The next two weeks were a blur. The Professor, assisted by Scruffy the janitor, was in the Great Fortress of the cyborgs almost the entire time, working with cyborg material scientists on plans for the mass production of the diamondium sheets that would be made in orbit and placed into the necessary framework. Amy and Kif were in orbit, working on orbital mining and manufactories with a mixed group of cyborgs and normal humans – who were learning, for the first time, to live and work in space.
Hermes and LaBarbara pursued their own project, deep in the archives of the Great Fortress.
Leela and Fry had flown about the planet in the Planet Express ship, meeting with various pirates leaders. Councils were springing up on every island, bringing together guild leaders and others, but the central force in each were the pirate crews and their captains. They were relishing their new role, even as they had to surrender the plundering of merchant ships which earlier had occupied them.
Bender drank continuously and kept to himself on the ship – the cyborgs unnerved him, the normal humans didn’t trust him and he couldn’t find anything worth stealing. He was a very unhappy bending unit.
Their travel also gave Leela and Fry an opportunity to hide the EMP bomb. The Professor had devised a spray-on coating that veiled the trigger’s radiation signature from detection, and with the Pirate’s Council’s approval Fry had stashed the bomb in a lava cave on a deserted island in the middle of the sea. Only a few pirates knew its location; only select others knew the arming code. No one, except for Fry and Leela, know both. The EMP bomb remained the Normal’s best leverage if matters with the cyborgs deteriorated, but no one wanted the device in the reach of any crazed or disgruntled human when the fate of the world was still to be decided and the cyborgs’ technology so badly needed.
It was at yet another long, boring congratulatory fish fry that Leela and Fry got the news. They had visited their twentieth (or twenty-first?) island and a pirate speaker was telling the crowd the story of Leela’s fight with Cambrien, and what he had seen that day. Fry didn’t recognize the sailor, and doubted he had been on the Matei Pavel, but didn’t say anything out of politeness (once Leela had lectured him firmly about etiquette).
Leela tried to cover a yawn as the speech droned on. I wonder if I can slip in a game of tetris, she thought, looking at her wrist-thingy. Just then she was startled to full awareness by her wrist-thingy’s alarm. She checked the comm and a text message was scrolling across the screen. PRIORITY CALL FROM HERMES CONRAD – TAKE ON A SECURE LINE.
She grabbed Fry, made their apologies and scampered back to where the Planet Express ship was parked in a field. Once they were on the bridge, she activated the videophone. Hermes appeared, looking tired but triumphant. “Right now, I’m happier dan a green snake at a sugar cane party, employees,” he said.
Leela shook her head, trying to ignore the simile the bureaucrat had employed. “Why’s that?”
Hermes grinned. “Yon EMP bomb has been boderin’ me, Leela, as well as dat medallion o’ President McNeal.”
“Pratt did mention a trader, a Hamm or Hammon, on Yala Island,” Fry said.
Hermes nodded. “Thank Jah we had dat lead. I was looking at tariff records for de last three decades from Yala, and I found some interesting discrepancies.”
“Oh for Jah’s sake, husband,” LaBarbara broke in. “Tell dem what yah found, already.”
“Lay off me, wife!” Hermes sighed. “Skippin’ over a fascinatin’ talk about the forms dese cyborgs use, I can tell yah that six years ago, traders from de stars visited Yala Island.”
Fry and Leela gasped. “What! How?”
“Seems dat on a cycle of twenty-four or so years, dese traders come from the sky and trade with the Yala merchants. ‘Tis a local tradition, which they keep very secret from the Masters. I don’t know how de traders get past the cyborg defense screen, but de do. And dese traders must have contact wit Earth!” Hermes could barely contain his excitement.
“Twenty-four years, huh?” Fry said. “That means we only have to wait…uh…”
Leela sighed. “Eighteen more years, Fry.” She turned back to Hermes. “We can’t wait that long, Hermes.”
“We don’t have to! One of the stories I dug up on Yala describes de stars dese traders come from.” Hermes fiddled with his end of the connection, and a woodcut drawing of the night sky seen from Yala Island appeared on screen. One of the stars, high in the sky, was surrounded with sigils and other designs.
Leela called up the star charts the Professor had prepared, and zoomed in on the sun in question. She frowned. “Eight thousand light years away – and in the opposite direction from the Milky Way.”
“What does it matter, Leela? Dey must have a wormhole or sometin’ back to Earth!”
“It seems like our only lead, Leela,” Fry said to her. He rested his hook on the top of her seat-back. Leela stared at a physical reminder of what their trip had cost them so far.
Home, she thought wistfully. She turned back to the videophone. “Okay, pack it up, Hermes. Get the Professor ready, too. I’ll call Amy and Kif and arrange for a pickup in orbit. We’ll get the ship ready and the tanks topped off again. Let’s go find these mysterious traders and get ourselves home!”
They all cheered, and Fry asked, “Do these guys have a name, Hermes?”
“All kinds, according to what I found, but de most common name I see is – Ophidians.”
“Ophidians.” Fry rolled the name around on his tongue. He smiled brightly. “Sounds friendly!”
The door to Leela’s cabin hissed open, and Fry stepped in, flexing his new hand.Leela looked up from her diary and smiled at the twentieth-century man. “Hello, Fry. How is it?”
“Feels funny,” Fry said. “I was actually getting kind of attached to the hook thing.”
Leela took both of his hands in hers and smiled at him. “I wasn’t,” she said. “I’m glad you’re whole again.” She let go of his hands and patted a spot next to her on the bed.
Fry sat down and she leaned into him, the two sitting in quiet for long minutes. She looked up at him and saw that he was staring out her picture window at the dwindling blue-brown planet behind them. His eyes were a thousand miles away.
“Nixon-buck for your thoughts,” she axed him softly.
He smiled wryly and looked at her. All those years pining and here she is next to me…“You’d laugh at me.”
“Fry, I’d never – well, rarely – okay, I won’t laugh at you this time.”
“I was thinking of the sea. The way it looked before a storm, the way it smelled at five bells, just before the sun rose. The spray on my skin when I was hanging in the rigging. I…I kinda miss it.” He looked abashed.
Leela put her arms around him and hugged him tightly. “You’ve always been a dreamer, Fry. It’s one of the things I love about you. It’s okay to miss the sea.”
He hugged her back, stroking her long purple hair with his new hand and reveling in the sensation. “Don’t worry, Leela. There’s no place I’d rather be than right here with you. I’ve dreamed of being with you since the moment I saw you, and I won’t be going anywhere.”
He laughed. “You know, I don’t think I’m as excited as the rest of you to go looking for these traders.”
“Because home, for me, is wherever you are.” He squeezed her again. “I’m just happy to be with you. Throw in my other friends, and it’s all good.”
Leela murmured something into his shoulder as they held each other by the light of the shrinking world behind them. She looked out the window toward the Ophidian’s star, trying to get a view of their destination and hoping the way home laid with them.
Fry’s gaze, however, was still on the misty seas of Cyberia.
The cyborg stopped outside of the rank, crowded tavern and looked up at the rudely carved sign. Like most she had seen recently, it had been renamed. It featured a crudely carved cyborg, on its hands and knees, being kicked firmly in the rear by a one-eyed woman with a long ponytail. Under the carving was the name in misshapen letters – “The Comeuppance.”
Cambrien sighed and stepped into the tavern. She noticed it was dimly lit with new electric lights, which had been appearing everywhere on Prime Island lately. A sign of the times, she thought.
Almost immediately, the laughter and shouting inside died down. There were about thirty Normals inside, pirates, merchant sailors, thieves, ladies-of-the-evening and rowdies. All were staring at her. She ignored them and walked up to the tavern-keeper, who continued polishing a dirty blown-glass mug with an even dirtier rag while studiously avoiding eye contact with the cyborg.
“Is there a pirate named Chan here?” she asked the man. He ignored her some more.
Cambrien had been to eighteen taverns this evening alone, looking for Chan. Cyborgs didn’t get tired, but she was getting peeved. She turned to the crowd. “I am looking for Chan, who served on the Matei Pavel. I have a reward for him.”
“Or do ye have revenge in mind, tin lady?” a pirate called out raucously. “We know what happened to you Masters on the Matei Pavel.”
Cambrien didn’t enlighten him on the…personal nature of her encounter with the Matei Pavel. She simply said, “I have a reward for him.”
Silence greeted her again, and then a man let out a long sigh from the far end of the bar. He stood up and turned to her. “I’m Chan. You’ve been looking for me for quite a while.”
“I have,” she agreed. “You’ve been avoiding me for quite a while.” She studied him and matched his face to the description the orange-haired human had given her. It was him.
“Why?” he asked her bluntly. While he was armed with a ceramic short sword, he made no move to threaten her.
“A mutual friend asked me to deliver something to you – and to make sure you got home.”
“Home?” the man sounded plaintive. “You can help me get home?”
Cambrien gestured Chan to a table away from the crowd. While they were still aware of her, they had started back to their own drinking and carousing. The cyborg and the pirate sat at a table. Almost by reflex, a tavern girl came by and plopped two glass mugs filled with ale before them, and looked defiantly at Cambrien. Without changing her expression, the cyborg took two soft iron coins from her belt and gave them to the maid. “Go away,” she said.
The tavern girl went away, taking the excessive payment with her.
Chan took a large gulp of the ale, never taking his eyes from the raven-haired cyborg across from him. He had never been this close to a Master. She’s actually quite lovely, he realized with a start. “So,” he said, “who sent you again?”
“You knew Philip J. Fry?” she asked
Chan nodded ruefully. “We were friends on the ship. I knew he was going to be somebody, but I had no idea…” He laughed.
“Philip J. Fry asked me to make sure you got home, and to give you this.” She pulled out a small box, and opened it.
Chan gasped. Inside were three heavy ingots of pure copper – a fortune’s worth. He looked around worriedly.
“Don’t worry,” Cambrien said, shutting the lid. “I’ll protect you.”
“But what – ”
“Your share of the bounty the captain of the Matei Pavel declared. Fry was quite generous – with our funds, of course,” Cambrien said wryly.
“So why did you come?” Chan asked.
“I told you – Fry asked us to deliver your treasure, and to make sure you got back to your home island and your mother.”
Chan shook his head. “No, why did you come?”
Cambrien pondered his question. This Normal is smarter than he seems, she thought to herself. Handsome, too, in that raw Normal manner. Finally, she answered him truthfully. “I wanted to meet you so that you could tell me more about Fry. I would like to know more of the man Turanga Leela loves.”
“Turanga Leela? That was Fry’s girl, the one he talked about all the time.”
Cambrien nodded again. “She is quite impressive.”
“Huh.” Chan pondered that for a moment. “Is it true that she beat a Master, with no weapons? I’d love to hear about Fry’s girl – she must be something special.”
“She did, and she is.” Cambrien decided not to add to her comment.
Chan thought about his situation some more, and tucked the treasure case into his pouch. “Well, I can’t really turn all this down, can I? Treasure, a way home, and a chance to learn more about Fry and Leela.” He stuck his hand out to Cambrien.
She had to do a nanosecond search of her social mores database to realize what Chan was doing. Cheeky little Normal, she thought with a smile. She took his hand and shook it, resisting the urge to squeeze with her Enhanced strength.
She searched her database again for an appropriate quote, and said, “Chan, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”