Futurama

Fan Fiction

Parallel Lives - A Road Not Taken, part 2
By Graham Dawson

Leela didn't often visit the storerooms. Everything she needed to handle ship maintenance was scattered around the hangar most of the time and normally she didn’t take such an active role in actually loading the ship except in the most delicate cases. Planet Express rarely kept client packages on site which meant that the storerooms were normally empty when she visited, but today the store was packed to the ceiling with boxes, all the same colour and same uniform shape. Toward the back a few packages on the company’s new ‘budget’ delivery plan mouldered under a dust-sheet. One of them, the one with the air holes and direction arrow pointing to the floor, had started to emit a rather distressing smell.

Leela cast her eye around the room, wondering just where you should start when all the boxes were essentially identical. “Okay, Fry, start unpacking this shelf here. I’ll bring around the loader.”

“Right...” Fry lifted a box from the nearest shelf and hefted it. The box, strangely slick and cold, slipped from his hands and fell on the floor, popping off its lid. “Oops.”

Leela sighed. “Fry, you could have just destroyed an entire universe!” She lifted the box upright and peered into it for a second. Strange how it seemed to just be an empty box, until you reached inside and...

Something grabbed Leela’s hand. She yelled in shock and quickly yanked her arm back. “Dammit, Fry!”

“What? I didn’t go sticking my arm in there...” Fry leaned over the box and peered in, then quickly stepped back as a long, slender arm, bony and grey, and covered with a fine matting of pallid hair reached out of the box and began waving around. A hideous face followed it, squinting its huge red eyes against the light.

“What the hell?

Whilst Fry merely pulled a disgusted face at the creature, Leela jumped up with a loud shout and kicked it in the head. The grey ape-thing whimpered and gibbered angrily at her before quickly disappearing back into the box. Leela picked up the lid and slammed it back into place again, panting slightly as a delayed adrenaline rush kicked in.

“That’s why you need to be careful with these things,” she muttered, catching her breath. Fry's replying shrug was just nervous enough to prevent her losing control at him.

“Can’t be that bad in all of them, can it?”

“No, it could be even worse,” Leela said, leaning forward on the box while she looked around the room again. The towering stacks of boxes had suddenly taken on a rather more disturbing caste, providing portals to untold dangers and unspeakable horrors, not least some bizarro version of her own self with a blood-lust and a large gun. Leela shook her head; her imagination could be far too vivid at times. “Just to be safe we should probably seal the lids on these things. Wait here, I’ll go get some tape.”

“Right.”

Leaning back against the stack of boxes and thinking about their contents, Fry looked around the room and sighed.

Bender wandered around the corner, rubbing his arms and grumbling something about restraining bolts. He stopped and stared at the neatly stacked boxes before letting out a low whistle. “That’s a lot of universe.”

“Hi Bender.”

“Fry...” Bender leaned on the shelves and stared at his fingers. He flicked a possibly imaginary speck of dirt from the tip of one. “You sound like you’re experiencing that human emotion I like to call ‘easy mark’. What’s up?”

“Leela shouted at me again.”

“Leela? Feh,” Bender started to walk down the aisle, tapping boxes with one hand while he rubbed his chin with the other. Every now and then he’d pause to repeat the procedure on a particular box before moving on. “She’s always shouting at everyone, don’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, but this time-”

“Ooh! Fry, c’mere!” Bender pulled a box off the shelf and held it out, eyes aglow with more than their usual faint yellow light. “This'll do, how about you and me sneak into this universe and loot it a bit?”

“What? No!”

“Aww, come on, Fry, it’ll be fun!” Bender held the box up a little higher and rocked it from side to side. “You might even find a Leela that’ll do those squishy human things you seem to enjoy.”

“I... no, that wouldn’t be right,” Fry replied slowly. He watched the box rocking back and forth in Benders hands offering Fry a whole world of wonders he’d never seen before, not least a world where Leela might actually be nice to him once in a while. Although that wasn’t really fair... Sometimes she was nice. “I mean... well, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to just look...”

“That’s the spirit!”

Bender lifted the lid. A toaster, the old fashioned sort covered in chrome and black Bakelite, and sporting an incongruous pair of white wings, reared out of the box with a loud clank and started flapping around near the ceiling. Fry screeched with surprise and dropped the box as the creature swooped and dived at him. He stepped back and fell against the nearest stack of boxes, scattering them across the floor in a clatter of cardboard.

The toaster flapped down and landed on his head, where it a settled down and made contented sizzling noise. Fry tried to push it away but it seemed unwilling to leave its new fuzzy nest so he eventually gave up as a smell of warm toast filled the air.

“Great, Leela’s gonna kill me.”

“That’s the way the booze goes down I guess,” Bender said, pulling a cigar from his chest compartment. He turned around. The cigar dropped from his hands, unlit. “Oh.”

Bender's surprise was enough to grab Fry's attention. When he looked around he found Leela climbing out of another box. A Leela, anyway. Her hair was black, her clothing – what little she was wearing – had a lot of straps and belts on it, and she seemed to be wearing a lot more make-up than the Leela he was used to. She was also sporting a very large, powerful looking, old-fashioned revolver on her hip. She smiled at Fry as she perched on the edge of the box, one foot dangling into it and the other planted on the floor.

“Hello, Philip.”

“Leela? Is that you?”

“Oh, sure it is Fry. Nice to see you again by the way, must have been almost a year since the last time I shot you. Not that you’d remember that...” She pulled herself out of the box and gave the store-room a disdainful glance, almost sneering at the neatly stacked boxes before taking a moment to examine the few cartons tumbled across the floor. Fry started to edge toward the door until the strange Leela turned and, suddenly, he was face to face with the muzzle of that vicious looking revolver. She'd drawn it almost faster than he could blink. “I wouldn’t try and escape if I were you.”

Fry stopped moving. He swallowed and slowly put his hands up, dislodging the weird flying toaster that roosted on his head. The creature took to the air and swooped at what Fry was rapidly starting to think of as Evila, drawing a surprised yell from her as she fired at the toaster. The bullet passed through the strange beast, puncturing its metal hide but otherwise doing it no apparent harm.

Evila stepped back and swung at the toaster with her free hand whilst the other turned the gun back on Fry. “Must be one of the stranger things I’ve seen,” she said, casually drawing back the revolver's hammer. Denied its comfortable perch, the toaster fluttered to the floor and settled down to roost amongst the boxes where it quietly rattled its lever.

“Wait! What are you-”

“I’m killing you, Philip. Oh I could probably explain why but after the first dozen or so times it gets boring.” Evila lowered her gun again and peered at the ceiling. “Of course I could suddenly decide to love you again and forget this whole murderous vengeful rampage but... nah. So long again, Fry.”

Bender held up his hand. “How about me?”

Without taking her eyes off Fry, Evila turned the gun toward Bender and fired. The bullet hit Bender in his forehead. He slumped back against the shelving, sparks flying from his neck and mouth.

“Ow! Dammit, that hurt!” Bender rubbed his head and slid along the shelf before he turned to run from the room. “You’re crazy, I’m out of here!”

Evila pointed the gun at Fry, her finger tightening around the trigger as she readied herself to fire again. Fry closed his eyes and grit his teeth at the sound of the hammer being drawn back, waiting for the shot. He jumped at the sound of a loud crash... and then didn't die. Evila hadn't fired. Instead the door burst open, cracking Bender full in the face and knocking him into the depths of the storeroom.

“Leela, look out!”

Fry realised he’d shouted. Leela, his Leela, stood framed in the doorway, holding a role of tape in one hand and a wrench in the other, glaring at the messy pile of boxes on the floor. “Fry, what the hell is...” She took in the scene; the toaster, Fry cowering in front of a raven-haired woman, boxes scattered everywhere. “Who is that?”

Leela’s black-haired twin raised her gun and turned to look at Leela with a wry grin.

“Well, lookie here, another me. Hi there, sister!” She holstered the gun and sauntered toward Leela, hips swaying, her smile broadening with each step. “I see you’ve kept your Wristomatic. They took mine off me when they put me in the institution... shame, I liked it.”

“Fry, after I’ve kicked her ass you’re going to explain precisely what’s going on.” Leela dropped the tape and was about the drop the wrench when her counterpart suddenly drew her gun again. She sprung, swinging the wrench in a wide arc that knocked the gun from the other Leela’s grasp, but then the weight of the tool swung Leela forward and over onto her front. Leela let go of the wrench and twisted in the air but it wasn't quite enough to bring herself upright again. She made a rough landing on her butt on the far side of the scattered boxes.

Leela’s counterpart spun around, adopting a classic martial-arts fighting pose. She flicked her eyebrow at Leela. “Not bad form, sister.”

“I keep in shape,” Leela replied, mirroring the other Leela’s pose, stupid as it was. She tensed up, waiting to see how her alter-ego would react. Evila seemed to relax a little, letting the tension draw out of her arms and shoulders as she straightened up, and Leela felt herself involuntarily doing the same. She forced herself to tense up again which was fortunate as, without warning, her counterpart suddenly kicked the strange winged toaster into the air, then spun around and kicked it again at Leela’s head. Leela ducked as the thing shimmied past her, its wings flapping madly as it tried to right itself.

She was up almost instantly but it was too late. Leela groaned as her twin’s booted feet disappeared into one of the boxes, but then just as quickly she lifted up one of the lids and slammed it down over the box. She dragged the box over to the fallen tape sealed it up in every direction she could think of and then sat on it for good measure. Leela looked down at Fry, still slumped against the stacked boxes and staring into space with an odd blank expression.

“Fry?”

“Hm?” Fry looked up at Leela. “You know, she had bigger-”

“Fry! How can you think about something like that at a time like this?” Leela stood up and started righting more of the boxes. She quickly wrapped a seal of tape around each one to stop the lid from coming off. “I told you to be careful and what do you do? You open the first box you look at!”

“I was going to say boots... anyway, I was bored and Bender wanted to have some fun,” Fry said with a shrug. He turned and looked at the box that the dark version of Leela had escaped into. It wasn’t the one she’d come out of... and what had she said? “Wait, shot me before? Oh crap.”

“Wuaaua?” Leela got down on her knees and pulled the tape from her mouth. When she looked up at Fry he was staring at the first box she’d sealed with both hands stuffed into his mouth. “What’s the matter?”

“You’re trying to kill me!” Fry whimpered at the sight of Leela and backed up against the boxes again. Leela rolled her eye and dropped the tape as she shuffled over to him.

“I’m not trying to kill you, Fry.”

“No, but she is, and she’s practically you. She said she’d shot me.” Fry looked around the room with obvious terror, his hands squirming at the hem of his coat. “She could come out of any one of these things!”

Fry whimpered, and then seemed to remember he was leaning on the boxes. He jumped away from the shelves, crying out in fear as he flailed his arms around his head and knocking the boxes until they rocked forward and collapsed over on him in thunderous wave.

As the dust settled Leela pushed her way through the piled up boxes, wondering what sort of carnage the collapse might have wrought on the universes within them. Perhaps nothing; a universe was a very big place, after all. She threw a few boxes aside as she dug into the pile that covered Fry, until she reached the spot where he was sitting.

Had been sitting.

“Fry, you idiot...” Leela sighed as she lifted up a box and peered into it, wondering how she’d find him. Just about then Bender sauntered up, rattling every time he turned his head and poking at a ragged hole just above his eyes.

“Jeez, you’d think a small piece of lead wouldn’t do so much damage. Good thing I’m insured.” He paused to look at Leela. “I guess this means I won’t be needed to help load up for a while, huh?”

“Oh, sure. Go do... stuff.” Leela ignored Bender as he beat a hasty retreat from the room as she stared at the boxes, frowning. Then a thought struck her. Leela put down the box and stepped back a little, looking for the most likely candidates. Eventually she had a dozen boxes lined up on the floor, all with their lids off. She examined each one in turn, then leaned into the first one and cupped her hands around her mouth. “Fry? Are you in there?”

“Leela?” Fry’s voice echoed back through the box, and for a moment Leela thought she might have made an incredibly lucky guess. But then, as she leaned back, a completely different Fry crawled up out of the box to peer at her. His hair was green.

“Oh. Sorry, wrong Fry...”

“No problem. Hey, if you were my Leela, what would it take to convince you to go out with me?” The alternate Fry gave Leela a pleading gaze and smiled shyly. It was almost sweet. Leela tipped her head to one side and thought for a moment.

“If I told you, it’d be cheating,” she said with a half-smile, before patting Fry on the head. His face fell slightly, but then he seemed to rally and smiled at her again before dipping back into his box. Leela took out a pen and made a large cross on the lid, then moved on to the next box.

After half a dozen propositions from various alternative versions of Fry – and one from Amy, bizarrely – Leela found him. She leaned over the box and peered through the hazy interface between universes. “Fry? Why does everything look upside down?”

“I’m sorta stuck,” Fry replied. His voice was very quiet, moreso than the usual effect of distance that the boxes seemed. Leela leaned forward a little further to try and see if she could peep out of the box and spot him but then, as she moved in, she felt gravity twisting in odd ways. With a surprised screech Leela found she was plummeting through the interface and falling down to a dull grey floor and Fry, slumped against the bottom of a the shelf with a strange grin on his face. She landed head first in his stomach, knocking the wind out of Fry's lungs in a loud, pained gasp.

“Sorry,” Leela muttered as she pushed herself up. Fry coughed and fell over on to his side. “Thanks for breaking my fall though.”

“Don’t mention it,” Fry wheezed. Leela gave him a cursory glance, decided he was probably going to survive and returned to looking around their new environment. It looked like the store-room they’d just left, though much better kept and generally greyer, with row upon row of perfectly aligned pale grey boxes lining the shelves and neat stack of packages in the distance that seemed to be sitting in some sort of passive stasis field. She looked up at the box they’d just left; it was knocked over, its broad mouth tilted toward the floor, which explained her sudden fall.

“What an odd place,” she said quietly, turning back to Fry. He seemed to have recovered enough to sit upright again. Leela reached down and hauled Fry upright. “We’d better find a way back up to that box.”

“Right,” he grunted, shoving his hands in his pockets again. Leela looked around the room once more, trying to spot a ladder or some other climbing tool, but nothing made itself obvious. Fry was looking about as well by now. He tapped one of the boxes. “This place has even less colour than your apartment,” he said, looking up to the ceiling.

Leela ground her teeth and resisted the urge the whack him about the head with one of the boxes, struck by the realisation that she could almost understand why that other version of herself had snapped.

“We’d better scout around and see if we can find something. I don’t know how the crew in this universe will take to us turning up in their store-room unannounced.”

“Oh, they’ll probably just boast about being married again,” Fry grumbled. He looked down at his feet and nudged one of the boxes with his toe; Leela almost expected him to add more but he didn’t, mercifully. She held up her wrist computer and started scanning around the building.

“Only one life-form nearby and it doesn’t seem to be anyone we know,” she said, as she passed the scanner over the room. “Whoever it is, they’re coming this way, so we’d better hurry up.”

Fry grumbled and started walking down the aisle toward the far wall. He turned at the end, seemed about to say something and then stopped suddenly. “Uh... Leela?”

Leela looked up from trying to adjust her scanner to search for ‘ladders’ and peered at Fry. He was standing very still, and his face had gone very pale.

“What’s the matter?”

“The guy with the gun is,” Fry said, backing up. A large man with a laser pistol followed him around the corner. He paused for a second and frowned when he saw Leela, then narrowed his eyes at her. Leela glared back at him. She wondered if she could take him down and tensed up, ready to strike.

“Okay... whoever you are...” The man – wearing what was obviously a security guard’s uniform – kept his gun trained on Leela as he spoke and from the stance he had taken Leela could see he was a professional, which made her think twice about attacking him. She’d probably be toast before she even reached him.

“Here’s how it will work out. You two will come with me and leave the building. You’ll pretend that you weren’t going to do whatever you were about to do in here and in return I’ll pretend I didn’t see you.”

Leela blinked, caught off guard by the man's willingness to let them go. “But we have to-”

“Look, we've been over this once already. You can do this the easy way or the hard way.” To make his point he held the gun a little higher. Leela’s only reply was to nod. The guard lowered the gun again and pointed over his shoulder with his thumb. “The exit is that way. After you.”

“Why are you doing this?” Leela asked as she edged her way around the guard. He shrugged slightly but didn’t take his eyes off her as he shooed them out of the room. They emerged in the hangar a short distance from a very stark, silvery version of the Ship.

Everything was various shades of grey and light, cold blue, and spotlessly clean. The entire building had a quiet hush about it, with a stillness that added to the silent emptiness of the hangar. While the guard locked the store-room behind them, Leela and Fry both looked around the strange, sterile version of the world and then looked at each other.

“I’ve never seen the hangar so clean before,” Leela whispered to Fry. He frowned, taking it as the reprimand Leela hadn’t intended it to be, but there wasn’t much she could do about that.

At the urging of the guard they carried on up the stairs. The conference room and the employee lounge were both equally spartan and unblemished. They were also deserted, filled with silence, and didn’t seem to have been occupied for some time. When they reached the lobby Leela paused and turned to the guard. “Look, I know this is going to sound weird but we’re not from this universe and we really-”

“Look, lady, I’m doing you a favour by letting you go again,” the guard said as he holstered his gun. He stepped back and regarded Fry and Leela, taking a long moment to look at Fry’s face. He frowned and seemed about to say something, but then he opened the main entrance and waved them toward it. “If I report this we all have to fill in at least a dozen forms before I can even call the police. Trust me, this is easier.”

“But-”

“No buts. If I have to shoot you I will, but it would mean even more paperwork for the bitch- the boss upstairs. I hate paperwork.” The door slid closed with a clunking finality, leaving the pair sealed outside on the street. Leela kicked at the door and yelled obscenities at the guard but it didn’t achieve much apart from bruising her toe.

“Well great. Just great, thanks a lot Fry, now we’re stuck in some parallel universe with no way of getting home.” Leela slammed her fist against the door and then turned away. She folded her arms and glared at the buildings on the far side of the street until Fry thought they might crack and fall over.

“Hey don’t blame me, you’re the one that started fighting with yourself.”

Leela turned her terrible glare on him and then looked away again with a loud humph. Fry slunk away from the door and sat down on a nearby bench, where he stared out across the river, head resting on his hands as he watched the water oozing by. Or not oozing, it seemed a lot clearer than home. Everything else seemed to be fairly normal. He frowned and looked over his shoulder at the Planet Express building. It was grey, like everything inside, and sparkling clean, but seemed to be deserted and untended. Fry looked around the quiet street. He could hear traffic noise in the distance which ruled out any of the usual post-apocalyptic ideas running through his head. “Leela, where is everyone?”

“What?” Leela came over and leaned on the back of the bench. She looked around at the strangely quiescent building and frowned. “That’s a good point... we should have met at least one of us in there.”

“Maybe that guard threw them out,” Fry said with a shrug. He returned to staring over the river; Leela gave him a pitying look and then glanced around, then up at the building again. The sun seemed to be a little dimmer than their own, despite the crystal-clear sky, giving everything a permanent twilight feel and making the shadows less distinct, but somehow deeper. A few buildings still had lights on inside despite the time of day, including the Planet Express building. Leela could see a vague silhouette standing in one of the upstairs windows, in the dome where the Professor normally kept his larger experiments. It looked like a woman.

Leela shook her head slowly as she looked around the edges of the building. “I don’t think so,” she said eventually, then turned away. “It’s possible they’re just not in today. I mean, who knows what holidays they have in this universe?”

“Free ice-cream Sunday?”

“It’s Thursday,” Leela replied, trying to stop her mind wandering off on a tangent. She put her hands on Fry’s shoulders and pressed him down until he grunted in submission. “We need to speak to one of our counterparts here before we can get in.”

Fry rubbed his shoulders as Leela let him go. “Who?”

“Me,” Leela said brightly. She set off toward the road with a determined march. “Who else would believe us?”

Fry bit back on the obvious reply. Considering how the last alternate universe version of Leela had treated herself, the chances of them getting back home weren’t too high. He trailed after Leela, glancing around now and then at the quiet streets, wondering whether this Leela would try and shoot him as well.

Buddies