It was as if a weight had been lifted. To Leela it had felt as if some remotely familiar part of herself disappearing down a long and distant tunnel. It was diminishing, enervating, like being torn apart and made whole at the same time. If asked to put it into words she would have just shook her head. Not because she didn’t want to, but because it was a sensation that no sentient being could ever truly comprehend.
Not that it had stopped the Professor from trying. She’d spent most of the last two days in his scanners, leaving her exhausted despite having done very little to deserve it. There hadn’t been any more attacks since her ‘episode’ on the ship but that was apparently more due to luck than anything else. Or so said the Professor, sat behind his console with that permanent leer on his face. She’d given up objecting to it. Hitting him might have been satisfying but it wouldn’t produce any results and, besides, she was just too tired.
“There, that should do it. I think.”
Farnsworth flicked at the fringe of hair across his brow and smiled at Leela from behind a gigantic magnifying lens attached to his head. He held up her wrist computer and tapped it with the ever-present pen.
“That right there should give you a better idea of the conditions in each of the boxes, so you should avoid some of the worst nightmares.”
“Will it get us home?”
“Oh, eventually, no doubt...” he took off the odd helmet-and-lens contraption and tossed it aside, ignoring the shatter of glass as it hit the floor. “I would have preferred longer to work on it but at least now you’ll be able to actually tell if the universe you’re entering is the same as one you’ve left. It should also be able to predict whether any particular universe is going to bring you closer to your own.”
Leela took the device without speaking, hearing a probably unintentional accusation against the way they’d ended up here in the first place. It was her own treacherous mind making it, of course. She was the one who’d believed the scanners when it had declared their box to be the same one.
“You, eyeh, have everything you need?”
“I do. Thank you, Professor. I think I’ll go hom- I think I’ll head back to the apartment for now. I’m tired.”
“Of course, of course... better to have rested before you leave, I expect.”
He paused, seemingly unsure of what to say next, then seemed to give up. His gaze returned to the scanner screen. The reticence would have been unusual in her own Farnsworth but seemed strangely appropriate for this one who, it seemed, was very much Fry’s descendent. Though smarter. And more prone to blowing things up, if that were possible.
“Good night, Professor,” she said quietly. He looked up from his readouts, startled by her voice.
“Wha? Oh, yes, yes. Good night, Leela.”
She took the tube back to the apartment. It was the strangest thing, coming back to that empty space with its blank walls and windowless room. She’d spent years of her life in there, alone, but now the thought of returning to it empty filled her with a dull but pervasive anguish. It was hard to remind herself that she’d always been technically alone there – only ever with herself.
She managed to survive there for nearly twenty minutes before giving up and stomping out of the door. The silence was that did it in the end. The close, empty box of space that locked her entirely inside and left no way out.
Outside, and Leela lingered in the tube station, trying to work out what she wanted to do. She could just head back to Planet Express and leave. God knew it would be the easiest thing to do. Just leave it all behind. But, she had to at least say goodbye. Leela closed her eye and whispered the name of the hospital they’d taken everyone to. It wasn’t the Taco Belle Vue. Apparently it didn’t exist in this universe.
The tube deposited Leela right outside the hospital’s main entrance, proudly bearing the legend Ambulans Iubare and the ever-present dog’s head that seemed to adorn everything in this universe. She had to smile at that. The kid always seemed to land on his feet.
The hospital seemed grim, though, and more utilitarian than the Taco Belle Vue had been. Granted, it wasn’t the only municipal hospital in the city but it was always the one they ended up in, for whatever reason. There was a peace there that couldn’t be found here, with the staff bustling around corridors that were just a mite too narrow, pushing gurneys just an inch too short, between rooms that were never completely quiet.
The non-emergency wards were a little better, but not much. Private rooms, two beds to a room, a certain amount of peace and respect. It could have been worse. She paused outside the room holding Amy, then pushed her way through the door and stopped.
They were smiling, holding hands. She couldn’t credit it, but... they were happy. Amy’s smile faltered for a moment when she saw Leela but then she brightened again. “Hey.”
“Hi.” she closed the door. “I couldn’t sleep, and I guess... I guess I wanted to say thanks.”
Leela pulled up a chair and sat down, keeping the bed between herself and Fry for propriety’s sake. His expression was opaque as granite, giving nothing away.
“For being you, I suppose.” She looked at Fry. A thousand thoughts ran through her mind, all demanding to be spoken at once. She ignored them. Focus on the moment. “Are you going to have that scar removed?”
“I dunno, I kinda like it,” Amy replied, running her hand along the pink stretch of skin across her shoulder. “If I keep it, I won’t forget.”
“I’m sorry it had to be like this,” Leela said, her voice quiet and downcast. She took Amy’s hand. “I hope Veklerov will be easier for you to deal with at least. I mean, after all this, he should give you guys a little respect, right?”
“Oh. You didn’t hear? He quit yesterday.” Amy shrugged and then winced, favouring her injured shoulder. “Too much excitement, he said.”
“I can’t say I’m sorry.”
Leela glanced at Fry, still silent beyond the bed. His arms were folded across his chest, defensive and hunched. He refused to look at her.
“Hermes is looking for a new pilot,” Amy said, breaking the silence, giving Leela a ‘you know you want to’ look. She smiled. Oh god, she’d actually forgiven her. Leela couldn’t look at the Martian girl’s face without feeling like an absolute hypocrite. She looked away, picking her own thumb as a good object to focus on.
“That’s the other thing I came here for.” Leela took a breath. Held it. “I wanted to say goodbye. To both of you.”
“You’re not staying?” The tremor in Fry’s voice was heart-breaking. What the hell. It was his choice, right? Let him deal with it.
“I can’t, Fry. You might be happy here but I won’t be. I want to go home. I’m sorry.” She stood up. At the door she paused again and turned to look at Fry. “We’ll never see each other again. You know that, don’t you?”
Fry just stared at her, frowning. Amy was frowning too now, though thoughtful, not angry. She nervously twisted her fingers together. Fry just shrugged.
“I guess so,” he said, not really looking at her. Leela swallowed the caustic remark that welled up in her throat. She quietly shut the door and left them behind.
Neena’s room was on the same floor, though further along, behind two stout doors and an equally stout orderly. She knew it probably wasn’t any use visiting but she had to do it, just to put her own mind at ease.
The door was slightly open when she arrived, as if someone had carelessly pushed it closed and not checked. She leaned up against the crack of the door and peered inside, then pushed it open and stepped in.
Yancy looked up at her. He turned back to the bed without a word.
“Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“Yeah, I should. I got shot.”
It almost sounded as if he was trying to convince himself of the fact. Leela had to remind herself that he was still thinking of Stupid Ages medicine, with wounds taking days and weeks for things to heal instead of mere hours. Sometimes she wondered if she didn’t appreciate fully what life had given her.
Leela pulled a chair up and sat next to him, staring in silence at Neena’s placid face. Her eye was open, but unfocused. She hadn’t spoken since the shooting.
“I just...” Leela shook her head. It was impossible, like talking to a corpse. She turned a little more to Yancy. “I’m leaving,” she said, as if that made it all right. Yancy was as unresponsive as his brother. Leela tried to work up her rage at that but it just wasn’t there, almost like it was being sucked into some sort of void. She reached out to touch Neena’s hand, ignoring a distant trill of an emergency alarm. She’d heard three of them on her way up here. Well, it was a hospital.
She felt something as their skin touched. A shift. For a moment it seemed as if she were back in the apartment, lying on her back... or, no, in some sort of darkened room. Unable to move. Alone.
Neena stirred, her face appearing animated for the first time since Leela had arrived. She blinked, hard, twice, then took a deep breath and turned to look at Yancy. The tiny gasp she gave seemed to be a release far beyond its volume.
“Yancy? You’re alive?”
Neena seemed to take a long time to think about this fact. She looked about herself, folding down and smoothing the blankets spread over her body, then pushed herself upright. For a while she just stared at the blankets.
“I thought I was back in the sewers,” she said, eventually. Neena looked into Yancy’s face. “I was searching for my parents, only I didn’t know who they were any more. You were chasing after me and every time you got too close, I killed you.”
“Sounds like a nightmare.” Yancy took Neena’s hand. He frowned. “Wait, you killed me? What for?”
“You got too close.”
“It felt so real. I thought, if I searched hard enough, I could find them again and everything would be all right.”
“I’m sorry,” Leela said again. It felt like it was just about the only thing she could say now. Sorry. For bringing this to their world, for screwing up her own life. So much she’d done but all she could say was ‘sorry’. “As if that makes it any better,” she muttered. Yancy gave her a confused glance but Neena seemed to understand. She cracked something approaching a smile.
“I’m sorry too. I’ll miss having you around.”
Yancy’s eyebrows rose. He seemed to be faster on the uptake than Fry. “You’re leaving? What about Phil?”
Leela stiffened. How to put it? “He’s made his choice,” she said, not wanting to dwell on the subject. Perhaps something in her demeanour got through to Yancy. He dropped it.
“So, what now?”
If there was an answer, Leela didn’t hear it. The sound of another alarm and feet pounding in the corridor distracted her. She felt a terrible dread descend around her, like a shroud falling over her shoulders. Leela leaped from her seat, knocking it over, and ran for the door.
Her booted feet thundered down the corridor, past the doors; the orderly was gone. She reached Amy’s room just in time to see an emergency trolley being wheeled in. Leela thrust her way past the medical staff and into the room.
They were pulling Fry from where he’d collapsed on the floor, trying to talk to him as they dragged him onto the gurney. His skin was pallid, almost grey. Even his hair seemed to have lost some of its colour. Without thinking, ignoring their protest, Leela pushed the orderlies aside and knelt down beside Fry. He was barely breathing, barely alive. Leela looked at Amy’s despair and shook her head.
“Don’t say you’re sorry again,” Amy said quietly. She looked away and scrubbed at the tears rolling down her cheeks. “I knew it was too good to be true.”
Leela returned her attention to Fry, running her hands over his face, hissing at the cold chill. She grabbed one of the orderlies by the shoulder. “He needs heat.”
“We’re doctors, miss-”
“He could be dead by the time you figure out what’s wrong so let’s just pretend we had the argument and I won.” Leela’s grip tightened painfully around the orderly’s shoulder. He winced and quickly nodded his agreement. “Heat. And transport.”
She turned from him and gently lifted Fry from the floor to the bed. He seemed light. Almost insubstantial in a way. At Leela’s glance Amy pulled the bed covers aside whilst Leela laid Fry down on the bed. Satisfied he was at least comfortable, Leela turned to her wrist computer and dialled the Professor’s private number.