(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
The year is 2022. Dan’s third volume of LuLu’s had quite a Sheridanian cover: a dark blue bird in light blue robes stood on a red mountain in an endless rusty desert under a mustard-yellow sky.
He paused during the anime’s commercial-break and shook his head in pity for the professor. If Akayama could pull Uzumaki’s consciousness out of the Hurricane Planet and into her Zephyr’s memory-banks, why not take the opportunity to just delete it? Why bring it to the moon to save its pilots, generic dystopian dictators? The moral imperative to salvage them from the fate they chose for themselves, and the process of doing so, was vital to Sheridanian philosophy. Truthfully it was saving one’s own psyche from the inevitable trauma of existing in the first place by becoming one’s own ‘Commander,’ so to speak.
In his last annotations between manga-panels, Dan contrasted LuLu’s with Milton. Paradise had hardly been Lost, because Earth in LuLu’s was problematic out of the box. Combat against the Hurricane, and conversion of Uzumaki, would teach the Zephyrs to better themselves, too. Humanity’s ultimate goal was giving their problematic Earth another chance to start again with one more lesson. That was the goal of LuLu’s, too, and, indeed, any story.
The Hurricane was Hell and Satan both at once, but its creator, Akayama, had the silver tongue. When Uzumaki justified its heinous actions by playing the victim, having its copies ‘murdered’ by ‘bullies,’ Akayama survived by indulging that victim-complex, and used her survival to try undoing the mistakes she’d enabled. But her best efforts weren’t enough to save the Hurricane from itself: Akayama’s transformation into Nakayama—what a Sheridanian would call ‘the Biggest Bird,’ or ‘the Heart of the Mountain’—was just another lesson along the road.
When he finished annotating the volume, Dan closed the manga. The anime episode wasn’t quite over, but he heard Virgil Blue working on his topiary in the monastery’s open-air courtyard, and he had questions to ask. He left his egg-yolk orange quarters behind for the white-walled monastery’s roofless center. “Virgil Blue? Oran dora.“
Virgil Blue had two topiary projects which dominated either side of the monastery courtyard. One was a whole tree made by grafting together bonsai. The other was a scale-model of the Islands of Sheridan built in a little lagoon; the bird’s-eye-view perspective revealed the chain’s arrangement almost in a line, like Orion’s belt. When Dan arrived in Sheridan three years ago, this courtyard was filled with meditating monks. Today there were fewer monks, so Virgil Blue took joy with agriculture in the extra space. “Danny?” Virgil Blue was sitting atop his miniature version of the main island, pinning tiny model flowers of every color into fake grass. “Can I help you?”
“Virgil Blue, I’ve finished the volume of LuLu’s where Akayama becomes Nakayama, the Heart of the Mountain, the Biggest Bird. I think I’ve got a handle on the philosophy of it all, but this image of the next eternity has always bothered me.”
Virgil Blue smiled. Dan could feel it behind the silver mask. “Have you been bird-napping again?”
Dan blushed. “Yeah. Why? Isn’t that a good thing?”
Virgil blue chuckled. “It is! But it’s usually only Virgils who bird-nap. The other monks are asleep right now. What’s your question, Danny?”
Dan only blushed more. “The Islands of Sheridan are a thousand miles from foreign shore in every direction. How did you end up with an afterlife which is an endless rusty desert?” Dan showed him the cover of the manga, where the Biggest Bird stood on her Mountain in the desolate next eternity. “Native Sheridanians have never seen dunes like these. Sheridan’s first island is sandy, but it’s classic light-tan sand, and it’s barely bigger than a football field.”
Blue tutted. “Danny, you always expect reasons for things.” He used his cane to carefully descend his miniature main island. “Our religion is the way it is because it’s true. Our afterlife is an endless rusty desert because the next eternity takes place on the original sun!”
“I think Uzumaki’s surface is inspired by the deep sea,” said Dan. “Earth has these epic dunes, canyons, and mountains, but they’re hidden underwater. A Hurricane Planet is built like the world’s exposed subconsciousness.”
“You smoked centipede once, didn’t you, Danny?” Virgil Blue waded out of the lagoon. Dan was frozen like a deer in headlights. “Danny, Jay told me you’ve met the Biggest Bird.”
“He did?” Dan covered his face with his manga like Virgil Blue’s silver mask. “You’ve known that about me for the last three years?“
“You’re not the first foreigner to get bug-eyed, Danny.” Virgil Blue took the manga and tucked the volume up his navy sleeve. “You saw the rusty red desert, didn’t you?”
“You saw your own existence as a vessel of worms.”
“You met the Heart of the Mountain.”
“I didn’t mean to smoke centipede, I swear! I thought it was just powdered cricket.” Dan collapsed onto his knees and pressed his palms together. “Sheridan has three easy rules and I’ve broken a whole third of them! Can you forgive me, Virgil Blue?”
Virgil Blue bobbed his head as if he was rolling his eyes; the silver mask and heavy navy robes required his serious effort to emote sarcasm properly. “I forgive you, Danny. Don’t smoke any more centipedes. Your worms will get to the next eternity without them, when your vessel expires.”
“Oh, I’ll never touch centipede again. It was awful!” Dan stood up and brushed grass-green marks off the knees of his orange robes; he’d have to wash them thoroughly in the river. “First I was a big orange blob.”
“The Biggest Bird landed next to me and said… Well…”
“She’s not known for her bedside-manner.”
“She made me feel like bad worms.”
“Bad worms?” Virgil Blue tssk‘d and wagged a finger under his robes. Then he gestured for Dan to follow him across the courtyard. “How did she make you feel like bad worms, Danny?”
“You’d think a bird would like to find worms, even a big orange blob of them, right? But the Biggest Bird said her white fox would take me somewhere terrible, then she left me behind. My orange blob became a ball of teeth, eating themselves and each other alive.” Dan laughed and rubbed his forearms under his orange sleeves. “You taught us about this part of the Hurricane—the Screeching Teeth.”
“Oh dear. Not Screeching Teeth.” Virgil Blue limped with his cane to his other topiary project. Dan suggested it last year as a joke, and even he considered it pretentious, but Virgil Blue somehow made it work: ten bonsai were grafted to make a single tree. Sheridanians had a general-purpose blueprint in the style of the human body, just like the moon-base’s space-robot org-chart, which the bonsai inverted so the head, a cherry-tree, was at the root, and the arms and legs, trees of many varieties, were branches pointing upward. “When I taught you about the Screeching Teeth, I didn’t call them bad worms, did I?”
“These teeth felt like pretty bad worms to me.“
“Those worms are you, Danny, and me, and everyone.” Virgil Blue picked tiny fruits off the bonsai: red apples, green apples, plums, and pears. “I understand your struggle, though, Danny—you are a vessel with worms in constant disagreement.”
Dan chewed the tiny fruits Blue gave him. They weren’t ripe yet, but still sweet. “Not anymore. When my teeth calmed down, the Biggest Bird’s white fox took my most toothy worms away.”
“Hm.” Virgil Blue walked closer to Dan. Being out in the courtyard, with all the other monks asleep in their quarters, Dan felt uneasy about this need to whisper. “Where did the Biggest Bird say her white fox would take your worms, Danny?”
Dan swallowed. “Anihilato. It sounds like a trashcan, doesn’t it?”
Virgil Blue covered his ears, which were already covered by his robe’s hood. “The Biggest Bird told you the word ‘Anihilato?’ “
“It’s the only word I remember her saying. What is it?”
“It’s a phrase reserved for the Virgils, because it’s a concept so easily misunderstood.” Virgil Blue poked Dan in the back with his cane. “I’ve already said too much. Danny, forget about bad worms. Forget about Anihilato. Worms are worms, and all worms belong to the Heart of the Mountain. Go to sleep—real sleep, not a bird-nap! Tomorrow I’ll send you to Virgil Green. I’m sure he can answer your questions in a way I can’t.”
Dan wasn’t sure if he wanted to know more about Anihilato and the white fox. Thankfully he had the end of a LuLu’s episode to welcome him back to his egg-yolk orange quarters. With Nakayama trapped for twenty years on Hurricane Planet Uzumaki, no time-skip was needed to feature Lucille as Lunar Commander. The plots were now chronologically aligned.