JAKE AND THE DYNAMO Chapter 12

JAKE AND THE DYNAMO

CHAPTER 12: DANCE OF THE ZOMBIES

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At once, Dana stopped crying and wrapped her arms around her stomach. “Oh no … I gotta go!”

Jake peeked over the counter. “I don’t think we’re going anywhere until we know those zombies are gone.”

“No, I mean I gotta go!”

“What? Oh!” Jake jumped to his feet. “You had too much for breakfast.”

“Shut up!”

“There’s gotta be a bathroom in here someplace—”

His eyes scanned the small, cramped store. Soda machines and coffee pots crowded together on a counter against one wall. Filling the rest of the store were metal racks of junk food, mostly Indian namkeen. He spotted a corner, near the window, where a gap indicated a narrow hallway.

“There! The bathroom’s over there!”

Dana scrambled up from the floor and, now with one hand over her groin, ran toward the front. She rounded the corner, and a moment later, Jake heard the sound of a rattling doorknob.

“It’s locked!” she shouted.

He clattered around under the counter, where he found oily work gloves, the key to the cigarette case, and the dirty magazines they couldn’t display up front. Finally, he spotted a key dangling from a lengthy, battered block of wood.

“I got it!”

He slid across the counter, ran to the corner, and handed her the key. She jiggered it in the lock, muttering under her breath the whole while, until she finally got the knob to turn. She rushed inside and slammed the door behind her.

A moment later, she screamed, and the door bludgeoned Jake in the face as she came back through. He staggered as she slid to the floor behind him, but when he heard an animalistic snarl, he put his shoulder to the door and pushed hard. A blue-gray hand with bloody fingers shot out of the bathroom, but Jake pinned it between the door and the jamb.

Something heavy slammed against the door from the other side, sending Jake scooting back a foot. He put his shoulder to it again and shoved, this time meeting both an arm and a foot.

Dana sat on the floor and hyperventilated. “There’s a zom—a zom … oh no …”

A dark stain appeared on her skirt, and a puddle swiftly grew under her on the floor.

Jake backed up an inch from the door and hit it again, but to no avail. The zombie on the other side couldn’t feel pain.

“Tesla!” Jake shouted.

With a buzz, Tesla flew over from the counter and hovered at Jake’s shoulder.

“If you’re hoping for assistance,” he said, “I must admit my mass and strength will likely be insufficient.”

“Why is a zombie in the bathroom?”

“The demoniac’s resurrection spell might have a wide range. If he was already dead—”

“In the bathroom?”

“Perhaps he passed due to a brain aneurism. Humans have a curious ability to do themselves several forms of damage when going number two.”

With a screech, the zombie slammed hard into the door, and the wood splintered. Jake’s sneakers scrabbled against the grimy linoleum.

“Get me something! Anything! Something heavy or sharp!”

Tesla ran his claws over his antennae for a second, and then he turned around. “Dana—oh!”

Dana, sitting in a pool of her own urine, buried her face in her hands. “This is the worst day of my life.”

“Dana!” Jake shouted. “Get the heck up! Get off your soggy butt and get me a weapon!”

Her head snapped up. “I hate you!” she shrieked.

“You can hate me all you want! I don’t give a darn! But get me a weapon!”

“Dana,” said Tesla soothingly as he lowered himself to hover beside her head, “there’s a storeroom in the back, and it likely contains some tools. What’s say we find a hammer or—”

“I don’t care,” she said as she pulled her knees to her face. “I just don’t care anymore.”

“You’re gonna care in a minute,” Jake snarled, “when bathroom boy here is chomping on your brains!” He rammed himself against the door again. He heard more cracking wood.

He swallowed, closed his eyes for a second, took a deep breath, and said, “Dana, listen. I know it’s been a lousy couple of days, but you can handle this. You’ve had worse. You’re Pretty Dynamo—”

Dripping, she rose shakily to her feet. “Shut up, Jake! You don’t understand anything! I’m not Pretty Dynamo! Everyone always talks about how great she is! How great a fighter she is! How pretty she is! Well, I’m not her! I can’t be little miss perfect like her—!”

Jake slid down the door and stuck his feet out to keep his weight against it as his shoulders tired. “You’re a lot prettier than Dynamo.”

Dana lowered her hands to her sides. Her ears turned red.

Sweat poured from Jake’s hair. “Look, Dana, before a couple of days ago, I didn’t pay attention to magical girls. I thought you were a bunch of weirdos who dress funny. I still don’t know much about magical girls, but I’ve figured out one thing: being a magical girl sucks. So if you wanna take it out on me, fine. You wanna hit me, kick me, scream at me? Fine. If it makes you feel better, I will be that for you. But whatever you do, don’t quit. That’s the one thing I won’t stand. You hate Dynamo? Then show her you’re better than she is. She’s quit on us. Don’t you quit.”

Mouth open and eyes glistening, Dana turned around and ran toward the back. A moment later, she returned with a crowbar. Once she slapped it into his palm, he threw the door open.

“Come an’ get it, pal.”

The zombie wore a gray, oil-spotted dress shirt. His pants were around his ankles, and a dark brown stain ran down his naked legs. Jake slammed the crowbar into his head. The first blow was enough to knock the zombie back into the filth-streaked toilet.

Jake followed through with six more rapid strikes, and each made a wet-sounding crunch that turned his stomach. Once Jake smashed in the side of his head, the zombie stopped fighting back, though his blood-caked fingers continued twitching. Like worms or caterpillars, his shattered brains squirmed up the shaft of the crowbar, so Jake dropped it with a strangled cry of disgust, backed out of the bathroom, and locked the door.

He leaned on the door for half a minute and caught his breath while sweat streamed down his face. “Okay,” he said, “Tesla, what’s keeping her from transforming?” He put a hand on Dana’s shoulder and pushed her in front of himself as he walked toward the counter. She neither resisted nor complained.

Tesla flew to the counter and lowered himself onto it. He pulled his cracked glasses off, and, while squinting, felt around with one forelimb, apparently looking for something with which to wipe his spectacles. His shell opened and closed spasmodically, and his wings fluttered. His bioluminescent organ blinked.

“I don’t know. Unless the nanoprobes drained her completely … but I don’t see how they could have. She was at a full charge, and it’s impossible that they could siphon off so much energy so quickly.”

“They did.”

“I suppose, but I don’t know how. I never thought Stitches had access to such sophisticated equipment. She hails from the planet Sutura, and the Suturians’ sewing-based technology is by no means in advance of Elektron’s electronics—”

His antennae waved as he rubbed a pair of tarsal claws across his pronotum. “Besides that, Dyna’s decline was bizarre. When Pretty Dynamo runs low on energy, her powers don’t fade. Machines don’t grow weary. They shut off when depleted. Her organics might grow weaker, but not her artificial systems. And if she’s really out of energy, she should be struggling to stay awake. Sleep is her repair mode.”

Jake led Dana behind the counter and gently pushed her down to sit on the floor.

Tesla tapped a claw against his labrum. “Hmm … it is possible that the sweater was disruptive rather than draining. The gradual decline might be due to the time it took the nanomachines to take control of her systems and shut them down. If that’s the case, they might be interfering with her cybernetic implant.”

“Implant?”

“Of course.”

“You mean, right now? Not just when she’s Dynamo, but when she’s Dana, she’s got some sort of—”

“Of course.”

Jake looked down at Dana again. The thought made him queasy somehow.

He leaned close to Tesla and muttered, “What exactly did you do to her?”

Tesla stuck his glasses back over his compound eyes. “I did what any familiar does—I made a contract.”

Jake clenched and unclenched his jaw for a few seconds. “What exactly is this implant?”

“A simple device, really. It initiates her transformation sequence.”

“How?”

“By sending a current of electricity across her heart.”

“You mean she’s got a pacemaker?”

“If that helps you.”

“So when she says, ‘Shock my heart’—”

“It’s a voice command for the implant, yes. You look surprised.”

“I thought it was a metaphor.”

“No.”

“So all we need to do is shock her heart, and she should transform?”

Tesla rubbed his claw under his labium. “Theoretically, yes, if the current is sufficient—and if it doesn’t kill her.”

“What about the nanoprobes?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t claim to understand the technology unless I get a chance to study it, but, coming from Stitches, they are undoubtedly sewing-based, and therefore susceptible to garment-dismantling rays. There is the distinct possibility that transforming into her alter ego and then back into Pretty Dynamo will remove them and their effects entirely from her system. Something like a hard reboot for a malfunctioning computer.”

“That doesn’t work for everything.”

“I realize, but this is, let us say, more radical. Her transformation—this might disturb you, but bear with me—destroys and rebuilds her body from the ground up. Then it reconstructs her when she changes back.”

Jake couldn’t put a name to his reaction to that, but it must have looked ugly, because Tesla took a few steps backwards on the Formica countertop.

“Young man, you must understand that this—or something like it—is the norm for magical girls. Surely you realize that Dana Volt does not have Pretty Dynamo’s strength? Where do you think her strength comes from?”

“I assumed it came from magic.”

“But what is that? You use that word in the most primitive possible way, as a vague, blanket term for anything you don’t understand. But to every familiar, what you call magic is a disciplined field of study: even Voodoo Queen Natasha’s serpent Celestine comprehends the exact workings of Voodoo, the negotiations and briberies and economic transactions of the spirit world by means of which Natasha gets her power. To you, that is incomprehensible, but to her, it is science. To me, this, the power of electricity—including properties your scholars have not recognized—is my science. I brought to your world nothing more nor less than the technology of Elektron. It was all I had.”

Jake reached out and wrapped a hand around Tesla’s hard shell. “And you dumped that technology on some poor little girl? Why? We have a military, so why didn’t you give it to them? Or the Council Fathers? Or the High Priestess? Why Dana Volt?”

Tesla opened his mouth, but then, after a moment, closed it again. “I don’t know.”

“What?”

Tesla frowned. “It seemed that the best way to help your world was to imbue one of your young females with my technology … funny, it never occurred to me to do otherwise—”

“And why us? Why our planet?”

Now Tesla laughed. “Surely you jest. My boy, the whole universe is focused on your planet.”

“Why?”

Now Tesla frowned again. “Well … well, it never occurred to me to question that, either—”

“All of you, all you familiars, you all show up here, on our world and in our city, just to help us out?”

“Of course. I’d rather say you need it, given your uncanny ability to attract the attention of the darkest forces in the cosmos.”

“And every one of you gets the brilliant idea that the best way to help us out is to bestow this science of yours on a little girl?”

“Of course …”

Tesla frowned again and pushed his glasses up his clypeus.

Jake let go of him. “What do we do now?”

“Well, our best option is probably to find a way to shock Dana’s heart.”

“Exactly how much current does it take?”

“She needs at least a hundred joules in the space of fifteen milliseconds or less to activate her transformation sequence. The exact amperage and voltage are relatively unimportant so long as they produce the required energy.”

Jake’s eyes scanned the room until they alighted on a white box near the doorway to the storeroom. Printed on the box was the image of a heart with a lightning bolt streaking across it, much like the emblem that topped Pretty Dynamo’s wand. Above the image were the letters, “AED.”

Jake ran to the box, threw it open, and pulled out a blue pouch. “Will this work?”

Tesla flew to his shoulder as Jake unzipped the pouch. Inside were a safety razor and a rescue breath barrier, and a machine encased in purple plastic. Jake pulled out the machine and tossed the rest aside.

Leaning down and adjusting his glasses, Tesla said, “Ah. A simple yet elegant device: a transformer, capacitor, diode, two switches—”

“You can tell that just by looking at it?”

“I’m not just looking at it. I’m sensing its electromagnetic fields as well the conductivity and resistivity of its various components via organs for which there are no words in your language. Now, young man, consider: the conductive gel on those two pads there should, I estimate, reduce the resistivity of the human skin to approximately twenty ohms. The capacitor has a capacitance of about a thousand microfarads. The peak voltage is five hundred volts, which it should deliver in the space of one hundredth of a second when the capacitor discharges. Now, voltage is equal to amperage times resistivity, so with a little basic algebra, that gives us twenty-five amperes. Energy, measured in joules, is a product of the voltage times the electrical charge. The charge is measured in coulombs and is calculated from the amperage times the duration measured in seconds, and that means—”

“A hundred and twenty five joules,” Jake said.

“Very good, young man. You’ll make high school yet!”

“Math is kinda my thing.”

“You know how to use this device, I hope?”

Jake nodded. Advanced first aid had been a part of his schooling since he was twelve. In Urbanopolis, emergencies were a way of life.

“Dana,” he called, “take off your shirt!”

She had been sitting with her forehead against her knees, but now she glared at him. “What?”

There was a loud thunk, like the sound of a soft object striking glass. Jake looked over and saw a red streak across the storefront window.

Was that there before?

He walked toward Dana. “Look, I think we can get you—”

“Stay away from me!” She scrambled backwards, coming to rest against a shelf full of rolled-up receipt paper. Her chest heaved.

“Dana—”

“Don’t touch me!”

“Dana, for cryin’ out—”

He stopped. She stared up at him with that same wide-eyed, fearful look. She wasn’t just being ornery. A new thought flashed across his mind—

What happened to this girl?

Slowly, he knelt before her. He held out the automated external defibrillator and laid it on the floor as if offering a gift.  Putting his hands together, he said, “Dana, I swear by the wand of the Moon Princess, I will never, ever hurt you.”

Before his mind’s eye appeared the image of the bruises he had left on her arm, so he added, “On purpose.”

She had her back pressed hard against the shelf and one arm raised as if to strike him, or as if to ward off an anticipated blow. “You promise?”

“I just did.”

“Promise?”

“Yes, darn it!”

“Pinky swear?”

“Oh, for the love of—yes, cross my heart and everything. Would you hurry up?”

He heard another thunk. Rising to a crouch, he peeked over the top of the counter and saw a zombie looking through the store window. It was a woman. Half her face was torn away to reveal a skull caked with dried blood. From a hole in the side of her head protruded a length of pink brain matter that squirmed and wheeled in the air like a tentacle. When her sunken, bloodshot eyes alighted on Jake, her blood-rimed mouth broke into a wide, mirthless grin. She slapped a hand against the window, and then another. The pounding became a rhythm, slowly increasing in both speed and intensity.

“Oh my Princess.”

“We need to hurry,” said Tesla.

Dana, chest still heaving, pulled off the blouse of her uniform to reveal a threadbare undershirt.

“Huh,” said Jake. “I guess you haven’t graduated to a training bra yet—”

With a vicious snarl, she landed the toe of a Mary Jane on his shin. Taking the name of the Moon Princess in vain, he hopped away from her and fell on his back.

“Just tell me what I need to do!” she shouted.

He took to his feet. Two more zombies had appeared at the window, and they also beat their hands on the glass, falling into the same rhythm. Malice and hunger filled their dead eyes. Their gaze made the hairs on the back of Jake’s neck rise, and his insides suddenly felt cold.

He crouched again, pulled the plastic lid off the AED, and hit the power button.

A soothing, masculine, and very loud voice burst from the machine: “Remove all clothing from the patient’s chest.”

Jake met Dana’s eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Her face bright red, she pulled off her undershirt while Jake found the defibrillator pads. He peeked over the counter again. Eight zombies now crowded at the window, all beating against the glass.

He had seen her without clothes when she transformed, of course, but he hadn’t really looked. He already knew Dana was thin, but now he saw that she was astonishingly skinny. Almost all of her ribs showed through her porcelain-white skin, and her collarbones stuck out starkly below her neck. Brown freckles clustered on her shoulders and spilled down her upper arms. She kept her eyes on the floor and chewed her lip. Her ears burned. She trembled, perhaps from cold, perhaps from fear. She looked tiny, and decidedly pathetic.

He felt a sudden, absurdly powerful, and absurdly specific desire to wrap her in a blanket and give her a sandwich.

He pulled the backing off one of the sticky pads and reached toward her, but she snatched it from his hands, getting it stuck to her fingers. “Just tell me where it goes!”

The AED, in its announcer’s voice, declared, “Apply defibrillator pads to the places shown in the diagram.”

He pointed under her collarbone on the right side of her chest. “Push it on firmly.”

Grumbling, she did. Her freckles all but disappeared in the midst of her blush.

With a deafening crash, the window burst in. The zombies let out a chorus of grunts, snarls, and roars.

“Oh no, no!” Jake ripped the backing from the other pad and slapped it onto her ribs himself. She hissed and flinched away from him.

“Analyzing!” boomed the machine. “Do not touch the patient!”

Jake stood. The zombies, hands groping, poured through the window, mindless of the flesh they left behind on the jagged glass. They tumbled to the floor and then slowly, like elderly men with back problems, staggered to their feet. Thin lips pulled away from yellow teeth as they clomped forward, ravenous hunger in their eyes. They grunted and snuffled, but one worked his lips and his purple tongue until he formed a single word:

“Braaains!”

“Do not touch the patient!” the AED boomed again.

“Hurry up!” Jake shouted.

The zombies bumped against shelves and knocked pouches of crisps and boxes of cold medicine to the floor. They were only ten feet from the counter. Now eight. Now five.

“No shock advised,” the AED concluded. “Resume CPR.”

Jake stared down at the machine as panic tightened his chest. “What? What?”

Tesla rose into the air. “The device does not detect a ventricular fibrillation, it seems. Not surprising, since Dana’s heartrate is elevated but otherwise normal.”

“What do we do?”

“Well, if I tinkered with it for a few minutes—”

The zombie woman with the squirming brain stood on the other side of the counter like a customer buying a snack. She reached a hand, its flesh torn back from the bones of its fingers, toward Jake’s face.

“Perform chest compressions to the following rhythm,” declared the AED.

Then it began playing “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

Jake blinked. “Huh. That seems kinda frivolous—”

The zombies stopped moving. A look of confusion, as if she were trying to dredge up an ancient memory, replaced the predatory and ravenous look on the female zombie’s face. She drew back from Jake and grunted. Then she pointed at the floor. She pointed at the ceiling. Slowly, dragging her heavy feet, she pointed at each of the four walls. The other zombies stiffly gyrated their pelvises and pointed at various random objects in the store.

Tesla lowered himself to Jake’s shoulder and whispered, “Do you know what they’re doing?”

Jake blinked again. “I … I think they’re dancing.”

Tesla pushed his glasses up his clypeus. “Fascinating. It appears some residual memories remain lodged post-mortem in their demonically modified brain structures. Some motor memory is necessarily intact, of course; otherwise, they couldn’t walk. But this present behavior suggests that other memories remain as well, and their reaction to this musical piece tends to support speculations of mine regarding certain universals of human behavior.”

“What speculations?”

“Humans,” said Tesla as he again adjusted his rebellious spectacles, “like to get down with their bad selves.”

Jake rubbed his chin and pondered the AED. “I wonder if we can get this thing to play ‘Thriller’—”

As suddenly as it had started, the music stopped. “Perform rescue breaths,” the machine declared. “Breathe … breathe!”

A new look of rage entered the zombies’ eyes. They opened their mouths and their swollen tongues writhed as they screamed.

Jake scooped Dana into his arms and launched himself toward the doorway into the back room. Her urine soaked into his shirt. The AED, still wired to her chest, clattered against the floor as he dragged it. Hands outstretched and eyes alight, the zombies staggered after.

The back was full of cardboard boxes and stacked sports drinks. The boxes flanked a narrow path, at the end of which stood a metal fire door. Above the door blazed the word EXIT.

Jake ran. His right hip clipped a case of Kingfisher beer. He fell off balance and stumbled into more stacked goods. A box of potato crisps tumbled onto his shoulders.

The zombies poured into the room. They tripped over boxes. One fell flat on his face, but rose again and shambled forward, unaware of his broken nose.

“Analyzing,” the AED shouted. “Do not touch the patient!”

Jake staggered forward, but more boxes tumbled from the stacks and caught his feet. With Dana in his arms, he couldn’t push them out of his way. The zombies closed in. One of them stepped on the AED.

“Shock advised!” the AED announced. “Stand clear! Press the flashing blue button now!”

“What?” cried Jake. “What?”

Tesla zipped down and slapped a claw against the machine.

As if he’d run headfirst into an invisible wall, a burst of pressure knocked Jake to the floor, where he lay stunned. The zombies must have struck him. His body went numb, and that had to mean they was eating his brains—

I’m sorry, Dana. I tried. I really tried—

Above him hovered a blinding light. Something crackled against his skin. Perhaps he was dead already. Perhaps the Moon Princess was taking him to paradise. That, at least, was a comfort: he had done everything in his power to aid a magical girl, so the Princess, surely, would save his soul.

From within the light, a familiar voice cried, “By the power of Zeus, Thor, and Raijin, release the energies within my soul! Electrifying the world with love and friendship—and making evildoers feel the wattage of justice—I am Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo!”

He felt a grin spread his lips.

Go get ’em, Dana.

Pretty Dynamo, confident and powerful, stood above him in her armor and blue tutu. “Lightning Rod!” she shouted. “Surge Protector!”

Her left vambrace opened, and her shield unfolded. In her hand, her wand expanded into a shining spear. With a war-whoop, she leapt upon the zombies and sent them back to death.

Jake lowered his face to the storeroom’s cold concrete floor. Quietly, he said his second real prayer in a long while, and gave thanks to the Princess.

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