Fan Fiction

Blame It On The Brain, part 4
By coldangel_1

Chapter 12: Nibbler on the Roof

The XC-105 Valkyrie tactical transport took up most of the deck of the Momship’s main hangar bay. A blunt delta shape encased in a black monoform exterior coating, it was the latest prototype of advanced stealth shuttle that Momcorp had been contracted to develop for the DOOP.

A small team of security personnel and science analysts boarded the little craft, along with Hubert Farnsworth, Larry, and Mom herself (who had insisted on going along for the mission despite the protests of Farnsworth and her son). The incursion team all wore pressure suits and strange circuit-embedded helmets, and the security personnel carried several ominous crates stamped prominently with the radioactive tri-foil.

“Remember everyone,” Farnsworth said as the embarkation ramp hissed shut, “the shielding helmets have never been tested, so don’t think too loudly. From now on, nobody think about rock music, the colour red, or Robin Williams.”

“Oh no!” Larry said. “Now they’re all I can think about!”

The atmosphere in the hangar bay dissipated noisily, and the massive external door began to roll open, revealing the stars beyond.

“Let’s see if those overpaid grease-monkeys in my skunk-works department are worth their weight in titanium composite,” Mom said, pressing a control on the Valkyrie’s system console. “Here goes nothing.”

As the stealth shuttle lifted from its docking cradle, it flickered briefly and then became completely invisible. Frequencies of the electromagnetic and visual spectrums flowed smoothly around the craft’s EM displacement field, rendering it totally unobservable to sensors or the naked eye.

“What the…? Where did everybody go?” Farnsworth cried suddenly.

“You idiot,” Mom snapped. “We’re only invisible to people outside the shuttle.”

“What? No – I dropped my glasses!”

As Farnsworth fumbled around on the floor, Larry eased the controls forward and took the shuttle out of the hangar bay and into the open void. The Momship was holding distant station about half an AU from the Brezhnev, which continued to slowly trawl through space without deviation. Attempts to hail the research vessel had been fruitless, and an unidentifiable background quantum fluctuation had been detected resonating from the area surrounding the great ship.

As the Valkyrie moved gradually closer to the target, all those on board became increasingly anxious. The entire mission hinged on the success of the delta-null shielding helmets devised by the mad and senile Professor Farnsworth, in whom few aboard had much confidence, himself included.

The distance closed. The tension built. And the mighty Brezhnev grew larger on the forward viewscreen.

“There’s something strange…” Larry said, peering at the two-kilometre block of steel and wrath. “The external surfaces… they seem mottled by something.”

“Up the magnification, you stupid moronic idiot fool!” Mom snapped.

Larry did so, and a section of the research vessel’s hull expanded into stark clarity.

“…What the hell is that?” Mom said. The hull plates were crisscrossed at random by wide clinging trunks and tendrils that seemed to form some vast network, growing from within the ship and seeming to envelop it with the grey, almost organic-looking growths.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Farnsworth confessed. “Not at this scale anyway, though if I were to guess, I’d say this was the result of nanomachine infestation.”

“Trash-talk!” Mom said. “I’ve seen nanites go haywire – they just turn everything into grey goo, they don’t grow vines.”

“I didn’t say they were haywire, you saggy-breasted harridan!” Farnsworth retorted. “You told me it was possible that your precious ship had been subverted by the Brainspawn – well that looks like subversion by nanomachines, probably controlled by the Brainspawn.”

Mom growled quietly.

“It also looks like it’s sustained significant battle damage,” Larry said, switching the view to show numerous deep impact craters that marked the surface of the ship.

“So, the Nibblonians already tried?” Mom wondered aloud.

The Valkyrie flew into the shadow of the Brezhnev, with the research ship looming before them like a great plain of metal. Larry piloted the stealth shuttle toward a docking point that appeared relatively free of nanomachine growths.

“You gave your Helmsman the proper instructions?” Farnsworth asked Mom.

“Yes.” Mom nodded. “Cowardly and snivelling though he may be, Gary Helm is the greatest Helmsman who ever Helmed. He’ll begin to run interference for us in the Momship as soon as we’re docked.”

“Hopefully that will distract the Brainspawn enough to aid with our infiltration, oh my yes… distraction… infiltration… atomic monsters… crush enemies… called me mad!?” He continued mumbling incoherently to himself and Mom looked away to watch the yawning mouth of the Brezhnev’s docking chamber closed around them.

The stealth shuttle gently connected to the airlock, and the doors were operated manually to avoid any telltale energy draw. Preceded first by armed security who gave the all-clear, the team emerged through the airlock, seeming to appear suddenly out of thin air as they stepped from the Valkyrie’s displacement field. They entered the dark corridors of the Brezhnev and activated their suit-mounted lights.

“I’m reading low atmosphere,” one member of the tech team said over the short-wave comm. link as she consulted her Tricorder. “The environmental system is down… no life-signs in our immediate vicinity, but some strange anomalous background noise on a number of frequencies.”

“Let’s get moving – we have a lot of ship to cover,” Mom said. Glancing back at where the invisible shuttle was ostensibly docked somewhere at the end of the airlock tube, she added: “Everyone remember where we parked – I don’t want to step through the wrong airlock and have my brain sucked out my nose.”

Before she turned back to the others, a movement caught her eye, and she turned sharply to see a shadowed figure dart back into hiding.

“Huhh…” she muttered to herself. “No life-signs, eh?”

They moved off through the silent corridors and continued for some time. The security people stopped them occasionally to access wall panels where they loaded subversive software into the remains of the ship’s systems that froze surveillance camera feeds along the team’s path. They were taking no chances.

At one point, the team rounded a corner and found the way had been blocked by an amorphous mass of the same ligneous grey growths that were strangling the outer hull of the ship.

“I’ll get a sample,” one of the scientists said, stepping closer to the wall of nanomachines.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Farnsworth said quickly, grabbing the man by his shoulder. “There’s no way of telling what it can do – it might convert our mass into raw elements. Or even worse – rewrite our neurones and brainwash us into buying horrible, soul-destroying country music… like what happened to all those poor fools in the latter half of the twentieth century.”

“He’s right,” Mom said. “Leave it – we’re here to destroy, not to learn.” They changed their route to avoid the growths and continued onward deeper into the ship. From some distance behind them, a figure observed their progress, steeped in shadow and skulking behind support struts and banks of machinery to remain concealed.

Farnsworth caught sight of the furtive movement and glanced back sharply – the figure ducked out of view.

Quietly, so as not to cause panic among the team, he spoke to Mom.

“There’s something back there,” he said, tilting his head back along the way they’d come.

Mom nodded with a grunt. “It’s Wernstrom,” she murmured.

Wernstrom!?” the Professor spat distastefully.

“He’s been following us since we came aboard,” Mom went on.

“So he escaped the Brainspawn’s attack…”

“Escaped… or was set loose.”

From some distance behind, Ogden Wernstrom looked out of the darkness, his eyes wide and feverish as he watched the team.

“He was in command of this operation,” Mom said, glancing back along the passageway. “Now the object of the operation may be in command of him.”

“Perhaps we ought to play it safe and decapitate him?” Farnsworth offered. “And then maybe burn his corpse for good measure.”

“I’ve seen too much death today,” Mom replied. “Besides, Wernstrom might have some part to play yet, for good or ill, before this is all over.”

Farnsworth looked unconvinced, but said nothing.

Meanwhile, out in space, the Momship flew an erratic course around the Brezhnev, occasionally hitting the larger vessel with laser bursts and hard radar spikes, but always keeping to a safe distance. Its pestering manoeuvres were monitored closely by the monumental intelligence that now controlled the Brezhnev, and the research cruiser fired on the Momship repeatedly, but scored no hits.

Onespawn wondered idly what the other vessel was trying to accomplish.

An inconceivable distance from the edge of any known map, the Planet Express ship traversed a field of planetary debris that had once been a solar system, now turned into a barren cloud of shattered rocks and frozen gases orbiting a dying sun. The epic destruction had been wrought by the opening of a Schwarzschild/Lorentzian spiderhole near the local star’s photosphere, resulting in vast swathes of matter being torn from the star, hastening its demise toward the black dwarf state. The surrounding planetary system had been utterly destroyed by the violent tidal forces and brutal accretion disk.

The spiderhole itself was an awe-inspiring spectacle – a vast indigo abyss ringed by chaotic webs of exotic negative matter, with strands stretching many times the diameter of Earth, which held open the throat of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge. Vast plumes of solar matter swirled into the indescribable depths of the hole, flaring bright as ribbons of energy lashed out.

Leela gasped in wonder at the sight as she flew the ship onward toward the titanic maelstrom. Setting the autopilot, she got up from the command chair and walked closer to the viewscreen the behold the majestic ballet of cosmic destruction.

“Woo hoo, big deal - it’s a hole,” Bender droned disinterestedly. “I dug a hole behind the Planet Express building and nobody gasped in wonder at it. Except the corpse I stuck in there, but that could have just been gasses escaping…”

“Bender, this is the most amazing thing anyone has ever seen,” Leela said, glancing at the robot in irritation.

“No big boots, this is the most amazing thing anyone has ever seen.” Bender produced a silver coin, waved it around in front of Leela, and clapped his hands together. The coin was gone. He then reached up to Leela’s ear and appeared to snatch the coin out of nowhere.

“Pretty sweet, eh?” he said proudly.

Leela narrowed her eye and walked away to find Fry.

“I thought it was remarkable,” Nibbler said, sounding impressed. “How did you do that? Some kind of quantum flux or matter transference beam?”

“Nah, I’m just magnificent.”

Leela moved down the ship’s companionway and rapped lightly on the door of Fry’s cabin, chiding herself for her own nervousness.

“Fry?” she called. “There’s something you’ll want to see – it’s incredible.” There was no reply from the room, and she sighed.

“Look, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings earlier. It was careless. Please forgive me. I want you to come and watch this with me – there are big shiny things… you love big shiny things…”

Still no response. Hesitantly, Leela pressed the door’s touchpad, and it rolled open. Fry was fast asleep on his hammock, shirtless and snoring lightly. Leela approached, and then stopped, gaping in horror.

The dark swirling marks of stigma had spread across Fry’s chest like an oil slick. As she watched, an offshoot of the affliction wormed outward from the main mass, consuming more normal tissue.

“…Oh Fry…” The taste of fear made Leela swallow hard as she reached out to touch Fry’s skin. It was cold.

The contact brought him out of his slumber, and he caught Leela by the wrist. He groaned as his eyes focused on the cycloptic face staring down at him.

“Hey…” he said, and then noted the frightened look in Leela’s eye. “What’s the matter…? Oh…” Hurriedly, he fell out of the hammock and retrieved his T-shirt to cover the stigma.

“Not very pretty, is it?” he said with forced lightness, pulling the shirt over his head and getting one arm stuck in the neck-hole.

Leela patiently helped him untangle himself. “Does it hurt?” she asked quietly.

“Not exactly,” Fry said. “But sometimes it feels like… a heaviness… like I’m being dragged down. Not by weight, but by something else… something inevitable. I can’t explain it.”

There was a sweet tension-coated silence filled with a creamy centre of discomfort as the two friends stared at each other.

“Fry…” Leela grasped for words. “We’ll find a way through this.”

“I know,” Fry replied. “We always do. Um… hey…” He scratched his head awkwardly. “Sorry about before.”

“Me too,” Leela said. “You’re my best friend, Fry… I don’t want to hurt you, even though I always seem to manage it one way or another. It’s not intentional…”

“I know,” Fry said. “Did you need me for something?”

Leela blinked. “Oh yeah,” she said, remembering. “The spiderhole – you really have to see this.”

When they returned to the bridge, the spiderhole loomed larger through the forward viewscreen it pulsed and rippled violently around the constraints of the cosmic webs that held it in place.

“Oh wow,” Fry gaped in amazement. “That’s even more incredible than Bender’s coin trick!”

“Ah, go to hell, you lousy meatbag,” Bender muttered bitterly.

“Leela…” Fry said as he gazed out in rapt fascination. “It’s the same colour as your hair.”

Leela smiled and took her seat at the helm. “So, we just fly right in?” she asked Nibbler.

“Affirmative,” Nibbler said. “But be careful – we don’t want to be caught in those webs.”

“Or do we?” Fry said. “…No, probably not. We’d be lunch for the giant spider, right?”

“Negative,” Nibbler said. “Contact with the exotic negative matter would instantly convert our entire mass into pure energy. We would explode.”

“…Which is really just as bad,” Fry said. He looked back out at the cosmic spectacle that now seemed to take up all of the heavens. The little ship skimmed through a stream of incandescent solar matter that was falling toward the spiderhole, then onward into the yawning indigo abyss.

“Oh,” Nibbler said belatedly. “This will be bumpy…”

They passed suddenly through the event horizon, and the PE ship became spaghettified, stretched into a narrow green strand of hyperaccellerated matter that was three light-years long, relative to real-space. And then they were in the spiderhole itself, snapping back into shape violently like an elastic band, and whipping around uncontrollably inside the cracking toroid interior of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, at the mercy of unseen and incomprehensible energies.

Fry, Leela, and Bender all screamed as they were thrown around, and sparks erupted from the fuselage. It was like the wildest rollercoaster ride imaginable…

…And then they were spat back out into real space in an explosion of quarks and neutrinos. The ship tumbled end-over end, accelerated wildly by the spiderhole’s slingshot effect.

“Oh, thank robot Christ that’s over with,” Bender said.

“It isn’t,” Nibbler replied mildly, as the ship fell directly into a second spiderhole that had been positioned sequentially by the Nibblonian people thousands of years ago.

Again the violent spaghettification and breakneck tumble through the throat of the spiderhole. As he clung to the back of Leela’s seat for dear life, Fry risked a sidelong glance out one of the windows, and for an instant he thought he saw a translucent shape clinging to the side of the shimmering tunnel of purple light… a colossal many-legged thing with eight eyes the size of continents that watched the PE ship fall past.

Then it was gone, and they were back out into real space, flung away from the Star Spider’s interdimensional hole at a dangerous velocity.

Regaining her wits, Leela cancelled the wild roll and slowed the ship.

“Oh, I think I got whiplash!” Bender complained, picking himself up.

“That was cool!” Fry said, climbing out of Leela’s lap. “We gotta do that again.”

Leela only groaned, knowing they would eventually have to. She turned her eye to the forward screen.

“Well,” she said, staring through the screen. “Looks like we’re here.”

Ahead of them, resplendent in shades of pink and blue, was the planet Eternium, its pastel landmasses seeming to form heart shapes.

The ship’s communications screen came to life, showing a Nibblonian female sitting on a cushion.

“Lord Nibbler,” Fiona said over the comm. link.

“Greetings,” Nibbler said. “I have travelled from Earth, with the Mighty One, seeking the means by which doom can be averted and the balance of the Universe be restored.”

“I know to which object you refer,” Fiona said gravely. “Our forebears decided eons ago that it should never be used. You have come on a fool’s errand.”

“Fool I may be,” Nibbler growled angrily, “but I am a fool who does not wish to see all of creation vanquished in one stroke of evil because those who could prevent it quailed in the face of their responsibility!”

Fiona stared levelly through the comm. screen. “Harsh words you speak, Lord Nibbler,” she said. “But the council is decided on this matter. An alternate plan to combat Onespawn is presently being enacted. We do not need the Mighty One, or the weapon.”

Nibbler narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “We shall see,” he said. The communication link terminated.

“What was all that about?” Fry said, clearly confused.

“A difference of opinion,” Nibbler said simply. He looked troubled as he directed Leela to the landing coordinates. The Planet Express ship fell through the pink atmosphere with a trio of Nibblonian Cuddle-Bug saucers falling in behind to escort the larger vessel.

They had reached the exact centre of the Universe. And it seemed they weren’t entirely welcome.

Chapter 13: The Good, The Bad, & The Exploding

The incursion team found themselves blocked by a wall that shouldn’t have been there. Where Mom’s deck schematic showed a straight corridor, there was now an abrupt dead-end festooned with the ever-present grey pseudopod growths of nanotech.

“It’s changed the decks around,” Mom said, eying the erroneous wall in irritation.

“Whatever for?” Farnsworth wondered.

“Beats me. Maybe it wanted to make a rumpus room.”

“It’s because Onespawn… is growing larger,” a weak grating voice said from out of the shadows behind the group. The security personnel swung their positron rifles toward the source of the voice and illuminated a skeletal, cowering Ogden Wernstrom with their barrel-mounted lights.

The scheming professor blinked in the glare, his pupils like pinpricks. He was wearing no breathing apparatus, despite the low pressure, and his skin was a blotchy mottled pink and grey.

“…The master,” he went on. “Onespawn… needed to accommodate its increasing size… as it consumes the mass of the ship.”

Wernstrom!” Farnsworth growled. “What’s your stake in all this, you ruffian?”

Wernstrom clutched his now oddly-oversized head as if suffering a migraine. “Master has forgotten me,” he rasped. “Now repairs to the dark matter engines are complete… Master doesn’t need me now… Master doesn’t care if I’m alive or dead…” He began to sob pitifully, and Farnsworth and Mom gave each other a meaningful glance.

“Onespawn has discarded me,” Wernstrom said. “Now I’m free… free and clear, with the weight of all who’ve died, and all who are yet to, pressing down upon me…”

Mom stepped forward to shake sense into the blubbering man, but Farnsworth held her back, leaning close to her ear as if to whisper.

“He’s infected, don’t touch him!” he shouted loudly, making the old woman cringe. “You stupid punk, Wernstrom,” the Professor went on, “you botched this entire mission. I give you the most vile, humiliating score yet – a B+.”

Wernstrom wailed in anguish. “I deserve it,” he said. “You were always the better scientist, Hubert… I’m just a third rate hack, always riding on your labcoat-tails. I thought with this I’d be able to surpass you… but instead the thing has killed off most of my crew… and left me a mutated pariah chained to an alien will that screeches and burns in my mind. You are the better man! The better scientist! You always were!”

Farnsworth looked up from studying the seams in his pressure glove. “Huu-whaa?” he grunted. “I’m sorry, were you still talking? I drifted off there for a bit…”

“Wernstrom, snap out of it,” Mom said. “What do you know about all of this?”

“Everything…” Wernstrom clutched at his head again and doubled over in pain. “It’s in my mind…” he hissed. “…In my DNA… Onespawn – I’m a part of it now, I hear its thoughts. It plans… to use its own version of the same wormhole technology we used to bring it back to his Universe… only on a much larger and less specific scale…”

“What do you mean?” Mom pressed impatiently.

“It has some quantum flux connecting it to spacetime…” Wernstrom said. “Soon it will be able to use that, coupled with understanding gleaned from the hardware aboard this ship… to destroy… to unmake the Universe, by compressing all of space and time into a singularity…”

“I tried to do that once,” Farnsworth said. “But I couldn’t get a chalkboard long enough to fit the equations.”

“There is only one thing preventing Onespawn’s plan…” Wernstrom said. “The presence of a temporal paradox… an entity spawned by spontaneous self-manifestation whose very tenacious history-spanning existence will hold the fabric of spacetime together…”

“Fry!” Farnsworth said.

Wernstrom nodded. “…So now the creature will travel to Earth… to kill the one being who could stand in its way.”

As if on cue, the massive vessel trembled suddenly, and the team stumbled as artificial gravity took a moment to adjust for inertia. A deep bass reverberation of space compression hummed through the ship.

“Dark matter drive just came online,” Larry said unnecessarily. “The ship could reach Earth within the hour now…”

“Quickly, Wernstrom!” Mom snapped. “Where is this ‘Onespawn’ of yours?”

Wernstrom appeared wracked by pain, and veins in his temples throbbed visibly. “I will… take you…” he said, fighting off the looming presence of the alien mind that pressed against his own. He set off down a side corridor with the team following close behind.

In space, the Momship struggled to keep up with the larger vessel as it hurled through the void, dark matter engines flaring incandescent blue.

The distance to Earth began to shrink rapidly.

The hall of forever, ten miles west of the exact centre of the Universe, loomed above the parked ship as Nibbler led the three Planet Express friends down the landing stair. A pair of Nibblonian officials waited at the foot of the steps, dressed in turquoise robes, and they raised their paws in salute.

“We bid you greetings, Lord Nibbler and company,” they said in unison.

Nibbler returned the salute wordlessly and walked past them. The others followed, and Bender carelessly trod on one of the officials.

“Those little things look just like Leela’s pet,” the robot noted distantly, kicking the dazed Nibblonian off his foot.

“Of course they do,” Fry said. “Bender, haven’t you been paying attention to what’s going on?”

“I’ve made a point not to,” Bender replied, folding his arms. “Any situation that doesn’t revolve around yours truly isn’t worth a moment’s consideration.”

They moved onward through the plush gardens and meadows. Fry glanced around at the fluffy pink scenery. “Yeah, now I remember,” he said. “This place is really…” he searched for a word.

“Gaudy? Candyfloss?” Leela offered.

“I’d have said queer,” Bender grunted coarsely, and the others glared at him, Nibbler bearing his fangs. “What?!” Bender said indignantly. “We’re a trillion miles away from the nearest censor, so you politically-correct ***holes can go **** yourselves.”

Bender!” Leela exclaimed in horror, and slapped the robot’s face, bruising her fingers in the process.

“Hey, **** off!”

Nibbler rolled one and a half pairs of eyes and scurried off toward the hall’s entrance without bothering to check that his three strange humanoid companions were following. A weak bugle announced his arrival as he passed between the twin obelisks and waddled into the hall of forever, moving through the cavernous interior toward the elevated chairs of the high council at one end.

One chair was notably empty. Nibbler took in the absence of Ken with a heavy sigh.

“The four greetings to you, Lord Nibbler, and to your companions.” Fiona’s voice rang out across the hall.

Nibbler stopped before her seat and looked up at the Nibblonian leader sternly.

“I have travelled far and braved many perils in bringing the Mighty One here to the completion of his destiny,” he said. “Twice we have set him against the great foe, and twice he smote them.”

“Go me!” Fry shouted, pumping the air with his fist. His voice echoed around the quiet chamber, with scores of Nibblonian faces around the hall regarding him in bemusement.

“…Why then,” Nibbler went on, ignoring the interruption, “do you now suggest we act without the aid of this child of prophecy, upon whom we have pinned our hopes for eons?”

“Because the Mighty One failed,” Fiona said.

“Did not!” Fry exclaimed defensively, and Leela placed a hand on his arm to silence him.

“Banishing the Brainspawn has now allowed for the creation of a new threat, greater than any we have previously faced – using the Mighty One availed us nothing, therefore we must turn to another solution.”

Nibbler glanced around at the other members of the council, seeing hints of uncertainty and fear in their faces. Many of them showed signs of the cosmic stigma (his own had now spread down one leg).

“The Mighty One’s true function was never utilized,” Nibbler said loudly, raising his paws as if beckoning the assembly to heed his word. “His role was never to banish the Brainspawn, but to set right the great fracture by wielding the Lance of Fate against them!”

Excited chittering emanated from the Nibblonians, escalating to the eruption of full-blown arguments and hissing.

“The what of what?” Fry muttered, raising an eyebrow.

“Silence!” Fiona shouted, and then when the hubbub died down she declared: “The Lance cannot be used!”

“Do you seek to convince me?” Nibbler asked, glancing around at the hall full of small three-eyed creatures. “…Or them? It appears your opinion is not as universal as you would like to believe.”

Fiona glowered at Nibbler. And for the first time Fry and Leela saw a Nibblonian actually look as fearsome as they claimed to be.

“If he uses it,” she seethed, “then our race, in this form, will cease to exist.”

Whoa!” Fry said, stepping forward. “Time out, guys! What the heck are you talking about? What’s the Lance of Fate?

Curious yammering erupted from the onlooking creatures.

“He does not know?”

“Know he does not!”

“Know not, does he?”

Fiona’s voice cut across the others. “He doesn’t need to know!” she shouted, and then when the noise died down she addressed Fry in a tone of forced kindness: “Your Mightiness,” she said, “you have aided us in the past, and that assistance has been greatly appreciated – but the time has come for a new course. We are beyond the foretelling of prophecy now.”

“And what course will that be?” Nibbler demanded.

Fiona paused for a moment, as if unsure of how to proceed, then steeled herself. “We will make an alliance against Onespawn,” she said. “An alliance… with the Brainspawn.”

Nibbler’s eyes went wide. Fry and Leela gasped. Bender leisurely exhaled a cloud of cigar smoke.

“You cannot be serious?” Nibbler exclaimed.

“The rest of the Brainspawn race are every bit as threatened as we by the scourge of Onespawn,” Fiona said. “Contact with them has already been made through the underspace immersion array, and they have agreed to a truce for the duration of our war against this new common enemy. Preparations are being made even now to return them to this dimensional plane. They will help us fight…”

“And should this alliance succeed,” Nibbler said incredulously, “your new allies will then return to their own goal of understanding and destroying everything – there can be no victory.”

“That will be a bridge to be crossed at such time as it is reached,” Fiona said gravely. “For now, it is better the devil we know.”

“But we can stop them, once and for all,” Nibbler argued, desperate now. “Trillions of lives can be saved!”

“Lord Nibbler!” Fiona shouted. “If you have nothing to offer but notions of doubt and pointless fatalism then you should leave this chamber! We are in a time of crisis and for the good of our own people we must make difficult decisions.”

“But not the decision that acknowledges our true role…” Nibbler said bitterly, slumping his shoulders.

Begone!” The command echoed in the hall of forever; Nibbler growled and turned away, scampering from the chamber with Fry, Leela, and Bender in tow.

“Well, this has all been a big waste of my valuable time,” Bender remarked irritably when they’d gathered together outside again.

Nibbler stared up into the soft cherry sunlight and sighed in exhaustion and defeat.

“Nibbler?” Leela knelt down beside the creature, and out of habit began scratching him behind the ear, making him coo and purr despite himself. “Explain,” she went on. “What is this ‘Lance of Fate’, and why don’t the others want it to be used?”

“Very well,” Nibbler murmured, leaning into her hand. “I shall tell you, but not here in the open – let us return to the ship, that we may consume sustenance.”

Leela picked him up, and together they all headed back to the Planet Express ship.

As the SS Brezhnev hurtled through space at around 99.9% of increased lightspeed, Mom, Farnsworth, and the rest of the incursion team followed Wernstrom through corridors until they abruptly reached a vast open area that had been carved out of the ship’s interior, massively wide, and many decks high.

The enormous cavern was alive with nanotech pseudopods that snaked across every surface, all leading back to the thing that took up most of the space.

“Jeezalu!” Mom said. “That’s some growth spurt!”

Onespawn towered above them all, easily fifty feet high, surrounded by hard chitinous columns of nanomachine growth that branched from its tissue and away into the ship.

Wernstrom cowered in a corner.

“Simply amazing!” Farnsworth said, snatching one of the scientists’ Tricorders to examine its readout.

“Does it know we’re here?” Mom asked.

“Amazingly, no!” Farnsworth replied. “I’d imagine if it did, it would have rendered us idiots and we’d all be licking the floor and taking Fox News reports as factual right now. No, it seems all the neural pulses are directed through the nano-structure for the time being.” He tapped his shielding helmet. “Looks like they’re working.”

“Right,” Mom said briskly, turning to her men. “You all know what has to be done.”

“Yes ma’am,” the head security man said. Quickly and efficiently, the uniformed operatives moved out around Onespawn’s sanctum, placing the cases they carried on the floor a circular formation, roughly equidistant.

“Hydrogen bombs with a phased antimatter tamper,” Mom explained. “It’s a configuration that’s not officially supposed to exist. They call them ‘Planet-Buster’ nukes.” She gestured to a transmitter device affixed to her belt. “I can set them off by subspace signal when we’re safely away.”

Farnsworth grunted, not really listening, and continued to study the Tricorder readout. “This is interesting,” he said. “The creature’s brainwave patterns are so fluid… its mind must be like an open barn door – receptive to any suggestion, like a child willing to believe in fantasy…”

“That is how the Brainspawn were first expelled from Earth,” Wernstrom said weakly from the corner. “A deception… a fiction…”

“Who cares?” Mom said, glancing at her watch. “We’re about to blow the thing into less than atoms and be back home in time for supper.”

As the security personnel moved around Onespawn’s sanctum, one of them stepped mistakenly onto a thick fibrous tendril of nanite growth. His boot cracked the outer crust and sunk in up to the ankle as a wet slurry of nanomachines adhered to the fabric.

As the man struggled to free himself, Onespawn stirred, with a faint blue glow beginning to issue from around the giant brain. The nano-structure alerted him to the presence of an unknown contaminant, Onespawn scanned around itself, noting at last the subversive software that was corrupting the surveillance cameras. It cleared them and at once beheld a group of invaders clustered around, somehow shielded from mental detection.

Onespawn let out a tremendous psychic howl that had the incursion team dropping to the floor in agony. When the onslaught ceased, they all blinked stupidly and got to their feet, staring up at the gigantic brain in rapt fascination.

“Big pinky balloon!” Mom said. “Me want!”

In the corner, Wernstrom shuddered as waves of stupefaction washed over him, having no effect now that his mind had been completely subsumed. Onespawn’s monumental will groped inside his head, taking charge of synapses and directing his thoughts once again. In a zombie-like state, he surged to his feet, struggling painfully all the while, and began walking stiffly toward one of the security men who was peering into the end of his own rifle.

“I think Enterprise was a worthy and well-executed prequel to the Original Series,” Farnsworth declared as he repeatedly slapped his own helmet.

“I forgot what I’m meant to do after I exhale!” Larry gasped, clutching his chest and turning blue.

Wernstrom, controlled by Onespawn, staggered up to the security man and grabbed hold of his positron rifle. The man looked bewildered.

“I want to call my girlfriend but I can’t get a signal on that thing,” he said.

Wernstrom gritted his teeth, trying to fight the alien influence, but failed.

“No…!” he groaned weakly.

He shot the man at point blank range, cringing mentally when droplets of blood spattered against him. He turned and shakily levelled the rifle at another security operative, who tried to fire back, but was holding the gun backwards and blew away a sizable chunk of his own head.

“People fall down!” Mom noted curiously, looking at the dead bodies.

“You big meanie!” Larry shouted at Wernstrom. Wernstrom shot him in the chest with a cry of agonized anguish, and he fell smoking to the deck.

“Noooo!” Mom cried, falling to her knees beside Larry’s prone form. “Don’t die! Mommy’s favourite son!”

Wernstrom swung the positron rifle to point at Farnsworth, who smiled stupidly.

“The Professy can’t die,” he said confidently. “This writer only kills ancillary characters, cannon-fodder for perfunctory bloodbaths that the main characters somehow always manage to escape with only minor injuries… duh, perhaps until right at the end when there’s an unexpected twist…”

What?” Wernstrom and Onespawn both replied in synchronized confusion.

“…Run,” Wernstrom said through clenched teeth, looking at Farnsworth over the trembling sights of the rifle. “Get out… I can’t fight it… too strong.”

Curiously, Farnsworth reached out and poked his finger into the gun barrel.

“Oh you stupid old bastard!” Wernstrom growled angrily, and for a moment he felt something give in his mind, as if one of Onespawn’s talons had torn free. His finger trembled on the trigger and he let out a low growl. Onespawn’s will screamed at him across the psychic link, pushing him to finish the job – to exterminate the invaders and deactivate the bombs.

“…Shut up,” Wernstrom hissed in agony. “Shut up, you gigantic moron…” Another facet of mental subsumption seemed to tear, and blood began to flow from Wernstrom’s nose. He pulled the rifle away from Farnsworth and pointed it at Onespawn.

The alien brain’s fury rippled out as a wave of telekinetic energy that lifted Wernstrom and the others from their feet and slammed them into the bulkhead.

“Owwie!” Mom complained, sliding down the wall. “Metal hard!”

“Metal indeed hard!” Farnsworth agreed, finding himself upside-down on the floor. “Even Slipknot, which really is metal and not stupid poser garbage at all!”

Wernstrom fell to the floor, bleeding and sobbing. For the moment it seemed Onespawn’s control of his mind was gone, but he could already feel the nanomachine structures in his brain beginning to reform synaptic links. Time was short.

“Come on!” he shouted to the others. “Follow me!”

They stared at him blankly.

“…Let’s go get ice cream!” he added.

Mom, Farnsworth, and the rest of the team followed happily while Onespawn pulsed and screeched behind them. Moving as fast as he could, Wernstrom ran through the corridors, hoping that the others could keep up.

In the sanctum, Onespawn strained against the nanomachine columns and vines that held the creature enthroned to the ship. It couldn’t move, and was unable to do anything about the bombs that sat around the floor with red lights blinking their armed state. It roared and cursed and spat and seethed, helplessly…

The Brezhnev’s escape pods hadn’t been used by the ill-fated research team due to their remoteness from any possible aid and the fact they’d been confident in their ability to destroy the rogue Brainspawn. Now Wernstrom ushered Mom’s incursion team into one of the pods with the promise of frozen treats, pausing to snatch the transmitter off the old woman’s belt as she went.

“Mine!” Mom said sulkily.

“I’m just borrowing it.” Wernstrom replied.

Farnsworth was the last inside, and he looked at Wernstrom expectantly.

“Werny coming too?” he asked stupidly, and Wernstrom shook his head and hit the emergency eject button. The escape pod closed up and launched from its tube, out into open space. He watched the Brezhnev’s defensive systems try to shoot down the pod, but the Momship flew an intercept course and took a few hits for the little module before recovering it and rocketing away to standoff range.

Wernstrom looked around him at the nanotech growth that was detaching from the walls and ceiling to snake toward him with intent. Onespawn scrabbled desperately to reclaim control of his mind. He looked at the transmitter in his hand and sighed.

“It’s probably too much to ask,” he said to himself, “that I be remembered for this, instead of everything else…”

With that, he pushed the detonate button.

The planet-buster nukes exploded simultaneously, and in a heartbeat most of the mass of the Brezhnev was converted directly into x-rays and gamma radiation in a burst that rivalled a supernova. Planets in a nearby system were scoured of their atmospheres and far away on Earth the conflagration would appear in less than an hour as the brightest light in the night sky.

The Momship was buffeted by concussive waves of hard radiation and subspace compression, and was left temporarily dead in the water, with its outer hull shedding globules of white-hot molten metal.

As the corona dissipated and the Momship gradually came back online, the survivors of the incursion team climbed out of the nanomachine-encrusted escape pod inside the hangar bay, to be met by a decontamination squad.

“What the hell happened?” Mom asked as she was sprayed in an undignified manner by nanite-retardant foam.

“I don’t remember,” Farnsworth said, furrowing his brow. “Who are all you people?”

“The Brezhnev exploded,” one of the hazmat-wearing deck hands informed them through a blank facemask.

Mom looked around. “Where’s Larry?” she asked suddenly.

Nobody had an answer, and she stared silently at her hands.

After their cell door malfunctioned in the Electromagnetic pulse, Hermes, Amy, and Scruffy made their way to the bridge of the ship, appearing at the same time as Mom and Farnsworth arrived, still dripping with foam.

“How the hell did you people get out?” Mom said, without her usual level of hostility. She was tired and distant.

“Scruffy could fix you up with some better locks,” Scruffy muttered.

They moved out onto the bridge proper, and Gary Helm, the Helmsman, got up from the Helm and gave Mom a clumsy salute. She pushed past him and looked through the forward viewscreen at the expanding rings of plasma and gaseous remains of the Brezhnev.

“It’s gone?” she asked of the crew in general.

“We think so,” the Helmsman said. “Sensors are still degraded – the EM background is a mess. But nothing could have survived that.”

Mom stared in silence, and Farnsworth moved to join her. For long minutes they continued to watch the slowly-cooling cloud of radioactive matter, before the Professor finally spoke.

“…Caroline,” he said softly. “It’s time to go. I don’t remember why we’re standing here, but my feet hurt.”

“I have to know for certain,” Mom said, ignoring the forbidden use of her real name. “I have to know it’s dead.”

So they stood and waited. Time wafted by.

Suddenly, sensors on the ship began to emit high-pitched chimes and beeps. Technicians looked up in alarm. Something was materialising out of the irradiated cloud.

“…It can’t be…” the Helmsman said.

“Full magnification!” Mom demanded.

The screen zoomed in, and a horrified gasp escaped the lips of all those present.

“Gluck!” Amy said.

“That tenacious bastard,” Mom muttered in barely-controlled fury.

Out in space, the disparate molecules of Onespawn swam back together, pulled at by the creature’s mysterious quantum flux, and reassembled. The giant alien brain floated free, where the Brezhnev had once been.

And it wasn’t happy.

Chapter 14: Weapon of No Choice

The portal superstructure was comprised of five pylons arranged in a circle, each nearly a kilometre tall, that hummed with esoteric energies. It was on an isolated patch of the Eternium tundra that showed signs of much recent activity conducted very quickly.

As the sun began to set, the Nibblonian council delegation arrived at the site by hovercraft, and Fiona stepped off to survey the ugly towers of hastily cobbled-together technology.

“Is it ready?” she asked one of the technical specialists nearby.

“Yes,” he replied glumly.

“The humans have already opened the way,” she said placatingly. “We are only hastening that which is inevitable. Do it.”

With a recalcitrant growl, the technician reluctantly activated a remote control device, and the pylons’ hum increased a hundredfold.

Forks of purple lightning arced out into the open area between them toward a point of glaring iridescence poised in the air between the spires of machinery, which crackled and expanded into a vast rippling sphere of dimensional displacement…

The observing Nibblonians backed away fearfully.

Inside the Planet Express ship, Nibbler told a tale as he sat surrounded by the remains of three hams.

“Thirteen-point-seven billion Earth years ago,” he said, “the Universe was created in the mass quantum-inversion event that you know as the ‘big bang’.”

“Thirteen-point-seven billion…” Fry repeated, scratching his chin. “Was that before or after the moon landings?”

“In the crucible of that inversion,” Nibbler went on, ignoring him, “The Brainspawn were created as the mirror of my race, this you know. However, at the same instant, the energy discharge of that unnatural inversion solidified into a mass of pure condensed spacetime, a temporal waste-product, if you will, that links the two races and remained here at the centre of the expanding Universe until our ancient sages recovered it. Knowing the power it held, but unable to wield it themselves, they fashioned it into the form of a weapon, the Lance of Fate, and stored it here until the fabled Mighty One appeared – for he, with his unique relationship to time, is the only one who can use it.”

“Use it for what?” Leela asked.

“Reunification,” Nibbler said simply. “If used correctly, against the primary brain in the Brainspawn collective, the Lance could fuse the Nibblonians and Brainspawn back together into one race.”

“Then when Fiona said that you’d cease to exist ‘in this form’… she was telling the truth?” Leela said, aghast. “What would you become?”

“Indeterminate,” Nibbler replied. “And that uncertainty is the reason my people long ago decided that the Lance would not be used, deciding instead to pursue alternate means, which I always felt to be of questionable merit. Many agree with me, but they are frightened by the prospect of losing all that we are. Billions of years of history and culture is a difficult thing to let go of…”

“Wait,” Bender said, ceasing his feigned disinterest. “Why would you want to combine with those giant brain things and turn into something else if you don’t even know what you’ll be?”

“If it will end the blight of the Brainspawn forever,” Nibbler growled, “then that sacrifice is miniscule.” He turned away. “The Brainspawn exist because of us… they are a part of us. It is our duty.”

“Duty?” Leela repeated, picking Nibbler up and holding him before her. “You won’t even be you anymore…” She found herself anguished by the idea.

“Leela…” Nibbler said softly. “Gentle Leela, you have always cared for me, protected me. You stand as testament to the majesty of life that exists within the Universe. It is for you and all those like you that my people should make this stand – to prevent the destruction of beauty and love and all the potential for those most precious jewels yet to be born.”

“But…” Leela’s lip trembled. “Surely… there must be another way?”

“No,” Nibbler replied. “It is the course we were destined to take, from the very beginning. All other avenues, taken out of fear, merely delayed what must ultimately be.” He smiled at her. “It is all right,” he said.

Leela could think of nothing else to say, so she hugged Nibbler close. Fry and Bender looked at each other and shrugged.

The massive dimensional portal fluxed and pulsed, kicking up a great wind that roared across the plain. Within the spherical event horizon there were shapes. At first they seemed to be at some impossible distance, but soon came closer to the shimmering field of energy, resolving into individual blob-like forms.

“They’re coming!” one of the observing Nibblonians shouted. “Oh, by the living Fates – what have we done?”

“Hold steady!” Fiona yelled.

“We should have listened to Lord Nibbler!” another said.


The swarm reached the event horizon and squeezed through. Hundreds, then thousands, and then millions. They came through the energy curtain, crackling with interdimensional discharges, and filled up the darkening sky – an onslaught of flying brains.

The Nibblonians stood looking up at the Brainspawn horde, and the Brainspawn regarded their eternal enemies. Time itself seemed to hold its breath.

Nibbler grimaced suddenly. “They’re here,” he grunted.

“Who?” Fry said.

“The Brainspawn… the rest of them.”

Leela moved automatically toward the helm. “Let’s get out of here,” she said.

“No – wait!” Nibbler said. “Now may be our only opportunity to recover the Lance, the council and its forces will be occupied liaising with their reluctant new allies…”

“Well, come on then!” Fry said. “Where is it?”

“Terminal Precept. Follow me,” Nibbler replied, leaping from Leela’s arms and scampering out and down the landing stairs.

Twilight was beginning to coalesce around the Hall of Forever as the little group hurried back inside. The interior of the hall was now deserted, and Nibbler ran to the centre of the wide empty floor. His third eye pulsed a telepathic entry code, and a circular section of the floor suddenly subsided, dropping down into recesses in progressively deeper segments to form a spiral staircase that wound down into shadows.

Wordlessly, the group descended.

Around and around the staircase went, going deeper and deeper into the planet’s crust. For what seemed like an eternity they tramped onward in the dark. At length the stairs gave way to a gravely slope that continued downward in a straight line. Their footfalls echoed around them now, bouncing back and fourth in such a way that they sensed a vast open space. Water dripped somewhere – they’d entered a natural cave system.

“How much further?” Bender asked irritably.

“We’re close,” Nibbler said. “Behold.”

Far ahead, a weak light gleamed within the heart of darkness, and the group hurried onward. As they neared, the light resolved into two pale glowing columns that marked the opening into another chamber beyond.

“We are about to enter Terminal Precept,” Nibbler said. “This is where the Lance of Fate has been stored for eons. Though my forebears denied its use, it could not be destroyed, so they kept it here.”

“What does it look like?” Fry asked.

“I do not know. I have never seen it.”

They moved through the adjoining passage into the soft light cast by the glowing columns, and found themselves standing on a ledge that overlooked a massive cavern, the far side of which was obscured by shadow. The cavern didn’t appear to have a bottom – just an abysmal hungry darkness that hid an unfathomable depth. Fry kicked a rock off the ledge and it spiralled away down and down into the dark. Though he listened closely, he could hear no impact.

In the centre of the immense void, a single column of pale stone stood, reaching to the ceiling and down into the impenetrable gloom below. It was connected to the ledge by a very narrow stone bridge, with no railing…

“Well you can cram this up wherever you little three-eyed critters traditionally cram things,” Bender said, backing away from the edge. “There’s no way I’m going out there.”

“Only one of us has to,” Nibbler said, glancing at Fry. “The containment column is designed only to open for the Mighty One.”

“Argh,” Fry groaned, pulling a face at Nibbler and thumbing in Bender’s direction. “Bite his shiny metal ass,” he muttered.

Nibbler shrugged apologetically, and Fry started toward the precarious-looking bridge with another put-upon groan.

“Halt!” a voice bellowed, echoing around the vast cavern. Fry paused, and the others looked around. From an alcove above the entryway, two Nibblonian warriors emerged, hopping down the uneven stone wall with their little swords held at the ready and their armour gleaming in the light.

“We’ve been ordered to deny you access,” one of them said. “Please leave immediately!”

“Oh, they’re so cute in their little armours,” Leela said, clasping her hands in delight.

The two guards glanced at each other in irritation, and the one who had spoken earlier turned to look at Nibbler.

“Lord Nibbler,” he said. “I have the greatest respect for you – please do not make this harder than it needs to be.”

Nibbler regarded the warriors for a long moment, and then spoke levelly.

“I have come here to complete our destiny,” he said, and gestured at Fry, who had taken a moment to pick his nose. “The Mighty One will wield the Lance of Fate, and so end the threat of the Brainspawn - forever. This is the cause that we and our forebears have sworn to uphold. You would stand in the way of that? Now? At the cumulation of all things?”

The two warriors looked uncertain.

“Do not be afraid,” Nibbler told them. “We each of us are prepared to give our lives to the fulfilment of our great labour – but we do not have to. The fracture can be mended, and the disparate elements of reality can be reunited. The Universe will be safe.”

The guards had nothing to say. Nibbler nodded at them in understanding and looked up at Fry. “Please retrieve the Lance,” he said.

Fry stepped gingerly onto the bridge, and swayed with vertigo as the dark abyss below seemed to pull at him. Sense of balance and spatial orientation both abandoned him simultaneously and he wobbled from side to side. Suddenly a strong hand clasped his shoulder and held him steady.

“Together,” Leela said, close to his ear, her breath warm against his skin. “We’ll do this together.”

Fry smiled gratefully, and as one they moved out onto the narrow strip of stone, edging forward, one foot at a time.

“Wait!” one of the Nibblonian warriors said uncertainly, and Fry and Leela glanced back. “…Good luck,” the warrior finished. He and his companion glanced at each other, and then scampered away down the entry passage.

“Take great care!” Nibbler called anxiously, as Fry and Leela resumed their slow edging progress.

“If you two die, I’m pawning your stuff!” Bender added.

Fry gritted his teeth in determination; confidence seemed to flow into him from Leela’s hand resting firmly on his shoulder.

“Halfway there,” Leela said. “You’re doing great.”

“Thanks Leela,” Fry said. They moved onward, and the central column gradually grew nearer. Suddenly, from out of the depths, a swarm of shrieking winged creatures erupted around them, screeching and shooting past, dangerously close on both sides.

Bats!” Leela cried, swatting at the creatures.

“They aren’t bats!” Nibbler shouted from across the cavern. “They’re cave Wyverns. Similar to bats, but poisonous!”

Fry and Leela screamed and began flailing wildly at the Wyverns. Leela’s lack of depth perception caused some distance confusion in the half-light, and she flinched backwards reflexively when one of the creatures looked closer to her face than it was. Her boot met empty air, and she suddenly found herself dropping into open space without time to even swear.

Hands caught her by the armpits, and she swung over the infinite black drop, looking up into Fry’s face as he held onto her, laying flat on his belly across the stone bridge. The swarm of Wyverns passed, shrieking away into the gloom, and Leela scrabbled for a grip on the rock. With Fry’s help, she managed to pull herself up onto the bridge, and they sat together for a moment, panting.

“You okay?” Fry said.

“I think so, thanks,” Leela replied. She narrowed her eye and shouted over to Nibbler: “Any other surprises down here?”

“Negative!” Nibbler shouted back, and then muttered quietly to Bender: “Besides the Baldrog, of course, but it’s usually hibernating at this time of year.”

Fry and Leela continued their precarious, painstaking journey, and arrived finally at the central column, where a ledge encircled the pale stone trunk. It was smooth, with an almost marble-like surface, which Fry ran his hands over.

“It’s warm,” he said. “Like a bottle of beer left out in the sun.”

“How does it open?” Leela said.

“Why would you want to open a warm beer?”

“No, the column…”

“Oh, I dunno,” Fry said. “Maybe there’s a rock with a key under it…” He began looking around on the ledge, and suddenly the column began to glow with a pale warm light.

Idiocy level identified correct,” a soft psychic voice said. “Access granted.”

“Hey, I did it!” Fry grinned as a large section of the column disappeared, revealing a deep alcove. He and Leela peered inside and gasped in wonder.

Suspended in a beam of turquoise light, the Lance of Fate hung poised in glittering splendour, its shaft of exotic metal reflecting brilliantly, and the curved blade, fashioned from the condensed fabric of spacetime itself, was alive with wild and incomprehensible power… at times their eyes seemed to slide around it, and then it would change, and they’d feel as if they were being drawn in.

“Wow,” Leela said, looking away and blinking. “I feel like I’ll have a seizure if I look at that thing too long.”

Fry squinted at the Lance and tilted his head to one side. “I think I see it,” he said. “A bunny rabbit?”

“It isn’t a magic-eye thing, Fry,” Leela said patiently. “Come on, just grab it and let’s get out of here before those Wyverns come back.”

Fry reached into the light, feeling his skin tingle with unknown energy. As his hands closed around the Lance, a ripple of temporal disturbance radiated out from the blade of the weapon as it responded to Fry’s out-of-phase molecules. For a moment, every sentient being on the planet experienced a strong sense of déjà vu.

“Didn’t we do this before?” Leela said in sudden confusion.

“No, you’re thinking of the time we had to steal the Spear of Destiny from the Louvre,” Fry said absently, testing the weight of the weapon in his hands. It was surprisingly light.

Leela reached out curiously to touch the mind-bending blade of the Lance, and for an instant she seemed to morph in and out of phase with regular time, appearing as an infant, a pimply teenager, an adult, an elderly woman with grey hair, and finally a dust-covered skeleton.

Fry cried out in shock and horror at the sight, pulling the Lance away from her. She returned to her normal appearance and frowned at him in puzzlement.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, unaware of the temporal compression that had just taken place.

“N…nothing,” Fry said, visibly shaken. The vision of a skull with a single central eye socket was caught in his mind, no matter how hard he tried to bury it. He swallowed and tried to smile for Leela, who was looking at him oddly. A slight tremble in the ledge beneath their feet provided a distraction and they both looked around, noticing a deep background rumble that was growing louder.

Across the cavern, Nibbler bared his teeth in alarm as stones began to dislodge from the cavern walls and clatter around him and the robot.

“I did not know of this,” he said. “A final defensive mechanism… you must flee!”

“Cheese it!” Bender seconded.

A boulder the size of a house dropped past them in ponderous silence, and Fry and Leela needed no further prompting. Taking much less care this time, they began to run across the narrow stone bridge as fast as they could go, while the central column shattered behind them, and the cavern ceiling began to crumble down around their ears…

The chamber was self-destructing.

“…So we have an accord?” Fiona asked the Big Brain, as it hovered several feet above her. The other Nibblonians hung back, growling and gnashing their teeth.

“Yes, yes!” the Brain pulsed irritably in its rounded androgynous voice. “Now just stop thinking so much… argh, it hurts!”

Fiona inclined her head, then glanced up when an aide prodded her shoulder and whispered in her ear. Her three eyes widened.

“That impulsive idiot!” she said.

“A problem?” the Big Brain pulsed.

“One of my kind,” Fiona said awkwardly. “…Is trying to make off with the Lance of Fate…”

“The Lance of Fate?” the Brainspawn seethed, and the incredulity and horror of it’s the rest of the horde could be felt despite their high-altitude positions. “But you agreed long ago that it would never…”

“This is just one Nibblonian!” Fiona said hurriedly.

“Well the Lance is useless without the Mighty One in any case,” the Brainspawn said.

Fiona cleared her throat uncomfortably. “He… he has the Mighty One with him.”

Although a creature with no throat or lungs shouldn’t technically gasp, the Brainspawn did away with logic for the duration and did just that. “They must be stopped!” it said.

“Agreed,” Fiona replied.

With that, the Brainspawn floated away quickly, and Fiona headed back to the hovercraft. The other Nibblonians eyed her, some with simple uncertainty, but others now with undisguised malice. She didn’t care – the future of their species was at stake, and sacrifices had to be made.