He had spent almost an hour staring at the building, from a café across the street. The place that had brought him here. Never had he been back, not even to look through the records for relatives; an option they gave to any of their ‘customers’. Yancy watched the doors, the shadowy figures moving to and fro behind the mirrored windows of the upper floors, wondering if there had ever been a chance of being found. He had never known. Never been back.
Leela’s message had told him to meet her in the lobby at midday, when she was on her lunch break. That in itself was hard, after everything else. He knew, deep down, she would still be hurting inside, that she might be reaching out for him again after everything else, after almost killing him, after almost destroying herself.
The lobby was deserted and cool after the heat and bustle of the city streets. She was waiting at the far end, in the shadow, sitting still. Curled up, her hands wedged between her knees while she stared at the floor. Leela didn’t notice him until he sat down right next to her. She swallowed and smiled at him, nervous and melancholy. “You made it, then.”
“I figured if you were going to shoot me you’d pick somewhere a little more private.” That drew a laugh, then, but a moment later the smile was gone. “I’m sorry, that was-”
“No. No... my counsellor says humour is good medicine.”
“The best,” Yancy replied, feeling hollow. “How have you been?”
“I’ve survived. It’s almost like before, I’m still alone, but at least I know my parents were keeping an eye on me even if I never got to...” she paused, rubbing moisture from the corner of her eye. “Never got to thank them.”
Yancy wasn’t sure what to do, so he patted her shoulder. Leela smiled again, ever so slightly, as she reached up to touch his hand. “You’re a good man, Yancy. You know that?”
“If you say so...”
“Perhaps now things have calmed down a bit...” Leela shook her head and looked away. When she spoke again her voice took on a more authoritative edge. She was back at work again. How she could do that, Yancy would never know. “We found something in the records. It’s... well, you apparently have a message.”
“I’ll show you,” Leela said, taking his hand. She led him toward the elevators.
It was called the tape room, for its role in playing ancient video tapes, though it could play many other formats as well. Outside of the Smithsonian is was probably the largest collection of equipment dedicated to the task of restoring and transferring old recordings to modern holosubstrate tape. So explained Leela as she let him through the door.
“Watch out for the step, it’s a little hard to see in the dark,” she added.
“Got it,” Yancy said, recovering from a stumble that started just a moment before Leela had spoken. He decided, for now, not to make an issue of it. “So there’s some old recordings?”
“There’s a few things. Apparently, about fifty years after you were frozen, someone deposited a package at the cryogenics lab in your name.”
Yancy froze. “A package.”
“It contained photographs, hard copies and holographic crystalline backups,” Leela continued, oblivious to the sudden cold gripping Yancy. “Which is unusual from such a long time ago. They survived the wars and invasions and so on.”
Leela stepped around the back of a projector and pulled a small crystal from the case she was carrying. “You’d better sit down.”
“Someone knew I was here.” Yancy felt the same queasiness he’d sensed the first time he’d entered this building, and only once after that. “Why didn’t they let me out?”
“I reviewed the tape. Please, Yancy, sit down.”
Yancy sat, on the second of three rows of chairs, slightly off to one side to feel less like he was completely alone. He heard the quiet snick of the crystal being driven home and sat back as the lights dimmed further. The screen filled with bright static that resolved into a room. His old living room...
“Oh, my god.”
His brother, looking the worse for age, walked into the frame and sat down on a chair. His temples were fringed with grey and he bore a scraggly brown beard, trimmed to a goatee, that was just starting to run a few grey threads as well. He looked a little younger than the last time Yancy had seen him, though that had been an unusual circumstance to begin with. Yancy’s brother held up a greeting hand and smiled, blinking watery eyes at the camera. “Yancy. It’s Philip.”
“You... you god-damned bastard, I sh-”
“I expect you’re upset.” A pause. The Philip Fry on the screen tilted his head as if listening. Yancy couldn’t find anything else to say, though it seemed as if this mage of his brother were listening to some imagined yelling somewhere. God knew he had a lot of things he wanted to say but his throat had closed up.
“Yancy, it’s true, I’ve known where you were for most of the last two years, but I haven’t come to rescue you. I can’t, for reasons that will not make much sense to you even if I took a whole year to explain them. If I’m right, you’ll be watching this some time in the year three-thousand and six, or three-thousand and seven. You will be working at a delivery company named Planet Express, a future subsidiary of a company that my company will not found for another seventeen years. Obviously by the time you get this, I’ll be dead.
“You can imagine the surprise - I can imagine your surprise at hearing this. What I’m about to say still doesn’t make much sense but, here goes. You see, according to... according to what I’ve been told, I was supposed to be the one frozen in that tube and sent to the future. I was supposed to prevent some sort of disaster, they haven’t explained precisely what it was but, I think I can get an idea of it from the ways they’ve been directing me to invest.
“I was supposed to save the world, but I didn’t. You did instead, apparently, so way to go! Unfortunately I’m also told you won’t be able to remember it happening. Bummer.”
“Remember what?” Yancy leaned back to look at Leela, confusion finally overcoming the anguish he’d felt to that point. “Do you know what he’s talking about?”
“Not a clue.”
“There’s a lot more I just don’t have time to explain. Kids, life, you know how it is... well I guess not but, Yancy, there’s one more thing I have to tell you. Laura. When she found out what was going on... when she found out where you were, she... well, she never loved me as much as she loved you, Yancy. She always saw me as the consolation prize.”
Phil paused to rub his face with one hand. He bit his lip before continuing. “I lost her, Yancy. We’ve been happy together but I never, that is we never really matched the way you two did. She left me. She waited until the kids were grown but then that was it. She loved you, Yancy and I could never replace you in her life. Not really.” He leaned forward a little and smiled a sad, melancholy smile. “I lost her, I lost you. The kids are all grown up and gone around the world or off to the moon and stuff. From what I hear I’ve lost the chance at seeing an amazing future. It feels like everything I love has gone away from me in the end. If... don’t let that happen to you, Yancy. Don’t imagine you can go through life alone, ‘cause one day you’ll get to the end of it and there won’t be anyone waiting for you. If you’ve got even the tiniest chance to share your life with someone, Yancy, you grab hold of it and you never let go.” He wiped his eye and smiled briefly as he examined the moisture on his fingers. “I miss you, bro. I always will.”
He smiled again, without humour, and shook his head. The video froze on an image of Philip moving to stand up, reaching toward the camera as if it were the only thing left in his life. Yancy stared at the last framed second of his brother’s life, trying to work out if he felt angry at Phil, angry at himself, or the world, or whether all his feelings were just the delayed grief of losing his entire family. He thought back, to the brief chance he’d had to reconcile with his brother and a flicker of understanding began to dawn.
“There’s more, Yancy. Another tape.”
Another one? Yancy looked over his shoulder at Leela, trying to read her expression in the light of the projector. “Have you watched it?”
“No. This one was marked as personal. I think it’s from your fiancée.”
Yancy swallowed and turned to face he frozen image of his brother again. If he’d felt anger it was gone, now, replaced with an immense sadness settling over his other emotions like a blanket of snow, blunting and muffling every feeling.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No. No I think...” he stood up and turned to look at Leela. “I loved her, but... whatever she has to say is in the past. If she’s telling me she loves me, I already know it. If she’s saying she stopped loving me then I’d prefer not to find out. I’d rather remember the last night I saw her.”
A smile twitched his mouth, accompanying the tears that threatened to well up in his eyes. He stood and turned away from the projected image of his brother, toward Leela. Yancy held out his hand.
“You missed your lunch,” he said. Leela frowned at him. Where is this leading, her face clearly said.
“Want to get something to eat?”
Leela lowered her eye to the memory crystal cupped in her palm. She wrapped her hand around it and smiled. “Sure. Let me just close up here. I’ll see you in the lobby. Five minutes?”
She waited for him to leave before turning back to the machine again. Leela ejected the other recording, blanking the screen and shrouding the room in darkness, so that only her hands were lit by the tiny red light hovering over the playback console. She pressed the new crystal against the input slot, but then paused.
He hadn’t wanted to see it. At a professional level Leela knew this was a positive step, a sign he was finally coming to terms with his new life. But... it seemed wrong, to leave something like that unseen. It was the justification she was giving herself as she pressed the crystal into the correct slot and activated the playback.
The screen flared to life, showing the same room. It was obviously a few years later. The woman seated in the chair so recently occupied by Yancy’s brother stared at the camera with a terribly familiar longing.
For a while she just stared, her lips twitching now and then as she tried to speak. It was obvious that she was lost in her thoughts, unable to voice what she wanted to say. Eventually, though, she closed her eyes, and a smile came to her face.
She began to sing. It was a song Leela had never heard before, though its every note felt hauntingly familiar. Where there were words, they filled Leela with a sense of love and anguish; where there were no words, the sense of longing and loneliness betrayed by the song was almost overwhelming.
At some point Laura stopped her singing and resumed staring at the camera. She sat still for some time, just long enough for Leela to recover her wits. Then, without a word being spoken, the film ended.
It had been just over ten minutes and Yancy was just thinking that he might have been stood up when the elevator door opened and Leela stepped out. She smiled at the sight of him; the first real, honest smile she’d worn since her duplicates had left, if truth be told.
As she approached, Leela held out a memory crystal between finger and thumb. She dropped it into Yancy’s outstretched hand.
“Your video,” Leela said. She shuffled her feet and clasped her hands together. Yancy examined the crystal in his hand and shook his head.
“I don’t want it.” He held the crystal back toward Leela.
“You might want it one day,” she replied as she closed his fingers around it. Her hand lingered for a moment, her fingers lightly pressed against his. She let go. And when he looked into her eye, for the first time since he’d arrived there, Yancy saw the future.