Static on a TV screen. Then words:
“Congratulations! Your brain has just rebooted! When you wake up, you’ll be hungry. Remember, only Thompson’s Teeth gives you the mega-calcium you need to help that nerve re-mylenation. Thompson’s Teeth. Helping you get a-head!”
“Note: you have been automatically subscribed to this dream service because our New New York EEG sensors have detected a sudden change in sentience. Occasionally we pass your EEG pattern to reliable third party dream vendors who may offer products of interest to you. If you do not wish to receive these dream offers, please think ‘gorilla-ballerina-litter box-apple sauce’—three times in a row, now, to unsubscribe.”
Then static once more.
He sat in a small room crammed with DVDs and old pizza boxes, watching a small TV. The only light in the room was the amber glow of the screen, casting an unhealthy pallor on his blank, unblinking face…
A gentle tone reached his ears, fading away like a sunset over a desert…
He was standing outside a one-room house in the middle of the plain. Except it now looked like a desert…
He walked for what seemed to be days, but he had no sense of time…
He walked down what now seemed to be a street, but a street piled with rubble amidst what appeared to be an abandoned city…
He saw a building next to a river, and knew answers lay there…
Disappointed, expecting more, he climbed the stairs and saw a conference table. Here was where he needed to be, the end of all paths. He stood and tried to find meaning in the breeze, in the gray beams of light punching through the holes in the ceiling. And the silence was complete. No sound, no life, no hope…
And then he saw a glimmer in the rubble underneath one of the beams. For the first time, amidst all the grays and blacks around him, he saw something in color. It was a pipe with a bulb attached to the end of it.
First the tone, then the tempo, then the tune…
And as wisps of white smoke whirled around the crouched figure, it stood up and he could see a cloud of purple billowing around the head. The figure turned around.
And she opened her eye…
He opened his eyes, and wanted to scratch himself in a place that needed some scratching, but froze as he found himself looking at his distorted reflection in the hull, and felt stairs pressing into his back.
He remembered. Another epifanny. This was really going to hurt.
They tried to wipe away your mind, he silently told the red-headed boy staring back, an uncharacteristically thoughtful look on his face . I think they just wanted to erase your holophoner memories, but you fought it, you hid in your family memories, and so then they tried to erase my memories of Leela. Leela, the reason why he had fought so hard to remember the holophoner in the first place. Some of the greatest memories of his life clung around her smile when he played that instrument.
He heard some distant shouting and a strong murmur filling the hangar, but he couldn’t tear himself away from his own reflection.
They tried to take Leela, but you fought even harder, kept finding her again in the sad memories, the ones that are hard to forget. Joy fades, pain endures. They had to rip out entire chunks of my mind to find us, but I still kept her and kept hiding, deeper.
And finally, they had to destroy everything—Amy, Bender, every continent, every planet visited, his entire past. And even then, once they had finally found Leela, they still never found the holophoner. Somehow he had managed to sink it away into the dark recesses of his mind, as somehow… Somehow you were able to wipe your own mind instead, leaving no trail to follow.
And then they must have given up, and left him alone. Did they ever try to put new memories in you? He thought to his reflection. Must not of worked, if they did. And somehow, you were able to remember the holophoner again. And from the holophoner, you were able to remember Leela. And from Leela-you were able to remember… everything.
He felt ice in his stomach, along with the headache in his head. He had come close to being killed many times before; in fact, it was part of his daily job. He had even nearly had his “lower horn” chopped off to make some alien aphrodisiac.
And yet—there was something about having his personality erased, which made him feel all unnervy inside. To think he could look the same on the outside, but what made him him on the inside could be scraped away—there was something very cold, very personal, very terrifying about that. He was only slightly less weirded out by the thought that he had been able to reconstruct most of his memories and personality by simply remembering Leela. He hadn’t understood how much of her had become a part of him, until now.
And who had done this? Impressions, images, were fading fast, like trying to recall a dream upon waking up. He had seen something behind the Eye. And he hadn’t expected it. But it kept slipping away. But he still remembered the rage, the fury of those last moments--.
He blinked and risked moving his head a little, breaking away from his reflection, enough to see Leela crouched next to his waist, hands raised by her head, eye closed, hauntingly similar to the last image in his memory/dream…
Did they mess with your mind too? Did they try to make you forget about me? You didn’t try very hard, did you?
The residual anger from his recovered memory settled onto her. He had let them destroy his mind rather than betray his memories of her. While she--
You let them feed you whatever they wanted you to think. You let them twist your mind and who you were until only the ugly parts of you were left.
He couldn’t put it into words, but he was more than disappointed. It was a little like when he had first learned what the true ingredient of Slurm was. How something you trusted, an anchor in your existence, could turn out to be neither trustworthy or constant.
I always thought you were strong. Stronger than me. I thought you knew me. You should have had a little more faith in me.
He must have moved slightly, or perhaps his breathing altered slightly, because Leela frowned and started to open her eye.
Without thinking, he impulsively lifted his leg and shoved her, hard, in the chest.
Normally, Leela was as lithe as a cat, but brooding on her own thoughts, she had been caught off guard, and fell into a backwards somersault, vanishing over the end of the gangway. It was probably a good thing, since his foot felt like he had just kicked a wall.
“BENDER!” he croaked, suddenly aware of the silence that had fallen over the entire hanger. “RAMP!” He sat up and got on his haunches, scrambling toward the edge of the ramp to check that Leela was OK. He had only a moment to see dozens of masked helmets turn his way, before he was distracted by Leela, who was hanging by one hand from the edge of the ramp, twelve feet above the hangar floor. She was already beginning to swing her body, preparing to flip back onto the ramp.
His anger was already fading. He just wasn’t built for sustained hatred. Took too much energy. And he couldn’t be mad at her, especially if she had been changed. Both last night, and just now, she had tried to look past the fake feelings implanted inside her, and had tried to talk with him, to understand what was happening. Who knows, maybe if they had just had a little more time…
The first laser beam flickered past his head, ruining the perfect polish of the hull above him. At the same moment, the gangway began to retract back up again. Bender must have heard him. Fry and Leela stared at each other, and he saw her eye widen as she realized what he was going to do a moment before he did. Both seemed to realize that from now on, there was no turning back.
“I love you, Leela,” he said.
He probably could have chosen a better time to say that.
Then he jammed his foot down on her hand as hard as he could, looking askance as he did it. Maybe if he didn’t look while doing it, she wouldn’t hate him so much?
He couldn’t close his ears though. He had not anticipated the adrenaline rushing through his muscles, and he had stamped much harder than he had intended. How could such a little bone make such a big noise when it broke? He heard a little gasp of pain, and then she was falling, grasping her broken fingers, flailing as her ankle hit the ground at a bad angle. He saw the boot twist a little more than an ankle should, and she fell on her back, hitting her head hard.
Snatching the holophoner from the gangway, Fry ducked down just in time as the gangway retracted completely, then ducked out of the hatchway just as a flurry of laser beams pockmarked the opposite wall of the entry room. The hatch slammed shut, and the sound of the weaponry impacting the hull was muted, sounding like a gentle rain hitting the roof of a house.
He didn’t feel safe at all. He felt sick. Three feet of polygraphatic hull between him and Leela felt no safer than tissue paper. He wouldn’t feel safe until he was parsecs away. He kinda doubted he’d feel safe ever again. But at the same time, he hoped she was OK.
A few moments later he burst onto the bridge, looking for Bender, but stopped short as the co-pilot’s chair swiveled around, revealing a mysterious, unfamiliar figure.
“Wh-who are you?” he stammered, breathless.
“Scruffy. Scruffy the janitor,” the stranger said, sounding bored. He dropped his eyes down to the latest edition of “Gears Gone Wild”.
“Geez, Fry, do I have to draw a map for you?”
Fry whirled around and saw Bender pimpwalk onto the bridge, obviously in a great mood.
“The cash is stowed away, and boy do I feel several tons lighter,” the robot mused. “Actually, I guess I really am several tons lighter-“
“Bender, who’s this guy?”
Bender appraised Scruffy, scratching his chin suspiciously. Then he lit up.
“A hostage. We were only able to take $2.3 billion out of the $2.7, and maybe I can use this guy to make up some of my loss.”
“We can’t take—aw nuts. Let’s just get outta here.”
“What’s the rush, meatbag? This is one of the safest places on the planet here,” said the robot, casually making an obscene gesture to the SWAT team clustered around the conference table, firing over the guard railing at the ship’s windshield. “I’ve locked everything down.” He waved at Amy and Hermes, huddled face down on the conference level deck outside. And there was Nibbler, huddled under the table. Huh, the little guy must be feeling better. The last time he had seen him was just after he had crashed the hovertruck into the building a little while ago, and Nibbler had been barely conscious.
“-can bite my shiny, metal a-“
But now Fry spotted Leela through the windshield. She had limped up the stairwell to the conference level, ignoring the laser shots flying around her. Barely sparing a glance over her shoulder at the PE ship, she had reached a ladder mounted on the hanger wall, and had just started to climb up toward a mobile crane mounted on the roof.
“Heh, heh, heh, what’s she trying ta do, lift us up?” chortled the bending unit, leaning back into a convenient chair, and pulling out a Zuban, reserved especially for just a chortling occasion like this.
Fry didn’t fell nearly as sanguine, and watched his former captain painfully pull herself up the rungs toward the crane.
Bender dropped the Zuban to the floor. Fry turned, and saw and his friend’s eyes telescope out. Fry followed his gaze.
Dangling from the crane was a chain that slacked down onto the conference room floor. Somehow, when they hadn’t been looking, Leela had attached the end of the chain to something.
Nibbler’s litter box.
Leela was a very tidy person, Fry knew, but somehow it still seemed a little strange that she was picking this time to clean Nibbler’s litter box, with all the laser fire going on and all. He also would have thought that sweeping up the mess on the floor and moving the hovertruck out of the kitchenette would have been higher priorities. Still, he didn’t know much about cleaning house, and she really did care for the little guy…
Milliseconds later Bender grabbed Fry by the lapels of his well-worn red jacket.
“Wha—I thought we were OK here!”
“The space rat craps out dark matter! That stuff can break through anything! Even this windshield!”
“You mean-Nibbler’s gonna throw his poop at us?”
Bender groaned. “Dammit, organ bank. The crane lifts the poop, then she runs it into us. We can’t fly with a big hole in our side.” Fry stared blankly at him. “Look, do I hafta draw a picture for ya?!”
Thirty seconds later Fry looked up from a bunch of sketches etched on a few dirty napkins, and the back page of Gears gone Wild.
“Look Bender—she’s lifted up the litter box and it’s moving toward us! Just like in this picture here! That means that she’s gonna-“ he looked at the next sketch in the sequence, paled, and tried to grab Bender by the lapels, before realizing he didn’t have any. “Let’s get outta here!”
“I forget,” Bender said, “how do ya start this thing?”
The robot fell over as Fry slapped down a large red button, and the engines roared to life, sending a large shudder down the vessel before the inertial dampers could respond.
OK, that was simple enough, thought Fry. It had helped that the button had had a large label “START ENGINES” right above it. But now what? He’d done this a few times before. Grab the control stick, then pull back…
Dozens of figures dashed for cover as the PE Ship lifted vertically off the ground under perfect control, then smashed into the hangar roof, and then fell to the floor with a resounding crash.
Dazed, Fry lifted himself off the bridge floor.
“Heh, yeah. Forgot to open the hangar roof hatches.”
“Damn,” said Bender, “the Professor must have really strengthened those things since our last joyride.”
The bridge door slid open and Zoidberg wandered in, owl feathers drifting away from his mouth.
“My good friends Fry, Bender, and Scruffy! Are we about to leave on a great adventure? Oh look! Leela is coming too!”
The new PE crew could see the crane and the roof structure groan under the strain as the little litter box, suspended just an inch off the ground, glided closer to them.
“OK, Fry,” Bender said, “open the doors and let’s get outta here.”
“Um, Bender, where’s the button to open them?”
The two friends looked at each other blankly for a moment, then started frantically pressing every button or switch that looked remotely practical.
“Hey janitor hostage guy, do you know—“
“Scruffy knows that one switch for the roof hatches is outside, right there by the wall by the cops—“
Oh no, thought Fry, we’re trapped. And the little bundle of dark matter had now glided past the conference table, straining down against the groaning gantry, making a beeline for the PE cabin.
Then Fry realized there was another ship system he knew by heart. Seconds later, he was scrambling up the entryway into the gunnery chamber. He jammed the chamber swivel controls hard to the right, and the gun began to rotate horizontally as he adjusted the gun barrel elevation to point to the roof.
He glanced through a window and found he had a clear view of the roof crane trundling toward the ship. His eye accidentally met Leela’s, and even though they were fifty feet away, he could see her eye flick toward the ceiling, then the gun, and then widen.
The first shot from the laser cannon ricocheted from the hangar roof and took out part of the wall to the offices and Farnsworth’s lab. The roof doors hadn’t opened, but they now looked like Fry did after a night on the town with Bender. Fry had faith. He knew Farnsworth was much more enthusiastic about offensive weapon systems than Xmas defenses.
The second blast flipped the two ton doors into the vivid blue sky, where they twirled in the air gracefully, looking like large gray butterflies. Then they knocked a few police hovercraft out of the air and crashed down into the streets flanking the building, crushing empty police cars in a way that butterflies don’t.
The remainder of the roof was no longer stable, and the section above the mobile crane could no longer bear the several ton pull of the dark matter. Hands pressed white against the gunnery window, Fry watched as Leela leapt out of the crane, just before the entire thing detached from the roof, plunging to the floor, the litter box slightly clipping the PE ship’s nose on its way through the floor. The ship shook as the remainder of the roof crashed down around them, burying the floor in debris a few feet thick, and jetting plumes of dust and metal flakes into the air, blurring out his view of the outside world. He strained, but couldn’t see Leela, or anyone else. He desperately hoped she was OK.
As he started to climb back down into the hull, Fry thought he caught a glimpse of Nibbler, clinging to one of the beams on the walls. It must have been his imagining, because it looked like the little guy was waving at him, trying to get his attention.
The ship began to vibrate as the engines activated once again. Fry slid/stumbled back onto the bridge as Bender jerked the control rod back, and the PE ship drunkenly ascended through the roof, knocking away the last stray bits of the roof structure.
“Ah, pleasant memories of stealing the ship,” sighed Bender.
Memories, all right, thought Fry. The laser cannon and kinetic projectile weapons bombarding their tail from the surrounding street were eerily reminiscent of the first time he had flown in this ship on Jan. 1, 3000.
Bender let go of the control rod to adjust his cigar. Fry dashed forward to grab the rod and keep the ship from lurching.
The PE ship was now nearly vertical, dashing through the atmospheric layers like a dog finally released from a leash.
“Doofus DOOP ships coming in from the side,” Bender murmured, unworried. The PE ship was the most overpowered ship in the quadrant.
They punched through the Van Allen belts, and then the lesser known Van Halen belts, recently named in honor of the famous rock musician/amateur astronomer.
“What now, fatsack?”
“Yes,” said Zoidberg, “the universe is your oyster!”
Scruffy turned the page of his magazine to stare at the centerfold, scratching his nose.
Fry stared blankly for a moment, then smiled. He saw, then pressed, the warp button.
“I think I’m gonna take a shower.”
And then they were gone.