Tales of the Irony Maiden

 

Exchange Students

 

 

            I'm so defensive that I actually work to make people dislike me so I won't feel bad when they do.

 - Daria, from Psycho Therapy (4:08)

 

            I figure, being attractive and popular, that's what I'm good at. Maybe it's not that important, but, you know, it's what I can do.

 - Quinn, from Monster (2:06)

 

            Being Jane Lane's what I do best.

 - Jane, from Is It Fall Yet?

 

 

            Jane Lane walked through the brisk New England air, her long black hair and skirt swirling behind her in the breeze. She adjusted the strap on her messenger bag so she could pull her jacket closed against the wind. Her skirt and t-shirt were black, the jacket was a man’s suit jacket in tomato red. She’d found it in her father’s closet when she was in middle school and had worn it ever since.

            She focused on the steady thump-thump-thump of her boots on the asphalt and tried to calm and order her thoughts. Another day at High School Hell dealing with the freaks and the posers, the jocks and the preps, the geeks and the brains. The last group was her tribe, and being occasionally referred to as ‘Jane Brain’ was both distressing and satisfying. She sighed to herself and pushed her horn rimmed glasses back up on the bridge of her nose.

            She walked across the parking lot of Lawndale High and up the steps to the building. Before going through the door she paused and glanced back. She saw a blue Lexus pull to a stop in front of the school and a pair of girls got out of the car.

            The first girl waved absently at the driver and began to walk towards the school. She was wearing a high-waisted black dress that wouldn’t have been out of place at a high society funeral sometime in the eighteen hundreds. Her lipstick was black, as was the generous application of mascara . . . not enough to be silly, but definitely enough to be a decoration and not an enhancement. Her waist length hair was bright red, except for the last ten inches or so, which was soot black.

            Jane watched as she stopped to talk to Andrea and Katrina, and then looked over at the other new girl. She closed her car door, waved at the driver, and marched towards the school. This girl was wearing black cargo pants tucked into combat boots, a light brown t-shirt, and a green army jacket. Her auburn hair was cut into a bouncy page boy, and as she got closer Jane could see that she wore no make-up at all.

            “Howdy,” the girl said, walking directly up to Jane. “Reckon’ you can take us to see this Miss Li we have to talk to?”

            “I guess,” Jane said, taken aback. She glanced over the girl’s jacket again. “Sergeant Morgendorffer.”

            The girl grinned. “That’s my Dad, an’ if you ever meet him you’d best call him Gunny, and not just Sarge. There’s a difference.”

            Jane nodded.

            “Anyhow, I’m Daria. Nice to meetcha.”

            “Jane,” she said. The girls shook hands and Jane tried not to wince from the strength in the shorter girl’s grip.

            “Yo, Quinn!” Daria yelled. “Saddle up, we gotta go see that Li woman.”

 

            Quinn stepped out of her father’s car with an absent-minded wave and glided towards the front of the school building.

            “Hey,” a girl called out from nearby, “you look cool. What’s your name?”

            Quinn walked over to the girl and her friend, taking a moment to size them up as they examined her. The girl who had spoken was wearing a red skirt and a grey tank top, and had black hair with red streaks dyed into it. Her silent friend was slightly overweight, wore a black skirt with a grey t-shirt, and Eye of Horus make-up.

            “Quinn Morgendorffer,” she answered, slowly raising an eyebrow.

            “Cool name,” the first girl said. “I’m Katrina, this is Andrea. You’re number four.”

            “Four?”

            “Yeah,” Andrea said, “we haven’t talked to number three yet; she sort of scooted by us earlier like she was in a hurry.”

            “Wait,” Quinn said with a frown, “are you trying to tell me that there’s only four gothkin in the school?”

            “Yeah,” Katrina said with a shrug, “twice as many as we had last semester, though.”

            “Four times as many as we had in Highland,” Quinn said.

            “Yo, Quinn!” Daria yelled. “Saddle up, we gotta go see that Li woman.”

            Quinn closed her eyes and looked as if she was in physical pain.

            “Friend of yours?” Andrea asked with a smirk.

            “Sister,” Quinn sighed, “she is my personal tragedy.” Quinn turned and glided over to her sister and the emo chick standing nearby.

            “Quinn, this is Jane. She’s gonna help us find Li. Jane, my sister Quinn.”

            Jane smiled shyly and held her hand out to shake. Quinn arched an eyebrow and looked down at Jane’s hand as if she found it personally offensive. After a second, Jane withdrew her hand and looked at the ground.

            “Quinn, don’t be a bitch,” Daria said in a chiding tone.

            “Sorry,” Quinn said airily, “you know how I am about emo posers. Well, come on little emo girl, show us to the principal’s office.”

            “Down the hall that way, take a left. You can’t miss it,” Jane muttered. She turned and quickly walked off towards the library.

            “I bet she’s on her way to write about me on her LiveJournal,” Quinn said with a smirk.

            “Come on, Trouble.” Daria said, sounding exasperated.

 

            Jane sat by herself at the lunch table, morosely pushing alleged meatloaf around on her plate. The sound of a tray being put down on the table directly across from her was startling, causing her to flinch and make a small squeak noise. She shoved her glasses back up her nose and saw Daria sitting across from her. She nervously glanced around the cafeteria.

            “She ain’t here, freshmen don’t take lunch until we’re headed back to class,” Daria said.

            “Oh.”

            “Look, I’m real sorry about that. As the older sister it’s my responsibility to thump some manners into her, and I reckon’ I’ve been a little too lax recently. She won’t apologize, she don’t think she did wrong, but I hope you’ll accept my apology instead.”

            Jane nodded.

            “Good, ‘cause you seem like a decent sort. Most folks around here don’t seem too friendly.”

            Jane shrugged.

            “Don’t talk much, do ya?”

            “I don’t need to, usually. You’ve spoken to me more today than anybody else has the whole time I’ve gone to Lawndale High.”

            “You move here recently, too?”

            “I’ve lived here all my life,” Jane said with a sigh. “I just don’t get along with most people. They do stupid things for stupid reasons, and they get mad when I try to point it out. Mostly I just read, and let the idiots go enjoy their bread and circuses.”

            “I can see that, most folks just don’t have their heads on straight.”

            “So, how was your meeting with die Kommandantin?”

            “All right, I guess. She yammered on about the glory and honor of Lawndale High for a bit and then turned us over to some quack with ink blot tests.”

            “Manson.”

            “Yeah. Quinn gave her some cock-and-bull story about two people discussing existentialism and the existence of self.”

            “I snark therefore I am,” Jane said with a smirk.

            “Heh. I discussed the composition of the pictures, and how they were made with low quality ink that I’d never stoop to work with.”

            “You draw?”

            “Draw, paint, do a little bit of sculpture.” Daria shrugged. “I’ve been interested in art since I was little, and my Dad really encouraged me to get into it.”

            “Must be nice,” Jane muttered.

            “Why do you say that?”

            “My whole family is good at two things: art, and abandonment. They’re all so obsessed with their little artistic visions that they can’t bother to be human beings, so I said to hell with it. My Mom bought me a paint set when I was six and I threw it out the damn window.”

            “Sorry,” Daria said.

            “Not your fault,” Jane replied with a morose look. “I don’t hate art, or artists, I just hate my family. The only one that bothered to stay around is my brother Trent, and that’s because he’s too much of a slacker to leave.”

            “Look, you wanna come over to my place after school? We could watch the tube a little after we do homework, and I think Mom is making lasagna tonight.”

            Jane bit her lower lip pensively, and pushed her glasses back up on the bridge of her nose.

            “I’ll make Quinn behave.”

            “Ok, deal.”

 

            Quinn dropped her class books into her locker and pulled out the slim volume of Byron that she liked to read while eating. She closed the locker door and turned to walk to the lunchroom and found her path blocked by a group of three girls. The obvious leader of the group was a brunette wearing an aqua t-shirt and maroon slacks. One of her lackeys was a girl with pigtails, a denim skirt, and a blue midriff shirt; the other was a Chinese girl wearing a dark blue dress.

            “Listen, Count Gothula or whatever,” the lead girl said, “as president of the Fashion Club it is my duty to inform you that you’re going to have to stop looking like a freak. You’re going to give our school a bad name.”

            “So you think I should be a mindless drone like you and your flunkies?”

            “I think you should stop being an embarrassment to yourself and your fellow students. We discussed this during study hall and we’ve decided that rogue fashion elements have to be stamped out, and we’re starting with you depressing people.”

            “Because everyone will be happy when we’re all just alike,” Quinn said, rolling her eyes. “I think it’s time for you to go drink your Soma.”

            “You like to think you’re different, but you’re just like those other creepy girls.”

            “No, I’m not,” Quinn said, suddenly looking irritable, “and you obviously have no idea how my subculture works. Frankly, I’m not inclined to explain it either. Now move, I want to get lunch.”

            “We’re going to take you to the bathroom and teach you the right way to put on make-up,” the girl said, “then we’ll see about lunch.”

            “It’s for your own good,” the girl with pigtails added. “Please, let us help you. You could be so cute, I can tell.”

            Quinn’s eyes flicked to the second girl as she spoke, and then briefly past her. Looking back at the leader of the group, Quinn gave her an arrogant and condescending smile.

            “So, you intend to drag me kicking and screaming into a bathroom because you disapprove of my make-up?”

            “That’s just the start,” the girl said, “after school, you can come with us to Cashman's and we’ll help you pick out some new outfits.”

            “Like yours?”

            “Yes.”

            “Sorry,” Quinn sneered, “I don’t need help to dress up like a desperate prostitute.”

            Silence reigned momentarily, and then the lead girl’s hand came up in preparation for a good slap. When she tried to swing, she found her wrist held in an iron grip and a second hand dropping onto the opposite shoulder. Fingers dug into the soft spot between her shoulder and neck, and all the muscles on that side of her torso knotted up with pain.

            “The way we were raised,” someone said in her ear, speaking in a pleasant conversational tone, “if you can’t use something responsibly you get it taken away from you.”

            The girl whimpered in pain. Quinn glanced around and saw that the girl’s flunkies were already halfway down the hall and didn’t show any hint of stopping. Her sister’s new emo buddy was standing nearby with a shocked expression.

            “And I reckon’ slapping my sister is a pretty irresponsible use for your hand,” Daria continued. “On the other hand, you might not have been raised like we were so I’m gonna let it slide this time.”

            Daria released the girl and she stumbled against the lockers. She looked at the sisters hatefully and then ran off down the hall.

            “Thanks,” Quinn said.

            “Welcome,” Daria answered, “but you shouldn’t deliberately provoke folks like that. One of these days I’m not gonna be around and we’ll be scraping you off the floor.”

            “I can deal,” Quinn said with a shrug.

            “One more thing,” Daria said and pointed at Jane. “Be polite.”

            “Daria,” Quinn whined, rolling her eyes.

            Daria pointed again, and this time shot Quinn a smoldering glare.

            “Fine, fine. I’ll be polite. Now I have to go, Katrina is supposed to be meeting me at lunch and I’m late.”

 

            Jane and Daria walked down the sidewalk together after school.

            “Thanks for inviting me over,” Jane said, pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her nose.

            “It’s cool,” Daria said with a shrug.

            “I’m just glad I’m not stuck in that stupid self-esteem class anymore,” Jane said. “It took me six tries to finally escape.”

            “Must have been a hard class.”

            “No, I was able to pass the exit test every time. It was just that frickin’ Ms. Manson kept sending me back.”

            “Maybe she thought you had low self-esteem.”

            “I don’t have low self-esteem,” Jane grumbled. “I have low esteem for everyone else.”

            Daria chuckled and shook her head.

            “This is my place,” Jane said, waving at a yellow wooden house. “Mind if we stop in and I dump some of my books? This bag gets heavy.”

            “We can do that.”

            The girls went into the house and Daria waited in the living room while Jane went upstairs. Daria took the time to look around a bit, and she wasn’t sure what bothered her most about the house: the general clutter and obvious lack of house keeping or the stink that wafted in from the kitchen. After a few minutes, Jane came back downstairs with a much lighter bag and a couple of canned sodas.

            “Sorry they’re warm, I don’t have a ‘fridge upstairs,” Jane explained, “and I’m sorry it took so long, one of my deadbolts got stuck.”

            “Anything else you want to apologize for?” Daria asked, grinning at her new friend.

            “Um,” Jane said, seriously considering the question.

            “It was a joke.”

            “Oh, sorry again,” Jane said. She gave Daria a weak smile and pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose.

            “Let’s get out of here,” Daria said. Jane nodded and the two girls started towards the front door. Just before they reached it, someone knocked loudly.

            “You expecting somebody?” Daria asked.

            “No,” Jane said, “family just wanders in, and my brother’s friends all come in through the garage door. I’ve only got one friend, and she’s already in the house.”

            Daria smiled at Jane, and the knock was repeated. Daria motioned for Jane to be quiet and stepped up to the door. She went up on her toes to peer through the spyhole and saw a pair of large, well muscled men in dark suits.

            The two men spoke quietly and then the nearest one knocked again, this time with the side of his fist.

            “They’re gonna wake Trent up,” Jane said, looking worried.

            “Might not be a bad thing,” Daria whispered. “He any good in a fight?”

            “Better than me,” Jane muttered, looking at the floor.

            Daria frowned at Jane, then put her eye back to the spyhole. The two men were walking down the driveway towards a dark grey, four door sedan. They climbed in and drove away.

            “Any reason two guys in dark suits in a government looking car would be banging on your door?”

            “Dunno,” Jane said, “I keep all the bills paid online with Dad’s bank account. Most of the family is out of the country, so maybe one of them did something to piss somebody off. If it was Trent, it’d have just been the LPD.”

            “They were carrying concealed,” Daria said, her frown deepening, “and all my guns are at home. I think we should mosey on, now.”

 

            Daria had wanted to jog home, but half a block proved that Jane just wasn’t up to it. She leaned against a telephone pole and panted, occasionally wiping sweat off her forehead.

            “You’re taller than I am,” Daria said, “you should be a much better runner.”

            “Out of shape,” Jane wheezed, “I sit around all day, remember?”

            “I can get you in shape, if you like,” Daria offered. “Start easy on you, a little walking and some sit-ups. Before you know it, you’ll be up at five doing PT every morning.”

            “Five?” Jane asked, “I don’t know what PT is, but I’m not doing it at five in the morning.”

            “Physical Training,” Daria smirked, “and it’s best done before the sun gets up, even in winter.” The shorter girl glanced around. “Of course, winter is probably a lot colder up here.”

            Jane nodded, and started walking down the sidewalk again. Daria strolled along next to her, and glanced over questioningly when she noticed Jane adjusting her glasses again.

            “What’s with the glasses? Don’t they fit right?”

            “No,” Jane said sadly, “they’re an old pair of my Dad’s. When I was nine my vision was bad enough it was dangerous for me to walk to school by myself, but we couldn’t afford glasses. Trent found these in Dad’s dresser and we had the glasses place make my lenses to fit them.”

            “What’s wrong with your eyes?”

            “Cumulative strain . . . too much reading at too young an age with insufficient light. Now they’re degenerating on their own.”

            “Oh.”

            “I’m not going to go blind, but eventually everything is going to just look like colored blobs unless I’m wearing my glasses.”

            “Sorry I brought it up.”

            “Nah, it’s cool.”

            “Here’s my place,” Daria said, nodding towards a big brick house. “Go knock on the door and tell whoever answers that there’s a wolf trying to cut into the herd.”

            “I’m sorry, what?” Jane asked, watching as Daria turned and began to jog back down the road.

            “I’ll be back in ten or fifteen,” Daria said, picking up speed as she shifted from jog to a quick trot. Jane watched her in confusion until she saw a dark grey, four door sedan pull out of a side street and turn to follow.

            “Shit,” Jane mumbled, and quickly walked to Daria’s door and hit the bell a couple of times. After a moment a woman with waist length hair the same color as Daria’s opened the door. Jane blinked at the woman’s peasant blouse and leggings, an outfit straight out of the sixties, before she remembered what was going on.

            “Howdy,” the woman said, “are you sellin’ something, hun?”

            “Daria told me to tell you something about a wolf,” Jane answered. She made a slightly offended squawk when the woman grabbed her arm and jerked her into the house.

            “This better be a joke,” the woman muttered as she locked the door, “or her imagination. Girl is gonna scare the wits out of me yet.”

            “Um,” Jane said.

            “Sorry, hun. I’m Daria’s mom, you can call me Helen. What’s your name and what kind of trouble are you in?”

            “Jane, and I don’t think I’m in trouble. There were some guys at my house, and they might have followed us here, but I have no idea who they are or why they’d bother with me.”

            “I wish Jake was here,” Helen said quietly as she walked to the gun cabinet in the living room. She unlocked the cabinet and pulled out a shotgun and a box of shells. “You know how to use a gun?”

            “No.”

            “At least you’re honest,” Helen said with a smile. “I guess you’re in some of Daria’s classes.”

            “Yeah,” Jane said, watching the older woman load the shotgun and walk across the room to sit next to the living room window.

            “You’ll stay for dinner, we’re having lasagna.”

            “Sure, thanks.”

            “Good, you’re too skinny for a girl your age.”

            Jane tried to think of something to say to that and came up blank. The whole situation had gone beyond strange, and she felt a little like Alice down the rabbit hole. She shrugged to herself and fell back on her preferred method of coping: she perched on the edge of the couch and pulled a novel out of her messenger bag.

 

            Daria ran down the sidewalk, feeling her boot soles pounding the pavement the same way her heart pounded against her ribs. She felt the wind and the sun and the joy of motion. The fact that she was being pursued by two unknown men in a conspicuously inconspicuous car spoiled the fun a little, but she could bide her time.

            They followed her, meaning that they were looking for someone that lived at 111 Howard Drive, and almost certainly didn’t know her from Jane. This meant that as soon as she’d convinced them that she was the one they were after, she could quit being the deer and try her hand at being the wolf.

            She turned hard and ran down Jane’s front walk without slowing. When she reached the door, she half turned and grabbed for the knob. She barely had it turned when her shoulder hit the door but it was enough and she shot into the house, pausing a split second to kick the door shut as she passed. Just as it closed, she saw the sedan pulling into the driveway.

            She jogged though the kitchen, trying not to breathe too deeply. She stopped when she saw a young man standing next to the refrigerator in his boxer shorts. He was tall and handsome in a pale and pouty sort of way, with unruly black hair and a goatee. He had a crop of earrings and blue tribal tattoos on his arms.

            “Oh my, Dad would absolutely hate him,” she murmured to herself with a small smile.

            The man stared at her in shock, holding the refrigerator door with one hand and a beer with the other.

            “Lock the front door, and don’t answer it,” she advised. “Oh, and you might want to call the police.”

            “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

            “A friend,” she answered and blew the man a kiss, “see ya ‘round, cutey-pie.”

            She turned and ran out the back door, hearing the pounding start on the front as she left the house. The backyard was a grown over mess, with a half-collapsed gazebo to one side.

            Daria lifted herself over the fence into the neighbor’s backyard and began heading home, waving cheerfully to the people in the few occupied backyards she traversed.

            I’ll hunt later, she thought to herself, when Mom and Jane aren’t sitting around worrying about me.

 

            Jane looked up with a worried expression when Helen suddenly focused her attention from the window to the kitchen door.

            “You may want to find some carpet, hun.”

            Her eyes huge behind her glasses, Jane dropped to the floor in front of the couch. Helen stood and brought the shotgun up to her shoulder, pointing it at a spot a couple of feet to the left of the kitchen door.

            “I heard that glass door open,” she said loudly.

            “It’s me,” Daria called out. “Just catchin’ my breath before I hollered at you.”

            “What’s going on, sweetie?” Helen called out, lowering the shotgun.

            Daria walked into the living room and sat on the couch, red faced and still a little sweaty from her run. “Jane’s got trouble,” Daria answered with a shrug. “I’ll talk it over with Dad, ok?”

            “Alright, sweetie.” Helen emptied the shells out of the gun and put everything back in the cabinet. “I’m going to go finish dinner.”

            “Can I get off the floor now?”

            “I reckon’ so,” Daria answered with a small smile. “Mom tends to get a little carried away sometimes. Sorry about that.”

            “It’s ok,” Jane said, levering herself back up onto the couch. “Are those guys gone?”

            “Yeah, I dumped ‘em back at your place again.” Daria frowned. “I hope your brother had enough sense to call the police.”

            “Trent was awake?”

            “Yeah,” Daria grinned, “you didn’t tell me he was cute.”

            “Oh, God.” Jane slumped back on the couch and closed her eyes. “Not you, too.”

            “Got a harem, huh?”

            “No, his girlfriend keeps most of the groupies away.”

            “Groupies?”

            “He’s the lead singer of a band, they play in a couple of local clubs.”

            “Cool, we should go see ‘em.”

            “They suck,” Jane said, looking over at her friend. “Like, industrial grade suck.”

            “Hmm,” Daria shrugged. “I guess we could go for the eye candy then.”

            “The bass player has a live-in and a kid, the drummer is a spaz, and the lead guitarist is pretty, but about as smart as a bag of hair.”

            “And your brother has a groupie-hating girlfriend.”

            “Daria,” Jane said, leaning forward, “do not get ideas about my brother. Please.”

            “Ooo-kay,” Daria said, looking slightly confused. “You want to hang out upstairs until dinner is ready? I’ll show you some of my work.”

            “I’d like that.”

            The two girls started up the stairs, and Jane paused about halfway up to examine the family portraits hanging along side. There was one of an athletic looking man with dark brown hair with his arms around Helen. Next was one of Daria and Quinn facing away from one another, obviously a couple of years younger. The next was a group picture.

            “These aren’t photographs,” Jane said.

            “They were,” Daria said from the top of the stairs, “I used the pictures as models for the paintings.”

            Jane looked over the one of the sisters more carefully. Daria was crouched down with a huge grin, a knife, and a revolver of some kind. Quinn wore a smug grin, and stood with one hand behind her and the other holding up a big, yellow apple.

            “That’s me and Quinn,” Daria said, “she’s chaos and I’m order, she starts trouble and I finish it.”

            “Sounds annoying.”

            “Can be, but I reckon that’s what a kid sister does. C’mon.”

            Jane followed Daria into her room and looked around curiously. The walls were covered with dark grey padding, and the stubby remains of bars jutted out of the window casements. The furniture was sparse; a desk and chair, the bed, and an easel. There was a stack of canvases against the far wall.

            “What’s with the padding?”

            “The folks who had this house before us had a crazy relative up here. I told Dad that the room had an inspirational atmosphere and he let me keep it.”

            “Your Dad sounds cool.”

            “He’s the best. You’ll get to meet him at dinner tonight.”

            “Can I check out your paintings?”

            “Sure.”

            Jane spent the next few minutes going through the canvases while Daria sat on the bed and did sketches.

            “Who is she?” Jane asked, holding up one of the paintings. “You’ve got a lot of paintings of her in here.” The girl in the painting resembled Daria, but had long red hair. She was wearing a black jumpsuit and, in the picture Jane was looking at, was jumping backwards through a window while shooting a pair of pistols.

            “Oh, that’s Melody Powers,” Daria explained. “She’s like a government super spy or something, I never really worked it out exactly.”

            “She seems exceptionally violent,” Jane observed, still looking at the canvases.

            “You have to be violent if you’re going to slot some x-rays,” Daria said in a matter of fact tone.

            “Do what to who?”

            “Kill enemies.”

            “Oh.”

            “I used to want to make a comic book or something about her, but I can never come up with any good plot ideas. Just cool pictures of Melody killing people.”

            “You know, I do write occasionally,” Jane said.

            “Really?” Daria put her pad down and looked thoughtful. “If you could come up with a good plot and some dialogue we could maybe throw something together.”

            “And do what with it?”

            “Dunno, maybe put it in the school paper?” Daria shrugged. “I’d have to tone down the blood in the pictures, but we’d get extra credit and stuff for it.”

            “I’ve never been much of a joiner,” Jane said.

            “How about we see what we can come up with, and then we’ll decide what to do with it.”

            “Ok, deal. Anything specific you want me to work with for plot?”

            “She kills communists, usually Russian or Chinese. If you want to branch out past that I’ll have to do some more research on uniforms and stuff.”

            “It’s a good place to start.”

            Some one knocked on Daria’s door and she called out, “Enter.”

            Quinn pushed the door open and looked in, frowning slightly at Jane. “Mom said we were having a guest for dinner. I figured it was emo girl, but I wanted to check first. If she cuts herself don’t let her bleed on the hall carpet, ok?”

            “Quinn,” Daria started, but Quinn pulled the door closed and walked away.

            “That was being polite?” Jane asked.

            “For her? Yeah.”

 

            Later that evening the Morgendorffers, with an extra place set for Jane, sat down to dinner. A large baking pan of lasagna sat in the center of the table, with a platter of garlic bread next to it. Helen poured everyone a glass of iced tea while Jake dished out the lasagna, and then they sat at their places.

            Jane took a hefty fork full of pasta, and glanced around the table. She stopped, the fork halfway to her mouth, when she saw everyone else had their eyes closed and their hands folded on the table.

            “Amen,” Jake said, and the family began eating.

            “It’s ok,” Daria said when she noticed Jane’s embarrassment. “We don’t mind sharing dinner with heathens.”

            “We let you eat here,” Quinn said to her sister with a smirk.

            “Girls,” Helen said.

            “So,” Jake said, “tell me more about these guys you and Jane were having trouble with.”

            “I’m pretty sure they weren’t law enforcement,” Daria said with a shrug. “They never called out, or flashed any badges or paperwork. I don’t think they were criminals, either though. They were in a car, and they could have caught me if they really wanted to.”

            Jane took a sip of her drink and almost gagged. “Ugh! Did you mix corn syrup with this?” she exclaimed, and then suddenly blushed bright red. “Sorry.”

            The Morgendorffers all glanced at one another quietly, and then Daria shook her head and muttered, “Damnyankee.”

            Jane shrank down in her seat a little. Quinn got up from the table and walked to the refrigerator, and came back with a can of diet cola.

            “Here,” she said, plunking the can down in front of Jane. “Now quit trying to suck your head down into your shirt. You’re an emo chick, not a turtle.”

            “Thanks,” Jane muttered, and continued eating.

            “Anyway,” Jake said, “so who do you think those guys were, kiddo? You saw ‘em, not me.”

            Daria looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “Can’t say. Maybe government, maybe high roller criminals. I didn’t like the look of ‘em.”

            “I’ll tell you who they were,” Helen said, stabbing at a piece of lasagna. “They were from one of those government groups that don’t have names. They were following us around in Texas, and now they’re following us here.” She slammed her fork and knife down on the table and looked around angrily. “Well, if they think we’re gonna roll over and play sheep for them they’ve got another think coming. Because this little sheep has . . . .”

            “Helen!” Jake said, snapping his fingers in his wife’s face. “Helen, we’re not at the compound anymore. The BATF is not watching us. Ok?”

            “Ok,” Helen said quietly, and started eating again. Every now and then, she’d look out the sliding glass door to the back yard as if she’d seen something.

 

            “I’m gonna walk Jane home, be back later,” Daria said.

            “Kiddo, you be careful,” Jake answered, giving her a stern look. “You make sure you come back with what you’re leaving with.”

            “I’ll do my best,” Daria promised, and headed out the door with Jane in tow.

            “Sorry about the tea,” Jane said as soon as they reached the sidewalk. “I’ve never had it that sweet before.”

            “S’ok,” Daria said, “I’d have warned you, but that’s how we’ve always made it.”

            “The lasagna was fantastic, though.”

            “My Grandma Ruth’s recipe,” Daria said. “Dad must have asked her a dozen times before she finally let Mom copy it.”

            “Speaking of your mom,” Jane said hesitantly.

            “Mom and Dad joined one of the Texas militias after Dad got out of the Marines,” Daria said with a shrug. “According to Dad the other folks started going nuts after a few years and when I was born he decided it was time to go. Mom had already bought in, but she’s not as bad as she used to be.”

            “Oh,” Jane said, “my parents are hippies, and I thought they were strange.”

            The two girls chuckled quietly as they walked down the sidewalk.

            “Here we are,” Jane said, “home sweet hovel.”

            “See you at school tomorrow,” Daria said. She stood on the sidewalk and watched as Jane went into her house. A minute later, an upstairs light came on. Daria turned and walked back down the sidewalk until she came to a spot where the street light was out, and stepped off into the bushes.

            She pulled the camo paint set out of her jacket pocket and started painting her face and hands.

            I left with twelve rounds, she thought to herself as she unsnapped her holster. Dad, I promise to come back with as many of them as possible.

 

            Daria stayed in the bushes near Jane’s house, settled into a comfortable crouch that she could maintain for a few hours if need be. She didn’t have to wait nearly so long before something interesting happened.

            She heard boot soles on the pavement as someone crossed the street, and was able to catch a silhouette for a second as the person passed in front of a street light. The individual was quite a bit taller than Daria, with a thin build. Daria slipped out of cover and glided along behind the intruder, quietly drawing her pistol.

            The other person paused a moment on the front steps and Daria stood up straight, taking an easy two-handed grip on her pistol. She aimed directly for the back of the head and flicked off her safety. The other person froze. “Come to finish the job?” she asked in a bitter, angry voice.

            “Maybe,” Daria answered, “depends on how you answer a couple questions. Like, who are you and what are you doing?”

            “My name is Penny, and I live here goddammit,” The woman slowly turned. “Who the hell are you?”

            “I’m the girl with the gun, an’ that means I do the asking and you do the answering. Got it?”

            Daria heard a window being opened on the floor above them, and called out, “Jane?”

            “Uh, yeah?”

            “You got a Penny lives here?”

            “I’ve got a sister named Penny, yeah. Why are you still here?”

            “Come downstairs,” Daria said, “big sister is home.” Daria took two steps away from the woman and lowered her pistol. “We gonna have trouble?”

            “You’re looking out for Janey?”

            “Yup.”

            “About time somebody did,” Penny said darkly. “And yeah, we’re going to have trouble. We can handle it like civilized people, though.”

            “Say when,” Daria said, holstering her weapon.

            The front door opened and Jane peered out, wearing a huge t-shirt and an annoyed expression. “What the hell?” she asked.

            Penny pushed past her little sister into the house and Daria followed.

            “Dios, this place is a pit,” Penny muttered, looking at the accumulated trash and filth.

            “Penny,” Daria said, “you asked me if I was going to finish the job. Are there people following you?”

            “Not that I know of,” Penny said, shoving a pile of dirty clothes out of a chair and sitting. “The bastards killed my damn parrot.”

            “Killed your parrot?”

            “Yeah,” Penny looked at the floor and seemed close to tears. “I heard this crack noise, and Chiquito fell off my shoulder. His head was gone.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that,” Daria said, “was this today?”

            “No,” Penny said, glaring at Daria angrily. “I was in Colombia last week. Dad came by to visit for a little while, he was there taking pictures of some waterfalls for some nature magazine. The village we were staying in was near one of those big coca plantations, and somebody killed the guy running the whole place.”

            “Wow,” Jane said quietly.

            “Yeah. Anyway, the whole place got really dangerous for Americanos so Dad made a couple of calls to the closest embassy and got us a jeep and a driver. We were halfway to Bogotá when the bastards got Chiquito.”

            “Where’s your Dad?” Daria asked.

            “He put me on a plane back to Maryland, and said he was heading to Switzerland. His next assignment was some kind of huge clock show.”

            “Sorry about your parrot,” Jane murmured.

            “I’ll be ok,” Penny said, looking sad. “I’m going to crash here a few days while I make up my mind where to go next.”

            Jane and Daria stood in the living room and watched Penny head upstairs to her bedroom.

            “You were waiting for those guys to come back,” Jane said.

            “Yup.”

            “What were you going to do if they did show up?”

            “Ask ‘em a few questions,” Daria answered with a shrug. “You get all hurt or kidnapped, and I won’t have nobody to write my Melody Powers comic strip for me.”

            “You’re insane,” Jane said, grinning.

            “Yup.”

            “I’ve got to get to bed, we’ve got school tomorrow.”

            “Yeah, me too. Look, you said you’ve got deadbolts on your bedroom door, right?”

            “Two.”

            “Alright, you keep ‘em locked. I’ll be here in the morning to walk to school with you, ok?”

            “Sure,” Jane said, and watched as Daria walked to the front door. “Daria?”

            “Yeah?”

            “Thanks.”

            “No sweat, see you in the morning.”

 

***

 

            The next day, Daria was in art class working on a sketch. She would occasionally glance at the girl she was sharing a table with. The girl wore a cheerleader uniform, and had her blonde hair up in pigtails. She also had the largest breasts Daria had seen this side of a B grade slasher flick.

            “Perspective is hard,” the girl said with a sigh. She glumly looked at her scribbles, and then glanced over at Daria’s elaborate landscape scene. “If I can’t figure this out, I’m going to have to take remedial art. I heard they make all the lefties become righties.”

            “You are a rightie,” Daria pointed out.

            The girl examined her hands for a moment with an air of confusion, and then gave Daria a hopeful look. “You’re good at art. Can you show me how to do this?”

            “Alright,” Daria said, “you know how it is when things seem really far away?”

            “Like the weekend?”

            “No, far off stuff. Like mountains and buildings.”

            “Daria,” the girl said crossly, “we’re in a building.”

            Daria rubbed her temple for a moment, and then flipped Brittany’s paper over. On the back, she quickly penciled a sketch of Brittany.

            “Wow, that looks just like me!”

            “Thanks,” Daria said. “Now, pretend you’re at the mall standing in front of J.J. Jeeters.” While she spoke, Daria added the hallway and a few store fronts to the drawing.

            “Oh, like I would shop there.”

            “You ain’t gotta go in,” Daria said, trying not to grit her teeth. “You’re looking at Cashman’s department store,” she continued, drawing in the elaborate entrance to the shop at the end of the hallway.

            “That’s more like it.”

            “It’s way down at the other end of the mall,” Daria said, tapping the paper with the pencil eraser. “Everything seems to be pointing at the entrance and saying ‘come shop, come shop’,” Daria smirked and added, “one day sale!”

            “I get it! That’s a really good drawing, Daria.”

            “That’s one point perspective. All the lines are pointing to one spot on the horizon.”

            “Thanks, Daria!” Brittany said. “Um, but one other thing . . . .”

            “Yeah?”

            “Is Cashman’s really having a one day sale?”

            Daria sighed and went back to her own drawing. After a moment, Brittany prodded her on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Daria?”

            “Yeah?”

            “I really do appreciate you helping me with this.”

            “Welcome.”

            “I want to help you with something.”

            “I’m not interested in learning how to twirl my hair and look vacant, but thanks for offering.”

            “I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you can teach,” Brittany answered, twirling her hair around one finger. “I was thinking more that since you’re new here you don’t have many friends.”

            “Just the one.”

            “Do you want to come to my party tomorrow? You could meet more people.”

            “Is that an invitation?”

            “Sure, but just this once.”

            “Why, Brittany!” Daria said, “I’m flattered.”

            “Well, I promised the other cheerleaders I wouldn’t invite any really attractive girls.”

            Daria stared at Brittany for a moment, at a loss for what to say.

            “So, will you come?”

            “Brittany,” Daria said, “do you ever actually listen to anything you say?”

            “Um, no.”

            “I didn’t think so. Can I bring a friend?”

            “Sure!” Brittany said, “But remember: if it’s a girl, she can’t be too pretty.”

 

            “A party?” Jane asked, looking worried. “At Brittany Taylor’s house? No way.”

            “I bet I could get some great sketches there,” Daria said speculatively.

            “There’ll be plenty of people posing,” Jane muttered, and then looked over at her friend. “You actually want to go to this, don’t you?”

            “I haven’t been to a party in a while,” Daria answered with a shrug. “C’mon, it’ll be fun . . . one way or another.”

            “Ok,” Jane said grudgingly, “I suppose I can’t resist the allure of potential carnage.”

            “Great, so what are you gonna wear?”

            “Wear?” Jane asked, pushing her glasses back up on her nose.

            “You do have party clothes, right?”

            “No, I really don’t have a need for that sort of thing.”

            “You don’t go out clubbing?” Daria asked.

            “Only during seal season.”

            “Funny girl,” Daria said, walking over to her closet and poking around in the clothes. “I have, um, damn . . . absolutely nothing that will fit you.”

            “I’m not much for the paramilitary look anyway.”

            “I don’t wear these clothes when I go out to party,” Daria said. “I wear stuff like this.” Daria turned, holding up a vinyl corset dress.

            “You wear that in public?” Jane asked, her eyes widening.

            “No point in wearing it in private,” Daria said, rolling her eyes. She hung the dress on the top of her closet door and started digging around on the closet floor. “I know my nice boots are in here, somewhere.”

            “Do I have to dress like that?”

            “No, but I bet you’d shock the hell out of some people if you did.”

            “I’d be one of them,” Jane muttered, pushing her glasses back up on her nose. “Your dad lets you out of the house in that dress?”

            “Yeah, he trusts me to take care of myself. Dad only has five rules: no tats, no piercings, no drugs, no booze, no smokes.” Daria turned and grinned at Jane. “Quinn’s already broken four rules, which puts her one ahead of me. Naughty little girl, ain’t she?”

            “Do I even want to ask?” Jane said weakly, as Daria plunged back into her closet in search of the elusive boots.

 

***

 

            Daria tapped on Quinn’s bedroom door before walking in, the three-inch heels on her boots putting extra sway into her walk. She was holding up her corset dress with one hand, and carrying a black silk ribbon in the other.

            “You need me to lace you up?” Quinn asked.

            “Yeah, and I need to borrow your make-up a minute when you’re done.”

            “You should really buy your own,” Quinn said, rolling her eyes. “Sharing lipstick with my sister is kind of creepy.”

            “I don’t use it that often, if I bought my own it’d go bad.”

            Quinn shook her head and started lacing up the back of her sister’s dress. After she was done she walked back to her four-poster bed and perched on the edge, letting her pale skin and red hair contrast with the black sheets and curtains.

            “You never just sit,” Daria said while applying mascara. “You always pose, like somebody is about to take your picture.”

            “We all have our little gifts,” Quinn said with a small smile. “So, you getting all slutted up to impress your little emo friend?”

            “I like guys,” Daria said in a slightly annoyed tone.

            “I kinda feel bad about being mean to her, now.” Quinn sighed and pouted at her sister. “She’s cute once you get her to quit hiding behind all that hair.”

            “You really need to figure out which way your weather vane points,” Daria muttered.

            Quinn snickered and went back to her book.

            A few minutes later, Daria turned to her sister and said, “So, how do I look?”

            Quinn walked over and examined Daria’s face. The mascara brought out her eyes without being over the top, and the black lipstick was just right. Quinn smirked when she saw her sister’s necklace: a choker made of black and blue beads, with a red heart pendant suspended at the center of her throat.

            “I’d do my eyes more, but that looks good on you.”

            “Thanks,” Daria stood and adjusted her dress. “Where you gonna be tonight?”

            “The girls are going out to some grunge club. Andrea likes it, so it’s probably horrid.” Quinn shrugged. “Katrina’s older sister is in a band, and they’re playing tonight. It’ll be the first chance Scarlett and I have had to really get out on the town.”

            “Well, you and the bat patrol have fun. I’m going to a house party being thrown by the captain of the cheer squad.”

            “Nice to know I’ll be having a better night than somebody,” Quinn said with a smirk.

            Daria rolled her eyes and headed downstairs. She walked into the kitchen, where her mother was sitting at the table reading one of her romance novels.

            “Mom, I’m heading out. Can you toss me the keys?”

            “Sure, hun.” Helen reached into her pants pocket and pulled out a set of keys which she slid across the table to Daria.

            “Aw,” Daria said, looking at the keys, “Mom, you know how much I hate driving your monster.”

            “I know, but your father is in Baltimore and he took his car with him.”

            Daria sighed and nodded. “Ok, Mom. I’m headed out.”

            “Good night, hun. You be careful, now.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”

 

            Daria parked the red SUV in Jane’s driveway and blew the horn. A moment later, the door opened and Jane walked over to the truck and got in.

            “Glad to see you,” Jane said, “Trent and Penny are about to head to the Zon, and I don’t like sitting around downstairs by myself.”

            “Quinn’s right,” Daria said, looking at Jane. “You do hide behind your hair.”

            “What?”

            Daria reached out and brushed Jane’s hair back from her face. Jane looked shocked for a second, then drew away and shook her head to let her hair drop back into its usual place. She stared at Daria, her eyes huge behind her glasses.

            “Jane,” Daria growled.

            “I slipped in the shower, hit the towel bar,” Jane whispered. “I’m really clumsy, Daria.”

            “Once again, my little sister acts from the shadows,” Daria muttered with a scowl. She turned off the truck’s engine and opened her door.

            “Where are you going?”

            “To go kick the crap out of your towel bar.”

            “Daria, please let’s just go to the party,” Jane pleaded. “Everything is fine.”

            Daria closed her door, cranked the truck, and barked the tires on her way out of the driveway.

            “I’m going to need a drink,” she muttered. “I hope you can drive this thing back.”

            “Hey, that’s one broken rule,” Jane said. “Right?”

            “Yeah,” Daria said, letting Jane lighten the mood a little. “So, out of five you know one that I’ve broken for certain. Which other two?”

            “Well, I know you don’t smoke. I’d be able to smell it on you.”

            “Ok.”

            “I bet ‘no drugs’ is the one you and Quinn have in common for not breaking.”

            “I’ll give you that one.”

            “Which means,” Jane paused and pushed her glasses back up on her nose. “Oh my God, you have tattoos and piercings!?”

            “Belly button ring,” Daria said smugly, “and the USMC emblem on my right ass cheek.”

            “Marines?”

            “My dad and granddad were Marines,” Daria said proudly. “I’m gonna be a Marine, too. They were ground pounders, but I wanna to fly.”

            “That’s cool.”

            “I’ve already talked to Dad’s old platoon leader a couple of times. He’s a major now, and he said that he’d give me a chance to earn a spot at Annapolis.”

            “I wish I knew what I was going to do with my life,” Jane said with a sigh. “Sounds like you’ve got yours figured out.”

            “I’ve got a couple of years to whip you into shape,” Daria said with a shrug. “I’ll need a good wingman.”

            “I’ll think about it,” Jane said with a chuckle.

            Daria pulled into the entrance to the Crewe Neck community and stopped at the guard booth. When the guard walked over she rolled down her window and smiled at him.

            “We’re here for the party at the Taylors’,” she said. “Daria Morgendorffer and guest?”

            “Hmm,” the guard said, running his finger down the list and staring at Daria’s cleavage. “Yeah, right here it is. You have a nice time, miss. Don’t hesitate to call if you need a security guard.”

            “Sure thing, hun.” Daria smirked and drove into the subdivision. “Men,” she chuckled.

            Daria parked the truck and climbed out, having to drop to the ground. She straightened her dress and started walking towards the house.

            “You sure you want to do this?” Jane asked, catching up to her.

            “Sure, why not?” Daria asked. “Just because people can be cliquey and snotty is no reason not to like them.”

            “I guess.”

            “Besides, you’ll do fine,” Daria said, ringing the doorbell. “Quinn said she thinks you’re cute.”

            “What!?”

            “Daria,” Brittany said, opening the door. “I’m so glad you came, now were even!”

            “This is Jane, she’s the friend I told you I was going to bring.”

            Brittany examined Jane closely, then looked back at Daria in her revealing dress. “The other cheerleaders are gonna be mad at me,” she sighed, “but come on in.”

            Daria smiled at Brittany and wandered over to the snack table with Jane following closely behind. “Ooo, look – two kinds of chips,” she said with a smirk.

            “Your sister said what?” Jane asked.

            “Quinn says a lot of things,” Daria said with a smirk. “Look, don’t stress over it. She said it to me because she knew I’d repeat it to you. This way, you know she’s interested but she doesn’t have to face the potential embarrassment of talking to you directly.”

            “She’s one twisted little crueler,” Jane said, adjusting her glasses. “You don’t think she was just trying to yank my chain?”

            “She probably has the opposite intention, but if you’re not interested she won’t push it. She does have some manners.”

            “She wants me to yank her chain?” Jane asked, clearly confused. “But, why would . . . wait . . . never mind, I really don’t want to know if you meant that literally.”

            “Then I won’t tell you.”

            “Hello, ladies.” A young man with bright red hair joined them at the snack table. “Chuck Ruttheimer here, and you are?”

            “Glenda.”

            Daria gave Jane a funny look before saying, “Daria.”

            “Well,” Chuck said, “I'll be your social director for the evening. Would you ladies like a tour of the house? It's free.”

            “Do you accept tips?” Daria asked.

            “Of course.”

            “Ditch the bangs.”

            “Grrr, feisty.” Chuck stepped around the table and started to put his arms around the girls. Daria took a quick step to her left and grabbed the boy’s wrist, twisting it into a painful lock.

            “Jane,” Daria said conversationally, “is this a yankee thing? I keep running into people that don’t know how to use their hands responsibly.”

            “No, we’re mostly civilized. Maybe it’s just something about you Texas girls that inspires such a strong reaction.”

            “I hadn’t thought about that,” Daria said, nodding.

            “Might be something to consider, before you follow through on one of those threats to rips somebody’s hand off.”

            “Ow,” Chuck whimpered.

            “Oh, sorry!” Daria said, releasing the boy. “Forgot you were there.”

            “It happens,” Chuck said, looking at the floor and shuffling off.

            “Damn it,” Daria muttered.

            “What?”

            “He looks like a kicked puppy, now I feel bad.” Daria strode off across the living room in pursuit of the dejected redhead.

            Jane glanced around the room nervously, and then popped a potato chip into her mouth. “Mmm,” she murmured, “ridgy.”

            “You’re Jane, right?” Jane glanced over at the tall man who had joined her at the snack table and recognized Mack MacKenzie, captain of the football team.

            “Sometimes,” she said, getting a deer in the headlights look.

            “You can call me Mack,” he said with a smile, “just don’t call me Mack Daddy, ok?”

            “Sure.”

            “You look about as miserable and out of place as I do.”

            “You? You’re the football captain, why are you out of place?”

            “I’m the football babysitter,” he answered with an eye roll. “I have to keep an eye on these other goofballs so they don’t get in trouble and get kicked off the team.”

            “Full time job?”

            “Yeah,” he answered, smiling ruefully. “I’ve already had to take our quarterback’s keys away from him. Three of our defensive linemen almost got into a brawl over one of the Clubbies, the one with the long braids. I’m worried about our kicker, though.”

            “Why?”

            “He just got yanked into the laundry room by a girl dressed like an extra from Vampire Bimbos from Mars,” Mack said, and then frowned. “Not that I watch movies like that.”

            “Of course not,” Jane said with a small smile. “Just on MST3K?”

            “Hey, you watch that?”

            “That and Sick, Sad World.”

            “My parents hate that show,” Mack answered with a grin.

            “Mack, who’s your friend?” Jane recognized the newcomer as Jodie Landon, the school’s resident overachiever and star student. She was also Mack’s girlfriend, and was currently examining Jane with eyes narrowed and claws out.

            “This is Jane, she’s in some of our classes,” Mack said. “She’s always so quiet, I thought it might be nice to get to know her better.”

            “How nice,” Jodie said, “Jane, you should really volunteer for something. There are so many school activities that I’m sure you could profit from. Why don’t we talk about it Monday?”

            “Sure,” Jane said, nervously pushing her glasses back up on her nose.

            “Come on,” Jodie said, tugging on Mack’s arm. “Brittany said she was going to unlock the indoor pool. I’m glad I brought my bathing suit with me.”

            “Talk to you later,” Mack said, waving to Jane as he allowed Jodie to drag him off.

            “That was fun,” Jane muttered to herself, turning back to the snack table and selecting a flat chip this time.

            “What was fun?” Daria asked.

            “Nothing I’m doing,” Jane said, glancing at her friend. She reached up and pulled a sock off Daria’s shoulder. “Yours?”

            “Football jerk,” Daria said, rolling her eyes. “He thought my head was a lollipop. This scene is dead, you wanna check out that grunge club? Quinn and her friends will be there, so we can collectively embarrass all our siblings at once.”

            Jane shrugged and the two headed for the door. They had just gotten outside when some sort of grinding, metallic noise started coming from the top of Daria’s left boot.

            “Phone,” Daria explained, pulling a cell phone out of her boot top. She flipped it open and said, “Hello?”

            “Daria Morgendorffer?” a man asked.

            “Yeah, and who are you?”

            “I’m lost and found. You lost a couple of redheads. You wanna find them, you do just what I say.”

 

            “What do you want?” Daria growled into the phone.

            “Your little friend there?” the man asked.

            “Yeah.”

            “You’re going to take her and drive to the airport in Baltimore, where you’re going to pick up her daddy when he gets off an airplane. Then you’re going to get another call from me. Understand?”

            “How do I know you’re not lying to me?”

            She heard silence for a moment, and then Quinn came on the line. “Hi, sis.”

            “Quinn, what the hell is going on?”

            “I’ve been kidnapped, duh. I met your friend’s sister at the club and we went outside for a smoke. Next thing I knew we were getting pulled into the back of a van.”

            “Where are you?”

            “I know of no reason it should be forgot, ok?” Quinn said. “Oh, and tell Jane that heart pendant she wore tonight looks really nice on her.”

            “Quinn,” Daria said.

            “I’ll be calling again,” the man said, “in three hours. You better get on the road.”

            Daria frowned as the call was cut off, and then started scrolling though her number list.

            “What was that all about?” Jane asked.

            “Either my sister has gotten really good at practical jokes,” Daria answered, “or we got ourselves more trouble than I know what to do with.”

            “Hello?” Helen said, answering the phone.

            “Mom, Daria. You got the number for Dad’s hotel?”

            “Sure hun, what’s going on that you need it?”

            Daria closed her eyes and said, “It’s bad, Mom. You remember Jane’s trouble?”

            “Yes.”

            “Well, it’s our trouble now. They got Quinn and Jane’s sister, and they’re threatening to hurt them.”

            Daria heard Jane gasp at the same time her mother started growling.

            “Mom, please. Call Dad, and tell him to go to the airport and pick up a man . . . uh, hang on. Jane, what’s your dad’s name?”

            “Vincent,” Jane whispered, “Vincent Lane.”

            “Vincent Lane, his plane should be landing in a couple of hours. We’ll be taking care of things on this end, and I bet Mr. Lane can fill Dad in on everything else.”

            “Are you coming home?”

            “I’ll be home by morning, Mom.” Daria’s eyes opened and Jane saw the fires of hell burning in them. “Those bastards laid hand on my little sister, and I’m about tired of all the wandering hands around these parts.”

            “I’ll be here,” Helen said, “and I’ll be armed.”

            “Thanks Mom, don’t forget to call Dad,” Daria said, and flipped her phone closed. She tucked it back in the top of her boot, walked to the red SUV, and opened the hatch to the cargo area.

            “They’ve got Penny and Quinn?” Jane asked.

            “Yeah, snatched ‘em out front of that club they were at,” Daria said, folding back the carpet and loosening the screws holding down the spare tire cover. “Remember, remember the fifth of November. They’re holding our sisters in the basement of City Hall. We’ve got one, small advantage though.”

            “What’s that?” Jane asked, and watched as Daria lifted the false flooring to reveal the spare tire well. Jane didn’t see a spare tire, but she did see a lot of guns.

            “They think I’m you,” Daria answered, pulling pistols free of the racking and setting them aside. “Which means we have the potential for a diversion, something to put our enemy in disarray. Do you know how to use a gun?”

            “In theory, yes.” Jane swallowed loudly and pushed her glasses back up on her nose. “In practice, no.”

            “Here,” Daria said, handing her a belt with a holster on it. “You point it at the bad guys. Do not point this at anyone you do not intend to kill, otherwise keep it pointed at the floor or the ceiling. This is the safety, this releases the clip.” Daria slid the clip out and popped it back in. “You’ve got two spare clips on that belt. Got it?”

            “No,” Jane said, putting on the belt.

            “Good, best way to learn is by doing.” Daria put the pistol in the holster and snapped it shut. “Remember, do not point that gun at anyone you don’t want to kill.”

            Jane nodded numbly and watched Daria strap a pair of pistols around her own waist, followed by a pair of knives on her forearms. She dropped the false floor back into place, and then rolled the carpet back down.

            “Is it legal to hide guns in your car like that?”

            “Mom and Dad have permits for all of it, but I’m not sure they apply in Maryland,” Daria answered with a shrug. “It was my idea anyway, came from a novel I read once.” She paused long enough to grab her leather duster from the back seat, and then headed for the driver’s door.

            “Oh?” Jane asked, as the girls climbed into the truck.

            “Yeah, it was about this short chick that killed a whole lot of people. I liked it a lot, but the series eventually turned into girlporn.”

            “Oh.”

            “I still liked it after that, but I had to hide the books from Quinn,” Daria said with a grin. She cranked the truck and pulled out onto the road.

            “Daria?”

            “Yeah?”

            “Do we have a plan?”

            “Save hostages, kill bad guys,” Daria shrugged. “I don’t have enough intel to make a better plan than that. Why?”

            “This has something to do with my dad.”

            “Apparently.”

            “And you’re going to pretend to be me.”

            “If it looks like it’ll be useful, yeah.”

            “You’re gonna,” Jane started, then found she couldn’t speak. “I mean, you’re gonna . . . .”

            “If I have to.”

            “Dammit,” Jane muttered. “I liked having a friend.”

            “Thanks for your confidence,” Daria drawled, sounding amused.

            “How can you be so flippant about this!?”

            Daria sighed. “Jane, I’m scared as hell. I’ve never been shot at before, ok? I don’t particularly want to be, and I especially don’t want to get killed or get anybody else killed.”

            “Why not call the cops?”

            “They’re holed up in City Hall, you think they don’t have the connections to make calling the cops pointless?”

            “I don’t know what we can do that’ll help,” Jane whispered.

            “We won’t know ‘til we get there,” Daria said, “and when we get there, we’ll improvise and overcome.” A very small smile crept across Daria’s face, and under her breath she whispered one word, “oorah.”

 

            Daria parked in the lot near a law office and shut off the vehicle. The girls climbed out, and walked to the sidewalk. Daria stopped and turned to Jane.

            “You don’t have to come with me,” she said gently. She watched Jane’s face as it cycled from shock to confusion to comprehension, and then finally to anger.

            “What the hell are you talking about?” Jane seethed. “These people have been following me around, they tried to break into my house, they kidnapped my sister, and they want to do something to my dad. Besides all that, I am not going to let my only and best friend get killed without me. I do have to come with you.”

            “If that’s the way you feel,” Daria said, “let’s go.”

            They walked a half block to City Hall and stopped, standing in the shadow of a tree while Daria examined the building.

            “Well?” Jane asked after a couple of minutes.

            “There ain’t no guards,” Daria said with a frown, “and the security cameras ain’t panning back and forth like they should. You think maybe they just shut down the security system?”

            “Hell if know,” Jane answered with a shrug.

            “Stick to the shadows,” Daria said, and led Jane up to the front of the building. She stopped and pointed at a small hole in the glass door, the slight cracking of the glass around it the only thing that drew the eye. Carefully, Daria reached out and pulled the door open.

            “Not locked?” Jane whispered. Daria shook her head, and the girls slipped into the building. They crept from shadow to shadow past the security desk, Daria pausing when she saw the man crumpled to the floor behind it.

            “Wait here,” she whispered to Jane and walked over to kneel down next to the man. She didn’t need to check for a pulse, and her stomach lurched when she saw the hole through his head. Gritting her teeth, she snuck back to Jane.

            “Is he dead?”

            “Very,” Daria said, shaking her head. “Doesn’t jibe with what I thought was going on. Maybe the bad guys don’t have as much influence as I thought, since they couldn’t pay off a security monkey to look the other way.”

            “Maybe he was honest,” Jane said, looking at the dark lump behind the desk.

            “Maybe,” Daria said, “I just hope this isn’t more complicated than I think it is.”

            Jane shrugged, and the two girls started sneaking towards the stairwell again. They reached the door and Daria quietly opened it, carefully checking the area for guards. She saw no one, and the girls started heading down towards the basement. They reached the bottom of the stairs, and the single door that led into the bowels of the building. Daria stood on her toes and peeked through the window, spotting a single, bored looking guard in a dark suit. She crouched down and motioned for Jane to come closer.

            “Put these in that bag of yours,” she whispered, handing Jane her pistols. “You sneak along behind, and when I make my move you slide my guns to me across the floor.”

            Jane nodded and stuffed the guns into her messenger bag. Daria stood, took a deep breath, and opened the door. The guard jumped and raised his rifle, and Daria put her hands in the air.

            “Hi,” she said, trying to disguise her accent, “youse guys wanted to talk to my dad?”

            “Youse guys?” Jane muttered, rolling her eyes.

            “You’re the little Lane girl,” the guy said.

            “Yes.”

            “Boss said there was a chance you might show up,” the guard said, motioning for her to precede him down the hallway. “You ran us a merry chase the other day, we didn’t appreciate it.”

            “Sorry, I didn’t know how friendly you were,” Daria said sarcastically, heading down the hallway.

            “S’ok,” he said with a leer as he followed her, “don’t think you’ll be running in that outfit. You should take your coat off.”

            “I’ll catch a draft,” Daria said, still walking. After passing several doors on each side, the hallway dead ended at a set of double doors. Daria pushed the doors open and entered some kind of record storage area, with rows of metal shelving filled with banker’s boxes. Two more men in dark suits were standing in the room, while a third sat on the edge of the clerk’s desk.

            Daria’s eyes flicked to her sister and Penny, both standing against the nearest shelf with their arms tied over their heads. Penny had a black eye and a busted lip, but was glaring balefully at their captors. Quinn sagged forward, all her weight being held by the ropes around her wrists.

            “Well, well, well,” the man sitting on the desk said. “What little mouse have you found scurrying around in the dark, Agent Cyde?”

            “It’s the Lane girl, sir. You said she’d probably find us.”

            “Yes, like father like daughter, eh girlie?” the man said to Daria, smiling broadly.

            “If you say so.”

            The man behind her nudged her with the barrel of his rifle, pushing her further into the room. The man sitting on the desk chuckled.

            “You do know what your father does for a living, don’t you?”

            “No.”

            “Well, then. I’ve already introduced the gentleman behind you. These other fellows are Agent Smith and Agent Jones. You may call me Director White.”

            “If those are your real names, I’m very sorry,” Daria said with a smirk, and then gritted her teeth against the pain when Cyde’s rifle butt struck against the back of her head. She dropped to her knees on the cold concrete floor and tried to clear her vision.

            “Funny girl,” White said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have senses of humor. You see, in the Central Intelligence Agency they’re simply not allowed.”

            “Spooks,” Daria said, looking disgusted.

            “Now, now. That’s your own father you’re cursing there. You see, Agent Lane was one of my best assassins, traveling the world posing as a photographer and incidentally being right where the Company needed someone killed. Until just a couple of weeks ago.”

            “In Colombia?”

            “Yes, in Colombia. There was a small rebel group operating out of that godforsaken little village, and Lane was supposed to kill their ringleader and move on. Instead, he decided to take out our contact in the area and then disappear.”

            “Your contact was growing cocaine.”

            “Yes, yes.” White shrugged. “He also had a taste for underage girls, which I believe is what your father objected to so strongly. Having one of his own caused him to lose perspective, I suppose.”

            “Lose perspective!?” Penny snarled. Agent Jones casually backhanded her.

            “Indeed,” White said, “and now he’s turned rogue, and must be eliminated. We tried very hard to catch him, but we don’t have limitless time or resources. We know he will come for his children, and then we will kill him.”

            “And after that monologue I guess you’re going to kill us, too?”

            “Why?” he asked with a shrug, “It’s not like anyone will believe you. Two children and an expatriate? But you’re right, of course. I won’t take the risk, but I’m very sorry to have to snuff out such lovely young lights.”

            “I forgive you,” Daria said and spun around in place, dropping from her knees to her ass and drawing the knives out of her sleeves. She planted the left one about three inches below Agent Cyde’s belt line, and used that to boost herself onto her feet. She planted the right hand knife in his throat. He gurgled a second, bloody foam leaking from the corners of his mouth.

            She torqued at the waist and shoved the dying agent at his two comrades, and heard the door behind her opening. “Down!” she shouted, dropping back to her knees as Director White drew his pistol. She heard two cracks and felt the wind from the bullets pass over her head, and a second later felt the double thump of her guns hitting her boots.

            She reached back and grabbed the guns, leaping sideways to avoid the two agents as they stepped clear of the body she’d flung in their direction. Her coat fluttered out behind her as she fired over and over, the two men jerking back from the bullet impacts. She landed hard and skidded into the desk.

            She sat up and glanced around. The three agents were dead. Penny looked shocked and a little sick, and Quinn was still unconscious. Jane stood in the doorway in the classic TV cop gun stance, the barrel of her pistol shaking slightly. Daria followed Jane’s aim and saw the director, standing a few feet away with his pistol aimed directly at her head.

            “Very resourceful, very unfortunate,” the director snarled. He glared at Jane and said, “drop your gun or your friend dies. Now.”

            “Jane, trade one for three,” Daria said calmly. She could almost see the bullet at the back of the barrel pointed at her, and knew her time was short. She’d always expected to be afraid of her death, but was surprised to find herself sad instead. So much left to do.

            “Daria?”

            “Do it,” Daria said, and closed her eyes. She heard the report of three gunshots, two from the doorway and one from Director White. A giant’s fist struck her right shoulder and she cried out in pain. The next thing she knew, she was flat of her back and felt a lot of pressure against her shoulder.

            “Get my knife,” a man said, “cut those hostages down. You did good, Lane.”

            Daria opened her eyes and saw a large, well-muscled black man kneeling above her, wearing military fatigues.

            “Good shooting,” he said, “for a John Woo flick. You trying to get dead, Morgendorffer?”

            “No, sir. Improvise and overcome,” she answered, her voice low and rusty.

            Jane cut her sister down while the man kept compression on Daria’s bullet wound. She’d shot Director White, an image that she knew she’d be seeing in her nightmares for a while, but that guy had stepped through the door behind her and he’d shot Director White, too.

            After Penny was free, she held up Quinn while Jane cut her loose.

            “Ugh,” Quinn said, looking around blearily, “am I dead?”

            “No,” Jane said, “but for the next few days you’re not going to need make-up to get that raccoon look you like so much.”

            “Oh, you saved me? You’re my hero.”

            “Not really,” Jane said.

            “Shh, don’t argue,” Quinn said, pressing a finger against Jane’s lips. “Hero gets the girl. You want the girl, right?”

            Before Jane could answer, Quinn’s eyes rolled back and she lost consciousness again.

            “Do not explain that, little sister,” Penny said, “let’s just get her out of here, they beat the hell out of her. She just wouldn’t shut up.”

            “Medical team is on the way,” the man helping Daria said.

            “Not that I’m not grateful,” Jane said, “but who the hell are you?”

            “Armalin, United States Marines,” he said. “I was in town to visit Gunny Morgendorffer, and his wife was kind enough to offer me dinner when I dropped by and learned he was out of town. She told me what was going on at the same time she explained it to him over the phone.”

            “How did you know where to find us?”

            “Mrs. Morgendorffer’s vehicle is equipped with an OnStar package, once we found the vehicle it wasn’t hard to figure out where you’d gone.”

            “Oh.”

            “I spoke to your father, Miss Lane. He won’t be working for the CIA anymore, and there won’t be any further problems from them.”

            “That’s good.”

            “Sir?” Daria said.

            “Yes, Morgendorffer?”

            “My sister?”

            “Damaged, but in better condition than you are,” Armalin sighed and shook his head. “Your dad is gonna have some words for me, I’m sure.”

            “We’re all alive?”

            “We’re all alive.”

            “Oorah,” she muttered, and passed out.

 

***

 

            Daria heard the soft beeping noise first, and then she smelled the antiseptic hospital smell. Next, she felt the starchy sheets around her and the warmth of hands holding hers. She cracked her eyes and glanced right and left, and saw Quinn holding her right hand and Jane holding her left.

            “G’morning,” she muttered.

            “Hey,” Jane said, smiling down at her.

            “About time you woke up,” Quinn said with a smirk. “I’m going to go get Mom and Dad.”

            Quinn got up and left the room, and Daria sighed and shook her head. “She looks like somebody used her head as a punching bag.”

            “According to Penny, they did.”

            “So, I’m pretty sure I heard something about heroes and girls?” Daria smiled weakly up at Jane, enjoying the flush of embarrassment.

            “I’m no hero,” Jane muttered, “and I’ve never even had a boyfriend, let alone a girl. Your sister is insane.”

            “Yeah, but she’s alright most of the time.”

            “Good thing your Dad’s buddy came in when he did.”

            “You had it under control,” Daria said. “You had my back, and I won’t forget.”

            “I was scared as hell,” Jane muttered.

            “Yeah, but at least now it’s over.”

            “I don’t think it is.”

            “What do you mean?” Daria asked, quirking an eyebrow.

            “The security guard upstairs,” Jane said, “we didn’t kill him, and Armalin says that the CIA guys didn’t kill him either. They didn’t have the same kind of guns as the one used on him.”

            “Hmm,” Daria said with a frown.

            “Somebody killed the guard, shut down the security system, and unlocked the door for us. Who?”

            Before Daria could speculate, the hospital door opened and her parents came in to fuss over her. But the question weighed on her mind, and she couldn’t find an answer she liked.

 

 

 

Disclaimers: Stereo Hifi font is ©1997 by Cathy Davies. This story based on characters and situations created by Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis. The Daria TV show is a trademark of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc. and is referenced here without permission, and without profit. Original characters and situations created by the author are under (K) – all rights reversed. Hail Eris.

 

Author: the NightGoblyn