HEART’S DESIRE: A TALE OF THE END OF THE WORLD
ONE-SENTENCE SUMMARY: Ever wonder why nothing on "Daria" ever changes much?
Consider this: a teenage girl named Daria Morgendorffer, who, when the fate of the world hung in the balance, unintentionally betrayed the human race...and in doing so, saved it...and, in saving it, changed it profoundly.
Daria Morgendorffer was an eighteen-year-old girl, a high school student close to graduation. She wore thick glasses, and was plain in appearance. Only on rare occasions did she wear anything other than a green jacket, a black skirt, and a pair of heavy boots. She did well in school, but poorly in personal relations. She did not relate well to people, individually or in general. She presented a stoic and anti-social face to the world.
Do not assume that Daria Morgendorffer was some kind of emotionless prig. She did feel emotions, as deeply as anyone. Her difficulty lay in expressing them. She rarely smiled, and had not been seen to cry since early childhood. On occasion she chuckled. As for the emotions themselves, they were in many cases typical of an American teenager. She felt affection for her family. Consciously Daria tried to deny them, but unconsciously---subconsciously---she knew better.
Her family had moved to Lawndale two years before, when Daria was sixteen. A family move in adolescence can be traumatic; Daria’s personality only made matters worse. At home, she felt alternately pressured and neglected by her mother, Helen, and her father, Jake. Her relationship with her sister Quinn---who was not plain---veered between the twin poles of contempt and envy.
At school, she felt alienated from everybody and everything. Some students and teachers tried to make the effort to get through to her, but it proved hard and difficult, and only a few succeeded. Many had problems of their own that prevented bridging the gap between them.
Some of these would-be friends, like Jodie Landon, could talk to her but just could not push past the final barrier to true friendship. Others, like Brittany Taylor, liked her without thinking too hard about it. Teachers, like Timothy O’Neill and Anthony DeMartino, sensed something special about her, but the differences in age and status prevented further exploration of any possible friendship.
Often, attempts to speak to Daria ended abruptly. Daria used the most powerful weapon at her disposal---bitter, biting sarcasm. She did not hesitate to comment on every aspect of life around her. From her point of view, it was satisfying. But it also drove people away from her.
Many---including most of Quinn’s friends---were somewhat frightened of her. Teachers found her knowledge intimidating. Daria was often seen as a source of strength and wisdom, but her company was not sought out. Occasionally her high school principal Angela Li would attempt to make use of Daria, under the false guise of "bringing honor unto Lawndale High," but, in reality, for her own self-aggrandizement.
As an example, Quinn’s three cohorts in what was called "the Fashion Club" reacted to Daria’s presence with reactions ranging from disdain to open fear. Quinn often told them that Daria was her cousin, and none of them ever publicly disputed this, despite obvious evidence to the contrary.
This rejection, coupled with her sister’s ease of adaptation into life at Lawndale High, hurt Daria and reinforced her behavior. At first only one person could get past Daria’s outer defenses to the person within. Later, others managed to do so.
Her social life beyond her family consisted of interaction with two people, Jane Lane and Tom Sloane. Jane Lane had been Daria’s friend since they first met, shortly after Daria’s arrival at Lawndale High. Jane shared a similar outlook on life, and a similar joy in finding fault with everything around her. The relationship between them was, without a doubt, the most intense and important thing in Daria’s life so far. However, this relationship had recently been strained by the presence of Tom Sloane.
Tom had once been Jane’s boyfriend, but as that relationship started to unravel, Tom became interested in Daria. Tom discovered he could relate to Daria on an intellectual plane, and made an effort to get to know Daria beyond this. He was surprised when their friendship turned into a romantic relationship.
Daria was surprised, as well. She had not dated before, and her only other major romantic relationship consisted of a teenage crush on her friend Jane’s brother Trent. She was inexperienced and vulnerable.
Over the course of half a year, through spring and summer and a fall return to Lawndale High School, Daria and Jane and Tom dealt with this, and each other.
It was a strain that made all three of them very unhappy. But, in Daria’s case, it was a sign of some emotional growth, a partial breaking of the shell she had sealed herself in. There was every reason to believe it would continue, before events made the issue moot.
There came a day when Daria walked to Jane’s house, something she did nearly every school day. But the events of this day were different.
Far away, light-years in space and centuries in time, there was an organism that for convenience here can be termed "the Hive." It was a collective, that had forcibly incorporated billions of species into itself. It was not intelligent life by human standards. It had absorbed several intelligent and civilized species---destroying them in the process.
To propagate itself, it sent probes to the stars. These were small, less than the size of a pea. They were seeds, carrying just enough of the Hive to absorb a single organism and begin the process of absorbing all other organisms in that environment.
Billions were launched, billions were lost, less than one in a billion would ever make it to a suitable host. But after centuries of travel, one probe seed made it to Earth. It might have burned up on atmospheric entry. It might have destroyed itself on impact. It might have hit some other species. But it hit Daria Morgendorffer.
It clipped her bare leg and dug itself into her thigh. For Daria, as she lifted one foot to take a step towards Jane’s, it was a moment of pain and surprise and confusion. But it was only a moment, a split second. The Hive probe seed was designed to work quickly, and did so. Before Daria could put her foot down or collapse from the pain, she had been incorporated into the Hive.
Daria had often pondered alienation. She often felt distant from other human beings, and on occasion her fellow human beings and this distance caused her pain and distress. On occasion, she bragged of her lack of attachment to her own species. Now she found herself more profoundly alienated than she could have imagined.
Daria gave up herself, her physical form, her mind, to the Hive. There was no time to resist. The Hive probe quickly dissolved itself and infiltrated every part of her, even to her green jacket and combat boots.
The Hive knew everything that Daria knew, knowledge that was extensive and thorough and well-organized. In another split second, it had organized this knowledge, along with every cell that had been Daria, and turned this into a billion new probes. These were instantly sent out to incorporate others into the Hive. To an outside spectator, it would have appeared as if Daria had vanished in a puff of smoke.
These probes covered Lawndale in less than a second, and the world in just over a second. The hypothetical spectator would have been absorbed before comprehending what happened. The new probes were almost as quick as the original probes, and the incorporation of every species on Earth should have been completed in less than a minute.
But the Hive was a limited creature. It was not intelligent---it reacted only on its instincts and vast programming. There were factors, not previously encountered, that it failed to take into account. One was humanity itself. The other was Daria Morgendorffer.
The Hive had incorporated similar species into itself in the past, but when this probes had been sent out, it had not encountered any species at humanity’s particular point in development.
Humanity was a puzzling creature. Individuals working in groups, but remaining individuals nonetheless. A curve of knowledge, growing exponentially each year, yet seeming to reach a plateau beyond which nothing could be understood. There was a great gap between physics and biology, between life and hardware, that always seemed on the verge of being bridged, but never was. Something more was needed.
The Hive inadvertently provided that link. Humanity had speculated about nanotechnology, the possible ability of machine to infiltrate an organism on the cellular level. It was uncertain what would come of this but it was thought that this might be the bridge over the gap. But it required a breakthrough in basic science, that might come the next day, or not at all.
Daria Morgendorffer knew of this speculation. And, inside the Hive, for the time being, Daria Morgendorffer survived as an individual. Every cell of her body might now be elsewhere, but that which was Daria went out with them. As they absorbed Jane, Tom, her family, her fellow students, and her fellow human beings, Daria was there.
She survived as an individual, but was also changed. Things once fuzzy to her were clear, and things once clear were fuzzy. But there was enough of her within the probes that had once been her body to sound a warning. Her ability to think survived intact. She might have been alienated, on a spiritual plane, from humanity, but not so much that she would crave and support the actions of the Hive. Underlying her alienation was a basic affection for others. This was crucial. Daria went with the probes, and shouted a warning. This warning held weapons within it, for fighting the Hive. And this warning was a microsecond ahead of the probe’s effect.
Jane heard it, Tom heard it, in the end everybody heard it. They added their own warnings to it, before they were, in turn, destroyed.
One microsecond became several. By the time the probes reached every last individual human being on Earth, Daria’s warning had given humanity the will to resist. The time was enough---barely.
Inadvertently, the probes gave something to humanity. Instantaneous communication. The Hive, an unthinking creature, had this but could not use it. Humanity, composed of thinking creatures, knew just what to do with it.
Everything ever known or thought was available to everyone, limited only by the laws of physics. Work done by one could be incorporated into another independent field. Biologists studied the Hive’s own process and wove it into physicist’s speculations on nanotechnology, and gave it to microchip makers to build weapons against it.
Many puzzles were solved during this time. Effective immortality and good health of the individual was an inadvertent byproduct of nanotechnology. Psychological healing on a vast scale began when everyone started to know, and more importantly, to understand, each other. The musings of psychology were linked to philosophy and spiritualism, and both were firmly connected to biology and physics.
Daria’s friend Jane, for instance, came to terms with her desire to create and her pain at the unwitting hands of Daria and Tom. She was whole and forgiving to both. Tom came to terms with his desire to be free of his family’s great wealth and position.
Jane’s brother Trent acquired all the musical knowledge and skill that humanity had accumulated. He mastered "open D tuning" and could reach beyond it to even greater form and freedoms. He became the musician he had always wanted to be. He and his fellow musicians could build on each other’s skills. Together, they formed an orchestra, greater than any the world had ever known. And with humanity’s newly-found ability to communicate instantaneously, it was no longer necessary for musicians to be together to play, or for others to hear them play.
Helen was able to reconcile the desires that drove her to succeed at her career while simultaneously driving away the husband and daughters that she loved. Jake understood what his father had done to him and what, because of that, he was doing to those around him; he was able to forgive and was forgiven and put the past firmly and finally behind him.
Quinn was able to put aside the foolish part of her obsession with fashion and popularity and put what was true and good about it into herself and humanity at large. Her friend Sandi at last saw the terrible pressures, genetic and environmental, that caused her to lash out at her closest friends. With that understanding, she lifted that weight from her forever. Their friend Stacy understood why she allowed herself to be dominated by Sandi and Quinn. All three learned of, and mourned, and helped heal the terrible injury that caused their friend Tiffany to act as she did. The four members of the Fashion Club became better friends than before.
Brittany came to know that she did not need Kevin Thompson to feel complete; Kevin knew that he could let her go and still have her. Upchuck corrected the personality flaw that led him to behave counter to his desires and was Upchuck no more. Jodie and Mack put their love on a friendship basis, and knew they would always be with and have each other, even as they sought out others.
Anthony DeMartino was able to overcome his perceived failures and understand that he had done some good in the world. Timothy O’Neill realized how ineffectual he had been as a teacher, and felt joy in knowing that the matter was a moot issue. Principal Angela Li put aside her petty desire to pilfer and embezzle, and was able to pour her life into the protection of the students she saw as her children, seeing clearly for the first time the proper way to protect them.
All over the face of the Earth, individuals became truly sane, many for the first time. These adjustments would continue, but for the time being they were the byproducts of a struggle against the Hive. There was little time to contemplate. Humanity threw itself into the struggle with every weapon at its disposal: its resources, its creativity, its skills, its knowledge, everything.
In the struggle, millions of individuals died. But humanity was different; it could and did reconstitute these individuals and the struggle went on. Jake and Helen, Timothy and Anthony, Jane and Trent, Quinn and Tom, all were recreated, destroyed, and recreated again.
Oceans were emptied and filled and mountains leveled and raised up. What humanity would build, the Hive would destroy, again and again. Not one stone upon another was left untouched.
Time stretched out and became meaningless. The Hive was not puzzled when the minute it had allotted for the incorporation of all life on Earth into itself passed. It was incapable of puzzlement or surprise. But it could continue its instinctual attempts to bring Earth into itself. There were thousands of different methods of attack the Hive could use, and the Hive used them all.
In the end, the Hive did not stand a chance. It tried for the advantage of surprise, and failed. Humanity had the raw numbers. The Hive fought back instinctually, but it was no match for humanity’s counterattack. In the end, the Hive dissolved and disappeared, leaving humanity changed, and one, as it vanished.
When the Hive was gone, humanity threw a shield into space, to protect against further probes. It laid the groundwork for carrying the battle to the Hive’s home planets, to rid the universe of this plague.
Humanity, as one, was different. There was and could be no return to the way things had been before. Individuals were important, but were now less important. There was no need to change back to a lesser form of humanity, that all could see and agree was inferior to their present level.
But the individual remained. It had not been lost. Things could be done, and began to be done. Jane began to work in media unimaginable to her only a short while before; it was collaborative in nature, but her individuality would shine through. Stacy set off on a long journey to find her soulmate; once they met, they would spend their lives together in a harmony that would inspire and resonate among humanity for centuries.
Yet individuality, as the be-all and end-all, was dead and gone. Over the centuries, it would fade into the background. Sandi would become Quinn and both would be part of Helen and Jake and Anthony and Timothy and everybody else. But that was all to be done later. For now, with the Hive defeated, there was one piece of unfinished business to take care of.
Daria Morgendorffer was everywhere, and nowhere. She was too close to the Hive to have been reconstituted, as the rest of humanity had been, but she remained in existence. Even after the death of the Hive, she had kept one microsecond ahead of it. At the end, humanity was able to protect her as it delivered the final blow to the Hive; thus, she survived.
But what to do with her now?
Humanity talked to Daria, and Daria talked back. She had little to offer. Indeed, she saw her own actions as a betrayal, however unintentional. Reassurance from humanity did not ease her feelings of guilt.
Humanity examined Daria, and examined the possibilities. It was the first moral dilemma of the new, improved humanity.
However inadvertently and unintentionally it had been done, Daria had betrayed humanity. This was beyond dispute. But she had saved it, and in doing so, transformed it. One fact could not be acknowledge without admitting the other. It was a knotty problem.
She could not voluntarily join humanity. In her present state Daria could not make such a rational decision. She was badly frightened. She was aware of what happened to her, but she remained, in relation to humanity, a dim and feeble creature. She could not reach the heights from which humanity now looked down on her.
Incorporating her into humanity by force was out of the question; it would mean that humanity was no better than the Hive. Destroying her was equally impossible, as well as wasteful. Daria was now the only other intelligent life on Earth. Leaving her as she was would not do. She could not live for long in that form.
What could humanity do for Daria? She was fragile, delicate. If she were changed, she would no longer be Daria. Some way had to be found, some way to protect her. After some debate, a solution was thrashed out. Daria was returned from whence she came, and returned to who she was. It might be inadequate, it might be wrong, but it was the best that could be done.
Now, the Hive had hit Daria when she was in mid-stride. The battle for the fate of the Earth had taken place over several days. But time was a fluid and flexible thing, and, to humanity in its new and altered state, microseconds became years and days became nothing at all. The debate over Daria’s fate took a little more time.
Daria perceived it as if she had taken three steps. The fight with the Hive had taken two steps. The debate took up another half-step. And in this step, humanity returned her to herself.
It was to Daria as if she was dizzy. She stumbled, and fell to her knees, scratching them painfully. This pain, so unlike what had happened when the Hive probe struck her, brought her back to herself. She yelped and got to her feet, and looked around.
Everything looked the same. The Lawndale street she walked on, Jane’s house up ahead of her, the cars in the street, the other houses, the well-trimmed lawns, everything. All was as it had been.
What happened to me? Daria thought. Why did I fall down? She looked up into the sky. What happened? Why do I feel so...frightened?
We had been thorough.
What had happened was less than a fading memory. What could the mind do, with what was beyond its understanding? Daria had retained knowledge of what had happened, but at her pre-Hive level of evolution could not understand any of it. It would disturb her thoughts and dreams, but not her waking life.
Even the people were there, or reasonable facsimiles. She did not, could not remember that, in a strict sense, Jane was no longer there. But there would always be a "Jane" for Daria to talk to, a "Tom" or a "Trent" to be her boyfriend, a "Helen" and "Jake" to continue to parent her, a "Quinn" to be her secret rival, a "Fashion Club" to fear and despise her, a "Kevin" and "Brittany" to irritate her, "teachers" to bore her and "people" to secretly amuse her with their inane activities. She would never know the difference.
We, humanity, the narrator of this piece, had indeed been thorough. Lawndale in all its glory and terror had been recreated. Everything was as it was, solely for Daria’s benefit.
It was both her heart’s desire and her greatest fear. It could be forever. Daria would always be a teenager, troubled in mind and spirit, deeply affected by the world she perceived and the people she met, but keeping her distance from both. Daria would remain in Lawndale, her own private heaven, her own private hell, for as long as Daria wished.
DISCLAIMER: "Daria" and the characters and settings from it are the property of MTV Networks / Viacom International.
This parody of "Daria" is copyright © 2001 by Robert Nowall. It is not intended to profit the author in any way, and may not be distributed without permission of the author. (That means please don’t post or circulate this without getting in touch with me first.) For the time being, Robert Nowall can be reached at: RobtNowall@aol.com
Astute readers might notice a similarity to this story and stories by Theodore Sturgeon, particularly the story "To Marry Medusa" and the short novel The Cosmic Rape. This story may be regarded as much a homage to this author as it is a parody of "Daria." Incidentally, I recommend these works to any serious student of science fiction.
Anybody who thinks the narration resembles that of Rod Serling on "The Twilight Zone," well, that was something that just happened.
Thanks to: Um (in particular), NomadX, and Ben Breeck, and everybody at the Paperpusher’s Board who expressed an interest in reading what still seems a strange story to me.
Written 1/30/01 to 3/1/01