Chapter 5: A Phoenix from the Ashes
Fry squirmed in his bunk, trying to get into a comfortable position without
feeling like he was getting
squashed against the ceiling. He had been given a nice bed, soft and wide,
as comfortable as you
could ask, but even on board a gala cruiser there are some sub-standard
standards in lodging. And he
always disliked sleeping on board a spaceship, especially in a berth that
was cramped high up on the
wall like this. He didn't want to wake up and hit his head on the cold,
glassy smooth metal.
He's my father. Lord Cyan Fyry. It's a palindrome or something. A play on
words. Yancy Fry.
He closed his eyes compulsively, but it was no use. He had been given the
bunk of an honoured
guest, in Lord Cyan's... Dad's private apartments. Even with his eyes closed
and his fingers in his
ears, there was no defence against the smell. A faintly bitter shaving
lotion, the same he had used
between having his first downy facial hair and... the slamming of the door.
He can't be my father. It's a trap or something. He is a master of
deception, that's what the mission
breakdown said. He's trying to turn me against my friends... messing with my
mind somehow. Well he
ain't gonna do that!
But the angles of his hands. The nose, the eyes, the colour of the hair even
if it had grayed a bit. The
voice. That look... could anyone except his father have faked that look?
Who except my father would want me?
Fry's eyes were starting to get sticky with tears, so he flashed them open.
He didn't like the cold, it
nestled in his eyelashes, and then it wouldn't be long till he felt the cold
seeping in like he was being
haunted by a possessed freezer, but what he saw was little better. He had
dimmed the light down, but
not all the way, and walking through the spacious suite had been almost more
than he could take.
There were photos pinned to the panelling on the walls and framed on
tasteful credenza tables.
Photos of his brother Yancy, and Mum. Of the guys up at Ft Mt. He was on a
few of them, himself, and
so was a broad-shouldered brown-haired man, smiling, actually happy. There
were posters of the Old
New York skyline, and a muggy photo of an army squad lining up in front of a
lush river in some
holiday paradise. They were 20th century photos, you could tell from the
quality and the lack of
retouched faces. None of them were quite as frightening as the frightening
It was not much smaller than the sliding doors, and sported a deep gilded
frame supported on each
side by a curtain-wearing lady with long tangly hair and eyes like an
astigmatic Japanese glamrocker.
Whoever had designed the frame and painted the picture had apparently heard
of 20th century
portraiture tradition, but only in a very summary way. Still, there was only
so much you could do with
orange-ish hair, a receding chin and somewhat uncoordinated eyes.
It looked a bit like Grandpa Enos.
The portrait disturbed Fry. There was a little fluorescent light on top of
it, glaring down to the point that
he could see the structure of the canvas, and the colours were hideously
off. Was his hair really that
orange? Almost candy pink. And he had a stupid, stilted pose, arms stretched
out a bit on either side
like he was about to be levered into the air with chains...
He had come around to the interrogation chamber, only to see his friends
hanging from the chains,
panting with the effort to breathe. Well, all except Bender, who was
lounging on the floor, arms
hanging leisurely like stretched Slinkies from their manacles. None of them
looked at him. In fact, they
were too busy gracing the wall with their looks.
"Release them", he said to the pasty-faced young man... the one who had been
leering at Leela.
Private Ambie, or whatever was his name, snapped off a salute and flicked a
lever on the wall. With a
rosary sort of noise, the chains slacked, dumping the prisoners not unkindly
on the metal plate. Fry
was delighted to see that before they were pulled back to the ceiling, the
metal claws tenderly
massaged the prisoners' shoulders. The guards cocked their guns.
Bender yawned and scrolled up his eye visor.
"Hey look! It's corpsicle boy!" Bender very, very seldom used a nice tone of
voice. He sure didn't now.
"Aw, cut him some mercy, Bender!" Amy said. She then lopped towards Fry,
clawing the air at face
height as two guards grabbed her. "How dare you leave us here as prisoners
while you strut around
the ship like you're no commoner at all, you little..."
"Amy." Leela was smart enough not to jump the gun. She sat back in her
corner, calm as ever. Fry
tried not to look at her. Her tousled hair was hanging forward, covering her
face, but her voice was
bleaker than it ought to be. "It's true, isn't it? That man... he's your
"That's 'Lord Cyan' to you, blue-eye", the pasty-faced Private sneered.
Fry heard himself growl at him, and amazing, he shut up. It was a small bit
"I would recognise him anywhere", he said. His voice was trembling a little,
and he wiped his face with
the threadbare jacket sleeve... it must have been the stress, his eyes were
Cracktroopers seemed to regard him as a minor demi-god or whatever. Maybe
they would go away if
he told them to. Maybe they would release his friends and the DOOP officers.
Maybe. Maybe he'd be
better off not pushing his luck. "He is my father."
Amy was flung across the room, smashing against the wall. Fry winced.
"If you've hurt her, I'll have to bring it up with my father!" he hissed.
The Private gave him a skewed look.
"Rather good, that", he said cryptically. "But it needs some work."
Leela shook her hair out somewhat. He could see her eye now, but he imagined
that all the purple
around it would be like a tunnel. She was looking at him like she didn't
want to see her friends or the
"You thought he'd been dead for almost a thousand years, didn't you?" she
pensive. They'd obviously had plenty of time to think. "Still... you never
told us about your father."
Fry squirmed and looked at the floor. Worry was rising strong in his
"We weren't on the best of terms when I... when I. Sorry, men. I guess he
still, well, cared about me
deep down. But for a few years, I was so very angry..."
He wasn't going to fall asleep with that stupid portrait staring at him, so
Fry got up, barely got his feet
on the ladder, and padded over to it, shivering whenever he had to step on
the metal floor. There was
probably some kind of logic in it.
He -the portrait Fry, that is- was standing on what looked like a crossroads
in a mountainscape. They
were pine-furry mountains, rising behind him like wings and separating the
light from the dark. On his
left, which was the right of the real Fry, in the shadows, lured a bunch of
demons and monsters. One
of them had only one eye.
Aha. It was... symbolic or something?
To his right, the gold of the sun stretched into the milkshake swirl of the
galaxy. There were ships,
moving like surfers on a beach of gold sand, and a glorious eagle. There
were crowds of people with
upturned hands, standing around gorgeous palaces and saluting... saluting...
Fry, if he was to choose the right way, of course. And the shadows of the
stars somehow, just
somehow, shaped into the wise forgiving face of a grizzled, dark man, his
hands cupping the
Dammit, but sometimes allegory could be so hard.
He returned to ogling the one-eyed succubus. He found it better than the
Leela was attempting to get some rest, against all common sense. The floor
was so gruelling, she
found it hard to believe it was not actually convex. The light was pure
white and burnt her eye to the
core. And, of course, she was less than comfortable with Private Dempsey's
look. He seemed so...
disinterested, in a lewd fashion.
There were three guards. There were four of them, but only Bender and she
would be any use in
unarmed combat, and Bender had declared his intention, in no uncertain
terms, of siding with the
Empire if they were actually going to give him a job as a cook or an
executioner. Amy was vegetating,
hunkering by a wall with her arms around her shoulders, rocking slightly.
Hard to tell whether it was
the feeling of helplessness or the fact that she was cooped up with males
and not wearing brand
clothing. And Zoidberg was starting to smell.
It was possible that she would try to break out soon anyway, if only to get
a chance to wipe that
impassive look off Private Dempsey's face.
They were beyond all hope of rescue. Nope, scratch that. Being beyond all
hope of rescue would have
been preferable, by a small margin. When you're at the bottom of a well, and
even if it's a miles-deep
terminal storage shunt, the only way to go is up. But oh no...
"Get out of my way! Son of the Dark Lord coming through!"
... they did have a hope, and it lay in the hands of him.
The aforementioned hands positioned a tureen on the floor, with a slight
clank. Leela quickened, in
spite of herself. The sight of Fry in a large apron, a pair of large oven
mitts and a large smile almost
put her off, but the little wisps of scent from the plates were just lovely.
"The officers' dinner dragged on", he said, almost apologetically. "And
they're talking about lots of
things like politics, and freeing the galaxy from the pernicious influence
of the DOOP, and about how
Lord Cyan having an heir will manipulate the power balance... I brought you
some snacks. Do they
feed you guys at all?"
"They gave us sandwiches", Leela said, trying to retain a modicum of
dignity. In fact, there had been L-
M-B-S Crackers, the cheap kind made from timber by-products, and Private
Dempsey had been
dangling a bit of melon bread over the prisoners and forcing them to crawl
and jump... she wanted to
get the taste off her teeth.
Man, but Private Dempsey did suck! He wasn't saying much for the time being,
mind you. He was
tapping his foot in a supposedly aloof manner which made him look a bit of a
nancy-boy, keeping his
raygun in plain sight and watching Fry as though being the long-lost son of
a Dark Lord wasn't a patch
on being one step up from toilet-cleaner. Leela half hoped that Lord Cyan
would have a long-hard talk
with him. Wait... she wasn't supporting Lord Cyan now, was she?
"And very good ones they were, too!" Dr Zoidberg exclaimed, ruining
everything by patting his
"Well..." Fry pulled his oven mitts off with his teeth, watched them scarper
off, and knelt down to
arrange the little assiettes and jugs of food in more appetising
arrangements. "What I've got here...
pearl oysters, candied handlefish from planet Oceania II, cœur de filet
Neptunien, unicorn jerky,
peppered moth wings folded in interesting origami shapes, pickled Ganonean
tusks, and a bottle of
something that's either Lyh&Prrhins Table Sauce or human blood, I'm not
Leela thanked him, trying not to sound unduly subservient, before handing
Amy some of the delicacies
and putting her teeth into a candied handlefish. It melted on her tongue.
Amy briefly returned to the
land of sentient life forms, as far as to ask for a napkin.
"Got any booze?" Bender groaned, taking a window scrape from his stomach
scraping a thin film of rust from the lower edge of his head. "Because,
ya'know, I haven't had any in a
while, and I'm starting to get a bit, like, slightly sober..."
"Das Wahre Abbeizmittel", Fry said, smiling like a bad conjuror and
pulling a little clear flagon from
his tattered jacket. "I figured you'd want the hard stuff, so... here goes. It
has to be mixed in a hundred
times its volume of water before humans drink it. It has flakes of real gold
in it." He glanced at the
flagon as Bender upended it. "At least it did when I left the table. If you
want wine, they've also got
Château de Vinaigre 2803..."
"For shame!" Private Dempsey spat. Still reeling slightly from the sugar,
Leela wondered distantly if he
was referring to Fry's French pronunciation. "You, sir, are the son of Lord
Cyan." She wished they
would stop coming back to that. "We cannot stop you from feeding the
prisoners, but we do not have
to stand and watch you fawn to them like a common luxury waiter! Even to
kick them would be below
The two other guards inclined their helmets slightly. It was evident that
Private Dempsey carried more
influence than was morally right for such a guy.
"They are my friends", Fry said softly. She would have loved to think that
his voice was dangerously
low, the calm before the storm. Unfortunately, she knew Fry. This was the
calm before the surrender.
"You might do well to stop pointing that out", one Cracktrooper said
gruffly. "Let sleeping double
loyalties lie, eh?"
Private Dempsey silenced him, then wrenched them a smile that said: the oaf
is right, we all know that,
but we civilized people can be a little more subtle about it, right?
He stepped up to the tureen and the rows of foodstuffs. Leela found herself
staring at his white-
enamelled jackboots... but her eye clamped shut at the tinkle of porcelain.
"Lick it up, if you want it", he smirked. (Eye still closed, but she was
damn sure the twist on that voice
was a smirk.) "Or go hungry. There'll be a pretty fine supper for you once
we land on Scintillant,
anyway." The first thing she saw was him glaring at Fry's poor blank
expression. "As in, the last
"Go ahead, execute them", Fry said. Leela found her breath hitching.
"Execute them and see what my
father does to you!"
It must have worked, because Dempsey gave it up for the time being. He grew
against the horrible
fluorescent lights as he came closer, dangling a misty folded moth wing
between his bony fingers. "I
saved this one for you, Leela. Eat it." If he took it any closer to her
mouth, she would bite something.
"Cut it out!" Fry almost shrieked. The two others restrained him. For a
moment, not much certainty
about who was imprisoning whom. For a moment, the door was unguarded. "What
did she ever do to
The spicy moth wing shredded as Dempsey twisted his bootheel on it, then
strode back to take up his
post. Fry shrank back.
"Fry!" Leela called out. She couldn't help herself. Dammit, but she wanted
him to show some
"I'll be back later!" Fry called out, scarpering for it. His footsteps faded
in the distant bright corridor.
Smacking the door shut, Private Dempsey went back to leaning against the
wall, watching them with
his frighteningly bright eyes. Slowly, because hunger can be tough
sometimes, Leela turned to see if
any of the food could be salvaged, but Dr Zoidberg was already there.
Fry looked at the artist's signature, but it was hardly legible, even in the
best of light to the best of
eyes. He did notice a caption on a tarnished brass plaque:
"Pi, er, otepon indeed?" he muttered, but it was rather rhetorical since he
didn't understand the
He wasn't going to sleep at all tonight. Now and then, he could manage to
stomp down memories
between thick membranes in his head... maybe that was why everyone seemed to
think he was a bit
slow. That and the fact that his thoughts always went in every direction,
like fireflies, and were all
sparkly and weird. But he had spent the evening sitting at a shiny table
watching Imperial officers and
officials talking and drinking and talking. Most hadn't seemed particularly
evil. Some had taken a lot of
delight in the graphic detail of what they would do to the population of the
planets who did not join
them willingly. One, with his black enamel helmet tipped back, had seemed
out of it. His eyes
wandered everywhere, and he referred to the DOOP as "Russkies" half the
time. If you want peace,
prepare for war, he'd said. If you want war, you don't have to prepare
He'd never got to ask...
The doors slid open for him as soon as he was mirrored in the photoelectric
thingies. Into a deeply
cluttered office, somehow familiar, not very threatening now, where Yancy
was sitting by a very nice
desk carved a bit like the frame of the portrait, writing something. He
looked old when he hunched up,
like he was some kind of allegory too.
"Yes, what..." He looked up. It was strange, it wasn't right... every time he
saw him, the shock didn't
seem to get any less shocking. So old. May he live a thousand years. "It's
you. You know, Phil... I
didn't wait for you so you would suck up to me." He had a strange accent...
but not strange. It was the
accent of a millennium past. It was like hearing yourself on a tape. "Call
Then Fry put his arms around him. How long ago? How long since they had
touched even by
mistake? It seemed like a thousand years.
After a few moments, Dad patted him on the back. They let go.
"I waited for you", he said. His voice was as composed as ever, but there
was flickering moisture in his
eyes. "A couple of years, it must have been... since first I heard the rumour
that you were alive...
thawed out. It was nothing but a rumour, but I swore that I would set eyes
on my son Phil again, if I
had to conquer the Earth for that purpose!" He laughed, somewhat hoarsely.
Fry laughed with him... it
must have been a joke. "In all likelihood, it was nothing but a rumour, but
I lived as though it was true.
The volunteers who joined with us were asked to give any kind of relevant
information. Prisoners of
war were thoroughly questioned, if they were from the Earth, if they had an
ever so slight connection
to Old New York. I found out your whereabouts, that way. And when I knew the
names of your friends,
it was an easy job, creating a decoy..." His hands, ungloved, clamped around a
file. He sunk into
some kind of... emptiness, like the words had kept him alive for a long time.
Fry shook him by the
"But I'm here now, Father!" he said, and was almost terrified to hear how
his voice was breaking down.
The world wobbled. "I'm back, sir... Father... and I'm not going to leave you
No answer. Nothing at all for a long time.
Dad lifted a haggard face.
"Don't ever leave me, Phil!" he almost shouted, and maybe he had heard,
maybe not. "When I... when
I woke up... in this world... this strange terrible hostile world... I thought I
was alone!" He buried his
face in his hands. Dad... no... Dad couldn't be weak, could he? Fry bit his lip
until the world went back
to straight lines. "I had lost my wife and my sons... so I thought. All my
friends. New bedrock over the
streets where I used to walk. Do you... do you know how it feels?"
His hands lay on the seal-encrusted files in front of him, balled up until
they were trembling. Fry put his
hand over them.
"Father", he said. "Tell me about it."
The night wore on while Fry talked about prank deliveries and party whistles
and Löwenbräu and chips
and eyes and the world of tomorrow. He had been expecting painful questions.
"Are you in love with
this one-eyed freak?" was one. So was: "One thousand twenty-five years old
and still a delivery boy?"
Or even: "What have I told you about drinking at work?" But Dad was just
staring at him, not really
emptily, more like he was seeing it all in one of those wobbly TV clip show
"... and then we were sent to your ship to rescue Captain Brannigan, but that
creepy Lieutenant called
our bluff. And then, well, you know what happened." The words were feeling a
bit sour in his mouth.
This would be a good time to bring up releasing his friends, actually. "Now...
Father... if you don't want
to go to bed or anything, can I ask..."
"I never sleep", Dad said. The human touch let go. "The bastards get you
when you're asleep!" Fry
couldn't stop laughing, and Dad glowered at him. "Remember, for all your
sweet-talking, I have yet to
ascertain whether you're league with them. What did you want to say?"
"Er... Father... how did you do it? Become a corpsicle, I mean?"
Didn't his own voice sound a bit weird? Like an immigrant from another
country, he had lost his
accent. Wait, did you spell "weird" with a Y?
"You know." He slouched in his chair, his body was very tired if nothing
else, and Dad looked at him
impassively. "Frozen. As in 'popsicle', except with a corpse."
"A pun, or a play on words?" Dad grunted and caught a paperweight as it was
sliding down a
precarious heap of paperwork. It was in the shape of a greenstone pine. "Oh
well. It will pass the night,
The world wobbled. Fry's eyes were about to give in...
"You disappeared", Dad said. His eyes had slipped far, far off. "The last
person who saw you was your
girlfriend, Michelle, who met you during your delivery as she went to keep
her sick mother company.
Mr Panucci couldn't tell where you'd gone. Nobody could. We found your
"Ah yes, Seymour." That face, still so strange, moved in a smile. "Spirited
little scamp, he was. We
thought he could lead us to you, but he kept barking up the wrong tree,
then he ran away." The smile faded. "Your brother got himself a job at
Panucci's Pizza after you were
gone. Then he met a nice girl and got married. He named his son after you,
Fry swallowed, looking down. Something dripped on the floor. "I went to
visit his grave, once. But... I
never looked for yours."
Yancy half chuckled, not like he meant it. "Well, son, info-bombs away!"
Sadness crept back into his
voice. "When Yancy Jr. moved away and your mother was committed to the
institute... not much more
to say about my life, really. I was cast out of the Survivalist faction,
like a dog. A dog!" But wrath didn't
hold his face for long, either. "They said I was dangerously liberal and
didn't give me their address
when they moved somewhere. The bunker was deserted. Kremlin Joe moved uptown
and got himself
a luxury publishing workshop, I think. I... whiled my life away." His knuckles
went livid around the
scalloped edge of the desk. "I kept storing for the nuclear war. And every
day, Philip, every day I went
looking for you. I thought you were going to come back. You never were very
successful on your own."
Like having those hands around your own heart. Fry whimpered. "Dad, I would
have come... I swear...
but I was... I was..." How can you put words on it? For all the world, he had
been a frozen corpse.
"I ended up going to Fort Mount." He had twisted his chair around. No face
to be seen. "I figured that
since there were food rations and protection against the weather, maybe you
were using it for a base.
Ah, I tell a lie. Deep down inside, I guess I hoped you were going back
there because you still
cherished my memory, somehow." His one hand started to twitch, and he balled
it into a fist and
punched the desk hard. A paperback book slid off its pile of folders and
thudded softly on the
carpeting. "We had fallen out, but... some things you can never fall out of,
right Phil? Your brother and
his family came to visit me sometimes, every May. I still went to see your
mother... she could hardly
recognise me by then, but I loved her, Phil, I loved her like the day we
first met. If I had lost you, I put
the blame solely on myself. You were young... it's the privilege of the young
to rebel against the old."
He hunched up, like his shoulders were heavier than the rest of him. "I
should have told you not to go."
"Please!" He would have taken the pain on himself to make it stop. "It
wasn't your fault, Dad." I was
weak and stupid. I failed you. Maybe it was mine.
"I put it off for a long time", Dad continued at last. "But once I'd got it
in my head that you might be
hiding in the bunker, it seemed the day's honest truth. I went up there... was
it..." He counted on his
fingers. "The year of 2006. Yes. Or was it '07? I didn't expect you to look
the way you look... now." He
managed a grin. "Still, I walked up that road, the same one as Sarge drove
us... that one day... it was
hard on me, you know." He put one hand to, supposedly, his heart. "God bless
the medical profession
in this decade. If I were still living in the twenty hundreds, I would be
dead by now." He shook his head
as though to clear his thoughts. "Once I got up there, my only thought was
to sit down, but it was cold
and muddy. Did I mention there was snow? I went into the bunker, calling
your name, but it was in a
worse state than ever. Whole chambers had collapsed, and one was crammed
full of snow... the
freeon from the freezers had leaked, the air was more freezing than above
ground, I could hardly
breathe. I had to get out again..."
Like he was mimicking climbing up the crampons in the chute, his hands
locked on the desktop. His
eyes fixed on something Fry would never be able to see.
"When I opened the trapdoor", he went on stonily, "I heard planes. War
planes. I never saw the
insignia... it was the Reds or the Nips or the towelheads, I don't care, I
never stopped to ask. Then I
saw the light. Phil... have you ever wondered what it would look like if the
sky were on fire? If the sun
had come trickling down the sides of the world? It hurt to look at. I
thought I was dead, in that moment.
I managed to run back to the trapdoor and jump the chute, only because I was
convinced I was
already dead. And when I ran through the chambers, I heard the rumble... it
sounded like it would
sound if this ship split around us!" He stomped the floor, and Fry jumped.
"Only, this was the earth.
Boulders tumbled down the chute... the concrete was cracking. I ended up
cornered in the freezer
room. There was snow all around me, suffocating me, and then I saw the light
go out in the door and
knew that the bunker was coming down."
He got up, almost dragging himself over to the wall, and turned up the
thermostat. Fry murmured
gratefully. It felt like there were icicles hanging in his stomach.
"There's little more to tell." Dad sighed. "I was trapped in there, in the
rockslide and the ice. Nothing to
breathe. Nothing to stop the cold. I blacked out and thought I was done for
for sure. But I woke up...
you know how you know for some reason that you've been sleeping, even if you
anything? So you've got to be able to sense time somehow? Well, I sensed a
helluva lot of time when
the light came back on. And there was warmth. I heard voices, strange
voices, with a strange accent
to them. I was lying on a table in some kind of a lab, naked like the day I
was born. I thought the Reds
had dug me out for interrogation, but then some guy walked up to me and told
me welcome to the
world of tomorrow. And they had rebuilt Old New York... it was New Old New
York now. Like the
bombs had never dropped. I saw flying cars and strange aircraft. Aliens and
robots were walking on
the streets. Everyone looking at me like I was a maniac."
He paused. "I suppose wanderlust is strong, even in this old soldier. When I
heard the Earth Tourist
Department made chartered cruises through the galaxy, I jumped on one. The
found me had given me a hefty sum to support myself on, on account of me
being a valuable link to
the past. I didn't use my real name, though... that might be why you could
never have heard of me.
After all, everyone I knew was dead, what was the point? I called myself
Cyan Fyry. It had a nice ring
to it." His hoarse voice was drawing to a close. "When we passed through
these regions of the galaxy,
Imperial troops hijacked the cruiser. They were hardly more than common
ruffians back then, but they
were led by a man with a plan. I liked them better than the society I had
seen on Earth... they
disturbed me less. When the Emperor found I had a military background, he
made me an officer. I
must have impressed him, for I rose in the ranks and ended up as supreme
commander of the
"Space Navy." He bent, briefly a shadow in his robes, to pick up the book.
"Which brings us back to
where we started. Only, now I've found you." One hand closed on Fry's ones,
hard as though it was
still wearing a gauntlet. "One era ended when I was frozen. A new era has
started today. We shall be
landing on Scintillant within a few hours, and then, son, you shall know
what fate has more in store."
Fry managed to tear free and cover his mouth as he yawned.
"In that case, sir... Father... do you mind if I go back to bed? I think I need
some sleep, after all."
"Certainly not." Some softness crept back into that voice as Yancy Fry got
up and headed towards the
sliding doors. "How do you like my room?"
"Quite nice, thank you. Father." He yawned again. "But the painting..."
"Ah." Dad stuck his head around the door. "I painted it myself, from a photo
that was buried with me.
The day I first heard that you were alive and working for Planet Express, I
painted it, so I could look at
it when the search felt too long and too hard. To tell myself that you would
choose the right way."
"Which is the right way?"
Dad laughed somewhat. Had he ever seemed so untroubled? "See the caption
on that plaque? It's
Ancient Ancient Greek. Ποτερον? It means 'which?' Now, have yourself some
rest, Fry." His smile at
the door, the last thing before the light gave in. "Tomorrow is a big day."
Before Fry's eyelids closed for good -but ice and planes and nukes, oh my-
he heard distant,
slightly electronic music from the adjacent office. It was "I'm Walking On
"He shows affection to the prisoners, milord", Private Dempsey said, arm
locked in a salute which was
strangely devoid of any submission. "Especially the weirdo freak... Turanga
"So he should", Lord Cyan replied. He tried not to look straight at the boy.
Even a Dark Lord had the
right to feel creeped out. "According to my information, they are his
"According to the information, milord, he is likely romantically attached
"Duly noted", Lord Cyan said, but felt his blood go to his cheek. Curses, he
had worn the mask of
office for so long, he had forgotten how easily his face could betray him.
"Did you come to my office for
any reason other than to whine about the conduct of my son?"
"And what is all that about?" Lord Cyan said, somewhat milder, adopting a
fatherly tone. It seemed to
come a lot easier, lately. "You never used to call me 'milord' when we were
out of earshot."
"Things change, milord", the Private said stonily. "Milord, I came here to
ask indefinite leave of
"Jealousy, Private?" He had to keep his smile under control.
Dempsey frowned. Sometimes, just sometimes, centuries of petty-minded wrath
and lust for revenge
twinkled under that face that had barely got out of its teens, like insects
"Matters of a woman, milord." The boy smiled, which did not help matters.
"You know of whom I speak.
And as usual, I will need an indefinite amount of time."
As Dempsey stomped off towards the hangar, Lord Cyan sat back and rested his
helmet on his knees.
He no longer heard the words of the song.
"Phil! Hands off everything, on socks!"
Fry squirmed against the dreams, getting his hands up in front of his face
and feeling nothing but air.
"Philip J. Fry, I said for you to wake up!"
He swung his legs off the bed and crashed to the floor, and the future came
back hard enough to hit
him. Dad was standing in the door, robes billowing slightly in the air
conditioning, but Fry's eyes
wobbled like they were still frozen and turned to the painting.
"Are we already there, Father?"
"Not yet in half an hour", Dad said, almost giddily for him. "But you need
to get yourself in order. And at
any rate, I would like to show you something upon incoming."
The tattered clothes Fry had thrown on the chair last night had disappeared
somehow, and been
replaced with... ooh yes... a gala uniform. It was nicely eggshell-paint green,
with more gold trimmings
than a Christmas tree. Neither the Earth Army of Peace nor the DOOP had
anything half as glitzy.
"No cap indoors", Dad said. Fry shook a bit of gold braiding off his ear.
A pair of jackboots were standing under the chair, so polished they looked
like an oil slick. Fry touched
them very carefully, in case their very existence would attract the wrong
kind of women.
"And now, follow me to the main bridge."
Right on top of his heart was a badge of a very familiar, goldish winged
thing, and there it was...
... with talons, one of them holding a bunch of sharp implements, wings spread
against the sun of
Scintillant, noble beaked head white like the white peak of a mountain.
Fry backed away from the huge stretches of iridium glass on the main bridge,
but the thing seemed
to watch him with eagle eyes, boring into his heart and detecting all
unpatriotic thoughts. He felt like
reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
"What the hell is that?"
"The Eagle", Dad said with strange, open pride. "Since forty-odd years, it
orbits Scintillant. The solar
cells on its surface are used to power an extensive radar defence system and
"Just like the Telstar, then?"
Dad blanched for a moment, before his eyes swung back to the misty golden
light in the windows.
"Yes. Exactly like the Telstar."
The Unleaded turned slowly, like a lazy alligator floating downstream, and
moved in on the little blue-
and-green planet in the shadow of the Eagle. Above them, it scintillated.
"Your planet is one big city?" Fry gasped. He saw a world faceted with
roofs... streets like veins in
"Part of it is." Dad nodded slowly, carefully, like he was still wearing his
helmet. "The rest is ice caps,
forests, steppe and an equatorial belt of deserts."
"Whereas that..." a gauntleted finger traced the huge towered white grid as
whooshed through the atmosphere, "... is the personal home of the Emperor,
Jagan the Third, may he
live a thousand years. Jagan's Ego, they call it."
He turned to give orders to the ever-present inferiors. "When we land, bring
the prisoners to the throne
room, but none too fast." He smiled again at Fry. "The two of us will take
A few moments later, Fry took his first steps on the soil of Scintillant, or
rather on marble flagstones
which felt like hotplates and did their best to melt the soles off his
boots. And he had a vision of
millions of stars.
Fry's face had locked in an expression of big-mouthed fascination even as
the gates opened, and it
got strangely easy not to focus on Leela's look at him or Bender's mad
cursing as the prisoners were
lined and led away, forcefield collars around their necks linked with heavy
black-iron chains. He
couldn't understand why they blamed this on him. Maybe if he ran now he
would catch up with them
and explain... but WHOA!
"What is this place?" he managed to gasp, by the time the excited crowd
thinned out. They had been
waving flags, and some flags they were! He had never seen so many stars in
one place. They were
the work of an army of Betsy Ross clones.
"Only a few hundred yards from the perimeter of Jagan's Ego", Dad said,
trudging next to him and
unfastening the uppermost button in his uniform coat. It was summer hot, the
sky was clear like an
unpolluted sea. Fry had to blink to keep the sweat out of his ears, but he
kept his eyes on him in case
he was being ironic. "The city grew up around the palace... by the time I came
here. Welcome to New
New New York, Phil."
"New New New... You must be quite the bigjob here, Dad!" Fry exclaimed as they
walked down 24th
Avenue. There was moonwhite stone, and glaring glass, and so much to see...
he would have to
hold his head down by the ears, otherwise it was going to go spinning from
Dad muttered something. A teenage girl and her little brother snuck past,
giggling at them and waving
a flag with stars spread across it like spangles. Fry smiled back. People
were so happy here. Surely it
couldn't be a cruel and repressive society?
"I do what my country asks of me", he replied, finally. The heat was giving
way to sprinkling, wind-
blown fountain sprays with a hint of chlorine. "And here we are. We'll have
to be on our way to the
palace, to attend the fate of your... entourage. But I thought you might like
to see this, Phil."
The chlorine spatters from the fountain just burnt in his eyes and made the
heat worse. Fry took a
piece of glossy paper out of his uniform pocket and fanned himself with it.
Yeah, sure, look at
whatever Dad wanted him to look at... no use fighting with him again, now he
had a chance of making
up... it was a photo of his house. It must have been in the pocket when Dad
put the uniform in his
room. White-washed walls, many-gabled roof looking most like a lemming rush
of slate tiles, tangled
jungle of a lawn, the jagged stump of his swing maple, gap-toothed picket
Something caught him around hip height, making him fold over and knocking
his breath out. It was a
picket fence, as pointy and flawlessly white as a collection of vampire
Fry lowered the photo.
"It did take a while", Dad mumbled next to him. "But it is quite a decent
replica, don't you think?"
It did have white plank walls and a many-gabled slate roof sloping onto a
balcony with a French
window. It also had a pristine gravelled path with little shells mixed in.
It was the kind of estate that
Southern belles would spend their lives working in coal-mines in order to
buy back. Drops from the
nearby fountains sprayed through the fence and twinkled on the velveteen
lawn like green stars.
Fry spotted a tire swing oscillating slowly by a sleek rope from the foliage
of a lush maple. If it hadn't
been for the uniform, he would have run over and leapt into it.
"Home", he whispered. Dad seemed to understand what he meant. He patted
Fry's shoulder vaguely.
"Home is where the heart is", he said sagely to the blue, blue sky. "And my
heart belongs here on
Scintillant. The Earth is gone rotten, son, and the DOOP is nothing but an
ant-heap of the Kremlin.
Until we win back America, this is our home."
Fry swallowed to get rid of a bitter taste in his mouth. It had felt so much
better until Dad started talking
about politics. Suddenly, the drops on his face felt cold. He had to look
back at the house when the
French window creaked open a fraction, revealing something white.
"Tamsin!" Dad called out. "He's here! The boy is here!"
A dark-haired woman in a white dressing-gown and apron stepped out on the
balcony. From what Fry
could tell, she was maybe in her thirties and quite pretty, in a Twilight
Zone-ish housewife fashion.
There was a little star gleam when she smiled.
"But honey, this doesn't look at all like..." she began, then shaded her eyes
with an oven-mitted hand.
"Good Lord, it's Philip! Isn't it you, Philip?"
"Stunned by her beauty, Phil?" Dad said, so he must have started to back
away, and maybe he looked
like he was sick. "Allow me to introduce the Lady Tamsin Fyry, my wife and
the perfect housewife."
"Thank you, honey!" Tamsin Fyry called out from her sun-drenched pedestal.
Fry's hand found the edge of the fence, and he hung on to it as though the
flagstones might knock him
"No... I mean, no!" he gasped. The air was too clean and mediciney, here. It
was like having detergent
dripped into your lungs. "Tamsin... you, you... Dad, you got married again?"
"Is there a problem, honey?" Her voice sounded a bit too shrill for his
ears. "Only, I've got a plate of
honeycakes in the oven, and if you don't mind..."
"My son." Stern, yet still fair. "You may call me 'Father'. I don't think
we're on a 'Dad' basis just yet."
"Father..." Fry closed his eyes. It was all about the sun. "My Mom... why... don't
you love her
anymore? You said you loved her! Remember... Ilyena Fry, looked a lot like
me..." He almost toppled
when he let go of the fence and rummaged his pockets for more photos.
Dad just looked at him helplessly, and there was that need again, that
skewed idea that if Dad cried
he would have to shed his own blood, for some reason, because he wasn't
"It's been a long time", Dad said, bowing his head, thank you, bowing his
head so Fry couldn't see
the sadness. Then he chuckled, as though he desperately needed to find
something amusing. "It's
been a thousand years, for crying out loud! You could say that even the most
devoted husband would
have to put off mourning after that long..." He looked up again, no longer
devastated, but his gaze
went vague. "Put off mourning and think about..."
"Anything more you didn't tell me about", Fry whispered. It tasted so
bitter, he couldn't stop himself.
"Did you and Tamsin have any more kids, or a dog or something?"
"No, that is just it..." Dad began, then stood up straight. Sun streamed off
his open, blessed face.
"Tamsin, dear! Get yourself down here, statt!"
Tamsin nodded, curls billowing slightly, then put one dainty foot on the
"NO!" Fry screamed. It felt like the world was back to normal, even if that
was what was normal in Hell.
"Dad, tell her to stop or something! She's going to kill herself!"
"Isn't that the beautiful thing about women?" Dad said, still smiling.
"They'll fall head over heels at your
beck and call." The smile died slowly. "Just joshing with ya, kid. Tamsin,
do take the stairs. Please."
Fry didn't actually resume breathing until the lovely Lady Fyry came out
through the double doors,
smile still plastered to her face.
"You can probably guess what I'm getting at", Dad said curtly. "Seeing how
my... heir has returned,
you are quite redundant as, so to speak, caretaker of the Fyry gene pool.
The water has been
siphoned into a new container. In other words, to end this metaphor, you are
hereby sacked as my
"But honey... Cyan... no!" Tamsin's perfect face screwed up in consternation.
"You can't sack me! I'm
your wife! You have to, you know, divorce me or something!"
"Then, so be it. Consider yourself divorced."
Fry bit his lip and hoped his face looked as much a mask as it felt. Tamsin
reached out to touch Dad's
shoulder, then turned back.
"Well then", she said, high-gloss back in her voice. "Remember, the laundry
machine is all jiggery. You
have to start it by putting the thingummy in the doohickey."
Then they walked off, towards the burning bright terraces of Jagan's Ego. It
didn't really bear thinking
"I did that for you", Dad said, the one time during their walk. "I hope you
can imagine what it took for
me to do that."
She was so thirsty the sparkling marble walls of the pillar-hall looked
almost drinkable, and the
forcefield collar burnt like sun on her shoulders. It was a relief when they
were led into the shadowy
hallways of the palace -Jagan's Ego, how very appropriate!- but sweat had
tangled her eyelashes,
and there was heat burrowing under her hair. Unlike the others, Leela didn't
bother to shout abuse at
Fry as he walked off in front of them, shoulder to shoulder with the
unbelievably black-robed Dark
Lord. She just stared at his gold-rosetted back and hoped the dancing
coloured lights would burn him.
A young woman, apparently the local version of a Bureaucrat, walked in front
of them, chattering
happily about the wonders of the palace. Leela couldn't care anymore. It was
nicer to listen to than the
heavy clanking of the chains. She did pick up, at one point, as they walked
past a door standing ajar
on a red-lit room. She stamped her boots down and looked around the corner
to see attendants,
heads protected with black cloth, feeding little bright glass capsules to
sinuous strips of light in their
cages. Her stomach swirled a little.
"And this is the imperial Tapeworm kennel", the woman went on. "As you can
see, the caretakers are
keeping them healthy and in top resolution by feeding them magnesium
flashbulbs. Now, if you can
help the green-skinned prisoners onto his feet, and we'll proceed to the
throne room..." An officer,
possibly that Riffington character, kicked Leela on the shin, and she
stumbled along, blinking in the
blessed cool air conditioning. One of the caretakers tossed a flashbulb into
the air, and a Tapeworm
lashed out and crunched it within unbelievable, metal-toothed jaws.
She would soon have other causes for concern...
"THE GLORIOUS EMPEROR JAGAN!" Another kick in the fold of her knee. The
chain gang went
down like tied-together dominoes. Sun was filtering into the sleek throne
room through a skylight: not
from glass, but from marble, so thin you could probably break it with one
finger. Either that, or just
rather bad Plexiglas. "MAY HE LIVE A THOUSAND YEARS!" The attendant drew a
deep breath, then
lifted an ornamented bullhorn again. "YOUR IMPERIAL MAJESTY, WE BRING YOU
PRISONERS OF THE HATED DOOP!" A kick at the soles of her boots. This was
getting old, though
she was certain the man's toes would regret this. "Keep crawling, scum."
Leela kept crawling, or rather moved in an irregular butterfly swim, trying
not to get too close to Dr
Zoidberg's greasy flip-flops, her palms leaving a slightly greasy trail on
the mosaic floor... black and
white, glitzy in a rather shallow fashion. Tables for a banquet, covered in
beautiful white table cloth,
were assembled in the far end of the hall, one right before the slightly
built man on the ornate throne,
veiled in the beatific glow of the skylight.
Emperor Jagan was of indefinite age, probably mostly young, and wasted in
all meanings of the word.
His oily blond hair was braided and hung with jewels in a manner that
couldn't have been in fashion
anywhere, and nights of unrestrained debauch had done to his eyes what
glamrockers usually only
achieve with tons of eye-shadow. His face had a certain depraved cast to it
that some flaky women
would probably find charming. Leela found it charming for two seconds flat;
then she felt the need to
His legs were hidden under the flounces of the soiled table in front of him,
but what was visible of his
upper body was shrouded in a red robe and writhing with delight at regular
intervals. An ostentatious
eagle-and-star crest was embroidered in gold where it hung across his
breast, and when he lifted a
thin hand with painted nails, she saw it again as a signet on a heavy gold
"Unchain them", he said. It was the voice of a man used to giving orders,
and who might even care
about whether they were obeyed or not.
Forcefields sizzled out of existence, and several heavy chain links dented
the marble. Leela sprang to
her feet, only to find herself ringed by dozens of Cracktroopers, rayguns
watching her as impassively
as eyes. Wasn't that typical? The sunstroke was going away already. She
didn't feel quite crazed
enough for a Famous Last Stand.
Fry was there, too, kneeling by the throne at Yancy's side, trying to look
the same emblem of barely
leashed vengeance. He didn't fully succeed, but looking at the two of them
gave Leela the feeling that
she was seeing double. It was frightening beyond comprehension.
"Your way has been blocked, darlin", the Emperor stated redundantly, giving
a creepy little giggle. "If
you value the life of your fellow scum, you would do well to kneel."
Zapp Brannigan, showing the discretion and common sense for which he was
known, got to his feet
groggily, smoothing the short skirt of his DOOP Starfleet uniform. Leela's
gaze fixed on the mosaic,
but from the way her friends groaned, she could tell he was stepping right
up to the table. The
universe trembled and unseamed with the clash of egos.
"'Emperor' Jagan!" the burly Captain exclaimed. Leela was willing to bet her
life he was wagging a
finger in the air. "You shall rue the day you brought Captain Zapp
Brannigan, Space Commander,
within these premises! The DOOP will blow your planet to smithereens and sow
the vacuum resultant
with salt! I have the right to a lawyer! And..."
"The ever-reliable Lord Yancy promised me two senior DOOP officers to be
publicly executed at the
ceremony of loyalty this afternoon", Emperor Jagan murmured, fixing his
vague eyes on the prisoners.
"That would be the fat Captain and the green, wimpy little guy. Take them
away, and..." He shot Zapp
a slitted smile. Leela could have punched him anyway. "The only rights you
have are the last ones."
Zapp and Kif were dragged away, in various states of kicking and screaming,
as Amy wailed and had
to be restrained by the guards. The Emperor stretched his attenuated frame
to reach a clear bottle on
the table, and giggled. Leela found herself staring at the tablecloth as
though hypnotised. Or it could
just be hunger. Some of those stains looked tasty.
"Remain the would-be rescuers", he went on, gesturing as though to hazard a
one-hand clap. One of
the Cracktroopers shrugged unhappily and picked up an ostrich-feather fan.
Passion. How specious. The unpaid brigade of DOOP nobodies."
Bender took to shouting curses in binary. A Cracktrooper walked up to him
with an electric cattle prod,
and he collapsed back, drooling a neat puddle of oil on the mosaic of
Then Fry's father spoke, slowly, almost regretfully. No-one was watching him
more intently than Fry,
whose lips moved a bit with the words. "Yes, your imperial majesty. They are
nobodies. You will be
unable to use them to put pressure on the hated DOOP."
"True." The Emperor smiled. "Very true. We have no use for them."
The eagle-and-star ring caught fire as his hand descended through the
"Kill them. Here and now. I want to see their blood on the floor before my
throne." His gaze vacillated
as some synapses in his brain struck a tangent. "And that reminds me. Where
are the imperial
masons? They were going to install some grooves!"
It felt like a longer walk to the table than the crawl before. She stared at
her boots, at the galactic
mosaic, at the points of light on her tangled purple hair hanging before her
face. It was too cool, and
the light was too clear, and the sounds were too high-pitched. There didn't
seem to be any hope of
passing out before... before.
"This is it, then?" Bender muttered next to her. "Of all the ways to go,
this has got to be the worst."
"Oy, but there are worse", Dr Zoidberg complained. "Being boiled alive, for
"Beheading", Emperor Jagan commanded. "For all, but for the lobster. Feed
him, boil him, hand the
carcass to the servants, and retain the juices." He pulled his robe close
about himself, vainly. "My robe
needs more Decapodian purple."
"Hear that, Zoidy?" Bender called out, gloating briefly winning over acute
fear in his voice. "You live
and dye on the Emperor's command!"
Leela's eye sunk mercifully closed, then opened when a shadow fell over her.
It was no relief. The
executioner's hood was just about enough, but it was the axe that took her
breath away. Oh, yes. She
felt the need to tell him that this would not be necessary. After all, she
wasn't a giant sequoia.
"If you're going to execute me, put a shirt on!" she snapped instead.
"Sorry, ma'am", the executioner said. "Union rules. You know, this will be
so much easier if you all
Leela buckled to her knees. Yes, it was easier. The floor was cold under her
palms. She wondered
distantly if there was any point in crying...
"Mercy", Fry piped up.
She opened her eye. Fry was rubbing his forehead in the floor, in submission
or to keep cool she
could not tell. He held up his innocent, stubby-fingered hands.
"Mercy", he repeated. "Me being Lord Cyan's son and all... can I ask a
balloon? Or whatever they call
it. I just want you to spare my friends. Your highness."
"Your son is getting ideas above his station", the Emperor said, not even
bothering to look their way.
"Well, Lord Cyan. I know full well how much you enjoy this, so... when you're
"Your last word, your imperial majesty?" Lord Cyan asked. Leela could see
nothing but darkness in his
eyes. "Some of them might be more valuable alive. Your imperial majesty,
some of them might be
willing to swear loyalty to the noble cause of the Empire..."
The Emperor steepled his fingers under a thin, impeccable smile.
"Kill 'em all", he said. "Let God sort them out."
Lord Cyan nodded, then turned to the executioner.
"DAD!" Fry called out in agony.
"Executioner", his father intoned, "do your duty."
The giant axe rose like the moon. Leela's head whipped back on its own
accord. Her neck could
almost taste the steel already.
"Stop!" Lord Cyan said. "We do them in my order. The robot first."
"What the hell is your problem?" Bender shrieked as the executioner stepped
over to him, raised and
There was a very heavy flash of steel.
There was a kind of splintering, screeching crash that made Leela's hackles
rise and, once it was
finished, a round of polite applause. Standing back from the shards of
metal, tinkling as they cooled,
the executioner lowered the axe handle.
"Screw all you meatbags!" Bender growled. "If I get sensory receptors
installed, that's going to hurt
The Cracktroopers gasped as he stood up, nursing a deep dent in his neck.
"My one regret is that I haven't got a life to give for the DOOP", he
finished, dusting himself off.
"You seem to have totalled that axe, friend", Fry's father said, his voice
twisted with a fraction of a
smile. "And as we all know, it's a certain humane tradition that if an
execution fails in the execution, the
condemned shall be pardoned."
"What?" The executioner seemed taken aback. "I can see how that would apply
to the 'bot, but how
about the women and the..." shifty eyes moved inside the hood in Dr Zoidberg's
direction, "... thing?"
"Packing another axe?" the Dark Lord axed, then turned to his Emperor. Leela
looked at Fry for a
while, but he didn't answer her gaze. Something was running glittering down
his cheeks. "Is this all
right with you, your imperial majesty?"
"I don't even know why I wanted to see them bleed", Emperor Jagan replied
sulkily. "I am not particular
to blood. Give them rooms in the servants' quarters. Treat them well, but
keep them under guard."
Hard hands clamped down on Leela's arms. "All except..." a wispy-thin finger
beckoned her closer,
and the Cracktroopers dragged her onto her feet. "What's your name, darlin?"
"Turanga Leela." She tried to keep her voice down. Now was not the time to
bluster... what the hell,
she was sick of those eyes moving down her body like wet snails. "I don't
care if you're the Emperor,
I don't care if your guards will gun me down as an example, but don't you
dare tell me you like a girl
"Oh, but I don't, darlin", Emperor Jagan retorted. He slipped somewhat in
his throne, laxly stroking
blond tresses to the side of his face. "That's why I intend to break that
spirit as soon as possible. You
have no idea what you're heading for, darlin."
Leela felt the blood drain from her face. Lovely sharp shards of the axe
twinkled under her boots, but
the rayguns rose again once she thought about diving.
"I will rather die than to service your wicked desires and pleasures!" she
said, and was quite proud that
her voice didn't tremble. "We will all rather die!"
"Oh no, don't say that", Dr Zoidberg mumbled. Leela could almost feel
everyone in the throne room
turning on their Zoidberg-exclusion filters.
Then her gaze fell on the table before the throne, and she found herself
"This will be a lot worse for you all if you don't comply, darlin", Emperor
Jagan explained. He seemed
to be kicking something. "Gallagher, darlin! There's a new darlin to take
your place! Isn't that a relief,
And then the pain started. And Leela had the feeling that the pain was not
going to stop any time
A blonde girl, beautiful in spite of a mad-eyed skittishness, crawled out
from under the tablecloth. Fry
winced and tried to turn away, and his father grabbed his shoulder... Leela's
eye swung back to the
poor Gallagher. Her opulent white dress was torn and tattered, and she had
bruise-black stains on her
hands and even her face.
"I'm sorry I failed you, master", she whispered, frightfully meekly. "Please
give me another..."
"Your tender cares have started to bore me, darlin", her master rebuffed
her. "I need some... variety.
Go jump off a balcony or something, you."
"Good gods, what did he do to you!" Leela whispered, not that she
particularly wanted to know, but
the girl only swept past her in the sullen fashion of someone who had
nothing more than her dignity,
and really not even that.
"Silly Emperor!" Bender gibed from further left. "A woman's place is
laying the kitchen table, not
underneath it!" A Cracktrooper's elbow-guard caught him on the mouth
display. "Eh, cut it out
"Under the table, Leela darlin", the Emperor commanded. "If you don't, they
will shoot. If you come out
before I give my express permission, they will shoot."
She got so, trying to blink the image of Gallagher out of her eye. Emperor
Jagan lifted his side of the
tablecloth slightly, giving her enough light, even though she still had to
crawl. Someone would pay for
this. Oh yes, someone would pay for this and it wasn't going to be her.
"There's the bootblack", Emperor Jagan said. "There's the brush. Here's my
shoes. Let the polishing
"You look tense, dear", Dempsey said, moving her paperwork to the side
without caring overly about
order. "Let me give you some brain massage." He flexed up his livid fingers
with a disturbing crackling
General Secretary Glab sighed, despite herself. "Not now, Dempsey. I have
problems." She had
prepared e-mails of condolence to the families of the Planet Express crew.
To have been part of that
whole plot, even with the hope of it succeeding, made her feel sordid.
"That's what I was gettin' at", Dempsey smiled, returning to his place by
her high-backed chair.
The role of a trophy husband ill suited him. But he was witty and could make
her laugh, and such men
were somehow waxing exceedingly rare, as the war went on and the trade with
the Empire became
more stringent than camel-dealing in the Soak nebula.
"Would you mind leaving the room, Dempsey?" Her inflection made it clear
that whether he minded or
not was immaterial.
Her long, tapering fingers clicked across the keyboard on her desk, causing
part of the air to tense into
a holoscreen. After a few seconds of standby images, the glimmer darkened
into Lord Cyan's
"This better be important, you red hag!" he barked, obviously far past the
normal thin line between
brusquerie and being just plain rude. "I was about to go for a walk with
my son around the palace
premises, so be quick about it!"
"We sent you the Planet Express boy, milord", Glab said pleasantly, her
train of thought going straight
as a jet of light. "In return, you will refrain from executing Captain
Brannigan and Lieutenant Kroker."
"No!" Lord Cyan growled. "In return, we will refrain from scouring the
galaxy for him! Your two officers
will lead no more ships against the free, democratic Empire! After their
death, we will have a mutual
"Then so be it." She smiled. "And give my regards to your son, milord. I
presume you expected to
throw me off my guard."
The holoscreen twinkled out. Glab waited, counting to five under her breath,
then dialled another
"Captain White?" she said, letting the stress to her voice show a fraction.
"Make the Halo ready for
takeoff. After hearing my orders to the end, you will set the course for the
The Grand Street of New New New York was all but empty as Fry and his father
strolled down it. A
few women were out strewing flowers, though they withered to a crisp in the
afternoon heat. Even in
the shadows of the towering buildings, the air boiled.
"Beautiful, innit?" Dad said at last. He still sounded stunned, and Fry
understood him. Even if you'd
been living here for a few years, looking out the window in the morning
would be like getting a silicon
injection through your eyes with an inflatable needle.
"It is beautiful", he agreed. "I'd want to spend my life here."
The streets were so clean you could probably eat your lunch from the soles
of your shoes after
walking down them. The windows were glossy dark and quiet like insects on
the walls, but star-
spangled banners flew from every single ceiling.
"Until we reclaim America", Dad said. Again, that vague unease... it didn't
even seem to be an
obsession. More of a distantly worrying idea. "We must burn a causeway
through the galaxy, of
course... and that means teaching the DOOP a lesson."
Fry had liked it more when they were talking about music. He leant his head
back, because that was
better than looking at Dad's face in that particular moment, and caught a
little blinding sparkle that
must have been the Eagle.
"I've met some guys in the DOOP", he said. Best not to mention that he'd
been enrolled in their forces
on a few occasions. "They... they didn't seem that bad." Do the Commies
ever? a little voice started
some kind of auto-track in his head. Do cancer cells look any different
from normal ones? It took a bit
of thinking to recognise it as Dad's.
Dad's real voice went on, outside, in the sun-gilded Oz: "Like all Communist
collectives, they regard
the populace as pieces on a gaming board." Fry's boiled thoughts started
ticking up images of "Space
Invaders", for some reason, and had to be tugged back by the collar. "They
will send wave after wave
of their own at us, Phil." Didn't that sound a tad bit familiar? "They
are... a swarm. Eusocialists.
They will be ready to die for their sickly ideology... and that I find
heartening." He punched into a
wonderfully marbled wall and didn't even wince, though his gaze flagged
briefly. "We have the same
aim in mind."
"Father... can we talk about something other than politics now?" He had a
right to say this, he was a
grown man and on equal terms... geeze, he sounded whiny. "Things have changed,
"Do you need proof?" Dad wasn't really taller than him anymore, but he still
bent somewhat when
talking to him. His smile was utterly real. "Do you need any proof that the
DOOP is a fortress of a
collective, ready to sacrifice any individual for the greater glory?"
The Eagle twinkled over them again. Fry wondered distantly how fast it was.
"They sacrificed you. They sent you here."
"Dad, Leela and my friends will be OK, won't they?" Fry pleaded. He couldn't
hold it in any longer.
Dad sagged. "So they will. The Emperor is..." His voice buckled a bit when
considering high treason.
"... a man of strange ideas. But as long as I hold any position of power, your
friends will be well
treated. If that will persuade them to side with the powers of right, so be
His tone swung to the other end as they kept walking through the glassy
"Now, where were we... ah, yes. Is Bazooka Joe still popular back home?"
"It's OK, you can put some pants on, lieutenant", Captain White said in his
somewhat laid-back accent,
swivelling where he lounged in his chair and stretching his own
khaki-enveloped legs. "I'm not one to
stand on ceremony. It's quite cold in space, I say."
Lieutenant Suzanne nodded gratefully and slipped into a pair of jeans. Say
what you wanted about the
DOOP uniform skirts... oh, blast it, there was nothing good to be said about
them, except that they
made it easy to look at the legs of guys. Unfortunately, the guys could also
look at her legs.
The view from the main bridge of the Halo was nothing but breathtaking.
They had a few hours to get
to Scintillant, and the ship was running at warp speed, indefinitely. The
pinpricks of stars had turned
into long bright slashes. It was worth it, even considering the fuel costs
and the risk of motion
"We are doing a good thing, Captain", she said.
The Captain nodded. He was dark-haired and a bit unshaven - possibly, she
considered, in order to
look older than his twenty years. The Halo was the flagship -though the
actual flags had been
scrapped upon showing a tendency to burst into flame upon entering the
atmosphere- of the
Democratic Order of Planets. It was fitted with some of the most
cutting-edge technology in the laser-
slicing department. And most of the crew consisted of young, bright new
graduates of the weekend
cadet school. Being over thirty years of age, the Lieutenant was one of the
oldest crew members, and
having served under such officers as Captain Brannigan and Admiral Pirk, she
quite relished Captain
White's carefree way of life.
Captain Brannigan... oh yes. She found herself stifling the thoughts, as
though the feared Dark Lords
might hear them from here.
"So I hope", he said. His knuckles whitened around the joystick. "Those
ruthless Imperials... don't you
worry, Lieutenant, we'll have Zapp and Kif out of there before you can say
'breach of diplomacy'. What
the galaxy will be seeing on TV today is how the Empire failed."
"But Captain... we won't actually have to say that, will we?" She wished she
didn't sound so worried.
"Oh no", the Captain replied, turning the ship slightly. Warp space wrapped
around them. "The
General Secretary was very adamant about that. We'll just... help matters,
Lieutenant Suzanne sniffed. "Between you and me, Captain, the General
Secretary..." She sighed. "I
don't know whether her young man is good for her. He seems to exert far too
Captain White chuckled. "So Dempsey's fooled you too, has he?"
In that moment, the honey-blond Cadet Barnadine rushed onto the main bridge,
"Lieutenant, Captain... could any of you help me with the VIP, please? He's
being very demanding."
She looked unhappy. "What's he here for, anyway? Is he part of another
The Captain shuddered. "Ah. The VIP. He creeps me out, you know."
"I'll go", Lieutenant Suzanne said.
And Scintillant crept closer...
The Ceremony of the Confirmation by Handshake was to take place in what
Yancy called the
Hyperdrome, a bit outside the city edge. It sounded like a made-up name, but
nevermind. It was a set
of bleachers, with awnings against the huge reddening sun thankfully, around
a drawn-out arena of
lush yellow sand, a bit like two Malibu Beaches stuck together. In the
ancient days of the colonisation
of Scintillant, it had been used for gladiatorial combats, and nowadays it
held horse-races and football
"It may not be the Madison Cube Garden", Fry said happily, leaning back in
the sultry shadow of the
awning and sipping from a wonderfully frosty bottle of Eviaxton Bottled Tap
Water. He hadn't been
able to get any Slurm... the drinks salesman had glared awry at him and said
that it was the capitalist
lure of the Communist DOOP. He was still happy, though. "But I like it
Leela growled, and Fry felt ashamed. She had been allowed to wash herself
off before they were led
to the arena, but she still had black rims of shoe polish under her
fingernails, and her kneecaps
seemed to blush through the torn patches in her threadbare pants. He
couldn't blame her... he had
almost fallen apart after that kneeling session in the palace.
"I'm sorry, Leela", he whispered. Dad had gone up to consort with the
Emperor, but there were plenty
of Cracktroopers to keep them in place.
"Hey, this sand looks like it can soak up blood a treat!" Bender declared,
upending another beer bottle
and letting it slip into his mouth. It shattered in his stomach compartment,
and the haggard Leela gave
a jump. Fry hoped her nerves would ever be the same again.
"Mmm, you're right", Amy mumbled worriedly, lifting a flimsy pair of theatre
binocs. "Back on the ranch,
Mom would put out sand like this in the yard before the slaughter began!"
Fry tried to sink into the shadow. His stomach wasn't feeling well. Stupid
They were sitting in a place of honour, a bit to the right and below of the
gold-tassled Imperial canopy.
By twisting the parasol a bit and looking up through the gap, he could see
that Emperor Jagan fella, in
dress uniform, receiving papers, some sort of forms, from a billowing black
shape. Even at this
distance... Dad. It hurt in his heart.
"What are we waiting for?" Leela said at least. So she wasn't broken. Her
profile was aloof and
strange-looking against the golden distance.
"Didn't your daddy say something about an ambassador from the Earth
suggested. "Hey look..." He shielded his sensors with his hand. "Wasn't that a
DOOP ship pod? Over
"What took you so long?" a breathlessly effete voice complained as a helpful
VIP guided a couch-oid
golden robot up the aisle. The bleachers creaked under the heavy footsteps
of the couch. "Ah, the
illustrious progeny of his lordship. Sitting here with the unwashed
multitude... how decadent, yet how
enlightening. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Hedonism-bot."
"Look!" Amy called out, pointing the other way. "The Egyptians have
Under the Decapodian purple canopy, the Emperor was done leafing through the
splashed some wax on each and pressed his ring into it. And the afternoon
sun glared on...
"Bots away!" Midshipman Cara exclaimed, on board the observation deck of the
Halo, handing the
spyglass over to Midshipman Brennan. "His pod seems to have landed all
right... I guess it's too much
to ask that he got himself a good denting."
"That little fella creeped me out", Brennan shuddered. "Not to mention how
annoying he's been
"Can I have the spyglass after you, midshipman?"
"Sure thing, Barnadine. Just let me check... oh yes... I can see the prisoners.
They're cooped up amid
those Cracktroopers... scary guys... I reckon we'll have to get a bit closer.
Sorry. Barnadine, inform
the Captain. The laser can't possibly work with sufficient precision at this
Barnadine made to go. She needed a brisk walk through the ship anyway.
Having spent a few hours in
warp space had taken its toll.
She waited, unsure.
"Midshipmen, have you got any info on a kind of big bird-shaped satellite
orbiting Scintillant?" It
sounded a bit silly, saying it out loud like that. "I've heard rumors that
it's actually a super-weapon able
to take out entire battleships."
"Barnadine, you really shouldn't be listening to children's tales", said
Cara, a bit pitying. "When
you're a midshipman, like us, that's when you get to start listening to
children's tales without looking a
big dork." As Barnadine left, she put an arm around Brennan's waist and
waited for her turn at the
"HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY JAGAN THE THIRD, SURNAMED 'THE JUST'!" the air-horn
FEAR OF HIS ENEMIES, THE IDOL OF HIS FRIENDS, SWORD AND SHIELD OF THE FREE
EMPIRE!" Applause went up. "CYAN FYRY OF THE SITH, ADMIRAL OF THE IMPERIAL
AND LORD PROTECTOR OF SCINTILLANT!" Applause went up, rather more honest
this time. Fry
felt somewhat warmed by it, even though he didn't really need more warmth.
The Emperor minced down the aisle of the bleacher, followed by Yancy and the
guard of honour.
Three steps into the arena, he stopped dead, making the men behind him
"I got sand on my boots!" he exclaimed, trying ineffectively to kick his
jackboots clean. His gaze whipped along the bleachers like a sliced wire.
"You! Leela, darlin? Get out
here and polish!"
Leela winced, but grabbed a kit by her feet and rushed down the steps. Maybe
she didn't even feel
when Fry put a hand on her arm.
The proceedings could, well, proceed. Dad climbed a little podium towards
the middle of the
Hyperdrome, adjusting a microphone on his helmet.
"It is an honour to introduce", he began once the feedback had died away,
"the Earthican ambassador,
extinctæ iamdudum prodigum famæ, as the poet said... Hedonism-bot!"
There was some half-hearted clapping, but a lot more muttering, as the
laurel-crowned 'bot stomped
out in the arena, balancing a half-eaten hotdog and a can of beer on his
ample stomach compartment.
The Emperor, still in the process of getting groomed, rubbed his eyes in
disbelief, then hurried to the
podium and waved the documents vaguely.
"I hereby declare this Ceremony of the Confirmation by Handshake underway",
he said, his voice
keening horribly through the amplifiers.
Yancy took the documents.
"I shall present the proud men and women swearing their lives to the
glorious cause of the Empire!" he
barked. "Ye may approach his imperial majesty! Fry, Philip! Leela, Turanga!"
Leela shook the sand out
of her hair and lopped up to the podium. "Rodriguez, Bender!" Bender clanked
his way out of the seat
behind Fry, and the sun hit them. "Wong, Amy! Zoidberg, John!"
He was walking on warm sand... it sifted into his jackboots until he could
almost understand how the
Emperor was feeling. And people, the entire population of the planet from
the look of it, were staring at
him. Their heads filled the bleachers like a plump cloud. Man, was it ever
hot... and with his luck, he
was going to stumble and look like an idiot in front of Dad and all the
On cue, he looked up. The Eagle flew up above the world, twinkling,
twinkling, and something else
twinkled with it. A golden angle standing in the sun. Back on the podium,
Emperor Jagan glanced up
and started to play with the crest on his ring.
"The Nimbus never had anything like this laser cutter!" Sergeant Gorkil,
the munitions expert,
exclaimed and stroked the lever on the huge silver tube, his face lit by
ambiguous gaiety. "It
maneuvres like a razor! I could slit the Emperor's throat from here..."
"Sergeant", the Captain said. Something was stressing him out of his mind,
and he couldn't put his
finger on it. Just a brief glint of light on the monitor by the monstrous
weapon, gone before anything
other than his limbic system could register its shape. "I can't say you
wouldn't be right in doing it, but
we have our orders."
"... or cut off his stubble, which is an altogether better way of using a
razor", Gorkil went on
"Captain!" Lieutenant Suzanne's voice came through the tannoy, perturbed.
"To the main bridge!
Unidentified vessel heading for us!"
Captain White rushed onto the main bridge, skidding before the towering
shape gaining on them.
"A bird", he said. The universe seemed to have slowed down.
"An... eagle, is it, Captain?" the Lieutenant conjectured. "Like... the ones
they used to have on
"It's beautiful", the Captain said, squinting against the light. "Must be at
least twenty metres across...
twenty-five even... it's getting closer, isn't it?"
The heraldic eagle grew like a rising sun. Its proud head with its predator
beak seemed to shift, only
slightly, searching for them. One talon moved, making its bunch of oversize
arrows glitter like stars.
"Oh God no..."
One arrow dislodged. In the echoes of his head, Captain White thought it
might fall, as though there
was a bottom to black space, but instead it spun and became a brilliant spot
of light on the window.
There was an impact.
And as the flames shuddered through the doomed Halo, Captain White's last
thought was that
maybe Sergeant Gorkil had turned on the cutter in time.
Once Emperor Jagan let go of Fry's hand, he could let his gaze slip back
into the burning blue dome of
the sky. The two points of light had come a little closer, and there was a
trace of white between them
now, like one of them had started to skywrite.
Heir of Lord Cyan. Son of the second-in-command of the entire Empire. Well,
who would have
thought? He surely wouldn't have, a thousand years ago.
"Turanga Leela. You have been assigned the post as the Emperor's personal
shoe polisher." A limp
handshake. Leela kneeling, staring at the gleaming jackboots. She, like the
people on the bleachers,
muttered some kind of oath of fealty about letting the Emperor guide their
The one little star of light reeled to the side and brightened.
"Bending Unit-22, Bender Rodriguez. You have been assigned the post as
kitchen hand and cook."
Handshake, kneeling, oath. Fry ducked.
"Amy Wong. You, and John Zoidberg, have been assigned the posts as cleaning
staff." Amy started to
protest, and guns gleamed.
It was too hot... was the sky supposed to have that colour? It was like
looking up the barrel of a
flame-thrower. It was all sun.
"Bring the prisoners before me!" the Emperor intoned, rather imposingly.
A knot of Cracktroopers dragged Zapp and Kif, sweating profusely and still
coughing every now and
then, into the shallow shadow of the podium. Amy shrieked and made a leap
for them, but their hands
closed around her arm. An axe gleamed.
"And now... anonymous executioner, do your duty again!"
Sky golden as the sand. Deafening roar.
The Eagle! he had the time to think. The Eagle has... done something...
When he got to his feet, the sky was fading back to blue, and the podium was
a lot quieter.
The manacles were still there. Zapp and Kif were, however, gone.
"My son!" Tamsin gushed, hugging him, her cheeks sopping wet. "This banquet
is in your honour! If
only you knew how grateful we are that you are now part of the glorious,
Fry tried to break free of her embrace as politely as possible. There was
something so extremely
wrong about being mothered by a woman no more than ten years your senior,
"Why isn't it him doing this?" he whispered, gesturing towards the seat of
honour to the right of the
"He is Cyan, the angsty", Tamsin replied. "He would never rejoice for you,
so I rejoice in his stead."
"The 'Democratic' Order has only begun to pay the price of its underhanded
ways!" Yancy stated,
lifting his brilliantly red glass of Château de Vinaigre. The banquet hall
was lit like something in a
fantasy RPG, all torches sparkling in barbarian ways off the plates and
cutlery, the jewellery of the
VIPs and the gold make-up of Emperor Jagan. "We may consider the war
There was a general cheer and jingling of glasses. Everyone Fry had seen so
far, from his
uncomfortably carved chair at the end of the table of state, was human,
wearing some rather
streamlined equivalent of dress uniform or suit. For someone used to the
environment of New New York, this was like being in a repressive police
Amy and Dr Zoidberg, in lacy aprons, were serving tea to some guests at the
next table. He felt bad
about that. He wanted to talk to them, but Dad was going to be upset if he
just ran from the table... the
uniform was choking him... he'd wait until they came around to his place. He
hadn't seen Bender, but
Bender was probably alright; he'd been in happy robot-shock from the moment
he had been assigned
to the kitchen staff. He hadn't seen Leela, and that was worse. Sometimes,
something brushed past
his feet under the table.
The torches glinted off the lush oily finish of Hedonism-bot, too, lounging
off to his left. Fry couldn't say
he liked the guy, even though he was undeniably a 'bot of the world. You
kind of had to be, in order to
be a hedonist. Uneducated people didn't become hedonists, they were too busy
But he was one of the very few non-humans at the banquet, and that made Fry
feel almost at home.
"Of course, his imperial majesty is a man of utter classlessness", the
reclining robot said, savouring
the bouquet of his wine through a long plastic straw. "But I do concede that
he knows to favour the
pleasures of life. Eh! You, woman?"
"Yes?" Amy murmured, chewing her lower lip and trying to hide her
dishwashing-worn hands in the
apron. Fry tried to wave at her, but she was looking down.
"Tell the chef that I want my Omegan lark-tongues roasted on one side only!"
commanded with a bone-chilling little trill of a laugh. "Of course, being
undoubtedly a robot of refined
taste, that would be redund..."
"Hey, Hedonism-bot!" Bender called, stomping between the tables with a tall
white hat, an apron with a
humorous slogan on it and a tureen. "I know it's not, you know, done that
the chef serves the guests
in person, but since I think hedonism is way cool, here you go!" The
contents of the tureen slapped
down on the plate with a greasy splash. Fry could feel his arteries scream
at the mere sight of it. "It's
a jumbo-size croque œuf au... au... aw, forget it, it's an
egg-and-ketchup-on-toast." His square
pupils dwindled a little in something like embarrassment. "It didn't turn
out as tasty as I'd expected, so I
deep-fried it. Bon appétit!"
Hedonism-bot, with extreme care, unrolled a metallic tentacle and felt the
toast. It went slosh.
"The Glamora and Frigila systems shall be ours!" Dad bellowed, to incessant
cheers. "And beyond!"
"To a liberated Glamora and Frigila!" clink "To freedom!"
"To freedom!" And the glass slipped out of Hedonism-bot's gripper and
tumbled in a comet's tail of red,
shattering into brightness on a dark puddle in the floor. Blood. Fry's
eyes felt so big, he didn't know
how there'd be a place for his mouth when he was going to scream. Grooves.
The robot body
shuddered, like a slow earthquake, as his stomach rolled up, well-oiled.
Worms. The bowl toppled
and shattered, in another nightmare puddle of crushed grapes, as a rocket
launcher poked up and
spun, just a fraction. Dad.
Fry leapt and caught Dad around the shoulder. Dad was still heavier than
him, and he had to tackle
him to make him drop, but the gun was a little too late. The rocket went
over his head as he dove to
the ground for the second time... everyone had ducked, right... and there was a
thunder. Fry stood up, trying to shake the emptiness out of his ears, and
stared into Hedonism-bot's
"One for the road", the 'bot said laconically, swinging its rocket launcher
towards him and reloading.
Then, however, the Cracktroopers set in.
"Take him away!" Lieutenant Riffenstein called. "Certainly, this is the deed
of the hated DOOP, no
matter what excuse he has made up. Torture, until he confesses."
"Torture a robot?" Fry heard one of the Cracktroopers mutter as they dragged
the helplessly flailing
Hedonism-bot away. Everything had gone very clear. His life was still
flashing before his eyes -it had
entered a long slack- and his stomach whined until he was sure it was all
just a nuclear red hole... but
there was no rocket there, so it had to be Bender's cooking.
"He's a Hedonism-bot", his friend answered. "Surely we must be able to do
something, like... take
away his bowl of grapes or something? We're just lucky this isn't
For just about the second time in 1025 years, Fry's father put his arms
around his son and held him
tight, as though he didn't want the world to get up to him and hurt him.
"My son", he whispered. "If he had... if he had hurt you, what would have been
the point of me? You're
the one that's left, now." He lifted his head, outlined against the flaming
torches. "Did you see that?
How could anyone side with an Order that is prepared to kill a child to
grieve the father?"
And of course. How could you answer that?
Chapter 5 1/2 : 31st of December, 1999
Yancy leans against the window, misting it with his breath.
There's no snow in the garden, just stripes of sludge outlined in the dark.
It's cold, standing by the leaking window, but it's a dirty, sick cold that
doesn't make him feel any cleaner. Dark already. Phil has left on his
rickety bike, that mutt of his running next to him and barking what sounds
like a pop song. Rather nice mutt, actually. What's his name again?
Grandpa, Yancy Sr. Sr., used to have dogs back when this was just a
converted farmhouse. That was another nightmare war. An accident at a base
took Dad. Yancy would wake up in the morning when they barked and think
Grandpa was home from Germany... but then, the dogs were rabid idiots that
barked at everything. A man's home is his castle, the old man would say.
And that never did him any harm, now did it?
Boy on bike and dog with wagging tail outlined against a shatteringly
orange lamppost, just for a moment. Wet wind sweeping Phil's ginger -
never red don't even think red- hair back, plastered against his scalp.
The doggie's fur looks plastered, too. Yancy rather likes dogs, but the
little guy is better off out running with Phil and getting leftover scraps
and pizza cartons. It's another failed attempt at fathering.
Poor kid shouldn't have to work on an hour like this, on a day like this...
but then again, that's his job. What was he complaining about? You've got
to do what you've got to do. It would be nice living in a world where kids
He's still able to see them, if only because he cut down the swing maple a
few weeks ago. What was that for, anyway? Oh yeah, Canadians. Can't trust
them, shifty bastards, run away as soon as to taste cold, hard steel. Red
maple leaves. A snake in our bosom. Yancy looks down at the flag he
stitched to his uniform sleeve, so long ago, but the room is dark, there's
only the monochrome light from outside and the red looks black. Like dried
blood. There was dried blood in the mud, back... back there... warm, he's
never going to like warmth again, stifling in your throat, there were
helicopters in the air and how the hell could they tell the difference
between you and the VC bastards from above... I pledge my pledge my
allegiance to to to he's back. Briefly, briefly, he's back. He clamps a
hand around his wrist to stop himself from going back again. This is New
York, it is the Nineties... looks at his watch. Yeah, still the Nineties.
Now, where was I? And they're treacherous bastards who're always fighting
when they're not running away at the taste of cold, hard steel.
Ilyena and Yancy Jr. are downstairs, watching the New Year's Eve special.
He warned them about the Y2K, but oh no, they just have to sit there like
sitting ducks waiting for the Russkies to take over all the electric
equipment. If it were all up to him, they'd be in the bunker right now, but
the roads are treacherous and there'll be no tomorrow once the lampposts
start coming down... got to wait for Phil.
Phil is gone.
Yancy grabs his chest, like a knife in his heart, hurts like a goddamn
knife, kicks the window open and leans out. If they've taken him... if
they've taken his son... but then he flickers back, tramping along under
the next cone of light. Thank God. For a moment there he thought he'd lost
He stumbles over to his bed, still a bit unsteady, and grabs the journal
under the pillow. It's got a pen jammed into the ring binding. A habit he
picked up in 'Nam, just to keep track of how many days he had to go, but
it's turned out to be strangely soothing. He writes for a while, but his
heart still isn't up to it. The pen wobbles like a seismograph for every
"I hate my life. Man, my parents really failed there."
Fry steps into the dim room. The New York City lights pool in through the
windows and light a desk, a chair that looks so rickety his gaze might make
it fall over... dark columns around the walls. His skin is prickling with
the cold air. It smells of grime and neglect and a little bit like a
freezer. He doesn't have to juggle the greasy carton anymore, it's almost
cold after waiting in the elevator. He feels his shoulders sag a little.
Nobody here. Just wonderful. A sucky end to a sucky era.
Not pillars. Pods of some kind, tangled to the walls with heavy steel
piping, about the size of coffins, every one with a little window about the
height of his head, misted blue on the outside. Now, this is getting a
bit interesting... not quite as interesting as spending the evening playing
arcade games, but what the hey. He wipes the closest square of glass with
his sleeve, and even so shudders with the touch. Dusk inside, an icy light,
and a frozen face. He stumbles back.
"Hellooo!" he calls out, without any real hope. "Pizza delivery for..." He
has to look closer at the paper. Bad light. "I. C. Wiener? Aw crud. I
always thought at this point in my life I'd be the one making the crank
He slides the carton across the table. He'll take it back to Seymour...
poor guy would have to do the countdown without his master, according to
his watch. At least he's still got the can of beer. He rolls it out of his
pocket and puts it on the table to cool down a bit. Oh... and yes, a party
blower. Sheesh! Like he's got anything to celebrate!
He sits down anyway. It's almost exactly midnight, and the chair is comfier
than he'd expected. Kind of spooky, having all those frozen corpses around,
but it's not like he's going to fall asleep or anything. Mmmm. The chair
was balancing on its hind legs now, but that's just fine. Shadows scuttle
in the corners. Dang, but this would be comfortable if it wasn't so cold.
His jacket hangs unzipped around him and the lining is tattered in several
places, it's not going to last another year. Is one of those ice coffins
open or something?
Yancy loads the gun and puts it against his shoulder. Heavy, but... almost
comforting. Even when the world takes almost everything from a man, he'll
still have his gun, as long as there's any smidgen of liberty left in the
world. Damn them, they're not going to take it! Ever!
He crouches behind the window, smelling nothing but weak snow and flaking
wet plaster for a moment, and puts the barrel through the crack where the
cold cold night seeps in. If those Russkies are coming down the driveway,
he's not going to give without a fight.
It's going to be easier to hit, now the maple's gone... aw, is he trying to
justify himself or something? He might well be. Phil used to love the swing
tree. He'd be sitting in that tire for hours on end, pretending to be a
spaceman or whatnot. He always did like space, Phil did. Yancy's gaze slips
towards the sky, but there's just the polluted glimmer of the city lights
on the clouds. Pale cones of car headlights roar past now and then. If
They're coming... They might as well come from the sky, right? He's only
got one gun. He really should go down and talk to his son and Ilyena. The
TV still sounds to be on.
Well, there's no going back. The swing broke years ago, anyway. What good's
a tree for a grown man? Private Blake would tell you you could get
tapeworms if you climbed the trees. God, damn worms! Growing inside you...
like the cancer of Communism, a red worm in the bowels of the earth... or
was that if you fell into the river? Same goddamn difference. If you're in
the tree, and they shoot, you fall in the river. And the worms eat you from
the inside. It was so warm... the water was muddy and warm as fever blood.
It's so warm.
Yancy is sweating. There's mist on the window, but he's sweating like he's
going to melt and run between the floorboards. His finger's so sweaty he
can't feel the trigger.
So, They are coming? He'll show Them.
He doesn't think he can wait all night. He's not young anymore... and what
if Fry turns up? He can't be pointing a gun to the road where Fry's going
to come riding, with that mutt running next to him. Right now, if anything
moves, he'll either shoot on sight or die. His heart is jittering with a
sound like rotors.
Oh well, maybe They aren't coming, after all. Yancy lets the gun drop with
a heavy clunk, and wipes his forehead. Stretched out on the cold boards.
His heart is slowing down... slowly... why does it hurt so much?
Sometimes it feels like he's spent his entire life waiting for the
apocalypse. And, of course, he could give it up, but that would leave him
A dog. It's a dog barking! Yancy gets up to the window, and the reflection
of his shattered happy face shocks him. If it's Phil coming back... well...
on a night like this, who can blame a father for worrying about his son?
Sure, they haven't had the best of relations in the past, but... maybe you
need to be a really lousy father to get a lousy son. Maybe he should
apologise for that pair of socks for a Christmas present. Maybe try to sell
some of the weapons stock in the basement to be able to send Phil to
A distant rattle. Light. Thunder. Purple and golden flowers snake across
the sky, and there's a smell of gunpowder, and Yancy fires wildly without
even aiming. "Happy New Year, you Commie bastards! Happy new fecking
millennium!" He doesn't even know if he says it out loud.
The stress gets to him shortly after that. He crawls to his bed and blacks
out. When he wakes up the next morning, the sky is icy blue, and Phil's dog
is barking at the doors, and Phil still isn't back.