In the middle of a random alley in New New York, Fry held up his beloved instrument in triumph. So many of his hopes were now invested in this instrument, he was almost afraid to hold it. What if all his hunches and instincts about this object were just illusions?
Bender stood and watched Fry pose with the holophoner.
“So, uh, you gonna stand there like that all night?” he said, stubbing out his cigar on the alley wall.
“Um, no, I’m just trying to figure out what to do next.” He looked askance at Bender. “And just how many of those things are you gonna smoke tonight, anyway?”
“Just congratulating myself for a job well done. When I went up to BigBoot’s apartment, I managed to filch some of her hidden cash. So the night isn’t a complete loss.”
“She had money hidden? Where?”
“The freezer. Anyway, I got what I wanted, and you got what you wanted, although that doesn’t really matter—“
Fry’s heart was still thumping from the adrenaline of the past few minutes.
“Bender—when you were up there with Leela—do you really think I had a mind wipe thing?”
“Who cares? You gotta erase old files from memory from time to time, or else you have to install bigger hard drives. And those things are noisy. Makes it harder to sneak up on someone.”
“This wasn’t some junk file. She said I forgot we had been going out and, and—we’d had a kid.” Even coming from his own mouth, the statement still amazed him. He gingerly shook the holophoner, as if hoping something would drop out.
“Well—great job, meatbag! You’ve been seeking to interface with her for a long time, and now you’ve manufactured a new unit! Kinda surprising I didn’t know about it. You never told me, and I never read this in her diary, but I guess it’s a few years outtaa date—“
“And then she said I got bored and ran away and left the baby to die because it needed tissue stuff from me.” Nothing fell out of the holophoner.
Bender paused for a moment.
“Well—great job, meatbag! You’ve managed to really dodge a trap there. You were this close to losing your freedom, and you seized the Robot Devil by the horns and broke away from a suffocating situation—“
“But I know I didn’t do it. Any of it. I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have.”
“Well—great job, ah, crap. I’m trying to pretend to care about this, hoping you’ll get your sorry ass to move out of here, but you’re making it too hard. Either you did it or you didn’t, and you’re fine with it, or not fine with it. I don’t go in for this whiny fuzzy logic stuff in the middle.” And he lit another cigar.
“So now after getting your ass kicked, are you happy?” He looked at his dirty, bruised and bleeding friend. “Now what?”
In all honesty Fry wasn’t sure. He hadn’t thought past this moment. “Umm… now this thing should tell me something. Something important.”
He fell silent, and the sound of dripping water was deafening.
“The only insight I’m getting is that we should get out of here.”
“Speak, holophoner,” Fry said. “Uh, open holophoner?” He started to shake it. “Please?”
“Here,” Bender said, and he grabbed the flute-like device and scanned it. “Nope,” he said, returning it, “no secret hiding places or messages in there. No why doncha come on back to the apartment. You haven’t been back there since this whole thing has started. And if you get mugged here I’m gonna lose my friendship fee from ya.”
But Fry was frowning, looking at the object in his hands.
“What’s going on? Why isn’t it working?”
“Maybe it’s mad at you for playing it so badly.”
“Not funny, Bender,” muttered Fry, but the word ‘play’ triggered a thought. He gently blew into the reed.
A quiet but very clean note emerged, along with a small ring of mist. Fry stopped playing and watch the ring gradually dissipate.
“That actually didn’t sound too bad,” he said, impressed. And then he began to play in earnest. He had no idea what to play, so he just kept his mind blank, a natural state of mind for him, and as his fingers randomly danced over the controls an odd sequence of notes emerged, and the mist began to pour out of the end, spin, and thicken.
And then, suddenly, like a shot out of starter pistol, a vivid image erupted from the end of the instrument—
He looked around the group and asked, how do I find her again? Is she left anywhere?
Joy fades, hummed Munda,
but pain endures, finished Morris.
I don’t get it. Why doesn’t someone speak sense?
Far away, he heard a faint rustling.
Leela was gone. Pain endures. The thought made him feel sad and he lifted the holophoner to his lips and began to play. A mournful, melancholy tune emerged, along with some mist, and before his eyes the mist resolved into an image of a room. A hospital room.
“Pain endures,” Morris repeated, and nodded to the image. And before he had a chance to tell himself how silly it was, he stepped up to the image and walked through-
-and fell onto the floor of the hospital room. Scrambling up, he looked behind him and saw an image of the basement fading away as the smoke dissipated. Then he faced forward.
She lay in the bed, hooked up to a bank of medical instruments. A Swedish novelty toy sat on a table next to her. The walls were a rather depressing green color.
He was starting to understand. His most painful memory of her. He wanted to rush over and convince himself she really was still there, and not lost, but there was something about the room that made him hesitate. Maybe it was the lack of color near the floor underneath the bed. In fact, the color seemed to be fading all along the edge of the bed, rather like a shirt that was fading after too many washes. He backed away to a corner of the room and paused, trying to sense everything. Other than the steady beep of the heart monitor, everything was still. He crouched and placed the holophoner to his lips, and for reasons he was uncertain of, he quietly played a few notes.
Something shifted under the bed. And In the darkness underneath an enormous eye opened and looked at him.
He was already halfway across the room, heading toward the entry door. As his hand grasped the doorknob he heard something big and moist slide out from underneath the bed behind him. He knew it was important not to look. The door was locked.
Frantically he jerked the knob and nothing moved. As he was panicking he sensed his hands lifting the holophoner to his mouth.
A powerful note escaped from the instrument and the door blew open, tumbling down the hall. He rushed through just as he heard something slither and smack against the doorway.
The hospital corridor seemed empty of life. All the doors along the hallway were closed. Weak florescent lights hummed, but were not powerful enough to keep the far end of the hall from fading into the gloom.
He could go three directions from here. He glanced to his right and suddenly saw another large eye open in the far darkness. He heard rustling in the walls to his left. He ran straight ahead.
He ran randomly down the corridors, instinctively trying to figure out how to get outside. Behind him he heard the floor crack and the walls creak as something very large shoved desks and tables out of the way in its haste to reach him. It was closing in.
Ahead at a junction he saw several large windows installed in the side of the corridor, revealing the blackness of the nighttime sky. He turned left and was now hurtling down a hallway, the windows to his right. Behind him he heard something hit the wall with a wet smack. Up ahead in the gloom, another eye opened.
Turning his head toward the window, he blew the holophoner and the emerging violent screech smashed the windowpanes outward. He leapt sideways out the window.
He was six stories above the ground. The city was full of light, and as he started to free fall he had time to notice that the figures walking down the street seemed bleached, nearly transparent. The lights from the hospital windows streaked by him as he stared at the ground below, where one or two cars were passing by.
And then ripples appeared in the road as if someone had dropped a pebble into it. Glancing sideways, he thought he saw a building fade away in the distance.
The road was now convulsing, and long strands of melted asphalt rose up toward him as he plummeted down past the third story. From where all the strands converged the street had sunk out of sight, creating a hole. No, not a hole. A mouth…
The holophoner had never left his lips. As the tentacles reached for him, he automatically played a song of sorrow, a similar tune he had played a short time before. And as a giant eye opened up in the middle of the mouth, the mists formed an image underneath him, and he fell into it—
--and back onto the hospital room floor. The wind knocked out of him, he rolled on his side. The underside of the bed was now empty. The door was still off its hinges. He could hear something sliding down the corridor in the distance.
He leaped up and ripped all the I.V.s and electrodes from her pale face. He sensed the color seeping away from the walls of the room, and in fact the outlines of the room itself were getting blurry. He lifted her up. She didn’t respond.
Hello again, he said. It’s time to get the others. We need to hide deeper….
-and the mists of the holophoner dissipated as Fry stopped playing.
“Couldn’t hold it any longer,” he panted. “I’m out of breath and my fingers are killing me.”
“What the hell,” Bender said, “was that?”
“I don’t know, but finally, it was something easy to understand.”
Bender’s head swiveled toward Fry, who now looked as pale as a ghost.
“You’re kidding, right?”
Fry was uncharacteristically grim.
“Something bad’s after me. It’s hanging around Leela, hoping it can catch me. It wants this holophoner or me, I’m not sure. My only chance is to run, run far away. And then sneak back to help Leela. Help all of us.”
“You do realize that you’re taking advice from a musical instrument? Or most likely, you’re taking advice from somewhere deep in your brain? Now when has listening to your brain ever helped you? When has anything good come of that? And where are you gonna go?”
“Don’t know. Off planet for sure. But I need to keep moving. They’re coming. I think they know I’ve played it.” And with that Fry was again rushing down the road. They wove their way through a maze of back alleys and corridors, Fry so agitated that he would only stop for a few moments to allow Bender to catch up.
“Bloodbag, wait,” Bender wheezed. He really needed to get that metabolism simulator upgraded. “Why don’t you come back to your closet and do that sleep thing, then decide tomorrow?”
“I’m only still here because I’ve been staying away from all my normal places,” Fry whimpered. “I’ve been staying in the dumpster, then at the pizza place I never go to. No. They’re waiting back there. Everywhere around Planet Express. They’ve almost found me. I need to go. Right now.”
“Whoa, hold on there..” Bender grabbed Fry’s arm, who actually strained for a moment against the robot’s grip before looking at his first friend in the future.
“Will you come with me, Bender? I don’t think I’ll make it alone.”
“Me. Sure. It’ll be a blast. New pockets to pick, new suckers to meet. This place is getting’ old. But one thing.”
“What’s the most important thing you need when running for your life?”
“Ummm.. your feet?”
Bender slapped Fry lightly across the face. At least, as lightly as metal can tap meat.
“Guess again. How are you even goin’ to get outta town?”
“Um. Tube? Hoverbus?”
“OK. Sure. And what do you need for that?”
“Um… your feet?”
Metal against meat again.
“OK, you moron. What do I love most?”
“Well yeah, but besides that.”
Fry’s eyes suddenly lit up.
“You may have a brain in that head after all. Yeah, dimwit. Cash. When you’re on the run, credit cards, debit cards, diamonds—all these things go out the window, cause’ they can find you if you use it. The only friend you’ll need out in the cold, hard universe is cold, hard, cash. Nixonbucks. If you’re going to be on the run, my friendship fees alone are going to add up quickly.”
“Yeah,” Fry mused. He hadn’t really put together exactly how he was going to get off planet. “Yeah, money can help.”
“So where’s your wallet?”
“Don’t you have it?”
“Strangely enough, I don’t. I’ve checked.”
“It’s gone. Whadami going to do?”
“No problem. We just have to go by the bank this morning and get you a retinal scan to access your account. Or even better, a colonic map.”
“Um, never got around to getting one of those. I did do the eye thingie though. But Bender,” Fry said, brow furrowed with worry, “I don’t feel good about going to a place with a lot of guys with guns who can arrest me.”
“It’s OK. I’ll come along with ya and as soon as the bank opens, we’ll pull out whatever we can carry, and then we’re off to take over the universe.”
“Oh, Bender, thanks.” A tear wavered at the corner of Fry’s eye. Events were starting to move so quickly he felt like he was spinning out of control again. “I’m so glad you’re my friend.”
“He’s your friend. We both know you know what’s going on. Spill it.”
He had expected something like this. His dumb little pet had enough trouble figuring out how to operate the TV remote, much less how to burglarize an apartment. The pet in question was at the moment lying on the couch, off-line. Big Boots was standing in front of him, trying to give him the third degree.
“Why don’t you nag it out of him?”
“He threw up and fainted just as I was beginning to think something strange was going on. And something strange is going on.” She looked at the figure on the couch, gun in hand. “Breaking into my apartment was really stupid. But also kind of gutsy. And gutsy and Fry are not two words that normally hang out together. He must be really desperate, or something strange is going on. So what the hell is going on?”
“He woke up in a dumpster two days ago, can’t remember where he’s been for over a year, and he’s paying me to be his friend. And this is after he was paying me not to talk or look for him. You gonna pay me for something too?”
“Yeah, I’m going to pay out your wiring meter by meter if you don’t help me out. What’s this about him paying you not to talk to him?”
“The last time he left he said he would pay me not to follow him. And I honorably kept my side of the bargain. Until he started beating me with a stick. And offered me a sailor hat. I’m not made of stone, you know. Well, 40% rhyolite and 40% dolomite, but not stone.”
“Did he say anything else before he left? Any hint what he was up to?”
“Look, I love the blah blah blah as much as any fembot…actually I don’t…so how about I just show you what he said?”
“You mean you can replay memories?”
“Sure, in Dolby 5.1 surround sound if need be. Useful for those clubbing and whorehouse experiences—“
“Can it. Just show me.”
And so he pressed a button, and out popped a little computer screen, hinged on a small rod, for convenient and comfortable viewing. On the screen Fry was slipping on oil and making his little speech. And then Bender was drinking. He really didn’t like to replay this sequence. It left him feeling strange. It couldn’t possibly be that he could really miss this meatsack, and feel bad about not looking for him. What was that word? Guilt? Nah, couldn’t be…
“Has Fry seen this?”
“You know, he never asked, but maybe he never knew I could. Probably shoulda—“
“Hang on Bender, what was that piece of paper he gave you? What did he say there?”
Rewind. Fry was saying, “I’m hoping to visit this place, but to go there I need to give that letter to someone close to me. That’s you.”
Voice tight, Leela asked, “OK, bosom buddy, what was in that letter?”
“I didn’t pay much attention, because it was just a link to some spa or something like that.”
Five minutes later they were ankle deep in the memorabilia of Bender’s amusing little antics. Otherwise known as crime sprees.
“Ya know, I thought I might have placed the letter under this skunk here..”
“Forget it—can you zoom in on that image? Yeah, that’s it. Hmmm….ReMem Corp, in the smaller Magellanic Cloud.”
Bender glanced down at the screen. There was only one sentence on the piece of paper, and it was an internet link.
Tapping a button on her wrist thingie, Leela turned toward her wide screen TV. Moments later a logo faded into existence:
“ReMem: Release the Past. Face the Future.”
An alien similar in appearance to a yarn creature dissolved into a screen, sitting behind a piece of organically shaped furniture that was probably the equivalent of a desk for humans. The figure trilled out a sequence of soothing notes, while a translation scrolled on the bottom of the screen.
“Honored contact or genetic relation: greetings from ReMem. If you have contacted this link then one of our clients has designated you as an emergency contact and has provided you with our address.”
The yarn alien leaned forward, strands taut with earnestness.
“Your client-“ a slight pause- “Phillip J Fry, has selected to undergo a selective memory removal-“
He heard a sharp intake of air next to him. Funny, the oxygen levels in the room were within normal limits.
“-this procedure, although perfectly safe-“
A jumble of small white text started to blast across the bottom of the screen. Bender caught the words “prohibited” and “illegal” in some of the text.
“-does occasionally yield side effects that can be troubling to contacts within the client’s current and former social networks. In this video we list some of these effects and explain what steps you should take if our client displays any of these symptoms.”
The figure crossed a few strands together to indicate seriousness.
“Memory removal is a delicate operation, and particularly with emotionally disturbing memories, erasure can be imprecise, due to symbolic linkages to other memories. Thus our clients can experience disorientation and confusion immediately after the procedure. About 25% of our patients will suffer additional memory losses beyond what they requested. And a few, a very few, may start to systematically lose their entire memory, for reasons that remain unexplained.”
“He didn’t,” Leela said. “He wouldn’t…”
“While most clients are significantly happier with their release from the past, a few may sense a loss and may actively seek an explanation for this feeling, leading to awkward situations if they seek out former friends and other nodes in their social network. As the designated contact, the client is basically trusting you to handle this situation. If you do face such a circumstance, please do the following. First verify that core memories are intact, such as the client’s name. Then try to explain to the client that they have had a memory wipe, but revealing as few of the specifics as possible.”
“I thought I knew who he was, long ago. Now I know I never knew him at all. I never thought he would do such a thing.”
“Hey, I’m trying to listen here.”
“Ask if the client has a feeling of persecution or paranoia, and if they have vivid dreams. If affirmative, they are experiencing systematic memory loss, and need medical treatment as soon as possible. Please contact us via this link below, and try to keep the client in one location. Persuasion via communication is the best option, and if necessary, explain the past in sufficient detail to make the client understand the reasons behind the memory removals, and the need for medical attention. If persuasion fails, implied coercion may be used. Physical restraint should only be used as a last resort, because of the resulting psychological and physiological stress will accelerate memory deterioration.”
Some generic elevator music with an upbeat tempo started to play gently in the background.
“Once again, the ReMem procedure is quite safe and the situations we describe may never occur. However, if you do, ReMem is there to help.” And the bottom of the screen filled with contact information, 24 hrs per orbital cycle, relativistic reference frames included.
He knew that glint in her eye. He was about to be bossed around. She finished typing in a message on her wrist com.
“You heard that. It explains everything. We need to hurry up and plan before he wakes up. I’ll stay here and talk with him, check his core memories and see if he’s become paranoid. If he is, I’ll say you’re heading out to get him some food, but what you’ll really do is stand outside my apartment window.”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“I’ll pay you. Now listen. I’ll try to keep him at the apartment and even threaten him. But if he is really determined to leave, I’ll make sure he exits through the window, so you can stay with him. Once you’re with him, keep me updated on his position. I’ve alerted the authorities, so if you can guide him to some public place with security and alert them, they can manage to get him in custody without telling him why. Hopefully that will reduce the stress of the situation. Do you understand?”
“I understand you want to pay me. I’m already being paid not to talk to him, and to talk with him. Betraying him is going to cost you, cause’ I’m at my situational conflict limit already. ”
“Oh yeah? Think of this. Fry may lose every memory of us. Of me. Of you. There is a chance he will never remember who Bender Rodriguez is.”
“That’s not possible. I’m unforgettable.”
“You saw the video. It can happen.”
“Alright. I’ll cut my rate. Ten bucks to stay with him and guide him to the fuzz, if you screw up.”
“I’m so glad you’re my friend.”
Bender stared at the red-headed organ sack. When they went by the bank tomorrow, Fry would have to have a scan to verify his identity. If Leela had alerted the authorities, that action would bring the guards down on him, and they would get him to the hospital.
Originally he had not really intended to do anything, except tag along, because all this had been rather interesting. But it was now clear that not only were his pet’s memory banks degrading, but his operating system was starting to crash, producing all sorts of weird system errors. At least weirder than usual with humans. Although betrayal was certainly profitable, Bender realized that he could only bring himself to do it if he also thought it would help his friend. Yes, his friend. He would help get him to a repair shop, and they would reformat his hard drive. Maybe they could even upgrade his CPU.
“Aw, geez. You’re paying me after all. Let’s keep moving and kill some time. And I need another cigar. I’m gonna go through a lot of them tonight.”