“You had to say it, didn’t you!”
Fry sat in the short corridor outside the Planet Express staff bathroom, one foot up on the wall, trying not to listen to Yancy’s pitiful retching on the other side of the wall. He sighed.
“How many times can I say I’m sorry?”
Fry sighed again as Yancy resumed his all-too-noisy evacuations. The pill had kicked in just as they’d reached Planet Express. That had been almost an hour ago. He stood up and paced the corridor a few times, wondering if this was how an expectant father felt... but no, they’d probably have something good to look forward to. All he had was Yancy. Angry, ill, Yancy.
He looked up and waved at Amy as she came down the corridor. “Hey.”
“Hey yourself. What’s up?”
“Oh...” Fry pointed a thumb over his shoulder at the bathroom door. “Yancy.”
“Hangover, huh?” Amy consciously stayed away from the door, though Yancy had quietened down a bit now. “Let me guess, you got him to take a detox pill, right?”
“Yeah, how’d you know?”
“On our one and only official date he got a tiny bit drunk.” Amy leaned against the wall, smiling just a little as she thought back. Fry wasn’t sure if he wanted to hear about his brothers dates with Amy. Or... date. Singular. That was good wasn’t it? “Next morning he took one of those pills and ended up on the pan for the rest of the day.”
“Oh. Now I feel terrible.”
“I’m sure he feels worse,” Amy said with another grin. She stepped away from the wall and turned back the way she’d come. “Catch you later, huh?”
“Sure... Amy, wait a moment.” Fry jogged down the corridor, conscious of leaving Yancy behind. It’d only take a moment. Amy waited for him at the end of the corridor. He suddenly realised she was wearing pink. “Uh... look, I’m gonna be around for a while now, I guess, so I was wondering if you wanted to go out again tonight. Just a drink or... y’know. Stuff.”
“I’d love to, Phil, but I already have plans tonight.”
“Oh...” Such was life. Fry’s only consolation was that she actually looked crestfallen. Perhaps it was for the best anyway. Leela would kill him if she found out he’d asked Amy on a date. “Well.”
“Oh, you don’t understand, it’s not that I don’t want to. It’s a company thing, something to do with Seymour and Butes I guess, but the Professor is going to some sort of conference and then we’re all going out to a meal afterwards.” She smiled coyly and took his hand. “You can come with me to that, if you like... and then maybe after we could head back O’Grady’s and start over where we left off last night.”
She let go of his hand, winked and turned away, leaving Fry a little confused. As usual. No, a little more than usual. It took a moment to settle in, then he felt as if he’d have to join Yancy on the toilet as a spurt of adrenaline suddenly decamped to his stomach.
“I heard that, you know.”
Yancy’s voice had a strange, echoing quality to it from the various walls and vents it was bouncing off to reach Fry’s ears.
“Does it matter?”
The door slid open. Yancy tottered out, pale-faced, leaning on the door-frame for support as he looked down at his brother.
“Just be careful with her, Phil. She’s the only friend I’ve got in this god-awful place.”
“Yes, Amy!” Yancy slumped down on the floor beside Fry with a grimace and a sigh. He didn’t seem able to work up any anger toward Fry. Weird. “I don’t want to see her get hurt.”
“You think I’m going to hurt her?”
“Not on purpose, but you can be such a screw-up-”
“I don’t have to listen to this.” Fry made to stand up, but Yancy grabbed his arm and pulled him down again. “Yancy, come on.”
“Phil, just listen to me for a moment.”
Yancy grimaced and held onto his stomach for a minute before speaking. It was enough time to let Fry calm himself down just a little. Enough that he didn’t feel like punching his brother in the face any more. Fry waited for Yancy to compose himself again. His brother seemed determined to hold back whatever was battling away in his stomach, long enough to deliver whatever advice he had in mind. He looked Fry in the face and even tried to smile.
“On the way home you started babbling about the ‘last time’ you were with Amy, and how you’d dumped her and ended up crying on her shoulder or something.” Yancy gave Fry a steady gaze for a moment or so before going on. Fry could almost feel Yancy’s eyes burrowing into his mind. “Like I said, she’s the only friend I really have around here, and she stayed my friend even after... even after I acted like an ass toward her. Whatever you do, just... don’t hurt her.”
Fry couldn’t think of anything to say. He watched, almost in shock, as Yancy hauled himself upright and stumbled back into the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Yancy would never have admitted something like that in the old days, not even if the world depended on it. Fry couldn’t quite believe...
He stood up, listening. Yancy was quiet now, though it was likely that wouldn’t last for long. Fry didn’t want to wait around for that, though, so he set off down the corridor toward the employee lounge, where he could at least entertain himself with the television. Fry idly wondered if the All My Circuits plot would be the same here as at home. Then again, it wasn’t exactly creative television, so it probably wouldn’t make much difference if he saw things out of order. Fry whistled to himself, feeling happy for the first time in days. Not even the thought of Leela’s stressed grumbling could get him down now.
It was odd, but having Yancy around felt right, somehow. His brother was overbearing, rude and opinionated but having him there made Fry feel at home, really at home, for the first time in nearly six years. If he had to be stuck anywhere, he thought, there were far worse places he could have ended up. Fry smiled to himself, whistling a little louder as he rounded the corner to the employee lounge.
He didn’t notice the odd creaking noise from a vent near the floor, nor see the single eye glaring malice at him from behind the grille. And if he heard the laugh, well... it was an old, owl-infested building with walls about as thick as paper. Odd sounds could come from anywhere.
They could, for example, emanate from the laboratory, where the Professor was conducting his latest pointlessly complicated and needlessly explosive experiments, much to the chagrin of those seated at the conference table.
Leela had entered after Fry and consciously sat herself on the far side of the table from him. Or possibly Veklerov. Whatever the reason, she refused to look in Fry’s direction, keeping her eye fixed on the centre of the table. Right now that suited Fry just fine, since it meant he wouldn’t have to try and explain his mind to her, or listen to her explaining how wrong he was all the time.
Veklerov, who had spent the last few minutes reading, with his feet up on the table, sat back with a grunt. He lowered his feet to the floor, threw his notepad on the table and turned to Fry.
“What have you done to my delivery boy?”
“I...” Fry paused as another series of explosions echoed around the building. “I sort of got him ill.”
“It was a detox pill,” Amy added, touching Fry’s arm and smiling. Veklerov shook his head.
“That was a stupid thing to do, wasn’t it?”
“Hey it’s not like he knew,” she exclaimed, wrapping a protective arm around Fry.
Fry glanced guiltily at Leela, but she seemed to have her mind elsewhere. She looked at Fry without seeming to see him, then let her gaze linger on Amy for a moment before turning back to stare at the table. Fry couldn’t figure it out, it was almost like she was turning into-
“Blue,” he muttered. Leela started. She stared at Fry, at the way Amy was holding onto him and seemed to grow just a little smaller at the sight, almost crestfallen. Fry could see that crease in her forehead again but he wasn’t sure what to do to appease her, stay or move. Either would be taken as an admission of some wrong.
Leela abruptly turned to look at Veklerov. “Fry has the same career chip. He’ll be able to take over for this trip.”
“Ahh kakogo chyorta, what the hell...” Veklerov made a note on his pad and tossed it to the table again.
“I’ll go and-” he and Leela both said, standing. They looked at each other, Leela looking faintly embarrassed, Veklerov wearing a smug smile. After a moment Leela slumped back into her seat.
“I shall go and prep the ship. Come along, Philip Fry, time to play among the stars.”
Veklerov’s smile widened a little as he descended toward the hangar floor, whistling to himself. A moment later Leela lowered her head to the table.
“I hate this place...”
Fry finally shrugged Amy’s hand from his arm and started to move toward Leela but, before he could reach her, she stood up, deliberately looking away from Fry as she walked back to the employee lounge. A moment later Amy got up and followed her with a concerned expression on her face. He wondered what she would do in there. Fry didn’t particularly want to be around for that explosion.
“Boy!” Veklerov’s voice echoed up from the hangar, jolting Fry’s attention away from the women in his life. He walked down to the hangar floor.
Veklerov was waiting by ship’s gangway, staring at his watch. “You’re making us late.”
“Does it matter?”
“Matters to me! Get inside and make sure package is secured,” he growled, before stalking off to walk around the ship. Fry rolled his eyes and started up the ladder.
Inside, the ship was similar to the one at home, though some things – as always – were different. There was more clutter, more open panelling and visible ductwork, as if someone had been slowly modifying the interior and forgotten to put the bulkhead panels back in place. The ship felt closer and narrower too, with conduits and cables snaking along the walls in some places, and odd – though secured – piles of equipment sitting in the companionways.
Fry reached the cargo bay and finally found out why. It was huge, far bigger than the one they had at home. It took up two decks, squeezing everything else on deck two into the spaces normally taken up by the galley and part of the rec room. There was a half-sized cargo lift secured at around the same level as deck two, with another half-lift pushed right up against the ceiling.
And all that space for the package, a tiny cardboard box wrapped in brown paper which he eventually spotted resting in the middle of the deck. Fry shook his head as he leaned down to examine the package. It wasn’t ticking and it didn’t seem to have any sign of being dangerous or volatile but, just to be safe, he dragged a webbing net over it and tied it securely to the deck.
He was just examining a safety notice pinned haphazardly to the forward bulkhead when Yancy stumbled into the cargo bay. He took a surprised double-take when he saw Fry.
“What are you doing here?”
“I could ask the same sort of question. Um. Thing.”
“Great, here one day and you’re already stealing my life from me. Again.” Yancy leaned over the package. “Huh, looks like I don’t have much to worry about after all.”
Fry leaned forward to watch Yancy as he knelt down over the package and started adjusting the webbing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“This, here,” Yancy said, pointing at the straps. “You forgot to plug in the conforming web.”
Yancy sat back, holding up a plug attached to the webbing. He pushed it into a socket inside the strapping ring on the deck. The webbing twitched and rapidly tightened up, conforming itself to the shape of the package.
“That,” he said, standing up.
“We don’t have anything like that back home.”
Yancy didn’t manage any more reply than a raised eyebrow before the main airlock sealed shut behind them. The cargo bay filled with a loud hiss of venting air as the ship sealed and pressurised, preparing for take-off. Yancy’s face paled at the sound. He stumbled toward the airlock and thumped his hand against the release, moaning quietly when he realised it was sealed and locked.
“I knew I should have stayed in the bathroom. Oh god...” Yancy slumped down on the floor, holding his head with one hand and his stomach with the other. He groaned when Fry tried to help him up again. “I need to get out of here!”
“We’d better go up and tell the scary Russian to let you off.”
Yancy bit his lip and nodded as Fry hauled him to his feet. With great care they made their way up the ladders to the flight deck. Fry briefly took in the truncated crew spaces on deck two as they passed by, wondering how anyone could live with being so cramped together.
“Oh, there you are.” Veklerov turned in his seat and stared at Fry, then at Yancy as he emerged, swaying, from the steps. “And Yanchovich! I thought you were making govno eh? Feeling better now? No? Oh well, no matter, you go sit by scanners, brother go sit out of way and... what?”
“I think he needs to see a doctor or something,” Fry said, glancing at Yancy. Veklerov laughed and slapped his knee.
“Doctor! No chance, we’re late already. He can go lie down or take a crap or whatever he wants when we’re in space.”
He turned his back to them, humming a loud, tuneless song as he powered up the ship. Fry and Yancy shared a look and then skittered for the seats either side of Veklerov.
There was more, Fry noticed as he sat down. At some level he’d always know that either he or Bender was essentially useless on most trips, but it was made obvious here, with the radio and scanner consoles incorporated into a single unit. The other console was little more than a remote terminal and writing desk. It even had a little poise lamp folded away above it.
Fry stared around the bridge, taking in the changes, the efficiencies, not to mention the open clutter that Leela would never have tolerated. He didn’t have much time to appreciate the differences though. There was a familiar rumble as the ship lifted up on its launch ramp, engines whining, preparing for launch. A warning light caught Fry’s eye as it began to flash on the overhead display.
“Is that meant to be flashing?”
“Is number three fuel injector, no problem. Ignore it!”
Fry watched the final launch countdown and tried not to think about exploding engines. The injectors were important, weren’t they? He glanced across at Yancy, who was gripping the arms of his seat, breathing heavily, and wondered if perhaps his brother had more reasons than normal to worry. Then again, their own ship hadn’t exactly been the best maintained what with Hermes’ constant refusal to budget for anything but new paint-jobs.
“Rock and roll,” Veklerov muttered. He jammed the throttle up to the stops. The ship leaped from its cradle.
Fry grunted in surprise. The g-forces were incredible, almost as if someone had turned down the gravity generator. He felt his body crushing into the seat and could hear things rattling as the ship shook. Then the light began to shift; they were spinning. Veklerov let out a whoop as he rolled and looped the ship through the air.
Then suddenly it was over. The atmosphere receded, the stars faded into view and the ship flattened its course away from the earth. Fry let out a huge sigh and slumped forward in his seat.
“I’ll never complain about Leela’s flying again,” he muttered. Yancy snorted something at him, probably an insult of some sort, but he couldn’t hear it. By the time Fry turned to ask what it was Yancy was up and out of his seat, face pallid but determined as he staggered toward the Head.
The ship was quiet now, just the quiet, regular tick of the main computer letting Fry know it was even alive. Veklerov was poring over his console, making more notes into another notepad while he adjusted the computer. Then he sighed and leaned back with his eyes closed.
“So you think Sirochka Leela flies better than me, eh?” Veklerov shook his head with a wry grin. “Never saw her as the flying type, she doesn’t have the yajtza for this sort of thing. No adventure.”
He stood up and paced around the bridge, finally settling on one of the consoles. “Tell me about your Leela, then. She has more adventure in her, does she?”
“You two aren’t lovers?”
“What kind of...” Fry paused. He could answer, but he wasn’t sure where this line was going. The guilt he felt gave him some idea, though... was he jealous? Of Leela? “No. No, we aren’t.”
Veklerov returned to the pilot’s seat and activated the autopilot, then returned to his perch. He stared at Fry for a while, not speaking. Just staring. Was he trying to work something out? Oh crap, was he some sort of telepath, trying to read his mind? Fry tried to think about things that would scare him off until he remembered that telepaths didn’t exist.
He tried smiling at Vek to put him at ease, but the pilot just continued staring at him. “What?”
“You’re staring at me,” Fry prompted. Veklerov just shrugged and nodded. “Can you stop?”
“Of course I can,” he said, still staring. Fry grunted and spun his seat away from Veklerov’s gaze, but he could still feel it, somehow, burning into his back like a laser. He turned back. Veklerov grinned.
“Where are we going anyway?”
“Ceti Alpha. Some sort of worm infestation, we’re taking a new pesticide sample.” He finally turned away, picking at a loose seam on the console to his left. “Should be about ninety minutes each way. So would you be jealous if I took her?”
“Your Leela. I assume since you two aren’t making the beast of the backs...”
The stare remained as Vek’s voice drifted away and Fry couldn’t think of anything to say. Was he jealous? What sort of question was that? “We won’t be here for very long.”
“You are an optimist if you think the Professor will actually find you a way home. No you are here for good, my friend,” Vek said, leaning forward just a little, his face serious. “And I see from your face that you have reasons to be happy from this.”
“Oh you do. A Russian always believes everyone is waiting with a knife behind his back, so a Russian always watches everyone. I have watched you, my friend. You, too, are seeking a second chance to-”
Veklerov bit back on what he was saying as Yancy re-entered the bridge, looking much relieved, if a little queasy. He slumped down in his seat with a plaintive sigh. “If I ever go near one of those pills again I swear I’ll just shoot myself.”
Fry couldn’t help chuckling, which earned him a dirty look from Yancy but nothing more. The pause gave Fry a moment to think, to try and process what he’d learned in the last few minutes. Second chances. He stole another glance at Yancy, pondering. Second chances... Fry had always looked up to Yancy in a way. He’d been rude and overbearing and he’d tried to steal just about every novel idea Fry had come up with, but he was the older brother. There was something about that, a mystical idea of goal to be achieved. Something to aim at.
The thought elicited another chuckle and another dirty look from Yancy. A second chance? Maybe.
A motion in the forward port caught Fry’s eye. “Hey look, it’s Mars. I went to university there.”
“You went to university?” Yancy’s voice almost dripped with sarcasm. Nevertheless he stood up and walked over to Fry’s side. “I can’t really imagine you in a university.”
“Eh, I was only there for a few weeks before I dropped out.”
Fry walked down to peer out of the window at the passing planet. From up here it looked almost as barren as it always had in the past. Dead. There was almost no sign of the seemingly endless tropical forests that surrounded the university, though perhaps they were on some other side of the planet.
After a moment he noticed Yancy stood beside him. “You know, in my universe, it was my nephew that landed on Mars.”
“Your...” Yancy took on a thoughtful look, whilst Fry leaned his forehead against the window. The chilly diamond sheet seemed to send an icy finger down his spine. “I see.”
“Yancy, have you ever realised how lucky we are?”
“If you could call this luck...”
“Think about it though. That’s Mars down there. We’re on a spaceship, we’re further from earth than anyone from our time and we got here in three minutes!”
“Just another ball of rock,” Yancy muttered, staring at the planet through half-lidded eyes. He turned away for a moment. “Nothing special about it.”
He turned back again, narrowing his eyes at Fry and then at the planet. “So you’re saying my... my son did it?”
“I had a son...” Yancy bit his lip. Silence. “Where?”
“Oh I dunno. I wasn’t really... amazon... planatia... something or other. Near that big olympic mountain.”
“Yeah, that one. Right there.” Fry pointed toward the barely visible peak of the mountain and the broad, carmine-rust surface of the Borealis Ocean still slowly creeping toward its lower reaches. “When I found out about it I went and looked up some of the history. There was this book, The First Man on Mars, with a story about it. I didn’t get most of it because I was playing with the little rocket on page three-”
“You learned about it from a pop-up book?”
“The librarian said it was the only thing they had at my level...” Fry frowned. Why did people always think he was so dumb? “Anyway, after he landed they started a city near there. It’s called Yancy.”
“After my son?”
“No, after you. You named your kid Philip.”
Yancy stared at the planet. He didn’t speak, or move for a while, he just stared. “Why would I do that?”
Fry shrugged his shoulders and tried not to think about the implied insult in the question. He probably didn’t mean it. For a while Yancy continued to stare at the planet as it passed by.
“In your universe, did I do what you did in mine?”
“I didn’t.” Yancy shook his head, shut his eyes as he leaned against the window and let out a bitter sigh. “I knew it. I was just as much of a loser then as I am now.”
He turned away and left the bridge again. Fry made to follow, but then paused near the door and turned back, unsure of what he would even say to his brother. After a moment he returned to his seat to stare at the console.
Fry was rudely jerked out of his melancholy by Veklerov’s hand clamping down on his shoulder.
“Second chances, my friend, is what I was speaking of. Your Leela, to me, she is the second chance I always craved.” He spun Fry’s seat around to face him and leaned against the console. “You say you won’t be here long but that could change. I am a miracle worker!”
“Why not work a miracle on your own Leela then?”
“Jealous?” He waved a dismissive hand and muttered something in Russian, something Fry really didn’t like the sound of. “Pah, she has no taste, no adventure. She only cares about being safe. You head off to cabin now. I’ll tell you when we land.”
Fry folded his arms, refusing to move from his seat though he wasn’t sure why. “I’m not jealous. Leela can do whatever she wants!”
“Ah, then you won’t mind if I take her to my-”
“Leaving!” Fry shot up from the seat and sprinted for the door. He stopped in the corridor beyond, breathing heavily. Why did he care anyway? He leaned back around the door and stared at Veklerov. “You know what happened to the last guy who talked about Leela like that?”
“Well... actually she slept with him. But she really hated him afterwards.”
Veklerov just laughed.