Lucille leaned over the railing of her Lunar Commander’s balcony. Below her, in one of the moon’s main mess-halls, thousands of pilots ate breakfast. The pilots wore uniforms of solid color which organized them into teams. There were enough colors that even Lucille had trouble keeping track them, and each color came in shades to distinguish the wearer’s role. The main pilots of each robot wore bright, bold colors. Most of the robots had room for co-pilots who wore pastels. Mechanics wore darks. Computer specialists had half-desaturated jumpsuits.
Lucille didn’t collect her new blue uniform when she was promoted to ZAB. In fact, she had never bothered changing into her purple uniform when she piloted Z-Purple. She’d worn her red jumpsuit no matter where she was promoted. She looked good in red. Charlie looked good in yellow. Daisuke looked good in green.
Charlie sat at the table behind her. Daisuke rolled his wheelchair beside him. “Commander Lucille, you requested our presence first thing in the morning.”
“As I slept I considered Akayama’s video-confession.” Lucille refused to sit. Both lieutenants were twice her age, so she made the most of her body-language to convey her authority by straightening her back and broadening her shoulders. “I understand why the material was kept secret, but the truth is coming out eventually. Luckily, the information in the video doesn’t change our situation. We’re still protecting earth from the Hurricane. So we’ll reveal that Akayama built the Hurricane if and when it becomes relevant, or after the Hurricane is destroyed.”
“Destroyed?” Charlie squinted, which moved his eyepatch down his face. “The whole thing? The cosmic horror that ate the universe?”
“I set my sights high,” said Lucille. “Humanity built the Hurricane, humanity will end it. Tell me: Akayama gave her life to transmit a virus into a Hurricane Planet. Did it work? Did you check?”
Charlie and Daisuke hung their heads. “Honestly, we never considered whether the virus worked or not,” said Daisuke. “We had other concerns at the time.”
“Well, my first command is for you two to wrangle a team of computer specialists and have them comb over our astronomical data. Find that Hurricane Planet, if you can.”
“Yes, Commander.” Daisuke bowed in his wheelchair. “Before we leave, I request that you speak with Eisu and Feito, the pilots of ZAR and ZAO. I have nothing but respect for the young commanders, but I happened to catch them smoking a cockroach after training yesterday. They’re three years underage.”
“I’ll deal with it. Send them up.” As soon as the lieutenants left in an elevator, Lucille retrieved her breakfast from underneath the table; she’d nicked a plastic-wrapped sandwich from the mess-hall. Now she unwrapped it and watched all her robot pilots finish breakfast. She ate ravenously. Such was the life of a Lunar Commander: no time to linger over food.
A tomato slice slipped from her sandwich. She caught it mid-air before it fell into the mess-hall below her. She’d have to get used to eating at altitude.
The elevator opened and out stepped twin siblings Eisu and Feito in red and orange uniforms respectively. “You sent for us, Commander?”
“At ease. Please, sit.” As the twins sat across from her with military poise, Lucille leaned back in her chair and put her feet on the table. She ate the tomato slice and wiped some seeds from the side of her mouth. “Friends, I don’t want you to treat me any differently now that I hold the highest military rank possible. Understand?”
Eisu and Feito nodded silently. The twins had short, tidy haircuts, and they folded their hands courteously before them.
“So don’t give me the silent treatment. How is your family on earth?”
Eisu held his breath. “They’re doing well, Commander.”
“Very well, Commander,” said Feito. She hadn’t loosened her posture.
Lucille sighed. “Glad to hear it.” She took her feet off the table. “Now, I’ve brought you here for a formal reprimanding. Daisuke says he caught you two smoking a cockroach after training yesterday. Aren’t you both underage?”
The twins winced. “We’re sorry, Commander,” said Feito.
“It won’t happen again,” said Eisu.
“Cockroaches are illegal for anyone under the age of twenty,” lectured Lucille. “You’re eighteen. Heck, I’m only nineteen. So!” Lucille folded her arms. “As Lunar Commander and pilot of ZAB, I order you to smoke another roach with me.” Eisu and Feito shared a glance, but Lucile insisted: “You can tell Daisuke I chewed you out.”
Eisu pulled a cockroach from the pocket of his uniform. It was cylindrical and wrapped in its wings. Its legs were like dry roots. Feito pulled an orange lighter from the pocket of her uniform and raised her eyebrows at Lucille as if to ask, “really?”
“I’ve never smoked before,” said Lucille. “We’re too tight-laced on the moon; I can’t bum a roach off anyone legal-age. Did you bring that from home?”
“We did,” said Eisu.
“When we came from Earth we smuggled it in,” said Feito. She lit the roach’s head and offered it to Lucille. “Is it true you’ve never been to Earth?”
“Yep.” Lucille refused the roach to watch how Feito puffed it. Feito took delicate puffs and passed the roach to her brother. “Having lived on the moon all my life, I can’t understand some earth-laws. Why can folks our age pilot giant robots, but not smoke a roach?”
Eisu took deeper puffs and gave the roach to Lucille. Her first puff was full-hearted and brave. As she coughed, Eisu explained: “I’ve heard a lot of laws are left over from the World Unification. Bringing every country under one constitution required concessions which aren’t totally sensible in hindsight. Even after the Ruler of Earth stepped down, the constitution remained the guiding document for international parliament.”
“Makes sense.” Lucille coughed again; she had inhaled most of the roach in one impressive puff. She returned the roach to Feito to finish off. “Now that we’re partners in crime, you can’t just treat me like any old Lunar Commander. You don’t obey my orders because I outrank you. You obey my orders because you know me and you trust my judgement.”
“Of course!” said Feito. “I remember how you led us in the mid-battle merger of Z-Purple, Orange, Red, Black, and Yellow. Z-PORKY was a huge success.”
“I wouldn’t trust anyone else,” said Eisu. “I look up to you like I hope the pilots of Z-Red look up to me.”
“Excellent.” Lucille stood over the table and planted her hands broader than shoulder width. “I want both your teams to run combination drills. Tell all the other teams to do the same. I want every robot on the moon ready to combine into one colossal mech within seventy-two hours.”