Fan Fiction

Stranger In A Strange Land, part 11
By La Belle Leela

(Planet Express Headquarters, Thursday 09/08/3008 - 1016 hours)

The front doors of the office automatically slid open, Fry & Bender strolled in, over an hour late, as usual. The unusual thing was that nobody was around. Hermes, and The Professor were normally there insulting, and berating the two of them by now, but they were nowhere to be found.

From out of the hangar came the shrill, high-speed sound of a pick-sweep arpeggio solo from an instrument Fry immediately knew. Bender’s head perked up “What in the Robot Hell is that? Sounds like some poor robot getting eaten by Zoidberg!”

“That’s not funny robut! Why I’d savagely attack you out of anger, but I don’t have the strength, what from not having eaten in one of your Earth months!” Zoidberg groaned from his office.

“Shut up Bender! That’s an electric guitar! And whoever’s playing it is incredible!” Fry said, as he jabbed him in his side with a loud ‘thunk!’

Fry & Bender walked into the hangar to see Dave perched up on the lowered tailgate of his hover-truck. His fingers were racing up and down the vine-inlaid fret board of a beautiful white & gold Ibanez JEM7V, playing the solo from Dream Theater‘s “As I Am”, with the energy & ferocity of someone who’d been on an all-day Slurm binge.

“WOOOOOOH! DO RUSH MAN!” Fry yelled excitedly from across the hangar floor. Dave stood up upon hearing Fry’s yell. He fiddled with one of the tone knobs, then broke into the driving instrumental “YYZ”.

When he finished, Fry walked over to get a look at the guitar. “Man! That was awesome! You been playing long?”

“A few years, I taught myself to play, since I can’t read sheet music to save my life!” Dave said, as he chuckled. “A therapist told me it would help channel some of the anger, and stress I was dealing with after my Dad died.”

Fry uttered an“uhh huh” nonchalantly. Dave saw he was still fixed on the guitar.

“Pretty cool ain’t it Fry. When I went down to the Technology Museum the other day, they were impressed with my laptop computer. The director said he’d never even seen one from as far back as the 21st century, and was even more shocked when I showed him it still worked.

So I take it you sold them your computer?” Fry asked

“Yeah. He offered me $150,000.” Dave calmly admitted.

Fry spit a mouthful of coffee. “THEY WHAAA?”

“But I didn’t take it. I saw this old Ibanez over in the corner of the director’s office. I made him a counter-offer. $100,000 plus the guitar, he couldn’t have been happier.”

Dave handed it over to Fry, so he could inspect it.

“What’s up for you guys today? Deliveries as usual?”

“Nahhh, ship’s down for more repairs. Leela & Amy are going over another upgrade package The Professor just bought.” Fry explained.

Oh good. I don’t want Leela to know what I’m up to. I’ve gotta head over that Giorgio Armonster place you recommended to pick up my suit, and a few other errands. I want Friday night to really be special!”

“You know she’s lucky to have met you. It’s great to see Leela so happy when you’re together.” Fry commented, as Dave locked up the truck’s tailgate.

“Thanks Fry, I’m glad to be with her too. Actually, to be here with all of you guys. Wish there was more people like you in this city Phil, See ya later!” said Dave, as he hopped in the big Dodge’s seat and fired the engine up.

The Planet Express building grew smaller in the rearview mirror, as Dave drove towards the shopping complex in New Midtown.

(New Midtown Manhattan NNY, Thursday 09/08/3008 - 1135 hours)

A chime sounded as Dave walked into the storefront. A large, shaggy, mottled green creature greeted him with a low roar as he approached the register, and gave his name.

“Ahhhh yes of course, Mister Murphy! Your suit is ready. If you’d like to make sure it conforms to your specifications, our fitting rooms are in the back.” the clerk bellowed.

Dave thanked the clerk, picked up his garment bag, and headed into the back of the shop. 31st century clothing wasn’t really much different than 21st century clothing. Except for the fin-shaped apparatus that was sticking up on each shoulder of the jacket, the suit looked like any other he’d worn before. What made this one special was the fact he’d had it custom made, his others had all been off the rack, and just never quite fit right. He wanted to look as good as possible for his date with Leela tomorrow night, and that more than justified the $1,800 price tag.

The suit fit like a dream. Autumn was around the corner, and it was after Labor Day, so he went with a dark, almost charcoal gray matching 3-button jacket and slacks. A silvery-pewter colored silk dress shirt, and tie, darker with similar design accents completed the ensemble.

Awesome,,,,,, awesome to the max! SOLD!” Dave thought, as he admired the suit on himself in the mirror, a big smile of confidence on his face!

(Planet Express Headquarters, Thursday 09/08/3008 - 1415 hours)

“Dark matter reactor online, temps are right where they should be Leela.” Amy said, as the ship powered up, and began it’s ascent into the early afternoon sky.

“So Leela, you look exceptionally cheerful today, thinking about tomorrow night? OOOH, what are you gonna wear?” Amy blurted out excitedly, as the North American continent slid past the flight deck windows on their southerly course into outer space.

Leela didn’t answer right away. She was looking out of the port-side windshield, watching the Florida peninsula roll by. Large explosions flashing on the ground had caught her attention. “Uhhh lord, they’re carpet-bombing the Disney World compound again! Everyone forgets, those giant mouse Killbots always change their attack tactics!” She said to herself in thought.

“Huh, wha? Oh, sorry Amy, got distracted a bit.” Leela answered vacantly.

Amy repeated her query.

“Yeahhh, I’m really looking forward to it. My mom saved that really cute evening gown for me. You know, the one I wore to Fry’s opera?”

“Oh” Amy said, “I kinda figured you were gonna wear that slutty looking Easter dress I keep hearing so much about.”

“Oh stop it! I’m trying to maintain my sophisticated image here! Besides, the opera dress makes a much better first impression, and brings out my, as Dave puts it so elegantly, my “Natural Beauty” Leela dreamily exclaimed.

“Sorry Amy. I guess I am a little nervous. Both of us haven’t really dated in nearly five years. I’m sure Dave’s just as worked up inside as I am.”

“It’s cool Leela, I understand. So, where are you two going?”

“He got us a table at Elzar’s. Dave also said he had a surprise afterwards. I guess that’s what’s got me nervous. I hope he isn’t going to attempt anything like Fry used to do.”

A few moments of silence passed before Leela explained another reason why she was in an incredibly good mood.

“It was really sweet what he admitted to me last night on the walk home Amy. He said he noticed I didn’t wear a lot of makeup. Dave said he found natural beauty like mine incredibly attractive.

Amy squealed with laughter. “Awww, that’s uber-sweet Leela! Kif always says stuff n’ junk like that to me!”

Leela didn’t reply right away. She turned around in her captain’s chair and smiled at Amy. “Speaking of Kif, you two sound like things are getting serious. You think he might ask you to, uh, you know,,,”

“Be his Fon-Fon-Ru? Oh, spleesh!. Our long distance relationship is hard enough as it is. I can’t imagine what it would be like if we were married. He’s always out on patrol so long. It’d be great if he got re-assigned to DOOP headquarters, then we could get a place of our own in the city!”

Leela sighed sympathetically. “It’ll be okay Amy, Kif loves you very much. I’m sure he’ll come around when the time is right. Don’t give up on him.”

“Thanks Leela. I guess this is why I think of you as sister, more than a friend!” Amy replied.

The ship decelerated, and nosed over into 180 degree turn. “Well, everything checks out okay. Life support systems normal, Dark Matter reactor stable, coffee dispenser output at maximum strength. Let’s go home!”

Earth’s upper atmosphere buffeted the Planet Express Ship, as Leela decelerated it to approach speed.

“I just need to make one little stop on our way home Amy.” Leela said, as she banked the ship towards Manhattan Island, now just a distant speck on the nose of the ship.

The ship’s anti-theft alarm chirped, as Leela depressed the small button on her key fob. She and Amy rode the escalator down to street level. The street was upscale-looking. Shade trees dotted both sides, and people were milling about the number of small boutiques, bistros, and coffee houses.

“I ordered a little something for Dave. I hope he likes it.” Leela explained, as she walked into a small electronics store. Amy stayed outside, fidgeting with her cell phone.

When Leela returned, carrying a small bag, Amy’s eyes were wide with excitement, as she pulled at Leela’s arm to show her something.

“Leela! Look! Fry’s over there with someone!” Amy loudly whispered, as she pointed to a coffee shop across the street.

Almost instinctively, they both ducked behind a Suicide Booth to watch Fry. Leela noticed the woman Fry was with looked vaguely familiar. “Amy, that looks like that DOOP officer who interviewed us on Monday.” Leela whispered.

“Oh wow! You’re right! Amy exclaimed, as she studied the dark brown hair, and almond eyes of Lt. Sims.

Fry and Lt. Sims were sitting down at one of the sidewalk tables. A waiter took their order, and hurried off. They seemed to be engrossed in conversation about something important. Suddenly, Fry stood up, and held his hands out like he was firing a plasma rifle. Lt. Sims rocked back in her chair laughing.

“C’mon Leela, let’s leave em’ be. They seem to be having a fun time.” Amy suggested, as she tugged at Leela’s right arm. “Hmmm, she’s probably trying to pump him for more info for the court-martial.” Leela thought.

“Yeah, guess your right. Let’s go this way so we’re not seen. We can always confront Fry about this later.” said Leela, as they hurried off towards the parking garage.

Static crackled from Leela’s wrist computer. “Dis’ is Hermes. A package just got thrown carelessly through da slot, an ’dey paid us for ‘Priority Overnight‘, so you gotta get back ‘ere right now jah!”

“Oh lord, what now?” Leela thought, as she answered Hermes. “Roger that, we’ll be back in a minute.” as she signed off with a mock salute.

Hermes, and The Professor were waiting as the ship touched down inside the hangar. A plain, wooden 4ft tall box sat in front of where they stood.

“What’s the mission guys?” Leela said, as she stopped at the bottom of the ship’s main staircase. She didn’t bother closing the hangar doors, since they were likely departing in a few minutes. “Wait, Fry’s not here! Who’s gonna deliver this?” Amy exclaimed.

“You’ll have to take his place Amy. You up for the job?” asked Leela. “Aye-aye Captain! Uh, I mean one eye! Uh, Yes Sir!, uhh, Ma’am!” Amy’s nervous reply was cut off by the sound of the roll-away door at the back of the hangar sliding open. The bright hangar lights reflected off the polished chrome & deep blue paint of Dave’s hover-truck as it glided to a stop behind the Planet Express Ship.

Amy began whispering in Leela’s ear. “What? No! that’s crazy, he doesn’t even have a proper career chip!” Leela half-whispered back.

Professor Farnsworth cranked his hearing aid from “Most Deafer” down to “Mild Deafiness”

Eughwhaa?, Oh! Capital idea Leela! Dave can take Fry’s place!”

“WHAT?” replied Leela, Amy, and Dave, all in unison.

“Eugh-yes! It seems I have another spare career chip lying around from a previous crewmember! Ohhh, Rusty, that poor son of a bi-uhhh, that’s not important. Anyway, he was my Pilot and Chief Mechanic when I first started Planet Express. Uh, now Leela, if you’d do the honors.” Farnsworth said, as he handed the small black silicone semi-conductor over.

“Whoa-whoa-whoa, do what honors? Leela, what’s he talking about?” Dave said, alarmed.

“Well, it looks like The Professor just hired you Dave! Now hold out your left hand, this may sting a bit.” Leela said, as she loaded the chip into her implant gun, a holdover from her days as the Fate Assignment Officer at the cryogenics lab.

Dave nervously held out his left hand, palm up, as Leela squeezed the trigger. “OW! Drafted sounds more accurate!” he said, cursing under his breath, as he massaged the red, swollen spot on his palm.

“There we are! That chip should hold up, eugh-just in case the authorities have to intervene! Now, you youngsters have a package to deliver!

“Well, at least now I feel like I can be useful around here!” Dave said, as he scooped up the box. “Wait, I’ll lower the cargo door, so you won’t have to lug it up the boarding stairs.” Leela shouted. Dave hoisted the box onto his shoulder. “That’s okay, it’s not really heavy.” he said, already halfway up the ship’s stairway.

“Wow, Fry never carries stuff like that.” Amy noted. “Yeah, well, Fry does his best Amy-oooh! Look at those lats!” Leela replied lazily, losing her train of thought in mid-sentence, as she stared at the box balancing on Dave’s broad shoulders.

Amy turned a little red “Yeah, his butt wasn’t bad either!” she said with a nervous, but contented look on her face. “Amy! You didn’t!” Leela hissed back. “Ohhh no! It‘s not like that! I accidentally walked into the locker room as he was getting out of the shower. Sorry.” They both looked at each other for a second, then both Leela and Amy just started laughing like schoolgirls!

(Planet Express Ship, 09/08/3008 - 1735 hours NNY Time)

With their cargo secured, and their mission information loaded into the ship’s Flight Management System, The Planet Express ship sped away from Earth. They were headed for the small planet of Erebus IV, lying just outside of the Crab Nebula.

Dave studied the cargo manifest as he relaxed in his seat. “Hmmm, IASRA. Who, or what is that?” he mused. Leela typed on her computer console. A monitor above Dave’s head displayed the IASRA internet site.

IASRA stood for “Intergalactic Air & Space Racing Association” The introduction video gave a brief rundown of it’s history, current season points leader, and most popular driver/pilots.

It’s the 31st century equivalent to that NASCAR thing you were explaining to us about Dave.” Leela said, as she pointed to his black & silver #29 GM Goodwrench fire suit jacket he was wearing.

Their cargo was the IASRA championship trophy, to be presented at the conclusion of this weekend’s final race to the points winner of the 3008 season.

Highlights of the 3008 IASRA season played over the monitor. The multi-colored vessels that raced flew at speeds ten-times faster than the NASCAR stock cars of the 20th century. They also wrecked with much more deadly results, in spite of the driver/pilot safety devices.

The points leader for the 3008 season, and likely champion was a tall, platinum-blond haired man, with a handlebar mustache named Blast Andersen. Blast hailed from, like many other pilots, the planet Antebellum-12, and piloted a race vessel with an eye-blistering, day-glo shade of green, and the unmistakable logo of ‘Slurm‘, his sponsor.

A reporter was interviewing Blast after his victory the previous week on Omicron-Persei 8. Blast answered him in a thick, southern drawl, typical of the area Dave grew up in back on 20th century Earth.

Leela turned the volume up to hear Blast’s response about the harrowing, 1,200 mile race. “Well Darrell, after they bumped, I saw Gourden lose his stabilator, spin out of control, hit the ground, then the Omicronians eating his remains, I just knew I had to force this #33 Slurm machine to the finish, just a little bit harder than the other guys, and thankfully, the boys back at the shop gave me a good ship this week!”

The camera-bot pulled back to reveal the reporter was none other than the head of Darrell Waltrip! Dave got really excited, so excited he jumped out of his seat, and pointed at the screen. “OHH, MAN! Good ol’ D.W.!!! I never thought I’d see him again! He exclaimed.

“Well race fans, I think we can rest easy knowing that Blast’s gonna be our 3008 IASRA champion. Now let’s hand it over to our friend Kenny Wallace in the pits. Kenny?” Darrell said, as the camera-bot faded out, and another flared to life.

“Thank ya Darrell! WOOOOOOH! Things are pretty intense here on the hover-pit island! 43 crews are scrambling simultaneously to prepare for this evening’s practice, and tomorrow’s qualifying!” Yelled the well-preserved head of the other legendary 20th century NASCAR driver/commentator. Two IASRA officials placed Kenny Wallace’s head jar onto a special robotic chassis, much like Bender, but without the head.

“You remember him as well Dave?” Amy asked.

“Yeah. Kenny used to race back in the 20th too. He and his brothers, Mike, and Rusty drove NASCAR as well. Kenny did better in the 2nd tier racing series, which used to be called The NASCAR Busch Series.” Dave explained.

Back on the TV, the robotic skeleton, with Kenny Wallace’s head mounted atop it’s shoulders, walked fast between the pit stalls on a gigantic floating monolith. The ‘hover-pits’ as they were called, were similar to the old pit-road Dave remembered.

Switching the autopilot on, Leela announced she was going to be resting back in her quarters for a few hours. “If it’s anything short of the end of time, please don’t wake me guys.” she muttered, as she left the flight deck.

(Planet Express Ship, Leela’s Quarters, 09/08/3008 - 1910 NNY time)

The darkness penetrated everywhere. She held her arms out, hoping to brush against something to get her bearings as to where she was. Strange noises, like wind, or water rushing overhead echoed on all sides. “Where am I? What is this place?” she thought, as her mind raced.

Suddenly, huge orange, fiery explosions rocked the darkness, forcing her to shield her face with her brawny forearms. Through the heat and flame, a shadowy apparition materialized near the chasm that was slowly tearing open, as it belched enormous flames upward.

“WHO ARE YOU? WHERE AM I?” she screamed out at the strange figure, who was dressed in long, heavy black robes. Smoke or steam vaporized off the robes, as the stranger’s arm extended, pointed a skeletal finger, beckoning her to walk closer. “The fire will not burn you my child!” The ghostly figure’s voice rattled.

Explosions thundered around her. White hot chunks of volcanic rock, and ash fell all around her, as she walked nervously closer. She drew within a few feet of the hooded apparition. “THAT’S CLOSE ENOUGH!” the figure bellowed demonically.

“KNEEL!” She followed the command almost instantly, but always defiant in the face of what frightened her, she yelled back, “JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?” The skeletal forearms shook back the sleeves of it’s robe, as the figure’s eyes glowed like red, dying embers. She stared in fright, mouth slackened, as the evil-looking figure pulled it’s hood back, revealing a skull that burned with a reddish-orange glow. “WHO AM I?,,, YOU WILL FIND OUT MUCH SOONER THAN YOU THINK!” It answered, in the meanest, lowest guttural roar she’d ever heard.

A bright, white glow began to emanate from small cracks spider-webbing across the evil figure’s skull. At once, she was blinded by the light, as the apparition spoke again. “DEATH AWAITS ALL THOSE WHO CHALLENGE MY POWER! THOSE WHO RESIST WILL DO SO IN VAIN!!!” She noticed the figure’s right hand was resting atop the head of another shadowy person kneeling beside it. She recoiled in horror, as she recognized the face of this person was someone she loved dearly. “HIS FATE,,, IS SEALED!”

No sooner than the figure’s warning come from it’s mouth, it was surrounded by flame and smoke. It’s eyes turned bright red, as it levitated above the scorched ground, and began to scream louder than any scream she’d ever heard.

“DIIIIE!” It screamed, as it flew directly towards her. She held her ground, but overcome by fear, she knelt back down on one knee. She trembled as she felt the heat grow hotter, and the scream get louder. It was too much, her mouth was open, but she never heard herself screaming. She waited for the darkness to return, for death to come. She curled up into a defensive position, trying to make herself as small as possible, as everything began to shake around her.

Fists were pounding on the door, as Leela shot upright in her bed. She flipped the bedside lamp on. She was drenched in sweat, confused, breathing fast, and shallow. Her heart was racing, as she yelled out for whoever was beating on the door to knock it the hell off, as she slapped the button that illuminated her cabin, and slid the door open.

“Better wait here, let me see what kinda shape she’s in.” Amy said to Dave with her hand extended, as she entered Leela’s quarters.

Leela watched as Amy rushed to her side. “We heard you screaming. What happened?”.

“Nothing!, a bad dream, that’s all Amy.” Leela answered, her voice quivering, as she wiped the sweat from her face with the front of her tank-top.

“Is she okay Amy?” a voice echoed from out in the corridor.

“Just a bad dream Dave, I’m alright. Just gimme a sec, and I’ll be back on the flight deck.” Leela answered.

“I’m fine Amy, really. How close are we to Erebus IV?” Leela asked, as she splashed water on her face in the small vanity in her quarters.

“Less than an hour. Here, take this.” Amy said, as she tossed Leela a fresh tank-top. Leela quickly tossed the sweat-soaked shirt over her shoulder in Amy’s direction, accidentally hitting her in the face with it. “Spluuuechh! Puke-a-tronic! “ as she muttered something foul in Cantonese. “Oops! Heh heh! Sorry Amy, didn’t know you were in the line of fire!” Leela said apologetically.

Back on the flight deck, Leela scanned all the monitors for status updates. Outside, a vast convoy of hover-RVs, hover-sports cars, and other assorted vessels, lined up for their approaches to Erebus IV for the weekend race. The obligatory rebel flags embroidered with “THE MOON’S GONNA RISE AGAIN!” were displayed on just about every other wessel!

Race vendors lined the approach paths, selling their wares. One vendor advertised for the latest popular item, the Geoff Gourden memorial #624 racing vessel cartoon with angel halo window decal. Most of the other vendors sold merchandise for the #33 Slurm racer of Blast Andersen, and a few other lesser known racers.

Leela acknowledged the landing instructions, and began her descent to the race complex, near the capital city.

(Planet Erebus IV, 09/08/3008 - 1958 NNY time)

IASRA was conducting the traditional night-time practice for the weekend’s final race, The Fishy Joe’s 5000.

Dave, Leela, and Amy walked from the landing pad, to the main IASRA pavilion. Dave took Leela’s advice about looking professional, and pushed the crated trophy on the hover-dolly. He had a sneaky suspicion that maybe she preferred he use the hover-dolly, so that another display of upper-body strength like before wouldn’t attract any competition. He quietly huffed a small giggle, “Heh, yeah right, like there’s any other woman out there that can top Leela! No freakin’ way!”

With the Race Director’s signature on the Planet Express paperwork, Leela acknowledged him with a quick salute, and they were off!

Back outside, a horde of screaming girls ran towards the Starting Pits. The platinum-haired Blast Andersen was seen getting out of the cockpit of his blue & green #33 Slurm racer.

“Uhhgh, lord! This place is nuts! Let’s go already guys!” Leela said, as Dave and Amy were lagging behind a little bit, to watch the other race vessels return to pit row.

Static crackled on Leela’s wrist computer. “What the hell Leela? Why’d you guys go on the delivery without me?” Fry’s anxious voice said, screaming from the tiny speaker, nearly blowing it out.

“Fry, stop yelling! You almost blew the speaker out, again!” Leela shot back angrily.

“Uhhh, sorry. Hey, why’d you guys run a delivery without me?” said Fry.

“Sorry Fry, you weren’t at the office. Nobody knew where you were, and this was a priority delivery! They actually paid extra this time!”

“*sigh!* I know, it’s my fault Leela. I went out with someone. It was short notice, and I’ll explain when you get back.” Fry said, apologetically.

“That’s cool. Maybe you should seriously consider buying a wrist communicator Fry, then this won’t happen.” Leela suggested.

A booming announcer’s voice echoed across the complex, as the Planet Express employees made their way across the cracked tarmac to the waiting delivery ship. “ANNNND IT’S OFFICIAL. THE FINAL 3008 EXTREME WALRUS JUICE POLE AWARD GOES TO BLAST ANDERSEN! WITH THE QUICKEST LAP TIME OF 77.88! BACK TO YOU DARRELL!!!”, as the complex erupted in a thunderous explosion of cheering, and screaming!

Dave laughed out loud. “Man! Even after 1,000 years, ol’ Kenny Wallace still gets the crowds going crazy!”

(New New York, 09/09/3008 - 0030 NNY time)

Leela skillfully guided the ship down through a high layer of cirrus clouds. The night sky looked spectacular. The moonlight shined a silvery glow though the clouds, as the lights of New New York twinkled below.

Dave and Amy lounged in their seats near the center windshield. Amy dozed silently, curled up slightly, as her extremities shivered. Dave noticed this, and reached into an overhead storage bin for a blanket. Leela smiled sweetly as she watched him gently drape it over Amy, being careful not to wake her.

The ship began it’s lazy vertical descent. The surrounding buildings and power lines loomed up into view out of the side windows of the cabin. Dave had to squint his eyes a bit, until they adjusted to the bright lights of the hangar bay, now flooding the ship’s cabin, as Leela planted the ship firmly on the concrete floor.

The threesome exited the ship, Amy still rubbing the sleep from her eyes, and both Dave & Leela looking a little bleary themselves.

Fry was nowhere to be found. A note left on the conference table indicated he’d waited around a few hours, then left to meet up with a friend who called.

After securing the ship, and locking the office up, Leela and Amy exited the Planet Express building through the sliding double doors, Leela tapped the code into the entry panel, locking the doors behind them.

A muffled whining noise came up the street. Leela & Amy turned back around to see Dave had pulled his hover-truck over to the curb, then exiting and re-joining them on the sidewalk.

“Can I offer you ladies a ride home?”

Amy said she’d take a tube, but Leela accepted. Dave bid goodnight to Amy, and opened the passenger side door for Leela. She was by no means scared to walk home alone. This neighborhood in New New York wasn’t a nice place to be after dark, but her Arcturan Kung-Fu skills were exceptional, and she was more than capable of defending herself against multiple attackers.

Still, Leela let him drive her home out of wanting to be close to him. They both enjoyed each other’s company more and more as the days went by. The two of them sat in comfortable silence for the first few blocks. Dave reached over and softly grasped her hand, caressing it lightly. “You okay?” he asked softly.

“Yeah” she replied with a smile, glancing over at him briefly. He loved how the glow from the streetlights illuminated in her eye, as he reached down to a small compartment in the dash panel, below the stereo. Dave plugged his iPod into the stereo’s interface port, flipped his thumb around the clickwheel a few times, and found the song he was looking for.

“I have to admit, every time I hear this, I think about you Leela!”

“Awww, it’s beautiful Dave! I haven’t heard this before, who is it?” she said, still grasping his hand.

“State of Grace”, by Jordan Rudess, and John Petrucci. They’re from that 20th century band Dream Theater I was telling you about the other day.”

Dave continued “It’s a little reminder to me, that you’re always graceful, always beautiful Leela!”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek “Aww, that’s sweet, thanks!”

Dave pulled the truck over to the curb in front of Leela’s apartment building. They sat in the idling truck for a minute.

“Will 7pm be a good time to pick you up tomorrow night?” Dave asked.

“Sounds good. I can’t wait! See you then.” as she exited the hover-truck.

Dave waited until she entered the building, like he always did. Looking up, he saw the lights in Apartment 1I come on. He turned his head, shifted the truck into drive, but then looked back. He saw Leela standing in her window of the 9th floor. She saw that he was looking up, smiled, and waved. Dave immediately grinned, and waved back. “Goodnight Leela, I love you!” he said, in thought.

(Robot Arms Apartments, 09/09/3008 - 1745 NNY time)

“Fryyyy, someone’s at the door, and I just got outta the shower. Dave said, as he heard the loud knocking.

Dave never felt better. He was getting his life back on track. All of his past misfortunes seemed to be washed away in the last few months, since he came to the 31st century. Fry & Bender were good friends, and career-wise, he was glad to be there off the record as an interim mechanic, and officially as a back-up parcel delivery technician by Professor Farnsworth. He’d slipped Hermes a few bucks to change the title a bit, since he didn’t fancy being called “delivery boy”.

“K, it’s almost 6:30, I gotta run guys.” Dave said, as he pressed a tiny button on each shoe’s tongue, making his gleaming new dress shoes automatically lace, and tie themselves up. He exited the back bedroom, and saw Fry sitting on the couch talking to a tall, beautiful woman.

“Dave, you remember Lt. Sims? She came by Planet Express last week?” Fry said, as she looked up at Dave, now dressed sharply for his date with Leela. “Wow! You look great! Where are you heading?” asked Lt. Sims. “Thanks Lieutenant. I’ve got a date with Leela this evening.”

“Ohhh, please, I’m not on-duty, call me Jeannie.” she said, as she laughed a bit. “Fry and I are gonna stay in tonight, watch the ‘All My Circuits’ marathon.” she said, as she ripped open a packet of “Insta-Wine“.

“That‘s cool. Well, Fry, Jeannie, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get going. We have reservations at Elzar’s at nineteen-uh, I mean 7:30. See ya!” he said nervously, as he walked out of the apartment, carrying his guitar case. Jeannie watched as Dave closed the door behind him. A faint line of white light appeared, slowly spider-webbing around the side of her left temple, as she kept her steely gaze on the door he had just exited.

Dave stuffed the Ibanez’s case behind the seats, and fired up his recently washed and polished deep blue Dodge hover-truck. He rolled the iPod’s click wheel, until it played what he was in the mood for. Dave was a huge fan of instrumental guitar players. He’d never done well taking lessons, plus he couldn’t read music to save his life. He was a self-taught guitar player, much like a few of the masters he’d idolized as a teenager.

The Dodge’s stereo played out John Petrucci’s ’Wishful Thinking’ as he headed down the main avenue towards Leela’s place. Dave loved getting the confused stares from both humans, and aliens on the sidewalks. His iPod was full of some of the best music from the 20th, and 21st century, and nobody in this city really understood the strange, ancient music from ‘The Stupid Ages‘ as they called it.

Dave could hardly contain his excitement. He had to keep reminding himself to slow down, after nearly blowing through 3 red lights!

Several blocks away, Leela stood in front of her floor-length mirror, putting the finishing touches on her ensemble. The doorway access control panel near her front door beeped twice, the video/speaker unit crackled with city traffic in the background. “What th- how the hell, do I push this?” she heard the confused voice, and knew it was him.

Down at street level, Dave was still trying to figure out the video address panel at the main entrance to the building. The tiny 4-inch screen flickered on, with Leela’s face coming into focus. “Heyyyy! You’re a little early aren’t you.” She said with a huge smile. “I’ll buzz you in, it’s apartment 1I.”

Dave carefully unfolded the tissue paper that enveloped a pair of blood-red long stem roses, accented with a sprig of baby‘s breath. He checked his hair, and made sure his tie was on straight in the now blank video screen’s lens.

He reached the top of the stairs. The building was clearly showing it’s age. Not much dilapidation, but it needed new windows, and paint badly. It also suffered from a bad musty odor. Turning left, he saw “1I” down the corridor, near the round windows that faced the street, and under another naked light bulb.

The door to the apartment, Dave noticed, was dirty and worn like the others, but also featured a few strategically-placed boot prints. Dave‘s mind interpreted those as possible results from Leela‘s ‘Arcturan Lock-picking‘, which made him chuckle under his breath as he knocked. “It’s open, come on in!” He heard through the door.

Stepping across the threshold into the apartment, Dave smelled the unmistakable hint of a fine perfume. “Have a seat Dave, I’ll be out in sec.” The smell of the perfume made his face feel a little flushed & warm, it felt like he’d just tossed back a double shot of Jack Daniels! Looking around, he liked how simple Leela kept her home. Mostly small pieces of art, kitschy little knick-knacks, and some rather intriguing paintings up on the walls gave the apartment a nice touch.

Dave took a moment to make sure he had the item he was going to give Leela safely secured in his jacket’s inner pocket. Just as he poked around with it a little, the door to the back bedroom opened.

Dave gasped involuntarily a little as his eyes went wide. Stunned so much was he, that he struggled to find words to describe the beauty now standing before him.

“oh, Leela,,, my god, I’m, , I’m, , I don’t know what to say! You look,,,, you look absolutely stunning! Seriously, I can’t find words to describe how beautiful you look right now!” He said, as his face tightened into a ever broader smile, as he stood up.

This was the first time he’d seen her dressed in the gown she’d only worn once before. A gown she had dubbed “The Opera Dress”. A small amount of lipstick, and some highlighting to her cheeks were all the makeup she had put on. The biggest difference was in her hair. Normally worn up in her signature ponytail style, tonight, Leela had styled it to let gravity do it‘s job, but styled a little bit. It flowed gracefully down over her shoulders, and covered a little bit of her eye, a style that reminded him of 20th century actress Veronica Lake.

The fading sunset cast orange beams of light through the slits in the vertical blinds backlighting her figure. Leela attached two small pearl earrings to match her necklace, she held her arms out, and spun around a few times to show off the gown’s features. She looked simply angelic!

“I could just stand here looking at you all night Leela, I want to remember this moment forever! Dave said, as he removed his small digital camera from a pocket, and set it up on the corner of a bookshelf.

The two of them stood side by side, one arm around the other’s hip, Leela’s other arm gently resting on his chest, as the automatic timer beeped three times. The auto timer wound down, triggered the flash, and captured a perfect picture!

“By the way, these are for you. I hope you like them.” he said, as he handed her the roses.

“They’re beautiful Dave! Better put em’ in water before we go.” she replied, as she gave him a small kiss.

“By the way, that suit looks great on you! Did you get it from Colbert‘s?”

“No, it’s Armonster. Fry suggested that place to me.”

“That was nice of him. Okay, let’s roll!” said Leela, as she grabbed her purse.

Outside, the dark blue sky ushered in the night, as a cool evening breeze rustled through the leafy scrub trees that dotted the street. Leela suggested they hail a taxi cab, and not lose any time fighting for a parking spot across town. Dave agreed, as he stuck two fingers in his mouth, whistled, and stuck his arm up in the air to flag down a passing hover-taxi.

(Elzar’s - 09/09/3008 - 1921 NNY time)

Dave & Leela disembarked from the cab in front of the large, elegantly-decorated restaurant. A chalkboard sign by the front door stairs read “Tonight’s Special - NOTHING, QUIT ASKING!”. Inside, a tall, dark-haired Neptunian hostess in a tight red evening gown offered to take people’s coats as they entered. Dave elected to keep his, just in case the cooler temperature of the restaurant made Leela chilly.

“Ahh yes, Mister Murphy, table for two. Right this way please, we have one all ready for you near the window if you’d like.” the hostess cooed.

“The window table’s perfect, thanks.” Dave replied. He couldn’t help but look around at all the other patrons in the place. Nearly all human, a few Neptunians, and The Don Bot & his associates way in back, against the wall. Several people cast stares in their direction, no doubt it was Leela they were looking at.

Elzar’s was featuring a string quartet that evening. Dave called one of them aside, asked him something, while slipping him a few folded currency bills. “Not a problem sir! We know that one well!”

A waiter had brought their wine selection, and Dave struck up a conversation about what made Leela decide to fly a spaceship for The Professor.

She regaled him with all the events of the day leading up to her chasing a newly de-frosted Fry though the ruins of Old New York, being hounded as a job deserter, and finding her passion in life that was flying for a living.

Dave told her how he had strong ambitions to fly since he was a kid, how his bad eyesight had pretty much killed his dream of doing it for his country. Technical work had always fascinated him, and that path led him to enlisting in the service to fix aircraft, rather than fly them.

Dave wanted to learn as much as he could about her, so he did most of the question asking. The conversation eventually drifted to family life, the future, what other dreams the two of them had. They both had almost the same ambitions, to be in a relationship, with someone who loved them for who they were, not for something superficial.

Leela joked a lot about how she felt like the ‘ugly duckling’ in the old fable. Dave cut her off before she finished. “I know you’re joking, but that’s not entirely true. I think you’ve always been beautiful, but nobody’s ever told you that.” he said.

“Yeah, nobody really has,,, except for Fry.” Leela answered in a low tone.

The string quartet began playing again. They started into the Boccherini piece Dave had requested.

Leela, I want to give you something, I think you’ll understand when you open it.”

Dave reached into his jacket, extracting a small black clamshell box. Leela’s eye got wide, and one of her hands flew to her mouth to stifle the small gasp.

“Are you, is this, you can’t be serious?” she whispered at him.

“Just go ahead, open it. I think you’ll like it.” Dave said with a grin.

Leela picked up the box, Upon opening it, she felt a little relieved it wasn’t what she thought it was, but a fleeting pang of what she was hoping to get, someday.

A elegant, silver herringbone necklace laid coiled in the box. Attached to the necklace were two shiny metallic discs. One was one of Dave’s US Navy ‘Dog Tags’, highly polished, the other was shaped like the Dog tag, but was laser inscribed with Dave’s face and name on one edge, and Leela’s on the other edge, with a heart in between them. She flipped the tag over. It was painted like the night sky, but with a message carved in elegant, gold scroll,

Where ever you go,

What ever you do,

I will always be right here,

Waiting for you!”

To Leela, With all my love, David K. Murphy

Leela’s gloved hand was still hovering at her mouth, as she read the inscription. Dave saw a single tear splash, and roll down the glove’s velvet surface. Her face was smiling from ear to ear, glowing in the table’s candlelight. “It’s beautiful Dave! I don’t know what to say. I love it, thank you!” she said, daubing her eye with a cloth.

They sat quietly for a few minutes, enjoying another bottle of excellent wine, and the rest of the string quartet’s performance of "La Musica Notturna Delle Strade di Madrid no. 6, op. 30”.

“I also have something for you Dave.” Leela said, as she reached into her purse. She handed him a slightly larger black box, with green ribbon decorating it’s corners. “Hope you like it!” she beamed.

He slid the ribbon off, lifting the box top, revealing a black and silver device, similar to one Leela owned, but smaller.

“*gasp* is this a wrist communicator?” Dave said with a grin, as he studied the small 2x2-inch screen, and four small switches beneath it. “Try it on.” she said excitedly.

Before slipping the device over his left wrist, Dave noticed something on the back of the device’s case.

“To Dave,

The future we cannot foresee,

No matter where you are,

You’ll never be a Stranger,

When you think of me.”

With Love - Turanga Leela

Wow! This means a lot to me Leela. I really love it!” Dave said, as he slipped it on, and let her explain how to turn it on, program it, make and receive calls on it.

The owner, and head chef, Elzar himself stood in the center of the dining room. In a booming voice, he announced that the upstairs club lounge was now open.

Dave handed the check folder back to the waiter, stood up, and held his hand out to Leela. “You wanna go check it out?”

“Sure! Might be fun, and I could use a Shrapnel Bomb right about now.”

“I take it that’s some kinda drink huh?” Dave asked, as they walked up the marble stairs to the club level.

“Yeah, it’s not too popular. A drink only a tough person would like.” Leela said, getting a little hint of excitement in her voice.

“How about I go get us a round.” he suggested. It would be a great excuse to go grease the DJ with a little cash to play a certain 20th century song he’d been thinking about.

Dave strolled up to the bar. “What’ll it be flesh pipe?” the robot bartender yelled in his direction.

Two Shrapnel Bombs please!” he replied

“Ohhh, tough guy eh? Comin’ right up!” The bartender said, as he filled his shaker with the dangerously strong cocktail of Boomshine & Martian Fire Water.

The lounge was full of happy couples relaxing with drinks in hand. Some had started working their way over to the dance floor, as the DJ’s equipment began cranking out a loud, upbeat type of music Dave had never heard before.

With their drinks in hand, Dave & Leela watched as people who looked normal downstairs a couple of hours ago, began to cut loose on the dance floor, the more intoxicated they became. The Shrapnel Bomb was like drinking razor blades coated with super glue! No matter how hard he tried to swallow, it just didn’t seem to go down! “Watch that first one! It’s always the toughest!” Leela said laughing as she watched Dave’s facial reaction to the potent cocktail. He said to hell with it, slamming down the rest of the drink in one gulp!

Dave walked out in front of where she stood, looked back at her, extending his arm towards her. “My dear, would you care to dance?” Dave asked in a mock pompous voice. Leela extended her arm, tossed her drink aside, and walked out to grasp his hand, as they sauntered onto the flashing, multi-colored dance floor.

Never being a good dancer, Dave mostly tried to follow along with what the other guys were doing with their dates. As the alcohol permeated his brain, he really didn’t care how good, or how stupid he looked, it’s just felt great to be out having a good time with someone he loved!

(Outside Apartment 1I, 09/09/3008 - 2237 NNY time)

Leela laughed loudly, as she stumbled a little getting out of the hover-cab. A result of alcohol, and the randy joke Dave had just told her.

“Wait, wait here, I need to get something out of my truck.” Dave said, as he popped open the passenger side door, and extracted the long, black guitar case.

Upstairs, Leela had set a pot of coffee on to brew. While she busied herself, he settled into the darkened living room, only turning on one set of track lights near the sofa. Dave extracted the white & gold Ibanez from it’s case, de-tuned it to the right key, and fiddled with a small device The Professor helped him build.

The small device Professor Farnsworth helped construct was similar to what a 20th century Pedal Board did, only much smaller, and with many more sound options. Dave set his tone, volume, and the effects selector to make the electric instrument to simulate an acoustic guitar’s rich, resonating sound. The device also added backup vocals, drum tracks, rhythm, and bass guitar backing for a myriad of musical genres, all could be added by internet download, or in Dave’s case, synched from an MP3 player, such as his iPod.

Leela walked into the room carrying two mugs of hot coffee. She had changed out of the gorgeous evening gown, into her pink silk pajamas, and pulled her hair back up into it’s normal ponytail while the coffee was brewing.

Dave perked up as she sat beside him on the sofa. A hint of her perfume wafted in his direction, which made his pulse quicken a little bit. “So, what did you want to show me?” Leela asked quizzically, as she took in the sight before her.

“I thought I’d play something for you, something I feel describes emotionally what I feel when I think about you.” Dave said softly, while staring at his reflection in her eye.

He stood up, plugged the Ibanez into the effects device, made one final adjustment, plucked a few strings to check sound, and pushed the red start switch.

A white light on the device directed Dave to start playing his main part. A rich acoustic guitar sound resonated off the walls of Leela’s small apartment, as Dave played the intro, and began to sing in a low voice,

Hush now, don't you cry
Wipe away the teardrop from your eye
You're lying safe in bed
It was all a bad dream
Spinning in your head
Your mind tricked you to feel the pain
Of someone close to you leaving the game of life
So here it is, another chance
Wide awake you face the day
Your dream is over... or has it just begun?”

Instantly, right on cue, Dave’s lead was joined by a rhythm acoustic guitar, bass, and drums from the device on the floor, as they all flowed together seamlessly to play Queensryche’s Silent Lucidity.

There's a place I like to hide
A doorway that I run through in the night
Relax child, you were there
But only didn't realize it and you were scared
It's a place where you will learn
To face your fears, retrace the years
And ride the whims of your mind
Commanding in another world
Suddenly you hear and see
This magic new dimension

I will be watching over you
I’m gonna help you see it through
I will protect you in the night
I’m smiling next to you, in Silent Lucidity”

Leela sat perfectly still, her eye fixed on him, as his hands flew up & down the fret board, executing the solo portion of the song flawlessly, just as he practiced so many times over and over.

If you open your mind for me
You won't rely on open eyes to see
The walls you built within
Come tumbling down, and a new world will begin
Living twice at once you learn
You're safe from the pain in the dream domain
A soul set free to fly
A round trip journey in your head
Master of illusion, can you realize
Your dream's alive, you can be the guide but...

I will be watching over you
I’m gonna help to see it through
I will protect you in the night
I’m smiling next to you.…”

The room went silent for a second, then the sound of a cello, and double bass played out, accompanying his guitar, as the song ended with the finale of Brahms’s Lullaby.

Leela went to his side as he placed the Ibanez down in it’s case. “Beautiful, I loved it!” she said, as they embraced and kissed.

She asked him to stay a little while longer. A program she liked, The Scary Door, was coming on, and Dave happily agreed to watch it with her.

It didn’t take long for the combination of wine, “shrapnel bombs“, and the calming glow of the TV screen to cause both of them to nod off to sleep on her overstuffed sofa.

Dave awoke later to find the show had ended, and clock on the wall showing well after one in the morning. Leela was still fast asleep next to him. Normally, he would have just got up & left, but aware of his deep feelings for Leela, something inside told him that wouldn’t be right.

He gently lifted her up, carrying her though the darkened apartment, and placing her down in her bed. Dave stayed for a few minutes, watching the moonlight play across her hair as she slept peacefully. He pulled the satin bed sheet up around her, softly kissing her forehead, then settling back on the couch.

“No, leaving her wouldn’t be a good idea, not tonight.” Dave thought, as he felt consciousness slip away, and sleep wash over him.