(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Last time on RuRu no Jikuu no Kasoku!
The year is 2420. Twenty years ago, Professor Akayama, Commander Bunjiro, and Princess Lucia died in combat against the Hurricane. The tragic details are undisclosed even to Zephyr Lucille, daughter of Lucia and Bunjiro. Lucille was conceived on the moon, where she was tube-incubated after her mother’s death, so her brittle bones could never bear Earth’s gravity. Now nineteen years old, Lucille has the second-place record for the longest duration without touching Earth, behind only Akayama herself, who lived aboard the moon-base for forty years.
Charlie and Dakshi adopted Lucille and the duty of protecting Earth from the Hurricane. The original Zephyr is now called Zephyr-Blue, because Zephyrs of every color have been built. Although Zephyr-Blue is at the top of the lunar org-chart, it has been, since the incident, unmanned.
Enormous humanoid robots bounded across the lunar surface, training. Each Zephyr was a solid color, and the only colors unaccounted for among them probably belonged to Zephyrs repelling the Hurricane at the galaxy’s rim. Some Zephyrs jumped on muscular legs, some bounced on puffs of steam from legless hips. Some had two arms, some four, some more. Each limb, chest, and head held the silhouettes of its crew: pilots, co-pilots, technicians, mechanics, and medical-personnel.
Sometimes a Zephyr would collapse into body-parts so the crew could practice recombining under their Commander’s direction from the head, the Alpha-unit. Sometimes two Zephyrs would merge into a humanoid but multicolored mass of limbs so the crews could practice staggering together until they rolled into a crater and broke apart. Sometimes a small Zephyr would leap into a larger one and wear it like a suit of armor or matryoshka doll, demanding absolute coordination of everyone involved. Even if such procedures were rarely called for in the fight against the Hurricane, combining their robots gave the crews an indispensable sense of camaraderie.
The largest robot was Zephyr-Purple, so grand in scale that its individual fingertips had crews of five, six in the thumbs. Zephyr-Purple was carrying its detached head like a lantern so the crew could practice without their Commander, Lucille.
Lucille, daughter of the late Lucia and Bunjiro, saluted at strict attention. Her purple bodysuit complemented short, fiery hair and unsettling red eyes. As the product of forbidden lunar love, she was smallish, with slender arms and legs. Her size only made her intimidating presence feel daunting and well-earned.
She stood opposite two middle-aged men seated at a desk: Dakshi, in his green bodysuit and sitting in a green wheelchair, shuffled papers graded in red pen, while Charlie, in his yellow bodysuit, chewed a lit cockroach. The roach sat in a divot in his lips left by a scar stretching from his right temple to below his iron jaw. The scar took his right eye, covered by an amber eye-patch. “At ease, Zephyr Lucille.”
Lucille widened her stance and folded her arms behind her back. “Jya! What’s the verdict?”
Dakshi grimaced and groomed his crew-cut. The many medals on his chest were arranged like an impeccable orchard. “In the presence of superiors you should speak only when spoken to, young Zephyr.”
“Be patient with him, Zephyr Lucille.” Charlie grinned around his roach. His golden haircut was charismatically tousled. “He’s enjoying his last moments outranking you.” Lucille smiled impishly and put her hands on her hips. Her heart felt bigger than the moon-base she would soon command.
Dakshi sighed. He rolled his wheelchair forward to pass her the paperwork. “You scored one hundred percent on your aptitude-test for the position—for the first time since your late father, Commander Bunjiro—and one hundred percent on your oral exam regarding lunar procedures and history—for the first time since your late mother, Princess Lucia.”
Lucille splayed the papers across the desk to review her scores. Charlie judged her smile to be deservedly proud but tempered by discipline. She passed the papers back to Dakshi. “Were you close, sir?”
Dakshi bit his tongue in hesitation. “I’ve always told you Commander Bunjiro and I were like brothers. I only knew your mother for a few months, but her conviction in her duty to protect humanity made an indelible impression on me.”
Charlie chuckled. “She meant, were you close to perfect scores.” Lucille allowed her smile a slyer slant. Dakshi blushed and filed her exams in his desk drawers. Charlie blew smoke into a ventilation duct and tapped ash from his roach. “Anyway, Zephyr Lucille! Having adopted and raised you, Zephyr Dakshi and I never needed exam-scores to know you’re the real deal.” Dakshi pretended not to hear this. He’d promised Lucille before the interview to treat her like any other Zephyr. “You’ve been vital to this moon-base since you were old enough to stand.”
Lucille let herself chuckle with Charlie, just a little. As a bored child stuck aboard the moon-base, Charlie and Dakshi kept her busy by assigning odd-jobs. Her first, as a toddler, was waving hello to new crew-members arriving on the moon, usually aged seventeen to twenty, and waving goodbye to retiring ones leaving, usually aged forty to fifty. It was fun until she was old enough to realize not all the crew-members she welcomed would survive long enough to retire. That inspired her to become the youngest mechanic ever, at the age of thirteen, and the youngest pilot, too, two years later. Presently, at nineteen, she had the experience of an old-hand at the age of a rookie.
“Besides perfect exams,” said Dakshi, “you’ve been unanimously praised for leadership in the field. When you commanded Zephyr-Purple in repelling a swarm of sun-sized Hurricane Planets, the crews of the purple arms, legs, and chest came to us to commend you. Zephyr-Alpha-Blue hasn’t had a pilot since your father’s death, and its significance demands a pilot with matching reputation. You would command the full lunar crew of ten thousand, including the right and left arms of the moon-base—that is to say, Zephyr Charlie in Zephyr-Alpha-Yellow, me in Zephyr-Alpha-Green, and every robot under our command. Tell me, Zephyr Lucille: at less than half our age, why should you outrank us?”
From Dakshi’s concerned brow, Lucille detected this question was a genuine one, not meant to dismiss her. She tried to appear just as grave herself. “I won’t waste your time reminding you I’ve probably spent longer on the moon than both of you combined,” she said. “When you’re not on active-duty here, you’re on Earth for physiotherapy so you don’t end up stuck here like me. I don’t get to visit home like you do—this moon-base is my home, and I’m always on active-duty. What’s really important is most of the Zephyrs are under twenty-five, and the youngest of us are skeptical of anyone much older than that—especially you two, having had no Commander yourselves for as long as I’ve been alive. They’d sooner listen to me at nineteen than you at forty-five. That makes me the best of both worlds: I have your old-timer’s bureaucratic experience, but the younger generation is on my side.”
Dakshi wrote down every word of her answer in green pen. “Besides age, to what do you attribute their loyalty to you?”
Lucille’s expression remained absolutely serious. “I shout loudest.”
Dakshi was speechless. Charlie cracked up. “You’re really something!”
“Could you explain?” asked Dakshi.
“The Alpha-pilot has gotta shout loudest. If you want to throw a punch,” said Lucille, with a slo-mo hay-maker, “your arms and legs need to know. A good shout unifies the Zephyrs in action.”
“And about your shouting.” Dakshi opened a drawer and rifled through transcripts. “You lapse into Japanese under pressure. Not all the Zephyrs speak Japanese. When you directed the mid-battle merger of Z-Purple, Orange, Red, Black, and Yellow, you shouted—” He inspected a transcript he’d dog-eared. “—‘Ore o dare da to omotte yagaru.’ “
Charlie laughed. ” ‘Who the hell do you think I am?’ ” he translated. “That was classic!”
“A good shout unifies the Zephyrs in action,” repeated Lucille. “It doesn’t have to be a command, or even comprehensible. It just has to pump all hearts to one beat. As acting Commander of Z-PORKY, its crew of hundreds locked step with my voice. Our Super Heart Beam blasted the Hurricane to bits.”
Charlie smiled around his roach. Dakshi tried not to look impressed. “You shout ore,” said Dakshi. “That’s a masculine pronoun. Why not shout the gender-neutral watashi, or the feminine atashi?“
“Mid-combat? I’m punching planets to powder, sir. I ain’t gonna curtsy.”
“Point taken.” Dakshi poured molten green wax onto Lucille’s certificate of promotion and pressed it with his seal of approval. “With Zephyr Charlie’s ratification, I see fit to promote you to the pilot of Zephyr-Alpha-Blue and first-ever Lunar Commander.”
Charlie snuffed his cockroach and took the certificate. “Follow me, Zephyr Lucille. There’s one last thing you need to see.”