A Tale from Urbanopolis
Part 3 of 3
Pizza Margherita flew over a desolate, broken landscape. The moon and the twinkling stars offered only a little light. The distant horizon glowed a faint red, but that wasn’t an approaching dawn: it was the glow of lava from the volcanos that had sprung up across the globe during the upheavals of the First Invasion, the onslaught that wiped out most of humanity.
Margherita never veered from her course. The Pie in Sky was swift and silent. The land below was nothing but a dark blur, so Margherita and Pepper were spared the sight of broad plains of glassy sand fused by alien weaponry, of vast seas of rubble that were formerly human cities, and of the bleached bones of the countless dead. Urbanopolis was the Earth’s one remaining habitation. All the rest of the planet was now the tomb of a once-great species.
“I’ll show you, Tosser,” Margherita whispered. “I’ll show you what happens when Pizza goes bad.”
“Steady, Margherita,” Pepper said as he squinched up his eyes and let the wind blow through his teeth. “Remember the mission.”
“What did the boss send you?” Margherita asked.
“It’s not much,” Pepper replied. “Satellite photo shows a square-shaped structure, probably stone. Not much different from a lot of the ruins out here, so it’s no wonder that Sentinel never flagged it. The infrared shows quite a heat signature, though.”
“And Sentinel didn’t notice that?”
“There are a lot of heat signatures. Monsters are crawling all over the Earth, and a fair amount of your native fauna survived the First Invasion, too. Then there are all the volcanos. Sentinel can’t possibly track everything. This is stationary, and it isn’t particularly close to Urbanopolis. But here’s the thing: the Salad Soldiers, being plants, don’t generate much heat. They’ve got something in this building. Something big.”
Pepper shook his head. “We’ll find out.”
Deep in his top secret lair, King Tosser intertwined his long, flexible fingers and gazed over the rail of the elevated platform on which he stood. Before him, a great, gray cylinder stretched fifteen stories above his head and disappeared deep into the earth below. This room was a vast shaft, as wide as a sports stadium, and all around was a low, throbbing hum of hidden machinery. A hot wind blew up through the shaft, and two stories below was a gap in the enormous cylinder, through which Tosser could see a pale, red, pulsing light.
Around this vast chamber hovered other platforms, suspended from the walls on gimbal arms. Using the control panel that each platform contained, Tosser’s Salad Soldiers maneuvered themselves to different parts of the enormous cylinder and examined or modified it with wrenches, welding torches, and lasers.
They were putting the final touches on Tosser’s doomsday device.
“At last,” Tosser whispered. “At long last.”
He pulled the Mason jar from under his cloak and stroked it.
Behind him, chained to a metal table, Anne Shové thrashed. “You’ll never get away with it, you Tosser!”
“I already have,” Tosser scoffed. “Your precious Pizza Margherita will never find us here. And thanks to the Garnish of Gilgamesh, I shall soon cleanse the surface of this planet of every last speck of mammalian life! Then the plants shall flourish!”
Fondly, he gazed down at his jar. “I’m going to green the Earth,” he whispered. “I’m feeling very environmentally conscious right now.”
“I hope you choke on that!” Annie shouted.
“Oh, I’m not going to eat it, my dear Anne Shové. I have much, much bigger plans! Muahahaha!”
The whir and whine of gyros filled the air around them as the Salad Soldiers diligently worked. They barked commands at one another. However, they spoke not in English, but in their native language, Word Salad.
“Paradigmatic shift in the synergistic fusion of neo-Kantian perspectives on Hegelian Dialectic?” one called.
“Marxist theories of empowerment in a linguistic explication of the decolonization of a phallocentric worldview!” another called back.
Annie groaned as she lashed and reeled on the table. Her chains rattled. After a few minutes, she fell back, panting. “I don’t know their language,” she gasped, “yet I’m still pretty sure that half of those aren’t real words.”
“They’re saying that our great weapon is nearly complete,” Tosser told her with a broad but decidedly cold grin, “and your Pizza cannot save you now.”
After setting down the jar, he reached under his cape again and pulled out Annie’s kitchen knife and camcorder. “And what should I do with these, hm?”
Annie’s eyes bulged from her head. “No! Not the camera! Anything but the camera! I haven’t backed up the files to my computer, the cloud, a DVD, and my three external hard drives yet!”
“Oh?” Tosser sneered. “Is this precious to you?”
“Precious?” Annie shrieked. She thrashed again and gnashed her teeth. “Precious? It’s my only record of the daring exploits, the brave deeds, the death-defying heroics, and the innumerable panty shots of the greatest, most wonderful, most amazing, most perfect, and most delicious magical girl in the whole entire universe! Don’t you dare hurt my camera, Tosser, or I swear I will hunt you down to the ends of the galaxy! Aaarghh!”
She arched her back. Her face turned red and her fists turned purple as she futilely pulled against the chains encircling her wrists.
Tosser snickered as he lifted the camcorder high overhead. “Then perhaps I should use this … to record Pizza Margherita’s demise! Eh? Eh? Ahahaha!”
Annie dropped again, making the table creak. Sweat poured from her face. “Just, just”—she paused to lick her chapped lips—“just let me watch it afterwards, that’s all I ask.”
Twisting his mouth, Tosser lowered the camcorder and said, “Since I’m going to kill you soon anyway, I think somebody should finally tell you this: you’re a nutter. You know that, right?”
A peculiar creak came from above, followed by the frantic babbling of Salad Soldiers. Tosser snapped his head up to see a blur of red and white speeding down the smooth outer wall of the shaft. A Soldier threw himself at it, but the blur sent out a hissing, boiling stream that struck him full in the face. He tumbled down the shaft, screaming.
To Tosser’s left, The blur dropped onto one of the platforms and took on the definite shape of a girl in a minidress. With another burst of deadly, boiling tomato sauce, she cleared the platform of Salad Soldiers, sending them howling and plummeting to their deaths.
“Funny,” said Tosser drily as he lifted one bushy, green eyebrow. “I don’t remember sending for Pizza.”
“Beware, King Tosser,” Margherita shouted as she planted her fists on her hips, “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!”
“With Pepper!” Pepper yelled as he bounced at her side.
“And Anne Shové,” Annie said weakly from the table.
Tosser leaned into the controls. With a whir, his platform rose until it was level with Margherita’s. “Well, well, well. Pizza Margherita. What a surprise.”
“What’s on the menu tonight?” Pepper asked.
“I’m in the mood for some chopped salad,” Margherita replied as she pulled her pizza slicer from her apron.
“Hm,” said Tosser as he stroked his narrow chin. “No, I was thinking of slicing a Pizza, myself! Expendable minions! Get her!”
Using their tendril like fingers and root-like toes, the Salad Soldiers leapt onto the walls of the great shaft and stuck to it. They crawled toward Margherita’s platform and, with much roaring and snarling, hurled themselves at it.
“Vorpal Slicer!” Margherita shouted. Swinging her huge slicer like a baseball bat, she knocked aside each Salad Soldier that came her way, cutting him in half and sending his remains toward whatever lay in the depths below.
“Pepper!” Margherita cried. “Take the controls!”
Pepper leapt onto the platform’s control panel and steered it toward Tosser.
“Enough of this,” Tosser said. Shooting a vine from his abdomen, he wrapped it around Annie’s throat. “Stop right there, Margherita!” he shouted. “Stop, or I kill the psycho chick!”
“See!” cried Pepper. “Even he thinks she’s crazy!”
“Stay back, Margherita!” Annie sobbed. “You can’t fight him! He’s got tentacles! You know what happens when magical girls and tentacles get together!”
“These are vines!” Tosser snarled. “Vines, not tentacles! Stop being a perv!”
“What’s the difference?” Annie screamed.
“Oh, for the love of …” Tosser threw up his hands and drew his vine back from her throat. “I’ve had enough of this!” He pounded a fist against a large red button on his console.
Immediately, green bars shot out of the floor around Margherita, forming a cage.
“Ha!” said Margherita. “You think something like this can stop Pizza, Tosser?”
“I think it can,” Tosser replied with a chuckle.
“Then why didn’t you do that before you threw a bunch of your soldiers at her?” Pepper asked.
“This is nothing,” said Margherita. “I’ll just break out of—”
She reached a hand toward one of the bars, but instantly pulled it back as if she’d touched a hot stove. Tears springing from her eyes, she dropped to her knees. “Ah! Ah! It burns! Pepper, it burns!”
Tosser cackled. “Inside the bars of that cage, Margherita, is a puree made from all the most healthful vegetables in the world! Purple carrots, spinach, broccoli, even spirulina! It’s loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants—”
“Noooo!” Margherita screamed as she put her hands on her head and curled into a ball. “Those are just empty nutrients! Where’s the flavor?”
“The flavor’s right here, Margherita,” shouted Tosser, “for I am now savoring my victory! Bwahahahahahaha!”
“You fiend!” barked Pepper. “You’ll never get away with this! Surrounding Pizza Margherita with health food? It’s diabolical!”
“I’ve already gotten away with it, you flea-brained mutt. My minions have just now put the final touches on my Global Demammalifier, which will at last destroy all the disgusting, distasteful, furbearing, milk-secreting life on this accursed planet! Once I add the Garnish of Gilgamesh, the machine’s final component, you and all these foul humans will be dead!”
Still cackling, Tosser threw a switch to lower his platform toward the glowing gap in the cylinder’s side.
Panting on the table, Annie weakly raised her head. “But you promised,” she said, her voice rattling.
“Don’t bother me, girl,” Tosser replied as he leaned eagerly toward the approaching glow. “I have a genocide to commit and a post-genocidal victory dance to perform. Tonight, I might just shake my little vegetable booty.”
He slapped himself on his thin backside.
“You promised,” Annie said again.
“Promised what? What in the world are you talking about, you adolescent head case?”
“You promised you’d film it!” Annie shrieked. With an ear-piercing, inhuman cry that echoed throughout the vast chamber, she strained against her chains until her hands turned blue. Then, with a groan and a crash, the chains gave way and the table fell to the floor.
“Impossible!” Tosser cried.
“Now,” rasped Annie as she rose shakily to her feet, her stringy, sweat-drenched hair hanging over her face, “give me my camera!”
Snatching up her knife from the floor, she threw herself at Tosser.
He shot vines out of his body, but she hacked at them, cutting several off. He tried to enwrap her to hold her at bay, but she rammed a shoulder into his abdomen, sending him reeling into the control panel. The platform started rising again.
“That’s it, Annie!” Pepper shouted. Manipulating his own controls, he swung his and Margherita’s platform downward.
“Hurry, Pepper!” Margherita cried. “More soldiers!”
Indeed, great swarms of Salad Soldiers were gathering on the walls. Like cockroaches, a few skittered up the gimbal arms of both platforms.
Grabbing the lever in his tiny jaws, Pepper pushed. He lowered the platform until it was only a few feet under the one on which Tosser and Annie struggled. Then he swung around hard—
And the edge of Tosser’s platform smashed straight into the bars of Margherita’s cage! With a great crash, the bars collapsed. When the bars broke open at their bases, greenish vegetable puree poured across the floor. Fortunately, Margherita had the presence of mind to fire a string of mozzarella cheese from her wrist and stick it to Tosser’s platform as it shot by over her head. As she swung out into open space, Pepper jumped and caught the hem of her skirt in his teeth. As he dangled from her dress, she quickly climbed upward. Some of the crawling Salad Soldiers reached the smashed cage, and they shook their massive, clawed fists at her as she escaped.
Meanwhile, Annie had dug her knife deep into Tosser’s chest, but he merely grinned coldly as he wrapped her in vines and lifted her into the air. “Now, you little chit, I’m going to choke the life out of you—slowly.”
From below the lip of the platform, a hand reached up and grabbed his left foot. With a grin, Margherita pulled herself up over the edge. “I don’t think so.”
“So you’ve escaped,” Tosser snarled. “Then let’s finish it here!”
After dropping Annie, he pulled the knife out of his chest and threw it away. From beneath his cloak, he pulled the Tongs of Infamy. With a vine, he snatched up the jar containing the Garnish of Gilgamesh.
With a whoop, Margherita kicked her legs up and back. She flipped over in the air and landed on her feet in front of Tosser. Pepper dropped from her dress and hopped onto the control panel.
Margherita again drew her Vorpal Slicer.
Tosser smirked. He raised a hand to the swarming Salad Soldiers on the walls, signaling for them to keep their distance. “Margherita is mine!” he shouted. “The rest of you stay back!”
“Hiya!” Margherita struck out with her blade, but he swept it aside.
“Is this really what you want, Margherita?” he whispered.
Margherita swung again, and Tosser paried with his spoon.
“What do you mean?” Margherita asked.
Tosser thrust with his fork, but she spun the slicer in her hands, knocking him back.
“We are not so very different, you and I,” Tosser whispered.
“We’re nothing alike!”
“Oh, I think we are!” He struck again. Again she parried. “After all, I am a vegetable, and you cook with vegetables.”
“Liar!” She delivered a rapid series of heavy blows, but still he fought her off.
“Think, Margherita! You make your sauce with tomatoes! And you top your pizza with olives and bell peppers! Are these not vegetables? Are you not really, secretly, a servant of vegetables, just as I am?”
Shaking with rage, Margherita screamed as she swung the Vorpal Slicer viciously. The blade slid through the tentacle holding the Garnish of Gilgamesh. The jar dropped to the floor and rolled to the platform’s edge.
“No!” cried Tosser. His attention wavered, and Margherita moved in swiftly.
With an inhuman snarl, she slashed her spinning blade in a half-circle, slicing away both his wrists. The fork and spoon tumbled into the abyss. With one hand, she grabbed him by the throat and lifted him into the air.
“Tomatoes, olives, and peppers,” she hissed, “are fruits!”
With that, she threw him hard over the side. He screamed as he flew backwards into the pulsing glow in the open side of the great cylinder. When he struck it, he instantly burst into orange flames.
“Ouch,” said Pepper. “You sure cooked that vegetable.”
Annie threw herself to the floor and grabbed the Mason jar holding the garnish before it could tumble over the side. “I don’t think so, Pepper,” she said.
“Oh?” said Pepper.
“I would have said, ‘You sure tossed that salad.’”
The three of them laughed.
The Salad Soldiers gathered on the walls howled in rage and shook their claws. Some, in dismay, threw themselves to their deaths. But then a great rumble and a loud groan, as of some vast, ancient creature breathing its last gasp, came from the cylinder. Dust rained down from overhead. Then a crack spread up the cylinder’s side, and pulsing red light shone out.
“Oh no!” shouted Pepper. “I think the whole thing’s going to collapse!”
Margherita shook her head. “What is it with superweapons and secret bases? Don’t villains have building codes?”
A huge chunk of masonry dropped from above and smashed into the gimbal arm. The platform tipped precariously. Annie stumbled into Margherita, and Pepper barely held to the controls by his toenails. On the walls, the Salad Soldiers crawled in every direction, panicking. More of them lost their grip and fell, screaming.
“Get us out of here!” Pepper shouted.
“No problem!” Margherita shouted back. “Pie in the Sky!”
The huge pizza pie appeared. She threw Annie onto it, grabbed Pepper, and then leapt onto it herself.
“My camera!” Annie cried.
“It’s too late!” Pepper yelled.
Annie tried to jump from the pizza, but Margherita grabbed her around the waist and held her back. Now stones and dust plummeted from the ceiling on every side.
“Straight up, Margherita!” shouted Pepper.
She shot upward, dodging back and forth between falling stones as she went. Overhead, through what used to be the roof, she could see the stars.
They shot out into the cool night. With a rumble like the thunder, the great fortress of the Salad Soldiers cracked and crumbled into the earth. Annie sobbed in Margherita’s arms. The wind blew through their hair as Margherita somberly set a course toward the west, back toward Urbanopolis.
“I guess that’s the last we’ll see of King Tosser,” Margherita murmured.
“Unfortunately,” said Pepper, “he can regenerate. Even after taking a hit like that, I wouldn’t count on him being gone. Ultimately, it may be that only your Vorpal Slicer can bring him down, Margherita.”
Margherita nodded. She patted Annie’s back and then looked down at the Garnish of Gilgamesh in her hands. “At least we got this. So little remains of humanity’s past. Every remnant is precious.”
“It’s dangerous,” Pepper said. “Another monster could use it, or King Tosser could come for it again. We should destroy it.”
Margherita considered for a minute, but then shook her head.
“No,” she said. “This is part of the record of the life of man. And life is full of risks.”
She kicked up the speed of the Pie in the Sky, and soon her eyes watered from the wind. Behind, the glow of the distant volcanos gave way to a band of burning gold when the sun at last peeked above the horizon and lent a peculiarly cozy warmth to the vast plains of the ruined Earth.