And for reasons he couldn’t fathom, he stepped in…
…and stepped right out back into the room, as if he had simply walked through a door. How strange! He looked behind him and saw only the inky blackness of the opening. He shuddered; there was no going back. And he walked out of the room.
Everything was much clearer now. The buildings were different. Not only were they easier to see, they were in much better condition. In fact, as he stared holes in one building started to fill in with glass. He walked down the street in a random direction that he knew could not be random.
He kept thinking there were others around him. Crowds in fact, going about their day, but when he turned to look he was alone. Grimly, he marched on.
He saw a building next to a river, and knew answers lay there. He walked through the broken doors and stared. Trash lay everywhere on the floor, and the wind blew through gaps in the wall. Disappointed, expecting more, he climbed the stairs and saw a conference table. At least that’s what he thought it was. How did he know that? He stood on the table, in the center, and looked around. 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.
Jumping down, he walked up, scooped away some dirt, and pulled an object out of the ground. 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. Somehow he knew to put it to his lips and blow. Nothing. He tried again. A faint strained sound came out, the first sound he had heard in a long time. He readjusted and tried again. The tone he had been seeking emerged and enveloped the room. First the tone, then the tempo, then the tune. A green smoke emerged from the tip and swirled above him, gradually growing larger like a snowball rolling down a hill. It floated above the conference table and settled onto it, and all the while he kept playing. Color seemed to be seeping back into existence, emanating from the cloud above the table. Furniture self-repaired, walls re-sealed, and computer screens and appliances faded into existence around him, but he only noticed the cloud. For the cloud had now resolved into a silhouette of a person, a person with its back turned to him. 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 woke up, scratched himself in a place that really needed some scratching, and remembered her name. Leela. And he was Fry. Philip J Fry. A flood of images suddenly piled into his mind like a freeway accident. Dance lesson. Last night. Hangover. Planet Express. He worked there. And it was morning. And he was probably late. He looked down at his clothes, stained with all sorts of unidentified fluids. No time to shower. Actually, today wasn’t shower day anyway. If he had to, he could use the locker room. Part of him wondered why he was in a dumpster, but his life was full of wonders, so he climbed out of the dumpster and put his disquiet on hold. At least his hangover wasn’t too bad. In fact, he didn’t seem to have one at all.
Quickly he walked into Planet Express. Was it just him or did the place look a bit … spiffy? Maybe it was the elegantly etched glass doors, the new microwave, leather chairs around the conference table… Actually, it wasn’t leather, but some sort of scaly hide. But it seemed as classy as zebra-stripped lizard skin could ever be. A sign caught his eye, and he read the digital display:
“ACCIDENT FREE WORKPLACE FOR 361 DAYS.”
He had never seen that sign reach the triple digits before. Double digits, even. Maybe it needed to be adjusted. He grabbed the edges of the sign and pulled hard. Wouldn’t …come…. loose… His hands slipped and he fell backwards, cracking his head on the ground and biting his lip in the process. As he rubbed his finger over his lips, tasting blood, the display reset back to zero. OK, that was more like it.
Where was everybody? Maybe he should look at the clock. It was later than he thought. That’s why the ship was gone. Whoops! Well, he would get yelled at, but it was all part of the job. And it wasn’t too late for All my Circuits!
He slouched into the lounge and cast an approving eye over the new sofa. Time to break in new butt-prints. Ooh, massager! His jaw dropped at the sight of the TV. Holy smokes, the screen was three times as big as he remembered! Part of him had always been curious why TVs a thousand years into the future were smaller than in the 20th century.
He flicked through the channels. Wow, smellovision! Ah, here we go…
“Oh Calculon, your evil half-brother has captured your long-lost twin and converted him into a human!”
Wait, wasn’t Calculon supposed to be in coma? Underwater?
“Oh Monique, the horror. The hooorrrrooorrr! Quickly, we must find my token human friend, who has gone to Milwaukee to satisfy his mating urges, and get his advice!”
But wasn’t the token human friend a prisoner of Monique’s evil father-in-law’s outlaw beta version? And he thought he remembered that Monique’s upgraded cousin had taken her to the forbidden oil pleasure pits of Petrol VI to divert her imaging routines away from Calculon’s coma but she had nearly been seduced by Sleazy Martinez who planned to download Monique’s original prototype’s fortune by accessing the password embedded in her ex-fiances encryption code? I mean, it had all been pretty simple, hadn’t it?
“Sweet Jesus lizard walking on water! Fry, you’re back, mon!”
Fry turned and saw Hermes staring at him, looking stunned.
“Ship’s gone. Musta overslept.”
“Um, yeah. In my office, quickly.”
Fry shrugged and wandered into the administrative headquarters of Planet Express. To his surprise, Hermes’s desk was clear. Usually his Inbox and Outbox were crammed with all sorts of forms and carbon copies, but now the whole thing was looking almost forlorn…
“Fry, have you looked into a mirror lately?”
“I tried once, but it broke when I tried to stick my head in.”
Hermes pressed a button and a mirror appeared on the wall. Fry nonchalantly glanced sideways, and nearly cried out. A heavily bearded face with long read hair past the shoulders was staring back at him with wide eyes.
Hermes watched Fry as he felt the beard on his face. Truth be told, when he had seen Fry, he had felt a flash of fear as the words of his dear departed grandmamma had come back to him.
“De zombie dead, deara, always have de longest hair and finga-nails. Cause even when you dead, your hair and nails, dey still grow, you know?”
“Fry, where’ve you been? Sweet Cher in the air, It’s been a whole wet and rainy season, almost, since you’ve left here. Looks like you’ve been smokin’ something and sleepin’ outside! Are the Grateful Dead tourin’ again?”
“Whadda you mean? I’ve been here. Just went on a delivery yesterday. Went dancing with--“ He stopped. Hermes probably shouldn’t know how trashed he, Leela, Amy, and Bender had probably gotten last night, after the dance class.
“Here, try this out.” Hermes pointed to a head-sized box sitting in the corner of his office. One side of the box had a large hole in it, and as Fry peeked through, he saw a thick nest of blades, scissors, and knifes. One corkscrew sat waiting in a corner, coiled like a snake waiting to strike whatever was stupid enough to enter. Only the toothbrush looked relatively harmless.
“Go ahead, stick your head in. It’s the latest in time savin’ productivity enhancers.”
“Er, what is it? Looks like a suicide booth.”
“Of course it does, it’s made by the same company. Suicide booths are manufactured by the shaving companies, didn’t you know? You haven’t heard the slogan “We can cut your throat as well as we cut your hair?”
“Actually, this model is a combo suicide/shaving kit. Oh yeah, I forgot. It’s set on ‘kill’ right now. OK, I’ve switched it. Now you can stick your head in. And don’t forget to relax. If you tense your face you’ll lose some skin.”
Nonplussed, Fry stuck his head in. As the box began to whirr and Fry began to whine, Hermes thought of the last time he had seen the young delivery boy—
“It’s in the regulations.”
“Well I don’t want one, and no one wants one for me.”
He stood in front of his desk, slouched as usual, hands jammed in that red jacket of his. He had only been with the company for four years, but some of the paperwork this boy had generated had become legend within the Central Bureaucracy. Hermes still remembered the time when a level 5 admin (A five!) actually had to look up a regulation to see whether what Fry did with that pencil
(a) constituted sexual harassment, and (b) if it were legally possible to sexually harass yourself.
“Well, any employee with more than two years of service is required to have a farewell ceremony, where everyone can wish him well with appropriate amounts of insincerity. There’s no way around it.”
“Will Leela be there?”
“She took a long-term leave yesterday, so I don’ know. And now you’re leaving faster than an overthrown Caribbean dictator. I’m half-expectin’ Bender to walk in here and quit as well.”
Fry seemed only mildly interested in the news about Leela.
“Well, I’m leaving for good, so maybe that’ll make your paperwork simpler.”
Wrong thing for him to say. Truth be told, the past few years had produced some of the most interesting and challenging paperwork in his career. The medical forms alone—ah well, the past was past. He had run some quick numbers and was astounded at future profit projections if the business just kept the mutant and the robot, and dropped the old man’s relative. This held even if the Cyclops did take some time off. It was amazing how perfectly Leela’s productivity had been cancelled by Fry and Bender, or as he privately called them, the two Horsemen. So he would lose a blizzard of paperwork. He could learn to live with boredom.
“No, I’m sorry. We are goin’ to have to get together to wish you well, whether you like it or not.”
“I’ll can pay you not to give this party.”
“Fry, sorry, but dat’s a bribe, and all bribe offers must be submitted on form KCKBCK-5, copied in triplicate, and submitted to the Central Bureaucracy with six weeks notice. And you tell me you’re leavin’ tomorrow night!”
“Please Hermes, you must be able to do something.”
There was a tinge of sadness in the plea, and to his shame Hermes found himself responding.
“Well, look. If we keep payin’ you, then you technically haven’t left employment. So say we agree on a payment of $1 a week, transmit it to your account, then we’d have to do nothin’. I’d have to fiddle with some forms, but then we wouldn’t have to do a party.”
“Thanks Hermes, but one thing. I may not be able to get to that account-would you transfer it to Bender’s account instead?”
If he were to make an itemized list of entities he would trust money to (cross-referenced of course), Bender would be somewhere on the bottom. But it was his dollar a week.
“Fine. So sign, here, and here, and here, lick this, stare into this, hold still while I put in the needle—I said hold still! OK, good, you’re all set!
“Great, Hermes! I have a lot of good memories here. Say goodbye to LaBarbara and Dwight for me. Goodbye.”
He shook hands, and with that he strode out the door. Well it was nice for him to ask about his family.
And yet the memory left a sour smell in his mind. For he technically should have submitted a report informing the Central Bureaucracy of the $1/month reassignment for approval, but he hadn’t done so because he hadn’t been sure it would have been approved.
For the first time in a spotless career he had deliberately broken a regulation, and it was a source of constant irritation to him. For that reason he really didn’t like to think about that day. In fact, it was a day he would rather forget. And now he was back-
Hermes snapped out of his recollection and switched off the shaver. Fry whipped his head out of the box, revealing an immaculate haircut and smooth-shaven cheeks that glistened in the fluorescent lighting. Hermes squinted, and saw that the glistening was due to the blood from a multitude of thin cuts on his face. Huge tufts of red hair jutted out of the shaver like some sort of exotic plant growing out of the side of a square pot.
“How was it?”
“I think the end of my tongue is gone! But my mouth now feels all fresh and minty!”
“Yeah, but sweet smells of Sheycelles! The rest of you is like an overripe plantain.” And indeed, Hermes could see the sudden change in color as Fry’s washed neckline met the rest of his body. “Wher’ve you been?”
Fry didn’t really want to say he had been in a dumpster. “I can’t really remember what happened after last night.”
“Last night! How about the past twelve months?”
“Twelve months? What’re you talking about?”
Hermes shoved a calendar in Fry’s face. Fry looked down and shrugged. He wasn’t the kind to keep track of birthdays. Or deadlines. Or time.
“You left twelve months ago with one day’s notice.” Hermes lowered his voice. “Technically you’re still on the payroll. Are you here because you wan’ your job back? Have you talked to Prof. Farnsworth?”
“Umm, yeah I still wanna work here. No, I haven’t talked to nobody yet. No one’s around.”
“Well, Leela and Bender should be back from their delivery soon. Why don’t you take a shower and we’ll put you on the afternoon agenda, right after my latest analysis of trends in proportions of packing material in our deliveries.”
And with that, Fry found himself outside the office, and soon after that, in front of the laundry machine in his underpants. He was beginning to think it was going to be a strange day, or stranger than usual.