Delicious Surprise, Part 24
Part one for Disclaimers
We're roughly a chapter from the conclusion of the story.
Lilah coughed in the thick dust rising from their surroundings. Her headed pounded a dangerous rhythm against her open palm.
Her eyes flew open. "Dad?"
She could see Fry stirring in the rubble. He wasn't injured, and in a moment he sat up. Relief brightened his face as he saw Lilah. Munda and Leela emerged from the shack, which had sustained not a scratch.
Lilah looked worriedly at a huge crater where another mutant's home used to be. "Bender?"
"Save me, Robot Jesus!"
Fry rushed to the crater and knelt at its edge. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. This old house broke my fall...oh crap! My foot!"
"We can't see down there!" Fry called. The lights used to illuminate Munda's home had been extinguished in the impact.
"It's underneath something! Argh! Guess I'm stuck here."
"Be more specific!" Out of the corner of his eye, Fry noticed Leela tying a rope made out of rags around her waist. "Don't!" he urged her.
Looking meaningfully at Fry, Leela said, "Bender, do you want to live down in a sewage-filled hole with mutated rats?"
"...with no booze or binary porn?"
She handed Fry the rope.
"Tie it on that pipe," Munda said, indicating a large but rusty tube at the end of the sewers. "It's a load-bearing pipe."
Fry did as she asked, and Munda handed her granddaughter a lit torch. They knelt over the open crater as Leela carefully lowered herself in.
Leela reached out her arms and pulled firmly at Bender's hull.
"Ouch! Can't you do this without me losing a limb?"
Leela ignored Bender's complaints. "Put your arms around my waist. Fry, pull!"
They obeyed her out of instinct, and, with a sound of rending metal, Bender's body came free.
Leela climbed up the flat, porous crater walls, dragging him behind. At the edge, Fry, Lilah and Munda joined forces to pull them to the surface.
They rested on the ground for a moment, before Bender finally gained the wherewithal to let go of Leela. He let out a horrified shriek at the sight of wires dangling where his foot should be.
"My foot! My beautiful foot!"
"We've got bigger problems," Fry said. Leela stood and followed his gaze to the end of the cave-in, where a pile of rubble blocked the river.
Kif paced in front of the vidphone.
"Dad, sit down. You're making mom dizzy."
"Spleesh, Kif, she's right."
"Our friends are in danger." His gaze narrowed as he looked at Amy. "Some of us should remember what kind of sacrifice Leela made in our name."
At Dania's obvious confusion, Kif sighed. "Three years ago, we returned to my home planet, to pick up you and your siblings..."
Leela perched anxiously on the arm of Kif's chair. He knew the road back to Amphibios 9 as though it were the back of his hand, and she didn't fear being lost. Her anxiety was for Lilah, back on Earth.
"I suppose it's safe to try out your new Robositter on her," she fretted. Her palms were sticky with sweat.
"Oh yes. They come with a guarantee from the manufacturer." His small talk, he knew, was pathetic, but he pressed on. "Leela, thank you for coming with Amy and me to meet the children. I know you have difficulties with flying."
"Of course; I couldn't resist seeing how my genetic material turned out."
"It's more than that; you do feel a bond with the children, don't you?"
She thought. "Well, children in general, yes."
"Leela, I'm going to ask you something. That something is so life changing and earthshaking that I can't meet your eye to ask you. So please look at my reflection in the window instead."
Leela looked aside and waited.
"You know that there may be twenty children or more waiting for us in the water. I'm more than ready for the responsibility, but...you know Amy."
A triumphant cry came from the cabin behind them.
"Amy wins," said the autopilot. "Again. Start a new game of jacks or end game?"
"You see? I'm asking if you would... uh... be willing to split custody." He finished quickly and cringed as if expecting a blow. It never came.
"I suppose it's only fair," Leela mused. "It is my fault that you got pregnant in the first place." He straightened and his eyes shone.
"Oh, Leela, this is wonderful news! We'll get to share holidays and birthdays!" A light blinked on the console. "We're approaching Amphibios 9. Buckle in. I can hardly believe it!"
After trekking miles into the underbrush, Leela, Kif and Amy, blankets in hand, came upon the same lake to which the children had been born. It was perfectly silent. There was no sign of the woman who had presided over the birthing. Kif cleared his throat diffidently and spoke the words in her place.
"The smizmars must sit by the lake and wait for their children. This is to be done in complete solitude. I'm sorry, Leela," he concluded in a low voice.
She nodded and turned away. Hours stretched on, and the sun set in a muddy green over the pond. A sudden splashing, then the joyful sounds of Kif and Amy's delight told Leela that the children were there.
She turned only at the approach of footsteps. Amy held one baby, Kif the other.
"One girl, one boy," Kif announced proudly. "They're your children as well, Leela. Perhaps you'd like to hold them?"
Leela accepted one, and realized it was the female. A large single eye blinked open under a curlicued shock of purple hair. Leela held the child with growing affection.
"Were there any others?"
Kif's smile faded. "No."
"How many others were there supposed to be, dad?"
"Over twenty," he said. "Now you see why I praise Leela. I love your mother with all of my heart, and when you find your own smizmar, you'll understand that. But the woman who contributed your DNA is just as amazing, just as special a friend."
The vidphone began to beep. Its red light seemed like a beacon of fear.
"Promise you'll stay here and be good if it's bad news."
Overcome by the gravity of the situation, she nodded soberly and reached for the button.
"The levels are rising," Leela explained into her wrist computer, eye fixed on the sewage that was now overflowing the banks of the mutant town. "There's got to be a release valve somewhere..."
"I'm looking up blueprints for the catacombs," Kif replied, his fingers tapping away at a keyboard. "Ah...Oh! I see! There appears to be an unsealed manhole over your heads!"
Leela looked up, pointing a newly-minted torch toward the pitch-dark ceiling above them. There was, indeed, a manhole above her head; unfortunately, it was several feet out of reach. She shifted her arm, searching for a ladder or climbing apparatus. There was none.
Kif watched the image from her wrist-comp camera as she moved around. "Oh dear. We have two options."
"One of them is wading in sewage until we reach the top, isn't it? We can't do that; I have an elderly lady and a girl down here. Fry, Bender and I have already been contaminated. There's no telling what's in this stuff and I don't want Lilah to be exposed."
"But Mom, I already-" Leela silenced her with a sharp glance.
"I didn't think you would accept that idea," Kif sighed. "There is one other option. We should be there in five minutes."
Leela shut off the comp and turned to her assembled family.
"We aren't meant to die down here, Dollushki."
"How can you be sure, Mom?"
"Don't you remember what we've lived through?"
"If that taught me anything, it's that life is barely survivable."
Munda gave her daughter an odd look, but said nothing more. They were both distracted by the wails of Bender.
"I can't die! I'm too young to die! I still have ram to process!"
Leela's slap made the inside of his head vibrate unpleasantly. "If you want to live to see Angelyne again, you have to stay calm, all right?"
"Uh-huh," he managed, sniffling. As Leela turned to a mini-conference with Fry, he whispered to their daughter. "You get what I said about your mother now?"
Lilah simply nodded her head.
Back at the Planet Express Building, Kif organized a rescue mission, his authority having come to him as Professor Farnsworth had fallen asleep. Zapp, predictably, tried to circumvent his control.
"I don't think an officer of your experience should be put in the lead of such an important mission."
Irritation boiled over. "You haven't been a captain in twenty years, Zapp, and this isn't the DOOP. In case you've forgotten, I've been an experienced pilot for more than double your time as a decorated captain! Leela's my friend, and for that matter I'm raising her cast-off DNA! Now shut up and listen to me!"
Zapp blinked in shock. Something within him obeyed Kif's order, and he sat down.
Kif registered surprise, but quickly recovered. "Amy and Hermes, your jobs will be to direct searchlights around the manhole. We'll need plenty of light, and there should be serviceable supplies in the closet."
Amy squeezed her husband's hand before showing Hermes to the supply closet.
"Doctor Zoidberg, get your kit. There may be injured people down there."
"Injured people, my specialty! I'll bring the laudanum."
"Angelyne can use her bending talents to break the rivets holding the lid on the cover. Dwight, you must have some sort of transportation devices in your truck."
He thought for a moment. Then his eyes lit up. "I've got Cubert's party board!"
"Perfect! It's just narrow enough to fit through the manhole!"
As the others scrambled to follow Kif's orders, Zapp slunk towards the back entrance.
"Where are you going, Captain?"
Zapp turned and answered in a sad, distant tone, "I have no right to be here, Kif."
"Sir, I may disagree with your methods. I may find you a lubricious pig. I may have developed two ulcers under your command. But I'll never deny that you're the only person left here who can fly this thing."
"I'm touched, Kif."
"Yes. You're just a terrible leader."
The sewage was up to Lilah's neck. She supposed, as she treaded the foul-smelling stuff, that worse ways to die could be had.
Her father and mother, inches away, held hands under the murky surface, their mutual grip holding a single glowing torch, treading with their free arms. Beside them was Bender, surviving only by the grace of a recent alloy treatment to his outer shell. He grunted in pain as he windmilled his arms fiercely.
Her grandmother swam with a surprising grace. She caught Lilah's eye and winked.
"I was a ladies-and-other swimming champion in college. I could tread for hours."
"Since we're dying, I should tell you," Bender's head bobbed under the sewage for a moment, but he quickly re-surfaced. "It's my fault Zapp won the election."
"I don't want to spend the last few minutes of my life listening to you lie to me," Leela snapped.
"I ain't lying! There was this fembot on his campaign, and, well, I sort of helped her humiliate Poopenmeyer..."
Leela stared blankly at him. "All of that pain because you wanted to interface with some floozy?"
"I said I was sorry!"
"No, you didn't!"
"Bender was only following his prime directive, Leela."
"I just wish you'd told me sooner." Leela felt a strange sense of release: it was no longer wholly her fault.
"Oh, that would've been great, 'Hey, skintube, you're slightly less annoying today. Oh, by the way, I started a war that killed over half the population of New New York!'
"Will you LISTEN to yourselves?" Fry yelled. "We're getting ready to die and you're arguing about something that happened fifteen years ago!"
"I can't think of a better way to die! You're goin' down, meatsack!"
At that moment, there was a clanging sound above them. "Are you down there?" Kif called.
"Yes!" Lilah shouted, over the squabbling. The argument abruptly ended as the grinding sound of metal being broken down filled the air, and they strained toward the ceiling, lifting the torch in the direction of their rescuers.
The bolts came free, and with a grunt Angelyne lifted the lid away from its mooring. She leaned down to get a closer look.
"Angelyne! You came to find me!"
"We have unfinished business, Bender, and I'm not the sort of fembot that leaves wires lying loose."
Bender smirked. "She's so cute."
Dwight nudged her aside. "We're gonna get you guys out!"
With a vague rushing noise, a shadowed figure hovered down toward them. Leela recoiled when she saw it was Zapp.
"Room for two, my lovely."
She shoved away his offered hand. "Who wants to go first?"
Everyone laid his or her gaze upon Bender. "I'd hate you meatsacks if I didn't love you," he muttered, holding on to Zapp as they rose.
Leela watched in contemplative silence as Bender climbed off of the vehicle and embraced his love. When Zapp returned, she urged Lilah to take the next trip.
"No, it's Grandma's turn."
Munda tried to protest, but Zapp yanked her from the sewage and brought her to the surface for the first time in fifteen years.
Lilah went next, at the insistence of both parents, and she ignored Zoidberg's clumsy attempts to comfort her, instead leaning over the manhole as Zapp made his next attempt.
Fry fought his hardest to get Leela to go next, and finally she gave in. Kissing his forehead, she whispered, "I'll come back to get you. I always did, and I always will."
Zapp's hands were too friendly from the start, his piloting of the board too fancy. She shouted at him not to try anything, but she found herself the victim of his showboating style anyway.
"Zapp!" she protested, as he caused the party board to dip and sway.
"Come, my sensuous little space minx, don't you enjoy the smooth motions of my love board?"
Zapp was never one to notice when there was a wall directly in front of him. His left arm collided with it, sending his body backward and the board into a tailspin.
Leela realized that it was up to her; she was the only thing between Lilah and orphanhood. That one thought swept away years of trauma; hanging onto Zapp with one arm, she tilted the board until it came out of its spiral, and piloted it smoothly up, through the manhole and to the surface.
Lilah gasped at such a display. "Mom!"
She manhandled Zapp's unconscious form to the pavement. "Watch over him. His arm may be broken, and I have to get your Dad."
Lilah winced distastefully, prodding the limp body with her index finger.
The sewage rose over Fry's head just as Leela made her descent into the open manhole. It was appropriate that she be the last thing he see in his life, and so he closed his eyes on the watery image of her beautiful face, her singular eye, as she reached under the water and pulled him toward the surface.
The shock made him breathe again; the pavement was like ice as he found himself placed on the ground.
"Fry! Wake up!" she echoed his long-ago cry. "Breathe! BREATHE!"
He heaved upward, eyes springing open. He was in her arms, and the world was right again.
Lilah abandoned Zapp to Doctor Zoidberg. As the crustacean began his examination, asking Zapp if his overies hurt should he press his claw 'there', she rushed to her embracing parents.
"Mom," shock rang in her voice. "What was that?"
Fry's smile belied the tears in his voice. "That was Turanga Leela Fry, the most decorated captain in the history of interstellar delivery."
Leela's fingers curled around Fry's folded hand. "She's been gone for a long time."
"She has. But she's back."
"I don't know if she can stay..."
"Would you guys please make sense?!"
Fry patted the ground beside himself. "I don't think your mom is afraid anymore."
Leela's other hand found Lilah's. "Promise me you'll never try a stunt like that again. It's Dania's job to turn the rest of my hair violet, remember?"
Lilah laughed. "Okay. But...I did do the right thing, didn't I?"
Leela winked. "Sort of."
Sirens wailed down the street, an ambulance and squad of police officers pulling to a stop by the manhole. Dania climbed out of the back of one, holding the Professor's head over her own.
"Dania, I told you to stay put!" Kif scolded.
"Y'know, I was going to, but then the Professor woke up and wanted us to call the police."
"And it's a good thing I did! The mains beneath this street connect to the rest of the city. If the blockage isn't blasted free, the city will be wallowing in its own filth! Finally, they'll understand the joy of living in a jar!"
An officer shouted from the other end of the street that they should get out; they were going to shut off the mains and dynamite the blockage. Zapp was carried out on the ambulance, the rest of them packed into another to be decontaminated.
Fry and Leela lagged behind. "I never saw it before," she said, as they strolled to the ambulance.
"Those stars, all those stars...all the places we've never been."
"There's still time."
"I know." She kissed his lips.
And the sewers belched up a final bubble of scum, as though protesting their victory.