At the window of her moon-base, Professor Akayama greeted the stars. Only the belt of the Milky Way winked back. The rest of the sky had been eaten by the Hurricane, the scarlet monster which infested the observable universe. When the Hurricane’s planet-sized cells encroached on the Milky Way, Akayama’s moon-base sent humanities’ protector: the Zephyr.
Ayakama operated a control panel labeled entirely in Japanese. She watched a crater open like a manhole cover and leak white exhaust from a sub-lunar hangar. “Bojack, Princess, Daisuke,” she said into a microphone, “begin preparations for Princess Lucia’s piloting exam.”
Behind her, forty technicians in military uniform relayed multilingual commands to mechanics in the sub-lunar hangar. There, in the crater, a blue-grey metal human torso more than a hundred meters tall rest on a launch platform. Its detached right arm was hung on the wall; the right arm’s pilot was supposed to help Akayama evaluate the Princess from the moon-base.
“Professor Akayama,” he said, “sorry I’m late.” An American with a tousled golden haircut sat beside her chewing the end of a lit cockroach. “How’s the princess holding up?”
“Charlie, trade seats with me.” Akayama stood and brushed folds from her lab coat. “My arthritis is acting up. I need you to finish launch preparation. And get that cockroach out of your mouth, you know there’s no smoking near sensitive equipment. Don’t give me that look! I’m your elder by a century!”
“Yes, Professor.” Charlie dutifully moved to her seat and ashed his cockroach. On the control panel he twisted dials, turned a key, and lifted a lever. “Can I still smoke in the Zephyr’s right-shoulder cockpit?”
“Of course. That air’s filtered constantly through the life-support systems.” Akayama examined steam pouring from the crater. She had remarkable eyesight for a 120-year-old. “Charlie, I wanted to discuss an error in your report on Princess Lucia’s training.”
“Professor, the princess is ready to pilot the Zephyr’s heart. I’ve flown with her before, and she’s a better match for the position than even Commander Bojack was.”
“Not that. Look here.” She pulled a clipboard and pen from her lab coat. “You were brave to try writing my name in kanji, but you wrote Akayama…” She drew a cross on four legs beside a trident. “Red and mountain. My name is Akayama…” She drew a sun and moon and another trident. “Bright and mountain. Akarui Yama Hakase, not Akai Yama Hakase. Understand, deshou ka?”
“Of course, Professor.” Charlie tapped a microphone. “Commander Bojack, Team Zephyr is cleared for take-off.”
“Hey, Charlie!” shouted Bojack, transmitting from the Zephyr’s head. “Our life-support saves power when you’re not smoking the place up! Take-off in three, two—”
The blue torso shot from the crater on a column of clouds. In lunar gravity it floated like a leaf. It puffed exhaust from its hips to land near the command center. The exhaust surrounded it until Daisuke, pilot of the Zephyr’s left arm, swept it away. Princess Lucia, in the robot’s sculpted muscular chest, switched on her audio communication. “How’s my landing, Professor?”
“Excellent, Princess.” Akayama leaned over Charlie to reach her microphone. “In the Zephyr’s chest you control not just the main engines, but also the Zephyr’s greatest weapon: the Super Heart Beam. Sometimes it is the only way to repel the Hurricane—but it puts immense strain on the central pilot. When Bojack piloted the chest he could withstand firing the beam only once a week. I understand he’s taught you everything he knows. Are you prepared, Princess?”
“Yes ma’am!” The Zephyr hovered on hip-steam and rotated away from the command center before settling back down. “Bojack, Daisuke, transfer power, please!”
“Transferring power,” said Daisuke.
“You’ve got this, Princess,” said Bojack.
Akayama watched energy crackle from Zephyr’s head and arm to its chest. “I knew the princess would be the perfect pilot the moment we met,” she said to Charlie. “Firing the Super Heart Beam requires embodying the ideals the Zephyr represents. As the daughter of the Ruler of Earth, Lucia knows how to stand for humanity!”
“Professor,” said Charlie, “look at the neck!”
The neck had eight locks securing the Zephyr’s head to its body. Four locks were open.
Akayama grabbed the microphone. “Lucia, don’t—”
The Super Heart Beam exploded from the Zephyr’s chest. White light shot thousands of miles and vaporized space debris. The force of the beam whipped the whole Zephyr backwards.
Akayama watched the Zephyr’s head break its locks and spin away. The crash thrashed Bojack in his cockpit. Akayama cried: “Mou iya dawa!”
“Bojack, come in!” Charlie shouted in the mic. No response. “Daisuke, get him to med-bay!” Charlie shook his head. A single tear ran down his right cheek. “This is my fault, Professor. I was responsible for the launch preparation.”
Akayama was gone. Charlie lost her in the commotion of the command center.
Firing the Super Heart Beam had exhausted her, but Princess Lucia couldn’t sleep that night. She just lie awake in her bunk in her blue, skin-tight bodysuit.
The doctors said Bojack’s surgery would last hours and he’d be bedridden for days. Charlie said it wasn’t her fault, but Lucia reviewed the test in her mind. Could she have leapt from her cockpit to save him?
“Princess!” Daisuke pounded at her door. “There’s an emergency! We need you in the Zephyr!”
“Oh no!” On her way to the door she tied her blue hair in a military-regulation ponytail. “What’s wrong?”
Daisuke explained on the elevator down to the sub-lunar hangar. He wore his green uniform adorned with medals. He straightened his green crew-cut while he spoke. “Akayama Hakase commandeered the Zephyr’s head from the repair bay. She’s about to break light-speed, flying right toward the Hurricane!”
They ran across catwalks to the headless Zephyr. Charlie already sat in the right-shoulder-cockpit in his yellow uniform. He lit a cockroach and held it in gritted teeth. Lucia hesitated outside the chest-cockpit. “I can’t do this. My exam was a disaster!”
“Get in, Princess!” shouted Charlie.
“Before she left, Akayama gave you perfect marks,” said Daisuke. “So did I and so did Charlie.”
“Hey Daisuke, same from me!” A gray replacement Zephyr-head floated onto the robot’s shoulders. Bojack emerged from the top of the Zephyr’s new head and waved to Lucia. His red uniform bulged with bloody bandages. He lowered his spiky red sunglasses to check the eight neck-locks. Satisfied, he posed with two fingers in a V for Victory. “A little crash-landing isn’t gonna stop me!”
“Bojack!” Lucia entered her cockpit and buckled her seat-belts.
Bojack, Charlie, and Daisuke appeared on her monitors. Charlie blew smoke from his cockroach. “Good to see you back in business, Commander Bojack,” he said.
Lucia turned her key in the ignition and punched a code on a panel of buttons. Daisuke stretched the left arm. “Commander,” asked Daisuke, “are you sure you’re well enough to fly?”
“I can take it. Hit it, Princess!” said Bojack. “The moon-base is giving us the green light. Let’s save Professor Akayama!”
Lucia yanked a lever. The Zephyr’s hips fired billowing exhaust. They rocketed from the crater. “Jumping to hyper-light-speed.” Lucia flipped switches. Charlie and Daisuke brought the Zephyr’s arms across its chest.
On a column of clouds thick as cream, the Zephyr shot into space.