A Past With No Future, Part 3
By Kenneth White
Chapter 3: Reminiscence in Manhattan
Yes. He could remember it as if it were yesterday, though when you've lived about five thousand years, twenty-one years really is like yesterday. Until today, he thought they had gotten away with it. Staring out at the engines of the green ship in front of his own, Nibbler's mind cast back.
February 15th, 2983
Saturday, 12:03 p.m.
"Come on, Ipgee... it's lunch time."
A fairly young, dark-skinned man with neat black hair looked up from his desk and stopped scribbling with the fancy looking pen between his fingers. The man who had called him had ruffled blonde hair, wore a lab coat and thick glasses and was standing in the doorway.
"I'm busy, Jerry," he said in a thick, Indian accent. "I have paperwork to sort out for the frozen people."
He swept his hand outwards to indicate the row of identical tubes that sat there, misted glass windows veiling the suspended life forms contained within.
"Aw, come on," the blonde man adjured, walking in with a casual shrug. "You're on break now anyway, it's past noon."
He indicated his digital watch, bright red lines upon the face arranged to form 12:04.
"When I start somet'ing I like to finish it," Ipgee answered matter-of-factly. "I won't rise to be boss of dees place if I have your lazy attitude!"
"But it's lunch!" Jerry justified. "And it's not as if any of these meat Popsicles are due any time soon. Most of them have got twenty years or more on them."
"But what if a raccoon or... or... owl were to sneak in and cause havoc?" Ipgee hypothesised. "There could be chaos."
Jerry just raised an eyebrow, his arms crossed and foot tapping on the linoleum floor. Taps which seemed loud in the relative silence.
"Okay, fine!" Ipgee sighed. "But you're paying. You still owe me twenty-five from dat poker game di other night."
Ipgee placed his pen on the desk and stood up to leave. As they walked towards the door to leave, a small shadow went unnoticed in the back corner of the room behind the furthest cryogenics tube.
"Oh, and could you cover for me from two to three this afternoon?" Jerry asked Ipgee just before they left. "I have to take my son to his psychologist again about that word accentuation thing of his."
The door slid shut behind them and Nibbler scampered out of his hiding place to stand before the frosted glass before him. Glowing red digits on the door's panel displayed '21 YEARS' near the handle.
"Our sages said a thousand years," Nibbler whispered to both himself and the capsule. "But I guess it could be give or take a few decades. And we believe we have found her. Thus, you shall be released from this frozen confine early to fulfil your destiny."
Nibbler leapt at the handle of the door. And then again. And a third time. He grumbled, then scurried away to the back wall. With a surge of energy, the Nibblonian ran as fast as he could on all fours, then made a giant bound towards the handle. He grasped it in his forepaws and smiled in triumph.
The smile vanished as the lever clunked down beneath him, and he found himself swinging backwards. He was jolted as the swinging door to the pod reached its opening apex, and as the steam rose like water on hot coals, a lone figure stumbled out from within. After gaining his feet, the former capsule occupant groaned and stretched his arms, wakening from his deep sleep. Ambling casually towards the desk for no apparent reason, his eyes bulged halfway through the short trip, and once he caught site of what was beyond the huge window to his right, his jaw dropped.
"My God!" he exclaimed in awe, staring at the flying ships, cars and tall buildings outside. "It's the future!"
As the red-haired future freshman stepped towards the glass, Nibbler retreated further behind the door as to avoid detection.
"My parents... my co-worker... my girlfriend," he continued, speaking as if his voice were away in sad thought. "I'll never see any of them again!"
He paused, gazing at his own reflection in the thick glass for a moment before focussing beyond it to the new world before him, and then threw his arms into the air with a huge smile on his face.
'The Mighty One,' Nibbler thought. 'He is now released.'
Fry paused for a while and then chuckled to himself, leaning his forehead against that of his reflection.
"Finally! I can start a new life and get away from my crummy old one," he said with confident joy. "Now I know how a paroled criminal feels if he wants to start anew. Or how a hobo who can't afford to even buy a lottery ticket feels when he finds a hundred dollars on the street or wins the lottery."
He pressed his free hand against the glass again and stared out at the colourful and busy world beyond the transparent barrier.
"I'm going to be something... not just a simple delivery boy. Like a space hero. Or a hand model. I keep my hands worked out after all..."
Then there was a whisk sound, and he turned his head behind him to see two people entering the room; Ipgee and Jerry. They were both carrying large red and white tubs with 'Bucket O'Bats' on the side, Ipgee holding what looked like a deep-fried one in his hand. They both looked shocked.
"What the?!" Ipgee exclaimed.
"Guess he's out early," said Jerry dryly with a shrug. "Better say the line."
"What?" Ipgee asked. "Oh right..."
He took a step forward into the room properly.
"Welcome to the world of tomorrow," he greeted Fry in a means that seemed more like a general statement than a welcome. "Now, how did you get out of your tube?"
"I 'dunno," Fry shrugged earnestly. "All I know is, I'm out somehow."
"Fine, it probably doesn't matter anyway. Jerry will take you to your cryogenics career assignment officer."
"Hey, I'm on my break!" Jerry whined. "And my bats are getting cold already."
"I'll bat you unless you take him there!" Ipgee threatened. "Now go, before I tell the supervisor."
"Come on then," Jerry said to Fry exasperatingly. "This shouldn't take long."
Fry was led into a corridor by Jerry, walking past rows upon rows of identical doors at either side, as if the hallway had come out of a cartoon in a chase scene. Back inside the room, Ipgee shook his head and walked over to the still-opened capsule at the end of the row.
"So," he said to himself. "Let's see why you opened early."
The cryogenicist pulled the door shut, gasping as he did. This gasp was matched by another, as Nibbler looked up at him from the handle.
"I knew it!" Ipgee fumed. "A raccoon has messed with di tubes!"
Nibbler let go of the handle, plonking onto the floor and racing through the arch of Ipgee's legs towards the doorway. The human behind him shook his fist and yelled, but did nothing else to hinder Nibbler's mad dash for freedom.
"So you really know nothing about this at all then?"
Leela's question sounded like a summary of many others before it, her tone clearly confused and jaded. Fry just shook his head to start with, his face as emotional as that of a marble bust.
"Seriously!" he said, sounding just as rattled by the whole thing as Leela did. "I know just as much about all of this as you do. That's why almost everything you asked me resulted in an 'I don't know' answer. Would I lie to you?"
As Fry smiled at her with sweet nervousness, Leela opened her mouth to speak again, but it was Amy's voice Fry heard coming from her. Not from Leela's mouth, but from her wrist.
"She's awake, Captain," the Martian girl's voice chirped from the speaker. Leela rose her right wrist towards her lips and spoke back.
"Roger. We'll be there soon."
In the medical bay, Amy clicked her own wrist communicator off and turned around to observe the groaning girl behind her. Amy sat on a chair, now dressed fully in her usual pink tracksuit. Athena was laid out on the bay's main stretcher-bed, perched up somewhat on her left elbow and holding her head with her right hand. Her eyes scrunched closed in discomfort, her tatty jacket now covering the back of a nearby chair instead of her upper torso. An even shabbier t-shirt adorned her, likely once white in times long passed, but now a murky dun pallor. Part of her midriff showed, not by the shirt's intended design but wear and tear. The short sleeves, if they could still be considered sleeves, shared the same fate.
"Where... am I?" she asked weakly, not even knowing who was there beside her, but sensing Amy's presence still.
"It's okay," Amy said with a smile. "You're in the ship's medical bay."
Athena turned to her right and her eyes gradually squeezed open to look at Amy, just as another voice sounded from the other side of her.
"Yeah, but I wouldn't try anything," it warned. "Because my trigger finger feels like switching from zero to one."
She turned towards it, a silver robot leaning back casually on another chair, twirling a ray gun on one metal digit. Athena just sneered for a second, then noticed something in her left arm. She followed the tube with her eyes as it snaked up behind her to a dangling bag filled with a beige-hued liquid pulp.
"What happened to me?" she asked Amy, her voice sounding as strained as the supplements feeding into her.
"You passed out," Amy replied. "You're totally overstressed, malnourished and tired out. You need to rest up."
"Or better yet, rest down," Zoidberg noted. "You'll get more adequate rest that way."
The door behind Amy opened part the way through Zoidberg's explanation, Leela walking in with Fry in tow, as well as a determined expression.
"Yes," the cyclops agreed. "And you'll get all the rest you need once some simple questions are answered. Though you'll be under guard until we can trust you, and trying to kill Fry isn't a good start."
"I wasn't trying to kill him," she defended, sitting up a bit more. "Not when I need him."
"What for?" Leela asked. Athena sighed.
"I never got to tell you everything, so I didn't tell you about myself. Doing that should answer everything."
She paused, placing her head back upon the soft, soft pillow to stare at the ceiling. It was more comfortable that way, and things as soft as a pillow were rarities she wanted to take advantage of.
"As far as I can remember, my brother and I were happy children," she began, her voice more distant and pleasant. "Our mother had named me after the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and tactical warfare because of her ancestry, while my brother was named John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt by our father."
The rest of the crew's eyes all landed on Fry. The delivery boy shrugged.
"We shortened it to John for convenience sake," Athena went on. "Things were fine, but even as youngsters we wondered about our father, or lack thereof. Our mother told us stories of him, and the older I got, the more I began to see things I didn't like. I would have tried to find him, but we were living in a distant galaxy owned and run by a very strict organisation called the Barter Confederacy. They were generally fair and treated their inhabitants well, but wouldn't allow anybody to leave unless for good reason. Only company ships were allowed in the area the B.C. owned, and that was the same for moving in and out of the galaxy. It wasn't until we were both sixteen that I fully came to realise my dislike of my father though. All our lives changed forever then, when we were attacked by The Brain Spawn."
"What did that have to do with Fry?" Leela asked. "You resented that he wasn't there to be immune and help you or something?"
"No," she answered. "Because it was then we discovered exactly why we were abandoned. The offspring of The Mighty One and The Other were supposed to also be immune, but we weren't. Not entirely. While any normal being is instantly reduced to a vegetable under the Brain Spawn's power, and completely controllable by them, we were instead..."
She gritted her teeth in a pause, clearly angered now.
"We were instead tortured by them," she managed to finish. "Every time those bastard things try to attach their beams to our minds, they're tormented by them! It's like... they're pouring acid inside our skulls!"
She gasped a little, her eyes welling up with moisture. Amy cringed at her still clenched jaw, thinking she'd see the girl's teeth all shatter like exploding light bulbs under the pressure. Athena hit the bed with her knuckled fists, venting a little of the rage out of her as she did, and transforming into an expressionless poet in the blink of an eye.
"Nothing can accurately describe how horrible it is... it's... a horrible burning inside the core of your mind, and the more you fight it, the more it burns. It's... as if it's trying to... to... tear your mind down the middle, between giving in and battling... but it never does. It just saws away at the centre, like a blunt knife that can't get through a hunk of meaty gristle as sensitive as a nerve... grinding and scraping... until you just... pass out..."
Everyone was silent, probably all thinking this girl was insane. She was now just staring up at the ceiling, as lively as a toppled mannequin that had been lying upon a basement floor since the twentieth century. Leela spoke to clear the somewhat morbid air in the room.
"What actually happened?"
"To put it simply, our home was attacked. John and I were basically left screaming on the ground, while the rest of the population, our mother included, were taken away by the Brain Spawn. They eventually fried our minds to the point where we lost consciousness from being unable to bear it any more. We woke up sometime later, finding ourselves both naked in strange tubes, immersed in some sort of liquid and with wires attached to our bodies. I think they were trying to study us to come up with ways to break us or discover why our minds could 'resist' their power somewhat."
"How did you escape them?" Leela asked, clearly very curious about it all.
"Ironically, it was them who caused our escape," Athena answered, almost with a chuckle. "They attacked our minds again, and we reeled around in the tubes so much that we broke out. We grabbed our clothes and ran out of there as fast as we could. Thankfully they couldn't seem to actually sense us as easily as they could other beings, so we could hide from them relatively easily, as long as we kept our distance. We got changed and then snuck away from the city they were dwelling in. That was very hard because it was atop an island surrounded by strange swamps. Not murky, grey, tree-infested swamps, but rather beautiful and clear ones, with little cover at all. More like shallow water plains."
"Sounds odd. Where is it?" Leela asked.
"Another planet," Athena shrugged. "Not sure if it's named. It certainly wasn't home, but it's near where we're headed now. It may seem odd, but it makes sense. Very hard to get to or escape from without detection. Fortunately, the Brain Spawn weren't the only inhabitant on the planet, and we found another race of creatures hidden in the rocky cliffs beyond the swamps. They helped us remain hidden, like them, but we found we had to go back to try and get our mother."
"And..." Amy said, since Athena had seemed to pause.
"And we never found her there," came a heavy response. "We looked everywhere... even got captured a few times again. Managed to escape again, this time from cells. We overheard that they had slaves all over the galaxy though, so we left and returned to our friends. Strangely, after telling them our full story, they knew of the legend too. They also believed that our father was the saviour of the universe."
"Man, and I thought that was supposed to be Flash Gordon," Fry stated with a chuckle. Nobody joined him, so he let it die out rather swiftly.
"Apparently, they were an ancient and powerful race," Athena proceeded. "It seems as if the Brain Spawn had taken their home planet as a main base not only because of tactical reasons, but as a symbol of victory after defeating them. They live in a small village, hidden deep in a chasm amongst the tall cliffs, the last remaining of their kind that haven't been enslaved or killed."
Athena turned her head on one side to look at Fry. Her glance seemed less bitter than usual, but still had a rigid coldness to it.
"I want to take you to them," she told him. "They knew so much about your apparent legacy or destiny. They may be able to help me get back my brother and mother by using you."
Fry didn't like the way Athena had said that. Never before had he been referred to as such an object, and he wasn't the only one to notice that.
"That's up to Fry," Leela put forth, tone and stare bristling with authority. "He's not just a robot who can do your bidding."
She glanced towards Bender to add, "No offence, Bender." The robot just snorted.
"But he needs to at least attempt to set things right!" Athena snapped, getting worked up again. "He owes it to not just me, but my brother and my mother! He has to pay for what he did to us! One way, or another!"
"Look," Leela laid down, trying to sound calm and diplomatic. "I feel sorry for you, I really do... but Fry--"
"I don't want you to feel sorry for me!" Athena growled back. "I want you to feel disgust for him!" She leaned up on one elbow to point at Fry as if she were the Grim Reaper declaring his time was up.
"I already am disgusted by him," noted Bender. "Anybody who's seen the Planet Express security tapes would be."
Athena's leaning arm began to wobble and she collapsed onto her back with a groan, her focus seeming to shift from Fry to her own weakened state rather swiftly. Leela's frown seemed to melt away to a look of concern just as fast, and she placed a comforting hand on Athena's right arm.
"Look, there's plenty of time to discuss this," Leela said. "So you get some more rest and we'll talk about it later."
Athena didn't answer, instead just lying back on the pillow. Leela looked down at where her hand lay upon the bare flesh of Athena's arm, feeling how cold and rough it seemed and noticing how the dire, greyish and pale complexion of it contrasted her own bright, healthy pink skin. She turned to Amy.
"Amy, go to the ship's bathroom and run a hot bath," came her first command, her second soon following. "Bender. There's a packet of instant miniature vegetable seeds in the kitchen cupboard. Grow them and make some vegetable soup."
The two ordered nodded and left, the latter of them shoving the gun into Fry's hands as he did, while Leela spun around to face the Decapodian.
"Zoidberg. Put some more dark matter into the furnace, we'll need it for the trip," she directed. "Fry. You stay here with Athena while I check on the ship's course."
As Zoidberg and Leela were about to exit, Fry leapt up, his face fear struck.
"W-w-wait!" he stuttered, causing Leela to pause and regard him. "Y-you can't leave me with her alone! She'll try to strangle me again!"
"Fry... I don't think she's in the condition to try and throttle you at the moment" Leela told him. "Besides, I won't be long and you have a gun."
"You know me with guns, Leela!" Fry stammered. "Except in video games, I'm all fingers and toes! Like that time those aliens tricked me into dropping my weapon because they said it wasn't loaded. It was a pitchfork!"
"Stop whining, Fry," Leela just answered. "You'll be fine. Besides, she said she wasn't going to kill you because she needed you for something."
With those words Leela left, the door sliding between her and Fry like it belonged to a prison cell. He just turned towards Athena, making a nervous chuckle. The girl didn't act as if he was even an entity in the room, still staring at the ceiling above as if hypnotised by its very presence.
"I really don't know anything about this," Fry said after a while. "Honestly."
No answer came. All that could be heard was the distant whirr of the engines from the rear of the room. Fry sighed and sat down in a chair, hunched over as he looked at the floor.
"Look, I know you probably feel the same way about me as Luke Skywalker felt when he found out Darth Vader was his father," Fry uttered. "Except that you already knew I was your father and the circumstances are completely different... except for the abandoning part. Although I'm not even sure about that, since I got frozen before episodes two and three came out, and two was probably just a sex romp between Anakin and Queen Armadillo anyway, not that that would bother me at all..."
Fry trailed off, realising he was rambling again, and just sighed. After a few seconds of just engine hums he spoke again.
"Look... whatever I did, I'm sorry," he stated with genuine honesty. "I just don't think I did it is all. I just--"
"Just guard me and shut up," Athena answered. "And leave me alone..."
Her voice was colder than ice in space where no sun's light touched. Looking downwards again, Fry released a lamentable groan and just sat there, not seeing the damp streams that gravity carried from Athena's eyes to her pillow.
Outside Applied Cryogenics
February 15th, 2983
Saturday, 12:32 p.m.
Nibbler peered over the edge of the ledge he sat on, right above the entrance doors to the cryogenic's lab. The source of the yell stood there, a shifty stance that had 'escape' written all over it. Nibbler just smiled as Fry's eyes darted around his surroundings, and his look of panic changed to awe.
"Whoa!" he exclaimed, staring at the hovering billboards drifting past and flying cars flitting around the skies between shiny buildings and smooth transparent tubes. Before he could take everything in, the doors burst open as if forced by water. Instead it was just two security guys, one pointing towards Fry immediately.
"There he is!" he announced
"I know," the other answered. "He's only standing at the foot of the stairs below us. I mean, I'm not blind!"
"You're not making me a dinky delivery boy!" Fry yelled up at them. "Your tests don't prove a thing. You didn't even look at my hands."
With that he turned and ran to the right of the guards down the street. They made swift chase, but weren't the only ones, as Nibbler leapt from the ledge and followed, sprinting across the concrete path on all fours directly behind them.
With great skill and speed, the tiny creature tackled the back of their ankles, sending both flailing backwards onto the hard ground atop each other. He sped on, catching up with an already exhausted looking Fry. The red head turned to regard Nibbler, smiling at him with a tired grin.
"Hey, little fella!" he managed. "I haven't run... this fast... since I was chased by... that Doberman on... Mister Panucci's... initiation test. But... I gotta... escape these guys!"
While Fry's attention was on him, Nibbler made a telepathic link. The future-newcomer's face blanked into expressionlessness with all signs of fatigue vanishing, and his running quickened slightly. Without much warning, he made a sudden turn left at the next block, continued on for another four blocks, turned right, made a yellow taxi swerve upon reaching his fifth block on the next straight, turned left for another two blocks and then stopped.
"What the?" he exclaimed, shaking his head as he came out of a delirious daze.
Fry looked around. There was no sign of the creature any more, and he had no idea why he had been led there, before the steps of an...
"Art museum?!" he groaned in confusion. "Why am I here? Art museums don't have model battleships and tanks, or animatronic monkeys from our historical past when the dinosaurs lived!"
He paused for a second.
"On the other hand, in some cases 'art' has been sometimes used as a fancy word for painted pornography..."
Fry snapped out of his thoughts as a voice called from the distance he had come from.
"Hey you! Stop!"
Gasping at the two uniformed figures on the street's horizon, Fry darted up the stairs and into the building. Behind a marble column outside, Nibbler crouched and observed.
"Looks like we didn't need to set up The Other to work at the cryogenics centre as originally planned after all," he smiled to himself.
Inside, Fry ran past the main foyer and entered the first main room, not noticing he had just passed a donation bot that yelled "hey!" on the way in. His head darted around corners of the room, and a southern voice sounded from behind and above him.
"You lost there, son?" it asked. "I know the feeling... I don't know most of the places in the world myself."
Fry turned and looked up, jumping at the disembodied head that stared down at him. It has grey hair, a simple grin and two eyes that were probably too close together. Sitting in a jar filled with some liquid, a plaque on the wooden base of it said 'GEORGE W. BUSH' while a banner declaring 'President of the Week' hung on the wall above him.
"What the hell is a head doing floating in a picked egg jar in an art museum?!" Fry stammered. Bush's head chuckled.
"The museum loans different ones of us out each week," he replied. "Presidential heads that is..."
"Bush?" Fry said. "The name seems familiar, but I can't place you..."
He snapped his fingers, realisation spreading across his face with a goofy grin.
"Wait! You're George Bush's son! The one who got into the cocaine!"
"No!" the head snapped, before his eyes darted. "That was my brother... uh... George the third..."
"When were you president then?" Fry asked.
"Right after that sleazeball Clinton," Bush answered with a shudder. Fry made a face.
"You mean they made you president right after I got frozen? Man... I got sent here just at the right time!"
Before Bush's Head could respond, Fry gasped as he heard some familiar voices, and quickly took the right of the three corridors to the ex-president's right. As he did, the two guards appeared and looked around.
"Looking for that red-haired, red-jacketed red?" Bush queried.
"Yes sir, Mister President," one replied as they both saluted him. "Which way did he go, sir?"
"That way," Bush answered, flicking his head towards his left.
"Which one?" the guard asked. "Left, middle or right?"
Bush looked at the exits, then looked back at the guards.
"Your left or mine?"
The first guard sighed in frustration.
"Centre," came Bush's response. The guards rolled their eyes and headed towards it, only to be stopped by Bush speaking again.
"Wait! Maybe it's left..."
They headed left, but were stopped again.
They stared at each other, Bush grunting in frustration.
"Damn! I can't work it out without my hands," the head sighed. "I can't make the l-shape with my finger and thumb to find my left hand..."
Now well within the mazelike bowels of the museum, Fry entered a long corridor with many archways lined along it. He had no idea which way to go, and was wondering whether if he ran into one he'd just have to run out again chased by the guards like on a Scooby Doo cartoon. But something caught his eye at the end of the hallway in more ways than one. An attractive woman with long dark hair appeared, wearing a knee-length skirt and a formal blouse. She finished pushing a cart that appeared to be hovering above the ground, upon which sat a large wooden crate. One easily large enough to contain a person. As Fry approached carefully, the woman reached into the crate and pulled out a large framed painting then tried to hang it on the wall. Tried was definitely the operative word, for she looked to be too short to be able to reach the hook, or whatever fastened the painting, on the wall.
"Hey!" Fry said.
She jumped with a small yelp, since he had been right behind her when the greeting was made. The painting slipped, but the top frame apparently snagged on something and it scraped against the wall in a swinging motion. Another yelp sounded from her lips as she grabbed it again, holding it firmly.
"Sorry," Fry blushed. "I didn't mean to startle you. I just need your help."
She looked over one shoulder at him, looking a little stressed. Fry thought she looked even prettier up close, with deep almost-purple eyes, a hint of olive in her skin. And the locks of long hair that swung loose from her fringe to sway before her left eye as she turned simply added to the picture.
"What is it?" she asked, sounding pleasant but a little annoyed at the same time. She also had a fairly strong European sounding accent Fry couldn't place.
"I need to hide in your crate... if that's okay," he stated, shoving his hands into his jacket pockets to make it all seem more casual. She cocked an eyebrow.
"I'm escaping from some guards that are after me," he said. "I just need to hide in there and have you tell them that I'm not in there. But don't tell them I said that to you."
She looked a little shocked.
"Why should I?" she posed swiftly, nervousness creeping into her voice. "What did you do?"
"I'm just a defrostee from the twentieth century," Fry answered. "I came from the cryocautery... or whatever it's called. They're trying to force me into being a delivery boy again and circumcise me or something."
"Wait," she said, more calm now. "You're from the twentieth century?"
"Yeah. I was frozen on December nineteen ninety-nine, then woke up here."
She thought, then placed the painting down on the floor against the wall, turning to face him completely, and making Fry quickly avert his eyes to hers after he had inspected her bent over behind. She smiled so he figured she hadn't noticed it.
"I think we can help each other," she answered, and then her smile vanished to be replaced with a thoughtful frown. "But I don't know if you should hide in there, it's filled with priceless paintings."
"So I see," Fry said leaning right to look past her. "What's that one... McCauley Culkin melting from an aftershave overdose."
"You're from the twentieth century," she answered. "I was hoping you'd know something about earlier times?"
"I know lots of things about those times," Fry answered with false pride. "From the dinosaurs to Michael Jackson's tenth face lift... I just might know about things. Please hurry though..."
She looked at his pleading eyes and hopeful smile, sighing to crumple like an empty chip packet.
"Okay... you can hide amongst the paintings," she answered, reaching in to shift those left aside. "But please... be very, very careful."
"Don't worry," he smiled crawling inside one leg after the other. "I'll treat them like they were painted by Roy Lichtenstein."
"Most of those left were painted by Eugene Delacroix," she answered.
"Oh. Well... despite that, I'll treat them really well still."
He popped his head down, and she covered him over again with the paintings, then turned to begin hanging again. About ten seconds later, she heard a voice from the distance.
"Excuse me, ma'am!" it called.
"Just a minute..." she said, twisting the painting around on the wall. Footsteps got closer and the voice was heard again, closer this time, just as she had the picture right.
"Ma'am, you haven't seen a rather scruffy-looking red-haired Caucasian male wearing a red jacket and baggy blue jeans, have you?"
She turned around, smiling at first and then looking worried.
"No I haven't, officers," she said with what sounded like genuine concern. "Is he dangerous?"
"Possibly," said the second guard. "He's technically a Class Fourteen Primitive from the twentieth century, but after extensive tests we've actually classified him as a Class Five Primitive from the Pleistocene era."
'Pleistocene era?' Fry's mind thought. 'What am I, Gumby?'
"Sorry," she shrugged. "But if I do, I'll make like this painting and scream."
The guards just looked at each other silently, the nearest one's eye catching the crate as he did. He looked at the woman before him, glance narrowing.
"Mind if I check the crate?"
"You can't," she answered with haste. "It contains priceless art, and only certified museum employees can handle it."
He leaned over a peered in. She continued as he did.
"Besides... why would I let a crazed man from the primitive ages I've never met leap into a case of valuable art?"
"She has a point," the other guard noted. "Let's just move on before he gets too far."
"Okay," the first guard answered. "This way."
They left through a nearby entrance, and after a few seconds of waiting, Fry's saviour pulled the paintings aside to let him pop back up.
"They'll be long gone now," she told him. "That passageway leads to the Optical Illusions section of the museum."
"Thanks," he breathed before making a strange face. "Hey... you know those little chubby guys with the horns, beards and goat legs from ancient Greek art?"
"You must mean satyrs," she smiled.
"Yeah," Fry nodded, still with a grimace. "They're very... uh... happy little guys, aren't they?"
"Huh?" she said, then quickly smiled with realisation and a chuckle. "Oh... yes, they are a bit."
"Yeah, remind me of that next time I decide to press my face up against a painting like that," Fry noted as he crawled out. "Anyway... thanks again, I owe you. My name's Fry, by the way."
He extended his hand, and she took it in hers and shook.
"Sibella," she answered. "And I have a way you can pay back the debt."
"You do?" he asked. She nodded as she took out another artistic creation from the crate.
"Sure, just come with me after I finish hanging these paintings."
"So... why did you let a crazed guy like me from the primitive ages you've never met leap into that art?"
Sibella didn't answer at first, nor did she even look at him. She did smile though.
"Two things," came an eventual response as soon as her next frame was up. "Firstly, I find the primitive ages fascinating. Secondly..."
Her cheeks reddened a bit as she paused and turned to fetch another.
"You may be 'crazed' apparently, but I think you're kind of cute."
She was as relaxed as she had ever been right now, lying there idly amongst the perfectly heated water and fluffy caps of white suds that layered it like icing. Muscles that had forgotten ease cautiously began to remember it, skin that knew only roughness discovered tenderness, and dirt and grime that could have grown mould upon it was washed away. Athena didn't come across anything that could be considered luxury very often, but this was it in her mind. A mind that wanted to resist at first, but then physical weakness and traitorous mutiny from her body gave in. She couldn't remember the last time she had been able to wash herself, let alone have a casual bath. She was sure more mellow than she had been in a long time, lying there just staring at the rainbows that gleamed across some of the larger bubbles around her.
'Perhaps I'll be able to sleep tonight?' her mind pondered, as if asking the body that had won the coup earlier.
As she laid her head back against the wall behind her, she realised that her hair was still tied into a ponytail. She reached up and removed the band that held it in place, and as her hair flopped into the water there was a thud from the door to her right. Her glance shot there, like an antelope deemed to be the prey of a great cat. She knew it would likely be safe, yet still wanted to reach for the trousers that lay on the floor beyond the ceramic wall, which had a knife concealed within. A second thudded and the door swung open, the pink-suited entrant walking backwards a few steps before closing the door and turning to smile at her.
"Hey," Amy said in her usual friendly tone. "I found what I was after."
Athena was at ease now, but wondered why the Chinese girl was carrying so many odd containers in her arms. They all looked colourful and Athena's nose was ravaged by an onslaught of varied aromas as Amy walked awkwardly towards her. However, between the stool at the bath side and her current position was a patch of soapy water upon the floor, and sure enough, Amy's foot was sure to meet it.
It was raining bottles, most scattering across the floor. One clinked into the sink to perform a stunt snowboarders would love, two plopped into the bath and one hit Athena straight on the head before disappearing into the froth around her. After the rattling had finished, Athena peered over the edge.
"Are you okay?"
Amy picked herself up, wincing a bit.
"I'm fine," she answered. "I've had worse falls. Like one time when I was carrying a boxful of ninja stars to the ship. Let's just say, it wasn't pretty."
"What is all this stuff?" Athena asked her, taking the bottle that had previously beaned her into hand and blowing the suds off to read it. "Ravishing Raspberry Radon?"
"I got these to help you," Amy said, sitting down after gathering most of them back up. "I mean... sure, a bath is a good start. But you'll need your hair and skin to stay it's healthiest, or you'll end up like Leela and without a man."
"Looking for a man is the furthest thing from my mind at the moment," Athena answered. "I've got other things to concern myself with, and I don't have the time."
"Spluh!" Amy exclaimed. "All females are too busy, so that's why you let this kind of stuff do the work for you. This is just a small sample from my on-board selection. The one you're holding there now is great for your facial skin, just around the lips."
"How does a product with Radon help my skin exactly?" Athena asked with thick scepticism.
"Guh!" Amy snorted. "The essence of varied fruits or vegetables and natural elements in skin care products is what makes them work. Everybody knows that! Even some of the cheese, chocolate or ice cream ones work great too."
"No thanks," Athena stated. Amy frowned.
"But you'll want your skin to stay healthy," she insisted, then held out a bottle. "Even if you just used some Charismatic Copper Citrus, and maybe seven other products on the side, you could do wonders. See, this stuff puts copper into your skin with orange juice, closing your ugly pores to give you that sophomore prom queen look."
"So... your saying this cream closes the pores of my skin, thus stopping it from breathing and making it healthier in the process?"
"Exactly!" Amy smiled. "Now you're getting the idea. Beautiful skin hates natural air. Think of it as a forcefield for your face."
"Pass," Athena said. Amy grunted with frustration.
"You're worse than Leela," she grumbled. "Next thing you'll be telling me you don't even laser-scan your legs every day!"
Athena just looked at her silently for a moment. Amy gasped.
Athena just sighed.
"What gives you the idea that a woman who is constantly on the run all her life with no home or money has the time to laser-scan her legs smooth all the time?"
"All I can say is, you're lucky you wear long pants!" Amy retorted.
"Would you mind getting your Captain, Leela isn't it, in here?" Athena asked after a short silence. "I want to talk to her about something."
"She's busy with the ship I think, or something," Amy answered. "She said she wanted to talk with you later though."
"Oh," Athena said. "Well... what about that robot then?"
"Yeah," Athena nodded. "If he's not busy, I'd like to talk to him too. He seems to be quite close to..."
She trailed off, swallowing a bit first as if the next words were stuck in her throat.
"Yeah, they're best friends," Amy noted, now sounding a bit suspect. Athena managed to smile.
"Good then. Could you please get him then?"
"Sure," Amy answered, and she left rather quickly, not really caring or even acknowledging that she dropped half of the bottles on the floor again in the process. Less than a minute later, the door opened again, and in walked Bender. A chef's hat was perched upon his head, along with a rather blasť expression.
"Amy said you wanted to see me," he told her. "Might as well... your soup's got to drown its living ingredients and cook for another while still. What's up then?"
"I want to ask you about my father," Athena said. "I want to know what kind of a person he honestly is, and since your Captain Leela is busy, I thought I'd ask you. Being a robot, I'm sure you'll also more likely give straight up facts rather than paint an ideal picture of him."
"You want an honest opinion, eh?" Bender noted, rubbing his face where a chin would be. "Well... honesty usually isn't my specialty, but this is a case where you want blunt facts and data, and that's what we machines are best at. So fire away."
"So... then, what's he like?" she asked as Bender took a seat at the bathside and took a cigar from his chest compartment.
"Listen, you just entered a blank field into my search engine there," came the robot's response. "You'll need to be more specific."
He was about to light his Zuban when a hand swept past his face and knocked it away. He glowered down at her with a grumble.
"The only reason I'm not strangling you right now is because somebody could walk in and get the wrong idea if they saw me flailing around with a naked human chick."
"Sorry, but it's a filthy habit," Athena snorted as she lay beneath the bubbles. "Please, just tell me what he's like as a person. How does he generally treat people and act?"
"Well..." Bender answered, shrugging off his cigar's removal. "Let's see. I guess he's pretty good-natured around other people. He usually treats everybody well enough. He's a real nice guy come to think of it."
"You're just saying that because your his best friend," Athena accused with a frown.
"Hey, who said that I consider it as being a compliment?" Bender added. "They guy's too nice if anything. It kinda makes him a chump."
"So... do you think he's the kind of person who'd abandon a wife and kids?"
"I dunno... probably not, but then again maybe," Bender answered, sounding a tad unsure. "If he was scared, which he can be quite easily. That guy's scared of his own shadow. Seriously, we spent three days hunting it once after it spooked him!"
"So, you're saying that he would abandon somebody if he was scared then?"
"Whoa! You're putting words in my mouth there," Bender defended. "And I only allow registered bending-unit programmers to do that. What I'm saying is that he might get scared and run away. He has with women before in the past."
"Women?" Athena asked. "What women?"
"Let's see... he got scared off by that lobster woman... that mermaid... his ex from the twentieth century he found frozen... those Amazonian women..."
"That's enough," Athena said with clear disgust. "I don't want to know about his philandering."
She paused and narrowed her glance, which wasn't really fixed on anything.
"Though it would explain a few things," she added with a hiss.
"You can't blame him entirely," Bender noted. "He's a pathetic, weakling skintube... like all human males. Plus he's a bonified moron. Y'know those lags you sometimes get when chatting online?"
"Yeah," Bender continued, ignoring the negative response. "Well, Fry's mind gets those in real life."
Athena didn't respond, just lying there in the water and staring blankly at the taps at the other end, or more likely, beyond them. Bender eventually spoke up.
"So... you want to know anything else?"
"Not for now," she answered. "I just need some time to think."
"Fine by me," Bender said standing up. "I need to go and refuel anyway. Catch you later."
And with that, he left the room. While on the way to the kitchen again, he passed Leela having a conversation with Zoidberg, with the cyclops looking less than happy.
"So you're telling me there's no fuel on the ship at all?" she asked him.
"Bupkis," he responded.
"Why did it take you this long to report back to me about it then?"
"I spent most of the time looking everywhere," Zoidberg defended. "There was nothing in reserves or Nibbler's litter box, and the little guy isn't even aboard. By the way, you need to refill his food bowl again too."
Leela sneered, arms crossed across her chest.
"I had to make sure there wasn't any at the bottom of it," Zoidberg added, just as Fry and Amy arrived on the scene. Amy was carrying a pile of varied items of folded material.
"Is this the stuff you wanted me to give Athena?" she asked Leela.
"Yeah, give her it now," the captain responded. Amy nodded and left.
"What's going on?" Fry queried, causing Leela to emit a moan again.
"It appears we have no fuel aboard, and we're running low. We'll have to find the nearest place that can provide us with some. I hope it won't deviate us too long."
They all looked at the galaxy map on the ship's main console as Leela sat down and clicked at some keys.
"I'll activate the ship's automatic geologist," she stated. "He'll scan the planets en route for any fuel."
On the monitor, a tiny pixellated man with a white beard and blue clothes appeared from the ship, then wandered over to the nearest planet on the map that was ahead of them. Stopping there, he took out a small hammer and tapped at the planet with it a few times, then planted a sign with a blue dot on it, did a flip, and said "Yippee!"
"There we go!" said Fry. "He's found something already."
"No, that's water," Leela said. "We want a black one for fuel, not a blue one. And it could take a while."
New New York Historical Art Museum
August 15th, 2983
Friday, 9:18 a.m.
Sibella Alexander carefully raised the museum's latest acquisition from its previous wooden home to place it upon a marble pedestal. The two handles at either side of the smooth, almost pear-shaped object were delicately let go of, and she stood back to admire the sandy and black coloured vase. Two warriors were depicted upon the surface with spears, fighting each other. Sibella's mind was also conflicted, but it didn't last when a voice sounded behind her.
She turned around with a gasp, and there stood Fry with a sheepish grin. His toe pivoted on the ground back and forth and his hands were hidden behind his back.
"Where on Earth were you?" she asked him, her voice wavering between concern and anger as she approached. "You're twenty minutes late!"
"Sorry," he apologised. "But I saw something and just had to get it to compliment my favourite goddess."
His hands flicked out from behind to hold out a bunch of white and purple flowers to her, accompanied by a suave smile. She gasped, her eyes twinkling.
"Anemones!" she exclaimed, taking them into her hands. "My favourite flowers."
"Yeah, I also got you this," he said, and he held out a golden apple. "For the fairest. And there's probably a full moon tonight, so we could have dinner at that restaurant with the floating platforms maybe?"
"Awww, how sweet," she cooed, then made a face. "Why the lovely gifts though? And extra thoughtful ones at that!"
"You don't know?" Fry asked.
She shook her head, now feeling a little guilty.
"It's been six months since we'd first met," he said. "Or it will be in a few hours. Ninety days ago, you hid me from those goons in this museum, then got me a job with you here regarding ancient art by telling the owner that I was from the twentieth century and could help out."
"You did shed light on that 'ancient treasure map to the crimson temple of the golden arches,'" Sibella noted. "And I can't believe I didn't realise. I'm sorry."
She kissed his cheek, then embraced him. Fry smiled, then gasped as he looked over her shoulder.
"Oh my God! Is that what I think it is?!"
"It sure is," Sibella smiled proudly, Fry walking past her.
"I can't believe it!" Fry said. "I never thought I'd see anything like this in the thirtieth century!"
He stopped short of the vase, instead dipping his hands into the crate to scoop a handful of the contents up with glee.
"Multicoloured Styrofoam packing beans!" he beamed. "I haven't seen these things for ages! Y'know I once put some of these in my brothers hot chocolate to make 'em look like marshmallows. It was hilarious... until he choked on them, and my dad let him shoot me in the ass with a pellet gun ten times."
"How awful," Sibella commented. Fry shrugged.
"What can I say... he was firm but fair. And I got my revenge when my brother burned my comic collection, so dad and I whipped up some homemade napalm and poured it into his Sega Genesis."
Fry wandered over to the vase.
"So, what's this thing for? The ancient Greek equivalent of a keg?"
"No," Sibella chuckled. "Mostly for storing things. It's a black figure neck amphora, and depicts Achilles killing Penthesilea on this side, while the other has Dionysus offering his son Oinopion his kantharos and ivy branches."
"Hey!" Fry said. "Y'know what this would be good for?"
He took the flowers from Sibella's hands and plopped them into the vase, making her jump in shock.
"Uh... I don't think that's the best thing to do with an object that dates back to about five-thirty B.C!" she recommended. Fry made an impressed noise.
"How can you tell? Does it have the year inscribed on it? Wait... it'd be in Roman numerals though, right? Let me think... V, then III, then... uh, what's the numeral for zero again?"
"No, it doesn't. It--"
Sibella cut herself off and groaned, making Fry whirl around to see her grasping her head in her hands.
"Uh-oh! You're having those head aches again, aren't you?" he said concernedly. She nodded.
"They've been getting worse!" she strained. "I don't know what's causing them!"
"Maybe there's an invisible man around the place, who has an invisible vice or something that he uses to squeeze people's heads with?" Fry proposed.
"No!" Sibella agonised. "It's not that! The pain! It's! It's inside somewheeaaAAAAAARGH!"
After the last word she spoke turned into a horrible scream of pain, she fell forward onto the floor, no signs of life in her. Fry just stared for a while, then he whimpered and nudged her lightly.
The nudging became a prodding, and then a poking. Still no signs of life, Fry got to his feet, whimpered even louder than before, then ran off screaming down the hallway.
"Help me! For God sakes, somebody help me!"
"Soups up!" said Bender, bustling through the doors from the kitchen with a bowl of steaming liquid in his hands. Leela, Fry and Zoidberg were just sitting around near the console. Leela stood up and smiled.
"Good work, Bender," she said. "I trust that it's fit for human consumption?"
"I dunno," he shrugged, "but, like Fry, it ain't getting any fitter."
"Take it through to my quarters," Leela ordered with a flick of her head. "She should be finished her bath soon, and I'm going to let her sleep there tonight. She's earned a comfy bed for a change."
As Bender tottered off, the sound of a dove cooing crooned from Leela's wrist, getting her attention.
"Apparently, the scanner has just found some fuel," she stated, then moved to the main console, Fry and Zoidberg in tow.
"There is it," Fry noted, then narrowed his glance. "The Market of Cain?"
"What? No way, forget it!" Leela huffed in an instant. Fry and Zoidberg looked at her cluelessly.
"Why not?" Fry asked. "It's the nearest place on the map, and it doesn't require a big deviation at all. Heck, it's not even a planet, just a large asteroid."
"Because," Leela laid down. "It's not just a fuel station, it's got..."
She trailed off, looked towards the nearby door, then lowered her head to whisper the rest.
"...bars and casinos."
"Bars and casinos?!" Fry announced excitedly. Leela slapped her forehead before he had even finished, and the door to Leela's quarters swung open to reveal a robot's head.
"What was that I heard about two of my three favourite vice-related locales?" Bender said, stepping out of the room.
"Nothing!" Leela stammered. "Fry just blurted out something randomly again, that's all."
Bender didn't speak, instead just walking back into the kitchen, a trail of mumbling following him. Leela sneered at Fry.
"That's why we're not going, you idiot!" she whispered again snappishly. "He'd turn a small deviation into a long, seedy stay..."
Her eye flared a bit, and she nudged Fry aside to take the controls. Her index finger indicated a planetoid on the map.
"We can go here instead; Tertiary Three. I can't believe I missed it before... it has a fuel depot, and nothing much else since it's a primitive planet where their only resource is ship fuel, that the DOOP seized control of from them."
She laid in the course.
"There's not much harm you two or Bender can do there," she said. "Though I don't want a repeat of that incident where you dropped the empty Slurm bottle on the planet of Africon Nine, and caused a small civil war amongst those bushmen. And before you even think of changing course, I've locked the autopilot with a password."
"That password has ruined many a joyride opportunity," Zoidberg sighed. Leela stood up.
"It's going to be a while before we get there, so I suggest we all get some sleep soon," she stated. "That way we'll all be awake when we arrive, so we can quickly fuel up and get outta there."
"But I'm not tired," Fry whined as Leela walked off towards her quarters. "And I don't know if I can get any sleep with Athena on the ship. She'll probably pour mercury in my ear, and then I'll be a ghost have to tell Bender to avenge my death by acting insane and producing a satirical play of irony."
"I think Mercury's too big a planet to fit in your ear," Zoidberg noted. Leela frowned.
"Relax, Fry. She's not going to kill you. Besides, she's your daughter. You shouldn't keep trying to distance yourself from her."
"But... she scares me," Fry snivelled.
"Look, I'll try and talk to her later," Leela consoled. "Tell her you're a decent person. But right now, we all should probably just rest up for a few hours."
Leela left the scene, Fry's unsure, but accepting, smile being consolation enough. There in her room sat the bowl of soup upon a tray on her bed, and just as she entered, the door to her ensuite opened, Athena stepping out in a fluffy white bathrobe.
"Hey," Leela smiled. Athena returned the gesture in kind.
"Hello. Thanks for the bath, I really needed it. It's been literally weeks since I could wash myself, assuming you don't count standing in freezing rain as that."
"There's some soup for you there," Leela told her. "Bender just made it."
Athena's eyes flashed to the bowl hungrily, and she scooped it up and began shovelling it into her mouth, not caring that it was almost scalding hot. Leela was a little shocked at how quickly and messily the girl was devouring it, but thinking about it, it made sense.
"I've made my bed up with clean sheets for you," Leela stated, a comment that made Athena pause in her slurping. "You must be tired."
"I... get to sleep on a real bed?" Athena asked, her voice filled with emotion to the extent that you'd think she had won the lottery. Leela nodded.
"Yeah, I mean, you've probably not really had many comfortable sleeps lately."
"I haven't slept in a proper bed since I was sixteen," she said, then tipped the bowl back down her throat to dispel the last of the soup. Leela grabbed a tissue from the beside mantle and handed it to Athena, who traded it for the bowl and thanked her host.
"I want you to be comfortable here," Leela said. "I got Amy to set aside some clothes for you, and there's a hairbrush and a fresh toothbrush you can use in the top drawer."
"Thank you," Athena answered, wiping the last of the smears from around her mouth. "You've been so kind. I think I'll sleep right now actually. I haven't had a proper one in almost a week."
"You didn't sleep on the train here?" Leela queried. Athena plonked her rear down on the bed, and after a pause of content from liking the comfort, she shook her head.
"I couldn't," she stated. "I'm too afraid to fall asleep alone, in case They come and find me. See, it was fine when my brother and I were together, because one of us would always keep watch while the other slept. I didn't have that luxury on the train, and while I nodded off a few times, I'd startle myself awake again within minutes. The coffee dispensing robot aboard was the only thing that kept me from blanking out I think. And a space cow on the tracks delaying things didn't help either. So, ever since he was captured, I haven't been able to get any shut-eye. I almost nodded off in your bath before, but I didn't want to drown myself."
"It must have been horrible living like that," Leela said. "No wonder why you're so stressed out."
"I don't know," Athena said, bitterness creeping into her voice. "Every time I look at my father, it's not that much better."
Leela frowned a little, so decided to move the subject on.
"Well, at least you'll get a decent sleep tonight," she told Athena. "You'll be ready to face whatever you have to when we get there."
"Maybe," Athena answered. "Though... would you mind, y'know... staying and keeping watch in here tonight?"
Athena looked down, like she was embarrassed to ask for help.
"I know I'll probably be okay, and it seems a bit childish, but... I still don't know if I'll be able to sleep without somebody here with me that I can trust."
Leela placed a hand on Athena's shoulder and smiled.
"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on you if you like," she soothed. "I'll grab my gun, and if anything tries to get you, I'll blast it full of holes."
Athena managed to smile back, probably warmer than she ever had in a long time. She may not like or be able to trust her father, but she sure trusted the one-eyed captain with the purple hair. Perhaps things would turn out all right after all. There was one main problem though; Leela might be a trusted companion on the trip, but wouldn't be able to help her where they were going. Only her father could help there.