Breathing heavily, Dynamo dragged herself across the school lawn. “Tesla, backup systems!”

Tesla hovered before her face. “Dyna—”

“Do it!”

“Dyna, I want you to reach your eighteenth birthday still human!”

“Zap it all, none of us is reachin’ another birthday unless you boot me up!”

Tesla sighed and put two forelimbs to his head. “Very well … activating.”

Dynamo screamed. Zigzagging gold lines appeared across her arms, legs, stomach, and face. She threw herself backwards, slammed her head into the ground, arched her back, and shook.

“What’s happening to her?” Jake shouted.

“I’m temporarily shutting down her organics and turning complete control over to her artificial systems.”

“What do you mean, artificial systems—?”

“Why, isn’t it obvious, young man?” Tesla adjusted his cracked glasses. “Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo is a cyborg.”

Her face slack, Dynamo snapped to her feet. As if she were a puppet pulled by invisible strings, her hand jerked her wand from her belt. “Lightning Rod,” she said in a flat voice. With a hiss, the wand expanded, and the end opened to reveal its spear point.

Her head turned on her neck until she faced Jake. Her green eyes looked glassy, like a doll’s eyes. “Human noncombatant, remove to safe location.” Her tread heavy, she stepped past him.

He grabbed her shoulder. “Dynamo—”

She paused for a moment, but then slipped from his grasp. “I have to go. Somewhere, there is a magical battle happening.”


“Over here! Quickly!” Margherita shouted. Jake and Bossy both ran to her and Miss Percy, who knelt over Marionette. Rifle Maiden and Voodoo Queen Natasha slowly circled the knot of humans and the cow, eyes on the dinosaurs.

“They’re afraid to attack,” Rifle Maiden said, holding her gun at her shoulder.

“Robosaurs!” Natasha shouted. “Your ships are destroyed! You are alone! No one is coming to succor you! Flee now to the wastes where the monsters prowl, and we will not pursue. But if you remain in our city, then, as the Princess lives, we will hunt you down to the last robot and destroy you from the face of the earth!”

On top of the bungalow the Stegosaur had earlier struck, a Velociraptor stepped forward and hissed, “Even if we die, no more to be repaired or to have our data reloaded, it will be worth it if we can kill but one filthy magical girl!”

With that, the Velociraptors leapt from the roofs and charged en masse.

Rifle Maiden’s rifle turned into a spinning blur as she fired, cocked, and fired again, blazing away one-handed from the hip. So fast was she that her magical Winchester sounded like a machine gun. Each blast found its mark, and dinosaur after dinosaur blew apart in a red flash. But the dinosaurs kept coming in waves, pouring over the houses. With a curse, Rifle Maiden sheathed the rifle and pulled her revolvers. The guns barked so rapidly that Jake couldn’t distinguish individual shots. The chambers of the revolvers spun, but Rifle Maiden never reloaded. Tilting to the side, she sprinted around the huddled humans and her cow, still firing. Velociraptors littered the street, missing limbs or with holes punched in their sides, writhing on the ground and crying for their incubation pods. Oil ran like blood. There were so many dead or damaged dinosaurs that they formed heaps, but others climbed atop them and leapt for the humans below. Rifle Maiden shot them out of the air. A thick, acrid haze, like the smoke of expended powder, hung overhead.

Fast and deadly though she was, Rifle Maiden couldn’t keep all the dinosaurs at bay. Pretty Dynamo twirled her Lightning Rod and struck any Velociraptor that drew close. Whenever a dinosaur met her spear, it shrieked as its body jerked. Sparks burst from its joints as she overloaded its electronics. She leapt, pirouetted, and flipped. All the while, the Lightning Rod never ceased its spinning. In her blue tutu, with her jerky but precise cyborg movements and the showy but accurate strikes of her electrified spear, she looked like a ballerina with a penchant for Kung fu performing the “Dance of the Mechanical Dolls” while high on caffeine.

Meanwhile, Voodoo Queen Natasha hunkered down and rapidly constructed crude Velociraptor figures out of wax. As soon as she finished one, she pulled off its legs, broke it in half, or wrung its neck like a chicken’s. Whenever she did so, a dinosaur in the horde would shriek and drop, some part of its body having fallen to the street with a crash, its cleanly severed hoses spurting hydraulic fluid.

“Jake!” Margherita shouted. “Help me get Marionette’s dress off!”

Jake tore his eyes from the battle and stared down at the prone form of the magical girl robot. She looked as if asleep.


Margherita rolled her eyes. “Just grab her ankles!”

Jake grabbed Marionette’s feet and lifted. Margherita seized the dress by the hem and ripped, splitting it straight up to Marionette’s neck.

Jake started in surprise. He had thought that magical girls’ costumes were as durable as the girls themselves; but he supposed that Marionette, as a robot, probably had only non-magical clothes.

Somehow, exposing her made her looked even more androgynous. Her body was slender but well-muscled, her hips narrow and her chest flat. Under the dress, she wore what looked like a pair of bloomers and a sports bra.

“You have to understand,” Margherita said, “that her inventor wanted her to look human, so there was a limited number of places he could hide her controls—”

“Oh, sweet Princess!” Jake clapped a hand over his eyes. “Don’t tell me she’s got a reboot switch in her hoo-ha!”

“Gross! No, it’s in her armpit. What’s wrong with you?”

Margherita reached under Marionette’s left arm and fiddled around. “I’ve almost got it … ah!”

“You can turn her back on?” asked Miss Percy.

“We’ll see. Her familiar runs on a separate system … here we go!”

A translucent image of a cartoonish-looking little boy, about six inches tall and clad in yellow shorts, a red-striped shirt, and a propeller beanie, popped into existence in the air above Marionette’s chest. “Hi, I’m Takumi!” he said in a cheerful voice. “You can ask me anything!”

Jake frowned. “That’s her familiar?”

“Sort of. She’s a simulated magical girl, so she has a simulated familiar. He’s a hologram.”

“It looks like you’re trying to activate a Magical Girl Marionette,” Takumi said. “Would you like help with that?”

“Yes!” said Jake.

Margherita waved her hands and shouted, “No! No … ah, rats. Too late.”

Takumi spun in the air, winked, and said, “It looks like your trial version of the Grease Pencil Magic Module has expired. Would you like to download and try one of the four hundred and seventy-three other exciting Magic Modules available on our website?”

“Sure,” said Jake.

Margherita waved her hands again. “No! No! Jake, just shut up!”

“I’m sorry,” said Takumi. “Your model of Magical Girl Marionette is only compatible with the Grease Pencil Magic Module. Would you like to try the Grease Pencil Magic Module?”

Margherita breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, I guess you didn’t screw it up too badly … yes, please, Takumi.”

“It looks like your trial version of the Grease Pencil Magic Module has expired. Would you like to download and try one of the four hundred and seventy-three other exciting Magic Modules available on our website?”

Margherita buried her face in her hands.

“What’s the matter?” Jake asked. “I thought her inventor was some kind of super-genius!”

“He was,” Margherita moaned, “but he also worked for Microsoft!”

Miss Percy shrieked and Bossy lowed as a Velociraptor burst into their midst. Margherita sprawled across Marionette, making Takumi’s image flicker. With a high-pitched growl, the dinosaur raised a clawed foot toward Jake’s groin.

Rifle Maiden shoved her way in, put a revolver to its head, and blew its positronic brains out. With a distorted snarl, the dinosaur fell sideways as screws, lug nuts, and fluids burst from its head and splattered Jake’s shirt. His stomach lurched at the strong smell of oil and mineral spirits.

“Sure could use another magical girl out here!” Rifle Maiden shouted.

“We’re working on it!” Jake shouted back. “Just hold them off!”

“I got infinite ammo, but I ain’t got infinite energy!”

“And I am running out of mojo,” said Natasha wearily.

Tesla zipped around Jake’s head. “Pretty Dynamo can’t run on backup for long or her organics will shut down permanently!”

“Dang it.” Jake threw himself down beside Margherita and jammed a hand into Marionette’s armpit. He found a hard nodule there. It gave a little under his fingertips, so he forced it down. “When computers give me trouble like this, I just reboot and start again!”

“Ah,” said Margherita, “you’re one of those people. I hope you like lo schermo blu della morte—”

Takumi flickered out of existence and then flickered back in. “Hi, I’m Takumi! You can ask me anything!”

“Takumi, give me a command prompt!” shouted Margherita.

Takumi slid to the left, and a big blue screen snapped into existence beside him. White text appeared across it:

Fully Functional Combat-Ready Magical Girl Simulation System
OS ver. 1.63
Model No. 1a, Self-Serious Tomboy-Type
GREASE PENCIL Magic Module Factory Pre-Installed


“Does she have a keyboard?” Jake asked.

“That’s in her hoo-ha. But she responds to voice prompts, like this: Takumi, ‘M,’ ‘A,’ ‘I,’ ‘N’—”

“You have to spell out her commands like that?”

Margherita hung her head. “Sorry, I never learned to touch-type.”

“But … ah, never mind.” He slapped a hand to his forehead. “Even former magical girls are complete nutjobs.”

Takumi grinned and spun in a circle. He said, “I can guide you through the diagnostic and activation process with easy-to-follow branching dialogue trees. Would you like to try this method?”

Teeth clenched, Jake met Margherita’s eyes.

She shrugged. “I guess we’ve got nothing to lose now—”

The screen beside Takumi lit up with a cartoon picture of a young girl with ribbons in her hair and ridiculously large blue eyes. She licked an ice cream cone.

“You’re on a date with the super-cute Mai-chan,” Takumi said, “when you see some of her ice cream has landed on her cheek! Do you A) ignore it, B) tell her she has something on her face, or C) lick it off?”

Jake blinked. “I think we brought up the wrong—”

Miss Percy crawled up beside Jake, shoved him aside, and shouted, “C! Definitely!”

When Jake grimaced, she blushed and added, “Well … that’s what I’d do.”


“Correct!” said Takumi. “Congratulations! Diagnostics complete! You are almost ready to activate your Magical Girl Marionette Model 1a, Self-Serious Tomboy-Type, with Grease Pencil Magic Module factory pre-installed! To ensure that this is a legally purchased Magical Girl Marionette and not some cheap knockoff from China—”

“Cryin’ out loud!” Jake shouted. “China doesn’t exist anymore!”

“—please input the OEM number, which you can find printed on the bottom of your Magical Girl Marionette’s left foot.”

Miss Percy scooted across Marionette’s legs and scrabbled at her foot for a few seconds, at last yanking off her shoe, which looked like a Peter Pan slipper with a curled toe.

“Oh my Princess,” she cried, “it’s got at least sixty digits—”

“Uh huh,” said Margherita. “Microsoft.”

Voice rising in pitch as she grew increasingly frantic, Miss Percy shouted out the numbers. Each digit appeared on Takumi’s screen as she recited it. At last, Takumi spun in another pirouette, winked, held up two fingers in a victory sign and announced, “Your Magical Girl Marionette has been verified! A kiss from a prince will awaken the princess!”

Marionette didn’t move. Jake prodded her bare abdomen. “What? What do we do now? Does she need another code?”

“No,” said Margherita. “She needs a kiss, like Takumi said.”


“A kiss, Jake. From you.”

“Are … are you telling me my first kiss is gonna be with an unconscious robot?”

Miss Percy clutched his arm, and her glasses slid down her nose. “You’ve gotta do this Jake! Please!”

“Why don’t you do it?”

“What?” she cried, clenching her fists under her chin. “You think I want my first kiss to be with an unconscious robot?”

Margherita put a hand on Jake’s shoulder. “Jake, I’m sorry, but Takumi said prince. That means a boy … well, unless it means one of those crossdressing magical girls, but we don’t have one of those!

“Rifle Maiden might count.”

“She’s busy! You’ve got to kiss Marionette! Now!”

Jake stared down at Marionette’s small, pink, heart-shaped mouth. He swallowed.

A Velociraptor snapped at Rifle’s Maiden’s stomach and tried to reach her with its claws. She held it off with a wrist against its throat. “Whatever y’all are doin’,” she shouted, “y’all better hurry it up!”

Jake took a deep breath. “Okay. I’m going in.”

He leaned down, bringing his face to within a few inches of Marionette’s. Her eyes were closed, but her eyelids were relaxed. She really looked as if she were just asleep—

“C’mon!” yelled Margherita. “Girls don’t like it when you hesitate!”

He gently pressed his lips against the robot’s. At first, it felt as if he was kissing plastic, but then her lips turned warm and grew softer. She started to respond.

Hey, I could get into this—

She surprised him when she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, pulled him down, and kissed him deeply, drawing his lower lip into her mouth.

Oh my Princess! I’m pretty sure that’s her tongue—

After a few seconds, she released him, pushed her hands against his chest to lift him off herself, and opened her eyes.

She frowned. “Jake?”

“Uh … hi.”

She sat up and rotated her shoulders, as if testing sore muscles. “My start button’s in my lip. You just had to press it with something. I don’t need an actual kiss.”

“Darn it,” Jake muttered.

“How do you feel?” Margherita asked.

Marionette gave Jake a sidelong glance touched with a mischievous smile. “Inspired.”

She snapped to her feet, held her pencil tip against the ground, and ran a tight circle around the noncombatants. “By the power of imagination! From my mind, through my hands—to reality! You four! Don’t move!”

Jake gasped and Miss Percy clutched him as the ground inside the circle shot into the air, having transformed into a hydraulic lift. They rose twenty feet and stopped with a hard jerk. Now above the height a Velociraptor could jump, they had a better view of the carnage.

Down to her underwear and with only one shoe, Marionette spun her grease pencil and, with a war whoop, leapt into the fray. Her fighting style was much like Dynamo’s, but more fluid. She kept her pencil constantly in motion, spinning it to block attacks and, whenever she found an opening, jam its sharp point into a Velociraptor’s joints. The pencil punched through the dinosaurs’ armor as if they were made of paper.

“Anything she can imagine can come out of the point of that pencil,” Margherita murmured. “If she imagines the dinosaurs’ armor turned to eggshell or fine china where she touches them, it happens.”

She whapped a Velociraptor with the pencil’s blunt end and then, as it reeled, quickly sketched a scimitar on the ground. She bent down, picked up the sword, and slammed it into the dinosaur’s neck, severing its head and sending it skidding across the asphalt.

She drew a circle, the interior of which turned strangely dark, as if a shadow covered it.  A Velociraptor stepped on it and fell straight down, screaming, as if the circle were a hole. With her foot, Marionette smudged the circle’s edge, turning it back into a simple grease mark.

Another Velociraptor sprinted toward her, so she skipped backward, holding the pencil down and drawing a thick line as she went. Then she grabbed the line, snapped it like a whip, wrapped the Velociraptor’s torso, and gave it a hard yank. The dinosaur sailed through the air toward her, mouth spread wide. She slammed her pencil down its throat, striking with such force that its body burst apart in a shower of metal bits and oil.

“Remind me never to cheese her off,” Jake said.

Margherita shook her head. “Whenever robots attack, she’s always a little more … well … vicious.”

At last, only one Velociraptor remained. With apparent confusion on its metal face, it snapped its head back and forth to view its fallen comrades, and its long digits twitched.

“Mercy,” it rasped.

“Too late,” Rifle Maiden answered. She dispatched it with a shot to the head, and it fell sideways with a heavy thud.

Everything was deafeningly silent. There were no longer explosions coming from overhead, nor were there ferocious roars in the street. A few of the dinosaurs, seriously damaged but not quite deactivated, moaned or hissed or feebly jerked their limbs, but aside from that, there was no sound. A thick smoke hovered in the air. It stank of heavy metals. Jake looked out over the intersection, the sidewalk, the lawns, the rooftops. He counted a hundred destroyed machines before he stopped counting.

Marionette raised a hand toward the elevated platform. With a hiss and a low hum, it lowered until it was again level with the rest of the road.

Rifle Maiden walked amongst the downed Velociraptors. Whenever she found one that was still moving, she put a revolver to its head and pulled the trigger. The cracks of her guns echoed from the houses.

Jake inclined his head toward her as he walked up to Marionette. “Is that really necessary?”

“The universe is full of vermin,” Marionette replied, her gray eyes surveying the street. “We’re the exterminators. That’s what it means to be a magical girl.”

Natasha crouched nearby. “Do you pity them?” she asked. “They would not have pitied you.”

Beside Marionette, the translucent image of Takumi winked and whirled, his movements punctuated by the thunder of Rifle Maiden’s gun.

Jake rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, Marionette, about that kiss, I’m really—”

“It’s not the first time.” Marionette didn’t look at him. Instead, she focused on the tip of her pencil, which she slowly rotated in her hands.

“It’s not, huh?” He slumped.

She took a deep breath and released it in a long, slow sigh. “Look, Jake, I don’t know how to soften this, so I’ll give it to you straight: it’s true that I was designed to imitate an adolescent girl, but I decided a long time ago that it would be best for all involved if I didn’t form certain sorts of relationships.”

“Marionette, I didn’t mean to imply that—”

“Yes, you did. I know exactly what you’re thinking, Jake. My empathy algorithms are complex, self-correcting, and very accurate. I told you I could read people, remember?”

He swallowed and stared at his shoes.

She dug the knife in deeper. “And as for my reaction, that was an automatic, preprogrammed response. My consciousness simulator hadn’t booted up yet.”

“You mean you don’t even remember?”

“It logged in my memory, so I remembered it retroactively after I finished booting up.” She paused, still staring at her pencil tip. “In any case, you’re not my type. I’m more than two centuries old, and I’m not interested in little boys.”

A few feet away, Pretty Dynamo’s spear retracted until it was just a wand, which she reattached to her belt. She stood stock still for a moment. Then, with a loud whump, she fell flat on her face.

“Dynamo!” Jake ran to her side, knelt, and turned her over. He put an ear beside her mouth and sighed in relief when he felt her breath.

With a buzz, Tesla landed near her head. “Her organics are back online, but she’s depleted her energy stores. Young man—”

“Jake. My name’s Jake.”

“Fine. Jake, I need you to do something. She no longer has the energy to maintain her form—”

“Her what?”

“She’s going to turn back into her alter ego!”

It took Jake a moment to grasp what that meant. When he did, he snatched her up. Surprised at her weight, he stumbled as he lifted her: he guessed that she was at least eleven stone, probably twice what Dana weighed.

But she still weighed less than he did; he was big for his age and in good health, so, cradling her in his arms, he took off at a full run toward the playground.



Silent and expressionless, Marionette watched him go. She spun her pencil in her hands and tried to slide it into its sheath. Then she chuckled when she remembered that she was down to her undergarments.

Natasha rose from her crouch and slid up to her side. She nodded in the direction where Jake had gone.

“That was cruel,” she said.

“That was necessary,” Marionette replied.

Behind her, Rifle Maiden’s gun cracked.



With Tesla buzzing about his shoulders, Jake sprinted around the corner of the building, found the hole the Triceratops had made, picked his way across the scattered brick, and walked into the gym.

He considered going to the basement, but that would no doubt be where Margherita and Miss Percy were headed, so he instead ran toward the equipment cupboard. Just as he got to the door, Dynamo glowed white. Jake clenched his teeth as his hair stood on end and snaps of electricity stung his chest and knuckles. For a moment, he could feel Dana’s sweat-slicked body in his hands when her costume evaporated, but then her school uniform reappeared, and the burden in his arms was suddenly feather-light.

He got the door open, ducked inside, and gently lowered Dana onto the pile of wrestling mats. Once he closed the door, Tesla flew onto a shelf and activated his luminescent organ, filling the room with a pale yellow glow.

He hunted around for something resembling a blanket, but only found a musty tarp covering a rack of aluminum baseball bats. He took up the tarp, considered it for a moment, and finally dragged it to the mats. As gently as he could, he tucked it around Dana’s shoulders. Her breathing was less shallow now. She snored faintly.

Sleep and Tesla’s light smoothed and softened her features. Her sullen glare was gone. Now that she had changed back into her alter ego, her disheveled red hair and freckles had returned. Pretty Dynamo’s face was almost the same as Dana’s, but it was precisely symmetrical and free of blemishes, as if sculpted from wax.

Jake gazed at her for a moment and decided that he preferred Dana’s more human face. She really was pretty when she wasn’t sneering.

“Is she gonna be okay?” he asked.

“She needs rest,” Tesla replied quietly, “but, yes, I think she will recover this time.”

“This time?”

“The use of her backup system entails certain risks.”

Murmuring faintly, she turned onto her side. Gripping the tarp, she curled up and resumed snoring. Some of her hair fell across her face, so Jake gently brushed it back behind her ear.

Exhaustion finally overwhelmed him. His calves burned, as if he’d spent the last several hours doing stair runs. His hands shook. With a groan, he sank heavily to the floor.

“I realize you’re tired,” Tesla said, “but at least one of us should stay awake in case of trouble.”

“Okay,” said Jake. “You go first. I’ve got nothing left.”

Tesla chuckled. “Typical,” he said. “Typical human. Typical human male.”