Fan Fiction

The Leelazarus Effect, part 4
By SoylentOrange

The pain was excruciating. It was the one constant; the only force that existed in the universe. Every once in awhile, when she could form thoughts at all, Leela would ask herself if she was still alive. Each time the pain assured her that she was, at least for now

Hours later she awoke to find herself lying face down on something cold and metallic. There was something pressing down on her from above; not pinning her to the ground, but making its presence known nonetheless. The scant light that sifted down to her from up above was barely enough to illuminate her surroundings. There was broken concrete and twisted metal everywhere. Apparently she was in a giant pile of rubble, probably the remains of the Planet Express tower. A light breeze wafted a thin plume of acrid smoke into Leela's face. It smelled vaguely of burning lobster.

The pain was coming in bursts now. Leela tried to move her arms and legs, but they ignored her completely. Even turning her head was excruciating, but she gritted her teeth and did it anyway. For a moment her vision blurred and she thought she might black out again, but then her head cleared and the world gradually came back into focus. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the shape of something familiar. It was the time device, perched near the edge of a dark pit only a couple of inches from her right hand.

“Got to… Got to go back…” The words came out around a trickle of red.

With all the mental control she could muster, Leela willed her right hand to reach out for the object. The pain from the inch that she gained was unbearable. She tried again, and then again. Her ring finger stretched out as far as it would go, finally brushing the smooth surface of the machine. Very, very carefully Leela began to turn the dial and press the embedded buttons with the tip of her finger. The whole device rocked back and forth dangerously in its precarious position. Finally she was able to get the little holographic screen to come on. The displayed time slowly began to turn backward. Leela's pain clouded mind was becoming impatient. She knew that she should stop and think about what she was doing, but it hurt so much to think clearly.

"Got to go back, everything... will be ok, gotta go back."

She stabbed at the buttons, sending the device sliding closer to the edge. A tremor reverberated through the whole pile of rubble as something massive shifted overhead. Newton’s laws slapped Leela once more in the face as the rocking time machine began to roll, and then finally to fall. It dropped a good ten feet and then collided with a metal beam. Leela could only watch in horror as the device vanished in a burst of light. The hologram read “5:47pm”. Succumbing completely to despair, Leela let herself fall into a state of total oblivion.

Leela awoke with a start, surging involuntarily into a sitting position. A moment later her brain caught up with her amd tensed her body for the wave of agony that was sure to come. There was a scream of pain, but Leela discovered with more than a little surprise that it wasn’t hers. She opened her eye.

Nibbler lay sprawled against a nearby wall for the second time in two days, or the first time in 1000 years depending on your point of view. Even more astonishing, Leela was able to look at him from a sitting position without blacking out. In fact, there wasn’t any pain at all.

"No pain?," she thought, "That's impossible. Am I hallucinating?" She pinched herself. "Ow! OK, so this is real. Wait, where am I?"

A quick survey of her surroundings yielded a poorly lit pocket in a mountain of broken concrete and tacky carpeting, maybe the remains of an office in the PE building.

“Nibbler? What the hell is going on?” she asked, still not quite sure if she was dreaming.

The Nibblonian opened his mouth to respond, hesitated for a moment, and dropped a small cylindrical object that he had been holding. He held his deer-in-the-headlights pose for a moment or two before seemingly reaching a decision. Instead of answering Leela in the deep, authoritarian voice that she had become accustomed to he let loose a wild string of meaningless babbling noises and began running randomly about the room. Leela blocked him out as her mind finally had the chance to process the fact that by all rights she should be dead. At least, that had been the plan after seeing her one ticket to saving the universe poof into another timeline. Still, somehow she'd managed to survive... Nibbler was still running about the room. The noise was starting to give the PE captain a headache. Having had enough, she grabbed the furry little creature by the scruff of his neck as he ran by and held him up to her face. “Don’t play dumb with me,” she warned, “I know who you are. Now tell me what the hell is going on here!”

Nibbler hesitated while he digested this turn of events, but as soon as his silence was becoming suspicious he made up his mind, letting out a well executed belch. A moment later the ensuing string of mindless babbling was cut short by Leela's narrowing eye.

"You 'bout done?" The words carried the unspoken promise of a world of hurt.

Nibbler cleared his throat nervously. “I see that it is impossible to deceive you any longer. Very well," he said, "but could you put me down please? My skin stretches quite easily.” Leela rolled her eye but did as she was asked. The Nibblonian drew himself up into a more dignified position, or at least the most dignified position that a guinea pig with an eyestalk could possibly obtain. “My name is Lord Nibbler, supreme commander of the Nibblonian Fleet. I have been assigned here to Earth to-"

Leela cut him off with an impatient gesture. “Yeah Yeah, I know all about you and Fry and the brainspawn, don't give me any of that long-winded dark prophecy crap of yours. Just tell me what happened after the blast. Why am I alive? Did the brainspawn conquer Earth? Is the universe doomed?” She paused a moment before adding softly “Is Fry dead?”

"Your body was badly damaged when I found you. It took all my skill with the robosurgeon," he gestured to the metal cylinder he had dropped moments earlier, "to heal you. If I had been an hour later in getting to you it would have been too late. As for your other questions..." Nibbler didn’t speak for a long time; long enough for Leela to guess the answers. “I’m sorry Leela," he said sadly, "but I’m afraid that the answer to all of them is yes.” Leela’s heart nearly ripped itself in half.

“Then I’ve failed. My parents, Fry, Bender; the whole damned universe was depending on me and I failed. No, even worse; I caused exactly what I was trying to stop. I- I killed Fry." It was a whisper. "I killed Fry. Not the brainspawn, me. Oh god, Fry I’m so sorry!” The tears came then. Nibbler watched the scene for a few moments unsure what to do, but when the tears didn’t dry themselves up he walked over and put an arm around his friend’s shoulder.

“Leela, I know you are distressed but the present holds no time for tears. The brains are still all around us, patrolling for survivors. Now that I know that my cover is blown there is no need for theatrics on my part to get you to do what must be done. This will give us a few precious moments to escape. We must flee, for if they find us here they will destroy us. I do not know where it came from, but there is a working spaceship in the street nearby; a ship identical to the one that is sitting incapacitated in the hangar. We can use it to escape but as my mighty arms are not long enough to reach the controls, I require you to fly it. I know it is much to ask, but please, will you do this?"

Leela pushed Nibbler's arm away. Her voice came haltingly between sobs. "I've lost... everything in the... universe that... ever meant anything... to me... twice. Please... give me... some time..."

There was no way in the multiverse that Nibbler could argue with that. He just stood there helplessly and watched his friend and caretaker as she wept. There was absolutely nothing he could do for her, and he discovered that this fact terrified him like all of the brainspawn in the galaxy could not. Reaching a decision, the supreme commander of the Nibblonian fleet pushed aside thoughts of the death squads that were surely roaming the city, scuttled over to his human friend, and curled up in her lap.

No brains accosted the two companions as they sat huddled together through the night. Somehow their little hideaway had been overlooked. Nibbler had fallen asleep almost immediately upon planting himself in her lap, but Leela had spent the night wide awake.. When the tears finally stopped Leela had had time to think; to analyze everything and try and come up with something she could have done differently. So many things had gone wrong; it was like somebody up there was playing a cruel joke. Leela's own accidental freezing, being shot down on that asteroid, scaring Fry into shooting that barrel, and then to top it off with the loss of the time machine. It was like some horrible nightmare, or a bad novel written by a moron with a sadistic sense of humor. "I hope it's the second choice," she said to herself, "at least lousy novels usually end up with the good guys on top... Unless they don't."

Nibbler began to stir. Leela stroked the hair behind his eyestalk. "Are you ready?", the Nibblonian asked. The tone of the alien's voice was gentle, not at all impatient.

Leela tried a fake smile but only achieved a grimace. "Yes I think so. Thanks for waiting for me."

Nibbler also tried his luck at a fake smile, but it looked even worse on his face than it had on Leela's. "It was my pleasure to assist The Other." The Nibblonian walked to an opening between two pieces of jagged plasmetal and stuck his head out. A moment later he scurried through the gap, turning around just long enough to gesture for his friend to follow.

The cyclops and the tri-clops carefully worked their way through the tangled remains of the Planet Express building's south tower and out into the street. They were careful to stay in cover as they worked their way to the Planet Express Ship, which was still parked on its haunches in the middle of the road. The building, the street, and the ship were all eerily deserted. It was almost as if the brains had never been there at all. The strange silence was enough to make the hair stand up on Leela's neck, but she wasn't going to complain. A lucky break was a lucky break after all.

The PE captain did a quick run-through of the ship's systems and then started up the engines. A minute later three blips appeared on the radar, but they were moving much too slow to interfere. The Planet Express Ship rocketed skyward while the brains were still miles out of range.

The stars drifted lazily by. As had become habit over the years, Leela stared blankly at them until her mind worked itself into a kind of trance. It was the only way she could give herself a break from the thoughts and emotions that were roiling about inside her. Usually she put herself in this quasi-stupor to give herself a chance to ignore whatever stupid thing Fry was presently engaged in saying or doing. This time she was doing it to force herself to forget that he wasn't there.

Something clued Leela in to the fact that Nibbler was speaking to her. The PE captain fought to hold her hard-won state of oblivion, but it wasn't any good. She was awake again.

Nibbler seemed to notice the glazed expression on his companion's face. "I apologize. Sometimes my race's highly evolved manner of speaking can be hard to follow. I know that you were trying your best to pay attention. How much do you need for me to repeat?"

"Stupid condescending rodent," thought the cyclops. What she said was: "Uhh, better start from the beginning."

"Very well. I was recounting the gruesome series of events of the last 24 hours. It all began when the brainspawn, the sworn enemy of my race, appeared suddenly at the fringes of the Earth's solar system. It was lucky that there happened to be a cargo ship within sensor range at the time or the brains wouldn't have been detected at all."

Leela cut him off. "I know I know, I've heard the story already. Didn't I tell you that I've come from the future to stop the attack?"

The Nibblonian stared at her for a few seconds. "Umm... No, you mentioned nothing of the sort. This makes several statements you made earlier much more clear..."

Leela gave him a funny look. "I didn't?” she asked with just a bit of incredulity. "Wow, I could have sworn that I had. Oh well... Yeah, the reason you couldn't find me today was that I got myself frozen in a cryotube over at the place I've been working since I got fired. I woke up a few days ago, uhh I mean a thousand years from now, to find New New York in ruins, the Earth a barren wasteland; you know, standard apocalypse stuff. It was really pretty awful."

"But somehow you found a means to return to this time period?" The Nibblonian made a series of excited babbling noises before continuing: "Please, I know it will be hard on you, but you must describe your ordeal to me. It is imperative that I hear every word, every minor detail. Knowledge of the future would be a devastating weapon against the brainspawn; it might even be enough to assure victory in the intergalactic war that is surely to come now that the brains have taken Earth! Please, you must tell me what happened to you."

"Is it really that important?" The expression on Nibbler's face answered for him.

The PE captain sighed and sat deeper into her chair. It would be painful to purposely dredge up the events of the past few days and scrutinize them again, but if Nibbler really thought it could be useful...

"Alright, I... I guess if you really have to hear it now."

Leela mentally gritted her teeth and dove into the story. She explained how she had been frozen and then awakened a millennium later to face the decaying ruins of New New York. Nibbler's head drooped as she described her walk through the desolation of the city. She passed over the part where she had been chased through the streets by her own fears and skipped to the point where she met future-Nibbler, neglecting to mention the part where she tossed him across the room. It only took a few more minutes to explain the plan and the way she had managed to fling herself back in time, only to be marooned and then arrive too late to help. Finally, steeling herself against the tears that she knew would come; she forced herself to explain those last moments in the tower and the loss of the time machine.

"... And then Fry squeezed the trigger and I was flying through the air, and then everything went dark." She had to pause for a moment to gather herself together, but she knew that Nibbler had to hear this so she forced herself to continue. "I woke up once, maybe for 5 minutes. I was in so much pain that I couldn't think straight. I tried to make the time device work but... but it fell and disappeared. Then I passed out again, and when I woke up you were standing over me." There was something that seemed wrong about that last part. What was it?

"And you would have soon been dead if I had not happened to come across your body in the ruins while searching for Fry's. It is lucky that I had had the foresight to retrieve my medical kit from my ship before the brains began their invasion. Astonishing. If the universe survives, your tale surely will be entered into the great chronicles of Eternia, where countless generations will hear of your quest and learn of the bravery and will of The Other. It is a shame then that..."

Nibbler, the ship, and the lazy stars all blurred together into a gauzy silence as Leela let herself zone out again. This time though it wasn't to avoid thinking. Something was bothering her, and if the last few days were any clue, it was best to pay attention to the little voice in the back of her head that was quietly but constantly whispering 'does not compute'.

"What's bothering me? Damn, this feels important but I have no idea what it is." The feeling had started when she was talking about what had happened in the tower. "No," she realized, "it was after that. Is it something about loosing the time machine? God, How could I have let that happen? I let the pain get to me. If only I'd reached out a little further and gotten a better grip... No, stop! There'll be time for hating myself later, I need to figure this out, and whatever it is that's bothering me, it's something besides failing everyone and everything I've ever cared about. But what is it?" She thought silently for a minute. "Nibbler. It has something to do with Nibbler... Something that he said in the future, about how she had vanished before the battle and was never seen again..."

"Why you manipulative, conniving, insensitive little bastard!" Leela crossed the few feet to her pet and grabbed him by the neck. In one fluid movement the terrified commander of the Nibblonian Fleet was pinned helplessly against the bridge bulkhead. Leela's other hand gave him a hard slap across the face.

"And to think I took care of you for all the years, spending every last penny on ham and diapers! This is how you repay me, by making me kill all of my best friends and Zoidberg?! You used me!" She gave her captive a violent shake.

"Wait... please, I... don't... understand!" The Nibblonian's protests came out ragged as he tried to speak through the stranglehold that Leela had on his throat.

"Oh, you may not understand now, but you'll understand later. And since I can't strangle you for what you're going to do in a thousand years, I'll just have to do it now."

"Please... Leela, I... can't breathe..."

Disgusted, Leela released her captive and let him slide limply to the floor. Nibbler lay cowering against the bulkhead as an inexplicably furious cyclops stood towering over him. "What... What did I do?” he managed.

"Oh, it's not what you did; it’s what you're going to do. When I met you in the future you said that I disappeared right before the attack, 'and was never seen again'. Except that you see me right now, don't you?!. You heard me tell you about being ambushed and shot down on that asteroid and then getting to Earth too late to help. You heard me tell you about what happened to Fry and the others at Planet Express. That means in the future you knew about all of this, and did nothing." The words were said with such raw loathing that Nibbler felt each one of them as a blow in the chest.

Leela wasn't done. "Oh my god, it's even worse than that. You sent me back to the past knowing exactly what would happen!" By now Leela was screaming. "All that crap about time paradoxes that you gave me... that's why you let me go isn't it? You knew that I killed Fry and Bender and the others, so you sent me back in time to make sure it would happen! Is that it? Tell me!"

Nibbler's mouth worked silently for a time while his confused mind tried to wrap itself around the accusations that were being flung at him. He started several times to speak but always fell silent again immediately. After all, what was he to say? How do you defend your actions when you wont actually do them for a thousand years?

"I... I do not know what to say." Not an eloquent or particularly safe answer, but it was the truth. "You will not believe me if I deny this, but I also do not believe my future self would be guilty of such a heinous act. What would be to gain from it? You already know that my people believe Fry's special mind to be the sole remaining hope for the survival of the universe; what possible reason would I have to send you through a series of events that I knew would end in his death?"

Leela stopped angrily pacing the bridge. Even through her flaming temper she had to admit that she had no answer to that question.

The Nibblonian began to speak faster, sensing that he might be gaining ground. Now it was his turn to get up and pace the bridge, keeping his nervous body occupied while his brain worked itself into high gear. "Without Fry there is no hope of fighting the brain's stupefaction rays, which as I am sure you have witnessed, render all sentient beings defenseless against the brainspawn onslaught. To knowingly bring about his demise would be considered high treason amongst my people, and to use you, the person who has befriended me and cared for me for these past years as the means to carry out such a terrible crime... It would be more of a burden on my admittedly iron will then I could imagine enduring..." The Nibblonian stopped his pacing and turned to face his accuser. "Tell me, did I ever give you cause to question my motives during your time in the future?"

Leela prepared to shoot back a stinging list of examples, but she was surprised to find that she could find none. She searched harder but still nothing came to mind. "Alright, so I've got nothing. But how do you explain this conversation we're having right here, right now? You don't actually expect me to believe that you forgot that it was sending me back in time that killed the single hope of the universe, do you?" Her voice dripped venom.

"No, it is not likely that I would forget such an important fact, but perhaps there is another explanation... What did my future self tell you about time paradoxes?"

The unexpectedness of the question threw Leela off balance. "Huh? I mean- Uhh, nothing good. He mentioned ripping holes in space-time and something like quantum nullification... I wasn't really paying attention."

"It has been many years since elementary school quantum mechanics, but I believe that it may be possible for my future self to have sent you back in time without any hidden agenda and yet not make it impossible for my present self to have this conversation with you."

"But that's a paradox. Your future self said that time paradoxes destroy the universe. Unless of course he lied about that too."

"No, you are correct. Two timelines have been created, one where you disappear right before the brainspawn invasion and one where I find you injured in that pile of rubble. Both timelines cannot exist congruously in a single universe without generating the cosmic blue screen of death... There can be only one answer..."

"You mean other than the one where you're a traitorous liar?"

Nibbler responded with a patient expression. Leela stared back at him, but she averted her eye after a few moments. "Alright", she said- "I'm sorry. I'll listen."

"Thank you. As I was saying, there is a solution to our conundrum. Time is by definition a very strange, very fluid construct. We lifeforms tend to think of events in terms of cause and effect, past and future, but that is not in reality how the universe is structured. Time is more malleable than that. We have created a paradox yes, but that does not necessarily guarantee the end of all things as long as something happens to undo the damage to the space-time continuum."

"Undo the damage? What are you talking about? Everyone's dead! She gestured to the cylinder that had saved her life hours earlier but which now lay forgotten by the hatch. "Unless your little screwdriver of healing over there also specializes in patching holes in time."

"No, though it does play 'wheels on the bus' if you press the clown face on the side... But no, what we need is a time machine."

Leela rolled her eye. "Yeah great. All we need is a time machine. Too bad the only time machine in existence is stuck in the past where only a time machine can reach it."

"Ah, but there is where you are wrong, for you see, the present is the past."

That statement got nothing but a blank stare.

"You said that, according to my future self, the brains developed the time machine in 'the distant past'. You also said that a legion of attack brains currently occupy the time machine planet, which likely means that the brains have something there that they feel must be protected. If my future self told you was correct in regards to the ancient nature of the device, and that is quite possible considering he correctly predicted it's existence and precise location..."

Leela was way ahead of him. "Then the device might be sitting there in that tower where I found it the first time! Oh my god, I can go back in time again! I can still fix this!" Suddenly she was laughing, though a moment earlier she would have thought it impossible. Vaulting back into the pilot's seat, Leela grabbed the wheel and turned it hard to port. The Planet Express ship went into a wide turn and then began to accelerate. A pair of blue sparks lay directly ahead.

It was a small stroke of luck that the random escape trajectory that Leela had flown from Earth had been in the general direction of the time machine planet. Even so, it took eight hours of excruciating inactivity for Eta Orionis to swell into the familiar pair of dust shrouded stars. The sight made Leela sick to her ass.

The PE captain banked her ship downward toward the cover of a comet's ice tail, cutting the power when the ship was sufficiently deep in the murk. As Refracted light from the larger sun bathed the cockpit in gauzy white light she prayed that the little ball of dirty frozen water would shield the Planet Express ship from the brains.

"Nibbler, we're here," Leela called over her shoulder. "Wake up!" She turned around again to monitor her instruments.

There was the sound of muffled whining noises as Nibbler awoke from his nap. The Nibblonian appeared at Leela's side a moment later.

Leela heard her friend approach but didn't take her eye from the sensor display. "No brains so far. The radar is clear, the stereo-opticon is blank, and the radio is silent. Either they already know we're here and they're waiting in some planet's radar shadow for us to fly into a trap, or they're all busy wiping out the last traces of human civilization."

Nibbler shook his head, a gesture he had learned from his human companion expressed disagreement. "It would be unusual for the brains to leave something they deem valuable completely unguarded."

He paused for a few seconds to think. "I suggest we proceed with caution."

Leela nodded distractedly, still pouring over her instruments. "Yeah I think so too, but then again they did leave it unguarded in the future."

"Only because they had wiped out all meaningful resistance. I am certain that they would have posted a guard if they had known that I was alive and in possession of a working starship."

"That makes sense." She couldn't stop herself from adding silently: "Unless they thought one lone space gerbil wasn't much of a threat." Her mouth twitched upward into the tiniest hint of a grin, but Nibbler didn't appear to notice.

Finally content that there really was no activity on any of her displays, Leela allowed herself to relax a moment. She looked over at Nibbler and smiled. "You ready?” she asked.


"Alright then, head back to the laser turret. I installed those phonebook- I mean- chair upgrades that you wanted, so you shouldn't have any trouble reaching the joystick. Now just promise me that you won't shoot anything until I give the order."

Nibbler looked offended. "You forget that I am a highly trained warrior. I am perfectly capable of determining the appropriate time to use a weapon."

If there was one thing that Leela was not going to tolerate on her ship it was insubordination. "And I'm the captain. Plus I've got at least three and a half feet on you. That means when you are on my ship you listen to my orders." She got up from her chair to emphasize her second point, looking down at Nibbler with her arms crossed and her eye narrowed. "Got it?” she asked. There was a bit more of a warning in the question than she had intended.

"Y-yes captain." Nibbler cringed. He was generally fearless, but after witnessing firsthand what this monstrous cyclops woman could do to him, no one could blame him if he took her unspoken threats a bit more seriously.

"OK maybe I laid it on a little too thick there," Leela thought to herself. "I think it's about time to switch tactics." It was one thing to establish the chain-o-command, but there wasn't any reason why she had to make Nibbler terrified of her. "This threatening the crew with an ass-kicking every time they don't do what I want thing comes to me way too easily. I guess I've just had to use it on Bender so many times that it's gotten hardwired into me. Stupid robot, driving me to violence because he's too lazy to do his job unless someone makes him. If the universe ever does end up getting saved I'll have to remember to kick his ass... Damn, there I go again!"

Nibbler was fidgeting nervously, waiting for Leela to say something. Leela smiled at him to ease his mind.

"Alright good, I'm glad that's settled. Now off you go! I'll give you a couple of minutes to get settled and then I'll start powering up the engines. Let me know over the videocom when you're ready to go. It's the little red button next to the deathulator switch."

"Certainly. But if you don't mind my asking captain, if the little red button is the video-intercom then what does that big gaudy red one do?"

Leela shrugged. "Nothing. Fry likes- err, I mean liked- red buttons so much that the professor had that one installed to keep him occupied on really long delivery missions. Fry used to sit up there for hours pretending he was firing photon torpedos. Which is good, because until we installed that fake button he really was firing photon torpedoes. But, ohh how he loved pressing that button..."

Nibbler nodded his understanding before turning to leave the bridge. He knew as well as Leela did that Fry fit every connotation of the word 'special'.

Leela watched the Nibblonian leave, noting that he didn't once look over his shoulder. "Hopefully that means he isn't afraid that I'm going to attack him anymore. He really is a cute little furball," she thought. "It's too bad he's got such a superiority complex. I mean, I'm just as understanding as the next person if not more, but there's just so much of other people thinking they're better than me that I can take."

The door swished shut behind the little black alien and Leela was suddenly alone on the bridge. Her thoughts immediately turned to the space battle that she really hoped was just ahead. Her pulse increased as she thought about what she was going to do to any brains that had the misfortune to be alive today. "If only I could be the one in that turret right now." She sighed, desperately wanting to feel that primal surge of adrenaline-boosted glee as she blasted her enemies into radioactive slag. Her fist balled in anticipation, but since Leela was the only one who could fly the ship, Nibbler would have to be the gunner. Revenge would have to wait. "A good captain does what's best for her ship and her crew, not for herself." It was Peter Parrot's second rule of command, and she hated it passionately.

"Captain?" Leela realized that Nibbler's face had been staring at her from a nearby monitor for some time. "I am ready."

"Wha- Oh sorry. I was just, uhh, not daydreaming in the middle of enemy territory." The cyclops felt her cheeks flush a little.

"Ahh I see, so you were partaking in the ancient arts of meditation; preparing every part of your mind and body for the trials of battle. That is most wise. My own race has been using the technique of meditation for thousands of years.”

“Uhh yeah, meditation. That’s exactly what I was doing. And now that I've found my body's spiritual center or some crap, I'm going to start up the engines like I meant to not have done already." She gave her friend her best I-really-do-know-what-I'm-doing smile before turning off the monitor. A few button pushes later and the familiar throb of the dark matter engines began to build through the hull.

<Ha ha ha! You thought you could best me in a game of wits, but I have triumphed once again. Your puny attempts at subterfuge were laughable when matched against my boundless wit. Fool, I was ten moves ahead of you the whole time, and now you are doomed to tremble in horror as I bring about your total and utter humiliation. This is the end for you, my unworthy opponent. Now cower before me as I declare... Checkmate! Whuahaahahaha- Hey, I wasn't done taunting him!>.

The group of brains scattered as their space-chessboard and one of their fellows vaporized in front of them. Leela gave chase, flying through a small cloud of pawns. The brains had been taken completely off guard, having been caught in the middle of their weekly training exercise. Slow and disorganized, they made easy pickings for a high powered laser cannon. In just a few minutes a combination of Leela's flying and Nibbler's shooting had cleared the space around the time travel planet of defenders.

"Well I feel a little better," The PE captain said aloud. "Not much, but a little." The windshield wipers worked noisily for a moment before Leela's activation of the videocom drowned them out.

Nibbler answered immediately.

"Yes captain?” he asked.

Leela really didn't like this new tone of formality that Nibbler was using with her. "Why do my friendships always get screwed up in some way or other?” she asked herself bitterly. "This always happens. Everybody ends up hating me, or feeling sorry for me, or afraid of me, or trying to burn me..."

"Please Nibbler, just call me Leela." She almost managed to keep the pleading out of her voice.

From the Nibblonian's expression it was pretty obvious that something was bothering him. "Of course Capt- uhh- Leela. What are your orders?"

Leela sighed inwardly. "Fine," she thought. "If he wants to be formal then let him. Hopefully in a few more minutes he'll forget today ever even happened... again." Aloud, Leela said: "I'm going to land the ship where the time device was when I was here last time. I need you to cover me while I get the device, you know, just in case we missed a brain or two."

Nibbler's halfhearted nod bothered her. She started to ask her suddenly distant friend what the problem was, but decided against it. "Knowing me it’ll sound like a reprimand." Besides, she was almost sure that she knew what the trouble was.

"Look, I know you don't want me to risk my neck while you sit in the ship, but it's the only way that makes sense. I know right where to look and what to do to get at the timeotron or whatever we're calling it."

Nibbler nodded his head. "Yes of course. I agree with you completely."

"I know, I know and I underst- Wait, You do?" Leela blinked a couple of times. "Then what's bothering you?"

"N- nothing is bothering me." It was about as believable as one of President Nixon's anti-war speeches. Without the ensuing bloodbath of course.

"Come on Nibbler, just tell me. I've lived with you for years. Granted for most of them I thought you were a mindless eating machine but still, you can't say in all that time that we didn't become close enough to trust each other." Her voice wavered a little bit. "You do trust me... right?"

"Of course I trust you, Leela!" There was genuine shock in the alien's voice. "No, that was never an issue..." He sighed. "I am sorry to make you worry. I just feel guilty for not being able to help you. This will be the second time that you have gone back to take on the whole brainspawn armada by yourself. My inability to come back with you makes me feel slightly... inadequate."

"So that's it!” Leela realized. "He doesn’t hate me, he just feels bad because he can't help me save the universe. Stupid males and their stupid egos." She sighed. "Oh well, time to be a good captain."

"But Nibbler," she said- laying on the reassurance like Pepto-Bismol at a Martian barbeque, "there's no way I could have done any of this without you. Think about it. How would I have ever gotten back to the past in the first place if it weren’t for you? Sure things didn't work out and everybody died and the universe is doomed anyway..." Her voice trailed off. "Well that didn't quite come out as inspirational as I thought it would... Look, I know you feel guilty for not being able to come back with me, but the important thing is that in half an hour you won't know any of this ever happened. Because it won't have. Now let's go get that time machine and save this lousy reality once and for all!"

Nibbler wasn't convinced, but he also recognized the need for immediate action. The longer they waited around in orbit the longer the brains would have to realize that they had lost touch with their garrison here. It was even possible that a counterattack was already on its way from a nearby system. Anyway, his personal feelings were meaningless. All that mattered was getting The Other to Earth before the brains began their attack.

"Very well. I am ready." He cut the connection before he could show any more weakness.

Leela sighed. "God I need a drink."

On that note the cyclops pushed the throttle forward and sent her ship sliding into the dusty atmosphere. There was a good deal of turbulence this time as the sleek rocket shape cut its way through the jet stream. As the ship went lower the buffeting increased until it was all Leela could do just to keep her vessel airborne.

"What the heck is this about?" Leela wanted to know. She soon got her answer. Up ahead the sky went from crystal clear to cardboard brown.

"Great, because life just didn't suck enough already, a sandstorm." Leela voiced a couple of phrases she'd heard Amy use in these situations. The PE captain had no idea what they meant, but they sounded so much cooler than the curses she was used to. But wait; there was something else out there too. Leela squinted. At first all she could see was a dark brown blur in a light brown blur, but gradually a shape came into focus. A huge tower of black jutted out of the desert sand. It was the obelisk of the time machine.

The Planet Express Ship touched down fifty yards from the monolith. Leela had learned her lesson the last time she had been here. There would be no long hikes across endless seas of sand dunes, especially not with all this dust in the air. Her eye didn't take kindly to dust.

With the keys in the ignition and the engines still on idle, Leela made her way off the bridge and through her ship. She could hear the gun turret's hydraulics working as Nibbler scanned the shrouded skies for any sign of brain attack.

The wind hit Leela like a hammer as soon as she opened the airlock. Sand was immediately everywhere; down her shirt, in her boots, under her eyelid. Everywhere. It was like she was being buried alive while someone took a fusion belt sander to every exposed patch of skin. She opened her mouth to say a dirty word, but she immediately got a mouthful of desert for her trouble.

With her eye only a tiny slit, Leela groped her way to a small blurry shadow that had to be the stone pedestal she needed to gain access to the device. In perfect conditions Leela could use the apparent size of an object to guess its distance. A nearby person would seem larger than a distant spaceship, and since she could guess at how big that person and the ship would look if they were right next to her she could easily say that, not only was the spaceship farther away than the person, but that the person was ten yards away while the spaceship was half a kilometer away. It wasn't an exact technique, but it was almost always enough to get by with. In the middle of a sandstorm, well, that was a different story entirely. The pedestal turned out to be twice as far away as Leela had guessed, and by the time she finally got there she was beginning to wonder if what she was seeing was nothing but a mirage. But no, a half reluctant touch of the cold stone surface revealed it to be solid.

"Well here goes something, I hope." Leela pressed the familiar button on the pedestal's face, noting that she hadn't even had to brush sand away from it. Either the wind has conveniently moved the dune that had been hiding the pedestal, or the pedestal had been used recently.

The wind ripped at her ponytail as Leela worked her way to the giant crystalline face of the obelisk. By the time she crossed the short distance she was choking and spitting on airborne grit. She had been in a dust storm once on Mars, but it paled in comparison to this.

For a moment Leela let herself rest in the obelisk's wind shadow, but only for a moment. Presently her eye was drawn to what seemed to be a patch of discoloration on the crystal's surface. She walked over to investigate. Just as she had expected, the 'discoloration' was really the hole wherein she had found the time machine a millennium in the future. The metallic panel that had concealed the hiding spot lay on the ground nearby, half covered on blowing sand. Without letting herself consider too carefully what other things besides time machines might like to inhabit small dark places in the middle of a desert, Leela plunged her right arm into the chamber. Her hand immediately closed around a familiar shape. Then, as she was pulling the time device from its resting place, there came a prickly sensation on the back of her neck, followed by the sound of high-energy laser fire.

The PE captain looked around wildly. All she could see was the mass of the obelisk at her back and the distant hulk of her ship, now lit in a bloody red glow from reflected laser light. A volley of photons arced away from the ship and over her head. Nibbler had engaged the brains.

Every cell in Leela's body hollered at her in unison. "Don't just stand there you idiot! Move! Now!" And so she did, taking off at full speed in the direction of her ship, time device clutched protectively against her chest.

It took an eternity to get there. The sand and the wind resisted her as though they had a conscious desire to keep her from her goal. A needle thin line of fluorescent green hit the sand not ten feet away, leaving a small puddle of liquid glass. Leela ordered her body to run faster. Her body told her to shut up and pay attention to where she was going.

The Planet Express ship lit up again as another burst of laser fire went streaking right over her left shoulder. Something smacked into the desert nearby, making a 'thump' that was just barely audible over the angry screech of the wind. Leela ignored the sound and kept running. The ship was close. So close. All that mattered was getting to the ship. Only a few more feet...

With one final push Leela propelled herself up the foreword stairs. A black shape hurtled by overhead. Leela whirled around just in time to see Nibbler's mouth close around a disgusting mass of pink.

"Leela, now!” Nibbler hollered over his shoulder, pink grey matter still hanging from his fangs. Another one of the strange green death rays hissed into the ground at the Nibblonian's feet.

Leela did not have to be told twice. With her attention completely on the device in her hands, it was a combination of muscle memory and pure instinct that led her to the bridge. By the time she was in her seat the correct date already hung suspended in the air.

In the gloom outside the front view port Leela could see Nibbler standing erect, surrounded by twenty of his enemies. The Nibblonian commander did not back down, but stared at each one of his attackers in turn; daring them to make a move. The brains faltered momentarily, not sure what to make of this brazen act of defiance. Then, all at once, each brain fired one of its psychic beams, bathing the bridge of the Planet Express Ship in sickly green light.

Leela activated the device.