The gangway steps kept rising, and Fry could see his and Leela’s reflections on the PE hull get larger and larger—
Then froze, as Leela tapped her chin against her thingmajing, freezing the gangway in place.
“No, Leela-“ he tried to croak, but nothing came out. He was choking, panicking as the oxygen ran out in his brain, and his brain, never very good in crisis situations, ran around in circles in panic, consuming oxygen all the faster. He saw Leela turn her head toward the hangar entrance, crying “Don’t shoot!” and somehow it all seemed very familiar, this panic, loss, and terror—
Bender shot anyway, blasting away an undulating mass of tentacles that squirmed up the cliff path behind them. Fry looked behind his shoulder, just in time to see a final glimpse of the PE ship in the distance, a small speck engulfed by tentacles and eyes, before it disintegrated into a blur of green and red. And then there was nothing but rock and the ocean beyond.
The ocean itself was a large flat, black, turbulent thing, featureless in the light cast by the night sky, stretching from horizon to horizon. Even a night sky like this, brilliant with dense conglomerates of stars blazing away everywhere you looked, and with two moons peeking above the horizon—even the light from a sky like this could only faintly illuminate the breakers he could see in the distance, far behind and below them. He didn’t know where they were. He had taken his shrinking group of friends everywhere else in the PE ship, every continent, every planet that he had somehow retained as a passing memory. And these—things—had followed, swallowing up every continent, every planet, and gradually every friend. Finally, he, Bender, Amy, and Leela’s comatose form were left behind in the PE ship, floating in limbo in something like deep space, and somehow he sensed there was one place left, a place he didn’t really remember. And here they were. It was a different place than the others, so isolated that they had managed to flee all this way from the ship before they were discovered.
Turning away from the PE ship, he mourned its loss as he had mourned the loss of every friend and relative that had been taken from him, even if he couldn’t remember precisely who they had been. He was already struggling to retain the image of Amy’s face before she had vanished, a short time ago.
“Bender, now they know where we are!”
The robot lit his cigar.
“They know where you are anyway, because you keep panicking, and they can smell fear. And geez, Fry, couldn’t you remember what Zubans are like? These have no taste.”
“I never smoked them, so I don’t know what they taste like,” he replied, staring past Bender to their last desperate destination.
They were on a path that clung to an enormous cliff that erupted from the sea like the blade of a dark obsidian sword, and were now so high above the ocean that the massive breakers crashing against its base appeared like faint traces of white. One arm held Leela’s limp form across his back, hand holding the holophoner, while the other pressed against the cliff wall for balance. Six inches to the left of his left foot, nothing stood between him and the night sky. In another life part of him would have admired a particularly beautiful nebula, but he only glanced at it dully now, as he heard Bender shouting again.
“They’re coming again, meatbag! I mean, is it really that hard to get you to stop thinkin’? Getting you started is hard enough.”
Like untended ivy crawling up an ancient black wall, huge bushy black strands of Them squirmed up the cliffs, wiggled up the path after them. Bender fired his rocket launcher once more, blasting a huge gap in the path behind them, sending a large squirming ball of Them plunging back into the raging sea below.
“Look, if you’re gonna think, think up some more explosive shells-“
And then more were on the path, blocking the route ahead. Fry saw a small tendril worm its way down the path toward Bender, who was standing ten feet ahead. Before Fry could shout out a warning, Bender aimed the launcher toward the tip of the mess descending down on them, and pulled the trigger on his launcher. Nothing came out.
“Ah, damn it Fry, You’re going to make me do it, aren’t you?”
Bender charged toward the pulsing mass about to drop down on them, while shoving down the antenna on his head and muttering, “Initiate self-destruct sequence….”
“You know, if this was really me,” he said matter-of-factly, “ I wouldn’t ever blow myself up for some dumb meatbag. This is so out-of-character that the real me is gonna sue you for misrepresentation, once all this is over. But I guess that’s just you-- you just remember the best in everybody. Moron.” Something started to beep in his chest. “But I guess if I’m going to go, I’m gonna make sure as hell that I’m gonna be remembered, and not forgotten. Good luck with you and the eyeball, Fry. Hope she was worth it.”
He saw the flash a moment before the blast wave nearly knocked him off the path. An entire side of the cliff bulged away into the night sky and rock, tendrils, and eyes plunged, scintillating in the twin moonlight down toward the sea. Bender was gone, and for a few moments, he and Leela were safe.
He dropped to his knees, horrified. Even in his shock, though, he was careful to gently lean Leela against the wall. Bender. His best friend. Gone. And soon to be forgotten.
Something rustled behind him on the path.
He didn’t care if they found him anymore. He was now angry. Angry wasn’t the word—there was no word he knew that would cover what he was feeling. There was only one way to express the feeling. He put the holophoner to his lips and blew.
An enormous chunk of rock smashed away the rest of the trail behind him, taking out several clumps of Them that were almost on him. He blew again, and began ripping the cliff apart, hurling the ancient stone down onto the nests of vines and eyes that were scaling the cliffs, slashing large gashes in the wall. He blew again, and the resulting sound shook the cliff to its roots, and it split in two, a chasm opening in front of him. Glancing down, he could see a red thread of lava welling up from the gap. Glancing right, he saw that a new route had formed on the side of the chasm, allowing him to climb straight up.
He should be tired, carrying her weight on his back, but the sad truth was that she now had hardly any weight at all, and her skin had the luster of alabaster, if that was what you called that fancy white rock. He seemed to leap up from ledge to ledge, staring up to the chasm rim and the stars beyond, pausing only to blast fountains of lava up and onto the tendrils wending their way behind him.
At last he reached the top, and stopped short. Apparently they were on an island. From where he stood, every direction he looked showed a few feet of flat rock, and then a sheer drop, the sea stretching off to a dim horizon. Standing on this narrow rock platform were two pylons. He paused and stared at the pylons. He didn’t recognize them, but they looked familiar. One was covered with figures that he knew were the common Alien Alphabet, the other—it was some other set of symbols
There was a subtle shift in the dim light illuminating the pylons. He looked up into the sky, and as he watched the two moons seemed to swivel around, transforming into eyes as he watched. He looked quickly down.
He could hear rustling on all sides of the pinnacle now, a sound like cockroaches scurrying over glass. He lowered Leela so she sat, slumped, back to one of the pylons, and swung around, planting his feet like a gunfighter. He blew the holophoner again and the oceans around the island began to boil as the lava welled up in a ring around the base.
Something large and wet was coming, but to his surprise the first thing he saw was a small tendril, no longer or thicker than an earthworm, peeking through a small crack at the edge of the cliff. A small eyeball opened up at the end of the tendril and blinked. And then thousands of eyestalks welled up from the cracks, like worms fleeing a lawn after a rainstorm. He whipped the holophoner back and forth like a broom, brushing back the slimy carpet over the cliff’s edge. But something was about to emerge over the side that wouldn’t be moved so easily. Here it came now—
His eye caught something between his feet. A small tendril had managed to creep between his legs, reaching behind him.
And then he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around.
Leela was now standing in front of the pylon. Or what had used to be Leela. She had been Changed. She held out her hand for the holophoner.
It was all over. He had lost. Even as disbelief settled over his soul, he narrowed his eyes at Her. There was something about the way she had Changed that was important. You know, she looked a lot like-
He heard something large and heavy slide over the cliff edge.
What was he feeling? Despair. She was gone for good. But there was also something in him, something he didn’t know he had before. He blazed with defiance. They would never have him. Closing his eyes, he blew one loud, longing, lonely tone, arcing his instrument above his head. A large, jagged gash ripped across the sky, tracing the motion of the tip of his instrument. Stars began to sink from the sky, and from the torn gap dollops of golden light dropped down toward the surface. Out in the distance the first drops hit the ocean, and suddenly the distant horizon was covered with fiery waterspouts. The tear in the sky sagged open further, and golden light started splashing closer to the island. The ground began to tremble as the lava frothed up into huge jets into the sky. And above all the noise the musical tone kept reverberating, shaking all of creation.
What had once been Leela swayed, and covered her ears. He felt the large thing behind him shift nervously.
He finished blowing, but the tone would not die away. If anything, it was getting louder. Before anything could grab him, he threw the holophoner as hard as he could. It spun, end over end, silhouetted by the fiery tsunami that was now bearing down on them, and sailed past some large tendrils that tried to snatch it, but failed. He caught a few glints of the instrument as it plunged into the boiling sea, where nightmares were screaming in agony. And then it was gone, out of reach of anyone.
The horizon had transformed into a massive wall of fire and foam, thundering toward the island. The moons dimmed and dropped into the sea. All of existence seemed to lurch on its side as columns of fire descended from the heavens and plunged into the sea. He turned around, determined, at the end, to finally face his tormentor eye-to-eye.
It was not as scary as he had feared. An enormous eye on an eyestalk, resting on a nest of eyes, stared at him, unblinking. He stared back, squinting. He thought he could see something move, faintly, behind the pupil. He focused, and stared harder.
And he was surprised.
And then existence collaps-
Fry slumped, unconscious, under her arm. For a moment her heart skipped a beat, scared that she had gone too far. She checked for his pulse, and found it. Sighing, she sat back on her haunches, and was startled by the sight of someone sneering at her just a few feet away. Even as she jerked her hands into a defensive pose, however, she saw that it was just her reflection on the PE hull, now staring blankly back as her, as if saying, Who are you?
I don’t know, she replied silently to her image. I don’t feel like I’m me.
Across the hangar, the blast door rumbled open, and a crowd of men in SWAT armor swarmed over the conference area. A few started to approach the railing. She allowed herself to close her eye, let out a long, ragged breath, and raised her arms in the air. Even with her eye closed, the image of her twisted reflection floated in front of her. Who are you?
She forced the thought from her mind, and focused on a fundamental fact.
At long last, it was all over.