Earlier this year in Shimmer’s “The Half-Dark Promise,” Malon Edwards wrote about a snake girl fighting tentacled shadow creatures. Here he writes about another strange girl fighting fantastical creatures. You may never look at Dance Dance Revolution the same way again.
Panic Twice, Spin
by Malon Edwards
You first noticed the miniature black hole in the corner of the playroom halfway into book one of the Cyber Sakura Seven series.
Your little sister, Mahina, was playing Panic Twice, Spin. Nintendo’s warning about cosmic repercussions was in big, bold red letters on the back of the game case, but you had thought nothing of it when you bought it with your allowance for Mahina’s re-up day. It was a game about fighting zombie-ninjas, for goodness’ sake. Besides, you used to play it all the time before Mahina died.
You had just gotten to the part of your book where Sakura’s cyber-suit is fused to her skin when you heard an odd sound in the corner of the playroom, left of the holo-vision. “That sounds like God flushing His toilet,” you thought. “But far, far away.”
Mahina, of course, heard nothing. And for good reason.
Three zombie-ninjas had just spewed green-black ichor and liquefied internal organs at her face, so she had to drop down into a James Brown split, which only got her one hundred points (even though it was a defensive Level Three move) because she wasn’t wearing the short, black, pointy holo-boots. You had told Mahina she would have to buy that upgrade pack with her own allowance when you bought Panic Twice, Spin for her earlier that day at the game store.
But you weren’t being mean when you told her that. In fact, you were being nice, just like your parents had asked you to do before they left. You were being a mature twelve-year-old. You were playing the part of the older sibling well. You only wished your parents were here to see it.
The nanny had told you your father was in Japan for his business and your mother was in China for hers, and they would meet up in Hawai’i and fly back home on their private jet sometime next week. Which was fine with you. For once, you were enjoying your little sister’s company.
You just couldn’t get enough of watching her play Panic Twice, Spin. There was something so adorable about it. Not like before, when she would play your game all the time and never ask your permission.
The old Mahina had almost been obsessive about that game. Like you, she just couldn’t get enough of it. She would sneak and play it all the time before she died. She had completed every storyline and almost every side quest, except the zombie-ninjas under the moon one. And she was doing so well with it now.
Mahina didn’t stay in her split for long. She chained it to a windmill: a leg sweep started the move, while her forearms and back took the brunt of the roll on the hardwood floor. Her momentum was continuous and fluid as her skinny little brown legs spun in a lethal V.
Those zombie-ninjas didn’t stand a chance.
Mahina took their legs off at the knees. Their rotted stumps went flying, end over end, landing off-screen. She laughed as she rolled and spun.
You couldn’t help but smile. This Mahina had the exact same laugh as the old Mahina. Your mother and father had made sure she was programmed that way. It was wonderful to hear again.
When your parents had told you they were going to buy a Naomi Nakamura Industries re-up to replace the old Mahina (sparing no expense, including a full memory upgrade to the hour before she was run down in the crosswalk by that drunk driver), you had thought the new Mahina would sound like a robot. It made sense, considering Naomi Nakamura Industries called her a paedroid. But this re-up was just like your little sister in every single way—especially when it came to difficult and intricate dance moves.
Mahina knew the last move of a combo chain was crucial for max points, so she ended her attack with a stab: head down; one skinny little arm fully extended and supporting her entire body weight; torso twisted toward the holo-vision; skinny little legs angled overhead—stiff, straight, and bent at the waist.
For five seconds, she held the move. One thousand points. And then, the zombie-ninjas broke her concentration with a barrage of shiny shuriken, thrown with adept accuracy, despite being legless and prone.
It was only instinct that saved Mahina.
Without thinking, she executed a leg sweep again, shifting from her stab into continuous flares, grateful for the gymnastics training your mother had made your nanny drag Mahina to from the day she turned two-and-a-half years old until the day of the hit-and-run accident last year. This time, not one, but two of her skinny little arms alternated in bearing her weight as her skinny little legs flared up and down—stock-straight, with a wide, saddle split—deflecting the six ninja stars right back at the zombie-ninjas.
Mahina smiled at the satisfying chunk! sound the shuriken made as they pierced the zombie-ninjas’ soft skulls and stuck fast within their rotted brains. Five hundred points each.
But she had no time to celebrate. A new horde of zombie-ninjas materialized from the shadows on all sides of her, moonlight glinting off their katanas.
You looked over at the black hole. God had flushed again, and the cosmic swirl was now larger.
Mahina flowed from her flares into a standing position, placed her feet shoulder-width apart, and snapped a Michael Jackson front kick. The zombie-ninjas hesitated. Three hundred points.
She tilted the brim of her black, cyber-coded fedora down over her eyes. The zombie-ninjas leaned back as one. Five hundred points. She grabbed her crotch. Negative five hundred points. The zombie-ninjas shuffled closer. Mahina frowned.
But it was all good. She’d just remembered one of the defensive combo chains in preparation for melee combat. Mahina crossed her feet at the ankles, twirled—once, twice, three times—and came to a perfect stop, facing the holo-vision and the holo-game console, balanced on her tip-toes. Eight hundred points.
You glanced at the black hole. It was shrinking.
Mahina grinned. She could feel the charisma boost coursing from her fedora through her body and into the game console. So she decided to go for the taunt bonus.
She snatched one of the peripherals from the floor—a cyber-microphone stand—and adjusted it to her height. The zombie-ninjas flung their katanas to the side as one. Mahina grabbed the mic stand with both hands. The zombie-ninjas snapped their heads back in a bring-it-on gesture. Mahina closed her eyes, tilted her head toward the full moon, and swayed a few shimmies of the Axl Rose snake dance. Sonic charge. The zombie-ninjas turned to the side, dangled one arm in front, one arm behind, bent their knees, and thrust their pelvises three times. Sonic charge counter.
Determined to land the first blow, Mahina unleashed her “Welcome to the jungle!” sonic screech anyway, even though their counter diminished its charge to just five seconds. Her sonic screech had little impact.
The zombie-ninjas went on the attack, and, as one, brought their decrepit right feet down with a mighty stomp. Flesh flew. The ground shook. Mahina stumbled. Her voice wavered. Her sonic screech dissipated into the holo-night air above. Her charisma dropped two points.
Relentless, the zombie-ninjas pressed their advantage.
The martial arts monsters formed straight lines, six rows deep. They stood at attention. They raised their arms over their heads and clapped, as one. The sonic blast knocked Mahina off her feet. The mic stand went flying across the playroom and slammed into the wall on the far side. Negative fifteen hundred points. The black hole grew larger. The sound swirled. You frowned.
In unison, the zombie-ninjas lunged left, dragging their right foot across the ground. Seismic charge. The zombie-ninjas stood at attention again and stomped. The ground buckled. Mahina fell. The zombie-ninjas lifted their left shoulders, then their right shoulders. They looked right, and then left. Taunt bonus: five hundred points.
Scowling, Mahina kicked into a windmill again, but this time the zombie-ninjas were wary. They squatted, hands on their thighs, and horse-stance walked ten steps backward, away from her. Mahina chained her windmill into a spinning one-handed handstand. As long as she kept the spin fast and tight, she would be impervious to any attack the zombie-ninjas sent her way.
But even an eight-year-old paedroid could only keep a spinning one-handed handstand going for so long.
As Mahina began to tire and wobble, she chained her spinning one-handed handstand into a one-handed back handspring. Five hundred points. But she wasn’t finished.
Planting her feet wide as she landed, Mahina tilted the brim of her black fedora down over her eyes, grabbed her crotch again, pointed skyward, and screamed. The moon began to run down the night sky in a wide river of pure light, right into Mahina’s hand, illuminating her from within. Ten thousand points.
The zombie-ninjas tried to flee, but they couldn’t shamble away fast enough on their rotted legs. Mahina put her palm toward the now pitch-black holo-sky, and a flash of light exploded outward from her in concentric waves of white brilliance. You shielded your eyes with your Cyber Sakura Seven book. The zombie-ninjas poofed into disintegrated dust. Fifty thousand points.
When you pulled your book down from your face, you saw Mahina grinning and holding a small, glowing white cube in her right hand. She placed her left hand over it. Clean white rays of light shone through her fingers, reaching high into the black holo-sky overhead.
She didn’t hold the glowing cube for long, though. Slowly, Mahina pulled her hands apart. As she did so, the cube grew larger. When she was satisfied with its size, she walked over to the black hole in the corner and placed the cube on top of it. The sound of God’s flushing toilet stopped. Five hundred thousand points. Side quest completed.
And that’s when I appeared.
You hadn’t noticed me at first. You put down your Cyber Sakura Seven book, picked up the holo-gloves, and asked Mahina, “Could you show me that spinning ‘V’ move? That was cool.”
Mahina was more than happy to show you. She would do anything for her big brother, so she nodded and grinned, took off the cyber fedora and the holo-gloves, and handed them to you. Without cut-eye. Without a fight. Without a snarky comment.
You were surprised. You’d thought, “Maybe Mom and Dad had the snark programmed out of her.” You would have done so, were Mahina your daughter.
But then I side-tracked you two when I coalesced into this lovely, curvy, hormone-stirring form from a twisting tornado of long, blue, silky hair that reached down from the moonless holo-sky above (because you and your snarky sister didn’t notice my big blue face pulsing and glowing on your holo-vision), and Mahina hit me full on with every iota of her eight-year-old snark:
“Who are you?” she’d asked me, her little hands on her little hips.
I pretended she wasn’t looking at me like I’d just blown a big bubble with her last piece of favorite bubble gum without asking if I could have it, put on an almost-but-not-real smile (snark truly is the antithesis of joy), and said, “Congratulations, Mahina! I am the Once in a Blue Moon Fairy. For your very cool dance moves, and your heroic efforts, which saved the world from some of the most reprehensible creatures known to eight-year-old girls everywhere, I will now grant your wish and turn you into a real little girl!”
I counted ten full seconds of awkward, dead silence. And then, Mahina said:
“I didn’t wish to be a real little girl. I don’t want to be a real little girl.”
My almost-but-not-quite-real smile fell off my face fast. “But every paedroid girl wants to be a real little girl,” I insisted. I even lifted my blue wand tipped with a sparkly silver star to show your sister how serious I was.
Mahina just wasn’t having it.
“Besides,” she told me in that insufferable little voice of hers, “my mom and dad are working very hard right now so I can have at least one more re-up year.”
You must have seen the confused look on my beautiful blue face.
“Naomi Nakamura Industries,” you explained, “only commissions dead daughters for one year. Three hundred and sixty-five days exactly. Once the paedroid’s bio-electric battery runs down, that’s it—unless the parents buy another year for their daughter.”
“And re-upping is not cheap,” Mahina said.
“But our parents are rich,” you said.
“Very rich,” Mahina said.
“And they’re getting even richer right now over in China and Japan,” you said.
“So, I don’t need you to become a real girl,” Mahina told me, shaking her head, making her short, eighty-seven percent keratin corkscrew curls fly, “because my mommy and daddy will get me five or ten more years of re-up with all of the money they’re making.”
Your little sister gave me such the sweetest smile I wanted to eat her up. Right then and there. No, really. Just like those zombie-ninjas she had just defeated.
I wanted to bite into her eighty-seven percent collagen cheek and tear the lab-grown flesh from her face with the tiny little pointed teeth I used for unreasonable little girls like her, and do it over and over and over again, until there was nothing left of Mahina but a bloody stain on your playroom floor.
But instead, I looked at you, and said, “Kaemon, talk some sense into your little sister.”
That’s when Mahina crooked her little finger at me. I came closer, and she beckoned for me to bend down. When I did, Mahina cupped her hands around my ear and stage whispered, “Maybe you should go find one of those paedroids who really need your help.”
I straightened up, transformed myself back into my tornado of blue hair, got the heck out of Highland Park, and did just that.
Her name is Tabitha. She’s eight years old, too. She died from leukemia. But now she’s very happy. And appreciative. Unlike you two, who will never complete this special look-through I’m giving her into Panic Twice, Spin II.
That’s right. You heard me.
Now who’s laughing?
(You ungrateful imps.)
Malon Edwards was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, but now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he was lured by his beautiful Canadian wife. Many of his short stories are set in an alternate Chicago and feature people of color. Malon also serves as Managing Director and Grants Administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation, which provides a number of grants for writers of speculative literature.