A Red Letter Day, part 3
"PHILLIP J. FRY!!" A female and very angry voice rang out.
Delivery boy, wanton guinea pig for the resident mad scientist, and former cryogenic pod occupant Phillip Fry froze where he stood in the Planet Express Building’s kitchen alcove holding a coffee cup in one hand and the coffee pot, poised to pour him his twenty-third cup of the day, in the other.
Wow, he thought, Leela's using my full name. Now, Fry usually did not do much thinking, mostly because it hurt and it wasn't fun. In this rare case, though, he was prepared to make an exception.
A tiny neuron flickered in the right place of his brain. It triggered an electric current, which, in turn, swooped through the neural pathways, riding them as a surfer rides a mounting swell. After a couple of detours through memories of the sweet smell of Leela's hair and how much it hurt getting his toes nibbled by ducks after Bender painted his toenails with bread crumbs mixed with Slurm in Central Park, the neuron landed in the appropriate place: the memory which contained the explicit list of what Leela usually called him.
His full name was conspicuously absent from that list. This was different. Very different. Another part of his brain pointed out the he himself could very well be the reason for this exception. Still frozen in place, his left arm, which was holding the almost full coffee pot, started to ache. Fry, who wasn't very good at doing two things at the same time, disregarded the burgeoning pain and continued to focus on the strange fact that Leela was referring to him with his full name. It was a puzzling fact. What had he done recently that might make Leela angry with him? He turned his head towards the spot where his metal companion and friend, Bender, stood.
To Fry's astonishment, the metal man was no longer there. All that remained of the bending bot's presence was a dissipating cloud of cigar smoke, lingering in the spot Bender had occupied.
The bending unit had drawn its own conclusions from the angered scream that had echoed through the building, carrying the full designation of his human pet. Having cross referenced his non volatile memory with his voice recognition software and the Humans and Robots computes Compatibility? database, his CPU had compiled the assembled data and drawn one conclusion from the situation: Run away!
Bender's CPU had for a couple of nanoseconds contemplated whether he should warn his human companion or not. The survival routine in his self-preservation programming had cautioned against it, simply because it would take too long to properly vocalize such a warning, time better spent reaching minimum safe distance.
Unfortunately for Fry, who did not have the advantage of high- or even normal- speed thinking, by the time he had figured out that he should put down what he had in his hands and possibly flee the building before Leela could find him, the delivery boy found himself eye to eye with the purple-haired captain.
Leela's demeanor gave all the tell tale signs of anger, and it was not the usual you-forgot-to-refill the-dark-matter-tank or you-left-the-toilet-seat-up-again kind of anger. This was the thermonuclear kind of anger, the sort that sent far braver men than the redhead running for cover.
Fry could not even remember when he last had seen her as angry as this, frozen like a deer in front of a speeding hovertruck, he didn't dare to move, not even breath. To his surprise, Leela calmly took his coffee cup and the coffee pot from his hands and put them away on the sink.
What happen next did not surprise him as much. Leela grabbed him forcefully by his jacket and shoved her face close to his. Her sole eye filled Fry's entire vision and he got crossed eyed when he tried to meet her singular staring iris, which was doing a very good job of burning a hole in a spot between his eyes.
“Where. Were. You?!” The purple-haired woman chewed on the words through clenched teeth. Fry's mind spun furiously like a hamster wheel with a hamster hooped up on caffeine and sugar running inside, still desperately trying to figure why Leela would have a reason to be so angry with him. A tiny flare of recognition sparked in his mind, he had been supposed to meet her somewhere... somewhere important.
“Here?” He tried with a feeble smile, hoping to charm Leela into a calmer mood. The cyclops didn't even flinch. Instead she let go of his jacket and took one step back. She grabbed Fry's right hand by his wrist, forced his hand open, and placed the hand on her stomach. Leela watched his face intently, judging his reaction underneath a furrowed brow.
Feeling a slight bulge under his hand, something clicked in his mind. Like a piece of a puzzle finally fitting. The delivery boy's eyes grew large, he looked up into Leela's eye, his face revealing his revelation. “We were supposed to be...”
Leela cut Fry off before he had a chance to finish the sentence. “Exactly!”
“That was today?” Fry asked meekly.
Leela let out a tired growl. Her anger was flowing away like an escaping river from a broken dam. She wasn't angry anymore; just disappointed that Fry hadn't shown up for the first scan of their future child as they had agreed.
It had been one of the reasons that Leela had been so mad at Fry earlier. Not only was it because he had failed to show up to an event that Leela thought was important, but she had felt vulnerable and she really wanted Fry there for support. Though she wouldn't readily admit it, Leela would have found the delivery boy's presence to be a little comforting.
One of her greatest fears had been that the child would be a mutant of sorts and that the child would be ostracized by his peers very much like she herself had been.
The exam had been a moment of anxiety which had almost brought the cyclops to tears. Sitting alone in the cold, sparse waiting room Leela had clawed deep holes in the sagging couch with her nails while fretting over what the doctor might find out about her future child. Her eye had wandered from the entrance to the wall-mounted clock and then to the door to the doctor’s office. As the hour of the exam had drawn near and Fry was still nowhere in sight Leela had become distraught to the point that she was ready to leave. There was no telling what would happen if the doctor- and, by extension, the government- discovered that her child was a mutant. Would such a thing mean that she and her unborn child would be banished to live in the sewers? The cyclops didn’t dare to consider what could happen if her child was anything but normal.
Thanks to a very understanding female doctor, Leela's nervousness and fears were eased, as the doctor revealed that her child was not only healthy, but a fully normal human female with no apparent mutations. Walking alone back to Planet Express, her mixed feelings of post-anxiety and relief had subsided into anger towards Fry for not being there for her despite his promise.
There had been yet another reason for Leela wanting Fry to be with her; her future daughter was the product of an impromptu date between herself and a certain delivery boy. Finally giving in to Fry's relentless nagging, not by choice but rather by mistake. Running out of even the most ludicrous excuses for not going on a date with Fry, Leela had accidentally agreed to go out with him.
It had been a rainy afternoon at Planet Express with precious little for the crew to do, and a certain bored delivery boy had taken the chance to yet again badger Leela for a date.
"Come on, Leela… why won't you go out with me?" Fry had pleaded, with his puppy eyes and slightly whiny tone of voice.
Leela had desperately searched for a plausible excuse; boot rash, laundry night, cleaning her sock drawer, toaster debugging, cleaning lint from her washing machine... she had used them all. Her excuses were growing ever so tenuous.
"I don't look good in a short dress!" Leela had blurted in a desperate bid to fend him off.
The redhead had stared with a surprised look painted on his face at Leela. Before the scorned delivery boy had had a chance to answer, Amy jumped into the fray.
"Spluh! I could have told you that! Not with those hairy legs… Puke-a-tronic!” The intern walked over to Leela and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s okay, Leela. I understand, I wouldn't want to date anyone if I looked like a cactus, either." She said with a voice that was entirely innocent.
"Are you saying my legs are too hairy?!"
Amy gave her a light shrug with a meaningful look on her face. The cyclops narrowed her eye in response to the unspoken implications. "Fry!" Leela had called in a stern voice.
"Yes?" The delivery boy had anxiously replied, not sure what was about to follow.
“Dinner. Eight o’clock. Tomorrow.” Leela’s bid for a date came with the gravity of a death sentence; a ‘no’ was not acceptable.
"Wa-hooo!" He screamed and jumped to his feet in sheer jubilation. "Bender! I'm going on a date with Leela! You owe me!" He called out as he ran from the room.
The purple-haired cyclops had winced at Fry's display. Her slight irritation at the time had been cut short when Amy had caught her eye. The Asian girl had stood there with one hand before her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh. For a moment Leela had been nonplused. Then she suddenly had realized that perhaps she had been fooled.
"What the hell just happened?!" The planet express captain had called out to no-one in particular, voicing her surprise.
Dismayed at first at the turn of events, Leela then realized that perhaps it was for the best. If she suffered through an awkward date with Fry then maybe he would finally stop asking, and, if he didn't, she could always refer to the disastrous date as a better excuse to not go out with him again. The more she thought about it the better it had seemed.
Fry, on the other hand, had been overjoyed that he was finally going to get his chance with Leela. After she’d said yes, he’d been rambunctious for the rest of the day, flaunting his success in the face of his co-workers to the point where Leela was about to cancel it all. It wasn't until Fry got home that the pale gravity of the situation finally sank in and his euphoria started to wane. He had been walking on clouds for a whole day, but now dread had suddenly set in.
With an uncharacteristic determination, he had decided that this evening would be Leela's and Leela's alone. Sharply dressed, confident, and exhibiting a charm and maturity that Leela had never seen in him before, he had swooned Leela that night. When the time had come to part ways, Leela had drawn the surprised delivery boy through the door of her apartment, not wanting to withdraw to an empty bed after such a night. Filled with burning emotions fueled by alcohol, they had shared the night together in Leela's narrow bed.
Waking up next to Fry the day after had carried the same horrid realization of grave error as she had experienced when she’d woken up next Zapp Brannigan. Not only had the relationship between herself and Fry turned awkward after that, but when she started to throw up in the morning and went to her doctor to find out she was pregnant, things really went south.
“Fry, we have been over this before. I don't want our daughter to grow up believing that she was a mistake.” Fry winced upon hearing this.
“I know you want to be a part of our daughter’s life as much as I want you to be, but you clearly are still a child yourself.” Leela said softly and grabbed Fry's hand that she had previously placed on her stomach, looked him squarely in the eyes. “That's why I can't be with you, and you clearly can't be a part of my... our daughter’s life either, unless you grow up and start take some responsibility for once in your life.”
Fry looked with puppy eyes at Leela; for a moment she though he would start to cry, then suddenly his expression changed. “A daughter, we're getting a daughter?!” He exclaimed with a jubilant expression. Leela groaned inwardly and rolled her sole eye towards the ceiling. Fry would have already known this if he had accompanied her to the exam.
Her wrist computer beeped softly, and taking her eye of the dancing delivery boy, she glanced down at the display and saw that it was a reminder from her calendar. They were supposed to be at her parents’ in about half an hour. The cyclops had planned to go there with Fry after the exam. She wanted to tell her parents about how things had gone over at the doctors’ office. Without skipping a beat, Leela grabbed Fry by the collar and dragged him towards the door.
Darkness enveloped Rana from every direction like a thick, sticky substance. She could actually feel the very fabric of nothingness pressing against her. There wasn't a sound or a shed of light anywhere. Before she could explore this unknown new environment, the darkness gave violently away and dropped Rana into a liquid with a loud splash.
Fortunately for Rana, the liquid only reached up to her ankles, lapping her boots with a gentle sloshing sound as she moved about. She took a moment leaning towards a rough surface. The actual time jump had not been that bad an experience, but the landing had made her feel like she had been stuck in a dryer, so she needed a moment for her head to stop spinning. The uneven surface felt like concrete, though Rana couldn't really tell since it was quite dark with only a faint background light. Her eyes had yet to adjust to the pale light, which meant that she couldn't really pinpoint where it came from. A hideous smell permeated the air, irritating her nostrils. It reminded her of something yet she couldn't remember what. Moving her hands over the uneven surface, she could feel the wall next to her was curving upwards. Every sound bounced and echoed back to her.
It was cold and damp wherever she was, and Rana realized that her father’s red jacket was still hanging neatly where she’d left it, draped over the chair by the conference table. She hugged herself and rubbed her naked arms trying to shield them from the creeping, damp chill.
The teen didn't know what to make of the situation. As her eyes slowly adjusted to the minuscule light, she finally could see well enough to recognize where she was: a sewer. Rana noted that she was standing in ankle-high brown-colored water in a tube-shaped corridor. Not far from where she stood, there was an opening which seemed to lead into a bigger chamber. The light, green in color, came from patches of small mushrooms that grew randomly here and there, scattered over the curving structure that was the sewer tube.
Confused as to why she had landed in a sewer and not anywhere near her dad, Rana's rising irritation over the obviously malfunctioning time machine was cut short by the sudden murmur of approaching voices.
The voices were too far away to discern what or who was talking; they were just an echoing mumble that slowly rose in strength as the speakers apparently came Rana's way. There was also a light of some sort that also grew in strength with the approaching voices; it was flickering back and forth, suggesting that it was flashlight of sorts. Rana was unsure what to do. On one hand, she was standing ankle deep in cold, filthy water and she was fighting a losing battle trying to stay warm from the creeping chill. The teen wanted nothing more than to call for help, but she decided against it, realizing that she had no idea where she was or if the approaching voices were friendly or not.
There was another option besides hiding or revealing herself; she could use the return button. Rana frowned. I didn’t go through all this trouble just to run away, she chided herself. I’m not leaving until I find Dad.
Despite her fears and cold, Rana was curious as to who was approaching, and she didn't have to wait long. The voices had stopped talking for the moment but the sloshing sound of someone walking in the sewer water continued to draw near.
“I'm not kidding, Fry, there was something making a racket over here.” A very clear and all-to-familiar voice could suddenly be heard as the sloshing sound stopped and the light grew very strong. Rana froze in the spot she was standing and covered her mouth with both her hands, not wanting to make any unnecessary sound she hardly even wanted to breathe. The person who had just spoken had been no other than her own mother.
“Can we leave now, Leela? It's cold and my feet are wet. And I think there’s something swimming in my left shoe.” A male voice complained in a whining tone.
A flurry of emotions surged through Rana. Fry? It was her father! For a split second, she wanted to run from her hiding spot and hug her dad. The presence of her mother curtailed that idea. Rana wanted to spend time having fun with her father, not trying to explain herself to an inquisitorial Leela. The teen knew all too well just how difficult her mother could be. She recalled the first time she had been planning to go to her friend Vienna’s apartment for a slumber party, it had taken two days of Leela’s investigating before Rana had been allowed to go. Rana shivered slightly and bit her lower lip, indecisive on what to do. As always, it was her mother who made the decision for her.
There was a brief moment of silence where the light flowed back and forth in the larger room, it played over the entrance to the tunnel Rana was standing in, though it didn't reach her where she stood in the shadows. Rana could almost visualize her mother's stern and ponderous expression.
“Let's go.” Came Leela's reply, and the sound of two pairs of shoes that waded through the shallow water could be heard. The light from Leela's wrist computer started to fade quickly. Rana felt her heart pounding away a million miles a minute and her cheeks were flushed with excitement.
Having held her breath for the duration of Leela's investigation with her right hand over the recall button on her tag, Rana was faced by the prospect of having to do some quick thinking. She could make use of her return button and go back home, or she could follow her parents in the off chance that she could catch her father alone.
For Rana it was an easy decision to make, she hadn't come all this way and being forced to stand in ankle high, smelly sewer water, freezing like a dog trying to hide from her mother just so that her one chance to see her father would go to waste. She followed Leela and Fry as quickly and silently as she could.
This wasn't her first visit to New New York’s sewers, she had been very young, no older than seven on her last visit. It had been the burial of her grandmother; her grandfather had died only the year before. After that, Leela had never ventured back, and, even though her cyclops mother had never explicitly forbidden her daughter to go down there Rana had never had a reason for going back either.
Soon the teen found herself in the large open space that made up the underground mutant community. She spotted her parents walk into the wooden shack that belonged to her grandparents. Hiding in the shadows, Rana noted that there were quite a few mutants moving about. If they were to detect her, she would most likely be recognized as an intruder. Trying her best to stay hidden, the purple-haired teen snuck through the back side of the settlement, through the dirty water. She had a couple of close calls where she was almost detected by inhabitants of the settlement. It took her a while to get to the tiny shoddy building where her grandparents resided.
Hearing voices from the inside, she peeked through a window and spotted her mother, grandmother, and, to her joy, her father. Her grandmother was sitting in the old brown couch. Fry and Leela were standing face to face. The cyclops was irritated, which was clearly shown by her tense posture, while Fry was equally agitated. Evident from the scene, Rana understood that her parents were having an argument of sorts.
“...ridiculous things I've have ever heard!” Leela finished her sentence, looking sternly at Fry to emphasize her argument with her trademark stare.
“What's wrong with Barbarella? Or Uhura, for that matter? They are perfectly good names!” Was the delivery boy's counter argument, trying to give Leela a counter stare which somehow didn't quite work.
“I would prefer a more normal name, like Ethel.” Was Leela's reserved reply, a slight chill evident in her voice.
“Ethel!? Pffff, that's a loser name for someone with big teeth... or weird eyebrows.” Rana's father protested vehemently with disdain painted on his face.
“Now children, why don't you settle down a bit? Phillip, why don't you be a dear and help Morris in the kitchen?” Munda saw fit to intervene in a soft yet stern tone that cut through the escalating cacophony. Rana saw how her father left the room and how her grandmother went over to Leela and placed her tentacles over her daughter's shoulders.
“He's so immature!” Leela raged in response to her mothers touch.
“Give Phillip a chance, he's a nice boy that does the best he can with what he’s got.”
“Can you believe he forgot that I had an appointment and that he had promised to meet me there, at the doctors?! He always does things like that, never listens, forgets things…He always acts like a child!” The young cyclops was working her self into full blown anger. Munda's response was to gently massage her daughters’ shoulders while speaking to her in a calm manner.
“You can't have a rose without a thorn. Now, how about the name of my granddaughter?” Munda paused briefly considering the question herself. “What do you think of Rana?”
“Rana?” Leela turned around and looked surprised at her own mother, her anger momentarily forgotten.
Munda smiled in reply to Leela's surprised look. “It's an ancient Arabic name from the stupid ages, maybe earlier. It can be translated to eye-catching or beautiful. Which I'm sure that your child will be.”
“Oh mom.” Leela whispered and hugged Munda.
Rana turned away from the emotional scene before her. Her mother had never told her that it had been her grandmother that had given her her name. Even though it had been interesting to see all of this play out, Rana was slightly irritated. She had yet to meet her father face to face. A though occurred to the sullen teen. She hadn't explicitly asked the chronotron to send her to a point in time where her father was alone. Rana felt like she wanted to hit herself. There was only one thing to do; go back home and try again.
She looked down at the bracelet on her left wrist. Just underneath the blue exterior, there was a round pale red circle that pulsated slowly. 'Press Here to Return' said the text inside. Rana briefly hesitated before she pressed inside the circle with an index finger. In an instant she was treated to the same air-sucking, darkness-filled travel she had experience on her way back in time.
End Part Three