“And they blew off the roof!?”
“Yeah, I barely got out of the crane in time. Luckily I was able to grab a wall beam with my hand, and avoid being buried alive. Quite a few policemen weren’t so lucky. Fortunately, looks like no one was killed.”
“What’s so funny?”
Leela hadn’t realized she was grinning.
“I was just thinking both Fry and Bender must not have noticed the roof hatch controls, clearly marked as a dipswitch in the fuse panel underneath the console. So they probably panicked and blew everything up. Pretty typical of them.”
“I can’t believe you’re smiling,” Gary said. “They almost killed you! And they took hostages!”
“No, not really. Just Zoidberg.” Leela stared down at her coffee mug, currently containing a dose of caffeine that would have been illegal on Earth just a few centuries ago. She could see herself smile in the coffee’s reflection, which reminded her of her strange experience with another reflection earlier that day.
Why am I smiling?
“And look at you! I can’t believe you’re going to try and travel like this.”
“I heal really quickly. I can already walk on my ankle.” She waved her splinted fingers in the air. “This will take another week or so. The whole thing will probably be over by then anyway. Besides, I like to have the reminder,” she said, grimly, staring at the splint the medics had placed on her.
“One week! That quickly! Then you know where they are?”
Leela didn’t answer, but surreptitiously looked around the Cygnoidian pizza joint. The PE building sat across the street in the dark, still surrounding by a pack of flashing red lights. In less than an hour she and Amy were planning to leave the planet in a desperate attempt to get the PE ship back and save Planet Express. She had arranged this quick meeting with Gary in the most isolated spot on the street, the best she could do before she had to leave. But she didn’t want to say too much. She saw an Amphibonian hastily look away, and several other aliens and humans glance away a little too casually. There was a lot of money in play here, and a lot of people were coming out to play.
“No,” she said, lying. “But they’re not going to get very far. I mean, true, Fry, Bender, and Zoidberg together might add up to almost one brain.” She tamped down the surge of guilt she felt for saying that out loud. “Also, they’ve had a lot of practice in running for their lives.” She shook her head. “But the space around the solar system is really heavily patrolled, and if they tried to blend into the traffic on Sqrt(66) they’ll be stopped at the new checkpoints.”
“I heard the Nimbus is being called in too,” Gary said. “With Zapp Brannigan on top of this, you should be getting your ship back pretty quickly.”
“Er, yes,” she said, stirring her coffee more vigorously than usual. Some secrets she was not quite ready to share. “His lieutenant, Kif Kroker, is pretty competent.”
“Well,” Gary said gently, “I hope you come back soon.” He took a bite of the Cygnoid’s pizza. “Mmm.. not bad. They must have gotten some new toppings in today…”
“Me too. And thank you for offering to feed Nibbler when I’m gone. I was so worried about him this afternoon, being knocked out like that. You may find him a bit of a handful—he’s been trying to sneak out all afternoon.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine. I really like animals.” And he flashed a grin at her.
She smiled, felt a little part of her defenses melt inside, and looked down to sip at her coffee. There she was, staring back at her, puzzled, just like earlier today.
“Do you ever feel—have this feeling, that you’re not acting like yourself?”
“I’ve done some things at Blernsball games that I don’t really like to remember.”
She hesitated, but his green eyes looked at her, patient, curious, kind. At that moment she felt like she could tell him anything.
“This afternoon we had to pick new names when we registered for our – travel. I picked Lola. And I’ve felt funny ever since. Actually, I’ve been feeling strange for days, ever since Fry-“.
She watched her reflection in the coffee as she mentioned his name. She saw her eye flash, her lisp curl into a sneer and felt an intense wave of hatred swell inside of her—and then suddenly vanish without a trace.
Do I want to hurt him? Yes. But he also needs help. Mental help. Do I want to hurt him or help him? Maybe both?
“I mean, just today I started shrieking. Shrieking! Completely losing it—completely out of control! I’ve only done that once in my life before.” A brief memory of her hooded parents standing by a wall flickered into her mind, then faded. “I never do that. I never act that way. And for a moment I felt like I wasn’t myself. Like I’m not the Leela I used to be.”
She kept looking down at the table, reluctant to meet his eyes. “Also, I’ve found myself being nasty lately to people, especially Fry. Really nasty, even cruel. So when I picked the name, I found myself wondering. Maybe it’s right that my name is Lola now. Because I don’t really feel like I’m Leela.”
She had said too much, voicing these vague dreads. He was going to run away. She stared at her reflection in the coffee, too nervous to look up.
“What I hear is someone tired beyond endurance, injured, angry, and about to do something really stupid.” he said. “And from hints you’ve dropped, you’ve had every reason to be angry with this ex-boyfriend Spry of yours.”
“Whatever.” He leaned forward, worry written over his face. “Sleep here one more night. Stay with me just one more night, then head out first thing in the morning. I don’t like you going like this with—your friend—“
“Yeah, Amy. Worst thing to do is to do when you space travel is to be tired. That space lag is a killer.”
“That’s really sweet, Gary,” she smiled, authentically, at him. “That means a lot to me. In fact, somehow, just talking about it makes me feel a lot better. I have to go.” She stood up and extracted what looked like a small pin from her wrist thingmagig.
“Here, you can reach me on this encrypted link if something serious comes up with Nibbler. Or if you’re just thinking of me.” She tilted her head coquettishly and leaned over to whisper, trying not to be overheard. “Don’t send too many though—I don’t want anyone tracking me!”
There was a long kiss—did we kiss last night? I don’t remember, she thought.
“Stay,” he said.
“Sorry. But I promise you,” she said, running her finger along his jaw, “it’ll be worth the wait.”
Her watched her walk into the dark street, and stared after her for a long time, seemingly oblivious to the five other patrons who quietly paid up and slipped out.
Professor Hubert Farnsworth was working in what remained of his lab, the gentle breeze floating through the missing wall only seeming to stimulate him and push him harder. He had lost so much time today, with all those bothersome law enforcement officials and press scum asking him the same thing, over and over again. He had finally dumped everything on Hermes, who had only now just left, exhausted, yet thrilled at the mountain of paperwork this was going to lead too.
He should be asleep too, this late at night, but Farnsworth was excited. He had had this memory of talking with Fry, ridiculous of course, since the dear boy had vanished a long time ago—but what an interesting talk they had had! Implanted memories with their associated emotions! The more he had worked it around in his head, the less impossible it seemed. Why, just now he realized that if he used liquid hydrogen instead of liquid helium, he could get the superconducting SQUIDS to work with that much higher resolution, and he might be able to work on individual neurons. Read them—and change them. There was the small matter of a test subject, but –
A knock on the door jerked him out of his reverie. Farnsworth turned around and saw a young Neptunian standing in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, are you Professor Farnsworth?”
“We have something to you need to see.”
Farnsworth was not suspicious. The nature of his experiments required the delivery of all sorts of –unusual—materials that the delivery services generally preferred to send at odd hours. The alien body parts in particular also seemed to arrive late at night, up the back stairs.
The device the young alien and his companions were assembling did not look like it had any alien body parts, although an unsophisticated mind might think the little probe dangling from the mass of wires might look like an eye on the end of an eyestalk. One of the figures, a yarn creature, nodded to the Neptunian and his companions, who nodded back and left the room.
Farnsworth frowned, glancing from the parts on his table to the device standing in front of him. It looked like a lot of his parts were in this machine.
“Who are you imbeciles? I’m working, can’t you see?”
The yarn alien leaned forward, strands relaxed in sympathy. It emitted a series of soothing notes, accompanied by a translation from a badge posted on its chest.
“We’re sorry, Professor, this will take just a moment. We’re an ambulance crew. The NNY health agency sent us by to do a checkup on all holdup victims today—just to make sure you’re still mentally fit after the experience. Just look here.”
As Farnsworth turned to look at the small probe the Neptunian was pointing to, something beeped on the alien’s chest. He thought he heard the phrase “personality bifurcation?” emerge from the badge on the yarn creatures test.
“Please, Professor, we must hurry. Please look this way—“
Farnsworth swept his eyes toward the probe and
Prof. Hubert Farnsworth slept slumped in his hoverchair in his laboratory. He had been working on his latest doomsday device, but he had dozed off while reviewing the quantum field equations in his head, and had begun dreaming of younger times with Mom. He dreamt of mottled flesh and creaky joints, of a mix of solder and sweat, as a gentle breeze tickled his nose…