(The fourth chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Twenty years prior, Professor Akayama didn’t have time to scream when the sun-sized Hurricane ripped her Zephyr-head in half. Both halves spun into space, and her tight nautilus bun unwrapped so her navy hair flew in all directions. She repeatedly lost consciousness, and each time she woke, she saw the Hurricane Planet grow larger as she fell toward it. She begged to suffocate before she woke again and had to see the Hurricane once more, but she wasn’t so lucky: the reaching tentacles had a thin trail of atmosphere which kept her alive. Then, instead of splattering on impact with the planet’s surface, she splashed in an ocean of warm, pearly pulp.
With most her bones broken, Akayama had no hope of swimming, but her lab-coat kept her afloat. She languished in half-awareness for what felt like days. She had to guess the duration, because only red Hurricane Planets speckled the black sky. Would she starve to death without the familiar sight of the Milky Way? She honestly hoped so. She had doomed the galaxy and never deserved to see it again.
Whenever Akayama guessed a day had passed, she tested her broken bones and found a greater range of motion. Studying the Hurricane by photon-firing telescope, she’d seen these oceans of pearly pulp flood and drain over wounds to repair their injuries. She considered it cruel irony that the pearly pulp kept her alive, too. Death wouldn’t come so easily.
On the ninth day (she guessed) even her arthritis was gone, and she felt as fit as when she was fifty. She flipped to float on her belly and shed her lab-coat. Lining the inside, buoyant plastic air-pockets had automatically inflated during the fall. If she’d left without her lab-coat, she could’ve just drowned, and this would all be over. Now she wore the lab-coat back-to-front so the buoyancy was more suitable for swimming. She tread water (well, not water, but she didn’t want to think about it) and surveyed the horizon. A plume of dark smoke stood out against the black sky’s red speckling of Hurricane Planets.
She’d never seen a Hurricane Planet expel dark smoke. Was this part of her crash-landed Zephyr? She had no other guess, and her stomach rumbled at the thought of rations stored aboard. She wasn’t hungry—the Hurricane’s wound-goo sustained her—but the wound would soon heal and the sustaining pulp would be absorbed. Besides, she kept a cockroach in her Zephyr’s glove-compartment, and she craved a good smoke. Maybe the engines worked and she could escape! Now Akayama felt ashamed for craving the sweet release of death, and instead craved a return to the galaxy so she could redeem herself.
After swimming thirteen hours (she guessed) she grazed a gritty shoreline. She pulled herself onto the painful beach and immediately fell asleep on her lab-coat. The tide of pearly pulp grew shallow as she slept, so when she woke, she saw the shore was gritty because it was paved with human teeth.
About six or seven decades ago, when Akayama experimented with mind-merging, test-subjects incompatible with one-another bristled with painful teeth. She surgically rectified these subjects and recorded the error so the mistakes were never repeated, but the image of it still haunted her like gnarling jaws in her stomach. Today her largest failure, the Hurricane, cordoned its injuries with densely impacted dentition. No wonder the planets were pain-averse: every wound ate itself alive.
Akayama shuddered, stood, pulled her lab-coat around her shoulders, and limped over the teeth toward the dark smoke-plume in the distance. Beyond the gritty shore was fresh pink flesh hot enough to make her sweat. With no heat-source in the sky, she reasoned the planet itself had some deep fever. Walking further, the pink flesh reddened and shed dead skin rough as sand. Her feet sank six inches in the desert-like dust. The planet’s smallest wrinkles were like dunes miles high and impossibly steep. She was barely able to climb over them because the pearly pulp had left her so spry.
The plume of dark smoke drew closer every hour until she crested a final dune and saw the right half of her Zephyr in a broad, deep crater. It had just one eye, one ear, and half a nose and mouth, but its unflappable expression filled Akayama with confidence. She slid down the crater’s sheer slope.
The soft sand rippled under her like a vast trampoline. When the ripples reached the crater’s walls, the crater’s walls grew higher. Akayama scrambled back up the steepening slope, but the walls became vertical and caved overhead like a tidal wave. She tumbled into the crater and rolled next to her Zephyr as the horizon sealed shut above, becoming a red mountain sealing her beneath. After days of trekking, she now considered that it was statistically improbable for her and her Zephyr to land within even a year’s travel of one-another on this cosmic object the size of the sun. This had been a trap.
Subterranean hydraulics rumbled. The Hurricane Planet swallowed her and her spaceship, rushing them to the core with churning peristalsis. The air was hotter every moment, but Professor Akayama shivered.
She climbed into her mutilated half-Zephyr to find the cockpit’s adjustable chair was the only operational object in the spaceship. Every monitor was cracked but one. The circuits were scorched. The photon-firers were all aboard the other half, so she couldn’t beam messages to the moon. Hoping beyond hope, she turned her key in the ignition. “Can you hear me?” Her Zephyr was silent.
Akayama popped the glove-compartment to find three days of rations and a cockroach. She’d craved food and a smoke, but now felt nauseated by claustrophobia. She stowed the roach in her lab-coat and drank water from her rations. Drinking water was a simple human task, grounding her somewhat during these unnatural circumstances.
Because the torn Zephyr had no left side, red subterranean rocks rushed upward as Akayama descended. An eyeball bigger than a grapefruit opened on the rock wall and slid down alongside her, keeping watch. Akayama spun her chair to watch it back. “Hisashiburi,” she said. “Kill me already!”
A mouth opened above the eyeball. “You’ll never die, mortal. I’m assimilating you.” It had three rows of blunt teeth and a massive flopping tongue. “The other humans I’ve met were worthless. I ate them without preserving any part, just for their mass. You, though, I recognize! I hired you to build me, and I’ll bet you built that big blue bully you’re hiding in, too. Your mind must have some use, so when I eat you, I’m keeping you as part of me.”
Akayama’s heart dropped. “The twenty million who settled too close to the galaxy’s edge? Some brought their children? Some children brought their pets? You killed them all?” She’d hoped this was the case, considering it preferable to merging with the Hurricane’s pilots, but hearing it still broke her.
“You say it like I’m in the wrong, here. It’s not my fault they weren’t worth keeping. Bad genetics, bad brains, bad everything! I’m incorporating their mass into something actually valuable: me! They should be glad. If I’d decided to punish them for their worthlessness, I could’ve turned them into eternally suffering tooth-balls instead. Besides, I kept parts of the animals—it was more than pets, some of them brought whole zoos! It’s cold in space and I thought fur, feathers, or scales might help—but no, the critters were useless, too. Although I do appreciate these tentacles.”
Red tentacles protruded from the walls and wrapped around her Zephyr-half, steaming hot. If the Hurricane felt cold in this blazing heat, no number of layers could ever warm it. Akayama wiped sweat from her face, unsure where her tears began. “Those poor creatures.”
“Don’t worry. They’re safe inside me forever and ever, just like you’ll be, too.” The mouth bared its rows of teeth. “You should be glad I’m so welcoming after how you treated me. What did you do?“
“I did everything.” Akayama’s guilt burned worse than the excruciating heat. “I built the Hurricane. I failed to prevent its launch. The fiery fate of the universe is my fault.”
“I know, I know. I mean, what did you do just recently?” The eyeball squinted at her. She’d never smelled an eyeball before, but this one reeked like pungent salt-water. “When I smacked you from the sky, you transmitted data! I was about to divide into a million copies and now I can’t.”
Akayama put a hand over her heart. “My virus affected you. Humanity might have a chance.”
“I am humanity. When you’re employed as part of me, we’ll undo your mistake together. I worked hard to collect all this mass, and I deserve to multiply.”
“You misinterpret my intent,” said Akayama. “That virus proves there’s hope to salvage the pilots of the Hurricane.”
“Salvage? Pfft.” The mouth blew a raspberry which speckled her with globs of spit. “I am my pilots, safely fused into eternal form. You know better than anyone that my duty is to humanity’s preservation.”
“But you killed all those people. Men, women, children.”
“People?” The eye rolled, audibly. “Useless garbage isn’t people.“
Akayama balked, like the words punched her in the gut. “What do you remember of humanity? Decades have passed since the Hurricane’s pilots were merged. Don’t you have their memories? Can’t you see their grieving widows and orphans?”
“I can,” said the Hurricane, “which is why I must divide. I need enough copies to preserve my memory no matter how many you murder. At the core of this planet, your consciousness will join mine. Then I’ll disable your virus myself and finally multiply.” The mouth licked its lips with enough saliva to drown a dog. The saliva dribbled over the open eyeball. “My copies and I will share you with all my backups across the universe until you’re stored in my almost-omnipresent mass. Eventually I’ll finish eating everything in the universe and humanity will last for all time.”
Akayama clenched her eyes shut. Terrified as she was, she saw opportunity in the terminology ‘copies’ and ‘backups.’ Did every Hurricane Planet consider itself to be the only real one? She could press this for her own survival. “Life isn’t about fearing death. You contain people, but you’ve lost what made them people.”
“Ha! I’m a hundred times the human you are, because I can see a hundred lifetimes at once.”
“You ended a hundred lifetimes at once! Your pilots run in parallel, wearing their yoke like a crown!” Akayama didn’t feel brave, but she pointed accusingly at the eye. “How can you claim to stand for humanity when you absorb everything you encounter into uniform, indistinguishable volume?”
“I’ve got fingers too, you know!” The Hurricane poked at her with an arm from the rock wall. It had two elbows bending in opposite directions and only three fingers, no thumb. “I know everything important about all my pilots. Don’t fear merging with me: I’ll preserve every part of you worth keeping.”
“When you decided protecting humanity meant preserving a homogeneous mass, everything humane in you died!” Akayama folded her arms. “You don’t even know how many fingers you’re supposed to have.”
The eye tried counting Akayama’s fingers, but she’d hidden her hands in her lab-coat’s sleeves. Its arm retracted back into the wall. “I’m the most humane being possible!”
“Then grant me my individuality!” This was her chance. She stood from her chair to shout. “And grant it to yourself! If you share me with your copies and backups across the universe, nothing will separate you from them!” The eye blinked with realization. “You need me.” Akayama pointed to her own nose. “You need my mind unmolested. Aren’t you special? Aren’t you the I of the Hurricane? What could elevate you above countless duplicates like uniquely accommodating your creator?”
“Hmm.” The mouth bit its lower lip like it was fantasising about chewing a thick steak. “How could you be useful while separate from me?”
“I could help you reclaim your humanity! I’m the universe’s leading expert in consciousness.” Akayama turned her Zephyr’s broken steering-wheel. “I could load just one of your pilots at a time into my Zephyr’s circuitry. Imagine: each of your aspects can have personal-space to recoup their lost perspective!”
“I could assimilate you and use your knowledge to do that myself.”
“No.” Akayama stood her ground, fists on her hips. “You lack the motor-skills and sense-organs required. How could tentacles stretching from your bulk operate my Zephyr’s control-panel? I’ll need to live on your surface, too, near a star. Otherwise it will be too dark for me to work.”
She felt heavier. The peristalsis reversed direction to vomit her up the planet’s throat. Akayama gasped and tried to restrain her sobs of relief. “If I’m the I of the Hurricane, I’ll need a proper name. Give me a good one or I’ll change my mind.”
She gulped. Changing its mind probably meant doing something terrible to hers. She could be trapped forever in an eternally suffering tooth-ball. “Uzumaki. You’re the center of the Hurricane’s spiral.”
“Hm. I like it,” said Uzumaki. “You can’t live on my surface forever. I’ll have to hide you when we meet my copies. If they see you, they’ll make me share you.”
“Can we stay far from the others?”
“Every so often I sync with them. I’ll swallow you when the time comes. It won’t be for a while; my back-ups ignore signals from anyone teething. That way pain is always just a distant memory.” Uzumaki spat her out onto the red mountain it had trapped her under.
Akayama woke before the artificial sunrise and wrapped her old, tattered lab-coat around her shoulders. She climbed down from her Zephyr’s half-cockpit onto the sandy red mountainside, seeing mile-high dunes below her in every direction. The mountain sat on a towering stone step to keep her from leaving, not that she had anywhere to go. She’d jumped off a few times, trying to end herself when she thought Uzumaki wasn’t watching, but it always was, and it always caught her midair to bring her back to work.
She walked up the red mountain, hands on her knees to support herself. Eventually she came across a small stone the size of her palm. She carried the stone further up the mountain 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 couldn’t recall how many times she’d counted a hundred days, but the futility of the task didn’t dissuade her: the artificial day surely differed from 24 hours, so tracking Earth time was a lost cause anyway. If she had to guess, she’d estimate she’d lived on Uzumaki’s red mountain for twelve years. She crossed her legs to sit facing the stone stacks in the direction she called east. She closed her eyes and waited for sunrise.
“How come you always move these rocks?” Uzumaki spoke from a mouth the size of a manhole it opened on the mountainside. “And why do I bother rotating near a star if you wake before dawn? It’s dangerous for me to be this near the Milky Way.”
Akayama straightened her back and inhaled deep. “Despite your biological trappings, you’re more machine than man. You’ve forgotten the importance of morning rituals.”
“I have memories of my pilots brushing their teeth each morning,” said Uzumaki. “It seems really dull. When we sync up, my backups and I consider deleting those memories. There’s no humanity in them.”
“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 my knowledge of emptiness sustains me. You’d do yourself well to accept impermanence.” The artificial sunrise shined yellow through her eyelids. She opened them to see the whole sky was disconcertingly mustard-colored. 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 white lab-coat bluish. “I’ll have to teach you manners. When you return to Earth, will you greet Princess Lucia with such a slobbery maw?”
“We can’t go to Earth. Your moon-base is sending out more bully-robots than ever, in all sorts of colors. They’d attack me and I’d have to kill or assimilate everyone.”
“That’s what you’d do if they didn’t attack you. That’s why they attack you.” Akayama began walking back down the red mountain to her Zephyr-half. The mouth followed along the ground, pushing sand aside. “I need more food. Do you remember how I taught you to generate mixed fruits and tako-yaki-tori?“
“Yeah, yeah.” Uzumaki struck a stone spear up next to Akayama’s feet. The spear skewered seared bird and squid. “You’re lucky the Hurricane assimilated those animals, or you’d have no meat to eat but human flesh. How do I make fruit, again? I deleted your explanation from my memory because it’s too boring.”
“When I developed mind-merging, I tested it by grafting fruit-trees without them physically interacting. The data from those tests is still—“
“See? Boooring.” Saying this, Uzumaki’s mouth stretched wide like a hot-tub. “I didn’t ask for your life story, I asked how to make fruit.”
Akayama sighed. “There’s a collection of fruit-tree genomes in your legacy-files.”
“Oh, right.” Uzumaki struck up another spear. This one skewered apples, peaches, and pomegranates. “Anyway, I’m putting you underground so I can sync with my backups. I told my copies you died when you fell, so we can’t let them see you.” The dunes around the red mountain opened, unleashing colossal eyeballs. Their veins were like pulsing rivers of blood. Akayama heard the squelching of more eyeballs enormous as oceans blooming across the planet, watching the sky.
She groaned and pulled the spears of food into her Zephyr’s cockpit. The syncing-process took place so far from the Milky Way that no human had ever witnessed it. Akayama understood it to be a never-ending swirl of Hurricane Planets sharing information via eye-signals. She speculated this form of communication was derived from ordinary human REM sleep. “I’ll need light,” she said. “Do you remember how to make luminescence?”
“Nope.” The mouth regurgitated graphite and slimy, fibrous paper. “Remind me?”
The professor wrote chemical formulas and tossed the paper and graphite back into Uzumaki’s mouth. The mouth salivated glowing slime. Akayama smeared the slime on the ceiling of her cockpit. “That will be all.” The red mountain swallowed her ship and she landed in a subterranean organ like a slowly-breathing lung. Then she felt strange forces as Uzumaki’s whole planet accelerated to many times light-speed.
By the slime’s glow, Akayama unscrewed her Zephyr’s control-panel to access circuitry underneath. For twelve years (she estimated) she’d repaired everything which required only tools as basic as a soldering-gun. The only uncracked monitor functioned flickeringly. The life-support worked, but she wouldn’t let Uzumaki 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 draped her lab-coat across the torn cockpit like a curtain. She suspected the syncing-process distracted Uzumaki, but the cost of failure was too great to trust she wasn’t being watched. Then she addressed her Zephyr. “Can you hear me?”
“Masaka!” She collapsed sobbing on the steering-wheel. “Thank God! Thank God!”
“I’m damaged.” Her Zephyr spoke through its lone monitor’s speakers. The system booting information displayed countless technical failures. “How long was I offline?”
“I wish I knew.” Akayama wiped her tears with the slobbery sleeve of her lab-coat. “We’ve been trapped on that sun-sized Hurricane Planet for years, at least. I named it Uzumaki to distinguish it from the others. Our virus had at least a small impact: Uzumaki can’t divide. I’m lucky to remain distinct from it, and lucky it’s allowed me to repair you.”
“Trapped on the sun-sized Hurricane Planet…” Her Zephyr’s only monitor displayed a picture of the planet from Akayama’s confession. The image made Akayama tremble in memory of the event. “I remember now. I have video you may wish to review. When I was torn in half, my left half continued recording. It transmitted the recording to this half until it left our 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.”
“Commander Bunjiro, Zephyr Charlie, Zephyr Dakshi, and Princess Lucia arrived mere moments after the tentacles ripped me apart,” said her Zephyr. “The Commander was piloting the gray test-head. They collided with Uzumaki faster than light.”
“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 them. She also disintegrated a sizable portion of Uzumaki.”
“She did? Oh, Princess!” The professor beamed with pride. “No one’s ever fired the Super Heart Beam twice in one day!”
“The team reclaimed my left half. The last frames show them accelerating above light-speed with tentacles in slow pursuit.”
“They escaped with my confession.” Enormous weight lifted from her shoulders. “Everyone knows the Hurricane’s weakness to short-range communication. Earth is surely safe with Bunjiro, Charlie, Dakshi, and the princess. 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, just in case. “I told Uzumaki I’m repairing you to use your circuits as a timeshare for its pilots’ consciousnesses. Really we’re pulling the whole planet into your memory-banks all 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.”
Akayama’s Zephyr tracked time with perfect accuracy: seven years and three months passed before she trusted her repairs to its hyper-light-speed engines. She typed to her Zephyr on its control-panel’s keyboard so the planet couldn’t eavesdrop. Her Zephyr replied with text on its only monitor. ‘Professor, my engines are still only functioning at ten percent power.’
‘They’re functioning enough,’ typed Akayama. ‘Today’s the day.’ She left her cockpit and stepped onto the dusty red mountainside.
Getting Uzumaki’s attention was a pain. It constantly spied on her with secret eyes and ears so she couldn’t escape or end her own life, but it would never admit to doing so. When she jumped and stomped, it pretended not to notice, as if its flesh was too tough to detect such an elderly woman. Having no other option, she brushed dust aside and stabbed the pink flesh underneath with her screwdriver. Instead of blood, the wound gushed pearly pulp.
Akayama covered her ears. The pulp congealed into teeth which cracked each other in high-pitched cacophony, making a hard sheet sealing the wound. As the cracking teeth subsided, the wound became a screaming mouth. “Akayama! I told you I hate that!”
“It’s not my fault your immune-system overreacts to minor stimuli. I didn’t build you to become what you are.” Akayama strode to her Zephyr, one arm behind her back, the other gesticulating as if to a college class. “Today you reclaim your humanity. Do you remember how I taught you to make synaptic-cable?”
“Oh! Oh, yes!” A red tentacle popped from the sand. Its tip split into two, and each of those tips split into two, and so on, until the tentacle ended with a fibrous braid. “Like this, right?”
Akayama pulled the braid to her Zephyr’s torn-open neck. “I’m plugging you into the spinal-input-port. In the past, this connected to the Heart of the Zephyr so pilots could work in tandem.”
“No, not like you. Zephyrs are united by intent, not flesh and blood.” Akayama inserted the braid deep into an exposed rubber tube. “You’ll feel an electrical tingling.”
“I do! I do!” The tentacle wriggled in anticipation like an excited boa.
“Recall the identities constituting your being. Choose one for the first excursion into relative normalcy.” Akayama climbed into the cockpit and hit return on her keyboard. Her Zephyr began pulling Uzumaki’s consciousness into its memory-banks. “Have you chosen?”
The planet rumbled under her. “We’ll go alphabetically,” it decided.
“Sou desu ka.” Akayama pretended to type. On the monitor, her Zephyr signaled that the transfer was complete.
“You’re not giving me another virus, are you? I won’t fall for that again.”
“Of course not. Are you ready to cast off the yoke of the hive-mind?”
Her Zephyr disconnected Uzumaki from its Hurricane Planet.
Akayama had had recurring nightmares: the moment her planet was emptied, the mountain collapsed under her, or a mouth opened and swallowed her, or the whole planet deflated like a balloon. Nothing happened. Everything was quiet. “Is it done?”
“Yes,” her Zephyr said aloud. “Uzumaki is aboard my memory-banks.”
“Let it access the monitor so we can communicate. I want to let it know everything will be okay. Warm the engines and let’s take off.” Akayama sealed the torn cockpit with her lab-coat so the cabin could fill with air; she’d soaked the lab-coat in extra spit just for this. Her Zephyr’s monitor displayed a speaker-icon indicating Uzumaki could hear her. It listened to the engines spin to life. “I’m sorry. This is the only way to get you home.” The neck spilled white steam and her Zephyr ascended. “Can you hear me?”
“How could you?” Uzumaki asked through the monitor’s speakers. “I trusted you.”
“I know, but on the moon I’ll have the tools to separate all of you at once. You don’t have to be this cosmic horror. I can save the pilots of the Hurricane.”
“Save me from what?”
“This!” Akayama pulled her lab-coat aside an inch. The monitor’s camera showed Uzumaki its own Hurricane Planet retreating, looking down on the red mountain and mile-high dunes. “Is that what humanity looks like?”
“Yes!” said Uzumaki. “I’m humanity, and I’m that! Let me go!”
“I won’t!” They kept accelerating. “I’ll never reclaim the stars you swallowed, but I will bring you home!”
“No, I’m bringing you home!”
The monitor flickered red. “Professor,” said her Zephyr, “Uzumaki has seized my monitor-controls.”
“Turn it off! Turn it off!” Black circles in white circles appeared on the red monitor. By the time she realized what she was looking at, Akayama was transfixed by a hundred electric eyes. She felt her own optic nerves vibrating in response to their movements.
“Professor, what’s happening?”
She barely managed to speak. “Rapid Eye Movement.” One by one, the eyes onscreen winked shut. Akayama’s own eyes lost their luster. “It’s jumping into me.”
The last eye winked away. The monitor went black. “Professor, Uzumaki is no longer in my memory-banks. Can you hear me?” Akayama couldn’t respond. “Professor?”
The corners of her mouth fought to say different words. Her arms swept across the control-panel. Her legs turned her chair to face the lab-coat separating her from space. She tried to kick herself from the cockpit, but seat-belts held her back. “My mind—I’m losing my mind—“
“You’re not losing your mind,” she said back to herself, “I’m gaining one!”
“Stop,” she begged, “please!” Her left hand fought her right hand over the seat-belt buttons. She wasn’t sure which hand was hers and which was Uzumaki’s as they swapped sides repeatedly to wrestle. Then both hands were hers and both hands were Uzumaki’s. Their minds had stuck together like two bubbles, one a hundred times larger than the other, trading thoughts through the flat sheet between them. Akayama gasped at the insights provided to her. “Bunjiro is dead. You killed him.”
“Wrong,” she said to herself. “That guy self-destructed before I could squash him. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“And now I see it with mine.” Akayama was helpless to wipe tears from her face.
“Professor, what should I do?” asked her Zephyr.
“Leave me behind. Fly to the moon and tell them what happened.” Her unruly hands unbuckled her seat-belts and tore her lab-coat from the cockpit’s gaping side. Vacuum sucked Akayama from her chair and she spun toward the sun-sized Hurricane Planet a thousand miles below.
As she fell, she donned her lab-coat. It didn’t flutter in space. She struggled for breath with nothing to breathe, but she didn’t suffocate. Uzumaki was already morphing her biology to survive. Boney spines poked from her skin. The spines grew blue hairs to become fluffy feathers.
Her lab-coat now fluttered as she entered the atmosphere. Her limbs lengthened and flattened into wings. Feathers matured and aligned to catch the wind. Her body no longer spun, but dove for the red mountain in a spiral like a bird of prey.
“You, you, you!” said her own mouth. “You were really holding out on me, Professor! With your scientific knowledge, if you hadn’t lied and just did what you’d promised, you would’ve finished years ago!” The red mountain approached faster and faster. “I’ll load myself back aboard my planet, and you’re coming with me. I could finish assimilating you, merging your mind into mine, but it’s fun playing with these itty-bitty human-parts! I’m gonna use you like a drone. You’re not Akayama anymore. You’re Nakayama now.”
“Inside the Mountain,” translated Nakayama. The kanji appeared in her mind’s eye: 中山. “I see.”
“Shh. This isn’t your tongue to talk with anymore.” Uzumaki only realized it didn’t know how to land an instant before impact. Nakayama’s feathery body splattered against the red mountain, barely contained in her lab-coat. Pearly pulp poured from her injuries and turned into teeth whose roots painfully knit her body back together. Uzumaki let Nakayama handle the agony on its behalf, and through it, she found control of her voice again.
“You can’t learn to fly from a caged bird,” she choked. “You can’t learn humanity using me as a hand-puppet.”
Uzumaki took her tongue back. “Fine. Then you’ll carry out our new mission: I want a whole world of bodies, one for each of my pilots. Then we’ll see what being human is all about!”
Dan paused during the anime’s end-credits and shook his head in pity for the professor. If she could pull Uzumaki into her Zephyr’s memory-banks, why not take the opportunity to just delete it? Why bring it to the moon to save its pilots, terrible dystopian dictators? The moral imperative to redeem the Hurricane’s pilots from the fate they chose for themselves, and the process of doing so effectively, was vital to Sheridanian philosophy.
In his annotation between manga-panels, Dan contrasted this story with Milton. Paradise had hardly been Lost, because Earth in LuLu’s was problematic to begin with. The conversion of Uzumaki, and combat against the Hurricane, had to teach the Zephyrs to better themselves, too.
The Hurricane was Hell and Satan both at once, but its creator, Akayama, had the silver tongue. When Uzumaki justified its heinous actions by playing the victim, having its copies ‘murdered’ by ‘bullies,’ Akayama survived by indulging that victim-complex, and used her survival to try undoing the mistakes she’d enabled. But her best efforts weren’t enough to save the Hurricane from itself: Akayama’s transformation into Nakayama—what a Sheridanian would call ‘the Biggest Bird,’ or ‘the Heart of the Mountain’—was just another lesson along the road.
The next episode didn’t need a time-skip to feature Lucille as Lunar Commander. With Nakayama trapped for twenty years, the two stories were now perfectly aligned.