(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Last time on RuRu no Jikuu no Kasoku!
The year is 2399. Professor Akayama didn’t have time to scream when the sun-sized Hurricane ripped her Zephyr-head in half. Both halves spun into black 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. Through photon-firing telescopes, she’d seen these oceans of pearly pulp flood and drain over wounds to repair the Hurricane’s 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 reabsorbed. 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 before this Hurricane Planet grappled with another for dominance! 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 it was 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. You’ve got the honor of joining the Hurricane.” It had three rows of blunt teeth and a massive flopping tongue. “The other humans I’ve met were all worthless. I gave them a chance to be useful enough to bother assimilating their minds, but they kept demanding stuff. ‘Stop eating my friends!’ ‘Stop eating my family!’ ‘Stop eating me!’ Gah.” Akayama wept. “You, though, I recognize! I hired you to build me, and I 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 your mind as part of me.”
Akayama’s heart kept dropping. “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 having one’s mind merged 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! Now their mass gets to be part of 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 thankful 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 make some miniatures of myself, 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. My tiny copies will earn their existence by working for once.”
This insight into the Hurricane’s reproductive cycle disturbed Akayama. Enslaving literal copies of oneself seemed unfathomable. “You misinterpret my intent,” she said. “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. “My pilots are safely fused into my 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. You’re one of the good ones, so I’m keeping you. No need to thank me.”
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 multiply. 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.” The mouth licked its lips with enough saliva to drown a dog. The saliva dribbled over the open eyeball. “I’ll share your mind with all my backups across the universe until you’re stored in my almost-omnipresent mass. Eventually my miniatures will finish eating everything in the universe, and then I’ll eat all my backups, and humanity will last for all time in one perfect ball.”
Akayama clenched her eyes shut. Terrified as she was, she saw opportunity in the terminology ‘copies,’ ‘miniatures,’ and ‘backups.’ Did every Hurricane Planet consider itself to be the only real one? Was that why Hurricane Planets were willing to cannibalise each other? 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. This Hurricane Planet is the center of the Hurricane’s spiral.”
“Hm. I like it,” said Hurricane Planet 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.” Uzumaki spat her out onto the red mountain it had trapped her under.