She was lost. Or temporarily misplaced. Leela stared at the wall of the tunnel, trying to recognise the markings and graffiti left by countless mutants over the years that would tell her whether it was familiar or not. The underground works of this universe had cut a vast swathe right through the sewer network and the old city, re-arranging them, making the unfamiliar and new. It was... pleasing, in its way, a novel experience. But frustrating.
It didn’t matter too much, she could almost smell the mutants and their hovels, even over the stink of effluent. But, right now, she was lost, deep in the tunnels. She hated it. It was the nightmare returning again for just a brief moment, but long enough to shake her, to bring up images of the past, of what had driven her to-
Leela splashed along another narrow tunnel in a near daze as she tried to thrust the demons from her mind, the haunting memories of what happened in tunnels like these. She almost didn’t notice the passage widen out into the vast, open space of the lake – not glowing this time, it seemed – and the mutant village beyond. They’d be here somewhere. They generally were.
She stood on the threshold of the tunnel for a moment, taking in the view. This, at least, was almost the same, or similar enough. The object she was after would be nearby and the place where she wanted to take it was nearer still. Leela backed into her tunnel and backtracked to a side-passage, smaller and leading deeper into the tunnels. She knew where she was going now. Down another tunnel, to the left... it was darker, this far into the sewers, and barely travelled even by the mutants. The first time she’d been here had been during an attempt to escape and it was only chance that had let her find the dank, unvisited maintenance room, deserted and undisturbed for centuries.
There it was again. The door, slightly ajar and rusted into place, just wide enough for her to slip through. Inside was pitch-black, to the point that even her superior vision was almost useless. Almost, but not quite. The locker was here, and the abandoned mannequin-like robot slumped in the corner, with just a few crumbling circuits where its face had been. And then the sealed box. She’d been desperate for a weapon, anything to fend off the mutants hunting her. She’d smashed the box open with the sort of blind optimism-
- a crunch as the fragile container struck the floor and fell open -
And there it was, as it had been before. The metal was a little dull, but untarnished despite being centuries old, the seal on the case having kept the weapon and its ammo perfectly preserved. A three-fifty-seven Colt Python II, satin silver finish, nine inch barrel, composite carbon grip. A workhorse gun, the ‘premier American revolver’, the old advertising literature had said. She’d looked it up on the internet.
Leela carefully lifted the weapon from its protective casing and took out her own for comparison. They were identical of course, apart from the grip, where she could see the same motif that kept turning up in this universe, of the stylised dog and crown. He’s been very busy, that boy, she mused, slipping her own gun back into its holster. She pulled the packaged ammo from the case and stared at it. It’d probably still work. Hers had, after all.
With the gun pushed into her belt and the ammo safely tucked into a spare pocket, Leela made her way back out into the sewers. There weren’t any mutants chasing her so she could take her time. About now they’d probably be out, scavenging like rats or some other vermin. Leela felt herself sneering and fought a moment to bring her face under control.
The town was ahead again, mostly deserted, but as she always remembered it, a ramshackle collection of buildings assembled from garbage and off-casts. What she wouldn’t give for a few gallons of gasoline and a match. She strode down the centre of the main street, ignoring the half-curious stares of the few mutants stood around as irrelevant; she let her confidence tell them she belonged here, and they believed it, because they didn’t know how to think otherwise. Who would come into the sewers?
She reached the house, a slum-house, fit for nothing but beggars. It was empty and peaceful, undisturbed. A home for someone. She looked up at it with unconcealed disgust, then pushed open the door and stepped inside. It was the same as always. The same trinkets, scraps of her life plastered across the walls, mementos plucked from the waste, images stolen from any vantage point they could find as they stalked her. She paid enough attention to notice none of them were in colour in this universe, leaving her twin pale-faced and grey-haired, but no more than that. Leela settled herself behind the door.
There wasn’t long to wait. They came through the door an hour later, bickering at each other about some meaningless bone of contention, she letting he know exactly how she felt about it and he simply taking it with that vague, tolerant smile, reminding Leela of him. She cocked the new pistol as the door swung shut. The oily triple-click of the mechanism seemed to bring its own unique silence to the room, capturing their attention as surely as if she’d shouted out their names. Both of them turned, hands – or whatever – slowly rising in the air. He frowned, she just looked shocked.
“L... Leela?” She looked mystified as well. Maybe they’d just got back from spying on her sister here and couldn’t figure out how she’d changed so fast. “What...?”
“You shouldn’t be here.”
“Oh. I’m not,” Leela said. She pulled out a fresh cigarette and a lighter, enjoying the disapproving looks they couldn’t quite manage to hide as she lit it and took a deep drag. “I’m out there somewhere. Enjoying the sun.”
“I don’t understand...” Her moth- she twisted her brow in confusion as she looked up and down. The other one just stared at her; it seemed now it was his turn to be in shock.
“This isn’t how I expected...” he began. Leela shook her head and raised the gun just a fraction. “What are you doing?”
“Exactly what you wanted me to do,” Leela said as she moved toward them.
It was ironic, she thought afterwards, that they had always valued their privacy. The soundproofing meant that anyone outside would have heard nothing more than a quiet thump. Maybe they would have seen a flash, but they’d have assumed it was just one of those things and moved on.
Leela held up the still-smoking pistol and stared at it, watched the smoke rising from the barrel toward the ceiling. She inhaled the smell of it, savouring the acrid stench before tossing the gun to the floor beside the woman. What was left of her. The coup de grace was simple enough; a driver’s license with his face on it, for some reason she’d always carried it around with her. Perhaps this had been why. Leela delicately placed the card in a convenient hand and closed the fingers around it. She tossed a couple of the spare ammo packs on the floor for flavour and stood back to admire her handiwork. She took a final drag on the cigarette and tossed it away.
The final touch was a notice, quickly scrawled on a piece of cardboard and attached to the door, telling everyone that the inhabitants were on an extended sight-seeing tour of the New Baltimore sewers and wouldn’t be back for some time. It’d keep out the idiot locals. They valued privacy. All of them. Except hers.
The ship thumped down, skidding slightly on its feet as it hit the bare concrete of the hangar. Before the engines had even fully shut down Fry was stumbling down the gangway, grunting as he tried to reach the bottom before his legs gave out. He flopped onto his hands as knees the moment he reached the hangar floor, moaning in sheer delight at the thought of solid ground, though he stopped short at actually kissing it. He was joined a moment later by Yancy who, it seemed, was coping a little better than Fry this time. He squatted down next to his brother.
“I thought you enjoyed this sort of thing.”
“Not like that!” Fry got to his knees and stared over his shoulder at the ship, unsure of how to feel about it now. He saw Veklerov emerge from the airlock and look at him for a moment before starting down the gangway. “Is he completely insane?”
“It felt like the gravity generator was turned off half the time.”
Veklerov reached the bottom of the step. The pilot shot Fry an odd look as he passed by. “You act like all this is unusual, Philip Fry.”
“Well, yeah, when Leela flies we rarely even feel it most of the time. What’s that Star Tr- um... thing... the inertial dampeners, that’s it, they take care of it. Maybe yours are broken or something?”
“I turn them down to safety threshold, makes flying more fun,” he said over his shoulder. Fry and Yancy shared an uncomprehending look as Veklerov’s words sank in. Then Yancy suddenly growled and got up to chase after pilot. He grabbed Veklerov’s shoulder outside the locker room and spun him around.
“You mean to tell me you’ve made my job into a hellish nightmare on purpose? You... you bastard,” he screamed, winding back his arm, hand locking into a fist. Fry caught him before he could strike, wrapping his arms around Yancy’s shoulders and tugging him away from Veklerov.
“Let go of me!” Yancy struggled and squirmed against Fry’s grip, though not hard enough to actually escape, Fry noticed. “I’ll kill him!”
Fry braced himself and pulled Yancy away. He’d never seen his brother so upset as this before. Never. Not Yancy, who always dismissed things he didn’t like with a sneer or just plain pretended they weren’t happening. Passive-aggressive was more his style. Fry glared at Veklerov with an unaccustomed bubbling in his gut, until the pilot held up his hands and wandered away, muttering to himself in Russian.
Somehow they ended up in the lounge, which seemed deserted. Yancy slumped down on the sofa next to Fry and stared at the television. He didn’t seem inclined to turn it on.
“This place is insane,” he muttered. Fry couldn’t help but agree, though Yancy just snorted when he did. They sat in silence, watching the blank screen together for a while as the distant explosions of the Professor’s experiments began to rock the building again.
“Some things are the same,” Fry said as the last ear-splitting bangs rolled away to distant thunder. Yancy just rolled his eyes, though the comment seemed to ease his mood a little. He sat back and stared at the ceiling.
“I guess Leela isn’t as uptight in your universe as she is in mine or you wouldn’t be so hot on her.”
“Oh she can be, when she wants to be,” Fry muttered, reaching behind the couch for a beer and not finding any in his usual hiding spot. Of course, it wasn’t his hiding spot in this universe. He sighed. “There’s times when she can be really caring, and times when she’s the best friend I ever had... and then there’s times when she’s just on my ass for no reason at all, like I’m the screw-up all the time. Or I’m doing something she doesn’t think I should be doing. It’s like she’s mom, only... bossier and younger. And mom wouldn’t have kissed me like that.”
“At least that means she cares, right?”
“Only when it gives her a chance to screw around with my life.”
Yancy twisted his hands together. “Oh,” he said. And then again. “Oh.”
“That’s what it feels like right now,” Fry finished. He closed his eyes. “I don’t know, Yancy, sometimes it just feels like I’m chasing a shadow.”
He would have said more but the door swung open before his mouth could. They both looked up at the same time and saw Leela, brown-haired and frowning a little more than usual, even for her. She stared at Fry, then at Yancy, who closed his eyes.
“Oh,” he said again, with more feeling. “Well I guess we’d better get this over with. Usual office?”
“Yes. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t treat this as such a chore, Mr Fry,” Leela added, with the inflection of someone going through a very familiar routine. She shrugged off her coat and threw it on the couch, an action that seemed oddly familiar to Fry for some reason. “If you were more cooperative this situation could be resolved much faster.”
“Whatever you say,” Yancy said, standing up. “See you later, Phil.”
“Actually I’d like your brother to sit in on this session. It might be useful.”
“Oh. Well... this way.”
Yancy lead them both to a spare room next to Hermes’ office. Fry had only been in the room once before. He remembered the way Amy had sat on the table, one leg propped on a chair, the other foot firmly planted on the table-top, and felt his face turning bright pink. It was obvious enough for Leela to notice and give him a strange look.
“Are you feeling all right?”
“Just a memory.” Fry stared at the floor until he could dump the remembrance. Ironic, perhaps.
“Well, never mind that.” Leela sat down at the table and started emptying her case, laying a recorder, some files and a blank piece of paper in front of her. She paused a moment to rub her temples.
“Are you all right,” Yancy asked, leaning toward her a little.
“I’m fine, it’s just a little headache. Nothing serious,” she said, massaging her forehead with the ball of her palm. “Both of you, sit down please.”
They sat facing her across the table, Fry a little off to one side, whilst Yancy sat square on, obviously used to some sort of routine in the interviews. Leela examined her paper for a moment before placing them in a careful pile beside the recording machine.
“Before we get started, I have to tell you that, until your brother and his ‘friend’ leave again I’d like you to refer to me as Neena.”
“The other one didn’t want to be called ‘purple’. Besides,” Le- Neena grinned briefly before her customary frown returned. She reached for the recorder. “I’ve used this name before. Intervention subject one zero five Echo Romeo, Fry, Yancy J. Correlate archive and date. Okay...” Neena shuffled the papers and cleared her throat. “Routine stuff first. Since we last spoke have there been any changes in your demeanour or attitude toward work?”
“Any alterations in your work practice, terms of employment or working routine?”
Yancy glanced at Fry and rolled his eyes at Neena. “No...”
“Any incidents that have significantly altered your perception of your workplace, employers or co-workers?”
“No. Wait, yes.”
Neena’s pen halted its scratching against her notepad. She looked up at Yancy with a curious expression. “This is different. All right, when did this happen?”
“I suppose it could have started when Phil got me sick with that detox pill-”
“Hey come on, how was I supposed... uh...” Fry quailed under the combined stares of Neena and Yancy. “Sorry.”
“Detox pill?” Neena prompted, making another quick note.
“Yeah, I think I’m allergic to them and I got ill, which meant they had to temp Phil for the delivery boy on the last mission,” Yancy continued, rattling his fingers against the table. “So first I figure out that Phil likes his version of this job more than I do-”
“For the record, subject is speaking of his brother from... elsewhere.” Neena rolled her eye toward the ceiling. “See new notes and file on Farnsworth, Hubert J for details. Sorry, carry on.”
“Right. Okay.” Yancy too a moment to compose himself after the interruption. “Right, so Phil turns out to enjoy this work even though it doesn’t seem any different, then I find out that Vek has-”
The recorder clicked off. Fry realised he’d had his eyes closed while Yancy was talking – god knew why. He opened them to find Neena gripping the recorder very tightly with one hand, the other wrapped around her pen like it was a dagger.
Neena glanced at Fry, then down at her hand around the recording machine with a narrowed eye. After a moment’s hesitation she very slowly peeled her fingers away from the machine. She sat back, trying to appear calm and aloof but the tension in her face was obvious. “What did the idiot do now?”
“He told me he, uh, shouldn’t you be recording this?”
“I want to hear what he did to you first. We can make an official recording later.”
Yancy fidgeted in his seat, glancing at Fry a few times before he spoke again. “It was... well, Phil was telling me that he enjoyed flying with his version of you and I couldn’t quite figure it out. I hate flying.”
“With Veklerov? I’m not surprised.”
“Right. Anyway, just now I found out that he’s been turning the... inert...” He turned to Fry, pleading.
“Inertial dampeners. Star- uh... television told me.”
“Those things. He said he’d had them turned down to their minimum safety level, like it’s fine to just make my life a living hell so he can have a bit of ‘adventure’ or something.”
“I see.” Neena made another note. “How did that make you feel?”
“Well, angry I guess. I sort of shouted at him.”
“You nearly beat him up,” Fry said. “I had to hold you back or you’d have probably, I dunno, killed him. Or tried to.”
Neena wrinkled her brow and wrote something else down on her notepad whilst muttering under her breath. She reached for the recorder again to turn it on but Yancy reached out to stop her. He glanced at Fry again, then gave Neena a long, careful look. “Look... I feel kind of bad about the way I’ve acted toward you all this time. We’re having some sort of celebration dinner this evening, maybe you want to come along?”
“Will Vek be there?”
“Yes, but you’d be with... me...” Yancy swallowed and looked away. “That wasn’t meant to sound like that. I mean it’s not a date or anything, I just-”
“Sounds like a date to me.”
“Me too,” Fry added, to his instant regret. Neena and Yancy both shot him another bitter look.
“It’s not a date. If it were a date I’d be paying for it rather than the company. I just figure... I don’t know what I figure, but... I guess, I guess I owe you for trying to help me all this time. So, you want to come?”
“Pick me up at six,” Neena said, brushing Yancy’s hand away. She took a moment to compose herself, then turned on the recorder again. “Interview continues. Now as you were saying, Mr Fry?”