Fan Fiction

Blame It On The Brain, part 3
By coldangel_1

Chapter 8: Pressed between the pages of my mind…

With the members of Planet Express that could be accounted for (being himself, the Professor, Amy, and the janitor whose name he couldn’t recall) present around the conference table, Hermes undertook the sad duty of informing them of Fry’s death by apparent suicide.

“…And so,” he said in closing, “once again we farewell another of our crew, may he rest in eternal unpaid leave.” Hermes set Fry’s time card alight, and the team watched it burn in silent shock.

“How could this happen?” Amy sobbed at length. “He was always so full of life…” The young intern buried her face in her hands and cried.

“That boy was like a son to Scruffy,” Scruffy said, laying a comforting hand on Amy’s shoulder. “Best we remember all the good times we had – like when Fry and Potsie were desperate to join the best frat on campus, but first they had to survive the initiation rites… Me and the Fonz tried to talk them out of it, but they stayed on…”

“Balderdash!” the Professor snapped suddenly, surging to his feet with a painful-sounding crunch of ancient joints.

“Professor?” Hermes said.

“I’ve had enough of this claptrap and bunkum!” the old man said, shuffling away slowly. “Something’s not right here, and I’m going to find out what! What time of death is listed on that coroner’s report?”

“Uh…” Hermes consulted the sheet of paper. “Ten thirty-four AM, yesterday,” he said.

“Ha!” The Professor touched a wall panel and the giant projection screen illuminated after a series of static flickers (the city was still recovering from the unexplained blackouts and electronic malfunctions from the night before). Manipulating the controls, Farnsworth brought up the building’s surveillance camera system and backtracked to the previous morning. Eventually, he froze the image on a shot of Fry and Bender walking into the room to see Farnsworth.

“There!” the Professor said triumphantly. “They came to borrow a gun from me! I remember it clearly, just like I remember everything!”

“What about it?” Hermes asked.

“What about what?” Farnsworth looked suddenly confused, glancing around the room as though unsure what he was doing there. He looked at the projection screen in a bewildered daze.

Amy stood up slowly, her eyes fixed on the screen. “The time,” she said, pointing. Hermes and Scruffy looked, and noted the time logged on the surveillance feed was 11:15 AM.”

“Sweet Stork of Ankh-Morpork, it says he was here after he died,” Hermes said uncertainly, and then reasoned: “Of course… it could just be human error.”

“Human error didn’t make Leela, Bender, and Doctor Zoidberg disappear off the face of the Earth and the entire city black out,” Amy said.

“Ms. Wong is right,” Farnsworth said. “There are too many coincidental coincidences for all this to be a coincidence.”

“Second,” Scruffy seconded.

“So… Fry is really alive?” Hermes asked in a dazed state.

“Looks that way,” Amy said.

“Ooohhh Sweet Cockrell of Rivendell!” Hermes cried, slumping face-down on the desk in anguish.

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked in confusion. “Aren’t you happy?”

“No!” the bureaucrat shouted. “I already submitted his death notice, mon! I’ll have to make an amendment through the central bureaucracy to reinstate him as a living person – I’ll look like a damn sexy fool! …Unless…” He stopped and looked up with a smile creeping across his face. “I could always just leave him officially dead, register him as a legal zombie, and lower his pay to a post-mortem rate… yessss, that could work in our favour…”

“Dead man workin’,” Scruffy muttered quietly.

“Shouldn’t we be trying to find out what’s happened to Fry and the others?” Amy said.

“Oh, I’m sure an answer will come calling sooner or later,” Hermes said.

At that moment, the building’s intercom buzzed, and the wall screen changed to show an external view of the entrance door, where a group of figures waited. One of them was instantly recognisable.

“Sweet Zombie Jesus,” Farnsworth muttered, cringing. “What the hell does she want?”

Mom glared impatiently up at the security camera.

Eventually the stormwater pipe had opened out onto the mouldering ruins of Old New York, the ancient city lying dank and shadowed beneath the supporting plate of the upper metropolis. Driving out of the drainage ditch, Fry gunned the V8 along eerily familiar streets as weird misshapen creatures skittered off into the darkness on either side.

“Well,” Bender said, at last breaking the long silence. “That was a whole lotta fun – do we know what the hell it was about yet?”

Leela stared down at Nibbler where he sat next to the gear shift.

“Nibbler?” she said hesitantly.

“Leela,” the creature acknowledged, blinking three sets of eyes at her.

“All this time,” she said in a horrified kind of wonder. “You were pretending to be… just an animal.”

“I am an animal,” Nibbler reasoned stoically.

“But you’re intelligent!” Leela snapped in exasperation. “I mean, my God! All the secrets I told you when I thought you couldn’t understand… I got undressed in front of you!”

“…Lucky,” Fry muttered, steering down a side street and noting the low fuel gauge.

“It’s not funny,” Leela complained. “Nibbler, you deceived us all!”

“For that, I apologise,” Nibbler said, inclining his head sincerely. “However the importance of my mission necessitated subterfuge – the stakes were far too high for…”

“What?” Fry interrupted suddenly. “What mission? What stakes? I feel like I almost remember, but it’s just out of reach, like that itchy thing growing between my shoulder-blades that I can’t get at… Tell me what’s going on!”

“Your memory has, again by necessity, been blanked,” Nibbler told him. “And Leela’s was similarly affected, although by a different source. I shall now restore your memories – prepare yourselves.”

Fry slowed the car to a stop and turned it off. He noticed they were close to that same place where, on the day he first met her, Leela had removed her own career chip, and an intimate moment had passed between them. Silence descended, and he looked across at her questioningly.

“Could be a nasty can of worms,” he said. “You sure you want to open it?”

Leela snorted. “I’ve already been blown up several times since yesterday,” she replied. “I think the can is well and truly open.”

“Where are the worms?!” Zoidberg asked hungrily from the back seat, and Bender cuffed him.

Leela held out her hand to Fry. “Ready?” she asked.

“Heck no,” Fry said, taking her hand. “So how do we…?”

Nibbler’s third eye resonated suddenly with esoteric energies. Calling it telepathy would be like calling a thermonuclear reaction ‘a little bit warm’. Brutally, like the deadly unfurling razor-sharp petals on the Venusian Slasher Flower, memories assaulted the minds of Fry and Leela, while Bender and Zoidberg too felt some of the psionic backwash.

Images cascaded…

The Brainspawn’s first attack on humanity. Leela remembered travelling to Nibbler’s homeworld, and the desperate, last-chance gambit that saw Fry defeating the menace and saving the world…

Fry remembered the final showdown when he, as the Mighty One, infiltrated the Brainspawn Infosphere where he finally learned the truth of how and why he was brought to the future, and then banished the Brainspawn from the Universe forever…


“…No return,” he murmured, slowly recovering from the memory onslaught. “You said we’d sent them to a dimension of no return – but they’re coming back, aren’t they? That’s what this is about, isn’t it? The nightmare’s returning.”

Nibbler nodded gravely. “Certain parties opened a way, and now our best-laid plans lie in tatters.”

“What the hell happened?” Bender said, shaking his head in confusion. “I just remembered flying brains and me acting like an idiot for some reason.”

“Oh good,” Zoidberg said. “I thought it was just me.” He then lost interest and began gnawing on the upholstery.

Fry restarted the car and drove onward, deep in thought. The fuel gauge was well into the red before Leela finally came out of her reverie and glanced at Fry in quiet wonder.

“Fry,” she said quietly. “You saved the whole world.”

“The Universe too,” he said with offhand nonchalance. He turned into a cracked, litter-strewn driveway even as the engine began to splutter thirstily. “Looks like it might have been for nothing,” he added, switching off the Mustang.

“Tell me everything,” Leela said. “I want to know.”

“Let’s go inside first,” Fry said.

They all climbed out of the car and walked inside the dilapidated ruin of the old Fry homestead.

As Onespawn observed the Nibblonian fleet at the extremity of sensor range, it redoubled efforts to gain full control of the ship’s systems. Brezhnev possessed a range of armaments, from argon lasers to railguns and kinetic missiles – all fitted by Momcorp for ‘self defence’ purposes. At the same time, the Brainspawn continued to adapt itself, boosting its own mental capacity further and strengthening internal membrane structures within its increasingly massive form.

Onespawn could not be certain when it had first became aware of the resonance – it was like white noise at first, an imperceptible background hum that slipped around consciousness and built slowly in the recesses of thought. Gradually, the sense of intrinsic vibration had become stronger, and Onespawn realized it originated from within itself – exotic, indefinable molecules phasing in and out of existence, which had never been present before.

The strange quantum flux gave Onespawn pause for thought as the Brezhnev passed through a fiery nebula. It was almost as if some strange force was acting against the changes Onespawn was making within itself, attempting to snap back like fourth-dimensional elastic.


While the creature sent one of its sub-minds off to investigate that phenomenon, its main attention turned back to the Nibblonian fleet, which had begun to approach in waves…

The Nibblonian race had described Philip J. Fry as a child of destiny – the long-prophesised ‘Mighty One’ destined to forever end the threat of the Brainspawn. Fry himself was born in the 20th Century, an age before the time was ripe for the final confrontation, and the unique circumstanced through which the paradox of his self-genesis could be played out.

For Fry to serve the function of the Mighty One, for him to even become the Mighty One by becoming his own grandfather, Fry had to be preserved for the future. It was for that reason Nibbler lured him into the cryogenic module; and for a thousand years he slept, watched over by the Nibblonians who arranged a beautiful one-eyed guardian to be there for him when he awoke.

Fry told the tale of the Brainspawn’s defeat, Nibbler occasionally interrupting with a new fact or clarification. He described his daring raid on the Infosphere (for no one else had borne witness to that) and the detonation of the quantum interface bomb.

Leela and Bender listened closely to the convoluted story of Fry’s life while Zoidberg foraged in the kitchen for fossilized tins of ancient baked beans. They sat on the crumbling thousand-year-old remains of the Fry family’s lounge setting.

“It’s amazing,” Leela said when Fry had finished. “Almost too much to wrap my mind around…”

“So the world’s stupidest chump is the only one who can save us all?” Bender said. “Well I feel a whole lot better.”

“What’s it going to be?” Fry asked Nibbler, ignoring the robot. “Another quantity interweb bomb?”

“I fear that option is now a dead end,” Nibbler said, sounding worried. “Since one Brainspawn has now returned, the path has been opened and soon the rest will learn how to make the journey.”

“Wait… you mean there’s only one of them here now?” Leela raised one half of her single eyebrow. “That doesn’t seem like such a big threat.”

“It is no longer an ordinary Brainspawn,” Nibbler said sternly. “For the first time, a single member of the species has become separated from the collective, and that means it will put aside long-held attachments to the sanctity of Brainspawn organic purity in the interest of preserving itself as an independent entity.”

Fry, Leela, and Bender stared blankly at the little creature.

Nibbler thought for a moment, and simplified: “Because it is alone, cut off from the rest of its kind, it will now begin to change itself into something more powerful and deadly than the Universe has ever seen. A true monster without precedent.”

“And that’s bad…?” Fry glanced around at the others for confirmation, and then nodded. “Right. Bad.”

“Badder than a thousand gallons of sun-ripened mayonnaise,” Nibbler said. And not only for the obvious reasons.” He looked uncomfortable.

“What do you mean?” Leela pressed.

“Although your science has not yet achieved full realization of it, the creation of this Universe was, in effect, a ‘Mass-Inversion Event’,” Nibbler said. “In basic terms, it was a point at which spontaneous quantum field collapse produced an equal and opposite reflection of all that existed beforehand. And under normal circumstances, at the birth of a Universe, all that should have existed is nothingness, and that nothingness would then have been inverted into somethingness – that is, the physical Universe.”

“That did happen,” Leela said.

“Yes,” Nibbler nodded. “But something else happened as well – because my people, the Nibblonian race, actually existed before the dawn of the Universe…”

“Oh sweet Colonel Sanders!” Fry exclaimed in realization. “The Nibblonians were inverted as well! You mean to tell me that…?”

“Yes,” Nibbler said sadly.

“…The Brainspawn are…?”

“Yes,” Nibbler said again.

The Brainspawn are actually Nibblonians!?”

“Our dark reflection,” Nibbler said. “Or perhaps it is we are a retro-active preflection of them. In any case, they are our equal and opposite, spawned spontaneously in the Big Bang as the inverse reaction to our presence before the dawn of time.”

“Then all along,” Leela said, “you and your people… you’ve been fighting against yourselves.”

Nibbler picked up a splintered piece of floorboard and waddled to a dirty section of floor where he began to scrawl a rough diagram in the dust. As Fry and the others moved over to watch, he continued:

“Both the Nibblonian and the Brainspawn races, being one and the same and sharing a unique bond with the fabric of the Universe from the time of the Big Bang, are tied inexorably to the fabric of spacetime, and to each other.” He drew a line of arrows from a picture of a Nibblonian, through a stylized ‘big bang’ explosion and on to a Brainspawn and an amorphous ‘common garden-variety Universe’.

“Cool pictures,” Fry commented.

“Thank you,” Nibbler said. He then scrawled a secondary line off to one side and drew a rough stylized picture of a spiky-haired person, which he labelled as ‘temporal paradox’.

“That’s Fry,” Bender said helpfully.

“Affirmative,” Nibbler said. “The Mighty One is the only other being that shares the same connection to the fabric of the Universe as the Nibblonians and the Brainspawn, due to the fact that his is his own Grandfather and so in essence results from a similar spontaneous self-manifestation.”

Fry coughed uncomfortably and Leela looked away.

“…As such,” Nibbler went on, “the three facets, being the Mighty One, the Nibblonians, and the Brainspawn, represent an Existential Trinity – inexorably tied to one another and to the Universe.”

“Wow,” Bender said. “I’ve never been less interested in anything in my life…”

“What does all that actually mean?” Leela said uncomfortably.

Nibbler paused and scratched under his chin with a hind leg. “My own people and the Brainspawn were present, and an intrinsic part of the Universe’s dawn,” he said. “And as such we are in and of ourselves active reflections of each other… so if one facet of the whole brings about an alteration of its state, then that change will be felt by the other facets – including the Mighty One who now shares our manifest nature.”

“Of course…” Fry said, and then shook his head. “No wait, the other thing – huh!?”

Nibbler sighed. “The changes the returned Brainspawn is making within itself will be reflected in the Nibblonians, and in you yourself. Behold – it has begun already…” Nibbler lifted up his cape to show his dark furred back. A mottled discolouration marred the alien’s flesh, purple and grey, like scar tissue or some kind of fungal infection. It seemed to writhe imperceptibly.

The others gasped in horror.

“Yeeesh!” Fry exclaimed. “That’s happening to you just because one Brainspawn is evolving?”

Nibbler concealed the cosmic stigma with his cape again. “Affirmative,” he said. “The two races are connected – that is why neither has ever attempted to destroy the other – for to destroy one side, the other would perish also.”

“You mean you… your people have allowed the Brainspawn to continue to exist down through the ages… because if you wiped them out then you too would be obliterated?” Leela asked.

Nibbler inclined his head with a sense of shame. “The quantum interface bomb was a means by which the threat could have been eliminated without actually killing the Brainspawn race… but alas…”

“All those civilizations… destroyed,” Fry said.

“What has passed is past,” Nibbler said. “Now these alterations are reflected within us, the ultimate consequence of which is impossible to say… we may die, or become slaves.”

“And it’s going to happen to me too!?” Fry asked, suddenly mortified. “Just because of the… past… nastification?”

Nibbler made a vague gesture at Fry’s torso, and the Mighty One gingerly lifted up his shirt to expose his stomach.

“…So it is,” he murmured, staring at the mottled stain across his flesh. “That wasn’t there a few hours ago… how fast will it spread?”

“Impossible to say,” Nibbler replied. “But if this new Brainspawn continues its adaptation, unpleasantness is certain to ensue.”

Leela knelt by Fry, inspecting the stigma that marked his pale skin.

“We can treat this,” she said with a touch of panic in her voice. “Trial some different antibiotics, nanites… parasite worms… on both of you…”

“The affliction is not medical in nature,” Nibbler told her softly. “What ails us is an echo of force reverberating through fourth-dimensional spacetime – no medicine will sever the ties that bind us.”

“There has to be something!” Leela looked at Fry desperately, and Fry found himself taken aback by the emotion in her eye.

“Maybe the Professor will know what to do,” Bender offered, and for once sounded genuinely concerned.

“I already know what to do,” Nibbler said in a low tone that was almost a growl. “Although a great sacrifice will have to be made…”

“Sacrifice? We could sacrifice Zoidberg,” Bender said. Fry and Leela nodded in eager agreement.

“Did someone want me?” Zoidberg asked, poking his head into the room.

Outside, the low drone of antigravity engines became audible, and the Planet Express comrades moved to an empty window frame to look out on the dreary ruined city. Half a mile away, small flying objects could be seen trawling slowly back and fourth, with searchlights scanning the ground below them.

“Patrol drones,” Leela said. “They must have tracked us down here.”

“Then we have to move,” Fry said. “The car’s outta juice, so we’ll be hoofing it.”

“But to where?” Bender asked. “We can’t be running around down here forever – the Universe is in peril and my collection of vintage pornography will eventually fall into unworthy hands.”

“I know who can help us return to the surface unseen,” Leela said. “Come on.”

Together they left the house and jogged quietly away into the gloom.

Chapter 9: A Night at the Space Opera

The first wave of Nibblonian saucer-shaped ‘Cuddle Bug’ ships soared across the bow of the Brezhnev, deploying scores of kinetic harpoons from their centreline munitions dispensers. Great rends appeared in the hull of the monolithic research vessel as the projectiles impacted at relativistic velocities and converted to hard radiation, spewing geysers of billowing gas and superheated plasma out into the void.

The onslaught continued, and Brezhnev shuddered beneath the monumental impacts, losing thousands of cubic tons of its mass in a matter of seconds.

Deep inside the battered ship, Onespawn responded by expanding its stupidification field, and suddenly the first wave attackers began to veer randomly off-course as their Nibblonian pilots became afflicted by sudden stupidity. They slammed into the hull of the massive Brezhnev, and into each other; they fired salvos of missiles at their own ships; and many attempted to land on a nearby sun.

The second and third waves of Nibblonian attackers held back at standoff range, unwilling to enter the idiocy zone that surrounded the SS Brezhnev. Instead they deployed long-range weapons – powerful Phased-Antimatter-Array missiles and near-lightspeed coilguns that fired love-heart shaped iron slugs across the void and into the subverted research cruiser’s flanks.

Onespawn ignored the peppering coilgun strikes and instead focused on intercepting the PAA missiles that streaked toward the ship. Long-unused weapons systems, now finally under the Brainspawn’s control, deployed smoothly from recesses in the massive ship’s hull, swinging around to draw bead on the approaching projectiles.

Space outside became an incandescent maelstrom of warring energies, as the Brezhnev’s argon lasers stabbed across the void and struck the PAA missiles one by one. They detonated in starbursts of exotic radiation, purple and red, any one of which could have caused mass-extinctions on an inhabited world.

The Nibblonian fleet was buffeted by the blasts from their own weapon systems exploding. Onboard the command vessel, the presiding leader of the Nibblonian people issued rapid commands and reviewed incoming data.

“All Cuddle Bug squadrons deploy to defensive perimeter formation codename snuggle-fluff,” Ken said. “Engage attack scenario Alpha-Bravo-Pookums!” He nearly lost his footing as a burst of projectiles from the Brezhnev’s railguns slammed into the ship.

All of the Nibblonians on the pink cushioned bridge worked with grim determination, acutely aware of the consequence of failure. Many of them displayed visible marks of cosmic stigma, including Ken himself whose entire left arm was covered by the dark affliction.

It was spreading too…

Suddenly the comm. screen activated with random amorphous coloured shapes, and a booming voice echoed through the audio system.

“So you’ve resorted at last to an open display of force?” the Brainspawn said disdainfully across the communication band. “No longer hiding behind feeble forlorn theology and the red jacket of your dim-witted Messiah?”

Ken bared his fangs in an angry snarl. “Your machinations cannot be allowed to continue,” he said. “Every change you make within yourself destabilizes the Universe further and edges both our races toward final and utter obliteration!”

“You’ve mistaken me for an entity to whom such concerns warrant even a moment’s consideration,” Onespawn replied. “I am no longer Brainspawn – I am Onespawn, and I will be the death of you all.”

The communication link terminated.

It was bravado, Onespawn knew. Though the Brezhnev’s armaments might hold up for a while, augmented by Onespawn’s psionic attack, the Nibblonian forces were technologically superior and would eventually obliterate the larger vessel.

There had to be some other avenue…

In desperation, Onespawn looked to the weird quantum flux that it had detected within itself. The Nibblonian commander’s words began to make some vague sense as the exotic resonance continued.


Tentatively, Onespawn applied psionic energy to the fluxing quantum particles, and in response an inconceivable ripple of unreality radiated outward from the Brainspawn. Space and time seemed to buckle briefly in agony.

Screams filled the communication waves, and Ken, the Nibblonian leader appeared on a viewscreen near Onespawn’s temporal lobe.

“What are you doing?” the little alien bellowed. “You can’t do that! The fabric of the Universe…”

“Silence,” Onespawn said. Again, the creature applied energy to the quantum structure inside itself, only stronger this time. Reality bucked and writhed as the wave rippled outward, swamping the Nibblonian fleet.

Though the Universe snapped back into shape (albeit somewhat overstretched and threadbare in places), the Nibblonians in the immediate vicinity, with their intrinsic ties to the fabric of spacetime, were no more…

Their pastel-coloured ships hung silently in the void, empty of all life.

And the Brezhnev lumbered onward toward Earth, unopposed.

As Leela led the way slowly through the pungent stench of the New New York sewer system, Fry and Nibbler suddenly cried out in searing pain and fell together to the damp slimy ground.

“Oh… Jeez!” Fry moaned as every molecule of his being seemed to whiplash in spastic agitation. “Knew I… shouldn’t have eaten… that mushroom…”

“No…” Nibbler growled. “Not this… not yet…!”

“What? What’s happening to you?” Leela pushed past Bender and Zoidberg to crouch beside the two writhing figures. She placed a hand on Fry’s shoulder and then drew back sharply when a crack of static electricity burnt her fingers. She gasped in alarm when both Fry and Nibbler seemed to vanish briefly, and then flicker in and out of existence like a poorly-tuned television.

The strange attack ceased, and the two of them solidified once more and slowly got to their feet.

“Whoa,” Fry said. “Did everything just taste incredibly painful?”

“What happened?” Leela asked. “It looked like you were fading away into nothingness.”

“Fin fungus can do that,” Zoidberg offered.

Fry looked down at Nibbler for some explanation, and the little alien appeared worried almost to the point of panic.

“Too soon,” he said to himself. “It’s progressing too quickly…”

“It was the Brainspawn?” Fry asked.

“Using its connection to spacetime as a weapon, affirmative,” Nibbler said. “The Universe just took a tremendous beating, and several thousand of my people met their end. The enemy now understands the power it wields, and the cosmos will tremble at its might…”

Fry wiped his nose absently, no longer listening, and noticed the dark stain of stigma forming on his wrist. He hurriedly lowered his hand before Leela noticed.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s keep moving.”

Leela picked up Nibbler and led the way onward through the tunnel systems, which eventually opened out onto a ramshackle subterranean village beneath the city’s surface. Accumulated deitrus had been drawn together and piled into haphazard structures, arranged around the fetid drainage canals and central mutagenic lake. Thin shafts of sunlight filtered down from grilles and ducts in the plate above, penetrating the gloomy murk below.

They’d reached the settlement of the sewer mutants.

At first, the eyes and sensor stalks of the various mutated humanoids observed the outsiders from a distance, lurking in shadow. Then a lone voice called out:

It’s Leela!”

From the darkness, scores of mutant children with extra limbs and misshapen bodies rushed out to cluster around Leela, making delighted whooping, hissing, and squawking sounds.

“Leela! Leela! Tell us stories of the Surface!”

“Are you here to free us from the sewers?”

“What does the sun look like?”

“Miss Leela, Is it true that you can grant wishes?”

Leela appeared taken aback, and tried to move past the youngsters, but they continued to mob her, so she awkwardly attempted to answer their questions and smiled uncertainly at their enthusiasm.

Fry and the others skirted the little gathering and watched in bemusement from one side as Leela was forced to sit, holding two of the smaller children in her arms. The almost maternalistic scene evoked some odd yearning in Fry that he couldn’t quite place, and he found himself thinking back to the time between unrecallable times when he had been briefly married to her…

“Fascinating,” Nibbler remarked from the ground.

From somewhere behind them appeared a mutant with two noses and a forehead like a cliff face.

“Your friend Leela has become something of a legend to many in our community since we learned who she is,” Dwayne said, startling Fry, Bender, and Zoidberg, who had been watching Leela and her fans.

“Yeah, they do seem to love her,” Fry said.

“She is the only mutant to have ever escaped the sewers and made a life for herself on the Surface,” Dwayne explained. “They see her as beacon of hope and salvation – not unlike the Christ of our ancient myths. Through her, many hope we will one day ascend to the upper world and claim our place among the Surface-dwellers…”

“Fat chance buddy,” Bender muttered, striking a match on Dwayne’s massive forehead and lighting a cigar. “Folk as ugly as you belong where folk as beautiful as me don’t have to see ‘em.”

Dwayne glared. “Beauty is a matter of perspective,” he retorted indignantly. “Perhaps to us it is you who appear ugly.”

“Nope,” Bender replied. “I don’t have two noses, weirdo.”

“He’s right Dwayne,” Vyolet snorted, the reptilian female appearing alongside Dwayne with a cigarette jutting from the corner of her mouth. “Accept it, we’re hideous.” She blew a cloud of smoke from her gills, and Dwayne looked crestfallen.

Turanga Morris and Munda made their way forward, and Leela gently excised herself from the press of mutant children to run to them. Arms and tentacles encircled her warmly as she embraced her parents.

“Mom, Dad,” she said. “It’s so good to see you.”

“Why of course it’s good to see you too, sweetheart,” Munda said, cupping Leela’s face between her tentacles.

“Yeah, but why the sudden unexpected visit?” Morris added. “Is something wrong?”

“You like you’ve been hit by a garbage skip,” Munda said. “Still beautiful of course, but… are you bleeding?”

Leela glanced down at her grimy, beaten appearance. There were numerous abrasions she’d sustained in the past twenty-four hours that she hadn’t even noticed yet. She looked across to Fry where he stood with the others, and he gave her a helpless shrug.

“It’s… a long story,” she told her parents.

“It always is,” Munda replied with patient understanding. “Why don’t you and your friends come on home and get yourselves cleaned up.”

As the group made their way along the rickety gangways of Mutant Town, Zoidberg was stopped by the Supreme Mutant, a man with an extra arm growing out the side of his head.

“My Lord,” Raoul said in horror as he stared at the Doctor. “You poor unfortunate being…”

Zoidberg made a confused gurgle in the back of his throat and blinked at the mutant.

“You are the most horribly mutated person I’ve ever seen,” Raoul went on. “Even more disgusting than him.” He pointed at a mutant that appeared to be comprised of a single leg with a face on it.

“Aww…” Zoidberg scuttled dejectedly away after the others.

The Professor and his employees were sequestered on the hangar floor while Mom’s security personnel scoured Planet Express headquarters. They sat in a circle, covered by a squad of armed men. The corporate Matriarch herself stood nearby with Larry and waited. At length, one of the task leaders hurried up to her.

“We’ve completed a full search of the compound,” he reported. “No sign of the Mighty One or the Nibblonian – they aren’t here.”

“Right…” Mom glared at Professor Farnsworth. “Where are they?” she demanded.

Farnsworth got to his feet and adjusted his glasses. “More to the point,” he said distractedly, “where am I?”

Chiu cheng!” Amy muttered in frustration.

Mom prodded Farnsworth in the chest with a bony finger. “Listen stud, if you think your sex appeal will get you out of this, you’re sorely mistaken,” she said. “I want Fry and that little three-eyed creature – tell me where they are before I get really mad!”

“I should have known you were behind this!” Farnsworth snapped, passing back into lucidity. “You conniving seductive harpy! What kind of evil scheme are you trying to enact?”

“Mind your own cod-sniffing business!” Mom said, turning her back on Farnsworth.

Larry snapped shut his handheld communicator and leaned close to Mom. “We’re still unable to contact the Brezhnev,” he said quietly. “I think the Nibblonian may have been telling the truth.”

Mom nodded tiredly. “These fools don’t know anything,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at Farnsworth and his deadbeat friends. “But still – Hubert’s expertise could come in handy if we’re really facing a threat. We need to be able to contain this as quickly as possible.”

“What about the quantum interface weapon?” Larry asked. “Or the stupidification ray?”

“Idiot!” She slapped him. “You think we can still make money from this!? My building is half demolished, my two favourite sons are dead, and we may well have unleashed a force of death and destruction upon the damned Galaxy – the best we can hope for is that we come out of this without being blamed!”

Larry rubbed his cheek, looking forlorn. “So what now?” he said.

“Gather up Farnsworth and his morons,” Mom said. “We can’t find Fry and his racoon so we’ll just have to confront the damn brain thing ourselves. Make sure Hubert has full access to our data files.”

Full access?” Larry repeated incredulously. “But… not even I have that level of…”

“Shut up!” Mom snarled.

As the security personnel prodded the Professor and the others toward the doors, Hermes Conrad held out a sheaf of papers toward Mom.

“This is da standard kidnapping and ransom statement to be lodged with the central bureaucracy in the event you intend to hold us unlawfully for any given period of time,” he said. “The forms must be submitted with at least three weeks’ notice, and…”

Mom pulled out her PPK and put three bullets through the papers, causing Hermes to drop them in fright.

“…Sweet Jaguar of Dagobah,” he said weakly. “…Discharging of a firearm on company property… I have to submit an incident report…”

“Scruffy’s gotta find Scruffy a new job,” Scruffy muttered to himself as a security grunt pushed him out through the hangar door. “Somethin’ less excitin’, where folk remembers yer name…”

“Move it!” Larry snapped.

Farnsworth, Hermes, Amy, and Scruffy, were all led into a waiting shuttlecraft that was boarded by Mom and her henchmen. It lifted off and blasted away into the morning sky.

Chapter 10: A Sewer Too Far

The air beneath the city’s supporting plate was stagnant, hanging in heavy unmoving strata, so the distinct chemical trail of a fossil fuel-powered internal combustion vehicle was simple enough to track. Robot 1-X Ultima found the abandoned Ford Mustang well before the other security drones got to it, and observed it for a moment, parked in front of a ruined house.

There was nobody around. The only infrared signatures were too small to be humanoid. Arbitrarily, Ultima selected a cluster bomb from its weapons carousel and launched it. The house and car were instantly engulfed in a blanket of fire, disintegrating into spinning flaming fragments.

Leave the enemy no ground to go to…

Ultima’s particle filters detected pheromone traces, and after a few quick scans a trail of footprints could be seen. One set wore boots (the primary target’s size), another was barefoot, the third were circular robot feet, and the fourth were sandals of some kind.

Ultima set off in the direction they had gone.

Even amid the dank putrid squalor of the sewer slums, the Turanga cottage managed to maintain a sense of homely comfort and security. Even the omnipresent stench seemed lessened within its haphazard walls.

Leela explained the situation to her parents as best she could, keeping to the important facts while skirting around concepts that she herself had little understanding of. For their part, Morris and Munda did their best to keep up, despite the gaps in comprehension that resulted from a life lived in the dark underground caverns. They sat on their mouldy sofa while Leela recounted the tale.

The basic points got through: Universe in peril from an evil alien threat, and Fry the only one who could defeat it, with an evil corporation hot in his trail to divine some esoteric secrets.

“What a fascinating story…” Munda said with uncertainty, glancing at Nibbler who sat on the floor licking himself.

“You do believe me, right?” Leela asked.

“Of course we do, dear,” Munda replied. “Why, after some of the other adventures you’ve had, this one seems almost mundane.”

Morris laughed heartily. “I’ll go see if your boyfriend needs anything else,” he said, climbing to his feet.

“Dad!” Leela protested, reddening slightly. “You know he isn’t my boyfriend…”

“Oh sure honey,” Munda chuckled. “That’s what you tell us.”

Leela pulled a helpless face and slumped down beside her mother, who coiled a protective tentacle around her shoulders.

In the adjoining room Fry finished lacing up a pair of worn out old sneakers. Walking through the sewers barefoot had left a disconcerting assortment of cuts on the soles of his feet – and even Fry was dubious about open wounds being immersed in sewer sludge.

“They fit okay?” Morris asked upon entering the room.

“They’re great,” Fry said. “Thanks for letting me borrow them.”

“Oh, don’t mention it,” Morris said, and Fry tried not to stare at his vertically-oriented mouth. Morris might have been smiling, but it was difficult to tell. “Can’t have the saviour of the Universe tromping around with no shoes,” he added, casting a glance at Bender and Zoidberg who appeared to be arm-wrestling in one corner.

Fry grunted uncomfortably. “So, Leela told you guys everything?” he asked.

“There abouts, what parts of it we could understand.” Morris turned serious. “Take a walk with me, Philip,” he said.

Compliantly, Fry followed Morris out of the house and up one of the boardwalks. Wanting to impress Leela’s father, he made an effort not to slouch and politely refrained from screwing his nose up at the pervasive stink. After a few moments silence, Morris produced a large hip flask and passed it to Fry, who nearly choked after taking a swig.

“Distilled right here in Mutant Town,” Morris said with a chuckle, taking back the flask. “Over ninety percent alcohol by volume, and the extra ten percent you probably don’t want to know about.”

“It’s… very lively,” Fry rasped, trying to swallow the fire that seemed to be burning a line down his throat.

“This situation you’re in,” Morris said abruptly, “I want to know what kind of danger you’re leading my Leela into.”

Fry was silent for a moment as the two of them walked side-by-side, carefully measuring his response. “I don’t know what I’m walking into,” he admitted finally. “But I do know that I didn’t start this thing, and I’m not leading Leela anywhere – she’s with me because she chose to be. I would give anything for her to be safe at home, but you try telling her that…”

Morris nodded. “I see,” he said evenly.

“I’m not sure you do, sir,” Fry said. “Leela and I are friends, and we’ve stood by each other through a lot of ups and downs – we’ve been to the very brink of doom and back again, and we’ve always done it together, because together we’re stronger than we are alone.”

Morris suddenly clapped a hand on Fry’s back, almost making him stumble into the mutagenic canal.

“I admire your honesty, Philip,” he said, pausing to look up at a grille set in the cavern ceiling hundreds of feet above. “I won’t pretend I like the idea of my Leela getting involved in some cosmic war, but I suppose you’re right – she’s been living her own life up to now and she knows how to look after herself. I just want you to promise me…”

“You don’t even have to say it,” Fry said. “I’d die before I ever let anything hurt Leela.” He paused for a moment, and added: “Of course, she’s the one who usually ends up saving me, but my sentiment remains valid!”

“Heh heh,” Morris chuckled. “You really have it bad for her, don’t you lad?”

“Huhh… what?” Fry made a show of looking confused. “I… I don’t know what you mean.”

“Hey, it’s fine,” Morris said. “She could do a lot worse… like him for example.” He pointed at the leg-mutant standing across the canal, who sighed and hopped away.

“Ahh,” Fry shrugged and looked uncomfortably at the ground. “She’s not interested in me,” he said with a dejected edge to his voice. “I couldn’t even finish her opera. She deserves someone who can provide for her; someone successful who knows how to use chopsticks and doesn’t wipe his mouth on expensive tapestries at stupid rich parties…”

“Maybe just someone who loves her would suffice?” Morris offered.

Fry stared at Morris, and the mutant shrugged.

“She finds it difficult to trust,” he went on, “in people or in feelings, and I suppose that’s partly our fault. The way she grew up, never having anyone to depend upon but herself… and then you came along, defrosted into her life and suddenly she had friends, people who loved her, a family. She’s afraid to change anything because she thinks she might lose it all. But she needs you more than she lets on, and cares about you more than she’ll admit… In truth, you’re really all that her mother and I ever hear about. Just be patient with her.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Fry asked stupidly.

“Munda and I are quite fond of you, Philip,” Morris explained. “You reunited us with our daughter… prevented her from killing us, and as you said – you’ve been a dear friend to her. What I mean to say is… you have our blessing.”

Fry blinked in surprise. “I, uh…Thank you sir,” he managed at last, slightly stunned.

“Hey, if you do manage to break through that shell of hers you’ll… uh… play safe… won’t you?”

Fry stared blankly for a moment, and then his eyes widened.

“Oh God, of course!”

“Right, because…”

“That’s… I would always…”

“…Just wanted to make sure…”

“You don’t even need to…”

“I mean, not that it’s any of my business…”

They stared at each other in very awkward silence for a few long moments, and both were relieved when Raoul and Vyolet came running up to interrupt them.

“A strange flying robot has been spotted in the Eastern tunnels,” the three-armed mutant leader said breathlessly. “Our perimeter foragers report that it looks like some kind of armed attacker – probably chasing Leela and her friends.” He cast a meaningful look at Fry, but Fry wasn’t ready to launch into any long-winded explanation; instead he returned Raoul’s stare evenly.

“It’s after us,” he confirmed. “Don’t ask me why, just understand that we have to leave. Trust me.”

Raoul glanced at Morris, who nodded almost imperceptibly, and then back to Fry.

“Alright,” he said at last. “We will buy you time, as best we can. Go now.”

“Thanks,” Fry said. He and Morris turned and sprinted back toward the Turanga house.

Leela and her mother looked up in surprise when Fry and Morris burst in puffing and panting.

“Robot… found us… coming… escape!” Fry gasped, trying to catch his breath.

“It tracked us all the way down here!?” Leela exclaimed in disbelief, surging to her feet.

“Ohhh, we’re boned!” Bender said, hopping around in fright. “That beautiful wonderful 1-X robot will kill us all!”

“We’ll lead you out,” Morris said. “The rest of the mutants down here will do what they can, now hurry!”

Together, they all rushed out of the house and off down the length of Mutant Town’s main ‘boulevard’, past Martin Luther Thing Junior High (repaired since the last time Fry and Leela had seen it) and Stenchy’s Café.

Fry noticed many adult mutants marshalling with primitive weapons in hastily-assembled militia units on the banks of the lake and secreted on rooftops.

“Wait, they’re gonna fight it?” he said in amazement.

“Our people aren’t exactly pushovers,” Munda replied.

“That’s right,” Morris said proudly. “Final Solution robots from the government’s Genetic Purity Bureau tried to exterminate us back in 2980, but we gave them what for! Man, those were the days…”

“But this is different,” Leela said desperately. “The thing that’s after us is a full military droid – they can’t beat it with their sticks and stones! People will die!”

“Hey! Don’t write these brave subterranean warriors off so easily, Leela,” Bender chided, and then in a low whisper added: “If they wanna kill themselves for us, I say we let ‘em…”

“No!” Leela stopped, and Nibbler walked into the back of her left boot with a grunt and a muttered curse.

“If they’re going to fight,” Leela said, “then I’ll fight with them.”

“And if Leela fights, then so will I!” Fry added. “Of course… I won’t fight as well as she does, but it’s the thought that counts…”

“I’ll be cheering for you both from several miles away,” Bender said enthusiastically.

“Leela,” Munda said, laying a tentacle on her daughter’s hand. “Haven’t you and your friends got a more important task right now?”

“Yes!” Nibbler snapped impatiently from the ground.

Leela looked uncertain. “But…”

“Sweetheart…” Morris pointed, and Leela looked: across the lake, in the worship cavern where once had stood an unexploded nuclear bomb, there was now a different religious icon standing on the great stone altar.

It was a twelve-foot-tall statue of a one-eyed woman, with flowing hair and a determined stance.

“You’ve given these people a gift,” Morris went on as Leela gaped in horrified astonishment at her own likeness. “The greatest gift that a subjugated people can ever receive – hope, an inspiration, a reason to keep going; to fight, to die… and to live.”

“But this is wrong,” Leela whispered in shock.

“I’ll say,” Bender added, casting a critical eye at the statue. “They left off all your cellulite.” Fry kicked him in the ass.

Leela looked at her parents, aghast. “How could you let them do this?” she asked. “I’m not some messiah… I’m just me…” She pointed at Fry. “He saved the whole Universe, and nobody built a statue of him!”

“We did, however, release a line of action figures,” Nibbler said quietly, and Fry looked at him in surprise.

“Maybe it’s not so much about you, sweetie,” Munda told her daughter. “Maybe it’s about them, about what they need. Don’t take it away from them.”

Leela gazed around, and noticed many of the mutant militia were looking back at her, with hope and adoration shining accusingly in their eyes. She inclined her head helplessly and groaned.

“We need to leave Earth,” Nibbler said. “Where is your ship?”

“Not sure,” Leela muttered. “After the EMP it would have crash-landed somewhere near the City centre.”

“Then that’s our destination,” Morris said. “Come on.”

Raoul, Vyolet, and Dwayne watched from a nearby rooftop as the Turangas and their weird friends disappeared into a side tunnel. Leela stopped once to look back at the underground settlement, and the mutants waved at her merrily. Then she too vanished.

“Well, she’s safely away now,” Vyolet said, with a snort and a cloud of smoke. “And the young ones have been taken to the north cavern. When’s this badass robot gonna show up?”

“You speak too soon, my dear,” Raoul said. “Behold!” The third arm on the side of his head lifted a notched and rust-pitted old talwar sword and pointed it at the other end of the cavern. There, a battered military droid had flown in through a side tunnel and now hovered, scanning back and fourth.

“Doesn’t seem so dangerous,” Vyolet said, taking up a serrated spear. “The thing looks like it’s been through the fires of Hades – check out that battle damage.”

“And yet it survives,” Dwayne noted quietly. “Let’s not underestimate it.”

“Agreed,” said Raoul.

Vyolet lifted a bugle fashioned from copper pipes and blew a single forlorn note that echoed across the cavern.

The Battle of Mutant Town had begun.

The few firearms possessed by the mutant militia were mostly ancient projectile weapons liberated from the ruins of Old New York, with a few low-grade lasers augmenting the meagre arsenal. All of them were employed simultaneously from rooftop sniping roosts, and Robot 1-X Ultima found itself suddenly buffeted by a hail of bullets and weak laser blasts.

Ultima wheeled in the air, identifying multiple hostile targets amid the litter of sewer debris. As it prepared to fire on the guerrilla positions, a secondary detachment of attackers appeared on the cavern floor below and hurled (actually hurled, with their arms!) long spike-tipped objects at Ultima.

The spears clattered harmlessly off the robot’s flanks, and Ultima targeted a group of mutant fighters on the edge of a glowing green canal, blasting them under a railgun deluge. The survivors scurried back to the relative safety of the shanties.

Ultima fired its last salvo of loitering missiles that soared up into the air and they began circling above like birds of prey – waiting for a target to present itself. But the mutants were like ghosts – generations of hiding in the shadows had bred into them an ability to move unseen, coming and going like the wind and vanishing into dark forgotten places as quickly as they had appeared. Adding to the difficulty was the all-pervasive humidity and background radiation of the sewers that was degrading infrared returns.

In frustration, Ultima fired a pair of phasers that reduced a row of houses to smouldering ashes.

Movement from on high: Some mutant militia had scaled the ceiling of the cavern and were now toppling boulders from rickety catwalks above.

Ultima darted left and right, dodging most of the falling rocks until one slammed into its head and bore it downwards toward the mutagenic lake. With a tremendous splash, the robot disappeared into the green murk.

As ripples crossed the lake of toxic slime, mutants emerged slowly from their hidden positions and began to cheer. Raoul, Vyolet, and Dwayne looked on from their rooftop.

“Too easy… that wasn’t enough to kill it,” Dwayne said in a worried voice. Then he shouted at the top of his lungs: “Stay concealed! It’s a ruse! The thing is playing possum so it can…”

Ultima suddenly exploded upward out of the lake with guns firing, raking into the now-exposed ranks of mutant militia fighters with its lasers. The loitering missiles began to stab down, blowing mutant bodies apart even as they fled for cover.

As Raoul watched his people being butchered, he gave a roar of fury and grabbed hold of a rope tied loosely nearby. With swords held in his two other hands, he swung out into the middle of the cavern, high above the lake, and flew headlong at the hovering robot. Hefting their own weapons, Dwayne and Vyolet took up the other two ropes and followed.

Ultima found itself suddenly assaulted by three mutated figures swinging past and around it, and landing ineffectual blows against its flanks with blunt handheld weapons. Every time the robot turned to track one, another would strike at it; like annoying mosquitoes, the three enemies kept darting just out of reach.

The damaged war drone retreated slightly to a standoff position where it might more easily pick off the swinging attackers.

Raoul shouted: “Now!”

As one, the three mutant friends let go of their ropes and fell together toward the lake. At the same moment, Ultima opened up with its twin gatling guns and Raoul cried out as an armour-piercing round burst through his abdomen in a messy explosion of gore. He and the others splashed down into the green lake and disappeared from view.

From either side of the cavern, two huge old boilers were cut loose from their moorings and swung outward from the walls on roof cables. With ponderous inertia, the great rusty iron blocks closed the distance between each other. Ultima noticed the trap too late, and the two heavy boilers slammed together with the robot between them.

The force of the impact was great enough to crack Ultima’s external casing and completely crush several servomotors. Sensor lenses were broken, another micropile ruptured, and a number of weapons systems were now inoperative. Coolant began leaking from the machine and it flew off wildly away from the dented boobytrap, unable to adjust its suddenly misaligned gyroscopes in time. It slammed down near the wide cistern entrance to the deep subterranean sub-sewer, rolled in the mud, and accidentally fired off a barrage of high-explosive flack shells when a short-circuit tripped the firing mechanism. A large section of roof collapsed down on Ultima, exposing the glare of daylight from the upper city.

At the edge of the mutagenic lake, Dwayne and Vyolet pulled Raoul out of the murky slime between them. A dark red stain marred the surface of the green sludge.

“D…did we g…get it?” Raoul stammered, clutching the bullet wound in his stomach.

“Yeah sweetie, we got it,” Vyolet said, biting her green scaled lip. She exchanged a glance with Dwayne, who lowered his eyes. The large-calibre anti-aircraft round had done considerable damage, and the colour of the blood indicated liver-shot. They both knew what that meant.

“That’s… good,” Raoul said weakly, as a slight spasm ran through his body. “I… think I’ll be okay… it doesn’t really hurt as much as…” He went limp, and the other two stared down at their dead leader in anguish.

“No!” Vyolet sobbed. With a shaking hand, she gently closed Raoul’s eyelids. There was no jubilation now, as the mutants began to gather around.

Suddenly, the sound of shifting masonry echoed across the cavern. The pile of rubble that had buried Ultima was now moving.

“You must be joking?!” Vyolet exclaimed, wiping tears from her scaled cheeks.

“It can’t still be alive…” Dwayne muttered. “Nothing’s that strong.”

He was wrong. Boosted by a now-unsteady sputtering ion thruster, Ultima burst up from out of the debris and wobbled drunkenly, smoke wafting from rends in its armour.

Beside Dwayne, the leg mutant mumbled something determined and heroic, but his words were garbled by the cutlass he held in his teeth.

Suddenly, a deep rumble filled the cavern, which had nothing to do with Ultima, and the earth shook beneath the mutants’ feet.

A terrible creature from the dark depths of the earth had been roused by the concussive explosions. Whether spawned by nature or by the corrupting toxic overflow of civilization was unknown. What was known was that it had a heart of sinister purpose, cloaked in shadow, and terror went before it. It was a demon of the ancient world.

It was… El Chupanibre.

Slowly, the creature rose up behind Ultima, clambering out of the sub-sewer and looming above, sinuous green flanks and hooked claws dripping with fetid water and luminescent algae.

El Chupanibre let out a tremendous, earth-shaking roar, and Ultima turned to behold the new threat.

Fall back!” Dwayne shouted. He and Vyolet carried Raoul’s body as the surviving mutants fled the impending clash of titans.

The beast from below flexed its huge talons and advanced.

Ultima deployed its close-combat blades and moved in gleefully…

Chapter 11: Starship Bloopers

The dull crump of distant ordinance discharges faded gradually (mercifully) as Leela’s parents led the little group onwards through the confusing maze of pipes and tunnels. Leela looked back occasionally, uncertain and worried, and Fry tried to reassure her.

“They know what they’re doing,” he said.

Leela didn’t reply.

Occasionally, Morris would stop to ascend a ladder up to a manhole cover, checking on their position and looking for the Planet Express ship. After the fifth or sixth time, he returned down with a vertical grin on his face.

“It’s up there,” he said. “Sticking out the side of a Burger Queen, but it seems intact.”

“Did you say ‘burger’?” Zoidberg salivated and ascended the ladder three rungs at a time.

“Well, thanks muties,” Bender said. “I don’t care what anyone says – you guys are Homo Superior.” With that, he set off climbing after Zoidberg.

“Yeah, thankyou for everything,” Fry said.

“Don’t you mention it, Philip,” Munda said, kissing him on the cheek.

“Remember what we talked about,” Morris added, shaking Fry’s hand.

“I will sir.” Fry climbed up the ladder, leaving Leela alone with her parents. There was a long silence as Leela stared at them, her face a conflicted mass of warring emotions and unasked questions.

“The other mutants,” she said quietly, “they believe I’m going to somehow liberate them from the sewers. Is that what you believe too?”

Morris and Munda glanced at each other uncertainly.

“Leela, you don’t have to do anything for us,” Morris said.

“That’s right,” Munda added. “We’re already so proud of you…”

“But you hope, don’t you?” Leela pressed. Her parents said nothing. “You deserve so much better than this, all of you… all of us,” she sighed. “If there was something I could do to bring about change,” she said, “then I would… but what? I’m just one person… I don’t know how…”

“You just do whatever your heart tells you, Leela,” Munda said.

Leela watched her parents for a long moment and finally came to a decision.

“All right,” she said, nodding in affirmation. “When I return, I’ll find a way – things will change, I’ll see to it… somehow.”

She hugged and kissed her parents, and they watched her disappear up through the manhole. Together, Morris and Munda shrank back into the shadows and vanished.

Fry, Bender, and Zoidberg were peering cautiously around a street corner when Leela rejoined them.

“What’s the hold-up?” she asked, following their gazes to where the Planet Express ship sat at an odd angle, lodged into the side of a fast-food restaurant. Hamburger patties and Freedom Fries had spilled out everywhere.

“Fuzz,” Bender explained, pointing at the police holograms that marked off the area, and the patrol hovercar parked indiscreetly up the street.

“Looks like they’re waiting for us,” Leela said in frustration. “Dammit – we won’t make it; we’d need time for Bender to get the ship running again.”

“Hmm…” Zoidberg dragged his eyes away from the foodstuff spilled on the road and glanced back and fourth between his friends. His mind ticked over.

“So we’re boned again?” Bender groused.

“Maybe… we could hijack another ship from somewhere,” Leela said doubtfully.

“No need, no need!” Zoidberg said with regal self-importance, stepping in front of the others with his claws on his hips. “The robut is needed to fix the ship, the cyclops female to fly it, and friend Fry must save the Universe for some reason – that leaves only me, brave Doctor Zoidberg to distract the police long enough for my dear friends to make good their escape!”

“But you’ll be captured!” Fry argued.

“No, wait,” Leela said. “They don’t want him – nobody does. They’d just let him go once they figure out we’re gone.”

“Good plan,” Nibbler said distantly from Fry’s shoulder.

“Zoidberg, are you sure about this?” Fry asked, taking the Decapodian by the shoulders.

“Come now, Fry – you would do the same for me,” Zoidberg said.

Fry stared blankly at him for a prolonged moment. “Yes,” he said woodenly, straight-faced. “Yes I would.”

“Thank you, Zoidberg,” Leela said, giving the lobster an impatient push. “You’re a true friend. Goodbye.”

“Don’t drop the soap!” Bender added.

Zoidberg edged around the corner and glanced up the street to where the patrol car still sat in wait. “Alright,” he muttered. “Zoidberg away!”

Smitty and URL watched through the window of their car as a red lobster waddled slowly across the street toward the crashed green spaceship. The alien paused to eat some of the uncooked hamburger patties off the road before continuing on.

“Looks like something’s finally happening,” URL droned languidly. “Aww yeah.”

“That’s one of the fugitives Momcorp tagged,” Smitty said, consulting his info screen. “Guess we’d better beat him until he tells us where his friends are.”

“Time for some old-school abuse of power.” URL switched on the sirens and drove the hovercar forward.

At the wail of klaxons, Zoidberg broke into a hasty scuttle, whooping in fright as he went racing away from the PE ship and down a side alley. Patrol car 718 followed and disappeared from sight.

“That brave lobster,” Leela said. “Come on – now’s our chance!” Together, she and the others dashed across the street.

With the ship’s electrical systems down, it took Bender’s strength to operate the manual release on the emergency access door. Then they were all inside, the ship dark and quiet, and the deck slanted at an awkward angle.

“Bender,” Leela said. “Can you pull the same trick you did with the Mustang and get us operational?”

Bender managed to shrug, despite the lack of mobile shoulders. “I guess,” he said. “Of course, this bird’s a lot more complicated than that gas-guzzling contraption.”

“All I need are engines and manual control. We can repair the other systems once we’re away.”

Bender narrowed his eye shutters. “Of course, we’re gonna have to talk about money,” he said.

“How about I take off your head and stick it somewhere your arms can’t reach?” Leela replied automatically.

“Alright, alright,” the robot growled, stomping away toward the engine room and muttering homicidally to himself.

Leela and Fry made their way to the bridge, where Leela set about replacing burnt-out fuses in the control console. Nibbler hopped up onto the navigator’s station, and without anything else to do, began licking himself noisily.

“It’s even worse than we feared,” Fry said from one side. “The coffee machine isn’t working.”

“We’ll just have to rough-it,” Leela replied, sitting down in the command chair to wait for Bender to degauss the engine components. “Just out of curiosity, Fry, what did you talk about with my father?”

“Uh…” Fry began to blush a deep pink. “Um… y’know… just guy stuff.”

Leela stared at him fixedly.

Geopolitics,” Fry conjured at last. “We discussed geopolitics, as he and I both often do.”

Leela sighed. “You don’t even know what that is, Fry.”

“Sure I do,” Fry said confidently. “It’s like when mountains and gorges argue with one another.”

Nibbler let out an expressive groan.

“You don’t have to lie to me, Fry,” Leela said, turning her attention back to the console. “I know my parents have some strange ideas about you and I, but they’re just old romantics eager to see me settle down. Don’t take any notice of that stuff.”

“Oh…” Fry looked at his feet dejectedly. “…Okay.”

“I just can’t manage to convince them that we’re only friends.”

“Huh. That must be annoying,” Fry muttered gloomily as he walked away.

“It’s silly, don’t you think?” Leela glanced up from the console and looked around for Fry, but he’d left the bridge. “What’s his problem?” she wondered aloud.

Nibbler groaned again, louder, and buried his face in his paws. Leela was about to comment when the ship shuddered suddenly and the lights flickered on and off. The low drone of power returned, and running displays on the control console gleamed.

“Okay, we’re alive again,” Leela said, and then into the shipwide intercom: “Everyone strap yourselves in.”

As the impulse thrusters came online, Leela backed the PE ship out of the ruined Burger Queen, dislodging rubble from the nose section. The little green freight ship hovered for a moment before Leela tilted it to a diagonal inclination, with its main engine nozzles pointing at the ground.

With a tremendous blast of exotic energy, the Dark Matter engines flared into life, and the Universe shifted position around the stationary ship.

Zoidberg, though being held down on the pavement by Smitty and URL, managed to twist his neck and watch the ship soaring off into the sky.

“Go, my friends!” he warbled happily. “To freedom!”

“Shut up, you slimeball!” Smitty snarled, whacking the lobster over the head with his lightsabre baton.

“Damn,” URL droned, watching the ship grow smaller. “Looks like the fugitives pulled a fast one on us stupid cops. Ohh yeah.”

Nearby, a manhole cover suddenly flew upward from the ground and clattered down right next to URL.

“What the hell,” the robot cop muttered.

From out of the manhole, an unrecognisable shape clambered on twisted limbs. The battered metal object was covered in deep claw marks and viscous green blood. With its ion thrusters no longer operative, Ultima had to drag itself along with its forelimbs.

“Is that a robot?” Smitty said, looking at the blackened mass of twisted metal.

“Maybe it used to be,” URL replied.

Zoidberg looked on in silent terror.

Ultima noted the Planet Express ship passing just out of visual range and surveyed the short list of systems that were still operational. Happily, the robot brought its fusion booster online and ignited it.

A small thermonuclear explosion vaporized a section of road in incandescent white fury, sending Zoidberg and the two police officers tumbling head-over-heels through the air. Ultima shot upward in excited anticipation, following the PE ship’s vapour trail.

Up, up… the Earth’s layers of atmosphere fell away one by one. The ionosphere was a brief crackle of static. Out into the void; satellites whizzed past. There, directly ahead: the Dark Matter drive, now ready to spool up to full power…

Ultima tried firing lasers, and found they were all damaged. The gatling guns were jammed. All its missile reserves were spent. Railguns weren’t receiving power. The severely-damaged war drone turned in desperation to its antiphoton cannon, which had been out of alignment since the battle on Mars. Theoretically it might still fire, although the danger of blowback was great.

Ultima took the risk, targeting the Planet Express ship’s engines. It fired, or tried to, and the particle accelerator mechanism in the antiphoton cannon bucked violently and promptly exploded. Ultima was thrown into an erratic spin, damaged components flying away from it in a great arc. The robot’s systems went offline briefly, and when it came back to consciousness the Planet Express ship was long gone, and it was falling slowly into a Lunar orbit.

Undaunted, Ultima patiently set about devising a series of extensive self-repair protocols. It would wait. The target would return in time; the certainty of that fact burned bright in the robot’s fractured mind.

Turanga Leela would return, and the hunt would resume… in time. Ultima had all the time in the world.

Long hours passed after the prisoners were brought aboard Mom’s personal interstellar frigate (shaped, oddly, like her head) in High Earth Orbit. The Momship had departed the Sol system for destinations unknown, and Professor Farnsworth was taken away to review secret research data, leaving Hermes, Amy, and Scruffy to be shoved by henchmen into a holding cell.

And so they waited, as the corporate matriarch’s ship’s engines thrummed endlessly. There were no windows, no way to tell where they were or how much time had passed; just the dull grey bulkhead stamped with the logo of Mom’s Friendly Holding Cell Company.

The monotony was painful. Without a single scrap of reading material besides the labels on the cot blankets, all three of them were bored to death.

Scruffy had had enough.

It was time to take action.

“So,” he grunted, leaning close to Amy, “how’s about you get nekkid fer us?”

The elbow to his solar plexus had him wheezing on the floor for a full minute, after which he went and sat beside Hermes instead.

“Folk was less uptight about their bodies back in the twenty-nine seventies,” he muttered grumpily. “Scruffy remembers those days – peace and free love…”

A few decks up, Professor Farnsworth continued to read through volumes of detailed scientific reports, emitting occasional grunts of “Oh my…” and “…Fascinating.” He was learning everything that Ogden Wernstrom’s team had discovered from the Brainspawn.

His attention was drawn inexorably to the section that described the role and nature of the ‘Mighty One’.

“Sweet merciful Zombie Jesus on a dollar bill!” he said in alarm. “That idiot Fry is our only hope!?”

Meanwhile, on the bridge, Mom paced the deck while Larry and the Helmsman looked on nervously.

“How much further?” she snapped, glancing through the forward screen.

“Impossible to say, ma’am,” the Helmsman replied. “We’re following the residual radiation trail from the point of last contact as best we can, but there’s no way to tell how far it’s gone… Although there is one thing…”

“What?!” Mom rounded on the man, and he shrank back.

“…It’s definitely headed back towards Earth,” he said.

Mom looked out through the screen again, searching for the elusive research vessel. “We can’t let it get there,” she murmured.

The door to the bridge whisked open and Professor Farnsworth shuffled in, glaring at everyone through his two inch thick glasses.

“This is an outrage!” he bellowed. “You all should be ashamed of yourselves!”

Mom put her hands on her hips and turned to meet his glare. “I don’t care if you disapprove of what we’ve done, you old fool,” she retorted. “Risks must be taken in the march of progress, everyone knows that.”

“Progress?” Farnsworth repeated incredulously. “That’s how you justify giving me a cabin without a bathroom? It’s disgraceful! I had to relieve myself in an ashtray, dammit! It overflowed! I demand a stateroom with full amenities!”

Mom groaned in irritation. “Have you reviewed the research data yet?” she asked, forcing some patience into her voice.

“…The whuhh?” Farnsworth looked blank.

Mom massaged her temples and ground her teeth. “The Brainspawn!” she hissed.

“Don’t change the subject!” Farnsworth snapped. “We’re talking about the Brainspawn here, not your favourite shoe store – get with the program, dammit!” He shuffled past her and sat down in the ship’s command chair with an audible creak of ancient bones grinding against replacement joints.

“And have you had any ideas?” Mom seethed.

“Whuhh? Oh yes – Good News Everyone!” the Professor said. “I have devised a mechanism that can shield a person’s Delta brainwave, the wave that the creature feeds off, so that they can approach without the Brainspawn being aware.” He produced a dog-eared napkin covered in blotchy scrawlings and fed it into a nearby computer console; a scratchy hand-drawn electronics diagram appeared on the computer screen.

“It looks like a helmet,” Larry observed, looking at the diagram with its circuits and valves.

“A helmet? Oh my, yes,” Farnsworth said. “It won’t protect from the stupidification field if the Brainspawn becomes aware of the wearer through some other means and strengthens said field, but it should allow someone to get close, remaining relatively invisible to the creature.”

“Excellent,” Mom said. “Have the ship’s matter synthesizer whip a few of them up.”

“Do it yourself!” Farnsworth snapped angrily.

“Uhh… ma’am?” the Helmsman said suddenly.

“What?” Mom glared at the interruption.

“Begging your pardon,” the man said, “but we’re picking up the ship on long-range scanners.”

Everyone on the bridge stared at the forward screen. Ahead lay a starfield; a splatter pattern of light against black velvet. One distant point of light was tagged with a yellow box graphic as it moved across the stars.

The SS Brezhnev had been found…

Leela piloted the Planet Express ship onward through deep space for some time before finally realizing she had absolutely no idea what their destination was. As Bender joined her and Nibbler on the bridge she shut down the Dark matter engine, leaving the ship to coast silently, and turned to the little three-eyed alien.

“Where are we going?” she asked simply. “Where is this monster Brainspawn?”

“We are not going to confront the creature yet,” Nibbler said. “We are not yet equipped to face the beast. Our destination now is the exact centre of the Universe.”

“Your home planet?” Leela looked up as Fry entered, now wearing a replacement red jacket from his cabin. For some reason, he appeared subdued and downcast.

“Affirmative,” Nibbler said. “We must travel hither to Eternium, that we may retrieve the one weapon powerful enough to end the threat of the Brainspawn once and for all.”

“Is it a Holy Hand-Grenade?” Bender asked.

“Even more powerful still,” Nibbler replied.

“Okay,” Leela said, bringing a series of star-charts up on her console. “Whatever the weapon is, it’ll take us a long time to reach the centre of the Universe in this ship.”

“Not necessarily.” Nibbler tapped on the nav-console he was using as a seat and brought up the same charts. “If we make use of sub-space spiderholes at these two locations…” He highlighted coordinates on the touch-screen. “…We should be able to cut the journey down from a decade to about a day.”

Spiderholes?” Fry asked in confusion. “Don’t you mean wormholes?”

“No, these are made by planet-sized interdimensional spiders,” Nibbler replied. “There are no interdimensional worms.”

Leela punched in the coordinates and re-lit the main drive. The ship lunged ahead on its new course, which took it away from any area of space that was detailed in the map database. They were shooting onward into the depths of uncharted territory.

“‘…Here be monsters’,” Leela said to herself, engaging the autopilot, and the others stared at her. “It’s what mariners used to write,” she explained sheepishly, “on maps, when they reached the edge of what was known.”

Fry grunted and stuffed his hands deep in his pockets. “That’s because people are always afraid of the unknown,” he said sulkily. “They prefer everything to be laid out, all simple and predictable. Taking a chance on something new would be too scary, so they just call it a monster and tell it they only like it as a friend…” He trailed off. Leela was staring at him with an unreadable expression.

“Yeah, those ancient mariners can bite my shiny metal ass,” Bender said, completely missing the subtext.

Fry turned away. “I’ll be in my hammock,” he said. “Wake me when your stupid Universe needs saving.” With that, he walked away, and Leela chewed her lip anxiously, wanting to say something, but unsure of what.

The hiss and clunk of the bridge door opening and shutting seemed to echo with abrupt finality.

“What’s Captain Yesterday’s problem?” Bender said.

“…I am,” Leela replied guiltily.