Futurama Porn Story: A Different View Chapter 4

Futurama Porn Story: A Different View Chapter 4

Chapter
Four That Sinking Feeling

The
ship made landfall without further incident, not counting Frys
unfortunate reaction to a stale Twinky she found in the galley, and
fairly soon the whole Planet Express staff were gathered in the
conference room.

The
room was tense; normally a post-mission debrief would only involve
Leela and Hermes, sorting out the accounts and getting stories
straight for when the clients inevitably called to complain about
broken packages and the like, whilst everyone went home early to get
some well-deserved rest. The resentment at being kept behind was
almost palpable.

On
top of that, Fry found herself sat directly opposite Bender with the
entire expanse of the table between them. Bender didnt look at her
as she sat down, preferring to stare at the ceiling with his
eyeshield half lowered as he smoked one of the cigars Fry could no
longer stand to be around.

The
Professor shuffled in and sat down in his chair at the head of the
table. He gave everyone a meaningful look. You may be wondering
why I called you all here today, he said after a moment. I
realise that you all want to go home and enjoy yourselves in the
fleshpots and such, but Leela has brought something important to my
attention. The peace treaty gathering on Eridani Prime, he said,
adjusting his glasses. The heads of almost every major world in
the Democratic Order of Planets will be there and I want a piece of
that action!

Why
not just spam them like everyone else does, Bender asked. I
could set it up for you. Id only ask for a sixty percent cut.

Thats
preposterous in the extreme because I have no idea what youre
talking about, Farnsworth said. He wiped his brow. And I
certainly havent tried it already either.

Professor…
Leela leaned forward a little. I dont like it. Zapp-

Oh
that wonderful captain Brannigan, hyes, hell be there wont
he? We need an in, Leela. Something that will get us a more steady
income.

Aye,
nothing is more steady and dependable than a government contract,
Hermes added, patting his briefcase.

Leela
gave Hermes a puzzled look. But arent we already getting a lot
of work? I dont remember flying this much since, well, ever.

My
projections are never wrong, Hermes said. He pressed a few buttons
on the console in front of him, activating the main display screen,
where a graph appeared. Based on our current income and
expenditure we seem to be doing fine, he said. A few more buttons
were pressed and the graph expanded to include a sudden precipitous
fall. However, that doesnt factor in the reductions that will
be comin in the economy by the end of the year thanks to Captain
Brannigans shenanigans.

Reductions?

Yep.
The Democratic Order of Planets is administratively reorganisin
their entire fleet now that the cold war is over, and that means a
lot of service contracts lapsin, a lot of ex sailors lookin for
work and a lot of people who dont need parts deliverin any
more. Taking that into account well be bankrupt in eight to ten
months at the very latest. That means you lot will be out of work.
He turned to face the team, his face deadly serious. Permanently.

Fry
looked over at Bender, now fully attentive. The robot turned to look
back at her and spoke. How about downsizing? Getting rid of
unnecessary burdens and such.

Oh
we thought about that, Farnsworth said. The mayors office
and the I.N.S. both said that Zoidberg was our responsibility whether
we wanted him or not.

That
means hes an employee, and as long as hes an employee we have
to pay him a wage. Hermes glanced down at his papers. Even if
it is just fifty cents a week…

Zoidbergs
eyes widened. Im getting a raise? Hooray!

Dont
be stupid you spineless caneswaggler! Hermes adjusted his glasses
and peered at the papers again. Everyone else on the team has to
be here otherwise we dont function.

You
mean, Amy said after a moments thought, youre saying that
after all these years of holding expendable above our heads,
were all actually necessary employees?

Hermes
glared at Amy, not for the first time, but with extra passion now.
Yes, he admitted, making a pained face. He shuffled the papers.
And unless we have some sort of government contract youll all
be unemployed necessary employees too.

Farnsworth
cleared his throat as Hermes sat down. Thats where you come in,
Leela. And the rest of you. We need to get one of those heads of
state to agree to pay us lots of money. I dont know how youll
do it. You can sleep with them for all I care, but you are all going
to that function, and thats final.

There
was a general grumbling as everyone stood to leave except Amy and
Zoidberg, who both seemed to be quite happy in their own ways. Leela
glared at the young interns back as she left but managed to hold
back her ire though, if Amy had seen her eye, she might have had a
fairly good idea of what Leela wanted to say.

Fry
stayed in her seat, watching Bender. The robot was still puffing away
on his cheroot, the apparent picture of perfect contentment. He took
out the cigar and examined it.

So,
you coming home tonight? He refused to look at Fry when he spoke.
In the background Leela paused and turned to listen.

I…
Im not sure thats any of your business, Bender, Fry said.
She stayed in her seat. Bender, for his part, also refused to move.
But if you must know I was thinking about crashing with Amy.

Okay
then. Bender stubbed out the cigar on his own hand and dropped it
into his compartment. Youve been doing that sort of thing a lot
recently, Fry. Always hanging out with the girls or crashing
somewhere, or just not turning up. Im starting to wonder if you
even live with me any more. He paused and tapped a finger against
his chinplate. It made an annoying metallic clink
with every beat. On the other hand youre still paying half the
rent so what do I care?

Bender
let out a short laugh and walked from the room whistling to himself.
Fry watched him go; she felt like running after him, pulling him
back, begging to have
his friendship back but it wouldnt have worked. She sighed and
looked down at the table.

Leela
put her hand on Frys shoulder. Its hard, I know, but youll
get over it. Fry nodded sadly but kept her head low. It felt
right. She didnt deserve to see anything. Leela rubbed her
shoulder and sat down in the next seat. I found some apartments we
can look at for you next week if youre-

No.
Im sorry Leela, its too soon to think about that right now.
Maybe tomorrow Ill be able to talk to you about it, right now Im
just not… not in the mood.

Oh,
I understand. Im sorry Phi.

Fry
finally looked up to see the rather unedifying sight of Professor
Farnsworth shuffling toward them. Hi Professor.

Miss
Fry. Leela. Farnsworth stopped by the table and smiled at them.
Ahh, dont you worry your pretty heads about that contract
balderdash, its really so simple even Zoidberg could do it. I just
like to have a certain amount of, eyuh, redundancy in the system,
yes. Thats right.

So
in that case… Leela put her hands on her hips. You dont
need me to go.

Not
as such, but it would help. Besides, the possibility of your
attachment to that nice coffee-shop owner down the block would be
wonderful leverage to use against your, uh, potential suitors?

What?
How do you know about Samuel?

Ohh,
that doesnt matter, Farnsworth said, waving Leela away with one
hand. A tiny remote television slipped out of his cuff and wrapped
itself around his palm, where it began showing a pale green image of
Maxines interior on a slim screen. Ahh, I wondered where that
went…

Farnsworth
slipped the device off his hand. Ignoring Leelas spluttered
protest he turned to Fry and put a hand on her shoulder. Miss Fry,
You may be glad to hear that Im very close to a solution to your,
ah, problem. I have to run a few experiments over the next day or so
but I believe I may well have enough information to reverse the
process that made you what you are.

That
was a lot faster than I thought it would be, Fry said, giving the
table a thoughtful stare. So soon… just when she was getting used
to the way things were. How soon can you do it?

Oh,
two weeks, perhaps three at the most. Its not a particularly
delicate operation, apart from the timing of the events. Ive
performed one or two small-scale transitions already with several
elemental atoms. Theyre up in the lab if you want to have a look.

Im
not sure thats such a good idea, Fry said. Leela put a hand on
Frys other shoulder.

Come
on Phi, youll have to get over this fear of the lab some time or
youll never be able to get through this.

Yes.
Besides, my lab isnt the least bit scary, Farnsworth added,
looking at the ceiling. Well, uh, except for that singularity I
accidentally created in the corner… but at least it makes the
garbage easy to dispose of, hyes. Farnsworth turned and peered
at Fry as if hed never seen her before.

Fry
shifted under the glassy gaze of those thick-lensed eyes, which might
have been trying to tell her something, or might just be completely
blank from a stroke. She looked up at Leela. I really dont
know…

Come
on Fry, whats the worst that can happen?

Farnsworth
slapped his face. Oh lord, you just had to say it didnt you…
he turned and started the long trek to his lab, muttering about
paradoxes and narratavium.

What?
Professor… Leela sighed. She took Frys shoulder again. Come
on, wed better follow him before he forgets what he was going to
do again.

Fry
pushed herself from the chair and shook her arms trying to relieve
the tension she could feel building up in her back. She smoothed down
her shirt, tapped a toe against the ground and looked at Leela.
Okay, lets get this over with.

They
followed Farnsworth up the stairs to his lab. Near the top of the
staircase Fry suddenly hesitated and bit her lip.

Philippa,
whats-

That
glow up there, Fry said, pointing. I saw that last time. When
it happened.

Leela
looked up to the lab door. An orange light cast out of the door and
on to the wall, picking out details with odd shadows. Thats
probably just some weird lights or something. Come on, stop being a
baby about this Phi.

No,
Leela, I really dont have a good feeling about this. Its like
theres some sort of, of feeling in my stomach… she looked
past Leelas head at the light. That light scares the crap out
of me and I dont know why.

Well-
Leelas sentence was cut off by a huge, sucking, roaring sound from
the lab. She threw herself across Fry with a wordless yell, knocking
her backwards so that they both fell back down the stairs to the
landing just as a huge girder slammed through the wall. Fry hit the
floor hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. She choked, took a
deep breath and then let out a ragged scream.

When
that didnt change anything Fry opened her eyes and tried to sit
up. Leelas motionless body lay across her, surprisingly heavy
given her size. Fry keened and tried to push Leela off but only
managed to squirm a little way along the floor.

Leela
grunted and suddenly woke with a yell. She glanced around, then down
at Fry, and then up the stairs. Oh hell. She clambered to her
knees and pulled Fry up to a sitting position. Fry patted over
herself to check everything was still working. She followed Leelas
gaze up the stairs. A small patch of of the girder sputtered with
pale blue flames as exotic chemicals from the lab burned away at the
galvanising paint. Leela sat down next to Fry and whistled. If you
ever get one of those feelings again you make sure you tell me
straight away, Phi. That was close.

Too
close, Fry thought. She suddenly realised that the voice of the
thought was female. What an odd thing to think about. Oh, the
Professor! Fry shot to her feet and ran up the ruined stairs,
clambering over the girder before she even thought about it. Leela
was a step behind her when Fry reached the door to the lab.

The
place was not wrecked, exactly. A blast mark marred the floor near
the centre of the lab, a ragged hole had been punched in the roof and
there were several girders embedded in the floor and wall but the
room was largely intact, though the Smelloscope was smashed.
Farnsworth stood near the far wall staring up at the sky, where a
bright orange ball of flame was receding toward the horizon, already
well on its way out into space. A chunk of masonry fell from the edge
of the gap and crashed to the floor.

Leela
gasped when she saw the mess, and then yelped when she saw what had
caused it. Fry!

Fry
glanced at Leela, wondering why she used that name now of all times.
She quickly walked across the lab to the Professor, carefully
skirting the blast mark and the more obviously dangerous equipment.
Professor?

Wah?
Oh… Farnsworth looked away from the plasma ball, now a barely
noticeable dot in the sky. He adjusted his glasses. Oh, its
you.

What
on earth was that… that thing? Fry pointed at the sky. She
looked back over the lab. What did you do?

Farnsworth
turned and looked around his lab, seeming not to notice the
destruction. Well. That was an apparent side-effect of the
universal matrix transition, he said.

The…
wha?

Universal…
that doesnt matter! The point is, its caused by the same thing
that caused you to turn into a highly attractive woman. I hadnt
quite thought about the full effects of what I was doing, but it
seems that when the transition occurred a number of atomic nuclei
were thrown on to new and slightly erratic courses. Farnsworth
adjusted his glasses again. He peered up at the hole and tutted
sadly. Itll take a long time to get that fixed…

Leela
leaned on a bench, glancing up at the sky now and then. That
looked like the ones we saw over Fifth Avenue, she said, giving
Fry a meaningful look.

Farnsworth
suddenly turned to face Leela. What? When? When did you see that?

Oh…
Leela thought for a moment. She pushed off from the bench and started
to pace toward the hole. A few days after Fry got out of the
hospital. We were shopping with Amy.

How
many did you see?

Two,
Fry said. She shoved her hands in her pockets. Farnsworth rubbed his
chin, a frown creasing his already-creased brow. Is it important?

Not
as much as youd think, but it does raise interesting questions. I
had hoped the effect wasnt so widespread.

Fry
looked at her shoes and sighed. She swung her leg back and forth.
Wait a minute. Didnt Kif say something about a plasma ball
hitting the Nimbus?

Why
yes, he did, Leela said. She folded her arms and looked up at the
sky. From what he said, that idiot captain would probably have
screwed up those negotiations if he hadnt been knocked off balance
by the blast.

Youre
saying that this thing changed history or something?

Farnsworth
nodded slowly. Yes… in a manner of speaking it did just that for
millions of atoms, but most of those are so isolated that it wouldnt
make a difference on a universal scale. However… Farnsworth
wandered over to a table where a few magnetic containment jars rested
on a thick metal plate. He stared at the for a long time. In the
right circumstances, a sudden non-predictable change of direction by
a single atom could caused a positive feedback wave that would result
in a macroscopic events. Most of the changes would still not have any
effect beyond being very pretty, he added, looking up at the gap
again. The plasma ball was long gone now. But if they were to
happen at the right spot, as it appears to have with the Nimbus,
the effects would be very profound. Our immediate history has been
irreparably altered by this accident. Who knows what might have
happened otherwise?

Well,
thats all very interesting, Professor, but it doesnt seem to
make much different to Philippas condition. Leela glanced at
Fry again, trying to re-assure her. Sorry for talking for you like
this Phi.

Oh
its not a problem. I… Fry shook her head and smiled.
Farnsworth, for his part, just looked at them vacantly. Fry looked
around the lab, marvelling at how little equipment was actually
damaged. I guess we saw the changed atoms right there. Is there a
chance that could happen to me?

Oh
my yes, Farnsworth said. Fry swallowed. But its so remote
that it isnt worth worrying your pretty little head about.

Fry
grumbled something about sexism and turned to leave. She was almost
at the door when Farnsworth spoke again.

Miss
Fry, there is one thing that I havent mentioned yet. Fry
turned, glanced across the room at Leela again and then looked at the
Professor. Farnsworth worried at a pile of papers and books on a
workbench, eventually drawing out a few scraps of slightly singed
paper. Its probably nothing, but theres a few oddities that
have been thrown up by my calculations. Theyre the only reason I
havent tried a large-scale experiment yet.

What
is it? Fry watched the Professor leafing through his notes with a
strange worry squirming around in her guts. Leela stood nearby, her
face a picture of sympathy.

I
dont really know, Farnsworth said eventually. He put the papers
down. All my simulations work perfectly. The transitions to and
from the alternate universal matrix work without any incident at an
atomic scale, he said, glancing at the hole again. Almost…
theres a lot of uncertainty involved when you get above anything
the size of a carbon atom. If it wasnt for that I would have been
able to switch you back several weeks ago.

If
its about risk, Professor, Id be willing to take it, Fry
said, looking at Leela again. Leela looked back, uncertainty creasing
her brow for a moment. Then she looked away.

Ohh,
I was quite happy to risk your life already, Miss Fry, the problem is
risking everyone elses as well. I have to be certain of that
before I try and I wont be certain until next week. Now come
along, go find me some nice men to clean up this lab.

Leela
grimaced and shook her head. Come on Phi, lets go get some
coffee, she said, grabbing Fry as she walked past.

Bye
Professor, Fry managed to call before she was pulled through the
door.

So
tell me, Philippa… what on earth is going on?

They
were sat at their usual table in Maxines, by the window, in a pair
of comfy chairs that Samuel insisted they use whenever they came in.
Fry looked out of the window at the occasional passing traffic and
the gritty water of the Hudson river in the distance. She sighed. I
dont think I want to turn back.

What?
Fry… Phi… Leela put her coffee down and leaned forward. You
dont?

Fry
shrugged and picked at her customary danish with a forlorn
expression. I do want to change back, but… I… I like this, our
friendship. Id be worried about losing it again.

Oh,
Philippa, thats sweet. I think we could probably keep it up if
youre willing to try, Leela said, picking up her coffee again.
What about Bender?

Well,
what about him? Fry put her coffee down and folded her arms. Hes
boorish and rude and, and loud, and he smokes those damn cigars even
when he knows I hate them. He never made an effort to be my
friend.

Leela
blinked at Frys outburst. She leaned back and thought about it for
a moment, as a strange worry began to manifest. Oh lord. I screwed
up, she said at least. Leela leaned forward again and took Frys
hand. I really screwed up didnt I?

What
are you talking about?

My
advice. I told you to back off and let him work it out himself, but I
didnt think about how youd respond to his reactions… Im
sorry Phi. I think it was my fault.

But
he reacted exactly how you said he would whenever I tried to make
up.

Yes,
but after your change you werent used
to the way men react any more, Leela said with a sad smile. You
said it yourself, your mind and body are completely different. What
you remember doing in a given situation wouldnt apply now, because
you think
differently.

Fry
nodded slowly. Yeah, thats true. Actually I have a lot of
trouble remembering how I used to act… well except for the more
memorable moments, she added after a moment of thought. Its
all so… grey. Like I dont care about it any more.

So
that means that you wouldnt be able to communicate with him
properly, Leela finished. She glanced over at the counter. Samuel
waved to her. Men communicate with women very differently to the
way they communicate with each other. The problem is, Bender still
cant see you as a woman, which means youll have to either
convince him to see you that way or try and ride things out until you
change back.

If
I ever do, Fry said. She looked out of the window and sighed
again. Theres so much going through my mind right now, Leela.
So many things I wanted to say to people that Ive never been able
to say before because it would have sounded weird, or because I just
didnt think about it. I can say them now
because they dont
sound weird.

So
youre smarter? I knew it!

Frys
eyebrows creased together. I wish… she rattled her fingers on
the table and smiled again. I see some things more clearly than I
used to but Im not smarter. I can just say things that I couldnt
before.

Leela
twisted her empty cup around the table and fiddled with the handle.
There are some things you cant say now.

Fry
blinked in surprise. This was about as close as shed ever heard
Leela come to admitting she had feelings for… but she couldnt,
could she? The man she might have
loved wasnt here. Fry put her hand out and gently touched Leelas
arm. She smiled when Leela looked up.

A
shadow fell across the table. Not interrupting another moment, am
I? Samuel leaned forward and retrieved Leelas cup, giving her a
wink as he straightened up. Ill just get you a refill.

Thanks
Sam, Leela said with a coquettish grin. She fluttered her eyelid
just a tiny little bit; Samuel grinned nervously and turned to leave.
Oh Samuel, wait a moment.

Anything
for you, he said, turning back. Leela patted the arm of her chair,
motioning Samuel to sit down. He took a seat and smiled at the pair.
All right, what conspiracy are you beautiful creatures dragging me
into?

Oh,
nothing like that, Leela said. Fry thought she sounded a little
flustered, but said nothing while Leela made eye at Samuel. For his
part, the young man just sat and looked affable. I, uh, that is we
have been invited to a
diplomatic function on Eridani. Movers and shakers and all that sort
of thing, Leela said, her voice growing smaller. And I sorta
need a date.

Why
not take Philippa here? You two seem to make such a nice couple.
Samuel smiled at Fry and then winked. Fry felt herself turning pink.
Crap.

Leela
let out an uncharacteristic giggle. Oh you…

Well
if youre going to let a catch like that go to waste… Samuel
stood up and gave Leela a florid bow. My lady, I would be honoured
to accompany you. When do we leave?

Its
in a week.

Ahh,
great, then I have enough time find a temp to manage the cash
register while Im gone. Samuel picked up Leelas cup and
smiled at her as he stepped back from the table. Thank you. This
means more to me than you realise.

Oh
you might not thank me once were there, Leela said, and then
grimaced as if letting out some sort of terrible secret. You
probably know about Zapp.

The
infamous Captain Brannigan? I heard something about a website, but go
on.

Leela
bit back on the angry reply that rose in her mind. He has it in
his head that that Im only bringing a date along to make him
jealous. Dont be surprised if he tries to challenge you to some
sort of testosterone match before the evening is out.

Ahh
thats nothing I cant handle. Why, only last week I had to put
down Theo over there for trying to argue that Shakespeares plays
were really written by Jeffrey Archer. That was pretty, uh…
harrowing… Samuels boast faded under Leelas pitying gaze.
Not good enough, huh?

Leela
smiled and shook her head. Youre a far better man than he is,
but remember this guy commands a starship. He could vaporise you from
orbit if he wanted.

Samuel
tutted and tapped his chin. He looked around the shop at the
assembled regulars, most of whom had apparently swapped books in the
last fortnight. There was a strange, strained silence over them that
seemed to collectively lean toward their table. One even had his book
upside down. I do hope you arent trying to discourage me, he
said, and the smiled again. Never mind, Ill find myself an
armoured tux and well see how things go.

Great,
Leela said. She and Fry stood up. See you tomorrow then?

Ah
yes, chocolate and blueberry cookie day, Samuel said with a wry
grin. Leela twisted her fingers together.

Am
I really that predictable?

Oh
yes, thats what I love about you two. It makes my accounts so much
easier. Samuel pulled a tray from a nearby table and started
cleaning up their plates. Ill see you, he said as he walked
away. Leela watched him go, her cheeks ever so slightly flushed.

I
never thought Id see that,
Fry said, putting on her coat.

What?

You.
Fluttering like a little girl. They stepped out and made their way
to the door, which Fry opened in what would have been a gallant
gesture at one time. I mean, Id always hoped to see you acting
that way toward me, though, god knows if I would have actually
noticed it back then.

I
was not fluttering, Leela retorted. Much…

Face
it Leela, you were this far from tearing his clothes off there and
then. Why dont you two just-

Phi,
I appreciate the gesture but, really, its a little weird. Leela
pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. What I mean is-

What
you mean is that you still sometimes see me as the old Fry, too,
Fry said. She put her hands behind her head as they walked, enjoying
the sun on her face. Dont worry about it. Even if you dont
get used to me this way at least were together, sorta. If it makes
you happy to be with Sam then you dont need to worry about my
feelings. I can live with it.

But
Philippa, what about the Professor turning you back? From what hes
saying itll just be a couple of weeks from now, Leela said. She
took Frys arm and pulled her close to the wall. When you change
back youll be a man again. Even if were good friends, all your
old feelings will be back. What if… I… and, that is, if we…

Fry
turned away and looked up at the sky. I dont think about it,
she said eventually, turning her gaze to the planet express building
down the street. You know me, Leela. If I went around thinking
about the future in that sort of detail Id go crazy. Id be
you.

So
Im crazy am I?

Well…
Fry shuffled her feet. Okay, bad example.

A
minute before you were talking about how you didnt want to change
back, Leela said. Fry sighed again.

That
was now talking. What I have now feels pretty good for me. I might
change my mind again in five minutes. She turned back to Leela and
put on a goofy half-smile. Leela just clutched at her bag, watching
Frys face.

I
wish I could be that impulsive, just once, she said quietly.

Asking
Sam out on a date is pretty impulsive for you, Fry replied. She
glanced back down the block to Maxines, where an old couple were
sitting on one of the pavement tables arguing over something. Her
face softened for a moment. That could have been us, she said,
with just a hint of longing.

It
could still be in some parallel universe. Leela nodded at the
thought, but then humphed and shook her head. Nah. I wouldnt be
caught dead in paisley.

Everything
looks crystal-clear in space. The lack of any intervening haze of to
bestow objects with a strange, almost terrifying clarity at distances
that the human mind almost cant comprehend, yet even those
distances are witheringly small compared to the vast gulfs of
interstellar space. Entire planets can be lost, flung out from their
parent systems to wander dark and cold between stars, rarely found
except by chance encounters.

Commander
Sethi Powall of the DOOP light corvette
Arcturus
had never discovered a Wanderer before. They were rare,
hard to find and tended to be flung from systems rich in heavy metals
and exotic elements, which made them valuable, and made a
discoverer… if not famous, then at least noteworthy. And rich. The
DOOP paid a handsome discovery fee to any DOOP crew lucky enough to
stumble across a Wanderer and Powall was quietly adding up how much
of it would be left over once hed bought himself that moon he had
his eye on. Quite a lot, it seemed.

He
glanced out of the Arcturuss
main observation deck at the distant black mass, only visible by the
stars it occluded, and then at the faint orange speck that had
attracted his ship here in the first place. It was another one of the
strange flares that had been reported all over Orions Arm for a
few weeks before disappearing into the deeps. His standing orders
were to pursue and catalogue any unknown phenomena of that
description but, frankly, the draw of the Wanderer was just too much.
The entire crew were quietly celebrating or not so quietly for
some of those off duty. Hed have to care for a few hangovers next
duty shift.

Powall
had returned to contemplating his moon when the comms crackled.
Commander? Bridge, we just got a reading from the Wanderer.

What?
Powall sat up. What sort of reading?

Some
sort of infra-red spike. It wasnt there before.

Ill
be right up. Powall looked longingly at the Wanderer and then left
the observation deck for the bridge.

Ok,
tell me what weve got, he said as he entered the bridge. The
lieutenant on duty, a Neptunian woman whos name Powall had never
been able to remember, shooed an ensign away from the main sensor
display and brought up a replay of the last 30 minutes.

Looks
like several heat spots sitting on the surface, she said, pointing
to the display, which altered to bring the relevant area of the
Wanderers surface into a plan view. They arent moving and
they havent changed intensity, but our preliminary scans showed
that this body was completely inert.

So…
youre saying someone else got here first?

Its
one option, sir, the lieutenant said, folding two of her arms. She
manipulated the display with the other two. Powall tried not to
grimace. Theres also the possibility of micrometeorite impacts,
previously unrecorded seismic activity or more of those flares.

I
see. Powall stared at the display. Take us to stand-by alert
anyway, just in case. And make sure our discovery claim has been
sent, I dont want some fraznick prospector stealing our moons, er,
money.

Already
done, sir, the lieutenant said. She turned to the ensign, now
stood on the far side of the cramped bridge, and repeated Powalls
order before turning back to the display. If I might venture an
opinion…

Go
ahead.

Perhaps
it would be wise to retreat to a standard remote observation orbit.
The Neptunian fixed Powall with a stare. Powall tried to look into
her pale blue eyes and gave up, looking away. He could never
intimidate blueskins no matter how hard he tried. It didnt help
that they reminded him of Vishnu, which brought up all sorts of
bitter childhood memories of his Swamij beating the knowledge of the
five forms into his head.

I
shall consider it, Lieutenant. For now-

Sir!
Another ensign turned from the weapons console. Sir, multiple
contacts, directly ahead!

Powall
strolled over to the command chair and sat down, bringing up an
auxiliary display. Identity?

Unknown
sir, computer is currently classifying as heavy assault cruiser,
equivalent to Argo class.

Holy
hells… intentions?

Apparently
hostile sir… the ensign tapped away at his console, his skin
turning pale as he examined the readouts. Uh… very hostile sir.
Very very hostile. Weapons are armed, gun-ports open, shields raised
and they appear to be moving to flank us.

Get
us out of here, now! Powall turned to the Neptunian lieutenant.
Get a message to high command, hostile craft detected-

Sir,
we have an ID on the craft, the ensign said, turning again.
Theyre Ruklisk sir.

What?
Arent we- An alarm sounded, warning of incoming fire. Evasive
action. Arent we at peace with those sons of Shiva now?

Aye.
The ship bucked as it sought to flee the closing Ruklisk cruisers.
Their firing was a little erratic, missing the ship by thousands of
metres, but one shot was true and crashed against the shields,
ringing the little ships hull like a bell. Powall winced. This
wasnt good.

Were
deep inside DOOP territory, what the hell are the Ruklisk doing
here?

Hiding,
the lieutenant said, pointing at the wanderer. Were about
eleven light-years beyond Eridani sir, and moving toward earth at
about point seven C relative. The chances of them finding this right
before we did are astronomically small, theyve probably been
tailing this rock for the last century.

Oh…
right- Powall winced as another shot crashed home, shaking the
bridge and setting a dozen alarms squawking. They werent going to
survive many more like that.

Engines
hit sir, shields holding, someone shouted. Powall groaned.

Tell
me we have comms!

Stand
by… minimal comms sir. Another impact. Somewhere below the deck
Powall could hear a rending explosion and a strange, ear-piercing
shriek as part of the lower deck started to decompress. Weve
lost all propulsion sir. Port-side shields have collapsed, multiple
breaches on decks four and five.

Mahesha
take them!

Perhaps
we should abandon ship sir, the Lieutenant said, turning to look
at Powall.

No
Lieutenant, we wont be doing that, Powall said, looking out at
the closing cruisers, still tiny dots against the dark star-field.
The bridge shook under another barrage from the nearest cruiser. The
Ruklisk like to take
prisoners.

Something
about the way he said it must have hit home, as a withering reply
died in the Lieutenants throat. She blinked and looked away. I
see.

Engage
the self destruct systems and then let the bastards have everything
weve got, Powall said, turning to the weapons officer. The
ensign swallowed and nodded. And get
a message out, tell them them our situation, attach our last sensor
sweep of the wanderer and start transmitting our status in
real-time. The lieutenant nodded, pushing the comms officer away
to carry out the order personally.

Ive
set the message to repeat once its completed, the lieutenant
said as she turned back to Powell. She braced two of her arms against
the console as the Arcturus shuddered under another barrage. Our
FTL comms are gone.

Real
space… it could take months for anyone to even notice the signal,
Powall said quietly. He looked about the bridge, already devastated
by the assault and noticed that his vision was starting to tunnel
slightly. The ship must have vented most of its atmosphere already.
His crew worked frantically to manoeuvre their crippled ship away
from the attacking Ruklisk but they were starting to flag in the
thinning air. I just hope they get it in time. Weapons, target the
nearest ship and let them have it.

Firing
all weapons sir, the weapons officer said. Powall sat back and
thought about his moon as wave after wave of weapons-fire streaked
toward the closest Ruklisk vessel. It was unlikely theyd even make
a dent on such a massive ship but at least theyd die relatively
painlessly.

Incoming!
someone shouted. There was a momentary shudder as the impact started,
and then Powall knew nothing more.

The
week passed by at an agonising snails-pace, with very little work to
fill the time. Fry moped about in Benders closet, watching TV,
playing a few games and trying to figure out how she could get back
into Benders good books. There didnt seem to be much chance of
it though; twice, now, shed found her stuff dumped by the door,
although both times Bender had either forgotten to change the
lock-code or couldnt be bothered, and he didnt seem to care
when she moved herself back in. Perhaps it was the rent thing again
that held him back. Or perhaps he was trying to find a way of
reaching out to her.

Nah.
Definitely the rent thing.

With
the lack of work came a lack of pay, though Fry didnt have as much
trouble as the others thanks to the tax rebate that she got for being
a woman in what used to be a mans job. Hermes had eaten the waiver
the day he found out and then spent the entire afternoon locked in
his office trying to calculate how much the damaged paper would be
worth as a tax write-off. Of course Amy didnt have problems
either, thanks to her parents, and Zoidberg didnt seem to notice
the sudden lack of income. Leela was probably having a hard time of
it but, Fry realised, she would be too proud to admit she was having
a problem until the debt collectors were knocking down her door.
Although she did sell her couch
again.

Frys
biggest concern was Professor Farnsworth. The Professor spent all his
time in his lab where, mixed in amongst the usual background buzz of
small explosions and strange chemical smells, was a strange sensation
that struck Fry whenever she was in the building. A sort of tickling
sense of wrongness that fizzled at the base of her spine and wouldnt
go away, and which seemed to amplify whenever the Professor was
experimenting with the universal matrix or whatever it was hed
called it. With the tension she had at home, Fry was spending more
and more of her time at work, lounging around and waiting for
something to happen.

For
the whole week, virtually nothing. The company had enough of a
surplus to keep the bills paid and the ship maintained, which was a
stupidly easy job while they werent crashing it every few days.
Apart from that work was non-existent.

Fry
was getting adept at guessing when Farnsworth was experimenting on
her predicament. Toward the end of the week he spent nearly all his
spare time on the problem, apparently quite enjoying the challenge of
altering the very fabric of the universe.

Finally,
the day before they were due to leave he seemed to spend most of the
morning repeating the same experiment over and over again. Shortly
after lunch Farnsworth quite suddenly turned up in the employee
lounge and handed Fry a note. Look after this for me was all he
said before returning to the lab. An hour later he came into the room
holding a similar piece of paper and then looked around, his gaze
abruptly resting on the clock. With a slightly more confused
expression than he normally wore he turned and retreated from the
room again, mumbling under his breath. Fry looked at the folded note
and, for once, managed to overcome her latent curiosity. She pocketed
the paper and opened another beer.

The
sun was low when the others started to arrive. Normally Fry would
have gone home by then but she just couldnt deal with the prospect
of facing Bender on what was rapidly becoming his turf. Shed
packed a few necessities that morning and stashed them on the ship,
along with an evening gown and some other formal wear that Amy had
picked out for her.

The
door rattled as someone entered. Fry stood up, dropped her empty beer
behind the couch and smoothed down her shirt as the lounge door
opened. It was Hermes. He looked at Fry, seemed about to say
something and then turned away.

Well
hi, Hermes, Fry said under her breath. Nice to see you too.

Hermes
shoulders tensed but he didnt reply. LaBarbara entered a moment
later and made a beeline for Fry. Goodness, is that really you,
Fry?

Last
time I checked, Fry stuttered as LaBarbara swept her up in a great
big hug that lasted just a little too long to be comfortable. Fry
squirmed her grasp. Ah-heh, its nice to see you too.

You
sure have changed. When that husband of mine told me what happened, I
didnt see to believe it, but here we are! LaBarbara leaned
closed to fry. So, how you enjoyin your time as a woman? You had
yoursel any fun yet?

Fry
swallowed and let out a nervous giggle. Fortunately Amys arrival
gave her the escape she needed. Fry harried LaBarbara over to Amy and
then shot over to the far side of the room, putting the table between
them and herself.

Leela
arrived a moment later, sporting a large case with airholes drilled
in it. She shrugged at Frys quizzical expression and headed
straight for the ship, shortly followed by everyone but Fry herself.

Then
Bender arrived, sporting a cigar that was, surprisingly, unlit. He
strolled across the lounge and sat opposite Fry.

Hey
Bender.

Fry.
Bender sat back, chewing on his cigar with whatever passed for teeth
in that mouth of his. He took out the stoogie and stared at it.
These things dont look so cool when they arent lit.

No,
Fry said. She took a deep breath, expecting Bender to light up and
blow smoke in her face like he always did. Nothing happened. Bender?
Are you okay?

Bender
laid the cigar on the table and stared at it. As a robot I dont
usually feel much in the way of emotion. I could light this thing up
and then set your hair on fire with it and all Id think about was
how incredibly funny you looked.

You
arent doing it though, Fry replied. She touched her hair. Shed
got quite proud of her recent styling attempts, it wouldnt put her
in the best of moods if she lost it all. I hope?

Sometimes
I do feel emotions, Bender continued, picking up the cigar again,
turning it this way and that. I dont like the ones Im
feeling right now. Theyre distracting me from my work.

Bender
you dont have any work, Fry said, folding her arms. How can
you be distracted from doing nothing?

Hey,
I never tell you how to feel emotions! Bender sighed and put the
cigar away. Fry, I cant live with you this way. I cant have
any fun. When you were
a guy I didnt think twice about bringing a few fembots home for a
little… awww! Benders hands crashed down on the table. See?
I cant even talk to
you about it any more!

Why?
Its not like you ever had that problem around Leela and Amy,
Fry retorted. She pushed her chair back just in case Bender did
something more destructive to the table. Bender peered at her, then
folded his arms and looked away.

Thats
because theyve always been women, and they dont live
with me. He stood up and paced for a moment. All my memories
record you as a man, and now youre not. Its wrong.

Does
not compute huh? Fry laughed at her own joke until she noticed
Bender wasnt laughing with her. In fact he was glaring. Okay,
not funny. Look, Bender, if it makes you feel better you can pretend
Im someone else, or I can move out or something.

I
dont know about that, Bender said.

What,
the rent? Bender…

Bender
turned to look at Fry, and for the first time she saw the emotions he
was feeling, however badly the were expressed. Bender sighed. Fry,
if it was just about rent I would have got some other meat sack to
pay and thrown you out weeks ago.

You
did try to throw me out a few times, Fry pointed out. She stood up
and moved around the table until she was near the door. Bender
followed her a few steps.

That?
Uhh… Benders fingers tapped out something in binary as he
thought. Spring cleaning?

Fry
rolled her eyes. Har.

Look,
Im really trying to reach out here Fry. I got a book on how to
talk to women and everything! He reached into his chest
compartment and pulled out a tattered book as proof. Fry took the
book and skimmed through the pages, though none of it seemed
particularly ground-breaking. She passed it back. I can do this,
Bender said, closing his chest compartment again. I even used that
phrase. Reach Out. Easy!

The
thing is, you might not have to for much longer, Fry said. She
felt a strange tingle in her neck and glanced up at the ceiling; was
the Professor was doing the same experiment again?

So
youre telling me-

This
time next week Ill probably be a guy again.

Oh.
Bender looked away. Fry tried to catch his eye again, walking around
until she was in front of his face, but he kept turning away until
his head was facing backwards.

Whats
the matter, I thought youd be happy?

Yeah.
I think my emotion circuits must be faulty or something, Bender
said, letting out another sigh. It certainly cant be because
Im getting used to the way things are now.

You…
want me to stay like this?

Bender
suddenly turned and looked at Fry. Hell no! I want my friend
back!

Fry
shook her head and smiled. I am your friend, Bender. She
glanced at the clock and noticed the time. Oh hell, come on, wed
better hurry or theyll leave us behind.

Great,
you go and Ill sell all your girly stuff on e-bay. Bender
laughed until Fry hit him with a chair. Ow…

Bender
stumbled forward and whacked his head on the table, sending a spray
of sparks into the air as he dislodged some vital piece of equipment.
Fry closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. She dragged the
concussed robot out to the hangar, where Leela was waiting at the
bottom of the ships gangway, tapping her foot. She tapped her
wristbox and glared at Fry.

Im
sorry!

Were
going to be late. What were you doing anyway, she added, looking
down at Bender. Or do I want to know?

Fry
shook Benders arm, which promptly fell out of its socket.
Probably not. Can you help me get him up the stairs?

Leela
hooked her arm under Bender and lifted him upright. Ugh, I forgot
how heavy robots could be. Zoidberg!

The
decapodian appeared at the stop of the gangway and peered down at
Leela with a pleasant expression. Hello.

Zoidberg,
be a dear and drag Bender up the stairs for us will you?

Oh,
so now Im a lifter why not… Zoidberg seemed to almost dribble
down the gangway. He looked at Bender. Hmm, this robot is
seriously ill. Tell me Bender, have you punched yourself in the head
recently?

No,
Bender replied.

Perhaps
you should then! Zoidberg grabbed Benders legs and started
hauling him up the steps. So are we going anywhere interesting for
our holidays this year, hmm? I expect were going somewhere with
lots of sandy beaches. Zoidberg loves sandy
beaches, so many different kinds of free food… And were
going! Youre so kind.

Half
way up the stairs Bender grabbed old of the rail and suddenly pulled
himself upright. If I walk the rest of the way will you stop
talking?

Do
I still get to join you on the beach?

No!
Bender stormed up the stairs and into the ship, trailed by a sad
looking Zoidberg.

I
guess the Professor isnt coming, Leela said as they climbed the
steps. Fry paused near the top and looked back across the hangar.

Guess
not, she said, before entering the ship. Fry followed Leela up to
the flight deck and took a seat by the communications console.

Amy
was at her usual place by the engineering console, and Bender was
lounging on the observation couch at the front of deck in a thick
pall of cigar smoke. The others were sequestered in their cabins.
Leela sat herself down in the captains chair and stared at the
front windows. Well, wed better get this show on the road.

What
about Samuel?

Oh,
were picking him up, Leela said as the ships engines wound
up to full power. They lifted out of the hangar and turned west,
drifting along a few hundred feet above the Hudson river until they
reached an apartment block on the river-bank. Leela set the ship down
in a park just beyond the apartments. Ill be right back, she
said, before running from the ship.

Bender
blew a smoke-ring toward the ceiling. Feh. Show-off.

Fry
couldnt help but agree.

The
apartment block was fairly typical for the district. Low rent, but
not minimal, and quite well appointed. Leela was about to press the
buzzer for Samuels apartment when he appeared at the lobby door.
Leela!

Hi
Sam. Leela grinned and took Samuels hands in her own. Its
nice to see you. Are you all packed?

Got
everything I need right here, Samuel said, holding up a hold-all.
I figure we arent going to be there long enough to justify more
than a couple of days worth of underwear.

Thats…
nice, Sam. Very nice. Leela looked to one side for a moment, then
beamed at Samuel. Come on, were in the park.

Yes,
I saw the landing lights… They walked down the road toward the
park entrance hand in hand, both smiling private smiles.

So,
whats the deal with Philippa then?

Hm?
Leela stopped in her tracks. What about her?

Oh,
you two seem to be very close, Samuel said shortly. He hefted the
hold-all to a more secure position before continuing. First time
you came into Maxines I thought you were a… well…

A
what, couple? Leela laughed, and Samuel couldnt help but smile
again. He let out a laugh of his own and shook his head.

Crazy
isnt it? They walked on a little distance in a companionable
silence, until Samuel spoke again. Still, you two are awfully
close, and you talk about some weird stuff. If I didnt know better
Id almost think Philippa used to be-

If
I were to explain it Id have to understand it myself, Leela
said quietly. She looked at Samuel, her eye betraying a hint of
confused longing. Its complicated, lets put it that way.

Complicated.
Got you. Samuel paused at the park gates and looked up at the dark
bulk of the Planet Express ship towering over them. So this is
your ship is it?

Well
I fly her a lot, Leela said with a modest shrug. She took Samuels
hand and lead him toward the gangway. I can give you a tour if you
want.

No,
no, Ive seen ships before, Samuel said, trailing behind Leela.
He pulled back as they reached the bottom of the steps, pulling Leela
around to face him. The ship isnt what Im interested in.

Oh.
Uhh… Leela looked up into Samuels eyes and smiled. I
suppose not.

They
stood there for a while, just looking at each other. Then Samuel
looked up at the darkening sky; a few stars were starting to appear.
Incredible really. Ive been on a few journeys out there but I
never looked at the stars before. You get to look at them all the
time.

Yeah…
Leela didnt bother looking up at the sky. She stared at Samuel
with rapt attention until he looked back at her again. Leela turned
pink and looked at the floor. We… we should probably get going,
she said, feeling strangely awkward.

In
a moment, Samuel replied. He brushed his hand against Leelas
face. You know, I think I fell in love with you the moment you
walked through my door, he said. Leela coughed and looked away,
trying to hide her blushing cheeks.

Samuel…

No,
dont say anything, Samuel said as he gently turned Leelas
face back toward him. Whatever happens later, whatever youre
thinking, it doesnt matter. This moment is everything.

Leela
bit her lip and nodded a tiny nod. She closed her eye.

Fry
watched them kiss from the shelter of the gangway, glad that the
shadows of the hatch were hiding her face. She felt light-headed as
she watched, her stomach fluttering with unaccustomed jealousy and
loss. Her mouth was dry. She bit down on her knuckle to muffle a
quiet sob as they kissed more passionately, yet there was no passion
to her sadness. Fry backed away before their kiss broke, unable to
watch, unable to face the final, inevitable conclusion of her change.
There was no insane jealousy, no anger at another touching Leela,
being close to her in the ways she had once desired. There was
nothing but a void. The sudden emptiness would have overwhelmed her
but for a single spark of something that might have been love, that
let Fry see beyond herself for just a moment.

Leela
was free of a burden she had carried ever since they had met. A
brief smile played across Frys face as she retreated to her cabin,
even as the tears started to well up in her eyes.

In
the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and
stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why hed come
down with it, and then at the clock. He grumbled and put the note on
the table, then returned to his lab.

In
the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and
stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why hed come
down with it, and then at the clock. He grumbled and put the note on
the table, then returned to his lab. A chance gust of air lifted the
note and carried it to the edge of the table, where it teetered for a
moment before flopping to the floor.

In
the twilight of the employee lounge Professor Farnsworth paused and
stared at the note in his hand, momentarily wondering why hed come
down with it, then at the clock. He was about to put the note on the
table when he saw another piece of paper lying on the floor next to
it, folded up the same way. Farnsworth grumbled and picked up the
note. He unfolded it carefully and read the note it contained.

Oh,
he mumbled, looking up at the lab. Oh my…

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