Leela felt the door open more than heard it, as a sort of dull thump somewhere in the back of her skull that jarred her out of fitful sleep. She opened her eye just in time to see the light turn on, and just as quickly shut it against the glaring white bloom that she assumed was a wall. Footsteps that felt like iron spikes hammering into her skull echoed around the room until a shadow fell across Leela’s face. She risked prizing her eye open a fraction, knowing she’d regret it in one way or another.
“Oh, it’s you.” Leela squeezed her eye shut again to block out Neena’s disapproving look. She turned away until a sharp pain shot up her neck. “Oh, god, leave me alone...”
“Not much chance of that,” Neena said. Something about her voice caught Leela’s attention. She risked opening her eye again to look at her twin and was almost blinded by the bright, plain white oversized shirt Neena was wearing.
“If it’s about last night-”
“How could you embarrass us both like that?”
“Nothing happened!” Leela pressed her hands to her head and leaned forward in the hope it would ease the skull-shaking throb behind her eye. Instead she found she could add nausea to her list of symptoms. Any thought of arguing with herself disappeared until it had passed.
“You were practically tearing his clothes off when I left,” Neena muttered, stalking away and adjusting her pants. They seemed a little oversized as well, held up by a belt cinched tight around her waist. “I don’t know how you can even try to deny it. He was all over you!”
“Yeah, well, you left early.”
“And then you came back here with that wannabe ‘pilot’ and raided my best liquor...” Neena held up the bottle Leela had discarded the previous night, with the seal still intact. “Or at least tried to. So, is he in there? In my bed?”
Leela shook her head and mumbled a negative but Neena wasn’t listening. She thrust the bottle into Leela’s unresisting hands and stormed over to the door. “Veklerov, I’m coming in and you’re going to get your ass- oh...”
The door swung wide, revealing the very empty bedroom. Neena paused on the threshold, momentarily taken aback, until a smile crept onto her face. “The wardrobe, right?”
“Neena, I’m telling you, nothing happened.” Leela struggled to Neena’s side and stared into the bedroom. The sheets were still nicely turned down, undisturbed from the previous day. “Oh I could have been in bed...”
“Never mind,” Leela grunted. She pushed past Neena and slipped into the bathroom before the other woman could reply. “I’m going to take a shower.”
Leela shut the door and stumbled to the shower, which activated as soon as she came near it, filling the air with warm steam that softened the air and after a moment started to ease the sense that her eye was filled with quicklime. The bathroom light flickered painfully until she turned it off. She stood in the darkness for a moment with her eye closed, ignoring the persistent sound of Neena’s thumping on the door.
“You can’t hide from me in there forever!” Neena banged her fists against the door a final time. “You’re hiding him in there, aren’t you!”
“I am not-” Leela shook her head and turned on the light again. She yanked the door open and dragged Neena into the bathroom with her. “Do you see him in here?”
Neena looked around the little bathroom with an increasingly perplexed look on her face. She backed out into the bedroom, winding her fingers together. “I was so sure...”
“Yeah, well I’m not so impressed by a guy with a big spaceship.” Leela looked down at her feet with her eye half-closed. “At least, not twice. Now if you’ll excuse me I’d like to get out of these clothes and clean up.”
Neena stepped back to let Leela close the door. Alone again in the close, humid atmosphere of the bathroom, Leela found her headache slowly starting to disappear, or at least fade to a bearable level. She slowly undressed, easing tired and aching limbs out of sweat-stiffened garments, and stepped into the shower, sighing as the hot water soaked and pummelled her skin. The repetitive drumming of water quickly lulled Leela toward sleep, until she felt her eye closing and couldn’t muster enough strength to open it again.
Her head jerked back, she was suddenly wide awake. She could hear someone talking quietly, whispering almost, just shy of her perception but loud, steady and constant at the same time. She turned off the shower and stepped out into the bathroom, shivering, the air chill as the warmth of the shower leached into the cold tiled floor. Leela paused to listen to the voice; it sounded like her own, like Neena, muttering about a giant staring eye and travelling to the father. Then it began to wail.
Leela crashed through the door into the bedroom to be greeted by an incoherent shriek, that she joined with her own. She halted in shock. Neena looked up at her with a confused expression.
“What in heaven’s name are you doing?”
“Uh, I...” Leela tried to swallow her confusion. Neena didn’t look like she’d been crying, or even slightly distressed. “I thought I heard something. You weren’t crying?”
“No, I wasn’t.”
Leela closed her eyes and rubbed her temples. The headache was back again, just for a moment. “I thought I heard you. Maybe I was daydreaming.”
“If you want my advice you’d be wise to put some clothes on next time you start hearing voices.”
Leela felt her face colouring. She pulled a towel from the closet and wrapped it around herself under the disapproving look of Neena. “You weren’t talking before, either,” she asked as she sat down on the bed.
“Nope,” Neena replied, making a very obvious point of not looking at the water that ran out of Leela’s hair onto the bed. “I was thinking. I’ll accept you didn’t bring him here, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t-”
“Dammit, Neena, I told you! Nothing happened. I did not sleep with Vek, I did not want to sleep with Vek and I wouldn’t let him talk me into it no matter how many big planets he showed me.”
“How did you... I mean, well, good!” Neena reached up to touch her ponytail, then forcibly put her hands down on the bed. “But that doesn’t explain why you were draping yourself all over him last night.”
“I wasn’t draping myself over anyone, I was... I... had my reasons,” Leela said, pressing her hands between her knees. “I admit I can’t quite understand them. You’ll just have to trust me. It’s only like trusting yourself, really.”
“I wouldn’t trust anything that involved McDiarmid.”
“Why? What happened between... oh... oh god, he didn’t-”
“No.” Neena stood up and took a few steps away from the bed. “It’d be easier if he had...” She turned and pulled a towel and a some clothes from the many neatly bundled sets in the wardrobe. Neena tossed the bundle on the bed and draped the towel over Leela’s hair.
“It was staining the sheets,” she explained.
“Oh, yeah, that wouldn’t be good.” Leela started drying her hair, drawing the water out in long streams as she ran the towel down her locks. “So...”
“I’ll tell you what happened, but you have to promise me something in return.”
“For you, anything.”
“Take me to my parents.” Leela paused in drying her hair to look at Neena, who merely shrugged at her frown. “Yancy found out from Philip and dropped it on me last night.”
Leela stared at the floor for a moment as she digested this new information. So Fry had been shooting his mouth off about her again had he? Didn’t he realise the risks he was taking, with her life no less.
“I’m not sure what to say,” she replied eventually.
“How about ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier’ for starters?”
“That could work...” Leela carefully pulled on her underwear, making sure to stay hidden until she was suitably covered. It didn’t matter if it was technically only herself. Odd how that sense of modesty was so flexible. “I swear I was going to tell you about it, as soon as I was sure you wouldn’t go off the deep end.”
“Why would I do that? You obviously didn’t.”
“Yeah, well, I had Fry to remind me things could be worse. The last universe we were in, I met a version of us that had gone completely psycho after finding her parents.” Leela thought back to their first encounter with ‘Blue’, as they’d nicknamed her, trapped in her darkened apartment and doubly so inside her own mind. She shook her head. Some things weren’t worth dwelling on. “I can tell you where they are but I don’t think I should take you. It’d be too confusing if two of us turned up. Skip work, come to Planet Express with me.”
“I suppose I do have to see Yancy later today anyway,” Neena replied, her face thoughtful for a moment. But then she closed her eye and swallowed. When she opened it again, Leela could see it was slightly bloodshot. “I’m worried about you going up with Veklerov.”
“I told you, the whole spaceship thing doesn’t impress me. I’ve been flying that thing for six years. Even with this damned hangover I’m a better pilot than he could ever hope...” Leela realised Neena was almost crying now, for real this time. She put an arm around Neena’s shoulders and shuffled a little closer. “Neena, what’s wrong?”
“You sound like I felt back then.”
“It was about two months after Yancy had arrived,” Neena said. After a moment she leaned into Leela’s arm, wiping a tear from her face. “I had just started his intervention...”
“The initial process will take about three weeks, after which we’ll be able to ascertain whether you are eligible for a career chip re-assignment assessment. I have to warn you that very few career re-assignment requests achieve a positive result, but...” Leela put down her clipboard and stared across the table at the defrostee opposite. He had his eyes fixed on the table. “Mr Fry, are you even listening?”
“What? Oh, yeah, you’re telling me I have maybe a snowball’s chance in hell of this actually working.”
“I am simply trying to give you a realistic expectation of this intervention, Mr Fry.”
“Sure,” he said, without looking up. Leela rolled her eye and tried to concentrate on the paperwork in her hand.
“First I have to monitor you in your workplace for a few days to build up a picture of your interactions with your colleagues and-”
“Leela, why are you doing this?”
“I explained, Mr Fry, I have to-”
“No...” He looked at her, right in the eye. Leela blinked uncomfortably and tried to return his gaze. “You hate your job, why don’t you change it?”
Leela narrowed her eye as she thought about the question. “You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do, Mr Fry. I’ve seen more than enough attempts to change employment to realise how futile the process is, so I don’t even think about the idea.”
“Then why even give the chance? Why provide this illusion of choice if it’s impossible to actually take it?”
“It isn’t my place to question the system we work in, Mr Fry, and it definitely isn’t yours. Now, as I was explaining, this week will be spent gathering data on your interactions with your colleagues, after which the process will turn to weekly interviews until a decision on your status is reached. The decision is usually made within three months.” Leela brought up the appropriate paperwork on her clipboard, filled in a few details and handed it over to Yancy to sign. “Please read here and here,” she said, indicating two red outlined boxes on the form. “And then sign where necessary to begin the process. I’ll visit your place of work tomorrow.”
Leela watched Yancy as he read the form, pausing now and then to re-read certain passages. Right then she knew his career assignment had been wrong, even though the thought was an implicit and dangerous doubt; no mere delivery boy would be so conscientious about a simple form, he seemed more like a fairly competent bureaucrat.
He signed the form and handed it back to her. “Leela, don’t get me wrong, I know you helped me get this job with my nephew-”
“I understand, Yancy. Mr Fry. I just want you to be prepared for the most likely outcome, that’s all.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow. Nine?”
“Oh don’t bother, we don’t get started until eleven. The Professor normally isn’t able to walk before then.” He stood up and tugged at his jacket. Leela noticed he didn’t hold out his hand before he left. It had to be the eye. “I hope you like flying,” he added as he turned to leave.