Futurama

Fan Fiction

Son of the Ashes, Part 7
By Christina Nordlander

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...

Flick.

... 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...

Flick.

... 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...

Flick.

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 back.

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 greetings.

"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 dark-stone-blue-glass 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 and anguishing 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 this.

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 and mobiles.

"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 pain.

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 car tire.

Flick.

... put up a swing for Philip, it would have been a lot better if I'd thought about measuring the rope first...

Flick.

... 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...

Flick.

... 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

Flick.

"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..."

Flick.

"Miss General Secretary, the sudden quiet among the Imperial planets may herald a strike at the heart of..."

Flick.

"... 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 whitewash..."

Flick.

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 breathing.

Flick.

"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 absence."

"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 information."

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 throat.

"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 hurricane.

"... 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 a snake.

"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 of surprise..."

"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 eyeballs.

"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 already.


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 lines.

"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 Amy extra 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 victims?"

"The plan says ‘as few as possible', your imperial majesty", the Dark Lord protested. "Property damage and the symbolic value of the attack... bear in mind that no-one from outside will be able to search..."

"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. But..."

"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 hammer-blow.

"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 kept scraping.


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 disgust!

"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 Ego...

... 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.

Showhimshowhershowthemallwreakdestructionwreakrevenge

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 this."

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 closer...

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 yet...

"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 Dempsey.

"The son of Lord Cyan!" he replied, drawing himself up like his father had taught him. It lasted about five seconds.

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 to me."

"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 and colourless, narrowed their glow at Fry. "Give it to me."

"No!"

He had actually kicked the gate open when the two Cracktroopers –had to be disguised DOOP 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 unprepared spaceship... 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 of Planets... 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 cool.

"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. Waiting.

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 about it.

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 relief.

"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 you?"

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 rouées", Hedonism-bot 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 be shot."

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 world."

"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 our side!"

"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."

Five.

"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 at all!"

"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 all!"

Fortunately, they found the dark pupils of rayguns looking at them from everywhere.

"Let go of your respective women", Dempsey smirked, "or you will have a wonderful tragic love-story in the making."

"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 goodbye."

"Ah, resignation." Dempsey nodded. "Hold that thought, and we will have no more unpleasantness."

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 closed.

"One last request, however." Bender turned back to them, virtually beaming. "Since Lieutenant wossname, that's the green guy dressed like a woman, and our Miss Wong, are actually engaged... 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 his head.

"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! Yow-zers!"

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 nearly finished?"

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 separated.

"Keep my love inside you", Amy whispered tearfully. "For ever."

The corridor cleared out with marching footsteps and the heavy stomps of Hedonism-bot. Zoidberg 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 the gate.

"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 scream.


"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 uniform!"

"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 crumpled-looking paper 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 deserts."

"Speaking of dessert..." said Hedonism-bot, who had somehow got his bowl of grapes back.

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 move.

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 twisting.

"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, wondering vaguely 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, with customary astuteness. "Not the whole thing about unleashing the Eagle, smoke on the water, fire in the sky and whatnot..."

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... Scintillant."

"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 bearing, and..."

"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 was unceremoniously 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. "Sometime soon."

"Ooh yes." Dempsey beamed at them. "And of course, once I have their fleet at my command, the DOOP will be next."


Fry dreamt.

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 Cease&Desist order.

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 moon.

"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 quickly so.

"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, missy."

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 fight them."

"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 word "eye".

"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 that.

>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 city."

"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 chance?

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 happen."

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 eye.

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 the Emperor!"

"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 his cheek.

"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 politely.

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 Philip?

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 redundantly.

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 something back.

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 me."

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 his heir."

"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 comfy.

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 sloppy metalwork.

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. Kif.

"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 parental strip. 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.

DARKNESS.

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.

"FATHER!"

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 easy to..."

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 broken.

"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 is viable."

Fry looked.

"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", Fry finished.

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 I..."

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 the helmet.

"Oh gah... my deepest apologies, your imperial majesty."

"Apology accepted."

"If you don't mind me asking, your imperial majesty... what is with your voice? Have you been doing the worm?"

"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 the helmet.

"At any rate, that is all immaterial now", he said. "Get on board the ship."

"NEVER!"

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 easier.

"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 Reefer!"

"Who cares?"

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!"

No...

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 edges met.

"Attacking your own father..." Lord Cyan gasped. Even his mask looked astonished. "Openly 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 photo.

"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 place..."

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, son..."

"I said, I'm not your son. You're not my father."

"... you scummy little Communist bastard, you are shaming our family name..."

"Which family name? Fyry?"

Fry felt a painful tension in his face. It came to him that it must be a smile.

"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!"

"Lies!"

"So did your father!"

"Lies!"

"And his father, and his grandfather, and the guy before him!"

"All lies!"

Fry inhaled. "Do you want a list, m'lord? It's not in alphabetical order, but we'll probably survive, won't we?"

"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 be they."

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 waiting."

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.





Epilogue: 2006

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 the scream.

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 himself...

... 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.

Fleshback.

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, smiling...

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.

Philip.

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, I'm sorry..."

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.

No answer.

"PHILIP!"

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 Philip...

Philip...

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...

Heartbeat.

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!

Heartbeat.

No... not Philip... not his son... son... of the Ashes...

Heartbeat.

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 cold...

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 cared.

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 all!

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 after all.

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 like that.

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 was anti-war 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 things first.

He drew the knife. Then, as the sun came out, the new Yancy cut his hair.

THE END.

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
You'd better learn it fast, you'd better learn it young
'Cause "someday" never comes.

("Someday Never Comes", Creedence Clearwater Revival)

"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.

Buddies