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Chapter 5 Main Chapters Chapter 7

Chapter 6:

Slade broke the sudden silence after Ayuko's declaration. "I'm curious. Is there anyone who's actually surprised by this turn of events?"

"It is rather ironic," Ayuko purred. "All of you, in one way or another, anticipated this and tried to stop me, and yet none of you succeeded."

Dr. Warai burst out laughing. "I don't know a great deal about giant robot combat," he admitted. "What I do know is that Yotsuga can easily overpower your forces. Do you really imagine that a bunch of exploratory mecha can defeat Zinv? Just surrender already, save us all some time."

"The mecha aren't all I've got up my sleeve," Ayuko was alarmingly undisturbed.

Mrs. Nanjyoin received a surreptitious communication from the besieged planetside habitat: "The mecha are loading rocks onto the sample conveyer, but they've changed its aim. It looks like they're firing it like a cannon!"

The shuttleful of scientists were still descending towards the planet as they reported in, "We've got a large quantity of material heading towards us at a high velocity."

"Take evasive action already!" Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada shouted at them.

Rocks were being hurled at them by the high-velocity delivery system intended to deliver samples to the Voyageur. The exploratory mecha had perverted it into a weapon.

Slade was very glad that Naoko Yoshi, the Japanese nickname Dr. Choi Hae-rim had taken, had been in charge of designing the shuttles. She was one of the most competent engineers he'd met. The shuttle managed to dodge most of the rocks hurled at it, an incredible feat during reentry.

Ayuko growled, and had to change her plans so quickly that she didn't turn off her communications to the bridge. The bridge crew could hear her ordering her forces to change their targets to the incoming combat mecha, also descending through the atmosphere towards the planet on a different course from the shuttle.

"What!" Mitsuki Sanada yelped.

Yayoi was seriously alarmed. "During reentry, we don't have the maneuvering capability that the shuttle does!"

The backup pilots in the habitat watched the exploratory mecha rotate the sample conveyor slightly and change its elevation, loading more rocks on.

"Oh, no," D murmured.

Zinv was charging the habitat, prepared to destroy the cannon.

It was at that moment that the combat mecha completed most of their descent. The fierce heat and turbulence of reentry no longer enveloped them. They fell quickly to earth, chutes deploying to make their descent safe. The exploratory mecha tried desperately to adjust the aim of the bulky sampler, but could not move it fast enough.

There was complete silence on the bridge for a moment, until Dr. Warai started to laugh. "Well thought out, Ayuko. I can tell you've been planning this a while!" he said sarcastically as he chortled.

Ayuko's smug voice resounded over the speakers. "How very witty, Dr. Warai. I believe you used oxygen to make that remark?"

Dr. Rara and Dr. Sanada were hunched over Dr. Sanada's console, talking in whispers. Akane suddenly noticed them and asked, "If you have anything to contribute, I think we'd all like to know about it."

The two men turned from the console, looking very sheepish. "She's taken legitimate control of one of our vital subsystems," Dr. Rara began, putting a hand behind his head.

"Kazuki," Ayuko addressed him, "if you wish for the Voyageur to keep its oxygen, I recommend you stop right there."

Zinv hesitated. "Have oxygen aboard it?" Kazuki repeated, dumbfounded.

Dr. Sanada confirmed, "Yeah, I'm afraid she has control of life support."

Zinv and Kazuki stopped short at the base of a cliff.

An enraged Akane exclaimed, "How could you have allowed that!"

"Nobody else was using those controls at the moment, and she does have authority as a member of the executive committee," Dr. Sanada tried to explain.

Kazuki couldn't believe this turn of events. "Now our own system of having only one person on the controls at a time is going to prevent us from taking life support back?"

Dr. Rara huffed, "As intended, it did keep her from taking over the whole ship."

Mitsuki Rara was horrified. "Mother, how dare you threaten to kill all of them!"

Ayuko laughed. "My little Mitsuki, don't worry. That's only a last resort. With the controls here, I can easily deprive and restore the air. I could make everyone on the bridge only faint for a moment before restoring the air. It'd all be the same; no one can fight against me when unconscious."

Dr. Hayase was keeping close track of the four functional and rebellious exploratory mecha. She noticed that one functional exploratory mecha outside the habitat area was changing its course repeatedly. She could not tell where it wanted to go. There were three mecha near the habitat, within the shield they had installed, she told the bridge crew. These mecha were setting up the geological surveying equipment, but not as planned. The backup pilots, besieged in the habitat, guessed that the exploratory mecha were attempting to mine a shiny yellow deposit that might or might not be gold.

"Ayuko, did you read the economic section of our original reports?" Dr. Warai asked. "I put it in there especially for you. There's not any way you can make a profit off of this. The fuel costs too much. If you managed to mine platinum and gold and oil down there and filled every nook and cranny of the Voyageur with it, you would perhaps barely pay off the fuel costs."

Ayuko spoke confidently. "Perhaps profit is not what I am seeking. Or perhaps your forecasts were wrong."

The shuttle of scientists had nearly completed their descent and were only a few tens of meters from touchdown, but they unexpectedly called in. "Voyageur, there's an exploratory mecha standing on a hill near us. I'm guessing he's not here to welcome us to Loki?" Dr. Hayase realized this was where the meandering robot had ended up.

"That depends on whether you wish to join me as we ensure that this planet is used to prevent the nations from going to war," Ayuko informed them, "or wish humanity to be forever divided against itself."

The shuttlecraft pilot replied, "I don't even know what you're talking about. We're not claiming this planet for anyone or anything."

"Then your welcome is of a more permanent nature," Ayuko informed them.

The exploratory mecha leapt up to score the shuttle with its beams, but the shuttle had begun to flee.

The four combat mecha sprung forward, running from their landing site towards the shuttlecraft and exploratory mecha in the distance. "Don't bother threatening us anymore, Ayuko," Yayoi informed her. "We're going to stop you just like we did before."

Ayuko just smiled to herself. Having the combat mecha gadding about Loki instead of attacking her forces at the habitat or on the Voyageur was a good thing. In fact, she dispatched a second exploratory mecha from the habitat vicinity to follow them, to make the struggle more interesting. Ayuko then spoke into the communications system, "Threats? You're the ones who are threatening me, and the entire world. Secrets we learned from artifact technology are now being used in Earth's industries. Our planet is beginning to get a small taste of that power, and it won't be satisfied with a small taste. Now that there are no physical artifacts remaining, the nations of the world will go to war in order to capture us, the last people with first-hand knowledge of the artifacts. We need Loki as a safe haven, to build our forces until we can unite the world in peace, prosperi-"

Mrs. Nanjyoin used her authority over the communications system to turn off Ayuko's microphone and end her transmission.

Dr. Warai bowed low to Mrs. Nanjyoin. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" he gasped.

"After hearing that for about twenty years in two universes," Dr. Rara mused, "it's lost a lot of its appeal."

Mrs. Nanjyoin informed them calmly, "I'm afraid I wasn't able to turn Ayuko off completely. If I had to guess, she's somehow managed to install a Darling Wave transmitter not tied into our control systems, and is using it to communicate with her forces."

"It was a nice try by Ayuko, but she's lost again," Dr. Sanada sighed, leaning back in his chair.

Akane ground her teeth. "Ayuko hasn't lost yet, Ken! She still has control of life support!"

"Relax!" Dr. Sanada waved offhandedly at her, "there's nothing to worry about. The shuttlecraft is safe, and those kids can easily handle exploratory mecha. Once they get back up here, we'll have enough Executive Committee members to kick Ayuko off the committee. Then she won't be able to control life support and we'll be all right."

"What if Mother orders the exploratory mecha to destroy the rockets Kazuki and the others need to return to orbit?" Mits asked.

Dr. Sanada jerked and straightened up guiltily.

Dr. Rara told him, "Even if they could get up here, it would be rather tricky. The energy field I found around the habitat now exists in several locations here on the ship. It turns out to be a shield preventing physical objects from passing. I suppose you can guess where one of them is located?" he said ruefully.

"The galley?" Mena guessed.

Slade grimaced. "I thought death by suffocation would be bad, but now I think I'd prefer it to starvation."

Dr. Rara looked strangely at them. "No, she put a shield around the secure room, the only place on the ship where we can revoke Ayuko's access."

Akane was dumbfounded. "How is that possible?"

"It's worse," Dr. Rara told her. "There's shields around the hangar, too. Nothing can come into the ship, and we can't launch any of our remaining shuttlecraft or combat mecha."

"I want to know, too, how is that possible?" Alice demanded.

Dr. Warai realized, "She tapped into the power network aboard the ship! That's why we've been getting fluctuations in power! Ayuko must've had her people install this in the last few hours, just before we changed orbits! So we got weird readings!"

Slade, working on Dr. Warai's hunch, was looking at the power diagrams and tapping his fingers on his armrests. He added, with grudging admiration, "Then the exploratory mecha put a shield on top of the habitat, and the exploratory mecha are staying within it for protection."

"This isn't a problem, though," Dr. Warai grunted. "The shields haven't got nearly enough energy to resist any of the combat mecha. They'd break through in no time!"

The whole bridge crew looked suddenly uncomfortable. Ryla tried to break it gently to the doctor, "But the combat mecha can't fit inside the corridors where the secure room is."

Dr. Warai slumped back in his seat. "I suppose not."

Mrs. Nanjyoin said confidently, "If we calmly consider our alternatives, I believe we will be able to come up with a strategy that can defeat Ayuko."

Kazuki called in, "Ayuko might just be bluffing about turning off your air. She's never killed anyone before. Can I please attack the habitat?"

"Don't bother, Kazuki," Mitsuki Sanada replied severely. "We're lucky she's letting us act. Just wait until they get things fixed up there; then it'll be your turn."

"But we've just been saying we have no idea when things will get fixed up here!" Ryla disputed with her.

"Fine, I won't take the chance," sighed Kazuki. "You four go out and win, all right? And, everybody on the ship?" he addressed them, "Please get life support back so I can actually do something."

Chapter 5 Main Chapters Chapter 7