The spaceship spat out of the mouth of the wormhole like a seed from a rotten fruit. The whale-oil engines burned hot, and the ship kept accelerating.
“Scanning the area – nothing dangerous detected,” Captain Turanga Leela said, reviewing the display. “Professor, can you review the star charts and see if you can find where we came out? Bender, check the hold and make sure all cargo is still secured. Amy, go with Bender and make sure he doesn’t steal anything we need to live.”
The one-eyed woman squeezed Fry’s hand and gave him a smile. “Fry, can you get up to the turret in case we need to shoot quickly?”
Fry gave her a lop-sided grin and saluted. “Aye aye, Captain!” He headed out the door, dragging a complaining Bender out with him. Amy kissed Kif, and started to turn to leave. Kif grabbed her around the waist and said to Leela, “Captain, with permission I’d like to go with my Fon-Fon-Ru.”
Leela smiled wistfully. “Permission granted.”
Amy squealed, and the two left the bridge arm-in-arm.
“Good news, everyone!” the Professor exclaimed.
Hermes and Leela looked at each other in concern, and then Leela said, “Have you pinpointed our location, Professor?”
“Whaa? Oh, my, no. But looking over the star maps let me complete your astrology chart, Hermes. According to this, today is a good day for you to start new undertakings, old friend!”
“Oh Lord,” Leela said, covering her eye with a free hand.
“Listen up, you geriatric buffoon,” LaBarbara said, “you’d betta get crackin’. Where are we?”
“Wife, the professor is doing what ‘e can,” Hermes said. “It’s not his fault that he’s older than the dirt that dirt rests on.”
“Scruffy suggests using that Cepheid variable up ahead as a guide star,” the mustachioed janitor at the tactical station said laconically.
“My god, the mysterious stranger is right!” the professor said. “We can use the Cepheid as a standard candle and orient our star charts around it.”
“How long will it take, Professor?” Leela axed.
“Huh? Oh, I did it already when we arrived,” the professor said absently. “This astrology thing was a lot more interesting, though. Did you know that Hermes and Calculon have the same sign?”
“Where are we, professor?!”
“813 million light-years from Earth; somewhere in the Pisces-Cetus A supercluster!” The old scientist looked up and light from the display glinted an eerie green on his thick glasses. “We’re in the uncharted depths of the Universe…”
“Oh, stop dat, ya old goat,” Hermes said, turning the display from the ‘spooky’ setting.
“Alright,” Leela said, thinking. “We need to find a habitable planet to top off our food and water stores. Anything else?”
“We haf to get back through the wormhole!” LaBarbara cried. “What about me Dwight?”
“And Cubert does need someone to watch after him,” the Professor mused.
And my parents, Leela thought to herself. She shook herself. “Dammit, if we go back that idiot Brannigan will just lock us up again. We need supplies, and we need a plan. The wormhole will still be here when we need to go back.”
Fry’s voice crackled over the inter-ship com. “Incoming bogeys, Leela!”
“Oh, Lord…” She checked the scope. Six fast, wicked looking shapes, coming in hot toward the Planet Express ship. “Those don’t look friendly.”
“They’re not,” the Professor said, in a rare moment of lucidity. “They are most definitely not. Captain Turanga, get us out of here!”
“What are they?” Leela axed.
At that moment energy bolts shot from the lead pair of ships and buffeted the Planet Express.
“No time! Run!” the Professor exclaimed.
Leela threw the ship into a sprint. “Fry – return fire!”
“Roger!” the twentieth-century man said. Laser bolts flashed back from the turret toward the pursuing ships.
“The Cyberians are relentless, Leela – we’ll have to try to lose them somewhere,” the Professor warned.
Leela decided not to quiz the old man on his knowledge, and to focus on staying alive. “Where are we going to hide? There’s nothing out here but the wormhole!”
“What’s dat?” Hermes said, pointing out a feature in the swirling vortex of the wormhole.
Leela shook her head. The professor nodded. “Ah, yes – that’s the exotic matter struts the builders used to keep the wormhole throat open.”
“Exotic matter?” Leela said.
“Builders?” Hermes axed.
“Of course builders,” the Professor said irritably. “What do you think the Cyberians are doing here, gardening?”
“Can we hide behind it?” Leela asked, trying to suppress her anger.
“Yes, the exotic matter should disrupt their sensors,” the Professor said.
“Right.” Leela pulled hard on the controls and the Planet Express ship swooped toward the dull gleaming pipes of exotic matter threaded through the wormhole. Suddenly, the ship rocked and Leela fought with the controls as they were buffeted by – something.
“Careful, now, Leela,” the professor warned. “Gravity does funny things around exotic matter.”
“Now he tells me,” she muttered under her breath, taking a firmer grip on the controls. Toggling on the intercom, she spoke. “All hands, secure for evasive maneuvers.”
“Now she tells me,” she could hear Amy respond.
Leela scowled, and jammed the thrusters harder. A flurry of energy bolts flashed through the space they had just occupied, and splashed against the exotic matter strut. As the Planet Express Ship rushed toward the strut, the vast size of the object began to be clear.
“Holy crap,” Fry said over the intercom. “It’s as big as the Moon!”
“Oh, bosh,” the Professor said. “Each strut’s about six hundred kilometers long, and fifty kilometers thick.” He finished on an ominous tone, “That’s no Moon.”
“Leela, they’ve launched some sort of missile!” Hermes exclaimed.
Leela checked the scanner – incoming at high acceleration. She pushed the engines to maximum, and raced toward the shadow of the strut.
“Hold your evasive maneuvers, Leela – I can hit it if you give me a clean shot!” Fry insisted from the turret.
“And that gives them a clean shot,” she snapped back. “Just focus on keeping them occupied.”
The Planet Express ship hugged the curve of the strut, the missile close behind them. Fry let loose with a barrage from the laser cannon, grazing the side of the missile and knocking it into the strut.
The warhead detonated with a flash which ate into the side of the strut, blotting out everything else from view.
“Oh, that’s bad,” the professor said as the silent glowing bloom of light reached for them.
“What is it?” Leela yelled, trying to squeeze every bit of acceleration from the creaking cargo hauler.
“Anti-matter warhead, those idiots. The only thing that could destabilize the exotic matter that keeps the wormhole open.”
In utter, eerie silence the strut they were racing away from snapped and began to shatter, the fragments slowly tumbling into a floating haze of glowing, drifting spars.
The swirling void of the wormhole began to be shot through with blue electrical lighting, and the other exotic matter beams began trembling and flexing.
“Scruffy thinks we’d better get out of here.” Scruffy said. “If the struts go – ”
“The wormhole mouth will catastrophically collapse, yes,” the Professor said sadly. “Those fools! Years of effort undone with a casual nova bomb.”
As the Planet Express ship flew away, the remaining struts broke and fragmented, and the sharp outlines of the wormhole began to waver.
“What happens when it collapses?” axed Hermes.
“Oh, nothing nearly as bad as two neutron stars colliding,” the Professor said, waving his hand. “A supra-lethal gamma ray burst, deadly out to say, oh, fifteen light years. Maybe ten. What do I look like, a mad scientist who regularly calculates blast radii?”
“Here it comes!” Leela yelled. The wormhole’s circle of violet unreality wavered again, and then contracted like a rubber band snapping.
Suddenly the stars streaked, the wormhole and the other Cyberian ships vanishing behind them.
“Hey – where was the explosion?” Fry said quizzically over the intercom.
“We went to translight before it blew,” Leela said curtly.
“Ah, bummer – I wanted to see it!” Fry sounded like he’d missed the Freedom Day fireworks.
Leela rolled her eyes. Fry, she thought. “Gamma rays travel at light speed. If you could see the blast, you’d be dead.”
She turned the intercom to all-ship. “Everyone okay?” she axed.
Amy, Kif, Fry and Bender gave the okay from their various locations.
“That was quick thinking, Captain Turanga,” the Professor said. “There may be a job with my company for you.”
Leela sighed and turned on the autopilot. “The scanner detected a habitable planet approximately eight point four light years from the wormhole; I’ve set course for there. Hopefully we can re-provision, and take stock of our…situation.” She stood and stretched.
“Our situation,” Hermes echoed mournfully.
“I’m…I’m sorry,” Leela said, feeling inadequate.
LaBarbara began sobbing as the loss of their way home – back to their families – hit her fully. Leela’s heart ached for her. She had only lost her parents – LaBarbara had lost her child. She couldn’t imagine what that felt like.
“I promise you all,” Leela said with a conviction she did not feel, “we will find a way home.” She looked around the bridge, locking eyes with each of them. “But first, we have things to take care of. Amy, will you take command, please?” She started toward the door. “I’m going to take a nap – it’s been a long day.”
“You were very inspiring on the bridge,” Fry assured Leela, “but I thought you said you were going to take a nap?”
Leela pulled a pillow out from under his mop of orange hair and smacked him with it lightly. “Are you complaining?” she axed.
“Uh, no, no of course not,” he said quickly. “You have had a long day, though – jail break, crashing Wong’s implosion and getting us away from Brannigan…”
“True,” she said sleepily. “You have helped me…relax, though.”
They were curled up together on the bed in Leela’s cabin, basking in the afterglow. Leela sighed and pressed her head tighter to Fry’s naked chest, listening to his heartbeat slowing from its previous frantic pace.
Fry stroked his fingers through her long, thick purple hair. He was lost in thought. Suddenly, he said, “I’m sorry.”
“Huh? For what?”
“I’m sorry you got caught because of me. I’m sorry you were locked up because of me.”
“I wasn’t locked up because of you, Fry. I was locked up because of me – I knew the risks, and I did what I thought was right.” Leela’s lips curved up in a smile. “I guess we both did what we thought was right. Someday you’re going to have to tell me what the hell was going on out there, Fry.”
“An old, old war was ending, Leela. I look forward to telling you that story. Hell, I’m glad I can tell you this story – it’s one I finally was allowed to remember.” He kissed the top of her head. “But for now, I’d just like to hold you.”
“I’d like that very much,” she said softly. They were silent for a moment, and then she said, “You know what’s funny?”
She lifted her head to look directly into Fry’s eyes. “That was great, Fry – it was everything I ever dreamed of…and I did dream of it a lot.”
Fry blushed. “But, what’s so funny?”
“This can’t have been our first time. We were getting married, remember?”
Fry thought for a moment, and then let out a short laugh.
“We may have done…it…dozens of times, you know?” Leela said.
“But we can’t remember,” they said in unison.
“Huh. That is pretty funny,” Fry said. His voice softened. “I’m glad I remember this time.”
Leela smirked. “And all the next times,” she said, kissing him.
After a while, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
“What’s the situation, Amy?” Leela said as she strode onto the bridge, trying to surreptitiously adjust her bra. Fry had insisted on doing the clasps in the back for her, and she was sure he had misaligned them.
“We may have a problem,” Amy said from the command chair.
“Hey, Big Boots! Seen Fry around? It’s time for our daily chug contest and I can’t figure out where he’s hiding!” Bender was seated on the sofa, puffing away at a Zuban cigar.
Leela blushed. “He’s…I don’t know where he is,” she finished lamely.
She ignored the robot and stood next to Amy. The intern pointed at the long-range scanner. “We’re about an hour from the planet, but I’ve detected these in orbit.”
Leela saw the unmistakable images of Cyberian raiders in orbit around the planet. “Aw, crap – not these guys again.” She buzzed the Professor on the intercom. “Professor, please come to bridge. I think we need to talk – now.”
“Yes, I know about the Cyberians,” the Professor admitted. The rest of the Planet Express team was gathered around him on the bridge, as he wandered about, looking at various devices, almost as if he did not wish to face his memories.
“Those of you familiar with ancient history will remember learning of a time in the 21st century when mankind was enslaved by evil cyborgs.”
“Hey – that doesn’t ring any bells,” said Fry.
“Quiet, you! Anyway, the rule of the cyborgs was finally thrown off and mankind was liberated. However, there were some cyborgs left. They fled Earth, and the galaxy itself, by escaping through that wormhole. They have not returned since, and no one has had contact with them…until today.”
Leela narrowed her eye. “So these are the descendants of the same psychopathic cyborgs who enslaved the Earth? That doesn’t sound promising.”
Amy shivered. “I heard horrible stories of the experiments they would perform on people. It looks like they’ve got that planet surrounded! What are we going to do?”
Bender wailed, “Oh your god! These are the folks that ruined perfectly good robot parts by merging them with meatbags! It’s - it’s monstrous!”
“Oh, relax you bunch of nervous Nancies,” the Professor said crossly. “I can get us past the Cyberian patrols and onto the planet easily. What we do from there is more difficult.”
“What do you mean?” Amy axed.
“That planet is going to be hit with a burst of gamma radiation which’ll fry anything that processes the local equivalent of ATP. The biosphere’ll be wiped out,” the Professor said, gesticulating wildly. “We might want to take samples from some wildlife to preserve them – for experimentation, of course.”
“Animals?” Leela said.
“Uh, guys,” Amy interrupted. “It might be a little more complicated than taking some DNA samples.”
The crew turned to her and she threw the scanner’s output onto the main screen.
Even from their distance from the planet, they could clearly see large, smoky cities perched on the edges of the various islands of the planet’s vast sea, and small, wooden sailing ships plying the sea lanes between the ports.
“They have about eight years and five months,” the Professor said.
The others said nothing.