(A chapter of Akayama DanJay.)
The year is 2420.
All around Nakayama, the Hurricane churned. When it advanced, the whole sky was blood-red and filled with eyes. The eyes signaled the message, “Give her to us.”
Hurricane Planet 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 alive, we’ll eat you with teeth.”
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’s Hurricane Planet at the speed of thought. “You gave them a fake?”
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Uzumaki thought back. “My copies must’ve lost their minds! They think they’re supposed to eat me instead of the other way around! 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 Jupiter snatched the forgery and absorbed it. “Hey.” The Jovian planet spawned eyes across its surface. “This isn’t the professor!” the eyes signalled. “They’re trying to trick us!”
“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.”
“Oh really?” asked a Hurricane Planet the size of the galaxy. “You’re lying to keep her for yourself!”
“I’m not! I swear!”
The galactic planet swallowed the solar 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’s.
“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’s only planet bristled with panicking teeth. “The Hurricane just caught almost a million of our copies! Who knows what it’ll do to them?”
“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 those 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 toward the Milky Way so much faster than light that quantifying their velocity would be pointless. “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, Prof? 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 ZAB’s touchscreens to bring the Combined Zephyr’s crew of ten thousand to a vote. The votes were slow, as the crew considered the implications of merging with domesticated Hurricane, but the votes were unanimous, as they considered the size of their enemy. “Good thinking, Professor Bird-Thing. 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 a depiction 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. The Uzumaki Planet 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. Rightfully so: ZAB’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 Uzumaki’s mind into your own and make sure it plays along?”
ZAB mulled it over with beeps and bops. “My circuitry should be compatibly integrated, 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.” Votes were now flying in, in favor. The idea of Zephyr-Alpha-Blue keeping Uzumaki in line was reassuring to the crew. “The two of you together, should we call you ZAB? Or Uzumaki?” Lucille 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 Uzumaki 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, 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 with its inferior engines. Its countless planets signaled with countless eyes, which Uzumaki translated into disturbing audio for Lucille’s crew of ten thousand. “Aw, that’s cute! You’ve grown a little.”
“Omae—” 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 largest Hurricane Planets swallowed the smaller ones whole, becoming blobs larger than the most colossal galactic-clusters. Those blobs ate each other piece by piece, bleeding screeching teeth, forming a single blob with the mass of the observable universe. As if to mock, it deformed into a humanoid and sat cross-legged. Its face grew too many eyes. “In this form, you bullies are 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. “Professor Bird-Thing, if you’ve got any 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. The long noodly tail still pulsed, transmitting thoughts from Akayama to Uzumaki and back.
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.