Fry woke to the feeling of someone pawing through his pockets; never a good sign. Had he made it home last night? Well whatever he was laying on seemed fairly soft and warm, which meant either he was on the couch or lying in a garbage bin again.
He peeled open a gummy eye, marvelling at just how light his hangover actually felt, and looked around. He was on the couch in his- in Yancy’s apartment, and standing over him...
The grey bending unit paused for a fraction of a second as his positronic mind attempted to work out a suitable reaction. He yelled in surprise, milling his arms around as he leapt back and away from the couch. Fry sat up and his wallet, so very nearly teased from his pocket, fell to the floor with a quiet thump. Bender watched with a greedy, confused stare as Fry leaned down to pick it up.
“That’s my name, skintube.” Bender pulled out a cigar, which he clamped in his mouth and lit, a little confidence returning to his posture. “Question is, how do you know it?”
“I’m from a parallel universe where you’re my friend.”
“That so?” Bender blew a smoke ring around Fry’s face and stared at him for a moment, gauging Fry’s reaction. “If you’re my friend, what’s my favourite colour?”
Fry smiled, pulled a dollar bill from his wallet and waved it in front of Bender’s face. The robot’s eyes followed the note back and forth until Bender shook his head and looked away with a synthesised growl.
“All right, maybe there’s something to this,” he said, stepping away from the couch. “Let’s say you are my friend, and you ain’t the stiff... so, what are you, like, his nephew or something?”
“You mean Yancy?”
“Sure, whatever. His uncle maybe?”
“I’m his brother,” Fry said, slipping his wallet into a safer pocket. It already felt a lot lighter than yesterday. How many cocktails had Amy managed to drink?
“Brother, huh?” Bender gave him a wary examination, then looked away with the robot equivalent of a shrug. “I never really understood the way you walking giblet bags relate to each other. Anyway, I guess I should say thanks for bringing him home last night. Rent’s due,” he added, as if to prove his lack of concern, as he walked away. Good old Bender, Fry thought.
Fry found himself alone in the apartment, mostly familiar and strangely different. For one thing there weren’t any stains on the walls, which were also painted a nice shade of blue. And there was even a carpet. Why did everyone have carpets? Fry lowered his feet to the soft pile and experimentally wiggled his toes into it.
“First thing I do when I get home,” he muttered. A carpet would be way better than picking composite splinters out of his feet every morning. Then again, it’d need cleaning.
He wandered around the apartment, taking in the way his brother lived. Everything was clean, in a way Fry could only dream of managing – if he ever could be bothered to dream about such things when he had more pressing issues to worry about, like where his next beer would be coming from. There were a few personal belongings on a shelf opposite the window. Photographs from Monument Beach and a few other tourist spots, along with a few mementos, a certificate of survival from the Deathball arena – Fry wondered how his brother had got roped into that – a few other bits of junk that presumably had some meaning to Yancy, and then a small blue box that Fry couldn’t resist picking up. Fry stared at the box in his hands for a moment, then opened it.
An expensive looking diamond glittered atop a narrow gold band, resting on a deep black velvet interior. It looked like it cost more than Fry had earned in his entire life and probably more than Yancy could have afforded without a huge loan. The stone was mesmerising, and chilling. He’d known at some level that Yancy was going to propose around the Millennium celebrations but he’d not really thought about it until this moment. Fry held the ring up to the light, turning it this way and that to catch the glittering sunlight reflections from its surface, and thought hard about the past, and Laura.
He, Philip J Fry, had married her in this universe. Accord to what he could remember of Yancy’s rambling the night before, they’d gone on to found the largest investment company in history, had several children and ended up virtually ruling the world at the head of a massive financial empire. His eldest son had been the first man on Mars. His next had been the commander of the first permanent moon colony. Philip Frys had been famous in almost every generation for nearly a thousand years, in the sciences, and the forefront of space exploration, in wars and peace...
A hand descended on the box, snapping it shut and snatching it from Fry’s grip before he could react. He turned to find Yancy glaring distrustfully at him, nursing the ring close to one shoulder. He looked like he was nursing the hangover from hell, too.
“I’m surprised Bender hasn’t stolen it,” Fry said, trying to lighten Yancy’s mood. Yancy just turned away, snapping the box open again to stare at the ring.
“He did. Twice. First time I bought it back from the pawn shop. Second time I took a blowtorch to his head until he gave it back.”
“Oh. I guess he got the picture then, huh?”
“No...” Yancy carefully placed the ring-box back in its place on the shelf, before quietly pressing the lid shut again. “Eventually the Professor used some sort of empathy chip on him so he’d learn what it meant to me. I guess it worked. He’s only tried stealing my blood since then.”
Yancy remained where he was, hand resting on the box, eyes closed, almost as if at prayer. Fry chewed his lip, trying to think, unsure of how to live up to the almost mythical figure he’d become in this world. The room suddenly felt very warm and close.
“I’m late for work,” Yancy muttered, turning away. He didn’t look at Fry. “Guess Leela will be trying to get into my head again.”
“Yeah, what is that,” Fry asked, following his brother across the room. Yancy shrugged, then headed toward the kitchen – and what a kitchen! – where a pot of coffee was quietly perking. Old-fashioned coffee too by the smell of things. Fry wondered where he’d got it.
Yancy stared at Fry from behind his coffee. “About two months after I got here the cryogenics lab figured I was depressed and started an intervention to-”
“What’s an intervention?”
Yancy’s stare took on a slightly disgusted cast. He put his cup down and leaned back a little. “It’s what they do if they think your career is making you suicidal. I’m surprised they didn’t start one for you the minute you arrived.”
“So they intervent you and-”
“Intervene,” Yancy said, scowling. “How the hell you managed to do what you did back then...”
Yancy put his head in his hands, a reminder of the hangover he was obviously still suffering. The hard spirits had been the problem – Fry wasn’t sure where they’d come from, and didn’t remember ordering them, but Yancy had seemed quite keen to drink as much of the stuff as possible. He decided it might be better to stay quiet for a little while and not mention that his own hangover was virtually gone already.
Maybe it’d turn up later, he thought, watching Yancy grimace. Funny, he’d been getting a headache all day yesterday but it was gone now. “You okay?”
“Want a detox pill?”
“I can’t, I’m allergic or something, I always feel like crap when I take one.”
“That’s usually a sign it’s working,” Fry said.
Yancy sighed and shook his head. “A thousand years of scientific progress and yet you can’t even get a simple aspirin.”
“All right, so this intervention...”
“Long story short, they’re supposed to monitor and assess me for a few weeks to see if my career is really as suitable as the machine said it was. They said it’d take about three months.” He grabbed his coffee and took a deep draught. “That was four years ago.”
“So your Leela’s been coming around every week for the last four years?”
Yancy nodded. “She keeps finding excuses to get it extended so she can keep coming back. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was because of Vek.”
“The pilot guy? He was asking me about Leela when we first arrived.”
“They had a thing a few years back. Didn’t last long. She hates his guts now.”
“You two never...?”
Yancy seemed to turn even paler than he already was. “You’re kidding, right? Me and some bug-eyed alien?”
“For all I know she might have an ovipositor and- wait...” Yancy shook his head and blinked. “What? She’s not an alien?”
“She... uh... in my universe she’s a mutant. I dunno.” He shrugged. That usually covered it with Yancy and it seemed to work this time, too. Yancy gave Fry a skeptical look. “Anyway she’s not that bad! She’s just a little... spiky.”
For a little while they sat in silence while Fry mentally berated himself for letting out the ‘dirty’ secret. Of course nobody would know in this universe. There’d be no reason for Leela to go into the sewers, no reason to go chasing other mutants. All he could hope was that Yancy didn’t mention it again.
“Hell, I’m still late for work.”
Yancy tossed his near-empty cup into the waste processor and dashed from the kitchen, grumbling, leaving Fry alone for a moment. Fry looked around, tapped his fingers on the worktop a few times while he waited and then quickly grabbed a pile of cookies from under the counter before turning to chase after Yancy.
He caught up with Yancy by the door. Fry waited, stuffing cookies into his pockets as his brother struggled into his coat and shoes at the same time. “Are you gonna help me or something?”
“I’unno,” Fry said, shrugging, a cookie half way to his mouth. Yancy snorted at the sight but seemed content to let Fry follow him to work, so he did.
The city seemed brighter than usual as they stepped out onto the sidewalk, though that was probably just Fry’s memory of the last universe playing tricks on him. Nevertheless, he spent a fair amount of time just soaking up the sun, even walking with his eyes closed for a while, until Yancy suddenly grabbed him and yanked him back from the edge of the sidewalk. Fry opened his eyes to see a garbage truck speeding past inches before his face.
He rubbed his arm after Yancy let go. “Thanks, bro...”
“You should watch where you’re going,” Yancy replied with a brief frown. Fry could almost see the thoughts winding through his head and figured talking back would only cement the impression. At least this time.
Fry couldn’t help but think that Yancy was trying to work out how he’d survived so well in the future. He’d said as much already, but it was annoying to realise that his brother thought so little of him even, even now. On the other hand he wasn’t saying anything about it, which was a pleasant change from the usual carping he remembered.
The lights changed, letting them cross the street unmolested by the passing traffic. Further along the road Fry saw their destination, a graffiti-encrusted tube stop, next to a small row of suicide booths that had seen better days. Fry watched as Yancy paused by the booths, staring at them with a vaguely worried frown before he stepped up to the tube.
“Look, about that detox thing, you really oughta try them again.” Fry smiled, trying to put his brother at ease. “I felt like crap the first time I used one, it’s normal.”
“Oh... I don’t know...”
“Better that than having a hangover all day, right?” He punched Yancy’s shoulder. Yancy just looked at him disdainfully, but then gave a tight nod. “Great! There’s convenience store down the road, we’ll get some there.”
“You’re sure this will work?”
“Hey, what could go wrong?”