The Galaxy Zephyr flew a safe distance from the Enemy Hurricane. Lucille surveyed the warped Wheel in her monitors. Where the lightning had struck, a great green bulge blemished the Wheel’s perfect surface. Near the bulge, the Wheel had no saw-teeth. “Charlie, Daisuke, can you fix it manually?”

U picta

Charlie pressed with the Galaxy Zephyr’s right hand, but the bulge inverted to protrude from the left. Daisuke pressed with the Galaxy Zephyr’s left hand, but the bulge inverted to protrude from the right. “No dice,” said Charlie. If anything, the bulge was bigger now. The whole Wheel wobbled each revolution.

Lucille crossed her arms. “Bird-thing!”

Hai!” The bird-pilot of ZAP saluted with a wing.

“You’re wirelessly connected to the professor, aren’t you? How’s the Wheel look on her end?”

“Not any better,” said the bird-pilot. “If you pulled the Chain, centripetal forces would shred the Wheel to pieces.”

“Well figure out how to fix it!” said Lucille. The Enemy Hurricane seemed to know the Wheel was busted, as it swiped tentacles with impunity. Eisu and Fumiko evaded with the Galaxy Zephyr’s nimble wings. “Any time now!”

“Wait, I’ve got it!” said the bird-pilot, “give me a wing!”

Lucille pulled a monitor displaying the Galaxy Zephyr’s schematics. “Charlie, Daisuke, Eisu, Fumiko. One of your teams will control three wings instead of four.”

“I volunteer,” said Fumiko.

“Our teams can balance our thrust,” said Eisu.

Jya.” Lucille tapped the touchscreen. “Bird-thing, it’s yours!”

One wing recoiled into the Galaxy Zephyr’s back. It snaked out the left pectoral into the Wheel. “This will take time,” said the bird-pilot.

U pictb

“We can’t keep this up forever,” said Daisuke. The Galaxy Zephyr barrel-rolled to avoid ten tentacles converging. “How do we survive without the Wheel?”

“Brass balls,” said Lucille. “Leave it to me.” She sat up in her commander’s chair. “Oi! You!” The Galaxy Zephyr’s Hurricane Armor translated her shouts into eye-signals for the Enemy Hurricane to see. “Did you know my mother, Princess Lucia? Did you know my father, Commander Bunjiro?”

The Enemy Hurricane made a wide palm to smash them while signaling with its own countless eyes. “I might’ve!”

“Not during your pilots’ mortal lives,” said Lucille as Eisu and Fumiko dodged the cosmic slap. The white wing wrapped the Wheel to dress the bulge like a bandage. “My parents were born decades after you fled Earth. You’d know them only as pilots of Zephyr-Blue, robot protector of the Milky Way!”

The Enemy Hurricane grew legs to kick at the Galaxy Zephyr. “That robot destroyed thousands of my planets!”

“Your planets were homogeneous and identical!” The Galaxy Zephyr deftly dodged each kick. “Did destroying them even matter?”

“Of course! My planet-sized cells were humanity’s best! Your parents murdered humanity thousands of times! I only destroyed the Earth after saving everyone worth saving!”

Sou, sou!” The Wheel had three white wing-spokes. “Were my parents worthy? Are they trapped in your disgusting consciousness?”

The Enemy Hurricane smiled disingenuously with a thousand mouths. “They are!”

Daisuke pressed a button to speak to Lucille privately. “It’s lying. Your parents died before they could be assimilated.”

Charlie joined the channel. “Bunjiro self-detonated to protect Lucia, who died soon after on the moon. You know that.”

Lucille ignored them and spoke to the Enemy Hurricane. “Hontou? If you claimed my father, he must have survived his self-detonation. My mother—well, how’d you nab her?”

The Enemy Hurricane thought. “She was given a space-burial, ejected outside the galaxy. I resurrected and assimilated her. Inside me, your parents beg for your surrender!”

“Impossible,” ZAP’s bird-pilot told Lucille. “If the Hurricane could resurrect people, I would know!”

Even the Galaxy Zephyr’s Hurricane Armor chimed in. “I’ve Danced with the Spheres a hundred times. If your parents were in our enemy, they’d be in me as well, and I’ll tell you they are not!”

“How horrifying,” said Lucille to the Enemy Hurricane. She faked a sob while grinning ear to ear. “If you’d relinquish them, I’d do anything. I’d even surrender!”

The Enemy Hurricane condensed into a blob which smiled almost broadly as Lucille. “Really?”

“You have my word.” Lucille covered her heart with her right hand and bent her left arm up at a right angle. “Eject them for me to inspect. They must be ordinary, breathing humans, and they must not be represented in your consciousness afterward.”

“Commander!” said Fumiko.

“You can’t surrender on our behalf!” said Eisu.

“I accept your conditions.” The Enemy Hurricane spat two human bodies from its slobbery maw. “Inspect them at your leisure.”

“Those are forgeries,” said ZAP’s bird-pilot. “Our allied Hurricane taught the enemy this trick when it let them bicker over a false copy of my body.”

Lucille flipped switches to disengage Zephyr-Alpha-Blue from the Galaxy Zephyr. When she stomped her pedals, ZAB refused to budge. “This is obviously a trap,” said ZAB.

“I command you to move!” ZAB reluctantly propelled itself through the Hurricane Armor into the vacuum of space, leaving the Galaxy Zephyr behind. Lucille saw through her windows that the Wheel had six white wing-spokes bandaging the bulge. “Halt.”

U pictc

ZAB stopped a hundred yards from the bodies ejected by the Enemy Hurricane. “Can you see, now, these are only crude facsimiles of your parents?”

“Scan them. Do they have a pulse?”

“They’re pretending to have one, at least.”

Lucille removed the metal grill above her life-support systems to retrieve an oxygen-mask. “My bodysuit is vacuum-proof, isn’t it? How long could I survive in space?”

“At most two minutes.”

“Collect me in sixty seconds.” She donned the mask. “Pop the hatch.”

The hatch atop ZAB opened. Explosive decompression launched Lucille toward the free-floating bodies. In the distance the Enemy Hurricane chuckled, but Lucille didn’t know the language of its eye-signals, and didn’t care.

Lucille had seen photos of Bunjiro and Lucia in history books. The Enemy Hurricane had reconstructed them well, though their faces were obscured by oxygen-masks. They wore their red and blue bodysuits. Bunjiro even had sunglasses. They both seemed unconscious.

Lucille held her breath, tore off her oxygen-mask, and ripped Bunjiro’s throat out with her teeth.

Bunjiro’s body convulsed. His arms and legs turned into tentacles which grappled Lucille, but she kicked off his chest. As she drifted toward Lucia, her supposed mother peeked and saw Bunjiro choking on his own blood. Lucia panicked and her limbs turned into tentacles. Too late: Lucille bit her neck and tore her throat open. Both supposed parents went limp.

U pictd

Lucille wiped blood from her jaw—though her bodysuit was still splattered with it—and again donned her oxygen-mask. ZAB caught her in its open hatch and she fell back into the cockpit. They zoomed back to the Galaxy Zephyr. “You’ve done it now,” said ZAB. “The Enemy Hurricane looks angrier than ever.”

“Like I give a shit.” Lucille removed her oxygen-mask and spat more blood. They reentered the Galaxy Zephyr and assumed their rightful place in the head.

Their Hurricane Armor translated the Enemy Hurricane’s violent eye-signals. “You ungrateful bitch! You just murdered two of my copies, two whole copies of humanity’s best!”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” said Lucille. “Even if those were really my parents, I’d tear their throats out ten thousand times just to spite you!” The white wing totally enveloped the Wheel, compressing the bulge and restoring their weapon to perfection.

“You’ve annoyed me for the last time! I wanted to assimilate you, but now I just want you dead!” The Enemy Hurricane launched ten blood-red projectiles each larger than the Galaxy Zephyr. These projectiles shot faster than the Galaxy Zephyr could fly. As the Galaxy Zephyr moved, the projectiles followed.

Charlie contacted Lucille. “I hope your mom tasted nice. I don’t know how we’ll dodge these missiles.”

Daisuke agreed. “Unless you learned something from Bunjiro’s blood, we’re not long for this world.”

U picte

“Bird-thing,” said Lucille, “is the Wheel ready for us to pull the Chain?”

Mada da!” said the bird-pilot. “Use the Wheel, but don’t pull the Chain! We need more time! Just have faith!”

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