Leela’s eye widened in horror as she watched the deadly orange blossom unfold inside the Orbiting Meadows dome that floated in space straight ahead.
“Oh my sweet Lord, no!” she cried. “No! No!” She slammed the ship’s throttle to full, gunning straight for the station’s docking tube even as the main dome ruptured and began to disgorge great streaming columns of flaming gas into the void.
The docking gate wasn’t fully open, but Leela flew onward heedlessly, clipping the tail fin against the plexiglass barricade. Inside the secondary dome, the air roared and spiralled violently toward the atmospheric breech; the Planet Express ship came through the airlock and was spun about madly in the sudden maelstrom.
“Aii!” Amy shrieked, clinging to her belt buckle.
With monumental skill, Leela managed to bring the ship into a stable hovering pattern against the roaring torrent of air.
“Where are they?!” she gasped in mortified falsetto, staring out through the forward viewscreen in desperation.
“Oh my God,” Amy sobbed.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, three figures slammed into the forward viewscreen and hung there spread-eagled, making the women jump in fright. One was Bender, while the other two were shrouded in space suits with the hastily-affixed helmets misted by condensation.
“Stay strapped-in,” she ordered Amy. “This is gonna get bumpy.” With that, she hit the landing button, and the embarkation stair descended, allowing the air inside the PE ship to rush out in a deafening torrent that whipped savagely around them. The three figures slipped down the front of the ship and fell to the ground while the landing stairs settled nearby. They picked themselves up and ran up the stairs, and Bender slammed his hand against the emergency lock button when they reached the top, causing the staircase to ascend again.
A series of explosions rocked through the asteroid as power reactors and oxygen tanks erupted spectacularly. The gravity generators overloaded and the PE ship bobbed freely in the rapidly disintegrating dock facility.
Leela and Amy paused to let their ears stop popping, then detached themselves from their chairs and rushed weightlessly back through the companionway. In the common area, they met with Bender and the two suited figures who were floating dazed with their helmets still on.
“Someone’s missing,” Amy sobbed, wringing her hands.
Slowly, both the figures removed their helmets. Fry and Kif looked breathless and bruised by their brush with explosive decompression, but a sense of mournfulness pervaded over all else.
Amy rushed to embrace Kif, sobbing gently on his shoulder as her pent up anxiety finally released. Leela similarly clung to Fry; and Bender, feeling left out, pulled a bottle of malt liquor from his chest cavity and hugged it tenderly.
Leela pulled back from Fry and looked questioningly into his eyes.
“The other one…?” she said softly. Fry shook his head, and Leela let out a small moan of anguish.
“He saved us,” Fry said. “He put himself between us and Zapp to give us a chance…”
“Oh God Fry,” Leela whispered, clinging to him. “It was supposed to be me. He… you… he… died in my place.”
“I’d have done the same thing,” Fry said comfortingly. “Oh wait… I did… didn’t I?”
A staccato clatter echoed through the hull as clouds of asteroid debris rained against the ship.
“The place is coming apart,” Bender said. “Perhaps it’s time we were elsewhere.”
Leela nodded, swallowing hard. “Right,” she said, reluctantly pulling away from Fry and jogging off to the bridge.
The main reactors and redundant atmo-supply tanks erupted in final violent splendour, tearing great gouts of rubble from the surface of the asteroid in shimmering tongues of gas and plasma. The Planet Express ship blasted away from the stricken rock.
One week later.
Old New York.
The procession made their way slowly through the ruins of the old city. New York, the New York that was, lay mouldering beneath the base of the new city that formed a ceiling hundreds of feet above – a city on a plate, poised oppressively above the dim shambolic slums below.
Leela and Fry carried a long crate between them, and Bender held a pair of shovels over his shoulder and a dog-shaped bundle under one arm. Amy and Zoidberg followed along, occasionally stopping to help Professor Farnsworth clear some obstacle or other. Farnsworth clutched a chocolate iced cake and muttered intermittently about random subjects.
“It was nice of Kif to organize transport of the body to us,” Leela remarked to break the gloomy silence.
“He said it was the least he could do,” Amy replied. “He would be here, but the DOOP needs him now with the loss of the President. There’s some who are tipping him to be the next in line for leadership. They didn’t really know what to do with the dead body of a living person anyway – their official protocols don’t cover that.”
“Yes…” Leela trailed off. It was difficult indeed – they’d had to keep Hermes in the dark about what had happened, because if he’d gotten wind that Fry (any Fry) was dead, then he’d bust the present living Fry down to zombie salary.
She stared at the back of Fry’s head in front of her. “Fry, are you sure about this?” she asked.
“Positive,” Fry replied, hefting the crate to get a better grip as they marched onward. “It seems there aren’t many places you can legally bury a person who is officially still alive, so this is really the best choice open to us.”
Leela nodded, looking down at the evidence crate with the DOOP logo stamped on it. “Still,” she said quietly, “I can’t help wonder if this is the best we could do for him.”
“Hey, relax,” Fry said, forcing lightness to his voice as he led the group through the gates of an ancient cemetery. “I’ve never really cared much about what happens to me after I die. My body, I mean. Unless it’s something gross like getting chopped up and put into tins of pet food and eaten by homeless people.”
“That was outlawed last year,” the Professor said in a moment of lucidity.
“Those damn liberal protestors!” Zoidberg moaned hungrily. He looked at the Professor, noticing the cake in the old man’s hands. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked, pointing at the cake with his mouth tentacles twitching.
“Am I going to eat what?” the cake replied in confusion.
“Shut up, dammit!” the Professor snapped. “We’re all going to eat it,” Zoidberg brightened, “except you, Zoidberg!”
Fry finally reached the spot and he and Leela set the crate down. He had only come once before, as a kind of clarification for himself after locating the place on the Internet. Now he swallowed back a lump in his throat as he looked down at the age-worn headstones of his mother and father, standing next to each other.
“Okay,” he said, taking a pace to the side where an open area of dry earth lay beckoning. “Let’s dig.”
Bender tossed him a shovel, and together the two of them set to work digging, while the others stood back in respectful silence. At length they finished the work and stood back; Fry sweating and Bender guzzling booze. Leela moved forward and helped Fry lower the crate into the hole, and then Fry took the dog-shaped bundle that Bender had been carrying and put it down at the foot of the hole, near the bottom of the crate.
“I’ve been reluctant to part with old Seymour,” he explained sheepishly when Leela raised her eyebrow at him. “I guess now I never really have to. A part of me can be here with my parents and my dog, no matter where I go.”
“That’s sweet Fry,” she said, touching his hand. “Do you want to say something?”
“I think the plaque I carved says it all,” he replied, gesturing at Bender. The robot pulled a home-made wooden cross out of his chest cavity and tossed it to Fry, who moved to the head of the grave and hammered it into the ground with the flat of his shovel.
Leela squinted in the poor light to read the childlike words Fry had carved into a plaque on the cross.
“Hear liez Philip J Fry – gratest guy in the univers!” She rolled her eye at his triumphant grin.
“Now nobody can say I’m not the greatest guy in the Universe,” Fry said proudly.
“Does anybody else have something to say?”
“He was a hero,” Bender said, “and he still is.” The others looked at him in surprise, Fry in particular gaping in astonishment at the admission.
“Wow, Bender… do you mean that?”
“I don’t mean anything!” Bender snapped in embarrassment, turning away. “Bite my shiny metal ass.”
The cake in Professor Farnsworth’s arms cleared its pastry throat. “I did not have the pleasure of knowing this particular incarnation of Philip J. Fry,” it said in a well-rounded public-speaking voice. “However, having become acquainted with his equal counterpart in this alternate timeline, I can say that he was a man of great strength of will and vibrancy of…”
“You be quiet!” Professor Farnsworth shouted angrily.
“Come on,” Fry said, digging his shovel into the mound of loose earth. “Lets finish this – I hate long goodbyes.” He and Bender began filling in the grave, shovelling dirt over the crate, and when they had finished they stood back with the others and silence descended.
“Hooray – I’m mourning with friends!” Zoidberg said happily.
“Shh!” Leela chided. She moved over to Bender and took a bunch of lilies out of his chest cavity, kneeling before the grave and laying them down.
She stayed that way for a moment, lost in melancholic thoughts, before looking up at Fry.
“I don’t ever want to have to bury you again,” she said quietly and seriously.
“Me either,” Fry replied.
“Alright, enough of your meaningless emotions,” the Professor said. “It’s time for the wake – who wants cake?”
“Oh I do!” Amy said.
The Professor took out a knife and proceeded to cut into the cake, prompting screams of horrific unbridled agony that echoed around the subterranean cavern for long minutes.
They made their way back out through the tangle of Old New York some time later. Fry and Leela dawdled some distance behind the group, and the others allowed them their space.
“You okay?” Leela asked him.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s just… he made me realize something.”
Fry looked pensive for a moment, and then a slight smile touched his lips. “That life is too short to waste,” he said, “and that every moment should be cherished.” He stopped, and Leela turned to stare at him.
“Leela,” he said. “This may not be the perfect time or place… but the thing is - there may never be a perfect time or place… times and places will pass us by if we try waiting for perfection, and one day there won’t be a tomorrow. So I’m gonna ask you a question here and now, in the middle of a dusty street underground, because I don’t wanna wait any longer to ask it.”
“…A question?” Leela said breathlessly, holding a hand over her heart.
“Yeah,” Fry said. Slowly, he took Leela’s hand in his own and got down on one knee before her. “Turanga Leela…” he began…
------------------"Government at its best is a necessary evil, and at its worst, an intolerable one"