(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Uzumaki scanned the skies with eyes wider than Saturn’s rings. It saw a space-rock and thought to itself, “how about that one? It has cool craters.”
“No.” This thought emanated from the red mountain, and had Nakayama’s accent. “Too small. Its core is probably solid throughout and not conducive to complicated life.”
Uzumaki digested the space-rock like a gargantuan amoeba. “How about that one over there?”
“It’s too deep in the Milky Way. We’d attract attention from humans and other Hurricane Planets.” From the red mountain, Nakayama took control of Uzumaki’s eyes and focused on the black distance. Her knowledge of optics had increased their vision’s acuity a hundred-fold. “Maybe one of those.” She generated more engines to drift quicker through space.
A Hurricane Planet’s engines were even less sophisticated than the engines of the original Hurricane spaceship Nakayama had built eighty years ago. The Hurricane’s only tactic was imitating, in massive scale and quantity, the technology and biology it had eaten and decided was worth remembering. She had always assumed the Hurricane’s transmutation of the universe into its own flesh was directed by sinister intelligence. Now she was merged with it and knew she’d only been half right: sinister, certainly; intelligent, not-so-much.
Being partially assimilated took getting used to, but Nakayama had invented mind-merging and knew how it worked, in theory. Uzumaki had a single train of thought which was like a high-speed conversation between all its minds at once. Dissenting opinions from all parties were attacked on every side, so the final result was one tyrannical voice. Memories from a hundred other lifetimes rose to Nakayama as if they were her own, then vanished. She struggled to conceal her own memories, but Uzumaki wandered in her history as it pleased. She hoped building Uzumaki a hundred bodies would really grant its pilots some humanity, because as it was, she felt like her brain was chained to an angry animal.
Speaking of animals, the zoo-animals Uzumaki mentioned were unaccounted for in its shared consciousness. The Hurricane had kept some of their genetics to play with new body-parts, but had discarded the accompanying cognition. No wonder everything about Uzumaki was so crude: it prided itself on discarding everything it considered beneath it. Nevertheless, Nakayama now understood why the Hurricane wanted to try fur, feathers, and scales. No matter how hot a Hurricane Planet felt from outside, inside its mind the vacuum of space cut like a cold razor.
“None of these celestial objects are acceptable,” thought Nakayama. Uzumaki didn’t doubt her because their conjoined subconsciousness made lying impossible. “The Hurricane should regret eating most of the universe. We have nowhere to call our new Earth.”
“No problem.” Uzumaki accelerated into a sparse volume of space on the border of the galaxy. “We’ll build our own using your know-how.” Uzumaki opened enormous organs in its interior. One organ flooded with salt-water, one organ inflated with nitrogen and oxygen, and one organ 3D-printed a lithosphere with an iron core spinning in molten magma. The planet ejected these components so they orbited ninety-million miles away. Gravity pulled the components together with a great fluid splash, resulting in a watery world with a breathable atmosphere.
“I’m confident we can make life here,” thought Nakayama. “You’ll be this world’s sun, providing radiation and genetic material. If you let me go back to my body, I’ll work on this world in person.”
“Okay,” thought Uzumaki, “but even if you’re leaving, you’re not leaving.”
Nakayama managed only an instant of bewilderment before she opened her bird-like body’s eyes and tore away the flesh-mask which connected her to the Hurricane Planet. She sat in darkness on a rock inside the red mountain. She clenched her feathery fists to ensure she really controlled herself.
She heard a voice from the Hurricane Planet. To her surprise, it was not Uzumaki’s voice, but her own. “Did you just copy me?”
“Oh, gosh,” said Nakayama. “This is confusing.”
“Nothing to it,” said Uzumaki, from a mouth it opened in the dark. “I’m still Uzumaki. You’re my drone, Nakayama. It doesn’t matter that the professor is in both vessels.”
Nakayama didn’t appreciate her body being called a vessel. She felt like a computer-file which could be duplicated or deleted. “Send me to the water-world. My first task is generating landmass with sub-aqueous extrusion—that is, I’ll open underwater magma-vents.”
“I don’t need you to tell me what sub-aqueous extrusion is,” said Uzumaki. “I’ve got a copy of you, so I know everything you know.”
“Of course, of course.” Nakayama felt lighter as the floor dropped toward Uzumaki’s core, preparing to slingshot her into space. “What lifeforms are we aiming to generate first? We need organisms with nervous-systems if we want to transfer minds into them.”
“We’ve got the genomes for people, zoo-animals, and most domestic pets.”
Nakayama pat her lab-coat pocket. “I’ve got a cockroach.”
She tossed the roach. The wall opened an artery to catch it. “You also have the genome for earthworms. They were my first animal test-subjects when I developed mind-merging, because they’re segmented and almost radially symmetrical. They’re in the legacy-files alongside the fruit-trees.”
“I’m not putting my pilots into worms.”
“You don’t have to, but I’ve never created life before, so let’s start with worms.” Nakayama felt violent vibrations as the awful acceleration reversed, pressing her against the floor, wings spread-eagle. “We’ll work our way up to humans.”
“You’ve never made life? You’ve lasted almost a century-and-a-half, and you never had kids?”
Nakayama glared at the wall’s mouth. Surely Uzumaki knew this, having wandered her memory. It was asking out of cruelty. “I had three miscarriages, four if I include you.”
“Then you’ll appreciate another chance! Make my vessels invulnerable. I won’t put an aspect of my being into something which might die.”
Nakayama humphed. If the acceleration hadn’t flattened her, she would’ve crossed her wings. “You wanted to reclaim your humanity, remember? Immortality isn’t the human condition.”
“Look into it anyway. You might change your mind.”
“Is that a threat?” Nakayama was fired from the red mountain’s peak and shot through space like a bullet. The red mountain was larger than anything on Earth, but with distance, it looked like a boil.
As she swam the oceans of the watery world, Nakayama wondered if she was alone in her skull. Maybe Uzumaki sanctioned her actions from inside her own brain. If not, the copy of her mind kept aboard Uzumaki was still the perfect hostage. She tried to focus on the task at hand: opening undersea magma-vents to create landmass.
Since Uzumaki had warped her biology, she found herself capable of conscious change at the cellular level. Currently she was thirty meters long and skinny like a snake. For the sake of decency, she’d stretched her lab-coat into long, flowing robes. Her feathers were flattened into scales like an aquatic anaconda. Her elongated arms pried stones off the sea-floor to expose molten magma.
She spent days working underwater before deciding to rest while the magma poured, cooled, and hardened. She became buoyant and floated to the surface. She massaged her gills flush against her neck. Her lungs reopened. She fought for breath.
As horrifying as her situation was, she felt some relief being on an Earth-like planet. The sky was the same light-blue as her long lab-coat. In the west was a faux sunset left by an imposter sun, Uzumaki irradiating the oceans. Nakayama felt its thin chemical rain seeding the seas with genetic material. She wondered how its copy of her mind was faring.
To calm herself, Nakayama melted into an acre of filmy liquid buffeted by waves. When she fell asleep, she found herself dreaming the contents of the Hurricane’s legacy-files—whether from memory or digitally, she was unsure. Most of the files were purely technical, like genome-sequences, but she’d tested the memory-banks with a folder of books from across world-history scanned in perfect detail, including an old manga about giant space-robots she had read as a child. Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo! What an inspiration. Skimming it now, Nakayama was rejuvenated, considering her every cell to be a tiny robot which combined to generate her. On the other hand, Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo‘s antagonist was an alien entity. Humanity had made the Hurricane itself. She had made it. Maybe the manga was a bad influence.
In the morning, she collected in her lab-coat. She filled her sleeves with pseudopods which became arms. She tread water with new legs.
Her magma-vents had spawned three islands almost in a line, like Orion’s belt. The largest island was a perfectly conical mountain with a river straight up and down. The central island was a hill bearing various trees. The smallest island was just a flat, sandy acre. She swam to the closest, the smallest, and shambled ashore like an octopus. The sandy island was barren. Surely nothing could live here.
She heard a chirp. She enlarged her eyeballs to inspect the sand and saw a small hopping insect. She flattened her left arm to scoop it up. “What are you supposed to be?” The insect chirped by shuffling its wings. “You look like a skinny cockroach. How disgusting. Uzumaki must be cutting corners to generate animal-life. I’ll call you a cricket, because that’s the sound you make.” She slipped the insect and sand up her sleeve. From her other sleeve fell fertile soil with the insect planted eyes-down. “I’ve made you a radially-symmetrical plant. Now you’re far more stable.” She ambled about the island planting copies of the cricket. When she needed more soil, she scooped sand into her sleeves and converted it to loam with nuclear processes. This worked until she uncovered a human body. “Augh!”
“Aaaugh!” The nude man hiding in the sand was more afraid than she was. He kicked and clawed and scrambled away. The man had pitch-black skin and a slightly egg-shaped head, with a round jaw and pointed scalp. His bony build would stand just over six feet tall if he weren’t crawling in terror. “Aaaugh!”
“Hey! It’s okay!” Nakayama bounded after him. “I’m here for you! I’m here for you!”
“Aaaugh!” When he was cornered on the coast, the man flipped on his back and raised his arms to protect himself.
“Hold on, hold on.” She frayed her scales back into feathers and molded her arms roughly humanoid. “Um.” She couldn’t recall how many fingers humans were supposed to have. “Show me your hands.” The man recoiled when she took his arm as if to read his palm. “Only five? I have way too many! No wonder you were scared.” She ate her extra fingers like soft cake. “There we go. Shake.” She shook the man’s hand. “Yoroshiku ne. Nakayama dawa. Do you have a name?”
“Name?” repeated the man. His egg-shaped head had wide-set eyes with dark irises. “Name?”
Nakayama recalled the classic texts in the Hurricane’s legacy-files. “To make these islands, I spent days at the bottom of the ocean. Taking this as inspiration, I name you Nemo.”
“Nemo name?” asked Nemo. “Name Nemo?”
“Precisely.” Nakayama pulled Nemo to his feet. “Are you alone?” Nemo didn’t understand, so she combed the island with extra arms poking out from under her elongated lab-coat. “Why did Uzumaki make you after I specifically said we’d work our way up to advanced lifeforms? I can’t imagine what awful things it did to my copy to coerce her to create you.” The island was combed and she found no more men. She collected her arms back under her lab-coat. “This island is too small to house a human comfortably. Let me take you to that larger one with the trees.”
Nakayama folded herself into a boat. Nemo stepped shakily aboard her back, and after she crossed the harsh surf at the speed of sound, he disembarked on the second island panic-breathing. He caught his breath walking uphill through the trees, staring up at their canopies in awe.
“You have food, at least.” Nakayama stretched her whole body to pull fruit from the treetops. Bananas, apples, oranges, pomegranates, and peaches grew side-by-side. She gave their fruits to Nemo. “Not all these trees can survive in this climate. Enjoy them while they last.”
Nemo couldn’t hold all the fruits at once. He bit a banana through its peel. When he saw soft yellow flesh underneath, he understood the nature of the fruit and peeled it. He experimented with each fruit while Nakayama surveyed the island for dangerous species. The only animals she found were tiny flightless birds in a variety of colors.
“…Hey!” She knocked a yellow fledgling out of Nemo’s hands before he ate it alive. “Don’t eat these! These aren’t fruit!” Nemo stared blankly, so she sketched the bird in the sand. “Buu.” She crossed her arms in an X. “Buu.” She swept the bird-sketch away. “Got it?”
Nakayama led him back to the coast to show him Uzumaki, shining like a red sun. The mountain was barely visible, just a little pimple. “That object is where I’m from. It’s your source, as well. I must return there, but I’ll be back for you. Let me sample your DNA.” She speared him in the ribs with the white point of a feather thinner than a syringe’s needle. Nemo shouted, but the feather left no wound. “Stay safe.” With that, her body flattened so wide, tall, and thin that the wind lifted her. Nemo watched her float away like a jellyfish.
Dan paused the anime at the second commercial-break and brushed orange fabric away from his quarters’ window. The night was too dark to see the smaller two Islands of Sheridan from his position on the main mountainous one, but the full-moon’s glittering on the ocean suggested their outlines.
Returning to the manga, Dan annotated between panels with one hand while holding a copy of Genesis with the other. Unlike the Abrahamic deity, the Hurricane built Earth explicitly through the exploitation of science. But there was also sun-worship involved, and an Aztec-style feathered serpent. Sheridan had it all, and the creation-myth was well underway.
Dan considered the source of Nemo’s name. Nemo was Latin for ‘no one,’ as told in the Odyssey, but ‘Captain’ Nemo piloted his submarine 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The captain’s last line before dying in The Mysterious Island: ‘Independence!’ Editing inevitably changed this to ‘God and my country!’ All these texts were available in the bell-tower library, but the captain seemed more applicable than Odysseus.
Specifically referencing Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo was probably just a hidden signature from LuLu’s anonymous author, who published under the pseudonym Tatsu—although, Daitatsu no Kagirinai Hogo was in the bell-tower, too. Virgil Blue had annotated it himself.
Dan resumed the episode.