(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Lucille leaned over the railing of her Lunar-Commander’s balcony. Below, in the moon-base’s main mess-hall, thousands of her crew ate breakfast. Zephyrs were organized into teams by the solid color of their bodysuits, matching the solid color of their giant space-robots. There were so many colors even Lucille had trouble keeping track of them, and each color came in shades to distinguish the wearer’s role. The pilots wore bright, bold colors. Co-pilots wore pastels. Mechanics wore darks. Technicians wore desaturated jumpsuits. Medical-personnel, not assigned to any particular robot, wore exclusively pink. It was traditional, but not required, to dye one’s hair to match one’s bodysuit.
Lucille didn’t even bother collecting her blue bodysuit when she was promoted to pilot of Zephyr-Alpha-Blue. Her mother Lucia had worn blue, but her father Bunjiro had worn red, so purple felt fitting, and as Lunar Commander, no one could tell her otherwise. She looked good in purple. Charlie looked good in yellow. Dakshi looked good in green.
Charlie sat at the table behind her. Dakshi rolled beside him in his wheelchair. “You requested us, Commander Lucille?”
“I’ve considered Professor Akayama’s video-confession.” Her adopted parents were taller than her, twice her age, and twice her weight, so Lucille conveyed authority by standing straight and broadening her shoulders. Dakshi valued the lunar-base’s rules and regulations, and Charlie tried to pretend to, too, so Lucille knew they needed this no-nonsense approach from her. In their presence, she wouldn’t even skip honorifics—although, now being her subordinates, she could call them Zephyrs rather than Commanders. “The Hurricane is the worst of the worst of the dystopian dictators from before the World-Unification, all merged into one. How terrifying! Zephyr Charlie, Zephyr Dakshi, you’re more in-touch with Earth than I am, and you’ve had twenty years to consider it. How would people handle this insight?”
Charlie and Dakshi looked to each other, unsure. Neither wanted to answer first, but finally Charlie broke the silence. “We’ve talked about it with Global Parliament. There are lots of different impressions, which is why we’ve kept the video classified.”
“I think Earth’s people would be devastated to know,” said Dakshi. “The warring micro-nations and mega-corporations we thought we’d subdued with the World-Unification are more dominating than ever in the form of the Hurricane. Their wars are yet ongoing, and we have no hope of winning.”
“I think Earth’s people would feel empowered,” said Charlie. “Look how far we’ve come. The Zephyrs versus the Hurricane is humanity united against its own faults! Isn’t that the only war worth fighting, win or lose?”
Lucille nodded in deep thought. She’d only asked to show she valued their input, but she was genuinely glad to hear their opposing views, justifying her own uncertainty. “I can see it both ways. Luckily, nothing in the video changes our situation. We’re still protecting the galaxy from the Hurricane. We’ll reveal its origin if and when it becomes relevant, or after the Hurricane is neutralized.”
“Neutralized?” Charlie squinted, which shifted his eye-patch. “The whole thing? The cosmic horror that ate the universe?”
“Aim high, that’s what I say!” Lucille pointed skyward. “Professor Akayama died transmitting a virus to a Hurricane Planet. Did it do anything? Did you check?”
Charlie and Dakshi hung their heads. “We never considered it,” said Dakshi. “We obviously had other concerns at the time.”
“She gave her life to show us how it’s done,” said Lucille. “You two, wrangle the technicians and cook up a virus. Lacking Akayama’s suicidal guilt, we’ll try infecting the Hurricane with unmanned vessels.”
“Yes, Commander.” Dakshi gripped his wheelchair, preparing to leave. “Oh, by the way. I’d like you to speak with Zephyr Eisu and Zephyr Fumiko, Commanders of Zephyr-Red and Zephyr-Yellow. I admire them as the heads of our lunar-base’s legs, but I saw them smoking a cockroach after training yesterday. They’re two years underage.”
“Send them up.” As soon as Charlie wheeled Dakshi aboard the elevator down, Lucille retrieved her breakfast from under the table: a plastic-wrapped sandwich she’d nicked from the kitchens. She unwrapped it while watching thousands of her crew finish breakfast below her balcony. A tomato-slice slipped from her sandwich. She caught it mid-air before it fell into the mess-hall. She’d have to learn to eat at altitude.
The elevator opened for twin siblings Eisu and Fumiko in red and orange uniforms respectively. Eisu was a little shorter, with a bowl-cut. Fumiko was a little taller, with bangs. “You requested us, Commander?”
“Just call me Lucille!” Lucille had trained with the twins since they’d arrived almost two years ago. Their friendship was one reason Lucille was such an effective Commander of Zephyr-Purple, able to unite the lunar-base’s older arms and younger legs. Around these younger Zephyrs she adopted a different attitude, displaying camaraderie despite her lofty new position. “No need for honorifics when it’s just us, right? At ease! Please, sit.” The twins sat with military poise. Her promotion to Lunar Commander was obviously intimidating. Trying to relax them, Lucille reclined in her chair and put her feet on the table. She ate the tomato-slice and wiped seeds from her cheek. “I don’t want you to treat me any differently now that I hold the highest rank on the moon, understand?” Eisu and Fumiko nodded, hands folded courteously. “How’s your family on Earth?”
Eisu held his breath. “They’re doing well, Comma—erm, Lucille.”
“Very well, Lucille.” Fumiko tightened her posture.
Lucille sighed, finishing her sandwich. “Glad to hear it.” This wasn’t working. There hadn’t been a Lunar Commander in twenty years, so meeting the first one was too stressful. To prove she was still their friend, she would brandish the stick they feared and use it to dig up a carrot. She sat straight and set her feet on the floor. “Now, I’ve brought you here for a formal reprimanding. Zephyr Dakshi saw you smoking a roach yesterday. Aren’t you both underage?”
The twins winced. “We’re sorry, Commander,” said Fumiko.
“It won’t happen again,” said Eisu.
“Cockroaches are illegal for anyone under twenty,” lectured Lucille. “You’re eighteen. Heck, I’m only nineteen. So!” Lucille folded her arms and winked. “As Lunar Commander, I order you to smoke a roach with me.” Eisu and Fumiko shared a skeptical glance, so Lucille insisted. “I’ll tell Dakshi I chewed you out.”
Success! The twins’ defences were down. Eisu pulled a roach from a pocket of his red bodysuit. Fumiko produced an orange lighter and raised her eyebrows as if to ask, ‘really?’
“I’ve never smoked before, so you’ll have to teach me,” said Lucille. “We’re too tight-laced on the moon. I can’t bum a roach off anyone legal-age. Did you smuggle that up from Earth?”
“We did,” said Eisu. “Our grandfather was willing to share his with us.”
“Even though grandma told him not to.” Fumiko lit the roach’s head and offered it to Lucille. “Is it true you’ve never been planet-side?”
“Yep, and as the product of forbidden love between space-robot pilots, I never will be. That’s why I score so well on exams—there’s nothing to do up here but study.” Lucille refused the roach to see how they smoked it. Fumiko took delicate puffs and passed the roach to her brother. “I’ve memorized Earth’s laws, but I’ll never understand them. Why can folks our age pilot giant space-robots but not smoke a roach?”
Eisu puffed deeper than his sister and passed the roach to Lucille. Her first puff was a brave one. As she coughed, Eisu explained. “A lot of laws are left over from the World-Unification. Bringing countless warring micro-nations and mega-corporations under one constitution required concessions.”
“Concessions which aren’t totally sensible in hindsight,” said Fumiko. “A government unites very different groups of people. Sort of like this moon-base.”
“Makes sense, I guess,” Lucille said between coughs. She’d inhaled most of the roach in her first impressive puff. She returned the rest for Fumiko to finish off. “Eisu, Fumiko, I’m gathering impressions and I’d like yours, too. What do you think is Earth’s current attitude toward the micro-nations and mega-corporations which dominated Earth before the World-Unification? Positive? Negative?”
Fumiko tapped the last of the roach into Charlie’s ashtray. “Our grandpa says they perpetuated the same dystopian hellscape which spawned them in the first place. Overlapping micro-nations and mega-corporations took turns kidnapping people never to be seen again, and each group denied responsibility by blaming the others. That’s quite a negative impression, I’d say.”
“Our grandmother says things haven’t changed enough since then,” admitted Eisu. “The endless wars have just become arguments in parliament. It looks more civilized, but the outcomes still make or break people’s livelihoods.”
“Well, I guess collecting all the arguments into one room is a step in the right direction.” Lucille leaned over her desk to whisper to the twins. “Now we’re partners in crime, so you can’t just treat me like any old Lunar Commander. You’re not ‘obeying orders’ because I ‘outrank’ you. You’re following my lead because you trust me.”
“Of course!” said Fumiko. “I remember how you led us in the mid-battle merger of Z-Purple, Orange, Red, Black, and Yellow. Z-PORKY was a huge success.”
“I wouldn’t trust anyone else,” said Eisu. “I look up to you like I hope the crew of Z-Red looks up to me.”
“Perfect.” Lucille planted her hands on the table broader than shoulder-width. “I want both your teams running combination and matryoshka drills. Tell the other teams to do the same. I’m gonna get my whole crew of ten thousand on the moon all at once, and in seventy-two hours, we’re combining every Zephyr on the org-chart into one giant space-robot. That’ll be a bonding opportunity!”
Dan paused the anime at the commercial-break. The ad-bumper was a picture of Fumiko in the head-cockpit of Z-Orange.
Dan had always liked Fumiko, and not just because orange was his favorite color. He definitely had a crush on her when he was young enough for a crush on an eighteen-year-old anime-girl to be okay. It must’ve been her bangs, a little like Beatrice’s.
Also, something about Charlie pushing Dakshi’s wheelchair reminded Dan of his friend Jay. Dan flipped through the notepad Jay had left him, full of his notes and sketches from around the world. When Jay took trips abroad to conduct interviews and shoot photos for articles, he dialed Dan for the rundown on local religions. Getting those calls was always the highlight of Dan’s day, sometimes his week or month. Jay leaving him the notepad inspired Dan’s journey to Sheridan in the first place. Which of them had pushed the other’s wheelchair?
Dan resumed the episode.