“How’d it go?”
Zoidberg was happier than he had been in months. Sitting here, in O'Zorgnax's, with not just one friend, but two! And with food in front of him! On plates!
“You showed her the note?”
“Oh yes! And then she took it and pushed it down my throat, really deep into my subcraw, and said I should keep it where Earth’s sunlight would not touch it. It was so thoughtful of her! My subcraw needed opening very badly. And your note has not seen sunlight since!” A small tear formed at the corner of his eye at the thoughtfulness of the PE captain.
“Did she read it?”
“Hmmm… I think she forgot to do that.” He brightened. “But here, she gave you a piece of paper back.”
Fry unfolded the paper:
“Pitiful, using your friends to do what you’re too afraid to do yourself. I thought I was clear. Let me make it clearer. I would rather sleep with Zapp again than talk with you. This is your last warning. If you try to send me another letter, or try to contact me or my parents in any way, I will notify the police and prosecute you for stalking. Go away, and let me move on.”
He had to read it a couple of times for it to sink in. Absently, part of him admired how even her writing was on the unlined paper. Suddenly the note burst into flames, and he quickly dropped the shriveling paper onto the table top.
“Ah, mood paper,” Bender mused. “Changes to reflect the emotions of the sender. If she ever sees you again, I hope your ass has fire insurance.”
Fry watched the paper crumble into ashes and felt that he was watching his hopes whither away. He still felt so shocked about recent events that he couldn’t muster much feeling for anything right now. He was really scared about what he would feel when the enormity of the situation finally hit him.
Bender held out his hand, and Fry dropped a coin into it. Bender opened his chest and adjusted what looked like a 20th-century parking meter, except that the words “Friendship” were digitally displayed above the needle, which was now pointing to the “24 hour” label.
“I broke into her locker, to see if there was anything that I could ransom to make her talk with you,” Bender continued. “Nothing. And Nibbler’s not around. She keeps him at her apartment these days.” There was a hint of disappointment in the robotic voice. He would have enjoyed holding the fuzzball hostage.
“Will you pay me to be your friend, too?” Zoidberg said, eyes gleaming.
“Sure, why not,” Fry sighed, and dropped another coin into Zoidberg’s claw. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to have Zoidberg hang around Bender after all. He crossed his arms and lowered his head to rest on them.
“So, it’s been fun and good, but now what? You going to go work somewhere else? You coming back to stay with me?” Bender said, while eying the coin that Zoidberg was tasting.
Yes, now what? He could go back to the apartment. But for some reason his stomach clenched at the thought and his heart started to murmur worriedly. Why was he so jumpy? He looked around, just in time to catch a flash of afternoon sunlight reflecting off Bender’s head.
First the tone, then the tempo, then the tune…
“Bender, where’s my holophoner?”
For some reason, he had been thinking of his favorite musical instrument all afternoon, as he had been scrubbing the ovens. He had actually been carrying a new one the night of the dance lesson. He had been planning to give it to Leela as a gift, but couldn’t actually remember ever giving it to her...
Bender scratched his chin, producing a sound like a knife being sharpened. “Funny you should ask that…”
“Put on protective gear.”
Hermes, Farnsworth, Bender, and Zoidberg stood in front of Fry’s locker. Hermes and Farnsworth placed on their protective hoods, and Hermes loaded his laser rifle. Fry had been gone for almost three months and the time had come to clean out his locker.
Bender had already been through the locker a few times, privately, and had sold anything worth more than the power needed to steal it to the pawn shop. But when Farnsworth had come into the lounge and asked him to break into the locker, he figured he’d give it one more scan.
“Now remember,” Farnsworth said, “I’m trying to replace my indestructible life form, so I need to gather biological samples from harsh, toxic environments. It occurs to me that Fry’s locker may have rich possibilities. Don’t touch anything once the locker is open, unless it tries to attack me!”
Bender broke the lock, which was very easy. This is why he never stored anything valuable in his own locker. Zoidberg sniffed the air with quivering anticipation.
“Mmmm. Something good has been ripening in there, it has.”
“Keep your trap shut, you dirty lobsta. You’re only here ‘cause we need a health clearance from the company doctor after we clean up. So don’t eat anythin’!
The locker was empty except for a bunch of empty Slurm cans, a pile of dirty clothes on the floor, and a rainbow coalition of slime molds on the sides. Farnsworth scraped samples of everything, and then using remotely-operated clamps, started transferring the cans and the clothes into a specially designed biological isolation disposal unit, otherwise known as a trash can.
Something fell out from the pile of clothes and clattered onto the floor.
Hermes, Bender, and Zoidberg threw up their arms in front of their eyes. When nothing exploded, attacked, or screamed, they peeked at the object. Fry’s holophoner sat on the ground. Oh yeah, he’d seen that before in there. But these babies weren’t worth that much. Well, that wasn’t true. It just seemed that one of his extrapolating scenario projectors (ESP) was maladjusted, for it kept predicting that if the instrument stayed in the locker, maybe his pet would return one day after all. Almost what stupid humans called a “superstition.” He kept intending to get his ESP fixed, but kept putting it off, because it seemed to help when betting on horse races.
“Hmm, yes, very interesting,” mumbled Farnsworth.
“Yeah, why would Fry leave dis?” said Hermes.
“Huh? No, no, no, I mean these slime molds. Now excuse me and get back to work!”
Zoidberg grabbed the instrument as the cackling Professor left.
“Oh boy! Zoidberg always wanted one of these! I have 8 copies of Fry’s CD!”
“Gimme that,” Hermes said. “Dat’s now company property.”
“No,” Zoidberg whimpered, clutching the pipe to his exoskeleton anxiously. “I want to keep it.”
Hermes opened his mouth, and then thought about it.
“Fine. It’s not worth the effort. I’ll just fill out a Floccinaucinihilipilification form for it. I’d better not hear you playin’ it on company time!”
“Me?” said Zoidberg innocently, crossing his claws.
“Yeah, I remember keeping it in my locker,” Fry said. In the weeks after his opera performance, he had started taking the instrument to work and playing it in the evenings on the roof of Planet Express, hoping that Leela would accidentally hear him play whenever she worked late, which was practically every night. She had never mentioned hearing it one way or the other before last night—that is, last year.
He loved that instrument. If he really had left, why hadn’t he taken it with him?
Fry turned to Zoidberg. “So you have it, then?”
Zoidberg hung his head, “Not exactly.”
He carefully slid the instrument through his claws and inserted the mouthpiece between his feelers. Humans were able to use their nose to play this thing, but he didn’t have one, so he was stuck using his mouth.
The holophoner had been hidden in his office for two weeks, and he was very proud that the robut hadn’t found it yet. He had put it inside a tall jar labeled “healthy snacks,” and that had seemed to do the trick. And for the past week, late at night after all had gone home, he had been trying to play.
Carefully he inserted the reed between his feelers, and tried to blow. Nothing, just like the past few nights. He slumped in disappointment. Wait. Maybe he should try to clench this button—
An off-key wailing tone blew out of the holophoner, and a light mist wound out of its end, dispersing quickly.
He tried a few more times, and even squeezed out a few more sounds, when there was a knock on the door and someone stepped in.
“My good friend Leela, you’re back! And you look so healthy!”
And it was true. The bag under her eye was loose, she was a healthy shade of pale, and she had lost so much weight he could see some skin hanging loose on her upper arm, always a good sign for an upcoming molt.
“Hello, Zoidberg. Yes, I’m back. Just got in a few minutes ago. Say, did you hear some strange sounds coming from around here?”
“No,” he said, trying to nonchalantly lower the holophoner behind his back, but he apparently could not pull off nonchalance, because her eye narrowed and focused on him. Very unnerving, that eye was.
“What’s that behind your back? And why’s there smoke in here?”
Zoidberg raised his arms to mimic the human’s sign of cluelessness, but he forgot that the instrument was in one claw. How clueless of him.
Leela took the instrument out of his hands, and rubbed it absently. Without looking up, she said, “Is Fry back?”
“No, he’s been gone for a few lunar cycles. No one has heard from him. It’s strange. No one seems to want to look for him.”
“No, no one does.” She was staring at him again. “So I guess he doesn’t need this anymore. Whose is it?”
She looked surprised, then smiled, tight-lipped.
“You were his greatest fan, weren’t you. How much for it?”
“I’m sorry, I cannot accept any offers.”
“Take it, it’s yours.”
“You mean Leela has it?” Fry groaned.
Zoidberg licked his feelers dreamily. “Yes, a good meal that was. Leela even made sure that we sat down in a place where no one would see us together, so we could eat in private. Wasn’t that vunderful of her?”
Bender was bored. “Yeah, yeah, motor-mouth is almost as great as me, except she’s not. So why am I caring about this thing, or why she has it?”
Good question. The more he thought about it, the stronger Fry felt that he needed that holophoner, He couldn’t remember his dreams, but he somehow felt that if he could only get to his instrument, it would unlock his nightmare.
“It’s important. Really important. I just know it. So does Leela play it?” Maybe she took it because she missed him. An ember of hope glowed in his thoughts. Maybe he could approach her after all. Maybe that instrument could bring them together again, as it had done-
No, Leela, don’t let them do it. Please…
A piercing headache made him gasp as the words jumped, unbidden, into his mind. He had almost remembered something. But then it was gone, and he realized Bender was speaking.
“Nope, never heard it. It’s not even at Planet Express.”
“Howd’ you know?”
“Not in her locker or other personal places. I know, cause I break into everyone’s private stashes once a week, just to check up on things, you know?”
“Aw, geez, then it’s gotta be-”
“-at her apartment, yeah. Unless she’s thrown it away.”
The ember inside him faded away. For a moment he had actually felt some hope that things could get better. But he might as well ask the Robot Devil for his hands again. Yet, somehow, the feeling of urgency didn’t go away. He shuddered and looked around. He felt like he was running out of time. But running out of time to do what?
“Maybe you can go and ask her to give it back to you,” Zoidberg said.
“Yeah, if you do, can I come watch?” Bender laughed. “I’ve never seen a human pretzel before.”
“You said a long time ago”, continued Zoidberg, “that you should let the female talk a lot, and you should say you’re sorry a lot, and that you vere wrong and she was right, and then everything goes back to the way it was before.”
“A part of me, a part of me I’m not proud of, wants to hurt you now.”
“I don’t think that’ll work this time,” Fry said, rubbing his throat at the point where Leela had rolled her forearm over his windpipe. He thought she was serious about setting the police onto him.
“Well, unless you’re gonna break into her apartment, I think you had better start learning to play the kazoo,” said Bender. He opened his mouth, reached in, and pulled one out. “Here ya go.”
Fry kept staring at the table. Could he talk to her? Could he wait outside PE each day, hammering away at her until she would at least explain what was going on? Day after day, week after week…
“Okay”, he said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty easy to learn-”
“No, I mean, OK, I think I’ll do something less dangerous than talking with her,” he said. He looked up.
“How would you break into her apartment?”