Tunnels, it was always tunnels and she was running down them and splashing through the muck and grime to escape, and always more tunnels, and arms reaching for her, taking her legs and holding her hair, pulling her back...
And more tunnels as she escaped from the things the arms that wrapped around her and tugged at her body that felt so tired as she tried to escape, down another tunnel and never knowing the way out of the darkness and the despair as she tried to get away from the things behind her the secret things she didn’t know and they knew and if anyone found out she’d die...
More tunnels and if she stopped they’d catch her and if she looked everyone’d know and she’d be dead or sent back to the tunnels and the grime and the dirt and never seeing the sun and stars...
And then a wall, and a door, and the things behind her, the secrets and the lies and the terrible truths and she had to stop and turn to see the arms and the hoods and the people that had the secrets and if they knew...
The gun. Where had it come from? She held it up and saw light reflecting in sheer surface and smelled the bitter acrid smoke and it felt right to point it at the secrets, the murderers of her life, the knowledge that shouldn’t be...
They were there and calling her name and they had her stuff and saw who she was and photographs and trinkets and everything and THEY WERE THERE...
And he was there and talking nonsense and pulling back the hoods and showing the secrets...
You are a mutant.
They are your parents.
This is your home.
And more tunnels as she ran from the secrets and the lies and how could they do this to her how could they take her life like this she couldn’t face them and the gun pulling heavy at her arm and hand.
They had to go.
He had to go.
And the look on his face, pleading and terrified. And the looks on their faces. And the gun, the saving gun, the secret in the tunnels that had set her free spoke to them and they fell to their faces at its words and cried their bloody tears to her feet.
They all had to go! Every... last... one...
And the gun spoke.
Leela’s eye snapped open, wide, taking in the dark ceiling of her bedroom, the faint light inching beneath the blinds, the dryness of her mouth. She squeezed her eye shut again as a raging headache announced itself. God... what did I drink last night?
“What a nightmare,” she muttered, pressing a cool hand to her forehead. She looked around the room again, weighing up. Had it all been a dream? Here, in the pleasant twilight of her bedroom it felt like it could have been. But it all seemed so real... and that last part, it just didn’t-
She was suddenly overcome by a terrible nausea as the headache re-asserted its presence behind her eye. Leela stumbled to the bathroom, almost crawling by the time she reached the pan and was just about in place when her stomach gave an almighty heave. That she hadn’t eaten much in the last day or so became clearly obvious, but for a minute or so her body refused to believe what her eye told it, preferring to rack her with a series of painful dry-heaves that finally brought up a dribble of bile.
Leela sprawled out on the floor with a quiet groan, holding her head in both hands in a vain attempt to ease the pounding behind her eye. Each time she opened it the walls seemed to be filled with riotous, distorted colour that only made the nausea return with a vengeance, so she kept it shut until, finally, the headache began to fade, leaving behind a faint sense of emptiness like an unfilled void. It felt like heaven.
So. Obviously she was ill and, to judge from the lack of food in her stomach, it had been at least a couple of days. Leela ran a hand across her forehead, searching for any sign of a lingering fever, wondering just what would have knocked her out so completely for so long. And why hadn’t anyone been round to leave her flowers or take her to the hospital? Ingrates. All the time spent ferrying their useless asses from one side of the universe to-
The door clicked and swung open, interrupting Leela’s inner rant. She looked up. She saw herself. She put her head in her hands. “So much for just a dream...”
“What are you doing on the floor?”
“Deluding myself,” Leela answered. She stood up, ignoring another wave of nausea, and staggered toward her counterpart. Brown hair. Strange how it suited her. “I feel like crap.”
“You look like crap.”
“Don’t expect sympathy from me,” she said, nevertheless taking hold of Leela’s arm to guide her back to the bed. “If you hadn’t turned up I wouldn’t have ended up stuck in that crazy idiot’s lab all night. I missed a report. I might get fired.”
“You and I both know we’re the only person in that place who ever did any work.”
“That’s not how Ipgee sees it.”
“Well it’s not... oh, forget it.” Leela sat down before her legs could buckle under the strain of standing. She had to eat. Later. “You don’t think I’m a clone any more?”
“No. Professor Farnsworth was kind enough to leave us a message.”
The ParaLeela pointed at a cheap, oversized holoprojector stood on the far side of the room. Even as she watched the projection matrix began to glow and the machine hummed quietly to itself.
“Oh, there’s more,” she said. “What a surprise.”
“Hey, now, don’t be so-” was all Leela could manage before the holoprojector screamed into life. There was a flash of random static and a loud squealing that settled down after a few seconds, then an image of the Professor’s lab appeared, super-imposing itself over the room and the far wall. Professor Farnsworth seemed to walk out of the wall toward them, muttering under his breath and staring at a spot just below and to the left of Leela’s head.
“Ahh, now this should have activated when both of you are awake,” the projection said, looking around the room, or appearing to, before it returned to peering at empty space, giving Leela the odd urge to shuffle over until it was looking at her. “There is something more I need to explain, but it required both of you to be here. Now Leela... the one with the purple hair, that is. So far my scanners have not been able to find a universe that matches your quantum resonance signature-”
“Great,” she muttered. The projection continued speaking.
“However I have discovered something quite remarkable, yes. Quite remarkable...” Farnsworth wandered back through the wall and out of range of the view, though his voice was still audible. “I would like to perform more scans at some point, however I can tell you, uh...”
He came back again, clutching a computer notepad, which he peered at before speaking. “Yes. Yes it is quite remarkable. There appears to be some sort of multi-dimensional interface between you and the previous universes you have visited, and evidently between you and your counterpart here, a sort of quantum entanglement on a massive scale. I’m not even sure how it could possibly work. All I can assume is that there is some sort of mechanism that allows your constituent quanta to become entangled as you enter a parallel universe, which allows for all sorts of spooky actions at a distance if I’m correct. Beyond that...”
Farnsworth placed the notepad on a workbench and fixed the air above Leela’s head with a steady, presumably portent gaze. “I would hope you two will volunteer for a few more tests. Leela, the purple one, you know some version of me well enough to be able to convince Leela, that is, the brown one, that she’s safe undergoing any, eyuh, procedures I happen to come up with. I shall, uh, see you later.”
The hologram deactivated, leaving the room strangely dim and bare after the riotous colour of the cheap projection.
“No,” Leela said, before her counterpart could ask the obvious question. “He’s as mad as a Gundark and about as safe as shooting yourself in the face with a plasma rifle.”
“And you work for him?”
“Beats defrosting idiots for a living.”
The ParaLeela rolled her eye and turned away. “We’re going to have to think of something to call each other. I can see things getting very confused.”
“Last universe we were in, I ended up calling you- her, Blue half the time.” Her counterpart gave Leela an odd look as they moved into the kitchen. “The hair.”
“I guess makes you Purple. I’m not really sure I want to be Brown, though. Coffee?”
Leela nodded. Talking to herself never seemed so strange. No wait, normal. Or... she stopped the thought before it started another headache. “I don’t particularly want to be Purple either. That pilot, Veklerov was it? He keeps calling you-”
“Hell no, we’re not using that!” She took a prim sip of her drink. “I’m not using anything that man came up with.”
“Well... then what?”
“How about Neena?”
“My middle name.” Leela’s counterpart looked pensive as she stirred her coffee. “It was on the note my parents left with me at the Orphanarium. I guess they just couldn’t decide which one to use.”
“I never had a middle name.” Leela sighed. Obviously this version of herself hadn’t met her parents, but she wasn’t sure whether this was a good or bad thing now. Leela could still remember life before she’d found them, always wondering if she was alone but, in some sense, not wanting to find out because if the possibility of disappointment. It had been eating her up inside in a way she hadn’t even realised until she found them. on the other hand, some things had been a lot easier. “It’s a nice name.”
“I use it sometimes when I‘m dating. You know, just for a bit of variety, get outside myself now and then.”
“That must be nice.”
Neena. At least it gave her a means to separate them without resorting to looking at a colour chart. What would you call that shade? Merovingian Steel? She looked up at her counterp- at Neena, and smiled.
“It’s mostly for their benefit anyway,” Neena said, waving her hand toward the wall. Leela had a strange urge to glance over her shoulder, almost as if she expected to see a crowd of watchers. Of course that was stupid, she meant their friends.
“I guess. Should I let them know?”
“Yeah, if you’re heading over there.”
“I might be.”
They sat in silence again, each contemplating their private thoughts as they finished their drinks. Leela even managed to squeeze down a piece of toast without feeling ill.
“I’d better get to work,” Neena said, standing up. She stared at Leela for a moment and then shook her head. “I still need to assess Mr Fry, so... I guess I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
They moved into the bare living room again, Leela fingering her clothes with mild distaste as she remembered how long it was since she’d changed. Neena noticed her discomfort and smiled, though tightly, as if she was uncomfortable with what she was thinking.
“You can borrow some of mine. Ours. I... whatever. Just make sure you put them in the laundry when you’re done.”
“As if I wouldn’t.” Leela grinned. “Thanks.”
Neena nodded, slipping on her cryogenics jacket as she moved toward the door. She paused with her hand on the door-handle, frowning. “You know, whatever that Professor hit us with gave me a hell of a weird dream...”
She stared at Leela for a moment and then slipped out. A second later she returned to switch the light back on and apologise. Then she was gone.
Leela sat down in the single seat and stared at the blank TV screen, trying to clear up her confused mind. A dream. It had to be a coincidence, just the sedatives messing with their minds, nothing more. Though, what had the Professor said about a link? Was he talking telepathy now? Oh but that was just fantasy and hubris, the man could get rapturously excited about a bowel movement.
She tapped her fingers against the chair arm as her mind slowly wound back to normal. Where was Fry? Hopefully he’d gone home with his brother and not that... that Amy. Not because she was Amy, Leela reasoned to herself, because she didn’t care about that, but because getting tangled up in a parallel universe was not a good idea. She’d seen the tragedies. She’d seen how torn up Fry had been after dating that robot – entirely against her advice, too. She’d even, at the insistence of William Shatner’s head, seen the episode of Star Trek where Kirk went back in time through some sort of smoke ring and ended up having to kill the woman he fell in love with. Of course Shatner had been talking about his supreme acting skill the whole time but she’d got the point, which was that men were stupid and kept doing stupid things.
And Fry was a man, which meant she’d have to protect him from himself if they were going to get home in one piece. He had an incredible ability to get himself and everyone around him dragged into the most dangerous situations imaginable. The last few days were definite proof of that. Somehow it had to be his fault. But, no... that still wasn’t fair. It wasn’t his fault.
She looked around the blank room, clean now – in fact it had never been mess now, which felt strange in and of itself. The place was intimately familiar but it wasn’t home, not really. On top of everything there was something was gnawing at her mind, giving her strange thoughts. It was stress. That was it. Stress over being so trapped. The dream had to be part of that. The gun was obviously her fear about ‘Evila’, or whomever and the ending was just her blaming Fry for being stuck here. But, what about her parents? Did she blame them too? No that didn’t work.
“Just a crazy dream,” she muttered, heading back to the bedroom. Perhaps she’d feel better after a shower and a change of clothes.
Yet, the dreamy image of that gun kept coming back to her as she’d raised it toward Fry’s face and he’d pleaded, not for his own life, but for the lives of her parents, all the while pitying her for what she’d become. And she’d hated him for it.