Lucille leaned over the rail of her private balcony. Below, in the moon-base’s main mess-hall, thousands of pilots ate breakfast. The pilots were organized into teams by the solid color of their uniforms. There were so many colors even Lucille had trouble tracking them, and each color came in shades to distinguish the wearer’s role. The main pilots of each robot wore bright, bold colors. Co-pilots wore pastels. Mechanics wore darks. Computer-technicians wore desaturated jumpsuits.
Lucille didn’t bother collecting her blue uniform when she was promoted to Zephyr-Alpha-Blue. In fact, she never collected her purple uniform when she commanded Z-Purple. She only wore red. She looked good in red. Charlie looked good in yellow. Daisuke looked good in green.
Charlie sat at the table behind her. Daisuke rolled beside him in his wheelchair. “You requested us, Commander?”
“I’ve considered Akayama’s video-confession.” Both lieutenants were twice her age, so Lucille conveyed authority by standing straight and broadening her shoulders. “I understand why it was kept secret, but the truth is coming out eventually. Luckily nothing in the video changes our situation. We’re still protecting the galaxy from the Hurricane. We’ll reveal its origin if and when it becomes relevant or after the Hurricane is destroyed.”
“Destroyed?” Charlie squinted, which shifted his eye-patch. “The whole thing? The cosmic horror that ate the universe?”
“Aim high, Lieutenant,” said Lucille. “Tell me: Akayama died transmitting a virus to a Hurricane Planet. Did it work? Did you check?”
Charlie and Daisuke hung their heads. “We never considered it,” said Daisuke. “We had other concerns at the time.”
“She gave her life to show us how it’s done,” said Lucille. “My first command is for you two to wrangle the computer-technicians. Cook up a virus. We’ll try infecting the Hurricane with unmanned vessels.”
“Yes, Commander.” Daisuke bowed his head. “I request you speak with Eisu and Fumiko, pilots of ZAR and ZAO. I respect the young commanders, but I saw them smoking a cockroach after training yesterday. They’re two years underage.”
“Send them up.” As soon as Charlie and Daisuke left in an elevator, Lucille retrieved her breakfast from under the table; she’d nicked a plastic-wrapped sandwich from the mess-hall. She unwrapped it and watched her robot-pilots finish breakfast below her balcony. She ate ravenously. Such was the life of a Lunar Commander: no time to linger over food.
A tomato-slice slipped from her sandwich. She caught it mid-air before it fell into the mess-hall. She’d have to learn to eat at altitude.
The elevator opened for twin siblings Eisu and Fumiko in red and orange uniforms respectively. “You requested us, Commander?”
“At ease. Please, sit.” The twins sat with military poise. Lucille reclined in her chair and put her feet on the table. She ate the tomato-slice and wiped seeds from her cheek. “I don’t want you to treat me any differently now that I hold the highest military position possible, understand?”
Eisu and Fumiko nodded. They folded their hands courteously.
“How’s your family on Earth?”
Eisu held his breath. “They’re doing well, Commander.”
“Very well, Commander,” said Fumiko. She tightened her posture.
Lucille sighed. “Glad to hear it.” She set her feet on the floor. “Now, I’ve brought you here for a formal reprimanding. Daisuke saw you smoking a cockroach yesterday. Aren’t you both underage?”
The twins winced. “We’re sorry, Commander,” said Fumiko.
“It won’t happen again,” said Eisu.
“Cockroaches are illegal for anyone under twenty,” lectured Lucille. “You’re eighteen. Heck, I’m only nineteen. So!” Lucille folded her arms. “As Lunar Commander, I order you to smoke a roach with me.” Eisu and Fumiko shared a glance, but Lucille insisted: “You can tell Daisuke I chewed you out.”
Eisu pulled a roach from a pocket of his red uniform. It was cylindrical and wrapped in its own wings. Fumiko produced an orange lighter and raised her eyebrows at Lucille as if to ask, `really?’
“I’ve never smoked before,” said Lucille. “We’re too tight-laced on the moon. I can’t bum a roach off anyone legal-age. Did you smuggle that from Earth?”
“We did,” said Eisu.
Fumiko lit the roach’s head and offered it to Lucille. “Is it true you’ve never been planet-side?”
“Yep, and I never will be. I was born on the moon. My bones couldn’t handle Earth’s gravity. That’s why I score well on tests—there’s nothing to do up here but study.” Lucille refused the roach to see how they smoked it. Fumiko took delicate puffs and passed the roach to her brother. “I’ve memorized Earth’s laws, but I’ll never understand them. Why can folks our age pilot giant robots but not smoke a roach?”
Eisu puffed deep and passed the roach to Lucille. Lucille’s first puff was a brave one. As Lucille coughed, Eisu explained: “A lot of laws are left over from the World Unification. Bringing every country under one constitution required concessions which aren’t totally sensible in hindsight. When the Ruler of Earth abdicated, the constitution remained the guide for international parliament.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” said Lucille between coughs. She’d inhaled most of the roach in her first impressive puff. She returned the roach for Fumiko to finish off. “Now we’re partners in crime, so you can’t just treat me like any old Lunar Commander,” said Lucille. “You don’t obey me because I outrank you. You obey me because you know me and you trust my judgement.”
“Of course!” said Fumiko. “I remember how you led us in the mid-battle merger of Z-Purple, Orange, Red, Black, and Yellow. Z-PORKY was a huge success.”
“I wouldn’t trust anyone else,” said Eisu. “I look up to you like I hope the pilots of Z-Red look up to me.”
“Perfect.” Lucille planted her hands on the table broader than shoulder-width. “I want both your teams running combination drills. Tell the other teams to do the same. We’re combining every robot on the moon into one colossal mech within seventy-two hours.”