Fry sat in his accustomed spot on the bridge with his back firmly set against the pacing, arguing figures behind him as he tried to think his way through what was going on. So far he’d drawn a frustrating blank. On the one hand, his brother said Leela wanted to leave him behind. On the other, Leela insisted she didn’t. And then she’d gone crazy and punched him in the face.
Amy was... he glanced over at the intern and half-smiled at the sight of her but confusion was all he felt in that direction right now.
It was all just so frustrating. He had even less idea of what was going on than usual and now, all they could talk about was getting home as fat as possible for some reason that was never really made clear, though it had something to do with Neena. And Leela had been shouting something about tunnels when she’d hit him. He just couldn’t see the pattern though.
He looked up at the forward windows. Earth was growing there, a bright blue disc about the size of his thumb. He could see the moon somewhere off to the left, about as big, but cut by a crescent of darkness. Normally the sight cheered him after a long delivery, the thought of returning home, resting up and settling down for a long evening in front of the television but, this wasn’t home. Not really. It looked like home and felt like home, and had a lot of very nice bits to it that might make it seem better than home, but it wasn’t home. There was still the nagging thought of that grave somewhere with his own bones and bits lying in it, buried under a thousand years of earth. The mere thought of it made him feel cold and dry inside, like he was almost there himself.
A shadow fell across him. Amy, sidling up to his side, her face that same placid openness he’d never been able to resist the last time around. “Hey. What’s up?”
“Oh... I was just thinking.” Fry leaned back in his chair, his mind filtering out the near-constant warble of Leela and Vek’s conversation. They’d managed to spend the last hour arguing about who was the better pilot, without resolution.
“I’ve been thinking, too. Leela was talking to me before.” She sat herself down on the console, legs splayed just enough to send his hormones bouncing. “She was acting like she’d not sent that message. It’s weird.”
“I know, she told me she’d never leave me behind...” Fry sighed and shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“Yancy wouldn’t lie about something like this,” Amy replied. She glanced over her shoulder at the expanding disc of earth. “We’ll be able to find out soon anyhow. You wanna hang out some more when we get back?”
“Sure. We could go see a movie.” Fry shuddered as an immense cold drew over his body. “Did someone turn the heating off?”
The quaver of his voice was enough to silence the arguing pair behind him. Leela and Veklerov relaxed from their desperate fight to force each other from the pilot’s seat and slowly righted themselves. Leela moved forward, risking a glance at Amy, as if seeking approval.
“What makes you say that?”
“I’m freezing. Ow!” Fry felt his chest cramp up, as if a frozen hand had suddenly gripped his heart. He gasped for breath, wrapping his arms around his body as he tried to fight off the cold.
“Fry? What’s the matter?” Warm hands touched his skin. His teeth started chattering as if his body had suddenly realised how cold he was. “Ahh, you’re freezing! Amy, get an emergency blanket. Vek, you... turn up the heat or something.”
She wrapped her arms around Fry, who felt like he’d just been plunged into a furnace, her skin was so hot. She hissed at the touch of him and tried to push her body closer. He heard footsteps thumping across the deck but they sounded slow and distance and everything looked a long, long way away, like it was at the end of a tunnel, filled with light.
Sense left. He found himself in a darkness that was something other than the mere absence of light, and then in a light that was not light at all, because there was no darkness. He remembered his family, and then found himself amongst them. But, they were confused, because he was already there...
Fry woke in the pits of hell, bound and covered by heat and humidity and sweaty bodies writhing in torment. He lashed out, trying to claw his way free of the anguish clutching at his heart and suddenly broke through the-
“Ow! Dammit, Fry, what the hell are you doing?”
Leela’s voice froze Fry’s mind for a brief moment, long enough to realise that he wasn’t in hell. Though, Veklerov’s cabin didn’t seem much less of a torment. He looked to one side and saw Leela staring at him with pained curiosity. That explained two of the arms wrapped around him.
“Did I just sleep through something awesome again?”
“Wuzzle,” Amy mumbled, nuzzling against his back. Leela rolled her eye and detached herself from the small pile. She brushed back a stray lock of hair clinging to her brow.
“Jeeze, it’s hot...” Fry picked at the thermal blanket half-wrapped around them. The air was still muggy and warm. “Leela? What’s going on?”
“We were saving your life.”
“You had some sort of weird thermal crash. It’s like all the heat leached out of your body.” She rolled her enormous eye, making her distaste obvious. “We had to keep you warm somehow. This was Amy’s idea.”
“I felt like I was dying.”
Leela nodded, making he way over to the cabin’s environmental control. The tension in her body made it obvious how she felt about being there, which gave Fry an odd, jittery thrill. Was it because of him or because of Vek?
“You looked like you were dying as well,” she said quietly. Her voice firmed up as she turned back to look at him, disapproval pulling the corners of her mouth down just slightly. “We had to keep your body temperature up somehow...”
He felt Amy’s hand crawling across his chest just as Leela turned back to look at him.
“It’s nice to know my friends wanted me to go out happy.”
“You can stop that fantasy right there, mister,” Leela replied, folding her arms. “I wanted to put you in between the dark matter reactors.”
Fry grimaced and stuck out his tongue, which was a really childish thing to do, but he couldn’t think of anything better to say. He glanced out of the tiny porthole and was surprised to see the clear blue of an atmosphere beyond. They were skimming over the cloud-tops.
“I can’t help it! I just woke up with two hot, sweaty women wrapped around me, is it my fault if I get a little, y’know, excited?”
“You men, you’re all the same,” Leela replied, her eyebrow arching like a sinuous S. But, for all that, she was smiling just a little. “I’m glad you’re still around, Fry.”
“You and me both...” Fry carefully unwrapped Amy from around his waist and shuffled out of the bed. His clothes were soaked with sweat. Not all of it was his own. “Man. I stink.”
“We all do,” Amy mumbled from under the blanket. She poked her head out, bleary-eyed and looking exhausted from the heat.
Leela nodded. “The shower’s in the same place, at least. Try not to die again.”
“I dunno, if it means beautiful women dog-piling me... all right, all right, I’m going,” he yelped, avoiding the well-aimed boot Leela threw at him. Fry ducked out of the door and skittered around the corner as fast as frightened rat.
Amy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Typical man.”
“Yeah, well, they all fantasise about it, but put them in a bed with two women and they’d probably just freeze up.”
“Maybe I should get Yancy in and turn the tables on him,” Amy replied, stroking her chin with a thoughtful expression. She shuffled across the bed and sat next to Leela, half-mimicking her pose. “See how he likes it.”
“Interesting idea, but... nah, I’ve never really seen the appeal.”
Leela glanced sideways at the intern, wondering if she should ask the obvious next question, though it wasn’t as if she really wanted to know the answer. She settled for staring at the wall, trying to hid her glum expression behind a neutral glare. It didn’t work.
“Leela, I’m sorry about what I said before. We thought you were going to leave Phil here.”
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t.”
“You can always stay too, you know...”
Leela nodded slowly, pondering the thought. But no. “I can’t. I want to go home. Besides, there’s Neena here already.”
“I think I understand,” Amy said, nodding slowly. “It’d be like putting two queen bees in the same hive.”
“Oh lord, don’t mention bees. Especially not big killer space bees.” She shuddered involuntarily and tried to put the memory out of her head, but it wouldn’t quite go away. Yet another time when she’d had her life saved by Fry. “Oh, that damn kid...”
She felt Amy wrap a slightly sticky arm around her shoulders, the other stroking her arm. Leela ignored her mild disgust at the feeling, appreciating the contact, even if it was slimy and cold. They sat like that for a minute, rocking back and forth as the ship’s gravity generator tried to compensate for their turbulent atmospheric flight.
“Leela? Can I ask you something?”
Amy brought her hands back to her lap, where she twisted her fingers around the hem of her pants. “Phil kept saying he wanted to make up for something he did to his... to your version of me.”
“Oh.” Leela looked into Amy’s eyes, unsure of what to say. It would be so easy to use this as a way to get Fry back. All she would have to do is tell her how much of a scumbag he’d had been in their last relationship. She shook her head and sighed at the injustice of a the world.
“Do you know what it was?”
Leela nodded slightly, displacement activity so she could work up her courage.“It was... it was something I did, not him,” she said, her voice quiet as the half-truths unfolded in her mind. It was so easy once you got started. “I broke up one of your dates because I thought you were going to end up giving each other hell. He was very attached to you at the time.”
“Right...” Amy smiled weakly, though the disquieted anger behind her fragile expression was obvious, her eyes filled with accusation as her suspicions over Leela were so blatantly confirmed. “Thanks for being honest, Leela. I appreciate it.”
“Honesty is a rare commodity these days,” Leela replied, sick to her stomach. It was as if she was committing herself to an irreversible path by the creative recounting of those events, closing off more doors until she was left with just one, lonely journey. She stood up, shivering as she realised how chilly the room had become. “Shower time.”
Farnsworth heard the ship crunching to the ground outside the lab. A moment later he heard the quiet hiss of his secret elevator as it disappeared into the ground, leaving an annoying hole where he had hoped to tread on his way to top up his Buggalo cheese sample jar. The experiment he had originally intended to run with ordinary nuclear isotopes had proven surprisingly easy to adapt to the cheese, which had to be emitting some sort of radiation. But, now he was being prevented from continuing by that dratted hole. He had a toaster waiting to be tested and what seemed to be a very promising reaction from the kettle to observe. It was all very frustrating.
The hole in front of him began to blow out a gentle breeze as the elevator ascended from the basement levels. It was uncanny how it had done that all by itself. He would have to check the control mechanism. It wouldn’t do to have one of his employees stumble into it. They’d make such a mess when they got to the bottom. Still, that was what the janitor was for.
Farnsworth was just trying to remember why he felt he should be doing something about the janitor when the elevator arrived, bearing on of the Leelas, the prettier one with the nicer hair. He tilted his head to one side as he tired to determine why her face looked so different. She seemed to be angry, shouting something that he didn’t bother listening to because it was so loud and silly and not worth wasting his time with. Frankly, the odd weapon she was waving at him seemed to be so much more fascinating. Yes. And here he was without his tranquilliser gun.
Something in the way she was speaking gave him a pause. He frowned, more than usual, and held up his hand to silence her. It seemed to work. “What? I can’t understand your bizarre alien language any more.”
“Alien...? you stupid old man, I’m speaking English! Where the hell is Philip?”
“The one from the other universe!” She pushed the gun into his face, which Farnsworth assumed was meant to be threatening but which merely gave him a better chance to examine the mechanism up close. He sniffed at the bitter fumes leaking from the weapon’s hollow emitter.
“Interesting...” Farnsworth poked the side of the gun, twisting a mobile cylinder in its housing; it moved with a gentle clicking of a ratchet mechanism. “The entire thing seems to be mechanical. Where did you find such an antique?”
“Oh forget it.” She pushed him aside and stomped to the back wall of the lab, where she stared across his experiments and into the hangar at the ship. “He’s on the ship, isn’t he. Well that’s good. That means I can fix a few things...”
Farnsworth peered across the hangar at the ship as Neena sighted her weapon on the gangway. He supposed he should do something about it, but the entire course of events seemed so interesting that he preferred to let it play out. The weapon was one he had only ever seen in history books, an old, violently noisy sort of affair that appealed to the part of him that liked explosions. He picked up his scanometer and surreptitiously waved it at Neena’s back. The device registered an odd anomaly in addition to its display of the weapon’s vital statistics, declaring it had found NEW DATA in large bold letters, before bringing up a reference note to his earlier, more detailed scans of the pair.
“Oh my. You know, my dear, I-”
Farnsworth shrugged and continued scanning, his eyes locked on the weapon. He could sort out the quantum reality stuff later, this was going to be much more entertaining, with all the potential explosions and fire and smoke and things, oh my yes. A pair of legs appeared on the gangway, clad in pink. Amy? What was she doing wearing pink? Then someone else. Ah yes, the idiot.
“Time to leave, Philip,” Neena muttered, thumbing back the hammer.
Leela settled back into her hiding spot above the hangar, deep in the shadow of some machinery. Her jaunt back into the sewers had been risky but worthwhile, just to see another version of herself realising the universal truth, the one constant in all their lives.
Something had been a little different about this one, though. She couldn’t place it. In the sewers was the first time she’d seen her in the flesh, however dark it had been. She seemed... connected, somehow. It was almost like... the past...
Leela shook her head to dislodge the memory. She shifted forward on the gantry and peered down at the ship. If she’d timed it right her alter self would be entering the lab about now, from the massive underground city this universe contained. Leela tried to imagine what life would be like if she’d lived in something like that. Perhaps with her parents. Only... no, no that wouldn’t do at all.
There was a sound, a quiet clank as someone stepped onto the gantry. Who... she whirled and found herself face to face with the idiot’s brother. He stared at her, confused but stubbornly defiant. It seemed to be a family trait.
“Well, hello there...” She turned on her toes to get a better look at him.
“How did you get up here?”
“Same way you did, the door round the back of this place.” She leaned on the rail, pulled out a cigarette and tucked it into her mouth. “You’d think that idiot professor would be smart enough to lock it in at least one universe...”
“So which Leela are you?”
“The sane one,” Leela muttered, grabbing the butt of her pistol. She paused. He didn’t seem to be reacting the right way. Not confused, not scared, more like resigned. Hopeless. “You are his brother, right?”
“I just want to know what’s going on.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Leela shrugged, relaxing her hand, seeing how unlikely it was he’d attack her. “There’s only one of me. You know why I’m here?”
“No...” his eye flicked to the pistol. “You did it, didn’t you.”
“Smarter and more handsome,” Leela replied. She sidled toward the brother and traced her hand up his chest. “Why couldn’t I have had you in my universe? I bet I wouldn’t have had to kill you even a tiny little bit...”
He glanced down at the hangar, fear entering his eyes for the first time. “What’s going on?”
“Huh, I guess you’re not as clever as I thought. I’m here to see your brother die.” She pulled her gun before he could react and pressed it against his chin. “And you’re not going to do a thing about it, are you.”
Leela gripped his shirt collar so tight it was almost choking him. He blinked several times, trying to clear his watering eyes, his eyes never wavering from her face as he tried to stare her down. She smiled and thumbed back the hammer. If Yancy had an answer to her question, it was lost behind the crash of gunfire echoing around the vast hangar.