A Red Letter Day, part 4
“Good news everyone!” The professor’s voice echoed from the break room doorway. Farnsworth's enthusiastic greeting was not meet by the same measure of eagerness by the assembled crew. Only a collective gloomy groan from Leela, Fry, and Bender came as a reply. In their experience, those three words never heralded anything good.
Leela, now almost nine months pregnant, sat in one of the chairs, trying her best to look like she really hadn’t needed the wool blanket and pillow that Fry had insisted upon getting for her. The attention from the delivery boy had increased and Leela had become clumsier as the months had progressed. At first, Leela hadn’t minded being waited on hand and foot, on the contrary. It was nice and somewhat cute that Fry fetched things for her, held the door open, and whatnot, but soon the constant hovering had become tiresome when Fry had started to insist on doing everything for her. She’d snapped at him several times for his overzealousness, but it never seemed to do any good. He just kept fussing over her more and more as she got bigger and bigger. Somehow that was his fault too. She wasn’t quite sure how that made sense, but in her state of permanent grumpiness, she was content to just blame him anyway.
The delivery boy was seated just a mere couple of feet away from the cyclops, pretending to read a Captain Cosmos comic while doing his best to be nonchalant about it. Ever since Leela had started entered the tail end of her pregnancy Fry had tried hard in every way to be close to her if she was to go into labor.
This extra attention beyond the already tiring concern that Fry was showing her only served for Leela to explode into a rage towards the hapless delivery boy. After being subjected to a verbal volcano, Fry had changed tactics, trying to not be so obvious and resorting to poorly imitated spy movie tricks.
Bender, in turn, was in front of the TV, chugging down beer after beer. The robot was the first to respond to the Professor’s exuberant greeting. “No can do! This bending bot is watching TV. Suicide missions have to wait until Calculon is out of his thirty-eighth coma.” He stated in his typical dismissive way.
“Look, Professor, is it possible that I could sit this one out?” The cyclops asked in a more placid voice. She had tried to get maternity leave from Hermes, who had referred to the contract she had signed as a captain on her first day; no maternity leave. Leela had not been aware of this clause and it was something that had vexed the cyclops greatly.
Despite her best efforts, there had been no way for her to get out of work due to her “condition” as Hermes kept referring to it, so she had continued to work, and ever since she had started to near the end of her pregnancy she had to rely more and more on Fry's “help”, despite his overly clumsy way of helping. To her frustration, she had become almost completely dependent on Fry during deliveries because she was more or less confined to the bridge, since moving about in the starship was becoming more and more difficult for her.
The Professor smiled at Leela and, for a second, it seemed as if the senile old man actually understood just why Leela didn't want go on the delivery. “Oh my no.” He said with a cheery voice and dismissive wave of his hand. “Now off you go!” He said as he shuffled out of the room leaving a nonplussed Leela in his wake.
“Fine help you are!” Leela hissed, addressing Fry with her frustration.
The delivery boy looked up from the comic that he had been pretending to read and stared with confusion at Leela. “Is something wrong?”
“Hey, meatbag, maybe Captain Hindenburg is about to pop!” Bender quipped.
Fry's eyes grew wide from the implication of what the bending bot just had said. “I'll get Amy!” He cried and took off before Leela had a chance to correct him.
“Bender!” Leela complained, angry over what the metal coworker had just done. “That's the eighth time you’ve done that to him this week!”
Bender didn't show any remorse whatsoever, he simply laughed. “And it's still funny.”
The cyclops only growled at him. The last time Bender had pulled that stunt with Fry had been at Overlord and Tailor’s, which had ended with the emergency service showing up as well as attracting unwanted attention from Fry's panic and constant arm flailing. With considerable effort Leela rose from her comfortable position and waddled out through the door in a slow pursuit of Fry.
One arduous chase of the fretting delivery boy later, Leela sat on a small, pillow-adorned box in the hangar area. From her semi-comfortable vantage point Leela was overseeing the bumbling delivery boy's attempt to load the Planet Express ship. A certain Asian intern had tried to assist, but, between Fry, the heavy cargo, and a pool of dark matter oil, Amy soon had found herself en-route to the emergency room yet again, leaving Fry alone to load the ship. Bender was, as usual, scarce in his presence.
The cargo they were to deliver was a special pressurized container of miniaturized naked singularities for the planet of cosmic censorship. Fry had tried to open the container on at least two separate occasions, believing naked singularities were some sort of futuristic adult entertainment. Both incidents had warranted Leela slapping Fry’s hand and giving him a proper scolding. Twice she’d repeated the Professor’s warning about the dangers of opening the container, but she was doubtful that her warnings had done any good.
After some confusing and accident-prone attempts, the cargo was finally secure on board the planet express ship and the crew, now only consisting of Fry and Leela since Bender had left the building, most likely to get more beer, boarded the ship to prep it for launch.
Since Leela didn't trust Fry to get things right, she took it upon herself to inspect the cargo bay. Fry was there, following her every move just in case. There was a slightly repugnant smell lingering in the cargo bay. It didn’t take long for Leela to trace it to a faulty coolant line that fed the darkmatter engine’s main coolant emitter. Muttering to herself about how everything on the old ship was falling apart and that Amy wasn’t keeping up with the repairs, Leela waddled purposefully in the direction of the aft access panel before Fry could offer to try and fix it for her. She wasn’t useless, damnit.
The line with its associated valves and gauges was situated behind a narrow access panel in a narrow corner of the cargo bay. Leela wasn't dissuaded by the hard to reach panel. With determination she grabbed the toolbox from on top a nearby box and made for the narrow corner.
Fry stood nearby and watched how Leela struggled in positioning herself in a way where she could reach the panel and her bulging stomach didn't hinder her.
"Um, Leela? Shouldn't... I mean... eh... assist?" Fry stuttered, trying to find the right words in which he could offer Leela help.
Leela looked up from her prone position, her sole eye glaring over the crest that was her stomach. "I can handle it Fry, I don't need your help."
After some additional fiddling, Leela found herself able to remove the access panel and had started to work on the leaking line. Normally it would have taken the cyclops mere minutes to tighten the loose valve with a hydrospanner, but, in her present condition it took much longer.
Some arduous ten minutes later she stood up again and tossed the hydrospanner back into the toolbox. Despite her difficulties she’d managed to do it without assistance. With Fry in tow, she made her way to the bridge.
Leela managed to squeeze down into the pilot seat with some unwanted, but necessary, help from the delivery boy. “You'll have to stay in the cargo hold, Fry. Someone has to keep an eye on the engine coolant system’s pressure gauges. Just don't try and open the package again!” The cyclops warned the delivery boy with a stern look on her face.
“But it's boooring! If you won't let me look inside the box, then what am I supposed to do the whole time?” Fry whined with a pleading look on his face.
Leela stared back at him with an unimpressed expression. “As I've explained before, someone has to monitor the gauges in case that coolant line springs another leak. If the gauges go into the red zone, well, I’ve told you a hundred times what will happen. I’m not asking very much here, Fry.”
“Fine.” Fry muttered and turned towards the bridge exit with the enthusiasm of a prisoner sent to solitary confinement.
“Fry. Wait.” Leela beckoned to the dejected delivery boy, who eagerly turned back, hoping that Leela had hanged her mind.
“Yes?” He said with an anticipation that was so enunciated that it was palpable.
“Your comic, let me have it.” The demand was underscored by Leela's hand, which was stretched towards Fry with the palm upwards. For a moment, the delivery boy stared at Leela's hand, then at Leela and back to the hand again. The cyclops knew that Fry was probably deliberating with himself whether he should play dumb, lie, or just acquiesce to her demand.
Inevitably, he chose the first option. It was what he was best at. Straightened himself and smiled an unconvincing smile at Leela, he asked in a completely unconvincing voice: “What comic?”
Leela didn't respond at first. She saw the bulge under his jacket and thus the cyclops simply let her already outstretched hand wander over to Fry's red jacket and sneak inside. With a quick jerk she fetched the rolled up Captain Cosmos comic from inside the jacket. “I wouldn’t want you to be distracted” She said drily.
Having had his comic book confiscated, Fry looked like he was being sent to the dog house. He let out a sad sigh and wandered off the bridge hanging his head. Leela was actually surprised that he hadn't protested more.
Fry stopped at the door and looked up at Leela. “But what if the baby...” He started, but then he met Leela's hard stared and wisely closed his mouth and the door.
The cyclops turned her attention back at getting the ship underway. With a bit of luck, the trip would only take an hour back and forth, as long as Fry didn't get lost on the way or did anything else stupid while delivering the container.
Taking off from Planet Express was a well-practiced routine for Leela, who maneuvered the ship away from the grasp of the planet and into deep space. After calculating the proper heading, the cyclops settled in for the upcoming journey.
While Leela tried to make herself as comfortable as possible and Fry was sulking in the cargo hold, there was a blue flash in a corridor not far from the cargo area. Rana landed with a thud as she planted both her boots heavily on the metal floor.
This was now the third time she’d traveled through time and space, so things didn't feel as horrible as the previous two times. The teen flailed her arms back and forth to keep her balance after the surprise landing her right hand slammed into the nearby bulkhead. Having regained her posture, Rana took a good look at where she was. With a slight chill that she really couldn't explain, the teen saw that she was onboard the Planet Express Ship.
Though it had been several years since the last time she had been on board, she still recognized the interior of the ship. Why here? Rana wondered silently as she stalked through the semi-lit ship corridors. Wasn't I supposed to meet Dad?
Passing the hatch leading to the cargo bay, Rana threw a cursory glance through the small window in the door. What she saw made her stop dead in her tracks. Standing in the center of the almost-empty cargo hold was a large, oddly-shaped metallic object which was riddled with hoses, valves and dials. However, it was not the container that had made the purple-haired teen come to an abrupt stop, but rather the fact that there was a man splayed across the cargo bay floor. Rana couldn't see his face from where she stood, but he sported red hair, a red jacket, blue jeans and a pair of black sneakers with worn soles. In his right hand was a hydrospanner and a toolset had been turned over. Tools of different shapes and sizes lay thrown haphazardly around the still figure.
The realization that the still frame on the floor was her father exploded in her mind. Filled with dread, Rana frantically pressed the door button to no avail, the door remained solidly shut. “Open!” She growled at the indifferent door.
The teen spent additional minutes kicking and screaming at the unyielding door until she noticed the small display just above the door button. Upon closer scrutiny, she noted that the computer readout clearly stated there was coolant gas flooding the cargo bay and the door had been locked as a safety measure. Only the Captain's override code could open it in the current situation.
Rana chewed her lower lip furiously, as she tended to do when she was nervous and scared. She had to find Mom immediately, which meant that she had to venture to the bridge. Rana fretted for a moment until she recalled how she’d been caught by her mother the last time she had been onboard; the intercom! It could work as a compromise, saving time and preventing a face to face meeting with her mother, something she really didn’t want to deal with.
The teen was nervously moving about the ship; there could be more people on board, such as Aunt Amy, uncle Bender or worse, Zoidberg. It took only a few minutes for the teen to find a working intercom in the kitchen area, but she felt like it had taken forever. Rana held her hand over the on switch. What would she say? And would her mother believe her? But she couldn't wait; her father was dying and if she hesitated any longer it would be too late.
Rana had lost her father once; she wasn’t going to lose him again. With at trembling finger she pushed the communication button. “H-hello?”
There was a moment of puzzled silence on the other end of the line before Rana received an answer. “Who is this?!” The voice coming through the speaker was unmistakably her mother’s, and it was undoubtedly angry. Rana couldn’t help but wonder if avoiding a face-to-face encounter with her mother hadn’t been an even better idea than she’d thought. Leela didn’t know who she was, not yet. It wasn’t pleasant to think about what she might do to a stranger she found aboard her ship.
Rana swallowed her nerves and forced herself to answer. “You’ve gotta help Da.. Fry. He's... hurt.” The teen burbled into the comm, almost having said dad instead of Fry. Her stuttering was a sign of her stress and she knew it, but she couldn't stop it any more than she could stop the butterflies in her stomach.
“Amy? Is that you? Aren't you supposed to be at the hospital? What's going on down there?” The barrage of questions assaulted Rana, who wasn't sure just how to respond. All she knew was that she had to get Leela to leave the bridge and as soon as possible.
“Fry's hurt! There’s something wrong with the cargo bay!” Rana was now feeling her temperature rise, her father was dying as they were speaking and all her mother was doing was asking her stupid questions.
The angry voice from the communication panel caught Leela off guard. Who IS this? She wondered, it certainly didn't sound like Fry, and the voice didn't have the same accent that Amy had. A stowaway, perhaps? A glance on the shipboard panel told Leela that whoever was speaking from the galley wasn't lying. The door leading to the cargo bay had been sealed.
“How do I know you aren't the one attacking Fry, and just how did you get on board my ship!?” Leela countered, suspicious of this female voice over the intercom. As far as Leela knew, Fry could have sealed off the door himself.
Rana couldn't believe it. How could her mother be so callous and stupid? “Just please open doors.” The teen pleaded. “I.. I can't say who I am. You just have to trust me, just like Munda when she told you to give Fry a chance. You know, you can't have a rose without a thorn?”
There was stunned silence from the bridge before Leela's voice came back. “It's open.” Rana didn't wait for anything more but ran down to the cargo hold, impatiently slamming the door button before running into the cargo hold.
She was instantaneously met by noxious gases that tore through her throat and lungs like razor-sharp shards of glass. Rana put her left hand over her mouth with did little to alleviate her coughing, increasing nausea and dizziness that was flowing over her in waves as she got closer to her unconscious father.
Rana managed to grab her father by the neck of his red jacket and started to drag him out of the bay, it was in the last minute that Rana got herself and Fry clear from the gas filled bay. She slammed the door button and collapsed on the floor next to her father while gulping down fresh air in deep, ragged gulps.
The teen pulled herself from her position over to her father. With some effort she managed to cradle the considerably heavier Fry in her embrace. He seemed to be breathing, but only in shallow, ragged breaths. Rana didn't know what to do. Feeling helpless, tears started to well up. “Please, dad, don't die... not again.” She whispered through her sobs while holding Fry tightly.
Meanwhile, Leela had been fighting the autopilot. There was no way she was sitting idly on the bridge if Fry was in trouble, and especially not if there was some unknown woman roaming the ship that seemed to know more about Leela than the cyclops cared for.
After threatening the autopilot with a one way ticket out an airlock if it didn’t cooperate, Leela stood up, and just as she was about to leave the bridge, she noticed something on the panel where Fry usually sat. There was a pressure alert for the coolant line gas flashing. For some reason it hadn’t triggered the master alarm which it should have, but that wasn’t what made Leela feel like she a bucket of ice cold water thrown over herself. It was the fact that the source of the leak was pinpointed to the cargo bay.
Horrified, the cyclops realized that the leak she thought she had fixed hadn’t been fixed at all. If only she had swallowed her pride and just allowed Fry to help her. But ‘if only’ wouldn’t help the delivery boy, and for the first time, Leela understood that she didn’t want the young man from the stupid ages to disappear from her life. She needed him more than ever.
Leela ran for the cargo bay as fast as her pregnant body could manage.
Rana didn't know how long she sat there on the cold and hard floor embracing her father. The sudden trample of approaching feet made Rana realize that she could not stay where she was any longer. She recognized the heavy pounding from her mother’s boots, and she couldn’t bear the thought of trying to explain herself to her mother.
Still sobbing, Rana let her father down on the floor as gently as she could and pressed the return button on her return tag. Again she was subjected to the by now familiar sensation of time travel.
With a soft plopping sound, Rana landed in the small confinement of the old suicide box. Unlike previous occasions the box was dark and unlit, though Rana didn't notice. Instead, she sank to the floor, pulled her legs up to herself, buried her face in her legs and cried. She sat in a corner of the machine for she didn't know how long. By now her father was probably dead again, thanks to the fact that she hadn’t had a clue what to do to help him. I can’t believe it happened again. For her whole life she’d been trying to get her mother to tell her how Fry had died. Now she finally understood why Leela had never been able to tell her. I just wanted to meet him... that was all.
Suddenly the door parted with a screeching sound, and bright light from the lab flooded inside. The sudden contrast between dark and light made Rana shield her eyes. All she could see was a shadow that stood in the doorway, the features of the person blotted out by the stark light in the lab.
“Honey! I found her!” The person called over its shoulder.
Rana recognized the voice, trying to blink her tears from her eyes. “Dad?!” she asked with disbelief. Two hands emerged and pulled her from the machine and into the laboratory. The owner of the hands was none other than those of Philip J. Fry‘s, who stood there smiling at her. Standing halfway into the square box, Rana was momentarily stunned. Then she flew into her father's arms, embracing him hard. She had found her father, at last.