As the Hurricane Planet swallowed her, Professor Akayama sat in her half-Zephyr’s mutilated cockpit. The cockpit’s comfortable chair was the only operational object in the spaceship. The electronics were busted. Every monitor but one was cracked. Hoping beyond hope, she turned her key in the ignition. “Can you hear me?” The Zephyr did not respond.
She opened the glove compartment to find three days of rations and a cockroach. She stowed the roach in her lab coat and drank water from her rations.
Because the torn Zephyr had no left side, subterranean rocks rushed up as Akayama descended. An eyeball bigger than a grapefruit opened on the rock wall. It slid down the wall alongside her, to keep watch. Akayama spun her chair to watch it back. “Hisashiburi,” she said. “Kill me already!”
A mouth opened above the eyeball. “I’m not killing you. I’m absorbing you.” It had three rows of blunt teeth and a massive, flopping tongue. “What did you do to me?”
“I did everything,” said Akayama. “I built the Hurricane. I failed to prevent its launch. I designed your prison. The fiery fate of the universe is my fault.”
“I mean, what did you do to me just recently?” The eyeball squinted. “You fired a laser at me, and when I smacked you from the sky, you did something! I was about to divide into a million copies, and now I can’t.”
Akayama put a hand over her heart. “My virus worked.”
“Well, undo it.”
“You misinterpret my intent,” explained Akayama to the eye and mouth. “That virus is part of my plan to save you. I can salvage the Hurricane’s pilots.”
“Salvage? Pfft.” The mouth blew a raspberry which speckled her with spit. “My pilots are safely fused with my eternal form. If you really built me, you know my duty is to humanity’s preservation.”
“What do you remember of humanity?” asked Akayama. “Decades have passed since you fled Earth. Decades have passed since the Hurricane’s first pilots were merged. Do you have their memories? Can you see the pilots’ grieving spouses and orphaned children?”
“I can,” said the Hurricane, “which is why I must divide. Each time I divide, my millions of backup copies ensure my memories will last forever. At the core of this planet, your consciousness will join mine. Then I’ll be able to disable your virus.” The mouth licked its lips. “When I divide, your consciousness will be divided also, and accompany every copy. You will be shared with my copies across the universe until your knowledge is safe in my omnipresent mass. Then humanity will last for all time.”
Akayama shuddered. “Life isn’t about fearing death. You contain people, but you’ve lost what made them people.”
“Ha! I’m more than a thousand times the human you are, because I can see more than a thousand lifetimes simultaneously.”
“You ended a thousand lifetimes simultaneously! Your pilots run in parallel, wearing their yoke like a crown!” Akayama did not feel brave, but she made herself point accusingly at the eye. “How can you claim to be human when you can’t appreciate anything without absorbing it and homogenizing it?”
“I’ve got fingers, too, you know.” The Hurricane jabbed at her with an arm from the rock wall. It had two elbows bending in opposite directions and only three fingers with no thumb. “I know the fingerprints of every person I’ve assimilated. Do not fear merging with me; I will preserve you in minute detail.”
The thought made her knees knock. “When you were born, why did you leave earth?”
“I didn’t. Not right away.” The arm morphed into a slimy tentacle. “First I dove into the ocean and assimilated a giant squid. To see if I could.”
“And then why did you flee?”
“I wasn’t fleeing.” The Hurricane retracted its tentacle. “I wanted to explore the cosmos.”
“You didn’t just explore the cosmos, you consumed it! But at least you were exploring, a marginally human activity.” Akayama folded her arms. “When you decided protecting humanity meant assimilating it, everything humane in you died! You don’t even know how many fingers you’re supposed to have.”
The eye looked down to count Akayama’s fingers, but she hid her hands in her sleeves. “I’m the most humane being possible!”
“Then grant me my individuality!” She stood from her chair to shout. “And grant it to yourself! You vowed to share me with Hurricane Planets across the universe. If you share me with the others, nothing will separate you from them!”
The eye blinked at her, audibly.
“You need me.” Akayama pointed to her nose. “And you need my mind unmolested. Aren’t you special? Aren’t you the ‘I’ of the Hurricane? What could elevate you above countless identical copies like uniquely accommodating your inventor?”
“Hmm.” The mouth bit its lower lip. “What utility can you provide me if you’re separate?”
“I could help you reclaim your humanity! I’m the universe’s leading expert in consciousness-combining.” Akayama shook the Zephyr’s broken steering wheel. “I could load just one of your pilots into my Zephyr’s circuitry. Imagine: each of your aspects can have personal space to recoup their lost individuality.”
“I could absorb your knowledge and do that myself.”
“No.” Akayama stood her ground. “You lack the motor skills and sensory organs necessary. How would I operate the Zephyr’s control panel, for example, stretching clumsy arms and tentacles from your bulk? I’ll need to live on your surface, as well, near a star. Otherwise it will be too dark for me to see.”
She felt heavier. The peristalsis reversed to lift her up the planet’s throat. Akayama sighed in relief.
“You can’t live on my surface forever,” said the Hurricane. “I’ll have to hide you when we meet my copies. If they see you, they’ll ask why you were not assimilated and shared.”
“Can we stay far from the others?”
“No. I sync my databases with my compatriots in the Dance of the Spheres. I will give you ample warning.”