All Full Of Stars
DISTRIBUTION: FMH and Simpworks.com; email me for further distribution rights
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; characters and properties related belong to Matt Groening and Curiosity Co.
NOTES: Written for the Simpworks.com writing contest, in which our Fearless Leader provides us with beginnings, middles and endings. The ones I chose:
Leela is sitting in the kitchen, talking to the devil
The Professor invents something useful
A small incident explodes into something world-shaking
Leela is left holding the baby
The rippling surface of her coffee reflected an exhausted face. She lifted the green mug to her lips and took a bracing sip and closed her eye to better immerse herself within the whirling landscape of her mind.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” the voice cut through her peaceful reverie. Unblinking eyes watched her from across the table but they gave her no pause – she stared right back.
“It’s the only way,” she said.
“You do realize,” he replied, his forked tongue flickering as it moved across his sharp lower lip, “that everything will go back to normal.” He raised one metallic brow. “EVERYTHING.”
She stared numbly at her coffee, and then took a look at her surroundings; the ash color of the walls, the window with its shattered pane, and the stream of water trickling down the wall. A mewling noise came from the far end of the room, from inside a chest of draws – automatically, she got up and checked on the infant. A dry diaper and pursed, trembling lips signaled a need for a new bottle. It would be all right, she reminded herself, nudging the rubber nipple back into the child’s mouth. She laughed at her own delusion. Fine – she no longer had any idea what the word meant.
Her eye strayed to the bed, where he lay silently.
“Leela,” he said, “what’s it going to be?”
She glanced again at the bed, heard the distant crackle of laser fire. Everything had changed so in the past week….if only she could go back in time and right the innocuous wrong that had brought her here…
Two weeks before
“Good news, everyone!”
Leela glanced around the room at her fellow Planet Express employees and watched every expression turn dull and deadened. She sat up straighter, knowing it would be her duty to pay complete attention to the Professor’s ramblings. Glancing at the large square-shaped object he held, she asked, “what is it Professor?”
As always, he was oblivious to her interest. “I’ve just completed work on my first matter transference device!”
Fry’s vacant expression suddenly sharpened, indicating his interest. “You mean like Star-“
Leela swiftly cut in to avoid a disaster. “How does it work?”
“It’s so simple that even an idiot like Fry could use it,” the Professor scoffed. He placed his device on the table, and then flipped a large red switch mounted at its back. Before the crew’s alarmed eyes, it began to vibrate, a beam of white light refracting from the top it and through the already well-lit employee lounge. Leela winced back from the brightness, watching through her protective fingers as Professor Farnsworth reached into his pocket, retrieving a pencil. “Observe!” he requested, holding the pencil to the light. Leela felt a sickly shock of wonder knife through her as the pencil gradually dematerialized into nothingness. Triumphantly, Professor Farnsworth shut off the device and looked at his employees with great anticipation.
Leela knew that his glance around the table had to disappoint him. Amy, who had just finished applying a new layer of lip-gloss, was completely oblivious; Hermes was re-reading the financial section of the New New York Times and Zoidberg was eyeing Hermes’ unguarded sandwich. Only Fry stared at the device.
Returning her attention to Farnsworth, Leela said, “Where does the pencil go?”
“Oh, it goes,” he said lightly. “I need you to deliver this to the moon – their five hundred and fiftieth Science Fair and Bake Off is on Saturday, and I’ve signed up for the World Altering Devices Competition - Non Lethal Division. Judging begins on Saturday, so this has to be there by this afternoon,” Leela gingerly picked up the invention, nudging Fry as the Professor handed him his entrance form.
“No problem,” Leela said confidently. She treated the object with the respect it deserved as she carried it onto the Planet Express Ship, tying it to Bender’s rumble seat.
As she took her place behind the wheel, she heard the robot complaining, “hey! Getcher own seat!”
“It doesn’t talk, Bender,” Leela scolded mildly. She had been too glad that he’d slept his way through the morning meeting, apparently onboard in his bunk. She ran easily through the checks she needed to make, starting up the ship’s systems. “It’s certainly not smarter than you are…”
“Oh yeah?” Bender snapped, turning toward the device. “I bet you don’t know what comes after 1 and 0! Huh? Doya?” Bender’s eyes narrowed menacingly.
Leela couldn’t stop a smug smile from spreading across her face. Bender would be so distracted with his argument that he wouldn’t have time to bug her during the short trip. Fry smiled as he sat down beside her, and their shared, knowing amusement made Leela feel somewhat uneasy.
Before he could start begging her for another date, she flipped the switches, sending them skyward.
Leela’s old contempt for the moon, with its corny circus atmosphere and shouting buskers, returned the second she disembarked. It was hard to remember the quiet, peaceful sight of the earth rising when she was being jostled by popcorn-munching children and their dead-eyed parents. Pushing right back, Leela followed the signs marking the way to the park’s grey-paneled exhibition halls.
A green-haired woman waited for them at the admission’s desk- she took the form Fry offered and scanned it with a light pen. Producing a rubber stamp, she blotted the paper three times, then pointed into the hall. “Booth 422,” she told them.
“Come on, Fry,” Leela ordered, hefting the contraption to its destination. He shuffled up behind her, hands in pockets, his expression showing nothing but boredom. Peering over the box, she found her way to Booth 422, which was the width of a conference table and had the depth of a bread box. Grumbling, Leela placed the invention carefully on a tiny raised platform at the center of the surface. Satisfied, she glanced up to see Fry filling out a form posted to a manila clipboard right outside the booth.
“Fry,” she said, “let me do that!”
As she snatched it out of his hands, he whined, “I was doing all right!”
She squinted at the form. “The Professor isn’t a million years old!”
“He’s older?” Fry wondered.
Leela shook her head as she erased her friend’s handiwork. “Why don’t you try to find Bender in the Beer Pavilion?” she suggested.
“He’s busy trying to flirt with this new tapbot. Boy you should see her – beer out to there in every flavor you can think of...” he gestured toward his chest and made a circular motion that caused Leela to roll her eye. “Besides, I’d rather hang with you,” Fry said, smiling widely.
“Fry…” she concentrated all the harder on her form.
“I’m not bugging you, am I?” he was, panting down her neck, his breath making her skin tacky.
“No, you’re annoying me,” she responded, crossing her last t.
Fry squinted down at the paper. “Hubert Xtomax Farnsworth. Say that five times fast,” he chuckled.
“Crud,” Leela mumbled as she wove away her mistake, turning “Xtomax” into “Thomas” just in time. Two lab-coat sporting men wearing red badges strode up to the table.
“And what,” said the taller one, who sported a handlebar mustache and smelled like a keg of old English whisky, “does this do?”
Leela quickly turned toward the table. “This? Well, it uh…” Her fumbling was frantic.
“Transports matter,” Fry said. “See?” he flipped on the device, then grabbed the light pen from Leela’s hand and tossed into the stream of light it produced. As before, the pen disappeared gradually into thin air.
Leela turned toward the judges, a stagy, broad smile on her face. They were scribbling notes upon their own clipboards.
“Fascinating,” one finally said. “But where does the pen go?”
The answer came in the form of a metallic roar as a large, warty grey hand appeared, particle by particle, within the light. The hand was attached to beefy grey shoulders , which connected to a mighty skull bearing a long trunk-like nose. More and more of these creatures, bearing laser blasters, appeared. She recognized their fearsome armor and warmongering demeanor and her throat constricted.
The largest creature, his voice blasting forth with might, shouted, “Who threw this into my royal chamber?” He held aloft the pen.
Every figure in the room shrank away into the shadows. Leela saw Fry, his entire body chattering with fear, as his legs collapsed from beneath him and he crouched down and pulled the table covering over his head. The black barrels of the intruder’s waving rifles pointed indiscriminately at the women and children gathered nearby, making Leela’s instinctive heroism bubble to the fore. She stepped forward, mouth open, ready to confess.
Fry’s voice rang out over hers. “It was me.”
Training their rifles beneath the table, one soldier pulled aside the table skirt. Fry hunched beneath it, shivering uncontrollably.
The tallest one sneered, “for many years, we have battled the pencil menace, aided by the wrinkled hand of dominion! But the ancient one has gone, and left a puny descendent! Now is the time for vengeance!”
“What’s your order, King Jumbo?” one of the now-many soldiers asked.
Fry shrieked, instinct helping him scamper to his feed and dodge each blast of energy as it was fired. His fleet-footed fear gave Leela the opportunity to think – and a quick study of their fearsome faces of the horrid soldiers revealed a slight flaw. A flash of light; a support beam holding the polls of the booth structure in place buckled, setting off a chain reaction of clanging poles and fluttering awnings. Leela snapped her teeth down against a rising scream as a poll tumbled down on Fry’s head, knocking him unconscious. Leela obeyed her instincts; grabbing a tiny chunk of rock from the ground, she leapt with catlike quickness and pitched it in the opposite direction of Fry’s body. The soldier’s heads followed, predictably, the progress of the rock, giving Leela time to dodge into the fray, grab Fry, and make a break for the nearest air shaft.
Behind them, Leela heard the soldiers calling for blood, demanding vengeance in the name of Princess Pachyderm, who had lost her life with the drop of the pen menace. Shuddering, Leela dragged a mercifully unconscious Fry up the air shaft, as far away from the conflict as she could get.
As she clambered through the shaft, Leela was unaware of anything but the impulse to stay alive. Climbing for what felt like years to her aching muscles, she at last found an exit in the grating – and pushed it aside to enter a decaying one-room apartment overlooking the fairgrounds. Placing Fry on the floor, she crept about on her hands and knees, searching for another life form. The grounds seemed completely abandoned, the surroundings serviceable but wrecked. Quickly, she placed Fry under the quilts of an old, mosquito-netting cloaked bed, then sat back down on her haunches. It took her a good minute to hear the Professor’s voice.
“Leela? Dammit, what’s going on?”
She thought about disengaging the device, then decided then lifted her wrist. “We’ve got an emergency,” she informed him crisply. “It’s an Elephantus attack.”
“So slap on some ointment and get back to the fair! I need someone guarding the device until it’s in the hands of the judges!”
“No! The Elephantus, Professor!”
“The most vicious, warlike tribe of robotic elephant people in the known tri-galaxy area,” Professor Farnsworth remarked thoughtfully. “Intriguing…but impossible. Their home world is billions of light-years away from the moon! Why, with current hyperdrive technology it would take over three years for them to reach…”
Desperately, battling the far-off sound of screaming, Leela said, “They used your invention!”
“Yes,” the Professor said, scratching his wrinkling chin. “I see…”
She glared, “Did you know the transmogrifier could be used in reverse?”
“Preposterous!” Professor Farnsworth snapped, slamming his hand on the desk. “Do I seem venial enough to risk the safety of the entire planet just to win four thousand dollars and a five-minute shopping spree at the Venusian morgue?”
“Yes,” Leela replied. “Did you even know where all of those pencils were landing, ancient menace?”
“What? You’re getting hard to hear, Leela…” an off-screen noise sounding vaguely like thunder rumbled nearby.
“Professor, static interference was abolished over a hundred years ago…”
“This is interstellar interference – it just sounds like thunder…” He stood up to turn off the monitor, revealing his left hand as it shook a piece of tinfoil. “Good bye, Leela! ”
“Dammit,” Leela muttered as her wrist communicator went dead. Peering around the room, she saw the narrowness of the door – no soldier could fit through it. That made their ability to reach them by stairwell or elevator limited. She sat on the floor, staying low to the ground as a patrol of Elephantus ships strafed by. Another look at the bed allowed her to reason that Fry, shrouded as he was among the curtains of the bed, was largely invisible. She counted the minutes until King Jumbo gave up his quest for revenge.
As it turned out, the Elephantus were very stubborn. Saved only by the inaccessibility of their loft and the width of the intruder’s bodies, Leela’s days were spent nursing Fry and spying on the world outside her window.
Completely isolated, she scoured her mind for weaknesses in the enemy. They were impossible to confront physically, their strength being twice that of the average tank. Mentally they were sharp, as were their general physical cognitively. Her only hope was in their greatest strength of all - their incredibly sensitive hearing. If she could manage a diversion, they could get away easily.
But, she thought miserably, what good would that do? They would hunt Fry until he was destroyed.
“You fool,” she muttered one gray afternoon, sponging his forehead. “What made you speak up?”
He stirred. “Because you were gonna say take the blame.”
Relief filled Leela, mingling with the anger she couldn’t bring herself to express again. “Fry!”
“I couldn’t let you die for something I did,” he said, voice reedy and thin.
“But if they’d taken me I could have handled them! I…”
“I did it for another reason, too.”
“You know why. I don’t think I even have to say it. I love you, Leela.”
She knew by his even breathing that he had returned to the underworld, leaving her alone once more.
On the tenth day, she heard a mewling noise coming from the neighboring apartment. Worry had piqued Leela’s already fragile nerves. A little bit of discreet snooping had informed Leela that these were the apartments of fairground workers, usually only inhabited during the busy summer months. Setting her restless mind to the task, she spent all day picking the lock on the sealed door between the units. By sundown she’d managed to crack the lock.
The apartment was neat, orderly, with stocked pantries and no adults around. She followed the sound of sobbing to a small nursery at the rear of the apartment, where a blond-haired infant sobbed and kicked, diapers soaked.
Automatically, Leela searched for a proper changing area, finding powder and ointments and diaper and changed them. Moving in a dreamlike state, she gave the infant a zwieback cookie from the cupboard, then raided them for cookies and crackers – anything fresh and edible. Bundling them together with overloaded arms, Leela carried all and sundry back to the apartment, then re-sealed the door.
Sitting down, Leela scattered the goods in a neat heap on the floor, then finally studied the tiny baby in her arm. Cooing, the infant smiled up at her, waving her chubby legs and arms. The poor thing is an orphan now, Leela realized, empathy clouding her judgment as she tried to figure out the pile of bottles and formula she’d taken. On one blanket a name had been embroidered.
“Erin?” she asked, staring at the baby. “You don’t look like Erin. How about Victoria?” she barely realized how one-sided the conversation was, or how insane it made her look.
Making her first bottle and putting it to the child’s lemon-pucker lips, she began to feel joy for the first time in a week. “Hi,” she whispered. “My name is Leela. I’ll be your mommy for now…”
And so the days stretched on, the food and water supplies decreasing. It was a nightmarish stalemate. No physical force on her part could stop them; there was no way she could expect them to sympathize with her, not with the death of a princess lying at the root of their aggressiveness; likewise, it wasn’t possible for them to enter the narrow-hewn structure. The chess match seemed endless, unwinnable.
On the fourteenth day, she noticed some Elephantus troops digging by the airtight seal of the dome. Horrified, she realized there were even more soldiers outside of the dome, planting what looked to be large mines of explosives. They’d apparently gotten tired of waiting for Fry to appear...
She laughed hysterically, a keening noise that would have melted the walls hemming her in. “I guess an Elephantus never does forget…”
Her laughter stopped at Victoria’s cry. Leela looked at the hopeless baby in her arms, the luckless friend in the bed, and for the first time in her life felt entirely helpless.
Someone help me!
“You asked?” A silky voice wondered from behind her.
She turned to see the Robot Devil standing there, wearing the regalia of a moon tourist – geely boppers, tropical-print shirt and board shorts in an obnoxious neon pink.
His oversized foam rubber cowboy hat and “Moon Me!” shirt snapped Leela out of her hysteria.
She eyed the icy red figure sitting at her borrowed table. Sure death or the forfeiture of her freedom? The restoration of Fry’s life and that of Victoria’s parents and everyone else who had been on the moon and the earth that day for six months of her life a year, unto forever. She had unwittingly given the same for the opportunity to hear Fry play months before, had chosen unwisely, and was again facing down the exact same unpleasant fork in the road.
Could any woman be this saintly?
The decision was made as she heard Victoria’s laughter, pealing from the drawers as she stared at the Devil’s outlandish costume.
After the first couple of months, Leela decided that living in Robot Hell wasn’t that bad. She had plenty of time to perfect her mastery of the martial arts, and because of her social position most everyone deferred to her, bowing, scraping, letting her wield her power.
Leela believed she did so fairly, in the six months a year she was forced to spend down here. The Robot Devil (or RD, as he demanded she call him) was a decent if completely platonic (her firm decision, not his) husband. He didn’t mind her keeping in touch with her Planet Express colleagues, and left her alone during the six months she spent in New New York every year.
“My queen!” a red bird made entirely out of metal piped as it flew into the room. “I have a message from the surface!”
“Thank you,” she said, ripping open her note.
I miss you. Everything here is good.
I miss you.
The Professor’s still mad Zoidberg smashed his invention, so he’s making him work overtime (something something about Venus and the morgue). Bender says to give these to RD and that he hopes you’ll be blessed with lots of little upgrades soon- Leela shuddered, putting aside the expensive and illegally-imported cigars. Amy’s doing good, and she made her first solo delivery in the ship yesterday without anyone’s help.
I miss you. When are you coming home?
I miss you,
A tear came to Leela’s eye, which she quickly wiped away. He had given his hands, and nearly his life for her – she’d been willing to do the same for him. They had a friendship made of rock – even if most of those were rattling around in Fry’s head…
“Leela!” RD called, clanking into the room. “I’ve brought something for you!”
She grumbled in disgust. “It’s not possession of another lost soul? I haven’t finished learning the name of the last robot you tricked into serving us…”
“My name’s Ned,” the footstool she rested upon said.
“Furniture don’t talk!” said RD. A soft cry from the robot’s chestplate sent Leela to her feet.
“Victoria?” she mumbled, barely able to hope.
“Just because she’s human doesn’t mean you get to name her!” RD retorted. He opened his chest and inside sat the now six-month-old child. In a second Leela had scooped her into an embrace.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“Know?” RD shrugged. “Her parents sold her to me in trade for a regular gig on the bandstand on the moon,” he shook his head. “You humans and your desperation. It makes me sick…”
“What were you planning on doing with her?” Leela asked, bussing the girl again on her cheek.
He shrugged. “We do need a dog…” in an instant the baby was on the throne and he was on his back, Leela’s fists activating his pain sensors violently. “All right! You can keep her!”
Triumphantly, Leela stood up, grabbing the child and striding out of the royal chamber. With Victoria she went to the only room that was entirely, uniquely hers – a solar with a wide-open glass roof.
Sitting down on a plush violet couch, Leela pointed up at the sky. “Can you see all of the stars?” the sky was indeed alive with activity that night. “That’s Venus – that’s Mars…there’s the Big Dipper….” She said softly to the baby, who half-listened to her new mother. Leela laughed, hugging the baby. “That’s okay,” she smiled. “It’s a lot to remember for a baby. Just try to remember this much – this,” she gestured around them, “is just a place we sleep. Up there,” she pointed – not at the rusted remains of the New Jersey carnival, but the black world above, “is home.”
And up there would always be Leela’s home – over this magma stood the city she loved, the apartment she kept, the stars and heavens she loved to fly through. And no bargain, no matter how generous, could make her love a robot she barely tolerated. No hundred plus lives saved unaware would ever turn her into a polished lava rock for the Robot Devil’s pocket, and one day he would realize this and set her completely free.
Until then, she would happily play his Persephone.