The ship was bright red. It was strange, the things you noticed, little details like the fact that the boxes in this universe were pale green, and the walls were a slightly darker shade than he was used to, but the ship... Fry stared up at it, recalling their own version of the ship in a similar colour when his great great etc. nephew’s clone ‘son’, the annoying one with the brains and the attitude, had managed to take over the company for a few weeks. Bright red, like his jacket only shinier. The regular Planet Express logo looked a little odd on top of that.
It had a green stripe, too.
“Huh...” Fry turned away from it and sought out Yancy, who stood a few feet away along the side of the hangar with Leela. He was silent, staring at Fry with a deep and worried expression on his face and his mouth hanging half-open as if he were on the verge of mooing like a cow. Fry honestly tried not to laugh at the thought and even managed to squeeze it down to a quiet snort. Yancy heard it, though.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Fry muttered, looking at the floor like he always ended up doing around his brother.
Yancy. Fry couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel anything at seeing his brother, alive and in the flesh, after... what, four years? Five? Or a thousand... Yancy, the brother, the tormentor. The ratfink bastard who’d stolen his clover and then made himself impossible to hate by naming his son Philip.
Had he done that here?
It was a question that would have to wait. Yancy turned to look at Fry again, the brief moment of compassion he’d shown in the storeroom a memory already, replaced with the familiar, distant and overbearing older brother Fry remembered from the old days.
“All right, look, this is crazy. How did you get here? And Leela, what are you doing here so early? Did you find him?”
“What...?” Fry looked over at Leela, sharing her look of utter confusion.
“For the weekly assessment,” Yancy said, rubbing the back of his head. He looked Leela up and down, frowning. “The one where you come along, watch me working for an hour and then tell me I’m still depressed and need more counselling but not depressed enough to justify giving me a new career chip.”
Leela shrugged. Yancy turned slightly, frustration pulling his shoulders tight as he looked around the hangar.
“Is this some sort of new test? Are they trying to send me crazy now?” He looked at Fry with one eyebrow racing up his forehead. “Maybe I’m just seeing things then. Maybe I am crazy. It’d explain a lot.”
“You aren’t crazy...”
Leela’s voice trailed off as she watched Yancy shuffle away across the hangar toward the conference area, shoulders hanging in defeat, or depression, or something else beginning with ‘de’. He paused and looked back at Fry with a frown, then turned to face him at the foot of the stairs, arms folded across his chest, not moving away but coming no nearer. Every now and then his brow would rise up and twist in confusion before returning to the half-frown Fry remembered as the norm.
“Issues,” Leela said, shaking her head. “Was... is he always like this?”
“Yeah, pretty much, though he wouldn’t have said anything about being nuts.” And as for issues... Fry let the thought trail away as he turned from Leela to watch his brother. He tried smiling but Yancy didn’t smile back, or even acknowledge him. Typical.
Leela, hands on hips, let out a frustrated breath. “We’d better go explain things before someone decides to shoot at us again.”
“Right,” Fry mumbled, reflexively wiggling his ankle, which was still a little sore after their previous escape. That made at least two women who wanted to kill him now.
Without thinking he started walking across the hangar toward the lockers, intending to grab his things for the journey home. Fry pulled up short, realising as he glanced around the uncomfortably different hangar, up at the wrong-coloured ship, that ‘home’ was probably a very long distance now. And then there was Yancy. That would be the way to go, he thought, walking toward the steps, drawn by the only truly familiar thing in the entire building besides Leela.
“We should find the Professor,” Leela said at his shoulder. Fry looked at her and shrugged.
“If anyone can find us a way home, he can.”
“Yeah,” Fry said, not quite listening. Yancy had turned away again and was making his way up the stairs. Fry and Leela both set off toward the conference area, though with different ultimate destinations in mind. At the foot of the stairs Leela suddenly stopped and turned to look at the ship.
“Weird to think I’m not even working here,” she said quietly, almost staring right through the ship at some distant point in the sky, until the sound of heavy footsteps on the stairs distracted her from whatever reverie she had entered. “I wonder who’s here instead?”
“Uh...” Fry nodded wiggled his shoulder at a man descending the stairs before backing off a little. The man paused a step from the bottom and lifted a battered ex-army cap to scratch his head as he regarded Leela. He looked familiar.
“Early today, Sirochka? I won’t ask what possessed you to do that to your hair .” The cap flopped back onto his bald head and the man passed by, whistling Mull of Kintyre as he wandered toward the ship, evidently content to leave the observation at that. Fry stood next to Leela as they watched the man ascend the ship’s gangway and disappear into her gaping airlock.
“Isn’t that the guy from...”
“Yeah,” Fry said, frowning as he recalled the uptight foreign sounding clerk he’d introduced to a chair. “You don’t think he remembers me hitting him, do you?”
“Parallel universes don’t work that way, Fry.”
“Right, right...” Fry stared up at the ship for a moment before turning back to the conference area to find Yancy.
Leela followed him up the stairs, though she seemed to be a little annoyed that someone else was flying ‘her’ ship, as if that was all that mattered compared to the knowledge that he was dead in this universe. Somewhere, maybe not even that far away, there was a skeleton lying under a grave marker with his name on it, which was decidedly creepy. Fry felt a cold chill work its way up his spine as he thought about it. He wondered how easy it would be to find out what he’d done with his life. Had he done anything?
The conference area looked about the same as it always had, though there were some differences, such as a large coffee machine built into the wall by the big screen. The chairs looked much more comfortable too, their headrests decorated by a logo of a stylised animal head wearing some sort of spiky collar with something written on it.
“Ambulance aye... you... barry?” Fry stepped back from the seat. The phrase seemed strangely familiar but he couldn’t place it. He put it out of his mind instead.
Yancy sat facing the ship, hands palm-down on the conference table and a vague, worried expression pulling at his features. He didn’t react when Fry and Leela rounded the table toward him, or when Fry sat down a couple of seats around the table from him; he just stared at the ship, rubbing his fingers against the table surface in a repetitive circling motion that Fry quickly found annoying.
A door across the conference area hissed quietly aside to admit Hermes and Amy – her tracksuit was blue, some part of Fry’s brain noted with interest – deep in conversation about something. They halted when they saw Leela; Hermes held out a hand in greeting. “Early today, Miss Turanga?”
“Uh... yeah.” Leela glanced at Fry and then back at Hermes. Amy’s face suddenly lit up with surprise.
“When did you decide to change your hair?”
“My... my hair?” Leela’s fingers brushed against her hair. She forced her hand down and shook her head. “Listen, uh... Hermes... Mr Conrad, I need to speak to the Professor.”
“Oh?” Hermes glanced at Amy and then nodded slightly. “He’s just having his mid-morning nap but you and your friend here can wait in the employee lounge if you like.”
He held out his hand and Leela almost reached toward it, until she she the forms. She plucked the slim plastic sheets from Hermes’ outstretched hand and held them up to the light.
“Just a simple visitor liability waiver, nothin you haven’t signed before,” Hermes said with a puzzled but friendly smile. He indicated toward Fry and then produced a pen, almost as if by magic, which Leela took without a word. “Now, if you could explain how you managed to get into the buildin without ringin the bell...?”
“I let them in,” Yancy said, finally tearing his gaze away from the ship. He glanced at Fry and Leela, then looked at Hermes and tried to smile. It didn’t work.
“If you say so.” Hermes raised his eyebrows a little but, if he had any misgivings about Yancy’s reply, he didn’t let them show. He took the waivers Fry and Leela had signed and rolled from the room, humming to himself. Amy watched him leave before turning to Leela with a broad smile on her face.
“Uh... sure,” Leela said, falling into step behind Amy as she walked toward the employee lounge.
“Who’s your friend? He’s cute.”
The door hissed shut before Fry could hear Leela’s reply, which could have been very good or very bad, all things considered. He hovered by the table for a minute, waiting for Yancy to say something to him but his brother had returned to staring at the ship. His fingers slid about the surface of the table; Fry noticed a faint circular pattern on the table-top under Yancy’s hands, slightly indented where his fingers swam across the sheer surface.
“So... you... work here?”
Yancy’s fingers paused for a moment, then continued their rhythmic motion. “Yep.”
Fry sat down again, gripping the edge of the table as if it were about to fly away. This wasn’t the Yancy he remembered, calm and, if not collected, then at least a little way toward being sane. As sane as anyone could be in their family, anyway.
“Are you real?” He was looking at Fry again with wide, fearful eyes, as if worried Fry would suddenly evaporate. And strange that Fry still didn’t feel anything about actually seeing his brother alive and well. It felt almost like he was in a dream. Perhaps that last crack on the head had been more serious than he’d realised, Fry thought, rubbing his temples.
“I’m pretty sure I’m real.”
“But how did you get here?”
Yancy was staring intently at him now, his fear subdued by curiosity and even a little anger, though Fry figured he was probably just seeing things. He stood up; Yancy followed a moment later, roughly grabbing Fry’s arm before he could walk away.
“Phil, I asked you a question.”
Phil again. It was weird hearing that name. “I got here the same way you did.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. If you were in the...” Yancy let go of Fry’s arm, suddenly very pale. “You were in that place with me? You could have let me out!”
“No I wasn’t. Look, Leela can explain it better than me, go ask her.”
Yancy shut his mouth, shaking his head as he turned back to staring at the ship, his fingers tracing their slow circle on the table-top again. Fry couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. He sat down and watched his brother for any sign this might be some sort of prolonged practical joke but there was nothing.
After a few minutes he heard a clumping step on the stairs and turned, expecting to see Leela ascending from the hangar, realising that was stupid even as the thought finished forming in his head. The pilot clerk, or whatever he was here, halted at the top of the stairs and pushed his hat back as he fixed his eyes on Yancy.
“Hey Yanchovich, get your sassanach ass down to the stores, we’re leaving in an hour!”
Yancy levered himself up from the chair and shuffled past the pilot toward the hangar, pausing once near the stairs to look blankly at Fry before he left. The pilot watched him go, muttering something foreign under his breath and shaking his head. He turned to look at Fry with a slightly puzzled expression and then smiled, holding out his hand as he walked toward the table.
“Veklerov,” he said, taking Fry’s hand in his own. Fry smiled, uncertain and wishing he’d followed Leela. For some reason he had an urge to hit the guy again.
“Is that, like, a greeting or something?”
The man laughed and shook his head. “It’s my name! Veklerov Evanovich McDiarmid. Vek to my friends and crewmates. You may call me Veklerov Evanovich.”
“Philip Fry,” Fry said, trying to extract his hand from the pilot’s grip. Veklerov’s eyebrows made a valiant attempt to crawl under his hat at the mention of Fry’s name but he didn’t seem keen to add anything. Instead he put his arm over Fry’s shoulder and smiled.
“Tell me, Philip Fry, what do you think of our lovely Leela Sirochka?”
“I... uh... are you Scottish?”
Veklerov seemed to ponder this for a moment before smiling at Fry again. “My father was a Scot, my mother was Russian. I am... both, I suppose.” He took Fry’s shoulder and started guiding him toward the employee lounge. “Now tell me about you and Leela. She is your lover, yes?”
“What? No! We... we’re... well it’s not like that,” Fry said as the door slid open. “I mean yeah, I wish it was, but-”
“-right as a friend but frankly he’s just so immature, I can’t see anything working.” Leela turned her back on Amy as the door opened. She started at the sight of Fry. “Oh... uh... Hi.”
Leela’s face turned pink and she looked away at her toes before pushing past Fry and Veklerov toward the conference area. Fry shrugged Veklerov’s arm from his shoulder and glanced at the pilot, then at Amy.
“I see she is the same as ever.” Veklerov pulled at his hat. “Philip. Amy.”
He stepped past Amy into the employee lounge, chattering to himself in heavily accented Russian as he adjusted his hat and jacket. Then, with the door closed again, the background hum of traffic was all Fry could hear for a moment as he looked around the hangar, before finally settling his gaze on Amy.
“Hello.” Amy smiled a little shyly at him and, for a moment, he wondered why. Then he remembered that they’d never had their brief fling in this universe. Or even met. Fry glanced over at Leela’s retreating form, then back at Amy with a strange, confused train of thought smashing through his head like a... a strange, confused train.
“Philip Fry,” Amy finished for him. Fry narrowed his eyes a little at that, it seemed like everyone was finishing his sentences for him these days. Maybe they were all telepathic or something. Amy smiled at him again with her head tilted to one side, playfully. It was one of the little things she’d done to attract him last time.
“Leela was just telling me you’re related to Yancy, like, his brother or something?”
Amy’s eyebrows drew toward each other just a little. She twisted her toe on the floor, putting on the ‘cute’ look Fry had seen her use so many times to get what she wanted. “You’re not... like him, are you?”
“If you mean am I a stuck up, arrogant, no-good, bossy-”
She put her finger on his mouth and smiled again, her expression warmer and less guarded this time. Fry saw her eyes flicker up and down him, almost like she were weighing up a piece of meat, which felt a little weird. “I get it. I guess you’ll be around for a while now. Wanna hang out some time?”
Something went ‘click’ inside Fry’s head as his admittedly slow-moving logic reached its ultimate conclusion. They were stuck. Nobody knew him. The thought was strangely unnerving, moreso considering that he had already realised that he was... dead. Which was weird.
Then again, he thought as he looked Amy up and down, there were some upsides. But then his gaze irresistibly drew back over his shoulder toward Leela, stood out at the railing, staring at the ship with a distant look of longing on her face. He looked down at Amy’s sweet face and smiled. “I can’t, I don’t know how long I’ll be here for.”
“Oh. Well... let me know if you change your mind,” she said, walking her fingers up his arm. Fry shivered at the touch and carefully backed away, still smiling. Amy tossed her eyebrows and tilted her head before she turned back to the employee lounge. She paused just before the door closed, turned slightly and winked at him over her shoulder. And then she was gone. Fry shivered again as he turned away from the doorway to find Leela.
He reached her at about the same time Hermes did, bearing another slip of paper and his usual dour expression. The bureaucrat nodded to Fry, then peeked at the paper before slipping it into his pocket.
“Okay, the professor seems to have woken up early so if you’ll just come with me to the lab...”
Hermes held his hand out toward the stairs at the far end of the conference area and even managed to give them both a wan smile, which disappeared as promptly as it had arrived. Leela blinked, almost in a daze, and turned to follow Hermes without a word.