But I'm a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I'm just back-dated…
(Lyrics by The Who)
"Why do we have to do returns?" complained Fry.
"Didn't they have returns in your day?" asked Leela.
"Yeah...but someone didn't have to travel half way across the galaxy to pick them up."
"The Professor thought it would be better for business if we made a satisfaction guarantee...obviously our customer wasn't happy with his antimatter chisel, so we’re bringing him another one. I really didn't mind that planet anyway - it'll be kind of nice to stop in again."
"Hey, Leela," said Amy, "are these instruments reading right? If they are, we've drifted off course."
"You must not be reading them right, little sister." Leela went over to look at the main panel. "The only thing that can swing us off course is..."
"Is what?" asked Amy. Leela's eyeball went back and forth across the read-outs.
Leela gave Amy a concerned look. "A black hole. But that's impossible. The astrogator computer checks for those things in advance."
"Well," asked Fry, "how big do those things have to be? Couldn't there be a little tiny one?"
The girls turned to look at Fry, who had just exhibited a moment of brilliance; he was trying to dislodge an object in his teeth with an enormous hunk of dental floss. He quit flossing and looked back at the girls. “Did I say something?”
"Let me just make a few course corrections first. This is an older ship." Leela pulled up a computer map on a screen and made some changes.
Just when things started to get back to normal, the trio began to hear singing coming from the next compartment. Leela's face turned flush red with anger. She got up and stamped back toward the aft end of the ship. Amy and Fry leaned back to catch the action like school kids watching a paddling.
"You complete idiot! What do you think you're doing back here?"
"Leela," said Bender, "uh...nothin'...I swear!"
Leela grabbed a small object off of Bender's head. "I knew it...you've been abusing magnets again, haven't you? You don't sing like that unless you've been jacking a magnet! We've had enough problems with the ship's guidance systems without having to deal with another of your addictions. This time I'm having you thrown off the ship for good, tin-man."
"Leela, I swear...they were just little magnets! I'm tryin' to cut back...really!"
"Leela," yelled Amy, "we're off course again. You'd better come back up here."
"I haven't finished this conversation," said Leela.
"I couldn't help it," blubbered Bender. "It was just one little magnet...one little kitchen magnet. I got weak." Bender's voice trailed off as Leela stomped out. "Just one little magnet...I'm gonna quit...I swear."
Leela kept punching buttons on her panel. "If this is what I think is, we could be in big trouble."
"What do you think it is?" asked Amy.
"Just what Fry thought it was. A black hole...a little one. Maybe the size of a basketball. Maybe smaller."
"Oh, that's a relief," said Fry.
"Hardly," replied Leela. "If we get pulled into it, we're still boned...we'll be vaporized. All I know to do is punch in a course to go around the outside of the thing and go by it."
"Will it work?" asked Amy.
"We only have two choices," answered Leela. "We'll either make it, or not. Hold on...it's going to be a bumpy ride. Everybody needs to be strapped in...even metal man back there."
The aged green ship continued its collision course with the tiny black hole; unlike the evil beast it was portrayed to be in those old Earth movies, this thing was completely invisible except for a circle on the ship's computer screen. Leela tried everything she could to evade it, but it was still so powerful that it pulled the ship toward itself.
The next several minutes were excruciating; there was nothing to do but wait. Leela checked and rechecked everything she could. Amy mumbled a childhood song in Cantonese. Fry and Bender were strapped down in the next compartment. And then it hit.
Everything went black in the ship. It was like the worst, scariest amusement ride ever, punctuated by the constant screaming of a frightened Amy. It seemed like ages, but then the ships lights went back on. It was over...they were still alive.
Leela opened her eye, and quickly glanced at the panel. "That whole thing only lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds? That was the longest 3 minutes of my life."
"You did it," Amy said, "it worked."
"According to my instruments, we really weren't damaged much at all."
"Are we still making our pick-up?" asked Amy.
"What, are you kidding? Let's go home."
The crew was so happy when they coasted by the middle marker out near Jupiter; it was a dull gray looking object with flashing lights, but it told them that they were getting closer to home. Amy spotted a ship out her window. "Look, Leela...we've got company."
"That's a Galactic Industries P23..." Leela looked closer. "No, wait...that's some sort of new model. I haven't even seen one of those."
Leela went back to her old habit of looking over the news headlines from the galactic net. She let out a chuckle. "Get this Amy...there is now a scholarship named after you at Mars University."
Amy busily combed out her hair. "Oh, that's nothing...Daddy's talked about doing that for years.
The amused look on Leela's face quickly turned to one of confusion. "Amy...there is something else here....the scholarship is a memorial scholarship."
"Memorial? We've only been gone three days. It's got to be some sort of mistake."
"Amy, I think we need to pay a visit to the campus before we head home."
The four stood on the red Martian soil looking up in disbelief. They lined up in front of Amy Wong Hall, looking at a statue of Amy near the building. Leela finally got the courage to read the plaque at the foot of the statue, as Amy was sobbing too much to do it herself.
"Dedicated to Miss Amy Wong and her brave crewmates: in remembrance of all those who head out to the stars in ships."
"But we were only gone for three days!" sobbed Amy.
“Not according to this issue of ‘Mars Today,’” added Fry. “Look at the date!”
"I think I know what might have happened," said Leela. "I'm not a brain about this stuff like a physicist, but I do know a little about black holes. I know that time moves differently around the outside of those things. We need to get back home and talk with the Professor...maybe he'll have an answer."
Amy straightened up and dried her eyes. “I don’t know how I’m going to do this, but I’ve got to call Mom and Dad. I’ll have to use a booth…as you’d guess, my phone account isn’t active anymore…” She kicked a dirt clod on the ground. “It’s just not fair; how are we going to start over again in the future?”
“What do you guys think I had to do?” asked Fry.
"Is this some sort of a joke?" asked the woman over the radio. "Because, if it is, it isn't at all funny. Everyone around here knows that Professor Farnsworth has been dead for over three years." A tear began to roll down Leela's cheek.
"That's fine," Leela told the woman, "we'll just make a landing over at the Municipal Starport." Leela turned to the others. "I guess we'll have to go back home the old fashioned way."
Once down at the starport, the four looked for a tube to take them back to the Planet Express headquarters. Theirs was under repairs, so they just took an air-bus over to the old neighborhood. When they arrived at the building, they got even more of a shock; it had been completely remodelled, and a new red logo adorned the outside. Instead of the familiar outer lobby, a fancy corporate lobby with a receptionist awaited them. Leela chose to act like she was a perspective new employee.
"Oh yes," said the receptionist, "the poor dears. They were never heard from again. It's been ten years ago. We don't talk much about that here. If you don't mind me saying so, you look a bit like pictures I've seen of the woman star pilot that was lost. I heard she was quite a pilot. Did you know her?"
"Oh, she was closer to me than you will ever know. So tell me, is there anything left of the Professor's lab upstairs? We would really like to see some of his old notes if we could."
"I'm afraid that all that stuff was hauled out by Morgan a long time ago."
"Morgan? Morgan Proctor?"
"Why, yes...the Bureaucracy took over Planet Express quite a while ago. As you know, Morgan is now the Bureaucrat General. I can try to contact her if you'd like..."
"No, that won't be necessary," said Leela. "Thanks for your time."
A young man in a neat white uniform came out from a door near the receptionist. "Are these our new customers?" he asked.
"Possible new employees," replied Leela. "And who might you be?"
"My name is Captain Nelson Corbel, part of the team that makes Planet Express able to do what it does so efficiently. And who might you be?"
"Uh...Lila...Lila Tov. We were just asking about your old crew."
"What, those old dead-beats? They were barely keeping this place afloat with that old man that ran them. We've put this company on course to a new level of efficiency."
"Yeah, you'd be lucky to get anything delivered with them," Leela added.
"Oh, say miss," Nelson said, "do I know you? You look so familiar. If you don't mind me saying so, I find you very attractive."
"Thanks…I don’t mind."
“Could I trouble you for your number? Just in case we have any job openings?”
Leela thought briefly. “I’ll give you Amy’s number here…you can contact me through her. We may need some sort of work soon."
Amy suddenly let loose with a series of sneezes. “I’m sorry…do you guys have a cat in here by chance?”
Captain Nelson was then joined by a female crew member; she was a triclops just like Leela’s grandmother. Amy found the uniform movement of her eyes unnerving. To add to the strangeness, she had reading glasses with three lenses. "Lauren, this is Miss Lila Tov, a possible new trainee. Lila, you really must meet the rest of the new crew sometime."
"Oh, I must..."
The Planet Express crew found themselves sitting in a nearby park. They were all sad, but Bender seemed to be taking it the hardest. He bawled just like a person.
"Oh, give it a rest Bender," Leela scolded. "You're not even a human."
"I just miss him so...he used to wander over to that old bookstore on an afternoon like this..."
"Wait a minute," Leela asked, "what did you just say?"
"You know...the old used bookstore...with real old books. Books n' Things, I think it was called."
"Can you find this place?"
"Well, yeah...I know where it is. There was a great porn theater just down the street."
"You were very lucky that we still have it," said the old man at the bookstore. "But, then again, I really don't see crowds of people charging in to buy these old dusty books. This one was a bit hard to sell because he wrote on nearly every page."
Leela pulled out some of the last real money that she had on her. The man was excited to see her pay in cash.
"What are you hoping to find in Dr. Farnsworth's notes, my dear?"
Leela walked out of the store, tightly clutching the old book as if it were a life preserver. Maybe, with luck, it would soon become one…
“Where are we going now?” asked Fry.
“Well,” said Leela, “we’ve got to bed down somewhere, but our money is no good.”
“We’re going to the Hotel Simak,” said Amy with a confident smile. “It’s close.”
“That place? That’ll cost an arm and a leg,” said Leela.
“You forgot that my daddy owns it,” said Amy with a chuckle.
“By God, you might just be good for something,” responded Leela.
As soon as the four arrived, the manager met them. “Miss Wong,” he said, “this envelope was delivered for you this afternoon.”
Amy thanked the man and took the envelope from him. Leela smirked when she saw the new Planet Express logo on the outside. “Okay,” she said, “I’ll ask…what’s in the envelope?”
“A new phone,” Amy said with pride, “and a credit card from Dad. And the Professor thought I was only worth keeping for my blood type.”
“I don’t know about you guys, but I’m taking a hot bath and forgetting that today ever happened,” said Leela. “I guess I’ve got to talk with my parents sometime…until then, we’ll have a chat with Morgan Proctor tomorrow and see if we can’t get this thing straightened out.”
The crew of the PE ship settled into their swank hotel suite.
“You can’t see Miss Proctor,” the receptionist told her, “she is a very busy woman.”
“Lady,” Leela said, “this is very important. Our lives hang in the balance here…she may be the only one that can help us.” Morgan made the mistake of walking through the lobby at the wrong time. She caught sight of the four. “Morgan…” Leela called to her.
Morgan looked a bit older with a white streak in her hair, and now wore a white military style uniform with golden epaulettes. She looked coldly above those familiar reading glasses of hers. “I have only five minutes,” she told them. “Let’s go over to the conference room there.”
After an explanation of their status in the bureaucracy, Leela could feel her blood boil.
“What? Do you mean to tell me that we’re dead? You see me standing here, don’t you?”
“I’ve already filled out a complete 635/B form on all of you…except the robot, who is classified as scrap metal under the Henderson-Kawaguchi Act.” She then cast a mean look at Bender. “And don’t you light that cigar up in here, mister…you know there is no smoking in this building.”
“Morgan, can’t you put your paperwork aside for just one minute? I’ve got the Professor’s notes with me. If we can just get some help, there is a small chance that we can undo what happened to us. If we can’t, we’re going to need jobs of some kind.”
“Help? I can’t give you any help. You are technically ipso-facto dead. The only help the Bureaucracy can possibly give you at this point is to arrange a nice funeral and flowers…and you’ll have to fill out the paperwork for that and wait a while. Your status is deceased, and there is nothing I can do about that. Which reminds me…be careful what you do or you’ll be charged with identity theft of a deceased person.”
Leela and the others began to file out of the conference room. Bender confidently lit his cigar and took a deep drag from it.
“Mister, I told you not to smoke in here,” barked Morgan.
“Is that so?” Bender said. “Since I’m officially dead, I guess I can do pretty much what I want…boo, baby!” He dropped some ashes on the table in front of her and walked out with a chuckle. “I’m gonna enjoy haunting you…”
“Leela,” Amy asked, “what are we going to do now?”
“I’ll meet up with you guys a little later,” Leela responded. “Right now I have something that I’ve got to do alone. Fry…help me with this manhole cover.”
In the deep shadows of the underground sewer complex, Turanga Morris gave his daughter a look of shock. “My God, baby…they told your mother and I that you were dead.” He fumbled around the front porch of the house. “Let me go in and talk with your mother before you go in.”
As Morris went back into the house, Leela kicked at an aluminum can on the Turanga front porch. She tried to get used to all the odd sights and sounds of this subterranean world. Would this be her home from now on? "Should I have done this," she sighed, "or is my mother going to die of shock at seeing me again?"
Morris finally appeared again with Munda, slowly walking her to the doorway. “Look, honey,” said Morris as he guided her along, “our baby girl is back.”
“It gives me the creeps hanging out here in this park with all these homeless people,” Amy complained.
“What’re ya talking about Little Boots,” Bender added, “we practically are homeless people. A little better dressed, not as smelly, but still homeless.”
Amy cringed as one of the homeless men got closer. Smearing his hand on his dirty shirt, he sat on the bench next to her. He finally got enough courage to talk with her. “Hate to bother you lady, but are you going to finish that fish sandwich?”
“Oh, I guess not…here.”
The man with his red hair and shaggy beard gratefully accepted the sandwich; he savored it like a treat from heaven. “God bless you, ma’am.” As he began to feast on the sandwich, he spoke some more. “Look at them over at Planet Express…shift change time. I used to work for those dorks.”
“You did?” asked Amy.
“Yeah…until Morgan took over and tossed me out into the street. I couldn’t keep my efficiency scores up. That, and they didn’t really need an inventor loafing around. What a bunch of weapons-grade bolognium.”
Amy’s eyes got wide as she spun around to face the man. Her jaw hung open in surprise. “Cubert? Is that you?”
He returned a look of shock back. “Amy? Amy Wong?”
Amy reached out and grabbed his arm. “The Professor would turn in his grave if he knew you were in this shape. We’re cleaning you up, and Daddy is paying. You can eat your sandwich on the way.”
It wasn’t long before they saw Leela walking back to the park. “Jumpin’ Jimeny,” said Bender, “I thought Nature Boy over here smelled bad.”
“How’d it go?” asked a concerned Amy.
“Hard…just like I expected.” Leela glanced over at Cubert. “Who’s your new friend?”
Amy smiled a toothy grin. “We haven’t got him cleaned up yet, but he’s the closest thing to having the Professor here in the flesh.”
Leela’s eye got wide and her mouth dropped open. “Cubert?”
“I’d say our chances of getting out of this mess just got a whole lot better,” said Amy.
“She says that you guys have a hotel,” Cubert said. “Do you mind if I shower up?”
“If we get things back to normal,” said Leela, “you won’t be homeless anymore.”
In the Planet Express headquarters, Lauren was taking a box of old things out to the dumpster. Captain Corbel spotted her in the hallway. “What is all that stuff?” he asked her.
“More junk from the old crew…I keep finding bits and pieces of it upstairs.”
Corbel reached into the box and pulled out a framed photo of the old PE gang. “Let me see what these losers looked like.” As he studied the photo, his eyes opened wide. “Wait just a darn minute…I’ve seen these guys. They were in here the other day. You remember that woman…Lila was her name. The cyclops!”
“That was them?” asked Lauren. “How can they be alive?”
“I don’t know, but they were in here. The bums…they probably faked their own deaths to collect their benefits from the Bureaucracy. I've got a friend in the Internal Bureaucratic Service that would love to know about these guys.”
They were then joined by the physician of Planet express, Dr. Brighteyes Daysleeper. She was licking the fur on the top of her hands, which was a common thing among her feline race. Lauren’s three eyes started to roll around because she knew a cleanliness speech was on its way. “Where are you taking that box?” she asked the two.
“To the dumpster,” responded Lauren.
“You know those are places filled with germs and disease…do be careful. Terrible, nasty places. Oh, by the way, I’m going to take a nap in my office… I don’t want to be disturbed for a while.” Dr. Daysleeper walked away, licking her hands again.
“That’s about all she does,” Corbel snickered, “is lick herself and sleep all damn day.”
“Are you going to tell the bureaucracy about these guys? The IBS?” Lauren whispered.
“At some point, yes…for now, maybe we can get to know these guys a little better.” He pulled out his phone. “I’d say it’s time we invited them to dinner.”
“He usually hangs out in this dumpster,” said Cubert. He rapped loudly on the metal door. “Zoidy, come on out. The fast food joint is throwing away more burgers.”
The door swiftly opened, and the familiar red face of Dr. Zoidberg popped out. “Burgers…it’s a feast from there, I tell you.” He caught sight of the old PE gang, and his eyes got wide. “Leela…Amy…is that really you? They said that you died.”
“You know us,” Leela said with a smile, “we’re not that easy to kill.”
“Come on, Zoidberg,” said Amy, “join the group…we’re going to get you cleaned up.” Amy’s tiny cell phone then rang, and she held it up to her eye to see the message. “Hey, guys…we’ve been invited to dinner.”
Leela looked a little worried. “I don’t know if we have time for that. Hey Cubert – did you get a chance to look over the Professor’s notes?”
“Look over ‘em…I helped him write them,” Cubert told her.
“Then I say we grab dinner and go tonight,” said Amy. "What do you think?"
"Well," Leela answered, "it beats a hard kick in the teeth."
The dinner at the Jolly Jovian was a nice one. Captain Corbel offered to pick up the tab, which made it even nicer. It was still an odd experience for Leela and her friends to meet their replacements. Leela had to be careful not to reveal her real identity, so she tried to keep the conversation light and let Corbel do most of the talking. Amy started to chum around with her counterpart and Bender found the female robot in the group very attractive. Fry just busied himself with the pizza that he ordered. Lauren cringed her three eyes as he wolfed down his food.
“So you say that you’ve hauled freight before?” asked Corbel.
“Yes, I have,” answered Leela. “Why don’t you tell me some more about that famous Planet Express efficiency I keep hearing about.”
“Well, I don’t want to brag, but each of us are matched to our jobs based on our efficiency rating. Lauren was assigned to me as my co-pilot and astrogator based on her scores. Dr. Daysleeper became our company physician. Jae-Min Ree here became our load specialist. And last, but certainly not least, we were matched up with our robot here DD 214…we all just call her “Dee Dee.” In short, the Astral Traveler has the best crew possible.”
“I am capable of repairing nearly any part of the ship in flight,” said Dee Dee in a mechanical female voice. Bender hadn’t been able to keep his eyes off of her.
“If you’re not too busy,” Bender quipped, “you can check me out later.”
“Glad to meet you guys,” said Leela. "Maybe someday we could work together."
“Tell me more about your ship,” said Amy.
“The Astral Traveler carries nearly twice as much as the old ship did, and does it faster and more efficiently,” said Jae-Min. “That old ship must have been a real klunker.”
“By the way,” Corbel asked Leela, “what is your efficiency score?”
“To tell you the truth,” Leela told him, “it’s been so long since I’ve been tested.”
“You know, that’s interesting. Could it be that you’ve never been tested?”
“What?” asked Leela.
“Why don’t you tell us all who you really are.”
“Why don’t you tell us that you are really Turanga Leela, the former captain I replaced.”
Leela looked over at the new crew, and the middle of her eyebrow began to slide down in a typical show of anger. “He is right…I am Turanga Leela, and I’m lucky to be alive. The bunch of us were nearly killed outside of a black hole ten years ago. If we can’t get out of this situation, we wouldn’t mind working for you guys. As a matter of fact, we wouldn't mind your help. Is that such a bad thing? We’ve been through a terrible time of it, and then we were treated like trash by the Bureaucracy.” Leela looked at the new crewmembers' faces. “Why are you guys looking at us like we robbed a liquor store? Put yourself in our shoes – it could happen to you.”
“The point is that you are still classified as dead. That is identity theft,” said Corbel.
“You pompous bastard,” Leela spat, “you’ve been talking to that witch Morgan, haven’t you? What are we supposed to do…go live in a cave somewhere?”
“That’s not my problem…we live in a society of laws. The way I see it, you’re nothing but a slacker that tried to get a free ride on benefits from the Bureaucracy. You’ve probably got a family member that’s collecting your benefits for you. Furthermore, you lied to me about your name being Lila – you tried to disguise your identity. That’s against the law of the Bureaucracy.”
Leela stood up and poured her wineglass into Corbel’s lap. “For your information, ‘Lila Tov’ means ‘goodnight’ in Hebrew.” She slammed the glass on the table and left the restaurant, and the rest of the PE crew followed her out.
Bravely, Dr. Daysleeper started to go after them. When she got close to Bender near the door of the restaurant, she began to hiss angrily and her ears stuck out; her dilated pupils seemed enormous.
Bender spun around, and he let out a chuckle. "Bad kitty," he told her. "I got your number, sister." Bender pulled out one of his long eyes, and a bright beam of light could be seen on the dark wall. Excited and happy, Dr. Daysleeper began to chase after the beam of light, slapping the wall with her hands. Laughing deeply, Bender made the light move along the wall in circles. "Bye bye, kitty," he told her, as he slipped out the door.
Next it was robot DD 214’s turn to run down Bender. “Stop,” she shouted, “do not proceed any further.” When she got close enough, Bender slapped a large magnet on her forehead. DD 214 slumped to the sidewalk on her knees and began making gurgling noises. Bender jogged away laughing. "Ahhh,” he said, “the wonders of sobriety!"
The new crew came up to Daysleeper. "I had it," she told them, "I had the pretty light!” She then slumped her head down. “I'm sorry, I just can't help it - it's in my nature."
"They're getting away," Lauren said.
"They won't get far." Corbel pulled out his phone and began pushing buttons. "I'll bet that they're going to their ship to make a getaway." His attention went back to his phone. "Morgan...Nelson here. We're going to need the indenticode to track the old Planet Express ship...yeah...they're making a break for it. They just left us at the Jolly Jovian."
The Planet Express crew made a force march over to the tube entry. As they got closer, a group of men in dark suits began following them. "Excuse me," one of them said, "are you Turanga Leela?"
Without answering, Leela and the others started a mad dash to the tube. The men pursued.
A gallant Zoidberg blocked the men with his body. "Stop right there, I tell you...I am not going to let you hurt my friends."
"Get out of the way, you idiot!" As the men got closer to Zoidy, he suddenly let loose with a blast of sticky black ink in all directions. The men cursed as they found themselves covered in the smelly, goopy liquid.
Zoidberg suddenly began to cry. "Awww...I've ruined my nice clean suit, I have..."
As the PE gang got ready to jump into the tube, they were confronted by an agent with a huge electronic rifle. The man fired, and the four found themselves encased in a gooey clear substance that trapped them like a wasp in amber. Their run was over. They were “collected” and quickly placed aboard a black airvan.
The Planet Express crew was taken over to the newly-opened Port Jervis Bureaucratic Re-education Center near the tip of New Jersey. The four found themselves dumped into the general population of detainees. They didn’t know what else to do, so they just sat down on a bench. Leela got bored and struck up a conversation with an older man next to her.
“What are you in here for,” asked Leela, “robbery? Arson? Murder?”
The old man smiled at Leela. “Remember how they always told us that there were significant penalties for early withdraw? This is what I’m in for.”
“What? You mean to tell me that you’re in prison for making an early withdraw of retirement funds?”
“In a nutshell, yes. The Bureaucrat General doesn’t think very highly of that.” He gestured to a large framed picture of Morgan Proctor hanging on the wall.
“What about the rest of these people? Are they in here for the same types of offenses?”
“Pretty much. Walter over there exceeded his allotted number of swear words for a year. So, what are you here for?”
“We’re technically dead,” answered Leela.
“Yeah, speak for yourself, meat-sack,” quipped Bender. “I’m scrap metal.”
“Hey, you’re among friends. Billy over there is dead, Allen is dead, and Althea over there has been dead for a long time.” He waved to the group, and they waved back. “Hey guys, we got more deaders over here.”
“None of you are violent criminals?” asked Leela. Why don’t you do something?”
“We can’t get a job on the outside, so we keep coming back. Besides, the roast beef on Thursday really isn’t bad. And Efficiency Bingo isn’t bad, once you get used to it.”
The man got quickly silent when a tall plump woman in a prison uniform came over. “Things here ain’t bad,” he continued. “We’re all learning to be more efficient.”
The four were all put into one cell. They were tired, so they all went to sleep. Leela awoke to the sound of the cell door opening. It was the plump prison guard. “Get up,” she told her.
“What? What did we do?” asked Leela.
“I said just get up,” she said. By this time the others started waking up.
“I still want to know what we did,” said Leela.
“Just get up…I don’t want to hear a bunch of weapons-grade bolognium from you people.” With that, the woman cracked a weird smile.
Leela got a funny look on her face. “…I think we need to follow this woman,” she said to the others. “Let’s get moving, guys.”
The guard led the four crewmembers out to a rear entrance of the facility. Only one guard asked about this, and the woman told him that it was a prisoner transfer. After he confirmed it on his computer, they were led out to a black airvan sitting outside. “What is this all about?” Leela asked the woman.
The plump woman touched a button on her belt buckle. The image of the woman quickly faded away, and Cubert stood there grinning. “And to think the Bureaucracy didn’t need inventors,” he chuckled. “Get your butts into the van before they get wise.”
“It’s a shame that Zoidberg couldn’t be here with us,” said Fry as he buckled himself into the seat of the Planet Express ship. “He tried to defend us. That was a pretty selfless act.”
“When you see him again, you can tell him,” said Cubert with a grin. “Although I don’t think he’s going to remember it.”
It wasn't long before Earth was behind them, but their worries were far from over. Leela knew that they were going to be tailed, so she decided to cross the Tokara Asteroid Field...it was a dangerous patch of space even to the best of pilots. As Leela kept busy flying the ship, Amy watched the sensor panel.
"Leela," she said, "we've got company."
"I expected as much," she replied. "I hope he's as good a pilot as he brags. Let’s see if that famous efficiency rating helps him now."
"Oh, nuts...you're not going through the Tokara?"
"Hang on to your hats," Leela announced, "it's gonna be a bumpy ride."
"The fool," Corbel ranted, "she's headed for the asteroid field."
Lauren got a worried look on her face. "Surely you're not going to chase her through that? We’d have less than a 50% chance of getting through there alive. They aren't worth it."
"Let's just say I'm feeling lucky tonight...I'm willing to roll those dice."
"With our lives?" asked Jae-Min. "Have you lost your mind?"
“What do you intend to do with them if you catch them?” asked Lauren.
“I can keep them locked in the ship’s tractor beam until the authorities arrive.”
Even though Leela was a good pilot, she still had to slow down in the field. Asteroids, some of them huge, drifted by them in all directions. Not knowing what else to do, Amy got out of her seat and began a vigil through a porthole. Everyone was so nervous that they were afraid to talk. When the PE ship made a tight turn, Amy suddenly spotted the Astral Traveler. "Leela," she blurted out, "they're getting closer!"
She continued watching the ship in silence, losing it, and then seeing it again.
"Nelson! You need to break this off...this is far too dangerous!" said Lauren.
"I've almost got 'em...almost...almost..."
Amy spotted the ship again, and then saw something that would shake her very soul to its core. In the blink of an eye, the Astral Traveler was struck by an enormous chunk of asteroid. What was once a proud new freighter was now a trail of space debris spread out over several kilometers. Amy let out a loud scream.
"What...what the hell is going on?" yelled Leela.
Amy began to sob. "They're dead...they're all dead...they got killed...I saw it!"
Cubert got out of his seat to talk with Amy. "Amy, they're not really dead...they never existed. In reality they are all going to be safe and sound on Earth when you get back home. You remember how the Professor talked about 'paradox doubles,’ and about what happens to them…”
Amy still shook with fright...knowing this truth didn't help her with what she'd just seen.
Like nothing had happened, Cubert pulled out the Professor's book and began to do some figuring. "Okay people, let's get busy." After scribbling some notes down, he looked back at Amy. “We need to keep our heads in the game and do this right. We’re going to do just the opposite of what you guys did a decade ago – slide around the thing, but in the opposite direction.” He handed her his sheet of paper.
“It’s that simple?” asked Fry.
“Basically,” answered Cubert.
Amy punched the coordinates that Cubert had written into the navigation computer. Everyone then began fastening their safety belts. Amy started up with her Cantonese children's tune, as she'd done so many years before. As Bender made his way back to his seat, Leela grabbed his metal arm. "Are we sober and magnet free?"
"Clean and sober, baby."
"Good man...now go back and strap in."
"Is it really going to be this bad?" asked Cubert.
"Do you like roller coasters?" asked Amy in a sarcastic tone.
Again the ship went black. Again the crew felt themselves thrown around like laundry in a dryer. And again Amy's screaming could be heard piercing the darkness. Then it was over.
The crew took off their belts and started to stretch. "Are all of you dorks alright?" asked Cubert. Before he could finish his sentence, a warning buzzer started going off on the panel.
"Oh no," said Leela, “we’ve got a damaged hull…we’re leaching air.”
"I’ve got this,” said Cubert, “let me grab a suit.”
Leela grabbed his arm. “Cubert…don’t…”
“Leela, I’ve done my bit. You guys did it. Somewhere out there is another Cubert – safe and sound. Besides, someone is got to get you jerks back home. Don’t worry.”
Cubert lumbered out the airlock with his repair kit. He was clumsy, as it had been years since he’d been in free fall. He worked his way along the hull, and discovered the damaged area. He worked as quickly as he could, but it still took some time to repair it properly. He then returned to the airlock. Long, tense minutes ticked by.
“Amy,” asked Leela on the intercom, “is Cubert back in? Amy?”
Leela could tell by the tone of Amy’s voice that something was wrong. “We’ve got a problem…it’s not opening!”
Leela ran down to the airlock. “What’s the problem down here?”
“It must have been damaged somehow around the black hole…I can’t open it back up.”
Outside the airlock, Cubert looked at his hand; to his surprise, he could see stars through it. He was beginning to become transparent. “Oh my,” he mused, “it’s starting…”
“Don’t worry,” said Leela, “we’ll get you in somehow.”
“It’s alright, Leela…the ‘paradox effect’ is already starting. I’m going home.”
“Don’t talk like that…I’ve almost got it open…”
“It won’t open…not ‘til I’m gone.” Cubert used the last of his energy to push away from the ship. He waved as he floated into space, as more of his body became transparent.
“Cubert,” Leela said, “don’t do this.”
“Leela…you were right…I’m not homeless anymore.” The two watched in horror as Cubert completely disappeared. Then the airlock opened normally, just as he said it would.
It was late morning when the ship got back to Planet Express headquarters. As soon as the crew walked into the building, Professor Farnsworth was waiting to pounce. "Leela," he barked, "where have you been? Have you delivered that antimatter chisel yet?"
"Professor, I'm going upstairs to take a nap. I'm exhausted."
"A nap? Bouldercrap! I need that chisel to go out sometime today."
Leela started to walk past the old man, but then turned around. "I almost forgot something," she told him. She kissed him on the top of the head, and then gave him a hug. As she walked away, he rubbed his head in puzzlement.
Leela then spotted Cubert playing chess with Zoidberg. "It's about time you dorks showed up," he told her, "the Professor has been on rampage all day about you guys." Leela messed his hair up with her hand. "Yuck! I've probably got cyclops cooties now!" he told her.
Three weeks later Leela was in the local Starbugs coffee shop picking up Martian Lattes for the gang. In the back she spotted a familiar face studying intently from the space regulations manual. She walked back to him and peeked over his shoulder.
"The answer to that one is 'C' - it's a turn that most affects a load factor in a planetary atmosphere," she told him.
"Hey, thanks lady."
"Are you a working pilot yet?"
"I hope to be soon...I thought about applying with Planet Express across the street."
"Well," Leela told him, "I can tell you that there aren’t any openings there now. But I hear that Galactic Parcel Post is always looking for new trainees."
"Not a problem...see ya around, Nelson."
Nelson Corbel looked up from his book. "Hey...you know my name...have we met?"
"Oh, we've probably crossed paths somewhere...and we just might again sometime..."
“If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.”
Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, Father of the Nuclear Navy