Fan Fiction

The Leelazarus Effect, part 5
By SoylentOrange

Maybe it was because the difference in times was much shorter, or maybe it was simply that Leela knew what to expect, but for whatever reason her trip through time and space wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it had been before. There was the familiar sense of detachment from reality and then the strange distortions that skewed everything into bizarre colors and patterns, but this time it barely fazed her at all. Much the same thing had happened when she had eaten the lunch Bender had cooked for her the week before; She was used to it. When the distortions began to clear however, she felt a stab of dread. The ship tipped over and fell, sending the bile rising in the back of her throat. She wasn’t terrified this time, but oh God how she hated falling. As the light ahead came rushing to meet her she couldn’t help but close her eye.

Abruptly Leela sensed she wasn’t falling anymore. Her eye snapped open. Outside were the familiar black mass of stone and the endless waste of glistening yellow-white sand. Leela was surprised to discover she had been holding her breath. It went out in a hiss and then caught again as an image sprang unbidden into her mind. Nibbler stood erect, surrounded by brains. There was a green flash…

“No!” With all of her strength, Leela clamped down on the horrid memory. She couldn’t afford to think about that now. She had to be strong, for Nibbler’s sake, not to mention the trillions of other people in the universe that were depending on her.

“No pressure,” Leela grumbled darkly.

Furious at herself for her momentary lapse, the cyclops turned her attention to her instruments. The radar registered one gigantic contact 50 million miles above and astern. Leela watched tensely as the amorphous blob on her screen moved about. The next few seconds might very well determine whether she made it out of this star system alive.

The contact, really a swarm of hundreds (if not thousands) of brains, was moving erratically, now towards her; now away. Just like she had hoped, the brains were occupied with something else; they hadn’t seen her. Hopefully that meant the plan she had cobbled together in the past few minutes was working.

“Well,” Leela admitted to herself, “maybe ‘plan’ isn’t the right word; More like a vague feeling.”

There hadn’t exactly been time to sit around and strategize lately. Leela had chosen to come back to this exact time, knowing there was a good chance she could sneak away while the brains were busy, but that was the extent of her plan. As to what happened if she was wrong well, she would have to improvise as she went.

Cautiously Leela brought the still-idling engines up to full power. The ship lifted gently off the desert and hovered in place, shedding a fine coating of sand that had collected on the fins. Leela pulled up hard on the stick and stepped on the gas. Her ship glided smoothly into the sky.

It is nearly impossible to sneak through a heavily patrolled planetary system in a cargo ship. Still, Leela did the best job she could. Not surprisingly, that turned out to be a very good job indeed. In short, low powered bursts from the dark matter engines the Planet Express Ship practically slunk from debris field to debris field, never lingering exposed in empty space for more than a minute at a time.

The computer flashed a warning. It had detected another ship’s energy signature nearby and was having trouble understanding what the ship’s sensors were reporting. A message appeared on the monitor screen next to the pilot seat. Leela cut power immediately, allowing momentum to carry her ship into the relative safety of the space between two heavily cratered asteroids. When she was convinced that her position was secure enough that she wouldn’t wander blindly into the path of some random space rock, Leela allowed herself to take her eye off the space outside her front viewport and concentrate on what her computer was trying to tell her. As the computer’s cockpit camera registered that Leela was now paying attention, the text on the monitor began to scroll. Leela’s eye raced to keep up. The message read:

Error determining incoming vessel class/designation. Nav beacon indicates cargo ship/Planet Express Ship; homeport: Earth. Possible interference from our ship’s own Nav beacon. Deactivating our beacon and commencing system diagnostic. Stand by.”

Leela relaxed noticeably. Her mouth twitched upward in the tiniest hint of a smile at the computer’s confusion. She calmly instructed it to cancel its self-diagnostic. There was nothing wrong with the sensors or the Nav beacon of course. The ship’s AI had never been programmed to accept its own identification signal coming from another ship. The programmers that had created the software had never dreamed a ship would travel back in time and find itself detecting the beacon from its past self.

“Hmm… I wonder why I never detected the beacon from this ship back when I was over there dodging the brains?”. It was an interesting question. If she could detect the other ship, then there was no reason why the other ship couldn’t detect her.

“Unless…” Leela brought up a log of her computer’s activities right before she had crashed on the ice moon.

“Yep, there it is.” Leela nodded and shut off the screen.

The computer had logged an odd signal while Leela had been busy careening between asteroids. According to the log, the ship’s AI had decided not to risk breaking its captain’s concentration with what it thought was a minor sensor error, especially when the ship it had detected wasn’t showing any signs of being a threat.

For a few moments Leela let herself concentrate totally on the radar screen. It was very difficult to tell the individual contacts from the giant amorphous blob of the brainspawn swarm, but every once in awhile an individual dot would break away long enough for Leela to see that all of the other dots were chasing it. Leela felt the hairs rise on the back of her neck. It hadn’t really crashed home until just now what all of these dots on the screen represented; what exactly all of these brains were chasing so urgently. That lead dot, the one that was slowly but surely pulling away from its pursuers, it was The Planet Express Ship. Inside that distant vessel, a different Leela was coping with sudden power loss and desperately trying to find a way back to Earth after her first trip with the time device.

“It’s terrible,” mused present-Leela. “She- err, past me err, whatever. That other Leela over there thinks she’s going to go flying to Fry’s rescue and save the day in a blur of kick-ass Arcturan kung fu. That’s how it’s supposed to happen. That’s how it always happens. She, I guess ‘I’ really, doesn’t have a clue what’s going to happen once she finally gets home; what’s going to happen to Fry…” Leela sighed quietly. If only she could risk sending a signal to her other self, but there was no way to know if the brains could pick one up and use it to discover that the ship they were chasing was not the only one to trespass in their star system. They had already disabled the PE ship once, and Leela had been lucky to make it out alive. She just couldn’t risk letting herself get discovered and having it happen again.

“After all, who knows if I’ll get another chance at this?”

A chill shot down her spine the moment she’d completed the thought. What if she did get another chance at this? Was there another Leela hidden somewhere in this dust-shrouded star system? Was that future self sitting in her pilot’s seat watching her radar screen, wishing she could warn her past self of some terrible tragedy that was just ahead? How many Leelas could there be? What if she spent the rest of her life living the next two days?

The PE captain turned these thoughts over in her mind for a few minutes while she stared blankly at her instruments.

“Well, I guess if there is another Leela and she is sitting in her ship wishing she could warn me of some tragedy, then that doesn’t really change things. I still have a mission that has to be completed. Even if I do spend the rest of my life doing this, I… I have to do it. Even if the fate of the whole universe wasn’t hanging over my head, I couldn’t just give up after seeing what happened to Fry, after seeing that look in his eye a split second before… it happened.”

Something drew Leela’s gaze to back to the radar screen. A few dozen brains had broken off from the main group. With alarm Leela realized that they were headed right at her. The PE captain did a quick estimate. The brains would be all over her in just over two minutes.

“Crap! What the heck did I do?” Thinking that she’d been had, Leela brought her engines up to full power. Her ship leapt forward. That’s when it hit her. All this time she’d been avoiding the brains the way she had snuck by any other opponent. The key had always been to move slowly and stealthily, keeping her ship’s energy signature as small as possible. If she did things right, enemy sensors would never even know she had been there at all. The tactic worked almost without exception, and it had become so ingrained in Leela’s mind that she had employed it without question.

“But those damned pink wads of chewing gum don’t detect my ship’s energy output; they detect my brain! Argh, I’ve been as dumb as Fry!” The brainspawn had probably been too distracted with chasing the other Leela to notice a second Planet Express ship skulking away in the distance, that is, until Leela lit a veritable psychic flare with her intense thoughts about time travel and alternate selves. Now the enemy was on to her, and there was no way to stop broadcasting her presence, save slipping into a very deep, not to mention very convenient, temporary coma.

“Too bad Bender isn’t here. I’d just ask him to cook me something. That might ruin my brain long enough to do the trick… Wait, isn’t there some of that tofu left over from last Wednesday? Hmm, no that’s right; Amy threw it out a couple of days ago. She said it was looking at her funny.” Leela had never actually tasted the stuff, not having been able to stomach it after Bender revealed where it had come from.

“Come on, big boots”, he’d told her, it’s called tofu right? How could it be any good if the fu didn’t come from between somebody’s toes?”

Since there was no way to mask her presence, there was really only one option. Leela had to flee and hope that her ship’s dark matter engines could outpace whatever weird ability that propelled the brains through space. She’d been able to out-fly them before, but that was when there was a handy asteroid field nearby to slow them down. All that lay out the front window now was a few lonely comets and the black emptiness of interstellar space. The many asteroid fields, and the quickest route back to Earth, lay directly astern. Unfortunately, a cloud of brains now blocked that path.

Gradually the brains fell astern. Professor Farnsworth’s amazing engines once again proved themselves to be a marvel of modern science. When the radar had been clear for a tense fifteen minutes, Leela couldn’t make herself wait anymore. Every moment she wasted fleeing the brainspawn was one moment later that she reached Earth, and this knowledge was slowly driving her crazy. With a jerk on the wheel she sent her ship into a sudden nosedive, though with the ship’s gravity pump working at full capacity there was no sensation at all. The PE captain held her breath for a few moments. If she had turned too early the brains would spot her. Now that she was moving perpendicular to her pursuers she could hope to get far enough away that the brains would simply pass by her on their original course, oblivious to the fact that their quarry was no longer ahead of them. Unfortunately, the laws of trigonometry and calculus got in the way;

“After all” Leela muttered darkly, “something always does.”

As the brainspawn got closer and closer to the point in space where Leela had started her veer-off maneuver, the angle between the PE ship and the brains would grow smaller and smaller. If the difference between the Planet Express Ship’s speed and the brains’ speed wasn’t high enough, the distance between them could actually decrease. If Leela had pulled off too early then the brains would get close enough to detect her mind again.

“That is, if I ever got far enough away that they lost track of me in the first place…”

Of course, it was pointless to worry about that now. All Leela could do was stay on this new course for awhile and then shut off the engines and wait. Either the brains would show up, or they wouldn’t. If they didn’t, Leela could finally make her way back to Earth. If they did… Well, she’d have to start this frustrating game of cat and mouse all over again. Eventually she’d manage to get away, but all the while she would waste valuable time that could be spent saving the universe.

“If only I could just head home and forget these pink jerks…” But she couldn’t and she knew it. She couldn’t let the brains that were chasing her find out where she was going. If they somehow managed to get a message through to the huge army of brainspawn that was chasing the other Leela, the whole group might decide to go join the brains that were attacking Earth. That would just about double the invaders’ strength, and cut the universe’s chances of survival to shreds.

The radar stayed blank. If the brains were going to catch up to the Planet Express Ship they would have done so already. Leela breathed a sigh of relief and pushed the throttle forward to maximum thrust. A few seconds later her ship’s bow was pointing towards home.

As the Planet Express Ship skirted the fringes of the brainspawn-controlled star system, Leela had a sudden overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The feeling washed over her like a wave, making the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up straight. A throbbing pressure began to build behind her eye. The PE captain winced and put one hand to her forehead.

“What the heck is this?” Leela muttered, more than a little worried. Movement caught the cyclops’ eye. A distant ball of ice and rock was floating by slowly to port. The urgent feeling that she had somehow done this before grew even stronger.

“That moon! I’ll bet it’s the one I crashed on!”

And sure enough, there was a very faint, yet very familiar energy signature coming from the direction of the mini-planet. Somewhere down there, another Leela was struggling to maneuver in an uncomfortable spacesuit, busily repairing her crippled vessel. That other Leela would never take her eye off her work long enough to wonder at the white spark gliding silently over her head.

Half a billion miles away, in the Planet Express Ship that was not lying crippled on the edge of a snowy plain, Leela gazed at the moon as it disappeared from the viewport. After a moment of thought she changed her grip on the stick. In a series of graceful motions the Planet Express Ship’s wings raised and dipped in the pilots’ age old greeting. Leela knew full well that her other self would never see the gesture from so far away, but it was all she could do.

“If only I could go down there and talk to her; tell her to stay out of the Planet Express building. In two minutes I could tell her enough to save Fry’s life and give the universe a chance.” But there was no way to do it, not without risking getting too close to one of the dozens of brainspawn that were flying hither and thither through the star system.

“Strange… When I was crashed on that ice-ball I never saw a single brain on the radar screen. They must have started flying around while I was working on the ship and then vanished before I got back to the cockpit.”

That was a vaguely disturbing thought

“I mean, it’s not like they knew I was alive, right? No of course not. And how could they possibly know when I was out working on the ship and when I was on the bridge even if they did know I was alive, which they couldn’t have since they would have killed me. It was just a coincidence, nothing else.” Leela wasn’t quite as convinced as she would have liked.

“I’m walking on sunshine! Oh oh oh! I’m walking on sunshine! Oh oh oh!”

Fry sang happily as he exited the Robot Arms Apartment building and began his daily walk to work. The morning was warm and bright, and the city was already wide-awake. The streets were packed with hover cars, their occupants engaged in that age-old ritual called the morning commute. Overhead, the spires of the great buildings were bathed in the glow of sunrise. A few ships arced overhead, their exhaust plumes illuminated the same golden orange.

A passing Signoid recognized Fry’s tune and smiled at him before continuing on his way. The delivery boy grinned and quickened his step.

For the hundredth time that morning, thoughts of the night before popped into Fry’s consciousness. It had only been a little more than four hours since he had left Leela standing at the door of her apartment. She had been about to say something just before the closing elevator doors had cut her off, he was sure of it. There had been a look in Leela’s eye right then; like she had just realized something wonderful. Then she had smiled and opened her mouth as if to speak, but then the doors shut and the elevator had whisked him away from her.

“But what was she going to say?” He had spent the whole rest of the night unable to sleep, wondering. By all rights he should have been exhausted, and in fact every once in awhile his body was sending him signals that it needed rest in the form of giant yawns. Still, Fry couldn’t have fallen asleep even if he had wanted to. There was just too much on his mind. Besides, he could catch up on his sleep during the long, monotonous hours he was about to spend cooped up in a spaceship.

“I should have gone back up to her apartment…” He had been about to do it too, but he had been so afraid that Leela would be angry at him for closing the elevator doors while she was talking to him… Eventually he had convinced himself that it would be safer to talk to her in the morning. Now, as he rounded the corner of -eth street and stepped onto Sharpton Boulevard, he realized how foolish that had been.

“Leela wouldn’t have yelled at me. Why do I always get so nervous around her? My insides get all wiggly, like they’re made out of jello. There’s no way Leela will like me if I’m jello-y all the time.”

Once again images flashed through the delivery boy’s mind. Leela stood in her doorway. The look in her eye was so warm; so kind, and it was directed straight at him. He knew without a doubt that he would give anything to have her look at him that way again.

Fry reached a decision. When he got home from work he was going to head back over to Leela’s apartment. He wouldn’t ask her out; that would be looking for trouble. It would be too direct and besides, Leela had turned him down so many times in the past that Fry was beginning to wonder if force of habit alone was keeping her from dating him. But it didn’t matter. Just being in her company would make him happy.

With one final turn the Planet Express building came into view, silhouetted by the morning sun. As Fry reached the front door he paused for a moment and smiled. Today was going to be a good day.

Everyone was already present at the conference table when Fry came bounding in. Hermes looked up from his stack of papers long enough to give the delivery boy a disapproving look and then went back to collating. Everyone else just continued staring idly into space, obviously wishing they were somewhere else.

Fry stopped a few feet from the door, confused by what he saw. He was ten minutes late, which was actually really early by his standards. Why was everyone sitting around doing nothing? Why hadn’t the meeting started yet?

The delivery boy winced when the answer came to him. “Oh crap. Hermes is gonna kill me. I’m the Captain now that Leela’s gone, or at least until the professor finds someone else desperate enough to take the job. They can’t start the meeting without me.”

Suddenly Fry was aware that everyone was staring at him, probably because he was standing around in the middle of the room like an idiot. Red faced, the delivery boy crossed the few feet to the conference table and took his customary seat. With a pang he realized that the one next to him was empty; the one that by all rights should be supporting Leela as she fought valiantly to stay awake through one of Hermes’ morning accounting speeches.

Clearing his throat, the red head sheepishly addressed his fellows. “Umm, sorry guys. I guess I didn’t realize that you can’t start without me anymore.”

Hermes crossed his arms. “Fry mon, until we find someone to replace Leela, you’re da actin’ Captain. Dat means you have to be at work on time every day. You can’t be showin’ up whenever y’please and cuttin’ work early like you used ta. If you can’t handle dat, well, we’ll just have ta find another delivery boy who can.”

Fry gulped and nodded his understanding, but said nothing. It wasn’t fair that Hermes was pushing him into this new responsibility. Fry had wanted to be the Pilot, not the Captain. Besides, it wasn’t as though he was getting paid for this temporary promotion. Then again, there were times Fry wasn’t even sure he was being paid, period.

“Alright den. I was afraid I might be making a mistake letting you be da captain, but if you-“

Bender cut off the Jamaican mid-sentence. “Let’s see, you’re trusting a four hundred ton spaceship and all our lives to someone who tries to sneak up on his reflection in the mirror… Nope, makes sense to me.”

Hermes did the smart thing and continued as though Bender had said nothing. The robot was still sore about not being allowed to pilot the ship, and until he blew off some steam it would be best to just ignore him.

“-but if you think dat you can handle it, den lets start da meeting.”

Hermes sat down and heartily resumed his collating. There was an awkward silence, after a few moments of which Amy and Fry exchanged puzzled glances. Hermes looked up and stared pointedly at Professor Farnsworth, who as it turned out, was sound asleep. Zoidberg poked the old scientist, but there was no response.

The crustacean’s eyes went wide.

“My God, his third heart isn’t beating! He’s dead!”

”Professor?” Hermes called. Again there was no answer. “Professor!”

Farnsworth awoke with a start, his eyes darting from one person to another without comprehension.

“Huh-wha? Where am I?”

“You’re at Planet Express, Professor,” Fry said. “It’s time for you to tell us what today’s mission is going to be.”

Farnsworth regarded the delivery boy as if he were speaking Neptunian. “What are you talking about? I don’t even know who any of you are! What’s this Planet Express you’re blabbering on about? Now Fry, Bender, and Zoidberg, listen up.”

Zoidberg was ecstatic. “Hurray, I’m useful!

“Umm, yes well…” continued Farnsworth. “Today you will be making a delivery to, uhh…”

“Caduceus VIII, the hospital planet,” Hermes added. “I remember da name because my favorite stapler is called da same thing.”

“What are we delivering?” Fry asked.

“Heh-wha? Oh yes, right. You’ll be delivering something with which no modern institute of medicine can be without, one thousand pounds worth of old magazines.”

“Aww man…” Bender grumbled, “Old magazines? I can’t make any money by stealing those. Count me out.”

With Leela gone it would be up to Fry to browbeat the robot into doing his job. The delivery boy put on the sternest face he could muster.

“Bender, you’ll do what the professor tells you or I’ll make you scrub every last inch of the ship with a toothbrush.”

Everyone except Farnsworth (who had once again fallen asleep) stared at Fry with their mouths agape. They had never heard such a tone of command from their pointy-haired friend. The stack of papers slid from Hermes’ hands and landed on the table with a plop.

Fry blushed slightly, knowing that he didn’t have the guts to back up his threat. It was hard enough even to sound menacing. The only way he could even pull that off was by imagining what Leela would say if she were here.

Bender rolled his eyes. He had been Fry’s best friend long enough to know when he was bluffing, not that it wasn’t plain to everyone else in the room as well. “Alright skinbag, keep your space pants on. I’ll come on the stupid mission. Just don’t expect me to do any actual work. Bender’s got some standards, baby.”

Hermes overrode Fry as the red head was about to speak. The Jamaican was becoming impatient, anxious to get back to his office and start his morning form-stamping routine. “Ok, so dat’s all settled den. Professor, do you have anything to add?” Farnsworth’s only response was a loud snore. Hermes jabbed him none too gently.

The Professor jerked awake once more. “Huh, what? Oh yes, right. Off you go!”

Try as he might, Fry just couldn’t get comfortable in the Captain’s seat. It wasn’t that it wasn’t well padded or anything. In fact, he had spent many hours in the past piloting the ship from this very chair while Leela took a break without feeling any discomfort, but that had been when he wasn’t the captain. It had been Leela’s chair then, and Fry had been borrowing it with her permission. Now the exalted seat was his, and the delivery boy couldn’t quite suppress the feeling that he was somehow stealing it from her.

The bridge hatch swished open and Amy came walking into the compartment.

“Hi Fry. I’m done fixing that turn signal light that burned out. You can go ahead and take off as soon as I’m out of the way.”

“Thanks Amy.” Fry stopped his squirming for a moment. “Hey, wanna come with us? Bender’s still sore that I got to be Captain instead of him and, well, it would be nice to talk to someone besides Zoidberg.”

The Martian intern shook her head. “Nope, sorry. I’d like to, but the Professor wants me to help him out in his lab today. Maybe next time.”

“Oh, alright.” Fry tried not to show his disappointment. “I guess I’ll see you later then. Oh umm hey, could you tell Bender to get up here? I think he’s asleep in his cabin.”

“Sure, no problem. Do you want me to call Zoidberg too?”

“No, leave Zoidberg where he is. He’ll just get in the way.”

Amy shrugged. “Ok, sure. Anyway, have a nice trip. Bye!”

With a final wave, the intern strode off of the bridge. Fry waited a few minutes for her to exit the ship and walk across the hangar bay before powering up. The muted roar of the dark matter engines built through the hull. Amy’s figure disappeared into the depths of the building. Bender sauntered onto the bridge and took up his station.

Excited beyond all reason, Fry prepared to step on the gas pedal and start his first mission as Captain. With a light touch Fry gave the starship some gas, and the sleek rocket lifted a foot off the floor. Ever so gently the delivery boy adjusted his pitch, and the nose drifted upward. There was a loud crunch. Cursing to himself, Fry pressed a button on his HUD. The hangar bay doors slid open, revealing a patch of sky. But then, just as Fry was about to kick his vessel into high gear, something swooped into his flight path, something too bizarre to register in the delivery boy’s mind. Fry gawked for a long moment at the green shape that had no right to be floating there in front of him.

Bender, just as startled as Fry but quicker on the rebound, was the first to speak. “What the hell? There’s another Planet Express Ship?”

That’s certainly what it looked like. Somebody had made an exact copy of the professor’s ship.

“What the heck is going on here?” Fry wondered aloud.

The red head wouldn’t have to wait long to find out. The other craft abandoned its position over the Planet Express building and settled down in the abandoned lot across the street. A single figure emerged from under the ship a few moments later. Fry, having no clue as to what could possibly be going on, but aware that he was in charge and therefore had to do something, took his foot off the gas pedal and let his ship settle back into the hangar. As soon as the engines died he and Bender were out of their chairs.

A minute later, the robot and the delivery boy ran from the front door of Planet Express. Moments later they rounded the side of the building and the strange copy Planet Express Ship came into view. Fry stopped in his tracks. Leaning against the ship’s starboard fin was a familiar purple-haired cyclops.

“Leela? What are you doing here?” Fry didn’t think he could get any more confused.

Then Leela spotted him, and with a cry she came running. At the last moment Fry put his hands up to protect himself, thinking his friend had gone quite mad, but Leela broke through his guard like it wasn’t even there. Fry suddenly found himself enveloped in her arms. Shocked beyond words, the delivery boy could only return her embrace as the woman wept silently into his shoulder.

“What in da name of Jah is goin’ on out here?!”

“Hermes, it- it’s not what it looks like.” Fry gently pulled himself away from Leela’s grasp and turned to face the bureaucrat, who was walking across the empty street. As The Jamaican reached the curb Fry could see the fire of righteous bureaucratic wrath glowing in his eyes.

“Well dat’s a relief, cuz for a second I thought you and Bender were standin’ around socializin’ with people dat don’t work here anymore, when yer asses are supposed to be half way to da Pegasus Galaxy by n-“ The Jamaican stopped mid tirade, having noticed the tear streaks running down Leela’s face. His anger evaporated. “Leela mon, what’s wrong?”

Leela wiped the tears from her eye with her arm. “I- I’ll be ok in a minute, Hermes.”

By this point Hermes had crossed the short distance from the street. Stepping over a patch of scrub, he moved to stand next to Bender. “Da hell you will! You look sorrier den a green snake in a sugar cane mill!”

Despite herself, Leela smiled. “I know, Hermes. It’s been… a rough few days. And seeing Planet Express whole again and you guys ali- I mean, seeing you guys again after what happened…”

Fry, Bender, and Hermes exchanged glances.

“Leela, what happened to you?”

“It’s… a long story Fry.” Something was in the back of Leela’s eye that sent a shiver down the delivery boy’s spine.

Hermes noticed it too. “A’ight. Why don’t you come inside and tell us wot’s going on, especially da part about how you got yer hands on a perfect copy of da professor’s ship. Fry; Bender, you stay wit’ her. I’ll go get da professor.”

“Thanks Hermes,” Leela said, grateful.

The Jamaican nodded, then turned and hurried back across the street. Leela followed at a much slower pace, Fry and Bender guiding her between the clumps of brush and over the fallen power lines of the abandoned lot. Leela didn’t really need the help, but she accepted it without protest, content for once to be fussed over by her two best friends. As the trio made their way across the street, a passing hover car approached. It slowed and honked. Bender gave the impatient motorist an icy glare. The honking stopped.

The door to Planet Express swished open. Fry and Bender guided Leela through the building to the lounge. Leela made her way to the couch and let herself collapse into it.

A moment later the lounge doors swished open and Hermes came walking in with a steaming mug of coffee. Leela gladly accepted it from the Jamaican’s outstretched hand just as Farnsworth was shuffling through the still-open door. The ancient scientist crossed the few steps from the door and stood next to Bender and Hermes.

For a long time, Leela said nothing. Light streamed in through the room’s bay window, bathing everything in the golden light of early morning. Heat from the ceramic mug in her hands warmed her body and the aroma warmed her spirit. Surrounded by friends who cared about her, Leela was content.

The ancient sofa creaked as Fry sat down. The delivery boy gave Leela a worried look. He started to put his arm around her, but stopped, no doubt remembering the last time he’d tried such a bold move. To his amazement Leela not only didn’t hit him, but actually drew closer.

“Alright Leela. What the heck is going on?” Bender had been able to handle the second spaceship, the unexpected crying, and the strange comment about Planet Express being whole again, but Leela accepting Fry’s attempts at affection? That was just plain unbelievable.

Leela sighed and straightened, her sweet few moments of peace at an end. “Alright, I’ll try and explain- Hey wait a minute, where’s Amy? She should be here too.”

“She’s in the lab,” Farnsworth explained. “I was working on a dangerous experiment when Hermes called me. Someone had to stay and monitor it until the radiation levels decrease a few thousand percent… She’ll be here as soon as she can.”

“Oh, alright. Anyway, the story. I’m not sure I really understand all of it myself, but it all started, oh geez when was that? I guess it was last night for you guys…”

“Eh-Wha? What do you mean for ‘you guys?’” Farnsworth gave Leela an odd look.

“I know how that sounds professor, but please, let me finish.”

The professor fell silent, a dubious look still on his face. Fry nodded for Leela to continue.

“Anyway, the morning after Fry visited me at my apartment, this morning I guess, I went to work at Applied Cryogenics. Everything started out normal, but right around lunchtime I got distracted and wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing. My chair fell back and I ended up in one of the cryo-freezers. When I finally woke up, it was a thousand years in the future. New New York was in ruins. The whole city was deserted, just smashed into rubble and left to rot. I managed to make my way through the streets to Planet Express, but when I got there all I found was a burned out hulk. God it was awful…”

Leela paused for a moment, not sure how to continue. She had to be careful about what she said next. If she went around insisting that she’d run across her pet 1000 years in the future, and not only that, but that he turned out to be some sort of undercover operative for a race of super intelligent space-gerbils, well, she’d just end up getting tossed in the loony bin.

“Anyway, I finally found somebody living in the Planet Express building, and he, uhh, knew all about what had happened. See, there are these giant flying brains that hate all consciousness but their own. They wiped out all life on Earth just so they wouldn’t have to listen to us think.”

“Wait a minute mon. Giant flying brains? Dis is a bit much, even coming from you. Are you sure you aren’t makin’ it up? I know you want yer job back, but makin’ up crazy stories isn’t da way ta do it.” Farnsworth nodded in agreement.

Leela smiled sadly. They weren’t going to believe her. “I know I sound crazy Hermes, but please, you’ve got to believe me.” She paused as a thought dawned. “Wait. Fry, you know what I’m talking about. Please tell me you remember the brains. They attacked Earth a few months ago and made everyone stupid, and then only you remembered.”

Fry scratched his head and frowned. “I dunno Leela, that doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Please Fry,” Leela implored. “Try to remember. Even if no one else believes me, I- I need to know that you don’t think I’m crazy.”

Fry’s eyes grew wide. “I don’t think you’re crazy!”

“I do,” muttered Bender. Fry glared at him.

“Fry. The brains. Please, try to concentrate.”

“Sorry Leela, I don’t remem- Wait.” Fry wrestled with the thought that was trying to form in his head. “Wait. Brains. That does sound familiar. Yes! The brains! They had these gross blobby fields that made everyone dumb. Then you showed up out of nowhere in this tiny spaceship and helped me fight the biggest brain of all! I do remember!” The delivery boy grinned at Leela, delighted. Leela sighed, relieved beyond words.

“Umm, sorry to interrupt this happy little moment of discovery chumps, but I’m not buying it. I don’t remember no giant evil brains taking over the world, and unless someone reformatted my hard drive without telling me, I think I would remember a bunch of floating nerds turning everyone into morons.”

“But Fry remembers!”

“Oh please, Leela. If you told Fry that the sky was pink, he’d agree with you just so you’d be happy with him.”

“But I do remember!” Fry insisted.

“And anyway,” Bender continued, “If you’re stuck a thousand years in the future, then what the hell are you doing here complainin’ to me about it right now?”

“Well uhh, the thing is, the guy that found me also happened to know where to find a working time machine…”

Bender rolled his eyes. Hermes frowned at the robot, crossed his arms, and turned to face Leela. “Listen Leela, we want to believe ya, but wot your sayin’ is just so crazy.”

“Leela isn’t crazy! Everybody stop saying that!” Fry half stood, fists clenched.

“It’s all right Fry, please, sit down.” Leela took hold of the delivery boy’s arm. Reluctantly he let her pull him back down beside her.

“Look, I know that I sound crazy. There’ve been a few times in the past few days that I’ve thought I might be crazy, but the truth is that I’m not, and you have to listen to me. The lives of everyone on the planet depend on it.”

“Den we need some proof.” Bender and Farnsworth muttered agreement.

“Well, what about the second Planet Express Ship? Hermes, you and Bender both saw it.”

Hermes started to speak but fell silent, stumped. It was eventually Farnsworth that spoke. “I’ve sent many delivery crews to their dooms, oh my yes. Each one had a ship identical to the one that you flew when you were Captain, Leela. Granted I can’t remember who half of you are, but it seems to be that I remember some of those ships being painted green and red, just like the current one. That ship of yours could be any one of those.”

“You think I found one of your old ships and dreamed up some big story just to get my job back?! But that’s even more farfetched than the story I’m telling you!” It really wasn’t, and Leela knew it.

“Sorry Leela, but we’re going to need some other proof. Wot about dis time machine you were talkin’ about?”

“Uhh, it doesn’t work right now.” Leela blushed at how that sounded, hurrying on before anyone could say anything. “But it will soon! Nibb- I mean, that guy I met said that it has to recharge after it gets used. It’ll work in a few hours, I swear!”

“Ok, den we’ll wait a few hours, and if you’re time gizmo works, den we’ll believe ya.”

“No!” The exclamation came out a little louder than Leela had intended. “I mean, we can’t wait around and do nothing for a few hours! That’s why it was so important that I go back in time. I had to warn you. The brains are going to attack in just over 5 hours! We need to tell the DOOP! God, what can I do to make you believe me?” Dismayed, Leela put her head in her hands. Fry leaned closer, trying to comfort her.

“Wait.” Leela bolted upright, spilling her coffee and startling Fry into backing away.

“What time is it?” She demanded.

Hermes looked at his watch. “8:10. Why?”

Leela grinned. “Perfect! You guys want proof? I’ll give you proof.” Leela set her now lukewarm drink down on the floor and strode to the conference room door, stopping a foot in front of it. The door opened automatically, but closed again upon sensing that no one was walking through. Leela put her ear to the cold metal.

The Planet Express Crew waited expectantly, but Leela made no further movement.

Finally Fry couldn’t take it anymore. “Leela, what-“

“Just a minute Fry. You’ll see.”

Three minutes passed. Fry began to fidget. “Umm, Leela…”

There was a noise in the next room. Fry recognized the sound. The phone was ringing.

Bender moved to answer whoever was calling, but Leela didn’t let him pass. “No, Bender. Let someone else get it.”

“But Leela, if we’re all in here and you’re blocking the doorway, then who…” Fry’s voice trailed off. More sounds were audible through the closed door: the sound of muffled footsteps and the voice of a very annoyed Martian intern.

“Ungh, where did everyone go? Spleesh, why is it that every time I get myself saturated with gamma radiation, the phone rings and everyone else is conveniently gone?”

There was a muffled click as Amy activated the videophone.

Planet Express, this is Amy speaking.”

Hi Amy, can I talk to Fry?”

Fry’s mouth flew open at the familiar voice. “Wot da ‘ell?” Hermes whispered.

Oh, hi Leela. Sorry, Fry’s out on a delivery already.”

Shoot, I was afraid he’d be gone already… Ok, could you do me a favor then? Tell him to call me as soon as he gets back.” There was a click. The call was over.

A second later the door to the conference room slid open. Amy stopped inches from Leela’s face, her expression of annoyance quickly overridden with astonishment.

“Leela?” she stammered. “But, the phone, I mean. How… But I just got off the phone with you!”

Leela turned to face the rest of the crew. They were all staring at her, mouths agape. Leela grinned, victorious.

“Great Dachshund of Boston, woman. Were you telling da truth?”

It took another ten minutes to bring Amy up to speed. The other PE crew members interrupted from time to time with questions, still not quite sure what to make of everything they were being told.

“So how long do we ‘ave before dese flying brains of yers get here?” Hermes asked.

“Just under five hours. If we don’t do something soon, all life on the planet is doomed.”

“By Jah, it’s Armageddon!”

The Professor crossed his arms. “This won’t do. I already called dibs on Armaggedon, damnit! If any brain is going to destroy the planet, it’s going to be mine! We must inform the DOOP!” Farnsworth shuffled through the door that did not lead to the conference room.

“Uhh Professor, where are you going?” Leela called after him. “There’s a wall screen right here-” The doors swished closed.

“And I’ll inform Da Central Bureacracy!”

“What good will that do?” asked Fry.

“None. But it will generate a lot of paperwork, and by Jah, if da world is gonna end I want to go out doin’ what I love.” Hermes stood from where he’d been sitting on the couch and headed in the same direction as the Professor. A moment later Bender followed him.

“Bender, where are you going?” Leela asked.

“Where I always go when the world is about to end, downtown to find good places to loot. Later, jerkwads!” The doors swished shut behind him.

When the robot had been gone for a few moments, Fry spoke up. “Umm Leela, can I help?” Amy nodded, having been just about to ask the same question.

Leela turned to them, surprised. “Well sure, but you don’t have to ask me. I’m not the Captain anymore, remember?”

“I know, but you’ve always been better at, you know…” Fry’s voice trailed off.

“Making decisions? Being in charge? Staying cool under pressure? Piloting the ship?”

“Yeah, that. Look Leela, I know that the Professor fired you or whatever, but just between us, could we pretend you’re the Captain again?

Leela was taken aback. “You really want me to be in charge again?”

Fry nodded.

Leela turned to Amy. “What about you Amy, do you want me to be Captain again?”

Amy thought about if for a minute and then nodded. “Yeah. I have a date this Friday with Armando, and I’d kinda like to still be alive. I think I have a better chance if you’re in charge. Uhh, no offense Fry.”

Fry smiled thinly. “None taken.”

Leela was silent for a moment. “Thanks guys,” she finally managed. “This… really means a lot to me…” She had to stop for a moment to keep her emotions under control. “Alright, here’s what we’re going to do.” Suddenly she was all business. A small part of her marveled at how easy it was to fall back into the patterns of command. “Fry, I need a special favor from you.”


“I need you to go to my apartment and get Nibbler for me.”

“Wait, what?” Fry looked confused, then hurt. “Please Leela, don’t just give me some errand to get me out of the way. I can help, I swear.”

Leela’s eye widened in surprise. “Crap,” she thought, “of course he’d think that.” It wouldn’t be the first time she’d given him some obviously invented task to keep him out from underfoot. “No, no Fry you’ve got it all wrong. I need Nibbler for… well it’ll be a lot more believable if I explain it after you brought him back here. Please Fry, this is really, really important.”

“Well…” Fry’s eyes probed Leela’s face, searching for some sign. Suddenly his face lit in a wide grin. Apparently he’d seen what he was looking for. “Alright, I’ll do it!”


Fry, now perhaps just a bit overzealous, threw her his best salute. It was a sloppy mess, and Leela still wasn’t technically Captain regardless of what agreement she and her friends happened to come to, but Leela still appreciated the gesture. She smiled at him, and he grinned at her again. Then he turned and walked brusquely through the conference room doors.

Leela turned to Amy. “Amy, I need you to go through the Professor’s lab and find anything that can be used as a weapon. The Professor is talking to The DOOP right now, but even if they believe him and assemble the fleet we’ll need more firepower.”

Amy nodded. “Sure.”

Leela hesitated as a thought struck. “Hey, Amy. When I called you to ask to speak to Fry, why did you say he was gone on a delivery already? I know you were in the conference room because I could see the table in the background, and I know the ship was there because I saw Fry land it in the hangar when I landed in the lot across the street. If the ship was there, why would you think Fry was gone?”

Amy gave Leela an odd look. “Are you sure you saw Fry land in the hangar?”

“Yes, very sure.”

“Huh. Well the ship wasn’t there when you called.”

Leela stared at her. “What do you mean it wasn’t there?”

Fry chose that minute to come careening back into the room. “Umm guys, I think we have a problem!”

“Dear Me: I need to borrow the ship. You’ll understand later, trust me. P.S. Don’t- “ Leela fell silent.

“Well, what else does it say?” Fry asked.

Leela turned the note over in her hand. There was nothing written on the back. “Nothing. That’s all there is.”

Fry scratched his head, confused. “Weird. Why would anybody write a note to themselves saying they took the ship? I mean, how could they not know they took the ship if they were the ones that did it?”

“Easy, because that person didn’t know she was going to take it.” Leela handed the note to Fry so that he could look at it. “That’s my handwriting.”

Fry peered at the wrinkled paper. The words certainly did look like they were scribbled in Leela’s blocky script. Fry shook his head. “Wait a minute.” He protested. “I’ve been with you ever since you landed. If you’d written that note and stolen the ship, I woulda noticed.”

“Yeah, plus you were all surprised when I said the ship wasn’t here,” added Amy.

“Well yeah, but that’s because I haven’t written this yet.” Leela said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Of course, after a few days of time travel, things like finding notes in your own handwriting that you hadn’t written were no less ordinary than climbing into a hovertaxi on the way to the ape fight.

Fry stared at her. He managed a “Wha? But you just said-” before his mental gears started to grind.

Amy, who was just as confused as Fry but ashamed to admit to Leela that she didn’t know what was going on, threw the delivery boy a look of pity.

“I said that the note is in my handwriting, not that I’d written it.”

Fry’s head throbbed. Wearily he lowered himself into one of the chairs around the conference table, letting the note slide out of his hand and onto the table. “Stupid confusing note,” Fry thought to himself. “This is why I only read comic books.” Leela wasn’t making it any easier, either.

“Are you alright, Fry?”

“Yeah, sorry Leela. I’m trying to understand, but my brain’s all hurty and stuff.”

Leela smiled and placed a hand on the delivery boy’s shoulder. “It’s ok, Fry. I guess I’m just so used to this weird time travel-y stuff now that it doesn’t seem weird to me anymore, but I guess I’m not explaining very well am I? Maybe Amy can help me out since she’s not confused at all.” Leela snuck a furtive glance in Amy’s direction to see if the sarcasm would register. It didn’t, as always.

“Anyway,” Leela continued, “I’ll bet this note is from the future. That would explain why it’s in my handwriting and why I don’t remember writing it. I haven’t yet. And if I do write this in the future sometime, I’ll know that I’m going to be the one that reads it when it gets found. Does that make sense?”

Fry nodded slowly, afraid that if he moved his head too fast the tenuous grasp he had on what Leela was saying would be dashed to pieces on the inside of his skull. “So… So some time in the future you’re going to need to come back in time and steal the ship?”

“Borrow, but yeah. At least, that’s what I think.”

“But if it was you, then why did you write a note? You coulda just walked up to somebody and said you were going to take the ship. Nobody would’ve cared. Well, except for Hermes. He would’ve cared since you aren’t the Captain anymore. But nobody else woulda cared.”

“Maybe she was in a hurry?” Amy ventured.

Leela nodded. “That’s my guess. That would explain why I stopped writing in mid sentence, and why we found it just lying there in the middle of the hangar floor.”

The door to the conference room swished open. Professor Farnsworth came shuffling out, a look of annoyance on his face. “Ah, there you are,” he said after spotting Leela, Fry, and Amy clustered around the conference table. “Leela, the DOOP needs to talk to you. And by the DOOP I mean Zapp Brannigan.”

Leela groaned. “Do I have to?”

“I’m afraid so. Captain Brannigan refuses to help until he speaks to you personally.”

Again Leela groaned. There were things worse than death. Talking to Zapp Brannigan was one of them. “Alright, I’ll be there in a min… Hey, wait a minute. Professor, aren’t you curious about what happened to the spaceship?”

“The wha?”

“You know, the intergalactic spaceship that you designed yourself. The one that was parked here just a few minutes ago?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Leela rolled her eye but didn’t press further. The senile old man would remember eventually. She pressed a button on her wrist console. According to the built in clock, it was 8:35. Between trying to explain everything to her former coworkers and the sudden disappearance of the ship Leela had managed to eat up an entire hour. It was time to get things moving, or there would be hell to pay.

“Fry, I need you to go get Nibbler for me. Now.”

Fry jumped out of his chair at the sudden urgency in his friend’s voice. “Aye aye Capt- I mean, Leela.” Just in time he remembered that Farnsworth was in the room. It probably didn’t matter if the old man overheard, since it was doubtful that he even remembered firing Leela in the first place, but now was not the time to explain that he had agreed to take orders from someone who didn’t even work for the company anymore. At a nod from Leela, Fry sprinted out of the room.

“Wait Fry, you need the password to my d-“ The delivery boy was gone. “Oh well,” Leela sighed, “He’ll figure something out.”

“Well, I guess I’d better go talk to that pompous windbag.” Leela cringed at the prospect. Was the survival of the universe really worth having a conversation with Zapp Brannigan? The cyclops thought for a moment. Yes, but just barely. Leela strode to the room’s large video screen. She hesitated before turning it on. “Oh, and Amy, I need you to find those weapons for me.”

Amy nodded. “Right.” The intern started to walk off but turned around after she’d gone only a few steps. “Professor, could you help me? I need to find things in your lab that we can use to blow stuff up.”

Farnsworth’s face lit up like an eighty-watt light bulb. Suddenly he liked where the conversation was headed. “Blow stuff up, you say?” The wicked glee on the Professor’s face would have sent school children running for their mommies. “My yes, I think I can help you do that, hmm yes, most definitely,” he said as he and Amy started to walk off.

Leela turned back to the video screen. She pressed the power button The device told her that somebody was on hold on line 1. With a sigh of resignation Leela pressed one final button. The screen was filled with a familiar face.

“Hello Zapp.”

“Ah Leela, there you are. I was beginning to wonder if that senile Professor friend of yours had forgotten I was on the line, just like all those other times I called and he had to go look for you.”

Leela crossed her arms. “He didn’t forget those times either. I just never answered the phone. Now can we get on with this please? The world is coming to an end in just over four hours.”

“Yes, these flying brains I’ve been hearing so much about. I’ve always suspected that nerds would one day rebel and conquer the planet, but I’m afraid I’m going to need something in return before I put wave after wave of my trusted men at your disposal.”

“Uh-huh. And what exactly do you want in return?” Leela’s eye narrowed, having guessed the answer before it was stated.

“Well, you could sleep with me.”

Leela made as if to reach for the wall screen’s off switch. “Forget it. I’d rather let the world come to the end.” Her hand stopped an inch from the switch, where Zapp couldn’t see it. If she wanted any chance of enlisting the DOOP’s help she would need to have Captain Brannigan on her side, but if she even hinted at how much she needed him he’d walk all over her.

Predictably, Zapp fell for the bluff. “Wait! I mean, uhh… a date?”


“Two dates?”

Leela sighed. The man was a moron. “How about another double date?” The bile rose in her throat. “Steady, Turanga,” she told herself. “You’re doing this to save the lives of everyone you care about.”

Wincing, Leela continued. “Amy and Kif, me and…“ She forced herself to say it. “Me and you.”

Zapp grinned. “A double date, you say? I knew you couldn’t resist me. Hard to blame you, though. Very well, I will inform Kif as soon as he’s done bleaching my gym socks.”

“Yeah, you do that.” Inwardly she tried to console herself “It’s alright. Don’t throw up. You can just weasel your way out of this later. Besides, look at the bright side. There’s a good chance that you won’t survive long enough to have to worry about it.”

Zapp hung up. Leela collapsed into a conference room chair, suddenly feeling like she desperately needed a shower.

“Identity test failed. Access denied.”

Fry cursed under his breath. “Stupid future people. Why can’t they just put a key on the welcome mat like I did?” He pressed the button again.

“Identity test failed. Access denied.”

“Let me in!” The delivery boy pounded on the button. What a day for Leela to forget that she’d locked her apartment.

“Identity test failed. Access denied.”

Much longer and people would start to notice the commotion in the hallway. Still, there was no way Fry was going back to Planet Express empty-handed and explaining to Leela how he’d been too stupid to ask her how to get into her apartment.

He pressed the button again. “Open, dammit! This is an emergency.”

“Identity test fai- Emergency subroutines activated.” There was a moment’s pause, after which the door’s flat, recorded voice was replaced with the calm, melodious tones of a young fembot. “What is the emergency?”

Fry took a step backward. He took a quick look around, deciding that yes, this new voice really was coming from right in front of him. “I need to get into Leela’s room,” he explained to the door. “She asked me to get her pet for her.”

“That doesn’t sound like much of an emergency.” The door’s voice carried a hint of annoyance now.

“Well uhh, you see…”


“Uhh… Phillip Fry.”

There was another moment of silence. “Phillip Fry, Turanga Leela has listed you as having access to her apartment in the event of an emergency. Please touch your finger to the green button on my control panel.”

Fry did as he was told.

The door’s voice reverted to the recording. “Scanning… Identity confirmed, Phillip Fry. Access granted.” The door swished open.

Fry ran into Leela’s apartment, stopping in the middle of the main room. “Here, Nibbler Nibbler Nibbler!” he called.

There was a small sound. Fry whirled, startled. It was only Nibbler. The little furball was standing with his back to the wall, not five feet from the open doorway. Fry relaxed.

“Aww, poor guy. You musta heard me banging on the door and gotten scared.” Something is the creature’s stance made Fry wonder if that was really the case.

Nibbler made some meaningless spluttering noises and waddled over to the delivery boy. Fry scratched the base of his eyestalk. “Leela sent me to come look for you. There’s a bunch of big brains coming to blow up the planet, and for some reason that means I had to come find you.” Fry couldn’t figure out why he was bothering to explain this to a dumb animal, but for some reason it just seemed like the right thing to do.

For a few moments Nibbler just stood and stared, openmouthed. Then he went into a frenzy, running around the room jabbering crazily. Suddenly he was out the door and headed for the stairs.

Fry cursed and raced after him.

Nibbler rounded the landing and headed for the last flight of stairs with Fry hot on his heels. The delivery boy stole a glance upward, praying that in the split second his attention was off the step in front of him he wouldn’t trip and kill himself. Up ahead was a short hallway and then the building’s front exit. The door was closed.

Fry grinned. “Gotcha- oh crap.”

The door swung open. An old woman started to walk through the threshold and then stopped, startled at the two figures hurtling toward her. Hurriedly she backed out of the way.

Nibbler reached the floor and saw his chance. He lunged. Fry tried for a tackle but missed, rolled, was up on his feet again.

Fry burst into bright sunshine. He looked around him, dazed. There. Nibbler was running full tilt down the sidewalk. Fry sighed and started running.

How something the size of a raccoon could run so fast and so far, Fry had no idea. All he knew was that he couldn’t keep up for much longer. Years of fleeing alien death rays had made him a good sprinter, but stamina was something that he’d never had.

Fry lost track of the Nibblonian as he cut through a crowd that was waiting for the bus. Fry dodged the mob and reacquired his target as he disappeared around a corner. Gritting his teeth, Fry forced himself to speed up. There was no way in hell he was going back to Planet Express and explaining to Leela that he’d lost her pet in the city streets.

Slowly Fry gained ground. Two more blocks went by. The delivery boy’s lungs were on fire. Nibbler began to pull ahead again. If he didn’t do something soon, Nibbler would get away.

Up ahead, a familiar face. “Bender! Get him!” Fry wheezed.

Luckily, robots have excellent hearing.

“Huh?” Bender turned at the sound of his name. In a split second he took everything in. The running alien, Fry struggling to keep up with him, the look of urgency on his friend’s face; it all flashed through his CPU at the speed of light. He made a decision. His right arm shot out and smashed a nearby shop window. Nibbler was startled by the sound of the shattering glass. The little black ball of fur stumbled over his own feet and crashed headlong into Bender. The robot reached down and picked him up.

“Thanks, Bender,” Fry gasped as he came jogging up to his friend. “Another minute or two and I woulda lost him.” The delivery boy stood bent over with his hands on his knees, gasping for breath.

“Whaddya mean, thanks?” Bender asked indignantly. With his free hand he swiped the expensive Rolexes that were sitting in the shattered display window. “I was just mindin’ my own business, doing some pre-disaster looting, and this furry little jerk crashed right into me.” Sirens blared in the distance. “And speaking of looting, that’s my cue.” Bender started to walk off, still clutching Nibbler around the waist. The Nibblonian was trying valiantly to wriggle free, but to no avail.

“Wait, Bender!” Fry pleaded, still winded. “Leela wanted me to bring Nibbler back to Planet Express.”

“Fine. Then take him.” The robot held out his still-struggling captive.

The sirens drew closer. Fry hesitated. He’d already almost lost Nibbler once. He wasn’t quite sure he wanted the opportunity to do it again. What on Earth had gotten into Leela’s pet anyway?

Bender grew impatient. The police were going to arrive any second. “Alright, fine. I’ll help you take him. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”

Fry and Bender made their way through the streets of New New York with Leela's frantic pet. Bender, arms straight out in front, carried Nibbler firmly with both hands. Every once in awhile the bending robot would utter a string of low curses as Nibbler renewed his effort to free himself. By the time the trio had rounded the last corner and had come into view of the Planet Express building it was all Fry could do to persuade his friend not to drop Nibbler into the nearest open manhole.

The door to Planet Express swished open to reveal a very impatient cyclops waiting on the other side. Bender brushed past her and out of the small anteroom. Fry and Leela had just exchanged glances and started to follow when the bending robot returned carrying Nibbler and a small wastebasket. Muttering one last curse under his breath, Bender placed the NIbblonian firmly on the ground and quickly covered him with the wastebasket, which he had turned upside down to make a makeshift cage. He pulled a brick out of his chest cabinet and placed it on the basket, making any escape impossible.

For a moment no one spoke. Leela just stared at the overturned trashcan as it jiggled and bounced. For a moment she didn't move, as though her mind was far away. Something flickered across her face. Almost it seemed to Fry as though she were remembering some great loss. Finally the wastebasket's erratic movements subsided. Apparently Nibbler had decided to accept his fate. Leela's gaze rose to meet Fry's. Her expression was now unreadable.

"What happened?" Leela asked, simply.

Fry couldn't make his mouth work right. He had expected an explosion the moment Leela had seen Nibbler's distress. Mentally he switched gears out of 'self preservation mode'.

"Uhh, well", he started, "This is going to sound kinda stupid, but I was talking to him, and when I mentioned brains he sorta went all crazy."

Amazingly, instead of rolling her eye and proceeding to chew him out until his ears went red with shame, Leela just nodded. Silently Fry asked himself what had happened to his life that had made hearing of an imminent invasion by superintelligent flying brains a reasonable excuse for a pet to go crazy.

Leela crouched by the now-motionless wastebasket and gestured for Bender to back away. Slowly, the cyclops lifted the makeshift cage. Fry made ready to grab the little space-rodent the moment he tried to move, but soon saw there would be no need. Nibbler just sat there, arms crossed, glaring at Leela as though everything were somehow her fault.

Leela crossed her arms in kind. "You want to tell me what this is all about?"

Fry and Bender both started to respond, but their words died in their throats as they realized that Leela wasn't talking to them.

"It's OK Nibbler. I know all about you and the Nibblonians and the brainspawn. You can talk to me."

Fry was just about to suggest that Leela might want to go lay down for a minute when the most remarkable thing happened. NIbbler jumped to his feet and said in perfect English: "How did you learn of these things?!"

"Actually, you told me. Look, it's a long story and we don't have much time. The brainspawn are on their way to Earth. If we don't do something soon, everyone will be dead in twenty four hours."

"Yes, I heard of this just recently from The Mighty One. Unfortunately, I was captured and carried here against my will, despite my best efforts to escape. It is imperative that I get to my ship, for if it is true that the Brains are already on their way, then there is very little time to spare."

"So you fought Fry and Bender all the way here?"

"Affirmative. I could not afford to take the time to explain the situation. I still cannot." Nibbler stood then, drawing himself up to his full height. He stole a glance toward the door, but quickly determined that Fry, who he had recently discovered was much faster than he looked, would easily capture him before he made it to the street. Turning his two main eyes toward Leela, but keeping the third locked on the door, he implored his friend. “Please, I must be allowed to leave, for your sake and for The Mighty One; the future of the whole universe may depend on…”

"Uhh, hello? Chumps?" Bender interjected, having had entirely enough of not being at the center of attention. "Is anyone planning to explain what the hell is going on? Why is this greasy muppet talking all of the sudden?"

"Oh right, sorry. Fry, Bender, this is Nibbler. He's an undercover operative for a race of super-advanced aliens. He was the one that I found living in the Planet Express Building. He helped me find the time device and- and get home." Again something dark flashed across Leela's face. Fry frowned. He remembered the expression. He'd caught her looking at that same way several times since she'd come back from the future. Something bad had happened that Leela wasn't telling him; something that had happened to Nibbler as well as himself.

Bender's eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. So I changed this thing's diapers for all these years, and he's a superintelligent spy?!"

"Bender," Leela replied, "you never changed his diaper once. He wouldn’t let you near him after you flushed him down the toilet."

"An indignity which I shall never forget. Now please, it is imperative that I am allowed to go to my ship."

"I know, I know. But first tell me, how much help can you bring us? I promised the DOOP that we would have assistance from an alien force, but I couldn't give them the number of ships."

"Sadly, I do not know. With both the Mighty One and The Other in danger, the council is likely to send as much strength as can be mustered, but I do not know that the ships will be here in time. How long do you estimate that we have?"

Leela looked at her wristamajig and paled. "Just under three and a half hours. Hey, you never mentioned ‘The Other' before. Who-"

NIbbler's eyes grew wide. "Three and a half hours?!" He exclaimed, cutting Leela off mid sentence. "I cannot muster the full might of the Nibblonian Fleet and have any hope of returning here in time to face the brainspawn head on in that time! Are you sure that this is all the time we have?"

"Unfortunately, yes. Very sure."

"Then I must leave this instant, and return when I can. I cannot promise to be here when the enemy arrives, but with some luck I may return before your defenses crumble. Look to my coming by the dawn of the next day. Look to the East." With that he leapt from his place on the floor, under Fry's legs, and out the front door.

When Nibbler had been gone for a few moments, Leela walked to the room's small bench and sat heavily.

"I was too late. After everything I've done, I got back here too late to do any good." She shook her head sadly.

Fry, who was still trying to process the fact that Nibbler could talk, was startled out of his reverie. "What do you mean, too late? We still have a few hours before the brains get here, and NIbbler said he would bring help."

"Yeah, but he said he couldn't get ships here in time to meet the brainspawn when they show up. By the time he shows up, there won’t be anything left to defend."

"So the DOOP has to fight by themselves for awhile. Zapp Brannigan can take care of it. Remember that time he defended that one planet from the Quadraplegians for an entire month?"

"Yeah,” Bender piped in, “the trick was to give their ships a hard shake so all of the crew fell out of their wheelchairs. Don't worry Big Boots, things'll work out."

"Yeah, I remember Amy saying that Kif realized.... Hey, wait a minute." Leela's tone took on a hint of caution. "Ok Bender, what's the deal. Why are you being so supportive all of the sudden?"

"Because all of this emotional crap is starting to corrode my circuits. Don't you meatbags have a war to plan or something?"

Leela started to answer, but stopped. She blinked twice. "You know what, Bender?" She finally said. "I’ll kick myself later for admitting it to you, but you're absolutely right. What am I doing? We don’t have time for me to sit around here feeling sorry for myself. I should be out there making sure Zapp doesn't screw up and kill us all." She got to her feet. For a few seconds she paused in thought.

"Ok, this is what we're going to do." Leela said, suddenly all business. "Bender, I need you to help Amy and the Professor load the ship with anything that can be used as a weapon."

"Aww man... Why does the robot with super strength always have to help with the heavy lifting around here?"

"Listen, Bender. I really need your help on this one."

"Yeah, and why shouild I help?"

A corner of Leela’s mouth twitched deviously "Because,” she replied, “if you don't, I'll block channel 467 on the tv in the lounge."

"But that's the cooking channel!” Bender exclaimed, dismayed. “I need that to watch during work!"

Leela's eye narrowed in a silent reiteration of the threat.

Bender threw his hands up in a gesture of defeat "Alright, alright, don't get your panties in a knot. Sheesh." Bender turned and left the room, muttering under his breath

When the robot was gone, Leela turned to Fry.

"What do you want me to do?" asked the delivery boy.

"I need you to do something for me while I go talk with mayor Poopenmeyer." Leela walked across the room to her purse, which lay on its side by the front door. "While you were gone the mayor called me and asked me to meet with him. He wants me to help him plan the defense of the city."

"What? Why?"

"He said the DOOP told him to prepare for an invasion, and that they told him I was the only person who knew anything about the enemy. While I'm there talking to him, I need you to take something to my parents." Leela began rummaging through her purse. Her hand emerged with a folded up piece of paper. "I was hoping that I'd be able to go to see them myself, but there's not enough time. If I go down to the sewers now to say goodbye... I don’t think I'd have the strength to ever come back."

Fry's eyes grew wide. "Whoa, Leela! who said anything about saying goodbye? You'll see your parents again. We'll get through this, like we always have. The evil bad guys will show up. You'll be all like 'kapow', 'whack', 'bam', and kick their butts, and then we'll all come back to Planet Express for victory waffles. Anyway, who made you responsible for the whole world? Let the DOOP take care of it. Nobody is strong enough to save the planet by themselves. Well, except for Superman, and even he needed a whole Justice Team to help him."

Leela frowned and walked to the door. As it swished open she turned to face her friend. As she stood framed by the light from the doorway, a squadron of DOOP fighters arcing across the sky beyond the distant buildings, Fry thought she had never looked so beautiful.

"I know I can't save the world all by myself Fry. I already tried that once, and I lost. But just because I can't do it by myself doesn't mean I won't do everything I can to help. This time I won't just watch helplessly while everyone I care ab..." Suddenly, she fell silent, tears welllling in her eye.

"Leela," Fry asked quietly, "What happened to Nibbler and me when you were in the future?"

For a moment, Leela's mouth worked silently. Then she turned and walked slowly away, leaving a troubled delivery boy to stare after her until the closing door hid her from view.

The sewers were strangely empty for midmorning. As Fry walked the weathered boardwalk to the Turangas’ house all he could hear were the sounds of his own footsteps and lap of the wastewater against the pilings. In fact, the underground was so still that the delivery boy could even hear the muffled roar of a DOOP capital ship as took station over the city above him. To prevent panic, the public was being told that the sudden appearance of warships in their skies was nothing more than an exercise; a drill aimed at ensuring the DOOP was prepared to defend the planet in case of an all out assault. Fry wasn’t sure he understood why the government was lying to its citizens. Maybe they still weren’t sure if the threat was real, and they wanted to avoid explaining themselves if no enemy appeared. Then again, maybe it was simply a matter of their not being anything the government could do to help it’s people.

“After all”, Fry thought, “how do you evacuate all of the civilians from an entire planet?”

Still, even with the assurances of President Nixon that there was no immediate danger, rumors were beginning to spread at street level. Down below the streets, in the dank tunnels of the mutant city, the rumors had become rampant. The Earthican government had never been particularly kind to it’s mutant citizens, forcing them to live underneath the streets as second class citizens. As Fry walked between makeshift houses, their windows boarded and their doors locked from the inside, he realized that to these people, a fleet of DOOP warships was not a thing of protection, but a weapon of force to be used to repress them. Nixon’s assurances would mean nothing to these people.

By the time Fry made it to the Turanga’s house, the hairs on his neck were standing on end. He couldn’t suppress the feeling that he was being watched, and he only hoped that the residents of Lower New New York recognized him as Leela’s friend.

With only a few steps left, Fry could take no more. He bolted, eating up the last few feet in two strides and pounding on the rickety wooden door. It opened, much too soon. Turanga Morris had been waiting for him. Fry suddenly found himself face to face with the business end of an old fashioned shotgun.

“Who the hell- Oh geez, Phillip!” Morris lowered his weapon, visibly relieved. Leela’s dad backed up a few steps and gestured for Fry to follow him into the house. Fry just stood staring, his face white as a sheet.

“Well don’t just stand there like a stump, come in!” Morris grabbed Fry by the shoulder and hauled him into his home, closing and bolting the door behind him. “Munda come on out. It’s just Leela’s friend Phillip come to visit!”

A few moments later Fry could hear the sound of approaching footsteps, and presently Turanga Munda entered from a back room. She gave Fry one look and gasped.

“My word Morris, you’ve scared the poor boy half out of his wits. You men and your guns. Didn’t I tell you anybody that wanted to break in wouldn’t bother to knock? Come on Phillip, I’ll make us all some tea and you can tell us what brings you all the way down here today.”

Fry, the color slowly returning to his face, nodded thankfully.

“Giant evil brains, eh? What are they gonna do, think us to death?” Morris chuckled to himself and downed a mouthful of tequila. His wife gave him a disapproving look.

“Yes sir, I mean, that’s what Leela says.” Fry responded. Dutifully he took a sip of the green tea that Munda had placed in front of him. It tasted awful, but Fry drank it just the same, knowing how hard it must have been for a family confined to the sewers to come by.

“Well, is there anything we can do about it?” Leela’s mom asked.

Fry took a moment to respond. He didn’t want to scare these people, but they had the right to know the truth. “I don’t think so. The brains use some kind of weird field that makes everybody dumb. You won’t even remember how to help even if you wanted to.”

“So we’re just supposed to sit around on our couches and wait for the end?” Morris asked, cocking his eyebrow.

“Well uhh, I mean, the DOOP is putting a blockade around the planet. They’ll kill the brains before they can get here.“

Morris rolled his eye. “Pfft. The DOOP. What have they ever done for us? Besides, with that idiot Brannigan in charge, we’d all be better off just shooting ourselves and getting it over with.”

“Morris, please!” Munda snapped. “I’m sorry Phillip. Morris doesn’t mean that. It’s just that down here in the sewers we don’t have much faith in the DOOP. The way they just leave us down here to rot, sometimes it’s like we’re not even people to them.”

Fry nodded. He had been down to the mutant city many times with Leela since she had been reunited with her family. He had seen firsthand the squalor that the mutants lived in, and didn’t begrudge them their less-than-rosy attitude toward the DOOP. “I understand. But Zapp isn’t in charge, Leela is. That’s why I’m the one down here telling you about this instead of her. She’s briefing the mayor in City Hall.”

Morris and Munda stared at Fry, a mixture of surprise and fear on their faces. Finally, Munda spoke. “My little girl, in charge of the DOOP navy during an invasion?” It was a terrified whisper.

“Well ma’am, I mean, Leela and Zapp are both kinda in charge. It’s complicated and I don’t really understand it, but if anybody can keep us safe, it’s Leela.”

The next few moments passed in silence. Fry began to feel uncomfortable, knowing that these people needed something more than the clumsy, empty reassurances that he could give them. Finally, he stood.

“I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Turanga, but I need to get back to the surface and help Leela. We’ve only got a few hours left until the brains get here.” Fry reached into his pocket and pulled out Leela’s crumpled note. “Leela asked me to bring this to you; that’s why I came down here.” He fell silent for a moment, knowing he had to say more but unable to come up with the words.

“Look,” he finally managed, “don’t worry. I’ve known Leela for a long time, and she’s never once been in a situation she couldn’t handle. She’ll be alright. She’ll save the day, just like she always does.”

Fry turned and left the room. He was just about to let himself out the front door when Turanga Morris caught up to him.

“Wait a minute, Phillip,” he said, putting a leathery hand on the delivery boy’s shoulder. Fry turned to face him.

“Listen,” Morris continued, “You take care of my daughter, you hear? She’s not as tough as she wants everyone to think. She needs someone at her back; someone she knows is there for her when she needs help. That’s supposed to be my job as her father, and I’ve done the best that I can from sixty feet under ground, but it’s not enough. Promise me you won’t let her get herself hurt.”

Of course, Fry knew that in all likelihood it would be Leela making sure that he didn’t get himself hurt rather than the other way around, but for once he was smart enough to keep those thoughts to himself and say: “I promise.”

Morris grinned and clapped Fry on the back. “Good! You know, she won’t admit it, but Leela is really fond of you. She talks about you all the time when she’s here. I don’t think she even realizes it. Who knows, maybe someday the two of you…” Morris’s voice trailed off. “Well, anyway, you should get going. I’ll get the other mutants together and see if we can’t get some kind of defense organized. Oh, and you might want to use the manhole by the front door. Today isn’t a good day for a normal to be walking through the sewers by himself.” With that, Morris undid the deadbolt and opened the door.

Taking his cue, Fry walked out onto the house’s front porch. Turanga Morris wished him luck one last time and Fry promised once more to keep an eye on Leela, and suddenly the delivery boy was alone in the eerie silence of the sewers. There was a muffled crash somewhere down the street. It was probably just a cat, but Fry, remembering what Morris had said about normals being alone in the sewer, didn’t stick around to find out for sure. He sprinted to the nearby ladder to the surface and was up it in a flash, his heart beating hard in his chest.

Leela pounded the elevator button with her fist. The doors rumbled shut, and the compartment started to descend. Her brief hadn’t gone well. Ever the politician, Mayor Poopenmeyer had decided on inaction as his response to the coming invasion. He had listened intently enough to Leela’s story, and had even seemed ready to believe her, but when it came time to decide on a plan for the city, Poopenmeyer had been unwilling to gamble his political career on a threat that he still thought of as ‘possible.’ And now, with just over two hours until the brains started their genocide, it was too late to do anything for the innocent people of the world. Leela had hoped that by getting New New York to set an example, the other local governments would start evacuation programs of their own, or at least scratch together some kind of civil defense. But with New New York sitting idle and the President playing down the situation as a military exercise, the civilian population was going to end up caught in the crossfire without any warning at all. It made Leela sick to think about.

The elevator doors slid open and Leela stalked out into the lobby of City Hall. A crowd of people had gathered around a television mounted on the wall next to the small reception desk. The tension in the room was palpable. Leela made her way to the fringes of the group, dreading what she might see on the screen. But there were no brains. Not yet. The news channel was running a story on the sudden appearance of a DOOP armada in the sky. The newscaster, Leela couldn’t remember her name, Linda something, was interviewing a so called ‘expert’, fishing for more information on this supposed military maneuver. In a panel on the top right of the screen, the camera panned across a squadron of heavy cruisers which had taken up station over Washington D.C.

“Damn fishy, if you ask me.” A voice grumbled, inches from Leela’s right ear. Leela turned, startled. Two DOOP officers were standing next to her, a young lieutenant and a captain. The lieutenant was a tall, lanky biped, his beaked nose and bright white coat of fur identifying him as a Cadian male. The Captain, to Leela’s great surprise, was a middle aged Human female.

“Sorry to startle you like that,” the Captain said with a smile. “I guess you probably don’t have good peripheral vision.”

Leela studied the woman carefully. She was tall with green eyes and bright red hair cut to regulation length. A thin line ran down her left cheek; a scar that had never quite gone away. It was not a face Leela remembered.

“I’m sorry… Do I know you?” Leela asked

The woman smiled and shook her head.

“No, I guess you wouldn’t. My name’s Cameron Voss. I was a lieutenant onboard The Nimbus when we intercepted your ship around Vergon 6 a few years ago, and I recognized you. No offense, but your face isn’t one to be forgotten easily.”

Leela nodded grudgingly then turned to go, not feeling much in the mood for chatting, especially with someone who would inevitably dredge up unpleasant, Zapp-related memories.

Unexpectedly, and to Leela’s infinite annoyance, Captain Voss and the anonymous Lieutenant moved to followed her. Leela waited until she had elbowed herself clear of the small crowd of television viewers before turning to face the two DOOP officers. Hands on hips, Leela addressed them firmly.

“Look, I don’t have time to talk right now. The whole world is going to come crashing down on us in two hours and I’ve got exactly that long to figure out how to save it. Nobody else seems to give a damn. Now if you’ll excuse me…” Pivoting on one heel, Leela prepared to stalk off. A firm hand landed on her shoulder. Leela whirled, ready to knock the offender’s head clean off.

Captain Voss removed her hand and stepped back two paces. She gave Leela a weary look. “Alright, I see I need to get directly to the point,” she said. “When Central Command ordered my ship, The Cumulus, here to Earth, I was given a short brief by Zapp Brannigan, who has been given command of the fleet. All the windbag would tell me is that I should ready my ship for some sort of exercize.” She lowered her voice so that only Leela and her silent Lieutenant could hear. “But.” She continued “Any idiot knows that this is no training mission. We have simulators for that. We don’t invade Terran airspace just for the heck of it. Even Zapp isn’t that stupid. Close, but not quite.” It might have been true. “An hour ago I got a coded message from Lieutenant Kroker- I assume you know him- requesting me to escort some classified documents to the Mayor. The order didn’t make any sense; the military doesn’t share classified information with local government. And why did I have to deliver it by hand? We have codes that nobody can break. I thought I’d stop and watch the local news before I headed back to my ship, just to see if the media had heard any rumors about why we’re really here.”

Leela folded her arms. “The media doesn’t know anything.” She replied. “You can thank Nixon for that.”

Voss nodded. “You’re right. The media doesn’t have a clue what’s going on.” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “But,” she said, “I’m willing to bet my next week of leave that you do.”

“Listen, Captain-“

“Please, call me Cameron.”

“Alright. Listen, Cameron, in just under two hours- Damn! I don’t have time to be explaining this again! Alright, here’s the short version. In two hours, thousands of giant brains are going to show up and wipe out the planet. That’s why Zapp put up a blockade. I can’t believe the moron isn’t even telling his officers! You need to get back to your ship as soon as you can and-“ Leela fell silent. The crowd around the television set had suddenly gotten very quiet. On the screen was a small pinkish shape. A brain. For a few breathless seconds nothing happened. Then, suddenly, a green flash lit the screen, and the feed was lost Leela checked her wrist device. The time was 1:06pm. The brains were early.

“I thought you said we had two hours?!” Cameron yelled as she followed Leela through the city streets. Her lieutenant, easily keeping pace, remained as mute as ever.

“I don’t understand it!” Leela yelled over her shoulder. “The Brains didn’t get here until around 3:00 in the afternoon the last time! A cargo transport was supposed to report a sighting right about now, way out near Proxima Centauri. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen!”

Leela had filled Cameron in on the details of the invasion as they ran. “Well,” the Captain replied, narrowly avoiding a low-flying hovertaxi as she and Leela raced across a street, “It seems that someone forgot to tell these brains of yours to follow the script. That television camera they destroyed was on Ceres. That’s only a few minutes’ flight from here.”

“I know. It doesn’t make any sense!”

Cameron said nothing for a minute. Then: “I still think I should be headed for the spaceport.”

“I told you, it’s not safe. From what Nibbler told me, the brains will hit the spaceport first, to make sure nobody escapes the planet. Your best chance to get back to your ship is to stay with me.” Overhead there was a mighty roar, and a shadow passed over the sun. Leela glanced upward. The DOOP flagship, The Nimbus herself, was passing ponderously by overhead.

“Where are we going, anyway?”

“Back to Planet Express. It’s where I- well, it’s where I used to work.” Leela’s wrist device started to vibrate. She had a phone call.

Without even slowing down, Leela pressed the button to accept the call. Fry’s face appeared, filled with worry.

“Leela-“ He started.

“I know Fry. Listen, the brains are here already. One of their scouts just zapped a sensor station in the asteroid belt.”

Fry’s eyes grew wide. “Geez! Ok. I’m only a few blocks from Planet Express. It took longer than I thought it would to deliver that note to your parents. I.. I thought I’d call you from a phone booth and see if you still needed help at City Hall.”

Leela shook her head. “No. The Mayor didn’t want to listen. The important thing now is to get the professor’s weapons into the air where we can get some use out of them. Are you at the phone booth by the manhole next to my parents’ house?”

Fry nodded.

“Ok, wait right there. I’ll be there in five minutes.”

“But Leela, Planet Express is just right down the street. Why don’t I just go get the ship and meet you? That way we’ll save time-“

“No!” Leela suddenly came to a stop, nearly sending the bulky alien Lieutenant sprawling on the plascrete. “Listen Fry. This is very important. Under no reason are you to go into the Planet Express Building until after this is over. Alright?”

Fry was understandably bewildered. “Uhh, why?”

“Never mind. Just please, promise me you won’t go into the building for any reason. Please.” There was a bit more pleading in Leela’s voice than she would have liked.

“Umm, alright. Sure. I promise.”

“Good! Now hold on. I’ll be there in a minute.” Leela broke the connection. The next instant she was running again. Cameron and the Lieutenant shot each other a puzzled glance, and then raced to follow.

It began.

Kif Kroker watched the viewscreen nervously as the first wave of enemy contacts approached. The brains were arranged in an orderly matrix of about ten units high by ten units deep, but by several hundred units in breadth. Each brain was separated by its neighbors by several hundred meters, presumably, Kif thought, far enough away that each brainspawn had enough room to maneuver, while close enough for each member of the formation to provide covering fire to his fellows. It was a simple, no nonsense military formation, somehow not as creative as Kif had expected from an army composed entirely of brains. Of course, there was always the possibility that the enemy commander saw them as such an insignificant threat that no strategy was necessary.

The enemy formation advanced to the orbit of the Moon and then halted. Kif waited expectantly, but nothing else happened. Apparently the enemy would wait for the DOOP to take the initiative. An odd move. If you were sure of your own vastly superior strength, why not rush in and overwhelm the defenders?

Kif forced his eyes to leave the viewer and focus on Captain Brannigan. Zapp was, predictably, trying to flirt with the officer of the watch. It had been grossly unconstitutional to bar women from the armed services Kif knew, but still, he understood wholeheartedly the thinking behind the policy.

Kif cleared his throat. “Sir,” he prompted his captain, “what do you want to do about the approaching army?” He didn’t bother to keep the condescending tone out of his voice. Long years had taught him that Zapp was too full of himself to notice. As Zapp turned his head to the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Cherenkov Kif remembered, the woman glanced in Kif’s direction, gestured at Zapp, and rolled her eyes theatrically. Suddenly Kif liked the woman immensely.

“What is it Kif? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“But sir, there’s ten thousand brains on the radar. I thought maybe-“

“Belay that Kif! Can’t you see that the enemy is here?”

Kif sighed loudly. “What are your orders, sir?”

Zapp stood from his seat and walked to the viewscreen. He studied the uniform rows of the enemy army for a full minute, arms clasped tightly behind his back. Finally he turned and said: “Tell the Cirrus to attack. Let’s see what these evil brains can do.”

“But sir!” Kif protested. “We don’t know what the brainspawn are capable of. Do you really want to send one ship to fight them alone?”

“Now Kif, if it’s one thing we don’t need it’s your pessimism. Now give the order, Lieutenant.”

For a moment Kif considered lodging a complaint, but in the end he knew it would do no good. “Very well, sir.” Hesitantly, he walked back to his station and picked up the communicator. He spoke into it clearly and calmly, refusing to decrease morale by broadcasting his uncertainty. “This is Lieutenant Kroker aboard Nimbus calling Captain Morgan aboard Cirrus. Captain Morgan, begin the attack.”

A few moments passed in silence. Then, as if reluctantly, there came the response. “Aye Aye Nimbus. Cirrus moving to engage. Sir, the captain is asking whether we will have any fire support.” There was a hint of tension in the speaker’s voice. Kif started to respond, then hesitated. Zapp was busy studying Lieutenant Cherenkov to overhear. Reaching a decision, Kif tightened his grip on the caller and replied. “Tell the Captain that Lieutenant Kroker says he will have support if he needs it.”

There was an acknowledgement on the other end of the line, followed by a click as the link was disconnected. Kif put down the caller. Captain Morgan would understand the significance of the promise to come to his aid coming from Kif rather than Captain Brannigan, and Kif knew the risk he ran by disobeying a direct order. Still, Zapp was distracted and would likely never even know.

Slowly, cautiously, the Cirrus broke away from the rest of the fleet and approached the enemy lines. Two small squadrons of long range missile frigates, operating under Kif’s orders, broke away soon after and took up station to the Cirrus’s stern, one each to port and to starboard.

Aboard the bridge of the Nimbus, half a dozen pair of eyes stayed fixed on the viewscreen. Even Zapp finally noticed the air of tension in the compartment and turned to watch.

The Cirrus drew closer to the enemy. Kif’s sensors registered a buildup of energy within her hull. Captain Morgan had ordered the weapons primed. A few thousand miles to stern, the frigates powerful defensive shields began to charge. The distance between the two forces closed. Silently, Kif counted down the seconds until the Cirrus was within weapons range.

“Five… Four… Three… Two… One…” Something green and glowing shot out from a few dozen of the front brainspawn. The weapon hit the Cirrus amidships and enveloped the vessel, encasing it in an eerie glow. Then, to Kif’s horror, The Cirrus simply evaporated.

It was over in moments. The two squadrons of frigates opened up on the enemy with everything they had. Two dozen robobium-tipped warheads shot away from each ship before they reversed thrust for their retreat. None of the ships made it back to the fleet. One by one the enemy weapons found them and pulled them apart, reducing them to a cloud of dust.

Kif’s jaw clenched as the cloud of missiles left by the doomed ships honed in on their targets. The brains’ fields found many of them and shredded them before they could reach their marks, but, Kif suddenly realized, not quickly enough. Two missiles penetrated the brainspawn ranks and detonated. There was a great flash as the warheads went off, and the bridge crew cheered. Kif simply held his breath.

The glaring light faded as the missiles spent themselves. On the bridge of the Nimbus there was a collective gasp. The brains were still there.

They had done more damage than they had thought. At maximum magnification the viewer revealed two jagged gaps in the brainspawn lines. Countless hundreds of sailors aboard eleven ships had lost their lives, but the enemy was not invulnerable. Still, Kif couldn’t help but recall his initial thought. “If the brains are so powerful, why are they waiting for us to come to them?” It didn’t make sense.

Presently Kif became aware that Zapp was looking at him.

“Well, Kif? What do you think?” Lieutenant Kroker blinked twice. Could it really be possible that Zapp was asking for his opinion? “What, sir?” He asked.

Captain Brannigan shook his head sadly. “Kif, Kif, Kif” he admonished his first officer. “If you don’t learn to pay attention to your Captain you’ll never make Lieutenant.”

“But I am a Lieuten-“

“Belay that! Now, tell me, what color medal do you think goes best with my uniform, gold or silver? I’d say gold, but I have three of them already…”

Kif glared at his commanding officer. “Sir,” he said in the iciest tone he could muster, “I don’t think that’s important right now.”

But Brannigan, as always, was oblivious to his Lieutenant’s implied criticisms. “Nonsense, Kif! Any good officer knows that style is always important. Now, order the fleet to get rid of those oversized wads of chewing gum. I’ll be in my quarters practicing pick-up lines to use at the reception after the award ceremony if you need me.” Then, unbelievably, Captain Brannigan began striding to the exit.

“But- But sir, what are you doing?” But Zapp strode off the bridge and disappeared around the corridor bend.

Kif stared after him for a few moments, mouth open in disbelief. Suddenly he was aware that the eyes of everyone on the bridge were focused on him. The bridge crew was waiting expectantly for orders. His orders. His bridge crew.

Slowly, ponderously, the fleet began to maneuver. Kif had come to the conclusion that the brains were not going to be coaxed into taking the initiative, and so had decided to attack them head on with the full might of the forces available to him. The ships that spearheaded the assault would take heavy casualties, but shear numbers would ensure that some of the DOOP vessels made it to their targets. It was not a strategy that Kif was proud of, and he couldn’t quite prevent himself from noting its similarities to Zapp’s style of command. Still, Kif had seen how vulnerable the Cirrus, the Nimbus’s own sister ship, had been to the enemy’s strange weapons. Faced with that kind of firepower, the only options were to either retreat or bring everything to bear and hope to knock out the bad guys before they could bring their weapons to bear.

“Lieutenant Cherenkov, how far are we from the enemy?”

The lieutenant, who sat at Kif’s station now that Kif was in command, checked her display screen. “Forty seven thousand kilometers, sir.” She replied. “The leading ships are five thousand kilometers farther from the enemy position than the Cirrus was when she was destroyed.”

Kif nodded. “Alright. Charge the weapons, and tell the other ships to charge theirs too” Cherenkov nodded and spoke into her caller. Kif waited silently for a few seconds as a low hum built up through the hull. Finally he could delay no longer. “Attack.” He whispered.

The Nimbus leapt forward at full attack speed. None of the aliens’ green deathrays came anywhere close, but at the front of the formation, the fighter squadrons that were acting as shields for the rest of the fleet were taking a savage beating. Even so, Kif had been right. There were just too many DOOP ships for the brains to handle. Every time one of the squat little fighters vanished in a cloud of debris, two more appeared to take its place, giving the heavily armored capital ships at the rear of the formation ample time to lumber into firing range.

“Is it really going to be this easy?” Kif thought to himself.

But it was that easy, and soon the Nimbus’s weapons were in range. Kif gave the order. As one, the Nimbus, the Cumulus, the Stratus, and the Pileus brought their main batteries to bear. The volleys of laser fire from their main laser cannon ate through the enemy ranks like a vibroknife through butter. In a matter of moments the enemy force was cut to ribbons. The few scattered survivors began to retreat, and Kif watched in relief as his forces eliminated them.

“Sir, there’s something on the radar you need to see.”

Kif, suddenly apprehensive, made his way to Lieutenant Cherenkov’s side. When he leaned over her shoulder to peer at the screen his face went pale. A number of brainspawn arranged in small squads had just appeared out of nowhere in low Earth Orbit, within easy striking distance of the planet. But that wasn’t what worried Kif. The brainspawn were unimportant compared to what they had brought with them.

“Are those asteroids?!” Lieutenant Cherenkov whispered unbelievingly

The city was in a state of chaos. The rumors of an imminent invasion had been confirmed by reports of a large scale war going on in orbit, and panic had ensues. For some reason, that meant that the whole of downtown was being ransacked, despite limited police presence.

Leela dodged a manbot carrying a television. Cameron and the lieutenant were on her heels. Poor Fry, having already run his fair share that morning, wheezed along behind. Leela had found the delivery boy waiting nervously by the payphone he had just used to call her, just a scant three blocks from Planet Express. With time somewhere between short and nonexistent, Leela had spared only a few seconds for some hasty introductions, and had taken off again, only looking back once to make sure the others were still following.

The four of them had almost made it back to Planet Express when Fry called from the rear: “Umm, Leela? Look up.”

“Not now, Fry”, she shouted back. “We’re almost-“ But her voice was cut off by a noise like the world was coming to an end. And it was.

Leela jolted to a stop and stared up at the source of the sound with abject disbelief. Not fear, not confusion, just simple inability to accept what she was seeing. Up in the sky above the city a second sun was shining. A great yellow orb of fire was slowly making its way across the sky, trailing a long tail of thick black smoke. The sound of its passing was massive, to the point that the noise was as much heard as felt; the air, the ground, even Leela’s body vibrated with it.

Fry screamed and dove under the nearest parked hovercar, but Leela didn’t budge, knowing full well that no amount of cover would make a difference if that stone fell on their heads.

Cameron asked: “Where do you think it will land?” Her tone was calm.

Leela didn’t take her gaze away from the falling star. In a few moments it was over the horizon, headed southwest. “It looks like it’s moving slow, so it won’t go far.” There was a tremendous flash from the direction the rock had vanished. “It probably hit somewhere near the west coast, or maybe in the Pacific.”

“I wonder if we’ll hear it, all the way over here?”

Fry, having sheepishly clambered out from his hiding place, stared at Cameron with eyes wide. Leela understood. Thousands, if not millions of people had just died, and this woman’s seemingly only reaction was to wonder how far the sound would travel.

The people on the street, having stopped to watch the meteor’s descent in silent terror, began to stir. A storefront window shattered, and suddenly the looting was back in full swing. With a raise of an eyebrow, Cameron sent Leela a silent question. Leela nodded, and started jogging. They reached Planet Express five minutes later.

“It took you meatbags long enough!” Bender called from the ramp of the Planet Express Ship. Leela ignored him and bolted into the ship, taking two steps at a time. Her four companions, winded, and in Bender’s case surly, followed at a slightly less breakneck pace.

Amy and The Professor were already on the bridge. Without thinking, Leela slid into the Captain’s seat, but the Professor didn’t seem to notice. He was too busy fiddling with a half-assembled piece of nasty-looking hardware that was resting on his lap. On his face was a grin of pure evil.

Cameron, seemingly unperturbed by the day’s event, leaned nonchalantly on the navigation console and asked: “So, Captain, what’s the game plan?”

Leela regarded her for a moment, not having missed the slight emphasis that Voss had put on the word ‘Captain’. Was it an acknowledgement of Leela’s authority aboard the Planet Express Ship, or a reminder of Cameron’s superior military rank? Leela had been discharged from the military at the end of the war with Spheron 1, but this being a time of war, Voss could legally impress everyone present into the DOOP navy, and Leela, having only attained the rank of private in the war, would have to surrender control of her ship. “So”, Leela thought, “which is it? Is she an ally, or a rival?”

Amy spoke into what Leela now realized had been several seconds of ackward silence. “Uhh Leela, who are they?”

Cameron addressed the intern. “My name is Cameron. I’m the captain of The Cumulus. Over there is my second officer, Avis.” Voss gestured at the hulking white alien “He doesn’t say much. We were stuck groundside when the shooting started. I guess we’ll be tagging along with you until we can get back to our ship.” This last was said with a meaningful glance in Leela’s direction. So they were to be allies then, and Voss would not challenge Leela’s authority.

“Nice to meet you, Cameron. My name’s Amy, and that over there is Professor Farnsworth. Hermes is in his cabin, doing something with a stapler.”

“And who is your metal friend?”

“Oh, that’s-“

“Yo mama.” Bender cut in. “Come on skinsacks, let’s cut the crap and get moving already, before the whole damned sky falls on us.” A low roar followed by a distant boom served to emphasize the robot’s point. A moment later, a column of black smoke began rising from the direction of the Municipal Spaceport.

Leela reached for the ignition, but Cameron lightly grabbed her wrist. The cyclops glared, but Voss did not remove her hand. “Wait Leela, hear me out,” Voss said. “Where are you planning to go?” she asked gently.

“Anywhere’s better than here.” Bender grumbled darkly from the background, but Leela realized suddenly how very wrong he was. If asteroids were falling at leisure across the planet’s surface, the DOOP was surely being overrun. That meant that low Earth orbit would be swimming with brainspawn. But they couldn’t stay on the ground either. If one of those rocks happened to land close by… Leela shuddered. She had made all her plans based on what Nibbler had said would happen, but everything was different; Anything was possible. With dismay, Leela realized she had absolutely no idea what to do.

Voss, upon seeing Leela’s shocked expression, let go of her hand. “I need to get back to my ship as soon as possible” She said. “My first officer can handle things without me, but you know as well as I do that a Captain’s place is on her bridge.” When Leela didn’t respond, she continued. “Now, you told me that you have more experience than anyone with fighting these brainspawn creatures. Strategically, you’re indispensable. If we link up with the fleet, the DOOP could really use your knowledge. Then again, the weapons that you were saying your professor has stashed in the hold might be the advantage we need to win this thing. So it seems to me that we have two options: head for the Cumulus, or try and mine the breaches in our lines with the Professor’s toys. Since we can’t be in two places at once, we’ll have to choose one or the other. If we take option A, we’ll waste enough time that the brainspawn might overwhelm our positions before we close the gaps. If we choose option B we risk our biggest asset, your life, and leave the fleet to learn how to fight these guys on their own. This is your ship, Leela, so this is your choice.” Cameron crossed her arms and smiled. “So which one will it be?”

Leela thought for a moment. She couldn’t help but feel a grudging respect for this woman. Not only had she managed to discreetly point out that Leela didn’t know what she was doing without alerting anyone else, Cameron had presented her with a well thought out plan of action, while keeping Leela’s authority intact by offering no opinions of her own and giving Leela the final decision. Voss, Leela knew, was a fine military officer.

But, Leela realized, Voss’s plan was not quite complete. “You’re wrong.” Said the cyclops.

Voss obviously hadn’t been expecting this response. She blinked twice. “What?” She said, her tone suddenly lacking it’s confident edge.

“When you said we can’t be in two places at once. You were wrong.” In reply to the general looks of confusion from her companions, Leela reached down and picked something up from next to her seat. It was the time device. Straightening, she addressed Cameron. “This has been charging for hours now. If we use it for a short trip now, it should still have enough power for a big time jump, if we need it.”

Cameron studied the little object. “What do you have in mind?” she asked.

Leela stood. “Amy,” she said, “You fly the ship. Let the professor tell you where to put his weapons. He’ll know how to use them the most effectively. Bender, you stay and help the Professor. Fry, Cameron, Lieutenant Avis, you’re with me.”

“Where are we going?” Fry asked.

“To steal a spaceship.” Leela replied.

The hangar of the Planet Express Building was deserted. Early morning sunlight was just now beginning to work its way through the second story windows, bathing the Planet Express ship’s dorsal fin in warm orange light. The only sound was a distant, muffled conversation coming from the lounge, and an occasional loud pop as the ship’s exhaust nozzles cooled and contracted, the metal alloy still warm to the touch from recent use. The sharp stink of the plasma exhaust still permeated the air, but it was dissipating rapidly as the fumes were drawn into the overhead air vents.

There was a flash, and two figures suddenly appeared on the hangar floor. A gust of wind, created as molecules were suddenly pushed aside to make room for the new arrivals, quickly spread across the room, but soon lost its energy and died out.

The two figures, one with purple hair and the other with red, strode confidently to the waiting ship, climbed the ship’s ladder, and disappeared inside. Moments later, the intruder with the purple hair reappeared and descended the ship’s ladder. Kneeling on the floor by the front landing gear, she propped the paper up on one knee and began to write. A few moments had passed in silence when there was a loud clang from somewhere deep in the building, followed by a volley of unintelligible curses. The second intruder now reappeared in the ship’s forward hatch and gestured to her partner. The intruder with the purple hair nodded and dropped the paper and rushed back into the ship. A soft light grew in the room, though if anyone had been watching, they would have sworn it had no source. The mysterious glow intensified, throwing the entire hangar into a dazzling, shadowless brilliance. Ripples appeared on the surface on the Planet Express Ship, as though it were a liquid stirred by a slow breeze. The vessel started to move, though not in any direction that the human brain could understand. As it moved it grew more faint, until it seemed as though it was being seen at a great distance through a dense fog. Soon the ship was invisible. It was gone, having left not even a sound to denote its passing.

Fuming, Amy Wong made her way into the empty hangar. After making her way to the conference table, she proceeded to tear off the shreds of her lab coat, as though it were its fault that the professor insisted on storing the nuclear waste and the sulfuric acid in glass bottles. This time she resolved to make the old man clean up the mess. The phone rang for the sixth time. Apparently nobody else was going to bother answering it.

“ Ungh, where did everyone go? Spleesh, why is it that every time I get myself saturated with gamma radiation, the phone rings and everyone else is conveniently gone?”

There was a muffled click as she activated the videophone.

Planet Express, this is Amy speaking.”

Hi Amy, can I talk to Fry?”

The Planet Express Ship finished its wild four-dimensional flight and settled back into reality. From the bridge, the view was much the same as it was before. In fact, the only sign that anything had happened at all was the sudden change in the position of the room’s shadows.

Cameron stood up from her place on the couch and stretched. Behind her, Lieutenant Avis untangled himself from his spot at the rear of the bridge.

“Wow, what a rush!” Cameron exclaimed. “You do this time travel thing often?”Leela shrugged and pressed a button on her console. The hangar bay doors began to open, allowing a widening pool of sunlight into the hangar and onto the ship’s bridge. “The first time is the worst.” She said, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. “You get used to it after awhile.”

The screen on Leela’s wrist LoJack-a-mater blinked on, and Amy’s worried face appeared.

“Hello?” the intern called. “Leela, is that you? We saw a flash through the hangar windows right before we took off. Are you guys ok?”

“Yes Amy, we’re ok, and we’ve got the ship.” The hangar doors finished moving. Automatically, Leela sent the ship straight up and out of the building, never bothering to take her eye from the screen “Where are you guys now?”, she asked.

Amy started to answer but Fry’s disembodied voice cut her off. Evidently he’d learned how to patch the laser turret’s comm. system into the bridge vidscreen. “We’re over the north pole! Bender and Hermes are tossing one of the professor’s death rays out the airlock. You should have seen what happened when the brains tried to fly past the last bomb we threw overboard. It was like, Kapow! And the brains were all like, argh! Nooo! Gack!”

By this point, Leela’s Planet Express Ship had exited the atmosphere. Up ahead was a scene of carnage straight out of a Galaxy Wars documentary. Bits of spaceship and brainspawn lay scattered about in all directions. The DOOP had spread itself out, trying to cover ever-widening gaps in the Earth’s defenses. An occasional silent explosion lit the cockpit a dull orange.

Leela, Cameron, and the Lieutenant stared silently at the scene until Amy’s voice cut through the reverie. “Hello? Are you guys still there?”

Leela snapped back to her senses, mentally kicking herself for loosing her concentration in the middle of a war. “Yes, Amy we’re here. I need to sign off now. I’m going to try and find a way to get Cameron and Avis back to the Cumulus. You guys keep doing what you’re doing. And Amy?” The PE captain paused for a moment. “You guys be careful.”

Amy grinned. “Aye, aye captain!” The video screen went blank

Cameron moved to Leela’s side. “Captain, if I might make a suggestion, one of us needs to man the weapons.”

Leela nodded. “Right. The ladder to the turret is just down the hallway behind the bridge.”

Cameron nodded. “Right, I saw it when I boarded the sh- Watch out!”

Leela whirled. A massive asteroid filled the front viewport. Leela threw all of her weight into the stick. The PE Ship rolled to starboard and upward, narrowly missing the rock’s jagged surface. A squad of brains popped into existence. Leela sent her ship into a barrel roll. Green death rays shot by in all directions. A loud curse blasted over the ship’s con after a particularly close call and a volley of red laser fire swept overhead, headed in the brain’s direction. A pink dot seethed and then was still. Apparently Cameron had found her way to the ship’s cannon.A few moments later the space around Leela’s Planet Express Ship was devoid of brainspawn. Leela brought her ship alongside the asteroid that had nearly destroyed them.

“Cameron,” Leela called.

Voss’s voice came in over the speaker. “Here. Any idea how we can get rid of this rock?”

“No. Even if we had any torpedoes, there’s no way we could do anything to it. The damned thing must be forty miles across. How the hell did I get that close to crashing into it without even seeing it?”

“Easy. Because it wasn’t there until you almost crashed into it. It just appeared out of nowhere while your eyes, er, while your eye was turned.”

“Just like those brains. They weren’t there, and then suddenly they were. Since when can they do that?!”

“I don’t know, but we’ve got to do something about this asteroid, or in another few minutes it’ll be in the Earth’s atmosphere. That professor of yours doesn’t happen to keep a spare bomb or two onboard, does he?”

Leela sighed. “He used to, but he’s been a lot more careful not to leave them lying around ever since Bender tried to sell one to The Being of Inconceivable Horror.”

“You mean Rosie O’Donnell?”

“No, the other one. The one with tentacles.”

“Oh… Well, anyway, your friends should have an extra one.”

Leela nodded, and then remembered that Cameron couldn’t see her. “Uhh, right. I’ll call them.” She reached for the video screen’s on button, but was interrupted before she could press it.

“Captain! Missile!” Leela whirled at the strange voice, one hand automatically reaching for the laser she had stashed under her seat.

Instead of an armed boarding party, Leela found herself aiming her pistol at Lieutenant Avis, who at some point during the last five minutes had seated himself at the nav station. The Lieutenant didn’t even register a hint of surprise at finding the weapon suddenly pointed at his face. Instead, he pointed to the radar screen in front of him, where a large red dot was barreling down on their location.

Leela’s face paled. Frantically she threw herself back into the pilot’s seat. Cameron’s voice came in over the comm again. “Uhh, Leela? I see something big and nasty coming our way.”

Leela sent the engines into afterburner. “I know. I’m getting us out of here”

The missile flashed by to port a scant few seconds later. Leela spun the ship 180 degrees, hoping to protect the delicate engines from what was coming. There was a tremendous flash, and apartment sized boulders went flying in all directions. Leela gritted her teeth and changed her grip on the stick. The first rock went by overhead. Then two more passed by to port and starboard. Suddenly there were rocks everywhere, and Leela sent the ship into wild evasive maneuvers. Overhead, the ship’s laser fired erratically as Voss tried to keep a lock on the fast moving targets. Two blocks of iron shattered into dust as they were connected with a few lucky shots.

As suddenly as it came, the shock front passed. Leela sat back in her chair and let her sweating hands drop from the controls to her lap. The PE captain hazarded a glance in Lieutenant Avis’s direction. The alien looked as unperturbed as ever.

The intercom came alive again with Cameron’s voice. “Leela, I’ve found the Cumulus. There are too many ships in the area for me to separate the Cumulus’s beacon from the background chatter, but that missile that almost blasted us was broadcasting my ship’s signature. I’ve traced the missile’s trajectory back to a Nimbus class warship. It’s got to be the Cumulus.”

Leela nodded, wondering inwardly what it was going to take to unsettle her new comrades. “Alright, we’ll check it out”, she said as calmly as she could manage.

Leela forced herself to relax. The Cumulus was an exact copy of the Nimbus, but, as she kept reminding herself, it was not The Nimbus. Still, as the docking clamps closed about her ship Leela couldn’t quite prevent herself from flinching, and as she waited by the airlock with Cameron and the Lieutenant, she unconsciously went into an offensive stance, her body prepared for the moment when Zapp Brannigan came strutting through the hatch. Of course, when the Cumulus’s hatch finally did open, it was not Captain Brannigan’s face that appeared. Instead, a frightened looking midshipman of vaguely Hispanic origin stepped cautiously into the Planet Express Ship’s airlock, clutching an absurdly old-fashioned projectile weapon in his left hand. When the inner hatch opened, the midshipman saluted and came to attention, but did not step forward out of the lock.

“Captain Voss, midshipman Ramirez reporting.”

Cameron impatiently returned the salute. “At ease, midshipman.” She said quickly. “Where is Lieutenant Williams? I need to talk to him.”

“He’s on the bridge, ma’am, coordinating the defense.”

Leela felt a stab of ice go down her spine. If The Cumulus was coordinating the defense, that meant… Cameron and the PE captain exchanged glances, Voss shouldered past the midshipman and started off down the hallway. Leela, the Lieutenant, and the Midshipman Ramirez hurried to keep up.

As Captain Voss led her little entourage through her ship’s maze of twisting corridors, she had Ramirez brief her on the situation. While the brain’s diversion had drawn the fleet away from Earth, a swarm of brainspawn had somehow managed to sneak in behind the DOOP’s lines with a volley of asteroids The enemy had scored several devastating hits on major cities and military bases before the defenders had been able to take them out. Luckily, Kif Kroker’s quick thinking had substantially softened the blow, and the few remaining missile frigates were picking off the rocks before they could hit the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the main enemy fleet was still largely intact and receiving constant reinforcements, and The DOOP was taking heavy losses. To make matters worse, contact had been lost with The Nimbus, their last, garbled transmission telling of the starboard engine nacelle being ripped right off the hull and an imminent, uncontrolled re-entry over the Pacific.

Leela sighed when she heard this latest in a seemingly endless stream of bad news. “Poor Kif” she thought.

A hatch swished open, and Leela suddenly found herself on the bridge of the Cumulus. Following Cameron to the front of the compartment, Leela took in the familiar yet unfamiliar surroundings. The Cumulus’ bridge was identical to that of The Nimbus right down to the plush red carpet, but on every level that mattered it was obvious that this was not the ship she hated so much. Rather than sitting around idly, the bridgecrew was busily working away attentively at their stations. The atmosphere was alive with latent energy, with only the barest undertone of fear. A balding Lieutenant sat silently in the Captain’s chair, staring intently at out the window. Leela followed the man’s gaze. A swarm of tiny silver specks was converging on a spot near the center of the screen. Abruptly, a lightning storm erupted, washing the tiny specks in blue light. Squinting, Leela could just barely make out the taletale 20th century battleship shape of Earthican heavy cruisers.

A sudden cheer erupted from the rear of the bridge. Leela, Captain Voss, and her officers turned in unison. The Lieutenant who had been sitting in the Captain’s chair, Lieutenant Williams Leela assumed, stood and bellowed “Report!”

The two midshipmen who were responsible for the outburst cringed and came to attention. The taller of them, a young Venusian, saluted and began to speak in an excited voice. “Sir, the Intrepid reports that all of the targets were destroyed, with minimal casualties!”

Captain Voss, silent since she had entered the bridge, chose this moment to step in. “Lieutenant Williams, what is going on? Did I just see a large portion of the Second Fleet taken out by a goddamned electrical storm?!”

Williams stiffened to attention for a moment and then relaxed. “No ma’am. That was an intentional maneuver you saw. The brainspawn can rip our ships apart like they’re made out of balsa wood, but for some reason we haven’t worked out yet, their weapons don’t work well on our heavy cruisers. Since the cruisers’ heavy laser cannon can’t track the enemy fast enough, we’ve been using the batteries that power them to electrically charge the cruisers’ outer hulls. When the brains get too close, well, greymatter is a conductor after all…”

Captain Voss smiled. “Well done, Lieutenant.” She turned to Midshipman Ramirez, who had no doubt been hoping his presence on the bridge would go unnoticed. “Dismissed.” Voss ordered. Ramirez was clearly disappointed, but tried valiantly to hide it as he saluted and hurried off to his duty station belowdecks.

Once the midshipman was gone, Cameron turned back to her first officer and, in a voice only loud enough for Leela, Lieutenant Avis, and Lieutenant Williams to hear, asked for a status report. Williams frowned, and said calmly and simply, “We’re screwed.”

“But you just said-“ Leela trailed off. Lieutenant Williams stared at her, as if noticing her for the first time. Perhaps he had.

“Sorry, and you are?” He demanded. Leela’s eye narrowed at the hint of hostility in the man’s voice.

“This is Captain Turanga Leela,” Voss interjected, her eyes hard. “She discovered the brainspawn, and is an ex-DOOP soldier. I’ll vouch for her.”

Lieutenant Williams’s reacted as though he had been slapped, and in a way he had been. A subordinate doesn’t get to question people his superiors have taken into their confidence, nor does he get to be rude to them. Williams’ face went scarlet. He met Leela’s gaze. “Sorry, ma’am. It’s been a rough day. I didn’t mean any offense.”

“None taken.” Leela responded. “It’s been a rough day for all of us.”

“You were saying, Leela?” prompted Cameron.

“Uhh, right.” She gestured at Williams. “You said that zapping the brainspawn with electricity was working well. So why are we screwed?”

Williams nodded. “Yes, I said the electricity was working, and it is… for now. The problem is when those cruisers run out of juice. Their batteries weren’t meant for this. Actually, discharging them into the hull is just about the worst possible thing you could ever do. Even if everything goes right, the batteries are dead in an hour, and that’s assuming that the electricity doesn’t find its way through the insulation between the hulls and fry the ship’s systems. We’re managing to hold the enemy back at the distance of the Moon for now, but it’s just a matter of time until our defenses fail. There are already a few big gaps in our lines. I’ve deployed the remaining Nimbus Class ships to try and plug the holes, but without a fighter screen to draw enemy fire, they won’t last long. If it weren’t for the unidentified cargo ship that’s been dropping some kind of mine all over the battlefield, the brains would be pouring through our lines like water through a colander.”

So Fry and the others were doing their part. Silently Leela wondered how they were faring.

“Fry, for Jah’s sake, shoot da damned thing!”

Fry depressed the trigger. A kajillion joules’ worth of photon energy erupted from the end of the ship’s laser. The whole turret echoed as the capacitors hidden in the hull somewhere nearby discharged in a staccato rhythm. The cramped space below the turret’s dome was hot and smelled of sweat and fear, and black scars marred the upper hull all around the delivery boy. To Fry, it was like the best videogame of all time.

A pink shape exploded over the stern in a large fireball. “That was a close one.” Fry thought. He reached for the comm switch.

“I got him.” He said. Hermes was the one that answered. “Alright. Do you see any more of da squishy little bastards?”

Fry did a quick scan of the sky before responding. “Not right now, Herm- wait.” Fry squinted. There was something at the very edge of his vision. “Stupid brains”, the delivery boy thought to himself, “knocking out our radar with some gross ray dealie.” All at once the incoming brainspawn snapped into focus. There were hundreds of them.

“Crap! Hermes, there’s a whole bunch of them coming this way!”

“OK, I’ll tell Amy. Do we ‘ave enough time to finish dropping da professor’s bomb overboard?”

“Yeah I think so, but-“ A gigantic brain popped into existence bare meters from Fry’s head. The delivery boy froze, but was jolted into action by Amy’s scream, which could be heard not only over the intercom, but through the shut bridge hatch. Fry jerked the stick down and to the left. The turret turned, and the massive brain moved into the crosshairs. Fry hit the trigger. There was a blinding green flash.

Fry stared, openmouthed. The laser’s barrel was gone. The brain, now unapposed, floated closer to the hull and stopped, as if it was studying him. It fired again, right at the dome of the laser turret. Fry flinched, but nothing happened.

Fry’s Planet Express Ship was bathed in an eerie green glow. The bridge was not responding. Cursing, Fry slid down the ladder, abandoning his useless weapon. He made his way to the bridge, shielding his eyes from the green light which seemed to come from everywhere at once. When he reached the bridge he was greeted with an odd sight. Amy was sitting absently in the corner, picking her nose. Hermes and The Professor were standing in the middle of the compartment and staring at each other, mouths agape. Fry cursed again. Leela had told him this could happen. He still wasn’t sure why he was immune to the stupifaction fields when everyone else was not, but right now it didn’t really matter.

Fry sat down in the Captain’s Chair. He scanned the HUD, and found nothing major wrong with the ship. For whatever reason, the brainspawn that had destroyed the laser hadn’t done any further damage. “He’s probably waiting for his buddies to get here so they can capture us,” Fry realized, though what they could possibly want with him and his coworkers, Fry couldn’t guess. “Well, we’ll see what outsmarts who.” Fry muttered.

All at once, Fry kicked his ship into high gear. The Planet Express Ship streaked away from the brain that had trapped it. Fry did a quick half turn, making for the relative safety of Earth. The brain followed close behind until it was picked off, ironically, by a fragment of an asteroid that its fellows had intended to use as a weapon.

The DOOP was losing ground. Of the two hundred and fifteen capital ships that had been deployed in Earth’s defense, only thirty three remained. The defender’s slow defeat was becoming a rout, and if a difficult decision needed to be made. As much as it pained her to admit, Cameron knew that Earth was lost. There was nothing more that could be done that would do any good, and there were several thousand other worlds in the Democratic Order of Planets to consider. It was time to withdraw and regroup; to save what little remained of the DOOP Navy, which had until just a few hours ago been by all accounts the most powerful space force that carbon-based life had ever known.

There was only one thing that was preventing Captain Voss from giving the order to retreat. Leela. It was crazy. Every time the word ‘withdraw’ was about to cross her lips, the purple-haired Cyclops would look her straight in the eyes and Cameron’s voice would just die in her throat. There was no threat in Leela’s gaze, just an iron will that could not be broken. It was crazy. Here she was acting flag officer for the entire DOOP navy, and yet somehow this captain of a lowly delivery ship was able to have the same effect on her as a 25 star general had on an ensign fresh from academy. Well, that had to stop.

“Commander Williams?”

“Aye Captain?” Williams didn’t take his gaze from his console.

“Order the fleet to withdraw. We can’t accomplish anything more here today.”

“Aye Captain.” Without looking at her, Williams made his way to the comm station. Cameron winced. Her first officer was furious with her. She really had waited too long to make the order.

A gasp caught her attention. Cameron glanced around her bridge until she found the source of the noise. Leela was staring at the wristamajig that she was wearing with such a look of abject terror that Cameron’s heart skipped a beat. Ignoring her first officer’s disapproving look, Cameron left the Captain’s chair and went to stand at Leela’s side.

When Williams continued to frown at her she turned to him and gave him a smile that just dared him to speak his mind.

“Is there something wrong, Commander?”

Williams glowered but took the hidden reprimand. “No ma’am,” he said, and turned his attention to the communications equipment.

Leela’s voice regained Cameron’s attention

“What do you mean you went back to Planet Express?!” The Cyclops was demanding. From her facial expression Cameron got the impression that Leela had meant to scream the question at the top of her lungs. Probably Leela wasn’t even aware that it had come out as little more than a croak.

“I already told you. Fry flew us back here to get away from the brains. He let the ship get all banged up too, but that’s what we get for lowering the spaceship driver’s license age to twenty-three, I suppose. Now in my day…” The wristamajig’s viewscreen wasn’t tilted in the right direction for Cameron to see it, but she immediately recognized this new rambling voice as belonging to the old man that she had met briefly aboard the Planet Express Ship.

The senile professor continued babbling. Fascinated, Cameron watched as Leela’s face tried to handle the emotions that were washing over it. At last, Farnsington, or whatever his name was, fell silent, perhaps having finally noticed that something was wrong.

“Professor, where is Fry?” Somewhere in that innocent question Cameron saw the promise of disaster.

“Eh-wha? How should I know?” The Professor scoffed. “He keeps picking out the tracking chips I embed in his nose, oh my yes. I sent him off to look for a hammer a few minutes ago and he’s not back yet. I’m sure he’s around here somewhere.”

“Listen, Professor, this is very important. You have to find Fry and make him leave Planet Express. Tell him to go home. Make up some dumb errand. I don’t care. Just get rid of him. Now!”

“Oh, fuff! He may be a moron, but he’s still a little better at his job than those monkeys I’ve been breeding, and he doesn’t leave as much crap lying around. His brain’s easier to operate on too. There’s no reason to send him home.”

“No Professor, you don’t understand! If Fry stays at Planet Express, it’s the end of the universe as we know it!”

Cameron winced. That last remark had been loud enough for the whole bridge to hear.

The crew was undoubtedly starting to think their Captain’s new expert on the Brainspawn was a complete fruit loop. As if morale wasn’t bad enough already. Cameron opened her mouth to interrupt the conversation, but stopped herself, remembering a conversation Leela had had with Fry right before she and Cameron had met up with him. Fry had volunteered to wait for them at Planet Express and Leela had reacted as though she had just heard that the world was ending. It hadn’t seemed so strange at the time since, after all, the world really was ending, but now Cameron was beginning to suspect there was something more to the story, something important. She decided to let the conversation continue.

The old man was speaking again. “Now Leela, I know you’re still angry that Hermes fired you yesterday, but Fry’s been the Captain of my delivery ship for as long as I can remember, and a damned good one too. I’m sure he can look after hims-”

Leela cut him off. “No! I mean, I’m sure Fry can take care of himself. No wait, what am I saying? Of course he can’t; but that’s not the point. Look, the truth is, well, there might have been a few details of my visit to the future that I sorta… left out.”

“Oh? Like what?”

“Well for one thing, maybe I should have mentioned that, if everything goes the way it did the last time, the Brains won’t just stop once they’ve destroyed the Earth.” Leela paused for a moment, visibly readying herself for what she was about to say. “Professor, Cameron, I’m sorry. I should have told you earlier. It’s just… This is very hard for me.”

Commander Williams picked that moment to interrupt. Cameron knew it was probably intentional, the bastard. “Captain, the retreat is being executed. We have five minutes before the lead formations withdraw.”

Cameron nodded in acknowledgement. “Noted.” She said. That meant the Cumulus would be protected from attack for only another five minutes. After that, things would get interesting very quickly.

Leela looked at Cameron. Voss nodded for her to continue.

“According to Nibbler, the brains are attacking the Earth because we destroyed something they called ‘The Infosphere’.”

Cameron interrupted. “I don’t recall any military campaign to destroy anything called an ‘Infosphere’.”

Leela nodded sadly. “No, you wouldn’t have. The Earthican military didn’t destroy it. Fry did, by himself. And since Fry is from Earth, the brains are taking it out on all of us. At least, that’s what Nibbler thought. It was the only explanation anyone ever came up with. But why they’re here isn’t what matters. What matters is that Fry happens to be the only person anywhere in the universe who is immune to those stupefying fields that the Brainspawn have been using on us.”

The Professor was obviously confused. When he didn’t say anything, Cameron interjected again. “Uhh, Leela? That could have been nice to know, say, four hours ago.”

Leela’s shoulders slumped. “Yeah, I know I should have told you. I just couldn’t. See, there’s one last thing I didn’t tell you. This isn’t my first trip through time. I came back once before, but I got back to Earth too late to do anything. When I got back to Planet Express Fry was in the smelloscope room. Professor, you and everybody else were all stupefied, and Fry was standing there with a laser. When I got there I startled him. The laser fired. There was a barrel full of antimatter. The laser hit it and… Oh god…” The Cyclops began sobbing quietly.

Cameron could guess what had come next. With the only person who could stand up to them out of the picture the Brainspawn had done to everyone else what they had done to Earth. Voss moved to put an arm around Leela’s shoulder. The ancient face of the Professor was now visible on the little viewscreen on Leela’s forearm.

Cameron regarded the old man. “Professor Farnsworth is it? Even though he’s probably in no more danger where he is than anywhere else right now, maybe you should send Fry home for the day.”

The Professor responded as though he were answering an academic question. “Oh, I should think that, if what Leela says is true, there is a great deal more danger for Fry here at Planet Express. Time has a way of trying to heal itself; It is called the Law of Conservation of Events. With something as important as the death of the one being capable of standing up to the Brainspawn, it’s quite likely that events will turn out much the same as they did before if he stays here.” Farnsworth nodded to himself, clearly excited by his own musings. “Oh my yes, it would most certainly all happen again.” He said.

Cameron’s eyes narrowed. If it was one thing she couldn’t stand it was academic types’ tendency to make every explanation need an explanation. “How could things turn out the same way they did before? It’s not like Leela is going to accidentally startle him into shooting a barrel again.”

“Of course she won’t. But the other Leela will.”

Cameron mulled that over for a second, trying to make sense of it. “So what you think you just said is…”

“Correct!” Farnsworth exclaimed. “Thanks to all of this crazy time travel, there are now three Leelas running around our universe. One Leela is frozen in a tube somewhere. Another Leela is standing on the bridge of your ship. The last Leela is presumably on her way here, unaware that her attempts to save the day will end in Fry’s death.”

Cameron’s brain hurt. “But this is all pointless. Just find Fry and make him leave.”

Farnsworth stared at her. “Eh-wha? Why would I want to do that?”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe to keep him from blowing himself, as well as yourself and the rest of your employees to tiny bite-sized pieces?”

“How would destroying the universe help matters?”

Now Cameron was beginning to lose her patience. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s simple. If Fry is not at Planet Express, that past Leela who is on her way here, let’s call her Leela Red, will not cause Fry to kill himself. But then the Leela who is on your bridge, let’s call her Leela Blue, will be cut off from the timeline. If Leela Red does not kill Fry, then the events that define Leela Blue’s past few days will be erased. Leela Blue will never have existed.”

Cameron felt Leela’s body go rigid. A moment later Cameron’s own thoughts caught up. If Leela Blue had never existed, no one would have been around to warn Fry to stay out of Planet Express. It was a paradox.

Farnsworth continued, obviously enjoying his lecture. Cameron was becoming angry at the senile old scientist’s dispassionate predictions. Did he even realize that he was talking about the deaths of not only himself but of all of his employees? During her long career in The DOOP, Cameron had come across a few Captains who had acted much the same way as Farnsworth; being much more interested in tactical intricacies, or in Farnsworth’s case the intricacies of physical law, than in the human lives who would be expended. It made her sick.

Farnsworth continued to drone on. “According to theory, a time paradox will not destroy the universe as long as there exists even a single time line which is unaffected by the paradox. For example, when Leela Red went back in time to warn us about the brains, the future was altered. That altered the circumstances that led to Leela Red going back in time in the first place, creating a paradox. In this way, any time traveler must deal with the consequences of any previous trip that she had taken through time. Since Leela Blue still has the time machine and still has the chance to fix the paradox somehow, the universe hasn’t exploded. If Leela gets involved in a paradox of her own, by saving Fry for example, the last thread holding the universe together will be cut.”

Cameron blinked. “Uhh, English please?”

“Unless Fry dies in the smelloscope room this evening, the whole universe will be destroyed.”

Fry backed out of the room. Letting the hammer he was carrying fall to the floor with a clatter, the delivery boy slumped to the floor. Numbly he tried to piece together what he had just overheard. Most of it was that crazy scifi gibberish that you get in a bad space movie, but the Professor’s last sentence had been clear as a bell.

“So that’s what Leela was hiding from me,” he realized, shocked. “I knew something bad happened!” But this was too much. How was he supposed to deal with the knowledge that the fate of the universe itself hinged on him being blown to tiny bits?

“Why the heck does this crazy stuff keep happening to me?” Fry thought darkly. “It’s like some insane god has a grudge against me.” But this was much worse than anything he’d had to deal with before. “Except for the time when Leela got stung. That was worse cuz I couldn’t do anything to help. Bu-u-ut…” He started as an idea began to form in his head. “This time I can. It’s just… What am I gonna do?”

His usual answer of ‘ask Leela’ wouldn’t work in this situation since, if the shocked silence on the far end of the conversation he had just been spying on was any sign, Leela didn’t have a clue. Farnsworth’s advice was pretty clear, on the other hand.

“But can I really walk into a room and know that I’ll never walk out again?” Fry searched his feelings, and came up with a disappointing answer. “Not without Leela.” The delivery boy sighed. He’d spent so much time relying on Leela to supply his courage that he’d forgotten that he didn’t really have all that much of his own.

So what other options were there? It seemed to Fry that there were two. One, he could go talk to the Professor and try to get him to come up with a scenario in which the universe survived and Fry didn’t die, or two, he could stand around and try to think until his brain hurt, and then go talk to the Professor. He was just about to take option one when the hallway was flooded with green light.

“Leela, don’t be stupid. There’s nothing you can do!”

“Oh, really? Do you know that? And how much more help will I be here, exactly?” Leela returned Cameron’s glare, ignoring the muffled whispers of the bridge crew, who had no doubt never heard anyone stand up to their Captain like this before.

“Well for one thing, you’ll be alive if you stay here, whereas you’ll be dead as space dirt if you go down there. I really doubt you’ll be more helpful as a corpse.”

Leela sighed and tried to calm herself a little. It was hard to do, but screaming at the captain of a DOOP warship wasn’t getting her anywhere. “Look, Cameron, I appreciate that you want to make sure that I’m safe, but my friends and family are down there. You saw that green flash before the line went dead; I’m willing to bet that was a stupefaction ray, and that means that New New York is under attack. I’ve got to get down there.”

“It has nothing to do with wanting to keep you safe.” Cameron snapped. Of course in reality it had everything to do with that, but she couldn’t let her crew see their Captain being all sentimental in the middle of a battle. “You’re a valuable strategic asset. You’ve dealt with the Brainspawn before and survived. The DOOP needs you.”

Leela shook her head. “Cameron, as of right now you know everything I know about the Brains, and in a little while I won’t be able to help predict the future because we’ll have passed the moment that I went back in time. The only people’s survival I can help with are the ones down there.” She pointed out the forward window at the Earth, slowly rotating below them. “I know that you have the authority to lock me in the brig if I don’t do what you tell me to, but please, as a friend, you’ve got to let me go.”

Cameron was about to answer, but she was cut off by Commander William’s urgent voice. “Umm, not to intrude Captain, but if we don’t get out of here right now it won’t matter one way or the other whether you let Ms. Leela off the ship. The last of the ships that were screening us have withdrawn. There’s nothing between us and the enemy.”

As if on cue, one of the ensigns standing at a console near the rear of the bridge piped up. “Seven enemy ships err- craft, I mean…. Seven hostiles closing fast, bearing eight-five by three-six, distance two thousand kilometers!”

“Hard to starboard! Bring forward batteries to bear! Protect the engines!” Captain Voss bolted across the compartment and sailed into her duty station. The officer at the helm rushed to carry out her orders.

Leela suddenly found herself unwatched, and only a few paces from the hatch. Cameron was busy giving orders, and everybody else was too occupied to notice her. She wasn’t going to get a better chance than this. Cautiously she made her way to the hatch, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. The hatch whooshed open. Leela cringed at the sound, but nobody seemed to hear it. The moment she walked through, however, Cameron called out to her. “Good Luck, Leela!”

The hatch whooshed shut.

Fry burst into the conference room, where Professor Farnsworth had been conversing with Leela only moments earlier.

“Professor!” called the delivery boy, but there was no answer. Farnsworth had seemingly vanished.

“Where did he go?!” Fry exclaimed. It had only been a few seconds since he had heard the videophone shut off. There was just no way that old arthritic Professor Farnsworth had left the room already.

Fry heard a muffled sound coming from the conference table. Warily, he approached. The noise came again, this time clearly from under the table. Fry bent down to investigate, wishing not for the first time that his coworkers let him carry a laser pistol.

Instead of some terrible scientist-eating alien monster, Fry found himself face to face with the Professor, who was busily eating one of his slippers. Noticing that Fry was staring at him, Farnsworth took the slipper out of his mouth and proclaimed:

“Look at me, I’m a genius! I’ve found the solution to world hunger!”

He then proceeded to jam the dirty white shoe back into his mouth.

Fry cursed under his breath. It was as he had feared; the greenish glow that permeated the building was a Brainspawn stupefaction field.

There was a tremendous wrenching noise. Fry whirled just in time to see one of the hangar bay doors shatter into a hundred pieces and come raining down onto the upper hull of the Planet Express Ship. A warbling scream, immediately cut off, echoed through the room as a particularly large roof fragment flattened the trashcan in which Zoidberg had been rummaging for his dinner.

Fry froze, too stunned to react. It was only when a yellow beam of psychic energy impacted the conference table not 12 inches away that he even noticed the dozen or so brainspawn that had entered the building through the gaping hole in the roof.

Another brain took a shot at him. Fry lunged out of the way just in time, but banged his shin hard against the Professor’s conference chair.

“The Professor!” Fry realized with a start. Then a moment later, “The Professor’s gun!”

In a move that Fry would have kicked himself in the shin for not thinking of earlier, (had the chair not just done it for him) the delivery boy ducked under the table, reached over the table’s smooth edge, and pressed a small red button that was part of the Professor’s console. A small compartment opened up under the table, and Fry reached in anxiously. His fingers immediately closed around the cool metal casing of the small laser pistol that the Professor had recently bought at a local pawnshop.

Cautiously Fry raised his head over the table’s surface. About half of the brains- Fry didn’t take the time to count exactly- were clustered around the bow of the Planet Express Ship. Suddenly they fired, concentrating their strange translucent yellow beams on a small patch of the PE Ship’s forward hull. The futuristic composite, which had survived countless re-entries, meteoric bombardments, and laser burns, began to sag and then to melt away, dripping superheated liquid into the bridge. A thin pall of smoke soon started to curl up through the brains’ widening hole.

As inconspicuously as possible, Fry began to raise his pistol above the surface of the conference table, but, just as he was lining up his first shot, the six or so brains that were not busily burning their way into the ship opened fire on him and sent him scurrying for cover. When he tried to peek over the table again a few moments later the Brainspawn that had been melting a hole in the ship had already finished their work and had rejoined their comrades. The whole group of brains was now slowly floating it’s way in Fry’s direction.

Knowing that his hiding place would be useless in a few moments, and that the Planet Express Ship was useless with a gaping hole in the front of it, Fry grabbed the Professor, who was still idly chewing his slipper, and hauled him from under the table. Not even sparing a moment to look behind him, Fry bolted for the door and practically tossed the Professor through. Then Fry rolled through the opening and dodged around to the left, coming up hard against the wooden television stand. A few stray brain rays impacted the far wall before the doors automatically shut. A moment later, the small panel next to the door began to glow red. Fry caught the acrid smell of burning insulation. Apparently one of the Brains had accidentally done what Fry had been too terrified to think of. The door’s controls were fried. That meant the hangar bay was sealed off.

Fry stood, shaking. Abruptly he realized that Bender, Hermes, and Amy were all in the room. None of them gave any sign that they had noticed the commotion in the next room or even that he had just chucked the Professor through a doorway while being shot at by a squadron of bad guys. Instead, they seemed completely absorbed by whatever they were watching on the television. Thinking for a moment that they might be watching some important newscast, the delivery boy craned his neck around the side of the TV. It was the Home Shopping Network.

“Oh, right. The stupid-enation fields…” he said aloud.

Bender spoke up, suddenly excited. “Three gold necklaces for $49.99? Quick, somebody give me the telephone!”

Amy handed the robot her makeup kit. When Bender flipped it open and actually tried to dial it, Fry grabbed it from him.

“Now listen, you guys,” Fry said, switching off the television so that he could be sure that they were paying attention to him. “Those big brains have made you all stupid again. We need to get out of here before… oh crap.”

Three brains had just appeared outside the room’s large bay window, a tactical move that Fry supposed he probably should have seen coming from a mile away. The lead brain fired, but his psychic beam refracted through the glass and buried itself in the ceiling with a puff of vaporizing insulation. The Brains paused for a moment, as if mulling over this new development. Suddenly they all fired at once, but their beams were also harmlessly deflected, one smacking into the windowsill and the others burying themselves in the ceiling like the first one.

A few more Brains showed up. A few seconds went idly by as Fry tried to figure out how to get his friends out of the room and the brains tried to figure out how to get themselves in. Both parties discovered a solution at seemingly the same instant.

“Quick, everybody follow me! Mom’s department store is having a sale on beer, collators, fingernail polish, and, uhh… doomsday devices!”

That was all it took. Bender, Amy, and Hermes practically flew off the couch and out the room’s rear door. Farnsworth began to shuffle after them. Fry followed them out the door just as the left side of the window began to melt.

Fry, after shooting out the lounge door’s control panel, ran to catch up with his stupefied friends. They were all clustered around the elevator at the end of the hall. While they waited for the elevator Fry tried to come up with a plan. Getting everyone out of the lounge was one thing, but getting them safely out of the building when it was about to be overrun with giant evil brains was something entirely different.

Suddenly Fry realized that he was absolutely terrified, and not even because a swarm of space-nerds was melting its way into the room he’d just left, or even because of Leela’s tale of his gruesome death in that weird alternate future. Those events were outside his control, and all he could do was try to avoid them. Basically, he had to do what he did best: run away. The trouble was that now he had four people whose lives depended on him. He had to make decisions now that would almost definitely mean life or death for his best friends. The thought was horrifying.

“Good gosh, is this what Leela feels every time we get into an emergency?” As Captain, Leela had to make split-second life or death decisions on an almost daily basis. “No wonder she’s tense all the time.” It might also explain some of Leela’s reluctance to get too close to anyone, he realized.

Fry forced himself away from that line of thought. He needed a plan. Looking around him, the delivery boy tried to place his surroundings in a mental map of the Planet Express Building. Behind him was the lounge and, beyond that, the hangar. In front was the elevator that led to the ground floor or the smelloscope room at the top of the tower. Each of the four rooms accessible from the doors along the hallway’s length were dead ends. The smartest thing to do, Fry supposed, was to ride the elevator down to the first floor, lead his coworkers through the building, and head out the front door. Hopefully once they were out of the building the stupification field would wear off and Fry could convince everyone to make a dash for the nearby manhole cover. The sewer mutants would be able to help, and with any luck, Fry wouldn’t have to be in charge anymore.

Satisfied with his plan, Fry folded his arms and more or less confidently waited for the elevator. A few seconds passed.

“Man this elevator takes forev- oh. Dammit.” The elevator’s down button wasn’t lit. Fry’s coworkers had been too stupid to press the call button. Grumbling to himself, Fry pressed the little plastic square, and the doors immediately opened.

Once again Leela found herself flinging her ship in the direction of New New York at breakneck speed. She glanced at one of the monitors at the tactical station. The time was 5:37. Cameron had delayed her too long. Her past self, Leela Red as the Professor had called her, was in the Earth’s atmosphere by now.

“Damn you, Fry.” Leela muttered angrily. “Why did you have to go back to Planet Express? There were a million safer places that you could have gone.” Of course, she knew that Fry wasn’t to blame, and her anger was more with herself than it was with Fry. It was her own fault that everything was about to unravel. If only she’d told her coworkers what had happened to them the last time… But how was she to know that by trying to spare their feelings she had given them a chance to walk blindly into the very situation she was hoping to avoid?

The cyclops frowned at herself. “It wasn’t to protect their feelings,” she forced herself to admit. “It was to protect mine. I was weak, and because of it I’m in the same situation I was before. If I’d told the Professor about everything before the Brains had even gotten here, I would have known that the universe was going to try and force Fry back into the tower, and I could have done something about it. But I didn’t tell him then. I waited until a few minutes before the explosion will happen.” And happen it would. Leela was certain of it.

Leela pictured what must be going on at Planet Express at this very moment. The Brains would be closing in from all directions. Everyone would be stupid by now. The brains would cut off the escape routes, and Fry would be forced toward the tower. Leela could not allow that to happen.

Ignoring a brain that happened to lumber into her path, Leela pushed the gas pedal to the deck. The engines screamed in protest as the Planet Express Ship hurtled into the outer fringes of the atmosphere.

There were Brains in the lobby. Lots of them. Fry quickly retreated through the door. A Brain’s stray shot sizzled through Amy’s hair, just barely grazing her scalp. The intern screamed and looked around wildly, her stupefaction apparently dissipating for a moment. Her eyes locked on Fry’s.

“Fry, what…?” She asked, but her eyes were already glazing over again.

The lobby door opened again. Fry, distracted by Amy’s sudden clarity of mind, had forgotten to shoot the door’s control panel. Three Brains hovered slowly into the hall and stopped only a foot from Fry’s nose. The door closed behind them. Then, unexpectedly, the lead brain spoke:

<Greetings, Mighty One. Please, put down your weapon. We wish to talk with you.>

Fry regarded the brain for a moment, suspicious. “Why would the Brains shoot at me and then suddenly decide they want to talk?” he wondered aloud. It didn’t make sense.

“You’re just trying to stall me,” He accused, not really believing it but thinking it sounded like something an evil brain would try and do.

<Negative. Things are not as they seem. That Nibblonian friend of yours has been filling your primitive head with lies. There is still a way to end this that does not result in your death or the destruction of the universe. You can still save your world. You can still save Leela.>

Fry was utterly stunned. “H-How do you know about all that?” he demanded, leveling his weapon at the speaker.

<That is not important. What matters is that we can help. All you have to do is put down that laser and come with us.>

For a moment Fry wavered, completely at a loss. Then he caught a hint of movement out of the corner of his eye. A couple of Brains were stealthily floating out of a side corridor. They were trying to flank him. He had been right after all. The talking Brain was trying to stall him.

Fry fired, sending the talking brain flopping to the floor. The fallen brain’s comrades fired back but Fry dove out of their way just in time. One of the shots buried itself in the floor, and two more ended up in the walls, but one unlucky shot hit Amy in the leg. The Martian intern screamed. Fry dispatched the Brains with a hail of laser blasts.

Fry rushed to Amy’s side. “Amy, are you ok?” Fry asked, hoping that being shot in the leg had driven the intern out of her stupefied funk in the same way that her earlier near miss had.

At first Amy only responded with a hail of foreign cursing, but after Fry stared at her blankly for a few seconds she switched back to English

“Guh. What do you think? I just got shot in the leg! And what the heck is going on?”

“No time to explain. We need to get everybody out of here and I need your help before you get stupid again. Do you think you can move?”

Amy tested her leg. “Actually, it’s not so bad. It’s a lot like that time I tripped and that branding iron fell on me. I think I’ll be ok.”

“Great!” Taking a step back to put a little room between himself and Amy, Fry began to gesture with his hands. “Ok then here’s the plan…”

“Uhh, let me guess, run away in that direction?” Amy interjected, pointing in the direction of the elevator.

Fry paused, confused. “Uhh, no. Why do you say that?”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe because of them?” The Martian intern pointed over Fry’s shoulder. At some point in the recent firefight, Fry had managed to end up with his back to the lobby door. Now he turned to look where Amy was pointing, pretty sure that he already knew what he was going to see. Sure enough, Amy had been pointing through the open lobby door at the dozen or so Brainspawn that were inside. The delivery boy’s step backward had activated the door’s motion sensor.

The delivery boy looked left and right. There were a number of Brainspawn slowly making their way down the two side corridors as well. “Ok, new plan,” He said. “We do what you said.”

Fry started shooting, giving Amy just enough time to herd her stupid coworkers into the elevator. The Brains began to advance, and Fry retreated down the hall. Amy called to him.

“Come on Fry, hurry up. I’m starting to feel stupid again. I have a sudden urge to respond to bulk email!”

Fry turned and ran. Shoving his way into the cramped elevator, the delivery boy slammed the door close button with the palm of his hand. He pressed the button for the second floor. With luck, the Brains in the lounge had left and joined their friends downstairs. If all went well, Fry could burn his way back into the lounge. It wasn’t that far a jump to the ground from the big bay window. If they tossed the sofa out first and then tried to land on it they’d probably avoid any broken bones. At least, Fry really hoped they would. Trying to get one of his friends safely down a manhole with a broken arm or leg wouldn’t be pretty, but one step at a time.

The elevator doors opened with a clunk. Fry stared. The Brains on this level hadn’t given up and joined their friends. After melting their way into the building they’d patiently gone to work on the brick wall that separated the lounge from the hallway beyond. Apparently there hadn’t been enough Brains present to just vaporize the walls like they had done to the spaceships in orbit, but they had managed to create a very large hole. Now they were all floating patiently a few meters from the elevator.

Without thinking, Fry slammed the door close button again. “Amy, help me. What the heck should I do?” Fry implored his friend, but a vacant, stupefied stare was the only answer that Fry got.

It was up to him. He had the sudden urge to pace, but in the tiny cramped elevator car it was impossible. “I can’t go down. There’s too many brains down there for me to hold them all off,” Fry reasoned aloud. “But if I try and open the doors here again the Brains outside will blast me before I can zap them.” Since sitting still wasn’t an option, that only left one alternative. A very, very bad alternative.

“I have to go up,” Fry realized, his heart beginning to thump audibly in his chest.

With an overpowering feeling of dread, Fry pressed the up button. The elevator car accelerated for a second and then slowed to a stop. The doors to the smelloscope room opened with a ding. The time was 5:42.

The buffeting from her ship’s power dive into the atmosphere was unbelievable. Leela pulled up on the stick with all her strength, but the PE ship had more momentum than she’d figured. The leapt up at her, but still the ship’s nose barely moved from the vertical. Then, somewhere between ‘I can see my house from here’ altitude and ‘Oh my god we’re all going to die’ altitude, the air got a purchase on the ship’s underbelly, generating lift. The bow came up amidst the groan of overstressed metal.

Leela looked around, trying to get her bearings. The sky was an ominous ash-grey. That was not what she remembered from the last time she’d come back in time. But then again, there hadn’t been any asteroid impacts the last time.

A few familiar skyscrapers flew into view. Leela altered course slightly and descended even further. Up ahead and off to port there was a flurry of activity. The cyclops wasn’t all that surprised when the computer reported a nav-beacon error a moment later. All the commotion was a horde of brainspawn chasing Leela’s past self as she careened between the towers of New New York. Leela Red was here right on schedule.

Leela Blue put her ship down almost to street level, hoping the brains would be too occupied chasing their current prey to bother with her. Unfortunately, Leela Red had a lead on her. Even at top speed there was no way that Leela Blue was going to make it to Planet Express before her.

With one last gut-wrenching maneuver, Leela Red sent her ship rolling sideways through a gap between two close buildings and across the water to Planet Express. It was still intact! That meant Fry was still alive! One of the brains’ greenish rays passed close by to port. Leela Red pushed the nose downward and held course for a split second more. Hoping to catch her pursuers off guard, she suddenly threw the engines into reverse, stopping the ship in midair. The brains went streaming by on all sides, not having had time to react. They’d be back soon enough. Leela Red extended the landing gear and cut the engines entirely. The ship dropped the couple of meters to the ground and landed in the middle of an empty street with a jarring thud. Having come to the decision that she didn’t want the brains to get their grubby feelers on her time-amajig while she was gone, Leela Red grabbed it and rushed off the bridge. The ship’s clock read 5:42.

When Leela Red got to the bottom of her ship’s bow stairwell she couldn’t help but pause in shock. Things were not as she’d been expecting. From what Nibbler had told her, everything should still have been relatively intact. He had said nothing about giant clouds of ash or slumping, burned out buildings. It looked oddly like New New York had suffered several recent, moderate earthquakes. During her trip through the atmosphere, she’d even seen giant impact craters to the southwest, as though huge bombs had been dropped. Then, bizarrely, Leela Red found herself practically overwhelmed by a sense of deja-vu. She had the sudden notion that, not only had she done this sometime before, but that something terrible was about to happen. The feeling was so strong that the cyclops half stumbled, leaning momentarily on the ship to keep her balance.

“What the heck is wrong with me?” She exclaimed, terrified by the overpowering emotions that were pumping through her. For a full ten seconds she stood like that, completely exposed, while she fought to regain control of herself. At last, her heartbeat finally reaching normal levels again, Leela Red straightened and began to run, pushing thoughts of doom out of her head

It was only a short run to the Planet Express building. God it was good to see it in one piece again. The sound of laser fire from somewhere inside the structure woke Leela Red from her momentary reverie. She stepped forward cautiously, waiting for the automatic door to sense her presence. The door swished open, and Leela Red rolled through the sudden opening. She took shelter for a moment behind an overturned table and waited for any sign that she had been spotted. Sure enough, a single brainspawn came floating boldly into the hall. It stopped a meter or so from her position, as if listening. Leela Red grew impatient; there wasn’t enough time for stealth, damnit! She jumped from her hiding place and leveled her pistol at the giant hovering space-nerd. Unbelievably, it started to laugh at her.

<Hahaha… Foolish human, did you really think you were hidden from me behind that pitiful piece of furniture? I saw you the moment you entered the building. I also see the time travel device that you are holding behind your back. You will now hand it over to me or I will reduce you to a babbling moron.>

Leela Red’s eye narrowed. “I don’t think so, bub. If you’re vision is so good then you also see the laser I have pointed at your squishy head, err, face, err whatever you call that wrinkly mess. Now shut up and tell me, where is Fry?” For some reason she felt like she already knew the answer, but that didn’t make sense.

<The crazy idiot with the spiky red hair? I killed him. His screams were most amusing.>

Somehow, Leela Red knew it was a lie. Her eye narrowed and she fired her weapon, blowing a chunk out of the wall not six inches from the brain. “Now listen very carefully. I am not in the mood for mind games with some giant hackeysack. If you try and lie to me again I swear I’ll shoot you full of holes and then beat you until you look like a wad of used chewing gum, understand? Now let’s try this again. Where is Fry?”

Now there was some uncertainty in the brainspawn’s voice. <N-now let’s not be hasty. I wasn’t serious. I don’t even know who you’re talking about. Who’s Fry? The Mighty One? Never heard of him…>

Leela’s finger started to depress the trigger. A tiny voice in the back of her head was screaming at her that she was out of time.

<Alright, alright! He’s barricaded himself in one of the rooms in the tower, but it doesn’t matter. The Big Brain just sent word; its got something special planned for him. Just wait a few minutes and Fry will be easy to find. He’ll be everywhere!> The brain started to laugh hysterically.

It was too much for the PE captain. She screamed and fired, sending the abruptly silent brain plopping to the floor. Panic stricken, Leela ran through the halls without regard to her own safety. Fry was in the tower! She had to get there before it was too late!

A pair of brains spotted Leela as she ran through the building. They gave chase. Leela dodged them until she reached the elevator. Two quick shots from the cover of the closing elevator car dropped one brain, and then the other. There was the sensation of movement as the lift bore her upward. A few moments later the doors swished open again.

The brains floated one after the other through the smashed windows. Fry stood with his back against the iron bulk of the chimney cover, blasting away at whatever had the misfortune to blunder into his sights. The rest of the crew sat in a group at his feet. It was all Fry could do to convince his stupefied friends to keep still while he attempted to save their asses. “What a day this has been.” He thought as he dodged a stray shot.

Fry saw the brain that had just tried to, well, fry him. It was still a long way off, coming in over the water. Closing one eye, the delivery boy steadied himself and took aim, slowly depressing the trigger. “Careful… Careful…” he whispered to himself. The brain floated into his crosshairs. “Almost…” The elevator door swished open.

Fry’s body whirled around to meet this new threat. His finger squeezed the trigger instinctively as Leela came rushing into the room. A huge crashing noise tore through the room. Fry was knocked off his feet as his laser fired. The beam crossed the small space and buried itself in the hull of Leela Blue’s Planet Express Ship, which had smashed its way into the smelloscope room. The brain that Fry had been shooting at was smeared across the bow. Fry and Leela Red stood paralyzed with shock as Leela Blue ejected one of the bridge windows and slid to the floor


Without even glancing at Fry or her other self, Leela Blue ran across the room, grabbed the barrel of antimatter, and heaved it out a hole in the wall. The barrel tumbled the few meters to the ground and exploded with a massive boom, leaving a smoking hole in the pavement 5 meters across. Part of Planet Express’s lower wall was scorched, and a few car alarms went off, but the tower remained intact.

“Umm, will someone please tell me what is going on here?” Leela Red pointed a finger in her counterpart’s direction. “And who the hell are you?” She demanded.

“I’m you from the future.” Leela Blue said. “I’ll explain later. Right now we’ve got to get the hell out of here. More brainspawn will be here any second.”

Leela Red nodded. “Alright. If we can get out of the building we can get back to my ship. It’s parked over by-“

“Yes, I know where it is.” Leela Blue interrupted. “Now come on, we need to get out of here!”

Fry raised his hand. “Umm, Leelas? I don’t want to spoil the moment or anything, but wasn’t the universe supposed to be kerploding? I mean, I survived and I wasn’t supposed to.”

The two Leelas stared at Fry, one in confusion and the other in shock.

“How did you know about that?!” they both demanded simultaneously.

Fry’s face went scarlet. “Well uhh, ya see, here’s the thing. I kinda overheard a little of what the Professor said earlier while you were talking to him- hey Bender, stop that!”

The two Leelas turned to follow Fry’s gaze. Bender was standing by the remains of the smelloscope, trying to light the wrong end of a cigar. The robot was covered in something brown; something brown that was dripping from the banged up Planet Express Ship that was wedged in the roof. Leela Red realized what was happening a split second before her counterpart did.

“Bender, no! You’re covered in darkmatter oil!” Leela Red launched herself across the room and tackled Bender in midair, just as the bending robot managed to get a spark.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl. While flammable vapors gracefully saturated the air, the flame slowly lit the tip of Bender’s cigar. Leela Blue pulled out the time device and wrenched the knob around, having no time for such trivia as how far back she should go. Bender’s cigar, saturated with highly volatile dark matter, ignited like a torch. Leela Red’s tackle sent her and the robot sprawling to the floor. Leela Blue whirled, snagged Fry by the jacket, and snapped on the time-device. Fed by the vapors in the air, the flame from Bender’s cigar roiled through the air as though it were alive. Then the world exploded.

Leela gasped involuntarily. Time travel was worse without the spaceship. Much worse. A final, abysmal fall into nowhere and a sudden stop signaled that the rollercoaster ride was over. Leela allowed herself to open her eye. She was still in the smelloscope room, but there were several major differences. First, there were no gaping holes in the walls. Second, and most obvious, there was no intergalactic spaceship stuck in the roof. Next to her, someone let out a loud whoop.

“Alright!” exclaimed Fry. “Let’s do that again!”

Leela hurriedly clamped a hand over the delivery boy’s mouth before he could say anything more.

“Shhh!” She hissed. “I don’t know what time the machine sent us back to yet. We can’t let anyone know we’re here yet!”

Fry wilted under his Captain’s glare. “S-Sorry Leela.” He whispered.

Leela’s face softened. Now that the adrenaline was draining away it was hard to be angry. After all, she’d just saved Fry’s life, and spacetime hadn’t ripped itself to shreds. Both of those were definite plusses.

A distant, ominous boom rolled through the building. Fry and Leela made their way to the window that pointed in the direction that the sound came from. Leela frowned at the sight that met her eye. The sky was ashen grey.

“Aww, that can’t be good.” Fry said.

Several of the nearby buildings had cracks running through them, and some of the skyscrapers across the water were burning. A pale yellow light lit the sky in the direction that the recent noise, almost certainly an asteroid impact, had come from. A few minutes later a moderate earthquake shook the building. Luckily the PE building was so overbuilt that there was no damage.

Leela finally looked at the display over the time device. The holographic screen read ‘Destination Reached. Total travel time –28 minutes’.

Apparently Leela hadn’t instructed the device to send them as far back in time as she’d thought. It didn’t matter though. There was enough time to keep Bender from accidentally blowing up the tower if she moved fast.

She turned to face Fry. The delivery boy was watching her, apparently waiting for her to take charge. “Ok Fry, what do we have to do in order to keep that other version of yourself from ever coming into this room?”

“Uhh… “ Fry thought for a moment. He was having trouble wrapping his head around the idea that another version of himself was somewhere in the building with him. It was making his brain hurt. Finally he began to speak. “Well… My plan was to get everyone out of the building and into the sewers. I thought we might be safer there.”

Leela nodded her head. It was probably what she would have done, which, now that she thought about it, was a little unnerving. Either Fry was showing unusual clarity of thought, or she was starting to lose her mind.

Fry continued, slightly more confident after reading the approval in his friend’s face. “We got out of the lounge and downstairs, but there were too many brains. We had to retreat back upstairs, but there were lots of brains there too. The only thing we could do was come up here.”

Leela frowned, and Fry, having misunderstood her facial expression, began to apologize. “I know. I know. It was dumb idea, but I didn’t know what else to do! There were too many bad guys to fight and there was nowhere else to go. The elevator to the basement is on the other side of the building and there’s no exit from there…”

Leela shook her head. “No no no, I’m sorry Fry. You did the right thing. I was just trying to figure out what we should do- Hey, wait. Did you just say there were lots of brains in the lobby? That’s weird. When I was just there, there was only one brain around.” A little alarm bell started to go off in the back of Leela’s mind.

“Yeah, there were like a kazillion of them. They must’ve left before you got here.”

“Yeah. I guess…” Silently she added “But then where did they all go, and why did they clear out so fast?” Something didn’t feel right.

“But anyway” Fry was saying, “we could go help that other me. We’ve both got lasers. The three of us might be able to zap enough brains to make it to the sewers. Plus you’ve got that time-jiggy so we could always come back and do it again if we screw up.”

Leela shook her head sadly. “Sorry Fry, but the time machine won’t be working again for a long while. We barely had enough power to get it working when we used it just now. If we screw up again we probably won’t be able to go back in time far enough to do anything about it. This is my- I mean our- last chance.”

Fry took a moment to let that sink in. “Oh. Damn. Well, at least we can still go help that other me.”

Leela frowned, but nodded. “Yeah, we can probably hold off the bad guys long enough to make it underground.” She agreed. “We can go take shelter with the mutants like you were planning to do.” Although she was careful to keep any hint of it out of her voice, she knew full well that this would only act to buy them a little time. The Brains would still come for them, in the end.

The two of them made their way to the elevator, a bit more confident now that they had a plan. Leela pressed the call button. It didn’t light up.

“What the hell?!” She exclaimed. “Why isn’t this thing working?”

As an answer, the elevator doors began to glow a soft green. Fry gulped and the two of them took a few steps back. The elevator doors opened, but instead of an empty elevator car, a gigantic brain was floating in the elevator shaft. Leela whipped out her pistol and fired off a volley of shots, but the laser bolts ricocheted off the bluish energy field that surrounded the brain. In response, the brain just laughed and floated into the room.

<Foolish human. Your primitive weapons are no threat to me.> Two tendrils of blue energy sprang out of the brain’s underside and wrapped themselves around the humans’ weapons. The pistols were ripped from their grasps and went sailing into the open elevator shaft. The brain laughed again.

<I command the brainspawn that are laying siege to your world. Though you fought very well this time, I am afraid that not even your knowledge of the future will save your world from its fate>

Leela’s eye went wide. The brain’s words had hit her like an asteroid impact. She glared. “How do you know about that?!” She yelled. “Why is it that everyone seems to know about that?!”

Even though it was impossible, Leela was certain that the brain sneered at her. <You fool. Did you never wonder why our stupefaction fields affected everyone else on Earth, but you somehow always managed to avoid them? Did you think yourself that elusive?>

Leela blinked once. Actually, that’s exactly what she had thought.

<Or how about the time you were crashed on that ice moon?> The Brain continued. <Was it not strange that you were left completely alone?>

“W-What?” Leela managed to stutter.

<While you were unconscious on that moon I scanned your thoughts and learned of your trip through time. I also learned that, were I to attack Earth, I would surely win, because in the future you visited it had already happened. I quickly gathered my forces and launched an attack. I thank you for accidentally bringing me that message.>

Fry chose that moment to break into the brain’s monologue. “So you attacked Earth because Leela’s thoughts told you that you couldn’t lose?”


“But why did you let Leela get away after she crashed, and why didn’t your make-people-stupid rays work on her?”

<It was necessary. When I scanned Leela’s mind after the crash I learned that she was carrying the time device that my people created. We have long known that using the device was extremely dangerous, much too dangerous to ever be risked.>

“Then why didn’t you destroy it?” Fry asked.

<Because we are giant brains. That device that Leela is planning to hit me across the frontal lobes with-> Realizing she’d been caught, Leela lowered the device. It had been a stupid idea anyway. <-represents twenty-five thousand years of research. We cannot destroy it. But because we could not bring ourselves to destroy it, we always ran the risk that someone else would try and use it. That is why we guard it so heavily. >

“But why did you let Leela go?” Fry asked again.

<I am getting to that.> The brain snapped, irritated. <We could not use the device because, if a mistake was made, the entire universe could be destroyed. The very existence of the universe was put in jeopardy when that foolish Nibblonian allowed Leela to use the device.>

Fry spoke up. “But I thought you brains wanted to destroy the universe. I mean, you already tried to do it once.”

<We only wished to destroy the universe after we had gathered every piece of information that existed. In this manner, we would have been able to learn everything that there was to know. When the infosphere was destroyed, all of our data containing all of the knowledge we had gathered was destroyed with it. We cannot allow the universe to be destroyed now while there is information that we no longer have. Killing Leela would have fixed the problem of course, since she would not have had a chance to change the past, but logic told me to leave her alive until I was certain that she did not have some additional part to play. So I let her go. I allowed her to escape and told my soldiers to leave her alive, shooting at her enough to keep her from becoming suspicious. It seems I was correct. Had I killed Leela, you would never have died in that explosion and I would not have won the war.>

“But he didn’t die in the explosion.” Leela growled. “Not this last time. And now that the past has been changed and it doesn’t look like the universe is going to explode after all, you aren’t going to win. We will stop you.”

<Indeed. I had not considered the possibility that you would somehow survive and come back in time to try again. It was only when I realized that the second ship that my forces chased through my star system was another version of you that I realized you had to be dealt with more severely. That is why I changed tactics and decided to drop asteroids on your world. Since I knew about the explosive barrel in this building from your memories, I was certain that I could take care of Fry. You were more difficult. I was hoping the asteroids would provoke you into a foolish move against me, but you remained elusive. You have proven to be most annoying. Even more annoying, you should have created a paradox that cannot be undone when you saved The Fabled One. Only two possibilities exist as to why we are all still alive. Either you will still find some way to defeat me and fix things on your own, or I will kill you both in the near future and solve the paradox myself. Since you no longer have the time device…>

Another bluish energy field shot out from the brain’s underside and ripped the time device from Leela’s grasp. The time device flew over the brain and followed her laser pistol down the elevator shaft. A light came on in Leela’s head.

<As I was saying, since you no longer have the time device, it is unlikely that you will be defeating me, leaving us with only one option. Is there anything you would like to say before I scramble your brains and scatter your atoms throughout the city?>

Leela looked at Fry out of the corner of her eye. She knew one way out of this, but it depended upon him. Somehow she had to tell him what to do without letting the brain know what she was up to. If the brain got wind of her plan it would surely stupefy or even shoot her on the spot.

“Wait.” She said slowly. “I think we’re missing something here.” She put as much emphasis as she possibly could on the word ‘think’.

Fry turned to her. “What are we missing?”

“Well, you know Fry. Don’t you think something is missing?” Not for the first time, Leela wished that she could wink.

“Uhh, no?”

The brain cut Leela off before she could say anything else. <”You forget that I can feel your attempts to think, Leela. Though I admire your attempt to remind The Fabled One about our weakness, it was a foolish move. Obviously you have come up with some sort of plan. Hold still while I read your pitiful little mind.> A greenish blob of energy lashed out from the brain and surrounded Leela. Her eyes immediately glazed over.

Fry lunged at the brain and began beating at the bluish energy field that protected it. “Stop that! Let her go!” The brain laughed again, obviously enjoying its mastery of the situation. Fry backed away, realizing he wasn’t doing any damage. He forced himself to think for a moment. “What did the brain mean by ‘telling me about their weakness’? What was Leela trying to tell me?”

Suddenly the brain cried out. It began to squirm in midair. <Stop that!> It yelled, obviously in pain.

“Wait a minute... Thinking hurts them!” Fry realized as the brain moaned and sank to the florr. “I remember that from the other time the brains invaded the Earth! I wonder how I can use that? Man, what was Leela trying to tell me?”

The brain screamed and the field surrounding Leela dissipated. Suddenly she could think again. Wasting no time, Leela rolled jumped over the agonized brainspawn and hit the elevator call button. This time the button lit. By the time the elevator had reached the smelloscope room, Leela had grabbed Fry and hauled him across the room. The brain was just starting to recover when the elevator closed behind them.

The elevator doors opened onto the first floor of the Planet Express building. Fry bolted, heading for the lobby. Right before he got to the door he realized that Leela wasn’t following him. He threw on the brakes and turned his body back toward the elevator. Leela was walking leisurely in his direction.

“Leela, what are you doing? Come on!” He gestured for her to hurry.

Leela shook her head. “No Fry. We’re not running away this time. I’ve got a plan. It came to me when that big brain threw the time device down the elevator shaft. There’s no time to explain, just keep the big brain occupied when he shows up. I just hope we’re in the right place…” Without another word, Leela turned her back to the delivery boy and faced the elevator they had just left.

“B-But…” Fry stammered. He glanced over his shoulder at the door to the exit. Leela didn’t budge. Fry started to speak a couple of times, but when nothing intelligible came out, he gave up and walked to Leela’s side. He shook his head. “Leela, remind me later to tell you you’re completely nuts.”

Leela turned to him and smiled without humor. “If this works, you won’t ever need to.”

“Yeah? Well if this doesn’t work I won’t ever be able to. Because we’ll both be dead.”

Leela’s smile vanished and she turned back toward the elevator. The wait was not long. There was a terrific shriek of ripping metal. The elevator doors crashed outward. The big brain hovered into the hallway.

<I underestimated you two.> It said. <But it does not matter. Even though I did not have enough time to uncover your plan while I was reading your thoughts, you will not escape me again. I have locked the other Fry and your coworkers in the hallway above us. They will be taken care of momentarily. But now it is your time to die.> The brain reared up and began to glow a soft yellow, the color of the brains’ deadly psychic rays.

“Fry!” Leela yelled, jamming the delivery boy in the ribs with her elbow.

“Huh? Oh right.” Fry began to think. The brain faltered.

<No.> It said. <You- will not- defeat me again.>

To Fry’s horror, Leela started to walk up to the shuddering pink lump. “Leela what-“ He began.

Leela spoke without turning to face the delivery boy. “Just trust me Fry, I know what I’m doing. I think.” She addressed the brain, which was writhing in agony a meter or so above the floor. “Now listen to me you jerk.” She put her hands on her hips. “I’ve gone through a lot in the last few days. I’ve been frozen, I’ve gone back in time so many times that I should probably be getting frequent flyer miles, and I’ve watched my best friends get blown to shreds. Twice. I’m tired, I’m sore, and I’m an emotional wreck. Now is not a good time to piss me off! But you just had to come along and do it anyway. Well not anymore. I’m done. See, you screwed up just now. I know a way out of this.” She looked at her wristamajig and grinned evilly. “I’m going home, and there’s not a damned thing that you can do to stop me.”

There was a bright flash. Fry blinked. A small, perfectly round hole had appeared in the ceiling. A small object appeared in the hole and began to fall. Leela grabbed the time device and laughed triumphantly.

“Right on cue!” She exclaimed. “See, there’s a part of my story that you apparently don’t know. When the Planet Express Building exploded the first time, I was buried in the rubble. When I woke up I tried to activate the time device but I accidentally dropped it. It hit something when it fell and went back in time without me. I happened to notice the time that was displayed on it right before it vanished and I blacked out again. When you threw my time device down the elevator shaft just now I realized I could get another one if I stood in just the right place at just the right time. Oh, and don’t worry. This one had a lot more time to charge than the one you just destroyed did. I’ll be able to go back in time as far as I need to.”

The brain struggled to speak. <It- It does not matter. I w- I will stop you again. You can’t win.>

Leela waved the device at the brain. “Wrong-o, hackeysack! I’ve learned my lesson. Every time I come back here you get in the way. If I come back here again Fry will just end up dead, and I’ll do it all over. Again. I’ll be reliving this day for the rest of my life. So I’ve been thinking, how do I break the cycle? How do I stop this day from happening again? Well, I finally figured it out. To make sure this doesn’t happen again I’ll just have to make sure it never happened in the first place.” Leela began to adjust the time device’s control knob. “Sorry Mr. Brain,” Leela said triumphantly, “but you lose.”

Leela started to press the button to activate the device, but she hesitated. “Oh, what the hell,” she said, coming to a decision. She backed up a few steps and turned to Fry. “Fry, I’ve wanted to do this for a long time.” Then she did something Fry would never have expected in a million years. She leaned over and kissed him, hard. For a moment Fry was certain that she was going to suck the lungs right out of his chest. The delivery boy’s eyes went wide; he was so shocked he didn’t even return the kiss. Leela backed away and smiled at him. “Sorry Fry.” She said sadly. “But that never happened.” She activated the time device.