I wanted to do more illustrations for this one but my art hand just doesn't want to cooperate for some reason... oh well. One's better than none at all.
Oh and, despite appearances, this isn't the last chapter.
The conference room was silent – apart from the sound of the police, that was, even muffled by walls and distance as they were. Emergency lights flickered through the tall hangar windows, casting strange, twisted silhouettes across the walls and over the ship's mirror-finish hull, from which a second layer of spun light flitted over the giant hangar doors in the roof. The only other notable sound was Phil's breathing, punctuated by the occasional sobs that escaped his lips as he clawed at Blue's shoulders.
The stink of cigarettes and gun smoke drifted behind everything. Fry and Leela took in the scene without words until their twins looked up at them, one with desperation and the other with a strange, blank emptiness.
“She...” Phil raised his hand and pointed toward the far end of the conference room. Leela glanced over at the sealed door – the one Amy had retreated through yesterday in their own universe – and then back down at Phil.
Leela's voice faded away as Phil's eyes dropped back to his wife's corpse. There wasn't much to say. Leela looked down at Morgan's lifeless body and swallowed hard. In all her life, she'd been around danger many times, and seen death on more than one occasion, but never anything quite so visceral and primitive. She glanced at Fry, for once wishing he'd been wrong.
Leela knelt down alongside Phil, putting herself between him and the mortal remains of his wife. She took his hand and looked at Blue, who nodded slightly, before they both stood up, bringing Phil upright with them.
Phil whimpered again but didn't resist as the pair walked him to the steps and then down. The destination wasn't particularly important as long as they got him – and them – away from the body. Fry followed behind and deftly stepped past Phil when he collapsed back onto the steps.
Fry leaned against the staircase and stared up at the flickering ceiling with his hands in his pockets. Leela looked at her counterpart again and took a deep breath.
“So now what?”
“You want that key...” Phil ran a hand through his ragged hair and stood to look at Leela. “She's dead because of you.”
“That's not fair,” Fry yelled as he stabbed an angry finger at Phil. “We saved your life! Kinda...”
“He's right, you know.” Blue put a hand on Phil's shoulder but he shrugged it off. She self consciously pinched at her thumb as she continued. “She wanted to kill you. If they hadn't found us first you'd be dead by now.”
Phil turned part-way to look up at the empty space. He scrubbed an arm across his face to catch the tears before they got too far down his cheeks.
“At least Morgan would still be alive.”
Blue put her hands around Phil's shoulders again, and leaned her head against the back of his neck once it was clear he wasn't going to push her away. Phil shook his head and closed his eyes.
“You really loved her, didn't you,” Leela said.
. Sometimes I wondered about how things might have been. This isn't really how I wanted to find out.”
Leela reached out for Phil but hesitated at the last moment as his hand wrapped around Blue's arm. She backed off, leaving them for a moment, until a high-pitched whine of feedback echoed through the building, followed by an adenoidal voice on a loudspeaker.“This is the New New York Police Department, we have you surrounded.”
“Oh that's just perfect,
” Leela muttered. Phil and Blue both looked around nervously as the voice continued talking, looking for some way to escape the trap they found themselves in.
They all flinched at the muffled crack of a pistol being fired, Phil and Fry especially; something about the sound seemed to reach into some memory or fear that Leela had never seen before. Fry had instinctively grabbed her arm.
“I told you she-”
“All right! I get it, you were right, I'm wrong. Fine...” Leela glanced around the hangar again. The door was still firmly locked, as if that would have changed since the last time she checked. Without knowing why, Leela looked up at the ship and watched the lights flicker against its shimmery skin. “Fry...”
A loud crash cut Leela off before she could continue. They looked around at the sound of falling glass; a barrage of gas grenades flew through the shattered north windows of the hangar and cracked against the floor, spinning as they vented their contents. The gas didn't seem to be rising too well and hugged close to a foot off the ground, but it wouldn't stay that way for long.
Leela and Blue's eyes met. “Hazmat suits?”
“There's two still working, locker six.” Blue pointed toward the back of the lab.
“Get Phil on the ship.”
Blue nodded and wrapped her arms under Phil's shoulders. She heaved him to his feet and toward the ship before he could protest, whilst Leela grabbed Fry and dragged him into the lab area.
“Leela, I don't want to sound like an idiot-”
“Two hazmat suits, four people. Do the math.”
Fry paused and actually started counting on his fingers, much to Leela's chagrin. She grabbed his arm and yanked him past a workbench and into the supply closet. Leela slammed the door and then moved along the room to the correct storage locker.
“Not now, Fry!”
Not wanting to waste time she kicked the lock off its pins and yanked the lid from the locker. Leela dug around in the suit parts until she found a pair of fully charged rebreathers and masks. She tossed the masks to Fry, then quickly strapped the first tank around her shoulders.
As she finished securing the other tank to Fry Leela noticed another, smaller locker by the door. In their universe she'd used it to store some of the many plasma and laser weapons they'd 'acquired' on their deliveries to the more hostile worlds, or at least those that hadn't remained on the ship or been used as power sources in the Professor's experiments. With no idea how events had affected that behaviour in this world Leela mouthed a silent prayer to serendipity, lifted the lid and was rewarded with the sight of a dozen neatly stored pistols and spare charges.
“Woah.” Fry's awe was probably understandable, even after all this time. He picked up one of the pistols and held it out at arms length. “I didn't know about these...”
“Yeah, and a good thing too,” Leela said, snatching the pistol from Fry's grip. She pushed a fresh charge into the breech; the pistol's capacitors whined as it soaked up the charge's power and a string of tiny lights flicked on along its spine. She grabbed a pair of fresh charges and dropped them in her pocket, checked the pistol was in order and looked up at Fry.
“Time to go,” she said, securing her mask over her face.
Outside the closet the gas was creeping along the floor like a bad special effect. Fry and Leela paused just beyond the door and looked down at the milky-white gas as it seeped around their feet and into the store.
“I don't get it,” Fry muttered a the strode toward the hangar, his voice filtered through the mask’s crackly speaker system. “The gas is down there, our heads are up here... what do they want us to do, lie down?”
“That's the plan.” Leela paused by another workbench and looked around. The hangar seemed to be empty now, filled with the gas. Blue and Phil were safely ensconced in the ship and Evila – if she was even here – was nowhere to be seen.
“It's a binary reactive gas,” she said as she continued toward the hangar, gun held high. “I saw them installing a system like this in the cryogenics lab years ago, in case the hundred clones in room six turned out to be evil or something. They pump the first one in, wait for it to spread out and then drop in the catalyst to... oh lord, what are they doing now?”
Leela pointed at the ship. Phil was struggling down the gangway, shouting something and gesturing wildly as Blue tried to hold him back by one arm. To Leela's left Fry yelled and took a step forward. Distracted by the noise, Phil looked around the hangar in confusion and suddenly fell off balance. He slipped down the stairs, pulling Blue with him just as Evila's pistol cracked again, the report echoing around the hangar. A bullet whined off the steps where Phil's head had been just a moment earlier.
Without thinking Leela aimed her weapon up through the ceiling at about where she figured Evila would be stood. The roof exploded in a shower of sparkling composite flakes and shattered concrete that flew a short arc over the hangar and rained down around Phil and Blue's prone forms as Leela ran toward them.
The pistol spoke again and another bullet ricocheted off the gangway. Then another shot and Fry or Phil – she couldn't tell – let out an agonised shriek that rang in her ears. Leela turned back toward the end of the hangar and saw Evila, hair unkempt and ragged, grinning madly as she aimed the pistol toward them.
Her smile faltered when Leela brought her own gun to bear on the cracked upper floor.
“You gonna kill me, sister?”
“I might.” Leela reached out toward Blue, knowing almost instinctively where she was, and grabbed her shoulder. “Phil?”
“I'm fine,” Phil grunted, though he didn't sound it. Leela stepped away from him a little, keeping the gun trained on Evila as she went.
“I fell on something spiky but I'm okay. It's only a bit spiky.”
Leela smiled despite herself. She stepped in between Fry and Evila. “Your move. 'Sister'
Evila shrugged and pouted but didn't change her stance. She waved the gun toward Phil a little, then back at Leela and scratched her head, trying to work out what to do next. Leela carefully swapped her gun from one hand to the other and reached into her pocket for a spare charge.
It was about then that the police decided to conclude their proceedings. There was a quiet whoosh
as a single, much larger gas cylinder was fired through one of the shattered windows. The device thumped to the floor in front of the ship and cracked open, releasing a puff of pale yellow gas.
“Ohshi-” Leela grabbed her mask and pressed it close to her face. The smoky gas along the floor wavered around the cylinder and then suddenly leapt into the air in in an expanding wave that spread out from where the cylinder had landed. Evila let off a final shot at them before she disappeared behind the gas, laughing madly.
The thickening smoke curled around Leela, surrounding her in an impenetrable white wall. She stuffed the gun into her belt and groped her way over to to the bottom of the ship's gangway where Phil and Blue sat coughing in the thickening air.
“Phil, you two get onto the ship and get out of here. I mean it this time.”
“But I need to get Morgan-”
“No buts! The gas takes a few minutes to activate, but once it does you two will be out cold and your lives will be over
. Get out of here. You can sort out the paperwork later.”
She reached out for Blue again and held her arm. “You be careful, okay?”
“Thanks...” Blue touched Leela's hand. Leela took hold of her arm her again and pressed the tag from her pocket into Blue's hand. She held up the tag, almost smiling as she looked at it, and turned to walk up the gangway before stopping again to look over her shoulder.
“Will we ever see you again?”
“Oh, god knows. Knowing our luck we'll end up back here in a week.” She took Blue's hand and squeezed it. “Go!”
Blue ascended out of the rising gas toward Phil, already waiting at the airlock. She turned one last time to look down at Leela and waved sadly. Leela waved back and then the airlock door hissed shut.
“Fry, time to go...”
“What about the key?” Fry grabbed Leela's arm and pointed through the thickening mist at the wrecked conference room. “She's still got it,” he said, raising his voice to be sure he was heard through the mask.
“Fry she's long gone by now. Besides,” Leela added as she hefted the pistol. “We don't need a key.”
Leela grinned until an explosion in the near-distance, the sound of the police making their messy entrance, spurred her into action and she ran for the storeroom. The door was locked when they reached it, though the message scrawled on its surface removed any hope that Evila was trapped here.
“'See you on the other side',” Fry read slowly. He looked at Leela on confusion. “She's not waiting behind the door is she?”
“Let’s find out.” Leela stood back and fired a blast at the door, shredding it to splinters. She peered into an empty room.
The storeroom was pretty much as they'd left it, though somewhat the worse for the last few minutes action. A few of the boxes were scuffed from the explosion but whatever material they were made from seemed almost indestructible. None showed more than surface damage.
Behind them the ship's engines spooled up, accompanied by the familiar clank of the launch ramp levering itself upright. Leela turned to watch the ship and smiled to herself as the umbilicals detached and fell to the floor a moment before the main engines fired. The ship roared from the hangar and disappeared into the pale afternoon sky.
Leela held up her wristamijig and recalled the first scan she'd made of the room to pinpoint their original entrance.
She guided Fry back through the maze of shelves to their original box. Evidently someone had been cleaning. The box stood upright on the top shelf, its lid sealed, and a ladder leaned against the shelves a short but convenient distance away. Leela stared at the ladder for a second but then whatever suspicions she'd started to form were overridden by another, much closer explosion as the police blundered their way through the building.
Fry grabbed the ladder without even being asked and clambered up it to grab their box. He almost fell back in his haste to reach the floor. Leela put a calming hand on his shoulder whilst she slipped the mask from her face.
“Ready to get back home?”
“Am I ever!”
Leela held her wrist computer over the box's wide, inviting mouth and waved it back and forth. “Seems to match. I think.”
“Great!” With a joyous yell Fry dove into the box head first. Leela shook her head at his understandable enthusiasm to get home. She gave the storeroom one last look, glancing up at the ceiling as if she could actually see the sky her twin had returned to. Whatever happened now, she was on her own.
No. Not quite on her own.
Leela gripped the plasma pistol in both hands and jumped into the box.
The last tenuous layers of Earth's atmosphere faded behind the ship as it rose up toward the heavens, rotating slowly along its axis to maintain an even temperature across its hull. The sun shone bright and undimmed by the clouds whilst the half-lit face of the moon slowly drew toward them.
Leela slipped the ship into autopilot and turned to watch her new companion as he finished repairing the damage Morgan had done to their lives, at least as far as he was able to. Some things, Leela thought sadly, could never be fixed by filling in a few forms. She stood up and pressed a re-assuring hand to Phil's shoulder while he worked. He reached up to touch it, only to shy away again as the memory of the last few hours refreshed in his mind.
“That's the last of it,” he said after a moment, shutting off the screen as he turned away from it. Leela leaned against the console and watched the stars as they slowly tracked past the far window, with the rim of the earth forming a disconcerting border to the rear of the ship. “I've called in an ambulance to take care of... um...”
Phil’s voice faded away. He swallowed and looked at his hands.
“It's not your fault,” Phil replied, pensive, quiet. He sniffed and blinked back a stray tear. “It's hard to say it, but I barely knew her. Even after all this time, I... she was... never there.”
“But you must have loved her?”
“I do. I mean, I thought did... but I guess it just took me until now to realise I was wrong.”
Phil screwed his eyes up as he rubbed a hand across his face. He looked very tired and small, so small that Leela had to resist the urge to bundle him up in her arms.
“So, now what?”
“Now... I don't know. I doubt I'll be able to take back my old job.”
They sat in silence for a while as the ship rolled itself into orbit around the planet, with just to hum and tick of the instruments running through their automated sequences for company. Leela eventually walked over to the couch at the front of the flight deck. Phil joined her a moment later and sat down with a loud sigh, all the while watching the distant stars.
“Isn't that the death satellite?”
“Where? Oh...” Phil watched the tiny mote as it drifted across their path in the far distance. He leaned back and watched the construct that probably still held the mortal soul of his nephew – funny to think of the old man now. Was he even alive?
The satellite drifted up past the north pole and was lost from sight. Sudden realisation dawned as they both looked at each other.
“Phil, you do realise you own the company now, right?”
“I always wondered where that second pay packet was coming from...” he looked up at the ceiling bulkhead and smiled sadly. “Morgan never told me about anything she'd done at the company, I figured Hubert was still the owner. There's a lot she never told me...”
“Well he wasn't, and he isn't. It's your company now, Phil. You can do whatever you want with it.”
Leela leaned back, giving Phil a cool glance as he shuffled around in his seat. She smiled and, despite everything, Phil managed to smiled back.
“I'll need a pilot.”
“You're in luck.” Leela stretched out on the couch and slid her hands behind her head. “I think I might know one.”
Phil smiled again and then briefly laughed, until a particularly bright star caught his eye. He stared at it with watery eyes, lost in whatever memory the star had brought back to him. Leela slipped from the couch and made her way back to the pilot's seat, leaving Phil by himself to stare at the bright depths.
“I miss her,” he said after a few minutes. And then: “It hurts.”
“It's what makes us human,” Leela answered quietly as she watched the new sun rise over the distant horizon.