A Tale from Urbanopolis
Part 2 of 3
It was now one in the morning. Smarting from the recent disaster at the Unnatural History Museum, Magical Girl Space Princess Pizza Margherita and her faithful dog Pepper had retired to the Tomato Base, their secret hideout hidden in an old pizzeria down by the docks. This abandoned restaurant had been decidedly run-down when they first found it, but Margherita had spruced up the place. However, the carpet was still full of holes and the old tables were still piled in a corner. Cockroaches occasionally crawled around the floor. The wood-fired brick pizza oven, however, was intact and pristine. It stood behind the short-order bar, where it had been in full view of the customers.
Where a stainless steel kitchen counter had formerly stood, Pepper had installed a massive supercomputer, its surface full of knobs, switches, flashing lights, and blinking screens. Running on PizzaTech, the magic that Pepper had brought to Earth from Planet Italia, this computer required no electricity: it could easily and rapidly perform the most complex calculations as long as it had a steady supply of fresh ingredients. At the moment, Pepper stood on top of the bulky machine and grated a block of mozzarella cheese into its fuel tank.
Margherita sat at the bar. In a bad mood after the fight with King Tosser, she had headed straight for her favorite all-night parlor and ordered a combo with extra cheese and all the trimmings, to go. Now she was devouring the pizza and slurping red wine from a box. She had discovered three months prior that boxed wine could have the same salubrious effect on a magical girl as a juice box, and she had immediately taken advantage of it.
She wasn’t about to start drinking juice with her pizza. She had standards.
In need of a recharge, she was no longer in her magical form: she was now Margherita Della Mozzarella, an ordinary seventeen-year-old high schooler. The day before, she had begun her hunt for the wicked Salad Soldiers as soon as class had let out, so she was still in her school uniform—the red skirt, red tie, and fitted tan jacket of the prestigious all-girls’ T&A Academy, where both she and Annie were students.
Sniffling, she munched her fourth slice of the night. Pepper looked up and shook his head. “Margherita, if you keep eating like that, you’re gonna gain weight!”
“I don’t care!” she sobbed as she guzzled her wine. A long string of mozzarella stretched from her mouth down to her pizza slice, but she didn’t notice.
Pepper shook his head again. “You can’t afford to lose your figure! You know the T&A Academy only accepts girls with a certain kind of talent, and if you don’t measure up, you’re sure to spill out!”
“You mean wash out.”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter anymore!” Margherita dropped her forehead onto the Formica countertop. “What am I gonna do? What is Pizza without Anne Shové?”
Pepper tapped a paw on the computer’s chrome surface. “Uh … maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but a lot of people would prefer Pizza without Anne Shové—”
“She was the heart of this team!” Margherita blubbered before she shoved the rest of her half-eaten slice into her face.
“She was the psycho of this team,” Pepper muttered.
“Nothing! I said nothing! Look, I’m almost finished here. In a moment, I’ll have the computer booted up—”
Margherita jumped to her feet. With pizza sauce flecking her face, she cried, “You’ll be able to find where Annie is—?”
“Uh … no. But I will have online access to the menus of every pizza parlor in the city. Sweet, huh?”
Margherita stared at him for half a minute while she tapped her foot.
“Yeah,” she finally said. “It is, actually.”
One of the computer’s numerous monitors blinked with the words, “INCOMING MESSAGE.”
“Ah!” cried Pepper. He leapt down to the control console and flicked several switches with his paws. “I made contact earlier with the boss. Looks like he’s getting back to us!”
The screen turned white, and in the middle of the whiteness appeared the black silhouette of a man’s head. A deep, synthetically distorted voice intoned, “The moon shines her light on both good and bad.”
Margherita snapped to attention and made the Sign of the Moon Princess. “The moon is a reflection of the light of the sun!” she called.
“But the sun is a harsh mistress. Good evening, Magical Girl Space Princess Pizza Margherita.”
“Good evening, boss.”
“I hope we didn’t get you out of bed,” Pepper said as he turned another knob.
The boss chuckled. “It’s what I’m here for. I fed the information you gave me into Sentinel’s satellite network.”
“Any luck?” Pepper asked.
“Yes. It seems King Tosser and his nefarious Salad Soldiers are still on Earth’s surface. This is fortunate, as Sentinel’s ability to scan subterranean regions is, sadly, somewhat limited. But Sentinel discovered the signal you’re looking for and successfully triangulated it. I’m sending you the coordinates now.”
Another screen lit up, simply displaying latitude and longitude. Pepper hit a few more buttons, and a holographic globe appeared in the air between the bar and the oven. A bright green dot glowed on its surface.
“Out in the wastes,” Pepper said. “It’s gonna be quite a trip.”
The boss cleared his throat. Thanks to the distortion, it came through as a grinding noise, like someone trying to switch gears without depressing the clutch all the way. “Are you going to assemble a team for this, Margherita? I can put the word out to Magical Girl Grease Pencil Marionette, and I can request a military escort, but it will take time. I’d need four hours at least.”
“No,” Margherita said as she pounded a fist on the countertop. “We go now.”
“Margherita,” said Pepper with a yip, “be reasonable—”
“Pepper, you heard Tosser! Whatever he’s planning, he’s planning for tonight! We might be too late already!”
“Look, I ate, I drank. I can get us to Tosser’s lair, and I should still have enough power to fight.”
“What about getting back?”
“Margherita,” the boss said, “hit these coordinates as you leave town.”
A new set of numbers appeared on one of the screens.
“If you rendezvous there within six minutes,” said the boss, “I’ll have a drone deliver you a juice box variety pack. That will give you enough power to get you in and out for this mission—assuming you survive.”
Margherita swallowed hard, but nodded. “Thank you, boss. I’ll be there.”
“Anything else I can do for you?”
“Satellite image of our target,” Pepper replied.
“Hold on. Should be coming through in a second. The photo’s a week old, I’m afraid, but the infrared is current.”
“That’ll have to do,” said Pepper.
On the floor, a fax machine hummed and disgorged two images. Pepper jumped down and spread them out on the tiles with his paws. As his eyes scanned them, he said, “Time to suit up, Margherita.”
“I’ll let you get to it,” said the boss. His shadowy silhouette raised a hand to its forehead in the Sign of the Moon Princess. “Signing off. Good luck, Dame Margherita, and may the Princess be with you.”
Margherita returned the salute. “And also with you, boss.”
As the boss’s silhouette disappeared, Margherita thrust her right hand upward and shouted, “By the fiery ovens of the vasty cosmos, baked to perfection!”
She floated into the air, and her uniform disappeared. Her hair whipped about her face as she slowly spun. “Crispy crust and gooey cheese!” she cried. “A delicious dish that’s made to please!”
A bright light enveloped her body. On her legs, it solidified into her stockings and pumps. It swirled around her torso and became her checkered minidress. In her hair, it formed a fetching little paper hat.
“Behold,” shouted Margherita, “the incarnation of the food that ignites love and strengthens friendship, the greatest meal in all of space and time!”
She dropped back to the ground and stretched both arms over her head. Above her appeared a disc of raw dough. It dropped onto her curled knuckles, but she gracefully threw it into the air again as she spun on one foot. “Evildoers beware, for I toss the dough of justice, and justice is never half-baked! Saucy, spicy, and a little bit sweet, I am Magical Girl Space Princess Pizza Margherita!”
Pizza Margherita, glowing with the awesome energy of comfort food, stood in the midst of the shabby restaurant. She shone with an inner light.
Pepper leapt up onto the counter. “Are you ready, Margherita?”
“You bet I am, Pepper! Pie in the Sky!”
In a flash, the dough she was tossing transformed into a fully cooked pizza pie loaded with cheese and mottled with pepperoni. It expanded until it was five feet across. With a hum, it lowered until it hovered just above the ratty carpet.
Margherita leapt onto it. Barking for joy, Pepper joined her.
“Is this right, Pepper?” Margherita whispered. “Are we doing the right thing?”
Pepper smiled up at her. “Margherita, there are many forms of magic in the universe, more than anyone has counted. But ultimately, behind the magicks, there are only two powers—the power of the Light, and the power of the Shadow. From time immemorial, there has been war between pizza and salad. Pizza serves the light. That’s why people’s eyes shine when they eat it. It makes them smile because they know they are eating something good—something, indeed, that serves the one, true, ultimate good.”
Now Pepper’s gaze grew distant. “But salad serves the Shadow. That’s why children refuse to touch it, because children are innocent. By nature, they shun the things of darkness.”
He lowered his head and uttered a long, deep, mournful sigh. “This war will continue for all of time, until the stars fail and darkness covers all. Pizza must fight for the Light until there is no more light. Only when Lord Shadow takes his throne will our struggles cease. Then all things will cease, for the universe is a tomb.”
“Then let’s fight on,” said Margherita. “If the Moon Princess stands against the darkness, I will serve her, even knowing that the darkness will win.”
“Spoken like a true magical girl,” said Pepper.
Margherita stretched forth her hand, and the double doors of the restaurant burst open. With a whoop, she kicked off, and the Pie in the Sky shot out into the clear night with its two passengers.
Margherita guided her flying pizza high into the air. The towers of Urbanopolis, their windows lit like festive candles, spread out to every side. A cool breeze rustled her hair and played with the hem of her skirt. Overhead twinkled the bright, cold stars, every one of which had sworn enmity to the Princess, every one of which had vowed death to all mankind.
Beneath that vast canopy of seething malevolence, Pizza Margherita stood alone.
And she stood tall.
She turned her Pie in the Sky and directed it toward the east, away from Urbanopolis’s tranquil bay. She directed it toward the verdant hills that stretched above the picturesque suburbs. She directed it beyond those to the vast and blasted wastes, to the remnants of the shattered world of man.
To be concluded …