Hubert Farnsworth leaned back from his position, hunched over the screen of one of the many consoles arrayed around the laboratory, and listened to the almost symphonic ripple of cracks and crunches down his spine. The pain was marginal, which meant that most of it probably wasn’t caused by his vertebrae being crushed this time. Probably. Anyway he could just get another round of nanofibre injections to deal with that. He turned away to examine his subjects.
Apart from the quiet hum of the scanners and the warbling of the various devices that kept the two Leela’s from waking up, the lab was virtually silent. Farnsworth paused in his examination to look at the medical equipment. For some reason he felt a twinge of guilt for lying to his ancestor, even if he was from another universe. Then again he was from another universe, which meant he wasn’t, strictly speaking, Farnsworth’s ancestor. In theory he should be guilt-free! And yet...
The scanner caught his eye, emitting a series of coded flashes designed for the sole purpose of attracting his attention. He shuffled over to the machine and leaned over the terminal again, ignoring another series of crackling shocks in his spine. The scans were complete, with anomalies.
“Anomalies,” he muttered, glancing back at the pair, slumbering in their beds the way Farnsworth wished he were. He brought up a more detailed reading of the purple Leela’s hair, the one he’d designated Leela P for some reason. “Yes... remarkable.”
A loud clatter from the warehouse next door derailed Farnsworth’s thought path. He turned off the screen, grumbling as he shuffled across the lab to the warehouse entrance. Farnsworth pushed open the door and peered into the twilight gloom of the larger space.
“Hello? Is anybody there?” He pawed at the wall, trying to find a switch to activate the security systems. “I should warn you about my killbots. There’s a long list of disclaimers you need to know about, apparently, but I seem to have forgotten them. Not to worry, though,” he added, as he moved carefully around the doorway toward a security cabinet. “I’ll just tell Hermes you knew. It’s not like they could really find out from your charred remains, oh my, no indeed.”
He paused at the sound of a metallic click two... three rows of shelves away. The Professor smiled to himself and reached up to pull a plasma rifle – one he’d designed specifically for the elderly and infirm – from the cabinet and quietly cocked the mechanism.
Perhaps it was the unusual nature of the boxes, or perhaps he’d finally lost his marbles, a possibility that constantly dogged the Professor’s mind – he stifled a quiet chuckle over the thought. Whatever the reason, Hubert found himself at something of a loss. Normally he knew broadly what to expect with even his most disturbing experiments, but not now. The scan’s results had unnerved him just a little. The connection between Leela and-
Something rattled ahead. Farnsworth could hear heavy footsteps. He raised the rifle.
The footsteps stopped. Farnsworth’s grip tightened on the rifle’s padded grip (pine scented, slightly ruffled texture, hypo-allergenic for dry skin) and he hugged the rifle a little closer to his body, aiming it at about upper chest height. “Don’t make me try and remember what I said to repeat myself! Who are you?”
“Scruffy,” a rough, monotonal voice called out. “The janitor.”
“Oh. Oh my.”
Farnsworth lowered the rifle as the janitor stepped into view with his hands half-heartedly raised over his head. He shrugged at Farnsworth. “The boxes needed supervisin.”
“What? They’re boxes you great lumbering broom-pusher! Never mind that, I need you to look after these two in here while I work out a way to get them back to their apartment.”
“Babysittin ain’t in Scruffy’s contract,” Scruffy muttered as he followed the Professor back into the lab. Farnsworth glared at him and wondered why he hadn’t fired the man yet. He made a mental note to do so in the morning.
“You can say you’re supervising them for all I care, just sit here with them until I come back.”
Scruffy grunted acknowledgement before slouching into a nearby chair. He pulled down his cap and put his feet up before the astonished Professor.
“What on space earth are you doing here, anyway?”
“Overtime,” Scruffy replied from underneath his lowered cap. He smacked his lips a few times and settled back into the chair. I’m definitely going to fire him tomorrow, Farnsworth thought. Whatever his name is!
Satisfied, at least, that his charges wouldn’t be lonely, Farnsworth started the long trek back up to the surface and his regular lab. Perhaps some sort of taxi service operated this late? No... he’d have to arrange something a little more appropriate. Hermes was usually still awake around now, he could come in and take them. He had a car of some sort didn’t he? With that sorted, Farnsworth began plotting out how best to explain the situation to the two of them. Some sort of recording, perhaps.
It was dark. Always a good sign. Leela pushed the box lid up a fraction and almost immediately hit another shelf, but that was okay. She’d dealt with that situation more times than she could count. A quick shove at behind the box propelled the it out onto the floor whilst she ducked back inside. A moment later she was crawling out onto the floor of the storeroom.
No, this was different. She looked around, wondering at the size of what was obviously a large industrial warehouse, with row after row of shelving barely even filled by the paraboxes. At the far end of her row a machine was moving from one box to another, its collection of manipulators and probes moving to extend around each parabox as it lifted the lid.
She took a step toward the machine and then heard footsteps beyond it. Her gun was out in moments, the oily, metallic click as she drew back the hammer echoing around the primitive steel shelving racks. Then the idiot professor shouted something from behind her. The footsteps paused. Leela backed away into a gap between the shelves, crouching down in the shadows and tucking the pistol under her jacket as the footsteps continued toward her box.
It was just the janitor. Scruffy. For a moment she thought about shooting him but, then, he’d never done anything bad to her, or anything at all that she could remember. He’d been a creep, but she’d always liked him for the way he’d treated her after the accident.
Anyway, the momentary reverie had distracted her long enough to lose her chance. Scruffy picked up the box, stared at it for a moment, looked around himself and then carefully replaced it on the shelves. The Professor shouted again and Scruffy, apparently bored with being threatened with death, meandered past her hiding place to the end of the shelves to reveal himself. Leela strained to hear the muttered conversation between the janitor and the Professor but they were just too far away. Then there was a little quiet as they walked from the warehouse before, finally, the lights went out.
Leela slowly eased herself from between the shelving and took a moment to examine her surroundings. It was almost pitch black in the warehouse. A faint, blue-grey light filtered in through gaps near the roof, supplemented by a warm glow from the doors. The air felt terribly still and dull. There was no sound either, not even the sigh of wind blowing through the unsealed roof. Dead silence. Almost like home, she thought. Curious.
Keeping her gun ready, Leela crept cautiously to the end of the row. She paused a moment, straining to hear out any would-be ambusher and then eased her head around the corner, letting her peripheral vision take in the scene. Deserted. She holstered the gun and stepped out.
Her eye might make her stand out but, as she’d discovered a long time ago, it gave her excellent peripheral and night vision, not to mention the ability to see a little more into the red than most people. Fry’s hair and coat had always stuck out like warning beacons in the dead of space. It should have been a hint... she shook her head at the thought as she crept up to the safety-glass window embedded in the thick double doors.
The room beyond was flooded with bright artificial light and filled with laboratory equipment. She could just make out Scruffy’s fat boots perched on a workbench as he slept his night away, and beyond that a bed with-
Purple! It was her! Leela didn’t know how, but she knew it was her, the bitch who’d screwed up her fun in two universes now. Without thinking she pulled out the gun again, ready to burst through the door and put a bullet in her sist-
“No...! No, not sister,” she muttered, feeling a familiar pressure behind her eye. “Not sister...”
Leela backed away from the light, grasping at the sides of her head to try and dull the pain. When she looked back again Scruffy had stood up and was making his way around the workbench toward the door. For a terrifying moment she thought he’d heard her mumbling, but then he turned off to one side and just stood there, staring at an old poster or notice of some sort pasted to the side of a cabinet. A moment later he returned to his seat and settled back out of sight. Even through the thick fire door she could hear his snoring... she wondered how it didn’t wake up the other one.
She slipped away from the door and looked around her warehouse again. There had to be other exits. She crept back down the length of the shelves until she reached the far end, where a broad, doorless exit opened up onto... darkness, broken only by dim, regularly spaced columns of light in the distance. Leela looked up and saw more faint, motionless lights illuminating tiny spots of sliver-thin metal pipework and impossibly distant walkways and structural beams. Right then the oppressive stillness made sense. She was underground, quite a way down, too, if the background warmth was any indicator. Almost level with the old sewers at the very least.
“Different,” she muttered, staring around. An image hanging in the air – no, no a mural on a wall, made unreal by its inconceivable size, a beast with a crown around it’s neck and the inscription Ambulans Iubare carved beneath. The song came to her then; the one he’d always been singing.
He wasn’t here. He was dead, long dead more than likely. Leela almost returned to the boxes there and then to look for another more entertaining universe but, on the threshold of the warehouse, she paused and frowned. The other one was here, with his purple pal. Perhaps trapping them in another universe hadn’t been such a great plan after all? It was enough to elicit a wry chuckle. Then again, another chance to take him out was... pleasing.
Leela skipped along the ersatz streets of the underground maze she found herself in, humming quietly as she looked for a way up to the surface. After a couple of blocks she slowed down, realising that the surface might not be the best way out. They’d have monitors and security systems in place up there, all sorts of ways to find her and make life inconvenient. She scanned around a little bit until she found what she was after and knelt down to lever a manhole cover out of the ground.
The rank smell of the sewers drifted up past her, strangely stale and attenuated through lack of use. Leela took one final look around the twilight cavern city, slid her feet into the manhole and dropped down into the darkness.
It was many, many hours later when Amy, Fry and Yancy finally stumbled out of O’Grady’s and onto the street, clutching at each other and laughing as they tried to remain upright. By turns they managed to make their way to the end of the block, leaning against each other in a sort of semi-mobile pyramid shape until they reached a local tube-stop.
Fry blearily focused on the tube-stop and tried to walk through what looked like the entrance, only to bounce off the wall.
“Dammit, one of these doors must be the way in,” he muttered. Amy giggled, hiccuped and fell on her rear whilst Yancy tried sighting his finger at the right entrance.
“I think it’s that one,” he said, pointing at Fry’s head. For some reason they all found this incredibly funny and fell about laughing on the pavement.
Eventually Fry managed to pull himself upright against the travel-tube entrance wall, still giggling to himself as he fingered the grey plascrete. Yancy was stumbling toward him with Amy wrapped around his waist, muttering something about the last time he’d been this drunk. He stopped at the door and guilelessly peered at Fry through a drunken haze.
“You’re my bestest brother, Phil...”
“I’m your only brother, Yancy.”
“Yeah, and that’s what makes whoops!” He fell over, dragging Amy with him. They landed in a laughing a heap at Fry’s feet. “That’s what makes you the best!”
Yancy crawled into the tube, muttered a destination and disappeared with a loud woosh. Too late Fry realised he had no idea where Yancy lived.
The cool air was starting to clear Fry’s head a little. He knew he’d have a hangover to beat all in the morning, even with a detox, but it had been worth it to see his brother loosen up for once in his life.
“Hey. Hey help me up.” Amy held out her hands to Fry. He obliged, after tripping over her twice, and she gave him a leery wink. “Wanna go hit the town?”
Fry looked Amy up and down, pondering. For some reason he looked over his shoulder. Who had he been expecting there? Not that it mattered much, he had something a lot more fun to stare at right in front of him.
“Sooo?” She made a sweet face at him, or at least attempted to, though the drink added a sweaty slackness to her smile. Fry knew he probably looked just as drunk but he didn’t quite care.
“I dunno... I should really make sure Yancy gets home.” He stared up at the tube. “Wherever that is.”
“Oh, I know where it is, we went to his place when we did it.” Amy slapped her hands over her mouth with an exaggerated cry of alarm. “Oops!”
Fry shook his head. Maybe he could go over to Leela’s instead, at least he knew where that was. Probably. He could sort of remember the way if only the pavement would stop making him want to fall over.
“No, no let me take you!”
Amy lurched at him and tripped. She flung her arms out at him as she fell and ended up sprawled down Fry’s front with her hands wrapped around the back of his neck. Fry staggered under the sudden – though minimal – extra weight and almost fell over. He pulled her up very gently.
Amy giggled and hiccuped again. “You know, we could always just head back to my place...”
“I dunno...” Fry swallowed and tried not to think about the guilt he knew he should be feeling. Why did life keep doing this to him? “Yancy seemed a little-”
She shushed Fry and put a finger to his mouth; the touch of her skin on his lips felt like an electric shock. Then she kissed him.
Fry wanted to say he’d tried to resist but it would have been a lie, as he responded to her as soon as her arms wrapped around his neck. After a moment that felt as long as life and seemed far too short they broke apart, Amy gasping slightly, Fry swaying as the mix of alcohol, shock and arousal fought for dominance in his already stultified brain. Her skin was flushed, from more than just the drink now, and her eyes were wide with passion and desire. Fry could barely resist the sight. By mutual consent, arms wrapped around each other, they stumbled toward the travel tube and were almost at the entrance when they heard the loud thloop of an arriving traveller.
Yancy’s inert form flopped out of the exit and landed at their feet. He peered up at Fry in confusion.
“Phil? What are all these stars doing in my bedroom?”
Amy giggled again. The mood was broken. They let go of each other so that Fry could kneel down by his brother and pull him to a sitting position. Yancy threw an arm around Fry’s shoulder and grinned.
“You’re still the bestest brother, Phil, you know that? I always said... well I didn’t say...”
“Why don’t you save it for... oh. I guess he’s asleep.”
Yancy’s head rolled forward and he started snoring loudly. Amy shrugged. “Robot Arms Apartments. It’s on-”
“Yeah, I know, I live there in my universe.” Figures he’d end up staying with Bender, Fry thought. “Thanks, Amy.”
Fry hefted Yancy to his feet and dragged him into the tube entrance. He waited a moment as Amy stood before him, sadness clouding her face.
“Want me to come along and help?”
“Probably best if you just... uh... head home, I guess.”
“Right. I guess I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah.” Fry stepped into the tube and muttered his destination. He felt the sudden whoosh as the tube’s anti-gravity system kicked in, and the stomach-dropping lurch as they accelerated up into the tube network. For a brief moment he had the sight of Amy’s downcast face looking up at him as she waved goodbye, then the tube rolled them over and away, putting her out of sight.
But not out of mind.