Fan Fiction

Parallel Lives - A Road Not Taken, part 7
By Graham Dawson

Freedom. It had been so long since the stars had been anything but a roof overhead, a barrier even, a reminder of what she had done. Her parents never saw the stars and after she'd... afterwards... they never would. She’d hidden away from them, from the memories they brought, the accusations the carried. She didn’t deserve to see the stars. But now she saw them, up close, without the intervention of atmosphere and stone and metal to hide her away.

Her parents never saw the stars, but she would. They had wanted her to see them. Leela gripped the wheel of the ship and smiled a tight little smile as she thought about the future. Morgan Proctor wouldn’t have her victory. She didn’t need Proctor or Planet Express, she’d find a new company, maybe start her own. For them.

“All right, that’s enough orbital manoeuvring,” Phil said, looking up from his clipboard. He was seated to Leela’s left, in what would normally be the radio operator’s position, his coat slung over the back of the chair and his feet up on the radio console. “Let’s have a quick run out to the moon and then swing around the L-four and back down to Earth again, and then that should do it.”

“That’s it?”

Phil nodded. “Pretty much. Well, strictly speaking I should be taking you out to Mars and Jupiter, and then there would have to be a trip out to Proxima for the interstellar navigation stuff but this ship isn’t really rated for long-distance travel so I’m fudging it a bit.”

“Lying, you mean?” Leela turned to look at Phil. He smiled and winked at her.

“Back in the old days Mr Pannucci called it ‘jewish accounting’, but then he was a bit of a bastard by all accounts.” Phil looked down at his clipboard and ticked off a few more boxes, then wrote something down. “You deserve a break, Leela. What Morgan did was wrong, there’s no point me hiding from that.”

“Even though she’s...”

“My wife,” Phil finished. He shook his head and looked out at the stars, his face pensive. “So, did you ever find out where you came from?”

Leela flinched at the sudden change of subject and almost said something stupid. Almost. She looked at Phil with a little consternation and wondered how she should answer. “I... I’m not really...”

“I mean, it’s all right if you don’t want to talk about it,” Phil continued, almost ignoring Leela’s stuttering attempt to answer. He flipped over the page on his clipboard and smiled again. “We all have our secrets.”

Leela nodded and bit her lip. Maybe she would tell him later, if there was a later. “Initiating TLI burn.”

The main engine thumped, a fraction of a second of thrust being all the ship needed to change its orbit. Earth slid past the window and disappeared behind them as the Moon grew in the forward ports.

Leela remembered her first trip out there with the company, her first ever official flight after ‘forgetting’ to return the pilot’s career chip, when the sight of the Ship had spoken to her soul, the ever-present longing for freedom that she only now understood. She’d hated every moment of it, from the cheap food to the crowds to the people she’d had to work with. The delivery boy they’d hired had quit when they got back, after an accident on one of the rides nearly took off his arm. It had set a precedent, and they'd never kept one on the staff for more than a month after that.

But at least she’d been free.

The ship clicked at her, waiting for more input. When she looked at Phil she could see a dreamy look on his face. He was staring at the moon with rapt fascination, almost like a little boy, she thought.

“Hey, are you all right?”

“Huh? Oh, sure, just thinking about how I’ve flown past the moon hundreds of times but I’ve never been there before.”

“It’s nothing special,” Leela replied, memories of the trip returning to her mind again, mixed with more sinister memories that she would probably never exorcise. “There’s a theme park, a bunch of tourist crap and lots of rocks, and that’s about it.”

“Maybe it’s nothing special for you, but back when I left there had only been a dozen people on the moon. I always wanted to go there and walk around, see where Neil Armstrong took his first step. Maybe play golf or something. I’d always imagined that there’d be giant hotels and cities up there now.”

“Oh, there are hotels all right,” Leela said, recalling the very brief look she’d had inside one. More tourist trash from Funcorp or whomever owned the place now. She turned from the view to the navigational computer and watched the plotted course past the moon. On schedule Leela flipped the ship over and fired the engines again, then had the computer calculate their new course around the moon’s dark face.

“Nicely done,” Phil said. He brought up the Navicomp display on another screen and spent a moment examining it. “Swish! Right through the L-four as well! Most people have to make at least one extra correction burn to get there.”

Leela shrugged and let herself the luxury of another smile, a warmer smile, as she looked at Phil. He was entering another row of notes on to his clipboard. “All right, so what’s your secret then?”

“My secret?” Phil looked up from his notes. He tapped his pen against his chin as he thought and then flicked it at the top of the clipboard with a wide grin. “My secret is that I just want to sit at home and play video games all day. Morgan doesn’t even let me keep anything in the house, though, so I’ve got one set up at the office instead. She doesn’t know about it,” he added with a conspiratorial wink. Then he looked away and sighed again. “I bet that sounds pretty childish.”

“Kinda,” Leela replied. Phil’s face seemed to fall just a little. She put her hand on his shoulder and smiled. “I think it’s cute.”

“Oh, well I...” Whatever he was about to say was cut off by the sound of the radio demanding their attention. Phil sighed and put his clipboard to one side, then sought the receiver controls. “Tango charlie six, go ahead.”

Fry? I mean, Phil?

“Yeah... Leela? Other Leela?” Phil glanced at Leela and shook his head in confusion. “Whatever. How can I help?”

You need to get back down here,” the visiting Leela said, her voice distorting slightly as the ship moved in toward the moon’s far side. “Leela... My... look, the license was cancelled again.


Right. I’m sorry, Phil.

Phil punched the console and growled something obscene under his breath. He turned to look at Leela. She could see something in his eyes that scared her, and yet drew her with its familiarity.

“I’m sorry too,” he said, his voice strangely quiet. He turned back to the console. “Okay, we’ll be back in about fifteen minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”

Leela looked up at her consoles, already mentally calculating the manoeuvres she would have to make to get back to earth in that time, fine-honed instincts taking her through a complicated set of plane changes and thrusts that would bring her back with the minimum fuel use until she realised there was probably little point now.

“Forget it,” she muttered, and then pitched the ship nose-over-tail until they were pointing back at earth. “Hold on to something, we’re gonna see what this bucket can really do.”

Phil fumbled for his seatbelt and almost had it locked together when the main engines fired. And kept firing. The sudden shift of g-forces pressed them both into their seats for mere moments but, even with the ship's inertial dampeners, it was enough force to fling Phil forward out of his seat the moment the engines cut out again. He thumped against the radio console. Leela gasped in surprise at his sudden movement. She let go of the wheel and leaned over Phil to help him back to his seat.

“I’m sorry,” she said once he was seated again. “That won’t count against me, will it?”

“I think I can overlook it this time.” Phil tossed the clipboard over his shoulder and stared, hard-faced, at the oncoming sphere of earth. “Unlike some other things...”

Phil tore down the ship’s ramp as soon as it made landfall and ran for the office, where he almost collided with Leela in the door. “Woah...”

“Sorry, my fault.”

“Oh. Yeah, no it’s...” Phil looked over his shoulder at Blue, now stood at the foot of the ship’s ramp with her arms wrapped around her body against the cold. She smiled at Phil and started walking over the pad toward them. “Never mind, let’s see that file.”

He slipped past Leela and made a beeline for the clerk’s desk. He paused a moment when he saw the unconscious clerk tied to a chair and glanced at Leela, then Fry. Then he shrugged and sat down behind the screen. “All right, what do we have here...”

“Fry found something he called a Section Fifteen,” Leela said once Phil was comfortable. He began tapping away at the screen and keyboard as he searched through the file for other blocks. Leela looked up at Blue as she entered the office and knelt down by the clerk, now groaning and shifting around in his seat.

“What happened to him?”

“Fry hit him over the head with a chair.”

Fry held up his hands and tried to look innocent as Blue and Phil both looked at him, their faces betraying their doubt to Fry's great annoyance.

“So I... look, that that thing’s flashing again,” he said in a lame attempt to change the subject. It worked.

“Section fifteen... I almost got one of those a couple of years back. Morgan had to... well it should be easy to remove,” Phil said before a lengthy period of silent typing. At the end he grinned and hit a few keys only to be met with a warning beep. “Oh. Looks like the clerk here isn’t high ranked enough to remove it. Well I’ll just log in as myself and-”

There was another beep. Phil grunted and shuffled about in his seat. He started to tap at the screen again, a frown deepening on his forehead a his fingers flew across the keyboard. Another beep. Phil swore.

Fry leaned over his counterpart and peered at the screen. “What’s up?”

“I’m locked out.” Phil frowned at the screen. “That can’t be right...”

“Locked out?”

“That’s what I said!” Phil pointed at the screen and waved his finger at it, as if that would make things simpler to understand. “I can’t even check to see what’s been done now. If I could log in and check I could find out what’s been put in place and maybe even find out who did it, but now I-”

“I think we all know who did it.” Blue gave Phil a meaningful look. “It’s obvious.”

“Well it might seem obvious to you, but-”

“It’s her!” Blue stood up, her eye blazing as she marched toward Phil. She thumped both hands down on the desk and glared at him. “Don’t you try and protect her.”

“I’m not protecting her! I... I just... well how would you feel?”

Blue turned away with a loud huff and wrapped her arms around her chest. None of them dared break the lengthening silence for fear of setting off another argument until Blue dropped her arms again and let out a withering sigh. “All right, so you can’t get in...”

“I said that,” Phil retorted. He knocked a closed fist against the screen a few times, lost in thought. “If I had someone else to check for me I could-”

“We could-” both Leela’s began. They looked at each other in confusion. Leela waved her hand at Blue and looked away. Fry, taking advantage of the confused silence, wandered over behind the clerk and lifted up his head.

“What about this guy?”

Phil looked up from the screen, confused until he saw the clerk. He shook his head. “No chance, he’s out cold.”

“Seems to be coming around to me,” Fry said. He patted the clerk’s face a few times, eliciting another groan. “See?”

Leela put her arm across Fry’s shoulder and gently moved him away from the injured clerk. “I don’t think it’ll work, Fry. After what you did to him he’ll probably be out for the rest of the day.”

“Oh. Well...” Fry shrugged and leaned back against the wall, incidentally trapping Leela’s arm across his back. She glared at him until he shifted to let her free again. “Sorry.”

“There’s only one way to find out,” Leela said, ignoring Fry’s nervous glances while she rubbed her arm. He was still bony. Blue cut in before Leela could continue.

“We go to the source,” she said, thumping a balled hand against the table hard enough to make Phil jump in surprise. “We go over there and, and axe her, yeah. We go to the source.”

“Right,” Leela finished with lame shrug. She looked over her shoulder at Fry. “It’ll give us another chance to get home again.”

Blue looked up at Leela, shock colouring her face. She turned and, almost collapsing, sat on the edge of the desk, her eye wide as she stared at Leela.

“Home? But... but you...”

“We can’t stay,” Leela said. She moved beside Blue and took her hand. It was warm, her skin flushed by the violent emotions she was feeling. Leela looked herself in the eye and tried to smile. “We can’t. I have responsibilities.”

“But I need you...”

“You don’t need me. You are me.”

Phil stood up, fast, knocking his seat over so that it clunked against the wall, making Blue flinch in surprise. He spun his jacket onto his arms and then pulled a tie from the inside pocket. “We’d better go,” he said quickly, then managed to stumble over the fallen chair before he’d even taken a step. Fry chuckled as a recent memory swam through his head. He leaned over Phil to help him to his feet again.

“I don’t see what’s funny,” Phil said, brushing his suit down. Fry just shrugged.

“If you two are quite done conspiring, we really should be going.” Leela put her hands on her hips and glared at Fry and Phil in turn, then spun on her heel and stalked from the office, Blue trailing behind her like a lost lamb. Fry and Phil shrugged at each other before they, too, walked from the room. The door swung shut with a loud clunk and, for a moment, there was silence.

The clerk peeled one eye open and looked around. Satisfied he was alone, he edged his chair toward the desk and started to very carefully tap the screen with his nose. After a few tries the screen bleeped and began to load a new program. A moment passed while the clerk looked around the room for some means to escape from his chair, then a face appeared on the screen.

“New New York Police Department, how may I direct your call?”

“I’d like the emergency response department, please,” the clerk said. He grimaced slightly as a headache started to make itself felt. “I’d like to report multiple refusals to complete appropriate paperwork.”

The officer’s face paled a little. “Please hold, sir...”

The clerk smiled a grim smile. Intuition told him that his own rescue would probably take a very, very long time, but he was prepared for the wait. Waiting with his hands tied was practically his job.

Phil drew his car up outside the Planet Express building with little regard for the parking regulations. Besides, he technically owned the land if what Leela – he couldn’t remember which one – had said about the Professor was true, which meant he could park on it however he liked. As he stepped from the car he looked up at the sky and briefly wondered if he should check up on the old man. Could he get him out?

Planet Express stood before them, a stark grey monolith that seemed to dominate the view despite its relative lack of stature. Something about the building stood stark in his vision, had stood out the first time he’d seen the place, however briefly it had been. He stood aside to help his Leela from the car and then turned to look at their counterparts, who were hovering on the far side of the vehicle.

“You remember the plan,” he asked quietly as his gaze returned to his own Leela. Somehow thinking about her like that felt-

“Are you sure it’s a good idea?”

“Absolutely,” Phil replied. Without waiting for a protest he squared his shoulders and marched toward the building.

The door slid open just before he reached it and the guards – the same guards – stepped out and glowered at him, their arms crossed over their barrel-chests, reeking of waxed leather and shoe polish. They didn’t react when Blue walked up behind him, not even sparing her a glance. Then, all at once, they stood aside and Morgan Proctor stepped out of the lobby. She glanced at Leela with a raised eyebrow and then registered something that might have been surprise before turning her eyes to Phil again. He looked down at his feet; he’d never been able to return that gaze for long.

“I see you are not to be dissuaded,” Morgan said. She tilted her glasses forward and looked at Leela again. “Did she spin you some story about my persecution of her over the years?”

“Not really,” Phil replied, then followed up with a half shrug. He smiled a private smile as a thought crossed his mind. “You’re not jealous, are you?”

“Philip, why do you persist in wasting your time with this...” Morgan paused for a second as if considering her next words. “This woman?”

Phil shrugged again. He had to look away, that gaze was almost soul-destroying, but then he found he was looking at Leela. It probably wouldn't have mattered which one she was, really, though he was starting to learn the differences – his Leela had nicer hair for one thing – because the simple sight of her seemed to give him a strange sort of inner strength. Phil gave her an encouraging smile and then turned to look at his wife again.

“What you did to her was wrong, Morgan. You ignored protocol.”

Morgan glanced uneasily at the guards flanking her and then, satisfied they weren’t listening to the accusation, cocked her eyebrow at Phil. “I think you had better come inside.”

Leela edged around the side of the building as soon as the door hissed shut and ran toward it, silently praying that her counterpart had found the strength to carry out her part of the plan. She stopped an inch or so from the door, ran her fingers around the frame and let out a quiet cry of joy when she found the door wasn’t quite sealed thanks to a tiny sliver of metal at the foot of the frame. Leela turned away from the stark door and motioned to Fry to join her.

“Did they do it?”

Leela nodded and slipped her fingers into the gap between the door and its frame. She braced her boot against the frame and pulled at the door with as much strength as she could muster until it shifted. “Get in here, Fry!”

“Right... what?” Fry stumbled up the steps beside Leela and stared at the door, confused. “You want me to squeeze through that tiny gap? I know I’m lithe and supple but-”

“Just hold the door!”

“Oh. Right.” Fry shuffled up to the door and braced his arm against the cold metal, giving Leela that little extra bit of support she needed. She pulled at the door again until, with a tearing, grinding sound, the mechanism finally gave way and the door slid back with a loud thump. Fry stumbled as his support from the door suddenly disappeared; he fell forward and landed with his head against Leela’s chest as she fell back against the far side of the frame.

For a moment they stood like that, Leela too surprised to move and Fry frozen in place, probably with fear. Leela squeezed her eye shut and very gently lifted her friend from his resting place. “Fry, now isn’t a good time...”

“Does that mean maybe later- I’ll be good!” he yelped as Leela punched him on the shoulder, just hard enough to sting without bruising. She narrowed her eye at him, wondering why she let him get away with it, then turned to look at the lobby.

It was dim and quiet, and deserted, without even the replaceable receptionist Leela had long ago learned to ignore as part of the furniture though, fortunately, neither was there any sign of the oversized guards that had menaced their local counterparts earlier, a fact for which Leela was incredibly thankful. She could have taken on one of them, just about. Two would have been nearly impossible.

Leela turned around at the sound of the door grinding as it tried to close itself, until it gave up with a spluttering shower of sparks and a cloud of blue-grey smoke. She shook her head at the sight. “I hope they have insurance...”

“Do we care?” Fry edged around the door with a wary eye on the still-sparking mechanism and then into the lobby. While Leela leaned down to pick up the wedge her counterpart had left in the door he wandered around the lobby, then stopped, sniffed at the air and frowned. “Bender was never here, right?”

“Uh, I guess...” Leela looked up from the metal tag bracelet her counterpart had left in the door and glanced around the deserted room. Oddly there was no dust in the air, or on any surface. This whole world was so clean, it put their best efforts to shame. She took off her wrist whatsit and held the tag up to the one her parents had left her with. They were identical.

She dropped the tag into her pocket and slid her hand back into the device. “You never met him on this world so I guess not. Why?”

“I can smell cigar smoke,” Fry said. He sniffed the air again and frowned, his brow knotted in deep thought, but he couldn’t seem to keep it up for long. The casual shrug, and then he was back to his usual self again.

“It’s probably nothing, Fry. One of the guards.” Something about Fry’s attitude worried Leela, coupled with the paranoia he’d developed about the other, dark-haired version of herself. She put the thought to one side. Ahead of them the door to the building’s interior stood open and dim onto the back of the loading dock and small package reception. Leela glanced around the room and up at the stairs to the upper floor where their counterparts would be sitting down to their meeting any moment now. “We’d better get a move on,” she said, as much to herself as to Fry.

The package reception and loading dock were both as empty as the lobby and what little equipment had been left behind was covered in sheets. Leela resisted the urge to tip-toe through the room and strode as boldly – and quietly – as she dared to the hangar.

Proctor’s voice echoed through the hangar as they reached the door, though Leela couldn’t make out what she was saying. She didn’t sound particularly happy to see either of their counterparts. Not my problem any more, Leela thought to herself as she crept out of the door and along the wall. The main store-room was beyond the ship and the professor’s lab, which meant they’d have to get past the stairs up to the conference area without being seen. Probably not too difficult. Leela paused to look up at the silvery clone of her ship – the Planet Express ship, not hers, she had to correct herself. Not hers.

The ship seemed strangely forlorn, sat out in the middle of the hangar, her ports dark, inspection panels left hanging open and a pair of detached umbilicals resting on the floor beneath her broad belly, waiting to be connected to the auxiliary power system that kept the ship alive when her generators were off-line. Leela couldn’t see most of the flight deck but, even from this angle, the dust sheets over the few visible consoles were obvious, as was the fact that they had been there for a very long time. The ship was as good as dead, unless...

Leela turned to Fry and pushed him against the wall. “Fry, go wait over by the store room. I have something to do.”

Fry grunted something that might have been acknowledgement, but he didn’t contradict her and, with a unashamedly longing look back at Leela, sneaked past the stairs toward the store room. Leela turned back toward the silent ship and looked up at it again, then around the hangar. With small, carefully silent steps she made her way toward the port-side wing, with every stride expecting someone to shout an alarm. Once at the wing Leela stopped and shot a glance back toward the conference area; they seemed oblivious to her, which could only be a good thing. Leela slipped beneath the ship and sought out the detached umbilicals. They were covered in a thin layer of oily, grey dust that greased her palms when she picked up the first cable. Normally she’d be wearing gloves for this, Leela thought, strangely unconcerned. She hefted the oversized plug toward the ship’s belly where an access port had been left open, waiting for the umbilicals to be attached, for how long she couldn’t be sure. There was a quiet click and a hum as she pushed the umbilical into place.

Leela silently attached the second umbilical, listened to the quiet buzz of the capacitors charging and watched the display as it registered a power flow for what was probably the first time in months. The ship's internal systems were completely drained from sitting so long without power, she realised, and it was probably going to take quite a while for the ship to bring itself back online again. Leela patted the ship’s hull and, for reasons beyond her ken, whispered a small comfort to it then slid across the hangar, toward the store-room.

Fry was waiting by the door when she arrived, clenching and unclenching his hands with a nervous expression. In the distance she could hear the wail of a police siren that echoed around the hangar to remind Leela how large and empty the space felt without any activity. Fry turned to her, his face knotted up in frustration and anger.

“What’s the matter?”

“I can’t get in.” His whispered reply was loud and harsh in the near-silence. Leela pushed past him and tried the door. She rattled the handles, even risked thumping her shoulder against it, but the doors refused to open. The lock, an old but reliable physical lock stood out in her vision and Leela put her hand to her head as slow realisation dawned.

“Oh, right, the guard locked it when we left...” Leela looked about the hangar, frustrated and angry at herself for neglecting such an important detail. “We need to find the key.”


She glanced up at the conference area, then closed her eye and groaned. “Proctor must have it... how could I be so stupid?”

“So now what?”

“There’s nothing for it,” Leela said. She took Fry’s arm and started to lead him away from the door. “We’ll just have to get it from her.”

Fry started to protest, but only managed to splutter something incoherent before they heard the shot.