(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
“Great work, Eisu! Keep it up, Fumiko!” Lucille stood at the observatory-window of her moon-base’s tallest command-tower with her hands on her hips. Outside, two enormous legs hopped toward each other across the dusty lunar surface. Each leg was 500 meters tall and each muscle-group was a different color, like an anatomical diagram. Squinting, Lucille saw each color was made of robotic limbs and torsos guided by accompanying heads. Five thousand crew-members approximated human gait to guide the giant legs together. “Now!” The thighs conjoined along the groin.
In the command-tower, Charlie ashed his cockroach. “We’ve never combined so many robots at once, Commander. I’ll admit, I’m impressed.”
Dakshi sighed and wheeled back from the window. “It’s an impressive training-exercise, and running it means no one is repelling the Hurricane today. The Combined Zephyr is just a way to depict our org-chart, a cute mnemonic to help crew-members find their superiors during a crisis.”
“Zephyr Dakshi, you know my crew-members have no superior.” Lucille spoke into her microphone. “Alright, everyone, keep steady while we put ourselves together!”
“Put… ourselves together?” Dakshi soured. “You mean you’re not stopping at the legs?”
Charlie bit the scar in his lip. “Commander, you haven’t replaced Zephyr-Purple’s head-pilot yet. Z-Purple is the core of our org-chart. You need it to relay your command below hip-level.”
“Let me worry about that!” said Lucille.
“Now, Commander.” Dakshi was diminutive like any good parent. Charlie pushed Dakshi’s wheelchair after Lucille as she marched toward the elevators. “As head-pilot of Z-Green, I’m like your left shoulder. I formally express your intent to every color in the moon-base’s left arm quickly and accurately. Zephyr Charlie, your right shoulder, does the same from the head of Z-Yellow to every color in the moon-base’s right arm. Zephyr Eisu and Zephyr Fumiko are like your hips, but they need to cooperate with your torso, Z-Purple, to convey your intent properly to your legs. Without a pilot in ZAP, the Combined Zephyr will be paraplegic.”
“When ZAP needs a pilot, I’ll be there.” Lucille ushered Charlie and Dakshi into different elevators.
Lucille’s own elevator descended into Zephyr-Blue’s hangar. While other Zephyrs were staffed with pilots, co-pilots, mechanics, technicians, and medical-personnel, Zephyr-Blue was all her own. She’d worked with mechanics to build it a pair of legs to match its arms. She crossed a catwalk to ZAB and climbed into her cockpit. Hundreds of roaring robots launched from surrounding hangars, and when Lucille flipped a switch, Zephyr-Blue joined them flying on columns of steam fired from its feet.
Lucille floated far above the moon between Charlie and Dakshi’s teams in the yellow and green Zephyrs respectively. Descending, hundreds of Zephyrs of various colors maneuvered to build a giant human chest with Charlie and Dakshi at the shoulders. Lucille descended and wrapped her robot’s arms and legs around the muscular neck, and Zephyr-Blue’s whole body contorted to become a crude head. When Dakshi pulled a lever, the combined chest brushed lunar dust with its left arm. “Left arm, check.”
Charlie turned a dial to clench the combined chest’s right hand. “Right arm, check. Where are our abdominals? Where’s Zephyr-Purple?”
“On its way.” Lucille’s largest monitor displayed the view from ZAP. The purple Zephyr bounded over craters to stand between the enormous legs and chest, alone almost tall as the conglomerations. The purple pilots appeared at attention on Lucille’s monitors. “So far, so good. Zephyr Charlie, Zephyr Dakshi, fold our arms!”
The combined chest folded its arms. Zephyr-Purple squatted and gripped the chest’s rib-cage with both hands to heft the chest a kilometer into the sky. Zephyr-Purple raised its arms and the chest fell over it like a T-shirt. This completed the torso, which walked with disproportionately tiny purple legs.
“Eisu, Fumiko! About-face and take a knee.” The combined legs turned their calves and glutes to the torso, and the left knee bent to the lunar dust. The legs wobbled, but the right foot slid to steady them. “Zephyr Charlie, Zephyr Dakshi, help Z-Purple jump on my mark!”
The combined chest knuckle-walked like a gorilla.
They tried to leap into the legs like pants, but only knocked them over. Thousands of robots fell onto the moon. Just before impact, many pilots disengaged their individual robots from their combinations to brace themselves as independent arms and legs.
“Damage report!” shouted Lucille. Zephyr-Blue still had its arms and legs wrapped around the combined chest’s neck, and that combined chest still had most of its right arm, but Lucille was upside-down, suspended by her seat-belts. “Shit.”
“Cut the comms when you cuss,” said Charlie, “it saves Zephyr Dakshi the trouble of writing formal reprimands. Everyone’s fine, Commander. Safety-tech has come a long way.”
“We warned you ZAP needed a pilot!” lambasted Dakshi. “Your feet aren’t hearing you when your hands do!”
“Nah, nah. We’ll just do it in zero-g next time!” Lucille beamed at the camera on her main monitor and made a V for Victory. “Great job, everyone! Hit the showers and take the afternoon off.” Robotic limbs collected into humanoids of solid color and meandered back to base. “Hold on.” A red light blinked on Lucille’s control-panel. “There’s a distress signal. Are we sure no one’s hurt?”
“Commander, look!” said Eisu. All the Zephyrs pointed to the sky. From black space spun a blue shape.
“Is it debris?” asked Fumiko.
Lucille magnified her main monitor. The blue shape had one eye and half a mouth. “Debris doesn’t send distress signals. That’s one of our own.”
“But everyone’s accounted for,” said Dakshi.
“Not everyone.” Lucille gripped her steering-wheel. “Zephyr Charlie, tear off Z-Blue and throw me at the newcomer!”
The combined chest’s right arm tore Zephyr-Blue off its neck and hurled it. Lucille caught the falling object mid-flight and shared its image with her crew. “No way,” said Charlie. “It’s ZAB’s right half! The original right half!”
Lucille eased her descent with steam. She held the half-face eye-to-eye with ZAB. “Prep the repair-bay! Double-time!”
Charlie and Dakshi had the moon-base’s technicians prepare a live-feed so Global Parliament and every Earthly news-station could witness Lucille’s debriefing of ZAB’s lost half. Twenty mechanics repaired the half-face’s exposed circuitry while another twenty mechanics cut ZAB into two. Lucille paced before the three head-halves, hands folded behind her. “You mean Professor Akayama lived on a Hurricane Planet for twenty years?”
“Or so I estimate,” said the original head-half. “I can’t confirm whether she survived the fall back to the planet.”
“How inspirational. Akayama was tricked into building the Hurricane with pure intent, and when dystopian dictators perverted that intent, she tried to save even them. Her struggle to salvage humanity’s most despicable portions is inspiration for us all.” Lucille motioned for the mechanics to fuse ZAB’s original halves back together. Falling sparks illuminated the repair-bay flickering orange. “The moon’s changed since you left. Hurricane Planets invade deeper and more frequently than ever, stealing stars from the edges of the Milky Way. We’ve built hundreds of robots based on Akayama’s designs and expanded the lunar crew to ten thousand. We can combine into a single Zephyr a kilometer tall.”
When the mechanics finished wiring its original halves together, ZAB consolidated the knowledge of both portions. “We’re still not strong enough,” it said. “I know our power and the Hurricane’s. There are far more Hurricane Planets than you know, and their organization is crude but robust.”
“So you know how the Hurricane is organized, huh? Anything we haven’t guessed?”
ZAB hummed in thought like a turbine. “The highest concentration of Hurricane Planets is so far from us that its light won’t arrive in the Milky Way for eons. This is where Hurricane Planets sync with each other, exchanging information and ensuring homogeneity.”
Lucille stroked her chin. “So they’ve got a weak-point?”
“No. I would call this the Hurricane’s strongest point, because it is the densest concentr—“
“But if we destroy it, or, say, infect it with a virus, the Hurricane will chaotically tear itself apart!”
“Perhaps nothing.” Lucille posed for the cameras. “Grit those teeth, humanity! We’ve got our battle-plan.”
Dan paused during the anime’s end-credits and grinned annotating these pages of the manga. The Combined Zephyr itself was humanoid, the Zephyr-robots constituting it were humanoid, and the Zephyr-crews controlling them were humans. Human from bottom to top, a psychedelic mandala!
But earlier in the episode, Nakayama compared her own cells to tiny robots which combined to generate her, and Hurricane Planets were basically amoebas. It was robots from bottom to top, and ‘human’ was just a shape robots could take. The Hurricane’s power was immediate but primitive. The Zephyr’s power was gradual but sophisticated.
Cells were made of molecules, were made of atoms, were made of subatomic particles. Was there a bottom? Was there a top?
Dan was about halfway through the volume. He wondered if he’d finish annotating it by morning. He started the next episode.