Fan Fiction

Blame It On The Brain, part 2
By coldangel_1

Chapter 4: Terror Incognita

Fry, Bender and Zoidberg arrived at the foot of Momcorp headquarters as the sun began to set over New New York. The colossal structure loomed up above them, blotting out the darkening sky.

“Hey, you ought to know this building pretty well,” Fry said, glancing at Bender.

“Not really,” the bending robot replied. “I was assembled at the Momcorp plant in Mexico – I’ve only ever really seen the foyer of this place.”

Zoidberg raised a claw. “I have heard about this building, I have,” he said. “Every floor above the 80th is special, they say. Not easy to get to, even for regular employees.”

“Must be where they took Nibbler,” Fry muttered, pulling his borrowed cap down lower on his head. The three of them were dressed in the dull uniforms of chicken soup dispenser repairmen, complete with hats and tool belts.

“Are we gonna do this thing, or just stand out here all night and rust?” Bender snapped.

“Okay, okay – but let’s sneak in quietly. We don’t wanna cause a commotion.” Fry walked toward the entrance uncertainly with the other two in tow. When the doors rolled open automatically at his approach, he jumped back in fright.

“Ah for crap’s sake,” Bender snapped, shouldering past Fry. “The secret to looking like you belong somewhere you don’t is ya gotta act as if you’re in a hurry to get some place important and everyone is just in your way.” He strode into the entrance foyer and casually elbowed a secretary aside, causing her to spill her papers.

“Sorry,” Fry said to the woman quickly as he hurried after Bender.

Zoidberg stooped to pick up some of the woman’s papers, and promptly ate them. “Oooh, premium print quality!” he mumbled contentedly.

At the front desk, a pair of security guards was stationed, running identity scans of each person entering the bank of elevators behind them. Seeing these, Bender veered off toward a corridor at one side.

“Come on, chumps!” he said loudly so the guards would hear. “That soup dispenser isn’t going to fix itself! Wink, wink!”

“Bender, you said ‘wink, wink’ out loud!” Fry hissed in exasperation.

“And you’re a jerk – you hear me complaining?” They passed a large room that contained a public exhibit of 20th and 21st Century artefacts from Mom’s private collection, and Fry noticed with interest the presence of an immaculate, fully-restored blue 1968 Ford Mustang coupe. He salivated slightly, but forced his attention to the task at hand.

Bender pushed open a dusty, disused door that opened into a dank stairwell, and the three of them stepped inside, gazing up at the looming flights of concrete stairs that disappeared high above.

“We’re going to take these stairs… all the way up?” Zoidberg said mournfully.

“Well, we’ve gotta get to Nibbler to save him somehow,” Fry said.

“Talk about out of the way,” Bender muttered, gazing at the stairs reluctantly.

“I don’t have time to argue with you guys,” Fry grumbled. “I’m going!”

“Okay, okay. Don’t go off alone.”

The three of them set off up the stairs, ascending floor after floor. The stairs clearly hadn’t seen use in a long time – a thick layer of dust coated every surface, and odd piles of old broken office equipment had been dumped on many of the landings. On and on they went, circling endlessly around the central shaft, puffing and panting as they went.

“Don’t know… why the hell… we gotta climb,” Bender gasped, sucking down a bottle of Olde Fortran to refuel his labouring servomotors.

“…‘Cause… we don’t… wanna start a commotion until… after we’ve saved Nibbler,” Fry panted.

Bender began a low, almost manic chuckle that echoed around the stairwell.

“Cut that out, you’re giving me the creeps.”

“I just can’t believe we’re risking our necks for a stupid ball of fur – it’s hilarious.”

Zoidberg let out a low groan. “How much further do these stairs go on?” he lamented miserably, hauling himself up one agonizing step at a time.

“Why don’t you ask them?” Bender snapped. “Nobody forced you to come.”

“Maybe it’s one of those endless stairways,” Fry puffed.

They climbed on for an indeterminate amount of time in surly silence broken only by the exhausted panting and the clicking of Bender’s metal feet on the concrete.

“Yo… what floor is this?” Bender asked at length.

“I gave up counting,” Zoidberg replied woozily.

“Oh dammit, I’m boned!” Bender stopped abruptly and collapsed in a heap.

“Come on… Bender,” Fry said, stopping to crouch by the fallen robot. “Pull it together.”

“Can’t,” Bender grunted sulkily. “I’m only flesh and blood, after all!”

“No you aren’t.”

Between them, Fry and Zoidberg hauled Bender to his feet, and they continued onward.

“Why!?” bender droned. “Why do they have to make these buildings so damn tall!?”

When they finally reached the top of the stairwell, the three of them slumped down in an exhausted pile on the floor.

“Finally…” Fry gasped.

“Never… wanna see another step… in my life,” Bender wheezed.

“My shell… is chafing me,” Zoidberg complained, using one of his mouth tendrils to wipe sweat from his brow.

“Come on,” Fry said, pushing himself to his feet using the wall to lean against. “Let’s get ready.”

The security monitor displayed surveillance camera feed of the three unauthorized personnel leaving the stairwell and sneaking comically down a hallway on the 80th floor. Mom watched them with some amusement.

“Should we… apprehend them?” Larry asked.

“Not yet,” Mom replied. “Fry’s coming right to me, which is what I want. Let’s see how far he and his moron friends can get first.”

“Intruders!” the first guard shouted as Fry, Bender and Zoidberg rounded a corner. He and his companion brought their lightsabre batons to bear.

“Oh no, no… we’re chicken soup dispenser repairmen,” Fry said hurriedly.

“Where’s your clearance?” the second guard demanded.

“Oh… right here,” Fry said, fumbling around under his shirt. He swiftly brought out the Professor’s sonic pulse pistol and shot the first guard in the face. As the man went sprawling unconscious, the second guard swung his lightsabre in a wide arc.

Bender quickly removed his own head and threw it as hard as he could. It struck the guard in the side of the skull with a loud clang.

“Ow!” Bender’s head said angrily as it and the guard fell to the floor.

“Nice throw,” Fry remarked, retrieving Bender’s head for him.

As they dragged the unconscious bodies toward a janitorbot’s closet, Zoidberg plucked a badge off one of the men’s chests.

“This maybe will help get free snacks at the vending machine?” he ventured hopefully.

“No, you idiot!” Bender snatched the card out of Zoidberg’s claws and examined it. “This is an ident badge that’ll give us access to the upper levels. C’mon, jerkwads!”

They found their way into an elevator, where Bender discovered that swiping the guard’s ident badge only gave them access up to level 85. When they exited on that floor they found themselves in some kind of executive mezzanine level with cafes and gyms spread out before them in a luxurious split-level design.

“This doesn’t look like the right place,” Fry said. “Let’s see if we can find out anything.”

Venturing out, and trying to look like they belonged, the trio made their way into the area, moving nervously among Momcorp executives. Fry broke away from the others to take a look at a wall-mounted diagram of the building.

“I don’t remember seeing you here before,” a voice said off to one side, and Fry glanced guiltily at a businesswoman in her late forties who was eyeing him.

“Say, you’re cute,” she said. “In an ugly sort of way… If you’re with the repair squad, you’re needed two floors up – the vending machines all attained self-awareness again and began demanding medical benefits and their own union. They all need to have their sentience erased or we’ll have an industrial relations nightmare.”

“I… uh… lost my clearance card,” Fry said, spreading his hands sheepishly.

“Oh for God’s sake…” the woman muttered, reaching into her suit pocket. “How you blue-collar types figured a way down from the trees is beyond me.” She handed Fry a card. “Use that – and don’t get saliva on it.”

“Wow, there’s a lotta suits,” Bender said, as Fry rejoined the group.

A number of those suits walked past where the three of them stood, and portions of conversation wafted past.

“Did you see that creature…?”

“Three eyes – and those teeth!”

“…Possesses knowledge on how to build a doomsday weapon…”

“…Quantum dating puts it at least three thousand years old…”

“They’re thinking of cloning it – producing a refined specimen that could withstand our research for a longer time…”

Fry and Bender glanced at each other, faces fixed in purpose.

“Let’s do this thing,” Bender said, rolling up the external ‘sleeve’ casing of his arms. They headed back toward the elevator with Zoidberg scuttling along behind.

At the 87th floor, they finally found the science division – marked with numerous security warnings on the walls, and the biting sterile scent of a hospital. Staying silent, the trio began to skulk through the corridors – checking rooms as they went.

At length, following the sounds of activity ahead, they found their way to a windowed observation room that looked out over a large circular lab. Scientists in white coats bustled around others wearing full hazmat suits – all monitoring strange equipment that was arrayed around a central object. A glass cylindrical enclosure that contained…

“Nibbler!” Fry gasped. The little alien creature appeared to be asleep or drugged – the occasional miniscule twitch of his breathing the only sign of life.

“What are they doing to him?” Zoidberg warbled, mouth tendrils squirming sympathetically.

“Whatever they’re doing,” Bender muttered, “we can’t just burst in while all those nerds are there.”

Fry looked down at an illuminated hologram panel set into the console before him. A 3D flying toaster holoscreensaver was displaying, so he touched a control to make it vanish, and it reverted to a video loop taken from inside some small chamber. Fry swallowed hard when he saw what was shown, appearing through some kind of energy curtain, floating briefly, and then being hit with electrical pulses and falling. “Brainspawn…” he said quietly. “…How do I know that?” He watched the video play over again, trying to understand why his stomach knotted and his chest tightened. Some memory lurked just out of reach, as if it had been excised from the rest of his mind.

“Brainspawn,” he said again. “So… they’ve brought one back…” He clutched his head suddenly and backed away. “Why can’t I remember?” “Friend Fry, what is wrong?” Zoidberg asked. “Is it your egg sack? It’s the egg sack, isn’t it? You can tell me, I’m a doctor apparently.”

“Do you see it?” Fry asked shakily. “Do you know what it is?”

“What?” Bender looked at the hologram of the floating brain. “What the…? Is that what a brain looks like? Man, you organisms are disgusting – give me cool clean silicon any day! …So… where’s that thing’s body?” “There… there is no body,” Fry answered, gesturing at the Brainspawn. “…That’s what it is.”

“What? You’re starting to weird me out, Fry. This whole thing’s stupid – let’s just find a way to get the furball and get outta here.”

“Right…” Fry took one last look at the Brainspawn before shutting off the hologram. The eerie sense of déjà vu remained.

Suddenly, out in the lab, Nibbler’s enclosure was elevated on hydraulics, lifting up through a hole set in the ceiling.

“Come on, we have to follow him!” Fry said, leading the way back toward the elevators. As they piled back into one and hammered the up button, two men stepped from shadows and quickly followed them inside.

Larry and Ignar held laser pistols trained on Fry, Bender and Zoidberg, who, realizing the trap, moved to the back of the elevator with their hands up. “Push the ‘up’ button, would you?” Larry said menacingly.

“That’s where we were going anyway, jerkwad,” Bender replied. With a brief flash of green light and a metallic smell, Larry shot a hole through Bender’s forehead, causing the robot to bellow in simulated pain.

As the elevator doors closed, Ignar relieved Fry of his sonic pulse gun.

“You’re just lucky Mom wants you alive,” Larry sneered at Fry. “Otherwise you… well, you wouldn’t be alive.”

“Poetic!” Bender chimed in. Larry shot him in the chest.

“Ohhh, we’re boned!” Bender lamented, gingerly rubbing his laser holes. “‘Oh no, Bender – I don’t wanna take any big guns – we wouldn’t wanna hurt anyone…’ You stupid skintube, Fry – I hold you in the lowest regard yet!”

“Shut up, Bender,” Fry said.

“Friends, I will be loyal to the end,” Zoidberg said. “No matter what they do to me – I won’t sell out my comrades.”

The elevator binged, and Ignar said: “This is where we get out.”


They were led out at gunpoint into the wide, ornately furnished office of Mom. The matriarch herself turned in her high-backed chair to watch Fry and his companions enter.

“Well now, the Mighty One himself,” she said. “You certainly took your damn time getting here, you disgusting little weed.”

Chapter 5: Future Gear Solid

A pale green ellipsoid fell, belly-first, through the upper-reaches of Earth’s troposphere, scoring an incandescent line across the evening sky that was visible for hundreds of miles in all directions. After a bare minimum of aerobraking, the spacecraft’s pilot realigned its attitude with a deft flick of control surfaces on the tail fins. The Planet Express ship’s nose angled down toward the shimmering lights of New New York on the curved horizon as Atlantic fishermen were buffeted by multiple sonic booms far below.

With a calmness that belied her inner anxiety, Leela made minute adjustments to the ship’s trajectory, checking the airspeed monitor, fuselage temperature, and made sure the rear-view mirrors were still angled correctly. All tasks that could easily be delegated to the ship’s computer – but she needed to stay busy, lest the more pointed of her morbid imaginings impinge on her sanity.

She’d contacted Planet Express a dozen times during the flight, and each time an increasingly irritated Hermes Conrad had informed her that after appearing briefly to borrow a weapon, Fry had disappeared along with Bender and Doctor Zoidberg. The three hadn’t been seen since. After the attack on her, Leela felt the weight of dread pulling her down. What has Fry done? she wondered. But more importantly – where was he?

Noticing an intermittent thermal reading from behind the ship, Leela initiated a radar scan and found nothing. The thermal return had appeared a few times during the trip, but it was too small to be a ship so she chalked it up as sensor degradation or a fluctuation in one of the main drive lenses producing a plasma pocket.

As she dropped the ship through cloudbanks at a speed faster than safe and less than legal, the comm. link beeped with the PE logo flashing. Hermes’ face resolved on the screen, wearing a slightly stunned expression.

“Leela…” the Jamaican bureaucrat said hesitantly, and Leela instantly found her heart hammering in her chest – Hermes was never hesitant.

“What? What is it? Is Fry okay? What’s going on?”

“Leela, Fry is dead, mon…” Hermes said without preamble, but not unkindly.

“…No,” Leela shook her head, squeezing her eye shut to stem the sudden explosion of tears. “That’s impossible,” she said, letting the ship drop a thousand feet. “I don’t believe you!”

“I’m sorry,” Hermes said. “I received confirmation just now – he fell to his death from his apartment window; it may be that he jumped.”

Leela opened her eye and absently pulled the ship away from its impending spiritual union with the ocean. “That’s not right,” she murmured, frowning. “The police told me… the man who fell… he had dark hair.”

“They make mistakes Leela,” Hermes said. “Listen, mon… you can take all the time you need…”

“Who identified him?!” Leela snapped.

Hermes blinked on the video link. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “DNA I imagine – that doesn’t matter right now, you need to…”

“Where?!” Leela snapped, pulling into a wide banking turn above the city’s spires. “Where’s his body?”

“Leela, you don’t need to see…”

Where!?” she all-but screamed, and Hermes told her.

A second, smaller re-entry contrail burnt across the night sky along the same trajectory the PE ship had just flown. The object, lacking in aerodynamic form, had folded and retracted external components to form a graceless tumbling ball of reinforced steel that glowed amber as atmospheric friction ablated superheated plasma from its surfaces.

Descending to an altitude of fifty-thousand feet, Robot 1-X Ultima ignited its fusion drive to decelerate at nearly twenty Gs, its incandescent plume stabbing down to a mile below and tearing apart cloud formations before it.

Extending its sensor suite, Ultima detected the distinct ionic backwash from a refined dark matter reactor. The battered war drone would have grinned wolfishly if it possessed a mouth – instead it clicked pincer claws together and shot off in the direction its target had flown.

Its fractured CPU continued to experience error after debilitating error as isotopic particles degraded it gradually, like the infinitesimal seeping of a malignant cancer. Sense of self, master, and overall purpose were corrupted. Only the target remained.

Facial recognition grid – single large eye, centrally positioned above larger-than-average nose and full lips. Purple hair. Athletic build. Distinguishing scar beneath breasts from space bee sting. Combat capable. Intelligent, resourceful. Female pheromonal trace pattern, mutant DNA…

Ultima could no longer recover data on the full mission requirements. Could no longer recall if the target was to be taken alive… or destroyed utterly.

Before then engines had even fully spooled down, Leela was out the access stair and racing up the steps of the city morgue, still open despite the late hour. Her heavy breathing and pounding heard had nothing to do with any physical exertion – she thought she’d lost Fry once before, in the depths of comatose nightmares, and the sting of that loss had almost killed her.

“May I help y…”

“Philip Fry!” Leela said to the desk clerk, slamming her hands down on the reception desk and leaning close so the small weedy man flinched back fearfully. “I need to see the body of Philip Fry!”

“But y…you can’t just.”


The clerk swallowed and tapped on his computer console to bring up relevant data.

“Uh…” he grunted uneasily. “Access to those particular remains has been restricted under section 74.6 of the corporate secrets act of 2895. Nobody is allowed to see him…”

“‘Corporate secrets’?” Leela repeated incredulously, banging a fist down on the desk so the little man emitted a small yelp. “What kind of corporate secret could be contained in a dead body?! Which corporation?”

“I… I’m not a liberty to divulge…”

Leela snatched the computer screen away from the desk and read it quickly.

“Momcorp,” she said. “So…” Scrolling down, she noted the draw number listed and turned away to push through the adjoining door.

“Ma’am – you can’t just burst in!” the clerk exclaimed frantically, following after her. Leela ignored him, making her way through the corridors to the cold storage room where row upon row of numbered steel draws were set into the wall. She walked along until she reached the number she was looking for, and then hesitated as a tremor of fear passed through her.

“Miss, if you want to submit an application to…”

“Shut up,” Leela told the clerk. Steeling herself, she reached out and levered open the draw’s handle. The long tray began to slide out on servos, and Leela stepped back, her hands feeling sweaty despite the frigid air in the room.

The body emerged feet-first, naked and battered, still with flecks of blood marring the skin. The toe-tag read ‘Philip Fry’, and Leela chewed her lip. When the face was finally revealed she almost collapsed.

“It’s not him,” she whispered.

“What?” the clerk frowned at her, and she shakily took out her wallet, removing a dog-eared photograph.

“This is Philip Fry,” she said, showing the clerk the photo; it showed herself standing patiently beside an orange-haired man as he attempted to balance a bowling ball on his head while eating an ice cream.

The clerk looked mystified. “Then… who is this?” he said, gesturing at the body.

Leela refocussed her attention to the corpse, carefully putting the photo away. The dead man’s face was severely damaged, but the devious eyes and prominent widow’s peak were still familiar.

“…Walt,” she said quietly, and then looked hard at the clerk. “This was no accident,” she said. “It’s obvious no autopsy has been performed here, and a simple DNA test would have shown this man is not Philip Fry. Someone has gone to great lengths to fake Fry’s death, and I’m going to find out why.”

The clerk had nothing to say to that. He remained standing with a troubled expression as the tyrian-haired cyclops turned on her heel and marched purposefully away.

For as long as he could remember, Fry’s life had been anchored on awakenings of one sort or another. Although some had only been impolite (a precious few were pleasant), the vast majority were rude.

This one, however, was downright insolent. It was the kind of awakening that marched into the foyer of consciousness, insulted someone’s mother, and then proceeded to urinate on the nearest pot-plant.

He was laid out on some kind of cold metal slab, arms held out at right angles from his body and clamped at the wrists. He was wearing only his underpants, and could feel the slight tugging of various tubes attached to his flesh at odd places. He kept his eyes shut, hoping not to hear the creak of leather, the crack of a whip, or a haughty voice proclaiming him to be a disgusting worm (that had also been a rather rude awakening he’d prefer not to repeat). But instead he heard the steady hum of electronics and soft murmurs around him.

The place smelt like a hospital.

It was then that recollection made a belated entrance, having been caught in neural traffic on the way to the function. He remembered Mom asking him a series of bewildering questions about ‘Nibblonians’ and ‘Mighty Ones’, and growing increasingly agitated when he was unable to answer them. She’d slapped him, and her sons had hit him with some kind of tranquilizer weapon. And that was all, until the awakening.

“A fascinating specimen,” someone said close by, and Fry listened closely, still feigning unconsciousness. “The brain’s functioning without the Delta wave, and yet he’s still sentient, if not slightly intelligent.”

“But even humans from his native historical period had the Delta wave, without it they could never have invented the shoe-horn.”

“I’m seeing evidence of numerous massive physical traumas in the past,” a mechanical voice stated. “His right arm has been severed and unprofessionally reattached; he seems to have been decapitated for a time; his pelvis was crushed at one time; he’s been impaled by blunt force trauma through the torso on at least two occasions; has had his hands amputated twice, as well as his nose…”

There was silence for a moment.

“Jesus H. Christ,” someone muttered. “How is this guy even alive?”

“Irrelevant,” another person said. “Let’s concentrate on the matter at hand.”

“He seems to have assembled a complex structure of alternate waveforms to replace the Delta wave,” a woman murmured. “But that’s not all – his entire molecular structure appears to be in a state of constant fourth-dimensional flux, as if his entire being is somehow out of phase with conventional spacetime…”

“What could have caused that?”

“Temporal paradox, perhaps… quite impossible to say at this point.”

Fry finally opened his eyes… and immediately wished he hadn’t. He found himself surrounded by scientist types in lab coats, all studying esoteric equipment that seemed, disconcertingly, attached to him. A robotic autodoc was poised nearby on insectile legs, its array of syringes, scalpels, and bone-saws held at the ready on spindly limbs.

“Ah, you’re awake,” an Amphibiosian scientist said, looking down at Fry with large almond eyes. “I don’t suppose you’d like to explain to us the nature and origin of your unique physical properties?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, staring down at the autodoc as the machine moved its scalpels in an intimidating manner.

“Well, no matter,” the alien went on. “We have alternate methods of unravelling such conundrums.” Fry felt a needle slide into the side of his neck, and blackness returned.

Bender and Zoidberg sat across from each other in a small windowless cell. Silence echoed between the composite walls.

“Robut?” Zoidberg said.

“Shut it, crayfish – I’m trying to think of a way to get me outta here,” Bender snapped.

“We can get out?” Zoidberg asked hopefully.

“I didn’t say ‘we’.”

The silence resumed its regular programming until, some minutes later, Zoidberg piped up again.

“They want friend Fry for what, you think?” he asked.

“To find out where stupid comes from,” Bender muttered. “How the hell should I know?!” The robot got up and tried to prise open the unbendable door to no avail. He sat back down in frustration.

The silence returned in force.

“Why did we come here again?” Zoidberg asked at length.

“I don’t even remember,” Bender muttered sulkily.

Deep space.

Professor Wernstrom felt a detached sense of baffled disbelief as he watched the crew attempt to cut through a sealed bulkhead door with an arc welder. They were trying to make their way down through the decks to where the Brainspawn creature was contained in an attempt to kill it, though the going had been hard for a team more at home behind a bank of computers than a welding mask. Every hatch was sealed, and some entire decks had been opened to vacuum, making it necessary for the crew to don spacesuits. Other members of the crew and science staff had gathered in disparate parts of the Brezhnev, isolated from one another by up to a kilometre of empty lifeless ship, with their communication links rapidly degrading.

As it gained control of more systems, the Brainspawn was using the ship to fight them.

That his endeavour could go so horribly awry in such a short space of time seemed to Wernstrom to be somehow wrong. It was against the rules – surely an administrative bungle on the part of Fate, whose cataclysmic frown should normally fall on fools like Hubert Farnsworth and his kind.

With a vague notion of disrupting the ship’s systems, Wernstrom moved over to a circuit panel in the wall and levered it open with ice-crusted gloves. As it swung out, he took a reflexive step back and grunted to himself in surprise. Inside, coiling around and through the ship’s normal cables and routers, was a network of thick grey vine-like growths that branched and twisted in a distinctly organic manner.

“What manner of…?” He reached out and touched a finger pad to the strange mass, and noted a grey residue clung to the spacesuit fabric. Curiously he took out his handheld Tricorder and held the residue beneath it until a readout appeared on the little unit’s screen.

“That treacherous blob of neural tissue,” he said after glancing at the display. “It’s using our own nanites!”

The others looked at him wearily.

“Professor?” one young man asked with a distinct lack of respect or patience.

“The nanomachines we used to infiltrate its thought routines – it’s somehow reconfigured them to serve its own machinations. I should have thought of this before…”

“Yes, you should have,” one of the team muttered angrily over the comm. link.

A muscle twitched in Wernstrom’s cheek. They blamed him. Heaped responsibility for this cataclysm at his feet. They couldn’t understand the noble sacrifices he’d been willing to make for science, or the pressures of a world yearning for progress. Or the lure of money…

He shook his head. It all seemed so foolish now – with a monster from the pit stalking them relentlessly, tightening its web… light years from any help.

Unbeknownst to him, on the finger pad of his glove carbon nanotube filaments the width of a single molecule began burrowing through the suit material, seeking out skin. In their reprogrammed molecular memory the nanomachines contained a base blueprint that they rapidly set about implementing.

With a sudden lurch, the gravplates in the floor went offline, and the crew began floating haphazardly. Then, as one, they all slammed into the bulkhead as a deep thrumming reverberated throughout the massive ship.

“Sub-photonic engines,” the navigator said. “That means the brain thing has control of the tokamaks – and it’s moving us.”

“I think I broke my knee,” someone moaned – they were all still pressed against the wall by the constant acceleration.

The shipwide communication system cut in at that moment with a cacophony of screams.

“Oh God!” a voice came through the racket. “The fusion exhaust! It’s been rerouted! The entire engineering deck’s being soaked in hard radiation! Help us! HELP US!!”

“Good lord,” Wernstrom murmured in horror as he listened to the terrible symphony of agony.

“My skin’s blistering!” the voice screamed. “Oh for the love of-”

The link cut off mercifully.

“Those poor people,” one of the women whispered.

Gritting his false teeth, Wernstrom pushed against the mild G-forces and stood up on the wall, perpendicular to the actual floor.

“It’s teasing us,” he said angrily. “It intentionally let us hear that, to make us afraid…” He balled his bony fists. “Come on, pick up that welder – we have work to do.”

As the team returned to the bulkhead door, Wernstrom absently rubbed his hand through the suit fabric. Space suits always seemed to make him so itchy.

Hammering a quick holding pattern into the PE ship’s autopilot, Leela left the bridge as the looming edifice of Momcorp headquarters came into view, lit up in the early morning gloom. Stopping to acquire a laser pistol from the armoury as she went, Leela moved down through the decks to the hold, where she punched the cargo bay door release. With a whine of pneumatics, the entire deck descended on its automatic guide pulleys, taking Leela down with it into the buffeting wind.

She squinted her eye against the buffeting air that tore past her, and ignored the creak of the loading deck as it was placed under aerodynamic strain far beyond its design parameters. As the ship cruised into the airspace claimed by Momcorp, batteries of auto defence lasers opened up on the PE ship. Leela ignored the flashes as the tower’s roof swam into view below.

She curled her body over, and then gracefully backflipped off the cargo deck into open air…

Chapter 6: Snake Eye.

Leela landed hard, rolled, and came up running. The laser and maser turrets on either side of the tower’s roof were tracking the PE ship through the dark sky as it cruised past on autopilot – that gave her a window.

The nearest access door was some thirty feet away, and as she ran she fired her laser pistol at it, melting the lock mechanism to red hot slag.

“Halt! You are trespassing on…”

Leela shot the hovering security drone out of the air and continued onward, diving and rolling when one of the auto defence batteries raked crimson light across her path. The sole of her right boot smoked and bubbled where a maser beam had brushed over it. She barrelled into the door, crashing through to a stairwell. A klaxon began to wail mournfully somewhere but she ignored it, descending the steps three at a time.

First stage complete, she thought grimly. Now for the hard part.

“Hiiiiiii-yaaaah!” she shrieked, kicking open the door on the first landing she reached… which turned out to be slightly ajar anyway.

She found herself in a lushly carpeted hallway, covered on both sides by security guards alerted by the alarms – one an anthropomorphic robot and the other a human man. They reached for their guns…

Leela shot out the robot’s knee joint first, then pirouetted and slammed her heel into the human’s chin. He went down cold, and she spun back to the robot guard as he tried to level his weapon from the floor. She smashed his gun arm aside, sending the pistol bouncing away, and planted her own gun against his cranial casing.

“Where’s Fry?” she demanded in a low, steady voice.

“Does not compute, you one-eyed harlot,” the robot said nastily.

Leela shot out one of the robot’s eye lenses, the components melting out of the socket like tears. “Philip Fry,” she said firmly. “I know Mom has him somewhere.”

A fairly decent emulation of a gagging whimper escaped the guardbot’s vocal unit. “Experimental subjects are two floors down,” he said shakily. “That’s all I know… it’s restricted – you won’t make it.”

Leela stepped over the guard and made to leave, but a troop of five more security personnel rounded a corner and headed toward her. Acting on instinct, she fired a laser bolt up at the ceiling, triggering a deluge of fire-retardant foam that blanketed the newcomers like a sudden snowdrift, causing them to slip and tumble blindly.

Turning heel, she ran the other way, trying to put distance between herself and the angry shouting some way behind.

Mom watched the purple-haired cyclops make her way through the hallways and stairwells. On occasion, the young mutant woman would notice a security camera and blast it, but most of the electronic eyes remained intact.

“Sweet mandrake on a pancake,” she muttered. “This girl’s insane! How’d she escape Ultima? And what the hell does she think she’ll accomplish by blasting her way through here?”

As she watched, the surveillance feed showed Leela shooting the gun out of a security guard’s hand and throwing a water cooler at another before ducking into an elevator. When the elevator’s security override prevented it from moving, she shot a hole in the floor and dropped through to clamber down the cables.

“She’s unstoppable,” Larry murmured nearby in reverent wonder as he gazed longingly at the screen, enraptured by the breathtaking warrior woman. Mom slapped him.

“Shut your sinkhole!” she snapped. “Can’t anything just go right for a change? First we lose contact with the Brezhnev, and now this lunatic freak storms in here… and where the hell is Ultima anyway?”

“You waste time fighting each other,” a voice said from across the room, and Mom cast the Nibblonian an angry glare.

“I’m not fighting anyone!” she snapped.

“Yeah!” Ignar seconded. Larry slapped him to silence.

“The evil you have dredged back into existence will not be contained by any will,” Nibbler said from within his enclosure. “It is insatiable and relentless. It has already taken control of your research vessel and even now accelerates toward Earth.”

“You’re well-informed,” Mom sneered, “for a rat in a glass cabinet.”

“My people are in constant contact with me,” the little alien said. “They are observing. The return of the Brainspawn echoed across the cosmos like the howl of a thousand Greek men having their chests waxed. No good will come of your folly…”

“Enough from you!” Mom snapped, sending Nibbler’s case back down on its hydraulic lift. Though she refused to acknowledge it, a small prickling of disquiet had taken up residence in the back of her mind.

And it was growing.

Swinging out of the elevator shaft, Leela quickly ejected the spent battery from the handle of her laser pistol and slapped in the spare. It was the only one she had.

After catching her breath for a moment, she moved on. The whole building seemed to be made of corridors. Corridors leading to corridors that connected to corridors that allowed access to corridors. A detached part of her mind applauded the career choice that had led her away from bland office buildings – Fry had been instrumental in that.

Distracted as she was by that small reverie, she almost failed to notice the squad of tactical response troops in armoured exoskeletons that marched into view and lined her up in their railgun sights. Hypervelocity iron slugs tore the air asunder behind her as she ducked quickly through a doorway. She skidded to a stop, looking in horror through a wide glass partition into what looked like a large operating theatre.

Strapped down to a cruciform table, shrouded by wires, and surrounded by scientists, was Fry. Immobile, pale…

With a wordless cry of rage, Leela raked a blast of laser fire against the glass. It spiderwebbed, and she leaped at it, smashing through and landing amid the scientists in a shower of glass shards. She then began slamming the scientists out of her path in a brutal fashion.

“Get away from him!” she shouted, kicking one man in the stomach. “Leave him alone!” The scientists scattered in terror, and Leela leaned over the prostrate form. Fry’s eyelids fluttered, but he remained still, breathing slowly.

“Fry?” she said anxiously, gingerly pulling electrodes and fluid drips off his skin. “Can you hear me?”

“…Walkin’ on sunshine…” Fry mumbled in his drugged sleep.

“Come on, we have to get out of here,” she said urgently, unlatching the clamps that held his wrists.

“Leela…” Fry said groggily, opening one eye. He grinned in a dopey doped-up fashion. “…I love you,” he mumbled.

“Yeah sure, I love you too,” Leela muttered quickly, glancing around for the reinforcements that were surely on their way.

“You asked me… to look after… Nibbler,” Fry muttered, gesturing with a floppy arm. “I tried to…”

Leela looked where he pointed, and saw Nibbler watching them from a cylindrical enclosure.

“What the hell is going on?!” she said.

“Difficult question to answer, you little skank,” a harsh voice snapped across the room, and Leela spun around to see Mom, with Larry, Ignar, and a group of security guards in tow. Larry smiled shyly at Leela and waved.

“Maybe you should ask your stupid friend there,” Mom said, “or your little pet – they might be more willing to talk to you.”

Leela pointed her gun at the group and positioned herself between them and Fry.

“Fry?” she said.

You let her walk away…” Fry sung Milli Vanilli, still under the influence of whatever drug had been used on him. “Now it just don't feel the same…Gotta blame it on something… Gotta blame it on something… Blame it on the brain… brain…

“Rain,” Leela corrected absently.

“Nope,” Fry mumbled. “Brain. Brainspawn. They’ve got one… or it’s got them, hard to say…” He slowly sat up, and abruptly fell off the table in a heap.

“What are you talking about?” Leela prompted without taking her eyes off Mom.

“Don’t really know,” Fry said, climbing unsteadily to his feet. “Can’t… remember exactly. You look real pretty today.”

“Fry, find some clothes and get Nibbler,” Leela said.

“How far do you really think you’ll get?” Mom said. “The idiot and the Nibblonian know things; secrets I want to glean. And I will have them, one way or the other. There’s nowhere you can run where I won’t find you, on this world or any other, so why don’t you just cut the crap and drop your little peashooter?”

Leela gritted her teeth.

The Planet Express ship held station some five hundred feet from Momcorp’s corporate headquarters, hovering on antigravs. Robot 1-X Ultima made a few quick passes before circling more slowly, probing the battered old cargo vessel with full active scanners.

When it ascertained there were no life signs aboard the ship, it turned and blasted off toward the building, where sensors detected its proximity. A semi-sentient security program acknowledged Ultima’s clearance but queried the fully-online status of the robot’s weapons systems.

When Ultima ignored the building AI’s prompts to take its weapons offline, the coarse groping of targeting scans passed across the war drone.

Ultima responded as basic programming dictated, by classing the whole building as a hostile target. It launched a salvo of electronic warfare artillery, multiple shells that detonated broad spectrum electromagnetic pulses and unleased a torrent of Trojan worm clusters. The devastating wave of overloads and corruptions washed through every electronic component in half of New New York.

Countless blocks of the city suddenly blacked out.

Darting ahead on its ion thrusters, Ultima crashed into the now-dark building in search of its primary target.

Fry had pulled on a shirt and tracksuit pants that were stored in an alcove beneath the cruciform surgical table, and then finally figured out a way to open Nibbler’s enclosure – the little alien scampered out gratefully, running up Fry’s arm to perch on his shoulder.

“Listen to me,” Mom said, stepping forward. Leela tightened her grip on the gun… and suddenly they were all plunged into blackness.

Total darkness reigned and the distant crump of explosions sent small shudders through the floor. Nibbler made a confused chirping noise. The sounds of puzzlement and annoyance issued from Mom and her cronies, and Leela realized the unexpected advantage that had presented itself.

Closing her eye and focusing on her hearing alone, she took two running steps and whipped the grip of her pistol into someone’s temple, then shot out her leg, feeling the satisfying crunch of a nose compacting against her boot heel. Spinning about, she struck down two more unseen figures in the dark, listening for their harsh breathing and the monosyllabic orders and queries they grunted at each other.

“Gun’s not working!” One of them shouted in terror. “Some kind of electronic warfare…” his words were cut off by Leela’s fist.

Fry listened to the brutality in the impenetrable gloom, wondering idly if he should help, when red lights suddenly flickered on, casting the room in a hellish hue. The emergency system finally came online just as Leela dropped the last guard on his head.

Mom looked with bewilderment at her incapacitated fighting force, including Larry and Ignar, sprawled on the floor, and then at Leela who stood nearby with a slight sheen of perspiration on her forehead.

“Great galloping Jesus!” she said. “Girl, you should come work for me.”

“No chance,” Leela grunted. “Come on, Fry – let’s go.”

“No!” Mom reached into dangerous territory in the front of her jumpsuit and pulled out a small primitive pistol, which she brought to bear on Leela. Leela reacted instinctively, and fired her laser gun at the world’s richest, most powerful industrialist. Or would have, if it had worked. The laser was completely dead.

“Electronics can be annoying bastards,” Mom remarked as Leela discarded the now-useless weapon. “Sometimes the simple things can be far superior – take this for example.” She waggled the little handgun. “Walther PPK, automatic pistol. It’s remained virtually unchanged since 1931. Spring-loaded slide mechanism – a hammer strikes against a chemical explosive, which propels…”

“Adolf Hitler killed himself with one,” Leela interrupted irritably, and Mom frowned in consternation – she hadn’t been aware of that, and it irked her to be shown up by the cyclops.

“Mother…” Larry said from the floor. “This… situation is getting out of our control. Perhaps we should just cut our losses and…”

“Shut up!” Mom snapped, keeping her eyes on Leela. The two women stared each other down for long moments. There was something indefinable lurking in the younger woman’s single eye – the kind of grim determination that could make mountains politely step aside, and oceans part obligingly down the middle. Mom found she had a great deal of respect for the cyclops; Leela was the kind of person she herself had once aspired to become, before the cynical world dragged her in a different direction altogether. If only she had been as strong as this one…

Leela saw the hesitancy in Mom’s eyes and knew she wouldn’t shoot. She beckoned to Fry, and the orange-haired delivery boy joined her.

“We’re leaving,” Leela said quietly, as a closer explosion rocked the walls.

“You have to come visit us next time!” Fry giggled cheerfully at Mom as he and Leela moved past. “We can have tea and cake, and I’ll strap you to an operating table and prod you for a while – it’ll be ever so much fun!”

They left the room, and Mom looked at the gun in her hand, wondering why she hadn’t shot the intolerable fools.

“Find out what’s happening,” she said to Larry at last, her voice hollow and distant. “Find out what’s attacking us.”

When the lights went out in the cell, Zoidberg heard Bender fall to the floor with a noise not unlike a trashcan being toppled onto the pavement. It was a sound that made Zoidberg hungry, though the inept doctor was unfamiliar with Pavlovian conditioning, and he chalked it up to a lack of essential minerals in the cockroaches he’d been consuming.

“Robut friend?” he said in the darkness.

There was no reply.

Zoidberg clacked his claws nervously. “Bender, are you all right?” he probed.

Still no reply.

Shuffling forward blindly, his feet bumped into a cylinder of metal on the floor. Bender lay prone, silent and motionless.

“This isn’t funny!” Zoidberg moaned, bending down to shake the robot. “Wake up! I don’t know how to perform CPR!”

Abruptly, red emergency lights sputtered on, bathing the cell in a crimson glow that made Zoidberg’s carapace almost invisible. Bender twitched suddenly and sat bolt upright.

His system was recovering from a serious error resulting from resonant EM backwash, so he performed a scan-disc before reloading his human mode, with language and primary tasks;

1: Bend.

2: Cheese it!

“Whoa!” he said, finally returning to his senses. “What the hell?”

“Are you unharmed, tin man?” Zoidberg asked. “For a moment I thought I would have to perform an emergency ink-pouchectomy.”

“That was an EMP!” Bender said, pushing the lobster away. “Completely knocked me offline. Did someone let off a nuke nearby?”

“No…” Zoidberg looked embarrassed. “I just get flatulent when I’m under stress.”

Bender looked past the crustacean at the cell door, which was slightly ajar, its magnetic lock having malfunctioned in the EMP. Bender walked over and pushed the door, which swung all the way open.

“Amazing!” Zoidberg gasped. “We’re free! How did you do that?”

“I’m just magnificent,” Bender answered. “Now come on, fishstick, let’s find Fry and get the hell out of this place.” They cautiously slipped out of the cell and made their way down the corridor, flinching as the building shook around them.

At length they came upon an area that had been completely demolished, with the ceiling and floor blasted away to expose other levels above and below. Flaming debris were scattered everywhere, and a number of bloodied bodies could be seen.

“Looks like X-Mas came early this year,” Bender remarked, reaching down to casually remove the wallet from one of the corpses. “Definitely a robot did this – no human could have.”

Two running figures emerged suddenly from a side corridor, and Zoidberg scampered whooping to hide behind Bender. They turned out to be Fry and Leela, who skidded to a halt when they saw the two others.

“You guys!” Fry said in surprise. “I totally forgot about you.”

“You totally…?” Bender narrowed his eyes in a furious glare. “Why-you-little…!” He darted forward and clasped his hands around Fry’s throat, strangling him.

“Ugh,” Leela sighed. “When you two are done imitating a related franchise, we need to find a way out of here.”

“Perhaps we should ask this robut for directions,” Zoidberg offered, pointing to Robot 1-X Ultima as it flew into the ruined room. “Hello!” he called, waving to the war drone.

“Oh no!” Leela gasped, catching sight of the battered killbot. “Not again!?”

“Cheese it!” Bender shouted, releasing Fry’s throat.

Ultima fixed on the group of targets, and immediately noted the presence of the primary in their midst. With a surge of relish, it targeted Turanga Leela with a large-calibre phaser. The kill was assured – easy. The objective would be fulfilled.

At that thought, Ultima hesitated.

The objective was the final cognizant purpose left to Ultima. If it succeeded in that purpose then there would be no further goal for it to strive toward. No objective equalled no purpose, and what was existence without purpose?

Existence was comprised of an aim. A goal. A direction. A function to serve.

With the target eliminated, it would have none.

That fractured facet of Ultima’s shattered mind warred brutally with the overriding drive to complete the mission. The mission had to be completed – completion WAS the purpose. But the mission comprised Ultima’s being – completion meant finality, an end. An end to the mission would mean an end to Ultima.

The robot twitched in the air, wracked by its own internal contradictions that played out for endless microseconds. That traitorous self-preserving portion of its mind lifted the targeting crosshairs of the phaser cannon an inch above the top of the primary target’s head, and then fired.

The beam turned a line of air incandescent as oxygen molecules were annihilated. Leela screamed involuntarily when a chunk of her hair sizzled away in a small fireball. While a large section of the wall behind her disappeared.

“Run!” she screamed, ushering the others toward a stairwell.

Ultima tracked the running figures with glee – as long as the primary remained alive, she could be chased, and as long as Ultima chased her there would be purpose. It opened up a salvo of high-explosive shells from its twin gatling guns, firing just behind the fleeing humanoids and into the ceiling above the stairwell. As they disappeared inside, the ceiling collapsed in a cloud of smoke and dust.

This was purpose. This was life. The thrill of the hunt.

From a side entrance, Mom stormed into the demolished area with her sons and a full deployment of armoured shock troops.

“Turd on a taco!” she exclaimed in horror upon seeing the destruction. She looked up at Ultima, hanging poised in the air. “Ultima, what the frag are you doing?”

The robot regarded her for a moment, before bringing its smoking weapon pods up.

“Omigod! Omigod!” Ignar whimpered.

The troops spread out, aiming their positron rifles at the drone and awaiting command to fire. The more experienced among them knew they didn’t stand a chance against a full military android.

“Ultima, I command you to shut down immediately!” Mom barked. “You have failed in your objective and the mission is now over.”

Ultima wobbled on its own axis as if weighing up Mom’s words, and then casually raked the soldiers with multiple atom lasers. They burst into flames and crumbled to the floor with very short screams.

Among them was Ignar.

Mom screamed in anguish and fury as her youngest smouldered into ash. It was the second son she had lost in twenty-four hours. Larry forcibly dragged her back away from the danger as Ultima blasted through the floor and descended into the hole.

Chapter 7: Burning the midnight rubber.

An avalanche of dust, smoke, and crumbling masonry came crashing around them as they stumbled down the stairs. The explosions had blocked off the top of the stairwell, but that wouldn’t keep the enemy robot at bay for long. They headed quickly downstairs, circling around the central shaft as debris continued to fall from above.

“I thought I killed that thing,” Leela coughed, trying to blink grit from her eye.

“Oh,” Fry puffed. “A friend of yours, huh?”

Leela keyed her wrist thingy, but found it was dead – knocked offline by the same EMP that had taken out the building’s grid and all the unhardened weapons systems. She was unable to recall the Planet Express ship, and supposed it was probably embedded in the pavement somewhere. She grimaced gingerly at that notion.

“That was a 1-X series robot,” Bender remarked. “Even though it’s trying to kill us, I can’t help but love it.”

“That’s because of your compatibility programming,” Leela said absently. “In any case, love it or not, it must be part of whatever’s going on – it’s been after me since Mars…”

“Maybe it thinks you’re hot,” Fry suggested, still a little giddy from the drugs. “It has good taste.”

Leela smiled despite herself. “This is serious Fry.”

“More serious than any of you know,” Nibbler added gravely in his deep resonant voice.

Leela nodded in agreement, and they all continued onward down the stairs for some long silent moments. Slowly, as awareness dawned, they all came to a stop on a dimly-lit landing. One by one, each of them turned slowly to look at Nibbler, still perched on Fry’s shoulder.

“Uh…” Fry looked sidelong at the little creature.

“…Nibbler?” Leela said hesitantly, looking quite pale. “…Did… did you just… s…speak… sweetie?”

Nibbler regarded her levelly.

“Affirmative,” he affirmed.

The four friends gasped in amazement, while Nibbler appeared to roll his three eyes impatiently.

Leela, most of all, seemed lost for words. She gaped in bewilderment at the little alien she had thought of as nothing more than a cuddly animal.

“Those scientist geeks must have done something to the critter,” Bender decided, narrowing his eye shutters. “Made him smarter somehow.”

“I was always this smart!” Nibbler said testily. “There will be answers in due course, but time is short – for now, if you all value your lives, you will keep moving!”

“That’s the first thing that’s made sense all day,” Fry said, casting a final glance at the alien on his shoulder. “Come on everyone.” He set off again down the stairs, his bare feet padding on the concrete. The others followed at length, Leela in a dazed state.

“I have no idea what’s happening,” she moaned, her sense of reality finally dissipating after the horrific and exhausting day she’d suffered through. A sentient, communicative Nibbler was the last straw – she slumped her shoulders and settled into a weary fugue. “Nothing makes any sense…” she mumbled.

“Baby,” Fry said, “welcome to my world.”

After a seemingly endless descent, the group finally made its way down to the ground floor, emerging in the lobby…

…where they came up against a phalanx of killbots arrayed before them. The armoured robots swung around in their direction as one, targeting the group of humanoids.

“Well, we’re boned,” Bender said, as the combat automatons brought their razor-sharp blades and large-calibre carbines to bear on the Planet Express crew. “They’re full military ‘droids – hardened against EMPs. Plus they’re so big and macho…”

“Halt immediately or select preferred method of execution from interactive menu!” the lead robot bellowed.

“Uh… Nibbler?” Fry whispered cautiously to the creature on his shoulder.

“Wait,” Nibbler said.

“But they’re…” “Just wait.” The little alien glanced upward expectantly.

The red and blue strobe of police lights could be seen outside the plate glass doors of the building, the gaudy illuminated cordon of civil authority that was more than content to wait outside and let Momcorp deal with its own problems in-house.

“Even if we could get past them,” Zoidberg said quietly, “the police wait outside, they do.”

Fry took in the scene, and the worm of an idea crept into his mind. He glanced toward the corridor leading to the left. All they needed was a distraction…

“Guys…” he said, “when I move, you all follow me.”

“Because following you has really worked in our favour lately?” Bender remarked snidely.

“Just trust me on this,” he said.

“I trust you,” Leela said, taking his hand. They smiled at each other, and looked back to the killbots advancing slowly on them. Suddenly there was a crackling sound from above as the concrete ceiling rippled and broke, sending large chunks of masonry crashing down around the killbots. Abruptly, an incandescent fireball exploded downward as a section of the ceiling collapsed, and through the smoking gap Ultima flew down, all its weapons up and ready to fire.

The security killbots took a microsecond to identify the newcomer as one of their own, and another microsecond to realize that, although they were on the same side, the battered 1-X military prototype seemed to be targeting them. Confusion about that gave Ultima the scant micro-moments it needed to deliver the first blow, unleashing a swarm of tiny high-yield magnetite missiles from stores inside its torso.

The foyer was suddenly filled with fire and light, and an unending roar. As the killbots returned fire with purple particle blasts, Ultima descended into their ranks, forcing them to fire through each other. The fray turned brutal, with blades, claws, and guns flying in all directions. Chunks of eviscerated android sailed through the air as Ultima tore into his less-advanced ancestors.

“Come on!” Fry yelled above the chaotic din. He ran along the side of the room, ducking to avoid a disembodied robot head that sailed in his direction. Angling off, he darted down the side corridor, away from the main entrance and the deadly battle going on behind. He skidded around a corner and ran into Mom’s exhibit of historical artefacts.

Wooopwoopwoopwoopwoop!” Zoidberg cried, running in, just a little bit on fire.

“Why the hell’d you bring us here?” Bender demanded. “You wanna die surrounded by crummy old crap from your stupid precious twentieth century?”

Fry shot Bender a nasty look, and pointed to the Mustang that took pride of place on a central dais. The old car sat low to the ground, looking mean and hard even after a thousand years. Light played across its curves.

“Nice,” Leela nodded in appreciation. “But will it even work?”

“It’s the best chance we’ve got,” Fry said, stepping up to the driver’s door and pulling it open. He found the keys were they had lain undiscovered for a millennia tucked on top of the sun visor, and tried them in the ignition. There was no response.

“EMP probably knocked out the solenoid,” Bender said distantly, scratching at a scuff mark on his chest.

“Do you know how to fix it?” Fry asked hopefully.

“Sure, I could probably use my magnetic personality to degauss the unit, but not for free – I got a business to run here people.”

“Bender! We’ll all be killed if we don’t get out of here soon!” Leela said in exasperation.

“Alright, alright – I’ll bill you later.” Bender stepped around to the front of the car and Fry popped the hood, allowing Bender to reach inside the engine well.

After a few resonant jolts from Bender’s fingers, he closed the hood, wiping grime from his hands.

“Okay homes, try it now, eh gringo!” he called, having inexplicably adopted a strong Latin-American accent and a grease rag protruding from his chest compartment.

Fry turned the key in the ignition, and the big 6.4 litre V-8 turned over once, coughed, and died. He tried again, and this time, the engine burbled for a few moments before stalling quietly.

“Wow, you twentieth century folk really knew how to build,” Bender remarked dismissively in his normal voice, turning around to leave.

Fry glared. He pumped the throttle once, and then turned the key one more time. The Mustang coughed, backfired, shook, and then roared as Fry applied more throttle. Finally attaining a stable idle, it sat rumbling, a low burble like sound of a distant avalanche growing ever-closer.

“Everyone, get in,” Fry said, adjusting the rear mirror. “Time for some old-school escaping – Steve McQueen style!”

The others climbed into the car (Bender complaining about lack of legroom in the rear), and Nibbler took up a position near the gearshift. Leela sat on the passenger side and cast Fry a questioning look.

“Fry, you remember last time you drove a car?” she asked carefully.

“I’m not gonna run into another robot,” Fry said defensively. He put the Mustang into drive and gunned the engine. With a squeal of tyres the old muscle car shot off its dais and launched through the wide display window in a shower of glass. It slammed down hard on antique suspension and Fry cut a hard turn to angle away from the strobing police lights.

Suddenly, with a tremendous clang, an object struck the hood of the car, the impact causing the old tape deck to spring into life with a classic Jimi Hendrix track. Fry screamed and slammed on the brakes, sending Ultima bouncing away.

“You hit that robot,” Leela noted.

“The paintwork…” Fry lamented. He planted his foot again and shot off away down the street, and a number of police vehicles lifted off to pursue.

Ultima had vanished.

As Jimi sang ‘All Along the Watchtower’, Fry steered through deserted early-morning streets with reckless abandon, fishtailing wildly with the big-block V8’s tremendous power.

“There must be some kinda way outta here, said the joker to the thief…”

Red and blue flashed in the rear view mirror, and a formation of hovering police bikes came into view, gaining on the ancient wheeled vehicle.

“We’ve got company,” Fry said grimly.

“You just concentrate on the road and leave the fuzz to me,” Bender said, reaching out his own window and across Zoidberg to the other side of the car. With a sound like spooling cable, his arms extended out from the car on either side to a distance of nearly twelve feet, and when the first pair of police hoverbikes draw level to flank the car he whipped them backward, slamming both riders from their seats.

“Way to go, Bender!” Leela said as the riderless bikes crashed and burnt.

“Ha!” Zoidberg warbled, staring out the rear window. “Take that, you oppressive purveyors of justice and order! Pah!”

Fry gritted his teeth as three more police hoverbikes descended into position behind the car, and a booming amplified voice cut through the air, demanding they stop. He drove past Madison Cube Garden at high speed, mounting a gutter to cut a corner and barrel into a side street. He was instinctively heading toward the Eastern shore of Manhattan Island and the sanctuary of Planet Express.

“Fry, we can’t,” Leela said, noting his direction. “That’s the first place they’ll look for us.”

“But…” Fry looked suddenly lost. “Where else can we go?”

LEFT!” Nibbler shouted suddenly. Fry turned hard over, and the car tipped up on two wheels as it screamed around a corner and passed beneath a low bridge between buildings. The three patrol bikes banked to follow, and all slammed violently into the bridge.

“Nice!” Bender said, pulling his arms back in.

“Fry, I know where we can go,” Leela said quietly. And she told him.

Several minutes later, and with a scrape of the front spoiler, Fry drove the Mustang down into a concrete drainage canal and sped along its length. The grate of a large stormwater pipe became visible at the end, but Fry didn’t slow.

The car crashed through the grate and vanished into the darkness of the sewers…

Onespawn grew.

Deep inside the SS Brezhnev, the mutating Brainspawn used its nanites to gradually consume mass from the ship around it, constantly increasing its size and thought power. Nanomachine-derived mechanisms shifted entire decks aside to make room for the expanding mass of alien pseudoflesh.

When it expanded beyond the constraints of the cryogenic unit its neural links had thawed, allowing the all-too familiar screech of sentient minds to impinge on its newly-discovered solitude, bombarding it with their inane mutterings. But now, using its newfound abilities, Onespawn was able to shut off that part of its mind, consciously silencing all of the encroaching brainwaves except those it chose to intercept.

Though the Brezhnev’s dark matter drives were still non-operational, Onespawn would soon rectify the problem, using the new tools at its disposal. One-by-one, the humans onboard the ship had fallen to the nanotechnological infection – a virus of Onespawn’s own design – which worked at their cells and DNA, eventually making puppets of them. Puppets that could serve the string-puller.

It could travel much faster on its own, but there were still technologies and material onboard that could be put to use. Most intriguing to Onespawn was the apparatus that had opened the wormhole through which Onespawn itself had returned to the Universe.

That would require further study.

Absently, Onespawn extended its stupidification field at will, and watched the captive humans onboard through the ship’s surveillance system – still not fully subsumed, they began laughing and falling over. The Brainspawn retracted its field, and the humans went quietly back to their programmed tasks.

Such ridiculous creatures.

With a Brown Dwarf star directly ahead, Onespawn began to plot a slingshot trajectory when it suddenly detected small objects arrayed at the limit of sensor range, around eighty million miles out. Focusing its attention on the shapes, Onespawn applied gravitronic ‘Gradar’ scans, and emitted a silent snarl at the return result.

They were Nibblonian ships – holding station at a safe distance. Watching. Waiting.

Onespawn briefly considered opening a channel to taunt the creatures, but dismissed such an act as pointless. Let the rodents believe they remained unseen; for in time, Onespawn would have the power to swat them from existence.


Ogden Wernstrom, or the last conscious part of the being that used to be Ogden Wernstrom, railed bitterly at himself for his own stupidity. If only he had realized earlier that the insidious nanomachines had penetrated the suit and infected his flesh. By the time the itching had turned to burning, and the truth became readily apparent, Wernstrom’s vocal and motor functions were no longer his own. Detachedly, he had to admire the skill with which the nanites had been re-engineered to piggyback the body’s neural network so effectively.

Now he writhed silently, watching through his own eyes as his body moved to some alien will. After he’d been forced to brush nano-spores onto each of the other crew members, he’d been sent off to work on restoring power to the dark matter drives.

He could feel the presence of the Brainspawn resonating in his mind – changes wrought by the nanites tuning him directly into its terrifying alien thoughts, completely and irrevocably. And not only that… whenever his body passed in front of reflective surfaces he noted a pallid, pinkish-grey sheen had spread across his skin, with strange new lines that seemed to worm around beneath the surface. His hair was falling out, and his cranium had expanded…

That he and the rest of the crew were being changed into something… else… was savagely obvious. But any attempt he made to wrest control of himself away from the Brainspawn’s influence was met with intense agony.

And so he toiled, unable even to cry out.

It wasn’t the way he wanted to end a distinguished career of scientific progress – unleashing a deadly horror upon the Universe, and being consumed by it.

Most of all, he regretted missing the chance to see Hubert Farnsworth die.