Her head lolled around until a sudden jerking movement outside made her jolt awake.
Uh.... what is....
“LALA! LALA! CAN YOU HEAR ME? LALA!”
Her antennae jerked to attention.
Lala raised her head. She was lying on her side, on one of the soft seats next to the windows. She felt intensely dizzy and had to squeeze her eyes shut. There were alarms going off everywhere. How had she managed to not notice?
She tried to shout–
But her mouth was muffled!
“Mmmmmf?” was all she was capable of. She tried to reach up to her mouth, but her hands were fastened behind her back, somehow, and trying to pull them apart was painful.
Meanwhile, she heard more shouts from outside... outside the rocket. She was in the rocket! She looked around, frantic. What on earth was going on? Why was she tied up in her own rocket?
“LALA! CAN YOU HEAR ME? WE’RE COMING TO RESCUE YOU! LALA!”
She struggled against her binds. That was definitely Elena’s voice she was hearing now! Alarms were still going off, and red was flashing in the main cabin. Prunce! Where was he? She looked around for Prunce, or Fuwa. But there was no one else in this cabin but her.
No one else, except for–
The AI! She just had to get to the controls! The entire cabin shook just then, and she tried to focus through the din.
Her antennae were free, unlike the rest of her. She moved them to try and pull off the tape that was over her mouth. It was the strong tape, too, the kind that Prunce had once used to seal the broken window in her rocket.
It took a lot of effort, but she managed to pull some of it off from the left side of her mouth. She turned towards the soft cushion and pushed the tape onto it, then slowly pulled her face upwards.
“LALA! WE’RE COMING FOR YOU!”
Madoka’s voice. The tape held to the sofa, and slowly she maneuvered it off of her face. Holding it down as best as she could with her antennae, she eventually managed to tear the whole thing off.
Now her mouth was free.
“HIKARU! ELENA! MADOKA! PRUNCE!” She tried to sit up, which took great effort. Her legs were bound too. She wiggled into an upright position, raising her head to see out the window, but she was just barely too short. If only she could stand upright....
Where was her Star Color Pendant? Not that she could use it without her hands... But maybe her antennae... she’d never tried it, but it didn’t matter, she couldn’t find it anyway.
She heard pounding on the side of the rocket, and then another rumble shake through the cabin. She fell to her side, and struggled back upright.
The AI’s main screen flashed. Three minutes to emergency evacuation.
Lala’s hearts skipped a beat when she saw 180 seconds begin to count down. What is going on?!
“AI! What’s happening?! AI!”
No response. She had to get to the controls! Lala looked around for something, anything that would do. Wait a moment–
Prunce had left a bread knife next to his donut maker! She could see its gleam from here.
Desperately trying to stay upright, she hopped with her tied-together feet over to his donut machine.
150 seconds left–
Taking a leap fueled by panic energy coursing through her, she successfully jumped up onto the counter. She landed hard on her left side, and her left leg exploded with pain. No time to think about it, though. She would grab the bread knife with her teeth if she had to.
She leaned over and wound her antennae around the handle. Her antennae weren’t quite strong enough to hold the knife, but once she got it into her mouth, she had some stability.
Whoever had tied her up might have assumed she was a human, with a human’s lack of flexibility. Not so a Samaanian. Lala leaned forward and with the long sharp tip of the knife, she cut through the tape holding her legs together.
But it was taking too long. 120 seconds left.
She kicked her legs apart, tearing through the last bits of tape. Better, now. She wound her antennae around the handle and slipped it into her left hand. Her wrists were bound, but the knife was now between her hands and her back, and the blade was facing outwards, into the tape.
Straining a little, she was able to pull her arms apart after she cut enough of the tape.
Lala leapt onto the floor of the rocket. T-Minus 90 seconds. She rubbed her wrists as she went over to where her AI control gloves were, in front of the captain’s chair, and sat in it.
Her antennae plugged into the command matrix of the rocket.
“AI! We have to stop the rocket launch. We’re not going anywhere.” She pressed some buttons, panic energy surging through her again as she saw the countdown continue. Why isn’t it stopping?! She pushed the buttons again, faster, harder. “AI!”
Something was wrong. “AI! What’s wrong? Why aren’t you responding? AI!” She flipped through every setting she could think of. But the countdown continued. 80 seconds.... 75....
Lala tried to calm the panic in her body and calm her mind. Her Samaanian logic would help her, if she could just figure out–
“I’m going to have to hard reset the AI,” she thought aloud. “And... reboot the power. That should do i–”
Just then, the straps on her chair activated. They tied Lala down securely into her chair just as she was starting to stand up.
“Oyo?!” Lala tried to reach to deactivate them, but some side straps came out of nowhere and tied her arms to the sides of the chair.
Outside of the window, she could see the top of a ladder poking up.
“Hikaru!” Lala realized. The alarms were still blaring, the time was still counting down.
Time for some drastic measures. Lala felt her fear surge, and with that energy she strained hard against her left side. She felt her restraints loosen on that side, and took in a breath–
“AI! We need to stop the launch sequence!”
50 seconds. Less than a minute now.
“AI!” Lala strained against her bonds as she saw Hikaru reach the top of the ladder. She was pounding the glass in vain. Somehow Elena and Madoka were there too, they must have also found ladders–
“Reboot power! Administrator override! Shut off the power!” Lala was shouting every command she could think of. Outside, her friends were pounding on the window of the rocket.
“External contaminants detected,” the robotic voice of the AI spoke up for the first time.
Lala’s eyes widened. “AI! They’ve got administrator access, remember? Stop! I order you to leave them alone!”
Her hearts skipped a beat.
“AI! Are you listening to me now? Shut off the launch! We’re not going anywhere! STOP!”
The alarms seemed to increase in volume. “We are launching in 35 seconds, Lala. We are returning to Samaan together.”
“We can’t! We still have a mission and my friends–” She felt tears spring to her eyes, realizing she was only 30 seconds away from never seeing them again– “My friends are out there! Shut down the launch sequence!”
The clock kept ticking.
“Shut it down! I order you to answer me! Stop the launch sequence!”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lala.”
Madoka, Elena, and Hikaru were watching her through the window, but what they were yelling was now blocked out by the loud shuddering of the rocket as it geared up to leave. 20 seconds, meaning it was pulling everything into itself except the landing gear fins.
Lala tried desperately to read their lips. Hikaru kept repeating the same thing while pounding her fists. Elena and Madoka were getting desperate, and Elena could clearly see the countdown from her angle.
“La... la,” she murmured as she read Hikaru’s lips. She was trapped here. There was nothing she could do. She saw the countdown out of the corner of her eye, T-minus 10.
“AI! AI!” But it wasn’t responding anymore.
She could only turn her face and raise her antennae in the girls’ direction. Her arms were sore, and the time was all but gone.
She could see tears falling from Hikaru’s eyes onto the window.
5... 4.... 3....
“I’m sorry,” Lala mouthed at them, hoping they could see her.
Lala braced herself as the ship’s shaking became intense. There was no way they’d be able to hold on after that.
But Hikaru stayed, grasping the window with nothing but tenacity even as the rocket began to move upwards.
The pink-haired girl said something, but Lala couldn’t read her lips well enough to tell before her hands started to slip a little above the tree line.
Then she slid off, the rocket took off, and Lala cried. She still couldn’t move the tight restraints, and she... didn’t even get to say goodbye...
In moments, the sight outside the window changed from blue sky to inky darkness, and Lala was all alone....
Lala bolted upright, scattering some stray bits of popcorn as she did so.
She panted, looked around, saw where she was. She was in the... in the planetarium. Still in Mihoshi Town. Still on Earth.
There was a blanket draped over her, a big one. Next to her was Hikaru, reclined back in her chair, still sleeping, although now she was muttering a bit.
“T-that was....” Lala caught her breath. “That was....”
A dream. A bad dream. Nothing more.
She checked her hands. No AI glove. She checked her legs. No tape ties, nothing strapping her into the seat.
Her hearts were beating rapidly, and she put her hand on her chest to compose herself.
Now Hikaru was definitely stirring. “Ah...” She looked at her, a look of confusion on her face. “Lala-chan, good morning... is something wrong?”
Lala was still breathing quickly. Hikaru reached out with her left arm, still drowsy, to touch one of her antennae’s yellow ends.
“I had a... a dream that was scary-lun.” She could still hear the alarms, the shouts....
Lala wasn’t familiar with the term, but she wasn’t rushing to ask her AI about it, either. “I think so... I was on my ship, and the AI was taking me back to Samaan... by force-lun.”
Hikaru said nothing, so Lulu continued. “And I begged it to turn around... and the AI said no, so I never got to see you, or Elena, or Madoka, or Earth, ever again....”
Lala shivered, closed her eyes. “It was so scary-lun.”
After a moment, she felt Hikaru’s warm head rest against her right arm, and the other girl’s right arm made its way over to give her a side hug.
“Sorry, I didn’t think a marathon of P. P. Abraham movies would scare you like this.”
Hikaru hugged her, then yawned. “I’m still so sleepy.... it’s too early on a weekend...”
Lala felt a weight lifted as Hikaru sank back into her chair, her head still leaning against Lala.
The teal-haired girl considered for a moment, then lifted the seat separation between the two, and also leaned back against her chair, slowly so Hikaru wouldn’t wake back up. Hikaru was already snoring lightly. So Lala figured she wouldn’t mind if she snuggled up a little closer.
Lala felt a lot safer with her right next to her like that, and this time when she fell asleep, she dreamt of holding hands with the sun, moon, and stars.
Later that day, Lala returned to the rocket, hidden away in the forest.
The star insignia on its front lit up when she approached. “Welcome back, Administrator Lala.”
“Lun.” She nodded. “AI, please give me a book on the Samaanian language so I can learn it better.” School would take care of teaching her double-digit math as well as science and Japanese linguistics. It was Samaanian she would have to learn on her own.
“Administrator Lala, are you sure? AI makes reading unnecessary, after all. If there is something you wish to read, I can read it aloud for you.”
Lala narrowed her eyes for a split second. “No, I want to learn how to do it myself. Even if it takes a long time. Early intermediate level, please-lun.”
“Intermediate is a higher level than 90% of Samaanians can read. Are you certain?”
“Yes, I am certain.”
“Very well, it will take me a few hours to produce a standard textbook. Would you like to wait inside?” The rocket’s door opened and a ladder descended to Lala’s feet.
“No, I think I’ll go back into town to have some Star Donuts-lun.”
She turned around and her foot swung out and kicked the ladder.
“Please be careful and look where you are walking, Administrator Lala.”
Lala nodded. “I will be-lun.”
She made sure the rocket couldn’t read her lips from any direction before adding, “That was just in case.”