerful motivator.
Fry’s pistol fired almost of its own accord, burying several petajoules of energy in the alien’s side. Kali’s own shot went wide, burning a long gash in Chelsea’s left shoulder. Kali herself was not so fortunate. As her body fell into the corridor outside the bridge, it began to spin lazily. A stream of red globules flowed from the corpse, hovering in the air nearby like a cloud of satellites. Fry stared at the body, horrified. His hand began to shake, and he looked down at the weapon in his hand almost in disbelief. Then he lost his stomach contents all over the bridge.
“So, what are we gonna do with them?” Fry asked. He’d never taken prisoners before. In fact, he was pretty sure that only badguys took prisoners. The captives had been moved to the vicinity of the airlock while Fry and Chelsea decided their fates. Kali’s body, having been too much for Fry to deal with, had been placed out of sight in the engine room.
Lox and Erenor were floating miserably against the bare patch of the hull. The redhead was floating upside down with respect to the ship’s normal orientation. He had one hand firmly planted on the rim of metal that protruded from the airlock to keep himself steady. Chelsea was nearby, and had one of the laser rifles trained at the captives. She seemed to have to think over her response. “Well.” She said eventually. “We can’t let them go. They’ll have us arrested for murder when we get home.”
Fry’s face went pale. Murder?! “But it was in self defense! They were going to kill us!”
“No we weren’t.” Lox protested. “Not until you attacked us. If we’d wanted to kill you we would have fried you the moment you pulled that stunt to get away from the ship we crippled.”
“Shut up, you!” Chelsea snapped. “Fry, think about it. Who are the courts going to believe? Two regular people who were snooping around somewhere that they weren’t supposed to be, or a licensed security force backed by the biggest industrial machine in the galaxy?”
He had to admit that she had a point. “But what are we gonna do then? We can’t just kill them. Then we really would be murderers!”
“Fry.” She said, and waited for him to look directly at her. “We don’t have a choice. Either we kill them, or we’ll be hanged for a crime we didn’t commit. They took their own lives into their hands the moment they started shooting at us.” Suddenly there was something hard and cold in the back of Chelsea’s eyes that sent a shiver running down his spine. He got an unsettling feeling that the person he was seeing now was not the woman that he’d met in at Applied Cryogenics.
“I- you can’t kill them! For god’s sakes Chelsea, they’re unarmed! You can’t shoot someone if they’re unarmed! Haven’t you ever watched Star Trek?!”
Chelsea nodded. “I thought you’d object. I envy you, really, for standing up for your sense of morality like this. But you’re wrong, and I’m not going to let either of our lives be destroyed because these creatures were stupid enough to get in our way.” She smiled at him, and Fry could see that there was genuine affection in it. Before he could object again, Chelsea pushed off from the bulkhead and floated toward Lox. She casually grabbed a pipe that jutted from the ceiling and came to a stop mere inches from the alien. She thrust her weapon into his face. Lox flinched away from her hand, and Chelsea snorted in disgust.
“Please don’t do this.” Lox pleaded. “If you let us go, we’ll forget that you were ever even here. You have my word.”
“Your word doesn’t mean anything to me.” Chelsea replied, and casually cocked the weapon.
Lox panicked. “No, wait! Stop!” He grabbed her arm. “I’m begging you!”
Chelsea froze. She looked at the alien’s face, then down at the leathery hand that was planted at her wrist. When she spoke her voice was cold as ice. “No subhuman touches Chelsea Lynn Xiao.”
What happened next was a blur. Chelsea grabbed Lox by the neck and threw him across the small compartment. The alien’s skull collided with a control panel. The snap of bone cut his screams short. At the same time, Erenor pushed off from the deck and bolted for the hatch, knocking Fry out of the way. The Asian woman spun and let out a yell that made Fry’s blood run cold. Chelsea kicked off the wall and shot through the hatch after the fleeing captive. She caught her quarry right in the corridor beyond the alien ship’s airlock. Chelsea cocked her arm and let loose a left hook that dented the alien’s armored spacesuit. The sheer force of the blow knocked the wind out of him. Erenor’s eyes began to roll back in his head, but Chelsea wasn’t done. Fry, who’d raced after them in the hopes of intervening, turned away right before she fired her laser rifle into the alien’s face at point blank range. The whole compartment filled with the smell of scorched flesh.
Fry forced himself to look. Erenor’s entire head was gone. Chelsea floated over the alien’s ruined form, an anger like nothing Fry had ever seen before causing her whole body to tremble. The whole front of her was covered with the blood of her vanquished opponent. When she looked at him there was nothing human to be seen in her eyes. Instinctively Fry tried to back away, though it was impossible in freefall. Chelsea, seeing the terror in his face, tried to go to him.
Fry leveled his own weapon at her. “Who are you?” He asked with a squeak.
Chelsea hesitated. “What do you mean? Fry, put down the gun.”
But Fry shook his head. “Nuh-uh.” The image of Erenor’s dented spacesuit stuck in his mind. “You’re not human.” It wasn’t a question. “Who are you? What are you?”
“Fry, it’s me! Put down the gun. You’re not thinking straight. You hit your head, remember?”
It was true. There was a nasty bruise on his forehead from when Chelsea had grabbed his ankle and slammed him into the wall to save his life. But, even so, his gut was confirming what his head already knew. “You called yourself Chelsea Xiao. Why?”
“What? Oh, that. It was my father’s name. My mother divorced him and I went with her, so my name changed to Porter. I guess I just used my father’s name because I was angry.” Her voice acquired a pleading tone. “Fry, please. It’s me. I wouldn’t ever hurt you. You- you’re the only person in the whole future that I care about. You must know that. Please, just put the gun away.”
Fry felt his composure falter. What am I doing? He asked himself. He lowered the gun slightly. Chelsea made no move to advance on him. He opened his mouth to apologize, but something stopped him. For some reason, the girl from the rental agency appeared in his mind. Something told him that she was very important. He tried to concentrate. Where do I know her from? An image of a bar sprang into his head. Bright lights, futuristic music. Alcoholic drinks and covert glances at Leela, who was sitting at a booth with Amy and a man that he’d never seen before. Puppets. Puppets were important somehow. Saucy puppet show. I told Bender to go see a saucy puppet show so that I could have the apartment to myself. That girl from the rental agency, I took her home that night. She was from the 21st century. But why is that important? When the answer came it, hit him like a thunderclap. Cyborgs.
Fry raised the pistol again. “That girl from the rental agency. She was from the 21st century. She lived through the War of 2012. And she recognized you.”
Chelsea froze. Her face went completely white.
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Fry asked in amazement. “You’re the leader of the cyborgs, the daughter of the scientist that created them. You froze yourself to escape when you realized you were losing.”
A part of him waited for her to laugh at him, to tell him how ridiculous that sounded and explain just how impossible all of it was. That part of him died when he read the confirmation in Chelsea’s face. She reached out toward him, placating him. He could see that there was real pain in her eyes. “Fry, please, don’t hate me. You’re the only friend I have.” Fry retreated from her grasp.
“You called Lox a subhuman, and then killed him when he was unarmed. You looked down on Hermes just because he has an alien working for him. You lied to me.” Chelsea moved toward him, and Fry retreated into the Planet Express Ship. The laser rifle trembled in his hands. When Chelsea began to follow him through the airlock he slapped the hatch’s emergency seal button, and six inches of metal swung into place between them. For a moment, the two of them watched each other through the small porthole in the hatch. Tears began to form in the corners of Chelsea’s eyes, and Fry turned away before he could betray his own pain. Chelsea, suddenly furious, pounded at the hatch. A series of dings appeared in the hatch’s alloy surface, but even Chelsea’s superhuman strength was unable to do any significant damage.
Fry hesitated. He reached behind himself and swatted the button marked ‘intercom’ that was mounted on a control panel next to the hatch. “I’m leaving.” He said. Chelsea started to respond, but Fry cut the connection. He ran to the bridge before Chelsea realized she might be able to burn through the hatch with her laser.
The Planet Express Ship’s controls felt strange in his hands. It was almost surreal to be sitting in Leela’s chair. He tried to banish the latent guilt that was still left from the last time he’d flown the ship, and let out a deep breath to calm himself. He pressed a button. There was a clang as the ship detached itself from the other vessel.
A few bursts from the maneuvering thrusters rotated the ship to face the white alien vessel. Fry could just barely make out a lone figure standing, arms crossed, on the vessel’s bridge. Silently he mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry”, but he knew Chelsea was probably too far away to have seen. A low clunk from underfoot signaled that the automated distress beacon he had ordered launched was away. After pausing to make sure it was squawking on all frequencies he pushed the throttle forward, and the stars rushed around him.
Night became day and then faded to night again in an endless progression of misery. Her body stalked the echoing corridors, eyes blank, a laser rifle resting against its shoulder. Imprisoned in her own head, she had long ago ceased railing at her body’s betrayal. When Walt passed, she no longer tried to force her limbs to follow her orders, or her finger to depress the trigger on the weapon that was maddeningly in her grasp, but utterly beyond her control. Even those dark moments in which she’d tried in vain to turn the rifle on herself had passed. Now all that was left her was a simmering, brooding hatred, which she carefully nursed. She would bide her time; gather her strength. When Walt passed by one morning, he looked her square in the eye and laughed at her, secure in his total victory. She let it pass. The moment wasn’t right, the control he had over her too complete. Walt must have caught something- a tiny change in her posture perhaps- because his smile wavered for a split second. Her body continued walking as it mechanically completing its assigned instructions. This isn’t over. She said silently to Walt’s back. You’re time will come.