In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn/All I want for you to do is take my body home
Well, well, well, so I can die easy…
Oh, Lord, deliver me/All the wrong I've doneYou can deliver me, Lord
“Blind” Willie Johnson, ca. 1927
August 24, 3026, 22:00 Central Daylight Time, Orbiting Meadows II National Cemetery, Earth orbit over North America
He hated these things. He hated everything about them, these stupid glorifications of war and sacrifice, with speeches made by people who sacrificed almost nothing during the war, while he had lost almost everything. He would have stayed home, if it weren’t a special occasion. His baby was being promoted. He’d be pinning the new bar onto her uniform, at the order of Earth President Zapp Brannigan himself. The pride he felt was tempered by the fact that this was it was the 10th anniversary of the day his live ended. They’d hold the promotion ceremony after a moment of silence as the station passed over the grave of Interior, South Dakota and fifty-three Daughters and their Mother. It was odd to him that no one ever cared about the 5,000 or so Confederates that died there and the countless civilian prisoners that died that night and in the days and weeks afterward from radiation poisoning.
Historians had long ago started calling the Battle of South Dakota the end of the war. There were two or three more space battles, but they were mere mop-up actions. They had killed President Ohm at Interior, along with so many others. He had killed so many there. Sometimes, he wondered how he lived with himself after that night. Some nights he woke screaming, just dreaming about what he had done.
No bodies were ever recovered. All that there was were names carved into a large block of Harney Peak granite from where Mount Rushmore had once stood and a rare, fist-sized purple diamond that Bender had found somewhere . He drilled the hole in the rock and imbedded it before the monument was dedicated. Fifty-three names and a rare diamond. That was all that was left. Those names ran like a dirge through his head most nights. It was always the same list, and it always ended with the same names: Dr. John Zoidberg, Captain Kif Kroker, Amy Wong Kroker, Professor Hubert J. Farnsworth, Hermes Conrad, LeBarbra Conrad, Dwight Conrad, Turanga Morris, Turanga Munda, and Turanga Leela Fry. All of his friends and family that had died during the war. And he’d be joining them soon.
The radiation poisoning hadn’t been purged completely. It mutated the infection that he still carried in his lungs from the accident in Brazil. No blood work detected it and it showed no real symptoms until about a year ago when he started having breathing problems. It had quickly become lung cancer, and it spread throughout his body, attacking his other systems. River had given him a year or so to live. His time was almost up. But he hadn’t been the only one affected that night. Poor Kyrie, her DNA, already part mutant, had reacted with the radiation in a way that no one had suspected at the time. Years later it was discovered that she had been sterilized permanently in the blast. His direct family would likely end with her death.
He stood, leaning on a cane, staring out the viewport at the black scar near the center of North America. “Soon, dearest,” he whispered. “I’ll be with you soon.”
A metallic clanking behind him and a reflected flash of Foghat gray brought him back to the living world. He turned and saw his best friend. Bender had done well for himself since the war’s end. Somehow, he had gotten himself named military governor of the Quandrit System. He had hoped he’d get to see him once more before he died.
“Hey meatbag,” he said somberly. “I’m really happy to see you, Fry.”
“Same here, Bender. I’ve missed you these last few years,” he said, hugging his friend. “How’s the dictatorship?”
“Meh,” he said, waggling his hand. “Good days and bad days. I’ve got some trusted goons looking after the place while I’m here. I don’t need a Gorbochev while I’m away. How are you feeling?”
Turning back to the window, watching South Dakota approach, he said, “I’m dying, Bender. I’ve learned to enjoy every sandwich that much more. And get my dry cleaning done on rush.”
“How much longer?,” the robot asked quietly.
“River thinks it could be before Xmas. I’m thinking it’ll be a lot sooner. I don’t really expect to live out the week.”
Putting his hand on Fry’s shoulder, Bender said, “It’s too soon,” the robot said, his crying some. “I’ll miss you, Fry. You, Leela, and Kyrie are the only friends that I’ve ever had. Don’t expect to make any more, either.”
Unable to say anything, Fry just patted Benders hand. Eventually he said, “I need a couple of favors, Bender.”
“First, look after Kyrie for me. She’ll be alone now.”
“Done. I’ll treat your mini-meatbag just like she was my own. Anything and everything she needs I’ll get for her. What else?”
“I want a party for a wake. None of that wailing and gnashing of teeth crap. I’ve always hated those things.”
“Can do, Fry.” A bell sounded over the speaker system. The ceremony was about to start. “Come on, sausage link. Time for you to go and be important one last time.”
“Hit me baby, one more time,” Fry muttered. Turning away from the window, he walked to the door that would lead him into the Garden. “I’ll catch up with you later, Bender.”
The six of them were standing in the anteroom that they were assigned to before the ceremony. They, along with the Fry’s, were the only survivors of the Battle of South Dakota. They were the last of the Original Daughters, before the unit had been reformed after the war. All of them held important positions in the military now, except River. Dr. Suun had retired to practice medicine in 3018. Colonel Tatia Gibbons, the Neptunian third in command of the original group, commanded the Daughters, now numbering over a thousand. Captain Saba Fatima, their pilot, was now commanding Trident Squadron for the Fourth Army. Chief Warrant Officers twins Eva and Ava Dwight, and Kendra Gunnin were all instructors at the Academy. Fry was proud of all of them. When the door suddenly opened, they all snapped to attention, saluting the man that entered.
He just stared at them, his eyes getting wet. They, along with Kyrie, Cubert, and Bender, were all his family. They had all lost their Mother and almost all of their Sisters. “At ease, ladies,” he said, returning their salute. He smirked a little, then said, “Everyone get a good night’s sleep?” Leela had said that as the open of almost every briefing that she conducted. Just something to break the tension, she said. After she died, he said it, too. It still worked. Soon he was greeting and hugging each of his Daughters. River and Tatia tried to protect him from them as best as they could.
Tatia had become his rock after Leela’s death. She was his chief aide and his hand-picked successor when he retired in 3018. He thought he was holding her back all those years, but she said she was staying out of a sense of loyalty that he instilled in all of them. Her success, other than Kyrie’s, meant the most to him. She still was there for him, eight years later. She’d even written the speech he was going to be giving later, knowing he had never been very good with words.
“How are you feeling, Father,” River asked. He was always ‘Father’ or ‘Sir,’ never Fry, no matter how much he complained. River had taken his cancer personally, since she had become Fry’s, and all of the Earth-bound women’s, personal physician. She had felt responsible for his cancer spreading, since she hadn’t been able to detect it until it was much too late to do anything about it. “Here, sit down,” she said, pushing him down onto the bench. “You should rest.”
“I’m dying, River. Bed rest and chicken soup isn’t going to straighten this out. And for crying out loud, could you please just call me Fry once.”
“I’m sorry Fath-, Fry,” she said, her voice tight. “It’s just a habit,” she said, crying now.
“Easy, River,” he said, comforting her. “It’s nothing to get worked up about. It’s not your fault. None of this is. It was Ohm’s fault. If the Confederacy hadn’t started the war, none of this would have happened. You’d all be living your lives somewhere, and I’d still be delivering packages. The only good thing the war brought me was all of you. I can’t tell you how proud I am of every single one of you. You’re all my girls, just the same as K.”
"I know, Fa-, Fry," she said. "It’s just hard. I feel like I've let you down. You’re the only father many of us have known for most of our lives. And since I’m apparently the only one not married to her career," she said, looking at the other women, "I’m glad you were there for me when I got married."
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Kendra said. “We all know you’re married before any of us, River. And you’re the only one who got Fry to walk you down the aisle.”
Smiling, Fry said, “I’ll always be here for all of you, as long as I can. And you didn't let me down. River. You did your best. That's all I ever asked of you. Of any of you.”
“We know, Grandfather,” River said.
“What did I tell you about….what do you mean, ‘Grandfather?’”
“I’m pregnant. I’m due in February."
“Oh, sweetheart, Congratulations,” he said. A grandchild his own child would never be able to give him, and he’d never know it. He was happy for her, but sad for Kyrie. She’d be happy for her friend, but still crushed for herself.
A DOOP sergeant stuck his head into the room. “Major,” he said, looking at Fry and purposely ignoring Tatia and the other Daughters. “They’re ready for you, sir,” he said, puling his head out as quickly as he stuck it in.
Tatia helped Fry up, saying, “I outrank you, and he didn’t even acknowledge me. We won the war for those bastards.”
“He was probably kept out of the fighting by daddy,” Eva said, looking like she wanted to do something about his attitude.
“We’re all war heroes, for Shaq's sake,” said her sister. Soon all of them but River were all echoing her sentiments.
“Enough, all of you,” Fry said angrily. “We’re better than them. We know it and they know it. And you’re right, Ava, we’re all damned war heroes. Act like it. Today isn’t about the eight of us. It’s about the fifty-three of them,” he said, motioning out to where the monument stood. “Now let’s go.”
“Yes, father,” they all said as one. Tatia took her position at the head of the group, with River taking Fry’s arm, and the other women taking up positions around him.
“Rotten kids,” he muttered, smiling as he did.
“Cassandra Wilson, Kelly Yang, Crystal Young,” Saba said. She was chosen by the Daughters to read the names of the fallen because she had the best voice of all of them. She read the names, all but the last one. Fry requested that job himself.
“Turanga Leela Fry,” he said, his voice breaking. He looked out into the crowd and saw Kyrie for the first time that day. She wiped her eye and smiled at him. He stepped back and the crowd rose and bowed their heads. The movement of the station stopped as they passed into geo-synchronous orbit over Interior, South Dakota.
Fry felt a cold chill run through him. He looked up when he caught a flash of white and purple from the back of the room. She was there, watching them. She was wearing a white gown and her hair was up, just like he always loved it. Their eyes met and she smiled at him, that radiant smile of hers that he hadn’t seen in a decade. He blinked tears away, but when he looked again she was gone. The image was fleeting, but the message was clear: his time was coming soon. He knew then that he’d be dead by morning. He smiled sadly. He’d be leaving Kyrie, but he’d be with Leela again.
The moment over, the station resumed its orbit and the ceremony continued.
Several generals and President Brannigan gave speeches, but he didn’t hear any of them. He didn’t care anymore. He was going to die and he was contented. A stupid grin started to spread on his face as he realized something. He’d be gone, but with Bender, Cubert, Nibbler, and the six women on stage with him, she wouldn’t be alone. He started humming ‘Walking on Sunshine’ quietly to himself. Looking into the crowd, he saw Kyrie staring at him. He winked and smiled at his youngest daughter. She’ll be alright, he thought.
Soon enough, it was his turn to speak. There was more spring in his step then there had been in a decade. He even left the cane at his seat. Walking to the microphone, he pulled out Tatia’s speech. Looking over it, he thought, This really is a good speech. Too bad. Turning his head to her, he mouthed the words, “I’m sorry,” as he folded the papers up and stuffed them back into his pocket. Turning to the crowd, he began to speak:
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I was supposed to deliver a speech about how we were right and they were wrong. Something about the glory of sacrifice and how we proved our mettle against those who would threaten our freedom. To tell the truth, I hate things like that. Only serves to reinforce the idea that war is good and right. The only good wars I’ve known were the American Revolution, World War II, and the original Star Wars trilogy. Colonel Gibbons wrote a truly wonderful speech for me to deliver, but I’m sorry to say I’m not going to give it. I think that a eulogy would be the best use of everyone’s time. As the majority of you don’t know, I’m dying. I have lung cancer. It started as an infection in Brazil in 3016 and mutated 10 years ago tonight when I was caught in a nuclear blast. My doctors think I may make it to Xmas. I’m expecting to be dead by the end of the week."
He stopped to let them catch their breath. The founders of one of the most successful units in the history of the DOOP had just dropped a bomb on them. Other than his family, no one had known. When they settled some, he continued.
"I’ve had a long and full life. I’m standing in space, right now. My best friend is a robot and my wife was an alien. How cool is that? It may not mean much to you guys, but I was born over a thousand years ago." This brought more gasps from the crowd. Other than his family, no one had known that, either. "It means a lot to me. I’ve only been here in the future for twenty-six years, but I’ve done things that I never would have dreamed of back in the 20th Century. The key thing that I’ve learned since I was diagnosed with cancer, the one bit of wisdom that you can take with you, is this: Do what you love and enjoy every sandwich. You never know when it’ll be your last."
They stood as one and applauded him. It wasn’t for the speech, he knew. That was just some words he pulled out of his butt and slapped a couple of 20th Century pop culture references onto. It was more of a salute, really. By the time he had gotten back to his seat, River was sobbing. He sat down to console her some as Kyrie and rest of the original Daughters surrounded him. He looked at his daughter and reached into his coat, nodding at Tatia. She smiled and got all the other daughters behind him. He walked back to the microphone and said to the crowd, “I’m sorry folks. I have one more piece of business to deal with. Kyrie, could you come over here please?”
Kyrie walked over nervously as her father and the other Daughters waited for him. “Sergeant Kyrie Turanga Fry, of the 501st Legion,” he said. “By the powers vested in me by Earth President Zapp Brannigan and by the DOOP General Counsel, and due to your years of service and conduct above and beyond the call of duty, I hereby promote you to the rank of Second Lieutenant, with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges thereof. May God have mercy on your soul.”
She was speechless as he pinned the bar to her uniform. She had known this was coming, but it still struck her heavily. He quickly kissed her and moved back to allow the other Original Daughters to congratulate her. Almost done, he thought watching all of his children. I’m coming soon, Leela.
Daughters, new ones and the Originals, stood between him and a crowd of well-wishers, looking to talk to or even touch a famous recluse in what could be his final hours. He was sitting besides the memorial block, a small black creature with an eye stalk on the top of his head at his side.
“This is most unfortunate, Fry,” Nibbler said. “You should have told us sooner.”
He hadn’t seen Nibbler in a few years, but he had hoped that he would come today. He missed the little guy. He’d been with Leela almost as long as Fry and Bender, but no one knew that he was intelligent until the war started and he started teaching Fry everything he could. None of them knew until after the war that he had been watching Fry the whole time. Fry was the Mighty One, according to Niblonian prophecy. Nibbler had used him several times to defend the Universe, unbeknownst to all of them. And now, with his coming death, the universe would be left defenseless.
“It’s not like I knew, Nibbler. River never found anything until last year, and she’s one of the best doctors in this part of space. There was nothing that could have been done. Besides, I haven’t seen you in a long time, and you didn’t leave us a number to contact you.”
“I know, your Mightyness. I’m sorry about that. I always forget what my cell phone number is. But back to the point, your child has the Delta Brainwave, unlike yourself. What happens if the Brainspawn return? They’ll destroy us all.”
“I thought you said we destroyed them?”
“I always worry, Fry. It’s part of what’s kept me alive for millennia.”
“I thought it was your race being nearly immortal and almost impervious to all forms of attack.”
“Well, there’s that too. I will transfer closer to Earth and keep an eye on Kyrie. You never know what the girl could be capable of doing. Goodbye, Fry. To have even met the Mighty One is an honor. The universe will miss you.”
Not sure how to respond, he decided to use the title of a book that he heard of once and change it to make it apply to Nibbler. They had made a couple of good shows out of some other books by the author, but Fry never read them. If there weren’t pictures of naked women in them, he tried not to read. His friend Ed explained it to him once, though. “Goodbye, Nibbler. So long, and thanks for all the poop.”
“I saw her, Bender, during the ceremony. She’s waiting for me. It’s a sign.”
“You did not, you liar. I think that cancer has spread to your brain.”
“It has, but that’s not the point, Bender. I saw her and I know I’ll be dying soon. Maybe by morning.”
“You’re not going to die by morning, Fry, damn you. I’m not ready for you to be gone.”
“Who’s dying?,” Kyrie asked.
“Jerkbag here,” Bender said, angrily pointing at Fry. “He says he saw your mother during the ceremony and that means that he’s going to be dead by morning.”
Her eye wide, Kyrie slapped him hard across the face. “Don’t you ever say that,” she said, voice edging on tears. “You can’t die. I’m not ready yet.” Suddenly, her face turned red as he started to rub the side of his face and she realized what she had done.
“It’s OK, K,” he said. “It has to happen sometime. Will you come home tonight?”
“I’ll talk to Tatia and see if I can. Given who we are, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I already talked to her. She and the other girls will all be there. Nibbler can’t make it, though. What about you, Bender? You in?”
“Is there beer?”
“Yep. All you can drink.”
“Then I’ll be there. I can leave in the morning just as easy as I can tonight.”
They all drank and talked, laughed and cried into the small hours. Fry started well, but around 2 AM he started to fade, his breathing labored. He spoke his final words to all of them, telling them how much he loved them, how proud he was of all of them, and how much he’d miss them. He told them not to mourn him, but to celebrate his life. It was his last request.
Bender carried him to his room, with Kyrie, River and Tatia following. They had all wanted to come, but there just wasn’t enough room. Not to be defeated by a small thing like physics, though, the other women followed up the stairs and took up guard positions in the hallway. He said his final goodbyes to Tatia and River, with River promising to name the child after one of them. Kyrie crawled into his bed and held his hand. Soon, River and Tatia fell asleep, leaving Kyrie and Bender to sit vigil. Just before dawn, Kyrie opened the curtain so that he could see his last sunrise. But she was too late. Bender held River and Kyrie tight as they cried. Tatia stoically went to tell the other Daughters.
Then as it was, then again it will be/Though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea…
Changes fill my time/Baby, that's all right with me
In the midst I think of you/And how it used to be…
Did you ever really need somebody/And really need 'em bad
Did you ever really want somebody/The best love you ever had
Do you ever remember me, baby/Did it feel so good
'Cause it was just the first time/And you knew you would…
Vixen in my dreams with great surprise to me
Never thought I'd see your face the way it used to be…
I'm never gonna leave you, I'm never gonna leave you
Ten years gone, holdin' on, ten years gone
Ten Years Gone – Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti