Futurama

Fan Fiction

Parallel Lives - A Road Not Taken, part 1
By Graham Dawson

Dawn. The new sun was a sight rarely seen by some, especially those who spent their time working on odd shifts that had them sleeping or working when the sun crested the horizon. Others might see it once a week, when they got up to drag the Sunday paper in from the porch, or scrape the weekend crust of owl-droppings from their hovercar if they lived in that sort of neighbourhood. Some would see it perhaps a dozen times in their lives.

Of course others might see it several times a day. Anyone living or working in earth orbit, for instance. The inhabitants of the great Orbitals that circled the globe saw dawn six times a day, alternatively from the north and south as their orbits crossed the equator. People working in lower orbits saw anything up to twenty dawns each day. Others never saw a dawn in their entire life as they wandered about the eternal darkness of deep mines or dank underground factories, or meandered along the massive, ancient network of sewers that kept New New York from drowning in its own filth.

All of these thoughts flitted through Leela’s mind as she watched for the first arc of the sun to peek over the distant horizon. She had rarely taken the time to just take in the sky, the vast bowl of light over her head, or to watch the sun she took for granted start its day until her last visit to her parents had reminded Leela just how lucky she was to even have the chance. It was as if a rather ironic light-bulb had switched on in her head; she'd looked around the dimly lit hovel her parents called a home – cosy as it was – and asked how many times they'd seen a sunrise.

Their answer, whilst not actually surprising, had been something of a shock and made Leela all the more determined to enjoy the life they had given her, painful as it might seem sometimes. And so, on the strength of a their gift to her, Leela had awoken before the dawn one fine spring morning, hauled herself from her bed and made the commute to the Planet Express offices a few hours early. Now she stood on the tower and simply watched the sun as it finally hove above the grey shimmer of the ocean and started its long trek across the sky.

It was strangely uninteresting. And yet...

Leela was still there an hour later, long after the stars had faded from view and the sun was on its way toward noon. That’s how Fry found her. Not crying, as such, but she had to blink back a tear when he called her name. She turned and saw him standing a short distance away with that odd half-smile he always seemed to have when he wasn't thinking.

“Hello Fry.”

“Hey.”

He walked over and joined her at the rail, leaning back on it so low that he almost seemed to be sat on the floor. he let his head droop backward and stared at the sky. “The Professor's been looking for you.”

“Did he say why?”

“Oh, the usual stuff. Missions, deliveries, stealing organs...”

Leela closed her eye and laughed, taking the moment to enjoy the feeling of the sun on her face. Fry was still content to stare at the sky when she looked at him again so, sighing, she looked back out over the river. If her parents were a reminder of higher things, Fry was the anchor that kept her feet firmly in the muck of reality.

The silence was companionable, whatever cares and worries they might normally have shared lost for a moment in the still morning air.

“I suppose we'd better get going,” she finally said, breaking the peace. “We can't keep our employer waiting, can we?”

“I guess,” Fry said. He leaned even further back, if that were physically possible, and smiled at something in the air. Leela grabbed Fry's collar and pulled him upright before he could melt over the rail. He shook his head. “Sorry.”

“No problem.” Leela held out her hand toward the doors. “Lay on, MacDuff.”

Fry tore his gaze away from the sky, a confused frown touching his brow. “I thought you had a thing about people sleeping on the job,” he said carefully as he straightened out his coat. “Or does laying mean something else? And anyway, who's this MacDuff guy?”

“Fry, it... it's a figure of speech, I read it in a book from your time. I thought...” her voice trailed off in the face of Fry's almost impenetrable incomprehension. She sighed and smiled at him. “Never mind. Let’s go.”

“Sure,” Fry said, shrugging as he fell into step behind Leela. After a moment she realised he wasn't following again and turned to see what was up. Fry was staring at the sky once more, mouth slack and eyes almost vacant. She finally gave up and turned to follow his gaze.

“What are we looking at?”

“Clouds. That one looks like your mom.”

Fry pointed up at a cloud that, Leela noted, did bear a passing resemblance to Munda... assuming Munda was a hunchback with three legs, of course. “So it does... come on, Fry, we'll be late.”

“Uh-huh.”

She waited in silence until her patience grew too thin. Leela grabbed Fry's collar and dragged him inside.


Professor Farnsworth was already at the conference table when Leela and Fry arrived, trying to prize his fingers from a colourful Chinese finger trap. They sat down as quietly as they could so as not to disturb him.

“Confounded thing,” he muttered, ignoring the other employees as they arrived and took their seats. Finally he gave in and looked up. “So, you’ve finally decided to join us, Leela?”

“Hey, she was watching clouds with me,” Fry said loudly, putting his feet up on the table with a broad 'I'm rescuing you' smile.

“Thanks a lot, Fry,” Leela grumbled, barely able to conceal the sarcasm in her voice. Fry beamed and gave her a thumbs up.

“No problem!”

Farnsworth gave the finger-trap an absent-minded tug and frowned at it in evident confusion. “I don’t care what sort of stupidity you were up to, and frankly I never will as I’ll have forgotten about it in a few hours, h’yes.” He reached up to adjust his glasses, only to realise that his other hand was dragged up too. “Blast and damnation, how did I ever get stuck in this thing?”

“Professor...”

“What? Oh yes, I have some good news, everyone!” Farnsworth reached under the table and, for a moment, struggled with something beneath. Leela pulled a face at the thought of what he might be doing under there until Farnsworth managed to lift a large, plain cardboard box from the floor. He smiled blankly at the assembled staff as he laid the box on the table.

Fry peered at the box. “Isn’t that the thing with our universe in it?”

“Oh my no, this is another box with a whole new universe inside. I created it last night,” Farnsworth said with a cheery lilt. He leaned his head over sideways as he examined the box. “Along with approximately eleven thousand others. I accidentally left the machine on overnight instead of destroying it.”

“And this is good news how, exactly?” Leela folded her arms. This ought to be good.

“Well, uh... it means you have a mission,” Farnsworth said, putting his hands together. The finger-trap slipped off his finger but he didn’t seem to notice. “Yes, a mission, one so terrifying and dangerous that you may well be too terrified to carry it out.”

“Sounds fun, hope you all enjoy it,” Bender exclaimed, turning to run for the exit. Before he got anywhere near the door Hermes pulled out a squat, cylindrical device that emitted a loud buzzing noise when he pointed it at Bender. The robot froze in his track and slumped forward, groaning.

Hermes blew on the end of the cylinder and slipped it back into his pocket. “Nobody runs out on their employment obligations,” he said happily, leafing through a sheaf of papers. Bender turned his head to glare at Hermes; evidently he could do little else but watch as Hermes smiled and held open a thick book.

“Asimov Code rule four one seven, subsection eleven, paragraph six as amended,” he said, holding his pen up to indicate the relevant paragraphs. “All robotic employees that demonstrate unwillingness to follow rules one through fifteen, seventeen and ninety-two will be fitted with suitable restraint devices in order to facilitate compliance with the Code. The alternative was waitin until you were out of the door and then callin in the breakers.”

The book slapped shut.

“Oh. Well, I’ll just wait here then... like I have a choice!”

Farnsworth clasped his hands together, incidentally re-trapping his fingers in the finger-trap. He looked down and frowned as if he’d just noticed the device. “Well now, with that unpleasantness out of the way, this won’t be any more dangerous than your last missions,” he said as he tugged at the trap again, testing its strength.

“Our last three missions nearly got us all killed, Professor,” Leela said, trying not to let the anger show in her voice. Farnsworth just stared at her and then looked over at Hermes, who shook his head slightly, tapping his briefcase with one hand.

“All right,” Leela sighed. “What is it?”

“After accidentally creating so many new universes I feel a certain need to preserve the one we have here. Each of the boxes I created holds a replica of our universe within, and those ones potentially hold replicas again, and if any one of them were to be destroyed it could set of a cascade of wanton destruction and mayhem that might potentially destroy the entire multiverse.”

“Sort of like that episode of Star-” Fry choked as Leela elbowed him in the stomach. He gasped and screwed up his face. “What was that for?”

“Any mention of you-know-what is still technically illegal,” Leela said, rubbing her elbow. How could a man who was so overweight be so bony at the same time? “I probably just saved your life.”

“I was going to say gate! Gate!”

“Oh that asinine mockery of science, as if you could actually walk through the event horizon of a wormhole...” Farnsworth cleared his throat, ignoring Fry’s obvious dismay. “May I continue?” He waited for a moment and then smiled at the assenting silence.

“Good. Now, in order to preserve these boxes I have decided to store them in the very centre of the universe, which-”

“Point of order?” With complaints and scrabbling, Cubert Farnsworth, cloned son of the Professor and general know-it-all crawled out from underneath the table, covered in grime and dust and dragging some sort of cabling behind him. He heaved at the cable and then dropped it on the floor. “Strictly speaking there is no centre to the universe.”

“What? What are you talking about? And what the devil are you doing under there?” Cubert shrugged and nudged the cable with his toe, as if this somehow explained everything. Farnsworth sighed. “Never mind. I know there’s no centre of the universe but it sounds better than saying I want them put in some random spot near the edge. Anyway, there- what do you want now?”

Cubert stopped tugging at Farnsworth’s sleeve and folded his arms again. He gave the Professor his ‘I’m smarter than you’ look and shook his head sadly. “How can there be an edge of the universe when there’s no centre?”

“Shut up and get back to stripping that irradiated cable insulation, you annoying little brat.” The Professor waited until Cubert had crawled back under the table, then folded his hands together. The finger-trap finally sprung off and flicked away over his shoulder. “Now as I was saying, you will be taking the boxes to a world at the edge... uh, centre... well it’s a long way away from here. The world you’ll be visiting is the most inert planet in the entire known universe.”

The Professor beamed at his staff, as if waiting for them to react in shock or, perhaps, surprise. He looked from face to face, his frown deepening as he moved to each staff-member and noted their apathy. Only Fry seemed to be remotely interested in what was going on, unusually for him. Farnsworth turned to Leela, who feigned interest and even managed to put on a smile.

Fry held up his hand. “What’s it called?”

“Nobody knows. There were a few attempts to name it, and eventually they managed to argue down to two candidates; Inertialis, and Procrastinon. The subsequent war was long and bloody but there was no clear winner, so these days everyone just pretends it doesn’t exist.” Farnsworth took off his glasses and cleaned them, scrubbing at the nano-particles he knew had to be there somewhere. “It’s a world so completely inert that anything placed on it will probably last until the end of the universe, which is why I want to store these boxes there. Hermes has already taken care of the permits. All you need to do is load them on to the ship and transport them.

“You’ll get there,” he continued before Leela could speak, “by following the map I shall provide for you. The world doesn’t appear on any official star charts or catalogues because of its, eyuh, ‘controversial’ nature.”

The room fell silent. Mostly through apathy, it had to be said, rather than any particular worry or concern, though Fry and Leela seemed to be at least marginally interested now. Amy was polishing her nails. The Professor stood up and left the conference table without a word, pausing only to pick up the finger trap he’d discarded moments ago. By the time he reached the door the trap was firmly wrapped around his fingers again.

Leela looked across the table at Hermes. He almost cowered under the power of her gaze. “No chance of attacks or anything stupid happening?”

“Nope.”

“No alien head hunters, brain parasites, liver maggots, nasal hair harvesters or Grues?”

“You're quite safe from all of those tings,” Hermes said, pulling out another sheet of paper. He skimmed through it and then signed the bottom. “Though I would like to have your signature on this waiver of liability for any comments that might mislead you into falsely believing such statements as that.”

Leela glared at the waiver, almost willing it to burst into flame. She pushed it aside, giving Hermes a neutral look. “No chance.”

“Worth a shot...” Hermes folded up his papers and whistled a jaunty tune to himself as he left.

“Well, you heard the man. Time to load up.”

“Do we have to?” Fry kicked his chair back and put his feet up on the table. “It’s such a nice day today, I’d really prefer to hang out on the beach or something. Maybe we could go to the park and watch, uh, birds. Or... y’know.”

“No, I don’t know,” Leela said. “As nice as the day is I’d rather get paid. Come on. You too, Bender.”

Bender turned his head toward Leela’s voice, arms wobbling as he tried to move.

“Looks like I’m stuck here,” he said, laughing until he seemed to realise what that would mean. “Aw...”

“I’ll get Hermes to... do whatever it is he’s supposed to do, I guess,” Leela said, looking down at Amy. She rubbed her chin and then snapped her fingers. “Or better yet, Amy, you do it. I’ll go prep the ship.”

“Fine...” Amy dragged herself from her chair and stomped across the room. She paused at the door and turned to lean against the frame. “You know, Leela, it wouldn't hurt if you lightened up a little now and then.”

“I'll lighten up when people start obeying their orders,” Leela replied. She walked around the table, stepping to one side to dodge the cables Cubert had straggled across the floor. Amy seemed strangely unnerved by Leela’s approach; she opened the door and backed up through it. “Remember who’s in charge around here.”

“All right, I’m going!” The door slid shut with such surprising ferocity that Leela wondered if Amy had been messing with the controls again. She turned to look at Fry, still in his seat by the table.

“We can start moving a few of these things while we’re waiting for Hermes to sort out Bender,” she said, trying to give him an encouraging smile. Fry just stared at her and pushed his hands into his pockets.

“Sure.”

“Come on, Fry, no need to act like a lazy...” Leela’s voice faded away as she looked Fry up and down. He never acted lazy, she thought as she shooed him toward the storeroom. Acting implied the possibility of it all being, well, an act. “Well, no need to be yourself I guess.”

Buddies