At the window of her lunar command center, Professor Akayama greeted the stars. Only the belt of the Milky Way winked back. The rest of the sky was eaten by the Hurricane, the crimson monster which infested the observable universe. When the Hurricane 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 puffs of 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, stationed at rows of computer monitors, forty men and women in military uniforms relayed multilingual commands to mechanics in the sub-lunar hangar. There, in the crater, a human torso a hundred meters tall constructed from blue-grey metal rest on a launch platform. Its detached right arm was hung up on the wall; the right arm’s pilot was supposed to help Akayama evaluate the Princess from the command center.
“Professor Akayama,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.” An American lieutenant with a tousled golden haircut sat next to 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 the launch procedures. 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 two dials, turned a key, and lifted a lever labeled with black-and-yellow tape. “Can I still smoke in the Zephyr’s right-shoulder cockpit? The air’s filtered through the life-support.”
“Of course.” Akayama examined thickening exhaust pouring from the crater. She had remarkable eyesight for a 120-year-old. “Charlie, I wanted to discuss a mistake I noticed 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.”
“No, not that. Look here.” She pulled a clipboard and pen from her lab-coat. “It was brave of you to try to write my name in kanji, but you wrote Akayama…” She drew two symbols: a cross standing on four legs and a trident. “Red and mountain. My name is Akayama…” More symbols: a sun and moon beside the trident. “Bright and mountain. Akarui Yama Hakase, not Akai Yama Hakase. Understand, deshou ka?”
“Of course, Professor.” Charlie tapped the microphone. “Commander Bojack, Team Zephyr is cleared for take-off.”
“Hey, Charlie!” shouted Bojack, transmitting from the Zephyr’s head. “Our air-filters save 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 and used puffs of exhaust from its engine-hips to ease its landing near the command center. Misty exhaust surrounded it until Daisuke, pilot of the Zephyr’s left arm, cleared it away. Princess Lucia, in the robot’s sculpted muscular chest, switched on her audio communication. “How’s my landing, Professor?”
“Excellent, Lucia.” Akayama leaned over Charlie to reach the microphone. “In the Zephyr’s chest you control not just the main engines, but also the Zephyr’s final attack: the Super Heart Beam. Sometimes it is the only weapon which can repel the Hurricane—but its strain on the central pilot is immense. When Bojack piloted the chest he could withstand firing the Super Heart Beam only once a week. I understand he has taught you everything he knows. Are you prepared, Lucia?”
“Yes ma’am!” The Zephyr hovered on jets of hip-steam and rotated away from the command center before floating back down. “Bojack, Daisuke, transfer power, please!”
“Transferring power,” said Daisuke.
“You’ve got this, Princess,” said Bojack.
As the Zephyr hummed Akayama walked to the window. She watched blue energy crackle in the creases of the metal skin, from the Zephyr’s head and left arm into its chest. “I knew Lucia would be the perfect pilot the moment I laid eyes on her,” she said to Charlie. “To fire the Super Heart Beam requires embodying the ideals the Zephyr represents. As the daughter of the Ruler of Earth, the Princess knows what it means to stand for humanity. To protect the Milky Way at any cost!”
“Professor,” said Charlie, “look at the neck!”
The neck had eight locks securing the Zephyr’s head to its body. Four of those locks were open.
Akayama grabbed the microphone. “Lucia, don’t—”
The Super Heart Beam exploded from the Zephyr’s chest. The pink light shot a thousand kilometers and vaporized asteroids and space debris. Even without the right arm’s power the force of the Beam whipped the whole Zephyr backwards.
Akayama watched the Zephyr’s head break its locks and fly away spinning. Although the robot’s head was unscathed when it struck a lunar dune, the crash thrashed Bojack in his cockpit. Akayama cried: “Mou iya dawa!”
“Bojack, come in!” shouted Charlie. No response. “Daisuke, get him to medbay!” Charlie sat and shook his head. A single tear ran down his right cheek. “This is my fault, Professor. I was responsible for the launch preparations.”
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 lie awake in her bunk still wearing her pilot’s uniform (a blue, skin-tight bodysuit) and stared at the ceiling.
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 saved him? Leapt from the chest-cockpit to grab him, maybe?
“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 into a military-regulation ponytail. “What’s wrong?”
Daisuke explained on the elevator from the barracks down to the sub-lunar hangar. He wore his gray-green uniform adorned with four rows of medals. He straightened his green crew cut while he spoke. “With all the commotion no one noticed Akayama Hakase commandeer the Zephyr’s head from the repair bay. She’s about to break light-speed, leaving the Milky Way, flying toward the Hurricane!”
They ran across the catwalks to the headless Zephyr. Charlie already sat in the right-shoulder-cockpit in his yellow uniform. He lit a cockroach and held it between 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, I’m giving her perfect marks right now!” A gray replacement Zephyr-head floated atop the robot’s shoulders using puffs of steamy exhaust from its neck. Bojack, half-Brazilian half-Japanese teenage space-robot commander, opened the hatch on top of the Zephyr’s new head and waved at Lucia. His red uniform covered bandages and bloody gauze. He lowered his spiky, red, flame-like sunglasses to check the eight neck-locks. Satisfied, he pushed his sunglasses back up and posed with two fingers in a V for Victory. “A little crash-landing isn’t gonna stop me!”
“Bojack!” Lucia buckled her seat-belts and closed the chest-cockpit.
Bojack, Charlie, and Daisuke appeared on a row of monitors. Charlie blew a cloud of obscuring smoke from his cockroach. “Glad to see you back in business, Commander Bojack,” he said.
Lucia turned a key in the ignition and punched a code into a panel of buttons. Daisuke made the left arm perform a preparatory stretch. “Commander,” asked Daisuke, “are you sure it’s safe for you to fly injured?”
“I can take it. Hit it, Princess!” said Bojack. “The command center is giving us the green light. Let’s save Professor Akayama!”
Lucia yanked a lever. The engines in the Zephyr’s hips fired billowing clouds of exhaust. They rose out of the crater and hovered above the lunar surface. “Jumping to hyper-light-speed.” Lucia flipped a series of 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.