Viral growled at the painfully inadequate toolkit sitting on the ground next to him, glaring malevolently at the tools that it contained and swearing at each and every one individually. He'd been out there on the plains in front of Hajime Village for nearly two days and Enkidudu was no closer to getting up off the ground. He'd known that his tools wouldn't be enough to repair it entirely, but he'd hoped to at least get the Ganmen on its feet so he could limp to the nearest Beastman settlement. He sat back on his heels and stared at the twisted metal and circuitry before him, forehead furrowed in a deep scowl.

Just then, the heavy, clanking tread of a Ganmen caught his sensitive ears. He was on his feet in a flash, one hand beneath his cloak on the handle of his cleaver. Peering across the plain, he spotted a garishly red mecha coming towards him from the direction of Hajime Village. It was the same bull-type from the battle, he realized. There was no mistaking that eye-bleeding shade of red.

"Hnh! What does this human want?" he muttered to himself. Deciding that it was better to avoid potentially being recognized for the time being (more for his own convenience than anything else) he climbed back into Enkidudu's cockpit and shut the hatch. The communications channels were still functioning, at least. When the bull-type reached him, it stopped a short distance away.

"Uh… hi?" its pilot said awkwardly over her external communications. "Remember me from the, uh, battle? From a couple days ago?"

"Yes, I remember," he said in a low voice. Oh yes, he certainly did remember. Annoyingly enough, he still owed this naked ape a debt of gratitude for defending his Ganmen against Koji's particle beam. He'd never been one to forget his debts. Granted, he'd never had occasion to be grateful to a human, but in this strange new world after Lordgenome's army, he'd figured that the principle still applied. "Why are you here?"

"Well, I know you said before that you wanted to fix this Ganmen on your own, but, um, it's been almost two days and it doesn't look very fixed to me—I mean, I hope you don't mind me saying that, but it is just sort of lying there on the ground—" she said, her words spilling out more quickly as she started to ramble on.

"As I said before, I don't want help," Viral told her flatly.

"You gotta be kidding me! Look, don't be an idiot. Sorry for saying it but you're obviously not going anywhere!" she exclaimed. "And also, we can't let you stay out here forever. If some raiders come by here, a big, fancy Ganmen like this sitting around helpless is gonna be too much for them to say no to! And I asked our leader about that and he agrees with me, too, so I'm not just saying that out of nowhere!" she added defensively.

That gave Viral a moment's pause. She was right, unfortunately. Bands of scavengers wandered the wilderness now, harassing lone travelers, occasionally attacking some of the smaller settlements, and picking off those whose luck had turned against them. It was true that Enkidudu's weapons systems were still mostly intact, but he'd make an easy target from this position on the ground. He hated the thought of losing his Ganmen for good—and to loutish scavengers, no less! And, even more annoyingly, she was right about something else, too: he was never going to get Enkidudu off the ground on his own. He needed better tools, which these humans apparently had, although he couldn't have said how that had come to be (although he had a few good guesses).

"All right," he muttered grudgingly, squeezing his eyelids shut and letting his head fall back on the headrest. "I'll take your help."

"Great!" said the bull-type, pumping its fists in the air. "Just hold on, I'm gonna call the others to help me carry you back." The bull-type vanished from sight, its footsteps fading out. He sat in silence, arms crossed tightly over his chest, as he waited. Eventually, Viral heard the clanking of metal as the other two Ganmen joined the bull-type one. It was humiliating, needing to be hauled off the battlefield by humans, but Viral restrained his pride. He wasn't one to act ungrateful, no matter how much it bruised his ego. Soldiers of Teppelin were taught better than that. He'd even afforded Kamina some courtesy once. He kept his mouth shut while the human pilots hoisted Enkidudu up and began lugging the fallen Ganmen back towards Hajime Village.

The humans brought Enkidudu down the same narrow side canyon that their own mechas had emerged from during the battle. At the end of the canyon was the mouth of a large cave. The humans set Enkidudu down.

"We can't fit your Ganmen into the cave with ours," the pilot of the canine-type told him. "Just wait here a few minutes." The three Ganmen turned and disappeared into the cave.

Viral popped the hatch of Enkidudu's cockpit and climbed out, dropping to the ground. He looked up at the gleaming, silvery-gray metal and laid a clawed hand on the damaged leg.

"Immortality is making me reckless, eh, Enkidudu?" he murmured. He chuckled dryly and patted the Ganmen. "I'd better go and see what tools these naked apes have." With one last pat, he spun away from the Ganmen and strode towards the cave.

Inside the cave, he found his senses bombarded—sweat and engine grease filled his nose, chatter and clanging metal echoed around him. Inside the cave was a jumble of machines and Ganmen repair tech and scattered tools, all in varying stages of disrepair. Pieced-together metal scaffolding surrounded the three mechas. He could see a few technicians here and there amidst the scaffolding, still working on assessing the damage from the fight. Really, it seemed like any other Ganmen hangar—only less advanced and not even nearly as well organized. His upper lip pulled back slightly as his nose twitched from the barrage of smells.

Reminding himself of his task, Viral's eyes sought out the red bull-type Ganmen, standing in the middle of the cave; he couldn't ignore that he owed his gratitude to that one in particular. Best to get this over with quickly, he thought with a grimace.

Aika hopped out of her Ganmen after returning to the launch cave. Chiyo was there, waiting for her.

"So? What happened?" she asked.

"Oh, I talked some sense into him," Aika said proudly, lacing her fingers together and popping her knuckles. "As if I couldn't do it! He's a stubborn ol' jerk though, haha!"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Sitting out there for two days," Chiyo replied, shaking her head. Aika scurried over to the edge of the scaffolding and looked down below at the busy cave. After a few minutes, she spotted someone new by the mouth of the cave. From up in the scaffolding, all she could see was a tangled mess of short, blond hair and a ragged, tan cloak.

"That must be the pilot!" she said. She leaned a bit further over the scaffolding, watching him. He strode right into the cave without any hesitation. Aika chortled and nudged Chiyo with her elbow. "Look at him, already walking around like he owns everything in sight," she commented. The pilot paused for a moment, head turning this way and that as he looked around, and then he started walking towards her Ganmen. "Oho, he's headed this way. I'd better go and say hello!" Aika climbed down from the scaffolding and jogged towards the pilot.

Viral stopped in his tracks as the human female bounded over to him. She grinned from ear to ear as she skidded to a stop in front of him, standing much too close for his liking. Her bright blue eyes were glittering excitedly.

"Yo!" she said. "You're the pilot of the four-armed mecha, right?"

"Yes," he replied, crossing his arms over his chest. She jerked back slightly as her eyes darted to his hands.

"O-oh, heh, sorry. I wasn't expecting the, uh… the claws," she said with a sheepish laugh. "We don't get to meet many Beastmen in person, you see. We mostly just, y'know, fight them…?" He narrowed his eyes at her, waiting for her to get to the point. She cleared her throat and went on, undeterred. "Anyway, I'm Aika! That's my Ganmen, back there." She pointed her thumb back over her shoulder at the bull-type mecha.

"Yes, I know," he replied curtly. Then he quickly reminded himself of his manners. She'd done nothing to merit any rudeness. "I'm Viral."

"It's nice to meet you, Viral!" she said. He tilted his head, taken aback. She genuinely seemed happy to meet him. Cheerful was a trait humans seemed to have in abundance, but it wasn't often directed at him. He took a second to assess this particular specimen of humanity: she didn't look too different from any of the other villagers hanging around; she was light-skinned, with black hair twisted up at the back of her head and a few spikes of it hanging over her forehead. Her height seemed about average. Her clothing was downright modest compared to what some of them ran around wearing. All in all, there didn't appear to be anything unusual about her—aside from her rampant cheerfulness. He decided to chalk it up to the natural oddness of naked apes.

She leaned to the side and waved to someone behind him, beckoning to whoever it was. He turned and saw two more humans approaching. One was a short, pudgy male with brown hair; the other was a solidly-built woman of about thirty years. Her dark eyes regarded him warily, and the man definitely looked nervous. Ah, yes, now that was the reaction he was used to getting from naked apes.

Aika gestured to the two humans. "That's Shoji over there," she said, pointing to the frightened man, "And that's Minako." The wary woman gave Viral a stiff nod, which he returned.

"Not bad, for amateurs," Viral commented. As a pilot, he felt compelled to give them credit where it was due.

"What're you talking about?" asked Minako, her voice cold.

"In the battle, you held your own reasonably well for amateurs," he explained, his voice flat.

"And just who says that we're amateurs?" Minako said.

"It was easy to see. A trained eye can tell these things," Viral shot back. Minako glowered at him.

"If you'll all excuse me, I need to get back to my repairs," she said to the other two humans. And with that, she whirled about and stalked away. He snorted and decided to ignore her.

"Aw, Minako, don't be so sour!" Aika called after her. The other woman seemed determined not to share Aika's enthusiasm, though, so the younger woman laughed awkwardly and turned back to him. "So! Uh. Thanks for your help the other day—those guys would've flattened us otherwise. Especially the one with that beam thing," she said. She put her fingertip to her forehead and then thrust it outward in an imitation of the particle beam. "I've never, ever seen a weapon like that before on a Ganmen!"

"Y-yeah," added Shoji. Viral glanced sideways at the male, who shrank back. Well, at least now he could dispense with what needed to be said.

"I owe you my thanks as well," he said reluctantly, addressing Aika. "That charge was reckless, but it spared me an embarrassing defeat at that coward's hands."

Aika beamed widely. "Aw, thanks! It wasn't anything that difficult, really," she said, more than a hint of bravado in her voice. Just then, another set of footsteps drew his attention. He turned to see a rail-thin old man limping towards them from the mouth of the tunnel at the back of the cave. The man's blue robe was decorated with all sorts of random trinkets, and he had a beard that went nearly past his waist.

"You're the leader of this village?" Viral guessed.

"Yep, that's him!" Aika interjected. "I had to let him know we were bringing you in here."

"Yes, that's right," the old man agreed. "My name is Katashi. As Hajime Village's leader, I'd like to thank you, for all of us, for intervening on our behalf."

Viral held back a snort—he hadn't done it to be a hero, nor had he done it out of fondness for the humans. But, again, he reminded himself of his manners. "It was no trouble," he said evenly. "All I ask in return is time and tools to repair my Ganmen."

"Yes, of course," agreed Katashi. "Please feel free to use whatever we have. And you're welcome to join us for meals as well."

"Your generosity is appreciated," Viral said uncomfortably. There it was again—kindness from humans. What was he supposed to do with that?

With the help of the Hajime mechanics, Viral found some of the equipment and parts he'd need for Enkidudu's repairs. Their tool selection was still lacking, however, so he'd have to make do with some temporary measures until he could get to an outpost and make proper repairs. He spent the entire afternoon wrapped up in his work. In fact, he was so focused on it that he didn't even notice the sun setting until it was already dark. Luckily, the villagers had installed exterior floodlights in the canyon. He kept going, shutting out all else.

Inside the launch cave, Aika went back to work on her own repairs. When it came to her mecha, she always helped the mechanics do their work—or at least, she did as much as she could. Most of this stuff just went through her ears like mist. Dinnertime came around and she set down her tools with a relieved sigh.

"Perfect timing; I'm starved!" she commented to Chiyo. "I wonder what we're having tonight."

"Probably the same thing we had last night," her friend replied, shaking her head.

"Hmm, I guess so." Aika paused in mid-step. "You go ahead, Chiyo. I'm gonna go see if Viral wants to come with us." She jogged back to the mouth of the cave and out into the warm evening air. The beaten-up hulk of the four-armed Ganmen sat by the cave mouth, lit up by the floodlights. Aika followed the whirr and buzz of machinery towards the mecha's legs. She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted over the noise. "Oi! OI!" The noise stopped and the Beastman stuck his head up over the mecha's leg.

"What?" he asked. His one visible eye was narrowed in annoyance at being interrupted. The eye reflected an eerie gold color in the bright lights. It was a little bit unnerving, but Aika tried not to let it show.

"Dinner's ready, we're all headed off to the dining hall. You can come with us, if you want," Aika said.

"No, I will stay here."

"Really? Are you sure?" Aika asked.

"Yes. I have work to do," he said firmly.

"Wow…" How can he not be hungry after all this time?! she wondered incredulously. "I mean, I don't know about you, but I've always got a huge appetite after working hard."

"Go and eat, then," he suggested flatly.

"Okay. See you later," Aika said, puzzled. He ducked back down behind the Ganmen's leg and the machines started up again. Aika shot one last confused glance his way before heading back into the cave.

Sure enough, dinner that night was the same thing as the night before—pig-mole stew with slices of bread that were a little on the stale side. Aika took her tray of food and water and went to join her friends. She spotted Chiyo sitting with a few other people and darted over to them.

"What's-his-name's not joining us?" Chiyo asked as Aika sat down.

"Nope! He said he wanted to keep working—which is weird, if you ask me. He's been sitting out there for two days with whatever food he had around, and then he was working his ass off in the sun all afternoon… if it was me, I'd be falling over from hunger by now!" Aika said, tearing off a mouthful of bread to prove her point.

"Maybe he just doesn't like crowds," mused Chiyo.

"Or humans," Naoki, who was sitting to her right, added derisively.

Aika thought about this as she chewed her bread. "Ya know, Chiyo, you're right," she decided. She grinned and stood up with her tray. "I'll bring the food to him, then!"

"Bad idea!" Naoki called after her. "He might decide to eat you instead!"

"Rude!" she yelled back over her shoulder. She got a second tray of food and, balancing both in her hands, she hurried back to the launch cave.

Viral glanced upward at the sound of a now-familiar voice calling out to him. Sure enough, it was Aika again. But this time, she had two metal trays in her hands.

"I brought dinner!" she announced. "I know you have to be hungry, even if you don't feel like eating with us." He hated to admit it, but she was right. His stomach growled at the savory smell wafting from the bowls on the trays. Viral set down his tools and padded away from the mecha, keeping his eyes on the human. She sat down on the ground next to Enkidudu, putting one of the trays down a couple feet away and promptly digging into the food on the other one. Clearly she didn't plan on leaving any time soon. Resigning himself to dine with a human, Viral sat down across from her and picked up the bowl of stew, sniffing it.

"Don't worry, it's not poisoned or anything," Aika said jokingly.

"Hnh!" He hadn't been too worried about that, anyway. As human eating utensils were much too small for his hands, he had to awkwardly grip the spoon between two fingers. The stew itself was not bad, although the herbs in it overpowered the taste of the meat. "You didn't have to bring me this," he pointed out after a minute of silence.

"No problem! It's the least I could do, since you risked your life for us and all," Aika replied brightly.

"My life was never in danger," he replied with a dismissive shake of his head.

She paused with her spoon halfway to her mouth, which gaped open in shock. "What do you mean, 'never in danger'?" she asked. "That other guy was gonna blast you with that… that beam thing! There would've been nothing left of ya but a smoking crater in the ground!"

"It's true that my Ganmen would have been destroyed, but I would have survived. I can't be killed," he said simply.

Aika gaped at him again and then burst out laughing. "Haha! Can't be killed—that's a good one! Hahaha! That's funny! You're very funny, Viral."

"It's the truth," he said irritably, scowling.

"Mmmhmm, sure," she said. She shook her head, still chortling, and went back to her stew. Well, if she chose not to believe him, that was her business. They went back to eating in silence, but Aika apparently wasn't one to stand for that kind of thing. "How're the repairs going?"

"The leg was badly damaged, but I'm certain I can restore most of its function," he said, not looking up from his meal.

"Sooo, then… it's going well?"


"Ah, good! That's good." She started to take another bite of stew, then lowered her spoon. "Hey, after you're done, would you please take a look at our Ganmen? If it's not too much trouble, that is. We've been doing our best to keep them running, but it's all been guesswork. It'd be great to have an expert's advice!" She gave him what was clearly intended to be a winning smile.

Viral considered for a moment. It would mean staying in this village even longer, but he had nothing better to do with his time, and it would take care of his debt to these humans for their assistance. "Very well," he said.

The human's face lit up with glee. "Fantastic! I'll let the other guys know." They lapsed into silence again, but it was even more short-lived that previously. But this time it was Viral who broke the silence, as he wanted to know about the Ganmen he'd be examining.

"What are your Ganmen called?" he asked.

"Huh?" Aika tilted her head slightly, puzzled.

"What are their names?"

"They're supposed to have names?" she asked blankly, her eyebrows raising.

"Of course!" he grumbled. "The Ganmen is an extension of the warrior. It's bad luck to fight with an unnamed mecha."

"O-oh. So what's yours called, then?"

"Enkidudu," he said proudly. Aika clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. "What?" he growled.

"Nothing, it's just sort of a funny name."

"It's a warrior's name!" he snapped.

"Okay, okay, no need to get so upset!" she said, lifting her hands and grinning. Before he could retort that he wasn't upset, she spoke again. "Well, if it's so important, then what do you think I should call mine?"

"It's your mecha. Naming it is your responsibility," he said firmly. Now for his second question. "How long have you three had these Ganmen?" he asked. Aika tapped her fingertips against her chin as she thought.

"Let's see. It's been a little more than three years, I guess. We were all living underground before, but we came up here at that time. It was right after Simon the Digger defeated that Beastman general." Then she paused and scratched behind her ear, her brow furrowing slightly. "W-well, uh, you'd probably know all about that, right? I mean, y-you're a Beastman, so you must've been in that army…" She had clearly just realized this, because a look of apprehension abruptly crossed her face. Aika coughed and picked up the remaining piece of bread on her tray, shoving it into her mouth and looking somewhere beyond his left shoulder.

"I remember it," he said. He hadn't been there to witness it, but he'd watched it from Teppelin. He'd been healing from the final battle with Kamina at the time. He winced inwardly at the memory.

"Yeah, well, uh, that was when we came up to the surface. That's why mine's red, actually! I painted it like that to honor Gurren-Lagann," she said. No amount of nervousness could stop Aika from telling a story, apparently. He did notice, though, that she didn't quite look directly at him while telling it. "Minako was the first one to get a Ganmen. I was next, and then Shoji." She launched into a recounting of their three captures, complete with sweeping hand gestures and improvised sound effects. "And that's how it was," she finished, nodding decisively.

"Ah." Well, he'd learned something interesting thing from her rambling tale: either his fellow soldiers had been horrendously weak, to lose their Ganmen to humans armed with only the most basic of traps and weapons (at least Kamina had Lagann and Ritona Village's arsenal on his side); or these humans were even more resourceful and innately powerful than he'd thought, and he was still underestimating them. Just what exactly was Spiral Power capable of?

Aika drummed her fingertips on her knee, still looking past Viral, and then scrambled to her feet. "I, uh, I should get to bed. It's getting pretty late, and all," she said quickly. Her apprehension seemed to be catching up with her. "So, um, tomorrow morning, then? You'll show us how to maintain our mechas?"

"Even having realized that I was an enemy soldier, you still ask for my help," he observed.

"Y-yeah, well… since you're here and all, there's no use in passing up a chance like this," she said with an awkward shrug. She brushed her hands off on her baggy, charcoal-gray pants and crouched back down to collect their empty dishes.

"Well said. Yes, tomorrow morning," he agreed. And hopefully it won't take too long, he added silently. She nodded again, smiled tensely, and then fled into the darkened launch cave. Viral quickly got back to work on his repairs.

"He's weird!" Aika announced, bouncing into the small room she shared with Minako and Shoji. They'd lived like this for the last three years; Katashi had suggested it, saying it'd make sense for their three pilots to stick together as much as possible. At nineteen years old, Aika was now allowed to live wherever she wanted. She'd come to like living with those two, though, so she stayed.

"Who is?" Shoji asked.

"Viral! He's a weird one," she said, plopping down on her bed.

Minako snorted. "Of course he is! He's a Beastman, what'd you expect? They're probably all totally insane."

"That's where you were all this time?" Shoji asked, looking concerned.

"Yeah. We were talking about Ganmen and stuff. He said all mechas need names!" She crossed her arms, narrowed her eyes and dropped her voice to a low growl, imitating him. "'The Ganmen is an extension of the warrior, it's bad luck to fight with an unnamed mecha!' I mean, how were we supposed to know that?" Snorting derisively, she took her hair down from its bun and shook it out. Her hair was one of the few things she was vain about; it fell to the middle of her back when it was down, and she'd always taken good care of it. She grabbed her comb from the little shelf carved into the wall above her bed and started running it slowly through her hair.

"Did he tell you anything useful when you were talking to him?" Minako asked.

"Not really, but he said he'd give us some Ganmen-maintenance tips in the morning. I asked and he said he'd do it."

"Huh. Well, at least we'll get something out of him being here, then." She went back to the book she'd been reading.

"I gotta say, I'll be glad to see him gone," Shoji admitted. "You see those teeth? He looks like he could rip someone's throat out." He shuddered.

"He probably has," Minako muttered. Aika had to admit, the razor-sharp teeth were also unnerving. Wait a minute, she thought suddenly. Clawed hands… sharp teeth… yellow eyes and hair hanging over half his face… No way! She hurriedly leaned over to her shelf again. It didn't have much on it: the one or two trinkets she owned, a stack of her few sets of clothes, her comb, and a certain book.

About a year before, some people from Kamina City had visited the village with a bunch of books about the history of the human race. It mostly talked about the war against Lordgenome, and Simon the Digger's victory. The people who'd brought the books had spent a couple months teaching everyone in the village how to read. She'd read that book over and over again. The Dai-Gurren Brigade's adventures were completely amazing to her.

She flipped through the pages until she got to the chapter about the great Kamina-sama, the first leader of the Dai-Gurren Brigade. When she reached one particular page, her jaw dropped. "Whoa!" she exclaimed. "I knew his name sounded familiar!" She held up the book for the other two to see. There was Viral's picture, drawn in colored ink, scowling out of the page at them.

"K-Kamina's nemesis!" gasped Shoji.

"There, you see? The sooner he's gone, the better," said Minako.

"I guess so," she said. She frowned down at the drawing in the book. It was hard to believe that the ruthless soldier described in the book was the same person who had stepped in to defend her village. Then she shook her head, like she was trying to shake out her conflicted thoughts, and put the book back on the shelf. "Hmm. Anyway, good night! It's been a busy day and I'm tired."

"'Night," said Shoji.

"Good night," said Minako. Aika shut the curtain that surrounded her bed and lit up the little electric lantern on the shelf beside her, and then settled back against her pillow with the book still on her lap. She picked it up and contentedly browsed through a few more pages, rereading one of her favorite parts. The pages were already well-worn at their edges, so she turned each one carefully.

Flipping to the end, she read the part that had fueled her dreams all this time—the part about the future. It talked about Kamina City, and how quickly it was growing. It talked about President Simon's vision for a world where everyone lived united, humans and Beastmen both, and how Kamina City was going to be the heart of that new, brighter world. And, most excitingly of all, it talked about the new Ganmen corps that would be protecting the city: the Grapearl Corps. She beamed and softly touched her fingertips to the illustration on the page, depicting one of the new designs. She imagined herself in the cockpit of one of these mechas, fighting enemies unknown to protect this shining new world.

Gently, she shut the book and put it back it its place. She quickly changed into her sleep clothes, a sleeveless top and a pair of loose shorts. Then she settled down beneath the blankets and shut her eyes.

Her head was buzzing from everything that had happened, though. She kept going over the battle in her head, and she kept thinking about their new guest. He was certainly an intimidating-looking fellow, with his huge hands, pointy claws and wicked teeth. And then there was that one yellow eye, staring out through a mess of straggly, shoulder-length hair. That stare was definitely something other than human. He wasn't exactly the friendliest type, but he didn't seem particularly evil.

On one hand, Hajime Village might have lost a lot of people if he hadn't jumped in and helped them stop the reptile Ganmens' attack. On the other hand, the book said he'd been a Commander in the Beastman military, which they'd given the gruesome name of the "Human Eradication Army". This meant that he was an enemy of humanity. Or at least, he had been, before Simon the Digger had beaten Lordgenome.

So what is he now? she wondered. Is he on our side? Is he on anyone's side? One day of helping humans wouldn't change the fact that he'd hurt humans in the past. But maybe it means that he's facing towards a brighter future, she thought. Oh well, I guess it doesn't really matter. He'll be out of here by this time tomorrow, I'm sure. Her eyes just didn't seem ready to stay shut, though, in spite of her busy day, so she rolled out of bed, pulled her blanket around her shoulders, and took off for the watch-post where she knew Chiyo had the overnight guard duty shift.

"Hey, you!" Chiyo said with a smile as she stepped out of the tunnel. "What're you doing still awake? I thought you'd have been asleep already."

"I got a lot of busy thoughts tonight, I guess," Aika said, shrugging beneath her blanket. She walked over and stood next to her friend. "It's been a weird couple of days."

"Hmm, I dunno, I've seen weirder," Chiyo said, tapping her chin.

"Haha, that's true!" Aika agreed. She was silent for a moment, and then giggled as a memory surfaced. "Remember when Misaki tried to build her own clothes-washing machine?"

"Ugh, don't remind me!" Chiyo groaned. "And then Naoki tried to clean it up…!" She started giggling, too, and then both of them just couldn't stop. After a minute or two, their laughter died down and Aika sighed, gazing out over the inky-black plains.

"It's so pretty out here at night, don't ya think?" she said.

"Huh? Yeah, I guess so," Chiyo agreed. "Can't see much, though. I like seeing way far out there in the daylight."

"That's nice too, but… oh, I don't know. I kinda like that I can't see a lot," Aika said slowly. "It feels…" She waved a hand vaguely, searching for the right words.

"What? It feels what?" Chiyo prompted.

"It feels mysterious, I guess. Like… like anything could be out there. Anything at all!" The thought made Aika smile. "It'd be great to get out and see for myself."

"Hmm, yeah… I suppose it would be," Chiyo agreed.

"Mmhm!" Aika said. "Just think about it—all the food we've never eaten, all the stuff we've never seen, people we haven't met!"

"You always get all fired up about this stuff, Aika," she said, chuckling.

"Kinda like how you get fired up over machines," she teased, sticking her tongue out and elbowing her friend. "Really though, it'd be fantastic to go on an adventure like the Dai-Gurren Brigade."

Chiyo's smile dimmed a little. "Uh, Aika… they all nearly died," she pointed out.

"O-oh, right. Um, ya know, an adventure without that part, heh," she said sheepishly, scratching the back of her neck.

"I'm sure it'll happen someday, Aika," Chiyo assured her.

"Yeah… I hope so!" Aika gazed out into the night again, imagining what might be waiting for her out in the world beyond her village. "Just now, I was reading about them, you know."

"About the Dai-Gurren Brigade?" Chiyo asked.

"Mmhm, in that book."

"Again?" Chiyo groaned teasingly. "How many times is it now, Aika? Thirty? Fifty? One hundred? Two thousand?"

"Oi!" Aika protested, grinning. But then she got serious again and smiled softly. "Imagine how great it'd be to go to Kamina City. You could repair Grapearls and have real tools! Nice tools that always work!"

"Yeah, I guess that'd be pretty nice," Chiyo agreed.

"Let's go there someday," Aika insisted. "Let's promise that someday we'll both go to Kamina City."

Chiyo smiled. "It's a promise!"

Early the next morning, as promised, Viral met the human pilots and mechanics in their launch cave and told them everything he could about their Ganmen. These models weren't ones that he had piloted himself, but he was still able to figure out most of their basic systems. Their impromptu lessons concluded at around noon, and it took another couple of hours to finish his repairs. Once that was done, he was more than ready to leave Hajime Village.

As he prepared to climb up into Enkidudu's cockpit, he heard Aika's voice behind him. "Yo, there!" she called. He turned around to see her standing with a parcel in her hands. "Katashi wanted me to give you this. It's food—not very much, but it should get you through a couple meals, I think."

"Give my thanks to Katashi," he said, taking the parcel. He truly was grateful; his arrow stock was still low, so hunting would have to wait. With everything that happened he hadn't had time to barter for supplies, so he hadn't even fulfilled his original purpose in coming to this village.

"So where're you headed now?" she asked.

"South," he said.

"You just picked that at random, didn't you?" She put her fists on her hips and smiled. She seemed to have gotten over her nervousness of the night before.

"I see no reason to bind myself to a certain destination," he said.

"Eh, fair enough. Anyway, you're lucky. You can go anywhere you want," she commented. The wistfulness in her voice was unmistakable.

"Why don't you leave, then, if you want to go so badly?" he asked.

"Well, they need me here. We've only got the three Ganmen to protect our village. It's my responsibility," she said, shrugging.

"Hnh. Well said." Doing one's duty was something he understood very well. He climbed up into the cockpit, tucking the parcel of food away in his supplies.

"Oh, by the way—it's Zensen!" she shouted after him.


"My Ganmen. I'm calling it Zensen," she explained.

"'Fight a good fight'," he murmured under his breath. Then he shook his head. "How very human." Enkidudu came to life and he gripped the control handles. "Good luck, naked ape!" he called down to her as the Ganmen rose to its feet.

"You too, Beastman!" she yelled back, waving cheerily. He guided Enkidudu out of the canyon, leaving Hajime Village and the strange human known as Aika behind.

And so our story begins (again)! Viral and Aika have met for the first time. I think it went pretty well! What do you think?