Author's Note: Daria Morgendorffer and her fellow characters from Daria are owned by MTV/Viacom. The characters of Archangel and Valkyrie are the property of Brother Grimace and used with his gracious permission. Any other characters in this story are the property of Doggieboy. This is fan fiction and no money or other items of value have been exchanged for this story.
A Little Vacation
Part Six: The Epilogues
Epilogue 1: Resolution
Robert suddenly found himself surrounded by zombies. Oh, hell, he thought. I was afraid of this.
The zombies were as much surprised as he was. Before they could go on the attack, he ran through them towards an empty street. But as he passed one zombie, however, it grabbed his left forearm with a gnarled hand and jerked him back.
Before he could even respond, the zombie bit into the captured arm just below the elbow and tore away a chunk of flesh.
Robert was too shocked to even cry out; he shoved the dead man back, grabbed a nearby stick and quickly gouged out its eyes. As the zombie waved its arms around, he thought savagely, At least you'll spend the rest of your undead existence blind, you bastard. Then he ran on.
When he reached an empty lot, he moved under a maple tree and looked at his wounded arm. I'm dead, he thought and choked back a sob. I wish Daria was here with me.
To his surprise, he felt mostly calm as he quickly searched his pockets for something - anything - he could use. As he searched, he felt his keys, his wallet and his pocket knife.
Then, in the left pocket of his jacket, he found one grenade. He sighed. One thing left for me to do.
Robert Nelson walked out to where the zombie crowd could see him. Their moans became more excited and they moved en masse towards him. He pulled the pin on the grenade and dropped it. Then the spoon released and he ran at them as fast as he could.
He remembered the chant his team did when they ran onto the football field and smiled. WHO ARE WE? THE FALCONS! WHAT ARE WE? UNBEATABLE! WHO ARE----
"Daddy! Daddy! Mommy said to wake up!"
Suddenly Robert Nelson felt a weight on his belly and looked up at a little boy who sat atop him. After a brief moment of frightened hesitation, he sat up and the boy fell to the bed and laughed. "Don't sit on my belly, Scotty," he said and smiled. "Or else, I'll have to rough your butt up."
Robert felt a tug on one of his toes and looked down at a smaller boy. "O.K., Jacob, what about you?"
"Mommy made chocolate chip pancakes, eggs and bacon," the smaller boy said and stuck his right index finger in his mouth. "She said that you need to eat so we can go to the rummage sales."
The father grabbed the bigger boy and tucked him under his left arm. "You ready to go rummaging, boy?" he asked.
Scotty's response was to laugh.
A small girl walked into the room and held out a piece of paper to Robert. "Daddy, I draw you a drawing."
"Why, thank you, Tammy." He released Scotty and he ran out of the room, followed by Jacob. Robert then took the picture and looked at the drawing of a man, a woman and a dog. The man had an "S" on his chest, the woman wore glasses and the dog appeared to be a beagle. A sudden chill went through him and he blinked. "What...who are these people?"
"One of them's a dog, Daddy," the girl said calmly.
He rolled his eyes. Out of the mouths of babes... "Uh, huh. But, who are they?"
The little girl sat beside him and said, "Well, you're Superman and you saved the woman and the dog from...monsters."
Robert blinked again and he stared at the drawing. Just like those dreams. He looked down at the girl, then at the drawing again. Something about this is...odd.
Tammy smiled up at him, held out her arms and said, "I love oo, Daddy."
He hugged her quickly, closed his eyes and tears ran down his cheeks.
After a minute, a woman's voice said, "Hey, loverboy, you O.K.?"
Robert released the little girl and said, "Thanks for the picture, Tammy. You go on and let me talk to Mommy."
The little girl walked out of the room as the father got up and hugged the woman.
"What's the matter, Robert? Why are you crying?"
He kissed the left side of her neck and said, "It was one of those dreams, Maggie. I had another one."
"Another bad one?" she asked.
"Parts of it was," he said and broke the hug. He wiped his eyes and added, "Other parts were...strange. Time travel, teleportation."
The brunette looked at the picture he held and asked, "Who are they?"
Robert smiled and said, "Apparently, I'm Superman and this is a woman and a dog that I saved from monsters. At least, that's what Tammy said."
Maggie nodded and kissed her husband. "Well, you're my Superman and you better watch it on rescuing other women, bub."
They laughed as they left the bedroom.
In the dining room, Robert's breakfast plate held a stack of chocolate chip pancakes, several strips of bacon and a small mound of scrambled eggs. He also had a large glass of milk and a small glass of orange juice with it.
"Lauren and Janelle are coming over," Maggie said as she sat down across from him.
"That's good," he said as he bit off and ate some bacon.
She stared at him in silence for several seconds, then said, "You amaze me sometimes, Robert."
"Oh?" he asked and took a large drink of milk.
"Yes, you do. You agreed to a promise that I made two years ago when I was dead drunk. I always thought you just tolerated my friends and deep down, didn't like them."
"Well, you thought wrong," he said.
"Not always, Robert Nelson. I haven't always been wrong and you know it. What changed?"
He sat there briefly, then said, "Sure, those two can be obnoxious and tend to get on my nerves. But I do care about them. I don't care whether they're bisexuals, Martians or left-handed Norwegians. What I realized was that they liked me. They just also like to pick on me."
"Well, duh. So do I."
"They've been in some of my dreams," he said suddenly.
"You never told me that before," she said, her expression surprised. "What about me or the kids? Were we in your dreams, too?"
"I'm not sure. I think you guys were dead in them. But Janelle saved my life in one dream - with a rather powerful machine gun."
Maggie laughed shortly and nodded. "Of course. That's definitely Janelle."
"Then they moved to Montana and I was alone...except for...I can't remember. It was an animal of some sort."
Just then, a knock on the kitchen door got their attention. Maggie moved to it and let in two women.
One was a chunky brunette with long hair who carried a baby wrapped in a blanket. The other was a thin blonde who carried a diaper bag.
"We were just talking about you two," Maggie said.
"What?" the blonde asked. "Did Robert tell you how irritating your dyke friends are?"
"No, she already knows that, Janelle," Robert said, a smile on his face. "I just told her that you two think I'm the ideal male."
Janelle smiled at him and said, "That can't be. Your mouth isn't sewn shut."
"Do you two want anything to eat?" Maggie asked. "I can whip up some more pancakes."
"No!" the brunette, Lauren, said. "We ate at six this morning, since the little darling here woke us up at four-thirty."
"Haven't you given her a name yet?" Maggie asked, a frown on her face.
Lauren and Janelle looked at each other and nodded, then the blonde said, "That's why we're here, Maggie." She looked at Robert next. "Thank you very much for your contribution to our family."
"You're my friends," he said and shrugged. "Friends take care of one another."
"Well, Lauren and I talked about it. Since you donated your sperm and supported us...we decided that you should name our baby."
The silence that followed that comment was punctuated by the shocked stares that Robert and Maggie gave their visitors. "Say what?" he asked.
"We want you to name our daughter, Robert," Lauren said. "We would really appreciate it."
Maggie moved to her husband, kissed his left cheek and said, "Go for it, honey."
The man sat there for several seconds as he thought it over and said, "Daria Anne."
Lauren nodded and said, "I like it."
"Daria, huh?" Janelle asked. "Like that girl on the MTV cartoon?"
"What?" Robert and Maggie asked in unison.
"You know, Daria. It was on MTV for a few years."
"I don't remember seeing that one," he said. "Watched Beavis and Butt-head, but not Daria."
"That figures," Janelle replied and grinned. "She was a spin-off character from Beavis and Butt-head. She was the smart girl in their class with the glasses."
"Robert, why did you choose the name 'Daria Anne'?" Maggie asked.
He blinked and shook his head slightly. "I don't know. It just sounds like a good name to me." Then he thought, I knew someone with that name - someone special - but I can't remember much about her, or even why she's special.
Robert then turned to Janelle and said, "Before you three move on to Montana, I'd appreciate it if you give us some training in using a pistol."
"O.K.," the blonde said and nodded. "Why the change of heart on this? You told me no the last several times I asked."
"I...'we' need to know guns - and it wouldn't hurt to have one here, for security."
"I don't know, Robert," Maggie said. "The kids might find it and think it's a toy."
"Robert's right, Maggie," Lauren said. "You two need to know how to use one, and Janelle's the best teacher there is out there."
"Aw, thanks," Janelle said.
"Hush," Lauren said. "She not only can teach you how to use a gun, but how to clean it and keep it locked up - or properly stored. As long as you two remain 'responsible' parents, then there should be no problem. After all, a gun is just like any other tool. Powerful enough to do the job and dangerous enough to hurt you, too."
Later, at one rummage sale, Robert knelt by a box of books as Maggie looked at clothes. Tammy stood beside her, a stuffed dog in her arms and the boys dug through a box of toys.
Suddenly, he came across a good sized red book titled, Reading Sucks, and smiled. "Beavis and Butt-Head," he muttered. "I need to watch that again."
Then he found a book with an auburn-haired girl on the cover. She wore glasses, a black, pleated skirt, orange shirt and green jacket and held a keyboard in her arm. The Daria Database. Odd. He stared at the book for several seconds, laid it aside and continued his search.
As the Nelson family prepared to leave, Robert waited as the woman tallied up their purchases. Tammy held onto the stuffed dog tightly. In fact, she already named it "Mr. Barkey."
He looked back at the stack of books he didn't pick and saw the Daria book and said to the woman, "Hold up." He grabbed the book and laid it on the table with their other purchases. "Add this one in also, please."
The woman smiled. "Hey, take all you want. Anything you don't take, I just have to put back up."
"I think that's it." He looked at Maggie as she buckled the boys in the minivan and looked down at Tammy. "You can go on to the van, honey. I'll pay for it."
"O.K.," the little girl said and ran to the van.
"How much?" he asked.
"Four seventy-five," the woman said
Robert opened his wallet, pulled out a five and handed it to the woman and said, "Keep the change."
"Thank you." She filled up a paper grocery bag with the purchases.
He noticed something strange inside the wallet and pulled out a school photograph of a teenaged girl. She had auburn hair, wore glasses and a green jacket over an orange pullover shirt. For several seconds, he stared at the picture and felt his mouth dry up. Daria. Oh, man.
The memory of kissing the girl came to his mind and he closed his eyes.
"Sir? I've got your stuff bagged up here."
Robert opened his eyes, quickly replaced the picture inside the wallet and pocketed it. "Thank you," he said. Then he took the bag and walked to the minivan to his waiting family.
Epilogue 2: Redemption
"O.K.," Daria said as Jane drove ahead, "where are we going?"
"Anyplace," Jane said. "No place. It doesn't matter, just so long as it isn't Lawndale."
The auburn-haired teen looked at her friend, sighed, and said, "I'd rather be home right now."
"No!" Jane said forcefully. "Ever since you lost Robert, you've been moping around and sighing. You need a change of scenery, even if it's only for a day."
"You're not driving us to West Virginia, are you?"
A shocked look appeared on Jane's face. "Why the hell would I do that?" she asked.
"I've already been through one demonstration of Murphy's Law," Daria said and closed her eyes. "I don't need another." She sighed again. "Where are we going, Jane?"
For several seconds, Jane said nothing. Then she shook her head and said, "O.K., amiga, I'm taking you up to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. It's not my idea of a good time, but I thought that you could use some historical site to relax your mind some."
Daria opened her eyes and looked at the car's dash. "Jane, I was falling in love with him," she said. "He was falling in love with me."
"I know, Daria. I know."
"It's just so...unfair." Daria pulled a book from her jacket pocket and opened it. "Of all the things I could have had from my...little vacation, as you called it....I have Robert's diary."
"Don't forget that photo I took of you two."
She smiled briefly and pulled the photo out of the book. "Yeah."
Just then, a loud sound startled the girls and Jane slowed down as one of the tires slowly went flat.
"Shit!" Jane said as she pulled over on the side of the road. "Of all the times for that to happen."
"Calm down, Jane," Daria said. "I know how to change a tire." She replaced the photo in the diary, closed it and placed it back inside the jacket pocket. "Let's get started."
Before either one could open their doors, a pickup truck pulled up behind them and a man got out. He wore a soiled, green factory uniform and looked to be dirty himself.
"Wait," Jane said. "Lock your door."
The man stopped near the driver's side window, which Jane opened about an inch. "Ladies, I see you have a problem," he said and looked them over - slowly.
Jane blinked and Daria shuddered as they felt his gaze roam over their bodies. A smile appeared on his face as he looked at Daria's legs.
"We're O.K.," Daria said and then added the lie, "We just called a tow truck."
A leer briefly appeared on his face and he suppressed it. "Are you sure?" he asked and stared directly at Jane's chest. "I could change the tire for you. All it would cost is a kiss from each of you. A tow truck would cost you around fifty bucks - if you're lucky."
"No," Jane said. "We'll wait."
The man shrugged and shook his head. "Your loss," he said and walked back to his truck.
As he drove off, Daria said, "We better get this done. I don't have a cell phone on me. Do you?"
"You already know the answer to that one," Jane said.
"Damn," Daria said and closed her eyes. "Of all the times to be a Luddite..."
"We'll be O.K., Daria. He left."
The smaller teen looked at her friend then. "Suppose he comes back with a gun?" she asked. "Or even a baseball bat? We'll be up shit creek without a paddle if he does. I wish Robert was here with us." She shuddered.
Just then, a blue Ford car slowed down and parked in front of their car. A man, who looked to be around twenty and dressed in a blue T-shirt and jeans, got out of the car. He walked back to them and said, "Ladies, do you need some help?"
Daria started to say a smart comeback, but stopped. Oh, my God, she thought as she looked at him. Her face paled as she noticed the muscle definition in his arms. But she recovered quickly and said, "Yes, we do. Flat tire."
He smiled and the auburn-haired teen felt a chill sweep through her. "I can help you - if you have a spare tire."
Daria hit the trunk release and said, "I'll help you."
As he walked back to the trunk, Jane grabbed her left arm and asked, "What's up with you, Daria? You aren't usually this outgoing, not with some stranger."
"Jane, it's Robert!" Daria said in a stage whisper. "Don't you recognize him?"
"He's not old enough to be Robert. Besides, didn't they send him back to his own world?"
"Yes, they did!" Daria was actually shaking. "But he could be this world's version of him."
"That doesn't mean he's going to be like your Robert, amiga."
"I have a good feeling about this guy, Jane. He's not like that pervert in the truck."
"No, he could be a pervert in a Ford, instead."
Daria shook her head and said, "I don't think so."
"Be careful, Daria."
She got out of the car and followed him to the trunk. She grabbed the tire iron and jack, while the man pulled the wheel out.
They moved to the front passenger side and he knelt down and loosened the lug nuts. Then, he said, "Jack, please."
Daria handed it to him and watched him as he worked.
As he positioned the jack and lifted the car slightly, a truck slowed down near them.
"Daria!" Jane said, "That pervert's back! And he's got some friends with him this time!"
Daria paled as she looked at the three men in the truck. Oh, hell, she thought.
Then the man beside her stood up and stared at them, the tire iron in his right hand. The three men looked at him, talked quickly amongst one another and then the driver sped away.
The man looked at Daria and asked, "What was that about?"
"The driver stopped by earlier. He acted really creepy and we told him we didn't need his help. But then he went and got some friends." She shuddered. "You must have scared them off." Thank you, thank you, thank you.
He sighed and shook his head. "Obviously, they aren't much in the manhood department," he said and turned his attention back to the tire.
The man placed the flat tire in the trunk and Daria replaced the jack and tire iron, then shut the hatch. Jane stood nearby and kept looking around.
"Is there any way we could pay you back?" she asked.
The man smiled at Daria and said, "Sure. You could do me the pleasure of having dinner with me."
Jane gawked and Daria blinked. "We haven't even been introduced," she said, her voice strained.
His smile widened and he said, "Where are my manners? Robert Nelson is my name and I'm glad to meet you, Miss..."
Daria smiled and said, "Daria. Daria Morgendorffer. This is my friend, Jane Lane."
"Would you have dinner with me, Daria?" he asked.
"Yes," she said and held out her hand. "I would love it."
Robert looked at her hand and said, "I've got tire residue on my hand."
"I don't care."
"O.K." He took her hand and they shook.
"Well, what about me?"
Daria turned to her and asked, "What about that guy you said asked you out? Wasn't his name Tom?"
"Yeah, Tom Sloane." She looked at Robert, then Daria. "Would you two mind a double date? That is, if I can get to a phone and call him."
Robert pulled a cell phone out of its belt holder and handed it to her. "Use mine."
As Jane made her phone call, Daria looked at him and said, "So you like to hit on teenagers, huh? How old are you, Robert?"
"I turn twenty-two in a few weeks. If that doesn't bother you, it doesn't bother me. Unless you're under sixteen, that is."
"I'm seventeen," she said. "Robert, you seem familiar to me, but I don't know from where."
"I don't see how," he said. "I just moved in the area from Ohio."
Another chill swept through Daria and she asked, "Why did you move from Ohio?"
"Bad memories. My girlfriend and her family died in a car-train accident and I couldn't take it there, not anymore."
Daria blinked and said, "Oh. I'm sorry."
Just then, Jane handed Robert his phone and said, "He said that he'll meet us at Kim's Pizza."
Daria looked at Robert. "I hope you like pizza."
"I love pizza," he said and smiled at Daria again.
She returned his smile and said, "Just follow us."
The three got back in their vehicles and they left the area.
Epilogue 3: Revenge
Ezra Stone answered the front door on the second knock. His irritated look gave way to confusion as he saw a petite, auburn-haired teen girl with glasses stand there. "Whatever you're selling, young lady, I'm not interested," he said and started to shut the door.
"I'm here to talk to you about teleportation," she said quickly.
Stone stopped and stared at the girl, who looked at him blankly. Finally, he cleared his throat and asked, "What did you say?"
"I'm here to talk with you about teleportation."
He blinked and stared at her silently for several seconds. Then he opened the door widely and said, "Come in."
After the girl followed him to a barely used living room, he motioned her to sit in a chair and he sat across from her in a rocking chair. "O.K., what do you know about teleportation?" he asked. "Not only that, but how did you know to see me about it?"
"You teleported me to Fostoria, Ohio," she said. "Or maybe I should say you did, in another reality."
"Don't play innocent with me, Dr. Stone," the girl said and her expression took on a slightly agitated look. "I nearly died because of you. For some unknown reason, you invented a teleportation machine and used it on several people. I'm the only one who survived the experience. Barely. However, I met Robert, and things went really...nice, then."
Stone shook as he listened to the girl. "How do you know about..." he started to ask and stopped himself.
"Time got reset by someone else," she said and smiled slightly. "Your...errors...got fixed."
He stood up and said, "Wait here, I need to take notes about this!"
"I retained three things from my experience in Fostoria, Doctor," she said and he stopped and looked at her. Her voice sounded slightly bitter. "Unfortunately, Robert wasn't one of them. But he's home, happy now and back with his loved ones - as he should have been all along. He wasn't mine to begin with."
"I don't understand," Stone said.
"One thing I retained was a book," the girl said and ignored his comment. "That isn't important to you. Not at all. The other was a photograph - also unimportant to you." She stood up and pulled a revolver out of her right jacket pocket. "The third thing I retained was a knowledge of using pistols. That is important to you."
Stone's face paled as he stared at the pistol. "You're - you're here to kill me."
"You win a kewpie doll," she said as she quickly lifted the pistol, cocked it and fired once into his belly.
Ezra Stone fell backwards, hit a bookcase and toppled it over onto a coffee table. Then he landed on the floor and rolled over onto his back. He felt the blood pool around his midsection and looked up at the girl. "Why?" he asked.
"You're too dangerous to be allowed to exist," the teen said.
Then he closed his eyes and lost consciousness.
Ezra Stone sat up quickly in his bed and panted in terror. He looked around in panic and sighed at the sight of the thick steel bars. He was still alone - by himself and with his thoughts.
Still in my jail cell, he thought and covered his face with his hands. Why am I here? How did they know about my machine? Why do I keep dreaming about that girl?
He didn't know how long it had been since he, along with his partner, John Casey, were arrested and detained. He hadn't seen Casey since then and his paranoia only intensified.
I bet that idiot has told them everything! He was so jealous of my ability. But how did we get their attention? How?
He got out of bed and walked to the sink. After he ran the cold water for several seconds, he splashed his face, then stretched his arms and legs.
I don't even know what day this is - or what time. They're doing this to me deliberately. They want me disoriented. But who are they? Why am I so...scared of them?
He sat on the bed and looked around. As it had been since he arrived, his cell was inside a darkened room, with the bars at least fifteen feet from the walls. The only lights on were some above his cell - and they stayed on all the time.
They sounded like federal agents to me, but why did they violate my rights? What have I done that's so dangerous?
Stone laid back on the bed and sighed as he closed his eyes again.
He opened his eyes and found himself on the floor of his panel van. His arms and legs were bound tightly and an old rag was shoved into his mouth. For several seconds, he looked around and struggled to free himself, but stopped when he saw the four people stare at him. Two men, one in his early twenties and the other somewhat older. But the two teen girls made him cry out into his gag. The taller girl had raven-colored hair and a vicious glare on her face. But the smaller girl, with auburn hair and glasses, stared at him with unmistakable hatred.
The auburn-haired girl gave the two men an order and they picked up Stone and laid him on van floor, near the back door. Then the raven-haired girl picked up his invention and aimed it at him.
Now he screamed into his gag as the beam of light came out slowly and enveloped him. The four disappeared as he screamed.
Suddenly, he found himself on a cold sidewalk in the late afternoon hours and looked around from the ground. Somewhere nearby, several moans could be heard. I'm in Fostoria, he thought. But what's that noise?
He heard footsteps and looked to see ten or more people approach him from nearby homes. They all moved slowly as they walked; some tripped over hidden obstacles in the overgrown grass or on the sidewalks or curbs. All of them looked gray, but he thought it was because of the overcast skies.
Then he saw his partner, Dr. Casey, amongst the people and screamed into his gag again. His lab jacket and clothes were covered with dried blood and he looked as if he had been torn open.
In his panic struggles, he noticed that nearly all the people had mortal wounds of some sort, but that didn't stop them from getting on their knees around him. Some grabbed him with claw-like hands; a couple bent over him and bit into his exposed flesh.
Once again, Ezra Stone sat up and screamed in his bed. As his screams died down, he covered his face in his hands and shuddered. If it's not that damned girl shooting me, it's those...those...things biting into me and eating me.
A door opened along the darkened wall and Stone watched as the blonde woman came in, alone. She looked at him silently and asked, her voice sarcastic, "Having bad dreams?"
"Unless you're going to tell me what's going on, I'm not talking to you," he said quickly.
"You deserve bad dreams, Mr. Stone," she said and sat down in the chair near the front of the cage. "You deserve a lot more than that."
"I haven't done anything!" he protested and crossed his arms over his chest. "I want my lawyer - now! I also want - no, I demand - to know why you have arrested me. Why am I here, dammit?"
The blonde raised one eyebrow slightly and smirked at him. "You demand, Mr. Stone?" she asked.
"Doctor," he corrected her.
"That's 'Doctor Stone' to you, young lady. I demand that you treat me with respect."
She sighed and shook her head.
"Frankenstein was a doctor, too, Doctor Stone," a deep male voice said from the darkened doorway, "and look at the havoc he created."
A tall black man, dressed in white, walked next to the blonde and stared at him. He held a cane in his right hand and had an automatic pistol in a shoulder holster.
"Frankenstein was a fictional character," Stone said quickly to the man he knew only as Archangel. "There is no comparison between the two of us."
The black man smiled slightly and said, "That is true - to an extent. Frankenstein only lost his humanity in his quest to destroy his monster. You have no humanity. You are the monster."
"I have done nothing!" Stone yelled out. "You are holding an innocent man, and you will pay when I'm released. I guarantee that!"
"Innocent?" the blonde asked. "We went to a lot of effort to fix the chaos you created with your 'teleportation' device."
Stone gawked at her and paled. "My what?" he asked quickly.
Both agents smiled at their prisoner. "Play innocent all you want," Archangel said. "We have your notes. We have your device and we have a very detailed statement from Dr. Casey. You haven't seen innocent in a long time, Dr. Stone. A very long time."
"I never used the device!" Stone yelled out quickly. "It wasn't ready yet!"
"I bet you don't remember those teen girls and two men who used your own machine on you, either - or your death at the hands of zombies."
Stone paled and sat down on his bed hard.
The blonde smiled at him, a predatory smile. "I thought you would remember it, even though it never happened. But it could have. Because of you, Doctor Stone, we had to split up a couple. I know you don't give a shit about it, but having to do that irritated me." She looked at the nails of her right hand, blew on them and rubbed them on her jacket lapel. "I guess that I'm a romantic at heart. But then again, you wouldn't understand that, since you have no heart."
"How can you punish me for something I've never done?" Stone asked. "I have my rights and I demand you respect them."
"How about the rights of Kay Daniels, Billy Smithson, Daria Morgendorffer and six others you teleported to an alternate Fostoria, Ohio?" Archangel glared at him. "Of those nine, only Daria survived. Your 'rights' ceased to exist once we got our hands on you."
"I didn't do that!" Stone protested. "This is insane!"
"Have you ever seen the movie Minority Report?" the black man asked.
"I don't watch movies made by Scientologists," the prisoner said, his voice derisive.
"Your loss," Archangel said. "Tom Cruise may or may not be a flake, but he's a good actor. The situation in the movie is similar to yours, except you did commit the crimes we told you about. But we fixed your actions and...corrected what you did."
"Then I should be let go," Stone said quickly. "If my so-called errors have been fixed.'
"It isn't that simple," the woman said. "You are too dangerous to be allowed to exist - free."
Stone paled and shook slightly as he heard the nightmare words come from the blonde's mouth. "If..." he said and coughed. "If you let me go and I forfeit all my stuff, we can call it even and I won't sue the government."
"Let you go free?" Archangel asked and laughed. "So you can build another device and create a new mess for us to fix? We're not stupid, Stone, but we have found a way for you to be useful to us - and the multiverse."
"The multiverse?" Stone asked. "There's no such thing! Dr. Casey always went on about it, but all that nonsense is just pseudo-scientific claptrap."
The blonde stared at him and finally said, "For your information, 'doctor', you come from a world we labeled D-320. We are now on D-5, you sent your victims to D-23. That particular Earth suffered what we call a Class IV zombie infestation that we were able to fix. Your friend, Dr. Casey, was right."
"You're lying to me," Stone said, his voice shaky.
"Believe what you want," Archangel said. "Now we have found an Earth that is in the midst of a Class III zombie event and you are going to help us out there."
"I don't have to do anything I don't want," the prisoner said, his voice sullen. "You may keep me here against my will, but I won't do anything to help you."
Ezra Stone looked out at the surrounding countryside and shivered inside his cage - actually a double cage, that prevented anyone from being able to reach inside to him. It also prevented him from being able to reach anyone outside.
The woman, who he now knew as Valkyrie, smiled at him and said, "Feel free to scream. It'll help us out more than you'll ever realize. Oh, and don't worry about them getting in to you. These cages are pretty sturdy."
"Them?" he asked.
She chuckled. "The zombies, Dr. Stone. Welcome to your new career, for you are now bait. See you later." She turned on a compact disc player that was connected to the top of the cage. "Just in case you don't scream. Hope you like Hank Williams Jr."
Bait? What the hell is she talking about?
The sounds of All For The Love of Sunshine boomed out of the speakers and Stone winced at the volume.
Valkyrie jogged to the nearby armored personnel carrier, got inside and the vehicle left him alone in the field.
It didn't take long. The first one came from the east, where the morning sun was still and orange in the sky. Then the others came from all directions.
By the time fifty had gathered at his cage, their moans mixed with his screams to totally drown out the rest of the songs.
Ezra Stone curled up on the floor in the center of the cage and screamed. At the same time, dozens of dead and rotting hands tried vainly to reach for him - or anything to grab and pull him towards them.
He kept his eyes tightly shut as he screamed, but one thought stayed at the forefront of his mind. The stench! The stench!
Epilogue 4: Truths
It was nearly six o'clock when Robert Nelson rung the doorbell at the Morgendorffer home. He waited nervously, but smiled when a man answered the door. "Hi!" Jake said. "Quinn will be ready in just a few minutes."
"I'm here to see Daria," Robert said quickly.
"Daria?" Jake asked and looked slightly confused. "Oh! You must be Robert." He quickly shook hands with the visitor. "Daria was telling us about you. Come on in."
Robert followed Jake to the living room and said, "Have a seat and I'll call Daria down."
He sat on one end of the couch and waited as Jake walked up the staircase. Just when he relaxed, a woman walked in from the kitchen, a cell phone up to her ear; she spoke to someone as if she were alone. "No, Eric, I'm certain they'll settle. They're afraid of a long, drawn out case. Let's just be..."
She noticed the young man in front of her then and quickly said, "Eric, something just came up. I'll call you back." She quickly disconnected the call and looked at Robert intently. "Who might you be?"
Robert quickly stood up and said, "I'm Robert Nelson, ma'am. I'm seeing Daria."
"Helen Morgendorffer," she said. She smiled then and held out her right hand. "I'm Daria's mother. You're the one who helped the girls with the flat tire on Saturday, aren't you?"
"Yes, ma'am." He took her hand and shook it. He was surprised by her firm grip.
"I appreciate what you did. Daria told me about those...thugs in the truck."
He shook his head. "Obviously, they were cowards."
"You're not in high school, are you, Robert?" she asked and changed the subject.
Robert was aware that Helen's gaze stayed on his face - and eyes. "No, ma'am. I'm twenty-one."
"I see...what do you for a living?"
"I'm a finder."
He smiled then. "I'm sorry. I used to work for an antique mall in Ohio. Well, I found a niche market for those who want hard to find or rare items, but don't have the time to do the searching themselves. For a fee, I find what they're looking for, be it an old book or some other item of interest."
Helen looked at him, her expression skeptical. "You actually make money doing that?"
He nodded. "Yes, ma'am. Enough for me to live...decently."
Just then, Daria came down the stairs, a small smile on her face. "Hey," she said.
Robert turned and smiled at her. "Hey."
"Where are you two planning to go tonight?" Helen asked as Jake came back into the living room and sat in a chair.
Robert looked back at the older woman and said, "We haven't decided the restaurant, yet, but since we both like pizza..." He looked at Daria. "...how about Kim's, again?"
"Sounds good to me," the teen said. They started to walk towards the door.
"Hold on a second, please," Helen said; Robert and Daria stopped and turned to face her. "As much as I appreciate what you did for the girls on Saturday, I'm not comfortable with Daria visiting your home by herself, Robert. Do you live alone?"
"My cat lives with me, too," he said and dug into his pocket. He handed her a key. "This is the key to the front door of my house. If I let you and Mr. Morgendorffer have that key, and anytime Daria and I are alone there, you can come over unannounced. Would that be a problem then?"
Helen looked at the key. "You're serious?"
"Very much, ma'am. I not only respect Daria, I respect you and your husband as well." He placed the key in her right hand. "Sometime, I'd like to have all of you over for dinner. I make a mean chili, if I do say so myself."
For the first time, a smile appeared on Helen's face. She closed her hand on the key and said, "We accept your...offer. Just don't make the chili hot. I do like to sleep at night."
"No problem," he said. "Chili's no good if you can't taste it for the blisters."
Helen and Daria looked at Jake then, who seemed to shrink into his seat. "That wasn't my fault, Helen! I swear that the recipe called for fifty red peppers!"
"Five, Jake! Five!"
"Um, Mom, Dad," Daria said then. "Robert and I are going now. We'll be back later."
"Have a good time, you two," Jake said.
"Be careful," Helen said.
Outside, Daria glanced at Robert. "You made brownie points with Mom," she said. "What are you up to?"
"I'm a fount of innocence," he said, a smirk on his face.
"You're full of bull," she said, a smile on her face. "So if we want to be alone, what are we going to do? Mom will find any excuse to interrupt us, just to warn you."
"That depends on how far you want to go," he said. "Myself, I have no problem with your folks seeing us kiss. If my guess is right, your mom is trying to figure me out. The key is a leap of faith." He stopped her. "We didn't kiss on our first date."
"I wanted to see if you were serious," Daria said.
"I'm quite serious." He moved up to her and kissed her quickly. When he broke the kiss, she returned it with a little more force.
"I'm not delicate, Robert."
He kissed her again, a little harder. When he moved back, he said, "That depends on your definition of 'delicate', my dear."
They walked on down the sidewalk and Daria held Robert's left hand tightly. She smiled at him and he returned her smile; he winked as well. What do you see in me? she thought.
A few blocks from where they walked, the sound of bell chimes played at Lawndale Presbyterian Church. Daria's face took on a sad, almost fearful, look and Robert saw it. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She said nothing, but laid her head against his upper left arm and shivered.
"Daria? Talk to me, please."
"Are you a dream?" she asked, her voice quiet.
She stopped and he stopped with her. He frowned when he saw tears form in her eyes and he pulled her to him.
"What's wrong, Daria? Why are you crying?"
"Are you a dream?" she asked again.
He reached up with his right hand and stroked her face. "No. I'm very real and I'm with you - and only you. Why do you ask me that?"
The chimes still played as she turned and quickly kissed his hand. "I'm just...afraid that I'll turn away briefly and when I turn back, you'll be gone."
"I don't understand."
Daria blinked her eyes twice and a tear rolled down her left cheek. "We were walking together like this," she said. "The chimes were playing and...and I lost him."
Robert exhaled slowly and asked, "Did he dump you then?"
She shook her head and took a deep breath. "No, he didn't dump me. But he...I still lost him." She then looked down at the sidewalk. "I can't tell you anymore than that. I'm sorry."
"Why can't you tell me?" he asked.
"Because you'll think I'm nuts."
He touched the back of her head and she looked up at him. "This is our third date, Daria. We've talked quite a bit and you strike me as a rational, smart, young woman. I like to think you can say something to me and not be afraid of what I'll think." He stroked her hair and smiled. "Besides, I've gone through things that you probably couldn't imagine...or believe."
"I doubt that," she said. "You see, his name was also Robert Nelson. He looked like you, he was also from Fostoria, Ohio, but he was ten years older than you."
Robert paled and blinked as he stared at Daria. "I'm constantly guilty of speaking in absolutes," he said. "Now I see why you think I'm a dream."
"I...don't believe in coincidences, Robert. You suddenly showed up when I...when I wished that he was there to help us. How did you happen to be in the Lawndale area and right where we were when we had the flat tire? It's almost as if you were...assigned to be with me."
Robert looked at her silently and sighed. "I won't lie to you," he said. "I don't like lying, though I generally have to, in my present occupation."
"You said that you're a finder. How would you lie with that?"
He smiled at her ruefully. "That's not my main job, Daria." He took both of her hands in his and looked her in the eyes. "What I'm about to tell you will seem crazy and you may believe that I'm some sort of freak. But I won't lie to you. I lied to a girlfriend when I was fourteen and I lost her because of it. But you probably won't believe me."
"O.K.," she said, her voice shaky and she gripped his hands firmly. "Tell me."
He took a deep breath and began. "I come from another Earth, much like this one. Except we suffered a zombie crisis. You know, the flesh eating kind that they show in the movies sometimes. A lot of people died. More than half of my family died. We had a government agency called DELPHI. They were named after the place where Apollo had his oracle..."
"I know the origin of the word," she said. Her voice seemed strained and somewhat weak.
"Sorry. Well, before that crisis, DELPHI was well-kept secret. But they apparently had a way to call for help from their counterparts on several other Earths." He laughed briefly. "We had superheroes from one of the Earths come to our aid. Real-life supermen and superwomen, though officially, they're called metahumans." He freed his right hand and showed her the ring on his third finger. "This is a Defender Ring. I and a lot of others on my world were given the rings to help take back our world from the dead. Together, the metahumans, the DELPHI agents, our surviving military forces and the Defender Ring bearers, we took our world back and eradicated the dead menace."
He looked at Daria and saw her astonished expression. "I know. It sounds...crazy. But you were partly right when you said I was 'assigned'. I'm assigned to this Lawndale, but not to you. I was on my way to Valley Forge for a day off and a tour. I just happened to pass you and Jane when you had the flat tire. I'm with you because you said 'yes' when I asked you out on a date."
Daria closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. He sighed and added, "If you want, I will leave. I won't like it, but I will understand, and I won't hold it against you."
Her response was to jump at him and wrap her arms around him. "No!" she cried out, her face in his chest. "I don't want to lose you. I don't want to lose you, too."
She looked up at his face and, for the next several minutes, related her own tale - from the transport to the dead world of the older Robert Nelson to the intervention of the three agents. She ended her tale with the question, "You don't think I'm nuts, then?"
"No," he said and shook his head. "I will tell you this. DELPHI monitors cross dimensional travels." He laughed briefly. "Heck, some of their agents can personally detect such travel. One agent, codenamed Archangel, is really good at it."
"Archangel?" Daria asked. "A tall black man, uses a cane?"
"I see you've met him. Who were the other two agents you mentioned?"
"A woman called Valkyrie and a man called Tiberius."
He held up his ring. "I also know Valkyrie. She gave me this ring."
"You said that you were assigned to this Lawndale. What do you mean by 'assigned'?"
Robert guided her down the sidewalk and they walked again. "After the zombie crisis was over on my world, most of us ring owners were formed into a corps. Our jobs were to be assigned secretly to alternate Earths. This Earth is my assignment. The cities we live in are considered nexus points...or ground zeroes."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Places where zombies are likely to appear. On virtually every Earth, for example, Evans City, Pennsylvania is a major ground zero. Other nexus points include Fostoria, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; Albion, New York; and Lawndale, Maryland. I was assigned to Fostoria, but when Lindsey died, I changed my assignment to Lawndale. Meeting you was a happy coincidence."
"Why did you ask me out? How do I know you weren't ordered to be with me?"
He smiled and shook his head. "When Lindsey died, I was numb for days - weeks. The pain of her death made me change my assigned city to Lawndale. Lately, I've felt lonely. The pain of Lindsey's death finally faded into the background. My dad always told me that if I saw a girl I wanted to go out with, ask her. Don't wait and don't put it off. I saw you, I liked what I saw and I asked you out. You said yes."
"Why are you 'secretly' assigned to other Earths? Wouldn't it be better if you were out in the open?"
"No." He shook his head. "Nearly every Earth that is aware of us have banned us from their planet. Fear of our power, I suppose, since they have no way to control us. As a result, we are kept virtually undercover."
"But you...took a chance telling me."
Robert stopped and Daria stopped with him. "I like you, Daria. I like you a lot. In fact, I'm falling for you. I don't want there to be secrets, or lies, between us. There will be times that I'm called to another Earth for a brief assignment. I want you to realize that, because I don't ever want to lie to a person...I love...again."
Daria blushed. "I can't say that...yet."
He smiled. "I'll go easy on it for right now, because I also don't want to pressure you."
"Can you demonstrate what your ring can do...or is that against the rules?" She noticed him look at her silently, then suddenly felt her skirt partially wrap against her legs. "What?"
"Don't want your skirt to come open, even if no one can see us," he said. "I don't humiliate people to prove a point. Especially someone special."
She noticed that they left the ground and rose up into the air. Quickly, she grabbed Robert and clung onto him. "Omigod, omigod, omigod."
As they moved into the skies above Lawndale, he smiled and said, "Relax, I've got you."
"You've got me?" she asked, her voice nervous. "Who's got you?"
"The ring. You're safe, Daria. You're safe."
"You say that nobody can see us?"
"Anyone who looks at us can only see a small cloud. What do you think?"
"You proved your point. Can you take me back down, please?"
Robert moved his left hand to her chin and lifted her face slightly. Then he moved his face closer to hers.
She closed her eyes and accepted his kiss.
When the kiss broke, he slowly lowered them both back to the ground.
As they landed, Daria still held onto him. "I think I'm ready for that pizza now," she said.
Author's Notes: This concludes the story A Little Vacation. I thank you for reading this tale. For this section, the epilogues, thanks go out to NightGoblyn, vlademir1, smk, Brother Grimace, Gouka Ryuu, SigDiff, Richard Lobinske, legendeld, The Angst Guy and Ranger Thorne from the PPMB for their comments and suggestions.
Also from the SFMB, thanks go out to psychotol and from fanfiction.net, thanks go out to eltf177, nabikineum and cmanuk.
Many special thanks go out to Brother Grimace for not only his many comments and suggestions, but for allowing me to use Archangel and Valkyrie in this story. I also thank him for the 'invention' of the Defender Rings. I was honored to be the first writer to use the Ring in a Daria fanfic, and I appreciate that.
I would also like to thank Richard Matheson, whose I Am Legend started the whole ball rolling on what we call zombies now.
Thanks also to George A. Romero for his movie quadrilogy (quintilogy?) that has entertained me since I first saw Night of the Living Dead almost thirty years ago.
Thanks also to Max Brooks, author of The Zombie Survival Guide, and Lon Miller, whose excellent fictional scientific report Alomal-137 Epidemiology Case Study helped inspire me to write this tale.