“Welcome to your life
There's no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behavior…”
lyrics copyright Tears for Fears/Phonogram Ltd.
As the Planet Express ship got closer to its destination, Leela again caught Fry making faces at the Arcturan slime monkey sitting in its cage. “Fry, why do you have to do that?”
“Leela,” he replied, “it’s just a stupid animal. Look…it’ll make a face back.” Fry made another face, and the ugly ape just looked at him.
“See,” Leela chuckled, “he’s got enough common sense not to pay attention to you.” Leela went back to shooting her approach to the planet.
“But why do they call them slime monkeys?” Fry had no sooner finished his sentence when the creature spit a smelly, gooey substance onto his jacket. He pulled out a paper towel to clean it off.
“That is why,” Leela snickered.
“Leela, why do we have to deliver all these animals anyway?”
“Fry, I never ask why…someone just pays to have them shipped, and I deliver them. It pays the rent and puts beans on the table.”
“I don’t know about you, but these viper spiders over here give me the creeps. Who would possibly want them?”
“They’re all part of a new zoo being built on Vargos VIII. Some rich hotshot there is financing the whole thing himself.”
“Is he good-looking?” Amy jokingly quipped.
“He’s probably an old, decrepit alien Daddy Warbucks,” said Leela. With that, the girls laughed. Fry peered back in at the homely ape in the cage, and took care not to stand too close.
After an uneventful trip over a large, ancient city, Leela set the green ship down on the coordinates that were given to her. As the three of them walked down the steps, they couldn’t believe how breathtaking the place was. They were standing in a village outside a gorgeous castle, surrounded by beautiful plants, trees, and fountains. As the three left the ship behind, a group of strange-looking aliens was already scurrying up the ramp to retrieve the cages. A well-dressed bald dandy of a man with an exotic white bird on his shoulder strolled up to greet them.
“Welcome to my world,” he said with a smile on his face and outstretched hands. “Let me introduce myself…I am Turapec, the owner of this menagerie. I must say that I’m impressed at how quickly Planet Express was able to deliver the animals I needed to finish my collection.”
Leela already had her computer pad in her hand. “Not a problem, sir…if you’ll just sign here…”
“Oh, but you three are my guests. I insist that you at least stay for a nice meal before zipping back off into space. Please…I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least offer…”
“Oh, well,” Leela replied, “I don’t think a bite to eat would hurt us. Besides, I get tired of the insta-meals on the ship…especially the chicken ones.”
“Then it’s settled…follow me, and we’ll have a feast fit for a king.”
Turapec led the three into the luxurious castle. It was dreamy, like something out of a movie. Leela soon found out that she’d picked up a friend in the hallway. A ball of light, about the size of a softball, was moving along with her. Everywhere she went, the light followed.
“Hello,” said the ball of light in a child-like, female voice.
Leela got a big smile on her face. “You talk – hello to you too.” She extended her hand and the light floated above it.
“You’re a fine specimen,” said the light, “you’re very pretty.”
Leela giggled. “You are so cute.” With that, the ball floated away down the hallway.
“What was that?” asked Amy.
“I don’t really know. It seemed nice enough, though.”
Turapec wasn’t exaggerating when he promised a meal fit for a king. The Planet Express crew was seated in a fancy dining hall. Everybody’s favorite dishes were there. Fry tore into a deep dish pizza, while Amy marveled at a Chinese meal that a woman made right at the table. Leela nearly melted when a tray full of chicken enchiladas was brought out; the woman serving it looked very much like one of the staff of the Orphanarium, but there was no way that it could have been the same person. Leela did get a look of surprise when she saw her.
“Mister Turapec,” Fry asked with a mouth full of food, “if you don’t mind me saying so, you remind me so much of my Uncle Murray.”
“Fry,” Leela interjected.
“A good comparison, I hope,” chuckled Turapec. “Tell me of your uncle…”
Fry looked down. “He got killed on a hunting trip in Vermont when he hit a moose…” Fry looked irritated as the girls had to stifle a laugh.
Amy then jumped into the conversation. “It’s funny that you say that. Your hostess Ming Na looks very much like a chef that my dad used to hire for parties.” The woman came out with some more plum wine, and Amy thanked her in Mandarin. “I think her name was Ming Na as well, but it’s been many years ago.”
Turapec beamed with pleasure. “I’m so happy that each of you have found a bit of home here on our world. I hope that you can spend some more time before you leave…”
“I really appreciate your hospitality,” Leela said, “but we really need to be going soon.”
“So soon? Before the cookie dough ice cream is served?”
Leela was slack-jawed as a huge silver container of cookie dough ice cream was brought out. “Oh my…this is incredible,” she said, “but I still have to make a quick pit stop before I tear into it.” With that Leela excused herself from the table to find a restroom. She quickly became lost as soon as she left the dining hall. As she turned the corner to come back to the hall, something weird happened. She placed her hand on a block of stone in a wall, and it moved. She touched it again, and found it flexible and rubbery, sort of like a couch pillow. When she touched it again, it felt like normal stone. The other stones nearby seemed to be normal as well.
The portly serving woman came around the corner. She looked at Leela with suspicion. “Is there something wrong ma’am?” she said in a thick Irish accent.
“No, but you look very familiar to me.” Leela leaned in for a closer look at her face – as she did this her eye got huge. “If you don’t mind me asking so, didn’t you get that scar on your forehead in a car wreck as a child?”
“Yes ma’am, I did at that.”
“And this happened in Ireland, in County Cork...”
“Yes ma’am, it did. Is there a problem, ma’am?”
“Uh, no. No problem. I’m sorry I bothered you.” She let the woman pass, and she knew that she had to grab the others quickly.
When she got back in the dining room, Fry was stuffing his face with more pizza. “Fry,” she said with a phony smile, “I need to talk with you right now.”
“Right now?” he said with a full mouth.
“Yes, right now.” Fry didn’t seem to want to move, so she grabbed him by the arm. “We have a problem with the ship’s computers that I need to discuss with you right this instant.”
“Right this instant?”
“Yes, Fry, right this very moment.”
“Oh, but you will be back for more ice cream?” asked Turapec.
“Oh, yes…can’t wait,” said Leela smiling, as she hauled Fry out of the room like a child.
“What’s this all about?” asked Fry.
“I nearly put my hand through one of these stone walls, but that’s not even my biggest problem right now.”
“Leela, you’re not even making sense…”
“Do you remember the servant lady with the scar on her forehead? I thought she looked familiar. Her name is Bridget O’ Shanahan, and she was the lunch lady at the Orphanarium. She hasn’t aged a day in over 20 years. And what’s worse, I watched her scar go from the right side of her head to the left side during the course of the meal.” Fry looked really confused. “Don’t you see? They are pulling these things from our minds – that’s why everything is so familiar to us here. And they aren’t even getting everything right. Where’s Amy?”
“She went downstairs with Ming Na to look at things in the gift shop.”
“We’ve got to get her.” As Leela and Fry began to run down the staircase, they noticed something odd. The stones in the wall were beginning to disappear one by one, and the outside world could be seen. The entire palace quickly vaporized and the two of them suddenly found themselves in a glass cage like animals. Their cage sat among many others, and Amy was already in the cage – she was pounding on the plastiglass panels, and Ming Na was nowhere to be found. In the other cages were a myriad of intelligent life forms, most of which had accepted their fate and sat quietly in their captivity. The fairy-like kingdom that they had landed on had given way to a blasted barren landscape with jagged peaks in the distance. Herds of the freakish aliens that they had seen unloading their ship earlier had gathered around to gaze at the “animals.” Leela looked around for Turapec, but couldn’t find him.
“Turapec, you chicken liver,” Leela screamed, “show your face!!”
An alien at the front of the crowd stepped up to the cage. “I’m right here, Leela, you don’t need to shout.”
“You’re not Turapec!”
No, I’m not. I’m Tth Calanfraxis, a businessman of some repute here.” The hideous alien let out a dry laugh. “You humans think you are so intelligent… ‘Turapec’ is just an anagram for ‘capture!’ I was so hoping you’d get that, but you never did. I guess you never got into word puzzles.”
“But,” stammered Leela, “you’re one of…them.”
“Oh, did you like my appearance? I got this visual image from someone named Daddy Warbucks, whoever that is in your culture, and from Fry’s uncle. We did most of our scanning of your minds before you even landed. We are a race who can create an illusion based on what we find in your minds…I’m sorry to say that you creatures have a brain that is quite open to our probing. I rather enjoyed combining the two persons into acting role, though. By the way, what is a musical? The concept is confusing to us.”
Fry looked confused. “But Leela, we brought them the zoo animals…”
“Fry, we are the zoo animals…don’t you get it?”
“What are they going to do with us, Leela?” cried Amy. Leela motioned her to remain quiet.
Calanfraxis leaned over to get a closer look at his captives. He was absolutely hideous looking. He had grey skin like an elephant, had three legs that formed a tripod and ended in a three-toed hand/foot, and a singular arm which came out of his upper chest with a three-fingered hand. To top this off, he had a slender elephant’s trunk and a large cycloptic eye. In the eye were three black pupils that were attached to each other. And if this weren’t horrible enough, a long tentacle came out of the top of his head and writhed around like a snake as he spoke. “You are fascinating specimens, but I am little disappointed at the ease with which I pulled you in. Your lust for food amazes me.” He held up a flat blue square object in his hand. “We’ll be feeding you these little nutrition squares…we can make them appear to be anything you like – steak, lobster, anything.”
Leela removed the laser pistol from her belt. “I have had a plateful of you ugly creeps…” She held the gun up and squeezed the trigger to blast a hole in the cage, but all she heard was a dry-fire click.
“Leela, we’ve already taken the liberty of de-activating your weapon, as well as the communicator circuit on your wrist computer. We can’t exactly have our exhibits harming us or themselves. I must warn you, however, that good behavior will be rewarded, and bad behavior will be punished. You act like you’ve been thrown into a prison…let me show you what life can be like when you behave well…”
The glass walls and the crowds of aliens disappeared and the three found themselves in a beautiful shopping mall. The mall was filled with happy, well-dressed people out for a weekend shop. Lavish hanging gardens lined the mall. Fry quickly wandered over to a record store where some of his favorite musicians from the 1980’s were signing autographs. “Look, Leela,” he said, “we’re free…” Amy found a shoe store with a huge sale on leather boots. Some of the best food odors imaginable were wafting through the air of the mall. Leela glanced over and spotted an attractive cyclops man inviting her over for a spa treatment with coupons; in the air just behind him was that little ball of light that she had spoken with earlier. She got a scowl on her face. “This is a bunch of crap,” Leela yelled, “I’m not falling for this…I’m not falling for any of this!” Suddenly the three found themselves back in their glass cage, the weird aliens staring on in wonder.
“It’s up to you how you want to live in there,” laughed Calanfraxis. “I just thought it would be more pleasant than a glass cage. You might as well save your strength in the off hours anyway…I forgot to mention to you how our little zoo works here…this is an interactive zoo. This is the time to rest and prepare yourselves; you’d best take advantage of it.”
“An interactive zoo?” Leela asked. “What the hell is that?”
“Why, all of our patrons get to interact with you anytime they want. We’re not just putting you in there to show you off…you’ll be a part of our illusions. Our off-world investors are very anxious to try you out. And my boy Botat-zacha is going to be the first to enjoy you.”
“What do you mean, ‘try us out?’”
A little alien stepped up from the crowd. “Can I play with them, Daddy?” he asked.
“Why sure son…go right ahead.”
The little alien got a look of glee on his face as he waved his small hand and the glass cages again disappeared. Leela and her friends suddenly found themselves in a coliseum on Zeta Orionis 8, dressed in gladiatorial armor and sandals. A hostile crowd of locals cheered and shouted, hungry for blood to be spilled on the sand. Leela’s heart sank and her mouth turned as dry as cotton as she remembered seeing this scene played out in a movie…she also remembered how the scene turned out, and it wasn’t good for the gladiators. The three turned as a loud deep growling sound came out of the depths of the coliseum. From a large set of doors came a Dilurthian slarng beast, a huge serpentine dragon-like creature with sharp teeth; it coiled its body in a large circle around the three, and eye-balled it’s helpless victims. Amy shrieked out in fear, Fry wanted to run away, and Leela readied her electro-spear and shield. Suddenly that same little ball of light went zooming past Leela. The ball spoke to her again, saying, “Don’t be afraid…it’s not real.” She held up her spear for combat, figuring that she had nothing to lose. Before she could strike the beast, Amy panicked and ran screaming across the coliseum, jumping over the creature’s snake-like abdomen. The creature instantly zeroed in on her, and bit into her leg; Amy screamed in pain as she was pulled back across the sand. Blood spattered everywhere as she helplessly pounded the ground with her arms. As Leela forcefully plunged her spear into the beast’s body, a booming voice echoed above the jeering crowd. “Botat-zacha,” the voice bellowed, “it’s time for your dinner, young man.”
“Right now, young man.”
The Planet Express crew again found themselves back in the glass cage, sweaty and still shaking from their ordeal. They were back in their normal clothing. Amy was sitting on the floor of the cage crying, but had no apparent injuries from her dragon attack. A smiling Calanfraxis walked up to the cage. “I must say…you people didn’t disappoint. I do need to speak with my boy…you beings can actually die of fright in these illusions; we don’t want our prize pets falling over dead on us, do we?”
“I am sick and tired of this!! I’m sick of these illusions!”
“Leela,” Calanfraxis scolded, “I’ve warned you before that there are consequences for bad behavior. I do need you to behave well for my investors.” He raised his hand and prepared to punish Leela with another illusion, but then lowered it. “On second thought, your tirades are quite entertaining in themselves. Do continue…”
“Why are you doing this to us? There must be a reason!”
“Well, if you have to know, we had a little war here recently. Well, a big war, truth be known. We need a bunch of money to fix our food replicators, and we’ve got several investors lined up to start the cash flowing in. The zoo was my idea.”
“So you’ve been torturing us for this?” Leela said angrily.
“Don’t act so innocent, Leela. For years you humans have had that…what’s the word…a circus. You’ve been making animals on your planet jump through hoops of fire for centuries. Now, how does it feel to jump through a few hoops of your own?” He looked over to his underlings. “I can’t believe I’m arguing with an inferior life form. Guys, let’s skip the ribbon-cutting ceremony and just open the zoo.”
“I’m not done yet, buster…not by a long shot! Just what is that ball of light – is that another one of your stupid illusions?”
Calanfraxis gave it a funny look and said, “That? That is probably one of our investors. I have more on the way. We’ve got a lot of business types running around here.”
As Calanfraxis began to chatter with a different bunch of aliens that had come to join him, Leela made an amazing discovery. She found that part of the glass cell was ill-fitting, and she was able to put her finger tips outside of the cage itself; she felt fresh air. As Cal chattered on, she began to shimmy the cage glass.
“Leela,” Amy said in a loud whisper, “what are you doing?”
Leela mumbled back through half of her mouth, her lips distorted. “Keep him distracted with questions…”
“Mister Alien,” Amy called out to him.
“Why, it’s the one in pink…you’re Amy Wong. What is it, dear?”
“Can you create that super megamall on Solaris 15?”
“If you can fantasize it or remember it, we can create it for you. You can spend the whole evening there if you like.”
While Amy talked about shoes and handbags, Leela actually found a way to open the back of the cage. In a flash she jumped out of the glass prison and scrambled up to a shocked Calanfraxis. Before he could cry out, she had him in a deadly Arcturan headlock. An alien gendarme stepped forward with some sort of metal war club to try to fend her off; none of the aliens seemed to be armed with any guns. “Step back, buster, or elephant snout gets his neck broken.” Cal gurgled and writhed around in Leela’s arm. Suddenly, two large hellhounds from Seszrah 24 appeared, snarling and showing their sharp teeth. Amy shrieked with fright. “No more illusions,” shouted Leela. “Make them disappear! I mean business, pal…now!” Just as suddenly as they appeared, the two hounds vanished.
Calanfraxis tried to form words with his mouth. “What…you…want?”
Leela spoke calmly and in a low tone. “All we want is to get to our ship and leave. That’s it…we just want our freedom.” Leela spotted the green ship in the distance. “Clear a path, you ugly bastards!” She now marched her captive out to the landing tarmac, and Amy and Fry followed. The gendarme struck Fry hard in the shoulder with his metal war club – he let out a loud yelp. Leela spun around with Cal. “I swear I’ll break his stinking neck…now back off!” Cal made a gesture with his hand, and the gendarme backed off.
When the group reached the Planet Express ship, Leela ordered Amy in to get the engines started. Leela released Cal, who slumped over in pain and began to cough. He gave Leela a questioning look. “Why?” he asked. “Why did you have to do this? I could have given you people anything…you could have lived in paradise…”
“We are free people…we’re not zoo animals for your amusement!”
“You are a violent race! You are the only race I’ve encountered that will kill and maim to be free.” Calanfraxis raised his hand and pointed his finger at Leela. “You’ll make your way out there into the cosmos, and you’ll find that it’s not what you thought.”
She gave him a funny look. “Oh yeah? At least I’ll be free to do that.” With that she bounded into the ship; the vehicle got airborne and turned as the gangway was still retracting. “Good flying, Amy…don’t even plot a course – just get us the hell out of here quickly.”
Leela stared at the viewscreen…the farther away the planet got, the better she felt. Fry pulled out some insta-meals. “All we’ve got are the chicken cacciatore meals, and some sort of steak-type thingee,” he said. “I never thought they’d actually look good.” As Fry brought her over one, she thanked him.
It had been a mess trying to get past the traffic near the middle marker, but the beautiful image of Earth now could be seen in the viewscreen. When the Planet Express ship landed in its bay, the wrinkled form of Professor Farnsworth was waiting for them.
“Where in hell have you all been? You’re late getting back.”
Leela peered down at him with her cycloptic eye. “I figured that you’d be cranky when we got back. I am in no mood for this…the three of us are lucky to be alive, no thanks to you.”
“We’ll talk about this on Monday morning,” he said, and left in a huff.
“Well guys, I’m off to get some ice cream and bring it home with me,” said Amy.
“Leela gently punched her in the arm and said, “That sounds like a plan kid. Forget about old poop diapers for a while.”
Fry got ready to go back to his apartment as well. “Fry…could you walk me back home?” Leela asked.
They walked back to Leela’s apartment past all the same familiar characters that they knew…the portly guy that ran the magazine stand, the homeless guy who always just walked around and mumbled to himself. Everything was normal, and nothing seemed out of place. Leela was just happy to see all of this ordinary stuff again. When they got into her apartment, Fry just wanted to give her a goodnight kiss and get going.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I figured that I’d let you get some sleep,” he replied
“No,” was all she said. Leela gently grabbed Fry’s hand and led him into her bedroom.
“Fry,” she said in a low voice, “we could have died out there. I’ve never had the opportunity to let you know how I really feel about you.” In the dark bedroom, barely illuminated by the hallway light, Leela took off her top. Fry’s jaw dropped.
“Leela,” he said.
Leela pressed her finger against his lips. “Fry, just be quiet and don’t spoil the moment,” she said softly. She gently took his red jacket off and then slipped off his t-shirt. She turned him around and began to kiss his injured shoulder. She looked at the bruises. “Man, that creep really hit you with that metal rod.”
“Yeah, he got me good. But why are you kissing my left shoulder? He hit me on the right one…”
“What? Fry, your left shoulder has bruises all over it…there’s nothing on the right one…” Leela’s eye got huge, and she suddenly got a look of panic on her face. She bolted out of her bedroom and straight for the front door of the apartment. When she got the door open, she gasped in horror. A pane of glass now covered the door, and those ugly mountain peaks of Vargos VIII could be seen. She slammed the palm of her hand against it in disbelief. Suddenly that hideous eye of Calanfraxis came into view. The apartment dissolved into thin air and Leela found herself back in the cage. Fry and Amy were both there, and everyone had their normal clothing on.
Calanfraxis turned to address a varied group of aliens he was standing with. “Are they not magnificent? Didn’t I tell you?”
A strange looking alien with four arms shook Calanfraxis’ hand. “I’ve got to hand it to you Cal, you were right – they didn’t disappoint!” The alien then made a choking gesture to his own neck and stuck his tongue out. The other aliens laughed. “Cal, you really had me worried for a moment.”
“Hey, I felt that…even in the illusion, I could almost believe she was going to choke the hell out of me.” Cal now turned to his captives. Fry and Leela were still in shock, and tears streamed down Amy’s face. “You three performed beyond my wildest expectations; I’m going to make sure you get extra food rations and treats.”
“You mean we’re not home? We’ve never been home?” sobbed Amy like a scared child. “But the ride on the ship…” Amy had been asleep…she awoke back in the cage. Leela put her hand back on the loose part of the cage, only to find it solidly built.
An electronic chime sounded from a device in Calanfraxis’ pocket. “Oh, the new arrivals are here…places everyone, places!” Cal turned to his wife Aantani. “What should I use this time, my dear? The Mystery Mansion or the Fantasy Castle? You always liked the Fantasy Castle, so I’ll go with that one.”
Suddenly the beautiful, dreamy castle that the Planet Express crew first encountered appeared again. All the same trees, plants and fountains surrounded it. As soon as everything was in its place, a small triangle-shaped spacecraft came in for a landing next to the Planet Express ship.
“Who is it this time, dear?” asked Aantani.
“Oh, these are food caterers from Zelgor VI. Cal’s appearance suddenly morphed into one of the short, three-armed Zelgorites. “Do I look good, sweetie? I’d better go greet our guests.”
The Planet Express crew looked on in horror as Cal greeted his newest zoo animals, who had no idea of what was in store for them. They pounded on the glass, but couldn’t be heard. “Welcome to my world,” he said with a warm smile and outstretched hands...
“Witness if you will, the hapless crew of the Planet Express ship, who have discovered far too late that the line between captor and captive can be very blurry indeed. File it under ‘A’ for animal in the filing cabinet that lies just behind…the Scary Door.”