The lab was normal. Normal, of course, meaning that there was a wide array of bizarre equipment and half-completed experiments lying around the place, accompanied by odd stains, strange smells and a worryingly empty cage in the far corner of the room. A small machine sat on a workbench by the far wall, a single wheel embedded in one side the only visible moving part. Something about the wheel looked wrong, though, as if it was turning in more than one direction at the same time and, when Fry tried to look at it, his eyes kept shifting off to one side. After a few tries he gave up and looked elsewhere. Behind the machine a white parabolic dish faced a nasty black scorch-mark on another wall and beyond that a small pile of silvery-black rods sat in a small cradle. The machine emitted a loud plink and ejected another one of the rods into the cradle where it sat, smoking slightly, as it cooled down from whatever process had created it.
Normal, like he’d thought. Fry leaned against one of the benches for a moment as they waited, until something started scrabbling at his back. He very carefully stood up again, moved across the room and stood next to Leela without ever turning to look at whatever had tried to grab his coat. Knowing what it was wouldn’t make things any better.
They stood, waiting in the peculiar silence of the lab for a few minutes, lost in their respective thoughts. Now and then Fry would glance at Leela’s face, trying to discern what she was thinking- he’d read the word in a dictionary a few days ago when he was bored – with little success. She seemed to have shut herself off completely.
The door hissed and the Professor entered, giving Fry his first real surprise.
“Yes... who’s asking?”
Professor Farnsworth stared at Fry from beneath a cotton-thin gauze of bright red hair that hung over his brow in a tangled fringe. His face looked... wrong; almost the same, which wasn’t surprising given his age, but something about his nose...
The Professor’s presence seemed to snap Leela out of her trance. She gently eased Fry to one side and stepped forward.
“Good morning Professor.”
“Ahh... Miss Turanga...” Farnsworth peered at Leela’s face, though he kept stealing glances toward Fry. He was frowning as he spoke. “You’re rather early today, aren’t you? And what on earth have you done to your hair?”
“I... suppose so... how do I put this?”
“We’re from another universe!” Fry blurted. Leela shot him a stern glance but Fry didn’t care. She would have spent the better part of a day edging around it, and right now he wasn’t in the mood for that sort of yammering.
Farnsworth frowned at Fry again, before shuffling toward one of his workbenches to retrieve a complicated looking scanner device which he turned first to Leela, then on Fry. It wasn’t, Fry noticed, the usual device Farnsworth seemed to use for such things, being much more stylish in some indefinable way. The Professor waved the scanner at his own head.
“I see...” Farnsworth peered at the screen, adjusted a few dials and then waved it at Leela again. “Yes... it’s true, your quantum resonance signature is out of sync.”
“You aren’t going to say we’re evil, are you?”
“Oh my no.” Farnsworth put the device down, mumbling to himself as he did so. He brushed a wisp of hair from his eyes, still frowning as he looked at Fry through his far-too-thick glasses. “I suppose it had to happen eventually, given how long the paraboxes have been there and how many of them I made. But why,” he added, waving another scanner at Fry, “did you decide come through?”
“It was that or have our heads cooked off by...” Leela cut herself off as Amy wandered past the lab door, humming quietly to herself as she carried a bucket of a strange, glowing liquid down the corridor. “Well, we didn’t have much of a choice, let’s put it that way.”
“I see...” Farnsworth held the scanner up to Leela again, frowning. He turned it on Fry once more before placing it carefully on the workbench.
“According to my giztronulator there are traces of a second distinct quantum signature within your bodies, enough to tell me you’ve spent some length of time in more than one universe already, and possibly eaten some junk-food.”
Leela and Fry both muttered their agreement.
“I had a danish,” Fry added. The Professor was silent for a moment, contemplating new data, or perhaps just digesting a meal – they both looked the same to Fry, never particularly able to distinguish the Professor’s mental states, even less so now his face looked so wrong, and yet, somehow, familiar. He felt his eyes drawn back to the red ship and his brother labouring somewhere within it.
“Hey, wait a minute, if Yancy is... how...” Fry’s voice faded with the sudden overwhelming realisation of what was going on. “You’re not my nephew here?”
“Oh how silly. No, if you really are that young know-all’s brother then it would appear that I’m your great, great to some crazy power grandson.”
“Yes, that was my thought too.” Farnsworth turned back to his workbench and extracted yet another device from a drawer. He held the gadget up and began adjusting one of the dials on its surface. “It’s quite a shock to find out what your ancestors were actually like. How someone like you ever founded Seymour and Butes Holdings I’ll never know. I’m amazed I can even talk without drooling,” he added over his shoulder.
He turned and pressed the device against Fry’s upturned hand. Fry yelped at the sudden stinging pain in his palm and drew his arm back. The device beeped. Farnsworth glared at it with barely disguised contempt and threw it back in the drawer. “Yes... it would appear I am indeed your direct descendent. Remarkable...”
“Hey, stop talking about me like I’m an idiot!” Fry looked to Leela for support but she just folded her arms and rolled her eye. His resolve faltered for a moment. “I mean... I, look, that’s not fair. Leela, tell him I’m not... I’m not that dumb...”
“Fry, this is hardly the time to argue about how dumb you are.”
“I think it’s a perfect time to argue about it! You all keep treating me like I’m just some stupid kid, but I know it doesn’t have to be that way now, even if he did play flight simulators!”
Farnsworth frowned at Fry, pushing aside his fringe of hair again. “What are you blathering about now?”
“It doesn’t matter!” Fry kneaded his forehead with the ball of his thumb as he tried to think of some way to argue with them. Maybe they had a point, at that? No... no that wasn’t right. He opened his eyes and looked at Leela again, looking for some sign of support, but all he saw was vague pity.
“We’ll talk about this later, Fry.”
“Right, sure,” Fry muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets as he leaned back against another workbench. Leela took a breath, but waited a moment as the Professor wandered around his lab, pushing equipment back and forth and poking at his experiments with an absent-minded interest until he reached a bank of computers on the back wall. He watched the lights flickering for a few moments.
“All right, what do you want?”
Farnsworth turned his back on the computer, staring at Leela with senile interest. An extractor fan chattered into life somewhere overhead as Leela remained silent for a while longer, seeming to struggle with her reply.
“We need your help,” she eventually said.
“Of course you do. Everyone in this place always needs my help for something. Professor, my legs have fallen off. Professor, we need a new microwave! Oh Professor, the flow inverter coils on the ship you built need replacing or it’ll explode! But do they ever thank me?”
The door thumped back, making all three jump in surprise, as Amy leaned into the lab with a broad smile on her face. “Professor! I so completely forgot to say thanks for that new automatic eyelash plucker and make-up applicator machine you made for me!”
She skipped across the lab and planted a kiss on Farnsworth’s forehead. He blushed slightly and looked away, abashed at the sudden attention.
“Well it, it was nothing really, I just had a few spare parts from a killbot lying around and...”
He looked up at Leela and Fry’s bemused stares. “What? This doesn’t alter my point! Whatever it was!”
Amy gave the pair a perplexed look but it only lasted a moment. She thanked the Professor again and turned to leave, only pausing at the door to look at Fry.
“Offer’s still open...” She glanced at Leela, then winked at Fry and left the room. Fry couldn’t resist a small grin, though it faded after a moment as he felt Leela’s stare burning into the back of his head. Fry blew out his cheeks and then sighed, refusing to look at Leela. He heard her make a similar gesture accompanied by the creak of a stool being drawn out from under a workbench as she sat down.
Farnsworth’s resigned look said just about everything that needed to be said.
“All right, what?”
“We need to get back to our own universe.”
“I see... I suppose simply retracing your steps would be out of the question?” Farnsworth waited for Leela’s confirmation before he turned away, contemplating the computer again. He picked up a digital notepad and started jotting on it. “Very well, the first option would be to scan all of our paraboxes to see if your unique quantum signature matches any of them. Failing that, we’d have to find some way of navigating towards a universe more likely to hold a portal back to your own.”
He added to his notes with a final flourish and turned back to face them with a broad grin. Fry didn’t like the look of that grin. It was the sort of look the Professor got when he was coming up with a creative new way to destroy a large chunk of the immediate universe.
“Of course this could take quite a while.” Farnsworth shuffled around the lab. He paused at the rod-dispensing machine and prodded a few parts of it with his pen. “The scanning of our own stored boxes will take about three days once I’ve created a suitable scanning device. If that fails to produce the result you’re after, well, I imagine you’ll need to find somewhere to stay for a while at least. Remarkable,” he added, peering at Fry again and adjusting his glasses slightly. He gave Fry’s head a curious poke with his pen.
“Hey, cut it out!”
“I shall have Hermes call a general meeting. Leela, your, ah, ‘counterpart’ will be here shortly. Perhaps it is worth introducing you two. It would allow me to make a more detailed map of your quantum resonance pattern if I have a local baseline to compare it to.”
“If it stops people talking about my hair...” Leela primly groomed her pony-tail as she spoke, though the sight reminded Fry of when she’d been on the edge of breaking down after finding her parents’ home in the sewers. “Fry?”
“MacDuff, yeah, I know...”
Fry made his way out into the corridor and waited for Leela and the Professor to emerge. Farnsworth peered at him again as he passed by, muttering ‘remarkable’ and similar exclamations under his breath as he meandered down the corridor, leaving the pair alone.
The carpet... well there was a carpet, Fry realised. That was new. And the walls were... wrong. It was all wrong, just wrong enough to annoy him without being wrong enough to be wrong. Fry rubbed his temples, trying to massage away the headache behind his eyes. He needed a drink and somewhere quiet to lie down for a few hours. Oh, hell, would he end up staying with Yancy? That wouldn’t work. He’d go nuts! Oh great, now Leela was staring at him again, better make with the conversation Fry.
“Fry what the hell were you thinking, flirting with Amy like that?”
“What? Flirt... I wasn’t flirting!”
Leela’s only reply was an angry huff. She folded her arms and glared at Fry. “We’re in a new universe for less than three hours and you’re already trying to get into Amy’s pants. I expected better of you, Fry.”
“Come on, Leela, it’s nothing like that! She... look, she just likes me, that’s all.” He looked into Leela’s skeptical eye and tried to think of something that would appease her. “I didn’t even say anything to her!”
“I’ll put it down to the stress we’re under,” she said primly before marching away down the corridor. Fry scowled at her back.
“It’s not like you would care,” he grumbled once she was safely around the corner. After all, like she said, it wasn’t like anything between would work... with a heartfelt sigh, Fry trekked after Leela, wondering what had gone wrong with his life and whether they’d ever get away from this crazy, mixed up universe.
“So what you’re saying,” Veklerov said very slowly, “is that this isn’t our Siryevna?”
“My name is Leela.”
Veklerov shrugged. “I call you Sirochka. You don’t normally mind.”
“If I knew what it meant then maybe-”
Leela’s burgeoning tirade was brought to a quick halt by Farnsworth slapping his hand down on the conference table. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant sound, involving far too much crackling to be healthy, but it got everyone’s attention. Farnsworth glared at Veklerov and Leela in turn before looking away.
“Thank you. Now yes, it’s true, these two are from a universe parallel to our own, and they apparently had little choice in coming here, though it seems they’re unwilling to explain...” he gave Fry an expectant look but he just folded his arms and stared at the table. He wasn’t in the mood for being helpful, why should they expect him to do all the talking anyway? Talking was Leela’s job, not his.
Yancy sighed and then laughed quietly.
“There was never any chance of them finding me, then,” he said before turning toward Fry, who watched his brother warily, unsure of how he’d react. Yancy stared at him for a moment or two then turned away, blinking back a tear.
“Well, be that as it may, they are here now, and they need our help or, more accurately, my help. That means for once you lazy jackasses can do something to help me.” He paused, expecting a response and getting nothing. “Someone’s missing. Who’s missing?”
“Bender and that stinkin lobster,” Hermes said from behind his briefcase. He laid a series of forms on the table with a skeptical air. “Bender filed an employee non-authorised absence authorisation this mornin and the both of them have been missing all day. Did you know he has a sentient livestock transport license?”
Farnsworth adjusted his glasses as he stared at Hermes. “Bender filled in a form?”
“I know,” Hermes replied, pushing the forms over to the Professor, who turned to examine the flimsy hard-copies whilst Hermes perused an electronic backup on his clipboard. “It’s got me worried, he never does anything by the book.”
“Wouldn’t that be something you wanted, though?” Amy plucked one of the forms from Farnsworth’s grasp and peered at it with a vague confusion. She tossed it back on the table. “Gleesh, I hate forms...”
Fry and Leela shared a look, the conflict between them forgotten as they each remembered how they’d ended up here. The silent thought hung in the air for a moment, mingled with the considered possibilities of just what Bender would be up to with Zoidberg. Fry, from long experience, had a fairly good idea of the sort of things that might be going on, with another attempt to win first prize at a pet show being the least disturbing he could think of.
The Professor stared at the forms arrayed before him and then brushed them to one side. “I don’t care what he’s up to as long as I don’t have to pay for the results. Veklerov, Yancy, you’ll just have to make your delivery without him. Now sort out amongst yourselves who gets to take these two home. I can’t have them cluttering up the place.”
“Oh, I’ll take him,” Amy said, pointing at Fry with a broad grin. Leela’s eye narrowed.
“Perhaps it would be best if he stayed with his brother,” she said, putting a hand on Fry’s shoulder. Fry winced as her nails dug into his flesh. “After all, I’m sure they have plenty to talk about.”
“Right,” Yancy and Fry both said at the same time, and with the same doubtful tone. Amy’s mouth flapped open and shut a few times. She slumped back into her seat and folded her arms with a scowl strong enough to burn a hole in the conference table’s sheer surface.
There was a moment of tense silence. Vek slapped the table and stood up. “Right then, Yanchovich, time to go play amongst the stars again eh?”
Yancy grimaced as he followed Veklerov back down to the ship. He paused at the top of the stairs to look back at Fry with a vague sort of desperation until Vek shouted at him to hurry up. Fry tried to smile at his brother but Yancy just waved half-heartedly and ran down to the ship. A moment later the engines whined into life. The ship gently lifted from the hangar floor and powered away through the open roof.
“Huh, secondary motivator coil needs turning,” Leela muttered as she watched the ship retreat toward the bright blue sky. She let go of Fry’s shoulder and moved off toward the employee lounge in a daze.
“All things bein equal they should be back in about two hours, which gives me just enough time to file this mornin’s accident reports.”
“Oh yes... though with that lobster gone there’s fewer than usual. Most of them are to do with the way you decided to have flyin lessons in our store room, ya great lumpen lummoxes.” Hermes’ briefcase close with a loud snap as he stood up. “Try not to break anythin else.”
Talking quietly to each other, Hermes and the Professor departed the conference area, leaving Amy and Fry alone at the table. They stared at each other for a few minutes.
“So you’re really from another universe?”
Fry shrugged and tried to smile. Somehow it felt easier when Leela wasn’t around, watching his every move. “Yeah. You’re... you’re not going to shoot at me again, are you?”
“Never mind...” Fry stood up, suddenly full of a nervous energy he could feel buzzing all the way out to his fingers. “I need to get out of here for a while.”
“Oh great, I was gonna go shopping. Wanna go hit the town?” Amy said with a smile. Fry had a momentary image of himself pounding up and down fifth avenue, piled high with Amy’s shopping bags and shook his head. But then she leaned toward Fry and winked.
“Oh. Oh!” He glanced at the corridor to the employee lounge. What would Leela say? Eh, he just wouldn’t tell her. “Let’s take the back way out...”