Title: Know Your Quarry
Story summary: An Alternate Universe fanfiction. Teenage Fry and Leela compete in a Futuramaverse version of the Hunger Games.
Ships: Fry / Leela, mentions of Amy/ Kif.
Warnings: Obviously this story contains violence. Rating should stay a T throughout, though, as this site doesn't seem to mind so much about violence and the sexual content in this one is very mild.
I've done my best to keep everyone as in-character as possible, although there will be some differences, owing to the situations I've put them in.
Knowledge of the Hunger Games trilogy will give you an advantage when reading, but you should be able to get by without it. I should probably also state that Nixon, in the Futuramaverse, is a natural fit for the role of President Snow. I'm working off the fictional, head-in-a-jar version though, and I don't own either of them, so please leave any defamation lawsuits at the door. I could only pay you in noodles and fanfiction anyway.
Leela is four years old when Nixon wins the Earthican presidency. She doesn't pay much attention to it. It's politics, after all, and it's to do with the surface, a place Leela has never seen and is privately convinced doesn't exist.
Besides, she's building a xylophone out of discarded tin cans, and at four years old that's really more important.
Dimly, she registers the fact that her parents talk about this man with frowny faces and hushed voices, as if they think maybe he can hear them even underground. Her father says Nixon is preying on the anti-immigrant prejudices of the electorate. Her mother says she doesn't like the way Nixon uses the media.
None of this means anything to Leela, so she quickly forgets all about it.
When Leela is five years old, Nixon makes good on his election promise and constructs a giant "alien-proof" fence around the Earth. He electrifies the perimeter, so that illegal immigrants get fried trying to sneak in. The actual frying is broadcast live on television, on a specially-designated channel that broadcasts 24 hours a day.
That same year, Leela's father begins to work longer hours in the sewer, for a smaller pay packet. He comes home late at night, caked in grime and so worn-out it's all he can do to flash Leela a smile.
Nixon is coming down hard on the mutant population, he says. He and Munda argue about it in strained whispers, when they think Leela is asleep. Munda always says the same thing – that mutants have rights – and Morris always reminds her that they don't. Only official Earthican citizens have rights, and Nixon has made it clear that when he says "official Earthican citizen" what he really means is "unadulterated human".
Leela is six years old when the consequences of Nixon's anti-immigrant policy really begin to be felt by the surface. The healthcare and agriculture sectors are the first to buckle under the strain, but higher education suffers too, as colleges struggle to cope without fees from immigrant students. It quickly becomes clear that to Nixon and his cronies, every immigrant is an illegal immigrant, and none of them are going to be given Earthican citizenship. Ever.
Desperate to distract an unhappy electorate, Nixon devises The Citizenship Games: a televised fight to the death. The rules are simple. The participants must volunteer. None can hold Earthican citizenship already, and all must be under the age of eighteen. They will fight each other in a specially-designed arena until only one remains. The Victor.
At first it seems like madness – what kind of kid would volunteer for that? And then it all becomes clear. It's the reward. The lone victor of the Games wins Earthican citizenship. Not just for a year – for a lifetime. And for their entire immediate family. The concept is wildly popular. Nixon's more xenophobic supporters relish the chance to watch a bunch of aliens fight to death, like the frightened animals they see them as. Moderates like the veneer of fairness the contest offers. They talk proudly of how generous the reward is, and skirt around the issue of the twenty or so dead kids the contest will produce every year. After all, they say, no-one's forcing these kids to sign up. Detractors are mysteriously silenced.
Later that year, Nixon's stay in office is extended indefinitely. It's an emergency measure, he says, to counter the current "crisis". No-one points out that he is the one who caused the crisis in the first place.
No-one points out much of anything, anymore.
A projector is sent to the sewers, so the whole of the mutant settlement can watch the Games every year.
Every year, at least one mutant teen signs up.
Every year they die, without exception. Death after death after death. If their fellow contestants don't kill them, the deadly arenas do. Her parents try to stop her watching, but it doesn't make any difference. The Games hold a sick fascination for Leela. She watches every year as mutant kids are stabbed and strangled and beheaded by their fellow tributes, and as they are gassed or blown up or incinerated by traps in the arena. Some of them simply sicken or starve to death, and in a way those deaths are the worst. Those tributes hold on longest, and she can see it in their faces as their hope drains away. It seems so much crueler than a quick death. Watching those deaths unfold, down in the gloom of the sewer, all she wants to do is to reach through the screen and snuff out their lives herself. She thinks they'd probably thank her for it.
Surface people, she decides, are sick and bloodthirsty, and Nixon is the worst of all.
The explosion happens on her tenth birthday.
Leela is in the schoolhouse. Her mother is going to make her mushroom pancakes later, with five different types of fungi, and after that Raoul is coming round to play them some songs on his home-made guitar. (The xylophone taught her that she herself has no musical aptitude whatsoever, but Leela likes to hear other people play. And Raoul is actually pretty good.) She's wearing a lumpy knitted cardigan and a pair of spit-shined black leather shoes Munda insists are smart. They pinch her toes. It's funny how these stupid, insignificant little details stick in her head. Even years later Leela finds she can't think about the explosion without also remembering the itchy cardigan and the too-tight shoes, and the list she was making in her head of all her favorite songs.
She is too far away to hear the blast properly – it rumbles like far-off surface thunder – but she feels it. They all do. It shakes the floorboards under their feet, and the teacher doesn't even attempt to stop the class running out of the building. Every one of them has a family member working in the sewer system. A gas explosion or a pipe collapse means someone they know is injured at best, dead at worst.
Leela can't look at her classmates. Can't think about her stupid birthday anymore, or her too-tight shoes. All she can think about is her father. She runs all the way to the Eastern Pipeway. There is a stitch tearing at her side and her head is spinning, but she ignores it. Ignores it all. The Pipeway is the only thing that matters . . . until she reaches the familiar rusted entrance and finds it gone. In its place is a wreck of mangled iron. Raw sewage laps over her shiny black shoes, seeping through the gaps in the wreckage.
Munda is clutching at the foreman, begging for information about her husband. Leela hears their conversation as if from a distance. Most of it is muddled, but certain words stand out. Crushed is one. Drowned is another. And sorry, of course. Sorry, over and over again. Munda sinks to the ground all at once, like her insides have been sucked out.
Leela just gets foggy. For a long time she doesn't know where she is, can't hear anything except the blood rushing in her ears. Later they tell her she lost her mind. They say she screamed and threw things. They say she scratched and kicked and even bit anyone who tried to calm her down. Leela doesn't remember any of it, and she doesn't think it matters.
All that matters now is her mother, who no longer eats or sleeps, no longer really smiles, and never again seems truly whole.
Her father is dead and buried under tons of surface filth, but the surface offers no compensation, and soon enough Leela and her mother begin to starve. Neighbors help them out, but there is never enough food to go around. Before long Leela can trace the outline of bones beneath her skin. Her stomach aches at night and if she stands up too fast she gets dizzy.
Munda works two jobs, battling her grief, but it's not enough. At eleven years of age, Leela leaves school for good and becomes a sifter. Her job is to sift through muck on the first level of the sewer and retrieve anything of value. The pay stinks and after ten minutes Leela stinks too. It doesn't help that she has terrible depth perception. She lives in fear of missing something important and losing her job.
As it turns out, her fear is misplaced. The thing she should have been afraid of was illness.
It creeps up on her mother gradually, leaching the color from Munda's cheeks and slowing her movements, making her cough at night. She starts to lose weight again, like when they were both starving to death. Her forehead feels hot to the touch. Her breath rasps. One night she coughs and coughs until bright red blood spatters the sheets and Leela suddenly realizes: her mother isn't going to get better. Not without help.
It's an infection, the doctor says. A surface medicine called penicillin could cure her mother, but it can't be found in the sewer. Leela knows she could get down on her knees and personally beg President Nixon for it, but he wouldn't give it to her. No surface person would.
Her mother is going to die. Like her father, only worse, because this death won't come all at once. It will drag out over weeks, maybe even months, until Munda is too weak to move. She will end up like those children in the Games, any hope of survival draining away as her body collapses in on itself. And Leela will have to watch.
The day her mother can't get out of bed, she makes up her mind. It's a long shot, suicide to even attempt it if she's honest, but it's the only thing she can do. She's going to go to the surface, and steal the medicine her mother needs.
She chooses her manhole with care, opting for one a long way from the city center. It's situated next to a big gray building she thinks might be a prison. There are letters picked out in wrought iron above the gate.
Cookieville Minimum Security Orphanarium, she reads. Huh.
She hides in the storm drain for hours, but waits until night falls to make her move. She has a hooded jacket, and there will be kids around. That means she might be able to blend in better than she'd hoped, and it means there might be a medical bay or a sickroom, for the kids. It might even contain more than just the bare minimum required to save her mother's life. A kind of excitement fizzes up in her as she bolts from the drain and flattens herself against the wall. Her heart is pounding in her throat.
Inside, the building is cold and featureless. There is a thick layer of dust and owl droppings on the floor, and what little furniture she can see is shabby and faded. It's not what she expected. This is the surface. It's supposed to be better, isn't it?
She can hear steel doors clanging in distant corridors. The sound spurs her on, gives her the courage to climb a staircase and check out a few empty rooms. She finds an office, a closet full of ancient brooms and mops, and a long bare room full of metal bedsteads. The room opposite is the one she wants. The sickroom. She slips inside - still drunk on her own daring - without pausing to listen at the door.
Her heart almost stops.
She's not alone.
The room is a shorter version of the one she just looked at. There are four metal-framed beds in it. Each is surrounded by a long, peach-striped curtain. Three of the curtains are pushed back, but one is half-drawn and in the foot-high gap between curtain and floor Leela can see a woman's severe pointed shoes.
She claps a hand to her mouth and immediately wraps herself in the folds of the neighboring curtain, trying her hardest not to breathe. If she is found here . . .
Amazingly, the woman doesn't notice her. She doesn't even seem to hear the door open and close. She's in the middle of a furious tirade against someone Leela can't see. Apparently the someone is mentally deficient and a drain on the state, and brought this injury on himself. At long last the boy she is talking to is given a chance to mumble his agreement and offer an apology. The woman waves it away and clacks off. She sweeps right past Leela without seeing her. This near-miss must lull Leela into complacency, because she lets herself take a breath at last – and almost jumps out of her skin.
"You can come out if you want," the boy says. "I know you're there. I can see your shoes."
His voice is a lot stronger now that the shouty matron woman is gone. He doesn't sound scared or angry. Just curious.
Leela swallows. Feeling like she has no real alternative, she steps forward and pulls back the curtain.
The first thing she feels is a wave of relief. Her discoverer is just a kid, like her. He can't be more than twelve. In fact, twelve is a generous estimate, because he looks pretty scrawny. He is small and pale, with dark blue eyes and shockingly bright orange hair. Leela has never seen hair that color, not even on a mutant. It's the color of carrots or toxic waste, and it sticks up in every direction. The boy is wearing a barf-green sweater over a peach-striped hospital nightshirt. One of his legs is encased in hard white stuff Leela has no name for. A winch is holding it up at a thirty degree angle, which explains why the boy didn't just get out of bed and investigate her presence himself. The impairment relaxes Leela a little. If she has to overpower him, it will be a lot easier like this.
She stands in front of the boy, waiting for him to react to the fact that there is a mutant at his bedside. If he makes any attempt to scream or attack her, she is ready to act. There is a lamp on his bedside locker she thinks she could brain him with.
But he only stares at her.
"What's with the eye?" he asks at last. "Are you an alien?"
Leela finds her voice.
The boy stares some more.
"It's a really big eye."
"I mean, like . . . really big."
"I was born with it," Leela snaps. "I'm a mutant."
"Oh," the boy says. Then - "I'm Fry."
"That's my name," he explains. "Philip J Fry. But most people just call me Fry, because they use last names here. Like in a prison. Everything here is like a prison. There's even bars on the windows. What's your name?"
This doesn't make any sense. She just told him she's a mutant. He should be freaking out right now, and she should be making a run for it. But he isn't, and she isn't, and so she finds herself answering, in a kind of daze.
"Leela. Turanga Leela, but Turanga is a family name. Everyone calls me Leela."
"Snap!" Fry grins.
His smile is as shocking as his hair. It shines out like a fog lamp. It's bright and beaming, and Leela can't remember the last time someone smiled at her like that. Maybe her parents, when she was a baby and everything wasn't so exhausting. Maybe.
"I'm a mutant," she repeats, desperate to steer this conversation back on course.
It still doesn't have the desired effect.
"Are you an orphan too?" Fry asks, like this is somehow the more important question.
"No," Leela says, baffled. "My father is dead though. And my mother is dying."
Her voice sounds stiff and uncaring, even to her own ears. But she can't open those floodgates. She can't go back to that day at the Eastern Pipeway, to the flood of emotion that drove her crazy. It's safer to be factual about these things. That way, maybe they won't hurt as much.
But Fry's smile has dimmed at her words.
"I'm sorry," he says, sounding for some reason as if he actually means it. "Can . . . can you do anything?"
Any minute now, Leela thinks, her eye is going to boggle right out of her head.
"She needs medicine," she hears herself say. "Penicillin. We don't have it in the sewer. I was going to steal it."
Fry nods, as if this is a perfectly reasonable plan. He points at a door Leela hadn't noticed yet. It's cut in two halves, like a stable door. The bottom half is locked, but the top is swinging free, and she could easily jump it.
"They keep all the medicine in there," Fry informs her. "In a big white box with a red t on it."
He's not lying. In under five minutes Leela has a bottle of red and yellow pills stashed in the pocket of her sweater. It rattles when she moves, and she keeps feeling like an alarm is about to go off, like sniffer dogs are about to chase her down. She needs to get out of here.
She wants to run, right now. But instead she finds herself hovering awkwardly at the foot of Fry's bed. She feels like she owes him something. Or something.
"What happened to your leg?" she asks eventually. It seems only polite.
"Oh, I fell off the roof," Fry says. "I'm an idiot."
"What were you doing on the roof?"
"I went up there on a dare." He dips his head, looking momentarily miserable. "I just wanted the other kids to like me. They call me Stupid From The Stupid Ages, and Mega-Dunce. And Carrot-Top. Which isn't fair, because I can do tons of cool stuff."
Why does she keep talking to him? Leela can't figure it out.
"I can finish a Rubik's cube," Fry boasts. "And I can do a septuple head spin, and I've seen every episode of Batman ever. That's cool, right? I'm cool!"
Leela shakes her head.
"I don't know what any of that means," she confesses. "But you seem nice. For a human," she adds quickly. "I don't know why they don't like you."
Fry smiles again. This one is different. It's smaller. Shyer.
"We could be friends," he says hopefully. "If you want. I could teach you how to do a septuple head spin, or a Rubik's cube, or, or . . . anything you want! And you could teach me what mutants do for fun. And come see me sometimes. I get . . . I get lonely, sometimes."
He fidgets nervously. When he touches her hand, Leela notes that his palm is hot and sticky.
"Please? I like you," he mumbles, and suddenly her face is hot too. She snatches her hand away.
"We can't be friends."
He calls after her - "Wait!", maybe or "Don't go!" - but Leela doesn't stop to listen.
She runs as fast as her legs will take her, and she doesn't look back.