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Daria and associated characters are ©2009 MTV Networks



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Synopsis: A teenager girl makes a slight change in her diet—and discovers that the real world is not.


Author’s Notes: Just popped into my head for the PPMB Iron Chef “Daria’s Little Helper,” posted in August 2009 by Lorenzo Sauchelli. “I couldn’t help but wonder,” he wrote, “about a scenario where it’s revealed that Helen and Jake are drugging Daria, not to have her be ‘more like Quinn’, but to stop her from being a hooligan. Now, years later in Lawndale, Daria discovers the drugs when she skips a breakfast… and all hell breaks loose.”


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lorenzo Sauchelli. Good one, dude.






The lasagna that Daria’s mother often made for dinner had always had a metallic aftertaste, but it wasn’t until Daria was hunting for the salt very late one Friday night in July (she was finishing off the leftover pizza in the fridge) that she discovered another salt shaker in the top shelf of the cabinet behind the drinking glasses that no one ever used. That’s a weird place to put the salt, she thought, but when she took the shaker and sprinkled its contents on her pizza slices, she caught a whiff of something that smelled like that lasagna aftertaste. And that made her wonder.


Five minutes of investigation later, she knew that whatever was in the second shaker was not salt—not regular salt, anyway, though it still had a salty flavor. With ferocious speed a number of formerly unrelated observations came together in her apprehensive mind. She had several times seen her mother switch salt shakers before seasoning the piece of microwaved lasagna that she served to Daria. She had also noticed, when she got into the leftover lasagna on previous Friday nights, that it did not always have the same odd aftertaste that her lasagna always did at supper. And there was the time that her younger sister Quinn complained her lasagna tasted odd, and their mother jumped up and took Quinn’s lasagna away and threw it in the garbage, then got Quinn a brand new slice. Their mother then asked Daria to fetch the morning newspaper from the living room. Daria had grumpily complied, but discovered upon returning to the table that her plate of lasagna—which had until this point had tasted remarkably good—tasted funny again.


There was but one reasonable conclusion.


It took another five minutes to dump the “salt” (and the contaminated pizza), refill the shaker with real salt, and careful place it back in the cabinet shelf behind the unused glasses where she found it. The shaker still smelled like whatever substance it had formerly contained. Daria did not know what her mother (and likely her father, too) had been feeding her, but she didn’t like the idea one bit. She did an Internet search that turned up nothing useful about metallic aftertastes, but she did find a website on poisoning that she carefully read, taking notes all the while. She meant to use the information later in a short story she was writing. It gave her something to do while her best friend Jane was away at art camp.


Two nights after the salt shaker incident, Daria had trouble sleeping and found herself awake most of the night, tossing and turning until she got up and read a book. It was odd that she did not feel the need for sleep the next day. She was restless at school, easily distracted by movements in her peripheral vision and little noises that made her turn her head, looking in puzzlement for the source. On day three, despite a deep satisfaction at seeing her mother continue to season the lasagna with the now-harmless second shaker, Daria began to wonder if her mother was really her mother, or was someone merely acting the part. Her father and sister looked a little artificial, too, as if they had not carefully rehearsed the parts they were playing.


It was all clear by the seventh day.


Now Daria could see the ultrawave towers that sent ectoplasmic data packets flashing down the streets of her suburb; the enormous Harvesters drifting overhead, casting gargantuan shadows when they eclipsed the sun; the manlike Synthetiks that maintained the vast automated concentration camp Daria had once called Lawndale. She heard the telepathic whispers of ever-watchful psi-monitors; the endless hum of the subterranean geodynamic transducers; the distant shrieks of unseen captives taken from the Extremes beyond Lawndale’s force envelope. Her nose could tell the odor of new Synthetiks from the older ones, and the foul miasma in places where rogue Cerebrals had been summarily dematerialized from the sharp, ozone-rich stink where Harvesters had just siphoned psychoplasm from docile Cerebral cattle. Within the radius of a stone’s throw she could readily detect the metallic scent of neuroblocker halides—the same kind her mother had been sprinkling on the lasagna—that kept Cerebrals from perceiving the fell nightmare in which they lived.


Humans from the savage Extremes were captured and reprocessed into masses of genetic material from which the Cerebral ova were assembled. The parentless Cerebrals were grown in artificial wombs until young adulthood, neurologically reprogrammed with false memories of the past, then introduced into the great paddock of Lawndale to live out a shared illusion of reality. Demonic extradimensional abominations fed on the psi-ethereal nimbus that radiated from each Cerebral, draining psychoplasm until the Cerebrals were brain-fried husks soon transported to “hospitals” (transmutation stations) where they “died” (were dematerialized). Synthetiks like Daria’s mother and father fed and cared for each Cerebral, and psi-monitors like her sister Quinn spied upon them, searching for any sign that a parasitized Cerebral had detected the great lie of reality and had gone rogue.


Daria was a Cerebral, and she had gone rogue. No matter how hard she tried to act as if nothing in her world had changed, it was only a matter of time, and very little time at that, before she would be ferreted out, apprehended, and dematerialized. Her range of options came down to two. One, do nothing (and be dematerialized). Two, find a way out of Lawndale into the Extremes, to warn all humans there of the horrific fate awaiting them. She knew her chances of success in the latter were next to nothing.


That evening she poisoned her family, stole the SUV, and ran for it. She had only minutes to get to the limits of the force envelope, so she took the most direct way there—through front yards and parking lots, through stop signs and red lights, through crowds of programmed Synthetiks disguised as pedestrians crossing the streets, through hastily established checkpoints and roadblocks. With the tires of the SUV shot out and nearly three dozen Hunter Drones chasing her in police cars and helicopters, she abandoned her vehicle on a bridge near the town’s outskirts and jumped into the river. It was the last physical barrier keeping her from the Extremes. She would be dematerialized if she swam across on the surface and contacted Lawndale’s force envelope, so she drove deep in hopes of swimming underwater to the other side.


She drowned.


Her body was picked up by a fisherman in a boat three miles downstream. It was transferred to an ambulance that drove quietly and at normal speed, without lights or sirens, to Cedars of Lawndale Hospital, where it was taken to the autopsy room, examined, and dematerialized. The deactivated Synthetiks who had been her parents and the dead psi-monitor that had been her sister were also taken away and dematerialized, and the newspapers came out the next morning with a sensational story about a teenage girl’s murder-for-insurance-money plot that went horrifically awry.


Two weeks later, her best friend Jane returned from art camp, which was actually a set of false memories implanted in her by neurological reprogramming. She had never actually left her bedroom. The sad news about her best friend Daria kept her in the doldrums for weeks after the closed-casket funeral. Her older brother Trent, who shared the house with her, did his best to keep her fed and cared for even if he couldn’t cheer her.


Even then, in the abyss of her depression, Jane wondered why Daria would do something so bizarre and so completely out of character for her. Daria never did anything more violent than mutter sarcastic remarks. Jane also wondered why the home-delivery pizzas she frequently ordered always had a strange metallic aftertaste. Her older brother Trent, who always took his portion of pizza to his bedroom for dinner, had never complained of it. One day Jane was searching Trent’s bedroom for a toothbrush he kept borrowing from her and she found a plastic bag under his mattress. It was full of uneaten pizza slices from the previous evening.


And that made her wonder.






Original: 9/25/09, 11/1/09