Chapter 6 ½: 2003
Some of the pages in his journal, almost all of them in fact, had faded
photographs taped to them. It
hurt to flick through them, hurt as if every bit gave him paper cuts.
... never thought a man could be so lucky when I saw Ilyena standing there,
all sleek in her white truso
(?) holding a big splurge of flowers, and the flowers filled the church with
their scent until it was like
you were drunk, I didn't even hear her voice when she said "I do" but her
lips moved and her eyes
were like two skies...
... another Yancy Fry to the line. My own Dad would be proud, if only he could
live to see his genes
carried on like that. Oh, every man's dream. All you can truly hope for is
to see your children grow and
florish (?) and care for you in the decline of your age...
... and another son. We're calling him Philip. It's a nice name. He had lovely
ginger hair, just like my
wife. It's like Yancy's birth all over again. I can't believe Ilyena seems
so UNENTHUSIASTIC about it.
Those two boys, fluids of my fluids, I guess it's a primitive way of seeing
it, but my genes have twice
as big a chance of surviving now. I'm proud...
Flick. But he is gone. Flick. And never shall return.
... away from Ft. Mt., and I felt horrible about it. I should have let him go
to the prom, no father should
come between his son and love. But wouldn't he have thanked me if the bombs
had dropped? I was
so sure, I still wake up in the morning and think I hear the air-raid
sirens, then the whistling when the
air tears up, then the then the LIGHT, and how could he ever blame me...
Phone that Michelle woman again? But then, the last time he heard from her,
she was getting married.
He's seen her walking in the park with her blond, aloof law student. Maybe
Philip's age, and after all,
there is such a thing as plastic surgery, but he had been using words like
"escrow". If that was Philip,
then he is Vladimir Putin.
... Yancy got married today, in my old tux. He told me he never thought a man
could be so lucky, but
we had left a place free between Ilyena and me in case Philip would turn up
for the ceremony. I really
would have expected that. He fought with his brother all the time, but deep
down. Deep down. I was
so certain he would come blundering into the church far too late, slipping
on the flowers or something,
that I could hardly hear what the clergyman was saying. Ilyena was crying.
She was spreading out her
skirt to cover the empty seat and she was crying...
He ain't coming back, is he?
He goes into the inner city by bus, because the house is empty all around
him, just a husk of silence
capable of pushing your ears all the way into your head, no wonder it served
Ilyena like it did... oh,
Ilyena. The doctors say she is quite well, apart from a tendency towards
delusions, and she always
seems so happy and nifty when he sees her, watching baseball on the tube in
the common room and
sometimes solving crossword puzzles –strange, before she was committed he
didn't even know she
could read– but there is something askew in her pretty peach-coloured
head... no Philip. How can
she ever hope to get any better with no Philip?
He's still living off his army pension, just. McDonalds doesn't want him
He truly despises the bus, it's smelling like a locker room, there's junk
all over the floor, but driving a
car is a pipe dream now... the damn thing broke down after he and Yancy Jr.
went cruising the streets
looking for Philip the days after New Year's Eve, which only proved what
he's been saying all
along... and, shameful as it is, he can't really walk any more. He gets
really tired, and his lungs go
plastic-bag on him, as scrunched-up and with the same ability to absorb
oxygen. When he has to run
for the traffic, his heart sometimes smashes against his ribcage and then
there is pain, pain for hours.
He really should get something done about it.
Yes. Get something done, if only so that he can walk proud like an American
again, instead of being
mashed up with the weirdoes in the back.
"Everyone always told me that my habit was gonna get me into trouble, but
will you look at me now,
twenty-four years old and, like, I got high... many years back? Never felt any
better! But I agree that
this is only a healthy lifestyle for those with the willpower to Oh and by
the way my septum rotted
away, but that doesn't really bother me, because I can get even more powder
in there now... wanna
watch?" A hand with black-rimmed fingernails diving into a small paper bag,
grabbing a handful of
something fine and white, and then something next to him snorts like an
angry truck. "Man, that was
good! I say we do it again!"
Panucci's Pizza is his first stop. Seymour the mongrel dog is seated on his
haunches outside, damp
fur smelling like mud and ricotta cheese, staring into a drain and sometimes
barking at his echo. Poor
doggie. He's a nice dog, really, he just seems to be losing it a bit. Then
again, who isn't? When his
family –years since, now, years– took him to look for his master Philip,
he kept barking up the
Applied Cryogenics Center. Which makes no sense.
He barks at Yancy, too, in rather a friendly fashion. Still in the prime of
his age, the little rascal, and
Panucci cares for him... if only he wouldn't be sitting out in the street
every day, even in snow and
driving rain. Yancy feels his uniform pockets for a doggie treat, but he's
fresh out. He scratches
Seymour behind his ears instead.
"Has Philip been back?" he asks Mr Panucci, after the bare necessities of
"Not yet today, no", the rugged baker replies, showing him a moderately
cheerful grin. "But hope
springs eternal, Mr Fry." He gestures out through the grimy window, towards
the lone hunched figure
of the dog. "If that little fella can survive on his own, so can your son."
Yes, Fry can survive on his
own. And he wants to. He doesn't want his family. "Would you mind giving
him this pizza crust on
your way out?"
But when Yancy tries to feed the crust, a nice big crust with a bit of
tomato sauce on it, to Seymour,
the dog springs up and starts running along the littered sidewalk, dodging
pigeons and pizza cartons,
barking what sounds vaguely like "Goodnight Saigon". He barks up at the
column of, oh joy, the Applied Cryogenics Center. Silly dog. Yancy draws a
deep breath, clearness,
cleanness, and steps onto the bus when it pants up close to him.
"Say, are you lonely, big boy? Why don't we sit a bit closer?" He's drowning
in perfume as heady and
vapid as mint julep. Long, chewed, bubble-gum pink fingernails twist the
uppermost button of his shirt.
"I really like men in uniforms."
He is gasping for air as he totters across the pavement outside Yancy Jr.'s
lace-curtained uptown flat.
Maybe the mutt has a point, after all. Maybe cryogenic sleep is the
solution. In the future, they'll be
able to surgically remove things like shivering lungs and achy-breaky hearts
nightmares of failing, won't they? The pain is making it so terribly hard to
think. Maybe fifty or a
hundred years will just pass in a blink of a frozen eye, and then he'll open
his eyes and feel fit and
young and alive again...
... and somewhere, Philip will walk obscurity forever. There's no way out of
He has his hand shaken by Yancy Jr., a bit guardedly, and gets to hold the
infant son, in front of the
smiling blonde young mother Martha, as Yancy Jr. is out in the kitchen
making them coffee. It disturbs
him. Many things do.
"His name is Philip", Martha says, patting down a lock of
burnt-cheese-coloured hair on the giggling
boy's little soft head. "Philip Junior." Her voice softens to a whisper
under the cheerful slamming noise
by the sink. "Named after your... your son, of course. Yancy was quite
depressed. He loved his
brother much, and he thinks Philip never knew, so he named his son after
him... in memory."
"In memory", the grandfather says hoarsely. "But... but Philip isn't dead..."
"It's very good that you keep hoping, Mr Fry", Martha mumbles, but she takes
the baby. "You should
never give up hope."
What gave her the right to say something like that?
"Yancy?" he calls out, almost weakly, as his son exits the kitchen, holding
two smoking cups and
looking like himself on the army photos... but lost, without the other piece
of the jigsaw. "Did you say
to Martha that Philip... Philip Senior... was dead?"
"Dad, of course Philip isn't dead!" his son laments, suddenly tortured.
"Of course he's still alive
somewhere! But you have to face it. He's been gone for over three years.
He's not coming back."
"He is coming back", Yancy Sr. hears himself scrape, as though he's trying
to make it so by chipping it
into the foundations of the world. "He has to come back. I... we love him."
"Of course we loved him", Yancy Jr. says stiffly, his gaze wafting out the
window and losing itself in the
streaming glitter of traffic. "But... I'm sorry, Dad... I was never very nice to
him. And neither were you."
The abyss rears up and yawns...
"I was nice to him", the father says. He will never want to remember the
tone of his voice. "I was nice
to him. HE WAS MY SON, DAMN IT!"
Nothing in the traffic changes. There are no sudden pattering steps in the
staircase, no almost-
forgotten voice calling out to answer, but Yancy Jr. draws himself up. The
baby has started crying, and
Martha cradles him in her arms and hurries into the sweet, pale blue back
room in a flurry of blond hair
"I think you had better leave soon, Dad", Yancy Jr. says as though it
doesn't hurt at all.
And dear old daddy, who has nowhere left to go, runs down the drafty
staircase, clenching his hands
as though he's praying for the flicker of biting light and the toppling
Onto the bus.
"I've got a seat free", says a good-looking fair-haired young man, standing
up. "It pays to be nice to
other people, that's what I always say."
Yancy takes it, in relief.
"Though I can't say experience proves it", the youth continues, darkly. "I
got the sack. Hard. All I did
was to round up, oh, about a third of my co-workers, we wanted equal
treatment, our way was paved
with good intentions, but what do we get? Dismissed as renegades? Why,
indeed! The big guy called
in those strike-breakers with flaming swords and wings ‘til Tuesday, and we
all got hurled into this pit
of fire and brimstone! Would you care for that? I don't think so! You'd
think that after the whole apple
incident He would have realised that He was better off with me working with
him. ‘Mr Morningstar', He
said, ‘you are never going to work in this universe again!' But he was
wrong. Didn't I prove him wrong?
Methinks I did! You're not even listening, are you?"
People are staring at him when he tumbles off the bus and trudges up the
weedy gravel path to his
house, heart smothering him in every beat.
He sits down heavily at the bottom of the stairs, clutching his chest with
both hands until the crashing
pain stops. Then he goes back to flicking the many, many pages, sometimes
stopping to look up at the
little pathetic shrine of memorabilia heaped all around him. Coke cans.
Pizza cartons. Flick. A jagged
... put up a swing for Philip, it would have been a lot better if I'd thought
about measuring the rope
... came back from Ft. Mt., and I can't help it, it feels like they're both
slipping out of my grasp...
they're all, I'm losing Ilyena as well, I'm losing it all...
... the fireworks have gone out, and I'm sitting here waiting, because the
swing tree is gone and I will
see him so clearly when he comes...
Chapter 7: We All Fall Down
"If anyone can hear us, please please send a ship to planet Scintillant. Kif
and I managed to escape
execution, no thanks to anyone else than yours truly, the fearless Captain
Zapp Brannigan, and we
managed to get into the palace disguised as thespians... that's ‘thespians'
with a Z... but things are
looking grim for sure, and if we're found out we're done for... so, to
rey-terate, this is an emergency
message from Captain Zapp Brannigan and Lieutenant Kif Kroker, marooned on
planet Scintillant in
the heartland of the Evil Empire..."
"Miss General Secretary, the sudden quiet among the Imperial planets may
herald a strike at the heart
"... Earth President Nixon has requisitioned the Sword of Lies for use against
all the Kremlin puppets
in the Empire, his words, sir, not mine, and is commissioning an extensive
search for a big bucket of
This is inside the head of Private Dempsey:
He is not driven by anger. He certainly is not driven by fear. He is not
driven by desire, duty, or any
rationale. He can no longer feel any of these, though sometimes he takes
some enjoyment in
observing them in other people, rather like a research scientist might relax
watching rats run in an
electrified mace. All that remains for him now is disappointment, and greed,
and the torturing feeling
that he has been rejected.
Oh, and retribution. Hot, and hard, and drawn-out. Sometimes that's the only
thing that keeps him
"If anyone can hear us, please please send a ship to planet Scint..."
Miss Glab the General Secretary... had she ever been annoying him lately! Of
course, he had never
harboured any romantic attachment to her, any more than he had harboured any
sonly duties to... but
NEVER MIND THAT! Sometimes he had to shout, in the confines of his head,
because the voices
were whispering and giggling. But being a lonely woman, inveterate in a
position of power, she should
rightly have been softened by his youthful charms, in spite of his total
hairlessness and pasty skin. He
had bent all his mind to it, because if he could make the General Secretary
do his bidding, then he
could have anything. Such as revenge. Oh yes, revenge would be sweet.
A hubbub was coming from the conference room next door. He picked up a
letter-opener with an
ornate handle from the vile jumble of paperwork on her desk –the lower
strata of which were probably
being turned into anthracite as of now– and concealed it in his sleeve as
Glab strode through the door,
robes trailing, incredibly high-minded look on her face.
"Ah, Dempsey", she said, her voice smooth as ice. "Since you have nothing
else to do, would you be a
dear and go and find Admiral Pirk? It has been unanimously decided that for
our new foray into the
East Arm, we deploy the Aureole, and..."
"I do apologise, madam", Dempsey said stiffly, trying to sidle up in his
normal position by the
scrollwork of her chair back. "Madam, I will have to ask indefinite leave of
"To care for your sick grandmother?" the green lady quipped with something
of a smirk.
"To care for my father", Dempsey replied, feeling his face slide into stony
cold. "You know of whom I
speak. And as usual, I will need an indefinite amount of time."
"Yes, yes, going back to Scintillant for purposes of espionage", Glab
replied, stretching in her chair a
little. She must be truly stressed, if she could be so... undiplomatic. "To be
brutally honest, you're little
better than a traitor, in fact. But certainly, go ahead, we need the
He looked deep into her eyes, deep into her limpid eyes, and then swung his
gaze away in case she
felt the hate.
"So cold", he whispered. "So cold and... businesslike... and diplomatic... you
know, Glab, I thought we
were... friends? More so?" His voice sounded so weak and childish, he wanted
to tear it out of his own
"Diplomacy makes strange bedfellows", Glab replied, scratching with a finger
on the black seal of one
of the obituary folders. "At first, I felt quite flattered by your youthful
charms, not to mention blown
away by your stunning good looks, but... you are an hysterically unbalanced
young man possessed
with a lust for revenge, and to speak plainly: you know which way the wind's
blowing, and you turn
your coat accordingly. Not that I care how much of our intelligence you have
disclosed to the Evil
Empire, because we are going to win, and" deeper, more jagged smirk "you can
switch into your
DOOP uniform for good now. In short..."
He steeled himself against it, like he would have against the onslaught of a
"... I don't think we are compatible, Dempsey." Pale jade hands folded. "Oh,
and I am alive to the fact
that you are hiding a laser letter-opener in your sleeve. How very unseemly.
What were you planning
to do with it? Open my e-mail?"
If looks were lasers, she could have used him for a letter-opener, but all
that was immaterial. The
little silver rod tinkled onto the desk. Dempsey clutched his other hand as
though it had been bitten by
"As for returning to the Empire, you shall do so forthwith", the General
Secretary continued briskly.
"Take this signed order to Admiral Pirk, and he will give you command of the
Aureole in all but in
name. The Admiral is a brave and old-fashionedly good-looking man, but his
idea of subterfuge is as
subtle as his singing. Consider this my way of rewarding your long service."
Her teeth glinted slightly.
"Or, if you prefer, your punishment. I don't need to point out that if your
actions, while on board the
Aureole, can be construed as treachery, the order will be automatically
void. As will your immunity. I
suppose ‘renegade' means always having to say sorry. Now, if you excuse me,
I must be off."
Wasn't that lovely? Women... like father figures... would dump you from a high
height. And when you
reached the ground, the world cracked like a mirror.
Revengehatredtheworldshallbleedhurtthemhurttheentireuniverse... first things
first. His graphite-gray
fingers never trembled when they clicked a certain number, and he left a
message. Then he took the
order and went to find Admiral Pirk and the Aureole.
There was no stopping "Private" Dempsey. This was your brain on hate.
"Finally a report from your... double-agent, milord", the communications
officer jittered, clicking his
keyboard industriously. Whatever blinking screens and nerdy jargon did to
your nerves, they did
double duty in an authoritarian state like the Free Empire. "An Admiral of
the DOOP is commanding a
cruiser heading for us, milord. The... Private claims that it is very heavily
armed, and will likely be
more than a match for the Eagle Reflector, unless we still have the element
"No", Lord Cyan intoned. All the twinkling lights seemed to freeze for a
moment. "The Eagle will not be
used against this ship. It will be allowed to land, and when it takes off...
we will meet them head on. I
shall inform the Emperor."
He strode off, and the communications officer pressed the button right below
the blinking red light.
"Private message for... Bender the Preparer?"
The cook robot strode cockily into the communications room, grabbing the
holoscreen and wrapping it
around himself so as to conceal the speaker. The officer heard muffled
conversation, but looking at the
back of the screen made him feel like something was being sucked out of his
"About damn time", the robot said eventually, pushing a button and letting
the screen tear up and fade
away. "Now, to go and tell the good news to... Mr Branagh and... Miss
Mary-Jane." And he clanked
out through the corridor, a wide happy mischievous smile on his face. It
worried the communications
officer, but it wasn't as though he didn't have enough to worry about
Always look on the bright side of life. If she ever got free, she was going
to thank Emperor Jagan for
putting her in a position where you learnt to listen. Oh, and then kick him
for an hour... but he definitely
deserved some thanks for that.
For example, she could hear footsteps, only slightly muffled by that
horribly innocent white tablecloth.
They sounded like Cracktrooper boots, except that no Cracktrooper would ever
approach so near to
the throne before kneeling... and oh yes, the slight but nerve-tearing scrape
of armoured toecaps
against the flagstones, and a tinkle of metal ornaments on the laces. Oh
yes. Shoes. The kindly
Emperor had certainly taught her... things. At least when she squatted in the
dusk like this, she could
bite her lip any amount she wanted.
The tablecloth swayed slightly in the draft from a heavy robe. Beyond the
eternal chemicals of the
shoe polish, Leela caught a whiff of cheap aftershave lotion and, like a
counterpoint below it, a
suggestion of Fry DNA.
"It is an honour to present you with this report, your imperial majesty",
Fry's father said, some of his
bones crackling and popping like a dog padding on plastic, as he knelt to
the right of the throne.
Leela heard paper shuffling on the table above her head. Jagan had taken to
stroking her hair now
and then, lately, and there wasn't really much to do about that, just close
her eye and think about
England. But he stretched slightly now, so she had to shift in order to be
able to brush correctly, and
she could almost hear his wan, cayal-encrusted eyes slipping across the
"It is... very harsh", he said eventually, not all displeased.
"Severe, rather than savage, your imperial majesty", Lord Cyan replied,
almost absent-mindedly. "In
the overwhelming majority of the galaxy, our hated enemy has the ear of the
people. Yes, we know
that they are wrong-headed and evil, but to the populace, thousands of
megabytes of the truth will not
speak as clearly as this one formidable and vengeful deed."
Which one formidable and vengeful deed?
"Yes... it is... rather vengeful, is it not?" Emperor Jagan mused. She could
have made a little graph
tracing the development of his voice from syrupy stickiness to brittle
laughter. "A sacrifice, but a small
sacrifice indeed, if it will turn the masses upon the DOOP like... that
hunter, you know, torn apart by
his own hounds..."
"Actæon, your imperial majesty. And so it will", Lord Cyan assured. "Your
imperial majesty, would you
sit still for such a misdeed against another ruler?"
BUT WHAT MISDEED? Leela almost had to shout. The shoe-brush had started to
twitch in her hand.
She forced it back into rhythm.
"Depends." The Emperor was starting to sound listless again. He jiggled one
foot, and the movement
was starting to make her nauseous. She hadn't had a real breakfast today.
The servants were never
served more than subsistence minimum, though Bender tended to sneak her and
portions... probably writing them a tab somewhere, that would be his style.
And Bender hadn't been in
the kitchen today. "Would it be a pretty explosion?"
"Egregiously pretty, your imperial majesty", Lord Cyan sighed. "To you, it
will be just another thrill to
watch from a safe position..." He sounded very tired, as though he was
disgusted with himself...
But not enough. Not enough by far.
"Then so be it!" She guessed he was looking at his fingernails in an
absorbed fashion right now. "Many
"The plan says ‘as few as possible', your imperial majesty", the Dark Lord
damage and the symbolic value of the attack... bear in mind that no-one from
outside will be able to
"If my Ego is going down, some of the peasants will follow it", the
Emperor interrupted, his voice
shatteringly clear. "Not too many high-ranking militaries, though. Or darlin
pretty girls. Or research
scientists. As for the others, kill them all, blah blah blah."
Leela brushed. Somewhere up in the light, maybe Lord Cyan sagged.
"The Unleaded is still in service, your imperial majesty. I will prepare
the Spirit of Meccano, your
imperial majesty, since, quite apart from being suitable for your high
station, it is also equipped to meet
the Aureole head on."
"Yes, yes, do so." Possibly an imperial hand waving above her... don't think.
Brush brush. The sound
of the bristles was starting to scrape on the inside of her skull. As she
shifted, a sharp metal fragment,
a splinter of the executioner's axe apparently, dug into her knee.
"I will see to it, your imperial majesty." Footsteps hesitated and dwindled.
"Mind you, it will not have to
be yet in a couple of hours. Not until the Aureole is lying in orbit.
"I am puzzled." She felt the draft as the dark, heavy shadow turned. "How
are we going to make it look
like the DOOP did it?"
Brush, brush. Scrape, scrape.
"Because they will have done it." A new tone of steel in that voice. She was
almost sick with the
clammy air and sitting hunched like this, and a couple of hours. "Forgive
me this request, your
imperial majesty... but I must have it."
Something small, but heavy and metallic, tinkled onto the tabletop. Thick
cloth, blood whisking through
her eardrums, but it was right above her head. She felt it like a
"It is a lot heavier than it should rightly be", Emperor Jagan said vaguely.
"Be sure to bring it back."
Leela had a vision of the sky flashing into golden fire as something
windhovered and turned, like
someone had thrown a prism up in front of the sun. A thin, oily hand was
playing with her hair again,
sometimes tangling in it and pulling just because it was fun. She swallowed
the nauseating terror and
This is inside the AI circuits of Hedonism-bot:
There has been such a sordid lack of pleasure lately. On the upside, the
pain is over. Those Imperial
scoundrels stopped roughing him up once he confessed to having attempted the
assassination on the
order of the DOOPHQ, which was not, as a fact, true, but had they really
expected him to hold out in
the face of denting and getting his gilt scratched, had they? Oh, but he
would have fulfilled his mission,
if not for that disgraceful kid.
Since then, they had left him like a dishonoured heap of scrap metal in this
fœtid, dingy cell, as though
they did not even deign to have him deactivated... the scum! There was
nothing but a shifty mattress
of mouldy hay... not that he needed it, since he was part couch-form, but the
cheek of it! The
unnameable spotted walls were sleek with lichen and dribbling damp, and it
got into his circuits at
night. He could hardly move without his hinges complaining. No oils for many
weeks. No food at all,
and this at a time when he would be willing to eat his Omegan lark-tongues
deep-fried, bless the
mark! They had left him here to rust.
If he was ever delivered from this Stygian workstation, he would... oh, he
would commission an heroic
poem about it, he would.
There were footsteps on the slippery landing outside the iron door that
habit forced him to think of as
his. Slightly more deregulated than those of the poxy soldiery, and at least
one set of feet clanged like
those of his robotic brethren. A key rattled in the lock. Hedonism-bot
stopped his fans.
A viscous clod of something with no other aroma than that of salt and stale,
stiffened lard clogged his
delicate food input, ruining hundreds of fine-tuned taste receptors in the
process. The remaining ones
could tell that, yes, it was stale bread, suffused in sulphurous egg
coagulation and some acrid tomato
derivative. He would have spat it out, but a white tablecloth was flung all
over his voluminous body,
and the sticky lump would have clung to his face as it dried... oh, the
"I had to be sure you stayed quiet", came that cook unit's gruff voice as he
was marched blindly out of
the dungeon. "Oh, and by the way, we're saving your shiny metal ass."
Little over an hour later, the pod from the Aureole landed in the
woodlands, with New New New York
gleaming on the horizon as though it had a yellow-paved highway of its own.
It went unnoticed. Planet
Scintillant was largely rural, the countryside producing in order to feed
the élite in NNNYC and Jagan's
... well, of course it was an unfair and repressive system. That was why the
rod of vengeance was
going to have a red-hot tip.
It also did not have much of a surface-level defense system, putting its
trust in the Eagle. That was
why it would not stand a chance.
Dempsey gestured to his men, and soon the underbrush crackled under
white-enamelled boots as the
undercover troops marched on New New New York in furious expedition.
Fry heard the footsteps on the marbly pavement behind him, but he didn't
turn around until it was
almost unbearable. The swish of a robe, the hiss of an air-conditioned
helmet, those marching steps
that were a bit more than an organized lumber... he recognized it, he
recognized it. The city air was
tangy with orange-blossoms, but it jarred. He breathed through his mouth, as
though he could escape
it that way, and sweat was seeping into his eyes and stinging them.
"Philip?" His father's voice. "Phil? Slow down, it's hard to keep up like
Stinging them all blurry...
"What is it, Father?" he said, turning around, keeping his voice as cold as
was humanly possible.
Dad was taking his helmet off... and then, of course, the going got tough. He
kept his eyes locked on
the blindingly white flagstones, even though it burnt like the traitors'
circle of hell.
"A DOOP cruiser is lying in orbit around us", his father said, wiping his
forehead and leaving a scummy
matteness on one black-laminated gauntlet. All the sun glittered in a thick
gold ring, weird, around one
finger. "We are taking the Emperor's personal ship, the Spirit of Meccano,
and... Phil, I reckon this
will be a good time to introduce you to combat in the grand tradition of the
Imperial Spacey. Emperor
Jagan himself will be present to observe your exploits, as will many
dignitaries and senior officers.
Anyway, the short of it is, I will meet you at the palace hangar in half an
hour. And take this."
He held out the ring, and Fry took it gingerly. It was hot with the sun,
impossibly heavy, and part of him
wanted to feel along the side for weird curly writing.
"It is the personal seal of the Emperor", Yancy said, his gaze hiding for a
moment. "Show it to the
hangar guard, and they will acknowledge you as my son. But... since it is the
personal seal of the
Emperor, guard it with your life. I mean it. Not like that time in the
Eighties when you chucked Aunt
Mirin's wedding ring down the drain."
"Aunt Merryn, Father", Fry said. His voice felt like ice-cubes in his mouth.
He put the ring on his finger,
screwing it a little to get it past the knuckle, and something seemed to
flicker high above.
"What you said", came the breezy answer. "Now, you go back to Fyry Manor
and..." Don't look at his
eyes. Don't look at those dark, searching eyes, searching for something in
the ocean of the sky. "And
get yourself into a new uniform." Gauntleted fingers played with the gold
fringe at his right shoulder-
pad, tearing off a few. "This one's threadbare. Can't have you winning your
spurs before his imperial
majesty like this, can we? Shake a leg, Philip."
Those booted footsteps hurried off. One last painful call: "And don't lose
the ring for anything! Guard it
with your life, son!"
With liberty. And justice for all.
Fry cupped his hand around the ring on his finger, like the sun might see
it, and hurried onward. A
shortcut through this alley... then down the boulevard... not many people
around, which wasn't
strange really, considering the heat and all, but it worried him... and with
the marching steps getting
The heat was making him dizzy. He was going to have a drink, once he'd got
inside and changed into
a new uniform. A nice cold drink. No hurry, really. Whatever was going to
happen could probably wait
‘til the guy with the ring turned up. He wasn't looking forward to it, but
the chips weren't down just
"And what have we here, then?" someone asked him as he fumbled with the knob
to the garden gate.
A group of Cracktroopers, helmeted and anonymous, were squaring out on the
road in front of the
house. At their head was a youngish man in a crimson tunic-like jacket, bare
legs and an expression
curdling with Schadenfreude. Fry was so relieved to see the DOOP uniform, it
would have been easy
to forget the fact that it was clinging to the pasty skin of Private
"The son of Lord Cyan!" he replied, drawing himself up like his father had
taught him. It lasted about
Dempsey's smirk widened as he tottered and had to grab a bit of scrollwork
on the forge-iron gate. All
his thoughts were writhing steam in this heat.
"The corpsicle boy", he said, half-looking at his followers, as though
reciting some private and unfunny
joke. "Rising like a phoenix from the... never mind. And what's that precious
thing on your finger?"
Memories of an eagle silhouette wheeling against the sun, of the Emperor
turning his hand as though
to salute the streaming fireball... ground to a halt and crashed together.
"Like I have to tell you", Fry muttered. "A ring. Just a ring. Dad gave it
"Look at the insignia", said a female voice from one of the helmets closest
to Dempsey. "Sir, I hazard a
guess that this is the remote control of the Eagle reflector."
Dempsey sighed, glancing up at the painful blue. There was a speck of gold
in it. "Such a shame. I
would have enjoyed making him tell me. However..." His eyes, fishily smooth
narrowed their glow at Fry. "Give it to me."
He had actually kicked the gate open when the two Cracktroopers –had to be
soldiers, really, but who was wrong and who was right, it didn't matter in
the midst of the heat– on
each side of him grabbed his arms and dragged him across the hotplate
flagstones, before Dempsey's
towering form. Taller than the sky. He clenched his fist around the ring,
that was all he could do really,
but the seal on it shone so clear. He found himself staring at it until it
felt burnt into his eyes.
"Mr Fry", Dempsey said, as though he took some personal pleasure in
removing the first Y. "I must
ask you again. Give me the ring."
"Forget about it", Fry muttered. Someone struck him across his mouth, but
for all his lips could feel,
there wasn't really much of a difference. He could taste salty blood.
Dempsey's face slacked for a moment, then smiled like the sun.
"You know what that ring is", he said. "You know what the Eagle can do to an
or city. Don't you?" His voice had gone wheedling. He had a choice, after
all. "Your father", and there
was spite there, with big gaps in it, "and the depraved megalomaniac who
holds him on a leash... they
are planning to use it to wreak havoc on New New New York. On civilians. On
your friends." That
smile came closer. "If the Democratic Order of Planets... our Democratic Order
commanded the Eagle, we could end this war without a bloodbath. Don't you
want to see that
happen? Would you prefer the blood of your friends on your father's hands?"
"No!" Fry scrambled to get up. Someone kicked him... another sun of pain. "You
lying scum! My father
would never do that, you lying bastard!"
"You-are-not-making-this-easy-Fry!" Dempsey crooned.
His fingers closed on the ring. Fry slung his head forward, madly, and bit
him. More blood, more fiery
floating heat as other hands grabbed his hair and twisted him backwards, sun
dripping down his eyes.
They were clawing at his hand. Clawing at the ring. Guard it with your
life. Guard it as your life. The
barrel of a raygun against his forehead. Under the burning sky, it just felt
"I should just kill you", Dempsey said, as though he really didn't care.
"Take it from your dead body.
You know that I can."
But he kicked him, and Fry rolled, tickling heat all the way up his lungs,
and his arm felt loose at the
joint and the ring rolled away...
Dempsey picked it up and held it where he could see it. Surely he had made
up for failing Dad, now?
His head must have crashed into the pavement, even though he couldn't feel
it, and his hair felt wet
and lumpy. Water... His punishment was to see the ring on Dempsey's finger.
"In fact, I'd love to kill you with my own hands", that renegade said,
wiping his gun conscientiously and
hitching it in his belt. "But I have a ship to catch, and at any rate, in
that state you're not going to go
anywhere soon. The Eagle shall land. You will burn, Fry."
He and the soldiers trooped off, down the way they'd been coming. The clear
ticking of their boots
sounded like the trickle of water. Fry tried to scream, defiance, insults,
whatever could have stopped
the hurting right where the words started, but his throat was too dry. He
tried to grab the ornate gate
and pull himself up, but –FYRY MANOR– the sun smashed into his head, and he
sunk back on the
pavement. Staring at the sky. Too broken to move. Watching the sun climb to
its highest point.
The chips were down, and they were going to be barbecue-flavored.
When Emperor Jagan, surnamed "the Just" and whatever, finally trooped off to
the palace hangar
down the main hall, Leela didn't exit the table for several minutes. She sat
there, relishing the shadow
and trying to still her beating heart. She knew she should be doing a run
for it, but she couldn't, not
just yet. Not if there was a risk of her blowing... the plan. Maybe she would
blow it just by thinking
Yes. Slavery and heat-stroke and polish fumes could do that to you.
She walked lopsidedly across the echoing throne room, because she had been
leaning on one leg too
long and it was giving her problems. If the worst came to the worst, she was
certain she would get free
passage on board the Spirit of Meccano... she was a darlin, after all, so
help her! Even so, she
didn't bring the shoes and brushes and carefully-dyed polishes. Even when
you had no further to fall,
you still had your dignity.
At the end of the corridor, she spotted a black robe that looked ready to
billow at any moment, and the
silhouette of a dark helmet. Her breath caught briefly, but as she came
closer she could tell that the
cloth was tattered and smelt of mothball spray, and that the helmet was
scratched and a bit badly
fitting. Not to mention that the ersatz dark lord was accompanied by Bender,
Dr Zoidberg, Amy leaning
on a tray covered with a tablecloth, and what looked a bit like Kif in a
female outfit. The adrenaline
exploded somewhere along her nerves, and she smiled.
"Bender! Amy!" she called out. Maybe she'd ought to be more reserved... but
once the actors found
out what the Emperor and Lord Cyan were planning to do, they wouldn't have
any choice but to join
forces, would they? "And... Mr Branagh and Mary-Jane, isn't it? What are you..."
She could have sworn the tray had started to echo something in mournful
tones, but Amy wanged it
with a ladle until it stopped. The female alien leant a tad closer to her
and gave a little sigh that
sounded like "hegh".
"Not too early, Leela", Bender said. "You see..." he lowered his voice in a
conspiratory fashion, even
though they were alone in the corridor, "... we might have a chance of
escaping. Don't worry about...
Branagh and Mary-Jane, they're with us. Now, where's Fry?"
"Fry? Haven't seen him today." Her voice still tasted bitter when she said
her name, and being stared
at by Lord Cyan's replica helmet wasn't really helping. "He might not be
around the palace... though
it's a big place. Maybe he's at his place, or gone for a walk or something.
But really, if we don't get out
soon... the ring... the Eagle... we're all doom..."
Her voice slipped into a whisper as enamelled cracktrooper boots... oh, and
soft shoes right at the
front... came clicking down the hallway. Leela spun around, eye to eyes with
Private Dempsey. He
was dressed in the uniform of a DOOP spaceman this time, which was no great
"You're the guy from the DOOP!" Amy exclaimed, grabbing Mary-Jane's hand
excitedly. "You're going
to get us out of here, aren't you?"
But Dempsey obviously wasn't going to answer. His gaze had fastened on the
black helmet, and it
looked as though he was trying to chew glass.
"Eh, Dempsey", Leela said. Her voice was jagged –she just couldn't bring
herself to like that slippery
renegade, no matter whose side he was on for the time being– but as of now,
it looked like he was the
only plank between them and perdition. Some of the soldiers had taken their
helmets off in the heat,
revealing crimson velour collars with the DOOP insignia. "You are going to
get us out of here, aren't
The actor twisted his helmet off with some difficulty, revealing unruly
blond hair and a flushed face. He
awarded Dempsey one skewed glare, then leered at Leela. She looked away.
"I do apologise for the confusion", he said suavely. "I am Captain Zapp
Brannigan, and this cross-
dressing alien is my Lieutenant, Kif. And let's not forget the brave martyr
for our cause..." flurry of
tablecloth "... Hedonism-bot!"
A laurel-crowned gilded head rose in an effete fashion. "My dear roués and
pontificated, "I have tasted the sordid glories of agony and deprivation,
and I like them... a lot!"
The DOOP military shuddered to a man. Dempsey smiled. He had a wide,
spotless, glassy smile. He
gestured down the hall, and a fortuitous strip of sunshine through a
light-well hit a golden eagle-and-
star crest on his finger, like he didn't even bother to hide it.
"I landed the Aureole shuttle not far outside the city limits", he said.
"No-one will question
Cracktroopers leading a batch of prisoners out of the city." His smile
widened, almost sympathetic.
"This very evening, you will be hailed as heroes at the DOOP headquarters.
But we need to move
quickly." And, just as suddenly: "No, not you. Only Captain Brannigan,
Lieutenant Kroker, and
Hedonism-bot." The smile had died to a slit of a rictus. "The rest of you...
lot... will stay in this corridor
until we are out of sight." Around them, rayguns sang with springing noises
as they were cocked.
"After that, you can go wherever your fancy takes you. But make any sudden
moves, and you will all
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, something sang in Leela's mind,
numb with terror and
disappointment. Or was that out of the ashes?
"But you promised to take us to safety!" Dr Zoidberg lamented.
"Oh, cry me a river, lobster!" Dempsey scoffed in the sudden empty silence.
"My loyalty", he
pronounced it as though it was the one talisman he had left, "is to my
fellow soldiers of the Democratic
Order of Planets", he indicated Zapp, Kif and, somewhat incongruously,
Hedonism-bot, "not to a
rabble of lowlife and unisex delivery boys." Amy shrieked and flung herself
around Kif's neck, almost
toppling him. "Why don't you stay here for a while?" A new smile distorted
his greyish face. "The
palace is nice. The service is lovely. It's not like it's the end of the
"Oh... bite my shiny metal ass!" Bender growled, stamping forward and rolling
up the foil of his arms.
"That's all a load of shalakas, and you know it! The Imperial madmen are
planning... or maybe it's you
DOOP maniacs who are planning... anyway, some jerk is going to blow up the
city to make the other
jerk look like a jerk! You've sold us out!"
A blinding blue blast shot into his chest and sent him careening against one
wall with a shattering
crash. "That freaking hurt!" he shouted, but didn't try anything more.
"Don't listen to him, Dempster", Zapp said vaguely. "The DOOP would never
commit such an atrocity,
would they? Just for publicity? That would be unheard of! We have right on
"The time for moralistic rubbish is not now, Captain", Dempsey replied. "The
three of you are going to
the Aureole, willingly or not. The five of you are staying here."
"I am not leaving Amy!" Kif almost cried, face buried in her hair, trying to
stifle her sobs. "I am not
leaving her to die. If she... if she is... I stay here with her. We're going to
the Aureole together or not
"Forget about Amy!" Zapp snapped, then put his arm about Leela's waist. She
tangled free, though
she had enough self-preservation left not to slap him. "I'm taking my lover,
the lovely Leela, or not at
Fortunately, they found the dark pupils of rayguns looking at them from
"Let go of your respective women", Dempsey smirked, "or you will have a
wonderful tragic love-story in
"Speak up for Zoidberg!" the crustacean called out, in the silence.
"Amy", Leela said slowly, as the world had slowed down with her. "Let go of
him. I order you as your
captain. Everyone, let the loyal soldiers of the DOOP go to their ship in
peace. We don't need them!"
"Sour rowanberries, Leela?" Zapp quipped, then cast a glance at Kif and
seemed to have the decency
to at least shut up.
Bender half-rose from his supine position, his chassis creaking, and pointed
at one of his finger joints.
Leela nodded, only tipping her eye a little.
"Well, then", Bender said, uncharacteristically jovially, getting up with
some difficulty. "I guess there's
nothing left for us but to say our prayers and kiss our shiny metal asses
"Ah, resignation." Dempsey nodded. "Hold that thought, and we will have no
The robot briefly turned around to wipe the soot from the blast off his
front. Leela fancied she heard his
stomach compartment squeak open, just a fraction. One of his grippers
"One last request, however." Bender turned back to them, virtually beaming.
wossname, that's the green guy dressed like a woman, and our Miss Wong, are
would it be too much to ask for them to get to say farewell in privacy?
After all..." guns snapped up
again as he took Amy's and Kif's hands, "... they love one another very much
and... though I am
strictly a cold, unemotional machine, I reckon they need to let their bodies
join one last time in the
cosmic dance of the universe, or whatever the hell humans and... things... do
when they love one
another very much."
"Why, Bender!" Amy actually giggled, pulling her hand free to cover her
mouth coyly. She then
directed her most meltingly cute glance at Dempsey. "Puh-leasu? Just one
minute alone? To give Kif
the strength to hold on?"
"I need it", Kif whispered, standing so straight he looked brittle. "Give us
one last kiss. One kiss
between Amy and me, that is."
Dempsey seemed to consider, then nodded once and gestured to Zapp, who bowed
"Lieutenant, you are dismissed", he said solemnly. "Madam, my deepest
regrets." He then raised his
fists in a vigorously pumping motion. "Whoo Kif, buddy, ride her hard!
Amy led Kif, still shuddering, around the bend of the corridor. Leela closed
her eye and tried to make
her breath go smooth, though Zapp was staring at her in her white robe
anyway, so it didn't matter.
Nothing would matter, soon.
"That's never a minute", Dempsey muttered, glancing at his wrist computer.
"To change the topic... have you seen Fry around here?" Leela inquired, trying
desperately to sound
as though she was trying desperately to make some small talk.
"You mean, the son of Lord Cyan?" Dempsey axed, his gaze darkening for a
moment. "No, I have not
had the pleasure today. He might be at the hangar with his father, or
somewhere. Frankly, captain, I
can't say I ever cared for the pathetic little relic of the past. I say!
Lieutenant, woman, are you two
Leela heard a slight smacking noise, and a sigh that sounded a little like
"hegh". Then they emerged
from the shadows, green and tan hand clasped together, Kif's make-up
streaked with tears. They
"Keep my love inside you", Amy whispered tearfully. "For ever."
The corridor cleared out with marching footsteps and the heavy stomps of
glanced at Amy who had collapsed by the wall, face in hands.
"Did you just do what I think you did?" he asked, stroking her shoulder with
a gentle pincer.
"Well, guh!" Amy erupted. "It was just one short minute! Not like we even
had time to get going!"
"Well", Leela said. She drew a deep breath. "We haven't got long to live...
but you all know that. You
others, make for the countryside. If we're lucky, the main attack will be
launched on the palace, and
the surrounding area will survive... but we can't count on anything. Me, I'm
off to find Fry."
She waited for a good fifteen seconds until she could no longer hear the
footsteps, then sprinted for
"What's up with her?" Amy axed somewhere behind.
Dempsey was shocked to see that Brannigan jerk dressed up as Lord Cyan... so
he can't have met
Lord Cyan recently, or he wouldn't have thought he was here. And I doubt
Lord Cyan would give him
the ring anyway. Whom would he give the ring?
As Amy would say, well guh. I know the answer.
She saw the body lying on the one pool of shadow in the painfully glistening
street, one hand clasping
the other, pale ginger hair clotted with blood. She almost didn't dare to
"Once more allow me to thank you for saving our dirty rotten lives",
Brannigan said aloofly, billowing
along as they entered the echoing hangar of the Aureole. "Have you got any
idea what it's like,
having some mask-wearing weirdo putting your head on the chopping block just
because you stand
for everything that he hates? For every minute in that Jagan's Ego place, I
could feel myself sliding a
gnat's hair closer to death..."
"Will you shut up?" Dempsey hissed, giving him an unfriendly slap on the
back. If he hadn't felt drawn
with tears and sick with worry for Amy, Kif might have cheered. "Yes, I
saved your sorry ass. That
doesn't mean I have to enjoy hearing you talk!"
The Captain managed to draw himself up in quite a haughty fashion,
regardless of the twigs in his hair.
"In case you haven't noticed", he blustered, "it says ‘Captain' on my
"As a matter of fact, it doesn't", Kif said under his breath.
But he was feeling sick. Scintillant rolled silently like an apple in space
in the windows, and the mere
thought of the darkness outside made him want to curl up in a little ball.
"In case you haven't noticed, which you haven't, it says ‘ship under
command of Mr Dempsey' on
this signed order by General Secretary Glab", Dempsey riposted, flashing a
before them as they were led through mercifully air-conditioned corridors.
"But never mind that. Soon,
you shall stand before Admiral Pirk, and he shall give you your just
"Speaking of dessert..." said Hedonism-bot, who had somehow got his bowl of
Kif glared at him unhappily, clutching his still-bandaged front and trying
to keep up with the soldiers.
The wound still hadn't healed all the way, though the pain was almost gone,
but the nausea, the
nausea. Soon, they might have to tie him on top of Hedonism-bot to make him
He fancied he heard the squelching noise of something soft burrowing in
other soft things.
A door clamped shut behind them, and a few steps later, he felt the deck
starting to shudder through
the soles of his feet. He was going to be sick... his stomach was twisting...
no. Something else was
"I will take you to Admiral Pirk", Dempsey said, for all the world as though
he was leading them
prisoners. The guns were still up. Kif looked around at the DOOP soldiers,
whether they were going to shoot his head in case it spun off of his
shoulders. They were heading out
through the atmosphere. "And then, Captain, Lieutenant, you will be among
the select few to watch,
nay behold, the utter devastation of Jagan's Ego."
"Hey, you don't actually mean that, do you?" Captain Brannigan spoke up,
astuteness. "Not the whole thing about unleashing the Eagle, smoke on the
water, fire in the sky and
They were led onto the main bridge as the blue atmosphere tore and
shrivelled around the prow of the
Aureole. Admiral Pirk, looking rather similar to Brannigan in all
respects, was lounging in a swivel
chair, medal agleam on his chest, keeping a lazy eye on the screens whilst
combing his fluffy chatain
hair. Dempsey took up a position by his chair back, with the unadulterated
happy look of a perpetual
remora on the keels in the stream of history. Kif tottered, but his gaze
never left the gold ring fully
visible on that pale, stubby hand.
"The General Secretary will be proud of us", the Admiral said, with some
kind of natural inner light of
egotism that almost caused Brannigan to topple. "Scintillant is an apple
ready to be plucked, and we
are going to sterilize it! By fire. We'll give them another twenty minutes,
don't you think, Dempsey?"
"Fifteen minutes." Kif shuddered to see that smile. It didn't seem to belong
on anything with skin.
"Like I said... fifteen minutes." But the Admiral seemed slightly
disconcerted. "Do these... men... know
of the plan?"
"Allow me to explain." Dempsey raised his hand in a ceremonial fashion, and
on one screen,
something golden wheeled and twirled like a burning snowflake. "The Eagle
is, quite apart from its
civilian use as a solar reflector, a weapon of defence. It has advanced AI
and can react on its own
against inimical spacecraft, though it can be more safely controlled by
built-in panels... or, as the case
may be, by this ring." He twisted it slightly. "The ‘arrows'... look over
there, gentlemen, in the claw
sinister... are thirteen quark warheads, each in itself able to reduce a
cruiser the size of the Aureole
to smithereens. Even having depleted its ammunition, which is unlikely since
it is much more probable
that the target be depleted first, ahaha, an eagle-shaped space craft...
twenty-four metres from beak
to tail feathers, might I add... will be a formidable enemy." He looked at the
ring, almost unfoiling it with
his eyes. "Now, imagine if such a weapon were turned against the very planet
it was set to protect...
"You're a madman!" Kif tried to whine.
Captain Brannigan leant his chin in his hand, scrutinizing him. "You're a
Neutral, aren't you?" he said,
as though he couldn't believe his own cleverness. "You struck me as one
since the first time I saw you,
Dempster. With your pasty skin, no hair whatsoever, and that spineless
"Dempsey", Dempsey said. For a moment, his native impassivity burnt in his
eyes like jelly, then
faded. "I am all but neutral now, Captain. All that remains for me is to
find that Lord Cyan and make
the bastard pay!"
Even Brannigan had the brains to look down at his dark robes and body armor
for a moment and
shudder. Then, he strode across the bridge, slapped Dempsey on the back, and
dragged back by the guards.
"I don't hold with Neutrals", he said vaguely, "but you aren't half bad,
kid. You are going to bring the
Empire to heel and have them beg for mercy, aren't you?"
"I shall be Emperor", Admiral Pirk said dreamily, dropping his comb and
unbuttoning his shirt a little.
"Ooh yes." Dempsey beamed at them. "And of course, once I have their fleet
at my command, the
DOOP will be next."
He dreamt that he saw a warhead fly high above the bowl of the world. It was
carried in the claws of a
blindingly bright bird with a sprig of olive in its beak.
He dreamt that he was climbing up a steep cliff, and at its peak Mum and Dad
and his brother Yancy
and Seymour the dog were sitting and looking into the sun, but when he
looked down the world was
being flushed away like a sandcastle when the tide came in, and he ended up
hanging on the edge of
a universe like the head of an axe.
He dreamt that he saw seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and one of them
handed him a
He dreamt that he stepped through the bunker trapdoor and saw Leela standing
in a meadow of
flowers, petals swirling like snow around her. She leant down on him, and
briefly, her eye was the full
"May the grace of the Valar protect you", she whispered, her lips touching
his, and then her face
melted and splashed down on him, icy cold.
He woke up when the bucket of water slipped and grazed him on the eyebrow.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Fry!" Leela shouted. "I didn't mean to do that... are you OK?"
"Wstfgl", Fry replied, shaking the cold drops out of his hair and watching
it steam from the smooth
flagstones. It wasn't going to get much hotter than this. Something seemed
to be wrong with his arm,
but he managed to get up on his elbows.
Blue sky. Flashing sun. White house, green tree with a tire swing, purple
hair, big frightened eye... and
the memories rushed back like the tide racing through a narrow channel.
There was nothing on his hand.
"The ring!" he shouted, grabbing Leela's robe and staggering wildly as she
pulled him up. The world
slung and twisted around him until he wasn't sure whether he had fallen over
again. "That Dempsey
weirdo beat me up and took the ring!"
"I know", Leela said, levelly. "And he will pay."
It struck Fry that for all her quiet and smiling, he had never seen her so
mad with rage. He tried to blink
away the drops sticking in his eyelashes, and Leela wiped his forehead.
"How are you feeling?" she said, dragging him down the road, but not very
"My head hurts", Fry mumbled. He hoped she could make out the words, because
it wasn't easy even
for him. "I'm all dizzy and... and my arm is all wonky." He could maneuver it
slightly, but it made an
icky crunching noise somewhere above the elbow. "Dempsey! He wanged me and
took the ring!"
"As long as you can walk", Leela said, reassuring him. "Come on. I'm sure Dr
Zoidberg will see to your
injuries... if they've really run off, which I can't be too sure of... but
first, we need to get out of New
New New York!"
"Correction", a black shape intoned, stepping in their way. "I think not.
Fry, I have been looking for you.
Let's go back to the Spirit of Meccano. It has been ready for take-off for
almost half an hour! You too,
Fry found a gauntlet grasping his arm and dragging him along. He followed.
It was Dad, after all,
wasn't it? The smell of Dad's aftershave, and... Dad. And he didn't have to
balance anymore. And the
sun was eclipsed behind that helmet. Leela trudged along on Dad's other
side, throwing a worried
glance at the sky every now and then.
"The ring", he whispered. His lips felt far too big for the rest of him, and
they were about as supple as
two pieces of wood. He licked gratefully at a tepid rivulet of water seeping
down from his plastered
hair. "I'm... sorry, Dad. I failed you. I would have guarded it with my life,
but... I couldn't... couldn't
stop Dempsey from taking it..."
"You did your best", Dad said and marched on.
"But... but you said I should guard it..."
"Forget what I said", Dad scraped and crunched his arm harder. Maybe he
didn't think about it. "He
could have shot you and taken it off your dead body. Maybe..." it sounded like
he was smiling, but in
that case it was a smile devoid of everything a smile should have. "Maybe
I'm not always right."
"But Dad... he's going to use the Eagle to destroy Jagan's Ego!" Fry howled.
It sounded so much
worse, now he had actually put words on it.
Cold healing shadow on them as they entered the palace, crossed through a
garden like something
embroidered on a tapestry, and headed for the hangar.
"Indeed. That..." Dad's voice seemed to pick up somewhat, "... is why we must
get into space and
"Dad?" He wished his voice hadn't sounded so stupidly hopeful, because
that was all going to get
squashed anyway, wasn't it? "You're... well... saving Leela too? Does that mean
that you've changed
your mind? That you think that we... you know..." Leela was listening, better be
diplomatic about this.
"That you want us to be friends?"
The helmet spun slightly in Leela's direction, and even in this mushy mist
of feelings, Fry recognized
the resigned look on her face. It was the one that tended to get there right
before someone said the
"I", Yancy began. There was a pause, but it was hardly a pregnant one, Fry
noted in his woozy state.
Maybe it was a sterile pause. "I am acting on his imperial majesty's orders.
He has taken quite a fancy
to you... Leela... and at any rate, it takes time to train a boot-cleaner. You
should be proud." He briefly
let go of her, and there was a sound of pattering electricity as he fiddled
with something under his
helmet. "Yes, your imperial majesty, I am bringing her. Lord Cyan out."
"And my other friends?" Fry whispered, not really hoping any more.
"Which friends?" Lord Cyan asked, herding them into the ship, and that was
>From a palace the size of an ego, a spaceship took off like a thought.
The Unleaded, wherever it was now with the Planet Express ship still in
the hold, was a gala cruiser.
It had a natural, sparse dignity. It never jumped into hyperspace; that
would have been so undignified
and unseemly. It had its share of Art Deco and weird paintings... that had
been signed C. F., now Fry
came to think about it. He found himself missing it.
The Spirit of Meccano, on the other hand, was the personal ship of Emperor
Jagan. That meant it
had been decorated to his express orders. Fry would be the first to admit
that his own taste was less
than developed, but this was the seventh circle of interior design hell.
Purple draperies clashed with
bead room partitions. There were marble flagstones in the corridors.
His headache was growing inside him. So was something else.
Lord Cyan had proceeded to the main bridge to join the Emperor and his
senior staff. He had given
Fry a raygun, in case they were forced into close combat between the
Aureole, and had reminded
him that he owed loyalty unto death to Emperor Jagan. That was all there was
to say, really.
Sorry, Yance... I was thinking, maybe I could take out the air pumps in his
Nikes or something...
The gun was cold and heavy. He wasn't sure he could use it, not with his
cracked arm. They had given
him pills, and they helped a little... they left him free from pain, but cold,
cold like he had a metal arm.
He was leaning on the hatch of an escape pod, watching the clouds unfold
leisurely as they rose. New
New New York still spread around their shadow like a sculpted icecap.
"They'll have got away", Leela said next to him, putting an arm around his
shoulders to steady him. He
wished he could feel anything other than cold. "I... warned them. Everyone
will have evacuated the
"The Eagle could easily bomb the entire planet to pieces", Fry said, like he
was reading off an
instruction manual on the inside of his skull. Was that something glittering
at the top of the glass
shielding them from space?
"Not even... I mean, your father would never do that", Leela gasped. Then she
looked down. "But
Private Dempsey would, wouldn't he?"
Fry nodded. All felt so clear. "But... but Leela, I could make my father
stop him." My father. It hurt
every time he said it, so he guessed he would have to say it many times.
Whatever doesn't kill me
hurts a lot. "Dempsey... Dempsey cares about my father. It's the one person
he cares about. And my
father... cares about one person." Does he? Can I risk all our lives on that
Leela nodded. She seemed to get it. As the Eagle rose on the other side of
the hatch, he feasted his
eyes on her for a moment, because he could die here, but at least her face
would stay sharp and
clear on all the membranes of her eyes.
"If it is necessary", she said, opening the hatch with a dignified curtsy.
"Leela..." His voice stuck in his throat, all wet. "If I... if we... you know... I'm
sorry I hurt you before."
"Ultimately, I hold Lord Cyan responsible", she growled, and his stomach
felt like it was full of acrid
darkness. "Will you need the gun?"
He handed it to her. "Naah, you take it, Leela." She looked so smart as she
tucked it into her belt, so
dashing, so springy with concealed energy. But Dad is my dad. He is. "This
is peaceful resistance.
I'm doing nuke-hugging."
The Eagle was below them as he settled into the musty darkness of the pod.
He felt a sudden flood of
vertigo as he reached to close the hatch. Let this work. He is my dad.
"I would love to come with you, Fry", Leela said, her warm hands holding
his. "But I have something to
sort with the oppressive jackboot of tyranny."
The hatch closed, and the air-lock opened.
Scintillant swirled underneath him as the pod thudded into the crest of the
Eagle. Blue. Green. White.
Stars. Eagle. Arrows. Eagle. Olive. Eagle. Eagle...
Fry leapt out and grabbed cold metal as the pod twirled away below him. The
film of clouds parted to
let it through, then closed again.
>From an ego the size of a palace, a thought took off like a spaceship.
"I will go and find the darlin Leela and break her mind some more", the
exalted glorious Emperor
Jagan the Third said, dislodging himself from a lounging position in his
throne and mincing down the
main bridge. "I have this feeling that nothing will beat having my boots
cleaned while..." but the staff
were looking at him, and Lord Cyan was making vigorous throat-slitting
motions. "... while negotiating
with the hated enemy to prevent them from using the Eagle against us, which
we will not want to
They were still staring at him, and some even dropped to their knees,
following his ever-so-nice
boots with their eyes. Surely, the Emperor merited such obsequiousness,
though regulations had been
made lately to permit warship crew to perform their duties in an upright
position, even if their lord and
master was on the bridge. But they looked stunned... it seemed too
complicated a train of thought to
follow, so he dropped it.
This is inside the head of Emperor Jagan. It's good to be the Emperor.
Now, where was that slave? When he had walked around the corridors a few, he
thought he could
hear boots clicking very quietly against the polished marble floor, but when
he stopped to listen they
never came any closer. Also, muffled breathing, and what sounded like
someone laughing under her
breath, and huge exploding tubular bells, though that could be put down to
the drugs. But the joke was
wearing a bit thin. Someone who was basically his property had the guts
to shadow Emperor
Jagan himself! She was going to pay for this. Oh yes, she was going to pay.
"I am waiting, darlin!" he crooned to nowhere in particular.
When he turned to a side route, a tapestry flickered behind him. He turned
around, but obviously she
had disappeared into some other corridor, and he wasn't going to find out
which without turning
everywhere and making himself look like an idiot. Murmuring under his
breath, robes billowing,
Emperor Jagan took a few paces back the same way he had come...
... and saw the footprints on the floor.
They were doubtless his footprints. He recognized the lovingly tapering
shape of the toes, not to
mention the eagle crest on the heel... but since when had his soles been so
filthy? The prints were
outlines of a mottled black. For shame, darlin. When he found her, and found
her he would have, she
was going to lick them clean.
The mottling had a very interesting pattern.
Looking both ways, Emperor Jagan crouched down and peered at the shoeprints.
The prints. They
were carved into writing, somewhat faded and smudged, and he felt the cold
scent of shoe polish, and
the lettering read:
"Lord Cyan and Emperor Jagan will use the Eagle to attack NNNY.Pl evacuate
city statt. Insidious plan
to throw blame on DOOPHQ. The dastards. Signed"
... and the crest followed.
He supported himself on a pillar, pulling off his boot and staring at the
sole. The words were carved in
backwards, of course. He couldn't read them, but he had a feeling they would
be about the same.
Sticky black shoe polish still clove in the hollowed-out letters and on the
eagle-and-star stamp. Would
she ever pay!
"Coo-ee? Jagan the Jerk?"
Emperor Jagan looked up.
"Slave! I am your Emperor! What have you..."
He caught a boot to his cheek and rolled back, on the wonderful glitzy
smooth floor, looking up in time
to see the barrel of a raygun pointing at him, and only slightly less
threatening than Leela's smiling
Now, what was the word for a slave that was pointing a gun at your head?
"Darlin?" he gulped.
Leela grinned. It was a remarkably disturbing sight from below.
"Not a terrible lot left to say, is there, Jagan?" she said
conversationally, placing her boot daintily on
his chest. "No, I'm not going to kill you, because that'd be just another
thrill, wouldn't it? You've got
some more humiliations to face. For starters, I doubt you'll ever work in
this town again."
Pure indignation flared up in him like a galactic pillar of iridescent fire
and caused him to speak. "I am
"True." Leela nodded. "You also commanded the Eagle to be used as a weapon
against your subjects.
Civilians. In your own capital city. Not even the Hague would let you get
away with that."
Emperor Jagan laughed, but she was starting to impede his oxygen intake. It
sounded more like a
series of gasps.
"You fool", he spat. "You one-eyed, shoe-cleaning, full-figured and
enticingly independent yet
brutalised fool! It will be your word against mine! What makes you think
they will believe your..." he
turned his head against the coolness of the floor, and something stuck on
"Because of that", Leela said, poking the wet spot with her gun gently.
"Your seal is on it."
He guessed it was all over, then. He really wished there was anything he
could do to get out of this
with as little pain as possible...
"Here", the darlin Leela said, positioning her boot quite stylishly over his
face. "Lick it."
Lord Cyan was at the point of growling with annoyance –the man was taking so
long!– when a
screen finally buzzed into life. He stared at it with a vague, shamefully
spineless gratitude, like when a
computer decides to work despite itself.
"How are you, gentlemen?" the familiar man on the holoscreen inquired
And then, the world skewed and he realised that something was going very
wrong. For one, Private
Dempsey had a grin on his face. It was not a particularly twisted grin. It
was young, and gleeful, and
rational in all respects. Not a good sign, not when you knew him. Sometimes,
Lord Cyan cursed his
own bad judgment.
Then, there were the two escaped POW's standing behind him, Lieutenant
Kroker in low-cut
embroidered robes and bedraggled make-up, and Captain Brannigan in what
looked an awful lot like a
cheaper version of his own outfit. For sure, their living and/or dying were
immaterial now, but it made
no sense for Dempsey to have taken them on board the Aureole. Whose side
was he on?
"What is your business?" Lord Cyan struck back like a snapping blade.
He had never been much of an actor... just another reason that he had adopted
the mask and helmet,
because in diplomacy, acting was everything. And the mask was good at making
his voice steely and
rasping, up to the point where he didn't even need to menace. But it had a
drawback, in that it made
it too easy for him to concentrate on other things. The green-skinned
Lieutenant behind Dempsey,
fiddling with the hem of his robe and looking as though he had eaten
something very bad. The glitter
of New New New York on some of the screens around him, innocent like snow.
Philip. Where was
Dempsey raised his hand laxly. It looked almost like a parody of the
Emperor's movements –and
where the hell was the man?– and, knowing Dempsey, it probably was. The
light from the screen
glinted off the crest with an almost audible ting.
"The claiming of the Eagle Reflector into the hands of the Democratic Order
of Planets", he said
Lord Cyan focused on the alien Lieutenant. He was obviously ill at ease...
maybe just ill, period. His
skin was fading yellow, and his robe had fallen open to his waist, revealing
a tacky-looking bandage.
He was pressing his three-fingered hands to it as though he had to push
Lord Cyan focused on him, because it was a hell of a lot better than
focusing on how everything was
going haywire. The officers and crewpeople around him were turning towards
the screen. There was
no hiding it now. "This is a serious breach of discipline!"
Dempsey smiled, in the detached fashion of someone whose mental baggage
causes the metal
detector to emit little beeping noises. "Good.Come gather ‘round, children",
he slicked on, rounding up
his own red-shirted crew and a disturbingly vapid-looking man in a tricorn.
"I think it's time for the truth.
The whole truth, and nothing but the whole truth."
And that they were going to get. A great big info-dump of truth.
"This man", the lapsed Neutral went on, poking through the screen in the
direction of Lord Cyan, "is
Lord Cyan Fyry, war leader and second-in-command of the Evil Empire. I know
this... and yes, I know
a lot more, boring diplomatic stuff for which the time is not now... because
for several years I have
lived on planet Scintillant, after quitting my homeworld of Neutralia. Lord
Cyan was obsessed with
carrying on his genes, but he and his wife, Lady Tamsin, had no children of
their own. When he
despaired of ever having a son to carry on his legacy, he was forced to
adopt an heir. And he chose
For the first and last time, a blush flowered on that grey face that was
more of a mask than Lord Cyan
had ever worn.
"For the first time, I felt accepted", Dempsey continued as it faded. "I had
a father and a mother. I was
at the top of the flaming world!" His voice rose in a wail before he could
control it. "They would say
they loved me! He..." another accusing finger causing electrical currents to
trickle down the
holoscreen, "he said that I was his son! The pride of his life! The one who
would carry on his duty and
his glory! He treated me as though I was fluids of his fluids! And I... and I,
who loved him like he were
my own father... I saw how great and good the Empire could be! I would work
for its bounds to be set
wider still and wider, ensuring peace and prosperity for the planets which,
I thought, the Democratic
Order had betrayed. And the deity of your choice who had made it mighty...
make it mightier yet."
He gazed and listened and then said, less sad of speech than furious: "And
then... Father heard
rumours of another carrier of the Fyry, or should I say, Fry genome. Some
halfwitted pizza-boy on
Earth. His fleshly son? I think not! But no sooner had he pinpointed him,
than I was cast out of his
house, robbed even of my name, and demoted to Private. You..." his gaze
slipped briefly around the
staring faces, before settling on the eagle-and-star crest and finally
seeming at peace, "you would
not treat a dog that way. Well, that is how the glorious Lord Cyan treated
"Lies!" Lord Cyan hissed. For all the reaction that got, he might as well
have hissed "Truth!" And it
would have been more correct. Like Dempsey even understood...
"Oh, but there is a little thing called mercy", Dempsey went on. "He still
employed me to do his dirty
work. Like... hiding a Tapeworm segment in a packet of biscuits, in order to
create a decoy to lure that
halfwit Philip on board his ship. Remember that, Lieutenant Kroker?" The
Amphibian nodded, eyes
limpid with pain, then tottered. Another redshirt supported him. "Or,
indeed, his last glorious
enterprise... hiring me to beat his son, take the signet ring..." hand gesture
again "... from him, and
leave him to die as I unleashed the Eagle on New New New York. Upon which,
of course, the DOOP
would be nailed to the atrocity, thus fomenting rebellion and driving
neutral..." and his voice hadn't
been bitter until now "... planets to the side of the Empire."
... understood the pain... of losing...
Philip staggering, hair matted with blood, face dark with bruises... and he
had refused to see.
Something bit into Lord Cyan's head like a red worm.
"I never ordered you to harm my son!" he heard himself roar. "Even if that
were your only crime,
Dempsey, you are going to..."
And then he saw the looks.
"Confessed, have we?" Dempsey murmured, tapping the ring with a fingernail.
"Well... I want all
present to hear that I can be merciful, too. The DOOP does not want the
blood of women and children
on its hands, not to mention the loss of such a stylish building as Jagan's
Ego. The DOOP,
howsoever, reckons it can deal with the blood of a degenerate Emperor and a
man who sacrifices his
sons freely when he can't find any dirty work for them." He turned and
addressed some of the senior
crew. "Fly the Aureole off to the side. I attack them with the Eagle."
"You traitor!" Lord Cyan gasped.
Dempsey's teeth tinged at him. "I prefer the term ‘renegade'."
It wasn't too bad going on the Eagle, actually. Once he'd got his breath
back after it was knocked out
of him –and the air was pretty breathable, even up here, which was a good
thing because he hadn't
had any plan in reserve in case it was too thin– and then got his breath
back after crawling up to the
edge and seeing how lucky he was not to have missed and fallen screaming to
his death somewhere
through the fleecy clouds, it was rather spiffy. The solar panels and gently
humming machinery inside
gave him a nice warmth, another lucky thing really, and the Eagle itself was
in ample size, rather like a
small parking lot. He could sit in the middle of the shield on its breast,
admire the blazing sun on top
and the glowing Scintillant below, and not really feel the height at all. As
long as he managed not to
think about things like diving towards New New New York with the air blazing
around him like some
breastplated woman on a flying horse, and the missiles going off and the
flames shooting up all
around him, he could crouch with his arms around his knees and feel rather
OK, so it was hard.
Time went slowly up here, maybe because there wasn't much time to spare for
a lone delivery boy
sitting on an eagle-shaped reflector when it was needed in the big cities,
or maybe just because he'd
forgot his watch. He ended up going for little walks, staying clear of the
jagged feathered edges. He
admired the metalwork on the sprig of olives in the left claw –the eagle's
right, that was– and looked a
little at the arrow-shaped missiles in the right, or the left, whatever it
was. They were potent things, the
arrowhead warheads themselves were about as long as his arm. He remembered
reading that the
shafts themselves were rather badly connected to the heads, in order to
dislodge them upon impact
and make it harder for the enemy ship's maintenance robots to remove the
explosive. It was a design
based on the spears used by the ancient Romans, Lord Cyan said. Either that,
or it was an excuse for
Fry supposed he could try to remove all the warheads from the arrows. And...
do what? Drop them?
The Eagle was so still now, it was impossible to imagine it moving, but the
metal was as sleek as
space. At the first jolt, everything lying on the surface would slide off.
That thought made him cling to
the sculpted feathers on one wing for a moment. There were hatches and odd
panels among the
metal plumage. He supposed he could try to get inside, sabotage it somehow,
but he wasn't an
engineer. He was a decoy.
A sitting duck decoy.
Fry had himself a big nice gulp of air. It didn't taste much up here, except
for weird chemical stuff, but
it was quite a gas. Probably a lot better than the one down at the surface.
Maybe you should bottle it
up and sell it. The air was high here.
That first jolt came. It was very gentle, but his bones still hurt, so he
felt it and grabbed hold around the
edge of the wing. Still lying down. Breathing. Breathing the nice giggly
air. But just an ever-so-slight
slipping, and then he tilted. The pressure on his arms increased, and he
wasn't sure one of them
would be up to it. His soles squeaked as he tried to get some footing.
No more jolts. Now the satellite hummed, a bit like a hovercar. When he
pulled himself up and
looked over the edge he couldn't see the ground anymore, just the glowing
horizon and a drape of
darkening sky. He hooked his elbows around the wing, uncomfortable but there
you go, and hoped it
wouldn't turn any further. His feet tingled coldly. They didn't want to lose
touch with the metal.
The Eagle hung still. Fry gulped air again.
Then it slipped gently upwards, and the arrows clattered in its talon.
"I prefer the term ‘renegade'." Dempsey flashed his teeth at the screen.
One of the soldiers was holding Kif's shoulders, whether to support him or
hold him back he didn't
know. It wasn't as if he even cared. He felt faint, he would have thrown up
if he hadn't been so
sickeningly empty, the floor spun in an unhealthy fashion and... his bandage
was bulging slightly. A
scraping noise rippled against it, on the inside. He wondered whether the
cloth was going to rip.
"I feel obliged to bring to your attention", Hedonism-bot opined, briefly
pausing in his grape-feeding –
and that sound was going to stay with Kif for years, with the nightmares–
to gesture to one of the
screens, "that there is a youth clinging to the Eagle."
"Kill them all", Dempsey murmured, as though it was a novel solution. The
Eagle tacked and veered as
he fiddled with the ring. "Let God sort them out."
Something flickered before Kif's eyes. He swallowed and tried to crouch up a
little, in case he was
going to faint... but it was there, and it was real. A little glitter of light
was seeping out between the
layers of bandage.
So it was almost time.
He clasped his hands around the hologram, trying to hide it, even though one
image flickering through
it was that of a Chinese girl with cute tousled hair...
"The Eagle will attack us..."
"Put the shields up, damn it!"
"No ship has ever withstood the onslaught of the Eagle..."
"Then we shall be the first!"
Lord Cyan was calm, even when yelling at the crew. He had things to defend.
Things to protect. He
had done that all his life.
But when he recognised the young man hanging laxly from the wing of the
Eagle, barely even strong
enough to kick and scream against the wind any more, ginger hair swept back
by the draft, something
snapped again. He would never remember what orders he shouted as he ran for
the escape pods...
"Here we go", Bender nodded, not unhappily. He reached towards the Tapeworm
jar in his stomach
compartment, unscrewed the grey lid slightly and squinted at the little
strip of holographic imagery
moving out of it. "He's right in front of the guy... a bit to the left... the
Worm is ready to operate. It's
almost breaking out on its own accord."
"Will this be necessary?" Amy asked and could have slapped herself for
sounding so whiny and weak.
"If you don't want to, my dear, the pleasant duty will pass on to
Zoidberg!" A claw touched what was
supposedly a heart, proudly.
Amy swallowed and let herself get maneuvered into place by Bender. Zoidberg
carefully wrapped a
greyish strip of bandage around her hand, eventually tying a flashbulb over
her ring finger.
Her eyes narrowed as she stared into the inevitable future.
And Bender opened the lid.
This is inside the head of the Tapeworm currently in Kif's body cavity:
There's not much of a brain, just a glitter of instincts and a bond with the
Everything else is just light and darkness. An impression of a delicious
flashbulb within striking
distance, on the left hand of a shadow. Other shadows around. It is
beginning to get hungry...
He couldn't hold on any longer. He couldn't hold on any longer. His right
arm was just a disembodied
scream. The air had been... high... filling his head with bouncing flowering
points of painted lights, but
there wasn't any more air. It was pounding on his head, on his brain, and he
was heading straight for
the cold stars, and there would be fire and roaring flames but that didn't
matter because he was going
to let go and Dad hadn't come for him and there wasn't any point anymore.
Let go, said the dome of bright clouds below him. Let go and put an end
to the pain. I won't hurt
you, I promise.
And something else, something inside him, said that he had pledged loyalty.
His sight reddened out, and all he could taste was blood. Things were going
to start leaking out of him
in a moment...
A crash to dislodge every bone in his body and rattle them into different
places. So it had started, then.
He didn't care, he let go, as well as he could when his right arm seemed to
take the commands of his
brain as vague advice, but he didn't feel the planet tugging at him... so... he
was still lying on the
Eagle. Thoughts came so slowly through the pain. Something must have knocked
it back to horizontal.
That still didn't matter. He couldn't breathe.
He blinked the blood out of his eyes, and they felt OK again, but it was
almost all dark, just a gray light
sifting through some kind of wire mesh... cloth, soft and a little greasy
padding, around his cheeks and
on top of his hair. Gritting noises, and scents of familiar shampoo and
aftershave. But he could
breathe. Oh icy oxygen in his lungs, but he could breathe.
The Eagle tilted again. He could feel himself slipping, but heavy hands
caught around his shoulders.
"Dad..." he whispered. "Dad, you haven't got any air..."
"It's OK, son", a voice like his own replied, but strained. "You're the one
who needs it."
"I feel obliged to bring to your attention", Hedonism-bot said, somewhere in
the swirling nauseous
shadows, "that there is a man clinging to the Eagle."
"I said ‘kill them all...'" Dempsey begun, then paused as though in shock.
And Kif struck. It wasn't particularly efficient, but then, he felt more
like collapsing in a heap on the
floor anyway. His fingers felt cold and slippery, like they were thawing
into nothing, as he tore at the
bandage and took a step forward. The soldiers grabbed him again, but that
was all he really needed.
He slipped onto his back and watched, delirious with the dissipating pain,
as the Tapeworm
thunderbolted through the bland spaceship air. It glimmered like the burning
ice of a comet. It twirled
like a film strip with a pair of oversize jaws on one end...
... it missed.
"You fool!" Dempsey hissed, as composed as ever, even as he clutched the
hand with the ring. His
hands seemed to have more sense than the rest of him. "Do you think it's so
Then Hedonism-bot kicked him on the shin. As he was basically built as a
couch, it was a heavy stomp
indeed. The renegade Neutral hopped onto one leg, and some old dam inside
him had evidently
"Discord! Confusion! Prolonged period of discomfort!"
He crumbled to the floor, supporting himself on the hand with the
eagle-and-star ring. And the
Tapeworm saw the glimmer. There was blood, Kif would remember, as he slid
into the short night of
unconsciousness. Plenty of blood, and a distinct gulping noise.
When Fry opened his eyes, the helmet was off his head, but he could still
smell it, once he wiped off
his nosebleed. The air felt like semolina in his lungs: far too thick, but
nourishing. When he managed
to look up, he saw a crown of clouds around the Eagle, a dark silhouette,
helmet lying to one side,
fiddling with something under an open panel, the curve of an escape pod
resting nearby. Dark blue
sky. Scintillant not as far off as before, but he still wouldn't want to
hazard a jump. Shadow. Dad.
"Bit of a close shave there, wasn't it, Phil?" Dad asked briskly, without
turning around. "I just
remembered that I had an oxygen supply in my helmet... you were all but dying
when I landed, not to
mention that you were about to let go. What with us screeching straight into
open space and all that...
there was only oxygen for one of us. I wanted you to have it. But I thought
I was done for."
He turned around, giving him an uncracked, Fryish grin. Fry looked back.
"We were lucky", Dad went on. "I think you passed out anyway, from the
dropping pressure... but right
as we were about to exit the atmosphere, we stopped. The Dempsey kid must
have lost the ring
somehow, though I can't believe what could have made him let it go." He
chuckled. Clarity was starting
to seep back. "Luckily, I know the Eagle like the palm of my own hand... I was
there when it was built,
straight from the blueprints. I managed to use the manual controls and take
us down to where the air
"How are you feeling?" That familiar, familiar face shivered into worry.
"You can breathe alright, can't
you? Please tell me you weren't injured..." He got up, his joints creaking a
little, and lumbered closer.
"Or maybe you suffered concussion when... when Dempsey..."
"You ordered Dempsey to beat me up", Fry said. It wasn't a question. He
wished it had been.
Dad shook his head, but his eyes didn't actually move. "Nonsense. Dempsey is
a traitor, a
backstabber, and not a very successful one at that. Luckily, the Spirit of
Meccano is battling his ship
as we speak." He nodded to a glow on the horizon that Fry had thought was
the sunset, with sparkles.
"And we will win. Once we have disposed of that DOOP puppet, the cruiser
will pick us up..."
"... and give you a chance to program the Eagle to attack New New New York",
It wasn't about diplomacy any longer. It was about reading a mind he had
known for a long, long time.
He stared down into the sleek metal, so he didn't have to face the
understanding in those eyes.
"Philip", Dad said, at length, almost as though he was asking forgiveness.
"When you are as old as
Fry heard himself laugh. The air was still a bit thin. It crackled in his
lungs like tinfoil. "I'm a thousand
years older than most people I know. Case closed."
"Then you must understand how life, life in general and politics in
particular, forces men like you and
me to make difficult choices. Choices which we would rather not make."
Gentle voice, not pleading,
just trying to make an obstinate child see sense. Fry felt that hand on his
shoulder, and his bones
shuddered. "Come here. Look, they're coming for us!" The glinting lights of
the Spirit of Meccano
were above them. The grip tightened, in all respects, as Lord Cyan took on
his helmet and
straightened up, like he had suddenly seen himself in a mirror. "You are
right. I see that now." It didn't
sound as though he saw at all. "I may have made the wrong... difficult
choices... in the past, but the
evil lies not in me. Join me, Philip, and together we shall defeat the
Emperor and rule the galaxy as
father and son!"
"You what?" Emperor Jagan's reedy voice crackled through the headpiece of
"Oh gah... my deepest apologies, your imperial majesty."
"If you don't mind me asking, your imperial majesty... what is with your
voice? Have you been doing
"I've been groveling like a lowly worm, if that's what you mean..."
Lord Cyan switched off the earpiece and fixated him with the dark holes of
"At any rate, that is all immaterial now", he said. "Get on board the ship."
Lord Cyan sighed and bent to pick something up. Whatever he had used to
lever the panel open, Fry
realised. "I... am sorry about this, Philip. I hoped it would not come to
this. Come quietly... or don't."
What he was holding in his arms was an arrowhead, gleaming softly against
the sky like a sharpened
moon. It was resting against Fry's neck in a moment, and never mind the
explosives, it was sharp. The
air seemed to have gone all hostile all over.
"You obey me", Lord Cyan rumbled. "I am not losing you again, Philip."
Fry backed away, but the gap but the gap behind him he stumbled, and his
head was lying outside
the edge and could feel the chilly updraft, but he kicked at those gleaming
dark boots. Lord Cyan
danced back, and Fry got to his feet again. Dizzy, dizzy with everything,
but maybe that would make it
"Philip", Lord Cyan said, breathing heavily as he advanced. "You are not
going to die here, but I am
not averse to hurting you if that will make you see sense. Remember how I
tried to take you out back
at Fort Mount?"
Memories twisted, twitched and went cold.
"That wasn't you, Dad!" Say it like you mean it. "That was Sergeant
Fry backed again, and it felt like the entire gulf of space was gaping
behind the heels of his boots
every single moment. He held out his hands, and the tip of the warhead
almost grazed them.
"Don't do this, Dad!" he screamed. "I saved your life!"
"Philip, you fool!" Lord Cyan growled, swiping with the arrowhead and
bringing him to his knees. "I
gave you your life! Let's call this quits!"
Fry dodged, got up and ran. He could hear the heavy steps behind him, like
some march music from
Hell, he could almost hear the warhead waiting to lodge itself in his
shoulderblades... but that was
better than having the edge behind him. They ran down the shield together.
"At least stand and fight, son! Did I bring you up to run away from fights?
You are only making this
worse for yourself!"
Onto the talon... grab one of those big sharp things, don't think so much
about how it's going to
explode in your hands... tear it free... twist... it is off.
Fry stood up, gasping for breath, then advanced.
"STOP TRYING TO KILL ME!" he yelled, taking a swipe at Lord Cyan's weapon.
They stood for a moment, deadlocked. Little sparks jumped off where the
"Attacking your own father..." Lord Cyan gasped. Even his mask looked
disobeying my orders. Playing the renegade to our glorious Empire. Traitor!"
"Oh that's rich, coming from you", Fry sneered. He wished he didn't have to.
"Like I tried to blow up my
hometown because of... diplomacy!"
Lord Cyan gave a wordless battle cry and swung his weapon. Fry spun around
screaming and caught
it on his own, almost by default. Again, time slowed, as though for a goal
"Your swing is good", Lord Cyan said.
Fry sighed for air. "So is yours."
"That's the first time I've seen anyone do that with a sprig of olives."
Olives? Fry glanced at it, and it was twisted out of his hand. Lord Cyan
kicked it derisively, and it
slipped over the edge. And then... cold metal against his neck, almost
cutting him already, and
pressure. He dropped to his knees for he didn't know which number time.
"I would have given everything I had for the chance of calling you my son",
Lord Cyan scraped. It
sounded like he was gnawing on the inside of his helmet. "But you threw it
all away. I have no need for
a traitor as my son and heir. Like any old Roman would have done in my
And there was a soft, almost pinging metallic noise as his gauntlets
tightened around the broken shaft
of the arrowhead, readying for the stroke...
"Then it's your lucky day!" Fry said, putting all of his lungs into it while
he still had a throat.
The arrowhead stayed. "What did you say?"
"I said it's your lucky day!" Fry winced. But what did he have to lose?
Dad. "I mean, seeing how I'm
not your son."
The arrowhead quivered.
"What is this new lie?" Lord Cyan almost laughed. The Spirit of Meccano
rose behind him like a solar
shark. "If you think I'll spare your life because you add insult to injury,
"I said, I'm not your son. You're not my father."
"... you scummy little Communist bastard, you are shaming our family
"Which family name? Fyry?"
Fry felt a painful tension in his face. It came to him that it must be a
"You were never frozen at Fort Mount! You were born on this planet! You went
to college here, and
rose in the ranks, and got married!"
"So did your father!"
"And his father, and his grandfather, and the guy before him!"
Fry inhaled. "Do you want a list, m'lord? It's not in alphabetical order,
but we'll probably survive, won't
"How dare you claim that I am not Yancy Fry!" the Dark Lord roared, but he
had the slightly blank
voice of someone who was accusing on auto-pilot.
"You paint pictures, and use examples from classical history, and visit
cultural events. The Yancy Fry I
know..." and why did it have to hurt so much? "... would think that kind of
thing was for nancy-girls. You
would have preferred me to fall in love with Amy rather than Leela, even
though she's of Chinese
descent. You know? Commie scum?" That grin was waxing like the moon. Fry
glanced over his
shoulder, and saw the headlights of the Aureole. "But... maybe most of
all..." It shouldn't have to
hurt. "Most of all, my father would never have spent years searching for
me. I wasn't worth that
much to him."
Silence, and raspy breath.
"You are wrong", Lord Cyan said, slowly. He lowered the arrowhead a fraction
of an inch.
"Really?" Fry whispered. "Do you want me to talk about the stuff in your
basement? The photos of all
the other Yancy Fries... sorry, Cyan Fyries, all the way back to the
colonisation of Scintillant and the
formation of the Empire? Their uniforms? The scalpels they used to fix up
their faces to look more like
the photo of my father..." The arrowhead wobbled in the air as Lord Cyan
raised a hand to the edge
of his helmet, briefly lost. "Because it was there, too. His old army
jacket. His photos of me. His bottle
of aftershave. Oh, that must have been a hit!" Fry laughed. You had to
laugh, otherwise you'd go
mad, wouldn't you? "What did you do, worship him as a god or something?"
"Founder of our line", Lord Cyan whispered. "Not God. Father."
Fry smiled up the pointy mirror of the arrowhead.
"Recite the pledge of allegiance for me, Father."
Somewhere inside that helmet, eyes must be rolling from side to side. "I...
uh... pledge of allegiance...
Emperor Jagan lead us... Emperor Jagan guide u..."
Fry grabbed the arrowhead, but Lord Cyan had already tossed it to one side.
He collapsed, his helmet
rolling off to one side, hiding his face as though he was ashamed of it.
They sat like that for a long, eternal moment.
"I have lived on a lie", Lord Cyan said at last.
"Dad..." Fry swallowed. "I mean... surely it's not that bad..."
Lord Cyan shook his head. For a moment, red sorrow looked out of his eyes,
and they were quite
different from the ones Fry remembered.
"It's all written down", he said slowly. "If you go back... oh, slightly
less than a thousand years, my
earliest ancestor was a poor boy, born on a certain day by uncertain
parents. He took the name Yancy
Fry from... your father, it must have been, and also saw his photographs of
you. He became obsessed
with the Fries, with living up to your father's glory and finding you. Oh,
and fighting for the American
way. That ambition fuelled his line as we emigrated to Scintillant... as the
Empire grew. An aristocracy
of the blood. We all wanted to be Yancy Fry. We all wanted to carry on our
genes forever. But... they
are not even the Fry genes."
"Maybe you were related", Fry suggested. It sounded as plausible as just
about anything, today. "I
mean, my own brother... also named Yancy... still has a living descendant.
Come on, that's not much
to cry about... not being my father..."
The Spirit of Meccano docked, with some difficulty. A white-robed woman
with long dark hair tripped
out and walked up to Lord Cyan, holding his shoulders.
"You should have been my son..." Lord Cyan gasped. "You should have made me
proud. But for all
the wrongs I have done, please remember... I am not your father. On my head
He stood up, somewhat unsteadily, and took Lady Tamsin's hand.
"You are wrong in one thing, though", he continued. "You saw the stuff in
our shrine, didn't you? Well,
you never read your father's... the original's... journals. He searched for
you to the very end. We...
copies... the Fyries... have aped him in many of our bad deeds. At least let
me be proud that I got a
good one right."
"Come back to the ship, honey", Tamsin said, reaching for his face. Her hand
covered his scar. "I will...
I will fight for you, if they accuse you of..."
"No", Lord Cyan said, maybe to himself. "The Eagle can be controlled by me.
It has oxygen supplies,
food... let's start over again. It seems wanderlust is strong, even in this
old soldier." He put an arm
around Tamsin's waist. "Tamsin... let me fly you to the moon." She kissed
him. "And... son?"
Fry shook his head, almost without feeling it. Lord Cyan drooped slightly.
"At least spare a thought for me on the Original Yancy Fry Day", he said
with a vague smile. Father's
smile. "Or light a candle, or something."
"May the Fourth?"
"The Fourth. Always."
He looked around as the Aureole and the Spirit of Meccano approached,
one on each side. He
threw a switch.
With a luxurious rattle, the feathers slid and layered. The wings unfolded
themselves into three
dimensions, the metal groaned as the beaked head jolted upright, and a dome
of glass rose over the
seat. As Fry stumbled onto the bridge, in Leela's arms, Lord Cyan Fyry
saluted him and sped into the
stars on the wings of the Eagle.
The war ended, not with fireworks and panto horses, but with hard bargaining
and treaties like
concrete corsets. The last time Emperor Jagan, miserably sobered-up and
bedraggled, entered the
Hyperdrome, it was to sign his abdication form. Dempsey, hand bandaged, was
led away with a
blushing mark on his face from the flat of Glab's hand.
The Democratic Order of Planets, and the Earth government, pardoned the
Planet Express crew
since, after all, they had been instrumental in winning the war, and they
had been acting under duress
anyway. Zapp and Hedonism-bot had been awarded medals for bravery and valor,
and Kif had got a
nice flower bouquet from them all sent to his ward in the hospital ship. Amy
was tending him day and
night, too. As for themselves... maybe they would be selfish to ask for more
recognition. At least the
ship had been returned, and Hermes and Professor Farnsworth were waiting for
them back in Old
New New York...
"Sorry, Leela", Fry said, looking away from her where he was sitting in the
tire swing, feet dangling in
the cold dew of the grass. Morning stood in all its pale yellow glory around
Fyry Manor. If she saw his
face, he could put it down to the dew. "I'm... very happy that you're here
with me." She reached for
him, but he grabbed the swing rope, so hard the fibres were going to leave
impressions in the palm of
his hand, maybe forever. "But would you mind being silent? This... this isn't
easy for me." It wasn't
even easy to say it.
The dew had gathered on a mound of the stuff he'd dragged out of the
basement. A thousand years'
worth of uniforms, tattered black robes and jagged dented masks. Gold
trimmings, fringes, and swords
and guns, portraits of sons and fathers, riven photos, and some paperback
books and symbolistic oil
paintings and a journal, its pages so yellowed and crisp they'd torn in his
hands, and mouldy flags...
And the republic it represents. With liberty. And justice for all.
Little points of light on the grass. You could almost imagine they were
stars. Victory. Liberty. I was
trying to make everything better. I believed it, once.
Smoky pain made Fry's eyes flick open. He wasn't built for a tire swing,
anymore. He had almost
slipped out of it, and his hand had rope burns.
Leela's hand felt cool when she took it and helped him up.
"Don't fixate on the past, Fry", she whispered. "If you do, you'll end up
just as bad as him..." But she
glanced at the pile, the wreck of a thousand shrines. "As them."
Fry nodded. He wondered if she saw anything in his face. His eyes must be
totally dark, as though
he'd been looking into the sun.
He groped in his uniform pocket and grabbed the cold, reassuring handle of a
laser cutter. The blade
flared up, with a sound a little bit like what you hear when you lean close
to the back of a TV, and he
slit the rope. The tire bounced onto the pile.
Leela grabbed his arm. "Let's go back to the ship, Fry. The others are
He walked, and tossed the cutter over his shoulder as he did. The laser
touched paper and cloth, and
maybe the one thing he would remember of New New New York, when the tears
had dried, were
bright flames and dark smoke.
He dreamt of bright flames and dark smoke, dropping from the sky like a
plague, and the fir pelt of the
mountain crumbling into gray ashes. He was standing on a bare crag, and the
flames only licked the
toes of his boots, but when the fire died, the wind started. It was a cold
wind, scented with blood, and it
made the fine mealy ash sweep into the air, slowly uncovering the ruins of
the great city. New York
called to him. He ran down the mountain, into the ashen wind, and he saw it
lift from the faces of
Ilyena, and Yancy Jr., and Martha and their son, but he was looking for the
only one alive. And then,
between the skeletons of buildings, a slightly hunched figure, gray in the
gray but the hair was like a
last remaining ember, struggling against the gale, shouting for help...
... and the wind swept into his lungs, choking him when he gasped for air for
Yancy floated up from sleep, too slowly, like from the bottom of a frozen
lake. He couldn't breathe. It
had happened quite often, the last few mornings, but he had survived, so
maybe he would survive this
time as well... he couldn't breathe. The flickering light had come in his
dreams, and his heart had
broken... no, no, it was beating again. Philip. As the physical pain died
away, the other came.
Philip. I've lost you again, haven't I? The raspy green blanket had
somehow folded over his mouth
and nose. Once sleep paralysis gave way, he pushed it off, like he had
pushed off the body of
Tomkins when he fell over him, still jolting from the bullet, back in the
land of mouldy mud and death...
... and Tomkins rolled around and looked at him, with a young man's face under
the eating blood,
ginger hair poking out under his shattered helmet. "You never loved me, Dad,
did you?" he whispered,
and little sprays of blood came with every word. "I should run away from you
and never come back..."
This time, Yancy screamed, and the scream drove the ghost away for a moment.
It was still dark.
Maybe his eyes had given in, too... sometimes he felt so old, like he'd lived
through enough pain for
two... but yes, it was winter, the sun hadn't risen yet and there was a gleam
of snow on the window.
He reached out, arm unfolding with a crackling, and hit the lightswitch, and
the light was pale like
burning magnesium, and he was standing next to the bed in the E. R. ward,
Ilyena leaning on his
shoulder, face blushing horribly with tears, and Yancy Jr. holding on to the
footboard as though he
could hold Philip back that way, and there was no sound except the cold
beeping of the life support, it
hit his head like a bell made of ice, and he was tired, he was tired unto
death with the fear but he didn't
even want to blink, because his son was lying on that bed, stretched out
straight, grappling with Death
... and the monitor went flatline, the bell became one thread of ice through
his head, and Philip's face
rolled over and looked at him. It's eyes were open. The tongue lolled out of
its mouth. It shouldn't have
been able to speak...
Philip. He was there, like a ghost you could almost touch, as his father
stared into the haggard face
in the mirror and splashed himself with aftershave lotion, putting the
bottle back in his pocket. Philip.
You could hear the floorboards creak under his footsteps in the next room,
just out of reach, and
sometimes his voice, like a clear little bell, and his mother and his
brother answering. If he was a
ghost, did that mean... no. No. A flashback, that was what. He had been
suffering from those for the
last thirty years. One of them had finally broken through the screen and
started walking in his life.
Yancy tried to have himself a hearty soldier's breakfast, but it wasn't easy
anymore. He had never
been able to cook, and the ghost of his unknown father was leaning over his
shoulder all the time, so
real he almost cast a shadow, telling him that toast wasn't supposed to be
soggy in the middle and
that chicken drumsticks weren't supposed to be red in the middle and that
frying eggs on mark six was
probably not a healthy thing to do. But Philip was there as well, telling
him that he needed the strength
if he was going to go looking...
Yes. Today was the day. The sun rose over the sludgy road and smudged
skyline in a clear crystal
sky, and Yancy actually hummed to himself as he packed his backpack. He
could almost taste victory
in the air. That would be a first, then. No more mucking about with the
pizza baker and the dog and
that Commie of a President. He was going to do what Ben Raines would have
done a long time ago:
go out there, give them hell, and find his son. He hummed to himself, and it
was some song about
walking on sunshine.
He packed some more sandwiches –blackened, soggy– and a sleeping bag, his
flashlight and his gun,
and his army knife. There was still plenty of room in the nylon-smelling
folds of the bag, so at a thought
he stuffed his journal. The photo album went down as well, and some of the
framed photos... hell, all
of the framed photos! He didn't want Philip's face to stare lonely from the
walls of the dilapidated
house. Philip. He had to be old by now, almost thirty. It was possible that
Yancy wouldn't recognize his
face, so... all the photos. Philip sitting in the tire swing. Philip running
outside the house with a bird-
shaped kite. (It would have been an awful lot cuter if he hadn't been almost
eighteen at the time.)
Philip and his mother and his brother and his dog, in front of the camera,
Wanderlust was strong, even in this old soldier. He didn't take the bus... the
line had stopped going
past his house a couple years back, anyway, but he felt good, even though
the air was so cold it
tasted like iron and smarted in his lungs. His back was broad and straight
under the backpack, and the
snow in the garden was white and neat, it crunched under his boots. He felt
good in all respects. He
didn't lock the door, because Philip might come back while he was gone, but
he flew the rather
tattered flag on its pole and pledged allegiance to it again. His heart
raced, but it didn't crash and it
didn't hurt him.
With liberty and justice for all.
He didn't drop by to visit Ilyena or Yancy Jr. and his family, this time,
and he only saw the pizzeria at a
distance... poor Seymour sitting hunched before it, staring dejectedly towards
the Cryogenics Center.
But I'll bring him back for you, boy. I'll bring the boy back. He did
walk past the sperm bank,
though, with its crowd of jittery-looking young men waiting outside and
doing nothing in particular.
None of them was Philip. It was kind of a funny thought, though. Imagine
that Philip might even be a
father... no, no, it wasn't funny. But kind of heart-warming.
He was heading for Ft Mt first of all. Then, maybe he should inquire with
General Simone or Sergeant
Reefer... but he hadn't seen them for years. They'd thrown him out... he'd
wasted pages of his journal
trying to explain to himself why they didn't want him. He didn't care. He
was going to get Philip back.
The road up the mountain hadn't had any maintenance since last time he went
there, and the sludge
had frozen into semitransparent ice. He slipped a few times while trudging
along it, and the last time
he lay staring into the explosion of the sun, waiting for his heart to stop
twitching... but it was the one
incident. If Philip wasn't in the City, surely he might have gone to the
bunker. It had a roof, for one, and
tons of tinned food. Yes! He must be there!
"Philip?" Yancy called out as he jogged up the last bit of the slope. There
was snow here, innocent,
ragged with winds, but no ice to slip on. Footprints... good God, there were
footprints! Plenty of
them, to and from the trapdoor. They looked a bit small, but that was in
comparison with his jackboots.
"Philip? Philip! Please, can you hear me? It's your father, Philip... if
you're there, I want you to know,
He knelt in the wet snow and grabbed the cold, cold handle of the trapdoor.
His gaze flew up as he
tugged at it... and the sky was so blue, the sun was bright as in the summer,
only a few ash-coloured
snow clouds like a hedge on the horizon. He was going to see Philip come out
of the trapdoor, rising,
in that brilliant light.
"Philip!" he shouted into the darkness.
They're not saying anything.
He went into the bunker, calling his son's name, but there was ice on the
rungs, he slipped and fell a
few feet into a scummy snowdrift. He was frailer than he would have thought...
he hurt. Snow all over
the floors, in the few bunkers that hadn't collapsed. He walked from room to
room, calling that name
until it was just a sound in his mouth, and the cone of the flashlight
played over graffiti'd walls, damn
kids, but the air was colder down here. No sun. He was going to have to get
out soon. The cold was
throbbing at his temples.
I AM THE SON OF THE ASHES! screamed a spraypainted red
across the room where he had sat down, so many years ago, and said to
He'd shut the trapdoor, hadn't he? It was going to be hell to open, not to
mention... what if Philip was
up there right now? Seeing the trapdoor shut, wondering. Or... decades of
paranoia kicked in after
years of grief... what if the Reds were? They would be, wouldn't they? Plant
the footprints there to
lure him, and then they would be waiting up there with guns and Molotov
cocktails... maybe they had
taken Philip already...
Or maybe Philip was with them! You couldn't trust anyone, could you? Maybe
that Commie scum,
flesh of his flesh, maybe he was with Them! He had known, ever since the
midwife talked about his
lovely Red hair. Philip Was Bringing Them Down On Him!
No... not Philip... not his son... son... of the Ashes...
The pain was burning in him as he scrambled up the crampons, and he was
weak, he thought he
could never force the trapdoor open... it was down... someone was stood on it,
they were going to
suffocate him... but no, not his Philip? He wasn't going to do that to his old
man, was he? No, Philip
would turn against Them... he would show himself to be his father's son... so
And he was back in 'Nam, crawling in the mud, wondering if the heat was the
sun on his back or
whether he was actually hit and... but death was cold.
Commander Yancy J. Fry flung the trapdoor open and climbed out. His heart
was beating, and it hurt
like a stab every time, but look... look... everything was light, and the sky
was slipping into a soft
ginger light, like a woman's hair, like a boy's hair. Philip.
He dropped to his knees, and the earth shook as though the mountain was
falling apart all around him.
There was shocking pain, but it would be over soon. The sun melted and
dribbled down the edges of
the sky, and it was all bright.
A few days later, Neville Moonshadow trudged the same way up the mountain
with his spraycan. He
noticed big footprints, half-snowed in, next to his own ones, but it didn't
really seem important. Maybe
those military dudes were back up at the bunker, and maybe they would
blindfold him and make him
stand in front of a wall for vandalizing. Or maybe they would let him join,
and he could go with them on
a death-defying adventure beyond his wildest dreams. It wasn't like he
Neville didn't care about lots of things. He was almost thirteen.
A mean wind whipped up the clouds and slung his lanky brown hair into his
eyes. He hated it.
Nevilla! the big guys in ninth grade would shout at him and prance around
like they were in freakin'
"Petunia the Desert Princess". Look at Miss Nevilla! He looks like a lady!
His Ma didn't let him go to
the hairdressers often, she said they needed the money for more important
stuff. Dammit. Once he
moved out, he was going to get a good crew-cut every month! And change his
name. Look at Miss
Nevilla! How the other kids had managed to find out about him being born
from artificial insemination,
he would never know, and it had made him sick. He didn't even like
thinking about it. Look at Miss
Nevilla! His old man knocked one off and ran!
Kids can be cruel, Ma had said to him. He'd replied: "You mean I get to bust
a cap in their thick
heads?" Then he'd got a slap, because Ma believed in non-violence.
One day... damn hippies... one day, he would show them! He would show them
Going up in the mountains usually made him feel a little better. He didn't
like it at home. Home was like
a freakin' crackhouse with no crack in it, just Ma whining at him every five
minutes. Neville! Clean off
the table! Neville! Don't slouch like that! Show a bit of respect to your
stepfather! And the jerk
stepfather of his, and his snotty damn kids... At least their Pa wasn't a
bottle in a sperm bank. Damn
thoughts, shut up. The air was clean here. The city was like an anthill.
Someone ought to clean it up,
like Ben Raines did in "Trapped in the Ashes." If he believed in anything,
it was cleanness, and the
necessity of busting a cap in the head of Vlad the Impala in ninth grade,
that long-legged Russkie
hippie who shouted "Nevilla!" louder than everyone else. Yeah... he was going
to the bunker and
spray some stuff on the walls and wish it wasn't just red spray paint.
There was a dead body lying on the trapdoor. So that hobo had been right
Neville stepped back and almost fell. A cold wind was slipping into his
unbuttoned army surplus
jacket... as close as he was ever going to get to see any action, most likely.
But there was a body. It
didn't smell; it was half-buried in a snowdrift. He circled closer,
cautiously, as though it might leap for
him. A middle-aged man in an army uniform, rather heavily built, newly
shaven, crewcut brown hair...
almost the same colour as his, in fact. And the face looked a bit familiar,
but Neville was sure he'd
never seen the dude... he looked to have a high rank of some kind. He wasn't
injured anywhere on
the outside. Maybe it had been a heart attack. That strange, familiar face
had a surprised look on it.
His frosted-over eyes looked familiar, too.
OK. This was most likely wrong, but it felt to Neville like the guy wouldn't
object if he just had a look
around his backpack. He looked sort of nice, like an old relative... oh gee,
why bother with caution in a
daydream. If Neville'd had a father, it would have been someone who looked
He found a gun, and put it with a very careful clang on the trapdoor, in
wait for the Vlads and parents
and stepsiblings and teachers and hippies of this world, and rather a nifty
blade. A wallet with not a lot
of money, but an address, and driver's license saying YANCY J. FRY.
Yancy Fry. He said it out loud, and almost jumped when it echoed from the
pines. It was a nice name!
It suited the old guy like his own uniform. Kind of intelligent, yet macho,
in a no-nonsense way. It sure
as hell beat Neville Moonshadow. Nobody would ever get teased for a name
like Yancy, would they?
Yancy. Yance. You could probably even make a nice anagram of it.
Other than that, there was a load of photos, most of them depicting the guy
with his family, but also
some solo ones of a gormless-looking red-haired kid. That face kept
returning until he felt hypnotised
with it. According to the captions in the album, his name was Philip, and he
was obviously a son.
Oh for a father who would name his son something like Philip...
A couple notebooks too, they would be worth reading later. The Pa... the man
wouldn't have fussed
about it, would he? After all, who would have complained if someone came up
to you and wanted to
swear loyalty... as your son?
The boy murmured something. It was supposed to be the Pledge of Allegiance,
but his memory gave
in halfway through. Blame his unpatriotic Ma and the empty space where his
father should be. It was
damn wrong, it was... no wonder Russkies like Vlad thought they could just
come here and take their
land from good Americans. What the hell was going to happen if this went on?
His thoughts had always been going everywhere. He sure couldn't have
inherited it from Ma, because
sloppy as she was, she always seemed intent on whatever she was doing. Which
activism, mostly. Hippies. They had polluted the earth... real Americans ought
to just leave them there
and go off to colonize other worlds. An empire, only a good one.
And, he realised after skimming through the last entries in the journal,
find the kid called Philip. It was
important. Yancy Sr. had wanted it.
He couldn't leave him here to rot. After all, who would do that to his
father? There was rubble down in
the bunker... maybe he could carry the body down the rungs and build a little
cairn thingie. But first
He drew the knife. Then, as the sun came out, the new Yancy cut his hair.
Think it was September
The year I went away
'Cause there were many things I didn't know.
And I still see him standing
Tryin' to be a man
I said: "Someday you'll understand."
Well, I'm here to tell you now each and every mother's son
("Someday Never Comes", Creedence Clearwater Revival)
You'd better learn it fast, you'd better learn it young
'Cause "someday" never comes.
"Son of the Ashes" by Christina Nordlander.
Based on the show "Futurama", by Matt Groening.
July 20 - September 7 2003
Thanks to the members of the GFC
Special thanks to Kenneth White for reading and reviewing, to Patrick
Fox-Robert for much-needed nitpicking, and to Graham Dawson for special support.