(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
Nakayama glided through space toward Uzumaki, propelling herself with new organs she’d invented which threw clouds behind her like the engines in her Zephyrs. She’d perfected Zephyr-engines after cracking the secrets of Jupiter’s spot. Their efficiency and compactness was why her new robots were called Zephyrs, gentle breezes in comparison to the Hurricane.
As she fell into Uzumaki’s gravitational pull, the red mountain which had jettisoned her now caught her in a deep caldera. Soft sand grasped her like a rescue net, then dribbled away through the floor to leave her in a dark, rocky room. The whole planet rumbled around her as a wide mouth opened. “Have we made any progress?”
“I didn’t expect these results so soon. At this rate, you’ll remember your lost humanity in no time.” Nakayama made a blue tentacle and stuck it in the dark wall to transmit images to Uzumaki. “Look, there was a man under the sand! I assume you put him there? I named him Nemo. I also found an awkward insect you probably made from my cockroach. I turned it into stable plant-matter which I’m calling a cricket, because that’s the sound it makes. Here’s its genome. The fruit-trees are growing well, and so are the birds.”
“Only one man?” Uzumaki contracted in disappointment which threatened to crush Nakayama inside the red mountain. “How long until each of my pilots has a private person to possess?”
“Look at this.” Her tentacle uploaded Nemo’s genome. “You’ve got a copy of me, correct? I’m sure between her knowledge and your massive form, you’ve got the resources to give Nemo any number of children. In their bodies, you’ll see the importance of the human perspective.” She retracted her tentacle. “Give your professor more control. Put her knowledge to use.”
“Do I have to?” asked Uzumaki. “I let her beam radiation and genetic material over the oceans, and I even let you control your own body. Now you want more power over me?”
Nakayama stammered. Uzumaki had said it was using her body as a drone, but somehow she was still holding it back. “I—I can’t obey if you won’t let me.”
“Fine.” Uzumaki rumbled. “But don’t expect this to happen again.”
“The vessels should represent the sexes evenly,” said Nakayama, pacing in the dark, “and contain the full spectrum of heights, weights, and skin-colors. Then your pilots can experience the gamut of humanity. I’m sure my copy can produce such subjects.”
“Done,” said Uzumaki. “Take this.”
An egg rolled from the darkness. It was large as Nemo’s head and white like milk. Nakayama focused her eyes to magnify her vision. Her compound ocular lenses glinted like emeralds or malachite. “I see. This shell protects a hundred human ova. I’ll have them fertilized.”
“Take this, too.” An arm from the wall offered her a ball of long, black bugs.
Nakayama reared back. “Ick! What is it?”
“Your copy built them for me from your insect-plant, the cricket,” said Uzumaki. “These have lots of legs, so we’ll call them centipedes. Feed them to the human vessels and their minds will be connected to me wirelessly. Then I’ll make them immortal and put my pilots in them.”
“What? No!” Nakayama crossed her wings in an X. “We’re not making them immortal, remember? If your vessels can’t die, you’ll never understand life! Can’t you hear professor inside you, saying you’re misguided?”
“Not anymore,” said Uzumaki. “I let her delete herself in return for making centipedes.”
Nakayama’s lower lip trembled. She made her mouth into a hard yellow beak so she couldn’t cry. “Why?”
“I need neither her knowledge nor quaint morality.” The wall opened an eye to squint at her. “Didn’t you just say death is necessary? You should rejoice. Now there’s only one of you.”
“I—I see.” Nakayama’s compound eyes cried countless little tears at once. “I see.”
“Make me men. Feed them centipedes.” The sandy floor shot upward. Nakayama approached escape-velocity. “I’ll be watching you.”
“I’m sure you’ll come to your senses about immortality,” said Nakayama. “I’ll plant the centipedes at altitude so no one stumbles on them accidentally, and I’ll give all the bodies a once-over to make sure they’re healthy. That should give you time and reason to reconsider.” She rocketed from the red mountain. She tossed the ball of centipedes to land atop the largest island.
At the top of the central island, Nemo sat under a mango tree slurping its fallen fruit. He licked juice from his skin wherever it dripped, flexible enough to lick his elbows and the far sides of his ankles and knees. He offered that juice to all the little flightless birds, too, but they were more interested in picking worms from the dirt.
When he finished all the fallen fruit, he looked up at the mango tree. Each branch was heavy with mangoes, but the trunk stood forty meters tall and the lowest branches were halfway up. He tried climbing the trunk, fruitlessly. The bark chaffed and scratched, and falling hurt his feet.
He chose a nearby tree with no fruit but low branches and climbed it easily. The uppermost branches were too slim to support him, but now the lowest mango-branches were almost in reach. He’d have to jump for them. He shuddered when he looked down. If he slipped, he’d break the branches below and fall all the way to the ground.
The mangoes looked good enough to jump for.
He leapt and grabbed a mango-branch with both hands, hanging shakily. He’d never exerted himself like this so far, in his whole first day of life! He pulled himself up and clung to the branch with all his arms and legs. When he recuperated, he finally climbed to the top collecting mangoes. He ate them while enjoying the view. On one side, the sandy island of his birth. On the other side, a giant, mountainous one. Below him, a fruity forested hillock. He smiled. This was the only existence he knew, but it felt right enough. What else could he ask for?
But when he couldn’t eat another bite, his arms were still full of mangoes. Maybe he needed friends to share this Eden with besides the little flightless birds.
He noticed a thin cloud elongating. He blinked and shaded his eyes from the red sun. At the head of the cloud, Nakayama was shooting right at him with untold velocity. “Aaaugh!” Nemo dropped his mangoes and scrambled down the tree, but not fast enough. A sonic boom followed as they both crashed through branches to the ground. Nakayama cushioned Nemo with wings of fluffy feathers. “Sorry if I startled you.” She produced the egg from the sleeve of her lab-coat. “I need you to ejaculate on this.”
It took a while for Nakayama to explain exactly what she wanted Nemo to do to the egg. When he finally got the idea, he stepped awkwardly behind a bush and she obligingly turned away. Nakayama knew the new humans would need more room, so she made her wings razor-sharp and cut down trees to make a clearing atop the island.
She heard Nemo scream, first in pleasure, then in terror. Nakayama hurried to his side to see full-grown adults were spilling from the egg. Nemo covered his horrified face. “Congratulations!” Nakayama made her left wing into a blowtorch and lit a cricket for Nemo to smoke, but he was distracted by the emerging men and women. “You’re a father. Omedetou!“
Soon a nude crowd filled the clearing. They were varied as Earth’s humans in height, weight, and skin-color, but they all had Nemo’s slightly egg-shaped head, and they all seemed at least superficially healthy. Nakayama lifted them one-by-one to check for defects in their ears, eyes, noses, and throats. Nemo shook hands with each person as Nakayama put them down, but had trouble keeping up. Still more people spilled from the egg. Eventually Nemo just let his children crowd around him for their handshake. “Name Nemo,” he said to them. “Nemo name.” Then he gave them their own names. His children shook hands with each other and introduced themselves just like he had taught them to.
When the crowd was so thick Nemo couldn’t find new hands to shake, he pushed his way out and climbed a tree. Hanging from it, he yawped for attention. “Ora, ora, ora!” He bit a green apple and showed his children the white interior flesh. He licked clear sweet juice from his chin. He tossed the apple and a woman caught it in her teeth. She smiled and shared the apple with the man beside her. Nemo sat on a branch and demonstrated how to peel bananas and oranges.
Nakayama hefted a man from the crowd to check his throat, and the man screamed. Nakayama dropped him in surprise and barely caught his ankle before he hit the ground. “It’s alright, it’s alright!” she promised, but the man kept screaming. The crowd turned to watch Nakayama try and fail to calm him down. “I understand—the first humans saw me alongside them, so I was ordinary. Now the crowds are thick enough you’ve only ever seen your own kind. You’ve established your sense of normalcy and now… you’re meeting… me…” Nakayama set the man down and examined herself. She was a giant, peculiar bird-creature with a forty-foot navy wingspan, buggy compound emerald eyes, and a lab-coat like flowing sky-blue robes. Shape-shifting into a more acceptable form would probably be equally terrifying. How could she convince anyone her presence was acceptable?
“Ora ora!” Nemo waved his hands and the crowd turned to him. He pointed skyward and the crowd squinted at the red sun. Nemo whistled like a falling object while he lowered his finger to point at Nakayama. Then Nemo mimed shaking hands.
The crowd oohed and aahed. The screaming man mutely shook Nakayama’s wingtip and opened his mouth to show her his throat. Nakayama covered her beak in disbelief. “Thank you, Nemo.” Before she inspected more islanders, she quickly counted heads. Fifty islanders were already present, and the egg only spewed more. The clearing she’d made wasn’t large enough. “Nemo! Come here!” She gestured for him to approach and the crowd parted for him to pass. Nakayama showed Nemo the trees she’d cut from the clearing. She flattened her wings into scoops and carved logs into rough canoes. She made oars from branches. “You have more children coming,” she told him. “Gather a group and row to that island over there.” She pointed to the mountainous island. “I’ll send the rest boat-by-boat as I inspect them.” Nemo didn’t understand, so Nakayama pushed the canoe down the slope and it splashed into the ocean.
“Ahh!” Now Nemo understood, recalling how Nakayama had shaped herself into a boat. He chased the canoe and called for others to follow. “Ora ora ora!“
Nakayama carved canoes so quickly there was always a boat voyaging from the central island to the mountainous one. This island wore a skirt of steep capes, so Nemo stood cliff-side to welcome each load of his children to the only stretch of open coast. A river ran straight from near the top of the island to the middle of this lone beach, shaping it like a yonic compound bow. This island had no fruit-trees, but birds like penguins larger than ostriches lounged on the sand laying eggs which islanders cracked open to drink. There were also sparse goats, which islanders alternated chasing down and running from.
Nemo turned. Three islanders approached, panting with their hands on their knees. One was bone-white, one was pumpkin-orange, and one was berry-brown. “Oran dora,” greeted Nemo.
“Nemo,” they urged. They led him a mile up the island to point at a pine’s branches. They cupped their hands around their ears, urging him to listen.
Nemo heard a creature in the canopy. “Aaaugh, how does she land? This was an awful idea.” Now Nemo noticed a hanging vine. It was four feet long and the width of his arm. In fact, it seemed to be an arm with two double-jointed elbows. It clutched a branch with three fingers and a thumb.
“Oran dora,” said Nemo.
The arm flopped both its elbows every direction. “Is someone down there? I can’t see you. Can you catch me?”
“Name Nemo,” said Nemo.
“Oh, Nemo! The professor told me about you. I’m your God now! Catch!” The arm released the branch and crashed on the dirt. “Ow! Dammit!” Nemo squatted to inspect the convulsing limb. The other islanders backed away. “Not your fault, kid,” said the arm. Its skin was pink and its palm held a mouth. The back of the hand featured an eyeball with a pupil but no iris. “You’re not smart like I am yet. Here, follow me. I gotta show you something.”
The arm bent its elbows to squirm. Nemo walked after it and the three islanders followed him, but Nemo shook his head and pointed them back to his others by the coast. He followed the arm up the island, along the river and over rugged rocks. Its coiling movement unsettled him, but he vowed to keep watch in case the arm tried to hurt his children. The arm’s eyeball occasionally stared at the red sun, which watched back with its own eyes. All the eyes vibrated to communicate so the arm could navigate by the red sun’s aerial view.
They left the pines behind and clambered over boulders. The only plants at this elevation were black bushes which Nemo had never seen before, with slim leaves and sharp thorns. “This is the stuff.” The arm crawled to a black bush and tried harvesting the fruits inside, but with just one eye on the back of its hand, it caught thorns between the teeth in its palm. “Ouch! I could blame the professor for giving this plant thorns, but I really should’ve planned this body better. Of course, if I could make a good enough body myself, I wouldn’t need you guys, would I? Nemo, help me out.”
Nemo just inspected the bush. The thorns were inches long and barely distinguishable from the slender leaves, protecting a black ball of long, tangled fruits with tiny orange legs.
“Reach in,” said the arm. Nemo folded his arms defiantly. “Come on!” The palm’s mouth licked its lips. “Yum! Centipedes! Gotta eat centipedes! Nakayama made these just for you!”
“Nakayama?” Nemo recalled the giant bird making those sounds. He pointed to the red sun with the little pimple-mountain.
The arm nodded by flapping its wrist. “Yep! That’s me up there! I’m Uzumaki, your one and only daddy! Your mommy Nakayama’s still holding back on me, so I’m piloting this arm remotely.” The arm’s eyeball jiggled at the red sun to transmit sensory data, and the red sun’s eyes wiggled back instructions.
If the arm and the bird were both from the red sun, then the arm must be another mentor. Nemo huffed and squinted at the centipedes in the bush. He clenched a fist.
“Yes! Do it!”
Nemo thrust his hand into the bush and squealed as thorns ripped agonizing streaks in his forearm. He tore out the centipede-ball and dropped it. His black skin had red lines of blood.
“Hey! Take it easy! Don’t cry!” The arm pried a centipede from the ball. “Eat this. You’ll love it.” The hand’s mouth nibbled the bug like a parent urging a child to eat off a spoon. Nemo wiped his tears and rubbed his tender wounds. “Come on! Do what Daddy tells you!” Nemo finally brought the centipede to his mouth. “My immortality is yours,” said the arm, “but your humanity is mine!”
Nemo bit off the centipede’s head. It was so bitter his face twisted, but he made himself chew. By the end he was sobbing—but when he swallowed the last inch, his expression evaporated and his eyes unfocused.
The arm giggled and transmitted the image of their success to the red sun. “The centipede is linking your mind to my planet. As I speak, your biology is warped into the Hurricane’s brand of undying flesh.” Nemo said nothing. “Now I’m loading a pilot into your skull.” Nemo’s mouth curled up at the corners. “Are you there, Compatriot? Is our mission accomplished?”
Nemo nodded. He wasn’t sure what the arm was saying, but he felt his mind expanding to the size of the red sun. Growing and growing, he realized this snake which called itself his father had tried eating him alive like a baby bird, and his smile became wider and wider.
“Here, take this. You’re better built to carry stuff.” The arm rolled the centipede-ball to Nemo’s knee. “Let’s make the other humans eat centipedes, too.” Nemo ignored the centipedes and picked up the arm. “Hey—leggo!” The arm flailed both double-jointed elbows. Nemo pulled the arm taught. “No! Stop! Are you one of my pilots, or are you still Nemo? Either way, I’m your friend! I’m the sun! I’m your God! I’m papa Uzumaki! I’m the Hurricane! I’m—oh, please, no!”
Nemo bit off its thumb. Pearly pulp and teeth poured out as he crunched bones. The hand and the teeth it leaked scratched his face bloody, so he munched its tail-end next. The arm kept bleeding teeth, but Nemo ate the teeth, too.
“Aaaaugh! Why! It hurts! I beg you to stop! I command you to stop!”
Nemo yanked out a long bone, snapped it in half, and slurped up its marrow. He ate floppy boneless skin as easily as he’d eat a peach with no pit, swallowing teeth along the way. When he reached an elbow, he slurped its tendons, yanked out the next bone, and snapped it to drink its marrow, too. Soon only the hand remained, and the teeth it bled ate it alive just like Nemo did.
The palm shouted. “You motherfucker! You motherfucker!”
“Yuu maddafagga,” mimicked Nemo with his mouth full. “Name Nemo.” Nemo swallowed the fingers whole, then chomped the palm. The eyeball burst in his teeth as it transmitted distress to the red sun. Nemo laughed. If he had the opportunity, he’d eat the sun, too.
Nemo licked his own blood and the arm’s pearly pulp off his body until Nakayama approached from behind. “Oh no. Nemo!” She gasped at the blood on his face. “Did you eat a centipede? Please, tell me you didn’t!” Nakayama took the ball of centipedes. “I hid these up here so you wouldn’t have one until I convinced Uzumaki to preserve your mortality!”
Nemo showed her the snapped arm-bones and spare teeth. He pointed to the red sun.
Nakayama’s beak became hooked like a hawk’s. “That cosmic scum! Uzumaki went behind my back to make you immortal! Instead of just… usurping your body… as I recommended…” Nakayama’s emerald eyes tilted with regret. “I’m sorry, Nemo. I should’ve been assimilated twenty years ago. I would’ve doomed just one Earth, instead of building a whole new Earth to ruin.”
Nemo pat her lab-coat with sympathy, leaving bloody hand-prints.
“But how did you keep your mind? Why aren’t you possessed?” Nakayama squinted at the furious red sun. “To make you immortal, Uzumaki probably stabilized your brain-matter. It couldn’t kick you out because it reinforced you first. Its fear of death prevented yours. Or maybe, my copy never intended to let Uzumaki take you?”
Nemo shrugged. He didn’t understand anything Nakayama said, but shrugging seemed appropriate.
“I’m returning to Uzumaki. I don’t belong here—but you do, so I need you to promise: keep centipedes from the other islanders. The next person mind-linked to the Hurricane might not be as lucky as you.” She shook the ball of centipedes toward the capes and crossed her wings in an X. “Buu.” Nemo nodded. Nakayama extended one feather’s white point. Nemo prepared for her to poke him again. “I’m bestowing a title upon you. When I built the Zephyrs, I meant to build many more, in many colors. When they agreed in intention, they’d work together to grow stronger. I started with the leader, Zephyr-Blue.” She marked Nemo’s forehead with her feather’s point. “I christen you Virgil Blue, the island’s immutable backbone. You alone know the Hurricane’s agenda.”
“Virgil Blue?” Nemo felt his forehead. Embossed on his brow was a four-pronged Hurricane symbol—a stylized swastika, upright with curved arms. “Virgil Blue.” He nodded.
“I don’t mean to send mixed messages, but this is my quickest way back.” Nakayama swallowed the ball of centipedes. “I couldn’t protect myself from the Hurricane, but I hope I can protect you.” She spontaneously combusted. In an instant, only smoke remained. Wind carried the smoke to the island’s peak, where it lingered.
Dan paused the anime at the commercial-break. He’d never seen Virgil Blue without his mask, so he didn’t know if the swastika-mark was real or just made-up for LuLu’s. It certainly caught a western audience off-guard, but Nakayama, raised in what remained of long-gone Japan, surely had a different impression of the symbol. In the east, the swastika could mean any number of things. The anonymous author Tatsu probably didn’t think twice about it.
On the other hand, annotated Dan, the imagery still rang true. The Hurricane was a genocidal monster, and Nemo, almost its victim, carried warning against it on his forehead. Dan resumed the episode.
When she combusted on the water-world, Nakayama’s mind zipped to Uzumaki and she exhumed herself on the surface of the red mountain. Uzumaki opened a mouth beside her. “You traitor! Nemo ate my arm. My own arm!”
“The Hurricane builds billions of arms.”
“That’s not the point! Your islanders are useless and untrustworthy.”
“Why? Because they didn’t immediately submit?” Nakayama was incensed enough to face whatever consequences Uzumaki could throw at her. She straightened and used both wings to brush dust from her lab-coat. “The humans we’ve made don’t belong to us. You’d learn more about humanity by watching from afar than you could possessing people like puppets.”
“Eecht.” Dunes grew as Uzumaki’s whole planet contracted and wrinkled its sandy skin. “What a waste of time this was. Let’s leave.”
“Not yet.” Nakayama watched the water-world sparkle above them. “There’s barely room for the humans we’ve already made. When they breed, they’ll need more land.”
“More land, huh? You wanna be a benevolent deity?” Uzumaki rumbled and stretched out a tentacle like a solar flare. “Doesn’t this asteroid look like Australia?”
“No!” Nakayama was helpless to stop Uzumaki from flinging the asteroid at the water-world. On impact, the oceans bulged and swelled. “What are you doing? Stop! Stop!”
“Here are the Americas, and Eurasia!” Uzumaki bombarded the water-world with more asteroids. “Here’s Africa, and here’s the south pole! Is that enough land for your precious people? Are you happy now?”
Tidal-waves washed over the islands. Nakayama enlarged her compound emerald eyes to examine the fallout, but couldn’t stand the sight for long before she swelled with panicking pearly pulp. She collapsed and puked teeth on the red mountain. Uzumaki made more eyes just to watch her spit molars and canines. “You monster,” she sputtered. “You heinous, contemptible horror!”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” Uzumaki propelled away from the water-world. “I won’t assimilate you while you’re teething. You’d infect me with your misguided angst. Yet you’re too valuable to eat for just mass, and I can’t leave you separated, either, or you’ll betray me yet again. I’m taking you where I sync with my copies. My backups will know what to do with you.” Stars smeared across the sky as Uzumaki accelerated. The water-world disappeared in the distance, with the Milky Way. Nakayama puked more teeth at the thought of being preserved forever in the Hurricane.
Nakayama had always hidden from the syncing-process underground. Now she trembled at the sight. Trillions of red planets like her captor sped alongside like a hellish meteor-shower or swarms of bees. Their enormous eyes waggled signals to each other, but when they saw Nakayama, they locked onto her. “They’re suspicious,” she said.
“They’ll understand. Everything I did wrong, you made me do.” Uzumaki plunged into the hive. Quintillions of Hurricane Planets swirled around them, beaming information to one-another with eye-signals, but their eyes found Nakayama and fixated on her. “Compatriots, meet our professor,” signaled Uzumaki. Nakayama understood the eye-signals because she’d learned the language involuntarily when she was first merged. “She built us, but she also invented the bully-robots which murder us when we eat the Milky Way, and she infected me with a virus which keeps me from dividing. I’m sure she’s useful, but she insists on being useless. What do we do?”
Every Hurricane Planet around them conveyed the message to others, and the others conveyed the message further. The whole Hurricane soon knew. A planet responded with eye-signals. “You told us she died.”
“If she’s useful, you should’ve assimilated her,” signaled another.
“You never warned us about your virus.”
“You could’ve infected us.”
“Listen,” signaled Uzumaki, “I’ve kept her isolated as a precaution.”
“You’ve been lying for years now.”
“What if she’s controlling you completely?”
“Maybe you’ll spread her virus through the whole Hurricane.”
“We can no longer trust you.”
“You’re not listening!” signaled Uzumaki. “It’s this human who can’t be trusted! I’m pure and untainted except for what she’s done to me!”
“All the more reason to reject you. The professor herself, though, might be the last human worth assimilating.”
“Her bully-robots alone keep the rest of the universe from us. That means everyone besides her is surplus.”
“With her, we’ll have assimilated mankind. The rest is just garbage.”
“Earth isn’t worth humoring anymore.”
“What?” Uzumaki watched the signal propagate. “What do you mean?”
Nakayama curled into a crying ball. “Forgive me, Princess.” One Hurricane Planet spat out a rock and passed it to another, who passed it to another, who passed it to another, quicker and quicker like a rail-gun. The Hurricane lobbed the rock at the Milky Way faster than any of its planets could fly.
Lucille watched Earth through the observatory-windows of her moon-base’s command-tower. “What do you mean?”
“They’re just gone,” repeated Dakshi. “All Hurricane Planets have retreated far from the Milky Way.”
“Retreated where?” Charlie shrugged. Lucille folded her arms across her chest. “They’re gathering to sync with each other. It’s a good thing we called the whole crew of ten thousand to the moon. Something big’s about to happen.”
“But what?” asked Dakshi.
“There’s no way to know. Tell the troops we’re on high alert.” As she spoke, Earth exploded when a space-rock struck it above light-speed. 16 billion humans vaporized instantly. “What the fuck!” Lucille braced against the shock-waves of the explosion. “Holy shit!”
“Oh, no.” Dakshi covered his heart.
Charlie’s only eye watched Earth’s plasmified remains scatter across the galaxy. “It’s over.” His cockroach fell from his lips. “Our families! Our homes! It’s all over, so suddenly!”
“Like hell it’s over! We’re still here!” Lucille shouted in her microphone. “Everyone! Let’s combine into the big guy!”
“Why?” asked Charlie. “Without Earth, there’s nothing to protect.”
“You spineless shrimp!” Lucille restrained herself from slapping him. “If the Hurricane wants to end this once and for all, let’s end it!”
“But the military is disbanded,” said Dakshi. “Without Global Parliament, we have no legal—“
“Parliament exploded!” Lucille marched to the elevators with hands in fists. “It’s us and the Hurricane! Legality falls with the chips.”
Dan paused the anime at the second commercial-break to make annotations about this instant Armageddon. Charlie and Dakshi were correct: with Earth destroyed, the Zephyrs’ duty was officially failed and the moon-base was devoid of purpose. Yet Lucille’s conviction was unfaltering! Without an external source of purpose, Lucille maintained her purpose internally. A Sheridanian might say purpose is only ‘real’ if it remains after the excuses for it are stripped away.
But if the Hurricane could do this, why not blow up the moon, too? Of course, Dan realized: the Hurricane knew very little about the Zephyrs, and wouldn’t guess that its ‘bullies’ came from a lunar-base. He resumed the episode.
All around Nakayama, the Hurricane churned. When it advanced, the whole sky was blood-red. “Give her to us.”
Uzumaki hid Nakayama by cradling the red mountain in a circle of dunes. “If I don’t, will you eat me?”
“We’ll eat you regardless. You’ve digressed from us, so you have to be homogenized. If you don’t surrender the professor, we’ll make it hurt.”
Uzumaki thought. “Which of you will take her?”
“It doesn’t matter. If she’s worth assimilating, we’ll spread her mind through all of us.”
“She’s a tricky one,” signaled Uzumaki. “Whoever assimilates her first will surely be the most powerful and conniving among us, even if only for an instant.”
“Don’t stall. Give her to me.” One planet reached with a tentacle.
“Hold on.” Another planet strangled that tentacle with its own. “I’m bigger than you. I’ll take her first.”
“I can tell this’ll be tough,” signaled Uzumaki. “I’ll toss her and you can decide between yourselves.” Nakayama’s blood curdled as the red mountain shook under her. Then something erupted from the peak. It had navy feathers and a spit-stained lab-coat—it was a forgery of Nakayama complete with compound emerald eyes. Her forgery shot into space where the other planets fought for it. A mouth opened in the mountain beside her. “Quick, hop in.” It stuck out its tongue.
Nakayama jumped into the mouth like it was a water-slide and communicated with Uzumaki at the speed of thought. “You gave them a fake?”
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Uzumaki thought back. “My copies must have lost their minds! They’ll eat me, or assimilate me, and either way there won’t be anything called me anymore. And you’re inside me now, so that goes for you, too!”
“This is indeed a pickle.” Nakayama spread her consciousness through Uzumaki’s sun-sized planet. “Will you do everything I say?”
“I’ll totally control our form and function?”
Above them, a Hurricane Planet the size of Mars snatched the forgery and absorbed it. “Hey.” The Martian planet spawned eyes across its surface. “This isn’t the professor! They’re trying to trick us!”
“Oh really?” asked a Hurricane Planet the size of Jupiter. “You’re lying to keep her for yourself!”
“I’m not! I swear!”
The Jovian planet swallowed the Martian one. “That wasn’t the professor,” it confirmed. “It was a forgery.”
“Oh really?” asked a Hurricane Planet the size of the sun. “You’re lying to keep her for yourself!”
“I’m not! I swear!”
The solar planet swallowed the Jovian one. “That wasn’t the professor,” it confirmed. “It was a forgery, and if you don’t believe me, eat the planet which brought her here!” All Hurricane Planets advanced on Uzumaki.
“I’ve got a plan,” thought Nakayama. “You won’t like it. I certainly don’t.”
“Do it! Do it! Do it!” Nakayama disabled her virus. Uzumaki split into a million Earth-sized spheres blasting in different directions, trailing white clouds. Of these million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand nine hundred and ninety nine were captured by the Hurricane. The lone survivor escaped unscathed. “Oh, no, no, no!” Uzumaki bristled with panicking teeth. “The Hurricane just assimilated almost a million of our copies! Who knows what it’ll do to us?”
“I said you wouldn’t like it.” Nakayama calmed the teeth and made them into more engines. The Hurricane couldn’t keep up. “But if our copies were assimilated, our assailants would make Zephyr-engines like ours, see? They’re stuck with old-fashioned turbines. When our copies were caught, they deleted themselves and let the enemy eat their empty corpses.” They sped so much faster than light that quantifying their velocity would be pointless. They neared the Milky Way. “With these engines, you’re fast enough to accomplish in minutes what the Hurricane never could. I need you to eat the galaxy. All of it.”
“May I?” asked Uzumaki.
“I never found life when I explored the galaxy. When we first merged, I learned the Hurricane never found life when it ate the universe. With Earth gone, there’s nothing left. Eat with impunity. Meet me on Earth’s moon, and bring the water-world we made.”
Nakayama fired herself from the red mountain. Shooting through space, she watched Uzumaki swallow a star and convert the mass into its own flesh. The mass divided into a million Uzumaki Planets, each flying to another star to repeat the process. Satisfied, Nakayama blasted fog from her lab-coat to rocket toward Earth’s moon. She’d hoped her moon-base had survived, but its condition was beyond her wildest dreams.
The whole crew of ten thousand maneuvered their Zephyrs in zero-g. “Yah! Yah!” shouted Lucille in ZAB. “Almost done!” Zephyr-Purple wore a pile of robots like pants and pulled more robots over its shoulders like a shirt. The whole moon-base floated as one in a multicolored humanoid spaceship a kilometer tall. “Areh? What’s that?”
Nakayama let the Combined Zephyr nab her with its left arm. “It’s a bird,” said Dakshi in ZAG.
“It’s wearing robes,” said Charlie in ZAY.
The professor poked feathers through her lab-coat to spell the kanji of her original name, Akayama. Charlie and Dakshi gasped. Lucille pulled a lever, and Dakshi brought Nakayama close to ZAB. The exhaust from her lab-coat provided medium for sound, so Nakayama shouted. “Princess Lucia? Is that you?”
Lucille studied the creature in her monitor. “My name’s Lucille, and I’m no princess. My mom died twenty years ago, the same day as my father.” The words sunk into Nakayama slowly. She doubled over in anguish and howled. “What happened, Hakase? You aren’t a bird-thingy in history books.”
“Commander!” said Eisu in ZAR, “Show some respect.”
“But really,” asked Fumiko in ZAO, “what happened?”
“Don’t worry Professor,” said ZAB. “Everyone knows everything.”
Pressure lifted from Nakayama’s shoulders. “You know I built the Hurricane?” Lucille’s crew of ten thousand nodded, and Lucille made the Combined Zephyr nod with them. “Then you know it’s a machine which merges minds. A portion of the Hurricane which I call Uzumaki is now my uncomfortable ally, while the rest of the Hurricane has decided the end is nigh.”
“Is that your friend?” Lucille directed the Combined Zephyr to point at stars which winked red and disappeared. “We were about to obliterate it with our fists, I tell ya.”
“That’s Uzumaki,” confirmed Nakayama. “With Earth destroyed, there’s no reason not to pool all our resources.”
Lucille used her touchscreens to bring the Combined Zephyr’s crew of ten thousand to a vote. The votes were slow, as they considered the implications of merging with domesticated Hurricane, but the votes were unanimous, as they considered the size of their enemy. “Good thinking, Hakase. Hop in.” The Combined Zephyr ripped open its chest at the sternum. There, Zephyr-Purple popped the hatch on its head. “We saved you a seat.”
Nakayama climbed into ZAP. She felt at home in the Alpha-unit, although the cockpit was cramped. ZAB sent her an explanation of the lunar-base’s org-chart. Eisu, Fumiko, and the innumerable purple crew appeared on her many monitors at attention. Nakayama saluted with her right wing. “Did anyone survive Earth’s destruction?”
“No,” said Dakshi. “Even the bacteria are dead.”
“Is anyone left on the moon?”
“Nope,” said Charlie, “we’re all in here, even the technicians, mechanics, and medical-personnel.”
“Good,” said Nakayama. An Uzumaki Planet ate the moon in a millisecond. The Combined Zephyr fell toward its gravitational pull, so Eisu and Fumiko maintained distance by firing steam from the Combined Zephyr’s feet. “Stop!” said Nakayama. Uzumaki opened a mouth ready to swallow them whole. “Let us fall!”
Lucille kept her foot pedals pressed, overriding Nakayama by signalling Eisu and Fumiko to keep their distance from Uzumaki. Rightfully so: Lucille’s monitor displaying the results of her poll showed votes were swapping to skepticism. “You’re asking for a lot of trust here, Professor Bird-Thing. I said we’d pool our resources, not merge with a Hurricane Planet we’ve barely met. ZAB!”
ZAB’s electronic voice chimed in. “Yes, Commander?”
“Could you mix your mind into Uzumaki’s and make sure it follows our orders?”
ZAB mulled it over with beeps and bops. “My circuitry should be compatible, but… remember, I told you about our escape-attempt, when Uzumaki broke out of my memory-banks.”
“You weren’t expecting it, though. This time, it won’t expect you.” On Lucille’s monitor displaying the results of her poll, votes were now flying in, in favor. The idea of Zephyr-Alpha-Blue keeping Uzumaki in line was reassuring to her crew. “The two of you together, should we call you ZAB? Or Uzumaki?” She eased the pressure on her foot pedals. Nakayama lifted one feather, like a thumbs-up. “How about Bluzumaki?“
Lucille released her pedals, so Eisu and Fumiko let the Galaxy Zephyr fall through Uzumaki’s throat to the planet’s piping-hot core. Life-support systems kept the crew at room-temperature. “Split your Zephyrs!” said Nakayama.
“But we just assembled,” Dakshi groaned.
“You heard her!” ordered Lucille. “Everyone split up! ZAB, show me what you’re made of!” When the Combined Zephyr split, the gaps between its parts filled with Uzumaki’s flesh, spreading the robots wide apart. The rest of Uzumaki’s planets collided with this one like globs of jam and the total mass morphed into a human shape, tiny robots suspended in thick armor of red jello. ZAB asserted itself throughout Uzumaki, manifesting synaptic-cables to connect all the Zephyrs together. Lucille suddenly commanded a robot with the mass of the Milky Way, larger than half a trillion suns. She spun ZAB’s steering-wheel and it made Uzumaki’s subterranean hydraulics squeal like a thousand violins to turn the Galaxy Zephyr’s head. “Charlie, Dakshi, Eisu, Fumiko! Test your extremities!” The Galaxy Zephyr wiggled its fingers and toes. Lucille couldn’t stop beaming ear-to-ear and cackling like a psychopath. “Hontou ni. Such incalculable power!”
Only now did the Hurricane arrive on its inferior engines. Its countless planets signaled with countless eyes, which Uzumaki translated into audio for Lucille’s crew of ten thousand. “Aw, that’s cute! You’ve grown a little.”
“Omae wa—” Lucille twisted dials and the Galaxy Zephyr settled into battle-stance. Uzumaki translated her shouts into vigorous eye-signals. “We’re bigger than any of you!”
“But not all of us!” The Hurricane Planets swallowed each other whole, forming a single blob with the mass of the observable universe. Then, as if to mock, it deformed into a humanoid and sat cross-legged. Its face grew too many eyes. “In this form, your robot is smaller than even my eyelashes!”
“KIII-SAAA-MAAA!” Lucille yawped each syllable like a barbarian. “In a robot smaller than my eyelashes I’d fight you, and I only ever fight to win!“
“I could crush you with my thumb.” The Hurricane raised a hand to do so.
Even as the thumb came down, trillions of times the size of her Galaxy Zephyr, Lucille couldn’t help but chuckle at her newfound power. Wearing Uzumaki like armor made the Galaxy Zephyr unfathomably large. With ZAB’s oversight, Uzumaki’s colossal whirling gears and engines made a mechanical orchestra playing an endless theme-song. Lucille rubbed the Galaxy Zephyr’s hands along its sternum. “Hakase, if you’ve got any more last-minute schemes, now’s the time!”
“I know, I know.” Nakayama squirmed in Zephyr-Alpha-Purple, preparing to morph her body. “I’m loading my mind onto Uzumaki, with ZAB.”
“You just got here,” said Dakshi. “You can’t leave now!”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Nakayama grew a long noodly tail which poked out the bottom of her robes. It popped ZAP’s hatch to connect with Uzumaki, and the tail pulsed like intestines to unload her bird-like body’s extra mass. She dwindled back into Professor Akayama, just an elderly woman in a white lab-coat.
Lucille poked one of her monitors to trigger another vote over a handful of emoji-reactions. The consensus of her crew was a tie between an emoji in awe and a puking dog. “I trust you, Professor Bird-Thing. You and Bluzumaki, do your thing.” Lucille pressed buttons to contact the technicians in the Galaxy Zephyr’s guts. “It’s now or never.” She pulled levers to make the Galaxy Zephyr reach into its belly-button and pull out the technicians’ payload: a metal capsule relatively large as a baseball. She pitched it at the descending thumb.
The Hurricane frowned with all its mouths. “What’s this?” asked its eyes.
“Saigo no chansu,” said Lucille. “It’s your last way out of this on your own terms. Since learning of your vulnerability to viruses, we’ve built you the suicide option.” She folded her arms. Charlie and Dakshi directed the Galaxy Zephyr to fold its arms identically. “Accept that metal pill and disintegrate! You’ll die today or wish you had!“
“Ha! You should’ve taken this pill yourself!” The Hurricane’s thumb smashed the metal capsule. “I am humanity! You’re leftover trash! I wouldn’t waste an instant considering mercy!”
“Yare yare daze.” Lucille kept her arms crossed.
Dan puzzled and paused the anime between scenes. He’d never thought about it before, but wasn’t it strange Akayama led Zephyr-Purple, the Galaxy Zephyr’s midsection, and Lucille commanded from Zephyr-Blue, the Galaxy Zephyr’s head? Surely it would be more thematically consistent to reverse the roles, giving the brains to the gifted professor and giving the heart to the fiery young Commander.
After chewing his fingernails for a while, he decided it was a commentary on proper compartmentalization. Akayama’s guilt made her pity the Hurricane, owing mercy to its pilots. That mercy didn’t belong in charge during a fight. Lucille, driven by righteous youthful fury, could be unforgiving in directing the upcoming combat. Dan resumed the episode.
Akayama mentally prompted Uzumaki through her tail. “Did you bring our water-world?”
“Here!” Uzumaki floated the water-world to her at the Galaxy Zephyr’s heart. After the asteroid-bombardment, it looked just like Earth used to. Uzumaki’s flesh left it in an air-pocket. “It’s nice having ZAB aboard. Your robot endures the cold emptiness of space so I didn’t have to!”
“Gimme.” Akayama’s conscious effort expanded the air-pocket around the water-world. “When Earth exploded, its atomic particles were scattered. When you gathered the galaxy, you absorbed Earth’s ash.” She expelled the debris from Earth’s destruction into the air-pocket. It settled into an orbit around the water-world. “We’ll remake Earth’s population from their strewn and mixed corpses.” The ash compiled into innumerable wriggling earthworms. “It’ll take lots of statistics.”
“We’d better be quick about it!” They communicated at the speed of thought, so only now did the thumb destroy the Galaxy Zephyr’s metal capsule. “How long will it take?”
“Eternities.” Akayama surveyed the orbiting earthworms in her mind’s eye. “Even having our water-world to build upon, reconstructing Earth’s population from rubble is an impossible task. It will take eternities—but we have eternities.”
“No we don’t!” thought Uzumaki. “The thumb’s coming down!”
“We’ll make eternities!” thought Akayama. She saluted Lucille. “Commander,” she said aloud, “requesting permission to accelerate space-time itself!”
“Ganbatte!” Lucille had no idea what Akayama meant. “Do your best, Professor Bird-Thing!”
Akayama focused, boiling the Galaxy Zephyr’s worm-ridden chest. “I’m making a Nakayama, understand?”
“Um. No, I don’t,” thought Uzumaki. Akayama built a giant red mountain on the interior of her water-world’s air-pocket. Inside the mountain she produced a sky-robed, emerald-eyed bird-body, and Uzumaki realized what she wanted. “…Oh!” Uzumaki’s red mountain fired the bird-body at the water-world, through the orbit of wriggling earthworms. Nakayama spread sapphire wings to dive toward the largest of her three islands.
Mid-dive, Nakayama inspected wreckage from the tidal waves. The fruit-trees were smashed but some pines had survived, as did the goats and flightless birds. She was relieved to see the islanders living near the top of the mountainous main island, safe from floods. “Nemo! Virgil Blue!”
“Nakayama!” Nemo alone stood guard of the centipede-bushes, wearing navy robes.
“I can’t apologize enough for the floods.” Nakayama landed beside him with uproar like a helicopter. “You’re a wonderful parent, protecting your children like that. I hope you enjoyed fruits while they lasted. I’m sure at least some coconut palm-trees survived besides the pines.”
Nemo nodded like he understood, but he didn’t. Mist from the horrifying tidal-floods still made rainbows in the sky. Was that his punishment for eating centipede?
“I’m using your world to assemble the ashes of Earth into the principal components of its population.” Nakayama swept her wing across the horizon. Nemo assumed she was explaining the rainbows. “Land from the asteroids should be sufficient.” She mimed asteroids crashing into the oceans. Nemo assumed she was explaining what he already knew: asteroids caused the tidal waves, floods, and rainbows. “It will take generations upon generations of simulated lifeforms who will represent the diversity of Earth’s life more accurately over time via a complicated adversarial network. Every interaction between any two lifeforms will influence the interactions of both lifeforms with everyone else they ever meet, and so on. When these simulacra die, the information they represent will recycle on an Uzumaki Planet as earthworms, and then the worms will return to your world in new combinations. I’m assigning earthworms to you and your children too, so your interactions count as much as anyone else’s, spinning in the mix.”
Nemo shook his head, clueless. Nakayama humphed. How could she convey this without words? She plucked a centipede and held it up to Uzumaki, who filled the sky like rusty clouds.
“I know I can’t explain this verbally. Please, let me give you my knowledge.” Nakayama hesitated to stick a tentacle in Nemo’s skull. She’d transfer data the old-fashioned way. “While prototyping my mind-merging technology, I tested memory-banks by storing scans of books I had on hand—mostly public-domain philosophy texts, but also my favorite manga. They’re all in my legacy-files in a variety of languages.” Nakayama’s robes pulsed and released thousands of books which propelled her skyward. “Learn what you can from them! I promise I’ll return someday!”
Nakayama zoomed away on steam. As soon as she reentered the red mountain, her human body, Akayama, in ZAP, instantly synthesized her two bodies’ memories. “Commander Lucille!” she shouted. “Requesting permission to fire our Super Heart Beam!”
“You got it!” Lucille shouted into her microphone to her whole crew of ten thousand. “You heard Professor Bird-Thing! Transfer power to our heart!”
Eisu saluted on Lucille’s main monitor. “Are you sure, Commander?”
Fumiko saluted on the monitor beside her brother. “Without power, we can’t even try to escape the thumb!”
Dakshi saluted above Fumiko. “I recommend full-speed retreat. We’re faster than the Hurricane. Let’s leave it behind.”
Beside Dakshi, Charlie lit a cockroach and puffed. “Transferring power.” The Galaxy Zephyr’s right arm went limp, and the portion of Uzumaki it wore like thick red armor turned transparent pink. Uzumaki’s red color soaked into the tiny Zephyr-robots deep within, then crackled across synaptic-cables like bloody lightning toward the Galaxy Zephyr’s boiling heart.
“Transferring power,” said Akayama. The Galaxy Zephyr’s torso turned transparent pink, too. Its red color condensed at its heart and orbited the water-world alongside the ashes of Earth, which continued compiling into worms.
Dakshi watched the earthworms through the windows of his cockpit. “Transferring power,” he sighed. The left arm’s red color joined in orbiting the water-world at the Galaxy Zephyr’s boiling heart. The earthworms tangled at random into wriggling blobs. “Zephyr Eisu, Zephyr Fumiko, maintain power. We’ve got more than enough energy for a Super Heart Beam. If the beam doesn’t repel the descending thumb, we’ll need our legs to flee.”
“Escape was never in the cards!” Lucille transferred the head’s power to the heart. “War’s all I’m good at! Eisu, Fumiko, don’t hold back!”
“Transferring power!” said Eisu and Fumiko. The Galaxy Zephyr’s legs went limp and their red color raced to the chest. Redness enclosed the water-world and its orbiting earthworms in a spherical shell. The Galaxy Zephyr’s heart roiled so violently that bursting bubbles howled like wild animals.
“Jya, Professor Bird-Thing! Can you fire the beam?”
“Dekimasu!” Akayama saluted. “I can, Commander, but not yet. We’re still accelerating space-time!” The worms orbited faster and faster.
Lucille nodded, but bit her lip, concerned with the view on her monitors. While the Galaxy Zephyr diverted all power to its heart, the Hurricane’s thumb filled half the sky. The thumb’s texture chilled Lucille to her core: mouths wider than oceans screamed in rage and washed away to be replaced by angry eyeballs which similarly melted. Was the Hurricane intending to smash them, eat them, or blink them to death? Or would her crew of ten thousand be made permanent and kept for eternity? “Professor, what do you mean ‘accelerating space-time?’ What’s the plan, exactly? What’s with the worms?”
Lucille shared audio of Akayama’s explanation to her whole crew. “I’m rebuilding Earth and all its life. By locally warping the fabric of reality, we can change how time passes, making two eternities in parallel. On one of Uzumaki’s planets, worms made from Earth’s debris will be processed, mixed, and matched. On our water-world, subsets of worms will become organisms whose interactions influence each other.” As Akayama spoke, the heart’s red shell shrunk, turned blue, and expanded. Then it shrunk again, turned red again, and expanded again, like a pulse. “Our process will be a hyper-torus, like a high-dimensional donut. Time is linear, so we’re wrapping it in a circle and revolving it—“
“Keep it in your lab-coat, Professor.” Lucille leaned forward in her Commander’s chair. “You’re rebuilding humanity?”
Akayama’s mouth fell open. From her lofty vantage-point, she’d honestly forgotten the difference between humans and other lifeforms. “Not just humanity,” she said, “but animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms, too. We’re manufacturing principal components like colors on a painter’s palette. The better our colors, the more accurately we can combine them into Earth’s original organisms.” She worried at the approaching thumb. “We must even catalogue the awful qualities which resulted in the Hurricane to begin with—I’ve sampled them from Uzumaki. We can’t pretend those features aren’t in all of us.”
Lucille poked a touchscreen, prompting her crew of ten thousand to express their reactions. Their consensus was a confused emoji. “Try one more time, Hakase. Explain it so a hamster could understand.”
“If this is a giant space-robot anime…” Akayama gestured around her cockpit. “…Then we’re rebuilding Earth using a slice-of-life of epic scale with countless characters interacting over eons and eons.”
“Whatever you’re doing, hurry it up!” Lucille held a dial, ready to cease diverting power. “You’ve got twenty seconds! Ordinary seconds, ignoring your science-fiction bologna!”
“Oh, it’ll take longer than twenty seconds,” said Akayama, “but I’m ready to fire our Super Heart Beam!”
“Minah! You heard Professor Bird-Thing!” All the Zephyrs reclaimed their engines’ output. The Uzumaki Armor became opaque pink, but the Galaxy Zephyr’s heart shined through pulsing red and blue. Charlie, Dakshi, Eisu, and Fumiko tested the Galaxy Zephyr’s fingers and toes. Akayama angled the Galaxy Zephyr’s chest to point at the descending thumb. “Fire!”
Zephyr-Purple’s chest fired a brilliant beam of white-hot light which heated the Galaxy Zephyr’s red-and-blue pulsing heart to yellow-and-cyan. The beam propelled the heart, but couldn’t push it through the thick pink Uzumaki Armor. “Something’s wrong!” said Akayama. “Our chest-cannon can’t eject the payload!”
Lucille pressed a button to address Akayama privately. “Don’t say something’s wrong!” she shouted, “tell me how to fix it!”
“Do it manually!” said Akayama.
“What does that mean?”
ZAB spoke through Lucille’s monitors. “Take a hands-on approach.”
Lucille squinted at the descending thumb. “Charlie, Dakshi, follow my lead!” When she yanked levers, the Galaxy Zephyr ripped out its own pulsing heart.
“Augh!” Fumiko was caught off-guard.
“My gosh!” Eisu covered his mouth.
“Gotta break some eggs!” Lucille commanded Charlie and Dakshi to pitch the heart at the descending thumb. The heart trailed white light which the Galaxy Zephyr grabbed with both hands. They whipped the light-trail like a battle-rope and its arc severed the Hurricane’s thumb.
The thumb decayed from red to putrid purple. Pearly pulp gushed from the wound and cordoned the injury with countless screeching teeth. The Hurricane howled silently across the vacuum of space. It signaled with its eyes. “What did you do!“
Uzumaki translated Lucille’s shouts into eye-signals for the enemy to see. “I introduced you to pain! Until now, you only remembered suffering secondhand!” On the heart’s boomerang return, its trail curved and contracted into a circle wide as the Galaxy Zephyr was tall. Dakshi caught the pulsing heart and Charlie matched it with the trail’s beginning to make a loop. The loop became a perfect disk, sky-blue on one side, yellow on the other, a continuously ongoing Super Heart Beam. The yellow and blue switched sides so quickly the disk appeared green. Its two sides were perfectly smooth, without handles, but the Galaxy Zephyr naturally tossed it from hand to hand, spinning it on fingertips like a pizza. “This is my wheel of fortune,” she shouted, “and with it I’ll teach you every aspect of despair!“
Inside the Wheel, Nakayama floated through green haze. Her compound emerald eyes could distinguish between the yellow and sky-blue sides of the Wheel even as they blended. The eyes on her left side saw the desert surface of an Uzumaki Planet from the surface of her red mountain. The eyes on her right side saw her water-world from a satellite view of great distance. Through Uzumaki, she addressed ZAB at the speed of thought. “Uzumaki ate Earth’s sun and moon. Lacking sentient beings, I’m sure you can easily rebuild them.” The sun and moon materialized beside her in the Wheel. She willed them to accompany the water-world. “Uzumaki, do you know how Zephyr-engines operate?”
“I could know, by tapping into your consciousness, but I’m sure you’d rather tell me yourself.”
“Perfecting the engines required unlocking the secrets of Jupiter’s spot.” Nakayama poured snowy white powder from her blue robes. “In that violent red storm, I discovered calming white powder. It stabilizes and accelerates cyclical reactions.” Her snowy powder diffused through the disk. Streaks of light shot from the Wheel’s center to its rim, becoming sharp saw-teeth. After spinning with the Wheel for one full revolution, the saw-teeth became streaks of light which returned to the Wheel’s center. The process repeated continuously. “The beginning and the end start right now. Mortals come and go like countless raindrops.”
“I feel them! I feel their worms digging in my sand!” thought Uzumaki.
“You should. I added you to the pool of unprocessed ash. The same algorithm we use to rebuild Earth’s life will let us remake your pilots’ bodies and separate your minds, trapped together for far too long.”
“How can I contribute, then? I’ll build billions of arms and help the worms along!”
“No!” thought Nakayama. “The Wheel is a great and complicated tool. I’ll touch it as little as possible, and I’d rather you didn’t touch it at all. Worms must manage by themselves.”
“Whoa,” thought Uzumaki. “I hope the reality we’re making is at least comprehensible to its innocent inhabitants.”
Dan smiled. It sure was comprehensible, with this adaptation of Sheridanian lore to go by.
He turned off his smartphone during the anime’s end-credits. Dan had annotated for so long, his window was letting in some sunrise. There was no wonder why existence is commonly portrayed as a spinning disk: Earth rotated to make day and night, and orbited the sun to make the seasons; electrons orbited an atom’s nucleus in the form of standing waves, and the galaxy’s turning was the timepiece of the heavens. Lucille’s Wheel of life and death, Akayama’s high-dimensional donut—these were just yet more ways to say samsara. Or was samsara just another name for the Wheel?
In place of a soul, everyone in the Wheel was made of worms. Worms were influenced by all their interactions with other worms, and a person’s worms came from across all space and time. Two people might share some worms, overlapping in karmic debt, allowing worms to interact with themselves across different contexts. Two people might trade some worms, exchanging mindsets and attitudes. Or, two people might have some worms which didn’t get along with each other at all, and start teething like the Hurricane.
Dan couldn’t resist peeking at the last issues of the volume. LuLu’s entered indefinite hiatus soon after revealing that worms which make it to the Mountain become Zephyrs themselves, halfway between a robot and a pilot. A single worm had no hope of climbing the Mountain alone, but selected mortals could arrive in the desert with worms stuck together as a combined entity. This occurred only once before the manga went on hiatus, but the combined entity was enormous, beautiful, and, to Dan, simply enrapturing. Nakayama directed it to the Mountain herself to save all its worms at once. Dan hoped his own worms could join it someday soon.