Fry stared glumly at the holophoner in Leela’s hand. After everything that had happened: sleeping in dumpsters, bribing Bender and Zoidberg, breaking into Leela’s apartment, hiding in her closet, surviving a face-to-face confrontation with her, participating in a spectacular bank robbery, driving an armored hovertruck backwards across half of New New York, and playing a game of hide-and-seek through the Planet Express building—after all he had done to win back the holophoner and the memories it somehow unlocked in his mind--he was now going to lose it over a stupid whim.
Well, he thought, don’t give yourself away. Don’t show how much it means to you. Play it cool. Be like Captain Kirk. Or was it Picard that was better at bluffing? So may important questions in life…
“So it is important to you,” Leela murmured, peering at the holophoner, brow furled. “I don’t get it…”
How could she tell? Fry thought, just before he noticed his jaw had dropped away from his overbite and was swinging like mudflaps on a truck, his mouth gaping wider than an Omicronian quitting a protein-restricted diet. OK, that would probably be a give away.
His hand dropped to the ramp controls, and the hatch stopped closing. And after a moment, it started to rumble back open.
This was silly, he thought as the gangway began to slide back down to the floor. He wasn’t about to risk his one chance of freedom, which he had sacrificed so much for, just to lose it over a musical instrument, was he?
And yet. The holophoner had helped him realize that he wasn’t a deadbeat coward. It had warned him that something was after him and nosing around Leela, and it had basically screamed at him that the Planet Express ship was the key to escape. Plus, he was actually getting better at playing it. And behind this jumble of thoughts, like a gentle murmur of a brook that cut through the cacophony of a Beck concert, lay the memory of the night of his opera. He just couldn’t turn his back on the past. Not when he seemed to have so little of it left.
“You want this, Fry, you’ll have to talk with us for a bit.” Leela said.
The hatchway opened completely, and the gangway hit the ground with a thud.
“Yeah, the hatch opens as well as closes,” Bender snarked over the intercom. “What the hell is going on down there, monkey meat?”
Fry shuffled slowly down the stairs, staring up at Leela, Hermes, Amy, and Zoidberg, all leaning against the railing. He was a fool, he knew. Well, what else was new? Who knows, maybe he could---
Wait a moment. Zoidberg? Wasn’t he supposed to be watching the Professor? And Amy too?
Fry flicked his eyes over to the lounge entrance, and saw that the forceball was no longer there. He heard a faint rustling and shifted his head slightly. Farnsworth was rolling across the garbage-strewn floor, inching slowly but steadily through the mess toward the railing overlooking the rest of the hangar.
Leela was following Fry’s eyes, and glanced over her shoulder.
“Amy-the railing’s too weak-“
“On it,” the intern chirped, then promptly slipped and fell.
Was this deliberate? Was Leela trying to distract him, stall him? When had he become so mistrustful toward his friends? And why was he holding a can of Bachelor Chow in his hand?
The can had been sitting in his coat pocket since last night, when Bender had given it to him. Come to think of it, it had been a special occasion—Bender rarely gave him anything. For free.
But now, as was his habit, he had jammed his hands deep into his pockets while he had been slouching down the gangway. And while distracted by Farnsworth, he had pulled out the can.
Leela looked at Amy scrambling on the floor, lips pursed in disapproval.
“Zoidberg, why aren’t you over with the Professor? Go help him, please.”
Zoidberg didn’t respond, fixated on the holophoner in Leela’s hands.
“My good friend Leela! You’ve found my holophoner.”
“What do you mean your holophoner?” both Leela and Fry bleated in unison.
“I found it in Fry’s locker. Hermes let me keep it.” And the alien tried to reach for the instrument, but was checked by Leela.
“It’s not yours, Zoidberg. It’s mine. Remember Elzar’s? You gave it back to me in return for buying you dinner. The professor--”
Amy stopped struggling on the mess on the ground for a moment.
“You went on a date with Zoidberg?”
“No, I didn’t-“ Leela huffed in frustration, and then shoved the instrument into Zoidberg’s claw. “Don’t move. Hermes, keep an eye on him. I guess I’m gonna have to take care of the Professor-“
Hermes glowered suspiciously at the serene expression on Zoidberg’s face as Leela pounded through the debris, positioning herself between the forceball and the railing.
“Gimme dat thing, you miserable crustacean!”
“Zoidberg, no!” blurted Fry. “Not yet.” He started to wave his arms to distract the alien. Several feet away from Hermes, Leela dropped onto her back and raised her insulated boots. The forceball collided with her feet, shoving her body along the ground, but the young woman reached beyond her head and grabbed the base of the railing, giving her some leverage against the ball.
The unsettlingly shiny red dome of the good doctor’s head leaned over the railing, and Zoidberg stared down at the delivery boy standing twenty feet below him. Then the Decapodian’s eyes widened.
“What’s this? What’s this you’re holding in your toes?”
“Huh?” Fry said. “You mean this can?” He held it up so Zoidberg could see the label, anything to keep him from moving toward Hermes. He heard Leela give an enormous grunt as she managed to use her legs to shove the forceball onto a different path. Toward the exterior entrance, currently covered by the blast door.
“Bachelor Chow! Sweet nectar of post-agricultural factory processing!” Zoidberg drooled, but then straightened up, skeptical. “But wait. Is the can dented?”
Fry, still standing halfway down the gangway, looked at the can.
A high pitched squeal rent the air, followed by a wrenching warble. Some deep-buried survival instinct in Fry forced him to whip his hand away from the can, and for a fraction of a second he could see the famous Bachelor Chow logo spinning around, suspended in mid-air. Then there was a reddish blur, and the can kept spinning, but now one end was smashed open, and it was an empty can that finally surrendered to gravity and clanged onto the gangway.
Whipping around, Fry barely had time to see Zoidberg’s back disappearing into the ship, trying to halt his momentum, while still smacking his mouthflaps from the heavenly snack. He wiped his empty claws over his mouth, like a chipmunk cleaning its face.
A couple of thoughts hit Fry at once, but he could only deal with one at a time. O.K., First: Who knew Zoidberg could move so fast! That was awesome! O.K., Second: what was it—something to do with empty claws. Empty claws? Why is that strange? What happened to the—
He heard a clatter on the hangar floor. Turning away from the hatch entrance, he saw the Bachelor Chow can bouncing down the gangway stairs, rolling along the floor, then colliding with the holophoner, which had just finished skidding across the floor towards the ship. While leaping over the railing, Zoidberg must have dropped the holophoner. It now sat, gleaming, thirty feet away from the delivery boy. For the second time this year, Zoidberg had sacrificed music for a free meal.
Time stopped. Fry felt he was moving through syrup. He could see Leela back on her feet, eye wide, staring from the railing down at Fry and the holophoner. She was twice as far away from the instrument as he was, not to mention a good twenty feet above the ground.
“What in Satan’s name is going on here?”
The forceball had hit the exterior door, and had come to a halt. Dazed and dizzy, Farnsworth must have de-activated the forceball, because he was now standing, wavering and woozy, in front of the side entrance.
“Who sealed this door? It’s not Xmas!! Who shut all the windows? I need my Vitamin D!”
He leaned forward and peered into the retinal scanner. The emergency lights snapped off, plunging the entire hangar into gloom for just a second. Then a shaft of sunlight cut through the murk, illuminating a small section of the floor. And then the shaft widened, as the second roof shutter slid open, revealing bright blue sky. In moments, the PE Building’s defenses would be completely rolled back.
And there, half lying in the sunlight, half hidden in the darkness, sat the holophoner.
Fry and Leela stared at each other, frozen in silence, but the sound of the second roof shutter clicking back into its hideaway acted like a starting pistol, and before Fry even realized what he was doing, he was bounding down the rest of the gangway, leaping down the last three steps, and pounding toward the holophoner, all without remembering to breathe. He had to skid to slow down and stop next to the instrument. As he bent down to lift it up, out of the corner of his eyes he saw a pair of gray boots land on the same pile of debris he had landed on just minutes earlier.
Without hesitating he fled back toward the stairway, blood pounding in his ears. No, that wasn’t blood, those were the sound of boots pounding on the pavement behind him. Her stride was so long that he seemed to take two steps for every one of hers. Why did the gangway suddenly seem so distant?
“NO!” he heard shouted, close to his ear, and he was tackled from behind, at the waist. He and Leela tumbled to the ground, their momentum sufficient to slide them all the way to the base of the gangway, scattering trash everywhere. Frantically trying to keep his grip on the holophoner, Fry despaired as the thin device slipped through his fingers and skidded a few inches away from his grasp, knocking against the very base of the gangway steps.
“This has gone on long enough,” Leela said, flipping him onto his back. Another shutter finished opening, and a halo of sunlight sparkled around her hair. “You’ve already nearly wrecked my life. I’ll be dammed if I’ll let you wreck this ship and my job, too.”
Up above both of them Fry could see the streamlined curve of the PE ship’s hull, polished so cleanly that he could see his and her distorted reflections struggling in the green background. He felt detached, like he was watching two strangers fighting in a different reality. Not them. Not him and Leela. Reluctantly he turned away from the reflection to look at her face, but her expression made it hard to recognize her.
“So the ship means more to you than me, now? You really do hate me, don’t you?” He didn’t intend to sound petulant. He really didn’t. But he was tired, so very tired, and frightened.
“I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, not to hate you, to loathe you,” she growled, struggling to pin down his writhing body beneath her. “I’ve tried to give you the benefit of the doubt time and again, every step of the way. I told myself, ‘Fry got me this job, he found my parents, stayed with me.-‘“ She finally managed to grip both of his shoulders and slam them against the ground.
“But you’ve changed, Fry! I don’t know you anymore. Maybe I never did. I knew you were immature, but I never dreamed you would abandon a helpless baby, even if she were a mutant. Or hide in my closet and watch me—“
Her full weight was on his torso, and he flailed his arms to no avail. It was over, he had tried everything. And then a strange question burst out of his mouth.
“Why’d you go out with me, anyway?”
“I ask myself that question every day.”
“No, really. For years you wouldn’t even think about going on a date with me. Even when I wrote that whole opera thing, you only gave me a group dance lesson. I’m not complaining, but I really kinda want to know—what finally got you to sleep with me?”
“Stop screwing with my head, Fry. You should know, you were there.”
Another roof shutter locked back into place, and the shadow of a police hovercar sidled across the hangar floor.
“I was? When? How did we start?”
And then, ever so slightly, Fry felt the pressure on his shoulders ease. He looked up in her eyes and saw bewilderment.
“I-I can’t quite remember. I remember waking up in bed next to you—must’ve gotten drunk.” She grimaced, as if in pain. “But I can’t remember a hangover. I never quite figured it out. It hurts to think about—I’m so confused.” She shuddered, and she lifted one arm to rub her forehead.
“Leela,” he said gently. “I don’t think we ever went out. Never kissed, never slept together, never broke up. I think it’s all been put in your mind.” He hesitated, torn between hope and caution, and gulped. “Little Eureka never exi-“
Suddenly he saw stars as his head crashed back against the floor. Through the ringing of his ears, he heard her voice reach a pitch he had never experienced before.
“You snake!” She was almost screaming now. “You’re trying to trick me! You’re lying! You’ve always lied! You once tricked me into marrying you, and you’re trying to trick me now!” She slammed him again into the ground. “But I’ve got you! You’ve tripped up! You never found Eureka’s medkit that I kept in my closest, did you? You were too busy oogling me and Gary! And what about the holomems I have of her birth? I guess I imagined all that out of thin air, huh?”
Good point, Fry thought woozily. Bender would have an answer. “Bender?” He gasped weakly. “Help…’ He tried to look around and only saw Amy, frozen in place by the railing, still struck dumb.
“You weasel! You dirty owl! You coward! I hate you! Yes, I hate you!” She was relieved, a burden finally off her mind. “I’m tired of feeling guilty about it! I don’t owe you anything! I’ve suffered enough-“
Over half of the ceiling shutters were now open, and Fry could now see Hermes in front of the large telecom panel, shouting to an image of Smitty-“The doors are opening! They’re tryin’ to take de ship! We have one, but de robot is still on de ship!”
“Get everyone face down on the floor—“ Smitty was replying…
He didn’t know her face, it was so twisted with rage. Maybe he never had really known her at all, either.
“Stop…moving!” she grunted, lifting his shoulders up and pounding him on the ground again. He looked up at their reflections again, but it was kind of funny--from his point of view it looked like the reflected Fry was lying right next to the reflected holophoner.
He shot out his arm past his head, groping, and felt his fingers touch a familiar mouthpiece. She must have moved him slightly when she had lifted and pounded him back down. He didn’t have to think about what to do. There was only one spot on her body as fragile as her heart. He swung his wrist, swinging the bulb of the holophoner through the air until it hit her right in the center of her eye.
She gasped and involuntarily arched backwards, releasing his shoulders and covering her eye with her hands. Fry managed to wiggle a couple more inches, and his hand grasped the bottom step of the PE ship. He pulled hard, and his body slid out from between her legs.
With one hand she tried to grab him, but flailing wildly with one foot he managed to kick her in the stomach, and caught off guard, she rolled away. Wheezing, Fry scrambled up, holophoner in hand, and plunged forward up the gangway. Whatever he had been doing the past year, it hadn’t been exercise.
“BENDER!” he screeched, “PULL UP THE –URK!”
Something had grasped him by the ankle, and he fell forward. This time, though, he had a deathgrip on the holophoner, and as he was flipped over onto his back again, he swung it again with all his might.
A hand grabbed his forearm, stopping him easily.
He had never thought much about Leela being a mutant. Frankly, he didn’t care. But the sight of the red, bloodshot eye and tousled hair wiped away whatever restraint he might have felt and he swung at her with his last free arm. But it did no good, and he found both of this arms pinned together above his head, against the stairs.
“Stop it, Fry.”
And he felt the wrist of her free hand moving toward his throat. With one last wild arcing of his back he managed to get his knee to hit her forearm, but it only hit a button her wristmygig. Apparently she had tuned the device to the ramp controls, because the gangway started to retract up into the belly of the PE ship, with Fry and Leela sprawled out diagonally on the stairs. Or maybe Bender had heard him and had activated the ramp.
“Leela, please. Don’t-“
“I’m done talking, Fry. Tried that for too long. Enjoy prison.”
And for the second time in two days, Fry felt Leela’s free wrist rotate over this throat, sealing off his windpipe. At the very edge of his vision, he saw the blast door covering the side entrance start to open.