Futurama

Fan Fiction

Futurama, The Fifth Season
By Craig Williams

FUTURAMA: THE FIFTH SEASON

Episode Five – “Smile and the Whole World Smiles with You”

* * *

SEPTEMBER 2996 (EIGHT YEARS AGO)

Alone in the bedroom of her apartment, Leela sat down at a small desk opposite her bed, and flipped over the cover sheet of an A5 notepad that lay on the wooden surface. To the left of the pad was a steaming mug of coffee, and on the right a desk tidy filled with cheap biros that charities and companies insisted on including in their junk mail envelopes. Many of them were from the various Orphanaria that regularly requested donations from her, and the majority of the rest came from the life insurance companies who helpfully suggested that Leela make provisions for her loved ones in the event something happened to her.

Spotting a lone pen advertising Sweet Dreams Inc., Leela plucked it from the desk tidy, and scribbled down four words at the top of the page:

Dear Mom and Dad,

It was a habit Leela had first picked up as a child in the Orphanarium. Every so often she’d write an imaginary letter to her parents, letting them know how she was getting on. Okay, in her heart of hearts she knew this was a pointless exercise. Wherever her parents were, there was no way they would ever get to read this letter. And yet - Leela looked up from her barely started letter and turned to stare out of the window, at a cloudless sky filled with stars – and yet she could never quite shake the feeling that somewhere, somehow her parents were watching over her. After several minutes of silent contemplation, Leela’s focus returned to her letter, and she began to write again.

I started my first job today. I’m a Fate Assignment Officer at a firm called Applied Cryogenics.’

Technically speaking, this wasn’t exactly Leela’s first ever job. Previously she’d worked part-time at the counter of a small stationary shop, to help pay her way through college. But her Applied Cryogenics job was the first one since she’d been given her Permanent Career Assignment, and was thus her first ‘proper’ job.

AC is a place where people who were cryogenically frozen in the past are unfrozen and rehabilitated into modern day society. My job there is to compile a biographical database on each person, which will then be used to determine what their Permanent Career Assignment (PCA) is.’

Leela recalled the day she’d received her own PCA with loathing. She’d had her heart set on a career with the DOOP that would’ve meant spending most of her time in space, giving her the opportunity to search for her home planet. Even a job delivering cargo or on a passenger liner might’ve been acceptable, as both went to far-flung areas of the universe. But not this. Not stuck on Earth handholding a bunch of dumb nobodies from God-knows-when. Just to add insult to injury, her own Fate Assignment Officer had thought it a huge joke when she received the same PCA as him, and it was all Leela could do not to slap him across the face.

The day began when I arrived at the building and met my co-workers for the first time…

* * *

Leela stood outside the door of Applied Cryogenics, mentally preparing herself for what lay on the other side. She straightened the jacket of her new uniform, taking a moment to study the cruelly ironic inscription on the uniform’s badge, further evidence that the whole universe seemed to take perverse delight in tormenting her.

FATE ASSIGNMENT OFFICER 1BDI.

With a small sigh, Leela turned her attention back to the door. In her mind she recalled a piece of advice some idiot had given her back at the Orphanarium. Smile and the whole world smiles with you. Bitter experience had taught Leela that it was a load of crap. Most of the people she’d met in the intervening years seemed as miserable and joyless as she often felt. Still, if all went to plan she’d be working with these people for a long time to come, so there’d be no harm in getting off on the right foot… Taking a deep breath, Leela forced her lips into a smile, pushed open the door, and marched into the room.

There wasn’t too much of interest to see inside. One entire wall of the room was lined with what Leela realised were cryogenic tubes, inside each one a person waiting to be defrosted. A window on the adjacent wall peered out over the New New York skyline, while the other two were dotted with various machines and storage cupboards. In the centre of the room was a desk, on top of which were a computer, an electronic notepad, and a couple of mugs of coffee. A dark-haired Asian man sat typing at the computer, while a taller man with thick glasses and a geeky haircut leaned on the back of the chair and looked over the first guy’s shoulder. Both looked up as Leela entered the room, and the geeky guy started speaking, in a loud, booming voice.

“GREETINGS, new employee! WELCOME to APPLIED CRYOGENICS, where we bring YESTERDAY’S people TOMORROW, TODAY!”

The smile froze on Leela’s face. What is he on about? For several seconds she did nothing but stand there with her mouth half-open, unable to find any words in response. Fortunately the other man came to her rescue. Shooting the geeky guy a withering glare, he got off his seat and walked over to Leela, his hand outstretched. “Hi, you must be Turanga Leela, the new employee. I’m Lou, and this is Terry.” Leela gratefully shook the offered hand, then went to shake hands with Terry, gripping his hand so firmly he winced loudly.

Lou tried desperately not to smirk at Terry’s discomfort. “Did they tell you what you’d be doing here?” he asked Leela.

“Nothing detailed, just that I’d be assigning jobs to all the unfrozen people.”

“Oh.” Lou gestured for her to join him by the computer. “In that case I’d better fill you in. Our computer database contains full biographical details of everyone frozen here – names and ages, academic qualifications, why they were frozen, that sort of thing. There’s a terminal like this one in your office down the hall, where you’ll be able to access it all. In addition, there’s a device on this floor called a Probulator, which examines the physical and mental condition of the client. You use it to determine if they have any injuries or illnesses that need treating, and also to build up a psychological profile of the client. The profile is used to help assess their suitability for various lines of work, as well as making sure we don’t release any unstable individuals into society.” Leela laughed inwardly at this last comment. Release any more unstable individuals into society, you mean.

“Once all the relevant data’s been compiled,” continued Lou, “the computer determines the job where the client will be of most benefit to society, based on their academic achievement and psychological profile. After that you download the job information into a career chip, implant it in the client’s hand, and select for them a vacancy that matches their job description.”

* * *

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I mean, I’ve known for years how the Fate Assignment system works, but to hear it spelled out in such black and white terms… Why can’t people be allowed to choose the job they want, instead of being marshalled like sheep into the jobs where they’ll be “of most benefit to society”? You know what the employer’s motto is here in New New York? “You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do”. It makes me sick, especially now that I’m part of the system.

After Lou finished his explanation of how AC works, he showed me to my office, where I waited until the first “client” arrived…’

* * *

The one thing about working in AC was that Leela was hardly rushed off her feet. According to Lou, an average week would see only two or three people unfrozen. He and Terry spent the rest of the time monitoring and maintaining the cryo-tubes, but since Leela’s job required a client to actually be up and about, she’d had nothing to do for most of the morning except drink coffee and flip through the records stored in the database.

She was interrupted by a loud bellow from outside the door. “COME, your DESTINY AWAITS!” The door slid open, revealing Terry and Lou standing next to an overweight man in his thirties, who was gazing up in awe at the sliding door.

“Leela,” said Lou, “This is your first client, Eddie Bertoli. Since this is your first time assessing a client, Terry and I will be supervising you.”

Leela nodded, and put on the fake smile again. “Hi, Eddie. Come in.”

Upon hearing his name, Eddie’s attention was drawn from the door to Leela, and at the sight of her stopped dead, staring slack-jawed at her. Leela began to feel uneasy, and the smile fell from her face. “What’s the matter? Why are you looking at me like that?”

Eddie pointed at her. “What happened to your face?”

Huh?

“What’s with the eye?”

Suddenly it clicked with Leela that Eddie had never seen an alien before. With a sinking feeling it dawned on her that in all probability neither had most of the people in stasis, which meant this wouldn’t be the last time she got asked this question.

“I’m an alien.”

“Wow! You mean, like from another planet?”

No, like from Los Angeles, you idiot! “Yes.”

“That is so cool! Are you one of those aliens that’s like, shed all your emotions?”

Only love, joy, happiness… “No.” Leela tried to divert the conversation back on track. “So, your file says you were frozen in Nineteen eighty-five.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Doc said my heart’s totally clogged up. Said it was because I didn’t exercise enough. Shows how much doctors know. I’m not lazy. I exercised. For God’s sake, I WALKED to McDonald’s every single day! What more does that guy want?” Leela threw a despairing glance over Eddie’s shoulder at Terry, who gave her a ‘keep calm’ gesture.

A thought struck Eddie. “Hey, you wouldn’t by any chance know what happened to Sam and Diane, would you?”

“To who?”

“Sam and Diane! C’mon, you MUST have heard of them! Did they get married in the end?”

For a moment Leela’s face was blank as she tossed the names about in her head. Diane, Diane… sounds familiar… yes! “Er, he married his mistress and became king of England, and she died in a car crash in Paris.”

Eddie’s face fell. “Wow. Heavy.”

* * *

Leela’s examination by her Fate Assignment Officer had taken about half an hour. Leela’s evaluation of Eddie took around twice that time, partly because of her inexperience in using the Probulator, but mostly because of the time wasted due to Eddie’s line of conversation spearing off in random directions. Even now, as Leela sat entering the final data into the computer, Eddie was still gabbling on.

“Maybe this won’t be so bad. I mean, I’m alive, once I’ve been to the hospital I’ll be healthy, and I’ll be livin’ in the future! The world of tomorrow! It’s gonna be great!”

Leela offered a noncommittal grunt in response, and continued to type, all the while wishing she were somewhere else. At the bottom of a canyon maybe, or with her head in the macrowave… Meanwhile, Eddie continued with his soliloquy.

“…Think of the possibilities! No way am I gonna do some crummy job like flippin’ burgers again! This time around I’m gonna be someone who counts. A doctor, maybe, or a radio talk show host. Or a spaceship captain! Yeah, that’s it. I’m gonna be a spaceship captain, fightin’ aliens and rescuin’ hot alien broads from mad scientists with goatee beards!”

Eddie’s train of thought was broken when the computer emitted a harsh buzzing sound. “What was that?” he asked.

Leela glanced at the job title on the screen. “Your Permanent Career Assignment, captain” she said, spinning the screen round for Eddie to see. Upon reading the job title his face fell almost to the floor.

FAST FOOD GRILL OPERATOR

“That’s IT?” asked Eddie, shocked. “THAT’S the job I’m best at?”

Leela nodded. “If the computer says so, it is.”

“The computer’s wrong! It has to be!”

Leela sighed. “Computers are never wrong,” she said, although from the tone of her voice it was clear she didn’t believe it herself.

Eddie was exasperated. “’Computers are never wrong?’ That’s a load of crap! Who the hell told you that?” From behind him he heard a sharp tapping sound, and he turned to see Terry tapping a poster on the wall. The picture on the poster was of a computer with a friendly face on the monitor. The caption beneath the picture read: COMPUTERS ARE NEVER WRONG.

Eddie turned back to Leela, desperation now showing in his features. “I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life flippin’ burgers and cleanin’ grease traps! I want somethin’ that has a future to it. Please, give me another job.”

Despite how much Eddie had annoyed her that morning, looking into his face now Leela felt a pang of sympathy for the man. She knew how disappointed she’d felt when she’d been assigned to Applied Cryogenics, even so at least she was in a job where there was some room for advancement. But anything at a fast food outlet was a dead-end job. She wanted to be able to give Eddie something with better prospects, but knew that his mediocre Twentieth Century education was nowhere near sufficient to get him into anything better.

She opened a draw in her desk and pulled out the career chip gun. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do,” she said, trying to sound firm. Holding up the gun, she continued, “Now hold out your hand so I can implant your career chip.”

All the wind taken out of his sails, Eddie could do nothing but dumbly hold out his hand. He remained silent while Leela used the computer to find a suitable vacancy for him to fill, then Lou and Terry ushered him out of the office.

Leela watched him leave the room, his head down and his shoulders slumped. “Welcome to the ‘world of tomorrow’,” she murmured bitterly to herself.

Her comment caught Terry’s ear, and he stroked his chin thoughtfully. “’Welcome to the world of tomorrow’. Hmm… I could do something with that…”

* * *

According to Lou, when it started in Nineteen-eighty, Applied Cryogenics took up just one floor of the building it’s in, and only had room for about twenty people. Now it takes up the entire building, with almost a thousand people in storage. All the main offices are still based on the original floor, along with the remaining ‘original’ subjects.

After I’d finished with Eddie, Lou and Terry took me on a tour of the place, and introduced me to all the stiffs. Some of them were frozen because they were terminally ill and hoped cures for their illnesses would be found in the future. Others were frozen simply because they wanted to see what the future’s like. Boy, are they in for a disappointment.’

* * *

“…And this is Michelle Hennessey, who was frozen in Two Thousand and One. According to her application her life in her own century was falling apart, so she had herself frozen in order to make a clean break.”

Leela nodded in acknowledgement, barely able to feign interest as Lou and Terry introduced her to a seemingly never-ending succession of stiffs, insisting on regaling her with the life story of each and every one and why they came to be frozen. Leela wasn’t impressed; her own life was dull enough without having to hear about the uninteresting problems of uninteresting people from the Stupid Ages.

Terry walked over to the next tube, and began rubbing condensation off the glass. “And here we have a very special guest with us. His name is… uh oh.” Terry broke off, as through the glass he could now see the decaying remains of the tube’s inhabitant.

Suddenly alert, Lou nipped round the back of the tube, and checked some of the connections on the back. When he came back round, his face was sombre. “It’s no good, the atmosphere’s been compromised. Another pressure leak.”

Terry sighed, and got a black body bag from a storage cupboard. “I guess Mr. Disney won’t be joining us after all.”

Terry and Lou set to work, opening the tube and transferring the body to the bag. Realising that Leela wasn’t helping, Lou looked around. “Leela, can you give us a…” He trailed off when he saw that Leela looked paler than usual, and she was trembling slightly. Leaving Terry, Lou walked over and placed his arm around her shoulders. “Leela, are you all right?”

Leela nodded. “Yeah, yeah. It’s just that I… I never saw a d-dead body before.” As she spoke, the tear she’d been forcing back spilled out, rolling down the side of her nose before falling to earth. Then another, and another. “I’m-sorry,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.

“It’s okay,” said Lou, his arm still around Leela. “Do you want to go back to your office while we finish?”

Leela shook her head. “N-no, I’ll be okay.” Calmer now, Leela took a deep breath and wiped the tears from her face. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Lou motioned her over to the computer. “You can enter the failure in the log, and update Mr. Disney’s details.” Leela nodded, and sat down at the computer, while Lou and Terry finished bagging the body. As she worked, Leela silently cursed herself for breaking down in front of a couple of complete strangers, and vowed that if the situation ever occurred again, she’d be stronger.

Once the body had been dealt with and the computer updated, they continued with the tour. A goofy-looking redheaded guy in the end tube caught Leela’s eye. He was clutching a can of beer, and the panicked look on his face suggested that all hadn’t gone well when he was frozen. Leela pointed him out to Lou and Terry. “What’s that guy’s story?”

Terry followed Leela’s gaze. “Now he’s a mystery. We can’t find any biographical details for him in the computer. No name, no record of why he’s frozen, nothing. A real ‘John Doe’.”

“Why do you think he’s here?”

Lou shrugged. “Dunno. According to our scans he had some heart trouble in the past, but nothing that wasn’t treatable back in his time. Certainly wasn’t terminal. You know, from the look on his face I’m not even sure if he was frozen voluntarily.”

Leela’s eye widened. “You think he might’ve been forced in there?”

“Maybe. Maybe there was a break in or something. Or maybe he just fell in accidentally, although God knows who’d be stupid enough to just fall into a cryogenic tube.”

Leela walked over to the tube and stared closely at the frozen figure. “Poor guy. He’s gonna be crushed when he wakes up and finds everyone he ever knew is dead.” Leela placed her hand on the glass of the tube in sympathy, then recoiled suddenly, as if she'd been bitten.

Terry watched as Leela leapt backwards. “Leela? Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah. It’s just that when I touched the tube, I got a weird feeling I’d been here before. Like déjà vu.” Leela shook her head. “It’s okay, I’m fine.”

Lou checked his watch. “We’d better hurry up if we’re going to finish the tour. We’ve got one more floor after this one.”

Casting a final backwards glance at the figure in the red jacket, Leela followed Lou and Terry out of the room and up to the next floor, where they introduced her to the remaining clients.

Soon they got to the final tube. Reading off his electronic notepad, Terry announced, “And this is Lucinda Moon, age twenty-seven.”

Leela rubbed the condensation off the glass to see the face inside, and gave a gasp of horror. The girl inside was only a couple of years older than she was, but she looked so frail and gaunt Leela wouldn’t have been surprised if Terry had told her she was ninety. She was so thin Leela could easily make out the shape of her skull, while what must once have been a beautiful head of blonde hair was now thin and patchy, her scalp clearly visible. “My God, what happened to her?” asked Leela.

“She contracted some kind of unknown disease,” answered Terry, still reading off his notes. “Named it after her, because she’s the one and only known person ever to have suffered from it.”

Lou picked up where Terry finished. “There’s a real story behind this girl, one that’s been passed down through the centuries amongst everyone who’s ever worked here. Apparently in the Twentieth century her father owned a successful shipping business, and became a multi-millionaire. But his wife died not long after Lucinda was born, so she was his only remaining family. When she fell ill, he was so desperate to help her that he sold his company, and used the money to fund research into ways of treating her condition. But the doctors were unsuccessful, so in a last-ditch effort to save her, he used the remaining money to have her frozen for a thousand years, hoping that a cure would be found in the meantime.”

Leela stood by Lucinda’s tube and gazed at the frail girl locked in her thousand-year long sleep. “Wow. I hope that when she’s cured she appreciates how much her father did for her.” Hearing no reply, she turned to look at Lou and Terry, who were glancing nervously at each other. “They did find a cure, didn’t they?”

There was an awkward pause after which Lou finally stepped forward and said, “After Lucinda was frozen and no-one else contracted the illness, research into a cure wasn’t a priority anymore. She’s due to wake up in about seven years, and there… there isn’t any cure. I’m sorry.”

A note of despair began to creep into Leela’s voice. “You mean, everything her father sacrificed was all for nothing?” Lou nodded glumly. “But… what’ll happen to her when she wakes up?”

“I honestly don’t know, Leela. Short of a miracle, there isn’t much hope for her.”

And for the third time that day, Leela felt an overwhelming sense of pity as she stared at the face of Lucinda, frozen for over nine hundred years, awaiting a future she wouldn’t live long enough to enjoy.

* * *

Hearing about how much that man sacrificed, I couldn’t help but feel for him. He gave up his business and his fortune to help his daughter, even though he’ll never meet her again. It really opened my eye. I only hope that it wasn’t in vain, and that somebody somewhere is able to help this girl.

Afterwards though it got me thinking. All my life I’ve wondered why you abandoned me on Earth, whether it was to protect me from some disaster on my home planet, or because you couldn’t care for me and wanted me to have a better life.

Leela took a moment out from writing to look at the small metal bracelet encircling her right wrist, her one link with her absent family. She knew that there was one other option she hadn’t mentioned: that her parents didn’t want her and had simply dropped her off on the nearest inhabited planet. But she could never bring herself to believe that that might be the case. The bracelet was evidence enough that her parents loved her, and that somewhere out there, they were waiting for her.

They were waiting for her…

A lot of the time I feel like I don’t belong here, and it makes me lonely. Sometimes I’ve even hated you for abandoning me. I never stopped to think about how you might’ve felt about leaving me here, even if it was for my own good. But after hearing about Lucinda and her father, I think I’m beginning to understand now how hard it must’ve been for you to give me up, and I guess in some way I’m even grateful that you sacrificed so much for me.

I love you Mom and Dad, and I hope we meet each other soon,

Leela.

The coffee was cold now, as Leela found out to her disgust when she took a sip. Putting the mug back down next to her pen, she flipped back to the first page of the letter, and started to read it through. Sadly, by now the emotions she’d felt while writing the letter were already starting to wear off, replaced by bitter cynicism. Why the hell did I write this drivel? she wondered as she scanned the pages of thoughts and feelings she’d spent over an hour writing. Finally, she gave up reading. Tearing the offending pages from her notepad and screwing them into balls, she stormed into the bathroom and threw them all in the toilet bowl. She grabbed the flush handle and yanked it hard, almost as if the ferocity of the action would somehow make the letter disappear faster. The paper balls soon disappeared in the swirl of water, and Leela returned to her bedroom, muttering all the while about why did she keep doing this to herself and no-one’s ever going to read it anyway so what’s the point?

It was getting late now, so Leela got ready for bed, having a quick wash before slipping into her pyjamas and getting under the covers. All the time unaware of the two large eyes watching her from behind the ventilation grate.

* * *

The alarm rang too early the following morning, as alarms tend to do. With a groan Leela turned over in bed and blindly slapped at her bedside table until she finally silenced the offending clock. After a couple of minutes spent coming to her senses, Leela groggily clambered out of bed, and opened the curtains. Outside, the sun beamed down on the streets of New New York, where small groups of people were already milling about on their way to work. The only cloud in the sky was the small black one directly over Leela as she observed the scene outside. What a lovely day to be stuck indoors in the city’s biggest freezer.

Leela turned away from the window, and was on her way to the bathroom for a shower when something amiss caught the corner of her eye, and she took two steps back. Sitting on her desk, next to the writing pad and the mug of congealed coffee was a small brown cardboard box that she was certain hadn’t been there the previous night. Puzzled, she walked over to the desk and opened the lid, and her jaw dropped. Inside the box were half a dozen cupcakes, neatly arranged in two rows of three. Each cupcake was topped with icing in the shape of a letter, and when Leela read along the rows the letters spelled out a simple six-letter greeting: THANKS.

Bewildered, Leela stared at the box, then through the open door to the bathroom where she’d flushed the letter, then back to the box, and finally through the window of her bedroom again. She walked back over to the window, and stared up at the sunny sky, her face breaking into a wide smile. “You’re welcome,” she murmured, to no one in particular.

And behind the ventilation grate, Morris and Munda smiled lovingly as they watched their daughter withdraw from the window and pick up one of the cupcakes on her way to the bathroom.

* * *

July 2006

Buddies