All around Akayama, the Hurricane churned. “Give her to us.”
Her planet hid Akayama by cradling the red mountain in a circle of dunes. “If I don’t, will you assimilate me?”
“We’ll assimilate you anyway. If you don’t surrender her, we’ll make it painful.”
Her planet thought. “Which of you is taking her?”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll assimilate and share her.”
“She’s a tricky one,” signaled her planet. “Whoever assimilates her first will surely be the most powerful among us, even if only for an instant.”
“Don’t stall. Give her to me.” One planet reached with a tentacle.
“Hold on.” Another planet strangled that tentacle with its own. “I’m larger than you. Surely I have precedence.”
“I see this will be difficult,” signaled her Hurricane Planet. “I’ll toss Akayama and you can decide among yourselves.”
Akayama’s blood curdled as the red mountain shook under her.
Something erupted from the peak. It had blue feathers and a stained lab-coat—it was an exact copy of Akayama, complete with compound emerald eyes. Her copy shot into space where the other planets fought for it.
A mouth opened in the mountain beside her. “Quick, hop in.” It stuck out its tongue.
Akayama hopped in the mouth and was instantly assimilated. She communicated with her planet at the speed of thought. “You gave them a forgery?”
“We’ve got to escape,” the planet thought back. “They’ll destroy me, or assimilate me, and either way there won’t be anything called me anymore. And you’re part of me now, so that goes for you, too!”
“This is indeed a pickle.” Akayama’s consciousness spread through the sun-sized object. “Will you do everything I say?”
“May I totally control our form and function?”
Above them, a planet the size of Mars snatched the copy of Akayama and absorbed it. “Hey.” The Martian planet spawned eyes across its surface. “This isn’t Akayama! They’re trying to trick us!”
“Oh really?” asked a planet the size of Jupiter. “You’re lying to keep Akayama for yourself!”
“I’m not! I swear!”
The Jovian swallowed the Martian one. It confirmed: “That wasn’t Akayama. It was a forgery.”
“Oh really?” asked a planet the size of the sun. “You’re lying to keep Akayama for yourself!”
“I’m not! I swear!”
The solar planet swallowed the Jovian one. It confirmed: “It was a forgery, and if you don’t believe me, eat the planet which brought her here.”
All planets advanced on Akayama’s.
“I’ve got a plan,” thought Akayama. “You won’t like it. I certainly don’t.”
“Do it! Do it! Do it!” Akayama disabled her virus. Her planet split into a million Earth-sized spheres. They blasted in different directions trailing white clouds.
Of these million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine were captured by the Enemy Hurricane. The lone survivor escaped unscathed.
“Oh, no, no, no!” Akayama’s planet bristled with panicky teeth. “You subjected almost a million of our copies to assimilation!”
“I said you wouldn’t like it.” Akayama calmed the teeth and made them into engines. The Enemy Hurricane couldn’t keep up. “But if our copies were assimilated, our assailants would make Zephyr-engines like ours, see? They’re stuck with old-fashioned turbines. When our copies were caught, they deleted themselves and let the enemy eat their useless corpses.” They sped so much faster than light that quantifying their velocity would be pointless. They neared the Milky Way. “I need you to absorb the galaxy. All of it.”
“May I?” asked her planet.
“When we first merged, I learned the Hurricane never encountered alien life while eating the universe,” thought Akayama. “With Earth gone, it’s improbable there are life-forms remaining. Eat with impunity. Meet me on Earth’s moon, and bring the water-world we made.”
Akayama fired her body from the red mountain. Shooting through space, she watched her planet swallow a star and convert the mass into Hurricane flesh. The mass divided into a million more planets, each flying to another star to repeat the process.
Akayama blasted fog from her lab-coat to rocket toward Earth’s moon. She’d hoped her moon-base had survived, but its condition was beyond her wildest dreams.
Ten thousand robot-pilots maneuvered their Zephyrs in zero-g. “Yah! Yah!” shouted Lucille in ZAB, “Almost done!” Zephyr-Purple wore a pile of robots like pants and pulled more robots over its shoulders like a shirt. The whole moon-base floated as one in a humanoid spaceship a kilometer tall. “Areh? What’s that?”
Akayama let the combined Zephyr nab her with its left arm. “It’s a bird,” said Daisuke.
“It’s wearing robes,” said Charlie.
Akayama poked feathers through her lab-coat to label herself with the kanji of her name. Charlie and Daisuke gasped. Lucille brought Akayama close to ZAB. The exhaust from her robes provided medium for sound, so Akayama shouted. “Princess Lucia? Is that you?”
Lucille studied the creature in her monitor. “My name’s Lucille, and I’m no princess. My mom died twenty years ago, the same day as my father.” The words sunk into Akayama slowly. She doubled over in anguish and howled. “What happened, Hakase? You aren’t a bird-thing in history books.”
“Commander!” said Daisuke, “Show some respect.”
“But really,” asked Charlie, “what happened?”
“Don’t worry Professor,” said ZAB, “I’ve told them all I know.”
Pressure lifted from Akayama’s shoulders. “You know I built the Hurricane?” All ten thousand pilots of Lucille’s combined Zephyr nodded. “Then you know it’s a machine which merges minds. The planet I merged with seems allied with me, while the rest of the Hurricane decides the end is nigh.”
“Is that your friend?” Lucille directed the combined Zephyr to point at stars which winked red and disappeared. “I was about to obliterate it with my fists, I tell ya.”
“That’s them,” confirmed Akayama. “With Earth destroyed, there’s no reason not to pool our resources.”
“Good thinking. Hop in.” The combined Zephyr ripped open its chest at the sternum. There, Zephyr-Purple popped the hatch on its head. “We saved you a seat.”
Akayama climbed into Zephyr-Alpha-Purple. She felt at home in the head, although the cockpit was cramped. Eisu, Fumiko, and all the purple pilots appeared on her monitors at attention. Akayama saluted with her right wing. “Did anyone survive Earth’s destruction?”
“No,” said Daisuke. “Even the bacteria are dead.”
“Is anyone left on the moon?”
“Nope,” said Charlie, “we’re all in here, even the computer-technicians and medical-personnel.”
“Good.” Akayama’s Hurricane swarmed past the moon and ate it in milliseconds. One Hurricane Planet lingered and Lucille’s combined Zephyr fell toward its gravitational pull. Eisu and Fumiko maintained distance by firing steam from the combined Zephyr’s feet. “Stop!” said Akayama. “Let us fall.”
The instant before impact, the Hurricane Planet opened a mouth and the combined Zephyr fell through its throat to the core.
“Split your Zephyrs!” said Akayama.
“But we just assembled,” Daisuke groaned.
“You heard her!” ordered Lucille. “Everyone split up!” When the combined Zephyr split, the gaps filled with Hurricane flesh which spread the robots wide apart. Then the planet signaled the rest of Akayama’s Hurricane to join. Hurricane Planets collided like globs of jam and the total mass morphed into a human shape.
Suddenly Lucille commanded a Zephyr with the mass of the Milky Way, larger than half a trillion suns. She spun ZAB’s steering-wheel and colossal gears squealed like violins to turn the Galaxy Zephyr’s head. “Charlie, Daisuke, Eisu, Fumiko! Test your extremities.” The Galaxy Zephyr wiggled its fingers and toes. Lucille couldn’t stop beaming ear-to-ear and chuckling like a psychopath. “Hontou ni. Such incalculable power!”
Only now did the Enemy Hurricane arrive from the Dance of the Spheres. The countless planets signaled with countless eyes, which the Galaxy Zephyr’s Hurricane Armor translated into audio for Lucille’s ten thousand pilots. “Aw, that’s cute. You’ve grown a little.”
“Omae wa—” Lucille pulled levers and the Galaxy Zephyr settled into battle-stance. The Hurricane Armor translated her shouts into vigorous eye-signals. “We’re bigger than any of you!”
“But not all of us.” The Enemy Hurricane merged its planets into a single blob with the mass of the observable universe. Then, as if to mock, it deformed into a humanoid and sat cross-legged. Its face grew two eyes. “In this form, your robot is smaller than even my eyelashes.”
“KIII-SAAA-MAAA!” Lucille yawped each syllable like a barbarian. “In a robot smaller than my own eyelashes I’d fight you, and I fight to win!”
“I could crush you with my thumb.” The Enemy Hurricane raised a hand to do so.