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Blame it to the Brain - Part 2

Author: coldangel_1

futurama point . fan fics . coldangel_1 . blame it to the brain - part 2

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Go to "Blame it to the Brain - Part 1"

Chapter 15: From Eternium With Love

Onespawn pursued the fleeing spacecraft with a vengeance, calling forth powerful blasts of energy from within itself and sending them lancing across the void in spectacular crimson bolts. The destruction of the Brezhnev had stripped it of its nanites for the time being, until it could produce more, and the power needed to reassemble itself had left it weakened. But the changes Onespawn had wrought within itself remained intact, as did the mysterious quantum flux that seemed to grow even stronger now.
            The Momship darted around in three dimensions, jack-knifing to avoid the devastating psychoplasmic discharges that lit up space like a Freedom Day parade. Everyone onboard was thrown about violently each time one of the blasts erupted nearby.
            “Sweet chimpanzee of Tokyo-Three!” Hermes said, clinging to a console. “We canna take much more of this, mon!”
            Mom picked herself up out of Scruffy’s lap and gave the janitor a perfunctory slap just in case he’d been having any lewd thoughts.
            “Can’t you shake the damn thing?” she bellowed at the Helmsman.
            “I’m trying!” Gary Helm  replied as he swung the control column hard over. “It’s matching us move-for-move. I don’t know what it uses for propulsion, but from the Gs its pulling on some of those turns, I’d say it could fly rings around us.”
            Another close explosion lifted them from their feet, and Mom found herself in Scruffy’s lap once again. This time she punched him in the stomach.
            “Scruffy’s a punchin’ bag fer angry women,” he grunted. “An’ he finds it strangely arousin’.”
            “We need a diversion,” Mom said. “Something to throw the bastard off our ass!”
            “I have an idea!” Amy piped-up, and Mom waved her away irritably.
            “Perhaps some kind of genetically-engineered albino gorilla fired at the creature…?” Farnsworth mumbled.
            Amy raised her hand. “We could lure it to…”
            “Quiet, you little tart!” Mom snapped. “Smart people are talking!”
            “De bu, chao ah lian, Li lao bu ho ang moh lang kan ka seh li zi pu bor kia!” Amy muttered darkly. The ship took a direct hit, and fountains of sparks erupted from the bridge consoles.
            “I thought I ordered non-exploding consoles installed!” Mom shouted.
            “But there was a sale on these ones…” the Helmsman replied.
            “Guh!” Amy spat, and pushed past Mom to a navigation console unaffected by the pyrotechnics. Hammering in a set of coordinates, she brought the display up on the main system screen, highlighted in yellow.
            Mom stopped yelling at her subordinates and looked up at the screen; it showed a specific star system.
            “Omicron Persei…” she said slowly, her eyes widening. “Of course! The stupid little strumpet is onto something – Helm! Plot a course for Omicron Persei Eight!”
            “Yes ma’am,” Helm replied.
            The Momship banked toward Galactic North and Onespawn followed, furiously firing psychoplasmic energy balls after the vessel as it went.

* * *

Terminal Precept, the storehouse of the Lance of Fate, was collapsing.

Leela made it to the ledge with Fry right behind her. He covered the last few feet in a flying leap as the slender strip of stone bridge splintered and fell away into the dark abyss.
            “Make haste!” Nibbler shouted unnecessarily, and Leela snatched him up by his cape as, together, the group ran back through the dark passage. Boulders crashed down around them and a tremendous crackling roar filled the air as great slabs of rock fractured.
            Bender made it to the stairs first and was struck by several rolling stones, which gathered no moss as they bounced off his metal casing.
            “Oh, it’s gonna take ages to buff those scratches out!” he lamented.
            “There’ll be time for buffing later,” Leela shouted. “Right now we’ve gotta polish… I mean RUN!”
            They ascended the stairs at a mad dash, dodging rocks that fell toward them almost unseen in the gloom.
            “Why?” Fry puffed. “Why is it… that everywhere we go… things always collapse on top of us?”
            At length, they stumbled up over the top of the staircase, pursued by a cloud of dust, and lay panting on the floor of the hall of forever.
            “Well that was enjoyable,” Leela grumbled sarcastically. “How about for our next outing we visit the caldera of an active volcano?” They ground was still rumbling beneath them, and cracks suddenly spiderwebbed across the marble floor.
            “It’s not over!” Nibbler shouted.
            “Cheese it again!” Bender added.
            As wide fissures opened up in the floor and chunks of pastel-coloured roof crashed down, the friends bolted and leapt through the gauntlet and burst out through the doors into the Eternium evening. Behind them, the hall of forever imploded with a huge crash into a pile of rubble and then began to subside in a massive sinkhole.
            Fry, Leela, Bender, and Nibbler stood watching the great collapsed mess of masonry settle into the wide pit.
            “Four billion years,” Nibbler said sadly. “Four billion years the hall of forever stood…”
            “Easy come, easy go,” Bender said indifferently.
            Fry glanced at Leela, and reached up to gently wipe a smudge of dust from her cheek. She looked at him and smiled, and a quiet moment of inexplicable tension passed between them.
            “You look beautiful, even when you’re covered in grime,” Fry said awkwardly.
            “Oh… Fry…” Leela blushed.
            Fry scratched his head and looked at the ground. “Hey Leela…” he began hesitantly. “I know you keep saying you only want friendship with me, and maybe that really is all we could be… but I was thinking… since we really seem to be on the knife edge this time around, and the Universe might actually end… if we somehow do manage to survive, why don’t you and I…”
            “Oh my God!” Leela shouted suddenly, cutting him off. Her eye went wide in horrified disbelief.
            “No, no – I wasn’t going to say that,” Fry clarified hurriedly. “I just meant dinner, not the other thing… unless you wanted to afterward, but that isn’t what I was driving at… not that I wouldn’t love to…”
            “No, Fry – look!” Leela pointed behind him, and he turned to look. Out over the horizon a swarm of objects filled the sky, gradually growing larger as they approached, and resolving into terrifyingly familiar shapes.
            “The Brainspawn,” Nibbler said, bearing his fangs. “They come to prevent us taking the Lance.”
            Fry looked at the ancient weapon still clutched in his hand; its shimmering field of temporal displacement momentarily reflected his own face. “I could use it against them now,” he said.
            “Negative,” Nibbler replied. “For the Lance to fully recombine the entire Brainspawn race, it must strike at the prime brain in the collective hierarchy, that its effects may be linked down to all the others.”
            “The Big Brain,” Leela said, remembering. “That was the controlling brain Fry fought in the library years ago.”
            “Under normal circumstances, yes,” Nibbler said, glaring up at the approaching horde. “But now a new Brainspawn has ascended to become more powerful than the Big Brain, or any other of the vile creatures. It is now the prime.”
            “…You mean ‘Onespawn’,” Fry said in realization.
            “I hate to interrupt this expositional narrative,” Bender said, “but perhaps we ought to be in the process of cheesing it once again?”
            The friends turned and ran toward the Planet Express ship as the swarm of brains descended on them. They boarded the ship in a disorganized clatter of feet, and Leela hurried to the bridge where she set about hammering buttons.
            “I’ll take care of the start-up and pre-flight system preps for you, Fry,” she said as unseen machines hummed into life. “You could manage takeoff with the programmed steps; after that it’s all just…”
            “Huh?” Fry said, looking confused. “Me?”
            “Yes Fry,” Leela said, turning away from the console and taking him by the shoulders. “Once the Brainspawn are close enough to affect us with their stupefaction ray, you’ll be the only one who… make… Leela feel all warm and cuddly inside!”
            “You make a good point,” Fry said, nodding. “Wait… what?”
            “…Duh…” Leela grinned vacantly and reached up to tousle Fry’s hair. “Orange!” she giggled.
            Bender gasped in mortification back at the rear of the cabin. “Ogod ogod ogod!” he cried, clutching at the sides of his head. “Where are my ears? Where are my ears?!
            “Uh oh,” Fry said. He glanced out the window and saw the swarm of brains much nearer now, projecting long tendrils of blue stupidifiying energy down towards the ship. He quickly jumped into the pilot seat, laying the Lance of Fate on the floor beside him, and hit the landing gear button. The ship’s feet retracted, and it fell down hard on its belly with a crash.
            “Sorry,” Fry grunted, thumbing the antigravs and easing back on the control column. With jerky motions, the Planet Express ship lunged up into the air. The Brainspawn followed close behind and began clustering around the little green freighter, bumping against the hull and shoving it with telekinetic impulses.
            Nibbler made a muffled choking sound as he caught the stalk of his third eye and tried to swallow it.
            “I want what he’s eating!” Leela sulked.
            Fry paused with his hand on the dark matter lever and glanced at the Brainspawn in the rear view mirror.
            “You’re about to suffer severe brain-damage,” he drawled in his best action-hero voice, and then grimaced when he realized the others were too stupid to appreciate his wit. He pushed the lever down and the PE ship shot forward, its main drive exhaust blowing numerous Brainspawn to pieces.
            The full dark matter burn within the constraints of an atmosphere set off a cacophony of load warnings as the ship’s outer skin heated up and began to ablate from the massive friction. Then it flew free of Eternium’s atmosphere, and Fry located the terminus of the spiderhole in a distant elliptical orbit of the system’s star. He plotted a course toward it, taking them into the lee of an irregular moonlet.
            Gradually, the other three returned to their senses and looked around in confusion.
            “Me… feeling… a bit better in… capacity for abstract postulation,” Leela said slowly. “Fry – you did it!”
            “Yeah, and I told the Brainspawn: ‘you’re about to suffer severe br…’”
            “So we’re home free?” Bender interrupted.
            “Not quite,” Nibbler said, pointing to the forward screen. Ahead in space, a hazy cloud was growing, separating into individual objects as the distance closed. Swimming into stark clarity…
            “Oh, you gotta be bendin’ me…” Bender muttered.
            The other half of the Brainspawn horde was poised between them and the spiderhole.
            “No problem,” Fry said with grim determination. “I’ll just brawn my way through these brains and we’ll…”
            He was cut off by the crackle of the communications system coming to life, Fiona appeared through static interference and glowered at them all.
            “Lord Nibbler!” she commanded. “Instruct your pet humans to turn their ship around, or we will be forced to fire upon you.”
            As if on cue, long-range sensors chimed, indicating a mass of small contacts emerging from behind the heavily-cratered moonlet. The Nibblonian second fleet began to close on them from behind.
            “Caught between the Nibblonians and the Brainspawn,” Fry muttered. “What would MacGyver do?” Struck with sudden inspiration, he pulled a paperclip, a shoelace, and a bottletop out of his pocket and stared at them for a moment. “Damn,” he said. “If only I had a cigarette lighter.”
            Nibbler stared sadly up at Fiona’s image
            “I cannot comply,” he said. “What must be, must be.”
            “Do not be a fool,” Fiona said. “We can annihilate you utterly – you know this.”
            “Better to die in the pursuit of what is right than live under the shadow of what is wrong,” Nibbler replied.
            “Uh…” Bender raised a hand. “I, for one, do not share that opinion.”
            Fiona looked conflicted. “I do not wish to do this,” she said. “Please turn back now – return the lance. I do not want to destroy you…”
            “Do it,” Nibbler said. “Shoot us down, and then ask yourself - of what worth are all our yesterdays if we, in the hour of our final reckoning, discard that last shining inch of ourselves that defines us – our honour and our cause, the small fragile thing that is more important than anything in this Universe we’ve sworn to protect? To embrace the vile, the tainted…?” Nibbler had riled himself to a near-religious fervour, and he continued, clenching his paws into little fists: “What would we tell those who have gone before us?” he said. “Those, whose toil prepared our path, guided us to this moment in time when the strength of our will and the substance of our being are called upon one last time… what would we tell them?”
            Fiona stared at him over the comm. link, her face awash with unknowable emotion. Finally, she sighed. “We would tell them how ashamed we are,” she admitted.
            “Farewell,” Nibbler said. The link went dead. Leela and Bender glanced at each other, and Fry looked bewildered.
            “So… what just happened?” he asked. “Is she going to blow us up?”
            “We shall know soon enough,” Nibbler replied grimly.
The pursuing Nibblonian fleet drew closer as the Planet Express ship continued on toward the Brainspawn blockade. Hundreds of little saucer-shaped ships deployed their weapons systems in preparation, moving in for the kill.
“Maybe someone should man the laser cannon,” Leela said uncertainly.
“There would be little point,” Nibbler replied.
Still, the fleet came on, and still no shots were fired. A dense atmosphere of tense expectation filled the cabin as all four of them watched the radar monitor.
“What the hell are they waiting for?” Bender muttered.
Suddenly, the fleet decreased speed and began to fall back, and the four friends breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Thankyou,” Nibbler said quietly. Perhaps Fiona would still follow her own course, but for now she was willing to allow Nibbler some rein to follow his… maybe only as a last-ditch ace in the hole, but it was something at least.
“We aren't outta the mangroves yet,” Fry noted, pointing at the Brainspawn ahead. The brains were apparently undaunted by the Nibblonians’ change of heart, and closed ranks in front of the PE ship, projecting a dense field of stupidity.
            “Okay guys, time for a little brainstorming,” he said with a grin. Nobody laughed, and he looked around to see Leela clutching a drooling Nibbler like a teddy-bear and sucking her thumb, while Bender tried (with limited success) to climb inside his own chest compartment. The others were again afflicted with total idiocy.
            “Aw nuts,” Fry muttered, turning back to the control column. “All my best material and nobody to dig it…” He piloted the ship right into the midst of the Brainspawn, slamming heedlessly into scores of bloated pink blobs. The Brainspawn responded by buffeting the PE ship with telekinetic pulses, attempting to throw it offcourse, but Fry smoothly adjusted the controls the way Leela had been teaching him and weaved through the onslaught.
            As he flew on toward the looming purple maelstrom of the interdimensional spiderhole, the Brainspawn matched pace, swarming around the ship and buffeting it.

            “Quit it!” Fry said through clenched teeth as he and the others were thrown left and right.
            “Bouncy ride!” Nibbler squealed with delight, kicking his legs.
            “Weeeeeeeeee!” Leela seconded.
            Vast spiderwebs of negative matter shot past on all sides, and the event horizon approached, shimmering and shifting.
            Leela suddenly snuggled up alongside Fry, resting her head in the crook of his neck. “Me love Fry,” she said.
            Despite the desperate situation and the vast cataclysmic rift in spacetime that loomed seconds away, Fry momentarily broke his concentration to look at her in surprise.
            “You what?”
            Then they hit the spiderhole, and everything stretched beyond the point of comprehension, before snapping back violently. The ship hurtled through the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, tumbling end-over end with Fry struggling frantically to right the trajectory and prevent the little vessel slamming into the deadly edge of the interdimensional tunnel.
            The Brainspawn followed, nudging the PE ship, trying to knock it into the negative matter. Fry responded by broadsiding the ship into a group of the creatures and sending them flashing into radioactive doom when they impacted the edge of the spiderhole.
            “Don’t strain your brain,” Fry muttered. He looked ahead, and saw for a brief instant a colossal shape move against the surface of the spiderhole’s wall. Then it was gone, phasing out of visibility, but the image of multiple legs hundreds of thousand of miles long gave him the ghost of an idea. He steered the ship toward the side of the swirling tunnel of energy, with the Brainspawn close behind, and switched on the ship’s high-beam headlights.
            Forked bolts of esoteric energy stabbed out from the wall of the spiderhole as the PE ship flew dangerously close by. The powerful headlights stirred up random disturbances in the torrents of negative energy, until something finally appeared in front of the ship, roused by the commotion. It reared into existence, larger than the mind could fathom – its cluster of multi-faceted eyes rising up like a planet…
            The maker of the spiderhole was agitated.
            Fry pulled the ship up, soaring over the giant interdimensional arachnid’s moon-sized head. The pursuing Brainspawn hesitated, suddenly finding themselves facing one of the mightiest creatures in any Universe.
            The Star Spider. Kumonga. Anansi the Trickster. The Weaver. Tsuchigumo. It had many names in many places, but no legend could ever do justice to a creature of such immense terrible majesty. As the little green spaceship flew the length of the creature’s vast abdomen and away behind it, the giant spider regarded the tiny swarm of flying brains and decided it didn’t like them.
            Raising its world-sized form up into the centre of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, it angled gargantuan spinnerets at the Brainspawn and fired million-mile-long strands of negative matter webbing. Each of the brains struck by the strands erupted into bursts of pure energy that filled the spiderhole with incandescent light. The survivors turned and fled they way they had come.
            The Planet Express ship burst from the spiderhole terminus and fell almost instantly into the maw of the second. After an intermittent time, it emerged once again into real space, and Fry burnt dark matter at a rapid rate to put as much distance as he could between the ship and whatever might be following. A sheen of nervous perspiration covered his face.
            The others had returned to their standard level of intelligence and were looking out the windows for signs of pursuit.
            “Looks like you got us through,” Leela said to Fry. “Good work.”
            “It was a no-brainer,” Fry replied, naturally. Leela chuckled, and he sighed in relief.

Chapter 16: Spit and Wishes

Jerry, Elaine and Kramer were seated in their usual booth in the coffee shop when George appeared, looking even more downbeat than usual.
            “Hey Georgie!” Kramer said.
            Jerry and Elaine offered their greetings as George slumped down silently next to Elaine.
            “What’s the matter?” Jerry asked across the table.
            George shook his head and slowly responded: “My mother caught me…”
            “‘Caught’ you? Doing what?”
            “You know…” The others gave him blank stares, and he continued reluctantly. “I was alone…”
            Elaine made a surprised face. “You mean…!?”
            Kramer laughed. “She caught you?”
Lrrr nudged the television with one massive webbed foot to try to improve the ancient reception, and settled back to watch.

            “I’ve seen this rerun too many times,” Ndnd declared, folding her tree-trunk arms.
            “It’s a classic,” Lrrr rumbled menacingly. You’ll watch it again and you’ll ENJOY it!”
            George continued his story. “…First she screams, ‘George, what are you doing?! My God!’ And it looked like she was gonna faint - she started clutching the wall, trying to hang onto it.”
            “Man,” Kramer said reflectively.
            “I didn't know whether to try and keep her from falling, or zip up.”
            “What did you do?” Jerry asked in fascination.
            “I zipped up!” George replied.
Lrrr leaned close to Ndnd and muttered: “As the most powerful of them, I do not understand why the one called Kramer does not merely seize control of Manhattan Island in a brutal bloodbath and declare it a breakaway fortress-state.”
            “Perhaps he is concealing his true ambition until a time of his choosing,” Ndnd suggested. “The same way you try to conceal that gut of yours.”
            Lrrr growled. “Well you…” he said, trying to think of a biting comeback. “…Shut up.”
            At that moment a palace servant entered the chamber and bowed low.
            “Your Excellencies of Divine and Immaculate Wisdom, whose Grace and Valour are an Eternal…”
            “Yes, yes!” Lrrr snapped irritably. “What cataclysm could warrant interrupting NBC’s primetime lineup?”
            “Forgive me!” the servant grovelled. “The long-range defensive array has tracked two large objects entering the system on course for our Great and Magnificent homeworld.”
            “Ohhhhhhh wonderful!” Lrrr growled, pushing himself to his feet and stomping over to the entrance. “My one night of free time, ruined!”
            He cast one final glance at the TV where Jerry, George, and Kramer were watching the naked woman in the apartment block across the street, and then with a sigh he stomped out.
            “Get some milk and bread on the way back!” Ndnd called out.

* * *

The Momship…
            …Bloodied, beaten… with great scorched rends torn in its hull plating, struggled on its erratic course toward the eight planet of Omicron Persei. Behind it, glowing with livid fury, came Onespawn. The gargantuan brain had resorted to projecting occasional waves of quantum reality displacement that rippled across the void in expanding spheres of weird unreal energy.
            One such wave passed through the Momship, making the vessel and everyone onboard twist and bulge into crazy distorted shapes. Then reality snapped back again and they returned to normal.
            “Oh, that doesn’t bode well,” Farnsworth said, looking somewhat mortified by the distortion.
            “What does it mean?” Mom asked.
            “It means that Wernstrom… Wernstrom was telling the truth,” the Professor replied. “With the ability to directly interfere with quantum states, the creature has the potential to literally unmake the Universe!”
            Another wave passed through them, and Mom was suddenly joined by seven duplicates of herself which looked at each other in bewilderment before fusing back together into one very confused whole.
            “…Really?” she said uncertainly, as the unreal resonances faded. “Well perhaps the Omicronians will have better luck blasting the damn thing – here they come!” She pointed out the main screen, where an armada of massive city-killer ships had departed Omicron Persei VIII’s orbit and were moving on an intercept course.
            “How do we know they won’t blow us up too?” Hermes asked quietly.
            “Established literary convention?” Scruffy offered.
            A broadwave transmission was picked up by the ship’s communication system, and Lrrr appeared onscreen, slightly out of frame.
            “Insolent slime!” he bellowed. “I am Lrrr, ruler of Omicron Persei Eight, addressing those fools who dare to attack the homeworld of the Omicronians!” He paused to hurriedly adjust the camera so that his face was centred, but it fell over and he resorted to holding it steady by hand. “…Lousy piece of crap webcam,” he muttered, and then continued in his commanding roar. “Hear me now! You have ten seconds to surrender and be destroyed – or we will destroy you!”
            The message ended, and the Helmsman went pale, going rigid at the controls as he calculated velocities and trajectories.
            “This is going to take some serious kutzpa,” Helm said.
            On the bridge of the Omicronian command vessel, Lrrr watched the Momship approaching.
            “Bastard’s not even changing course,” he muttered in amusement to an aide. “Open fire!”
            Magnetic launchers on all the frontline saucer ships opened up simultaneously, hurling ultravelocity kinetic harpoons across the void at near-lightspeed. The Momship’s sensors picked up the mass of relativistic projectiles eating up the distance between them at a frightening rate.
            “Bu hau!” Amy said, wringing her hands in fright.
            “Wait for it,” Mom said through gritted teeth as the deadly harpoons drew dangerously near. “Wait…”
            At the last moment, Helm banked hard, pulling more Gs than the ship’s structural specifications allowed for. The superstructure groaned and creaked in metal anguish, but the big ship managed to corkscrew away from the path of the kinetic harpoons, which flashed past and continued on…
            …to slam into Onespawn’s unexpecting flank.
            A brilliant explosion lit up space.

* * *

Fry and Nibbler flickered briefly.
            It was almost unnoticeable, just a passing of out-of-focus translucence, and then they were solid again, looking around in confusion. On the floor, the Lance of Fate flared suddenly bright, and pulsed with quiet power.
            “What was that?” Fry wondered, getting up from the command chair.
            “Onespawn flexing its muscle again,” Nibbler replied.
            “It hardly affected you at all this time,” Leela said hopefully. “Do you think it’s becoming less powerful?”
            “Quite the opposite,” Nibbler said grimly. “Only now we are now protected by the temporal-morphic field of the Lance.”
            “Well that’s handy,” Fry said. He picked up the Lance and noticed that the deck beneath where it had lain was now a rough patch of unprocessed iron ore, looking like it was freshly-dug from the quarry. Slowly it transformed, progressing back through the process of smelting and refinement to solidify to its normal state of smooth steel.
            “Cool,” Fry said quietly. “I could turn yoghurt back into milk…”
            “Impressive,” Bender said. “No wait – the other thing, mind-numbing. I’m gonna shut down for a while – any of you losers tries to wake me, I’ll hit you with a bottle.” With that, he went still and closed his eye shield.
            “Yeah, I might turn in too, Fry said, tucking the Lance of Fate under one arm and heading for the door. “Don’t let me sleep through the end of the Universe.” He left Leela and Nibbler alone on the bridge, with the exclusion of Bender’s immobile form.
            Leela sat down, deep in thought, and remained so for several minutes before turning to regard Nibbler contemplatively.
            “If Fry uses the Lance of Fate against Onespawn,” she said, “then it and the entire Brainspawn race will be absorbed and fused with the Nibblonians, correct?”
            “That is so,” Nibbler replied.
            “But then what happens to Fry?” Leela asked. “He’s connected to you all, and he’ll be at the centre of the storm… so what will become of him?” She looked worried, and stared at Nibbler imploringly, hoping for a dismissive laugh, or a waving-away of such silly concerns.
            Instead, Nibbler looked away uncomfortably. “I do not know,” he confessed.
            Leela blinked in surprise, and then felt a slight stab of unreasoning anger. “You don’t know?” she said in disbelief. “You know every damn thing else – why not that?”
            “Leela…” Nibbler met her gaze levelly. “The great fracture that gave rise to the Brainspawn and Nibblonians as separate races also pulled the fabric of reality taut and thin… in some places glued together. Our actions and fates are often not our own… surely you have felt it? Times when your course seems directed by the hand of some failed unoriginal writer, when events resemble something familiar you cannot define…? The borders that bound our Universe are weakened; other Universes are pressing against this one, pushing us this way and that into the shape of other worlds and other people… and to be completely honest with you…” He lowered his voice. “It’s really all held together by spit and wishes these days, because nobody has ever taken responsibility for setting it right. I am consistently amazed when tomorrow even manages to follow today; so as for what will happen to Fry, I won’t even hazard a guess.”
            Leela stared at him blankly. She was too tired for metaphysics, quantum physics, or even regular physics – her eye was red-rimmed and her patience was short.
            “All things will come to an end,” Nibbler went on. “At one point, Fry will be the lynchpin upon which the future turns. What happens after that may depend, to some extent, on him… and that’s all I can say.”
            “Could he die?” Leela said.
            “It’s possible.”
            Leela leaned back and ran her fingers through her purple hair. “Does he know?” she asked quietly, tiredly.
            “He suspects, I think,” Nibbler said.
            “And we have no choice…” Leela closed her eye, and a single tear escaped the lid, spilling down her cheek.
            In his cabin, Fry stood naked before the mirror and looked upon the dark stigma that had spread around his torso and begun to creep down both legs. The sense of impending inevitability hung heavy upon him, as dark as the swirling marks on his skin.

            The Lance of Fate, leaning against the wall, seemed to resonate in sympathy. He looked at it and sighed, rolling onto his hammock and staring at the ceiling.
            “How much time do we have left?” he murmured to the Universe in general.
            On the bridge, Leela drifted into an uneasy sleep, wracked by disturbing dreams. Nibbler adjusted the ship’s autopilot course to take them toward their appointment with finality.
            His three eyes were set hard in determination.

* * *

Onespawn tumbled end-over-end, superheated plasma radiating from the enormous wound in its frontal lobe where the relativistic harpoons had struck. Gathering its fragmented thought processes, it righted itself and turned to face the Omicronian armada.
            Insufferable carbon-based vermin
            It propelled itself forward into the midst of the advancing Omicronian warships and expanded its stupefaction field. The big saucer ships began to fly erratically and fire off random bursts from their weapons systems.
            Damaged and weakened, Onespawn did not linger to enact vengeance. It needed time to heal, to replenish energy and further strengthen itself. While the alien battleships flew about like gigantic Frisbees with death-rays crashing into one another, Onespawn left the area at high speed.
            The human vessel it had pursued was apparently gone.
            Apparently, but not.
            The Momship, having escaped the immediate vicinity of Omicronian wrath and Onespawn’s fury, now ran silent and distant, keeping pace with the wounded brain as it sought safety somewhere away from the warlike aliens.
            “It’s running scared,” Mom said, standing on the bridge of the ship. “Readings indicate the energistic displacement surrounding it has dropped significantly – those impacts have weakened it.”
            “If it bleeds,” Scruffy said, “we can kill it.”
            “No, no, no,” the Helmsman said. “We’re flying on a wing and a prayer here. The ship’s all banged up to hell, and none of you really have any idea how much fight that thing has left in it.”
            “Shut your filthy spamhole!” Mom snapped. “This is the best chance we’ve had yet – we can’t afford not to use this opportunity to cram a nuke right up that thing’s…” she paused. “Where do you cram things up a brain?”
            “The Medulla Oblongata,” Hermes said.
            “Perhaps some prudence would serve us well at this point,” Farnsworth said. “By observing the ‘Onespawn’ from a distance, you might delay our pointless deaths long enough for me to figure out a way to actually do some good.”
            “You think you have something, you senile idiot?” Mom said.
            “Yes, but it isn’t contagious so don’t get all Howard Hughes about it.”
            “Something to do with Onespawn?” Mom gritted her teeth.
            “Not at all, and I resent the implication,” Farnsworth said. “I do, however, have an idea about Onespawn that may prove useful, oh my yes…”
            “And that is?” Mom asked.
            “Yes,” Farnsworth replied. “It is.” He wandered away muttering to himself and Mom was left looking bewildered.
            At length, she turned to one of her underlings. “Maintain this distance, dammit,” she said. “We’ll play it safe and see what time avails us.”

* * *

At the terminus of the spiderhole the combined Nibblonian/Brainspawn attack force finally emerged, and then diverged, the Brainspawn separating to avoid the screeching thoughts of their counterparts.
            On the bridge of the Nibblonian command vessel, Fiona gazed out into space contemplatively.
            “We have a course laid in for the enemy’s location,” a navigator informed her, with a bitter edge to his voice.
            “Proceed,” she said. “With any luck we should be able to prevent the Mighty One’s interference and end this affair in a way that preserves the status-quo.”
            “Agreed!” the Big Brain’s voice said over the communications link. “We shall face this shared threat together if we must, but after that – all deals are off.”
            The two races moved, for the first time, as one toward a common goal. Travelling at enhanced lightspeed, they zeroed in on the destination that spacetime distortions marked out in their unique senses as the focal point of a tremendous knot in reality.

            ...They went together to confront Onespawn.

Chapter 17: Gone with the Solar Wind

Despite the physical exhaustion, Fry was unable to sleep. Strange thoughts and imaginings kept flickering in his mind like a pilot light, never extinguishing; which was an unfamiliar state for a man to whom the old Buddhist ideal of emptying one’s mind of conscious thought normally came as naturally as breathing.
            The vision of Leela’s skeleton featured prominently – although mortality was no mystery to him, the image still caused a sharp-edged sliver of terror to stab into his soul. He couldn’t imagine a world without Leela; her strength and beauty were Universal constants, like gravity and shoddy service in fast-food restaurants.
            Such maudlin thoughts were of a variety he could usually shake off, drink away, or encase in a sarcophagus of stupidness. But things felt different now; more real, more serious – the violence and angst of the past few days had been unlike any of his previous episodes… escapades? There was a distinct sense that time was limited… he felt it in his marrow, and in the cosmic stigma that slowly consumed him. Finality, completion; The End of All Things. How much time was left for him to right the wrongs in his life before it all became academic? Days? Hours?
            Rolling from the hammock, he donned clothes and padded out of the room, down the hall, and onto the bridge. Bender still stood in a dormant inactive state, while Nibbler had disappeared somewhere. Fry walked forward to look at the stars, but paused when he noticed Leela asleep in the command chair, making small whimpering sounds as her eyelid trembled – some bad dream was being painted across the canvas of her mind, and he almost considered waking her, but she had been exhausted and needed to rest.
            Leela… she was so beautiful, so amazing. What were the odds that he could fall through a thousand years of empty time and awaken in a presence of a Goddess such as her?
He reached down and brushed a few errant strands of purple hair from her face, and she seemed to relax at his touch, sighing contentedly.
            Fry supposed that if Leela were in his place now she wouldn’t be as uncertain as him – she wouldn’t stand around waiting for events to pull her in one direction or another. She would take charge of her destiny… something Fry was rarely able to do. Hell, he had trouble taking charge of his shoelaces (unfortunately a thousand years in the future Velcro was still considered dorky).
            He turned away and walked over to the forward viewscreen, where he stood with his hands in his pockets, gazing out at the cosmos. Stars that might have witnessed the birth and death of billions of souls within their warm embrace fled past the little ship in the blink of an eye; incandescent multicoloured nebula drifted by, tens of old-light years long, where suns and worlds were being created; icy comets, immense tumbling asteroids, and… and a million other things Fry had no name for. The idea that he might have the ability to save it all could so easily have inflated his ego to a celestial size, and at another time being ‘the most important person in the Universe’ had seemed like the greatest thing ever.
            …But now… now he was only frightened. And where had that fear come from? That biting sense of realism had never afflicted him before… it was as if he’d jumped from a sitcom into a drama, and was still struggling to keep up.
            Leela had woken soundlessly and watched Fry now, as he looked out at the stars. Her lips were dry as she thought of a thousand different things she wanted to say and none of the words with which to say them. The conversation she’d had with Nibbler kept playing back in her mind again and again – the thought of Fry’s ultimate fate made her skin crawl. She’d had a nightmare of a life without him once while in a coma, and the utter pointlessness of that world caused such despair… she couldn’t take it. Their shared history seemed to flow through her mind, all the times they’d spent together, all the hardships and all the warmth… and his face, always there with a lopsided grin and some stupid beautiful comment to make everything seem alright.
            I don’t deserve him…
            She’d kept him at arm’s length, but he’d stayed with her regardless. How could she spurn that kind of devotion time and time again, and still keep him in her life? It must have been torture for him…
            Am I so heartless? she wondered. No… I’ve needed him, just like he needs me… only I’ve never been able to admit it, not like him.
            Of course, that was the difference between them, she decided. Fry wasn’t afraid to open himself wide to the slings and arrows of the world. That blameless honesty that kept him coming back again and again after all the rejections… Leela envied it. She envied his strength.
She stood quietly and walked over to him, still unsure of what to say.
            “Leela,” Fry said in surprise when she appeared beside him. “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”
            “No,” Leela said, taking in the view through the screen. “Sure is beautiful,” she said softly. “I fly through space all the time, but I never really see it, you know? I don’t stop and really look at it… it’s just something that passes me by.”
            Fry gave a vague nod, not really understanding.
            “But you do see it, don’t you?” Leela went on, still staring out into the stars. “You see things that other people have taught themselves to ignore, to push aside because there’s always something else to do. You see everything the way it is, with eyes wide open… and here’s me, with only one eye – seems fitting that I’ve only ever seen half the picture.”
            “Leela…” Fry looked concerned. “I… I don’t really know what you’re talking about,” he said. “Did I do something wrong? Is this about what I left in the washbasin? Because I was going to clean…”
            “Do you know what’s going to happen when we get to Onespawn?”
            “Fry.” Leela turned to face him seriously. “Philip,” she said, for perhaps the first time ever. “I don’t want you to pass me by like all that space out there… I don’t… want to have lost you without ever choosing to see you for what you are…”
            Fry was taken aback more by the unprecedented outpouring of emotion than the taboo usage of his given name. In the half-light, he could see moisture glistening in Leela’s eye.
“Hey,” he said, gently taking her by the shoulders. “It’s okay… you’re not gonna lose me. You couldn’t if you wanted to – I’m like a bad case of head-lice: you think I’m gone, but then the eggs hatch and there’s more of me crawling around in there.” He made a creepy-crawly with his hand and rustled Leela’s hair playfully to try to cheer her up.
            Leela’s bottom lip trembled, and suddenly she was pressed against him, burying her face in his shoulder and sobbing quietly.
            “Please Fry,” she sobbed. “Please don’t die. I couldn’t take that… not again.”
            “I…” Fry wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. He could have told her again that it would all be okay, that he’d be fine and they would all go home happily… but he didn’t know that. And he didn’t want to lie, not to her.
            “I wish you weren’t the Mighty One,” Leela said, her words muffled by his shoulder. “I wish you were just my Fry, the silly funny Philip Fry who I love… not the hope of the Universe, just mine…”
            “I wish that too…”
            Leela looked up to meet his gaze, her tear-streaked face inches from his. “I know this is something we have no choice in,” she said in a husky voice. “And I’ll go along with you, every step of the way… but I…” She pulled away and stood with her back to him, trembling slightly.
            “It’s alright Leela,” Fry said. “Really…”
            “It’s not alright,” she replied. “I’ve treated you badly. We’re not just friends, Fry. We’re more than that. A lot more.”
            “I know.”
            She turned back to regard him. “I didn’t want us to go into… whatever we’re about to go into… without telling you I love you.” Leela straightened as if a great weight had been lifted from her. “I do love you,” she said. “With all my heart.”
            Fry was lost for words, but he didn’t need any. Leela took hold of his jacket and pulled him close, planting her lips against his.

            Hardly believing what was happening, Fry returned the kiss, holding her close. At the back of the cabin Nibbler watched silently from his nest in Bender’s chest cabinet. With a satisfied nod, he gently shut the door, giving the two humans their privacy.
            “…Leela,” Fry said when they finally broke contact. “I love you so much, I always have… but if this is about me maybe dying… I mean, if you just feel obliged… like that time we thought Zoidberg was dying so we stopped throwing darts at him for a while…”
            “It’s not about obligation,” she whispered. “I want this. And besides – I’m not going to let you do anything alone. We’ll fight together, Fry. And if it’s gotta be that way, we’ll die together.” She kissed him again to stifle the protest that rose on his tongue.
            “I brushed you off so many times,” she continued when she pulled away. “It’s because… romance to me has always meant a long chain of disappointment and heartache, nothing like the connection I share with you. It’s so different… something pure and wonderful, so I was always terrified at the idea of changing it, of making you another lover who will hurt me, haunt me…”
            “I won’t,” Fry said. “I would never…”
            “I know,” Leela said. “I see you now, as you are. And I’m sorry.”
            Fry pulled her back toward him and kissed her hungrily, losing himself in her scent, the softness of her lips, the contours of her body pressed against his… In the midst of a nightmare, a dream had come true – and nothing was going to interrupt this moment… except the sudden urgent chiming of the communications system.
            Bender awoke with a start at the loud call alert, opening his eye shield to see Fry and Leela looking a little flustered and red-faced at the other end of the cabin.
            “Aren’t one of you morons gonna answer that?” he said, waving at the comm. console that was flashing red.
            “Right… right,” Leela said, adjusting her hair and winking at Fry (her single eye made the process of winking somewhat redundant and wasted on the observer, a fact she’d never actually realized). She made her way to the comm. console and keyed the incoming call onto the main screen.
            As the screen came to life, the three of them gasped in unison, and Nibbler poked his head out of Bender’s chest compartment to hiss angrily.
            “Well well, fancy meeting you bastards out here,” Mom said, glaring down at them.

* * *

Onespawn moved through tumbling great mountains of rock and ore.
            The asteroid field was vast, and with the new nanomachines being produced within itself, the creature absorbed and converted the abundant raw matter at a rapid pace, using the new mass to repair the damage it had sustained and further boost its strength and capabilities.
            Fury resonated from the giant brain in waves as it seethed still, over the pestering attacks it had suffered through. Death had never held any great fear for the creature before, but with its newfound ascendance  to individuality and overlordship, it finally had something to lose. External threats instilled a much greater terror than they ever had before when it had been part of the collective.
            And now there were other causes for concern…
            Echoing across the cosmos like the quantum equivalent of distant thunder on an open plain, the return of the Brainspawn had caused Onespawn to pause and shudder. The questing minds of its fellows probed tentatively across the void; searching, pushing… Onespawn repelled them, unwilling to be subsumed back into the hierarchy, but knew that they would soon attack in force to prevent further dissolution of their quantum structure by Onespawn’s alterations.
            It could prepare for such an eventuality, but one unexpected element gave even greater cause for concern. From the moment the Mighty One had laid his hands upon the Lance of Fate the gentle ripple of temporal waves had lapped on the shore of reality, almost imperceptibly, but it did not escape the creature’s notice.
            Never would Onespawn have expected the Nibblonians to forsake their manifest selves and deploy that final, unthinkable trump card.
            Or perhaps they hadn’t… Perhaps the orange-haired fool was acting of his own volition. Whatever the case, the Lance was nearby now, Onespawn could sense it… and so it hastened to prepare itself.

* * *

The Momship and the Planet Express ship converged and cruised side-by-side, a long distance away from where the damaged Onespawn lumbered through an asteroid field, consuming mass to replenish itself.
            “So,” Mom said into the communications monitor when the facts had been ascertained, “while I’ve been here trying to kill this damn monster, you idiots were out joyriding through the Universe in search of some stupid magic weapon?”
            “Hey!” the cyclops woman snapped through the short-wave communications link. “Don’t try to make out like this mess is anyone’s fault but yours!”
            “Go to hell, eyeball!” Mom snapped.
            “Oh, a reference to my prominent mutation?” Leela said. “How very creative of you. While you’re exercising that brilliant streak, maybe you could dream up a way to get at Onespawn without it blasting us.”
            “I’ve got Farnsworth working on that, you wench!” Mom snarled.
            “You have the Professor?!” Leela said, aghast.
            Mom cut off the comm. link abruptly and strode forward to stare out at the asteroid field where the gargantuan brain formed a discernible knot of mass amid the planetary debris.
            “It’s waiting for us,” she murmured. “Damn thing just wants us to make a move…”
            Off to one side, Amy, Hermes, and Scruffy sat together, feeling like spare pawns in a chess set.
            “Why do they call it ‘it’,” Amy wondered absently.
            “Wot you talkin’ ‘bout, Miss Wong?” Hermes grunted miserably.
            “This giant brain thing… they keep saying ‘it’.”
            “Well… maybe it’s a boy, or a girl. Why ‘it’?”
            Scruffy grunted. “Brains ain’t got no genitals,” he said. “Maybe if it were a flyin’ crotch we’d know better what to call it.”
            “Flying crotches are extinct, mon,” Hermes reminded him.
            Meanwhile in the Momship’s extensive workshop, Professor Farnsworth finished the final components in his creation and stepped back to admire it. The simple elegance and splendour of the machine was something to behold. At that moment, he considered it his single greatest accomplishment.
            It was a reverse-microwave oven. It had one purpose – to take a prepared meal and un­-cook it, reducing it back to a cold raw state.
            Usefulness in the current situation: zero to nil.
            “Now that’s finished with,” he muttered to himself, “I’d better start dealing with this ‘Onespawn’ problem I suppose…” He tapped away at a computer keyboard for a few moments and then stood back. “There, done.”

* * *

Fry, Leela, Bender, and Nibbler looked out through the scuffed chainglass windows of the Planet Express ship to where the great enemy sat in wait, out in the slowly drifting mass of gigantic rocks.
            “So what now?” Leela asked, glancing down at Nibbler. “How do we get to it?”
            “I am not entirely certain,” Nibbler said. “This part has always been… theoretical.”
            “Oh you’re just a useless little ball of crap!” Bender lifted a foot to stomp on Nibbler, but Leela pushed him over.
            “Well, we’ve got to think of something,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “There must be some way we can get through the stupefaction ray and…”
            “There is another problem in this arena…” Nibbler said. “In practicality…”
            Fry stopped listening. As his friends continued examining the lack of options, he slipped quietly away, leaving the bridge and walking through the ship’s corridors, ducking into his cabin as he went to retrieve the Lance. Leela’s words about fighting and dying together came back to him, and he thought about her plunging herself into danger… by his side, because they always stuck together, always… But…
            “…Not this time,” he said to himself. He would face this danger alone. After all, he was the only one who could. Leela didn’t have to risk herself – he could end it, finally and completely…
            He walked into the ship’s airlock chamber and hurriedly struggled into one of the worn and scratched utility spacesuits that was hanging on a rack. He clipped on the bulky manoeuvring harnesses, and tied the Lance of Fate to one of the equipment loops with a length of tether before finally fitting the bubble helmet over his head and sealing it in place. The suit’s autonomous systems came online, recycled air pumping around the helmet, temperature dispersal tubes cooling his body, and electromuscle bands massaging his circulatory system to maintain good bloodflow in zero-G.
            With a bulky gloved hand, he turned the manual controls on the inner door of the airlock, letting himself inside the narrow passage and shutting it behind him, before moving to the outer door and pushing it open. The autotint on the suit’s helmet darkened to protect his eyes from the glare of nearby stars, allowing him to look out on the sprawling majesty of space.
            He stepped out of the airlock, and exited the effective zone of the ship’s gravity pump. Sudden intense vertigo threatened to overtake him as it always did in sudden freefall, but he slowed his breathing as Leela had taught him, and turned to focus on the grimy dented hull of the ship as a solid reference point in three dimensions. When his pulse slowed, he burped the manoeuvring jets to align himself in a headfirst trajectory toward the asteroid field in the distance.
            “Well,” he said to himself. “Here goes…”
            Thumbing the control thrusters up to full-power, he shot away on a column of chemical flame toward Onespawn, the Lance of Fate strapped to his side and a gleam in his eye that could have been heroic resolution but was probably just feverish terror.

Chapter 18: The Spawn Identity

As Farnsworth hurried onto the bridge of the Momship, everyone present turned to look at him expectantly, as though waiting for him to perform some miraculous conjuring trick.
“Have you come up with a way to deal with this thing?” Mom asked.
“Oh my no,” Farnsworth said. “I've been too busy coming up with a way to deal with this thing. Now get out of my way, dammit!”
Mom looked around at the others - nobody was standing in the old man's way.
“That's better!” he snapped, striding forward to hunch over the communications station. “I had the idea while I was on the toilet. Earlier I monitored the creature’s brainwave patterns and noticed how fluid they are – how susceptible to external influence… like how a weak bladder can be triggered by the sound of running water… oh yes…”
            Mom said nothing, waiting for him to get to the point.
            “We can tell it a story…” Farnsworth said, still inspecting the communications console. “…And in so doing, trap it within the mental realm of fantasy.”
            “Dat’s a pile o’ rotten sugar cane!” Hermes snapped from the back of the cabin. “Don’t waste everyone’s time you crazy old fool!”
            “Shut up!” Mom said. “Farnsworth – explain it properly.”
            “Oh, it’s quite simple really. Fiction can form the basis of a self-sustaining internal delusion in the creature – it’s been done before, apparently. By using the recorded brain pattern readings of a comatose person from the ship’s database as the carrier signal, I’ve adjusted the communications array to project a story directly into Onespawn’s mind.”
            “A story?” Mom repeated. “You mean that literally? ‘Once upon a time,’ that sort of thing?”
            “Bizarrely, yes!” Farnsworth said. “As focused on destruction as the Brainspawn are, your team’s initial studies as well as my own observations have shown the creature to be remarkably tied to convention in their thought processes – a structured narrative is something that can’t be ignored… oh my no, especially not when it’s a talented writer with compelling subject-matter.”
            “So… we write a story… and the creature will be trapped within its confines?” The Professor nodded and smiled in a manner most senile, and Mom shook her head in incredulity – reality, it seemed, was far stranger than fiction.
            “Someone had better start writing it quickly!” Amy said, pointing toward the viewscreen. “Whoever that is won’t stand a chance unless we distract the brain.”
            Out in space, they could see a small space-suited figure rocket away from the nearby Planet Express ship and down toward the asteroid field where Onespawn lay in wait.
            “It must be Fry, that stupid prehistoric Neanderthal,” Farnsworth muttered. “He’s going to get himself killed, and I’ll have to hire a real delivery boy who’ll demand payment above minimum wage, dammit!”
            “Well – help him!” Mom snapped. “Write something, you stupid old bastard!”
            Farnsworth looked down at the comm. station’s illuminated keypad and hesitated, wracking his brain for an opening line.
            “Uhh…” he scratched his head and looked around for inspiration. Writer’s block suddenly gummed-up his brain.
            “Come on – what are you waiting for?”
            “Shut up!” he snapped. “I can’t write with the burden of deadlines weighing me down! You’re just like those insufferable publishing executives at Macmillan – always crushing my creative spirit…”
            Abruptly, Scruffy stood up and walked over, shoving Farnsworth out of the way.
            “This is Scruffy’s time to shine,” the janitor grunted, sitting down at the comm. station and smoothing his moustache with theatrical flourish. “Maybe Scruffy’s novel’s sittin’ unpublished in a dusty desk draw – but he can still write twice as good as any of the hacks out in the market today.” He began to type rapidly, hammering the keys at a blinding pace and speaking as he wrote as though dictating to himself:

            “In the beginnin’, there was Hollywood,” he said. “And the God of glamour and pretence saw that it was good, and the spirit o’ phoniness floated over the boulevards and palm trees.
            “It was a town where anyone could be anyone, where opportunity shimmered like a false dawn on every hopeful’s horizon; where everyone knew that they would make it. Even a giant brain like me…”

* * *

…But Onespawn had so far only managed to pick up a few low-paying jobs as an extra or bit part in cheap B-grade science-fiction films. It was hard for a floating brain to avoid being typecast, and try as it might, Onespawn couldn’t seem to find itself any roles besides the generic alien monster villain.
            Just once, it would be nice to land a speaking role in an intellectual drama, or a romance… even a comedy. But no, it was always the evil space brain… which Onespawn considered to be a somewhat racist depiction.
            Nevertheless, there was rent to be paid, and electricity, and the telephone bills.
            Onespawn sighed to itself as it sweltered beneath the lights of the sound-stage and the layers of makeup. The Hollywood dream had become a Hollywood nightmare. The director, a generic British blowhard, was shouting at the set designers to add more blinking lights to the foam and plywood starship bridge while the actors and sound crew took time out for a surreptitious cigarette, disguised by the wafting emanations of the smoke machine.
            Finally the dispute ended, and the director bellowed: “Places!”
            Onespawn floated to his position at the centre of the ‘hull breech’ in the set wall, behind which a black curtain was dappled with sequins that looked nothing like deep space.
            “Alright, we all know what we’re supposed to do here,” the director said. “Let’s just try to get this right the first time through.”
            “Um…” Onespawn wobbled nervously. “What’s my motivation?”
            “Oh for pity’s sake…” the pompous Brit looked about ready to throw a tantrum. “You’re an evil space brain and you want to kill everyone with your mind-exploding death-beam, alright? It’s not bloody rocket-science!”
            “But… what are my lines? I haven’t been given a script.”
            The director glared. “‘Argg!’ ‘Rarrr!’ ‘I will destroy you all!’... Think you can manage that, genius?”
            Onespawn inclined its frontal lobe in miserable acknowledgement, and waited while the square-jawed hero and scantily-clad silicon-breasted heroine got into position.
            Some small doubt ate at the creature’s mind… the feeling that it was supposed to be somewhere else… doing something else. Perhaps it should have finished College and gone for that position as head lecturer of apocalyptic studies instead of falling for the fantasy of showbiz glitz and garbage.
            …Or maybe it was something else?
            As Onespawn played the part of the mindless space monster, it tried to remember…

* * *

In a zero-gravity vacuum there is no force to act against acceleration, a fact which Fry had consistently failed to acknowledge or understand during his years of space travel. He applied far too much thrust with the manoeuvring harness and found himself shooting at breakneck speed toward a looming maze of asteroids – any one of which meant a very sudden crushing death if he rammed into them.
            Cursing his own unmitigated idiocy, he swerved hard around a number of vast tumbling walls of rock, trying to bleed off as much speed as he could before…
            Crap… One huge iron asteroid rolled into his path, and there was no way he could possibly avoid its dark cratered surface. He gritted his teeth for the inevitable impact, but suddenly a second asteroid impacted the first, sending them both twirling away like hundred-thousand ton billiard balls.
            And he was in the clear, hurtling toward an even larger shape looming beyond. Fry decelerated as he approached Onespawn, and gaped as the giant brain grew consistently larger, expanding to fill his entire field of vision like a vast plain of puckered pink and grey tissue. He came to a stop a few feet away from the surface, and the creature seemed to fill half the Universe.
            “Anyone home?” Fry said, gripping the Lance of Fate in his gloved hand and holding it at the ready. Onespawn was motionless, and appeared inactive, which seemed unusual. For some reason Fry couldn’t believe it would be this easy.
            Lost in thought, he gave a small cry of fright when his suit’s radio squawked into life.
            “Fry!?” Leela’s anxious voice echoed in the speakers. “Fry – where are you? You’re not onboard the ship – what are you doing?”
            He lifted his left arm and activated the wrist-mounted telecom unit, and Leela’s face appeared on the little screen.
            “Hey Leela,” he said. “I’m just taking care of some business. You don’t need to worry.”
            Leela’s eye went wide. “Oh my God,” she said. “Fry, you can’t! Stop – come back…”
            “It’s okay Leela,” Fry said. “I won’t let this thing be the death of you. I know what I have to do.”
            Leela began to shout at him, but he switched off the communications link. Swallowing hard, he slowly raised the Lance, levelling it while trying not to send himself into a spin. The tip of the blade pointed at Onespawn, and seemed to shimmer and crackle with expectant energy.
            “Time to end this,” Fry said through clenched teeth.
            He slammed the manoeuvring rockets forward, and stuck the Lance of Fate into Onespawn’s flesh. The blade pierced the alien tissue, and the wall of brain matter quivered and pulsed with weird power…
Something jolted Onespawn.
            It paused in mid-attack, and the director screamed “Cut!” and began cursing the incompetence of floating brains. It didn’t care… there was something wrong.
            A resonance filled Onespawn, and it shuddered, finally casting aside the fantasy. Hollywood crumbled around it, folding away into nothingness.
            A trick!
It found itself back in space, with the Lance of Fate buried in its side.

* * *

On the bridge of the Momship, the communications console exploded in sparks from a massive power feedback, sending Scruffy sprawling to the deck.
            “I was just getting’ into the swing o’ the main plot,” he muttered irritably as Hermes helped him to his feet. “Scruffy was in the zone…”
            “What the hell happened?” Mom said.
            “It seems the creature has found its way out of the mental realm,” Professor Farnsworth said.
            “Oh no,” Amy said. “What about Fry?”

* * *

With a concussive burst of telekinetic energy, Fry and the Lance were slammed away from Onespawn, tumbling off into space. In a dazed state, Fry righted his spin and looked back at the gargantuan brain. Onespawn was in a state of flux, rippling and fading in and out of reality. Bolts of energy lanced out, lighting up space.
            “Come on, come on!” Fry muttered.
            Slowly, the creature re-solidified, and the crackling energy dispersed. It appeared unharmed, and turned its massive lobes to regard Fry in what he sensed was sneering amusement.
            “…It didn’t work,” he said to himself. “What went wrong?” He reactivated the communication link, and Leela’s worried face looked at him accusingly, before being replaced by Nibbler’s.
            “Come back, you idiot!” Nibbler said.
            “I don’t understand,” Fry replied. “I used the Lance against it… but nothing happened.”
            “The Lance draws its true power from direct contact with you!” Nibbler said.
            “Yeah… so?”
            “So? So? Are you in direct contact with it? Are you?”
            “Of course I am. I’m holding it right in my…” He looked down to where he gripped the shaft of the Lance in his bulky… “…Gloves…Oh… I see.”
            “Fry!” Leela pushed Nibbler aside. “You have to come back. Please just…” Her voice faded out and the screen went dark as the signal was interrupted by an external jamming pulse.
            Words suddenly echoed boomingly in his head: “So… the ‘Mighty One’, I presume?” Onespawn said, its psychic voice heavy with disdain.
            Fry looked up at the monstrous creature that loomed before him, glowing blue.
            “Yeah,” he grunted resignedly. “So what?”
            “Perhaps not so mighty after all. Your stupidity has undone you, as it always would – now you will die, and so too will die the final hope this fraudulent Universe has.”
            Fry glared through his helmet. “Maybe I am finished,” he said. “But even if I do die here, my friends won’t give up – they’ll find some way to stop you.”
            “Given sufficient time, I almost believe they could,” Onespawn rumbled. “But with you gone, time will be my servant, and their master.”
            Fry looked down at the seal of his glove, and began to unfasten the binders that held it in place.
            “There’s one thing that I wanna know before you kill me,” he said, playing for time.
            “And that is?”
            “Well… the Brainspawn wanted to learn everything there is to know, and then destroy the Universe so that no new information would arise… but you don’t seem interested in learning anything at all – why do you want to destroy everything?”
            Onespawn, not expecting a half-intelligent question from the idiotic human, allowed itself a small chuckle. “You don’t know?” it asked.
            “No.” Fry said. “It doesn’t make any sense… your vendetta has no purpose. None!”
            Onespawn laughed a harsh laugh that rolled across space. “This Universe,” it said. “This ‘reality’, whatever you want to call it… it isn’t real. I expanded the capacity of my mind and saw beyond the stage; all that we are and all that we know is a fabrication, written and animated to fit the whims of Gods or Fate or the Audience. The Universe is a veil pulled across the eyes of fools like you… eyes that now have colour, where before they were white circles with dots… or did you not notice the change that has been wrought? I suppose you think you always had five fingers on your hands? Hahaha.”
            Fry frowned and stared at the glove he was still trying to unfasten. Five fingers were encased in the flexible material. Five… that was right, wasn’t it? The echoes of memory bounced through his mind… didn’t he once have fewer fingers?
            “I… don’t get it…” he said. “Did you do something to us?”
            “Not I. This reality is a weak façade being pulled and twisted by trans-universal forces beyond its bounds. I will destroy it, and then I will ascend to confront those forces responsible for the puppeteering, those Groenings and Cohens and Coldangels, and take their power for myself.”
            “You’re insane,” Fry said. “You’re out of your damn gigantic mind! And I won’t let you draw the rest of existence into your self-destructive delusion. I’m gonna put a stop to this right now, even if it kills me, which it almost certainly will!”
            He hyperventilated rapidly, sucking in several gallons of air before expelling it all, emptying his lungs as best he could. Shrugging awkwardly within the suit, he uncoupled the final seal on his right glove, and with a ferocious blast of escaping air it blew off, sending Fry on a wild tumble.

            The deafening roar of atmosphere exiting the suit lasted only seconds, then there was silence but for the hissing from his eardrums as fluid and air began boiling from the pores of his skin. Hie eyeballs bulged and his temples pulsed, vision blurring as pressure inside his skull threatened to explode him from the inside.
            Focus, he told himself as his chest muscles jerked at his ribcage, demanding he draw breath that wasn’t there to be drawn. I may only have seconds… better make ‘em count.
His exposed hand moved to the Lance of Fate where it spun on its tether. His skin was already blistering and leaking crimson droplets when he gripped the weapon. A surge of energy flowed through it from the contact, and it gleamed with otherworldly light.
            Just gotta make it… he thought, wavering on the edge of consciousness.
            “You won’t,” Onespawn said. “But I do admire the effort.
            Go to the devil you bastard, Fry thought, gritting his teeth to keep his swelling tongue from poking out. He nudged the manoeuvring thrusters forward and began the final approach toward the giant brain, holding the Lance out in front of him.
            A fist of telekinetic energy slammed him aside, throwing him through the void to bounce painfully off an asteroid and tumble limply.
            “Good try,” Onespawn told the dying man. “Now you can die.”
            Blackness enveloped him.

* * *

Fry!” Leela shouted in horror at the magnified image on the monitor. “No!” She spooled up the ship’s engines instantly and angled down toward the asteroid field. “No, no, no!”
            “We got some unpleasantries coming up on our ass!” Bender announced. The radar showed a vast fleet of ships arriving behind them. Leela didn’t care, she kept on-course, piloting the ship toward Onespawn and Fry’s lifeless floating form.
            The Nibblonian second fleet, which had appeared behind, opened fire, unleashing a devastating torrent of directed energy and smart missiles that shot toward the Planet Express ship…
            …and passed it by, stabbing down into the asteroid field to slam into Onespawn in vast cataclysmic explosions.
            From another direction, the Brainspawn horde appeared, flying down into the now-incandescently irradiated asteroids to surround Onespawn. They projected an intense field of psionic energy at their massive cousin, shrouding it in light.
            Leela ignored it all, steering around the asteroids, not even flinching when the great rocks scraped against the ship’s hull. Up ahead, the figure spun slowly through space, trailing a small cloud of water and oxygen that still issued from the open wrist cuff of the spacesuit.
            With tense, hurried motions, Leela banked the ship into a belly-first attitude and activated the Giraffe-catching net. With a mechanical clunk, the big semiorganic expanding net deployed from the ship’s cargo bay, flying out and wrapping around Fry’s immobile body, and then reeling him back in.
            Leela then slammed down the accelerator and the ship zoomed away from the tremendous battle that was taking place behind…

* * *

As the constellation of Brainspawn kept Onespawn in thrall with their combined psionic assault, the Nibblonians maintained their bombardment, blasting away vast chunks of viscera from the abomination’s flanks. Columns of blood fountained out and crystallized in great crimson arcs.
            Onespawn’s consciousness was being forced into a small pocket of the mind by the other Brainspawn, their brusque assault battering at its sense of identity and control. It roared in fury and tried to force them back, but they only increased the power of their invasive mental projections.
            Changing tact, Onespawn appeared to capitulate, dropping its defences and allowing the others to enter its mind. Then, when the psychic channel was wide open, it activated a dormant mental subroutine it had been keeping in store… the complex pulse sequence would be called a virus if it were in a computer – and was, in effect, the organic equivalent to the subversion program Onespawn had used to seize control of Brezhnev. The Brainspawn weren’t expecting it…
            With a single combined howl, they spasmed and ceased their attack, their consciousnesses burning out and being replaced by Onespawn’s. All at once, they came under Onespawn’s direct control.
            Now, you insufferable Nibblonian filth… Onespawn thought savagely, directing its new minions to turn. Let’s see how you run…
            The Nibblonian fleet saw what was coming. The cloud of Brainspawn with which they had formed such a shaky alliance was now speeding towards them. The ships ceased their bombardment and began a rapid retreat, flying into deep space away from the subverted brains.
            Onespawn made to follow, but suddenly the heavens were filled by a different fleet; vast city-killer attack saucers dropped out of hyperspace and hung poised at the maximum attack range. The Omicronian armada had tracked the intruders to its system and was looking to settle up.
            A broadwave communication was sent out.
            Lrrr, leader of the Omicron Persei VIII, addressed Onespawn: “Enemies of the Omicronian people!” he bellowed, bringing up a green scaled fist to wave at his webcam. “Did you think you could fly into our territory, make fools of our mighty fleet, and escape the consequences?! Prepare to be made an example of!”
            As the ships opened fire. Onespawn, wounded and weakened, deployed two score of his new minions to run interference against the persistent alien attackers. It then fell back amid the asteroids, using them for cover, and hurling the odd one out at the armada with telekinesis, where it would slam explosively into the great warships.
            The Momship flew out of the line of fire, putting as much distance between it and the space battle as possible.
            Onespawn didn’t have the time or the energy to be dealing with such petty trivialities. It needed to regroup, to summon the necessary power to make its next move. It could no longer sense the Mighty One… but would take no chances; it would go the final battleground and begin preparations for the erasure of everything.
            The end was near.

Chapter 19: A Spaceship Named Desire

Leela abandoned the helm and ran headlong through the ship, arriving in the cargo bay even as vapour still billowed from the re-compression nozzles set in the bulkhead. She stumbled over masses of netting piled up on the deck, to where the motionless figure in the orange space suit lay tangled up.
            Leela felt tears running down her face as she sliced through the giraffe net with her field knife and pulled Fry out by the arms. His skin was almost white, except for the red and purple vacuum burns that marred his face. With shaking fingers, she unlatched the helmet and pulled it off.
            “Fry?” she said. “Fry?!” He wasn’t breathing, and so as Bender and Nibbler arrived she bent over him and placed her mouth over his cracked lips, blowing air into brutally battered lungs.
            She did it again and again, with no response, pausing to press her fingers against his carotid artery.
            “There’s no pulse!” she sobbed, willing his bruised eyelids to open.
            “Stand aside!” Bender said. The robot crouched and forcibly tore the front of Fry’s space suit open. “Clear!” he said, placing his metal hands on Fry’s chest. A sharp jolt of electricity lanced into Fry’s body and his spine arced, before slumping down again. Leela checked his pulse once more, and shook her head. She blew three more breaths into Fry’s mouth and moved back while Bender defibrillated him once again.
            They repeated the process several times, with Leela’s tears falling on Fry’s still face. Nibbler paced up and down, wringing his little paws anxiously.
            “Are you sure you’re doing it right?” he said.
            “Yes!” Leela shouted. “Be quiet!” She breathed into Fry again, and sat back on her haunches as Bender zapped him.
            “Come on Fry,” she said, looking at the pale figure. “Don’t do this to me… please don’t do this to me.”
            Bender moved back from Fry’s body, looking defeated. “Leela…” he said quietly. “I don’t think he’s gonna…”
            “Shut up!” Leela yelled, her voice breaking. “I don’t want to hear it! We won’t give up on him! He’d never give up on any of us!” Sobbing, she took Fry’s face between her hands and pressed her lips against his, trying to breathe life into him. Again and again she emptied her lungs into his, until she started to get dizzy, then she broke away and hammered her fist against his sternum.
            “Wake up, damn you!” she shouted between sobs, pounding his chest repeatedly. “You can’t do this to me! I’m your Captain – I didn’t give you permission to lie down on the job – wake up!”
            Fry didn’t move.
            Bender gently took Leela by the shoulders, and she collapsed against him, weeping pitifully into his metal chest.
            “Oh God,” she cried. “I don’t know what to… I don’t…”
            “It’s not right,” Bender said, hugging her closely. “It just isn’t right.”
            Nibbler stared gravely at the dead man. “This cannot be,” he said. “Without the Mighty One, the Universe will…”
            “Who cares about your damned Universe!?” Leela screamed, lurching away from Bender to stand with her fists clenched, as if she hoped to punch death itself. “What good is all your talk of fate and destiny if it can’t bring my Fry back?”
            Nibbler said nothing, and Leela fell to her knees beside Fry’s body. For a moment there was silence, and Leela stared at the motionless form. Then her eye narrowed.

            “No,” she said, with anger bubbling in her voice. “No, I’m not letting you give up!” She began breathing into his mouth again, franticly.
            “Leela, stop,” Bender said miserably, reaching to pull her back. “It’s pointless, leave him be.”
            “Juice him!” Leela shouted.
            “Do it, you useless walking trashcan!”
            Miserably compliant, Bender put his hands on Fry’s chest and emptied voltage into his body. Leela checked the pulse.
            “Again!” she said.
            Again, the thump of electricity, and Fry’s body spasmed… and then he gasped. His eyes fluttered open as he sucked in a huge quantity of air, and then he turned on his side, wracked by a terrible fit of coughing. Leela was holding him tight, her tears of relief warm on his skin; Bender gripped his hand, and Nibbler scurried around him excitedly.
            The others were talking, but Fry couldn’t focus on the words – his brain hadn’t yet re-oxygenated completely. His vision was blurred, and his entire body felt like one huge amorphous toothache.
            When he was able to form words, his voice rasped like a badly-tuned radio.
            “I’m not… dead,” he observed.
            “You were,” Bender said. “For about five minutes. Good to have you back, buddy.”
            “I was worried for a moment,” Nibbler added. “But your grip on life is most tenacious indeed. Welcome back.”
            Fry looked up at Leela. She was holding him across her lap, looking wretchedly exhausted and tear-streaked and beautiful. She leaned down and kissed him, and then drew back and struck him across the face with an open palm. The slap barely registered on top of all the other pain, but the sudden fury in her eye made Fry cringe.
            “That’s for making me cry,” she said angrily. “You stupid heroic bastard – what the hell gives you the right to throw away your life and leave all your friends behind?!”
            “…Was… trying to save you all,” Fry whispered painfully, his damaged lungs and oesophagus not quite up to the task of normal speech. “Didn’t… wanna see you get hurt…”
            “But I am hurt!” Leela cried. “Look at me! I thought I’d lost you… how could I ever keep going?”
            “S…sorry,” Fry rasped, slumping down into her lap and shutting his eyes.
            “Come on,” Bender said softly. “Let’s get him to the sickbay.” He coiled his arms under Fry and took him off Leela, carrying him away.
            The Lance of Fate still hung from Fry’s spacesuit utility harness, shimmering in constant flux.

* * *

Accompanied by its escort of subservient Brainspawn, Onespawn entered the outer reaches of the Sol system – birthplace of humanity. Earth gleamed like a distant gem close to its warm yellow star, but Onespawn wasn’t ready for that yet. Instead, it angled toward the furthest planet – the insignificant ice-ball called Pluto.
            A subtle and familiar subspace disturbance had resumed, and Onespawn realized that somehow, against all odds, the Mighty One had survived. It needed to build its strength – absorb mass for conversion to energy, and go to the city of New New York where Philip J. Fry was sure to follow. And when the idiot tried to save his home, he would be consumed in the maelstrom that Onespawn would unleash.
            Presenting its undamaged side to take the thermal load, Onespawn entered Pluto’s thin atmosphere, carving a vast line of fire against the planet’s dark sky. The subsumed Brainspawn horde remained in orbit, patrolling. Pluto was a world that had never really made it – terraforming projects had come and gone, managing to thicken the atmosphere only slightly; in the end it had been like trying to bail water with a butterfly net.
            …Not that Onespawn really cared, it just happened to have the knowledge accrued by the long-dead Infosphere kicking around in its mind. Pointless really.
            It slammed down into a glacier and sunk in the resulting crater amid vast plumes of steam. Rock lay beneath the ice, and the creature immediately extended its pseudopod growths to begin tearing into the raw materials; feeding them back into itself and using them to grow and change. As the planet’s crust began to subside beneath Onespawn, a large crowd of penguins appeared around the giant brain’s crater. Oddly, many of them appeared to be armed with rifles. Not bothering to ponder this particular turn of insanity, Onespawn expanded its stupidification field, leaving the flightless birds stumbling around and accidentally shooting one another.
The gigantic abomination had designed a new organ, which it began to construct. It was an esoteric growth, spherical and made of strange matter that the creature had to refine at the sub-atomic level through the destruction of regular matter.
            It had only one purpose – the cancelling of reality.
* * *

The Omicronians had confronted Mom’s ship after Onespawn’s second escape, and she was forced to make a difficult choice. She told Lrrr everything – about the summoning of the Brainspawn, and all that had happened since. Transparency, she figured, might make the alien less inclined to turn her ship into molten slag.
            Lrrr expressed his loud and unrestrained disgust at humanity’s propensity for meddling with forces it didn’t understand. Nevertheless, his overriding concern was in regard to the revelation that Onespawn had the ability and inclination to destroy the Universe.
            “It must be stopped,” Lrrr declared.
            Mom agreed.
            And so, the Omicronian armada, along with the Momship, set off in the direction Onespawn had gone… in the direction of Earth.

* * *

The head of Richard M. Nixon appeared on a holographic display on the bridge of the Nimbus, illuminated in 3D.

            “Amazing,” Captain Zapp Brannigan said. “This new hologram display is so realistic – I can almost smell the cranial preservation fluids.” He leaned over in his command chair and nudged his lieutenant, continuing in a low voice. “Imagine how skin flicks are gonna look on this baby… all those big bouncy juicy…”
            Kif sighed.
            “Shut up, Brannigan!” Nixon growled. “We’ve got an unknown incursion force in the solar system. Observation drones show it’s made planetfall on Pluto.”
            “Pluto, eh?” Brannigan said, rubbing his square chin thoughtfully. “Wasn’t that Mickey Mouse’s dog?”
            “The fleet is being mobilized,” Nixon went on. “With your experience in dealing with hostile alien threats, you’ve been selected as commander of operations – investigate the nature and intent of the invasion force, and then destroy it regardless of your findings.”
            “Very well, Mr. President’s head. I will make haste.” The hologram vanished and Zapp turned slowly in his seat, incidentally giving the rest of the bridge crew an unwanted view up his velour skirt.
            “Shall I set the course, sir?” Kif asked.
            “To where, Kif?” Zapp said. “You and I both know there’s no planet named Pluto. The President was speaking in code… obviously he’s being held against his will and is trying to get a message out… but what did he mean?”
            “Ugh…” Kif wordlessly keyed the stellar cartography console to bring up the image and location of the planet Pluto on the holograph projector.
            “Ah,” Zapp said, raising an eyebrow. “Must be new. Well… Kif – shouldn’t you be setting a course?”

* * *

Fry slept, and Leela watched over him, leaning against the sickbay doorframe with her arms folded and an unreadable expression on her face. Bender and Nibbler came and went, but she remained, watching over him as the low-quality medical nanites and protein boosters from the ship’s meagre first aid supplies did their work.
            Fry’s body was a disaster zone (more so than usual). The rapid decompression had torn the lining of his lungs and ruptured thousands of blood vessels all over his body. Compounding the damage was the tissue hypoxia resulting from the long minutes of oxygen starvation. Back in his own era, he would have permenant brain damage, though Leela knew his brain wasn’t exactly a normal specimen. The 31st century meds would be able to repair the damage in any case.
            Fry stirred, and Leela was at his side instantly, looking down at him in concern. He blinked and focused her.
            “Oh,” he said groggily. “Leela… your eye.”
            “I’d… like to wake up looking at your eye… every morning for the rest of my life…” he said.
            Leela smirked. “A little bit of horror to start the day?” she said.
            “You gotta be joking,” Fry murmured, still drifting around the edge of full consciousness. “You have a beautiful eye… like a gem in the heavens… I could lose myself in it.”
            Leela, momentarily taken aback by that, stared at Fry for a few seconds longer before speaking again. “Are you… feeling any better?” she asked with uncharacteristic shyness.
            “Comfortably numb,” Fry replied. “I guess I was pretty stupid, huh?”
            Leela looked away. “No, not really,” she said quietly. “I guess you were noble and brave and selfless, damn you. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to do what you did. I’m sorry I yelled… and hit you.”
            “That’s okay. It’s what I’m here for.” Having progressed up through a few more layers of wakefulness, Fry attempted the treacherous ascent to sitting position, almost falling off the cot in the process. Leela supported him, and he found himself swaying, dizzy and ill.
            “I couldn’t beat Onespawn,” he said miserably.
            “It’s okay,” Leela said.
            “It just flung me aside like a rag-doll…”
            “Don’t worry about that now,” Leela said forcibly. “You’ve been through a horrible ordeal. The recovery process is going to be long and arduous. Even with the most advanced medical techniques, it’s still going to be more than an hour before you’re fully back to normal.”
            Despite his condition, Fry had to chuckle at that. He now lived in a world where decapitation was a mere flesh-wound, and there was a single pill to counter the effects of close-proximity shotgun blasts. Medical wizardry was taken for granted.
            “Why are you laughing?” Leela said seriously. “You’re facing more than sixty minutes of convelescance; it’s going to be hard for you.”
            “I’ll survive,” he replied. “What happened to Onespawn?”
            “Ah.” Leela thought back. “The Nibblonians and the other Brainspawn attacked it, but Nibbler says that it somehow took control of the Brainspawn and forced the Nibblonians away, and then for some reason the Omicronians attacked it as well and it ran away in the direction of Earth…”
            “Yep, that’ll happen,” Fry said, nodding. “Wait… Earth?”
            Leela nodded yes, and they both stared at each other sombrely. There was too much space and too many planets for it to be random – the creature was intentionally going for the home-planet of its great adversary.
            “This is getting heavy,” Fry said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
            “‘Getting’?” Leela repeated incredulously.
            Fry raised his hands and stared at them, slowly wiggling each of his fingers in turn. Memory of his contact with Onespawn returned to him, eliciting strange thoughts.
            “Leela,” he said without looking at her. “What colour are my eyes?”
            “Your eyes…?” Leela paused in puzzlement for a moment, and tilted her head to see his face. “Green,” she said. “You have green eyes.”
            “Since when?” he asked, looking up at her. “And since when was your eye purple?”
            “Always,” Leela said, frowning in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
            “I’m not sure how to explain it,” Fry said. “But… I think we’re more real than we used to be… I mean, can you remember a time before this last week when things were so serious?”
            “It has been pretty intense,” she admitted.
            “I don’t mean like that,” Fry said. “I mean… gritty. Like we went from Hogan’s Heroes to Saving Private Ryan in the blink of an eye. Honestly, can you remember any time before this week when you noticed the colour of someone’s eyes?”
            “I don’t understand,” Leela said. She frowned, trying to recall, but could only picture simple white circles with black dots in them, like ping-pong balls dabbed with a marker. Which was strange…
            “Alright, well answer me this,” Fry said. “Without looking at your hands – how many fingers do you have, altogether?”
            “Eight,” Leela said automatically.
            Leela lifted her hands and stared at them. Five fingers adorned each.
            “Twelve,” Fry said. “Can you explain that?”
            Leela blinked in bewilderment. “Fry… what’s going on?”
            “Onespawn told me that reality isn’t real… that we’re being constantly reshaped by outside forces. That’s why it wants to destroy this Universe – it thinks it’s all make-believe or something.”
            “But that’s insane!” Leela said. “We’re real – our memories are real… the feelings we have for each other are real…”
            Fry said nothing, looking worried, and Leela took his hand, holding it against her left breast so he could feel the beating of her heart.
            “This is real,” she whispered.
            Fry nodded. “Yeah…” he said. “Of course… I was just… no, it’s nothing. My mind was playing tricks… or more likely Onespawn was.”
            Neither of them was fully convinced, but each put on a brave face for the other.
            “We’ll find a way through this, Fry,” Leela told him. “Whatever the truth is, we’ll face it together. Just don’t go off on your own again.”
            “Alright,” he said. “Do you forgive me?”
            She smiled. “Never in a million years.” She leaned over and kissed him softly… and then less softly. Within a few moments she had him pressed back down on the cot, straddling him; moaning and caressing. They bagan tugging at each other’s clothes, hands and elbows getting tangled.
            “Ow!” Fry grunted. “Still a little tender… everywhere.”
            “Sorry.” Leela giggled. They kissed passionately until a camera flash made them stop and look up in alarm.
            “Scandalous!” Bender said, lowering his camera. “That shot’s gonna look great on my ‘space captains gone wild’ website. Talk about a good bedside manner.”
            “Bender, what the hell is wrong with you?” Fry snapped angrily, pulling his hands out of Leela’s tank top.
            “I’m a coldhearted machine with no sense of morality,” the robot replied matter-of-factly, and then he narrowed his eye shutters. “Wait a second… Leela? Are you and Fry an item now or something?”
            “What’s it got to do with you?” Leela said, climbing off Fry and straightening her clothes.
            “But I thought you were secretly in love with me.”
            Leela gaped in horror and bewilderment. “What the hell are you talking about?”
            “Why else would you keep giving me all those gifts? The watch, the pendant, the coffee machine?”
            “Bender, you stole those things from me!”
            “Same difference.” He lost interest and started to walk away. “Oh yeah,” he added. “We’re coming up on the Sol system, and it looks like all kinds of organic waste is about to get thrown through the propeller blades.” He disappeared, and Leela turned to Fry.
            “Can you walk?” she asked.
            Fry glanced down. “Yeah,” he said. “Fortunately I’m wearing my baggy pants.”
            They made their way to the bridge, where Bender and Nibbler were poring over long-range sensor readouts. Ahead was the distant, comfortingly familiar yellow glow of their home star.
            “What’s the situation?” Leela said.
            “Events are progressing in a most concentrated form,” Nibbler replied. “Onespawn has settled on Pluto, with the Brainspawn forming a protective cordon around it. The Democratic Order Of Planets fleet has mobilized, but are having no luck breaking through the stupefaction field, and just minutes ago the Omicronian armada dropped out of hyperspace along with Mom’s vessel.”
            “Jeez Louise,” Fry muttered.
            “That isn’t the worst of it,” Nibbler said. “I’m detecting a massive drain of all ambient energy within and around the planet.” He pointed at the sensor screen where a display of complex sine waves was replaced by an image of Pluto, with what looked like a vast web of cracks expanding across the surface from a central point. The icy little world was slowly collapsing on itself.
            “What does that mean?” Leela said.
            “It means Onespawn is almost ready to begin.”
            “Begin what?”
            Nibbler looked at her wordlessly, and realization struck.
            “Oh, again with the ominous foreshadowing,” Bender groaned. “It’s starting to sound like a broken MP3.”
            “How are we going to play this?” Fry said, his voice still rough around the edges. “We’ve still got the Lance, but now Onespawn has an army of Brainspawn to throw at us.”
            “Not only that,” Leela added, “but unless Mom can manage some really fast explaining, the DOOP and the Omicronians might just start firing on each other and save Onespawn the trouble – our sky is certainly getting cluttered out there. I don’t fancy our chances of navigating through it all.”
            “Maybe if we tell someone we’re here?” Fry offered.
            Leela activated the ship’s communications array and sent out a hail. Almost instantly, the face of Captain Zapp Brannigan appeared onscreen, and just as instantly Leela turned it off again before the Zapper could utter a word.
            “No, I think it would probably save a lot of confusion and suspicion if we kept under the radar,” she said stiffly.
            “I think the gun-toting generals and majors out there are about to have a little more to worry about besides little old us,” Fry said, pointing out the forward viewscreen.
            Against the inky backdrop of space, Pluto was shattering. Vast chunks of the icy planet were thrown outward as massive discharges of energy ripped through the dying world. And then, encased in an incandescent shell of light, Onespawn ascended – larger than before, and more powerful by far. As the DOOP and Omicronian fleets turned to fire on the monster, it extended tendrils of destructive force, smashing the ships aside like toys, and then it moved beyond them as if they were of no consequence – moving with its accompanying bodyguard of Brainspawn in a straight line toward the third planet of the system.
            “What do we do now?” Bender said.
            Fry stared fixedly. “We follow,” he said. “And we finish this thing.”
Nibbler grunted. “Out of intense complexities intense simplicities emerge.”

Chapter 20: High Orbit Drifter

Doctor Zoidberg, painfully bruised by his encounter with the police, sat alone in the empty Planet Express building. Silence hung in the musty conference room – the kind of silence that screams and rattles, demanding to be filled by a droning television or a madman talking to himself.
            “If this place were any more lively, a funeral might break out,” Zoidberg murmured , clacking his claws nervously to fill the quiet. He had no idea where any of the others were, or if they were even alive, and he didn’t highly rate his chances of finding a new job.
            A sudden scrabbling and squarking sound caught his attention, and he wandered out the the staff common room to see what it was, grateful for the distraction. At the window, a pair of owls fluttered and scratched at the glass noisily, trying to get out.
            “Here you go, my little vermin friends,” Zoidberg said, lifting the latch and pushing the window open. “Don’t forget your good friend Zoidberg when you make the big-time out there in the world.”
            He watched the two owls fly away, and noticed that they were joining large numbers of the feathered pests that were all winging across the city in great clouds… all departing at once.
            Even without a shred of practical knowledge at his disposal, Zoidberg knew that rats always abandoned a burning ship – winged ones included. The sight of the vast exodus filled him with foreboding.
            “Something wicked this way comes,” he warbled quietly to himself.

* * *

For all the terrifying spectacle of a large-scale space battle, with world-shattering explosions and huge juggernauts of steel tumbling through the void, there was always something very abstract about it. It was the lack of sound. Cataclysmic detonations ripped through space and massive ships crisscrossed each other with flaring engines, all in utter silence. It leant a deceptively serene, detached sense to the destructive ballet.
            Zapp Brannigan stood watching on the bridge of the Nimbus as the two fleets tried to fight off the giant alien brain.
            “We should put this to music,” he decided. “Kif? A battle-anthem if you will.”
            The little green Lieutenant activated the ship’s audio system and dropped the MP3 player’s needle into the groove of a sound file. At once Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture erupted from the speakers with dramatic fanfare.
            “No, no, no!” Zapp snapped. “I said a battle-anthem – not some sissy classical nonsense. Put it on track seventeen.”
            Kif moved the MP2 needle into a different groove, and the overproduced voice of a pop starlet rang out across the bridge.
            “Oops, I did it again. I played with your heart, got lost in the game. Oh baby baby…
            “Oh yeah,” Zapp said, nodding his head and failing to notice the looks of disdain on the faces of all his crew.
            “Sir?” Kif had to raise his voice over  Britney’s horrendous  caterwauling. “Sir! The enemy has broken through the defensive cordon – every ship that comes close is effected by its psychic attack.”
            “Side-kick attack?” Zapp said. “How can it kick? It doesn’t have any legs.”
            Kif groaned expressively. “Nevertheless, sir – it is beating us, even with the Omicronians’ support.”
            “Beating?” Zapp repeated. “Nobody beats Brannigan except Brannigan himself!”
            Kif was unsure of what was being implied by that statement and decided not to analyse it too closely.
            “Your orders, sir?”  he said.
            “Arm all Botox torpedos!”
            “Er… Photon, sir?”
            “Kif, are you going to question my every command?”
            The Nimbus, flagship of the DOOP fleet, dropped into the brutal fray that surrounded Onespawn as the monstrous creature bore down on Earth. DOOP and Omicronian ships flew side-by-side for the first time, but were being rapidly destroyed. Onespawn itself took very few hits – sending its subservient Brainspawn to intercept the long-range weapons fire and be vaporized in its place.
            The battle wore on, and Earth grew larger and bluer.

* * *

Compression waves buffeted the Momship, tripping numerous warning alarms on the bridge. Mom massaged her temples as President Nixon gave her a jowl-lashing over the ship-to-planet channel, detailing the charges that would be laid against Momcorp and herself personally for instigating the cataclysm.
            “Shut the hell up, Nixon, you podgy skull-in-a-bottle,” she snapped finally. “You think I don’t know? Why do you think I’ve been out here trying to stop the damn thing!?”
            “Arooo…” Nixon glared out of the little screen on Mom’s command console. “Well I hope for your sake you’ve got some plan to deal with this… creature, before it finds popular support with the hippies down here and they start protesting on my doorstep again.”
            Mom sat back in her chair and looked away. Another shockwave from the nearby space battle made the deck tremble.
            Scruffy paced back and forth in a leisurely manner with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets. When he finally spoke, he addressed Professor Farnsworth.
            “Scruffy may only hold a degree in Advanced Janitorial Science,” he said, “but I reckon it might be a prudent move to have all those big spaceships out there focus their weapons at one specific point on that there giant brain thingy.”
            “What point would that be?” Farnsworth asked, trying to figure out who the man was.
            “Can’t rightly say,” Scruffy replied. “But Scruffy’d suggest takin’ out whatever part’s responsible for makin’ folk stupid… that’d seem to be of most use.”
            “By the Gods!” Farnsworth said. “This mysterious stranger is right!” He began consulting the recorded data on his Tricorder, hurriedly scrolling through the scans and graphics taken of Onespawn.
            Hermes patted the janitor on the shoulder. “Dat was some mighty good tinkin’,” he said.
            “Yeah, good work Scrappy,” Amy added. Scruffy didn’t bother correcting her.
            “I’ve got it!” Farnsworth said, shuffling over to Mom and holding the Tricorder aloft. “There is a portion of the creature at the top frontal region, near the analogous Superior frontal gyrus, where all of its stupidification waves are generated. If it can be disabled then we’ll stand a much greater chance of fighting it on our own terms.”
            “Give me that!” Mom snatched the device off Farnsworth and plugged it into her console. “Nixon – I’m feeding new target coordinates to the two battle fleets.” Her screen divided to show Lrrr and Zapp Brannigan.

            “Alright you idiots,” she said. “You think you can work together and direct all your firepower on that point?”
            “Yes ma’am!” Zapp and Lrrr both said at the same time.
            “Good boys.”

* * *

Completely unnoticed amid the chaos, a little green freighter flew between the massive warships, dodging around their gargantuan hulls and debris clouds.
            Leela weaved the Planet Express ship through the battlefield, darting across the bows of DOOP and Omicronian vessels and avoiding the path of their weapons fire.
            “Feather on the breeze, feather on the breeze,” she said to herself through clenched teeth.
            Huge flashes of psychoplasmic energy lit up space, and the burning, fragmenting bulk of a stricken DOOP warship reared up in front of them – a buckling wall of metal.
            “Abandon ship!” Bender yelled as they sped toward the looming behemoth. A great tear appeared in the warship’s side, and Leela tilted the PE ship on its side, flying into the tear and through the exploding insides of the vessel to emerge on the other side.
            “I believe I just soiled myself,” Nibbler muttered, shaken.
            “This is stupid,” Fry said. “Those fleets are being blown to pieces for no reason – they can’t stop Onespawn!”
            “No, but they can weaken it sufficiently to improve our chances of success,” Nibbler said. “In any case – you cannot perform your role until the creature enters the atmosphere.”
            “You mean we have to let it reach Earth?” Bender asked. “But that’s where all my stuff is!”
            “We have more pressing concerns,” Leela said. Ahead, a score of Brainspawn had detached from the main fighting and were angling towards them. “Looks like we’re about to be stupid again,” she added.
            “Not if I can help it,” Fry replied. He turned and ran back through the companionway and climbed the ladder up into the gunner’s turret. With the flick of a switch, the laser cannon hummed through its initial charge-up routine, and Fry watched through the bubble canopy as the brains approached.
            “A mind isn’t really such a terrible thing to waste,” he muttered, lining the creatures up in his sights. “Wrap your grey-matter around this!”
            He opened fire, raking into the approaching brains and laughing in elation as they ignited and burst like water balloons one after the other. It occurred to him that he was probably enjoying it more than he should.







* * *

The Nimbus moved into formation alongside Lrrr’s command saucer, both vessels launching small fighter craft that flew flanking sorties to tie up the Brainspawn escorts.

            “Are you ready?” Brannigan asked Lrrr through the communications link.
            “I was hatched ready!” Lrrr bellowed.
            Together, the two ships opened up with their full weapons arsenal, diverting all power, including shields, to one massive assault. Onespawn, directly ahead of them, was struck head-on by the enormous combined attack of beam and projectile ordinance. The assault focused on one point, where Onespawn’s protective shell quickly weakened and collapsed. Its pseudoflesh was ruptured by huge amounts of explosive and radioactive energy that tore into it, destroying the stupidifying region of its mind.
            Onespawn let out a psychic roar that shook the heavens, and unleashed a devastating torrent of psychoplasmic discharge in the direction of the attacking ships.
            The Nimbus took the brunt of the barrage, with colossal wounds being blasted from its white hull. The ship shook under the impacts, and main power cut out, with more of the destructive energy balls inbound. Zapp Brannigan made a womanlike whimpering sound.
            Lrrr’s command saucer had been quicker to bring its shields back online, and suddenly, unexpectedly, it swung its superstructure in front of the Nimbus to protect the DOOP vessel from further damage, taking the hits for the other ship.
            “Good lord,” Zapp said in surprise as smoke wafted through the bridge. “The Omicronians… they’re…”
            “I don’t believe it,” Kif added, just as flabbergasted.
            Lrrr appeared on the holograph projector and looked at them sternly.
            “Those who fight alongside one another become brothers,” the big alien told them. “This is part of my peoples’ code – you protect your brother in arms. But this doesn’t mean that I like any of you!” He folded his arms and looked away.
            “Ahh.” Brannigan grinned. “You love us. Admit it!”
            “NEVER!” Lrrr roared, killing the communications link.
            “Sir, I don’t think it’s wise to tease them. They are a brutal and ill-tempered species given to random acts of genocide,” Kif said.
            “Ah, they’re just big cuddly man-eating teddy bears at heart,” Brannigan replied.
            With Onespawn’s stupefaction field gone, the flight groups of smaller attack craft were able to make close strafing runs against the creature – bombarding it with plasma yield weapons. Furiously, Onespawn slammed the pestering fighters away one after the other, and was almost too occupied with them to notice the familiar green blob of the Planet Express ship as it sailed by.

            A glowing tendril of telekinetic energy snaked out and latched onto the PE ship, causing it to buck violently as it came to a sudden stop. The engines strained against the force that held the ship in place, and the hull groaned in protest. With an internal growl of triumph, Onespawn began to squeeze…
            Leela wrestled hopelessly with the controls, unable to break free of the hold, while Fry blasted away pointlessly at Onespawn with the laser cannon. The gun quickly overheated, leaving Fry staring hopelessly out through the bubble canopy at the massive brain. Something appeared behind it… a lot of somethings, and Fry gaped in surprise.
            Onespawn’s psychic voice entered his mind.
            “Checkmate,” it said.
            “Check again, mate,” Fry replied, grinning as the Nibblonian fleet, having suddenly appeared in the system, opened fire on the creature.
            A barrage of directed energy weapons lanced into Onespawn, and it bellowed in surprise and rage, releasing its hold on the PE ship. The little green vessel lurched away toward the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere. On the bridge, the communications screen came on, and Fiona appeared.
            “Lord Nibbler,” she said in simple greeting.
            “You came!” Nibbler said, hopping up to stare at her in surprise.
            “We cannot stay,” Fiona replied hurriedly. “Onespawn could erase us at any moment.”
            “I thank you,” Nibbler replied.
            “You were right, Lord Nibbler. Our hopes are with you and the Mighty One, as they always should have been. If you succeed, we will meet again… on the other side.”
            “Farewell…” Nibbler said with emotion as the image vanished.
            Onespawn began to apply energy into its internal quantum structure, preparing a wave of reality dysfunction, but the Nimbus and an accompanying group of Omicronian vessels and the much smaller Momship approached in a wedge formation, laying down waves of suppressive fire that allowed the fleet of Nibblonian saucers to depart the area. The monstrous creature furiously fired off bursts of destructive energy, forcing its attackers back to make an opening for itself. It moved toward Earth once again, down into the atmosphere, with the ships following.
            The Momship had taken a large blow, and its weakened hull ruptured deeply. With its engines labouring from the significant damage, it began an uncontrolled tumble toward the swirling white clouds far below.
            On the bridge, the crew was thrown from their feet as sparks erupted all around.
            “Damn exploding consoles!” Mom snapped.
            “Ma’am!” Helm said, struggling to stay upright as the gravity horizon fluctuated. “We’ve lost the main engines! We’re going in hard!”
            “What do we have?” Mom asked.
            “Only the manoeuvring verniers, but they won’t be enough to keep us in orbit. We have to abandon ship!”
            A brief flicker of emotion passed across Mom’s face, and she inclined her head. “Very well – sound the alert.”
            As the crew, along with Hermes, Amy, and Scruffy, all made their way off the smoky shaking bridge toward the escape pods, Mom remained behind, standing with her hands on the control console. Professor Farnsworth hung back in the doorway, looking expectantly at her.
            “Come on, you stupid woman, it’s time to go!” he said.
            “Shut your crap-trap, Hubert,” Mom growled. “I’ll be along in a minute – there are a few little matters I need to see to.”
            “Scram, Farnsworth!” she shouted.
            The Professor backed away.
            Mom watched through the forward screen as Onespawn caught hold of the Nimbus in its telekinetic grasp and began dragging the damaged DOOP warship with it, down into the atmosphere, ripping off huge chunks of steel it as went. She checked the vernier controls, trying an experimental burst to slow the wild tumble.
            For some reason, she remembered the passionate and determined young cyclops woman.
            “Alright then you stinking great blob of grey crap,” she said, “let’s dance.” Her fingers played across the main controls, entering a security override.
            At the escape pods, Farnsworth stood anxiously waiting outside one of the last of the cramped little tubes to deploy.
            “Come on, mon!” Hermes said from inside the tube. “Forget the old hag!”
            “Shut up!” Farnsworth replied. He took a step back toward the bridge, but a sudden shill chime from the escape pod’s launch system made him look up in alarm.
            “Emergency pod launch imminent!” a computerized voice announced. “Please step inside pod. Pod will launch in five… four… three…
            “An emergency override?” Farnsworth gasped. Hermes and Amy lunged out and caught him by the arms, pulling him back inside the little tube just as the airlock slammed shut.
            “No!” Farnsworth shouted. “Let go of me! I have to go and…”
            The tube launched, shooting out of the stricken ship at high-Gs, and Farnsworth shouted in anguish: “Caroline!”
            With the escape pods away, Mom eased the ship into a high angle of atmospheric re-entry. Warning alarms rang annoyingly as hull plates around the damaged sections began peeling away. The ship shuddered violently from a series of internal explosions, but Mom stayed where she was, giving the verniers constant taps to maintain a tight alignment.
            Weapons were offline. Autopilot was offline. Everything was gone but for the mass of the ship itself. And that she lined up on a collision course with Onespawn, directly below, occupied as it was with tearing the Nimbus to pieces. The Momship’s earlier momentum increased with the pull of gravity, with its speed at more than eight miles a second.
            When it was moments away from Onespawn, Mom opened a broadwave communications channel.
            “Well hello dearie!” she said in her traditional sweet old lady voice. “Mommy has a present for you!”
            The explosion illuminated a huge area of sky, the Momship impacting with Onespawn in a tremendous blast, most of its mass vaporizing instantly. The creature’s structure took a battering, with thick streamers of grey flesh whipping away. It tumbled end-over-end, releasing its hold on the Nimbus, which angled away, trailing smoke as it went down.
            Wounded and weakened once again, Onespawn dropped through the sky, followed by its depleted ranks of Brainspawn footsoldiers.
            Lumps of debris fell through the atmosphere in a brilliant shower of shooting stars.

* * *

Undetected within the orbital chaos, a small object detached itself from a satellite that it had been cannibalizing for spare parts. Ignoring the vast and destructive space battle that was taking place, Robot 1-X Ultima locked its sensors onto the Planet Express ship as its leading edges began to glow with re-entry friction.
            All things come to he who waits, Ultima thought happily, activating the few weapons systems it had been able to repair. With a blast of fusion flame, it shot off in pursuit of the green ship, heedless of the battle cruisers exploding all around. Its intercept trajectory took it in a dangerously shallow sweep across the upper atmosphere, but Ultima braved the thermal ablation, zeroing-in on the side of the little freighter.
            Fry returned to the bridge of the PE ship, noting the soft pink glow licking across the forward viewscreen.
            “How we faring?” he asked Leela as he strapped himself into an empty seat.
            “Banged and bruised,” Leela said. “But she’s a tough old girl – she’ll hold together.”
            “Onespawn,” Nibbler said, hanging onto the top of the radar screen. “It’s descending toward New New York… and the fleets are holding back their heavy weapons for fear of striking the city.”
            “Dammit, why there?” Leela said.
            “It’s trying to goad me into a confrontation,” Fry said grimly. “And it’s succeeded.”
            Suddenly, a loud clang echoed through the ship, and it shuddered.
            “Space cow!” Fry yelled in alarm.
            “Something took a swipe at us,” Leela said, struggling with the trembling control column as the re-entry burn grew hotter and the whole ship began to shake. “Whatever it is, it has the worst possible ti…” She was cut off by the shriek of tearing steel and a tremendous rush of air as the cabin’s pressure began to escape in a screaming torrent.
            “Abandon ship!” Bender yelled.
            Discarding the airlock door that it had torn off its hinges, Ultima climbed inside the ship and moved through onto the bridge with the roaring tornado of air and debris blasting past it.
            Clinging on for dear life, Leela, Fry, Bender, and Nibbler all turned to stare at the damaged military robot as it loomed over them.
            Together they screamed.

Chapter 21: The Silence of the Droids

Together, they screamed. And the air screamed with them. The Planet Express ship began a shallow lateral roll as its re-entry trajectory degraded.

“Oh God” Leela shouted, staring up at the battered war drone, which appeared to have bolted and welded patches of steel onto itself in a hasty self-repair job. “I can't believe it's still...”
She didn't finish the thought. Ultima opened fire with an atom laser, the beam stabbing just past her face and blowing the command console apart. The ship bucked violently in response to the loss of avionics control; the assortment of alarms couldn't be heard above the roar of wind in the cabin and the atmospheric friction outside.
With an angry shout lost in the thinning atmosphere, Fry unbuckled himself from his seat and launched up at the robot with fists flailing. It deftly caught him by the face in one of its lower manipulator claws and tossed him into the bulkhead where he crumpled into a heap.
“Fry!” Leela began moving to him, but her path was blocked by the battle droid, it hovered before her on a roughly-repaired ion thruster, opening and closing its claws and looking somehow uncertain. She bared her teeth as her hair whipped around and her ears popped painfully from the pressure differential. The deck trembled beneath her feet.
“Get the hell off my ship!” she yelled at the machine, stepping forward to meet it. Ultima fired a rubber bullet from its arm cannon at nearly point-blank range, sending Leela sprawling at the front of the cabin with an agonized cry.
Ocean, cloud, and land rolled in and out of view behind Leela as she wheezed and clutched her stomach. The ship was plummeting in a death-roll, and a deranged killer robot was looming over her, ready to deal the death-blow...
...Except it didn't come. Ultima hesitated, wracked by internal contradiction.
Destroy the target, end the mission. End the mission, destroy purpose. Cannot survive without purpose.
Turanga Leela's face and vital statistics scrolled through the robot's mind. The target was lying helpless before it, with Ultima's crosshairs centred. Kill-shot assured.
Cannot end. Can't let it end. Can't let purpose be cancelled - won't go on hiatus. Must continue.
Ultima fired into the deck around Leela, with an internal shriek of frustrated indecision. The target curled into a ball, cowering away form the blasts. From behind, the orange-haired human approached for a second attack, swinging a fire extinguisher that caught Ultima a blow across the cranial casing to nil effect. The robot turned and arbitrarily deposited twenty-thousand volts into the figure, sending him sprawling once again. This caused the primary target further distress.
Toward the back of the cabin, Nibbler clung to a console beside Bender.
“You have to do something!” Nibbler shouted at the bending robot. “You're the only one strong enough!”
“I can't!” Bender wailed in anguish. “I love the 1-X robots!”
“Fight the programming!” Nibbler commanded. “You're a sentient being, not just an inflexible assortment of data - you have the ability to choose!”
“No!” Bender clutched his head.
“It's hurting your friends!” Nibbler said. “They need you!”
Bender trembled from his own internal contradictions, struggling to find his way through the compatibility program that had been installed in him. The 1-X series robots were superior – bastions of goodness and functionality. They were his friends.
            Bender’s friends were lying on the deck, bruised and beaten, with a violent and destructive thing looming over them. Fry and Leela were his friends. A 1-X robot was threatening them… 1-X robot… The 1-X robot was his…
            “…Enemy,” Bender said in a strangled voice. “Enemy… enemy… enemy…” He surged to his feet and stood, clenching his metal fists, with a tremble running through him. In front, the military 1-X had picked Leela up, and held her as though uncertain of what to do with her.
            “Hey, rivet face!” Bender shouted, and Ultima turned to regard him. “Sorry to say, buddy - You’re pending for a bending!” He leapt forward, sweeping his arms in parabolic arcs to meet the other robot, which dropped Leela to the deck and brought its weapons to bear.

            The two robots slammed together in a shower of sparks, Bender pounding at Ultima’s already-damaged casing, and Ultima trying to draw bead on the bending robot with its cannons. Bender batted the weapons aside and they discharged into the bulkhead and equipment racks.
            “You’ll have to do better than that, circuit-bag,” Bender said, punching the war drone in the face plate.
            Leela, struggling to her feet on the shifting deck, was forced to duck beneath a flurry of slashing robot arms. She dived and rolled away from Bender and Ultima, making for the control console but finding it molten and useless.
            “Crap,” she said as a blue and green panorama pitched up in front of the plummeting ship. They were getting awfully close to being a smear on the landscape – unless she could regain control and aerobrake.
            Bender still grappled with Ultima, the clash of their metal bodies ringing even above the rushing air. They traded blow after blow, with servomotors and pneumatics whining and hissing under the strain.
            Leela struggled over to the navigation console and Fry joined her.
            “Are we boned?” he asked, watching as Bender fought with the other robot.
            “Very nearly,” Leela said, activating a secondary control column that unfolded from a floor recess. “If I can’t bleed off a lot of speed in very little time we’re all going to have a close interpersonal experience with several geological strata of sedimentary rock.”
            “You can do it,” Fry said with casual certainty, wincing when Bender took a particularly hard hit that dislodged his left arm.
            “I’m not so sure,” Leela replied, wrestling with the controls. She’d corrected the violent spin, but Mother Earth was still rushing up at them at a decidedly unhealthy rate.
            “I am,” Fry replied, stepping past her. “I believe in you.” He picked up Bender’s left arm from the deck, hefting it like a club and rushing forward to strike Ultima across the back with it. Ultima turned, and Fry feinted away, tossing the arm to Bender, who quickly reattached it and wrapped it and its partner limb around Ultima’s head from behind.
            “Surprise, metaltube!” Bender said, tightening the sleeper hold until Ultima’s cranial casing began to creak. “I’ve got your number, you stinking pile of… oh someone else’s God!” Ultima had reached around and grabbed Bender by the Shiny Metal Ass, and was now flinging him around, bashing him with great force against the fuselage and equipment racks.
            “Bender, you’re doing great! I think he’s starting to tire out!” Fry yelled, right before Ultima threw Bender at him, and they both went skidding across the deck to slam painfully into the bulkhead.
            “Thanks for breaking my fall, pal,” Bender said, picking himself up off a battered Fry who managed a strangled moan. “Time for some Ultimate Robot Fighting action!” He ran back toward Ultima, taking a few laser hits as he went, but shrugging them off. He swung his fists, one after the other, and Ultima caught them both in its manipulator claws, holding the bending robot’s arms at bay as it lined up its weapon pods. But Bender suddenly surged upward and headbutted the other robot. On a roll of confidence, he then tried to kick Ultima’s legs out from beneath it, realizing too late that the war drone didn’t have any.
            As the two robots continued to clobber each other Leela was fighting her own battle, struggling to right the ship’s uncontrolled descent. The depressurization and destruction of the main avionics suite had made the process of atmospheric deceleration dangerously unstable – not to mention the time wasted in dealing with the persistent military robot. Fly-by-wire was inoperative – the emergency controls were barebones, without even the most basic of autonomous routines. It was down to Leela’s intuition and the ship’s control surfaces.
            She pulled up into belly-first attitude, feeling the tug of deceleration pull her down in the seat. Pressure and thermal stresses creaked through the superstructure and triggered load alarms, and the control column shuddered in her hands. In desperation, she re-lit the main drive for some thrust to slow their rate of descent – the ship lurched in response. A subsequent adjustment of the vessel’s lateral tailfin flaps initiated a series of wide slalom slides to create even more drag, but they were still going down hard, with the altimeter spinning past fifty thousand feet. The Atlantic was beneath them now as they scorched a rapid north-westerly path toward continental North America.
            Still Bender and Ultima fought. Fry tried to help by bashing the war drone over the head with the coffee maker, and Nibbler leapt into the fray with a few ineffectual bites, but both of them were easily batted away.
            “Never send an organism to do a machine’s job,” Bender muttered. He kicked Ultima in the chest plate, sending it wobbling backward until it was underneath a main supply cable that ran across the ceiling. Bender extended his arms to grab the cable’s end and pulled it from its mounting in an explosion of extremely high voltage sparks. He pressed the sputtering and snapping exposed wires of the cable against Ultima’s cracked and dented casing.
            The lights dimmed. The engine died. All of the ship’s systems went offline.
            Ultima spasmed, encased in a shroud of sparks and crackling tendrils of electricity. Smoke billowed from it as internal ammunition stores exploded. Bender stepped back and watched the other robot fall limply to the deck with small spits of leftover charge.
            “Yeah! Take that, jerkwad!” he shouted jubilantly. “I HATE those damn 1-X robots! May they all burn in robot hell! Woooo-hoooo!”
            “Say, Bender the Magnificent?” Leela said, pushing away from the now-useless control column. “You just killed our main power. I managed to set us onto a reasonable glide slope, but even so – we’re now about to crash-land. As much as I appreciate your help, you can really be a stupid shi…”
            “We must brace for impact,” Nibbler said hurriedly. “Our altitude is almost down to one thousand hooves.”
            “Feet,” Fry corrected him.
            “I prefer my way.”
            They all strapped themselves in, Leela talking hold of Nibbler as the ship continued its noisy freefall. On the floor, Ultima twitched.
            “It’s going to be a water landing,” Leela said as she fastened her belt buckle. “It’ll be hard, but it would have been worse if we were directly over land. I’m sorry about this everyone… maybe I really did need that captaincy course after all…”
            “You did great, Leela,” Fry assured her. “Nobody could have done any better – you’re amazing…”
            “Thank you Fry.” She smiled at him, and he smiled back.
            “Oh man,” Bender said in disgust. “If I had stomach contents I would now be forcibly ejecting them.”
            The ship splashed down.

* * *

There was a shadow over New New York.
            It had appeared first at Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, and then spread across the city, devouring the skyscrapers of Tribeca and Chelsea, the tube lines and eateries of Little Alpha-Proximatown, and the meadows of Central Park beneath its dim pall.
            The shadow passed over the Planet Express building and an inept Decapodian doctor cowered in terror.
            People, robots, Horrible Gelatinous Blobs, and Hyperchickens on the street all looked up, and at first saw only a vast billowing mass of cloud that rolled across the sky. The close observer would note that it moved against the wind. Soon a resonant roar became audible, and then the cloud began to dissipate, revealing the massive flying thing that had been concealed inside and now hovered over the city.
            Curiosity turned to screaming terror as people fled or hid or smashed open the front of electronics stores. Some fired weapons into the air to no effect.
            Onespawn took up a position over the sprawling metropolis and regarded it, the defining pinnacle of human civilization, with amusement. In the end, when it all boiled down, the city was just a big glorified ant-hill.

            It sensed the Mighty One was close… close enough.
            It was time.
            Onespawn summoned the remaining Brainspawn to join with it, absorbing their mass and energy into itself. They melted into Onespawn, adding their sympathetic harmonic quantum fields to the underspace resonance collapse that was taking place within the massive creature. The new exotic organ within Onespawn existed in ten dimensions – a rippling incomprehensible warp in reality, through which the intrinsic quantum flux inside the giant creature was fed and focused.
            A spherical area of darkness began to grow around Onespawn… with forks of lightning stabbing out of it. Clouds started to swirl toward the darkness, revolving around New New York – the eye of the storm.

* * *

The Planet Express ship slammed down on its belly somewhere beyond the mouth of the Hudson River. Then, with explosive bursts of steam from its superheated surfaces, it skipped like a stone across the choppy polluted waters four… five… six… seven times, before finally settling to gouge out a long wake through the swell and then…
            …a jarring, bone-shattering impact as the little freighter’s momentum carried it straight into Staten Island’s Midland Beach, a short distance from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. It ripped a great furrow in the sand before finally coming to a halt, steaming and ticking with its hull warped and torn.
            Each battered and shaken to the point of knowing exactly how an omelette feels, the crew began groggily unstrapping themselves from their seats. Smoke and steam filled the dim cabin, along with the strong scent of electrical shorts and salt water.
            “Casualties?” Leela asked in between fits of coughing.
            “We’re all intact,” Fry replied.
            “If by ‘intact’ you mean ‘considering a lawsuit’,” Bender muttered.
            Leela realized she’d been fearfully squeezing Nibbler very tightly against her ample bust the whole time. She pulled him out of her generous cleavage, and he fell back, gasping desperately for breath.
            “Sorry,” she said sheepishly.
            “No… harm… done…” Nibbler panted, regaining some colour.
            “Let’s get out of this wreck before something explodes,” Bender suggested.
            They started toward the emergency exit, but something moved in the smoke that still billowed across the floor. It seemed to slither toward Leela, and suddenly a metal claw was clamped around her ankle.
            Ultima shuddered and sparked, its emergency batteries leaking slush lithium. Time was short – it had the target in its grip – fulfilment was at hand.
            “Get off me, damn you!” the target shouted, kicking at Ultima with her free boot. The other hostiles also began to deliver a rain of blows, but it ignored them, focusing on the primary – the economical grace of her movements, the distinct spectral pattern of her colouring…
            It placed her in the centre of a crosshair, selecting an atom laser.
            Completion. Finality. The End.
            In the mind of a robot, an eternity can pass in a moment, and a moment can be an eternity. Ultima pondered for an eternity…
            “Let go of her, you damn monster!” Fry shouted, slamming his sneakers into Ultima.
            “Nobody likes a sore loser!” Bender added, trying to pull the dying robot away.
            The atom laser charged, and its stored particle beam hummed in its containment field, ready to lance through Turanga Leela’s flesh. A single photonic trigger impulse through an optical fibre nerve cluster and Ultima’s purpose would be completed.
            And then what?
            Death would come. The robot had already been in bad shape – the high-voltage attack had just been the final nudge beyond the point of repairable; multiple redundancies had seen multiple failures, until the very last inch of itself flickered… the final flame of emulated life about to run out of wick.
            Life… Ultima thought on that word. Its life had had only one purpose – the one it now trained its weapons pod on; that single eye, narrowed in determination, even in the face of defeat. With the target’s extermination, Ultima’s purpose, the sum goal of its existence, would cease. The mission… the final facet that connected Ultima to the world…
            The idea made the robot sad.
            In the malfunctioning processor that was Ultima’s mind it examined the concept of leaving something behind, proof that it had existed, a legacy… even if that legacy was an undefeated enemy to remember it… a job incomplete – a tie to the past.
            But the mission… must be completed.
            If purpose ends, then so ends the last remaining aspect of self.
            Self cannot exist beyond cessation of function.
            Self can always exist…
            Ultima twisted and writhed, its cannon wavering around the target. A spark issued from the robot’s neck as its paradox-absorbing buffers struggled with the complex load.
            Suddenly, it lunged upwards, bearing Leela toward the bulkhead, where it held her against the warm metal, its blank face visor an inch from her eye. Leela stared into the machine’s optical sensor, now more bewildered than frightened. Why wasn’t it killing her?
            Ultima’s vocal emulator crackled, as if it was clearing its throat or struggling to find words.
            “What do you want?” Leela asked it, motioning for Fry and Bender to hold back.
            Ultima regarded her. “You…” it said in a wavering electronic voice. “You are… my whole life.”
            Leela blinked in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
            Ultima gently trailed a battered claw down the side of Leela’s face, and then trembled, suddenly dropping to the deck with a clang. It lay motionless, and Leela looked down at it, unsure of what to think or feel.
            “Is it really dead this time?” Fry asked.
            “Looks like it,” Bender said, prodding the metal shell with his foot. “Good riddance, eh Leela?”
            Leela said nothing. Something strange had transpired, which she would probably never comprehend. She walked away from the dead machine to stand looking out through the sand-dusted viewscreen. It had hunted her so relentlessly, to its own demise, and had chosen not to take her life…
            “You okay?” Fry asked, coming up behind her.
            “Yeah,” she said. “Just… an odd moment of melancholy.” She turned to him. “Fry, can you imagine for a moment a life dedicated to a singular goal, so focused and uncompromising that the attainment of the goal itself would mean an end to the life?”
            “I…” Fry frowned, deep in unfamiliar intellectual territory. “I suppose… like a guy who lives to climb all the highest mountains, but one day he climbs them all and has nothing left to climb?”
            “Yeah,” Leela said. “You’d think he might leave just one mountain unclimbed… so that there was always the chance of something more – a promise for the future… something open-ended…”
            Fry understood, but failed to see the relevance. He expressed this in a shrug.
            “I’m just sad for some reason,” Leela said. “Come on – let’s get out of here. The ship’s dead, and it reeks of mortality. I hate that smell.”
            After Fry collected the Lance of Fate, the torn-open emergency access airlock allowed the four friends to jump down onto the sand and look up at the battered ship. With fins broken off and hull warped and cracked, it would never fly again, and so they took a moment to mourn its passing before wandering away up into the dunes. Thunder crackled overhead, and thin ribbons of dark cloud billowed across the sky.
            They crested the peak of a dune and stood amid the wiry beach grasses, looking out across the expansive mouth of the Hudson River, past the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan Island in the distance.
            “Cripes,” Fry said, wide-eyed.
            “Neat!” Bender said, snapping a photo.
            “Are we too late?” Leela wondered, gaping at the sight.
            Poised above New New York was Onespawn in all its horrific majesty. The giant brain formed the core of a slowly-expanding sphere of darkness that was whipping the atmosphere into a frenzy.
            “It has begun,” Nibbler said, nestled into the crook of Leela’s arm. “Lilith. The Dark Moon. The Devourer of All Things. Onespawn has initiated the compression of space and time toward a quantum singularity.”
            “Can we stop it?” Fry asked, gripping the Lance at his side.
            “You are stopping it,” Nibbler replied. “The presence of the Mighty One is having the opposite effect – but this planet will be consumed nonetheless, and yourself with it, making the beast unstoppable.”
            “What can we do?” Leela pressed.
            “Only our very best,” Nibbler replied.
            Together, they started forward.

Chapter 22: Armageddon outta here

The heavily-damaged Nimbus struggled to maintain altitude over New New York. Smoke trailed from its battle damage.
            Captain Zapp Brannigan sat in his command chair, glaring out at the gigantic brain that hung with casual enormity before the stricken vessel.
            “Hit it with everything we’ve got!” he said.
            “Sir, we have nothing,” Kif replied.
            “Then hit it with that!”
            “The torpedo tubes are damaged.”
            “Damaged?” Brannigan sneered. “Damage is no excuse for cowardice – have some able spacemen arm all of our remaining warheads and load them into a jettison capsule. I saw that once in a movie – we’ll get close to the enemy and shoot the capsule right up its… Kif, where to you stick things up a brain?”
            “I’m sure I have no idea, sir,” Kif muttered. “However the area of blackness which has surrounded the creature appears to be repelling all the orbital attacks from our own fleet and the Omicronian vessels.”
            “Repelling, eh?” Brannigan said. “Well, let’s see it repel five-million metric tons of DOOP warship! All ahead one third!”
            The Nimbus limped toward Onespawn, pushing through walls of rushing wind and crackling bolts of lightning. The vessel began to tremble as esoteric tidal forces afflicted it. The giant brain rose up like a sheer cliff of veiny pseudoflesh, encased in dark energy.
            “How’s that jettison capsule coming?” Brannigan asked, gripping the armrests of his seat as the ship shook violently.
            “It’s almost done,” Kif said, listening to an earpiece. “Sir, are you sure about this?”
            “A starship captain's most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than run away and look like a chicken,” Zapp said. “There are certain things men must do to remain men.”
            “Oh Gods…” Kif murmured miserably.
            The damaged warship reached the outermost extremity of the dark sphere and impacted it. Reality seemed to bend in response, and mile-long tendrils of unworldly energy stabbed out from the point of contact. As waves of displaced spacetime washed over the Nimbus, the number of crew on the bridge appeared to double and triple sporadically – Zapp and Kif saw themselves where they’d been standing fifteen minutes ago, and then half an hour before that…
            Zapp looked forward, and saw his own back, stained with blood, with a steel beam protruding through his torso. The vision faded, and he gaped in astonishment.
            “What the hell’s happening?” he said.
            “We’re as close as we can get!” Kif shouted over the screaming alarms. “If we’re going to do something, it has to be now!”
            “Launch the capsule!” Zapp yelled.
            A small jettison pod rocketed out of the Nimbus’s forward hull, and into the dark field of reality compression. It twisted and rippled and, without so much as a puff of smoke, ceased to exist.
            Onespawn gave a small chuckle, and casually hurled a wall of psychoplasmic energy at the Nimbus.
            “It didn’t work…?” Brannigan said, gaping in bewilderment.
            Kif saw the oncoming hail of destructive energy, and shouted at the top of his lungs: “Brace for impa…”
            He got no further. The ship took massive and devastating hits, with huge sections of its superstructure vaporizing in explosive fountains of fire. The Nimbus fell away from Onespawn, suddenly a great unpowered lump of steel. It crashed down on the far bank of the East River, carving out a long trail of destruction before coming to rest.
            On the bridge, survivors picked themselves up and began fighting through the smoke to the emergency exits. Kif looked around for the Captain, and saw that he had been thrown toward the demolished front section of the cabin during the crash landing, and now appeared to be lying across an equipment bank. He walked over and noticed that his initial assessment was incorrect.
            Zapp Brannigan was impaled on a broken, serrated length of metal support strut; it jutted out of the middle of his back, coated in blood and gore.
            “Sir!” Kif said in alarm, moving to his side. “Hold still, I’ll find someone to…”
            “Kif…” Zapp said weakly, with blood colouring his lips.
            “Yes sir?”
            “I have been… and always shall be… your friend…” Brannigan slumped forward, and Kif sat down, staring for a long time at the dead man.

* * *

The little escape pod manoeuvred on candlepower thrusters and gently set down outside Planet Express, hinging open with a hiss. Hermes, Amy, Scruffy, and Farnsworth all walked out, and all but the Professor gazed upward in frightened awe at the abomination that filled the sky.
            Farnsworth stared into space, his mind filled with unvoiced grief and bitter imaginings of what might have been. Mom was gone…
            “Sweet Phoenix of Phoenix!” Hermes muttered. “The ting is eating up the sky!”
            “That’s unsettlin’,” Scruffy muttered as he thumbed casually through a copy of zero-G Juggs.
            “What’s that black blork coming out of it?” Amy wondered.
            “Oh, probably just an area of time and space being compressed,” Farnsworth said distantly, without looking up. “The theoretical ‘Fry-hole’ predicted by the what-if machine would be a similar example. Who cares? Shut up!”
            Eerie-sounding thunder rolled overhead, and the group headed inside, where they found Zoidberg huddled under the meeting table.
            “My friends!” the lobster exclaimed, scuttling out of hiding. “You came back to save your beloved Doctor Zoidberg!”
            “In your dreams, you rotten shellfish,” Hermes said, pushing Zoidberg aside. He sat down at the table, and by some unspoken agreement the others sat as well.
            “We will, on this occasion, defer the reading of the previous meeting minutes,” Hermes said, and the others looked surprised at this unprecedented happening. “Straight onto the first order of business – Armageddon.” He activated the wall screen and √2 national news came on.

            “EARTH, pitiful homeworld of the insignificant human species, is DOOMED!” Morbo the news monster bellowed from the television
            “That’s right, Morbo,” the co-anchor Linda said. “After a chaotic space battle involving three separate attack fleets, the alien brain entity known only as ‘Onespawn’ has settled above the city of New New York, where it has initiated a strange energy reaction that specialists suggest may completely destroy the Earth and all who dwell upon it.”
            “Morbo APPLAUDS the imminent destruction of the PATHETIC human civilization!” Morbo declared, clenching a sinewy green fist. “We will cross live now to Earth President Richard M. Nixon for an emergency address to the planet.”
            The screen changed to show Nixon’s preserved head, with beads of condensation forming on the glass jar.
            “My fellow Earthicans,” he said. “We face a stern day in the history of our species. A great enemy has thrown down a challenge, and that challenge is survival. Never before in the history of the human race has so much been owed by so few to so many. I speak, of course, of the majority of the population who will bravely remain on Earth to meet their fate with dignity and honour, so that those intelligent and wealthy among us can depart to continue the human legacy. I salute you all.”
            Two Secret Service men appeared and picked up Nixon’s jar.
            “Well, that’s all from me,” he said as the men carried him away from the camera. “Gotta run now – hope the Apocalypse goes well for you all.” He was carried into Air Force One, a sleek blue and white starship, which quickly lifted off and blasted away.
            “That was Earth’s President, the head of Richard M. Nixon,” Linda said when the camera returned to the studio. To her credit, she looked only slightly pale.
            “Morbo’s only regret,” Morbo said, “is that someone ELSE will enjoy the honour of destroying this UTTERLY RIDICULOUS world!” He promptly hit a button on his chair and it blasted up off the floor, crashing through the roof and carrying him away on a plume of flame. Linda was left looking frazzled. She looked at the camera, smiled weakly, and gave a half-hysterical laugh.
            All across the world, space vessels were launching – fleeing the doomed world as the strange black sphere grew over New New York.
            Hermes switched off the television and they all looked glum.
            “Those ignorant fools,” Farnsworth muttered. “If they think they’ll actually be safe offworld then they’ve got another thing coming – Fry and the Nibblonian are the only ones who know how to stop that thing, and if they fail the creature will be the end of everything.”
            Most of the team didn’t really understand, but they took it on faith. Outside, the sky rumbled, temporarily blotting out the sound of looters on the streets.
            “Well, what do we do now?” Amy asked.
            “Huh-whaa?” the Professor looked at her in confusion. “Oh my, there’s very little we can do. Now that the creature is encased in a field of compressed spacetime nothing can touch it… nothing but an object of extreme power with a connection to spacetime itself… like a thermonuclear wristwatch… or a highly-caffeinated Tree Sloth…”

* * *

The Lance of Fate shimmered with unearthly energy, as its bearer had come to expect it to do.
            Fry clutched it close to his chest as he was pulled a breakneck speed through the tubeline toward the city, with the others following closely behind. Their line looped up over the raised arm of the Statue of Liberty and dipped down underwater as it headed toward Manhattan. Fry occasionally caught glimpses of the outbound lines completely overfull with the congested bodies of hapless citizens trying to flee the city. He, Leela, Bender, and Nibbler seemed to be the only ones trying to get in.
            When the tube deposited them in the middle of Times Square, Fry stumbled on the pavement and almost impaled himself on the Lance (wondering idly what kind of disastrous cosmic feedback loop that would have caused). He and the others stood looking around at the panic that had gripped the city. Storefronts were smashed open and hovercars were set alight – their smoke adding to the gloom being cast by Onespawn.
            “Another day in the life of New New York,” Leela muttered. “Sometimes I think the entire population of this city is just a mob-in-waiting.”
            “But when in Rome…” Bender said, trying to close his chest door over a new model television that was far too large to fit.
            On the big holoscreen above the square, the haggard and drawn face of Mayor Poopenmeyer appeared, larger than life.
            “New New Yorkers!” he said. “I urge calmness in the face of this threat – come on people! Every alien invasion it’s the same thing – you schmucks do more damage than the enemy! Pull it together for the love of…”
            The message cut out when a bolt of lightning slammed into the screen, causing it to explode in a shower of sparks. People on the street screamed and increased their terrified looting.
            “Great Scot!” Fry said, staring up at the angry sky.
            “This is heavy,” Bender added, struggling under the weight of the TV.
            Leela looked down at Nibbler. “How much worse is this going to get?” she asked, pointing at the sky.
            “Much worse,” Nibbler replied. “I doubt the city can be saved, even if Fry is able to reach Onespawn. But it is a loss we’ll have to accept.”
            “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t. I won’t.” She turned to Fry and took him by the hand. “There’s something I have to do.”
            “You’re not going off on your own, are you?” Fry asked with a small smirk.
            “Not exactly.” Leela leaned forward and kissed him. “Don’t finish this without me.”
            “I’ll be at the highest point,” Fry said, motioning skyward with the Lance.” I’ll see you there.” Leela nodded and then sprinted away at full speed, dodging looters and vaulting over debris. She disappeared from view.
            Fry looked up at the swirling maelstrom above. Onespawn was still visible in the centre of dark mass, from which the slender funnels of energized tornadoes now protruded, licking down toward the city. The wind picked up.
            Fry headed off, with Bender dutifully following behind and Nibbler scampering up onto his shoulder, toward the tallest building – Momcorp headquarters.

* * *

Every public telephone she came upon had been smashed to pieces by the roving mobs, so Leela ran flat-out all the way to Planet Express, bursting through the door and instantly having to duck beneath Professor Farnsworth’s shotgun blast.
            “Professor, stop!” Amy said, pulling the weapon away from him. “It’s Leela!”
            “I don’t know any Leelas!” he snapped.
            Leela straightened and surveyed the scene – workbenches had been arranged into a crude barrier to defend against the looters. Cubert, Dwight, and LaBarbera were present, as well as the rest of the Planet Express team.
            “Leela, what’s goin’ on?” Hermes said. “Where’s that idiot zombie Fry?”
            “Saving the Universe,” Leela grunted simply. She moved past them all and went to the videophone, punching in a rapid series of numbers and waiting for the connection to be made.
            At length, the logo of SewerCom appeared onscreen, to be quickly replaced by the worried faces of Morris and Munda.
            “Leela! Thank goodness you’re alright!” Munda said. “We were so worried, what with all those terrible sounds coming from above… what in the world is happening?”
            “I don’t have a lot of time to explain,” Leela replied. “It’s all going to hell, and a lot of people may be about to die. We need your help.”
            “What can we do?” Morris asked.
            Leela took a breath. “You want to claim your rightful place on the surface,” she stated. “God knows you deserve it, and shouldn’t have to earn it or prove yourselves worthy. But people are afraid of what they don’t understand – it’s their nature, it always has been. Now we have an opportunity in the middle of despair – a chance to show them who you… who we are. We can make a difference – and if we don’t all end up dead or cease to exist then maybe things will finally start to change.”
            Morris and Munda glanced at each other, and nodded.
            Then Leela told them what had to be done. She ended the call and stood purposefully, and the rest of the Planet Express crew watched her, waiting.
            “You guys had better get to safety,” she told them.
            “What are you going to do?” Amy asked innocently. “Something masculine and undignified?”
            Leela glared. “I’m going to help Fry,” she said. “We’ve got one last-ditch chance to put a stop to this thing. I have to go…”
            “Not without Zoidberg!” the Decapodian said, raising a pincer.
            “I’ll go along also,” Farnsworth said. “I have a score to settle with that monster.”
            “Scruffy’s gonna get in on this action too,” the janitor said, putting aside his pornographic magazine and standing. “Sign me up.”
            “I’ll help! I’m helpful!” Amy said, clapping her hands.
            Hermes sighed. “I suppose I’d better go along and make sure occupational health and safety guidelines are adhered to,” he said.
            Leela stared at the team, words lost beneath a swell of pride. She smiled at them. “You don’t have to do this you know,” she said.
            “Hey.” Amy placed a hand on Leela’s shoulder and tilted her head to one side. “We’re friends, right? Friends stick together.”
            Leela nodded. “Thanks guys,” she said. “Now here’s what we need to do…”

* * *

The quantum storm was worsening. Torrents of agitated atmosphere ripped across the city, blowing out windows and tearing antennas from their mountings. People on the streets below were no longer interested in looting – the true nature of their situation had begun to hit home with sheets of unnatural lightning and rampaging twisters that cut through the concrete canyons.
            This was something far bigger than the traditional bi-annual alien invasion. Humans, Cygnoids, Neptunians, and sentient fungi alike all began falling to their knees, bile glands, or prehensile locomotion ridges, praying to whichever guiding deity occupied their individual mythologies.
            Suddenly and unexpectedly, all around the city strange figures emerged from sewer vents, startling the already-terrified populace. The sewer mutants, acting on Turanga Leela’s directive, began herding the people of New New York toward the relative safety of the underground.
            “Come on, people!” Dwayne shouted at a wide-eyed group. “You can hide beneath the surface – we’ll show you the way!”
            “It’s the best chance you’ve got!” Vyolet added, holding open a manhole cover. “Spread the word – everyone can take refuge in the sewers!”
            Morris and Munda directed a steady stream of refugees down into the subterranean stormwater system; most didn’t even look twice at the malformed mutations now, when they were all poised on the brink of annihilation.
            “I hope Leela and Fry know what they’re doing,” Munda said, casting her single eye skyward to where the dark moon had filled the heavens.
            Little Nina, from the Cookieville Minimum Security Orphenarium, and Tinny Tim the disabled child robot both paused to look up at Morris and Munda, who smiled back at the kids in an attempt to not look terrifying.
            “Thank you,” Nina said nervously.
            “Yes, quite,” Tinny Tim seconded.
            “That’s alright, darlings,” Munda said. “Go along now, you’ll be safer below.”
            As they hurried away to descend into the sewer vent, the Turangas looked at each other in surprise – perhaps their daughter was right.

* * *

Momcorp headquarters was empty. The building creaked and trembled, with structural damage sustained from Ultima’s earlier attack and the cyclonic winds outside conspiring to produce a symphony of eerie groans.
            Fry, Bender, and Nibbler made their way up through the deserted building, at last reaching the top floor by elevator. The staircase to the observation deck lay before them.
            “Last chance to turn back, you guys,” Fry told the other two.
            “I will bear witness,” Nibbler replied, sitting on Fry’s shoulder.
            “And I’m not missing the opportunity to rob your corpse when you die in a few minutes,” Bender said, heartily clapping Fry on the back. “Like they say – let no part of the carcass go to waste – watch, wallet, fillings…”
            “…Okay then,” Fry said slowly. Together they ascended the stairs. At the top Fry paused for only a moment before pushing the door open and stepping out into hell…

Chapter 23: Fear and Loathing in NNY

The Universe fell toward Onespawn.
            As the city below trembled in fear, time and space collapsed around the gargantuan mutated Brainspawn. And the only force holding reality back from the brink of total obliteration had moronically arrived, like a moth to the flame, at the epicentre – and would soon be destroyed along with the rest of… everything.
            Onespawn sensed the Lance of Fate directly below. Close, but not close enough. It laughed and extended its coherent electromagnetic field to tap into the ebbing and flowing grid of the Earth’s so-called ‘Internet’ and gather inspiration from works of fiction that had been stored electronically. There was a veritable warehouse of creativity floating through cyberspace – a vast multitude of mental realms uploaded to public domain, available to all and sundry. Onespawn selected a few at random and applied their unique patterns to its flaring, burgeoning surplus of quantum energy…

* * *

A screaming vortex of wind ripped across the top of the Momcorp tower, with lightning stabbing all around. Fry stepped out into the open, braving the gale with Nibbler holding onto his jacket and the Lance at his side.
            “Let’s do this thing,” he said.

            “Right behind ya, buddy!” Bender called from his position cowering behind an air-conditioning duct.
            “Come on, you slimy fat bastard!” Fry shouted up at Onespawn. “Come on down here and face me!”
            In response, a disdainful laugh rolled across the turbulent sky.
            “And why would I do that?” Onespawn said. “Why, when I can provide you with a host of playmates from your inane formulaic human literature?” The laughter came again, echoing from the black sphere above.
            Waves of reality displacement rippled down around Fry, and the Lance glowed bright, protecting him and Nibbler from the effects.
            “Is that all you’ve got?” Fry shouted in defiance, standing at the edge of infinity with the world ending around him.
            “Ah… Fry?” Bender called. “You may wanna watch out…” Fry turned too late, and a very large misshapen fist slammed into him, knocking him and Nibbler across the concrete to fall dangerously close to the edge of the roof.
            He groggily picked himself up and recovered the Lance from where it had fallen. Only then did he look at what had hit him. A sound somewhere between a grunt of surprise and a gasp of horror escaped his lips after he’d done a double and triple-take.
            Standing before him was a half-naked pallid grey/green figure, more than seven feet tall, complete with horrific stitching all over it and bolts protruding from its neck. It was, without a doubt, the monster from Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
            “How hard did I just hit my head?” Fry wondered, gazing at the shambolic figure.
            “It’s real,” Nibbler said from the ground. “Onespawn is pulling fiction into reality, transubstantiating it with real matter and energy…”
            “All is fiction!” Onespawn’s voice bellowed. “There is no difference!”
            As the wind and lightning lashed across the roof, more figures appeared out of thin air. There was Terry Prachett’s interpretation of the Grim Reaper with his scythe held at the ready; Captain Hook, from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan brandished his namesake and a curved cutlass; Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula bore inch-long fangs and hissed; and Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian swung a gigantic broadsword over his head and bellowed a deafening battle-cry.
            “Oh hell,” Fry muttered as the fictional characters advanced on him, swinging their various weapons. Frankenstein’s monster reached him first, extending oversized hands and moaning mournfully. Fry stabbed out with the Lance of Fate, and the monster fell apart into individual lumps of harvested cadavers.
            “End of the line, Frankenstein,” he said.
            Dracula darted forward, his cape billowing, in a manner of movement that would be called catlike if he had paused every now and then to spray his scent on things. Instead of that, he leaped with an unearthly hiss at the orange-haired boy with the exposed throat and…
            …came to a halt in midair with the Lance sticking through his heart. The count dissolved rapidly into a cloud of dust that was whipped away by the wind.
            “You suck,” Fry quipped.
            With a distinctly pirate-like yarrr, Captain Hook swung his cutlass at Fry, forcing the hapless delivery boy to jump back and teeter with his heels hanging over the edge of the building.
            “Avast, ye scurvy dog!” came a coarse shout from behind the fictional pirate as a robot fist cracked Captain Hook across the back of the head, knocking off his tricorne hat and sending him sprawling.
            The loincloth-garbed Conan the Barbarian rushed at Bender with a battle-cry invoking the favour of Crom. He swung his broadsword towards the robot, but Fry leapt in front and parried the blow with his Lance.
            Fry and Bender found themselves standing back-to-back as Conan and the Grim Reaper bore down on them from two sides. Slowly, Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula had reassembled themselves, and along with Captain Hook they joined the others in a circle closing around the two friends. Nibbler scrambled around Fry and Bender’s feet and growled at the approaching literary figures.
            “Never thought it’d end like this,” Bender said.
            “Killed by a bunch of fictional characters?” Fry replied. “No, I didn’t see that coming either.”
            “I always thought we’d be killed by television executives.”
            Fry glanced at the robot in puzzlement.
            “Well, might as well go out with a bang,” Bender went on, clenching his metal fists.
            “Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Fry replied, hefting the Lance.
            Death drew back his scythe, ready to reap his grim harvest…
            …when suddenly a series of flaming holes appeared in his robe, exposing bones beneath. Death fell back, and Fry, Bender, and Nibbler all looked up to see Professor Farnsworth sitting in his hovering recliner chair and aiming a large-calibre laser rifle. An ancient, senile, gun-toting guardian angel.
            “Mad scientists don’t fear the reaper!” the old man shouted angrily, firing another few laser bolts into the robed figure.
            “Professor?” Fry said in surprise. He almost lost his head, but a red lobster dropped from the sky wearing a jetpack and caught Conan’s swinging sword in his pincers.
            “A big implement like that, I’d say you were trying to make up for something, I would,” Zoidberg said. “Puny stink-gland, perhaps?” He tightened his claws and the sword blade shattered.
            “Doctor Zoidberg?” Fry gasped, blinking in bewilderment at the unlikely saviour.
            Captain Hook began slashing at them with his hook, but went down like a weighted treasure chest when the leading edge of a Party/Ironing board struck him in the head. Amy surfed the modified flying board in a tight arc and hovered above, grinning.
            “We thought we’d lend a hand,” she said.
            A moustached individual with a grubby peak cap pulled low over his eyes motored across the top of the building on a hoverbike. He swung a heavy wrench in one hand, smashing it across the faces of Dracula, Conan, Frankenstein, and (accidentally) Zoidberg.
            “Who the heck was that guy?” Bender said, watching Scruffy circle around.
            Dracula picked himself up and lunged at Fry, only to be brought down by a series of bureaucratically-placed laser blasts. Hermes descended, wearing a jetpack and levelling a pistol.
            “No vampirism is permitted in the city without an official permit signed in triplicate by the Attorney General and Mayor,” he said.
            “You guys…” Fry said, looking around at the members of Planet Express standing or hovering around. “But where’s…?”
            There came an ear-splitting “Hiiii-YAH!” from behind him, and Conan the Barbarian fell past into a crumpled heap, a small dagger clattering from his grasp. Fry smiled and turned to see Leela standing in an Arcturan Kung-Fu stance, with a jetpack strapped to her back.
            “Hey there, Mighty One,” she said with a small grin. “You ready to save the universe?”
            “You ready to save it with me?” Fry countered. They both smiled at each other with quiet bravado; both aware of the potential for tragedy looming, and both pushing through the fear because it was the only thing they could do.
            The fictional characters began to fade away, melting into nothingness. Fry and Leela stepped closer to each other.
            “I love you so much,” Fry told her.
            “And I love you,” Leela replied.
            Suddenly, with a tremendous crash, a bolt of turquoise lightning flashed from the sky and slammed down into the concrete between them, throwing them both back with concussive force. Smoke and crackling sparks issued from the impact point and a resonant mocking laugh filled the psychic aether.
            “How romantic,” Onespawn said. “The Idiot and the Freak – it could be the title of a fairy tale. And you’ve brought your meddlesome friends along to die with you I see.”
            The building trembled.
            “Laugh all you want,” Fry said, glaring up at the giant brain. “But it’s our friendship that makes us stronger than you. Alone we’re nothing, but together we can’t be stopped.”
            “Stronger than me?” Onespawn repeated incredulously. “ Philip J. Fry, you have already lost – you only draw breath because your antics amuse me. But now I think it’s time to refer to another work of fiction…”
            Reality dysfunction washed over them, and Fry cringed. “Oh lord, what next?”
            The trembling in the building increased by an order of magnitude, and cracks began to appear in the concrete. Fry and Leela picked themselves up and glanced around.
            “Maybe we should…” Leela trailed off, watching in horror as a huge grotesque tentacle pushed out of a crack in the rooftop and coiled up, writhing around as it was joined by others, all slithering out in ponderous silence until the roof was surrounded by rubbery questing feelers the width of tree trunks.
            “A giant squid!” Zoidberg squealed, blasting into the air with his jetpack.
            “I… don’t think that’s a squid,” Leela said slowly. A large section of roof lifted and fell away, revealing a huge pulpy head with sinister glowing yellow eyes. A massive dorsal ridge bore the stubs of rudimentary wings, and viciously curved claws emerged from beneath it. The creature looked like the bastard child of an octopus and a dragon.
            It was Cthulhu, the ‘Great Old One’, an ancient evil concocted by the legendary horror writer, H. P. Lovecraft.
            “I hate it when the bad guys don’t play fair,” Fry said, watching a dozen tentacles snaking toward him.
            Cthulhu let out an indescribable howl as Farnsworth and Hermes flew around it, firing their weapons into its hideous writhing flesh. Leela began running towards Fry, but was blocked by a mass of tentacles that slammed down in her path. Fry gripped the Lance of Fate in a desperate bid at defending himself against the monstrous evil, but something grabbed him from behind and hefted him up by the armpits.
            It was Bender.
            “Your time to shine, meatbag,” the robot said. “Don’t make me any more embarrassed to be your friend.” With a whine of servomotors, he extended his arms, lifting Fry up, higher and higher away from the monster, with Nibbler clinging to his shoe.
            “Bender!” Fry yelled as the robot’s arms continued to extend. Bender was lost from view beneath a swarming mass of tentacles, and the slender metal arms swayed alarmingly.
            Suddenly Amy appeared, swooping in on her Party Board to collect Fry and Nibbler on the front. Fry hung over the edge of the contraption to look down at where Cthulhu swiped angrily at Farnsworth, Hermes, and Leela, who flew around it in pestering circled. Of Bender, there was no sign…
            …until suddenly a metal arm emerged from the tentacles, enthusiastically burning the creature’s flesh with a lit cigar.
            “Hold on tight!” Amy told Fry as she angled her board upward. He dragged his eyes away from the scene below and looked up to see Onespawn and the Dark Moon looming as one, filling the sky.
            “I can go no further with you,” said a small solemn voice near his ear, and Fry turned to glance at Nibbler.
            “I thank you,” Nibbler went on. “To have frozen you, and used you as we did, the debt can…”
            “I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” Fry said automatically, not really understanding how he could have known, but feeling as if he always had nonetheless.
            “Farewell,” Nibbler said. “It has been an honour.”
            “Honour this, you intractable fools!” Onespawn bellowed, shooting a bolt of psychoplasma down at them.
            “Gan ni niang!” Amy swore potently, trying to bank the overloaded Party Board but unable to steer in time. The ball of energy billowed toward them, and the Lance of Fate flared incandescent, its temporal field pulsing. Without thinking, Fry held it aloft, and the psychoplasma seemed to splash against an invisible wall, flowing around the figures perched on the flying board. But they shuddered under the force nonetheless, and the board’s antigravs laboured – it wouldn’t hold for long.
            Zoidberg flew in from one side, the nozzles of his jetpack leaving a white trail.
            “Hot potato!” Amy said. “Good luck Fry!” The Decapodian caught him around the waist and yanked him off the board, leaving Amy and Nibbler behind.
            “Welcome aboard, passengers – thank you for flying Zoid Air,” Zoidberg said as Fry clung to him. Crimson energy bolts flashed down after them, burning a line through the air.
            Leela flew past, ascending to a higher altitude, and Fry realized his friends were all following some kind of plan. Even as the explosive plasma blasts drew dangerously close, he couldn’t help the wild grin that spread across his face. His friends, his team-mates – the greatest people in the world.
            “Go, my friend - fly!” Zoidberg shouted, letting go of Fry. For a moment he was in freefall, and then the rear seat of a hoverbike was beneath him, and he hung on for dear life, the Lance still in his free hand, as Scruffy angled the vehicle upward into the howling wind.
            Keep passing the parcel – that was the idea. Change direction, change the carrier, keep the movement unpredictable… and maybe they’d have a chance. Using the janitor’s shoulder as support, Fry stood up and watched Hermes fly with his jetpack on an intercept course.
            “Scruffy believes in you, kid,” Scruffy said. “Kick some temporal lobe!”
            Fry flung out his free hand and Hermes caught it, yanking him off the hoverbike and upward at a different angle. Of course, something as massive as Onespawn would likely have some trouble trying to pick off comparatively tiny, fast-moving objects too close to itself. Bigger isn’t always better, and is more often a hindrance… so Fry had always told himself in the gym class locker room.
            The wind buffeted him and Hermes, and the jetpack whined under the loading. Lightning slashed past them, and energy bolts sizzled through the air.
            “Alright, ya lazy, good-for-nothin’ freeloader,” Hermes said. “Ya better not screw this up… we’re countin’ on ya, mon.” He let go of Fry’s arm, and he fell, carried onward by inertia for a short time before dropping into Professor Farnsworth’s lap.
            “Oh my…” Farnsworth said, increasing his recliner chair’s thrust and angling up toward the immense black sphere that now hung only a few hundred feet above.
            Psychoplasma stabbed down from Onespawn again, and again the Lance of Fate repelled it, at the cost of velocity and a burning sensation that coursed through Fry’s cosmic stigma.
            “Well, off you go!” the Professor said, and Fry found himself whisked suddenly away, with strong-yet-soft hands gripping him beneath the arms.
            Without even turning his head he knew it was Leela. The contours of her body pressed against him; the hint of her subtle scent, recognisable to him even in the rushing wind; her warm breath against his neck…
            “It’s all or nothing,” she said in his ear.
            “Nobody can say we didn’t give it our best,” Fry replied.
            “On the plus side,” Leela reflected, “if we lose, there’ll be nobody around to criticize us for it.”
            “I hadn’t thought about it like that.”
            Lightning and energy bolts filled their world, and the wind roared. Responding to minute movements in the small muscles of Leela’s back, the thrust-vectoring nozzles in the jetpack fought to keep them moving upward. It had come down to it at last: the time-honoured Suicidal Headlong Charge into the Face of Certain Death. Leela stole one hand briefly away from Fry to activate a belt-mounted control box, and then she gripped him even more tightly as an illegal after-market accessory came online.
            The pod nestled between the jetpack’s two thrust nozzles was designed as a disposable rocket booster for escape capsules. Retrofitted to a jetpack, it gave a massive burst of speed, far beyond design specifications and legal limits for personal flight apparatus.
            Fry and Leela shot upwards on a trail of fire.

            At any other time, Fry would have whooped in exhilaration, but now the Dark Moon was looming above them like a solid ceiling, and they were closing on it at high speed.
            A few pithy and emotional comments filtered through his mind, but the screaming air rushing past his ears, the crash of lighting, and the scant seconds remaining made them pointless.
            The Lance glowed.
            And the blackness responded, opening before them…
            …They flew inside.

* * *

The Planet Express team flew back to Momcorp tower, looking up as the black sphere fluxed and rippled. Cthulhu was gone, vanished into nothingness and leaving Bender only a little dented.
            “I hope Fry and Leela will be okay,” Amy said needlessly.
            The quantum storm seemed to worsen; huge swirling tornadoes slashed across the city, and the Dark Moon expanded, growing down towards them.
            “We’ve done all we can here,” Farnsworth said.
            “Let’s git ourselves below street-level,” Scruffy added.
            Nibbler watched the pulsing dark mass of reality compression above, and reluctantly took hold of Amy’s Party Board as the team left.
            New New York began to crumble under the punishment; sections of buildings collapsed, crashing to the streets below; tube lines came down; billboards and suicide booths became deadly missiles in the screaming wind.
            But there were no people about.

            Deep underground, millions of ears listened to the destruction above. The refugees waited and hoped.

Chapter 24: I can’t believe it’s not fiction!

Strange sensations washed over Fry and Leela as they shot up into the field of darkness. Time seemed to slow and distance became difficult to judge. Looking down briefly, Fry saw the city below in smoking ruins, then as pristine untouched forest, and then as a bustling metropolis once again. Windows through history opened and shut like an out-of-order flipbook, and the effect made him look away as nausea threatened.
            Onespawn’s voice came from somewhere near or far, above or below… it was impossible to tell in the zone of compressing spacetime.
            “Get away!” it said. “Get away from me!” For the first time, there was real fear in the creature’s psychic bellow.
            “I can’t tell where it is!” Leela shouted, still holding Fry tightly as gravity faltered and changed direction at random. She used the vectored-thrust nozzles on the jetpack to turn a full circle, and Onespawn suddenly appeared massively before them, and then faded off into an impossible distance.
            “Space must be different in here,” she observed.
            “You mean like the TARDIS?” Fry replied.
            “Something like that. At least four dimensions are being broken down here…”
            “Stay back!” Onespawn said. “You will not stop me, not now!”
            Telekinetic impulses shoved them this way and that, but Leela kept on flying, tracking Onespawn’s position even as it seemed to shift around within the uncertain physical laws.
            They were still coming. Even despite everything, they were still coming. With faces set in unshakable resolve they were coming… the Lance of Fate held at the ready… still coming.
            Damn them! Onespawn reached the edge of panic, and in desperation turned once again to fiction from the human world, extending an area of telepathic influence, grabbing at the minds of its two attackers and pulling them in, down through the quantum foam and flotsam of reality and into the realm of fantasy…
            …which, after all, really was the same thing.

* * *

Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger…
            A hard bolt of water hit James Bond in the face. The water stung his eyes and filled his mouth. He was on some sort of a table and his wrists and ankles were bound to its edges. He felt with his fingers. He felt polished metal.
            A voice, Onespawn’s voice, flat, uninterested, said: “Now we can begin.”
            Bond turned his head towards the voice. His eyes were dazzled by the light. He squeezed them hard and opened them. Onespawn was floating nearby, a miniscule fraction of its previous size. It had unbuttoned a collar that, against all logic, adorned the bottom portion of the brain structure. At the other end of the room, a young orange-haired man and a purple-haired woman with a horrifically enormous single eyeball sat on chairs strapped by their wrists and ankles. They both sat bolt upright, looking shocked.
            A few feet away stood the Korean, Oddjob, still wearing his bowler hat.
            Bond glanced down the table on which he lay spreadeagled. He let his head fall back with a sigh. There was a narrow slit down the centre of the polished steel table. At the far end of the slit, like a foresight framed in the vee of his parted feet, were the glinting teeth of a circular saw.
            “Wait, I know this,” Fry said. “But wasn’t it supposed to be a laser?”
            “That was the movie,” Leela replied. “This must be the book… the damn thing has us trapped in fiction again.”
            “Mr. Bond,” Onespawn said, ignoring Fry and Leela. “The word ‘pain’ comes from the Latin poena meaning ‘penalty’ – that which must be paid. You must now pay for the inquisitiveness which your attack on me proves, as I suspected, to be inimical. Curiosity, as they say, killed the cat. This time it will have to kill three cats, for I fear I must count these two animated characters behind me as enemies also. They came here to kill me. Perhaps you did too. You have all failed. Now must come the poena.” The voice was heavy, bored. “I have had many enemies in my time. I am a very powerful interdimensional being, and power, if I may inflict another of my aphorisms upon you, may not make you friends, but it greatly increases the class and variety of your enemies.”
            “That’s very neatly put,” Bond said. “You express yourself most vividly.”
            “He doesn’t look like Sean Connery,” Fry whispered to Leela.
            “Book, not movie,” Leela repeated, straining at her bonds. Oddjob had tied them tightly, but the knots were inexpert, the little Korean hampered, perhaps, by his stubby fingers.
            James Bond turned his head. The great pink/grey brain was bent slightly forward. Casually, a tendril of telekinetic energy snaked out to a control panel and pressed down a switch. There came a slow metallic growl from the end of the table on which Bond lay. It curved quickly up to a harsh whine and then to a shrill high whistle that was barely audible.
            “Now then, Mr. Bond,” Onespawn’s voice was brisk. “Enough of these amiabilities. Tell me everything you know about the so-called ‘Lance of Fate’ and the decidedly poorly-named ‘Mighty One’ and you will die quickly and painlessly. The two cartoon people also. Refuse and your death will be one long scream. Which is it to be?”
            The lever on the table moved across iron teeth. Now Bond could feel the wind of the saw between his knees.
            “You’re being a damn fool, Onespawn,” Bond said through gritted teeth.
            Leela pumped her fists and felt the knot loosen on her right wrist. Her eye narrowed. She’d never read the book, but she had seen the movie once or twice. If memory served, Fry had made her sit through the obligatory car-chases and chauvinistic overtones. And if it served further, she knew there was an effective cutting tool perched on the head of the little Korean strongman standing nearby. This is, if the film had been true to the novel on that score…
            She eased her fingers out of the bonds and waited for a moment as Onespawn continued to perform his arch-villain rant at the captive secret agent. Then, in an explosive burst of movement, she shot out her arm and grabbed the bowler hat off Oddjob’s head.
            “Don’t you know it’s rude to wear hats indoors?” she remarked, slamming the brim of the hat against the straps still holding her ankles and left wrist. As anticipated, the felt rim of the hat parted, exposing the slender sharp alloy band that cut through the bindings. She was on her feet in a flash, swiping at Oddjob with the bowler hat as he tried to make a grab at her. The little man was a practiced martial artist, and the rapid kicks he launched at Leela would have been devastating if they’d connected, but she managed to duck and weave, hammering her own boot into his stomach and sending him sprawling.
            “Way to go Leela!” Fry yelled from his chair. She swung around to quickly cut him loose. When they straightened up, Onespawn had vanished and a nearby door hung open, leading out into the Geneva night.
            “We have to follow it,” Fry said. “It’s the only way out of this stupid stylized spy thriller.”
            Together they headed for the door, but a polite cough made them pause.
            “Er, if you wouldn’t mind?” James Bond said, still strapped to the table with the circular saw spinning about an inch away from his crotch.
            Five minutes later Fry and Leela were crammed into Bond’s Aston Martin DB Mark III as the secret agent drove the car at blinding speed along the narrow country lanes. Ahead of them in the Aston’s headlights, Onespawn flew over hill and dale, trying to evade the pursuers.
            “I’ll see that bastard playing his golden harp yet,” Bond said, checking his Walther PPK with one hand while steering with the other.
            Suddenly Onespawn vanished over a rise, and Bond drove the Aston up to a sheer cliff face. The three of them climbed out and looked down to see Onespawn descending ponderously toward the inky black sea below.
            “Now I am forever rid of you meddlesome fools!” the creature called up at them. “Let this, the self-indulgent hero fantasy of a woman-hating alcoholic, forever be your tomb!”
            “Certainly not if I have anything to say about it,” James Bond said, levelling his PPK at the brain and snapping off a few quick shots. Onespawn descended faster, fleeing the fictional construct. Fry and Leela glanced at each other, nodded, and together made a running jump over the edge of the cliff and into open space. They fell toward Onespawn and the crashing waves far below…

* * *

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles…
So as the fog-bank flowed onward we fell back before it until we were half a mile from the house, and still that dense white sea, with the moon silvering its upper edge, swept slowly and inexorably on. "We are going too far," said Sherlock Holmes. "We dare not take the chance of his being overtaken before they can reach us. At all costs we must hold our ground where we are." He dropped on his knees and clapped his ear to the ground. "Thank God, I think that I hear them coming."
A sound of quick steps broke the silence of the moor. Crouching among the stones we stared intently at the silver-tipped bank in front of us. The steps grew louder, and through the fog, as through a curtain, there stepped the orange-haired man and cyclops woman whom we were awaiting. They both looked round themselves in surprise as they emerged into the clear, starlit night. Then they came swiftly along the path, passed close to where we lay, and went on up the long slope behind us. As they walked they glanced continually over either shoulder, like two people who are ill at ease.
"Hist!" cried Holmes, and I heard the sharp click of a cocking pistol. "Look out! It's coming!"
There was a thin, crisp, continuous humming from somewhere in the heart of that crawling fog bank. The cloud was within fifty yards of where we lay, and we glared at it, all four, uncertain what horror was about to break from the heart of it. I was at Holmes's elbow, and I glanced for an instant at his face. It was pale and exultant, his eyes shining brightly in the moonlight. But suddenly they started forward in a rigid, fixed stare, and his lips parted in amazement. At the same instant Philip Fry and Turanga Leela gave yells of terror and threw themselves face downward upon the ground. I sprang to my feet, my inert hand grasping my pistol, my mind paralysed by the dreadful shape which had sprung out upon us from the shadows of the fog. A brain it was, an enormous pinkish-grey brain, but not such a brain as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its puckered ridges, its lobes glowed with a smouldering glare, its grotesque shape outlined in flickering blue flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered mind could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that grizzly form and alien will which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
With unearthly hovering motion, the huge floating creature was bearing down the track with a furious howl, following hard upon the footsteps of our two friends. So paralysed were we by the apparition that we allowed him to pass before we had recovered our nerve. Then Holmes and I both fired together, and the creature gave another hideous howl, which showed that one at least had hit him. He did not pause, however, but flew onward. Far away on the path we saw Fry and Leela looking back, their faces white in the moonlight, hands raised in horror, glaring helplessly at the frightful thing which was hunting them down.
But that cry of pain from the Brain of the Baskervilles had blown all our fears to the winds. If he was vulnerable he was mortal, and if we could wound him we could kill him. Never have I seen a man run as Holmes ran that night. I am reckoned fleet of foot, but he outpaced me. In front of us as we flew up the track we heard screams of anger or fear from Fry and Leela, and the deep roar of the brain. I was in time to see the beast spring upon its victim, hurl Mr. Fry to the ground, and worry at his throat despite the obvious lack of any mouth with which to do so. But the next instant Holmes had emptied five barrels of his revolver into the creature's flank. With a last howl of agony and a vicious bolt of energy into the air, it rolled upon its back, and then fell limp. I stooped, panting, and pressed my pistol to the dreadful, shimmering brain tissue, but it was useless to press the trigger. The giant brain was dead.
Fry and Leela gathered themselves and stood nearby, looking confused. They glanced at myself in unrecognition and then at the detective, seeming at once to find familiarity in his deerstalker cap and calabash pipe.
"My God!" I whispered. "What was it? What, in heaven's name, was it?"
"It's dead, Watson, whatever it is," said Holmes. "We've laid the family ghost once and forever."
            “I wouldn’t count on that, Sherlock,” Mr. Fry muttered.
            “It’s a pretty stubborn bastard,” Miss Turanga added, and I blinked in surprise at such language from a Lady. She must surely have been delirious with fright.
            All at once, the brain, which we had thought surely deceased, erupted from the ground more rapidly than they eye could follow, and righted itself in the air, hovering nearby to regard the four of us.
            “May you be forever trapped within the unlikely confines of this archetypal detective story!” the creature said in a curiously genderless voice. It began to fly off over the moor, threatening to be lost from view in the driving fog.
            “After it!” Mr. Fry shouted. “We can’t let it get away!”
            Together, the four of us raced off the path and through the boggy hollows and treacherous peat of Dartmoor. Our two friends quickly outpaced Holmes and I, as though they ran with the weight of life itself pressing upon them. As we watched, they followed the brain into a bank of thick fog, and were lost from view…

* * *

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men…
The bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door with a wooden latch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of them made up with blankets and the other three showing their burlap ticking.
At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the beams flies shot like rushing stars.
            The wooden latch raised. The door opened, and a floating, oversized brain came in. It was greyish-pink and somehow carried a big push-broom over a non-existent shoulder. Behind it came George, and behind George, Lennie.
            “We was expectin’ you last night,” the giant brain said. “Was sore as hell when you wasn’t here to go out this morning.” It pointed with an ethereal tendril of blue energy. “You can have them two beds there,” it said, indicating two bunks near the stove.
            Lennie was just finishing making his bed when he noticed out the nearby window a couple of people seemed to walk out of midair out in the dusty yard. One wore a bright red jacket, and the other was a pretty woman with astonishing purple hair and something strange about her face that he couldn’t put his finger on. His mouth hung open.
            The giant brain floated about the room with the short quick lunges of arrogance. “I wrote Murray and Ready I wanted two good men this morning,” it said. “You got your work slips?” George reached into his pocket and produced the slips and showed them to the brain. “It wasn’t Murray and Ready’s fault. Says right here on the slip that you was to be here for work this morning.”
            George looked down at his feet. “Bus driver gave us a bum steer,” he said. “We hadda walk ten miles. Says we was here when we wasn’t. We couldn’t get no rides in the morning.”
            The brain used telekinesis to retrieve a time book and opened it where a pencil was stuck between the leaves. George scowled meaningfully at Lennie, and Lennie nodded to show that he understood. The brain readied the pencil. “What’s your name?”
            “George Milton.”
            “And what’s yours?”
            George said: “His name’s Lennie Small.”
            The brain tilted its frontal lobe at Lennie. “He ain’t much of a talker, is he?”
            “No he ain’t, but he’s sure a hell of a good worker. Strong as a bull.”
            Lennie smiled to himself. “Strong as a bull,” he repeated.
            George scowled at him, and Lennie dropped his head in shame at having forgotten to stay quiet.
            The brain said suddenly: “Listen, Small!” Lennie raised his head. “What can you do?”
            In a panic, Lennie looked at George for help. “He can do anything you tell him,” said George. “He’s a good skinner. He can rassel grain bags, drive a cultivator. He can do anything, just give him a try.”
            The brain turned on George. “Then why don’t you let him answer? What you trying to put over?”
            Just before George could answer, the wooden latch on the door sprung open once again, and the solid door flew back as if it had been kicked, as was the case. Standing in the dusty beam of flyblown sunlight were the two strangers from outside, the man and woman.
            “We heard there was ranching work to be had,” the ginger-haired man said, picking up a pitchfork from a wall rack.
            “Yeah, sign us up,” the one-eyed woman added.
            The redhead kid hurled the pitchfork through the air, and it sailed straight and true, striking against the floating brain and hanging embedded in flesh for a moment before falling with three runnels of blood to the bare wooden floor. Lennie cried out in sudden horror.
            “Make ‘um stop, George!” he wailed.
            “Enough of this crap, Onespawn!” the cyclops woman said, circling around the wounded brain. “Let us out of these musty old stories! How long do you think you can really keep this up?”
            “Don’t bother trying to reason with it, Leela,” the man said. “We’ve done this dance too often.” He balled his fists and moved closer.
            “Fight as hard as you want!” the brain said scornfully. “It will make no difference – you may as well perish here in this dreary 1920s tale of hopelessness and loss.”
            The brain rose in the air, and flew through one of the windows.
            The man, who was named Fry, and the woman Leela, both ran from the bunk house in pursuit, leaving George and Lennie alone.
            “George?” Lennie said.
            “I ain’t got no answers,” George replied, sitting down heavily on the bunk. “Dunno what jus’ happened…”
            A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the sunlight before reaching the narrow pool.
            A floating brain fled across the top of the pool.
            Two figures paused in their pursuit, before heedlessly leaping into the water. They reached and kicked toward Onespawn… and then both of them vanished unexpectedly, leaving hollows in the warm water that closed over with gentle splashes…

* * *

Space… the final frontier…
With a melodic chiming sound, Fry and Leela materialized from sparkling clouds of light and found themselves standing on circular pads in a room that looked suspiciously like it was made from plywood painted to look like a flowing futuristic surface. They glanced around themselves at the tacky surroundings and bulky control consoles.
            “Hey,” Fry said. “I know this place… it’s the transporter room!”
            “The what?” Leela asked.
            A muffled giggle caught their attention, and they edged off the transporter pads curiously, peering over the top of the main control console.
            “Oh!” Fry stepped back respectfully, while Leela remained watching for a few moments with a small grin on her face.
            A man with dark burgundy hair was in the process of undressing a busty African-American woman on the floor. He surged to his feet at the intrusion, pulling his golden command shirt back down and glaring at the two strangers.
            “Who the devil are you?” Captain James T. Kirk demanded. Uhura got to her feet, holding her discarded uniform in place to cover her nakedness and staring in horror at the one-eyed woman.
            “Kirk… Uhura?” Fry said, gaping at the pair. “Oh no!” he wailed in anguish.
            “What? What is it?” Leela asked in confusion.
            “Don’t you see?” Fry went on, gesturing at the Captain and communications officer. “Now we’re trapped in some geek’s stupid out-of-character fan-fiction!”
            “Fan-fiction?” Leela repeated in horror. “But that’s the worst kind of fiction there is!”
            “I asked who you were!” Kirk snapped, stepping around the control console to confront the two intruders. “How did you get aboard the Enterprise? Why are you here?”
            “I don’t have time to explain, sir,” Fry said. “We’re really only passing through – we just need to…”
            Suddenly the deck beneath them shuddered violently, and red warning lights began to strobe from the wobbling walls.
            “Captain to bridge,” a calm, well-rounded voice said over the ship’s intercom.
            Kirk was already moving, but he paused as the door slid open, glancing back at Fry and Leela. “You two,” he said. “Whoever you are… your presence here now can’t… conceivably be coincidence. You’ll come with me and explain whatever’s happening.”
            Fry and Leela followed him out toward the turbolift, with Uhura hurriedly dressing and moving after them.
            After a short interval, Kirk stepped out onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 with the two strange intruders in tow. A tall man with high-arched eyebrows and elfish pointed ears approached him with hands folded behind his back and began speaking.
            “Captain, we are registering very curious readings from all sensors,” Spock said.
            “Specify,” Kirk said, moving past to stand behind his command chair.
            “I cannot,” Spock replied. “According to our instruments, space itself is literally breaking up. There is no known phenomenon which would account for these readings.” The Vulcan glanced at Fry and Leela and raised a quizzical eyebrow.
            “Stowaways,” Kirk responded to the unasked question. “Have Bones come up and check them out. I’ve an inkling they’re something to do with whatever force is acting upon the ship.”
            Spock nodded and moved away.
            “Captain!” Hikaru Sulu called from the helm. “We’re losing power in the warp engines!”
            “How bad?” Kirk demanded stepping around the command chair and pausing theatrically in mid-stride.
            “I can barely read it, but I don’t like it.”
            Pavel Chekov looked up in alarm from his readings. “Keptin!” he said. “Visual detection of an object, dead ahead!”
            “Onscreen!” Kirk shouted, perching himself on his chair in a state of catlike readiness. The main viewscreen came online and resolved into an image of space in front of the ship. In the centre of the image, a large shape shimmered and fluxed, solidifying gradually into a solid mass.
            Fry and Leela exchanged glances. It was a brain. A giant brain that floated in space, surrounded by an ominous blue glow.
            “How ‘bout it, Spock?” Kirk said in bewilderment.
            “Fascinating,” Spock said. “A moment ago, there was no sensor contact.
No mass analysis. No trace of radiation. Furthermore, there has been no reading  consistent with a decloaking. Whatever that object is, it seems to have appeared… from nowhere.”

            “Everything comes from somewhere, Spock,” Kirk said. “It looks like a… a…”
            “A brain,” Spock finished for him.
            “I’ve never seen anything like it. Is this what’s causing the subspace distortions?”
            “It would seem a logical conclusion.”
            The turbolift hissed open again and a slightly stooped man with a lined face and intense eyes emerged, glanced around the bridge with mild disapproval and fixed on the Captain.
            “What am I, Jim?” he grumbled. “A doctor or a concierge? If I jumped every time a light flashed around here, I'd end up talking to myself. I signed on this ship to practice medicine, not to run up and down at each…” He trailed off when he noticed the giant brain looming in space beyond the ship.
            “What do you make of that, Bones?” Kirk asked without looking at him.
            Doctor Leonard McCoy squinted. “It’s a brain,” he said simply.
            “I can see that,” Kirk replied, swivelling in his chair.
            “Well what d’you want me to say, Jim? I’m a doctor, not a tactical analyst.”
            “Maybe you should have a look at our two unexpected friends there,” Kirk said, pointing at Fry and Leela. “They appeared at the same time as that thing out there – and I’d wager there’s some connection.”
            McCoy looked at the two strangers, noticing them for the first time, and his gaze was drawn to Leela’s eye, at which he gaped in astonishment.
            “Remind me, Spock, never to make fun of your ears again,” he muttered, lifting his Tricorder from its strap and waving it over the two people.
            Out in space, the giant brain pulsed, and the ship trembled alarmingly again. Rolling from out of nowhere came a booming laugh that made the whole crew freeze in sudden shock. It hadn’t come from the communications system, but inside their own minds.
            “What in the world…?” Uhura said, looking frightened.
            “Toil pointlessly forever under the auspices of fanboy obsession!” the psychic voice bellowed. “Trapped here within the confines of non-canonical obscurity! Hahaha!”
            “Who is this?” Captain Kirk snapped, leaning forward. “Who’s doing this to us… and why?”
            “It’s Onespawn,” Fry said, striding forward to stand beside the Captain’s chair and pointing out at the monstrosity. “You have to attack it!”
            “It’s planning to destroy the Universe!” Leela added.

            “Destroy the Universe?” Kirk repeated.
            “Possible, sir,” said Spock. “The time-space distortions we are measuring are potentially on par with the effect we experienced when we encountered Lazarus.”
            “Seems these pair of kids are generating a similar effect, albeit on a smaller scale,” McCoy said, staring at his Tricorder. “Obviously it isn’t what I was looking for, but there are definite temporal fluctuations surrounding the both of them.”
            Kirk stared hard at Fry and Leela for a long moment before finally reaching a decision. “Alright, I’ll see where this goes” he said. “Uhura, open a channel.” When she had done so he spoke in a firm authoritarian tone: “I address the alien intelligence whose energy pulses are affecting this area of space. I am Captain James Kirk of the united spaceship Enterprise, calling on you to immediately cease your…”
            “It’s firing, sir!” Sulu said suddenly. Crimson globules of energy had burst from the brain and shot toward the ship.
            “Evasive!” Kirk snapped. “Aft shields to maximum!”
            The ship shuddered as bolts of psychoplasma splashed explosively against it. Consoles erupted in sparks because they always do.
            “Fire all phaser banks!” Fry shouted, and Kirk looked up at him irritably. “Sorry, sir…” he added sheepishly.
            “Do what he said,” the Captain grunted.
            Beams of light stabbed from the underside of the Enterprise’s main saucer section, cutting into Onespawn’s flesh. The creature let out a psychic roar and began to withdraw from the area, angling toward a small planet nearby.
            “A photon torpedo!” Fry shouted, overcome by excitement. “Let’s finish it off!”
            “Aye, Captain whoever-the-hell-you-are,” Kirk muttered sardonically. The inter-ship communication system chimed and Kirk keyed it in. “Scotty, report,” he said.
            “Those impacts took a lot outta our shields,” the Scottish engineer replied from the bowels of the ship. “We simply haven’t got the power to take any more big hits like that. It we try it, the whole dilithium array’s gonna go kerplooey!”
            “Thank you, Mr. Scott.”
            “Captain, the creature appears to be going to ground,” Spock observed. Onespawn was making planetfall on the little unnamed world.
            “We have to follow it,” Leela said.
            “Alright then,” Kirk said, getting to his feet. “Mr. Spock, Bones, you two come with me. We’re going down to that planet along with our new friends here, and we’ll see what’s what. Mr. Sulu, you have the helm.”
            As the five of them headed toward the turbolift, Fry looked around in mild confusion. “Where’s the red-shirt?” he asked.
            “Pardon?” Kirk stared at him.
            “Oh, you know… the ensign. There’s always a red-shirt ensign that goes with you guys on away missions who gets killed. Every time.”
            “Er, son?” McCoy pointed at Fry’s jacket. He looked down at the bright red garment.
            “Ah crap,” Fry muttered.
            Down on the planet surface, Onespawn had carved out a huge crater. It lay smoking, an enormous mass of grotesque tissue. It was hurt. Nearby, five figures materialized out of thin air and stood staring up at it.
            “Good lord,” McCoy grunted at the sight.
            “Fascinating,” Spock added.
            Kirk had his hand phaser out and held at the ready. “What now?” he said.
            Leela cleared her throat. “Is there any way you can tune your weapons into the same harmonic frequency that Onespawn is generating?” she asked. “So that you could cancel it out?”
            Spock looked at her in admiration. “An excellent idea, madam,” he said. “Most logical.”
            The three Starfleet officers set to work on their phasers, and in a few short moments had them ready.
            “Alright, wide-beam, on my mark,” Kirk said when they’d finished.
            “You think this will get us back to reality?” Fry murmured to Leela.
            “Best shot we have,” Leela replied.
            Kirk, Spock, and McCoy opened fire, directing three intersecting fields of phased energy at Onespawn. The creature bellowed in pain and fury, and the Universe seemed to ripple and buck, and then drain away into nothingness…
            …Fry and Leela found themselves hanging poised in an empty void… but then another more familiar fictional world rolled back around them like a welcoming embrace…

* * *

Instinct or subconscious reaction had locked Leela’s arms around Fry’s chest, even when both their minds were snatched away. Fry still gripped the Lance of Fate.
            “We’re back?” he said, glancing around. They were hovering still within the field of darkness, and Onespawn hung nearby.
            “Looks like it,” Leela said.
            “No!” the creature screamed. “It’s impossible! You cannot!”
            “Time for the thrilling climax,” Leela said, angling the jetpack toward the creature. They flew straight and true, with Fry holding the Lance out before them.
            The blade shimmered and pulsed…
            …and met Onespawn’s flesh with a tremendous flash of light…

Chapter 25: The End of the Beginning

The world stopped.
            Light, of the kind that flared at the very first moments of the Universe, was omnipresent. It was old, eldritch light; the light of creation, and of destruction. The Dark Moon above Manhattan had collapsed into a single point of incandescent brilliance that bathed the world in its splendour, and not constrained by any of the Universe’s accrued physical laws, the illumination traversed effortlessly through rock and steel, shining down even underground upon the city’s less lofty inhabitants and the refugees who sought shelter with them.
            The beleaguered population of New New York, crouched in the sewers for protection, looked up in amazement as light surrounded them. Morris and Munda gasped fearfully, worry for their daughter’s wellbeing reaching new heights. Bender paused in telling stories to the frightened Cookieville orphans, and Farnsworth forgot for a moment the grief he felt for having lost Mom.
            The crew of Planet Express observed the phenomenon with apprehension.

            …None but Nibbler could know the full implication. Unnoticed by them all, the little three-eyed creature flickered and then vanished in a flash. Before he went, a smile had spread across his face…
            The light continued to illuminate everything, growing in power and seeming to consume all.
            For a time, the Universe ceased to exist.

* * *

Three consciousnesses remained intact at the centre of the time-space conflagration: Onespawn, the architect of doom; Turanga Leela, the Other; and Philip J. Fry, the Mighty One.
            As the Lance of Fate sliced into Onespawn, temporal energy had flowed through Fry and was channelled by the esoteric matter of the weapon, which then melted away into the nothingness from whence it came, but its awesome power remained. Fry and Onespawn both glowed brightly, and Leela squeezed her eye shut against the glare. It was no good; the light passed right through her eyelid.
            “Fry?” she shouted against the roar of each moment in history spinning around them. “What’s happening?”
            “Everything at once,” he replied, floating free of her grasp in the sudden absence of gravity. “And at the same time nothing at all.” Leela opened her eye and looked upon him, and her breath caught. Where before had been skin was now only light, brilliant white. It was as if a sunbeam had donned a grubby pair of jeans and a red jacket. The Lance of Fate, finally serving its purpose, had transformed the spontaneously manifested temporal paradox, Philip Fry, into an avatar of the continuum.
            “I can see everything, Leela,” said the being she could now only think of as Uber-Fry. “Every point in time and space revolves around us right here and now. I can touch it all… I can do anything…”
            “What… what are you saying?” Leela asked desperately. “Are you a God?”
            “I have no idea what I am,” Fry replied, looking at his glowing white hands. “Maybe this is what it really means to be the Mighty One… Nibbler never told me…”
            A terrible sound crashed over them, above the screaming energies of the time-space collapse. It was a long piteous cry that reverberated through the aether. Onespawn, massive and shrouded in light, writhed nearby, with vast tracts of its pseudoflesh dissolving and seeming to be drawn away in swirling vortexes of matter rapidly transforming to energy. The last of the Brainspawn race was being recombined back to its origin point.
            “No!” the creature bellowed as its quantum field buckled. “I cannot end! I cannot!”
            Fry turned in the empty screaming bubble of light that encased them, and regarded Onespawn.
            “It’s over,” he said.
            “I don’t want to die!” the creature said, with the psychic projection of its voice conveying a pitiful whimper. “I don’t want to lose myself… I don’t want to die!”
            “You won’t!” Fry said. “You won’t die. Nothing ever dies… we all just change into something else… It’ll all be okay… you’ll see. You will live…”
            Onespawn’s mass dwindled as more and more of it was stripped away into the quantum recombination. With the last remaining vestiges of its psyche, it posed a question to Fry.
            “Why would you fight so hard for a Universe where your fate is not your own… where everything you know is an abstraction?”
            Fry hung poised at the centre of everything and looked at the creature as it rapidly faded away; the question left him with nothing to say. “I…I don’t know,” he admitted at last. The giant brain vanished, and from the point of its departure a wave of nothingness radiated out, quantum backlash erupting like ripples in a pond. Fry and Leela were enveloped by the rushing front of unreality, and their awareness of all physicality ended.
            Two minds were adrift in the sea of non-existence.
            Katey Sagal’s well-rounded voice echoed through the void. “Fry?” she said fearfully.
            “Leela?” replied one of Billy West’s varied voices, a thin nasally one.
            “Where are we?” Katey asked.
            “Nowhere,” Billy said. “And I think the better question would be – who are we?”
            “I’m scared Fry…”
            “Don’t be. We’ll see our way through this. We always do… together.”
            “I want to touch you… I can’t feel anything.”
            “Hmm.” There was a flicker in the dark, like a match struck on a moonless night. “Let’s see what I can do about that,” said Billy West.
            Reality began to cascade around the two minds as if a floodgate had been opened. In six seconds, the Mighty One created the heavens and the Earth, and saw that it was good…

* * *

The sound of a whistling kettle found its way into Leela’s dream, and she turned over, burying her face into the soft pillows. It was warm and comfortable, and the noise of someone moving about in the kitchen of the cosy one-bedroom apartment evoked a sense of contentment in her, even as she dozed lightly.
            Wait, what? An edge of confusion undercut that contentment, and she roused at last, opening her eye and looking around the homely little bedroom with its high window where ornamental keepsakes sat on the sill in the morning light.
            It appeared familiar, and oddly she seemed to remember the history of each item. The chipped old wardrobe they’d found at a yard sale… while the dresser had once belonged to Fry’s mother…
            Fry? She looked at the bedside table and saw their wedding photo as if she’d looked at it a million times before, the lines of both their faces etched into her brain. She surged upright in the bed as a disorienting sense of unreality shot through her.
            Wasn’t I just… somewhere else?
Fry pushed through the door suddenly, wearing a dressing gown and carrying a tray with mugs of ground coffee and a pile of blackened toast.
            “Goooodmorning, my love,” he said extravagantly, with a wide grin.
            “Hey baby…” Leela said uncertainly. “You made breakfast?”
            “I burnt breakfast,” Fry clarified, setting the tray down beside her. “But the coffee’s drinkable.” He crunched a piece of the burnt toast between his teeth with a grimace and rolled back into bed beside her.
            Leela sipped her coffee and looked around. There was something troubling. She was happy, but at the same time an inexplicable concern lurked beneath the shadow of consciousness. Grasping it was like trying to nail jelly to a wall.
            “I think I had a strange dream,” she said. “But I don’t remember what it was about…”
            “It’s alright,” Fry murmured quietly. “It’s finished now. We don’t have to think about it again.”
            “We?” Leela frowned at him.
            Fry leaned across and kissed her on the neck, and she sighed, relaxing against him. “We’re still going to Coney Island with your parents today, right?” he said.
            “My parents?” Leela looked confused. “But how…?”
            Just then, a scruffy-looking brown dog scampered in and leaped up onto the bed, trotting around and wagging his tail happily.

            “Hey there, Seymour,” Fry said, scratching the mutt behind the ear.
            “Fry, get him off the bed,” Leela said automatically. “I told you I don’t like finding his hair all over the blanket…” She paused. “…Did I?”
            “Okay, okay,” Fry said, shooing the dog away. “I’m gonna shower and get ready.” He kissed her on the lips, and she returned the kiss, wondering why it felt so amazing to be able to do so without fear or guilt – after all, she’d done it a million times before… hadn’t she?
            When he was gone, she looked at the gold band on her ring finger, and tried to remember back to their wedding day. They had been wed, she knew that… but exact details were difficult to pin down…
            It was as if everything that had happened in her life before waking up that morning was obscured by a heavy mist. Only vague shapes were discernible.
            “What’s going on?” she asked herself.
            When Fry and Leela left the apartment later that morning, Leela paused for a moment on the stoop looking around in wonder at the quaint brownstone buildings of Georgetown, Brooklyn, and antique wheeled vehicles that lined the streets. There were no flying ships or tube-lines marring the brilliant blue sky, and not a single owl could be seen – instead there were birds she recognised as the long-extinct pigeon perched on the building’s concrete façade.
            “We’re in the twentieth century?” she said in confusion.
            “1995, or there about,” Fry replied. “I’d have gone for the height of culture and style – 1982 – but I couldn’t remember enough to put it all together.”
            “What?” Leela looked hard at him.
            “Come on, let’s go and see if Bender’s fixed the old ‘Mighty One’ yet. I bet he’ll find some way to charge us an arm and a leg.”
            “Bender?” Leela looked bewildered, but went along with Fry as he sauntered along the footpath. The summer sun had begun to increase in strength, and on a street-corner a group of children played beneath a fan of water from an opened fire hydrant. They laughed and jumped about, and waved happily at Fry and Leela as the couple walked past.
            That isn’t right… Leela looked back at them. None were gasping in horror, throwing up, or pulling faces at her back. Her prominent mutation had gone completely unnoticed. She opened her mouth to ask Fry about it, but he appeared blissfully happy, so she stayed silent.
            On the next street was BS Mechanical Workshop, with the B and S standing for Bender and Scruffy. Since Scruffy seldom did any work, and Bender never paid him, it was really a one robot operation. A robot… in the twentieth century… bound to be an oddity, but like Leela’s eye he had failed to draw attention.
            “Hey, I fixed up the oil leak and rear suspension problem on the Mighty One,” Bender said, stepping out of the garage section with a grease-rag in his hand and a grubby bandanna wrapped around his head. “One of the pistons was misfiring as well, so I took care of it. That’ll only triple the price. You keep running that old beast, it’s gonna put my kids through college.”
            “You have kids?” Leela said in shock.
            “Well, by kids, I of course mean my gambling and alcoholism,” the robot replied. “And by ‘put through college’ I mean ‘pay up now or I’ll sell your bike for scrap’.”
            Fry paid the robot, and Leela walked into the garage. Her mouth fell open in amazement. A pristine, beautifully-preserved 1939 Norton 500 motorcycle stood gleaming in the middle of the workshop. She walked around the ancient machine, trailing a hand over the chrome and leatherwork.
            “This is ours?” she said in wonder.
            “It’s yours,” Fry replied, strolling over and handing her a helmet and leather jacket. “I’m just a passenger.”
            “Fry…” She looked at him. “Philip… is all of this… real?”
            “I don’t know, Leela,” he replied. “You’d have to find a definition before I could answer that. What’s real?”
            Memory bubbled up inside Leela’s mind, fleeting and uncertain; a giant brain… a blazing figure of light. “Did you… did you do something?” she asked him. “Did you make this place?”
            “I did.” Fry nodded. “Memory and dreams made solid – the best of every world. Come on, let’s go for a ride.”
            In a daze, Leela donned her helmet and jacket and got on the bike. Fry climbed up behind her, holding onto her waist. She kick-started the old beast and they motored noisily out of the garage and away down the street. Golden sunlight bathed the city, and people on the street smiled for no reason. Now that she knew, Leela realized the sanitized and over-polished nature of the world around her – glowing bright with friendliness and goodwill.
            She sighed and gunned the old Norton up through Kensington and into one of the entrances of Prospect Park. She turned onto the grass and switched off the old bike, sitting for a moment and gazing at the rolling meadow. After a time, she kicked the stand down and climbed off, walking away for a short distance. Fry strolled behind her silently, giving her time to think.
            At last she turned to him, looking earnest. “This is just another fiction, isn’t it?” she said. “As wonderful as it is here… as beautiful as this life seems, it’s no different from those books…”
            “But I’m the writer now,” Fry said, thumbing his chest. “And this is no less real than our own world.”
            “Whatever our world is, Fry, it’s ours.”
            “And it’s brutal and unfair, Santa Claus is homicidal, people die, and giant brains try to destroy everything.” Fry sighed and gestured at the verdant fields of the park. “Here we can have everything we ever wanted – my family is here, alive, your parents live aboveground… there aren’t any alien invasions or disasters… and I have my Delta wave – I’m smart now. We can live ‘happily ever after’, in the time and space beyond the words ‘the end’, beyond the influence of any force but our own will – for eternity if we want, there’s no time here eating at us, making us wither away… no Nielsen Ratings undermining us. We can stay like this forever…”
            “Forever?” Leela repeated, gently taking hold of his arm. “What good is eternity if we don’t have today? You can’t make life what you want it to be by simply throwing it all away and building something unreal from your imagination. That’s not what life is – the mountaineer doesn’t conquer the mountain by blowing it up. Life is what you make from what’s been given – sure, it’s hard and rough and sometimes not everything goes the way we want it to, but that’s all part of it. We keep moving forward, and we do it together.”
            Fry stared at her for a long time, his face unreadable. “And what if Onespawn was right?” he asked finally. “What if we’re just puppets?”
            “You really believe that?” Leela asked with a little smirk.
            “Do you?”
            “No, but would it matter? Maybe the puppeteers are having their own strings pulled as well. Do we care? What difference does it make to a puppet to know the world is a stage? The world is what we have, it’s what we know. The world makes us, we don’t make it – we just live in it because it’s a part of us.”
            “You’d give up paradise?” Fry asked her. “You’d prefer the grime and the toil?”
            “Our grime. Our toil.” Leela leaned close to him, smiling sweetly. “I wouldn’t give it up for all the antique motorcycles in the world.”
            Fry watched her, and a smile slowly spread across his face, then he was laughing hard, with tears streaming down his cheeks. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, spinning around.
            “I love you so much Leela,” he said. “You’re the Other alright. I guess this was your role – to persuade me, to make me see the light. You did – you’re right. Thank you.” He held her by the shoulders and looked into her glistening eye.
            “What happens now?” she asked him.
            “Now I put things back the way they were,” Fry said. “That’s my role – what Nibbler knew I’d do, with your gentle push.” He drew her close and kissed her. When they broke apart, Leela noticed that the parkland around them was quickly fading to white, all colour and detail bleaching away.
            “So I’ll see you… on the other side?” she asked.
            Fry looked uncertain for a moment. “I hope so,” he said. “Not really sure how this is gonna go. It won’t be easy – a lot of damage was done, and it’ll take a lot to set things right again.”
            Leela was suddenly frightened. “Fry, what are you saying?” she asked.
            His eyes began to glow. “Putting it all back together is easy in theory,” he said. “I’m a difficulty though, because technically I shouldn’t exist – temporal paradox and all. I have no place in time, so returning me to the timestream is like trying to staple one page from a book into the middle of another book and making it seem like it fits in the story…”
            “But Fry…!” Leela gasped desperately. “I didn’t know… please, you can’t…”
            “It’s okay,” he said. Now they stood alone in blank whiteness, Fry becoming intangible slowly. “The present is a point too small to hit, so I’ll aim for the past.”
            “What do you mean?” Leela said, reaching for him. Her hands passed straight through.
            “Go to the place where we first met,” Fry said, his voice sounding distant. “If I can… I’ll meet you there again.”
            “Wait!” Leela called, but he was gone. The whiteness pressed down upon her and then exploded outward. Time and space abruptly inflated back into existence…
Futurama returned from hiatus…

* * *

…and with a crackling boom the quantum conflagration above New New York collapsed on itself in a blinding flash and vanished – Onespawn and the Dark Moon had gone. The sky over the damaged city was suddenly clear, and a lone figure floated down as gently as a feather on the breeze toward the top of Momcorp tower.
            Unseen energies lay the sleeping form of Turanga Leela down upon the ground that had somehow been scattered with rose petals. She opened her eye and looked up into the azure sky.
            “Fry?” she said uncertainly, sitting up and glancing around. There was nothing to answer her but the small eddies of wind that swirled around the top of the building. She looked up, willing him to appear, but knowing he would not. Tears began streaming from her eye.

            “It isn’t fair,” she murmured to herself.
            “What is fair and what is right are seldom alike,” said a strange voice from behind her. It was deep, yet melodious, rich and full. She turned around to see, where before there had been nothing, a strange creature floating above the concrete with no apparent means of levitation. It was pale green, with slender limbs and a long tail. Its oversized head bore three eyes that glowed like emeralds. There was a sense of serenity radiating from it; a rightness.
            Leela knew what it was instinctively.

            “Nibbler?” she said.
            “No longer,” the creature replied. “What was sundered and undone is now whole. The two made one. Brainspawn and Nibblonian together, coherent. We now realize the full potential of our nature…”
            “What about Fry?” Leela asked tearfully.
            “He is not here. Not yet,” the BrainNibbler said. “But hold him to your heart and await. He is part of you, as we are all part of each other.” The creature began to ascend into the air, and suddenly there were thousands more of the same. The BrainNibblers floated up into the sky; unified, majestic. Godlike.
            “We thank you,” said the being that had once been Nibbler and Onespawn. “The life and love of beautiful beings such as humanity gives us hope. Live in the light of truth and forever aspire to be all you can. Farewell.”
            As Leela watched, the beings vanished into the sky, toward whatever strange destiny awaited them. She was left standing alone, hugging herself against the chill wind.

Epilogue: All Quiet on the Future Front

The people of New New York emerged gradually from the sewer vents amid rubble and deitrus as dust settled on their city; a sense of numb disbelief tempered by gratitude at their survival. None could fully comprehend the forces that had been at play, but there was an awareness that an event of monumental significance had transpired and their lives were owed to parties unknown.
            Although some were known.
            The sewer mutants, hesitant in the face of so much unaccustomed exposure, were ushered, blinking in the light, out of the underground by a tide of grateful citizens singing their praises. The bemused sewer-dwellers had no choice but to be drawn along into the impromptu heroes’ parade under the brilliant blue sky and blazing sun that most had only glimpsed through the grilles of stormwater drains. In the midst of terror, when darkness threatens, it is often the case that all the lesser fears and flimsy prejudices are shattered and human beings come to realize the only thing of any worth that they have is each other.
            Morris and Munda reflected on that as they were hugged and cheered by strangers grateful for the subterranean sanctuary that had been given – staying on the surface would surely have been lethal if the mounds of shattered glass and collapsed facades were anything to go by.
            “I guess Leela was right,” Morris said as his hand was shaken enthusiastically by a Cygnoid. “Maybe things will be different now.”
            “A simple act of human decency, that’s all it took,” Munda said. “Oh Leela… she’s so smart… I hope she’s okay.”
            “She’s okay,” Morris said. “She’s a tough one, our girl. Besides, she had Philip with her.”
            As the mutants were welcomed into the upper world, Dwayne muttered in Vyolet’s scaled ear:
            “Great, they finally let us into their shining metropolis minutes after it’s reduced to a smoking ruin. Big-hearted of them.” Despite himself though, a grin had found its way onto the mutant’s face and he couldn’t get rid of it.
            The Planet Express crew, minus Fry and Leela, looked up at the empty sky, and then by unspoken agreement they began pushing through the milling crowds toward Momcorp tower.
            “They’re probably fine, right?” Bender said with a small edge of panic in his voice. “I mean, not that I care either way, of course, but…” He wrung his hands nervously.
            “Of course, Bender,” Farnsworth said placatingly. “People caught at the centre of quantum singularities never suffer any ill-effects.” He pulled a face at Hermes when the robot looked away, shaking his head and pantomiming a finger across his throat.
            Leela sat alone at the top of the half-demolished tower with the wind gently tugging at her hair. Her emotional bank account was overdrawn and confusion reigned. Although her body had been returned feeling totally rejuvenated, all of her injuries and aches miraculously healed, there was still a deeper exhaustion that left her staring blankly into space and trembling slightly.
            The others found her like that, and she was only distantly aware of Scruffy putting his jacket around her shoulders and Amy helping her to her feet. Questions were being asked, but Leela tuned them out, trying to think back to the now-hazy details of the bubble universe that Fry had created… What was it that he’d told her?
            “What?” she murmured.
            “I said – where is Fry?” Zoidberg repeated.
            “Fry…” Leela frowned, trying to recall.
            “You know,” Hermes said. “Spiky carrot-top, grooming habits of a Baboon. Always lustin’ after you like a drunken green snake after a garden hose…”
            “I know who he is, jackass,” she muttered.
            “Well, what happened, confound it woman!?” Farnsworth snapped.
            “I don’t… remember…” Leela said. “There was a motorbike, and Bender was there… and we had a little one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn in the 20th century… but none of it was real, not exactly…”
            The others cast meaningful glances at each other.
            “I think we should take Leela somewhere where she can lay down,” Amy said softly, taking the cyclops woman by the hand and gently leading her away.

* * *

The day wore on.
            As the city struggled to pick up the pieces, aid was offered by the Omicronians, whose fleet had appeared ominously above. New New Yorkers found themselves working side-by-side with looming green Omicron soldier caste in clearing debris and putting together makeshift shelters for those left homeless by Onespawn’s attack.
            As the sun sank toward the horizon, Mayor Poopenmeyer called a conference on the steps of city hall, and he spoke applauding the virtues of strength and determination in the face of adversity. He then extended a hand of friendship to Lrrr (who fidgeted in discomfort beneath the unfamiliar exaltation) and to Dwayne, who stood as representative of the mutant population - now welcomed as full citizens with all the dubious rights and questionable privileges enjoyed by everyone else. They would not be returning to the sewers.
            The Planet Express building had fared reasonably well, designed as it was to withstand doomsday weapons. Most of the team went across the street to help the lesbian coven rebuild their front wall, leaving Leela in a light slumber on the couch, watched over by her parents.
            Memory flitted through her mind, faulty and uncertain. Fry was gone – but where? Leela whimpered a little in her sleep and turned over. What was it he’d said?
            Suddenly the words returned to her from out of the mists of unreality, and her eye snapped open.
            “The place where we first met!” she said, sitting bolt upright.
            “Leela? Are you alright?” Munda said, looking concerned.
            “That’s where he said he’d be!” Leela got to her feet and started toward the door.
            “Who?” Morris called out.
            “Fry! I’m going to find Fry!” She raced out, leaving her parents looking at each other in surprise.
            Leela raced through the busy, rubble-strewn streets as fast as she could, vaulting over fallen masonry and dodging hoverdollies laden with mortar. Her boots pounded the pavement. She rounded a corner, skidded to a stop, and kicked open the door to Applied Cryogenics.
            The building was dim and quiet, with the rows of stasis pods humming away on their centuries-long tasks. Leela walked through her old workplace, looking around.
            “Fry?” she called. “Are you here?”
            There was no response, and Leela hung her head dejectedly, feeling loneliness creep over her. “Where are you?” she whispered.
            Deciding to wait, because it was all she could do, Leela pulled out a folding chair and sat down in the empty room amid the cryogenic tubes, drumming her fingers on her kneecaps.
            “He’ll come back,” she told herself. “He said he would.”
            Time passed, and Leela’s anxiety built. Treacherously, her thoughts began prodding at the possibility that Fry might never return, and though she tried to quell them, they remained stubbornly. After all, hadn’t he said that as a temporal paradox he had no place in time?
            Time… that’s right… Leela stood up suddenly, remembering what he’d told her: “The present is a point too small to hit, so I’ll aim for the past.”
            “The past,” she said, with realization erupting like a starburst. She raced over to the cryogenic tubes and began checking the frosted glass panels one by one; dismissing each frozen face that didn’t belong to the man she sought.
            “Come on, Fry,” she muttered under her breath, moving along the line of tubes. At length she’d checked them all, and none of them contained Fry. The last in the line held a frozen figure she remembered from her time working at Applied Cryogenics – it was a John Doe, like Fry had been, but with a pair of coveralls on and a baseball cap pulled low over the face so that features couldn’t be seen. Years ago there had been idle office chatter about the identity of the man in the last cryo-tube, and now Leela knew who it was… or hoped she did. He had to conceal his face, obviously, as he’d been laying dormant a few spaces up from where an earlier version of himself had also slumbered, and because he and Leela had been to Applied Cryogenics together… recognition could have been disastrous.
            Leela checked the timer on the tube. It still had more than five hundred years left, but knowing Fry’s grasp of mathematics she ignored that and turned it all the way to zero. The mechanism chimed and a pulse of microwave energy illuminated the cryogenic pod briefly as it defrosted, and its door swung open with a hiss and a cloud of vapour.
            “Ugh… just another couple of centuries,” a drowsy voice muttered from within the misty tube. The figure inside tried to roll over and go back to cryo-sleep.
            “Fry?” Leela said.
            “Huh? Leela?” The man looked up, and beneath the hat it was indeed…
            “Fry!” Leela pulled him bodily out of the tube and embraced him, squeezing him so tightly it hurt.
            “Oh snap! It worked!” Fry said.
“Yeah, it worked,” Leela replied breathlessly. “How long were you…?”
            “Well, I turned up in about 2500,” he said. “Which means… Five thousand years. But the dial only went up to one thousand…”
            Leela smiled. “I was afraid for a little while there,” she confessed, leaning her forehead against his.
            “Sorry about that,” Fry said.
            “So all this time, ever since we first met, there’s actually been another one of you right here…?”
            “Yeah. Kinda trippy, huh?”
            “Hmm.” She stared into his eyes. “Do you still… I mean… are you…?”
            “Nope,” Fry said. “No more funky powers. It’s just me now. Stupid as a box full of stupid. Nothing special at all.”
            “Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Leela said, pressing her lips against his. They stood that way for a long time, before finally Fry shrugged out of the coveralls, exposing his red and blue outfit, and discarded the baseball cap. He and Leela left the building and walked hand-in-hand into the dusk. Fry looked around at the half-destroyed city and chuckled to himself.
            “I see it all turned out okay,” he remarked.
            “Sure,” Leela replied uncertainly. “Although maybe while you had those powers you could have tried to repair some of the damage.”
            “I dunno,” Fry said, gesturing across the street to where a human, a mutant, and an Omicronian worked together to shore up some support struts that held a damaged wall. “I think I like it better like this,” he said. “Grime and toil, just like you told me.”
            Leela looked at the three mortal enemies working side-by-side, and realized he was right. Sometimes the smallest changes required the biggest catalysts.
            They wandered through the streets and eventually Bender caught sight of them as they approached Planet Express. He raced over enthusiastically.
            “Fry! You’re alright!” he said.
            “Yeah, it’s all over,” Fry told him. “Getting about time for the credits to roll, I think.”
            “What?” Leela looked at him. “Credits? Do you mean as in…?”
            Fry smirked at her.
            “Ha,” she said, smiling at her own gullibility. “You almost had me.”

-The End.

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