Dinner, naturally, was as grand an affair as it always could be at Elzar’s, but tonight seemed especially so. A full five course banquet, with unlimited visits to the salad bar. The drinks had flowed quite freely as well and by the end of the third course Yancy was pretty sure he’d have to be carried home. Again. He felt his brow twisting at the half-remembered images of Philip dragging him from the travel tube and through the streets to his apartment.
“I don’t want to do that again,” he mumbled and then realised he was speaking out loud. He looked at Neena. “Sorry, miles away.”
“That’s not a problem,” Neena replied. She picked at her food for a moment before laying her fork down. “You aren’t the only one with things on your mind,” she added, idly pushing the remains of her steak around with a knife.
There was a giggle; her voice but, not her. Neena drove the knife into a piece of bone, growling under her breath as she ground the knife and bone against her plate. Yancy followed her gaze across the table to Vek and Leela. The latter was obviously drunk and laughing at something Vek had said a moment earlier. Yancy couldn’t remember it being very funny.
He couldn’t help comparing the two Leelas then. Neena seemed more composed and stable right at that moment, though the way she was gripping her knife meant it was a state that might not last much longer. He touched her arm; Neena jumped as if she’d been stung and turned on him with a growl. “What?”
“I... nothing,” Yancy replied. Neena stared at him as if he was speaking an alien language and then seemed to suddenly shrink inside. She put the knife down and reached for her glass.
“I’m sorry,” she said, once the glass was empty. Yancy shrugged. “No, I mean it.”
She was speaking quietly, just quiet enough to not be heard by the others over the din. Yancy couldn’t help replying in the same tone. “I’m not going to pretend I understand what’s going on between you two.”
“She’s embarrassing us both,” Neena muttered, stabbing at her food again. “She has to know what an ass she’s being, right? I guess the hair isn’t the only difference between us.”
“I don’t know... Phil doesn’t look too happy about this either.”
“Then he has more intelligence than I would have given him credit,” Neena replied, not quite looking away from Leela and Vek. She muttered something under her breath and then fell silent. Yancy wondered if he should take offence on his brother’s behalf. Was it worth the hassle? No matter what he chose now he’d end up with Leela annoyed at him. Better the one that was going to leave than the one he’d be spending...
“You know, all this time I thought you were an alien.”
“I am an alien, Yancy. Who told you I wasn’t?”
“If you’re worried about weird things I’m completely normal. I checked. Well, apart from the eye and a couple of other little things that don’t make any difference, but...” Neena put her knife down, any worries about Leela forgotten as she turned to look at Yancy. “Yancy? What’s the matter?”
“Phil said you... he said...” Yancy shook his head and tried to put on his best smile. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Can’t you tell me?”
Yancy bit his lip and tried to think of a reply. Neena’s gaze looked worried now and with good reason; at some level he’d just cast doubt over her entire view of the world. She insisted she was an alien but, Phil had said she wasn’t, that she was human, however different. Had he been wrong? Yancy could feel his gut cramping up again, the way it had when he’d first stepped out of the tube and realised what had happened.
“Yancy, are you all right? You look a little pale”
“I’m fine, it’s probably just blowback from that pill.” He downed the rest of his drink in a single swallow and shakily waved at a waiter for a repeat. “I just need a little water, that’s all.”
“Does it have anything to do with-” she began, only to be interrupted by the Professor rattling a spoon against his cup. Yancy sighed, thanking providence for the interruption. “We’ll talk about this later,” Neena said.
Farnsworth rattled the spoon some more. He waited a moment for Leela and Veklerov to compose themselves – she was still laughing almost maniacally over something – and then turned to face everyone at the table. “I have an announcement.”
They waited. Farnsworth seemed content to stare at his plate until Hermes casually poked him in the ribs. “Eh-what? Oh! Yes, the announcement... I’m afraid I have good news, everyone. Oh and, eyuh, bad news too! The good news is that I have made a remarkable discovery about the quantum fields entangling Leela and Leela here, hyes.”
“And the bad news,” Amy asked, gently squeezing Phil’s hand.
“Well the bad news is that this means I won’t be able to keep your Philip here as an organ bank. I was quite looking forward to that new liver.”
“I’d hardly call that bad news,” Phil muttered. His face suddenly brightened. “Wait, you mean you’ve found a way home?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes. I discovered that your passage though universes creates a rather bizarre quantum effect that entangles some fundamental aspect of your physical structure with that of your counterpart in another universe.”
“Sounds kinky,” Leela said. She hiccuped and slipped forward as her elbow bounced from the table. “Scuse me, I’m a little... whatsit the oppose of not sober?”
“No kidding,” Neena muttered. Farnsworth stared at them both with a sort of affable, senile grin.
“Well that aside, there are means to harness this effect. Given a suitable scanning device I believe I can find a way to navigate through the universes to your own, making use of this entangling effect and the quantum resonance state of your home universe.”
Phil nodded. “Like following a piece of string, right?”
“Well, uh... if you mean nine-dimensional string with multiple strands going in all different directions whilst you have the ability to alter where those strands lead at will, and travel along several of them at the same time then, yes, precisely like that asininely simplistic explanation you just came up with.”
Leela seemed to rally then. She leaned back, brushing a strand of hair from her face. “When can we go home?” She pushed her drink away and tried to sit a little more upright. “As fun as it is the novelty of talking to myself is starting to wear thin. No offence,” she added with a gentle nod toward Neena.
“Not right away, I need to design a program that can make use of the scanner on that, uh, whatever it is you have on your wrist all the time...” Farnsworth leaned forward to poke at Leela’s arm. “And which you aren’t wearing right now. Let’s say, three or four days at most. And after that you’ll still have to navigate your way home through the multiverse, yes... no telling how long that could take.”
Leela examined her nails, studiously not looking at anyone else around the table. “Was there any other bad news? You normally hold some back at times like this.”
“No, that was all,” Farnsworth said. He looked at Phil with a face that just screamed ‘loss’ and sighed. “I’d always dreamed of finding a relative with no appreciable brain activity. I suppose I shall have to make do with my microcephalic clones instead. Ah well.”
Phil turned to Leela for support but she was still too busy staring at her half-empty glass. He slowly turned away, pausing a moment to look at Yancy. There was a moment, a sort of disconnect, and Yancy suddenly felt something he’d never felt before; defensive. Over his brother. It wasn’t even remotely normal. “Hey, you know, he’s not that dumb.”
Farnsworth stared blank at Yancy and then frowned. “I don’t quite follow.”
“Phil’s not, he’s... look stop calling my brother names, okay?”
“If you insist,” Farnsworth muttered, turning to look at Phil again. He had a pen in his hand. Where it had come, from Yancy hadn’t a clue, but it seemed to annoy his brother more than a simple pen should.
Farnsworth leaned back in his seat, musing on some distant and voluminous problem as the waiters came to retrieve their plates. There was little for Yancy to do after that, except wait and see if there was any more food to be brought out. His stomach grumbled at the thought, reminding Yancy he was still not quite over the whole problem of the detox pill.
“I think I want to get out of here.” He leaned toward Neena just a little. “If I eat anything more my stomach will explode.”
Neena nodded slowly, unable to take her eye of Leela as she finished her drink. Then she suddenly looked away and stood up. “Professor, everyone, it’s been a wonderful evening but I’m afraid I have to leave now. And... I think... well. Good night.”
She rounded the table in just a few strides, breezing past Veklerov and Leela without a backward glance, ignoring Leela’s almost-pleading look. Yancy tried to put it from his mind as he rose to follow Neena. In moments everyone was looking at him with the same curious, almost disbelieving expression.
“I, uh... stomach,” he said, giving up. Let them think whatever they wanted to think, he didn’t care right now. He pushed his way around the table, patting Phil’s shoulder as he passed by. As he reached Veklerov the pilot surreptitiously grabbed Yancy’s elbow and drew him a close. He glanced toward the exit and then at Leela before catching Yancy’s eye. A grin.
“If you want I can give you a few secrets to get her...” Vek held up a fist and waggled his eyebrows. “Easy, if you know how.”
He hadn’t even tried to hide himself from the others, in fact he’d spoken loud enough that even Phil had heard, though he made a great show of pretending not to. Yancy couldn’t quite believe it himself; and the fact that Leela wasn’t reacting... though, to be fair, she was pretty drunk. Maybe she hadn’t heard? But Yancy had no idea what was going on now. He looked at his brother, tried to understand the blank anger on his face and shook his head. Women had never been his forte. In fact it had only been luck that he’d ever landed Laura-
Yancy felt his gut tighten at the mere thought of his lost fiancé. He pulled his arm from Veklerov’s grip and glared him. “No, thank you.”
“Your loss,” Vek replied, turning back to his drink. He put an arm around Leela and looked back over his shoulder at Yancy with another leering grin. Yancy ignored him, instead throwing another look toward his brother before he headed after Neena. It seemed Phil was very interested in his plate for some reason.
Neena was waiting for him, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. She smiled at Yancy as he approached, though it was a drawn, strained expression, barely recognisable as positive. She kept glancing toward the dining area too, as if expecting someone else to follow.
“I can’t believe that creep,” Yancy muttered as they retrieved their coats. “Or the way he’s treating you, um, the other you. Leela.”
“Frankly, if she’s willing to put up with that treatment then she deserves it.”
“How can you say that about... about you?”
“She’s not me, she’s... and, besides, he... ” Neena hunched her shoulders and turned away from him. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Yancy sighed and nodded. “Fine, Neena.” He waited, wondering what to say. “If she’s making the same mistake-”
“I did not make a mistake! That... that Russian wannabe pilot tricked me,” Neena growled. She thrust her arm into the sleeve of her coat, which promptly tore with a loud, crunching rip as the seams gave way. “Great...”
“Want a hand with that?”
“Leave it,” Neena said, shrugging away Yancy’s helping hand. She pulled the coat on and twisted to examine the tear. The arm was completely ripped off at the back seam. “I don’t need you pawing at me over a stupid jacket,” she said, tossing the coat into a nearby trashcan.
“I wouldn’t be pawing, I’d be... ah, forget it. I’ve never been very good around women.”
“Well that makes a change from my usual dates.” Neena looked over her shoulder toward the restaurant and grimaced. Vek still had his arm around Leela’s shoulders and seemed to be in the middle of one of his tales. Now and then, Phil would look up from his plate to stare at Leela; and in return, when he wasn’t looking, Leela would turn to stare at him. “What is she doing?”
“If I knew that I’d be better around women,” Yancy remarked. He turned away from the scene just as the party stood from the table, evidently ready to leave. “Do you still want to talk?”
“No... later,” Neena said. “Later. Take me home, Yancy.”
She turned to Yancy and took his hand with a smile. Yancy wasn’t sure what to think until he remembered the tiny knot of diamond resting on a shelf at home. He squeezed Neena’s hand once as they left the building, then let go.
Neena seemed to have realised as they reached the tube stop. She paused at the entrance to look at him. “Yancy...”
“I know what you’re going to ask,” Yancy said, swallowing hard to push back a sudden bout of nausea. Had to be the pills, that was it. Damn pills. “I’m sorry, Neena. I can’t.”
Neena did a pretty good job of hiding her disappointment but it wasn’t perfect. “It’s the eye, isn’t it? It’s always the damned eye.”
“No. It’s... it’s a lot of things. It’s me.” He laughed. It was nervous, a high-pitched sort of laugh, the sort that normally annoyed him so much. “You’ve seen my file, right? ‘Severe emotional attachment to deceased romantic interest’ or, something like that. Having you there every week might have kept me alive but, I’m not over her yet.”
“After all this time, I’d kind of hoped...”
Neena nodded quietly, blinking back a tear. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then. I still need to follow up on some assessment stuff.”
Neena stepped into the tube stop and muttered a destination. She turned to wave at Yancy as she was sucked into the network and promptly disappeared, leaving Yancy alone in the twilight. He kicked at a stray stone and sighed, then turned to walk away from the tube.
Something stopped him. Not the thought of walking back to his apartment, though it was quite a distance. Something. There was a suicide booth up ahead, looming out of the shadows like some monolithic grey tombstone. They’d been around him ever since he’d arrived, taunting him with their presence, the easy escape they offered.
Yancy turned to look at the tube again, rising into the night like a pale green, glowing road to infinity. He turned away from the booth, walked back to the tube stop and looked up at the single tube, tracing it’s path until it was lost in the city. She was still transiting. If he left now...
“To hell with it,” he muttered, stepping into the tube.