Fan Fiction

A Different View, part 4
By Graham Dawson

Chapter Four – That Sinking Feeling

The ship made landfall without further incident, not counting Fry’s unfortunate reaction to a stale Twinky she found in the galley, and fairly soon the whole Planet Express staff were gathered in the conference room.

The room was tense; normally a post-mission debrief would only involve Leela and Hermes, sorting out the accounts and getting stories straight for when the clients inevitably called to complain about broken packages and the like, whilst everyone went home early to get some well-deserved rest. The resentment at being kept behind was almost palpable.

On top of that, Fry found herself sat directly opposite Bender with the entire expanse of the table between them. Bender didn’t look at her as she sat down, preferring to stare at the ceiling with his eyeshield half lowered as he smoked one of the cigars Fry could no longer stand to be around.

The Professor shuffled in and sat down in his chair at the head of the table. He gave everyone a meaningful look. “You may be wondering why I called you all here today,” he said after a moment. “I realise that you all want to go home and enjoy yourselves in the fleshpots and such, but Leela has brought something important to my attention. The peace treaty gathering on Eridani Prime,” he said, adjusting his glasses. “The heads of almost every major world in the Democratic Order of Planets will be there and I want a piece of that action!”

“Why not just spam them like everyone else does,” Bender asked. “I could set it up for you. I’d only ask for a sixty percent cut.”

“That’s preposterous in the extreme because I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Farnsworth said. He wiped his brow. “And I certainly haven’t tried it already either.”

“Professor...” Leela leaned forward a little. “I don’t like it. Zapp-”

“Oh that wonderful captain Brannigan, h’yes, he’ll be there won’t he? We need an in, Leela. Something that will get us a more steady income.”

“Aye, nothing is more steady and dependable than a government contract,” Hermes added, patting his briefcase.

Leela gave Hermes a puzzled look. “But aren’t we already getting a lot of work? I don’t remember flying this much since, well, ever.”

“My projections are never wrong,” Hermes said. He pressed a few buttons on the console in front of him, activating the main display screen, where a graph appeared. “Based on our current income and expenditure we seem to be doing fine,” he said. A few more buttons were pressed and the graph expanded to include a sudden precipitous fall. “However, that doesn’t factor in the reductions that will be comin’ in the economy by the end of the year thanks to Captain Brannigan’s shenanigans.”


“Yep. The Democratic Order of Planets is ‘administratively reorganisin’ their entire fleet now that the cold war is over, and that means a lot of service contracts lapsin’, a lot of ex sailors lookin’ for work and a lot of people who don’t need parts deliverin’ any more. Taking that into account we’ll be bankrupt in eight to ten months at the very latest. That means you lot will be out of work.” He turned to face the team, his face deadly serious. “Permanently.”

Fry looked over at Bender, now fully attentive. The robot turned to look back at her and spoke. “How about downsizing? Getting rid of unnecessary burdens and such.”

“Oh we thought about that,” Farnsworth said. “The mayor’s office and the I.N.S. both said that Zoidberg was our responsibility whether we wanted him or not.”

“That means he’s an employee, and as long as he’s an employee we have to pay him a wage.” Hermes glanced down at his papers. “Even if it is just fifty cents a week...”

Zoidberg’s eyes widened. “I’m getting a raise? Hooray!”

“Don’t be stupid you spineless caneswaggler!” Hermes adjusted his glasses and peered at the papers again. “Everyone else on the team has to be here otherwise we don’t function.”

“You mean,” Amy said after a moment’s thought, “you’re saying that after all these years of holding ‘expendable’ above our heads, we’re all actually necessary employees?”

Hermes glared at Amy, not for the first time, but with extra passion now. “Yes,” he admitted, making a pained face. He shuffled the papers. “And unless we have some sort of government contract you’ll all be unemployed necessary employees too.”

Farnsworth cleared his throat as Hermes sat down. “That’s where you come in, Leela. And the rest of you. We need to get one of those heads of state to agree to pay us lots of money. I don’t know how you’ll do it. You can sleep with them for all I care, but you are all going to that function, and that’s final.”

There was a general grumbling as everyone stood to leave – except Amy and Zoidberg, who both seemed to be quite happy in their own ways. Leela glared at the young intern’s back as she left but managed to hold back her ire though, if Amy had seen her eye, she might have had a fairly good idea of what Leela wanted to say.

Fry stayed in her seat, watching Bender. The robot was still puffing away on his cheroot, the apparent picture of perfect contentment. He took out the cigar and examined it.

“So, you coming home tonight?” He refused to look at Fry when he spoke. In the background Leela paused and turned to listen.

“I... I’m not sure that’s any of your business, Bender,” Fry said. She stayed in her seat. Bender, for his part, also refused to move. “But if you must know I was thinking about crashing with Amy.”

“Okay then.” Bender stubbed out the cigar on his own hand and dropped it into his compartment. “You’ve been doing that sort of thing a lot recently, Fry. Always hanging out with ‘the girls’ or crashing somewhere, or just not turning up. I’m starting to wonder if you even live with me any more.” He paused and tapped a finger against his chinplate. It made an annoying metallic clink with every beat. “On the other hand you’re still paying half the rent so what do I care?”

Bender let out a short laugh and walked from the room whistling to himself. Fry watched him go; she felt like running after him, pulling him back, begging to have his friendship back but it wouldn’t have worked. She sighed and looked down at the table.

Leela put her hand on Fry’s shoulder. “It’s hard, I know, but you’ll get over it.” Fry nodded sadly but kept her head low. It felt right. She didn’t deserve to see anything. Leela rubbed her shoulder and sat down in the next seat. “I found some apartments we can look at for you next week if you’re-”

“No. I’m sorry Leela, it’s too soon to think about that right now. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to talk to you about it, right now I’m just not... not in the mood.”

“Oh, I understand. I’m sorry Phi.”

Fry finally looked up to see the rather unedifying sight of Professor Farnsworth shuffling toward them. “Hi Professor.”

“Miss Fry. Leela.” Farnsworth stopped by the table and smiled at them. “Ahh, don’t you worry your pretty heads about that contract balderdash, it’s really so simple even Zoidberg could do it. I just like to have a certain amount of, eyuh, redundancy in the system, yes. That’s right.”

“So in that case...” Leela put her hands on her hips. “You don’t need me to go.”

“Not as such, but it would help. Besides, the possibility of your attachment to that nice coffee-shop owner down the block would be wonderful leverage to use against your, uh, potential suitors?”

“What? How do you know about Samuel?”

“Ohh, that doesn’t matter,” Farnsworth said, waving Leela away with one hand. A tiny remote television slipped out of his cuff and wrapped itself around his palm, where it began showing a pale green image of Maxine’s interior on a slim screen. “Ahh, I wondered where that went...”

Farnsworth slipped the device off his hand. Ignoring Leela’s spluttered protest he turned to Fry and put a hand on her shoulder. “Miss Fry, You may be glad to hear that I’m very close to a solution to your, ah, problem. I have to run a few experiments over the next day or so but I believe I may well have enough information to reverse the process that made you what you are.”

“That was a lot faster than I thought it would be,” Fry said, giving the table a thoughtful stare. So soon... just when she was getting used to the way things were. “How soon can you do it?”

“Oh, two weeks, perhaps three at the most. It’s not a particularly delicate operation, apart from the timing of the events. I’ve performed one or two small-scale transitions already with several elemental atoms. They’re up in the lab if you want to have a look.”

“I’m not sure that’s such a good idea,” Fry said. Leela put a hand on Fry’s other shoulder.

“Come on Phi, you’ll have to get over this fear of the lab some time or you’ll never be able to get through this.”

“Yes. Besides, my lab isn’t the least bit scary,” Farnsworth added, looking at the ceiling. “Well, uh, except for that singularity I accidentally created in the corner... but at least it makes the garbage easy to dispose of, h’yes.” Farnsworth turned and peered at Fry as if he’d never seen her before.

Fry shifted under the glassy gaze of those thick-lensed eyes, which might have been trying to tell her something, or might just be completely blank from a stroke. She looked up at Leela. “I really don’t know...”

“Come on Fry, what’s the worst that can happen?”

Farnsworth slapped his face. “Oh lord, you just had to say it didn’t you...” he turned and started the long trek to his lab, muttering about paradoxes and narratavium.

“What? Professor...” Leela sighed. She took Fry’s shoulder again. “Come on, we’d better follow him before he forgets what he was going to do again.”

Fry pushed herself from the chair and shook her arms trying to relieve the tension she could feel building up in her back. She smoothed down her shirt, tapped a toe against the ground and looked at Leela. “Okay, lets get this over with.”

They followed Farnsworth up the stairs to his lab. Near the top of the staircase Fry suddenly hesitated and bit her lip.

“Philippa, what’s-”

“That glow up there,” Fry said, pointing. “I saw that last time. When it happened.”

Leela looked up to the lab door. An orange light cast out of the door and on to the wall, picking out details with odd shadows. “That’s probably just some weird lights or something. Come on, stop being a baby about this Phi.”

“No, Leela, I really don’t have a good feeling about this. It’s like there’s some sort of, of feeling in my stomach...” she looked past Leela’s head at the light. “That light scares the crap out of me and I don’t know why.”

“Well-” Leela’s sentence was cut off by a huge, sucking, roaring sound from the lab. She threw herself across Fry with a wordless yell, knocking her backwards so that they both fell back down the stairs to the landing just as a huge girder slammed through the wall. Fry hit the floor hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. She choked, took a deep breath and then let out a ragged scream.

When that didn’t change anything Fry opened her eyes and tried to sit up. Leela’s motionless body lay across her, surprisingly heavy given her size. Fry keened and tried to push Leela off but only managed to squirm a little way along the floor.

Leela grunted and suddenly woke with a yell. She glanced around, then down at Fry, and then up the stairs. “Oh hell.” She clambered to her knees and pulled Fry up to a sitting position. Fry patted over herself to check everything was still working. She followed Leela’s gaze up the stairs. A small patch of of the girder sputtered with pale blue flames as exotic chemicals from the lab burned away at the galvanising paint. Leela sat down next to Fry and whistled. “If you ever get one of those feelings again you make sure you tell me straight away, Phi. That was close.”

Too close, Fry thought. She suddenly realised that the voice of the thought was female. What an odd thing to think about. “Oh, the Professor!” Fry shot to her feet and ran up the ruined stairs, clambering over the girder before she even thought about it. Leela was a step behind her when Fry reached the door to the lab.

The place was not wrecked, exactly. A blast mark marred the floor near the centre of the lab, a ragged hole had been punched in the roof and there were several girders embedded in the floor and wall but the room was largely intact, though the Smelloscope was smashed. Farnsworth stood near the far wall staring up at the sky, where a bright orange ball of flame was receding toward the horizon, already well on its way out into space. A chunk of masonry fell from the edge of the gap and crashed to the floor.

Leela gasped when she saw the mess, and then yelped when she saw what had caused it. “Fry!”

Fry glanced at Leela, wondering why she used that name now of all times. She quickly walked across the lab to the Professor, carefully skirting the blast mark and the more obviously dangerous equipment. “Professor?”

“Wah? Oh...” Farnsworth looked away from the plasma ball, now a barely noticeable dot in the sky. He adjusted his glasses. “Oh, it’s you.”

“What on earth was that... that thing?” Fry pointed at the sky. She looked back over the lab. “What did you do?”

Farnsworth turned and looked around his lab, seeming not to notice the destruction. “Well. That was an apparent side-effect of the universal matrix transition,” he said.

“The... wha?”

“Universal... that doesn’t matter! The point is, it’s caused by the same thing that caused you to turn into a highly attractive woman. I hadn’t quite thought about the full effects of what I was doing, but it seems that when the transition occurred a number of atomic nuclei were thrown on to new and slightly erratic courses.” Farnsworth adjusted his glasses again. He peered up at the hole and tutted sadly. “It’ll take a long time to get that fixed...”

Leela leaned on a bench, glancing up at the sky now and then. “That looked like the ones we saw over Fifth Avenue,” she said, giving Fry a meaningful look.

Farnsworth suddenly turned to face Leela. “What? When? When did you see that?”

“Oh...” Leela thought for a moment. She pushed off from the bench and started to pace toward the hole. “A few days after Fry got out of the hospital. We were shopping with Amy.”

“How many did you see?”

“Two,” Fry said. She shoved her hands in her pockets. Farnsworth rubbed his chin, a frown creasing his already-creased brow. “Is it important?”

“Not as much as you’d think, but it does raise interesting questions. I had hoped the effect wasn’t so widespread.”

Fry looked at her shoes and sighed. She swung her leg back and forth. “Wait a minute. Didn’t Kif say something about a plasma ball hitting the Nimbus?”

“Why yes, he did,” Leela said. She folded her arms and looked up at the sky. “From what he said, that idiot captain would probably have screwed up those negotiations if he hadn’t been knocked off balance by the blast.”

“You’re saying that this thing changed history or something?”

Farnsworth nodded slowly. “Yes... in a manner of speaking it did just that for millions of atoms, but most of those are so isolated that it wouldn’t make a difference on a universal scale. However...” Farnsworth wandered over to a table where a few magnetic containment jars rested on a thick metal plate. He stared at the for a long time. “In the right circumstances, a sudden non-predictable change of direction by a single atom could caused a positive feedback wave that would result in a macroscopic events. Most of the changes would still not have any effect beyond being very pretty,” he added, looking up at the gap again. The plasma ball was long gone now. “But if they were to happen at the right spot, as it appears to have with the Nimbus, the effects would be very profound. Our immediate history has been irreparably altered by this accident. Who knows what might have happened otherwise?”

“Well, that’s all very interesting, Professor, but it doesn’t seem to make much different to Philippa’s condition.” Leela glanced at Fry again, trying to re-assure her. “Sorry for talking for you like this Phi.”

“Oh it’s not a problem. I...” Fry shook her head and smiled. Farnsworth, for his part, just looked at them vacantly. Fry looked around the lab, marvelling at how little equipment was actually damaged. “I guess we saw the changed atoms right there. Is there a chance that could happen to me?”

“Oh my yes,” Farnsworth said. Fry swallowed. “But it’s so remote that it isn’t worth worrying your pretty little head about.”

Fry grumbled something about sexism and turned to leave. She was almost at the door when Farnsworth spoke again.

“Miss Fry, there is one thing that I haven’t mentioned yet.” Fry turned, glanced across the room at Leela again and then looked at the Professor. Farnsworth worried at a pile of papers and books on a workbench, eventually drawing out a few scraps of slightly singed paper. “It’s probably nothing, but there’s a few oddities that have been thrown up by my calculations. They’re the only reason I haven’t tried a large-scale experiment yet.”

“What is it?” Fry watched the Professor leafing through his notes with a strange worry squirming around in her guts. Leela stood nearby, her face a picture of sympathy.

“I don’t really know,” Farnsworth said eventually. He put the papers down. “All my simulations work perfectly. The transitions to and from the alternate universal matrix work without any incident at an atomic scale,” he said, glancing at the hole again. “Almost... there’s a lot of uncertainty involved when you get above anything the size of a carbon atom. If it wasn’t for that I would have been able to switch you back several weeks ago.”

“If it’s about risk, Professor, I’d be willing to take it,” Fry said, looking at Leela again. Leela looked back, uncertainty creasing her brow for a moment. Then she looked away.

“Ohh, I was quite happy to risk your life already, Miss Fry, the problem is risking everyone else’s as well. I have to be certain of that before I try and I won’t be certain until next week. Now come along, go find me some nice men to clean up this lab.”

Leela grimaced and shook her head. “Come on Phi, lets go get some coffee,” she said, grabbing Fry as she walked past.

“Bye Professor,” Fry managed to call before she was pulled through the door.

“So tell me, Philippa... what on earth is going on?”

They were sat at their usual table in Maxine’s, by the window, in a pair of comfy chairs that Samuel insisted they use whenever they came in. Fry looked out of the window at the occasional passing traffic and the gritty water of the Hudson river in the distance. She sighed. “I don’t think I want to turn back.”

“What? Fry... Phi...” Leela put her coffee down and leaned forward. “You don’t?

Fry shrugged and picked at her customary danish with a forlorn expression. “I do want to change back, but... I... I like this, our friendship. I’d be worried about losing it again.”

“Oh, Philippa, that’s sweet. I think we could probably keep it up if you’re willing to try,” Leela said, picking up her coffee again. “What about Bender?”

“Well, what about him?” Fry put her coffee down and folded her arms. “He’s boorish and rude and, and loud, and he smokes those damn cigars even when he knows I hate them. He never made an effort to be my friend.”

Leela blinked at Fry’s outburst. She leaned back and thought about it for a moment, as a strange worry began to manifest. “Oh lord. I screwed up,” she said at least. Leela leaned forward again and took Fry’s hand. “I really screwed up didn’t I?”

“What are you talking about?”

“My advice. I told you to back off and let him work it out himself, but I didn’t think about how you’d respond to his reactions... I’m sorry Phi. I think it was my fault.”

“But he reacted exactly how you said he would whenever I tried to make up.”

“Yes, but after your change you weren’t used to the way men react any more,” Leela said with a sad smile. “You said it yourself, your mind and body are completely different. What you remember doing in a given situation wouldn’t apply now, because you think differently.”

Fry nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s true. Actually I have a lot of trouble remembering how I used to act... well except for the more memorable moments,” she added after a moment of thought. “It’s all so... grey. Like I don’t care about it any more.”

“So that means that you wouldn’t be able to communicate with him properly,” Leela finished. She glanced over at the counter. Samuel waved to her. “Men communicate with women very differently to the way they communicate with each other. The problem is, Bender still can’t see you as a woman, which means you’ll have to either convince him to see you that way or try and ride things out until you change back.”

“If I ever do,” Fry said. She looked out of the window and sighed again. “There’s so much going through my mind right now, Leela. So many things I wanted to say to people that I’ve never been able to say before because it would have sounded weird, or because I just didn’t think about it. I can say them now because they don’t sound weird.”

“So you’re smarter? I knew it!”

Fry’s eyebrows creased together. “I wish...” she rattled her fingers on the table and smiled again. “I see some things more clearly than I used to but I’m not smarter. I can just say things that I couldn’t before.”

Leela twisted her empty cup around the table and fiddled with the handle. “There are some things you can’t say now.”

Fry blinked in surprise. This was about as close as she’d ever heard Leela come to admitting she had feelings for... but she couldn’t, could she? The man she might have loved wasn’t here. Fry put her hand out and gently touched Leela’s arm. She smiled when Leela looked up.

A shadow fell across the table. “Not interrupting another moment, am I?” Samuel leaned forward and retrieved Leela’s cup, giving her a wink as he straightened up. “I’ll just get you a refill.”

“Thanks Sam,” Leela said with a coquettish grin. She fluttered her eyelid just a tiny little bit; Samuel grinned nervously and turned to leave. “Oh Samuel, wait a moment.”

“Anything for you,” he said, turning back. Leela patted the arm of her chair, motioning Samuel to sit down. He took a seat and smiled at the pair. “All right, what conspiracy are you beautiful creatures dragging me into?”

“Oh, nothing like that,” Leela said. Fry thought she sounded a little flustered, but said nothing while Leela made eye at Samuel. For his part, the young man just sat and looked affable. “I, uh, that is we have been invited to a diplomatic function on Eridani. Movers and shakers and all that sort of thing,” Leela said, her voice growing smaller. “And I sorta need a date.”

“Why not take Philippa here? You two seem to make such a nice couple.” Samuel smiled at Fry and then winked. Fry felt herself turning pink. Crap.

Leela let out an uncharacteristic giggle. “Oh you...”

“Well if you’re going to let a catch like that go to waste...” Samuel stood up and gave Leela a florid bow. “My lady, I would be honoured to accompany you. When do we leave?”

“It’s in a week.”

“Ahh, great, then I have enough time find a temp to manage the cash register while I’m gone.” Samuel picked up Leela’s cup and smiled at her as he stepped back from the table. “Thank you. This means more to me than you realise.”

“Oh you might not thank me once we’re there,” Leela said, and then grimaced as if letting out some sort of terrible secret. “You probably know about Zapp.”

“The infamous Captain Brannigan? I heard something about a website, but go on.”

Leela bit back on the angry reply that rose in her mind. “He has it in his head that that I’m only bringing a date along to make him jealous. Don’t be surprised if he tries to challenge you to some sort of testosterone match before the evening is out.”

“Ahh that’s nothing I can’t handle. Why, only last week I had to put down Theo over there for trying to argue that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by Jeffrey Archer. That was pretty, uh... harrowing...” Samuel’s boast faded under Leela’s pitying gaze. “Not good enough, huh?”

Leela smiled and shook her head. “You’re a far better man than he is, but remember this guy commands a starship. He could vaporise you from orbit if he wanted.”

Samuel tutted and tapped his chin. He looked around the shop at the assembled regulars, most of whom had apparently swapped books in the last fortnight. There was a strange, strained silence over them that seemed to collectively lean toward their table. One even had his book upside down. “I do hope you aren’t trying to discourage me,” he said, and the smiled again. “Never mind, I’ll find myself an armoured tux and we’ll see how things go.”

“Great,” Leela said. She and Fry stood up. “See you tomorrow then?”

“Ah yes, chocolate and blueberry cookie day,” Samuel said with a wry grin. Leela twisted her fingers together.

“Am I really that predictable?”

“Oh yes, that’s what I love about you two. It makes my accounts so much easier.” Samuel pulled a tray from a nearby table and started cleaning up their plates. “I’ll see you,” he said as he walked away. Leela watched him go, her cheeks ever so slightly flushed.

“I never thought I’d see that,” Fry said, putting on her coat.


“You. Fluttering like a little girl.” They stepped out and made their way to the door, which Fry opened in what would have been a gallant gesture at one time. “I mean, I’d always hoped to see you acting that way toward me, though, god knows if I would have actually noticed it back then.”

“I was not ‘fluttering’,” Leela retorted. “Much...”

“Face it Leela, you were this far from tearing his clothes off there and then. Why don’t you two just-”

“Phi, I appreciate the gesture but, really, it’s a little weird.” Leela pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. “What I mean is-”

“What you mean is that you still sometimes see me as the old Fry, too,” Fry said. She put her hands behind her head as they walked, enjoying the sun on her face. “Don’t worry about it. Even if you don’t get used to me this way at least we’re together, sorta. If it makes you happy to be with Sam then you don’t need to worry about my feelings. I can live with it.”

“But Philippa, what about the Professor turning you back? From what he’s saying it’ll just be a couple of weeks from now,” Leela said. She took Fry’s arm and pulled her close to the wall. “When you change back you’ll be a man again. Even if we’re good friends, all your old feelings will be back. What if... I... and, that is, if we...”

Fry turned away and looked up at the sky. “I don’t think about it,” she said eventually, turning her gaze to the planet express building down the street. “You know me, Leela. If I went around thinking about the future in that sort of detail I’d go crazy. I’d be you.”

“So I’m crazy am I?”

“Well...” Fry shuffled her feet. “Okay, bad example.”

“A minute before you were talking about how you didn’t want to change back,” Leela said. Fry sighed again.

“That was now talking. What I have now feels pretty good for me. I might change my mind again in five minutes.” She turned back to Leela and put on a goofy half-smile. Leela just clutched at her bag, watching Fry’s face.

“I wish I could be that impulsive, just once,” she said quietly.

“Asking Sam out on a date is pretty impulsive for you,” Fry replied. She glanced back down the block to Maxine’s, where an old couple were sitting on one of the pavement tables arguing over something. Her face softened for a moment. “That could have been us,” she said, with just a hint of longing.

“It could still be in some parallel universe.” Leela nodded at the thought, but then humphed and shook her head. “Nah. I wouldn’t be caught dead in paisley.”

Everything looks crystal-clear in space. The lack of any intervening haze of to bestow objects with a strange, almost terrifying clarity at distances that the human mind almost can’t comprehend, yet even those distances are witheringly small compared to the vast gulfs of interstellar space. Entire planets can be lost, flung out from their parent systems to wander dark and cold between stars, rarely found except by chance encounters.

Commander Sethi Powall of the DOOP light corvette Arcturus had never discovered a Wanderer before. They were rare, hard to find and tended to be flung from systems rich in heavy metals and exotic elements, which made them valuable, and made a discoverer... if not famous, then at least noteworthy. And rich. The DOOP paid a handsome discovery fee to any DOOP crew lucky enough to stumble across a Wanderer and Powall was quietly adding up how much of it would be left over once he’d bought himself that moon he had his eye on. Quite a lot, it seemed.

He glanced out of the Arcturus’s main observation deck at the distant black mass, only visible by the stars it occluded, and then at the faint orange speck that had attracted his ship here in the first place. It was another one of the strange flares that had been reported all over Orion’s Arm for a few weeks before disappearing into the deeps. His standing orders were to pursue and catalogue any unknown phenomena of that description but, frankly, the draw of the Wanderer was just too much. The entire crew were quietly celebrating – or not so quietly for some of those off duty. He’d have to care for a few hangovers next duty shift.

Powall had returned to contemplating his moon when the comms crackled. “Commander? Bridge, we just got a reading from the Wanderer.”

“What?” Powall sat up. “What sort of reading?”

“Some sort of infra-red spike. It wasn’t there before.”

“I’ll be right up.” Powall looked longingly at the Wanderer and then left the observation deck for the bridge.

“Ok, tell me what we’ve got,” he said as he entered the bridge. The lieutenant on duty, a Neptunian woman who’s name Powall had never been able to remember, shooed an ensign away from the main sensor display and brought up a replay of the last 30 minutes.

“Looks like several heat spots sitting on the surface,” she said, pointing to the display, which altered to bring the relevant area of the Wanderer’s surface into a plan view. “They aren’t moving and they haven’t changed intensity, but our preliminary scans showed that this body was completely inert.”

“So... you’re saying someone else got here first?”

“It’s one option, sir,” the lieutenant said, folding two of her arms. She manipulated the display with the other two. Powall tried not to grimace. “There’s also the possibility of micrometeorite impacts, previously unrecorded seismic activity or more of those flares.”

“I see.” Powall stared at the display. “Take us to stand-by alert anyway, just in case. And make sure our discovery claim has been sent, I don’t want some fraznick prospector stealing our moons, er, money.”

“Already done, sir,” the lieutenant said. She turned to the ensign, now stood on the far side of the cramped bridge, and repeated Powall’s order before turning back to the display. “If I might venture an opinion...”

“Go ahead.”

“Perhaps it would be wise to retreat to a standard remote observation orbit.” The Neptunian fixed Powall with a stare. Powall tried to look into her pale blue eyes and gave up, looking away. He could never intimidate blueskins no matter how hard he tried. It didn’t help that they reminded him of Vishnu, which brought up all sorts of bitter childhood memories of his Swamij beating the knowledge of the five forms into his head.

“I shall consider it, Lieutenant. For now-”

“Sir!” Another ensign turned from the weapons console. “Sir, multiple contacts, directly ahead!”

Powall strolled over to the command chair and sat down, bringing up an auxiliary display. “Identity?”

“Unknown sir, computer is currently classifying as heavy assault cruiser, equivalent to Argo class.”

“Holy hells... intentions?”

“Apparently hostile sir...” the ensign tapped away at his console, his skin turning pale as he examined the readouts. “Uh... very hostile sir. Very very hostile. Weapons are armed, gun-ports open, shields raised and they appear to be moving to flank us.”

“Get us out of here, now!” Powall turned to the Neptunian lieutenant. “Get a message to high command, hostile craft detected-”

“Sir, we have an ID on the craft,” the ensign said, turning again. “They’re Ruklisk sir.”

“What? Aren’t we-” An alarm sounded, warning of incoming fire. “Evasive action. Aren’t we at peace with those sons of Shiva now?”

“Aye.” The ship bucked as it sought to flee the closing Ruklisk cruisers. Their firing was a little erratic, missing the ship by thousands of metres, but one shot was true and crashed against the shields, ringing the little ship’s hull like a bell. Powall winced. This wasn’t good.

“We’re deep inside DOOP territory, what the hell are the Ruklisk doing here?”

“Hiding,” the lieutenant said, pointing at the wanderer. “We’re about eleven light-years beyond Eridani sir, and moving toward earth at about point seven C relative. The chances of them finding this right before we did are astronomically small, they’ve probably been tailing this rock for the last century.”

“Oh... right-” Powall winced as another shot crashed home, shaking the bridge and setting a dozen alarms squawking. They weren’t going to survive many more like that.

“Engines hit sir, shields holding,” someone shouted. Powall groaned.

“Tell me we have comms!”

“Stand by... minimal comms sir.” Another impact. Somewhere below the deck Powall could hear a rending explosion and a strange, ear-piercing shriek as part of the lower deck started to decompress. “We’ve lost all propulsion sir. Port-side shields have collapsed, multiple breaches on decks four and five.”

“Mahesha take them!”

“Perhaps we should abandon ship sir,” the Lieutenant said, turning to look at Powall.

“No Lieutenant, we won’t be doing that,” Powall said, looking out at the closing cruisers, still tiny dots against the dark star-field. The bridge shook under another barrage from the nearest cruiser. “The Ruklisk like to take prisoners.”

Something about the way he said it must have hit home, as a withering reply died in the Lieutenant’s throat. She blinked and looked away. “I see.”

“Engage the self destruct systems and then let the bastards have everything we’ve got,” Powall said, turning to the weapon’s officer. The ensign swallowed and nodded. “And get a message out, tell them them our situation, attach our last sensor sweep of the wanderer and start transmitting our status in real-time.” The lieutenant nodded, pushing the comms officer away to carry out the order personally.

“I’ve set the message to repeat once it’s completed,” the lieutenant said as she turned back to Powell. She braced two of her arms against the console as the Arcturus shuddered under another barrage. “Our FTL comms are gone.”

“Real space... it could take months for anyone to even notice the signal,” Powall said quietly. He looked about the bridge, already devastated by the assault and noticed that his vision was starting to tunnel slightly. The ship must have vented most of its atmosphere already. His crew worked frantically to manoeuvre their crippled ship away from the attacking Ruklisk but they were starting to flag in the thinning air. “I just hope they get it in time. Weapons, target the nearest ship and let them have it.”

“Firing all weapons sir,” the weapons officer said. Powall sat back and thought about his moon as wave after wave of weapons-fire streaked toward the closest Ruklisk vessel. It was unlikely they’d even make a dent on such a massive ship but at least they’d die relatively painlessly.

“Incoming!” someone shouted. There was a momentary shudder as the impact started, and then Powall knew nothing more.

The week passed by at an agonising snails-pace, with very little work to fill the time. Fry moped about in Bender’s closet, watching TV, playing a few games and trying to figure out how she could get back into Bender’s good books. There didn’t seem to be much chance of it though; twice, now, she’d found her stuff dumped by the door, although both times Bender had either forgotten to change the lock-code or couldn’t be bothered, and he didn’t seem to care when she moved herself back in. Perhaps it was the rent thing again that held him back. Or perhaps he was trying to find a way of reaching out to her.

Nah. Definitely the rent thing.

With the lack of work came a lack of pay, though Fry didn’t have as much trouble as the others thanks to the tax rebate that she got for being a woman in what used to be a man’s job. Hermes had eaten the waiver the day he found out and then spent the entire afternoon locked in his office trying to calculate how much the damaged paper would be worth as a tax write-off. Of course Amy didn’t have problems either, thanks to her parents, and Zoidberg didn’t seem to notice the sudden lack of income. Leela was probably having a hard time of it but, Fry realised, she would be too proud to admit she was having a problem until the debt collectors were knocking down her door. Although she did sell her couch again.

Fry’s biggest concern was Professor Farnsworth. The Professor spent all his time in his lab where, mixed in amongst the usual background buzz of small explosions and strange chemical smells, was a strange sensation that struck Fry whenever she was in the building. A sort of tickling sense of wrongness that fizzled at the base of her spine and wouldn’t go away, and which seemed to amplify whenever the Professor was experimenting with the universal matrix or whatever it was he’d called it. With the tension she had at home, Fry was spending more and more of her time at work, lounging around and waiting for something to happen.

For the whole week, virtually nothing. The company had enough of a surplus to keep the bills paid and the ship maintained, which was a stupidly easy job while they weren’t crashing it every few days. Apart from that work was non-existent.

Fry was getting adept at guessing when Farnsworth was experimenting on her predicament. Toward the end of the week he spent nearly all his spare time on the problem, apparently quite enjoying the challenge of altering the very fabric of the universe.

Finally, the day before they were due to leave he seemed to spend most of the morning repeating the same experiment over and over again. Shortly after lunch Farnsworth quite suddenly turned up in the employee lounge and handed Fry a note. “Look after this for me” was all he said before returning to the lab. An hour later he came into the room holding a similar piece of paper and then looked around, his gaze abruptly resting on the clock. With a slightly more confused expression than he normally wore he turned and retreated from the room again, mumbling under his breath. Fry looked at the folded note and, for once, managed to overcome her latent curiosity. She pocketed the paper and opened another beer.

The sun was low when the others started to arrive. Normally Fry would have gone home by then but she just couldn’t deal with the prospect of facing Bender on what was rapidly becoming his turf. She’d packed a few necessities that morning and stashed them on the ship, along with an evening gown and some other formal wear that Amy had picked out for her.

The door rattled as someone entered. Fry stood up, dropped her empty beer behind the couch and smoothed down her shirt as the lounge door opened. It was Hermes. He looked at Fry, seemed about to say something and then turned away.

“Well hi, Hermes,” Fry said under her breath. “Nice to see you too.”

Hermes’ shoulders tensed but he didn’t reply. LaBarbara entered a moment later and made a beeline for Fry. “Goodness, is that really you, Fry?”

“Last time I checked,” Fry stuttered as LaBarbara swept her up in a great big hug that lasted just a little too long to be comfortable. Fry squirmed her grasp. “Ah-heh, it’s nice to see you too.”

“You sure have changed. When that husband of mine told me what happened, I didn’t see to believe it, but here we are!” LaBarbara leaned closed to fry. “So, how you enjoyin your time as a woman? You had yoursel any fun yet?”

Fry swallowed and let out a nervous giggle. Fortunately Amy’s arrival gave her the escape she needed. Fry harried LaBarbara over to Amy and then shot over to the far side of the room, putting the table between them and herself.

Leela arrived a moment later, sporting a large case with airholes drilled in it. She shrugged at Fry’s quizzical expression and headed straight for the ship, shortly followed by everyone but Fry herself.

Then Bender arrived, sporting a cigar that was, surprisingly, unlit. He strolled across the lounge and sat opposite Fry.

“Hey Bender.”

“Fry.” Bender sat back, chewing on his cigar with whatever passed for teeth in that mouth of his. He took out the stoogie and stared at it. “These things don’t look so cool when they aren’t lit.”

“No,” Fry said. She took a deep breath, expecting Bender to light up and blow smoke in her face like he always did. Nothing happened. “Bender? Are you okay?”

Bender laid the cigar on the table and stared at it. “As a robot I don’t usually feel much in the way of emotion. I could light this thing up and then set your hair on fire with it and all I’d think about was how incredibly funny you looked.”

“You aren’t doing it though,” Fry replied. She touched her hair. She’d got quite proud of her recent styling attempts, it wouldn’t put her in the best of moods if she lost it all. “I hope?”

“Sometimes I do feel emotions,” Bender continued, picking up the cigar again, turning it this way and that. “I don’t like the ones I’m feeling right now. They’re distracting me from my work.”

“Bender you don’t have any work,” Fry said, folding her arms. “How can you be distracted from doing nothing?”

“Hey, I never tell you how to feel emotions!” Bender sighed and put the cigar away. “Fry, I can’t live with you this way. I can’t have any fun. When you were a guy I didn’t think twice about bringing a few fembots home for a little... awww!” Bender’s hands crashed down on the table. “See? I can’t even talk to you about it any more!”

“Why? It’s not like you ever had that problem around Leela and Amy,” Fry retorted. She pushed her chair back just in case Bender did something more destructive to the table. Bender peered at her, then folded his arms and looked away.

“That’s because they’ve always been women, and they don’t live with me.” He stood up and paced for a moment. “All my memories record you as a man, and now you’re not. It’s wrong.”

“‘Does not compute’ huh?” Fry laughed at her own joke until she noticed Bender wasn’t laughing with her. In fact he was glaring. “Okay, not funny. Look, Bender, if it makes you feel better you can pretend I’m someone else, or I can move out or something.”

“I don’t know about that,” Bender said.

“What, the rent? Bender...”

Bender turned to look at Fry, and for the first time she saw the emotions he was feeling, however badly the were expressed. Bender sighed. “Fry, if it was just about rent I would have got some other meat sack to pay and thrown you out weeks ago.”

“You did try to throw me out a few times,” Fry pointed out. She stood up and moved around the table until she was near the door. Bender followed her a few steps.

“That? Uhh...” Bender’s fingers tapped out something in binary as he thought. “Spring cleaning?”

Fry rolled her eyes. “Har.”

“Look, I’m really trying to reach out here Fry. I got a book on how to talk to women and everything!” He reached into his chest compartment and pulled out a tattered book as proof. Fry took the book and skimmed through the pages, though none of it seemed particularly ground-breaking. She passed it back. “I can do this,” Bender said, closing his chest compartment again. “I even used that phrase. ‘Reach Out’. Easy!”

“The thing is, you might not have to for much longer,” Fry said. She felt a strange tingle in her neck and glanced up at the ceiling; was the Professor was doing the same experiment again?

“So you’re telling me-”

“This time next week I’ll probably be a guy again.”

“Oh.” Bender looked away. Fry tried to catch his eye again, walking around until she was in front of his face, but he kept turning away until his head was facing backwards.

“What’s the matter, I thought you’d be happy?”

“Yeah. I think my emotion circuits must be faulty or something,” Bender said, letting out another sigh. “It certainly can’t be because I’m getting used to the way things are now.”

“You... want me to stay like this?”

Bender suddenly turned and looked at Fry. “Hell no! I want my friend back!”

Fry shook her head and smiled. “I am your friend, Bender.” She glanced at the clock and noticed the time. “Oh hell, come on, we’d better hurry or they’ll leave us behind.”

“Great, you go and I’ll sell all your girly stuff on e-bay.” Bender laughed until Fry hit him with a chair. “Ow...”

Bender stumbled forward and whacked his head on the table, sending a spray of sparks into the air as he dislodged some vital piece of equipment. Fry closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. She dragged the concussed robot out to the hangar, where Leela was waiting at the bottom of the ship’s gangway, tapping her foot. She tapped her wristbox and glared at Fry.

“I’m sorry!”

“We’re going to be late. What were you doing anyway,” she added, looking down at Bender. “Or do I want to know?”

Fry shook Bender’s arm, which promptly fell out of its socket. “Probably not. Can you help me get him up the stairs?”

Leela hooked her arm under Bender and lifted him upright. “Ugh, I forgot how heavy robots could be. Zoidberg!”

The decapodian appeared at the stop of the gangway and peered down at Leela with a pleasant expression. “Hello.”

“Zoidberg, be a dear and drag Bender up the stairs for us will you?”

“Oh, so now I’m a lifter why not...” Zoidberg seemed to almost dribble down the gangway. He looked at Bender. “Hmm, this robot is seriously ill. Tell me Bender, have you punched yourself in the head recently?”

“No,” Bender replied.

“Perhaps you should then!” Zoidberg grabbed Bender’s legs and started hauling him up the steps. “So are we going anywhere interesting for our holidays this year, hmm? I expect we’re going somewhere with lots of sandy beaches. Zoidberg loves sandy beaches, so many different kinds of free food... And we’re going! You’re so kind.”

Half way up the stairs Bender grabbed old of the rail and suddenly pulled himself upright. “If I walk the rest of the way will you stop talking?”

“Do I still get to join you on the beach?”

“No!” Bender stormed up the stairs and into the ship, trailed by a sad looking Zoidberg.

“I guess the Professor isn’t coming,” Leela said as they climbed the steps. Fry paused near the top and looked back across the hangar.

“Guess not,” she said, before entering the ship. Fry followed Leela up to the flight deck and took a seat by the communications console.

Amy was at her usual place by the engineering console, and Bender was lounging on the observation couch at the front of deck in a thick pall of cigar smoke. The others were sequestered in their cabins. Leela sat herself down in the captain’s chair and stared at the front windows. “Well, we’d better get this show on the road.”

“What about Samuel?”

“Oh, we’re picking him up,” Leela said as the ship’s engines wound up to full power. They lifted out of the hangar and turned west, drifting along a few hundred feet above the Hudson river until they reached an apartment block on the river-bank. Leela set the ship down in a park just beyond the apartments. “I’ll be right back,” she said, before running from the ship.

Bender blew a smoke-ring toward the ceiling. “Feh. Show-off.”

Fry couldn’t help but agree.

The apartment block was fairly typical for the district. Low rent, but not minimal, and quite well appointed. Leela was about to press the buzzer for Samuel’s apartment when he appeared at the lobby door. “Leela!”

“Hi Sam.” Leela grinned and took Samuel’s hands in her own. “It’s nice to see you. Are you all packed?”

“Got everything I need right here,” Samuel said, holding up a hold-all. “I figure we aren’t going to be there long enough to justify more than a couple of days worth of underwear.”

“That’s... nice, Sam. Very nice.” Leela looked to one side for a moment, then beamed at Samuel. “Come on, we’re in the park.”

“Yes, I saw the landing lights...” They walked down the road toward the park entrance hand in hand, both smiling private smiles.

“So, what’s the deal with Philippa then?”

“Hm?” Leela stopped in her tracks. “What about her?”

“Oh, you two seem to be very close,” Samuel said shortly. He hefted the hold-all to a more secure position before continuing. “First time you came into Maxine’s I thought you were a... well...”

“A what, couple?” Leela laughed, and Samuel couldn’t help but smile again. He let out a laugh of his own and shook his head.

“Crazy isn’t it?” They walked on a little distance in a companionable silence, until Samuel spoke again. “Still, you two are awfully close, and you talk about some weird stuff. If I didn’t know better I’d almost think Philippa used to be-”

“If I were to explain it I’d have to understand it myself,” Leela said quietly. She looked at Samuel, her eye betraying a hint of confused longing. “It’s complicated, lets put it that way.”

“Complicated. Got you.” Samuel paused at the park gates and looked up at the dark bulk of the Planet Express ship towering over them. “So this is your ship is it?”

“Well I fly her a lot,” Leela said with a modest shrug. She took Samuel’s hand and lead him toward the gangway. “I can give you a tour if you want.”

“No, no, I’ve seen ships before,” Samuel said, trailing behind Leela. He pulled back as they reached the bottom of the steps, pulling Leela around to face him. “The ship isn’t what I’m interested in.”

“Oh. Uhh...” Leela looked up into Samuel’s eyes and smiled. “I suppose not.”

They stood there for a while, just looking at each other. Then Samuel looked up at the darkening sky; a few stars were starting to appear. “Incredible really. I’ve been on a few journeys out there but I never looked at the stars before. You get to look at them all the time.”

“Yeah...” Leela didn’t bother looking up at the sky. She stared at Samuel with rapt attention until he looked back at her again. Leela turned pink and looked at the floor. “We... we should probably get going,” she said, feeling strangely awkward.

“In a moment,” Samuel replied. He brushed his hand against Leela’s face. “You know, I think I fell in love with you the moment you walked through my door,” he said. Leela coughed and looked away, trying to hide her blushing cheeks.


“No, don’t say anything,” Samuel said as he gently turned Leela’s face back toward him. “Whatever happens later, whatever you’re thinking, it doesn’t matter. This moment is everything.”

Leela bit her lip and nodded a tiny nod. She closed her eye.

Fry watched them kiss from the shelter of the gangway, glad that the shadows of the hatch were hiding her face. She felt light-headed as she watched, her stomach fluttering with unaccustomed jealousy and loss. Her mouth was dry. She bit down on her knuckle to muffle a quiet sob as they kissed more passionately, yet there was no passion to her sadness. Fry backed away before their kiss broke, unable to watch, unable to face the final, inevitable conclusion of her change. There was no insane jealousy, no anger at another touching Leela, being close to her in the ways she had once desired. There was nothing but a void. The sudden emptiness would have overwhelmed her but for a single spark of something that might have been love, that let Fry see beyond herself for just a moment.

Leela was free of a burden she had carried ever since they had met. A brief smile played across Fry’s face as she retreated to her cabin, even as the tears started to well up in her eyes.

In the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why he’d come down with it, and then at the clock. He grumbled and put the note on the table, then returned to his lab.

In the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why he’d come down with it, and then at the clock. He grumbled and put the note on the table, then returned to his lab. A chance gust of air lifted the note and carried it to the edge of the table, where it teetered for a moment before flopping to the floor.

In the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why he’d come down with it, then at the clock. He was about to put the note on the table when he saw another piece of paper lying on the floor next to it, folded up the same way. Farnsworth grumbled and picked up the note. He unfolded it carefully and read the note it contained.

“Oh,” he mumbled, looking up at the lab. “Oh my...”