Futurama

Fan Fiction

Futurama: Universe of Malice, Part 23
By Kenneth White

Chapter 23 - Reforging the Immemorial

Again, eyes bulged and jaws dropped, as the head of Chaos Renegade Chris emerged from the darkness below, and she joined her equally awed leader, Dawson. As a crimson haze burned against the skin of their faces, Chris realised she was within one of those places that would constantly revere any beholder, just when you thought it was impossible to be so shocked and humbled any more.

"By the dominion of Hades!" she exclaimed in a fearful whisper. "Have we chanced upon the very emplacement of the demon god himself, or is Scheol the lesser of two evils in regards to this?!"

"What is it?" said an arrogant, muffled voice from below. "What's up there that makes a person use such large alien words as 'Hades' and 'emplacement?'"

Zapp's head popped out of the metal crevice, his own face now joining the others in a deep scarlet shroud. If it wasn't for the burning glow before them, a pale blench would cover their facial skin instead. As far as speech went, yelling "Gaaaa!" was all the DOOP captain could muster at the moment, as Boris and Madcap joined him and the others in both presence and wonderment.

Before the five explorers, a good ten metres or so away, was a massive window that stretched as wide and high as their eyes could see. This window was not fashioned out of glass though, instead consisting of a thin pane of flickering pale energy. But this was not what awed the onlookers. No, they were captivated by the sight beyond this gargantuan gap. Out of their sight, down below and perhaps beneath them, was something that was bathing everything in thick red. There wasn't a lot to see, though in some ways there was. The area beyond the window was pretty empty, but the dimensions it stretched were vast. So vast that for the first time those inside could actually see some curvature from the inside relating to the outer surface, as the inner side walls of the outer shell stretched before them, curving around both horizontally and vertically slightly from what appeared to be the inner equator of the planet eater. A flat metal ceiling stretched across high above at the summit of the window with nothing but unused space between it and the central region. Below it was fairly sparse, save for a few metal things protruding out from the walls randomly. The very bottom, only just visible to the group, wasn't as flat as most of the rest of it, instead having a nicely slick, trowel-shaped surface, opened forwards with sloped-up sides. And before it was the part of the distant, curved wall that most of the attention focussed on; a circular area created by many sinuous plates of metal. That area was further from them than anything in sight, and must have been between twenty and thirty thousand kilometres away at least, only even visible to the naked eye because of the mass size of it all and the penetrating red glow from beneath.

"Oh my God!" Zapp exclaimed. "That's enough to crush any normal man's ego entirely and make him feel like nothing! Luckily I am beyond normal man..."

"Your ego certainly is," huffed Chris.

"We must be close now," Dawson stated as he looked on. "We are so close to the heart of this monstrosity... I can almost smell it."

Zapp sniffed.

"All I can smell is sweaty renegades!"

Justice was dealt to Zapp via a great quake that knocked him to the ground. The four mercenaries themselves were also toppled and jostled around on the hard surface.

"What is it now?!" Zapp yelled. "This stupid thing is always shaking, rattling and rolling!"

"Look!" said a deep voice, as Boris pointed out of the window.

The others followed Boris' directed index finger, as a massive metal device protruded out from somewhere below them. It looked like an odd cross between a space station, a cannon, and some kind of home appliance, though it was far bigger than any example of those of those things. This appeared to be the source of the crimson luminosity, and the further forward it moved, the further forward the light was pushed. When it stopped, the light no longer enveloped the five onlookers, instead burning now only against the frontal interior.

"God! Not another one!" Chris yelled, her voice wavering somewhere between angry frustration and sad sympathy. "Not again!"

"If it is, we're going to see if first hand!" Dawson responded.

"Not as first hand as the beings on whatever planet it is!" came Chris' bitter retort.

It started as a pinhole at the very centre of the monstrosity, then gradually grew, as the great leviathan of space opened up once more. The curved metal plates receded inwards, sliding and scraping one another with a dry grating sound, fittingly resembling jagged teeth somewhere through the process. When the operation was complete, the hole was as big as a moon or small planetoid, and a teal coloured, terrestrial planet was revealed to the internal witnesses. Then, the rumbling stopped. All was calm, not even a sound. Zapp and the Renegades got back on their feet, glad that they were no longer getting jumbled and slammed against the metal surface like gravel in a dredge. They walked closer to the window, all staring silently at the planet outside. Zapp suddenly jolted with a gasp.

"Wait! I know that planet!"

"You do?" asked Dawson with little emotion. "What is it?"

"Amphibios Nine," Zapp answered gruffly. "My second in command after me bore some babies down there. They're still there too."

Zapp sighed sadly.

"Kif will be devastated if his children are decimated by this thing! And considering who their mother was, they were probably going to grow up into fine-looking green ladies too..."

"Dammit!" Chris growled, not for Zapp's sake, but for the sake of those children and anybody else down there. She slammed her right fist against the energy shield, but it sparked and thrust her hand back with a crisp zapping sound.

"Ow!! You bastard!" Chris growled, rubbing her mildly burnt hand. "Don't do it!"

It was at that moment that a powering-up sound blared from the device ahead. After a good ten seconds of this, a massive red beam blasted down upon the planet, leaving Zapp and the Renegades awestruck again as the shimmering, ruby-like energy shrouded over the surface of Amphibios 9 like warm melted chocolate over a ball of ice cream. Once it was completely drenched, the beam became tubular as it formed the familiar shield ball around the swampy planetoid victim. Familiar to it, but new to the Renegades. And none of them liked what they saw one bit, and the same went for Zapp.

"No! NO!" Chris yelled with a growling plea of anger and pain, rare tears managing to well up in her eyes. "We have to stop that thing! We have to stop it now!"

"We'll stop it, Chris," said Dawson, placing a hand on her shoulder gently, just as a metal barrel began to protrude out the front centre of the laser device and a new powering up sound began to ring out. "We'll find a way."

"But we're taking too long!" Chris growled. "This isn't about the money any more, damn it! Look at what that thing is doing! We're running out of time! Every second could mean the lives of billions!"

There was silence as a thick violet beam burst out the end of the barrel at the planet. All pupils dilated.

"No! You BASTARD!!! You malevolent PIECE OF SH--"

Chris' cries were drowned by a loud blast that tore through the air, a good two seconds after the beam had even fired. It ruptured through the planet's atmosphere effortlessly and exploded against the surface, dealing Amphibios 9 a mortal wound of several miles width and never-ending depth. Here the Renegades, frozen statues of pale complexion, suddenly realised what they were up against. The beam disengaged, retracted slightly but leaving the red shield activated. Then winds with the power of a thousand hurricanes began to haul in the monster's catch of the day, pulling up the torn pieces of land and debris inside it.

"AAAAARGH!!!"

The entire group yelled and recoiled as a titanic piece of torn land whooshed through the machine's open mouth straight towards them at a fantastic speed. They quickly regained their composure and all just stared, as it just bounced off the energy window before them and plummeted down into the trowel-shaped floor, where most of the rest of the detritus tumbled and disappeared. More pieces of various sizes and shapes pelted against it after that, while in the soles of their boots, they could feel thumping and rumbling deep below them. Dawson looked up and down the massive sheet of light-thin energy.

"Why the shield?!" he asked loudly to everybody and nobody. The still shocked group all exchanged glances and said nothing, so Dawson turned to face them.

"Why the shield?!" he repeated, only yelling to have his voice heard over the thunderous mechanical sounds around them.

"To stop planet debris from getting in here?" Zapp surmised with a shrug, pronouncing 'debris' with the 's' on the end of it. Dawson ignored this and replied with his arms crossed as if to say "Good, but not satisfactory."

"Perhaps, but then why a shield when it could just be a wall?" he stated. "And a clear shield at that."

"Maybe it's a viewing window for visitors?" Zapp asked. The others all groaned, save for Dawson.

"The comment is stupid, yes," the Renegade commander stated. "But if you take out the word 'visitors' I think you'll be close."

"Viewing window for who then?" Madcap asked, somewhat condescendingly in tone.

"Who or whatever is behind this monstrosity," Dawson stated. "I think we're closer to him, her or it than we've ever been."

Zapp and the Renegades looked behind them, but saw nothing of much interest. There just appeared to be a row of tall, cylindrical metal tubes before them about twenty metres from the bottom edge of the window shield. Zapp wandered over to one, a reflection of him forming in it as he got close. He chuckled at it, his mirror image not only stretching him a bit but also creating an upside down variation from the waist down, as if a second mirror had been placed there. Zapp noticed the resemblance to that of the high picture cards in a standard playing deck.

"I look just like the Jack of Hearts!" he said with a goofy smile as he posed before the similitude.

"More like the Jack of Asses!" quipped Chris impatiently.

Zapp frowned then jumped at the sound of a rumble. He and the others gasped as the immense cylinders of metal began to move to their right, all following each other like the plates of caterpillar tracks. And as Boris looked up with yet another gasp, he could see why. All the burly Russian could do was point and emit a hoarse yell. All eyes trained skyward.

Atop the rolling cylinders was a thick metal platform, and attached to that a large metal cube. This itself reached several hundred metres in height, but on top of that again was the real source of frightened wonderment. For there, before what looked like a podium or stand attached to the metal platform, was a body of astronomical proportions, stretching up higher than they could see. No legs did it have, seeming to be forged from the waist up, its horizontal motion tracks the only visible means of movement. This would be something Professor Farnsworth could only dream of owning, the mass of its main torso so huge it would shame most mountains. Two arms it had, each one like two of the tallest, thickest and smoothest skyscrapers had been joint together by a pivot at the elbow joints. At the end of these were two mechanical hands, three thick metal fingers and a thumb attached to each one. From the darkness above and the lower angle the humans below were at, they couldn't make out whether it had a head or neck. In either case, the metal giant was slowly turning to its left, swivelling around upon its cylindrical base with a squeaking rumble and its tremendous right arm swinging high above them.

"So that is it?!" Dawson breathed with fascination, almost as if in a trance. "The bot behind the beast!"

"I hope so," said Chris. "Because if that isn't... I hate to see what is!"

"But why has it turned around?" Zapp asked with a shrug. "Sick of the view?"

"No," said Madcap, who was staring out the window. "Movement."

"Huh?" Zapp asked. Madcap pointed out.

"See... the stars are moving to the right slowly now..."

The group looked out through the monster's mouth into the empty space where Amphibios 9 once lay. They heard a soft rumble behind them and turned to see the cylinder tracks were now slowly moving back the other way.

"The robot turns and the rest of the metal planet responds and compensates to go in that direction," Madcap stated.

"So how does it know where it's going then?" shrugged Dawson. Madcap grinned madly and pulled back his coat sleeve.

"A scan will hopefully figure that out," he smiled. "I suspect it somehow senses life forms, but how I do not know. To scan we will have to get closer."

"Closer?!" Zapp screamed.

"That's fine, because I intend for us to get closer anyway," Dawson stated. "More climbing people, so grab your clamps!"

As the other nodded and retrieved their magnets, Zapp wandered over to Madcap nervously.

"Uh, that thing can't sense us can it?" Zapp asked.

"It hasn't reacted since we've been here at the window," Madcap stated.

Dawson suddenly stopped and looked worried. "No," he stated, flatly at first but then building in intensity the more he spoke. "But then it was just attacking a planet full of inhabitants!"

"You're right!" said Madcap with a gasp. "That would have likely masked us! But now..."

"Now the planet is destroyed!" Dawson said to finish Madcap's sentence. "Let's hide people!!"

"Where?!" Chris asked quickly and angrily. "Where can we hide if he can sense us by something other than sight?!"

Dawson looked around quickly, the area again being drenched in a crimson haze as the beast closed its mouth and withdrew the attacking device back further within its throat.

"Back into the crevice!" he yelled.

"And hurry!" added Madcap with a screech, pointing up and behind them. There, a massive great mechanical hand was beginning to swing down towards them from above like a giant clock pendulum, looking extra threatening while basked in the red light. They all quickly grabbed their magnets and slid into the gap, Zapp the last, screaming as he dived in just before three titanic metal digits screeched above him. There in the gap the five humans waited, all breathing heavily with pearly beads of moisture on their faces.

"Now how do we get up there?!" huffed Chris. "With that beast sensing us, we don't have a chance!"

"We're like fleas to it," said Dawson. "He can't see us, but he can feel us itching him."

"Hold still," said Madcap to Chris quickly.

"Ow!" she growled, her left hand moving towards her forehead. "You bas--"

"Don't touch it," said Madcap quickly and firmly without yelling before she could finish the insult, causing her to stop reaching towards her brow. She still gave him a nasty scowl, something silver glistening below the lines caused by the facial gesture and between her platinum-blonde eyebrows.

"What did you just do then, chrome dome?!" she growled. "The only shots I take are vodka ones!"

"Vodka is good, da?!" Boris mumbled in response.

"If my theory is correct, I've just given you the answer to our problem," responded Madcap, putting a tiny silver object into a small barrel protruding from his arm.

"And what is that?" asked Zapp. "That if you shoot a small piece of metal into your heads he'll think we're robots?"

"No. I predict that the obvious way to sense other life is from brain waves. What I've put into Chris is a cerebro shell, which should block any detection of brain wave patterns within a distance of twelve kilometres. But we must hurry, as I only have five and they only last for twenty four hours."

Madcap shot one into his own forehead with a yelp, then began to load up another.

"Why does everything always have a time factor of twenty four hours?" Zapp asked generally. "It's never twenty five or twenty two... always twenty four hours."

"Shut up!" Chris snapped.

"Look..." Zapp paused, examining the arm of her shirt "... Corporal. As a Captain, you have no right to tell me what to do."

"As a take-no-crap female with a big gun who could knock your sorry as to its death in a wink, I can do whatever the hell I want!"

"Well put," smiled Zapp nervously. "Ow!!"

Surprisingly, it wasn't Chris' fist or boot that struck him between the eyes, but the cerebro shell from Madcap's gun. After giving Dawson and Boris one each as well, Dawson spoke in his usual commanding tone.

"Let's go, people! There's a lot for us to climb before we get to the right height. But first..."

Dawson sprung out of the gap and ran across the surface, four heads popping out and watching him. Dawson stood there and just looked up at the metal giant. No response from him. After ten seconds, Dawson turned and gave a thumbs up.


A single eye stared vaguely at the small yellow object that bobbed there amongst bergs of white foam, before the item was picked up by a pink-skinned hand to be examined more closely. The bright rubber thing was turned towards its observer, a mindlessly happy grin spread over a fake face. Painted eyes of no expression and an orange beak, the eye gazing at it frowned from beneath plastered violet locks.

"Ducks can't smile!" Leela snorted bitingly, then her hand squeezed the rubber lemon torso in a vicelike grip.

QUACK!

A large bubble was formed and blasted free from the underside of the duck along with its stereotypical call. The transparent orb floated in front of Leela's nose, and she pursed her lips and gently blew it away. Like a leaf caught in a gust, it randomly darted through the air, finally meeting one of the cool, dry points on the cold tap knob. There it burst into an invisible mist, and Leela sighed at the thought that Fry seemed just as fragile at the moment. She lowered and submerged her left arm, her grip on the rubber duck loosening to let the pool take it gently from her. Despite a violent crushing, the toy's euphoric smile remained.

"Where is that call from Troy?" she asked herself with impatient sadness, leaning the back of her head on the rim behind and staring up at the bright florescent lighting tubes above. "Fry's been in there for hours now! I hope she can help him... please, let her be able to help him, somebody has to help him..."

The bright pale rays from above made her almost feel like she was pleading to God or something. She closed her eye, a stream of liquid being wringed out from between her lashes to run down to her right ear and drip off the lobe into the ocean around her.

"I'll do anything to help him..."

Leela was covered in water from the neck down, thick foamy bubbles sitting upon the warm liquid like frothy cake icing and hiding her bare body, not that there were any eyes present apart from her one and the pair on the silly duck. She had come here, a private bathroom for her quarters, to try and finally relax. She had spent days that felt like months racing around the universe for those gems and their staff parts, almost constantly on her feet with little rest or sleep, and often grubby and in fear for her life. She hadn't even slept in the Sheridan on Laplace much, despite the luxury. Finally, she had a chance to relax, now that everything had been done and it was just a matter of getting there. But while her body could unwind, her mind was far from a state of decompression. All she could think about was poor Fry. She had never seen him in such a mess. He couldn't even look at her and promise that he wasn't going to do something stupid. Like take his own life. He just! seemed so... dead.

Leela shifted in the long tub with a sigh, now leaning her shoulders into the back left corner and flopping her right leg over the side, the back of her bent knee resting on the smooth top edge. A cloud of ivory suds, perched on the summit of that knee, slid down the glistening wet skin of her surfaced leg, like a toboggan down a frosty hill. They reached the tip of her toes, departing from them to set down softly on the bath mat just a few inches below. Her body was telling her the tub was comfortable, but her mind was telling her otherwise, and quite often the mind dominates when so deep in thought. If Counsellor Troy couldn't help Fry out, who could? And when she was taking so long with him, what progress was she making?

Leela grunted and pulled her leg back into the water roughly, sloshing a damp cluster of water and foam over the edge and onto the mat, erasing the existence of the soapy moraine that once lay there and creating new lathery patches. She sat again parallel to the bath in a relatively straight position. Very straight in fact, with no signs of relaxation at all. Her right arm was rigid now, lying along the long rim of the bath like a freshly felled log, her index finger on the end of it tapping impatiently with a dull clink against the enamel edge.

Beep, beep, beep, beep...

Leela gasped and looked to her right. She reached down with her nearest arm and picked up something from the floor beside the bath. It was her wrist computer, and it was the source of the noise. She pressed the flashing button on it, causing the beeping to cease, and letting a female voice proceed.

"Captain Leela? This is Councillor Troy. I've finished with him."

Leela sensed the tense nature of D'Anna's voice and frowned.

"Is everything alright, Counsellor?" she said into the wrist device with concern. A sigh or groan, hard to tell which for Leela, was the first sound of response.

"I think it's best I talk to you about this in person, Captain," D'Anna followed up with. Leela made a worried groan herself in the back of her throat.

"I... I'll be right there," she answered woefully.



Less than five minutes later, Leela stood before D'Anna's door. She was fully dressed, but with rumpled wet hair she obviously hadn't bothered to dry or even style at all, save for the ponytail hair-tie she had never taken off in the first place. She pressed a large button on a control panel to the left of the entrance, then spoke.

"Counsellor?"

"Come in, Leela," came Troy's pallid response.

The door slid aside, and Leela jumped as she looked at Fry standing there. A zombie like stare on his face, glassy eyes, as if his very soul had been sucked out of him. He was pale, his bottom lip had flaky jags of dead skin hanging from it, and his stance was a strange half-slump, with one arm hanging down like a noose of rope in a dry desert wind.

"Fry," Leela said softly, putting out one hand. His gaze met hers, though it seemed to look right through her instead.

"I'm going back to my room," he croaked dryly, then walked on. His stumble was so laborious and weak, as he brushed Leela's hand softly she almost swore he had passed right through it, like a forgotten ghost that was losing its own spirit. For a while she turned and watched as he stumbled through the corridor, jumping as a voice called to her from behind.

"Captain Leela?"

"Yaah!"

There stood Counsellor Troy, a distressed look across her face.

"Sorry to scare you, Captain," she said with a nod. "Would you come in?"

Leela wandered in carefully, almost as if she were entering a haunted cave. She sat down where Troy indicated, on the patient couch. Leela chose to sit on the edge of it rather than lie, appearing rather tense and impatient, though concerned. She leant forward, rocking back and forth slightly on her the tips of her boots.

"What is it, Counsellor?" Leela queried, her voice actually sounding a lot more dominant and collected than her nervous behaviour seemed to dictate. "I can't help but notice that Fry left the room in a less than healthy condition."

Her last sentence sounded a little accusing, as if she blamed D'Anna for Fry's actions just a few moments earlier. The counsellor cleared her throat and picked up a clipboard from a small end table near her chair.

"Miss Leela... I'll try to get straight to the point here," she started, her voice sounding calm and soothing. "Fry's mind is clearly very distraught and fragile at the moment."

"Tell me something I don't know," Leela answered, trying not to sound angry or hasty.

"Well... this kind of behaviour is very common when a close loved one is lost. Or at least to some extent. Fry, however, is a very extreme case."

"Well," Leela answered, softening her tone, "he always has been the sensitive type. He's never been afraid to cry or show emotions... Not usually anyway. But he seems so dead now. Losing Alesia was tough on him."

"This isn't about that though," Troy answered. "Not any more anyway."

"Huh?" Leela asked. "What do you mean?"

"Fry has a very interesting mind," came D'Anna's answer. It didn't seem satisfactory, and there was a pause.

"Now when you say interesting..." Leela began, trailing off after that.

"When I say interesting, that's exactly what I mean," D'Anna answered. "You're clearly hinting at the fact that his general intelligence is rather lacking, and that's certainly very true. But what Fry lacks in logical and straightforward intelligence, he makes up for in emotional intelligence. Or should I say, emotional tendencies, attributes and thoughts. To put it simply, he tends to think more with his heart than his head."

"That sounds like Fry," Leela nodded sadly. "But what does this have to do with how he is now? And what do you mean when you said it no longer has to do with Alesia's death?"

"Well... You know what a brain tumour can do, right? It can mess with the brain, slowly killing parts of it as time goes on, but sometimes enhancing other parts mysteriously. Well, I suppose Fry has got what we call a heart tumour, metaphorically that is. Like I said, he thinks with his heart more than his mind. The problem is, his heart is has now been attacked, and is slowly getting killed, leaving Fry as he is now. However, Alesia's death is just the root cause of this, and like a brain tumour, his heart isn't only getting killed in some ways, but enhanced in others."

"I don't understand..." said Leela. "How? I mean, I can see what you mean by his heart being slowly killed, that really is showing. But how is it getting enhanced as well?"

"We've been talking, and Fry seems to have some surprisingly deep and psychological views on the universe we live in and life in general, all caused by Alesia's death. The tragedy has made him see things a lot differently than before."

"But that's nuts!" said Leela. "If that were the case, wouldn't he be jumping for joy?"

"Not exactly," Troy answered. "Because there's this whole contradiction involved there. You see, Fry's become completely selfless, generous, understanding, loving, just and moral. Yet, that is wrapped in this paradox, for Fry thinks that all these things are surrounded by nothing but overwhelming evil, hate, destruction, malevolence and selfishness. He thinks that all things in the universe should be nice, but he sees everything as the opposite. He used the term 'Universe of Malice' when we spoke, telling me that he feels entire existence is nothing but a massive hell, that everybody around is just selfish, hateful and sadistic."

"So... you're saying Fry has become so nice that he sees everything as evil, and is morbid because of that?"

"That's pretty much it. And it's slowly killing him. I heard you worried about him being suicidal. I think you should keep an eye on him, because if this gets worse, he's going to destroy himself. One way or another."

"What have you tried to do?" Leela asked.

"Sadly, nothing..."

"Nothing?!" Leela yelled. "Why?!"

"Because... how can I tell him he's wrong... when he's not?"

Leela's anger seemed to fade away and she just sat there.

"The fact was, he has some interesting thoughts, and frankly, I agree with him. It almost became like he was preaching to me instead of the other way. Only difference is, while I agree, I'm not as dedicated to the ideas as he is, and logic tells me not to worry about it because I can't stop it."

"Why didn't you tell him that then?" Leela asked.

"I did. He wouldn't have it. He's too caught up in those thoughts... it's as if he won't accept the positive attributes in life for what they are any more. He only sees hate, and said he didn't want to live in a universe like that."

Leela gasped.

"I've got to stop this!" she said firmly. "Whatever it takes!"

D'Anna nodded.

"All I can suggest is that you and everybody close to him show him that things aren't as nasty as he thinks and that he's loved. I have no idea what else to offer, except that you keep an eye on him. In fact, he probably shouldn't be alone now."

"Right!" nodded Leela. "I'm not going to let this beat me, by not letting it beat him!"

Bleeee-Eeep!

"Would Captain Leela and the Planet Express crew please report to their ship in the docking bay at once," called Captain Ditte's voice through the intercom above. "We are arriving at Earth. In GMT, the local time is twenty-three hundred hours and fourteen minutes, on the second of November. All other personnel, prepare for arrival at DOOP Orbital Base OR01 in approximately seven point zero five minutes."

"I'd better go," said Leela. "Thanks for your diagnosis, Counsellor."

"Goodbye and good luck. I'm sorry that I couldn't be of more help."

"No, I understand now," said Leela as she stood up. "Only Fry's friends and loved ones can help him now. You did all you could."



Leela was at the docking bay in less than a minute. There she found Bender, Amy, Zoidberg and Elod waiting with Captain Ditte, Kif and Sheana. Instinctively, she asked the obvious.

"Where's Fry?"

"Relax, he's inside the ship," said Zoidberg calmly. "We looked and I found him there, but he threw things at me. Luckily one of those things was a sandwich!"

Zoidberg made a slurping sound, while Leela just groaned. She had made that sandwich for Fry because he wasn't eating anything. Ditte approached her.

"We wish you God speed, because the fate of the universe now rests with you," he told her. "The jewels and the staff are aboard your ship and ready for transferral to Professor Farnsworth as you requested."

"And you've cleared this with DOOP High Command?"

"No, actually," Ditte admitted. "But we're going to meet them personally now with the proposition. I'd doubt they'll object, and even if they do, too late... you have it."

"They could order a strike force against us," Leela said.

"What they order and what I do are two different things," Ditte answered.

"Hurry up, you two!" yelled Bender. "I've got TV to watch and beer to drink! And I'm beginning to forget the touch of the smooth metal chassis of a skanky hookerbot!"

"We shall contact you with details as soon as we have them," Ditte finally stated. "They'll know where the machine in located and what not."

He took Leela's hand and kissed it. She blushed, glad that Fry wasn't around to see it, and quickly scanning the windows of the ship in case he had. No sign of him.

"It's been a pleasure, Captain Leela," Ditte added, letting her hand go to give a salute. Leela returned one.

"Thank you, Captain," she nodded, then turned to her crew. "Let's go."



Mere moments later and the Planet Express ship sailed out from the right frontal docking port of the great ship Nimbus, instantly turning to head towards the blue-green planet below. Its nose was angled in the direction of the east coast of the United States.

"There it is," Leela announced with a weary sigh of satisfaction from her chair. "We're home."

"You know," Amy said honestly, walking up to stand at her captain's side, "we've seen this view so many times before, but for some reason... it just seems to much different and more beautiful gazing down upon the Earth this time."

"We've just undergone our most dangerous mission ever," Leela reminded, her voice completely serious. "We've come across danger and death. We've even seen friends die..."

There was a deathly moment of silence after these words throughout the whole cockpit. None of the crew forgot the losses of their companions Scruffy and Alesia, as well as others that had aided them like Elder Willow and Duncan. It almost seemed like an unannounced moment of silence out of respect.

"But despite being home," Leela spoke up again, "we can't forget we're not finished yet. It may seem like we're out of the woods, but the truth is, we're out of the woods and heading into the fire. There's still one more part to our mission: the destruction of the beast, the very reason we've gone through such hell over the past couple of weeks."

Leela pushed the control stick forward to descend upon the earth, down towards New New York city. After piercing the mass of white cloud, the ship sailed down past the vast city's many skyscrapers, including a massive clock tower that read 6:23 on its digital display, finally heading towards a modest, but fairly large, red building at the edge of the sea. Inside the ship, Leela picked up her radio handpiece and held it before her mouth. The red button on the side of it was depressed by her thumb.

"Planet Express Office!" she called into it with pride. "This is Captain Leela of the Planet Express ship! Request permission to land..."

Spurt! Patter!

Inside the office, a thick spray of hot coffee spattered onto the conference table, leaving Hermes Conrad sitting at one end like a statue with a mug poised in one hand and a few small droplets fleeing his bottom lip to join the puddle before him.

"Sweet Slavering Warg of Isengard!!" he exclaimed with complete surprise. "They're back!!"

The Jamaican bureaucrat pressed his palms into the edge of the desk and leaned forward, quickly pushing forth against the table to launch him and the chair backwards across the floor. The Professor's hover-chair that he sat in swished across the room, finally easing to a halt and floating in hid air, as Hermes pivoted and arrived with it at another table, one that was more cluttered. With one sweep from his arm, he pushed aside the various objects; some markers, a roll of tape, some scissors, a mug made from a Martian's skull and a large chart that had 'Employee Absence at Meetings' written on it, which featured an upwards trend and then constant flat frequency in the graph's line. This gained him access to the microphone that sat there, which was promptly put before his lips.

"Planet Express crew... you are clear to land!" he said with quick relief.

"Roger," came a reply.

The ship descended between the opening doors and creaked onto the landing pad, with Hermes noticeably grimacing at the sight of the damage the ship had taken as he rushed in to greet them.

"Dat's comin' out of Zoidberg's pay," he muttered quietly as the ship landed. "Assuming da filthy crab survived?"

"Hermes!! I've missed you soooo much!"

Hermes looked up and gasped as Zoidberg came running over to him and gave him a huge hug, slobbering on Hermes' left shoulder and blubbering like a sad walrus. Hermes struggled, then pushed him away roughly.

"Get off me, ya stinkin' scallop!" he growled. "Your payin' for dis jacket to get dry cleaned now!"

"It's good to be home!" the Decapodian sniffled.

Hermes sneered, then called out back towards the office loudly, Amy, Elod and Nibbler coming out of the ship as he did.

"Professah! Cubert! Dat robot I like bettah than Bendah! They're back!"

"It's not like a bureaucrat to forget somebody's name," commented Bender as he came down the stairs as well.

"I know his name!" defended Hermes sharply. "It's Robot 1-X. But if I had said dat, den I wouldn't be bein' all cynical and mean towards you. And speaking of mean, you're all not gettin' any pay for de days you were missing. You're all lucky you haven't been fired."

"Shut up, Hermes!" Leela barked from the top of the stairs, making the bureaucrat jump. "After what we've been through, we deserve ten times our usual wage!"

Hermes yelped and leapt aside, an old brown sack being hurled at his face by the cyclops-mutant captain. It tumbled a short distance with a muffled clatter, a sparkling red gem bouncing free from the top of the bag and tinkering a little further. Hermes looked up with open mouth to receive a narrowed sneer from Leela.

"And that still wouldn't cover the lives of those that died for this mission!" she added gruffly. "Not by a long shot!"

"Uhhh... duly noted," Hermes said with an impelled flash of his teeth. "Your pay has been restored."

He scanned the group through his thick glasses.

"Where in de Philippines is Fry?"

"Don't worry," sighed Leela, finally descending the stairs now, "he's fine. Well, he's alive anyway..."

"Is he in serious hurt or pain?"

Leela paused for a while and just stared.

"Not physically," she managed to respond with.

Amy frowned from nearby. "I'll see if he'll come down," she said with empathy, patting Leela's right shoulder gently with her left hand as she turned. Leela gave a warm smile and Amy returned it, then dashed up the stairs. As soon as the sound of her shoes on grated metal had vanished, attention was drawn to the back entrance.

"Well, the idiots are back again I see," said an obnoxious high-pitched voice, followed by a snort wild boars would applaud. It was Cubert of course, and above him hovered Robot 1-X with a resonant hum, while bringing up the rear with a gradual shuffle was the Professor himself.

"Hey, Nibbler," Leela called to her pet. "Doesn't Cubert remind you of a chubby little pig?"

Cubert gulped as Nibbler nodded and licked his chops.

"Nibbler hasn't had a decent feed for a while, and it just so happens his favourite food is ham..."

"Uhh... I think I'll... shut up now..."

The Professor walked past his scared clone, a wave of dismissal flung with one hand.

"Now, now... there's no need to be angry," he said. "But there is definitely a need to be irate! Oooooooh! Do you people know how many deliveries you've missed since you've been away?!"

"No," Leela huffed in typical don't-know-don't-care fashion, her eye lazily half-hearted and her arms crossed.

"Oh?" answered the Professor, instantly calming and seemingly dazed. "I was hoping you'd know and be able to tell me... I don't keep track of these things."

"But I do," Hermes answered with a proud smile, sliding a small notebook out of his breast pocket and snapping it open to the right page with one flick of the wrist. Hermes cleared his throat loudly, as if he were about to give the greatest speech of his life. And to be honest, things like this certainly felt like that to him.

"One hundred and fifty cats for Melmac. Two hundred 'I Survived a Trip to Starbucks' t-shirts for the Cylons. Fifty cartons of Fell Beast pellets to Morgul Nine..."

"Can we discuss this later, Hermes?!" Leela grunted.

"A bureaucrat doesn't stop until de list is done," Hermes countered. "And de less interruptions, de faster it goes."

Leela groaned loudly. Meantime, in the ship, Amy slowly opened the cabin door to the crew's quarters and peeked her head around. There in the darkness lay Fry, his back to her as he lay in one of the beds. He still wore the same jacket, stained with dark scarlet patches.

"Fry?" she called softly, so much so that a pin dropping would have drowned it out. Fry heard it though, but his only response was a strange grunt Amy couldn't make out.

"Fry?" she repeated, louder this time, though still a whisper. Fry's head raised a bit to give her a profile view of it.

"I said 'What?!'" he grunted. Amy jumped a little at the hostility, instinctively closing the door a bit as if to use it as a shield. She soon opened it again soon and stepped forward into the shadows a bit further.

"We're home," she said, her voice purposefully flat. With Fry's current mood, she thought it best to not sound too excited about it.

"Is that so," he just answered. Amy's glance seemed to switch to nowhere for a moment, focussing somewhere on the floor, though at nothing in particular.

"So, are you coming out?"

"What for?"

"To see your friends, maybe?" Amy snorted as it was obvious. "Like your nephew for one."

"Ah, friends," Fry responded dryly. "Those people who either you hurt or hurt you more than almost anybody."

Amy frowned. Fry's head leant back down on the pillow, only the back of his tangerine hair visibly to Amy now.

"Has Leela sent you as her messenger now?" he added.

"Look, I don't know what you think of her attitude towards you, but whatever it is, you're wrong!" Amy said bitterly, having had enough of Fry's attitude. "She cares for you a lot! Probably too much... And she hasn't given up on you yet! I came here on my own accord, because I'm your friend, and I care too! But if you're just going to give everybody the cold shoulder, especially Leela, then perhaps you don't deserve friends like us! And friends like her?!"

Amy closed the door sharply and loudly, though it wasn't quite as violent as a slam. As her footsteps began to fade away, Fry's head popped and looked in the direction of the slammed door.

"Seven thousand tubes of foot blister creme for Chapek 9," Hermes continued outside. "Half a tonne of forks to Verrone Five..."

Amy came trotting down the stairs as Hermes went on. Leela looked at her, but ended up squishing her face into a disappointed grimace with the act, as Amy's response was a woeful shake of the head.

"And to the Fudd Homeworld, a crate of wunning wabbits... I mean, running rabbits..." Hermes finished. "Dat concludes my reading of de list... You may now proceed to say whateva' you like."

"Finally!" Leela said. "Let's go into the conference room then. We can tell you all about what happened there."

Leela stooped to retrieve the grounded sack and the ruby that had separated from it, only to find another hand grabbing the jewel first. She looked up and smiled as she saw who it was.

"You came out," she whispered happily.

"So what?" Fry grunted with a frown. "No big deal..."

Fry flicked the jewel towards her and she caught it between two fingers, more as an instinct to stop it poking out her eye, while Fry just walked on towards the doorway.

"Let's get this story over with," he muttered, his voice directed backwards to everybody while his face was still forward. "I don't need to hear it... I lived it..."


"Enter!" said a commanding female voice, as the doors slid aside before Ditte and Kif, granting them access to Glab's office. She looked particularly distressed about something.

"Welcome Captain Ditte, Lieutenant Commander Kroker," she said, her voice its usual strong self, but her expression one of uneasy discomfort.

"Thank you," said Ditte. "It is good to be back."

"Now, I trust you have all the items now that you have returned?"

A long silence.

"No. We have none of the items," Ditte answered. "They are currently with a Professor Hubert Farnsworth on Earth."

"So you've decided to involve a second party in this without permission then, Captain?" Glab posed.

Ditte nodded. "The fact is, ma'am, if we hadn't allied with them, then we would still only have one gem. They are the reason that we even have the items, and the Professor is going to assemble them now."

"They're a good crew," added Kif quickly. "I've known them for over five years now."

"And what is your plan after that, Captain?" Glab queried.

"The crew, Kif and myself will take the completed staff to the beast."

"Absolutely not!" said Glab firmly. "The staff will come to the DOOP and be taken by us."

"Why? What's the difference?" asked Ditte. "They plan to destroy the planet-eater, just as we do."

"We can't risk any alternatives, no matter how genuine they seem."

Ditte paused and gave Glab a slight glare.

"They already have the items now," he said simply. "Who's to say we'll retrieve them again?"

"Is that a threat, Captain?" Glab asked, sounding a bit shocked at Ditte's comment. "That alone could cost you your rank, and even so, it would be fruitless. The DOOP will take them by force if need be."

"Yes," Ditte hissed bitterly. "I'm sure they would. Whatever it takes to get the job done, isn't it?"

Glab sighed.

"Look, you're a good officer, and we don't want to lose you. God knows we've lost enough already. So very well then, Captain. I'm going to allow this and ignore your near-mutinous comments. I'll hold a general meeting with the Admirals of the DOOP and we'll discuss your proposition."

"Good," the Captain said firmly. "Although whether that'll do much good will remain to be seen."

"But first," Glab said, her voice tinged with sorrow now after a rather emotionless and firm display, "I need to speak with you, Lieutenant Commander Kroker."

Kif jumped.

"Alone," Glab added.

"I'll see you later then, Kif," Ditte said to his green second in command. "I'll be back in the Nimbus if you want me for anything."

For some reason as the captain left his side and walked out the door, Kif felt suddenly worried. He sensed somehow that whatever Glab was about to tell him wasn't something good.

"Come closer, Kif," she said, motioning him to with one hand. "In fact, it's probably best you take a seat."

"Yes, ma'am," Kif answered, stepping forward, pulling a nearby seat in front of her desk and sitting as suggested, his bulbous, pea-green eyes blinkless and fixed on her face the whole time. She sighed, her expression softening more, her gaze down upon the top of her desk.

"I'm afraid I have some grim news," she told him. "It affects us both directly, and is also related to the current crisis. We've still got a bearing on where the planet-eater is located. The bad news is that it is now heading towards Earth. The worse news is related to the planet it has last devoured..."

Kif felt his insides sink and twist, as if his internal bladders had burst and sent acid throughout his stomach. He didn't know what Glab was talking about, but something was telling him what she meant all the same. He suspected what she was going to say, and was dreading it and hoping the hunch wasn't true.

"No!" he shuddered "Please don't tell me that... that... Our home planet..."

Kif's already quiet words whispered away to nothing as Glab slowly nodded.

"Oh no!" he choked.

"I'm afraid Amphibios Nine was destroyed just over an hour ago," Glab expanded. "There were no survivors."

Kif buried his face into his green palms, sobbing loudly as he did.

"If you so wish," Glab continued after giving Kif a moment, "I could give you several days of shore leave?"

"No!" said Kif after a large sniff, quietly but firmly. "This has become personal now! I have to aid Captain Ditte in the destruction of this monster!"

Glab stared into his tear soaked and very determined eyes, eventually nodding slowly.

"As you wish, Kif," her answer came. "As you wish..."


"...and then Captain Ditte dropped us off in orbit of Earth and we came here," Leela finished. She sat at the conference table with the others, the Professor at the head of the table to her left, then Hermes beside him, then Cubert, Bender and Elod. To her right were Amy, then Zoidberg, and finally, Fry. Upon the table sat the various gems and the two staff pieces, while Robot 1-X hovered above the table observing silently.

"Sweet Condor of Gondor!" Hermes gasped. "Dat's quite a story!"

"Indeed," added the Professor. "It sounds like you're all lucky to be alive. Incidentally, is there a chance that I could use some of those bodies you brought back with you for various research?"

"No!" Leela said firmly. "We froze and brought them back so that they could be buried properly here on Earth when we returned!"

"Even that Baron and his stupid cronies?!"

"Yes."

"Awwww..."

"So anyway, do you think you can reconstruct this thing, Professor?"

Farnsworth rubbed his chin with a thoughtful sound.

"I suppose so... But if its saving the Earth, then it'll cost those DOOP idiots..."

"How can you put a price on the air we breathe?" huffed Fry from his slumped position across the table.

"Actually, the political leaders of the world have been charging us for the air we breathe since twenty-five thirteen, when the world's majority of oxygen ran out, as part of our taxes," Farnsworth told him. "In either case, this thing is a doomsday device that I could now own myself. I mean, here I am with the ancient staff of power within my grasp."

He gazed upon the objects, his thick glasses flashing and a selfish smile upon his face.

"Time for Professor Farnsworth to show his quality..."

"Yes," said Leela. "Show your quality by doing the right thing."

"I meant my quality of owning insane, evil destructive machines that could split the entire fabric of time and space itself!!"

"Have you taken your pills today, Professah?" Hermes asked dryly, staring at Farnsworth, who was now hovering high in the air and had his arms in the air.

"I don't need pills!" Farnsworth scoffed. "I'm not a weak, senile old man! See, I can put down my Lay-Z-Codger chair's footrest by myself!"

With some struggling sounds, and random old-man noises, Farnsworth pushed down on the footrest of his chair, slowly managing to get it down and back into the chair.

"There, see?!" he announced proudly.

Suddenly, with a click and a whoosh, the footrest sprang back up again, flipping the Professor's legs back up, but making them go further than they should. The Professor's knees went from bent, to straight, to bent again, as they were flipped 180 degrees from his knee joints, a nasty crack sound halfway though the process. The tips of his slippers kicked his glasses spectacle lenses lightly before his legs stayed in a dead vertical position.

"Ow!" he said simply. The others all cringed at the sight, save for Fry, Elod and Robot 1-X. The latter spoke.

"Professor, logic dictates that human knees are not supposed to bend that way."

Cubert pulled out a notepad from his pocket, scribbling something onto it and whispering to himself as he did.

"Traits to look out for, number seventy-two. Weak knee caps..."

"I'll fix him up," said Zoidberg, standing up and walking over to the Professor. As the doctor pulled his legs back down, Leela spoke.

"Anyway... we need to get this thing rebuilt. Is there anybody who wants to help out the Professor with that?"

"Oooh! Oooh!" yelled Bender. "Bender doesn't!"

"Thanks for that waste of time, Bender," Leela said sarcastically with a roll of her eye. Bender chuckled.

"I will," said Amy.

"I'll help too," Elod added gruffly. "Since my ancestors made the item in the first place."

"Good," Leela nodded, then turned to Farnsworth. "Any idea how long it will take, Professor?"

"Hmmmmm... I'm not sure," he answered, rubbing his chin. "We'll need to do some research I suppose... Find out where each gem is supposed to go..."

He picked up a staff piece and examined it.

"Plus these jewel claws will have to be strengthened. It will need to be safely charged up too."

"The hardest bit will be finding a way to join the two pieces effectively," Elod stated. "Very tricky, as we need a substance strong enough to keep them together... And I don't know whether that's possible. That staff breaking in the middle could be catastrophic for not only whoever bears it, but for the entire universe too. I do have a piece of Metak ore, but it's very small... I'm not sure it would hold it well enough."

"In either case, I'd say give us until the morning," Farnsworth said, directing his speaking to Leela. "We'll contact you on your wrist thingy when we're done, and you can alert the others."

"Is there anything the rest of us can do until then?" Leela asked.

"Not really," the Professor shrugged. "You might as well just go and make the most of your meagre little lives while you still have them. Seeing as we'll probably all be dead soon and all..."

"Sounds good," said Bender. "I'm up for trying to cram all seven deadly sins, as well as a few new ones, into just one night."

"And I thought for once you would actually try to be good for your last moments of existence?" Leela asked. "You already tried to take my purse five times on the Nimbus."

"Six," corrected Bender, holding up the item in question. Leela snatched it off him with an accusing glare, then put it in her back pocket.

"Well... might as well find something to do," she shrugged. "I'm kind of hungry..."

She turned to Fry, her next words genuine and sweet.

"Do you want to go out somewhere to eat?"

"Thanks," Fry said sourly. "But I don't need your empty pity dinner offer."

"It's not an empty pity offer!" Leela dismissed. "It's a sincere sympathy dinner."

"Same thing..."

"No, it's not!" Leela argued "And I'll prove it... We're going to a restaurant together and having a nice meal that you're going to like, whether you like it or not!"

She grabbed his arm and roughly pulled him away, not that he put up much resistance.

"Can Zoidberg come?!" the doctor asked loudly, making sure he'd be heard and not ignored.

"No!" Leela said firmly, flicking her head over her shoulder for a split second to give Zoidberg a nasty glare simultaneously. The Decapodian slumped onto a disappointed hunch.

"Awwwwww..."

"You can come with me if you like, Zoidberg?" Bender said, taking out a cigar from his chest compartment and putting it to his metal teeth.

"Really?!" Zoidberg beamed, his eyes filled with joy.

"No!" Bender yelled cruelly. "I was just getting your hopes up in order to knock 'em down again! Hahahahahahahaaa!"

"You think that on the possible second-last day of our lives, at least somebody would be nice to Zoidberg?" the doctor sniffled.

"Yeah, you'd think that... but what are you gonna do?" Bender answered inconsiderately, lighting up his Zuban with a flick of his fingers, then calling out loudly. "So long, losers! I'm off to break all the rules listed by my users manual!"

"Just make sure you return in fully operation condition when we have to leave," noted Amy.

"Why? I've never done any operations fully, and you know it!"




Two hours and nineteen minutes later

Two doors slid aside wing a 'bing' to grant Leela and Fry access to get another mundane looking corridor. It was dark grey throughout, with dim yellow lights down the center of the ceiling, and lined with numbered doors with only about a metre in distance between them. This was what most of hallways in Robot Arms Apartments looked like, as they had both seen from others using the lift they were in, but this was the right floor finally. Leela stepped out, dragging Fry by the arm.

"Despite the fact you didn't eat anything and you said even less, I'm not going to be mad at you for dinner," she said to him as she pulled him along. "It's probably best you get some sleep... I just hope Bender's home so that he can keep an eye on you?"

She stopped at a door labelled 00100100 and rapped on it with her knuckles roughly.

"Who's there?!" said a muffled, uppity and familiar voice from behind.

"Bender, it's Leela. I've just brought Fry back home."

"Uhh... Okay..." came a nervous sounding response. "Just leave him at the door, I'll pick him up in the morning."

"Bender!" Leela answered sharply. "Open this door now, before I kick it down!"

Leela was answered by a dissatisfied grunt, the sound of clanging footsteps, and finally the door being opened a bit. Bender peered through.

"Okay, give me the meat sack and then go!" Bender said impatiently. "I'm kind of busy in here at the moment!"

"Not so fast, buster! I want you to keep an eye on Fry tonight as well... I don't want him out of your sight for the whole night, go it?!"

"Tonight?! Tonight's not good. I'm, uh... busy in there with something..."

"What are you up to, Bender?" Leela accused.

"Nothing!" he said defensively.

"Hurry up, Bender!" called a high-pitched voice from the apartment room. "You have to roll your defence dice!"

Bender mumbled something sharply that was likely a curse, while Leela actually managed a smile for the first time in a while.

"Are you playing Dungeons and Dragons in there, Bender?!" she asked with surprised shock, almost bursting into laughter in the process. Bender growled and pulled her face close to his quickly.

"All right, I am!" he whispered sharply. "But I don't want anybody else to know!"

"Okay then," Leela answered, suddenly serious and diplomatic. "Keep an eye on Fry tonight, and I won't say a word..."

"Deal!" Bender said sharply, and he grabbed Fry by the arm and pulled him inside, slamming the door closed behind him. Leela sighed, stuffing her arms into the pockets of her green captain's jacket and turning back towards the elevator doors. As she wandered back, she retracted one arm again to check the time.

"Ten o'seven," she declared. "And I'm not tired. Though I am stressed out..."

She stepped into the elevator again, setting it for ground floor. The ride there seemed to last forever, and this time there weren't any other stops either. She eventually wandered out the main entrance, her head hung low and staring at the ground. A cool urban breeze blew across her, not smelling that pleasant and blowing half a cigarette that had long been extinguished against the side of her boot. She looked across down the street where things got brighter, then remembered a perfect place to spend a few hours.



"Be right there!" called a robotic bartender, as Leela plonked her rear down upon an old stool in O'Zorgnax's Pub, keeping away from as many drunken bums as she could at the far end of the main bar. Leela thought she might as well go there and have a few drinks, since it was only a few blocks away from Bender's apartment. She, Fry and Bender would often come to the establishment anyway, so she knew the place well. The robot came over to her.

"So, what'll it be?" he asked her.

'Good question,' she thought to herself. She didn't know whether she wanted to get absolutely hammered quickly, or just slowly wallow in small doses of alcohol to dull her senses. The truth was, those two hours or so with Fry at Elzar's Fine Cuisine had seemed to just suck the life out of her. Fry was just so lifeless and morbid, he was like a vampire who stole all her energy and life as well, only to discard it rather than feed on it. After some thought though, logic told her that she needed to be sober and hangover free for what was to come.

"Just a beer will do," she answered.

"What kind?"

"Any kind," she said with an uncaring flick of the wrist. "Just... a beer."

"You're the boss," the robot said, then he turned to get her the drink.


Professor Farnsworth collected the printing readout from the Spectrolyser and examined it.

"Ooohh... Oh my! Remarkable!"

"What is it, Professor?" Amy asked.

"It appears that these gems are actually the crystal form of a single composition of sub-elements," he explained. "The very same sub-elements that, when combined, form the very compound that is the ore of the indestructible metal. That would be if they were in their base form though, as while in crystal form, the combination instead would destroy the metal compound, almost like a negative reaction to it."

"I'm no scientist," said Hermes. "But as a bureaucrat, someting doesn't seem right about de science behind it all..."

"Oh, it's terrible science!" Farnsworth admitted. "But like ninety-nine percent of all terrible science, it still works anyway."

"Can we hurry this up!" Elod said impatiently. "This shouldn't take all night, but it is for some reason! It should be done in just a few hours."

"When you get to my age, you'll learn your bladder alone sometimes needs a few hours worth of breaks," Farnsworth said, removing the crystals from the Spectrolyser.

"Professor... he's billions upon billions of years old," Amy said. "He's passed your age!"

"Well, then he's obviously too senile to remember back to my age then! In either case, it's slow, gradual work. Especially when you've got dislocated knee caps!"

"I told you!" said Zoidberg from the nearby couch. "They're fine!"

"You also said that my body would grow a new head if I cut mine off!" Farnsworth snapped back. "I consulted a book and it turns out you were wrong!"

"I didn't say that!" argued Zoidberg, sitting up. "That's stupid talk... a body growing a new human head is ridiculous! What I said was if you cut off your head, it would grow a new body!"

"I don't care!" Farnsworth huffed. "The important thing is, we now have to discover what position in the staff the gems go in. To the research computer!"

In the room next door, Nibbler stood at the keyboard of a large computer, tapping keys and looking skittish. He heard a noise from behind, reacting with a swing and a gasp.

"Holy Pufflycoosh!" he whispered. "They're returning!"

He swung back and rapidly punched the keyboard with one hand.

"Come on! Send! SEND!!"

He repeatedly stabbed a key labelled 'SEND' until a progress bar on the screen reached 100%, then he swiftly leapt off the seat and back onto the floor, just as the Professor lead Amy, Elod and Zoidberg in entering the room. Farnsworth sat at the very same computer and started looking around, while the others watched, including Nibbler with a single eye in his fake-sleeping position. Amy turned her head towards him and he quickly shut it.

"Oh! Nibbler's still here!" she remarked. "Leela must have forgot to take him with her..."

"Probably left him behind on purpose so he wouldn't run around the restaurant trying to eat everybody's food, making a mess and causing a scene. I should know..."

"You've seen Nibbler do that in a restaurant?"

"No. I've done that in a restaurant!"

"I'd better get him some food I guess, the poor little guy's hungry," Amy said. "I hope Leela realises he's still here..."


CRACK!

Leela startled awake, lifting her head up from the greasy bar, then realising she had been woken up by the sound of one of her own empty beer bottles falling on the floor. She groaned, brushing the hair out of her eyes to see the other eleven bottles sprawled before her. A lot of beer, but she had been drinking it slowly, as well as eating. Though whether a bowl of peanuts was an adequate meal was debatable. And even though she knew that there had probably been about fifty unwashed hands in them that night from people out of the restroom, she didn't seem to care. Her head was swimming a bit, but it was a good feeling. She stared up at the TV above her, concluding that the midnight news must be on by the fact that Morbo's hideous green face filled the screen. She tuned her ears to what he was saying, noting that the bar clock said it was about ten past twelve.

"...ing our coverage of the planet devouring monster, we have recently been informed that this monstrosity has now changed course, and is in fact now heading towards Earth after all, just as doomsayers predicted," Morbo said. "With a few weeks to live, a month at the most, coverage of this impending doom will now be twice as frequent."

There were several mumbles of discomfort throughout the bar. Leela just kept watching.

"Morbo will now read this ancient twentieth century prophesy is relation to this impending doom," Morbo continued, picking up some notes and scanning them. "That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane, Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn, world serves its own needs, dummy serve your own needs..."

"Man! That sucks, huh?" said a familiar voice from beside Leela as Morbo read. "We're boned even if we fail and survive!"

Leela flicked her head around and gasped, for there stood Bender in the bar with a fembot floozy in one arm.

"Bender!" she growled. "What are you doing here?!"

"Smoking, drinking, and watching TV with a cheap floozy while I talk to you at the same time," he answered.

"You're supposed to be keeping an eye on Fry, you idiot!!"

"Technically, no," Bender answered confidently.

"What do you mean, 'technically no?!!'"

"Last night, you told me to look after Fry last night," Bender answered simply. "Since that was yesterday, last night only went 'til midnight. It's morning now, so my duties are no longer in effect."

"GRRRRRR!" Leela groaned in angry frustration, clenching her fists. "Don't you realise how close to possibly killing himself your so-called best friend is?!!"

Bender's expression saddened a bit, but Leela didn't wait for an answer, slamming a wad of cash onto the table and making off for the door.

"I have to check on him!" she called back. Bender looked at the fembot floozy, his sympathetic look suddenly turning to selfish sleaze again.

"Ah, forget her!" he told her. "You're the one that knows how to turn me on, right baby?"

"No..." said the clueless fembot.

"At my on button!" Bender said jokingly, then he burst into laughter. "Seriously though, you know how to turn my crank though, don't ya?"

"Of course I do," she giggled. "Like this..."

She opened up his chest door, then reached in and began turning a crank inside Bender. Bender gasped, while 'Pop Goes the Weasel' music played.

"No! Not like that!!"

SPRONG!! CRASH!!

In a split second, Bender's head was gone, and in its place was a large, bouncing spring, while the fembot was covered in a shower of glass. Bender's voice could be heard screaming from above angrily, while Morbo finished reading.

"... It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine," he finished. "Yes. Morbo does feel fine! BWAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!"



Outside, Leela sprinted down the street as fast as she could in the darkness, back towards the Robot Arms Apartments skyscraper in the distance. Her mind was all over the place from the drink, but she had focussed it into a single concentre, and the sensation of sprinting down the street seemed strange and surreal, even somewhat backwards. Like when you watch the wheels spinning on a fast car, and if you look at it a certain way, they actually look like their turning backwards. That's what this was like, the street lamps, lights, cars and road markings flashing by, but while getting closer, it almost felt like she was getting further, slowly slipping away. But her mind pushed it aside, her concern for Fry the only thought she paid any attention to. She didn't even notice the sound of a robot's head hitting the cement sidewalk behind her, even when it started calling her name. On she ran, the dark black tower seeming to raise out of the ground with each step. She didn't care that the midnight winter air made her skin numb with chill, and wasn't going to do up her jacket even if it being unfastened was causing half the cold. Those seconds could be crucial.

'I'm going to kill Bender if Fry's not safe when I get there!' Leela thought, the one hint of malice in a mind of worried panic.

Through the doors, bursting like a thrown rock through a glass window, then straight to the lift. Leela pressed the button, and waited. And waited. And waited.

"Come on, you bastard!" she yelled, sweating running down her face and neck. "Hurry up!!" she added, giving the wall near the button controls a thump.

TING!

Out the doors, bruising both arms nastily because she didn't wait for them to fully slide across. Down the hall, another two doors burst through effortlessly to pass through Bender's apartment and into Fry's. Finally, a halt, and a gasp of pained shock.

"No!"

There in Bender's closet, stood Fry with his back to Leela. Still wearing the same blood-soaked jacket, there he was in the open window of his home, standing on the edge looking out. One hand held the window frame to his left, but as he turned his face around to look at Leela, a pained sadness and more than a few tears in his eyes, he leant forward and let go.

"FRY! NOOO!!!"

As Fry's body began to tilt out the window, Leela scrambled forward as quickly as she could, like a scared mouse towards its hole. But Leela wasn't afraid for her life, she was concerned for the life of one of her closest friends. While the top half of her flew out the window, Leela's midsection slammed into the bottom frame of it, and she anchored herself with her legs. Her arms and hands stretched as far as they could, praying to grab hold of something. Her fingers grasped the edge of a red jacket, Leela feeling somewhat triumphant. Her heart sank into her boots though as it slipped free because of an inadequate hold, and the last bits of Fry she could see disappeared out of sight.

"No!!" she choked, surprised at how quiet it was, thick droplets of salty fluid running from her eye. An eye that was quickly buried in two hands in defeat. "Nooooo..."

She began to sob quietly on the edge there, only to suddenly stop less than five seconds into it because of an odd sound from below. She sniffed loudly and put her head up, listening carefully. There was no thud or splat, but there was an odd noise out there. She tentatively peered over the edge, fearing the worst, but hoping to God for better.

"Fry!"

No sooner had she called his name than she crawled out the window carefully onto an outside ledge. Just below her was Fry, alive and well, with his jacket caught on a flagpole just a few metres down.

"Let me fall!" he called to her, struggling to free himself from the snag desperately, his voice filled with a recipe of frustration, sadness and anger. "I've had enough!"

"No!" Leela answered in pained vexation, her head looking at him from over her shoulder as she hugged the wall and eased herself down to the next ledge. "I'm not going to let a friend drop, just because he can't come to terms with letting the death of somebody he loved go!"

She wobbled a bit, hugging the edge closer. Those beers weren't making things easy.

"This isn't about Alesia any more!" Fry snapped. "Not directly! Yes, I miss her... But I've accepted that she's gone!"

"Then what is it?!" Leela pleaded, reaching the ledge and turning to face him. "Why are you so bitter and cold?!"

"Because I've seen things for what they are! What they really are!"

"And that's reason to kill yourself?!!"

"Yes! It is!! The universe is hell, and death is freedom from it!!"

"You're giving up, just like that?! What happened to the Fry who took a bee stinger for me, then waited by my bed constantly while I was in a coma?! The Fry who kept telling me to wake up and not give in?! The Fry who told me to fight it?!!"

Fry's expression softened a bit, but he quickly shook his head and returned to an angry glare.

"He's gone!! He died with Alesia! In spirit if not in body!!"

Leela regarded Fry for a moment. After a long pause, she edged further away a bit and spoke.

"I don't think he is..."

She looked down, stepping closer to the edge and slowly began to lean outwards. Fry's eyes bulged and he looked worried.

"Wh-What are you doing?!"

"If you're going to throw yourself from this building, I am too!" she answered. "In fact, I'll go first..."

"N... No!"

"Why not?" she answered, her tired and alcohol-inflicted legs already giving out a little. "This is a release from this hell of a universe, isn't it?"

"Bu... Bu... But..."

"What's the matter, Fry?" Leela said, suddenly serious. "You don't want to see a friend fall to their death? Just like I will see you fall to your death if you do this?"

Fry just stared up at her soulfully, and she could see the submission in his eyes. Leaning back, and thanking God her legs hadn't given out, Leela shuffled closer, then knelt on the ledge close to the flagpole.

"You've never given up on me before, Fry," she said honestly, then reached out towards him with her right hand. "So I'm not giving up on you..."

Fry observed the hand, and after a huge sigh, grasped it with his own. With her remaining strength, Leela pulled on his arm as strongly as she could. It was hard with Fry's jacket, so the delivery boy slipped out of it awkwardly, almost pulling Leela off the ledge as she took his fully weight. He slammed into the hard wall, his jacket blowing free of the flagpole to drift away. Leela grunted and groaned, but with some effort, and help via Fry actually trying to climb up as well, she got him safely onto the ledge. There they sat for a while together, breathing hard. She looked across at him.

"Let's get inside where it's warm," she said. "And tell me what's on your mind."

He looked back at her and she gave him a smile that screamed "please?".

"Come on, Fry... Just talking about things can help. I've known what it's like to have the feeling the whole world is against you. But you have to be stronger than it."

Without waiting for response, she stood up, turned, and began to climb back up. Fry sighed and followed.

Inside, they both sat on the end of Fry's bed, the only light the thin glow from the full moon outside Fry's still opened window in front of them, bathing everything in a soft blue. While Leela watched him with interest, Fry's attention as he spoke seemed to either focus on the floor or beyond the window in front of him. His voice was dead again.

"Alesia's loss hit me hard. Very hard. As time went on though, my mind slowly became less focussed on her and more on the fact how unfair it was. Not just to be taken from me, but for her to be taken from the world. When she was so young and had already suffered so much. I mean, just as she was starting to find her place in life... just when she was starting to find happiness... she dies. Needlessly at that. But the worst of it was that she died at the hands of somebody else. I mean... how can living beings be so sickeningly cruel?! How can they do that and thrive off it... enjoy it... even love it?! How can they love something so anti-love?!"

"People can be cruel," Leela answered softly. "It's just part of life."

"Why though?!" Fry asked, his voice not as dead as it once was. "It shouldn't be! What is it that makes somebody want to mutilate and hurt another person?!"

Tears of disgust rolled down Fry's cheeks. Leela sighed.

"I don't know..."

"God, I loved her," Fry said with a loud moan. "I really did..."

He glanced at Leela with teary eyes, looking into her saddened singular one.

"I never told anybody. Not even her really. But... she was the one I chose. I chose her..."

"I figured," Leela answered after a pause. She hesitated a moment herself, then spoke again, "For what reasons?"

Fry looked back at her, seeing that Leela was serious and wanted to know.

"Because she accepted me for what I was," he answered. "Because she truly loved me back, not caring that I wasn't smart, or handsome, or even good at anything at all."

There was a period of silent discomfort

"I see," Leela answered simply.

"Though, despite what I said on the ship... it wasn't true."

"What wasn't?"

"When I said I didn't love you any more," Fry answered. "It wasn't true. It was just something I was trying to tell myself to help me give up on you. And then when I thought you were going to die from that sword stab..."

Leela felt her own eyes water somewhat as Fry sobbed a bit.

"I... I felt terrible!"

Fry stared out the window again with a large sniff.

"I never stopped loving you... I never will. I just decided that it was best to stop hurting myself, tell my mind and heart that you could no longer be considered an option, even if deep down they were trying to say otherwise. And that was fine when I had another to love, things didn't seem as bad. You can't kill love, but if you're strong you can let it go."

"I'm sorry," Leela said.

"What, for rejecting me time after time? Why? Sure you've hurt me, but you have every right to be happy to. Why should you settle for me if you don't love me? But then again, maybe you should start looking at guys more carefully... I mean, look at the guys you go for... suave, handsome, shallow, con artists, probably more interested in getting you in the sack than actually in you!"

Leela's eyelid rose a bit as Fry paused.

"Sure, I admit that for a start I was shallow, too. I just wanted to be with you because you were physically attractive. But as time went on, I tried to look past that, because I realised this isn't just about me. You're a living being, not an object just to drive my hormones wild! But those other guys don't see that... which is why you're not with them now and they're all in your jerk book!"

"You assume too much," Leela answered. "However, you're right..."

"Yeah, I thought so. Oh sure, they're handsome, suave, sophisticated, intelligent, witty and sometimes even wealthy. As appealing to you as a pretty rainbow. But their just shallow and selfish in the end, and they don't really love you! Yeah, you keep reaching for that rainbow, Leela. Just remember, that rainbows fade away, and when they do... there's nothing left to them!"

Leela stared at Fry, but differently than before. He sat there staring out the window, like the statue of a poet.

"I'm not saying you need to choose me, Leela. Even though I'd like that. Just... find somebody that will at least truly love you back. You might as well be happy in life, so that at least one of us is. Because my life just isn't worth living any more. I guess I'll just... fade away..."

Leela didn't know why she really did what she did next, but there were several reasons behind it. Fry was sitting there, so insightful, thoughtful, selfless, and, on top of that, just plain right. He seemed different somehow, almost like an angel of some kind. This combined with the beautiful serene setting, the emotion inside her, her sympathy for him, the fear she had for Fry's mental health, and the willingness to do anything to help him. All these factors mixed together, all wrapped up in a mild state of alcohol intoxication, and that combination saw Leela's mind tossing aside all negative feelings towards him, wrapping her arms around the back of his neck, and gently giving a very heartfelt and passionate kiss on her surprised friend's lips.


Kif lay in his bed aboard the Nimbus, on his back like a rake. His lidless eyes stared upwards at the ceiling, damp areas at either side of them where he'd been crying. His home planet had been obliterated. Erased from existence. And with it, all life. A great many members of his species. A great many friends. And, yes, even family. How was he going to tell Amy, his Smizmar, that their offspring were now no more? He had lost Zapp, Raker and now his own children because of this metal beast, and now he was determined to stop it.

BLEEE-EEP!

Kif sat up like a mouse trap going off at the sound of the ship's intercom alert sound, listening carefully for words.

"This is Glab. Would Captain Ditte, Lieutenant Commander Kroker, and Lieutenants Fitzgerald and Sheana please report to my office immediately? That is all."

Kif sprang out of bed. The decision must have been made. He soon arrived outside of Glab's office, still adjusting his uniform a bit as he ran, and finding the others all waiting there.

"Sorry I'm late!" Kif puffed. "I was in bed!"

"I'm surprised you can get some sleep," Ditte remarked.

"Who said I was asleep?" came the response. Ditte frowned.

"This better be good?!" snorted Sheana. "I mean, it's past one in the morning in Eastern Standard Time on Earth. Some people are trying to play pinball!"

She got strange glances from the guys.

"Hey, there's no 'pause' button on a pinball machine!" she justified.

SHIIIIIIICK!

The doors slid aside nearby, granting the DOOP quartet entry to Glab's office.

"You may enter," said a very serious voice that could only be hers.

They all obeyed, stepping in to find her at her desk, looking just as distinguished as ever, leaning forward from her high perch with green fingers from both hands locked together. She peered down at the group through her half-spectacles, Captain Ditte stepping ahead of the others.

"We've recently come to a decision regarding the involvement of the Planet Express crew with this mission, Captain," she stated. "After much talking, exchanging of ideas and taking a vote, the choice was unanimous..."

"I see," Ditte answered.

"We've decided to go along with it, Captain."

Everybody jumped a bit at Glab's answer, most surprised by the outcome.

"We want the Nimbus to escort the Planet Express ship safely to the location of the monster. I must also insist that somebody goes with you there."

"Who?" asked Ditte.

"Me," said a voice from behind them. Four officers about-faced to see Admiral Graham Gordon walking towards them with a smile on his face. They turned back to Glab.

"Ma'am?" Ditte asked.

"It's the only way I'm going to allow this, Captain," she answered. "Don't worry... you'll still be in command. Admiral Gordon will just monitor everything and make sure things go according to plan."

"You won't even notice I'm there," Gordon smiled.

"Very well," nodded Ditte. "I agree with the decision. Thank you, ma'am."

"Thank you Captain, for bringing us these items through such allies. Records show this delivery crew of Professor Farnsworth's has helped us in the past before under the control of Captain Leela, a large bonus in your favour. I suppose now you want to know where the beast is heading?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ditte nodded.

"Well, we think that at current speed and course, it will reach the planet of Ulpius in just over two days. That's your best bet for a strike location."

"Thank you," said Ditte. "We'll prepare the ship for departure, and leave as soon as the Planet Express crew are ready."

"Very good, Captain," Glab said. "You're all dismissed. Good luck and God speed."

All five officers saluted Glab and left the room. As they began to follow Captain Ditte down the main corridor, the leader himself turned to Kif.

"The rest of us will get the ship prepared, Kif. You know the Planet Express crew better than anybody, so could you contact them with the details and find out what's happening?"

"Uhh... ummm... sure, I guess..." Kif said reluctantly. He didn't really feel like talking to Amy at the moment, not so soon after the disaster.

"Excellent," Ditte smiled. "Let's get to work, we could be leaving any time."


5:07am, EST

"Are you sure it'll hold?" Farnsworth asked, lifting up his welding mask and extinguishing the blue flame from his torch. "The connection seems weaker than my knees."

He glowered across at Zoidberg, who just made a fed-up snort in response.

"It'll hold," Elod answered. "I didn't know if it'd be enough, but it looks like it was. As long as it's melded to both pieces, it should hold."

There before them lay the staff, now apparently connected and glowing red hot at the centre where Professor Farnsworth had just joint them together with the tiny piece of ore Elod had. They still had to put a short titanium rod in the middle, as once hardened, the metal of the staff wouldn't melt again to allow the new centre piece to hold onto it properly. But Elod was sure that it would now be strong enough to hold. Or at least he acted that way.

"Now we need to charge up the orange gem with as much power as we can," Farnsworth announced. "My analysis with the Electrologram told me it has very little energy in it."

"Be careful," warned Elod. "Charging that thing should be a delicate process."

"Don't worry, it will be," said the Professor, walking away with the gem. He shuffled towards the ship, stopping at the back of it, while Elod, Cubert and Zoidberg followed. He looking around, as if to search for something.

"Where the hell is Amy?!"

"Duh, dad!" Cubert snorted. "You sent her home when she started crying after her boyfriend called us up about four hours ago!"

"Ohhh, right... In any case, I need somebody to start up the ship when I give the word."

"Oooh! I'll do it!" Cubert volunteered.

"Very well then," Farnsworth nodded. Cubert cheered and ran straight towards the stairs on the front landing gear of the ship.

"What are you going to do?" Elod asked sceptically.

"You'll see for yourself what I'm going to do," Farnsworth answered. "Incidentally, there'll probably be a bright flash, so you may want to cover your eyes?"

The Professor opened a panel at the back near the engines and pulled out a set of jumper cables. They were black and read, with one clip of each colour attached to metal nobs on the ship, while the other end of each cable had metal clips on them attached to nothing. Professor examined the jewel, a thoughtful noise in his throat.

"I wonder which end is the positive and which is the negative?"

"It's not a battery!" Elod grunted.

"I'm well aware of that," Farnsworth said. "Yet it acts like one, so let's assume it behaves like one."

He snapped the red clip onto the pointed end and, with some extra struggling to get the black one open, fastened it to the other. It was placed on the floor lightly, and the Professor stepped back and called loudly towards the cockpit

"Now, Cubert!"

Cubert flicked the engines on and they powered up, blue flames flashing out the back. The gem attached to the cables however also reacted wildly, flailing around the floor and sparking. The Professor began to convulse around, trying to shield his eyes with his hands and making random yelps and screams, while Elod and Zoidberg just stood and watched, the latter of them squinting and holding one claw above his eyes.

"It's just like the time when Bender put that electric eel down Fry's pants on Aquarius Five," Zoidberg commented.

Soon after this epigram from the doctor, there was a crack and the gem leapt and broke free from its restraints, flying across the room while the clips fell to the ground smoking. The jewel clinked off the wall to their left and tinkled across the floor.

"Turn it off, Cubert!!" Farnsworth ordered. The engines soon calmed down, their flames disappearing.

"Well that was mildly interesting," noted Zoidberg before suddenly frowning. "But now I have a hankering for electric eel... You don't have any eels in those pickled preserves you have, do you Professor?"

"What pickled preserves?!" Farnsworth asked as he put the jumper cables away again, while Elod fetched the gem.

"The ones in that room over there," Zoidberg answered, pointing his claw to a door across the room.

Farnsworth thought for a while, then looked suddenly angry.

"You idiot! Those aren't food! They're specimen samples I keep in jars of vinegar!! I was wondering why some of them have been disappearing!"

Elod approached the Professor and handed him the crystal.

"Well, that didn't work," the scientist muttered. "I guess I'll just have to use my latest invention instead... The Jewel Charger!"

There was a silent jaw-dropping period, as the other three just stared at Farnsworth for a few seconds.

"Why didn't you just use that first?!" Cubert queried.

"Because I forgot about it," Farnsworth smiled. "And then remembered it again! And... then I forgot it again, and remembered it again just now! And... eh, uh... What were we talking about?"

"The Jewel Charger..." Cubert reminded.

"Oh, right! Follow me..."

The other three followed the shambling scientist into the next room, arriving just at the same time as Hermes and Robot 1-X did from another doorway across the room. Each of them held two glass globes with holes in one end.

"Oh! You're back!" Farnsworth remarked happily "And I see you have the glass orbs we need to cover the crystals!"

"Yeah," said Hermes, placing his two on a nearby desk. "It's hard to find some de right size and shape at dis time of night, but we eventually found these large liquor glasses that appear to be de right size."

"They are in fact only point zero two of a millimetre out to be precise," Robot 1-X commented.

"That's good news!" Farnsworth smiled. "We're almost done now. I'll just charge up this jewel..."

He whipped a dirty white sheet off of something to reveal a strange machine that seemed to resemble a food processor. He removed the lid from the clear plastic object, neatly placed the orange crystal on a special holding platform, replaced the lid, and finally pressed some buttons and switched the machine on. Inside, the platform slowly turned the gem, while random snakes of bright electricity slithered around the crystal.

"Thirty minutes of that should do the trick," he smiled. "Hermes, please contact Leela now and get her and the others to come to the office. We leave for... eh, uh..."

"Ulpius," said Elod.

"Yes, that's it... We leave for Ulpius in an hour, after a quick stop-off at DOOP Orbital Base."


Beep, beep, beep, beep...

Leela groaned as she turned over on one side towards the noise coming from her right, her eye opening warily.

"Five-thirty," she whined, staring at the clock. But it wasn't the clock emmiting the sound, but her wrist computer that lay beside it. Leela grasped it, wincing as she moved her neck and a mild, but annoying, headache come to realisation. Twelve beers was still too many. Enough to still cause a hangover. A mild one, but a pesky one nonetheless. She clipped it onto her wrist and spoke into it, her voice clearly weary.

"Yeah?"

"Leela. Dis is Hermes," a friendly Jamaican voice said. "De Professor's ready for you and de others to come to de office. We'll be leaving in about an hour to rendezvous with de Nimbus at Earth Orbital Base, so be here as quickly as you can. And make sure you get de others who aren't here."

"Who's that exactly?"

"Fry, Bendah and Amy."

"Okay," Leela answered after a cringing yawn. "I'll go and find Bender and Amy."

"And Fry," Hermes added.

"Uh... yeah. And Fry..."

"Good. See you soon."

Leela switched off the communications signal and sighed, shifting onto her back and pulling more of the covers up over her chest. The window was still open wide and the morning air was cold. She looked across to her left, her face pensive.

"Except that Fry's right here," she whispered as she gazed at his sleeping form. He was just lying there facing her, as peaceful as she had seen him since Alesia's death. And now she had to wake him.

"Damn!" she shuddered as she exhaled and leant over, gently rocking his arm. "Fry..."

She shook a little harder, and his nose wrinkled in the centre between his eyes.

"Wake up," she encouraged, trying to sound nice, but her voice was troubled by something too. He opened his eyes slowly and looked at her, then gave her the first smile she had seen for a while.

"Morning," he rasped, then he closed his eyes and made another face. "Man! What time is it?"

"Just past five-thirty," Leela said dryly. "Hermes just called and said we're ready to go."

"I suppose we'd better get dressed and go then," Fry answered, sitting up a bit.

"Fry," Leela said seriously, sitting up also and pulling her knees up to her chest to lean on them with her elbows. The sound of his name being said by her like that wasn't new, and Fry froze like a statue. This was Leela's 'this is something really important' use of his name. She had his full attention, and not just because her bare back was completely visible to him.

"Fry," she repeated, "would you mind if you... y'know... didn't tell anybody about what happened last night?"

Fry frowned. It was one of those 'please don't do' questions Leela asked now and then that were coated in honey, but in fact, you really had to remove the word 'please' and replace it with 'for the sake of your life' instead.

"Why?" he asked. "Are you ashamed of what happened? Or ashamed of me?"

"Not really..." Leela said after a pause. "It's just that... well..."

"That it shouldn't have happened?" Fry asked to finish her silent trail. She nodded simply, but he looked angry. "Typical!" he grunted. "I should have figured it was too good to be true!"

He shot her a glance that burned into her like a hot poker. "Why'd you do it then?!" he asked. "Why?!!"

"Because I was worried about you," she answered. "I wanted you to stop hurting."

"Oh, I get it!" Fry growled. "This is pity sex! Just like when you did it with Zapp! I'm just like Zapp to you now, huh?!!"

"No!" Leela said defensively, switching from sad to angry. "This wasn't out of pity. It wasn't pity sex, it was sympathy sex."

"Same thing!" Fry snorted, crossing his arms and looking away.

"No it's not! The difference is, I really care about you, Fry. I'm worried about you, and what would happen to you if you went down that road. That, and... I had... twelve beers beforehand. I wasn't thinking rationally..."

"Oh, so now it's drunken pity sex?!"

"No!" she said sharply. "I wasn't so drunk I didn't know what I was doing. The alcohol just made me more... impulsive I guess. Stopped my rationale, and just left me with my emotions. And when you were sitting there, being so selfless and insightful in the moonlight. So sad, lonely and hurt. I guess I just thought I wanted you to be better, and it just... it just happened..."

"So that's it, huh?" Fry said bitterly. "You wanted me to feel better, so you thought a bit of 'good loving' could help me out?"

"I was willing to do what it took to stop you from destroying yourself," she tried to justify. "At the time, while my head was woozy with alcohol and you were so fragile... it just seemed to be the best thing to do."

"Well it doesn't work that way!" Fry said loudly. "This isn't an episode of Star Trek or some other cheesy science fiction show where a good dose of sex fixes all the problems! This is the real world, Leela! Sure, maybe sex can make people feel better sometimes... But when there's no real love behind it, all it does is hurt and make things worse! Yeah, you might have had good intentions, I'm not saying you didn't, but if that's all there is, and you have no feelings of love for me, then you've seriously done more damage than good!"

Fry stopped his tirade, leaving Leela just sitting there with tears in her eye. Fry sighed and spoke again, his voice not quite as aggressive.

"You know what, Leela... this is something you may never have expected me to ever say, but I think that having sex with you was the worst mistake of my life. At least in this case. Because you're like a fish, Leela. You're like a fish, and I'm like a fisherman. You're the largest, prettiest, tastiest fish ever, and I've been trying to catch you for years. And every time this fisherman has gotten close to catching you, just when he thought he's reeled you in, I find that you pull away again. It hurts for sure, and it's frustrating, but I keep trying to get you. Except this time... this time Leela, you led me on. You actually let me reel you in and grasp a hold of you, only to flick away as I tried removed the hook at the last second and escape again, just as I thought you were mine. And the difference is that this time, you not only got away, but you jabbed me with the hook as you did. And that hurts, Leela... That really hurts!"

"Fry..."

"Please, Leela," Fry said, trying to sound as calm and composed as he could. "Just leave..."

More tears formed in her now bloodshot eye.

"I'm sorry, Fry..."

"Just leave!" he said, grapping her discarded clothes that lay across the foot of the bed. "LEAVE!"

He threw them at her, and she bought them in her face. As they fell away into her arms, her vision returned and she saw Fry was turned away from her, sobbing in his pillow.

"Okay..." she said in a submissive whisper, grabbing a random towel from the ground near Fry's bed, wrapping it around her and sliding out of the covers. All the while, thinking about how stupid she had been, and worried that she had just made things worse for her already frail friend.

Buddies