Part Four: Low Earth Orbit, July 15th, 3002
The autopilot automatically placed the Planet Express Ship in a parking orbit around Earth when Fry gave it no landing coordinates. It chimed at him for further instructions, but the redhead didn’t hear. He was staring blankly out the front viewport, lost entirely in thought. How could I have been so stupid? He wondered. In retrospect, it was pretty obvious that she’d been hiding something. The way she’d been reluctant to talk about the past, the fuzzy details about her family and friends, her proficiency with the laser when they were fighting the Momcorp guards… None of it fit with the scared, vulnerable girl that he’d helped adjust to a new life in the 31st century. And there were other clues, things that he should have picked up on. The strange looks she gave to aliens that passed on the streets, that comment she’d made about Hermes at the restaurant; And then there had been the incident with the rental clerk. Why did I just let that pass? He wondered. Am I really that clueless? Or did I just want so badly to believe that the mask that Chelsea put up for me was the real thing that I ignored anything that might hint otherwise?
He let his body sink farther into the padding of the Captain’s chair and let his head rest on his arms, which he’d crossed in front of him on the ship’s wheel. The autopilot chimed at him again. It was becoming annoyed with its sluggish pilot. Fry ignored it. What am I going to do? He couldn’t go home. When Chelsea made it back to Earth, and he was confident that she would, she’d probably go looking for him. He already knew how effective his front door was at keeping her out.
Fry felt a wave of despair wash over him. I’ve done it again. He realized. The despair was replaced by self-loathing. I had another chance to start over, and I screwed it up. Again! I cant go back to work, not with a crazy cyborg after me. I can’t go home. What am I going to do?!
The autopilot chimed a third time, much more insistently than before. The machine’s consciousness was beginning to worry that something might be wrong with the human in the Captain’s chair. For the pentillionth time it wished that someone would update it with rudimentary language software. Until then, it would have to determine the best course of action without input from the pilot. Its main autonomous decision tree dictated that, in the case that it had been granted control of the ship and its crew had become nonresponsive, it should return to base as quickly as possible. When Fry didn’t make any attempt to feed the machine new orders, the autopilot restarted the engines and dipped the vessel’s nose into the atmosphere.
Fry picked his head up from the steering wheel and immediately had to shade his eyes from the glow of superheated plasma that had built up around the ship’s nose. Thinking that he was crashing, Fry panicked. Luckily, the computer had already decided he was in no condition for command and ignored his orders, or the PE ship would likely have come apart under the strain of the things that Fry was telling it to do.
In a few seconds the ship had slowed to the point that the plasma faded away. New New York sat before him, its lights glittering like a jewel in the night. Fry stopped wrestling with the unresponsive controls and watched the city rise up to meet him. The ship banked to starboard, and suddenly Fry was flying over the Hudson River. Up ahead in the distance there was a shimmering light. There was enough moonlight for the redhead to make out the shape of the Planet Express Building. The light was escaping through the structure’s roof as the hangar doors opened to welcome him.
The Planet Express Ship settled gently on its haunches and turned itself off. Fry pulled the key from the ignition and stood. Not really sure what else to do, the redhead left the bridge and wandered to the ship’s ramp. His steps echoed loudly in the stillness. He knew it was silly, but he felt a little guilty for being in the Planet Express building uninvited. It wasn’t really trespassing- he hadn’t wanted to come here, after all- but it still felt weird. And then to top it off, he wasn’t really sure yet where he was going.
The door at the rear of the Professor’s laboratory whisked open, and Farnsworth came shuffling out, his white lab coat rustling about him. The scientist was carrying a giant set of tongs and a big cardboard box that was labeled “Leela’s Organs”. When he saw Fry standing at the foot of the ship, the spring left the old man’s step.
“Huh-wha?” Farnsworth came to a stop a few feet from the redhead. He adjusted his glasses. “Fry? What are you doing here?”
Fry just shrugged. “I dunno. I didn’t mean to be here. The ship wanted to come here.”
“Yes, the ship sent me a message that it was coming, and that the pilot might need medical attention.” He raised his tongs, pointedly. “Is Leela injured?”
“No Professor, sorry.” His eyes fell. “I went looking for her, but all I found was the ship.”
”Ah, I see.” Farnsworth’s face crumpled in disappointment. He let the box slide to the floor, jostling the empty jars that were contained within.
Fry, of course, misinterpreted his reaction. “I know. I miss her too.” It was true, no matter how much it hurt his pride to admit it. Suddenly, the weight of the day’s events came crashing down on him, and he remembered that he hadn’t slept more than a few hours in the last forty eight “Hey, Professor,” he said, stifling a yawn, “can I crash here tonight?”
The abrupt change in subject didn’t seem to catch the scientist off guard. Fry thought it most likely that it was because Farnsworth had forgotten the previous conversation already. “Why of course! Just remember to be awake by 6:00. You have an early morning cheeseburger delivery to the planet of American Stereotypes.”
“Uhh, but Professor, I don’t work here anym- Oh, never mind.” Farnsworth began to shamble away, but he stopped when he’d made it about halfway to the door at the back of his lab. “Oh, and Fry,” He called over his shoulder, “Have you seen Leela?”
The lumpy. stained cushions of the lounge’s couch were more of a mental comfort than a physical one. It was only a short time before Fry felt the mantle of sleep descend upon him, but he forced it away momentarily. He knew that he would have to do something decisive come the next morning. It was sorely tempting to just cut his looses and see if that job Hermes had offered him was still available, but he knew that it wouldn’t work. He’d never actually told Chelsea where Planet Express was located, but she’d figure that out pretty quick. It would also be the first place that she looked for him when it became clear that he wasn’t going to return to his apartment. For now he was safe; No one was going to break into the Planet Express building. The place had been made a fortress, both to guard against anyone meaning to steal Farnsworth’s doomsday devices, and, to some extent, to keep some of the Professor’s experiments from thinking about escaping.
Fry’s thoughts turned to Leela. When he’d had to work with her she’d seemed bossy and overbearing, but she’d always had his back, no matter what. Now that she was gone, he realized how much that in itself had meant to him, and how much he had taken it for granted. But he didn’t just miss Leela, he missed the whole Planet Express crew. He was even beginning to look back fondly on Bender’s shenanigans. Well, the ones that had only ended with Fry in the hospital, anyway. His new life had seemed so promising, but now it lay in shambles, all because his new girlfriend just happened to turn out to be some psychotic cyborg bent on the systematic assimilation or extermination of all organic life. To make things worse, Fry was probably now at the very top of said crazy cyborg’s hit list.
Who would’ve ever thought having a cyborg for a girlfriend could possibly be a bad thing? He thought darkly.
Chelsea would probably kill him if she found him, and he couldn’t do a thing about it. The only person that might possibly be able to take her on was Leela, and she was missing. If only I knew where she was. That alien guard said that Mom’s sons took her. That could mean anything, he knew. She could be stuck in some private prison hidden somewhere- anywhere- in the universe. For that matter, she might very well be dead. And there’s no way for me to know, one way or the other. A thought, born of desperation and the fuzzy logic that comes with being on the edge of sleep, thrust its way into the forefront of his mind. Unless I sneak into Momcorp headquarters and find out…
A jolt of adrenaline blasted through Fry’s system when someone tried to shake him awake. His eyes shot open, but it was only Hermes that was standing over him. He’d slept through the entire night. No crazed cyborgs had assaulted the building.
Hermes looked about as perplexed as Fry had ever seen him. “By Jah, Fry, what are you doing here? And why is da ship back in da hangar?”
Now that the adrenaline rush was gone, it took a moment for Fry’s brain to climb out of its fog. He blinked, rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, and sat up. “Ungh, what?”
A hint of annoyance began to creep into the bureaucrat’s voice. He tried again. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, sorry.” Fry leaned back, and, raising his arms over his head, tried to stretch. His vertebrae made soft popping noises as he turned his torso to the left and right. “I went looking for Leela, Bender, and Amy yesterday. I found the ship.”
Hermes blinked in surprise. “I see…” That was good news. Planet Express had been, for all intents and purposes, out of business without its spaceship. The professor was in the process of dusting off the old blueprints, but it would be months before a working vessel could be built. The lost revenue from all of those packages that wouldn’t be delivered would have been a near disaster for the company.
“And what about da crew?”
Fry stopped stretching, and his face fell. “I didn’t find them.” He brightened. “But I have a list of things I’m going to do to figure out where they are…”
“You mean a plan?”
The first thing to do was to stop by his apartment and retrieve everything that he could. It was risky, he knew that, but he found himself unable to allow Chelsea the chance to smash the few treasures he’d managed to collect during his stay in the future. If nothing else, he had to retrieve his holophoner and that picture of Leela.
The closer he got to his apartment building, the more conspicuous he felt. By the time he’d reached the building’s front door his heart was beating hard enough that he thought every pedestrian that happened by couldn’t fail to hear it thumping in his chest. He scanned the lobby for hidden attackers, but it was empty. As he was about to press the elevator call button, the set of elevator doors to his left clunked open. The noise made him jump. An old woman shuffled out of the elevator car and, upon seeing the stark terror in his eyes, favored him with an odd look. Fry leaned against the wall to catch his breath, but the elevator doors began to close, and he had to squeeze through.
No one was waiting in ambush in the hallway outside his apartment, and he discovered with relief that his door was still locked. Even so, it took him awhile to gather the courage to put his key in the lock and enter the apartment. When the door squeaked opened he flinched in anticipation, but nothing happened.
Just to make sure he was really alone, Fry grabbed a knife off of his kitchen counter and carefully checked every nook and cranny that might serve as a hiding place. Finally, and at long last, he was convinced that he really was alone. His anxiety didn’t lessen, however, as he kept expecting Chelsea to come smashing into the room at any moment.
The holophoner and picture were both where he’d left them; the holophoner in its case under his bed, and the picture on his dresser. He stuffed the picture into the inside of his jacket and grabbed the instrument case in his right hand before making a beeline for the door. Something caught his eye. A piece of paper was sitting on the little end table next to his sofa. Curious, he picked it up, and every hair on the back of his neck stood up. It was a bill for the ship he and Chelsea had rented, and under it, neatly stacked, was a handful of crisp bills exactly covering Chelsea’s half of the bill. He bolted.
After he’d put about a mile between himself and his apartment, he finally managed to calm himself enough to remember that he had a mission. He made his way to the Robot Arms apartment building and stashed the holophoner and the picture in his old room. It was the safest place he could think of. He didn’t remember telling Chelsea where he and Bender had lived before he’d been fired, and he didn’t think she’d expect him to use it as a hiding place. Or at least, he hoped she wouldn’t.
The second phase of his plan wasn’t quite as thought out. He knew that he wanted to get into the Momcorp headquarters building, but as for how he was going to manage that, or for that matter, how exactly he was going to discover the PE crew’s whereabouts once he made it inside, he had no idea. There was also the small issue that Chelsea worked as a guard in the building. That ruled out trying to break in during the dayshift.
Inspiration finally struck after he’d been sitting at a café down the street for two hours, staring blankly at the Momcorp building while he nursed a cup of lousy coffee. A swarm of brown boxes was flitting in and out of the upper floors of the building, no doubt being processed by Momcorp’s delivery company, which was Planet Express’s main competitor.
When the sun finally set, Fry was just leaving a small convenience store. He had a roll of masking tape in one hand and a marker in the other. Whistling to himself, he nonchalantly made his way into the alley adjacent to the store. A few broken down cardboard boxes were stashed at the rear of the alley next to an overflowing dumpster. He was in luck; one of the boxes looked just big enough for him to crawl into. Shifting his supplies to his other hand, he propped the flattened box under his arm and set off for the nearest tubeway.
When he’d found a tube with no one nearby to see him, he put down his load and put the box together. When the bottom of the box had been taped together he scribbled a fake address on it, put it in the tube, and then climbed in. Unfortunately, Mom’s Friendly Surveillance Unit would have caught him on tape making the shipment, so they would know who to send the shipping bill to.
The tube’s computer waited for him to give it a destination. “Momcorp Delivery Services, please.” He said, not really sure why he was being polite to a computer program. Carefully, Fry closed the top of the box and applied a little tape to the inside of the lid to keep it from opening, and the tube whisked him away.
One disorienting and extremely uncomfortable ride later, Fry found himself lying on his head in the dark. He listened for voices or any other sound of people nearby, but everything was quiet. Slowly he undid the tape that was keeping the lid on the box and pushed upward against what had originally been the bottom of the box with his feet. The box slid upward a few inches and he surveyed what he could see of his surroundings through the gap between the box and the floor. He was in a large warehouse of sorts that was piled from floor to ceiling with cardboard boxes of every size imaginable. No one seemed to be anywhere nearby. Satisfied that he was alone, the redhead extricated himself from his cardboard Trojan horse and stood up. After dusting himself he looked around him for an exit. He had to search for it, hidden as it was behind a stack of boxes.
On the other side of the door was a long, grey corridor that curved away in both directions. Alright. He said to himself. Now, if I were some kind of super secret database thingy, where would I be? After much thought, Fry decided to head left. It seemed as good a direction as any.
This late in the day, all of the corridors were empty. Fry tried some of the doors that he came across, but most of them were locked, and the rest were storerooms and offices that contained nothing of use to him.
It was just starting to dawn on him how very large the Momcorp building was, and how very unlikely it was that he was going to stumble upon the information that he was looking for when he thought he heard the sound of distant footsteps behind him. He froze for a moment and listened. Yes, there was definitely someone coming. His first impulse was to run, but he caught himself. He tried a nearby door; it was unlocked. As quietly as he could he pushed it open enough to squeeze his body through, and then lightly pressed it closed again. The clunk-clunk-clunk of boots on metal grew louder. Fry held his breath, but whoever it was didn’t break stride when they passed. Unable to resist, Fry opened the door a crack and stole a glance at the figure that was retreating down the corridor. What he saw made his heart leap. Shouting in surprise and joy, he leapt from his hiding place and bounded out into the hallway. The figure stopped and turned around, her one eye swiveling to stare right through him.
“Leela!” He yelled, a grin splitting his face from ear to ear. “I can’t believe it!” He tried to embrace her. “God it’s good to see you. I-” Suddenly he was lying on the floor with one of Leela’s knees planted firmly on his neck. Fry couldn’t breathe. He looked up at the PE Captain, terrified.
“Why?” He managed between gasps.
The butt of Leela’s weapon connected solidly with the side of his skull.
“Ungh, my head.” Fry moaned and sat up. “Where am I?” His whole head was throbbing, and for some reason, the whole left side of his face was sore. Without thinking, he reached up and touched his cheek, and was rewarded with a jolt of pain.
Fry forced himself to stand. In front of him was a shimmering, yellow force field, humming like a fluorescent light. Beyond that was a dimly lit, seemingly unoccupied compartment about ten meters square. A half dozen small handheld weapons were mounted on a rack on the far wall, a couple meters from the only doorway. The ex-delivery boy scratched his head. How had he ended up here? He couldn’t quite remember. Something about sneaking into Momcorp? God my head hurts. He turned around and began to pace, but froze after only a single step. There, at the other end of the room, were Leela, Bender, and Amy, all dressed in grey uniforms.
When Fry recognized Leela, he took an immediate step backward and instinctively raised his arms protectively across his chest. “What- what are you doing here?” He managed. His eyes were fixed on the PE Captain, waiting for her to make the slightest move against him.
Nothing happened. Leela didn’t respond. Actually, Fry realized, she seemed to just be staring off into space, like she didn’t even know he was there.
When a few seconds had passed and Leela still made no move to attack him, Fry took a couple of steps forward. “Uhh, Leela?” He tried again. Still no answer. Fry’s fear was replaced by a combination of confusion and worry.
“Amy? Bender? Can you guys hear me?” The robot and the intern just continued to stare blindly at the wall beyond the force field. Fry crouched in front of Leela and waved his hand in front of her face, but she made no sign.
“They won’t answer you.” Someone declared. Fry just about jumped out of his skin before turning to find Walt standing in front of the force field, his hands clasped behind his back.
“Who are you?!” Fry demanded, balling his fists. “What did you do to them?!”
Walt laughed at the fury in Fry’s voice. “What, don’t you remember me?” He asked, feigning hurt feelings. “I helped you and that idiot nephew of yours save the world from an army of rebelling robots, remember?”
Fry had to think about that for a minute. He seemed to remember something about robots taking over the world. Oh, that’s right. “You mean in that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie? Because I don’t remember being in that...”
“What? No! Last Valentine’s Day, when Mother- Oh, forget it.” Walt made an irritated noise and shook his head. “My name is Walt. As for your friends, I’ve just ensured that they’ll stick around long enough to pay off the debt they owe me.”
Fry took a look over his shoulder at his old coworkers. None of them had moved even an inch. Debt? He wondered. “Why can’t they hear me?” Fry asked.
“Oh, they can hear you.” Walt assured. “They just can’t answer. That’s the trouble with mind control; You can still see, hear, and feel everything around you. You know exactly what it is that you’re doing. You just can’t do anything about it.” Walt met Leela’s blank gaze. He sneered at her.
Fry tried to imagine what that would be like. Leela’s gonna be pissed. “But why?” He demanded.
“Because they ruined everything!” Walt snapped. “Mother put me in charge of the Cardenian Moss operation, and if she discovers that the whole crop has been destroyed, she’ll probably kill me. The only way to make sure that she never finds out is to hide all the evidence, and that includes them.” Walt gestured at the PE Crew. “Until this whole thing blows over, they’ll work for me. I put Ms. Wong and that bending robot to work on the spaceship assembly line, and Captain Leela makes an excellent security system- as you discovered earlier.” He chuckled. “I still haven’t decided where I’m going to place you.”
“Wait, me?” Fry’s face went pale. “You’re going to brain-control me too?!”
Walt frowned. “You haven’t left me much choice.” He retorted. “You snuck into Momcorp Headquarters looking for the Planet Express Crew, and I can’t let you go now that you’ve found them.” Without waiting for a response, Walt turned and walked to the weapon rack that was mounted on the far wall. He picked up one of the weapons and returned to the force field. He twisted a knob on the weapon and pointed it at Fry’s chest.
“Now, it takes a few minutes for the neural suggester to interface with the brain and start transmitting delta brain waves, and I can’t have you ripping the device out before it takes over your motor functions, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to stun you.”
Walt reached for the force field’s control panel, and the field vanished. Fry put his hands up and began backing slowly away. “Now hold on just a second-” he pleaded. “Why don’t we just stop and talk about this for a bit like two grown up-” Walt shot him squarely in the stomach, and Fry was out cold yet again.
Fry awoke with a start to find himself sprawled facedown on the floor of the cell. His head still hurt from the blow dealt it by Leela’s rifle, and his neck itched a little, but otherwise he seemed unharmed. But am I a zombie? Fry wondered. He didn’t feel like he was under the influence of mind control. There was a puddle of slobber on the floor, though. But come to think of it, he did that pretty often anyway. But then again, he wasn’t sure exactly what being zombified was supposed to feel like. Well, only one way to find out. He tried to sit up.
His body did what he told it to. Ok, that was easy. He thought. What about… He told his right hand to move, and had no trouble putting it up in front of his face. His fingers obeyed the little random orders he gave them, and even succeeded in poking him in the eye.
What’s going on? I thought my brain was supposed to be under Walt’s control! The itch at his neck began to bother him, and he scratched it absently. His finger found something on his skin that hadn’t been there before. At first he thought it was a mole, but it felt solid, as though it were made of metal.
There wasn’t a mirror in the cell, but Fry could see a little of his reflection in the force field if he got close enough. When he squinted at the image of the thing on his neck he could make out what looked like circuitry etched into a metal disc. Hair-thin wires snaked out of the sides of the disc and disappeared into his skin. The sight of those wires penetrating into his body made Fry panic. By the time he’d thought about what the consequences might be, he’d already ripped the device off of the surface of his skin and thrown it to the floor.
Fry stood over the little disc, breathing heavily. For a minute he watched it, as if he expected it to get up and roll away under its own volition. It didn’t work. Fry thought at last. The mind control didn’t work on me. Why not? Obviously it had worked on the PE Crew. They were still sitting in the same positions they had been in when Fry’d woken up in the cell the first time. And, now that he knew to look, he could see little metal discs on Amy and Leela’s necks and on the side of Bender’s head. Fry walked over to Amy and knelt down beside her. He began to reach for her disc, but Amy jerked away at the last moment.
The intern’s sudden movement startled Fry, and he withdrew his hand. “Amy?” He asked uncertainly. “Did you do that?”
When Amy didn’t respond, Fry reached for the disc again, only to have her jerk away again. The mind control thing must be making her do that. Fry guessed after a third attempt. He waited for a few seconds and then grabbed at the disc with an abruptness and speed that didn’t give Amy a chance to react. The ex-delivery boy’s fingertips grabbed ahold of the device attached to Amy’s neck. He just barely managed to duck out of the way of the intern’s fist as it sailed by his head, and then yanked on the disc. It came away from her skin with a sound that was reminiscent of Velcro. Amy gasped and crumpled to the floor.
“Amy, are you ok?” Fry was getting worried; the intern had been out cold for ten minutes now. Ripping a device that was hardwired into her brain out of her neck didn’t seem as good an idea as it had earlier. He shook her again, his panic starting to mount. To his immense relief, she began to stir.
The intern blinked a couple of times, and groaned. Then she froze. “Wait a second. Did I just do that?” She asked aloud. When she heard the sound of her own voice in her ears she let out a cry of joy and leapt to her feet, the nausea of being disconnected from the neural suggester completely forgotten. Tears began to fill the corners of her eyes as she danced about the small compartment.
Fry was horrified; Amy was making enough noise to attract any guards within a ten-mile radius. “Amy wait!” He pleaded, grabbing her wrist as she practically bounced past. “They’ll hear you!”
Amy sobered up instantly when the meaning of Fry’s words sank in. She stopped in her tracks, and the two of them waited nervously for someone to appear at the force field. No one did.
Both Fry and Amy let out a sigh of relief. Fry let himself lean against one of the cell walls. When he looked at Amy again she was scratching the side of her nose. “You have no idea how long I’ve needed to do that” She explained when she caught him looking at her.
“You okay?” Fry asked, still worried that destroying the brain control device might have been unwise. “You know. Does everything work the way it should?”
“I think so.” Amy replied. “My neck’s just a little sore.” She put a hand to her neck and, feeling something strange, she pinched it between her thumb and index finger and pulled. Whatever it was, it was loose, so she kept pulling. A few seconds later, three feet of gossamer wire lay spooled in her right hand. Fry thought he was going to be sick.
“Should we try and free Leela and Bender?” Amy asked eventually.
That was the question, all right. He’d pulled the mind control thing off of Amy first for a reason- he wasn’t sure he wanted to have to face either Leela or Bender. On the other hand, he’d risked his life to get this far, and it wasn’t like he and Amy were going to escape by themselves.
“Yeah, I guess we ought to.” He said reluctantly. The trouble was that Amy had tried to hit him when he’d attempted to remove the disc attached to her neck. That meant the mind control gizmos were trying to protect themselves. Amy wasn’t a good enough fighter to be much of a threat, but Bender would be able to crush Fry or Amy’s spines if he got in a lucky punch, and Leela… Fry gulped at the thought of what she would probably do to them.
Amy seemed to be following the same line of thought, because she hesitated for a moment and then said. “Uh… Why don’t we try Bender?”
Fry agreed, and the two of them walked over to the bending robot, who was still staring off into space. If he hadn’t known better, Fry would have said Bender wasn’t on line at all. Amy bent down to get a closer look at the metal disc that was seemingly welded to the side of Bender’s head. There weren’t any of the little white wires that connected the discs to their human hosts.
“How’re we going to get that off him?” Fry asked. “It looks stuck on there pretty good.”
Amy stood, and grabbing Bender’s right arm in her hands said cheerfully “Like this.” She yanked at the robot’s appendage and it easily came away from his frame. When Bender didn’t react, Amy raised the metal limb over her head and, uttering something in Chinese, brought the makeshift club down hard against the neural suggester. The force of the blow caused Bender to slump over on his side. His head toppled off his shoulders and rolled away across the floor.
“Hey, Amy?! You mind?” Bender’s head asked with characteristic sarcasm from the far corner of the cell. “Getting dings out of the side of my head isn’t easy, you know!”
Fry couldn’t help but grin at the sound of his old roommate’s voice, and his reservations vanished- at least for the moment. “Sorry, Bender.” He said, retrieving the robot’s head.
“Yeah, well… Don’t let it happen again.” Bender’s headless body got to its feet and snatched its missing arm from Amy’s grasp. As Fry screwed the robot’s head back into place, Bender’s body reattached the arm.
“Everything hooked up alright?” Fry asked when Bender had seemingly finished putting himself back together.
“Yeah, I think so.” The robot replied. “Nothing a spot welder and some ass varnish won’t fix.”
“Good!” Fry replied enthusiastically. “Because we need your help.” He nodded in the direction of Leela
Fry nodded at Amy, and the intern positioned herself to Leela’s left, right at the edge of the cyclops’s field of view. Fry then moved to Leela’s right and, with another nod, the two humans knelt down. That was the signal for Bender to approach, which the bending robot reluctantly did. Once Bender was ready, Fry and Amy took hold of the PE Captain’s arms and hauled downward, forcing Leela into a crouch. Simultaneously, Bender extended his arms and gripped Leela’s neural suggester with two of his metal fingers. The idea was to pin Leela to the ground so that she had no time to react when Bender pried the disc off of her. It had seemed like a great plan when they’d been whispering it to each other on the far side of the room.
Leela easily broke free of Amy’s grasp and, after karate-chopping Fry in the face and ducking away from Bender’s extended arm, rolled forward and leapt to her feet. She whirled and went into a defensive position.
Fry’s head swam from the blow, but he was able to stand. Holding his arms out, palms up, he took a few steps in Leela’s direction. “Leela, it’s me, Fry.” He said with a reassuring voice. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to help.”
“Uh, Fry. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Fry took another step. “Come on, Leela. Fight it.” He pleaded. Another step put him within arm’s reach of the PE Captain. He held out a hand to her. “Please, just let me-”
Leela grabbed his arm and, twisting it, spun him around and pinned it behind his back. Fry winced. “Okay, so that didn’t work quite like I’d hoped.”
It was time. This was her one and only chance. Leela mustered every little bit of strength that she’d been saving and, steeling herself, focused all of that energy on one simple command. The parts of her mind still under her control flooded her neural pathways with the order. The neural suggester, distracted with the external threat, momentarily felt its control slipping away. The order got through.
Don’t screw this up, Fry. She hoped, against her better judgment.
The grip on Fry’s arm loosened. For once in his life, he actually reacted fast enough. Without turning around, he reached up and felt his fingers close around the disc on Leela’s neck. He pulled.
Leela’s body collapsed into a heap. Alarmed, Fry rushed to her side and kneeling, put a hand on her shoulder. He shook her gently. “Leela?” He asked, more than a little worried. For a few moments there was no response beyond the rhythmic rise and fall of the cyclops’ chest as she breathed. Fry was just about to shake her again when her eye fluttered open. When their eyes met he felt a wave of relief wash over him.
“…And that’s how I ended up here.” Fry concluded. Silence descended between the four of them as his words sank in. He’d told them the whole story, starting from the morning that he’d defrosted Chelsea and concluding with his surprise and joy upon finding Leela walking through Momcorp headquarters. Now he waited nervously for their response. The last time he’d seen Leela, they’d been at each other’s throats. Could she still be angry with him? And who knew what Bender had come to think of him, disappearing without saying goodbye as he’d done? For the first time it occurred to him that maybe his former friends hadn’t wanted the help that he’d tried to give them.
He found himself watching Leela, waiting for her to make some sign. She had her arms crossed, and she was standing so that most of her weight was on her left foot. She was staring at the floor. Finally, Fry could take it no longer.
“Leela, are you alri-”
“I’m sorry.” Leela said.
The rest of Fry’s sentence died off in his throat. “W- what?”
Leela lifted her head to look right at him. Her face was somehow tight, as if she was firmly clamping down on something that was trying to escape from within her. “I’m sorry.” She repeated stiffly. “For kicking your ass.” Abruptly she crossed her arms and turned away from him, leaving Fry to stare dumbfounded at the back of her head.
Fry turned to Amy for help. Their eyes met, and a silent communication passed between them. The intern shrugged apologetically. Fry understood the message. Leela was still angry at him for the argument that they had had in his apartment so long ago. She hadn’t beaten him up yet though- well, at least, not on purpose. And she was talking to him. Those were both good signs. Maybe she’d forgive him eventually. Maybe.
“Yo, organ piles, can we cut this emotion crap and start worrying about some more important issues? Like the fact that we’re still stuck in this prison cell?” That was Bender, of course. Not for the first time, Fry was silently thankful for Bender’s impatience with human emotional drama. It had often proved an excellent means of interrupting and dispelling an awkward situation.
“Bender’s right.” Fry said. “That Walt guy might be back at any moment to stick those disc dealies in our heads, and he probably won’t let me pull them off you guys again.” He paused for a moment, aware that his next words had to be chosen carefully. This had been his rescue mission up until the point that he’d pulled the disc off of Leela’s neck, but he knew- as did everyone present- that it would be foolish for anyone other than Leela to be in charge now that she was free. But he couldn’t look like he was just dumping all the responsibility on her either. Normally she wouldn’t mind, but she was already mad at him; no need to make it worse. “We need to get out of here. You guys have been stuck here for, like, weeks, right? Leela, did, you know, have time to think of some way to escape?” I so hope that was the right thing to say.
Leela still had her back turned to Fry, so the only reaction the redhead could detect was a slight slump of the shoulders and what might have been a sigh. A second or two passed, and then Leela turned back to face the group. “Alright.” She said, her voice ringing with that distinct, confident tone of command that she had. “Let’s do this.” For a split second she looked in Fry’s direction, and a corner of her mouth turned up in the barest hint of a smile. Fry shot her a lopsided grin.
“It’s no use.” Leela said, relaxing her grip on the pair of pliers that she gripped in her right hand. After two hours of poking and prying at the metal panels that lined the cell with a screwdriver that had been stashed in Bender’s chest cabinet, Leela had finally managed to gain access to an interior section of wall. She and Amy had surveyed the nest of multicolored wires that had been exposed, looking for a circuit that might control the forcefield that kept them trapped. They’d narrowed their choice to three candidates, a red, a yellow, and a white wire, but cutting them had seemingly done nothing. They had then decided to try and reach the computer chip that controlled the forcefield. Unfortunately, when they’d finally located it, they’d discovered that it was protected by a cage of unbendium. Even Bender wasn’t strong enough to bend bars like those, and anything they stuck through the bars- including the pair of pliers that Leela had found lying atop the screwdriver- wasn’t long enough to reach the chip.
“It’s okay, Leela.” Amy assured her. “Your hands are just too big and masculine to fit through the bars.” Leela narrowed her eye at her, but the smile that Amy gave her was completely innocent.
”This bends.” Bender said decisively. “Why don’t we just wait until that weaselly-looking human shows up again and rush him? We can use Fry to shield us from the gunfire!”
Fry tried to pretend that he hadn’t heard that last remark. “Uhh Leela? Amy? Do you guys have any other ideas?”
Amy shrugged and shook her head, but Leela looked thoughtful. “Hmm. Actually, Bender might be right.” Fry’s eyes went wide, but Leela wasn’t finished. “Right about waiting for Walt, I mean.” Fry breathed a sigh of relief. “If we put those mind control things back on our necks we can make it look like we’re still zombies. Then, when Walt shows up to let us out, we’ll beat the tar out of him.”
Fry and Bender looked at each other uneasily. Amy understood what they were thinking. “Don’t worry, you guys.” She assured them. “The mind control things are dead. I checked.” Kneeling down, she picked up one of the discs and placed it against her neck. She waited a few moments and took her hand away. The disc immediately fell to the ground.
“Hmm.” Leela said. “It looks like we’ll need some way to keep them stuck in place. Bender, do you have any glue in that cabinet of yours?”
“Whoa, hey wait a second.” Fry protested. “You want me to glue something to my body? How come all the other times I wanted to do that you were against it?”
“Because gluing your cellphone to your hand so you would always have it with you is stupid.” Leela retorted. “Well, Bender? Do you have any?”
Bender rolled his eyes, but he stuck his hand into his compartment. “What do I look like, a toolbot? Why do you bloodbags always assume I carry everything around with me? This is a small storage space, and I have lots of loot to haul around with- oh wait a minute, here it is.” With a mechanical whir he pulled out a white tube. On it was marked the words ‘crazy glue: made from and used by crazy people.’
Leela took the glue and examined it. “It says it can be removed ‘almost painlessly’ if applied to the skin. Hmm, I wonder why almost is written in quotes?” There was a beat. “Oh well, it’ll have to do. Everyone find a neural suggester and put a drop of glue on it. Try to stick it exactly where it was originally.”
“What then?” Fry asked.
“We wait.” she said.
Leela felt her stomach grumble again. It had been complaining to her for two hours now; the guard that usually came by with their dinner had never appeared. She and Amy hadn’t eaten for almost twelve hours now, and her seemingly supercharged alien metabolism was demanding to be fed.
Even worse, there were other, more private bodily functions that she’d really rather not show in front of Bender. Where is that damned guard? She wondered. Usually someone would come by periodically and let them out one at a time to use the restroom or take a shower, but not a single person had entered the cell block since Walt had appeared to implant a neural suggester on Fry’s neck. That had been almost eight hours ago.
“Leela, how much longer is this gonna take?” Fry whined. Leela chose to ignore him; he knew full well that she had no way to know when they’d get a chance to make their move. Complaining was just his way of dealing with the boredom and stress, and replying with a sarcastic comment would just end up with her angry and him sulking. She didn’t really feel the desire to deal with either at the moment.
Amy, however, decided to take the opportunity to voice her own concerns when her Captain remained silent. “He has a point, Leela. We haven’t seen anybody for hours. If somebody doesn’t show up soon with some moisturizing cream, I might not make it through the night.”
“Yeah,” Bender agreed, “and hairball over there looks like his coolant tank is about to rupture.” The robot gestured at Fry, who was sitting on the floor with his legs tightly crossed, a pained expression on his face.
“I’m… fine.” Fry said in a voice that clearly belied how much he was suffering. Leela couldn’t help but feel a little guilty when he looked up at her and risked a smile. She had assumed that he had just been complaining because he was bored, but he wasn’t bored, he was miserable. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a thing that could be done about it, trapped as they were behind the shimmering yellow forcefield.
“Sorry, Fry.” Leela offered gently, “but there’s no way to know when we’ll get a chance to escape. Actually, we should all probably try and get some sleep. We need to keep our energies up, since it looks like we’re not getting anything to eat tonight. Just make sure to lie on your backs. That’s the way the neural suggesters always made us sleep, after they picked a random place for us to lie down.”
There was a bit of grumbling from her crew at the mention of food, but they all eventually lay down to try and follow her advice. Leela couldn’t help noticing Bender putting on a big show of ‘just happening’ to end up lying next to his old roommate. It was adorable actually, in a pathetic sort of way.
“Psst. Leela, wake up!” It was Amy’s voice, and it sounded urgent. One of the guards must have finally shown up, then. “Shh!” She whispered back as she slowly opened her eye. “We’re not supposed to be able to talk, rememb-” Leela cut herself off. She couldn’t see any guards, or anything else for that matter. Someone had turned off the lights. No, not just the lights. She realized with a start. The forcefield was gone as well. Through some miraculous stroke of luck they were suddenly free. Unfortunately, in her experience, miracles always came with a catch.
“I have a really bad feeling about this.” Fry whispered, and Leela silently agreed.
“Okay, here’s the plan.” Fry, Bender, and Amy stood together by the entrance to their cell, all of them facing the door to the facility beyond, while Leela paced back and forth in front of them. A pool of yellow-white light followed her across the room as Bender’s eyes, which apparently also served as flashlights, tracked her movements. She held two stunners in her hands, and as she strode past Amy she thrust one of them into the intern’s grasp. “Amy and I will each take a stunner.” There had been five weapons in the locker, but she wasn’t about to trust Fry or Bender with one.
“Bender,” she continued, blinking in annoyance when she accidentally looked directly into the robot’s illuminated eyes, “you’ll be responsible for bending open any locked doors that get in the way.” Bender, for once, did not complain. Any plan that involved bending was a good one, at least by his standards.
“What about me?” Fry asked eagerly, legs now uncrossed. “What’s my job gonna be?”
Leela hesitated for a moment. “Uhh, well Fry, you’ll- Umm…” Her mind raced as she tried to come up with something. What can I give him that will keep him out of the way, but won’t hurt his feelings? She thought instinctively, momentarily forgetting that she was supposed to be angry at him. Her eye settled on a small medical kit that was stashed in the same place as the stunners. Aha! “I’ll tell you what Fry, why don’t you be in charge of keeping this safe?” She gently handed him the kit, as if it were extremely delicate. That should make him feel useful. She thought. And it can’t hurt to have a medkit around, anyway.
Fry took the kit and clutched it protectively to his chest, his face hardening into a grim determination to let nothing, absolutely nothing, take the medkit from him
“Alright then, everybody ready?” Leela looked from one face to another. She could barely make out their faces in the shadows beyond the pool of light cast by Bender’s eyes, but she heard no sounds of dissent. Turning, she walked to the door that led to the interior of the Momcorp building. She’d walked around the building countless times as a zombie; she knew the layout by heart. Why, then, did the idea of opening the door give her such a feeling of plunging into the unknown? Maybe I’ve been locked up for so long, I’ve grown used to it? She wondered. But that didn’t make sense. No, something about this while situation didn’t seem right. The loss of power, the fact that there was no sign of the guards, the eerie silence of the building… Something was seriously not right, and a cold shiver ran down her spine as she reached for the keypad that would open the door. She knew with a sudden certainty that there was something on the other side of that door. Something bad. Leela started to pull her hand back before catching herself. What the hell am I doing? she wondered, furious with herself for her weakness. It’s just a stupid door. Get ahold of yourself, Turanga. She pushed a button on the control panel.
The door whooshed open, and Leela saw… nothing. The light from Bender’s eyes passed over Leela’s right shoulder, flooding the corridor beyond. Leela motioned for Bender to look left and right down the length of the hallway, which he did. It was seemingly empty. If Leela hadn’t known better, she would have said that everyone had just turned the lights out and gone home for the day. They wouldn’t have turned off the forcefields in their prison wing when they left, though.
Of course, none of that really mattered. A get out of jail free card, regardless of how strange the circumstances in which it was presented, was still a get out of jail free card, at least, according to the popular game of Momopoly. Wanting to waste no more time, Leela gestured for her crew to follow her down the hall in the direction that she knew was the exit. Fry, Amy, and even Bender stayed close. She could see it in their faces that they also felt that something was not quite right.
When they walked by one of the windows, Amy muttered- “Umm, hey guys? Come look at this.”
Fry, Leela, and Bender stopped and walked back to stand next to the intern. “I don’t get it.” Fry said after looking out into the blackness that was outside the window. “I don’t see anything.”
Leela nodded, and another chill shot down her spine. “Exactly. It’s the middle of the night in New New York City. Where are all the lights?”
The city was as dark as space itself. The PE crew met no resistance as they snuck through Momcorp headquarters. No alarms went off, no guards tried to stop them. They’d literally been able to walk right out of the main entrance to the building. Now they stood uncontested on the street right outside the front door, unsure of what to make of the eerie darkness that surrounded them. Nothing moved. Humans, aliens, robots, even the owls were mysteriously absent from the streets. Their were none of the omnipresent hovercars flying overhead, or even parked by the curb.
Looks like everyone left in a hurry. Leela thought. I wonder where they all went?
“Leela?” Fry asked in a whisper, voice shaking. “What’s going on?”
Yes, that’s the question alright. “I don’t know yet, Fry.” She replied in as confident tone as she could muster, “but let’s not panic until we know more.” She turned to the blob of darkness-within-darkness that she thought was Bender. Not wanting to be noticed until she knew what was happening, Leela had instructed Bender to turn off his eyelights when the PE crew had come outside. Now that she’d been in the darkness for a few minutes her eye was beginning to adjust. If she squinted real hard she could almost make out her friends’ faces in the dim starlight. She’d always wondered if her larger iris gave her an advantage in night vision over humans.
“Bender,” she said, “the three of us can’t see very well in the dark, so we’re going to need you to be a lookout while we head back to Planet Express.” That seemed the logical place to go. It was familiar and stood the best chance of providing shelter from whatever had driven everyone away. And it would provide answers, assuming there was still anyone there. “Everyone else, stay as close together as possible. We can’t risk turning on a light and giving ourselves away until we know what we’re dealing with, so be quiet and don’t get separated, okay?” Leela’s vision had improved enough by this point to see her friends nod affirmative. “Alright.” She whispered. “Let’s go.”