Akayama woke before the artificial sunrise and wrapped her old, tattered lab coat around her shoulders. She stepped from her half-cockpit onto her Hurricane Planet’s sandy surface and strode over dunes to a small stone. She carried the stone over more dunes to a line of stacked stones. She counted the stacks: ten. Each stack was ten stones high except the last, stacked nine stones high.
She capped the tenth stack with its tenth stone. Another hundred artificial days had passed. Stacking stones was a dull chore, but it kept her sharp and in shape. She could not recall how many times she’d counted a hundred days, but the futility of the task did not dissuade her: the artificial day surely differed from 24 hours, so trying to track Earth time would be inconvenient anyway. If she had to guess, she’d estimate she fell to the Hurricane twelve years ago.
She crossed her legs to sit facing the stone stacks, in the direction she called east. She closed her eyes and waited for the sunrise.
“How come you always move these rocks?” The Hurricane Planet spoke from a mouth in the sand the size of a manhole. “Why do I bother orbiting a star if you wake before dawn?”
Akayama straightened and inhaled. “Despite your biological trappings, you are more machine than man. You’ve forgotten the importance of morning rituals.”
“I have memories of my pilots brushing their teeth each morning,” said the Hurricane, “but they’re too boring to review. There’s nothing meaningful there.”
“That’s exactly the attitude I seek to cure,” said Akayama. “Everyday mundanity is vital to the human condition. Do you know the notion of wabi-sabi?”
“Of course. It’s like green horseradish.”
Akayama clenched her closed eyes. “I must cope with solitude as consequence for my crimes. Only the transience of the human experience sustains me. You’d do well to accept impermanence.” She saw the artificial sunrise through her eyelids. She stood and kicked over her stacks of stones. “My last screwdriver snapped. Do you remember how I taught you to make them?”
“Hold on.” The mouth’s tongue bounced around its teeth. It spat a stone screwdriver. “Is that all you need?”
“Eeuugh.” Akayama used her lab coat’s pocket like a glove to pick up the screwdriver. Over years here, saliva had stained her lab coat bluish. “You must learn manners. When you return to Earth, will you greet Princess Lucia with a slobbery maw?”
“We can’t go to Earth. Your moon-base would attack, and I’d have to kill or absorb everyone.”
“That’s what you’d do if they didn’t attack. That’s why they attack.” Akayama began the walk back to her Zephyr-half. The mouth followed along the ground. “I need more food. Do you remember how I taught you to prepare mixed fruits and tako-yaki-tori?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The Hurricane struck a stone spear from the sand. The spear skewered seared squid and bird meat. “You’re lucky I assimilated that bird and that squid, or you’d have no meat to eat but human flesh. How do I make fruit, again?”
“When I developed mind-merging, I tested it by grafting fruit-trees without them physically interacting. The data from those tests is still—”
“I didn’t ask for your life story, I asked how to make fruit.”
Akayama sighed. “There’s a database of fruit-tree genomes in your legacy files.”
“Oh, right.” The Hurricane struck another spear from the sand. It skewered apples, peaches, and pomegranates. “Anyway, you’ll need to hide underground. I must sync my databases in the Dance of the Spheres; if my copies see you they’ll make me share you.” A nearby dune opened like an eyelid, unleashing an enormous eyeball. Akayama heard eyeballs enormous as oceans blooming in the distance, watching the sky.
She groaned as she pulled the spears of food into her cockpit. The Dance of the Spheres took place so far from the Milky Way that no human had ever witnessed it. The Dance was a continuous swirl Hurricane Planets, each sharing information with the others via eye-signals. She speculated their eye-communication was derived from ordinary human REM sleep. “I’ll need light,” she said. “Do you remember how to make luminescence?”
“No.” The mouth regurgitated graphite and slimy, fibrous paper. “Remind me?”
The professor wrote chemical formulas and tossed the paper and graphite back in the Hurricane’s mouth. The mouth salivated glowing slime. Akayama smeared the slime on the ceiling of her cockpit. “That will be all.”
The planet swallowed her ship. She landed in a subterranean organ like a lung. Then she felt strange forces as the planet accelerated to many times light-speed.
By the slime’s glow, Akayama examined the Zephyr’s control-panel. She unscrewed its exterior casing to access circuitry underneath. For twelve years (she estimated) she had repaired everything which required only tools less basic than a soldering gun. The only unbroken monitor functioned flickeringly. The life-support worked, but she wouldn’t let her Hurricane Planet know that. She could even use the nuclear reactors to synthesize chemicals from subatomic particles.
Now she twisted wires together and screwed the casing back onto the control-panel. She turned the key in the ignition. The life-support pumped oxygen into the torn cockpit. So far so good. Akayama addressed the Zephyr: “Can you hear me?”
“Masaka!” She collapsed sobbing on the steering wheel. “Thank God! Thank God!”
“I’m damaged.” The Zephyr spoke through the monitor’s speakers. “How long was I offline?”
“I wish I knew.” Akayama wiped her face with the sleeve of her lab coat. “We’re trapped on the sun-sized Hurricane Planet. Our virus worked: the planet cannot divide. But it still functions. I’m lucky to remain distinct from it, and lucky it’s allowed me to repair you.”
“The sun-sized Hurricane Planet…” The Zephyr’s only monitor displayed an image of the planet from Akayama’s confession. “Can it hear us?”
“I don’t think so.” Akayama draped her lab coat across the torn cockpit like a curtain, just in case. “Its attention is diverted as it syncs with its copies. Also, the Hurricane generates only rudimentary sense organs.”
“Then I have video you may wish to review. When I was torn in half, my left half continued recording. It transmitted the recording to me until we were out of range.”
Akayama’s blood ran cold. “Play the recording. Wait! Don’t!” She already saw stars spinning while she begged to die. “Just tell me what happened.”
“Bunjiro, Charlie, Daisuke, and Princess Lucia arrived mere moments after the tentacles tore me in half,” said the Zephyr. “Bunjiro was piloting the gray test-head. They punched the planet at above light-speed.”
“They made the wound which saved me.” Akayama covered her heart. “I knew Bunjiro couldn’t be kept in a stretcher for long.”
“Tentacles wrapped around them, but Princess Lucia fired her Super Heart Beam and shredded their bonds. She also disintegrated a sizable portion of this planet.”
“She did? Oh, Princess!” The professor beamed with pride. “No one’s ever fired the Super Heart Beam twice in one day!”
“Team Zephyr rescued my left half. The last frames that I have show them accelerating above light-speed with tentacles in slow pursuit.”
“They escaped with my confession.” Enormous weight lifted from her shoulders. “Everyone knows what happened, and Earth is surely safe with Bunjiro, Charlie, Daisuke, and Princess Lucia. I would trust no one else.”
“I’m glad you’re in good spirits, but my engines are offline. I doubt we can escape in this condition.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan,” she whispered. “I told the planet I’m repairing you to use your circuits as a timeshare for its pilots’ consciousnesses. Our real plan is to immobilize the planet by transferring the whole thing into your memory-banks at once. I’m sure your spinal input port can handle the load. Then we’ll escape to the moon without interference, and take our time separating the Hurricane’s pilots.”
“I see. But still, my engines are offline.”
“Now you’re here to help. We should have them repaired within a few years.”
Akayama grit her teeth. “Show me the princess’s Super Heart Beam.”