Bleary and grumpy, the Dark Queen slouched on her throne. She had another drink in hand: this one was a Bloody Mary spiced with Worcestershire, Tabasco, and horseradish—some hair of the dog to take the edge off a hangover. The night before, depressed by the Robosaurs’ early invasion, she had finally sat down with her henchmen in the Rec Room of Darkness to watch the battle unfold on the news.

When the Temple of the Moon Princess had fired the Weapon and opened a portal to eternal perdition above the city’s skyline, she had decided to get drunk. Her only consolation was the certain knowledge that many of the non-magical humans caught outside when the Weapon fired had failed their san checks.

“What a waste,” she muttered. “What an absolute waste.”

Her head pounded. She had wanted to phone in sick today, but she had to take an important call.

Holding a silver tray with a black telephone perched upon it as if he were a bellhop at a fancy hotel, Chirops waddled toward her, stopped at the foot of her dais, and bowed deeply. The phone slid off his tray with a clatter.

“Ah!” The Queen put a hand to her throbbing head. “Not so loud, fool!”

“My apologies, Your Darkness,” Chirops simpered, “but there’s a call for you.” He put a claw to the side of his snout and hissed, “It’s the General!”

She sighed. “Give me the phone.”

After he picked up the telephone in his wings and clutched it against his chest, he resumed his waddling. Once he reached her footstool, she snatched the handset and put it to her ear. She winced in pain when a gravelly voice bellowed from the earpiece.

“Hello, General,” she said.

For a minute, she listened to the bellowing and took a long pull from her Bloody Mary.

“Yes, mm hm. Yes. That’s right. Yes, the entire Robosaur civilization. Yes, wiped out. Completely. Well, I’m sure there are a few left, General, but I expect the magical girls to have them mopped up by the end of the day. No, there’s nothing I can do about it on my end. Nothing significant, anyway. Mm hm.”

She tapped her fingers against the arm of her throne.

“How is that my fault? Carrying an entire civilization through space, traveling from system to system, devouring all the resources like locusts, and then moving on? Who does that? So many of you guys have nuclear fusion, antigravity, and interstellar travel, so why can’t you husband your resources? Why can’t a super-civilization learn how to plant a freaking tree? It’s bull honkey!

She sipped her Bloody Mary.

“It’s an Earth expression, General. It means honkey from a bull.”

The bellowing on the other end grew louder. She took another drink. The vodka made the General slightly more tolerable.

“I wanted an army, General. Nobody asked the Robosaurs to bring their mates and children. If they think sticking a bunch of noncombatants in the air above a war zone is a great idea, that’s their problem.”

She listened again for a few seconds.

“Yes, was their problem. That’s what I meant. Obviously, they’re dead now.”

Another gulp. She was beginning to feel the buzz.

“Come to think of it, how do robots have mates and children anyway—? No, never mind. It’s not important.”

She held the phone a foot from her head and squinched up her eyes as the bellowing reached a fever pitch and then suddenly stopped.

“Hm? What’s that, General? Yes, I’ll hold.”

She covered the mouthpiece and said, “Well, now we’ve torn it. The Evil Space Aliens’ Union is pissed.”

Her purple tongue sliding across her lips, Matilda slinked up to the throne and bowed deeply. “If I may, Your Darkness, I believe I have some good news.”

“I’m sick of good news!” She drained the Bloody Mary to the dregs and considered sending a sycophant to make her another.

“I meant bad … um … evil news?”

“Oh! That’s more like it.” She leaned back in the throne, still cradling the headset. “Let’s hear it.”

“You know Magical Girl Grease Pencil Marionette?”

The Dark Queen rolled her eyes. “Of course I do. She’s a two-hundred-year-old computer, yet after all this time, she remains a threat to us. Shouldn’t she have automatically updated herself into planned obsolescence by now?”

“She has Wi-Fi.”

“So what?”

“So I’ve made several attacks on her systems,” replied Matilda as she gesticulated with her bony fingers, “but, alas, I have never found a vulnerability. For a long time, I thought that perhaps she had none.”

“Impossible. The man who designed her worked for Microsoft.”

“Even so, he was a super-genius. Marionette has a self-aware firewall independent of her mental software. She doesn’t even know there’s another mind lurking in her positronic brain, fending off my attacks. Ironically, this ghostly second mind keeps her healthy and sane: it is, you might say, a simulation of the human unconscious.”

The Queen frowned. “Interesting, but why should I care?”

A sickly grin spread across Matilda’s scabby lips. “Yestereve, her IP address disappeared from the city’s network. I hadn’t seen that in a long time, so I watched carefully. After several minutes, she came back online.”


Matilda’s grin grew even wider, displaying her crooked and rotting teeth. “And for about five seconds, her firewall was down.”

For a moment, the Dark Queen stared, but then she tipped her head back and laughed. At first, it was a giggle. Then a chuckle. Then a wild, freewheeling, maniacal guffaw. It even had a “mu” sound at the beginning of it. Gradually, her laugh grew louder and louder until the halls of the Dark Castle echoed with it, until it shook the hidden rafters in the darkness above.

Then, at once, the laughter stopped.

“Oh, sorry about that, General. Yes, I’m still here.”



Something hard and pointed pressed uncomfortably into the top of Jake’s skull. He swam slowly out of a vague but disquieting dream about dinosaurs and screaming girls to find himself sitting upright on a hard concrete floor, leaning back against a stack of wrestling mats.

The hard thing against the top of his head was even more uncomfortable now that he was awake. It moved, and he heard Dana’s voice from directly above him. Apparently, the thing was her chin.

“Were you watching me sleep, pervert?”

He rubbed his eyes. They were gritty. “You were watching me sleep just now, so we’re both perverts.”

She rolled over, and the tarp covering her crackled. She draped an arm over the side of the stack of mats. She couldn’t quite reach the floor, so she swung her hand back and forth.

“How ya feeling?” he asked.


“I’ll bet.” Slowly and carefully, he stood up. His back and hamstrings complained. For a moment, he leaned forward, having trouble straightening out. “So am I.” He glanced at his watch, but the face was cracked. “What time is it?”

Chin pressed down to a mat, eyes on the floor, she shrugged.

On a shelf against a wall, Tesla snorted, buzzed, and fluttered his wings. His abdomen flickered for a moment, and then came on with a steady glow. He sat up, yawned, and crawled around the shelf until he found his glasses and stuck them on his face.

“Weren’t you supposed to keep watch?” Jake asked.

“I was keeping watch, young man. I merely paused for a moment to rest my eyes.”

With a strangled groan, Jake hunkered down next to Dana. “Do you think you can transform?”

She shrugged again, eyes still on the floor.

“Everyone saw me run in here last night with Pretty Dynamo, so I better not walk out with Dana Volt.”

She flopped onto her back and pulled the tarp over her face. “Whatever. Go away.”

“So we’re back to this, huh? Turn into Pretty Dynamo, would you? She’s obnoxious, but at least she’s a better conversationalist.”

She yanked the tarp down and stared at him with a sullen, childish pout.

“Smile,” he said.


“Smile. Pretty Dynamo smiles. Why don’t you?”

She pulled the tarp over her face again. “Don’t compare me to Pretty Dynamo.”

“Why not? Aren’t you the same person?”

The tarp crackled as she turned on her side and curled into a ball. “Go away.”

“Not until I know you can transform. Is there something you need? A wall outlet? Am I supposed to plug you in?”

“I hate you. You’re stupid. Go away.”

He sat down on the mat next to her and, with a loud whump, threw himself backwards. “I’m not going until I know you’re okay. What do you need?”

She snapped upright, threw the tarp off, and pounded on his chest with her fists. “Go away! Go away! Go away!”

He finally responded when she socked him in the stomach. With an “oof!” he sat up and reached for her wrists. Having apparently learned from their last scuffle, she skittered back from him, but then dived in again, aiming a shoulder for his torso. He wrapped an arm around her middle and hauled her close to make it harder for her to hit him. She ended up in his lap.

With a snarl, she drove a heel into his shin. He grunted and let go. She jumped to her feet, turned on him, and rained wild punches on his head and shoulders.

“Don’t touch me! Pervert! Creep! Stalker!”

Her fist connected with the road rash on his cheek, sending a sharp spike of pain through his jaw.

“Ah! You’re touching me, you little brat! Stop it!”

He swung an arm and, with the edge of his wrist, caught her under the ribs. She spun around and slammed onto the mat.

She froze. She had that look of intense fear in her eyes again. He stood, brushed his hands down his sleeves, and backed away. When he gingerly touched his face, his fingers came away sticky with fresh blood. She had cracked his scabs.

“I should get this cleaned up. Hey, are you injured? There’s probably a first aid kit in here.”

She sat up, pulled her knees to her chin, stuck out her lower lip, and fixed him with her green eyes.

“You are such a dork, Dana. If you wanted me to leave you alone, why didn’t you leave me alone? You started it, remember?”

Keeping her nose to her knees, she scooted around until her back was to him.

He laughed. “Why did you do that, anyway? Why did you pick on me my first day?”

She didn’t answer.

“Okay, whatever. Turn into Pretty Dynamo and let’s see if we can get some food or something.”

“Why do you wanna see Pretty Dynamo so much?” she mumbled.

“I don’t. I just don’t want anyone to see you.”

She quivered. “I couldn’t do it.” Her voice sounded strained, as if she was about to burst into tears.

“Do what?”

She sniffed and wiped a wrist across her nose. “You said I had to kick butt, save the city, and come back in one piece. But they fired the Weapon, and I broke my Circuit Board—”

“You didn’t climb into that mothership because of me, did you?”

She tucked her head between her knees. “Shut up. Go away.”

“You still kicked butt, so that’s one out of three. And when I said come back in one piece, I meant you, not your equipment, so that’s two—”

“Shut up!”

He turned to Tesla, who had been watching the scene quietly. “Can she transform?” he asked.

“Since she’s slept, I think so. Her power drops significantly if she isn’t well fed, though. I’d like her to eat more than she does. She’s too thin.”

“Her powers run on food?”

“So do yours.”

“Oh … right.”

“Dana,” Tesla said, raising his voice, “this young man may be boorish in manners and displeasing to the eye—”


“—but he is, nonetheless, substantially correct. Now that you’ve rested, you really should transform, and we should get moving. The longer we wait, the longer it takes to clear the Robosaurs out of the city.”

With an annoyed whimper, Dana climbed off the mats, stuck one hand in the air, stared Jake down, and growled through clenched teeth, “Turn around this time.”

Trying not to laugh, he crossed his arms, turned, and braced himself.

“Shock my heart!”

He sucked air through his teeth when her electricity played across his back and stung his shoulders. But this time he didn’t peek.

“By the power of Zeus, Thor, and Raijin, release the energies within my soul! Electrifying the world with love and friendship—”

Yeah, right. Haven’t seen any evidence of that.

“—and making evildoers feel the wattage of justice—I am Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo!”

Jake waited another few seconds and then turned to face her. “Now—”

To his surprised, Pretty Dynamo was right behind him. She punched him in the stomach.

He doubled over and collapsed to the floor. “What was that for? I didn’t look—”

“Yeah, but you were thinkin’ it.”

“Dyna,” said Tesla from the shelf, his voice sharper than usual, “if your alter ego indulges in some fisticuffs with her classmates, that’s her business, but you could seriously injure a normal human, even by accident. You aren’t allowed to hit one.”

She made an exasperated rattle in her throat. “But—”

“I mean it.”

“Hmf. Fine.” She grabbed Jake by his collar and hauled him to his feet. “How ya feelin’?”

“Internal bleeding,” he gasped, clutching his middle. “Ruptured organs—”

Her face fell. “Really—?”

“No.” He tousled her hair. “But do what your familiar says.”

She slapped his hand away.

“Dyna,” said Tesla, “no hitting.”

“C’mon, that didn’t count! Rrr, whatever.”

Her stomach rumbled. She patted it and pointed a finger at Jake. “Find me something to eat, boy.”

“I can’t decide,” he replied.

“Decide what?”

“Whether I dislike you more when you’re sullen and pouty or when you’re brash and bossy.”

She wrapped an arm around his neck, forced him to bend over, and dug her knuckles into his scalp.

“Dyna!” Tesla shouted.

“Ah, sweet zappin’ Princess! This doesn’t count, either!”

She let him go, and he stumbled into the doors. When he threw them open, he blinked as early morning light, pouring through the hole in the wall, struck his eyes.

The gym doubled as the school cafeteria. Miss Percy, Rifle Maiden, and Voodoo Queen Natasha had unfolded one of the long tables from the wall and now sat at it, gabbing. In a corner, Bossy lay on the floor and chewed her cud. Natasha’s python lay nearby. Tesla flew over to join them.

Rifle Maiden waved. “Oy! Jake! Pretty Dynamo! Over here!”

Margherita, clad in an apron, popped up behind the cafeteria counter. “Good morning!” she sang. “I’ve commandeered the kitchen. They don’t have many fresh ingredients, unfortunately, but I’m making breakfast pizza!”

Dynamo’s stomach growled again. “Shouldn’t you and the teacher be in the basement? Rifle Maiden, Natasha, shouldn’t you two be fightin’ robot space dinosaurs?”

Margherita waved a spatula and clucked her tongue. “My dear little powerhouse, getting proper nutrition is also part of your duty. You can’t fight monsters without three square a day.”

She picked up a sheet of metal and added, “And they have square pizza pans in here, so it’s all good!”

Jake and Dynamo moved to the table. Jake slid onto the bench beside Rifle Maiden, and Dynamo sat across from him.

Miss Percy gasped. “Oh, Jake! Your face! We need to do something about that!” She rose from the table and bustled off.

Rifle Maiden handed Jake a napkin, which he used to pat the blood on his cheek. Then she nudged him in the ribs. “So what were you two doin’ last night?”

“Just sleeping,” he answered. “And fighting.”

“Wow, it’s like you’re married!”

Miss Percy swiftly returned, slammed a metal first aid kit onto the table, opened it, and swabbed Jake’s cheek with a square of gauze soaked in iodine.

It stung. He winced.

“You spent the night alone, unchaperoned, with a girl, in the equipment cupboard?” Miss Percy asked.

He tugged on his collar. “Uh …”

“Seems the equipment cupboard is becoming your favorite spot.”

“Miss Percy—”

She dug in harder with the gauze. “I’ll have to tell the janitor to put a lock on that thing.”

Rifle Maiden put an arm over Natasha’s shoulders. “Ah, it’s so romantic, bein’ in a closet with someone you love!”

Natasha slid out of her grasp.

Jake cleared his throat. “I was just trying to protect her identity—”

“My familiar was there,” Dynamo said as she tapped her fingers on the Formica tabletop. “How did we get in the closet?”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Jake as Miss Percy laid fresh gauze across his face and taped it in place. “You were asleep already. I carried you in—”

“What happened after I went on backup?”

Miss Percy finished up, closed the first aid kit with a snap, and took a seat.

Natasha touched a finger to her chin. “Can you remember anything from backup mode, Pretty Dynamo?”

Dynamo shook her head.

Rifle Maiden chuckled. “Well, then, I guess y’all don’ remember the part where Jake an’ Marionette—”

Jake stomped hard on her cowboy boot. She laughed, but didn’t finish her sentence.

Dynamo leaned a cheek on a hand. “Where’s the pizza?”

“Coming right up!” called Margherita. “How do you like your eggs, Pretty Dynamo?”

She lowered her chin to the table. “Scrambled.”

“And Jake?” Margherita called again.

“Over medium, if that’s not too much trouble—”

Dynamo screwed up her mouth. “You like your yolks runny? You are so gross.”

“Who asked you?”

Rifle Maiden wrapped an arm around Jake and cuddled up. “I like a man who knows what he wants. Dynamo, can I have ’im when you’re done?”

“You can have him right now for all I care.”

“Woohoo! Jakey-pie, do you like honky-tonks? Square-dancin’? Women’s sharpshootin’ competitions?”

Hunting for a change of subject, Jake looked over his shoulder toward the kitchen and called, “Hey, Margherita, do they have coffee back there?”

“Just instant,” she said. “I’m surprised they even have that. It’s an elementary school cafeteria, after all.”

“I’ll take some if you don’t mind.”

“Sugar? Powdery cream substitute?”


“Ooh,” said Rifle Maiden, squeezing him tight and laying her head on his shoulder, “you sure have grownup tastes.”

“Could you let go of me, please?”

Chin still on the table, Dynamo raised an eyebrow. “How old are you, anyway?”

“I’ll be fifteen in December.”

“Then why are you—?”

She stopped herself, and a touch of pink entered her cheeks. She looked away, affecting boredom.

Huh. When she’s hungry, Pretty Dynamo acts like Dana.

Interlacing her fingers, draping them over his shoulder, and laying her chin on them, Rifle Maiden said, “You’re a year my junior, but we can make it work. What school ya go to?”

“That’s an interesting question,” Jake said.

“He’s in fifth grade,” said Miss Percy, who put her nose in the air and looked decidedly unimpressed with the proceedings. “And I’ll take some coffee, too, Miss Mozzarella.”

“In a minute!” Margherita sang from the kitchen.

“So you’re a mite slow,” said Rifle Maiden. “Well, that’s all right. You’re still cute. Long as you keep your mouth shut—”

Jake pounded a fist on the tabletop. It made Dynamo’s teeth clack together, and she glared at him.

“I am not slow! I was supposed to be in calculus this year! And on the basketball team, maybe!”

“He’s my student,” said Miss Percy with a sniff. “And he’s always harassing the girls.”

Natasha clasped her hands together, closed her eyes, and nodded sagely. “Boys his age need sports to release their excess energy,” she said, “or they commit sex crimes.”

Jake leaned around Rifle Maiden. “Where the heck did you hear that? How old are you?”

Miss Percy frowned. “Girls … that reminds me of something … oh my Princess!” She jumped up from the table. “Dana! We forgot about Dana!”

Dynamo rolled her eyes, but the other magical girls were suddenly serious. “Who’s Dana?” Rifle Maiden asked, half-rising out of her seat.

“Boy or girl?” asked Natasha.

“She’s a girl! She’s in Jake’s class, and he picks on her something awful—oh, and she ran off right when those robot dinosaurs attacked!”

Natasha and Rifle Maiden exchanged a glance.

“She’s just a little girl,” Miss Percy cried. “A redhead—”

“Redhead!” said Rifle Maiden. “A real one?”

“Yes, you couldn’t miss her. She’s probably, oh, about Pretty Dynamo’s height.”

She pointed across the table. Impossible though it seemed, Dynamo blanched.

“This little girl is a classmate of Jake’s, whom he harasses, and who disappeared as soon as the monsters attacked?” Natasha asked. “And you say she’s the size of Pretty Dynamo?”

“Yes! I’m terribly worried! How can you be so calm?”

Rifle Maiden, with an easy grin, put her hands on Miss Percy’s shoulders and led her back to her seat. “Now, y’all just siddown and relax, Miss Percy. You can’t do nothin’ fer this li’l darlin’ if’n you’re about to faint from hunger.”

“But I haven’t seen her since yesterday! She could be dead or—”

“She probably spent the night hiding in a different place from yourself,” Natasha said. “I’ve little doubt she is alive and well.”

“That’s right,” said Rifle Maiden. “Once this is all over, you’ll see her back in class, safe and sound. But I’ll alert the girls, an’ you can betcher last silver dollar we’ll keep an eye out while we’re huntin’ today. Red hair, you say?”

“Yes. Red hair.”

Rifle Maiden whistled through her teeth. “Can’t say I’ve seen real red hair outside a picture book. I’d like to lay eyes on that anyhow.”

Jake squirmed in his seat. If her eyes were lasers, Pretty Dynamo would have been boring a hole through his face. He wanted to tell her to stop glaring because it made her look too much like Dana, but he decided against it.

Balancing four trays on her arms, Margherita sashayed out of the kitchen. “They didn’t have prosciutto or spinach, can you believe it? But there was basil, and there was olive oil, and there were three kinds of cheese. There were eggs, and I fried up some of those frozen breakfast potatoes in the big freezer.”

She slid the pizza trays onto the table.

“I made it work,” she said.

Soon after, cups of coffee and glasses of orange juice made their appearance. The coffee was nearly undrinkable, as are all instant coffees, and Jake wondered, not for the first time, how such a disgusting product stayed on the market. He drank it anyway.

Topping the pizzas were Monterey jack, mozzarella, parmesan, basil, breakfast potatoes, and eggs—available in over medium, scrambled, and sunny-side up, in accordance with the tastes of those gathered. They dug in. All talking ceased as three famished teenagers and two exhausted adults inhaled their food.

It was hearty and filling. The basil made a delicious accent, the crust was crispy, and both the eggs and potatoes were perfectly cooked.

“Mm mm!” cried Rifle Maiden. “I do believe we are truly in the presence of a chef o’ the Mozzarella crime family! I’m callin’ you Cookie from now on.”

Margherita blushed. “Oh, my! I’m so embarrassed! It’s really the best I could do with a school cafeteria kitchen—”

“It is excellent,” said Natasha quietly. “This food has good juju. The Loa are pleased.”

She chewed thoughtfully for half a minute before adding, “Could use some Tabasco, though.”

Margherita nodded. “I could see that. There’s none of that in this kitchen, though.”

Her eyes narrowed as she stared at Jake. “And you, I suppose you’re thinking right now that pineapple is a breakfast food, aren’t you?”


“Probably think it goes on breakfast pizza, don’t you? Don’t you?” Her fingers tightened on the edge of the table.

Jake swallowed loudly.

Pretty Dynamo had two slices in front of her, but she only picked at them. Looking for a distraction from Margherita’s murderous glare, Jake leaned toward her and whispered, “Hey, eat.”

She pouted.

“Eat before it gets cold. Margherita went to all this trouble—”

Dynamo looked away from him and stuck out her lower lip. “I’m not hungry.”

“Like heck you’re not—”

“Do you want something else?” Margherita asked. “Can I get you—?”

“Don’t pamper her,” said Jake. “She’s just being stubborn. Eat, darn it, or you’re gonna lose your form again. Eat, or you’re stuck with me in the closet for the rest of the day.”

Her mouth full of food, Rifle Maiden tipped her head back and laughed aloud.

With a grumble, Dynamo picked up a slice of pizza and bit into it. Her eyes widened. “It’s really good!”

Jake went back to eating his own. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Her jaw rhythmically working, Dynamo sucked the entire slice into her mouth and picked up another.

“Holy Princess, chew first—”

She had both of her slices of pizza down in seconds and reached for more. In less than a minute, she had devoured half a pizza with no sign of stopping.

“Where the heck are you putting that?”

She shot him another glower and kept eating. Soon, she had put down an entire pizza and started on another. She even ate some of Jake’s with the runny yolks.

“Maybe I should make more,” said Margherita.

“She is a growing girl,” said Natasha.

“She’s going to grow in the wrong direction if she eats like that,” said Miss Percy.

Dynamo made an aggravated rasping noise in her throat.

At the sound of clattering brick near the hole in the wall, everyone jumped up. Rifle Maiden drew both revolvers, and Pretty Dynamo pulled her wand.

A long shadow, cast by the early morning light, fell across the floor, and then a figure stepped inside.

It was Grease Pencil Marionette. She had changed her clothes: she now wore a pair of green short shorts, below which she wore white stockings held in place by garter belts, and above which she wore a green jacket that divided into long tails stretching down her sides. The jacket’s buttons were very high, leaving her midriff exposed. Between her wide lapels were white ruffles suggestive of a fancy dress shirt. She wore a green bowtie, and a cocked beret sat on her boy-cut silver hair.

In her arms was a girl in a pink minidress, her skirts puffed out by petticoats. One arm dangled limply, and half the girl’s face was charred black.

The others stared, silent. Pretty Dynamo slurped up a string of cheese dangling from her lip.

“It’s Card Collector Kasumi,” Marionette said, her voice rough. A single tear coursed down her cheek.