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Chapter 4 Main Chapters Chapter 6

Chapter 5:

Lunch was finally concluded. Yayoi and Mrs. Nanjyoin had confirmed that the habitat, and the exploratory mecha, and sundry other equipment, had landed safely. At last it was time for the first human to set foot on the surface of an alien planet.

Kazuki Yotsuga had been seen off by the entire Executive Committee, and now sat in Zinv's cockpit in a spacesuit. Zinv and the other mecha could survive indefinitely in vacuum and on the planet's surface, but the humans required the suits' insulation and air.

"Last check," Dr. Warai insisted. Before Zinv could be launched from the Voyageur, they had to be sure that everything was ready.

Mrs. Nanjyoin said, "The rockets to be used for the return of Zinv and the habitat crew are reporting they are safe on the planet's surface."

"The hangar doors are open," Mitsuki Sanada said.

"Okay, let's launch him!" Dr. Rara decided.

"Have fun for us, Kazuki!" Dr. Sanada wished him.

Mitsuki Sanada had the lever all to herself this time. She pulled it.

After a moment, Kazuki's voice came, "Uhm, why am I not moving?"

"I think you're supposed to press this button," Ryla said, poking at something on Mitsuki Sanada's console.

"No, turn this knob," Alice insisted.

Mena casually opened a shield and flipped a toggle switch, and Zinv was launched.

"Thank you," Mitsuki fumed.

Zinv arrived upon the planet's surface some minutes later. The giant robot paced and looked about for a little while.

"What do you think of it?" D asked.

Kazuki shrugged. There wasn't a lot to see. It all looked rather dead and dull. What made the moment for him was the sense of history. This was the first planet outside the solar system ever to be explored by humans, and he was about to be the first human to ever set foot on another planet.

"I wonder what he's going to say," wondered Dr. Sanada.

Dr. Rara leaned forward and murmured in anticipation, "The first words ever spoken on an alien planet."

Zinv kneeled down to bring his cockpit closer to the ground, and Kazuki stepped out onto Zinv's body, his spacesuit completely enclosing him.

Kazuki walked out a few steps on the surface of Loki.

"This is really cool," he said, enraptured now that he could see even the dullness of this planet with his own eyes. His own eyes were actually looking at a planet far from Earth. He could hardly breathe for the wonder of it, and was so enraptured he didn't realize he had spoken.

There was a moment of silence on the bridge, then Akane simply buried her head in her hands and moaned. Yayoi looked anxiously at the sensors and communications equipment; this historic moment was being recorded.

Kazuki sensed the silence and said suddenly, "No, no, wait, I meant-"

"It doesn't matter now," Ayuko stated the obvious.

"I liked it," Mitsuki Rara put forth.

"Yes, I thought it was rather appropriate," Dr. Sanada agreed. Akane moaned again.

Dr. Rara looked at him, agape. "Are you joking?"

D cried, "I liked it, too! Good job, Kazuki!"

Kazuki doggedly continued with the words he had prepared for his first few steps on an alien planet, "I meant to say, 'I'd like to thank all the people who got me here.'"

Yayoi informed him, "You're quite welcome, Kazuki."

Kazuki said, "Right. I'll go look at all of the equipment that we sent down here." He and Zinv confirmed visually that everything was in working order. The exploratory mecha were in their heat-shielded modules, and hadn't been broken, so they were also certified as in working order.

Now the pilots of the exploratory mecha, and their backup pilots, were being transported to the surface via shuttle. They would begin exploring the nearby area. Kazuki got the systems of the habitat started up, using the checklist he had practiced with, which was also being read to him from the Voyageur for good measure. He and Zinv then set off to explore a further area, where the combat mecha would land and subsequently explore. The first combat mecha scheduled to reach the planet's surface were those of Yayoi, D, Mitsuki Sanada, and Mitsuki Rara. Eventually, the entire crew of the ship would have a chance to walk on Loki, as crewmembers rotated into and out of the habitat.

The exploratory mecha pilots arrived on the planet's surface, while the first combat mecha pilots took some rest on the Voyageur. The exploratory mecha were smaller mecha, created without weapons, and for pure exploration. They disassembled their heat shields and reassembled them into rockets for the exploratory mechas' return to the Voyageur, as well as a launcher to send rock samples into orbit for collection.

Kazuki found a good landing area for the other combat mecha. His last task was complete. "Hey, I was wondering if I could go back to Zinv's landing point and start exploring that area."

Back on the Voyageur, Dr. Sanada shrugged. It was surely a job for an exploratory mecha, but there was no point in dampening Kazuki's enthusiasm. Besides which, the exploratory mecha were all relatively far from the landing point, and involved in their own exploratory tasks. "Sure, go ahead, Kazuki."

At the same time, Dr. Rara cleared the combat mecha for launch, and Mrs. Nanjyoin cleared a shuttleful of scientists for launch to the planet's surface as well. The bridge was getting somewhat shorthanded, with only Dr. Sanada, Dr. Rara, Dr. Hayase, Mrs. Nanjyoin, and Akane, looking lost amid the many chairs. All other bridge personnel were either en route to the surface, already on the surface, or resting in preparation for when they'd take over the bridge on the next shift.

Zinv stooped down and touched a weathered rock near their landing point. Kazuki said to him, "Yeah, I'd like to do that too." He stepped out of Zinv's cockpit and pressed his gloved hand against the rock. This was so amazing, for he never thought he'd have the opportunity to touch things on an alien planet.

Ayuko checked the display of the computer in the quarters she shared with Dr. Rara. The display informed her that the mission was on schedule and informed her of the time, which she doublechecked against her watch. Ayuko locked the door and entered commands into the computer.

One of the backup pilots looked up in surprise. An exploratory mecha was approaching the habitat. It looked like it was carrying an object, but it was hard to tell what, because the robot was walking backwards. He suddenly realized that all of the exploratory mecha had been careful to keep their backs to the habitat for the entirety of the mission. After many rehearsals and simulations, the backup pilot knew that at this moment, the exploratory mecha were supposed to be exploring the nearby plains. This exploratory mecha wasn't doing its assigned mission. Running to the windows, the backup pilot could see that the others were also deviating from their assignments. The other backup pilots looked at him as they came to the same realization. They could see the growing alarm in each other's faces: they had to do something. One woman began to hail the mecha approaching the habitat, while other backup pilots tried to call the other mecha and the Voyageur.

Mrs. Nanjyoin, once again on communications, listened to these reports with apprehension. She was just about to ask Dr. Hayase what was going on when the doctor, looking at the positions of the mecha, asked her, "Mrs. Nanjyoin, have the exploration pilots told you what they're doing near the habitat?"

Mrs. Nanjyoin replied, "No. I was about to ask you that myself."

Dr. Rara had gone to sensors some time ago, and reported, "It looks like there's been some sort of strange energy field forming around the habitat in the last few minutes."

"I knew it!" Dr. Sanada whooped. "We've stumbled onto alien technology!"

"Stupid Sanada!" Dr. Rara declaimed. "This isn't alien technology!"

"What is it, then?" Dr. Sanada crossed his arms.

"These are aliens' mental powers!" Dr. Rara said with authority.

Dr. Sanada looked at him skeptically.

Akane suddenly noticed that she was receiving a communication from a "Chevalier, Christina." That was one of the exploration pilots she hadn't been able to interview, and had instead only looked at a résumé. Why would she want to call her now? Akane took the call.

"Hello there, Yamano or Sanada or whatever you call yourself now!" The words scratched at Akane's ears as they entered. Akane recognized the voice at once and said in a soft whisper of dread, "Plath." Somehow Plath had taken on a false name and snuck on to the expedition, and she obviously still hated her and the Earth Defense Force.

"You're through, do you know that?" the taunting caller continued. "This time, there are no laws to save you. No U.N., no peaceful fighting rules. Just us and our own strength!" The caller hung up with screeching, raucous laughter.

Akane spun to face Mrs. Nanjyoin and urged her, "Tell Kazuki to get out of there now! They're planning something!" Mrs. Nanjyoin did so with alacrity.

Kazuki straightened up from where he was examining another rock tens of meters from Zinv and ran back towards his counterpart. "What's the matter, Mrs. Nanjyoin?" he asked. Zinv, also agitated, began to look around himself without Kazuki controlling him or even being in the cockpit. Zinv's red eye flared.

"I'm not sure, but Plath is plotting against us!" Akane said, wishing she knew more than the fact that Gwyneth Plath had joined the expedition under the name Christina Chevalier. Mrs. Nanjyoin had opened up communication from all the bridge to all the combat mecha, piloted by their friends whom they trusted; she and Dr. Hayase were quickly losing trust in the exploratory mecha and didn't include them. "I think at least one of the exploratory mecha is mutinying!"

Kazuki and Zinv had lost all their trust in the exploratory mecha. "Zinv, get him!" Kazuki cried. Zinv had already begun to run at incredible speed towards the approaching exploratory mecha.

"Kazuki, tell us what's happening," Mrs. Nanjyoin urged, calling up a picture from Zinv's point of view and placing it on the large bridge screen. This didn't help much, as everything was blurred from Zinv's incredible fast movements. "Okay, Zinv defeated the exploratory mecha," Kazuki's voice could be heard on the bridge. "I'm in Zinv now."

Dr. Hayase reported, "Two of the exploratory mecha are inside the energy field, and three are outside it. They've all abandoned their missions! One outside the field has been disabled, with the pilot's life signs confirmed."

Dr. Sanada could stand the suspense no longer. "Kazuki, what happened?"

There was another blur of motion as Zinv returned to where he had been standing and Kazuki said, "I'll show you what happened." The bridge crew now saw the wrecked exploratory mecha. There was a collective gasp as they saw the modifications made to it. Mounted on its front were bulbous laser weapons, similar to those carried by the RaRa artifact battleship. "He probably wanted to destroy the rocket Zinv and I were going to use to return to the ship, to strand us here. Or maybe even blow up Zinv's cockpit since it was open after I'd gotten out," Kazuki said angrily. "It's a good thing Zinv can move fast."

"You planned this, didn't you, Rara?" Dr. Sanada turned on him.

Dr. Rara glared at him as his hands tightened on his armrests. "If I had, I wouldn't be sitting here doing nothing. I'd be leading the mutiny."

They locked gazes a moment and Dr. Sanada finally relented. "You're right; your eyes don't look like a traitor's." Dr. Warai entered the bridge at this point and collapsed onto his chair, shocked at a treachery more horrible than his own premonitions.

"Dad, is everyone all right up there?" D asked as she, Yayoi, Mitsuki Sanada, and Mitsuki Rara, descended from Voyaguer via their combat mecha. On a slightly different course, a shuttleful of scientists plunged through the atmosphere towards the planet below.

"We're all fine, D," Akane reassured her.

Slade, Mits, Ryla, Mena, and Alice all hurried onto the bridge. Before everyone was quite able to sit down, and long before they were logged into their systems, a communication from "Rara, Ayuko," was addressed to every communications device on the expedition.

She said pleasantly to everyone, "Until further notice, I, Ayuko Rara, claim possession of the planet Loki."

Chapter 4 Main Chapters Chapter 6