This is my fourth fanfic. It is also part 2 of my epic miniseries "BLOOD OATH OF PATRIOTSí which I hope only turns out to be a trilogy. Chronologically, it would be Episode 104 ĺ. When I finished part 1 and started on this, I thought I could finish the whole thing in one fic about half the length of this one. It just goes to show ya.
All references in this fic to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, the Taliban, and the Mujaheddin were in there quite a while before September 11th. All but the last five chapters were finished by then.
Iíd like to thank Renfield, Robert Nowall, and Brian Friend for "pre-beta-reading" the ugly not-quite-finished version of this fic.
BLOOD OATH OF PATRIOTS
BY ANY OTHER NAME
By Galen Hardesty
Scene 1 Ext. Morgendorffer Home, early morning. Jake: (v.o.) Good Morning, Kiddo! Daria: (v.o.) Morning, Dad. Cut to: Int: Morgendorffer kitchen, breakfast nook. Jake is in his usual chair with a mug of coffee, a toaster pastry, and the Lawndale Sun-Herald. Daria is seating herself in her chair with a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice.
Helen: (o.s.) Good morning, you two! (Helen enters the shot with coffee and a breakfast bar, followed by Quinn with a bowl of cereal. They both take their usual seats. Helen looks at Daria, who seems to be smiling a bit in between spoonsful of cereal.) Youíre looking cheerful this morning, Daria.
Daria: Am not.
Quinn: Are too. What are you up to?
Daria: Uh, I had a dream. Something about a field of flowers and a bunny. Donít remember the details. (Helen and Quinn give Daria strange looks.)
Jake: Thatís great, Kiddo.
Quinn: Did you bite the bunnyís head off? (Dariaís smile reappears for a second, then is displaced by another spoonful of cereal.)
Jake: Hey, listen to this! "A capacity crowd was on hand last night at Cafe Lawndale to enjoy performances and readings by several of Lawndale Highís many talented students. (faint snort from Daria) The recently reopened coffeehouse is fast becoming a favored gathering spot for young Lawndalians. "Itís a place where they can come and share their talents with their peers, or just sit and talk over a cappuccino or a soda.", said Timothy OíNeill, coffeehouse director and teacher of literature and writing at Lawndale High. "Cafe Lawndale seeks to be a positive force in the community by encouraging creativity and self-expression in our young people." At least one standing ovation indicated to this reporter that talent is indeed being nurtured here. Cafe Lawndale is open from 6 to 11 every evening except Sunday." (looks up at Daria) You were there last night, werenít you, Daria? Were you one of the performers?
Daria: I read something.
Helen: Thatís wonderful, sweetie! (bt) Were you the one who got the standing ovation? (Daria mumbles unintelligibly, concentrates intently on her cereal.)
Quinn: Was she ever!
Daria: (looks up, surprised) You were there?
Quinn: (eyes shift briefly to right and down) Uhh, yeah, well, my date wanted to stop by after dinner. (looks at watch) Gee, look at the time! Gotta go. (heads for door)
Daria: (blinks twice) Thanks for coming.
Quinn: Um, sure.
Jake: Bye, Kitten! Have a good day!
Quinn: Bye! (She exits by sliding door onto side patio. Daria stares after her.)
Helen: Oh, darling, Iím so proud of you! (sadly) I really wish Iíd been there.
Jake: Yeah, me too!
Daria: Yeah, me too. I told you about it. (Sees guilt join the sadness in her motherís eyes) But I guess I didnít exactly urge you. Uh, are you really interested in what Iíve been doing at the coffeehouse?
Helen: Of course I am, Daria. I hate to miss all these special times in your life!
Jake: Yeah, me too!
Daria: (thought v.o.) But you do... every time. (aloud) Well, I put this together for you. (She reaches into her backpack on the floor, pulls out two folders, hands one to Helen, one to Jake.) These are copies of what Iíve read, and a copy of the Sun Herald article after opening night, and some explanatory notes. And Iím pretty sure Iíll be reading there at least one more time.
Helen: Oh, sweetie! This is so thoughtful of you!
Jake: Yeah, thanks, Kiddo!
Daria: Itís nothing. Iíd really like it... if you read them.
Helen: Well, of course I will, sw... (She looks up and is caught by the earnestness in Dariaís gaze. Her mother instinct detects a need there not unlike her own.) ...sweetie. Iíll read them... today.
Daria: (smiling) Great! See you this afternoon. Donít work too hard. (She grabs her backpack and leaves by the side door.)
Jake: Iíll read them too, kiddo!
Helen: Omigosh! Iíll be late! (gulps coffee, clamps breakfast bar in mouth , stuffs folder into her briefcase, follows Daria out door) Mmf, Nyarfk!
Jake: Yeah, bye, honey!
Scene 2 Ext. Lawndale High, cut to: Int. Mr. OíNeillís class. Students are still filing in.
Jane: Mr. OíNeill is positively glowing this morning!
Daria: Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.
Jane: Címon, Morgendorffer, your face wonít break. His glow is a dim reflection of your glory. You killed last night! Blew the roof off the place! You should be radiant!
Daria: (small smile) Yeah, I am, a little. I came dangerously close to enjoying myself. Maybe I have my Impending Doom detector turned up too high.
Jane: Impending doom? What impending doom? (Kevin enters, looking dejected)
Daria: Twelve oíclock high.
Jane: Kevin bummed out? Wasnít that the object of the exercise?
Daria: Yeah, but not permanently. I kind of thought Brittany would have him straightened out by now.
Jane: Well, maybe she hasnít gotten around to him yet. Anyway, so what? (Brittany enters, looks daggers at Daria, goes to sit behind Kevin, starts rubbing his back)
Daria: Oboy. See, thereís a time crunch here. Remember what you told me would happen if we lost the big game with Oakwood? People will get mad at me.
Jane: Thatís what makes it fun! Thatís what adds the spice to life! Danger is your middle name, right?
Daria: Yeah. And my last name is Mudd. Oh, well, the game isnít till Friday. As long as heís swallowed the hook, I might as well jerk him around a little more.
Jane: Thatís my evil genius!
Daria: But next week, danger is your middle name.
OíNeill: Good Morning, class. Letís resume where we left off in Act 3 scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio has just given Romeo the tragic news about Mercutio. How does Romeo feel? Kevin?
Kevin: Heís deeaad! Ohhh, Ghhaauud, heís dea-hea-hea-hea-head!! (runs out of room crying)
Brittany: Kevvie! Come back! Itís just a story!
OíNeill: Very good, Kevin! Uhhh, Kevin? (Brittany runs out after Kevin) Brittany? (bt) Oh, dear!
Jane: (sotto voce, grinning) Wow! Good jerkiní!
Daria: (sotto voce) Itís no fun if heís gonna be that easy! (bt., smiles) Well, less fun.
OíNeill: Uhhh, Someone else, perhaps. Jane, what do you think Romeo felt at that moment?
Jane: Ohh, No! Not brave, true Mercutio! Aaauughh! (runs out, overacting badly.)
Daria: (thought v.o.) Dammit, Lane! Youíre not ditching me! (aloud, with theatrical gestures:) Jane! Come back! Itís just a story! (runs out after Jane.)
Jodie: Ffmmf! (snort!) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! (At this, the entire class cracks up.)
Jane: HeeheeheOw! You wouldnít fit in my backpack. Besides, I knew you knew your exit line. Ow! (Jodie enters)
Jodie: Heeheehee! Fmf! Hmhmhm! (Sees Jane and Daria) HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! (staggers to sinks, begins splashing water on her face)
(Andrea comes in, red faced, walking funny. She spots Jodie, clamps one hand over her mouth, the other onto her crotch, hobbles toward last stall.)
Daria: There! You see what youíve done? I hope youíre happy, Missy! (punches Jane again)
Jodie: Darn you, Daria! Now Iíll probably get written up as a disruptive influence! There goes valedictorian! There goes my Yale scholarship! Youíve ruined my whole life! (snort!) HAHAHAHAHAHA!
Jane: There! See what youíve done? I hope youíre happy, Missy! ((punches Daria In shoulder)
Daria: Ow! Heehee! (Goes to sink by Jodie, pockets her glasses, splashes some water on her face.) Donít worry, Jodie. With your math skills and your iron control, you can put yourself through college playing poker.
Jodie: Heeheehee! Stop! Iím about to drown myself! (splashes yet more water on her face) Hmhm!
Ms. Li: (standing in doorway) If you ladies canít handle the emotional trauma of Romeo and Juliet, perhaps youíd like to perform Waiting For Godot to a special assembly, instead. (leaves)
Jane and Jodie exchange blank looks. Dariaís eyes widen.
Jane: (to Daria) Come on. Letís have it.
Daria: Well, I havenít read the play, just a review of a performance. But I seem to remember it was written by some atheist. Beckett, Samuel Beckett. Existentialist atheist. (bt) And the actors were scrunched down in trashcans onstage. (bt) Iíd die.
Jodie: My parents would kill me. Then send me to Catholic school. Then move away and not tell me where.
Jane: Hmmm, artsy! And you guys are making it sound so interesting. Letís do it!
Daria: Hurt you badly.
Jodie: Kill you slowly.
Daria: Bury you in your trashcan.
Jane: (grins) Philistines.
Jodie: Well. Suddenly Iím fully recovered.
Daria: (faux enthusiasm) Me for some more Romeo and Juliet! (exeunt)
Andrea: (from last stall) Ffmmf! (snort!) HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!
Scene 4 Ext. Morgendorffer House, afternoon. Daria walks up to front door, opens it. Cut to: Int. Morgendorffer home, family room. Helen and Jake are seated on the section of sofa that faces the front door, reading from the folders that Daria gave them this morning. They look up as they hear the front door being opened. Cut to: shot of Daria entering through front door. Daria takes two steps inside, stops when she sees Helen and Jake waiting for her, resumes her course into family room. Cut to: shot of Helen and Jake looking at Daria, who walks toward them from foreground.
Daria: Hi, Mom, Dad. I see youíve been reading my stories. Questions? Comments?
Helen: Hi, sweetie. I, uh, didnít know you were writing Melody Powers stories again.
Daria: Again? I never stopped. I mean, I donít have one going all the time, but I write one every once in a while. Sometimes just a one-pager, to fill an idle hour or blow off a bit of steam. I know you used to not like my Melody stories, but I never figured out why. It wasnít the violence, was it? I mean, itís pretty obvious theyíre spoofs.
Helen: (looks down at the pages in her lap) If this is a spoof, Iíd hate to see what itís spoofing. A stadium filled with four thousand corpses and a river of blood?
Daria: But you have, Mom! I was trying to outdo the big fight scene in the volcano crater in You Only Live Twice. Uh, did you read that note about the purpose of these last two Melody stories?
Helen: You mean to attract more students to the coffeehouse? Iím a little vague on that. It seems that might apply to one or the other, but not both. According to that newspaper article-
Daria: That was a misunderstanding on Mr. OíNeillís part. It turns out heís... pretty liberal, and he took the first story sort of personally. But we straightened that out, and he actually asked for the second one, once he understood that I was writing for the Lawndale High audience.
Jake: And that second story is the one that got a standing O?
Daria: Actually they both did, except that the first standing O turned into a marching O. That Kevin Thompson is such a moron. But since heís the QB, other football players tend to follow him.
Jake: You mean, heís the one who really started the trouble? Did he get punished for it?
Daria: (slightly disgusted) Of course not! Heís the QB! Actually, he didnít do anything worse than hollering in the street, since thereís no Russian Embassy here for him to stone.
Helen: I hope he didnít do anything stupid like that this time.
Daria: Well, when I got to the part when Ratboy apparently dies, he burst into tears and ran out. As a matter of fact, thatís one of the reasons I wanted you to read that. If Lawndale loses to Oakwood this Friday, there are those who may hold me responsible, because my story upset Kevin. I hope I can count on you guys to support me if that happens.
Helen: Of course we will, sweetie, but does it really matter to you what a few dumb jocks think?
Daria: No. But Iím talking about Ms. Li and the athletic staff, and maybe some others. I donít have the total picture yet, but there seems to be a power bloc at Lawndale High that takes a great interest in the success of the Lions, to the point of bending and breaking rules and maybe misappropriating funds. If Kevin is acting as squirrelly tomorrow as he was today, I expect Ms. Li to call me into her office and try to coerce me into doing something about it.
Helen: Oh, come now, Daria, surely you donít think Ms. Li: would expect you to do the work of a psychologist, especially when she already has one on staff!
Daria: Who got her diploma out of a Cracker Jack box. Actually, I do. Ms. Li: has a good deal of respect for my brain, although it irritates her immensely that I use it to think for myself. But it isnít my job, and Kevinís stupidity isnít my responsibility. How can I keep her from hanging it on me?
Helen: That shouldnít be too hard. Let me think about it and get back to you later.
Jake: Uh, Daria, about the name of the head bad guy in your second story, itís kind of in poor taste, donít you think?
Daria: (seats herself on center section of sofa, carefully maintains her poker face) Loong Wang? I donít get you. Wang is a very common Chinese family name, like Smith or Jones here. And loong is the Chinese word for dragon, like in oolong tea. For some reason itís usually spelled with two oís even though itís pronounced "long". Itís a common nickname for Chinese men who are kung fu experts, or otherwise considered good fighters. Bruce Leeís Chinese nickname was Li Shao Loong, or Little Dragon Lee. What donít you like about Loong Wang? (expression of innocent inquiry.)
Jake: Well, uh, it sounds like, uhh, I mean, you know...
Daria: I could reverse the order, I guess, although Chinese usually give their family names last in western countries, in deference to our name customs. How does Wang Loong sound?
Jake: Um, not that much better, actually.
Daria: (earnest, trying-to-be-helpful expression) Iím not seeing the problem here. How about if I used the English word? Dragon Wang. Or Wang Dragon. No, that sounds silly.
Jake: Uh, no, umm, itís just that... Oh, never mind! Forget I mentioned it.
Daria: (straining to keep a straight face) Okay. It would be pretty tough to change it now anyway, since itís already been published.
Jake: Published!? But you just wrote it! How...
Daria: On the internet. I put it up on my website, and some other people have put it up on theirs. Anyone in the world with internet access can download it.
Helen: Thatís great, sweetie. That name aside, itís a very well written story. Spy thrillers arenít my favorite reading material, but I did enjoy it, especially the bits of humor. And the fact that it received a standing ovation proves that you scored a hit with your target audience.
Jake: It was great, kiddo! I canít wait to read the rest!
Daria: (blushing slightly) Um... Thanks.
Helen: But, honey, this poem! This has to be the most dreadful, depressing thing Iíve ever read!
Daria: Everything in that poem happened to someone we know in the last few years. And you sent sympathy cards or get-well cards or condolence cards and we did our best to put it out of our minds or tell ourselves it couldnít happen to us. But thatís the true horror of the poem. The commonness. The inevitability. The odds of me getting through life without at least two or three of these things happening to me are very small indeed. (sigh) Youíre right. This is the most dreadful, depressing thing Iíve ever written. Oh. Wait. No, it isnít. But itís in the top ten.
Helen: But why on earth did you write it?
Daria: I write pieces like this to work through something, process it, get it out of my system.
Helen: So did it work this time?
Daria: (long pause) Sometimes it takes longer.
Helen: Does it feel like itís working?
Daria: (longer pause) No.
Scene 5 Int. Dariaís room. Daria is seated at her computer, writing. Slow pan/zoom onto her monitor screen. We read:
Melody looked up at the circular patch of blue sky overhead. A bit of golden cloud told her sundown was near. She didnít like her odds of being found down here after dark. She was bleeding, and Ratboy was too. Both needed medical attention. Ratboyís pouch probably contained more bandages, how many she didnít know. She could patch the wounds on his left shoulder and right thigh, and the one on her right thigh and the graze on her left midriff, but there was a slash below her right shoulder blade that she could do nothing about. It looked like she couldnít count on further help from Ratboy. She heard no sounds from above indicating help might be on the scene.
Climb the ladder and seek help or do what she could for Ratboy and herself first? A wrong decision could mean death for her and/or Ratboy, and she lacked two crucial facts. How far away in distance and time was the nearest help? And how badly was her unreachable knife wound bleeding? She could make it up the ladder now, but for how much longer? She was starting to feel light-headed. .
Melody turned away from the ladder and limped back to Ratboy. Sheíd patch quickly, then climb out. If she hurried, maybe she could have it both ways, she hoped. She started to kneel by Ratboyís side, but her right thigh gave way and she ended up with her face in a Chicom commandoís stomach. She forced herself back up, found a position she could maintain, and stuck her finger into the bullet hole in Ratboyís chest. It sank in almost to the second joint before it hit something hard and flat. Sliding her fingertip around a bit, Melody could detect a dent, but no hole. She withdrew the finger, covered in crimson gore, stuck it in her mouth. Mmmm, yep, Ratboyís grandmother sure could make catsup. Even with a faint flavor of .44 slug, it was first rate.
Opening the Ratbag, she brought out moist napkins and bandages and set to work. Sheíd run into Ratboy under the stands as the assault was being organized. Heíd made cheese fries, his favorite food, at a concession stand while they waited, and theyíd shared a plate, topped with grannyís homemade catsup. Heíd insisted that if it was homemade, it had to be called catsup rather than ketchup, and sheíd agreed with him that no other catsup or ketchup could compare with it as a topping for cheese fries. The stylized ratís head escutcheon on his chestplate was made of bronzed food grade plastic, and would hold over a pint of grannyís finest, and the ratís nose was a clever dispensing spout. Melody smiled as she applied a cobweb bandage to Ratboyís shoulder wound. It was the closest thing to a date sheíd been on in years (omigod, years?!) that didnít end with her kidnapping or assassinating her beau for God, country, home, and apple pie.
A few minutes later, having done all she could, Melody was again at the base of the ladder. She looked up and realized it had been more than a few minutes. The sky was a much deeper blue, and all the low clouds had gone dark. Only a few wisps of high cirrus still caught the last red rays of a sun now well below the horizon. She felt a chill as she started to climb. Two rungs up, dizziness assailed her. She hung on, squeezed her eyes shut, and pressed her forehead against the cool steel of a ladder rung until it abated. One more step up, and the dizziness returned. She forced herself up another rung, and almost lost consciousness. This wasnít good.
Melody tried to think while she waited for the waves of dizziness to subside. Why wasnít she hearing the shouts of rescue parties by now? Police, the army, FBI, somebody. The media, at least. One more step up, slowly. The vertigo was awful. Only her grip on the steel rungs and her forehead pressed against one kept her from surrendering to the feeling that she was falling, endlessly falling... Concentrate, dammit! What could keep a National Perspirer stringer or a SSW camera crew out of a stadium filled with four thousand bloody corpses? Only a solid cordon of armed men, backed up with heavy air cover. And why that? Oh, yeah, the nukes. One more rung . Oh, no. She was gonna pass out this time. No! No pass out! Hang on! Slowly the blackness receded, but the world wouldnít stop spinning. Then there must at least be someone up there trying to safe the nukes. And some guards. But it was all moot if she couldnít make ground level.
Gripping the rungs with all her remaining strength, Melody looked up again. Dizziness clawed at her mind. It was getting dark fast, and cold faster. She had to summon help now. One more rung up and her head would be above ground level. She made the effort. Everything went black.
Sometime later, Melodyís vision faded back in again. Apparently she hadnít fallen off the ladder. A goalpost reeled drunkenly against a darkening sky. There seemed to be some lights near midfield, but bodies blocked her direct view. Looking down, she saw that just in front of her on the concrete slab was a cell phone. No, it was an Agency phone, which was subtly different in several ways she couldnít remember right now. She could call for help. Who could she call whoíd be allowed in here? Donít try to think, Mel. Just call the comm center. Theyíll get you someone. Melody grasped the phone, activated it, pushed two buttons. It was ringing. She would have smiled if sheíd had the strength. In seconds, sheíd be talking to a fellow Agent. Sheíd tell them her problems and theyíd figure out what to do. Theyíd get her the best help, the quickest way, and she could relax and lean back into the warm fuzzy dark and... no one was answering.
This was bad. This was very bad. The comm center was always manned by at least two Agents. What had happened? Had HQ West Coast been overrun? Blown up? Extremely unlikely. Even unmanned, HQ was almost impregnable. Most likely theyíd been pulled out and sent here, with every other available Agent. Then theyíd be... right here. On the field. With all the other corpses.
"Why me?" she thought miserably. Her revulsion at the pathetic self-pity of that thought snapped her back to reality. "Theyíre all dead and Iím feeling sorry for myself? I donít deserve to survive!" Sheíd have to help herself. Melody looked at the phone again. There was something... a key combination... Pound sign-QAA. Yes. She punched it in. The Agencyís state-of-the-art comm gear would automatically connect her with the nearest available Agent. Immediately in front of her, a phone beeped. Two seconds later, off to her right, about 20 feet away, another phone beeped. Another two seconds, another phone began to beep. Then another. And another. Melody stared out at the barely visible mounds and heaps that lay all around her in the deepening gloom. Soon two hundred seventeen of them would be ignoring her call.
A cold feeling of doom began to close in on her. Soon she would lose her grip on consciousness, and with it her grip on the ladder. She would fall back down the manhole and finish bleeding out in the sewer junction room below. Her blood would mingle with that of her comrades, and with that of the other patriots who had died here today. Most of it had already. Not a bad way to go, really. The pain was almost gone now. It was just so cold. But no. Sheíd make one last effort to climb out of this manhole. She was pretty sure she wouldnít make it, but...
"Virosa. Whoíve I got?" It came from the phone. A sob escaped Melodyís lips. Bringing the phone to her face, she said, "Powers here. Need help."
"Are you in the stadium?"
"Yeah. Behind S... South goal post. Manhole. Hurry."
"E. T. A. 20 seconds. Hang in there, Powers. Been wanting to meet you."
Twenty seconds? Virosa was here. On the field. Off to the left, a tiny light was bounding toward her. A blinking orange LED on her phone indicated it was being tracked. As the light homed in on her, Melody could hear footfalls. Booted feet stopped in front of her, bony fingers hooked her armpits. She tried to help lift herself out of the manhole, and the warm fuzzy dark closed in.
(Pan from monitor screen to Dariaís face as she reads what she has written.)
Quinn: (knocks lightly) Daria? Can I come in?
Daria: Unauthorized personnel only.
Quinn: Umm... okay! (enters) I, uh, heard Kevin did really bad at practice this morning, and he was acting weird all day. The kids at school have been talking, and, uh, some of them are blaming you.
Daria: (sighs deeply, slumps back in chair, places hand on brow) It seems Iíve spent my whole life adjusting to the fact that the world is full of morons, and still it astounds me. (shakes her head) Whatís your read on opinion breakdown?
Quinn: About one third, Kevinís an idiot, one third undecided or donít care, one-third your fault. Of which, three-quarters think it was unintentional, one quarter deliberate. Thereís some overlap between your fault, unintentional and Kevinís an idiot.
Daria: (looks up at Quinn) You are really good at that! Ever consider it as a career?
Quinn: (suspicious) Is that sarcasm?
Daria: No, Iím serious. You appear to have a gift for gauging public opinion. Gallup would snap you up in a New York minute. Youíd have to take statistics, but you already have an instinctive grasp of it.
Quinn: Well, thanks, but I think I can do better than statistician.
Daria: Iím talking about Pollster, which is several pay grades above statistician. Youíd get to ask the whole country nosy questions, and maybe be an expert consultant on the news shows.
Quinn: Hmm, yeah. Iíll think about it. But I kinda have my sights set on Supermodel.
Daria: Not meaning to rain on your catwalk, but you want to ask yourself two questions: One- How many Supermodel slots come open in a given year? And two- How many beautiful girls around the world have their sights set on each of those slots?
Quinn: Jeez, Daria, for someone who doesnít mean to rain on my catwalk...
Daria: Reality bites. You get bit worse if youíre not paying attention. More often, too.
Quinn: Yeah... Hey, is that your next Melody Powers story? Can I read it?
Daria: Iím just getting started, and I have to protect the cliffhanger, but... (scrolls back up, then down a little) You can read it from there down if you want. (gets up, stands by the computer.)
Quinn: (sits in front of computer, begins reading) God, sheís still in the sewer? What is it with you and sewers?
Daria: Sheís trying to get out, but sheís lost a lot of blood. Itís just the storm drain for the stadium.
(Quinn reads Dariaís story. Daria reads the expressions flickering across Quinnís face. Shock, followed quickly by disgust, turns into a brief grin. Twice Quinn hugs herself as if chilled. Her face registers shock again, then great sadness. Her breathing becomes irregular, and she brings a clenched fist up to her mouth. Seeming about to cry, she utters a tiny gasp and her eyes widen. A half-smile on her parted lips, eyes blinking frequently, she reads on. Finally her smile widens, she inhales deeply and turns to Daria.)
Quinn: I gotta hand it to ya, youíre really good at this. I guess youíve already made your career choice.
Daria: I do want to be a writer, but my Melody stories are just for fun.
Quinn: So share the fun. You like to write Ďem, the public will like to read Ďem.
Daria: I want to be known as a serious writer. I want to be respected for my intellect, my insight.
Quinn: ĎCourse you do, youíre a brain. But thatís what pen names are for, right? Like that Bacon guy whoís supposed toíve written Shakespeareís plays. Or Lewis Carroll. Look, youíve read two Melody Powers stories at the coffeehouse. I heard you also read a couple of your more serious pieces. Translate the applause you got into royalty checks.
Daria: You really know how to rain on my literary aspirations.
Quinn: (grins) Hey, reality bites.
Jake: (o.s.) Oh, girls! Dinnerís ready! Come and get it!
Daria: (as they head out into the hall) Thanks for the heads up on the school scuttlebutt. Let me know if it gets worse. Maybe I can get a head start on the lynch mob.
Quinn: Sure. Are you gonna write any more tonight?
Daria: I thought Iíd try to do some after dinner.
Scene 7 Int. Dariaís room. Daria: is writing at her computer. Pan/zoom onto monitor screen.
A very strange thing just happened. Quinn came in and gave me some useful information regarding student reaction to Kevinís reaction to Ratboyís supposed demise. Seemed to be a pretty accurate analysis, too. If sheís right, only one student in 12 suspects I deliberately mindf***ed him. Iíd have guessed no more than 1 in 20, but Iím inclined to trust Quinnís numbers. Guess my fearsome rep is spreading.
And then another very strange thing happened. Quinn asked to read what Iíd written on my next Melody Powers story, and liked it! Oh, I forgot to mention that this morning she let slip that sheíd attended my last reading at the coffeehouse. There may be something more to it, but I watched her face as she read, and she was really getting into the story.
On top of that, her suggestion about writing Melody stories under a pseudonym may be a very good one. Have to think about it. Maybe... Eufaula Offenhauser? Or maybe it should be a manís name. Too bad Douglas Adams already thought of Dirk Gently. She has a point; they are more popular than anything else Iíve written and read publicly. I could be making some money while searching for someone to take my serious stuff seriously.
And where did Quinn learn about the Bacon-wrote-Shakespeare theory? Not from Waif magazine. Is her intellect finally emerging from hibernation? Is she reading stuff in secret? How to encourage it without scaring her off? Guess Iíll give it room and not remark on it, at least for now.
Itís weird, but while she was in here this evening, we were relating to each other almost like Jane and Trent do, rather than like two cats in a sack. Dare I hope? I know now that the sister I yearn for is in there somewhere. Iíll do what I can to strengthen what ties there are between us. But Iíll keep the shields of cynicism up. She who expects the worst shall never be disappointed.
(Pan/zoom out to ms of Daria as she encrypts and saves her diary entry, then backs it up to a floppy labeled Win 95 Startup Disk B. (1) Then she opens another file and begins to write again. Pan/zoom back onto monitor screen.)
Melody wasnít cold anymore. She felt warm on the inside, cool on the outside. It wasnít dark. She could tell through closed eyelids that she was in a bright place, though she felt no direct sunshine. It was quiet in her vicinity, but there was a fair amount of low-volume background noise. She inhaled. That blew the detective game. Hospital, definitely.
Melody opened her eyes. She was in a two-bed room, but the other bed was empty. Her bed was by the window, but the blinds were closed. An IV was plugged into her right arm, feeding her a pint of some clear liquid in a bag, and about 20 cc of something in a syringe being fed in through a little plastic fitting. Probably a painkiller. That could be dispensed with.
That reminded her she hadnít tried to move yet. Melody was very good at ignoring pain, but she didnít actually like it, except in the sense that it was a handy warning system. She flexed her fingers. The left pinkie hurt some, but there was no bandage and no swelling, so it was okay. The knuckles were scraped, and the blade of her hand was sore. She moved the left arm a bit. It felt bruised and battered, but okay. There was a bandage on the outside forearm that she couldnít account for, but it didnít feel like anything serious. Her right arm only had the graze from the Jade Dragon, some bruises, and the IV needle. She moved it a little. A rip of pain came from the right side of her back, reminding her of the knife wound that had almost done her in yesterday. She wondered how serious it was and how long it would take to heal.
Then she remembered who had found her and pulled her out of that manhole, just in time. Virosa. Melody had heard of her but never met her. Virosa was said to be tied with her and Dannekill for the unwanted distinction of being considered deadliest Special Op by the intelligence services of Americaís enemies. Most dangerous to their infiltrators, most desirable to bump off. Sheíd read the brief bio available to other Agents on the Agencyís classified server. Amanita Virosa. Born Angelica Virginia Brewer, sheíd chosen as her Agency handle the Latin name of the most delicately beautiful, yet most viciously deadly member of the Amanita family of mushrooms.
Its common name was Destroying Angel. Tall, slender, purest white it was. One or two would appear in Melodyís familyís back yard after a good early summer rain. They were said to be quite delicious, but even the tiniest nibble swallowed was enough to condemn any man to a day and a half to two days of agony as the toxin destroyed his liver. The cruel part was that after the victimís liver had been destroyed, he actually felt pretty good for a while, good enough to think he was recovering, until he began to die from lack of it.
Angelica had grown up in a multiracial, multi-ethnic part of Manhattan, where she was by far the whitest human being her homies had ever seen. Always a skinny kid, sheíd been forced to learn a wide range of combat and survival skills very early in life. A natural for the Agency, Melody thought. She hoped theyíd get a chance to talk.
A white-coated figure entered, turned to close the door. She wore an odd-looking cap that made her head resemble a mushroom. As she turned back around, Melodyís mind re-identified the cap as hair. It wasnít really white, but the palest shade of platinum blonde Melody had ever seen. The womanís skin tone was also very pale, and her eyes- wow! Her eyes were purple! This could only be... she put a finger to her lips, pulled out an agency phone, pushed three buttons, and moved quickly about the room, using it to sweep for bugs. She smiled, gave Melody a thumbs-up sign, and pocketed the phone.
"Virosa? Amanita Virosa?"
"Hey, Powers. You clean up nice. How ya feeliní?"
"Like used shark bait. Since you saved my life, you can call me Melody. Thanks. I thought you were in Tokyo."
"I was on my way home for some R&R. The "All Agents" call caught me at the airport. Sorry I missed the party."
"Well, Iím not. If youíd gotten there two hours earlier, weíd both be dead now. Uhhh.. hell. I might as well ask. How many other survivors?"
Virosa carefully inspected the floor. "Three. One agent, one Academy student, and that Ratboy guy. If any of the military made it, they werenít brought here. Agentís name is Custer. Know him?"
Melody smiled a tiny bit. "Just met him. He patched a few boo-boos for me. Good kid. How bad?"
Lost a finger. May lose an arm, but heíll live. The student has abdominal wounds, but her main problem is gonna be PTSD. Her best bud got disemboweled all over her."
"Damn. That sucks. But she shouldnít have had any buds. Or chums, or pals. Donít they teach Ďem that anymore?"
"Thatís a hard thing to teach. And an even harder thing to learn."
"Yeah. Well, sheís learned it now. But sheíll probably quit after this. I should go see her. Donít suppose I have any clothes here. Robe and slippers?"
Virosa looked into the wardrobe by Melodyís bed. "Boots and belt. Why donít you take a day or two to just lie there? Give the glue time to set. Thatís a deep gash in your back, yíknow. I think I saw ribs when I was pulling you out of the manhole."
"I was moving around with it quite a bit yesterday, and it didnít bother me that much."
"Except for the bleeding to death part, you mean. Melody, they gave you all the blood you had on hand, and had to top you off with that artificial stuff. If you start leaking again now, youíll have to take pot luck."
Pan/zoom back out to medium shot of Daria: at her computer with her room door in background.
Quinn: (knocks softly) Daria: ? Can I come in?
Daria: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.
Quinn: Whatever. Can I see what youíve written?
Daria: Okay. Get me a cola?
Quinn: (bt) Okay. (exits. Daria: types some more. Quinn enters, hands Daria a can of cola. Daria scrolls the text back to the point where itís new to Quinn, stands. Quinn sits and begins to read. Two minutes pass.)
Quinn: Oh, so Virosa is a woman. Does that mean Dannekill is a woman too? (She continues to read.)
Daria: No. However... hmmm. No reason he couldnít be. Dannekill is very ferocious, like his people. Iíd been thinking of him as a man, but when you said that, I flashed on Jodie.
Quinn: Jodie Landon?! Why on earth would you think of her?
Daria: Jodie as Dannekill would fit in with Melody and Virosa. I think of Melody as me with perfect vision, and Iím using Jane as the basis for the Virosa character.
Quinn: (finishes reading) You, Jane, and Jodie as the Agencyís three deadliest Special Ops? Haha! Thatís so... I donít know what that is! Somewhere between cool and bizarre. Hey, write me in, too! Then itíll definitely be cool!
Quinn: Please? I want to be in it! (Daria looks puzzled, considers) Iíll owe you one!
Daria: Quinn, If I were to base a character on you, there wouldnít necessarily be that much resemblance. Like, if I were to base Dannekill on Jodie, she might never know it if she werenít told. The requirements of the plot have a lot to do with the charactersí personalities. Theyíre a bunch of assassins, after all.
Quinn: I understand. Iíd still like you to.
Daria: (thought v. o.) Come to think of it, youíd probably make a great assassin. (aloud) Only if you promise not to try to tell me what to write about your character, and not to take it personally if she gets killed. The story comes first.
Quinn: Ooh! (winces, bt) All right, just so she dies a noble death. If she dies. Hey, youíre not gonna make her like one of those red shirt guys on the old Star Trek, are you?
Daria: No, I wouldnít do that. Red shirt guys donít need character development. They donít last long enough. Okay, sheís younger than Melody, looks like you. A recent Academy graduate, say from the same class as Custer. Sheís transferring in to help rebuild the wiped-out West Coast bureau, say from the Northwest bureau in Rapid City, South Dakota. And her name is... (suppresses crafty smirk) Harmony Powers.
Quinn: Eek! (delighted, trying not to show it too much) Melodyís sister?!
Daria: Yep. Now, if youíll let me have my chair back, Iíll write you in. (Quinn gets up, Daria sits down, begins typing. Pan/zoom from Daria typing back to monitor screen.)
Melody said, "Iíll be careful, take it real easy. I just need a little help getting into a wheelchair, and back into bed after. And some underwear. And something that bears a little more resemblance to clothing than these godawful backless things. Dammit, I feel so helpless!"
"Believe me, I know the feeling. And Iíd much rather spend the day helping you than what Iím going to be doing. But when the catís away, the rats will spread plague, so the cat canít be perceived to be away." Virosa pulled an Agency phone from her jacket pocket, punched in a number. "One of the agents coming in from Northwest bureau has been assigned to you. She should be... Butterfly? You here yet? ...Turn off your voice disguise. Hereís Powers. I think she wants you to pick up some things on the way in. Melody, this is the phone you had last night. It isnít the one issued to you. This is its number, the second number is Butterflyís. These are the room numbers for Ratboy, Custer, and the Academy student. See ya later." Virosa handed Melody the phone and a sheet of notebook paper with numbers and names on it, and slipped quickly out the door.
Slightly surprised by the rapidity of Virosaís exit, Melody turned to the phone. "Hello, Butterfly?"
"Yes, Agent Powers."
"Call me Melody. Your voice disguise is on."
"Yes, Age- okay, Melody. This better?"
"Oh, poo. (clicking sounds) Now?"
"Still on. Never mind. I want you to get me some pajamas, underwear and slippers on the way in, suitable for hospital wear. And a toothbrush and toothpaste. That should get me by until you can get into my apartment. Oh, and Iíd like you to stay at my place for a while, if thatís okay with you.
"Sure, that would be great! I should be there in less than an hour. Iím coming up on a G-Mart now. Anything else?
"No- yes. A legal size pad and a pen or pencil. And the latest Mother Earth News." They had an article about building a cabin in the mountains. "Shall I order dinner for you?"
"Okay. A salad with vinaigrette or free French dressing if they have it. Otherwise, anything but peas and carrots. See you soon."
Melody hit the off button, then looked vaguely around the room, seeking something to do, or at least look at. The window blinds were still closed. Then she remembered something, and began punching buttons on the phone. She needed to tell someone where sheíd left her pistol. No telling what was going on in the stadium today. After that, there was the TV or harassing the staff. And she could look for things to make a weapon out of. Melody smiled wanly. She could probably hold out until Butterfly arrived.
There was a knock on the door. "Agent Powers? Itís Butterfly."
"Come on in, Butterfly. And call me Melody."
The door opened and a slender young woman, with strawberry blond hair that reached below her shoulders, backed in as if laden with packages. "Hi, Melody." She spun around. "Agent Butterfly reports as ordered!"
Melody stared, speechless, for a good five seconds. She finally managed, "Harmony?"
The blond grinned and nodded, starting toward Melodyís bed. "Agent Butterfly requests a hug!"
Melody hurriedly threw up her left arm in a "HALT" gesture. "Denied! A decent hug right now would kill me." Seeing the crestfallen look on Harmonyís face, she relented a bit. "You may kiss me- gently.", she said, offering a cheek. Harmony did, stepped back, waited expectantly.
"Arenít you going to say anything?"
"The phrase "Oh, hell!" comes to mind."
"Let me guess. You joined the Agency because you wanted to be like me and make me proud of you."
"Well, I guess I am proud of you. I know what it takes to get to where you are now. But did you ever ask yourself why I joined?"
"Huh?" Harmony hadnít expected that question. "To protect our country? Our freedom? For the adventure?"
"Yes, yes, and maybe, but way down the list. My real reason, my motivating reason, was and is to protect the people I love from the monsters out there in the dark. And now... I canít protect you any more. Youíve thrown yourself into harmís way."
"Hey, you protected me, and I grew up. You preserved my freedom, and I used it to make this decision. And now we can protect each other!"
"I wish. But it doesnít work like that. Agents usually work alone, especially we Special Ops. And when we do all stand together... Harmony, why did they say West Coast suddenly needed personnel?"
"They didnít. They asked for volunteers, said it was an opportunity for advancement, and offered a big fat relocation bonus. There was gonna be a briefing tomorrow, but it was postponed."
"Well, hereís a mini-briefing. West Coast bureau was wiped out yesterday. Only Custer and I survived, and one Academy student. They lived because they looked dead."
Harmony paled. "Oh, my God. Who did it? And how did you survive?"
"The PRC, but I think someone else used them for a catspaw. I was the last Agent standing. I kept them... entertained until the 101st arrived."
An expression of savage ferocity flitted across Melodyís features, causing Harmony to flinch. "I gave them Kung Fu lessons."
Harmony gasped. "You fought them hand-to-hand? Alone? For how long?"
"It seemed like a long, long time. (bt) Help me get some clothes on. Canít do much with my right arm because of a big gash on my back. I want to visit the others.
(pan/zoom out to show Daria at the computer and Quinn reading over her shoulder as she types.)
Helen: (o.s.) Hey in there, whatís going on? Youíre not strangling each other, are you? (peeks in)
Quinn: Guess what? Iím Harmony Powers!
Daria: (wry smile) Way to keep a secret there, Harmony! Now Helen the Red is gonna drag us off to the interrogation room.
Helen: No, Iíll interrogate you right here. Have you finished all your homework?
Quinn: Yes, Mom.
Helen: All right, then. Donít stay up too late, and donít let the commies get you.
Daria: Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. (thought v.o.) I saw that look, Mom. I know youíll be grilling me as soon as you can catch me away from Quinn. Got to protect poor little Quinn from evil Daria.
(Daria resumes typing. Pan/zoom back to monitor screen.)
Amelia went on, "At first, we were mowing them down from the bleachers, and they were milling around in confusion on the field, and I thought, "We might live through this after all." , but then they got organized and returned the fire, and I realized how badly we were outnumbered. I remember wondering if our ammo would hold out until the reinforcements arrived, and then nothing."
Melody said, "An RPG probably hit near you. They had a few of those. Thatís as good a place to stop remembering as any. It was pretty much downhill from there."
"So, did our ammo hold out ?"
"No. I was as well off as anyone. I had 175 rounds for my pistol, and I used it all. Then I picked up a Chinese AK and an extra mag for it, about 40 more rounds. Then one of those little Chinese pistols with five shots left in it. After that I had to go down onto the field to find anything, and I started taking hits. When the second AK ran dry, there was just nothing else to pick up in my vicinity. I looked around, and an awful lot of Chinese were looking back at me, and it was very quiet. Thatís when I realized I was the last American left. It was just me and about a thousand Chinese. That was a very bad feeling. I threw down the AK and stood up."
"Oh, my gosh! What did they do?" asked Harmony.
It was a perfect straight line. Melody longed to say, "They killed me, of course." But Amelia didnít need to be laughing with abdominal injuries. "One of the women yelled something about revenge and honor in Chinese, handed off her pistol, and came at me barehanded. She wasnít all that good, considering the elite force she was part of. I was going to finish her off when it occurred to me that every second I spent fighting an inferior opponent was another second that I wasnít dead. So I sandbagged a little, favored my injuries a little. I had a good bit of blood on me, though most of it wasnít mine, at that point. I didnít take her down until she left me an obvious opening. Even then I didnít kill her, on the theory that it takes more time to help an injured comrade than to drag off a dead one."
"Another Chinese woman stepped up to defend the honor of the women of the Workersí Paradise. She was a good bit better. I had to take her out quickly because she was getting too many hits in. A third woman stepped up, also better than the first, but more cautious. I was able to drag that match out for several minutes, and move around enough that the crowd of spectators interfered with the people working on the nukes. Donít know if that helped any, but, hey, we do what we can."
"I was kind of forced to kill the third woman, and after that, they seemed pretty much locked into the idea that I was going to die in single unarmed combat at their hands. I guess shooting me wouldíve meant too much loss of face. There was some discussion and a man stepped up. They must have felt a little sheepish about it because they let me take a couple of minutes to catch my breath."
"Well, to summarize, I fought several more opponents, trying not to show my skill level, acting a little more hurt than I was, dragging the fights out as long as I could, and generally trying to keep them distracted, until finally the 101st Airborne arrived."
Harmony looked awestruck. "Gosh, Melody, that is totally incredible! You really outdid yourself this time. No way can I hope to even come close to that. But Iím gonna do my dead level best."
Melody frowned. "I hope you donít mean that the way it sounded. I certainly wasnít thinking "Hunsacker, youíre my hero, and Iím gonna do my dead level best to run up an unbeatable kill total and go out in a blaze of glory, just like you!" At the Jade Dragon I was doing my best to analyze the situation and inform the Agency. After the signal was sent, my goal became to either get out alive or at least not wet my pants as I died. At the stadium, none of us had any realistic hope of survival. Our hope was to save the city. We were trying to buy enough time for our troops to get there before the Chinese detonated those nukes."
"I understand what youíre saying, Melody. You didnít do it for the glory, you did it for your country and your loved ones. And Iím not in it for glory either. Iím just saying I hope I do half as well as you when the crunch comes. But listening to a hero claiming she isnít a hero sounds kind of funny, you know? You earned the glory, so take it. I would.
"Okay, maybe so. But Iím leading up to something else, too. Harmony, youíre thinking seriously of becoming a Special Op, right? And Amelia, if youíre not dead set on quitting after what youíve been through, youíre considering it too." Melody gripped the tall post at the foot of Ameliaís bed with her left hand and pulled herself out of her wheelchair. "You know itís the Agencyís most dangerous specialty, but did they tell you the average life expectancy of a Special Op is about two years and one month?" She began untying the sash of her hospital robe.
"They didnít mention a figure.", said Amelia.
"Our instructor told us it varied with world tensions and stuff, when Custer tried to pin him down." said Harmony. "What are you doing?"
Melody gingerly slid the robe off, laid it on the foot of the bed. "Iíve been a Special Op for, uh, three years and three months." She undid the knots holding her hospital smock together. Instead of changing to pajamas, sheíd just put on panties under the smock, a robe over it, and slippers. "Lean on the door, would you, Harmony? Theyíre not lockable from inside. Iíve acquired all these scars since then. The bandages are hiding some, but you get the idea." Melody got the smock off with some difficulty, laid it on top of the robe. "Any of the bullets and knives and whatnot that made these scars could have killed me if theyíd been an inch or three this way or that. Well, except for that fresh nick on my butt. Most of my important stuff was behind an I-beam." In panties, slippers, and bandages, Melody slowly turned, allowing the two younger women to see some of what three years as a Special Op had done to her slender, perfectly proportioned body.
Amelia had already gone two shades paler, and was staring fixedly at Melodyís midsection. Harmony now saw why. As Melody turned, a jagged, ugly scar came into view, slashing from upper right to lower left across her abdomen. Almost a foot long, it drew the eye like a bloody car wreck. "Ohhh, no", she moaned. "Oh, Melody, no-o-o..."
"That oneís a real eye-catcher, isnít it? Makes a great conversation piece for a dull day at the beach." Melody picked up the smock, began slowly working it up her right arm, being very careful not to use or stretch any of the slashed muscles that rotated the shoulder. Harmony hurried over and helped her dress.
"My God , Melody, what could make a wound like that? A chainsaw? Even so, any competent surgeon should be able to sew it up better than that!"
"They donít take Blue Cross in Kabul, Harmony, and they donít treat women. It was a kandjar, in a godawful five-way knife fight in pitch darkness at the top of the Khyber pass. I came with a band of Mujaheddin, which turned out to be a mistake, and left with the remnants of a Russian Spetznaz team. We patched each other up and they cared for me as best they could, but it was four days before we could get to Samarkand, in Uzbekistan, and a halfway decent medical facility. The north part of Afghanistan was enemy territory for all of us. Taliban territory. Infection is what made it look so ugly. It can be fixed by cosmetic surgery, and a good surgeon could probably even reconstruct my navel, but I havenít been able to get the time off.
"But thatís just one wound of many, and thatís more or less what you can expect if you become a Special Operative, unless youíre a lot sneakier and smarter than I am, or can dodge bullets. Thatís what I want you to think about. Repeatedly having bits of yourself shot or hacked away until finally you lose something you canít do without. Itís a hell of an occupational hazard. Almost makes me willing to consider a desk job.
"And then if youíre really good, one day you might come in to work and discover youíve been voted deadliest Special Op. Then your life expectancy immediately drops to a few months. From then on, you dodge one hit after another, fight your way out of one ambush after another, discover one booby trap after another, till finally one gets you. And you donít even get a raise."
Amelia realized something. "And, after yesterday, that would be... you, wouldnít it?" She looked at Melody with pity.
"When the enemy Intelligence analysts piece together what happened in the stadium, and when they find out I survived, yes."
"Which is why weíre rubbing you out. My condolences." Virosa stood in the doorway. Noticing Melody putting on her robe, she ventured, "Been scaring the newbies with your battle scars? Dang! I wanted to see the one from the Khyber pass!"
"Ooh, hazukashi!" [Japanese- approximately "I would be too embarrassed"] Melody feigned shyness, then lifted the hem of her smock.
Virosa grinned, then gaped. "Whoa! Shimatta!" [Japanese- "I made a mistake"]
Melody smirked. "So whatís this about rubbing me out? It canít be just to save me from the consequences of being deadliest Special Op. One, they didnít do it for Hunsacker, and B, if they think Iím dead, youíre next in line."
"Damn! I knew there was something wrong with this plan! Actually, the idea is that we can control everyone who knows youíre alive but one man- Loong Wang. So we put out the word that youíre dead, and then put all our resources on alert for any news to the contrary. Weíre hoping that when and where that news surfaces will tell us something about the people heís working for. Butterfly, HQ will be calling you with instructions on how to alter Melodyís hospital records."
"Okay. This would be a great time for her to get that awful scar fixed, since sheís recuperating from all those other wounds anyway. How do I get that approved?"
Virosa grinned craftily. "Forgiveness is much easier to obtain than permission. Considering the current state of chaos at West Coast HQ, Iíd just go ahead and do it. Theyíll probably never notice, and if they do, they have much more important stuff to worry about." She looked at her watch. "And speaking of overworked, theyíre expecting me to make enough gruesome, high-profile hits to make it look like West Coast bureau is operating at full strength. Gotta reach out and touch someone. Bye." Before anyone could reply, Virosa was gone.
"Wow." Amelia gazed after Virosa. "Sheís unique. Uhh, you are, too, Melody. Gosh, two thirds of the Terrible Three in my little room. At the same time."
Harmony gave Amelia an indulgent smile as she held the wheelchair steady for Melody. "So, anyway, what happened after the 101st got there?"
"An awful lot of killing, as youíd expect. Our guys were vulnerable parachuting in, and quite a few of them landed badly because of the crowded conditions, but they werenít as badly outnumbered as weíd been, and they had superior weapons and plenty of ammo. I have no idea how I survived the first ten seconds, but I finally got hold of a weapon and pitched in. It was a meat grinder. One minute of stark terror."
"When things got quiet this time, there were a few Airborne guys still standing, so I guess that means we won They were gathering up their wounded and I was looking for Loong Wang. If anyone knew who was really behind this scheme, it would be him, but I hadnít seen him at all. Suddenly he came running out of the locker room entrance, with Ratboy right behind him."
"Loong Wang was firing at Ratboy over his shoulder as he ran. I moved to intercept, but I was pretty beaten up by then, not to mention shot and slashed. Loong Wang disappeared down a manhole behind the South end zone, Ratboy went after him, and I followed as best I could. Between us, we managed to plant three tracer bugs on him and let him get away. NSA is tracking him now."
"Where do you think heíll go?", asked Amelia. "If he goes back to China, wonít we lose him?"
"We can track him in China, but not as reliably. But Iíd be very surprised if he went there. Even if he was following orders from his superiors in Chinese clandestine ops, itís likely those superiors have been imprisoned or killed, or have fled, on the heels of this debacle. Loong Wang will probably be marked for death for the same reason- his knowledge of Chinaís botched nuclear attack on the USA.
"If he was getting all his orders through the chain of command, he probably wonít know what to do or where to go now. He might just turn himself in and offer to cooperate. In that case heíd be of very little value to the Agency. Weíd just get the name of his superior and turn him over to the FBI or someone. But if he was receiving orders and help from someone else, then sooner or later he will contact that someone else, or be contacted by them. We must use him to find them. We have to know who they are and what they want."
"So will you be back on his case when you get out of the hospital?" asked Amelia.
"Not until we find out who he was working for, or at least until weíre sure heís on his way to them. Surveillance isnít my specialty. What about you, Amelia? What will you do when you get out of here?"
"First thing Iíll do is get a hamburger. Intravenous feeding sucks even worse than regular hospital food. But I guess you mean will I stay with the Agency. Iíve been thinking about that. What happened at the stadium certainly wasnít what I was expecting."
"Of course not. Nothing like that ever happened before in Agency history, and itís not likely to ever happen again. That was practically a pitched battle, something the military should have handled. Thereíll be a huge amount of fur flying, fingers pointing, and heads rolling, all in the utmost secrecy, of course. Oh, hell. I hope they wonít ask me to testify before some Congressional committee. I donít know if Iíd be able to overcome my training and instincts enough to refrain from killing most of them."
"Hey, let your conscience be your guide.", grinned Amelia. "I guess Iím going to stay. I knew I was laying my life on the line when I signed up. If anything, the stadium showed me my country really does need me."
Pan/zoom out from monitor screen to MS of Daria and Quinn.
Daria: (yawns, stretches) Well, thatís it for tonight. All out of words.
Quinn: Yeah, okay. Gínight, Daria. (exits, giggles o.s.) Harmony Powers!
Scene 8 Int Morgendorffer house, kitchen Wednesday morning, 15 October. Helen enters, finds Jake pouring coffee into his traveling coffee mug. As Jake snaps the lid on it, a pastry pops up in the toaster. Jake grabs it.
Jake: Gaah! Hot! Hot, dammit! (Jake grabs three paper napkins from a holder on the counter, picks up the pastry in them.) Gotta go, honey. Big presentation this morning. Want to have plenty of time to prepare. (gives Helen a quick kiss) Love ya! (starts for door)
Quinn: (entering, has overheard) Wait Dad! Gimme a ride to where you make your second turn I can walk from there itíll give me a chance to talk to Stacy cause she always gets to school real early thanks bye Mom! (grabs an orange and a banana from fruit bowl on counter, looks at Jake and his toaster pastry, grabs a second orange, runs out after Jake.)
Helen: (blinking bemusedly after vanished familial units) Morning Jake bye Jake. Morning Quinn bye Quinn. (sighs, pours a cup of coffee, reaches in cabinet for a breakfast bar, pauses in thought for a moment, then heads for the refrigerator, whence she removes eggs, turkey bacon, jam, and imitation margarine substitute)
Same scene, a few minutes later. Daria enters kitchen, detects anomalous conditions, freezes in her tracks. The table is set for two, with a cup of coffee at Helenís place and a glass of orange juice at Dariaís. A plate of bacon on paper towels is on the table, along with a jar of strawberry jam and a tub of imitation margarine substitute, and Helen is carrying a plate of toast and a plate of scrambled eggs from the range. Helen sets them on the table, turns and sees Daria.
Helen: Good morning, sweetie! I felt like a hot breakfast this morning. Care to join me?
Daria: (steals a look at her watch, looks up, alarmed) All right, who are you and what have you done with my mother? (blinks, looks around) And my father? And my s- nevermind.
Helen: (smirks a little) Sarcasm so early? Come on, Daria. Sit down and eat your breakfast while itís hot. (Daria approaches the table, drawn by the good smells and the long-ago memories they evoke) And we can talk
Daria: Oh, hell. (She shrugs, sits resignedly at the table and helps herself to scrambled eggs and turkey bacon) So, Helen the Red, youíve got me in your clutches. Well, you can break this poor frail body, but youíll never break my spirit! (attempts to eat scrambled eggs defiantly)
Helen: (thinks this is cute; dabs at mouth with napkin, hiding a smile) All right, Daria. Youíve seen through my feeble stratagem. I just wanted to ask you where youíre going with this Harmony Powers thing.
Daria: ("butters" toast) Quinn came to my room last night and asked if she could read what Iíd written on my next Melody Powers story. I let her. We were talking and I told her how Iíd based a character on Jane and might base one on Jodie. She asked me to base one on her. So I did- Melodyís kid sister. I think itíll work out well. Quinn likes it. I have no plans to kill off the Harmony character, but I warned Quinn in advance that it could happen. (takes a bite of eggs and a bite of toast, looks inquiringly at Helen as she chews)
Helen: That sounds really sweet, Daria. Itís just that... well, I remember times when some sweet thing you did for your sister turned out to have a hook in it. (Maintains eye contact with Daria while taking a bite of bacon)
Daria: (maintains eye contact with Helen while taking a drink of orange juice, sighs deeply) All right, Mom, youíve uncovered my evil scheme. (spears a bite of scrambled eggs) There are in fact two hooks in it. (eats eggs, gropes for, finds, and takes a bite of bacon while maintaining eye contact)
Helen: (flicker of sadness) And those are? (reaches for coffee cup, almost tips it over, looks down, breaking eye contact)
Daria: (tiny smile of triumph, suppressed before Helen can look up again) Sheíll encounter the first one when she tells her friends about it. One of them is bound to ask her (does a pretty good Sandi impression) "So, like, why did your weird cousin or whatever make your character like, her characterís sister and not, like, her cousin or whatever?"
Helen: (snickers as she recognizes Sandiís version of Valspeak, then frowns as she realizes the implications of what Daria has said) You mean sheís telling her friends youíre not her sister? Well, Iíll have a talk with her about that!
Daria: (thought v.o.) You should hear what she tells them about my mother. (aloud) She tells everyone. But donít say anything. If you force her to call me sister but sheís thinking "I hate your guts, you four-eyed geek!", what good is that? Itís meaningless unless and until sheís willing to call me sister.
Helen: You mean Quinn calling you her cousin doesnít bother you?
Daria: No, I donít. (pushing on) The second hook is a boarding hook, with a line attached. I heaved it over her rail, and now Iím going to haul in the line, very gently, and try to draw us closer together.
Helen: (borderline misty-eyed) Thatís so... poetic! Itís just...
Daria: Just so at variance with your image of cold, machiavellian, uncaring Daria? (butters bitterly)
Helen: Oh, no, sweetie, no! I didnít mean that! But... can you blame me for having doubts?
Daria: No, I guess I canít blame you, considering what I know about your relationship with your sisters. But thatís what Iím hoping to avert. I donít want me and Quinn to be like you and Rita for the rest of our lives.
Helen: Oh, Daria, I really hope... omigosh, look at the time! I am so late!
Daria: If youíll wait till I put some jam on this toast, Iíll show you...
Helen: Another time, sweetie. Iíve really...
Daria: ...my latest diary entry.
Helen: -huk (swallows, long pause) Youíre pulling my leg.
Daria: No, I am not. For some reason, I really want you to believe me and understand me on this. (finishes spreading jam, takes a drink of orange juice, gets up) So if youíll please follow me to my room... (thought v. o.) As if you could do anything else. (turns and walks toward family room so Helen cannot see her smile. Helen also cannot see when the smile gives way to a look of panic. Thought v. o.) Omigod, what am I doing? (then her expression returns to deadpan as logic resumes control)
Scene 9 Int. Dariaís room. Daria is seated at her computer. Helen waits by the door. Background music: "Iím just a soul whose intentions are good... Oh, Lord, please donít let me be misunderstood!"
Daria: Decrypting now. Just a few seconds more. You realize I donít do this lightly, and it may never happen again. But I want to remove your doubts if at all possible. There. Hmmm. (frowns at something on screen) Ahh, what the heck. Have a seat. This is from just after dinner last night, before we thought up Harmony Powers. (rises, Helen sits, begins reading)
A very strange thing just happened. Quinn came in and gave me some useful information regarding student reaction to Kevinís reaction to Ratboyís supposed demise. Seemed to be a pretty accurate analysis, too. If sheís right, only one student in 12 suspects I deliberately mindf***ed him.
Daria: I had a very good reason. Tell you all about it later. Anyway, all I did was write the story. (Helen resumes reading, Daria finishes her toast and jam)
Iíd have guessed no more than 1 in 20, but Iím inclined to trust Quinnís numbers. Guess my fearsome rep is spreading.
And then another very strange thing happened. Quinn asked to read what Iíd written on my next Melody Powers story, and liked it! Oh, I forgot to tell you that this morning she let slip that sheíd attended my last reading at the coffeehouse. There may be something more to it, but I watched her face as she read, and she was really getting into the story.
On top of that, her suggestion about writing Melody stories under a pseudonym may be a very good one. Have to think about it. Maybe... Eufaula Offenhauser? Or maybe it should be a manís name. Too bad Douglas Adams already thought of Dirk Gently. Quinn has a point; they are more popular than anything else Iíve written and read publicly. I could be making some money while searching for someone to take my serious stuff seriously.
And where did Quinn learn about the Bacon-wrote-Shakespeare theory? Not from Waif magazine. Is her intellect finally emerging from hibernation? Is she reading stuff in secret? How to encourage it without scaring her off? Guess Iíll give it room and not remark on it, at least for now.
Itís weird, but while she was in here this evening, we were relating to each other almost like Jane and Trent do, rather than like two cats in a sack. Dare I hope? I know now that the sister I yearn for is in there somewhere. Iíll do what I can to strengthen what ties there are between us. But Iíll keep the shields of cynicism up. She who expects the worst shall never be disappointed.
Daria: (looks at Helen, who sits blinking at the screen; looks down at floor, speaks hesitantly) Well, there you have it. My innermost thoughts revealed. My very soul laid bare, quivering in the cold harsh light of morning.. If you donít believe this, thereís nothing more I can say or do.
Helen: Oh, Daria, I... you... (turns back to screen)
Daria: (sighs, leans in, executes a few keystrokes. A printer chortles to life) I appreciate you taking this time. I know itís hard for you. But we donít want you actually getting fired.
Helen: (high-pitched, quavering voice) Ohh-h-h... (stands, grabs Daria in a fierce hug, pinning her arms to her sides)
Daria: (eyes wide, squirming feebly) Ooh, ick... (Helen begins kissing Daria) Aaghh! (Helen persists. Daria gives up, goes limp in the grip of her assailant.)
Scene 10 Ext. Lawndale High, main entrance, a few minutes later. Helenís red SUV pulls into the circle, comes to a halt amid squealing tires. Daria emerges, closes door. Helen immediately roars away, amid more squealing tires. Daria gazes after her. The camera pans left to reacquire Helenís SUV after it turns back onto the street. At about forty yards distance, we see Helen raise a clenched fist, and hear a faint but distinct "YES!" Several students turn and stare. Daria smiles and turns toward the entrance. She spots Jane, who has also apparently been watching, near the doors. A bell rings, and the two hurry inside.
Scene 11 Int. Mr. OíNeillís English Lit class. Students are still filing in.
Jane: So, youíre all smileyfaced for the second day in a row, and you get chauffeured to school, and Mater was practically ecstatic about something. Whatís up with that?
Daria: I scored major touchy-feely family bonding points, and even got a few deducted from Quinn.
Jane: Wow! You? Howíd you do that?
Daria: Desperate measures. I let her read a selected page of my diary.
Jane: Youíre kidding! A page out of your diary got a positive reaction from Helen?? Wait... "selected"! It was a plant, right? Crafty! (Daria looks down at her hands, mumbles) It was genuine?? I gotta read that!
Daria: I could let you, I guess, but then Iíd have to kill you. That entry would totally destroy my rep. Knock a huge hole in my armor. Canít allow that.
Jane: You mean thereís stuff youíd share with your mother but not with me?
Daria: This was part of the stuff I share with no one. I made an exception because of necessity and extenuating circumstances. Mom had a need to know. You do not.
Jane: Ooookayy... So, uhh... are you going to let Kevin off the hook today or...
Daria: I think so. Today we shall bind up his wounds and soothe his fevered brow. (evil smirk) But not this period.
OíNeill: All right, class, who can tell us where we left off yesterday? (scans class, no response) Daria?
Daria: Tybalt kills Mercutio, then Romeo kills Tybalt, then he runs off. The Prince walks on, trailing the head cheeses Montague and Capulet, and there lies Tybalt, like a dead rat in the gutter.
Kevin: Deeaad! Ohhh, Ghhauud, heís dea-hea-hea-hea-head! (slumps onto his desk, weeping bitterly. Daria surreptitiously accepts a low five from Jane. Jodie and Mack conceal their reactions. Andrea grins wickedly.)
OíNeill: Ahh, Kevin, I believe we covered that yesterday.
Kevin: (groans) Ohhh, Ratboy, Ratboyyy-ee-ee-eee!
OíNeill: Now, Kevin, there is no Ratboy in...
Kevin: Aaahhhhh, haa haa haaaahhh!
OíNeill: (sighs) Come with me, Kevin. (pulls Kevin out of his desk, leads him to door) Daria, would you continue, please? I should be back in a few minutes. (exeunt)
Daria: (unenthusiastic) Oh, goody. (rises, with book) Well, letís see here... the Prince grills Benvolio... "Where are the wild beginners of this fray?" Ben says, hmm, hmm, ..."the unruly spleen of Tybalt,.. deaf to peace, but that he tilts... With piercing steel at bold Mercutioís breast." ...which pisses off Romeo...
"And toít they go like lightning, for ere I ...Could draw to part them was stout Tybalt slain... and as he fell did Romeo turn and fly."
Then Lady Capulet calls him a liar... (in Ms. Barchís voice) "He is a kinsman to the Montague. Affection makes him false, he speaks not true... Romeo slew Tybalt; Romeo must not live!" (scattered snickers from class)
Then Montague says, (DeMartinoís voice) "Not Romeo, Prince, he was Mercutioís friend... His fault concludes but what the law should end... the life of Tybalt." (more snickers)
Then the Prince exiles Romeo on the spot. "...let Romeo hence in haste... Else when heís found, that hour is his last!" Hmm, Shakespeare must not have liked to do courtroom scenes.
Scene II is in Julietís room, and she canít wait for nightfall. She says "night" about fifty times here. (Scarlett OíHara voice) "Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night!... (giggles from students) That rude dayís eyes may wink, and Romeo... Leap to these arms, untalkíd of and unseen... Lovers can see to do their amorous rites... Give me my Romeo, and when he shall die, Take him and cut him out in little stars..." Wow. Sheís gonna f... love him to death and then decorate her ceiling with his remains. (giggles, few laughs)
Then Julietís nurse comes in with some cords, blithering "Alack the day! Heís gone! Heís killed! Heís dead!" and freaks Juliet out. Classic misunderstanding plot device here. "This torture should be roared in dismal hell! Death-darting eye of cockatrice... Is Romeo slaughtered, and is Tybalt dead?" Then the nurse tells her Romeo isnít dead, but banished. Which isnít that much better, since Tybalt was her cousin. "O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face! Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave? Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!" And a lot more in that vein.
But Iím hogging all the fun. These cords the nurse comes in with- what are they? (She looks around, sees no hand raised.) Is Juliet planning some bondage action here? (Giggles and snickers, but no hands.) Jodie?
Jodie: Itís hard to tell just from the script, but itís probably a rope ladder or something similar that they lower so that Romeo can climb up to meet Juliet.
Daria: Probably, but down here, Juliet seems to be taking the cords to bed with her. Mack, would you read Julietís speech here? (She indicates a passage in Mackís book)
Mack: (He gives Daria an accusatory look, then shrugs, smiles wryly, and reads in a Scarlett OíHara voice)
Take up those cords. Poor ropes, you are beguilíd,
Both you and I; for Romeo is exilíd;
He made you for a highway to my bed;
But I, a maid, die maiden-widowed.
Come, cords; come, nurse; Iíll to my wedding-bed;
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!
(This is greeted with snickers, laughs, and a few guffaws, one from Andrea.)
Daria: So, is it a rope ladder, or something else?
Mack: It still sounds like a rope ladder; Julietís just getting weird with it.
OíNeill: (enters, Daria resumes her seat) Thank you, Daria. Well, class, how are we doing? Any questions?
Brittany: Umm, whatís a maidenhead? (Pan/zoom to CU of OíNeillís face as it turns successively deeper shades of pink)
Scene 12 Ms. Mansonís office. Ms. Manson sits at the table, holding some rectangles of heavy cardboard. Kevin sits opposite her.
Ms. Manson: Now, Kevin, what do you see here?
Kevin: Um, a piece of cardboard?
Ms. Manson: Itís a picture of two people, Kevin.
Kevin: Oh, you mean those two black peopley shapes? Thatís not a picture. You canít, like, see their faces.
Ms. Manson: Theyíre called silhouettes. Now I....
Kevin: Or what color clothes theyíre wearing.
Ms. Manson: Thatís all right, Kevin. Now, can...
Kevin: Are they wearing blue and yellow?
Ms. Manson: Kevin! Itís a picture of a boy and a girl, and theyíre talking! Can you make up a story about what theyíre saying?
Kevin: Uhh, but what color...
Ms. Manson: All right, Kevin! Theyíre wearing blue and yellow! Now can you make up a story about what theyíre saying?
Kevin: O-O-O-o-o-oh! Okay! Um, Heís saying, like, Hi, babe! Iím the QB! And sheís saying, like, Ohhh, cool! Iím a cheerleader! And heís saying, like, Cool! Wanna suck face? And sheís saying, like, Okay, cool! And then they...
Ms. Manson: Yes, thank you, Kevin. Now, you see, you just made up a story. Thatís what Dara did with the story she read Monday night. She just made it...
Kevin: Umm, you mean Daria?
Ms. Manson: What?
Kevin: Uh, the chick who read the story? Her nameís, like, Daria.
Ms. Manson: Fine. Daria made up her story, wrote it down, and read it at the coffeehouse. The people who got killed in her story didnít really get killed, because they werenít real. Dara made them up.
Kevin: Umm, you mean Daria?
Ms. Manson: What?
Kevin: The chick who read the story? Her nameís, like, Daria.
Ms. Manson: FINE, Kevin! DARIA made up the people in her story. Therefore theyíre not real. Therefore they canít die. See?
Kevin: (boy are YOU dumb look:) Ahaaw, no, no, no! Daria didnít make up Ratboy! Ratboy was around long before Daria moved here!
Ms. Manson: (canít believe this moron has found a flaw in her logic) Very well! Daria didnít make up Ratboy. But someone else did, and she borrowed him for her story. Ratboy is still a fictional character.
Kevin: A fissional what?
Ms. Manson: A fic-tion-al char-ac-ter. The people in stories that writers make up. Like Romeo and Juliet. They werenít real. Like the Cat in the Hat. He wasnít real. Like Curious George. Like Alice in Wonderland. The people in stories arenít real. NOW do you understand?
Kevin: Ohhh, now I KNOW youíre wrong! The people in my story are real! Thatís me and Brittany! Or maybe me and Lisa! Or was it Angie... Anyway, weíre all real! You donít know what youíre talking about! (gets up, goes to door, opens it. Ms. Li stands outside. Kevin raises hand to side of mouth, whispers in Ms Liís ear) Sheís, like, not too smart, you know? (walks out.)
Ms. Li: Kevin, wait for me in my office. (bt) Ms. Manson, what the hell was that? If youíre not capable of handling students like Kevin, how can I expect you to cope with the really smart ones, like Charles Ruttheimer, Jodie Landon, or Daria Mor... (stares appraisingly at Ms Manson for a moment) Forget it. (turns, hesitates, turns back) And, for your information, Alice was also a real person. (exits. Ms. Manson stares, stricken, at the vacant doorway for a few seconds, then lets her face fall into her cupped hands.)
Scene 13 Computer lab. Daria is seated at a computer, typing. Pan/zoom in to a CU of monitor screen, where we see that Daria is working on BY ANY OTHER NAME.
Melody slowly made her way from the bathroom, leaning heavily on the walker. She was disregarding a good deal of pain from the bullet wound in her right thigh, while being careful not to reopen the wound. Having been through this more times than she cared to recall, Melody knew how much load to place on healing muscles to minimize recovery time.
She cursed the awkwardness of the walker, but she couldnít use a cane or crutch with her right arm because of the gash that had damaged her right shoulder muscles. She considered using a crutch on the left side and holding her right foot off the floor entirely most of the time.
Melody was peering out between two slats of the blinds when Harmony came in. Harmony reached for the rod to open up the slats, but Melody batted her arm away.
"Ow! I was just trying to help!"
"Help who? The sniper?"
"Sniper?! Thereís a sniper out there?"
"I assume there is."
"You... umm, isnít that a little paranoid?" Then Harmony remembered the scars Melody had showed her, and that she pretty much had a lock on deadliest Special Op. "Sorry. Stupid question." Melody favored her with a sardonic smile, said nothing "I was just talking with HQ and they told me to ask you if there was some other agent in West Coast bureau who looked enough like you that it would be helpful for you to assume her identity."
There was a time not so long ago when this would have struck Melody as a bit ghoulish. She wondered idly what it would take to strike her as ghoulish now. "There was a girl in Psycho about my height and hair color. She was a bit more... statuesque than me. Her first name was Donna."
"Sounds good." Harmony pulled out her phone, hit redial. Melody lowered herself into a chair, picked up her magazine, resumed reading about how to build a cabin with minimal tools and assistance in semi-wilderness conditions How sheíd love to have that set of problems instead of her current set. "Was she in Psychoanalysis or Psychological warfare?"
"Psych war." Melody idly perused an ad proclaiming "Turn your chainsaw into a lumber mill!" Maybe sheíd ask HQ if they had anyone on their "to kill" list who owned a mountain cabin. This might be more "sweat equity" than she really wanted to invest.
Harmony folded her phone. "Theyíll go over her records and get back to us. And Dr. Rosencrantz the cosmetic surgeon will be by tomorrow morning to talk with you about the scars. Do you take MSM?"
"No. Whatís MSM?"
"Methylsulfonylmethane. Itís a nutrient, a bioavailable sulfur compound. Theyíre just finding out what all itís good for. One of the things it does is help you heal without scarring, and help old scars fade away faster." Harmony reached into her bag, pulled out a paperback book. "Here. I just got through reading this. If you get the worst of those scars fixed surgically, the rest should disappear within a few months, if you start taking MSM."
Melody took the book. "Thanks, Iíll read it. Now I want to go see Custer. He was in your class at the academy, right?"
"Yeah. I want to see him too. He was kind of the class cutup."
"Heís still kind of a cutup." Melody smiled a small smirk.
A few minutes later, Melody wheeled herself through the door of another hospital room as Harmony held it open. Custer was smiling, or at least the visible portion of his face was, but he remained silent while Harmony quickly swept the room for bugs. Signaling all clear, she folded her Agency phone and clipped it to her belt.
"Harmony! Great to see you! And you too, Melody! Hey, with those names, you two should be sisters!" Melody and Harmony exchanged smirks. Harmony tapped her temple, shook her head. "Wait- you are sisters?"
Harmony grinned. "Well, duh! But as of now, thatís top secret. Whatsername here is getting a new identity, at least temporarily. So, whatís your damage, besides brain?"
"Lost my left pinky, but theyíre pretty sure Iíll get to keep the rest of the arm. Other than that, itís fairly minor. How about you, Miss, uh...?
"Melody for now. Havenít finalized my new ID. A couple more bullet holes, a nasty cut on my back, and a lot of bruising from the hand-to-hand. Nothing permanently disabling."
"Iím sure glad to hear that. But how in the world did you get to hand-to-hand? Krupp and I were cut down almost as soon as we got out onto the field. He fell on top of me and I guess that saved my life. Only my left arm was sticking out, and it was hit five times. I passed out from the pain pretty quickly."
"You share that bit of luck with Amelia. You were both taken out early on, and didnít collect too much in the way of ugly memories. Iím the only one who has to remember the whole thing."
"But I want to know what happened. I was hoping..."
"Thereís a difference between knowing the story and reliving, over and over, in excruciating detail, two hundred thirty-one people dying at the end of your gun barrel. Thatís counting the twenty-three at the warehouse, but not the sixteen probables, or the eleven non-fatal hits, or the two I killed hand to hand. No offense, Custer, but Iíd rather let Harmony tell you the story. I want to go across the hall and see... Harmony, what name is he using?"
"John Doe. He says he canít remember who he is."
"Well, he certainly got kicked in the head hard enough to support that claim. Good thinking."
A few minutes later, after Harmony had swept for bugs and left, Melody smiled at the roomís occupant and said, "So, how are you feeling, John Doe?" Short black hair framed a handsome, cheerful face. A high brow gave him a look of intelligence, frequently contradicted by the goofy grin that seemed to be his favorite facial expression.
"Like Iíve been shot at and hit. Probably better than you, though. I saw that cut on your back. Sorry I couldnít..."
"Hey, you saved my life twice down there. You have nothing to apologize for. Thank you. And Iím feeling okay within a limited range of motion."
Iím glad. So, are you tracking that Wang guy?"
"Still getting three strong signals, last I heard. Heís lying low on the outskirts of Chinatown. Guess that bit about catching a plane was an attempt at misdirection. All his exits are covered by teams ready to retag him when he makes a move."
"Yeah, that feels right. Well, I guess this is the end of Ratboy. Brought me in here unconscious, pulled my mask off... "
Melody peeked into the wardrobe beside his bed. "Nope. If youíd been wearing that outfit when you came in, at least some of it would be in here, and it isnít. Iím betting one of our people removed it before the paramedics got to you. Iíll ask and let you know."
"Same difference. Your Agency knows who I am. My secret identityís no secret anymore."
"Oh, come on. The Agencyís known about you for years. As many times as youíve beaten one of our Agents or teams to the scene of something, you know we were gonna check you out. Itís a lot harder to maintain a secret identity today than it used to be. According to your file, weíve even tried to recruit you, more than once. Why didnít you sign up? Youíd be doing the same thing you do now, only with a lot more support."
"I canít work for somebody, or some agency. I hafta follow my nose."
"My Rat Sense. Itís what makes me Ratboy. I smell a rat, I follow my nose, I track down the rat, and then I... do what needs doing. I mean, I donít actually smell a smell, but itís like that. So, uh, the Agency knows about me? And they havenít told? And theyíre not going to?"
"Naah. Iím one of their best Agents, and they didnít tell me a thing until I ran into you and needed to know. Even now, I donít know your real name. Which puts you one up on me, by the way. Melody is my real name, but thatís now a secret, because Iím officially dead."
"Uhhh, how come?"
"I kill enemy agents and spies. Itís part of my job. Iím very good at it. All the countries that send agents and spies here, or recruit them, want me dead. When they find out how many chicoms Iíve killed lately, and that Iím still alive, Iíll go to the top of their hit lists."
"So theyíre gonna say youíre dead to keep you alive."
Right. I can count on you to keep the secret, canít I?"
"Absolutely. Ratboy never rats."
"Great. Because thereís another reason weíre doing this. Everyone who knows Iím alive will keep the secret except for Loong Wang. We figure as soon as he contacts whoever he was secretly working for, heíll tell them what happened at the stadium, probably including the fact that I was alive when he left. Weíll be listening with all our ears, and where, when, and how that news surfaces should tell us something about who these people are."
"O-O-o-o-oh! Sneaky! And if I get a whiff of anything, Iíll be sure and let you know. If you give me a phone number."
Melody pushed a few buttons on her phone, but didnít raise it to her ear. "Okay. Iím gonna have my henchman smuggle in some cheese fries. Weíll drop by with Ďem later, and Iíll give you the number and let you know what I found out about your gear. Oh, and the Agencyís picking up the tab for your stay, so just relax and enjoy." Harmony opened the door and pulled Melodyís wheelchair out into the hall.
Almost as soon as they were back in Custerís room, Melodyís phone rang. She released the catch and it sprang open in her hand. "Yo."
"Agent Powers, this is Scrivener at HQ. Our check of Agent Pettiboneís records reveals nothing to contraindicate your assumption of her identity. You will receive a dossier on her today. When you are discharged, weíll want you to take up residence at her house, use her car, et cetera, for the duration of the ruse. Oh, and, until youíre fully recovered, weíd like you to teach some classes at the Academy. As you know, all the able-bodied instructors and all but one upperclassman were lost at the stadium."
"Uh, okay, I guess. What was Agent Pettiboneís full name?"
"Donna Louise Pettibone. Her handle was Sunspider. Weíd appreciate it if you and Agent Butterfly would handle as much of this as you can from your end. Every one of us here is a new transfer and weíre mostly still trying to find things. You canít imagine the chaos."
"Not from your viewpoint. My calling is more the creation of chaos. To me it represents a job well done. But weíll do all we can to lighten your workload, Scrivener. Later."
Melody folded her phone, looked up at Harmony and Custer. "Well, as of now Iím officially Donna Louise Pettibone, or Sunspider. Theyíre going to want me to teach at the Academy when I get out of here, and Scrivener as good as said we can do anything we want as long as it doesnít make more paperwork for the newbies at HQ. Custer, I have a hunch theyíll want you down there as soon as you can survive outside the hospital for brief periods.
"Oh, crap! I hate office work!"
"What sane person doesnít? They need someone whoís been there for more than two days to help them find stuff. Scrivener sounded desperate. Look at it this way, you could score some major brownie points."
"I guess Iíll do my duty. Maybe by the time Iíve recuperated enough, theyíll have recalled some old HQ people from elsewhere, and wonít need me."
"Custer, Custer, Custer." Harmony sighed, shaking her head. "Youíre gonna miss out. Think of all those young female Agents running around HQ with their panties in a wad. Then in comes you, the wounded hero, risen from your bed of pain to selflessly help little olí them. On second thought, maybe youíd better not. How much fawning and solicitude can one man take?"
"Thank you for that unique Butterfly perspective.", chuckled Melody as she hit a speed-dial number on her phone. "How about procuring us a large quantity of cheese fries? I promised John... hey, Virosa, this is Sunspider. Right. That one. Quick question: would you know what became of Ratboyís gear? Uh huh... mm hmm. The armory. Thanks. Drop by later for some cheese fries? Great. Donít kill anyone I wouldnít kill. See ya."
Custer asked, "So, M- uh, Donna, what classes do you think youíll teach? Other than the obvious marksmanship and mass murder, that is?"
"I was thinking etiquette, shorthand, and maybe embroidery."
"Haha! Yeah, right! Hey, you should teach Ďem what you taught Amelia and me. Thatís something they can really use!"
"What? Did I miss something?" queried Custer.
"OH, yeah! It, uh had to do with occupational hazards."
"You have a point there, Harmony. My presentation wasnít really suitable for a classroom environment, though. Perhaps a suitable visual aid... tell you what. Bring my black bikini in from home in the morning. Iíll call a photographer I know. Iím going to document those scars for posterity before I get rid of them."
"You are so wicked! I mean itís a great idea, but it takes a wicked mind to think of it."
"Naah. Wicked would be if I made it into a Christmas card and sent it to Mom and Dad."
"Aagh! Theyíd have terminal conniptions!"
"That reminds me, I havenít heard back from HQ about my pistol. As screwed up as they are down there, I may never get it back. Iíd sure hate to lose that old pistol."
"What happened to it?"
"After I ran out of ammo, I laid it down at the entrance to the stairwell in section D, west bleachers. I told HQ about it yesterday morning."
A school bell rings. Pan/zoom out from monitor screen to Daria saving her work to a floppy, then slipping the floppy into a pocket of her book bag, rising and heading for the door.
Scene 14 Int. LHS, hallway. Daria emerges from computer lab. Jane falls into step beside her.
Jane: So, been doing some writing? Howís Melody doing?
Daria: Not good, Iím afraid. Multiple bullet wounds, nasty knife wound on her back, about to pass out from blood loss and fall back into the sewer and bleed to death.
Jane: Oh, no! Poor, poor Melody! If only she had a trusty sidekick to save her.
Daria: Alas, all her compatriots from West Coast bureau are dead or nearly so, and darkness has fallen. Melody needs your help, Jane.
Jane: (surprised look) Well, you know Iíd do anything in my power to save Melody. Uh, what would that be, exactly?
Daria: You need to find her, pull her out of that manhole, staunch the bleeding, and get her to a hospital. I took the liberty of writing you a character. Of course, if you object, I could always base her on someone else. Maybe Andrea...
Jane: Whoa, hold it! You mean Iím in your next Melody Powers story?
Daria: A character based on you, yes.
Jane: Iím a femme fatale, right? Beautiful but deadly?
Daria: Drop dead gorgeous, in every sense of the word. Your kill total rivals Melodyís, you have platinum blond hair and purple eyes...
Jane: Stop right there! Purple eyes?! Iíve always wanted purple eyes! Howíd you know?
Daria: Psychic powers.
Scene 15 Int. Ms. Liís office. Ms. Li is seated at her desk. Kevin sits in a chair in front of the desk, occasionally bonking himself in the head with his football. He doesnít seem to notice that heís doing it.
Ms. Li: (best effort at motherly tone) Now, Kevin, you need to stop carrying on about Ratboy as if he were a real person. Ratboy is a comic book character. He doesnít exist in the real world. (Kevin gazes at Ms. Li in uncomprehending melancholy, then randomly about the office, bonking himself with the football a few times.)
Ms. Li: Kevin. Listen to me. Ratboy is not real. People write Ratboy stories. Other people draw pictures to go with the stories. Other people color them. They send them to a press and theyíre printed as comic books. You and the other happy children buy the comic books and read them. Itís fun. But Ratboy doesnít exist in the real world. Do you understand? Kevin? (Kevin nods reluctantly) Excellent. Now you explain it to me.
Kevin: Uhhh, Ratboy doesnít... exist? (Ms. Li smiles, nods encouragingly) In the... (waves football around vaguely) world? (Ms. Li continues to smile and nod) Heís, uh, like, gone? (Ms. Li smiles and nods, then stops, thinking)
Kevin: Heís gone. Heís deeaad! Ohhh, Ghhaauud, heís dea-hea-hea-hea-head! (Runs out of Ms. Liís office, crying inconsolably)
Ms. Li: Kevin! No! (slams forehead down on desktop) No! (pounds her fists on its unyielding surface) No, no, no, no, no! (continues futilely pounding desktop, head down)
Scene 16 Int. Lawndale High library. Daria and Jane show their study hall passes to the librarian, then make their way to a cluster of computers in the reference section. Daria hands Jane a floppy, sits down at a computer and brings up a word processor. Jane inserts the floppy in an adjacent computer, loads BY ANY OTHER NAME from it, hands it back to Daria, who loads BY ANY OTHER NAME into the word processor and begins to write.
Melody, wearing a white bikini, eased herself into the reclining armchair. It was a lot more comfortable than the chair in her other room. The white bikini had been Harmonyís idea, and theyíd wound up using it for most of the shots. Frank was packing up his cameras and equipment. Heíd been very helpful in coming up with poses she could hold with her injuries, and heíd almost made her believe she looked beautiful, instead of like something the cat dragged in.
Frank was a glamour photographer whoíd been part of one of Melodyís covers a couple of years ago. These were probably the least glamorous photos heíd ever taken. But they would be perfect for Melodyís intended purpose- illustrating the less than glamorous aspects of being a special op.
"Iím serious, M- Donna," he said. "I want another session with you as soon as you heal up."
"B. S. artist. Iíll pencil you in, but I canít promise anything. And Iím serious too- dead serious. You canít keep any prints or negatives or anything from this session. If any are discovered, there could be grave consequences for me and maybe for you too."
"You may place your complete faith in me. Trust is part of my stock in trade. And, uh, whatever youíve been doing lately, I certainly hope youíre through doing it."
Melody favored him with a wistful smile. "I thought Iíd try teaching for a while."
"Well, I wish you the best of luck. Iím sure youíll be a great teacher, although I have to admit I canít picture it."
"Thatís the sweetest thing youíve said in at least the last two minutes." Melody waved as he disappeared out the door. Her smile faded as a corpulent nurse with a permanently pissed-off look entered.
"Ms. Pettibone! What in the world have you been doing? Was that a photographer who just left here? What sort of twisted...
"Before pictures for the cosmetic surgery, Nurse... Melody read the nurseís nametag. "Ratlegs."
"Thatís Rutledge! Who removed those dressings? And what are you doing running around without your walker?"
Melody rose from the chair, deliberately showing no sign of weakness or discomfort, and took a step toward the nurse. "We just saved you a few minutesí work. You know, Rutledge, every so often youíre going to meet people with connections or influence, or just plain power. Itís a good idea to be nice to everyone, just in case. Howíd you like to do a year of volunteer work in a leprosy clinic I support in Calcutta?" She leaned well into Nurse Rutledgeís personal space. "I can arrange it."
Nurse Rutledge paled and staggered back. There was that in Melodyís gaze which bespoke other, even worse things she could as easily arrange. "I- I- Iím sure I meant no offense, Ms., uh, Pettibone..."
"Yes, Iím sure. Well, why donít you fix me up with some nice fresh bandages, and then you can continue spreading joy on down the corridor." There was a knock at the door. "Come in."
A tall forty-ish woman with dark brown hair and gold rimmed glasses entered. She smiled. "Iím Dr. Rosencrantz. Are you Ms. Pettibone?" Nurse Rutledge stepped out from between them. "Oh, my! Thatís a beaut!"
"Your timing is excellent. Nurse Rutledge was just about to rewrap me."
"Come back in about fifteen minutes, nurse." Dr. Rosencrantz offhandedly dismissed her, already fascinated by Melodyís collection of scars.
As the nurse left, Melody said, "Would you hand me that walker over there, please?"
"Oh, certainly." Dr. Rosencrantz hurried to get it. "How were you getting around without it? And why? That wound in your thigh is two days old or less."
"Well, when the photographer was here, we didnít want it in the shots, and after that I was terrorizing Nurse Ratchett. I terrorize better without a walker."
"Hmph. If she had any brains, sheíd take one look at those scars and be pre-terrorized. How did you get them if I may ask?"
"Line of duty. Mostly bullets. This big ugly one was a knife wound that got infected. Took me four days to get to a hospital."
"Four days! Why arenít you dead? And this doesnít look like the result of infection, thereís no cratering evident." Dr. Rosencrantz was kneeling and examining the scar across Melodyís abdomen minutely.
"The infection was kept in check by... field expedient methods."
"Field expedient? You mean like moldy bread? Sugar? Honey? Propolis?"
Melody wrestled with an unpleasant memory. "Maggots."
The doctor stared at her, obviously not comprehending, probably horrified. "They eat the infection. You keep the wound as clean as you can, and remove them when they pupate." (2)
"But... how do you keep them from eating you alive?"
"They canít eat healthy flesh. No teeth. They suck up the bacteria and its waste products and... almost... keep it from spreading. Their slime has antibacterial properties. I think thatís what he said." Suddenly tired, Melody lowered herself into the chair. Looking at Dr. Rosencrantzís face, she added, "It beats the alternative." She ran her fingers along the scar. "But Iíll always remember the feel of them, crawling and squirming and sucking with their little tiny mouths, sucking at my raw flesh... " She turned her head suddenly, stared at a wall, blinking rapidly. "If it hadnít been for Yuri, I donít think Iídíve had the guts."
"He showed me how. We took care of each other until we got to a hospital. I wonder what his scar looks like now."
"Where did he learn it? Iíve never heard of using maggots like that."
Melody considered carefully. No harm in telling her that. "It was part of his Spetznaz training."
"Spetznaz? Russian commandos?"
"Yeah. So, what do you think? How close to normal can you take me?"
"I can practically eliminate any of the scars I see here, even this one. Some will require preliminary stretching of the adjacent skin to eliminate the need for grafting when the scar tissue is excised, but thatís not bad. Small subcutaneous balloons. The procedure will leave hairline scars which will vanish in two or three months."
"What about a navel?"
"Iím pretty sure... " Dr. Rosencrantz dropped to one knee beside the chair and kneaded Melodyís belly where her navel had been. "Yes. Your navel is still there, Donna, just covered over by scar tissue. When I excise the scar tissue, itíll be right there where itís always been."
"Iím sure glad to hear that. Iíll be able to wear this bikini to the beach before it goes out of style. What do you know about MSM?"
"Great stuff. Iíve been prescribing it postoperatively for over a year now, and itís done wonders for my reputation. Long term, though, itís going to cut into the scar removal part of my practice. Oh, well."
"Thatís great. My sister was just telling me about it. Which of these scars do you think you should remove surgically and which should I just let fade away?"
"Oh, youíre a cruel one, eh?", she smiled. "Stick me right on the hot seat, make me cut my own throat. All right, if youíll stand up a minute... "
Melody made another adjustment to the angle of the top section of her bed, finally getting it just right. Nurse Rutledge had finished dressing her wounds, and had even helped her put on her lounging pajamas. She was all set to lounge and read the book Harmony had given her when Virosa slipped in. "Hey, Virosa. Have some brunch?" she waved at coffee and rolls on a counter by the window.
"Thanks. These rooms in the new tower are nicer than your other room."
"Yes, and the reflective coatings on the windows mean I can raise the blinds without having to worry about snipers. Do anyone interesting lately?"
"Well, I just met with "Birdlegs" Bolognese down at Vitoís Ristorante and Pizzeria."
"Huge fat guy? Always seems to be eating? Messily? How is olí Birdlegs these days?"
"Heíll never be met with again, I fear. Freak accident. His table exploded. Scant seconds after I left, too."
"Oh, how tragic! Are you all right? You must be terribly traumatized!"
"Yeah, Iím all twitterpated. I donít know how many innocent patrons were hurt inside Vitoís."
Melody snorked. "Thatís easy. Vitoís doesnít have any innocent patrons." A knock on the door interrupted their chuckle. "Come on in."
Harmony entered, carrying something in a grocery sack. "Good morning Donna, Virosa. Hereís that stuff you wanted. Sorry Iím late. You wouldnít believe what I ran into!" She handed Melody her small 9mm pistol, then two books, titled The Complete Works of Dostoyevsky and Plant Pathology. "I can see reading some Dostoyevsky while youíre stuck in the hospital, but jeez, Plant Pathology?" Melody opened the thick, dark green covered tome to reveal pages covered with fairly fine print, divided into huge paragraphs. "I canít believe anyone would touch that unless they absolutely... wait a minute. Let me see that!"
With a small smile, Melody handed it over. Harmony flipped some more pages to reveal a pistol shaped hollow. She placed the pistol inside, closed the book, placed it on top of the bedside nightstand, and grinned at Melody, who grinned back.
"Pretty devious for a rookie.", smirked Virosa. "So, what did you run into that we wouldnít believe?"
"There were all these cop cars and ambulances and a bomb squad van blocking the street in front of this sleazy little restaurant, and a bunch of ugly guys in expensive suits standing around outside, and then they bring this body out on a stretcher, and some punk runs up and snatches the sheet off, and itís like it was this really fat guy that ate too much, and he just exploded! Guts hanging out all over! And the guys in the suits were all like gagging and ralphing on each other, and it was just ghastly!"
"Why, thank you, Harmony! I do try." grinned Virosa. Melody was shaking with silent laughter.
Harmony goggled. "YOU did that?! Eewww, gross! How?"
"My usual style is somewhat more tasteful, but the Man wants high profile. I stuck a happy-happy under his table."
"Whatís a happy-happy?"
"An APAPD- an all-purpose anti-personnel device. Didnít they teach you about them at the Academy?"
"Oh, yeah, they talked about them, but not under the name happy-happy, and they didnít have one to show us."
Virosa reached into an oversized purse and pulled out what looked like a sandwich in a plastic bag. She opened the bag and removed the contents, which now just looked like a box the size and shape of a thick sandwich. "The bad news comes out this side." She indicated one of the longer sides of the box, which was marked THIS SIDE TOWARD ENEMY. "All six sides have peel-and-stick adhesive pads. Itís very good adhesive- watch it. Thereís a swivel mount accessory if you need to aim one precisely. Itís triggered by trip wire or radio." she pointed to a small black snap hook attached to the end of a thin black wire emerging from the package. "There are a whole bunch of different triggers that work through the radio interface. Basically, itís a miniature Claymore mine. Easy to use, versatile, and very effective."
Harmony took the object, turning it over and examining it with interest, visualizing possibilities. "This is neat- in a very messy sort of way. I donít suppose I could get a couple to practice with."
"Special Ops can.", said Melody. "You can sign up for a class. When they get twelve people, they take you out on the range and let you shoot off some of these and some other whiz-bangs. Then you have some beer and roast hot dogs. Itís a fun afternoon."
"Sounds like a good thing to do just before payday. Oh, I checked on your pistol. The guy in charge of cleanup showed everyone a picture of it, but no one turned it in. Iím gonna talk to him later today, and then the guy who was in charge of the navy volunteers. There were also some marine volunteers and some policemen. Iíll find it, donít worry."
"It doesnít sound promising. There must have been hundreds of them, any one of whom might have taken it. You canít interrogate them all."
"I wonít have to. Iíll find out who was working around section D West and talk to some of them. One guy picked it up. Another couple of guys probably saw him. Some other guys maybe thought he was acting suspicious. Iíll ask, and even if they donít tell me outright, Iíll pick up hints. But one of them will probably just tell me. It wonít be hard."
"Sounds like the kid is a natural born interrogator.", mused Virosa.
"More like a Mata Hari", replied Melody. "If heís a guy, she can make him tell it, do it, or hand it over."
"Hey! I just happen to know a few things you can do with guys besides shoot Ďem."
"Well, on that intriguing note, I must take my leave. Harmony, Iíd let you keep the happy-happy, but I have to give it to somebody this afternoon. Iíll try not to tie up traffic so bad this time." Taking the deadly little package, Virosa slipped out.
Harmony turned to Melody. "So, how are you feeling today?"
"A bit strained from standing and moving around so much, but surprisingly good, considering. Tomorrow Dr. Rosencrantz is gonna stick me full of little balloons, which should make me look and feel considerably worse. And then Iím scheduled for surgery in three weeks. But she told me my bellybutton is still there, under that scar, so thatís something, I guess.
"Thatís wonderful! When you get it back, are you gonna get it pierced?"
"Certainly not! Donít you think the poor thing has suffered enough?"
"But if youíre not going to hang something in it, what good is it?"
Danny Gillespie opened his apartment door and flipped on the light. He had really gotten lucky tonight. The most gorgeous girl heíd seen in a very long time had wandered into the bar and sat down practically right next to him. She hadnít been receptive to his first line, but heíd regrouped and tried again, and sheíd allowed him to buy her a drink. When he told her he was a police officer she seemed surprised and a bit excited. She didnít act like a cop groupie, but she was definitely impressed when he showed her his sidearm. It was just like Dirty Harryís, and it was a Babe Magnet. Thatís when sheíd slid over onto the stool next to him. So naturally heíd invited her up to see his gun collection, and here they were. This was going to be a very interesting night, he could just feel it.
"Ooh, Danny, you really do have a lot of guns! Did they belong to criminals you busted?" Sheíd seen the guns on the wall of the den area to the left, and seemed drawn to them.
Danny flipped another switch, and display lights came on to illuminate the displayed weapons to best advantage. Many rested directly on pegs in the wall, some were framed, and a few were in glass-fronted cases. "Yes, most of them. See that one?" He pointed at a nickel plated, ivory-handled Uzi pistol. "That belonged to Panama Jack, the big coke distributor we busted a couple months ago. And this one belonged to a Mafia hit man." He indicated a nondescript derringer in a minimal ankle holster. "He wore it inside his left sock." Danny fought to stay cool. This girl oozed a maddening innocent sexuality from every pore. Even the way her long light red hair swayed as she walked over to his desk drove him wild.
"Hey, this one looks... special. Like not just anyone could use it. And itís seen a lot of use."
"You have a very good eye for pistols, Muffy. More men have been killed with that pistol than with all these others combined. Thatís the Powers Special, personal sidearm of the legendary Melody Powers, Special Operative for The Agency. Tragically, she made the ultimate sacrifice for her country only a few days ago. I canít give any details, but she probably took out nearly a hundred godless communists in that last terrible battle alone."
"Closer to a hundred seventy-five."
"Six spare magazines, twenty-five rounds each. I see she emptied them all. Melody Powers was one of the finest shots in the Agency, and all Agents are expert marksmen. Thatís how she could get away with using a .22 rimfire pistol. A little hole in the right spot is just as lethal as a big hole. Oh, and there were also the twenty-three she killed at the warehouse that morning with this same pistol."
Danny looked more carefully at this girl. "How do you know that?" he asked.
"My sister knows a junior Agent."
"Thatís great. Then I guess you can appreciate what a priceless historical treasure this pistol is. I was part of the clean-up crew that ghastly morning after. I recognized it for what it was and managed to rescue it from being melted down and lost forever. Itís a part of Melody Powersí memory preserved for posterity. Unique in all the world. It will be the crown jewel of my collection, and someday Iíll pass it on to the Smithsonian."
"Itís not exactly unique in all the world, you know."
"Huh? Why isnít it?"
"Melody Powersí sister Harmony is also with the Agency, and she has a Powers Special too." The girl reached beneath her vest, came out with a pistol identical to the one on the desk, but gleaming blue-black and nearly new. She held it so Danny could get a good look at it, but so she could bring it into action in a split second if necessary. "Of course, it doesnít have that rich patina that only comes from years of hard use, loving care, and hundreds of lives snuffed out. (bt) Yet."
Her beautiful blue eyes locked onto Dannyís. They suddenly reminded him of the twin bores of a double express rifle. "Oh and you recognized it because everyone on the cleanup crew was shown a picture of it and told to watch for it, and who to turn it over to if they found it."
Harmony watched shades of fear, terror, and despair chase each other across Dannyís face. She almost felt sorry for him. She pictured a little rat inside his head, running madly in its wheel, trying to make the gears turn a little faster so he could figure out exactly how much trouble he was in. "Take a breath, Danny. Iím not gonna drop the hammer on you. I ought to drop a dime, but Iím not gonna do that either. What you said about Melody saved you. Almost nobody even begins to appreciate what she did for her country. Now, pack up Melodyís pistol, holster, spare magazines, and the two magazine pouches, and put them in a couple of plastic shopping bags. It will all go into the Melody Powers exhibit in the Agency museum. And you owe me a big one."
A bell rings. Pan/zoom out from monitor screen to MS of Daria and Jane.
Daria: (saves work to floppy, shuts down word processor) Well, thereís half a day down the drain. Care for some hideously overcooked vegetable residue and mystery meat du jour?
Jane: Yum. Then if we somehow survive Morrisí physical abuse one more time, itís all downhill from there.
Daria: Surcease from sorrow, for the remains of the day.
Jane: Provided you refrain from following that up with any further mangled quotational giblets.
Daria: Youíre just jealous Ďcause you canít do it.
Jane: Not hardly. Anyway, you canít do underpainting, so there.
Daria: (puts floppy in pocket of backpack) Sure I can. Gimme a brush and a bucket of paint and strip to your skivvies.
Jane: (stands, starts for door) Gad, such a philistine. I deserve better.
Daria: (stands, follows) Jane, as your one true friend, I sincerely hope you never get what you deserve. Unless Iím the one giving it to you.
Jane: I have a devastating comeback, but Iím too gentle a soul to use it.
Daria: I believe you. Really. (exeunt)
Scene 17 Int. Girlsí locker room. Jane is removing a boot, Daria her shirt.
Ms. Li: (over p. a. system) Your attention please. Miss Daria Morgendorffer, report to the principalís office immediately. Daria Morgendorffer.
Daria: Oh, no! Iím going to miss gym class! (pulls her shirt back down)
Jane: Gee, tough break, kiddo.
Daria: Yeah. (extends arm to Jane) Feel how broken up I am.
Jane: (feels proffered arm) Ooh, practically crushed. Flabby, too.
Daria: (snatches arm away, reaches for her jacket) Donít get too sweaty out there. The Voice of Doom might call your name next. (dons jacket)
Jane: What? Why me? Iím not the evil genius.
Daria: Youíre my evil henchman. Hey, I donít even know why she called me. No idea what might be on her mind, as far as you know. Nyaah ha ha haah. (pulls backpack out of locker, heads for exit.) See ya.
Jane: (unlacing other boot) This henchman gig is scary sometimes. (grins) Damn fun, though.
Scene 18 Int. Ms. Liís office. Ms. Li is seated at her desk, Mr. OíNeill and Coach Gibson are standing behind it. Daria enters.
Ms. Li: Sit down, Miss Morgendorfer. I am holding you directly responsible for our star quarterbackís unfortunate condition.
Daria: Whoa, time out! (pulls a small cassette recorder from her backpack, pushes record, speaks into it) Conference in Principal Angela Liís office, Lawndale High School, 15 October, 1997, 1:18 p. m. Present are Ms. Li, Mr. OíNeill, and Coach Gibson. Daria Morgendorfer recording. Now, Ms. Li, would you repeat what you just said about holding me directly responsible for Kevin Thompsonís condition? (pulls chair close to Ms. Liís desk, sits, points recorderís mike at Ms. Li.)
Ms. Li: Miss Morgendorfer! Turn that thing off this instant! You do not have my permission to record anything in my office!
Daria: In this state, I donít need anyoneís permission but my own to record any conversation in which I am a participant or subject. (reaches into her backpack, pulls out a sheet of paper) Here is a letter from my legal counsel. (hands it to Ms. Li.)
Ms. Li: Awp! The very... (reads letter) rrrg! hmph! Miss Morgendorfer, as a direct result of... something... you wrote and read last Monday night at Cafe Lawndale, your classmate Kevin Thompson is disturbed to such a degree that he cannot effectively carry out his normal activities, such as playing football as quarterback of the Laawwndaale Liiions. I have asked you here to discuss what you intend to do to rectify this unfortunate situation and atone for your uh, mistake.
Daria: Ms. Li, I am disappointed. Frivolous lawsuits on these grounds have been brought against authors, publishing houses and movie studios many times, and have always failed. If you think you can successfully blame a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore for mind control or brainwashing or whatever it is youíre thinking, because of a humorous short story I wrote, then I can only say, "See you in court."
Ms. Li: opff! Who said anything about lawsuits? Iím merely, um, offering you the opportunity to help a fellow student and do something good for your school at the same time!
Daria: And that talk about atonement and holding me directly responsible for Kevinís unfortunate condition was... what?
Ms. Li: Perhaps an unfortunate choice of words. Miss Morgendorffer, tomorrow night the Lawndale Lions play our arch-rival, the Oakwood Taproots. If Kevin isnít at his best, the Lions will go down to ignominious defeat. Surely you wouldnít want to see that happen.
Daria: Itís fine with me. I have no interest in football, or any other sport.
Ms. Li: Come now, Miss Morgendorffer! Whereís your school spirit?
Daria: It haunts these halls on moonless nights, rattling its chains, bewailing its stolen youth, and screeching your name.
Coach: Heh heh. Uh, look. Kevin is messed up because this, uh, Ratboy was killed in your story.
Daria: No, Kevin is messed up because heís been repeatedly passed from grade to grade by this corrupt school system without being taught how to think, or anything else heíll need to know to survive in our society, except how to play football. One of these days when whatever career he may have is over, heíll find himself alone and helpless in a world he doesnít understand and was never prepared for, crying, "But... but Iím the QB!" (stares grimly at her boots)
Ms. Li: Miss Morgendorffer! What brought that on?!
Daria: Just my Don Quixote complex acting up, I guess. As for Kevin being bent out of shape because he thinks Ratboy is dead, there really isnít a problem. Heíll snap out of it on Saturday morning when he sees the latest Ratboy cartoon show on TV.
Ms. Li: Saturday morning is too late. The Oakwood game is Friday afternoon.
Daria: Ahhh! Now weíre getting somewhere! Whether Kevin gains wisdom and understanding is irrelevant. What counts is winning that game.
Ms. Li: Why do I feel as if Iím being interrogated here?
Daria: Iím just trying to find out what it is you really want. Why must Lawndale win? I donít believe youíre that rabid a Lions fan.
Ms. Li stares at Daria, not angry, but definitely irritated. Daria returns her stare, deadpan.
Daria: I think weíre each searching for the otherís motivation here. And I think it just might turn out that theyíre not that different.
Ms. Li looks startled, then quizzical, continues to try to read Dariaís expression. Daria raises her eyebrows slightly in a questioning manner. Ms. Li glances at the cassette recorder in Dariaís hand, then back at Daria. Daria presses the stop button on the recorder, then the eject button. The hatch pops open, disengaging the cassette. Daria glances from Ms. Li up to Mr. OíNeill, back to Ms. Li.
Ms. Li: (not looking away from Daria) Mr. OíNeill, you may return to your class now. Thank you. (OíNeill, surprised, opens his mouth, then closes it again and exits.)
Daria: I take it there are some wagers on this game?
Ms. Li: Yes. I take it you may wish to make one?
Daria: Yes, if the odds are good. Youíll have to fill me in on the mechanics of betting.
Coach: First off, what will you do to get Kevin out of his blue funk, and when? The sooner the better.
Daria: No time to reason with him, if thatís possible at all. I assume you donít care what he thinks about Ratboy, as long as he can play football.
Daria : Then Iíll have Ratboy send him a note saying heís fine and will be back in action soon.
Ms. Li: You think heíll believe that?
Daria: Maybe not if you handed it to him, or if it just showed up in his mailbox, but I think heíll believe it if itís delivered by Melody Powers.
Coach: Isnít she a cartoon character like Ratboy? How are you going to do that?
Daria: Fictional, yes. Cartoon, no. By a strange coincidence, except for her wardrobe, hairstyle, and some scars, Melody Powers looks just like me. Iíll need the help of the fashion Club V. P. for makeup and wardrobe, and Jane Lane for special effects.
Ms. Li: Special effects?
Daria: Scars and bandages, mostly. Melody was in this terrible fight a few days ago, remember. Weíll be getting drama club credits for this, wonít we?
Ms. Li: (small smile of grudging respect) If it works, I believe that can be arranged.
Daria: And Iíll need to borrow one of the schoolís credit cards.
Ms. Li: WHAT?! What in the world for?
Daria: A Melody Powers outfit. I have nothing suitable.
Ms. Li: Out of the question! Iím sure you can find something!
Daria: I have two other outfits identical to this one, two pair of baggy jeans, and a few t-shirts. You can inspect my closet if you like. Look, do you want me to do this or not?
Ms. Li: (unlocks and opens a drawer in her desk, pulls out a folder containing credit cards) I canít believe Iím doing this. (selects one) Performing Arts- guess it qualifies as a costume. (hands card to Daria) Do NOT lose this. And I WILL need the receipts. Is there anything else?
Daria: Iíll need a car and driver for a short time. A late model sedan or SUV that looks like it could belong to the FBI or CIA. And a man Kevin doesnít know, in a suit.
Ms. Li: Miss Morgendorffer, are you trying to provoke me?
Daria: Melody is seriously injured- several fresh bullet wounds and a bad knife wound. She shouldnít be out of the hospital. Iíll arrange for Kevin to stand by a street somewhere- right out there would be as good as anywhere- (points out Ms. Liís office window) and Melody will be driven up to meet him. She gives him the note, they talk briefly, sheís driven away. Iíll be able to control my entrance and exit. Can you think of a better way to stage it?
Ms. Li: All right, stated that way it does sound reasonable. I can probably locate a car and driver. When will you need them?
Daria: Weíll need at least four hours to get ready. Shortly after dark would be good, atmosphere-wise. How about eight p.m.?
Ms. Li: Iíll have the car pick you up at 7:40 at your house.
Daria: Better make that Janeís house. All her art supplies are there.
Ms. Li: Very well. Bring any money you may want to bet. Is that all?
Ms. Li: What?
Daria: A sidearm would be a nice touch. (Ms. Li looks as if sheís about to blow a gasket) I thought the drama club might have some prop pistols. I can work without one. But it would be a nice touch.
Ms. Li: (removes glasses, rubs bridge of her nose) Miss Morgendorffer, do you have a copy of your last story? Does it describe Ms. Powersí sidearm and clothing?
Ms. Li: Iíll read it and see if I can come up with anything. But now... (Keys p. a. microphone) Attention, please. Miss Quinn Morgendorffer and Miss Jane Lane, report to the Principalís office immediately. Quinn Morgendorffer. Jane Lane. Now. (Begins to read Blood Oath of Patriots at point indicated by Daria.)
Daria: So, Coach, explain football betting to me.
Scene 19 Int. Lawndale High, hallway. Quinn is walking toward Ms. Liís office. Jane emerges from a cross-corridor ahead of her and turns in the same direction.
Quinn: Hey, uh, Jane! Wait up! (hurries to catch up with Jane) Why would Ms. Li call you and me in at the same time?
Jane: Well, what do we have in common?
Jane: Who has already been summoned, and is presumably in her office now.
Quinn: Daria did something so bad that Ms Li is gonna punish us too?
Jane: (smile) Nonono. It was Liís voice, but we have been summoned by Daria.
Quinn: What?! What are you talking about? Whatís going on?
Jane: (mischievous grin) Mind games. (They see Coach Gibson exit Ms. Liís office) Having to do with Kevin. And since I happen to know Daria was expecting this, Iím betting she has the situation under control.
Scene 20 Int Ms Liís office. Ms. Li is seated at her desk. Daria stands beside the desk at Ms. Liís left, arms crossed. Jane and Quinn enter.
Ms. Li: Miss Lane, Miss Morgendorffer, Iíve asked you here to assist Miss Daria Morgendorffer with a special project, a project to help a suffering fellow student and to uphold the ~honor~ of Laawwnndaale Hiiigh. You have each been chosen for your abilities. But you must both agree to keep all aspects of this project secret. Do you so agree? (Jane and Quinn look at Daria, who nods.)
Jane: (raises right hand in Vulcan "Live Long and Prosper" gesture) I do so agree.
Ms. Li: (looks slightly irritated at Jane) Very well, Iíll turn you over to Miss Morgendorffer. (She returns to reading.)
Daria: Please give me your full attention. I, Agent Melody Powers, have volunteered to deliver a secret message from Ratboy to Kevin Thompson. Agent Virosa, (puts hand on Janeís shoulder) Agent Butterfly, (other hand on Quinnís shoulder) I need you to help me prepare for this crucial and sensitive mission.
(Quinn looks at Daria as if sheís lost her mind, then at Ms. Li, who seems very pointedly engrossed in Dariaís manuscript. Quinn turns back to gaze at Daria in mystified wonder. Jane maintains a nearly straight face, but her eyes are dancing)
Daria: (trace of a triumphant smirk) Agent Butterfly, youíre in charge of wardrobe and makeup. I want to look like Melody looked in the warehouse. Before she got shot in the butt. Take over.
Quinn: (grins) Letís get to Cashmanís, then.
Daria: All right, move out. Whoís got transport?
Scene 21 Int Trentís car, fifteen minutes later, headed to the mall. Daria rides shotgun, Jane is behind her, and Quinn is behind Trent. Dariaís ears seem a darker shade of pink than usual. Jane seems amused by this.
Jane: Damn, I wish I could have gone in there with you! What was it like?
Daria: Clash of the Titans. Especially that scene where the hero gets the Gorgon with the mirror shield. Only they wouldnít let me take Liís head.
Jane: Oh, man! I shouldíve gone with you. They mightíve let me stay.
Daria: I doubt it. We were violating the RICO statute, among others. We threw OíNeill out. Oh, I have the audio portion on tape, if thatíll help. (pulls cassette recorder from backpack.)
Jane: What?! Gimme!
Daria: Rewind first. I had to shut it off before the actual bookmaking and game fixing, but you can get an idea.
Quinn: Daria, what did you do to Ms. Li?
Daria: Do you know how to make a zombie?
Quinn: What!? No! Daria!
Daria: (grins) I thought maybe youíd been practicing on Tiffany. Thatís not what I did to Ms. Li. We found an area of common ground, and are cooperating to achieve a mutual goal.
Quinn: What mutual goal?
Daria: Ill-gotten gains. Wanna get a bet down on the Taproots game? Odds are 9-1 against the Lions, last update from the mob.
Jane: (listening to tape, rapt smile) Daria Morgendorffer, you are hung like a pawnshop!
Daria: (smirks) Is that why I get so few dates? (Trent laughs/coughs)
Jane: Back in the days of yore, pawnshops had three big brass balls hanging over the entrance to identify them.
Quinn: Uhhh... Oh! (bt) Eewww!
Daria: Jane, get whatever you need to make fake scars, like you said you were going to do for Halloween, and plenty of bandage material. Quinn, Iíll want to show a good bit of midriff. Remember that big ugly scar where Melodyís navel used to be?
Jane: This is gonna be a hoot! I wish I could watch from up close!
Daria: I might be able to arrange that. I have some influence.
Quinn: I just hope no cool people see me shopping with you guys.
Jane: (irritated expression, turning sad) Quinn, your sister Daria is the coolest person in Lawndale, and itís really tragic that you donít realize that.
Quinn: Daria?! How can she possibly be cool?
Jane: She manipulated Ms. Li into pulling us out of class and sending us to Cashmanís. To shop for clothes. On school time. With a school credit card. If you had done that yourself, and had Li pull the Fashion Club out of class to go with you, how cool would you be?
(Quinnís eyes widen as the truth of this statement dawns on her. She covers her mouth with her hands and stares at Daria)
Scene 22 Ext. Lane house, an hour later. Cut to: Int. Lane house, kitchen. Daria lies on the kitchen table, jacket folded under her head, shirt rolled up like a halter top, the waistband of her skirt unbuttoned, zipper unzipped about a quarter of the way, and the front of the waistband folded under, to expose her abdomen below the navel. A bit of black panty waistband is visible to the gimlet-eyed sex fiends among my gentle readers. Jane is seated at the table, swabbing Dariaís stomach with a cotton ball soaked with rubbing alcohol.
Daria: Aaah! Thatís cold! Whatís that for?
Jane: Must remove all traces of skin oil for proper adhesion. Now Iím going to sketch in guidelines for the scar.. (She begins to sketch on Dariaís stomach with a felt-tip pen.) Itís washable. (Quinn comes around the corner holding a glass of ice water.)
Daria: Wah! That tickles! Take it eeeeasy! Is this reallyaaack! necessarohjeez!! (Dariaís belly writhes lasciviously. Quinnís eyes get very round.)
Jane: Damn, Daria! No wonder you avoid being touched! Wow! (Trent rises from the couch, keeping his distance, but moving to the left for a better view)
Daria: What do you meeean? Iím just a little ticklish there, thatís aaaahh!
Jane: Ticklish, my ass! Your torso is one huge erogenous zone! Youíre gonna have so much fun on your wedding night! Or whenever.
Daria: It is not! Yooh just got your mooooh! mind in the gutter! If I find out youíre bi, Iíll be forced (Jane lightly strokes Dariaís inner thigh just above the knee, and the side of her neck) to kiiill yahaa! Stop that!!
Jane: See? Neck to knees. God, I envy you! And so will all the other guests in your wing of the hotel. Except the few who really want to sleep. Okay, I can get by with that. On to the superglue!
Daria: You better know what youíre doing, Lane! And you better have that solvent! (bt) I must be nuts!
Jane: I do and I do and you are. Ainít it great? (applies some superglue) Now pinch together right here. No, not... Oh, I see. Your glasses donít work at that angle. Quinn!
Daria: I can get it. Wait till I sit up a little.
Jane: No, youíre tightening up. Lay back down and relax your stomach muscles. Quinn, when I apply the glue, you pinch the skin together so that this line touches this line. Okay, go.
Daria: Gaah! Your hand is freezing!
Quinn: (smirks) Sorry. Glass of ice water.
Jane: Trent! Címere! Need more hands.
Daria: Hey! No! He canít...
Jane: Now, Daria, you wrote the story. You thought up the scar. You volunteered for this mission. And the whole idea is to show it to Kevin, right? Your false modesty rings false.
Daria: Hate you.
Jane: Quinn, you pinch here and here, and Trent, you get to pinch Dariaís darling little bellybutton closed. Be gentle.
Quinn: (giggles) Try not to undulate so much, Daria.
Daria: (blushing) Hurt you all.
Jane: Oh, and Daria, Iíll have to ask you not to marry Trent after all, at least not as your first husband. I figure, given our recent discovery, if heís not at least a Green Beret or a pro athlete, he probably wonít survive the honeymoon. Hey, you could marry Upchuck! Thatís how he wants to die!
Daria: (blushing harder, eyes squeezed tight shut). Kill you all.
Jane: (working lower) Okay, for this next section, Trent, you pinch along the main scar, and Quinn, you do this branch here. Okay, go.
Daria: Mutilate your corpses.
Jane: Good. Next, Quinn, you pinch here and here, and then Trent, you do here and here. Be sure you donít stray too far south. Go. And... Go.
Daria: (face and neck bright red, fists clenched). Horribly. With a rototiller.
Jane: Okay, that should do it. Now for.. Trent. You can let go of Dariaís tummy now.
Daria: (In tones of dread, with blush showing below her shirt). Oh, no. Oh, say not so.
Trent: Uhh, this finger seems to be stuck.
Quinn: Omigod! You glued them together! HAHAHAHAHA! My kingdom for a camera!
Daria: (blush advancing toward Trentís finger) I changed my mind, Jane. Death is too merciful for you.
Jane: Now just relax, Daria! (Looking in sacks) Iíll have Trentís finger off your soft underbelly in a second! (strangled laughter)
Daria: (low, guttural tone) Chain you in my basement. Nude.
Jane: Trent, youíve got to hold your finger very still. Daria is a latent nymphomaniac. You mustnít stimulate her. Once you get her started, she wonít stop till youíre dead. Sheíll drain all your precious bodily fluids and discard your shriveled husk like a squozen orange skin. (snort) And whatever you do, donít get nervous! If your hand shakes, itíll set her off for sure! Heeheeheeheehee!
Daria: (snarling) Pimp you to Kevin and Upchuck!
Quinn: (roflhao) AAAAHahahahahaa! OOOHOhohahaahaaahaaaa!!
Jane: (still pawing through sacks) Daria, I swear I didnít do it on purpose! (snigger)
Daria: (face purpling) I SWEAR IíLL GNAW HIS ARM OFF!! STARTING IN FIVE! FOUR! THREE!!
Trent: Eep! Help me!
Quinn: Hahaheeheecough!cough! gasp! Cough!heeheecough!cough! gaaassp! OoooOoohhh!
Jane: ( holds up bottle of solvent) Here it is! Now just hold still, Daria! That ugly blemish will be gone in a second! (sknxx!)
Same scene, five minutes later.
Daria: (splashing water on her face at Lane kitchen sink) Aarghh! Whereís a walk-in freezer when you need one?! Raaahh! And whereís that pervert Jane?
Trent: I think I heard the bomb shelter door slam.
Daria: Sheís smarter than she looks.
Quinn: (hands Daria ice cubes in a damp towel) Here, Daria, you gotta cool off! If I tried to make you up now, itíd scorch!
Daria: (puts ice pack on forehead, then on neck) Thanks. We have to knock off the foolery, the clock is running. Letís get the tags and stuff off these clothes.
Quinn: Later. First, let me start on your hair. You keep that ice on. You turned a couple of scary colors just now.
Scene 23 Int. Lane house, Summer Laneís bedroom. Daria is examining her reflections in Summerís full length triple mirror. She wears a dark gray watered silk blouse, tight-fitting black jeans-cut stretch pants, elegant but capable-looking black flat-soled boots, and a forest green velvet headband. The hem of the blouse is rolled up and knotted to expose the large fake scar on Dariaís belly, as well as two smaller scars and a bandage on her left side. Other bandages on her arms are visible through the thin fabric of the blouse, as is a black bra.
Daria: Cleavage. I thought itíd be at least another year. (bt) Damn good-looking cleavage, too.
Quinn: You can thank Blackie the Wonder Bra for that.
Daria: (looks down her blouse front) Down, Blackie! Put that down! (There is a multiple thump and coughing sounds from the hall. Daria and Quinn turn to the door and see Trentís feet. Trent has apparently fallen victim to a laughing/coughing fit.) Trent, are you all right?
Trent: (after recovering) Youíre funny, Daria. Janey wanted me to tell you sheís fixing some lemonade. (He gets a good look at Daria) Woah!
Daria: (doesnít blush, strangely enough) Congratulations, Trent. Youíre the first male human on earth to see the Daria Morgendorffer décolletage.
Trent: You look great, Daria. Uhh, I wasnít trying to, uhh...
Daria: I know, Trent. Youíre a gentleman. But I guess itís all right. Thatís what theyíre there for. (thought v.o.) And if I keep telling myself that long enough, maybe Iíll start to believe it.
Daria: Come on, Quinn. You of all people should know that. Itís the cornerstone of feminine attractiveness. Humans are the only species of mammal whose females have permanently enlarged mammaries. Most of itís not even glandular tissue, just specialized fat deposits. Strictly for looks. And human males canít help looking at them, their brains are hardwired that way.
Quinn: Jeez, Daria! Itís just like you to analyze everything to death and take all the fun out of it!
Daria: Knowing the rules doesnít take the fun out of the game, Quinn. It just gives you a better chance to win. (thought v.o.) And I need every advantage I can get.
Scene 24 Lane kitchen. Daria, Jane, Trent, and Quinn sit at the table drinking lemonade. Jane seems somewhat nervous. Daria seems unusually cheerful.
Daria: Good lemonade, Jane. Really hits the spot.
Jane: (looks as though sheís analyzing Dariaís words for hidden meanings) Thanks. Youíre looking really good. A bit of modeling and paint on those scars and some makeup, and youíll be ready to make some commie die for his country.
Daria: Yeah. Say, I was thinking (looks intently at Jane, smiles a little) maybe we should put a little blood on some of these bandages.
Jane: Uh, donít think so. It would detract from the sexy but deadly look weíre going for. It would suggest weakness. Uh, I need to check on something. (exits)
Daria: (smiles as she watches Jane go) Before we get to the final stages, I need to go home and get my money. I shouldnít contribute to the delinquency of a minor, but did you want in on the betting part of this? Itís not a sure thing, you know.
Quinn: Yeah, count me in. Iím pretty delinquent already.
Daria: Donít bet anything you canít afford to lose. Trent?
Trent: Yeah, Iím in. Iíve got a little mad money. Uhh, Daria, Janey was kidding earlier, wasnít she? About the...
Daria: (deadpan) No, Trent. Iím way too much woman for you. Youíd be a moth to my flame. Youíd be consumed in the raging wildfires of my passion.
Trent: Oh. Hmmm. Iím a moth to your flame... You drive me insane...
Daria: Come on. Run us over to Schloss Morgendorffer real quick.
Ms. Li: Iím impressed! You look... dangerous, Ms Morgendorffer. You ladies have done an excellent job.
Daria: Hereís the money- eleven hundred dollars.
Ms. Li: Eleven hundred! Thatís quite a sum! You should never bet all you have.
Daria: I didnít. I bet half my ready cash and a quarter of my Isolated Mountain Cabin fund. The rest is theirs.
Ms. Li: All right. The odds are now ten to one against Lawndale. (3) Here is your sidearm. Turn around. (Daria turns away from Ms. Li, who helps her get her arms through the loops of a shoulder holster. Daria turns back around. Feeling the weight of the pistol, she draws it from the holster. Her eyes widen in surprise.
Daria: Hey, this is a real pistol. A Mark 2... wait a minute... (Daria pushes an unfamiliar button behind the trigger housing, and a double column magazine slides out of the smaller-than-standard grip. Checking to see that the magazine is empty, she reinserts it, pulls back the breechblock to see that the chamber is also empty.) This... (looks up at Ms. Li) This is... (4)
Ms. Li: A Powers Special? (smiles) Not quite. It doesnít have selective fire, and the magazines hold 26 rounds, not 25. Close, though. You need to get in position. Kevin could show up early. Go! Go! (Daria reenters the brown sedan) You ladies come with me. Weíll watch from my office. (They walk toward the entrance. The sedan pulls out, rolls down the street, turns around, and parks under a burnt-out streetlight.)
Scene 26 Int. brown sedan, night, looking toward Lawndale High main entrance.
Daria: When you pull into the circle, watch how the light falls on me. We want Kevin to see the scars and bandages, and the butt of the pistol in the shoulder holster. My face will stay in shadow, which is good. Stop where the light is best, and let him walk over to us.
Jim: Okay. Is that him?
Daria: Mmm... Yep. Thatís Kevin. He was told not to come early, but I figured heíd be a little early anyway. Let him stew a bit. Weíll go at two till eight. So, Jim, if you donít mind my asking, are you just in this for fun, or...
Jim: Iím a colleague of Angelaís. Iím *ahmm-hmm-hmm* at George Rogers Clark High. And I have a bet against Oakwood. Tell me, who is this Melody Powers?
Daria: Sheís the main character in some superspy spoofs I wrote. She works for "The Agency", which is an American version of Smersh. Likes to kill commies.
Jim: Sounds like a fun read. Have they been published?
Daria: On the web. You can download them from morningcynic.com.
Jim: Iíll do that. That last literary effort of yours had quite an impact on the local football odds, not to mention got quite a few knickers in a knot. Itís no fun to place a bet at even money, then find your teamís a nine-to-one underdog the next day.
Daria: I had no idea there was so much sporting blood in the Lawndale environs.
Jim: Donít tell anyone I told you so, but thereís a small community of retired spooks and such in the Lawndale area. They thought they wanted the dullest, most boring place they could find, until theyíd spent a few months here. Now theyíre desperate for diversion.
Daria: You donít say. I never would have thought it. Iíd sure love to listen to some of their war stories. I bet I could pick up enough material for a whole careerís worth of spy thrillers. And they could come to Cafe Lawndale and listen to my Melody stories. Theyíd probably split a gut. (looks at her watch) Well, itís time. (takes off her glasses, puts them on the transmission hump)
Scene 27 Ext. Lawndale High, standard establishing shot, but night. Street lamps (high pressure sodium, throwing ugly orangey-salmon colored light) and some smaller bluish-white spots and floods mounted on the wall of the building light the circular drive in front of the main entrance. Kevin Thompson stands on the walk leading to the entrance. In the window behind and to his left, the venetian blinds are seen to stir slightly, and fingers show between the slats in two places, making small gaps. (5) From the shrubbery below and to the right of the window, the orangey reflection of a streetlight glints briefly off some polished surface. A large brown four-door sedan pulls into the drive, stops near the window, where a couple of spots shine onto the right front seat passenger. Cut to: MS from right front corner of sedan, showing Daria, dressed as Melody, in shotgun position, and Kevin moving toward her window.
Kevin: Uh, hey, are you...
Daria: Powers, Melody Powers. And you match the profile for Kevin Thompson.
Kevin: Yeah, thatís me! Iím the QB!
Daria: I have a message for you from Ratboy. (hands Kevin an envelope. On the front, in broad tipped black pen, the name Kevin Thompson is written in a bold hand. In the place where a return address would go is a Ratboy emblem.)
Kevin: Wow! (turns envelope over. The flap is lightly stuck. Kevin opens it with a finger. He removes a sheet of heavy paper and unfolds it.)
Cut to: CU of note in Kevinís hand. It reads:
Heard you were worried about me. Iím OK, just a couple of flesh wounds and some bruises. Melody and her friend took care of me. Iíll be back in action soon.
I hear youíll be in action Friday night.Big game, huh? Well, we men of action know that when itís all on the line, you gotta suck it up, concentrate on the goal, and give it all you got. One hundred and ten percent. Iím not saying "Do it for Ratboy!" No. You do it for your classmates. Do it for your team. And do it for yourself, because you know you can.
Best of luck. Iíll be listening.
Cut back to: MS of Daria and Kevin. Daria smiles a little as she watches Kevinís face slowly light up as he reads the note.
Kevin: Wow! Oh, wow! Heís okay? Heís gonna be all right? And he, like, knows about me?
Daria: Yes, Kevin. He told me he listens to your games when heís in this part of the country. He knows youíre a big fan.
Kevin: Oh, cool! But, like, he got shot right in the chest, and there was all this blood and stuff.
Daria: His new Hard Cheese Mark 5 armor stopped the bullet. That wasnít blood, that was his grandmotherís homemade catsup. He just has a big bruise on his chest. Overall, heís in better shape than I am.
Kevin: Like, for real? (He begins to notice, in detail, Daria, her costume, scars, bandages, the pistol, and particularly the large scar on her stomach and her cleavage, which Daria notes with discomfort.) But, uhhh... (a few neurons resume firing) then, like, why did you come, and not him?
Daria: (thought v.o.: I am Melody Powers. My boobs are deadly weapons. I use my womanly charms to cloud menísí minds and lure them to their doom. Heís seeing exactly what I wanted him to see. He is in my power.) (aloud) This is confidential, Thompson. Itís because of his costume. You know, when they take you to the ER, the first thing they do is cut your clothes off. We couldnít let them do that to Ratboy, that would blow his secret identity. So he went in without it, as John Doe, and weíre having it repaired. His secret is safe, but he canít do anything as Ratboy till he gets it back.
Look, Iím kind of tired, and I have to get back to the hospital. Youíll find out everything that you want to know in the next installment of Blood Oath of Patriots, By Any Other Name, coming soon to a coffeehouse near you. You should get a good nightís sleep. You have practice in the morning. (signals to Jim. The sedan starts up, pulls out of the roundabout onto the street, and slips off into the night.)
Kevin: (watches the sedan leave) Oh, man! Melody Powers! And Ratboyís okay! (looks at note) And heís gonna be listening to the Oakwood game! Hey! I need to get a good nightís sleep! I got practice in the morning! WooHoo! (jogs off toward home, football in one hand, note in the other)
Cut to: Ext. Brown sedan parked under a burnt-out streetlight. Cut to: Int. Brown sedan. Daria and Jim watch Kevin heading for home, thrusting his football into the air.
Daria: Well, that looks somewhat promising.
Jim Very promising. What was in that note?
Daria: Just Ratboy says heís okay, plus some corny pep talk boilerplate. Ms. Li has a copy.
Jim: Heís out of sight. (sedan starts forward, headlights come on) Maybe George Rogers Clark High should buy a stack of your pep talk boilerplate. (they exchange smiles)
Cut to: MS of walk leading to LHS front entrance, looking toward Ms. Liís office windows. Ms. Li, Jane, Quinn, and Coach Gibson stand on the walk. The brown sedan pulls up and stops. Daria and Jim get out, walk up to others.
Coach Gibson: I wish heíd listen to me that closely. You really held his attention!
Daria: (turns toward the corner of the building, into the beam of a small spotlight, looks down at her neckline) Yeah. part of me did, anyway. I feel like jumping into a shower to wash off the eyeball tracks. (Faint clicks are heard from the shrubbery. Looking up quickly, Daria sees what appears to be a camera held by a bush.)
Jim: Excuse me. (He rushes past Daria. A slim form bursts out of the shrubbery wearing camo fatigues and ski mask, and sprints away, with Jim in hot pursuit.)
Daria: (watching the chase) Damn! Ten to one that was Upchuck!
Jane: Iíd need more like a hundred to one to take the other end of that bet. Think that guy can catch him?
Ms. Li: Maybe. Jim is in very good shape.
Daria: Doubtful. Upchuckís the fastest runner I know of, besides Jane. If that shot of me checking myself out shows up on the internet, heís gonna taste boot. (Walks over to Ms. Li as Jane and Quinn continue to stare out into the night) Oh, Ms. Li, now that most of the spies are gone, hereís the credit card and the receipts. (Hands them to Ms. Li) And your pistol. (Shrugs out of the shoulder holster.)
Ms. Li: You seemed somewhat familiar with that pistol earlier, Miss Morgendorffer, as if youíd handled one like it before.
Daria: When we lived in Texas, my momís cousinís son had a Ruger Mark 2. When we visited, weíd go down to a sand pit and shoot tin cans. Plinking, he called it. His dad was always drilling us both on safety and marksmanship. I was a fair shot, once.
Ms. Li: (Looking at the pistol but making no effort to take it) That pistol once belonged to... an old friend. Mementos are funny things. Some you keep forever. Some should never be kept at all. Many you eventually pass on to an appropriate person. I want you to keep that pistol, Daria. My friend would want you to, also. As I was reading your story this afternoon, I realized Iíd never find a more appropriate person for that particular memento.
Daria: I... uhh... I donít know what to say. Uh, thank you. (Looks down at pistol and holster in her hands, back up at Ms. Li, a small smile on her lips) Iíll take good care of it. Maybe sometime you could tell me about your friend.
Jim: (returning, breathing heavily) Whoever that was, he was fast, and he knows this neighborhood pretty well. He lost me in the backyards.
Ms. Li: You donít think he was..
Jim: No. No training.
Ms. Li: So. Well, itís getting late. I believe itís time to say, "mission accomplished" and go home. Thank you again for your assistance, ladies. Jim.
Scene 28 Int. Brown sedan, Lawndale residential street, a few minutes later. Same seating as before.
Jane: So, are you gonna stop at Casa Lane and change?
Daria: No, Dad wants to get some pictures, and I canít think of a good reason to say no. Come to Chateau Morgendorffer with us for a late dinner, and you can watch them humiliate me.
Jane: Double-nuked lasagna? How can I refuse? Seriously, Daria, if you knew how long itís been since either of my parents took a picture of me, doing anything or no, youíd revel in the attention.
Quinn: Arenít you worried about what theyíll say when they see that pistol? Or are you gonna sneak it in?
Daria: Looking for blackmail opportunities, are we? I donít see a problem. Both their fathers taught them to shoot, and theyíve pretty well recovered from their hippie period. Jim, itís the third house on the right.
Scene 29 Int. Morgendorffer house, kitchen, fifteen minutes later. Daria, Quinn, and Jane are seated at the kitchen table, eating double-nuked lasagna and greens. Jake and Helen stand nearby.
Daria: So, basically, it was like I figured. The coach, the teachers, the shrink, and Ms. Li couldnít get through to Kevin, so Li called me in. Thanks to your legal advice, she couldnít twist my arm, but, instead of refusing outright, I decided to cooperate on favorable terms. All three of us will be getting extracurricular credits, and I get this new outfit.
Jake: Outstanding! Way to go, kiddo!
Quinn: How come you didnít get me a new outfit too?
Daria: For one thing, neither Kevin nor Ms. Li has heard of Harmony Powers yet. For another, I was afraid your closet might explode. But now that Iíve shown you the way, you can write a Harmony Powers story, freak Kevin out, and negotiate your own deal. Iíll sell you one-time-use rights to Harmony for a very reasonable fee.
Quinn: Youíll sell me... but I AM Harmony Powers!
Helen: Daria, weíre very proud of you, and you too, Quinn. Now, about that pistol...
Daria: Itís a .22 target pistol, basically the same as the one your cousinís husband Luther taught Luther Junior and me to shoot back in Texarkana. The grip has been modified to fit a small hand. It feels like it was made just for me.
Helen: But what would you want with a pistol?
First off, itís a gift. It obviously meant a lot to Ms. Li, and she wants me to have it. She said sheíd never find a more appropriate person to pass it on to. Second, itís so nearly identical to Melodyís pistol, a pistol I imagined, itís downright spooky. Itís like there really is a Melody Powers. Or was. Itís a connection I want to follow up on.
Helen: (anxious) Are you going to actually shoot it?
Daria: Yes. Brittany has a pistol range in her basement. I hear that sheís very good. She can teach me the finer points of marksmanship. And maybe Iíll make a new friend.
Helen: Daria, I donít want you to take this the wrong way, but...
Daria: Mom, are you trying to say you donít trust me? (She throws Jake a "Help me out here" look.)
Jake: Come on, honey, this is Daria! I had a rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol when I was a lot younger than she is, and I never got in trouble with any of them! I donít see anything wrong with her having a pistol.
Daria: Maybe we could do some target practice together, Dad.
Jake: Yeah, thatíd be great!
Helen: (knows when sheís beaten) All right, Daria, I have no reason not to trust you in this. Donít give me one. I expect you to be very careful with that thing, and to keep it securely locked away whenever itís in this house. (Jake puts his arm around her shoulder and they head for the family room.)
Quinn: Wow, you did it!
Daria: Mom was more negative than I expected. She must have some unpleasant experience with guns, maybe connected with her father. I should find out about it.
Jane: My mom is very "make love not war". She hates guns. (She looks down at her plate) Umm, Daria, about that little oopsie with the superglue this afternoon, that really was an accident. (Daria gives Jane a sideways look but says nothing.) You do believe me, donít you?
Daria: Not in a million years.
Jane: (unhappy look) Oh, hell. All right, it was an impulse. It just popped into my head, and before my better judgment could overrule it, my hand did it. Do you believe that?
Daria: Now, that I believe. Once more your pixieish sense of mischief has joined forces with your inner yenta to horribly embarrass and humiliate your one true friend.
Jane: (very unhappy look) Yeah. (bt) Iím sorry. Really. Can you forgive me?
Daria: (Mona Lisa smile) Jane, Iím your one true friend. Of course I can forgive you. (bt) Pretty soon.
Jane: (very worried unhappy look) Pretty soon? Like for instance after you thoroughly kick my butt? Beat me severely about the head and shoulders?
Daria: (Mona Lisa smile) Donít be silly. I wouldnít do anything like that. Youíre my friend. Besides, it wouldnít be... appropriate.
Jane: (very worried, frightened, unhappy look) Appropriate? (bt) What do you mean, appropriate?
Daria: (thoughtful expression) Mmm, well, just off the top of my head, appropriate might be... something to do with superglue, maybe. Another little oopsie, perhaps, involving, say, for instance, your face and Upchuckís butt. In the cafeteria. At lunchtime. Hypothetically.
Jane: (pales noticeably) Eep!
Daria: (warm smile) Oh, relax! I wouldnít actually do that! Have some more lasagna. (rises) Iíll be back in a minute. (Jane and Quinn watch her go.)
Jane: (after Daria is out of sight) I am so dead.
Quinn: (turns back around to face Jane) Naah. Not dead. But screwed. (bt) Definitely screwed.
Jane: Iíve never seen her so warm and friendly and... sweet before.
Quinn: Chills your blood, doesnít it? Iíve only seen it a couple of times. Itís a very bad sign.
Jane: Do you think sheíll...
Quinn: You and Upchuck in the cafeteria? No. If she was gonna do it, she wouldnítíve talked about it first. It probably wonít even involve superglue, although I wouldnít rule it out.
Jane: Iíll start carrying that little bottle of glue solvent with me everywhere. Now, if I knew how soon and how bad...
Quinn: I should be charging you for this, you know. I have more experience than anyone else in the world with Dariaís revenge schemes, and you really need my help, which of course youíve realized already. I know when Iím being pumped.
Jane: All true. But...
Quinn: But Iím drawn to the chance to be in on this from beginning to end, to watch from the sidelines as her fiendish plot unfolds, without feeling her crosshairs on my forehead for once. How soon? Itís already begun. Youíre in the pot and sheís turning up the heat.
Jane: Of course. (thinks) That would mean she knows weíre having this conversation.
Quinn: Yep. And sheís made me her involuntary accomplice. As for how bad, itíll be worse than what you did to her, but not all that much worse. Sheís not really vindictive. (ponders) Only...
Quinn: Worse than what you did to her... thatís from her viewpoint. (bt) You know, Iíve been her sister all my life, and Iíve never seen her turn purple before. (Quinn looks at Jane with something between worry and fear in her eyes.)
(SFX: Camera rises straight through the ceiling [we get a glimpse of joists, stringers, and plywood flooring] and stops six inches off the floor in Dariaís bedroom. We see Daria on her knees with her ear to the floor directly above the kitchen table. A satisfied smile appears on her face.)
Daria: (v.o.) Quinn, you couldnít have done any better if Iíd coached you for a week and paid you two hundred dollars.
(SFX: Camera sinks through the floor of Dariaís room, through the kitchen ceiling, and stops at its former location. Sound of toilet flushing is heard OS. Jane and Quinn glance upward as footsteps are heard, first in the upstairs hallway, then descending the stairs.)
Daria: (resumes her place at the table) Well, tomorrow weíll know something. Mack can tell us how practice went in OíNeillís class.
Jane: But even if heís out of mourning for Ratboy, heís still not the sharpest crayon in the box. We could still lose.
Quinn: Oh man, oh shoot, oh crap! I bet a LOT of money on that stupid game and I could lose it all!
Daria: (rises and walks out with Jane) Yeah, I have some too, come to think of it. But it can wait. Iím kinda fried tonight. (Cut to: MS of Jane and Daria walking through family room toward front door.)
Jane: Are you sure you donít want to just kick my butt and get it over with? Then we could both relax and get on with our lives.
Daria: (caring, sympathetic, puts hand on Janeís shoulder) Oh, come on, Amiga! Donít worry about it! Sure, my vengeance will be swift and terrible. Sure, men will blanch and women weep, and children scream and run, but it will only hurt for a little while! Just think how good it will feel when I stop! Now go on home and get a good nightís sleep and Iíll see you in the morning.
Jane: You truly are evil, Daria.
Daria: Iím an evil genius, Jane. Youíve told me so yourself. You knew it long before you glued Trentís finger to my... tummy. (Dariaís warm smile is momentarily replaced by a troubled look.) You called the tune. You danced to the music. Now you must pay the fiddler. (She sighs, shakes her head sadly, then the warm friendly smile returns.) Well, good night. Donít let the bedbugs bite! (She waves cheerfully as Jane slinks away into the darkness.)
Scene 30 Int. Dariaís room. Daria sits on her bed, looking at the pistol in her hands, contemplating the signs of wear on it, and the more obvious ones on the holster. She looks at one of the three spare magazines, replaces it in the magazine pouch that rides under the wearerís right arm.
Daria: (thought v.o.) What stories you could tell! (She goes over to her desk, opens the top drawer, rearranges the contents, puts the pistol and holster inside, and closes the drawer. Then she removes the second drawer and places it on the floor. Reaching inside the desk, she latches the hidden latch that she installed to hold the top drawer closed, and then replaces the second drawer.) (thought v.o.) Iíll have to do better than this. (She turns on her computer, gets up off her knees, sits in the chair, waits for the computer to boot, and, when it does, loads the word processor. She opens a file, stares at the screen for a couple of minutes, and begins to type.)
TO BE CONTINUED
1) Dariaís diary- I figure a smart and very private girl like Daria, especially with a mother like Helen and a sister like Quinn, would transfer her diary to computer and encrypt it as soon as she found out about PGP. (Pretty Good Privacy- the excellent freeware encryption program.)
"Daria" and all related characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International, inc. The author does not claim copyright to these characters or to anything else in the "Daria" milieu; he does, however, claim copyright to all those parts of this work of fiction which are original to him and not to MTV or to other fanfic authors. This fanfic may be freely copied and distributed provided its contents remain unchanged, provided the author's name and email address are included, and provided that the distributor does not use it for monetary profit. (as if.)
Galen Hardesty [email@example.com]