Chapter 6: The Eagle and the Star
When Fry woke up the next morning, the sky was a warm blue, like nothing had
ever exploded in it,
and Dad was out in the corridor, shaving from the sound of it, and singing a
Long live Jagan!
Victory is ours!
We shall crush the enemy!
We shall rule the stars!
There was... was it an anomaly? He was sitting in his room. It was his room.
The proportions were a
bit wrong, and it was cleaner than his room had ever been since he was
born, but the bed was
uncomfortable, the window headed out on a road with spindly lampposts, and
when he walked up to it
he could see the crown of a maple. And behind the door, Dad was singing
about ruling the stars. His
brain felt like it was going to start bleeding.
"Father?" he said, still a bit uneasily, as the door came open. It didn't
creak. He shuddered.
Yancy finished shaving and slapped some aftershave on his face, then leant
on the stairway railing
while pulling his black pants on. In their old woodworm-infested home, that
would have been suicide.
"You up already, Phil?" he said. "I was thinking of letting you sleep in...
after all, yesterday was a very
taxing day for the two of us, and I've got business at the palace.
Diplomatic business. I don't reckon
you'd find it very interesting. Long live Jagan... victory is ours..."
The aftershave was rather like benzene in smell and general components, and
it was making Yancy
blush, showing up a scar along his cheekbone. It looked old, only visible
where it distorted the skin a
little. Dad put his hand to it, like Fry's gaze had actually hurt, and Fry
looked down. Maybe it was
"Well, what is it now, son?" he almost growled. It was not a growl directed
"I just don't like that song", Fry said, chilly shame rising inside him.
Why? "It's so... so... very
aggressive." And megalomaniacal, and intimidating, and shallowly cheerful
in a creepy way which
frightens me. But he was going to feel light-headed if he tried to say all
those big words.
"Well, that just so happens to be the point", Dad said, still happily,
through his teeth. "Are you going
out? You should be able to find something to amuse you while I'm at the
palace. Be sure to check out
the concert hall, it's culcher."
He marched down the stairs, adjusting his helmet. Fry slipped into the
sticky dress uniform and tagged
"It's just the whole 'crush the enemy' bit!" he panted. "I could see why
that would be a bit...
threatening... or something!"
"Best thing to do to the enemy, in my book", Dad muttered. They walked out
on the driveway, and Dad
locked the door behind them. The sky was a little dimmer today, the heat was
almost pleasant, and
Dad stretched himself in it. It was the first time Fry could remember him
actually enjoying warmth.
"Yeah, but..." Strange, but the thoughts actually moved now. Like quicksilver.
It must have been those
banquets with all the political kajiggering. "People will get worried, sir...
Father. Like... if they're
fighting you, and then you start singing that song, not many are gonna
surrender, because they'll think
you'll just crush them... but you and the Emperor, you were saying that
everyone who could be of use
to the Empire was welcome to join..."
"Ridiculous", Dad said. Maybe it was a reflex action.
They went off separate ways. A few seconds later, Fry heard footsteps behind
him, and heavy
breathing through a mask.
"I do believe you're right, son", Dad said. "How about: 'We shall use the
enemy?' That has a nice
ring to it."
Losing the Nimbus. Losing the Halo, with all its crew. Captain Brannigan
and Lieutenant Kroker
were likely cooling in their unhallowed graves by now. Losing even
Hedonism-bot... well, he would
probably be able to find some carnal pleasure in being made into Imperial
scrap metal. Glab had
collected all the obituary files, heavily black-lacquered on the edges, in a
lagoon in her paperwork, so
she would never be able to take her eyes off it. Dempsey had laughed when he
saw it... he could truly
be a shallow man, when he put his mind to it. No, not shallow. He was
spiteful and cruel, with a mind
like a razor-sharp Slinky, and she might marry him or bury him, she had not
decided yet. He could
certainly be useful. At any rate, she needed the obituaries. This had
started as a simple contest for
galactic dominion, but it was going to turn into revenge action any time
Even so, the General Secretary felt she didn't deserve what had met her when
the latest of many,
many taxing holoscreens unscrolled in her office.
"I've had it up to here with your diplomatic trapclap!" the bald, wrinkled
old scientist whined, one frail
talon of a hand waving vaguely in mid-air. "Just tell me whether my
whom we sent almost alone to a certain death in enemy territory, is all
The General Secretary clasped her hands, letting her embroidered sleeves
trail across the folders.
As for Hedonism-bot, she felt truly sorry for that incident. The robot had
never been meant as an
assassin. He had been instructed, or rather cajoled into, playing a
diversion while the laser cutter of
the Halo –yet another strike at the heart of the budget– did its work.
Something must have inflamed
him with holy rage.
"We are positive that Philip as alive and well, like your other employees,
Professor", she said, trying
not to make her voice too smooth. "After all, the Lord Cyan gave his word
that they be treated as
"And why would you trust de word of de Imperial dogs, you DOOP dog?" blurted
a very angry,
dreadlocked man in a suit. "We don't have to take your word for it! Show us
The General Secretary had to keep her slim, apple-green hands still by
conscious effort. She knew a
Bureaucrat when she saw one.
"You will see de mon... the man within a second, sirs", she said
conscientiously. "I have arranged an
interview with Lord Cyan. If you want, we may make it a three-way."
"Oh my, yes", the scientist man replied, momentarily mellowed.
She dialled Lord Cyan's number. Once the black-helmeted face condensed on a
new square of green
light, superimposed in a terrifying fashion upon the heads of the men in the
dingy Planet Express
office, she got to her feet, grabbed the screens with a slight yelp from the
static tingling along the
edges, and respectfully moved them until they formed an isosceles triangle
with her desk.
"Careful", the Professor complained. "This sort of thing gives me such
"Milord", the General Secretary said, standing back at the desk. "Before we
proceed, these gentlemen
wish a few words with you."
"And these gentlemen are", Lord Cyan said with more than usual gruffness,
professor and" it may have been to his credit that he hardly skipped a beat,
"a Jamaican accountant.
What do the two of you want?"
"To see Fry, you... masked scavenger!" the Professor erupted.
Glab looked on in dismay as intimidating helmet and Slurm-bottle-bottom
glasses eyed one another
impassively; sparks almost flew between the two screens. Lord Cyan had met
his match in diplomatic
indiscretion. It was truly quite unseemly.
"And see him you shall", Lord Cyan eventually intoned.
He rose from his desk. A few moments later, the inanimate screen blacked out
and started showing
quite a colourful display of tropical fishes.
It was almost scary, how quickly you could get tired of New New New York.
Not bored, just tired, as
though all the glitzy surfaces scraped important layers off your brain. And
he was warm, and afraid of
getting lost in this "Marble Madness" maze of a city, so Fry ended up
gravitating back towards the
house. "FYRY MANOR" it said on an etched brass plate that he hadn't
noticed, on the
picket fence, not quite where the old runny sign saying "INTRUDERS WILL BE
SHOT" used to be...
on the real house. It worried him, but then again, most things had done, the
last few days. What it all
boiled down to was: 1) the door was locked, and 2) he didn't have a key.
He walked back to the palace instead. Dad was supposed to be there, and... he
didn't want anyone to
think he was a wuss, but it was the day's truth, he felt bad when Dad stayed
away too long. Maybe it
was ironic retribution of some kind. It should be. Also, he hadn't seen his
friends since the banquet,
and he really had to do something about their situation. On top of that,
Jagan's Ego was an
impressive place, and had air conditioning, he was pretty sure. Maybe he
would catch Leela during her
break, if imperial shoe-minders got breaks, and they could go for a walk
along those really nice
terraces up there...
A Cracktrooper among the bored-looking guard at the gates aimed a raygun at
his face, so close he
could smell the power-cells.
"Who goes there?" he said, as though he didn't really care. "Friend or
"Er, definitely friend, I think", Fry said, but the problem with talking
into a gun is that everything you say
sounds like lies, and not even very good lies. "Hey, just let me past,
right. I'm not a DOOP scumsucker
or anything, I just want a look around..."
"I get it", another Cracktrooper cut him off, with the drawl of someone
who's going to make a joke. "So,
kid, how do you think his imperial majesty has managed not to be
assassinated so far?"
By being a just and merciful ruler? Fry didn't quip. Something stopped him
before fear had a chance.
The gun was put away, but the gates remained shut. For some reason, that
made it worse. He wasn't
even a threat.
"Go play on the highway, kid", muttered a heavy-set guard, sweat lanking his
hair up like gel. "By-the-
way, that's a spiffy uniform you've got. Who died and left it to you?"
"Yes, isn't that the question?" Fry said, drawing himself up and trying to
let all the gold tassels speak
for themselves. "Because, as a fact, it's about who didn't die..."
The gates smashed open. The guards leapt into various terrified salutes as
Lord Cyan... no, Fry
corrected himself, Dad, even if he was wearing that dumb Power Rangers mask...
grabbed Fry's arm and dragged him into the coolness of the palace. Fry
fancied he could hear the
soldiers gasp as the gates banged shut.
"Why didn't you tell them who you are, Philip?" Dad demanded as they stopped
outside a scratched,
nondescript door sidling up against a wall of glimmering frescoes.
"I was going to, Father."
Dad seemed to relax, with a sigh that sounded frightening with its steely
"They should suffer", he said. "We Fyries are... pillars of the community,
that is community in a non-
Communist sense, in the very heart of the Empire. There are certain... laws.
Did one of them pull a
weapon on you?"
"No!" Fry almost yelled. The helmet was no better than the barrel of a
raygun, in some ways. It didn't
matter who was behind it.
"Good. For them." The helmet sagged a bit in the sparse light from gold
threads running along the
corridor walls. "Even so, they denied you access, and taunted you. Name
Fry stared at his feet. His reflections stared up from the toe-caps of his
"Get them off the hook this time", he said, and it sounded so pleading. He
couldn't see why he was
embarrassing himself like this for those rude idiots. "A warning, or
something. It's not like they even
knew who I was."
Dad opened the door and led him into... a technology room? It didn't look like
it belonged in Jagan's
Ego, but then again, few things did without an industrial-grade make-over.
Fry sort of liked the
technology here in the Empire. It was still outlandish, of course, but in
slightly lesser degrees, and it
had dignity. It didn't go all over the top with cartoony colours and
blinking lights... not that that kind of
thing was wrong, really. It just didn't make much sense in or out of
context. And it was cool in here.
Gentle fans were spinning his hair cold and sleek.
Scientists and nerds were seated at rows of stately computers, a bit like
what the computer ed would
have looked like back in school if Principal Zagadka had ever got that
grant. They rose and saluted the
two Fyries as they went past, and Fry waved at them, a bit relieved. He
didn't want things to happen
There was a holoscreen. And, in one half of it, two familiar faces warped in
a scary way, a bit like at
the end of a TV show when the credits go off to one side to make room for a
"Fry!" Hermes exclaimed, temper apparently stretched to the limit. "Cut all
bonds with de Evil Empire
this instant and come back here, preferably in top physical condition!"
Fry didn't want to look at his father. He didn't want to look at the screen,
either. The net effect made
him feel like he was doing the opposite of going cross-eyed.
"Why, Hermes, that is highly uncalled for and undiplomatic", the Professor
scolded, then turned to the
screen. "Fry, you childish old fossil! What did I tell you about playing the
renegade with strange
empires? Tell them you're going home, and there's no way they can stop you
less'n nailing your feet to
the floor!" He wagged a liver-spotted hand at the screen. It broke through
for a few moments, with lots
of electrical discharge and the general effect of a melting mirror.
Fry shuddered. On the second half of the split screen, the green lady –some
kind of DOOP bigjob-ette,
wasn't she?– buried her face in her three-fingered hands.
"I'm very sorry", Fry realised he was telling Yancy, and all those bits of
him not doing the talking were
watching in a nightmare fascination. "They don't mean it, I promise. Please,
don't kill me."
"Kill you?" Even shredded through that mask, the voice was horrified. "Kill...
kill my own son?"
The holoscreen gasped in doppler.
"Well, this is going to the archives!" Hermes said cheerfully, then seemed
to notice the sharp glares
from the Professor and the General Secretary.
"No, Fry!" The Professor's voice rose to an agonised keening. It was
horrible to listen to, also
embarrassing. "Haven't I always been as a father figure for you?"
"Please, Professor..." Fry leant close to the screen, until all he could taste
was electricity trying to
earth itself on his tongue, and whispered: "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but he is
my father. We screwed up and
fell out... well, it was mostly me, really... a thousand years back, and now
I've got another chance. I
don't care about the war. A week ago I didn't even know there were
hostilities between the DOOP
and the Empire. Well, I didn't know about the Empire at all. But they're not
evil. They're just like us,
except I feel more at home here, but that's not really your fault,
Professor. You've helped me so much
since I landed here in the future, you've saved my life. But he... Yancy J.
Fry Sr.... he gave me my
life. How can I be a renegade? How can I be a traitor? He's my father."
He opened his eyes when something stung him on the face. Electricity was
earthing itself on his tears.
Professor Farnsworth cupped a hand behind his ear.
"What's all that blubbering?" he croaked.
"They... well, they have things I don't agree with, but if I stay here..." Fry
gasped for breath and kept
whispering. "My father listens to me. And the Emperor listens to my father,
when he's lucid that is. I
can get all the violence stopped. Also, the DOOP tried to assassinate my
father, then me, out of pure
spite. Who's the real renegade? I mean in a moral sense, not in the actually
joining the opposite side
sense, but you get my point."
"I'm sorry, Fry." The Professor slumped. "I didn't catch a word of that."
"Whom did you call a renegade?" the General Secretary demanded.
Fry turned around, grabbed a coat hanging from a hook and draped it across
her side of the screen,
then turned back to the warped view of the Planet Express office. Twisted
owls flew past the window,
and the sky was glassy blue. Professor Farnsworth looked close to tears.
"You are aware dat, with de recent declaration of total war on de Empire and
the proclamation of
martial law, that makes you a despicable foreign devil?" the Bureaucrat said
as though reading from
an inner file. "Dat, in turn, means dat should you fall in our power, you
will face a painful and
degrading public execution as a war criminal!"
"So will you, should the opposite circumstances apply", Fry said and was
awestruck with his own
voice. It sounded... cold, he supposed, and diplomatic. He must be running
on auto-pilot now... it
was better than thinking about what Hermes had said. (Dad had to be
smiling.) He had been through
enough executions of war criminals the last few days, thank you.
It would probably have sounded a little better if he had stopped there,
instead of going on: "And so on,
and so forth, yadda yadda."
Hermes sounded like he was chewing his own rage up into little bits. "Dere
must be a reason for dis,
Fry. Dere is always a reason when likely young men go AWOL in de sugarcane
fields of treason!" A
new thought seemed to twinkle behind his square glasses. "Where are your
friends? Have dey got any
say in dis matter?"
Fry felt himself blanch cold.
"Amy, Bender, Leela and Dr Zoidberg are all alive and well", he let the icy
auto-pilot clink along. The
warm and pink parts of his brain screamed that he was lying... but it was OK,
he was going to talk to
Dad about them soon, and they would get it better. "They will be quite happy
to hear from you." Those
parts of his brain screamed that it was just plain wrong. "And the reason...
Mr Conrad... the reason
"Loyalty, is it..." Hermes' eyes seemed to shoot sparks of fire. "Let me tell
you something, Mr Fry! All
your so-called 'loyalty' and 'integrity' and 'chastity' is not worth a
nought in the files of the Book-Keeper
of the Dead! You can take it and perform a physiologically impossible action
with it! If we catch you
renegades here again, so help me, Fry, you'll fry!"
"Worthy sentiments, Hermes, but please..." the Professor put a hand on Hermes'
shoulder, and the Bureaucrat stepped back, looking a bit sheepish. "Fry...
it's not true. Whenever you
and your friends want to come back..." and his voice gave in for a moment, "we
will receive you with
open arms." It struck Fry that it was all cliché. He hadn't heard so much
cliché in a thousand years.
"And fire!" Hermes muttered in the background.
Fry hesitated. "I... I'll miss you, Professor, Hermes. We'll all miss you." So
it wasn't hesitation, after all.
Dad let him go, after that, with some praise to his negotiatory
intransigence, whatever that was, so
he could continue to trade poisonously sweet barbs with the General
Secretary. Fry had winked and
nudged him in the waist, and the mask had turned to face him.
"Did I ever tell you to... to disregard loyalty and integrity?" Yancy's voice
asked. He sounded genuinely
Fry swallowed. "No, sir... Father... you always told me those were very
His father nodded, as though a point had been made. "Go off and find your
He found three of them in the kitchen. Amy was doing the dishes again,
jewelled over with sweat. It
was hot down here, far too hot for human or other beings, but Bender was
enjoying some rest, his
many-jointed legs crossed on the table, cigar in mouth, and Dr Zoidberg was
seeing to the slops.
Well... "seeing to". It must have occurred to Bender that loosing Zoidberg in
a kitchen was, by and
large, a great strategy of waste disposal.
Fry flopped down on the chair next to his robofriend, unbuttoning his shirt
and concentrating on not
letting his hair dribble sweat into his eyes, because that burnt.
"If the mistress of the kitchen personnel saw you do that, she'd go nuts",
Amy declared miserably,
looking at his reflection in the stainless machinery by the sink. "It's got
to be fifty degrees Celsius or
Fahrenheit here, and I still have to wear this..." she twanged the ribbon in
disgust "... stupid faux lace
There was choking silence.
"So... how do you feel about your job?" he asked, with the vague feeling that
this was not a smart
thing to say.
Amy's sudsy hair bobbed as she curtsied. "Very well, thank you, sir."
At least things won't happen to her, Fry thought. Then a thought struck
him. "Are you being
"No sirree!" Bob, bob.
"Me, I like it here", Bender scraped, inhaling the smoke. "As a cook, I have
a higher rank than the
kitchen personnel, and get to order them about!"
"You've got to be happy you go the cook job!" Fry said, a bit gratefully. He
still couldn't get rid of the
feeling that they were talking from different levels. "So, what does that
occupation entail? Excuse
me... Zoidberg... do many waste disposal officers use a straw?"
"Why did you come here, anyway?" Amy muttered, her voice echoing in a
disconcerting way as she
scrubbed the inside of a deep pot. "Just to act all uppity?"
"No!" He hadn't meant to scream. "I mean... there are complications. I... I
don't think you can get back
to Earth. Not in a while. Sorry." He felt like a dirty rotten liar, even
though he'd just told the truth.
"The HELL?" He hadn't wanted to see their eyes bulge like that, either.
Bender's eyes actually whirred
halfway out of their sockets.
"You know... war and all... I just phoned the Professor and Hermes... and they
said..." He didn't want
to talk any more. His stomach felt all fluttery, like he was starting to get
sick. Surely he could do
something. "Apparently, martial law has been declared in the
DOOP-controlled systems." It did
sound slightly sinister. "If you go back to our solar system, you're going
to end up in front of a firing
squad. Again. Only last time it was an axing squad. Er."
"No!" Amy's cute face scrunched up as her eyes welled with tears. "What will
my parents say?"
"You said, 'you'", Dr Zoidberg said, fixing a frighteningly intelligent
stare on Fry. "You don't mean, 'we'.
Does this mean that you can still go back, fortunate son kid?"
Fry swallowed again. Breathing in here was like drinking soap. "Er, no. I've
got the loyalty to my father
to think about. I feel at home here, really. I mean... I've got to talk to him
about giving you jobs you're
better at, well, obviously not you, Bender... or Zoidberg... but there's got to
be a machine for washing
the dishes, like a dishwashing machine... and I've got to see Leela... you can't
go back I'm sorry."
Bender stood up, arm extending with a rattling noise, eyes flashing.
"Out", he said. "Out! GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!"
Fry ran, skidding on the suds... ran, ran up through the hallway, because if
anyone had heard that,
Bender was going to suffer... they were all going to suffer... his friends,
didn't they see he was doing
his best to help them, he didn't expect any gratitude but at least they
shouldn't act like it was all his
fault... at the very least...
He slowed down when he realized he'd reached the servants' living quarters,
but the words thundered
through his head just the same. Now, was he just going to knock on every
door to see if Leela was
there, or what?
Running footsteps getting closer. He poked his head around a corner and...
Something smacked him hard on the head. Fry fell back on the floor, feeling
his nose in case it was
bleeding. Leathery objects tumbled all around him.
"Gee, Fry! Is it too much to ax that you look where you're going?"
It was Leela, white-robed, smelling chemical from bootblack, more haggard
than ever... more beautiful
than ever, flicking her tangled ponytail back over her shoulder while
picking up a few sleek shoes and
a stiff brush. He tried to focus on her, let the anger seep away, slowly... oh
what the hell, he was still
"Would you mind?" he shouted and hated himself for it. "I haven't had a
brilliant day here!"
Leela gave him another of her Looks. His anger went away. In fact, it ran
"Not a patch on mine, I suppose", she said. Not raging, just so tired her
voice was like wire. "And it's
only the first day." The wire went sing-song. "The first wonderful day of a
"I'm happy you think so." He could only take so much sarcasm in one day.
"... as the glorious exalted Emperor Jagan's lowly shoe-cleaner... oh, will you
look at that?" The
brush had left a stringy black smudge, rather like mascara, on a silvery
marble flagstone. "Sure, I'll get
that out", Leela went on, starting to wipe it with the edge of her robe.
"But then, it's going to be hell to
pay because I'm not looking clean enough... oh, it'll be hell to pay anyway."
"Here, let me help you", Fry said, and it still hurt to look at her.
"There's got to be something in my
pockets to wipe with... there always is. Here."
He handed her a clean, rather elegant hanky. Leela took it, stared at it,
then started wiping. More
"You know, you could just say 'thank you'", he muttered.
"If not for you, I wouldn't be doing this", Leela said without turning her
head. "I suppose we're quits."
She spat on the cloth and rubbed harder. Somewhere in Fry, a red droplet had
caused something to
"If not for me, you wouldn't be doing this, because you'd all be dead!" he
yelled. "Give me some
slack, just for once! Even cleaning shoes has got to be better than dancing
the headless fandango!
And if you disagree, well, I'm sure I cold talk to my father about that!"
Leela looked up at him, her eye limpid. A big tear crystallised in it, and
she wiped it off her cheek with
the handkerchief, leaving a gray smudgy streak. The letters "C. F." were
monogrammed in the corner.
"I'm sorry, Fry", she said, and it helped, for that short gap between anger
and remorse. "I really am. It's
true, your father saved our lives... for you... but I can't think anymore!"
She kicked at one of the
Emperor's shoes, and it floated across the frictionless floor until it hit a
wall, turned over and showed
the eagle-and-star mark stamped on the raw rubber sole. "I'm sad and
overheated and degraded and
slept about three hours last night! I want to get out of this place... or at
least, get a better job. There's
got to be something... I can fly a plane, I can shoot, I don't particularly
feel like fighting the DOOP
but I'm as much of a traitor sitting here, shining up the oppressive
jackboots of tyranny..."
She leant on him, putting her head on his shoulder so he couldn't see her
face, and the jagged words
turned into jagged breathing. Fry patted her back, trying to comfort her,
trying to be able to think about
anything else than palpitating melty warmth. His head felt like it was going
to explode. Where was he?
Oh yes. Talk to Yancy. Get her moved to some better job. Do it soon.
"It's OK, Leela", he murmured. "Surely they've got machines that can replace
you and do the shoe-
cleaning a lot better in no time..."
Leela drew herself up, her unibrow a totally straight line. The monogrammed
between her fingers as she briefly bent down to pick up the shoes.
"And good day to you, master Fyry", she said, with a voice that caused the
temperature to drop at
least twenty degrees, and strode off.
"Who's the girl?" Dad said, where he appeared as a dark column in a
light-well at the end of the
corridor. He couldn't have seen anything except Leela's back and ponytail.
"Just some girl", Fry said. His gaze was running away from that helmet
again. "Er... Father... I've been
talking to my friends."
"The servants", Dad corrected.
"My friends." But he didn't really have the guts to stress the point.
"Bender and Zoidberg... that's the
'bot and the weird lobster guy... rather like their jobs, but Amy and
especially Leela are unhappy. If I
remember right, Leela wants to be a pilot or a soldier, and Amy wants to be...
Idunno, some kind of a
supermodel, I think."
"And why are you telling me?" Impassive voice. "I may be the Emperor's right
hand man, Phil, but I
have virtually no influence in palace internal affairs. I am a warlord. The
chief of the palace employees
would be more useful, or maybe some administrator..."
"But all those people listen to you!" He was whining again. It was the
heat. "Nobody here listens to
They walked past a number of guards stationed by the throne room. At first
sight of them, salutes
"It's all in your bearing", Dad said, almost sounding softened. "Anyway.
I'll see what I can do."
But some days went by. There were rather more motorcades through New New New
more soldiers around, ceremonies in the Hyperdrome celebrating the imminent
so glorious they could take your eyes right out of your head. Dad had said
something about how war
was the purifier of nations. Well, maybe he was right. The war sure did have
a lot of glamour, at this
end of it.
"So, have you declared martial law or not?" Fry asked his father one
beautiful peach-coloured evening,
as they sat at a rickety table under the swing maple, having a smoke and
watching the sunset. Planet
Scintillant had sunsets... well, they lived up to the planet's name. If you
were really lucky, you could
catch a glimpse of the Eagle windhovering by, reflecting every single stripe
of mint green and scarlet in
"Declared martial law?" Yancy looked puzzled for a moment, then stubbed his
cigar and laughed.
"Planet Scintillant, like the Empire, is always under martial law, son!
Until we have won freedom from
the DOOP, we give no pardon."
There was more diplomacy, War's quiet shallow sister. Meetings with the
governors of annexed or
allied planets. Yancy demanded that Fry attend all the meetings... no,
"demand" was too soft. He
didn't seem to consider the possibility that his son didn't enjoy small
mothball-flavoured drinks and
conversations with painfully long words. Only, the words seemed to get
shorter and more tolerable as
they went on. He must be learning, or just deadening. There were also
weapons inspections and plans
for building mobile battle stations... now that was interesting. He was
being groomed. He didn't
mind. Dad sent him to borrow books in the library at the outskirts of
Jagan's Ego, and the nice lady at
the counter smiled and handed him a dictionary on top of the pile.
"But it's... it's still all about killing people, isn't it?" Fry said, one
night in the starry blue darkness at the
concert hall. It just sounded stupid. "Of course, I mean, all war is... but
the DOOP is a great many
They were there with Captain Lilybulb, officer of the palace guard, rather a
nice guy in a rotund, gruff
way, who wanted to hear his daughter perform in the New New New York Soprano
Choir. Once your
ears had got used to it, it was glorious. An aria version of "Rule The
Stars"... well, that was scary,
but Fry felt a twinge of happiness whenever he heard "we shall use the
"No mercy for the shadow", his father said, and it sounded like his lips
didn't move, though Fry couldn't
understand why. "We gave them chances... so many chances. But they would crush
us to the ground.
Tread on us." Leela's eye glittered before Fry's inner eye for a moment, but
it might have been that all
his nerves were overwhelmed by the needle-thin beautiful voices and the
twinkling spotlights. "All we
want is freedom. Freedom of trade. Freedom to set our taxes as we would. But
most of all, freedom
from their VILE PERNICIOUS COMMUNIST..." he slumped in his chair. "Their
ideology. They would
force us to march in lockstep with them forever. But freedom, the choice of
the individual, is what the
glory of Scintillant is based on."
"America", Fry filled in. Dad didn't seem to notice.
"The day they give us our freedom, we will stop fighting." It seemed to be
heading towards some kind
of conclusion. "Until then... give us liberty, or give us death! This is no
war. It is a rebellion."
"You mean... a revolution?" Fry suggested. He was holding a half-drunk bottle
of beer. It felt like the
water-tight compartments in his brain were starting to soften.
Dad flinched, as though fighting against an impulse to, well, fight. Fry
"You're the rebels? But... I thought you were the Evil Empire? I mean... it's
just a way of speech...
Dad put one gauntleted hand on the back of the chair in front of them, and
held it down with the other,
as though it was all he could do not to slap Fry. Those gauntlets... best to
Long live Jagan!
Victory is ours!
We shall use the enemy!
We shall rule the stars!
"I must never have noticed it", he said slowly. It was a novel line of
thought. "But they are a bit...
Idunno, liberal. Sending ships everywhere to control people and not
interfere... not interfere,
indeed!" He had another gulp of beer. It felt cold in his throat, lovely
warm the rest of the way.
"And perniciously miscegenated", Dad filled in.
"And perniciously miscegenated. Whatever that means." He looked closer on
the stage through his
theatre glasses. "You know, Dad... this is culcher! I never got much of this
back home... except that
time I became a famous holophonist."
"You are an artist?" Heavy hand on his shoulder. "My word... Captain? Did you
hear? My son plays a
musical instrument! Truly an egregious heir of the Fyries!"
"Oh, Dad..." Fry said, but it's amazing how hard it can be to be righteously
embarrassed when you
feel like you're flying and melting into the sky. He had another sip to cool
down his cheeks. "Want a
"No, thank you", his father said, putting a hand over his glass. "Alcohol
tarnishes the soul."
"Yeah, but it also removes tarnish!" Fry quipped, and Dad and Captain
Lilybulb laughed. He didn't
know when last he'd felt so... good. "Seriously, this hall is the tops. Does
the Emperor come here
"As you may have noticed", Dad muttered, "the Emperor is more one for
"As opposed to the deep-felt inner peace you get from hearing songs about
crushing the enemy",
Captain Lilybulb chuckled in a snarky fashion. Fry was starting to really
like the guy. "Not enough
cheap thrills for him."
"The Emperor wants cheap thrills and instant gratification, eh?" Fry
shouted, waving the bottle around.
There was a commotion on the stage. "Well, I'll show him! I'll write an
opera! I've done it before, and
I'm going to do it again!"
And so he did. An hour after he had started writing, Yancy suggested he make
it a regular play.
Some days went by.
Polishing shoes was not really an intellectually demanding job. Once you had
learnt to distinguish
between the kind of leather that could take the hard brush and the kind that
just needed wiping, and
how to mix the different colours of shine, and which kind of boots should be
chalked, it was plain
sailing. Of course, it was still demeaning, and the chemical smell stuck in
Leela's hair and her very
skin, and she was woken up before the sun so she could get the Emperor's
shoes ready for the day,
and she was beginning to get sick at the sight of her own boots, but you
had to be able to see the
silver lining. There was the hope of revenge, for one.
Also, she learnt things, and she clung to all the information she absorbed
like a Magnasian limpet-bird
clings to bits of metal and bolts. She followed the Emperor to diplomatic
meetings, where he would sit
around listlessly or occasionally order the execution of someone. Even when
she was seated under
that hated, hated table, its top pushing her head down between her
shoulders, she could hear the
scruffy sounds of paperwork and the hard taps of the eagle-and-star seal.
There was a great deal of paperwork. The Empire was a bureaucratic order of
planets, and the sole
duty of Emperor Jagan –Jagan the Jerk, as she had started to refer to him in
the confines of her head,
but carefully, as though he might have spies there too– seemed to be to read
reports and put his seal
on them. It came as rather a shock to realise that everyone in the palace,
nay the Empire, even Lord
Cyan himself, obeyed everything that had the eagle-and-star stamped on it.
It made her think.
So, as she would be busying herself with shining up one of his eternal,
marked red leather boots, she would hear the seal above her head, and one
day, as she was allowed
to leave the throne room to get a less bristly brush, she saw a distant
winged speck of gold turn high
above the skylight, to the rhythm.
The Imperial Spacey flew again, to conquer Glamora. This time Lieutenant
Riffenstein was in
command. Lord Cyan had taken leave to spend some quality time with his son.
In the higher echelons
of the Empire, no one found that strange.
Lieutenant Riffenstein would not stay in command for long, Lord Cyan mused,
as the bright colours of
the holoscreens flickered on his helmet over and over again. Pacifying
planet Glamora would have
been a routine mission, if someone hadn't screwed it up.
The screen almost warped in order to accommodate the throne room in the
Glamoran royal palace: a
Gothic cathedral of a cave, encrusted with strangely luminescent crystals in
notes of purple. Glamora
was an ancient culture, so stratified and hierarchically pyramidal it made
the Empire look like an
Anarchist love-in in California. Therefore, they had been assured that if
the Princess could be swayed,
she would sway her people. They had underestimated the Glamorans' love of
pageantry and empty
The record wound to the end and looped with a tinny noise. The white-armored
standing in square formation again, around the very petite, very straight,
red-robed girl to whom the
Lieutenant was presenting the writ.
"I beg your pardon", she almost whispered, but in a straight voice. "I have
not got a pen."
Lieutenant Riffenstein gave her one. The holocamera zoomed in somewhat,
groggily, as she felt the
nib with a manicured finger.
"Not very sharp", she said, almost absent-mindedly, and got a new nib. "I
suppose you want me to
sign in my own blood."
Guns were cocked.
"We are a small planet", the Princess went on, eyes narrowing as though she
were bored of looking at
the peace enforcers, "but my people shall fight to the death. The DOOP will
protect us! They will
trample you in the dust!" Sharp-nibbed pen went into jewelled bodice. "Fight
for me, my people! To the
death!" She collapsed, deep-purple hair flowing all over the place, and the
palace guards in their
winged ornate armour turned on the Cracktroopers...
He should not indulge in it. Small defeats, that was how they got to you, in
the end. For too many
planets in the galaxy, the hated, hated DOOP still meant freedom and
protection from the
responsibility to govern their own lives. If only there was a way to make
them show their true, hammer-
and-sickle branded faces...
Lord Cyan pressed the Pause button as the door clicked open behind him. He
spun in the chair, and
was flustered to find that it was Philip. He was flustered, but his heart
warmed. The boy was wearing
his uniform like he had earned it, and he was starting to get a tan. He had
the cheekbones of a Fyry,
so much was for sure, and all that reading had put the intelligence of a
predator in his eyes. If only he
hadn't stepped in now...
A woman killing herself for the honour of her unconquered people. If Philip
got those wide, innocent
eyes on it, it would seem wrong.
"What do you want, Phil?" he asked, standing up and extending his arms
slightly to block the screen
with his robe. "I'm quite busy."
"I'm writing that play like you suggested", Philip began, blushing slightly.
"It... it's going quite well
really, Father, but now I'm stuck. I realise I don't know half about this
conflict. I need more material to
give a more balanced view." Yes, he had changed. "I need to see the enemy."
"That is fine, son, but you really should leave me now..." Strange, but he
didn't want to say it. Philip
was... there was so much between them, they were all tangled up in the barb
wire swirls of DNA.
Whenever the boy walked away, the world went lonely.
"What is it on the screen?" Lord Cyan had to step to the side, now the boy
asked outright, and Philip
pushed Play. The carnage ticked on.
"I don't want you to see this, Phil..."
But he watched impassively, to the very end.
"No offence or anything, Dad", he said, and somehow it felt good, being
called "dad" by him. It was like
having your heart dipped in warm porridge. "Can I have that scene in my
play? You don't think that
would be offensive, do you?"
"No", Lord Cyan replied, as his boy grabbed the frozen screen around the
edges and dragged it
through the doorway.
There was an altercation with a Cracktrooper in the doorway. Words were
heard: "... step through my
screen again, I'll have you fired!" And, hidden by his mask, Lord Cyan
Tamsin was still around the house every now and then, though Fry was given
to understand that it was
in her professional capacities. She steamed some clams for them that
evening, in the softly green-
curtained kitchen, and went away as they ate. "Champagne Supernova" was
playing on the stereo in
the next room, and the clams were really quite delicious. The newly printed
stage-script was lying in a
corner of the table, eagle-and-star seal stamped neatly on the front.
"What I don't understand", Fry said, chewing in between, "you're obviously
the... main guy around
here, aren't you? So why do you take orders from a creepy stoner like..." he
had learnt, by now "... the
exalted Emperor Jagan?"
Dad actually chuckled. He'd been doing that a lot lately. "The Emperor is a
useful figurehead. And
when you're my age, son, you'll realise that what a powerful man needs is
someone to take the fall
when the chips are down." Fry speared some fries on his fork and jammed them
into his mouth. They
were golden with wonderfully sizzled fat. "In fact, speaking of nothing in
particular... this is sort of a
delicate question, but it needs to be popped. Have you got a girlfriend at
All of a sudden, the glorious sunset between the curtains drizzled into Old
New York grey sky. Fry tried
to swallow. "Dad... do we have to..."
"Well, find one!" Dad said, glaring out the window as though following Fry's
gaze. "Because, what my
father said to me, and his father before him... what is important is to
carry on the Fyry genes. I have
found you, but we can't stop at that. It's time, to put it bluntly, that you
get married and have a son."
"But Dad..." Oh, how he wished this kind of conversation would have stayed
in the 20th century. "I'm
an irresponsible male in his middle-to-upper twenties! That is not going to
"You are a Fyry." Dad reached across the table and wiped some tarnish off
his épaulette. His face was
less expressive than the mask. "I remember seeing you hug some palace
floozy, on your first day
here... who was it? Does she respond to your feelings?"
"No", Fry whispered into his food. It felt easier than lying or telling the
That hand grabbed his shoulder until he was forced to look up. "Let me tell
you something about
women, son. They respond to your feelings. If they don't, there's something
wrong. After all, we're
here to take care of them, aren't we?"
Something wasn't feeling quite right, but Fry had had a glass of whisky to
go with the clams. He was
prepared to let those doubts slip away in the clouds.
"And you in particular, being the heir to generations of Fyries!" Dad went
on. "In short, not to put too
fine a point on it, they like power. I remember my wife..." but something
diluted in his eyes. "If this...
lady friend of yours... is so negatively predisposed towards you, you should
really encourage her to
think otherwise. She's not fallen completely under Jagan's spell, has she?
After all, he understands
the power equation, too..."
"No!" Fry called out. The word seemed to burn in his mouth. Leela...
The long line of the Fyries... carry on the genes...
"Well, you are now the official playwright laureate", Dad said ominously and
patted the laminated cover
of the script. "Perhaps that tender, esthete charm will succeed where raw
power hasn't. If you excuse
me, son, I'm going for a walk before it gets too chilly. My legs are acting
Once the door slid shut, Fry rubbed his eyes. It was nothing he had seen,
just the idea that he needed
to rub his brain as well. What right has he to talk about Leela like that?
But every right. He's my
father. It was easier to sit back and feel invigorated by the music. Facing
It was asking him...
"Where were you when we were getting high, Father?" he whispered, and hoped
it was the drink
The white-armored Cracktroopers were standing in square formation again,
around the very petite,
very straight, red-robed girl to whom the Lieutenant was presenting the
writ. The make-up artists and
stagehands had worked wonders. Looking at the stage was like looking into a
"Young lord, I will not kneel", the bejewelled Princess said in a firm
voice, putting the pen to her
... and a figure in a dark cape and lustrous dark helmet snatched it away, as
the background music
reached a syrupy frenzy. "No, milady! The Empire watches over its own!"
The Princess looked up at her savior, her eyes enormous with make-up and
wobbling. "I see now that
the only future for my people is with the Empire. Can you forgive me?"
"Forgive you? Love, there's nothing to forgive!"
Then there was the wedding bells, and the sword-duel with the evil and
sexually perverse General
Secretary Glab of the hated DOOP, played by a green-skinned, somewhat
mannish amateur actress
known only as Mary-Jane. She was doing quite a good job of it, only rivalled
by the actor Branagh –
another one picked up in audition– behind the black robe and mask.
Lord Cyan seemed quite pleased, and had already made a note to have the play
performed in every
major city governed by the Empire, and also made into an educational film.
Captain Lilybulb was
captivated by the glitz and high-falutin language, even though the utter
political inaccuracy was
beginning to bother him.
"No two words about it, your son is a talented propagandist, milord", he
said to the dark shape next to
him. "He really made some beautiful changes there. Now, where did he go?"
"Off to follow my advice", Lord Cyan muttered, as the visor of his helmet
kept watching the glorious
moral victory of the Empire.
She should have gone to the play, but she hadn't, because who would know if
the Imperial jackboots
would get dusty on the way? She should have run off somehow, if only for a
moment to salve her
integrity. Now, she knew it was going to be hard.
"Hey, darlin", the Emperor said as she walked past, trying to look busy, and
to call his voice lascivious
would be about as informative as calling water wet. He was sitting on the
throne only by default, and
from his movements as he beckoned her he seemed to briefly have forgotten
how many appendages
he had. "You know, you've been doing a lot of hard work lately, darlin. Why
don't you relax a bit?
Come over here and melt the crystal mirror with me."
She had to keep the spite under control. Her tongue liked her head where
it was. But it was hard, so
dang hard it made her sick.
"That was either a visitation to some kind of drug abuse or a visitation to
some kind of sexual practice,
sir", she said stonily, "and I will never, never want to know why! Besides,
it's too hot for drugs now." It
was true. Heat was tightening around her head like a tourniquet.
"Did you say 'sexual', darlin?" She wished she hadn't, now. Some kind of
wormed down the side of the table as Emperor Jagan got to his feet, rather
shakily. "It gets lonely at
the top. Why don't you and I... darlin... go somewhere private?"
Leela backed away, staring at the floor. Might as well. "You repulse me!"
"No, you repulse me!" Emperor Jagan called out as she strode into a
corridor. His hair was falling
in front of his eyes again. "Now come back so I can fondle you!"
Footsteps, trimly booted ones, were coming from the other end of the
marmoreal twist of the corridor...
and they had succeeded, they had made her into a nervous wreck. She almost
screamed when a man
walked up next to her, but it was Fry. Fry with his hair slicked down and
wearing what looked like a tux
made out of silver cotton-candy, none the less. She could have hugged him,
but her arms were full of
shoes again, and her back screamed at the thought of them clattering
across the floor and she
would have to bend down and pick them up...
"Leela!" Fry said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "I was hoping you'd be at
the concert hall... they're
putting up my play there! My play!" His eyes were glowing. "But what's the
matter... Leela... you look
like you're going to cry?"
"Forget about it", she muttered, blinking until she could hardly see him.
"I'm sorry I couldn't come, Fry."
She waited for him to say it didn't matter, but he was Fry... not the most
sensitive guy in the universe.
"I'll go some other time. Right now... I need to go for a little walk. Want to
"Certainly." He had... changed. It wasn't just the clothes and the smart new
haircut, the one that made
him look even more like his dad... maybe not even the new confidence. He took
her arm, as well he
might, and promenaded her in the direction of the gleaming sky outside a
colonnade. "What are you
"Cleaning boots. Sweating. Dodging his imperial majesty." She managed to
keep the bitterness out of
her voice, all the way down to the final sentence. Maybe he was looking at
her, but she kept her eye
"It is rather hot, is it not?" Fry agreed. She heard a small tinkle as he
unbuttoned his shirt.
She had to nod, and then couldn't hold the whining back. "It... it's
sickening, Fry! I spend all that time
crouched under that table..." and why was he clutching her arm like that? "...
and it's like I'm being
poisoned. It's like fever." She leant against an almost mirroring pillar,
and her dress clove to it, but at
least she could breathe in the cooling blue sky. "I want to get out of here,
Fry, I'm suffocating here..."
And a silver-shrouded arm put itself around her shoulders. "Then let my love
keep your cold."
Eye stared into eyes.
"Excuse me, Fry?" she hissed. "I think you may have misunderstood me. I
was not attempting to
seduce you. I'll see you around."
She stalked off, clinging to the shoes for dear life, and heard Fry cry out
behind her: "Well, I was
attempting to seduce you! I happen to be the son of Lord Cyan, you know! I
could make things a lot
better for you if you'd stop being so damn... emancipated!"
It was hard to walking with warm, sticky tears clouding up her eye. After a
while, she had to crouch,
even though her spine felt like it was growing spines everywhere, and pick
the shoes up anyway.
Sound travelled long in the corridors. Two voices, one of them young and
rather arrogant in an unsure
way, the other drawling and arrogant enough for two, twisted into her ears...
"Have you seen my darlin around here?"
"Yes, the Leela girl. Purple hair, a bit deformed, but I am certain my
subjects can inform you that I..."
frightening laugh "... have some very twisted tastes."
"If you find her, good luck to you. She has nice soft hands. Shame about the
eye, but it's not the eye
you want, I am given to understand..."
The heat was getting to her. Whilst fighting dizziness, Leela had a vision
of Fry tottering out of the
palace, face in hands, shuddering with sobs... and then lifting his head, a
new darkness in his look,
and striding on as though he knew his goal.
The very same evening, a banquet was held in honour of the two stars,
Branagh and Mary-Jane, still
in the costumes of their roles. The Imperials needed little excuse for
banquets, these days. The
Emperor wanted to show off the amberglass ware taken from the royal palace
The man who called himself Branagh sat in silence next to the alien who
called himself Mary-Jane. He
was choking in his tacky black robe and body armor made out of
metallic-sprayed knitting, but that
was a small price to pay for still being able to wear a hat. And what a
hat, even though he hadn't
been allowed into the palace until the helmet had been plastered with a
garish red-and-white sticker
saying REPLICA. His eyes would be quite invisible as he glanced around the
They had been seated by quite a nob table, for actors. Most of the people
around them were officials
and the leisured classes... but looking towards the throne he recognised that
wimp Fry, still wearing
his tawdry uniform, pink-cheeked from a power trip and stretching himself
whenever he got looked at
by a burly, brown-haired man who looked very familiar. Nobody else was
around, so maybe they'd all
been executed. Quite a shame. Quite.
Mary-Jane emitted a high-pitched squeak. It was quite a good impression of a
female, actually... but
Branagh felt a muted tap on his shoulder, and spun around.
A cute, snub-nosed Oriental face looked back into his mask, between a bulge
of black hair trapped in
a fishnet and a deep cleavage... Mary-Jane was bending so close to the table
he was almost
rubbing his face in the glistening amber plate, no wonder... oh, and yes,
wasn't that chick his
"First course, mister actor sir", Amy Wong said, curtsying pneumatically and
indescribably and briny-smelling onto his plate. "Oh, and... not to be too
forward, sir, but you might
want to take that helmet off. It'll be hard to eat otherwise."
Now, that was not anything that Branagh was planning to do, but his heart
had started racing. He was
not going to die here! This called for a certain... let's call it... Branagh's
Rakishly placing an elbow on the back of his chair, he cocked his head and
put his other arm around
Amy's waist. A small noise sounding a bit like "hegh!" was heard from
"I am ay sharacter actor", he said, letting his voice ooze like molasses
under the gate of the Garden of
Earthly Delights. "I live the role of the glorious Lord Cyan. I don't take
my helmet off for anyone. But
for you, my dear, I'll make an exception."
Amy backed off, giggling under her breath. "Why, Mr Branagh... please don't!
Not while I'm in service!
Anyway, I used to have a boyfriend... and I seem to be making your partner
Ah, things were turning out a bit of alright. Branagh nudged Mary-Jane.
"Well, I do apologise, honey.
But surely, you can't blame me for being captivated with such an adorably
cute face every now and
then?" Mary-Jane hid his heavily made-up face under his sleeves.
Now that put a bitter taste in your mouth. Branagh hazarded to poke his
helmet up, just enough to
poke a greasy chunk of what appeared to be a deep-fried piece of toast into
his mouth. For a moment,
he wondered if the mask would make him choke on his own vomit.
"Who cooks this thing?" he shouted when his vocal chords disentangled
"Second cook Bender, sir", Amy said, curtsying in fear. "He's a robot, sir...
hasn't got any taste buds...
I'm sorry if you don't like it..."
"Delicious!" Branagh called out, loud enough for even the creepy Emperor to
turn his head. "Why,
Mary-Jane, you must have some too..." He tore off another gobbet, well above
bite-sized, and shoved
it into Mary-Jane's slitted mouth. "The flavours in this... dish... are driving
me to distraction with their
tastific goodness! Please, allow me to compliment the cook in person!"
"It's down that way", Amy said, waving a hand vaguely in the direction of a
corridor. After all, actors
belonged in kitchens and suchlike areas. Branagh strode off, and Mary-Jane
tagged along, sleeves
trailing. When he turned around by the doorway, he saw Fry leaving the
table, but taking the opposite
In the soapy-smelling kitchen, a bending unit in a white hat looked up from
the meticulous task of
sticking bats on toothpicks and placing them in drinks. He wiped his
grippers on a towel, making them
gleamed with lard, then turned to face them. His pupils flickered out thin.
"Since you're dragging a wimpy alien in a ceremonial outfit around, I
presume you're not Lord
Jerkass", he said in a conversational tone of voice. "So, you must be that
actor guy who never shows
his face and... whatserface, Mary-Sue?"
"We want a favour of you", Branagh said, going for the straightforward
approach. "As second cook to
the palace, you would have a certain authority, now wouldn't you? Can you
take me and... Mary-Jane
to the communications room?"
"Who wants to know?" Bender asked, pupils narrowing again. "And don't give
me any of that Branagh
crap. I'm taking no lip from you."
The man who called himself Branagh raised his hands to the helmet.
"Before I take it off", he said, trying to keep his voice steady, "I want
you to know that whatever bounty
is on our heads, the DOOP will pay you the double if you help us stay
"DOOP, eh?" Bender mumbled. "Double, eh? Show us."
The helmet came off. Greasy blond hair flopped into the eyes of the man who
called himself Branagh,
but he could see Bender wrestling with his double loyalties... or more
probably, his desire to screw up
the Empire and his desire to screw up the two men before him.
"OK, I've seen enough of your ugly face", he said, after shaking off the
throes of soul-searching. "Take
it on again. I'm taking you to the communications room, on the condition
that... now, I quite like it
here, but my friends have moral problems with being part of an aggressively
government and all the menial work. So, promise that the DOOP will save us
along with you, or you'll
get that helmet where your sun of choice don't shine."
Zapp Brannigan and Kif nodded, briefly stunned but grateful. Unbeknownst to
them, far off, a young
man was entering the dressing-room of the concert hall and helping himself
to a robe and a ring.
The servants slept in rows of windowless rooms, more like cubicles than
anything else, along dingy
corridors in the lower levels of the palace. Each had a rickety bed to sleep
on, and not much else.
Amy, who slept a few doors down from Leela's place, had been griping about
it to absolutely no end. "I
don't have to take this sort of thing!" she'd shrilled. "I'm rich!"
Leela didn't really mind, though. It was clean, not too stuffy even though
the air smelt of wet plaster,
and the night was her own. She got to let her hair down, stretch out on the
rather soft mattress, let her
eyelid glide shut and drift into sleep. It was some kind of a healing
That is, when she didn't have to take the shoes with her so she could polish
a few pairs before lights-
The healing process had almost started. She was dead tired. All the
revulsion for the Emperor had
sunk down among the oily black muck at the bottom of the River of Dreams.
The air had cooled after
the day, though she still couldn't put the blanket on, too clammy... she
pulled it up anyway, to her
waist, as some kind of weak defence. Her nerves were still on edge, but she
would have to relax...
and sleep... she needed the sleep. She needed cold. What was it Fry had said?
Fry. She rolled over
to her belly and punched the pillow: she would have gone mad long since if
she hadn't had that vent.
Surely she'd been mad at Fry in the past, but that had just been because he
was an idiot. Now, he
was turning into a jerk. It was the dark side of... something. She was far too
tired to think. She wished
Lord Cyan, Yancy or whatever was his name, would stay off Fry's mind.
Footsteps in the corridor. Leela leant on her elbows and saw the shadows of
feet –damn boots!–
pace past in the gap of light under the door. OK. Her head sunk to the
pillow, which was starting to feel
very comfortable. Just some late-working kitchen-hand going to bed, or maybe
a guard... but no. No.
The feet weren't lurching or marching. They were stalking. Scraping off into
the distance... then they
returned. The two-pronged shadow appeared under the door again, and this
time it stayed.
There was a knock on her door, harder than bone. The knocking hand was
wearing a ring.
So, the Emperor was trying things, was he? Let him try. After the events
of the afternoon, she had
moved her bed so the headboard was wedged against the door and would block
it. If that wasted
weirdo wanted something, he was going to have to push the door open with 140
pounds of cyclopic
muscle on the other side.
There was a tinkle of very weak metal. The gap of light warped as the door
began to sag.
Or he could just have a go at the hinges.
Biting her lip until it hurt, Leela backed into the deepest shades of the
room, feeling her pupil dilate
until it felt like a window into her brain. Adrenaline was coursing
throughout her nervous system like a
river of icy steel. The bed squeaked as it straightened out. The door fell
back and revealed a robed
outline in the pallor of the doorway. (There was a muted clunk as a
hacksaw dropped to the floor.)
Finding her. Stepping forward...
... and getting his droit de seigneur from a set of knuckles in the midriff.
The man in the tacky purple robe doubled over on the floor, drawing breath
in something between a
scream and a wheeze. Leela paused to slip a boot on her foot, then pulled
back for the kick...
"You know, if I'd been the real Emperor, you'd be in a lot of trouble!" Fry
whined, getting to his knees.
Leela slumped to her bed. She didn't want to look at him. She didn't want to
look away either, so she
compromised by letting her eyelid slide halfway down. The yellow light
crystallized on her eyelashes.
Fry looked like he was made out of jewels.
"If you'd been the real Emperor, you'd be a dead freak now", she sighed.
Sarcasm was dragging its
scaly tail into her voice. "Did your mother never tell you that... what you
just did... is... wrong?"
"No, but..." Fry cut himself off. She could just about guess what he had been
going to say.
He drew a deep breath, then balled his fists around his stomach region. The
signet ring glistened on
his finger. Knocking on the door had scraped some gilt off the seal.
"I... I thought you wouldn't object", he whimpered.
He sounded so miserable, so awkward, so Fryish, that she found herself
rising from her bed and
almost ruffling his hair. Her hand had other ideas, and slapped him.
"Yes, because I just so happen to enjoy being victimized by perverted,
full-of-themselves jerks!" she
shouted. "What's your problem? Since when did a 'no' stop being a 'no'?"
"You never said 'no' to me!" Fry complained, stretching his neck as though
daring her to hit him again.
Leela looked down. The boot she was wearing wasn't part of her ordinary
pair: strong, steel-bolted,
capable of surviving a walk through lava. It was garish and had, she noticed
as she tore it off, an
eagle-and-star seal on the sole. It made her want to spit.
"A lot of women are turned on by power..." he went on when she didn't say
She had to laugh. "Yes, you'd know, wouldn't you?"
"Dad told me..."
This time she just grabbed him by the collar, looking him straight in the
space between his eyes.
"That's your father talking, Fry! You're treating people like things!"
"You never bothered to ax if we wanted to join the Empire! You made that
decision for us!"
"You live in the luxury hoarded from conquered planets! You promote an
ideology of oppression and
megalomaniacal expansionism! You would lie down on the floor if your father
said 'rug'!" She paused
to breathe. "But if you ever claim that Emperor Jagan means anything to
me... you will pay."
Fry curled up tighter, and after a moment she heard him sobbing. She had to
put her arm around his
shoulders, and he was warm.
"I... I thought you might like me better", he sniffed. "Because Dad... Dad said...
Dad said a lot of
things, and I believed all of them. Oh Leela, Leela, I'm... I'm so sorry. Can
you forgive me? Please
forgive me... I didn't mean to..." The words came out like they cut him. "I
know, there's no excuse for
what I've been doing. I didn't think. I didn't think at all. But he's my
"I forgive you", Leela said. It still sounded harsh. "I know it hasn't been
easy for you, Fry. It's been very
hard... and you've probably suffered enough for it. As for Lord Cyan..." She
sighed. This was going to
be hard, too. "I can't ax you to be disloyal to your own father, Fry. Just...
just remember that..." From
what you told me, his vision of the world was skewed back in your day, and
if anything it's changed for
the worse. He's a madman. He's dangerous. He's bad for you. There's nothing
as bad as talking to the
strangers you know. She couldn't say that.
"Sorry about your door, too", Fry said as he stood up. He managed to smile.
Try as she might, she
couldn't answer it.
He walked through the corridors, and by the junction he was surrounded by
He was put on a court-martial, which was the traditional Imperial procedure
when someone had
impersonated the august and sacrosanct Emperor for tawdry motives. The
replica ring was judged to
be destroyed, being a possible device to be used by plotters. Because Fry's
father was an influential
man, the trial was held in private. Because Fry's father was an intimidating
man, the defendant was
Because Fry's father was also a very, very angry man, he grabbed Fry by the
porphyrogene scruff of
his robe once he'd left the throne room as a free man. This particularly
torrid day, he had taken off his
helmet and gauntlets. Fry almost wished he hadn't. One vein was throbbing
almost to bursting over
"Where is your sense of duty?" he hissed. The anonymous executioner's axe
would have been a more
merciful alternative. "Where is your honour? You have brought utter, utter
shame down on the head
of the Emperor!"
It took enough energy just trying to stand without tottering. His head felt
light and full of memories he'd
rather not carry around, thank you. Leela had been witnessing against him.
She must have known he
was going to get away with it, otherwise she couldn't possibly have
witnessed. Right? She had been
standing with her back against him, so the only thing he'd recognized was
her purple hair.
"Dad", Fry said wearily, trying to reason with him. "Please. The Emperor is
sitting on his throne in this
very moment, doing crystal meth!"
"That is not the point! Philip, after your behaviour last night..."
Fry leant towards the deeply carven door ajar on the throne room and looked
through the gap. "He's
asking the Minister of the Interior for a glass of water to drip..."
"... not to mention your disregard for the poor girl's feelings..."
"Dad, the Emperor is impossible to bring shame on! Look at him, will you?
Out floating in Crystal
Dad slapped him, not hard, but it did get his attention. Far too softly, in
fact. What was he thinking?
I... I tried to assault Leela. Something in his head was hurting.
"You have been proclaimed innocent of the charge", Dad said finally,
heavily, like that meant
anything. "It is not up to me to judge you otherwise. Think on this: next
time you fool around like this,
you will be demoted to the rank of Private. Front service in the Empire is
not easy, son. It might teach
you to think with something other than..." a slow, grim smirk "... your
"Why don't you just disown me?" he asked, and it sounded so stupid and
bitter. "Wait... you wouldn't,
would you? Got to keep the Fry genes coming."
I, I. I tried to assault Leela. Something here. Some kind of excuse. The
genes. Keep the gene pool
"It's your fault!" he burst out. It sounded too loud. His head was
shattering now. "OK... OK, it was my
fault too, but I would never have done it if not for you and your... and your
corrupting me!" It felt good
to be judgmental. This is like something out of All My Circuits. "You told
me women like men with
power! You told me I shouldn't take 'no' for an answer, and let me tell you
something, Father... a no is
always a no!" Pause. "Why did you slap me like that? It didn't hurt."
"I was taking aim."
This time, Fry staggered back. It felt like his eye was coming out on the
side where the blow had
struck home. It wasn't about his head, now. The world hurt.
"I am a merciful man", his father said. "That was mercy. A less merciful man
would not take so kindly
to his son trying to mate with a degenerate, deformed freak!" Leela.
Leela. Think of her name. Try to
stand straight. "Nor to the infamy committed against his imperial majesty.
Next time, on my word as
your father, I will not be as forgiving. Remember your pledge of
The world twisted and brightened horribly... "Sir! I pledge allegiance to the
flag of the United..."
"What was that? Your allegiance to the Emperor."
Red pain. Gold starburst of shame. Hands pressed against the throbbing
bruise on his cheek, Fry
turned and ran.
Fry's breath caught like a burr in his windpipe, but he still couldn't stop
running until he was well inside
the picket fence. The noonday sky might as well have been red, the blue in
it burnt him. He had to
crouch on the shell-strewn gravel path, because his heart thumped like it
was going to kill him, and a
lot of it wasn't exhaustion.
This was the open, field-like garden west of the white house, with a locked
front door. There was a
small mailbox here. He rattled the lid, then went over to the north side.
He was facing the north side of the white house. There was no door here, and
all the windows were
barred. He tried to open them, but they were stuck hard. He kept walking,
one foot trailing slightly and
aching from the run, east.
He was behind the white house. In one corner of the house there was a small
window which was
slightly ajar. With great effort, he opened the window far enough to allow
entry, and climbed through.
He was in the kitchen of the white house. A table seemed to have been used
recently for the
preparation of food. A passage led to the west and a dark staircase could be
seen leading upwards.
But it is not my house. It's a bit like a dream. If I still had my keys,
they wouldn't fit in the lock. A
bottle was sitting on the table. The glass bottle contained: a quantity of
aftershave lotion. He drew a
deep breath, then went west.
He was in the living room. There was a door to the east, a wooden door with
a certificate with strange
alien lettering thumbtacked to the west, which was locked, and a round
carpet in the centre of the
room. Blue carpet, with a rather familiar eagle motif embroidered on it in
gold. There was a report from
the Minister of War here, dated 06/23/98. On hooks above the mantelpiece
hung an American musket
of great antiquity.
His footsteps echoed as he walked over and read the note on the door. His
knowledge of the alien
alphabets was still rather shaky, but it seemed to translate as a graduation
certificate from the Jrulm
University of the East Arm. The paper was a bit rumpled and yellowing around
His footsteps echoed...
Fry twisted around and almost screamed when he saw a shard of himself
mirrored in the glass of a
photo on the mantelpiece, so wild-eyed, wearing a tattered robe that flapped
like a torn moth... all
superimposed on a smiling photo of himself as a kid. Or was it his brother?
The colours had darkened
with age... no, please, not now. He forcibly bent his attention to the floor.
By all logic, and logic was
sorely needed now, the rug should have muffled his footsteps, but behind
that muffle there'd been a
deep, rickety echo...
He knelt on the floor
I pledge allegiance to
He's my father... he has to be my father... he looks like him, he talks like
him, something is wrong,
he must be my father or what have I done?
I pledge allegiance to... Dad, Yancy J. Fry Sr., how can you be cryonically
frozen when a goddamn
nuke is exploding over your head... not possible... I'm sorry, Dad, I just want
IpledgeallegianceIjustwantproof... I just want the truth.
grabbed the crested rug and dragged it. With a great effort, the rug was
moved to one side of the
room. With the rug moved, the dusty cover of a closed trap-door appeared.
He reluctantly opened the trapdoor to reveal...
Darkness. A small cellar, more of a concrete-reinforced hole in the floor
than a room. Stuffed with
junk... he saw clothes, and boots, and guns, and several tattered notebooks,
and a far gleam that
might be some kind of a knife or maybe an Elven sword. It wasn't a paranoid
man's shelter. It was a
mausoleum. It smelt of mothballs, and aftershave, and death.
And, because above all he was a Fry, he stepped into the dark.
A key tinkling in the lock.
"Phil? You in there, Phil?"
Fry's mind surfaced when he heard the voice. It was a familiar voice. A good
voice. He ought to
"'ey, Phil, I'm sorry I got so worked up and hit ya... I'm really sorry about
that. I mean, what you did
wasn't right... but then again, neither was what I did."
True. You could say that.
"But... I forgive you, because you're my son, and a father and son has got to
stick together, right? So,
please tell me you forgive me too."
Fry raised his head slowly, so slowly the room floated into view like a
sunrise. The air was still
wonderfully summery, but he had hunkered up as though he was deadly cold. He
had to answer,
really, but he couldn't get one word out.
"Phil? Are you there?"
He bobbed back to life when he heard boots scraping on the doormat, and
kicked the rug back across
the trapdoor... he had closed the trapdoor, right? He pulled the rug up
again, looked under it, yes,
good... had to smooth it out, it wasn't lying in the exact way it had been,
the beak should be pointing
more towards the mantelpiece, but he didn't have time and there was a
draft of balmy air from the
garden and boots creaking in the hallway...
When Lord Cyan stepped into the hallway, he was met by his son, ginger hair
still dishevelled, faux
purple robe hanging skewed from one shoulder. The handprint on his cheek had
faded, but blush was
running down his cheeks.
"I'm sorry", he said, so slowly. "I... I know you did the right thing, Father.
I just overreacted."
"Can't blame you for that." Patting his shoulder. "I was a bit too harsh
with you too, all right. Sowing
your wild oats and all... now, can you forgive me too?"
But Fry had turned to face the blue shadow sky. His eyes were nothing but
"I'll always forgive you, Father", he said. "On my word as your son."