Bender staggered up the stairway, fighting a losing battle to keep his newfound wealth from dribbling out of his chest and onto the floor. With all the Nixon bills floating away from him, he looked a bit like a tree losing its leaves. As he reached the top of the stairs, he cautiously peered around the corner. Amy, Leela, and whatshislobsterface were huddled around the Professor’s doorway. As he watched, the doors opened, and the group dashed in.
He heard a shout, and then a scream.
“Stop screaming, Fry!”
“Here, Leela, I think I can reach him from -Gwaah!”
There was a loud crash, and from the far end of the corridor, Hermes emerged from of his office, looking puzzled. However, the sounds from the laboratory quickly snagged his attention, and he waved his hand over the security keypad, locking his office, before hurrying down the hallway, back into the lab.
“Sweet Domodo of Komodo! What are you doin’ wit’ dat chair, Amy?”
“It’s trying to bite me! Help, Hermes!”
Silently thankful he had decided not to take any coins from the truck, Bender quietly tip-footed past the jacked-open doorway, where he caught a brief glimpse of Fry dancing on Farnsworth’s head. Bender spent a millisecond rechecking the image. No, Fry was dancing on a force field surrounding the professor, while Leela was trying to hook him with a crowbar.
As Bender snuck up to the entrance of Hermes’ office, he mused over how fond he was of his pet. Fry was never boring, and also a reliable source of income, however small. Better yet, he would fall for the same practical jokes time and again. Sometimes twice in the same day. But the biggest benefit of hanging around Fry, Bender mused to himself, was that he could create a diversion and distraction like no other entity—just what a connoisseur in the art of larceny needed in a companion.
Bender glanced disdainfully at the electronic keypad next to the door- a SuzySecure 2801, batch 201B. Well, this lock might be one of the toughest locks around, physically, but he knew the 201B batch had self-esteem issues. Kinda like a certain one-eyed meatbag he knew, but he wasn’t gonna mention names. After a few seconds of flirting and wooing, the lock gushed and let him in.
Hmm, Hermes had left the petty cash drawer open.
Something large fell over in Farnsworth’s lab, along with something that sounded like Musical Chairs Death Match.
Bender peeked into the drawer. Well, looked like Planet Express had been doing really well recently.
“Not the fermion foam! Again!” moaned Farnsworth faintly.
Ah, Hermes’s computer. Just logged out, even. Good thing these meatbags sweated a lot. Cautiously opening his chest door a crack, Bender had to yank out a few million Nixonbucks before he could locate the moisture sensor. Usually he only needed this thing to check that some cheap dive bar hadn’t watered down his drink, but it was also useful for figuring out what keys had just been tapped on a keyboard. Let’s see, eight keys, only around 40,000 to 400,000 password possibilities. Hmm, this may take a few seconds-
Something stumbled into the hall, and the lab doors snapped shut in frustration. Yeah, those doors had some personality issues. They weren’t well-adjusted like Bender. The robot walked to the doorway, persuaded it to open a crack, and peeked down the hall.
Holophoner still miraculously in hand, Fry turned and saw Bender waving. You know, his pet seemed to get a new bruise every time he saw him these days…
Fry hurried down the hall and into the office just as the lab doors slid open again, revealing smoke. Farnsworth’s voice cried, “Put out that fire, before it melts through the floor! No! No, not water, you cretin-”
The smoke changed color, and the doors slammed back together, cutting off Hermes’ “Sweet Ambrosian of explos-“, as if they were embarrassed to reveal what was going on inside.
“Gotta get outta here,” gasped the exhausted delivery boy, as Bender quietly closed the office door. “Mind. I think they changed Leela’s mind.” He paused. “Amy’s too. Maybe everyone’s memory.”
“Memory rewrite in humans? Huh, never knew that your head jelly could be reprogrammed,” said Bender, fingers flying across the keyboard. Ah-ha! He had figured some variation of ‘Dwight’ would work. Stupid affectionate humans-
“Reprogrammed, yeah. Somebody’s putting in memories that never happened. At least a days worth. And maybe longer. Much longer.” And the delivery boy lapsed off into uncharacteristically thoughtful silence.
Bender wasn’t paying much attention, since he had just broken into the financial records of Planet Express. Wow, PE had been doing really well over the past year. The bending unit was outraged. Why wasn’t he being paid more! Obviously, this gave him every right to transfer the funds from all the PE bank accounts to the 128 numbered accounts he kept stashed away in the Andromeda galaxy region, just for situations like this. So he did.
“So everything they remember about your leaving is wrong?”
“Yeah, and I told you, Leela doesn’t remember us talking in her apartment last night. She remembers me being some kind of cheating sick pervert.”
“I forget. Is that worse than being a loser lovesick moron?”
“Um, just a little. But if her memories were changed, then something really is out to get me, and it’s around here. C’mon, we gotta get outta here before they let the cops--and maybe the memory remover thing--in. What should we do now, Bender?”
The robot scratched his chin.
“Well, I was kind of figurin’ that we would kill as many humans as possible, then upload our personal data to my secure porn account just before they surround and destroy our bodies. We’ll hang out with the ladies for a while, virtually speaking, then download back into a fresh robot chassis. They’re being made with over 80% titanium now, with extra chest storage space.”
“I can’t do that,” groaned Fry, before falling silent as a pair of boots ran down the hall. There was a sound of a hand tapping a keypad. Fry held his breath. The door didn’t open, and the boots moved down the corridor, pausing momentarily to open other doorways in the hallway.
“Who cares about you?” continued Bender. “Although if somebody really can change meatbag memories—well, I’d like to meet them, maybe offer them a business proposition or two. Lot’s of money could be made, there. Would make robbing and pillaging apartments a lot easier. OK, I’ll come along. Now what?”
“I don’t know. I wish we could just fly outta here.”
“Maybe we could ship ourselves out?”
“That’s a poor way to launch our escape,” said Fry, staring absently at a picture of the Planet Express logo mounted on the wall, the Planet Express ship clearly visible in front of his eyes.
“Why don’t you play that thing again? If it’s so smart about something being out to get you, maybe it’ll tell you what to do?”
Fry tapped his fingers on the holophoner. Why not? Hermes and everyone else seemed to be busy saving Farnsworth’s lab, so he could probably risk the sound. After pausing to listen for any further footsteps down the hall, he carefully placed the chipped mouthpiece between his lips and gently blew. As if sensing his caution, the instrument released a narrow, sinuous stream of smoke that swirled and formed a very compact image, while a soft, yet urgent sequence of notes filled the air. Fry screwed up his eyes to try to make out the figures in the image, and then-
“What are we going to do?” he cried, Leela still in his arms, talking to the group in the basement. He was worried. Leela should have been heavier.
Behind him, he sensed a faint disturbance in the air as the portal to the hospital room collapsed. He glanced behind him just in time to see a dark tendril creep up the hospital bed, which had now turned blurry, as if it were out of focus. Then the image vanished in a puff of smoke.
Morris and Munda, a teenage Leela, Farnsworth, Amy, Yancy, Seymour, Kif, and Bender all shuffled uncertainly, but synchronously, making a sound like a winter breeze wheezing through the bare branches of a tree. And why was Zapp here too?
“What are we going to do?”
“I know, I know,” said Bender. We should kill as many humans as possible, then upload our personal data to my secure porn account-“
“Hey! That was my idea,” Bender interrupted. Fry gagged and coughed, breaking up the image in the smoke.
“Well, he stole my idea.”
“I think this is the past we’re looking at. You can’t steal from the past.” And Fry caught his breath, tried to clear his mind again, flexed his fingers, put the holophoner to his mouth, and -
“-kill all humans.”
He had to smile, despite his fear. Good old Bender-
Something slid over the floor above their heads, inching toward the basement door.
“Hurry. Anything. Any idea. Give it to me.”
Farnsworth lifted up his hands. They were tied together with wire of different lengths.
“Look at-“ said Amy.
“-that sexy, sexy, wire,” finished Zapp.
He frowned. This was it? And was Leela getting even lighter?
He stared at Farnsworth, who was absently trying to untangle his hands. And then he knew.
He played a short, simple tune, a song of beginnings and hope. And the mist swirled and revealed the main hangar of Planet Express. Farnsworth was visible in the image, saying “And here’s where I keep assorted lengths of wire.”
His earliest memory of the Professor. Of Planet Express.
Leela, still in her hospital gown, slumped further in his arms. But she was still breathing. Something was scraping at the basement door.
Restless, the teenage Leela hopped from one foot to the other, pointing anxiously at the ever-widening image. What was she doing?
And then, behind the Professor’s shoulder in the image, he saw the Planet Express ship. An intergalactic spaceship.
Something started seeping through the timbers of the basement roof and dripping to the floor. A drop fell on Munda’s tentacle, and suddenly her arm was gone. Munda opened her mouth to scream, but Morris clamped his hand over her mouth.
“Focus,” muttered Yancy nervously.
He was very scared. But what remained of his family and friends were here. He had to try. He blew harder, moved his fingers faster, and the tune morphed into a march. The image of the Planet Express hangar expanded quickly, until it covered a wall of the basement.
“Run,” he said, breaking the tune, but he didn’t have to give the group any encouragement. As one mind they rushed the now-shrinking image, Zapp in the lead, Morris and Amy carrying Munda. In moments they found themselves in the hangar. Fry turned around to look back at the dissipating view of the basement. Just before the vision vanished, the basement door blew open, and a something large and black shot out of the darkness and splattered over the basement floor. In an instant the basement was smothered in a squirming mess of tendrils. The tip of a tendril pushed through the image just as it collapsed, cutting off the tip and leaving it wiggling on the hangar floor. Everyone shrunk away from the little tip in fear.
Fry looked around. He was standing where he had been standing during his first visit to Planet Express. The far corners of the building were fading, and next to the table there was a purple/black blur that resembled an oil painting that someone had tried to wipe with a wet cloth, but had ended up smearing instead. Had there once been someone there? He looked down. Leela, pale, was still in his arms. But she was very pale. Almost transparent.
Amy, Munda, and someone else screamed. He looked around. Kif put his hand over his mouth to stop screaming and pointed.
The tip seemed to have grown roots, and was growing like some sort of nightmarish plant. The “stalk” undulated back in forth in an almost hypnotic pattern, and if he really listened he could almost make out a chirping-
Something large moved against the external wall of the hangar.
“Get on the ship,” he yelled-
Fry released his grip, choking for breath, and the smoke dissipated. He turned to Bender, but before he could speak, the robot held up a set of keys.
“How does it feel to be shown up by a stupid wind instrument?”
“Those the keys to the ship?-“
“Yep. Found them taped in the secret compartment under Hermes’s desk. I guess after our last joyride a few years ago he wasn’t taking any chances”. He paused. “Hey, how did your get your job back anyway after that?”
“Long story. Maybe later. You had the keys all this time? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I took them because they were shiny and pretty. I didn’t think they would actually be useful. So where we taking the ship?”
“Let’s start with ‘away’”.
Bender wheedled the SusySecure into opening once again and peeked into the hall. It was deserted, except for a lone chair turning itself in circles in front of the lab doors. The robot and his pet carefully walked into the hall. Still silent, but what bothered Fry was that while the lab doors were open, no sounds were emerging from the lab.
Fry made a splat/squeak/splat/squeak sound as his bare foot alternated with his sneaker foot while walking toward the lab. He looked into the room. It was empty; also rather blackened, coated with a layer of black soot everywhere. The chair rolled up to Fry and he absently scratched its arm.
A faint voice floated from the end of the opposite end of the hall. “Let me go, you primitive chordate-“
With Bender struggling behind, Fry hurried to the far end of the hall and looked around the corner. He found himself staring into the elevator lobby, and caught a glimpse of Farnsworth and the rest of the PE crew in the elevator.
“You gotta open the door and let the police in, Professor,” Hermes was saying.
“Wenstrom will not win! I will not let it happen,” the old man hollered.
He was still encased in his spherical forcefield, but was now hoisted on the shoulders of Amy, Leela, and Hermes, who apparently had found some insulated pads to keep themselves from being protected from shocks. No one saw Fry before the door closed.
Bender reached Fry a few seconds later.
“Fire alarm,” Bender said, and pulled the appropriate lever on the wall.
Fry was surprised that Farnsworth even had a fire alarm installed in the building, given how fires were a normal part of life in that place, but there it was-sirens flashing and screaming.
“There,” Bender said, “that will keep us from using the elevators, but it will send them straight down to the hangar floor.”
“Neat,” said Fry, then paused. “But isn’t that a bad thing? Won’t they get to the spaceship first?”
“Hmm, now that you mention it-”, Bender said, then spun around and waddled toward the stairwell as fast as he could.
“Take the keys,” the robot said, swiveling his head toward Fry. “Get the ship ready.”
Needing no encouragement, Fry seized the keys and half-ran, half-stumbled down the stairs.
He emerged into the harsh white lights of the main hangar, now mixed with flashing red lights from the sirens. Instead of being on the ground floor, he was on the conference level, an open-air steel balcony twenty feet wide, surrounded by a safety railing to keep people like Fry from falling to the main hangar floor. From this height Fry could stare into the cockpit of the Planet Express ship, and to his immediate right sat the round conference table. He had exited the stairwell too early—he normally never used the stairs, so he had been disoriented.
It’s OK, he thought. Don’t panic. An open stairwell was right in front of him; he could just drop two levels to the main hangar floor. As these thoughts sauntered through his mind, he slipped on a puddle of Slurm and fell. The ship’s keys and the holophoner slid out of his hand and into a pile of trash.
OK, now it was time to panic.
He plunged into the garbage and tossed a sickening combination of diapers, Lowenbrau, and vacuum tubes aside, while straining to hear any sound of shouting over the deafening wail of the sirens. It was no use, someone could walk up to him right now and he wouldn’t hear a thing…
He was tempted to look up to check, but he forced himself to stare at the ground, swirling his hands through the putrid stew, hoping for any glimpse of a glint of metal—
He seized the keys, grabbed his holophoner, and stood up.
“Geez, Fry. We were trying to save time here,” the robot shouted through the ear-splitting sirens.
Fry walked to the safety railing separating him from the open space in front of the ship, leaned over, and looked down to the hangar floor, towards Bender, who was standing next to the ship’s gangway. The wave of debris created by the hovertruck’s entry had piled up on the ground against the wall supporting the balconies where he was standing now. Bender trudged through the remaining scattered debris and reached the gangway stairs.
“Sorry-“, Fry began, but as he started to descend down the open stairway next to the railing, his eyes caught a flash of red. His jacket was draped over a chair next to the conference table, just a few feet away.
He hesitated. He loved that jacket. He had lost everything else, but at least he could keep the jacket. He only needed a few seconds. He still had time. The impulse overwhelmed him.
“I’ll be right there, Bender!”
Before the robot had a chance to respond, or his brain had a chance to stop him, he was kicking his way through the scattered trash to reach the round table. He took a moment to set down the holophoner and seize the jacket.
At that moment the sirens fell silent, and the enormous expanse of the hangar was eerily quiet for a few seconds. As he shoved one arm into the coat, Fry gradually picked up the muffled sounds of hundreds of uniformed officers outside the building, talking, directing traffic, and trying to break in to get him. He glanced toward the cockpit of the Planet Express ship, which sat slightly below eye level from where he was standing. He could now see Bender through the cockpit window, pointing toward him frantically--no, behind him.
Before his heart even had a chance to skip a beat, he whipped around. The doors to the lounge were open, and he saw Amy, Hermes, and Leela step onto the conference level, tottering under the bulk of Farnsworth and his forcefield bubble.
“I won’t do it, I won’t, I won’t-“ fussed the professor.
“C’mon professor, just open the door over ‘dere-“ Hermes began—
Then everyone stopped and stared at Fry.
Both sides were momentarily caught off guard. Fry then realized that this was the only level where something as bulky as Farnsworth’s bubble could be carried to an outside access door. Even as he was thinking this, he was slipping his other arm through his jacket, and moving directly toward the safety railing separating him from the ship, ignoring the stairway. He reached the railing and looked down toward the hangar floor about 15 feet below him. The big debris pile was just below him. He heard Leela struggling to lower Farnsworth down to the ground, and without hesitating he leaped over the rail and landed, awkwardly, onto the pile, rolling down until he smacked the floor.
Winded but unhurt, he leaped up and ran as hard as he could for the gangway of the Planet Express ship. A holoimager mounted over the top of the ship’s stairway swiveled to stare at him.
“Bender! Turn on the ship! Start pulling up the ramp!”, he gasped to the small monitor as he reached the foot of the stairs.
He listened for the sound of boots behind him, breathing, a hand closing on his arm—but couldn’t sense anything. For the first time in days he began to feel a bit of hope that he could escape the traps that had been laid so subtly for him. Without turning to check, he took the stairs three at a time, until a couple of seconds later he was at the top of the stairs, standing underneath the holoimager, dying of asphyxiation.
He risked a look back, and his hopes rose further when he saw that Leela had only just reached the rail. Apparently setting Farnsworth down had been a lot of trouble.
One leg over the rail, she looked across and down the twenty feet of space that separated her and Fry, realizing along with him that there was no way she could jump to the floor and reach the gangway before he sealed it off. Her face was a combination of frustration and worry. She glanced up at the cockpit, and whatever Bender was doing apparently didn’t ease her mind.
Looking to his left, Fry saw the control panel for the stairway, recessed into the curved interior wall of the ship. Without hesitation he slapped the retraction button, and he felt his feet vibrating as the entire gangway began to lift upward into the ship’s body. Leela’s wrist-thingy could control the ramp, but somehow he remembered that the manual controls overrode any remote commands--
He wasn’t expecting to hear Leela call out in such a pleading tone. He hadn’t heard such a tone since—well since he had woken up in a dumpster at the start of this whole nightmare. He hesitated and looked back up at her, hand on the hatch controls. She was now leaning against the rail, one hand behind her back, looking almost plaintively at him.
“Fry, don’t take the ship! You’re clearly really upset about something, but if you steal the ship, you’re going to get yourself killed.”
“Why do you care?” he said, startled at the bitterness in his voice. “You hate me now.”
“I admit, I’m really angry at you, disgusted even, but also really confused.” Her one fist pressed against her head, as if she were trying to push a headache back into her skull. “Look, if you steal the ship, you know you won’t get very far. You can barely fly her. You know that. They’ll destroy the ship, killing you, and no one will know why you’re acting this way. Period.”
The external hatch began to slide shut.
“Listen’ to her, mon, “ Hermes said, moving up next to Leela, leaving Amy and Zoidberg to lean against Farnsworth’s force field ball, pressing it against the wall next to the lounge doors.
“I didn’t do anything to you, any of you!” Fry cried. “I didn’t leave! I didn’t do anything wrong! What you remember isn’t right!”
Leela nodded. “I agree, something’s not right. You need help.”
The stairway had nearly retracted, but Fry still kept his hand on the controls, wavering.
Leaning heavily against Farnsworth’s forcefield, Amy was looking at Leela with admiration, and Fry had to admit that Leela was showing great self-restraint, trying to talk down someone she thought was a crazy pervert.
Leela looked him straight in the eye, in mute appeal.
“Talk to us.”
And after an internal struggle, she forced a taut smile.
The hatch was three-quarters closed, and all he could see of the hangar was Leela and part of Hermes.
Fry wanted to reverse the controls. He wanted to talk with her. He needed help. He had no idea what he was going to do. But somehow his gut wasn’t cooperating. And a feeling of sadness blanketed him as he realized that he just didn’t trust being around Leela anymore.
She was now the only thing he could see through the narrowing slot of the closing hatch, and he felt he was closing a door on the best part of his life.
“I’m really sorry, Leela,” he said, lowering his arm by his side.
But before the hatch cut her off completely, Leela called out, “Then one more thing! Aren’t you forgetting something?”
And she raised her arm that had been hidden behind her back, revealing the holophoner that Fry had left behind on the table.