M3. The Escape Plan

Akayama woke before the artificial sunrise and wrapped her old, tattered lab coat around her shoulders. She stepped from her half-cockpit onto the Hurricane Planet’s sandy surface and strode over dunes until she found a small stone. She carried the stone over more dunes to a line of stacked stones. She counted the stacks even though she knew how many there were: ten. Each stack of stones was stacked ten stones high except for the last, which was nine stones high.

She capped the tenth stack with its tenth stone. Another hundred artificial days had passed. Stacking stones was a dull chore, but it kept her sharp and in shape. She could not recall how many times she had counted a hundred artificial days, but the futility of the task did not dissuade her: the artificial day was not 24 hours, so tracking time was impractical anyway. If she had to guess, she would estimate she crashed on the Hurricane twelve years ago.

She sat with her legs crossed facing the stacks of stones in the direction she called east. She closed her eyes and waited for the sunrise.

“How come you always move these rocks?” The Hurricane Planet spoke from a mouth the size and shape of a manhole it opened in the sand. “Why do I bother orbiting a star if you’re gonna wake before sunrise?”

Akayama straightened and inhaled. “Despite your biological trappings, you are more machine than man. You’ve forgotten the importance of morning rituals.”

“I have memories of my pilots brushing their teeth each morning,” said the Hurricane, “but they’re too boring to review. There’s nothing meaningful there.”

“That’s exactly the attitude I seek to cure,” said Akayama. “Everyday mundanity is vital to the human condition. Do you know the notion of wabi-sabi?”

“Of course. It’s like green horseradish.”

Akayama clenched her closed eyes shut. “I must cope with solitude as consequence for my crimes. Only the transience of the human experience sustains me. You would do well to accept impermanence.” She saw the artificial sunrise through her eyelids. She stood and kicked over her stacks of stones. “I need another screwdriver. The last one snapped. Do you remember how I taught you to make them?”

“Hold on.” The mouth’s tongue bounced around its teeth. It spat a stone screwdriver covered in saliva. “Is that all you need?”

“Eeuugh.” Akayama used her lab coat’s pocket like a glove to pick up the screwdriver. Over years here, saliva had stained her lab coat blue. “I’ll need to teach you manners. I hope to bring you back to Earth someday. Will you greet Princess Lucia with a slobbery maw?”

“We can’t go to Earth. Your moon-base would attack, and then I’d have to absorb everyone or kill them.”

“That’s why you need me.” Akayama began the walk back to her Zephyr-half. The mouth followed along the ground. “I need more food, too. Do you remember how I taught you to prepare mixed fruits and takoyakitori?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The Hurricane struck a stone spear from the sand. The spear skewered seared squid and bird meat. “You’re lucky I assimilated that bird and that squid, or else you’d have no meat to eat but human flesh. How do I make fruit, again?”

“When I developed mind-combination, I tested it by grafting fruit-trees together without their physically interacting. The data from those tests is still—”

“I didn’t ask for your life story, I asked how to make fruit.”

Akayama sighed. “You have a database of fruit-tree genomes in your legacy files.”

“Oh, right.” The Hurricane struck another spear from the sand. This one skewered apples, oranges, and peaches. “Anyway, you’ll need to hide underground for a while. I must sync my databases in the Dance of the Spheres; if my copies see you they’ll make me share you.” A nearby dune opened like an eyelid, unleashing an enormous eye. Akayama heard eyeballs bigger than oceans blooming in the distance, watching the sky.

She groaned as she pulled the spears of food into her cockpit. The Dance of the Spheres took place so far from the Milky Way no human had ever witnessed it. The Dance was a continuous swirl of billions of Hurricane Planets. Each Planet participated for only three days (she estimated) every three years (she estimated) to share information with the others. She speculated they communicated across the cosmos through subtle eye-movements, like linked REM sleep. “I’ll need light,” she said. “Do you remember how to make chemical luminescence?”

“No.” The mouth regurgitated graphite and slimy, fibrous paper. “Remind me?”

The professor wrote chemical formulas and tossed the paper and graphite back in the Hurricane’s mouth. The mouth salivated glowing slime. Akayama took a handful and smeared it on the ceiling of her cockpit. “That will be all.”

The sand swallowed her and her ship. She landed in an subterranean organ like a lung. Then she felt strange forces as the planet accelerated to several times light-speed. 

By the slime’s glow, she examined the Zephyr’s control panel. She removed its exterior casing with her new screwdriver to access circuitry underneath. For twelve years (she estimated) she had repaired everything which required only tools less basic than a soldering gun. The only unbroken monitor functioned flickeringly. The life-support worked, but she wouldn’t let the Hurricane Planet know that. She could even use the nuclear reactors to synthesize chemicals from subatomic particles. 

Now she twisted wires together and screwed the casing back onto the control panel. She turned the key in the ignition. The life-support pumped fresh air uselessly into the torn cockpit. So far so good. Akayama breathed deep and addressed the Zephyr: “Can you hear me?”

“Yes.”

Masaka!” She collapsed on the steering wheel, sobbing. “Thank God! Thank God!”

“My systems are damaged.” The Zephyr spoke through the monitor’s speakers. “How long was I offline?”

“I wish I knew.” Akayama wiped her face with the sleeve of her lab coat. “We’re trapped on the sun-sized Hurricane Planet. Our virus worked; the planet cannot divide. But it still functions. I am lucky to remain distinct from it, and lucky it has allowed me to repair you.”

“The sun-sized Hurricane Planet…” The Zephyr’s only monitor displayed an image of the planet from Akayama’s confession. “Can it hear us?”

“I don’t think so.” Akayama shed her lab coat and draped it like a curtain across the torn cockpit, just in case. “Its attention is diverted as it shares data with its copies. Also, the Hurricane generates only rudimentary sense organs.”

M3 pictb

“Then I have video you may wish to review. When I was torn in half, my left half continued recording. It transmitted the recording to me until we were out of range.”

Her blood ran cold. “Play the recording. Wait! Don’t!” She could already see stars spinning while she begged to die. “Just tell me what happened.”

“Bojack, Charlie, Daisuke, and Princess Lucia arrived mere moments after the tentacles tore me in half,” said the Zephyr. “Bojack was piloting the test-head. They punched the planet at above lightspeed.”

“They made the wound which saved me.” Akayama covered her heart. “I knew Bojack couldn’t be kept in a hospital bed for long.”

“Tentacles wrapped around them, but Princess Lucia fired her Super Heart Cannon and shredded their bonds. She also disintegrated a sizable portion of this planet.”

“She did? Oh, Princess!” The professor beamed with pride. “No one’s ever fired the Super Heart Cannon twice in a 24-hour period!”

“Team Zephyr rescued my left half. The last frames I have show them accelerating above light-speed with tentacles in slow pursuit.”

“They escaped with my confession.” Enormous weight lifted from her shoulders. “Everyone knows what happened, and Earth is surely safe with Bojack, Charlie, Daisuke, and Princess Lucia. I would trust no one else.”

“I’m glad you are in good spirits, but I remind you my engines are offline. I doubt we could escape in this condition.”

“Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.” She began to whisper. “I told the planet I’m repairing you to use your circuits as a timeshare for its individual pilots’ consciousnesses. Our real plan is to immobilize this Hurricane Planet by transferring the whole thing into your memory banks at once. I’m sure your spinal input port can handle the load. Then we can escape without interference, and when we get back to the moon, we can take our time separating the Hurricane’s pilots.”

“I see. But again, my engines are offline.”

“Now you’re here to help. We should have them repaired in a few years.”

“Very well.”

Akayama grit her teeth. “Show me the princess’s Super Heart Beam.”

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