Futurama

Fan Fiction

A River With Currents
By coldangel_1

Time is fluid ... like a river with currents, eddies, backwash.”

-Spock. Star Trek: The Original Series, ‘The City on the Edge of Forever’.

Prologue:

………….

“They’re leaving, Sir!” she said, looking alarmed. “The smuggler vessel is lifting off!”

“What the hell?!” Zapp leaned forward. “What happened to my strike team?”

“I called them off, sir,” Kif said calmly.

Zapp turned on him, his face red. “You WHAT!?”

Kif returned his glare serenely and said nothing.

“You traitorous little reptile!” Zapp spat. “I should tear that smug look off your damn face – how dare you defy me!?” He dismissed the alien with a wave of his hand and turned to the helmsman. “Take off – pursue them!” he said.

“No!” Kif shouted, and Zapp looked at him in amazement. “We’re not chasing them.”

The helmsman looked confused, glancing back and fourth between Zapp and Kif.

“I said take off and pursue!” Zapp all-but screamed, without taking his eyes off Kif. “I’m the Captain – you do as I command!”

The helmsman complied, and a deep reverberation filled the giant warship as it lifted slowly off the planet surface.

“Energize weapons!” Zapp shouted. “Blast them out of the sky! If I can’t have her, then she can burn!”

“But… you can’t do that!” Kif cried. The crew watched the battle of wills in breathless anticipation.

“I can do whatever I want! I’m a Starship Captain!

“Open fire!” Zapp yelled, pointing at the little green ship on the forward viewscreen.

“Belay-that-order!” Kif countered, shouting louder than he’d ever shouted before. The bridge crew didn’t know what to do.

Zapp surged forward with insane eyes and slammed his fist into Kif’s stomach, causing him to double over with an explosion of expelled air.

“Don’t listen to this traitor!” Zapp snarled, spittle flying from his mouth. “Shoot them down – now! I’m in charge!”

“Not… anymore!” Kif wheezed, straightening with difficulty. “Captain… Zapp Brannigan – for attempting to destroy a civilian spacecraft… without warning or proper provocation… I am hereby relieving you of command.”

“You can’t do that!”

“I can… and am,” Kif said. “Like I should have a long time ago.” Kif pointed at the two soldiers stationed at the door. “Airmen, escort the Captain to the brig,” he said. The two soldiers happily complied, hurrying forward and placing the shocked Zapp in restraints.

“You filthy little worm…” Zapp said, incredulous, as he was led away. “I’ll see you hanged for this. YOU HEAR ME, KIF? HANGED!!”

Kif ignored the continued shouts as the soldiers pulled Zapp out of the bridge and away. He breathed out a long breath and rubbed his belly where the fist imprint was slowly fading.

“Break off pursuit,” he told the crew finally. “Weapons safe. Log the smuggling vessel as unidentified.”

The female ensign glanced at Kif questioningly. “But sir,” she said, “we have the ship’s registration code. We know who they are.”

Kif looked at her tiredly. “How would you like to become my new Officer in Charge of Shutting-the-Hell-Up?” he asked. The ensign took his meaning and nodded, registering the vessel as an unknown.

With some reluctance, Kif lowered himself into the command chair, wondering how long he would remain there. On the forward screen he watched the Planet Express ship continue off into orbit and then further into deep space. He sighed in relief.

*********************************************************

Futurama: A River with Currents.

Caption: ‘Back by unpopular demand’.

*********************************************************

Taco-Bellevue Hospital.

An unfamiliar ceiling greeted him when he woke. It wasn’t the ceiling he normally saw upon waking – this was a clean ceiling, free of pancakes and syrup stains. A clinical ceiling to match the antiseptic smell and crisp sheets.

A hospital.

Sticking bandages covered one side of his face, and when he tried to lift his right arm to probe the area he found that the arm was missing, nothing left but a nub of bandages at the shoulder.

So…

Recollection unfolded like the blossoming of some putrescent black flower, and he let out a long gasp of horror. A door opened and a robot walked in. Fry glanced up at Bender, noting that the robot had a number of replacement parts looking shiny against the rest of his chassis.

“So, you’re awake,” Bender said unnecessarily. “You were starting to worry me.”

“What happened?” Fry rasped, eyes wide.

Bender paused meaningfully. “…Just… take it easy for a bit, okay meatbag?”

“Tell me!” Fry tried to sit up, and pain lanced through his battered body, culminating at the stump where his right arm had been. He gasped and gritted his teeth.

“Hey, calm down,” Bender ordered, planting a metal hand on Fry’s chest. “You been through a rough patch, and you skintubes ain’t as easy to fix as robots.”

“Bender…” Fry whispered desperately. “Where is she?”

Bender stared down at his friend for a long moment. When he responded it was with a voice full of sorrow that seemed almost impossible from a robot.

“She’s gone, buddy,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Fry squeezed his eyes shut and wept.

One week earlier: March 12th, 3006

DOOP headquarters, Weehawken, New Jersey.

By special admission afforded by their past exploits, and a shared sense of morbid fascination, the four crewmembers of Planet Express attended the court-martialling of Captain Zapp Brannigan. They’d seen the megalomaniac stripped of rank before, though this time it looked as though there would be no going back.

Brannigan had well and truly lost his mind. Not even his personal friend, Earth President Richard Nixon, would agree to testify on his behalf for fear of political damage.

The broad, flabby back of ‘The Zapper’ could be seen taking up the defendant booth on one side of the courtroom. A bland prison outfit had replaced his usual velure uniform, but he still held himself with the same pompous arrogance – shoulders squared and head tilted back.

Fry, Leela, Bender, and Amy, looked down from their secluded chairs at the top of the amphitheatre, taking care not to be seen by Zapp as the reptilian DOOP President made her way to the podium. Fry sat beside Leela and squeezed her hand.

“This day’s been a long time coming, huh?” he whispered.

The Cyclops smiled thinly and nodded. Brannigan’s ever-present looming influence across the cosmos had been a particularly personal vexation for her, and she was anxious to see justice finally done so that the door could be shut on a series of events she’d just as soon forget.

President Glab banged her gavel, and the trial of Zapp Brannigan began.

“Zapp Brannigan, you stand accused of wanton dereliction of duty as an officer of DOOP and demonstrable unsuitability for command. How do you plead?”

Brannigan leaned forward. “Absolutely 99% not guilty!” he declared.

“Then the prosecutor will call on his first witness,” Glab said.

The Hyperchicken stood up from his table and strutted to the middle of the room, stopping to randomly peck at something on the floor along the way.

“Your honour, if it please the court I say I’ll call up Captain Kif Kroker.”

“Peh!” Zapp snorted loudly. “‘Captain’? He’s not fit to scrub a Captain’s backside.”

“Order!” Glab shouted, glaring at Brannigan.

The diminutive green alien emerged from the adjoining room to take the witness stand. He glanced at Zapp with an unreadable expression and Zapp glared back at him.

“Oh Kiffy!” Amy whispered, clasping her hands together.

“Captain Kroker,” the Hyperchicken drawled. “D’you mind explaining to the jury why y’all feel that the former Captain of the Nimbus sitting over yonder is unfit for DOOP command?”

“I would be happy to,” Kif replied. “Zapp Brannigan is the worst Commanding officer I’ve ever suffered the misfortune of serving under. His apparent list of legendary exploits has been gained with the blood of good men whom he considers little more than cannon-fodder, not to mention his outrageous exaggerations and outright lies for the purpose of self-promotion.”

A cheer went up from the crowd of DOOP officers and airmen who took up most of the viewing gallery, prompting the President to bang her gavel repeatedly until the noise died down.

“I assumed command of the Nimbus when Captain Brannigan attempted an unprovoked full-scale assault on a small civilian trading vessel to satisfy his own ego,” Kif said. “This was the last in a long series of infractions and I did not take action for the purpose of furthering my own career. On the contrary, I would be happy to re-assume my previous rank when an appropriate replacement is found.”

Kif produced a thick folder of documents that he dropped heavily on the bench in front of him.

“With the court’s approval,” he said, “I would like to submit the accumulated written testimony of the entire crew of the Nimbus, detailing more than two thousand separate incidences of gross incompetence, brazen disregard for the sanctity of life, and imposition of personal motivations over duty.”

“I’m going to allow this,” Glab said, motioning for the bailiff to recover the folder.

Zapp sat silently motionless as the documents were fed into the court’s Artificial Intelligence unit. The Planet Express crew looked on happily.

“The testimony is submitted,” President Glab said. “The jury is directed to turn its attention to their consoles.”

There were gasps of horror from the multi-species jury as they scanned the condensed data on Brannigan’s numerous crimes. Minutes passed.

“Now,” the Hyperchicken said at length. “I’d like to ask the jury one question. Are y’all gonna vote for, or against Mr Brannigan there?”

A chorus of ‘against’ followed, and the President banged her gavel. “The Jury is instructed to disregard its own testimony!” she said.

“Your honour!” the Hyperchicken announced. “The prosecution rests!” With that, and a loud cluck, he tucked his head under one wing and appeared to go to sleep.

“Zapp Brannigan, the evidence against you is strong,” the President said, addressing the defendant’s booth. “Have you anything to say in your defence.”

“One thing, your honour,” Brannigan replied, standing up. “I would like… a glass of water.”

A murmur went through the audience and the President’s green brow furrowed in confusion. “Very well,” she said uncertainly.

The bailiff brought a pitcher of water and Zapp slowly poured himself a glass, and then stood holding it, staring into space.

“You know,” he said, “a very sexy and heroic starship Captain once remarked that in the game of chess you never let your opponent see your pieces.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a capsule no larger than a button.

Glab narrowed her eyes. “What is that?” she demanded.

“This?” Zapp said, lifting the little pill so that all could see. “This is the insurance policy I kept concealed beneath a strategically cultivated fold of fat for nearly ten years in case I ever needed it. This is shrewdness and forward-planning, the strengths of a true leader.”

Leela lunged up from her chair and shouted. “It’s a suicide pill! Stop him!”

The court guards rushed forward, but instead of swallowing it, Zapp dropped the little pill into the glass of water, and with a loud popping sound it began to expand, breaking the glass and forming into a familiar shape.

“…Okay, it’s not a suicide pill.” Leela sunk back down.

Zapp gripped the now re-hydrated positron blaster and grinned savagely. “Case DISMISSED!” he shouted, levelling the weapon and opening fire at the approaching guards.

The courtroom erupted into screams of terror and panicked scrambling for safety as blasts of superheated plasma sizzled through the air.

“Oh man, this is great!” Bender said excitedly. “I should really watch court-TV more often!”

After dispatching the guards, Zapp aimed the gun up at the President and fired through her podium, blasting a hole though the timber stand and the middle of her torso with a shower of splinters and green blood. The President fell dead to the floor and Zapp turned his attention elsewhere, roasting the Hyperchicken with a close proximity blast.

Kif leapt over the witness table and rushed headlong at the deranged gunman, diving at Brannigan in a desperate attempt to grapple the weapon from his hands. Zapp caught the movement and swung the gun up to crack against Kif’s head, sending the little alien sprawling.

“And now, a reckoning,” he said, looming over Kif and pointing the gun down at his head.

“No!” Amy shouted, lurching up from her seat and scrambling forward.

“Hey, down in front – I’m watchin’ this,” Bender complained.

Leela was already moving, overtaking Amy and barging past a few straggling evacuees. She ignored Fry’s cry for her to stop and leapt headlong over the balustrade, flying through the air and crash-tackling Zapp to the ground.

The two of them rolled together, both scrabbling at the gun, which discharged a few times, blasting chunks out of the floor and ceiling. By sheer weight, Zapp managed pin Leela beneath him, and the two grappled for the positron rifle.

“The lovely, luscious Leela,” Zapp hissed. “How appropriate for you to be here, at the end of all things.”

“It’s the end for you, Zapp,” Leela growled. “You’re not gonna take anyone else down with you.”

“If you don’t want to go down with me, then why not go down ON me?” Zapp sneered, ripping the gun out of Leela’s hands.

“You disgusting pig!” The barrel of the blaster pointed straight at Leela’s face and she glared up defiantly.

“Suck on this then, you one-eyed whore!” Zapp spat, caressing the trigger.

A black sneaker at the end of a denim-clad leg caught Zapp in the side of the face, throwing him back violently. The gun went off, sending a spear of plasma into the floor next to Leela’s head. Fry jumped over Leela, ready to follow through with another kick, but the main doors of the courtroom flew open and a dozen heavily-armed soldiers rushed inside, pointing their assault lasers at everyone present. Fry froze in mid stride, and Zapp looked up with manic eyes.

For a heartbeat there was stillness.

Zapp moved first, lunging to where Amy was crouched over Kif’s prostrate form. He grabbed the Martian girl by the hair and hauled her up in front of him.

“Spleeeaagh!” Amy screamed as the barrel of Zapp’s gun was pressed against her temple.

“Amy!” Kif squeaked from the floor, reaching up. Zapp kicked him away and began backing up.

“I’m walking out of here!” Zapp yelled at the soldiers. “If anyone follows, I’ll turn this girl into a steaming pile of minced Swiss cheese.”

Zapp backed away toward a side door and pushed back through disappearing and dragging Amy with him.

“Oh Gods, no,” Kif gasped, scrambling after the fleeing madman. “Not Amy!” Leela, Fry, and the troupe of soldiers followed, and finally a reluctant Bender trailed behind.

They spilled out into the garbage-strewn car-park of DOOP Headquarters in time to see a small shuttlecraft lift off and blast away into the sky.

“Come on – what are you waiting for?” Leela shouted at the DOOP soldiers. “Go after him – he has our friend!”

“No can do, missy,” the lead soldier grunted apologetically. “We’re ground troops, you see. Our life insurance won’t pay up if we’re killed above the ground.”

“Oh for the love of…” Kif wrung his hands in frustration. “Leela, I will need to make use of your ship, if I could just…”

“Of course,” Leela said. “Let’s go!” She spotted the antenna ball of the Planet Express ship nestled among the other spacecraft and started toward it with the others in tow, Bender grumbling about them ‘needlessly endangering his banjo’.

Zapp piloted the little shuttlecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, his face set in fevered determination.

“What do you think you’ll accomplish?” Amy sobbed from the floor. “This is just a candlepower transport – you can’t even get out of Earth’s orbit in it.”

“Shut up, bitch!” Zapp snarled, glaring ahead. The dome of the Orbiting Meadows funeral asteroid loomed ahead, passing across the sun. “There are grave happenings afoot,” he muttered, giggling at his own joke. The radar chimed and Zapp noted the approaching contact with grim satisfaction.

“Endgame,” he whispered.

Leela backed off the engines as she watched the wayward shuttlecraft dock with the funeral asteroid.

“What the hell is he doing?” she muttered to herself, setting a course to intercept with Orbiting Meadows.

“I’m gonna break open the armoury,” Fry said, moving back toward the companionway.

“I should do this alone,” Kif said, gripping the back of Leela’s chair. “It’s my responsibility – there’s no reason for you or your crew to endanger yourselves.”

“Stow that line of crap!” Leela snapped. “Amy’s our friend… and besides…” her voice grew quiet “…Zapp’s state of mind is partly my fault.”

“That’s not true,” Kif said.

Leela shook her head, silencing any further discussion. She eased the ship through the dome’s docking gate and settled it down next to the abandoned shuttlecraft.

Orbiting Meadows

The two Marines who had been stationed in the orbiting graveyard were sprawled at their posts, blood congealing on the grass around their prostrate forms.

“He’s been through here,” Leela said needlessly, narrowing her eye and switching the safety off her laser pistol. “Everyone form up on me – keep your eyes peeled.” She moved ahead into the cemetery area with Fry, Bender, and Kif following close behind, each of them brandishing outdated weapons from the PE ship’s meagre arsenal.

Fry took a deep breath and wobbled on his feet. “What the?” he looked around. “I just got a little woozy,” he said. “Does everything smell grey all of a sudden?”

The others stopped and sniffed.

“You’re right,” Leela said. “The air smells odd.”

“Too much Oxygen,” Kif said. “That isn’t good.”

“Why?” Bender asked, confused. “I thought Oxygen was good for you disgusting organic lifeforms.”

“Too much of it can be bad,” Leela replied. “It can be poisonous… and worse than that, it can act as a flammable catalyst that…” she looked down at the gun in her hand and grimaced.

“Oh wonderful,” Kif grumbled angrily. “NOW he decides to get smart.”

“What? What’s the problem?” Fry was having difficulty following the conversation.

“We can’t fire our weapons,” Leela explained. “Without risk of setting the atmosphere alight and blowing this entire station to rubble.”

“That would be bad? …Yes, probably bad.”

“Weapons safe,” Leela instructed.

“That’s right!” a loud voice called from across the cemetery and they all looked up in alarm to see Zapp Brannigan standing on top of a large tombstone, holding his blaster aloft and grinning.

“I rigged the scrubbers to recycle too richly – with every passing minute the air in here becomes more and more Oxygen-saturated,” he said, laughing harshly. “One shot and you’ll all be cremated like underpants left too long in the oven.”

“We’ve come for Amy,” Kif said. “Let her go and we’ll leave – she’s all we want.”

“Still crawling after the waif, eh?” Zapp snarled. “Very well then.” He reached down and dragged Amy out from behind the tombstone, throwing her forward onto the ground.

“Glouch!” Amy complained, scrambling to her feet and racing to hide behind Kif.

“We’re leaving, Zapp,” Leela said, taking a step back. “We don’t want any more trouble. You’re free to stay here and gas yourself amongst the tombstones if that’s…”

“Don’t move another inch!” Zapp bellowed, pointing his blaster at the group.

They all gaped at the lunatic.

“But… you can’t fire your gun either,” Fry said, frowning. “It’ll blow us all up just the same. Don’t you realize…?”

“He knows,” Leela murmured, wide-eyed. “He doesn’t care.”

Zapp began laughing, quietly at first, and gradually louder, until he was all but screaming with laughter and sending specks of spittle flying from his mouth.

“Ha…hahahaha!” Bender joined in, chortling and slapping his metal thigh as Zapp continued to cackle insanely.

“Oh Jeez…” Fry muttered. “Last time I heard a laugh like that it was from my elementary school English teacher right before she tore off all her clothes and started eating chalk. I think he’s really lost it.”

“Spluh!” Amy said, still cowering behind Kif. “When’d you come to that conclusion?”

“Oh I dunno,” Bender said, chuckling and wiping his eye. “I think this jerkwad’s a lot more fun than he used to be.”

Kif stepped forward, discarding his useless gun and glaring up at Zapp.

“This is between you and me, Zapp,” he said quietly. “Let the others go.”

Zapp stopped laughing and leapt down from the tombstone. He strutted over to Kif and glared down at the green alien.

“How quickly you’ve become accustomed to giving out orders, you putrescent little pipsqueak,” he growled. “Well I’m going to do a service for you and that burgeoning ego of yours.” He waved the barrel of his blaster under Kif’s nose. “We’re going to be remembered. I’m gonna make you a piece of history… actually, make that thousands of pieces of history… you and the lickable Leela, and her pathetic friends… mahahaha!”

“Hah, this guy’s a hoot!” Bender said, and then paused in reflection. “Hey wait a sec… I’m one of Leela’s pathetic friends! Oh my God – he’s a murderous madman!”

Zapp smirked. “Murderous? Yes. Madman? Yes.” He glanced up through the dome to see a small flotilla of DOOP ships and police craft closing on the funeral station. “Aha,” he chirped. “The audience is here! Time to meet our maker… let’s hope God is a sexy, many-breasted lady deity.”

“Well actually…” Bender began, but trailed off as Zapp lifted his gun up into the air theatrically.

“RUN!” Leela screamed, spinning on her heel and herding the others toward the airlock.

“There’s nowhere to go…” Zapp whispered to himself, and pulled the trigger.

Zapp’s positron blast cut through the air, leaving a flaming trail that flared and expanded. He laughed as the incandescent fireball billowed out and engulfed him. The last thing that registered in his mind was a smell of frying fat.

The atmosphere erupted in flames that expanded out rapidly. The five fleeing figures were caught by the blast wave and lifted off the ground as it pushed them through the access tunnel, limbs flailing and screams stifled by the roar of burning air. Leela felt something strike her in the side – a piece of debris travelling at high speed – and pain lanced through her.

They all landed in a heap next to the Planet Express ship, and flames licked all around them for a moment, charring clothes and hair, before the inferno suddenly whipped away and a tremendous gale picked up. They climbed to their feet and looked up through the small secondary dome to see the main cemetery enclosure rupture into shards and explode outward into vacuum, sucking the fire and the air out with it.

“Oh my…” Kif gasped as the wind picked up speed. “Atmospheric breech!”

“Into the ship!” Leela shouted over the rushing air, clutching the wound in her side.

As they ran up the embarkation star of the Planet Express ship, the whole asteroid shuddered sickeningly and vast clouds of dust and vapour whipped past, out through the access tunnel and into the void. Fry was the last up the ramp, and he had to grab hold of the railing at the top to stop from being pulled away by the monumental gale of escaping air. Leela hit the emergency close button and the ramp ascended, sealing the ship and causing it to topple forward and roll on its side.

“Arrragh!” Leela cried as she fell against the bulkhead. Blood spilled from the wound in her side, and she felt a peculiar coldness creep up from the wound.

“Leela, you’re bleeding!” Fry said, starting forward to help her.

“So are you,” Leela noted, gesturing to his face where impact with the ground had torn a gash in his right cheek.

“I’m fine,” Fry waved it off. “But we need to get you looked at and…” he trailed off as the ship shuddered again.

“It’ll have to wait,” Leela said grimly, pressing a hand over the wound and making her way aft toward the cockpit. “I think that atmospheric vent may have damaged the asteroid’s orbit… pushed us…” she stepped out onto the bridge and took in the view through the ship’s forward viewscreen and the plexiglass partition of the docking dome. The magnificent disc of the Earth had tilted up to meet them and now filled the view – a beautiful, horrifying panorama that drew nearer with each passing second.

“We’re falling…” Amy said, staring ahead.

“Well, see you all in hell,” Bender remarked cheerfully.

One week later.

Taco-Bellevue Hospital.

Fry walked through the hospital corridors aimlessly, not caring that there was no back in his hospital gown. He needed time alone – the entire remaining crew of Planet Express had visited him throughout the day, but their presence only served to drive home the reality of that one glaring absence. Leela was dead. Dead.

They’d tried to put on brave faces (except Scruffy, who unashamedly sobbed into his moustache), but the looming grief was as obvious as Fry’s missing arm.

When he reached the coffee machine he tried to hit the button with his non-existent right hand, and sighed.

Overhead, a television was mounted on the wall showing the evening news. Fry tried to focus on Morbo’s bulbous green head as a welcome distraction. The monster read a report.

“PATHETIC humans’ preoccupation with placing immense objects above their own heads came to hilarious fruition this week when asteroid funeral station, Orbiting Meadows, was destroyed by insane Earthling Zapp Brannigan. The asteroid fell from Earth orbit and made impact in the South Pacific Ocean.

“An estimated TWELVE MILLION PITIFUL HUMANS have been killed in New Zealand, the eastern coast of Australia, New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands – swamped by giant tsunamis. BWAHAHAHAHA!!”

Fry gaped at the television. “Twelve million people?” he murmured to himself.

“Ah, it’s not so bad,” A cheerful sardonic voice from behind him said. “Most of them were only Australians anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.”

Fry turned to see the surgeon robot, iHawk. The robot switched its personality mode from ‘irreverent’ to ‘maudlin’ and looked suddenly downcast. “Such a pointless loss of life,” he muttered depressingly.

“I wonder…” Fry said, “if this was what Zapp intended.”

“That’s what they’re saying,” the robot replied, flipping his personality switch back to irreverent. “He was crazy in the coconut! Couldn’t be a hero anymore so he chose to be a villain.” And back to maudlin: “…You get your place in the history books either way…”

Fry suddenly remembered Bender’s brief obsession with being remembered and his subsequent reign of terror on Osiris IV. He shuddered inwardly.

“You should be in bed, kid,” iHawk said. “But then again, by rights you should be in a coffin too. Guess there’s no keeping you down.”

At the mention of a coffin, Fry broke down and began to weep. “Oh God!” he cried. “She’s gone… she’s really gone… I… I don’t know what to do.”

“So you lost someone you love,” iHawk said sadly, then flicked back to irreverent. “Lost love, lost arm, lost mind. It’s all right – people lose things all the time. I lost my wallet earlier when your friend Bender was visiting.”

“Thanks, but that’s not really the same.

Maudlin: “You’re right… I’m just a cold-hearted machine incapable of entering the inner sanctum of true emotion.” iHawk brightened up with a flick of his switch. “Now how ‘bout we see to that missing limb of yours, chum?”

Fry found himself sitting in a surgical chair as a number of robots worked around the stump of his right arm, affixing steel rods and insulated cables. He couldn’t afford bio-replication so he’d settled for a cybernetic prosthesis… not that he cared either way… his mind was a million miles away. Back in the ship in those last minutes…

One week earlier.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

All of the atmosphere from the Orbiting Meadows station and exploded outwards toward interstellar space and provided enough retro-thrust to send the asteroid toppling slowly toward the Earth’s atmosphere.

Orbiting Meadows wouldn’t be orbiting much longer.

Leela slumped into the pilot chair of the Planet Express ship with a grunt of pain and hit some buttons on her console.

“The station’s going to enter Earth’s atmosphere in under three minutes,” she murmured. “That’s not nearly enough time for people in the effected areas to evacuate… oh God… Zapp, what have you done?”

Fry caught her meaning and gritted his teeth at the implications. “What can we do from here?” he asked grimly.

“Not a damn thing,” Leela replied. “Just hope and pray… and try to save our own asses.”

“That’s the winning Bender attitude!” Bender said. “Now lets…” He was cut off by a tremendous lurch beneath their feet. The station’s damaged artificial gravity generator was now being affected by the increasing strength of Earth’s gravity well, causing the Planet Express ship to be thrown about the landing pad like a toy. Huge chunks of structural debris and asteroid fragments were torn asunder and pelted the little green ship while outside the first hazy corona of agitated ionospheric particles began licking around the station.

“We have to get out of here,” Leela said, grimacing as fresh pain shot through her side. The movement had made her rock in her chair, and now blood ran freely from the shrapnel wound, staining her tank top and spattering the deck. Fry saw her distress and got up from his station to help, but Leela waved him back.

“Everyone stay strapped-in,” she ordered. “This is gonna get bumpy.”

Fry looked at her with concern but complied, affixing his restraint harness.

“Re-entry trajectory is… unpredictable,” Amy said from the navigation console. “We’re already committed to atmospheric entry, but turbulence from the asteroid’s passage is going to play havoc with our handling… plus we’ll have a whole mess of falling objects to contend with when this rock starts breaking up, not to mention the fact that we’re already moving faster than we should be… Too zai zi! Leela, you think you can handle this?”

Leela narrowed her eye and smirked. “Walk in the park,” she muttered, spooling up the engines and engaging the docking thrusters in one fluid motion. The crew clung to their seats as she manoeuvred the ship to align with the station’s docking gate.

The gate remained closed, its mechanism damaged by the violent explosions, while outside a pink glow had formed around the outside of the asteroid.

“Aii…” Leela groaned. Rolling her eye, she pushed the thrust control all the way forward and the ship lurched ahead, aiming directly at the still-closed gate. The nose of the ship hit the reinforced plexiglass barrier, which gave way, splintering under the force. The PE ship flew onward through the gate tube and impacted the exterior gate in a similar fashion – with another crash and fragmenting plexiglass the ship was free.

…And instantly spinning in violent response to the sudden presence of rushing, burning atmosphere. The little green vessel toppled end-over-end while pilot and gyroscopes fought valiantly to right the uncontrolled tumble.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Kif wheezed as he clutched Amy’s hand. The forward viewscreen showed the looming Earth spinning wildly in and out of frame.

“C’mon you temperamental bitch,” Leela whispered to the ship. With one hand she grasped the manual air-brake handle and yanked it up with all her strength. Large sections of hull on the ship’s nose lifted up in response, catching stratospheric gasses and jolting the ship violently. Leela immediately applied a deft adjustment with the docking thrusters and the ship’s descent snapped into alignment with the Y-axis. The sickening tumble ceased.

“Alright Leela!” Fry shouted exuberantly.

Leela’s face was pale and her lips tinged with blue, but she smiled for him. “Thanks Fry,” she said. “But we aren’t out of the woods y…” she trailed off, looking at the monitor in front of her in horror. “Oh you son of a…”

Above them and all around, the Orbiting Meadows asteroid was fragmenting. Great flaming boulders ranging from hundreds of metres across to pebble-sized meteorites broke away from the main mass, filling the sky with a deadly hail that began shooting past the PE ship on all sides.

Leela swung the control yoke hard from side to side, having to contend with the buffeting force of the onrushing atmosphere as well as an incandescent onslaught of asteroid debris that filled the sky around the PE ship. To avoid the larger chunks of flaming rubble she had to contend with bombardment by smaller meteors that bit into the ship’s hull like bullets. The console schematic showed a number of ruptures and the sound of impacts echoed throughout the hold.

“Hang on!” she shouted over the wailing alarms and the re-entry roar. Kicking the lever down with her boot, Leela disengaged the air-brake while simultaneously pushing the throttle back up to full. The ship’s nose dipped down to face oceans and cloudscapes below and began descending at a dizzying rate, outpacing the asteroid matter into clear sky.

Leela backed the engines down and pulled up, trying to exit the asteroid’s drop zone and bleed off as much velocity as possible. But as the ship struggled to halt its downward plunge, the starboard stabilizer fin trembled and creaked ominously from the upward force. The control surface had been punched through in a number of places by micro-meteorites, and the entire structure was weakened. Leela noticed the danger too late; the fin snapped off with a shriek, spiralling away and sending the PE ship into a violent death roll above the cerulean waves of the Pacific.

The crew were thrown around in their seats like rag dolls. Leela gasped and shouted out wordlessly as the sky and the sea spun around sickeningly in front of her.

“Oh God!” she breathed, wrestling with the unresponsive controls. “I can’t… I can’t… Oh God… I’m so sorry everyone… Brace yourselves.”

Nobody could hear. Fighting against the tremendous G-Forces exerted by their corkscrew descent, Leela operated the console and bled all remaining power to the docking thrusters – it would burn them out, but if she was able to bring the nose up before the ship hit the water then they stood a chance. She engaged the thrusters with a pale, trembling hand, and the ship lurched into violent alignment amid plumes of delta-V, before slamming down, belly-first, on the ocean surface.

The PE ship skimmed like a stone on a lake for about seventy miles, leaving clouds of superheated steam every time it touched the water. Gradually it slowed, digging in, and then bobbing up like a cork with the help of the buoyancy tanks the Professor had installed after their ill-fated fishing trip. It sat in the water, steaming and crackling, while in the distance the asteroid fell and the sky turned blood red.

The cockpit of the PE ship was filled with acrid smoke. Bender’s restraint had broken in the impact due to his weight, and he had bounced around the cabin shedding parts until he fell hard against something soft and wet. When he picked himself up he found the front of his casing was slick with blood.

“Uh oh…” he muttered. “That’s never a good sign.” Looking down he was mortified to see Fry lying unconscious beneath him. Bender’s torso had crushed Fry’s arm into a mangled mess of red pulp and protruding bone fragments. He was still breathing, although erratically.

“Oh crap… I hope humans aren’t emotionally attached to their limbs,” Bender muttered. He looked around. Kif and Amy looked unharmed, and were groggily unstrapping themselves. Leela was slumped over the piloting console. Bender moved to her side and prodded her shoulder.

“Cap, we got a minor medical emergency over here,” Bender said. “Are there any spare arms left in the infirmary?” Leela didn’t move and Bender gently pulled her back up so that she was sitting upright. Her eye was closed and her whole side was wet with blood. Too much blood.

“Oh no… Leela?” Bender gripped her shoulders hard, a surge of electronic dread playing across his circuits. Her eye fluttered briefly and she opened it, focusing on Bender with some difficulty.

Her lips moved, and Bender had to turn up his audio to register her faint words: “Is… everyone… okay…?”

“Everyone’s alive,” Bender replied carefully, hoping she didn’t notice the blood on the front of his casing. “Little banged up and down for the count, but alive.”

“Good…” Leela’s eye closed again. “Tell Fry…”

“Tell him yourself!” Bender snapped angrily. “You’ll be fine.”

“Bender… please…” Leela whispered. “Tell him… tell him I love him.”

Bender stared silently as Leela slumped to one side. “He already knows, kiddo,” he murmured to the dead woman. He kept on staring for long minutes, even when the upper disturbance of a large tsunami passed beneath the ship.

At length he hit the distress signal and moved to tend to Fry. Leela’s body remained sitting in the command chair. The Captain had died on the bridge of her ship.

Two weeks later.

Turanga Leela was buried on a hill in the New New York central cemetery, beneath the spreading limbs of an Alpha-Centorian Royal Purple Cherry Blossom that rained a light sprinkle of delicate petals the same colour as Leela’s hair. While the world mourned the deaths of millions of expendable Australasians, hers was just one more number tacked onto a very long list, but for those close to her, the end of a part of their own lives was etched on the marble headstone.

Her parents, Morris and Munda, attended the funeral. They hadn’t been issued a surface pass, but the authorities weren’t going to argue. Fry’s new hand could crush a man’s skull like a ripe melon, and he was of a mind to do just that; so the Turangas weren’t bothered.

On the fine Autumn day, the crew of Planet Express gathered at the cemetery, along with Leela’s parents, Cubert and Dwight, Nibbler, Kif, her old co-workers from Applied cryogenics, and even Adilai. Stirring speeches were made about Leela as a friend, a captain, a source of cheap labour. Sentiment was expressed about her strength and nobility and unswerving courage… but through it all, the only thing Fry could think about was the fact that she was no longer there.

Fry spoke haltingly of his love for the woman, but the words seemed bland and unworthy. He finished with the simple statement: “It’s not right,” before taking out his holophoner and playing a simple, sad tune, accompanied by illuminated images of Leela twirling majestically on a backdrop of stars.

“Thank you so much, Philip,” Munda said tearfully, dabbing at her eye with a tentacle. “She would have loved it.”

At length, the funeral began to break up. The Professor left to begin construction of a ‘mourning dome’, and Amy and Zoidberg went to help him get home. The others gradually drifted away as well, with nothing left to say and the awkward burden of shared grief that didn’t really want to be shared. Fry and the Turangas remained.

“She was our angel,” Morris said brokenly. “For her to have been taken from us so soon after coming back into our lives, just seems like such a cruel fate.”

Fry nodded silently, staring down at the headstone.

It read: ‘Turanga Leela, 2975 – 3006. Friend, Daughter, Captain. In your eye, we saw ourselves.’

Fry disappeared into the city, and for days nobody saw him. Bender became worried when the Stalinist cockroaches in Fry’s apartment took advantage of his absence and began constructing miniature tanks and aircraft out of discarded Slurm cans for their eventual conquest of the Robot Arms building.

Bender got Amy to help him search, hoping that the orange-haired goon hadn’t wandered into a suicide booth somewhere. After hours of driving around in Amy’s hovercar to all of Fry’s familiar haunts they eventually tracked him to a dingy bar in the Shady district of Manhattan’s Gloomy East Side.

Fry sat alone at the bar, dishevelled and unshaven, nursing the last in a long line of bottles and smoking a cigarette.

“Fry, have you been here all this time?” Bender asked.

Fry glanced up at his two friends and shrugged. “I was at another bar earlier,” he replied with a gravely throat. “But it got demolished to make way for a pet shop… and then the pet shop owner threw me out for getting into a fight with the iguana.”

“You gotta stop this and come home, buddy,” Bender said, putting a hand on his shoulder. Fry turned away and glared morosely at the bar.

“Yeah Fry,” Amy added. “We all miss her, but we have lives to live. We have to go on.”

“No,” Fry muttered. “I don’t have a life now. She was my life. Now I have nothing, I’m just…” He slumped his shoulders. “Just leave me alone guys.”

“Is this what she would have wanted?” Bender pressed.

“This isn’t gonna bring her back, Fry,” Amy said. “You can’t turn back time.”

Fry stared, his mouth hanging open, and with an involuntary spasm of the unfamiliar nano-nerves in his cybernetic arm, shattered the beer bottle. He got to his feet and looked at Bender and Amy with a strange gleam in his eye.

“Why not?” he said. Without waiting for an answer, he turned and hurried out of the bar.

Professor Farnsworth dozed lightly in his chair, surrounded by various implausible and useless inventions. Fry burst into the lab and breathlessly ran over to the Professor, grabbing him by the frail shoulders and shaking him.

“Professor!” Fry shouted. “Professor – wake up! I have something really important I need you to do for me!”

The Professor snored.

Frustrated, Fry began shouting louder. He tried clapping his hands, but the sharp-edged mechanical one bruised his human hand brutally. He picked up a strange spherical device that the Professor had been working on and slammed it down on the bench with a loud crash.

The Professor snored.

Fry was about ready to start slapping the old man when a quiet ‘ding’ sounded from the other end of the room. The Professor awoke spluttering at the small sound and lurched to his feet, hobbling past Fry as if he wasn’t there and moving to an oven. He opened the oven and reached inside.

“At last!” he exclaimed, brandishing a baking dish. “I’ve managed to bake a sentient cake!”

“A sentient cake?” Fry repeated, mystified.

“That’s right, whoever you are,” the Professor said, putting the cake down on the bench. “A cake that can think and feel and engage in conversation.”

“You take the cake, Professor-F!” the cake said happily.

“Shut up!” the Professor snapped angrily.

“I need your help,” Fry said.

“I’ll do whatever I can,” the cake replied helpfully.

“Not you!” Fry turned to the Professor. “I need you to build me a time machine,” he said.

“Preposterous!” the old man said. “Time travel is scientifically impossible – it simply can’t be done!”

Fry blinked… “But… we’ve done it before!” he argued.

“When? I don’t remember that.”

Suddenly, the cake screamed in horror as it was set upon by Nibbler. The little creature had been living at Planet Express headquarters since Leela’s death and had caught the smell of fresh baked goods. Within seconds, the cake was gone and Nibbler was left sitting contentedly in the baking dish. He set about licking crumbs off himself, but kept an ear open and his third eye stalk trained on the two men.

“We travelled back in time to 1947,” Fry went on. “And… certain events took place… anyway, the point is – it’s POSSIBLE.”

“Fry, you pungent and insufferable moron!” the Professor shouted, waving his hands in the air. “I know what you want to do and you just can’t! If every person who suffered a personal tragedy took it upon themselves to alter the course of history then the fabric of time and space would wear thin and tear like a notepad rubbed too much by an eraser!”

“I’m not every person,” Fry said. “I’m just me.”

“Be that as it may…” The Professor looked sad. “Sometimes things happen for a reason.”

“Don’t give me that crap!” Fry growled, balling his fists. “You upset the natural order on a daily basis! You’re just afraid that you CAN’T make a time machine!”

“Balderdash!” the Professor snapped. “I can make anything, anytime, OUT OF anything!”

“Prove it!”

“Watch me!” The Professor rolled up the sleeves of his lab coat. “Now, I need to study the effect of our last foray into the past… I’ll need the ship’s black box data recorder.”

“I’m on it!” Fry said, rushing away.

Nibbler watched the two men get to work and rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

So…

Autumn turned into winter, and a light acid snow began to fall on New New York. The Planet Express delivery company made no business – the ship was damaged beyond reasonable repair and the insurance company refused to pay, claiming that the damage was inflicted by Zapp Brannigan, therefore DOOP was liable. DOOP was unavailable for comment. So the company was virtually dissolved. Hermes pressured the Professor to take some action, but Farnsworth remained shut away in his laboratory with Fry, working on some kind of invention, while the bills piled up.

Time went on. Bender found a job straightening pretzels for a wealthy but insane old man, while Amy was forced to drift into the empty pointless life of a rich heiress drifting between parties. Hermes applied to the Central Bureaucracy for a new posting, and expected a response in seven to ten years, while Scruffy returned to his old position of head lecturer at the Institute of Advanced Janitorial Science (IAJS).

Zoidberg was evicted from his dumpster and forced to live in a gutter.

Nobody really cared that Planet Express had fallen apart. Without Leela, the company had seemed dead anyway – the spark of life and energy and love had gone out of it.

When he wasn’t helping the Professor, Fry kept mostly to himself. He came back to his room intermittently to put down violent cockroach uprisings and sleep fitfully, but he never spoke of the mysterious project he was undertaking, nor about anything else except empty pleasantries. Bender grew worried that his friend wasn’t moving on, but he didn’t know what he could do to help – setting Fry straight had always been Leela’s forte… and without her the kid was lost.

Careful analysis of the ship’s data recorder shed detailed light on the energy flux pattern that had sent the crew back to 1947, and from that data Farnsworth had been able to construct a functional hypothetical model of a chronological displacement field.

The only missing element was fuel source that displaced energy in four dimensions. The Professor mulled on that problem for a long time.

Although initially against the idea, Farnsworth had gradually warmed to Fry’s proposal. Part of the reason was pride – the desire to see if he really could pull it off – while another part was the fact that his company was ruined and altering the events of the past month could see all the damage to Planet Express undone. The small part of his fractured mind that remembered who Leela was also liked the idea of preventing her death.

Fry came to the lab every day, asking the Professor over and over if he was any closer to a breakthrough, if there was anything he could do to help. Farnsworth sent the boy off to fetch unnecessary tools and run pointless errands to keep him out of his metaphorical hair.

After the Professor sent Fry off one more time to find a rock weighing exactly 3.4571 ounces, he turned back to his calculations again and mulled. Nibbler had been watching from his basket on the floor, and eventually ambled over to the Professor and climbed up his chair.

“Hu-whaa?” Farnsworth gave a start as the little three-eyed creature hopped onto his lap and then up onto the desk. Nibbler peered at the equations and glanced at Farnsworth.

“There is a painfully simple answer to this conundrum,” Nibbler said in a deep resounding voice.

“Oh is there just?” The professor snapped indignantly. “Well I’m an academy-trained Professor of Various Sciences, and if I can’t find an answer, what hope does a putrid fur-ball have?” The old man showed no obvious sign of surprise that Nibbler had spoken. The creature stared for a long moment before going on.

“Chronitons,” he said.

“Never heard of them,” Farnsworth replied.

Nibbler groaned. “You used them to super-accelerate the growth of a team of basketball mutants.”

“So what if I did?” the Professor snapped. “What are you, the DOOP Human Rights Commission?”

“Negative,” Nibbler said, getting frustrated. “What I mean to suggest is that the only energy source that displaces in four dimensions is Chronitons. Use a Chroniton as the distribution lens for a small dark matter coil and…”

“…expand the temporal displacement field by direct sub-space infusion!” the Professor finished, getting excited. He leaned over his notes and began scribbling furiously.

“You do not appear perturbed by my ability to speak,” Nibbler noted, jumping off the desk and moving over to the far side of the room.

“What?” Farnsworth grunted. “Didn’t you always speak?”

“Never mind,” Nibbler replied. He took hold of a large handle in his mouth and with some difficulty managed to slide out a heavy steel draw that had been set into the wall. Nitrogen vapour washed out of the cavity and revealed the half-squashed green-stained form of Arachneon, the spider-like player from Professor Farnsworth’s mutant basketball team who had met his end after an unfortunate chest-cannon incident.

The Professor moved over and stared down ad the dead specimen.

“Yes, this will do it,” he said. “There must still be at least one Chroniton particle adrift in this hideous corpse.”

Nibbler watched the Professor set about further dismembering the already dismembered body and smiled contentedly to himself. Guardianship of The Other had been his responsibility – she was required to play a role in future events, and her loss was on his head. The unforseen death had come as a severe blow to the Nibbilonian fate committee, and a personal shock to Nibbler himself… but if the event could be erased…

Fry returned to the Planet Express building hauling a bag full of rocks to weigh. When he entered the lab he found the Professor covered in green ooze standing over the mutilated body of what appeared to be a giant spider.

“You had a party?” Fry asked, frowning in confusion.

“No, you idiot!” The Professor lifted a vial of purple glowing particles and gazed into it. Pure condensed time swirled around in the form of Chronitons.

Fry stared. “Hey, are those…?”

“No they aren’t!” Farnsworth snapped. “They’re Chronitons!”

“But that’s what I was gonna say.”

“Who cares?!” The Professor moved over to a spectral analyser and placed the vial inside. “Good news, you nobody!” he announced. “With these time particles, I can now construct a device capable of transporting a person backwards and forwards in time… but not sideways, oh my no…”

“Great!” Fry said delightedly. “When will it be finished?”

“Well I still need to devise a method of gravitational triangulation to counter the Earth’s motion so you don’t end up appearing in deep space. At the current rate, it should take about seven years.”

Fry’s face fell dejectedly. “Seven years?” he repeated. “I can’t go seven years without seeing Leela.”

“Oh fuff!” Farnsworth waved Fry’s concern aside. “Why don’t you just find a normal woman and poke one of her eyes out? Or better yet…” The Professor took out a notepad and began scrawling down the exact time and date. “Since it’s a time machine I’m building, and given that I have reasonable confidence in my ability to construct said time machine, I’ll just leave a memo for myself to send it back in time to this exact moment as soon as I finish building it.” He finished jotting down the time to the second and pinned the note to the message board.

Fry and the Professor stood quietly for a moment, looking around expectantly.

Suddenly the air in the centre of the room twisted in on itself and an incandescent crackling ball of white light materialized. Fry gasped and took a step back, shielding his eyes. As rapidly as it had appeared, the disturbance faded, and sitting on the floor in its place was a device the size of a 1980s mobile phone; a handheld unit with a disk and a ball protruding from the top.

“Success!” Farnsworth said. “There you go, I built a time machine – I’m the greatest scientific mind on the planet apparently…”

“Wow…” Fry picked up the device and sniffed it. “What will happen now if you don’t build it?”

“I have no intention of building it,” the Professor replied. “Why would I need to? It’s already built.”

“But…. Ahh…” Fry’s brain struggled valiantly to comprehend the concept that had just been presented to it, causing him some degree of physical pain. “But you… have to build it, right?” he said. “Otherwise how could it be here?”

“I did build it,” the Professor replied, glaring at the moron.

“But… you haven’t yet.”

“And I never will.”

“Ahh…” Fry’s eye twitched and he suddenly developed a nosebleed from the heavy thinking.

“Quit bleeding on my spider carcass you nitwit,” Farnsworth snapped. “Just try to wrap your brain around the idea that in an alternate future reality, I created this device, sent it back in time, where its presence altered the course of history thus erasing the initial future reality and setting in motion a NEW reality.”

“…What?” Fry tried to staunch the blood from his nose by wiping it on the time machine.

“It’s the same thing that YOU will soon be doing, you stupid fool!” the Professor said, exasperated. “When you prevent Leela’s death you’ll create a future where you will never have a cause to travel back in time – but that isn’t a paradox; there’ll just be a new future, a new you… and more importantly - my ship will never have been destroyed.”

“A new me?” Fry wiped the last drops of blood onto the time machine and raised an eyebrow at the Professor. “So there’ll be two of me?” he asked.

“Of course.”

“Then that means I won’t be able to… return to my life with Leela… the other me will be there and he’ll…” Fry trailed off.

“Yes! What the hell did you expect?” Farnsworth threw up his hands and stormed away. “If you need me, I’ll be in the angry dome!” he shouted as he went.

Fry stood for a moment in quiet contemplation. Unbeknownst to him, a trickle of his blood found its way beneath a panel on the time machine, and a circuit quietly flared and burnt out.

“Well I don’t care,” Fry said to himself at last. “I don’t mind if I can’t be with her… as long as she lives.” He looked at the dials on the time machine, wondering which one he should turn. The array seemed to be configured for days, months, and years. Gingerly, he turned the dials to negative one month, and paused with his finger hovering over the red button.

“This is it,” he told himself. “I’ve got time to kill.”

Bender picked the lock on the Planet Express building’s main door and wandered inside. He had a twelve-pack of löbrau under one arm and a bunch of movie cartridges under the other.

“Hey Fry, you in here?” he called, clumping noisily through the rooms. He’d decided that he was going to cheer his friend up, even if he had to break both the kid’s legs to do it. He made his way to the lab and barged through the door.

“Hey, you sack of crap – I’m here to put a smile back on your ugly…” Bender stopped, noticing Fry standing in the middle of the room holding a strange device. “Hey, meatbag, what’s with the…”

Fry was suddenly enveloped in a sphere of brilliant light that radiated outward, and for a time the Universe ceased to exist.

Fry seemed to fall, formless and fluid, for an eternity that lasted less than a microsecond. Eons passed in the blink of an eye… or did it take eons for the eye to blink? The innards of the cosmos were laid bare, spilled before his eyes; a kaleidoscope of celestial entrails.

It smelled purple.

1046 years earlier - October 14, 1960, University of Michigan

Senator John F. Kennedy feigned interest as he was led around the University campus. His mind was on the upcoming televised debates with Nixon; this part of the campaign trail was the height of tedium.

“…As you can see, Senator,” the Dean was telling him, “many students and faculty here hope for a Democrat victory in the…”

“Yes, your support is, ah, greatly appreciated,” JFK said, sounding slightly bored. “Will there be drinks at the, er, reception later?”

“I think we can arrange some… what the?”

The small party of aides, bodyguards, and VIPs came to a halt as ahead, in a cloister between two campus buildings, an incandescent light speared out, accompanied by an ominous crackling sound.

“What the hell is that?!” Kennedy said, taking a reflexive step back.

Suddenly, a dishevelled, orange-haired man in a red jacket stumbled out of the cloister with thin tendrils of smoke trailing from him. The fellow stumbled and fell headlong on the ground, gasping for breath, and Kennedy hurried over, stooping to help the stranger up.

“The dangers of playing with fireworks, young man,” JFK said, as Fry got to his feet. “I too, pulled my share of University stunts during my time at Harvard.”

“What?” Fry blinked, disoriented, trying to focus on the face in front of him. “Who are…?”

Kennedy laughed and glanced at the Dean. “I do believe this young man has had a little too much to drink,” he said.

“Oh God…” Fry wobbled on his feet. “Where am I?”

“I think this fellow needs to lie down,” Kennedy motioned for an aide to assist the wayward stranger.

“No, wait,” Fry said as the dizziness finally wore off. He stared at the man in front of him. “I know you… you’re Bill Clinton!”

JFK raised an eyebrow. “No son, I’m afraid you’ve got me mistaken with someone else. Now I think you should…”

“No, no,” Fry snapped his fingers. “You’re the other one – JFK!”

“That’s right.” Kennedy stuck out his hand. “Always a pleasure to meet a young constituent.”

Fry shook the Senator’s hand in a dazed state, and Kennedy looked down in bewilderment at the cold metal that met his skin. Realizing his mistake, Fry hurriedly stuck his cybernetic hand in his pocket. Suddenly remembering, he cast about quickly on the ground for the time machine, finding it lying beside the footbath. He picked it up and tucked it into his jacket while the official party watched him in puzzlement.

“What’s that you have there, boy?” Kennedy asked, growing increasingly interested by the antics of the strange character.

“It’s a… err… a Tricorder,” Fry said, looking around in confusion. “Wait… if you’re alive, and the sky isn’t filled by flying cars and invading aliens… then this must be… oh no… I’ve gone back too far!”

“Senator, we’re on a tight schedule,” the Dean muttered to Kennedy. “We can have this man removed.”

“Oh, he seems harmless,” Kennedy said. “Let’s get this, ah, show on the road.”

As the group moved away, Fry took out the time machine again and glared at it.

“Stupid piece of junk,” he muttered. The charge gauge was slowly filling up again – it seemed to require time to replenish its energy supply before he could time-jump again… but if the temporal coordinate setting was non-functional then there was no telling where and when he’d end up. He noticed the smear of dried blood on the device and cursed himself for his idiocy.

He looked up to see JFK and his minders disappearing toward a large building and a sudden thought struck him. He hurried off after them.

A crowd had gathered at the steps of the University of Michigan Union. Press photographers and a large student body met the Presidential candidate as he came down the steps to deliver an impromptu speech.

“I want to express my thanks to you, as a graduate of the Michigan of the East, Harvard University,” Kennedy said. “I come here tonight delighted to have the opportunity to say one or two words about this campaign that is coming into the last three weeks…”

As JFK spoke, Fry eased his way through the crowd, shouldering past supporters and journalists to gradually make his way closer to the man who would be President.

“I think in many ways it is the most important campaign since 1933,” Kennedy went on, “mostly because of the problems which press upon the United States, and the opportunities which will be presented to us in the 1960s. The opportunity must be seized, through the judgment of the President, and the vigour of the executive, and the cooperation of the Congress. Through these I think we can make the greatest possible difference…”

Fry got to the front of the throng and was dazzled momentarily by a number of flashbulbs going off in close proximity. He waited for JFK to finish his speech. Kennedy began speaking about students giving of themselves to help the world, and Fry tuned out, staring around at the stupid hats being worn by the 1960s reporters.

At length, JFK reached the end of his speech: “…Therefore, I do not apologize for asking for your support in this campaign,” he said. “I come here tonight asking your support for this country over the next decade. Thank you.”

A series of rapid questions were shouted from the crowd, but Kennedy began to retreat – he was done talking. Fry stepped forward boldly.

“Mr. President!” he yelled.

JFK stopped and looked around in amusement. “You again?” he said. “I thank you for your confidence in me, son, but I’m not the President yet.”

“No, but you will be,” Fry said. “And then someone’s gonna shoot you!”

There was an audible gasp, and the crowd went quiet.

“Young man, I think you’re a little confused,” Kennedy said, frowning in concern. “Nobody’s going to shoot me, now you just need to go home and sleep it off, okay?”

“I’m not making it up!” Fry said. “I forget when it was, and nobody knows who pulled the trigger, but it happened in Dallas – someone with a rifle will shoot you in the head!”

There was a long silence, and finally someone in the crowd shouted: “He’s threatening to kill the Senator!”

“What? No!” Fry held up his hands as two bodyguards advanced on him. “It’s the truth, I swear – I’m from the future: look – I have a time machine.” He reached into his jacket to show them the device.

“He’s going for his gun!” someone shouted.

“No I’m not – I don’t…”

The lead bodyguard draw a revolver and fired at Fry, who instinctively threw up his arm. The bullet ricocheted from the metal cybernetic limb with a small spray of sparks. Fry fell back and scrambled into the crowd as it began to disperse with screams of horror. He ran headlong, losing himself in the confusion.

Kennedy stared out at the dispersing mass, catching a fleeting glimpse at the red jacket before it vanished. He shook his head.

“Crazy son of a bitch,” he muttered.

Sirens could be heard wailing through the streets as Fry hurried along, his collar turned up and his head down. He found an alley and pulled out the time machine, dialling it forward. The power gauge had levelled out at a little under full capacity.

There was a shout from the other end of the alley and Fry looked up in alarm as two policemen advanced with guns drawn.

“Hold it right there, mister!” the lead cop shouted.

“That’s him alright,” the second muttered. “Weedy lookin’ nerd in a red jacket.”

“Put the weapon on the ground and place your hands on your head!” the first cop shouted.

Fry said nothing. He hit the button on the time machine, and a ripple radiated out from the device, coalescing into a ball of light that swallowed him whole. The two cops gaped in astonishment at the pulsating sphere of energy that sucked their suspect out of existence.

After a moment, the phenomenon vanished, and the two cops stared down the length of an empty alley.

“That didn’t happen,” the first one said.

“Agreed,” replied the second.

Another time and place…

Fry hit water feet-first and came up spluttering and gasping for foul-smelling air. He had the presence of mind to lift the time machine out of the water while he desperately tried to stay afloat, his waterlogged clothing and metal arm dragging him down. He looked around desperately and sighted a bleak shoreline twenty feet away, and began kicking toward it with all his strength, finally feeling a slimy river-bottom beneath his feet.

Wading ashore, he slumped down on the black shingle, sodden and exhausted. The Professor’s gravitational triangulation seemed to work well to put Fry on Earth after a time jump, but the geographical position seemed to be at random. Fry had never been a strong swimmer, so if he wound up in the middle of an ocean he’d be finished.

He looked around. What had at first looked like a rocky shoreline was revealed on closer inspection to be a shambolic mass of collapsed cement structures – walls and columns tilted at sharp angles and pock-marked by shell impacts. The heavy smell of smoke and cordite added to the bleak scene – it was a warzone.

“Ugh… when the hell am I now?” Fry muttered to himself. The time machine was slowly recharging, and he tucked it inside his jacket before climbing to his feet and starting the steep climb up a cracked cement slope.

He reached the top and looked out across a desolate wasteland of ruined structures and undulating debris. Numerous columns of smoke drifted from the horizon and muffles reports from gunfire and explosions rolled across the shattered landscape.

“Oh my God,” Fry muttered. “Am I back in L.A.?”

He started down an incline of crumbled brickwork, but his shoe slid on loose gravel, and he fell, rolling and sliding, down to the bottom of a narrow gully of debris. He coughed as the dust settled and slowly sat up… to come face-to-face with an enormous green insectoid robot that loomed over him.

“Er… hi,” he said uncertainly, wondering which of the segmented mechanoid’s lenses he should look into.

The robot ambled forward on massive metal legs, reaching for Fry with its forward manipulator claws. Fry scrambled back as the machine advanced on him.

“No! No!” he said. “I don’t do hugging, okay? If you could just tell me what year this is, I’ll be on my way.”

“UNKNOWN UNIT – REMAIN STATIONARY AND PREPARE FOR PROCESSING,” the robot said in a harsh grating voice.

“Oh, no need to process me, I’m just passing through.” Fry continued backing away, becoming uncomfortably aware of the numerous weapons that encrusted the robot’s armoured flanks. One of the three-fingered claws shot out suddenly and clamped around Fry’s head, squeezing with tremendous force and lifting him up off the ground. His scream was muffled by the metal pressing against his face, and was cut off suddenly as a sharp jolt of electricity shot from the machine’s claw, rendering him blissfully unconscious.

Major Selene Gemmell studied the strange device that had been found on the man the SuperTengu brought back. All the scans for explosive or radiological material had come back negative, though nobody could figure out what the thing was.

She glanced at the orange-haired stranger. He was still out cold, strapped in a sitting position with his hands cuffed behind his back and his head hanging. The cybernetic arm looked state of the art, though he didn’t look like a rich man. The scarring on his face looked fresh. All in all, he was an oddity – a lone man, apparently unarmed, travelling through disputed Berlin wearing a garish red jacket.

Fry’s vision gradually improved from black to grey, and then a general blue blur that resolved into the crotch of his jeans. He looked up groggily and moaned.

“Oi, carrot-top,” a crisp British voice snapped nearby. “Get your bloody head together and start talking – who the devil are you and what were you doing out there?”

Fry found himself looking at a striking woman with dun-coloured military fatigues and a shaven head. She had her arms crossed and an automatic pistol was held loosely in one hand. They were inside a large canvas tent.

“What’s going on?” Fry asked.

The Major’s eyes widened at the sound of Fry’s voice, and she bared her teeth in a snarl.

“You’re a bloody YANK!” she hissed, bringing the pistol up and pointing it at Fry’s head.

“Oh… what?” Fry blinked at the gun barrel. “I’m having a gun pointed at me again? I haven’t even done anything this time…”

“Don’t give me that shite!” Selene barked, cracking the pistol grip against Fry’s temple. “You bastards have been sending sleepers into EU territory with tactical nukes for months now, killing tens of thousands of people…” she paused and pointed at the small device taken off the American. “Is that what this thing is?” she asked. “Some new kind of bomb Uncle Sam wants to test on a civilian population?”

“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!” Fry protested as blood oozed from his forehead where the pistol had struck him.

“Rubbish!” The Major stepped away, and turned back to Fry, eyes shining with hate. “You’re lucky I don’t shoot you right now, yank,” she snarled.

“But…” Fry’s mind struggled to comprehend. “You’re English, right…? I thought we were allies.”

“Yeah, that’s right you daft bastard,” Selene said. “Right up to the point where you Nazi Freemason scumbags launched a massive invasion of South Asia and the Middle East, declared an American Empire, and started spreading out from there with all your damn talk of ‘New World Orders’ and such… well this IS the new world, and it don’t want you bastards.”

“What… but America’s the good guy… right?” Fry blinked, reeling inwardly. “What year is this?” he asked quietly with a sinking feeling. Suddenly he wished he’d learned a bit about the history that had taken place while he had been frozen.

“What kind of moronic question is that?” the Major asked, frowning at her prisoner.

“I don’t know what year it is.”

“Twenty-two forty-nine,” Selene replied. “Now are you going t’give ME some answers, you smelly little yank shite?”

“2249,” Fry repeated. “Dammit, still way too far off…”

“What on Earth are you babbling about?”

“Listen,” Fry said, looking at the soldier woman imploringly. “I don’t know what this war is about, but it has nothing to do with me. I’m from… somewhere far away… and I need to get back there… but to do that, I need that machine.” He gestured with his head at the time machine where it sat on a table at the other end of the tent.

Selene stared incredulously at the American for a long moment.

“You expect me to believe that load of bollocks?” she said.

“I can’t explain it,” Fry said, furtively testing the strength of the handcuffs. “I could try, but you would never believe me.”

Growling, Selene stepped forward and put the barrel of her pistol against Fry’s left kneecap.

“Name, rank, and serial number, before the count of three,” she said coldly. “Or you walk with a limp for the rest of your life… which may not be long, and might not involve much walking.”

“Name: Philip J Fry! Rank: Delivery Boy. Serial Number: I don’t have one, but my password at Blockbuster is ‘boobies’… that’s kind of like a serial number, right?” Fry sweated, staring up at the woman with wide eyes.

The Major gaped and shook her head. “You’re either a ballsy bastard, or a complete loon,” she remarked. “Lets find out which…”

A sudden earth-shattering blast ripped the air asunder, and an explosive shockwave tore one side of the tent open. Fry and Selene were buffeted by dust and smoke. More explosions were heard further off, joined by the accompaniment of staccato anti-aircraft batteries.

Selene coughed and swore foully. A Private ran up and saluted.

“Ma’am, the Americans…”

“Yes, I noticed,” she snapped, turning to glare at Fry. “Looks like your friends have decided to dump a few million dollars worth of bombs on us yet again,” she sneered at him.

“No friends of mine!” Fry said. “I’m with you guys all the way – God bless the Queen!”

“Shut it, you tit,” the Major said. “You just sit there and enjoy the show – maybe you can have the hilarious honour of being blown the hell up by your own country’s bombs.”

She hurried away with the other soldier to direct the defence operations. Fry was left alone in the half-collapsed tent, still bound to the chair, and with the time machine out of reach. Overhead, unidentifiable shapes screamed through the air, and more bombs blasted the area. Fry could see the gigantic green robot swivelling around and firing scores of weapons pods into the sky.

Fry wriggled in the seat. A simple thought occurred – one too simple for a more intelligent person to immediately think of. The cybernetic right arm was wholly actuated by nerve impulses; he hadn’t mastered all the extra commands, but there was one he’d figured out. He sent it, and with an audible click, the hand fell away from the wrist joint and plopped onto the ground, allowing one side of the cuffs to swing free Fry got up, and hurriedly reattached the hand before scampering over to the time machine, hand handcuffs jangling from his left wrist.

A devastating series of concussive blasts erupted, and the SuperTengu robot was torn asunder, sending a deadly wave of razor shrapnel scything toward Fry. Without even bothering to touch the useless coordinate dial, he hit the red button, and vanished an instant before the flying debris tore into the tent.

29–36 AD, Jerusalem.

The dusty track seemed to meander over hill and dale, around olive trees and boulders, following no apparent logic or purpose, as if some aimless giant child had dragged a stick across the landscape. Off to the right, some distance away, the walls of a city rose up, and a sprawl of low grimy buildings surrounded a hill with a temple on it.

Fry wasn’t interested. He was battered and bruised; he’d been shot at and electrocuted, hit in the head, threatened… and now he seemed to have would up in the stone age, no closer to reaching his goal… reaching her.

“Oh man, I’m gonna be floating back and fourth through time forever,” he lamented as he trudged along the trail. “Michael J. Fox’s head made this look so easy in ‘Teen Wolf Goes Back to the Future, Part 8’.”

He came to a rock by the side of the path and slumped down on it with a grunt.

“This blows,” he muttered, absently working at the handcuff that was still linked to his left hand. At length he was able to prise it apart with the increased strength of his cybernetic limb, and tossed the handcuffs away to puzzle archaeologists in millennia to come.

He took out the time machine and looked at the power reading; it was moving upward much slower than before, and a sudden apprehension stirred in the back of Fry’s mind – what if he exhausted the power supply and ended up marooned in history?

The sound of approaching footsteps made Fry tuck the time machine out of sight and pull the sleeve of his right arm down low. A procession of people in threadbare robes and sandals came into sight, moving down the path. In the front was a longhaired man with a hooked nose and azure eyes. Fry tried to look unimportant and keep out of the way of the group, but the leader stopped before him and stood looking down, taking in Fry’s battered appearance.

Fry glanced up it the stranger’s odd knowing smile.

“Uh… I’m sorry,” Fry said. “Is this your rock? I didn’t know.”

The man said something in a voice that was warm and friendly, but in a language Fry had never heard.

“Oh sweet Jesus!” Fry said. “You don’t speak American!? I must be on another planet!”

The robed man held out a hand, and Fry hesitantly took it, again forgetting himself and using the cybernetic limb. The man raised an eyebrow at the touch of metal, and again there was that strange knowing smile, but he said nothing. He helped Fry to his feet and motioned for him to follow along. Fry found himself oddly captivated, and as the group moved off down the path he fell into step with them, not really knowing why. The twelve other men and one woman looked at Fry curiously, bemused by his unusual clothing, and the colour and style of his hair. He felt sheepish and out of place, and wanted to go off somewhere alone to wait for the time machine to recharge, but the enigmatic leader had an unshakable charismatic magnetism that was impossible to resist.

The Shepard led His flock into the city, and eventually to a house where they were welcomed inside by the owner and led to an upstairs room. A low table was laid out with flatbread and an earthenware jug. The leader spoke quietly to the woman, and she nodded, moving to Fry and gently guiding him to sit on a cushion. Fry sat down gratefully, realizing how exhausted he felt. The woman knelt beside him and took his left hand, gently placing it into a bowl of water and washing it. Fry stared at her, taken aback and unsure of what to do. She moved over to his right hand and gaped at the robotic claw, then skipped it and moved to his feet, staring in confusion at the strange fully-enclosed sandals. She reached for the laces, but Fry stopped her.

“That’s okay, you don’t need to do that,” he said. “The Judge made me promise to never take my shoes off around people ever again… it’s in everyone’s best interests.” She looked at him uncomprehendingly and gave a little shrug before taking out a small vial of fragrant oil and wetting a cloth, which she then applied to Fry’s forehead.

All the attention and the lady’s embarrassing servitude was making him a little uncomfortable, but the atmosphere was welcoming, so he began to relax. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see the leader; the man smiled upon him, and Fry couldn’t help but smile back. At length, the woman finished her ministrations and the group assembled around the table.

The Shepard began speaking to the group in a quiet sombre voice, and although Fry couldn’t understand a word he found himself enraptured nonetheless. The woman and the twelve other men seemed to grow very serious as their leader spoke, and Fry felt the weight of some unseen burden pressing down upon the gathering.

At length, the man took up the large pieces of flatbread and began breaking them up and passing them around. A piece found its way into Fry’s hand, and he sniffed at the unfamiliar spices. Red wine from the jug was distributed in wooden mugs, one was given to Fry. He hesitated. The leader spoke again briefly, and with a strange sense of melancholy, the group ate and drank. Fry followed suit.

Time passed, and gradually Fry felt he should take his leave. He got to his feet and looked at the leader.

“Thank you very much for your hospitality,” he said awkwardly, but realized the man couldn’t understand him. He bowed, hoping the gesture could convey gratitude and respect.

The leader stood gracefully and took Fry by the shoulders, leaning forward kissing him on each cheek. Fry blinked in surprise. The man spoke, and although the language was incomprehensible, the meaning of his words seemed somehow clear.

“Go in peace.”

Fry nodded and turned away, leaving the house.

He felt refreshed and invigorated, and in a narrow alleyway between mud brick walls, he hit the button on the time machine and vanished.

…Reappearing into a nightmarish Hell on Earth.

July 1916, Ovillers, Northern France. Battle of the Somme.

The hiss of bullets tearing through the air always evokes an elemental instinctive response, even in those who have never been shot at before. Perhaps it is the result of collective unconscious, the shared anxieties of a billion soldiers in a thousand different wars seeping into the ether and instilling in all people an inherent fear of that deathly sound.

As soon as Fry materialized he heard the whine of rounds searing past his head. He dropped to the muddy ground without even thinking, it was then that the other sounds registered – the clatter of gunfire and the screams of dying men. As the familiar wooziness and disorientation left him, he cast around with wide desperate eyes. He was in the middle of a vast churned field of mud, dotted by smoking artillery craters.

Another war, he thought bleakly. Just how many of the damn things have there been?

He began scrambling desperately on hands and knees in an arbitrary direction, flinching every time shells passed overhead. Suddenly his hands fell on open air, and he toppled headlong into a wide trench, ending up slicked with dark mud. It was cold, and the mud clung to his jacket heavily.

“Damn it all,” he muttered.

“You there!” The shout came from his right, strangely muffled, but distinctly British. Fry tensed, ready to run. “Who the devil are you?”

He looked up to see a soldier wearing a gas mask and pointing a rifle at him. Remembering his last encounter with British military he immediately blurted: “I’m Canadian!”

The soldier lowered his rifle. “Canadian? You’re a long way from your division,” he said through the muffling gas mask. “And what on earth are you wearing?”

Fry had no answer, and the soldier cocked his head enquiringly.

“Well, in any case,” he said. “This section’s pretty secure, but the krauts are driving a wedge into our north flank – you want to make yourself useful, find a rifle that works and come along with me.”

“Uhh, I’d really rather just…”

“Don’t bloody well dilly-dally,” the soldier snapped, pointing at the ground. Fry looked down and gave a little gasp of horror: lining the bottom of the trench, half buried in the mud, were scores of bodies. A rifle butt protruded from the tangle of limbs, and Fry gingerly took hold of it and levered it out.

“And get rid of the stupid bloody red thing unless you want those buggers picking you off from their side.”

As if to punctuate the point, a series of sharp cracks of rifle fire echoed across the battlefield. Fry shrugged out of his red jacket and let it fall to the mud. Then, aware of the cold and the appearance of his right arm, he hesitantly knelt by one of the fallen soldiers and, fighting back the bile that threatened the back of his throat, set about removing the dead man’s heavy coat.

The British soldier had turned away and was sighting down his rifle over the lip of the trench when Fry finished putting on the long leather jacket.

“You ready yet?” the Briton grunted, lifting his gas mask to reveal an aristocratic face with a small moustache.

“…Yeah,” Fry replied, slipping the time machine into an inner pocket of the trench coat where it could recharge. He smelt like mud and death.

“Good. Come along then.”

Fry slipped and stumbled through the damp trench as the British soldier led him past more bodies and craters. Ominous thunder rumbled through the thick clouds overhead, as if the sky sought to mimic the artillery on the ground.

The two men joined a group of other soldiers who were stationed at an elbow bend in the trench, two of whom were manning a Vickers machine gun. Another soldier was taking a photograph with an antiquated box camera while the gunners fired an occasional burst from the mounted weapon.

“What’s your name, lad?” asked the soldier who had found Fry as they moved along the line.

“Fry… er… Corporal Fry.”

“That’s an odd name. I’m John Tolkien, communications officer. I’m with the Lancashire Fusiliers.”

“Great,” Fry puffed. “Can you tell me what year it is?”

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien turned to stare at the strange redhead. “Surely you jest?”

“I lost track of time for a bit,” Fry said lamely.

“1916, in the year of our Lord,” J. R. R. Tolkien replied. “Are you alright man? You seem a bit lost.”

“Yeah, just a bit,” Fry said. “Actually, I’ve kinda been there and back again. Lost would be an improvement.”

“Well we all feel like that,” Tolkien said. “These are dark times indeed.”

As he spoke, a high-pitched whine pervaded the air, and Fry looked up in puzzlement.

“MORTAR!” Tolkien shouted, lunging forward and dragging Fry to the ground. The shell landed nearby and detonated, sending out a wave of dirt and scrapnal.

“This is dire,” Tolkien said when the ringing in both their ears subsided. “The Germans will make a push now… come on, get up!” He helped Fry to his feet.

“POSITIONS!” an officer yelled from somewhere up the line. Fry found himself pressed against the wall of the trench, gripping his borrowed rifle.

“I shouldn’t be here now,” Fry muttered to himself, watching as a line of German troops spilled from the opposing trench and began rushing across the open ground toward them.

“So say all people who live to see such times,” Tolkien said beside him. “But all we can do is make the most of the time that’s given to us.”

“…Time,” Fry repeated. He pressed the rifle into his steel shoulder and sighted the advancing line. “If time is all we have, then we have nothing… because time is worth nothing – it just slips through your fingers like water, taking away the people you love…”

If Tolkien said anything his words were lost as the officer bellowed: “FIRE!!”

Rifles fired along the line, accompanied by the louder rattle of the Vickers. Fry watched in horror as the German soldiers fell one by one. He couldn’t shoot them – it wasn’t his war – so he aimed low at the ground and pulled the trigger. The rifle clicked dully, its firing pin gummed with mud, and Fry almost laughed.

He backed away from the edge of the trench as the battle continued, discarding the rifle and pulling out the time machine as gunfire and rumbling thunder filled his ears. The power guage had levelled out, but it only showed a quarter capacity. Fry gritted his teeth and hit the red button.

As the familiar surge of quantum energy radiated out, it formed a powerful beacon that was too much for the atmospheric charge to resist. Bolts of forked lightening lanced down out of the sky and struck the time macine in Fry’s hand, even as he began to dematerialize. J. R. R. Tolkien spun around at the deafening thunderbolt and gasped in amazement at the sight of an incansescent figure of light channelling the lightning itself. The figure vanished into a votex of crackling energy.

“A wizard!” Tolkien breathed in wonder.

Fry fell through time, screaming soundlessly. It was different this time – the lightning bolt had supercharged his plunge, and all around the Universe seemed to spasm violently against his passage.

The emergence was violent; Fry was spat into a void and found the air rushing from his lungs, his ears popping painfully, and moisture streaming and crystalizing from his eyes.

He was in total vacuum.

In deep space…

The End of All Things.

His vision greyed at the edges, and a kaliedascope of whirring stars and brilliant nebulae swam briefly in and out of focus before he could see no more. Fluid boiled through the pores of his skin; his tongue swelled; his lungs burned… and unconsciousness quickly took him.

Fry’s body spun through the void.

He drempt of Leela.

She was happy, laughing, smiling… and he was with her. They embraced in the midst of devestation and dispair – the world was in ruins around them; cities crumbled, civilization reduced to dust. But none of it mattered, because they were in each other’s arms.

Somewhere in the background, a cake talked endlessly, but the sound drifted away as they held each other.

He gazed into the depth of her perfect eye and saw the death and birth of a thousand worlds, the spinning ballet of fire and ice and life.

She spoke The Words.

“I love you.”

And he awoke.

Fry took a deep, shuddering breath, and exhaled slowly. The air had a strange minty scent to it, and his breath seemed to echo. He opened his eyes a fraction and grunted in surprise.

He still hung suspended in zero gravity, floating in space amid a backdrop of swirling stars and clouds of stellar matter exploding in silent plumes, light-years long. Accretion disks swirled around immense black holes that themselves seemed to circle a larger, less definable mass somewhere in an impenetrable centre of light toward which all matter seemed to be gradually flowing.

“Wow…” Fry breathed, gaping at the looming spectacle of cosmic destruction for long minutes before finally turning his attention to his own immediate vicinity. His first impression had been accurate – he was suspended in what appeared to be open space, though even he knew that breathing in a complete vacuum wasn’t possible.

“What’s going on?” he said loudly, again noting the echo. He had the sense that he was inside some kind of bubble. The time machine floated nearby, and he grabbed hold of it – the little LCD screen was blank and the device’s casing had been blackened by the lightning strike.

“No…” Fry gaped at the dead machine. “This can’t be… this can’t be happening. It’s impossible!”

“Denial of possibility is an unusual sentiment,” a warm voice said. “Especially considering recent turns of events, my good chum.”

Fry looked around in alarm, searcing for the source of the voice. He could see nobody, only the sprawl of dying stars on their black velvet backdrop.

“Who’s there?” Fry blurted.

“A difficult question to answer, Philip,” the voice said, and Fry saw the inexplicable sequential flare of a system of stars that surrounded him, beating in time with the words being spoken. “Perhaps not so much of a ‘who’ as a ‘what’.”

Fry blinked. “…What?”

“Exactly.”

The voice was silent for a time, the the stars from which it seemed to emenate resumed their steady light. Fry cleared his throat.

“What are you?” he asked meekly. “Some kind of hallucination?”

“Possible,” the space entity replied, and again the stars flared accordingly in multiple colours. “You have had an unfortunate brush with mortality after all.”

“I was supposed to be on Earth,” Fry said, looking at the time machine. “This thing must be broken…”

“That seems probable,” the voice said. “However, even if it were not, you wouldn’t be able to find the Earth in this present time.”

Fry looked into the nearest star, narrowing his eyes against the glare. “Why not?” he asked, feeling a knot grow in his stomach.

“The Earth was destroyed about ninety billion years ago.”

Fry reeled. If he had been in a gravitational field, he would have fallen to his knees. “Ninety billion…”

“You seem upset,” the galactic voice remarked calmly.

Fry didn’t respond. He buried his head in his hands and floated there for the longest time, bent double.

At last he looked up, bleary-eyed and drained.

“Why am I alive,” he asked forlornly.

“Because I caught you,” the space entity replied. “All life in the Universe died out eons ago. I have grown lonely in these, my twilight years. Your company is not unwelcome.”

Fry gazed out into the collapsing cosmos through the invisible force field that surrounded him. “Are you God?” he asked quietly.

“That seems likely,” the space voice replied. “I am powerful and benevolent. And, like you, apparently timeless.”

“Like me?” Fry looked at the broken time machine in his hand. “So you know?”

“You’ve trodden your muddy footprints across history,” God said. “Your very incarnation is a result of such a jaunt.”

Fry squirmed uncomfortably.

“And now you’ve come at last to the end of time, where I had expected you to emerge,” God went on. “This Universe has a few short minutes of existence left in it, give or take a few millenia. All mass, space, and time, will soon converge…”

Fry looked out into the swirling celestial maelstrom and watched as galaxies silently tore themselves apart. “What will happen after that?” he asked.

“Oh,” God said with a chuckle, “that would be telling.”

Fry hung suspended for a while, watching the crashing, twirling bodies of stars. Time passed, as time has a tendency to do.

“Hey God?” Fry said at last. “You’re a God, right?”

“Apparently.”

“And you know everything, right?”

“Knowledge is an arbitrary concept,” God replied. “The socialist cockroaches in your apartment knew every square inch of the floorspace they inhabited. To their point of view, that was all there was to know.”

“But there was more than that,” Fry said. “There was a whole world of stuff the little commie bastards didn’t know… I don’t understand.”

“Philip, there is always more,” God said. “Higher truths, greater levels of understanding to be attained.”

“Even for you?”

“Even for me.”

“But… didn’t you create everything?”

“I don’t remember.”

Fry raised an eyebrow. “You’re joking?”

“That is probable,” God replied.

Fry stared at the sentient constellation for a long moment. “I… was wondering if you could help me,” he said at last.

“The Universe is about to end, my friend,” the deity responded with knowing humour. “Any help I can offer would be moot in the face of complete and total annihilation. You and I will soon be dead.”

Fry frowned. “But I travelled here through time,” he said.

“Yes, I saw,” God replied. “You were doing well until that suspiciously well-placed lightning bolt sent you here.”

“That… that was you… wasn’t it?” Fry stared at the constellation, aghast.

“A trifle cliché perhaps,” God admitted, “but necessary. Philip, do you know what the most precious and rare commodity in the Universe is?”

Fry shrugged. “Iunno… working public telephones?”

“Time,” God said. “Time is the only thing so scarse that all living things must share it at once, and yet it is also the most important facet of reality. Without the boundaries set by yesterday and tomorrow, the accomplishments of today cannot be defined. When boundaries are trampled, all things begin to bleed into one another – what has been done and what is yet to be done are no longer important if the page of history can rewritten over and over. What point would there be to the march of life, if all the marchers are going in different directions?”

Fry inclined his head. “I think I understand,” he said. “But… I don’t care about all that.”

“No?”

“No, because…I love her.”

“Yes you do,” God said. “You still love her, even though she turned to dust billions of years ago. You love her now like you loved her then, so what has been lost?”

“She’s dead!” Fry said, tears welling in his eyes.

“All things that live will inevitably die,” God said. “Just as all things that begin must inevitably end. You, me, Leela, and here now – the very Universe itself.”

A star drifted by, with a vast trail of incandescent plasma being stripped from its corona by the tremendous forces of the Big Crush.

“You’re saying you won’t help me?” Fry whispered.

“That isn’t what I’m saying at all, my good chum,” God said, and Fry looked up with hopeful eyes. “In fact, I had hoped to ask for YOUR help in a small matter.”

“You need MY help?” Fry repeated, bewildered.

“I don’t encourage wilful abuses of time,” the space entity said. “Such incidences of cheating are problematic, as I mentioned, though occasionally… very occasionally… they can prove to be exactly the kind of underhanded tricks that a divine hustler can use to win a game of celestial snooker. The key is knowing when to allow rules to be bent – your own creation is an example of that.”

“And Leela?”

“She is important.”

“But you let her die.”

“Did I now?” God chuckled. “May I see that machine?”

Fry held the time machine aloft, and it floated out of his grip in an invisible field of energy. It quivered a few metres away and suddenly flew apart into a thousand individual esoteric components that hovered in a perfect pattern, turning this way and that, as though on display.

“Hmm,” God said. “Interesting.”

“Can you fix it?” Fry asked anxiously.

“I can now,” God replied. And with that, the device reassembled itself, fully repaired, recharged, and ready to use.

“Great!” Fry exclaimed joyously. “Now I can go back and save Leela!” he said.

“You may do what you feel you must – though this must be the last time you toy with time. I’ll drop you on the way,” God said. “Consider it repayment for use of your machine.”

“You’ll… what?”

“I waited for you, for this very reason,” God explained. “The method of travelling through time was unknown to me, though there is a task I need to complete before my own time is done, one that requires the brilliance of this piece of technology to fulfil.”

“Do you mean…?” Fry gaped, astounded. “Professor Farnsworth is actually smarter than God?”

“That appears likely,” God said. “Though I had counted on the Universe prodiving me with the solution to my problem.”

“What problem is that?”

“I need to go back to the beginning of time,” God said. “…So that I can create the Universe.”

“…But…” His eyes boggled and his brain hurt. “That doesn’t make any…”

“Well, so long,” God said quickly. “Remember what we talked about. What’s done is done, and you should cherish the memories you have – tell that to yourself when you get there, and good luck.”

Before Fry could respond, an invisible finger pushed the red button on the time machine, and a brilliant nova-like burst of light flared out, enveloping the entire constellation of stars, along with Fry as well. The massive distortion faded, leaving a section of empty space surrounded by the cataclysmic final throes of a dying reality.

Fry fell through time and space as before, only now there was another presence alongside him, guiding his passage. He felt the presence gently open a rend in the subspace plane and guide him toward a specific time and place.

“You love her now like you loved her then, so what has been lost?” the voice of God asked, as the vortex of creation twirled by.

“Nothing,” Fry said.

“Cherish the memories you have,” God said, and propelled Fry out into the timestream, before continuing backward through eons past, toward the origin of all things, in order to set that origin in motion…

13.7 billion years after the Big Bang… give or take.

March 12th, 3006.

Apartment 1-i

Leela was already awake when the bedside alarm chimed at 7 am. She leaned across the slumbering body beside her and switched it off, then lay down and stared at the ceiling. She had been anticipating today with both happiness and a little sliver of guilt. It had been her actions (one large mistake in particular) that had driven Zapp Brannigan to obsession and apparent madness, even though he’d already been on the borderline. Now he was facing court martial, and while that outcome was joyous to her, she hadn’t really wanted it to be BECAUSE of her.

Beside her Fry grunted and stirred, waking slowly and looking up at her with a sleepy smile.

“Morning,” he said.

“Yes, it is,” she replied.

Fry yawned and stared for a few moments before gradually realizing what day it was. “Oh,” he groaned. “Are you up for this thing?”

“Yes,” Leela replied, sitting up with a determined look on her face. The sheets slipped down, exposing her nakedness, but for once Fry didn’t leer.

“You sure?” he asked, reaching up to push a loose lock of hair from her face. “We don’t have to be there, you know.” In truth, Fry had no desire to involve himself any further with Brannigan.

“I know,” Leela said, smiling down at him, grateful for the concern. “But it’s something I feel I should bear witness to. For me, and for the responsibility I carry in this matter.”

Fry shrugged, not really understanding. “Well whatever,” he said. “As long as you’re okay with it, I’ll go along too.”

“Thanks Fry,” she said.

After showering and dressing, Fry and Leela made their way to Planet Express. They entered the building and found Zoidberg with the upper portion of his body immersed in a trash can; wet sucking scrabbling sounds could be heard from within. They moved past and into the board room, where Amy was already waiting.

“Hey you lovebirds,” the engineering intern said brightly. “Ready to go watch Fatty McSpleeshbag get strung up by his gao-wan?”

“If they can make a noose small enough,” Leela muttered.

“Where’s Bender?” Fry said. “He was supposed to be here by now.”

Zoidberg poked his head in the door, still festooned with pieces of garbage.

“The robut is missing?” he said happily. “Well Zoidberg can take his place, he can!” He scuttled into the room and began dancing around excitedly.

“I’m sure Bender will be here soon,” Amy said uncomfortably, trying to avoid eye-contact with the Decpaodian.

“Cram it, ‘meat bag’!” Zoidberg said angrily, pointing his claw at Amy. “I’m Bender now, so you ‘chumps’ better get used to it, why not? Hooray – I’m replacing an absent friend!”

“Zoidberg, stop…” Leela sighed in exasperation.

“Come on, ‘big boots’,” the lobster went on. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

“You’re making an idiot of yourself… as usual.”

“Bite my shiny metal abdomen!” Zoidberg snapped, but then gave a start when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around to find the real Bender glaring at him. The robot slowly and deliberately struck a match on Zoidberg’s head, causing the crustacean to run away whooping pitifully.

Bender lit a cigar and tossed the match away. He blew a cloud of smoke at Fry, Leela, and Amy. “So, we gonna see this execution, or what?” he said.

“Nobody’s getting executed,” Leela said.

“What?! This is an outrage! What a rip-off!”

“What do you mean?” Amy said. “We didn’t have to pay money to get in.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Bender growled. “All public trials should end with an execution, regardless of guilt. What’s the point of even having a justice system if we’re not entertained by it?”

“Just… come on,” Leela said, heading for the ship. “I want to get this over with.”

They boarded the PE ship and Leela took off, blasting away toward Weehawken, New Jersey. Zoidberg sat in the gutter and watched the ship disappear behind the sprawl of New New York skyscrapers.

“Those co-workers, always with the looking down on Zoidberg,” he muttered miserably. “What are they, from Nob Hill? Ohh, their precious trial is too good for Zoidberg, is it?”

A sudden crackle and flare of intense light emanated from a nearby alley, and Zoidberg looked up in surprise.

“What could that be?” he said. “Some kind of tasty high-voltage treat perhaps?”

As he watched, a red-haired figure in a dirty brown coat came stumbling out of the alley, trailing thin tendrils of white smoke.

“Doctor Zoidberg!” Fry exclaimed, running over to the lobster and grabbing him by the shoulders. “What day is it? What time is it?”

Zoidberg blinked at the scarred and dishevelled stranger, and then noticed the metal hand that gripped him.

“Bender!” Zoidberg said at last. “Did you know that you have a human growing out of your arm?”

“I’m not Bender!” Fry snapped. “It’s me, Fry!”

“Fry?” Zoidberg narrowed his eyes. “I’m no doctor, but even I can tell that you just left with the others… so how could you be here?”

“They just left?” Fry said, his eyes boggling. “Stupid Space God!” He pushed Zoidberg aside and bolted off toward the North River as fast as he could run.

Zoidberg watched the figure disappear around a corner and shook his head.

“Always with the hurry-hurry,” he muttered.

DOOP headquarters, Weehawken, New Jersey.

By special admission afforded by their past exploits, and a shared sense of morbid fascination, the four crewmembers of Planet Express attended the court-martialling of Captain Zapp Brannigan. They’d seen the megalomaniac stripped of rank before, though this time it looked as though there would be no going back.

The broad, flabby back of ‘The Zapper’ could be seen taking up the defendant booth on one side of the courtroom. A bland prison outfit had replaced his usual velure uniform, but he still held himself with the same pompous arrogance – shoulders squared and head tilted back.

Fry, Leela, Bender, and Amy, looked down from their secluded chairs at the top of the amphitheatre, taking care not to be seen by Zapp as the reptilian DOOP President made her way to the podium. Fry sat beside Leela and squeezed her hand.

“This day’s been a long time coming, huh?” he whispered.

NNY

Another Philip J. Fry pushed his exhausted legs onward past 9th and µth streets, his muscles screaming in protest at the unaccustomed exercise. The northbound tube line was congested with a mid-morning crush of sweaty bodies, and wouldn’t start moving again until lunch time. He finally caught sight of a taxi and waved madly to get the driver’s attention, but a Horrible Gelatinous Blob creature beat him to the vehicle, and it flew away.

“Ah, crap on a white rug!” he yelled at the world in general.

Weehawken

President Glab banged her gavel, and the trial of Zapp Brannigan began.

“Zapp Brannigan, you stand accused of wanton dereliction of duty as an officer of DOOP and demonstrable unsuitability for command. How do you plead?”

Brannigan leaned forward. “Absolutely 99% not guilty!” he declared.

NNY

Fry skidded to a halt next to a public telephone. He had no money in his pockets, so he dialled collect, ready to recite the number for Leela’s wrist thing... but an unhealthy tone sounded from the receiver and the words ‘Out of Service’ flashed up on the telescreen. He looked down and noticed a small owl’s nest protruding from the telephone box casing.

“Oh hell!” he shouted desperately, slamming the receiver down violently.

Fry looked up to see a hovering Slurm truck begin to ascend from the road surface and pull away toward the north. Acting on impulse, he vaulted the payphone and ran toward the truck, leaping up with his cybernetic arm outstretched. He caught the underside of the flying vehicle, and his robotic claw sunk into the metal. He found himself dangling precariously from the bottom of the truck as it flew through the cavernous ‘streets’, hundreds of feet off the ground – taking a free ride.

Weehawken

“Captain Kroker,” the Hyperchicken drawled. “D’you mind explaining to the jury why y’all feel that the former Captain of the Nimbus sitting over yonder is unfit for DOOP command?”

“I would be happy to,” Kif replied.

Up in the viewing gallery, Fry leaned close to Leela and whispered: “This should be good.” She nodded, and they listened while Kif gave his lengthy testimony on the ineptitude and dereliction of Zapp Brannigan.

The trial wore on toward its inevitable conclusion.

“Your honour!” the Hyperchicken announced at last. “The prosecution rests!” With that, and a loud cluck, he tucked his head under one wing and appeared to go to sleep.

“Zapp Brannigan, the evidence against you is strong,” the President said, addressing the defendant’s booth. “Have you anything to say in your defence.”

“One thing, your honour,” Brannigan replied, standing up. “I would like… a glass of water.”

A murmur went through the audience and the President’s green brow furrowed in confusion. “Very well,” she said uncertainly.

Future Fry skidded to a halt at the foot the stairs leading up into DOOP headquarters. A trio of burley DOOP soldiers blocked his path.

“Stop! - Trial! - Brannigan! - Gun! - Kill everyone!” He gasped breathlessly, pointing wide-eyed at the building behind the troops.

“Get lost, you damn crazy,” one of the soldiers said, glaring at the unshaven madman in the dirty brown coat. “Get outta here or you’ll be locked up.”

“But Zapp has a gun!” he shouted. “You have to stop him!”

“What the hell are you yelling about, ya homeless bum?” a second soldier snapped, stepping forward and putting a heavy hand on Fry’s chest. “You want money or something? You ain’t gonna get it. Now scat!”

Fry bared his teeth in fury. He grabbed the trooper’s wrist with his cybernetic right hand and twisted until the man screamed out in agony and the crunch snapping tendons could be heard. He pushed the injured man aside and lunged forward, but a pair of lightsabre batons cracked against his legs and he fell headlong on the stairs. The other two soldiers were on him, pinning his arms and legs and calling for backup. Fry clawed desperately at the stairs that his face was being crushed against, shouting at the top of his lungs.

“LEELA!! LEEEEELA!!”

Leela looked up, narrowing her eye. For a moment she thought she’d heard someone calling her faintly at the limits of her hearing range. She glanced at Fry sitting beside her, but he was absorbed in the court case and didn’t seem to have heard anything.

It must be my imagination, she decided.

The bailiff brought a pitcher of water and Zapp slowly poured himself a glass, and then stood holding it, staring into space.

“You know,” he said, “a very sexy and heroic starship Captain once remarked that in the game of chess you never let your opponent see your pieces.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a capsule no larger than a button.

Glab narrowed her eyes. “What is that?” she demanded.

“This?” Zapp said, lifting the little pill so that all could see. “This is the insurance policy I kept concealed beneath a strategically cultivated fold of fat for nearly ten years in case I ever needed it. This is shrewdness and forward-planning, the strengths of a true leader.”

Leela lunged up from her chair and shouted. “It’s a suicide pill! Stop him!”

The court guards rushed forward, but instead of swallowing it, Zapp dropped the little pill into the glass of water, and with a loud popping sound it began to expand, breaking the glass and forming into a familiar shape.

“…Okay, it’s not a suicide pill.” Leela sunk back down.

Zapp gripped the now re-hydrated positron blaster and grinned savagely. “Case DISMISSED!” he shouted, levelling the weapon and opening fire at the approaching guards.

The sizzle of positron blasts and a symphony of terrified screams reached the soldiers outside through their communicators.

“Oh God, he was telling the truth!” said the man who was currently putting his knee into future Fry’s back.

“What are you waiting for?” Fry shouted angrily as the soldiers climbed off him. “Go!” The soldiers raced into the building, unstrapping their rifles as they went, and Fry scrambled after them, bruised and winded. More soldiers joined the other from their posts inside the building, rushing toward the central hall where the shots had come from.

After dispatching the guards, Zapp aimed the gun up at the President and fired through her podium, blasting a hole though the timber stand and the middle of her torso with a shower of splinters and green blood. The President fell dead to the floor and Zapp turned his attention elsewhere, roasting the Hyperchicken with a close proximity blast.

Kif leapt over the witness table and rushed headlong at the deranged gunman, diving at Brannigan in a desperate attempt to grapple the weapon from his hands. Zapp caught the movement and swung the gun up to crack against Kif’s head, sending the little alien sprawling.

“And now, a reckoning,” he said, looming over Kif and pointing the gun down at his head.

“No!” Amy shouted, lurching up from her seat and scrambling forward.

Leela was already moving, overtaking Amy and barging past a few straggling evacuees. She ignored Fry’s cry for her to stop and leapt headlong over the balustrade, flying through the air and crash-tackling Zapp to the ground.

The two of them rolled together, both scrabbling at the gun, which discharged a few times, blasting chunks out of the floor and ceiling. By sheer weight, Zapp managed pin Leela beneath him, and the two grappled for the positron rifle.

“The lovely, luscious Leela,” Zapp hissed.

Fry leapt from the viewing gallery and raced toward Zapp and Leela as the former Captain of the Nimbus pulled the gun out of the cyclops’ grip and pointed it at her head.

“Suck on this then, you one-eyed whore!” Zapp spat, caressing the trigger.

A black sneaker at the end of a denim-clad leg caught Zapp in the side of the face, throwing him back violently. The gun went off, sending a spear of plasma into the floor next to Leela’s head. Fry jumped over Leela, ready to follow through with another kick, but a dozen heavily-armed soldiers rushed inside, pointing their assault lasers at everyone present. Fry froze in mid stride, and Zapp looked up with manic eyes.

For a heartbeat there was stillness.

Then suddenly an orange-haired figure in a grimy brown coat charged past the soldiers, barrelling straight at Zapp. The Zapper didn’t even have time to adjust his aim before the oddly familiar looking man was upon him, and a steel fist hammered into his face with crushing force.

Zapp crashed to the ground, blood spraying from his nose and mouth. An errant tooth skittered on the marble floor, and his blaster fell from his grip and slid a few feet away. He groaned and spat more blood, looking up at the figure that loomed over him and trying to blink away the points of light that danced in his vision. Zapp’s eyes widened in confusion; he turned his head to look at the orange-haired nitwit who was standing near Leela, and then looked back at the figure in the coat who was glaring down at him.

“You…? You’re… what is this?” he spluttered. There appeared to be two incarnations of Philip Fry in the same room. “Who the hell are you?”

“Me? I’m the right hand of fate, you sack of crap,” future Fry hissed. “You killed the woman I love, and I’m here to set that straight. You’re going down.”

Across the room, Fry and Leela gaped at the trenchcoat-clad stranger in amazement.

“Fry…” Leela gasped. “That man… he’s…”

“Yeah.” Fry nodded agreement. “A damn fine looking man. A Cadillac of human beings. A bastion of perfection for the world to look upon in wonder and…”

“No, Fry, don’t you see? …that’s YOU.”

“I know; that’s what I meant.”

Future Fry leaned down to grab Zapp, but the deranged lunatic scrabbled backwards towards his gun.

“Stop, Brannigan!” one of the soldiers shouted from behind future Fry. Fry moved to intercept the madman, but he reached the gun and rolled onto his back, firing a wild, untrained arc of positron energy into the air. Fry ducked as the blast ripped past inches from his head.

The energy bolt slammed into the ceiling of the chamber, causing a massive explosion of masonry that rained down onto the courtroom floor. A number of soldiers were struck down by falling chunks of marble and concrete, and the courtroom filled with billowing clouds of cloying dust.

Future Fry couldn’t see anything. He scrabbled around desperately, searching blindly for Zapp Brannigan so he could tear out the monster’s throat. His hands found an arm, and he grabbed it hard, but a woman’s shout of alarm stopped him. Gradually the dust began to settle, and he found himself staring at Leela, standing before him alive and vibrant and beautiful. She was blinking dust particles from her eye, and then looked up at him in wonder, her pristine face awash with unasked questions. He let go of her arm and gaped at her in wonder and joy.

“Hey!” Fry turned and saw the slightly younger version of himself staring at him stupidly. “How come you’re me? I’m s’posed to be me! Quit copying!”

“I’m…” future Fry trailed off, lost for words and suddenly remembering Zapp. He looked around desperately and saw only Amy and the DOOP soldiers picking themselves up.

“Where’d he go?” he shouted. “Where’s Zapp!?”

“Didn’t see,” one of the soldiers wheezed, coughing out a lungful of dust. “He slipped away… God, the bastard’s killed the President!” The soldiers began to spread out and search.

Leela and Fry were still staring at future Fry in astonishment.

“Are you… a clone?” Leela asked, gazing at the gaunt, scarred and unshaven version of the man she loved.

“No… I’m from the future,” he replied, turning back to look at her again. A strange storm of emotions pulled at his face, and suddenly tears sprang from his eyes. “A horrible future!”

“What’s wrong?” Leela said, alarmed at the look of anguish on his face. She was startled when he suddenly stepped forward and embraced her, burying his head into the nook of her shoulder and crying quietly.

“Hey… come on… it’s okay…” she said, holding him uncertainly. She looked at present-day Fry over the shoulder of his future counterpart, unsure of what to do or say. “There there,” she comforted uncertainly.

Fry watched his future self hugging Leela. He didn’t know if he should feel jealous or not. The image was a confusing one. Bender wandered down from the viewing gallery and nudged him in the side.

“Looks like you’re stealing your own girlfriend off yourself, chump,” the robot remarked with a chuckle.

Fry coughed politely, and future Fry detangled himself From Leela, wiping his eyes.

“Sorry,” he said. “I just… seeing you again…”

Leela looked at him, narrowing her eye. “Uh… Fry?” she said.

“Yeah?” both of them replied in unison.

“The future one,” she clarified. “Why did you come back? What… what happened? You said something to Zapp, that he killed somebody…”

Fry looked her in the eye, and she saw a knife-edge of anguish pass across his face. In that instant she knew; a sense of horror and amazement came over her.

“I died?” she whispered. Fry inclined his head silently. “I died, and you came back to save me?”

“Yes.”

“Oh Fry…” Leela was dumbfounded, lost for words. She’d know that Fry would do anything for her… but to change the very course of time.

“Wow...” present-day Fry breathed, impressed. “Hey, brown coat,” he said, addressing his future self. “Do you know where Zapp’s headed now?”

“Oh yeah,” future Fry said dismissively. “He’s just gonna blow up the Orbiting Meadows funeral station, and himself along with it, and send the asteroid crashing into earth.”

“WHAT!?” Leela gasped, mortified. “But… that will kill millions!”

“It’s okay, they’re mostly Australians anyway,” future Fry said, waving aside her concern. “The important thing is that you’re safe.”

“But we can’t let this happen!” Leela insisted.

“Why not?” Bender asked, genuinely confused. “Like I always say: human life is worth less than toilet paper.”

“We followed him last time, because he took Amy hostage,” future Fry said. “But we weren’t able to stop him, and you… you died.”

“But if we alert the DOOP…”

“No time,” future Fry said with a hint of disgusted irony. “And anyway, he’s waiting for them to show up. They’re his damn audience.”

“Then it’s up to us!” Leela insisted.

“NO!” future Fry shouted vehemently, and the group looked at him in surprise. “We can’t stop him – he’s insane! I can’t lose you again!”

“We don’t have a choice,” Leela said softly.

“Kif?!” Amy yelled from across the room, and the others looked across at the Chinese girl; she was looking around in frantic desperation. “Kiffy!? Oh no… I can’t find him anywhere!”

Zapp piloted the little shuttlecraft out of Earth’s atmosphere, his face set in fevered determination. He kept his gun trained on the green alien hostage while operating the craft with his free hand.

“What do you think this will accomplish?” Kif asked, forcing a level of calmness to his voice that he didn’t feel. “This is just a candlepower transport – you can’t even get out of Earth’s orbit in it.”

“Shut up, you traitorous scum!” Zapp snarled, glaring ahead. The dome of the Orbiting Meadows funeral asteroid loomed ahead, passing across the sun. “There are grave happenings afoot,” he muttered, giggling at his own joke.

Kif sighed expressively.

“This is the endgame,” Zapp said.

Low Earth Orbit

“The Marine detachment on the station isn’t responding to my hails,” Leela said as she piloted the Planet Express Ship through the upper reaches of the thermosphere and into open orbit. She backed off the engines as she watched the funeral asteroid lazily swim into view on the convex horizon ahead.

“He must already be there,” she muttered to herself, setting a course to intercept with Orbiting Meadows.

Future Fry sat in his seat anxiously. He hadn’t been able to stop them taking off to save Kif and prevent catastrophe; while he understood and agreed with their sentiment, he was still terrified beyond words that the new timeline would end up mirroring the old. His facial scar itched in tune with his worries.

“I’m gonna break open the armoury,” present-day Fry said, moving back toward the companionway.

“No guns,” his future counterpart snapped, grabbing his arm. “Zapp’s set the oxygen to a high level or something. Any spark will blow the whole thing up.”

“Ta ma de!” Amy cursed between clenched teeth.

Fry looked down at the cybernetic hand that gripped his forearm. His other self let go and looked away.

“Cool arm,” Fry remarked uncertainly.

“Yeah,” future Fry grunted. “It’s a useful plot device. You should get one.”

“How did you…?”

His future self glanced up at him sharply with a raised eyebrow, the scar on his cheek catching the light. “How do you think?” he said.

“Oh… right.”

Future Fry got up and pushed past himself, moving ahead to where Leela sat. “You have to let me do this alone,” he said quietly, gripping the back of her chair. “I’ve travelled from one end of history to the other so I could stop you from being killed by that nutjob; I can’t just let you walk straight into the same trap all over again… please, Zapp’s mine. Let me take him apart. You guys stay in the ship.”

“Enough!” Leela snapped. “You can’t do it alone. Anyway, you’ve warned us of the danger, so we stand a better chance. Kif’s our friend… and besides…” her voice grew quiet “…Zapp’s state of mind is partly my fault.”

“That’s isn’t true, Leela” he said. “It was never true. You place so much responsibility on your own shoulders for things you have no control over...” He sighed and ran his left hand through his hair.

“Look,” Leela said, “whatever happened in the future you came from doesn’t change the fact that we have to do what’s right, whatever the cost.” She looked at him with sincerity shining in her eye. “There are more than ten billion people on Earth,” she said, “and every single one of them is going to die… one way or another. Nobody lives forever.”

“…All things that live will inevitably die,” Fry whispered to himself, remembering the Space God’s words.

“That’s right,” Leela murmured, placing a comforting hand on his forearm.

At the back of the cockpit, Fry watched with growing discomfort as his future self talked with Leela. The two appeared close, and Fry gritted his teeth. Things looked like they could get complicated.

“Bender,” he muttered, leaning close to the robot. “How am I supposed to feel about this?”

“Blind with murderous rage?” Bender offered cheerfully.

“But… he’s me,” Fry said.

“I guess that means it won’t technically be ‘cheating’ when she sleeps with him,” Bender replied. Fry glared at him and hurriedly strode up to the front of the cockpit, coughing loudly to interrupt himself and Leela.

“I think I have an idea,” he said.

“Well?” Leela prompted.

“Leela, you drop me and Bender and… the other me… at the station to save Kif and deal with Zapp. And then take the ship out and send Amy in a suit to rig the diamond filiment to the asteroid so you can tow it out to a higher orbit…”

“And Leela will be out of danger,” future Fry added, grinning at his double. “That way even if Zapp does end up managing to blow the dome, the station will be high enough for its descent to be halted in time. Hey, good thinking.”

Fry looked at his future self coldly and said nothing.

“I don’t like it,” Leela said. “The three of you will be in there for a long time with no way out while I’m busy moving the station.”

“You wanna protect the people on Earth, right?” present Fry said.

“Yes but…”

“Then this is the best way,” future Fry added.

“Ahh!” She looked back and fourth between the two Frys, both of whom grinned at her in earnest. Operating in concert, the two of them almost formed a full and cohesive intellect, and they could actually string together a pretty good argument. She groaned in defeat.

“Alright Fry… and Fry,” she said. “We’ll do it your way. But I want you both in pressure suits, just in case.”

“Aye, Captain!” both of them said simultaneously.

Orbiting Meadows.

The little green freighter docked with the funeral station and set down gently on the landing pad. Three figures appeared at the top of the stairs – the two Frys, each clad in orange space suits with the helmets dangling from shoulder straps, and Bender grumbling half-heartedly about being dragged along for some stupid heroics, with an extra suit tucked under his arm.

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Leela suddenly appeared in the opening behind them and called out:

“Fry!”

They both turned, while Bender moved away respectfully.

She hurried down the stairs and glanced back and fourth between the two of them. She moved to future Fry first and hugged him; he looked dazed, but smiled slightly. Then she turned to present-day Fry, enveloping him in her arms and pressing her lips against his. She kissed him for a long moment, before stepping back onto the ship’s stair.

“Be careful, both of you,” she said to them. “Make sure you come out of there in one piece… uh… two pieces…? I’ll bring the ship back to pick you up as soon as possible.”

She ran up the stairs, and within seconds, the PE ship lifted off and gently jetted away, back out the docking gate.

“She’s so great,” future Fry said wistfully. “Just seeing her again now… I can almost forget how terrible I felt when I lost her.”

Present Fry watched him intently.

“You’re a really lucky man,” future Fry said.

“I know,” Fry replied.

“No you don’t,” his future self snapped. “You take what you have for granted because you think there’s always gonna be a tomorrow to appreciate it, but one day there won’t be. One day all you’ll have is memories, you need to make sure you have a lot of ‘em to cherish. You have to ask her the question.”

“The question?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” The two incarnations of Philip J. Fry stared at one another for a long moment, before Bender sauntered over and cleared his mechanical throat.

“We gonna save the stupid green loser, or are you two gonna stand around admiring each other’s perfect hair?” he growled impatiently.

Future Fry nodded. “Let’s end this thing,” he muttered.

Together, the three of them marched off toward the access passage.

Outside, in open space, Amy used the attitude thrusters on her manoeuvring pack to align herself as she floated quickly away from the Planet Express Ship. Behind her, she trailed the gossamer length of the ship’s diamond filament tether, which glinted like fine spiderweb in the light reflected from Earth.

“How goes it, Amy?” Leela asked over the short-range radio link.

“Almost there,” she replied.

“Good. I’ve radioed the DOOP task force and warned them to keep their distance, but I don’t know how long they’re going to be able to restrain themselves.”

Leela sat in the cockpit of the PE ship impatiently. She knew she didn’t need to rush Amy – the Chinese girl wanted Kif back as badly as Leela wanted Fry… Frys? She shook her head – things had become confusing. She couldn’t be in a relationship with two men, and yet it seemed monumentally unfair to expect the future incarnation of Fry to just fade away into the background after all he had done. Leela didn’t know what to do.

“Got it!” Amy said over the radio link. She had located one of the original mooring points used when the asteroid was first towed into orbit. With some deft movements, she looped the diamond filament around the enormous steel ring and tied if off.

“Ready to go,” she said.

The two Marines who had been stationed in the orbiting graveyard were sprawled at their posts, blood congealing on the grass around their prostrate forms.

“He’s been through here,” future Fry said needlessly, narrowing his eyes. “It’s just like last time. Everyone form up on me – keep your eyes peeled.” He moved ahead into the cemetery area with Bender and the other Fry following close behind.

Present-day Fry took a deep breath and wobbled on his feet. “What the?” he looked around. “I just got a little woozy,” he said. “Does everything smell grey all of a sudden?”

“Too much Oxygen,” future Fry explained again, tiredly.

“Why’s that a bad thing?” Bender asked, confused. “I thought Oxygen was good for you disgusting organic lifeforms.”

“Too much of it can be bad,” Fry replied. “It can be poisonous… and worse than that, it can act as a flammable catalyst…” he trailed off, realizing he was repeating what Leela had said last time…. Last time? That ‘time’ had never happened. It had been erased… and yet it still resided in his memories. He shook his head to clear the confusing tangle of temporal paradox.

They entered the graveyard and Fry moved off toward the place where he knew Brannigan would be.

“Zapp!” he called. “Come on out – this is the end!”

“That’s right!” a loud voice called from across the cemetery and the three of them looked up to see Zapp Brannigan standing on top of a large tombstone, holding his blaster aloft and grinning brokenly through the blood that still caked his lips. “It is the end,” he said. “The end for you, and for me… and look, you aren’t even armed!”

“We’ve come for Kif,” present-day Fry said, stepping forward. “Let him go and we’ll leave. That’s all we want.”

“You want to save the life of a worthless lizard?” Zapp snarled. “Very well then.” He reached down and dragged Kif out from behind the tombstone, throwing him forward onto the ground. The alien scrambled away and Bender helped him to his feet.

“And where might the lovely lady Leela be?” Zapp said.

“Washing her hair,” future Fry muttered.

“A pity,” Zapp said. “I’m sure she would have liked to have seen my crowning moment of triumph.” He started to look around through the dome in search of the DOOP flotilla he was expecting to arrive. He noticed instead, the blur flare of the Planet Express ship’s engine exhaust, and frowned in confusion.

“Moment of triumph?!” future Fry said quickly to distract him. “Is that what you call this act of cowardry-ly…ness?”

“COWARDRYLYNESS!?” Zapp bellowed, spinning back to glare at the redhead, and leaping down from the tombstone with his gun held high. “I don’t even know the meaning of the word! I have more bravery in my little finger than you have in your entire hand.”

“Is that why you’re running away and planning to kill yourself rather than facing the music?” present-day Fry asked with a smirk.

Behind them, Bender pressed the spare space suit into Kif’s hands.

“Put this on, slimebag,” he muttered to the alien. “Fry’s an idiot, so two of him is twice the idiot. They seem to think making Zapp angry is gonna help.”

“Thank you,” Kif murmured.

“Hey, don’t thank me – I didn’t even wanna come.”

Leela engaged the engine on low power so as not to jolt the station. With finesse, she hoped to be able to move it without alerting Zapp, though that was likely an impossibility. She felt the very slight jolt as the diamond tether became taut, and opened the engines up a little more. A rhythmic reverberation filled the cabin.

Amy entered the cockpit, shedding parts of her space suit as she went. She was sweaty after her EVA work, and her clothes clung wetly to her body, but hurried to her engineering station without hesitation.

“Engine output is nominal,” she said, with an edge of strain in her voice.

Leela glanced at the girl. “Kif’s gonna be okay,” she said reassuringly (also hoping to reassure herself). “Fry won’t let anything happen to him.”

Amy nodded wordlessly, and Leela turned her attention back to the console – the ship was towing the asteroid toward higher orbit at a snail’s pace – the massive chunk of ore was a much larger payload than they normally hauled. She gritted her teeth and narrowed her eye.

“Come on…!”

Zapp spat on the ground and ignored the present-day Fry, turning instead to the scarred and unshaven duplicate – the one who had struck him earlier.

“You,” he said. “You called yourself ‘the right hand of fate’, though that title is one I had thought to reserve for myself… for you see…” he made a vague gesture at the ground, “the world beneath our feet has always turned to me to protect it and solve its problems, and in that way I have held it in my sway. I am the real leader of Earth; not that preserved skull in a bottle. Me! Zapp Brannigan! The Zapper! The Man with No Name!”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Zapp,” future Fry muttered darkly.

“What would Earth be without me?” Zapp continued, as though he hadn’t heard. “Subjugated by alien hordes, forced to speak heretical foreign languages and pray to impotent foreign Gods. The world NEEDS people like me, to persecute without reason or exception – to scour the Universe of any threat, real or imagined – and to rule like a king!

“…But the world I serve has turned its back on me,” he went on in a quieter tone, looking down at the positron blaster in his hand.

“Well I’ve heard enough crap from admiral girdle,” Bender announced. “Let’s all go home and get some much-needed booze into our booze-holes.” He turned away, pulling Kif and present-day Fry by the arms.

“Don’t move another inch!” Zapp bellowed suddenly, pointing his blaster at the group with wild eyes.

“Why not?” Bender snapped. “What are you gonna do, shoot your gun off and ignite the atmosphere so the place blows up and kills us all? I’d like to see you try!”

“Bender!” Present Fry slapped a hand over the robot’s mouth unit, and Bender swatted him away indignantly.

Zapp began laughing, quietly at first, and gradually louder, until he was all but screaming with laughter and sending specks of spittle flying from his mouth.

“Ha…hahahaha!” Bender joined in, slapping his thigh and chortling as Zapp continued to cackle insanely.

“Oh Jeez…” Fry muttered. “Last time I heard a laugh like that it was from my elementary school English teacher right before she tore off all her clothes and started eating chalk. I think he’s really lost it.”

“Really?” Kif said, his voice dripping with dark sarcasm. “When did you come to that conclusion?”

“Oh I dunno,” Bender said, chuckling and wiping his eye. “I think this jerkwad’s a lot more fun than he used to be.”

A slight shudder ran through the asteroidal regolith beneath their feet, and Zapp looked up in alarm, becoming aware for the first time that the station was moving inexplicably away from Earth.

“Ah, I see!” he barked, baring his teeth at the others. “Trying to rob me of my grand send-off, are you? Well, a valiant attempt - but no dice!” He swung the blaster to point at future Fry, who had been edging furtively towards him.

“I had hoped for a larger audience, but I suppose you’ll have to do,” he said. “Time to meet our maker… let’s hope God is a sexy, many-breasted lady deity.”

“Well actually…” future Fry began, but trailed off as Zapp lifted his gun up into the air theatrically. “Oh jeez,” he said. Guys – RUN!”

“There’s nowhere to go…” Zapp whispered to himself, and applied pressure to the trigger.

At a High Elliptical Orbit altitude of more than sixty thousand kilometres, Leela backed off the engines and allowed the tether to go loose.

“That’s far enough,” she said. “Detach the filament, Amy – we’re going back for our boys.”

“Aye Captain!” Amy said enthusiastically, punching the keys.

Leela spun the Planet Express ship around on its axis and powered back toward the asteroid at high speed, hoping anxiously that everyone was still alright.

Future Fry lunged forward and grabbed at Zapp’s gun, managing to jam a finger behind the trigger. Zapp tried to fire, and was unable to activate the mechanism with Fry’s finger in the way. He grunted in frustration and aimed a punch at Fry’s head. The time-travelling delivery boy caught Zapp’s wrist with his cybernetic hand and squeezed, feeling the satisfying grind of bones beneath his grip.

“You filthy barbarian!” Zapp snarled savagely. “I’ll see you burn yet!” He lashed out with his foot, catching Fry in the groin.

Bender, Kif, and present-day Fry watched as future-Fry sagged in agony. Fry moved to help his other self, but the older incarnation shouted hoarsely for him to stay away.

“Go!” he yelled, still hanging desperately onto Zapp’s gun. “I don’t think I can stop him – just RUN!” He swiped across Brannigan’s torso with his steel-clawed right hand, opening up the larger man’s flesh and sending streamers of blood spraying onto the ground. Zapp shouted out loudly in pain and fury.

“I’m not gonna just leave you!” present-day Fry shouted. He started forward again, but Zapp’s gun swung in his direction as the two combatants scrabbled for it.

“You CAN’T leave me!” future Fry growled as he wrestled for the weapon. “You ARE me! And one version of us needs to survive to be with her – so GO!”

“He’s right – come on!” Bender said, grabbing Fry’s shoulder and pulling him backwards.

“But…”

Zapp pulled back, using his weight to throw the smaller man off-balance and twist out of his grasp. He cracked the handle of the blaster against future Fry’s head, knocking the delivery boy to his knees. Fry recovered fast, snapping out a strong kick into Zapp’s flabby stomach. Brannigan wheezed and stumbled back, reeling. His eyes fixed on the group by the exit; present Fry, Bender, and Kif.

“Oh, you’re not leaving,” he snarled, levelling the blaster at them. The three friends gasped in horror as Zapp prepared to fire.

“No!” Future Fry shouted, launching himself up into Zapp’s line of fire.

The positron blast cut through the air leaving a flaming trail that flared and expanded, and slammed into future Fry’s outstretched right arm, blasting apart the cybernetic prosthesis and continuing onward into his torso. He was thrown to the ground amid a ring of fire that began eating rapidly into the atmosphere. Zapp was engulfed in it, and the sound of his laughter carried over the roar of the flames.

“…This is right…” future Fry whispered to himself as his vision faded. “My life… for hers…”

Kif and Bender dragged Fry back through the adjoining passage as a massive incandescent fireball billowed out and engulfed the cemetery.

The atmosphere erupted in flames that expanded out rapidly. The three fleeing figures were caught by the blast wave and lifted off the ground as it pushed them through the access tunnel, limbs flailing and screams stifled by the roar of burning air.

Leela’s eye widened in horror as she watched the deadly orange blossom unfold inside the Orbiting Meadows dome that floated in space straight ahead.

“Oh my sweet Lord, no!” she cried. “No! No!” She slammed the ship’s throttle to full, gunning straight for the station’s docking tube even as the main dome ruptured and began to disgorge great streaming columns of flaming gas into the void.

The docking gate wasn’t fully open, but Leela flew onward heedlessly, clipping the tail fin against the plexiglass barricade. Inside the secondary dome, the air roared and spiralled violently toward the atmospheric breech; the Planet Express ship came through the airlock and was spun about madly in the sudden maelstrom.

“Aii!” Amy shrieked, clinging to her belt buckle.

With monumental skill, Leela managed to bring the ship into a stable hovering pattern against the roaring torrent of air.

“Where are they?!” she gasped in mortified falsetto, staring out through the forward viewscreen in desperation.

“Oh my God,” Amy sobbed.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, three figures slammed into the forward viewscreen and hung there spread-eagled, making the women jump in fright. One was Bender, while the other two were shrouded in space suits with the hastily-affixed helmets misted by condensation.

“Stay strapped-in,” she ordered Amy. “This is gonna get bumpy.” With that, she hit the landing button, and the embarkation stair descended, allowing the air inside the PE ship to rush out in a deafening torrent that whipped savagely around them. The three figures slipped down the front of the ship and fell to the ground while the landing stairs settled nearby. They picked themselves up and ran up the stairs, and Bender slammed his hand against the emergency lock button when they reached the top, causing the staircase to ascend again.

A series of explosions rocked through the asteroid as power reactors and oxygen tanks erupted spectacularly. The gravity generators overloaded and the PE ship bobbed freely in the rapidly disintegrating dock facility.

Leela and Amy paused to let their ears stop popping, then detached themselves from their chairs and rushed weightlessly back through the companionway. In the common area, they met with Bender and the two suited figures who were floating dazed with their helmets still on.

“Someone’s missing,” Amy sobbed, wringing her hands.

Slowly, both the figures removed their helmets. Fry and Kif looked breathless and bruised by their brush with explosive decompression, but a sense of mournfulness pervaded over all else.

Amy rushed to embrace Kif, sobbing gently on his shoulder as her pent up anxiety finally released. Leela similarly clung to Fry; and Bender, feeling left out, pulled a bottle of malt liquor from his chest cavity and hugged it tenderly.

Leela pulled back from Fry and looked questioningly into his eyes.

“The other one…?” she said softly. Fry shook his head, and Leela let out a small moan of anguish.

“He saved us,” Fry said. “He put himself between us and Zapp to give us a chance…”

“Oh God Fry,” Leela whispered, clinging to him. “It was supposed to be me. He… you… he… died in my place.”

“I’d have done the same thing,” Fry said comfortingly. “Oh wait… I did… didn’t I?”

A staccato clatter echoed through the hull as clouds of asteroid debris rained against the ship.

“The place is coming apart,” Bender said. “Perhaps it’s time we were elsewhere.”

Leela nodded, swallowing hard. “Right,” she said, reluctantly pulling away from Fry and jogging off to the bridge.

The main reactors and redundant atmo-supply tanks erupted in final violent splendour, tearing great gouts of rubble from the surface of the asteroid in shimmering tongues of gas and plasma. The Planet Express ship blasted away from the stricken rock.

One week later.

Old New York.

The procession made their way slowly through the ruins of the old city. New York, the New York that was, lay mouldering beneath the base of the new city that formed a ceiling hundreds of feet above – a city on a plate, poised oppressively above the dim shambolic slums below.

Leela and Fry carried a long crate between them, and Bender held a pair of shovels over his shoulder and a dog-shaped bundle under one arm. Amy and Zoidberg followed along, occasionally stopping to help Professor Farnsworth clear some obstacle or other. Farnsworth clutched a chocolate iced cake and muttered intermittently about random subjects.

“It was nice of Kif to organize transport of the body to us,” Leela remarked to break the gloomy silence.

“He said it was the least he could do,” Amy replied. “He would be here, but the DOOP needs him now with the loss of the President. There’s some who are tipping him to be the next in line for leadership. They didn’t really know what to do with the dead body of a living person anyway – their official protocols don’t cover that.”

“Yes…” Leela trailed off. It was difficult indeed – they’d had to keep Hermes in the dark about what had happened, because if he’d gotten wind that Fry (any Fry) was dead, then he’d bust the present living Fry down to zombie salary.

She stared at the back of Fry’s head in front of her. “Fry, are you sure about this?” she asked.

“Positive,” Fry replied, hefting the crate to get a better grip as they marched onward. “It seems there aren’t many places you can legally bury a person who is officially still alive, so this is really the best choice open to us.”

Leela nodded, looking down at the evidence crate with the DOOP logo stamped on it. “Still,” she said quietly, “I can’t help wonder if this is the best we could do for him.”

“Hey, relax,” Fry said, forcing lightness to his voice as he led the group through the gates of an ancient cemetery. “I’ve never really cared much about what happens to me after I die. My body, I mean. Unless it’s something gross like getting chopped up and put into tins of pet food and eaten by homeless people.”

“That was outlawed last year,” the Professor said in a moment of lucidity.

“Those damn liberal protestors!” Zoidberg moaned hungrily. He looked at the Professor, noticing the cake in the old man’s hands. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked, pointing at the cake with his mouth tentacles twitching.

“Am I going to eat what?” the cake replied in confusion.

“Shut up, dammit!” the Professor snapped. “We’re all going to eat it,” Zoidberg brightened, “except you, Zoidberg!”

“Awwww!”

Fry finally reached the spot and he and Leela set the crate down. He had only come once before, as a kind of clarification for himself after locating the place on the Internet. Now he swallowed back a lump in his throat as he looked down at the age-worn headstones of his mother and father, standing next to each other.

“Okay,” he said, taking a pace to the side where an open area of dry earth lay beckoning. “Let’s dig.”

Bender tossed him a shovel, and together the two of them set to work digging, while the others stood back in respectful silence. At length they finished the work and stood back; Fry sweating and Bender guzzling booze. Leela moved forward and helped Fry lower the crate into the hole, and then Fry took the dog-shaped bundle that Bender had been carrying and put it down at the foot of the hole, near the bottom of the crate.

“I’ve been reluctant to part with old Seymour,” he explained sheepishly when Leela raised her eyebrow at him. “I guess now I never really have to. A part of me can be here with my parents and my dog, no matter where I go.”

“That’s sweet Fry,” she said, touching his hand. “Do you want to say something?”

“I think the plaque I carved says it all,” he replied, gesturing at Bender. The robot pulled a home-made wooden cross out of his chest cavity and tossed it to Fry, who moved to the head of the grave and hammered it into the ground with the flat of his shovel.

Leela squinted in the poor light to read the childlike words Fry had carved into a plaque on the cross.

“Hear liez Philip J Fry – gratest guy in the univers!” She rolled her eye at his triumphant grin.

“Now nobody can say I’m not the greatest guy in the Universe,” Fry said proudly.

“Does anybody else have something to say?”

“He was a hero,” Bender said, “and he still is.” The others looked at him in surprise, Fry in particular gaping in astonishment at the admission.

“Wow, Bender… do you mean that?”

“I don’t mean anything!” Bender snapped in embarrassment, turning away. “Bite my shiny metal ass.”

The cake in Professor Farnsworth’s arms cleared its pastry throat. “I did not have the pleasure of knowing this particular incarnation of Philip J. Fry,” it said in a well-rounded public-speaking voice. “However, having become acquainted with his equal counterpart in this alternate timeline, I can say that he was a man of great strength of will and vibrancy of…”

“You be quiet!” Professor Farnsworth shouted angrily.

“Come on,” Fry said, digging his shovel into the mound of loose earth. “Lets finish this – I hate long goodbyes.” He and Bender began filling in the grave, shovelling dirt over the crate, and when they had finished they stood back with the others and silence descended.

“Hooray – I’m mourning with friends!” Zoidberg said happily.

“Shh!” Leela chided. She moved over to Bender and took a bunch of lilies out of his chest cavity, kneeling before the grave and laying them down.

She stayed that way for a moment, lost in melancholic thoughts, before looking up at Fry.

“I don’t ever want to have to bury you again,” she said quietly and seriously.

“Me either,” Fry replied.

“Alright, enough of your meaningless emotions,” the Professor said. “It’s time for the wake – who wants cake?”

“Oh I do!” Amy said.

The Professor took out a knife and proceeded to cut into the cake, prompting screams of horrific unbridled agony that echoed around the subterranean cavern for long minutes.

They made their way back out through the tangle of Old New York some time later. Fry and Leela dawdled some distance behind the group, and the others allowed them their space.

“You okay?” Leela asked him.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s just… he made me realize something.”

“What’s that?”

Fry looked pensive for a moment, and then a slight smile touched his lips. “That life is too short to waste,” he said, “and that every moment should be cherished.” He stopped, and Leela turned to stare at him.

“Leela,” he said. “This may not be the perfect time or place… but the thing is - there may never be a perfect time or place… times and places will pass us by if we try waiting for perfection, and one day there won’t be a tomorrow. So I’m gonna ask you a question here and now, in the middle of a dusty street underground, because I don’t wanna wait any longer to ask it.”

“…A question?” Leela said breathlessly, holding a hand over her heart.

“Yeah,” Fry said. Slowly, he took Leela’s hand in his own and got down on one knee before her. “Turanga Leela…” he began…

END.

Buddies