A Thousand Summers
"Leela," Amy whispered, "wake up! I need your help."
Leela struggled slowly out of sleep. Am I still at work? she wondered. She managed to pry her eye open. She had fallen asleep on the sofa in the lounge, watching the All My Circuits marathon with Fry and Bender.
They were both asleep, too, one on either side of her, snoring in counterpoint. All three of them were exhausted from the last delivery; no wonder no one had made it past Calculon's second resurrection.
"What is it, Amy?" Leela said. Fry's hand lay flopped against her elbow. Leela pushed it away and got up, staggering after Amy.
"It's in the professor's laboratory," Amy whispered. "I had a teensy accident with some of his equipment."
Leela woke up fast. "You called for backup, right? Do we need to evacuate, or just seal off that half of the building?"
Amy shook her head. "No, Leela, it's not like that. It's just...something that needs some attention, and I can't stay up any longer."
Amy's eyes had bags beneath them - she looked like Leela felt. "I thought you were going home hours ago," Leela said.
"I was. I have to fly out and take two exams tomorrow, but I was looking for something in the lab, and I fell over some equipment, and while I was picking that up, I knocked over some beakers, and while I was sweeping those - "
"I get the picture."
Amy reached the door to the lab, but held up her hand in warning. "Be careful going in - it keeps trying to get out."
Leela nodded and strode forward through the opening door, looking for a hulking monster or perhaps a new variety of killbot. But "it" turned out to be a small, hairy brown shape that tried to rush past her shins.
Leela jumped. "Hah!" she cried, leaping into a roll and coming up in a fighting stance.
"RARF!" said the creature. It was small quadruped with a shaggy coat of fur, and a tail that whipped back and forth like Bender's eyes at a circuit convention.
Amy blocked the door with her feet as it slid shut. "See? He keeps barking and scratching at the door. Oh, why did the Professor have to fix his Clone-o-Matic?"
Suddenly Leela recognized the creature. "It's Fry's dog! The one we tried to bring back from a fossil!"
Amy nodded sadly. "I fell and hit the Clone-o-Matic's control panel. I guess Seymour's information was still loaded."
Seymour - yes, that had been the dog's name. Seymour. The creature recognized its name; it looked at Amy and gave a short little whine. It looked at Leela as though hoping for something. Then it sat down and sighed.
The sigh startled Leela. It seemed so - human.
Seymour rose and walked a few steps toward the door. His movements seemed jerky, uneven. When he settled down on all fours, it seemed almost like a controlled collapse.
"Is he all right?" Leela asks. "He looks - tired, somehow."
"That's the problem," Amy said, playing uncomfortably with her zipper pull. "The Clone-o-Matic brought him back, but the youth calibrators weren't adjusted. It brought him back at the exact cellular age at which he died." Amy dropped her gaze. "I...didn't want to tell anyone else."
Anyone else like Fry. Leela suddenly understood. "How long does...Seymour have?"
"I would guess an hour, not more than two," Amy said sadly. "Oh, Leela, what am I going to do?"
The dog was listening to them - Leela could actually see Seymour's eyes shifting to follow their voices. His ears had twitched the tiniest bit when she said his name. When the conversation stopped, his eyes went back to the door.
"You are going to go home, Amy," Leela found herself saying. "I'll look after Seymour until..." Until he didn't need looking after.
"Oh, Leela, thank you," Amy said, grasping her hand and giving it a quick squeeze. "I have to get some sleep. But I couldn't leave him alone."
"No," Leela agreed. She felt awake now, alert enough to keep one little animal company in its final hour or two.
Amy tiptoed away and let herself out through another door; Seymour continued to stare at the near one.
Leela sat down on the floor and looked at him. "What a strange little creature you are," she said. She'd never had much contact with dogs, though she'd admired them from a distance. Seymour reminded her of Nibbler, a little - not in appearance, of course, but something about his demeanor.
Amy had put down two petri dishes, Leela noticed - one filled with water, the other holding half a sandwich. Neither looked like it had been touched. "You probably don't have long at all," Leela said. "Poor thing." Leela propped her chin on her fist and sighed.
Seymour, eyes on the door, sighed too.
The sigh really did seem full of dejected boredom, though Leela supposed she was just anthropomorphizing.
"Seymour," Leela said. The dog raised his head and looked at her, his tail giving a thump or two. But he put his head down again. "Come here, Seymour." She patted the floor in front of her. That always worked with Nibbler.
Seymour stood, his hindquarters faltering a split second before they came upright. He walked over to her slowly and sniffed her outstretched hand. His tail began to swish back and forth. Cautiously, Leela reached toward his head and stroked it; the tail-swishing increased. "I guess the tail thing means you're happy," she said. "Does your tail wag when you're happy, Seymour?" The dog wagged harder, hearing his name.
"Good Seymour," Leela said, and patted her knee. "Come and sit in Auntie Leela's lap. Nibbler generally prefers it to the hard old floor."
But Seymour stopped his tail-wagging and turned toward the door. "No, Seymour," Leela said, but Seymour ignored her. He went to the door and lay down with his nose right against the crack.
"Poor Seymour. You must be a little senile." Leela remembered what Fry had said when he stopped Seymour's cloning. "Seymour lived a full life after I was gone. I'll never forget him. But he forgot me a long time ago."
Sometimes Fry could surprise her. Carefree and impulsive, he drove her crazy getting himself into trouble which she had to get him out of; but then he'd turn around and be selflessly heroic, or show a mature wisdom that touched her heart.
"You've probably forgotten a lot of things, haven't you?" Leela asked the dog. "I'm glad we didn't tell Fry."
Seymour's head shot up. He stared at her with a fierce intensity.
Leela blinked. Was it because...? "Fry," she said to him.
Seymour's ears perked up, and his tail began swishing, hard.
"Fry?" she asked, not quite believing. "You still remember Fry?"
Seymour jumped up - a wholly different movement than the slow, painful rise before. He came to her in two trots and stood there, staring. He looked at the door, then back at her.
With a growing suspicion, Leela held out the elbow that Fry's hand had flopped against on the sofa.
The effect on Seymour was electric. Suddenly he was sniffing her arm with a single-minded focus. Leela kept very still, though his dry little nose tickled her skin. He sniffed and sniffed the three-inch square of her elbow as if it were the world's most fascinating object.
And then he sat down, and broke into a smile.
Leela berated herself for thinking that; she had to be projecting. But the way the dog's mouth opened and the corners tipped up looked just like a smile. Seymour's tongue lolled and his tail was swishing like crazy.
"Do you really remember Fry?" she asked, still not quite believing. Twelve years was a long time for a creature so small to remember.
Seymour stood and then bent his front half to the ground, his forelegs spread out. He gave a little yip. Then he stood again and barked out, "Row row row row row, row, roo rooo!"
It had a tune, and Leela recognized it. Fry was always singing it - "I'm walking on sunshine, whoa-hoh." He'd said Seymour could sing, and now she was hearing it for herself. In fact, Seymour sang it better than Fry did.
Seymour watched her face, then bounded over to the door and scratched gently with his paw - not a real scratch, but almost a pantomime. Then he turned to her, looked at the door, and back at her.
Leela just stared. Surely the dog couldn't be communicating as clearly as it seemed. So she didn't do anything, waiting to see what he would do next.
After a long, silent moment, Seymour's head drooped. He turned toward the door, moving as slowly and painfully as he had before. He lay down again, and sighed.
Leela felt a lump in her throat. Seymour's previous sighs had seemed bored and resigned; this one seemed like the depths of black despair.
Stop projecting, Leela, she told herself firmly.
Still, Seymour seemed so...focused. He sat before the door as if he would sit there for a hundred years.
A terrible suspicion occurred to her. A hundred years - or maybe a thousand?
Maybe only twelve?
Leela stood up, watching him. Seymour kept his nose to the door, but his eyes followed her every move. Slowly she approached. As she did, the tail started swishing again.
She stopped a foot away. Seymour's tail slowed, then stopped. He gave a little whimper. Leela reached toward the door. Seymour stood up, his whole body quivering with excitement.
Could it be possible?
Leela had to know. Cautiously, she reached down and picked Seymour up. It was a little awkward, but he let her; even licked her chin with his little, warm tongue once she had him settled.
Leela smiled. "You are pretty cute. But be quiet. I'll let you see him, but don't wake him up."
She opened the door.
Seymour's nose strrrretched out, and she heard his quick, soft sniffing. He "smiled" again, and she found herself smiling back.
She walked toward the lounge room, and Seymour's nose was like a homing beacon. It pointed the way before she made the turn, and soon his tail was thumping against her ribs with its metronome swishing.
When she came through the door, Seymour's legs started moving, swimming in the air. He made a frantic little sound. "Shh," she said, but suddenly Seymour gave a convulsive wriggle and squirmed free of her arms.
Leela gasped as he fell to the floor. His tired old legs collapsed under him, and Leela stooped to grab him, but Seymour was on his feet again with remarkable speed. He leapt away, toenails clicking on the floor, right towards the sleeping Fry.
Leela cringed. Seymour was on a collision course, and she had no way to stop it.
But to her surprise (and this night seemed to be full of nothing but surprises) Seymour stopped just in front of the sofa. He sat, tail sweeping crumbs from the floor in a little arc. His floppy ears were closer to erect than Leela had seen them yet. He raised his paw to touch Fry's knee gently, and then sniffed where he'd touched.
Seymour's whole body trembled - not with age, but with what seemed to Leela to be ecstatic rapture.
With a grace his age belied, Seymour leaped lightly to the sofa. Again Leela cringed, sure Fry would wake up now.
But Seymour only snuggled up under Fry's arm and buried his nose in the crook of Fry's neck. Leela could hear the dog sniffing, but a deeper, slower sniffing than before. He stayed there, quiet and still, breathing in Fry's scent.
"Oh, Fry," Leela whispered. "You were so wrong. He does remember you."
As she watched, Seymour's pink tongue emerged and licked Fry's neck, a delicate little kiss.
Fry twitched, then smiled in his sleep. His hand slid up and rested on Seymour's head.
Seymour's quivering stopped. He sighed once more, with the infinite contentment of a soul in bliss, and laid his head down on Fry's lap
Leela realized tears were spilling from her eye and dripping off the end of her nose, and she wiped them away. She could no longer doubt that Seymour remembered Fry, remembered him and loved him with a depth she'd never seen before. No wonder Fry had been shocked to see him on display, desperate to bring him back.
She knew she had to move Seymour, had to retrieve him before Fry woke, but she couldn't. She came closer and knelt beside the sofa, reached out and touched Seymour's softly rising flank. How could she take him away now? He was aware of nothing but Fry, and she could not bear to separate them. She left her hand on the coarse, scruffy fur, torn by dilemma.
And so she felt it, the moment when the short exhale was not followed by an inhale. Even as she held her own breath, waiting, she knew Seymour's next breath would not come.
"Oh," she whispered. "Oh, no."
Fry muttered in his sleep. His hand shifted on Seymour's head, and his smile faded. Somehow, though still in the depths of unconsciousness, he sensed something was wrong.
That spurred her. Gently, but firmly, Leela leaned forward and gathered Seymour up, sliding the small, limp body out from under Fry's arm. As Fry's hand slid away, he muttered softly and turned his head.
Leela got to her feet, Seymour held against her chest, and walked back to the lab. By the time she reached it, her eye felt hot and vision was a watery blur. When she got inside and heard the door slide shut behind her, she couldn't control it any longer. She set Seymour gently on the floor, then sat back against the wall and cried.
She couldn't help it. The enormity of it overwhelmed her. "Seymour lived a full life after I was gone," Fry had said. What a horrible, cruel joke. Not a full life, but a bleak half-life. Leela had a vision of Seymour waiting, waiting with an forlorn patience for his best friend to return, until his tired old body gave out. And Fry's selfless gesture in letting him go had denied Seymour the one thing he had lived the rest of his life to see.
Leela cried until her head hurt and her nose was running like a faucet. She didn't know why it affected her this much. Except that in the face of a love and loyalty as great as Seymour's, Leela felt humbled.
"It's not fair," Leela said, holding her chest and staring at the small, curled body in front of her. "What kind of cruel universe could do this!" Silly question - the universe had done much crueller things. But Leela always felt them harder when they happened to animals. Animals were innocent. No one could love like an animal, perfectly and unconditionally.
And no one could suffer like one. Suffering as vast as that was too cruel to exist.
And yet...Amy's mishap had brought Seymour back. For less than an hour, perhaps, but finally, after a thousand years, Seymour had found Fry once more.
Maybe - just maybe - the universe wasn't completely cruel, after all.
Leela sniffled and rubbed her eye with the back of her hand. She looked at Seymour, curled up as if in sleep. Somehow she couldn't bring herself to put him in the recycler.
She buried Seymour beneath a loose bit of sidewalk on one side of the Planet Express building. Recycling the way they did it in his day. Fry liked to come out here and sit, sometimes; it seemed fitting.
She finished just as dawn arrived, laying the little piece of sidewalk back in its place. The next thing she was going to do was go home and give Nibbler about 36 hours of quality time. The thought of him waiting all those hours while she slept carelessly here on the sofa ate at her. What did he do all day when she was gone? She prayed he didn't just stare at the door, waiting....
She heard a familiar yawn behind her and jumped. Quickly she kicked the shovel out of sight.
"Morning, Leela," Fry said. "Whatcha doin' out here?"
"Oh, nothing," she said quickly. "I just...thought I'd get some air. How did you sleep?" That was an inane question, but it just popped out.
To her surprise, Fry ducked his head. "Not so good. I dreamed about Seymour and woke up sad. You remember my dog, Seymour?"
Fry smiled wistfully. "I dreamed he was here, in the future, and he remembered me. I could smell him and everything. But then he got up and started walking away from me, and I couldn't go fast enough to keep up." Fry shrugged, stuffing his hands in his jacket pockets. "I guess I still miss him."
Her lower eyelid felt hot again, and she firmly blinked the tear away. Keeping her voice very even, she said, "I'm sure he loved you very much."
Fry smiled. "Yeah. He was great. But that's what dogs were like. Everyone else could turn away and leave you, but a dog would stick by you to the end."
You don't know how right you are, she thought, and felt a welling of sympathy for Fry, and anger at the universe that had turned his most generous, selfless decision into the cruelest thing he'd ever done.
Without thinking, Leela leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
Fry's jaw dropped, and he stared in surprise, confusion and not a little wonder. "Wow! What was that for?"
"Just for being you, Fry," Leela said. Fry would never know about Seymour's return, Leela vowed to herself. Fry deserved to remember Seymour with happiness.
Leela turned and sat down on the sidewalk, just beside Seymour's resting place. "I thought I'd stay out here for a while," she said. "This seemed like a good place to sit and think."
"It's also a good place to sit and not think," Fry said, carelessly flopping down in his spot. "I do a lot of that."
Leela smiled. "That sounds good, too."
They sat and watched the grey dawn grow paler. After a while she realized Fry was singing softly. "I'm walking on sunshine...hmmm, hmmmm...."
She felt a tear trying to well up, and blinked it away, refusing to be sad any more. After a thousand summers, Seymour was finally where he wanted - next to Fry, which wasn't a bad place to be at all. And she rested her head on Fry's shoulder as they watched the sun rise.