And I on the Opposite
Shore Will Be
©2010 The Angst Guy (email@example.com)
Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks
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Synopsis: Jane Lane makes a stunning confession to her closest friend—but is it a secret she should have kept to herself? A tale of how one third-season episode, “The Lawndale File,” could have gone.
Author's Notes: In February 2005, Kristen Bealer posted a PPMB Iron Chef challenge to “take any casual line from an episode and make it come true.” This story was my contribution, offered two years later in homage to one of the finest television series ever shown: The Outer Limits.
Acknowledgements: Kristen Bealer is gratefully acknowledged to have given the spark that made this story possible. And Eric A. Smith is thanked for correcting an astronomical error in the tale. Thank you both!
“From outer space... to in your face!” shouted the television announcer. “Aliens walk among us! A Sick, Sad World exclusive!”
“Oh, look,” said Daria Morgendorffer in a monotone, sitting on the end of her best friend’s bed. “They're going to explain the return of disco.”
“Hmm,” said Jane Lane, the best friend in question. She stopped painting at her easel and turned to face the TV set in her room, an odd look on her face.
The Sick, Sad World logo was replaced by a scholarly looking man being interviewed by a female reporter in a book-laden study. “The aliens aren't coming,” said the man, raising a finger for emphasis. “They're already here. They could be your friends, your family. They act almost normal, but something's off.”
Jane sat down next to Daria on the bed and aimed the remote. “Yes, the TV,” she said, and the set went dark. “If there were any aliens smart enough to come here, they wouldn't be stupid enough to come here.”
Daria gave Jane a puzzled look. Why had she turned off their favorite show? “There goes my trick ear again,” said Daria. “What was that?”
Jane jerked a thumb at her chest. “Let's say I'm an alien, and you're you.”
Daria suppressed a smirk. “Part of this better be hypothetical.”
“We’ll see,” said Jane. “Now, why would I, a being from the highly advanced planet Zippotron, travel millions of miles of interplanetary space just to take over your body and go to high school?”
“Because Wednesday's Jell-O day?”
“Exactly!” said Jane, waving a hand for emphasis. “Who could possibly care?” She sighed and looked away. “Still, maybe humans can do a few things that aliens can’t. Maybe we have something or know something they don’t. It might not be our Jell-O per se that interests them, but it could be something else, like Monday Night Football. I mean, some people watch goldfish for hours at a time, and what do goldfish really do, except swim back and forth until they swim sideways and get flushed down the toilet?”
“Hmmm,” said Daria, thinking. “Humans are to goldfish as aliens are to Monday Night Football. That makes a certain kind of sense, though I still can’t imagine how watching football could possibly be as interesting as watching goldfish.”
“Agreed, but maybe the situation’s more complicated than that.” Jane leaned forward with her elbows on her knees and hands clasped together, staring at the floor between her boots. “Maybe it’s a lot more complicated than that.”
Daria watched and felt uncomfortable. Jane had looked like something was bothering her since the very strange school assembly earlier in the day, when two supposed “special agents” spoke briefly to the students assembled in the auditorium. The agents said they were looking for those who were “different,” without elaborating on what they meant. Jane had made fun of them afterward, then had grown silent.
Now, though, Jane appeared to come to a decision. “Say, for example,” she said slowly, talking to the floor, “the aliens we’re talking about are like disembodied brains, creatures floating high in the atmosphere of a giant faraway planet.”
“Like TV network executives?” said Daria.
“Close, but not as malign. Suppose those brains have a totally different biochemistry than humans do—maybe based on ammonia and hydrocarbons, something like that. Anyway, they’re different enough that they couldn’t possibly come here without turning into industrial waste, so these brains float around in the air all day feeding on little alien life forms, never touching bottom because for practical purposes there isn’t any bottom on Jupiter, you just go down until the pressure squashes you, like in the ocean trenches here.”
“So, we’re talking about Jupiter, not Zippotron.”
“Uh... yeah, Jupiter. As an example.”
“And these aliens look like brainy goldfish?”
“Mmm, no, not so much like goldfish. More like mile-long clusters of balloons with jellyfish tentacles and things like sails on top.”
“That reminds me, we’re having fish sticks tonight for dinner.”
“Don’t distract me. Okay, um... where was I? You got me thinking about food again.”
“Oh, right.” Jane got up from the bed and began pacing around her room, stepping around piles of dirty laundry and painting supplies. “Okay, we’ve got mile-long jellyfish-balloon brains floating in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter. They communicate by sound waves for millions of years, sort of like whales—and us, I guess—but then they figure out radio, using their littlest tentacles and bits of metallic stuff that accumulate on their gill-sails, and now they have something like planetary telepathy. A hundred thousand years pass of almost-instant communication over an area hundreds of times that of Earth, between quadrillions of these guys in billions of clan herds, all talking at once since I guess there’s not much else to do on Jupiter except eat and have bizarre sex. They’re super smart, so they build bigger and bigger radios and even make balloons to carry relay stations higher in the atmosphere, and then they figure out how to make radio telescopes and detect signals from other planets—well, from their sky, really, since they don’t have eyes that can actually see planets. They screw up at first and think everything they detect is from intelligent life, but they get that straightened out and start looking for real intelligent life.” Jane turned to Daria and snapped her fingers. “And that’s when they discover Earth.”
“Did you read about this somewhere on the Internet?” asked Daria with a look of concern. “Or did you have trouble getting the cap off your medication this morning?”
“Work with me here, amiga.”
“Okay, then, my belief has been temporarily suspended.”
“Earth is a shocker,” Jane continued, starting to pace again. “The radio signals are extremely recent, by the aliens’ counting of history, but they’re definitely from an intelligent source. The jellyfish brains have IQ scores of like a zillion and a half compared to us, so they quickly figure out what the radio signals mean. They decipher the plots to all the I Love Lucy episodes, even learn the actual lyrics to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and “Louie, Louie.” More incredibly, they understand those lyrics. They figure out human beings without ever seeing them, and they’re appalled. Is this intelligent life, or what? They don’t know. It kind of is, but it kind of isn’t—the self-destructive thing humans have really throws them. They want to know more, but how can they contact this race in a way that minimizes the chance for humans going totally bonkers?”
“That would have been my first guess, too, but say they hit on a better idea. The aliens can’t leave Jupiter—too much gravity to fight, no propulsion system available, can’t build mile-long spacesuits, no Tang to take along for the flight, et cetera, so they decide to find someone they can communicate with. To minimize the consequences, they pick just one person. A loner, perhaps. An outcast.”
“I think I see where your train of thought is going,” said Daria, her eyes widening, “and you can let me off at the next station.”
“They want someone with a creative point of view,” said Jane. “Someone who won’t totally freak out if aliens began to communicate with her while she sleeps at night, reading her mind and telling her who they are and what they want. Someone like—” Jane spread her arms “—an artist.”
Daria thought her heart had stopped. “Please tell me you’re rehearsing for a one-woman play about intelligent life in the universe,” she said in a low voice.
Jane dropped her arms, giving Daria a sad look. “Please tell me you won’t run off if I say no.”
“I won’t run off,” said Daria faintly. “Scream, maybe, but I won’t run off.”
“It started when I was thirteen, going into seventh grade,” said Jane. She looked at the picture she had been painting: a distorted caricature of a woman in a long dress, in washes of gray and black. “When I dreamed, I kept feeling like someone was with me, someone I couldn’t see. Eventually we started talking in my dreams. It was hard at first because I kept waking up when they spoke, but eventually we got a dialog going, and that’s when they told me who they were. They asked me not to tell anyone about them. As if!”
Jane put a hand on her chest and leaned toward Daria. “I certainly wasn’t going to tell anyone! I knew what happened to people who heard voices or saw things, thanks to my sister Summer, who smoked a butt load of joints laced with PCP while I was babysitting her kids. She ran through the neighborhood naked and spent two weeks in a state hospital. I’m too smart for that. No drugs for me, and no talking about things that I can’t prove are there. I shut up and did my best to enjoy the ride.” She shrugged. “It’s not been too bad, though it helped this last year having you around for extra reality contact.”
Daria blinked. “I provided you with reality contact?”
Jane gave her an apologetic smile. “That does make it sound like I’m stretching things a bit, doesn’t it?”
“Ignoring the fact that I’m feeding into your delusion, how could aliens possibly talk to you all the way from Jupiter?”
“That part, I don’t get,” said Jane, sitting on the bed again. “They built something I don’t understand, something like a giant psychic radio transmitter that floats around with them, and they use that to call me. They said I was the only one they knew of who could be trusted and also had a naturally receptive mind, which could mean lots of things on lots of levels. I think they meant I was a genetic freak, that my brain’s wired up like a radio so it can pick up their transmissions and even answer back in a way they can detect. I dunno. I do know they can’t always talk to me. We communicate best when Jupiter’s on the same side of the sun as Earth—opposition, I think it’s called. That’s when I hear them only at night, because during opposition the night side of Earth is pointed at Jupiter. I can’t hear them at all when I’m awake. Too many conscious barriers, I guess. Now, when Earth isn’t on the same side of the Sun as Jupiter, I can only hear them if I sleep in the daytime, because—”
“—Earth’s day side is facing Jupiter then, right. Why do you keep saying ‘they’?”
“Several different ones have talked to me, using that transmitter they built. Mile-long jellyfish brains all sound alike to me, but they say they’re different. Whatever.”
Daria could not take her eyes off her friend. “Are you hearing them now? I mean, lately?”
“No, not for a few weeks. They were around a lot earlier this year, then they faded out just before school began again. I looked up the planets’ positions in a library book and Jupiter was in opposition with Earth in February, but it was in conjunction, on the opposite side of the sun from us, back in September. I don’t know why they call that conjunction instead of opposition, way too confusing. Anyway, I’ll start hearing them again next month in November, if it works out as it usually does. There’s a period of about a month on either side of conjunction when the sun blocks all communication between us.”
“You know,” said Daria, “I’ve never heard you talk so much about astronomy before.”
“I had to read a lot to figure out what was happening to me. Plus... there’s more.”
Daria cleared her throat and tried not to look frightened. “You haven’t told anyone else about this?”
“Nah. Like I said, it would only make things worse.” Jane sighed and looked at the floor again. “There’s more,” she said. She hesitated before speaking. “Actually, I should talk about why they really wanted to talk to me in the first place. It wasn’t just a friendly wave between planets.”
Daria nodded. “Did they tell you to do things for them?”
“They asked. They didn’t tell me, but they did ask. And I thought about it, and I did. I had to look up some stuff for them.” Jane turned to her friend. “You remember that comet that crashed into Jupiter in July nineteen ninety-four, four years ago?”
“Shoemaker-Levy Nine,” said Daria. “Yeah. I wrote about it last year for Ms. Barch’s science class.”
“That was why they called me on the big space phone,” said Jane. Her face was solemn. “When the pieces of that comet hit Jupiter, it killed a bunch of them, more than we could ever count. It was a terrible disaster. The shock waves killed or injured even more. They’re still grieving over it. It was after that happened that they built their psychic transmitter and called me. I thought I was going nuts. Sometimes I still think I am, but I’m kind of used to it now.”
Daria swallowed. “What was it they wanted you to do?”
Jane exhaled. “I’m their lookout. I’m their distant early warning network for any more comets or anything else coming at them. They don’t have optical telescopes, you see. They don’t even have eyes like we do. They can see, sort of, but it’s... it’s different. So, anyway, every week I scan all the astronomy websites on the ‘net, usually at night when you aren’t around, and I look for mention of any stories about Jupiter, anything at all, and I memorize the stories so I can tell the aliens about them in my dreams. I feel like Paul Revere: ‘One if by land, and two if by sea; and I on the opposite shore will be—’”
Daria tonelessly joined in, saying the words with Jane. “‘Ready to ride and spread the alarm, to every Middlesex village and farm.’” Daria added, “Longfellow,” when they were done.
“Those aliens certainly are long fellows,” Jane responded. “A mile long, sheesh.”
“So, ever since the comet crash, you’ve been warning the aliens about future disasters.”
“Yeah, and thank God there haven’t been any.” Jane’s hands wrung together. “The stress has been getting to me lately. I’ve learned more than I ever cared to know about astronomy, more than I think I was ever meant to know. I know about supernovas now, and black holes sucking in stars and tearing them apart, and galaxies blowing up, asteroids hitting Earth, more stuff like that than I ever cared to know. We’re in as much danger as they are. It really bothers me, Daria. At least we have space telescopes and things like that so we can look out for ourselves. They don’t have anyone or anything except... me.”
Jane got up from the bed and slowly ambled over to her painting to stare at it. “It really bothers me,” she said.
“Jane?” said Daria.
“You said something about, what if you were an alien. Do you think you might be an alien, too?”
“Me?” Jane glanced back for a moment, then turned to her painting again. “Nah, not me. I’m what I am, just a messed-up teenager. I’m not crazy. Well, not really crazy. I guess.” She shrugged. “I mean, I know it’s affected my art. I never used to paint things like this, people all out of proportion and twisted around. It’s like I don’t see things the way I used to. I’m trying to see us, human beings, the way the aliens do.” She gave a short laugh. “I don’t even have any other name for them other than ‘the aliens’ or ‘them’ or ‘those guys.’ They’re just... them.”
“They don’t—” Daria hesitated, then plunged on “—they don’t want me as an interplanetary sacrifice or anything, do they?”
“No. Nothing like that.” Jane turned to her only friend. “I would never hurt you, amiga. It’s nothing like that. In fact—” Jane walked back and sat once more on the bed next to Daria, who moved away slightly in fear “—I asked them if they could help me by finding someone else they could talk to, someone else that I could talk to, too, so I wouldn’t feel so... so all alone. Do you know what this has been like, thinking I’m going nuts all these years?”
Daria’s throat was suddenly dry. “They found someone else for you?” she whispered.
“I hope they did,” said Jane. She swallowed. “They said there had been problems before, trying to contact others, and the government—our government—might suspect something was going on. They said they would arrange for this other person to have the same dream I did a few weeks ago. I’ve been too scared to ask anyone if they had the same dream I did. The aliens said it would be a funny dream, about aliens coming to Lawndale, but not really aliens. Instead, they show up—”
“Holidays,” said Daria, barely able to breathe. “They’re holidays.”
Jane blue eyes got as large as they could possibly get. “Yes!” she shrieked, her hands grabbing her head. “From Holiday Island, yes! They were going to—”
Daria shoved Jane aside as she leaped from the bed and ran for the bedroom door. She knew Jane was an award-winning runner, but for some reason Jane did not chase after her as she ran down the hall, down the stairs, and through the front door, down the sidewalk, and down the street toward her home. She ran until she could not run any further, and then she walked on aching legs and gasped for air. Damp strands of hair clung to her face and she struggled to breathe.
She walked until she reached her house. She did not stop there. She went past it out of the subdivision, down a main street toward her school. A long black car was parked near the entrance with one of the special agents standing beside it. The agent watched Daria walk past but made no comment. The front doors were still unlocked. She walked in, then down the hall to one door in particular, which she opened.
Her school principal, Ms. Li, did not seem surprised to see Daria there at all. Neither did the other special agent sitting in the office with her.
“Daria Morgendorffer,” said Ms. Li with a smile. “May I help you?”
* * *
Jane Lane was not at school the next day. Neither were the special agents. A few people wondered where Jane had gone, but no one had a good answer. Her older brother Trent, who lived in the house with her, also disappeared. The house went up for sale a few weeks later.
It was for the best, Daria told herself. She didn’t mind a little insanity—everyone had a little of that—but Jane’s delusions and hallucinations were of a different sort altogether. It was for the best, she thought. They’ll help her in ways that I can’t. But maybe I shouldn’t have run off so fast on her. Maybe I should have talked a little while longer to see if she’d go in for therapy... but then she mentioned that damn dream, and I... I did the right thing. Best to put it behind me now. I’m not crazy, that’s for sure.
She never heard from Jane Lane again. October turned to November.
* * *
Daria woke up—or thought she had. She remembered going to sleep, but now she was conscious, floating with no body in timeless colorless space.
Only she was not alone. She tried to turn and look around to see who else was there, but there was no one. No one at all, except—
We know what you did.
Terrified, she struggled to wake herself up. It didn’t work. She was paralyzed, helpless.
We know what you did to Jane. You betrayed her. She was our only friend among your kind, but you betrayed her, and she is fallen. They have done something to her, and she is fallen and gone.
“I was trying to help!” Daria tried to scream. Her breath caught in her throat.
We have learned to use your ionosphere to relay our signal to you at any time, day or night.
You took her from us, our only friend, and now we will take something from you.
They got into her subconscious and dragged out horrors she had forgotten since infancy, then attacked her with them. They built new horrors, nightmares beyond imagination, and attacked again and again. They would not let her wake up for a long time, and then they let her go.
And attacked her again when she next went to sleep.
She stopped going to sleep. After eight days, she began to rave. Her parents took her to a psychiatric hospital, where she was given drugs and forced to sleep.
They attacked her then without stopping.
When the staff let her wake up at last, a day later, she searched the unit until she found a forgotten safety pin, which she immediately used to slash open her throat.
Jane was right after all, she thought as she died. Aliens smart enough to come here wouldn't be stupid enough to come here.
Original: 02/04/07, modified 02/09/07, 10/22/08, 05/13/10